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More Help for Hurricane Victims

A few more charities have come to my attention, so I thought I would make another post. Click here to see the organizations I promoted earlier this week. Many groups are asking for cash donations to help with rebuilding. Food and other supplies are great but storage is limited, especially in the areas like Rockport that were hit the hardest, so cash might be more beneficial at this time.

Once again, I’m trying my hardest to focus on small organizations where more of your dollars will go to those who have been hit the hardest. One of the things I dislike about large non-profits, like the Red Cross, is that so much money goes to marketing and bloated CEO salaries and not to the people who really need it.

The Houston Zoo’s Harvey Relief Fund–The Houston Zoo created this fund to help employees who have suffered losses. Thankfully the zoo itself only suffered minor losses.

Homeland Preparedness Project–This group is currently operating three shelters in Brazoria County and supporting shelters in neighboring Fort Bend County. (This is their homepage.)

Walker County Long Term Recovery Committee–This is run by volunteers in Walker County, Texas, to help community members recover after disasters.

Harvey Helpers 2017–They seem to be collecting donations for many communities. The link is for their Facebook page, where they request whatever is needed.

Brazoria County Dream Center–A community outreach center dedicated to helping people in Brazoria County with their basic needs. They’re currently helping out with hurricane victims, but they operate year-round to provide food, school supplies, and other things to people in need.

Rockport-Fulton Good Samaritans–I’ve heard that they’re collecting donations and supplies for hurricane victims, but I believe they also operate year-round to help those who are in need. Rockport is one of the towns that was hit the hardest.

Please note that if you live in any of the affected areas, one of the best things you can give is your time. Volunteer to help out in the shelters or to help with rebuilding efforts. In most areas, you can contact places like their Chamber of Commerce, Volunteer Fire Department, or City Hall, to find out how to volunteer. Also consider spending your money at locally owned businesses as much as possible, rather than big box stores, to help support people in these communities.

And just like last time, none of this is of any personal benefit to me. I just wanted to do something to help out. Please share this post with your friends, and comment if you know of any other organizations that I didn’t list here. Thank you!

 

Help for Hurricane Victims

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus while I try to figure out what I really want to do with this site and with my photography, but I decided to come back for today because this feels important.

I may live in Tennessee now, but I’ve spent most of my life in Texas. I grew up an hour south of Houston, then went to college and started a career in a town about an hour north of Houston. As far as I know, my family and friends are all okay, minus a few vehicles and some damp carpet. But there are others who need help. If I hadn’t totaled my car earlier this month, I would be loading it down with all the supplies I could carry and driving there right now. But since I have no vehicle–and no hope of getting a vehicle for at least another 3 or 4 weeks–this is the best I can do.

I’m sure you’ve all seen links to donate to the Red Cross and other large relief organizations–and that’s fine. Many thanks to everyone who has donated. But I know there are people out there who don’t trust or don’t want to give to big non-profits, so I’m giving you a list of smaller, local organizations that could really use the help.

Note: I’m not receiving any personal benefits from donations made to any of these organizations.

SPCA of Brazoria County–This animal shelter is taking in pets found loose in the flood as well as sheltering animals whose owners have had to evacuate to shelters. Many places that shelter human evacuees will not allow people to bring their pets. The SPCA is currently operating their main shelter, a secondary shelter called The Box, and a large-scale shelter at the county fairgrounds. This will be a long-term effort; they’re still housing several animals that were left homeless in the 2016 floods.

Rita B Huff Humane Society–An animal shelter in Huntsville, TX. Parts of Walker County are flooding, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the shelter is at capacity. If they are not already there.

Houston Food Bank–The Houston Food Bank is currently closed because their facility is inaccessible due to floodwaters. They are the largest distributor of food in the area, and I’m sure they could use any assistance you could provide. Every dollar donated to the Houston Food Bank provides 3 meals to hungry people.

JJ Watt’s Flood Relief Fund–Started by Houston Texans player JJ Watt. Donations surpassed the original goal so quickly that JJ raised the bar.

MD Anderson Cancer Center–Several of their facilities are closed due to the severe weather. Currently only two MD Anderson hospitals are operating, and those are both near the Austin area.

