Photog Retreat

I was a little nervous heading out last Wednesday to attend a photographers retreat. I had met a few of the ladies in person, but most I only knew online. Twenty-two ladies in a house for several days sounds like it has the potential to be a little overwhelming.

It was one of the most fun things I have ever done in my life! 

The location was gorgeous and relaxing. We were in a house right on the beach in St. Augustine, FL. To stroll along the water's edge, letting the waves lap at my feet, snapping pictures with other snap-happy friends, discussing reflections, aperture values and the use of horizon lines to enhance photos was so, so much fun.

We went on a photo walk the first morning we were there. We had guides who took us to lovely locations to take photos and pointed out good techniques to use to capture various effects. It was slow moving enough that I could keep up without feeling pressured. I love the pictures I took on that walk!  I almost exclusively take pictures of people, so it was especially exciting for me to capture images I love of inanimate objects.

Another thing we did was model shoots. We had groups of individuals (families, friends, an engaged couple, etc.) come and we divided up into groups based on the focal length of the lens we were using Each photographer group got the chance to pose the group and take photos. It was challenging to work in unfamiliar locations and a very limited amount of time. I was almost afraid to look at my pictures when I got home, but I was very pleased with some of the photos I captured.

This is truly an exception group of very talented ladies! I learned so much and had so much fun. A huge thanks to all who helped to plan this event. It was amazing. I'm already looking forward to next year!


Chinese New Year Party

On Saturday we headed off to NYC to attend the Chinese New Year party that Gladney hosts each year. Most years we all go, but this time it was just Douglas, the girls, and I. Monica also went, it was so fun to have her there, not to mention helpful since she kept an eye on the girls and took them across the crowded restaurant to the restroom too many times to count!

We loved the dances and the food! We loved seeing people we see each year and meeting people whom we had never met. I got to see several little ones that I have met in China with their families which is the most wonderful thing I can even imagine!

It was a great day, but I think this post should be mostly pictures, they tell the story better than I can anyway!


The Third Week of January

The third week of January has been very, very good to our family! In 2002 a tiny baby boy joined our family on January 15th. He weighed only 5 pounds 5 ounces and was in the NICU for 9 days before coming home. Long gone are the tiny days! Freeland just turned 15 and is really loving being in high school this year. He is also pretty excited that he is now old enough to go to youth group activities and keeps reminding me that next year he can get his driving permit.

Three years and three days later, on January 18, 2005 Casper arrived. If we thought Freeland was tiny, Casper was only a little over half his size! Weighing only 2 pounds 11 ounces and arriving almost exactly 3 months early, we weren't sure what was store for our sweet, tiny boy! I wish I could have seen then how at 12 years old he would be a grade ahead in school and excelling. He is also bigger at age 12 than either of his older brothers were. He spent the first 11 weeks of his life (except for 1 1/2 days) in the hospital, but he never looked back once he was home to stay!

In 2012, Keith and I left for China on January 14th, we arrived late at night on the 15th, and met Eliana at 9:00 AM on the 16th. She was a tiny, fragile little thing. She weighed only 21 pounds at 3 1/2 years old and still walked like a toddler. She could chew anything that wasn't very soft. Playing ball in the hotel room totally exhausted her. She immediately started growing and learning new things. She is now 8 1/2 and is still a fragile little thing in some ways. She needs lots of love and attention showered on her all the time. Which is no problem! I love that she still loves to cuddle! But she is a confident, capable little student who is reading and making excellent grades in school.

So the third week of January is always full of a lot of joy, celebration, and reflection at our house. God has certainly blessed us with these three!


A Visit to School

Today I went to talk to Eliana's classroom about China. They are learning about China right now and got to take in some of the things I've accumulated in my travels.

Eliana was so excited about me coming and prepared by wearing her beautiful silk Chinese dress. She looked so cute when I arrived at school.

I sent Rocky (one of my friends in China) a WeChat message last night asking him to say some simple phrases in English and Chinese so I could play them for the children. He sent me lots of fun little phrases and I played them for the children then we tried to say them together. It was so fun and sweet.

Singing their snowman song at the end of the day.
What a precious experience it was to go see her there. She is well loved in her classroom and it shows. It makes my mama heart so happy!


Christmas in Texas

I knew when we were coming down to Texas that we would have a special Christmas. That is just a given.

But I didn't expect that my mother had made dolls for all the girls. Now you need to understand that there were 12 little girls here. This was no undertaking! Each one had clothes, including little petticoats complete with ribbons. Watching her hand them out was a sweet experience.

And I didn't expect that she and Papa would have designed t-shirts and gotten matching ones for all of the men and boys.

I didn't expect them to also put together these beautiful, thoughtful baskets of kitchen items from the Pioneer Woman line which we all love for each of the ladies.

I didn't expect to not only have a beautiful, delicious meal on Christmas Day, but to also have a feast the next night too. Josh should really open a restaurant. The meat he smokes is just incredible!

I didn't expect to have an impromptu barn dance and to get to watch my papa dancing with his tiny granddaughters. We tried the Virginia Reel; Oh Suzanna; Heel, Toe Polka; the Cotton Eyed Joe; and The Macarena. 


I knew it would be good, but I didn't expect it to be as sweet as it has been.


I'll Be Home for Christmas...

I'll be home for Christmas...

And, God willing, it will be in reality and not just in my dreams! None of the children remember spending Christmas in Texas, so they are in for some eye-opening good times! The Sams family does know how to party it up right, I must say!

Since we are not planning to be home on christmas, and this week is pretty busy, we allowed the children to open their gifts from us on Sunday. I haven't been feeling very well recently, so only the boys went to church. The girls thought they would never get home so that we could open gifts!

I love watching their expressions!

This is over a Frozen themed diary that cost $3.97 at Walmart.

The younger children all got books. I especially love giving Eliana books she can read all by herself! She has been a little slower getting there, but she is really taking off with reading now!

We are also having fun buying gifts for the family gift exchange we are doing with my family. We don't normally buy gifts for extended family, so it is extra special to pick out gifts for cousins!

My days are oddly quiet even with the bustle happening around me, since my pain levels have been higher than average recently. I've been spending a lot of time at home. It is nice it a strange kind of way. Chronic pain is a strange companion.

I do so love this time of year with all of the extra emphasis on family times and memory making!


With Gratitude

For Keith, my husband of many years, the one I still enjoy spending time with more than any other and without whom I do not ever want to live;

For Douglas, the one who made me a mother and who blesses me daily in innumerable ways;

For Freeland, my tender-hearted wild child;

For Casper my entrepreneurial cuddle bug and favorite Netflix buddy;

For Annika my independent, self sufficient, beautiful, sensitive child;

For Eliana, my baby, my resilient, needy, loving, brave, silly little wisp of a girl;

For family beyond this family, my Papa and Mama, who love each of their many children and grandchildren well;

For my brothers and sisters, the ones who grew up with me and the ones who grew up after I was grown up;

For J, who is learning to live without NanNaw with bravery and grace, who puts us all first and reminds us how much we were loved by her even when he is hurting;

For grief for my NanNaw that is still raw and painful, signifying how greatly I have loved and been loved;

For these and so many other blessings I give thanks.
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