photovent 2010, day 7: inspire (day 2 of the book launch giveaway!)

"Courage doesn't always roar.  Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.'"

~  Mary Anne Radmacher

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I first heard the quote above during one of Brené's talks, and it really stuck with me.  I love the concept that courage isn't necessarily a showy, loud thing, and that often it's quiet courage that is the most powerful.

I think the same is true for inspiration.

I mentioned some time ago that I've chosen the word "inspire" for the coming year, particularly because I was looking for inspiration for a possible second book.  I love that the quote above reminds me not to look for inspiration in necessarily showy, loud ways, but in quiet ways as well.

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Thanks so much for your comments yesterday, everyone (and might I say, you are one great-meal-shared-with-close-friends-and-family-celebrating bunch)!  According to, the winner of the signed copy of my book is Jen M., who said "A nice dinner out with a few friends. Good food, good friends and good times:)."  Congratulations, Jen!  I'll contact you via email to get your mailing address, and get it sent to you as soon as possible.

But we're not done yet, people.  Today, I'm giving away another signed copy of the book (and every day for the rest of the week!).  To enter for a chance to win, simply leave a comment telling me what inspires you.  It could be anything from Gandhi to your kids to summer on the coast -- whatever.  As yesterday,  I'll pick one commenter at random to win the second signed copy of the book.  And as I mentioned yesterday, a few blogging friends will also be offering books as giveaways -- like lovely Ellie for example!  After you leave your comment below, head over there for another chance to win a signed copy!   And if any new bloggers post giveaways today, I'll update this post with their links, so keep checking back.

Thanks again guys -- and good luck!

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The image at the top of this post is the 7th image of Photovent 2010You can download the pdf for it here.  And click here to learn how to use it to assemble a beautifully different photo garland.


Song: Use me by Bill Withers.  Have recently fallen in love with Bill Withers all over again.


photovent 2010, day 6: celebrate (and giveaway day 1!)

"The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate."

~ Oprah Winfrey

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This week is a big week for me, folks -- the official book launch happens this Thursday, December 2nd, here in Houston at Brazos Bookstore!  I've spent the weekend trying to figure out what I'm going to be saying, so now that I have some idea, I'm starting to get excited.  It should be a great time, and I hope I see a lot of you there.

That said, I realize that only a small percentage of my readers will actually make it to Houston on Thursday.  This doesn't seem fair.

So I decided that every day this week on my site, I'm going to give away a signed copy of my book.  Also, I have a few blogging friends that are also going to be giving away copies on their sites this week as well, so as their posts go up, I'll point you over there to if you'd like to enter their giveaways, too.  So tell all your friends!  It's going to be like an Oprah giveaway show up in here!

Or something!

Anyway, it's my little way of bringing a little of this week's celebration online.  So! If you'd like to win a signed copy of my book, please leave a comment telling me your favourite way to celebrate.  Is it going out with friends? A blowout party?  A glass of champagne? A slice of chocolate cake?  A long, hot candlelit bath? A run through a pretty neighbourhood?  A night alone with a a good book?  I'll pick one commenter at random, and announce the winner in tomorrow's post.

And heck, if you don't win?  There's always tomorrow.  Because I'll be doing another giveaway then.  And every other day this week.

Good luck! And as always, thanks for everything.

UPDATE:  my sweet friend Catherine Connor has written an amazing blog post on beauty, and is also giving away a signed copy of the book.  After you leave a comment below, go there to read and leave a comment for another chance to win!

UPDATE #2!  Another sweet friend of mine is hosting a giveaway!  Go visit the lovely Tanis at Attack of the Redneck Mommy -- leave a comment on her awesome post on body image, for another chance to win!

UPDATE #3!  It's giveaway-a-palooza up in here!  My friend Mir is giving away a book on her site as well!  Go leave a comment on Want Not for yet another chance to win!

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The image at the top of this post is the 6th image of Photovent 2010You can download the pdf for it here.  And click here to learn how to use it to assemble a beautifully different photo garland.


SongLa copa de vida by Ricky Martin.  I'm not a huge Ricky Martin fan, but this song always makes me want to grab a football and celebrate.  ¡Gooooooool!

photovent 2010, day 5: grace

"Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it.  Action has magic, grace and power in it."

~  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Already musing about the new year -- silly, right?  And yet, it's true.

And I'm thinking not about things that I want to do next year, but instead, I'm thinking of the things I want to try.

It sounds adventurous to think about it this way, don't you think?


