Week 52 and New Year (Week 1) and New Challenge!!!!!!

Happy New Year to all my family, friends, and visitors from afar and near who have come to this blog.  Having just wrapped up my 3rd 52 week challenge last week some of you noticed I did not do my weekly blog last week.  A couple of reasons and it happened this way last year.  First, I was spending a lot of time with Ginger and family.  I was taking pictures, mind you, but Ginger has found she loves playing a game called Rummikub and she has actually gotten her husband to play with her!  I had gotten where I hated playing games.  So let's follow a tangent shall we?  I want to play games to have fun.  That's all.  Do I like winning?  Sure, who doesn't, but that is not what my primary purpose of playing is.  When I was in my timeout with God (some of you are going to understand that veiled reference to what I am talking about) I watched people who became super competitive with games and actually saw it turn into violence.  Call it PTSD or just that I avoided anything that would turn into such chaos, I just did not want to play.  So what changed?  Community group.  We had a game night.  I was honest with everyone before the night how I felt but I wanted to participate.  And I had a blast.  There was no trash talk.  There was no in your face.  It was a time of just having pure fun, lots of laughs, and that first night I even won once.  The games we played were on Jackbox.tv and it allowed me to be creative.  I mean for a creative it was a dream.  I could be creative, funny, goofy, let me hair down so to speak, and just have fun.  It set the ground work.  Then came Rummikub and it was actually playing with just Ginger and how we just played and had fun that more fun came.  No I don't get as excited to play as Ginger, but I want to play.  It stimulates my mind but I can only play so long before I have to give me brain a rest!

So second on why I did not blog was I had a lot to say and yet I wanted to ponder what I was going to write.  I knew this would be a long written blog.  I was reflecting on the last year and what had happened in Ginger's and I's life.  So for those that read this blog and want it long, well, this is the blog you are going to enjoy.

Where to begin.  Let's start with some pictures and see where that takes us shall we?  Christmas Eve was a fun day and night.  We have a tradition where we go to our church's Christmas Eve service.  I had been wanting a shot of Ginger with a candle and it just so happens (this is going to shock everyone, not) I had my camera.  So I got this shot:

Though Ginger was not a big fan of this picture I loved it.  It shows how beautiful my wife is and it shows how blessed I am that God gave me such a wonderful wife.  As I was taking this shot, the family beside me, the husband, said if I wanted I could take a picture of his son because I have such fast glass (he knew the term which means he knows a little about photography (or alot!)).  So I took a shot that I just fell in love with.

I love these candid shots.  It wasn't just the son, I took a picture of the whole family and sent it to them.  They were very thankful, I was overjoyed at just being able to use my talent.

After service we went to Ginger's parents house for Christmas Eve present opening.  But I enjoyed more the company.  They asked if I could take a picture with me in it of everyone.  Haha, yes, I think I can do that:

Yep, I have a little bit of a pooch, as Ginger says, a testament that she is feeding me really well!

Of course we had some silly moments:

That's my buddy right there.  If I had a sister, she would be it.  We can talk about fun stuff and serious stuff, but one thing I can tell you, I'd do anything I could to help her or Teddy if they needed it.  Two special people indeed:

Christmas came fast and left too fast.  But we had some wonderful memories and I got to watch some really good football.  And bonus my Texas Longhorns and Iowa Hawkeyes both one their bowl games!

Around the house I have been doing a lot of "spring" cleaning.  Just organzing, throwing away things we did not need and organizing my studio.  I have lots of ideas coming and since I will be starting my 4th 52 week challenge, I wanted to get everything tidied up.  And then New Year's Eve hit and we rang in the new year:

A little bit of white sparking grape and we were ready for the new year.

But as I said earlier, I have been in a reflective sort of mood the past two weeks.  Looking back over the last year.  If I had one word to describe it and just one, my word for this year would be Trust.  More than ever, this year Ginger and I have had to rely heavily on our faith and trust God was leading us.  More than any other year this was probably the hardest year for bipolar that Ginger and I have had to go through.  For Ginger, work had become a problem.  From bosses that were not understanding to trying to find a place within the system that she worked where she could reduce her stress level, there were moments of highs followed by new lows.  Thinking that working a front desk job would be that missing piece, it was, in a way.  It was that piece that we realized Ginger did not need to work.  Her bipolar and anxiety was at a point that not only could she not work but her quality of life was too the point that between anxiety and depression, life was just not fun.  And why live a life where you are miserable all the time?  Changes needed to be made.  And I knew what needed to happen.  I had no problem with the decision that needed to be made other than I knew I had to trust that God was going to take care of us.  So Ginger quit her job.  My Dad gave me the best advice I could have heard, he said, as soon as you let go and trust God the blessings will come.  And Ginger's family reassured us and were rocks as well, telling us that indeed, we were not going to be left alone and that any help that we needed they were more than willing to help, and they have in many ways.

