Posts in Family
Happy October! Enjoy 50% Off Past Issues Until 6:00 pm CST Today!
Flowers by Amy Osaba for Cottage Hill | Beautiful fall or Thanksgiving arrangement now on Cottage Hill |

Happy October! To celebrate fall, we are offering 50% off all past issues for 24 hours! Hurry now to snag your favorite Cottage Hill issue to complete your collection before this offer closes tomorrow at 6:00 pm CST!

And yes, you guessed it, we're making room for The Grace Issue! Pre-orders and cover reveal for The Grace Issue coming later this week!

Grab you Homecoming or Captivated issues here!

Use code :: OCTOBER50

The Slow Session
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill
How to Pose Naturally for your Engagement Photos, Family Photos, etc. now on Cottage Hill

When you are having your engagement photos or even family photos taken, the photographer, or, if you are fortunate, a stylist, may direct you towards movements or poses to capture the moment.

If you book true professionals, the photographer or stylist will provide direct instruction (for example, "Walk to that tree holding hands,") where you have the freedom to 'make it your own.' That means, perhaps even without realizing it, you and your love (or loves) will automatically walk to the tree in such a way only you can. Just imagine if you told ten people to walk to a tree, they would all walk differently with a different gait, looking at different things and a different speed.

Sometimes though (if you're like my husband and me), it can take some time to get comfortable to walk to a tree holding hands...with someone holding a camera following behind you. You may just naturally be camera shy, which is OK. However, your particular, organic movement can be lost as you overanalyze how you're holding hands or what exactly the photographer may be capturing from your backside. 

All of which are major distractors filtering into your mind, affecting your disposition, your photographs when you receive them and your overall experience.

What can you do about it? Take your time. Often, sessions are booked by the hour but do not worry about time. If you need a few minutes just to chat with the photographer and loosen up, walk around and getting used to the third party, take it. Your imagery will develop into much more natural moments - moments you will want to keep, print and frame.

More about the photographs from photographer Mary Claire Cook: "This shoot speaks to me because it embodies my philosophy as an artist. I seek to capture real, beautiful & genuine moments. This couple wasn’t posed or directed (in the traditional sense of stagnant holds or insensible movement patterns). Their admiration for each other, their laid-back personalities and their passion for the music they make is natural and infused into each image."

All photographs were taken at the Forage and Fern workshop hosted by Magnolia Rouge and tutored by photographer Tec Petaja. These featured images are by Mary Claire Photography who used The Find Lab for her film scans. Type A Society served as stylist for this experience with floral designs by Ponderosa and Thyme. Jess Wilcox provided Hair and Makeup services and you can learn more about the couple at Tigers in the Sky

Winward Family Portraits at the Erich McVey Workshop featuring Ginny Au and Alicia Pyne
Sarah Winward Family Portraits at the Erich McVey Workshop featuring Ginny Au and Alicia Pyne |

The legacy we leave our children doesn’t lie in the grand events of life, but in the simple day-to-day moments. From picking flowers from the garden, or cooking a warm meal, our legacy is being built one joyful moment, one conversation, one boo-boo kissed at a time. 

I love the images Alicia Pyne beautifully captured of this sweet family at the Erich McVey Workshop. I can’t help but think that one day, this little girl will grow to be a woman who loves her husband well, has a spirit of adventure, and is rooted in love and conversations with family. Not because she remembers this specific moment per say, but because these small moments over her lifetime become like a house being built brick by brick.

All images photographed at the Erich McVey Workshop in Elk, California :: Photography by Alicia Pyne :: Design & Styling by Ginny Au :: Hair & Makeup by Mimi and Taylor :: Floral Design by Sarah Winward :: Paper and Calligraphy by Meghan Kay Sadler :: Photo Lab: PhotoVision :: Film Sponsor: Fuji Film :: Table Linens & Rentals: 12th Table :: Venue: Cuffey’s Cove Ranch :: Models: Sarah, David & Ivy Winward

10 Ways to Elevate Your Gift Giving

A little genuine thoughtfulness can go a long way, and this is certainly true with the art of gift-giving...both inside and out. Silver Cup Artist Lauren Jolly recently partnered with gift design studio Memento & Muse to illustrate how you can pour on a little extra TLC this Mother's Day, by presenting that very special woman with a lovely creation before she even opens her gift.

(Just remember to keep it fun! Rather than attempting all of the following tips in one gift wrapping session, Memento & Muse founder Melinda McKee recommends picking three or four tips to try out for starters, then adding in others the next time you have an opportunity.)

Plus, for an easy but extra special finish, Memento & Muse and Sage Paper Co. have combined their talents to offer you a complimentary set of print-and-cut watercolor gift tags! Read on to learn more...


One: Start with a clean, hard work surface.

When real life happens, uncluttered work surfaces can certainly be hard to come by at times. But if your goal is smoothly wrapped gifts with crisp edges, working on a soft bed or carpeted floor isn't going to give you the results you want. Make room on a table or counter, or even a clean hardwood or tile floor, and you'll find it much easier to fold sharp, even creases as you work.

(Nothing spoils a beautiful gift wrapping job like a dirt or food smudge, though, so don't forget to give your work surface a quick wipe-down before setting up!)

Two: Use new gift boxes.

Tempting as it may be to reuse old boxes, trying to wrap paper around worn-out sides and smooshed corners is going to make it harder to get those neat, clean lines. Send your used boxes to the recycling bin, and hunt down some fresh new ones the next time you're at Target or Michaels.

Three: Fold over raw exposed edges of gift wrap.

Folding over raw edges that would otherwise be exposed is one of the best and easiest little tricks to enhance your gift wrapping game. While it might not be explicitly noticed by your recipient, it takes just a few seconds, and will contribute to an overall more polished look.

Four: Make friends with double-sided tape.

It may take a few tries to get accustomed to using tape underneath your paper folds instead of on top of them, but the effect is beautifully flawless. (Just can't get into the double-sided variety? Opt for Scotch's "GiftWrap" tape ~ its satiny finish is clear without being shiny, so it's less noticeable than standard office tape.)

Five: Remember, less is usually more.

When choosing patterned gift wrap, try this trick for a truly elevated look: if you think the pattern would be attractive on a pillow cover or as a framed art print, go for it!

Truth be told, though, few party store or bargain-bin rolls meet that design standard, which is why solid-color gift wrap or kraft paper is an excellent, versatile option to keep on hand. Depending on how you embellish it, solid-color papers can be adapted to just about any style preference and occasion.

And if you do love a good pattern, check out online purveyors of fine paper goods like Rifle andSmock for swoon-worthy designs...just be sure to let the pattern speak for itself, by using simple ribbons/embellishments in contrast.

Six: When using gift bags, opt for fabric rather than paper or plastic.

Fabric bags ~ especially in natural fibers like cotton, silk, jute, and linen ~ offer triple benefits. They have a refined look, they're a quicker gift packaging solution than gift wrap, and they can often be reused for other occasions and purposes.

Seven: Make the vessel part of the gift.

Speaking of reusable items...why not make the container part of the gift itself? As the chic cousin of the everyday gift basket, a well-made storage vessel is an especially attractive way to display a curated gift collection. It usually won't need much in the way of wrapping or adornment beyond a ribbon or gift tag, and your recipient can repurpose it right away. (Just remember to select a fairly shallow storage container, as deep bins will require a lot of extra filler material to keep gift items from getting lost at the bottom.)

Eight: For ribbons and embellishments, avoid plastic ~ look for woven fibers and natural elements instead.

Like with fabric gift bags, natural fiber-based ribbons immediately give a greater sense of elegance than party store synthetic (i.e. plastic) ribbons. And simple squares of soft fabric can make lovely gift wrap, tape or ribbons needed.

For additional embellishments, let Mother Nature inspire you! If your gift-giving schedule allows for a quick turnaround, fresh-cut florals can be a delightful touch; otherwise dried botanicals or even pretty silk flowers can liven up a gift package in an unexpected way.

Nine: Always use sharp scissors to cut fabric ribbon.

Carefully frayed edges can be chic, but raggedy, chopped-up ends? Not so much! Keeping a pair of sharp scissors that are used only for fabric (and never on paper) will ensure you always get clean cuts and a neat finish.

