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Photo Essay: Marvelous Migration

3 Jan

The snow geese have hit the Lehigh Valley.  After hanging out with a friend and filling up my gas tank, I spot the whirls of white along Lower Macungie Road right across from the middle school.  I only have my point-and-shoot, but I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to capture this wonder.  Well, at least try to capture it–how can a lens capture the majesty of thousand of white birds with gray bills and the sound of their honking?  Needless to say, I’m going back tomorrow armed with my DSLR.  Hopefully, they’ll still be in the area.

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Photo Essay: To Be Born Again

20 Mar

While I can’t remember its writer or its title, the lyrics of this song ring through my head, “Everything must die to be born again.”  Fall is that death and in winter it seems that life will never burst forth from the frigid, frozen earth.  But the snow always melts, the buds always come in brilliant greens.  Tufts of grass shoot up as the robins return to build their nests.  Flowers shyly peek out of the ground, ready to unfurl their glory.  Ah, spring!  There is so much hope, so much life, so much pollen…yeah, I could do without the pollen.  Here are some images of spring I’ve captured over the past week in celebration of today, the first day of spring! (Though it’s an early spring here in the Lehigh Valley due to unseasonal warmth.)  And don’t steal my photographs…or the goonies will come get you! (Always ask permission.)

This is my favorite photo in the essay.  The vibrant purple flower with its bright yellow center and green leaves with the deadened background.  Truly, life coming out of death.  This image is currently the wallpaper on my desktop.  It gives me chills.

I almost deleted this picture of the daffodil bud about to open,but then I noticed all the texture, shadows, and various shades of green (with a twinge of yellow).  To me, this is the essence of life becoming!  Something is about to happen here!

This is why I always try to carry a point-and-shoot camera with me.  I found this flowering tree by the mailboxes at my mom’s apartment building.  I don’t like to crop my photographs, except for artistic purposes, but in the case of this picture, part of my freckly arm was visible.

I love obscure close-ups, and that was the only way to adequately capture the buds on this tree.  They’re still tight, not ready to open…but soon.  Admittedly, my other Canon (the one in the company of BFF Sarah) takes better close-ups than my current point-and-shoot and my DSRL (perhaps if I had a good close-up lens, that would help.)

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed that I have a growing fondness for the color “yellow,” which used to be one of my least favorite colors in the wheel.  But a vibrant yellow, like this daffodil, is enchanting, isn’t it?  Daffodils are my favorite spring flower…dark, yellow ones like this.

Texture, I adore texture!  I know that most people will never understand my fascination with bark, moss, rocks, sidewalk cracks, shadows, and rusty things, but I love texture and finding beauty in what’s broken and/or common.  Come on, you have to admit that this moss is beautiful! My camera did a surprisingly good job on this close-up!

One final image of the tree that captured my attention, this time from underneath the branch with my camera pointed at the clear blue sky dotted with puffs of white.  What a beautiful world You have created, Lord!

Women of Faith: Finding My Faith with a Weirdo

11 Sep

The Women of Faith “Imagine” weekend in Philadelphia was not what I expected.  At all.  Instead of an authentic women’s conference, Women of Faith felt more like a fabricated “worship experience” that could be plopped down in any city to be enjoyed by the throngs.  In essence, I suppose that is what a Women of Faith weekend is—something that can be easily created and re-created for women all over the country.  Then again, isn’t that also what a concert tour is?  Yes.  But here’s how my Casting Crowns concert experience differed from Women of Faith—with Casting Crowns, I felt like I was having an authentic experience, but with Women of Faith, I felt like I was just another cog in the ol’ money making machine (which strikes me as funny since I received comp tickets for writing about the event).

The event started with a worship team made up of four female singers, who had excellent vocals.  However, there was no worship band, which meant the praise music was piped into the stadium and the ladies led the audience in a big sing-a-long.  In between songs, the singers shared one-to-two sentence insights, and dived into the next song.  These songs were loud, upbeat, and instead of leading worship, I felt like I was watching a Point of Grace concert.  It was just too perfect.  A live band, who could led worship by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, though it would require more set-up/tear down would have improved the worship immensely.

