Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and a great holiday season. God bless!

(and a special Christmas greeting from East Tennessee....)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Hello again...

I'm well aware I haven't updated in the last month, and there's no really good excuse for that (except I've been busy, which is true, but people don't like that one.) My Africa trip was so long ago, I don't really know if I wanna write more about it... if you want to see more pictures, please visit

Anyway, I found this cool thing where you can create a map of the world that highlights in red all of the countries you've been to. So here's mine.

create your own visited country map

I didn't think I was doing too bad (I've been to 22 countries) until it told me that even with my 22 countries, that's only 9% of the world. Nine percent!! Do you know how little that is?? I've got to get busy. Of course, then I was thinking, well, I'm 22 years old and I've been to 22 countries - maybe by the time I'm 60 I'll have been to 60 countries. But then I realized that's only 26%. And then at the age of 60, I'll have only seen a quarter of the world. So how do I solve this problem? Is seeing more than half of the world a realistic goal? To do that, I'd have to visit approximately 113 countries.

Wow. The world's really big.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


I've decided that talking about my trip is (obviously) too much stuff to sum up in one post, but I have to start somewhere. So here goes...

We flew from Tri-Cities to Atlanta, and then Atlanta to Johannesburg. The flight from Atlanta to Jo-burg was 19 hours straight. We landed once at the Isle of Sal to refuel and change crew members. Unfortunately, we passengers weren't allowed off the plane. The only thing that got me through the grueling hours in the air was the really cool video screen thingy. Not only could you watch a new release of your choosing, you could also play a game, tune into music, or check out a little featurette on Africa. I went the educational route and played blackjack. To my mom I introduced the game Shanghaii and she was then quite occupied for the rest of the trip.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
After we landed at the Johannesburg airport, we had to wait for buses to take us back to the main terminal. They just let us wait underneath of the nose of the plane, something I think would never happen in America. If you look closely you can see the large crowd of people reflected on the underside of the plane nose.

Okay, PAUSE for a moment. I really don't want to give a narrative about my trip (on this day we went here, on this day we did this... blah blah blah...) so maybe I'll just share some of my observations and post a few pictures to accompany them.

Johannesburg, South Africa. It was not quite what I expected. It's a big city, quite normal as far as big cities go. There are nice places to eat, shop, visit, and see. There are quite crappy places where no one wants to eat, shop, visit, or see. Like any big city. One thing I wasn't prepared for was all the trash. It's a dirty place. But then it also had its really nice places. For example, there was the Montecasino, a huge casino/shopping mall complex. It could have been on the strip in Vegas and I wouldn't have known the difference.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
The Montecasino was the first place we went to eat after setting foot on African soil.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
The view of the casino floor from the Thai restaurant we ate at in the Montecasino, located in Johannesburg.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Not only did the Montecasino have shopping and a casino, it also had what they called a bird garden. We got there just as the garden was closing, but I was allowed to sneak in and grab a quick shot of the parrot.

Someone on the airplane told us that Johannesburg is the most treed city in the world. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but there were a surprising number of trees. They weren't all particularly green, or even sizeable, but they were there. The most unusual tree I saw was the jacaranda, a tree with purple flowers.

jacaranda flowers
Originally uploaded by emster214.
On our second day in Johannesburg, we went to visit some friends of the missionaries we were in Africa to see. This is a view from at their house where we had tea. (Everyone drinks tea in Africa, apparently.)The purple flowers had fallen from a jacaranda tree.

Alright, now I'm going to revert to a few observations I made in my journal after being in Jo-burg for a day or so. (Yes, I am a nerd for quoting myself.)

