Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Silly Self Portraits

I'm not a fan of having my picture taken -- for various reasons. However, as part of a photography challenge at this week, I decided that since I AM on the design team, it's probably a good thing to try and participate. So, I decided to have some fun, dig through my costume closet and ... smile/smize for the camera!

I call this series:

Gettin' Wiggy With It*
Self Portrait: Gettin' Wiggy With It

*Why yes, it is a play on the Will Smith song Gettin' Jiggy With It, thanks for noticing! ^_-

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The 50-Book Challenge (2010)

Around the beginning of 2009, I came across a challenge on a forum I used to frequent called "The 50-Book Challenge." The challenge: to read 50 books in a year. I once got asked on average how many books I read, and I'm a fast ready, so I said that I could probably read about 1 a week, give or take the size of the book and my interest in it. So, I decided to start to keep track of all the books I read in that year. I actually ended 2009 with 51 books! (Why I didn't blog about it, I don't know. ^_-)

So, I decided to list the books I read last year -- 2010. I once again surpassed the challenge and actually read 57 books. Oooo! *LOL* Anyway, here's the list, with a few notes about whether I recommend it), and after I will make a few comments about some specific books.

Books Read During 2010

 1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
 2. Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan
 3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
 4. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (Recommended)
 5. Guardian's of the West by David Eddings (Re-read) (Recommended)
 6. King of the Murgos by David Eddings (Re-read) (Recommended)
 7. Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings (Re-read) (Recommended)
 8. Sorceress of Darshiva by David Eddings (Re-read) (Recommended)
 9. The Seeress of Kell by David Eddings (Re-read) (Recommended)
10. Dreaming in Hindi by Katherine Russell Rich
11. Confessor by Terry Goodkind
12. The Virgin Suicides by by Jeffrey Eugenides
13. The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacob (Recommended)
14. Eragon by Christopher Paolini
15. The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese (Recommended)
16. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
17. The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard
18. Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #1) by Patricia C. Wrede
19. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Re-read) (Recommended)
20. Animal Farm by George Orwell
21. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
22. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Highly Recommended)
23. The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank L. Baum
24. Ozma of Oz by Frank L. Baum
25. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
26. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
27. Searching for Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #2) by Patricia C. Wrede
28. Calling on Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #3) by Patricia C. Wrede
29. Talking to Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, #4) by Patricia C. Wrede
30. The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard
31. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (Highly Recommended)
32. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Recommended)
33. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (Re-read) (Recommended)
34. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
35. Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews Edwards
36. Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
37. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Recommended)
38. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz by Frank L. Baum
39. Maximized Living Nutrition Plans by K. Roberto and Dr. Lerner
40. The Road to Oz by Frank L. Baum
41. Steampunk-Style Jewelry by Jean Campbell
42. Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
43. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale (Recommended)
44. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
45. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Recommended)
46. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Recommended)
47. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Recommended)
48. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
49. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
50. Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13) by Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson
51. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
52. The Book of Time by Guillaume Prévost (English Translation)
53. The Gate of Days by Guillaume Prévost (English Translation)
54. The Circle of Gold by Guillaume Prévost (English Translation)
55. The Emerald City of Oz by Frank L. Baum
56. The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann
57. The Patchwork Girl of Oz by Frank L. Baum

I would have to say my favorite book of all 57 I read was The Secret Life of Bees. Even though some might say this is just a simple coming-of-age story, something about it really struck me. (This was about halfway through my challenge, but it really resonated with me. I also watched the movie a few months back, and I found it a faithful adaptation.)

Another really good one was The Book Thief. I actually didn't know much at all going into the book, and it was eye opening for me, showing how even many Germans (just the regular folk) didn't have it too great during WWII either.

I don't normally pick up nonfiction, but having been part of a book club where we read some, I decided to venture out a little more. A fellow book clubber recommended Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. It seems like the strangest book, and it is, but SO fascinating!! I think my favorite chapter is how the remains of victims of a plane crash can help determine what caused the crash. Very interesting stuff!! I don't think I would have normally even read a nonfiction book like this, but I do recommend it.

