Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hurry up, spring!

Ever since I read this blog post at Chronicles of a Country Girl earlier in the week, I have been meaning to buy myself a bouquet of flowers. It seemed that every day there was something more important, so it never happened. Despite one distraction after another, I decided that today was the day. Flowers I would have! After photographing the heck out of my bouquet, I played around in Photoshop until my heart was content, Izzy snuggled in my lap the entire time. I need photography time and Izzy needs a lap. It's a good combination that works well for us.
This is a frame by Coffeeshop Blog. Rita really has some great freebies!
I love my new fleur-de-lis bookends.
Used Kim Klassen's "Sweet Treat" texture.
These are a few of my favorite books.
Leonardo da Vinci is my favorite artist. His life and art are fascinating to me.
Desaturated the image, then used a texture by Jerry Jones called Box 4.

These daisies really were that bright. Aren't they cheerful?

Trying something new with my camera. If my big fat chair arm hadn't been in the way
I could've gotten the entire reflection on the marble table. I love it anyway.
Submitted this for The Creative Exchange.

This was my submission for week 8 of Focus 52.
Jan is the sweetheart that runs the group. Happy birthday again!!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Jim's Story

This post is an actual email I received from a co-worker on the landscaping side of the company I work for. Jim is a neat young man, about my son's age, very mild mannered, conscientious, helpful, sweet-natured, caring, mature, and thoughtful. When I first met him, I couldn't help noticing all his tattoos, especially the teardrop near his eye. But as I usually do, I ignored the outward appearance and was immediately drawn to his calm spirit. He has quite a story, and he gave me permission to share it with you.

This Is My Story.

I was born in 1978 into very chaotic surroundings. My father and mother had an on and off kind of relationship. When I was six months old, my mother, in the heat of rage, made an attempt on the life of my brother and myself. Her exact words to my father were, "If I can't have the kids, nobody will." In the attempt my father stepped up to protect us and was stabbed in the process. My mother fled the scene never to be heard from again.

My father was a long haul truck driver, so for the next several years we traveled the country with him often living out of the cab of a big semi truck. My father would often shack up with a woman he had just met and then dump us off on the women while he traveled the country. Some of the women despised being put in that situation, but too fearful to tell my father no, proceeded to take their frustrations out on us. Some put us through pure hell, abusing us physically, locking us up in our rooms for days at a time with no food and nothing to do but stare at the walls, dreaming about the day when my father would return to gather us up and take us to the next destination.

When I was four years old I saw my father throw a woman out of a moving vehicle all over an argument over where we were going to eat dinner.

When I was five my father settled down with a woman and had another child, a boy named Russell.

Shortly thereafter, my grandparents, who lived on the coast of Washington State, begged my father to send my oldest brother and I to live with them so that we could have a chance at a stable life and an education. They loved us unconditionally and tried to give us the things that we never had. I never really saw my dad much for the next four years, maybe once a year for a week where he would visit. Most of the time he spent sleeping. He would sleep for days and then wake up and eat, and then sleep some more.

When I was ten, I was pulled out of school and sent home one day, not really sure as to what was happening. I walked in the house and my grandmother proceeded to tell me that my father had been murdered. I would not find out the details of what happened until years later but he had gotten hooked on methamphetamine and within a year he was stealing cars and traveling from state to state. He landed in Sacramento where he apparently ripped someone off in a drug deal. They shot him twice in the back of the head while he was bound, and left him in a marshy area of town where he was found 18 days later by a fisherman.

After that my life took a turn for the worse. I went clinically insane. My grandparents who were getting older could not handle two out of control kids so they put us into foster care, and we became a ward of the State. I was so bad that in my first year I went to nineteen different foster homes. The shortest stay was one hour and the people called the State to come get me because they could not handle me. The State finally put me in a mental hospital where I could be evaluated. I was there for four months getting treatment (more like being medicated out of my mind). Finally I was released and shipped to a long term facility for troubled kids in Spokane, Washington. This was no day care, these kids were the worst of the worst, kids who had killed, raped and committed just about every felony you could think of. These were the new influences of my life.