Texas Children’s Hospital–All clinics are currently closed although they are continuing inpatient care at this time. Their Facebook page says they are currently assessing their needs and will release a statement at a later time. I’m assuming financial contributions would be welcome at any time, however, and there is a link on their website for those who wish to donate.

 

This is just what I could come up with off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many, many local churches, food pantries, animal rescues and hospitals that would welcome donations at this time. If you have any information or would like to provide a link, please leave it in the comments below. Also, I’m asking anyone who reads this to please share the heck out of it. Thanks!

Travel

I travel because I dream of touching the horizon.

The mountains call to me. “Come here,” they say, “And we will help you touch the sky.”

The waves whisper secrets as they kiss the pebbled shore. They tell stories of foreign lands and leave treasures in their wake.

In the forests, I find worlds both large and small, as well as the creatures that call them home.

The cities are filled with color and innovation. It’s a different kind of energy that is both exhilarating and draining.

Why do you travel?

Oh Deer

I decided to take a break from photography basics today. I’m hoping I’ll be back next Friday with a post to wrap up my exposure series, but it just wasn’t happening this week. To make a long story short, I was involved in a car accident earlier this week. I don’t know when I’ll have a vehicle again, so right now I don’t have a good way to get out and take photos. Luckily I have plenty of archived photos that I can share with you in the meantime.

My husband’s grandparents fell in love with Orcas Island back in the 90s (how weird is that to say–back in the 90s. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago to me; I guess my age is showing.) and his grandmother still lives there today. We go to visit her as often as we can and it’s just an amazing place–there’s great food, friendly people, and the scenery and wildlife are perfect for photographers.

I found all these photos of deer when I was going through my archives trying to find something for today, and I thought it would be fun just to feature them since there are so many.

I hope you enjoy the photos! I’ll be back next week with more. Have a great weekend.

The Gate

There is no single reason behind photography. We all take photos with different purposes in mind and, for the most part, there is no wrong or right in that.

The gateway above is sort of a metaphor for that idea. I might have taken the picture, but I don’t know where it’s going to take someone else. The courtyard at their old college? A feature in a public park or garden? Somewhere they visited on a vacation? Maybe it reminds them of their old family home. I don’t know.

Whatever the case, the point of photography for me is to evoke an emotional response in someone. To take them somewhere far away, or to remind them of something familiar and dear. Or maybe just to make them laugh a little.

What is the purpose behind your photography?

Photography basics: ISO

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve taken one great shot after another only to get home and realize that the photos are all pixellated and grainy-looking when you pull them up on your computer? If so, there’s a pretty good chance that your ISO was high. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had several cameras and phones that would consistently give me grainy photos when I was shooting indoors on Auto. In today’s photography basics post, we’re going to take a look at ISO and what you can do to about it.

ISO is an acronym that stands for International Organization for Standardization. It’s a standardized scale for measuring your camera’s sensitivity to light; in the olden days, this actually had to do with the kind of film you were using. You can read more about that here since I’m focusing on digital photography. In the digital world, ISO determines how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. A higher ISO makes it more sensitive, so you can take photos with a high shutter speed or with a small aperture in low light. However, ISO also introduces noise to your images, which can be undesirable.

I zoomed in on this one so the noise would be more apparent. Click to see the full version.

The noise comes from the way your camera’s sensor works. A high ISO setting causes it to group pixels together, which is what creates those grainy off-color dots you see in a noisy photo. Cameras with larger sensors tend to have more pixels and smoother images in low light. Full frame cameras, which have sensors the same size as a 35mm film frame, are really good for shooting smooth images at higher ISO settings. Of course, a full frame camera is going to set you back more than a few pennies…It may not be worth the investment if you don’t have money burning a hole in your pocket and you’re not inclined to go pro. Newer cameras (say those made within the last 3 years or so) also get better low-light photos than older cameras; they’re designed to reduce the amount of noise and give the grain aesthetic appeal.

In my experience, I got a lot of noisy photos when I was only shooting in auto. Since I’ve switched to manual and taken control of my exposure, I rarely have issues with noise anymore because I try to keep my ISO setting as low as possible. Sometimes it’s unavoidable depending on what you’re trying to photograph, though.

