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March 17 Single and Group Portraits for Adoption Fundraiser

I love adoption, the miracle of a child being loved and finding a home. I am so blessed to be a part of raising funds to see this Little One come home from China to his mama who already adores him. You can read more about Desiree's story HERE and on her blog about her adoption journey HERE.

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I have had Desiree and her little boy so strongly on my heart and have been so blessed to be part of the fundraising to bring this child home. Adoption can be so expensive but who can put a price tag on a little soul finding a home? So far I have had several of you generously jump in to participate in the photography fundraising efforts that are going 100% towards this adoption:

  • two full family sessions...thank you to Jenny B. and family and Sarah H. and family!!
  • one mini session....thank you to Alex S.....can't wait to do it this week!
  • three parent photography workshops have been filled....so many wonderful ladies!

The last part of the fundraising that I will do is a day of Individual Portraits and Group Portraits on Saturday, March 17 between 10-2.

Location: Northwest Church 34800 21st Avenue SW, Federal Way, WA 98023. (This is not an official church event but they have kindly given us permission to use the outside of the building since it is protected and we can do this day rain or shine…hoping for shine)

Individual Portraits ($20 donation each): These are for children, youth, and adults.   Think: updates, profile pictures for FB, gifts for Mother's Day, grandparent gifts, website headshots, etc. The images will be emailed to you in full resolution.

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Group Portraits ($40 donation each) for up to four people. Think: couples shot, mom and child or dad and child images, grandparent and grandchildren, siblings, good friends, etc. The images will be emailed to you in full resolution.

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Here's what you do:

1. Let me know that you want to participate and then I'll give you my address to mail the check and tell you how to make it out. (You can send me an email off the contact section of my website or leave me a message on FB). 2. Send me your donation. (Suggested donation x the number of images you would like. ie If you want individual portraits of three children that would be $20x 3= $60) 3. Choose one of the two blocks that would be best for you: A) 10 A.M.- 12 P.M. B)12 P.M.-2 P.M. I will then work out a schedule and let you know a 15 minute block of time for you to come.

I would absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to fill this time FULL of people so that you can come away with a great image and we can all work together to bless this family with some good funds.

If you are interested, would you please let me know very soon so I can get you in my schedule. This is the first time I have ever offered single and group portraits outside of a traditional session and I would be so thrilled if you are able to take this opportunity.

If this day and time doesn't work for you but you still have a heart to help fund this adoption, please go to Desiree's website where you can donate directly by credit card or paypal. Every little bit ($5, $10, $50, whatever :) ) adds up.

Thank you so much to ALL of you who have joined with me in supporting Desiree and her beautiful boy.

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Bringing Little One Home From China

I remember longing for my children before I had them. I would imagine what we'd do and what they'd look like. I felt sometimes like they were so close I could almost smell them. I wanted them. That familiarity when they arrived and I loved them so much already was incredible. They were mine. These little people that I'd wanted and loved my whole life were finally with me. I remember talking with Desiree when she shared with me the journey she had started, to adopt a little child with Down Syndrome, a little person she had been thinking about and longing for. Instantly, I was so excited and felt like it was so right in my heart.

This is Desiree. She is pure gold. Funny and kind. Generous and warm. She's amazing and she'll be an incredible mother. She's already "Auntie Desiree" to a host of little people.

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Here's a little something that she wrote about this journey she's on.

Samuel. Esther. Ruth. Moses. Dave Thomas. Malcolm X. Steve Jobs. Scott Hamilton. Marilyn Monroe. Melissa Gilbert. Babe Ruth. Faith Hill. Harry Carry. Eleanor Roosevelt. Leo Tolstoy. George Washington Carver. Edgar Alan Poe. Crazy Horse. Aristotle. Nancy Regan. ALL adopted. All born into one family and raised by another. All loved and cared for by someone without their same blood. Each with their own hurts, joy, failures and successes. Each with the permanent mark of God’s redeeming story…you were vulnerable, alone and unable to care for yourself and I sought you out to love you as my own. Adoption IS the Gospel story. I’m sure every adoptive parent has a different on-ramp on their road to adoption, but the mileage is the same. Mine was on a plane, December 1994. I was seventeen and on my first trip to Seattle—the city that I now call my own. During the boarding process, a woman in a white t-shirt holding an Asian toddler passed on my left down the aisle. She didn’t bump me. The kid wasn’t screaming. No one smelled funny. There was no reason why this woman & child should have stood out to me. But the Voice within me that echoed as she passed me was significant: “That’ll be you”. Of course, at the time, I didn’t understand the magnitude of that prophetic statement. I nonchalantly tucked it away in the “Someday” file that, at the time, included riding in a hot air balloon and marrying Val Kilmer. (Hello, Top Gun!) Over the next 15 years I kept a soft spot for adoption. I was drawn to the young and sick on missions trips. I focused on pediatric & international medicine in school & work. I gave faithfully to adoption organizations and was in awe of Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman’s adoption story of their three daughters. Then one Sunday in November 2009 the Voice echoed again “It’s time”. Say WHAT?!! I knew instantly, the Lord was calling me, eh, tossing me from 30,000feet, onto the adoption road, but it would take me another 18months of personal struggle before I would finally say YES. YES to the Lord’s calling. YES to welcoming a child of a different race and with special needs into my home. YES to the financial struggles and social stigmas. YES to believing God’s plan for me and my family was FAR more important than my desire to marry Hugh Jackman (Sadly, Val didn’t age as well as I had hoped…). YES to understanding that God was not asking me to do anything I hadn’t already promised Him I would do…Go to the ends of the earth, and to care for the widow and the orphan (Matthew 28:19 & James 1:27). YES to realizing that is EXACTLY what God had done for me.

You can read more about her journey on her blog, THE ADOPTION SEED.

She has been matched with a little boy with Down Syndrome in China. We can't actually share his picture or name out of respect for the process and procedures right now...but he's a sweetie! Her face lit up as she told me how she just knew this little fellow was the one. It's pretty much a miracle.

We took some photos the other day for her to use in her book of the preparations for him, and also a few to send to her Little One while she walks through the final few months of this process. When I arrived at her house the other day, she and our friend, Jessie, were wrestling together his crib and debating paint colors.