Ten: Add a final personal touch with a gift tag.

Go the extra mile by adding a gift tag to commemorate the occasion or celebrate that special individual. If you can, choose tie-on tags over stickers...there's something beautifully nostalgic and personal about that final hand-tied touch.

For your gifting pleasure this Mother's Day and beyond, please enjoy this hand-painted gift tag printable courtesy of Memento & Muse and Sage Paper Co.! (Click image to download)

Artistic Credits  Location: The Leslie-Alford Mims House Photography: Lauren Jolly Photography Farm Table: Greenhouse Picker Sisters Fresh Florals: Serendipity Designs Nail Services: Paintbar Raleigh Gift Tags: Memento & Muse + Sage Paper Co. Silk Ribbons & Fabric Wrapping: Adorn Gift Wrapping & Styling: Memento & Muse

Newborn Family Session

Sometimes we have the honor of sharing not only a beautiful story with you but one from someone we know and love. Carrie Moe of Type A Society is a creative who we not only get to call contributor, but also our friend. Her team designed the cover shoot of The Captivated Issue and was also featured in Chapter Three of The Pioneer Issue. Carrie shared her story of entrepreneurship in the Editor's Course and today, we are excited to share moments of her with her family and their beautiful new daughter. Here are some thoughts by photographer Daphne on their session together:

This was just one of those moments in life when you know; you just know with your full heart that it was all meant to happen. Carrie and I had never met, but from the moment I walked into her home, it felt like we had known each other for years. Not only does she have an incredible gift for creating beauty all around her, but she has the softest, kindest soul. These four, to me, were a vision of life and love and trust and joy and tangled up together; family in its purest form.

I brought my four-year-old daughter with me for the shoot. She instantly ran off to play with little Jackson, while Carrie and I chatted as she styled the most amazing scene for baby Amelie, with delicate baubles and shiny trinkets. Our conversations instantly dove deeper into the meaningful bits of life, and I found myself feeling so grateful our paths had crossed.

As I photographed the four of them, they just beamed for one another; a thick layer of peace and calm serving as a foundation for all that goodness piled on top. It was an immense blessing to preserve these memories for such a truly lovely family.

Artistic Credits: Photography by Daphne Mae Styling and Mother, Carrie Moe of Type A Society

Five Ways to Argue Less About Money featuring Shanna Skidmore
Five Ways to Argue Less About Money in Marriage featuring Shanna Skidmore |

Money isn't always the easiest topic of discussion, but it is something that affects our lives, businesses, and relationships daily. Today we are so thrilled to have business strategist and financial coach Shanna Skidmore to share some tips on having better relationships with money. Read more after the jump.

Did you know that disagreements about money are the leading cause of stress in relationships? According to a CNBC study, 35% of relationships rate money as the leading cause of friction in their relationship. The American Psychology Association released a study that said at least a quarter of all Americans are feeling extreme financial stress. I would guess this statistic goes up when one or both partners are self-employed. According to a poll conducted by, Couples don't just argue about money: they hide transactions from each other. One in 5 Americans in a relationship say they have spent $500 or more and not told their partner, and 6 percent maintain secret accounts or credit card. According to the Huffington Post, half of Americans are spending more than they make. That means every year half of Americans go more and more in debt by living above their means.

Wow! No wonder most Americans dread and avoid the topic of money!

Over the past ten years I have studied money patterns in the realm of small business. You would be amazed to find that many of the things you struggle with, aren’t all that uncommon. Most people are in a similar boat when it comes to money but since this topic is so hush-hush, most feel alone in their struggle. What I’ve also come to learn is that these money woos can be dramatically improved with some very simple steps.

Here are five key steps I’ve learned to having a healthier relationship with money, a healthier relationship, and a more thriving business.

1.     Define what you really want.

A common goal leads to habit change, so get on the same page about your goals. More often than not, women are categorized as the “spender” in the relationship. This can cause a lot of strain when both parties aren’t on the same page about your money goals. Cutting those ingrained spending habits isn’t going to happen overnight, but it is much more likely to happen when you are clear about what you want. Instant gratification is much easier to digest than long-term money goals. So get those big goals on paper and make it a game to start saving for them!

2.     Make room for individual preferences.

Men and women typically spend money on different things. In general men make larger purchases but less frequently (hobbies, trips, etc) while women spend more frequently on less expense items (shoes, clothing, home items, etc). We often try to force our spending preferences on each other, putting more importance on our own preference. However it is important to allow each person to express individual spending preferences without judgment. There has to be a balance. If one party makes the argument that saving is more important than traveling, the other party who values travel over saving will always feel like an unequal voice. It is important to give value to both and make goals with both preferences in mind.

I also recommend having a weekly “allowance” for each person. This allows each party to spend on his or her individual preferences without have to run it by the other person. For instance, I really like grabbing a coffee throughout the week and choose to spend my $20 allowance on coffee or magazines. While my hubs tends to save up his $20 allowance to buy bigger items for his hobbies.

3.     Get clear on expectations.

It is important to know who is paying the bills, who is managing the day to day and what income each person is responsible for contributing. Having these conversations will ease a lot of tension. Unspoken expectations can lead to feelings of guilt and discontentment.

This is especially important if one or both partners are pursuing entrepreneurship. I hear many stories of entrepreneurs who feel guilty for not replacing their former corporate salary with their new business venture. First of all, that is a lot of pressure to put on your new business. Secondly, many of these feelings are unfounded expectations and when discussed is not something the spouse expected at all.

4.     Honor every dollar.

The worst feeling when it comes to your money is looking back and wondering where it all went. One of the best money habits you can implement is taking the time to monthly review where you are spending money and ask the question “is that where we want our money to go?” If it isn’t, change it.

5.     Go on a money date.

Once a month my husband and I make a habit of going out to breakfast and discussing our money goals. We review where we spent the last month, what big expenses we have coming up and name our spending priorities for the upcoming month. We have made this a fun time to talk about dreams and fears and have open conversation about spending money with intention.

As Zig Ziglar says, “Money isn’t everything but it ranks right up there with oxygen”.

Give your relationship, your small business and yourself the space to get comfortable talking about money. You don’t have to be a money person to feel confident and comfortable in the decisions you are making regarding your money. Awareness is the key.

To spending with intention,

Shanna Skidmore

Photography by Haley Sheffield featuring illustrator and floral designer Meredith Mejerle Rush

Simple Outdoor Family Portraits

While most families wait until fall for family portraits, mainly to use for holiday cards, we love seeing families take portraits throughout the year to document their lives. It doesn't have to be an elaborate session, just something simple to capture the moments that matter in your life. This beautiful springtime session with Clary Pfeiffer is no exception. 

A Peaceful Easter Afternoon on the Homestead

While fancy brunches and dinners are nice, sometimes it can be more intentional to spend holiday afternoons simply basking in the afternoon sipping tea and watching the children chase bunnies. Perhaps trading your post-church service formal luncheon plans on Sunday for instead really celebrating the rest and grace of the day may be a more meaningful approach for you and your family.

We love Faith's beautiful memories her childhood and how those values are instilled in her nieces. Here is what she had to share with us regarding these simple and sweet moments. 

"My sisters and I grew up on 80 acres about 10 miles outside of a small northern Michigan town. It was small town life with our bigger than life adventures. Blackberry and raspberry picking, searching for bird nests, building forts on all four corners of our parent’s homestead, catching frogs in our brand new barbie shoes, biking up and down our dirt road, and carving out a dirt path through the years to our neighbors a half mile away. It was a simple life with larger than life lessons.

As I watch my nieces growing up now experiencing a childhood that very much parallels that of mine and my sisters, it has been like watching our childhood all over again. This summer I was able to spend a couple of weeks with my nieces and I will always cherish this time. Running through fields chasing loose bunnies, helping them feed their ducks + chickens, and building fairy forts with pine cones and needles - these are what dreams are made of. Through taking care of their pets and farm animals they have learned so much about life - not just the discipline that it requires but also the value of life and knowing that several animals are depending on you for their sustenance. They teach us to love with a love that is so intense at such a young age. They are family members and something to be cherished. 

Running through the field chasing their bunnies, building fairy forts, climbing the big oak tree on the back edge of the homestead my nieces are learning the feel of the earth, the greatness of their imagination and the strength they have as little girls and I believe we all could use a dose of the simple life to reset our hearts to what is truly important in life."

