Friday, January 28, 2011

Our Adoption Story

I know I've told this story at least once on this blog, but I am posting it again to link up with 'Show Us Your Life - Adoption Stories' so that I can share our wonderful story with others that might be considering adoption.  Without a doubt adopting Ana Kate has been one of the greatest blessings in our lives!  I have such a heart for adoption and if there is any way that I can advocate for adoption I is simply AMAZING!  So here it is:

I have two beautiful girls…Whitney (who is 19) and Ana Kate who is 3. When Doug and I got married Whitney was 13, so he had quite the initiation into parenthood. After we had had been married for 2 years we decided it was time to have more children and we knew that we wanted at least 2 more. Whitney never missed an opportunity to let me know that she didn’t appreciate being an only child, so we took that into consideration.

I initially brought up adoption to my husband. At the time I wasn't really sure where my passion for adoption came from…I just had a weight on my heart for all the children in the world that needed a family and I believed this was the path to our child(ren). I now know this is something God put on my heart. We both prayed about it and did a lot of research on adoption and soon decided to move forward. One thing I want to be clear about is that we chose to add to our family through adoption. Many people think that adoption is for those who cannot get pregnant and the ‘last option’ after failed fertility treatments. That isn’t always the case. Adoption was our first choice...and that is true with many adoptions.

So then came all of the decisions…domestic (open or closed), international (which country)….we read a lot of books and finally decided on international adoption for a variety of reasons, but mainly it just ‘felt’ right.

We began searching for an agency and chose ours based on 3 main things:

1. Christian based
2. Small
3. Local
When we first talked to the couple that ran the agency we thought they were wonderful and we soon realized that not only did we attend the same church….but we attended the same Saturday night service! This was a wonderful 'coincidence' and gave us the feeling that we were on the right path.

Then came ALL the paperwork…

Once we made the decision to adopt internationally we reviewed the countries and decided on China mostly because of the stability and reliability of their program. The paperwork involved in international adoption is mind numbing! I embarked on a 3 month process to put every relevant detail of our lives into a huge dossier to send to China. This involved full physicals and blood tests, police background checks, financial statements, fingerprints for the state dept., etc. I really never knew before how complicated this process was.

As the dossier was nearing completion and there was nothing more left for me to ‘do’, I began to read obsessively about international adoption and specifically China adoption. I read every blog that I could find and I realized that while the current wait for referral was 14-18 months they were predicting that it would get longer. One day I stumbled onto a site that said for those just beginning the process, the wait for referral would most likely be 5 to 6 years! After hearing that I couldn’t stop thinking about it….could it really take that long? Shortly after that Doug and I went out to dinner one night and out of the blue I said to him. "We talked about adopting more than one child, right? What if we ask our agency if we can start a 2nd adoption now…from Vietnam?" He agreed with me, our agency agreed, and I quickly started compiling our 2nd dossier! I now know that that thought didn't come from 'out of the blue', that is was God's way of leading us to our daughter. Vietnam was a program we had originally talked about, but the process was not as structured and we knew that there could be a lot of changes along the way. This was very scary and why we had avoided it at first. Our agency had urged us to consider Vietnam (they have 3 daughters from Vietnam) and had a heart for that country. So again we felt that God was working to make sure we were on the right path. Once our Vietnam dossier was complete all we had left to do was wait...

And wait, and wait. Wow...this was the most excruciating part of the entire adoption process. There are just so many unknowns and it was a very stressful time for us (me in particular). I had stress on a level that I had never before experienced. I had heart palpitations and other classic symptoms of anxiety. I would pray and pray and try not to be anxious, but I couldn't seem to overcome it. I eventually had a mild case of shingles brought on by stress and I decided I needed to just calm down, but that was easy to say and hard to do! I convinced myself that once we had our referral I would finally be able to relax. Oh, how funny that sounds to me now.

Finally, on March 15th of 2008 we got our referral for a beautiful 6 month old baby girl. Her pictures were amazing…she had the biggest dimples and looked so happy and healthy. I couldn’t wait to hold her in my arms. Of course once I had those pictures my anxiety kicked into overdrive...there was no relaxing! I prayed for her daily and constantly she healthy, does she have enough to eat, and is someone holding her when she cries?! I continually worried for her and I knew that I would never really relax until I held her in my arms.