And, while some might think it a little pop fiction (which I used to try and stay away from, but, eh *shrug*), and young adult SciFi, I cannot help but mention The Hunger Games books. Quick, but engrossing reads, with an author that isn't afraid to kill off characters.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is such a sad tale, overall, not just because of the way Chinese women were treated back in the foot-binding days, nor because of the horrific act of foot binding (and all that it entailed), but because it follows two friends and how that friendship fares throughout the years. (BTW, have you ever looked at foot that has been bound. SO strange!! *shudder*)

And last to mention, is the hilarious The Know-It-All. It has so many funny anecdotes, that I would barely pick up book for night reading and chuckle, and Brian would say "Already?" Yes. Already! It's another nonfiction book, about a guy who decides to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and write about his experience. Thankfully, he doesn't comment on each entry, and not EACH of his entries is funny (some are thoughtful), but overall, I was highly amused.

So, there ya go! How about you? Any good reads last year? Any recommendations? (My "to-read" list is dwindling, so I appreciate any input. ^_^

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What I Learned From Project 365

As you know, I completed Project 365 for 2010. And I learned quite a few things. Although the year has already started, I thought that for anyone wanting to do a Project 365 (or even a Project 52), that I would impart those lessons I learned while doing this project. ^_^ And remember, you can start Project 365 any time you want!

What I learned from Project 365 (in no particular order):

1. Take your camera with you everywhere!! Luckily, my purse was big enough to hold my camera, along with all the normal things I carry (wallet, small makeup bag, etc.). This, I think, is the number one thing. Because you never know when you're going to see something interesting that you'll want to take a shot of.

2. Be aware of your surroundings, at all times. It's easy to get caught up with our every day lives, and just focus on the task at hand (going to/from work, or going to the grocery story, etc.) that we sometimes don't look around just a bit to see what's interesting. And don't forget to look up, as well. (That's how I got the really cool Birds on a Wire shot.) You never know what's in that field across from your house; what's just a few feet away in the grocery store parking lot; what's up in the air, at the moment. Look around and notice!

3. It gets a little easier once you've done it for a little while. I know of so many people who have started Project 365 and then fizzled out on it. I can totally understand it! I learned to really focus at the beginning and be very aware, so that I wouldn't miss a day. After a few months, it was pretty much constant in my mind.

4. Get your shot in earlier in the day, rather than later. This kind of goes along with the previous one, but I found that if I thought about getting the shot in the early part of the day, not only would I have some natural light to work with, but I wouldn't be scrambling around late at night to get something photographed (it did happen on occasion and many of those pictures I was less than happy about).

5. Plan ahead (especially for those harder days), if you need to. Yes, part of Project 365 is the spontaneity, but not necessarily. There's nothing that says you can't have a running theme, or particular subject in mind (whether for the whole project, or just one month, or one week). It can make things easier! I discovered that Sundays were my hardest days for Project 365, because my Sundays tend to be pretty sedate, and I don't do much except go to church. I finally found that those days were good for taking Sunday drives around my town (and neighboring ones), to discover things of interest (whether an unusual house in an otherwise traditional neighborhood, or a cute downtown area of a small suburban town). I also sometimes kept any object I wanted to photograph (purchase, or gift) for Sundays.

6. It can be okay to fudge a little. So I may receive some flack for this one, but it's MY Project 365, so there! But I think there are times when you just cannot be perfect! In 365 days, something might go amiss -- from sickness, to bad days, to forgetfulness, life happens! So don't beat yourself up if you somehow miss a day. I myself have taken a picture several minutes after midnight, and therefore it technically not being that day anymore, but I still counted it. I have also forgotten a day or two. You make it work for you like you can (like writing a note how you missed that day and taken a photo of it, etc.). It's fine. NOW, if you miss several days in a row, well .... Don't know what to tell ya then. ^_^

7. Your pictures don't always have to be interesting. This project is about documenting your life. Most of us don't live glamorous lives. Life just is. But, as mentioned before, if you look around, something may catch your eye and become something interesting.

8. Even if you don't think your photo is interesting, a little tweaking can help it. A little post processing can help a photo. Oh, I know there are purists who will tell you that a good photo doesn't need it. But, turning something to black and white, or to sepia, or giving it a vintage or retro wash can really make something boring, to interesting.

