Author Archives: Russel Ray Photos

About Russel Ray Photos

Forty-five years as a photographer, beginning with yearbook staff in sixth grade.

Picture of the Moment—Itty bitty

Picture of the Moment

It keeps raining.

This is not the San Diego that I’ve come to know and love.


It does make for some good macro pictures of itty bitty teeny tiny little raindrops on the plants in my gardens.

Following are my favorite two from today and yesterday.

Macro of a raindrop on a
Sprenger’s Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus),
not a true fern:

Macro of a raindrop on a Sprenger's Asparagus Fern (Asparagus aethiopicus), not a true fern.

Itty bitty teeny tiny little raindrops
on an
itty bitty teeny tiny little succulent flower.

Itty bitty teeny tiny little raindrops on an itty bitty teeny tiny little succulent flower.

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Fight organized crime

Opinion—And now you know: They get to keep it!

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Back in Spring 1976 as a junior at Texas A&M University majoring in Forest Management, one of my required courses was Economics 301. My professor was Dr. Phil Gramm. A tenured professor making around $75,000 per year. For as long as he remained at Texas A&M University.

Some might remember him as the long-time (Jan. 3, 1985 – Nov. 30, 2002) United States Senator from Texas. A Republican Senator.

In 1976, Professor Gramm ran against U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D) in the Democratic primary. He lost.

In 1978, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat, and re-elected in 1980 and 1982. Gramm was a DINO (Democrat In Name Only) in every sense of that acronym. The American Conservative Union gave Gramm a score of 89 for his first four years in office.

Gramm had been on the House Budget Committee but had a falling out with leadership and was thrown off the Committee. In response, Gramm resigned as a United States Congressman on January 5, 1983. He ran as a Republican in the Texas special election to fill his vacated seat. He won. As a Republican. Gramm became the first Republican to represent the Texas 6th District since its creation in 1846.

That should tell you something about politics right there, both in terms of name recognition and in terms of party affiliation.

In 1984, Gramm ran for the United States Senate to replace the retiring John Tower. As a Republican. To replace a Republican.

Gramm won.

Gramm won re-election to the United States Senate three times, serving until his retirement on November 30, 2002.

When Gramm retired, newspapers throughout the world announced that he had $64 million in his campaign war chest. He got to keep that money. Did not have to turn it over to the State of Texas or the U.S. government. Did not have to return — indeed, DID NOT return — any of it to those who had donated to his campaigns throughout the years, or to his constituents as a “Thank you for your support all these years!”

One person who donated consistently to his campaigns was yours truly. I got not a single cent back. It was that $64 million that resulted in me having never ever ever contributed another cent to a political campaign. I have volunteered my time, but not a single politician at any level is getting a penny of my hard-earned cash.

I bring this up because of the special election in Pennsylvania held a couple of days ago in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, a reliably Republican District which President Twitler won by 20%. The two candidates were Conor Lamp, a Democrat, and Rick Saccone, Republican. Lamp won, making him the first Democrat to represent the District since 2001 and only the sixth Democrat in the District’s history, beginning in 1826.

Current news is reporting that as of February 21, Lamb had raised $3.9 million and spent $3 million, and that Saccone had raised $900,000 and spent $600,000.

For the sake of argument, let’s use those figures.

What do they mean?

Well, essentially it means that Saccone gets to keep $300,000. For losing. I want to be such a loser.

Fight organized crimeLamb would get to keep $900,000. The difference is that Saccone, having lost, can spend his $300,000 immediately. Lamb must retire or lose re-election before being able to spend his $900,000, so what currently-serving politicians typically do is keep any extra money in a “campaign war chest” for future campaigns.

So let’s take this back to Professor Phil Gramm and do the math using round numbers and simple formulas. We’ll presume that tenured professor Phil Gramm, 34 in 1976, would make $75,000 annually, continue teaching until age 65, and never get a raise. Note that such a presumption on its very face is false since Texas A&M University is a public university, and we all know just how generous government jobs are. Nevertheless, here’s the math.

