Cowboys and Indians

Today round two of interviews and writing stories began. I’ve been able to talk with some real Navajos! They are such an interesting group of people that have been treated so badly.

Anyway, since round one of writing and photographing occurred in places without wi-fi I haven’t been able to share the beautiful things I have learned about New Mexico earlier this week.

My time in the “Land of Enchantment” began with a two-night stay at the Baptist Children’s Home. I was asked to write a story on Mark and Tara, a couple who work as house parents at the children’s home. Mark actually grew up there, and now he has brought is family back to serve the children living as he used to.

I must say, being raised Southern, that the people of the West are definitely no-nonsense, strong-willed, independent people. One of my favorite moments of my meet-us-at-the-barn-by-seven morning was when Mark overheard one of the boys using some inappropriate language. His response? He whacked the boy in the back of the head (not too harsh, just enough to surprise him) and said in a typical disciplinarian dad tone, “Watch your mouth.”

Anyway, in addition to the five teenage boys the couple houses, they have two young children of their own. Both under the age of six, Jocalyn and Landon are two of the cutest children I have seen in a while.

Unlike her mother who was only seen once during our two-day stay without her cowboy hat on, the first thing Jocalyn showed me upon arriving at her family’s home was her assortment of pink toys and fancy dresses.

Then there’s Landon, who had recently shut one of his fingers in a door. After showing me his wound I asked him and his sister if he cried. Landon shied away and Jocalyn replied, “Yeah, he cried a lot.” Landon was so quiet but so ready to play!

It was so amazing to see that even though their parents’ attention is now somewhat divided because of the boys that live with them, these two little children weren’t fazed at all. They were so content to just run around the yard with each other. We really should be thankful for anyone we have in our lives, you know? Even if it is a snotty little brother or sister.

Their parents were both so wonderful too. Mark and Tara were the first cowboys I have ever met. And, I promise, they are legit. Both clad in red plaid collared shirts, worn-out jeans, boots, and cowboy hats, this couple looked ready to herd. Once upon it time it was cattle, but now it’s children, and the couple seems just as content to run around with the kids as they were with cows and horses.

Tara was even able to find a little time to play with her two little ones on the horses at the home’s barn.

Even though it’s posted a little late, my first New Mexican lesson was one of valuing independence, strength, and love. Who knows, maybe I’ll return to the good ol’ South with a little of that New Mexican spirit of self-reliance.

Till then!

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Into the wild

I have an announcement. After much deliberation I have decided to spend at least the first month of my summer in New Mexico. I’m staying for a little while!

We have had such a marvelous time eating sopaipillas, working on stories, and snapping tons of photos.

We even climbed a mountain! Here we are climbing around in the little bit of green we found in this desert state.

Not until I wandered through the sparse “Land of Enchantment” did I realize I had never really explored or been around the wilderness. And I thought Tennessee was wild.

Roaming pueblos today, interviewing Navajo tribes tomorrow!

Till then!

Kids and cameras

All those who know me personally probably also know about my love for children. I love playing and laughing with them — all the stereotypical things young women who want to someday be moms like. Yes, I am one of those girls.

However, during my New Mexico trip (I am now almost to day four of ten!) I was assigned as photographer for a great new church start up, Paragon Church. As usual, I wanted to keep photographing the kids and their Sunday school classes, but unfortunately I was continually pointed in a different direction.

I did get a snapshot of this treasure though when I was in one of the classrooms.

I met a friend name Kathryn, and I felt so bad I couldn’t chat and run around with her! I just had to keep saying no to playing on the playground and getting drinks of water at the fountain. I had to keep shooting. I had to keep shooting adults. So I did.

Sometimes, you don’t get to play and run off on a whim with little ones like you want to, but I also have realized the value of adult interaction. I even ran into (and photographed) a man who knew of Mule Day as soon as I said I was from Columbia. Adults can be surprising too!

Here are just a few of the lovely people I met at Paragon.

Till then!

Entering the West

School is out, which means summer and the time for bright, new adventures is here. Within 24 hours I packed up my dorm room — which filled up every nook of my little red Ion — unpacked it all, packed my tiny new-but-old-school suitcase for my ten-day communications trip, and left for my 7 a.m. flight to Albuquerque.

