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Our Birth Story

I started preparing for this day before I even became pregnant.

We had been trying to conceive for a full year, and in that time I learned about different birth options. I decided I wanted a natural, unmedicated childbirth if possible – partly because I believed it was best, and partly because the idea of a needle in my spine was terrifying! Once we learned we were expecting a little miracle, due October 2nd, I started researching in earnest. I learned that natural childbirth was possible for most women, that having a doula present increased positive outcomes, and that Hypnobabies was an alternative pain management technique I was interested in. I had a friend who was a postpartum nurse at a local hospital and I asked her advice for an OB-GYN and which hospital to choose. To my surprise she was also pregnant and due just a few weeks before me! I ended up choosing the same OB as she had chosen for herself, and decided to deliver at the same hospital. Both of those were excellent choices, by the way!

My biggest concern about childbirth was actually postpartum depression. Having a newborn is tough, but PPD would make it much harder! Since I have a history with depression I paid special attention anytime something was rumored to help prevent PPD. I learned that NUCM (natural, unmedicated childbirth) is supposed to help because your body produces a delicate chain reaction of hormones that aid in bonding, positive feelings, and recovery. Breastfeeding also helps, especially because it increases oxytocin production which is a feel-good hormone. Those two facts were enough to convince me I wanted to go all natural on both counts!

Hypnobabies is new to most people so let me take a moment to explain. This is the super-short version; please ask me for more details or do your own research if you want to know more! All of us enter a state of “hypnosis” multiple times every day, including when you’re falling asleep or when you’re driving a familiar route or when you’re watching TV. It has to do with your brain waves and being in a state where your subconscious is calling the shots. It’s not voodoo, new age, or pagan worship, and it’s definitely not what you see on stage. When we are under self-hypnosis we are allowing our subconscious mind to be influenced by what we listen to *if we choose to accept the suggestions*. Hypnobabies uses self-hypnosis and audio tapes to change your expectations of childbirth, develop hypno-anesthesia, and practice deep relaxation. It reinforced my belief that I was capable of birthing my baby, everything was going to go just fine, and this would be a wonderful experience!

I also formed an idea in my mind of what Tristan’s birthday would be like. I guess some people would call it speaking your intentions, to yourself. I thought I’d begin labor during the night while I was sleeping, and wake up in the early morning with steady contractions already. I’d labor at home with Greg and Emily and my mom for awhile, then go to the hospital at around 11am. I would already be 7-8cm when I arrived, and deliver my baby by the early afternoon. I didn’t think any of that would actually happen but if you’re going to spend time imagining something you may as well imagine it the way you want it to go, not the worst case scenario!

I practiced my Hypnobabies techniques daily from about 26 weeks onward. It was important to me to invest the time, to get the result I was hoping for! I also really wanted a doula who could help me be more comfortable during labor, but also help me think everything through ahead of time. I found Emily and she was exactly what I wanted! We met a couple of times before my due date. She helped me feel confident, informed, and positive. I asked her all my questions, confessed my fears, heard positive stories from other women who had experienced the same things, and got excited.

I titled this document “Our Birth Story”, yet I haven’t even gotten to labor yet! Why? Because I believe a lot of what happened had to do with preparation. A lot of life experiences are influenced by our mindset, by how prepared we are to deal with things, and by the choices we make ahead of time. There’s also a lot that can happen no matter what we do, but luck favors the prepared, right? I can’t tell my birthing story without telling the whole story. Anyway, on to the exciting part now!

Greg and I were hoping for a September baby. Greg had a class that started mid-October and we didn’t want him to lose out on paternity leave, and we also preferred a sapphire birthstone to the opal, for a little boy. As my due date neared I didn’t experience anything that I could identify as a contraction, not even Braxton-Hicks! I had some cramping occasionally but it wasn’t very bad, didn’t come in waves, didn’t make my stomach hard, and was only felt down low. I wasn’t sure I’d ever go into labor! On Sept 29 I had an appointment with my OB. He encouraged us to set an induction date so I wouldn’t end up on a waiting list, but he told us typically when he schedules a mom for induction she goes into labor right before the scheduled date. I set a date at about 40 and a half weeks but I wasn’t sure I’d actually do it if I was still pregnant at that time. Induction didn’t fit my plan!

That evening, I had trouble sleeping (common at that point!) and stayed up later than Greg. I felt sort of crampy and used a heat pad to get more comfortable. At midnight, something exciting happened – my water broke! It wasn’t like in the movies with a big gush, but in small amounts every time I stood up. I had to laugh, because most hospitals have a rule that you need to have the baby out 24 hours after your water breaks, and mine broke EXACTLY 24 hours before the end of September. Nicely played, Tristan!

I sent a text to my doula, and of course I was talking to my sister Katie this entire time online because… well, that’s just what we do! She’s five states away, but she’s a huge part of my life. She asked if the cramping was coming in waves and I realized it was, so I used my handy app to time it. My “pressure waves” (as we call them in Hypnobabies) were a minute to a minute and a half long, and six minutes apart. I was disappointed to find that they hurt a bit! That sounds silly, but some Hypnobabies moms experience little to no pain and of course that was what I hoped for. I thought to myself, oh well, the entire Hypnobabies thing is a bust, I did all that for nothing most likely, but I’ll listen to the birthing day affirmations and other tapes anyway.

