All posts by Red Dirt Kelly

Fading Signals: EPOTM Picher, OK Stop A

The first time I was to pass by a dead body during a funeral service, my stomach twisted into knots. A line of grownups in front of me sauntered alongside the casket, solemnly paused, murmured words to family members on the front pew, and moved on. Those in line modeled what I was to do, and I did it. However, the emotional flooding didn’t fade until much later that day, long after I had followed that single-file row of mourners exiting the church house doors.

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These familiar funeral knots gripped my insides as our team explored rows of vacant houses in Picher, stripped bare of windows, doors, wiring, shelving, and more about it here. These dead house bodies of the multi-year Tar Creek Superfund funeral were once and for all silenced as a 2008 tornado took eight human lives and injured 150 more; that tragedy was followed by a 55-6 vote in 2009 officially calling for the closing of the Picher-Cardin school district. And, the Picher Wikipedia link reads:

The municipality of Picher was officially dissolved on November 26, 2013.[22] Linderman, the only remaining resident of Picher, died June 9, 2015

Gary Linderman only lived 8 days past the Sunday of our visit. The tornado, school closing, and his death tightly sealed the casket lid over the entire town.

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As we walked closer to the homes, each sprayed with a “KEEP OUT” warning, we began to hear noises. Some kind of electronic pinging danced on our ear drums until, finally glancing through the windows, we realized the source.  Smoke alarms in the homes, still powered by the smallest trickle of electricity from their 9-volt batteries, were beeping a warning: time for replacements. Time for replacements. Replacement-replacement…over and over.

The weakening sounds faded as the wind swept any remaining decibels away – past the other dead houses, across and over the piles of chat, and out onto a prairie where no one will hear them.

The knots in my stomach returned slightly when I edited the video and looked at the photos once again.  It’s been 9 months since we were in Picher; I am guessing all the smoke alarms are now silent.  Silent like the sounds of the true graveyard Picher is, and silencing to experience in real life.

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Picher Gorilla high school mascot. Photo by Rachel J Apple.
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Panoramic view of more vacant houses – Picher, OK. Photo by Rachel J Apple.
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Row of vacant houses – Picher, OK. Photo by Rachel J Apple.

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Tar Creek Documentary

The Creek Runs Red – PBS Film

Oklahoma Historical Society Picher Page

Backstage at the Coleman with Danny Dillon: EPOTM – Miami, OK

Emotions carried me through our entire visit with Danny Dillon at the Coleman Theatre in Miami, OK.  As he shared anecdotes from teaching high school drama, I was running a parallel process internally.  Having taught high school drama for eight years, I had experienced a similar story for each one he told.  Cripes, I missed the theatre…and Dillon did everything he could to help us enjoy the full experience of the Coleman the day we sat and talked…which made me miss it even more.

Our photographer and videographer filled up too many memory cards to count during our time with Dillon. We could produce multiple pieces of the Coleman’s history, special features about the tourists going walking through the the theatre’s plush hallways with us, profiles of the volunteers who spend hundreds of hours using the donor’s hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring back the original glory, and more.

And we may. Someday.

But our first duty is to those with whom we get to know, and we had a beautiful conversation with Dillon.  His full heart is invested in what he does at the high school, his church, and at the Coleman. It’s as if he has three hearts…no, four.  A heart for his children and wife were apparent as well.

Even after having documented the Miami stop over six months ago, I am quite awestruck when I think about how many children have been introduced to the stage, to plays and musicals, to silent movies with amazing organ music, and to history…because of Danny, the Coleman at large, and the “extra at-large” community that makes it happen.

We are tipping our Tom Mix hats to you, Miami.  You’re really quite something.

EPOTM: Wyandotte, OK ~ Cassie Pearl and the Cool Rock House

Quietly, I watched Cassie Pearl Browning name each relative who lived within a couple of miles of her new home, the lease signed only two weeks before we visited her. She was in her element, surrounded – literally – by family members who had settled in Wyandotte generations ago.

I live on the corner of this mile section – I’m the only one on THIS mile section.

