Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Photo School

“OK, everyone outside,” my photography instructor bellowed, in a sudden burst of enthusiasm.

The entire roster of community college scholars — various drifters, thugs, portfolio-toting art students, and a displaced criminology major (who visibly brightened when I reminded her of all the top-notch mug shots she’ll be able to shoot)—trooped past a line of public service posters extolling virtues like keeping teeth “in your mouth, not your friend’s skull,” as we filed out the door and atop a cement wall in the courtyard.

The professor situated herself on a seat facing the concrete wall, and asked us to look down at her. “You are seeing me through a bird’s eye view right now,” she said, “and this is the one I’d prefer if you were shooting me. It’s slimming. You don’t notice my enormous hips, my big butt. You don’t see my many chins,” she explained, waving her hand below her face.

She then summoned us to a crouching position on the cement ground and asked us to look up at her. “This is a worm’s eye view,” she announced. “It’s great for making your subject larger than life. But that’s not what we want right now, is it?” she said, waddling a number of formerly invisible chins. “Just look at this wide shelf of boobs, these enormous hips!”

The professor was clearly delighted to flaunt her, um, features for the sake of the lesson, and in her boldness, proved a strong point. The concept of perspective was not new to me—if asked, my family would happily recount their sightings of me rolling on various grasses and kneeling in patches of variegated gravel to capture unique angles on familiar subjects. But as much as I’ve embraced the need to move myself and the camera to get fresh perspectives on scenery and still life, I have to admit that I haven’t been quick to translate the concept to portraits. Even standing on the cement wall, looking down at my instructor, I didn’t grasp the full significance. But the comparison to the ground floor view? Big difference.

But don’t jump to the conclusion that one perspective is “good” and the other “bad--” because that would be, well, bad. Both points of view are tools. Your job as the photographer, is to decide how to best use them. Capturing a toddler from ground level could be a really interesting viewpoint. Grandma, however, might appreciate the top view treatment. Accordingly, your assignment for the week is to take pictures of people from both perspectives, add the best to a post, and link up next week.

Speaking of linking up, did you shoot last week’s optional assignment? If so, add the link to your results below!

Friday, August 20, 2010


I apologize in advance if today's title is misleading: if you're here for our Friday Photo School then you get an A+ for showing up early! In response to some questions I've had, I wanted to clarify that our photography adventure begins here next Friday--one week from today (my first class is Tuesday!). I'm excited, and I am glad to hear that many of you are, too!

But just in case you arrived, camera in hand and eager to start, I thought it might be fun to give a photographic challenge--a sort of optional, just-for-fun type "assignment." Try, if you dare, to capture your weekend in a single snapshot. If I make this sound unduly daunting, it's just because I have no idea how to do it myself. My weekend involves paint, a backpack, 16 hours in a car, a picnic, an airport, and a new family member, which, photographically speaking, seems to make for a compositional challenge--what, after all, is the subject?

Next week's post will come complete with our first real "lesson" AND a link-up widget should you choose to take today's challenge and wish to share your results.

Enjoy :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flash Forward Friday

So...I alerted you that there would be an announcement of some sort today. Since you've already been waiting for 21 out of the 24 hours that comprise today (and I'm no math whiz, but that's a hefty percentage)I will focus on the subject at hand.

See, we're all going to photography school--for free!!

As a workplace benefit, I get to take one free class every semester. This time, I chose photography, and I'd like to share the opportunity with all of you. Here's how will it work.

I'll deal with all the messy stuff, like finding a parking space, arriving to class on time, and taking good notes. You just show up here every Friday, and I'll share the single coolest thing I learned all week along with a little photography assignment so you can practice the skill. You'll get a whole week to work on it and put the results in a post of your own. The next Friday, you'll link your post up here and we'll all take a look at the great pictures we took--and get the next week's assignment and do it all over again.

It will be fun to learn new things and watch our skills develop :)

Who's in?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

An Itty Bitty Post About A Tiny Little Auction for A Great Big Cause

Good News, Readers!