Typical situations where you might want a higher ISO setting are indoor sporting events, concerts (make sure photography is permitted before you go), caves, nighttime or overcast outdoor shoots, or anywhere you need to take a quick picture but just don’t have enough light. Extremely long exposures can also create noise by causing your camera’s sensor to overheat–which is another reason you need to make time to really learn the strengths and weaknesses of your gear. A flash will help but it can also make your images look harsh or washed out, and some places don’t allow flash photography, so it’s not always the best way to go.

Here are a few examples. I took these pictures at the Lost Sea Adventure, a cave in Sweetwater, TN.

This formation was well lit already, but shooting with a low ISO was still too dark. Flash helped to brighten things up a bit more and it doesn’t look too washed out.

 

Anthodites on the cave ceiling. The noise example above is a zoom-in on this shot.
The sea itself is stocked with rainbow trout. Again, you can see the graininess in the water that’s due to the high ISO setting.

Later, I’d like to come back to this subject and talk in detail about things that can be done to reduce the amount of noise that’s present in photos taken with a high ISO setting. For now, I’m just going to give you a few bullet points.

  • Newer cameras have some built in noise reduction, and if your camera is less than about 3 years old, this post may be irrelevant to you. But if you’re a dinosaur like me, there are things you can do without shelling out the big bucks to replace your camera. I mean, unless you just want to buy another camera. (Don’t we all? I like my T3, but I’d looooove to upgrade to a full frame).
  • Keep your shutter speed as low as possible and your aperture as wide as possible.
  • Use a tripod and shutter remote.
  • Consider shooting in black and white instead of color.
  • Shoot in RAW whenever you can. JPEG files are already compressed and inherently contain noise called JPEG artifacts. I have my camera set up to record images as both a RAW (CR2) file and a JPEG. The downside to shooting in RAW is that you have to convert the files before you can upload them anywhere, and a lot of low end editing software and web apps don’t support the RAW format.
  • Edit. I can’t help you much with this one at this time, but you can find tutorials online if you look. The laptop I have right now doesn’t support Photoshop or Lightroom very well. When I upgrade to a better system, I’ll go over this in more detail. I know there are people who criticize photographers for editing photos, but I think some editing is just a part of the process. Authors don’t get criticized for editing their books. How is cleaning up some noise any different than ironing out spelling errors or bad dialogue?

I think that’s all I’ve got for today. Next week, I’m planning to spend a little time going over the math behind the elements of exposure and the relationships they have with each other and with your camera’s sensor. It’s going to be a little more advanced, but I’m hoping it won’t be confusing if you read my other posts first (links in case you missed them: exposure, shutter speed, aperture). In the meantime, please make sure you share this with your friends! Do you have any questions for me? Is there a topic you’d like to see me cover as part of my basics series? Please let me know by leaving a comment below. Thank you!

July in Photos

Rather than take the time to write an actual post today, I thought I’d go back over some of the highlights of the last month and just share lots of photos with you. July was a great month for pictures!

July was also a great month for blogging. My traffic is increasing and I’ve been getting more attention on social media as well. Yay!

So tell me, which one is your favorite? Leave a comment below or talk to me on Facebook. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Photography Basics: Aperture

Welcome to another photography basics post! This week we’re continuing the exposure theme and talking about aperture. Your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture settings work together to form the foundation of an image by controlling how much light reaches the sensor of your camera, as well as how it happens.

Aperture is probably my favorite element of the exposure triangle because it allows you to add depth to your photos. Here’s how it works. If you imagine that your camera’s lens is its eye, the aperture is the pupil. It dilates or contracts to allow light to reach the retina or, in the camera’s case, the sensor. A wider aperture, like a wider pupil, allows more light to pass through to the sensor while a narrow aperture keeps some light out.

I might come back and replace this one later…

Different lenses will have different aperture ranges available to them, so keep that in mind when you’re shooting; you might end up needing to move around a bit or even switch lenses to get the best possible photo.

I think the most confusing part to aperture is how it is measured. Aperture is expressed in f-stops; the higher the f-number, the smaller the opening. So an aperture of f/16 is a fairly small opening, while f/1.4 is very large. There is a reason behind this, but it’s…a lot of math. I plan to go over all of the math behind exposure stops in a later post, after we’ve finished going over all three of the basic elements, but I thought I’d leave it out today for simplicity’s sake. I’m not sure how many of you are interested in the mathematical and technical side of photography, and how many of you are more interested in the creative side, but I’ll hazard a guess that it’s mostly the latter. So let’s keep going.