Sheila Walsh

Next, Sheila Walsh spoke about the woman who was bleeding for years before being healed by Jesus. Walsh was flawless in her presentation, using a combination of personal anecdotes, Scripture, and body language that really drove her message home.  I was very impressed with Walsh, but slightly confused when the lights went down at the end of her talk and she belted out “Amazing Grace.”  Apparently, Walsh is not only an author and a speaker, but a singer as well.  Anyway, she received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Then Women of Faith president, Mary Graham, took the stage to introduce well-known author and speaker Dr. Henry Cloud, who somehow snuck into a Women of Faith event, despite his obvious maleness.  Graham asked the audience if they knew what day it was.  One woman yelled out, “Your birthday?”  No, it was not Graham’s birthday, but it was “Wonderful Weirdos Day.”  Graham said that if anyone knew about weirdos, it was certainly Dr. Cloud (she called him “Henry,” but I feel more comfortable calling him Dr. Cloud or just “Cloud”).

Dr. Henry Cloud

While those around me seemed to think this was both a charming and personal introduction, I tried my best to hide the tears streaming down my face.  See, Dr. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist, the “weirdos” he works with are mentally ill.  As someone who has been in therapy since 2006, I suppose I could count myself among the “weirdos.”  It was then I wondered if I truly belonged at Women of Faith.  I thought about leaving, but I was in the very first row, so I tried in vain to choke back my tears.

Dr. Cloud mentioned a verse here and there, but mentioned his latest book, The Law of Happiness, a lot more.  I mean, if there was a drinking game for each mention of Boundaries or his latest book, the Women of Faith audience would have been rip roarin’ plastered.  Still, I thought Cloud was OK…until his second talk.  This time Cloud casually mentioned “hoarders.”  Instead of treating hoarding as a serious mental issue, Cloud talked lightly about how hoarders don’t get rid of things because they “might need it someday” or because of the emotional attachment to object.  Then Cloud joked that a hoarder probably wouldn’t get rid of her baby’s first poopy diaper because of its sentimental value.  What could have been a very important spiritual lesson about keeping things we don’t need (I do believe that was supposed to be Cloud’s point), the illustration derailed into a joke about hoarders.  Ha-ha, let’s all laugh at the mentally ill people whose gross houses we see on television.  As if seeing a half-hour program on someone’s life truly illustrates the frustrations of obsessive-compulsive disorder!  I assumed that Dr. Cloud, being a trained clinical psychologist would treat mental illness with a soft touch. He came across as brash and uncaring, especially when interchangeably throwing around the words “wacko” and “crazy.”

Pretty doodads hanging from the center of the "Imagine" WoF stage.

When Mary Graham took the stage again to announce that Sheila Walsh was going to talk about “their little monkeys” at World Vision, I just got up and left.  I didn’t even look back to see if my friend who accompanied me was following me out.  I ran right smack into a crowd of women gathered around the Women of Faith merchandise table.  “How much is this bag?” a well-dressed middle-aged woman asked a volunteer.

“Oh, you can’t buy that bag,” said the volunteer.  “It comes as part of a set.”  Apparently, it was a set-up to generate more income because in order to get a tote bag, a woman had to purchase either a $50 set (bag, mug, and some other stuff) or an $85 set (bag, two books, two albums, and a special treat). I could get a nicer bag at the Fossil outlet for the same amount of cash.  But I guess it wouldn’t have the Women of Faith logo on it!

However, I did leave my mark at Women of Faith, just after eating the subpar lunch provided for attendees, I decided to fill out a card for the Q&A session with Sheila Walsh and Dr. Henry Cloud.  I wrote, “Dr. Cloud, as a mental health professional do you think it’s appropriate to refer to the mentally ill as ‘weirdos’ and ‘wackos’?”

Then I turned the card over and wrote, “I have an M.A. in counseling.  I am mentally ill.  And, yes, my feelings were hurt.”  I doubt my question was chosen for the Q&A.  I guess I will never know.