The image at the top of this post is the 5th image of Photovent 2010You can download the pdf for it here.  And click here to learn how to use it to assemble a beautifully different photo garland.


SongJigsaw falling into place by Radiohead

photovent 2010, day 4: grateful (or, 7 miracles i've experienced in my life for which i'm wildly grateful)

"There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle."

~  Albert Einstein

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1.  Haloumi cheese.  You can grill it, but it doesn't melt!  If that's not a tasty miracle, by gum, I don't know what is.

2.  Godiva dark chocolate truffles.  Yeah, I said it.

3.  That my grandmother lived to the ripe old age of 102 before she passed.  My grandmother was awesome.  And she remained as lucid and spicy at the end of her life as the day she was born.

4.  The gospel tent at New Orleans Jazzfest.  I'm convinced Jesus actually lives in that gospel tent.

5Standing in the middle of a steel pan orchestra while they're playing.  When Jesus isn't at Jazzfest, trust me, He's here.

6.  That Marcus showed up when he did.  Because honey, back then?  I was O. VER.  MEN.

7That Alex is our daughter.  She's a firecracker, that kid.


It's Thanksgiving today in the United States.  And so, wherever in the world you might be, I most gratefully wish you a day filled with everyday miracles. 

And, as ever, thank you so much for your kindness here on Chookooloonks.

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The image at the top of this post is the 4th image of Photovent 2010You can download the pdf for it here.  And click here to learn how to use it to assemble a beautifully different photo garland.


SongThank you by Dido

photovent 2010, day 3: feast (and random thoughts on questions, answers, abundance and what we do)

"Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance."

~  Epicurus

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Yesterday morning I was thinking to myself how much easier it was to answer the question "what do you do?" when I reported to a corporate office every day -- and yet, the question always had the somewhat delayed effect of making me highly uncomfortable.  "I'm a lawyer" used to just roll off my tongue, and then I'd wait for one of two reactions:  an appreciating nod and a request to hear more, or mild disgust, followed by a long discourse on why attorneys were the scourge of the Earth. 

What was interesting, however, is that both these reactions bothered me.  "Wait!" I'd want to say.  "There's more to me than just what I do to earn a living.  I promise!" 

Nowadays, of course, I don't report to a corporate office; however, given the breadth of what I do each day, I find the question even more difficult to answer with a simple, pithy response. 

What do you do?

"Well, I'm a writer," I start stammering, "and a photographer.  And I do some public speaking.  And, you know, blogging ..." and slowly I can see the questioner's eyes begin to glaze over.  Oh, I can almost hear the person thinking.  You're a slacker.

And again, I have to resist the urge to protest:  "No!  You don't understand!  I work hard!"

So yesterday, as I was thinking about this, I whipped myself up into a little daymare, imagining myself at a party and being asked at every turn "What do you do?"  Everyone I spoke to would become bored and unimpressed and drift away.  Then, before full-blown panic really set it, I wondered:  what would happen if every time someone asked what do you do, I'd answer with a different, but truthful, response?

"What do you do?"

"I write."

"I photograph beautiful people and things."

"I blog."

"I speak at conferences and other engagements."

"I mother."

"I scuba dive."

"I love my husband."

"I make a mean grilled cheese sandwich."

"I sing.  Badly."

"I wrinkle my nose when I laugh."

"I multitask."

"I knit."

"A lot of laundry."

"About a 15-minute mile."


"Cringe at the smell of peanut butter."

"Cry at sad movies."

"Daydream. I do a lot of daydreaming."

"Get impatient. Often. But I'm working on it."

"Try hard to be kind."

Eventually, I decided that from now on, when I get asked this question, I'm going to respond with, "I live a very full life."  Because given how abundant our lives can be, between the things we do all day long to keep everything going (not to mention the things we do that fully light us up), why would anyone -- even the people for whom answering the what-do-you-do question is easy -- why would any one of us ever want to be defined by merely one small part of it?

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The image at the top of this post is the 3rd image of Photovent 2010You can download the pdf for it here.  And click here to learn how to use it to assemble a beautifully different photo garland.


SongLove life by Fatboy Slim featuring Macy Gray

photovent 2010, day 2: hope (and a little book news -- including a lounge. of chocolate.)

"Once you choose hope, anything's possible."

~  Christopher Reeve

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 Speaking of hope, I hope that I'll see those of you who live in Houston at the book launch on Thursday, December 2nd, at Brazos Bookstore.  You can find out all about it here.