The mile section directly south of us – I have some distant cousins just on this corner across from me.

And the mile section directly east of us, on the corner, the 40 acres was owned by my great-great grandparents.

And, the corner – my great-aunt had built her and her husband’s house whenever they got married – they moved in there.  We sold it when she passed away, and it went to another family member, which happens to be my landlord’s mother.

And then on the back side of that 40 acres is my aunt…my mother’s sister…and then half-way down that road is my second cousins from Dallas – they moved up here in 98 and built a house, and if you go travel north on that same mile section – you go half a mile and my parents live down there.

But before you get there, my other aunt and uncle live down here.

And, if you go on the mile section that’s cattycornered from us – my brother lives on the opposite side of it – south side of it – facing that section…and, uh,..that’s all of us…maybe…

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Cassie was raised in Miami until she was twelve, when her parents bought their 40 acres in Wyandotte. She’s so attached to the land and the area that she moved back into her parents home for a year after graduating from college, waiting for property in the area to become available.

Just as she was about to give up and “move into town,” her landlord’s son took a preaching job.  So, she’s now living in the home her great-great and possible one more great-uncle built.

In the video, Cassie mentions the rocks with which her great-times-three uncle covered the home. They had been retrieved from the Picher mines, and when you peer close, tiny worlds of crystallized quartz and other formations can be seen.

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_DSC0022Cassie Pearl Browning was surrounded by history, and completely comfortable with those surroundings.

She feels at home in her “new-old” home, as did we on that drizzly day while sitting on her porch.

Happy housewarming, Cassie Pearl.

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Rachel J Apple, photographer and EPOTM partner.
Rachel J Apple, photographer and EPOTM partner.

EPOTM Visits NonDoc in Essay Over Truths

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When you glance left, then downward just a bit on our Red Dirt Chronicles homepage, you’ll notice a small section we’ve entitled: “RDC Recommends.”  And, we do.

We choose our recommendations carefully, sharing those we feel not only fit with our mission, but provide a quality read.

One site listed is on our minds especially today.  NonDoc, a site and mission dedicated to quality journalism and “the public good,” launched a series today highlighting broader themes collected through our Every Point on the Map project.

In the kick-off essay entitled “Oklahoma Blog Seeks Beauty from Every Town in the State,” I’ve written about how both food AND wine provide moments of Truth with our discussants (in vino et cibo veritas).

I do hope you’ll take a moment to visit NonDoc, read our essay, and think about where it is you find your Truths.

~Kelly

Abbey Brave and Tall: EPOTM – Peoria, OK

One of the most unjust things I could ever imagine would be to decide whether Abbey or Carolyn Rollins has more grit.
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Carolyn, having been in the periphery of baby Abbey’s community life over nine years ago, took her in…first as a foster child, but soon to adoption court.  Although the State had been grateful for her foster parent status, she was denied her petition to adopt because of her age.

But Carolyn didn’t accept that answer.  She appealed, and was eventually granted permission to become Abbey’s mother.

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Abbey’s high school-level vocabulary and tender heart are a product of her educational deep dive into her studies at Quapaw schools, mixed with being socialized by a mother who volunteers at their local church food pantry every week.

The day we rolled into Peoria was as gray as clouds could bear. Rain dripped from the rooftops, dogs barked as we cruised by aging houses with bars on their windows.

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But as we sat in the wood paneled living room of Carolyn’s trailer, the view was transcendent. Carolyn rocked in her recliner, Abbey sat on the arm rest, and they held hands all the while we were there.

Of this I’m certain: they needed each other, and they are better because of each other. Bless everything about you, Carolyn and Abbey Rollins.

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Cigar Philosophy in the Warr Room: EPOTM ~ Yukon, OK

Kyle Warr’s grandfather and father developed much of what is now known as Warr Acres, Oklahoma. Kyle is a business person who lives in Yukon with his family. Get to know a little about him, his cigar shop and music business during this Every Point OK conversation in this video. Continue reading Cigar Philosophy in the Warr Room: EPOTM ~ Yukon, OK

“Surviving Just Right” – EPOTM: Little Axe, OK

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Mike and Michelle Silsby were the first Every Point participants who fed us.

