January 18, 2012

Birds in Our Yard

When the trees release their leaves, birds are soon visible to me in a new way, stark against grey branches or a blue sky. Last year my husband bought me a zoom lens, so that I could take better photos of these beautiful creatures. Our home is within the city limits of Athens, Ohio (USA), a small town that doubles in size from September through May when students at Ohio University fill the sidewalks, roads, and restaurants. Athens County is in the Appalachian Foothills; the hills begin just north of town and become steeper as one approaches the city, which is somewhat bordered by the Hocking River and near to a variety of steep hills, cliffs, forests, caves, and lakes. It seems to me a great home for wild- and not-so-wild-life. I know we certainly love it here and having dreamed of living near woods for many years, as I did when a child; I never get tired of walking out our backdoor and looking for something to photograph. Oftentimes that something has wings!

These photos are from various times of the year.

The red-shouldered hawk (thank you, Julie Zickefoose for IDing him for me), above, was watching the sunrise this past Sunday morning. He turned to look at me, and I looked back, letting him know the two little dogs in the yard are "Mine! Mine! Mine! … but you are a handsome bird."

We've had a ton of crows in our woods lately. If you want to hear a crow convention that took place at sunrise last week, click on this YouTube link (and see our woods).

Here I was practicing my manual focus skills on a moving target.

The crow below is looking in the opposite direction of the hawk shown earlier. I think they were ignoring each other.

I love this bird.

One morning I was  hardlyhard at work, and heard something right outside my window. I peaked out and here was Mrs. Cardinal building her nest in a precarious place (because we were about to have our house painted.) I moved the nest before she put too much work into it, or had laid any eggs.

What intrigued me about this little fella is how his movements were so similar to that of my parrot, Gracie.

Last year, I tried to capture a close-up of this yellow-bellied sapsucker, but my efforts did not result in the photo I wanted. This past Sunday I was more successful (see photo above and two photos below), thanks to the new zoom lens and the bird deciding to peck at the tree in the middle of our back patio. 

Look how he blends in…

Here is his action shot!

Below is the photo from last year...

I love cardinals.

My favorite wildlife, Tyler! These two photos were taken last year. He is STILL waiting for a good snowfall for this year.

January 9, 2012

My Memories Scrapbooking Software -- and a chance to help The Art of Autism!

Recently, I received an email from My Memories asking if I would like their digital scrapbooking software for free in exchange for blogging about their product one time. It was the first time I have ever been offered anything for free in exchange for a blog post. I thought about it for 10 seconds and said yes, here's why: I switched from a PC to a Mac last June and haven't yet installed a good Mac-friendly scrapbook program on my laptop yet. And I've got over 8,800 photos in this little baby. They want to be organized. They want to be remembered.

So, I said yes and downloaded the software. Then decided I would do a "Year in Review" book and see how it worked.

But first, a look back at software I've used to date.

CREATIVE MEMORIES: I regularly attend Creative Memories workshops and LOVE them and their products. Creative Memories makes products for traditional scrapbooking and digital scrapbooking. I love their colors, designs, choices, and catalogs. As a graphic designer, I find their designs and presentations the most pleasing and professional. So, I haven't been inclined to switch teams, until a problem happened last summer…

Having created a wonderful 72-page scrapbook of for my mother's birthday in 2010 using Creative Memories StoryBook (for PC) software (click on this LINK for a free trial download), I had some experience with the process.  I had it printed as a hardcover book by Creative Memories and it was beautiful! My mom was thrilled. Here are some sample pages:

A DISAPPOINTING TURN OF EVENTS: When I switched to a Mac last June, I went back to Creative Memories to get the Mac version of StoryBook Plus, aka sbcStudio. I started on a project using a trial version, then when I was almost done, I found my 30-days had passed and I tried to sign on to purchase the software and could not! Alas, Creative Memories had decided to discontinue their Mac-version digital software program until further notice. (Today, I have gone to their site and it seems they still do not offer it for sale and have no notice about that on the product's page, so that if you click on "start" to learn more, nothing happens.)

I could not output my newly created sbcStorybook "Restaurant" scrapbook to PDF even to print at home. I was very irritated at the way this was handled and felt those with the trial version should have been given the opportunity to have anything they had in progress "unlocked" and able to be printed out at home or converted to PDF. I wanted this for Mark for Christmas, and ended up creating a traditional 8 x 8 book for him. Mark loved it, but I would have preferred it be in digital format so I could easily add it and customize it in the future.