I decided to try and sleep through some of this early labor. I told Greg that my water had broken and I was in labor but I was going to sleep some more and he didn’t need to get up yet. He must have been mentally prepared for the day because he didn’t freak out at all, and was even able to get some more sleep like I encouraged him to! I’m glad because it was really important to me that the people around me were calm, positive, and strong. I couldn’t sleep through the contractions so I sat on the couch and dozed between them for a few more hours. My doula kept checking in with me and I remember telling her I didn’t need her to come yet, but then fairly soon after I changed my mind and asked her to come. I think it was around 4-5:00am at this point. I texted my mom that today was the day and to please come up (she had already told her boss she’d need a day off to attend, which was awesome!), and woke Greg up. Emily arrived and took over timing the waves. I started walking around and at Emily’s suggestion I waited out the waves by putting my arms around Greg’s neck and breathing out a low sound. I kept every muscle relaxed, from my facial expression to my vocal chords to my hands. The low vocalizations were like a way to release the pain and acknowledge the contraction, without tensing up (like a higher sound would do).

I began to feel nauseous and ended up getting sick a couple of times. Greg helped me pack the last minute items for the hospital bag, like hygiene items and my camera. I had already packed most things the week before. I felt fine in between pressure waves, and when one came I would just motion to Greg (or Emily if she was closer!) and lean against him for a moment. Mom arrived, and her presence was like the final side to a triangle of calm positive supportive energy. I chose my birthing partners very carefully, choosing people who supported my plans for a NUCB, who I felt safe around, and who I trusted to not panic.

Around 7:00am I thought the labor tub at the hospital would feel really nice, so I decided to head out even though I wasn’t all that far along yet. I’d only been laboring since midnight and I was prepared for a 24 hr+ labor, since I was a first time mom and going natural. Greg drove Mom and I, and I had my eyes closed so I could focus but we arrived safely so he must have done a good job. We had toured the hospital already so he knew right where to go. We pulled up at the valet drop off and I just started making my way inside. Normally I would help with the bags, make sure everyone was together, smile at the valet… today, it was just about me and my journey. I was extremely inwardly focused the whole time, and purposefully did not concern myself with anyone else. I knew everyone was very capable and didn’t need my help right now!

We got into triage and I was only 4 cm. I was a little disappointed because I had been 3cm dilated before labor even started! They asked if I wanted to walk around to help things progressed and I requested the tub instead. I thought that warm water would feel amazing! It wasn’t quite like I planned, though. The water cooled off quickly to an uncomfortable lukewarm, and it seemed that the buoyancy actually made the contractions hurt more instead of less. I’m not sure how long I lasted in the tub but it didn’t feel like very long and I was ready to get out. Greg helped me waddle back to triage (I wasn’t far enough along to get admitted before this). On the way I saw my OB which was a relief; I wanted him to be the one to deliver! He asked, “What are you guys doing here?” and I said, “Having a baby!” When we got back to triage I was so uncomfortable, my contractions hurt, I was disappointed that I wasn’t very far along and the tub was lame, and I wasn’t so sure about all this anymore. Only one person was allowed in triage so I had only had one of my three support people for the last 45 minutes (Greg, of course!). I looked over at him and said, “I don’t know, babe. Should I just get an epidural?” In the moment, it seemed that labor would go on forever and an epidural was no big deal at all.

Greg, in his wonderful man-of-few-words way, simply said “Nah, hon. You can do this.” I said, “Okay”, and that was literally the last time pain medication crossed my mind. The nurse checked and I was 5.5cm! I think everything was so intense because I was progressing quickly at that point. My contractions still felt like cramps down low; I never did feel full-uterus type pain. They let me use a wheelchair and took me to a labor room, where Mom and Emily brought in our bags and got settled in. I accepted a bag of fluids with a dose of anti-nausea medication because I was quite dehydrated but couldn’t keep any water down. The next few hours is all a blur of changing positions, breathing through contractions, and wondering how long this would last.

In the moment, I thought Hypnobabies was a failure because I was in pain and I couldn’t seem to get into my zone. However, during each contraction I was able to relax every muscle, keep my vocalizations low and calm, and keep breathing. Emily was awesome about noticing anytime I tensed up my face or changed my pitch and she would speak positive phrases to remind me – “Relax your face”, “Keep it low”, etc. I had learned in my research that your subconscious doesn’t pick up on negatively phrased commands like “don’t tense up”, so you should always tell yourself or others what TO do instead of what NOT to do. It worked well and really helped me track what I was doing and be intentional about how I responded to each contraction. I really think that it was due to my purposeful relaxation that my pain levels stayed tolerable and my labor never stalled.

I kept my eyes closed for 90% of my labor. I can’t remember what my nurse looks like and I have no idea what the heartbeat monitor looks like. I had put on my birth plan that I did not want to be asked about my pain levels and my nurse was AWESOME and never asked me. I’m so glad, because during my labor I never stopped to think, “How bad does this hurt? Can I handle this amount of pain? Do I need any medications?” I did wonder how long it would last, but I didn’t question whether I could do it. I also had no idea what time it was. I think blocking out things like assigning a number to my pain, noticing how many hours I’d been in labor, etc helped me focus on one pressure wave at a time and just keep going.

Eventually I started to feel “pushy”. I wasn’t sure what was happening; I think I told my doula that I had to go to the bathroom. Thankfully she knew what that might mean and had the nurse check me. I was only at 8 cm so the nurse told me not to push yet. I tried not to, but the urges became stronger and stronger! The urge to push was like a strong urge to cough. You can delay the cough for a second, you can try to cough differently, but the cough is practically involuntary. Emily asked if I felt like I was pushing or my body was doing it, and I didn’t have an answer for her. It was a strange mix of wanting to push, and my body just doing it on its own. I used techniques that Emily coached me through like blowing out air as if blowing out candles, to try to not push. Within each contraction there would be two or three urges to push, and those techniques would only hold off one or two and then on the third urge I’d have to push. I remember either seeing or feeling my womb slam down forcefully; it was the strongest sensation I’ve ever felt.

