Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #95 “Coffee”

I am not addicted to coffee.

Well, I may have a slight addiction, but that’s only because I can’t control the fact that the substance I love, that to which I am deeply enculturated and habituated, has in it, much to my dismay, a significant amount of caffeine.

No, I do not drink it for the “charge.” Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t need the charge. In fact, I don’t need one tiny micro percent of the charge. I am on all the time. My husband and friends have looked. I have no off switch.

Coffee is a very real, visceral representation of home for me.

When I was in preschool, my mother would take me to my grandparents very early in the morning. She was a surgical nurse and had to be at the hospital long before school started. My Abuelo Louis worked for La Segunda Central Panaderia, which still stands tody as one of the best Cuban bakeries in Tampa. Every day, I would find my Abuela in the kitchen struggling with the aftermath of Abuelo’s breakfast and on the counter waiting for me was an 8oz baby’s bottle filled with the most wonderful elixir in the universe: café con leche.

It didn’t matter that the amount of sugar and evaporated milk turned it into rocket fuel. It only mattered that it was the first sign that my daily routine had begun. She would patiently listen to me prattle on while I waited the few minutes for Abuelo to be ready to go. She struggled to answer, four strokes having entirely taken muscle control from her left side. I had a little girl’s limited understanding and couldn’t perceive how hard her daily life was. But I remember that bottle full of coffee and her frustration and amusement at answering my constant barrage of questions and after all that illness had done to her body, she was still lovely and elegant, with a radiant smile.

So, coffee means far more to me than just a means to get caffeine in my blood. It instantly reminds me of a time when my café con leche, my fresh pan Cubano and my little blue school uniform were guaranteed, as was my Abuela’s quiet strength. Each time I drink it, I get a very old peace.

Year of a Hundred Things: “Thing” #98, “Lenses”


“Wow, you must have a great camera.”

Photographers hear that a lot because many people assume that the camera does all of the work. But the camera, like the computer on your desk, or the oven in your kitchen, does nothing without the person holding it. Furthermore, the camera means nothing without the lens. The lens is what determines the look of the image. Is it wildly distorted? Is it what the human eye sees? Is it the perfect portrait lens?

But what is the lens without the hand that gives it focus?

It’s an easy metaphor, isn’t it? One can have all of the talent in the world, and not have the ability to give it focus. I know my lenses, intimately. I know which one will give my subjects the most beautiful profile. I know which will showcase the spectacular silhouette of the wedding dress chosen with all of the emotion of a hopeful bride. I know which lens will add pounds and I know which will take pounds away. And I know how to focus them all.

I have spent (and will continue to spend) a great deal of time acquiring my education as a photographer, and yet in 13 years, I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface. I will never be wholly satisfied. But I view the world through my lenses. I see an image come together in that small frame and I know I’ve selected the right tool for the job. Each lens has a different feel, and I’m aware of the quality I can expect from them. But without my hands, they are simply glass and metal. It is entirely up to me to use them to make something beautiful.