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Learning a Craft

I’ve discovered that learning photography is not unlike studying writing. Everyone seems to think they can write a book, but it takes a lot more than just putting some words on paper to weave a good story together. There is an art form to it. The same goes for photography. Now that cameras are in plentiful supply, mostly on everyone’s phones, there is a huge surge of amateurs trying to be artistic without actually studying what makes a photo good.

Don’t get me wrong, I still consider myself to be an amateur in many ways because I’m still learning. Plus I have nothing against the average person wanting to take pictures. But there are many things that I’ve finally mastered and a lot of trial and error that has made me realize why photographers do what they do, and it’s given me a little more respect for the ones who go above and beyond.

Getting up at 4am to go for a hike so you can get to a particular location by 7am is not necessarily the most fun thing in the world when you’re not a morning person. (Which I’m not.) But I gotta tell you, that light makes for some pretty spectacular photos.

Case in point:

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That flowy water effect? Not possible unless you have softer light. Just after dawn or right before dusk is best. (There’s a reason they call it “Golden Hour.”)

So how much of a difference does the proper lighting really make? Well, I happened to come across one of my first photos the other day, after I visited the exact same spot nearly two years later. It’s not a bad photo, and to be perfectly honest I was quite proud of it when I first took it. I had just barely started taking photography seriously, and this was a completely new location to me. It happened to be at the lovely Green Lakes, located in my beautiful home state of Oregon. It’s a very popular hike, often used as training grounds for marathon runners. It’s a full four miles to get to the lakes themselves, but once you’re there, it’s spectacular.

The lakes are nestled in between two large mountains, the South Sister and Broken Top. As her name implies, the South Sister is furthest south of a trio of peaks known as the Three Sisters. They’re all roughly around 10,000 feet in elevation, with South Sister as the tallest of the three.

As I went through my current pictures, I remembered taking similar photos two years ago and decided to see how far my photography has come. Low and behold, I found my original:

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Again, it’s not a bad photo. The lakes really are that emerald color (hence their name) and the looming peak of South Sister is much more intimidating in person. I used this photo in my first ever calendar that I gave to friends and family as a Christmas present. However, this shot was taken mid-afternoon, probably at the peak of the day, which is the worst lighting one can ask for when it comes to photos.

When I hiked it again this year, I went much earlier in the day and got to the lakes while it was still morning. That meant we missed a lot of the crowds, and because the sun wasn’t directly overhead, the lake looked like this instead:

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Technically, a little bit earlier would have been even better, but I’m quite happy with how these turned out overall. Within the space of an hour, this reflection was no longer visible and there were several other people in the area, including several who decided to go for a swim. I don’t begrudge them wanting to swim, of course, but that would have put quite a crimp in my style if I had still been trying to capture images.

I still have a long ways to go, I know. But I’m really happy with how far I’ve come. There are lots of doors and opportunities opening for me, and I’m thrilled to take advantage of every single one that comes my way.

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Beauty from Ashes

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This is my beautiful family. From the left, this is my mother, myself, Brother, and my dad. This photo is one of the last taken of all of us together, during a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawaii. My parents had dreamed of this for years, and since we were able to stay with some friends who live there, it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been.

Little did we know that just a few months later, my wonderful, amazing mother would take her final breaths in this world.

I suppose in a way we all knew it was coming. She had been sick for a while, and though we never gave up hope that she would recover, in a few short weeks her health deteriorated very rapidly. I thought this would be it for me. When I saw how difficult it was getting for Mom to do even simple tasks, I felt dread. I got mad. I yelled at God. Several times, in fact. I denied what I knew was coming and felt only devastation.

Then she made the decision to check herself into hospice. Suddenly, it was a reality. I mean, everyone knows what hospice means, right?

But you know what? As much as I dreaded what was coming, I also felt an amazing sense of peace. Acceptance. I got to have so many things with my mother that not every person gets to experience. She was my best friend, my confidant, and the most incredible mother in the world. I got to be beside her in her final moments. I got to tell her how much I loved her and how wonderful a mother she was. How many people honestly get that opportunity?

So here’s three things that I’ve learned as I’ve processed reality during this time. And I’ll warn you, while I don’t usually tend to get “preachy” on this blog, I’m using it as a part of my healing process, so you might find more spiritual stuff than normal.

1.) Don’t let fear rule your life.