As it turns out, I was 9 and then 9.5 cm, but Tristan was practically crowning! The nurse showed me how far he was inside; just a centimeter or so. At the time I had a hard time understanding why I couldn’t just push him out, other than the fact that the doctor hadn’t arrived yet. In reality I wasn’t fully dilated even though the baby was all but making his way out. The nurse called the doctor, who was attending another patient at the time, to tell him I was getting really really close. I shouted out, “Hurry up!” As far as I was concerned, the only thing between me and delivery was that doctor walking in.

He finally arrived, and by this time I was very much struggling NOT to push, but it was pretty impossible. My body was doing its own thing! It seemed like as soon as the doctor arrive, he was telling me to push. As it turns out, I never quite fully dilated by my body was going to deliver anyway so he pushed the lip of the cervix around the baby’s head and we were ready to go. I had intended to be in ANY position other than lying on my back, and I had wanted to push on my own timing rather than be coached by the nurses, but everything happened so quickly and intensely! I don’t think I could have changed positions even if I tried. I suppose I was on my back but reclined, not flat, and they pulled out the stirrups. Next thing I knew, the nurse was counting to 10 soooooo slowly and telling me to push through all of it. I couldn’t push that long and hard, there was no way! I’d go as long as I could, gulp for air, and push again until she got to 10. Pushing was SO. HARD. I guess it hurt, but I didn’t really experience it in terms of pain so much as intense pressure, and impossible stretching, and ridiculously strong pushing contractions, and just so much intensity.

After a few pushes like that, they told me they were going to put an oxygen mask on me for the baby because his heart rate was dipping down when I pushed. I tuned in to the beeps on the monitor (I hadn’t been listening to it at all) and was shocked to hear a slow beep… beep… beep, instead of the normal galloping heart rate. My doula told me later that just dipping would be normal but the problem was he would dip down to about 60 bpm while I pushed, and only come back up to about 70 bpm in between. For a baby, that’s too slow. I pushed one or two more times with the oxygen mask on, sucking in as much air as I could. Greg stayed up by my head and although I don’t think I saw him much I definitely felt him there. Suddenly the doctor, in a very calm manner, told me that if I didn’t push the baby out on this next push he would need to use the vacuum. I pictured a giant suction cup leaving a big bruise on my sweet baby’s poor head! Vacuums are probably actually no big deal but I definitely wanted to avoid it. I don’t remember this bit but my doula told me later that when he said that, she looked at me and told me that I was going to do it, I’d push Tristan out on this next one. Apparently I made eye contact with her, nodded, and got down to business. Tristan was born at 2:57pm on September 30!

Altogether, I think I only pushed for ten minutes, from the time the doctor walked in the door until Tristan was on my belly instead of in it. They told me to look down and see my baby and I sat up and said, “TRISTAN!” They put him on my belly, and I couldn’t believe how warm he was! He promptly covered me with meconium, but I didn’t even see because I was just looking at his amazing face. Greg and I were both crying and laughing. Later I learned that the cord had been wrapped around his neck three times! That’s why his heart rate was low, and why I had to get him out so quickly. I held him for a few minutes, and Greg cut the cord. Tristan’s face was a purple-ish gray color and he was just crying and crying. The nurse took him to the warmer and I watched from the bed as Greg stayed with him every step of the way. I’m so thankful that my mom too pictures of those moments! My heart was just glowing, and I thought to myself that I was watching Greg be a father. I loved that!

My recovery went well. I had some stitches for a second degree tear, and I had to get a shot of pitocin (I declined the standard IV bag) to slow the bleeding, but everything was fine and no big deal at all. I was up and walking about an hour after delivery. I tried to nurse before that but I felt so awkward and strange! My IV starter thing was still in my arm, and my belly was like a bowl full of jelly, and I still had a big smear of baby poop all over me. For the next six hours or so I got the chills really easily. I realized that I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and I think my blood sugar was probably really low. I was starving for a couple days afterward! I had worked so hard!

All in all, my birth experience was just wonderful. Where I had initially thought Hypnobabies didn’t work, it actually empowered me to face labor and delivery with zero fear, and allowed me to completely relax even through contractions. My labor never stalled and was 15 hours from start to finish. It hurt, but not so bad that I couldn’t handle it – which I think is because of the relaxation probably. Everyone that I wanted to attend was able to and they were such a source of calm strength for me! My sweet baby boy was, and is, perfect in every single way. I got my natural unmedicated childbirth, immediate skin to skin contact, delayed cord clamping, and exclusive breastfeeding like I hoped for. I even started labor in the middle of the night, was in active labor by early morning, and delivered by the afternoon – exactly as I had envisioned. I got lucky, I was blessed, my preparations paid off – however you want to say it, it was wonderful and I am so happy with my experience!

When I found out Greg and I were expecting a tiny bundle of joy this fall, I started thinking about what we could do for one last child-free vacation. Don’t get me wrong, we are SO thrilled to welcome Tristan into our family – in fact we’ve been praying for this blessing for some time! I just knew that there’s a big difference between taking a vacation when you’re just a couple, and taking a vacation with a baby or toddler. Plus, I really wanted to take the opportunity to strengthen our marriage and create great memories to get us through some of the exhausting months coming up. ;) With a limited budget and tricky work schedule, we decided that camping was the way to go! I grew up camping and loved the adventure of it all, so I was stoked.

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On the morning we left, there was this cool belt of clouds around Pikes Peak :) Look how much snow is still up there! It was Memorial Day weekend and nice and warm in town, but not so much in the mountains.

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I have no idea what mountain this is but it was just majestic! The first campsite we tried was completely full, so we ended up driving around Pike National Forest for awhile before we were able to find a place to pitch our tent.

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It was raining a little bit, but that didn’t stop me from building a campfire and making dinner! The rain stopped for a few minutes while I built it, thankfully. Unfortunately since it had been raining for a couple hours, most of the available kindling was wet! We brought our own firewood but couldn’t make kindling from it because apparently brand new hatchets are sold with a very, very dull blade. Who knew? Anyway, I found enough bitty twigs under a massive pine tree, to get this bad boy going.

