Sunday, October 30, 2016


I woke up for no apparent reason (usually able to blame husband's snoring, room being too warm, having to pee, or an odd animal sound outside) around 4:30 this morning.  I got up in the predawn dark house of late October, made a small pot of decaffeinated coffee (blood pressure issues?) and booted up the laptop.  First I go through FB and wonder how I can have so many updates on this page overnight.  Then I check my emails and delete 90% as they are requests for money for politics or good causes.  Then I read news headlines until I am thankful that my little corner of the world is still safe and quiet.  After an hour or so of this self-flagellation, I head upstairs to where my PC sits and begin to work on photographs.  It seems that the 30 I took yesterday of flowers and butterflies, which are still hanging around, are not very focused.  I have to delete almost all, and am upset because I think that I used the tripod yesterday!

Then in the silence of this little office in which the only sound is the computer fan, I hear a chirp.  Like a bird with its foot caught in something but is too shy to complain very loudly.  Since it is coming from one of the spare bedrooms I accept that it is not some little wren caught inside, and instead, must be the smoke alarm.  I. hate. these. safety. devices!  I have spent days in the past trying to fix them when they become dyslexic.  We paid a small fortune to have our basement freezer rewired about a year ago and also had the electricians replace all of the smoke detectors at that time as they needed electrical changes in plugs to install the newer versions I had purchased from the hardware store.  I was told that these are 10-year devices.  I was so relieved, because my experience has been when a device like this chirps, it is not a dead battery.  It is a poltergeist.

Hubby is still sleeping and will never be awakened by the chirp...chirp...chirp which is so much worse than the drip...drip...drip of a leaky faucet.  I, on the other hand, am getting an ulcer.  So I put up the step ladder, unscrew the device, blow in the holes, and reattached it.  Still chirping every 30 seconds!  I cannot push the reset button until hubby is up as that will sound like the house is indeed on fire.

Do you think this has something to do with Halloween?  I have not put up a single decoration this year.  Nada. I am so over decorating a house that very few even see.  Are the evil spirits upset that they are being ignored?  Are they punishing me for lack of pumpkins, ghost figures and hanging plastic spiders?  Chirp...chirp...chirp.

I think I need more coffee.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Asking for Help!

I have noticed in some of my comments to other blog my icon/avatar and my backlink are not available.  If clicked it just goes to a Google blogger page with no links or anything.  Just how long I have been blogging and how many profile views under a generic blogger profile.  Therefore, if someone wanted to comment directly and did not have my URL it would not appear there.  On a few other sites it appears as an accurate linkback to my site.  I think this has something to do with Google+ or perhaps the ID I am posting under?  Any help would be greatly appreciated as I used to have correct info posted on almost all of the blogger sites that I visited in the past and do not know why or how this has changed.  I cannot find any detail on the layout page that would help.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Come Take A Hike

After the wedding that I posted about below we took a few days off and drove up into the mountains of West Virginia.  We went way up high where the air is thin enough for the only spruce forest south of New York!  It is an area we have visited many times, and this time the leaves were peaking.  Put on your hiking boots or waterproof walking shoes (because we are going to cross a cranberry bog) and grab a sandwich, an apple and some water.  We will be home before sunset.

The rains that fell as Hurricane Matthew collided with a cool front from these mountains left a full day of heavy rain and the rivers that are usually just trickles of water were not so easy to cross.  In the photo below at the top is a patch of rhododendrons which will be lovely and fragrant in the spring.

When we got to the promontory and looked out at the falls a fellow hiker said she had been there just a few days before and the waterfall was just a trickle!  (I did not set the camera to stop the water but still like this version.)

You can hear the power of this rushing wall of water, can't you?

Then we drove to the summit for more hiking.

Up ahead after parking is a selection of trails.  As we got out of the car and headed to an overlook near one of the trails, dogs began barking furiously off in the trees at the side of the slope.  We later learned from the man at the hunter's two trucks that the hunters were training their dogs although the hunting season was over.  The noise we heard was because the dogs had tracked a bear.  Nothing more stimulating than thinking you might encounter a running and fearful bear on your trail!

We headed out over one of the trails we had not taken a prior time.  The trails are rocky as you can see from the geology above.  It is hard to enjoy views and vistas because you always have to keep secure footing and avoid the pockets of water.  We were crossing a cranberry bog that had intermittent islands of blueberry shrubs.