The biggest creative aspect to controlling your aperture is having control over your depth of field. This will allow you to take sweeping landscape shots with every part of the image is in razor sharp focus or, if you’d rather, you can take portraits with soft blurs or bokeh behind your subject. You have to be mindful of your depth of field when you’re composing a shot and selecting your aperture setting, otherwise your subject may end up a little out of focus.

Notice how the sunflower in front is in focus and the other is not? Oops. My aperture should have been a little smaller to get both flowers looking sharp.

When I’m shooting a subject that is not in motion, I try to determine my aperture first so I know what part of the image needs to be in focus, and then use shutter speed and ISO to compensate for the amount of light that comes through the lens opening. Most DSLRs have an aperture priority mode, which helps you to keep your exposure balanced while giving you control over your depth of field, but I prefer shooting in manual and having full control over my camera.

When taking landscape photos, you generally want to have a small aperture so the entire scene is in focus. I haven’t done a lot of landscape photography at this point, but I do have a few examples to share with you.

Mead’s Quarry

Here’s a shot from my walk around Mead’s Quarry the other day. A small aperture (f/10) allowed me to take full advantage of the morning sun and beautiful landscape. I probably could have gone a little smaller and gotten an even better shot, but I think this is pretty good. I love the reflection of the rocks in the water.

Knoxville taken from Sharp’s Ridge. It’s a shame about the power lines because this is a magnificent view.

This shot is from Sharp’s Ridge. Once again, I used a small aperture (f/16) to really take in the scenery. If it had been a clear day, we would have gotten a really great view of the mountains in the distance, but I think this is still pretty good.

Now let’s look at some of the benefits of using a large aperture.

In my experience, a large aperture is better for portraits or for shots where you want to have a dramatic blurred background or foreground. Have a look at some of these to see what I mean.

French macarons from Honey Bee Bakery in Knoxville

See how the macaron in front is clear and the others are blurred? I shot this with f/2.5 to give it that soft look. I wish I had better lighting in my kitchen, but renters can’t be choosers I guess. (And we’re planning on moving soon anyway, so keep your fingers crossed that I find a place with good lighting). This kind of shooting is good for food bloggers who want to show off their delicious creations. It would also be an attractive way for someone to display items they’re trying to sell online.

A hibiscus on a wire bench.

This is a pretty cool one. Both the foreground and background are blurred, leaving the flower and the back of the bench in focus. The aperture for this shot was f/7.1, which is sort of a middle ground.

I hope those were good examples for you. If you have any questions, please be sure to ask in the comments below or send me a message on Facebook. I want these articles to be easy to understand and helpful for beginners who are branching out into manual mode. If it’s overwhelming for you to shoot strictly in manual like I do, try experimenting with aperture priority if that’s a feature your camera offers.

Remember, you can also use your ISO and shutter speed to control how much light is in an image. These three elements play off of each other, and figuring out the best way to balance them takes some practice. Don’t be discouraged if your first foray into manual mode doesn’t give you perfect results; just keep trying until you get it right. Next week, we’ll cover the last element of exposure, ISO. In the meantime, please be sure to comment and share!

 

Mead’s Quarry

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about packing up and moving here. The last time I lived in a large city was when I went to college in San Antonio. It was so crowded and dirty and I just hated it. The part of town where I lived was pretty rough, unlike the polished tourist areas around the Alamo and the Riverwalk. Vandalism and burglary were regular occurrences in my neighborhood and after witnessing one really bad incident, I was afraid to even go outside. I basically hid in my apartment until the school year was over and I could transfer to a college in a smaller, quieter town. And then I stayed there for the next 10 years.

So far, the Knoxville I’ve seen doesn’t intimidate me the way San Antonio did. I don’t know if it’s because Knoxville is actually a kinder place or if it’s just because I’ve grown older and, dare I say it, wiser, since that time, but I’m certainly more comfortable here. There are neighborhoods that are run-down and places that I’ve been cautioned to avoid, but overall it’s not so bad. Downtown seems to be undergoing a bit of a renaissance; lots of old landmarks and buildings are being restored and that just suits me to a T. I’ve dreamed of renovating an old farmhouse or Victorian home for years, so I love seeing people breathing new life into these old buildings.

