Free lensing, photography, and first drafts

I can't remember a time when I didn't have my trusty sidekick "camera", along.  I was asked during a family session how long I'd been doing photography and my answer of five years or so just didn't seem or feel long enough.  Brett actually received a Nikon DSLR before Anna was born.  He rarely got to use it because I always took over.  I shot with that particular Nikon for about 3 years and then upgraded to the D7000, which is what I shoot with now.  I've got my eyes set on another upgrade in the future.  

I'm at the point now in my photography where I've realized a couple of things about the direction I like to take.  One is that photography isn't just about poses and perfect locations to me.  In fact, it's hardly about that at all.  I really prefer lifestyle photography, meaning photographs capturing life as it is.  The real life, the beautiful life, the messy life.  Another thing I've realized is that in order for me to feel emotionally connected to my photographs, I need them to feel much like a painting does to me.  That means using the camera much like I do a paintbrush, wild and free.  I'm not a "trained" artist and so in a lot of cases that is a really good thing. I can just feel my ideas and run with them, no rules chasing me down and stopping me.  With photography there comes a LOT of blog posts, books, articles, and classes to potentially learn from.  While I certainly have big plans to do so in the upcoming year, I also really enjoy time with just my camera and I, no rules to chase us down. 
One particular kind of photography I'm especially taken with lately is called freelensing.  The internet calls this the "poor man's tilt shift lens", which I find particularly funny.  The idea is that you take the lens off the camera and hold it out in front a bit and then shoot.  I'm certainly not that great at it yet but I like the dreamy effect of these photos at least.  It sure has been fun to try! You can google "freelensing" if you want to learn more! 
(another freelensing shot)
I've come to the point in my photography where I feel like there are mountains of things I want to try and lots of eyes staring back as I'm trying.  It feels like there's a bit of an audience, a tiny group of people who actually pay attention to what I put out into the world.  This is both wonderful and frightfully scary at times.  However, I've been reading The Right to Write and it has freed me up tremendously.  Although the author is referencing writing, her words also ring very true for photography or any other endeavor which requires bravery and simply trying, whether the result is perfect or not.  In fact, she makes a very good case for rough drafts, stating that often we don't get started with anything because of perfectionism, or waiting for just the right amount of time.  We devalue the rough draft, when in fact that's where all the good stuff happens. 

Yes and yes. 
As I tackle some goals in my photography, take some new online classes, and push myself to learn even further it will very much be a rough draft.  Photos might not come out like I expected at first, my work may go through a shift that feels rather uncomfortable at times. But oh what joy in trying and in the art of photography!  The author of the book says she has an appetite for writing.  As I read that I found myself thinking "me too!", but for photography.  I simply can't NOT take photos.  

What would you like to do in the new year that will require a lot of rough drafts?  Are you brave enough to try?  Remember, "it isn't that critic that counts, it's the one that's daring greatly." (Theodore Roosevelt)

Are you willing to lay down your ideas of perfect to chase pleasure instead? 

There is joy unspeakable when I paint, live creatively, and photograph the world.  I need it just like I need to breathe.  It chases exhaustion, depression, and anxiety away.  It is simply the tool (and a delightful one at that!) God has equipped me with to take on the world.  It is my worship to him, my wonderful part of life to balance out the laundry, dishes, and taking out the trash. 

My hope for you in the new year would be that you find that one thing that lights your soul on fire,   hat one thing that makes your heart race a bit faster. I pray you have the courage to go after it.  You don't even have to share your work with anyone!  But this year, let's be bold enough to take on the rough drafts of the world. We are all very much rough drafts, all a little flawed, all worth spending time on. 

What might your rough draft project be this year? 

Brunch and the beauty of quiet.

I feel like this time of year is a funny one, our minds and bodies going from one extreme to the next.  When just a few weeks ago we wanted to buy/eat/do all the things and now we're begging for less stuff, less food, less of everything.  It's a funny little time of year, this whole new year business.  