While it was difficult to spend only one afternoon at home after a long semester and strenuous finals, I couldn’t help but feel the twinge of excitement at entering what was to me a foreign land.

As we flew over the states between my luscious home state of Tennessee and the desert land of New Mexico I noticed something I never fully realized — not all land is green. This part of the country looked like my mother’s new granite countertops! I had never seen so much brown. As we approached our destination I managed to sneak a photo out the airplane window.

On the connecting flight where I snapped this shot I was separated from my group, which at first seemed a little daunting. (You see, I am not the most independent girl out there. In fact, some may call me a homebody.) However, I was pleasantly surprised when I met my seatmate, Miss Mary. After a few short minutes of chit-chat and both of our confessions of love for reading, I realized that what my mother told me as a young one was not necessarily true. Not all strangers are bad.

She was heading home to New Mexico and gave me some helpful and vivid descriptions of what to expect when I arrived in the great desert. She was a lovely lady and even gave me her business card in case I needed anything while I was wondering around her dry, brown home state.

People and places can always surprise you! I now see it’s best to expect better out of any situation instead of worse. No need to worry about foreign places and friendly people you haven’t met. They usually open your eyes to something new if your willing to let go and explore.

I’m off to another New Mexican day!

Till then!

Prom

One afternoon in our lovely student dining hall I was lunching with my dear friend Josh gushing about my sister’s first prom, which had happened over a rainy weekend. I went on to describe the taffeta, long photo shoots and awkward dates that are inevitable with this right of passage. So when he said he never went to prom and reminded me that neither did several of our friends I proposed we hold our own.

Thankfully, he and my other dear friend Margaret have been blessed with wonderful party planning skills. The even was made official — via facebook, of course — and the word was spread that the party of the year would be held on a late evening in early May.

The theme? Truly, Madly, Deeply. Based off of a song by the great 90’s band Savage Garden.
I want to stand with you on a mountain
I want to bathe with you in the sea
I want to lay like this forever
Until the sky falls down on me

With a homemade silver and white balloon arch and the use of my beloved Nikon we set up an impromptu photo booth for any couples hoping to capture the sweet moment of their first prom. The first to step were our hosts, of course! Here they are getting ready for the beginning of a beautiful night of bumping tunes, dance-offs, and “vintage” prom attire.

There were mountains, blue streams of water, and fluffy clouds throughout the room as we danced beneath the small disco ball. The dance even had chaperones. (Thanks Ms. Allen and Ms. Thompson! You’re dance moves were the best.)

Singing along a variety of music —my favorite being the Beach Boy’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” — and bopping around I realized what I missed at my own prom. The relaxation of not worrying about the drama, drunkards and disappearances that are so typical of this beloved high school event.

I realized that the next time I head out for a night of dancing and fun it might be best to forget about the other people in the room, sing at the top of my lungs and dance around like nobody’s watching.

Till then!

P.S. — All photos taken by those lovely people who swiped up my camera. Thanks for taking photos because I was too busy getting my dance on!

Once upon a pub night

The last issue of our school paper came out this Thursday. Over the past four semesters, I’ve been through the joys and frustrations of working on staff, and I’ll be taking a break next semester as I intern in Washington, D.C.. So, when asked for one of my English classes to describe a vivid event I couldn’t help but choose pub night, the busy Tuesday evening we use to put the paper together.

Excuse the length, but in case you were wondering here’s a snippet of what it’s like to be on a small college newspaper staff.

Jennings 209 is usually a dark, empty space reserved for an army of Mac desktops and campus newspaper archives, but not tonight. It’s pub night. Unlike the booze and cigarettes associated with its name, this Tuesday carnival begins at 3 p.m. with the mild trickle of editors sliding in to start the marathon of printing pages.  Click, click, click. The snapping of keys seems never ending amidst the chatter of news-hunting students huddled in the small red room.

Preparation for this Tuesday night circus starts at least two weeks before with a Sunday evening story meeting. The five sections, News, Perspectives, Sports, Arts and Entertainment, and Life, are each represented. Two editors for each section sit in burgundy rolling desk chairs waiting to defend their story proposals like criminals put on trial.  Not every idea is worth print. The bad ones must be weeded out.

