Thursday, December 12

surprise! {the Baker family}

Shawn contacted me months ago wanting to surprise his wife, Kerri on her birthday.  For months he planned, organized, got friends and family involved simply because he loved his wife and wanted this birthday to be something she would never forget.

Let me just tell you...Shawn went all out.  Weeks prior, he called her boss and set it up so she could get out of work early.  He also got busy and went shopping.  He purchased matching suits, ties, socks & shoes, and coats, for his 3 boys to wear as part of the surprise.  Not only that, he found a local woman and had each of the boys' suits professionally tailored.

Knowing his wife wanted family pictures, he set up two photoshoots with me - one on a weekend she was away with her besties celebrating, and another on her birthday to capture the surprise as well as photographs of their family together.

During our first sesh, we met downtown and I captured the boys all decked out in their tailored suits.  They were SO handsome.  Everyone they passed commented on how awesome they looked.  During this session, the kids held homemade poster board signs that read "Happy" "Birthday" "Mom!"  Shawn later used that photo and made several clue cards that he would give her the day of her birthday.  Inside the card, Kerri would find a clue - each leading her into the next birthday surprise.

The day of Kerri's birthday arrived. He picked her up early from work that afternoon with roses.  He then had her best friend deliver her to a local salon where he had made an appointment to have her hair and makeup done.  BIG surprise.  Meanwhile, he hustled home to get himself and their 3 boys ready for their big night out on the town...of which she knew nothing about.

When she got to the salon, she was handed a clue card.  It was then she discovered a dressing room where a new dress and dress coat were hanging.  There were new shoes and jewelry, too.  Shawn had purchased all of it without her knowing.  She sat down after sending Shawn a few texts, relaxed, sipped wine, and enjoyed the moment.  Any mom knows that in in itself is a beautiful gift!

Towards the end her appointment, Shawn and the kids, a few friends, and I snuck into the salon and that's where my second session started with them.  They stood in the front of the salon and I snuck a few last minute photos of them putting the finishing touches on her.  The boys could hardly wait to see their mom and I could tell Shawn was so excited to see her reaction.  Kerri stood up from her chair and walked towards the front of the salon.  She looked GORGEOUS.  It took her a second to figure out what was going on but the moment she made eye contact with her family...there were tears.  The good kind.  And smiles...lots of smiles.

The night of celebration continued on with friends and drinks, appetizers, and dinner reservations.  I have a feeling this birthday will be well remembered.

 Happy __th birthday, Kerri!  I hope it was amazing.  You deserved every minute of it.

And Shawn...BRAVO.  You did good!!

Monday, November 4

Decorating on a dime....

I've been adding to the decor in our house for a little over a year now.   A few years back we scaled everything way back when we put our house on the market.  Blank walls.  No photos.  If you've ever tried to sell a house, you know the routine.  After it didn't sell, we took it off the market and decided to make our living space feel like a home again.

Our style is simple.  Rustic charm with antique and modern touches.  I recently posted a picture on Instagram of my living room as it's looking a bit like Christmas with twinkle lights and wintery decor.  After taking it, I thought to myself how inexpensive it was for me to create this look.   I'm someone who heads to the clearance isle or looks at the end of isles for discounted goods and I challenge you to do the same if you have a limited income.  Like most, my husband and I have a tight budget so I've really learned how to stretch a dollar over the years.   I'm not too proud to stop roadside and pick up an old window to use as a frame in my house.  I have a few funny stories about about a TV that my husband I laugh so hard about every time trash pick up comes around.

But for those of you shopping on a dime who want to add some new decorations to your home, I'd suggest going to your local thrift shop (Goodwill or Salvation Army are great).  Added discounts tend to happen on Saturdays in these stores.  This past weekend my daughter wanted to decorate her room for Christmas.  I took her to Salvation Army where every purple tag was .69.  She walked out with two large bags of items for under $7.  Sister is as much a thrifter as I am and her room looks super cute and cost me a little more than a Starbucks mocha to achieve.

Here's some decor I've used to achieve the look we love without depleting our bank account...

