Using Ad Sense With A Responsive Web Design Layout

Pardon me for geeking out with this post, I don’t usually write about my day job, which is managing a suite of online magazines. One part of my job revolves around keeping the designs and layouts fresh, user friendly, and easy to monetize.

If you have stumbled upon this post, you know that responsive design is de riguer these days. No sense in designing a different website for each screen size out there, responsive design takes care of that with the use of CSS and a few other tweaks. A responsive design will ideally detect what type of device (and screen size) is accessing your site, and deliver content that fits that screen perfectly. SEAMLESSLY.

If you are designing for a site that has Ad Sense ads, things get a little tricky. There are a number of little wrenches that scenario presents. First of all, Ad Sense ads are fixed sizes, which does not adapt well to a responsive design, particularly if you are using large horizontal banners or skyscrapers. Those banners are known money-makers, and if you site design is currently optimized for that type of ad, you can expect a sizeable (pun intended) change in your ad revenue if you eliminate those ads. Secondly, you have to be careful that your new responsive design does not inadvertently cause you to violate Ad Sense publisher rules. For example, you could end up delivering too many ads on a page, or because of the fixed widths, you can end up covering up content with an ad. Those are big no-no’s.

So, I have been searching and learning new things to adapt all of our site layouts and designs for the future: responsive design, and responsive Ad Sense Units.

This post is really a place for me to put links to all the resources I am finding on my search. I hope they benefit you as well. Please feel free to share your ideas or insight in the comments. As I find more resources and links to helpful articles, I will update this page, so you might want to keep it in your bookmarks.

Using Ad Sense With A Responsive Web Design Tutorial Using CSS & Jquery

AdSense You Tube Video all about Responsive Design, with a great list of recommendations to address common issues.

Found this neat link after I googled Ad Sense Responsive Ad Units:



Inspired by a Conversation That Wasn’t Mine

Last night I came across a recent interview between Charlie Rose and J.C. Chandor, the director of the film “All is Lost,” starring Robert Redford. I am fascinated by this film, which is about a solo sailor who is hit by a floating shipping container in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

One of the things that intrigues me is that Redford’s character is nameless, and there is barely any dialogue. I am also intrigued by the subject of the film, which essentially is the worst nightmare that could happen to a sailor at sea, except for perhaps a rogue wave.

Chandor wrote the 30-page script, and what interested me the most about that was his explanation of how the idea for the film was born. He said that 5 years ago he was on a train, looking out the window at the passing scenery, namely passing boat yards filled with boats on the hard. You can see the entire interview with J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford on the Charlie Rose show here:

Having lived and sailed aboard our sailboat, Fellowship, for many years, I am very familiar with boat yards. The key to surviving being on the hard is to get in and get out, fast. Languish too long, and it will suck you in like quicksand. Even boat owners with good intentions of storing a boat for the winter season sometimes get stuck- life or finances get in the way.

When you walk through a boat yard you can tell which boats have been there for a long time. Things deteriorate in the sun and wind, lines chafe, teak trim starts to turn grey, metal hulls get weepy. The sailboats still sing, though, if their masts are not stepped and the halyards are still running. All it takes is a gentle breeze to get a chorus of sailboats singing. In my opinion it is a sad sound – because there is no rhythm to it. When a boat is on the water, the movement causes the halyards to sing, but it is rhythmical, in tune with the swaying of the hull on the water. On the hard, though, the wind taunts the halyards.

This conversation inspired me to write a poem, which I have posted on my poetry blog, titled “On the Hard.”

Lupe Eyde Tucker – Article Tearsheets

Tearsheets of some of my articles, published in different magazines over the years:

Put Some Wind in Your Sails!, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, June 2013

Anchors Aweigh, Playground Magazine, Summer 2012

Photo Opportunity, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, May 2012

Sailing Away, South Florida Parenting, May 2000

Shoreline: Welcome to Miami Beach?, Cruising World, January 2006

Labor of Love, South Florida Parenting, April 2000

Tis the Season

Yes, it’s the season I wait all year for … Chocolate Covered Pretzel season!

