Monday, June 5, 2017

The Poppy Field of Alpine

I don't even remember how I stumbled across this blog about a poppy field in Alpine, Utah. Given that the poppies bloom only for a short time, I determined to try and find the location and take some photos with my kids.

This morning was the chosen day. I invited my mom to come (and I'm so glad I did!) We left Orem at 7am. I had the map from the blog above to follow. Little did we know what an adventure we were in for.

First of all, the directions on this blog (from last year) were not super helpful. The dirt road where you are supposed to turn was blocked off:


So I tried going around. However, the road (Moyle Dr) where it looks like it will go around, stops abruptly. Going forward, there's only a dirt road with a big sign that says emergency vehicles only, $500 fine. :-/

There is no road beyond my X, just a dirt path.

Discouraged, I got the kids out, figuring I could at least take pictures in the grass at the dead end, and make lemonade out of my lemons. However, as I set Xander on the path, he just took off! So the rest of us obligingly followed.


We walked and walked. Eventually, a biker came up toward us. My mom asked him if he knew where the poppies were. He led us a little further, then pointed out a grove uphill a ways, where he thought they were. It was about another half mile. The kids walked a lot of the way! Mom and I did end up carrying them up the last bit of the hill. (Thanks Mom!)


And then we found the poppies! It looks like other people drove in there, despite the signs. There weren't a ton of people, but I'm pretty sure we were the only ones that hiked in.








After taking photos, we hiked back to the car. Then we went out for ice cream (even though it was only 9am) because we earned it! :D I'm honestly not sure I would go back, unless I could figure out how to drive in. Or if I didn't have kids with me! Haha. But we had a great time on our little adventure, and I'll enjoy the memories!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The US Justice System Is Sick, and We Have Caused It.




Over the past year or so I've been working in the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic, aiming to find relief for people who have been convicted for crimes they did not commit. In my time working here, it has become obvious to me that the US way of administering "justice" is deeply wrong. There is an illness in our justice system that I am convinced will only get worse unless and until we take drastic action to fix it, and more crucially, to fix ourselves, our attitudes, and our beliefs about the cause of Justice.

There are two common threads in all of the cases I've worked on in my time at the clinic. First, not one of our clients were guilty of the crimes they were convicted for. There is absolutely no way that any of them should have been convicted for anything under any semi-reasonable standard for evidence, much less the proof beyond a reasonable doubt that we supposedly require. There are a number of reasons for why people are convicted when they really shouldn't have, but I'm only going to discuss one general reason here, which is commonality two; every single one of my cases had incredibly corrupt State actors, whether it be the police, the prosecutors, or sometimes both.

I can't go into specifics here, and the details aren't important for what I'm writing. For those who are curious, I highly recommend googling the Kalvin Michael Smith case for an example, or even better, checking out "Convicting the Innocent" by Brandon L. Garrett for a more in-depth treatment of the matter. Suffice it to say that the examples of egregious misconduct, corruption, and outright lies I've witnessed on the part of State actors are far from atypical. There is simply no getting around it; far too many police officers and prosecutors do what they can to get convictions, whether or not the people they go after are actually guilty. Please note that I accept that not all police and not all prosecutors are corrupt, but that's really besides the point here, namely, that there is a very disturbing pattern of such behavior throughout the United States.

Why is this allowed to happen? There are many reasons, but one of the most important ones is the attitude we as a people have towards crime and criminal defendants. All too often, criminal defendants are presumed guilty long before they're ever convicted, and the people eagerly call for a metaphorical lynching. We continue to award people who will be "tough on crime," and disparage those who feel that perhaps that focus has gone too far. In short, we value "getting the bad guy" above the rights and liberties we value for ourselves but not for those awful "bad guys."

We cannot sit by and condone prosecutors that are greedy for the fame and reputation inherent in being "tough on crime," who then feed that greed to get convictions at any cost. Yet we as a people continue to insist that being "tough on crime" is necessary, and that we always need to get "the bad guy." How many police shows exist where the "good guys" bend the rules (or often outright break them) to get the "bad guys," because if we pay too much attention to pesky, annoying restrictions like due process or the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, we may let bad guys go, and there's nothing worse than that, right??? I very much doubt we'd be so supportive of this behavior if we were on the receiving end of a "good guy's" attention.

