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Dreaming with Jessica

Happy Veteran's Day, and Thank You.

Jessica Sprague

In the spirit of gratitude to all the members of the Armed Forces, I wanted to share this video. It is from World War II, and is the first time a cameraman was sent in to combat with troops. Their courage and tenacity, which has been passed down through generations of servicemen and women, is an inspiration to us all. 

Thank you to each veteran of our Armed Forces, for your courage, the valor with which you carry out your assignments, and your allegiance to this great country and the values it stands for. God bless America, and God bless you.  

The Unboxing of King Tut

Jessica Sprague

Spotted this on Mashable the other day - the color photographs from the 1920s would be amazing in their own, but seeing color photos from the 1920s that are of the first opening of a 4000 year old Egyptian tomb is a whole other experience.

Rowen is studying Ancient Egypt in her social studies class. Here's the question she was asked, and which I'd like to hear the answer to:

What would you take into the afterlife if you could?

And now since I know you said your computer or your device or the Internet, what would you take that is NOT one of those? Ha!

Here's how my fam answered:

  • Jared said: (barring devices of course) that he would take a huge, huge stack of books.
  • Grammy would take a photo album of her kids and grandkids.  
  • Rowen said she would take her bike. 
  • I said could I please have an external hard drive with Wikipedia on it? Everyone said no. So I said a stack of nonfiction and classic books. 
  • And Elliott flatly refused to consider an afterlife that had no devices. Crossed arms and looked away.

Now you. What would you take? 


New Friends.

Jessica Sprague

I met a new friend today. *Gasp* I know.

How often does that happen? For me, in "real life"? It's rare enough that I'm writing a blog post about it. 

Here's how it went down: there's a grocery-stripmall near my house that has a little bit of everything. My Dr. is there. There's a little gym next door. So after my Dr. appointment I had a few minutes to kill before going to inquire at the gym about a membership (more on that in another post!). So I headed in to Harris Teeter, bought a likely magazine and a hot chocolate at the little Starbucks there by the front of the store. 

Starbucks had gotten some kind of big delivery, because there were boxes spread out over the tables, and I had to ask if I could sit at one of them (they consolidated).  I was settling in when a sweet-sounding woman asked if she could sit at my table. Of course! There were no other tables to sit at, why not?

And I did my usual airplane/bus/elevator thing and went back to my mag. A minute later she says, "Is that an aquamarine?" - she was referring to my wedding ring, which is indeed an aquamarine, which Jared cut for me 2 years ago. 

And gosh this is a lot of backstory, which is because I haven't blogged regularly and I'm going to fix that. 

So I was floored that she recognized the stone, which no one ever has. And she said her new wedding ring is aquamarine too, and it's her favorite stone. I see that she's got one of those real estate magazines you find in the entryway of grocery stores and ask if she's looking for a house. Nah. Just likes to look. (Raise of hands, yah? Me too. Looking at homes is like lady-porn. Admit it.)

And that kicked it off. We spent 45 minutes talking. She lives less than a mile from me. She showed me some of her gorgeous photography - she has an artist's eye with no training at all, and she made me laugh and I made her laugh, and we drank our drinks and talked about kids and schools and carpet and how to clean an aquamarine ring, and dreams of what we would do if only, and there was no weirdness whatsoever - I might have known her for ages. I almost hugged her when we parted. 

To this minute I have no idea why she was in there, except maybe for the same reason I was (time to kill, grab a drink and a look-see at something in print), because didn't actually leave with any groceries. She might have been only my imagination. (someone should get outside her house a little more often, yes?)

But then I was reading the ol' internets this afternoon and came across two very interesting articles.

Friendships as Adults: Harder than it Seems

The first one I saw was a reaction to an initial article at The Atlantic, called "How Friendships Change in Adulthood". One of the points made is that college is the time when most people form their lifelong friendships because the circumstances are all there to make that happen. And because we don't tend to BE in places like that as adults, our "making friends" skills atrophy.

Love that. Picture me in my airplaine/bus/elevator mode "minding my own business" rather than actively looking to engage with the world, even at the Starbucks in Harris Teeter. And isn't that what I do, with my camera and my mind and my whole life? Engage with the world? And yet my skills at friend-making have atrophied to the point where I'm flabbergasted that I had more than a 5-minute conversation with someone, which wasn't contrived or appointed or required in some way. Am I the only one there?

