The flawless faces of beautiful children

I am a lucky girl. When “playing with my camera” takes me to a sprawling property, situated in front of these beautiful faces, I cannot complain.

It’s not hard, really. Engage the kiddos, chat with them, be silly. I’m not scary or overwhelming, so they don’t mind when I require a little of their time. For these siblings in particular, they are used to me and my lens in their faces.

And now, I’m getting to know their friends, which is a treat like none other! When a friend connects you to another friend, it is the dearest compliment.

I sit here with a ton of gratitude, not only because people trust me with their family’s photos, taking up their time and a little bit of their money, but because what started as a hobby (and continues to be a hobby) has turned into a gift I’m able to give others. I love it. My work doesn’t stand against the work of professional photographers whose creativity is their livelihood, but it’s good work. It’s beautiful. It’s honest.

Thank you again.

If you’d like to book a photo session, do let me know.

Henry + Catherine 2015

It’s a gift to me to photograph my friends’ children. I wasn’t there at Henry’s birth, but I’ve been around for Catherine. Fingers crossed that I’ll get to take their prom pictures.

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The sweetest little wedding

When a former high school classmate of mine mentioned on Facebook that she was looking for an inexpensive wedding photographer, I threw my name in the hat. Since I work alone, the small, intimate weddings are just right. I can dart around discreetly and tend to the details. Bigger events require two and three shooters, so as long as it was going to be small, I could do it.

So I did.

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I went nuts with my camera, so there are eight million more to edit, but it’s a good problem to have. I’m grateful. 

The Day Josh Dobbs hugged Jackson

The forecast for the Tennessee Vols Orange and White Game was not good. On Friday evening, my Weather Channel app showed 100 percent change of rain and thunderstorms. Chuck announced that he would not endure a thunderstorm, and Saturday morning, Jeremy announced the same thing. Jackson and I looked at each other during breakfast and decided we would risk it. With jackets and ponchos in hand, we set off for Neyland Stadium for Fan Day with our fingers crossed.

That finger crossing thing must have worked because not a single drop of rain fell from the sky. In fact, by the end of our seven hours in Knoxville, both Jackson and I were hot and sunburned. Furthermore, upon arriving on campus we saw a very small crowd of maybe thirty people standing around Quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Jackson and I lost our minds, found a parking spot, and ran straight to him.

It took about twenty minutes to have any sort of contact with him, but that’s primarily because I insisted Jackson and I not push our way through people. “We aren’t going to be rude,” I kept telling my son. “We will wait our turn.” Not everyone functioned that way, which was embarrassing, particularly for the adults who shoved kids aside (one child was in a wheelchair, for goodness sakes) for an autograph and selfie.

Knowing that Josh Dobbs wouldn’t stand there indefinitely, I leaned down to Jackson and whispered, “You just need to be bold and catch his attention with your voice. He can’t stand here much longer.”

Then, from the bottom of a crowd of people calling for autographs and photos, Jackson yells, “EXCUSE ME, MR. DOBBS, CAN I HAVE A HUG?”

The quarterback turned our way and said, “Sure, no problem.”

Hugging Josh Dobbs

Be still my heart, y’all. Jackson gave him a tight squeeze, said thank you, and then nearly exploded from excitement. If our Fan Day experience had ended right then, it still would’ve been worth it.


As expected, there was a lots of standing in line, which is hard for everyone but especially hard for kids. It’s especially hard for a kid whose mother was ill-prepared for three hours of standing and brought no snacks or drinks. Thankfully, a nice man behind us forfeited his program, so that gave Jackson reading material for a while.

Reading the program

By the time we got inside the stadium for Fan Day, Jackson and I were rejuvenated. There is something very cool about walking onto the checkerboard end zones and touching the grass where college football is played.

Jackson in Neyland

There was more standing to do inside the stadium, but this time it didn’t end with a photo or autograph. The line to meet Coach Jones was painfully long, and even though we were closer to the front (as opposed to closer to the back), we still didn’t get to meet him.

Waiting for Coach Jones

Just as tears welled in Jackson’s eyes, I spotted a group of cheerleaders. That put a huge smile on his face. (We all know how much Jackson likes cheerleaders.)

