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Christmas Trees and Making Memories {South Jersey Family Portraits}

As a portrait photographer, I have always enjoyed having the eyes of a mama when I photograph my clients: hunting for the “real moments,” finding the “real person” when making an image.  It’s a funny thing (and not, I may add, at all relaxing), to try to create those images when I’m in them.  I have had the rare privilege of catching the hearts of my children in their eyes, and they are gracious to me when it comes time for portraits.  But working to see myself at my “best angle” isn’t easy.  And while my sweet mom-in-law was on hand to press the shutter when we set up the shots, I’m not thinking it was too relaxing for her, either.  (Note to self: next year, hire a good photographer you trust who has both the “heart” and the technical skill.  So you can relax and be in the moment.  Even if you have patient kids and a sweet husband who will go the extra mile because they know it’s important.)  Still, I know a few things about family portraits…




As a professional and even more as a woman, I love photography because it’s an important part of the legacy I am called to leave.  I’ve told brides, “I’m shooting for you, sure, on your day, but even more, I’m shooting for your grandbabies, so they’ll know who you were and be able to embrace their story through you!”  This holds especially true for our portraits, because when I look at them hanging on our walls, I relive that giggle, the rare gift of a smile from our serious one, the mischievous twinkle in Blue’s eyes; the goofy banter of the brothers, the wise tenderness in our girl, and even the awkward smooch my husband and I insist on sharing to the utter embarrassment of our kids.




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I notice, as my girl pointed out, that my husband gets his soft-hearted-easy-to-cry tendencies from his mama, and that they clasped each other exactly the same way when they wiped away the tears and squeezed each other tightly…




…and how much my little-girl-best-friend looks like her Nana, and how they have a special rhythm to their relationship that’s all its own.






…and I don’t even so much mind when I forget to strike a flattering pose, because I’m just in the moment.




When I look at these photos in our album someday, I’ll remember how our college boy stole quiet moments with each of his siblings on his first visit home as a freshman, and how they coveted that time with him.




I’ll be awed that the mama who was so scared of becoming a parent, was graced with a quiver full of arrows who daily dare me to be a stronger, gentler, wiser woman.




I’ll treasure the joy that comes out of my more reserved one when he gives us the privilege to be in the moment with him.








I’ll also remember the mad dash for a few new pieces of clothing for portraits (and the fact that most of what we already owned was perfect)… and seeing how grown up my girl looked that day, and how the flying of time overwhelmed me.




I’ll hold onto the silliness of the moment of cutting down a tree in good clothes, how big brothers are the best fashion advisors, and how mini Christmas trees make good temporary closets for bare-chested little boys who want to get serious about a new tradition.






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When I see these images, I’m reminded of the gift of time with my mom-in-law, the missing of Papa, who was off hunting, the Thanksgiving meals we’ve whipped up together, the family who aren’t here, the first time we got to cut down our own tree (“the biggest one we can find!!”, they said), the wonderful forestry professor who helped us know what kind of tree we should buy, and the tv-less mornings on the sofa reading our Jesse Tree devotional and talking about what really matters about Christmas.  And my favorite image of all is the one where I’m not “pretty,” but I’m full of joy at these people who bring me to my knees and who, by God’s unmistakable grace, perfectly-imperfectly teach me about love.




Merry Christmas, friend.  Whatever your background, whatever your status in life, I’m praying with all that I am, that you know the Love of the One who went to a tree on your behalf and mine.  I’m praying that you’re making memories and capturing them, and soaking in the love of the Light of the World.  Sending you a big hug.


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Are you a mama who thinks you don’t look good enough to be in your family portraits?  This article captured my attention, and it’s the cry of my heart for my mama friends.  I promise – my kids see me with eyes of love, and they think I’m beautiful.  They’d be missing out if they grew up with no images of their mama, or of our times together.  From one girl to another, here’s my dare for you this year: get yourself in front of a camera – I promise – it’s worth leaving as part of your legacy.