I have a motto that goes along with this season, because frankly, Chocolate Covered Pretzels (CCPs) are yummy, but totally unhealthy, and notoriously fattening. That’s why I say, life is too short to eat inferior chocolate covered pretzels! I mean, if you are going to indulge in the calories, you need to make them worthwhile, right? 2012 has produced quite a crop of interesting CCP products, ranging from milk chocolate, dark chocolate, mint chocolate, and more. In an effort to help distinguish the worthwhile CCPs from the rubbish (and to justify trying every variety I have come across in the past two weeks), I have painstakingly sampled and researched. As a public service I compiled my findings in this blog post.

FYI, I did not research any white chocolate covered pretzels. As a general rule, I stay away from all “white chocolate” because there is no such thing. White chocolate is fake chocolate, so I don’t waste my time.

Mint Chocolate Flipz by Nestle

As a general rule, I would not include Flipz in a review of Chocolate Covered Pretzels, because although they are sweet and crunchy, they are more like candy than a chocolate covered pretzel. The chocolate is of very poor quality, and the pretzels themselves are non-descript, rendering Flipz a very pedestrian version of CCPs. They are made by Nestlé, so I would not be surprised if they were full of GMO evilness. They are the only CCP that I have found that is available all year round, which I think is indicative of the quality. However, given that this is the holiday (and CCP) season, they got a little creative and produced a mint chocolate version this year, therefore I felt compelled to include them in my research.

At first bite they are very reminiscent of Thin Mints, those classic Girl Scout cookies that I try to avoid during Girl Scout Cookie season. The chocolate has a darker flavoring – it is still not REAL chocolate, but nice in that it’s not too sweet. The pretzels themselves are not very prominent in the flavor profile, and crunch-wise, they are more like an afterthought. The mint flavoring could be a little more interesting; all in all its an entertaining attempt at doctoring up a mundane Flipz, but really not worth investing in more than one package.
Grade: C

Snyder’s Pretzel Dips

Snyder’s is a perfect example of logic in CCP’s. They are made by a pretzel company, what could be more logical than that? The nice part about Snyder’s is that they seem to put a lot of thought into their CCPs. They offer two chocolate varieties, both with Hershey’s chocolate, milk and Special Dark. MMMMM. I find Snyder’s to be highly satisfying, and until I tried a few other varieties, I thought they were the best. The pretzels are crunchy and salty, and the chocolate is delicious. Snyder’s does not skimp on the chocolate, which is another very important quality.

If you are looking for a mint chocolate pretzel, Snyder’s makes a York Peppermint Chocolate Pretzel Sandwich with little pretzel rounds. When I eat one of these I get the sensation of a more robust GS Thin Mint. Very satisfying and crunchy.
Grade: B+

Rold Gold Dark Dipped Bavarian Twists

As I mentioned before, until I tried other brands, I was satisfied with Snyders. Then, my husband brought home a bag of Rold Gold Dark Dipped Bavarian Twists and turned my world upside down. I mean, whoa! As a pretzel-lover, Rold Gold Bavarian twists do not disappoint. They are crisp and buttery, with a hint of saltiness that in itself is delicious. Add to that the generous coating of dark, creamy chocolate, and it elevates the CCP to a new level.

I also learned that size does matter, at least when it comes to CCPs. Rold Gold obviously does not want anyone to confuse their confections with anything that remotely resembles a prosaic Flipz. Rold Gold’s Bavarian Twists are large, they take at least two bites to eat just one. I found that this fact compels one to stop and savor the pretzel. It is also interesting to note that while I am apt to wolf down a bag of Snyders CCPs (in a lady-like fashion, of course), Rold Gold CCPs are made to savor, to contemplate even. The result is that a comparably-sized bag of Rold Gold lasts longer than a bag of Snyders.

There is a metaphor in there somewhere.