I joined the Rollin 60's crip gang and made it my mission to be as mean and tough as I could to earn the respect that I thought was due. Without going into detail regarding the things that I did in gang life, lets just say I was Evil.

But God likes a lost cause. When I was eighteen after almost getting killed in a drive-by shooting I hopped on a Greyhound bus to Dallas looking to make a better life for myself. I went to the first homeless shelter that I could find and started the process of rebuilding my life from the ground up. Within a week I was arrested for Aggravated Robbery. The charges were dropped for lack of evidence. You see I did not actually rob the guy, I just beat him within an inch of his life with a beer bottle just for fun, which was actually worse. The thought of a 10 year prison sentence did nothing to deter me from a life of crime, but God had other plans.

For the next several months he allowed a series of events to transpire in my life that broke me down to nothing and took every shred of dignity that I could have possibly had away. So on a hot day (105) homeless, alone, hot and thirsty with nowhere else to turn I prayed for the first time since I was a little child for God to reveal himself to me and to take the mess of a life that I had made and to try and doing something with it if he could.

He answered that prayer that day. Six months later I was preaching the Gospel in Rome. My friend Rick Baker began disciplining me and I began moving and walking in the new life that God had given me. I thought the dark days were behind me, but they were just beginning. You see, for as long as I could remember I had this dream of making it in the Rap industry.

I went on the Queen Latifah Show with Snoop Dogg to tell my story and to try to get discovered. I rapped on the show and Queen Latifah and Snoop were so impressed that they hooked me up with Sony records. But the deal fell through and a lot of promises that were made were not delivered.

All of my Brothers and Sisters in Christ were telling me that it was not wise for me to do secular music but I tried to justify that it was just music. It wasn't long before the choice was made clear: follow God and give up the dream of fame and fortune in the secular rap industry, or put my faith to the side and go after my dream.

I chose the latter.

I was being sought after by some of the biggest names in the rap industry. I met with the owner of Ruff Riders where we spent a whole day at a 5 million dollar mansion owned by an executive for Microsoft, where we talked about my future. Promises were made and never followed through on.

Years later I see it was God's hand protecting me from a world that would have completely destroyed me.

I had stopped praying, stopped going to church, no accountability whatsoever in my life. I met a woman on a trip back home and moved her to Dallas with me, where she got pregnant. Then I became distant and began to push her away. The fear of having a kid who would destroy my dream of fame and fortune was too much. So I sent her home back where she came from, starting the same cycle all over again that my father did with me.

I spent all my time going after this dream. I would work on my music and sell dope at a strip club at night to make money. I was fast becoming worse than the man that I was before I got saved.

Then it happened: I tried my own product. I was hooked. Now I was getting high every day. That drug addiction lasted for several years. I put my dream on hold and got married, moved back to Washington and set my mind to be a family man. But who was I kidding? I wasn't ready for marriage, I still had visions of grandeur about my dream of becoming a superstar. During this time I felt God tugging on my heart but I pushed it to the side. I ignored the voice inside of me imploring me to turn back from what was coming. I did not heed the warning.

Then my wife left me and everything fell apart. I fell into a downward spiral of drugs and women and every kind of depraved state of mind there was. Back in Dallas, my life was a wreck, in and out of jail, addiction and far removed from the praise that I had received for my musical talents and abilities. There was no glory, no love in my life, no hope. How had I gotten Here?

One decision at a time. But I could feel God calling me, imploring me to turn to him, that I did not have to live in the misery any longer. And I finally hit bottom and submitted to his will. It took me five years to finally say 'yes, Lord'.

God brought a couple into my life who took me in and discipled me for a year. He brought my brother to the same couple and they begin to disciple him as well. We worked through the very issues that had plagued us for years. He repaired my relationship with my brother. I studied and I got extremely close to God during that year. I broke off things in my life that had been there since childhood. I was on the right track. Doing well, had a good job, a new family, and I could never possibly turn back now.