65 – 34 = 31 years at $75,000 per year = $2,325,000

In 1985, when Gramm was elected to the Senate, a Senator’s salary was $75,100 annually. So that’s a wash if we presume no raises for Senators. However, here are the actual salaries for Senators since 1985:

1985 – $75,100
1986 – $75,100
1987 – $89,500
1988 – $89,500
1989 – $89,500
1990 – $98,400
1991 – $101,900
1992 – $129,500
1993 – $133,600
1994 – $133,600
1995 – $133,600
1996 – $133,600
1997 – $133,600
1998 – $136,700
1999 – $136,700
2000 – $141,300
2001 – $145,100
2002 – $150,000

Total – $2,126,300

It’s pretty much a wash in total actual salary, but the professorship covers 31 years whereas the senatorship covers only 18 years. I think I could handle an extra 13 years off!

So now that $64,000,000 comes into play. Does anyone really think that a teacher, even a tenured college professor, perhaps even a Nobel Prize winner, would retire with $64,000,000? (Note that the Nobel Prize in Economics for 2017 was awarded a mere $1,110,000.)

If we’re really generous with the professorship, perhaps Gramm would have written an Economics book that not only got published but was used as a textbook in Economics classes throughout the world. Let’s consider the annual salary totals a wash and be generous and give Gramm a Nobel Prize in Economics and an Economics textbook used as a standard in classes everywhere. Does one really think all of that would have added up to $64,000,000? Maybe if he wrote an Economics horror story. Wait. Gramm WAS an economics horror story…..

Now you know, though, why rich people like the Heinzes, duPonts, Kennedys, and even my own representative, Darrel Issa, a multimillionaire, go into politics. It’s not their desire to serve the public, IMHO. It’s their desire to get an easy job that pays well, has great medical benefits, has a great retirement salary that one can get after only a few terms in political office — certainly nothing like a commoner working until age 65, or later — and, of course, getting to keep everything left over in that ol’ campaign war chest.

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Macro of raindrops on a Black Rose Aeonium (Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop')

Picture of the Moment—That counts as a selfie, yes?

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

It rained almost all day and night on March 10.

I usually dislike the rain, intensely, but now that I have a 90mm macro lens, I still dislike the rain, intensely.

However, since Mother & Father Nature don’t really listen to me when it comes to rain, well, I deal with it.

In this case, I went out to my cactus & succulent gardens and started taking macro pictures of raindrops on the little plants.

As I was taking pictures, I was singing “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.” I have the whiskers on kittens but I don’t have any roses. The police stopped and threatened to arrest me because I was singing “raindrops on roses” but didn’t have any roses. Who knew?


I was standing over a “black rose aeonium” (Aeonium arboreum ‘Swartkop’) with little raindrops on the leafies. As soon as I said “rose,” the rose police backed off and apologized.

Here’s the macro picture I got:

Macro of raindrops on a Black Rose Aeonium (Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop')

I like how the little raindrops act as magnifying glasses, and if you look very closely at the bottom of the largest raindrop at the front, you can see me with my digital camera in my face. That counts as a selfie, yes?

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

A+R POTTERY logo and first two completed Designer Pots


My partner, Andrew, and I are moving full speed ahead. Our first completed pot, even over-completed since it included a plant, something we’re not going to do, was given to Andrew’s dad. It looked like this:

A+R POTTERY pot #7

That’s A+R POTTERY pot #7.

Andrew took the picture using his smart phone. Then I took the picture into Photoshop, converted it to line art, added color and the text, and voilà! Instant logo. (Instant. Ha! Took me two days!) Following is how we got from that picture to the logo.

First I removed the background:

I took that picture and created black & white line art:


The part that took the longest was applying green and brown to specific sections of the line art. Adding the text was the easiest part.


Now I have to create our tagline. Probably something like this:

for your small cactus & succulents 

Then I have to get shirts and business cards made.