Grade: A+

Snack Factory Chocolate Covered Pretzel Crisps

I love the concept of Pretzel Crisps. Because I am a big fan of pretzels, pretzel crisps allow me to enjoy the yummy pretzel flavor and use them to scoop up myriads of different things, from cream cheese to dips. When I heard that Snack Factory makes a CCP crisp, I was psyched! First the good qualities: good chocolate and crunchy crispiness. They are thin, so it seems like there are a ton of them in the bag. They are larger than a mini pretzel, so you can take two bites. Downside: Pretzel crisps are a bit dry, perhaps because of their flatness. They go great with dips and flavorings, but above all other pretzels they have a tendency to stick to your teeth after you chew them. So, although they are tasty and chocolaty, the stick-to-your-teeth quality brings the satisfaction down a notch.

I tried both the Dark Chocolate and the Mint Chocolate Crunch. If you want a mint chocolate pretzel, I don’t recommend these. The mint is on the outside of the chocolate, in the form of crushed peppermint candy. Although this makes it attractive looking, the mint is not integrated enough. Most of the peppermint candy dust ends up in the bottom of the bag. Also, for some reason, the Mint Chocolate Crunch is very skimpy on the quantity of pretzels in the bag.
Grade: B-

The Painted Pretzel Pretzelicious Pretzel Knots

When I saw the Painted Pretzel on ABC’s Shark Tank, I was excited. What a great idea! All the sharks seemed to like the pretzels, but vacillated. Then, Mark Cuban made an offer to invest in the company, solidifying in my mind that he obviously has great taste AND investment acumen. By a stroke of good fortune, I was able to get my hands on some of these babies. They are larger pretzels, Rold Gold size, and in terms of artistry, they do live up to their name. Everything about them is good, the chocolate is high quality, delicious, and plentiful. The toppings add variety and scrumptiousness. I even liked the white chocolate ones, which says A LOT.
Grade: A+

There you have it. As of December 25th, Chocolate Covered Pretzel season is officially over for me. I have been doing double time at the Y to make up for my indulgences, and it’s time for me to quit while I am ahead. So, unless I come across something incredible, such as an organic chocolate covered pretzel, see you next season!

Looking Back to See Forward

On September 28th, 2012 I was given the opportunity to speak at the 70th anniversary celebration of the American School of Guayaquil, in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The school was dedicating the 70th anniversary yearbook to my dad, Dr. Albert Eyde, and I traveled to Ecuador to receive the dedication, as well as share a few words in memory of my dad.

In 2008 my dad passed away very quickly, he had only found out three weeks before his death that he had cancer. I was 8 months pregnant at the time, so I was not able to travel to Guayaquil with my siblings to attend the memorial services that were held there. To me, this was really sad, because I was the only one of his children who had been connected to his work; all my brothers had moved away years before. When I became a teacher at the American School (and later at Brookdale) Dad was so proud of me, he always said I would make a good teacher (I never believed him until I tried). I felt like he passed the baton to me, and not being able to be at his memorial services was a huge bummer.

When Patricia Ayala, current Secondary School Rector, contacted me about the dedication, and the possibility of one of the Eydes being present to accept it during the ceremony, I jumped at the chance! When they said that I could have the podium for a few minutes, I knew that this was an opportunity to share what I never had a chance to before. Despite my excitement, it was also very daunting. I spent many, many sleepless nights thinking about how to narrow it down to something meaningful, and at the same time encouraging.

I had so many things that I wanted to share. The history of the American School and the history of my family is so intricately entwined, that many times they seem one and the same.

In the end, the whole experience was a tremendous blessing for me. It was a journey on many different levels, and along the way I found a few things that I had not expected to find: forgiveness, inspiration, transformation, and closure. Ultimately, I gave the speech in Spanish, but I wrote it in English first and then translated it. There was no way I could have done this alone. I am so blessed to have wonderful people in my life who selflessly gave their time to help me! Thanks to Curtis for the help in narrowing down the focus and helping me work through the first drafts, to Anthony for the truly great final edits, Karina, Sandra & Paola for the help in translating, and Paola for listening to me practice the speech, and helping perfect my elocution in Spanish.