Beware that you think you stand lest you fall! And then I fell again, left God and Church again and it all happened so fast. You see, I saw it coming and knew that destruction comes fast and swift. Within 8 months I was homeless and broke and and lonely again. I was being questioned about a murder of a woman that I was with 2 hours prior to her death, potentially going down for a crime I did not commit. I had my friend stabbed in front of me while he was trying to break into someone's home, was carjacked at gun point, all in 8 months.

Life was dark and I was tired. Tired of the roller coaster that my life had become! I had been here many times before! So I knew the answers. I knew that Satan was trying to destroy me and I through my selfish ways was destroying myself. So I made a vow right there that I was going to forsake everything, every dream and desire that I had I was going to hand over to God. I never wanted to end up here again and I was going to do whatever it took, submit to whoever God had for me to submit to, because I knew the next time would likely kill me.

I have been sober now for 4 years. I have given up the dream of being a superstar. The only Glory I want, I want to give to God. God has restored everything in my life spiritually, financially. Now I give back discipling young men, like myself who need direction in their life. I have held a job longer than anytime in my life. I work on million dollar homes, training under a man that is grooming me to be a leader in business.

I owed over 11 thousand dollars in back child support and have paid half of it off in less than 2 years and will have the rest done this year. I am working hard to do right by my son and ready to build a relationship with him when the Lord opens that door. I am starting college in the fall working towards a degree in business. I have major accountability in my life and have cut off all ties with my former life and friends.

I have not forgotten where I have come from. I know that Satan is just waiting to try to trip me up, but the God in me is more powerful and is able to keep me. I have fallen many times but have gotten back up and kept going. I do what is necessary to insure that I am grounded spiritually. The Father has loved me through it all and his grace and mercy has blown me away. He has shown how committed to me that he is. He has made me a different person. I used to think I was going to die at a young age like my father, a victim of homicide, but God had other plans. I no longer have that fear.

The most important piece of wisdom that I carry with me always, is that each decision that I make is life or death. I have chosen life and will continue to do so as long as I have breath.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Photo Contest Winner!!

First, I would like to commend everyone who participated in my challenge. You ALL did a FANTASTIC job with my amorous swans. Your creativity inspired and awed me. I thank you all for your generosity of spirit, for your willingness to share your process, and for humoring this old amateur photographer. :) Before I announce the winner, I'll describe what I liked about each entry:

#2 hootnonny, my adorable Flickr friend and fellow blogger behind Artistic Expressions Photography. This was the first submission, and I was floored. I almost hoped that no one else would play because it would make my decision so much easier to just give the prize to Betty! The light, the soft bokeh, the warmth, and the cleanup of the swans--all superb! Nice touch with the black frame. It is just exquisite.

To my surprise, more awesome photographers took the challenge, and I soon realized that I was in trouble.

#3 Charlotte's edit is so creative. She really put the emphasis on swans in love with her beautiful framing. Love the blues and greens in the texture, and that starburst between their bills was a stroke of genius. Nicely done, my friend.

#4 Lisa Gordon really nailed the lighting here. Also, instead of sharpening the swans (which is what I tried to do unsuccessfully) she softened them instead. This lent such a beautiful, ethereal quality to the photo. This is a standout for sure. Lisa really put her stamp on this. Reminds me of a dream!

#5 My sweet Flickr friend, TinaM89, left me breathless with her edit. The swans are perfectly sharpened to bring out their features, yet the photo's airy quality is retained. The fact that she brightened the photo so well without losing detail of the swans is amazing. The texture she used is perfection. Impressive.

#6 GW, my special friend. He went the opposite direction by darkening the subjects. I love the orange glow of the right swan and the delicate light falling on the curve of their necks. Love the intimacy that his lighting choice revealed. Well done, friend.