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What a smile on her sweet face.

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I love that he'll have some of these pictures to see until he gets to see his mama face to face. What a happy day that will be!

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I know it costs quite a bit to adopt. Though I knew that Desiree was writing grants, working extra shifts and doing everything she can, I also have had some excitement in my heart about helping to raise a bit of this money to bring this precious boy home. So I have thought and decided that I would open up some opportunities for you to partner with me in blessing Little One and his mama who can't wait to meet the boy she already loves. Following are three ways to jump in. 100% of the proceeds will go towards the adoption of Little One. How fun would it be to not only be getting great photography value but also help a little boy to have a mama and a mama to have a little boy.

Please read these with an open heart and see if you might like to do one of them.

1. Session Package (two of these are available)- $400 donation (a $575 value)

This is a regular session to be paid for by Feb. 15 and then can take place anytime in 2012 that works for both of us. It includes:

  • my session fee for a family, couple, maternity, newborn, senior ($150)
  • a disk of all the images with copyright release ($200)
  • professionally printed images: one 16x20 ($70), one 11x14 ($50), three 8x10's ($105 total)

2. Parent Photography Workshops. Saturday, Feb. 11 and Saturday, April 7. -$50 donation

Send in your $50 donation to hold your spot.

I will be hosting two workshops at my home (French press coffee and cookies included!). These workshops will be limited to just six people each and are targeted at moms, dads, and grandparents who are intent on getting the best pictures possible of their children. This includes:

  • one full resolution headshot of YOU taken the day of the workshop. (I bet it's been a long time since you've had a good picture of yourself, hasn't it ;) ?)
  • I am going to be going over some practicals of lighting, perspective and composition, clothes, background, how to get your children to co-operate (haha!)
  • Then we'll practice so bring your cameras. I'll have a little person here and and we'll take pictures together. I'll show you some common mistakes and how to avoid them.
  • I won't replace reading your camera manual (sorry, barely made it through mine!) but I will tell you what settings to try for different situations.
  • I'll be more than happy to answer questions the day of the workshop and I'll also have you email in 2-3 target areas that you want to learn about.

I'll be hosting the first one on February 11 from 9:30-11:30. This one will be focused at getting the best pictures that you can, no matter what kind of camera you have.The next one will be on April 7 from 9:30-11:30 and will cover many of the same basics but will be more focused at those of you looking to use your d-slr's better.

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3. Individual Portraits and Small Group Portraits. March 17 between 10-2. $20 and $40 donations.

On this day, we will be doing individual portraits and small group portraits outside at Northwest Church 34800 21st Avenue SW, Federal Way, WA 98023. (This is not an official church event but they have kindly given us permission to use the outside of the building since it is protected and we can do this day rain or shine...hoping for shine :) )

  • ($20 donation) The individual portraits are perfect for children, for you for your website or as a social media image or just because :) You can choose black and white or color. The full resolution image will be emailed to you.

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  • ($40 donation)The small group pictures can have 2-4 people. Think you and your sweetie, siblings, you and your bestie, you and your child, you and your mom (then you can make it into a great print for Mother's Day). You can choose black and white or color. The full resolution image will be emailed to you.

Here's one of Desiree and her good friend, Jessie. What a perfect idea for a small group portrait!

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To participate, you will need to:

  • Let me know that you want to participate and I'll say, "Wahoooo!" and then give you my address to mail the check and tell you how to make it out.
  • Send me your donation. (Suggested donation x the number of images you would like. ie If you want individual portraits of three children that would be $20x 3= $60)
  • Choose one of the two blocks that would be best for you: A) 10 A.M.- 12 P.M. B)12 P.M.-2 P.M.
  • I will then work out a schedule and let you know a 15 minute block of time for you to come.

If none of these work for you but you would like to participate, stay tuned to Desiree's blog which will be talking soon about an Online Auction to raise funds (items and services to be donated would be fantastic!) . If it's on your heart and you'd like to make a straight donation to bring this Little One home that would be an incredible blessing. No amount is too small. Let me know and I'll give you an address to mail a check to as well as tell you how to make it out.

Please let me know as soon as possible if you would like to do any of these. Thank you!!!

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Science World with Opa

We didn't have a whole lot of extra money when we were growing up. We didn't go on huge, flashy vacations every year or get every toy that lit up in front of us. However, I do think that we had a pretty ideal childhood in so many ways. Lots of camping, family games, trampoline competitions, neighbors and friends coming over. We were allowed to craft away with pretty much anything we could dig up in the house. We went to the library. We played and pretended for hours on end. I also remember a lot of Saturdays, being buckled into the big blue van and taking day trips around the city. Granville Island, White Rock beach, Horseshoe Bay, Stanley Park. I have lots of happy memories of those days. I remember when Expo 86 came to Vancouver and just before it opened, the big silver ball (I forget what it was called for that event) opened up and my dad took me down. I remember I was wearing a kilt and eating a caramel apple and I had a super time with him. He followed me around with his camera and I have pictures of me with my feathered hair and huge glasses in the front. Fast forward 26 years (whoa) and my dad and I returned to the silver ball...now Science World in Vancouver, in my blue van packed full of kids, and camera equipment. Full circle, baby. We stopped by Starbucks on the way, of course, for our kick start and then headed in with our two free passes (thanks to my sister), which soothed our frugal Dutch natures. It was such a great day. The kids ran around and touched and played with everything. My dad laughed and I was running around taking pictures. It was a busy day and I assigned him a kid to watch as all three ricocheted around the rooms trying everything. It was more than once that I found my dad playing in the water or banging the musical instruments and said, "Hey, where is.....?" Good times.

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The wheelchair races.

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This was a neat spot that alternately turned from a window to a mirror.

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Then Uncle Dano and Cousin Quinny came to hang out with us. Quinn was digging all the action.

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At the end we left because my dad and I were worn to a nub after crawling through the beaver dam. We packed up the kids and away we went. I'm so happy for these opportunities to make memories for my kids like this. I have a pretty cool dad, for sure.