There are much, much more important things at stake here than always getting the bad guy. When we focus too much on that as a culture, we enable corrupt actors and even encourage others to go the same way, all at the expense of the rights and liberties we supposedly hold dear. We're seeing the results of that attitude today with an unacceptably high number of wrongful convictions (and those are just the ones we know about - there are surely many more that we are completely unaware of). The justice system is deeply ill, and our culture is the one poisoning it. If we don't change, I fear for our future as a people, and I fear for those who will continue to be convicted for crimes they didn't commit.

I will continue to do what I can to make a difference. I implore each of you to do the same. Until then, I will continue to mourn for those who have been unjustly robbed of their lives and liberties, as well as their equally innocent families who suffer in just the same way.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spring Break

Last week, James was out of school for spring break, so we ran away to Tennessee! It was a wonderful excursion.

My in-laws moved to Tullahoma last summer, and we just love their house. They have 21 acres in the middle of rolling hills and fields. I took some photos of the property last August when we visited for the first time.

Unfortunately, the weather did not favor us. The temperatures have been in the 60s and 70s for weeks, but for our spring break, they were mostly in the 30s and 40s, and it rained the first two days we were there. Boo! It denied us a few of the outings that Momo and Papa had planned. But we still made the most of our trip!



Monday and Tuesday we did a lot of relaxing. (It was raining, so not much opportunity to go outside.) The boys watched movies with Momo and Papa. James did schoolwork, and I worked on my novel. We got to hang out with James's brother Nicholas and his wife Jo. Joel and Xander spent lots of time playing with Papa. =)


On Tuesday evening, James and I got to go on a date! (Without the kids!!) We went out to dinner and then saw Logan.

Shadow has mixed feelings about visiting Momo and Papa's house. On the one hand, there are more people to snuggle with, which he likes. On the other hand, there are three other dogs there. He does not really love Baron, who is a sweetheart and just wants to play! Joel, on the other hand, loves ALL the dogs very much.

Shadow, Baron, and Liath.

On Wednesday morning, Papa took us and all the grandsons to the local hands-on science museum. It was surprisingly fun! There were tons of interesting things to toy with. Joel absolutely loved spending time with his cousins. Then we all went to Chick-fil-A, and who can complain about that?

The only photo I got at the museum, on my phone. (I was too busy building a miniature train.)
Thursday may have been the highlight--we went to the Nashville Zoo! It's just over an hour from my in-laws' house. Many of the animals weren't out, because of the cold, but we still had fun. I took loads of pictures. (My version of fun!)










Our last day was St. Patrick's Day. I completely neglected to pack anything green. Oops! That evening, James and I made dinner. It was quite a party! Momo and Papa, Nick and Jo, Victoria and her three boys, plus the missionaries! James made burritos, and I made a traditional Irish apple tart. I even had a (somewhat misshapen) shamrock on top!



What an excellent trip! We can't wait to visit Tennessee again in May. Hopefully it will be much warmer!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year Poster 2017

Welcome to our annual New Year's event at the Holley House!

Every year, we create a poster, and upon said document, we enumerate various goals that we hope to accomplish in the forthcoming year. (2016, 2015, 2014, which also lists 2013's goals.) The rules for our poster is that the goals have to be achievable in one year, and that they must be quantifiable--they have to be things that we can measure and check off. Let's review our goals from 2016:


James:

He obtained jobs for both his first and second summer (we're excited to be spending this upcoming summer in Utah!) He read 9 new books this year, so he's increased his goal next year to make up for the one he missed. He successfully changed the oil in both our vehicles, he read the Book of Mormon, and he joined the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law and Public Policy, which he is thoroughly enjoying.

Valerie:

I did not referee at the state championships this year (it was an overwhelming logistical nightmare, with a breastfeeding baby at the time, so I gave that one up). I read more than 5 new books this year. I successfully posted a photography blog each month this year. I read the Book of Mormon and taught Joel the alphabet. I also won NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNo in the summer, which was awesome.

Family:

We went on two family camping trips this year, as well as our trip to Washington D.C. We totally failed on making handmade blankets. :( We took Joel and Xander to two different zoos. We went on a date every week this year. We did attend the temple three times each, though one of those visits a piece were solo trips.

And now, for our 2017 goals!