And, yes, there were cranberries.  Very bitter, but beautiful.

Hubby was able to keep his shoes dry as he had a different style.  My feet got wet several times, but the day was warm and it did not bother me to have slightly damp feet.  The air is as pure as it gets and the views are phenominal.  It is a harsh and unforgiving land with trees that struggle against winter winds.  Maybe next I will post about our lunch and the woods and our afternoon.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Pass It On

This season is one of dynamic contrast.  Bright colors reflected in sunlight and charcoal death reflected in rain.  If your hair (if you have hair) is gray and you have reached that time in your life when you can ponder the changes rather than rushing past them onto something more demanding and commanding, then you know the contrasts are most important to you.  The shorter days tell stories of death and dying and endings and in the distance another brighter future.  The maples go out with flying colors and claim flamboyance as their curtain call.  The obedient plant, like other small perennials, turns flakey gray and dark and then shatters into ashes around a black spot, not even a hint of its summer beauty.

Even though the rhythm and repetition bring comfort to us, the movement and shifting bring inevitable endings that are bittersweet.  You can ponder the celebrating of lives on social media with friends who meet challenges happily and post the success of the goals they reached.  Joyful families, children growing like weeds, successful careers, and exotic celebrations.  Why would I want to read their worries and their failures anyway?  And yet one of the posts I remember so very well was about a young man revealing that his balding head had been a heavy burden which he was no longer going to carry around.  He was closing that door and moving on by accepting his appearance and only wearing a hat when it was cold.  He was in his thirties when many men begin to have that receding hairline.  I do not remember his birthday and wedding/anniversary celebrations including the photos of his beautiful daughter that they celebrate almost weekly nearly as much as his honest acceptance of this evolution.  Accepting the superficial concern and moving on.  Accepting the inevitable and moving on.

The circle remains unbroken.  Or does it?  I am just in another place in my life.  Those who have passed before me did not share this life of mine for many of these decades and therefore I can study faded photographs with nostalgia and not pain because their world was so different and so long ago.  We were together in another life.  They added richness to my memories and helped me get perspective even with their mistakes.  Dwelling on regrets will not change that history.  I hope the faded photographs of me are viewed the same in the future ahead as part of a complicated tapestry.  Not with regret at my moving on, but as acceptance that my life contributed something to theirs and it is now time to pass it on.  And now I will pass on a lovely trail we took.

Autumn is the more bittersweet of the seasons.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Is There a Doctor in the House?

We attended the wedding of close friends a few days ago.  These are friends we made years ago when we all decided that car-pooling was a good environmental thing to do, even though we did live a few miles from each other at the time.  One thing I learned about carpooling is that you get to know each other quite well when spending time in a car for about 30 minutes both morning and evening.  And we grew close.

Their daughter's wedding was a bit different than most weddings I have attended.  It was not unusual that it was at a countryside farm converted to a wedding venue.

This was not a grand extravagant affair.  While both sets of parents could have spent more money, they honored their children's desire to keep the wedding "comfortable."  There were between 100 and 200 guests and we were told to dress "comfortably" since the ceremony was outside.  The breezes were coolish and sometimes strong unfortunately.  But that was not what made the wedding a bit unique.

Both couples families are Chinese American and thus 80% of the guests were Asian.  The other 20% consisted of European American, African American and a few Latin Americans thrown in to keep it balanced.  Nope, no one came directly from China or other places in that part of the world. But it seemed to be a mini-UN with some in exotic dress.

During the ceremony I sat next to an ex-Marine and his wife who worked for the Federal Government in the Environmental Satellite Data program.  During the reception I sat next to a gentleman, newly retired, who wrote policy for the Federal Government on computer security, and no, I did not ask him about the Hillary Clinton issue, but did sympathize with his former challenge.  He was glad to be retired.  He said it was hard to appease the 300 people to whom he reported. I said he was in charge of writing poetry and he agreed.  I think he would have rather written computer code.

The wedding party were all pretty successful in their professional careers.

Among the members of the wedding party above are a doctor, an environmental lawyer, a computer programmer for a start-up company and a neurosurgeon.  These are just the ones that I either knew or talked to!