ANCESTRY.COM: I went to THIS LINK and looked at comparison shopping of Mac-version scrapbooking software. But, instead, I got busy with Ancestry.com and finding out all about my family history and then found within Ancestry.com there is scrapbooking software. (Pros and cons with that, of course, but it was the best I had.) I made a 115-page scrapbook on our family history. (Here are two pages to give you an idea. It was more of a photo book with text explaining family history and history in general, rather than a scrapbook with fancy do-dads (though Ancestry.com does offer the do-dads. They have all sorts of papers and embellishments and such, but some of the elements (the embellishments, for instance) will only show up in lower resolution if printed out at home. You have to have Ancestry.com print out your "book" to have all of their graphic elements show up in high resolution. A definite business-attitude mistake, in my opinion.

iPHOTO: Then, I wanted to make a small scrapbook in memory of my friend who died. I made that one in iPhoto and it was not really a scrapbook, but a photo book. I had it printed as a paperback book and it came out really great. I gave a copy to my sister in December and she was pleased with the quality. It was printed by Apple, so I knew it would be top-knotch.


I was still hoping Creative Memories would come back with their software for Macs. Then I received the email from My Memories's person, Liz:

My name is Liz and I work for a company called My Memories. We have an award winning digital scrapbook software that is extremely easy and fun to use. My Memories Suite is rated #1 by Amazon and TopTen Reviews. Using this software, anyone can create digital scrapbooks, photobooks, cards, calendars and gifts without having to buy expensive and complicated software programs.
I just ran into your blog and absolutely love it!  I was wondering if you would like to host a My Memories Suite giveaway on your blog? We would love to give you 2 copies of our software ($80 value) for free! One copy is for your personal use and to review. The other is to give away on your site. Additionally, we will give you a personal $10 off promo code to share with followers and friends. Every time this code is used for our software, we will deposit $20 in your PayPal account! It is really that simple! Everyone could use an extra $100-$500 per month, right?
Well, of course everyone can. However, I've never really liked the idea of suggesting friends buy something when I'm going to get money for recommending a product.

But, I wanted the free software… (If you're interested in buying the software after reading my review, see the link, promo code, and my donation commitment, below.)

I downloaded the software and decided to try making a Year in Review book, 8 x 8 inches, with approximately 2 pages per month. Downloading the software was a breeze. Then I ran into a snafu: My Memories will not import photos directly from iPhoto. Liz said I could just copy the photos I wanted to use to a folder and then pull them from there into my scrapbook and then delete the duplicate photos when done, but I am one of those people who hate to do things twice or waste time. I didn't like this extra step…

But, I did what she suggested. One thing I noticed right off is that My Memories had more features (embellishments, patterns, etc.) available included with the software than Creative Memories seemed to back when I bought Storybook Plus for the PC. It also can include music, narration, and video… see this description from their site:

With over 1,500 papers, over 1,000 page elements, and over 30 album templates (including 10 new for v3), MyMemories Suite lets you hit the ground running with your very own scrapbook or photo album in a matter of minutes. It’s easy-to-use and affordable—and compatible with both Windows and Mac computers. 
Personally, I prefer the designs and choices with Creative Memories, and will continue to use their products for my traditional scrapbooking, because I think they really are wonderful. But My Memories software is something all scrapbookers can try for quick easy projects at an affordable price.

Once I got into the software and found out my ability to work with what they offered (as far as papers and embellishments), I knew the My Memories Suite was a good value for scrapbooking customers. I found the software easy to use. I'd say within a few hours you'll be using it like an old pro. It had lots of cool options and I liked the way I could see all the pages running along the bottom of the screen, underneath the main page I was working on. Here is a screenshot:

There are a lot of good things about My Memories software:

  • It is easy to use.
  • It is affordable at $29.97.
  • It works on a Mac or a PC.
  • Liz Gardner offers great customer service.
  • There are many templates, papers, embellishments, etc. available in the basic software.
The only downsides I found were:

  • Not importing from iPhoto.
  • No ability to "print" as a PDF! I could only print to my home printer. 
  • I could not save the pages as jpgs or PDFs.* 

Here are a few of my pages for the Year in Review scrapbook (8 x 8) created with My Memories software.

I figured out a way to ease my conscience. Here's what I'll do… My Memories Suite Version 3 costs $39.97. You also get $10 off using this promo code, making it $29.97. Here is the code:  

When you purchase the software, MyMemories will pay me $20 commission.

When My Memories deposits commission money into my PayPal account (as Liz said), I will take said money and donate it to The Art of Autism's Campaign to help a project for artists with autism. I will do this with funds donated between today and June 2, 2012, my son Bryce Merlin's 31st birthday (he is one of the artists in the program and last October had his artwork in a gallery in SoHo thanks to The Art of Autism).  Here is a LINK to the show in SoHo.