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2011 Picture of the Year Contest Winners Announced

The 2011 Picture of the Year Contest was a first for me. It's a bit of a crazy notion, to slim down the tens of thousands of pictures that I take in a year to one best one. When I come home from a session, I always pretty much ignore everyone until I can get my card downloading and see what I've got. Often I get that little thrill of, "Yes! I got it!" I am not the photographer who has the keenest poses or uses every action possible on editing each photo. In fact, I prefer to get as much as I can spot on when I shoot and then use minimal editing. I want a clean look, I want good lighting, I want balanced composition. Most of all, I want the heart to show.

Families laughing, a mom nuzzling her newborn, a portrait with someone who looks me full on and lets me see them. I want you to look at my photos as one would look in the mirror and say, "That's really us! That's how I feel. That's what I love about my family."

I have been overwhelmed and incredibly blessed by the enormous support that I have felt through this contest (and this past year). The fact that you have shared your pictures, shared my site, and left such generous comments has been so very encouraging. Truly.

Because of your participation: I would like to offer all the clients whose images were featured in this album, $50 off the session fee if booked before April 30. Thank you!

So here are the winnners (hoots, drumrolls, applause, whistles):

First Place: Winning $200 of 2012 session credit or two 16 by 20 canvases.....The McConnell/Miles Family

By the way, the McConnell/ Miles family promised their friends and family a family video for each 10 votes they got. Since they got over 220 and have only produced one video so far, I may need to withhold their prize until they can produce another 21 videos :) ....hehehe.

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Second Place: Winning $100 of 2012 session credit or one 16 by 20 canvas......Josh and Carmen Neal

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Third Place: Winning $75 of 2012 session credit or a framed 11 by 14 image....The Freheit Family

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Fourth Place: Winning a custom made hat from Elijah's Cradle Designs.....the Herring Family (I bet I know who'll be getting the hat).

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Fifth Place: Winning a custom made hat from Elijah's Cradle Designs....the Morriss Family (Since he's the only  guy in the party, maybe dad should get the hat?)

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Lastly, I am going to award my personal favorite. They waited and prayed for Baby Susannah for a long time. The absolute pleasure I see on Erica's face and the giggling little face of her tiny girl as she leans into her mama is just exactly the kind of connection that I adore photographing. Erica and Chris, I am sending you a 16 by 20 canvas of this image :) .

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For all of your huge support in cheering me on the way in 2011, I give all my thanks! I can't wait to spend time with many of you in front of my camera this year!

Winners of the contest, could you please contact me and let me know what you would like for your prizes? Thanks!

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Photo Resolutions 2012

Resolutions, whether you believe in them or not, can be a  helpful thing.   It's good to focus on some goals and make a fresh effort. My first one this year is typical....I've just got to get this last bit of baby weight off. Yep, it's time. My baby is 14 months now. That's one of my goals this year. However, waaaaaay more exciting to me are my photo resolutions. Catching the everyday and the nitty gritty of our lives is truly what I love looking back at later. Here are my goals:

1. Project 365. I wrote a bit more about it HERE where I also showed our monthly 2011 family pictures.

I've been excited by those of you who are jumping on the bandwagon to do the "Project 365" with me. A photo a day for the year. I am having a lot of fun each day grabbing my camera to get a shot of something in our lives. I plan on incorporating foods, errands, travel, habits, tickets and as much as I can. I am posting each day on my own facebook page and will do a blog post once a month of these images.

Here's today's picture: Jasper with his dearly loved Giraffey. At one point a few months ago, Giraffey went missing for a few days. When he was discovered under Oma and Opa's bed in the guestroom, he giggled like crazy and said, "Giraffey, honey, you've missed me!!!"

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2. Monthly Kid Portraits.  Another thing that I'm going to do is to take a portrait of each kid each month. It can be at different times in different places but I want to watch these little crazies grow.

Here's January:

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3. Day in the Life.  I am going to do another DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE HAMILTONS, probably in March or April. We LOVE looking at these books each year.

I love that some are ambitious like me to do the Project 365. Another friend says she takes pictures of her boys each year in the adult size jersey she bought for each when they were little. A self portrait a month, a family portrait a month, what ever feels manageable to you...do it!

My dad has pictures of his mum and dad, sitting on the porch laughing, on the last family visit we had before my Opa passed away. My dad said that he took one or two of each of them that day, but had he known that it was their last time all together, he would have taken rolls and rolls of film. Take pictures. You never regret having too many (that's what the delete key is for :) ) but you may regret it if you never pick up your camera.

Let me know what your goals are this year in taking pictures of YOUR family! I'd love to cheer you on.

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Six Times Twelve - 2011

It was my goal in the year 2011, to have a family picture every month, be it from setting the timer and dashing into it, begging my friends, or shoving my camera into the hands of complete strangers. Six of us Hamiltons times twelve months. Mission accomplished!

I was poking through my hair last night, sure that my grey hairs have multiplied in the past year, but I am pretty sure it won't be shockingly noticeable in the pictures. What is obvious to me in the last 12 months of pictures are my little growing-like-weeders who are sprouting and changing every month. Theo went from a chubby two-month-old asleep and hanging on me at the sledding hill to being a lump of toddling love. Tymen is shooting up, skinnier and taller. Jasper is getting a bit more of a grown up look to him (noooooo, keep the cheeks!). Ruby looks way mature with her longer hair and glasses.

It's also fun to see us through the different seasons...together.

January (Thanks, Jonathan, for the picture!)

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February (thanks, Kelly!)

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March (thanks, Opa)

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April (thanks, Opa)

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May (thanks, Amy)

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June (thanks, Haley)

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July (thanks, Kaia)

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August (thanks to me, stretching way back!)

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September (thanks, Jessie!)

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October (thanks, Opa)

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November (thanks, Opa!)

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December (thanks, Denise!)

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Did anyone else complete this project for the year? I just saw my friend, Jacqueline, post her final installment of her family's monthly portraits. Her older daughters were less than thrilled at times and so it became known as The Mortification Project. Love it!

So for this year, my plan is to do the "365 Project", one picture for each day of the year. I've seen others do this during the last couple years but I've always been a bit daunted by keeping track of it. The last few days I've been seeing Becky's images come up and I've been finding myself so looking forward to seeing them. I LOVE the little slice of life and I love how she just wrote the day and time on each one. Easy. I think what I'm going to do is to just put them in a book at the end of the year. I'm going to mix it up...lots of kids but also some food, travel, errands, words, and stuff like that. What I wouldn't give to see a 365 pictures of a year in my family's life when I was little!