I get a bit tickled and a bit overwhelmed at the start fresh quotes, ideas, journals, and more filling up my social media feed.  I'm not a scrooge and I'm not against it.  I've certainly spent my fair share of time reflecting the past day or two as well.  But as I look back on these photos from a few weeks ago my heart beat slows to a relaxing pace, my "to-do" list quietens, my thoughts are at peace.  There is beauty in the quiet. 

This particular afternoon was a favorite of mine.  It was simple and I suppose, far from quiet with Brett running the chainsaw.  But our imaginations were active, our bodies were moving, and our hearts were quiet with the simple pleasure of being outside and with each other. 
That is my first big lesson I want to take into the new year. 

There is such beauty in quiet, in the simple act of being together and just living our lives fully.  In showing up and being fully present, noticing every ring on the wood, pretending the sawdust is snow, and capturing that magical light just one more time. 

Another most favorite memory of mine from the holiday season was a simple brunch we hosted for my dearest friend and family member.  I cooked a whole slew of food and at precisely 10:00 we sat down to a simple, but beautiful table. 
Adding a few extra touches like lit candles made it feel especially calming and quiet.  

We lingered at the table, my most favorite spot. 

Afterwards we sat by the cozy fire, played Memory, and watched Beauty and the Beast.  The two grown-ups *may* have even gotten teared up but I'll never tell. 

The word again that comes to mind when I see these photos is quiet. 

I don't necessarily mean actual quiet without a single sound, although I personally do need at least a few minutes of this a day!  Instead, to me having a spirit of quiet means phones down, a candle lit, and maybe some music playing. It means slowing down and doing one task at a time, not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.  Quiet living means living in freedom and trust in God.  

That's exactly where my heart is this morning.  I have lists by the dozens and ideas for the new year too.  But I can hear God encouraging me to slow down, take it one day at a time, and live a quiet life. Sometimes that's the loudest way, most rich way to live, in starting with the quiet rhythms.  

What do you think about a quiet life?  Where are your thoughts this new year? 

Our foster care journey begins....

Our Christmas was simply wonderful.  How was yours?   I have photos galore from all the merriment, but we still have one Christmas to go so I think I'll save them to share together.  We certainly ate like (gluten-free, sugar-free) kings and queens, and enjoyed the company of family.  Time felt slow, which is a rare treat.  As soon as Christmas day was over, we hit the ground running with home projects, paperwork, phone calls, and more to begin our foster care journey. 

Back on December 5th we attended our first informational meeting about foster care.  We left ready to start the journey but certain it wouldn't begin until February or March.  Boy, were we wrong!  Instead, we have our first training weekend coming up on January 7th and will be all trained, certified, and ready by the end of January. 

As someone commented on Facebook, "that was fast!"  Yes, indeed.  In fact, I'm feeling kind of bad sharing this on the blog first because so many of you dear souls I haven't even told in person!  But the blog is so very near and dear to my heart, I hope you'll understand using this as my method of communication.  We lucked out because Brett happened to already have a few days off this week.  That is certainly helping with all the prep there is to do before our training days.  I can't say enough kind words about all the people who volunteer their time with The Call here in Northwest Arkansas.  They really make things feel much more do-able and like help is always so near.  I am so, so appreciative! 

So currently we are readying our giant stack of paperwork, which is sort of similar to the process we already did at the adoption agency last year, but also sort of different.  We are definitely at square one. 

We are also readying our home for a home study, beginning to gather baby items, and praying.  Praying for our hearts, minds, and home to be a soft place to land and for the little one that joins us to feel so safe and loved. 

To answer a few questions I've received repeatedly....
The first-"How many children will you have?"  For right now, one.  Although the process has been made so much simpler by the wonderful Call people it is still quite a process and a tad overwhelming at times, if we're being totally honest.  So for now, we're going to take it one step at a time, one child at a time. 