There's still over hours left to score a one-of-a-kind bag or some fun bangles in my Tiny Little Auction for a Great Big Cause.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from this auction will go to Sixty One, a non profit organization dedicated to helping young girls whose lives have been hijacked by sex trafficking build new lives and learn to dream.

The auction will be open until noon EST Friday, August 13th.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Dreams May Come, Part Two

“ You must remember to make promises to yourself and work hard to keep them.”
--Baseball Umpire Doug Harvey, in his Hall of Fame Induction Speech

"Auntie’s lost her balance,” my niece remarked in mock formal tones as I uprighted the swivel chair I’d just piloted into a mid course crash-and-burn at a family food function. Her remark was met with instant laughter, not just because of the uncharacteristic way she pronounced “Auntie” as if it began with an “o,” or her wonderful timing but also the because everyone present knows this auntie is seldom sure and steady.

I’m the kid who instantly became public enemy number one in first grade when I tripped over a cord in our darkened classroom, sending the film projector and class expectations of a media-enhanced lesson into irreparable wreckage. Growing up, I was just as likely to fall up the stairs to my room as down, once even doing hard time with my head stuck between the banisters of the same staircase as the result of a failed rescue of a stray marble. Even now, the quickest route to finding me is following the Hansel and Gretel-like trail of dribbled latte.

Which makes my present announcement unremarkable: I’m completely off balance, and it’s killing me. Last August, when I got my job as a part time art teacher, I wrote of my excitement about getting back into art, of having an artistic outlet. But in the same post, I also mentioned the need for corresponding good news in my literary pursuits in order to feel complete.

Ten years ago, I made a decision to become a working writer and made some concrete, relatively bold moves. With both my kids now in school, I quit a part time job that was no longer going well and dedicated several hours of every day to typing words into blank documents and then—get this—sending those words to editors with wildly varying results. Some ignored me. Some sent me notes, politely passing on my work (which, at the time, I was too inexperienced to recognize for the encouragement that they were). Others sent along suggestions for improvement (some I considered, and least one, I completely blew off—that story was immediately entered in a contest where it took first place. In a wonderful twist of fate, the cash award and the accompanying silver bowl were presented to me by none other than the editor who had suggested I ax most of the first page.) And other editors? They sent money. One, at my local paper, offered me steady work, which I relished for nearly three years.

In other words, I took risks. I wrote two entire books, and went into business with my husband to promote them. I went to book signings, and library programs, and school and girl scout programs, and got reviews in tiny little publications. I wrote a nonfiction book proposal and got polite replies passing on the project from all three agents I sent it to (which I was now experienced enough to recognize as the encouragement that it was). Some days I cried. Some days I laughed. Many a day I threatened to quit the entire enterprise, But never, at any point, did I lose sight of the fact that I was doing everything I could do to flesh out a dream.

So what happened? For one thing, I got a little comfortable writing for the paper. They loaded me all the work I could handle and sometimes let me shoot my own stories, too. I wasn’t bringing in anything close to a stand-alone income, but at any given time I was juggling 2-3 stories with no question on whether they’d run or if I’d get paid and when I got to shoot, I was making almost as much on my photos as I was on my text. What’s more, I was happy. I told my sister several times during this period that I was never so happy as I was when I had a story in the works, one in the wings, and my classes to teach on my “off” days.

Then, the state of Virginia offered me cash to get a masters degree, and I decided that the smart money was on education. Although the degree and accompanying teaching certification I earned is the next best thing to insurance that I won’t go hungry, it did nothing to forward my real dreams.

Meanwhile, the paper went bankrupt and fired all the freelancers. It would have broken my heart, especially because I'd let all my other contacts go stagnant while reveling in the coziness of the paper's steady work-- but I was up to my eyeballs in writing of a different, not-so-enjoyable-or-profitable-academic- kind. Somewhere along the way, I convinced myself that all of this was OK, because I had a blog.

