Where is the “Real Me”?

I am usually the one behind the camera; the one taking photos of everyone and everything; the one capturing the memories of this moment and of that event. Oh, I try to hand my camera to someone else occasionally so that I’m in a few of the photos in the family scrapbooks. And my older daughters sometimes catch me in unguarded moments and snap a picture or two.

Candid photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz

Candid photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz

I’ve become friends with a woman who started writing a blog as she approached her 50th birthday. Today she is putting the finishing touches on a photography project she started during that year. And she has become a professional photographer. I absolutely LOVE her work. Somehow she makes magic with her camera and shows the beauty of each person she “shoots.” (I’ve suggested before that you visit her photography website HERE.)

Jo captures beauty with her camera...

Jo captures beauty with her camera…

Last summer I celebrated my own 50th birthday by taking a trip to London to visit my sister. Among other things, I emailed my friend and asked about a photography session. As the date drew closer, I realized I was worrying…stressing…not sure I was ready for this. After all, my place is BEHIND the camera, right?

Worrying...about being the "model"

Worrying…about being the “model”

I spent time pondering why I was so uncomfortable having my photo taken. I realized that part of the issue was being disappointed when I look in a mirror…or look at a photo of myself. After all, I have wrinkles. I have thin hair. I have lots of extra padding (lots and lots of extra). That’s not the “real me,” the one I think of when I think of who I am. What happened to the beautiful, slender, young girl I used to be? Where did she go?

The "Real Me" was just waiting to be recognized!

The “Real Me” was just waiting to be recognized!

So, with a bit of fear and trembling, I met my friend. We enjoyed getting to know each other better in person. I met her husband. We had dinner together. I spent the night in her lovely extra bedroom. And in the morning, we headed out to the surrounding countryside.

Beautiful countryside...

Beautiful countryside…

...and a peaceful old church.

…and a peaceful old church.

It was actually far less painful than my dreadings. We laughed. We talked. We got a little silly together. And she took photos…LOTS of photos. I stopped thinking about how I might look and just enjoyed the time with my friend.

Having fun...

Having fun…

Getting serious...

Getting serious…

...with a smirk or two thrown in for good measure!

…with a smirk or two thrown in for good measure!

And somehow, when I got the photos back from her, she had done it again. She made magic with her camera. I look at the pictures and see a beautiful, mature woman. And in the process of being brave enough to trust this friend to capture the “real me” in photos, I received a marvelous gift. I now have reminders to smile at the woman I see in the mirror.

The Magic: Beauty Revealed!

The Magic: Beauty Revealed!

Thanks, Jo. You helped me reach for the magic and be able to truly celebrate who I am at this stage of life! You released my inner beauty and made it visible each time I look in the mirror.

PS—check out this blog post by my friend, Jo Blackwell. In it, she challenges each of us to see the beauty within us. And she includes a variety of photos she has taken of beautiful women (including ME!!)

Photo Credits: 1st photo taken by daughter Celia Emmelhainz, all other photos taken by Jo Blackwell.


50 Things I Love

To celebrate my recent 50th Birthday, I decided to list 50 Things I Love:

5 Activities

  • Downhill SkiingDownhill Skiing
  • Soaking in Natural Hot Springs
  • Teaching Anything I’ve Learned
  • Talking to People and Treasuring Their STORIES


5 Restaurants

  • Michel’s (Crepes — Durango CO)
  • FilibertosFilibertos (Mexican — Bernalillo NM)
  • Jaipur Junction (Indian — North Royalton OH)
  • Paneras (salads — eastern United States)
  • BoJangles (southern chicken, seasoned fries & dirty rice — Columbia SC)


5 “famous” People

  • Franklyn SingleyPrincess Diana & the British Royal Family
  • Sarah Palin (a gutsy woman who is SO Alaskan!)
  • Jeni & Billy (folk singer/songwriters)
  • Franklyn Singley (professional figure skater, dancer, coach & choreographer — a passionate man and a good friend)
  • Alison Kitchen (what can’t she do?! … singer, songwriter, cattle rancher and more) (previous blog post HERE)


5 Web Sites


5 “Artsy” Activities

  • photographer meTaking Photographs
  • Scrapbooking
  • Mixed-Media Journal Pages
  • Introducing Kids to Great Artists
  • Creative Blogging


5 Foods

  • poc chucChicken Divan
  • Ginger Beef
  • Chicken & Walnut Stir-fry
  • Fruity Curry
  • Poc Chuc (recipe HERE)