Antlers:  Many of our antlers are from my husband's past hunts.  However these were found during a spring walk in the woods.   I have them hanging on an old barn floor plank that's leaning on our wall.  
Cost:  Free  

Glass jars. I tend to look for these at garage sales/estate sales bc thrift and antique stores jack up the prices, especially on the light green mason jars with lids as they are older.  I fill them with buttons that I remove from the inside of new jackets/shirts, walnuts or acorns found on walks, clothespins, safetypins, marbles, and other household items.  Love when household items can be used as decorations.
Cost for jars: $1 each...tops. 

Records.  I find all my records at thrift stores.  Most have record players that are plugged in which makes it easy to test records before I purchase them.
Cost:  .50- $1 each

Ladder:  Free. 
These are easy to find on trash pick up days as they are non-functional.

Pinecone Garland: I made these by collecting pine cones outside and hot gluing them to twine.  
If you have twine and a hot glue gun, this decoration won't cost you anything. 

This is my husband's sled when he was a kid.  
Add child size ice skates and a few sprigs of pine and you have a cute Christmas decoration.  

Barn door & wooden crates:  FREE.  
I took these items out of an old barn that was going to be ripped down.  Def was my biggest score yet! 
You can also find these type of things (maybe not the crates or barn door) roadside as well. 
Lots of people throw old ladders, wooden planks, and windows away during trash pick up.

The stars hanging on the barn door were made from sticks in my yard and twine.

I picked up both Christmas trees from a thrift store.  
The lighted tree had a basket that I covered by wrapping burlap around the base.  
I used a hot glue gun and glued real pine cones to the branches to make it more life like.  

My red metal drawers were found roadside.  I use them to hold my son's wooden blocks.     

We use this lantern 2-3 times a year while camping.
During the winter months I bring it in and hang it from the ceiling as a rustic decoration.

My Instagram photo of my living room.

Wingback leather chair.  Cost $45 at Goodwill 

Wooden shelf & window for frame pictures on wall:  Free
and another thing that's easy to find roadside.  

Large red snowflake (in the back bedroom) - Another homemade item.  
I used popcicle sticks and hot glued them together in the shape of a snowflake.  
My daughter painted them red and we hung 7-8 of them in her room as decorations.  

Knitted wool stockings - another thrift find.  Literally paid .20 each for them 
which I was THRILLED about as it would of cost me more to make them myself.  

When it comes down to it, patience has to be your best friend.  I'm amazed at what department stores sell these items for.  If you have nothing but time, you really are in a position to score big.  A few years back I was looking for a barn door.  I pinned one on Pinterest long before I found ours.  At our local antique store they were selling for well over $300, which was way out of my price range.  This one literally landed in my lap one day and you can bet I did a happy dance over that.  

Monday, October 28

Kim Miller Lifestyle Photography {children}

My time with these kids was so refreshing.  One of my favorite things about this night was watching their huge heart for one another on display thru their actions.  While we were walking thru the woods, he would hold her hand as she climbed over limbs that had fallen or trail blaze the path for her if there wasn't one.  When we came upon something she could potentially trip over, he reminded her to be careful and to watch out for it.  We traipsed all over the woods that evening exploring and stopping every once in awhile to take photos.  The cool thing is I never once had to tell them to hold hands or hug or anything...they just truly, truly love one another so much and did it all on their own.  

Just wanted to say kudos to mom and dad for giving this world such fantastic kids.  Your dedication to raising awesome children truly shows and in case you don't already know it - you are doing a remarkable job!

Thursday, October 24

Friedl {family session}

I had the privilege of photographing the Friedl family a few weeks ago.  They visit this area every fall to pick Michigan apples and have always called to coordinate photos at the same time.  Kim is a dear friend that I met during our college years.  She and her hubby were dating then so it's always great to see them, catch up on life, and see how their triplets have grown.

We had plans to take pictures at a local park but with the pouring rain, we ventured downtown to a covered area.  They were troopers spite the frigid temps of that rainy morning.  As you can tell it really doesn't matter where I take their photos...their family is so darn cute they rock my camera wherever we go!

Tuesday, January 29

Spicy Vegan Tomato Soup With Veggies

I have so many fond memories of college.  Friends.  Dorm life.  Classes.  Late nights out.  All nighters...yes I pulled more than my fair share of those.  It really was some of the best years of my life.  I met my husband Ryan in college and it's there where our relationship grew from a friendship to a dating relationship to marriage.  I love that.