Turns out that I don’t need a business license for where I live because I’m in an unincorporated area of San Diego County. Yahoooooo! Hundreds of dollars saved. Let’s hear it for living outside city limits.

Turns out that I also don’t need a sales tax license for doing Internet sales. However, I will need a state sales tax license because I’ll be selling at cactus and succulent shows throughout the ten counties of Southern California. I’ll also have to get business licenses for each city in which I want to sell. I’ll get those one by one so that the initial cost isn’t prohibitive.

My second designer pot that went out the door has a story behind it:

I have landscaped the new home that Jim, Zoey the Cool Cat, and I moved into in July 2017. I’m not finished but the front is almost done. Looked like this on February 23:

Landscaping on 02232017

After the hail and rain storm on February 27, I decided to put gutters and downspouts up. A roofing company just down the road came by on Friday, March 2, to take measurements and provide a quote. The lady loved my landscaping, as well as the Designer Pot that I was holding in my hand. It was the pot I made for Andrew’s dad, and I was taking it inside to water. She reduced the price of my gutters and downspouts by $39 if I would make her a Designer Pot.

The gutters were installed yesterday; downspouts to come.

I finished her Designer Pot today. Her company’s color is red (and I mean red, like you’ve never seen red before!), so I made a red Designer Pot and put a Spring Cactus with red flowers in it. It’s designated A+R POTTERY pot #18. Looks like this:

Designer Pot by A+R POTTERY

Designer Pot by A+R POTTERY

Designer Pot by A+R POTTERY

If the plant looks like a “Christmas Cactus,” well, it kind of is. First, though, the common Christmas Cactus is not a cactus. It is a succulent. All cactus are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus.

But it’s fixin’ to (fixin’ to is Texan for “about to”) bloom, and although Christmas is right around the corner, Christmas is not here yet. This one is a “Spring Cactus,” which means those little red buds should be in full bloom come March 20.

As with many things in today’s world, people either were not satisfied  or wanted more. Enter plant geneticists and breeders. Along with our standard Christmas Cactus which blooms at Christmas, we now have Halloween Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Valentine’s Cactus, Spring Cactus, and Easter Cactus. All of them are Schlumbergera hybrids.

See if you can guess when they bloom!

Pots #1 through 6, and #8 through 17, are incomplete, either not having been grouted yet or missing their accent pieces (small rocks, pebbles, and wood).

Since the planter itself sits on flooring or pool tile, which are rough and can scratch or otherwise damage whatever the tile is sitting on, I have added those little spot cushions to the underside of each Designer Pot. Makes the pot easier to move around without scratching anything.

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Going into blogging semi-retirement

I live in my own little world

I’m unretiring from work retirement. What that means to you is that I’m semi-retiring from blogging.

When I started blogging in 2007, I was doing it for the main purpose of getting “Google Juice” for my home inspection business. I blogged at a real estate site called “ActiveRain” until January 2012 when I switched to WordPress. ActiveRain originally was founded as a blogging platform for Realtors. Then it opened up to people in the real estate industry or serving the real estate industry.

Realtors generally, as a whole, don’t like home inspectors, so when I became the #1 ranked person on ActiveRain, lots of Realtors complained, and pretty much I was asked to leave. No big deal. I got my Google Juice, and my company thrived.

I had so much fun blogging, though, that I kept it up.

I had always wanted to be a writer, and I have so many interests, that blogging just came naturally for me. Because of those so many interests, I started blogging three times a day here at WordPress. I touched on real estate, gardening, music (The Music Chronicles of Russel Ray, Music on The Music Chronicles of Russel RayMondays), events of the day (Opinion), photography (How I Did It, Picture of the Moment, Then & Now), fauna, flora (Friday Flower Fiesta), the San Diego Zoo & Safari Park, SeaWorld, cats (yes, cats are in their own category separate from fauna), railroads, my own life (Did You Know?), and probably a few other subjects in the beginning that I’m forgetting about now.

