Posts in CH Moments
A Real Surprise Proposal
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill
A real Surprise Proposal, now on Cottage Hill

We often receive surprise proposal stories, but rarely does the bride seem truly surprised. When photographs Shayla and Todd of Shayla Renee Photography sent these images and this story, though, we could feel the surprise and the love between these two - we had to share it with you!

Here is what Todd had to say about capturing Jared and Claire's moment:

Jared's proposal to Claire was absolutely breathtaking! It was July 20th on one of the brightest and best days Portland had seen this summer. The location was at one of Portland's premier restaurants, Noble Rot Wine Bar.

Jared decided to propose to Claire on the roof of Noble Rot where a beautiful garden full of vegetables, flowers, and a magnificent view of the city awaited. Jared hired Moorea Masa & the Mood to sing while he asked the big question. As Jared and Claire walked up the ladder and made their entrance Moorea Masa & the Mood began to play beautifully and Jared got down on one knee and asked the question they had been waiting, unknowingly, for fourteen years to be asked. With tears in her eyes (as well as his) Claire said yes! 

What I didn't know at the time and later found out is that Jared and Claire had been best friends for fourteen years and had only been dating just over a year at this point. But the entire time they had been dating Jared knew and even vocalized that he would marry her! They had watched each other fall in and out of love with other people for fourteen years and it was finally their turn, and this love wasn't a love you fall out of but a love you fall deeper into. 

After the proposal Jared and Claire climbed back down tot he restaurant where they finished their glasses of wine and then headed out to an after party where thirty of their friends and family were waiting to celebrate their love.

A Slow Morning by Stephanie Booth
How to Enjoy a Slow Morning |

The weeks go by quickly and often we use the weekends to 'get things done' understandably so. But this weekend we want to challenge you to take it slow, or perhaps, take one morning slow, or just a few minutes to yourself to enjoy the moment. Photographer Stephanie Booth shared her thoughts, and beautiful images, on how she tries to start her mornings slowly and consciously. Read more below.

Society is so fast paced it takes my breath away. I’m connected to my work around the clock, and before I’ve completed my Monday, it’s already Friday. I desperately feel a frenzy in my soul to just slow down, but so often, I push myself to keep going and to keep a pulse on everything in work and society.

But today, as I lean on the counter and listen to the heating kettle of water, I realize that there’s one time of each day that’s sacred. As my husband wraps his arms around my waist and hugs me, I lean back and melt into him and sway with him. There will be plenty to do, but right now, the most important thing is this moment.

Each morning, as the early light breaks on the horizon, I walk downstairs with my puppy and my husband and brew coffee. There’s something therapeutic about the slow process of pouring water through the coffee grounds for each individual cup, talking quietly as the steam rises.

I tried to step away from coffee and drink tea instead, and while I didn’t miss the coffee as much as I thought I might, I missed this slow, thoughtful brewing process. I missed waiting for the kettle to boil and slow dancing with my husband barefoot in our kitchen. I missed the smell of freshly ground beans and I missed carefully measuring the grounds and circulating the water for each cup. And I missed the time I got to just slow down and enjoy the beautiful of an early morning sunrise with the ones I loved most.

Our morning ritual filled with early morning grogginess and a good dose of bedhead has very little to do with guzzling caffeine. This is my time to awaken by slowing down. This is my time to look my husband in the eyes, to curl up on the couch with a steaming mug, and to ask “how are you really doing?”

And this is my time to live in the grace of the slow.

Artistic Credits: Stylist and Photographer, Stephanie and Stephen Booth, Booth Photographics Linens from Sur La Table Coffee by locally roasted by Colectivo Coffee 
Morning reading, Sunday Suppers by Karen Mordecai 

The Joy and Simplicity of 'Motion'

Motion can transform an image into a living, breathing moment. It can be an extension of emotion, changing the story from internal to a shared experience. And accompanied by gowns from Leanne Marshall, these moments are especially enchanting. Tomorrow we will be sharing part two of this shoot with a beautiful, simple table.

Artistic Credits: Photographer by Benicosa Weddings Floral Design by Tinge Floral Stylist, Gatherist MUAH by Bella Cosa Beauty Dresses by Leanne Marshall Model. Emma Kelly

Together Dinner

Earlier this year I was invited as special guest to a unique dinner created by creatives, celebrating creatives. Whether you are an artistic entrepreneur, in the wedding industry or completely unaffiliated with either world, finding community over competition as women can be a struggle. Being vulnerable and open with others within your own industry can seem counterintuitive. But as Jessica Zimmerman of Zimmerman Events explains below, there's a lot of joy in being able to drop the drama of comparison and gather together.

A couple of years ago I was talking to my business consultant and friend, Shanna Skidmore, about how I would love to invite all the women in my area in the creative industry to my studio for dinner. I remember her asking me, “Why do you want to host this dinner?” 

