Spiderwebs, Boiled Caramel, and Grabbing the Camera Anyway

I’m so busy stringing spiderwebs over bookcases, arranging skeleton hands in the popcorn bowl, and cutting the tags off of glitter pumpkins that I almost don’t hear the oven timer shrill from the kitchen.  Running to pull open the silver door (where did I just set the oven mitts?) I yank out the pork apple pistachio rolls and realize as a wave of scented heat rushes past my face that I haven’t actually dressed for my own party yet.

This is how my “hostess” mode usually runs.  I spend all day in full “deck the halls with bats and cobwebs” stride, but somehow still work up to the last minute.  (Thank heaven we had a friend visiting, who helped shell pistachios and meticulously roll filling into several dozen squares of puff pastry dough.)  But the rush of preparation is half the fun for me.  Even if I did over-boil the caramel.

The only real downside to the battiness is that I always think twice about grabbing the camera.

I don’t have time for it.  I have to get dressed.  I’m not even wearing makeup yet!  I should put up more spiderwebs instead. 

But yet – I always roll my eyes, run upstairs, and retrieve the big black beast – and I’m always glad I did.  Because even though in my rush to scurry the last of the decoration leftovers back into a closet somewhere I don’t have time to stage and prep and photograph anything like it’s going to run full-spread in Better Homes and Gardens….at least I have a few shots to remember a fun night with great food and – even better – friends.

Luckily, people are always 30 mins late to a party.  Whew.

Hope you had a great Halloween!

A hand-painted Halloween banner was this year’s project:

Erika Beck - November 2, 2013 - 12:23 pm

Looks like fun!! 🙂

Dress Rehearsal

“In the quiet misty morning, when the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing and the sky is clear and red,
When the summer’s ceased its gleaming, when the corn is past its prime,
When adventure’s lost its meaning, I’ll be homeward bound in time.

Bind me not to the pasture. Chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling and I’ll return to you somehow…” 

– From “Homeward Bound” by Marta Keen

As a choral conductor, it’s my husband’s job to get a group of texting, chatting, 21st-century college students to find personal connection with music that is centuries, continents, and cultures away from their immediate life experience.  And he does it by showing them that there is, in fact, an immediacy to it.  That a song about journey and longing for freedom while gazing wistfully back home is also about their journey to college, or studying abroad, or anything new and difficult.

Last night I was recruited last-minute as a page-turner for the pianist, so I sat quietly on a chair in the center of the stage, with my eyes steadfastly watching the black notes flying by.  I couldn’t turn around to look at the choir while they sang, but they were right behind me, and I knew they were singing about their own journeys.  I thought of all the choral concerts I’ve sung in – songs about love or solace or triumph.  The concerts I remember are the ones where I found a kernel of my own life within the pages of the music. (If you’ve ever been in a successful choir, you know what I mean.)

My husband tells his choir at the beginning of each semester that he firmly believes choral music can change the world.  Some of them probably roll their eyes, but now that I’m a few years removed from my own choral experience, I close my eyes and know he’s right.  Because choral music does change individual lives if you search for your own meaning with the music.  You can find peace or wisdom sent to you through something someone put on paper hundreds of years ago.  When something helps you work through problems and pain with more strength and grace – what else changes the world more than that?

A couple of frames from the dress rehearsal before the concert – shots taken from the catwalk above the stage.

DAVID BAGNARD - April 19, 2013 - 6:21 pm




New York City

I still remember the first time I went to New York by myself.  I couldn’t point to the date on the calendar, but I remember jumping on Metro North in New Haven on a day so humid you could chew the air, and waiting while the train rattled its way through Connecticut, past dizzyingly tall and identical hive-like buildings in Harlem, then down underground until I emerged in the steamy underbelly of Grand Central.  I recall exiting the station and walking up 42nd street.  Everyone seemed to have some place to be except me.  Then that feeling sunk in that I always get when I’m in New York – that no one particularly cares that you’re there.  You’re certainly welcome to be present, but don’t expect anyone to pay attention.  There are bigger things than you on the agenda.  This may be true of all cities, but New York has a way of pointing it out to you before the train doors even slam behind you.  I turned on my heel and headed toward Times Square, perhaps for the same reason that if you dropped me in Paris I’d probably head for the Eiffel Tower or in London I’d head for Big Ben – seemed like a good enough place to start.

I doubt I ever made it there, I was probably sidetracked by shops or maybe the scent of food.  New York seems to have both the best and the worst food in the world (I’m leaving out airplane food here, obviously – which is not so much food but rationed provisions in a legalized hostage situation).  I didn’t have much luck in locating the “best” variety at first – this was in the days before smartphones and Yelp, so it was a game of street menu roulette, placing bets with my saved college wages.  I’d also wager that most of the suited professionals rushing past me on the streets tipped more for their lunches than I ever paid for mine.

New York restaurants seem to come and go; there aren’t many I’ve successfully managed to eat in twice.  I had dinner in a hip Thai place once, and a couple years later called a friend hoping I could find it again.  “You know,” I yelled into the phone while taxis swooshed past me in streaks of yellow and blurred Broadway ads, “The one where everything looked like it was made from shiny white plastic with changing colored lights on the ceiling, and for some reason they served cheesecake for dessert.”  Such a description in most cities would surely narrow the field, but not so here.  My friend recalled the dinner but could not name the place.  It’s like the city is some giant Harry Potterian Room of Requirement, where a restaurant steps forward when you need it but is never quite found again.  The first time I went to New York (to visit Columbia University), my dad told me about a Chinese place that had ducks hanging in the window – that evening’s main course, presumably.  I’ve looked but have never found the place.  I know it’s probably long gone, but I still keep an eye out.  Maybe someday I’ll stumble across it while searching for the nearest subway stop.