So when priorities become really important, FRIENDS are high on the list - that we WISH we had more, or stayed in better contact with the ones we have. And I think that includes online AND in-life friends. People to laugh with and have inside jokes with, to cry with or pray for, to say, "I'm here. I see you. You aren't alone. You're loved and valued." Studies say that people with depression are helped by having friends, and engaging with them regularly. What's the magic there? 

Where We Live Affects our Friendships

So why does our adulthood make it difficult to develop and maintain friendships? Aside from the excuse that most of us don't have (make) the time to actively make and maintain friendships, the second article suggests that at least part of the difficulty is in where we live. 

It's called "Why Our Housing Choices Make Adult Friendships More Difficult," and it essentially points out that we simply don't live in places (as we might have done in college) where the spontaneous encounters occur that form and keep friendships. Spontaneous encounters. Last time you had one of those? 

The author quotes a study:

And this also reinforces the point:

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

So maybe the spontaneous friend I made in the grocery-store Starbucks today was an anomaly. It is certainly rare in my life - mostly because I spend so much of it at home working. Maybe something like this only happens in the South, where I've noticed that people are markedly more outgoing than in other places I've lived. I don't know. But my life changed a little bit this morning, and I'm grateful for it. 

Now You:

  • Did you make your best lifelong friends in college?
  • Has your ability to make friends atrophied in adulthood?
  • Do you think WHERE you live (city/suburb/rural) affects the friends you have and make?
  • How has the internet changed your friendships?
  • Do you think about friends and friendships in a wistful way, (wish I had more) or in a resigned way (I just don't have the time)?
  • Do you think being a male or female drives any of this? 

Blog it, Facebook it, React. OK go.

Take your Photos from Good to Great!

Sonya Poll

Think back to the day you got your first digital camera. Boy how our lives have changed, right? I didn't realize all that could be done, all the memories I could hold onto. Now we can take photos all the time!   From phones to cameras to tablets... there are always photos to be taken, memories to be saved, a lifetime to savor.

In honor of our first digital cameras and ALL the photos we've taken since, I'd like to announce not one but TWO new photo editing classes, so you can take your pick! Each class is just $69 with the links below!

Photo Editing 1: Lightroom Edition

You've been asking for it, and here it is! My first-ever class for Adobe Lightroom! Are you as excited as I am? WOO!


In the Photo Editing 1: Lightroom Edition class, which launches November 3, I'll show you how to make easy global edits using the world-class Lightroom application, designed by photographers for photographers. If you've subscribed to the photographer's bundle from Adobe, this is the class for you! I'll show you how to combine easy Lightroom edits with the power of special techniques in Photoshop to create photos that will make your heart sing. I promise. You'll

Best part yet? I'm offering this class at an introductory price, more than 20% off with this special link. Regular price is $89, and you'll get the class for $69!

Register for Lightroom Edition

If you'd like to check out Lightroom, click here to grab the 30-day free trial

Photo Editing 1:Photoshop Edition

For Photoshop CC, CS6, CS5, and any version of Photoshop Elements!

If you only take ONE Photoshop class in your life, the Photo Editing 1: Photoshop Edition is it! (of course, if you've taken a bunch, this is still it! Ha!) Of all the things I could share or show, the one that will make the MOST impact on you as a memory keeper is the skill of editing photos.  


In this class, which begins November 3, I'll show you how to use the free plugin included with Photoshop and Photoshop Elements called Adobe Camera Raw, and then we'll take our photo right into Photoshop to make it sing! You'll learn how to make colors pop, how to turn photos black and white, add treatments such as tints and vignettes, sharpen, and save for both print and the web. You'll be armed with knowledge that will last you a lifetime, and will change your photos forever.

Best part? Right now you can get $20 off the original price! Check it out! Regular price is $89, and you'll get the class for just $69!

Register for Photoshop Edition

Regardless of which edition you choose, Photo Editing 1 is the place to start for editing those precious photographic memories. I can't wait to show you! Register today!

Free Halloween Banner Printable!

Sonya Poll

Halloween is my favorite time of year! I love decorating my house and yard, and getting dressed up! I love the color scheme too! Orange, black, gray, brown.. the fall colors come together so well.

In honor of October, I created this so-cute Halloween banner using the Chillingsworth Manor kit from Echo Park. It's my favorite Halloween kit. Seriously. 

So I created flag and coffin shapes, and you'll find lots of cute vintage-style ghoulies! The download comes with two .jpg files you can print onto letter-sized photo paper or presentation paper. Cut them out, hang them on baker's twine with little clothespins, or sew them together, or tape them, whatever you like! 

When you're done, take a pic and post it! I'd love to see what you make!

