Newbie Session: Meet Ezra

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I didn't anticipate the joy I'd feel when writing the words "Degraaf Family" when labeling this session. I've been a fan of Aaron for a while. (We've been friends for close to 25 years.). But when he met April, I became an even bigger fan of Aaron. His "discerning" nature we'll call it, paid off because he found an amazing partner in April. And now, these two have done their part to make this world a little sweeter. Meet Ezra.

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This tiny soul joined us in mid-January. Just 12 days later and he found his calling as a male model. He is the perfect mix of his mommy and daddy, and doesn't seem bothered in the least to share their hearts with his canine sibling (cue the pup's mug in the center shot above.) 

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Ezra is named after a prophet of the Old Testament who was the ultimate helper, leader and teacher. There is no doubt that with the support of their loved ones, April and Aaron will raise Ezra to glorify His name.

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Nothing could underscore the drama and change that occurs in the first few months of parenting better than these two photos. In just 40 seconds, all is lost and all is gained. Things are happy, things turn sad. Situations are under control, then chaos ensues. Fleeting in a moment as they grow day-by-day but never-ending in those sleepless moments when the baby can't be soothed. It's the new pace of family life and it's shocking, exciting, and cyclic.

In other words, if you know these two or new parents like them, take a second and send them an encouragement, shovel their drive, make them a dinner. It's the best ride on earth. But it's big and every evolving family can use some extra TLC. (No, Aaron did not pay me to write this so he could get out of chores.)

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I don't think I've seen a more together family less than two weeks after birth. Their smiles were radiant, their demeanor was calm and somehow their house was WAY cleaner than mine. I've never been more impressed by a new family!

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Can you get over those forehead wrinkles and pursed little lips? Every wrinkle and tiny toe is perfection.  

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This smile says it all. He is content. He is loved. 

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April and Aaron, these are the moments and details that I hope you never forget. Truthfully, almost 9 years later, and my ability to recollect all the snuggles and coos is hard without a photo to pull me back to that time. It's the reason I am a photographer. I hope you come back to these often as Ezra grows and changes. There is so much about him right now that will remain and so much that will change. Let these image serve as that measuring stick.

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Thank you for sharing Ezra with me, and now with the rest of the world. You two are going to be amazing at this new journey! Ezra, you are surrounded by a community that adores you already and will be there to support you as you grow. All my love to you three, the Degraaf Family. (Man, that sounds great.)

Source: http://www.rootandblossomphoto.com/

Family Session: Meet the O'Rourkes

I overshoot. I can't help it. It happens every session. I say we're shooting for an hour. It turns into two. But with the O'Rourke family, how could I not? Look at those smiles!

It was an honor to capture the very best of lake life at Big Star for this family of four. Though you can't tell by looking at it, we shot in high heat at the end of September. Even with high temps, sand and diminishing daylight, everyone held it together and we were able to capture lots of individual and combo shots. (I'm think they should considering modeling if their day jobs don't work out!) The goal was a family session as well as a capture of little man since he just hit 6 months.

 350+ "final" images later, they have some decisions to make when it comes to picking the framers. Meanwhile, here are just a few of my favorites. Thank you O'Rourkes for trusting me me with this special session.

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Newbie Session: Meet Zander

Let me tell you a story of faith. Losing hope. Finding hope. And then embracing courage at the end of a very long journey. 

This is the story of:
Carrie +
Dan +
many years +
Henry Danger +
many small angels watching down =
the arrival of Alexander "Zander" Courage.

The blessing of this job is not just capturing moments, but weaving these moments into the story of a family through photography. Most of my clients are friends and my relationship with Carrie started in the mud of Mississippi post-Katrina, took a detour through infertility and landed me as her sister in a post-op recovery room after the most unexpected birthing story. (Yes, I play sister any time it means my dear one doesn't have to be alone in a hospital.)