The reception was held in an old dairy barn with the bar on the first floor and the eating in the hay loft! Charmingly low key.

While the food had lost much of its appeal by the time it was carried up the stairs to the drafty venue, the conversation and wine were terrific.  The tributes were touching and I actually was crying by the time the bride gave a little speech.  The nieces and nephews of the bride read their tributes on their cell phone, which I guess is the new way to do this!  My old eyes would find this small screen electronic notepad somewhat stressful.

Finally, my tie-in to the title.  One of the female guests arrived with a crutch having broken her foot a day and half before at Stanford University checking her daughter into school.  Since weddings involve lots of standing, she was brave.  The husband of one of the sisters of the bride and seated at our dinner table had arrived with a cane.  He had fallen that very morning and sprained his ankle severely.  Since his brother-in-law, a Puerto Rican, was also an emergency room doctor and the sister-in-law a pediatrician, he was surrounded by good advice, which he said consisted of "Take a few ibuprofen, get a stiff drink and we will review this again in the morning."   I guess they had both seen so much worse that this was a no-brainer.  He did not seem to be in any pain.

This was a wonderful break from my daily boring life.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Raising Morale in Times of War

As mentioned in a prior post I went up to the Hirshhorn Museum for a lecture.  It did not start until 6:30 and since we wanted to beat the rush hour we got there several hours early, giving us time to wander around.  Outside the back (or front since there are two entrances) of the museum we came across the car and rock that I uploaded in a prior post.  More information on it:  Jimmie Durham: Still Life with Spirit and Xitle, 2007.  I did not walk around the sculpture and therefore missed the whimsy of the eyes on the rock! The explanation: "Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Mexican volcano Xitle, or “spirit,” erupted and destroyed the ancient city of Cuicuilo. To create the seemingly impulsive sculpture, Durham quarried a 9-ton boulder of red basalt from the archaeological site and used a crane to drop it onto the roof of a 1992 Chrysler Spirit. As a finishing touch, he graffitied the stone with a smug, cartoon-like face. Despite its comedy, the work carries a complex gravity, capturing the moment at which the spirits of ancient and modern collide. "  Now at least I have a little better understanding of the artwork.

While I am always interested in the various sculptures, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) is always a compelling draw for me.    Rodin has a very broad style and as he aged he became more rebellious with form and space and abstraction using marble and bronze and even later in life had his sculpture of Honore de Balzac rejected by those who commissioned him after a long time of missing deadlines.  I like his more traditional work, but realize he was truly a genius.   He grew up poor and studied under a "Romantic" teacher and I can see that influence in his early works as he was finding his style.   His sculpture, The Kiss, which I saw in France was truly magical and very erotic.

One of the most interesting places in my city to see some of his work is the Hirshhorn sculpture garden across the street from the museum itself.  It is buried a story down into the ground and therefore a lovely quiet place in the heart of the Washington DC Mall.  I have rarely found it busy, but it was particularly quiet on the early evening of our visit.

The Burghers of Calais is prominent in the garden and I have to pause each time I see it.  I can write about the story behind the sculpture but I will take text from the Rodin museum in Philadelphia which is much more succinct.  "In 1346 the English king Edward III laid siege to the French port of Calais. Eleven months later, Edward demanded the surrender of six of the town’s leading men, or burghers, in return for sparing its citizens. Rodin’s sculpture commemorates this episode and emphasizes the internal struggle of each man as he walks toward his fate wearing a sackcloth and rope halter. The burghers were later spared thanks to the intervention of the English queen, who feared that their deaths would bring bad luck to her unborn child."  There are SEVEN copies of this sculpture around the world.

Glyptoteket in Copenhagen, cast 1903.
the Royal Museum in Mariemont, Belgium, cast 1905.
Victoria Tower Gardens in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament in London; cast 1908, installed on this site in 1914 and unveiled 19 July 1915. The inscription on the pedestal was carved by Eric Gill.[9]
the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, cast 1925 and installed in 1929.
the gardens of the Musée Rodin in Paris, cast 1926 and given to the museum in 1955.
Kunstmuseum in Basel, cast 1943 and installed in 1948.
the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., cast 1943 and installed in 1966.
the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, cast 1953 and installed in 1959.[10]
the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, cast 1968.
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, cast 1985 and installed in 1989.[11]
PLATEAU (formerly the Rodin Gallery[12]) in Seoul.[13] This is the 12th and final cast in the edition, cast 1995.