They were also the first couple to witness us being approached by a Lake Thunderbird ranger who asked us for a park entry fee because we stepped out of our vehicle.

And, they’re the last stop for our Highway 9 series.

Peace, Silsby family. It was good to meet you.

~the EPOTM Team

NOTE: Thank you to Sherree Chamberlain for permission to use her music, “Summer Heat,” as the soundtrack to this video.

Continue reading “Surviving Just Right” – EPOTM: Little Axe, OK

Covered Wagons, Dugouts, and Snakes: An Oklahoma Land Run Narrative


by Atlanta B Crouch, 1890

Long ago during the days, on the lonely westerns plains of covered wagons, dugouts and snakes, we – my husband and I – began house keeping on a farm seven miles west of Ashland, Clark County, Kansas in 1890, April 17, in a dugout; and I soon learned that I had a man who liked good things to eat. So consequently, we often had company.

It was on one of these occasions when the diners were seated at the table that I turned around to refill someone’s glass with water that we discovered there was an extra guest.

I said, “Will you just look who’s come!” Continue reading Covered Wagons, Dugouts, and Snakes: An Oklahoma Land Run Narrative

Kim Kidder, Kidderville, and McKiddeyville: EPOTM…somewhere…

The following account contain facts of my best recollection regarding our search for McKiddeyville, Oklahoma:

We had just completed our discussion with Ray Newton on his small porch in Lexington and were packing up for our next stop. Destination: McKiddeyville.

Unfortunately, our GPS system kept telling us McKiddeyville was about one block off the downtown Lexington proper.  We got out our map and realized McKiddeyville didn’t even exist on the official EPOTM map, but it had been specially requested by a donor. So, we forged onward.

My frequent solution to glean information about a wide variety of small town topics is to visit the local police or fire departments, the court, or some other community institution.  And, we spied the police department first, located in an old street-front office that could have been a drug store or barbershop 100 years earlier.

As I entered their domain, four sets of police officer eyes locked with mine. Continue reading Kim Kidder, Kidderville, and McKiddeyville: EPOTM…somewhere…

Every Point Podcast #1: Ray Newton of Lexington on His History with Racism in Oklahoma

Today’s podcast features a man we met drinking coffee on his porch one Sunday morning named Ray Newton. Ray starts his story by sharing how it was that he decided to enter the Air Force and about fighting in the 1968 Tet Offensive. Most of his narrative, however, centers around his history with racism in Oklahoma, and how he has reconciled what he experienced with what he now knows.

This podcast is comprised of almost our complete discussion with Ray, edited only for wind noises or non-relevant banter. As you listen, we hope you can picture yourself sitting on Ray’s porch with us and enjoying his morning chat.

“Better to Say He Ran Away Than to Say There He Lay'” ~ EPOTM: Lexington, OK

On a clear Sunday morning, our Every Point OK team took a right turn somewhere off Main Street in Lexington. Two blocks later we cruised by a small, white home and spied Ray Newton on his porch drinking coffee. Bright sunlight washed over his serene repose. Continue reading “Better to Say He Ran Away Than to Say There He Lay’” ~ EPOTM: Lexington, OK

EPOTM: Fay, OK – “Unincorporated Community Pulls Off Annual Christmas Miracle”

We pulled into the Fay school parking lot just as some of the last cars were leaving; a few people lingered, “to go” meals in their hands, in order to finish their conversations before saying goodbye.  Lunch was over, and as we entered the double doors we could hear Senior Citizens Center volunteers in the kitchen cleaning up.

There are at least five and possibly six separate stories we could write over our stop in the southeast corner of Dewey County. Legend, verified by some facts and newspaper articles, tells of a young bank robber who killed at least two people in the town grocery store while trying to escape; he was eventually captured because those in pursuit followed his trail of blood drops across the snow. Continue reading EPOTM: Fay, OK – “Unincorporated Community Pulls Off Annual Christmas Miracle”

EPOTM: A Real Santa Claus in Cache, OK

‘Lil Mama’s Cafe was warm.