Seriously, I held myself back on so many things over the years, it’s ridiculous. I’ve always struggled with self-esteem, and too many times I didn’t allow myself to participate in things because I was self-conscious. Whether it was of how I looked, or if someone would like me or not…it doesn’t matter. The fact is, when we know the Author of Love, there’s simply no room for fear. My mother always quoted Graham Cooke when I talked about my hesitations and fears of failure. She would tell me, “Remember, it’s always a green light until God turns it red.” That means that I can step out in confidence, because I trust that if there’s a path that I’m not supposed to take, He’ll let me know. Otherwise, I’m going for it. Take opportunities as they come. They might not come back around again.

2.) God really is able of working all things for good.

Trust me, I did not think this was possible when it came to something like this. I flat out told God that there was no way He could produce something good from losing my mother at such a young age. When I confronted Him and very angrily demanded WHY, He didn’t give me a direct answer. Yet, in His own way, He still did. I know it doesn’t make sense, but He helped me realize just how big the picture was. We’re talking about eternity here. It’s so much more than we could ever imagine. Now that I look back, I see where God was preparing me every step of the way. No one could ever, ever replace my mother, but He placed a mother figure in my life in my pastor’s wife. He knew that I would need her there, so He made sure that I had that connection established. For that matter, He knew that I would need my church family as a whole. I honestly don’t know I would do without their unconditional love and support.

He restored part of my finances. Obviously I would a million times rather have my mother in this world than any other earthly good, but because she always put everyone else before herself, she made sure that my father was well taken care of financially. Through that generosity, my father is now able to give some of that to my brother and me. It’s a long story as to why the restoration of stolen finances are so important to me, but suffice to say, even now that she’s gone, she is still taking care of her children and blessing them. She always wanted to be able to give more, and now she is doing exactly that.

Her life touched so many people, I’m astounded. As a family, we’ve spoken to so many who have been impacted by my mother. And through my personal journey, I’m able to reach out to people in a way that I might never have been able to before.

3.) Don’t stay in the past.

That’s not to say that you can’t remember things, because memories are part of what shape us into who we are. But when you dwell in the past, you miss the here and now. Plus, it leaves too much room for regret. Of course there were things that I wanted to do with Mom that I will never get to now. But instead of focusing on what we DIDN’T get to do together, I remember all that we DID. I treasure every moment, every walk, every hug. I will never, ever, forget my mother, but I will not let myself fall into the trap of “What if…?”

My mother was only 60 years old when she passed. That’s it. I’m more than halfway there. Now, I’m certainly not projecting that I’m going to die at 60, because I plan to live much longer than that. But I have to ask myself, if that was all that I had, what would I do differently? How many more risks would I take? How much more time would I spend with those that I love? If I spend each day as though I’ve only got a few left, I’m going to make the most of every single thing that I do, and every person that I meet.

If that’s our mindset, then there is nothing we can’t accomplish. And at the end of our time, we can rest in the same words that my mother wrote at the end of her journal, quoting Paul:

“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

Fight the good fight.

Finish the race.

Keep the faith.

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Me and the best mom in the world.

Jessica Jones

So I confess that I’ve slacked off on my geekery as of late. I haven’t been as faithful to watch all of the comic book movies that have come out as I have been in the past. (I still haven’t even seen Justice League for sweet pity’s sake.) And because my budget has been less than stellar, I’ve had to be pickier on which movies I watch in the theater and which ones I’ll have to Redbox later.

What I’ve really been bad about has been all of the comic book series that have come out over the last couple of years. Yes, I’m speaking of the myriad of shows that are available for streaming on Netflix, both from Marvel and DC Comics. To be honest, I haven’t really watched any of them. Oh, they’re all queued up in my list, but I haven’t bothered actually investing in any of them, despite the raves that I hear about some in particular.

Well, one of those series was Jessica Jones. I’d heard mixed reviews on it, though I try not to let other people’s opinions sway me too much on movies and TV shows. After all, I tend to like a lot of the movies that the majority of people have despised. (Suicide Squad, anyone?) In this case, I had friends on both sides of the fence. Some loved the show, others hated it.

After a decent day of hiking with my brother’s and my good friend, Handsome Ben, we decided we were both starving and wanted to order some pizza. I mean, we’d just trekked nearly five miles through the woods, so we’d earned it, right? (Side note: My brother has a plethora of Bens in his life, so I had to start assigning them all nicknames in order to keep track of which one he was talking about at any given moment. There’s High School Ben, Bodybuilder Ben, College Ben, Cousin Ben, and my personal favorite, Handsome Ben. Now you know.)