“Is anybody printing?” a voice shouts in the small ruby room. A little more than two weeks later, after an hour of placing each story into the puzzle of pages with paper and pencil and at least another hour piecing them together on the glowing computer screen, the stories that have proven their worth spit out of the printer for the first time. Waiting for the enlarged paper of my section’s first page to slide free from the jaws of the massive, frequently jammed printer, I close my eyes to take a brief rest from the words that will be swimming constantly in front of me for the next eight or nine hours. I belong to Arts and Entertainment, and Elizabeth, my co-editor, sits silently focused like a hawk waiting for its prey. She is writing headlines for our other two pages, my least favorite task. Masterfully, she fits strong subject-verb phrases into spaces not much wider than the tiny iPods connected by thin white lines to the ears of the three copy editors.

Elizabeth and I are not the only duo clicking, moving, and editing away at our slave-driver screens. Four sets of two sit squinting, moving blocks of text around like a Tetris game, whispering tips to each other on how to make the stubborn pieces fit. Our design editor flits around reminding us there are rules. We only work our stories into squares and rectangles. No “L’s” or “U’s.’ Each article must fit perfectly into its own box. Like the rest of the staff, I vigorously stretch and cut each story to fit. “Everybody hit sa-ave!” shouts Erica, the design editor, as she scatters from duo to duo answering each section’s questions and correcting our visual blunders.

A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, A6, B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6 reads the list up on the squeaky white board written in neon blue ink. Check marks grace a select few of the twelve pages that will complete the eleventh issue of this school year’s paper. Perspectives has printed a page. News has printed a page. Life and Arts and Entertainment have printed two. Sports… “Where’s Sports?” is the question being muttered around the room. Alex and Josh make up the Sports team. Unfortunately, they are very illusive, which does not please the three executive editors who have to stay until they finish at 2 a.m.

Katie, our editor-in-chief and the ringleader of this hectic circus, sits regally in the back corner at the only table not covered in tangled wires of keyboards, mice, and computers copy editing in silence. Stray commas, typos, and unrefined headlines reflect in the lenses of her purple, thick-framed glasses. It is early in the night so she kindly directs us, pointing out each section’s problems, but we are left to perform the tightrope act of creating, fine-tuning, and finishing each page. She lets us shine tonight.

The hour hand on the belltower outside the room’s single window inches closer to 5 p.m., an hour past the deadline for each section’s first printed page. Sports nonchalantly slides in, greeted by a stern question from Katie: “Have you laid out your pages?”

“We’ve got an idea,” Alex mumbles, not seeing any problem with strolling in late.

“Well, Erica is coming over to help you,” says Katie, irritated by Alex’s inability to communicate and arrive on time. Erica hurries over to the two seats left for Sports. It is now her job to help determine where and how the stories and photos of baseball, golf, and basketball players will fit together.

An hour later, while Sports and Erica are still huddled around two computer screens, a small crowd of people surge in to help with any tedious tasks. The apathetic students required to attend an hour for Dr. Chute’s pub seminar class sit vacantly waiting for some small chore from the editors. Most sit in a cluster, chatting with each other or staring at the small screens of their cell phones wishing they were anywhere but in the active ruby room that is home to the editorial board. The prayers of the uninterested clan are answered when Katie shouts from her table, “Can two people who aren’t doing anything go downstairs and help Dr. Chute?”

Up a flight of stairs and into the room comes what many of us have been waiting for: dinner. The distinct smell of dripping cheese, greasy slices of pepperoni, and warm tomato sauce waft from over a dozen brown and red boxes sitting on a table next to the door. Those of us clicking and toiling at our keyboards hit save, pause, and bow our heads to give thanks for the typical meal of most college gatherings.