"Johannesburg is a strange mix of European influence and African culture. It's almost like a big city in Europe, but it's completely African at the same time. The effects of European colonization are apparent but not so strong they overshadow what is truly native. I think if I had one word to describe things so far, it would be DUSTY. (The second word being DRY.) Everything is constantly covered with a fine layer of dust. Good thing for those "domestic workers" as they are called. Apparently, it's nearly insulting to not hire household help. Any middle-class South African home has a live-in domestic servant. And security. Security is a HUGE deal around here. I've yet to see a house not surrounded by some sort of fenced enclosure (most often topped with barbed wire.) Private security guards are more plentiful and more effective than actual policemen. All windows have those steel bar things across them because at night people leave their windows open (air-conditioning in homes is pretty much unheard of.) Crime is a big concern. The mentality seems to be a purely selfish one, where people are concerned primarily with their own needs, often sacrificing morals to meet those needs. Life is cheap here, so I've heard, and so someone won't think twice about physically harming you for a few dollars."

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Out of Africa

Well folks, I'm sure you've been waiting in hopeful anticipation for my long-awaited return. And here I am, once again on American soil. (Sometimes I need to go away to really appreciate that more.)

The trip was good. Africa's cool.

I am being purposely vague and unspecific, as I will elaborate with many details later. Right now, I am struggling to type without my eyes closing up on me. After arriving at the airport at 1:00 this afternoon, I had been travelling for 36 hours. THIRTY-SIX HOURS. That's a DAY-AND-A-HALF of my life I will never get back - forever sucked away by airport layovers and long flights.

I. need. sleep.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Off to Africa!

Well, folks, the time has come. I'm leaving for my long-awaited Africa trip. So it might be awhile until you hear from me again (okay, like two weeks) but then I'll be back with plenty of awesome pictures. Hopefully. (I hear they malaria over there.)

Until then, here's a couple of other shots....

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Horses in a field in Longbranch, VA.

lawn mower racing
Originally uploaded by emster214.
Lawn mower racing?? Has anyone ever seen this before?? These guys at the Shenandoah Valley Hot Air Balloon and Wine Festival were pretty serious about it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

october views

I've been shooting more scenic stuff lately, I guess mostly because everything is so beautiful here. I usually have off Mondays from work, and I've spent the last few driving around and taking pictures. There's so many great places to go here for good photo ops - mountains, trails, roads, farmland, etc.

On a side note, I came across a really great song the other day which I would recommend everyone downl.... purchase.

Into the Fire, by a great UK group Thirteen Senses. This song is on the Grey's Anatomy soundtrack (which kicks butt, by the way.) Check it out. It doesn't disappoint.

october view
Originally uploaded by emster214.
Yes, fall is arriving... the leaves are beginning to change color. This is a view from my drive up to Reddish Knob, Virginia.

farmland panoramic
Originally uploaded by emster214.
This is really better in a larger version... with this small picture you miss so much detail.

foggy road
Originally uploaded by emster214.
My drive down the mountain from Reddish Knob, in Virginia.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Photos from the lake

Alright, I know it's just two photos and I've really been slacking off lately with the whole blogging business, but I figured it was better than nothing.

Smith Mountain Lake
Originally uploaded by emster214.

eyeball reflection
Originally uploaded by emster214.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Scenes from VA

Well folks, if nothing else, this place shore is purty.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
The Blue Ridge Mountains, as seen along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A road winds around a curve in the mountain along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
This was a great find on the way home from Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
An evening sunset as I drove from Broadway back to Harrisonburg. I pulled over to the side of the road and this is what I saw. Beautiful, huh?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

me, as a wedding photographer

For those of you who don't know, I'm working at a photography studio here in Harrisonburg. I've had the opportunity now to help them shoot a couple of weddings, and I wanted to post a few of the pictures I came up with. (My job as a photographer at these weddings is to capture the more candid, unposed moments everyone else might overlook.)

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A bridesmaid waits at the window for the wedding guests to arrive at the reception.

disco ball
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A boy stands and watches the disco ball at a wedding reception in Weyer's Cave, Virginia.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
The bride's bouquet from a wedding I helped shoot this weekend.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A candle burns in the foreground as the bride visits tables at her reception in Weyer's Cave, VA.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Git 'Er Done

Alright, well I went to two local fairs a few weeks ago, and never got to post all the pictures I intended to. I've been trying to decide how in the world to describe my first county fair without making it seem horribly country and redneck, but I've just given up. It was horribly country and redneck, no matter how you look at it. Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind - it was just a different experience for me. A brief example....