And another big question-"What age will you have?"  We will most likely have a child in the age range from birth to two years old.  Before we ever started this process I must have told God "no" about foster care a dozen times or more.  I kept picturing a house full of teenagers with my two tiny gals and just couldn't feel at peace about it.  Then one day I bravely asked another foster mom-"Can we pick what ages we foster?"  She enthusiastically wrote back "yes!"  and that was that.  Is there a need for sibling groups and older kiddos?  Most definitely!  Can you still choose what works best for your family currently?  Yes.  

And last-"Will you adopt?"  My honest, tears in my eyes answer is, I sure hope so.  But please know that isn't our main goal in fostering.  What I mean is we aim to be the hands and feet of Jesus for these kiddos, whether they stay 3 weeks or a year.  No matter what they will be so very loved and safe in our home.  Will I hope they get to stay?  I'm sure I will.  But I know I'll also pray for their mama and daddy, I'll love them with every ounce of me while they're mine, and if someday down the road a sweet child needs a forever home we'll be right here waiting. 

So friends, this is what we've been up to and I sure do look forward to sharing our journey with you.  If you've texted or called, emailed or awaited a response and I haven't gotten back to you, I'm sincerely sorry and ask for generous amounts of grace during this busy time.  It will be a whirlwind few weeks and then my arms will get to hold a little one!   

Merry, merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas friends! 
I'm signing off for just a day or two. 
Not because this blog is stressful or something I need to reflect on.  Quite the opposite, I sure do love showing up here.  It's kind of like my own personal retreat and I am honored beyond words that you show up here too, to be present with me and read along. 

Instead I'm signing off to be fully present with family for the next day or two, phones put away.  I'll be back next week, I have a lot to tell you about! 
Until then, have a peaceful Christmas. 

The Christmas Calf

I was upstairs, helping the girls clean their rooms.  For as rosy as I am, I'll quickly be honest and admit this is my least favorite task.  The girls have BIG imaginations and I'm ever so thankful.  But this also means things tucked into nooks and crannies, piles of pillows and blankets that are an "animal rescue center", and various other set-ups strewn about the floor.  Every few days, it just has to be tidied a bit.  Brett was home because it was a Sunday and suddenly I heard "Sara, come look at this."  My husband is a man of few words, so when he does talk I listen!  I could tell by the tone of his voice something fairly urgent was needing my attention. 

I started down the stairs and smiled to myself, because there in front of our warm fire, was a baby calf.  This certainly wouldn't be the first time Brett has tended a baby calf, but seeing it in front of the fire felt different.  A few minutes passed with conversation about this red baby and then as Brett headed out the door to buy some formula I grabbed my camera and spent some time with this sweet Christmas calf.  It was ever so weak, but I inwardly assured myself and the calf both that the warm fire and bottles of formula would do the trick. I could picture the calf being nursed back to health and kicking up its heels in no time.  Maybe even becoming as active and naughty as our last calf who used my front porch as a bathroom! 

I posted a photo of our Christmas calf on Instagram and felt a collective "awww" fall from the lips of people near and far.  Everyone adored the fuzzy, cozy calf in front of the fire and began imagining what fun it would be for the girls to have a Christmas calf.  As the seconds, minutes, and then hours began to tick-tock on the clock I became very aware the calf just wasn't getting better.  Brett gave it bottle after bottle, patiently sitting by it and trying so desperately to nurse it back to health.  He stood the little Christmas calf up, only to watch it fall into a sad heap on the floor.  The weakness had just sunk too deep into its bones.  I began to realize, this one probably wasn't going to make it.  

I've always said I make a really terrible farm wife.  I think weeds are beautiful, I picture the pastures as photo shoots, and I like to make up stories about the cows.  I also get my heart involved in places you're simply not supposed to on a farm, particularly with the little calves.   We continued to keep an eye on our Christmas calf for another day or so and then Brett had to take it back to its mama.   I silently said goodbye and the wheels in my mind started turning.  Why was this particular calf so sad for me?  What about it pulled my heart strings harder than most? Why were tears threatening to pool in my brown eyes over this red calf? 

