Patreon | Introducing SwenkStock Nature & Urban Stock Photography

Ackley Train Tracks by SwenkStock

Taking pictures just like this has been a hobby of mine for quite some time. I really enjoy shots like the one below, as well.

While it’s always been a fulfilling hobby, I’ve found that with my editing work I don’t have a lot of time to pursue it. Like reading books, taking pictures is a way for me to escape the daily grind and truly look at life from a different perspective.
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The Reading Room | 5 #Books to Binge-Read After Binge-Watching #StrangerThings

Fill your ‘Stranger Things’ void with books!

Did you watch “Stranger Things” on Netflix?  Did you tear through it? Were you left wanting more? Then check out one of these books, sure to leave you riveted. Filled with the supernatural and extraterrestrial, normal people in bizarre circumstances, and a tinge of nostalgia, these books are must reads for anyone looking for stranger things…

I answered yes to all three of The Reading Room‘s questions above, but I’ve only heard of two of these titles–the King novel The Tommyknockers, for one–but I had no idea that John Dies at the End was a book. Whether it started that way or this is a novelization of the film matters not; it looks like I need to be making a trip to the library!

Have you guys seen Stranger Things yet? Did you like it? Do you think this Reading Room list does your feels from the series justice?

Books | The Bazaar of Bad Dreams from #StephenKing

Source: Simon & Schuster

Simon & Schuster just sent along some information on Stephen King‘s newest short story collection. Here’s what they had to say about it. Certainly can’t wait to dig my claws into it!

A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.

Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

#Ideas | Something to Remember Looking Toward the #NewYear

I have classified myself as depressed since around the time I turned 12. This came as a shock to my mother when I told her, after I turned 19. I didn’t have words for the deep sensations of hopelessness, lack of control, and fear of the future I was feeling so long ago. Whenever I told my mother I was worried about something, she would say to me, “Stop it. You’re too young to worry. Go, have fun; be a child.” But I didn’t know how to be a child. I mean, I knew how other children acted, and though I’ve been called childish by demeaning people I like to think of it as being creative, imaginative. And because I spent so much time floating in a fantasy world as a child, I often felt like I had no idea what to do in the real one.

That translated into dead-end relationships and keeping people at arms-length so I didn’t have to feel the pain of their departure. I doubted that anyone could really love me because I could barely love myself. Though much of this is in the past, I do still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and failure. My friends and family tell me how “great” I am, but I always remind myself they are my friends and family.

In other words, I still need to find ways to remind myself that I am a productive and important person with worth: even if I’m not certain of my reason, my purpose yet. I need to remind myself that I’ve seen some pretty amazing things (The Art Institute of Chicago, I’m looking at you) and I’ve been to some pretty amazing places (Myrtle Beach, SC, I’m talking about you). There are so many places left to see, things to do, and goals to accomplish.

And on that path, there are five little things I need to remember. I received the list of Virginia Satir’s Five Freedoms while I was pursuing therapy the first time I attempted a master’s degree. I was studying Public Relations (totally the wrong field for me, but I loved the writing and event planning involved) really because I told a certain ex-girlfriend that I would and I still felt like I had something to prove to her. That I could do something without her. It was really the fallout of that relationship that guided me toward the Depression Screening Clinic the campus medical center was offering. That was a chance to really determine if the depression I saw within myself over 10 years before was really there.

It was. I had a great counselor and she was the one who told me about Satir’s list of freedoms. Reading them in that moment, holding a simple print-out, with no banner ads, all white-space, I felt a strange sensation rush over me: hope. Someone had heard me and finally understood what I was asking for: a sense of control over myself and my future. I thank the universe for that woman every single day of my life, and the power those five short statements gave me. Walking into the new year, running my own business, and keeping my head and heart above water will only be possible if I can remember the power I have over myself and actually exercise it.

From the PsychCentral Blog linked above, Satir gets a nice little introduction:

Satir keenly observed that many adults learned to deny certain senses from childhood, that is, to deny what they hear, see, taste, smell and touch/feel.

Noting the significant role our senses play in our survival, she devised the following “Five Freedoms” tool, essentially affirmations, to help people connect to their body and self in the moment, and focus their attention on their inner resources and creative choices in the present. (Here we see how ahead of her time Satir was; these are mindfulness concepts proven today by neuroscience research.)

The Five Freedoms:

1) The freedom to see and hear (perceive) what is here and now, rather than what was, will be or should be.

2) The freedom to think what one thinks, rather than what one should think.

