Monday, March 31, 2014

A New Home for ELM Creative

If you're a regular on this blog, you may have noticed this thing called ELM Creative. ELM Creative is a home for all of my freelance offerings, a collection point where I can showcase my work--what I've done and what I offer.
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ELM Creative evolved out of two prior projects I had, my photography "freelance business" (Elise Loyola Photography, which started in 2008) and The Fix, a one-stop shop for writing and editing offerings that I and a friend created back in 2010. Unfortunately, The Fix never really took off, but I always liked the idea of offering creative services to businesses/organizations that just needed a professional edge to their written content.

In the summer of 2013, I decided that Elise Loyola Photography needed to expand because the truth was, I loved more than just photography. I wanted to increase my freelance offerings and showcase my work in other areas like writing, blogging, social media management, and marketing/public relations. This change was really only manifested on Facebook as I changed the Elise Loyola Photography page to ELM Creative--a reflection of the change in my name as I got married and the expansion of my offerings.

Since then, ELM Creative has been slowly gaining speed as my life and work-life have been changing. The biggest difference is now that I'm working a part time job, I have more time to dedicate to freelance work. It's so important to be to be able to have the time I need to make my offerings the best that they can be.

ELM Creative is driven by my professional experience in journalism--writing, editing, photography--and social media management/PR--managing the digital presence of newspapers and also the marketing for a healthcare office. It's also driven by my personal work--writing for school assignments and personal reasons, teaching writing classes, practicing my photography, and keeping this blog and other websites over the years. With all that behind me, I know I bring a lot of varied experience and insight to the table and can offer fresh content and perspectives to those who seek out my services.

Now I'm excited to finally showcase my first projects under ELM Creative, and have decided to create a separate site on which to do that. The goal in making a new site was to simply make it easier to navigate the information. I previously had everything written out on one page on my blog and it became a lot to scroll through. The new site has everything broken down by tabs and individual pages so the content is sorted and streamlined.

I'd love it if you checked out the new site, and recommended it to anyone you know who may be interested in or looking for freelance work. (You can also direct people to ELM Creative on Facebook and Twitter.) I appreciate all the support I've gotten over the years, for this and other projects I've undertaken. I couldn't do it without the encouraging words, shares, comments, and feedback. So thank you!

P.S. I had a conversation with my author friend, Ben, yesterday about whether the name ELM Creative is pronounced "elm" like the tree or "e-l-m" like my initials. I most often think of it as "elm" and so that's the pronunciation I'm going for, but it does stand for my initials. :)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Contributing to The Dead Church Movement

I'm excited to tell you all about another opportunity I have been given to be a guest writer! This time, I'm teaming up as a contributor with my friend Jordan Santos and his site, The Dead Church Movement.

The site is an excellent resource for churches and Christian believers as it seeks to wake up the sleepers in our generation--those who call and believe themselves to be Christians, but are not. There are lots of great blog posts covering important topics from the church and legalism to tolerance and discipline.

My first post, Beauty in the Body, was published today! It is a church-centric spin-off article from my last blog post, Life Lessons and Confessions of an Ugly Girl. It takes the themes of that post--appearance, beauty, worth, and value--and dissects them under a biblical view for the church. It may seem like a post just for women, but I wrote it broadly for all church members and leaders. I'd urge everyone to read it as it may encourage you, and provide a glimpse into the needs and desires of others.

I'm looking forward to continuing to contribute to The Dead Church Movement and I would love to hear your thoughts/feedback. If you read the piece, what struck you about it? Did you learn something or consider something you hadn't before? What do you think could be added? What types of things would you like me to write about? I value your opinions and love to hear from you!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Life Lessons and Confessions of an Ugly Girl

"Ew, gross. Why are your hands all wet?"

Recoiling, I feverishly rub my sweaty palms against my jeans, mutter sorry, and subconsciously add this to the list of things that are repulsive about me.

