Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Time, Time, Time...See What's Become of Me

I'm tired. Very, very tired.

I've been an insomniac for as long as I can remember. In the past, I could never fall asleep. I'd lay there hour after hour, waiting for sleep to come. Usually, my brain was in overdrive and that's what drove sleep away.

As I've gotten older, I find that falling asleep is no problem. My head hits my pillow and I'm out like a light!

But then it happens. First at 12:34. I sit up and look at my husband's alarm clock. Plenty of time to sleep. I snuggle back in and I'm out.

Sometime after 1:00. I can't squint right to make out more than the one and a blur of green afterward.

3:18. On the dot. Every morning. I awake, wide awake. My brain starts to kick in. My pillow isn't comfortable. The room is too hot. Any number of annoyances keep me awake.

5:12. Nineteen minutes until my alarm goes off. Asleep.

5:31. Ugh. Snooze. Wait, can't hit snooze. Up. Stumbling. Zombie.

I've got to get some sleep...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Can't Go Home Again

Once upon a time, this was my backyard. Farm machinery hibernating through a long winter, awaiting its springtime use. Pastures and fields to use as a playground all year long. Acres and acres of uncivilized land at my disposal.

My confession? A silly and eternally hopeful part of me had always hoped that someday, somehow, I could one day have enough disposable money to purchase the farm. I could maintain and improve upon it, and use it for summer vacations and time away from the new home that I've made with my husband and son.

We drove past the old farm yesterday. I asked my husband to while we were on the way to see my grandparents. First, we drove past the driveway. I could see the old barn looking much like it did in my childhood. The upper doors were new, painted bright white, but other than that, little had changed. Our house was gone, but I knew that had been the first thing to go after the farm was sold, so there wasn't a shock with that change.

We drove down the road, turning to go up the hill that leads into town. From the new road, you can see the pastures and fields belonging to the farm.


My backyard? And the corn field behind it? Gone. Replaced by a newly constructed pole building.

The cow paths I'd once walked down? The cliff where my now-husband had once called the cows? Gone. Leveled out and replaced by still another pole building.

So much of it was just gone. Flattened by bulldozers. Hauled out by dump trucks. Thrown away.

I can't go home again. It can never be mine again.

It's not there anymore.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This is Spring

Mother Nature is a fickle mistress.
She lured us in with her warm winds,
her sunny skies,
her songbirds.
She made sure we were cozy and content,
murmured over us dreamily
with promises of the pleasures she could provide.
So easy to trick, we were.
Her embrace, removed.
Back turned, feigning deafness.
She responds to our pleas with icy silence.
All the while smirking,
knowing she has us now,
we can't quit her.
Mother Nature is a fickle mistress
and we are at her mercy.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kindred Spirits

This is my paternal grandmother, Grandma Smith. Isn't she lovely? As a child, I knew her as "Grandma Up-the-Hill"; Grandma and Grandpa Smith lived at the top of a hill, whereas Grandma and Grandpa Wilcox lived at the bottom of a hill (Grandma Down-the-Hill).

I loved visiting Grandma Smith (still do, for that matter). She is one of those grandmothers who lives to spoil her grandchildren. If I had asked her to pull down the moon for me, she would have.

Her closet was my usual playground. I would spend hours playing dress-up and putting on shows for her. I loved getting into her jewelry, as well. She had a necklace that I was certain was real diamonds; I always wanted to wear that so I could feel like a rich lady.

For a while, I was into fashion design, and we would sit and draw outfit after outfit. In fact, I think Grandma got into it as much as I did. She would continue drawing after I had left. When I came to visit the next time, she would show me the new fashions she had designed. And you know what? She was good...really good at it!

I always looked forward to my visits with her, and I always thought it was just because she was so generous.

Now, as an adult, I have grown to realize that Grandma Smith and I are kindred spirits. I see so much of her in me.

We both have generous hearts. Too generous, quite honestly, as we sacrifice our own desires in order to please our loved ones. That's not a bad trait, certainly, but I think we should spoil ourselves more often...Grandma, especially.

We both traded bad relationships for good. Both of us were "dating" jerks before finding our chosen spouses.

We've both known the sorrow of losing children.

I sit here, thinking of her, and I realize that she is one of my best friends. For shouldn't your best friend be a kindred spirit in some way?