3) The freedom to feel what one feels, rather than what one should feel.

4) The freedom to want (desire) and to choose what one wants, rather than what one should want.

5) The freedom to imagine one’s own self-actualization, rather than playing a rigid role or always playing it safe.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to get away with not playing it safe–I’m too thoughtful, doubtful, and purposefully cautious for that. But I do enjoy being spontaneous with people I love and with whom I’m comfortable. So, my New Year’s resolution is to remember that I’m productive, capable, and prepared to face the future, even if I don’t know what’s coming or where I’ll be when it’s over.

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Happy New Year, Everyone!!! 

Writer’s Digest | The 10 #Books That Never Left Me

NaNoWriMo Banner 11.1.14

If you follow my other blog, then you know that I’m taking part in National Novel Writing Month this month. That may also explain why posts here have been far fewer than normal. However, in an effort to celebrate NaNoWriMo across all of my social media arenas, I’m listing here another meme of sorts. At “The Writer’s Dig”, the regular blogging site of the Writer’s Digest Online Editor, Brian A. Klems, he’s asked his readers to make a list of the 10 Books That Never Left You. Those 10 stories that left an indelible mark on you. I’m going to do my best to get all 10 in this post–so that tomorrow I can get back to bringing you the funny!

Again, these are in no particular order except for that in which I remembered them, which may say something more about them than an intentional ordered list would:

1) IT, Stephen King

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This was the first adult book I ever read, and at the age of 12 it certainly left its mark. Especially since I would probably go on to re-read this about 10-20 more times in the time I spent waiting for high school to happen.  Back then, it was the character of Beverly who intrigued me. Being the only girl among a circle of boys, creating “The Loser’s Club”, I felt like I could relate to her more than the other characters–even though Ben and I shared weight issues and bullies who insisted on pointing it out. Even if it meant my fighting Pennywise along with them, I desperately wanted a Loser’s Club branch at my high school. It’s still one of my favorite novels of all time, and the story of perseverance and facing your demons is relatable for anyone who picks it up.

2) Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk

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The first Palahniuk characters I was introduced to were those from the film Fight Club. No, I haven’t read that yet, and I know I should–because I loved the movie. However, I was kind of hoping that one day dear old Chuck would write a similar story about a female character. Though Invisible Monsters is no Fight Club, for me, it was even better. It looked at issues of beauty and identity. Living up to the expectations of others while trying to pursue your own ideals. And what it really means to live the life you choose, even if that means totally forgetting where you came from. Brandy Alexander and Shannon McFarland make us look at what it means to be a woman in today’s world–biologically or constructed.

3) The Gunslinger, Stephen King

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The first in his iconic 8-part series (with the introduction of Wind Through the Keyhole) easily made me hungry for the rest. The compelling chase and familial discord is yet another arena for a head-strong and developed character to face his own demons. The Man in Black proves to be a worth adversary, causing havoc in more stories than just The Dark Tower series, but no matter what he sends out Roland doesn’t stop. Time is merely a face on the water; the wheel of ka turns, and you have your place along the beam if you’d like to take it up. Doing so will alter your imagination in ways you never imagined.

4) Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

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The story of a young woman making her own way in the world after basically growing up an orphan. This classic love story does so much more than present a stage where boy meets girl. Jane is complicated, as are her feelings for the men in her life. Even when she’s at her lowest point, sleeping in a field under a tree when she has nowhere else to go, she finds solace in her connection to the world. But, she is the epitome of unconditional love. Though Rochester does little to garner her affections–especially considering how he’s handled treatment of his current wife–Jane does not give up on her man–caring most for him when he cannot seem to care about himself. Her determined loyalty and unconditional affections reflect my own actions in a romantic arrangement, even to my own detriment. Even though the overall theme of the book is to criticize the social situation of women, I feel like it is truly about a woman’s ability to overcome all those expectations and achieve the happiness she truly wants, even from the heart of a boorish brute of an employer.

5) White Oleander, Janet Fitch

White Oleander Janet Fitch Book Cover

Exploring the vital intricacies of the mother/daughter relationship, I felt like this book called to me. Though my relationship with my own mother wasn’t nearly as toxic, I felt like I could understand Astrid’s loyalty and desire to connect to others when her mother was locked up. My mother could only provide me with so much in life, and trying to make up for that is where Astrid and I cross paths. We are both overcompensating for a maternal connection that simply didn’t provide a strong enough foundation of self-esteem, functionality, and capability to connect to others and seek out what we need. We try our best not to need the affections of others, but we quickly realize that though isolation may keep our hearts intact, it does not a happy life make.