Artistic Credits: Photographs by Faith of Winsome and Wright Film Scans by The Find Lab

My Northern Story featuring Hailey Haugen

American expat Hailey Haugen current resides in Norway. She is a wife and mother, and she documents their life beautifully and thoughtfully through her Instagram feed sharing bits of their Norwegian adventure and simple living. As one of our 'favorites to follow' we were able to chat with Hailey about their life and heart behind those little squares. 

What brought you from the U.S. to Norway?
My husband. We met in the U.S. while he was there studying chiropractic. He always knew after he graduated that he'd be moving back to Norway. We wanted to stay together, so making the move was a given.

Tell us a little about living in Norway.
Norway was a country that I didn't really know anything about prior to meeting my husband. When I made the move four years ago, it was my first time stepping off U.S. soil. It was January and Norway was in the middle of winter. We lived on the west coast during this time, in a small place called Voss.

Fast forward a year and a half and we moved 45 minutes away to an area near Bergen. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway and one of my favorites. We lived there for a year and during that time, we had our son, Leo. When Leo was 3 months old, we bought our first house and moved to where my husband is originally from. Located about 1.5 hours from Oslo (the largest city in Norway) and close to family and friends. 

Life in Norway hasn't been easy. Despite the fact that it's been a long, challenging journey, the rewards have been like nothing else, and that has made it worthwhile. 

What is your favorite thing about Norway?
The magnificent fjords, northern lights, vast mountain ranges, old, charming wooden homes, the sunrises and sunsets.  

What has been your biggest challenge with transitioning? 
Homesickness, definitely. Feelings of loss and vulnerability. In the beginning, you're sort of floating between these two places and you can't go back to where you're from. Often times, I had a conflict feeling of, "Where do I belong?" My homeland, where my family is, where I'm familiar with, and a new land, of hope and excitement, but also, unfamiliarity and uncertainty.

Biggest reward of the move?
Living abroad is full of cycles, and each one teaches you something, leaves it's mark, and makes you grow. I think my growth as an individual has been my biggest reward. It's made me more patient, more flexible, more understanding and it has also helped me learn to adapt easier. 

Any advice on how to embrace the changes of such a big move? 
"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance." -Alan Watts

What big cultural difference have you experienced? How did/do you deal with them? 
The language. Learning Norwegian as an adult has never made me feel more vulnerable. That feeling of not wanting to say something because you think it will sound completely ridiculous. Being nervous every time I want or have to try and speak in Norwegian. 

Are there cultural challenges/differences when it comes to parenting? 
Yes. I think because Norway is such a small country, there's a lack of variety here and that has been the hardest difference for me. In America, there are many different parenting styles, but here, there's a sense that there is only one right way and the majority do that one way.

What do you do when missing The U.S.? 
Make a trip home and indulge in all things American usually helps. My mom makes it out here once a year and that helps a lot, too. Sometimes it's something as simple as taking a walk or watching American television or movie or keeping busy. As the years go by, it gets easier and episodes of missing my homeland get less frequent. 

All photographs by Hailey Haugen

Come As You Are: What the Guests of Your Party, Your Life, Really Want - You as Featured in The Pioneer Issue

Come As You Are: What the Guests of Your Party, Your Life, Really Want - You

Story by Meredith Peebles also featuring Styling by Jessica Sloane, Photography by Austin Gros, Calligraphy by Early June and Florals by Vintage Florals

When my husband and I were shopping around for homes a couple of years ago, one of the biggest wish list items we had was a kitchen that opened up to a nice living room for entertaining. This seems to be a top wish list item for just about everyone I know. In addition to confirming the love we all share for a top notch open floor plan, this also confirms a fact we all know: people are meant to coexist and crave a sense of community. At a most basic level it begins with a nuclear family when you are child. As we grow older that community expands to include our significant others and eventually maybe children of our own. The friends that journey in and out of our lives along the way are as integral a part of our community as our families.

Friendship, like anything else in life that truly matters, takes work in order to be successful. While I’d love for a healthy body to be a naturally occurring phenomenon, I have to put forth a concerted effort to eat clean and workout regularly in order to be that way (just so you know I wrote this sentence while simultaneously enjoying an ice cream bar). And I’d also really, really love for my dogs to be well behaved without us having to work to train them; although this might not be the greatest of examples because one of our dogs still does whatever she wants despite hours upon hours of training. At least she’s small and really cute, right? Thankfully working on a friendship is much more enjoyable than working to train a dog. Although at a minimum both really only require time, friendship demands your whole presence.

You. Wholly you. That is honestly all your friends want from you. That’s it! Dang it that we make it so much more complicated. In our minds we’ve made it out that we can invite friends over for a meal only if it’s eight courses that would make Julia Child proud. And our house better be spotless. Not a trace of dirt or dust anywhere. No doggie tails can be wagged spreading hairs after I run this vacuum, don’t even think about it. If we stop and think for a quick second though, when your friends thank you for having them over a week after the fact, they aren’t thanking you for having a museum for a home or serving the best rack of lamb they have ever tasted. They are thanking you for your time: time to laugh, time to share, time to listen, and time for guards to be let down.

When my husband reads this he’s going to laugh and tell me to take my own words to heart. While I’ll happily order pizza when we have people over because my cooking skills are marginal at best, I’m insane about having a clean house. Insane. On a normal day when it’s just us at the house I’m still pretty crazy about everything being in its place, no crumbs in sight in the kitchen, every bed made. The second we invite friends over which we often like to do, I for some reason lose my mind and all of a sudden my house becomes an enemy to be conquered with cleaning supplies. A little dust isn’t going to cause my friends to contract the bubonic plague, but I surely act like that’s the case. I suppose this comes from a place of fearing rejection and craving acceptance. But it seems to me that I’ve really misguided where this effort is to be emphasized. My friends aren’t going to accept me more because my house is the cutest or cleanest they’ve been in recently, they accept me because of who I am as a person.

If we are honest, this behavior transcends beyond entertaining into human interactions. It’s our nature to want to put the best version of ourselves on display always. This is at least what I like to tell myself; I’d like to think I’m not alone in wanting to hide some days because life is seemingly not going my way and I don’t want everyone I meet that day to know this. No one wants to be known as that girl who doesn’t have her stuff together. As a closet introvert who struggles with self-esteem, I’ve learned that this behavior is something I need to be very cognizant of. If I’m not careful I can quickly establish a pattern of turning down cherished opportunities for community because of personal insecurities. While admitting this fact is equal parts embarrassing and painful, I think it’s a truth that many of us struggle with to varying degrees.

Not long ago my husband and I were invited out with a group of our friends to a birthday dinner. Some nights when we are getting ready for evenings like this I have my mind made up hours before on what I’ll wear, how I’ll fix my hair, and what handbag I’ll carry. This particular night was not one of those easy evenings. Kid you not, I bet half of the dresses I own I tried on and I hated how every single one of them looked. Finally settling on a romper I thought made me look frumpy at best, only because we had to get out the door and naked was definitely not the look I was going for, we were off. I can guarantee you I was sour the entire way to dinner because I was feeling so insecure and far from my best. After being seated, I quietly whispered to one of my girlfriends how I wasn’t feeling super cute that evening and she laughed and remarked how she thought the romper was really fun and was quite flattering. At that exact moment I went from feeling incredibly insecure to incredibly silly and even embarrassed. I could not believe that the very thing that was bordering on ruining my evening with friends was the same thing that those friends had positive things to say about.

That’s how life works a lot of the time I think. The same things that cause us the greatest insecurity are the same things people love about us because they are the things that make us unique, make us us. The feature I single handedly get complimented on the most is my skin. It’s very fair with freckles splashed on my nose and a hint of rose always on my cheeks. My coloring has not always been this way though. I can worship the sun with the best of them and growing up I always had a nice tan when I returned to school after summer vacation. However when I was nineteen I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma and my sun worshipping came to an immediate halt. It was a huge adjustment to no longer have a bronze glow every summer and for several years I really hated how my skin looked with the absence of color. There were many invitations for afternoons lounging by the pool and lake trips that I chose to turn down only because I was feeling insecure and sorry for myself. What a shame that I passed on these opportunities with people I loved all because of something I was fixated on that no one else thought the slightest negative thing about.