A Brief History

Years before I was born, my dad began working at the school as director of the English Department, in 1967. He was married to Ingrid Kraut at the time, and my oldest brother Cornell went to kindergarten there (he was later immortalized in a poem by Yorka Bossisio in the 1978 yearbook).

My second oldest brother, Niel, was born in Guayaquil 1968, but didn’t attend the school until 1978, when he was in the 4th grade. That year my dad took our family to Guayaquil for a year on his sabbatical from Rutgers to write his doctoral dissertation. He worked at the school, in the English Dept. again, and I began my career there in the 2nd grade. All of my siblings and I have been students at the American School. My brother Niel and I were both teachers there. That is where I met my husband, and many of my dearest, best friends.

However, the lasting impact that my dad had on the American School began when he was hired to be the Director General of the school in 1984. I guess I remember it so acutely because it was such a sensitive time in my own life, I had just turned 13 and my family uprooted and moved to a different continent, with a different language, culture, everything was different! I wanted to be excited, but the truth is it that it took me at least a year to adjust and get over my culture shock. I used to spend a lot of time with my dad in his office after school, he would be working and I would be curled up in an armchair, reading. He would tell me about the different things he was working on, and he would always listen to my opinions and ideas. He even used a couple of them!

My dad implemented a lot of radical changes at the school. For example, he started the school on the path of being SACS accredited, began the International Baccalaureate program, brought the first PC lab to a high school in Guayaquil, began English immersion from 1st grade (revolutionary!), and really set the bar for the standard of bilingual, multicultural education in Guayaquil. This, in turn, raised the quality of high school graduates, which had an upwards effect into the universities in Guayaquil, who had to adapt to the heightened aspirations and interests of incoming, now fully bilingual, freshmen. Just by doing his job at the American School to the best of his abilities, he really changed the educational landscape in a profound way.

Here is the speech in English:

It is a tremendous pleasure for me to represent the Eyde family and receive this wonderful gift and honor from the American School of Guayaquil towards my dad, Dr. Albert Eyde.

Many of you knew him, but for those of you who never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Eyde, I want to share some of the qualities that probably contributed to this posthumous honor.

Al was a devoted teacher who began his history with Colegio Americano in 1967, teaching English in the International Section, before I was even born.

He was a visionary, but beyond his professional preparation, and his achievements in completing groundbreaking projects in education here in Guayaquil and abroad, he was a visionary in another meaningful way. He was able to see the individual potential in people, often when they couldn’t even imagine it in themselves.

After his passing 4 years ago, I received hundreds of messages from students and colleagues who shared with me the many different ways in which Al impacted their lives. He was a positive force in many lives, encouraging people to excel. He was the type of person who gave you confidence in knowing that he believed in you, and you knew he expected you to do something with that potential. In this way he brought out the best in people. Al was always kind to everyone, young and old; he always greeted everyone with a smile. He had a great sense of humor and a powerful presence. With his genuine, friendly personality he made people feel like they could approach him, and one of his greatest strengths as a leader, I believe, was that he would listen to your ideas and concerns- students, parents, and colleagues alike. It was this quality which earned him so much love and respect.

I have been thinking a lot about what my dad would say if he had been able to be here today to accept this great honor personally. First, I think he would say that the accomplishments he made at Colegio Americano are something to be proud of, but they never would have been possible without the open hearts & minds of the board members, teachers, administrators, and parents who worked with him as a team, and helped bring about lasting change and success.

A person can be a visionary and can accomplish much by imposing their own strength and will, but when they win the support and dedication of hard working people who share a greater goal, the momentum continues long after the visionary is gone. Success makes it possible for you to leave an inheritance for others. But if you desire to do more, to create a legacy, then you need to think unselfishly and invest in others. When you do that, you gain the opportunity to create a legacy that will outlive you. I know that his hope was that what he started here at Colegio Americano would be carried on, to further enrich the education of our students, and the overall quality of multicultural education in Guayaquil.

