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Ideas to enrich your life through home decor, hospitality, and intentional living.

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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fearless {book review eric blehm}

“the warrior function is… unmistakable in Scripture… Within the epistles, the mature believing man is often described in militant terms – a warrior equipped to battle mighty enemies and shatter satanic strongholds.

The heart of a Warrior is a protective heart.  The Warrior shields, defends, stands between, and guards… He invests himself in ‘the energy of self-disciplined, aggressive action.’  By Warrior I do not mean one who loves war or draws sadistic pleasure from fighting or bloodshed.  There is a difference between a warrior and a brute.  A warrior is a protector… Men stand taller when they are protecting and defending.” (Tender Warrior, by Stu Weber, as quoted in Fearless, by Eric Blehm)

recently, a friend and i were discussing life thoughts, and she asked me a question that sent me seeking answers for myself.  “how does your view of God line up with the idea of war?  of killing people?”  it was a good question, and one that isn’t new.  really, in all in life, how do we justify the actions that make up our world: a world where killing babies is applauded as motherly instinct is undermined, a world where billions of dollars protect wildlife but children starve and freeze; in short, a world that is broken.


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i have a son who has reflected the above quote from my youngest memories of him as an articulate little boy.  once when his younger brother was allowed to briefly play outside while he was in his room, a discipline for some wayward action or another, he shouted in near panic, “do you have any idea what it’s like to be the only one in this family who’s concerned for everyone’s safety?!”  and this belief is deeply rooted in my man-boy… he has been gifted with a passion for protecting those in his life.  and while at times, he is broody and seemingly self-centered, i often remember that this is a burden he believes he carries daily.


recently, after praying for more insight into my son, i remembered a book i’d been given by the publisher for review.  sadly, more for that purpose than realizing it was the answer to my prayer, i opened Fearless, by Eric Blehm, and i couldn’t put it down.  the story of Adam Brown, a SEAL team operator, is at once poignant and awe-inspiring.  while i focus my “protective instincts” on praying for, and digging into/speaking wisdom over my family and those around me, this man devoted, literally, life and limb to the protection of the very freedoms we as americans flaunt and abuse.  the back-story of his faith, his commitment to uphold biblical conviction, and the self-sacrificing commitment of especially his wife, but also his extended family, was at once humbling and a dare to be brave myself – to live “all out” for what i’m called to.  and reading of the broken and tattered path of Adam’s youth also reminded me that each of us is imperfect, and desperately needs grace to get through our foolish choices and inadvertent addictions, but also that when we follow the One who created us, He promises to redeem each of those, either in the short-term or the long-term.


some time ago i wrote about the call i was sensing to live a life undaunted, and reading fearless drove me to remember the truths learned in my own journey.


reading the life story of this incredible man and the family who supported him, which was really an unashamed retelling of the faithfulness of the One who made him, Who chose him, and Who called him Home through self-sacrifice in the name of earthly freedom for others, helped me to identify more with the son who so quietly desires to protect that same freedom.  this is a book i can highly recommend not just to mamas of sons, but to those young men who are learning to be real men in a world where they are increasingly rare.


are you raising boys?  do you have the privilege of knowing a man who has the heart of a tender warrior?  i’d love to hear your words of wisdom…


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whole 30 camping {whole 30 family camping, part 2}

we had way too many photos to share in part 1 of our whole 30 camping with kids post, so here’s what we cooked on the second half of our trip!  (i encourage you to get the book it starts with food; we’re having our older kids read it as part of a health and wellness study, and it is so eye-opening!)



{**affiliate links:  there are a few links in this post that allow you to purchase an item at no additional cost to you, but will provide us with a small commission on your purchase!  many links are not affiliate links at all, but simply sites offering products and information we love and companies support for our own family!  all affiliate links are products we use ourselves and we would only recommend such products.}


(one parenting note: another observation about our family’s whole 30 adventure is that even though i thought my kids already took initiative when it came to meal prep, they’ve stepped up to the plate even more when it comes to choosing options that they are learning are good for them and delicious.  bonus!)






dinner, day 2: sausage and potato pouches, green bean salad, warmed spiced apple cider from trader joe’s




for our sausage pouches, we cut up potatoes and onions at home and tossed them with salt and pepper, garlic and olive oil in ziploc bags.  we brought aidell’s chicken-and-apple sausages (why don’t more companies make a “clean” sausage like this?!) and threw them into a foil pouch for each person with a handful of potatoes and onions.




this meal was a favorite, and we plan to repeat it at home on the grill!




our green bean salad was just fresh raw green beans and halved heirloom cherry tomatoes tossed at home with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, spicy mustard, garlic and salt and pepper, stored in a ziploc bag.  my girl and i really enjoyed the warm sausage dish topped with the cold green beans – the contrast of soft with crunchy, warm & buttery with tart and cold, was a perfect mix!




and of course, nighttime campfires.  we warmed up hot cider for the kids and tea/coffee for the “big kids.”




and because we’re a photography-loving family, some play-time with burning twigs and long exposures.  with great attention to safety, i might add.






and cards, always cards by lantern-light.




breakfast, day 3:

leftover egg cups and homemade turkey sausage patties (frozen after little’s birthday party), warmed over the campfire, fresh fruit (grapes and clementine oranges)




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enjoying the fruit of her labor…




long morning hikes and geocaching, a camping tradition.






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for our last meal, we wanted to not have to cook.  i made chicken salad in advance with leftover roasted chicken, dried, unsweetened cranberries, some annie’s naturals dijon mustard (be sure to check labels; a surprising number of their ingredient lists are not compliant!), chopped celery and pecans, and some tessamae’s ranch dressing, of course with salt and pepper.  this was packed in ziploc along with shredded carrots, washed romaine leaves, and served with a side of trader joe’s plantain chips.  everyone nibbled on this as we packed up camp.  yum!



and of course, more hiking and exploring.  we’ve been so happy to discover a wealth of gorgeous state parks in our new home in new jersey!




i hope you got some great ideas from our family’s whole 30 camping adventure.  what ideas can you share for camping with kids, and for camping while maintaining a “real food” lifestyle?


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