6) The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

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Exploring one woman’s psyche from the 1950s resonated more with me than I thought I would. I didn’t get the chance to read this book until later on in my college career, and it left a mark on me that could never be wiped away. Esther is a very talented girl, but that doesn’t seem enough to keep her happy. She questions, she wonders at her purpose, she squirrels herself away in a vain attempt to hide the fact that she just can’t get happy. Even with a New York City opportunity, even with the potential for love, poor Esther just can’t find her joy. When she begins seeking treatment after a particularly awful breakdown where she hides herself in the family basement, I sobbed for her first attempts at shock treatment, and my heart broke for her when it seemed like no one would listen. Sylvia’s words of discovery upon interrogating Esther’s issues will forever speak to me in a way no other book ever has.

7) Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel

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That is, until I read Prozac Nation. However, the funny thing is, is that I read PN first. Just a year before I read The Bell Jar. Though Elizabeth’s version of depression recalled more of my own life than The Bell Jar did, I wasn’t as self-destructive as Elizabeth. Even though I always wanted to be. I longed for the downward spiral, for all of its confusion, for all of its glamour, because then I might have a reason for feeling as badly as I did. Speaking more to my own generation’s issues than The Bell Jar could, PN would not be here without Plath’s path to come before it. Wurtzel’s depression felt like my depression, but Plath’s breakdown for Esther was more of an emotional journey for me.

8) Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

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A novel I read in middle school, Hatchet made me realize that I had power of my own. Even though I was viewed as a child by the rest of the world, Gary Paulsen made me feel like with the right tools in hand I could conquer the world which underestimated me. Though hanging out in the wilderness isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, connecting with nature can call up a kind of clarity and strength within us that we might not have been aware we had before. Brian’s adventure was one that I wouldn’t wish on myself in a literal sense, but the discoveries Brian made about himself on that journey are goal-worthy, post-adventure or not. And I just learned recently that there are four other novels in this series. After NaNo and finishing the books I’m in the middle of now, I may just have to visit my local library and check them out for myself. I would love to see what else Mother Nature brought out of my old friend Brian on his return treks into the wild.

9) My Favorite Book, Good Will, Inc.

1delabar eBay Seller

This is the very first book I ever remember reading, and that was sometime before kindergarten–easily between the ages of 2 and 4 (and I say that because I don’t remember learning how to read at all, but I remember my baby sister being born just before I turned 4). It talks about gratitude, positivity, and being generally kind and thoughtful. It talks about appreciating the sunrise and bedtime. Apparently, there was an earlier edition (this is from 1980) that had religious/Christian references in it. And, I have to say that I’m glad I didn’t get that one. My grandmother went a long way to putting Jesus in my head, but this book taught me to appreciate good things for their own sake, on their own merit. Appreciate the good because it is good–not necessarily because it came from a good God. That is a trait I carry to this day, along with having mad respect for Jesus (while some of his followers worry me). I believe in being good for the sake of putting good things out in the world, not necessarily because an omnipotent father-figure thinks I should. I think I can have this book to thank for that.

10) The Dancing Man, Ruth Bornstein

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I freaking love this story, and I can’t believe it wasn’t the first one I thought of. (P.S. I had a chance to re-read this just this morning; so it’s very fresh in mind.) Though, whenever I think of my favorite novel IT  is the first one that always comes to mind. But, when it comes to pure story, Ruth Bornstein brought it back in 1978. The Dancing Man may appear to be about a dancing man on the surface (the very cover, no less!), it is really about the passing along and sharing of dreams. Every writer should read this story, because dreams are made real only after they are shared. That is the moral of this beautiful, simple story. Is time glossed over? Yes. Do we ever find out what happens to Joseph’s village (*SPOILER ALERT*)? No. Are we ever told how Joseph is always able to fit in the same outfit for the entirety of his life (*SPOILER ALERT*)? No. But does it matter what you wear when you share dreams? No. Does it matter how we got to the southernmost sea? No. What matters is that a new reader, a new author, a new book fiend could be there at the end of our road, with new dreams of their own, just waiting to carry on the torch your dreams ignited.

