Monday, September 24, 2012

Me & My Girl!

Photography lesson time!

Let me be frank. I am learning photography. I am certainly not a pro -- yet. :) But I thought that I would teach/show a few things as I go, in case it might mean something to you. And for any of you real pros out there, feel free to correct me if I'm way off.

I'm going to use a recent photoshoot I did with my daughter.

The important lesson here is about lighting.

The first thing to notice about these pictures is that I am in the shade. When you go outside to take pictures, unless it's early morning or late afternoon, you want to find a shady place. If the sun is directly above you, it will cast unsightly shadows all over your face.

BUT, it's fun to find a place where some of the pretty sunlight is filtering in for some dimension. Just make sure that there aren't holes of sunlight on your face.

Pick a place in the shade where there isn't overwhelming sunlight behind you or else your faces will be too dark. It's similar to standing in front of a bright window inside a house. Your face will be completely lost, and all you will see is the window. I've learned this the hard way. 

See the pretty lighting in this one? Some sun filtering in through the leaves on the trees, and also puddling on the ground.

That's it for now, folks. Hope you learned something!

Friday, September 21, 2012


I've finished my first novel and I am now just waiting to see if anyone wants it! There's so much to say about this process and how it's been making me feel completely out of control (a good thing?), as I wait and hope for God to open doors. I know it's in the best of hands, so the fact that I have no more control but to sit and wait is actually a sort of blessing.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share with you a bit about this book I am so passionate about. 

It takes place in England, early 1800's. Regan Kinsey is a young, strong woman of faith. But she very quickly loses sight of God when her home is attacked, her husband killed, and her infant son goes missing with her ladies' maid. Her story is full of adventure as she searches for her son, Phillip, amidst the ensuing danger. She realizes that what she thought was just a sporadic act of violence was actually planned and carefully executed, and her stubbornness in trying to find her son only leads to more chaos. 

Regan has many virtues, but her greatest flaw, and the thing I love about her perhaps most, is her independence. I suppose it is a strength and a flaw. But isn't that often the case? Our greatest attributes can also quickly become our failings. 

When she runs into her old flame - the fiancĂ© who left her after her father meddled in their romance a bit too much - he begs her to trust him to find Philip, but she simply cannot wait on the sidelines. For so many reasons, namely that she also doesn't know if she can trust him (more on that if you read the book! If it is ever published). 

It's a fun story. I've loved writing it. And I'm hoping that you'll get the chance to read it!! 

Beginning work on the second book in the series. More on that later. :) 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

3DM Ministries - Healing

If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed a post about Nora's first bike ride on the beach. Ahh! Just remembering it brings a smile to my face. She was so cute in that little helmet, and sitting behind Eric on the bike made her appear so teeny. I wish we were back there right now, on that beach, fighting the wind with every pedal... Who knew that riding bikes on the beach was so hard? (If you want to see pics, go here.)

Well we are going back in October for a women's retreat. I am sure some pictures will result from that trip as well, and will be posted here. Come back mid-October for an update!

Anyway, in the bike post, I promised to share a bit of what I learned on that mini-retreat, so here I am delivering.

I am involved in a church plant here in Northern Virginia, and we are doing things a bit differently. It's a lot to say in a single post, and it would likely bore or overwhelm you, but the thing I love most about our church is its emphasis on discipleship. We believe that every Jesus-follower is called to be a disciple. Whether you disciple one person or thirty, God has given you the skills and grace to speak into someone's life.

For me, this concept was life-changing. It's not profound, but many churches in America have forgotten about how important discipleship is. And I can understand why. Most churches start to grow and when they realize that they are getting large, want to scale it back and find a way to get "small", with small groups. Only, it's so very hard to adequately get "small" once you're big. As our church is still very small, this is one thing it has been able to do well. (Sidenote: Big churches versus little churches, it's all personal preference in my mind. Every church will do some things very well, and struggle in other areas. This post is not to say that I think big churches do it all wrong - far from it. The discipleship that I am seeing come out of my small church plant is simply what is exciting me at this moment, therefore, you are hearing about it).

Anyway, our church plant *stumbled* upon a ministry called 3DM and it has proven to be so helpful. They've come alongside us in a sense and taught us how they are doing ministry and discipleship. So this retreat down in South Carolina was with them. It was my first time going down there, even though my pastor, his wife and even my own husband have been several times.

The retreat was very laid-back. We only had teachings in the morning, followed by time in a huddle (a sort of small group, though different. More on that later). And then we had the afternoons free. Hence, our bike ride on the beach.

But the teachings were phenomenal. Mike Breen, the pastor at 3DM, was inspiring and I loved how each of his points were so founded in scripture. There is so much that I could say about this short week, but I simply don't have the space or time, or likely, attention-span.

So I'll just jump ahead.

At the very end of the week, my huddle leader asked those of us at the table, what we would take away from the week and what we would leave behind.

