A Year in the Making (a.k.a.: How I ended up in Northern California teaching two photography workshops.)

July 5th, 2016

Hello. It’s me.

Rachel Chaney_blog-009

Sorry I haven’t blogged in a long time. I’ve been sharing more work lately on Facebook and Instagram.

This blog’s for you, Jane Bee (who very sweetly called me out for being delinquent in my blogging) and all the other awesome women who participated in A Year in the Making.

Some of you may have been wondering why I went to Northern California this summer to teach a photography workshop.

And some of you may have been wondering what on earth is “A Year in the Making”.

In order to answer either question, you have to start with the creator of A Year in the Making, my friend, Karen Russell.

Karen Russell is a photographer and teacher who taught an online photography workshop called The Photographers’ Workshop for years.

She never marketed her class once. Her business grew simply by word of mouth. She is such a good teacher that registration would fill up for all the seats in the class within minutes. If you were to print up all the pdf lessons for the 8 week course, you would get a 400+ page text book that I think sets the standard for basic digital photography. She didn’t stop there. She created an easy-to-navigate online forum for discussion about the class and created a culture where people felt safe to take risks and learn.  Combine the class with her long-running, self-disclosing, and beautiful-looking blog and you have the recipe for a strong following.

I took her class in 2009. I have been forever changed by it. She laid a solid foundation for me with photography that I have built on. As a result of her class, I learned to shoot with confidence–especially indoors.

Three years later, she took a big risk and invited me to spend time with her in Oregon in 2012. We hadn’t even talked on the phone before I arrived at the Medford Airport and stayed in her house for five days. I am so thankful that she took that risk.

You can see more about our first face-to-face adventure HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Then she came for a visit to San Antonio 2013 and saw the beauty and brokenness of my life. She loved each of my kids and got to know Greg. My family fell in love with her.

God has built our friendship over the course of years. I am so thankful that I have caught a glimpse of what He is up to in and through her.  My life is richer because she is my friend.

About a year and a half ago, Karen had a big, bold idea for a new class called A Year in the Making. She replaced her much-loved Photographers’ Workshop with a year long, online class for a smaller group of about 60 students. This new forum started meeting online in June of 2015. The ambitious, online forum covered topics from relationships to organization to fitness and nutrition. Of course, there was a heavy photography component as well.  All the participants wrote their life story. All of the participants selected a word to think about and meditate on for the entire year. After interacting virtually for a year, the women in this class met face to face this past June 2016 during two weekends. One group of women arrived the weekend of 6/16. The other group arrived the weekend of 6/23. Karen invited me to help with these two in-person workshops.

Karen has spent hours and hours preparing for this workshop–on the couch, in front of her computer, and running errands.

Rachel Chaney_blog-006

She pays attention to the smallest visual detail. Here, she is with my dear friend Lea (who took the class) at JoAnn’s, selecting fabric to tie onto Mason jar drinking glasses for dinner the first night.

Rachel Chaney_blog-004


The day the women arrived for the first workshop, Annie, Karen’s daughter, made a huge chalk art sign in the front street welcoming them.

Rachel Chaney_blog-003

Josh, Karen’s husband, was instrumental in this workshop. He schlepped our suitcases, drove us around, got their house ready for the first evening’s events, told funny jokes–sometimes twice, and loved his family like crazy.

I see these two choosing truth and light and patience and vulnerability and joy in the midst of a very hard personal season of their life.

Watching them these past few months has been a big source of encouragement for me.  I am officially part of the Josh Downs fan club. I love this photo of them.

Rachel Chaney_blog-002

Each woman received a packet like this to open while traveling to the in person meet up.  It was filled with notes from all the other women who were coming. Because I was helping with both workshops, that means I received over 50 notes of encouragement and kindness even before arriving. It was humbling and overwhelming.

Rachel Chaney_blog-001

Karen’s friend, Coral, helped with the workshop too.  She is a skilled portrait photographer in southern Oregon who understands light well. She has a great laugh. She’s been a constant friend to Karen. The first night, she needed a few more moments to get ready.

Rachel Chaney_blog-008

When the women arrived Thursday night, Karen and Josh’s two daughters gave them a tour of their house.

Rachel Chaney_blog-001

Josh and Karen welcomed the ladies in the backyard for dinner.

Rachel Chaney_blog-002

Rachel Chaney_blog-003

Rachel Chaney_blog-004

Rachel Chaney_blog-023

Karen and Josh bought a school bus to transport the students for these two weekends. Josh added seats, fixed it up, and got his CDL so he could drive everyone around.

After dinner, the women got on the school bus and headed to McCloud, California–a total surprise to them.

Rachel Chaney_blog-005

Rachel Chaney_blog-016

Located at the foot of Mount Shasta, McCloud is a small town in Northern California known for fly fishing, snow skiing, and clean water.

Rachel Chaney_blog-029

We took over the Mercantile Hotel there. It’s where Karen and Josh spent their honeymoon and have celebrated several anniversaries.

