Euonymus in ice

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for taking stock. Looking back on the wins and losses of the previous year, folks with a penchant for self-improvement typically use the occasion of the New Year to make resolutions. Although I’m a sucker for self-help books, I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve seen enough New Years come and go to know that well-intentioned resolutions are often broken and forgotten by February, so setting grand goals for the New Year sounds like a guaranteed recipe for disappointment.


That being said, I’m a big fan of small, attainable goals. This past year, for instance, I set a goal to meditate at least five minutes every day, so although I didn’t go to the Zen Center as often as I would have liked, I am happy to say I meditated at home every single day. I also met my yearly goal to read fifty books in 2017, a goal I reached by reading a little bit every day.


The other thing I managed to do in 2017 was take and post to Flickr one photo every day. In any given year, I take far more than 365 photos: on days when I go somewhere or do something visually interesting, I might take and post dozens of photos. But on otherwise ordinary, unremarkable days, I need a nudge to take photos, and a 365-day photo challenge provides that motivation. Even in the gray days of February or the busiest days of the semester, I knew I had to snap and post a photo of something, no matter how boring or inane.

Icy aftermath

Over time, a daily photo challenge starts to feel like a personal scavenger hunt or visual gratitude journal: no matter how uninspired or bland a particular day might have felt, you have to find at least one image worth sharing. This year as always, I posted lots of pictures of pets; this year for the first time, I also posted lots of pictures of postcards. Scrolling through my photoset of “365 in 2017” photos, I see a visual time capsule of the entire year.


Because noticing is contagious, once you push yourself to take at least one picture a day, it becomes easier to take two, three, or more images. Over the course of the year, you hone your eye so it is perpetually on the lookout for Today’s Picture, and you prove to yourself day after day after day that there is always something interesting and share-worthy going on: you just have to capture it when it happens.


So on this New Year’s Eve, I’ve decided to continue into the New Year the three habits I honed over the course of the Old. I’ll keep meditating, reading, and snapping at least one photo a day, everyday. I hope what worked in 2017 will continue to work in 2018.

Click here to see my “2017 Year in Books” on Goodreads, or click here to see my “365 in 2017” photoset. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Celtics' Big Three with random Bruins fans

Yesterday, J and I went to an afternoon Bruins game, but instead of taking scores of photos of the action on the ice, I took one photo in the concourse during intermission. Ever since the TD Garden added larger-than-life murals to its concourse walls, I’ve wanted to photograph the one that shows Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett in their glory days as the Celtics’ Big Three.  Yesterday, I walked by that mural right when the passing crowds parted, and I was able to snap a quick shot of a half dozen Bruins fans standing in front of the Big Three. With one photo, I captured a memory of yesterday’s Bruins game even though that photo doesn’t show any hockey: score.

Self portrait with discarded mirror

This year I’ve decided to pursue another 365-day photo challenge. In 2017, I’m setting a goal of taking and posting to Flickr at least one photo every day–365 photos in 365 days–just as I did in 2013 and 2015. I’m already in the habit of taking lots of photos, but I tend to take those photos in spurts: some days I take lots, and some days I take none. When I challenge myself to take and share a photo a day for an entire year, though, I can’t zone out for days and then make up for lost time when I feel inspired. Instead, I have to be on-the-lookout for interesting images every single day.

Newton Centre menorah

The 365-day photo challenge provides an interesting nudge to take lots of pictures: whether you feel inspired or not, you have to photograph and share something, which means you start treating your mundane life as a kind of visual scavenger hunt. But even more interesting is the way the 365-day photo challenge forces you to encapsulate a single day into a single, quintessential picture. Given all the things you did (and all the photos you took) on a given day, which one will you select as That Day’s photo?

Conspiring mannequins

When anyone else looks at one of my finished 365-day challenges, they see a bunch of random, unrelated photos. When I look at a year’s worth of photos I’ve taken, however, I’m reminded of the story behind each one. There are photos I love, photos I think are adequate but a bit boring, and photos I took out of sheer desperation. Viewed en masse, these images capture the incremental and random nature of our lives. Some days are interesting and others boring, but all days pass just the same.

Chocolate penguins

Ultimately, the 365-day photo challenge is a kind of spiritual practice, as it forces me to make an intentional commitment pay attention to the world around me every single day. Last year, I didn’t take as many photos as I normally do, and I also spent less time than usual writing and blogging. This year, I want to kick these creative pursuits into gear, and I know from past experience that the 365-day photo challenge is a gimmick so silly, it somehow works.