I think I'll go give her a call...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

And So It Is...I Wouldn't Have It Any Other Way

It started with a burst of grumpiness. We at first figured it was because he'd fallen asleep in the car while we were out running errands, and when we got home, he had woken up before he'd really taken a true nap.

But it didn't go away. In trying to console him, I realized he was hot. Burning up hot. Checked the temp and there it was. The fever.

It came out of nowhere. Forty minutes earlier, he had been playing outside for one of the first times since last year. Then, suddenly, he was measuring in at over 102 degrees.

We forced some Tylenol on him. Brave little trooper drank as much as he could stand. But for the next half hour, he was inconsolable. Who can blame him? He felt terrible.

Then, he threw up all over me (an event that doesn't even bother me anymore) and fell asleep (after a requisite bath).

That was around 6:00. We let him sleep on his fold-out bed in the living room. We kept watch over him, checking his dropping fever from time to time, while we tried to enjoy our Friday night.

Around 9:30, we went to bed, carrying him up with us. At 12:30, we noted that his fever had spiked back up, and I removed all but his shirt to help him cool off.

At 2:00, a little boy giggled. Sat up. Looked down at his Mommy. Asked to go downstairs to play.

What could I say? What could Daddy say? We dragged ourselves out of bed and carried him down. He immediately sat in the middle of the living room floor and began to "read" us the story of the time when a hurricane hit the island of Sodor, and Thomas the Tank Engine had to rally his friends to work together with the nasty diesels.

After getting some help with another dose of Tylenol (half of which ended up on me), I sent Hubby back to bed. He would have stayed up, most assuredly, but since his band has a gig tonight (Saturday), I felt it best that he get some sleep. No grumpy bear allowed on Sunday, after all.

So, then the little guy requested supper, having slept through the original supper hour. "Fries, dip-dip, cake, and chips." I compromised and traded applesauce for cake. He ate it voraciously.

We watched a DVD of Christmas cartoons (his choice) until he requested to go to the basement at 3:00 (a.m. mind you) to play with his trains. We rebuilt all the track on his island of Sodor. I pushed Henry into a ditch so that Gordon could rescue him and pull him to the Steamworks (you had to be there, I guess).

At 5:00, I begged him to come up and try to fall asleep. He raced up the steps and willingly cuddled with me on the couch. I was the first to fall asleep, but he must have followed soon after because I awoke to find him curled up against me, tendrils of sweaty hair against his forehead and his fingers wrapped around my forearm.

I moved him back to his fold-out bed, not wanting my warmth to spike his fever back up. I curled up on the couch again and slept until about 8:30, when I heard Hubby come down and I demanded he make me a cup of coffee (he willingly obliged and rewarded me with a kiss or seven).

And so it is. That's where I pick up today.

I could have been irate and angry all night (morning?). I could have forced the little guy to stay in bed. I could have scolded him, even yelled at him.

How could I have done that, though?

I love him beyond measure. I hate when he is sick or sad. And you know what, if he wants to get up and have supper and play at three in the morning? I'm going to serve up some grub and push a train around some wooden tracks.

Children are miracles. My son is a little extra miracle given so many circumstances leading to his sweet entry into this world. I don't take miracles lightly.

And I had fun playing with him and talking to him this morning.

And I look forward to doing it all again (minus the fever and puke) when he wakes up for the day.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Roots: Her Love Lives On

My wedding date was initially set for June 23, 2002. In January of 2001, however, as we looked at the cost of a huge wedding and at the long wait to finally be married--after we'd already been together for over five years--we decided to move the date up and just have an intimate, outdoor wedding, inviting  only immediate family members. We decided to get married on July 7, 2001.

Added to the reasons to the change of date were the compounding health issues of my maternal grandmother. Grandma Wilcox had congestive heart failure, and though her health had never been great, there had been a steady decline that made me worried. I wanted to make sure that she got to watch me get married. For me, that was biggest reason to get married sooner rather than later.

Putting a wedding together in about six months initially seemed to be a pretty daunting task; however, we planned small and everything seemed to fall into place. Everything, that is, except my grandmother's health. It began to decline steadily, and we began to make preparations in case she was too ill to attend the wedding.

For the most part, I just wanted to make sure she would get to see me in my wedding dress.
My mother, a wonderful seamstress, was making my dress for me. She finished sewing it about a month before the wedding. I drove up for my final fitting, and we took it to my grandparents’ house so Grandma could see me. She was tickled, both at how I looked as a bride and at my mother’s sewing skills, most of which were learned from her.