After taking some man's picture, I asked him what his name was. The first name - James - I didn't have too much trouble with, but the last name was a different story.

"And your last name, please?" I said.

"Heel," said James.

"Oh, heel, like the part of my foot," I said, scribbling on my notepad.

"No, it's Heel."

"Uhhh, well how do you spell it?" I asked, puzzled.


At this point we didn't really know what to say to each other, so I just said thanks and left as quickly as possible. How do you apologize for speaking English and yet completely misunderstanding a fellow American? I'm just glad his first name wasn't Will, because I'd have written "wheel".

Anyway, after shooting a few photos, I noticed my stomach growling at me a bit, and went to find some food. There were a few funnel cake and cotton candy booths, but nothing screamed meat like the fried chicken building. Okay, well it seemed like a building at least, compared to the other small kiosks. Fried chicken and french fries.... yummm.... Now I grew up Southern Baptist, and there's something to be said about Baptists and fried chicken on Sundays. It never fails - if a Baptist is having a church luncheon, I guarantee you they're serving fried chicken. The point of all this is, I tend to like fried chicken and tend to blame it on being Baptist. So I waited for my chicken, and when the man serving handed me the plate, he said,

"There you go, sugar. We gave you an extra piece of chicken because you looked hungry."

Excuse me? Now I could bet my camera on the fact that they didn't give the fat guy in line behind me one less piece of chicken because he looked full. Why is it that people feel personally responsible for fattening me up just because I'm a little on the slender side? People don't think twice before making remarks about my weight (or lack thereof) but I know they aren't commenting on overweight people to their faces. So what makes them think they can do it to me? I've been blessed with good skinny genes, and sometimes find it a bit offensive when people snidely point it out to me. Alright, that's my gripe for the day. I'll let it go now.

Here are some of the pictures from the fair.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Maynard pauses for a portrait at his booth at the Bergton Fair in western Virginia.

walking through the fair
Originally uploaded by emster214.
A silhouetted figure strolls past the caramel apples and sno-cones booth at the Bergton Fair in western Virginia.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
This guy, Shawn, was working one of the rides at the fair. I like the photo because the background tells so much about his job. I wonder, however, are the bright colors and cartoon too distracting to the portrait?

small, medium, large
Originally uploaded by emster214.
Livestock on display at the Rockingham County fairgrounds

Thursday, September 08, 2005

she sells no seashells on the gulf coast seashore

seashell church
Originally uploaded by emster214.
This church, right along the beach in Biloxi, MS, was one I visited in June. Now, it has been pretty much destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I saw a shot of it on the news the other day. The church, St. Michael's, was shaped like a seashell, and each stained glass window represented a fisherman or an aspect of the sea.

I've been a bad blogger lately. Shame on me. This is just a short update to let everyone know my grandparents are okay. It took them four days to realize they couldn't live very long without electricity or running water, and so they left for my parent's house in Tennessee. My uncle, out at sea with his job, returned to find that his entire apartment complex had flat-out disappeared. He is staying at my grandparent's house now, sweating out the 90-degree days and hoping the power will soon be restored.

Hurricanes suck.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Goodbye Gulfport, Hello Hurricane

The last time I saw Gulfport, MS, was in June, not quite three months ago. It was as it usually is: part beach town, part tourist town, part trashy town. I see what I always see there: souveneir shops with shark-mouth entrances boasting cheap swimsuits and beach towels; casinos glittering with neon LCD screens; hotels with blinking vacancy signs lighting up the night.

We're visiting my grandparents - good southern people who will make me eat loads of gumbo and banana pudding, and with whom I will watch the pre-recorded 6 o'clock news at 8 o'clock at night. I will smile as Granny pulls a half-used tissue from some hidden spot up her shirt sleeve, and laugh as Gramps asks me once again how to operate his brand-new digital camera.

Before the trip is over, I will walk with my family along the beach by the ocean, very careful to step over both sand castles and broken glass. I will also take a guided tour of Biloxi, a town we always visit, but have never really known much about. I will slurp a cheap sno-cone from a vendor on the beach, and get tired of it halfway through.