Some of the greatest friendships developed during my 4 years in college.  One of our closest friendships was with a couple named Michelle and Noah.  They are kind, simple-minded, people.   It's probably why we got along so well.  The four of us spent countless hours together.  We fly-fished together.  We cooked meals together.  We even took a few road trips with them.  Many of my fondest college memories were shared with them.

I remember being in the kitchen with Michelle one evening and we made a tomato soup that wasn't like any tomato soup I've ever had.  I like to think of it as tomato soup on steroids.  Very tasty as it had so many flavors running thru it.

As many of you know, Ryan and I have been eating a vegan diet for over a year now.  We've learned how to cook with new foods.  We've tried new ingredients we never knew existed before eating vegan.  We are healthier than ever and loving it!!

This morning I woke up and had a strong craving for tomato soup....and not just plain old Campbell Soup. I wanted the soup I cooked with my dear friend Michelle.  Creamy, tomato soup that had a touch of spice with added sauteed veggies.  Yum!!

I ran to the store to grab tomato soup.  I was shocked that Campbell Soup still puts high fructose corn syrup in their tomato soup?  Really?  Talk about making a healthy tomato soup unhealthy!  After a few minutes of reading labels I found this brand:  Imagine:  Organic Creamy Tomato Soup that is all natural, non-dairy, gluten free, has no MSGs, no artificial ingredients, no preservatives, and that still has that homemade taste that I love.  Yay!!

Since a few of you have asked - I'll include the recipe here for you to check out.

Spicy Vegan Tomato Soup With Veggies:
Servings:  4

1 box: Imagine Organic Tomato Soup
1 large zucchini, sliced thin
1 med yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TB olive oil
4 oz vegan pepper jack cheese (Daiya) or mozzarella cheese (Teese)
Hot pepper flakes to taste (I only add pepper flakes if I'm using mozzarella cheese because the pepper jack has enough of a kick to it).
Pepper to taste

Grab a large pot and add the entire box of tomato soup and heat on medium heat.  In a separate pan, heat 1TB of olive oil and add sliced zucchini and diced yellow onion.  Saute for 5-7 minutes.  (Note: to cut down on the fat, I add a little water to the pan if the veggie mixture starts to dry out.)  Add minced garlic to the onion/zucchini mixture the last two minutes of sauteing.  Add the cook veggies to the tomato soup.  Add pepper to taste.

Transfer your hot soup mixture to 4 bowls (each bowl will get about 1 cup of soup).  Sprinkle vegan pepper jack cheese or crumble vegan mozzarella cheese on top.  If you are using mozzarella cheese, I sprinkle a bit of hot pepper flakes (to taste) on top of each bowl of soup.

Feel free to add your own veggies.  I really love the pairing of these with this soup but feel free to venture out and use what you love!

Nutritional Values:  1 (1 cup)  Total Fat: 7g, Sodium: 889mg, Total Carbs: 30g, Protein: 11g, Fiber: 5g, Sugar:12g

Sunday, September 2

life happens. so do car accidents.

One month ago, Ryan was on his way home from work when a car drove straight under his car.  I say under because the other car literally lifted up his back end and hit the entire underside of his car.  There was very little physical damage to the body but the underside was a hot mess.  His entire exhaust pipe from front to back was dislodged and dragging on the ground.  His passenger side back wheel was bent.  It was clear there was a lot of damage just by looking at it. Unhurt, he drove his car home by holding the wheel like he was making a 90 degree turn because that was the only way he could drive his car straight.

During his ride home he started to realize there was a lot wrong with it.  His clutch was sticking.  His seat was broken.  From the sounds of it,  the dependable, great-on-gas car he's had the last 12 years was going to have to officially retire.  And to think we just got his car repaired one week prior to the accident.  For a week, his car was driving perfectly and was in pristine shape.

Ry walked away with a sore neck and back but physically he was completely fine.  The teen who hit him was also completely fine even though both cars were deemed totaled.  Praise God for his protection.  Cars can be replaced.  People cannot.