We decided we wanted to watch something while we ate, so he asked if I had seen Jessica Jones yet. He had only watched episode one and was willing to re-watch it, so we went ahead and gave it a shot. Now I’ll say this for Marvel, they certainly don’t censor nearly as much for their Netflix shows as they do most of their movies. *eyebrow waggle* Still, it was an intriguing storyline and I actually wanted to know more about Jessica’s past and the mysterious Kilgrave. There was time for one more, so we went ahead and loaded up episode two. It’s already getting better, and I’m starting to see why people enjoy this show so much.

THEN.

Then the Big Thing happened. Because, you see, Kilgrave isn’t revealed right away. He’s this slightly obscured character who is clearly disturbed and one of the creepier villains I’ve seen. But episode two starts to show the tiniest bit more of him. So here was my actual thought process as I watched the final part of episode two:

Me: (watches Kilgrave enter random couple’s house, seeing only the back of his head) Dang, he’s creepy. That whole mind control thing is messed up.

On TV, Kilgrave walks around like he owns the place and is still creepy, then turns his head to the side.

Me: (sits up on the couch) Wait a minute, I know that profile.

On TV, Kilgrave keeps talking, giving instructions on how he wants his food prepared.

Me: (points hysterically) OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG

Ben: (looks confused)

Me: IS THAT DAVID TENNANT?!?!?!?!?! IS THAT FREAKING DAVID TENNANT AS THE VILLAIN IN THIS SERIES??!?!?!?!??! *fangirl scream*

Suddenly, I have every reason in the world to binge-watch this series in the next two days. And they’re all David Tennant.

WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME HE WAS IN THIS SERIES? HOW DID I NOT REALIZE IT UNTIL JUST NOW?

Sweet cracker sandwich, I have some serious catching up to do. What will I find out next? Is there something crazy awesome in Luke Cage or Iron Fist that I need to know about?

WHEN WILL THE MADNESS END??

I can’t waste any more time here, people. I have Netflix to watch.

How many oldies do we have on this blog? Raise your ancient hands. Just me? Really? C’mon now. Tell the truth.

Well, whatever the case, how many of you remember waaaaay back in the day when McDonald’s had those limited edition Disney glasses? I don’t remember what the heck they were celebrating, but somewhere along the line we ended up with one of them.

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You remember these guys, right? Tell me I’m not the only one.

So we’ve had this Disney glass for, like, AGES. Both Brother and I remember growing up with it always handy in the cupboard at Mom and Dad’s house. It’s a nice size and hey, it’s Mickey Mouse so what’s not to love?

Well, apparently Brother always thought that the glass was mine for some reason. I mean, heck, maybe it was at some point. It’s been too long for me to really care now. Mom, on the other hand, assumed it was Brother’s glass. So she always made sure that it ended up wherever he was.

In the most recent move, however, it somehow ended up BACK at Mom and Dad’s, so when she discovered it, she was more than happy to bring it over to our place. Now, Brother and I have been housemates for well over a year, but one can never have too much glassware. And again, it’s a pretty nice cup. I thought it was super sweet of her to bring it over, so I just stuck it in the cupboard with the rest of our glasses and thought no more of it.

I sort of forgot to tell Brother that Mom had brought it by (and he was at work during the time she was over), so one day I see him reach into the cupboard, pull out the glass and go, “Huh.”

“What?” I asked.

He shrugged. “It’s just kind of weird. No matter where I live, this cup always ends up following me.”

So apparently Mom has been just happily supplying him with what she thought was one of his favorite childhood cups, and he just kept finding it magically appear in every house he’s ever lived in. Everywhere he goes, he just opens up a cupboard and there it is again. Thus he is haunted by mystical cups that never go away.

Disney Magic indeed.

It’s About to Pick Up

Phew, had a little bit of a busy week. Honestly, I’m not really complaining. I like to stay productive, so it was actually good for me to have a full schedule.

I felt like I hit a little bit of a standstill during part of January and into February. I had done pretty much everything that I could to get the business up and running, was still staying active on social media and whatnot, but I was officially stuck in the waiting game. Basically, I realized that until I started selling some of my current designs, it didn’t make sense to really come up with a bunch of new ones. Problem was, I didn’t really know how to go about getting more sales apart from continual social media plugs and eventually getting into an actual store as a vendor.