Yes, it's blue. It was the only posterboard I could find at the time.

This is our first year including the children on our poster. We did talk to Joel about his goals, as far as he understands, but Xander's is definitely something we've chosen for him. It will be fun to include them more in this process as they get older. Presenting our goals:

James:
-Get a job for after school
-Lose 20 pounds
-Camp NaNoWriMo
-Read 11 new books (at least 3 non-fiction)
-Create a handmade item to donate to charity
-Daily scripture study of at least five minutes (He has committed to tracking this elsewhere.)

Joel:
-Read a book
-Potty train

Xander:
-Learn the alphabet

Valerie:
-Complete "The Seventh Guardian"
-Lose 20lbs
-Complete the 100 Poomsae Challenge
-Read the New Testament
-Win NaNoWriMo
-Complete a 52-week photography challenge
-Read 6 new books

Family:
-Create a budget
-Family camping trip
-Attend the temple 5 times
-Walk Shadow twice weekly
-Go on a date each week
-Practice taekwondo at home 2 hours per week


Obviously we have some repeats. Some of our goals, like attending the temple and going on dates, are so important for us to continue and hold ourselves accountable for. Some of our goals come from things we find ourselves slacking on, like walking our dog and losing weight. And some of our goals are true aspirations that we hope to achieve in the coming year.

For me personally, I'd consider my "big" goal of the year to be finishing my book. It's been a long time coming. If you look through our posters of yester-years, you'll see that it's been a goal of mine for a long time. Between new motherhood and post-partum depression, my progress on the book has been wretched, up until the past six months or so. But I am now ready and committed to finishing "The Seventh Guardian." I've set the goal with Sam, my co-author, to finish the first draft by summer. It's going to take a lot of my time and energy over the next few months, and I am excited for the challenge.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Photography Observations - December

December was a great month for me! I had lots of opportunities to take fun photos. I also followed a photography hub on Instagram, @thecandidclass, which offered specific challenges to improve photography skills. I did not do every challenge they offered, but I feel like I grew as a photography in a couple of specific skills this month.

The class theme was "Celebrations" in -- haha-- celebration of the holidays. ;) I would like to share with you the specific assignments in which I participated. I have to acknowledge how much I still have to learn! There are some truly incredible photographers out there (and editors!! All of my images are unedited, and it shows, haha!), and I love seeing their work on Instagram.

Bokeh

"In photography, bokeh ... is the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens. Bokeh has been defined as "the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light."

In the class feed on IG, I started seeing a lot of really lovely examples of Christmas lights used as background bokeh. I immediately set out to capture this effect myself.




Low Light

So, I made a couple of attempts at this assignment. The first was at Zoo Lights. It was dark, so obviously that gave me the opportunity to play with low light settings. It was a hit and miss experience for me, I'll admit, but some of my hits were awesome! 





My second attempt was on Christmas Day. One of my Christmas presents was a new lens for my camera, a 50mm prime lens. I was so excited! My other lenses are great for certain things, but in low light, they often struggle. But this new lens is definitely going to be a game changer! I can't wait to get to know it better.


Storytelling

The assignment was to use composition, angles, and creative shooting (like intentional blur) to tell a story. I'll admit that I didn't get as creative with this one. But I was thinking about it when I followed Joel around in the snow one day:




Including Yourself

This challenge resonated with me--and with a lot of people on Instagram--because it can be really hard to get on the other side of the camera. Part of it is setting up the shots you want, while still getting in the picture. But the other part of it is feeling self-conscious. I feel this very keenly at the moment. I haven't lost the baby weight. I don't look the way I wish I did right now. But it's so important for our children to have photos of us from these times.

I only made a couple of concerted efforts. But I am particularly proud of this shot: I selected the spot, which had the lighting I wanted. I used my husband alone to get my settings ready, then I handed my camera to my brother and directed him to get the shot I wanted. And I am very happy with how it turned out. (It will look even better when I edit it someday.)



Beyond the Instagram challenge, I also just enjoyed photographing my family over the holidays. Here are more of my favorites:













I have enjoyed posting monthly. I feel like I have learned a great deal this year, and I am more aware than ever of how much more I have to learn! In 2017, I will be participating in a 52-week challenge, meaning I will be deliberating photographing and posting each week. I am excited to see what this next year brings!