After almost 3 more months of waiting we finally got our travel approval on June 6th, then the very next week (June 13th) we were on a plane on our way to Hanoi. We finally held our baby girl on June 15th, 2008 which just happened to be Father’s Day…so that was really special for Doug. We had our adoption ceremony the next morning and Ana Kate was officially ours!

Looking back on our adoption I would have to say that year of waiting was one of the most difficult times in my life. But every minute was more than worth it because Ana Kate has been one of the biggest blessings in our lives! She is an amazing girl with an amazing spirit and I thank God for leading us to her! This is a poem I found during the wait and it fits so perfectly.


I didn't give you the gift of life,
But in my heart I know.
The love I feel is deep and real,
As if it had been so.

For us to have each other
Is like a dream come true!
No, I didn't give you
The gift of life,
Life gave me the gift of you.

--- Unknown

So there it is...very long, but our wonderful, amazing adoption story.  If you would like to read more about our adoption journey (and see tons of pictures) please look back over my June 2008 archive here on the blog.  Our baby girl is amazing and we love her so much.  A few months ago after spending an afternoon with my friend Amanda (who was expecting baby Amelia) Ana Kate and I had the most amazing conversation.  We were in her bedroom and looking through her picture album of Vietnam.  She was looking at her tiny baby pictures from when she was only a few days old and she said, 'Mommy, I wish I was in your belly before I was born.'  It was one of the most precious things I've ever heard and absolutely amazing considering she is only 3.  To think she grasped that concept blew me away!  I just told her it didn't matter, that she was Mommy's girl and we found each other and that's all the really matters.  We both said a prayer of thanks....and we do that often.

I took this picture of Ana Kate before school this morning....she is growing so fast!

I have to include that we are still waiting on our China adoption (it's been almost 4 years now).  We are in the process of switching to the special needs program and I will update this blog as we proceed with that process.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Newborn Photo Session | Baby Amelia

I did little miss Amelia's newborn photo session on Saturday. She was only 5 days old and she did great!! She barely cried at all and was super sleepy through the entire session. Here are just a few of my favorites.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mommy Photography Tips & Tutorial

I was trying to think of what I should do for a photography post and finally decided to just start with something simple.  I wanted to give a few tips that mom's can use to take better photos of their kids.  So here we go:

  1. First and foremost take lots and lots of photos, especially when you are trying something new.  I read somewhere that typically only about 30% of your photos are worth keeping from each shoot.  I find that to be pretty accurate.  If I take 200 photos at a session I will have at least 60-70 photos that are keepers.  The problem when photographing your own kids is that it's hard to trash even the bad photos.  : )  I have that problem too, but I've been trying to take a more technical eye to my photos of Ana Kate.  And the more photos you take, the better you get.
  2. Don't try to take the 'perfect' posed photos.  Let your kids play and capture the natural movements, expressions, and smiles.  I love the natural un-posed photos more than anything.
  3. Remember to get down on your kids level when taking photos so they aren't always looking up at you.  I often am down on my knees and even sometime on my stomach when taking pictures of Ana Kate.
  4. When having difficulty taking photos with an active toddler, try giving them a toy as a photo prop.  I am constantly chasing my 3 year-old and I find just giving her something to play with really helps.  Bubbles, an umbrella, a guitar.  It keeps them interested and you get your photos!
  5. Don't worry about always having a smile on your child's face.  Some of my favorite pictures are of my daughter with a serious or pensive expression on her face.  I often have people ask me how I get her to do that.  I just take lots of pictures and I don't always expect her to smile.  When you continually ask them to smile, you will usually get really fake smiles.  I find getting them to laugh is much better is you want a smiling picture.
  6. When taking close up photos of the face always focus on the eyes (specifically the eye closest to you).  This is especially important when using a wide open aperture on a dslr camera.  I typically have my aperture (f-stop) set at 2.8 - 4.5 for close up shots.
  7. Spot meter off the face.  I always do this.  I have read many other ways to do metering, and I've experimented greatly, but I find this to work the best 90% of the time.  (Keep in mind this works 90% of the time for me because I mostly do portraits.)
  8. Play around with editing.  I often see great pictures of the subject, but the photos are too dark, or the eyes are shaded.  You can fix these problems very easily with just a tiny bit of editing.  I use photoshop for my editing, but there are some great free editing programs out there. (picnik, picasa, etc.)  Even using your computers editing software is better than nothing and can make a huge difference.
  9. Keep the background simple and free of distracting objects.  This is mostly important indoors, but can also be a factor in outdoor photos.  Just be aware of your background and try to keep it simple.
I have several other tips, but I think I'll leave those for future tutorials.  Since my last point was about keeping backgrounds simple, I thought I would do a tutorial specifically on how to make a great professional looking background very easily.