#7 pfairman53, another sweet Flickr friend who put her skills to the test and produced wonderful results. I adore the bokeh, the tones, and that wonderful framing. Overall a beautiful edit. I appreciate all the hard work you must've put into this.

#8 Hula Girl! If y'all don't subscribe to Hula's blog, you're missing out. She's funny, sweet, and a great photographer! Her edit really impressed me. She cleaned up my filthy little lovers so well, and adjusted the light in a most pleasing manner. I also loved her quote by Mother Teresa. So special.

#9 Tina Bonner used warm tones for this that I wouldn't have thought to do and it works! Her subtle use of texture is so soothing. Very nice touch with the vignette. So very pretty and pleasing! Please visit Tina's blog to see her other amazing work.

#10 Joco Deane really outdid herself. I truly loved her "wedding invitation" idea because this is perfect for something like that. These swans look like they're at a marriage celebration themselves with that veil wafting in the wind. The offset black frame lends itself very well to this idea. Creative and unique!

#11 Rosemary Aubut also had a beautiful edit. She lightened the image perfectly, while also adding detail to the faces. That distressed texture she used is gorgeous. The rounded corners was also a great choice. Rosemary, I'm glad you found me because I love your blog and your photos!

#12 The Flirty Girl (Stacie). Apparently a blog follower for some time, she finally saw a post of mine that piqued her interest. Am I ever glad she did! I absolutely ADORE the colors on this edit. The bright blue of that water is divine. That color is something I always strive for either in shooting or editing, yet so rarely achieve. The swans are nice and clean, sharpened, but not overly so. This is

Man, this was difficult...
They're all so deserving...
But I'm not Bill Gates and I can only choose one...
#12! The Flirty Girl! Please email me for your $25 Amazon gift card!! Your edit is amazing. Congratulations.

Thank you everyone for playing. I hope you had fun. Again, ALL the submissions were awesome. If I had even a tiny fraction of Bill Gates' wealth, you ALL would receive something for your edit. They are truly all deserving.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Winner announcement tomorrow!

Due to unforeseen issues at home, I will be posting the winner of my photo contest tomorrow! Thank you for your patience!!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Photo highlights of the week

We had a pretty good weekend. Went to a Mardi Gras themed gathering with my church Saturday night. Got really jazzed up beforehand after drinking Starbucks instant coffee. It's like twelve shots of espresso in one cup. Holy coffee beans! Later that night I had a rough time trying to go to sleep, then woke up at 4:30 Sunday morning and stayed awake. :/ Church was great today. I'm meeting more people and feeling more welcome there. Our priest is still the most wonderful clergyman I know.

Managed to find time for photography which is always nice. Here are some things I shot over the weekend that I'm pleased with:
Keenan Cemetery
Farmers Branch, TX
Read more details about this photo here
Sunset at Indian Creek Golf Course
Really wish my camera settings would have been better.
Those bright orange sunsets make me awe-struck and I can't think properly.
Dandelions sprouting in the yard and I'm excited! Spring is around the corner.
Don't the ends of the spores remind you of 4th of July sparklers?
Squirrel greeting me on my arrival at Nob Hill Greenbelt
Week 7 of Focus 52
Pansy macro

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Won!

You guys, I never win anything. I go to the gambling boats in Baton Rouge when I go home to visit and promptly lose $200. Every. Single. Time. The Belle of Baton Rouge has taken me for a ride too many times to count. Although, it's probably a blessing that I don't win big because that would only encourage me to gamble more. But for some reason, on the internet, I seem to have better luck winning things.

I entered a contest over at lovely Kate's Chronicles of a Country Girl blog. She made entering her contest super easy. All I had to do was leave a comment on her blog stating which of her prints I would like to have if I won. I became super excited when I saw her cardinals in the choices. Ever since I came across her photo of the Female cardinal in snow bokeh on Flickr and on her blog, I was instantly smitten. So, on Valentine's Day, my comment, #17, was chosen by the random integer generator thingy.