3 Beverages

  • durango joesMexican Mocha (frapped) from Durango Joe’s
  • Large Sweet Tea “Half-Cut” from McDonald’s
  • Mango Ceylon Tea by The Republic of Tea



2 Desserts

  • chocolate dessert“Chocolate Dessert”
  • Fudgy Brownies



5 Eclectic Things

  • iditarodAmazing Jewelry, Crafts & Artwork made by my kids 🙂
  • Our RV (Sometimes I go sit in it and pretend we are on the road again!)
  • Critters to Love On
  • Maps & Travel Books (Oh, the Places I Could Go…)
  • Anything about the Iditarod Race


5 Writers (See a list of some of my favorite books HERE)

  • patti dighAyn Rand
  • Patti Digh
  • Mark Twain (especially his travel writings)
  • Patricia McKillip (Riddlemaster of Hed series)
  • Terry Pratchett (an alternate universe described with fierce & funny satire)



  • thoreau“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams; Live the life you’ve imagined.” –Thoreau
  • “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” –Einstein
  • “Success is loving yourself, loving what you do, and loving how you do it.” — Maya Angelou
  • “Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!” Romans 15:13
  • Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. –Francis Chan


It’s Time!

A year ago I declared my personal Year of Jubilee – a year of looking back and of looking forward during my 50th year as I headed toward my 50th birthday. As I reported recently, it has been a good year. I didn’t complete all the possibilities that I set out to work on…but I complete many more than I would have if I hadn’t set some goals.

This hasn’t been a “turn-around year” – reaching for the new and seeing the wide possibilities in front of me started a few years ago while our family was walking through dark places. But it has been a year to help me understand deep in my heart that it is okay for me to want more, to want to live a life filled with meaning for ME.

This past weekend was the TIME TO CELEBRATE my 50th Birthday. Unlike many people I know, I did not choose a big party. I did not choose to gather wide-flung family. (I will see many of them at my son’s wedding in October…) This was a weekend of simple joys:

On Friday, we drove up to Durango Colorado, a favorite town of mine nestled in a valley and surrounded by beautiful mountains. Randy (and at the last minute, Anna) enjoyed their first-ever zipline adventure.

zipline adventurers

Zipline Adventurers (no…not me…never…you don’t KNOW how afraid I am of heights!)

It has become a family tradition to celebrate special occasions with crepes from Michel’s Corner, a gypsy wagon/patio restaurant on the main historic square. Having food fixed lovingly “just for you” by a 5 star chef who remembers you is certainly a treat!


Michel at work

michel's crepes

Oo-la-la! …and the crepes taste even more wonderful than they look!

michel group photo

Where else does a 5 star chef give you a birthday hug and pose for photos?!

Saturday I spent much of the day working on photo-books for the 11 eighth graders who spent last week with us for a “Transition to Adulthood” retreat. There was something relaxing about choosing colors of background pages and attaching photos. A dear friend had pointed out earlier in the week that God had sent me a whole group of teens to have fun with even as I miss our son who shares my birthday but who died 4 years ago. Seen through that lens, the time with the group was indeed a special gift!

eigth graders

“my” extra kids this past week…

Saturday evening, we drove the dirt roads back to the home of friends, celebrating with them the high-school graduation of one of their sons. In this culture with so many challenges put in front of the young people, this is indeed something to celebrate! At the party I met another “gift” from God—an older, distinguished looking gentleman named James.

Sunday we went to church as usual…and I had the opportunity to spend more time talking with James. He graciously listened as I told him through my tears about how much he reminded me of the man for whom our James was named. It felt a little bit like he was sent to give me comfort and to remind me of the full life my son lived in his 15 short years…

Sunday afternoon we joined friends at their mountain cottage near Cuba NM. Is it okay to confess that I’m quite, quite jealous of where they live? And that I really want to live there too?! They and their grandkids and other friends spent the weekend camping out on their property, fishing, hiking, playing games, and having all sorts of fun. Anna enjoyed running with the other kids. Randy and I got a private tour up to an overlook with miles and miles of beautiful views. We will definitely go up there again when it is less windy so I can leisurely enjoy the scenery without being nervous about being blown off the mountain face! We brought a cheesecake sampler to share…a nice low key way to celebrate my birthday.

mountain cabin

A lovely cabin in a lovely setting, spending time with lovely friends!

soaring aspens

ahhh…beauty for my soul…
what wonderful “birthday decorations”

Finally, on Monday we drove down to Albuquerque. I’ve been desperately wanting a 4wd vehicle that can handle the off-roading style dirt roads we frequently end up on. I have been at wits’ end from the 6-8 times of taking hours to get back to a truck and push or pull it out of car-eating mudholes or of towing out a car damaged beyond driving because of the rocks and deep holes in the road. My anxiety levels have soared. So Randy took us to town to test drive a sturdy Nissan 4wd, highly rated for “off-roading.” …and guess what I drove home last night?! What a WONDERFUL gift of peace of mind!


a 4wd to vanquish the car-eating mudholes…

So the new decade begins… I’m looking forward to learning new things, continuing to work on things I’ve started this year, and enjoying adventures and quiet times to come.