If you asked me what I thought about myself in high school, I would've told you that I think I'm ugly. I have eyes that disappear if they're not rimmed in something--mascara or eyeliner--proven by the fact that if they're not, people ask me if I'm tired or sick. I sweat much more than the normal person, in grotesquely obvious places, like my armpits, hands and feet. Going to class wearing pit stains isn't exactly an ideal feature. My feet and occasionally my arms are ravaged by eczema, a painful skin condition that keeps me from wearing sandals because no one wants to see that. And my butt is rather large, as has been pointed out to me on numerous occasions, leaving me feeling chunky, or stout as I like to think of myself.

When I was a kid, I didn't really think about my looks. But I did grow up in the era of Disney princesses and their cartoons, which taught me that all desirable ladies have at least one thing in common: beauty. How I looked never seemed to matter, much. I was tall for my age and had a lot of guy friends, who treated me like a guy most of the time. My first almost-boyfriend came along in 8th grade. Nothing really happened because I wasn't allowed to date. We talked on the phone a few times and I found out he and his friend had nicknamed me 'nef,' which stood for 'never ending forehead.' I hadn't given my forehead much thought before that, but after, I agreed it was rather bulbous.

My yearbook photo from sophomore year,
which I hated, of course.
Before my sophomore year of high school, we moved, which aided in confirming my suspicions about my looks. The only guys who talked to me were the socially awkward ones, the sexual predators, or the ones who wanted to copy my homework. I was kind of a loner nerd who didn't know how to dress, so that didn't help my cause. No one asked me to a school dance, much less on a date. When I compared myself to the girls who did get asked out, there was one glaring difference. They were pretty and perfect, I most definitely was not. I befriended who I could, finding that not everyone--like the guy who sexually harassed me in class multiple times--could be trusted. It was a long, scary road, filled with depression and self degradation. I started focusing on everything I did wrong, trying to fix what I could about myself. If I could project a composed, perfected image, I could disguise the ugly parts.

Me around junior year.
My senior year I asked a guy friend--who had liked me for a while, but lived about an hour away--to be my date for prom. He agreed, but made it clear we were just friends and he wasn't interested. At this point, I didn't care, I just wanted a date to keep me from looking like a total loser. I had gone stag enough. I planned a pose for our pre-dance portraits that would keep us from having to hold hands as mine would undoubtedly be clammy. At the dance, my date was busy trying to get my girl friend's number because she was cute. I got left out during a slow song and swept up by the resident gay couple because they felt sorry for me.

At this point, I was just ready for college. It would be a fresh start, with mature, Christian guys, and since I would be out of high school, I could actually date. Maybe one of them could see past the flaws that seemed so glaringly obvious to me. And deep down inside, I think I felt a needless desperation for some kind of validation. Validation that would say, 'You aren't ugly, you are beautiful, and these flaws, they aren't deal breakers.' And even though I knew God loved me, made me, saw me as beautiful, I thought I needed something human to say the same.

At new student orientation, just before the start of my
freshman year of college.
Freshman year of college was a blast. An exciting, crazy blast of emotions, feelings, and newness. I got to completely start over, no longer having to be the loner nerd because practically everyone was new, or friendly. There were so many people, girls and guys, to meet and befriend. And lots of nice, normal guys actually acknowledged me, something that had been foreign for so many years. It instantly brought back my childhood, when I had been more of a tomboy, with all my guy friends. I relished it all, soaking it all up, making the most of opportunities, and finding myself caught off guard when people would hint at me being pretty. Pretty? That's the last thing I thought I was. I was the awkward, ugly, quiet girl in the corner who was virtually invisible.

When guys would ask me to hang out or go out, I would never turn them down. I couldn't believe it was actually happening, and I never knew when 'hanging out' might turn into something more. Not that I was dying to hurry up and get engaged, but I had always wanted to get married. I thought most people met their spouse in college, so why needlessly shut a good guy down? I saw lots of girls being much more selective. If they weren't sure about a guy, they'd turn him down immediately. In my mind, it wasn't serious until a guy said so, so what was the harm in a simple date? (And it never got serious with anyone but Nick.)