I think I am planning on once a month adding all the month's daily photos into a blogpost.

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Anybody up for this project or a version of it?

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My Kids Asleep

It's the quiet hour. 11:32 P.M. Our home, which is always full of noise, is so still that I can hear the ticking of two different clocks. It's never, never like this during the day.

It's been a busy one. I had a newborn session in the morning with a yummy little baby girl. I sent emails. Ben was off work and did laundry for me and kept the boys busy with games. Ruby marched back to second grade, happy to see her teacher again. Jasper and I read Bob books. Tymen got in trouble twice for tackling his brother but then was kissing his baby brother's toes and laughing like crazy at Theo's squeals. We ate soup and pears. I have hovered over my computer, thoroughly enjoying the Picture of the Year contest and feeling so blessed. In fact, I got so distracted that at one point the baby pulled himself up to standing on top of the kids' art table...whoops! We made phone calls. Jasper and Tymen went to shop at Sam's with daddy. Ruby and I had a donut date. Tymen built a Trio house. Ruby unscrewed the arm off her glasses by accident.

Then they all went to bed, after stories and prayers and hugs and kisses. The house got quiet and I am guilty again of staying up way too late working on projects and just enjoying the stillness. Before we go to bed, Ben and I walk the rooms and tuck kids in, again. Tonight I brought my camera. These kids are mine, all flushed and sprawled out on their beds, and I love them like crazy.

Isn't there something about seeing your kids sleeping that makes you forget about the pestering of brothers and timeouts and diapers? There's that little pang of they're growing up so fast and I love them so much. I always want to remember them just like this.

Here they are.

Ruby, 7.

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Jasper, 4.

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Tymen, 3.

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Theo, 1.

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Thanks to all of you who have participated in my first ever Picture of the Year Contest on my Facebook page! I have so appreciated the support and been a bit overwhelmed by the response! Voting is still open until Friday, Jan. 6 at 8 P.M. Prizes are:

First prize: $200 credit towards a 2012 session OR two 16 x20 canvases of the images you choose.

Second prize: $100 credit towards a 2012 session OR one 16 x 20 canvas of the image you choose.

Third Prize: $75 credit towards a 2012 session OR a framed 11 x 14 print of the image that you choose.

Fourth Prize: a custom made hat, any type from Ashley of Elijah's Cradle Designs.

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2011 Picture of the Year Contest

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As a way of saying a huge THANK YOU to the wonderful people who have given me the privilege of photographing your beautiful families this year, I am doing my first ever (drum roll, please) Picture of the Year Contest.

This contest will take place From Sunday, January 1-Friday, January 6 at 8 P.M.on my facebook Cassandra Hamilton Photography page. At about 3 P.M. on Sunday afternoon I will post an album of 40 pictures (just couldn't whittle it down further :) ) and tag the people in them.

To vote one must:

1. Be a fan or "liker" of Cassandra Hamilton Photography.

2. Click "like" on the picture that you would like to vote for.

Clients who are in the pictures, you may share the link and have your friends (the really nice ones ;) ) share the link for you, as often as you wish to encourage your friends to vote for you after liking my photography page.

So, here's the fun part...the prizes! On Friday evening, the images with the three highest votes will win.

First prize: $200 credit towards a 2012 session OR two 16 x20 canvases of the images you choose.

Second prize: $100 credit towards a 2012 session or one 16 x 20 canvas of the image you choose.

Third Prize: $75 credit towards a 2012 session or a framed 11 x 14 print of the image that you choose.

I'm so excited!

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Good Times for Christmas Week

I wanted to post a few pictures of the happy activities that we did during our Christmas week.

One thing that we did for the first time this year was to ride on the Santa Train. My friend had been telling me about it for the past couple of years and this year I got us some tickets. Basically, it's about a 15 minute ride on some old (ancient, really) train cars to see the big man. There were decorations hung down the cars and the kids were so excited to be on a "real" train. Our pals, Tori and Cooper, joined us for the fun adventure. (Really, Tori saved our bacon by hauling bags and kids along with her own sweet boy.)

First, we got there early and hung on the trees for a while. Certain young boys started fencing with branches which had to be halted. No need to poke an eye out on the big day.

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The conductor was a riot. He led some singing and gave some interesting facts as we rode along.

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Of course, I forgot my flash when we went to see Santa and that room was absolutely DARK. So take my word for it. We had a short visit, during which the boys listed off for Santa a whole host of toys that we had no idea that they wanted.

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Cookies and hot chocolate. Yay!

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On the way back, we had one cranky baby who howled along when Santa himself walked into our traincar and sat with us to sing a song or two. Good times.

I have a load of Christmas books and have loved seeing the kids paging through them. Just the cozy things like movies, hot chocolate and reading together in December have been so fun!

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One of the highlights of the Kasteel Christmas each year is croquette night! This is the recipe that both my Oma and my Nana used and Ruby and I make up a quadruple batch each year. We both have a meal and then my parents and Kelly and Dano get to cart a box of frozen croquettes home with them. Pork roast minced, rolled in a creamy roux, breaded and deep fried and served with mustard. Lekker! It's a Dutch treat indeed. When my family came down for our early Christmas, my mum was sent to the garage to be the deep fryer. I think we cooked about 60 and there were two left over. They're that good!

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The next day, we went to Hyak Snow Park to go sledding with the whole gang. It was just hovering at freezing and was perfect for us to be out. It was so fun to see the crazies go flying down on the sleds and to have races too.

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Thanks to the nice lady who took our group shot!

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Christmas Dinner

Theo was ready to eat, donned in his Christmas sweater vest!

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Have no fear, Quinny was not folding her hands and drinking champagne. It was sparkling cider.

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Apparently, nothing else on my table appealed to her as she started sucking on her tights.

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Kelly, Dano and Quinny pushed and shoved all their goodies into their car and headed back north for Christmas with Dano's family.

