Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year

2015 has been with us for four days.  Enough time to start reflecting on what I'd like to see personally and professionally in the new year.  Personally, it's a return to the gym, being a better friend, and learning to relax and live in the moment.  I'd also like to recommit to writing (blogging, freelancing, etc) and doing more live TV segments for the good folks at KATV Saturday Daybreak-- these really push me to be better at everything I do.    

KATV Saturday Daybreak, December 27, 2014,
Recycling Your Christmas Decor for New Years Parties
Professionally, I updated my website at during 2014, and I must say, it looks much more fresh and modern (and I have my team at Agency501, where I work part time, to thank for introducing me to Square Space and encouraging me to give it a try).  I was honored to work for many non-profits and businesses in 2014, as a special event photographer and I hope to continue getting those meaningful jobs where knowing I played a very small part in a big event makes my heart happy.      

ACH a la Carte Event,  April 2014

ACH private party, October 2014
ACH Miracle Ball, December 2014
LJJR Holiday House,
October 2014 (filled in for
a sick photographer at last minute)
Rebecca Rice and Associates present
Easter Seals with a donation.
ACH Elizabeth Smart event,
private home, October 2014

One of the special touches from a
graduation party I planned, wish lanterns,
May 2014

While I'll continue to do family, individual, and party pic photography, I think the biggest trend you will see for my little company is a return to event planning.  I was honored to do several parties and even a wedding in 2014, and loved it.  Loved, loved, loved it.  There's something about the planning, organizing and creativity that just feeds my soul. 

Pastel by Mandy Shoptaw
(can you believe it?!)

Another thing that feeds my soul is art.  In 2014, I had the opportunity to take a pastel class at the Arkansas Arts Center.  For Christmas Vince gave me a lovely set of pastels, some fancy pastel paper and smudge sticks.  I can't wait to try them out.  

While our plans to build our dream house disappeared, we do find ourselves where we are supposed to be-- in a house that needs us as much as we need it.  It's a 1970's Colonial-style house only a minute and a half from where Vince and I lived 18 and 15 years respectively.  By mid-late January we are hoping a huge kitchen remodel will be complete… and then it's on to bathrooms, floors, more painting, and hopefully some spring gardening.  It is definitely a house that will keep us busy for many years to come.  I take great pride when a little area comes together, such as my son's movie inspired bedroom or the guest room which is really taking shape thanks to my parent's and their Christmas gifts of new mattresses and linens for the room. 

2015 is also about thankfulness.  I'm thankful for my community of friends-- online and in the great big real world.  Thanks for being part of it.  




Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas Heroes: The Blizzard or 2012

There was a chill in the air as my family exited the Malco Theater in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It was December 23, 1982, and we had just seen the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.  Holding my dad’s hand, skipping down the sidewalk along Central Avenue and looking up at the stars, my eight-year-old mind was filled with wonder.   

We arrived home to our Christmas tree and the excitement of the holiday ahead.  My father took my six-year-old brother and I downstairs to burn off some energy in the unfinished basement room that we had taken over as a playroom while upstairs my mom showered. 

As if seeing E.T. wasn’t enough to seer this night into my memory, while we were downstairs, Santa came early to our house.  Be jealous, friends, because the Man in Red picked our house for a pop in visit without milk, cookies or anything.  Surprise!  My mom stood at the top of the stairs and made the announcement.  I think she even had her bathrobe on and her hair tied up in a towel. 

We excitedly opened presents and giggled at the goodies in our stockings and played with our new toys.  All the while, my parents exchanged looks that didn’t make sense then, but do now.  After the happiness was over, my mom told us that dad had to leave and go to work.  He might be gone a few days.  Our family owned an underground utility construction company with a lot of heavy machinery and my dad was needed in the next town over.  A tornado had hit Malvern, Arkansas, sometime while we had been in the theater.  Looking at the data now, it was an F3, stronger than the F1, which had touched the town just 21 days earlier.
I am certain that my dad was just one of hundreds of people who worked for days to help Malvern dig out from a horrible disaster.  And I was reminded of the sacrifice of 1982, this past Christmas when on December 25, 2012, much of Central Arkansas was hit by a blizzard.  That’s right, folks, a blizzard in the Deep South. 

Parts of Arkansas received up to 15 inches of snow.  Against the stillness of the dark cold night, you could hear power lines snapping and trees exploding.  Three days after the storm, streets in our Little Rock neighborhood that had been familiar for 14 years suddenly seemed foreign with gnarly branches dangling from decapitated trees and carports crushed like tin cans under giant pines. 