My dad was a big fan of quotes, so in closing I would like to share a couple. The first is by one of his favorite authors, the poet Khalil Gibran, who wrote,” to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.”  I remember asking my Dad one time why he worked so hard, and put in so many hours at the school. His answer was that, for him, work was spiritual. It was his way of serving his fellow man, of making things better, and impacting the lives of people in a positive way. His work gave him a purpose, and it fulfilled him. This leads me to my second quote, by Gandhi, who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It is a quote that Al used often in his speeches, and one which I believe he put into practice. The changes Al Eyde wished to see in the world were obvious: more kindness, people giving selflessly, acting nobly, sharing ideas with each other, and encouraging one another to work for the greater good, because that is what he did. Ultimately, I believe that the inmost secret, which Gibran speaks of, is found in being the change you wish to see in the world.  That is Al’s true legacy, and one which we must carry on.

On behalf of the entire Eyde family, I thank you. May the American School of Guayaquil continue to grow, and be a leader in education in Guayaquil, and in Ecuador for 70 more years!

The video of the speech in Spanish:

Little Things that are actually Big Things

a poem of thanksgiving

Sailing into the St. Johns River

shoes to protect my tender feet,
the campfire and its healing heat
a boat, and sail to make it heel
the compass, the sextant, and the wheel

a pen, and paper to spread its inky bliss
the big bear hug, a deep French kiss.

spectacles for my weary eyes
journalists, to help me realize
the on/off switch, zeroes and ones
spreadsheets, and balanced sums

big fluffy towels, to lie on hot sandBouquet from Alegria
phone calls from friends, helping hands

the hot water heater, a convertible two-seater,
a syncopated beat, iambic pentameter

a car, for when I need to roam
a light on, for when I come home
photographs to keep my memories true,
especially my fondest ones of you

slow dancing, with intimate grace,
a blanket, and its warm embrace,
a pillow for my sleepy head
and silence, after all is said.

A Nationwide Epidemic of Belly Aches

This is no time for ease and comfort. It is the time to dare and endure. – Winston Churchill

As much as I resent and totally disagree with the fact that the government can now force me to buy something that I do not want, I have decided to accept the Healthcare mandate, for now.

Why? Because although I agree wholeheartedly with the vehement opposition to government health care, who the hell are we to complain? Yes, healthcare is a basic need, but for a large percentage of the rest of the world, it is a luxury. We live like spoiled children in a country where not having air conditioning is considered inhumane. As a country, we have been programmed to take for granted a myriad of luxuries that distance ourselves from the basic, important, things in life. Things that other people around the world are still struggling, and dying, for.

Some people have no choice, they are not even trying to fight, they are just fleeing for their lives, and getting caught in the crossfire. Women, children, and babies are the most affected. Some people in the world just want clean water and a clean, dry place to sleep. Some people just want to be able to bear a child and not watch them die of an easily curable condition.

But here, in the United States, undoubtedly the most blessed nation in the world, we are up in arms about being FORCED to buy healthcare.

Freedom is important, I agree. Freedom from oppression deserves to be fought for and preserved at all costs. I do believe that the healthcare bill is unconstitutional, and ought to be repealed, however I just can’t get myself worked up about it when I see so much suffering the world.

For most people in this country, their most powerful tool is their voice. Let’s be more vocal about things that really matter, things that need urgent change NOW, because people’s lives depend on it. Healthcare can be put on a shelf for now, at least until after the election – because unless we get a new administration come November, chances are the healthcare bill is here to stay. So, let’s look around and see what good we can do. Let’s use our voices to shine a light on the atrocities in Syria, the human trafficking happening everywhere, and the corporate decimation of our food supply, just to name a few pressing matters in the world today.

I am pretty sure that turning our focus on those who are more oppressed than we, will change our views on our own situation. Nothing like a fresh perspective to turn complaints into gratitude.

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

You can overcome anything if you don’t bellyache. ~Bernard M. Baruch

Goodbye, Jersey

(inspired by Goodnight, Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown.)

The sun is high
The air is still
And everything that will be,
Cars racing on the GSP
and the lady conductor asking, “tickets, please.”