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give {tuesday at ten link-up}

it’s a well-known fact in my little home… gift-giving to daddy each year causes me no small amount of grief.  he’s a wonderful man, and he loves to give good gifts.  but he is notoriously difficult to give to… he’s very picky thoughtful about what he likes, and when he chooses to purchase something, he analyzes every facet of what makes any thing the thing.  and to make matters worse, making a list comes hard for him, so sometimes, he just doesn’t offer up a clue (and makes me know i need to become an even better student of this man…).




and so each year, i agonize about how to find the thing that will make him light up like i would, blown away by what he’s received.  and each year, i let the fear of disappointing steal a little bit of my happiness at the sweetness of this time of year.  and this year, stuck once again, i found some little things that would make him smile (and they did), and then setting aside my pride, i wrote him a letter, saying all the things i wanted to give, and then giving him cash to choose for himself.


to some, it may seem a cop-out.  to me, it was a dying to my need to “get-it-right,” and a truer gift of choice, and of acknowledging who he is.  and that i may not always know.  and do you know, he smiled, and said what he’d buy, and was pleased.  and so with a sigh, i relaxed into the giving.  but meanwhile,


i watched my children.  with utter abandon, they dove into the hunting, the thinking, the procuring of gifts for each other.  with no thought for themselves, they gave to each other, some a little and some a lot.  some to all of us and some to each of us, and some to only one or two siblings, as they felt led and as they were able (and sometimes with help from mom to foot the bill).  i watched with my heart in my throat as they plotted and planned, whispered and swore to secrecy, and then as they watched each other in anticipatory glee, opening those gifts.  some cried at what they received, and some were moved at the receiver’s reaction.  some were surprised with giggles to discover they’d been given the very gift they’d considered giving to the other.  as the mama, i was amazed at how they know each other, and at how they surprised me, some of them, with their resourcefulness and their sometime-sacrifice.




the idea was, they gave.  and their focus was not just on the giving as opposed to the receiving, but the giving with knowing.  they know one another, and they gave according to that knowledge.  i do treasure all these things, because i’m keenly aware that all too soon this sharing will stretch to include spouses and Lord willing, babies, and then children with their own quirks and callings.  and while it will bring its own new joy, it makes these moments all-the-more dear.  and it makes the me in the equation so very, very small.


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holiday {dairy-free} eggnog float

years and years ago, good friends shared their favorite holiday punch recipe with us.  it involved eggnog and ginger ale and peppermint ice cream, and whenever we described it to people they got eeked out, but whenever we served it to people, they were enchanted.  flash forward to some recent lifestyle changes toward a more clean diet.  inspired by the sight of several varieties of non-dairy eggnog options, i decided to create a new version of this strange-and-wonderful holiday drink recipe… introducing the holiday dairy-free eggnog float.




for the sake of time, i made this eggnog float with this store-bought almond milk “eggnog.”  it does have sugar, but no strange added ingredients or fillers, which i love.  if you want to make your own, here’s a gorgeous version from elana’s pantry (with no dairy, and no eggs!)




if you want, you can take this float to the next level and make it more like an old-fashioned egg cream, by adding a dose of all-natural ginger ale or seltzer water.  there’s nothing like the taste-bud-tingling collision of bubbly, tart soda with creamy, milky nog.  trust me.  give it a go!



ready to wow your senses?  here you go!


{dairy-free} holiday eggnog float
A creamy concoction that's at once warming and cooling with the spicy depth of eggnog and the fresh hints of mint and matcha.
Recipe type: holiday drink recipe
Serves: 2
  • 1 cup dairy-free eggnog
  • 1 cup mint matcha ice cream (or dairy-free mint ice cream of your choice)
  • 1 cup all-natural ginger ale or seltzer (optional)
  1. Divide eggnog evenly into two glasses.
  2. Top each glass with half of the ice cream.
  3. If desired, pour seltzer into side of each glass.



try it!  i dare you!  and when you do, come back and let me know what you think.  Merry Christmas!



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