When we tried to make pigs in blankets over the fire, the rain caused the crescent roll to slide right off the hot dog and into the coals! We were cracking up. We ended up taking turns roasting hot dogs over a small cold fire, and eating under the hatch door of our CR-V. We used our only tarp to create some privacy around our latrine, so the only outdoor shelter we had was our open car hatch! After a few barely-warm hot dogs, we called it a night.

To my surprise and great discomfort, air mattresses feel 100% different when I’m pregnant. I think I woke up every 30-60 minutes alllllll night long, in pain and uncomfortable. It was also around 30 degrees so my toes were a little nippy! I don’t know how well Greg slept but it couldn’t have been that well since his bed mate was flopping around all night.

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In the morning, we had breakfast burritos! We made 10 ahead of time and froze them, which not only kept them fresh but helped keep our cooler of food nice and cold. At first we tried warming them on top of the grate I brought, but they barely got warm! And yes – it was raining again. Finally I just tossed them onto the coals and they were delicious. :)

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Let me tell you a little something about camping and coffee. Coffee is EXTRA important after a cold sleepless night – but it’s also very difficult to make! We brought a percolator and I read the directions ahead of time. Grounds in basket, water in pot, bring to boil… easy! Well, the only stove we had was a little sterno stove which apparently does NOT get as hot as a propane stove. Again, who knew! The water steamed a bit but never boiled. My next plan of attack was to boil water in a pot over the grate and pour it through the grounds. That didn’t work either because it filled up the basket of grounds and didn’t want to drip through in a timely fashion. Finally we stuck the percolator down on the coals right alongside the burritos.

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One way or another, we got our coffee! We drank it in the car since it was STILL RAINING.

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Greg was so happy to have some coffee! …. even if there were some grounds in the bottom of the cup. Oops!

We decided to try for a hike if we could find a spot where it wasn’t raining. We went over some quite treacherous mountain roads (good job, Greg!) and started our hike. Ten minutes later, it started hailing! Tiny little hailstones, like dippin’ dots. Except not as much fun. We went back to camp and sat in the car for a bit to see what the weather would do.

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This was our lovely view as we waited for the rain to stop. It finally stopped raining…

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… and started snowing! Not cool! We sat in the tent for a bit and discussed our options. We decided that since I was so very uncomfortable sleeping on the air mattress, and it was scheduled to rain for the next several days, we would cut our camping trip short. Or, to put it another way… we’re just so good at camping, we got it all done in 24 hrs!

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Do you ever feel like you’re just not up to the task? Haha! This poor stake. Greg says next time we camp, he’s bringing “real” stakes.

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At least the view was lovely! On the way out of town we stopped in Jefferson at our new favorite coffee shop, “The Pony Espresso”. The owner was so friendly, and let us play cards while we sipped our coffee for awhile.

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The clouds were so low they were in the trees!

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“Look, blue sky! Let’s go that way!”

We ended up getting a hotel in Highland Ranch in Littleton. We got one with a kitchenette so we could eat all that food I had packed! It was a great hotel, and I slept much better. ;)

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In the morning we googled “Free things to do in Denver” and found Washington Park! It was a gorgeous park and we walked around a little lake. I loved all of the birds!

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A little boy surrounded by goslings – adorable!! The goslings were so fuzzy. <3

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We found some ducklings too!

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There were a couple of these in the middle of the lake. Clearly solar panels, but… what do they power? We never found out!

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These guys didn’t really care what the solar panels were for, they just liked their own personal island.

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Sweet flicker, framed by the tree!

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Also, super cool house. :)

We went to Cherry Creek Mall that day as well. The next day we decided to take a free tour of Celestial Seasonings, which is my favorite herbal tea brand. Their factory is in Boulder, for the whole country!

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This is us in the gift shop :) You can’t see it but we’re holding our favorite tea – Sugar Plum Spice. It’s only sold seasonally in stores, but they had several shelves of it at the shop! The tour was really neat. They store the mint leaves separate from all of the other herbs in a closed room because mint is so strong it would permeate the other herbs. When they opened the mint room door, the smell was overpowering! I went inside and my eyes stung from the strong fumes. After awhile I started smelling alfalfa instead of mint. Crazy!

We got to spend a night with our good friends in Broomfield. They are from Nepal, and Sunita used to live with my family for a couple of years. I hadn’t seen them in about seven years so it was great to catch up!

By the end, we were on our fifth game plan and almost nothing went the way we expected. But we both have a good sense of humor, especially with each other, and we had a lot of fun! My goal was to connect with each other and have an adventure, and we definitely accomplished that. :)

Only YOU can prevent stigma

Here’s what I think. There is a huge stigma against all forms of psychological illnesses. People are embarrassed to get help because they don’t want something to be wrong with them. They are ashamed of their problems because it seems like no one else will understand. They may have experienced finger pointing, whispering behind backs, rumors, or insensitive questions. And I think that all of that should stop.

The thing is, psychological illness isn’t that different from physical illness. It can be something you’re born with, or something that happens to you. It can be mild or debilitating. It comes in many forms. It may not be preventable, and it may not respond well to treatment. It may be temporary or respond well to treatment. All of these are just like a physical illness! Why is it normal and acceptable to talk about your seasonal allergies, but taboo to talk about your anxiety? Why do we commiserate over the flu that’s going around, but hide our depression? Psychological illnesses can range from eating disorders to anxiety to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. Physical illnesses can ran from a scraped knee to multiple sclerosis to allergies to cancer. What’s the difference?

The problem is, when someone suffers from any form of psychological illness, it can feel very isolating. Speaking from experience, when I first realized I had a depression problem, I felt like the only one in my social circle that had this problem. Everyone else seems so normal! And when you’re struggling with something, the last thing you need is isolation. You need positive social interactions, you need friends, you need support. We are all social creatures by nature. Just like you might eat extra healthy when you’ve got a weight problem, or take vitamins when you’re coming down with a cold, you also need to take extra care to stay socially active when you have a psychological problem. 