If you've checked out the blog before, you might have seen Carrie's maternity session / pre-arrival family session. In the months after this session we commemorated every moment to the end of an epic 5 year journey leading to baby #2: belly henna painting parties, showers, water sessions. You name it, we captured it. And we prepared for the big day. And then the day passed and the baby was late. And we waited. Until we didn't wait. Instead Carrie waded. In our hot tub. (While my in-laws visited which added an interesting complexity when you introduce out-of-state family to a laboring friend in your kitchen.) So when Carrie came upstairs flushed and contracting after her tubbie, Dan and I scooted her into the car and put our plan into full effect. I was to come when she was a 7 and hunker down for the duration of a natural childbirth. As they drove the 12 miles to the hospital, I packed my bag ready to document my first birth.

What I wasn't prepared for was the call I got just 20 minutes later. Carrie had already had the baby. I had to get there now. There was an emergency. Dan was separated from Carrie. He was with Zander. Nothing was certain. He didn't know Carrie's status. Get there. Now. Find Carrie. Be her person.

We moved from documentary to real life drama. My car went 100mph down 131 to get there. God opened lanes, parking spots and doors as I made it in record time to the L+D ward. I beat her out of surgery in fact. Carrie's cord prolapsed (came out of her body as her water broke when using the restroom) within minutes of arrival to the ER. The nurse "rode the bed" as they call it, straddling Carrie and pushing Zander off the umbilical cord to prevent oxygen deprivation while Dan helped wheel Carrie into the OR as the nurses inserted an IV and prepped her for surgery mid-transit. From pull of emergency cord in the restroom to delivery took just shy of 2 minutes. The staff at Spectrum are miracles.

But my friend had the unexpected birth of her nightmare. She never thought her goal of no pain medicine would be answered this way. And there was physical pain and questions and emotional scars being formed by the minute. Carrie met her baby boy in the NICU at Helen Devos Children's Hospital. And while I have never been more thankful for the skills of this army of giants that care for the tiniest among us, I have also never witnessed anything as heartbreaking as seeing Carrie meet Zander for the first time, hooked to machines bigger than him while his little body chilled to just 92.6º to preserve brain function. Over the many days after birth, I captured their story: Big brother meeting little brother. Family greeting their newest member. And more miraculous than any conventional birth I could have witnessed, the first time Zander was held by his parents. 

A year later, Zander is amazing. After all this, he's perfect in all the important ways (but still under watchful eyes.) It was an uncertain start. It was a terrifying start to be honest. But it has turned out so very well. Zander is happy, engaging, curious and sweet. And most of all, he carries a middle name representative of his beginning, "Courage."

The pictures below only scratch the surface of all of this. There's much too much to share. But this is the visual synopsis that helps me make sense of the days of Zander's becoming. It's my hope that these images will serve as motivation for Zander as he grows, that they prove to him that he can overcome anything life throws at him. That his parents are strong warriors on his behalf (no NICU parents were as assured and positive as these two). And that God can be found in the tiniest moments, the moments that look like luck or coincidence, in the hands that appear, in the hands we may never see again. On behalf of the Elzinga's and myself, thank you to the medical staff that cared for this family from start to finish. 

Source: http://www.rootandblossomphoto.com/home/

Newbie session: Meet Ava

Now that I am doing this photography thing in my spare time, I wonder if my friends, and more specifically new friends, think I are trolling them for shoots. What makes me wonder is that I truly have the most beautiful friends—I mean subjects—around. Inside and out. I promise it's not intentional and I'm friends with you for many other reasons...I am just a lucky girl to have good friends that happen to be supermodel quality and trust me with their fragile moments.

Shannon and Sean are also supermodel friends. And as all pretty people do, they of course made a super model baby. Meet Ava. And though I've heard she can be a bit fussy from time-to-time, I do believe Aunt Courtney and her magic heating pad could be an elixir to her crying....More truthfully, my son had severe colic issues for 9 months, so I get it and have way more of a heart for how tough it can be than this joke lets on. 

Thankfully, we had a magical morning getting to know each other in the flesh (this poor child probably became accustom to hearing my voice drone on about branding and deadlines since Shannon and I work together at ddm.) These shots don't do justice to how sweet this child is. She's a tiny one and so perfectly made. Her parents do good work! What made me most happy is how naturally both Shannon and Sean parent. It was a true team. And they were calm and collected with every variable that a home shoot of a newborn can bring.