Therefore, maybe you will have an opportunity to see it in reality.

It is set out in enough space that you can stroll around it.  I see tremendous fluidity and can almost hear them breathing.  The anguish is portrayed with a purity one does not often see in bronze.  Each stands alone in his sorrow, not connecting with another.  They are larger than life and you have to look up to see the faces.

"The Burghers of Calais , was in no small measure prompted by a deliberate policy of raising morale after the disasters of the Franco-Prussian War and the ensuing Commune by creating public monuments to patriotic Frenchmen. "  It took ten years to complete.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

Does being around younger people (Millennials) energize you?  It does me!  We do not have tons of friends that age and probably would not have any at all if we did not have children that were in that demographic.  Recently a young couple has "adopted" us.  Yes, they like the fact that we have canoes and live near the river, that I am a better than average cook, and that we are liberals and not prejudiced against their marriage (an Asian and a Caucasian) as some elders are, including some members of their family.  So let them take shelter in our friendship.  Let them present the mantle of "Elder Wise Woman" on my shoulders.  I am rarely seen as that either by others or myself.

It was a gorgeous day to head out.  As with canoe trips that are not on our river, it means packing and loading gear and heading elsewhere...someplace new.

Once we got to our departure dock it was fairly easy to unload even though the car access had been blocked for road repairs.  We were soon on our way on a calm day.  Both were new to canoeing, so hubby took the gal and the guy "tried" to work the stern in my boat.  It was a bit difficult as he was learning and I had to do lots of draws and attempts to keep us on course.  My left shoulder was pretty tired at the end of the over two hour trip.

I remain anonymous on this blog and feel that if I am going to write about them, they also deserve some privacy.  I packed a lunch of curry chicken on croissants, grapes, cookies, and chips and they brought some of the sweetest fresh peaches I have ever eaten.

We found the edge of a county park that bordered the other side of the river after we were done with poking into fingers on the other side.  It was complete with a picnic bench and fairly clean port-a-potty.

Later in the day we stretched our legs on pocket beach that is used by those who hunt for shark's teeth.

The young man above is lost in thought and I probably know what he is thinking.  When he married his love she was not sure she wanted to have children at all and now she is pregnant!  Both of them are over the moon, of course.  He spent time in our canoeing together asking me advice about raising children.  What had I learned?  How had I adjusted?  Etc.  It was sweet and I tried to encourage him to go with his gut on most issues and give 160% effort.

This is a lovely quiet beach, and while others were there, it is not hard to get away from the crowds and look for fossils or bald eagles or just sit and enjoy the scenery.  They escaped from city life and hubby and I were welcoming fall.

She is starting that very special time in her life where she will no longer get any sleep and there will no longer be extra money, but life will be so very rich in other things.  I am envious.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Not art, just a comedian.

Some asked if in the prior post the man in the photo was part of the artscape and I must inform you that he was not but just someone who had a good sense of humor.

In shameless self-promotion you can go to my other blog for a more recent post from my neck of the woods as time is not on my side right now.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Touching Base

Crazy busy life I am having right now.  I am not complaining as I know the quiet and lonely afternoons are just ahead.  Both sides of the coin are important in our lives.

Heading out with 30-somethings (that in itself is cool) to canoe a nearby river.  Spent several hours getting prepared for dinner with them this evening (French mussel soup, spinach tomato salad, steamed crab to pick and eat with cheese roasted potatoes, followed by simple ice cream for dessert.)  Made a buttery croissant casserole for breakfast as well.  I just had to brag.

Prior to this event we went up to the D.C. mall to listen to a book talk by Mary Roach at the Hirshhorn Gallery.  Interesting and I had not read any of her books so was not sure what to expect!

This above is considered "modern/contemporary(?) art" outside the museum.  We found it a bit confounding with our lack of an arty background.  I loved the Rodin sculptures, as I always do, and will post on one of those maybe.

Getting to the museum two days before the opening of the African American Museum was a horror of a nightmare.  The President is speaking outdoors on the steps of the museum today, so streets were closed days ahead of time and I am sure dogs and police went through every office within a five block radius!  Took us an hour to finally park in the public parking garage which cost a small fortune.