But there's more!  My amazing friend Maile has cooked up a book signing/reading/appearance for me at a VERY cool spot in San Antonio -- the Coco Chocolate Lounge.  Yes, you read that right:  a lounge whose theme is based around chocolate.  In fact, there's going to be -- wait for it -- a chocolate fountain. 

I don't think I need explain why I consider Maile a friend, do I? I didn't think so.

Anyway, if you're going to be in San Antonio on Thursday, December 9th, please come!  All the info:

(Stay tuned for the next city announcement, hopefully soon.  A hint: if all goes as planned -- and hoped -- it'll be all coffee and flying fish up in here.)

And finally, just so you know, I visited the Bright Sky Press warehouse this past Friday, and all of the books are in, and were already being packaged to be sent out!  So if you ordered directly from Bright Sky, you should be getting your book very shortly, if you haven't already.  If you ordered from Amazon, it shouldn't be long now -- but unfortunately, I have absolutely no control or contacts with Amazon, so I can't tell you definitively when they will ship. 

And with that, I'm back to work.  Have an awesome day, everyone.

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The image at the top of this post is the 2nd image of Photovent 2010You can download the pdf for it here.  And click here to learn how to use it to assemble a beautifully different photo garland.


SongBrown sugar by D'Angelo

photovent 2010: a beautifully different photo garland

"There is nothing like a dream to create the future."

~ Victor Hugo

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Last week, I hinted that I was not handling the fact that the holidays are just around the corner very well

In fact, before I continue, a bit of advice -- and heed my words, people -- never launch a book between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Don't get me wrong: it's all incredibly exciting, and I'm thrilled more than you know; however, while I'm focusing on the book, it's hard to be mindful of all the other things I need to do.  You know, like Christmas shopping.  And, um, showering.

Anyway, I was lamenting this fact with my friend Mir online the other day, and telling her, "you know, I really need to do something on my blog over the next few weeks so that it frees up some time for me, but also ensures that I don't miss updates for readers."

"What do you have in mind?" she asked.

"I'm not entirely sure," I said.  "I mean, I sort of like the idea of Advent calendars -- you know, those calendars where every day, you open a little door and get a little surprise?  I'd love to do something like that on the blog -- something sort of photography-related, where every day, visitors would get a little surprise, or something. Like a 'photovent' calendar, or something.  But I'm not sure how to do that."

"You're going to laugh," she said, "but I've always loved the kinds of advent calendars where you actually build something, and you have something cool at the end."

"Yeah," I mused.  "But how do I do that with photos?"

"How about a photo garland?" she suddenly typed.


"Dude, that's brilliant," I said.  "Let me see if I can come up with some ideas for how to make one."

A quick Google search turned up this how-to for making a garland with photobooth strips.  Which is truly 8 shades of awesome.  But the thing is, I don't take photobooth strips. 

I have, however, taken a ton of photos for this book I just wrote.

So that's when I came up with the idea of us making a beautifully different photo garland, instead.  Every weekday for the next 5 weeks (through Christmas Eve), I'll share a pdf for you to download to create your own photo garland.  Each image that I share will be an image from the book, overlaid with a word that means something to me (and, I hope, to you, as well).  The final product would look great on your Christmas tree or mantle (or would make a great stocking stuffer or handmade gift); however, the words and images aren't particularly religious in nature, so if Christmas isn't your thing, you'll still end up with a pretty garland that you can decorate your window, or your office, or cubicle, or even your inspiration board (I've already got mine up in my office, in advance of putting it on the tree -- and after Christmas, instead of packing it away, it's going right back in my office).  And the best part?  It's incredibly easy to make, without so much as a glue gun in sight.

And thank God for that, too, because I'm truly one of the most uncrafty people I know.


Are you in?  Cool.  Here's all you'll need (available at any office supply store or online):

  • the pdf's that I'll be sharing every day from today through Christmas Eve.  Simply click on the links to download them, and print them out on a colour printer.  I suppose you could use a good quality printer paper; however, for best results, print on photo paper -- I used this one.
  • self-adhesive laminating sheets.  (The original instructions required an actual laminator, but my friend Rachel told me about these self-adhesive sheets, and these really are all you need.) I used these, just because they were small and cool -- however, you can use these sheets as well, to laminate multiple images at once, and they're way cheaper.  By Christmas, you will have needed to laminate 25 images, so be sure to get enough.  You'll also need to trim the images once laminated, so have a pair of scissors nearby.
  • 1-inch binder ringsThese will do.
  • a hole punch.  I used a simple one like this.