I'm very grateful for the time I spent with the Tenbrinks capturing this new chapter. The only thing that comes close to matching this happiness is having Shannon return to our team after maternity leave. We miss her face....now if only we can find a way to smuggle Ava into the office everyday. Baby holding during a meeting is the only way our day jobs could get any better!

Maternity Session: The Munoz Family

Sometimes life's direction places you on a different path from those you care deeply about. Not by intention. But as collateral damage of a life change. I've had it happen many times, be it a childhood move,  change in direction or a necessary shift. And on occasion, portrait sessions end up being a sort of gift to me, outside of what you'd anticipate the more predictable blessings of photography to be. 

These two truths were about to collide.

So when facebook connected me to a person I dearly love, but hadn't had a real conversation with in nearly 20 years, I jumped at the chance. What started out as a special honor to capture Maria and Andy's maternity session turned into an opportunity for closure that I thought time had taken away. The last time I had spent any quality time with Maria, she was just a girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old. She was like a little sister to me, so to sit in her living room, meet her husband and talk about her upcoming birth was both surreal and amazing. She turned out to be the kind of person I'd hoped for. The kind I'd love to spend time with. She's honest, funny and hospitable. And best of all, she found a match with Andy that was just as real. He matched these qualities in her in every way. I could see instantly that Maria is fully herself with her husband and clearly has the right foundation to build a family on. 

I hope their true friendship and love speak to you in these photos. The smiles in their eyes are genuine and the joy of parenthood was palatable. Their little girl, Ania, is truly going to have two incredible parents on her journey ahead.

Thank you Andy and Maria for reaching out and sharing this part of your story with me. I am so grateful. All the best in the days and years ahead.

 This baby is coming from a long line of swimmers, so when we found the "No Swimming" sign, we had to indulge. 

This baby is coming from a long line of swimmers, so when we found the "No Swimming" sign, we had to indulge. 

 The light was magical at Riverside Park. Right when we were shooting, a little duck paddled into frame....kinda symbolic if you ask me.

The light was magical at Riverside Park. Right when we were shooting, a little duck paddled into frame....kinda symbolic if you ask me.

 There's probably nothing more awkward for someone than having a perfect stranger tell you to kiss and look smitten, but Andy handled it with grace.  

There's probably nothing more awkward for someone than having a perfect stranger tell you to kiss and look smitten, but Andy handled it with grace.  

 The nostalgia of looking back on the first home my husband and I created, where we brought home our first baby....it's something very special to me. I hope these snaps capture this same emotion for Maria and Andy when their child is grown and they look back and remember how tiny Ania was, the many night rocking sessions that took place in her nursery or the thousands of laughs that took place on their front porch.

The nostalgia of looking back on the first home my husband and I created, where we brought home our first baby....it's something very special to me. I hope these snaps capture this same emotion for Maria and Andy when their child is grown and they look back and remember how tiny Ania was, the many night rocking sessions that took place in her nursery or the thousands of laughs that took place on their front porch.

 We also wanted to document Ania's nursery since it was prepared so sweetly. My favorite part of the shoot was recreating a photo that was taken of Maria's mom when she was pregnant....with Maria.

We also wanted to document Ania's nursery since it was prepared so sweetly. My favorite part of the shoot was recreating a photo that was taken of Maria's mom when she was pregnant....with Maria.

 And this is the original photo we were trying to recreate. 

And this is the original photo we were trying to recreate. 

Senior Session: Meet Josie

I'm finally getting along to sharing Josie's senior session...just in time for her graduation. Outside of the opportunity to capture a beautiful soul, the opportunity meant even more to me since I've been shooting her since birth. For 18 years she's been one of my favorite subjects. And now, she's grown and off to start the next chapter in a journey that is sure to be as wonderful as she is.

Josie was the first child that I got to truly be a "bystander" to. Her mom, Mindy, is one of my best friends since high school and that means from the second she was conceived, I have loved Josie as much as I have her mom (and by extension her dad Kevin and two siblings that followed in the years to come.)