Here's a preview of the banner:

And here's what the pages look like when you download them (these are the low resolution images - be sure to click the download link to get the printables!)

Click here to download the FREE Halloween Printable Banner!


Credit goes to Echo Park Paper and their Chillingsworth Manor collection digital kit. Here's a preview of the whole collection. Go grab it today!

In Memoriam: Brady Howell

Jessica Sprague

I made a promise to myself, in memory of my friend Brady, that I would blog about him on September 11 every year. It's so hard to imagine that the world has been so long without his quick wit and winning smile. I 've missed a couple. But here is 2006, 2007, 2008

He was a great guy - one of those guys that is friends with everyone, and not a single person could find anything negative to say about him-except that maybe he laughed too loud, and was in on too many of the pranks (until he became Student Body President my senior year of high school).

He was my semi-distant relative: our great-grandfathers were brothers - his mom's maiden name is Bills and so is mine. We used to joke that we could never date because it'd be against the law. We still went out a few times, and hung out together with friends all the time.

He was a great singer. I remember at the mission farewell of a friend, that he and a group sang "Abide with Me, Tis Eventide" - all four parts, a capella. It was so gorgeous, and 20+ years later I still remember it.

At his own mission farewell (Elder Howell went to the Canary Islands - how unfair is that?), that the closing song he chose was, "God Be With You Til We Meet Again" and many times when I hear or play that song I think about Brady.

And mostly he was my friend. Mostly I will miss him, and the world is poorer that he is gone. 

And mostly I will never forget that he was murdered. 

Relatively speaking (say, a human lifetime), it has been a long time since the original September Eleventh. My kids weren't even born yet, and they are in 5th and 6th grade now. But in the scope of human experience we were attacked on our own soil like an hour ago. It'll be a day when the world changed for all of us - a true day of terror. A day that was the beginning of the war that still goes on, and might go on forever (who can say?).

Every single person who was alive that day and anywhere in America remembers that day. And I am posting in memory of my friend Brady, who was in his office, at his post in Naval Intelligence in the Pentagon, when the unimaginable happened. When his good and decent and influential and important life (just like the lives of all the victims) was suddenly snuffed out. 

Please take a second today in silence to remember the lives of all those - victims and families and rescuers - who are so deeply affected by this act of terror. It's important that we never, ever forget.

Build a Beautiful Online Course Homepage with Fedora

Sonya Poll

Image isn't everything. Well, that is except when it comes to digital design and doughnuts. 

Digital design is like the sprinkles of the internet. It makes pages look nice. Who wants to look at a plain Jane page? I know I want sprinkles on my doughnuts, and images on my pages. 

I joined Ankur and the team at Fedora for a much-requested webinar last week. We discussed how I turned their school page into what you see at Their support (as well as ours) has been filled with the question...

"You know how they say image is everything, I hate that, and don’t think it’s true, EXCEPT for web design, in which, image actually is everything. What I mean is that in order to put across that credibility that we’re looking for, in order to invite people to trust you as their teacher, you have to be able to show them beautiful things. That is the toughest part, but I’m going to help you along the way.” - Jessica Sprague

Using Fedora's platform, the Bootstrap starter kit, Adobe's Dreamweaver and Photoshop, Screenflow, the reset button, and more, I built the page you now see at Oh, you cannot forget the tears and sweat and sprinkles. 

Here's a preview of Bootstrap!

Here's a preview of Bootstrap!

You can build a school like mine, customize it, and sell your knowledge! You're awesome, and I believe in you!

You can read more over at Fedora's blog. Ashley Hockney did a wonderful writeup about sprinkles and the resources used to build! There's also a link to watch the replay of the webinar. Check out her post Build a Beautiful Online Course Homepage.

I hope you get lots of knowledge from the webinar! 

Depression & Thoughts.

Jessica Sprague

I haven't written for a few days, not because I don't have anything to say, but because how do you follow on something like Heidi Swapp's beautiful and exquisitely sad post about her sweet son Cory? What else could there ever be to say that measures to this? How will any of us be able to see through our tears in our sorrow for one amazing family and one very, very lonely young dude? 

I've cried a lot the past couple of weeks. I ugly-cried at church so hard the past 2 weeks I had to come home. For two weeks in a row. I blame all the Jesus and Eternal Hope songs - not in anger, but in gratitude for God's plan - that we are all born into families for a reason, and that those families still exist in eternity. Doesn't make it hurt any less when one of them leaves the circle for awhile, though. My whole soul hurts for my soul sister. She is, all I can say, immensely strong. She's baffled and heartbroken and struggling, and still staunch and faithful and hilarious and I will love and admire her grace for as long as I live

She's a woman of sincere humility and faith who desperately feels the Cory-shaped hole in her heart, but knows with that same unshakeable faith that he'll always be hers, that he's waiting for her, and that someday - maybe not for a long time - she'll get some understanding of his pain. Maybe of WHAT the level of hidden pain he was in, and WHY. Oh, the why - why does this have to be an earthly affliction at all? It's truly low and dirty play.