Entergy Arkansas says at the peak of the storm, 194,000 customers were without power and more than 5,000 workers were called in to help get it restored.  5,000+ people on Christmas Day were getting a call to stand by, leaving their lunches with families early and suiting up for the cold.  Dads and moms were leaving to go into dangerous situations or stand by at call centers where angry customers were going to bite their heads off about being inconvenienced.  Think about it: That’s over 5,000 people who aren’t putting together toys with kids, watching football games or out shopping the sales during the holidays; That’s more than 5,000 people putting themselves in harms way and giving up their holidays to restore normalcy in the lives of families they’ll never meet.  To all of you heroes who helped in this effort, I extend our thanks. 

Arkansas’ Blizzard of 2012 marked the first white Christmas in the state since 1926.  Venturing out with my little boy the day after, beauty was everywhere.  He embraced the adventure with the childlike wonder expected of a nine-year-old and it was delightful to see.  Online, through social media, I saw people reaching out and offering their homes to friends and neighbors in need.  I heard tales of people bringing hot coffee and baked goods to linemen and witnessed them giving the crews thumbs up as they passed on the roadways.  In the middle of destruction and discomfort, there was also kindness, community and beauty; and for a family in Hot Springs, a reminder of an earlier Christmas in 1982, when their dad was one of the heroes.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Years Eve Family Style

As seen on KATV Channel 7 on Saturday, December 29, 2013

KATV Video

When we think about celebrating New Years Eve we tend to think about grown up parties with lots of drinking—but for families with small children or for those who don’t want to get out here are some tips for hosting a family New Years Eve in your own living room. 

With a family party things can get off course easy so think about posting the agenda for the night and going over it with the kids and make them excited about each aspect of the event.

Maybe send the kids next door for a playdate or out to run an errand with dad for an hour prior to the start so that you can set the stage and when they come in let it be an exciting surprise to them—if they can’t go out, send them into another room to play or watch a movie together while you work.

When I think of any party or get together I think about the 5 senses and try to cover each with items at the party—for example, the music you hear when you walk in or a candle burning for fragrance.  Just lighting a few candles will help transform your house for your little ones who don’t usually get to be around burning candles.

Keep the foods easy and things you know your family will enjoy.  The idea of snacking for dinner is always fun for little ones and they get to try finger foods (i.e. mini-PB&J sandwiches, or bite sized grilled cheese, small bowls of nuts , cheese or cut fruits).

Set up a “carpet picnic” in your living room using your coffee table as the buffet (maybe even drape it with a tablecloth) and while you’re eating play a slideshow featuring favorite memories from the year.  These slideshows are easy to do on laptop computers.  This is a great time too to talk about goals for the coming year or set family goals—like saving for a special trip for getting more exercise as a family.

After dinner you can do fun photos at a homemade photobooth by pulling props you probably have around the house—silly hats, dress up items, costume jewelry, oversized sunglasses, etc.

 For those who are going to stay up until midnight, keep everyone awake by having a family dance with fun music. 

You could give each child or guest a 2014 calendar reflecting their favorite things. 
Mandy Shoptaw is a freelance writer, photographer and expert guest on KATV where she shares a wide range of ideas, most focused on parties and events.  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Power to the People

Backyard at my parent's home in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Prior to loosing power in Hot Springs, the start of the snow.
Christmas is always a busy time of running here and there and everywhere.  Christmas Eve is spent at my in laws, Christmas morning at our home so our little one can open his special gifts from my husband and I as well as Saint Nick, then Christmas day we go to Hot Springs an hour away to spend time with my family.  This year, my husband's time in the Spa City was cut short as a winter storm quickly swept over the state.  Along with its path of destruction, the storm left behind some beautiful images; sadly, many could not see the majesty of the ice and snow because they were inconvenienced by their loss of power.  

Our Power Outage Diary
Christmas Day 3 PM- Power lost in Little Rock
Christmas Night about 8 PM- Power lost in Hot Springs

December 26- No power in Little Rock
December 26- We leave my parents for their office where they had power.  Later in the evening, power restored and we return to my parent's house.

December 27- No power in Little Rock, husband getting restless.
December 27- Power in Hot Springs and we venture out to the mall and other shops.
Anthony ventures out into the snow.

December 28- No power in Little Rock, husband wants us to come home anyway.  Slowly leave the warmth of Hot Springs and return to an icy house in Little Rock (thankful for a 1950's gas heater in our bathroom and a gas hot water heater).  Very uncomfortable overnight for us but we survive and have hope as a few streets in our neighborhood start to get their lights back.