Rachel Chaney_blog-010

Karen surprised the women by setting up an art show of their own work before their arrival. For many women this was very emotional–especially for those who don’t usually print their images or display them in a large format.

Rachel Chaney_blog-006

Rachel Chaney_blog-005

Rachel Chaney_blog-026

Rachel Chaney_blog-011


Friday morning started with surprise videos for each woman’s family.

Children, husbands, daughters, grand kids, parents, and grandparents shared about what made their loved one beautiful to them.

Rachel Chaney_blog-020

Rachel Chaney_blog-007

During the weekend, I documented many of the events; I taught my own class about storytelling; and I coached small groups of women through different shooting scenarios.

Friday, I helped the women with an indoor shooting scenario in beautiful, moody light.

I talked them through my thought process; helped them with settings; touched a bit on composition; and introduced many to my friend, Kelvin.

Rachel Chaney_blog-022

Karen thought it would be cool to get these bike carts (a.k.a. surreys) up and running and have the women ride them to a baseball game.

Both the carts and the game were a total surprise also.

Rachel Chaney_blog-012

Rachel Chaney_blog-014

Check out Cathy’s expression up close.

Rachel Chaney_blog-008

Rachel Chaney_blog-013

Rachel Chaney_blog-015

Paper, rock, scissors to decide who bats first.

Rachel Chaney_blog-024

Rachel Chaney_blog-016

Rachel Chaney_blog-017

Helena got a great hit.

Rachel Chaney_blog-009

Anna–a fierce athlete–scored a home run.

Rachel Chaney_blog-021

Karen went all out to try to field Colleen’s ball at first base.

Rachel Chaney_blog-010

Rachel Chaney_blog-011

Rachel Chaney_blog-025

Rachel Chaney_blog-026

During workshop #2, the red team photo bombed the losing blue team.

Rachel Chaney_blog-012

After the ball game, we pedaled home. I opted for a hike with some of the women in the evening.

I enjoyed getting to know Regina a bit and seeing Cathy in her element.

Rachel Chaney_blog-013

Rachel Chaney_blog-014

Friday night ended with dinner in the crane shed, a cavernous barn-like building at the mill.

Yes, Karen Russell creates event venues where there are none.

Rachel Chaney_blog-018


Karen asked Kirk Rudy to share his collection of Native American portraits by photographer, Edward S. Curtis. Curtis created most of his work during the first two decades of the 1900s.

You can learn more about Curtis and this extraordinary collection HERE.

Rachel Chaney_blog-015

Rachel Chaney_blog-019

After Kirk’s lecture, I taught the class I had created for these women, a class on photographic storytelling.

I love to teach but don’t get to do it often. It felt like I had made a delicious meal and got to bring all these women around the table and serve it to them.

I felt so much joy teaching. I’m on the lookout for other places/ ways to teach about photography.

Here’s a screen shot of one of the slides in my presentation that sets out the goals of my class.


Apparently, I get pretty animated when I start teaching.  [Bam]

Thank you, Marilou, for taking this one.

Marilou Jaen-069blog

In the late afternoon, I coached the women through a really tricking shooting scenario–in the dimly lit and cluttered basement of the Mercantile. The students affectionately named it the dungeon.

Then we headed outdoors for some more traditional portraits in abundant light.

Here’s Dana. . .

Rachel Chaney_blog-028

…and Karen.

Rachel Chaney_blog-027

The first Saturday night, I was sick so I took the night off.

The second Saturday night, I joined the group by a pond and a cabin with breathtaking views of Mt. Shasta for dinner and dancing. During dinner, I listened in on a conversation between two courageous women who were both systematically sexually abused by a family member. I listened as they encouraged each other and ministered to one another–sharing concrete ways they fight to heal moment by moment. I believe every single word they said. And I want them to keep fighting to heal.

I ended one of the best days of my life dancing like crazy. My kids don’t believe me that I pulled it off.  Maybe if you were there and witnessed it, you could add a comment to this blog post to try to convince them of the truth.

So glad Coral got a few photos. Here’s proof that I will do just about anything to make Karen smile. Thank you, Coral!

Coral Carlson-178blog


Tired yet? The Karen Russell train is fun, but it moves really fast.

She challenged all the women to run or walk a 5 K.

The morning started with some dynamic stretching.

Rachel Chaney_blog-020

The first weekend, my friend Lea had a super strong run. She has never been a runner and was reluctant to even start training.

Her husband, Damon, encouraged her to try and they started running together.

It was so wonderful to see her heading down the road looking stronger than I’ve ever seen her.

This woman has had a huge influence on me. She knows me deeply and loves me well. Quite simply, I want to be like her. It seemed like Lea’s participation in AYITM was a gift to everyone she met.

Rachel Chaney_blog-021

The women hoisted her up to celebrate her victory.

Rachel Chaney_blog-022

At the end of the second workshop, Lisa gifted Karen with a handmade quilt that she made using fabric that we sent her.

I know Karen well enough to know this gift would pretty much blow her mind. And it did.

Rachel Chaney_blog-025

Rachel Chaney_blog-017

After dinner in Dunsmuir. . .