Hopefully I will be able to write a real post with something thought-provoking soon...or have time for more of this drivel.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Learning the Hard Way

I have this little garden bed on the other side of the turn-around in my driveway that is used for those annual flowers from seed packets that I come across.  Those seeds that are free from the seed-exchange, or that come in the mail, or that I have collected from the prior year and lie scattered in an old shoe box.  Most of the seeds do not succeed since it is too far from the nearest hose to water with any regularity and it competes for sun and sustenance with two tulip trees that grow right beside the bed.  I have put an ugly little metal fence around it since there are also a few plants that rodents love to eat in the spring and they can be protected here.  Since the flower bed is only 6 feet by 4 feet, it frequently gets crowded with  the hardy and fast spreading cosmos and in years past celosia.

It is a bit of an experimental ever changing flower bed.  This past year I planted larkspur.  I was not anticipating much success because this plant does not like a hot climate.

It took off like a house afire.  The plants did not need staking as they were able to lean against the curved fence as they reached away from the trees and toward the sun.  I had never tried growing larkspur before, but the seed packet was a gift.  They were lovely.  The light colored double petals of a few plants was perfect for photos. And it bloomed for a couple of weeks at least.  Visitors commented on its loveliness.

When we finally had a break in the heat at the beginning of September I headed outside to clean up the summer gardens.  The larkspur, while hidden to some extent by the prolific cosmos, had turned into dark brown stalks of dead plant matter.  I reached over the fence and pulled it all out and carried the 4 foot long plants to the burn pile.  Back in July I had already collected a batch of seeds.

Then  a few days later, I learned a lesson.  I had read years ago that larkspur if eaten by cattle, or another other animal for that matter, will kill.  Farmers do not move cattle into their fields until the wild larkspur has died back.  I had read that somewhere, but I did not know how toxic this plant was/is!

At first it looked like an infected bug bite.

You can see in the photo above how a second area appeared just from me folding my arms while I slept.

You can also see from above the outline of a bandage I had placed over the bug bite the second or third day when it looked infected.

This rash on the inner sides of both of my arms was burning and itchy and spread like crazy.  It started as one bug bite that looked like it had become infected in my upper inner arm and this grew in blisters to the size of a quarter.  Then it crawled down my arm and at night spread to my other arm while I slept.  I thought I had an infection and because of the intensity of its spread, my mind went to those nasty staph infections that are so hard to control (MSRA!)!  Even my doctor wondered what it was and when I convinced her I had not been near any poison ivy she started me on antibiotics and steroid cream.  I washed sheets and pillowcases and towels and hubby kept up a sterile regime away from me.  The rash did not move to the top of my arms where the skin is less tender.

As you have probably guessed by now, the cause was gathering all those long dead larkspur plants in my sleeveless shirt.  It has been about ten days and I am now getting back to normal, although the rash, which is turning darker in color, is still there without all of its prior nasty side effects.  Perhaps TMI, but lesson learned!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The RR Building

Humans are notorious for building monuments to their heroes and leaders.  I live just over an hour's drive from the Nation's Capital which is full of monuments and memorials to hundreds of historic figures.  A few months ago when I was going to get my GOES (Global Online Enrollment System) for travel clearance I had to go to the Ronald Reagan Building.  I had been there a few times before for meetings and never really took the time to "tour" the building as I hustled to catch the metro home.

While there is security at the entrance, it is a public friendly building.  "The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, named after former United States President Ronald Reagan, is the first federal building in Washington, D.C. designed for both governmental and private sector purposes."  Below is a short tour for those of you who cannot make it out!  There is also a nice collection of American national flags displayed within historic context and someday I may post those photos that I took.  Today this post is all about the architecture (Mage ;-)).

This part of the building above leads to food courts and gift shops and offices.  Massively impressive, is it not?  I think the neon tubes are called Route Zenith and designed by Keith Sonnier.  It is 49 feet high by 30 feet wide and the largest neon work in North America.

"Designated as the official World Trade Center Washington, DC (WTCDC), our International Trade Center is part of a global network of 750,000 affiliated businesses from 330 trade centers in over 100 countries. Utilizing these connections, in conjunction with U.S. government trade agencies, embassies, think tanks and business associations, our Office for Trade Promotion (OTP) can help expand your reach and help you make a global impact." (Text taken from the web site.)