December 29- Awake to signs of progress on the power front-- crews all over the neighborhood busy with chainsaws and cherry pickers; power popping up in nearby sections.  I, however, am loosing patience with the guys who are busy putting together Legos and being silly (feeling very third wheel) so I head out to do after Christmas sale shopping and attend a painting class.  By the time I get home, power!

Looking up through the canopy of icy trees to a clear blue sky,  Hot Springs, Arkansas, December 26, 2012.
As frustrating as it was to be without power, I have to think that it was probably even more uncomfortable to the linemen and power company employees working around the clock to repair and restore power to thousands.  Temperatures in a house without a heat source may get down to the 40's, but outside temps were only in the mid-low 30's with a biting windchill.  It was sad to see such horrible posts on Facebook complaining about the speed of the return of power.  Yes, we all get frustrated, but keeping in mind the big picture sure does help in a situation such as this winter storm.

That said, Christmas 2012 Winter Storm, I'm glad to see you go.  We've had our "dusting" of snow, see you again next year; hold the ice, please and thank you.  You've made me very appreciative of my warm and cozy home, my great friends and family, and for those who worked in the elements to make life more comfortable for us all.  Oh, and thanks for the beautiful photos (mine and those of others) that we rarely get to enjoy in Arkansas.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Preparing for Holiday House Guests

As a former TV producer, it's difficult to say no when someone in the media calls or emails and asks for a favor.  This week, KATV asked if I could come up with segments for THIS SATURDAY (yikes!) as well as January.  

The segment this morning didn't go as planned.  It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't great.  The well-thought through props were all set up and the anchor and I started rolling along when she got the message in her ear to "wrap."  We were a little over half way through the segment and not to the part where we talk about photography, tying in to my business.  Oh well, such is TV, huh?  Next time I guess I'll knock the shameless plug out at the start of the segment; that's just FYI.  

Below, for your reading and viewing pleasure, are the tips from today's segment (Saturday, December 22, 2012).  When/if the video becomes available, I will post that for you as well.      

Preparing for Holiday Houseguest
1.     In the bathroom have a container filled with everything you might need in case of emergency when staying overnight such as spray on deodorant, disposable razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes individually wrapped, q-tips, cotton balls, Band-Aids, etc.

2.     Also in the bathroom, a basket with towels, washcloths, shampoo, and body wash ready for the shower or tub.  And make sure there is plenty of toilet paper and tissue in an easy to find location too. 

3.     Next to the bed, fresh water and recent magazines or a fun to read book. This is a great way to use a decanter and a mismatched cocktail glass.  You should also make sure that TV remotes or CD players and disks are out where people can see them.  There's nothing worse than settling in and being wide awake and not being able to find the remote.  A "TV Guide" or a list of channels on your system plus your wireless codes is a nice touch too.  Note: Don't have a guest room?  Put your items on an inexpensive tray and set it next to a couch or air mattress.   

4.     Fill the room with fragrance, have a candle and matches on the dresser or a vase filled with fresh flowers or greenery and berries.  A candle is great because sometimes a guest arrives last minute and you can always keep it in a drawer to pull out and use; also during the winter fresh flowers may seem out of place and a candle more warm and inviting.  Of course the scent of fresh greenery is very nice too and festive for the winter months and usually easy to access just outside your door. 

5.     Provide guests with maps and brochures to local attractions as well as their own house key to come and go as they please.  This is something you can have handy in a drawer all year round.  A stop by your local visitors center is a great idea!  

6.     Remember, personal touches matter.  As a photographer, I like to remind people to take a photo of themselves and their guest and put it on display in the room; wouldn't it be fun to have a dresser full of framed photos of all the people who have stayed in your guest room?  And if you don’t have a photo with the guest, take one while they are there and send it to them after their visit welcoming them back in the future or thanking them for something nice they did for you or your family while they were there.  Note:  While you have the whole family together, consider hiring a professional photographer to come on location and take pictures.  

7.     Houseguests, don’t forget your manners too-- bring a hostess gift, clean up after yourself and follow up with a thank you.  A question I am frequently asked is, "Is an email is ok?"  If the offer to stay was extended via email then sure, an email follow up is fine.  But in this digital age, it's still nice to get an old fashioned hand written letter in the mail. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Marriage: It's Hard Work

Vince and I on November 19, 1999,
at our simple wedding at the
Capital Hotel, Little Rock, AR

Marriage… at times it makes us giddy with excitement and other times it makes us crazy with anger.  I’ve been married for 13 years to my husband, Vince, and every day I love him, but some days I don’t like him very much.  I know he would agree because there are times he needs some “away time” just to hang with the guys and watch football and not hear me nag about finishing up household projects.