Rachel Chaney_blog-030

. . . the women walked about 2 blocks up a steep hill to their final surprise, the California Theatre (est. 1926) lit up and ready for a slideshow viewing of images from the weekend.

Rachel Chaney_blog-024

Tyler and Dodee helped us set up. I think I would have lost sleep had I not asked to photograph them.


They surprised us by asking their friend Billy to play some piano as we all arrived.

Rachel Chaney_blog-018

On the one hand, I poured myself out for these women for two weekends. I expended myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. I did things that felt really uncomfortable to me. At times, I felt spent.

On the other hand, these women poured themselves into me. These women cared for me and supported me in all kinds of ways. I cherish all the moments they said yes to learning and trying new things. I cherish every single conversation I had–conversations where the women opened up to me and created a place for me to open up to them. I cherish all the dancing and laughing. I cherish every single note I received during the workshop. I have read each one more than one time. My eyes fill with tears of joyful gratitude when I read them. I cherish all the important words of encouragement and clarity. I cherish the Fage breaks and high kicks. I felt alive and free.

Rachel Chaney_blog-019

Can’t believe how fast those days came and went.

Thank you, Alison, Angie, Barb, Camille, Cara, Celia, Colette, Dana L., Dana N., Donna, Elaine, Gina, Ifan, Karen, Kellie, Keri, Lan, Lea, Lisa, Liz, Maria, Michele, Rachael, Robin, Sharra, Sunny, Tanya, Tara, Wendi, and Jules. Thank you, Andria, Anna, Cathi, Cathy, Colleen, Crystal, Debbie, Helena, Jane, Jen, Joanie, Joyce, Kari, Kelley, Kim, Kristen, Kristym, Leslie, Liora, Lisa, Maria, Michelle, Nancy, Rachelle, Regina, Stephanie, Suzi, Vicky, Coral, Nicole, Marilou, and Karen.

Hope many of our paths cross again.


Greg and Matthew’s 40th Birthdays

November 13th, 2015

My brother Matthew turned 40 on 10/2.

My husband Greg turned 40 on 11/4.

We all met up at my parents home in mid October for a quick weekend together.


Madeline has become a lot more confident running on hay bales.


There was a special moment when Carter trusted Madeline to play the banjo we are renting.  He fingered chords for her while she strummed with great concentration.


Grampy gave Harrison a set of harmonicas.  There was such joy as Harrison blew into one for the first time.




The Aggie fans and Texas Tech fans enjoyed watching Grampy get a win on Saturday when TX upset OU.

(The commentary during this game plays out like a personal vendetta between my dad and Bob Stoops.)


An unsuccessful trip to find a pumpkin patch within a 60 mile radius resulted in a trip to the gas station where Carter managed to annoy both Emmeline and her reflection at the same time.


Aunt Lindsay beat Harrison in Rummikub.


Carter and Em taught Madeline how to play checkers.





Pumpkin Patch 2015

October 23rd, 2015



Outtake time.






A favorite from this year:


My kids have come to enjoy taking portraits at the pumpkin patch.  They remember photos that I have taken of them in the past, and they like to re-create some of those.

I love the fall and the change of season–even though it takes a while to feel it in San Antonio.  I also like pumpkin patch pictures because they encourage me as a photographer.  I have gotten pretty good at making the pumpkin patch at Alamo Heights United Methodist Church look pretty luxurious–even thought is small and has a lot of cluttered backgrounds. (Maybe I will do a pumpkin patch photography clinic one day. . .)


Summer Vacation 2015 (Part Two: Glacier National Park)

September 3rd, 2015


As we left Coeur d’Alene on Sunday, Harrison remarked, “For my first trip, I’m going to come here with my kids.”  You can see the first half of our summer trip by clicking HERE.

Greg talked us into driving a little out of the way so the kids could see the Canadian border.  We then drove to Whitefish to meet up with our friends, Aaron and Angie Scott and their five kids.  We had dinner with them in town.  We planned our next few days in Montana.


We enjoyed a rest day at our cabin on the Flathead River.  (Across the river from the cabin is Glacier National Park.)



The morning started with Em making eggs and the boys making toast.  Sometimes it gets hot in the kitchen. . .


We played Sorry (a.k.a. “the game of sweet revenge”).



Emmeline and I read some too.  She was reading the Percy Jackson series.

I read Heidi.


We waded in the river.

This pretty much sums up my kids:
One happy explorer.
One elegant day dreamer.
And one charismatic risk taker…who tends to steal the spotlight.



Then we headed into town and had crepes for lunch.

For dinner, we grilled out.  The grill was kind of dirty and the contents were catching on fire.  We didn’t want to start a forest fire in such dry conditions, so Greg babysat the grill while I went in and out with food.  He even dragged out a few fire extinguishers for good measure.



Post dinner trash duty is serious business in bear country.



We drove into Glacier National Park.  We hiked the Cedar Trail up to Avalanche Lake (about 6 miles round trip) and had a picnic there.




Although St. Mary’s was closed because of a forest fire, we drove the Going to the Sun Road up to Logan’s Pass where the continental divide cuts through the park.