And yet again, I myself find it terrifyingly easy to imagine the WHAT, although nobody can ever know the pain in those secret silent places in a heart and mind. I've blogged about my own struggle with depression. And so my heart breaks twice, once for each of them.

Here's my hope, and, after talking with her, Heidi's hope too:

Let there not be stigma about depression. Let there not be blame, or shame, or that old tired yawn about how it's only in our heads, and the whole pick yourself up and walk-it-off nonsense that never got anybody anywhere and instead kills thousands of people a year. Depression is a monster that eats you heart and soul, bite by bite. Plays to your weaknesses and sadness and hopelessness until one day you start to believe the devil's lie: That they'd be better off without you. 

I'm now on both sides of that equation. I've thought it. And now I experience (in my small heartbroken way, only feeling for HER unimaginable pain) the nuclear-bomb devastation left in the wake of a suicide. And one thing I know for certain-sure: 


But here is the bitter and heartbreaking truth: sometimes therapy and meds and our best vigilance are not enough. Sometimes to our beautiful friend or son or family member, whose hope is in ashes and whose future seems too dark to imagine, there is only one option left. Please, let us not blame them. Let us also never blame or question the action of parents or children or siblings or or others that they leave behind. They certainly have enough self-doubt and private, questioning anguish to be getting on with. 

So we can mourn with those that mourn, and when our own questions begin to turn to 'how COULD he/she/they, WHY did or didn't he/she/they, we can shut up about it. Because we will never know and it isn't ours to know anyway. We grieve. We condole with them. We cry our ugly-cry for the earthly life that so often hurts like a motherbear and leaves us all reeling in pain. And we can kneel in the midst of that sorrow and thank God for the opportunity to come here anyway. That He's there with His hand in ours through it all - not to take it away, but to help us live through it and come out more faithful, better, stronger in the end. That's what Heidi, my sweet and grief-stricken and immensely faithful friend, is doing. Maybe tonight you can kneel a little longer in grief for her and her family, and for all the earthly pain everywhere. And then maybe kneel a little longer still in gratitude for the peace that only Heaven can bring as it lingers close.




Song to the Lord of the Vineyard

Jessica Sprague

Song to the Lord of the Vineyard

for H.K.S.

I have carved thee upon my soul,

O Lord of this rustling place.

And here, upon this bowing limb, this breaking heart

I set the seal of Heaven,

and I am formed, and framed, and each leaf counted.


And throwing green hair back I exult

with eyelids orange in the sun, and I sing.

mossy with music and surging with sap, I sing,

cannot be kept from singing.

amazed, reply with arms-wide yes - 

to the heart of my own ringed, widening heart. 


In the rough of brown earth, where knowledge began,

where nurture began, I delve with spreading toe unseen,

slowly breaking clay and rock, slowly

reaching roots-wide yes. Slowly raising

this trunk of my trunk, bending but never bent.


The chaos and storms that have shaken me!

Sent me quivering to the roots.

My leaves shake and fall, my twigs break in the black sky

my delved foot slips as I cry -


But always, dear Master of furrow and plow,

I am reached, braced, borne up,


and by thee, and for thee,

I am slowly thus made

a sheltering home, carved forever

in Thy likeness.


I watched before time a red corner of this own garden

another tree, ringed and broken,

and set on a skull-hill.

And there Thou hung, my own vineyard's Lord,

broken, in blood, and body, and finished.

All our leaves and all our tears rained that day, gasping in sorrow

and breath-held hope.


But now - now in this same garden’s quiet

Sabbath corner,

with listening leaf and witnessing bough,

we of the Vineyard see a rolled stone,

and greet an empty grave. 


So Before his scarred feet I bow my creaking knees, 

my awed silence pruning words of grief

into resolve, 

that His giving, hanging, breaking, tending

will not go unattended.


And my tree-soul straightens, 

remembering sap-deep,

and with low, rustling anthem

that my work - leaf and branch - is now this: 

ever delving, ever reaching

to make of this my bark, my root my worshipping leaf,

An arrow to the to sky he returns to.

-Jessica Sprague