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 www.mandyshoptaw.com 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.  

Best,
M

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!!
-Mandy





   


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Everything Old IS New Again

Today, a journey has begun.  OK, it began some time ago, I just diverted course for a bit and now I'm back with renewed focus and determination.

Around Mother's Day, I started working part time for a local business, and then three days became five-six days and the hours started getting longer and longer.  As much as I enjoyed this new opportunity, it did not fit well with my family or other commitments I had made in my life.  So yesterday was the last day with that wonderful company, although I did request that they call me from time-to-time to help with big projects/events.  I made many friends and learned a lot, mostly about myself and how I need to prioritize better.  

So many people have asked, "What now?"  Well, it's a return to what I was doing before, focusing on my family, volunteer work and my photography.  My husband and I are working on house plans and dreaming of the place we want to build together which is a lovely diversion.  I go to bed at night walking the house and decorating each room, trying out different color schemes until I see the right one in my minds eye.  

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and when I reflect on what I am truly thankful for this year, it really boils down to family.  My parents, in-laws, husband, son, brother, brother in law, and two wonderful sisters in laws, nephews, grandparents, my cousins, aunts and uncles, and so many more.

Anthony and I at Clear Creek Farm, November 2012,
preparing for his 9th birthday party
There's also the family that we adopt in life, those lovely friends who seem to know when to say the right thing to lift your spirits.  Who show up unannounced and help when they aren't asked.  For them, I am so very thankful this year, especially my "PTA Sisters" who have been amazing.

I'm thankful too for The Farm, the property on which we plan to build, where I see my son thrive in nature and where I'm inspired constantly.  It belongs to our family and that alone makes it a special place.  I love seeing the mosses and twigs on the forest floor, the berries and evergreens bordering the pathways we have carved out in the wild, hearing the rush of water in the creek, and always the changing of seasons which make such incredible natural backdrops.  It takes my breath away to think that one day this setting will be outside my door.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving filled with family and friends.
-Mandy




  


Monday, March 26, 2012

Hippity Hoppity Easter Shoots Are Here!!


Sunday, April 1, I will be doing “Easter” photos at Clear Creek Farm in Malvern, just outside Hot Springs and one hour from Little Rock.  

Photo of Bunnies by Jody and April Efird, the family providing the rabbits for the shoot.
Their rabbits for for sale and I would be happy to pass on your information to them if you are
interested in purchasing a rabbit for your home.

There will only be 6 slots available:
8-9 AM
9-10 AM
10-11 AM
4-5 PM
5-6 PM
6-7 PM

Shoots are 30 minutes for $100, are booked on the hour and include:
·      *  Disk of rough edited images
·      *  Choice of 5 quality edited images
·      *  Release which allows you to reprint and share photos as long as photographer is given credit
·      *  Use of live bunny from the Efirds for shoot
·      *  A bag of yummy “bunny bait” treats for your child(ren) after the shoot-- a reward for a job well done!

Settings will include:
       *  Spring grass
    *  Side of rustic metal building
     *  Photo set with lights inside covered area  

You might consider bringing:
            *  Child's special toy
             *  Favorite colorful quilt or blanket on which to sit
 *  Tissues, wipes *  Spare clothing and shoes



Samples of these areas from previous shoots used throughout this blog post.  

Please book by Friday, March 30th, by emailing mandy@mandyshoptaw.com or calling 501.766.1879.  To see further examples of work, visit www.mandyshoptaw.com.   

What about rain?
Right now the forecast shows it should be mostly sunny and 78-degrees on Sunday the 1st, however, should there be rain, re-shoots will be arranged Saturday, April 7th, in the afternoon-early evening. 

We usually go to church on Sunday-- will my child be clean enough after the morning shoots to go?
The setting for the shoots is a rustic farm-like property.  I always suggest wearing shoes which can take some "muck" and putting on the pretty shoes when we reach the shoot site.  Every possible effort will be made to help you keep your children tidy to continue on to worship following the shoot.

We want a couple of shots as a family-- is that ok?
Sure!  While this promo is set up mainly to photograph a child or children, we can also accommodate a full family photo in some of the settings.