Nick and I hanging out during my senior year at Moody.
I slowly learned that my modus operandi, in an environment like that, would turn me from an ugly girl into a 'dating whore.' Or at least that's what other people decided because they thought I hung out, or 'went out,' with too many guys. I was labeled as 'trouble,' and a slew of other things, from the people I had first befriended and trusted, throwing me into a world I didn't know and making me into something I wasn't. In less than a year I was living on the 'other side' of girl-dom, feeling bitter and confused, not knowing how someone ugly could be so much trouble. I didn't know which one was better, or worse, I just knew I had to keep being me, despite what everyone else was saying or thinking.

Sometimes when I look back on college, I wish I could change things, do things differently. But then I realize that I wish I could change others more than myself because I was changing. I wish I could change what they thought about me and thus how they treated me, because what I was doing was needed. It was a part of growing up, learning to be confident in myself and not sell myself short. I was learning how to lead balanced relationships with the opposite sex. Not ones that fulfilled me as a woman, or gave me value and purpose, but ones that reminded me that I was an important human being, a good friend, and a valuable member of a community. That I could go into the world, conquer it's challenges, make a difference in society, and not be defined by my flaws, insecurities, or ugliness.

There are so many things wrong with how society treats women, I could fill a dozen other posts, but this is the one I think about when I think about me, the ugly girl. Women are told to find their value in all the wrong things, all the wrong places. And if they don't have what it takes to 'have value' in those areas, they are dismissed as somehow less. A physical body should not hold more value than a loving soul or a sharp mind. These things will live on, while a physical body will age and decay. And while it takes more than one person to change a society's view, one person can change someone else's view, and then you have two. So if you're reading this, it's time to change your view. What makes women unique and special and important isn't their face or skin or hair or body. It's their heart, mind, and soul, things that dictate how they live, love, and interact with the world. It's their wit, intelligence, service, dedication, contributions, and character that truly matter, that make them beautiful and unique.

To all the girls who have thought or do think they're ugly, I've walked that road with you. It took a long time for me to see myself differently, and sometimes I still don't believe it. Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror and pick apart the things that are wrong with me. Rarely do I stand in front of the mirror and list the things that are right. I think today we make a change, look inside, find that makes us really beautiful--the things that will last--and tell this shell of a physical body, that it's beautiful too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How to Create a Wedding Slideshow

When Nick and I were planning our wedding, we decided to make a video slideshow of photos [our growing up years through our engagement] which we played prior to the ceremony in place of a prelude. We also played it at our rehearsal dinner so that our bridal party and families could see it. I had some people ask where they could watch it later, so I promised to put it on YouTube. Well, it's a little late but it's finally up!

Besides sharing the video, I also wanted to share some tips for creating a slideshow like this for your wedding. It's easy to put together, but it will take some time. You can display it whenever you want, whether after the ceremony while guests are still seated, or at the reception while guests are waiting for you to arrive. It's a great filler for down time, which can get boring at weddings.

Tips for Creating a Wedding Slideshow

1. Ask for help

One of the biggest challenges to creating a slideshow is gathering the content. Depending on how long you want your slideshow to be, you will need a lot of photos. You will also need photos you might not have access to, like your fiance's baby pictures. Don't be afraid to ask for help gathering and scanning pictures.

I got lucky when I started working on our slideshow, Nick's mom had recently scanned tons of past photos of the family and posted them on Facebook. It was easy to click through and drag-and-drop the photos I wanted to use into my computer's desktop. I had some of my own photos already scanned and saved, but not many. I had to dig through a few boxes of old pictures to find some I could use.

2. Scan multiple photos at once

Rather than scanning one photo at a time, which will take longer, put as many photos as possible on the scanning glass and take turns saving them. Your scanner should allow you to select the area of one image at a time, which you can then save to a folder.

3. Be selective 

Chances are you will find tons of cute, useable pictures and you may be tempted to scan them all. Try to limit yourself and be selective. Choose one photo for each year of your life and your fiance's life, or choose one or two photos that represent a milestone. Make sure you choose at least one photo that includes important family members and friends. You don't want your slideshow to go on forever. 

That being said, you may want to scan a few extra photos in case you need to fill out your slideshow to fit the background music you select. Be flexible with your selections, but keep in mind that your guests don't need to see 25 baby photos of you both. Look for variety.