Jackson with Smokey and the Cheerleaders

It had been six hours since breakfast, so after this photo was taken we ran for the concession stand. With a wide view of the field and only an hour until the Orange and White Game was starting, we scarfed down junk food as if we’d not eaten in days.

Neyland Stadium

We also enjoyed watching Peyton Manning roam the field while the players warmed up. (Y’all know the stadium lost its mind when Peyton walked out. He’s Tennessee Royalty.)

Peyton comes to visit

We only stayed for the first quarter of the game because exhaustion had set in fully and the eight year old was fading. He said it had been one of the best days of his life, that he was glad to spend it with me, and that meeting Josh Dobbs was his favorite part. Jackson’s eyes glistened as he said these things, telling me that the sunburns and achy feet and hours of standing in line was worth it.

I always think it’s worth it when we get to see Smokey. 

Running the checkerboard

My first wedding

I perused Craigslist the other day (I know, that’s risky, but…) looking for “creative gigs” and came upon a post requesting a wedding photographer STAT.

First, I am not a wedding photographer. So naturally, I clicked on the ad.

As it turned out, a very small wedding was occurring about an hour from my house in two days of the ad being placed. The original photographer had a medical emergency with his son and was in a bind. The photography budget was low, as were the photography expectations (in terms of quantity). I sent him a link to see my work and he felt I could do the job. All I could say to the guy is that I’m not a wedding photographer, but I was willing to give it a whirl.

A whirl I did give.

I was nervous yet hyper-focused. Unlike family photo sessions, there is no option to reschedule. There are no second takes or do-overs. You have to get the shot as the action occurs, which is why it’s imperative that real wedding photographers work in pairs or trios. You need the extra angles and opportunities.

Working solo, I hustled.

THANK GOODNESS the chapel was small. It was small enough for me to run like a crazy person from one end to the other – as discreetly as possible – and capture everything I could. Sure, there were staged photos, but nothing from the actual ceremony could be reenacted, so I had to be on point.

The wedding party and family members were gracious and patient, and let me dart around as I needed to. I don’t know if they knew this was my first wedding, but I had no time to chat. It was click-click-click for a straight two hours.

And I’m still editing. Normally I can edit photos from a session in several hours. I actually pride myself on a quick turn-around. That is an impossibility with a wedding! I actually talked to the bride today and reassured her that I was still working on them. I sent her a sneak peek via text and she was pleased. (Whew!)

Even though I’m also pleased with my work, I know booking a wedding much bigger than this one is not a reality. I would need a second shooter, or rather, I’d need to be the second shooter alongside a more experienced photographer. STILL, I’m sorta curious to know what this could look like if I expanded my lens collection, upgraded my camera (does anyone have $1,000 I could borrow have?), and pounded the pavement for clients. Right now I rely on word of mouth, and while people have been kind to recommend me, I’m not really “out there.” These are the things I ponder each night before falling asleep.

Oh, and wondering when I’ll find a literary agent. There’s always that.

Michele in the Smoky Mountains

The most bizarre thing occurred on Friday morning as Michele flew from the Texas Panhandle to East Tennessee. A dust storm from Oklahoma blew eastward smothering Tennessee and surrounding states with a thin layer of grit and dirt. I could hear the wind beating our house when I woke up that morning, and as soon as we pulled out of the garage to pick her up from the airport, we noticed that the usually very blue sky was a murky brown. Son of a gun, I thought. Michele’s bringing panhandle weather with her.

It was a bummer, too, because all of my blabbing about the beauty of East Tennessee is wasted breath if Michele couldn’t see past the first layer of the Foothills. What irony! Fortunately, it all blew away overnight and the rest of the weekend was picture perfect.

We spent a lot of time outside enjoying the breeze, the trees and the rainbow of vibrant colors. As if on cue, Michele arrived in East Tennessee when fall foliage hit its peak.