Of the photos illustrating today’s post, I took the first two yesterday and the rest today. The final photo of two L.A. Burdick chocolate penguins is today’s photo, and over the course of the year, I’ll be posting 364 more to this photo set. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Opening tip

On New Year’s Eve, J and I went to an afternoon Celtics game, where I took my final photo of 2013: an image of the opening tip I shot on my phone. I intentionally didn’t bring a camera to the game since I knew I had to take only one more shot to meet last year’s 365-day photo challenge, and a cellphone shot would suffice. So with this one shot, my 2013 challenge was done, and I took no photos on New Year’s Day: the first day in a year I didn’t snap a picture of something.

Two squirrels, one mourning dove - Jan 5 / Day 5

I’m grateful to have completed last year’s photo challenge, which I can revisit any time by scrolling through my “365 in 2013” photo-set. Now, though, I’m looking forward to being free of that particular challenge. Shooting a photo a day was easy in the spring and summer when the earth was green and new flowers emerged at every turn. In the barren days of November and December, however, finding something new to shoot became more of a challenge: there’s only so many times, I learned, you can take closeup photos of sleeping cats.

Standing - Feb 15 / Day 46

Since I took so many photos during 2013, however, I had little problem coming up with 13 images for the photo calendars I make each year for family and friends: 12 photos for 12 months, plus a cover image. Selecting images for this year’s calendar was one of the first things I did after I submitted final grades last week, and it was fun (as always) to review twelve months’ worth of photos in advance of the new year.

Snowdrops in snow - March 27 / Day 86

Now that I’ve crossed those two photo commitments off my to-do list, now my only remaining creative challenge (for the time being, at least) is January’s Mindful Writing Challenge, in which I’m committing to write a “small stone” every day during the month of January. I’ll be posting January’s stones on Twitter, tagging them #smallstone. I participated in the Mindful Writing Challenge last year, and I’m looking forward to a month-long challenge that focuses on wordsmithing than photo-snapping: a chance to flex a different set of creative muscles.

Three of the four photos illustrating today’s post appear in my 2014 calendar; click here to see the complete photo-set, or click any of the following links for previous years’ sets: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. Enjoy, and happy New Year!

Two geese and one coot

Today is the 332nd day of the year, and I know that because I’ve been keeping count. Now that we’re rounding the backstretch into the last month of the year, I’m happy to report that I’m still keeping up with the 365-day photo challenge that I’ve mentioned here and here and here. Even on days when I feel like there’s not much photogenic going on, I’ve been shooting and posting to Flickr at least one photo every day: a discipline that forces me to look for something interesting to capture today regardless of how many interesting photos I took yesterday, last week, or last month.

Head of the Charles regatta

When I first decided to take and post at least a photo a day throughout 2013, I knew it would be a photographic challenge: some days, after all, you don’t necessarily feel like taking pictures. What I didn’t know then, though, was how quickly the 365-day challenge would become a kind of spiritual practice. Taking photos, after all, is about noticing the things around you, and if there’s anything that Zen practice is about, it’s paying attention and noticing.

Raindrops on spider web

Beyond the practice of paying attention and capturing interesting shots, however, the 365-day challenge has turned into something of a visual gratitude journal. When I look at the assortment of pictures I’ve collected over the past 332 days, what I see is a collage where each image takes me back to where I was and what I was doing when I took it. Better than a scrapbook that holds mementos from just the good times, my 365-day photo set represents all sorts of moments from the past year: some happy, some ho-hum. Browsing the photos in my 365-day photo set is like seeing the past year flash before my eyes like they say happens right before you die, but without the “dying” part.

Gleaming golden

Many of the images in my 365-day photo set aren’t great photos, but they are significant to me because they remind me of moments I want to remember. Like a kind of bookmark, these images flag a specific time or place. Take, for instance, this iPod panorama shot from the set of The Daily Show in New York. Photographically, it’s not a great shot, but looking at it immediately reminds me of the hours J and I spent waiting in line for tickets, excited to be seeing in person a show we faithfully watch on TV.

Audience panorama

Not all the images in my 365-day photo set are happy ones. One of the most powerful photos in the set is a simple screen shot taken on a day when J and I didn’t stray far from our television. There’s no need for me to repeat the story of what happened on Lockdown Friday: a single photo I took of the corner of our TV screen embodies all the tension of that day.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’d say that’s about right. It would take more than 332,000 words to recount all that has happened–happy, ho-hum, and historic–this past year. That’s why having a visual scrapbook of the year is such an amazing thing.

