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A Simple Suggestion

I had a memory pop up on Facebook the other day, from when I was just finishing the first ever draft of Prince of Light. Oh, I remember that draft. I was so proud of it, so attached to my characters, so convinced that it was the next Harry Potter.

Well, that was a learning curve.

Several years of interacting with other writers and rejections from agents taught me how to have a thick skin when it came to construction criticism. Honestly, my writing is much, much better for it. Yes, those years kind of sucked, because it felt like a huge landslide of rejection, but it made me stronger in the long run.

So when the memory of writing my first book came up, it soon followed with the proud feeling I had when I finally had it self-published several years later. That was back in 2012.

Then came my marriage.

Well, I technically published Prince of Light not long after I got married. The story was complete by then, and I tried getting the attention of many agents before turning to the route of self-publishing.

But then I endured 6 long years of verbal and emotional abuse during my marriage, and the spark of creativity that I had always had burning inside me came close to snuffing out. I never had time or energy to pursue any of my passions, much less continue writing a love story. I no longer believed in love. How could I write about something I had never really known?

I broke free from that situation almost three years ago. And as I healed up, I tried to get back into my story, because I adored my characters so much. I read Prince of Light with a fresh set of eyes, ready to tackle the next step of the story.

Once again, I found myself writing absolute drivel. It was so cheesy and sub par that I couldn’t even bring myself to continue at times. I tried to force my way through, because I knew that as soon as I could get to a certain point, everything would make sense again and it would be really good. But getting to that point was just shy of impossible.

Then, just the other day, I went to a very dear friend’s birthday party, and she introduced me to a couple of new friends. In the midst of our nerding out and writerly conversations, one of the new friends heard me mention that I was still having major writer’s block when it came to Prince of Light.

“Well, you could just do a time-hop,” he said casually. “You know, fast forward a ways in the future and then explain how she got there.”

The light bulb went on.

I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to actually tell the story of how my main character got to the next phase that I saw. I could just explain it through her memories of what happened.

I’m telling you, it’s like my life had new meaning.

I honestly don’t know why that never occurred to me before. It was the simplest suggestion, but it completely changed my way of thinking and opened up a whole new level of creativity that I hadn’t tapped into before.

All that to say, for those of you who have been here since the beginning, when I first published Prince of Light and created this blog for all things character and book related, get ready for book two. It’s finally coming.

For those of you who are new here, well, you’re going to end up seeing a lot more fangirling but still some pretty photos. Ye be warned. 🙂

Love you all, and thanks for being a part of my journey!

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Can we take a minute and talk about a couple of words that most people don’t like to talk about? No, not those words, you dirty-minded person. 😉  I mean those OTHER words.

Hard. Work.

I confess that there are many times when I seek out instant gratification. I can be very patient when I want to be, but sometimes I just don’t give a flip and want it done NOW. As in, like, finished yesterday. But there’s something to be said for slow and steady progress. For the satisfaction of knowing the blood, sweat and tears that was put into your craft, whatever it may be. I’ve studied many things over the years, from singing to bellydance, and there’s always been a sense of pride from the work that I’ve done in those areas.

Most recently, I finally started pursuing my passion in photography, as previously mentioned in this blog. I’d always enjoyed it to an extent, but I didn’t really start seriously studying it until about three years ago.

One of my favorite places to go is Sahalie Falls. It’s only about an hour or so from where I live, which is amazing, and it’s just a beautiful area. The McKenzie river is green and lush, with several waterfalls and pretty areas all along it. Sahalie Falls is one of the most popular tourist destinations, with a short three-mile loop that allows you to see the waterfalls from both sides of the river. A couple weeks ago, I went there with a good friend and completed the full loop for the first time in a couple of years. When we approached what was nearly the end of the trail, I just had to stop and take a photo of the tiny little waterfall cascading near the trail. It was much fuller than it had previously been, thanks to a large amount of recent snowfall, but it was so nostalgic to me.