We got to head to church on the 24th for a beautiful Christmas Ever service to celebrate Jesus. How grateful we are that He came to earth!

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We got to keep Oma and Opa through the 25th. We started out the day in our pajamas. Auntie Meghan sent the coolest set of family pajamas ever! Thanks, Auntie. We actually all wore them all day. It was one relaxed Christmas day.

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One more bit of news. On my Cassandra Hamilton Photography facebook page I will be having a "2011 Picture of the Year" contest, starting Sunday. I am taking a whackload of my favorites from this year for you to vote on. Prizes will be fun. I've decided to do a first, second, and third prize including session credit for 2012 and canvases (plural :) ). I'd love for there to be a few winners as my way of saying THANK YOU to the people who have given me the blessing of photographing you and the ones you love this year.

Thank you for all your support and love for our family. I feel immeasurably thankful.

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Christmas Sugar and Spice

We're running on a bit of a sugar high around our house, as undoubtedly many of you are as well. 'Tis the season for goodies and treats for sure. I have tried to serve a few nourishing meals here and there to counteract the mountains of Christmas sweets to be had. The other day I made an Italian sausage and veggie soup and was greatly encouraged when Jasper shouted, "Spinach!! I love spinach!!" So I guess we're good to down some extra cookies. First on the Hamilton baking agenda was a gingerbread house which thankfully did not actually involve any baking as it was from a kit. What it did involve was a great deal of licking. The kids, who had washed their hands with soap and water, mind you, licked icing and candies galore.

I think someone must have set a bad example. The camera doesn't lie....

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Time to hand off the camera and have Ben get me in a few pictures too. (Remember moms: no photo martyrs allowed!).

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Then I grabbed the camera back and the kids went for it.

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Is this a guilty look or what?

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We see that finger in your mouth, Rubes!

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So that is your fair warning not to munch on our gingerbread house this year if you want to avoid germs.

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Next, Ruby had a couple little pals over to decorate cupcakes using a Nutcracker cupcake decorating set that my friend, Ronalee, gave me. We read the story beforehand and then the icing, chocolate chips, crushed candy canes and sprinkles flew.

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The next baking day involved boterkoek, whipped shortbread with ginger chunks, and tiger butter. Seriously, tiger butter is the most easy thing in the world to make. One pound white chocolate melted with 1 1/3 cups peanut butter and then it's poured onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Melt one pound semi sweet chocolate, pour over top and swirl with a knife. Chill and cute into squares. We used Trader Joe's ingredients and it disappears quickly.

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The biggest help comes from licking the spatulas and my boys are wonderful helpers, I'll tell you!

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I think they even did cheers with their spatulas several times and licked that bowl down immaculately. They, however, looked a little less than immaculate at the end of "helping".

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They had the best time running tins of tiger butter around to our wonderful neighbours. Better give as much as we can away because otherwise it's me that digs around in the freezer for just one more piece!

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The World is Opening Up....Jasper's Learning to Read

About six months ago I realized that Jasper didn't know the letters of the alphabet. He could sing them, of course, but at four he had no idea what each letter looked like. The classic second child, he had a mom who had checked out a little between being pregnant and having a new baby. Ruby was already reading Dr. Suess at his age and though I am a big believer that they all hit that window of readiness at different points, I also knew we could easily work on it a little. So between reading lots, which we love to do anyway, I used a little ABC chart to practice for a few minutes each day, each letter and then its sound. It didn't take long for him to catch on and he'd giggle delightedly when he mastered letters and I'd exclaim, "What!!!?? How do you know that already??" Miss Debbie, the nicest children's librarian around, pointed out these little Flip-A-Word books to start on. They basically have word families and are perfect for my boy who is just beginning to sound things out. Crab. Dab. Slab. Blab. The "Ot Family" was a favorite and the "Snot Pot" page was a huge hit.

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Here's the baby brother, who's been a bit of a "snot pot" lately.

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I am hearing him try and sound things out all the time now. It is so exciting to see the lights go on for him. Being such a lover of books myself, I am thrilled to see him catch the bug of reading.

He's also been working on his name. His wonderful preschool teachers have him "sign in" every day at school. It's great practice.

For the first time he wrote his own name on his stocking chalkboard. Oh my, was he proud.

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Jasper is using his newfound knowledge to impress the cute little lady that he's had his eye on. Her sweet mom drove him home from school one day and Jasper boasted that he was reading. She handed him one of her books, which he quickly realized was above his "Flip-a-Word" level. To save face he then said, "Well, sometimes....I just like to read quietly to myself."

That's my boy.

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The Christmas Picture with Four Moving Targets

What a fun month! I enjoy my trip to the mailbox each night and getting cards and updates from families is such a treat! I've been thrilled to hear of clients making prints, canvases and gifts for family members. Last night, my friend, Kelly posted a picture on Facebook with about a dozen prints in frames of images from our session that she's giving as gifts. Yay! I also got a call from our friends in Texas to whom I sent a canvas of their kids about a week ago, and told them just to open it as soon as they got it. They cried and I was so pleased that it meant so much to them. Happy. Speaking of gifts.....I do have gift certificates available should you want to bless someone in your family this Christmas. I will be changing my rates somewhere around the end of January but my Christmas gift certificates can be purchased at 2011 rates and then used at any time next year.

I'm really, really loving the rhythm of December. Now that all my sessions are done, I am having lots of time at home with my little crew. I have actually been like a house on fire, cleaning drawers and closets, redecorating my part of the office (Ben's part is beyond hope), and finishing projects. The boys and I just whipped up a couple batches of tiger butter for our neighbours. I stirred and poured, they licked all the used dishes and utensils.

One of my big projects each year is getting a good Christmas picture to go with our newsletter. This year I cruised by the Target Dollar Spot (love that area!!) and snagged these hats. Then I grabbed a box of candy canes and we were set.

Ben came out to be my accomplice as I worked hard to get a good shot of all four moving targets. No easy task but it was hilarious.

Here are some of the outtakes.

There was no way Theo was staying on the bench without motivation.

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I always need an individual picture of each kid at Christmas as I add a frame with it to our Christmas tree. I love how the frames are multiplying.

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Whoops, there goes the hat. Ben runs in and adjusts it.