Here's a LINK for more about the fundraising campaign. (Since their campaign ends on 1/19, I will donate funds that come in between 1/19/2010 and 6/2/2012 directly to Debra Hosseini, founder, toward the program.)


The ART of AUTISM is a project that incorporates The ART of AUTISM book, art shows, live theatrical entertainment events, workshops, and films to shift consciousness and awareness regarding autism. We are committed to promoting talented artists on the autism spectrum and educating the general public. We support artists through mentorship, building resumes, portfolios, and direct work experience. Participants in past events report an improvement in self-esteem, executive functioning skills, media exposure and often a sense of community that they have never experienced before. Most importantly, they make friends and lifelong connections. The majority of money raised from the Art of Autism art sales goes directly to the artist. A portion also goes to a local nonprofit who hosts the show.


Now, the astute among you will realize that Liz offered to give me TWO free copies of the software, one for myself and one as a giveaway. So, here goes… the first person to email me (art at janicephelps dot com) with their PayPal receipt for $20 to The Art of Autism's IndieGoGo Campaign between today and JANUARY 19th will be the one who gets the code for the free MyMemories Suite software. 

Only one person can get the software for the $20 donation, but the rest of you, who might want the PC or MAC software from MyMemories.com can feel satisfied knowing that $20 of your $29.97 purchase ($39.97 minus the $10 discount, be sure to use the promo code above) will be donated to The Art of Autism (between today and June 2, 2012). Let's help these deserving artists reach their goals, just as we reach our "memory-keeping" goals. They'll have some help, you'll have some cool software for PC and/or Mac!

Here is more information on The Art of Autism:
Website: http://www.the-art-of-autism.com/
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheArtofAutism

Here are more tips from Liz at My Memories:

-If you’d like to link your followers to our Facebook, Twitter or blog, that would be great as well! They could even follow us for extra entries to the contest.
Blog- http://blog.mymemories.com/
Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/pages/MyMemories/140359372717593
Twitter- http://twitter.com/#!/mymemoriessuite

* You might be wondering how, then, I managed to save jpgs for this blogpost. Well, I took screenshots, then cropped to the size of the page, then saved as jpgs and PDFs. I knew how to get around their system, but it was time-consuming!

January 5, 2012

Vine Leaves Literary Journal -- ISSUE ONE!

I am so pleased to share with you Vine Leaves Literary Journal, from the creative minds of Jessica Bell and Dawn Ius.

Vine Leaves seeks to fill a gap that is overlooked by other journals. From its home page:

The world of literature nowadays is so diverse, open-minded and thriving in experimental works, that there doesn’t seem to be any single form of written art missing from it ... you would think. But there is. 
The vignette. 
It’s rare for a literary magazine to accept the "vignette" as a publishable piece of literature. Why? Because it is not a “proper story.” We beg to differ. 
So, what is a vignette? 
"Vignette" is a word that originally meant "something that may be written on a vine-leaf." It’s a snapshot in words. It differs from flash fiction or a short story in that its aim doesn’t lie within the traditional realms of structure or plot. Instead, the vignette focuses on one element, mood, character, setting or object. It's descriptive, excellent for character or theme exploration and wordplay. Through a vignette, you create an atmosphere. 
Vine Leaves, will entwine you in atmosphere; wrap you in a world where literature ferments and then matures … 

Jessica is the author of String Bridge, a novel about a woman's desire to return to her musical roots, and Twisted Velvet Chains, a collection of poetry. Jessica produced an original CD "sound track" to go with String Bridge. She also maintains a hugely successful blog. Just this week, she learned she'll be hosting the Annual Steinbeck Festival in Ithaca (not NY, the island of… Jessica is an Australian living in Greece).  And now she and Dawn have  given other writers (and illustrators) a venue for their work. After earning a degree in journalism, Dawn ventured into corporate communications, marketing, and public relations and currently co-owns Bridge Social Media. (She writes as well!)

I'm happy to say that one of my illustrations and one of my photographs were accepted into the first issue as was one of my husband, Mark's, poems. I'm not going to post my inclusions here, because I'd really like you to visit the online journal and see for yourself what is in it. The issue comes out Friday, January 6th, 2012! Here's the link again: www.vineleavesliteraryjournal.com

~ Janice

PS: Some of my friends will be in this first issue, so it will be very special to me. Their complete bios and website links are accessible through Vine Leave's website.

Angela Felsted
Glynis Smy
Laurel Garver
Madeline Sharples
Mark Van Aken Williams 
Matthew MacNish
Michelle Davidson Argyle
Nicole Ducleroir 
Sheri Larsen
Stephen Parrish