Here are a couple of pictures I took today in my studio of Ana Kate: not necessarily the best pictures (check out her fake smile above), but they'll work for background demonstration purposes.  Granted this background pattern is a bit busy....but I was trying it out for some Valentine's photos.  I typically will use a a solid background.  I do have stands for backdrops, but thought I would show you how to do it with everyday items around the house. 
Here is how I set it up:

 I just draped 3 yards of fabric over two bar stools and angled it towards the light.  This wasn't quite tall enough to get a picture of Ana Kate standing, but worked great with her sitting and would be tall enough for a younger child.  The fabric cost less than $15 and you could use any type of blanket, quilt, sheet, or throw.

I hope this helps out with your photography.  Please leave a comment if you have specific tips and tutorials you would like to see.

Snow Days and New Hats!!

Yesterday we woke up to snow on the ground and it was still steadily coming down.  Ana Kate was super excited about playing in the snow, but we were both a little bummed because Ana Kate's school and my bible study were both cancelled. : ( There were only a few inches of snow in all, but the roads still had sheets of solid ice on them when I ran to Hobby Lobby around 5pm.  So, today my MOPS meeting was cancelled as well.  Hopefully we'll get back on track next week, but I here the forecast is calling for more snow on Sunday.  Ana Kate did play in the snow with Doug when he got home from work.  She had lots of fun making snow angels and throwing snow balls.  She wanted to build a snowman, but the snow was too dry to hold together for that.  I'm sure she'll be back out in the snow every day until it melts.  She loves it!!  I didn't take any pictures of them out in the snow yesterday because I was busy cooking dinner.  I will try to get some snow photos today.

I have been knitting more since we've been stuck inside and found a couple of new patterns that are quicker. I finally finished Ana Kate's 2nd hat (which I started over a month ago). I love the way it turned out and I especially love the bright colors!  She loves the flower too!

Last night I made a baby hat using one of my new patterns.  I plan on using it for a photography prop and also making them for shower gifts.  It was super easy to make and I finished it in about 4 hours.  It turned out so darn cute...I just love the pom-pom 'ears'.  I can't wait to try it out on Amelia when we do her photo session.  I am also working on a baby cocoon for a photo prop and hope to get it done today or tomorrow. 

I am also working on a photography post with lots of tips and a tutorial.  Be looking for that later tonight or tomorrow.  I have tons of tips, but I'm starting with a few simple things that Mom's can do to take better photos of their kids.  Be sure to come back and check it out!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Baby Amelia

Today Ana Kate and I went to visit my friend Amanda and her precious baby girl Amelia.  She was born yesterday and is absolutely adorable!!  Ana Kate loved her and actually held her for quite a while.  She tried to tickle her and just kept talking about how tiny and cute she looked.  : )  Amanda looked great and was up and around already!   I can't wait to take newborn pictures of Amelia...she is the sweetest baby girl, she slept the entire time we were there and didn't cry once.  Congratulations to Amanda and Deric!!
Proud mommy Amanda with her sweet baby girl.

Monday, January 17, 2011

So sleepy!