At the end of June, as we were finalizing wedding details and getting ready for the big day, I received a call that my grandmother was not doing well. Everyone in the family was encouraged to come up and see her, just in case. I knew what “just in case” meant, and my fiancé drove me north the next morning.
I didn’t say good-bye, not out loud. I sat next to her as she rested in the recliner, held her hand, and talked to her. I held her hand and cried for fear of losing her. My wedding wasn’t the only event I didn’t want her to miss. I didn’t want her to miss any part of the rest of my life.
And somehow, through the grace of God, she pulled through. She still wasn’t healthy, but she was alive, and that was enough to give me hope. I wasn’t so naïve as to believe she’d live forever; I just expected her to live longer. She’d been given her “death sentence” so many times before, and she’d always proven the doctors wrong. She would do it again. I returned home and to my wedding planning with renewed hope that she would be there to see it all.
Several days before my wedding, I headed north again. My fiancé was staying behind and would be coming up on the morning of our wedding day. I would spend the next couple of days completing the last minute details, things like decorations and favors.
My grandmother was still quite ill, and I’d accepted the fact that she would probably be too ill to attend the ceremony. Her dress was hanging hopefully on the back of her bedroom door, but we knew it would probably just stay there, that she’d be unable to attend. My fiancé and I, instead, planned to visit her after the reception so she could see us in our wedding finery, admire our matching wedding bands. It wasn’t my ideal, but it was good enough; I just wanted her to be a part of my wedding day. I just wanted her to be around.
I woke up on the fourth of July after having slept in a little later than usual. My mom had already left to go to my grandparents’ house. Skipping breakfast, I hopped in the shower so I could get ready and get more work done on the wedding decorations.
I had just stepped out of the shower and started drying off when my father banged on the bathroom door.
“Nichole?! Get the kids! Grandma just died!”

His panicked and choked voice was already fading as he ran down the hallway. The front door slammed even as I squeaked out the word, “What?”

I dressed quickly, not bothering to put on half of my clothes. My brain couldn’t process what he’d said. I understood it on a logical level, but that was about it. Grandma was dead?

I opened the bathroom door, getting ready to find my brother and sister. I was trying to figure out how to be the one to break the news to them. I didn’t have to. My father’s booming voice had woken them both.

My sister, whose bedroom was adjacent to the bathroom, was sitting on the floor when I pulled the door open. She was mostly dressed but was having trouble pulling on her socks. She couldn’t see through the veil of tears.

I pulled her into a hug, wrapping my arms all the way around her slender body. As she wept in my arms, I remembered that it was my sister’s birthday, and I thought of how this would not be a day to celebrate and that it might now be ruined forever for her.

Releasing her from my arms, we sped down the hall. My brother was emerging from his room, his eyes red. I asked if he were okay, to which he just nodded. Stoic men run in my family.

I know that I drove us to my grandparents’ house, but I don’t remember any of that ride. The next thing I knew, we were there, walking up the ramp to the front porch.

My parents were out there, my mom weeping in my father’s arms. He was crying, too, struggling to keep his emotions in check so he could take care of my mom. Soon, we were all a mix of arms and tears, all of us embracing, trying to comfort and seek comfort at the same time.

I think that I was the first to pull away. I had to see her. Not to see that it were true; I knew that Grandma was gone. I wanted to make sure that I got to tell her some things before her soul had completely slipped away. I hoped that part of her could linger just long enough for all of us to do that.

It was hard for me to see her like that, see her looking so unlike herself. I stood there for a moment before taking her already cooling hand into mine. I leaned down and whispered to her that it was okay that she was gone, that I understood she couldn’t attend my wedding in person but would be coming as an angel. I promised to make her proud of me. Before I began to cry again, I kissed her soft cheek and told her that I loved her.

Returning to the porch, I found my sister. I could see that she was struggling with going into the house. I told her that I would go with her if she wanted me to. She nodded, and we went in. She burst into tears and turned to find my mother’s waiting arms.

The rest of the family began to arrive, and a familiar scene to ours played out. Hugged consolations on the front porch. Choked good-byes in the living room. Gathered embraces in the kitchen.

I took it all in, feeling helpless and wishing there were more I could do.

I stole glances at my grandfather, sitting so stoically next to my grandmother, ever her protector.

I watched as my Aunt Tanya sat with Grandma, stroking her hand and smiling at her.