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Sticky, happy.

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All the kids got their treats and Theo started rolling around on Ruby's lap. She laughed and pushed him back.

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He tried to grab her hair with his sticky hands.

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Then he wanted Jasper's candy cane. He started grabbing.

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Then he pulled Jasper's hat down and clocked him on the head with his candy cane.

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While Jasper was blinded he made another move to grab part of the candy cane that had broken off. Strategy.

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Sticky, messy, and laughing at the end....we did it.

Here's the shot:

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Six Times Twelve- November

It feels like we are already knee deep in candy canes, Christmas ornaments, reading the stories of Jesus being born, and plans for Christmas baking. Before I am waist deep :) I wanted to share our November update and picture. Six people times twelve months. We've managed a family picture eleven months in a row now. I'm feeling like I deserve a cup of hot chocolate as a reward (Trader Joe's peppermint with real chocolate shavings, of course!)

So here are some highlights of the month of November.

Ruby's soccer season ended the first week of November. What a great little group of girls she played with! Ben coached them and Ruby was pleased as punch for her dad to be the coach. It's amazing how little stuff like that can be such a big deal to kids.

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Christmas shoe boxes. This amazing outreach through Samaritan's Purse that sends these boxes all around the world to under privileged children is one of my favorite projects to do with the kids. They each get to have a plastic shoebox to fill with goodies for little boys and girls. It's a great opportunity to share about how fortunate we are to have an opportunity to give. We pray and ask God for good ideas of things that will bless each child that the boxes go to and then we have such a good time cram jamming in as much as we can. The boys proudly carried their boxes into the drop off location this year.

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One weekend we took Auntie Kel and Oma for tea at the Secret Garden in Sumner. Hello, yummy happiness! We nibbled and shared and laughed and Ruby was allowed to have all the sugar she "needed" in her tea. Girl time is the best!

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Our baby boy was dedicated at our church. This was a big one. We presented our son to be prayed for and publicly given to the Lord. We want him to walk in God's paths and fulfill His plans. We are so thankful for great leadership at our church and a strong community that loves our family as we seek to raise our children. Theo, for his part, squeaked and grinned at Pastor Steve and loooooooved all the attention of everyone looking at him. He tried to swipe the microphone and then our pastor's glasses but he's been doing it a long time and knew how to hang onto his stuff :) .

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Thanks, Desiree, for the family group shot!

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I was pretty proud of myself for finding these ties!

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Oma and Opa with the grandkids.

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Tired out from a big morning.

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Thanksgiving was a blissful day. Cooking all day, watching the Macy's day parade with hot chocolate, cuddling was all on the agenda. With the business of everything, it was lovely to have a sweet family day at home.

LOVE the next one of Tymen laying on Daddy.

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Then came the last minute work of getting everything on the table.

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We were pretty casual this year, eating in the kitchen and Ruby made awesome place cards (love Theo's pilgrim face!).

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We digested a little, watched our first Christmas movie, and then Ben had a giant tickle fight with the kids. They were delighted and Theo threw himself into the fray as well.

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This whole month of focusing on Thankfulness has been good for me...a way to realign my heart and focus on what matters.

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Our Thankful Poster

Thanksgiving kind of snuck up on me this year. I've been head down working away at editing all the sessions I've been blessed to do (almost completely caught up!) and busy with our houseful of crazies and suddenly we're here. My beloved husband has had the week off. He's terrible at tracking his holidays and using his time off and when I had him check a few weeks ago, it turned out he had a bunch of time to burn or lose at the end of the year. It's been fun having him around for some extra time. This morning he sent me off to use my Groupon spa package that I bought as a celebration of coming to the end of such a busy photography season. I blissfully enjoyed my sugar scrub, hot stone massage and peppermint pedicure. I am sure I thanked everyone so enthusiastically that they all wondered if I had been out in a while.

Ben took all the kids to the store to pick up last minute items for me (God bless him!). Navigating crazy stores is not my favorite thing to do. He's good to me.

When they got home I quickly spun through in five minutes and got a quick picture of each of my dearest ones.

My sleeping little booga.

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Ruby and her turkey. My very favorite thing that was on her "Thankful Turkey" was that I am loved. I can't even say how much that warmed my heart.

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Jasper and his handprint turkey placemat. He's terribly excited about using it tomorrow.

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Tymie.

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I've so been enjoying this month of hearing what everyone has been thankful for. It's reminded me of that Sunday School song from long ago. Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings see what God has done. Count your blessings, name them one by one. And you'll be surprised at what the Lord has done.

I so want to teach my children the gift of thankfulness. Listing off the things we are thankful for is something that we do almost daily through the year, especially when we are on our way somewhere in the van. It's a sweet reminder that we are blessed.

The one thing that I have done this month as we've headed towards this time is make a Thankful Poster together. Each night I have had the kids and Ben and I think of something new to write that we are thankful for. Poor Tymen has had to work really hard to find new things because every day he has recited off family members again. With Theo, we have interpreted for him what he's thankful for: cheese, bananas, cuddles, diapers, kisses. Ruby has written her own. We've run the length of the little things like taco salad, sippy cups and tissues to the huge things like God's love, forgiveness, and family. It's been a great conversation starter for us.

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Seeing this poster reminds me of something my pastor said years ago. When we belong to God, hard things can happen....but our lives are characterized by blessing.

I want my children to cultivate and grow that light of thankfulness and giving. I want them to recognize all that they have been given and to learn to see those that they can bless. I want them to recognize the hand of our Lord who covers and blesses us as we walk with Him.

Last thing before I round up the crazies for pie baking. I am thankful for you, dear ones. Those of you who have allowed me to photograph you, those of you who have cheered me with your kind words over the images we have created. I never would have guessed when I started Cassandra Hamilton Photography two and a half years ago, how much I would love it. The creativity, the people I have met, the joy it has brought me has been amazing. Thank you for your support and kindness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Beautiful Birth of Savannah Grace

I don't know how much more emotion could be present than there is at the birth of a baby. The aching longing for that someone, then nine months (and a week, in this case) of expecting and then the beauty of meeting a little person who has already captured her parents heart and soul. I never am good at remembering it, but I had been carrying my cell phone in my pocket for three solid weeks, ready for a call from Misty that her baby was on the way. She assured me that she'd be late...and she was right on. She was trying her hardest to go into labor but it's always out of our control, isn't it?