I graduated last June and figured I’d find my way back into the game. I submitted a piece I thought was a sure thing, and got easily discouraged by a rejection from a magazine who’d published me in the past— and no bites from the handful of other suitable publications (one of which went out of business between my send-off and the rejection). I fell into an online gig that promised to be “the best writing job of my career” but barely cracks the double digit mark for most of their most lucrative articles and is evidently run by robots. I eventually settled into my blog and dubbed it a career move.

I’m a year out of school, and none of this is OK anymore. I love my blog, and I’m not—I repeat—NOT shutting it down…but I can no longer go on telling myself that it’s a ligit gig. I know some people have pulled it off—a couple who even read me. It just hasn’t turned out quite that way for me.

I want my dreams back. It’s time to take some bolder steps toward my goals. I need to take risks again. Some of those risks will be visible here. It’s likely this space will morph into the story of how I find my balance again. Of how to remember a dream and work hard to make it come true. It probably won't be updated as frequently, or with lengthy, polished work--unless I'm sharing a chapter or piece of published work. But that's OK. This space is mine, and it has never failed to expand or contract to fit me to a "T".

A couple weeks ago, Doug Harvey, an 80-year old retired baseball umpire was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Along the way, he happened to remind me about the importance of keeping the promises we make to ourselves. I tried to find a video of his speech on youtube, but came up short. Track it down if you’re more savvy than I am—it’s well worth the effort, regardless of your baseball interest level. Harvey’s remarks—even this excerpt-- were relevant to anyone who has ever had a dream. His just happened to be umpiring, and he worked for it day and night—through broken teeth, months on the road, and memorization of a thick rule book he can recite in his sleep. He endured all that and more--gladly at that--because he made a promise to himself. I did, too. It is time to find balance once again.

On Friday, I’ll be giving you a little glimpse into one new direction the blog will be heading this fall. In the meantime, please give some thought to what you’re doing to nurture your own dreams. I’d love to hear about it in your comments. And just a reminder—my Tiny Little Auction for a Great Big Cause is still up and running through noon Friday, and it’s a great opportunity to give someone else the gift of a dream (and score a bag or a bangle to boot!)

Monday, August 09, 2010

What Dreams May Come; or, A Tiny Little Auction For A Great Big Cause

I’m willing to make the bold assumption that most people have, at one time or another, been anchored down by a Daily Schedule mired in enough sludge to almost guarantee a future of trudging around in circles that seem all too certain.

I’m furthermore willing to forward the even bolder notion that, more often than not, most people choose to plod along in the status quo than to do the hard work of extracting themselves from the muck into which they’re steadily sinking. Hopefully the feeling passes, but maybe it doesn’t. Too many lives have run their course with no one at the helm making the Key Decisions, blazing a trail to Somewhere, taking shots at Something.

That’s why I’m always a sucker for any story starring a brave soul who has chosen the proverbial path less traveled. My heroes are those who—-win, lose, or draw—-make deliberate moves from Covered Ground into the Unknown.

Earlier this summer, some vivid textiles lured me to a booth at a festival I was attending with my family. Exotic themes, rich colors, and varied textures grabbed my attention, but a conversation I had with the couple running the booth held it captive.

Several months ago, Joseph and Belle were pretty typical adults working jobs that, according to Joseph, made them both miserable. Their story may have been an American cliché were it not for a game-changing-big-risk decision they made to build up enough savings to invest their summer into something a little bigger than themselves.

So when the warm weather arrived, they hit the road with a stock of Indian textiles and beaded jewelry and a cross country itinerary. Not that the days would be any easier—the weekend I met the couple, they were pulling 12-14 hour days—but now the work had meaning. Where their old jobs had trapped them, their new gig is all about freedom.