That’s why it bothers me so much, this stigma. When we sweep these problems under the rug, we’re doing a huge disservice to ourselves and those around us. When we have this “untouchable” attitude towards the struggles of other people or our own struggles, we are effectively making the problem worse and more difficult to treat! Taking away social support and a sense of normalcy for someone who has an eating disorder or bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder… that’s like taking away nutrients or medicine from a hospital patient. It’s actually kind of a big deal.

That’s why I make a conscious effort to be open about my own problems. I have what is sometimes called double depression. I have the long term mild depression, called dysthymia, which basically makes my world pastels instead of vibrant, makes my emotions flat line, or puts a glass ceiling on my experiences of happiness and excitement so I can’t really feel them very well. I also have major depressive disorder which comes and goes, perhaps once or twice a year, and stays for a month or so. This one makes me feel like I’m a failure, that the world is horrible and will never get better, or just gives me a black mood. And all that is fine. It’s just part of my life experience, one part of me. I don’t talk about my depression publicly to try to get sympathy. If that was my goal, it’s not working, because I don’t think I’ve ever had somebody treat me like an invalid because of something I’ve shared. I share because I think it’s really, really important to actively fight this stigma, and the only way we can do that is by sharing our own problems and supporting others who have problems. If everybody was open and honest about their psychological illnesses, then maybe none of us would feel isolated or alone.

Did you know that one in four Americans in any given year can be diagnosed with a mental illness? Did you know almost ten percent of us have a mood disorder? Did you know major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability for Americans aged 15-44? Did you know that 18% of Americans have an anxiety disorder?

Psychological illness is not rare, and it’s not any “worse” than a physical illness. Of course, I’m not advocating people over-share – just like you might not want to tell a perfect stranger about your bout of bronchitis. But I AM encouraging people with psychological illnesses to not be embarrassed or ashamed, and maybe share a little more with people you’re comfortable with. I’m pretty open and comfortable with anyone, so I will answer any questions no matter how personal. I’m not embarrassed that I have depression. I don’t like it and I try really super hard to get rid of it (and if you have questions about what’s worked for me, please ask), but I’m not afraid to tell people my experiences. 

Also, if you have a friend or family member with a psychological illness, please don’t treat them like they are untouchable or an outcast or someone to be awkward around. If they open up to you, let them talk and be compassionate and supportive and encouraging. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push them – if they were bowlegged and didn’t want to talk about it, would you push that issue? Everyone on this planet is in the same boat. None of us are perfect. Some have physical problems, some have emotional problems, some have personality problems, some of us have mental problems, some of us have spiritual problems. Let’s not pretend some problems are worse than others. Let’s acknowledge how alike we all are, and that we all need help with something. Be there for each other, love each other, and most of all please accept everybody exactly the way they are.

Thanks for reading. I know this was a little long, but it’s very important to me and I hope that it helped at least one person. <3

Comparing Reflections

As a photographer, I have several photographer friends I follow on Flickr. I enjoy seeing their creativity, and finding inspiration for my own photographs. Recently I saw a photo from Zafar Sami that inspired me, not for my photography, but how I think about life. Check out his photograph:

(c) Zafar Sami

(Click on it! You won’t understand this post if you don’t! Click click click)

What do you think? First of all, it’s a great shot. What grabbed my attention though was an interesting contrast. The windows on the right side of the building look just the way we’ve come to expect: Smooth, perfect, uniform, flawless. Expertly created and assembled, they are like a single mirror. Perfect.

Look at the windows on the left side, and you may be startled to see that the image they are reflecting is anything but perfect! Full of ripples and mis-matched edges, the reflected image of the neighboring building tells us that these panes of glass are really quite flawed.

Now, here’s the question: Are the panes of glass on one side of the building any different than the panes on the other side, or do they simply reflect different things? Of course, the panes which appear perfect are reflecting a uniform, featureless image of the sky. They are just as flawed as the other panes, you just can’t tell because they are reflecting different images; one image is easy to reflect smoothly and you can’t tell if it’s off, the other image with its geometric shapes is difficult to reflect accurately and it is quite obvious when there is a flaw.

So…. why is this of interest? Who cares? Well, I do, and here’s why. Oftentimes we compare ourselves to other people around us. They might even be right around the corner from us, so to speak. We see our lives as full of flaws, ripples, bumps, and missed connections. We look at their lives and see nothing but perfection, a sense of having their act together, and perfect integrity. I think we forget to consider that all of us are made of the same imperfect panes of glass, but some circumstances in life are harder to be graceful through than others. Your neighbor isn’t perfect, you just can’t see it right now. Furthermore, if you just adjust your point of view, you might find something completely different in their reflections – and it may not be so flawless after all.

So, when you feel like your life looks like the imperfect, flawed left side of this building, don’t compare yourself to others and put yourself down. No matter what our reflections look like, we’re all made from the same glass. Give yourself grace.

Many thanks to Zafar Sami for allowing me to use his picture for this post! This photo is copyrighted to Zafar Sami and may NOT be used without permission for any purposes. For more great work from this photographer, please check out his Flickr account HERE!