With red walls and trim, a printed Christmas scene curtain hanging on a rod, and a decorated spruce surrounded with Angel Tree gifts donated by community members…the setting was a stark contrast to the wild, open drive across the Wichita National Park we had just completed. Rachel and I talked quietly, eating oatmeal and planning our day.

However, fate had taken care of the planning for us.

Already full of Christmas Spirit from our previous evening in Medicine Park, we discovered that Santa was drinking coffee at the table next to ours!  And, after a brief bout of cajoling from our waitress and the Cafe’s owner who was also his daughter, we sat with Mike Carrick and learned three things: 1) Santa is real; 2) Santa serves many functions for children, depending upon their situation or needs; and, 3) being Santa is a higher calling that I had imagined.

Merry Oklahoma Christmas to you and yours…

Kelly Roberts and Rachel Apple ~Every Point on the Map project

 

EPOTM “Ten Percent Show” Reception at H&8th Sept. 25th!

The Oklahoma City weather forecast is calling for a beautiful 74 degrees at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25th…perfectly suited for a magical family and pet-friendly H&8th Event.

Dinner and street art, music and other festivities will offer a relaxing start to your evening. And, our Every Point on the Map (EPOTM) “Ten Percent Show” held at Elemental Coffee will be ready to greet you at 9:00 p.m. to tie a bow on your whole day.

Earlier this month, Elemental art show curator hung our EPOTM portraits in a late-night session. Come see the show, enjoy a few stories and attend new footage screening from 9:00-10:30 p.m. during the Sept. 25th H&8th event!

This month, EPOTM fine art large format portraits have been hanging in Elemental taken by Rachel J. Apple, project photographer.   We’ll take a few moments at 9:00 to feed you if you’re not already full, and feed your soul with the following schedule if you are:

9:00 p.m. Hors d’overes and beverages served; view the show if you’ve not already seen our portraits, take a second look if you have.

9:30 p.m. The EPOTM team will take a moment to thank Elemental, share a few stories from their 18 months of travels thus far, and prepare you for our…

10:00 p.m. Screening of new and selected footage from our stops by April J Kirby, our videographer.

Come celebrate with us as we take a moment to be grateful for completing ten percent of the 594 stops to document a meaningful conversation with Oklahomans in every town. And, thank you in advance for being part of our special night…90% to go!

~ Gratefull, the Every Point team,

Kelly, Rachel and April

Charlie Finds a Family ~ EPOTM: Pink, OK

Two years ago a man who was approximately mid-life-aged married a mid-life aged woman whose self-described “second litter” of children were still in middle school. Not only did they form a new family, but they began a quest to enrich their lives.

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David Lindsey sets on his newly constructed stoop, under the canopy constructed over an old farmhouse basement floor. Breezes blow across the porch and melt your worries away.

After searching in Crescent, Luther, and a few other places within a reasonable distance of their home, they received a call from a realtor who was driving to Pink, Oklahoma the next day.  She needed to put her signs up at a newly listed 40-acre section of land and thought it might be just the place they were looking for. Continue reading Charlie Finds a Family ~ EPOTM: Pink, OK

“When in Doubt, Hit the Gas” ~ EPOTM Hwy 9 Run: Tecumseh

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Terry’s Laundry oozes retro-vibe. 419 E. Walnut, Tecumseh, OK. All photos by Rachel J Apple.

Note to readers: This post contains moderately detailed descriptions of two graphic themes. We suggest the appropriate reading age is for those over 12 years of age.

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I spied Donald on our first pass down the main drag in Tecumseh on an early Sunday morning.  Leaning against the west wall outside Terry’s laundromat, something made me double-take his silouette.

Perhaps it was the care he took with his smoke, the brightly printed bandana tightly securing his blond hair, or maybe the miniscule glimpse of his soulful eyes as we cruised by.  All I know was that the end of main street came quickly, followed by our thousandth U-turn, and we were soon making our way into the overly beige space. Continue reading “When in Doubt, Hit the Gas” ~ EPOTM Hwy 9 Run: Tecumseh

Happy Birthday to Us. We’re FIVE Years Old!