"Wheat Field in Rain" or simply "Rain" by Vincent Van Gogh

I hoped my Women of Faith weekend in Philadelphia would be a time to reconnect my hardened heart with a living God—and it was.  However, that didn’t happen at the Women of Faith weekend; it occurred at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  There was something magnificent about glimpsing at Vincent Van Gogh’sStill Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” painting for the first time—the real painting—not a print.  To discover the dimensions in his blobs of paint, to have tangible proof that my favorite painter lived and died, to be reminded that he was a madman (a “weirdo” or a “wacko”) and not recognized as a genius in his time.  I’m not calling myself a genius or believe that my “art,” my writing, will outlive my life.  I suppose I just felt more at home with a fellow weirdo’s priceless painting.

I was most affected by, “Wheat Field in Rain”, his depiction of beauty beyond the window of his asylum. Despite being interned at a mental hospital, Van Gogh still saw value in the world and still painted.  Sixteen dollars to get into the Philadelphia Museum of Art versus 100 bucks for a pre-fabricated “worship” experience at Women of Faith?  Next time, I’m going to skip the conference and head straight for the art museum.

*In exchange for a fair and honest evaluation of the Women of Faith weekend, I was given two complimentary tickets by Thomas Nelson.  Clearly, I was not required to write a positive review, only a fair review, and that is what I feel I did.  Other views may differ, and I truly hope that others did have a good time to connect with God and others at Women of Faith weekends and other events.*

Imagine… A Women of Faith Weekend

8 Sep

On Friday morning, BFF Sarah and I will be heading to Philadelphia to attend the two-day Women of Faith weekend (WoF).  Thanks to BookSneeze, I received two free passes in exchange for telling y’all about my experience.  Sounds good to me!  Ah, the perks of being a blogger.

I’ve never been to a Women of Faith weekend, so I don’t really know what to expect.  According to the WoF website, outside food and drinks will be confiscated—does that mean I can’t shove a pack of Mentos into my purse?  Will I be forced to pay $4 for a small soda?  I know that Jesus is the living water, but will He be handing out Deer Park at the event?  Keeping us dehydrated could cut down on those infamously long lines at the women’s restroom I suppose.

Anyway, the theme of the weekend is “Imagine,” and I will, “be refreshed, encouraged and inspired. Because the God who loves you can do far more than you can ever Imagine.”  (Refreshed = free water, I’m sure of it.) Lately, I’ve been feeling parched, discouraged, and vacant.

I’m so thirsty for something more.  (More of God?  Definitely more than just slogging through the day.)

I don’t feel like I can make it through another minute.  My strength is failing me.  Not only do I need courage, but I need to be encouraged.

I have so many thoughts running through my head.  I want to do this and that, but I get so tired—I’m too tired to start, too depressed to even try. I ache for inspiration (and motivation).

And I think, I can’t go to Women of Faith this weekend.  I’m too weak, too depressed, too me.  My anxiety is kicking up at the thought of being closed into a stadium with thousands of women.  The thought of being touched or hugged by a stranger gives me knots in my stomach.  O, God, please don’t make me go.

His response? “I love you far more than you can ever imagine.”

I won’t let my fear control me.  I will bask in refreshment, encouragement, and inspiration.  I will let it fill me up and surround me like a warm bubble bath, and seep into my dry soul like aloe vera. 

Just let go of the fear and imagine…

(The video makes the Women of Faith weekend look pretty fun!)

Have you been to a Women of Faith weekend?  What was it like?  Think my Mentos are contraband?  Are you going to Philly this weekend for WoF or another stop on the Imagine tour?

Hurricane Irene Update: Attack of the Shadow Puppets

28 Aug

Photo by Russ & Reyn Photography

Just wanted to give y’all a quick update on how Hurricane Irene affected my area here in the lovely outskirts of Allentown, Pennsylvania.  The governor is asking the President to declare several counties, including Lehigh County where I live, Federal Disaster areas, which means FEMA can move in to help us out.  Apparently, there is a lot of flooding, downed trees, and power lines with high winds expected to continue until this evening as the back end of Irene moves out of our area.