When we get down to it, coming as you are is the only way to approach life. It’s exhausting and unsustainable to hide behind elaborate dinner parties, meticulously kept homes, perfectly pressed garments and forced smiles constantly. Life can be stressful and silly and crazy, but it’s that way for all of us. Everyone has experienced a hectic day at work that prevents that last minute stop at the grocery store on your way home. Wine and cheese in yoga pants or wine and lobster tails in a favorite dress, it doesn’t matter. You giving of your time and of yourself to those you care about is all that matters. Honestly the less time and effort you focus on whether or not your recent flourless chocolate torte turned out like the inspiration picture, the more time and effort you have to focus on pouring into the lives of those in your community. Toss any insecurities aside, step into the moment, live, and love. That’s really all anyone wants from you.

Note from Dinner Host Jessica Sloane who created the visual inspiration of this story -

As artists, it's easy to get wrapped up in our own dreams and inspirations. But our art improves when we our limits are stretched and challenged by the community around us. I've been reading the book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table as a reminder to why we come together and how sharing your journey with others enriches your life. I love this quote from the book:

“The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.” So I gathered some fellow creatives and we each brought to the table what we had to offer and shared an evening, a meal, a conversation. “So this is the dance, it seems to me: to be the kind of host who honors the needs of the people who gather around his or her table, and to be the kind of guest who comes to the table to learn, not to demand.” - Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, with Recipes.

Honey & Sage Infused Simple Syrup

1 cup water

1/2 cup honey

15 fresh sage leaves

Honey Sage Bourbon Cocktail

1 1/2 to 2 ounces Kentucky bourbon

honey and sage infused simple syrup

1 orange peel

1 sprig fresh sage

In a pot over high heat, bring water, honey, and sage to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow the mixture to cool completely. Remove sage. Once the syrup has cooled, fill your glass of choice with ice. Pour bourbon over ice and top off (fill the glass) with the simple syrup. Squeeze the orange peel over the bourbon to release the oils and place the peel in the glass. Stir and garnish with sage.

Brown Butter & Sage Pasta Sauce

3⁄4 cup (6 oz./185 g) unsalted butter

12 to 15 fresh sage leaves

1⁄2 cup (2 oz./60 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the sage leaves. Cook until the sage leaves are crisp and the butter is brown, about 3 minutes. Carefully add the ravioli to the pan, 6 at a time, and turn very gently to coat with the brown butter. Transfer the ravioli to a serving dish. Top with the remaining butter and sage leaves in the pan, sprinkle with the Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

A Gathering of Old and New: How to Create a Simple Dinner Party as Featured in The Pioneer Issue
A Gathering of Old and New: How to Create a Simple Dinner Party as Featured in The Pioneer Issue / Jen Huang Photography /

How to Create a Simple Dinner Party by Sierra Steifman of Poppies & Posies

Hosting a dinner party doesn’t mean that you have to toil away in the kitchen all day. Inspired by our love for cooking and learning new recipes we invited over our closest friends for a cooking class followed by a dinner party featuring the fruits of our labor. Have a local chef join your party for the first half of the evening to bestow their best tips and tricks for a home cooked meal. Since we were hosting in the late Spring we chose to roast a fresh whole fish in Sierra’s enamel pan that she picked up on her most recent trip to the Elephant Flea.

Did you know: Enamelware became popular in the early 19th century and held a prominent position in most kitchens in Europe and North America through the end of World War II.  It was developed as an ‘easy to clean’ alternative to previously uncoated cast iron.  

Preparing for your party: Each fete you host can be as casual or as formal as you choose. We thought it would be fun to enjoy our home cooked meal at a beautifully set formal table leaving our guests feeling spoiled at the end of the evening. This is easier than you may think. Create custom seating cards or buy some at your local paper store to write each guest’s name on. Creating a menu for each place setting will create a slightly more formal look and don’t forget to give your guests recipe cards to note any ingredients and/or tricks they learn during the cooking class.

Decorating your dinner table: We never miss an opportunity to play with flowers and a dinner party is the perfect time to work on your floral arranging skills. Each season has its own gems, check out your local farmers market or flower shop to find the freshest blooms.  For our late Spring party we picked up peonies, ranunculus, hellebores, lilac, frittalaria, parrot tulips and poppies.

Tips: When choosing your flowers make sure you have one larger focal flower (we used peonies), at least 3 secondary flowers which are typically smaller in size to your focal flower, and some unexpected details to weave throughout. We love shopping our local market’s produce section and incorporating fruits or vegetables in our arrangements.

If you’re goal is to create a formal tablescape choose candlesticks and taper candles for a touch of elegance.  If you’d prefer to set a more casual table votives may be the perfect touch.

Cooking Lesson: As your guests arrive you’ll want to greet them with a refreshment that they can enjoy as the cooking lesson begins. We chose a light, sparkling wine that goes well with fresh fish.

Fish Rub Recipe

Ingredients: Black Pepper, Tarragon, Dried Thyme, Garlic Powder & Kosher Salt.

Followed by directions: Combine the ingredients of your fish rub in a small bowl. Drizzle olive oil on the skin of the fish and rub your spice mix all over the surface of the fish.

Place your fish on a bed of fresh veggies and herbs in a baking pan. Roast on 375 for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the fish.

Tip: Remember- people eat with their eyes first.  Visit a local fresh market to find all of the seasons best ingredients! While you’re there ask them to clean the fish for you since this is not an easy task

Did you know: Pairing knives should be used for intricate work in the kitchen while chef’s knives are used for less precise chopping and prep.  Always use a serrated blade when cutting tomatoes.

Artistic Credits: Photographs by Jen Huang Photography Flowers & Styling by Poppies & Posies Food and Recipe by Private Chef Michael Steifman of Michael Stuart NY Guests, Juliet Totten, Miya Hirabayashi, Matt Martin, Caitlin Becker, Sierra Steifman


Work Song: Life with the Family of Yonder Way Farm as Featured in The Pioneer Issue

Life with the Family of Yonder Way Farm by Megan Abigail Chandler

It’s a six a.m. wake up call on the farm - nothing surprising. In fact, it may surprise anyone to know it’s not sooner. But, there are mouths to feed – two parents, four kids, 1,800 laying hens, 300 pigs, 250 calves and 80 lambs. Eight hours of just feeding is on the docket first thing in the morning, and in the rainy season, that’s eight hours of feeding in questionable conditions.

But it’s a noble life. Feeding 300 families straight from your land, through your hands, to their homes. It’s nothing small, but it’s nothing great at that. It’s tiresome, full of ardent prayer, and success is measured by personal accomplishment.

In the Houston, Texas area, sits this little farm that embodies such a life – this buzzing abundance managed by the hands of a family and their select employees. In a call back to a life we’ve all but forgotten, families can collect all of their goods from the Yonder Way Farm family – eggs, meats, raw milk, artisan breads, organic vegetables, olive oil, facial products, and even coffee. Some families collect their bundle, and more often than not, the Yonder Way tag team, Jason and Lynsey Kramer, take to the roads to bring their product to the masses. What they grow is strictly meat, a commodity of whose value they learned through the very intangible lesson of health.

As a firefighter, Jason lived a sedentary way of life. At a job he loved, he began to grow tired, waiting for a moment of action. When his doctor told him he had to make a lifestyle change, he and his wife took that change very seriously. Cutting out red meat, pork and dairy, the couple looked at the commercial standard of how food was raised, and they realized how phony food had really become – animals raised in concrete jails, being fed processed food. It wasn’t what man wanted, why would beast want this? As Jason says, “There is freedom in food when the ‘food’ is raised right. So we started raising our own (food).”