Being asked to capture Josie in one of her very favorite places on Earth—Blandford Nature Center—was like completing a circle for me personally. Though I play the role of pseudo Aunt, watching her upbringing has influenced much of my own parenting and informed me on how setting a strong foundation early-on reverberates into early adulthood. Josie has become one of the most unique, creative, funny kids I know.

On a weekly basis my children request the "Josie story." Often I have to tell it two or three times in a row. It goes like this: "Josie was just 10 days old and I traveled from MSU to Chicago to meet her for the very first time. The next morning, we were awake with her after a very restless night. Kevin had to go to work at the Container Store and I asked Mindy if she wanted me to hold Josie so that she could take a break and shower. Who knows how long went by, but Mindy gently shook me awake. When I opened my eyes, there she stood in robe with wet hair and whispered as to not wake the baby who was finally asleep, 'Court, you're drooling on my kid.' [Insert belly giggles from my two kiddos.] We didn't know what to do since the nurses said you couldn't wash newborns with the city water. So we dabbed her off and called it good." Needless to say, our relationship was sealed from that day forth and I will forever be known as "Dortney" or as it sounded from her pursed 2-year old ducky lips..."Dorky."

Jos, I love you enough to run into a Silent March and shout your name, only to be mildly embarrassed for the opportunity to say "hi." You're an amazing, talented and cherished soul. Thank you for showing me the first glimpse of parenting as I watched your parents bring you up. You're going to do important things. (So important that even wildlife photo-bomb you.)

Fresh 48: Meet Clara

When someone who is literally written into your will as an advisor on our children's well-being should something terrible happen goes into labor, you make sure you get to the hospital when her baby arrives. Thankfully, sweet Clara made her way to us just 24 hours before our family was to catch a plane to Florida. Baby girl already has a great sense of timing. (I'm joking. She was two weeks late.)

Deb and I go way back. We sat in the trenches of client service together. She encouraged me as we battled to have Ryan (on a daily basis). She came out of "retirement" to help me on special projects when only she could accomplish the task at hand. And most importantly, she and her boys became family as she watched Ryan for the first 3 years of his life. Heck, she even attended my sister's wedding so she could be a 10 month old's date so I could be the Maid of honor. So when asked to document the birth of her fourth child, and her first girl, I had to jump at the opportunity.

Clara is welcomed by three brothers. Three boys that are still figuring out just what to do with a little sister. Truly, you can not imagine three more well behaved boys, especially when joining them just minutes after meeting their new little sis. 

Clara is perfect in every way. She has this tiny little tongue that peaks out as she takes in the world. She is a spitting image of her dad in these shots. But as we all know, we have years to flip-flop on dominant genes as she grows. Every little girl ends up looking like her momma!

Even when this sweet child screams, she's cute. Thank goodness she's got expert parents when it comes to soothing a puker-fusser (inside joke for you Angry Kitty :)

Little man Luke was not sure of what to make of things at first, but eventually his curiosity got the best of him. We'll just continue to remind him that he'll always be the baby brother now that a girl has joined the family.

The blessings are in the details and we didn't miss any of them!

Brian and Deb, thank you for sharing the precious few hours of nesting that you're given at the hospital with me. It is an honor to share those first moments with families, especially yours. We love you all so much. Congratulations!

Newbie Session: Taylor and Paisley

World, meet Paisley. Look at those eyes! Look at those lips! Has there ever been a sweeter gaze? Even when she's angry, she's pretty darn cute. (Spoiler alert; we've got a few of those shots too.) 

It is the highest privilege to be invited into a home just days after a little one comes into the world. I get to step into their cocooned, snuggly, getting-to-know you days and capture every sweet nuzzle.

On this occasion, I was invited by one of my favorite young women, Taylor. For an entire afternoon, I got to capture three generations of a family that were just days into the arrival of this tiny baby girl. Taylor is one of my husband's former scholar athlete; a superstar whose athleticism is only topped by her brains. (The girl worked out and lifted, even after she was overdue!) Taylor babysat for our family before moving onto college where she played soccer and pursued her studies.