See, Belle and Joseph aren’t profiting at all from the sales of the wares they display. A full 100% of the profit from their sales is going to assist young girls whose lives have been interrupted by sex slavery in rebuilding their lives. The couple is working this summer in support of Sixty One, an organization focusing on their physical and emotional care of girls who have been rescued from the sex trade to which they were sold, often by their own families. This video offers a glimpse into what their particular brand of rehabilitation can mean in a young girl’s life.

According to the Sixty One website, “What makes this program unique is our belief that our girls can achieve anything once they remember how to dream.” See, the rescue of these lives goes far beyond removing their bodies from the physical environment of their entrapment. True freedom comes from the ability to dream.

And that’s a cause into which I can thoroughly immerse myself. One of Sixty One’s core beliefs is “That significant social change is born out of individuals doing what is within their realm of influence to affect that change.” That, Readers, is where this auction comes in.

See, I immediately fell in love with, well, just about everything on Belle and Joseph’s table. And I knew instinctively that many of you would, too. Originally, I hoped to post a little plug along and point you to a link to an online store—until I discovered that such a store does not exist.

So I decided to create one—albeit with limited hours and small stock. I purchased four items: a handbag, two bracelets, and a pouch. Sixty One already received the profits for those purchases. I am now reselling these pieces and sending all the money—minus nothing—collected to Sixty One as additional profit on these items. In other words, I am receiving nothing from this auction beyond the joy of using my online space--my tiny little realm of influence, as it were--to help build some dreams.

The auction will be open until Friday at noon. Each piece is be featured in its own post, and you may use the comment section to place your bid. The last comment appearing at noon Friday wins!

Whether you chose to bid or not, I hope you’ll take some time to think about your dreams this week. Because if you’re reading this, chances are you’re a lot freer than you may feel. If you’re going to spend your freedom in slavery to a list, then please make it an enumeration of things a little bigger than laundry, lunch meetings, and lawn care. Celebrate freedom. Remember what it’s like to dream. If you can, help someone else do the same.

Items Up For Bid:

Elephant Handbag

Mirrored Pouch

Teal, Amber, and Green Beaded Bracelet

Elephant Bracelet

Thanks for looking!

Come back later this week for an important discussion on the promises we make to ourselves, and for an exciting announcement on Friday!

The Post Wherein You Bid On A Beaded Bracelet From India

You are bidding on a glass beaded bracelet in teal, amber and green. It was made in India and retails at $12.00. The bidding begins at $5.00, with the winner adding $3.00 to the winning bid for shipping.

Classy enough for dressing up, and fun enough for every day--enjoy!

(Click here for the full story on the auction and its dream-building purpose)

The Post Wherein You Bid On A Cute Pouch

This pouch retails for around $10.00...I am working from memory for what I bought it for in June. Margin of error is +/- 2.00.

I bought one for myself and it is perfect for those occasions when you want to travel light, say, with some cash and a cell phone.

The bidding starts at $5.00, and the winner will add $3.00 to the winning bid to cover shipping.

Dotted with mini mirrors, this bag is an eye catcher...and matches the elephant bag perfectly!

This picture is terrible, but it is just to show the size, and I'm too lazy to re-do the shoot. The flip flop, I reiterate, is for reference only :)

The Post Wherein You Bid On An Elephant Bracelet

Elephant Bracelet

You are bidding on a beaded bracelet with elephant charms made in India. The bracelet retails at $12.00. Bidding starts at $5.00 + 3.00 shipping (COUS).

Classy enough for dressing up, whimsical enough to wear with jeans.

Happy Bidding!

The Post Wherein You Bid On An Elephant Handbag

This embroidered elephant handbag retails at $18.00.

It zips closed at the top and features a small zipped compartment on the inside.

The next shot is just to give an idea of the bag's size-fip flop not included :)

The bidding starts at $8.00, and the winner will add $4.00 to the winning bid for shipping.