Summer, trees, hydrangeas
Cool ocean breeze and jughandles
Every town in descending order,
and memories calling
from every corner

Goodbye, Jersey
Goodbye, Shore
Goodbye all the Wawa stores

Rt 35 & 66
Radio stations’ eclectic mix
Beginning in Red Bank, on the Navesink River
and traipsing around the state together,

Gingerbread houses in Ocean Grove
Twin Lights beaming from above,
Like an old, cherished love,
“You have not changed!”
(never will!)
Yet, the train moves forward, still.

Goodbye, Jersey
Goodbye, Al
Goodbye horses, farms, and cows
Goodbye ocean breeze, and salty air
and Jersey Girls everywhere.

An Adventure in the Jungle of Amazonian Ecuador

In 1999, while six months pregnant, Curtis and I spent four days in the jungle near the Colombian border. In all my years in Ecuador, I had never been to the jungle. Curtis and I were returning to the US in a few weeks, and we wanted to squeeze as much sight seeing as we could into our remaining days.

My biggest concern about the trip was catching malaria, which can be potentially fatal for a baby in the womb. On the other hand, I didn’t want to ingest any anti-malaria medicine either, as I had heard that it was almost as bad as getting malaria.

Curtis and Josh carrying back a big hand of plantains from the plantations in Puerto Bolivar.

Despite my worries, it was an adventure that I will never forget. Bugs! Caymans! Piranhas! Oh my! Just getting to the jungle was an adventure. An eight-hour bus ride from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, then a three hour ride in a pickup truck (“taxi”), then we waited by the side of a river for two hours, to be picked up by a huge canoe with a 50 hp Yamaha outboard. Finally, it took three and a half hours traveling up river by canoe to finally get to our campsite.

Four days later, when we returned to civilization (if you could call Lago Agrio civilization), we learned that while we were traipsing through the jungle, the Central Bank of Ecuador had closed all the banks in the country. We were stuck in Lago Agrio (a seedy oil town whose name translates to Sour Lake) because we could not even exchange dollars. All the banks in the country ended up being closed for 2 weeks. Thankfully, we made it out of Lago Agrio and caught a bus to Quito after only a few days, but not without a bunch of stories, no siree …

March 4, 1999

The adventurous crew of jungle trekkers.

I lost my other travel log, so I have to begin a new one. This morning Curtis and I and three other tourists, plus our guide Sonia, arrived at 6:30 am to Lago Agrio – 20 km south of the Colombian border. The bus trip, which lasted 8 hours and left Quito at 11:00 pm last night, was uneventful, but rather long. I was unable to do any sleeping because of the worries in my head and the feeling of scrambled baby in my midsection. It was a VERY bumpy ride. I know Carolina did not enjoy the trip at all – she kept moving all night.

What little Curtis & I could see of the scenery was: a downhill road which seemed to be one lane, winding around the northern Ecuadorian Andes, which we left to the west. There was a lot of fog on the way, and around 4 am we were spectators to a light show which illuminated the valley and the landscape around us. Along the road, like a thick metal snake, the Transecuadorian pipeline appeared every now and then.

Eight hours on a bumpy road and now we are here, in Lago Agrio, about to embark on a four day adventure into the jungle. I’m very nervous and excited at the same time. I don’t want to get bitten by any mosquitoes and I don’t want to catch malaria!

7:35 pm, same day, now night.

My perfume: Cutter’s bug spray. My date: Curtis and a few million bugs. I never realized how precious a rain poncho could be. We finally made it to our campsite, miles and miles (by river canoe) away from any sort of civilization. After a very bumpy 2 1/2 hour drive from Lago Agrio (Curtis drove most of the way, thank God, but we still don’t know why he was chosen to be the driver) we arrived in Cuyabeno at 1:30 pm and paid our entrance fee and had lunch. Finally, at 3:30 ish we got in a canoe and made a spectacular journey down the Cuyabeno river. We saw ALL SORTS of birds – the Stinky Turkey, Cacique, Ari-whatever, butterflies, 3 kinds of monkeys and just green, green, green.

Here I am standing next to the roots of a tree that keeled over after heavy rains.