I got the call from David on Friday night that they were at the birth center and things were starting to roll. I packed some snacks, grabbed my bags, and headed out, very excited.

When I arrived it was so peaceful. It was cozy and soft music was playing. The room was beautiful and smelled wonderful. Misty was in the tub with candles on. I unpacked my camera and our friend, Kellie, arrived, ready to be a support to Misty and David. Donna, Misty's sweethearted mom, was beaming and excited and David gave us a hug as we all got settled in.

Now I am all about women doing whatever they need to do to get through a birth...whatever comfort measures, whatever support. I know that birth and the whole process can make one feel as completely out of control and undone as imaginable.

Misty, unbelievably, made it look amazingly beautiful. She was so focused and peaceful as she breathed deeply. She accepted iced drinks, had cold washcloths on her neck and quietly breathed through contraction after contraction. We prayed for her quietly, sat beside the tub, and noticed that though the contractions seemed long and hard, she was composed.

I was a noisy, overwhelmed, pleading-for-someone-to-tell-me-when-it-would-end sort of woman in labor...so I was impressed :) .

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She was no complaining mama but just around this time, she whispered sweetly to David, "Please don't breathe on me." He grinned at us and moved back a little. I have to say, he was incredibly supportive and in tune with his wife.

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About two hours after we arrived, her midwife was going to check Misty's progress. Kellie and I were quietly saying we hoped she wouldn't be too disappointed at having a ways to go because she was still so calm. Less than two minutes later, Savannah Grace was born. What do we know?

I still cry every time I look at Misty's and her mom's faces.

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I adore the way her mom is cradling her head.

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Tearful, happy bliss. Misty was overjoyed. "I have a girl! I have a girl!!"

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It feels like such a miracle to watch a little soul connect with the ones who love her the most. What a precious gift from God.

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She was weighed and measured and proclaimed to look like a girl version of her brother, Hayden.

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There was so much love in that room.

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Nancy, Misty's midwife, was skilled and knowlegdeable. She has assisted thousands of women to have their babies.  After the birth she smiled and said, "Wasn't that fun??"

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Misty's dad, Gary, arrived for a cuddle with his granddaughter. He couldn't stop grinning.

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Hayden gave his mama a great big hug.

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Here is Savannah with two special ladies, Nancy, and Kellie.

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Savannah Grace, you are a gift from God's heart in every way. You are wanted. You are loved. You are beautiful.

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Misty and David, I cannot express how thankful I am that you allowed me to share in this amazing time of welcoming your daughter. It was a very personal and intimate time and I do not take lightly the privilege of being a part of it. I hope these photographs will always remind you of the miracle of your girl. Misty, you were made to birth babies, my friend. You were incredible.

Savannah, I will see you tomorrow for your newborn pictures, dear girl.

***A few notes on the photography for this special event for any of my photography loving friends who may be interested. The lighting was very, very dim which always makes a photographer a bit nervous. I was wanting to avoid my flash for a more organic feel and for the practical purposes of not disrupting this beautiful time. I had my camera at a high ISO using my 50 mm 1.4. I shot wide open for most of the birth which is why there is a lot of bokeh (blur) with a tight focal point. Because of the high ISO there is a bit of noise but I feel like it also adds something to the raw experience of the moment. I learned a lot doing it....mostly that I LOVE photographing births. I am not quite sure how much I can fit into my schedule but I am definitely excited to do more of it.

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Glasses for My Ruby

Though I knew there was a good likelihood that she may need glasses at some point in her life because of my own terrible nearsightedness, I really thought she was faking it.

At the end of school last year, Ruby started talking glibly about how glasses were so cute and she wanted some. I asked her teacher if she had noticed anything out of the ordinary and she shrugged and say she didn't think so. So we went to the doctor for her seven year well child visit. We stepped into the hall with the nurse for the vision test...and she couldn't see the big, HUGE "E". Oh, really. I took her aside and darkly warned her about doing her best and being honest. "I am, Mom! I AM!!" While we waited for our regular doctor I had Ruby read to me from a chapter book she had brought in with her, and held it further and further out, about three and a half feet. She could still read it. Hmmm. When the doctor came in, concerned by the nurse's findings in the hallway, I showed her my little experiment. She nodded with me and agreed that we could keep an eye on it.

I know my girl and I know that she can talk herself into things. I gave her some talks about how wearing glasses when you don't need them will give you a headache, how everyone has things they can't see, and how being completely honest is so important.

Fast forward to the second week of school and I get an email from her teacher, asking about the last time I had her eyes checked because she was having a hard time seeing the whiteboard from the front of the room.

I made an appointment. The doctor was kind and thorough and when Ruby stumbled through the letters on the chart and then had the corrective lenses changed in front of her eyes, she said excitedly, "I can SEE!!I can SEEEEE!" My heart sank and I felt so badly for not taking her seriously before. When I asked the doctor how long she should have been wearing glasses and she kindly said, "Maybe one to two years", tears welled up in my eyes. Oh, not my best mothering moment.

She's been excitedly awaiting her glasses all week and when I got the call today that her cute little specs with the butterfly on the frame were in, I didn't say anything to her about it. I picked her up at school and told her we were going to bike home the long way. She chatted happily along and when I we got to the vision clinic and walked in, her face lit up.

She was so, so happy. She grinned and said, "Everything is so clear!!"

We got outside and she hugged me and crowed, "It's like....like...like....A MIRACLE!!!" She thanked me multiple times for bringing her to the doctor's. As we biked home, she pumped her little fist in the air and yelled, "Everything is fantastically, humongously clear!!!" She was behind me at one point and I slyly asked, "So is my bum more clear now?" She giggled and said yes. I told her it better not look bigger now :) .

Here is my girl.

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We were terribly tempted by these. (Thanks, Miss Korinna!)

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As much as I want to do everything right as a mom, sometimes I miss. Sometimes I miss big. This was one of those times. Even in these times, though, I am amazed at the grace which covers me and the heart of a little girl who won't remember her mom's failure but loves me with a pure heart, a mile wide.