Will I get my photos in time for Easter?
I will do my best to get your photos online for you to pick your 5 favorites within 24 hours of the shoot.  The speed in which you pick your photos is directly related to the editing schedule as it is first come first serve.  Once you pick your five favs, though, I usually have the disk in the mail within 48 hours.  So yes, it is possible that you could have your photos in time for Easter. 

Payment?
Once a shoot is booked, I will send you an invoice, which is due at the time of the shoot in the form of cash or check.  While I work very hard to accommodate clients and am very understanding of sick children and other obstacles which may arise, there is a $50 charge for canceling shoots.  Please see the cancelation policy listed at www.mandyshoptaw.com under the packages area of the website.

Thank you for considering mandyshoptaw.com for your photography needs.      

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Waiting Place

Reflecting on the past few years, I feel like a part of me has been stuck in “the waiting place,” you know from Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You Will Go.” 

The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.


Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come,
or a plane to go or the mail to come,
 or the rain to go or the phone to ring,
 or the snow to snow or waiting around for a

Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for
 Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil,
or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls,
or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls,
 or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

NO!  That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bright places

where Boom Bands are playing.

Ted Geisel, AKA Dr. Seuss, wrote this in 1990, his last published book, two years before I was “waiting” to graduate from high school.  In fact, during spring graduation in the US and Canada this book is a top gift for graduates selling 300,000 copies a year.  I gave it to a friend graduating from a different institution, a rehab facility, several years back hoping it would help inspire him to follow the straight and narrow, but alas, to no avail. 

But back to me, because that’s what this blog is about, right?  Why do I feel like I’ve been in the Waiting Place? 

Several years ago I had a wonderful job, a husband in law school and a new baby boy.  I wanted more time with my family and became impatient and when an opportunity to leave the great job popped up, I took it.  Later, it’s a move I regretted although the path it took me down hasn’t been all bad, just full of challenges and that’s why I’m thankful that God is kind and merciful and that, despite our best efforts to derail things, all things do work together for good and my family has been bless regardless of my recklessness on the job front. 

But I feel like the past two years I have been waiting—waiting for that next opportunity to open up.  Waiting for the big break financially.  Waiting for something to happen that will take us to the next level of our lives.  Bigger house sure would be nice.  Being able to repair a car or not dreading the next home improvement would sure be a load off our minds.  And yet when these things happen, somehow, we are able to cope and get through the crisis.  Somehow when I want flowers to fill the pots on the deck we find the money to do it.  When we want to have a night out with friends, childcare and money materializes.  I know we are blessed.  I am thankful. 

I took up photography, a lifelong hobby, after the last job.  I’m glad to have a skill I can use to make people happy.  My clients aren’t the super rich, more folks like me who like to DIY (do it yourself) and will save up for a photo shoot with the promise of the disk of images so that they can make scrapbooks or take their photos to the Wal-Mart for processing.  Some of my photography colleagues, especially those in a group I’m part of, really give me grief about my photo packages because I “give my work away” and “your pictures will look like s*#t if you don’t sell prints and let clients print anywhere they want.”  And yet, if I charged what they do, I would be in competition with those very photographers (stress!) and miss out on the very dear clients whom I’ve come to call friends too (bliss!).      

I’ll be honest, in the past two or so years things haven’t always been a piece of cake and so I’ve looked for full or part time jobs; I’ve probably submitted 50-75 resumes, I’ve honestly lost count, with a grand total of about three interviews, two of which were arranged by good-intentioned friends.  I have a pretty solid work history, great references and good skills to back up my Bachelor of Science degree.  Yet, often my resume is swept aside, sometimes if it’s an online thing, I’ll go back and see that the hiring company never even opened my files.  Discouraging?  You bet!  And so I over-commit in my personal life—more PTA volunteering, more community events, the best darned birthday party a kid ever had, sure I can make those calls for you, and so on and so fourth until my family (or doctor) says, “ENOUGH!”     