DAVID BAGNARD - April 19, 2013 - 6:20 pm

Hi Jenika:

Wonderful NYC photographs.



Nathan - September 27, 2013 - 5:41 pm

Oh my goodness! I LOVE your NYC photos! You have such an eye for the unique! 🙂

A Pocket of Sun | Robert E. Lee Park, Towson

Idly scrolling through the weather forecast, Tuesday caught my eye.  A little pocket of 52 degrees-and-partly-cloudy in a long string of icy days.  Warm January days are not to be wasted, so Ann (you may recognize her) and I headed to Robert E. Lee park in Towson to play.  We weren’t the only ones – dog owners and hikers were out in full force, alongside fearless mountain bikers careening around slippery trails above steep drops into Lake Roland.  Ann has an encyclopedic knowledge of all of Baltimore’s city parks and other treasures, loves the outdoors, and wasn’t fazed a bit by the slippery mud that always accompanies shoots this time of year.

I know everyone likes the lush green of summer shoots, but winter shoots are my absolute favorite – and a scroll through these photos might tell you why.  The landscape may seem drab and dull upon first glance, but when care is taken in creating photographs, all the subtlety of color makes the forest come alive.  Warm browns of tree bark, pale oranges and creams of leftover leaves, and a shock of blue from an icy lake all play nicely with different skin tones and hair colors.  Throw some warm backlight from the setting sun and it’s pure magic.  Whereas spring, summer, and fall all like to show off in photos, winter takes a step back and showcases YOU instead.

For curious pixel-peepers, I shot most of these photos with the Canon 45mm 2.8 tilt-shift lens (with a couple frames from Canon’s 85mm 1.2L).  Normally you wouldn’t do an *entire* shoot with a tilt-shift lens, but there were two goals with this shoot.  One was to make these images soft, creamy, and almost dream-like, the kind of thing you’d see at the start of a thoughtful, introspective magazine article.  The second was to work with the 45mm tilt-shift while I had a fabulous model who happens to be a bottomless well of patience, which is totally necessary when you start learning to use this lens.  There’s nothing difficult about it in theory, but getting the right amount of tilt while focusing manually and also attending to all the normal aspects of an image is a new challenge.

And now, the lovely Ann:

So pretty, and I love how the light plays with her hair:

Thank so much, Ann, for a fabulous late afternoon!  And big thanks to Sarah who watched little L while Ann and I went out to play.  You’ll see Sarah on this blog sometime soon…

Snow Cocoa & Tradition

What started out as a graduate school revolt against the dreariness of the Illinois winter has now become an annual McDavitt tradition – a night of hot chocolate and good company.  Never mind that I used the same decorations as last time, or that I only had about ten seconds to snap a few photos before I was even done setting ingredients out, or that I totally mis-calculated the amount of cream I needed for the Ghiradelli fondue and had to send a friend scuttling to the store (bless her).  There’s something satisfying about throwing a party in mid-January – the rush of the holidays has died down, and everyone’s a little forlorn that there are no celebrations anytime soon, plus it’s still grey and chilly outside.  It makes it a snap to get everyone together, especially when steaming cups of chocolatey goodness are involved.

I love the ebb and flow of a party – the excitement of the first arrivals, the bustling mid-evening crowd, the few who linger to chat late into the night.  I also love playing hostess, gathering friends together, restocking the marshmallows and hearing clips of chatter around me on every subject imaginable.  Conversation ranged from music to teaching middle school to James Buchanan to the Ravens game that the rest of Baltimore was glued to that night.  Truth be told, I could enjoy a party even if I didn’t talk to anyone, just watching friends drift in and out, laughing and having a good time, is a pleasure all on its own.

We did have one newcomer on the food scene this year – alongside the fondue and from-scratch hot chocolate, I tried out a white-chocolate based “snow cocoa” that my sister recommended.  I used vanilla bean paste instead of regular vanilla.  It was a total hit!  Unfortunately it doesn’t keep well left over, so be sure to guzzle it up while it’s hot….(but I’m sure you won’t mind making that sacrifice…).

Heather - January 16, 2013 - 6:34 pm

Looks like it was a blast- I love the decor! Glad the snow cocoa was a hit! 🙂

Allison - January 16, 2013 - 6:37 pm

What are those delightful looking chocolate covered spoons? For dipping? Ohhhhh my goodness. A picture of those would have dragged me from any football game. 😀

Jenika - January 17, 2013 - 12:08 am

Yep, for stirring! 🙂 They get all melty and delicious. Yum!

DAVID BAGNARD AND LOIS HEFFERNAN - January 18, 2013 - 11:02 pm

Hi Jenika:

If you keep living this life of debauchery we may need to get you into rehab. Chocoholism is an evil disease and it must be dealt with swiftly and with great skill.

Much love,


P.S. If we don’t see some NYC photos very soon Earl and Mongo will be paying you a visit. And they don’t mess around.

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