I listened as my Aunt Melea sobbed that she hadn’t been there, that she hadn’t been at the house when her mother passed away.

I listened as my Uncle Rusty replayed the morning, telling of catching my grandfather and my mother as they both sank toward their knees in the knowledge of what they had just lost.

The morning wore on. Family arrived as soon as they were able, and we all felt comfort in each other’s presence. My cousin, Tara, was last to arrive, having been on the road and therefore unaware of our grandmother’s death. Her father met her in the driveway to tell her the news, and he held her before bringing her, stunned and upset, inside.

Once everyone had arrived, once everyone had a chance to say a final good-bye, the funeral director arrived. The entire family went outside so that he could attend to our wife, mother, grandmother.

We stood in front of the garage door in a haphazard circle, each of us looking shell-shocked and weary. I don’t remember who made the suggestion, but in minutes, we were all standing in a circle and holding hands while my Uncle Kevin, my grandmother’s oldest child, led us in prayer. As the prayer closed, the hearse drove away, and we all hugged and cried as the dust from the road swirled around our feet.

That night, after we had returned home and completed our nightly farm chores, my family (my parents and siblings and I) returned to my grandparents’ home. Behind their house, about a quarter of a mile up an old farm road, is the family pond and pavilion. We celebrated my sister’s birthday up there, had a picnic and ate cake.

The sun was starting to go down, and we were just sitting, enjoying the serenity and lost in our thoughts. The sun was golden, reflecting and shimmering in the surface of the pond. Occasionally, that reflection would ripple, the water furrowed by a gentle summer breeze. From our hilltop perch, we could see the back of my grandparents’ home, see the lights of the house and the lights of cars as they came and went.

Just as we were thinking that it was time to head home, stopping at the house to see the family once more on the way out, we saw movement from the end of the road that leads to the pond. A head appeared soon transforming into an entire body as someone walked in our direction. That body was joined by another and another; an entire group of people was moving toward us.

As they crested the hill on the near side of the pond, the breeze carried a sound to our ears. It was the voices some of my grandmother’s children and grandchildren singing “Happy Birthday” to my sister. Their voices grew louder as they reached the pavilion and finished their song. We clapped and laughed, even as our eyes filled with tears.

That’s family. That’s my family. That’s the love my grandmother taught to all of us.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Roots: A Wedding

E. Marion and H. Rosa Wilcox

My grandparents planned their wedding and selected to have it at the Windfall United Methodist Church (to which my grandfather is still a member to this day). The night before the wedding, all the flowers and decorations were placed, and my grandparents parted, looking forward to their union the next day.

During the night, alarm bells rang. The church had caught fire and burned to the ground. Little more than a hymnal had been saved.

Grandma was given the choice. She could wait until the church was rebuilt, put the wedding off for several months.

Her response? She had nearly lost my grandfather once by letting him go; she wasn't going to put him off again.

They married at the East Canton United Methodist Church that day. Seven children, ten grandchildren, and twelve great-children were the result of their loving union.

Years ago, while I was in college, my grandfather had both knees replaced, each knee done separately over two consecutive summers. I got to be their chauffeur, which meant I got to spend nearly every day of the summer with them.

Decades of marriage never dimmed their love for each other. I remember with fondness the way that Grandpa would tease Grandma, just to hear her sputter. Then, he would laugh with such love. Grandma showed me all the Valentine cards he had ever given her, each one sweeter and more romantic than the previous one...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Roots: My Grandparents

The Wilcox Family Farm.

This is where my Mom grew up. My Grandpa Wilcox was a farmer; he and his brother built this farm from the ground up. Grandma Wilcox was a housewife, but she also served for a while as a justice of the peace, as her father had done before her. She gave up the position because she was tired of marrying couples who were only getting married out of necessity instead of out of love.

My grandparents were ten years apart in age. Grandpa fell for Grandma and fell hard. They dated for a while but she broke up with him just before going to college at Mansfield State Normal School to major in, basically, home economics. Grandpa was heartbroken. He wrote her a letter and told her that if she ever changed her mind, she knew where to find him; he would be waiting for her.

A year or so later, after deciding to leave school, she sent him a letter. "If you meant what you said, I'll be home on [this date]. You can come courting."

He arrived at her house on time, and it wasn't long before they were planning their wedding.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Today's Best? Holy cow!