I don't let Ana Kate play computer games very often, but yesterday afternoon after cleaning up her toys we let her play for a little while.  I was watching a movie and she was behind me sitting at the counter playing.  All of sudden I noticed the quiet (if it's quiet here that almost always means Ana Kate is asleep).  I turned around to check on her and sure enough, she was sitting on the bar stool, leaning on the counter, completely asleep!  It was so funny I had to grab the camera and take a few pictures.  I know it looks like her eyes are part way open, but she was completely out....

She didn't sleep long though.  In fact, as I was putting my camera away she almost fell off the chair, which scared her, and after that she was awake.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Back to school....

Ana Kate went back to school today (actually it's Mother's Day Out, but we call it school).  She's been out for over a month and I think we were both ready to get back on schedule!  She was super excited and ran right into her class.  I got a lot done while she was at it was a good day!  Since we are getting back into our routing I really need to start focusing on some of my projects.  I really need to finish knitting my second hat and do some marketing stuff for my photography business.  I also need to actually start of my new year's goals that I have yet to even begin yet....maybe this week??

Ana Kate hasn't been sleeping very well, so I'm hoping she does better tonight.  I'm not sure if she's having bad dreams, or maybe I'm putting her in bed too early before she is actually tired.  I have been making her take naps and that's causing more issues at bedtime, so maybe she doesn't actually need a nap anymore??  It's the ongoing debate around here.  I think if I could consistently get her up early in the morning (at least by 7am) then naps would be ok.  Maybe getting back into the school schedule will help.

I am thinking about doing some different posts each week that would be photography related....maybe even some tutorials or some fun photo projects.   I kind of got in a rut with my photography lately and I think it would be fun to try some new things.  I think I'll start that next week.  As for today, I just have some pictures of my pretty girl before we left for school this morning.  We only took a few pictures because it was only 15 degrees outside!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wow....a week without posting!


I have so enjoyed the break from the 365 posting, but I find I already miss having the daily pictures of Ana Kate.  I only took pictures of her twice this week, but it was a nice break.  We had an eventful week.  On Tuesday night we settled in from of the tv to watch the Razorbacks in the Sugar Bowl.  Ana Kate was all dressed up and ready to cheer them on....unfortunately they didn't win.  : (  But she looked super cute in her cheerleading uniform, so I took a few photos.

 Thursday we met up with my cousin Jennifer and her daughter Sydney at chick-fil-a to let the girls play.  They had a great time and it was nice to go for breakfast rather than lunch because it wasn't packed.  I had a great time talking with Jennifer while the girls played and Ana Kate was actually tired enough for a nap when we got home.  : )  After her nap we played with bubbles outside because it was such a beautiful day....chilly, but very sunny and quite comfortable out on our front porch.

 Friday we were up early again for our first MOPS meeting of the semester.  We switched the tables around to accommodate new Moms, so I got to meet some new ladies.  We had fun chatting and as a bonus my cousin Jennifer is now at my table, so we were happy about that.  Doug was traveling this week and didn't get home until 2am on Friday night...Ana Kate insisted on waiting up for him.  I said fine because I didn't think she'd actually stay awake that long....but she did.  I put her to bed as soon as he got home.

Saturday we took Ana Kate to Sydney's birthday party.  It was a swim party and Ana Kate had a blast.  I had to make her leave and she was so tired she crashed in the car.  We ran home and changed and then had our long night at church.  We had 10 toddler in class, but they were great!  Ana Kate did great at church, but she was worn out when we got home.  We both slept in late this morning and it was SO nice!  We're enjoying a lazy day today.  Ana Kate starts back to school tomorrow and it's supposed to snow.  Ana Kate really wants snow, but I'm hoping the roads stay clear.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Heart Faces 'Best Face Photo' -- Voting

Vote for Ana Kate's photo!!  This week at i heart faces you can actually vote for your favorite face pictures.  So check it out here and vote for Ana Kate's photo (#338).  Thanks!

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Heart Faces Photo Contest | 'Best Face Photo of 2010'

This weeks theme at I Heart Faces is 'Best Face Photo of 2010'.  That makes it very hard to choose since I did a 365 of my daughter in 2010.  This is just one of my favorites.  Head over to to enter your favorite face photo and check out all the beautiful entries!