From what I can tell from inside my cozy apartment, there is no flooding in my immediate vicinity, just a few tree parts here and there in the backyard, and my vehicle appears to be OK (despite some neighbors ignoring the apartment mandate to remove items from their porches).

Still, BFF Sarah and I have a cooler full of ice (and drinks.  You don’t want to see me go through a power outage without Diet Coke) and a tub full of water in case our electricity does go out, which is still a possibility.  I mean, how will we watch “Dr Quinn” if that happens?  My mom and my friend, Shari, both lost power, but it has been restored.

No one is SUPPOSED to be out on the roadways, but apparently people are driving around all over the place.  I’m not going to risk my life or my vehicle just because I’m stir-crazy and curious.  Why put the rescue crews in additional danger because I’m an idiot?

So, we didn’t even need to use the flashlights I bought (see “Friday Faves: Hurricane Irene’s A’Coming Edition“).  Well, except for the shadow puppet show I performed on the ceiling last night, which was met from a low growl from Cassie the Peekapoo, who thought the shadow puppets were an imminent threat.

Update 8.2811,  7 PM-ish:  Hurricane Irene has now passed into New England.  It’s a bit blustery out, but the sun is shining and our garden is ruined (see photo essay tomorrow.)  Please continue to pray for people in the area affected by storm damage and flooding (rivers are expected to crest tomorrow afternoon.) 

Let me know how you’re faring, share any prayer requests, or tell me what you’re up to on this Sunday afternoon while I am trapped in my apartment.

Photo Essay: Driving in a Downpour

25 Aug

Last Friday while driving home from Lancaster, we were caught in a torrential downpour.  Naturally, I pulled out my camera and had a photo shoot–to the amusement of the rest of the car. (I also videotaped myself singing “Leave the Pieces” by The Wreckers, but I have destroyed the evidence.)

Do you like to drive in downpours like fearless BFF Sarah? (Actually, she did pull over twice.)  Would you rather see pics of Amish buggies from Lancaster County? (I don’t photograph the Amish and Mennonites since they don’t like it.)  What was the worst storm you ever drove through?  Was there a rainbow?

Friday Faves: The Civil War(s) Edition

1 Jul

It’s July 1!  Who’s ready for a three-day weekend?  That is, if you didn’t take off already.  Did you know that today marks the 148th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg? (Do you even care?)  Right now, there are thousands of people descending upon the small town of Gettysburg, PA to re-enact the epic three-day battle (July 1-2, 1863), which marked the turning point of the Civil War.  I’ve found the Battle of Gettysburg fascinating since my eighth grade history teacher had my class read the book, The Killer Angels by Michael Sharaa (it’s historical fiction about the Battle of Gettysburg).  Now that I’ve been to Gettysburg several times, I’m something of a sightseeing expert.  For example, I know where all the best (“funniest”) statues are, how to find Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s battle line (I read the signs), and can sometimes distinguish Little Round Top and Big Round Top.  But at least my tours are free, so if you want to do Gettysburg the fun way, come with me.  We can even  stop at the Boyd’s Bear Country and get a giant baked potato slathered with cheese and butter, too. (This old blog post details one of my Gettysburg trips: “My Trip to Gettysburg” with some awesome photography.)

Click here to see more of my Gettysburg pics.

Know what else I like?  A band named “The Civil Wars.” I’ve mentioned them before, but since they fit in with this week’s edition, I thought I’d mention them again.  If you haven’t purchased Barton Hollow, then you are really missing out on the joy this music could provide for your life.  Even my mom likes The Civil Wars, which makes them Mom-approved.

And if you like The Civil Wars, then you’ll just love SHIROCK (OK, maybe you won’t, but I love SHIROCK and it seemed like a good segue.)  Check out their latest video for the song, “Still Young,” which just so happens to be my favorite SHIROCK song.  I’ve had the joy of meeting and hanging out with SHIROCK and I’m sure that if my mom did the same, she’d love them, too. Check out SHIROCK.net whatever for more information on the band, including information on how to purchase their music.