New Directions

Yes, I did shamelessly use the name of a popular music group in the title of my post to catch your attention. ;)

I’ll be starting out July with a new direction for my life, new goals, and new experiences. Many of you know that I worked as a nanny for a family (whom I love very much, by the way) for the past two and a half years. I got that job within a couple months of completing student teaching, and have stayed with them through my parents divorce, my mom’s cancer (she’s going to be okay!), moving out to live on my own, meeting/getting engaged to/marrying Greg, moving to a new city, a deployment, and a handful of other experiences. I was there when their third child was born, and watched him grow up for 20 months. I was there when their fourth child was born. I helped teach the two oldest children how to count, learn phonics and sight words, and write, as well as answer their numerous questions about nature and science and word meanings and how life works. I laughed at a million of their funny quips, but my two favorites are when I told Greg on the phone I was at work and the oldest child corrected me with “You’re not at work, you’re at MY house!”, and when the two oldest told me I was part of their family. I really did feel like a family member, and I invested a lot of time and love in to that precious family.

 

Eventually however, the time came for change. I told my boss I had to quit. I told her “It’s not you, it’s me”, “I’m really focused on my photography career right now”, “We can still be friends”, and any other cheesy breakup line I could think of. She was of course understanding and fabulous about everything, but that was a difficult transition for me. I’ll still go visit or fill in if the kids ask for me once in awhile or she needs a babysitter unexpectedly, but like I told the oldest, “I’m not going to be your nanny anymore, but we will always be friends!”

Even though I’m going to miss the family, that really wasn’t the hardest part of the transition. The hardest part for me is that I’m not changing jobs, I’m changing focus. While I was working, my primary focus was providing, with a secondary focus of nurturing. In other words, the most important thing was to bring in money. With whatever time and energy I had left, I was trying to take care of our home – cleaning, cooking, cherishing my husband, etc. I told Greg, I can’t focus on both at once equally, and I think I want my primary focus to be on nurturing our home. If I provide a little on the side through profitable hobbies, that’s a bonus. He was on the same page as me, and it was more important to him that I was able to be a homemaker and pursue my passions and grow, than it was that I bring in an income.

 

So with that, we decided to try out this “traditional roles” thing. I view my primary goal as being a Home Maker. Or, as we like to say, a Domestic Goddess. ;) One thing I learned once I wasn’t living in my mom’s home anymore, was that homes don’t make themselves. It goes beyond dishes and laundry, although those certainly don’t happen alone either. While both Greg and I had a primary focus of providing, I always felt like there was a big gap in our home. I never had as much time and energy as I wanted to devote to making our home peaceful, comfortable, and beautiful. He and I both grew up in families where our dads worked full time and our mothers stayed home for most of our childhoods and kept the home humming along. Some people out there can do both, I suppose, but I have a long ways to go in the homemaking department and I need all the time and focus I can get! I just can’t work a 10 hour day and then come home and put in a load of laundry, make dinner, do the dishes, and clean up before bedtime. No way.

 

My hope for this new era is that I will be able to create the kind of home I want for myself and my husband. I decided my main three priorities, in order, are for our home to be peaceful, comfortable, and beautiful. I can make it more peaceful by making sure there’s always healthy food to eat, clean clothes to wear, a structure to avoid stress and time crunches, doing my part in managing finances and saving us money, and having our evenings free so we can enjoy each others’ company. I can make it more comfortable by keeping the home free of clutter, with comfortable furniture, pleasant scents in the air, and that settling sense of everything being under control and taken care of. I can make it more beautiful by decorating, keeping surfaces clean, organizing, arranging furniture in a pleasant way… maybe even hanging some of my photographs up on the walls. :)

 

Speaking of photography, that is my secondary focus right now. I have 12 photo shoots scheduled in July! Right now I’m in a learning and building phase, where I do free photo shoots for experience and for my portfolio and to spread my name around, and also learning as much as I possibly can. My plan is to open for business in 2014. I hope to bring in an income and be profitable doing this, because I enjoy it and it helps me grow and money helps the family out — NOT because it’s my job to provide. If I don’t end up making money off of it, or perhaps I use my skill as a volunteer or donations, or I decide it’s not for me after all, that’s okay. The point is to use the talent God has given me, to grow and learn because that’s good for me as a person, and to try something new. For whatever reason, it makes a big difference in my head whether my role is to provide or my role is to nurture. I love Proverbs 31 because it talks about her doing some business and earning some money, but most of the chapter is about her nurturing her home (which includes her family). It’s not wrong for women to earn money, but it’s not wrong for them to NOT earn money, either. Greg is blessed with a job that pays enough for us to get by with just one income, so I in turn am blessed with the opportunity to serve our family and God and our community without having to focus on money primarily.

 

I know this was a bit of a long rambling post, so in case you are skimming and just reading the last part, here you go: I quit my nanny job, and I am excited to be a homemaker now and let Greg be the sole provider. Also, I love and miss my nanny family and I think I will always keep in touch with those lovely people.

 

Blessings.

Last time I made this delicious recipe I had a couple of people on Facebook ask for the recipe. Well, I have found the recipe and am making it again and this time I’m posting it! Haha. It’s really easy…

Put 12-16oz chicken breasts in crockpot. Season with seasoned salt (or garlic salt if you’re like me and don’t have seasoned salt!). Pour 1/2 jar alfredo sauce over the chicken, add one clove (1/2 tsp) minced garlic, and top with sliced mushrooms. No need to mix! Add pepper and onion powder to taste. Cook 4-6 hours on low or until done.

 

That’s it! I’m serving mine with spaghetti squash because my husband loves spaghetti squash. I’m serving these green beans on this side: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Bacon-Feta-Beans/ They are my favorite green beans – bacon, feta cheese, and green beans make a great low carb side dish!

 

Anyway, gotta run – if you try the recipe let me know how you like it!

“Delight yourself in the Lord;

And He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4

I’ve been thinking about hunger for a couple weeks now, ever since Pastor Darrin talked about spiritual hunger in his Baby Steps series (listen here — http://yes2god.org/#/welcome/sermons — 04/21/13). He talked about how many times we confuse spiritual hunger with other needs. People may say they don’t feel spiritually hungry, which is why it’s hard for them to feed themselves by reading the Bible. He countered that everyone feels spiritual hunger, we just don’t always recognize it. We try to feed it with things like acquisitions, human companionship, physical food, the approval of others, even drugs or other addictions. The fact is, all of us are hungry for a relationship with God, we all have spiritual needs.