That evening we nestled into the couch together and questions started to fog our minds.   What we were going to do with only one car?  Was his car even be repairable?  If it was, where would we get the money to repair it seeing how we had PLPD and lived in a no-fault state?  We knew purchasing another car wouldn't be an option for another 6 months. We pushed our fears aside, trusted in God's perfect timing, His faithfulness, and made the decision to praise God for His protection over our family instead of worry about the "what nows?".  

A few weeks passed, we went on vacation, and returned home still with no definite answers about the car.  It was now less than two weeks before school was to start and I could feel some of those questions inch back into my mind.  Every time I'd push them away and speak God's promises over our situation - reminding myself of His faithfulness. Every time I prayed about it I felt peace and my insecurities over our situation disappeared.

Time continued to move forward to today.  Honestly, I probably had every reason in the world to freak out.  We had no answers for our current situation and time wasn't on our side since school starts on Tuesday morning.  I made plans to borrow my parents car this week since they were going on vacation.  Beyond this week was the unknown.  I didn't know how we'd get the kids to school since nobody in our neighborhood attends their school.  When people asked what we were going to do all I could do was shrug my shoulders and pray that God's plan would be revealed.

Just this afternoon we got great I'm going to boogie-down-in-my-living-room news.  My neighbor came home from church today just as we were all loading into our only working vehicle for church.  He took the keys to Ry's car and drove it to work to see what he could fix.   Church ended and we were back home sitting in the living room when a car pulled up.  I wondered who it was...maybe a friend stopping by to say hi.  It was my neighbor and he was driving our QUIET car.  Before our car could be heard about a 1/2 mile away.  In about 3 hours, he had fixed it.  And not like slap-a-bandaid-on-it but really, really fixed it.  Completely road worthy and legal.  He replaced things that were broken.  Put a new seat in it.  Put a whole new exhaust system in it and put new things on it that I wish I could tell you about but haven't a clue how to say or spell them.  How great is that?!!  God showed up and not a minute too late.

I think we all have 'car accidents' in our lives...times when things don't make sense or add up.  Times when we don't have answers and our obvious problems makes our head spin in a tizzy. It's hard to praise God in every situation...sometimes it's easy to trust.  Other times it's a choice because it's not our natural response. I think in tough times, it's important to look at our problems with spiritual eyes rather than worldly eyes.  The world demands answers while God whispers do not worry.

Do we really believe that the maker of heaven and earth can fix the problems we face?  Can the author and perfecter of everything good repair things that are broken in my life?  I think choosing to believe He will work everything out for the good is a spiritual muscle we don't exercise enough.  It's not a natural, innate feeling.  Choosing to believe is hard work.  

I guess it's times like this when our faith is tested.  I praise God for faith because I do believe He can fix any situation.  A broken car that's deemed 'totaled' isn't unrepairable in the eyes of God.

I believe God is able and will not fail us.  He is on our side and will make a way.  He is greater than all we see or ask.  Believe and have faith that He will bring you through whatever trials you are facing today.  Nothing is impossible for Him.

Praying an outpouring of blessing be on our neighbor Ryan and his family. I'm thankful for his heart that begs to help others and for his wisdom in knowing how to fix our "totaled" car.  Thankful for his wife Amy who is a dear friend.  Thanks for sharing your husband on this beautiful Sunday afternoon!  It's such an awesome thing to have wonderful neighbors and friends!!  

Saturday, June 2

a must have summer salad...

I went to a birthday party last weekend and wanted to bring a dish to pass.  Sticking to our way of eating, I wanted it to be vegan yet something I knew everyone would enjoy.  I remembered a salad my mom made when I was growing up and thought the ingredients would be close to vegan.  I hopped online and googled the ones that were questionable and to my surprise, everything was!  I looked at a few different recipes to compare and then made my own version.

The salad was such a hit and many asked for the recipe so I thought I'd share it on the blog!!