The trip was very relaxing until we stopped in the middle of a lake an hour before we reached camp. We saw a very nice sunset, but were kind of antsy (no pun intended) to make it to camp before dark. Once the sun set, we headed off down the river and it got progressively darker as the river got windier and windier. We saw a lot of bats fly around, scooping up insects off the water, and got a lot of insects in our mouths, noses & eyes. Finally, FINALLY we made it to camp, and found out our cabaña has no walls! It’s very exciting to be in the jungle, but I just have to pray and talk to God constantly and ask Him to help me overcome my fears. This is such an adventure – I just can’t help but think of Carolina, and I don’t want anything to happen that will hurt her.

Jungle journal – day 2

I am writing during breakfast of our third day. Yesterday we woke up, and after going to see the Macaw (guacamayo) tree, we set off in the canoe to be deposited off on a trail that eventually led us into the village of Puerto Bolivar. The trek consisted of an uphill/downhill climb and we saw lots of trees, bugs, armadillo tracks, and stuff like that.

It was very hot and sweaty, but although the sun as blazing all day, the jungle was shady. We saw HUGE ceibos trees, with giant triangular trunks (my favorites), chonta trees with the down growing roots. We ate ants! Lemon ants, which actually taste pretty good. “Like lemon candy,” said Josh, one of our fellow tour takers. Apparently, being in the jungle for two days makes one easily forget what lemon candy really tastes like.

Curtis swimming in a lake, adjacent to the river.

We trekked all day until 1:30, when we finally made it to Puerto Bolivar, basically a modest scattering of shacks. There, we sat in the shade and had cool drinks, and then we went across the river, and everyone except for me, took a bath in the river. Reason being, I’m pregnant, and I really don’t know what is in that lake, so better safe than sorry. Curtis, on the other hand, jumped right in. Sonia told him not to pee in the water, because apparently there is some tiny fish that will follow the flow of the pee and try to go up his … well, he made sure not to pee in the lake.

When we arrived back at the camp we ate lunch, and then Curtis and I took a nap. I was bitten by fire ants TWICE before during our nap (on the rear, SO painful).

At 5:00 pm we all went piranha fishing. I caught no fish, but fed a lot of them with my bait! We returned to camp with one piranha and at 7:00 pm, once it got dark, we went on a night hike through the jungle. In the jungle we saw a lot of bugs. HUGE ones like giant crickets with slimy bodies (we have pictures), HUGE hairy spiders, armadillo holes, small crickets, cicadas, and heard lots of cool noises (read: scary).

Huge cricket-like creatures with shiny brown armor, the size of Curtis' hand, like leaping land lobsters, like to lurk in the jungle at night.

After the walk, Curtis and I walked down to the river to wash off our boots, and then we sat down on the dock to look at the stars & pray. The sky was beautiful and there were tons of stars, and we could see lightning  light up the sky in the distance. It’s fun being here with Curtis – I really hope he is enjoying being out here in nature and away from all the craziness of the city.

Curtis and the one piranha we caught - check out those teeth!

After dinner we hit the hay, and slept soundly without mosquitoes in our net or anything . I went to the outhouse 3 times in the whole night, and thank God I was not bitten once yet by any mosquitoes.

There is something about having to walk down a jungle path in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom in an outhouse, with only a flashlight to light your way. It’s an exercise in mental negotiation. Lying on our mosquito-net-covered mattress, in a cabana with no walls, in the middle of a jungle, just listening to the sounds of wildlife around me was enough to encourage me to hold it. Yet, when you are six months pregnant, you can only hold it for so long, and if you wait too long, there is a point that you can get to where you can’t even walk anymore. For the first time in my life I really appreciate (ok, envy) the simple freedom of being a guy. I mean, they can just pee anywhere.

Today we have a full day and Curtis and I have to prepare our bed for the night since we won’t be back before dark tonight. The Lord is my shepherd …

Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away!

When I was 13 years old I begged my parents to buy me a 35 mm SLR camera. Back then, the desire to take photographs was as intense, maybe even more intense, than my desire to become a writer. I remember how excited I was when, at the end of seventh grade, I signed up for Photography as an eighth grade elective, only to find out later that I was not only switching schools, but that summer my family was moving to a different country. Needless to say, I was bummed out.