And it slowly transitioned to being a livelihood, not just a diet or a personal health goal. It slowly grew to 80-hour workweeks, rain or shine. That grew to the little 8-year-old-hands of the couples’ second eldest daughter lending work and earnest energy. And of course, that is the most rewarding part – the family dynamic that grows from the truth of the matter. Jason ponders, chuckles, and thoughtfully says, “Of course, you can choose to be as transparent with your kids or as unrevealing to them as you want. However, we’ve gone through this whole process of the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows, the yings and yangs. We really wanted our kids to walk through this with us and see an intentional lifestyle.” In a 15-hour day on the farm, the family’s four sweet little girls come to help their mother and father in many different ways, but no way more valuable than the next. From ages 4 to 11, the children occupy a set of roles they cast themselves into that occupy a cog in the wheel of the way this family and farm run. It’s not prehistoric, though we may be inclined to think it’s a lost art. This art of maintaining a family that lives off the land, and home-schools their children, and teaches the value of a well-timed prayer and a home-cooked meal. It’s part of what has cast this cozy amber glow over pastoral life. And it’s part of what the Kramer’s seek to dispel, in word not in action.

What started as a noble mission, according to this family’s patriarch, may not be attainable in his generation, and the lessons they are working to teach may be something that fosters the growth of the next generation. The systems, equipment, and practice have to be drafted by the first generation; the second generation has the privilege of carrying out the success and opulence of the rural life. “I hope in 50-years, my kids and grandkids see this as an amazing adventure that instilled insane values. I respectfully say, it’s less about what the customer remembers and more about that. While what we do is for the consumer, that’s the legacy.”

What is garnered doesn’t come from a book or a degree, though the importance of such knowledge is not overlooked. But nevertheless, the pure Texas dirt buried deep into cuticles and the smell of a calf after a day in its pen is the root of all of this. Getting back to a way of life that was forgotten, because we as a people sought to turn away from it. The difficulty most of our great-great-grandparents knew in similar settings is still very much a real memory. Commercialized facilities have come to flourish, and they’ve put the traditional knowledge of farming to bed. They’ve capitalized on the ability to cultivate food making it cheaper, more attainable, and worse for our bodies and minds. Farms like Yonder Way have harkened back to what we as a rural nation were founded on, and their mission seems noble and honest. And raising the animals, feeding the herds, and moving the masses isn’t the noble and honest thing – it’s getting the food into the hands of the families and customers. That’s where most arms fail; they fail miserably. The part of the venture that is designed to bring in an income, that’s the difficult part. “People get the idea that if you grow it, they will come,” Jason ruminates, “and that’s such a pie-in-the-sky-view.”

For five months, the Kramers experienced the rainiest season they’ve experienced in their 8-years of farming. Those wettest, rainiest days translated into the hardest times Jason and Lynsey have experienced since they started this venture. There wasn’t a thing anyone could do about it. The skies never ceased to close, day in, day out. The result was a couple at their wits’ end, ready to ask the feared question: why are we doing this?

It’s something Jason could often be tempted to think, and in those grey days, his mind wandered there on more than one occasion. But to be the 1-percent, as her refers the part of the population he strives to train his kids to identify with, he had to power forward, remembering his mission – to teach nobility and humility to his brood.

The romantic version of the farm has come from the “field of dreams” mentality stemming from a guilt in the way we have come to live in this modern era. Jason eloquently says that we are finite people with finite time. And we live in an infinite world. Working 30 hours a day, if it were possible, would still leave even the most sensational man behind in his tasks. We may feel this incredible guilt and obsession with leaving more to our children than we had, but it will never replace or serve to deliver the product we’re searching for. Hard work will never replace the true answers that are evading all of us. The root at the heart of it: the loved ones that are waiting for you back in the picture perfect, red roof, chimney pluming with smoke, little house at the edge of the horizon.

We can reach a stopping point, go inside, and enjoy the peace that comes from another day. A 3x3 image of a sweet little afternoon and one doing honest work under a toiling sun won’t reflect the turmoil that is behind the smiling eyes. We, as a prideful people, won’t reveal a difficult plight in our moments of public-reflection via social media or framed portraits. Perception is not the full back-story of the images or histories or once-in-a-blue-moon greetings. The truth of the matter is, an honest way of life is often a harder way of life than most. It is crippled by such honesty, such a load of which it’s chosen to bear the burden.

The six human family members that live on Yonder Way Farm will attest to the strife that comes from nobility. It’s not without its rewards, but it is a life that is something to be evaluated. It is not for the faint of heart or even the independently wealthy. Those with a few shekels to throw into the investment, those who are just planning to sit and watch it grow aren’t cut out for this battle. It takes a God-fearing heart. It takes a family ready for the challenges that come from weather, animal, mineral, and the natural causes that the 99% have the joy of overlooking. Because at the end of the day, the animals don’t care about the nobility of the venture. Your children have learned something, but your bedtime story brings as much value as the lessons that came with the tender work of their little hands. It’s a rosy life, yes, sometimes. But a day in the pastoral beauty of rural Texas carries it’s own burdens battled with an ample dose of good faith and perseverance. Like Jason and Lynsey said, it is not for the faint of heart. What ultimately comes from the end of a long day is a work song – an anthem – sung to the tune of a love song – a sweet melody.

See more in The Pioneer Issue, now on news stands!

Artistic Credits: Photography by Silver Cup Artist Ryan Price, also featured on TRIAD blog


Oh Pioneer: Song of the Unseen by Annie Jones as Featured in The Pioneer Issue

Song of the Unseen by Annie Jones

A child does not wait to be born head first into the world. A mother, in labor, waits for her beloved child’s arrival by gripping with great faith in anticipation for the miracle. Within a series of movements of refined pain and waiting, to be named “mother” is more than broken body and yearning. It is her deep wish to belong to something.

A farmer waits patiently, anticipating the heads of vegetables to burst from the earth. He distributes seeds in order to receive proper sunlight and water. The rest is waiting for good growth and harvest.

He who is the faithful tender of God’s earth is sure to be down-trot by unanticipated drought from a rainless sky.

Please come.

Please be in this place.

We are nothing without You.

Fill the empty space with good.

And still, within drought, hope is held onto. The giant blanket of blue will soon unfurl what God promised to begin with: a Harvest! Raindrops fall from the sky and a single squash, body glimmering boldly in the hundred miles of tilled earth, reveals itself. The farmer is thankful for the small bounty of Hallelujah You’ve Been Faithful Again.

“God always finds a way to deliver oceans of rain when our faith, for a moment, wavers.”

Show us the way.

Beads of water break open onto the mess of soil beds, flowing as small, holy inlets quenching the earth’s thirst. Farmer professes his thanks to the heavens; arms wide open, biting into the succulent moment of blessing. Creator nods His head in pleasure as juice drips from the chin. Farmer smiles a heavenly curve as wide as the Pacific Ocean. He says,

“Thank You.”

God returns,

“Pioneer, thank you for arriving here.”

The present moment is all: pregnant with honest emotion and possibility, ushering us from thing to thing as world of people unintended for hurry. We, as people of peace, are asked to deliver what is good to other cities, over distant horizons. We are not to carry good blessings in haste. But instead, slowly.  Slowly as the river turns, steady down the stream we go.

Beloved, Just Be.

The present moment offers us lenses, a way to view our world as children fascinated by existence. A heavenly perspective of world, enamored with light dancing through trees and on skin. We are children rubbing away sedated slumber from our seeking eyes made for Awe. We are travelers in search of buried wonder. Here and Now hands us floorboards for foundation, vital items. For navigating and building and growing into the way ahead.

The way ahead.

Into the unknown.

We are offered cornucopias of blessing in the Now. Much awareness of the journey lingers in the still, kind air. This moment is swimming with opals and rubies and if we would just dive in, we would see. This wealth stream of benediction, this moment, drives our eyes far from fearing tumultuous terrain. We dive into this Holy River of wonder and are ready for ascending the mountains ahead. Us, as people of peace, wish to see the whole world dance and move in joy and belonging. Therefore, we speak,

“Come along.  It is this way, Beloved Pioneer.

Come close to this Story.”

We gather around firelight, together, coaxing our wild mouths wanting answers. Our stories, we pry the lips of oysters open, children seeking pearls. We seek to see that our stories have already been written. And the way ahead unfolds by walking.


The hearth of flickering warmth between us is communion, teaching us the true backbone of Thanksgiving as fire glows. We are students of gratitude. We are bearers of it. Thanksgiving is why we are here. To say Thank You to Great God and all He has intended for us to discover, the gardens in us where all windswept mountains turn to arrival. God scraped the dirt from the earth and made all things beautiful.

