Beginner’s tips to improve your photos

Do you want to improve your photos by quite a bit, without getting a degree in art or photography?  Make them stand out, and really shine?  Improve the contrast and crop it properly!  It’s simple to do, and I’ll show you how.

(My instructions are for the free art program GIMP, but the process is the same for any photo editing program.)

It’s pretty simple.  First, open your photo in GIMP or your favorite photo editing software.  For folks who are new to this, that usually means right clicking on the picture file and selecting “open with” then picking what you want to open in.

So, now you have your photo open.  Maybe it looks like this.example 1

Not a bad picture, really, but maybe you want to see the lioness better.  So draw a box around the area you want to keep with your selection tool (usually looks like a rectangle in the toolbar) and then use “Crop to Selection.”  In GIMP, that can be found under “Image,” up in the menu.  You’ll get something like this:

example 2

Better, but it could look even better than that!  So try this:  in GIMP, in the menu at the top, go to “Colors” then “auto” then “white balance.”  You’ll get something like this:

example 3

If you don’t like how that turned out, you can go to “Colors” then “Brightness and Contrast” and move the sliders around till you get something you like, like this:

example 4

Sometimes you can preserve the colors better by using the “Brightness and Contrast” tool rather than the automatic white balance, it depends on the photo.  If you are not using GIMP, but instead another program, there will be similar options but they may be called something different.

In any case, there’s a lot you can do to improve an image with very little effort!




The suspense is over

In case anyone was on tenterhooks about this, I actually decided to celebrate the winter holiday this year.  We made a pretty neat tree with more lights than I thought possible to put on one, topped off with a stuffed penguin.  There are gloomy days right now, even here in sunny Arizona and the lights are a welcome touch of brightness.  Though it’s difficult to see, I have small folded paper cranes among the branches as ornaments.  It’s a great reminder of light, life, and good cheer!

Along with the annual holiday story that I do with my family, I’ve also updated the anthology that we published last year.  Yuletide Lights now has sixteen stories and a fresh new look.  It’s available in eBook and paperback formats.  Personally, I recommend the paperback format, as it’s a nice weighty little volume, but the eBook version still has all the pen and ink illustrations so you won’t be missing out on anything.

The stories, as the subtitle suggests, are all heartwarming tales of home and family, both in farm and city, and sometimes with a dash of humor sprinkled in.   These aren’t stories of big, extravagant Christmasses – but rather ones where a few boughs of freshly picked holly and maybe a store-bought box of cordial cherries make or break the day.  There are little girls who dream of ponies and find out what having a real one is like, hard working moms, old houses, shabby towns and always plenty of love.  I hope you’ll decide to check it out, even if it’s just to read the sample excerpt on Amazon.



Yuletide Lights Cover 2nd edition ebook 800.png

It’s pushing me into premature old age…

This is a cautionary tale for my fellow bloggers.

I had thought my art site,, was fairly safe.  I had set up a couple of passwords that did the whole numbers, letters and symbols thing.  I guess my FTP password, which I didn’t think of much because I don’t really use FTP, was too easy to guess.

This opened the site up to scammers!

It started with the multiple spam comments a day.  After I locked that down by requiring sign up for commenters, I still got a few.  Then the spam through my contact form started.  Then I found a couple of blog posts that I hadn’t written.  I changed my passwords and deleted the content, figuring that would be the end of it.  It wasn’t.  Then a couple of users I hadn’t added showed up.  I deleted them, changed the password again…

Then someone built a phishing page that was harassing hotels in Germany, using the hosting I was paying for.  Then they took over my email and started using that to spam people, and locked me out…

So I contacted my hosting company to see what I could do.

It turns out that FTP password, which I rarely even thought of, was the weak link.  It had been too easy to guess and had given scammers access.

So my entire site had to be deleted and now I have to start from scratch.  I’m waiting a bit to see if anyone is putting any other files on my site or database, before rebuilding the site.  As many gray hairs as this has given me, I’ve learned a lot.  So here are some things you can do to prevent the same thing from happening.