This verse reminded me of that sermon. It says that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. I read that and thought, if you delight in something, isn’t that the desire of your heart? Doesn’t delighting in something mean you desire it, it’s something you want and need, it’s your heart’s desire? In other words, I think of other things I delight in — I delight in Greg’s love for me, for example. I take great delight in the kind words he speaks and the acts of service he does and the patience he treats me with. I delight in his love. His love is also the desire of my heart! One of the things I want most in this life is to continue experiencing his love. There are so many things I want or I’d like, but I’d trade any of them if I got to keep Greg’s love in my life. Our relationship and his love is one of the deepest desires of my heart.

In the same way I feel that if we truly delight in the Lord, He will actually become the desire of our hearts. In fact, what if the Lord is really our desire all along? What if our desire for love, for companionship, for acceptance, for prosperity, for joy — what if all of that, is a desire for the Lord? Maybe it was Him that we needed, all along. Maybe when we delight in Him, we will find that our heart’s desire was walking along side us the entire time. Let Him fill those empty places in your life that the world never quite seems to satisfy. You might be surprised at what you were wanting all along.

 

 

Blessings <3

“Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”
Psalm 37:3
 
This is the first of a four-part series of blog post concerning Psalm 37:3-7. (-:
 
“Trust in the Lord and do good” – I love the simplicity of this verse! Trust God. Do good. There are so many ways this might apply to an individual’s life because it is so basic and beautiful. For me it spoke to my desire to always be one step ahead, know what’s happening next, plan everything out, be in control. As it turns out, according to the one who made the universe, my job is not to control everything or know everything. My job is to trust HIM to do all of that. My job is to do good – make good choices in my own little life. Occasionally we might be confused as to what the good or right choice is, but let’s be honest – 95% of the time we know what’s good, don’t we? I think part of what keeps us from doing good is that we’re so busy worrying about the outcome and whether we’ve got our backs covered. Trust in the Lord for that part! Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving in the right direction. Trust in the Lord. Do good.
 
The second part of the verse spoke strongly to me, as a military wife. “Dwell in the land, and cultivate faithfulness”. A familiar saying among military families is, “Bloom where you’re planted”. It’s our way of acknowledging that our families may be uprooted and transplanted time and time again, but we can still prosper and bloom – even if we didn’t get to pick where we got planted. The word “dwell” here comes from the word shakan, which means to settle down, become established, reside, dwell. Put down roots in the land, make it your own. For me it was a reminder to make new friends, carve out a nook for myself in my army family and in my church family, find a favorite coffee shop and a favorite nature walk and a favorite place to watch the sunset. Don’t spend your life waiting for the next step; dwell in the land.
 
The phrase “cultivate faithfulness” was of interest to me, because other versions translated that part as “enjoy safe pasture”, “thou shalt be fed”, or “befriend faithfulness”. I looked to my good friend BlueLetterBible.org which is an online source of commentaries and concordance. The word for “cultivate” comes from ra`ah which can mean to pasture, tend, graze, or feed. Faithfulness comes from ‘emuwnah which means firmness, steadfastness, fidelity, steadiness. So one word speaks of feeding, the other speaks of certainty and reliability. NASB, the version I quoted, puts them in a way that means feed on certainty, and other versions switch it to say certainly be fed. Either way it actually means the same thing – there is certainly provision happening here. I’m glad for concordances that help me understand tricky phrases that seem different in different versions! So ultimately that part of the verse is talking about how when we trust in the Lord, do good, and dwell in the land, we will absolutely be provided for. Enjoy His provision. Feed on His faithfulness.
 
 
No matter where you are in life, trust that God has it under control! Make good choices as you walk with Him. Put down roots wherever He’s placed you. Experience His steadfast provision and be satisfied.
 
Blessings. <3
 
When I read this verse, I felt like it really spoke to the military family. To me it says to trust in the Lord (we all know how uncertain army life can be, and we… can’t trust in the army to always make the best choices for us, but we can sure trust God to keep us secure), do good (don’t be idle, or wallow, or justify sinful behavior — do good!); dwell in the land (bloom where you’re planted!) and cultivate faithfulness. Now, the NASB says “cultivate faithfulness”, which to me seems to be an action we are expected to do in order to grow faithfulness in our lives, but other versions (include in the link) say things like feed on the Lord’s faitfulness, or enjoy safe pasture. Those phrasings seem more passive; something is being provided for us and when we do trust the Lord and do good, we can enjoy his provision. The different translations are interesting to me and I’ll have to look into it more to find out why there’s a difference. What do you think?

RAW and JPEG

Have you ever heard a phrase like “I always shoot in RAW” and wondered what that meant? RAW is a file format and is the main alternative to shooting in jpeg. Jpeg is nice because it make your photos look pretty nice straight out of camera (SOOC), and takes up less room than RAW. When you’re shooting in jpeg, your camera automatically evaluates all of the date and does a couple things. One thing it does is compresses the file to save room, and it does this by sort of “summarizing” the pixels. If this pixel is a certain shade of blue and the one next to it is *almost* exactly the same and the human eye can’t tell the difference anyway, then it just calls them the same color to save space. The other thing it does is automatically make a few adjustments, usually a little contrast, saturation, and sharpness, to make the picture look really nice SOOC. Point & Shoot (non-DSLR) cameras shoot in jpeg. My camera is a point & shoot but has full manual controls and can shoot in RAW also, just like a DSLR. So if jpeg saves space and looks better without working on it, why does RAW matter?