After a year overseas, and a lot of consistent begging on my part, I got my wish. Dad gave me my first 35 mm SLR for my birthday in 1985. I was beyond elated! It was a Pentax P3 with a 50mm lens, and I dove right in to the manual and started shooting away.

The very first roll of film I shot was an intense 36-frame study of ants on a potted plant outside my front door. I, being an avid reader of National Geographic, felt compelled to visually document those ants and their industrious behavior. They were pretty big ants, and they were a deep, orangey red, which I noticed really stood out against the background of the green stems and leaves of that plant. At the ripe old age of 14, I just knew that this was the beginning of an amazing journey in uncharted photographic, and perhaps even scientific, territory.

My first lesson in photography was patience. It takes a lot of time to develop a full roll of 36 color prints, especially in a 3rd world country! My second lesson was financial: shooting rolls of 36 color photos of ants was pretty expensive, especially when most of the shots were out of focus and ill composed. My mother was NOT pleased about that. I learned a lot from that first roll of film. Undeterred, I read up on depth of field, refocused my efforts, and continued on- a little more selective in my choice of subjects perhaps, but the fire was still there.

I loved taking photos. I loved the smell of a freshly opened canister of film. I loved the heft of the camera in my hand, and the sound of the shutter opening and closing. I felt as if the only way my young teenage mind could even attempt to capture the beauty of what I saw around me, and how that beauty made me feel, was with a photograph.

The hardest part for me was hoping I got a good shot, and waiting, until finally my parents got around to getting my film developed. Although I rarely achieved a shot that evoked what I was trying to capture, especially when I took photos of the Ecuadorian countryside, I still yearned for more.

Taking photographs has been a major part of my life, so I wanted to pass that on to our children. My eldest daughter started asking for a camera when she was 8, and with digital photography making it so affordable to take photographs it seemed like a no brainer to me. It took a couple of throw away digital cameras for her to learn to take care of the real camera she has now. I’ve been happy to know that she has slowly gotten the idea of composition, and I can see sometimes when she is looking at things, that she’s looking for what’s beautiful to her, what’s beautiful enough to capture in a photo.

A while after she got her camera, with its built in digital video feature, my daughter came to me and asked me to clear off her memory card because it had gotten full. I set up a special folder for her on our hard drive and transferred everything over, clearing the card. Then, curious, I started looking through her photos and videos.

Just like I had done years before, there were all her experimental shots, the wanna-be nature photographer shots, the umpteen self portraits. There was however, something else. I got a glimpse at life from the persepctive of my daughter. I saw photos she had taken with her sisters when they were playing with each other. Silly, goofy photos, and serious portraits of her sisters in their fancy dresses (obviously taken when I was at work in my office). Videos of them singing together, candid and uninhibited. Many of her photos are amongst my very favorite pictures of my children.

I also found a couple of videos that my daughter had taken when we drove to Miami to meet my Dad when he went to the hospital a few weeks before he passed away. We had no idea that we were near the end, neither did he at that time, and we were all hanging out in his hospital room, laughing and catching him up on the adventures from our recent trip to Puerto Rico. It never occured to me at the time to get a video of my Dad, but Sunny did, and there they were on her camera, just waiting to be found.

Seeing what Sunny came up with got me to realize that our children are not just extras in this movie. They are actors, even though they may be passive a lot of the times, but even more importantly, they are co-witnesses to this life that we are leading together. Each one has a perspective and a voice that, although it may be undeveloped, has really interesting things to say. Photography for a child can be both a visual journal and a creative outlet. It is the one electronic gadget that, instead of immersing them in a world of their own like a video game, e-reader, or MP3 player, actually causes them to interact with the world around them.

My mother gave our other three daughters cameras this past week. Our 8 year-old, Faith, had been begging for a real camera for several months. It has been very interesting to see what has already come out of their initial picture taking sessions, and  I am so excited to share this lifelong passion of mine, with them.

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