I suppose the truth is it reminded me so much of real life this Christmas season.  Front and center on so many photographs and social media sites things look cozy and warm, nearly perfect.  Cookies are stacked next to creatively decorated trees, while piles of packages nestle beside warm fires.  Cups of hot chocolate satisfy our sweet tooth, while tiny Christmas lights add an extra twinkle to our eyes.  There are light displays to be seen, crafts to make, and more happiness to be had than any other time of the year, right? 

Except not. Just as our Christmas calf evoked a gesture of joy from those near and far, while the scene inside our house was telling a completely different story, this Christmas feels both bitter and sweet.  Behind the picture-perfect scenes of my own life and others near to me, I know the true story of sadness, hard situations, and weakness that has just sunk too deep into bones.  On the one hand I'm ever so thankful for things like Christmas movies, candy canes, baking, and beautiful light displays because while they can't erase the bitter taste of life, they sure can sweeten it a bit.  

On the other hand it feels a bit tough and untruthful to simply partake in the cozy Christmas calf stories of the world, without leaning in closer to tell the whole truth.  The night in Bethlehem reminds me of the Christmas calf, in a very small way.  From our modern-day perspective we peer into the manger scene, eyes aglow.  We sing carol after carol about the wondrous night Christ was born, about the calm and bright night.  And truly it WAS wondrous! Our Savior, our Healer, our own grace for the bitter and sweet, all swaddled and snug.  But I can't help but wonder if there was more behind-the-scenes real life to this scene than we allow ourselves to think about.  I wonder what raw emotions Mary felt, what weakness, if any, accompanied the wonderful the night Christ was born.  I wonder if it's ok in God's eyes and maybe even holy to acknowledge both the bitter and sweet this Christmas season.  I think it is. For in growing in my relationship with Christ and others, I must also grow in authenticity.  The blog is no different.  There is a certain kind of deeply cemented love that comes with baring our souls, an understanding that happens when you lock eyes with someone who knows your every battle and they've stayed to fight it alongside you.  Friends, I've looked too many people in the eyes and said "I'm so, so, so sorry" this Christmas to simply gloss over the less than picture-perfect moments that threaten to become milestones we simply don't want to remember.  

This Christmas maybe your heart is light, maybe it feels too heavy to bear, or maybe you're like me and it's somewhere in-between.  Whatever the case, I'm praying for you to feel nurtured, loved, and known.  I'm praying that you'll have a soft place to land when your soul has weathered too many storms. That just like our Christmas calf you'll have at least one soul to nurture your body and sit you next to a warm fire, eyes meeting yours and willing you to be strong.  

Our Christmas calf may not have made it.  But you will.  How do I know?  Because if you peer way down into the manger you don't just see a night of labor or no place to stay, you see a tiny baby that would forever change our lives.  You see a miracle.  You see Jesus, a Savior who experienced life as we do, so that he could be our own soft place to land.  Bethlehem was certainly a milestone we want to remember.  It may not have looked as picture-perfect as we imagine these days, but it was holy mixed with hard.  It was wise men bearing gifts and today it's the gift of a beautiful sunset, the encouragement from a friend or a stranger, the comfort of a cozy cup of tea.  

It's this: "But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God." (Luke 1:30) and the miracle that our lives are.  We are living, breathing miracles.  As I leaned in close to tell a friend recently-"Your story isn't over yet."  Perhaps you're like Mary was, wondering how in the world she would deal with delivering the king of the world, with literally no place to stay. Perhaps your story isn't matching up with what you're seeing around you, or it appears everyone else's story is much rosier than yours.  Take a deep breath and do not be afraid. Embrace both the holy and the hard, and know that you are so very loved and valued.  That is my grown-up Christmas list, for each and every one of you to take hold of that.  I'm right there with you, gazing into the pink sky at night, feeling God's love wash over all the hard bits of life, feeling so very loved and like Heaven is on our side.  