During Mike Breen's teaching, I was shocked to find that he focused so much on healing. As this was a pastor's getaway, I thought it would be much more practical and how-to stuff. But, he spent a lot of time talking about our misperceptions about healing in the Bible. To try and be brief, he explained that, in the Bible, every reference to "suffering" deals with persecution, not illness. That all of our spiritual fatalism, the "God wants me to have this disease because he is teaching me something," or, "I've done something wrong in my lifetime and so God is punishing me," cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. That's not how our God operates. It's not about us at all. If it was, then those times that people are healed, we could say the same thing. That it is our faith that heals us. But it's not. It's only God. He alone heals.

Mike emphasized over and over again how God wants us well. How do we know this? Because in heaven, there is no sickness, no sorrow and no pain. How else? Because every single time someone came to Jesus in his ministry and asked for healing, he gave it. He never once said, "Sorry, this is your cross to bear." He always healed.

Now, obviously, we know that on earth, we won't always receive healing - but we do know that in heaven, we will be given new bodies. Whole and perfect. But should we stop praying for healing on earth, just because we aren't seeing it? Waiting, passively for that healing in heaven to come? To be honest, sometimes this is how I feel. I get tired of praying for the same thing over and over again, and being disappointed each time God doesn't answer my prayers (at least, the way I hoped he would). But the way Mike Breen said it is this, don't stop praying for healing until either A) you receive healing, B) you pass away, go to heaven and receive healing or C) Jesus comes again.

A lot of this wasn't new information to me - I know that God wants me and my loved ones well. But it was such a good reminder. And sometimes we need that. Now, as I pray for healing, I have joy again rather than just cynicism. Whether that healing happens on earth or in heaven, I know that it is good for my soul to pray and believe. And wait in expectation.

That is what I came away with from the week. So good, right?

Andes Mint Chocolate Cake

Last week my mom and dad stopped by for a night on their way up to Baltimore. So my little sister, Steph, and I had an idea to make an Andes Mint Chocolate Cake for them. We went on Pinterest, of course, in search for our recipe and found the perfect one. After going out to buy all the ingredients, we came back and got working. As my mom and dad were already traveling, we knew we didn't have long to finish our masterpiece. So we rushed things a bit. Starting with the greasing of the pan - instead of using butter and flour, we used an olive oil spray and flour... first mistake. 

The cakes smelled divine and we increasingly became more excited. Steph turned on some youtube music on our laptop and we started jamming out as we baked. Nora even got into it; swaying and bobbing her head to the beat. And then we pulled the cakes out of the oven and glanced at the clock. Mom and dad would be arriving in less than thirty minutes. So we decided not to wait for the cakes to cool. Instead, we flipped them over and knocked on the pans until we heard the cake pop out... second mistake. 

The top part of the cake was perfect and came out smoothly, but the bottom half stayed stuck in the pan. In a moment of genius, I decided that it was redeemable. If we very quickly used the icing, it would melt on the cake and fill in all the spots where the cake was missing. Turns out, I was right! The icing did melt, but instead of helping our cause, it seemed to make it worse as it continued to melt until the entire cake started to slide away.

I still thought it was redeemable as I prepared to cover it with the chocolate coating, thinking that would cover the imperfections. And, once again, it only made it worse.

My parents walked into the house, took one look, and asked, "What is that?!" 

You mean, you couldn't tell? It's a cake of course! 

We had hoped it would brighten their day and in the end, it did. Here's why: 

On the left, the cake it was meant to be. On the right, the cake it was destined to be, with Steph and I as bakers. 

This cake tasted fantastic - with homemade everything. Cake, icing and chocolate ganache. But, if you decide to make this cake yourself, definitely use butter to grease the pans. And definitely wait for the cakes to cool before flipping them out. You may already know this, in which case, you are already a step ahead of me.

Lessons learned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Portraits: Olivia

My niece is beautiful. Let me start with that.

She is sweet, funny, talkative, independent, lively and very photogenic! As the pictures below will surely prove.

When I asked my sister, Emily, about doing a photoshoot with Liv, she was on board faster than I could get the question out. I couldn't be more grateful to have such supportive family. I get to practice my camera skills and she gets cute pictures of her daughter. It's a win-win.

We called up my mom's neighbor and asked if we could take some pictures in front of her pink playhouse. She agreed instantly (thanks, Donna!). And when we got out there, we started singing some songs and Livie got so into it. Clapping, swaying, stomping her feet. Her smile was constant -- until she thought she saw a bug. :) Oh, how I love her. She stopped everything, froze and pointed. "Buuug."

Emily assured her it was not a bug.

See, Olivia thinks everything is a bug. It's quite possibly the cutest thing ever. Only, she's not trying to be cute. She's serious. But, once she had her mama's reassurance, she forgot about the bug (likely a stick or leaf) and continued to pose for our pictures!

These are so ethereal. Probably one of my favorite photoshoots ever.