So I remember getting alone with God.  Just Him and I.  I talk to God like He is in front of me.  Just always have since I have been sober.  And I put it out there.  My fears, my trepidation, I took Ginger, myself, my life and Ginger's, and just pictured putting it in His hands.  Here, I said, this is yours.  I am scared God of giving this control to you but I know you can do better with this than I can.  After all, in 2002 He took over my life and look where I am today.  That same God is the God I serve now.  Well, Dad was right.  Look I believe in being honest with God.  Say what you want, I have expressed anger, sadness, confusion to God.  I have told Him when I did not understand.  But I have also told Him in this human vessel I am trying my best to trust Him.  Can I let you in on a little secret?  God already knows how you feel.  Your never going to surprise God.  But when you trust Him to share those deep heart issues I just picture these loving arms surrounding me and Him whisper, I will never drop you.  Blessings have come.  From insurance, to Ginger's medicine, Ginger finding a routine, God has shown us time and again since we became a one income family that indeed He has had us. And we have not wanted for anything.

I have learned this year not to take work too seriously.  I hit a wall a couple of months ago that exposed some bad thinking habits I had and perfectionist issues.   My depression dipped but I had been planning, for a while, an action plan should my depression dip to a certain level.  It did and my plan worked to perfection.  Not only did I have no desire to run from it instead it sparked some good conversations with my wife, had people reaching out to me, and had me evaluating what was really important.  Thought I still deal with depression it has gotten much better, partly because I realize work is not my life, my family and God is.  Keep God first and He will provide.  I cannot let what other people think of me or have their expectations become mine.  I will readily admit my mistakes but I will not, I repeat, I will not accept responsibilities for yours.  If you cannot admit you have blame in a situation or you dropped the ball does not mean I have to accept that blame.  As far as work, that is why I photograph and text and call if I have questions.  I cover myself.  Don't get me wrong, I care deeply about what I do and the quality in which I do it.  I work as if I am building or doing it for myself and unto God.  Yes, I make mistakes, but I will correct them and I will learn from them.

I get asked how Ginger and I are so in love, even after 9 years of marriage.  I have watched my Mom and Dad (over 50 years of marriage) and they have been my example.  My Dad still holds my Mom's hand.  He still kisses her.  He tells her he loves her.  They communicate.  They work with each other and yet do not smother each other.   These are examples that I have taken into my own marriage.  For example.  Ginger knows when she calls me at work if I am busy or not by how I answer the phone.  But I can also tell if Ginger really needs to talk because of an anxiety attack, depression, or a problem.  Regardless if I am busy, if I detect that, work is second, Ginger is first.  I make no apologies for that.  For me Ginger is more important than work.  Those phone calls don't happen often but it shows Ginger that she is indeed one of the most important things in my life and that builds love and trust.  She also knows that if it is not important and that I am with a customer or busy that it can wait.  Communication is the key.  And one more thing.  Ginger knows that I am her safe place (and she is mine).  It does not matter what it is, she can talk to me about it.  She can be her.  And I nurture her, help her to find herself.  I don't need a robot for a wife, I want her to thrive and however I can do that I do.

On the photography front, my work exploded.  My 3rd year of a 52 week challenge, my work began to get noticed, by my peers, by professionals.  At the beginning of the year I started a series on addiction and recovery.  It produced, to date, my most popular piece of work.  It is still getting likes and comments.  Not on Facebook mind you. Putting it on there hardly anyone outside of family noticed.  But on Flickr, my artistic community it exploded.  I made the prestigious EXLORE group and have been invited to a few special groups.  But that series taught me a few valuable lessons.

Ginger knows that I dislike, very much, censorship.  Because of the country we live in with Freedom of Speech and Expression, If you want to tell people about your Christian views and do that openly, you have to allow others to express their own differing views.  You don't have to agree with it, and many alternate views I do not agree with.  But I want to be able to express my feelings freely, so I want others to do that as well.  I have said before, however, that I walk a razor's edge with my artwork.  There are times I post pictures that are warm, fuzzy, and inviting.  However there are other times that I talk about the dark side.  My problem is that sometimes I can venture too far into the darkness.  It produced my greatest work to date according to my peers, but I can get stuck down there and start getting really dark.  But I have some life lines.  Ginger and my Mom to be exact.  They have never told me, don't do this.  They have, however, presented gently that I might need to grab that life rope and come back into the light for a bit.  I am so thankful for that.  It is why Ginger is my creative editor.  I take the pictures, I have an eye for that.  I get the ideas (and sometimes they come in fast and furious).  Ginger helps refine them, guides me, gives me another perspective.  And because she is honest and truthful, I trust her opinion.  Even the Voice Within had her stamp of editing on it.