After quickly consuming two slices of pizza, I return to my computer screen to reassess my section’s pages. It’s 7:20 and Elizabeth and I have printed almost all of our pages twice. The tedious editing process requires each of the pages to be printed and copy edited three times. Each one-page puzzle containing photos, articles, and headlines slowly travels from the computer screen to the printer to the copy-editing table by the window. Good news. No more major mistakes to fix in Arts and Entertainment. Stories no longer need to be moved from page to page. Each one has a home. Now Elizabeth and I just wait for the copy editor’s nitpicky corrections for spacing, typos, and word choice.

Wait. Wait. Wait. The Arts and Entertainment pages sit towards the middle of the pile as each of the four copy editors trudge through the other sections’ stories. Now is the time I sneak out for an hour to watch “Lost” and unsuccessfully attempt to finish a small bit of tomorrow’s homework. If Elizabeth and I are doing well, why not reward myself with a little break from the whirring of the seventeen computers crunching away at the information the editors and other staff members feed them?

Before I leave for my small trip down entertainment lane I grab a few snacks freshly delivered by the newspaper’s two advisors. They just arrived with round two of food. Brightly colored boxes of Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Teddy Grahams and Goldfish sit waiting to be devoured by the staff of munchers still working on their pages. The sweet smell of candy floats through the air, but those more interested in their health flock to the plastic buckets of plump fruit and the platter of vibrant, crunchy vegetables. To keep us going through the long night, our advisors also brought a gracious gift of Starbucks, born from an earlier handwritten list littered with sundry orders for ventis, grandes, and talls. I grab my large iced passion tea and a handful of sticky gummy snacks as I head for the commons to enjoy my sixty minutes of escape.

“How’s it coming?” I ask upon my return, refreshed from an intriguing, action-filled episode and time with chatty friends.

“Well, there’s a problem with B1. The copy editors had a problem with our Variety Show photo story. Too many Greeks, and one girl is in two of the four photos,” answers Eliabeth.

“I thought they’d say that.”

Wait. Wait. Wait.  Beth, our photo editor, finally chooses an image of an independent intensely swaying his arms on stage. I drop the new photo into the empty box on the screen, and Elizabeth helps me write a new cutline that fits. Problem solved.

Now the final corrections come in slow waves of Dr. Chute’s scribbled red ink. We are under the rule of the AP Style handbook. Several words need hyphens and we forgot to change “website” to “Web site.” With the click of a few keys and the strike of Apple-I to spell check, each page in turn becomes ready for the final step of the process. One last look over by Erica, our busy design queen, one more spell check and the page will be ready for its transformation from an InDesign file to a press-ready PDF.

I sit and watch while Erica checks the spacing between each story, making sure none of the articles feel cramped while all the other sections beg for answers to their questions. This last step takes patience. We all want to leave. We all have classes with homework due tomorrow, but the newspaper must be finished and it must be finished well. Finally, each of Arts and Entertainment’s three pages on the white board has three check marks and the beautiful letters “PDF” marked beside them. Arts and Entertainment’s duty has been completed. Life left half an hour ago, but Sports, News, and Perspectives are left in the burgundy chairs to type and copy edit. Elizabeth and I announce our accomplishment, say our goodbyes, and grab a few snacks for the short walk home. A little less than two hours from this point the remaining morsels of food will be packed up, the lights in Jennings 209 will go down, and the rest of my comrades will leave the pub lab for their soft pillows and cozy covers.

It is past midnight as I stroll down the sidewalk with tired eyes, weary and strained from staring at 10-point text for eight hours. However, I am satisfied. I am a small part, one of twelve editors and many staff writers, of one quality campus newspaper. Our system has kinks and personalities clash, but we work together to produce a fine, honest paper. Not for another two days will we see the beige and black fruit of our labor, but we already know in this clear, quiet night that our reward is not the print we produce but the patience we gain from working together.

More storms

Sorry for the lack of posts!

What a disastrous week it has been. Flooding and storms followed by heat and the pressure to finish all my final assignments for this semester have just about exhausted me.

However, God provides loving family, friends, and sometimes strangers to help cheer me up. In pressing times like these it really is best to focus on being thankful for the amazing things we’ve been given.

A week and a half and I start my crazy summer travel around the sweltering South. I can’t believe it’s almost here!

May is a crazy month, but I will survive it.

Till then!

PS: I love you, Momma! You’re beautiful and I have no idea where I would be without you.