When a camera compresses a file to make it jpeg, it looses data. You may not be able to tell if you just look at the photos as they come, but in post processing (PP) you may want to bring out some details you couldn’t notice otherwise. For example, yesterday was overcast and the clouds were full of texture and movement. I took a photo in RAW+jpeg, meaning my camera saved both file types. Both photos came out of the camera with the clouds looking fairly flat and gray. Very boring. With playing around with contrast and curves in post processing on the jpeg, this is the most I could get out of the photo:

Image

Look at how the clouds look grainy and blotchy. When I tried to make the darks darker and lights lighter, there’s a bigger step between each shade of gray and emphasizing that only makes the photo look like poor quality. I did a very similar process with the RAW file of the exact same photo:

Image

See how creamy and beautiful those clouds are? Also look at how much contrast I was able to pull out and all the detail you can see on the clouds. I was able to pull out more shades of dark gray, whereas with the jpeg when I tried to bring out the darks the data just wasn’t there to get the same effect. RAW literally keeps every pixel of data exactly the way it enters the camera and doesn’t process it at all, which is why it’s called “raw”. I hope this post helped show why sometimes that data is important to retain, and why a lot of photographers prefer to “shoot RAW”!

Photographing a Sunrise

I think more than almost any other subject, sunrises have a reputation for not showing up in photographs well. It’s understandable, since many of the colors are very subtle and the overall composition is typically quite dark. Some cameras cannot compensate for the low light and will produce a very dark picture with almost no color. A nicer camera like my Canon Powershot SX50 happily compensates for the dim light, but in doing so it overexposes the part of the photo we care about: those brilliant yellows, oranges, and pinks. On the auto setting, my camera took this photo of a sunrise:Auto

You can tell it’s a sunrise but it’s quite unremarkable. Even in post processing (dinking around with it on the computer), this is the most I could get out of it:

Auto Curves

The problem is that because the photo is overexposed (too much light was let in), the delicate colors are just gone. No matter how bright or dim or contrasty I make it, the center will just be white (blown out). On average the photo is correctly exposed of course due to the auto setting; you can see the sky and clouds very well and a few details in the foreground. But we’re trying to get a sunrise here! Who cares about the dark unlit clouds? I want those beautiful colors to pop. Less than a minute after that first photo, I took this one on manual:

Manual1sooc

You can see that it’s overall much darker, and we lost a lot of prairie and dark sky details. The trade off is that we managed to capture those lovely colors! Now, this photo is underexposed (it would be better with more light let in) but I show it anyway because it’s the one taken immediately after the auto pic. In other words, the sunrise itself hasn’t changed much, but my camera settings have. After processing, I was able to get this result:

Manual1curves

This is the exact same sunrise, and is also exactly why sunrises need manual exposure. There is barely any light in this photo and a lot of dark area, but that’s how a sunrise looks to the human eye and it looks great in the resulting photograph. Again, this is not an ideal sunrise photo, but it was immediately after the auto pic and sunrises change quickly so I wanted to show how big of a difference just the camera settings can make. Another thing that can make a difference in photographs is the composition. My horizon is centered in the above photos, because I was excited by the pretty sunrise and defaulted to my natural tendency of centering the important part of the photo. A lot of photos are actually more interesting if you put the focal point or any major lines (such as a horizon) at a 1/3 point. Here I put the horizon at the lower third:

Manual1curvesCrop

I think that makes a more interesting photograph. In another shot, I composed it the opposite way, with the horizon at the upper 1/3 mark:

Sunrise1

You can see that I also adjusted my exposure to get a wider range of colors. Now some of the more subtle colors are coming through and not just the brightest orange. For these photos, the only post processing I did was cropping (cutting off parts to change composition) and adjusting the curves. Curves allow you to adjust the brightness and darkness, but instead of changing the entire picture at once it’s more specialized.  You can make the dark colors darker and the light colors lighters, resulting in an overall more contrasting photo. You could also make the dark colors lighter and light colors darker, resulting in a duller/less contrasting photo. Here is a side by side (well, top to bottom) comparison of three different adjustments – The first one I treated mildly with only a slight change from the SOOC (straight out of camera) shot, the middle one is a medium change which I liked best, and the third shows an overly dramatic change:

 

Sunrise3mild

Sunrise3more

Sunrise3most

You can see that with a heavy hand, the colors become unrealistic and the photograph also loses quality and becomes grainy. Nice colors though! The neat part about adjusting curves is that I am only adjusting the brightness, I’m not actually changing the colors. That can be done of course but I did not add colors or “paint” them on, so to speak. I’m just bringing out the intensity of the colors that are already there.

Question: Why do some areas of the photo become grainy?

Answer: 1) These were taken in JPEG format. I also shot in RAW but don’t have a program to process that with yet. JPEG is great because it takes up less room to store the file on your camera, but the disadvantage is that it does that by compressing it slightly. If there are two shades of blue in the sky that the human eye can’t distinguish anyway (or barely can), JPEG just calls them the same color to save room. That’s fine, but when I differentiate between those colors now by adjusting the curves, it looks grainy because it jumps from one shade of blue to the next. If I was editing a RAW format, all of the data would still be present (and it takes a lot of space!!) and it could handle more editing like that. 2) I wasn’t shooting in my highest resolution available, because I didn’t realize that setting was separate in manual and in auto. So when I’m in auto I’m shooting high res, and in manual I’m shooting medium res. Oy. At least that error is fixable :)

Here’s two more shots. Obviously this series of photos in this post was taken over a period of time, as the sun rose. In early sunrises you can get dramatic neons but there isn’t much area of lit cloud yet. Later on  more clouds are colored and lit, but once the sun gets close to coming up it will blow out the center of the sunrise since it’s so much brighter than the clouds. It’s tricky to get just the right exposure, but I had a lot of fun playing with it and think I came out with some pretty nice shots! I hope you enjoyed viewing them.

Sunrise4

Sunrise5

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