Day 28: It Was So Loud, I Couldn't Hear Myself Praying
A quote written in the UK that answered a need I had at the time. Now, I’m finding stillness in rural, suburban and metropolitan Oklahoma…one discussion at a time.

In July of 2010, I left for a 40 day educational trip to Oxford and other parts of the United Kingdom. Having never traveled abroad other than to Canada and Mexico, I began researching the world of blogs.  I warmed up my writing skills with a Google “Blogger” based platform entitled “Red Dirt Kelly.”

A week or so later, I left for my journey and began what was basically an online journaling exercise to document my trip.  This series, entitled 40 Days in the UK, helped me realize the benefits of daily writing and perspective sharing.

Women on hand cart treks in NE OK pulling carts back up the ridge to safety.

In the past five years, bloggers have been called out for their lack of journalism credentials, heralded for their insightful research and posts, and been in the courts for cases involving informational sources and classifications.  And while the days of online journaling still exist, the All American Blog has certainly developed in its own right.

Case in point: The Red Dirt Chronicles (RDC).  A month post Oxford, I began to think about whether to keep my blog or evolve the project into something I still cared about now that I had returned to Oklahoma.  These dreams eventually carried me to recruit eight content authors and for almost three years they wrote on a regular basis covering their area of expertise with an Oklahoma perspective. At that time I moved to a WordPress (WP) platform and although the RDC has had four different “faces,” all our history is stored on very large WP servers and for that I’m grateful.

At the point when I began toward the homestretch in my doctoral program, I raised the issue of “slowing down” the RDC production and almost simultaneously all authors agreed they, too, would like a break.  For another year while I dug deep into my dissertation research, Alisa Hines at Oklahoma Horizon TV deployed video posts covering their work with either her notes, or the notes of other journalists.  I am grateful for our former authors, and for Oklahoma Horizon producing Oklahoma cultural content deployed through the RDC.

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August prairie grasses. Photo by Rachel Apple

Our RDC content is now much more focused on revealing Oklahomans and their cultural diversity.  Most of this work is done through our Every Point on the Map (EPOTM) posts.  In some ways, EPOTM is like a ten-year ethnography.  The work of our team feeds my social research side as well as my love for Oklahomans and all they encompass.

To our readers who have continued to check in with us through the past five years, I wish to say “thank you.” To those who have joined along the way, I appreciate your presence and thoughtfulness. And, to the work we have yet to produce, I can only say, “We’re ready. Whomever we meet, and whatever they say…it’s our pleasure to hear their stories and share them with our readers.”

Happy five year birthday, RDC!

~ Red Dirt Kelly

 

“Alligator” – Sample Sonic ID by Faith Phillips

Faith Phillps during her time in Afrida
Faith Phillps during her time in Africa

Faith Phillips is an author who resides in Proctor, Oklahoma.  An attorney by profession, she left her job and metropolitan life to return home and craft her first novel: Ezekiel’s Wheels (2012).

Faith occasionally pens her thoughts on Facebook and I felt they should be shared with more than her social network.

So there we were, see, one night in a cabin deep in the woods somewhere between Miami and Wyandotte, OK, sitting in the living room recording her anecdotes while the rest of our Every Point team was enjoying the cool night air on the porch.  In the middle of our recording session, a whippoorwill got so close we captured its call and added those haunting sounds to her introduction.

All told, there are about thirty recorded musings and we look forward to hearing them on public radio very soon…or perhaps here too.

Enjoy ~~~ Love always, Red Dirt Kelly

“Legacy Ball”: Every Point Hwy 9 Run – Bethel Acres

There’s just something about a Little League ballpark filled with players in their earliest years. Innocence, mixed with invested family members, mixed with the sounds of 200 voices having at least 100 different conversations…carried by the wind on a warm day across the grass, sand and past the concession stands. Being there made my muscles relax. I began craving Sour Punch Straws.