The landscape is so severe and vast and glorious in Glacier.  There were many times that I didn’t even attempt to photograph the mountains out of respect for God and his creation. I knew I just couldn’t even approximate what they are like.

I had waited over 20 years to return to a landscape like this.  I had waited over a dozen years to have kids old enough to hang with me and hike steep trails.  Sometimes as a mom, I feel like I am always having to run a three legged race and dumb down my intensity.  One of the things that made our summer trip so magical is that my family shared in that intensity some.

Twenty two years ago, as a highschool sophomore, I had the opportunity to live in Zermatt, Switzerland which lies at the foot of the Matterhorn.  The program Swiss Semester still exists.  Ever since then, I have had a strong longing to return.  When I hike, I feel alive. I feel like me.  Shooting, teaching, creating does it too.  Hiking in the mountains is on that very short list for me.

Here is a throwback photo of me as a 15 year old doing a 7 hour hike over a mountain pass.  We spent the night in an Alpine hut.

Rachel Swiss Semester Over Pass_blog

And here is a throwback photo of one of my first Swiss adventures–ascending Breithorn with crampons clipped on my boots.  The man in the photo is a Swiss guide.  I was tethered to him for safety.  We are looking straight at the side of the Matterhorn.

Swiss Semester Klein Matterhorn Swiss Guide_blog

Carter gets it.  I knew he would.  He’s intense.  He wants to explore.  He wants to move.  He wants to go.  I knew he would feel free hiking.  He loved Montana.

After our hike, Carter and I checked out Apgar Lake.  I’d like to spend a whole day here next time we come.  (This isn’t a picture of my kid.  Kind of creepy, but I couldn’t help myself.)


Grampy told us to stop at The Huckleberry Patch to get a huckleberry shake.  This was pretty much all Harrison cared about in the days leading up to our promised “pilgrimage”.  If you’ve never had a huckleberry shake, it tastes like a vanilla milk shake mixed with blueberry muffin batter.  It’s delicious and rich.  Harrison was all business.



We woke up super early (5:30 a.m.), met the Scott’s nearby, and drove to the east side of The Park (about 2 1/2 hours away!).

We hiked up to Ice Berg Lake.

It was an epic day…

28,461 steps.
11.6 miles.
15 years of friendship.
12 people.
8 kids.
1 moose.

(At the end of this blog, you can see Greg’s account of this hike.)


We had lunch at the lake.  We walked around the side to touch snow–a novelty for Texans in August.

You just can’t see this and feel this and experience anything like this from a car or a plane or a helicopter or a boat.  You have to go by foot because it is the only way to get there.


Angie’s littlest, Gage, gave her a tiny mountain flower.





Harrison learned to cool himself down by filling his hat with water and dumping it on his head.



We’ve known Aaron and Angie since before any of us had kids.  If anyone in my family were ever in great need, I know we could call on these friends.

Aaron can get Greg to laugh like no one else.  These two always have a good time when they are together.  This friendship is precious to us.


We drove back to the cabin after grabbing dinner on the road.  We.  Were.  Wiped.

Carter said it was “the best day of his life”.  He was so jacked up emotionally about the moose and the hike that he didn’t fall asleep until 1:30 a.m. that night.


We slept in a bit.  Packed up and flew home.



I am so thankful for our summer trip.  It was an experience all five of us will cherish.

I got to know my family better and enjoy each of them.

I saw how Emmeline faced her self-doubt.  She started off our second large hike struggling to get going and keep pace with the group.  She didn’t complain.  She put one foot in front of the other.  She kept going.  Even though hiking isn’t “her thing”, she made it her thing with a good attitude.  She tried to get on board to love me.  On the descent she admitted, “I sort of like hiking now.”  I also saw how she is a peace-maker.  When there is conflict in our family or when someone is struggling, she has a beautiful way of re-directing.  She is emotionally sensitive.  She recognizes when someone is struggling and works to help move them emotionally.  It is kind of hard to explain without seeing it in action.

I saw even more how Carter is wild and free.   This is his natural habitat so to speak.

I learned a bit more about Harrison’s inner world.  He isn’t a big talker.  He doesn’t use a lot of words, but his words and thoughts have weight.  He shared with me that Coeur d’Alene felt like what he sees in his imagination.  He shared his dreams.  He is already thinking about when he is a husband and dad one day and has the privilege of going on an adventure with his family.  I saw his amazing social skills at work.  He quietly observes other kids, waits patiently, and engages.  He keeps thinking about sharing with other kids and helping them–not just himself.

And I recognized even more how Greg loves me.  After 17 years, he knows me very well and wants me to be and feel free.  He is my advocate–often rallying the kids to love me.  I saw his advocating love most clearly on our second hike.  He doesn’t love to hike, but he loves me enough to join in–not just reluctantly but whole-heartedly.  Greg NEVER journals or writes down his thoughts.  But he actually wrote his account of our hike.  If you’d like to read it, I’ve included it below.



“A Hike to Iceberg Lake–Was it Worth It?”