4. Save all the photos in one place

As you're collecting photos, make sure to put them all in the same folder on your computer. Once you start making your slideshow, you won't have to go searching through multiple folders or remember where you put certain pictures. Everything will be in one place, which will save time and eliminate stress.

5. Pick music that will fit the mood

It's important to select songs that will not only fit with the theme of your wedding, but will also mesh well with the photos you are displaying. Try to find songs that will represent the process of growing up, falling in love, etc. You will want to structure your slideshow so that the pictures fit within the music, which will help determine how many photos you can display per song. A photo should only be on the screen for a matter of seconds to keep things interesting and moving.

6. Use a simple program to create your slideshow

I have a Windows7 operating system, so I used Windows Movie Maker to create my slideshow [if you have a Mac, iMovie is a simple program you can use]. It's easy to use because it involves a basic drag-and-drop creation process. [Drag-and-drop all your photos, then your music.] Once all your photos have been imported, you can select them all and then set the duration of time they will display [I set mine for 3.5 seconds each]. Then you can set animations for each photo, like zooming in or scrolling, which will make your slideshow dynamic.

If you've never used a movie-making program before, it may save stress to ask for help from someone who has. However, neither program is particularly difficult to use, so if you're a fast learner, you should be able to figure it out. I recommend using a simple program because they're easy to use and provide the features you will need and not the ones you won't. The point is to not over-complicate your slideshow, or the slideshow making process. You have a lot going on with wedding planning, you don't need to add more stress. [Also, if you want, you can recruit someone to make your slideshow for you. This may be a great project for your fiance if he's into it.]

7. Save often

I can't stress this enough. If your movie-making program crashes mid-project and you haven't saved it, you will lose everything. Save your project frequently to avoid stress and losing your work.

8. Final touches/recommendations

It's ultimately up to you when deciding how to structure your slideshow, but I have a few final recommendations. First, I recommend placing photos in chronological order. People will like "watching you grow" as opposed to seeing pictures in a random order. In our slideshow, we intertwined photos of Nick and I growing up. You can do it this way, or you could separate your photos and your fiance's, showing one of you growing up and then the other.

Second, choose alternating animations for the sake of variety and interest. Don't give every photo the exact same zooming-in effect. Change things up and try not to use the same animation back-to-back. Sometimes it gets hard to remember which animations you're selecting when you're working quickly. After editing a group of photos, go back and watch them to see how everything looks together.

Third, try to use the clearest, most focused photos you have. Sometimes you have to throw in a grainy or fuzzy pic because that's all you have. But, as often as possible, include high-resolution, well-exposed photos so that your guests can actually see them. If you need to, use a quick photo editing program to enhance your scanned photos. If your scanner doesn't have editing software, try a free, easy-to-use photo editing site like Just make sure you don't get bogged down with editing every single photo. Your pictures should be clear, not museum-quality. 

Fourth, don't be afraid to re-watch your slideshow a dozen times to make sure everything is just right. Get input from your fiance or a couple of friends before you finish. And, add a finishing touch like a fade in at the beginning and a fade out at the end.

Finally, publish and save your slideshow to the proper device. It's important to know if your slideshow needs to be burned to a DVD, saved on a flash drive, or published online. Make sure you know what equipment will be used when the slideshow is displayed. If you have a tech guy running everything, check with him on what is required. When in doubt, save a couple of different ways.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Book Review: When Others Shuddered

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

When I first heard that Jamie Janosz was writing a book, I was immediately excited to read it. Mrs. Janosz, as I know her, was one of my favorite communications professors in college at Moody Bible Institute. After I learned what the book she was writing, "When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up," was about I knew I had to get a copy to read and review.

Many of us who have grown up in the Christian church know about the great men of our faith. Men who did amazing things for the cause of Christ. But I feel like less of us know about the great women of our faith, who often because of social structures, served behind the scenes. We don't share their stories as much, which is why I treasure this book. It highlights eight ordinary, yet extraordinary, women who had personal relationships with Jesus and because of that, felt drawn to serve and help those around them.