And here's what you'll do:

1.  Click on the link to the pdfs that will be available each day (from today through Christmas Eve) to download.  Print out the pdfs with a colour printer and cut out both images.  Place the two images back-to-back.

2.  Follow the instructions of the self-laminating paper to laminate the two back-to-back images together in place (so that it looks the same on either side).  Trim so there's a little bit of the laminating paper around the edges of the two adhered images (if you trim exactly to the edge of photographs, the two back-to-back images will come apart.  Don't ask me how I know this.)  Do this for each of the pdfs you download over the next few weeks.

3.  Once the two images are laminated together, take the hole punch, and punch a hole on opposite sides of the laminated images (refer to the image above to see how the holes should be placed -- absolute precision isn't required, just eyeball it). 

4.  Taking one binder ring, link two laminated images together through the punched holes, as shown in the image above.  Continue linking laminated images together to create a long chain.  The final chain will have 25 images, about 10 feet long.

And that's it!  As I said, for the next 5 weeks, I'll share an image/pdf with you every weekday (along with a quote, because you know how I love me a quote).  I won't be far away -- I'll likely be ducking in every now and then to share news (like the Houston book launch that will be happening on December 2nd from 7 - 9 at Brazos Book Store, and a San Antonio book event/meetup at a very cool lounge on December 9th -- stay tuned for more info!).  I'll also be occasionally sharing additional news and images just to let you know what else is going on Chez Chookooloonks.  However, I'm hoping that on the days where I'm just so blindsided with activity that I can't find the time to blog, you'll excuse me by accepting the image and the quotations that I have lined up for you -- and at the end of it all, you'll have a lovely garland as evidence of your patience.

So with that, the image at the top of the post is the first image --  click here to download the "Create" pdf.  And as the blog gets updated every day, you can see all the images for the Photovent 2010 by scrolling through here.  Enjoy.

Images:  my Nikon D300, various lenses.  The ones in the tree were shot in my neighbour's yard.  One day, my neighbours are going to arrest me for trespassing, mark my words.

Song Across the universe, as performed by Fiona Apple

the motherhood project: opel

I'm working with Procter & Gamble to help promote their Thank You Mom Contest, a campaign which is refreshingly designed to celebrate motherhood.  When they invited me to work with them, they granted me tons of creative freedom -- so I saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch The Motherhood Project, featuring written and photographic portraits of women who have adult children, and who have both experienced being a mother and had themselves been well-mothered.  I came up with 9 questions about mothering and motherhood, and every other Friday since September, I've been be sharing the answers, portraits and stories of some really special, beautiful women. I hope you've enjoyed them, and I hope you enjoy today's portrait, the last of The Motherhood Project.

* * * * * * *

 As I was searching for the last mom to feature here on The Motherhood Project, I put a call out on Twitter.  Soon, I received a response from the lovely Keli Goff.  "I think my mom might be good for your project," she said.  "And she lives in Houston."  So a few email exchanges later, and we managed to coax Ms. Opel into participating with the project.

And honey, I am so glad we did.  I planned on meeting Ms. Opel in a local park for a quick photo session, and we ended spending over an hour talking.  Ms. Opel is a force of nature.  She's funny and smart and just oozes that sort of outspoken confidence that you can only get when you are absolutely certain who you are and what you stand for.  She was so engaging and so wise that it took everything I could not to whip out my journal and start taking notes.  She was an absolute joy to be around.

Luckily for all of us, she also had a lot to share on motherhood.  Here's what she had to say:

How old are your adult kids?  I have two daughters.  Their ages are 48 and 31.

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?  Caring, giving and outspoken.

 What makes you different?  I think the thing that makes me different is I try to see people as they are and embrace their differences.  Being an African-American has helped me identify with the struggles that ALL PEOPLE encounter.  For instance, I am just as distraught to see a poor white person mistreated as I am a poor African-American, or a Muslim, Jew, etc.  My heart goes out to any person I see being mistreated, regardless of who they are or their sexual preference.

I always have strong memories associated with scent.  What scents or smells will always remind you of your mom?  The smell of fall in the air reminds me of my mother.  I was raised on a farm in Oklahoma, in an area known as the cotton belt.  The fall of the year was when cotton was harvested.  It was during that time my mom taught me at an early age how to work and set goals for myself.  Each of us, my brother, sister and myself, had a certain amount that we were expected to achieve by the end of the day based upon our ages.  I cannot say that I always reached my goal but it did teach me determination.