It’s not that I don’t still enjoy blogging, but as with lots of things about the Internet, even the jerks are blogging now, and when they come to my blog and exhibit just how much of a jerk they are, it takes away from the fun that was blogging. Such was the case with a commenter on my recent post “Retirement ends, again.” He brought up some objections to my new business. I have no problem with objections and discussion. It’s the objections and comments that I was looking for. A+R Pottery will be the 39th company that I have created in my career, all of them successful, and most, if not all, still in business. I have lost contact with some of the people and companies who hired me to start their businesses, so I’m not sure if all of them are still going as strong as when I left them.

One of the comments this jerk left on my blog post actually caused me to modify my Styled Pottery design a wee bit. That modification will cost me about 3¢ per pot. It’s a cost that I can live with, and I really do think the modification will help. It’s always nice to address objections before a company ever gets going. However, the guy was such a jerk as I answered his objections that I finally unfollowed him and and deleted his comments and my responses to them. Kind of like when Billy Graham died: “Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

I have given one pot away, #7 to my partner’s dad, and I have already sold two pots, both yesterday, and both for $39.

The first was to the lady from the roofing company who came out to measure my roof for rain gutters. When she drove up, I was walking to the garage with a newly created pot.

The other was to a lady who lives in the neighborhood and moved in just a couple of months after Jim, Zoey the Cool Cat, and I moved in. She and her husband had driven around the neighborhood to look at other properties when they came across me working in the yard. They didn’t stop that day, but yesterday the garage door was open and I was working in the garage creating Styled Pottery. She stopped and honked. I went out to see what she wanted. She just wanted to tell me that she had been driving by my property every day since they moved in to keep track of what I had done that day in my landscaping. She loved it—the cactus and succulents, the container gardening, the not-standard, not-concrete walkway from the garage to the front door, and all the textures, colors, and unusual plants. She asked me what I was doing now, to which I replied that I was making “Styled Pottery.” That intrigued her so I went back to the garage and brought out two samples. She was amazed. She parked her vehicle and came to the garage, saw all the Styled Pottery currently in production, and those which were finished, and bought one of them. The PRP (Public Relations Pot) and the two I sold all were like this:

A+R Pottery, custom cactus and succulent pots for indoors or outdoor protected locations

Yes, I already knew that would be one of my most popular Styled Pots.

Both of those purchases were impulse buys, and that’s exactly the type of purchase that occurs at cactus & succulent show and sales which target the general public. That’s my market.

Starting companies, however, is a time-intensive endeavor, which is why my blogging has been very inconsistent recently. Heck, it’s been inconsistent since December 31, 2016, when I retired. One would think that having so much more time would lead to more blogging, not less. I just wasn’t motivated, though, because I was too sad and depressed about not having anything to do anymore. I like people. Most people. Not jerks. Not people in the mold of President Twitler and his ilk.

In looking for something to do, in January I volunteered to be the new Newsletter Editor for the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Society. My first newsletter was the March 2018 issue. You can read it here. The generic fill-in pictures are mine, so this gives me a great opportunity to continue with my photography, especially my new interest in macro photograph, and get Photographic Art—Pink Hibiscusnew pictures from which to develop my Photographic Art. The newsletter gives me an opportunity to write, something I’ve always loved to do.

With the new position and the new business, time is limited. Something has to suffer. If President Twitler and his ilk were not trying to destroy everything that has made America great during my lifetime, I would not be starting another company to bring in more money. But if Twitler and his ilk take away my health insurance, and I get sick, I’m sunk.

I went without health insurance from January 1, 2004, to June 30, 2014. Not of my own choosing. Insurance companies would not insure me. The Affordable Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”) was just what I needed during my elderly years. Never did I think that Twitler and his ilk would do everything they could to make life hard, or not even worth living, for the poor, the sick, children, victims of natural disasters, the elderly, women, black, gays & lesbians, transgenders, veterans home from deployment, the hungry, and so many others. It’s all so disheartening, and I fit into several of their target groups since I’m an elderly gay person with pre-existing health conditions. A bad earthquake could put me into another group, too.