Now she's embracing the role of motherhood and it's simply inspiring. She's always been mature and real—a reason why I've had a soft spot for her since day one....and because she has purple streak hidden in that long blonde mane of hers—but now she's evolved into a relaxed and grounded mom. 

So there's always some degree of posing when it comes to capturing newborns. But this last series was far from posed. This is just how Taylor looks at her daughter.

I think this is my favorite grouping of Ms. Paisley. Those hands are the nurturing touch of her Grandma who is gently coaching her own daughter on the ways of motherhood. This child will be raised in a home built of love, by one of the most supportive families I've been around.

The details that will become Paisley's childhood: Taylor created the art from one of her favorite Bible verses, Proverbs 3:15. 

The light that afternoon was hazy for 5 minutes and then blinding which provided a bit of a challenge...which "may" have mirrored Paisley's mood for part of the afternoon. Then again, if some stranger wanted me to look charming while staying perfectly asleep for three hours, I might have been ticked too. Between the coos there were a few cries, but even those were adorable and had to make the cut!

I cannot wait to be small part of this journey with Taylor and Paisley. Thank you to the family for making their story a part of mine!

Maternity Session: Anna

There are two things I am surrounded by these days: football and pregnant ladies. You should be warned that just by knowing me, you may have a child in your midst within the next 9 months. Thankfully all my expecting friends are super beautiful and allow me to capture these fleeting days on film.

Anna and I chose Riverside park for her shoot since it was close to the office. Since we're coworkers on the same busy team, it was important to find a place close to our base with good light. We lucked out with both. Most importantly, she has great hair :)

I think Anna was a supermodel in a past life. I thought she'd be reluctant to be in front of the camera, but she turned out to be a pro. It doesn't hurt that her baby girl has given her the sweetest little baby bump....and nothing else. I swear you can't tell she's pregnant until she turns around. 

In her day job, Anna is on our Stryker team as a project manager. She's the glue that holds our days together and keeps us on track. And most days, she reminds me to eat. Even with her vital role (to our team and my daily sanity), we're excited to see her evolution into motherhood begin.

Our team is very excited to welcome this little newbie to the ddm family. Anna and her husband Joe will make amazing parents....and their furbabies will make great "siblings." Congrats you two....Let the count down to arrival begin!

Maternity Session: The Elzinga Family

It has been one of the greatest gifts to see this couple pregnant again with little boy #2. After a journey that most wouldn't believe, they've found themselves walking the path of 40 weeks...tonight. So it's Carrie's great hope that just like my last maternity session post, it will trigger childbirth within 24 hours.

We spent an overcast evening in Riverside Park. Though the weather was cold and less than optimal, we made the best of it and found new ways to explore a park I thought I knew well. 

Henry Danger is READY to be a big brother in every way.

My journey with Carrie began after Hurricane Katrina. We drove the long 29 hours to Mississippi together and had so much in common. Little did we know that we'd soon share the path of infertility...that was, until we ended up with due dates 10 days apart with our boys. Now, we get ready to welcome baby "Courage."

It's hard to believe that soon, very soon, we'll be at the hospital, welcoming this newbie to the world. And yes, I said "we" since I hope to make it to the birth to document the baby's arrival. Cannot wait! We'll see if this post does the trick!

Carrie, Dan and Henry: we love you so much and cannot wait for this world to get a little bit brighter with the arrival of baby #2.

10 Years Post Katrina

10 years ago, a hurricane destroyed the lives of thousands of people across the Gulf Coast region. It was devastating. It was terrifying. It was final. And it was transformational for many of us that were privileged to serve those left in Katrina's wake. 

The above picture: What was left of one of the homes we mudded out (after I buried the truck in the mud.)





My church, Mars Hill, was one of many that took part in the emergency relief efforts right after the storm. I remember sitting in a bar the weekend after Katrina hit, saying into thin air that I felt called to help. The next day, the opportunity was granted at service and within a week, the trip was set for the first week in October. I, along with a small group of strangers drove the 20+ hour straight trek to ground zero, Hancock County, MS. The evening we left was exciting and full of anticipation. We had been briefed on what was known. But what was known was very little. We knew we may be helping distribute goods to those in need and possibly be helping in the clean up efforts. 