Pop | An Anthems Challenge: Final Five

I recently followed Alfred’s Almanac here on WordPress, and one of the first posts I see from him in my email is #6 in his 10 Anthems Meme Challenge post [Though, I’ve linked to the final post here]. I love music, and I’ve had a lot of songs that seem to follow me throughout my life. Songs that always hit a spot when I hear them, that take me back to the moment when I first heard that song and what it meant to me. There have even been a couple songs where, the very first time I heard them, I was moved to tears, literally. Number 6 on this list is one of them. And there’s one song a part of this list that rattled my brain after hearing it on a commercial. When I first downloaded it, I probably listened to it a million times in a row–no lie, probably an exaggeration, but no lie!

I have taken Alfred’s advice and broken it up, but not as narrowly as he did posting one song per day. I started with my Top 5 a couple days ago, and am concluding it today [since I ran out of luck yesterday!]. This is no particular order, other than the order I remembered them in, which might say something for how important they are to me.

So, if you want to take part–just link back to this post (or the first one linked above) and start posting the 10 songs you love the most, which have had the most impact on you.

6) Eternal Flame – The Bangles

This song stood up and slapped me, right out of nowhere. I wasn’t even in kindergarten when I heard this song for the first time. I still own (but probably not for much longer) the stuffed teddy bear I was holding when I started to cry. Granted, I was around 4 or 5, but I was literally moved to tears when I first heard this song. There were a couple teenage girls living next door to the apartment my mom, baby sister and I were inhabiting. They had amazing taste in music. I’m still friends with one of them, and it is because of those girls that I have such a fond memory of Susanna Hoffs’ lead vocals.

(From thebanglesVEVO)

7) Constant Craving – k.d. lang

“Constant Craving” is probably one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. Unrequited might have been another title for it, but within the lyrics, k.d. touches on desire and where it comes from, noting that it has always been–implying that it will always be. There will always be something we want, something we think we need, even if we can’t have it as soon as we want it. What do you do with that craving when you can’t quench it? The complementary video highlights k.d. singing solo and shots of vaudevillian entertainers cracking jokes and performing slapstick comedy. Is k.d.’s constant craving to entertain? Or is she reflecting on a human craving to seek acceptance from those around us–our captive audience? Play this in the background and think on it. Call it your mindful meditation for the day. 🙂

(From Warner Bros. Records)

8) Express Yourself – Madonna

This song has truly been an anthem of my life. In the lyrics, Madonna encourages women to not settle for whatever comes along romantically because he’s good in the sack or has lots of money. She also, inadvertently probably, tells women how important it is to communicate not only in the bedroom, but also in your life. If you want to be heard, if you want to pursue what you want out of life, you better speak the hell up! Express yourself, because “Girls, [if] you believe in love, [she’s] got something to sing about it…” She tells women love [and life] is in their control, if they just want to take it.

(From Warner Music Germany)

9) No Rain – Blind Melon

The lyrics to this song were the first words I ever heard and thought, “Wow, that sums up my depression; right there.” It was one of those moments when I felt someone had read my diary and put music to it. “Enrich my life away” pretty much sums (and summed up) how I spent my life, day in and day out, seeking information, believing that if I crammed enough information into my head I might finally feel useful, productive, wanted. Sometimes, I feel like I’m still looking for that garden of people dressed just like me.

(From emimusic)

10) Colors – April Smith and the Great Picture Show

This song was in the background on a paint commercial, or maybe a Woolbrite commercial talking about how bright and vibrant the colors in your clothing can be. Whatever. That isn’t even the point when it comes to this catchy little tune about dedication and true love–across an ocean’s distance. “I’ll wear your colors, my dear /til you’re standing right here / next to the one who adores you / whose heart is beating for you like a lighthouse / guide to shipwrecked sailors safely from the sea” is basically a mantra for my life. I’ll be here, waiting for you, until you come back home to me.

(From WNRN)

Mid-Term #Elections Tomorrow: Nov. 4!



Seriously, oh so seriously. Right now big changes are happening in this country, and you shouldn’t take a second to reconsider how important your vote will be tomorrow, two years from now, and even two years after that. If there’s anything I’ve learned about our country this year, it’s that the President only has power if Congress wants to give it to him. Republicans are throwing mud around here (funny, it just includes the lines “standing by Obama” or “supporting Obama” or even “cried when Obama was elected”) but all I can do is smile. Because I’m going to vote tomorrow and that is the way I can tell each and every one of those Republicans how I feel–when I vote Democrat.