It is a grand celebration; a feast intended for all, an invitation worth passing along, this True Life we are offered. God wishes to see each of us bring along our most favorite dish to the dancing, to the wild party that is our existence. God wants us to show up, plates full of fine flavors, ready to feed the miles of hungry.

You have much to offer.

Offer freely what you hold most dear.

Some of us are violins inside this grandiose symphony of tide being pulled by moon. Others, in this world, are pianos. And their children, rainbow xylophones and tambourines ringing all around; playing heavenly music. Us as children, wide eyed with wonder, rise from our slumber and allow truth as melodies to permeate our every movement.

This is why we are here.

To dance and give thanks and invite others in.

The way forward, through the jaws of uncertainty, is to sing as we travel this uncharted way of trust. We grab hold of Love’s hands and dance, shaking the burdens away like plum trees shedding autumn leaves. There is no other way to live but this one. Consistent renewal. Hallelujah for the growing.

This is the True Journey.

What better way to learn the many languages of our drumming hearts than by trusting as a child would? To the drum, drum, drum of our beating world. We travel the great neck of infinite coastline, dressed in white, as Pioneers lighting the way for lost ones. With Thanksgiving on the lips, we are slaves no longer. Fear no more, legs kissed by white sea water.

It is this way, Beloved.

Here you will be found.

It has been said before: Love knocks on our doors for thousands of light years before we one day answer. There are things to be said about True Existence. It is mysterious, precious. Our voices are but warm breezes moving through orchards. We are passing rays of light, holding much purpose. We are momentary.

Let the light in.

Budge the door handle. Say to Love, finally,

“Come in.

Take up residence in this seeking heart made for wonder.”

Love sustains our hungered spirits, all days ahead. White washed and clean in the name of believing: we are guaranteed a good flight. It is a wild flight forward, gentle sparrow. Hold tight.

It is a good, good journey.

We walk through this life as holy monuments, throwing dinner parties for miracles in our backyards strung with fairy lights. We decorate empty rooms with our purposeful voices, all colors on the walls, prisms reflecting and accepting light. This is the true commodity of an intention-filled life. Perhaps transforming monotonous moments into miracles is what our hands and imaginations are made for. The slow, turning river of life trickling by as reminder: the precious arrival a moment holds. We are lampposts lighting the way for lost and curious ones. Saying,

“It is this way, Pioneer.

The Good Life begins Here.”

This manna, falling from sky as promise, is enough to satisfy our hungry lips. Mouths begging for more. Spirit breathing,

There is plenty.

How mystery sustains the most savage of a soul.

Come close to this, Pioneer.

Learn the language of your seeking, savage heart.

It is true water we are searching for. The infinite coast of shoreline, white sand dotted with sea glass. Color of cobalt, dusk, rose flecked cheeks of a child. Lapping waves of ocean helps focus the eyes of a hungry, seeking world. To see what we are made for: breaking bread and drinking wine underneath stars with our Creator. A shared communion of enoughness. Giving thanks for our unknowing of the gentle way ahead, unfolding as we sing through momentary mystery. The journey. There is nothing more spectacular to belong to. The search is over. Hallelujah.

Come into the light.

Perhaps there are Promise Lands within each of us. God, faithful, led the Israelites through mourning and cold nights. Through desperate wishes to return home to the familiar, He led them on towards something better. Through trial, they sang. He waved banners of True Riches in the distance, ushering them towards their Land of Milk and Honey. The way unfolding, hungry as they walked, manna for the mystery. The slow turn of True Inheritance unfolding, a river, carrying them far from captivity. An oasis was born in each of their hearts. They tasted water. They tasted what was good and traveled on, towards a world they could not see but surely felt stirring deep inside.

We are heading in the right direction, brave travelers.

Clinging close to what is truest, bells ringing within our hearts. The music of a heart unhurried is satisfied melody, guiding the way through unmapped journeys of grace. Heaven reaches down with its long, ivory arms to deliver:

We are not far from glory.

We are always a hairsbreadth from witnessing a miracle.

Come close.

This is what we are made for.

This, always arrival.

Unplanned arrangements of splendor.

We are intended for the Promise Land, Land of Milk and Honey sitting still, untouched, within us.  Milk and Honey, enchantment of a better life, thumps against our chests as wedding bells. The enchantment of a better life wanting to become One in all moments. A collision of dreams, faith, reality. Shatter the barricades of a stand-still life. This wonder, it is meant for us.


Swallowing mysterious manna when every fiber of our bodies wants to give up, Spirit sings on:

God, what are we building, what are we traveling towards?

Something beautiful.

Are you sure?

Child, yes.

Pioneer, rest.

We are tethered to truth; never to know what miracles our foolish faith will yield. God hands us bricks and we, as children, bicker the building. We fight the journey in fear of being forgotten.

The gentle Voice speaking is good.

Love will not leave; it will lead.

We take up our baskets that hold constellations of promise, peace, scattering them across dark edges. We walk along nations, rivers, continents as people who are cutting away tall grass, what is blinding to the eyes of wonder. We, Pioneers moving, are raising a grand oasis in this place. The curious ones will say,

“I was so thirsty.

How did you know I was looking for something to drink?

Us as children, awestruck with wonder, say,

We are quenched by Love’s mystery.”

Wind moves in the treetops and our honest voices are enough.

“Love, how did you know what we were looking for?”

Eyes are blind in the best way towards what we cannot see. Thankful, wild crops strewn about a field represent a Good Journey, well walked faithfully. We are children, arms outstretched wide, traveling towards the sun and a future Home still unseen.

You are right where you need to be in order to begin something beautiful.

Something beautiful indeed.

Read more inspiring stories in The Pioneer Issue, now on news stands!

Artistic CreditsPhotography by Kelbert McFarland Creative Direction by Abby Rose Henry Clothing + Accessories by Little Black Dress


Many Brushes: A Mother's Thoughts on Beauty as Featured in The Pioneer Issue

Whether you are a teenager or well into your golden years, the desire to be beautiful is natural. This desire can be driven by an internal, but not always natural or externally-inspired desire, especially for women. It seems every day offers new breakthroughs to look better or younger. The beauty industry is full of new methods, gadgets and products promising to free you from wrinkles, plump lips and derive shine from your locks. And we want to be clear, we all love a great moisturizer or lipstick that enhances natural beauty. But to be defined by how you look would be as Kindra Sullivan says, “to paint your entire self with just one brush.” And you are so much more than the single brush of  your appearance. At least we think so.

To celebrate this idea we talked with mother Kindra Sullivan. Her daughter, Phiefer served as model for transforming this idea into a styled story, and well, we think it’s beautiful. And Phiefer is also generous, strong, helpful, athletic, inquisitive, observant, calm, graceful, genuine, sassy, hardworking, meticulous, persistent and lovable - just to name a few of her other ‘brushes’ as you can see in the ribbons that embrace her.

Thoughts on Beauty by Kindra Sullivan

The Pressure of Beauty

I think it is just a natural part of society - all societies. People naturally like to look at pretty things, and women have been deemed beautiful throughout time and across the world. There is nothing wrong with being outwardly beautiful. The pressure to be outwardly beautiful is hard to avoid, but when it becomes the only thing, the only aspiration, that is when it is a problem.

What’s on the Inside

Well, as we know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is fickle and changes suddenly, and you can't please everyone's idea of what is beautiful. Aspiring to be beautiful is somewhat unfulfilling as much of it is out of your control. So, I feel it is important to focus on strengths beyond a beautiful exterior. I strive to shed light on what makes a person beautiful and unique on the inside. I strive to highlight the traits that are within their control - things they can say, they want to be and want to work towards.

I think focusing on inner beauty gives them a sense of influence and identity. If they say, “I am hard working, I am kind hearted, I am competitive,” or “I am empathetic,” it has much more weight and they can carry that with them wherever they go and for the rest of their lives. They can work on it, improve it, change it and claim it as their own. I think that builds a more beautiful girl and thus woman, than someone born with the right color eyes and long legs.

We celebrate their strengths by letting them identify their strengths for themselves. I have three daughters and each has an inner beauty, unique to themselves. To say “You are beautiful,” is to paint them with one brush which is inaccurate and incomplete. When they label themselves as confident, kind-hearted, quick-witted or athletic, that is concrete and definable and we can talk about it as part of who they are. And I think that is empowering.