I have never loved hiking. I understand why some do, but I’m not one of those people. I figure that a machine (motorcycle, car, ATV, helicopter, etc.) has already been invented that can get me there quicker, easier, and with less possibility of encountering dangerous wildlife. Isn’t this why the generations before us invented these things? They hated walking through rugged terrain while worrying about the likelihood of being eaten by a grizzly bear. I’m with them.

My beautiful wife is one of those people who loves hiking. She gently dragged me on a number of hikes during that under-appreciated time right after we were married and before our kids were born. That was almost 13 years ago. So, she has been waiting to return to the wilderness or unpaved trail or wherever it is that you go hiking for over a decade. During that time, she also gave birth to a son who loves the wild as much as she does. He’s 10 going on 23. (No kidding, at one conversation during our trip he asked if he could have some beer and during another conversation he asked if he could carry a handgun on our next hike so he could better protect his mother.) My other two children and I have somewhat of a lesser passion for hiking, but wanting to be good, supportive, family members we went along.

The day began at 5:30 am. The reason? Even though we were staying about 20 minutes from the entrance to Glacier National Park, we had to drive 2 and a half hours to the other side of the park were there was a better hiking trail. At least that was what I was told. Actually our day really began the night before when my very detailed oriented wife spent an hour organizing all of our supplies, packs, and even the next morning’s breakfast. I may have remarked that Lewis and Clark took less on their trek across the uncharted country as a way to suggest that we were taking too much. (I would later be proven wrong.  We did need all that stuff.) That morning we woke our kids up around 6:00 am, and by 6:15 they were already fighting about something. That’s not a good omen or way to start a long day.

We had previously decided to join with another family on this hike.  The thought was that more adults is better, and maybe our kids and their kids would somehow motivate each other. Or maybe it was just that misery loves company. We all arrived at the entrance to the trail around 10:00 am. It took 15 minutes for us to put on sunscreen, bug spray, and back-packs, then use the last indoor restroom facilities with actual plumbing until we returned. As we entered the trail I saw a sign that says “Iceberg Lake- 4.8 Miles”. Ugh! That really means 4.8 miles up and 4.8 miles back down for a grand total of almost 10 miles of hiking.

My wife is a photographer so she was carrying a backpack with her camera, lenses, and various other photography equipment. My youngest child couldn’t really carry much more than some water and a few things in his backpack. This meant I was the family packmule or Sherpa. (On a very positive note my wife did refer to me as her Sexy Sherpa at one point during the hike – or at least I think she did. I might have been delusional from the extreme physical exertion and lack of oxygen at that altitude.)

The first half hour was mostly uneventful with the occasional question from a child about how much longer or are we almost there. Our group soon unofficially divided into the lead group who wanted to go faster, and the slower group who mostly wanted to go home. The next hour involved about 10,000 mostly uphill steps, cries from some of the children that they were thirsty, and scores of commands from the adults to the kids including, but not limited to: “Don’t run ahead”, “Stay with the group”, “Stop pushing your brother”, “Keep walking”, and “Stay away from the edge of the mountain because you might fall off”.

As we were nearing the top, we heard some rustling in the trees just off to the side of the trail. (This was the approximate location on the trail where the family we were with had spotted a bear on their previous attempt of this hike.)  I was thinking, oh wonderful, we just startled a hungry bear. Fortunately it turned out to be a moose. After the initial relief that it wasn’t a bear, the reality that we were 10 feet away from a giant wild moose hit. Now what?! This thing could charge us at any point and that wouldn’t be good. Moose vs. human doesn’t usually turn out well for the human. We were trying to balance being cool parents by letting our kids see the moose with being sensible, practical parents and getting the kids out of there. Plus my wife wanted a photo of the wild moose. (My wife is normally a very cautious, orderly, law-abiding individual. When there is a photo opportunity, those traits can go out the window.) Fortunately I think we got a mild-mannered moose so we were able to let the kids have a close look and get the photo. There were a few tense moments.  We even started running for safety at one point, but it was a false alarm.

After about two hours of hiking we reached Iceberg Lake. It was what you might expect, a beautiful scene from nature that words and photos can’t accurately describe. Was it worth the hike? Probably. Maybe. I guess.

We ate lunch and played for a few minutes. Shortly thereafter, my son (the one who is 10 going on 23) tried to jump over a rock, but instead he fell and hit his shin pretty hard on the rocky path. He of course refused any sort of first aid or medical attention because he wanted to keep playing. From what we could tell it was a pretty big bruise and a nice scape just below his knee. Just before we left to begin the journey back down, he did allow me to use some of the supplies from the first aid kit that I was lugging around in my backpack. (Good thing thing I thought to pack it – oh wait, maybe that was my wife’s idea.)

As we began to head back down the mountain and to the safety and comfort of our vehicle, my son was still limping from his tumble. I offered to carry his backpack because I think that would be easier than having to carry him the rest of the hike if he keeps thinking about how much his leg hurts then refuses to continue walking. Somehow removing his backpack that weighed all of 5 or 6 pounds was the miracle cure because as soon as I did, he was able to run, jump, and play with the other kids on the trail.