I will do all these thing, and leave, never once giving thought to the possibility that this town I'm so familiar with - this town my grandparents have always lived in - might not be there when I return.

And now it isn't there. It's gone - almost all of it. Watching the news these past few days has not only made me very sad, but a little apprehensive as well. Are my grandparents still okay? Why wouldn't they just evacuate when they were supposed to? How will the town survive? Who will be able to live there now?

The last I heard, my grandparents are alive, and their house (about 3 minutes from the beach) is still standing. Yes, they have plenty of yard damage and debris, a tree through the roof of their garage and one blocking their driveway, and some water in the house, but they're alive. And for that I'm grateful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

From Wetsuits to Weddings

I thought I'd go over what I've listed as the top 5 experiences of my trip to Texas last week, as well as some photos. So here we have, in no particular order:

1. I swam in a wetsuit. It was about midnight when my friend Heather suggested we go swimming in her pool. I said, "Are you crazy? I'll freeze my butt off." Heather said, "You can wear my wetsuit." ?!?!? Who but Heather would just keep a wetsuit hangin' around the house? So I wore it, and thus had my first-ever wetsuit experience.

2. While fighting off fear in a completely cricket-infested office, Heather and I designed the entire wedding program for our friend Erin's wedding. We finished AN HOUR BEFORE THE WEDDING STARTED. Did we get thanked? NO. It was a darn good program too, if I say so myself. Albany (the small town where the wedding was held) has a serious cricket problem. You might think I'm talking about those small cute chirpy things that make a little noise in the summertime. I'm not. I'm talking huge honkin' black cricket-beasts that not only fly, but bite too. Maybe Moses plagued Albany with crickets after he finished with the Egyptians, I'm not sure. There's a town square, okay, and all the shop owners put out pesticide pellets in the afternoon, and then the following morning they sweep the dead crickets into gigantic mounds. It's GROSS, and it's a never-ending cycle because there's always just as many the next day.

3. Amanda and I snuck out the house window to TP and shoepolish the cars of Heather's brothers and their friends. It was so 11th grade all over again, only I never did that in 11th grade. I was a late bloomer in the prank department.

4. I ate REAL Tex-Mex food again!! This crap they serve in VA will never, ever compare.

5. Heather's car broke down halfway between Abilene and Dallas on my way back to the airport. For those of you who have no clue where Abilene and Dallas are, well they're about 3 hours apart. And the car just died about halfway between the two. It was pouring rain, which didn't help me at all because of course I had to pee. After calling Triple A (or is it AAA?) we waited a good hour for the tow-truck to arrive. It didn't, and so we thought we'd try starting the car one more time. And it worked, miraculously. If you were to see Heather's car, you'd say it was a miracle too. Anyway, what had happened was all that rain had gotten everything wet under the car hood and caused the car to die. If you're wondering how this can possibly happen, just get in enough accidents to where your hood doesn't rest flush against the body of your car and then let it bounce around a little. But the story has a happy ending... I caught my plane just as they called for final boarding.

Say goodbye to Erin, who joined the ranks of married people last week at her wedding. Sad but true.

A cool photo, I thought, of the place where Erin's reception was held. Enlarge this for a much better view.

This is the courthouse in Albany. It's also the "center" of town. Notice those stormclouds rolling in.

Prairie Star
This is a shot from inside of The Prairie Star - convience store, deli, and grill. This place is one of four eating establishments in town. Albany boasts a population of about 1900 people.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Blue Balloon

I took my best picture of the summer this evening. I think it's my best, at least. I'm not the one who should be judging, but I really like it. See for yourself. Agree? Disagree?


I photographed the Bergton Fair in western Virginia tonight. My LAST assignment as a free-labor intern (supposedly). I had five hours to finish up and I FINISHED!!! I say supposedly because Wednesday when I mentioned to my boss that I only had five hours to go, he thought about it for awhile and then said, "Well, I could definitely get you some freelance work here at the newspaper if you'd be willing to shoot the fair next week." (This is a different fair, by the way.) I said, "Umm... I don't exactly want to make working for free a habit." He said, "No, of course not. I wouldn't recommend it either."