Here what else is going on around the webosphere…

*Giveaways galore!  Today is the VERY LAST DAY to enter to win a $35 gift code to DaySpring’s online store.  I really want you to enter because I really want you win.  GO ENTER, please!  And today is the VERY FIRST [official] DAY  to enter my giveaway to win a $10 Amazon gift card or a book of your choice up to $10 from The Book Depository.  It’s all part of the Freedom Giveaway Hop, which features over 200 blogs giving away bookish delights.  Enter here (after you’re done reading this fabulous blog post, of course) and then check out the other giveaways going on.  You can win some really cool prizes.

*Sarah Cunningham, author of Picking Dandelions (read review), is a funny lady, especially when blogging about son, Justus.  The toddler is affectionately referred to as “The Emperor” and this week Sarah talks about how the Emperor locked himself in the bathroom and played in the toilet.  Check out this highly amusing post, “The Emperor’s Summer Rule.”

Photo Credit: (DENISE SANCHEZ, THE MORNING CALL / June 28, 2011)

*My former young adult Sunday School teachers, Al and Linda Iezzi, were featured in The Morning Call (local paper).  As you may remember, Al was featured on the show “Undercover Boss” and talked about his two grandkids who suffer Sanfilippo syndrome, which will cause them to die in their teen’s.  I’m praying for a cure for Waverly and Oliver, their parents, and the Iezzi’s.  Read more about Al and his family here.  It’s a wonderful article on a great family.

*Over at AOL Video, you can watch a clip of Joanne Rogers, wife of the infamous “Mr. (Fred) Rogers.”  If you’re like me, you watched “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” like a fiend.  The clip is a cute remembrance of a childhood legend…and you can finally learn who made those cardigan sweaters. Watch the video.

*Some of you know about my ongoing battle with Sallie Mae over my graduate loans.  Therefore, I was sad to read about others who were having trouble paying their student loans as well.  Check out CNN Money’s, “My Degree Isn’t Worth the Debt.”  Click through the article to read various stories about student debut issues. (Related article: “Cancel student debt to stimulate the economy“).

Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

This weekend’s discussion questions–What do you think Chuck Shirock is lugging around in that suitcase in the “Still Young” video?  Do you have student loan debt?  What is your favorite memory of Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood?  Didn’t I have the best Sunday School teacher (Al Iezzi)? Have you ever been to Gettysburg?  Do you like giant potatoes?  Did you ever my giveaways?  Anything else you’d like to add?

Congrats to all the Freddy Award Winners!

28 May

Hey, did you happen to catch “The 2011 Freddy Awards” Thursday night on local station WFMZ? (Or maybe you out-of-area readers watched it on WFMZ.com. In fact, you can still can, click here!)  Started in 2002, the Freddy Awards honor area high school musicals with various awards for singing, acting, production quality, stage design, and so on!  While I can’t attend the ceremony at the prestigious State Theater, I love watching some of the best performances of the young stars of the Lehigh Valley.  It’s like “Glee” with real, live high school kids, not actors in their 20’s.  Oh, and this isn’t a show choir competition;  it’s like the Tony Awards for high schoolers.

Photo nabbed from Facebook: Morgan as Christina Colgate in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." She in the middle, wearing yellow.

One of my favorite performers over the past few years has been Parkland High School’s Morgan Reilly.  I mean, can that girl belt it out or what?  (To prove it, watch her sing as Christina Colgate from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Check it out here.) My friends Ann Marie and Janette Krulick have both been involved with Parkland’s theater productions, so I’ve caught a show or two.  Three years ago, I saw Morgan (only a sophomore then) give a jaw-dropping performance as Eponine in Les Miserables: High School Edition.  Last night, Morgan won the prestigious MVP award.  The senior will is headed to NYU in the fall to further her theatrical aspirations in the Big Apple.  I’m sure we’ll see her on Broadway in a few years, winning Tony Awards, and hanging out with Kristin Chenoweth.