9. This is a chance to experiment and learn to take better photos and make better use of your camera. Vary the shots between portrait and landscape. Take pictures from different angles. Hold your camera up high, point it down and shoot. Hold your camera down low, point up and shoot. Put it on the ground. Hold it at your hip. Get on the level of what you're shooting for more interest (most helpful for babies and pets). If you have a DSLR, look at some blogs for tips and tricks on how to use it better. Does your point and shoot have some manual settings? Try them!

10. Have fun! One of the other more important items. If you start thinking of this as a chore, and you're starting to hate having to remember your camera or take photos, then by all means, stop the project. This project is meant to be fun, but also a way to document your life (hey, it's another way to journal). But it shouldn't feel like a hassle. Oh, sure, sometimes it might feel like something you HAVE to do, but most of the time, you'll enjoy that it's something you need to do, to see what next you can capture about your life.

I may add more, but I think 10 is a good number. I also don't think any of these are earth-shattering. I may add, not so much as a learned thing, but as a tip, that it's a good idea to post these somewhere publicly, whether Flickr or Facebook (I link my Flickr site to FB), or a blog, so that others can see what you're up to. The encouragement from others is a great help in soldiering on. ^_^

Monday, January 10, 2011

Amanda is Married!

Amanda and Marc

This past Saturday, my oldest niece got married. I can't believe that she's married! Wasn't it just the other day that she was a baby that I took care of, carrying on my hip and getting her bottles of "mok" as she called milk. And wasn't she just a toddler that would ask for "cheput" (ketchup) on her eggs? Or a young girl who would become obsessed with The Little Mermaid, the color purple, and anime because her favorite aunt liked those things?? Wasn't she just graduating from high school and making her way to college? (Granted, this one was just over a year ago, but still....)

Between the two actual photographers and a very insistent family member who fancied themselves a photographer, I managed to snap this picture of the happy bride and her happy groom. My sis-in-law (Amanda's mother) came up to me and asked if I had taken any good picture of them that we could run to a photo place and get it printed and framed to place at the reception later that day. Lucky for her, I had, and instead, ran it home, did a soft filter to it and placed it in one of our frames. Amanda LOVED it, and so did the family.

So, after taking a quick look at iheartfaces today, I knew I had to enter this lovely picture, since this week it's about Smiles. It's my first time entering, and I don't think I'll win, but that's okay. I'm just glad I was able to capture her sweetness, her loveliness and her happiness. And that's what really matters. ^_^

Monday, January 3, 2011

THE New Year's Post

Happy New Year Y'all!

Yes, yes, this is the post where I tell you about how I lived up to last year's brand new expectations, and what I plan to do for this year. Hah! Now, I bet you think I'm just kidding, but ... I'm not. ^_^

Truthfully, last year wasn't that "bad" for me, but it wasn't much of anything, truthfully. Oh, I know I can find a lot of great highlights and the like, like doing Project 365 (sometimes I can't believe I'm still done with it -- I catch myself thinking of photos I need to take! *LOL*), but I just felt like last year just was. At least for me.

I have a good feeling about 2011. I feel that it will be a year of changes, among other things. But mostly, I just feel good about it. I feel like I'm on the right path. To what, I don't know. ^_^

I looked over last year's post to see what was going on then, and I have to just sigh and shrug. And smile.

The Job. Sure, my freelancing thing didn't take off like I wanted. I did get more work than I did the previous year, so that's nice. But it kind of dwindled for the last few months. Which means I will probably start having to look for a new job soon, as money's getting to the point that we don't want to be left without a little bit of a cushions. I'll still try to do the freelance thing, and hey, if I have a full time job and get a few freelance things once in awhile, that'll be nice, won't it? Ah, change one. ^_^

School. Brian's schooling hasn't gone as I planned, but I have learned that it ultimately has to be his decision. We have decided to really think and pray about it for the next month or two, and he will decide what he wants to do. I know there's fear, like how we will pay for it; will he be able to handle that plus a full time job; will other things come up that may impede it? But ... truthfully, I told him that I have faith that it will work out. That I know he's capable! He's one of the smartest people I know (and I wouldn't have married him if he was a dummy! *LOL*). We'll see. Ah, another (possible) change. ^_^

Crafting. I vowed to not buy anything crafty, but that went downhill when I became part of a creative team for a digital scrapbooking designer. Oh, well. I will try to be better, because of the whole money thing mentioned earlier.

