Category Archives: Personal Work

Little Jimmy’s Legos

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Legos soak in a soapy bath. (left). My bare feet touch damp, clean Legos that are set out to dry on beach towels. (right). All Images iphone.

My husband returned from North Carolina with three pillowcases full of his childhood prized possession: his Legos. He had been at his parent’s house on the East Coast for the past weekend helping them clean and organize 40 some years of their past when the toys were found.

James, my in-laws’ little neighbor boy that shares the same name as my husband and is drawn to him because of that fact among others, was present when the cardboard box containing the plastic loot was found; he was as excited as the adult James, when the Legos were uncovered.

Alas, the tiny jewels made their 2,500-mile trek on Southwest Airlines from the cozy North Carolinian home nestled in 47 acres to my city house in Las Vegas.

My husband Jim’s face lit with excitement as he pulled each pillowcase from his suitcase, holding one hand at the top and another at the bottom cradling the weight of the loot. Each bag could have been carrying solid gold pirate coins.

As fantastic as his bounty was, we did not have anyone to play with them.

Also, the collection, which was originally handed down to my husband from his cousin in a similar sack, was in a desperate need of a proper rinse. Grass, spider webs and lint had jumped in with the toys throughout the years while they were stored in North Carolina.

The cloth sacks remained in my garage for nearly a month. I purposely left them where they could be seen because I wanted to complete the task in a timely manner. I’m a tidy person, and I like to keep things organized.

The calm, quiet and relaxing day, today, was as good a day as any to clean.

I started with grabbing eco-friendly soap, a giant tub, a colander, several beach towels, and the sacks of treasured Legos, of course. I went out back by the pool and dumped a sack into the big tub adding soap and water from the hose. I upped the pressure on the hose and giggled as the water sprayed out onto my bare legs, and the littlest of Legos–the one-section bricks, Lego people heads, small weapons and the like– floated to the top first.

I started taking photos with my iphone because I am a photojournalist, and the fun continued.

After I had a full bath of Legos submerged in suds, I slowly poured them out into my biggest colander, dumping all of the sudsy water in the process and rescuing the jumpers back to the bowl. I returned the Legos to the wash basin, and added water a second time for a proper rinse. For this rinse, I upped the pressure, and moved the running water from the hose in a clockwise action to mimic a spin cycle. Once the tub was full again, I strained the Legos a second time, shook out the water, and dumped them onto a towel, spreading them out to dry. I repeated this processes several times with each bag of Legos.

After a good sweat and soaking later, my chore was complete. All 1 million of the plastic shards were as clean as skillfully possible. Okay, I did not count the loose Legos. Who does that?

Currently, the little guys are baking in the warm sun with a heavy towel over them to prevent any from getting up and walking away in the light breeze.

What started out as a task I wasn’t looking forward to, ended with great joy. Even though I wasn’t building sky scrapers or castles, I was letting the Legos swim; I inspected individual pieces, I broke apart structures that my husband’s little hands had created long ago, and I was getting that warm and fuzzy feeling in my tummy thinking of my husband, little Jimmy, growing up in an awesome and loving home.

I think every adult day should start off this way. This morning I played with Legos.

* I dedicate this post to O’s and S’s mommies, respectively, and to all the mommies out there who are trying so desperately to become one.

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A Lego is shown in the colander. (left). Legos receive a spray during their “spin cyle”. (right).

Like-new Legos in their old configurations.

 

 

 

Creepy Cuba

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4.30.17 Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon

There are two types of people in this world: believers and non-believers; I am a believer. I am a believer of spirits and the paranormal.

I think a lot people are skeptical until they have an experience that catapults them into the believer category. I was converted a long time ago, but today on this rainy and dreary day in Las Vegas, I will tell you my most recent story that has kept me firmly checking the believer box.

Last week, I visited Havana, Cuba, for a work trip. I have been slowly going through some 3,500 images I shot while also working for clients and visiting with family in town. One of the days I eagerly anticipated editing was the day I visited Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon.

Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon is a massive cemetery in Havana and is the largest in the Americas spanning 140 acres. It was founded in 1846 and is world renowned.

Any time I visit another country or US region, I love to walk in their local cemetery. I feel that cemeteries offer a candid glimpse of how people live today. So much culture can be seen in cemeteries and the living need not be present to see it. You only need to be there.

On the particular day I visited Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon, the humidity was a stifling 80-90% on top of a nearly 80-degree temperature. In fact, most of my days in Cuba were of this awful recipe. I do not fare well in humidity, and every day, I took a “siesta” that included going back to my room, having a cold shower, and resting. This day, I was determined to power through my siesta because of my schedule. I shouldn’t have for I did not feel well.