The kids were still on a high from seeing the moose. They so badly wanted encounter more wild animals. They literally asked every person who we encountered along the way if they had seen any wild animals. (Literally every person. No exaggeration.) The kids then proceeded to tell the story of their moose sighting to each one of the other hikers. Every time they told the story somehow the moose got bigger and we were standing closer to it.  At one point, there were even claims of nearly being able to reach out and touch the moose.

About a third of the way down, I began to realize that cheap, $25 work-boots from Walmart I was wearing were not actually good hiking boots. While they did have a hard sole, which protected me fron the rocky path, and they were brown in color, which fit in nicely with everyone else’s hiking boots, they were not at all meant for hiking long distances. They were heavy, didn’t fit well, and made my feet hurt.

We finally made it to a stream and a small waterfall which signified the halfway point. We stopped there for a moment so the kids could rest, play, and attempt to injure themselves. Everyone was getting pretty tired by now and some of the younger kids weren’t too happy about continuing. We knew we had to leave quickly and keep going down before someone had a big meltdown. So we pushed on.

This last quarter of the hike was the toughest.  My role was to stay at the back of our group and prod the little kids along and try to keep everyone moving. I had to get pretty creative with my encouraging words and comments. I tried distraction, bribery, and begging. (I think I may owe one of them a pony and another one a college education-or the equivalent in cash.) I myself was getting tired and I started to think I might not make it when finally I saw the end of the trail. I could see the paved road and parking lot next to it. Never before had I been so excited to see a parking lot. My excitement was soon ripped away from me when I remembered that we had to walk about a quarter of a mile across the parking lot to get to our car. I nearly started crying.

Finally after what seemed like 30 minutes of walking (but was probably only about 3 or 4), we reached the car. I chunked the packs I was carrying into the rear of our minivan and I tried to find some water.  I moved to the front of the vehicle and I just sat in the drivers seat. My kids ran off, and I didn’t care. It was time for me to rest. I began to think about the hike to Iceberg Lake and ask myself, was it worth it?  Maybe? I’m not really sure.

Soon I regained enough strength to go into the little store they had at the entrance to the trail. I was thirsty, hungry, and tired. My body was telling me I needed something, anything. I was roaming around the store when I see a fountain drink machine. As I was putting ice in my cup and browsing my selection of beverages, my younger son comes up to me.  (This is the son whom I’m convinced has some sort of internal radar or echo location for sugary snacks and drinks.). He sees me getting a drink and says, “Dad, what do I get?” I respond by saying, “You just got to go on a 10 mile hike through a beautiful national park. You get to make a core memory.” (That was a reference to the animated film “Inside Out” we had recently seen.)

I took a sip of my Coke and I thought to myself, and apparently even said out loud, “This is the best Coke I have ever had in my life.”  A lady who was working at the store must have  overheard my entire conversation with my son about our hike. She also heard me rave about how wonderful their Coke tasted.  She asked me if I thought their Coke was so good because of their store’s equipment/mixture or because I had just returned from a 10-mile hike. I wasn’t sure of the answer at the time, but in hindsight I’m pretty sure it had a lot to do with just returning from a 10-mile hike.

We finally began the long drive back to our cabin.  Normally I probably wouldn’t be too happy about a 2 and a half hour drive, but this time I didn’t care.  I was just so excited about being able to sit down and not walking uphill over rocky terrain. My son hadn’t stopped talking about the hike since we got into the car.  He had been on cloud nine the entire time. He said to me, “Dad, thank you so much for taking us on this hike. It was awesome. Today has been the best day of my life.”  (No kidding. He actually said that.). A few moments latter, my wife turned to me and said, “Thank you for working so hard to make this possible. This was an amazing hike. I am so happy.”

Was the hike to Iceberg Lake worth it?  Absolutely!


Summer Vacation 2015 (Part One: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho)

August 16th, 2015

Our family took out first real-deal vacation this summer.

It was full of so many good gifts.


We spent the first half of our trip in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and loved every minute of it.  It is a small city nestled in the mountains of northern Idaho.  It borders a very large lake in the valley.  I hadn’t even heard of Coeur d’Alene before planning this trip. But when a friend originally from the very beautiful state of Oregon recommended Cd’A because it was very beautiful, we decided to look into it.  I thought it might give us a bit more civilization before heading to the more remote Glacier National Park.


Why did we love Cd’A so much?  There are so many choices of active, walkable fun right at your fingertips.  All the public spaces of Cd’A are fabulous.  We could leave for a couple of hours and then return to our super cute VRBO cottage and kind of shut down for a while.  It was easy to have fun with minimal effort.  And THAT is a huge plus for parents. (By the way, the beach wasn’t always this crowded.)



We flew out Wednesday midday.  We hopped from San Antonio to Las Vegas and ended up in Spokane, WA.

Greg got carded for his beer.  The kids were sitting in the row in front of us so they didn’t give away the fact that he is a couple of months shy of 40.  The flight attendant–either out of embarrassment or as a way of saying congratulations–gave Greg an additional, free beer.