In "When Others Shuddered" we meet Fanny Crosby, Emma Dryer, Nettie McCormick, Sarah Dunn Clarke, Amanda Smith, Virginia Asher, Evangeline Booth, and Mary McLeod Bethune. These women's stories span the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, a time when life was quickly changing America. Many of the featured women had ties to Chicago, which was growing rapidly, as well as experiencing the setback of the Great Chicago Fire.

In each woman's story there is a need which is witnessed and met, whether it's for education, disaster aid, gender equality, or the gospel. Each woman decided in her heart to step into an important, much-needed role, one that involved serving those around her and sharing the love of Jesus. And while now we look at them as great women of the faith, in their time they simply viewed themselves as everyday, ordinary women.

"When Others Shuddered" is an encouraging, inspiring book about what women can do when they don't back down. It not only serves as a reminder of what has been done, but also of what can be done, by any ordinary woman. Any one of us can leave a legacy of faithful service to God, and touch many lives around us, if we simply persevere. This book helps show that, and challenge readers to not simply read but to do.

I would encourage anyone--male or female--to read "When Others Shuddered." It is a quick, easy read filled with rich history, moments of triumph, and important stories everyone should know. It tells of the beginnings of the Salvation Army, Pacific Garden Mission, and Moody Bible Institute. You will learn who wrote some of the greatest hymns of all time, who stood up to a notorious gangster and the KKK, and who went to the White House to help break down racial barriers.

"When Others Shuddered" is well worth the read and I am so thankful that Mrs. Janosz wrote this book. It has encouraged me personally to continue the cause and "be that kind of woman."

Monday, March 3, 2014

When Life Throws You Curve Balls

I say, when life throws you curve balls, get out your mitt and practice catching. It's time to learn a new skill.

I don't think I ever thought of myself as a career girl, but I've always loved writing. I assumed for a long time that it was all I'd be doing. From my earliest days scribbling stories about ponies to posting work on Fiction Press, from writing for a start up youth magazine in high school to studying writing in college, I assumed the trail I was blazing for myself would continue. But in the back of my mind I always thought about all the other things I wanted to try.

I liked majoring in Print Media, it gave me a chance to try graphic design, photography, and public relations. I started liking this concept of juggling multiple tasks and not just writing. Writing would always be my first love, but my "jack of all trades" personality kept drawing me to new and different things.

I never was involved in organized sports as a child, that is until I was 12 and had the chance to join my school's basketball team. Then I discovered that along with a love for reading and writing, there was also a love for sports. I sort of knew it was there all along since I grew up watching [and acting out epic scenes from] "Hoosiers," which was my favorite movie after "The Black Stallion," and since I saved up money to buy my own hoop to play on with friends.

Over time I developed a love for things like art [drawing, painting, crafting, and scrapbooking], photography, doing hair and makeup [my own and my friends'], singing, acting, blogging, and general DIY projects. Anything I could do myself, I would. And I still do.

In college my love for basketball [and various other sports] continued to grow when I played on the team freshman year. After that I had to quit so I could get a job to pay for school, but what better place to work than the gym? I could still be in the sports culture, even if I wasn't playing. So I signed up to run the score board or shot clock during games and worked at the front desk on the other days.

After college I actually got into my "career field" relatively quickly after getting hired as a reporter at a small town newspaper. It wasn't my ideal writing job, but I was happy to be doing what I loved. I worked there for several years combined, moving from a reporter to a digital editor, another opportunity to try something new. And this position wasn't one that college really prepared me for [past the writing and the editing], as I picked up many of the skills on my own from using social networking sites and sitting through webinars.

Along the way I've also worked in healthcare, food service, a factory, a church, and a distribution center. Not always because I wanted to, but because sometimes I had to catch a curve and do something different. And now I'm doing something totally new: working in retail, which I actually really like. It's bringing together all the things I love about clothes and fashion [an interest I developed after college] and helping women build their self-esteem through the shopping experience.

At each job I've had, I've learned something about work and humanity. I've picked up new skills and new perspectives on life and the workforce. Would I like to be a "career girl"? Sure, some days it sounds divine. But at the same time, I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything. I've gotten to do what I've always wanted: different things, some totally outside my comfort zone. And I've built for myself a resume of time and experiences, of opportunities and connections, that I wouldn't change one bit.
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