Keep an inventory of all your passwords and make sure they are ALL hard to guess.  You may want to keep a little book, hidden or locked up somewhere, as a master list that is not accessible online.  That way you can change things on a regular basis and not forget anything.  I have done this.  I know people say never write down your password, but honestly that’s probably the safest way to keep it – just don’t leave it where people can find it.

Watch for spam comments, new files you didn’t upload, and new users on your site.

If you pay for hosting outside WordPress, know how to get into your database and your files list so you can check for new things you didn’t add.

Watch for blog posts you didn’t write.  They may be hidden in the middle of the list.

Get two factor authentication if you can.

Keep your blog updated with any security updates or patches.

Run an antivirus (I recommend Spybot S&D) or use a Linux machine.  That way, you aren’t as likely to be hit by keyloggers that will save your password.

If you have a security issue, go to your hosting service – a lot of times they can be helpful.

Back up your site in some way.  That way you don’t have to start from scratch in case you have to redo it – like I did.  I have my blog entries for my art site saved on Goodreads so I know basically what I had.

Stay vigilant!  If something looks odd, investigate.

Keep blogging!  Sites with few or infrequent updates are prime targets for scammers and hackers because they know they aren’t watched as well.

May the Source be with you.


via Daily Prompt: Age

The unexpected safety features of Standard Transmissions

Life is art.  Time to talk a bit about the art of using a clutch.  When I first learned to drive, I was having such a hard time that I said frequently “I’ll always drive an automatic.”

It would have been possible to do that – however, I knew deep down that I needed to learn.  I admired the people who could work a clutch.  My own mother had, for most of her cars, and everybody I liked knew how.

I dreaded learning.  There was so much to do!   It seemed like I’d never get the rhythm right, especially starting up a hill.

Then came my pretty Dodge Dakota pickup.  It was perfect for my needs, but it was a standard.  I practiced and practiced – stalled out quite a few times – and eventually learned.  Then, when I was looking for a sedan, I found myself searching eagerly for a standard.  I found it – my battered Elantra has served me for over a decade.

Now, after quite a few years driving standards, I’m irritated if I have to drive an automatic.  There’s nothing to do!  I have so little control!  I can’t stand automatics anymore.  There are some very good reasons why standards are not only safer, but better cars to own.

Advantages of a Standard Transmission

Better speed control – when you stay in one particular gear, it naturally keeps you in a range of speeds.  This helps prevent you from driving too fast for the road.  It’s a bit like a cruise control only more flexible.

Safer braking – When you slow down while driving a standard, you use the brake as well as your engine to do it.  So if your brakes completely fail you have another option to get back under control.  You also tend brake more smoothly and safely.

Ticket avoidance – when you drive a standard, you can slow down without using the brake at all – just let off the gas and quietly shift into a lower gear.  That can help you avoid the notice of traffic cops who are looking for brake lights.

A back-up to your starter – with most standards, you can push start them without using your ignition at all.  So if it, your battery, or your alternator fail, you aren’t out of luck.  You can start up again with the help of either some strong friends or a gentle hill.

Cheaper to work on – a clutch replacement is usually less than a thousand dollars.  Mine are around six hundred.  With good driving you can get a clutch to last a long time.  An automatic transmission replacement will cost you a LOT more than that.

Cheaper to buy – with standards being less popular, many times you can get a better deal on them.  That’s a great advantage!

Better knowledge of your car – with a standard, you are more aware of what your engine is doing.  That helps you be easier on the car, and also be alert of any problems before they get bad.

Better gas mileage – some of the modern automatics claim to have better gas mileage than standards, but in general, you do get better gas mileage with a standard and good driving than older automatics can deliver.

If more of us learn to love and drive standards, they will continue to be available in new models of trucks and cars.   I’d hate to see the standard die out – they are just too useful!  Not only that, but they are a lot of fun to drive.