She and the boys enjoyed a chat in the grass at the park when I went to grab my camera:

I drove her along the Foothills Parkway, which offers some of the most pristine views of the Smoky Mountains:And then we stopped at our favorite watering hole where the boys often swim in the summer:

It was perfect:

Michele and I ate dinner at Cafe 4 on Saturday, and then Chuck and the boys joined us at Tupelo Honey Cafe on Sunday, which just opened in Knoxville a few days ago. I so enjoyed showing Michele all sides of East Tennessee. It’s a wonderful mixture of rural and urban, rich with history while always looking forward to what might be next.

I lived in her hometown for two years, so I was most happy to show her my town, if only for a few days.

A Chattanooga Recharge

We left for Chattanooga Friday afternoon and I have to say – it was the most amazing weekend. The weather was absolutely perfect in the Tennessee Valley, which meant nearly everything was done outside. Playgrounds, grilling out, and a fabulous run along the Riverpark Saturday morning. (Oh how I’ve missed that!) But what made it especially wonderful was everyone we got to see.

Friday night Chuck and I stole away for dinner (at J Alexander’s) and a movie (Limitless at the Majestic), which we haven’t done in, oh, say a year or two. Seriously. After we reintroduced ourselves, we had a good time – especially in the VIP theater room. Recliners, drink menus, waiters, the whole bit. I never realized how fun it would be to watch a movie while sitting in a recliner. I’m sold.

Afterwards we drove around North Chattanooga to see what’s changed, what’s new and what’s still the same. Why oh why didn’t we buy a house in North Chattanooga all those years ago? What used to be the questionable, up-and-coming part of town 12 or 15 years ago has become the hipster epicenter with gorgeous remodeled craftsman homes, walkability to restaurants and entertainment and an amazing view of the cityscape and river. I went for a run Saturday morning and parked midway down the Riverpark so I could run towards downtown. It’s the same pathway I trained on for six half marathons and one full, 26-mile race, and it was just as beautiful as ever.

We spent Saturday afternoon at Matt and Amy’s house, our Fred and Ethel Mertz, and I also got some one-on-one Amy time Sunday morning for coffee and shopping. Later in the afternoon, Jeremy and I scooted off to another park to meet his biological aunt, uncle and cousin, which is something we discussed prior to arranging. (More on that later.) Jeremy was thrilled to meet them and I was happy to see him happy. Here’s a snapshot of us waiting for them at the playground.

Saturday night was a long overdue dinner with Karin, and Sunday morning was coffee with Amy followed by lunch with Kathryn (my high school bestie). When it was all over, I bid a sweet farewell to Chattanooga and got back on the road towards the Foothills. (Chuck and the boys left for Knoxville with Bill that morning.) I probably smiled the entire way home. This weekend was just the recharge I needed.

While Chattanooga is a really great town, I’m happy to be home in the mountains. It’s hard to explain how a place you’ve never lived before feels like home, but that’s exactly what’s happened. Like I told my dad on the phone a few weeks ago – as an Army brat, home was wherever the Army sent us, and after Dad retired, home was wherever my parents lived. I’ve never had an actual hometown. Until now.

My Backyard

Cumberland Mountain/by Adam Brimer

Okay, it’s not officially my backyard, but you get the gist. I spent way too long online last night rummaging through the Knoxville News Sentinel and other local publications looking for all the usual things – locally owned boutiques, farmer’s markets, and where to find the best sushi. I stumbled upon a Hike of the Month series through the newspaper and got all giddy thinking about playing outside. (The above photo was from the October 2010 Hike of the Month along the Cumberland Trail. Click on the photo to see the entire gallery.)  Jeremy’s asked me every day since Sunday if we can “go to the mountains.” I’ve explained to him all the reasons why we can’t yet (rainy weather, still unpacking, don’t want to get lost right after moving here), but that hasn’t kept him from asking. He’s a little outdoorsman, which means we’re raising him right.

Jackson, as always, goes along for the ride. He’s just happy to see his toys again.

SIDEBAR on Jack: Thanks to Agnes from Despicable Me, he’s started using her “I accidently closed my eyes” excuse.  (That line comes in around the 3:13-minute mark on this video montage all about Agnes. Gosh darn cute, if you ask me.)

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Anyway, Lil’ Jack doesn’t say it quite right but any time he drops something, breaks something, says a naughty word, copies his brother, spills his cup, runs into the wall (yes, really) or anything else you can think of, he immediately covers it with, “It was ask-a-dently, Mom! Ask-a-dently!” I need to get video of this.