After driving straight through the night, we hit sunrise right as we began to approach the outer rings of storm damage. It was eerie. The sun was beautiful through the trees. There was no oncoming traffic coming out of the area and just a thin line of slow moving traffic with us headed in. It was sobering as we came down a hill to find open pasture lands of 1,000s of mobile homes just sitting, waiting to be called to action like soldiers. And this was still an hour away from ground zero.


(These photos were taken with my Holga on my first tour to Hancock County, Mississippi. The type of camera, with it's crude light leaks and it's body taped together is the only format I found that adequately captured the emotion of being on site.)

We started day one just down the street from this sign. A pastor's home had 200+ year old pecan trees that had fallen, blocking in his family of 8, whom were trying to mobilize to help others. In hindsight, it was a good warm up. We were still 10 miles from shore, but in awe to see these trees, the largest I've ever seen fallen, with their roots exposed. We spent the day with chainsaws and hauling equipment and cleared them. Still it did not fully prepare us for the intensity of what was to come.

This is a building in Bay St. Louis and was one of the communities we helped in.

 This scene of a Michigan Apple box caught my eye and immediately personalized the situation.


We may have started by chopping up wood, but soon our days culminated to "Mudding Out." No one could have prepared me for this, nor would I have ever thought I could be up to the task, both physically and emotionally. But knowing that these victims had nothing left other than their property rights is a good motivator to suck it up and get dirty. When I say dirty, I mean, raw sewage dirty since we needed to wear masks and in some cases biohazard suits as we cleared the debris and tore down homes to the stud walls so they could be bleached and hopefully saved. The black mold was like nothing I've ever seen. The smell was like rotting paint and sulfur. The areas we worked the most in had water up 19 feet above sea level. That force floats refrigerators, tears apart homes, moves trucks. That force is astounding. 

Our job was to make huge heaps of what was left with the hoped that FEMA would be coming with heavy machinery to clear it out. To try and leave a blank slate for families to assess the "what's next" of their situations. Weeks later, on my second tour, some of the same heaps were still waiting to be cleared, just like many of the families waiting for the trailers we saw parked on our way down.

Having never been to area, it was hard to appreciate the scene above. It was a street over from where we stayed in 5th wheel trailers. But after returning home and researching, I realized it was a lot like Grand Haven, with the most lovely southern beach homes right on the Gulf. This is all that was left. As well as the stories that we'd get to hear as we ate at the soup kitchens set up in the parking lots of Big Box stores. That was the most impactful part of the whole trip.


We stayed on what was to become a volunteer compound, but since we were the first to arrive, nothing was set up. That became one of our tasks...alongside the Osmonds. Because who else would be there to sponsor a housing unit and put on benefit shows besides the Osmond brothers? One of my friends, Suzanne, actually ended up singing with them when Bobby Jindal came to tour. 

Other surreal circumstances involved actually working at FEMA's headquarters as it was the main distribution point for all goods being flown in by the government (Ironically, FEMA likes schools with airports and so we were stationed at Brent Favre's high school...whom I had just ridden a ride with at Disney World a few years previously. What a contrast!) 

We worked the warehouse some days with International Aide, showered in semi-trucks and watched as George Bush landed some 300 feet away to tour the devastation. The most striking part of it all was how unofficial all the official government stuff was. We had badges the same as FEMA officials, we ate in the tents with the military there to help, we decided where we were to work each day (with the leadership of Chris and Jeff, our Mars Hill Liaisons.) It was just a bunch of really well intentioned people doing their very best to help. But the need was so intense and great, that it barely felt like a dent.



 One of the few remaining beach houses due to its stilt structure and unusual shape.


The irony of documenting this by camera was the hundreds of family photo albums we had to throw out due to water damage. It never got easier. In a few cases we were able to salvage a few pictures here and there. The look on the owners faces...the gratitude they had when we returned the smallest of personal items...it stays with me today. Just recently, while staying in Carlsbad, CA, I met a woman from the community I volunteered in. Almost 10 years later and she was still overflowing with gratitude for the work of ordinary people that reached out. It was so nice to have a touch point back to someone who lived that life and to see that they moved on and had wonderful things happening for them.