What makes your mother beautiful?  My mother's love for her children, grandchildren and other children makes her a beautiful person.  There is absolutely nothing my mother would not do for her children or grandchildren, except uphold any of us when we are wrong.  She cared so much for the children of our community that she donated the lots that were her mother's homestead for a park, and raised the money to buy the park equipment.

Tell me about a time when your mother taught you a life lesson, or gave you advice that you hold close.  My mother has an old saying that she used to quote to me and my siblings when we became overwhelmed by situations: "Work gentle when you have your head in a lion's mouth, until you can work your way out of it."  I remembered that a lot when I was working and trying to go to college. I would call my mom complaining about the people I worked for and she would remind me of what she always said.  Life offers us a lot of challenges, but it's the way we approach those challenges that determines the type of outcome.

What skills did you learn from your mom that you made certain to use when mothering your own children?  To love, discipline, support and not compare your children to one another.

Your kids are adults now -- and while you, of course, still love and support your kids, your job raising them is complete.  What issues do you see brand new parents facing that you never had to face when you were raising your own?  One of the major issues facing young parents today is the advancement of technology.  There is so much harmful information and people available at the touch of a finger that it is frightening.  Also, I see disciplining as an issue today, because of intervention by the authorities.  It appears that parental rights are being lessened while children's rights are being increased against parents.

What advice would you give to someone who is still trying to figure out this parenting thing?  That you are their parent and not their buddy.  Encourage your child to pursue their dreams and not yours.  So many parents try to live their lives through their children.  Expose your child to different things but do not try to guide them in the direction you want them to go.  I remember when I had my oldest daughter taking piano lessons (I always wanted to play the piano) and she would cry while practicing.  One day her piano tecaher called me and told me that she was very good and she could possibly become a great pianist, but he said there is one problem, she hates it.  He went on to say that if he were me, he would not force her any longer; so I did not.  That daughter went on to become a great basketball player, in fact she went to college at Rice University on a full basketball scholarship.

* * * * * * *

Thanks so much to Ms. Opel for sharing her thoughts on motherhood!  Also, huge thanks to Procter & Gamble for their generous sponsorship of The Motherhood Project -- it's been an absolute delight meeting all these wonderful women, and sharing their beautiful faces and thoughts with you hear on the site.  And of course, if you haven't yet, to read more stories about motherhood and to share your own, be sure to click here for more details on the Thank You Mom campaign.  It runs from now through the end of November.

And on that note, have a great weekend, everyone.  Don't forget to call your mom.


Images:  Opel, photographed on October 22, 2010, in  Oyster Creek Park, Sugar Land Texas. Nikon D300, 50mm lens.

SongBecause you loved me by Celine Dion. Today's song chosen for you by the fabulous Ms. Opel.

random thoughts: on picture memories

Some time ago, my friend Maile expressed an interest in hearing my friend Brené speak, so since Brené had a talk scheduled in Houston tonight, Maile drove down from San Antonio for a visit and for the event.  As usual, Brené was awesome.

As I've mentioned a lot here on the site, I've seen Brené speak many times; but each time, she shares a new thought or tells a new story.  Tonight, she told a story about her daughter Ellen that I hadn't heard before.  It so happens that one day they were sharing a moment together, just a quiet special time, and her daughter closed her eyes. 

"Everything okay?" Brené asked.

"Fine," Ellen said.  "Just one moment."  She was quiet for several seconds.  Then she said, "Okay."

"What was that?" Brené asked.

"I was making a picture memory," her daughter said.  Ellen explained that when she was feeling particularly blissful, she was always careful to take a moment and create a picture of what was occurring in her head, to be sure to be able to recall it when times were tough, or when she was feeling a bit sad.

I can't tell you how much I love this story.

My friend Justin wrote a beautiful post today about why you should never try to shy away from a camera -- that the pictures that are taken of you aren't really for you, but for the people who come after you, so that they can see who you once were, what your life once was, and marvel at the times you lived in.  I wholeheartedly agree with this idea.  But I also want to add that while some people feel that as a photographer, you should put the camera down once in a while and just live in the moment, I've never totally agreed with this concept.

Because honestly?  Some moments are just so beautiful, you have to make a picture memory.  And since my memory isn't as good as Ellen's, I do what I can to capture the moment.


Image:  My friend Ali's daughter Anna, touching Ali's lap.  Photographed with my Nikon D300 and 50mm lens.


SongAmerican pie by Don McLean