In the past six months, I’ve had at least four calls or emails from friends telling me, usually in confidence, of their 10-20 year marriages falling apart.  Personal friends, people I love, admire, respect, who have a foundation of faith in God.  Sometimes they are asking for prayers, advice and understanding because, you see, I’ve been there myself.  I was married at 19 and divorced at 24 (lets just chalk it up to being too young and not strong enough to be my own person).  Other times these calls are just a “heads up” that something big is about to happen. 
Among my friends, the reasons are varied for parting ways with their spouses.  I cannot judge them and, sadly, there are no real winners, especially the young children involved.  There are the awkward moments of seeing the offending spouse and acting like you don’t know anything about their home situation or that you only know the bare essentials of their now status quo.   You smile, but your eyes are sad because you know there is hurt involved.

It always concerns me just a little when I see young ladies in search of the fairy tale they think marriage is, but here’s the deal, marriage is hard work, day in-day out.  The nice thing about it is that you aren’t in this journey alone and every day you can be stronger in your relationship because you are growing and learning together.  Is my life and marriage perfect?  Of course not and if someone tells you they have a “perfect marriage” don’t believe them.  From time to time I have to remind my spouse that we have to grow together, to have common interest and goals.  Is all this hard work worth it?  Absolutely.   I’m so thankful that my spouse has patience and understanding and continues to love me when, at times, I am sure I am a handful. 

Obviously I do not advocate staying in a relationship with a perpetual cheat, someone who is lying about a problem, or if there is some sort of abuse taking place, but I think your heart tells you when you need to move on for yourself, your children or even for your spouse’s sake.

Anyway, I write this for what it’s worth, I guess because my heart is just heavy for these friends who are facing the holidays with a feeling of loss and who are trying to put the pieces back together.  They remain in my prayers, not part of my gossip.  Thanks for letting me work through a bit of this sad news in a way I find comforting: writing.  


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In Search of the Spirit of Christmas

I love Christmas, really, I do, but this year I feel like I'm constantly searching for that holly jolly feeling.  Yesterday was the pits.  My house was a jumble of boxes and glitter, oh the glitter, it was everywhere on the floor.  As I slowly got the house back to order (or what passes for order these days in 1100 square feet that houses three people and a puppy dog), the feeling of holiday magic slowly started to break the ice of my humbug.

Suddenly, I felt like turning the tree lights on for my son returning from school, the Christmas songs on the station didn't make me cringe and you know, a little glitter never hurt anyone, right?  It was a cold and dreary day outside, but inside, there was a renewed warmth as my little boy and I curled up on the couch to work on after school homework and talk about the season ahead.  He's certain it's going to snow.  I hope he's right.

What struck me is that I'm happiest when I'm doing something to make things special for those I love.  Maybe you're the same?  Case in point, when my husband arrived home from work, I had the outdoor Christmas lights on to welcome him, a candle burning to make the house smell good and holiday music playing.  No home cooked meal, but hey, baby steps!  Those little touches made me feel more giving and in the spirit of the season.

This morning, a routine trip to the store found me staring at stationary (I love stationary!) and thinking about holiday cards.  I want to be economical this year, but also creative.  I didn't want to send off for another amazing photo card, I wanted something that was personal that showed that I touched each card and thought about the person who would be receiving it.  An idea came to me which really put me in the Christmas spirit thinking of friends and family.

Holiday Cards Made Simple
Step one, buy 3.5"x5" card stock.  I found a kit with 200 pre-cut pieces and envelopes at Target.  3.5"x5" seems to be the perfect size to fit into most printers using the photo tray.

Next, I went through my digital scrapbook elements and found a saying/expression that I liked.  I looked for a graphic image, but didn't find one that fit the bill so I ended up downloading a free image and manipulating it in Photoshop to make it what I wanted.

I combined all the elements together in Photoshop and used a few sheets of my least favorite color in the card stock bundle (purple since my graphic was very natural looking) to test the printing.  When I had all the settings correct, I printed out 175 cards.

The image looks like it was hand stamped onto the cards, which I love, and this weekend, if all goes well, my family will get a holiday photo at our Farm together which can be attached to the back of the cards for friends and family.

I already feel more in the spirit thanks to finding the perfect holiday cards for the Shoptaws and knowing the the most expensive part will be the postage.  There's something about making a thing from scratch that just feels right.  

Happy Holidays!!