This was the group I traveled down with on my first tour. In this crowd I met lifelong friends and shared life-changing memories with other that I haven't heard from in a while. One of my very closest friends was brought to me on this trip, Carrie. I truly believe that having processed our experience together has bonded us in a way that no normal circumstance could, since wearing the grief of people you are there to aid is hard on the heart, but good for the soul. It was also very impactful to do my second tour with Max along side, since I came back changed and he didn't really understand it until he worked in it and saw first-hand. The pictures don't adequately capture the scale of this disaster.

I walked away from this experience having a new appreciation for all that I am blessed with and a sense that I need to share more of what I have. It polarized in me the need to create home, but not hold onto it too tightly....and to challenge myself when I find material possessions having to much of a hold on me. All it takes is one storm. And then you're left with the people you surround yourself with and your reliance on God. The people I met in Hancock County, many of them knew that lesson ahead of time and inspired us with their resilience and perspective. I'll hold onto these experiences always. 



Reflections from August 29, 2006:

mudding out
I was part of the first and eleventh Katrina relief trips. We went to help the residents of Hancock County, Mississippi salvage what remained of their homes and belongings and clean up what had been irreparably ruined.

In my day job, I meet with clients, work at a computer and build concepts and images.  It’s clean.  Neat.  Sterile. 
Not in Hancock County. 
Our most memorable task was “mudding out.”  It was dirty.  Smelly.  Toxic.  Mudding out involves stripping water-damaged houses to the beams, shoveling mud and belongings into wheelbarrows to be dumped at the curb, hauling out all appliances, ripping up carpet and tearing down moldy drywall. 

I remember slipping in mud as I pushed the wheel barrow.
The stench of rotten paint and debris.
Endless trips back and forth to the curbside pile.
Sewage-contaminated water stagnating in the street.
An unbelievably small pile of possessions returned to homeowners at the end of the day.

Statistics say that, as of December 31, 2005, 2.5 million cubic yards of debris had been removed—only 30% of the wreckage caused by Hurricane Katrina.  Chaos is still the norm; there remains a great deal of clean-up and rebuilding to be done. 

As heartbreaking as it was, in the midst of the debris I found a new standard by which to look at my possessions, relationships, success, future . . .   My home and my heart are less about stuff and more about filling those places with the people I love.  For me, the chaos brought clarity.  Mud brought cleansing.

 It’s strange that it happened this way, but I think that’s God’s miracle. 
 I was baptized as a child and as an adult.  Until my trip to Hancock County, I never entirely understood my baptism or what it meant to be the hands and feet of Christ.

 But now I feel like I was baptized by mud.

Newbie Session: The Ramseyer Family

We completed the trifecta of photoshoots with a home visit to see Elliot when he was 10 days old. Shocker. He got cuter. 

There's never been a nursery created with so much love. And when I say created, I mean CREATED. Caroline hand sewed the mobiles, painted 26 canvases over the crib (one for each letter of the alphabet with creature's names translated in english and polish), every detail was coordinated. It's perfect.

Little man in his tiny cap. It's so small, but almost too big for him!

This little guy was wide awake for over half the shoot. He already has very soulful, wise eyes. But boy is he cute when he's sleeping.

I will never get enough shots of tiny baby toes.

One of the most precious things in the nursery is a sailboat that was hand-crafted by Adam's dad. Each of his grandchildren have had it in their nurseries. With each newborn, he adds a brass nameplate commemorating the arrival. It is the most clever baby bassinet I've ever seen. These photos do not do it justice!

Wide awake during dark skies.

It's clear that Adam and Caroline are over the moon with their little one.

Nothing sweeter than the way Caroline nuzzles her sweet pea.

Henry is transitioning really well into the role of Big Brother. He's smitten and loves helping where he can.

Adam is a natural with his second born. These boys are blessed to have a father as solid and caring as he is. I'm grateful to the family to have been given such access and time with their expanding family. I learned so much through the experience and hope they treasure these shots as much as I do.