Sounds like a manipulation tactic to me. But it worked for him, I guess, as I am at their disposal next week for the Rockingham County Fair. And then after that, I'll hopefully be a "freelancer" as I continue to also work at my other job I just started yesterday. It's at this place called Artistic Photography, a studio that does weddings and portrait work. Anyway, we'll see how that goes...

More about the fair later. I'm tired.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Arbor Man Strikes Again

Well folks, I'm back from a week of vacation (sort of) in the good ol' Lone Star State. (Yes, that means Texas.) I have quite a few pictures and stories from that trip, but not enough time to share them. So instead, let me tell you about the interesting character I met today while out on assignment for the paper.

He was a retired pediatrician who spends his time now planting trees. Yes, tree planting. Before you think of this as a fruitless effort (ha! pun intended), I'll inform you that he did indeed win one of two national awards entitled: Arbor Day Foundation Good Stewardship Award. Don't ask me what it means, but it sounds important, right?

So this guy had over 300 acres of land on which he had turned out a cross-country running course, two manmade ponds, a conservation area, a hand-constructed picnic shelter, and a field trip location for elementary kids. And more, I'm sure, that's just what I saw of it.

I was getting the impression this guy knew nature.

He wasn't exactly a young skipper (he was pushing 80) so after I met him, we rode off for a tour on his trusty little' golf cart. Everything was hunky-dory until I spotted IT. A fat and dirty groundhog lounging in the middle of the uphill slope our golf cart was speeding toward.

"Oh," I said, pointing. "Look at that."

Mr. Arbor Man made some sort of grunt that left me questioning whether or not he had actually heard me. (Judging from the previous leg of the journey, this was not an unfounded line of thought.) But I had pointed, so I didn't mention it again. Meanwhile, as these thoughts swarmed my head, he just kept driving. Heading straight for the groundhog.

I think he sped up a little then, but it might have been my imagination.

The front two wheels straddled the animal, but upon its attempted escape I heard (and felt!) a significant ka-bump. The last left wheel had done the groundhog in.

I gaped, incredulous, at my chauffeur. Turning his head, he glanced at the roadkill and then back at me.

The Arbor Man's only words were, "Those things are a nuisance."

And we never spoke of it again.

Here's his picture so you can put a face to the story, but please don't sic the SPCA on him.

Arbor Man
Originally uploaded by emster214.
Dr. Burntner, a retired pediatrician, recently won one of two Arbor Day Foundation Stewardship national awards for his tree planting and conservation efforts in Rockingham Co. He owns over 300 acres of land where he has planted over 4,000 trees. Part of his extensive property is seen reflected here in his sunglasses.

Click on the picture to enlarge it, as this photo is much better viewed large.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Update on Grandma

My Grandma pulled through her surgery just fine, now boasting metal rod in her leg. Apparently she broke not only her femur, but her hip as well. The good news is she will be able to move and bend to a larger extent than we originally thought. And no cast! (I guess the rod takes care of that.) Anyway, thanks for sending your continued thoughts and prayers our direction.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Savannah, 3, gives me a shy glance.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Jonathan, 1, poses for the camera. Nobody arranged him in this position - he did that himself. I thought he looked like an old man in a little boy body.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Prayers Please

My grandma fell today and broke her femur (the thigh part of your leg). So she's in the hospital today, awaiting surgery tomorrow. The problem with this is she's 80 years old, and a speedy recovery is especially difficult at that age. She's in great health, but now she'll be in a cast from her hip down past her knee. That means no sitting down, no bending at the hip, no showers, and so on. I'm sure you get the picture. For a couple of months, this will be a complete lifestyle change, and one my grandfather is probably not too capable of helping her with.

It's hard to see my grandparents age. I'd like to think they'll be around forever, but I know that's not the case. It makes me a little scared to get old.