50th bday photo

a snapshot of me on my 50th birthday

Thanks to all of my family and friends who have celebrated with me this year. I can’t wait to see what the coming years hold!

Progress Report…

It is only 20 more days til I reach 50 years old! Still hard to believe that I’ve been on this earth for so long…and hard to believe there is such a short time left in this Personal Year of Jubilee.


a favorite photo from last May

I decided to take a look back–at the past year, at the plans I made for the year, and at my blog site. Here is a summary of what I have and haven’t done toward reaching the goals I set…

12 Monthly Focuses:

June: Cello — I practiced hard and realized I can still play a pretty mean cello. I also discovered a “Jazz Cellist” during the year. I wanna learn how to play like him! (And it’s a good thing I did some practicing to give me confidence—I’ve been asked to play duets with my violinist sister for my son’s wedding in October–EEK!)

July: 1000 Origami Cranes, October: Poetry, February: Daily Art Journal, and March: nightly Sunset Viewing — These really didn’t happen. I still like the idea of these things, I just never really got around to doing them. Maybe they will happen regularly at some future time…or maybe not.

August: Daily Photo Assignments — I really enjoyed these projects. And, yes, some of them were a stretch for me. I definitely want to do this occasionally in the future!

September: Prepare for Husband’s 50th Birthday — check! did a good job of this, if I say so myself 😉

November: Gratitude List, and April: walk 50 1 mile walks in honor of friends — I’m working at this. I have the list of people who have influenced my life, I have the list of lessons learned from them, and I’m gradually working at the 1 mile walks. It won’t happen in the 50 days leading up to my birthday, but I figure I can keep working at it until I finish the list, right?!

December: journal prompts to finish out the year, and January: personal scrapbook — I didn’t follow the plan I originally listed, but I did participate in making a Christmas Art Journal. I did most of the scrapbooking in October at a retreat with a friend. Both projects are well started…but I still need to finish them.

And here’s the update on my goal of 50 Activities for 50 Years:

Artistic: I got a tatoo just before the 4th anniversary of my son’s death in April (I’ll blog about this including photos soon), Anna and I have started a doll’s quilt with her doing most of the sewing, I have almost finished the animal coloring book (and will post scans, I promise!), and I am QUITE excited about a scheduled photo shoot while I’m in England in June. I also added: making a really cool heart to color as a gift for a friend

I sent a black & white line copy to my friend for her to enjoy coloring

, and signing up for LifeBook 2012 (an e-course with bi-weekly art projects).

Fitness: I would love to announce I have slam-dunked this category…but no, nothing has really changed! I have started walking more regularly. I have also started training to complete a mini-Triathlon sometime late summer or early fall. I guess that is a start…

Literary: I made my list of 50 books. I forgot all about Beowulf (gotta check the library this Wednesday). I’ve left a number of books in places for others to discover and take home. Memorizing poems? Nope, didn’t happen. But I have written a number of poems I’m quite pleased with! (see HERE and HERE for two I posted)

Entertainment: haven’t yet learned to play by ear—I think I’m switching that goal to learning Jazz Cello! And I haven’t watched many movies—those who know me, know I tend to get distracted and wander off! I did discover a new band that both Anna and I love—Pink Martini—in addition to going to a CD release concert by a wonderful singer-songwriter friend of ours, Alison Kitchen. Oh, and I discovered a wonderfully creative duo of Cello & Piano. Check out their videos HERE and HERE.

Other things: Never learned to milk a goat, train my dog for dog agility, or pick our own fruit. Did have a fun camp-out with Anna last June.

camping trip

Camping trip with Anna…and with my dog!

And I got a massage at the Scrapbook Retreat in October. (It was fine…but nothing I would spend money for in the future…) No paper quilt is in the works (although I still love the idea). I’m working on the walking project. And I’m QUITE EXCITED to be going to London England in late June to spend 2 weeks with my sister. YAY!