Body Image and Security

I am always talking about what an amazing thing the human body is (and I truly believe this). I talk about the science behind your body, how it cures colds, fights infections, carries a baby, kicks a soccer ball, leaps and dances and even heals from devastation and injury. I teach her that her body has a purpose and that it is more wondrous than we can ever imagine. My message is always that your body is more than something pretty to look at, more than something for a boy to lust after and more than the outward appearance. It should be held in awe, taken care of, and appreciated for all of the amazing things it does. After having four kids, my body has some sags and stretches and jiggles that I (privately) wish weren't there. But, I never complain about them. I embrace them, even brag about them and make sure the kids hear how much I love my body because it brought me four miracles. I am proud of that physical feat every single day. I believe leading through example will have the largest impact on how she sees herself.

Find more inspiring stories in our latest issue The Pioneer Issue, now on news stands!

Artistic Credits: Photography by Kent Avenue Photography Calligraphy by Feast Fine Art & Calligraphy Ribbon from Silk & Willow Paint Brushes from Lulu Pom Los Gatos Hair by Mariel Gonsavles Makeup by Bobbi Brown Model, Phiefer Sullivan


The Elevated Wildflower Meadow-Inspired Workshop and Dinner with Floret Flowers, Part Two

We are overjoyed to share Part Two of Floret Flowers Workshop and Dinner with details from owner Erin Benzakein. Read Part One here.

“After gathering these unique botanical ingredients, the students then utilized their new design skills to create lush centerpieces and floral installations for an Elevated Wildflower Meadow-Inspired dinner party within the barn studio. 

Long arches of flowering branches and greens framed the entry, creating a lush indoor garden feel which transformed the space into an ultra-romantic candle-lit dining room filled from floor to ceiling with flowers.

Elegant fruitwood Chiaveri chairs lined the long King’s table, which was set with Villa pattern dinnerware, hemstitched linens, etched crystal glassware and tall bone-colored taper candles in brass candleholders. The tablescapes featured natural elements including chunky pieces of honeycomb, golden plums on the branch, bowls spilling over with fresh fruit alongside Floret’s fresh-cut garden roses, vines, grasses, dried seed pods, dahlias, cosmos, amaranth, hydrangeas and zinnias artfully arranged in earthy terra-cotta vases. 

With a menu created specifically to the season and unique venue, the creative chefs at Bellingham-based Ciao Thyme prepared a farm-to-table feast utilizing local, seasonal produce. The menu featured: 

Coal roasted beets and potatoes with Shropshire blue and whole grain mustard vinaigrette
Roasted carrots with white bean and tahini puree, parsley-mint chimichurri and fried carrot tops
Grilled flatbread with preserved lemon lebnah, fava beans, peas, green garlic, and pickled shallots
Heirloom tomato and melon salad with tamarind vinaigrette and feta
Alder smoked grilled salmon with edible flowers, olio verde and smoked salt
Burk Ridge flat iron steak with cherry-apricot relish
Passion fruit-berry trifle with ricotta pound cake

The celebratory dinner served as the finale for the three-day workshop--a veritable feast for any flower lover’s mind, body and soul.”

Artistic CreditsPhotography by Heather Payne Flowers & Event Styling by Floret Flowers Menus & Name Cards by Brown Linen Designs Vases, Bowls & Planters from Campo de' Fiore Chairs & Dishes from ABC Special Event Rentals by CORT Candles from Creative Candles Linens from La Tavola

The Elevated Wildflower Meadow-Inspired Workshop and Dinner with Floret Flowers, Part One

Earlier this year we shared Floret Flowers as one of our Founding Editor Katie O. Selvidge's favorite follows on Instagram. The story behind the farm of owner Erin Benzakein and her family is one that resonates deeply with Cottage Hill's mission to pursue wholehearted living. What began as a small garden is now thriving business, design studio and learning center. With the learning center, Erin teaches farmers, florists and other creatives from across the globe about small scale, high intensity flower production and the art of natural floral design. 

Today, we are sharing Part One of last year's Elevated Wildflower Meadow-Inspired Dinner beginning with the workshop aspect of the experience. Read more details from Erin below and return here on Friday for Part Two featuring the dinner. 

“Surrounded by tulip fields in Washington’s verdant Skagit Valley sits an unassuming red barn. Once on the verge of collapse, the structure was rescued from ruin, lovingly restored, and now serves as a special event space, artists’ studio and a learning laboratory for some of the country’s leading floral designers. 

On a warm summer day last July, the barn at A.J. Johnson Farm was abuzz with activity as two dozen people from across the country and as far away as Australia gathered for a Floret Workshop to learn about the hottest trend in flowers: natural floral design using local, seasonal blooms. 

Led by Floret owner and entrepreneur Erin Benzakein, Floret workshops are part floral design training and part retreat. The three-day events attract designers, creatives and flower lovers eager to learn natural floral design utilizing the best of what’s in season—most of which comes from Floret’s nearby two-acre flower farm and cutting garden. 

This past July, Floret’s fields were ablaze in color from thousands of cosmos, zinnias and other blooms. As part of the workshop experience, attendees were set loose in Floret’s extensive cutting gardens to select from dozens of varieties of organic flowers, as well as fruiting branches, wispy, romantic vines, and fragrant foliage. 

Workshop participants wandered the paths gathering flowers, foliage plus other airy elements from the field including grains, grasses, pods, vines and seedheads. Another highlight of the July workshop: the opportunity to harvest armloads of creamy ‘café au lait’ dahlias – a hard-to-get variety coveted by designers for it’s large size and unique soft blush color.” 

Artistic Credits: Photography by Heather Payne Flowers & Event Styling by Floret Flowers Menus & Name Cards by Brown Linen Designs Vases, Bowls & Planters from Campo de' Fiore Chairs & Dishes from ABC Special Event Rentals by CORT Candles from Creative Candles Linens from La Tavola

Faith, Film and Family from The Pioneer Issue

Beyond ethereal subtleties, deep shades of blue, floppy hats and a classic cup of French press coffee, you will find the heart of fine art film photographer, Jennifer Blair. Currently based in Alabama, Jennifer is wife to worship leader Jonathan Blair and mother to precious daughter, Eleanora. With a growing business and family, Jennifer has gracefully learned how to cultivate a life where she authentically pursues her passions as an artist while remaining rooted in her values.

Inspired in her childhood by the draw of the ocean when the waves crashed over her feet, there was a comfort found in how small she was compared to the vastness of the sea. Enchanted with the way the sea could be calm one moment and raging the next perpetuated a vision that stark contrasts could blend together so organically. “It’s amazing how you can be two seemingly different things at once - like being a business owner and a mom; it’s intriguing how two sweeping differences can exist together.” The blue and green hues that shimmer beyond white capped waves have captured Jennifer’s heart and inspired her as an artist to embrace the same genuine emotion in her work that the beautiful imagery of the sea creates.  

Growing up, Jennifer was never a foreigner to fine arts. Surrounded by creatives - including her Dad and Granddad - piano lessons, art lessons and photography were just a few of the things that sparked her artistic aspirations. Pursuing the beauty of harmony and melody in college, Jennifer graduated with a music degree and met her husband. After finishing school and becoming a newlywed, her creative passions took a backseat for a while as she tried to figure out her place in the world. Seeking any job she could find and trying to make something of herself, she accepted a position as a secretary- but it didn’t take long to discover that sitting behind a desk was stifling the zeal to do something more with her talents.

“I was in a tiny room, at a small desk, with no windows, and I hated it. That is when I started to blog; I needed to have a creative outlet.” Over time, it was clear that being behind a desk each day answering calls was not a good fit, and faith began to take over. “One day I came home from my lunch break and knew, clear as day, that God was telling me to quit my job. I called my husband, who told me to follow God's leading, then turned in my notice when I got back from lunch. ”

It wasn’t until after several months of being jobless that a new calling broke the silence. “In my desperation, and shame of being without a job for what felt like forever, my heart was finally ready to listen. It was then that photography was laid on my heart. I was honestly shocked. It was something I always loved, but never wanted for anything more than a hobby. But I jumped, not knowing anything about photography except what I learned in high school and art lessons. I spent the last of my savings on a sort of ok, semi-professional camera and devoted myself to the art.”  Opportunities began to pour in by the grace of God and that was when things got challenging. Everything happened so quickly, the luxury of having it all figured out was not an option. Every day became a learning experience, and that was when the help of past experiences with film photography bridged the gap.  When there were doubts or setbacks managing something so new, strong will and determination paid off. “I knew that if I put my mind to something, I could do it- of course, some things within parameters. But when my heart is set on something, I’m going to give everything I got, and if I fail, I know I gave it my all.”