The only time we (local creatives) ever saw one another was during a wedding when we are all busy doing our job - not exactly the ideal time to chat. I also felt like we were all so divided. The industry naturally felt competitive. Also, these women spend their weekends serving their clients so I wanted to invite them over for dinner in my studio to simply take care of them, pamper them, serve them. 

In an industry where it is so easy to compare and compete with one another, I wanted to host an event that was completely about encouragement and support. I decided to call this event the Together Dinner; a celebration of community and empowerment. I had the privilege of hosting a gathering of some of Arkansas’s most talented women in the creative business industry. So often we are busy producing beautiful events for others and I really wanted for each of my guests to experience a beautiful setting that was created simply for them to enjoy.

Ivy was my inspiration behind the decor of this event. This dinner feels like ivy to me - you know how you see those walls covered in ivy? They don’t start off that way - several individual plants are planted and over time they grow together to create one beautiful display. To produce a beautiful event - it takes each and every one of us. It takes rental companies, lighting companies, floral design, a planner, yummy food, beautiful paper goods, a killer hair + makeup team and a talented photographer to capture it all. Each of our roles are important and the more we recognize this and the more we work together - the better these events are going to be.

This was our second annual Together Dinner and I’ve seen such a huge difference in just one year in our industry. I love how we meet each other for breakfast, call to see how one another are doing, write one another encouraging notes and I see tons of support and “heart eye” emojis on social media - it’s just all about encouraging one another. I wanted my guests to have a chance to mix and mingle with other women who experience the same joys, struggles, victories, and losses that come with the work we give our lives to everyday.

I was honored to have special guests Katie Selvidge and Shanna Skidmore travel to Arkansas for this dinner and to have Lauren Kinsey photograph the whole thing. 

Artistic Credits: Host and Floral Design by Jessica Zimmerman Rentals by Party Time Rental & Events Chairs from Hanks Event Rentals Flatware by Southern Events Rentals Calligraphy by Brown Linen Design Food by PattiCakes Invitation Suite by Bella Figura Hand drawn ivy print by Meredith Mejerle Images scanned by Indie Film Lab Dream Big Darling card from The Social Type Planner and bath bomb by Belle and Blush Ribbon by Silk and Willow Fresh floral donation by Florabundance Photography by Lauren Kinsey Lighting by CWP Productions

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

An Irish-Inspired Morning

St. Patrick's Day is one of our favorites of the smaller holidays. As the world starts to turn green again from winter, we get to celebrate the color with the trees and the grass on this special day.

Last year, we shared an Irish-inspired supper with recipes and entertaining ideas for St. Patrick's Day. And this year, we invited Kelly Sauer to share her experience in Ireland with us as her inspiration for a morning alone, preparing for the day slowly and thoughtfully. The first three images are from her trip to Ireland, then the following at RiverOaks Charleston guided by stylist Lacy Geary.

Artistic CreditsPhotography by Kelly Sauer Creative Direction & Styling, Food Styling by Lacy Geary VenueRiverOaks Charleston Florals by Marianne Caldwell of RiverOaks Charleston ModelAllie N, Directions USA DressPrimary New York  Cuffs by Mary McGill Jewelry 
Hair & Makeup by Brittany L. Gerhard Paper Goods by The Little North Sea Studio

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


Meet Me Halfway: Finding Forgiveness and Love in the Imperfect as Featured in The Pioneer Issue

Read the entire story in The Pioneer Issue, now on news stands!

Artistic Credits: Photography by Emily Ann Hughes Film Lab, PhotoVision Creative Direction & Styling by Haleigh Kenney of XO Events & Design Makeup by Hayley DeVilbiss Dress by Marissa Webb Models, Josh Worley of Brink Model Management and Taylaura Baker


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


Plant Your Seeds with Intention: An Ode to Early Spring and New Beginnings by Katie O. Selvidge as Featured in The Pioneer Issue
Plant Your Seeds with Intention: An Ode to Early Spring and New Beginnings by Katie O. Selvidge as Featured in The Pioneer Issue

Plant Your Seeds with Intention by Katie O. Selvidge

They say it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. But when you’re at the start, it’s important to start with intention, with the end in mind. Whether it’s a new adventure, a career, a relationship - before you buy the plane tickets, file for business or say yes to that Friday night date; what do you want the ending to look like? Or feel like?

Plant your seeds with the intention of developing deep roots. Plant not for a quick harvest, but for a lasting harvest. Take notice of the soil. Be mindful of the conditions. Patiently, with love and caring, allow your seedling to grow steadily and persevere to full maturity.