Also in the news... last spring I found out the son of my old boss from my job in Abilene had a brain tumor. He's the sweetest 5-year-old kid you can imagine. Anyway, the tumor was removed in surgery a couple of months ago, but after a recent MRI, they discovered it's grown back. He starts chemotherapy in less than a week, and it will last for the next 16 months. Yikes! A blog the family created to keep everyone updated can be found at:

Please say a prayer for these people if you have a minute.

Alright, enough with the sad. On to the happy... pictures! A few more random ones:

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A lone spectator sits in the stands of JMU's Convocation Center as he watches the boys in the leauge above him play a basketball game. JMU's Dean Keener basketball camp started the middle of July.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Bail bondsman Dover Harper calls himself Dr. Bond. He works part-time at an insurance agency, and does bail bonds on the side. When I went to take his photo, he was sure to let me know he didn't kill people.

old car
Originally uploaded by emster214.
This was originally a slide I shot a few years ago. (Ok, like four.) I just found a scanned version of it today, and thought I'd revive it a little. This old car was found just outside of Johnson City, TN.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Age is Beauty

I've been working on getting together some photos I took during a trip to the local retirement community here in Harrisonburg. I hung out with the old folk for a day, watching them do everything from playing bingo to shucking corn. The photos will hopefully run as a photo page in the paper in a few weeks. My favorite two portraits from the day are shown below. I'll have to post some more action shots at a later date.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Friday, July 22, 2005

July 23rd

On July 23rd, 1996, Kenny drove drunk at speeds of over 100 mph, eventually crashing head-on with another vehicle. He wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and the impact ejected him through the back windshield of his car where he bounced off the spoiler, landing 60 feet down the road. Kenny is now a paraplegic.

On July 23rd, 2000, Kenny's friend Jennifer was shot by the boyfriend of the woman she was living with. The shell exploded in her neck and spine, leaving her paralyzed from just above the waist all the way down. She was 18.

On July 23rd, 2004, Jennifer married a man she thought would always be there to support her. He stayed by her side through various surgeries and recoveries. But she hasn't heard from him now in five days.

Tomorrow, on July 23rd, 2005, these three anniversaries will occur, and these people will remember the days their lives were changed forever.

Today I had the privilege of meeting and photographing both Jennifer and Kenny. It's days like today that make me love what I do as a photographer, and it's days like today that make me immensely thankful for the health I have and the family I was born into.

Jennifer is currently living in a local motel with her pitbull Rose. She lives by herself in a wheelchair with the help of a visiting nurse once or twice a day. She is 23 and has already suffered through a shooting, paralysis, numerous surgeries, a failing marriage, a miscarriage, and unbearable physical and emotional pain. Her income is about $520 a month, derived from a Social Security and Medicaid check. Her bedsore has hung around for the last few months, and is bad enough to prevent her from having a real job. The last five years of her life have been spent being disappointed in the people she thought were her friends, and adjusting to the reality of a disabled life.

"I can deal with it or be miserable for the rest of my life. I have to deal with it," Jennifer says repeatedly.

Kenny is able to exercise a little more independence than Jennifer. He drives a car using only his hands, with controls he rigged himself. He has adapted to wheelchair life with a matter-of-fact perspective that comes from reflection over the last 9 years.

"It's probably a good thing I'm paralyzed," he says. "If I wasn't, I'd most likely be in jail or dead. Probably 75% of my friends ended up that way."

Being in a wheelchair, however, hasn't exactly prevented the jail time completely. In April, Kenny was picked up for various drug possessions and a handgun possession. The cops also found his marijuana plants which Kenny claims he grew purely for the medicinal effect.

Both Jennifer and Kenny swear by marijuana to ease their frequent muscle spasms and neuropathic pain.

"Nothing else works like that does," Jennifer says. "If marijuana were legalized, I would only have to take a small fraction of the pills I take now."

She takes 35 pills a day, the majority of which are for pain management. She keeps the narcotics in a small safe so no one will steal them.

Jennifer spends her days in the dark motel room, with her dog Rose as a sole companion.

"If I didn't have her, I probably wouldn't be alive today," she says in all seriousness.