Zoey the Cool Cat chilling on the lanaiSo at the mere age of 62.362 (my birthday is this coming Sunday), I have to realize that people live longer in today’s world, even without health insurance. I need to ensure that Jim, Zoey the Cool Cat, and I can continue living the style to which Zoey the Cool Cat has become accustomed. Ergo, blogging has to be cut back in favor of the new income-producing enterprise. I’ll continue blogging at least once a week, and I’ll try to mix up the subject matters so no one gets bored. I might continue to post photographs, but when I do, I’ll turn off comments for that specific post. Only the written blog posts will have comments turned on.

Although blogging will be cut back, I shall continue to visit the blogs of people I follow, currently 2,348 bloggers, leaving comments and likes. I won’t be following anyone new, though, so if you left a comment anytime before 3/6/2018, you’ll be in my Excel spreadsheet of people to visit.

Happy blogging!

A+R Pottery

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Retirement ends, again

A+R Pottery

I’m on my third retirement. As with the first two, I say retirement sucks.

Ergo, I have hired myself to start my 39th company: A+R Pottery. All of the other companies were either sold to business partners, friends, or, occasionally, employees; given to the people or companies who hired me to create them; or (gasp!) actually kept as income-producing companies, such as Russel Ray Photos and Photographic Art.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Photographic Art by Russel Ray photos--taking photographs, making art

A+R PotteryA+R Pottery creates custom cactus & succulent pottery for indoor or protected outdoor locations since they will not have drainage holes. I hate drainage holes—I’ve ruined enough carpets and wood tables because of drainage holes!

I make this pottery using floor tiles and pool tiles. With the inherent variance in tiles, even of the same kind and color, I can truly say that each custom pot is one of a kind.

Each custom pot will have a number on it to help indicate that it is a custom creation.

A+R Pottery number

Tiles are “glued” together with silicone sealant. I figure if silicone sealant, being waterproof, is good enough to make large aquariums, it’s good enough for small cactus and succulent pots that sometimes come into contact with water.

The pot corners will be grouted, something that I’m not good at, but with experience I believe I’ll get much better because I am improving from one corner to the next. These first prototype pots could be quite interesting!

A+R Pottery grouted

I have connected the tiles inside the pot with small tile quarter rounds and silicone sealant to provide extra strength and stability. A pot falling apart while one’s not home, completely destroying a prized plant, would not be good. One look at the interior of these pots and it’s pretty obvious that’s not going to happen.

A+R Pottery showing tile quarter rounds for extra strength and stability

Here are five more of the first eight; the other one is still drying.

A+R Pottery, custom cactus and succulent pots for indoors or outdoor protected locations

A+R Pottery, custom cactus and succulent pots for indoors or outdoor protected locations

A+R Pottery, custom cactus and succulent pots for indoors or outdoor protected locations

A+R Pottery, custom cactus and succulent pots for indoors or outdoor protected locations

A+R Pottery, custom cactus and succulent pots for indoors or outdoor protected locations

Except for the round pot, all the others still need grouting. I didn’t do the grouting on the round pot, but that shows me how good I can be.

Whaddayall think? A great way to come out of retirement, yes?

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Picture of the Moment—Sunset through an Amtrak window

Picture of the Moment

Recently I was on Amtrak somewhere between San Diego and Los Angeles, and the sun was setting.

It was beautiful, but I have discovered that trying to take pictures of sunsets through Amtrak windows while the train is cruising along at 92 mph (it’s top speed here in Southern California) makes for some, uh, interesting sunset pictures.

On this day, though, the train stopped at a station that was perpendicular to the sunset, allowing me to get a pretty nice sunset picture.

Sunset in Southern California through an Amtrak window

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post