Broccoli Slaw Salad

1 (12oz) package of Broccoli Slaw
1 (2.5) package of shaved almonds (toasted)
3/4 cup of dry roasted sunflower seeds (I buy the salted kind)
3/4 cup of dried cranberries (you can use cherries as well)
1 package of uncooked Oriental Ramen Noodles
4 green scallions (diced)

1/2 cup of oil
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1 tsp rice vinegar
3 TB agave nectar (or 1/4 cup raw cane sugar)
1 season packet from inside the Oriental Ramen Noodles

Empty the package of shaved almonds into a dry frying pan and roast for 2-3 minutes on med heat (you'll know when they are done because you'll be able to smell them.  Toss while you roast your almonds, making sure not to scorch them.) Set aside and let cool.  In a large bowl, add dried cranberries, diced green onions, broccoli slaw, and sunflower seeds.  

Grab your unopened bag of Ramen Noodles and crush the package of noodles between your hands.  Open the bag and grab the seasoning packet but leave the uncooked ramen noodles in it's bag.  (You'll add the uncooked ramen noodles just before you serve the salad.)

In a medium sized bowl, combine all the ingredients to make the dressing making sure to use the oriental seasoning packet from the ramen noodles. Wisk the ingredients together. Pour the dressing over the broccoli slaw and mix together.  

At this time, you may cover and refrigerate your broccoli slaw salad or eat it right away.  However, just before you serve it, add the uncooked, crushed ramen noodles and the toasted almonds (this gives it a good crunch).  Stir the salad all together and enjoy!!  

Thursday, May 17

this is life....

I am a typical mom of 4 kids. My life is busy (and little messy) but mostly I say it's wonderful and I wouldn't trade it for the world.  If you frequent my house on any given day, you will find beds unmade, piles of school papers on my dining room table that have yet to be read (and if I'm honest, will most like be tossed or lost before they are ever read).  I have a dirty pile of laundry about 6 feet wide and 3 feet tall as well as 2-4 laundry baskets overflowing with clean laundry that still needs to be folded and put away.  Most likely the latter will not happen.  Instead, those clean-smelling clothes will stay tangled up in that laundry basket.  In a frantic rush to get out of the house for school, one of my kids will dig through it and throw those clean clothes across the room while they look for that one sock that matches the one on their left foot.  Later, they'll trample over those clean clothes while they try to find the lost shoe that matches the one on their right foot.  Days later in their frantic state to clean their room so they can get outside and play, they will mistake those clean clothes as 'dirty clothes' and throw them back downstairs to be washed again even tho they never covered an inch of their body.  Mom's can I get an AMEN?!!!

Every morning I wake up, think of my to-do list, and get to-doing. You are probably the same way. Today I knew I had a crazy busy day from sun up to sun down...the kind where you find yourself taking a deep breath in as you start the 24th thing on your to-do list and exhaling when it's done.  This morning you could of told me that my day would of gone like this but I don't think I would of believed you.  Some days you stay on course. Other days are so different it's like you are living someone else's life.

Today started off like it was supposed to.  I woke my kids up, got them ready for school (you can bet clean clothes were flung out of the clean laundry basket), and while driving them across town for school I learned that none of them had brushed their teeth and from the looks of it, brushed their hair.  Josiah and I dropped them off and scurried over to pick my mom up as she needed to get a few things from the store.  Afterwards, I helped her around the house and yard - doing things that she couldn't do since she just had surgery on her neck 2 weeks ago.  I came home mid-afternoon and had about an hour before I had to leave to pick up my kids from school, get dinner ready, help my kids with their homework, and get all 3 kids to their little league games.  Did I mention that today was my 14th wedding anniversary with Ryan.  Yup.  Busy.  

At 2:30 in the afternoon, my busy day of hustle and bustle came to a complete halt and I was reminded just how precious life is.  It's especially easy to forget this when life is as it should be.  It's brought to the forefront of your mind when it's not.

As a photographer, most everything I capture are times that are celebrated; parents who are expecting a child, a fresh newborn baby, seniors who are months away from graduating, or a couple who's newly engaged.  Most sessions are full of laughter and the images I capture will bring joy and a smile to their face for years to come.  I too rejoice with my clients during those moments and am eager to photograph their special day.  But then there are a few others that are polar opposite...

You never know when you are going to get that call.   Sometimes it happens first thing in the morning.  Today it came about 45 minutes before I was to pick my kids up from school...