Fresh 48: Welcome Elliot

I don't think there's anything more precious than the first few hours with a new baby. And I was blessed to meet little Elliot just 6 hours into his adventure! 

I can already tell that Elliot is going to have a charmed life. His birth seemed that way after all....I willed him into the world by posting his mamma's maternity images :) Then just 8 hours later Caroline was headed back to the hospital only to learn that Elliot's head was already engaged! All this, yet there was still time for an epidural. Adam and Caroline welcomed their son not long after and he was even flashing us smiles just hours after entry!

The highlight for me is documenting every tiny toe and wrinkly knee. As Adam went off to pick up the newly minted Big Brother, Caroline and I spent the time un-swaddling the sleepy little guy and documenting all his best features.

It's amazing to me that from the moment we're born, we have a personality. Expressions. A sense of humor even? Elliot is no exception. 

More of the details that we've been waiting 9 months to discover.

I don't think I've ever seen a kiddo as genuinely thrilled as Henry was to meet his new little brother. 

Henry was immediately interested in holding the baby, feeding him and sharing all of his observations of his new little brother.

I also got to share in the excitement as Elliot met his grandparents. What a proud moment for all of them.

And a few parting shots of the little cutie. Thank you to the entire family for so openly sharing with me every tiny toe and exuberant smile. It was truly a gift.

Maternity Session: The Ramseyer Family

When it comes time to do your first paid shoot, it helps to have a model-like family as your subject. And it helps when they're already dear friends and the money is going to support March of Dimes. So tonight—in honor of Caroline's false labor—I'm posting the images we took a month ago with the hopes that it jumpstarts little Ubu into making an appearance...SOON! Like tonight.

The Ramseyers and I spent two hours capturing their little family of three—soon to be four—at Riverside Park in Grand Rapids just before sunset. Prior to the start it was cloudy and looked like it could rain at any point. But the moment their car pulled in the parking lot, our fortune changed! Caroline is the ideal model (you should have seen her on her wedding day) and looks amazing pregnant so it made my task easy.

Besides just focusing on the pregnancy, we really wanted to document the entire family and the relationships between each of them. Adam is one of the most happy, jovial guys I know and an absolutely amazing father....He pulled my wagon, kept Henry happy, and looked like I wasn't pulling his finger nails out, which is more than I can say for most men being photographed that aren't paid models. You can clearly see how much he cares for Caroline and just how excited he is to welcome baby boy #2. 

Henry is ready to be a big brother and has been so excited for the arrival of Ubu. We spent some time focusing on his close bonds to momma, baby and dad as we talked about the arrival of the big day.

Because we had a camera and a cutie, we thought, "Why not make this a child portrait session too!" Henry was fascinated with my camera and when he wasn't in frame, we was either copying me or helping me scout our next location. This kid is seriously smart (and well-behaved!)

These are some of my favorite shots because I know how out-dated they soon will be, which made the need to document that much more important. I think back to the days when it was just Max, Ryan and I....and though I'd never change our family of four for a second, our family pics when we were a wee bit smaller are so special to me! I hope the Ramseyers will feel the same way about these in the years to come. It was an honor to be a small part of their story. Can't wait to photograph Ubu in his first 48 hours. More to come!

Special Moment: Staci & Mia

This turned into an impromptu photo-session of Staci and Mia, rather than just a trip to Meijer Garden to see the butterflies hatch. With no agenda or plan. Just an amazing connection between these two...I couldn't help myself!

One of the very best aspects of being home with the kids on Tuesdays and Fridays is getting to spend time with my best friend and her kiddos. Often, it's just Staci with her youngest (of four) and me with Elise, but regardless of the mix of who tags along, it's really nice to spend time together with our littles. It feels in a way like our last two years at MSU when we nannied for families that were best-friends and doors apart. I think we were destined for this path since Freshman Year.

Though Mia and Elise are about a year apart, in no time they'll feel closer. As it is, they love spending time together (I constantly get, "Me see my baby Mia!"). Here's a peak into our morning at the Gardens!