The List of Top 10 Things to Make Top 10 Lists About

Well, another new year is almost upon us. You know what that means. That’s right: it’s time for Lists of Top 10 Things! Yup, that dead zone between Christmas and New Year’s Eve could be filled with mindless TV watching, but it’s even better to fill it with mindless lists of Top 10 Things. I know, I know, you don’t maybe have time to figure out what to make a list of your Top 10 things about. Well, that’s okay. I’m here to save you the trouble. Below is my Top 10 List of Things to Make Top 10 Lists About!

#10: The Top 10 Best Holiday Meals OF ALL TIME that can be Cooked Over a Trashcan Fire

#9: The Top 10 Favorite Holiday Gifts this Year that Weren’t Apple Products

#8: The Top 10 Commercials of the Year even though the Super Bowl is about to Happen and You Know There are Going to be Even Better Commercials Then

#7: The Top 10 Songs of the Year that Don’t Sound Like Six Cats Fighting over a Leprechaun in a Sack

#6: Your Top 10 Favorite Scenes from Star Wars Movies, but without Giving Away Spoilers Even for Episode V, Which Came Out, Like, Thirty Years Ago (Darth Vader is Luke’s Father <– Spoiler)

#5: The Top 10 Wacky Tricks YOU Can Use at Home to Save Money even though #3-8 are Illegal

#4: The Top 10 Celebrity Scandals of the Year, because this is Important, Dammit

#3: The Top 10 Books of the Year that No One Else Will Pay Attention to Because Books are Too Long to Read on Twitter

#2: The Top 10 Movies of the Year that No One Else Will Agree with and Will Almost Certainly Unfriend You for on Your Top 10 Favorite Social Media Networks

#1: The Top 10 Things That Made You Despair For the Future of Humanity But Which Will Probably Turn out Okay or at Least We’ll Have Forgotten About Them by the Time the New Season of Game of Thrones Starts

Feel free to actually give us your Top 10s in these categories in the comments, below. Super Holidays, Happy Christmas, and Merry New Year, everyone* (*replace these with the holiday of your choice if you are in any way disturbed by these choices).

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Memorium (Juanita R. Lonis 1918 – 2015)

Memories from my youth:

I spent many weekends at my grandparents’ house in Glenwood, Missouri (so far north that it’s almost in Iowa), where I slept on the couch because I was scared of the ghosts I was sure were up there — my cousin had convinced me she had once seen one of the taxidermied turkeys turn its head and look at her, which didn’t add to my desire to go up there. But my grandmother never complained that she had to make up a pallet for me on the living room couch and that I was far more underfoot there than I would have been upstairs, especially when there was a cushion-and-sheet fort thrown into the mix. Instead, I’d settle in beneath my covers and watch TV with her long after my grandfather had gone off to bed.

I remember my grandmother sometimes telling me stories as I fell asleep, in the wee hours of my youth. The first I recall was the harrowing tale of Chicken Little and the falling sky.

I remember going to church with her on Sundays after sneaking in an episode of Tom Bakker Doctor Who reruns on PBS.

I remember that at some summer lunches in my later youth, my grandmother would answer the phone and have to dart away from the meal she had cooked because she also worked as an EMT on the ambulance.

Speaking of food: I remember summer lunches, and holiday dinners, and so much food piled on the table that you’d think there were fifty of us about to sit down to eat. My grandmother had two stoves and for holidays both would be covered in skillets and pots, all steaming with delicious scents and radiating warmth.

I remember her prayers of thanks before every meal.

I remember hot summer days on the porch watching (and sometimes helping — but likely mucking it up) her and my mother snap bean pods. And then there was the canning, and the freezing, and the homemade candies, and …

… bread pudding. Mmmmm, bread pudding. I’ve had a lot of bread pudding from a lot of different places, but my grandmother’s bread pudding was actually pudding-like, rather than cake-like, which so many seem to be. Tasty? You betcha. I try to make a version as good as hers. It won first place once at a thing, even. But it isn’t quite up to par. Maybe because I have so many memories of my grandmother’s kitchen associated with hers.

I remember looking at slide show images of a trip my grandparents took to Carlsbad Caverns.