Unfortunately, that was part of the waiting game. I was on two different wait lists for two different antique stores, but the lists were long and most of the people who were already established there didn’t want to leave. I can’t blame them for that – obviously something was working well there.

So I was stuck.

And I’ll be real with you guys, because that’s the sort of person that I am, it was hard not to feel just the *slightest* twinge of panic at the thought of having to go back to a regular 8-5 desk job. I didn’t have a problem getting part time work so that I could make ends meet while working on my business. But I spent so many years working in the medical field doing something that I absolutely HATED that I had a really hard time accepting that I might have to go back to that for a little bit. It was like, c’mon, life. I’ve done my time doing the crap stuff that I despise and living paycheck to paycheck. More than eight years of it, in fact. I just needed that little bone of hope, you know? It became tough enough that I really had to fight off those depressive thoughts that so often plague me.

Well, God is super gracious, as always. I had a very heartfelt cry that said, “Look, my heart knows that You’ll always take care of me, but my brain is getting in the way of that. I just need a little bit of a sign that says You hear me right now.”

Within a couple of weeks, I got connected to a different antique store, one that I had rather forgotten about but had a really good customer service experience with, and was offered a spot as a vendor there. While it’s not entirely set in stone just yet, because I have to wait for one of the other vendors to make a decision, it looks very good. The spot is perfect for what I’ve wanted, and they charge very reasonable fees for their vendors. Plus the woman who owns the shop is super nice and very laid back.

The other crazy thing that happened was I got offered a job interview for a part time position that I had applied for at a local company. I was hesitant at first, because again, I didn’t want to be stuck in a horrible receptionist position that I didn’t like. Turns out, the position that they really wanted to fill was basic organization, like making sure events were catered or reservations were made. Ordered office supplies. Some filing and possible letter writing.

In other words, it’s all the stuff that I actually ENJOY doing in an office with none of the stress. Sign me up.

The two people I interviewed with were fantastic and also very laid back. Again, the atmosphere of the office was very different from the medical field, which was so refreshing for me. The hours were slightly less than what I had been shooting for, but there was the possibility of things picking up soon, so more hours could be coming. I felt like the interview went really well, and they told me that I would hear from them the next week on what their decision was.

Well, less than two hours later I got a phone call that they were offering me the job.

I’m still just shaking my head at how quickly everything has progressed. Less than a month ago, I was really starting to feel the pressure of where I was going to get enough money to pay my basic bills. Dreading the thought that I might have to give up my business dream so soon. Wishing that I had just a little more time to be able to make things work.

Seriously, I feel so blessed.

I’m excited to get in with this store. I really feel like this is where I could make a decent paycheck and get my name out there. It’s where I can meet people and actually make some connections. Business is all about building relationships, so this is going to be awesome.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Don’t ever give up on your dreams. It’s going to take hard work and determination, but stick through the difficulties. I know this is going to be worth it in the end.

Okay, super long post, so here’s a random photo just for the heck of it. I finally visited Tumalo Falls State Park for the first time last year, and this beautiful river is truly a gem of Oregon. Tumalo Falls itself is gorgeous, but there are several other smaller falls as well that are just lovely. Plus the river and forest look like this as you’re walking along. I mean, how do you beat that?

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Be blessed!

A New Year Begins!

Well, unfortunately, part of that new year started with me finally fighting the crud that’s been making its way through all of my friends. I don’t get sick very often, which is a plus, but when I do get sick, it just completely zaps my energy. Honestly, I haven’t felt *too* horrible this time around – I mean, I’ve certainly had worse. But there have still been minor aches and chills, and a darn sore throat.

And the phlegm. UGH, the phlegm.

Again, I’ve had worse. It’s still dang annoying. Not to mention my voices cracks at any given moment, so I never know what to expect. Also, am I the only one who gets kind of loopy when they’re sick? I don’t know if the phlegm, like, prevents coherent thoughts from entering my brain or what, but it clearly blocks more oxygen than usual. Maybe it’s because I feel so tired. I do tend to get loopy when I’m tired. In fact, I probably won’t remember writing this post by the time tomorrow comes around. I can totally see myself wondering why people are liking a post that was published weeks ago.

But I digress.

What IS exciting about 2018 is that it’s a new year of hiking! I gotta tell you, I have become more and more outdoorsy the older that I’ve gotten. It was part of why working inside a building all day every day made me die inside a little. I live in this utterly gorgeous, amazing state, so to be unable to enjoy it except on the weekends is pretty much torture.