The expansive cemetery contained aboveground graves topped with concrete slabs. There were also many large mausoleums housing wealthy families’ remains. I recall one point where I was photographing near a statue of a mother. People had walked up behind me and started chanting and clanking the rings on the concrete slabs. Their actions bore right into me, and I staggered backwards. I nearly passed out right then and immediately stumbled to the nearest tree for shade.

When researching for this blog, I discovered I was at the tomb of Amelia Goyri, who is known as La Milagrosa (The Miraculous One) and died in 1901 while giving birth. A marble statue adorning a cross, woman and baby in arms marks her grave. Her body was exhumed years after her death and was uncorrupted, which is a sign of sanctity in the Catholic faith. Her baby, who was buried at her feet, was allegedly found in her arms upon exhumation. For this reason, her grave has become a pilgrimage site of sorts for those who are hopeless and have special requests. I almost passed out at her grave while photographing the shrine around it.

But this isn’t the story I came here to write.

Due to not feeling well, considering I almost fainted two times before I left the cemetery (this is for sure a record for me in all of the hot and humid places I have documented in my 18 years of being a photojournalist), I do not have many photos from the cemetery. In fact, I only stayed about an hour and hoped to return.

That evening, I was talking with a new friend about my time in the sacred place. I retrieved my camera to scroll through a few photos and to ask him a question about a grave and that is when I saw it. There wedged between street photography and headstone shots, were a handful of black frames. What I found so odd was and had me slightly panicking was that the back of my camera had suddenly appeared dead on those  black frames.

To elaborate, I have my gear set up that when I am reviewing photos, I can see the file number, exposure and sequence. An example of such is “1/2025” (photo shot 1 of 2,025). When I came to the black frames, I did not see any camera data.

I was so worried that the camera card was corrupted (ruined card and lost photos) that I took it out of the camera at that moment, stowed it, and grabbed a new card.

But this is where it gets even weirder.

Not only did these frames not show any camera data on the back of my camera in the review mode, but also they were actually exposed in the same exposure as the images that appeared right after them. (I only had changed the ISO from 400 to 250). So, I had shot images outside with the same f-stop, shutter speed and similar film speed as the frames after them, but they came out black. How is this possible? By the way, if you are outside and expose too much, you would get a practically white frame, not black. And no, I do not own a lens cap.

And then as I looked through more of my take, it happened again both times only at the cemetery, and then the rest of the day’s images were fine. I am missing most of my cemetery take because of this.

When I open the image in photoshop, I can not pull anything out of the frame when using curves or levels. I find this very odd too.

Camera mishap is actually not the first time something has happened with my gear while visiting a somewhat eerie place, but I won’t launch into that story now. In fact, you can read about it here: http://dailyegyptian.com/31215/archives/devil_10-9_cm-death-by-a-broken-heart/

In the end, I was not able to return to Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon due to time constraints. I know that I will return to Cuba in the future, and when I do, I will be visiting the cemetery again and brining a newfound respect.

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Contact sheet from 4.30.17. Street photography images prior to shooting at Neópolis Cristóbal Cólon, which starts with blank frames.

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Camera data for back-to-back photos black frame (top) and statue shot (bottom). Exposure in blue.

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Offerings for Amelia Goyri, “The Miraculous One.” Here is where I nearly fell to the ground from heat.

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A mausoleum I was intrigued with. Note see the three graves were broken into.

Gift Shop Opt

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An Asian woman was walking with a small group in front of me near the Strip last week.

Immediately, I noticed her outfit. We all did. She was quite literally a walking advertisement for my town topped with a rhinestone USA hat. Head-to-toe she wore bright colors, patterns and sequins. Her personality matched her outfit. She was bedazzled.

I stopped her and attempted light conversation while we approached a crosswalk. There was clearly a language barrier, and she ushered over her friend to help us communicate. I discovered the fashionista on Paradise Road was from China. She gestured that her entire ensemble was from the nearby gift shop. I gave her a warm smile and in exchange, she let me take her photograph.

Something about this cheery and kind tourist stood out: She was so happy and excited to be here that she bought an entire outfit proclaiming it.

I found myself wishing I felt more like this woman. I wish I could bottle her energy and happiness and drink it. I wish I could go around and give my new Bottled Happy Tourist to grumpy people I encounter in my city constantly: road-raged divers, rude customers, bitter coworkers, and the list goes on.

We parted ways at the crosswalk, and I found my car.