It started with a shot of an abandoned and dilapitated coming into town. And frankly, I'm not even sure why I snapped a shot of it other than the fact that it was there and I had my camera ready to go. When I saw the shot, I thought, Hmm. Maybe I can do something with that...
And so I started to work with it. I cut the house out of the original shot and added it to a shot of fields near my parents' house. Then the careful editing and texturing began. I got more and more excited as I put it together. Not half bad, I thought to myself:

When it was finished, I did my usual routine: posted it on Flickr. Yeah, that was first. I printed out a copy for myself to see how it looked, and I was kind of pleased. I used a matte paper that I'd never tried before, and the results were better than I had expected.

Seeing that, I posted the image as a canvas print to my Zazzle store. I didn't think anything of it beyond that. That is until I checked my secondary email account and got this message:

Hi NicholeRenee,
Your product, Left Behind in the Haze of Summer, has been selected as one of Today's Best on Zazzle!
This means it will appear on the Zazzle homepage for the rest of today and it will also be added to the Today's Best Awards Showcase. Keep up the great work!
Holy cow! I checked out Zazzle's website and there it was! Oh my gosh!

Cool! Now I just have to get someone to buy a copy! Ha ha!!

Seriously, though. I'm a pretty humble gal, so any acknowledgement of my work gets me excited. Something like this? I'm like a kid again, telling my mom and making my husband stare at the computer screen with me. Validation? Makes me pretty happy...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Moo? Moo you.

I eat red meat. Not alot, as I know it's not entirely good for me. But I love hamburgers and I have indulged in some wonderful steaks. And if Mom makes a roast? I'm having second helpings.

PETA would not be pleased with me, and I'm okay with that. I have always said that growing up on a farm has made me appreciate eating beef. Sounds terrible, doesn't it? Too see those cute cows with those big, brown, soulful eyes and eat them? The horror!

I've said it before; I was stampeded by those "gentle souls" and the next time I ate a burger, I remembered the thundering of hooves and the relentless onslaught of fifty 700 pound death machines. I had seconds and ate them with relish (both figuratively and literally...we make homemade relish).

I've been woken at midnight by my mom's knock at my bedroom door and the words, "The cows are out." I've thrown jeans over my pajamas and boots on my feet in the wee hours of the morning to go traipsing over hill and dale searching for the miscreants who plundered through a barb wire fence and scattered over at least fifteen acres of fields. I've fallen in woodchuck holes, slipped on muddy hills, and been spooked by at least one raccoon. I've stood at the top of hills at three in the morning yelling "Ka-boss!" until the cows literally came home.

Filet mignon? Don't mind if I do.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Hubby and I went furniture shopping today. We're getting our hardwood floors refinished, which requires moving all of the furniture out of the living room. We're at a point where we know we need new furniture (there's nothing like sitting on your couch and feeling like you're sitting on the floor). And we're also at a point where if we're going to be moving the furniture out...You see where I'm going with this.

Anyway, so after hitting the furniture store, we decided to head somewhere for lunch. Hubby took a road that he's only been on once or twice; I've never been on it at all.

What a wonderful road! A farm photographer's paradise! I was snapping pictures left and right as we whizzed by. I considered today a scouting mission, and I'm taking a slower trip down that road sometime this summer.

Here's a shot that I snapped along the way:

I started playing with it, trying out different crops and sizes. I started working on the layers and piecing it together. As it took shape, I thought my head was going to split in half because I was smiling so broadly.

There are those moments when you just know something's coming together better than you had imagined. It was one of those moments. Everything came together with the final texture that I layered in. I am so stinking excited with how this one turned out!!!!

I give you "The Patchwork Barn"...

Friday, March 11, 2011


I am the proverbial chicken with its head cut off!

What a busy week. It was one of those weeks that creeps up on you. It started off with my Mom being in a car accident (she's just fine!). Then it quickly became filled up with about a million things that had to be done at work and at home.

It was one of those times when it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. I hate that feeling.

But I started to catch up, so hopefully I can start catching up with the parts of life that I WANT to deal with rather than the parts that get thrown at me.

We'll see what happens!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

[Insert frustrated scream here]

I hate when this happens, when I get so overwhelmed by the seemingly monumental responsibilities on my shoulders.

I'd take a deep breath but I'm afraid that I would just exhale in a scream of frustration at not being able to do what I want and having to spend too much time doing what I have to (which, as it turns out, is unimportant according to the governor, but I'm going to have to stay away from politics lest I go absolutely insane).