How beautiful is it, you ask? Well, let me show you!

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It’s primarily because of these beauties right here. See, there are two small cities about twenty minutes apart from one another (I live in the smaller of the two) that are nestled up to the edge of the forest that surrounds the Cascades. The larger city is more in the pine trees than my town, but both have fantastic views of the mountains from almost anywhere. This photo was taken on a back road that used to be the main highway between the two cities before Highway 97 was put in. There is still lush farmland and beautiful viewpoints, however, so a lot of us locals still tend to take this back road.

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Broken Top is on the far left, and the Three Sisters huddle next to it.

I mean, seriously. How do you not love these? What I’ve discovered most about my own personality is that I don’t ever want to live somewhere without mountains. Granted, it doesn’t necessarily have to be these mountains in particular, though I am rather partial to them, but I have to have them in my life. I have to be able to hike. The forest has become such an incredible therapy to me, that I can’t honestly picture living somewhere without that as an option.

I have access to hundreds of trails, some of which are available year-round. That means that more often than not, I can still keep training even in the dead of winter. Some of the trails have a very low elevation, meaning that the snow melts quickly. For someone like me, that’s huge.

Whatever makes you happy, please be sure to carve out some time for it. Maybe it’s not hiking or being outdoors. Maybe it’s painting, or decorating your house. Maybe it’s curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee. Whatever it is, make it more of a priority in your life. Too many people get through the drudge of everyday life in the hopes that someday they’ll be able to retire and finally have time for these things, but I encourage you to enjoy some of the small pleasures now. No, I’m not telling you to quit your job, or to spend lots of money on a hobby.

I’m talking about the simple pleasures. The things we don’t always make time for because we’re too busy thinking about what needs to be done. The dishes will still be there in the sink, so go ahead and play with your kids for a while. They won’t be kids forever, after all. Enjoy that morning outing with your friends. Don’t worry about what tomorrow brings when you still have time left today.

When I’m out hiking, I try to take just a moment or two to simply enjoy my surroundings. Forget the camera, forget the perfect shot. Forget the business and the stress that comes with it. Enjoy what you have while you have it.

I’m excited for 2018, guys. There are a lot of great things just waiting to be snatched up, great moments to be lived, and great friends to be made. Make the best of it, and live life to the fullest.

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Here’s to a great new year!

Perfect Song is Perfect

Okay, I’m going to admit something here. It’s hit or miss for me when it comes to Ed Sheeran.

I know, I know. He’s pretty darn popular, and I’m really not surprised. He has a great voice, and clearly is a talented songwriter. But there have been several of his songs that I’ll just flat out admit I can’t stand. I change the radio station anytime they come on.

On the flip side, there have been a couple that I’ve really enjoyed. I actually quite liked the rhythm and melody of Shape of You. It was a fun, upbeat song. Something worth adding to a workout mix. But my general consensus was the same, which was that he was mediocre.

Then his most recent song came out: Perfect.

You know what? I totally skipped this song multiple times because I didn’t care for the melody on the first couple of lines. I usually just wasn’t in the mood for something slow, and for whatever reason I thought it was going to be another typical love song that had a more R&B flavor. Turns out I was completely wrong. Low and behold, one day I happened to change radio stations and the chorus of the song was playing. I didn’t even recognize it as the same song. It wasn’t until the second verse came up that I realized I had been skipping what was actually a very lovely song. In fact, I ended up listening to it several more times that very week.

After just one line, I was ready to give up on something that I hadn’t bothered to listen to all the way through. Kind of sad, right?

It made think of how many times I’ve done that to people. First impressions are key, but sometimes they’re very wrong. Everyone has a story, and sometimes we don’t know why a person is acting the way that they do. Perhaps they just lost their job. Got a bad diagnosis at the doctor’s office. Who knows?

I was telling Brother about how much I had been enjoying the song, and he admitted it was still just “okay” to him. Kind of meh, but not so bad that he wouldn’t at least listen to it when it came on the radio.

Well, just for the record, if you want to take a song from “meh” to “HOT DANG,” just add an Italian opera singer. Specifically Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli, if you can. I just stumbled across this absolutely STUNNING version of Perfect, and I think it just helps to encapsulate that we should never judge a song by one line, nor judge a person by our first impression. Hope you enjoy this as much as I did.