That tiny little waterfall was my first ever attempt and capturing a long exposure image. Basically, long exposure means your shutter-speed is set for a longer period of time, so it creates a blurred effect for things that are in motion. That’s how you get that beautiful, flowing look for things like waterfalls or rivers. I had never tried it before, but I remember the sense of pride I had when I first took photos of this place. This was how it turned out:

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I tweaked it in Photoshop, because I hadn’t yet purchased a copy of Lightroom, and even printed out a copy to hang above my bed at our old house. This was it, I had found what I wanted to do forever. I was so happy with the results that I posted it everywhere, convinced it was going to be one of my best pieces ever.

Well, it’s not necessarily bad. But I can see where I over-exposed a lot of the image and didn’t set the shutter for the right speed. Not only that, but over the last two years my style of photography has gone from bright colors and exposure to more dark and moody. When I processed the most recent photo, I used some of the go-to presets that I almost always use now.

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Same place, same water. Completely different photography styles.

I’m still proud of both of these works. But I love seeing how far I’ve come in the last couple of years. When I look back at things like this, I see the hours of labor and studying that I put into it. I see the late nights and early mornings. I see the tears of frustration over a failed attempt or yet another rejection. But I always see progress.

I know it’s been credited to many different authors, but my mother always used to quote to me that when you find the job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Oh trust me, you’ll still put in the work. But when it’s your passion, it’s worth every moment.

Bailey

For those of you who have followed me for several years, and THANK YOU, by the way, you will know that I used to have several pets. At one point, I owned two dogs and two cats. They were all amazing, but over time they all were either re-homed or sadly went over the rainbow bridge. (I still miss you like crazy, sweet Ludo.)

It was difficult to re-home the ones that we did, but I know that it was the best decision. They have loving families that spoil them rotten, and due to circumstances being what they were at the time, they weren’t always safe staying with me. I won’t go into details, but since I was in an abusive situation at the time, they were sometimes caught up in the crossfire. Now I know they’re all safe and happy, but it was a lonely two and a half years of no pets when Brother and I were living in the rental property.

We’re currently in a living situation where our temporary roommates have two cats, but I confess that I was feeling very lonely. Yes, I was in a houseful of people, but I didn’t always feel like I fit in. The pain of losing Mom last year and all of the incredible changes that we’ve gone through, including a completely new house and living space, meant that I was fighting depression quite a bit.

The funny thing about being an introvert is that you can be surrounded by people and still feel alone. And while being alone is ultimately what helps recharge you, there’s also something about the steadfastness of a good friend/spouse/significant other that helps get you through those times. Add in depression, and you really come to rely on unconditional love to get through those low moments. It’s different for everyone, but personally speaking, I don’t know what I would do without my faith. It’s been my security and hope more times than I can count.

But I also believe that God gives us tangible things to help us through and remind us that He cares. That, I believe, includes the beauty of pets.

All that to say, meet Bailey!

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Honestly, I was ready to walk out of the shelter empty-handed. None of the other dogs that I met were anywhere near what I was looking for, and our personalities just didn’t mesh.

But this sweet girl came in on the same day that I happened to be there. One hour before I arrived, actually. I was delayed getting to the shelter, and if I had come in at the time that I originally planned, I would have missed seeing her altogether. Coincidence? I think not! 🙂 I fell in love immediately, and the next day, I took her home.

We’re still in the new stages of getting to know each other and getting used to the new normal, but she’s been amazing. She had a lot of changes in a very short amount of time, but she’s settling in just fine so far. She’s great on a leash, super affectionate, and she’s already starting to fill that void in my heart that had been empty for some time.

We’re not 100% sure of her breed, but I’m guessing her to be a German shepherd/Samoyed mix. And since she’s pretty big, I know I’m going to feel much safer hiking on my own now. I’ll try not to spam my blog with dog pics *too* much, but there’s no guarantees. I mean, just look at this face:

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No promises on the dog pics. No promises at all. 😉

Can’t wait for the next adventure!

I bought a selfie stick the other day. Truth be told, I used to be one of those people who laughed at the ones who had selfie sticks. I thought they were rather vain and unnecessary. I might have pointed and laughed a time or two when I saw people using them. I might have even made fun of my friend when she got one, never passing up a chance to give her a hard time about it.