Friendships. I think some got harder, and some got easier. Some stayed nicely where they were. I think in my post about friendship some time back, I kinda spilled my thoughts about trying to be a better friend, and how others are in friendship. However, I think I got some clarity on trying to be a better friend when I wrote about being more interested than trying to be interested. I think I also realized a few things: As much as I want to be a better friend, I can only handle them one at a time, maybe two, depending. For some reason, I just cannot function well in a group. I sometimes feel silenced, ignored, or not included (even though I'm physically there). I know, I know. It's probably all me. But ... I kinda like being with just one gal pal. Because that way I can focus completely on her, and she on me. I think in a group it's so easy to be superficial, unless you all know each other really well. I think, also, because I had one best girl friend for a long time, that being in a group of bestie gal pals is something foreign to me, and at this stage, I don't know how to function like that -- it's awkward for me. I guess I also just want to feel important to that person as well. *shrugs* ^_^

So, what will this new year bring for me? What do I want to focus on? Well, I already mentioned some changes and possible changes.

Along with perhaps Brian really going back to school on a consistent basis, is a move. Oh, not far, just to another area nearby that would be closer to the school we've been looking at that has a program Brian's interested in. It still would be a suburb of Dallas. I know for sure that we're a little tired of this apartment with its poor management, noisy, rude neighbors, and the very high electric bills (especially during the summer, yikes!). Ideally we'd like to rent a house, but ... we'll see. I do know that I told Brian that wherever we go, I think I want it to be the last move we make before we get a house.

Which brings me to the next thing we want to work on, which is our finances! Except for the variable of the exorbitant, fluctuating summer electric bill, I went over a budget and realized we actually have the potential to be saving much more than we have been. I actually didn't think we had the money, but we've just been a little less aware of it for the last 6 months, or so (maybe longer) and it's time to get a reign back on things. And be aware of what we're spending money on. AND, if I get a job somewhat soon, than most of what I'm making can go directly to savings. I want to have an emergency savings, plus a house savings (down payment, plus any extra expenditures, including an allotment for new furniture), before we even consider a house. I don't want to be house poor. And I also don't want to constantly be putting money into the house. For now, renting works for us, so that's where we are.

Another thing that I want to do is increase my spirituality. I'm not the best about praying in the morning and evening, nor about studying scriptures, but I think now that I'm not focused on other things, like Project 365, and not going to bother with TRYING to read at least 50 books in a year, that I can take a few moments that I had devoted to those, to spiritual pursuits. I think writing in my personal journal will also help with this, as I need to devote time to me and my private thoughts. Phew, doesn't that sound daunting?! ^_^

Well, it's like a leader in my church talked about: "Good. Better. Best." He talked about how there are many Good things in this world to devote our time to. But, there are even Better things than those. And, ultimately, there are the Best things to devote ourselves to. In church on Sunday we had a lesson that reiterated this (going along with setting goals and resolutions), and the teacher had a great object lesson about this. She had a bowl and asked people to call out what some of the Best things to do were. For each thing someone called out, she filled the bowl with an orange, lemon or lime. The bowl got pretty full, and she asked if we could fit anything else in. Some thought not, some thought maybe. But then she brought out a bag of rice, and she said that those grains represented the Better things, and the Good things. The rice filled in all the empty spaces in between the fruit. After we do all the Best things we need to do in our life (and, by the way, it wasn't just spiritual things, as going to work was mentioned, so that one can pay for mortgage/rent and food! ^_^) then we can have time to do the other things that are Good as time permits. And then someone commented that if the bowl/life fills up with those things and we can't get to them, then that's okay, because the Best things have already been taken care of. (And, it was also mentioned that if the bowl had been filled with the rice, we wouldn't be able to fit the fruit in.) Isn't that a great lesson? I think I shall remember it for a long time.

So, this year I shall try to be my Best self, because that's all I can be. Sure, there are days when I may only be Good, or days when I am Better, but hopefully if I aim high, then I will not succumb to the bad. ^_^ But, of course, I'm only human. And, if I do fall one day, I always have the next to pick myself up (and hopefully good friends to help along the way).

So, there you have it, my few blogger friends. May we all have a fantastic 2011!! ^_^

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