If you see my little girl with her glasses on, do me a favor and tell her she looks cute, okay? She'll love it if you notice.

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My New Camera..a Few Thoughts

I am totally not one who needs the latest and greatest when it comes to technology. I don't text, because I have a seventy year old cellphone and I won't let Ben spend the money to upgrade me. You'd never find me setting up new stuff at our house...I just look helpless until Ben does it....then I reward him with grateful kisses. I will never be the one standing in line for the latest release. It's just not how I roll. I read some great advice when I first started photography. The equipment doesn't make you a better photographer, your technique and vision alone can do that. So don't buy a certain lens because you think it will make your photos better. Our rule of thumb is that we only buy new equipment when we get to the point that we can't accomplish our vision with what we already have. Alison Tyler Jones and Donna Smylie

So that's what I've done, I've worked on developing my technique and vision. I've made a ton of mistakes and learned from them. Occasionally, I've done it right and remembered what I've done to repeat it. I've worked my 40D pretty hard and have learned a lot, a lot, a lot in the past few years...about my camera, about people, about how to draw them out to be themselves in front of it. It's still a great camera and I will continue to use it for backup.

However, I was finding low lighting situations very challenging, even with the right settings and the right lenses. The capabilities of the Canon 5d Mark ii completely won me over and after eyeing it for about two years, Ben gave me the push, found a great deal, and placed the order before I had a chance to change my mind (to hem and haw a while longer).

I am thrilled, THRILLED with it. Once I got over the initial hesitation and actually started playing around, I have been so happy!

Here is my warm baby boy in a very, very dim light last night.(Shot at 4000 ISO!) It was all I could do not to snatch him up and munch on his legs.

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When I first was studying to teach, I observed and student taught under some master teachers (Cherrie, Penny and Alisha). They had their rooms of kids working like clockwork, learning, growing....and adoring them because of how warm and full of high expectations they were. It was exciting and also a little overwhelming because I didn't know exactly how to be like them. I soon realized, with their encouragement and prodding, to stretch out and really be the best teacher that I could be, in my own way.

I feel much the same about photography. I have been inspired, challenged, pushed, and learned from many "mentors" (almost all of who don't even know me but I have read their blogs religiously). And in the end, I love what they do, but I know that I love what I do too...and want to be a better ME!

My new camera is wonderful but just a tool as I keep on learning and growing. So many thanks to all of you who read my blog, those who comment now and again (or a lot :) ), who show up with your hearts to let me photograph you. This is such a fun part of my life right now....the creative part that I find so rewarding. Thank you!!

Now to buckle down and read my manual. I have a LOT to learn!!

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My Posse and I are Coming to Texas

I have some wonderful friends in Texas who need to squeeze my baby while he is still very squeezable (and can't run away). I need to hug some necks and eat some good Tex-Mex. It's been a while since I have been able to come down, with being pregnant and having a new baby but it's time! My tickets are bought and Ruby, Theo and I are coming down for some fun! Yeehaw and yahoo! I have had several friends ask about photos the next time I am in town so this is what I have decided to do to see if I can accomodate those requests. I am going to do two days of limited sessions: on Saturday, October 8 and on Monday, October 10 (which is Columbus Day and a school holiday).

I am going to do both days at Southlake Town Square. I did a couple sessions there last time and it is fantastic for visually interesting buildings and architecture. It also is wonderful to have overhangs and beautiful light in case it rains.

Saturday, October 8

4o minute sessions

$170

20 edited images on disk with copyright release

Monday, October 10

1 hour sessions

$220

30 edited images on disk with copyright release

 

These sessions can be used for seniors, children, couples, friends, families, babies. However, I will be unable to do any extended family portraits during these session times.

Here's what to do if you are interested:

1. Contact me on the contact section of my website and let me know if you would like Saturday or Monday or if both would work for you.

2. You can tell me if morning or afternoon would be best and I can let you know what I have available (flexibility will help if you are able :) ).

3. Once I confirm a day and time with you, I will need you to mail me a $25 non-refundable deposit within two weeks to secure your spot.

4. We have a great time taking photos.

My time is limited so if this is something you would like to do, please contact me A.S.A.P. so that I can make sure you have a time. I am so excited!!

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Buried in Sand and Dishes

I pulled the minivan up to our house at 10:30 last night. We are home, gloriously happy with some funky tan lines and really fun memories from our vacation to Pt. Roberts for the last week and a half. While we were gone, an amazing team from NW Solid Rock Construction was redoing our whole kitchen top to bottom. I hauled in my sleepy and crusty kids last night to find the owner (and our wonderful friend), Eric, and his wife and Ben (who came home a day earlier) with a bottle of wine and chocolate in our new kitchen...which took my breath away. Oh, I am so happy. It's SO me (and Ben, of course! :) )and I am beyond pleased with how it has turned out. We are still awaiting a back ordered cabinet and I have to decide on some knobs and pick up new barstools but when it is all done, I will blog the before and after pictures. Happy bliss.

What isn't quite as blissful is this:

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Our living  room is  FILLED with dishes and kitchen mishmash, which I really didn't factor in to my return very well. This is just about one third of the mess I need to clean up. Ben says that he may just post this picture as evidence that I am really a terrible housekeeper and have just pretended to like things in order :) .

I have this to clean up, things to buy for the kitchen, bills to pay, laundry to do, groceries to buy, pictures from four sessions to edit, and I need to get ready for some of our most wonderful friends to come next week. I made not the best timing decision and scheduled my varicose vein surgery today (good-bye pregnancy gift!). So here I sit, with my leg up, and to be honest, I don't feel the least bit stressed (which is rather miraculous). I am feeling pretty thankful and happy. It'll all get done.

I couldn't put myself to bed last night until after two in my excitement about the kitchen....and because I had over 2000 pictures uploading and wanted to take a peek. Here are just a couple goodies of our time, plenty more to come :) .

Photo by Kaia.  Thanks, sweet girl!

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Lots of posts to come in the next few days.

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Gone

Just a quick note that I'll be out of the office, soaking in the rays and making sand angels with my family for the next week and a bit. I'll be back and connected July 12! Happy Summer!

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