Then I started hiking by myself. A LOT.

Suddenly, a selfie stick didn’t sound like such a bad idea. I bought a cheap one just to see how I liked it, and the next thing I knew, I was hooked. It was so much easier to get a photo of myself out and about. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always trust handing my phone to strangers. Maybe I’m just paranoid. (Though I certainly never mind when others ask me to take a photo of them. It’s actually one of my great delights to hand their phone back to them and see their surprise at how nice the photos turn out.)

Plus having someone take a photo of me meant that I never really knew how it was going to turn out. No one’s fault, of course; they’re not a photographer by trade. But fellow photogs can relate to what I’m saying, right?

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Can I get an amen?? (Don’t worry, Bey, we still love you.)

Even when I was out with friends, it was so much better to get the whole group in a picture with a selfie stick. I mean, some of my friends have pretty long arms, but they can still only reach so far.

Oh man, I super enjoyed it. It became a part of my usual pack. Then, just as I had grown accustomed to the joys of selfies, tragedy struck. Yes, my little cheapo selfie stick randomly died one day, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it.

I tell you, though, once you’ve discovered the joys of getting more backdrop in a photo, it’s really difficult to go back to your face filling up the whole phone screen. So I did a little research and looked up good ol’ Amazon to see what selfie sticks were compatible with my trusty iPhone 8 Plus. (The phone is HUGE, which I love, but sometimes it’s hard to find things that will fit it.)

Low and behold, they not only have selfie sticks but SELFIE TRIPODS.

Selfie tripods!!!

Suddenly, my life had new meaning. If there is one piece of equipment that I simply couldn’t live without as a photographer, it’s my tripod. I don’t need especially expensive brand-new lenses. I can make do with used. I don’t need the latest Nikon camera. My D5200 has been absolutely fantastic. What I DO need is a tripod to hold my camera still when I want to get a long exposure of a waterfall, or when my hands are simply too cold to keep from shaking.

So a tripod for my phone with a Bluetooth remote? Why, it just makes sense.

Honestly, I’m probably pretty late in the game when it comes to this. I follow a lot of great photographers on IG and the like, and while sometimes they’re able to have other photogs take a great shot of them out and about, more often than not I think they’re taking advantage of the exact same thing.

So late in the game or not, I am super excited to play around with my new toy. Who’s ready to head up to Smith Rock with me?

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This picture made possible by a super special awesome selfie tripod.

Thank you, Taco Bell

To the random Taco Bell employee who waited on me yesterday: Thank you.

You see, when I went to grab a quick dinner with my brother and some of his friends, I was feeling pretty down. But one little piece of sunshine made me feel a little bit better. The Taco Bell employee that I met at the counter yesterday was bubbly, all smiles, and absolutely fantastic. And you know what made my day?

She complimented my makeup.

Oh, I know, that might seem pretty trivial to some people. But here’s the thing. That Taco Bell employee didn’t know that I’d had a complete meltdown that morning. She didn’t know how stressed I was from being in the middle of moving, and that my life was completely turned upside down right now. She didn’t know that my mother died earlier this year, and that I’m still grieving the fact that the one person who always understood me, the one who could’ve truly helped me through this whole process, is just gone. She didn’t know that I had looked at my makeup that morning and felt it was crap because I had cried through most of the application.

She had no idea.

She just complimented my makeup, and we laughed and joked around a little bit before she went on to the next customer.

It probably meant nothing to her. Just another day at her workplace, another dollar to be earned. But she made my day so much better because she saw something that I couldn’t see in the moment, and she said it out loud.

Sometimes we need to remember to say those little things. If you like someone’s shirt, tell them. If you notice a hair color that really catches your eye, say something. You never know what someone else is going through, and you never know who might need that little word of encouragement. It might seem really silly to you, but it could mean the world to them.

Every person has a story – you get to decide whether or not you’re going to listen to it. Just my quick two cents for today.

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.

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.