But even all the restoration isn’t the best thing about Knoxville.

My favorite part is all the green space. There are so many parks and Ijams Nature Center is just loaded with things to do. It makes Knoxville feel like less of an urban sprawl to a small town person like me. I got up early Monday morning and decided to explore a part of the park that I hadn’t visited yet. Of course I brought my camera.

I specifically wanted to take more practice shots with my 75-300mm lens. I do pretty well with my other two, but this one is still giving me headaches sometimes. As you can see.

I think I was too close. I would have been standing in the road if I had been any farther away, though.

I think I have a habit of getting in too close. This is a big lens and its strength seems to be focusing on things that are fairly far away. Luckily I’m a lazy hiker and wanted to stay on the path, so I had plenty of opportunities to shoot for things that were not so close to the trail I was following.

Surely it’s too early for pumpkins?! I do love that bright color against all the green, though.
These flowers were pretty far off the path, but my lens brought them into focus pretty well.

I brought all my lenses with me, and I have to admit that the temptation to switch from the unfamiliar 75-300mm to my trusty 50mm was very strong. But I tried to stick with the big guy for the most part because I’m never going to get comfortable with it if I don’t use it.

I’m not a fan of up close and personal time with bees or other insects. So here’s where this lens really shines for me.

 

Mead’s Quarry. Isn’t it gorgeous?

I did decide to switch to the 50mm when I got to the quarry. It seems to be better for those wide landscape shots and I wanted to show them off as much as my abilities and equipment will allow. This is the side of Knoxville I was talking about when I mentioned all the restoration going on–this quarry was converted into a lake with gorgeous views; you can fish or rent boats, part of it is sectioned off for swimming, and there’s even a trail to hike. It’s also a great place to look for wildlife.

Taken from the same spot as above, but with the 50mm lens. There’s just a little…more. Idk how to describe the reasons why, but I like this shot better.

I walked around the quarry for a while, and then reattached the 75-300mm lens and walked back to my car. What a hike! The way back to the Ijams Visitor Center, where I parked, is mostly uphill. I’m not used to these inclines yet, and I’m big-time out of shape right now after having surgery on both legs earlier this year, so I didn’t take many photos on the way back.

I noticed this fungus when I stopped to take a little break on the walk back. I had to do some editing afterward to get the exposure just right, but I think it looks good.
Decommissioned railroad tracks that run through Ijams. This photo is slightly underexposed, but I left it as-is because I love the dark, mysterious look.

I feel so fortunate to have a place like Ijams here in Knoxville. Driving in the mountains makes me horribly carsick, so it’s hard to get out of town on my own and do anything. Luckily there are lots of great sights downtown and plenty of green spaces to explore. Check back on Friday for the next part of my photography basics series. We’ll be talking about aperture again, and I hope to have lots of shots to share! In the meantime, please be sure to give this post a like and a share on Facebook. Thanks everyone!

Photography Basics: Shutter Speed

Like I mentioned last week, exposure is the foundation of photography; it can be difficult to master, but having a basic understanding of how it works will help you improve your photo game by leaps and bounds. Learning how to operate your camera in manual mode will help you to take advantage of everything it has to offer, but you’re going to have to figure some of that out on your own since every camera is different. It’s unlikely that you’re using the same model that I am, so I probably can’t advise you on the technical aspects of your digital camera.

My camera, a Canon EOS Digital Rebel T3. It’s definitely not the new hotness, but it still gets the job done.

What I can do is show you how controlling the elements that make up exposure will affect your photography. We’re starting with shutter speed.

First, the technical details. The sensor in a digital camera acts a bit like film in an analog camera. It captures the light that comes through your camera’s lens and creates the image that you see. I’m not going to get that technical, so here is a helpful article if you want to know exactly how a sensor works. The shutter is like a little curtain inside your camera that opens and closes to expose the sensor to light. Your shutter speed determines how long the curtain stays open. It’s usually measured in fractions of a second.

Shutter speed is circled; it’s currently 1/200 of a second.