Not only are the performances good, but the student actors acceptance speeches are hilarious!  They run up on stage with their acceptance speeches written on crumpled papers (probably from nervously toying with the speech during the awards ceremony), talk too fast to be understood, and have the idealism of youth plastered all over their faces.  I want these students to stay that way forever–to always be genuinely surprised by an award, to always be themselves (or a theatrical version.  I mean, these kids are actors, who have a flair for the dramatic), and to use their energy to change the world. 

Congratulations Freddy Class of 2011!  Whether you took home a Freddy Award or not, know that you have already changed your little corner of the world, for good. (Hey, if that kid could nick a line from Wicked in his acceptance speech, then I can also use it as a killer closer to this post.)

***

Apparently Oprah Winfrey likes high school musicals, too, because OWN has acquired  “Most Valuable Players,” an award-winning documentary about the Freddy Awards.  Chalk one up for the Lehigh Valley.  Our teen thesbians, not Billy Joel’s song, “Allentown,” will now be our claim to fame!

Photo Essay:: Inside Scranton, Pennsylvania

17 Apr

On Wednesday, I accompanied my friend, Shari, on a trip to her hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  Scranton is not only the hometown of Vice President Joe Biden (until he moved to Delaware at the age of 10) but also the location of the fictional paper company Dunder Mifflin from “The Office.”  A historic town, Scranton is full of fabulous old architecture, including its public library, which beckoned to be photographed, despite the rainy conditions outside.

The Scranton Public Library is full of these wonderful stained glass windows. I think they would be prettier if the sun had been shining.

The window ledges also make excellent additional bookshelves.

Old school window crank.

I want to LIVE in this library.  At least I’d finally have room for all my books.

Microfilm will burn your retinas out.

Two of these stone lions guard the entrance to the Scranton Public Library.  The lions come alive at night and hunt down patrons who don’t return their library books on time.

Why does the Scranton Public Library have an “A” in the middle of its iron gate?  I don’t know. (A = Amy)

Scranton is also known for its fine “monuments.”  Sadly, this is not one of those monuments.  In fact, I’m not quite sure what statement this is supposed to make. (I know, I know, it’s just waiting to be unveiled.)

So, there you have it, a little bit of Scranton!  See, Justin, you told me to take pictures of Scranton, and I told you I probably wouldn’t.  Well, I did, so, ha! I showed you.    I know these aren’t the greatest pictures I’ve ever taken, but it’s been a while since I photographed anything.  Amy’s gotta get her groove back.

So, what do you think?  Have you been to Scranton?  Do you want to go?  Do you think the stone lions really attack people at night?

Vote for Backseat Writer as one of the Best Blogs in the Lehigh Valley!

12 Mar


Guess what?  Someone (I’m pretty sure it was my mom) nominated Backseat Writer as one of the best blogs in the Lehigh Valley (that’s where I live for you out-of-towners)!  But I need you to vote for me so I can win the prestigious title of being one of the best blogs in the Valley.

Backseat Writer is nominated in three categories:: Religion, Pop Culture, and Personal.  You can vote for the site daily in each of these categories now through March 27 at 11:59 PM EST.  If I win a category, I will be giving away a very special yet-to-be-determined prize (probably an Amazon gift card) on my blog . (Why shouldn’t we all celebrate?)

You must be a registered using of TheMorningCall.com to vote, so register if you love me!  I really appreciate your vote!  Thanks, gang!  Have a wonderful weekend. (You can click on that logo on top of this post or on the side of the blog [I’m sad that it looks so silly on my sidebar] to vote for me in the Religion category!)

Update: If we win, I’ll have a drawing for a $15 Amazon gift card everyone who comments on the post announcing the win.  More votes = more entries!  We all win!

Update 2: My new friend Jaime over at Save the Kales reports that many people are having trouble voting on the Morning Call website.  She suggests using the Safari or Google Chrome web browsers when you vote.  Thanks, Jaime!  While you’re voting for Backseat Writer, you should head over to the Food Category and vote for Save the Kales (or click this direct link!)  Jaime’s giving away a free head of lettuce if she wins.  No, she’s not.  I just made that up.

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