The good news is that I’m almost entirely unpacked. There are fewer than 10 boxes left in this house and I intend to finish today. Since this house has 400 more square feet than our previous one, the formal living room as no furniture in it. No, strike that. It has an ottoman and a step stool. But other than that, it’s empty. Corey and Alex are coming for a visit this weekend (yay for our first company!) so she and I plan to hit up the local thrift and consignment shops for modest pieces to make the room cozy.

Don’t worry. Pictures are coming.

Exploring Tennessee in Pictures

Burwell Building, Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville/By Corey Seaton
Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park/By Kara Ziler

I’ve spent more time than I should browsing photos of east Tennessee online. It seems ridiculous since I’ve lived more years in Tennessee (between two cities) than anywhere else and have plenty of my own pictures to peruse. What can I say? I’m excited, and it all started on Flickr and carried on to photo contests and other random sites I found online. (I found the above photos on this site.) I’ve been studying maps, finding Greenways and hiking trails, and planning one weekend excursion after another.

One thing is for sure: I doubt we will run out of places to explore.

Love in a Diagram

This sweet little piece, “The Universe and Forever,” is by Wendy MacNaughton, who says, “I make diagrams to help make sense of things that are incomprehensible and overwhelming, too big and complex. In this case, love.” True that. Happy Valentine’s Day, lovebugs. (Click on the image to see a larger version or to order a print.)

I caved and gave the boys their Valentine’s gifts yesterday. To their surprise and elation, they unwrapped the last Star Wars movie they didn’t own (Empire Strikes Back) and a starter box of Legos. I’ve shied away from Legos all these years because I didn’t think they were 1) ready to play with such tiny pieces and 2) ready to keep track of such tiny pieces. Both last night and this morning I found beetle-size pieces in the living room carpet, on the tile floor in the kitchen and in the bathroom (really?). Even though I gave CLEAR instructions to play at a table where the pieces to be contained, Legos have popped up in other areas of the house already. I’ll endure it, though, because those boys played with their Legos for two hours straight.

And playing for two hours straight was a huge help to me since I’ve started packing. We leave Amarillo in less than three weeks, so I’ll be splitting all of my time between the book, packing up the house and maintaining some level of race training for the half marathon in early April. A contract has been on the house for two weeks, though I’ve only just started acting like it. Between you and me, reader, I’m a little nervous. You know when something is too good to be true and you’re so sure it’s going to be yanked away at the last minute that you’re reluctant to accept it in the first place? It kinda feels like that.

However, if it’s not going to be yanked away, I want to be prepared! I’ve already packed a good chunk of non-essentials and will tackle the semi-essentials bit by bit. We’ve also secured a rental house in Knoxville, and I’ll admit to you that I probably look at it two or three times a day online. The house backs into a wooded area thick with trees and grass. There’s a deck off the back of the house that looks onto it, and in the wintertime when the leaves have fallen, you can see a small range of the Smoky Mountains in the background.

Springtime is coming, and I couldn’t be more glad. It’s time for a new season.

 

75? Bring it on.

Before trudging down the icy roads, I decided to check the weather. Doth mine eyes deceive me? 75 degrees by Tuesday?

Yes, yes, YES.

We will celebrate this winter warm-up by packing all weekend. It’s looking like we just might get to Knoxville by spring time.

Well hello, Winter!

The relatively mild winter in Texas has ended with a windy, frozen-to-the-bone blast of flurries – and when I say windy, I mean howling. There are a few inches of dusty snow on the ground but nothing worth a jolly frolic. Besides, if I let the boys outside, they’d freeze into popsicles and blow away to Oklahoma.

Jeremy was beside himself about school not being closed. He protested and presented his best case for staying home, but alas, it didn’t work. The roads aren’t icy, even if the ground is a frozen tundra, so I drove him to school with no problem. Upon coming back home, I flipped on the fireplace, refilled my travel mug and declared today PJ & Coffee Day.

I’m surprised at how awake I feel considering I was online half the night looking for rental houses here:

Did you hear that, Universe? I’m making plans to move. Fall in line, please.