Newborn: Merritt Liam

He has arrived!! Born on September 1, 2012, and perfect in every way, Merritt Liam was my very first newborn photoshoot! The best part about a newborn shoot is the chance to hold the baby. With Nora already 9 months old, I can hardly remember what it was like to hold a baby so small. I told Anna that Nora was never that tiny, but she was actually smaller. It's like a whole other world to think back to that time... And it's going way too fast.

I also told Anna that if I continued to use my photography and practice on newborns, I would never stop having them myself. It's like a fever - contagious! They are so perfect and warm. They snuggle right into your arms. So trusting and honest. It does not get any better than that. I think I may have to plan a follow-up photoshoot just for the opportunity to hug him again.

So: Lessons learned. Newborns are tricky. Not only do you have to cover up private parts and potentially the umbilical cord (Merritt's had already fallen off! Woo!), but you also have to keep them happy. I thought that would be easy because newborns are notorious for sleeping all day. With Nora, I had to go to drastic measures just to wake her up to feed her. Babies love to sleep. But not, apparently, when they are naked and away from mom. Anna and I spent quite a bit of time placing Merritt carefully on the blanket and positioning his little arms and legs, only to have him stir and cry out for mom. She would pick him up, soothe him, and try again. And then he'd pee. At least it was only that. :)

And then he was hungry, and then he was cold, and then he was gassy.

And then, finally, he was sleepy. And content. (Next time, I am bringing a space heater).

And we got these beauties:



Mommy and son.

Family of four.
Love the colors and Joel's sweet smile!

Maternity: Anna

I recently had the pleasure of taking some maternity pictures for a friend of mine (the baby has now arrived, little Merritt Liam, born September 1, and he is flawless!). This photoshoot was good for me in more ways than one. Not only did it provide a chance to spend time with one of my best friends (I was in Anna's wedding, and she was in mine) and her sweet son, Joel, and very accommodating husband, David, but I also got a chance to work on my photography!

I've been recently dabbling around in it a bit more and working on building a portfolio. This was my first time shooting maternity and it was a blast! But it was insanely beneficial for me as well. I had no idea the amount of preparation you have to do before coming to a shoot. Like props, and poses, and bribes for the little one who wants to be doing anything other than pose for the camera (can you blame him?). Suffice it to say, I've lived and learned - and what better way than to do that with a gracious friend?

Thanks, Anna, for your patience during this seven-hour shoot (can't believe I'm admitting that), and your fantastic suggestions and ideas.

Here are some of my favorites, I hope you enjoy them too:

Imagining the countless hours this little one will play on that playground.
Joel was so excited about being a big brother!
Aren't they perfect? 
Listening for the baby... 
Resting on that hot day - he was a trooper! 
Slinging him around!


Pawley's Island, SC

Eric and I just got back from a trip to Pawley's Island, SC with our pastor and his wife. It was designed to be more of a retreat than anything else. A chance to get away with your family with some teachings in between. Our last getaway of the summer! Sad. (And yet, happy! Fall is clearly the best season of the year. Who agrees with me?)

Our church is working with 3DM Ministries, based in Pawley's Island (by the way, if you haven't heard of them, you need to check out their site! Amazing!) So, Mike Breen spoke every morning and I came home feeling refreshed in more ways than one. More about what I learned here.

I needed that short week away.

We had a blast with Nora! The retreat was right on the ocean, so we took a walk down to the beach and chased a massive pelican that was chilling on the beach, then we came back and relaxed in an inner tube drifting down the lazy river at the resort. We ate out at a restaurant on the marsh - and thank goodness there was a fence all the way around because all we kept reading/hearing about were the alligators! On our resort pass, they even had a warning not to "feed or molest the alligators". What?! Nora would have been the perfect sized snack for a hungry alligator so I kept a very close watch on her. Easy to do since she can't exactly get around very well yet at only 9 months old. :)

The highlight of the trip though, I think, was our bike ride down to the beach! It was Nora's first!

Just so you know, riding into the wind on the beach was quite possibly the hardest thing I've ever done... After hiking down and back up the Grand Canyon. Okay, after contractions. Okay, after labor...

I may be exaggerating a bit on how hard it was to bike into the wind. But still. In that moment, it was impossible. And my crazy husband made me go the whole way down the beach, telling me, "Think of how easy it will be when we turn around and head back!" That was supposed to make me feel better?

Apparently he thought so!
Look at that little smile! 
Not too happy with that helmet on.
So we took the helmet off once we got to the beach, thinking that would
make her happy... Not so! Not a fan of the seat apparently either. 
Once we got moving, she was happier. And then she spotted a doggy
on the beach and was ecstatic! Yay for furry, four-legged friends!
There I am, fearlessly biking into the wind! We went all the way to the very end. As far as you can see!
Loving that tongue of hers.
Look how comfortable she eventually got! Lounging with her feet up.
She eventually fell asleep - something about the wind in her hair,
the breeze on her face. Or so I am imagining.
Riding off into the sunset.

Katie Vogel Media

Katie Vogel Media