I didn't recognize the number on my cell phone.  Since I pushed my to-do list aside to play outside with Josiah for a few minutes, I let it go to voicemail.  As soon as Josiah climbed up the ladder onto our trampoline, I knew I'd have enough time to listen to the message on my phone.  While I listened to my son's belly laughs, I got a message that no mother or photographer wants to hear.  I watched the sun light hit his wavy blond curls and heard, "A family is going to loose their newborn baby today and would like you to come and take photos for them."  And just like that, my perspective changed.  The laundry that was piled high in my basement suddenly didn't matter.  Josiah's belly laughs became the most precious sound I've ever heard.  I watched his blond curls bounce in the sunlight and I began to cry.  My mother-heart hurt for this family I didn't know and for their precious baby who just met his mommy & daddy hours earlier.  

If you are a mom, you have felt the joy of pregnancy, the anticipation of an ultrasound, and joy when you first heard the sounds of your child's heartbeat.  That sound, O that precious sound.  Yet many pregnancies don't end with that happily ever after moment when you are wheeled out of the hospital holding your baby...and some of you know that feeling all too well.  Instead, you walk into the hospital with a baby in your womb only to leave with an empty womb, empty arms, and a broken heart.  Many of you have endured the heartbreak, devastation, and sorrow of knowing when you leave the hospital, your baby will not.  Life happens. It changes faster than the blink of an eye.  Blink...messy, busy, everyday kind of day.  Blink...a precious life is gone and life will never be the same day.     

For those of you don't know, NILMDTS (Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep) is an incredible organization that arranges professional photographers to come in and take photos for parents who will or have suffered the loss of a newborn, infant, toddler, or child.  These images are priceless keepsakes of their brief time here on earth before they send their child back to heaven.  It's one of the hardest things about my job and yet one of the most fulfilling, beautiful things about my job.  Every NILMDTS session has been different but every parent is the same...they experience full blown rip-your-heart-out pain and still they are so unbelievably grateful for this gift and for your service to them.    

As I said goodnight to my kids this evening, I thanked God for my messy, beautiful life.  I forgot about the 6 x 3 foot pile of 1/2 clean, 1/2 dirty clothes in my laundry room.  I was grateful that I had the opportunity to run between Aidan and Selah's Little League games while Ryan was 1/2 way across town at Elijah's game.  I didn't mind that Ryan and I only saw one another for 14 minutes on our 14th wedding anniversary.  I got 14 minutes with my husband today while many will never see their husband on this side of heaven again.  Perspective.

Tonight I hugged my kids a little tighter and a little longer.  I watched their chest move up and down as they slept and thanked God for the air in their lungs.  I listened to each breath and thanked God for it.  I have been blessed beyond measure and beyond anything I deserve.  I am thankful.  For all of it.   

If you think of it, please say a prayer for this particular family while they grieve the loss of their littlest one.  I know they would appreciate it and bring them comfort during this difficult time.   

The song that echoed in my mind all evening long....

Wednesday, May 9

Lexi & Joey's wedding...

This past weekend, I had the honor of shooting one of my favorite weddings to-date.  Lexi and her family grew up next door to me.  I remember their move-in day, peering out the window of my house to count how many kids stepped out of their car.  One, two, three.  And to my delight, they were all girls which meant more kids to play with.  Never in a million years would I have known just how special they would become to me.

Lexi and Joey had one of those picture-perfect days.  The church was as white as snow and had a beautiful tall steeple.  It reminded me of a 100 year old New England church but instead it was nestled into the quaint little town of Richland.  They had a warm spring day that was slightly overcast which allowed the sunlight to peek thru from time to time.  

And can I just say...she looked stunning!  Her wedding gown couldn't of been more perfect for her.  I knew the moment Joey saw her, he was going to loose it.  She was head to toe beautiful.  And I was right, he lost it...

As I looked thru my lens and captured their day, I couldn't help but notice just how happy they were together. It felt like life had come full circle for them and nothing made it more special than to see their happiness together and to celebrate it with those they love the most.    

Congratulations Joey & Lexi!  
Here's to a many more years of 
life, happiness, favor, 
and knock you off your feet kind-of love.