Ugh. Blech. Blah. Grr....

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Textures and Tutorials

I love textures, and I love adding textures to photos. Perhaps I'd feel differently if I had a more professional camera and a variety of lenses to play and experiment with...but I don't know. Certainly, I look forward to an equipment upgrade someday, but until then, I'm really happy with my current creative journey.

Yesterday, I got to head out to my parents' farm and snap some pictures.

While I sorted through them and textured one of them (see above), I got a hankerin' (yup, I said "hankerin'") to make my own texture, something I've only done a handful of times with varying results.

I started with a recent picture I took of a blue and slightly cloudy sky. I went into "Images/Adjustments" and did an "Auto Level" adjustment. It made the clouds too orange and the blues too blue, so I went to "Edit/Fade Levels" and backed it up a bit...

Then, I started adding layers to my texture. It's kind of an organic process, I suppose. I don't start with an image in my mind of the finished product; I just go with my gut and choose textures that appeal to me in that moment. I knew that I wanted a canvas look, so I added a canvas texture that I made entirely on PhotoShop (found a tutorial online somewhere):

I played around with the layers and what it comes down to again is gut instinct, a moment of "Yes, I like that." I set this one to "Overlay." I thought about "Multiply" but it was too dark and I can't adjust the levels on "Multiply" on my version of PhotoShop due to some sort of error (boo).

Next, I add a variety of layers based on what I think looks good. Each one is set to a different opacity, generally "Soft Light" and "Overlay"...


 oily garage floor

stone paver

I looked at all the layers, "Flattened," and I felt that it was missing something. It looked "painterly" but I wanted the canvas to stand out more than what it was. I added the canvas layer again and I went to "Image/Adjustments/Auto Levels". It darkened the canvas layer and once the opacity was set to "Soft Light," I gave myself a bit of a high-five. Flattened and voila:

"Canvas Skies"

One last step, then...Try it out! This time, I'm relieved and happy. This is the stage where many of my textures have been abandoned, but I'm happy to see that this particular texture is usable:

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Old World Charm, Modern Luxuries

I seriously thought about making that swimming pool disappear. And quite honestly, it was pure laziness that kept me from doing it. Still, there's something about the contrast between old and new, rustic and modern.

There was a day when your swimming pool was the deep part of the nearest stream or, if you were lucky, a family pond. Those were the two places where I did my swimming growing up. Sure, the mud was squishy between your toes and the algae was stuck to your legs when you got out...but it was fun. And you didn't have to worry about the chemical balance or draining it in the winter.

There's something to be said for mother nature's luxuries, I think....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


          A shadowy figure darted through the periphery of her vision.
          Caroline swung her head to the left, simultaneously knocking back her chair and stumbling away from the doorway through which she was sure she had just seen someone pass. Breathing heavily, she looked around for a weapon, grabbing a hairbrush before discarding it in favor of a letter opener.
          She struggled to control her breathing and slid silently up to the doorway. Peeking around the corner, she saw no one. She held her breath, listening, hearing only silence.
          After seconds that passed like hours, she crept from the room. Stealthily, she went from room to room, ready to confront whomever had broken in, or so she kept telling herself. She reached the living room having encountered no one. The door remained locked, including the interior lock. There was no way anyone had come in that way, as there was no way to open that lock from the other side of the door.
          Caroline dropped her hand to her side and let the letter opener drop to the floor. She ran her hand across her forehead, grimacing at the beads of sweat that had gathered there. Leaving the letter opener on the floor, she walked into the kitchen.
          “A cool drink. A cool drink and a relaxing afternoon. You’re just overtired,” she murmured to herself. She poured a tall glass of tea, dropped in a couple of cubes of ice. Putting the pitcher back in the fridge, she reached for the container where she kept slices of lemon.
          From the corner of her eye, a dark shape passed through the kitchen.
          The lemons and the container dropped to the floor, as Caroline ran into the living room to grab the phone.
          “I need to see Dr. Stone. Today.”

Want more? Mwah hah hah!

So, I teach a creative writing class. A couple of years ago, I had the most phenomenal group of kids, so much so that it was more of a writer's group. I was able to write along with them, and while we worked on our short horror stories, I started writing one called "Vulnerable."