Don't miss this one-of-a-kind fashion statement!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

These Fabulous Items Could Be Yours; or A Tiny Little Auction For a Great Big Cause Preview

Today's activity here at Running With Letters is the ever popular past time we call window know, strolling along a wide, tree lined sidewalk, favorite seasonal beverage in hand, just taking in the possibilities. What would that faux fur fedora look like on me? Do I have anything to match that checked pea coat? Fun stuff. Sometimes we wind up splurging, other times we simply dream and de-stress--and it's good either way.

I've been scattering hints of an auction across the blog blog like a woodland squirrel preparing for autumn and I want to give you a sneak peek at what's going up on the block and why.

Earlier this summer I became a tad bit excited about a booth I stumbled upon at a festival I attended with my family. I was immediately drawn to the textures and colors of the handbags and jewelry I saw on display and treated myself to a bracelet and bag and my friends to a couple gifts. But I was equally drawn to the couple I met--Belle and Joseph--and to their story as well the cause to which they have dedicated their summer. I'll be introducing them to you on Monday and sharing more about their work in support of social justice and freedom...but the curious can get a preview by clicking on the hyperlink above.

So drawn was I to this grouping of goods and goodness, I returned three times, each visit learning more --and adding to my purchases, some of which I have chosen to auction off next week for proceeds that will be sent directly to the organization to which Belle and Joseph have committed their summer. For those of you playing the numbers game, that's double profits per item, going straight to the cause.

So without further ado, why not grab your beverage of choice and let's take a stroll through the possibilities.

See you Monday? I hope so!

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Flips No Flop on Woodland Walk

This past weekend found my family and I traipsing through uncharted woods engaged in one of the two exciting and frightening enterprises in which we’re currently engaged. My husband wore tall socks and sneakers. The kids wore shorter socks and laced shoes--one even donned a pair of jeans.

Sensible choices, all, considering the unknowns lurking in the wooded depths—ticks, chiggers, leeches—why my first bought of hypochondria was triggered by possible exposure to a rare woods-borne illness following a nature walk in first grade. Having survived a helmetless childhood punctuated by wild bobcat expeditions, reckless urban wanderings, and wanton irresponsibility, I adopted none of the precautions modeled by my loved ones.

I chose to explore a patch of forest on a short list of properties we’re considering for purchase shod in nothing more than a standard issue pair of flip flops and a fresh pedicure. Today my husband’s feet look like an illustration of a bad diagnosis in a dermatology brochure. My kids also exhibit evidence of what appears to be an outbreak of some strain of woods-dwelling poison, doubtless ivy or oak. My own personal itchiness is largely limited to two small legions on my abdomen—the only area, I’d like to point out, that was protected by two layers of material.
They only sense I can make of this irony is philosophical. It seems we humans aren’t the best prognosticators. Sure, we know danger is lurking out there—perhaps behind every tree if we take a literal interpretation of current evidence. But peril often defies our best anticipatory measures. It finds us—or not—despite our efforts to outwit, shield, or defend against it.

So maybe—just maybe—the best approach to life is to slip on your flips and just venture in. To choose to the outlook that’s the most carefree; the one that’s comfortable, fun, and slightly adventuresome. The one that doesn’t think too much about everything that can go wrong, but celebrates the spontaneity of the moment. Of confronting a new path without undue precaution and just as you are. These are the thoughts I bring to bear as I consider the other scary endeavor our family is contemplating.

Some of my long time readers know that I have mentioned the possibility of adoption. Although we are not currently involved in a legal affair that results in anyone changing their name, we are at the threshold of adding to our number on a long term basis that will involve, at a minimum, some new furniture. The same family members who have been reticent about adoption are now strongly supporting a bid for a foreign exchange student. And who’s having the freak out? The woods-wanderer with a penchant for beach wear.

Can I predict everything that could go wrong by deciding to bring another child into our lives? Never. But I think I’ll slide into my favorite footwear and begin the journey.

In Other News:

I recently promised readers a tiny little auction for a great, big cause. It is coming, I promise, but ggod things can't be rushed Look for a mid-week preview followed by the full low-down shortly there after.


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