The Price of Tacos

There are distinct moments in my life that I can recollect with such clarity that I often wonder if I left a piece of me there to continue to replay that scene. One such time was a cool fall evening as I approached the menu in a taco bell drive through. Buckled behind me were my seven excited children along with a couple neighbor kids all buckled in rows of our 15 passenger van. With one ear I listened to their requests and the other, I waited for the small speaker to invite me to order. Instead it told me;

“I’ll be with you in just a moment.”

I sighed a breath of relief grateful for the additional time to figure out  what we wanted. Having a large family, it was pretty customary to allow my kids to choose for themselves and just give them a dollar limit for their order. Some days it would be a 2 dollar day and on really good days a 5 dollar day. Going out to fast food was not something we did a lot of and there many reasons why. The biggest one was budget. It cost a lot to take a family out to eat. but also,  I loved family time around the table at home. I knew I could prepare food at home that was healthier and more cost effective than fast food.  I also loved the time I got to spend with my family preparing meals. It gave me not only the opportunity to teach them important skills but also to share conversation and spend time being with them.

I declared to my kids that today was going to be a $2 day. The van erupted in excited pandemonium. Not exactly the response I was expecting but then I noticed the new menu to the side, the “value” menu. These items were reduced in price and most of the items listed were the ones my kids were most accustomed to ordering. Tacos, burritos and  nachos were all 49 cents each. My children grew up knowing the value of a dollar and rarely spent it on sodas, so for their 2 dollars, they could each get 4 food items. Even the little cinnamon sugar crispy things were on there, so a few of them even chose to have  dessert. The little speaker invited me to order, and so I did.

By the time we left the Pick up window we had bags of food. after all there were 10 of us and for $20 we were able to get 10 cups of water and 10 tacos, 20 bean burritos, 5 cinnamon crisps and 5 nachos and a myriad of hot sauce packets to add to our enjoyment.

We drove home and as we did I began to wonder if this should become part of our budgeting plan. If we replace one meal a week with a taco bell super value menu meal, I think we could save some money. As I parked the van in the driveway the sliding door flew open and everyone ran for the front door, then to the kitchen table. Once there, they distributed the food, unwrapped it, devoured what they could then promptly exited through the back door to play. It was like a whirlwind. I think the only conversation that took place was the discussion of who had what food. No one mentioned if they liked it, I don’t even know if they took the time to taste it. Perhaps this is why they call it fast food, because everyone eats it so fast.

It was then that I began to consider what a 49 cent taco really cost me. It cost me time  preparing the food with my kids. It cost me a house filled with the aroma of a home cooked meal simmering on the stove. It cost me the added nutrition that I could provide by selecting what went into the food I served and what didn’t. It cost me sitting down to a table that one of my children had carefully prepared on behalf of the family. That to me was like setting the stage for the most important scene of the day to play out; Family dinner hour.  Here is where our connections were made. We learned about each others challenges, and victory’s. We would plan for family adventures and even dream of places we wanted to go one day, or camping trips we wanted to take. We would talk about anything and everything. In the spring, it was often around the dinner table that we would decide what we wanted to grow in our garden. And it was around that same table that we would all savor the bounty of our harvest. I decided then and there as I was gathering the pile of wrappers and half eaten 49 cent items. That I would never consider giving up a meal a week even if I had thought for a moment that it might save me something. The cost was simply too great.

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This is almost everyone in my family. Front and center is my mom and dad the ones who taught me the importance of time around the table. My family is in the upper left corner and the rest are my siblings and their families. Our tables have gotten bigger, but the time around we get to spend gathered around them is priceless.



The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Volunteering as one of the water moms at marching band camp was a highlight of my summer.  We kept 70 gallons of filtered water available at all times along with ice.  The kids had frequent water breaks since camp was during the peak of summer heat in the dry high dessert. When our services weren’t needed at the water front, my friend Sue and I would take to the field with our cameras.  Sue was a determined photographer. With amazement I watched from the sidelines as she would get right in the middle of the formations to capture the kids in action. My approach was very different. I would play, experiment, especially with light. I rarely took pictures in the peak of the day, because the results usually weren’t worth my efforts. I was always on the hunt for the artistic shot. Sue would shoot no matter the light. There were times I would put my camera away, only to see her jumping once again right in the middle of the battle. She always had this ability to stay one step in front of them as they marched. Fear kept me comfortably shielded in the shadows of the trees on the sidelines. As the sun began to make its way towards the horizon, I would abandon my post and begin my hunt. I loved to play with light. I’d place myself directly in the path of the sun with the band members moving between me and it’s brilliance. This is when I would have my fun! I loved to shoot into the sun. Playing with flare, silhouettes and all of the strange effects that would appear delighted me. Digital photography allows this incredible freedom to adjust the settings and dial everything in and then enables us to see the results in real-time. When The settings allow me to capture an image that gives me the look and feel of an artistic piece or painting that is when I am most satisfied with my efforts. The first night as we both came in for the night and reviewed our photos Sue approached me and asked,
“What were you doing shooting into the sun? That goes against every rule I was ever taught about photography. I want to see what you were capturing.”

I turned my laptop towards her and began to share some of my photos and found myself chuckling,

“You mean there are rules? I just love to experiment with light and love to dial in the settings to use the flare to my advantage.”

I then explained to her that I had no formal training with photography. I was a graphic designer and artist and had recently become obsessed with photography.

She simply said,

” Oh that explains everything, you are an artist. I was a photo journalism graduate from college.”

Now it all made sense to me. How she could just jump in and had no boundaries. Her training taught her to have none. My training was based on my experience and I was focused on capturing the images that reflected my intentions; art. I observed more carefully her approach to shooting everything and began to expand my attempts even at high noon sun. I recognized there was always a story being told, always an image waiting to be captured and if I chose to wait until the perfect light, there would be many missed opportunities. I found myself crossing the sidelines more often, not yet with the vigor or confidence of Sue, but celebrating the freedom and new-found vantage point I found there.

That evening as the sun began to once again take its graceful place along the western horizon, I dashed across the field to find my place to have my fun with light, only to find that Sue was already there playing. I captured the photo of Sue breaking the rules as she took her pictures into the sun. I knew then we had learned from each other and was truly flattered a graduate photo journalist found something I did as an artist worth imitating.SONY DSC