Our merry Christmas family photos (a guide to self-timers)

Friends, I did it.  I actually mailed out a handful of Christmas cards today! Woohoo! This is only the second time I've accomplished this since becoming a mom.  I'm thinking next year I'd better start in October or something, to make sure they're done on time.  You may be wondering "why bother?"  I know, I get it.  We hear the message in America to take things off our to do lists constantly.  Yet in a world filled with too many texts, emails, and social media platforms, mail is so very nice.  Isn't there something just wonderful and old-fashioned about opening up the mailbox and peering inside, only to be delighted to see you've got mail.  Real mail with a real envelope you can excitedly tear open.

Not much beats that in my world.  Along with a handful of other strong favorites of mine (wasabi and soy sauce anyone?!), if you know me really, really well then you know I love checking the mail.  So this year felt like my turn to give back a little, and send some love via snail mail.  Or personal delivery. 
I took our Christmas card photos myself, on a VERY cold day using the timer and tripod with my camera.   My top tips for doing this yourself is first, be quick!  This is hard for me.  I see a photo a certain way in my head sometimes but nobody wants to be in the family photo that never ended.  You know what I mean-millions and trillions of retakes.  So in my opinion, make it quick and then let it be.  Second, let your kiddos have fun! I took a couple individual shots of the girls.  I had them quickly take off their coat, I snapped 4 or 5 shots of them each, and then had them put their coat back on.  

Last, for our family photo below, I set the camera up on the tripod and got the self-timer ready.  Last I pressed the shutter and ran!  The key to getting a great self-timer shot of course has to do with lighting, focusing, etc. but mostly for me it has to do with choosing not to be a perfectionist.   The picture below absolutely delights me.  Is it perfect? No.  But it tells our story and I adore it.  

Afterwards Brett captured a few of me, just being me. 

So this is us. 
Beautifully imperfect, flawed in so many ways, not as put together as the photo makes us look, but oh so happy together.  This is real life us.  Bonded together with God's gracious love. 

From our family to yours, I'll say an early Merry Christmas! 


This weekend we had some winter weather, with just a tease of snow and some ice.   But that involved my two sisters and sister-in-law on the dangerous roads, slowly creeping along trying to get home.   That is the side of winter weather that I'd rather forget, like the last almost-red tomato of the season.  Almost like the real thing, almost good, but not quite.  We had the ice storm of 2009, that made the Weather Channel's list of "10 worst ice storms in the nation", so I suppose ice will forever be on my naughty list.  But snow?  Snow makes me think of Gilmore Girls, snow angels, and snow globes.  Snow is definitely on the nice list. 
A week or two ago the girls and I were at our most favorite library ever, listening to our most favorite librarian ever at story time.  From singing and dancing to doing the limbo, story time has it all.  It's such a bright spot in our week and this week was no exception.  We spent the hour with eyes aglow over that week's theme, "Wish for snow".  There was even a cotton ball snow fight at the end!  

Afterwards we headed to the tiny tables to do a snow painting and suddenly Anna's eyes popped wide open and she excitedly said "Mom!! It's snowing!".  We rushed to the giant wall of windows and sure enough it was.  It took about a second for all the others in the library to notice and soon squeals of joy were heard from every nook and cranny.  It was truly magical. 

After reading such an explanation you'd probably expect a photo with mounds of snow, but instead just this little dusting came to delight us.  For the girls that was all it took to make their eyes wide, hearts light, and joy unspeakable.  

E. E. Cummings puts it quite well-(exists no miracle mightier than this: to feel).

My girls are quite attuned to the miracles of life, to feeling and understanding that the tiny joys of life are really the big ones disguised as little.  Their imaginations know no bounds.
 They are daily teaching me to stop looking for the next bigger thing, the next season of life, the next this or that.  Instead, to simply feel life as it is, right where we are. 

The rosy in my real life!

Hello friends! I'm here for another edition of "rosy in my real life!"  I tried to number these and do one for every week o...