Cat Nests

Have you ever noticed how cats love to nest?

They love boxes, bags, shelves, drawers, dryers that are turned off, foots of beds, piled up blankets, and any other soft place and hidey hole you can imagine.  Baskets were made for cats.  Just ask one, they’ll tell you.

Nezumi’s favorite nest is on my guitar bag when it’s folded up and sitting on a stool.  It’s soft and she likes the somewhat shiny surface.  Shinji’s special nest is on a shelf in the middle of a chest of drawers.  It’s a perfect cat sized nook, and he still manages to fit into it even though I put things in there to try to keep him out.

I’ve seen Nezumi sleeping on a pantry shelf…

on the computer desk…

on beds…

in chairs…

trying to fit themselves inside sandals…

in windows…

under desks…

in the laundry basket, empty or full…

and so many other places I can’t recall them all.

Once in a great while, they’ll sleep in the beds I made for them!

Publishing Particulars for Draft2Digital

Read below for my special offer for authors!

As many of my fellow authors know, Pronoun is closing down.  Pronoun was actually a really great eBook publishing platform, and gave authors a great profit share.  Probably too great – since they are shutting down.  Anyway I’ll miss them.

On a recommendation, I gave Draft2Digital a try.  I found the conversion and formatting easy, the eBook templates varied and nice looking, and the interface was awesome!  Profit share is still good, too, and they distribute to multiple vendors.  They do provide universal links for ease in marketing, and there’s even a neat feature where your readers can sign up for email alerts for you publish a new book.

I had one little issue with one of the vendors, but the Draft2Dgital rep was responsive friendly and corrected it immediately.  So far I’ve had nothing but good to say about them.  I like retaining control over my books, and being able to price them at any rate I wish, without paying up front.  I also like how you can set any payment threshold you want, and they pay you via an assortment of methods.

So that brings me to my special offer, particularly for authors!  If you follow my affiliate link and join, then send me a message or an email, I’ll feature you in an author interview to promote your new book.

Just follow the link here!  My email address is on the About page.

That link, if you want to save it, is:

If you want to see what one of their universal book pages looks like, check this out:


Happy creating!

Meet Shinji, Mindflight’s droll new co-mascot.

Nezumi here.  Mom’s busy working the camera and trying to get decent photos.  Something about “darn autofocus,” whatever that means.  I have bad news.  Very, very bad.

There’s a new cat in the house.  Do you hear me?  A NEW CAT.  For the first day or two I hissed at him all the time just to let him know who’s boss.  Then I eased up a little and just stole his food, and gave him the Demon Eyes when I saw him.  Then I just hissed at him when he meowed too much.

He’s something called a Siamese.  He looks funny, with stripes and pale patches and blue eyes and stuff.  He’s kinda small too, especially for a boy, and the Moms keep calling him “Minimeez” or “Permakitty.”  It’s a good thing they are both giving me treats and petting me a lot, or I’d have to evict him.

The other day, Mom laughed at me hissing at him, and said “remember when Orion used to hiss at you, back when you were a kitten?”  She thought that was pretty droll.  Orion was my best friend.  I still miss him.  It’s hard to imagine being hissed at by my adoptive dad!

The Moms told me all about Shinji.  He’s an old man!  He could be as much as fourteen years old, and I’m only eleven!  But he looks and acts like he’s three or so.  The Moms said I should be nice to him because his two legged mother died, and then his two cat friends, and he was living in a backyard, and he needs a loving home.

I might be nice to him.  Later.  After all, he is pretty good at ankle-winding, and the Moms like that.  For now I’ll just not growl at him.  Much.

Catloaf 3 800

Catloaf 2 900

catloaf 1 900

He’s not very good at having his picture taken yet, is he?  Oh well.  I’ll teach him everything I know.  Eventually.  Anyway, here’s me, the great Nezumi, signing off.  All this blogging has made me tired.

Nezumi in chair.JPG