She rolls her wheelchair outside to smoke an occasional cigarette, and to let the dog out. "My days are hell."

Goals for Jennifer include getting into a new rehab program at the local hospital, and being fitted for some leg braces. She has plans to complete a two-year program in graphic design.

Kenny says he gave up drinking a few months ago, and drugs just recently. His focus now is on getting past his legal difficulties, and moving on. He wants to learn drafting at a local college.

**Note: this is a true story according my interpretation. These quotes are from my memory only - not any notes I took. For the (more complete) real news story written by the reporter who accompanied me, see The Daily News-Record's website tomorrow.

**Note#2: Update on July 23rd. I just checked the DNR's site myself, and I guess they didn't run the story today. But it should happen sometime this week.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Jennifer was shot 5 years ago by the boyfriend of the woman she was staying with. She now lives by herself with the help of a visiting nurse in a local motel with her pitbull Rose.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Jennifer's pitbull Rose pauses from chewing on her toy to look up at the camera. In the background, Jennifer and Kenny sit in their wheelchairs. They were both injured on July 23rd, but of different years. Tomorrow marks the anniversary of their paralysis.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My Faith in Humanity Restored...

I was the recipient of a random act of kindness this weekend.

It's not too often that this sort of thing happens, and even rarer is the time when I am on the lucky receiving end. As most of you might know, I have a Flikr account where I store my photos. It also allows me to post them to my blog. Within the site, you can look at other people's photos, make comments, add contacts, etc, etc. Signing up for Flikr is free. However, opening a pro account is not free, but with a pro account you get added bonuses like extra storage space and access to nude photos. (I'm kidding about the last one - just checking to see if you're still awake.)

So the random act of kindness came when a complete stranger purchased for me a pro account. Keep in mind this is like receiving a $25 gift from a person I've never met, never contacted, never heard of before in my life. Crazy huh? I sent him a Flikr message thanking him for his generosity, and here's what he replied:


It is my pleasure - really. As you can tell, I was more than a little impressed by your photography. (I have never given a gift like this before...)

You have a very very good eye, a sensitivity, a sense of photography, and sense of humour too, all of which together are very rare indeed - in all of flickr! (Now, don't let that get to your head or anything).

Anyway, I just hope you enjoy your year, and continue to enjoy sharing your discoveries with us.



You can check out his pictures here.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Smooched by Llamas and I Lived to Tell About It

It's been a fun week. Never before have I been both mauled by a dog and kissed by a llama. At least not in the same day.

Thursday I had an assignment to photograph a lady who owns Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va. She raises angora goats, llamas and sheep (among other animals), and then shears them and spins all the wool. I drive up to the farm on a long gravel road, and upon opening my car door, am immediately jumped by a very LARGE dog. Did I say it was a large dog? And seriously psycho. Like I open my door just a crack and the next thing I know it's scrambling for a spot on my lap. The dog probably isn't expecting such a bony lap target, but he remains pretty undeterred. I'm not sure how this lady feels about me kicking her dog, so I try shutting the car door on him instead. Doesn't work either, seeing as how both front paws are securely fastened to my thighs. I can see the lady I want to shoot (ha! both with a camera and something else by now) standing outside my car, snickering a bit while calling to the dog, but it just doesn't seem to be working. At some point, I shove the dog and actually make it to a standing position beside my car when I'm nearly knocked flat by the stupid dog again. This time he leaves a calling card - muddy paw prints on my white shirt. Nice.

"Next time he does that, just kick him," the lady calls out. Thanks for the tip. Could've used it like five minutes ago.

We meet, and take a little tour of the farm. Suddenly there's like a pack of llamas descending from their barn/shed thing. (Pack, herd, tribe, band, bevy, what the heck do you call more than a few llamas? I actually googled "animal congregations" and found everything from a prickle of porcupines to a bloat of hippopotamuses, but alas no llamas.)

“Now they’ll want to come sniff you out, so just stand still with your hands behind your back and let them kiss you,” she says.