Even so, I feel like I keep looking to God and saying, “What next?  Why am I in this Waiting Place?  Haven’t I learned whatever lesson it is already?”  Apparently no.  Apparently God isn’t through with Miss Me yet.  I have a lot to learn despite my years.  So while I’m in the Waiting Place, I’ve decided to take a look around and pick up the reading materials and maybe meet a few friends in the lobby.  To that end, a few weeks ago a friend, who has become a mentor in so many ways, invited me to Bible Study.  I know she has been in the Waiting Place many times in her life and so I picked up my reading materials and here we go.  I think it’s the next step in getting through the Waiting Place.  On another front, a start up business has asked me for some help.  It’s ok, they can’t pay me yet, but “free-lancing” for someone who is full of gratitude and praise makes this Waiting Place cozier.  Maybe I will learn something in this Waiting Place after all which will help to guild me on the long journey of life.    

In the background, I hear “Little Wonders” by Rob Thomas, the song written for the Disney film “Meet the Robinsons” but it’s a good soundtrack for the Waiting Place.  I’ll keep waiting.  I’ll keep learning.  I’ll keep listening. 


let it go,
let it roll right off your shoulder
don’t you know
the hardest part is over
let it in,
let your clarity define you
in the end
we will only just remember how it feels

our lives are made
in these small hours
these little wonders,
these twists & turns of fate
time falls away,
but these small hours,
these small hours still remain

let it slide,
let your troubles fall behind you
let it shine
until you feel it all around you
and i don’t mind
if it’s me you need to turn to
we’ll get by,
it’s the heart that really matters in the end

our lives are made
in these small hours
these little wonders,
these twists & turns of fate
time falls away,
but these small hours,
these small hours still remain

all of my regret
will wash away some how
but i can not forget
the way i feel right now

in these small hours
these little wonders
these twists & turns of fate
these twists & turns of fate
time falls away but these small hours
these small hours, still remain,
still remain
these little wonders
these twists & turns of fate
time falls away
but these small hours
these little wonders still remain

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Making Everyday Special

When I think back to childhood I really admire the way my mom always took the time to make everyday special.  For example, there were always homemade sweets in the kitchen for us after school.  So as I began to think about this Valentine’s Day, I wanted to make an effort to make everyday things in my home special.  Maybe it’s putting out flowers or candles to celebrate the season… or something this easy, as taking your desserts and making them centerpieces.




Now, I’ve said before on Saturday Daybreak that I’m sort of a kitchen menace, which is why I really admire the skill of bakers who turn sugar and flour into works of art.  Here we have some beautifully designed cupcakes by a new bakery in Little Rock, Sweet Love.  You don’t need a lot to fill up a beautiful vintage milk glass cake plate like this…



And over here, I have to show off these amazing confections by Ariel’s Cake Pops also in Little Rock.  I filled three champagne glasses with M&M’s and then pushed the cake pop sticks into the M&M’s to support them. 



Now over here we have a faux wood cake stand which is just so much fun, and I can tell you, I’m itching to make some homemade cake stands out of timber on our family’s farm. 

The bottom line is this, take everyday objects and use them.  How great to have these confections out as a centerpiece at dinner time or on a sideboard, countertop or buffet.  They are so beautiful they should be enjoyed just as much as traditional table top d├ęcor such as flowers and candles. 

Now we are coming up on Valentine’s Day and obviously sweet treats from Ariel’s Cake Pops or Sweet Love Bakery would make ideal gifts, but if you’re looking for something a little different, how about a spring photoshoot with your loved one?  I can sure hook you up!  This spring I’ll be doing a series of 30-minute mini-shoots in locations across Central Arkansas. 

This would be a great gift for a newly engaged couple or, maybe you’re looking for a way to pop the question—do it on a photoshoot and let me capture the moment for you.  If you contact me through my website and mention KATV I’ll give you $25 off the cost of a mini-shoot.  Just contact me at www.mandyshoptaw.com for this special deal.      


Featured in my Saturday Daybreak segment are:
Sweet Love Bakery in Little Rock- Cupcakes
Arie's Cake Pops in Little Rock- Cake Pops
M. Eisele Events in Benton- Use of faux wood cake stand
Karma Herzfeld- Use of milk glass items (she says she picks up items at resale shops such as Habitat for Humanity of Saline County's ReStore shop)


Photography Special:
Interested in obtaining a gift certificate for a spring mini-shooot?  Remember to mention KATV and contact me through mandyshoptaw.com for $25 off.  Mini-shoots are ideal gifts for engaged couples or would be a fun way to pop the question on a photoshoot.  Mom's love the mini-shoots too because they are only 30 minutes.