I hope she doesn't mind me bringing the photo over here in my post, but I simply must show off my beautiful prize:
Female cardinal in snow bokeh
Photo by Kate of Chronicles of a Country Girl
Isn't she beautiful? As many of you know, I have a thing for birds, especially cardinals. And a cardinal in the snow? Wow. This knocked my socks off. She is one of the prettiest female cardinals I've ever seen. Kate did a splendid job capturing this one.

Thank you, Kate! I received my 8x10 and 2 smaller prints in the mail today. Love, love, love it!! Can't wait to find the perfect frame.

Please check out Chronicles of a Country Girl. Kate is pretty awesome. I can say that about her even if I didn't win anything because her blog is always so entertaining. Go! What are you waiting for?! :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Photo challenge & give away!

Yesterday I posted my photo of these Mute Swans doing their mating ritual. Above is the original (resized). Pretty atrocious, huh? They caught me by surprise with their lovemaking, and turns out I only had a brief window of time to capture them before they sailed off into the sunset, which didn't take long once they noticed the telephoto pointed right at them. My camera was on all the wrong settings, naturally. But underneath this awful photo there is potential for something beautiful, just like the story of  the ugly duckling maturing into a graceful swan. I believe that with all my heart. ♥

I've attempted a few times to edit this photo, but I don't like anything I've done! So, I've decided to throw down a challenge to whomever can salvage it best, with a prize for the best edit. Yes, I am bribing anyone who will take the bait because I need help. This photo needs YOUR help!

The 1200x800 version is here. The original RAW file can be found here, but when you click this link it automatically starts downloading--just know that it is a very large file. Please let me know of any problems with any of the links.

You have until midnight central time on 2/22/11 to submit your entry. The grand prize winner will receive one $25 gift card to Amazon. One entry per person. I would love to offer a bigger prize, or something for runners-up, but Pioneer Woman, I am not. :)

Rules summary:

  1. Edit the photo any way you wish 
  2. Link the edited photo using Linky Tools below, OR leave your link in the comment section of this post
  3. Leave a comment on this post with an explanation of your edit(s); it can be as brief or as detailed as you like, but I'm a nosy girl so the more information, the better. :) 
  4. Become a follower of this blog (if you're already a follower, great!)
  5. Brownie points for putting my blog button on your blog (if you don't have a blog, no biggie). The code is located on the sidebar.
  6. Please include your email address when submitting your comment (this is important in order to contact you if you win!)
To use Linky Tools, upload the edited photo to your blog or a service like Flickr, Snapfish, etc. Copy and paste the link of your photo in Linky. Please note that the link must be to the URL of your actual photo, not just to the site it’s posted in. 

That's all! I'm looking forward to your entries!

P.S. I used Linky Tools to upload the first thumbnail, but obviously, I am disqualifying myself. Just wanted to make sure it works!

UPDATE 2/15/11, 3:39PM: Apparently, Linky Tools is having issues which is causing the link to not show up (and I think it's playing havoc with my blog, too). Hopefully, they will get it resolved, pronto!

UPDATE 2/15/11, 4:48PM: It appears that Linky Tools is back up! Hope it stays that way. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mute Swans In Love

I took this photo last October. Two mute swans were doing a mating dance, oblivious to me and my obnoxious, clacking camera. I've been waiting to upload it on THIS day ever since! Seemed like forever, and I hoped I wouldn't forget, as my memory is not what it once was. :/ I was going to work on editing yesterday to try to clean them up, but hubby spent the entire day on my computer trying to get our Harmony One remote programmed. :/ So, this is pretty much SOOC (straight out of camera) except for minimal cropping, exposure adjustment, and sharpening. I may try to clean these two lovebirds up another day. 

EDIT UPDATE:  I reworked the photo with a texture overlay from Dubtastic. I'd still like to see what else can be done to help this photo. :)
Happy Valentine's Day!