We had read an article about the elements of horror, and the assignment I gave was to follow those elements in their writing. The article really struck a chord in me, and I wrote one of the best pieces I think I've ever written in my life! Long story short, it's about a woman in a rest stop bathroom stall...When are you more vulnerable than when you're on the toilet?

I wrote that story. Then, I wrote another one. Then another one. I went on a writing spree, actually finishing everything that I started. I had never done that before.

So, not wanting to go the traditional route (wanting to just get it out there and to have a keepsake for my future grandkids), I self-published. It made a pretty fair showing, enough so that I could take my Hubby out to a couple of nice dinners!

I still get that itch to write like that. I have so many other things on my plate right now that writing has taken a spot on the periphery, though I have been taking notes on ideas. I look forward to a day when I can pay those ideas the attention that they are due!

Tutorial: Birds With Words

1. Start with your image. To enhance the picture, I sometimes use the "Auto Levels" and "Auto Contrast" features in the "Image/Adjustments" menu. If I don't like how the picture looks with these adjustments, I'll adjust the "Brightness/Contrast" and "Saturation" manually. I'm basically looking for crisp colors and sharp details, nothing washed out.

2. I start adding textures. I start with the textures I want on the sky first. It's a game of trial and error. Generally, I use "Soft Light" or "Overlay" on the sky textures, but it really depends on what appeals to the eye. I also prefer to use distressed/painterly textures. The ones by Distressed Jewell are really good, but feel free to use your favorites.

In this case, I used two textures that had cloudlike appearances and backgrounds. The first layer was set to "Multiply" so the texture would really stand out. Then I flattened the layer and did "Image/Adjustments/Auto Levels" to make the image lighter. I then added the second layer and set it to "Overlay". I used the eraser to remove the texture from the trees where I thought it was too strong and detracted from their natural texture. In this case, I'm happy with just two layers (though I sometimes use 3-4), so I'll move on....

3. Next, I add a texture that includes paper and words. LesBrumes (flickr) has some of my favorites, but again, feel free to use someone else's or, even better, make your own. I apply the texture set on "Multiply," flatten the image, and adjust the levels again. I want it lighter but not too light because of the final layer I intend to add.

4. Now it's time to add some birds. I do so using bird brushes set to black and 100% opacity. I try to choose birds that fit the theme or that fit the scene, depending. My favorites include perched birds and come from resources like Distressed Jewell, Shadowhouse Creations, or midnightstouch (Deviant Art). Or you can always make your own!

5. The next step is to add text. I prefer to use text that looks like it came from an old typewriter, but again, it's creator's choice. I try to allow the text to follow a natural line created  by the image. In newer versions of PhotoShop, you can set a path for the text to follow. I'm working on the dinosaur that is Photoshop 7.0, however, so I have to use the "Warp Text" tool to get it in the shape I want. It's tedious and time consuming, but it will work.

6. Finally, I add one final texture. Because my picture is generally somewhat dark at this point, I usually pick a texture that is A) light and B) textured (ha ha). By that I mean I like a texture that is interesting and somewhat heavier than ones previously used. Cracks or heavy scratches usually appeal to me. I set the opacity to "Soft Light" and flatten the image. Then, I manually adjust the "Brightness/Contrast" and "Saturation" to what appeals to me. The heavier the saturation, the more dreamlike/fantasy the final picture will be. I generally choose to be more moderate:

And voila! The final image! As with all tutorials, play! The only person who has to be happy with the final image is you!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I Miss Where I've Been

What were those lyrics in Madonna's song? "This used to be my playground..."

I grew up here. The cornfield actually belongs to a neighboring farmer. The hills in the distance were ours.

So many memories are in this picture. The path the cows took from the pasture to the barn is at the top of the cornfield; the same path where I was once stampeded. We used to get huge snowfalls, sometimes four feet of snow. There was one time that the cow path had these huge, thick drifts over it. My siblings and I made it into a homemade luge and slid down the hill without sleds. The walls of the drifts made it feel like we were in tunnels.

Over to the right are the twin willow trees that took up a portion of the lower pasture. One of the trees had been split in half by lightning. We used to play in the stream beneath the trees. It was shallow and there was a little sandbar on the one side. It was a perfect place for finding fossils.

The hills in the distance were our hay fields and the upper pasture. I used to sit atop the highest hill, looking out over the valley. I would wish myself away from the farm, especially during those times when money was especially tight. I would dream of making it big in the world and coming back to that exact spot to build a dream home for my parents.

So many memories from one little photograph...