So as I stated in my last post I typically look through my photos and pick out what I feel is the ones I loved the most and then pick a favorite. I even had a few win awards but I am going to shock some of you.  Some of you probably feel I will pick the Voice Within.  Though I love that picture in my Addiction and Recovery series, this is what my favorite picture was in that series:

It was my last day of Iowa on my birthday trip.  I called it Serenity and my Mom is the only one who has this picture.  I was so content.  I was rested.  My Dad had gotten his stitches out from his back surgery and we were able to take some great walks.  At my parents house I feel home, loved.

Another favorite of mine, which involved a little bit of work was this one:

I LOVE black and white.  And this one just said a lot.  I called it Surrounded by Love.  Pictures of family and my wife surround me.  My favorite drink (Green Apple), Bible, and Practical Photography magazine are on the table.  Sophie is sleeping in my hands.  And My Greatest Adventure, my wife, is prominent above me in her wedding dress, one of the best days of my life.

Speaking of which, I got to take a picture at Amanda's wedding, Ginger' BFF, of the two of them:

I had some nature photos that broke some boundaries for me.  My first long exposure waterfall picture:

And I LOVE certain spiders.  I cannot find big garden spiders very much.  Usually once every 5 years.  So when the paint crew found this one, I spent a week worth of lunches (and 400 pictures) finding this pic.  What makes this special is the small spider next to the big spider>

And I finally got to take an actual portrait picture of my Mom and Dad for Christmas.  This was a big deal for me.  And this is where I get my youthful looks!

And I got to take a picture of Sarah, their cat.  This shot makes me Mom sad but it is one of my favorites alongside Abraham's picture I took:

But which one is my favorite?  Though these made my favorites, this was my favorite of the year.

So why?  This was an absolutely beautiful ceremony.  Matt and Debbie love their kids so much.  And Miranda loves my wife Ginger and is always excited to see her.  But this coming of age picture evokes emotion in me.  Her parents care enough to raise their children in a beautiful way.  This was a tradition that was done in the TRUE spirit of the tradition.  And you could feel God there honoring her.  That I was able to witness it and able to take photos was equally wonderful.  I opted to make everything but her black and white because I wanted the focus on her.  This was her moment with God and it was special.

And it was this ceremony that I realized there was a lens I needed.  Having to switch between my prime lens, which I will happily do, I needed a standard zoom that I could stay in one spot and get the shots.  And the research began.

A bit about my process.  I research each piece of camera equipment extensively.  Ginger can attest.  I look at reviews, videos, and look at real world application.  Sometimes that means the most expensive piece and other times it doesn't.  The zoom I needed was a 24-70mm f2.8.  I narrowed it to Canon or Sigma, the Sigma was $400 cheaper.  This is a lens that is part of the holy trinity of lens for photographers, one that they say every photographer should have.  I see why now.  Come to find out what I needed the Sigma fit perfectly.  And since it was winning awards and I needed it mostly for portraits, the decision was made.

So to pay for my camera equipment or electronic gadgets I use my fun money.  Ginger and I laugh.  For her birthday she gets fun money from her parents.  I get mine from working at the ranch or getting gift cards for birthday's and Christmas.  And any purchase I make I pass by Ginger.  Funny thing is I am usually researching and Ginger says buy it, you deserve it (My Mom and Dad are like this, I get my pondering and research from my Dad!).  So the joke is that is a lot of manure I shovel to get whatever I get.  I don't take out of our vacation fund or emergency fund, I save up to get what I want. I don't take it out of money earmarked for savings.   And it makes me appreciate it.  And my equipment is allowing my quality to get better which in turn means better pictures.

SO my new lens!!!!

Sigma 24-70mm f8.0
My first picture below.  This was taken in the shadows and it came out very sharp.  Some noise but I was not trying to do anything other than test sharpness.  Passed the test.  I was stoked and sold.  This thing is going to be a dream to use!

Another of Sophie sleeping:

Now when I walk around this will be my go to lens out in the field along with my 16-35mm for landscape.  Happy indeed.

So I have a few ideas already for pictures for this year.  I have some creative one's in mind.  I have a new high powered UV flashlight for some UV pictures.  I have some infrared pictures.  And of course I have some portrait pictures in mind.  So this 52 week challenge will be one that will again push my boundaries.

I don't know all the changes that God has planned for us this year, but I know this, I trust Him.  This year He carried us and I have no doubt that He will not continue to do so.  Thank you to everyone who has commented, liked, encouraged and loved my photography.  It is because of you that I get the strength each week to continue.  God uses ya'll in wonderful ways!


And since I am feeling a little squirrely and I like a little Hard Style Reverse Bass Electronic Music I leave you with this to dance to in your living room (if you have a disco light bonus!):

Push the Fader


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