We met our rental car for the week, a sweet, white Kia Sedona minivan.


Once in Coeur d’Alene, we got a pita sandwich at The Pita Pit and ate a picnic underneath the giant trees of Coeur d’Alene’s main park.

After a hot shower, Greg and I slept with the windows open.  Even with a “heat wave” the temperature would drop into the 60s at night.


Thursday morning started with a game of Uno.  Even though it should be an individual game, the boys made up the rules as they went and conspired liberally and blatantly against Greg.


Our VRBO hostess, Deryn, left us with farm fresh eggs and homemade preserves. Our kids made us breakfast.  Emmeline is a master egg cooker.  Carter was on toast duty.  Harrison was a floater.

One of my favorite things about our entire trip was eating meals together.  We made a real breakfast each day.  And about 75% of our meals were outside.

Greg cracked the boys up by telling them how out of it they were the night before when he checked on them.



We gave each of our kids a small gift to enjoy on the trip.  Emmeline received a book about birds from Montana.  We gave the boys a different booklet on animals and wildlife in the area.  And I went soft on Harrison and replaced his wrist watch that he had lost before our trip.  Time telling is super important to Harrison.  Here’s his response when he recognized the replacement watch:



We headed to the grocery store to stock up our kitchen.  We bought bear spray to prep for our trip to Priest Lake in search of the elusive huckleberry. . .

We put some hard miles on our minivan as we traveled down old logging roads.  We found out that although Priest Lake is usually a haven for huckleberries, this year there were very few due to dry weather conditions.

So we returned from our wild goose chase with very few berries and poison ivy for Harrison.


Priest Lake was an all afternoon affair.  We ate dinner on the road home.  The boys headed to the park again.  Emmeline and I went on a jog.  Then we all met up for a walk home.


We had eggs, toast, and homemade jam for breakfast.

Then we played a family Uno game.  (I LOVE this photo of Greg.  It is the expression that I most associate with him.)

He and Carter are engaging in a little trash talking here.


Greg was victorious this round.


We walked down the block and hit the beach for a couple of hours.


The water was crystal clear and cold.


Greg hosed the small gravel-like sand off the kids’ feet.



After drying off and changing clothes, we went back to the amazing park for yet another picnic.

Carter and Harrison played on Sherman Playground of Coeur d’Alene City Park.  (Carter tore his hands after this shot.  Good thing mom is an expert in this area.)


We drove to nearby Kellogg, Idaho to the Silver Mountain Ski Resort.

. . . Greg can get Emmie to laugh too. . .


We took a gondola ride way up to check out the area from another perspective.

Greg and Emmeline don’t love heights.  This was payback for Greg basically burying me alive deep within Hoover Dam last summer.  No, actually, in all honesty, it was a huge expression of love and courage that they were both up for trying it.



Once up the large mountain, I took the kids even higher on a chair lift.  Greg watched us from the ground below.  This area is transformed from ski resort in the winter to premier mountain biking area in the summer.



Carter often used our time in the car to recharge.


We ate dinner at home.  Then we walked into town to enjoy some ice cream at Shenanigans.  I shot while eating some peppermint ice cream.  Everyone else opted for huckleberry cheesecake.

Some great group of people converted the empty lot next door into a park.  We ate ice cream then played with some local kids.



Did I mention how perfectly green the grass is?


I applied medication to Carter’s hands before bed.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mom, thank you for taking care of me.  It means a lot to me.”


We hiked up Tubbs Hill, the hill that overlooks Lake Coeur d’Alene after a family breakfast.  Harrison spotted a doe with two fawns.


It was a hot day.  Good thing Tubbs Hills is right by McEuen Park which has an amazing splash pad. . .


AND a nest for real eagles AND a super creative playground!


This ended up being a sweet time with Harrison.  Greg hung out with Carter and Emmeline in the shade.  Harrison invited me to play with him and kept asking me to shoot.

I saw him take lots of good risks–like balancing on this wire apparatus and not using his hands.  I observed him communicate with kids he had never met in order to share equipment.

He doesn’t use a whole lot of words with new kids.  He patiently watches and then inserts himself.  When he does engage verbally, every word he uses has weight.

(In general, we ran into a lot of really cool kids on this trip–kids who played hard and who thought about other people around them.)


We went back and forth from the chilly water in the splash pad to the hot sun of the playground.


Harrison paused in between playing and asked, “Is this an imagination place?”  I looked puzzled.  He explained, “Because THIS is what my imagination looks like.”

This was his favorite piece of equipment:


We went home and rested.  We had a fabulous pizza at Fire.  I recommend the meat lovers with added serrano peppers.

I walked home alone and swung by the skate park.   Although the light was dying, these guys were kind enough to allow me to shoot them in action in their world.


I’m just a guest in this world, but Ricky’s riding really stood out to me.  He’s powerful and aggressive. It’s as if he wills the bike to launch into the air.  Here, he cleared the score board for the nearby baseball field.