As I type this blog, I can’t help but think what if the woman and I were to swap places and I was a tourist in China. Would I find something fun and crazy in a shop to wear? I doubt there would be a Chinese version of this. Would natives think what I was wearing was different or silly? Would I know that they thought I was different and silly? Would someone be writing a blog about me?

I suppose I would find a traditional Qi Pao, a Chinese silk robe with patterns and piping lining the seams. Something tells me that wearing one wouldn’t have the same effect on the streets in China as wearing the outfit in this photo does in the US. However, I am 5’7″ and clearly not Asian, so perhaps I would cause a stir at a crosswalk.

Well that settles it. I need to visit China.

Thank you to the woman in this photo. You brought cheer to my day  today and to the day I shot the photo– a day I had been walking around for hours toting gear. I can only hope that one day you will stumble across my blog, and I can send you a print. Wouldn’t that be a gem?!

Bling Bling Icing

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Acrylic rhinestones and faux gold embellishments are shown in a case.

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Colorful boas (left) and felt squares (right) are displayed.

It is the perfect stop for all things fun and pretend. The moment you walk through the door and round the corner by the counter, adult worries and everyday life are replaced by the endless possibilities of a child’s fantasy. Creativity comes to life with each touch of a feather, each glimpse of fabrics and trimmings and every peek into case after case of tiny jewels.

Want to be a pirate? Done. Want to be a king? Done, done. Want to be a showgirl? Absolutely done!

Williams Costume Company is the treasure chest; what will be your booty?

If crafting is not a strong point, there is also an entire apartment-sized room stocked with multi-piece and custom-made costumes ready for rent.

The store, which has been a neighborhood anchor for 60 years, receives customers of all kinds. A clerk told me that “anybody and everybody that has a creative side” are clientele. Customers include: theater people; costume and clothing designers; street performers; crafters; jewelry makers and students.

On a rainy Saturday a couple hours before closing, my sisters, husband and I were lost in the store calling out to one another rows apart to come see what we had found in our corn maze of creativity.

With my iPhone only, I started to document my discoveries; I hope you enjoy this little gallery of treasures.

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Miscellaneous metal and acrylic notions are displayed in a case.

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A showgirl headdress, masks (left) and wigs (right) are shown.

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Colorful chains (left) of different sizes available for custom length is shown, Sister Michelle (right) poses for personal photograph with Marilyn Monroe next to funky Elvis painted on store exterior.

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Feminine fancies are displayed in a case.

The Journey

 

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A man explores the mineral-deposited land at a hot springs in Tecopa, Calif. The small town, although without a stoplight or cell service, is home to many hot springs and draws throngs of tourists each year.

It started with a toothache.

I woke up and went to the dentist to discover that I needed a load of work done. I was in a lot of pain and swapped a 30-minute appointed for two hours in the chair–with a $2,000 price tag.

I was anxious to leave. I had a two-hour drive for an assignment in a tiny desert town that did not even have cell phone service.

With no time to lose, I left with a partially numb mouth and loads of worry. I have a dozen outstanding invoices due to me, some of which are late; and I must mention that one of my biggest clients laid me off without notice, because of budget constraints, the week of Thanksgiving. However, the worry was dissipating and soon replaced with excitement the farther I drove away from Las Vegas.

I truly enjoy any assignment that takes me to a new place, and photographing a widow of a cannabis legend in the town of Tecopa, Calif. population: 150 is no exception.

Also, the long drive allowed me to stop and explore. As a photojournalist, every drive I do seems to take longer because of this little fact.

I met my source in Tecopa without a minute to spare. Although the shoot, at times, was very challenging, she was extremely pleasant and cooperative, dubbing herself “an old hippie and a stoner.” All in all, I made some beautiful frames that I will have to share in a future post since they are embargoed until then.

On the way out of town, I noticed to my right a photo coming into frame while driving. The scene before me looked like it could have been on another continent. The land was dramatic; the sun was beginning to set; the clouds were particularly amazing; and there was a nice wind playing with a man’s bright red robe. Excitedly, I pulled the car over for about the 10th time, jumped out while the car was idling in park, and grabbed my gear.

After shooting for a while, I decided to take the long route home that would have me exiting through another desert town called Pahrump, where I happened upon a wonderful scene. The sky had only become richer since I had left Tecopa 30 minutes from my previous stop-car-get-out-shoot adventure.

I pulled over abruptly dodging dicey construction traffic and captured what looked like God himself lighting a sign just for me. I am not religious, but I know a good photo when I see one. I know an even better photo when I see the juxtaposition of a divine message with a racy town in the background.

Perhaps my story has taken a bit of a detour.