And it isn’t even just to tell those Republicans that a woman shouldn’t be forced into getting pregnant just because she wants to have sex, or that I want to marry the woman I love whether they like it or not, or that it is the PEOPLE in this country (NOT THE CORPORATIONS) who count! No, it’s because I can think of all those women in the ’20s who stood up and fought for my right to vote before I was even born. It’s because I can think of all those men and women who fought in nations, where leaders did much more than take away voting rights, for my right to, at the very least, voice my opinion freely. It’s important that I exercise my civil duty and vote out the people who’ve forgotten what being American really means. Vote out the representatives who are no longer truly representing the ideals and the rights of the people.

Don’t just go and vote the party ticket. Don’t just go and vote for the incumbents (definitely don’t vote for incumbents!). Don’t just do what you’ve always done. Research the candidates. Make sure that your vote is really doing some work. No vote is wasted. No voice is a whisper in the reeds. Make your statement. Make your voice heard. It’s the one power people have in this country, and it’s bigger than you’ll ever know. Don’t forget how your state’s representatives treated you if you were on unemployment this year, and still need it! Don’t forget how your state’s representatives treated you if you granted equal marriage rights only to have them taken away the next week or even the next day. Don’t forget how your state’s representatives treated you if you were granted equal marriage rights, and still have them today.

People have power, it’s a matter of how and where you wield it. Don’t be frightened by the people who surround you. Don’t be scared that your voice won’t be heard. Even if the person you voted for doesn’t win (most especially so), go and find political groups that speak to your ideals and join them. Go out there and work for the things you want to see happen in this nation. You have the power. All it takes is a few moments of your day.

Find your polling place via Google, and make a pledge to vote via Tumblr.

Anniversary Pictures from My Phone

On the 30th of September, my fiancee and I celebrated our 4th anniversary. Since we’re not native Missourians, we like to travel around on our anniversary, and even when it isn’t, to see what the four-state region has to offer. Well, this past weekend we traveled about an hour away into the great state of Oklahoma to visit Grove. Granted, there didn’t seem to be much going on, but since we’d never been there before we didn’t really know what to expect.

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

One of the places we did want to stop was Lendonwood Gardens. It’s open to the public during daylight hours and maintained by generous donations provided by the visitors. Again, with no idea what to expect, we were impressed with almost everything, except how warm it was. But you can see the clear blue sky and very light cloud coverage in the back of this image–very beautiful day!

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk




A sense of peace and calm permeated the entire garden, even with other visitors walking around, discussing the plant life, and enjoying the day.

There was plenty to see in this six-acre garden sporting 1200 different varieties of plants, “including the largest collection of rhododendrons in the Southwest, 500 varieties of daylilies, and 25 varieties of dogwoods.”

Among the seven themed gardens in Lendonwood, it was no surprise to be greeted with so much vegetative diversity. The Display Garden greets you just past the gate. The Oriental and Japanese Pavilion Gardens provide shade and beauty, featuring an active koi pond and the majority of the dogwoods, rhododendrons, and azaleas.

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

Most of the plants I didn’t recognize on sight, which makes me want to go out and study botany right about now, but that fact didn’t take away from the serenity provided by the bright colors, clean air, and deep connection to the environment that I felt taking it all in.

The English Terrace and American Backyard Gardens felt the most familiar to me. Though I’ve never been to England, I’ve read books and seen movies where the countryside is detailed and it was like walking into a gust of familiar air. Amid the American Backyard Garden stood a beautiful, white iron gazebo.

Source: MeliSwenk
Source: MeliSwenk

The second I saw it, I imagined the two main characters from my novel-in-progress underneath it, and I just had to have some images of it for descriptive purposes. Though the majority of that story will be taking place in Romania, I thought this white gazebo would be the perfect location for a clandestine romantic rendezvous or the planning of a nefarious coup plot. Either way, in that moment, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Quite beautiful.

The last two gardens, we didn’t really get a good look at. I think somewhere around the Japanese Pavilion Garden we got turned around between the stone paths and the grassy paths (no complaints here!), and we couldn’t find the Angel of Hope Garden. The statue in the picture from the site is gorgeous, though. And the Azalea Garden seemed to be on the other side of a private citizen’s driveway. Hard-pressed to intrude on someone else’s territory, I decided not to pursue the Azalea Garden; even though my fiancee made the point that it might have been the garden manager’s home. Looking back, I kind of wish I’d been more headstrong and just done it. Eh, you live; you learn. 🙂 Either way, it was a great trip and a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.

When we got home from Grove, (the other place we wanted to see didn’t appear to be open, let alone operational) my fiancee and I exchanged gifts. If this girl doesn’t know me, then no one does.

Noir, Merlot, and Blade--Talk about a great afternoon!
Noir, Merlot, and Blade–
That’s a great afternoon!