Owen (in the middle) was fun to shoot.  He is a skilled skater and has a really expressive personality.


Each full day ended with doing some laundry.  I crashed into bed and breathed in the mountain air.


I want all of my friends–especially my friends with kids who like to be active–to know how fabulous this small city in the mountains really is.

We are already dreaming about a return trip. . .


Backstage: Ballet Recital 2015

July 5th, 2015

This was really fun to shoot.  I felt like I am shooting more of what I want how I want.  There is a lot of pleasure in that.





One of my favorites of backstage–my friend, Natalie putting make-up on her daughter, Elise.










Some girls taught a fellow dancer where to apply blush by smiling.


Elise, Emmeline, and Lucy staged this selfie on an iPhone:




Our First Trip to the DoSeum (The New Children’s Museum)

June 5th, 2015

We spent our first summer afternoon previewing the new children’ museum (a.k.a. The DoSeum) with our friends The Smiths.

Even though I was primarily trying to wear the mom hat and friend hat, I brought along my camera and shot a little bit.






This was the moment when Carter tipped the big bucket full of water onto Emmeline and Sydney.




All Girls Bike Build on the Eastside

May 31st, 2015

I shot this all girls bike build on the Eastside of town a few weeks ago.

You can see the whole story HERE on The Rivard Report.













The 2015 Pooch Parade & The Toilet Seat Museum

April 25th, 2015

My neighbor, Barney Smith, is legendary.  He is the creator and curator of The Toilet Seat Museum.  He spotted my “expensive camera” about a half mile away and quickly invited me into his museum to tell me about his toilet seats.

He was hoping that I was a reporter.


This man cares about the details.

His toilet seats are meticulously organized–sorted by category and in some cases, by year.

He encouraged me to photograph a page from a magazine article about him because the reporter, in his opinion, did a good job and got it right.

The Annual Pooch Parade is his personal Super Bowl.




Hundreds of dogs and people file by his museum on this day each year.



My friend Caroline waited eagerly to share her dog treats.


Harrison and I ended up watching the parade with our four-legged friend Andy.  We enjoyed spending time with lots of our neighbors and some out of town friends.

Emmeline and Carter walked the parade route with our friends, Carrie and James and their two dogs, Bella and Cooper.

I love my neighborhood.


Spring Break 2015 (at the Ranch)

April 24th, 2015

While others were sunning themselves on the beach and sipping umbrella drinks, Greg’s spring break began like this:


I don’t think Greg had any idea that marrying me would involve so much manual labor.  He has stained decks, fixed dishwashers, stopped plumbing disasters, put out literal fires, scaled tall ladders, evaded wild hogs, and buried dead cows.

This day, Greg and my dad were filling the feeder in the hog trap.

The ground was so wet from frequent rains and recent snow that the feeder was sinking deep into the earth.

They tried to put it in a more stable position. . . after it was nearly full.



There was enough residual snow in patches of shade to make a few snow balls.




Then we loaded the trailer to feed some hungry cows.


This guy used to wear Brooks Brother suits and travel around the world as a bankruptcy/ restructuring expert for large corporations in financial trouble.

Now Grampy wears Dickey one-piece overalls. He spends his time selling hot sauce, practicing guitar, and feeding longhorn cattle. #lifestylechange


Harrison tried to rope a tree branch.


We peeked inside one of Grampy’s sheds.


Much of our spring break was spent indoors.  It rained and rained and rained.  I think we got about 6 inches while we were there.  When the rain stopped, the kids slung on the mud boots and headed outside.


Harrison made a bow and arrow that also doubled as a spear.


Blue thought that that same spear looked exactly like a stick that you could fetch.

Carter was fussy so he stayed away from the camera.


Cousin Madeline followed Emmeline around a lot.


My dad fixed the door to Blue’s kennel in the garage.



Emmeline and Harrison taught Madeline how to climb hay bales.  Harrison passed out ice from the ice maker in the garage.

Emmeline made this face as she realized Madeline was getting pretty messy by mixing ice chewing and hay bale climbing.


In a super rare move, Madeline let me  a picture of her.  I don’t think she has let me do this in the past two years.



These girls love each other very much.


Carter refused to allow me to double check his suitcase before we left.  He forgot to pack socks.

His one pair of socks was soaking wet.  While the other three kids were playing, he was stuck inside.


Big glass of peach tea + 4 wheeler + work gloves + tattered jacket + sunglasses + ballcap = my dad most of the time



My mom is a rock star in the kitchen.


Bampy and Harrison made us savory black bean pancakes for dinner one night.


She taught him how to separate eggs.


Another night we ate roasted vegetables and roast chicken.


The chicken was definitely photo worthy.


I can’t even get close to making roast chicken like my mom.  Out of respect, I don’t even try.  It is one of the things I request when we visit.


The back door opens and closes a million times in a single day at the ranch.

This time, Harrison swung by the kitchen to ask Bampy, “What is for dinner??”


This image below reminds me that all the beautiful and delicious things that come out of Bampy’s kitchen are the result of my mom’s service to us.