By the time I made it home, I had 632 frames between two camera bodies–and one giant toothache.

The next day started with more dental woes, and I found myself sitting in the exact same chair I had been in 24 hours earlier. I was the victim of probing and prodding yet again. Once we were through, the doctor reminded me that he wanted to show me his photo studio. Thankfully, we hadn’t had time yesterday.

“Come here, I want to show you something,” he said, excited.

See, I met Dr. W in a professional setting years before meeting him as a patient. He was very interested in my photo equipment then. I recall that I wanted to do my job as opposed to doing what I like to call “talking shop.”

I got out of the chair and followed him into a back room which he had completely converted it into a fully functioning photo studio equipped with an entire B&H catalog’s worth of equipment and the latest, greatest Apple products. He proceeded to excitedly show me x and y and z and followed the whole thing up with a quick little photo slideshow on a TV screen larger than the one I have in my living room. The slideshow featured patients he had photographed, concentrating on the dental work he has done, close-ups of teeth and such. There were a few frames with subjects wearing flowers and holding food.

While earlier I had tried to be polite and engage in tech-talk, I finally offered a suggestion of using a hair light on one of the subjects. He quickly dismissed me; I could tell he was not really listening. This show-and-tell was clearly more about him and less about my input and our conversation.

Dr. W is a really skilled dentist. My husband and I would not be going to him if he weren’t. Heck, he was the only one to finally give me a proper diagnosis after years of walking through other dentists’ doors. I am very thankful for that.

However, Dr. W is not a photographer. It is clear that he has had no formal training. His portraits that he displays proudly in his office lack any emotion. The horizon line is constantly tilted, and the lighting is wrong. Also, I noticed that every woman he showed in his 5-minute slideshow presentation had bare shoulders and arms, as opposed to the shots of men wearing collared shirts. Did he read somewhere in a handbook that putting a woman in a tube top (I hopefully presume) to create the illusion that she was topless or bare was good? Or professional? These are patients.

I left his office for a second day in a row feeling sore and a bit depressed. The entire time I was checking out Doc’s Photo Studio, I had wished that I had half of his studio set-up in my own office. I remembered those outstanding invoices and the other half of the $2,000 I still owed him for my dental work. Life is so ironic like that, isn’t it?

But then something happened. My editor from my Tecopa assignment returned my call while I was making the 10-mile drive home. After discussing some specifics about photo distribution, I filled her in on my pervious day and experience with the widow. I told her about the funny hiccups we had, quite frankly things I would expect to encounter with a woman who had been smoking marijuana nonstop all her life, and my editor and I laughed. She told me, “It looks like you really tapped into your reporting skills,”

That stuck.

I may not have all the studio equipment that I desire or the newest MacBook Pro, but my older, updated one is doing just fine for now as I type this blog post. Also, my very first camera, my father’s hand-me-down Minolta, worked just fine for me back then as well. I even won a few awards with frames that I shot on that old film beast.

In the end, I would not trade any of my photo experience for any amount of gear or money; I am already a very wealthy person. What started with a toothache, ended with humble comfort.

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A family walks along the path to a hot springs easily accessible by the main road.

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Pahrump advertises: Jesus (foreground) and Alien Fireworks (background)

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Tecopa, California.

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A man practices tai chi on the top of a high dune covered in minerals in Tecopa.

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A rusted water container is marked “FIRE WATER” at Charleston View on the boarder of California and Nevada.

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A man dressed in an orange wrap explores near a hot springs in Tecopa. He was one of several in a similarly-dressed party. I attempted to converse with them to see if they were Buddha or Hare Krishna, but there was a language barrier. A member in his party was from Thailand.

Participant

 

Women's March Vegas

Ashely Hardy burns sage and records video on a cell phone while participating in a women’s march to protest newly inaugurated President Donald Trump Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Las Vegas. A crowd of some 15,000 people marched downtown for a rally at the Lloyd D. George Federal Courthouse.

“Raise your hand if this is the first time you have ever participated in a march?” A woman said to a thick, buzzing crowd clotting Las Vegas Boulevard on a sunny day.

Raised hands went up everywhere around me and were like stars you can finally see so clearly in a country night sky when you get out of town and all of the pollution is far away.

In my 14 years as a full-time photojournalist, I have covered many marches, protests, strikes and cause-driven community gatherings without bias. I pride myself on my ability to remain professional, to cover all sides equally and above all to be impartial. In fact, I enjoy spending time at events where people are so passionate; it strengthens my appreciation of our beautiful, diverse world.

However, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, I found myself not booked for an important day in our nation’s history and decided it would be the first time I would attend a politically-driven event as a participant. I brought my camera, because I can not turn “that” off ever, with the hopes of making a few nice frames that may lead to an editorial blog post.

So here we are. Back to Sunday.

I walked alongside people of all ages, genders, races, and minority groups. I passed signs written in Spanish, people playing musical instruments and even a woman burning incense. Some participants even donned creative costumes and many wore homemade knitted pink caps. It was clear that everyone had one common drive: passion.

Women, men and children gathered throughout the world in solidarity. I can not speak for the people who marched in one of more than *670 events worldwide that day, but I can speak for myself and why I chose to participate:

I marched because I am not okay with a president that does not believe in the first amendment. I am not okay with a world leader who makes fun of a handicapped person on national television during his campaign for presidency. I am not okay with a world leader who wants to take away certain women’s rights in healthcare. I am not okay with a world leader who does not believe that the world is in a dire stage of climate change. My list of grievances is hefty, and these are merely a few.

To my friends, colleagues, and those who happen upon this post, thank you for making it this far. I know that we may not feel they same way and our political views may not align.

I only ask of you this:

Please think of one thing–anything in the world–that matters the most to you in your life. Think of that thing now in your head and create an object that represents your important thing and put that object on a pedestal. Now think of someone, lets say your boss, saying derogatory things about the item on your pedestal. Let’s go a step further and say your boss makes threats to hurt the item on your pedestal and prevent you from having it, touching it, seeing it, or letting the item thrive. How would you react?

This was how **half a million people in Washington DC alone decided to react Sunday in order to protect their item on their pedestal.

* According to Washington Post

** According to Associated Press

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People march on Fremont Street past historic neon signs.

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People chant, “Stronger together, we won’t fall. Justice peace and equality for all.”

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A woman holds a plastic figurine of Hillary Clinton (left). People cheer at the start of a rally outside the federal courthouse (right). 

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People participate in a women’s march to protest newly inaugurated President Donald Trump Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Las Vegas. 

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Kitchen with “outside” view at sink.

I received an invitation to an event called “Network Like a Billionaire!” from a good friend of mine, the wife of a colleague and fellow journalist in Las Vegas. We jumped at the opportunity to trade $10 each for a glimpse inside the 70’s swank home, including a guesthouse and pool, which was built completely underground.

My friends and I giggled with glee as we entered the staircase through the aboveground caretakers quarters and descended 30 feet below. Had we known an elevator that featured a window with a black light display show was an option for our entrance, we may have chosen the lazy, more scenic route.

Upon entering the 1978 Bomb Shelter People Terrarium, we were greeted by sprawling plush green carpet “grass,” pale blue painted “skies” and an abundance of plastic “leaves,” some of which were attached to a “tree trunk” that served as a ventilation route.

The underground compound was a massive 16,500-square ft., and us lucky golden ticket holders milled through room after room oohing and ahhing over various interior time capsule décor and faux exterior environment complete with lighting for sunset, day, night, and dusk.

We envied the pull-from-the-wall toasters in the pink kitchen; a room that appeared to be from a 1950’s television show set. We bathed ourselves in fun while touring an elaborate master bathroom complete with lit tub that was surrounded by mirrors and even had ourselves a mini photo shoot (fully-clothed of course!). We even walked on a suspended Flintstones-like bridge over the in-ground (well it is all in ground) pool to view two separate little hot tub nooks.

Mingling like a billionaire we did not as we chose to selfishly soak in the scene around us–myself taking in the beautiful disaster before me with each exposure I took. However, I insisted that we take a moment to speak with the current caretaker of the home so that we could fire off our questions that had come to mind while we became acquainted with the property. Not only did he tell us, among other fascinating facts, that the pool could be of use for bathing if need be during a nuclear attack, but he also said that he would probably get out of town and “ride it out first” if such a disaster would occur.

Side notes: The home that is located just east of the Strip in a residential area was built in 1978 by Avon founder Gerry Henderson and his wife Mary to reportedly withstand a nuclear blast. It was purchased for $1.15 million in 2014 by the Society for the Preservation of Near Extinct Species. The home is used for meeting and private events.

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Pool and tree at night with bridge to mini hot tubs.

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Detail of curtain in bedroom, detail of wallpaper in kitchen.

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One of two pull-out toasters in kitchen.

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Friends Sherri and Henry grab a selfie outside the home.

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Guest house (left) and outdoor lounge area by main house (right).

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Night lighting in quadrant near living room window.

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Touring is hard; relaxing in the master bath. Photo of me by Henry Brean.