Tee ball is the epitome of cool.  And so was the family we met at the Bethel Acres ball park on our “Highway 9” Every Point run.

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We met Cody Laughlin, his wife and their two boys on the bleachers waiting for their turn to take the field and warm up. They were watching a cousin, “right there – number five…,” finish her softball game as they spoke with us.

The Laughlin family’s life revolves around baseball.

We play baseball…started last weekend, our whole summer is baseball. That’s all they want to do – they just want to play catch and hit balls…

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Cody served as the spokesperson for the family and as the coach for the team on which his two sons played.  His wife also served as coach, and several times throughout our conversation he relegated his own role and validated her.

She helps…she makes sure who’s up, make sure they have their bats, gloves, it’s the biggest part.  If they get out of order, they’re out…and I can’t coach.

Is she an assistant coach? No, she’s more than that – She’s probably the most important coach – I can tell them to run all day, but if I didn’t have her in there, I – we couldn’t play baseball.

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And if they “couldn’t play baseball,” there might be a fairly large space in their lives. Cody played for Dale High School, his team garnering several championships. His father also played for Dale High school, also bringing home State.

And his two sons? He coaches because he wants them to learn to play the right way. To learn the life lessons that come along with the game. He described his high school coach as tough, scary, a stickler for excellence. But he wants his children to enjoy the game, perhaps with a better balance.

I played too much – I’d play a baseball tournament, come home, get a horse, and go to a rodeo. I did too much as a kid – I don’t want them to have that. I just want them to be a kid.

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When talking with Laughlin you can tell this “let a child be a child” philosophy is deeply ingrained. We asked him what he wished people understood about children and baseball.

Different kids have different abilities. You shouldn’t PUSH a kid to play a sport – if they’re not good at it, let them try something else. It’s like the parents try to live through the kid. Let them be a kid; live their own life.

[Parents] don’t understand athletic abilities are different in different kids…there are kids out there that are unhappy, they don’t want to be there.

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Cody didn’t mince words. It might have been the first conversation I talked more than our participant.  I asked him if he could share a “funny tee ball” story. He said,

I have a kid that’s four on my team, and he will go out there in the outfield, sit down and pick flowers.

Who’s he give them to?

He throws them in the air…

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Do you have a favorite ump?

I don’t like any of them.

While we were still laughing at his umpire stories and all the tee ball rules issues, their field cleared and they began to pack their things.

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As we took a different position to watch his team play catch I noticed Cody’s wife quietly set up the dugout.  Under the bench she placed a plastic container with each player’s name.  Inside was their equipment, perhaps a snack, and other items.  By the time we headed to the car the dugout was more organized than my kitchen and ready for the game to begin.

I’m not sure if Cody’s two boys will continue the legacy of another State Championship run at their own school, but I am sure of one thing: their parents will support them, regardless if they like baseball or choose another path.

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Field notes – We’re picking up Rachel’s first set of 4×5 large format processed negatives and scans from a shop in Norman next week. Can’t wait to see them. April is living and breathing wedding season videos right now. And Kelly is celebrating the formation of a non-profit corporation…she has hopes of eventually spreading the expenses of this project around to a few other places than just her own checking account.

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EPOTM Visits “The OKC Show”

Kelly Roberts, April Kirby and Rachel Apple (l to r) relax in the Oklahoma Talking Co studio prior to taping an OKC Show podcast. Instagram Photo by Jason Baffrey.
Kelly Roberts, April Kirby and Rachel Apple (l to r) relax in the Oklahoma Talking Co studio prior to taping an OKC Show podcast. Instagram Photo by Jason Baffrey.

Just before Independence Day, our Every Point on the Map team headed to Midwest City for a visit with Jason Baffrey on The OKC Show.  The Oklahoma Talking Co. studio was stocked with bottled water and creative people, doing their part to build interesting content for those interested in learning more about Oklahoma-based projects.

Thanks, Jason and Nathan, for being such gracious hosts.  And best wishes to your company as you follow your own creative passions!