As business continued to blossom, Jennifer began to really think about who she was and honed in on developing her brand. Naturally drawn to genuine beauty, Jennifer knew she wanted her style to have a luminous, kind, and elegant essence. Working with graphic designer Kathryn Duckett of Crème brands was one of the highlights of her early career: “I was one of Kathryn’s first wedding industry clients and she was phenomenal from the get go. She taught me if you know who you are, then your work will come from an authentic place. Creating a brand is so much deeper than the colors you use on your blog or what your website looks like. Business is not just about art or a relationship- it’s a mixture of both. The way you market yourself on Instagram, what you share about yourself, it all needs to be a good representation of who I am and what my business is about. Kathryn helped me to see that my life and business should line up.” While learning to preserve a professional environment and boundaries with what she could commit to, Jennifer took delight in developing deep connections with her clients. “I really strive to listen to and understand who my clients are, rather than focusing solely on surface details. My clients and I come up with descriptive words for the day, we discuss the desired imagery. When doing engagements or weddings I want to know what couples admire in each other. I want to know what makes them tick and how they think. This way I create something more authentic instead of photographing pretty things; this makes my job as an artist so much more rewarding.”

With an authentic brand well underway, a new season bloomed with the birth of daughter, Eleanora.  Not sure how motherhood and business ownership would mesh, Jennifer was intentional about not becoming overwhelmed. “I tried to keep my expectations low; I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to be both a good business owner and mom at the same time. I tried to give myself some grace.” To help manage new changes, the Blairs hired a nanny and worked together to create a gracious ebb and flow. “Jonathan and I support each other; we know what each others busy seasons are and we work around each others schedules. Often times when I had to work, Jonathan would stay home with Eleanora; or one of us will take on more household tasks if the other is busy.” There began to be a clarity that to be both a mom and an artist was okay and there was no longer pressure to be one or the other.  “I tried not to look at other people and what they were doing- even other people in the same industry as me. I have to do what is best for my business and my family.”

Keeping their sights on eternity, Jonathan helps to encourage the family when the little things go wrong, even if it’s the tedious tasks of being a parent that wear them down. “Jonathan is so great at reminding me there is a bigger picture, so I try not to focus on what happens tomorrow, next week or next month- today matters.” Having this perspective has brought greater value and appreciation in both motherhood and as an artist. “Eleanora created more balance in my life. Being a mom and an artist has brought new meaning and gratitude to each day. Before I was a workaholic, but now I can step away from things I may not have before. Knowing where my boundaries are has given me more purpose and solidarity.” Learning how to separate business from motherhood took some getting used to, but through grace, things fell into place by being purposeful. “I know if I try to be a mom and work at the same time, I will make mistakes. When I’m with Eleanora I make an effort to put the phone away and not respond to emails. And then when I go to work, I can focus- I’m excited to shoot photos and create something beautiful. Being a mom is a rest from that; it’s still work, but a different kind of work.” Motherhood has brought even more beauty to each day. In the moments of painting with Eleanora and the peaceful walks outside breathing in the fresh air, enjoying the simplicity of nature, there is pure joy in knowing that being a mom has come from the ability to facilitate growth of a new life. Fascinated by what the future holds for Eleanora, being a mom anticipates the excitement of the unknown. “I often think of what she will do when she is older. Maybe she will like art or maybe she won’t. She is her own unique person. She will see life differently than me or my husband. It’s neat to think how I will grow because of her.”

Together, Jonathan and Jennifer are learning to be fluent creatives with a focus. They never forgo breakfast as a family and continue to have a deep connection with their shared appreciation for music- often times writing songs with one another. There are moments of quiet in the morning when Jennifer will try to steal a few minutes of time getting in the Word, sipping on a cup of her favorite French press coffee. And then there are times when there is no room for solitude and the mornings fly by. Hurdles have presented themselves along the way but common goals have kept the Blairs grounded.  “We support each other; my passion is his passion. We are definitely not perfect, but are aware of each others strengths and weaknesses. We know what's best for us and we put each other first.” Jennifer has learned there is an authentic beauty in knowing who she is and letting that shine into all aspects of her life. By taking a few moments and pausing to look at the big picture, faith remains a pivotal part in keeping things together. “Christ is a huge part of keeping me grounded. I try not to stress over the little things and I may not always have things figured out, but that’s okay. And admitting that sometimes I need help is okay, too.”  

“I’ve learned to have core values that I hold dear, and I build my life upon that. These are the things that will hold me steady and are an anchor when hard times come up. Knowing why I’m doing what I’m doing keeps me pursuing what I want to do.” Jennifer has found a way to embrace life in the same way she does the sea. Choosing to see the vastness- the bigger picture- as a hope to hold onto, yet realizing she has a purpose deeply rooted in where she is today.  Anchored in steadfast faith, Jennifer navigates through the calm and the chaos of being an artist, mother, and wife with uncompromising authenticity. “Faith, family, work, friends- they're all intertwined and cannot be separated in my heart.”

Story by Nicole Renee Jordan. See more featuring Jennifer Blair and her family with photographs by Sawyer Baird in The Pioneer Issue, now on news stands. 

Move to the Mountains from The Pioneer Issue

Without a vision for our lives we lack purpose. The Lyerly family has always had a strong vision for their lives - a dream of the kind of lifestyle they desired for their children, and for themselves.

Michelle and Christopher met and fell in love in the Appalachian Mountains while attending school at Lees-McRae College. The land held a special place in their hearts for many reasons, but in order to fulfill their dream of starting a family a move to the city was the best decision for them. They moved to the city Michelle grew up in and both found jobs that they loved, Christopher as a firefighter and Michelle as a wedding photographer. Over the years they were blessed with two sets of tiny feet running around their home. They built a wonderful life together in the city, but all the while their hearts were calling them back to the mountains. They dreamed of a simpler life.

Read the entire story written by Ally Willix and photographed by Perry Vaile in The Pioneer Issue, now on news stands. 

Family Orchard Session

Family sessions hold our heart. We love seeing love grow through time and children. Amy of Amy Rae Photography shared this sweet session with us at Solebury Orchards. Read more from Amy and the family she captured below. 

Jennifer contacted me to shoot a family lifestyle session for her while her family was home in the states as they currently reside in Shanghai, China as expats for her husbands job. She has memories of going to Solebury Orchard and took her own children there when they were younger so it was the perfect place for their family session. Her hopes to have a candid lifestyle session documenting her family spending precious moments together was easily captured on this beautiful farm. The children enjoyed helping cut fresh flowers and running through the apple orchard. This family session is sweet and playful.

Memories of a Grandmother

When artists send us work that is simply heartfelt like this one, we are reminded as curators becomes that this is so much more than posting photographs - it is an honor. Silver Cup Artist Josie Photographs shares with us a story between her and her sister celebrating their passed grandmother. Read below for more. 

This photo story came together after the death of my grandmother, and the incredible woman I'm named after, this past June. Growing up she was always such a huge part of my life and after losing her my way of preserving her memory was through film and my camera, a safe place to embrace all of my feelings.

Most memories were tied in some way to the kitchen. Tomato sandwiches and popsicles were a favorite during the Summer and homemade fudge at Christmas. I spent many hours with her in her kitchen a place and memories I'll never forget. But one food altogether will bring back a feeling of nostalgia and joy every time. 

For this session my sweet sister modeled and I taught her how to make the same biscuits my grandmother made, taught to her by her mother. All props other than a spool of ribbon belonged to my grandmother and now to me. Each recipe featured is in her hand and the ring used was designed and made by her during her time working for a jeweler. It now belongs to my sister. 

Photography by Silver Cup Artist Josie Photographs :: Ribbon from Adorn Company :: Film Lab, Photovision