The stairway on the other side was blocked by a large screen and they were getting ready for a USAID event.

Not sure what this contemporary architectural torch represents at the top of the escalator, but I have learned the building has an APP (Doesn't everyone?  Don't you?) that gives you a guided tour from your phone and maybe I can research it.  Wish I had known that when I was there.

This photo above was taken from their web site.  I just wanted to illustrate how traditional the outside is in comparison to the inside.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Time, That Moving Thing

Even though Autumn is not yet here, I can almost see her in the angle of the sun and the smell of the air on the wind, and as I have become an elder, Autumn makes me think of that constant drum beat of time.  It makes me think of cycles, beginnings, and mostly endings.  I become nostalgic knowing my days are numbered and there will be things I will not be around to see; some I am glad I will miss but many I will be sad to miss.  I look to other bloggers and friends to see how they adapt to this inevitable facing of big change and gain comfort from them as I take it one day at a time.

“I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green

I sit beside the fire and think
Of people long ago
And people that will see a world
That I shall never know

But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Endings Are Inevitable

The youngest grandchild has kept us on our feet for a week with boat trips, fishing, biking, museum visits, cleaning oysters in the trays and pulling up crab traps.  He is a mellow 5-year-old and so the visit was ultra smooth.  By late afternoon the day before, when we were fighting off napping, he was quietly playing in corner with small cars or racing cars on his Ipad which he brought with him.

We drove to the city yesterday to return the youngest grandchild and after we dropped him off we went out for an adult dinner evening to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant rated 4 stars on Zagat.  We had not eaten Vietnamese food in years and it was delicious, although not super authentic to my taste.  I polished off two glasses of Chardonnay and we just unwound as we looked back on the previous busy two weeks.

At the end of the meal we passed a bicycle shop and I went in to get my grandson a bike bell since his was broken and he reminded me I would get him an new one when we said goodbye.  We also stopped at the pastry shop which was recommended by the young couple with the 3-year-old eating at the next table.  (We always find ways to have conversations with others at restaurants.) We bought some cupcakes as they were too lovely to pass up and as our reward for two straight weeks with kids. (Yes, hubby has already eaten one!)

Then it was on home in the dark to "batten down the hatches" waiting for the edges of storm Hermine to come our way.

This morning there was no longer a scattering of children's shoes at the front door, there were no tiny sounds of video games coming from the sofa, there was no need to pour small glasses of juice and, of course, it was sad.  Even the earth outside reflected the quiet changes that endings bring with a very light rainfall and ten degree cooler weather.  The small gusts of wind were whipping leaves from the tops of trees before allowing them to fully change color.  I could feel that somewhere fall was moving in even though we should have 90 degree weather again by the end of the week!

Above he is enjoying his last sunset at the water.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Since Some of You Asked

Several bloggers asked how I got the "painterly" look to my photos.  I use Photoshop Elements software (which is the lite version of Photoshop) to work with my original photos.  I make changes to the histogram, the lighting/contrast and also apply some sharpening, usually to the whole photo, but sometimes only to areas.  If I decide to try to blur identities or just be more artistic I use filter packages that I purchased from Topaz.  If you buy the whole kit it is expensive and to my mind not worth all that money since I would not use much of all of it.  The two that I purchased were Topaz Adjust 5 and Topaz Simplify 4.  They do enhance photos but as you probably know cannot really sharpen an out of focus photo or improve something that is just too cluttered or too over-exposed or too underexposed.

Below is the original with some histogram work and some sharpening but that is all.  I just grabbed a photo from my long file, and this was not the best in terms of sharpness.  But I have a short window to write this afternoon.

This is an HDR filter in Topaz Adjust 5 above.  I normally tweak these filters as they have many sliders and later adjust lights, shadows, etc.  But this is just to give you a clue of how using the preset looks.

This is the Spicify filter in Topaz Adjust 5.  Again I just applied it without tweaking.

This is a filter in Topaz Simplify 4 called Oil Painting.  They have several versions of Oil Painting.

This last is using a filter called Cartoon.  I hope this answers those questions for those who are not purists in photography..