The beginning is always exciting. An intentional start has the best chance to develop into an intentional ending, but only if it is cared for daily. So take notice of the community you’re cultivating. Be mindful of why you are starting this journey. Prune your heart of the rot and decay caused by worry and comparison. Replenish your heart and mind with truth and love for what is righteous and just.  Never fear, but persevere. Take your road and live the journey. Wait, trust patiently with hope and anticipation and you will win.

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

Artistic Credits: Photograph by Kelbert McFarland

Beautiful Relationships Start as Buds and then Bloom: Madison and Michael's Elegant Estate Wedding as Featured in The Pioneer Issue

Beautiful Relationships Start as Buds and then Bloom by Sarah Lapine

A simple sentiment of wisdom and beauty, spoken to a granddaughter by her grandmother. For Madison and Michael, those words carry rich meaning in their lives.

It was Madison’s grandmother, or Teta, as she called her, who spoke these words. Madison described her as having been a spirited, independent, fashionable woman; the mother of five boys. “Growing up in Egypt and attending a French school, she loved French fashion. She had no daughters, but several granddaughters. I grew up in the same town as her, and we had a very close relationship. She was hilarious,” said Madison. And her words, wise, as they encapsulate the story of how Madison and Michael came to marry.

Their story began in middle school at their church youth group. “Michael was new, he had a mushroom haircut, and I just went up to him and started talking,” remembered Madison. She quickly departed as more girls began to swarm around the new guy, but she has always remembered that first meeting. “It wasn’t romantic. I’ve just never forgotten that moment.”

Recalled Michael, “She was this crazy, friendly, tomboyish girl with long, curly hair. She was one of the first people to talk to me.” Perhaps it was her spirit; perhaps it was her dark, gorgeous hair. But one way or another, she had left an impression.

Throughout high school, Madison and Michael remained close friends, spending much of their time with each other. They studied together, ate lunch together and practiced their guitars together.  Ironically, the first song they played together was "Better Together." But despite the teasing and taunting of their friends, romance never blossomed, perhaps to Michael’s dismay. It wasn’t until Michael went away to college in Indiana that Madison realized she missed his companionship. And so began their long-distance courtship.

As they both pursued their studies in the sciences, Michael in biomedical engineering, and Madison in biology, they spent hours talking and studying over Skype. They often sent each other photographs of things they liked, and for a while, Madison sent nothing but images of majestic mountains. It was fitting, then, when Michael surprised Madison with a birthday trip to Colorado to see those mountains in person.  

The two journeyed west just one month after their college graduations. They spent time visiting friends and marveling at the beauty of the landscapes. On the final day of their adventure in the mountains, Michael suggested that he and Madison picnic in the valley of Estes Park. And it was there, surrounded by wildflowers, under a perfectly bluebird sky, looking out at the towering peaks of the Mummy Range, that Michael proposed to Madison.

“I think I was mid-bite when he got down on one knee,” laughed Madison. And though Michael said that she looked somewhat bewildered, she hugged him and said yes. When the moment had sunk in a bit, Michael realized he was still holding her engagement ring.  “Do you want this?” he asked.  And so, among the wildflowers, the ring was placed upon her finger.

We wanted to be genuine. We wanted to be real about each other and genuine about our faith.  We wanted to be genuine about our family.

These were the intentions that guided Michael and Madison as they began to plan their springtime wedding. “I love beautiful things,” said Madison, “but I never wanted to be flashy or showy. We wanted to be purposeful in our choices.”

The venue, a historic estate and gardens, was chosen for its French Provincial architecture and the hand-painted wallpaper in the dining room, imported from France. Elegant in its details, the manor felt like a subtle nod to Teta. “It’s sometimes the small things that trigger your memories,” said Madison.

Madison designed the bridesmaids’ dresses herself, taking on an admittedly ambitious task. Her designs were brought to life by two talented family friends. Several of the flower girl dresses were also handmade, lovingly sewn by Madison's mother and two of her friends. The three women stayed up late into the night to complete the little, white tulle dresses in time for the wedding.

Several details were chosen to reflect the bride’s Egyptian heritage, such as the gold Egyptian perfume bottles given by Madison to her bridesmaids. Sugared almonds were selected as favors for their guests, and Madison and her sisters taught all of the bridesmaids how to make Egyptian-style baklava, which was served with tea at the end of the wedding evening. Encouraged by her grandfather, Madison also wore bridal henna on her wedding day. “I loved how he was invested in our wedding and made sure I kept with some traditions,” Madison said.

And that bridal gown. Madison adored the beautiful, long sleeved wedding dress her mother had worn on her own wedding day. Inspired, Madison chose a sleeveless gown, purchased delicate lace, drew up a sketch, and asked seamstress Carolyn Fang to help create the dress she saw so clearly in her mind. The result was a gorgeous, long sleeved, French lace gown that fulfilled Madison’s romantic vision.