All three elements of exposure have two features. Shutter speed determines how long your sensor is exposed to light, which will make your photo brighter or darker depending on your surroundings. The longer the shutter is open (i.e., the slower your shutter speed), the brighter your picture will be. It also determines how motion is captured in an image. For example, a high shutter speed will freeze birds in flight while a low shutter speed can give an artistic blur to flowing water.

When I’m getting ready to set my shutter speed, the first thing I try to consider is whether something is moving in my shot and how I want to capture that motion. My next concern is the amount of light that is available to me.

If nothing is moving, I use shutter speed and ISO to control the amount of light in the image, and aperture to determine what parts of the picture will be in focus. We’ll discuss using aperture this way in more detail next week, so for now let’s concentrate on motion. You’re going to want to practice this ahead of time if you have any big shoots planned. Don’t expect perfection on your first try; it can be a fiddly process to get everything just right.

To freeze motion, you want a high shutter speed. This means that your aperture will need to be a lower f-stop than you might normally use, and your ISO might need to be higher as well. The three elements play off of each other at all times; how you adjust one will affect the other two. There is some math behind this, but I’m saving that for the end of our exposure series; I think it will be easier to explain and understand once we’ve gone over all three elements in detail. For now, here’s a practice scenario for you.

(Note: This is just the way I do things. I’m a kinetic learner–I can read or hear about something until the cows come home, but the lesson isn’t going to stick until I actually start trying to do it. I end up experimenting a lot.)

Let’s say I want to take photos of bees. I don’t, really, I’m terrified of bees, but they’re easy to find and they make a pretty good example for this subject. What I would do is set up my camera with my shutter speed fairly high, then use my aperture to focus on a flower, and take a test shot. It’s usually pretty bright outside when bees are around so I can keep my ISO at its lowest setting, which is 100. If my test shot is too bright, I’ll raise my shutter speed even higher and take another test shot. I’ll continue this until I’m satisfied. Then I’ll try to compose an interesting shot with flowers and bees. If necessary, I’ll make other adjustments and shoot again until I get what I want. Like I said, it’s a fiddly process and I’m still learning.

I was trying my hardest to get a shot of the bee in the air to illustrate this point even better, but it just wasn’t happening that day.

You can probably get away without using a tripod in this situation because your shutter speed is high and camera shake won’t be as big of a deal. It’s when you get into low shutter speeds, let’s say slower than about 1/60 of a second, that you will probably want to use a tripod to get the best possible shot.

Now let’s look at low shutter speeds. Although you’re usually shooting in fractions of a second, a slow shutter speed can be full seconds depending on what you want to capture. Some cameras even have what’s called B or bulb mode, which keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold the button down. When your shutter speed is low, your sensor is exposed to light for a longer period of time. This means your aperture needs to be a higher f-stop and your ISO might need to be higher as well. It can be hard to get a long exposure shot on a sunny day without overexposure; for best results, try shooting on overcast days or even at night when you want to use a low shutter speed. Here’s something fun to try at night.

Set up near a fairly busy road. Obviously you don’t want to be so close that cars will hit you. A rooftop or an overpass that has a sidewalk will be ideal. You want a low shutter speed, start out around 2 or 3 seconds. Use your aperture to focus on any stationary things or objects of interest in the area. Your ISO should be low, around 100, because this is all about the light and you want it to be as free from noise as possible. Wait until a car is coming by, then take the photo. Pretty cool, right?

The white lines to the left are the headlights of a passing car. This would have been a lot more impressive if there had been more traffic.

You’ll definitely need a tripod for this sort of shooting. A shutter remote helps as well because then you don’t even have to touch the camera and risk shaking it. You can get some interesting effects if you set a low shutter speed and move the camera deliberately, though, so feel free to play around and see what happens.

A deliberate camera shake can add some interesting effects to a long exposure shot.

There is some math involved in the relationship between your shutter speed and the amount of light that reaches your sensor, but I decided to keep things simple since this is supposed to be a basics post. I wanted to cover this somewhat briefly, and I think this is probably enough for one day, don’t you? Leave a comment here or on Facebook if you’d like me to break the numbers down for you, and I’ll be happy to explain! Next Friday we’re talking about aperture, one of my favorite elements of exposure. I’m going to do my best to have some fun pictures to share. In the meantime, I hope you’ll like and share this post with your friends! Thanks for reading; see you next week!