This is my Day 28 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.


I’m still participating in a 365-day photo challenge, where I’ve committed to taking (and posting to Flickr) at least one photo every day this year. As I mentioned when I first announced this project, the challenge for me isn’t to take a total of 365 photos in single year; instead, the challenge is to take (and share) at least one photo a day.

Front yard ferns

In a typical year, I take photos in spurts: on a day when J and I watch a parade or go to a Red Sox game or take a walk at a cemetery, I can easily take dozens of photos. But on more mundane days when I’m running errands, doing household chores, or grading papers, finding something photogenic to share can be a challenge. As is true with any sort of challenge, the days when it’s hardest to keep your commitment are the days when that commitment bears the most useful fruit.

Green on green

Now that I’m almost 150 days into the year, I’ve settled into a photographic routine for days when I’m not planning to go anywhere exciting. Around lunchtime, after I’ve unloading the dishwasher, I take my camera for a short walk around the yard. The sole purpose of this walk is to stalk today’s photo, as if I were a chef checking her garden to find ingredients for tonight’s dinner.

Fuzzy buds - May 22 / Day 142

On this short yard-walk, I check to see what is blooming or looming: are the peony buds still tightly closed? Is the spiderwort past its prime? Are there any interesting birds splashing in the birdbath, or any of several baby cottontails willing to be photographed?

Hydrangea leaf

As silly as it sounds, simply taking a more-or-less daily stroll around my own yard with a camera has made me much more aware of what’s going on there. Yesterday, for instance, the irises bloomed…


…but the mountain laurels didn’t. How could I have been certain of these two realities unless I myself went outside to see?

Mountain laurel buds

One thing that has surprised me this year is how much I miss even when I’m trying to be observant. One day last week, for instance, I shot a picture of some curiously reddened leaves on the shrub that fringes our front sidewalk, but only after I looked at the photo on my laptop did I realized the stem of those leaves was crawling with tiny green insects.

Crawling - May 23 / Day 143

Likewise, while focused on yesterday’s tightly budded mountain laurels, I unwittingly shot a picture of a lacy-winged insect beneath one of them.

Insect on mountain laurel bud

Having almost-missed this almost-transparent insect, I now wonder how many silent creatures I pass or tread upon without noticing. How dare I venture into the world at large when I am so ignorant about the goings-on in my own backyard?

Robin's egg

The main reason to do a 365-day photo challenge is to force yourself to pay attention, and simply paying attention always bears interesting fruit. As soon start paying attention, one of the first things you notice is how oblivious you normally are. How many years have gone by when I didn’t notice the exact day when the irises bloomed or the almost-invisible insects in my midst?

Neon star

Today I took a quick lunchtime walk toward the Framingham Centre Common and back, just to see what I could see. It was a clear, cold day, the kind of day when you can easily stay inside if you have a warm laptop, a long to-do list, and a large sunny office window that gives you the illusion of being outside. But I’ve taken enough winter walks to know that once you’re moving, your coursing blood quickly warms you, and I’ve spent enough sleeting, gray days cooped up inside to know that you should always get your winter walking in when the walking’s good.


In this year’s attempt to take and post to Flickr at least one photo a day, I’ve been taking lots of pictures, and on days like today I find myself walking with one simple goal in mind: to find today’s picture. It’s certainly possible to take photos inside: already this year, I’ve taken plenty of pictures of sleeping cats. But on sunny days, it seems a shame to resort to indoor photos when the light lies brightly on every flat surface, the landscape gilded with glare. On clear, brisk days, it seems almost criminal to stay inside when there are things out there to be seen.

Found feather

So today around noon, my camera and I took a walk to see what odd or quirky things we might find between here, there, and back. Walking with a camera in search of One Decent Picture turns a lunchtime stroll into a scavenger hunt, with ordinary objects suddenly transformed into treasured discoveries. Instead of walking dully past the Same Old Stuff, you walk with your eyes open and alert: what can I see Today that is different from Yesterday, or that won’t be here Tomorrow? And sure enough, the photo I snapped this afternoon of the bare-neon star on the Super Discount Liquor store sign, pictured at the top of this post, is already dated: when I left campus tonight, I noticed they’d repaired the sign, capping the bare neon tubes with a blue star-shaped cover.

Notice the bare ground in that final photo. The next time I post here, we’ll probably be buried in snow.