Despite months of careful attention to each detail, when their wedding day finally arrived, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as Madison had hoped. “The morning of our wedding was madness,” said Madison. “Things went awry.” She spoke of a moment of recognition in the midst of the whirlwind, however, when she was reminded of why marriage is important. To have an unconditional partner in life to stand by your side when your world is spinning in the wrong direction is a gift.

And when she finally put on her wedding gown, Madison felt things lighten and shift. “The whole day changed,” she said. As she stood there, surrounded by her beautiful sisters, family members and friends, she felt as if she were in a surreal moment.  Waiting for the ceremony to begin, she opened Michael’s gift to her. It was a pendant, holding Teta’s wedding picture, to fasten to her bouquet. Included was a note from Michael that read, “So she can be with us on our special day.” “We all cried,” Madison said, “but it was a beautiful reminder of her.”

Madison’s gift to Michael was also a reminder of the palpable support and strength bestowed upon them by their families. It was his grandfather’s pocket knife, which he kept in his jacket pocket throughout the ceremony.

At half past four in the afternoon, Madison joyfully walked down the aisle towards Michael, as arrangements from Pride and Prejudice were played. Three different pastors officiated, including Madison’s uncle who flew from Egypt to give the sermon and support them on their wedding day.

Following the ceremony, Madison and Michael snuck away to the estate's gardens. Hiding under a tree, the now husband and wife quietly reveled in their unity. “It was a moment of peace,” said Madison. A moment that seemed to stand in time.

For the rest of the evening, Michael and Madison joined their guests in celebrating the love around them and the beauty of the day. Even a fox joined in the fun, dashing across the manor lawn during the maid of honor’s toast; a magical moment that will not be forgotten.

At the end of the night, the guests lined up in front of the estate, cheering, as the bride and groom dashed towards their car. Madison chose this moment to toss her bouquet. “It was simple and exciting," she said. “It was a perfect way to end the night.”

Our hearts are into bettering people's lives.

As Madison and Michael continue to journey on their life path together, they are guided by their faith and a mutual passion for creating a more positive world together. Michael is currently working on doctoral studies in biomedical engineering at Ohio State, with the intent to help improve healthcare. Madison is the founder of POINT, a company working to design an app that connects people with service opportunities and makes giving to charitable organizations easier. “We are both entrepreneurially minded,” said Michael. “We like to create things and we are invested in our communities.” Together, they are cultivating compassion and positive change.

“We like to push each other,” said Michael. “I married Madison because she is passionate.  She is always pushing me to be better. She is invested in who I am. And, she's gorgeous!” Just as their relationship bloomed after so many years of knowing each other, so too are their intentions for living a passionate, service-filled life. With the other by their side, Madison and Michael know they are better together.

Find more inspiring stories and real wedding in The Pioneer Issue, now on news stands!

Artistic Credits: Photography by Justine Milton Film Scans by PhotoVIsion Prints Venue, Kingwood Center Event Planning and Design by the Bride Day of Event Coordinator and Styling by Birds and Honey Event Coordinator by Umbrella Barrel Catering by Blue Ribbon Catering and Mazah Mediterannean Eatery Floral Design by the Bride's Family and Friends Cinematography by Little Tree Studios Cake by Blanca Guerra Ceremony Music by Isaiah Wu, Daniel Wu and Stephan Spottswood Cocktail Hour Music by Stephan Spottswood Reception Music by Caleb Apker and Lauren Mikail Wedding Bands by Store5a Bride's Makeup by Columbus Wedding Makeup Bridesmaid Makeup and Hair by Makeup and Hair by Laura Bridesmaid Dresses by Bride, Cloty Julca and McWherter Henna Art by Bindu Verma and Creative Calla Corner Calligraphy by Plume Calligraphy


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. 

Before Grace from The Pioneer Issue

“We sit down together to say grace, give thanks or appreciate - regardless of religious or non-religious affiliation - because something in the human spirit recognizes good and recognizes that the good in life deserves a proclamation of gratitude. But before the moment we bow our heads or look to the heavens, hold hands and close our eyes, there’s a moment of anticipation. Our hearts get a little flustered, a little extra full when it comes time for grace. It’s in that moment of overwhelming contentment and peace we see just how abundant grace truly is in our life. We are truly present and can feel just a glimpse of eternity.”

Read more and see more in The Pioneer Issue now on news stands. 

Photography by Rustic White Photography :: Products from ZOLA :: Design & Planning by Candice Beaty for Chancey Charm Weddings :: Venue, Burge Plantation :: Hair & Makeup by Raney O’Keefe :: Florals by Many O’Shea of Moonflower Design :: Rentals from Goodwin Event Rentals :: Catering by Peter Dale of The National :: Paper Goods by Feast Calligraphy :: Ribbons from Adorn Company