I remember my grandmother smiling.

I remember.

When my grandmother, Juanita Lonis, passed away last week, she was 96. I’d always thought she’d make it to 110 at least, and still be going strong when she got there. Still reading romance novels by the armload, still puttering about with the flowers on the front porch, still making cookies at Christmastime.

There were so many things about her that I’m sure I didn’t know. And I should. We should all know all that we can about the lives of those we love; the things that made them who they were. But I did get to spend a week with her before she went, and I can’t say how glad I am to have done so. We weren’t sure, you see. While driving across the country from my new home in the Pacific Northwest, I wasn’t certain that the phone wouldn’t ring and my mother would be on the other end telling me that Nanny — as I called her — had passed.

But even though her death was not unexpected there still come moments during the day when it seems that, yeah, maybe the sky is falling.

And I remember.

I remember that what Chicken Little eventually found out was that the sky was still up there, still blue, still promising a fine, fine day to come.

My Grandmother

My Grandmother

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Photographing Art

As well as being a writer (and all the other hats I wear), I’m a photographer. I carry cameras everywhere. This can become annoying both to me (“Gack! Why did I bring a full size Canon on an eight-mile hike?”) and to others (“Gack! Why did you bring a full size Canon to a formal brunch?”). But I like taking pictures of things. What can I say?

The author taking pictures of things

The author taking pictures of things

However, most of my camera work is outdoors. I like using natural light — and only in part is that due to the fact that I don’t own a lot of fancy light rigs and such. I just like the way natural light looks as it falls across the landscapes I love taking pictures of. Also, I always remember from my photography classes (if I have remembered nothing else) that dealing with off-camera flashes requires a certain affinity for math. I tend to avoid math in all but the most pressing circumstances (“Solve this quadratic equation, Mr. Bond, or we will skewer you with this laser-powered toaster!” — okay, okay, my villains may be questionable when it comes to their death-dealing mad science projects). But in every photog’s life a little light must fall (as well as math). Thus it was that I found myself building a light diffusion box and researching daylight bulbs in order to complete a project I had agreed to for Angela Bliss of Art of Bliss ( The project involved photographing around 60 pieces of painted art, many of them heavily textured, thus creating a nightmare of shadows and lighting issues. After several failed attempts at using my beloved natural lighting, I realized that only a light diffusion box would do. But some of the pieces were 40 inches long, so it had to be a pretty big light diffusion box. PVC pipe to the rescue.

Da da da dah! PVC pipe!

Da da da dah! PVC pipe!

Here’s the recipe for that (if you’re building one of these at home, you can make the pipes any length you like; just make sure that the sides are the same size): 8 lengths of 34-in-long PVC pipe (1/4-in); 4 lengths of 40-in-long PVC pipe (still 1/4 in); eight three-node connectors (1/4-in, duh); and a couple of cheap, white sheets from Wal-Mart. Safety pins will also help until you have the time to cut the sheets up and make a sleeve for your box. I made the box 34-in high, 34-in deep, and 40-in wide (thus the 40-in pieces of pipe will be top and bottom, front and back, while the 34-inchers will be everywhere else.

The skeleton of the light-diffusion box

The skeleton of the light-diffusion box

The author is checking that everything is stable, not getting ready to have his picture taken.

The author is checking that everything is stable, not getting ready to have his picture taken.

Slap a couple (or four) lights all around the outside (it helps, too, if your studio has a skylight allowing you to augment with lovely, natural sunlight. Bonus!) and snap away. Well, yeah, there’s some tweaking to be done along the way. Every piece you put in the box, art in this case, will be different and have slightly different requirments for being photographed.

Almost ready to shoot

Almost ready to shoot

IMG_6804 Anyway, you can judge the results for yourselves. Here are some samples. There are plenty more over on Angela’s website, where you can see them with far better detail. AngelaArtWomenMulti AngelaArtAbstractMulti And, hey, if you’re an artist living in the Columbia River Gorge area in the Pacific Northwest and want your art photographed, let me know. Now that I’ve figured out the math, my services are swift and reasonably priced. In the meantime, go take a picture, or paint some art, or look at a landscape. It’ll make your day a better place to be…

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