Pink ribbon - Jan 15 / Day 15

Yesterday J and I walked to Newton Centre for lunch, taking pictures along the way. We saw an odd assortment of lost or castoff objects: a baseball tossed from someone’s backyard, a dropped jar of peanut butter, a row of unwanted paint cans and plastic storage bins, a leather loveseat. In the aftermath of January thaw, walking with a camera feels a bit like a scavenger hunt, where your goal is simply to collect images of whatever interesting detritus you encounter. By the time J and I arrived our lunch destination, I felt like we’d already been fed one kind of sustenance: the creative inspiration of found objects.


Although I habitually carry a camera with me everywhere, this year I’m more consciously aware of the practice, having decided to attempt a 365-day photo challenge: in 2013, I’m committing to take and post to Flickr at least one photo every day for 365 consecutive days. Since I’m already in the habit of taking lots of pictures, the thought of taking 365 photos in 2013 isn’t daunting: in 2012, after all, I posted 1,714 photos to Flickr. For me, taking 365 photos is easy; the challenge lies in sharing photos from 365 days.


Looking back on last year’s photo archives, there are radical fluctuations in the number of photos I took from month to month. Last February, instance, I posted only eight photos to Flickr whereas in August, I posted 304. Some months seem more photogenic than others, and some months I don’t have as much time to take (or at least post) a lot of photos. Looking at Flickr’s calendar view of any given month, I see how I tend to take photographs in spurts: on a single day in August when I visited the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, for instance, I took 146 photos, which is more than I took in the entire month of April. If you’re shooting photos for a blog or photo archive, you don’t have to worry about taking photos every day: as long as you have enough photos from last week, last month, or even last year to show on-blog, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you shot any images today.

Holly berries

What I’m liking (already) about this still-embryonic 365-day challenge is how it’s forcing me to re-think this idea that I don’t need to take photos today if I still have photos from yesterday. Although my blog may not care whether I shot any pictures today, my 365-day challenge does. Regardless of how many photos I shot yesterday, I still need to shoot something today, and anything I shoot today won’t count for tomorrow’s goal: all that matters is today. So far this year, I’ve already gotten into the habit of shooting early and often, taking some easy morning shots (usually of sleeping cats) that I know I have on hand just in case I don’t have time (or can’t find inspiration) to shoot something more interesting later. Knowing I have those easy morning shots to fall back on has given me the impetus to find (and photograph) something more interesting later, if only to prove to myself that I don’t need to rely on easy shots.

Huge fungus

I’ve written before about how the first photo you take on a given day breaks the ice so you can take more photos, and I’m finding that to be particularly true with this 365-day challenge. When you know you already have a photo you can share today, that gives you the freedom to take other, even better photos. Given the easy “gimme” shots you took in the morning, you want to find something better, more interesting, or more photo-worthy to share instead. Promising to take one photo a day ends up spurring you to take multiple photos on any given day: the more photos you take, the more selective you can be when it comes to picking your favorite. Instead of posting “what I have,” I can share “what I liked”: that one shot out of several that piqued my attention. As a result, I’ve already posted more photos during the first two weeks of January, 2013 than I did the entire month of January, 2012.

Dried berries

Only a few weeks into this year-long photo challenge, I’m realizing it’s an exercise in trust as much as discipline. If I’m faithful in taking and sharing a photo today, do I really believe the Universe will provide something interesting or photogenic for me to shoot tomorrow? Shooting and sharing a photo a day reminds me of the prohibition God made when he fed the wandering Israelites manna from heaven: gather all you can eat today, but don’t hoard any for tomorrow. Even as a child, I fretted over this Bible story, knowing I’d be the type to squirrel away a secret stash “just in case” tomorrow’s promised harvest failed. Although I still stockpile photos for my blog, I know as long as I’m doing this photo challenge, I’ll have to shoot something fresh tomorrow, the next day, and the next. I’m curious to see how desperate, creative, or desperately creative I’ll get as the year continues, the novelty of this project wears off, and I start running out of “obvious” pictures to take. How deeply can I trust my intrinsic belief that this moment and the next and the next is truly like no other?

Lamp post shadow

The photo at the top of this post is today’s Day 15 photo; the other photos come from either today or yesterday. Here is the Flickr photo-set where I’m posting my daily photos in case you want to keep track with my progress. (Please note that while I’m committing to SHOOT each day’s photo by midnight Eastern time, I might not get around to POSTING it until a day or so later, depending on when I’m able to upload photos. Luckily, Flickr automatically registers when a photo was taken, so I won’t be able to cheat with post-dated images.)