Umm excuse me? Llama mouths are just about last on my list of acceptable things to touch my lips, right after lip gloss and Johnny Depp. “Umm... okay. As long as they don't spit on me."

"Oh no, they're friendly llamas."

I stand motionless and receive my llama kisses from about five llamas at once. A bit of a strange feeling, these llama kisses. More like hot stinky animal breath and tickly whiskers (do llamas have whiskers?!?) all over my face.

Anyway, I got some good pics from the whole ordeal. Here are a few of them for your viewing pleasure.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Sheep and goats are just a few of the many animals raised on Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A peacock sits on the fence at Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A curious goat sniffs out the camera during a visit to Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Hand-dyed handmade yarn rests on a small table in the workroom of Nancy Slye, the owner of Tralfamadore Farms in Broadway, Va.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Greetings from Mulletville

Hello from the heart of Nascar country. I'm beginning to learn firsthand about the cult following this spectator "sport" garners around here. However, I'm still confused as to what the actual attraction is.

Saturday I had a photo assignment at a new speedway that had just been built in Shenandoah, Va. Whew-weee it's a whole different world out there. I've never seen such a congregation of mullets in my entire life. Anyway, it was just stockcar racing, not the full-blown Nascar stuff, but you'd think these people had seen the Second Coming of Christ for the way they cheered.

I arrived a few minutes before six, the time I was supposed to be there. I parked my car in the clay dirt (no parking lot here) and followed the crowd through the gate. Tickets were 15 bucks for this sucker! 15 bucks to watch cars go round and round in circles on a track. Unbelievable. But, a nice smile and a big camera got me through the door. I've discovered pretty quickly I don't even need a press pass - people just trust me when I say I'm with the newspaper and let me through. It's a good thing, because I don't even have a press pass. (Side note - I'm also realizing that being "media" means some people want to meet you and make a good impression because you supposedly have this thing called influence. So I shook hands with the guy running for governor of Virginia and his posse.)

Apparently, everyone arrives at these things like an hour early. The actual driving of cars didn't even start until 7:30, after a grueling hour and a half of announcements, a parade including the new two-year-old Miss Baby Virginia, invocation, national anthem, wetting the track, drying the track, yada, yada, yada. Can I just say, those cars are LOUD. No one ever told me I might want to bring some earplugs, but everyone else seemed to know. I saw some funny looking earmuff things too... don't know what those were.

Anyway, here are a few of the pictures that ran in the paper Monday.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Originally uploaded by emster214.

Originally uploaded by emster214.
A lone spectator crouches by the fence as he waits for the stockcar race to begin at the new speedway in Shenandoah, Va.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I've Been Tagged!

Well, I've now officially been tagged by amazing-gracey so here are my answers. I guess that means I have to tag some people too, so ha ha! take that.

Total volume of music files on my computer: 7.73 gigs. Yikes! Looks like it's about time for an iPod. (hmm... my birthday's coming up in like, um, 6 months.)

The last CD I bought: Coldplay's newest CD, X&Y Duh!

Song playing right now: Well, I'm listening to my iTunes songs in random order and it looks like, yup, I've landed on Kenny Chesney's She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy. That's some quality stuff there, boy oh boy.

Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me: Okay I know this is a strange selection, but these are some of the songs with the highest play counts in my iTunes, so I guess that means I listen to them the most. In no particular order we have:

1. I Believe (acoustic version), Blessid Union of Souls
2. Walking in Memphis, Marc Cohen
3. Hallelujah, Rufus Wainwright
4. The Blowers Daughter, Damien Rice
5. Ms. Jackson, Outkast (I have to admit, this one kinda surprised me)

Five people to whom I'm passing the baton:

1. Sea of Steve
2. The Ever-Changing Name of Rachel's Blog
3. Diseuse
4. Sanguine Aspirations
5. The Secret Life of a Trailblazer

Okay, guys, knock yourselves out.

A long lost photo from last week

Originally uploaded by emster214.
Here's "Doc. McConnell," a medicine man I met last weekend at the fair/festival I went to while at home. There were quite a few re-enactments and people dressed up and such, and ol' Doc here was my favorite.