Weekly Plans? Not so much—again, these were great ideas, but most never happened—except for writing regularly on this blog. Now THAT is something I have enjoyed and plan to continue!

So…just 20 more days in the first half (or so) of my life. Then I move into the next phase. I’m looking forward to it…

A Mile of Thanks a Day

As explained on the button above, for the 50 days before I turn 50, I am walking a mile each day, thinking about and praying for someone who has influenced my life so far. I don’t know if each of these people would want their names listed on the internet…so in this post I’m just listing the things I have learned from them. I am THANKFUL for what each one has added to my life!

A Mile of Thanks Each Day...

  1. We laugh together, we solve the world’s problems (and our families’ problems) together, and we enjoy traveling together.
  2. God has knit our hearts together as we have shared the joys and sorrows of life.
  3. I wanna be like you when I grow up!
  4. We have formed a mutual admiration society as we spend time being “real” together.
  5. You are an example of vibrant living.
  6. You support me through tough times and share a zillion resources.
  7. Our relationship moved from struggling because of stark differences to becoming good friends.
  8. You encouraged my passion for EMS…and in the process became a friend.
  9. We shared our kids, supported our husbands through scary times, laugh about the “other wives,” and enjoy time together…let’s not talk politics, okay?!
  10. You are a wise woman—with words, questions and silences.
  11. You encouraged me to fight for my marriage.
  12. You have walked before us…down the grieving road and down the helping others through EMS road.
  13. You always have a smile…and get excited by even the little things.
  14. We are raising “chiefs not Indians” and now that your kids are grown you are pursuing your passions.
  15. We have walked the broken road together.
  16. Some may see you as lowly mechanics…I see a heart for God and a passion for letting God work through you.
  17. You have an attitude of joy—even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
  18. You have faced so many challenges in life—and still trust and love your Heavenly Father.
  19. You continue to live your priorities.
  20. You pursue your “loves.”
  21. Love watching you add new languages to your resume and new stamps to your passport. WHEN can we do that travel book together?!
  22. You stretch me to THINK and introduce me to fascinating new ideas and topics.
  23. Watching you reach for the next opportunity and the next and the next…I realize how much alike we are…
  24. Love watching you move into adulthood with thought and care…showing me changes I could make in my own life!
  25. Steady and Reliable…Glad I can lean on you…and that I get to watch you spread your wings and fly!
  26. You are like me: with strong emotions and seeing everyone as a friend, even those you haven’t yet met!
  27. For as long as we have known you, you LIVE life with God.
  28. Wear what makes you feel good…and SMILE!
  29. You made it clear you believed in me…even when I was a rebellious teen!
  30. You make beautiful even simple things and simple times with others.
  31. Live with GUSTO! (and take a nap when you have to)
  32. My photography improved immeasurably with your advice to “take a step forward” and “take a few more shots.”
  33. You got me off the couch…and doing the impossible (training for a “tri”)!!
  34. Keep on dancing!
  35. In my “dream book” I want to someday see each of my children happily married—you are the first to join our family.
  36. Many years ago you affirmed the value of stay-at-home-moms…and I pulled to the side of the road and cried…
  37. Every time I open my Bible to the epistles, I remember your advice (about book order…and indirectly about marriage!): “Peter comes first.”
  38. You love my kids so dearly…and you have worked hard to pursue your passion.
  39. Thank you for being “real” as you have walked the grieving road.
  40. Your life choices were an example to follow…and you gave good advice as we wandered the RV lifestyle.
  41. Years ago in a small group setting you were a clear model of a servant shepherd and an example of how to minister out of hearing God’s voice.
  42. Your life has given an example and encouragement over the years—sometimes in ministry it seems like nothing is happening…but God may eventually bring clear results!
  43. You have supported me and encouraged me to pursue my dreams.
  44. You didn’t let me quit when James died…and look where I am now!
  45. You are “steadfast and immovable.”
  46. You were in my life for a moment…and our hearts somehow are intertwined forever!
  47. Because of you we became shepherds…searching for a lost lamb and learning so many other biblical lessons first hand!
  48. You helped tease loose the knots in my heart and emotions so I am more open and free.
  49. You repeatedly asked a question: “Does it lead to LIFE?” which still echoes in my heart today.
  50. You changed your life and your lifestyle to keep in line with your passions.

Randy’s 50th Birthday: Hosted, Toasted & Roasted!

Randy’s 50th Birthday has come and gone. We HOSTED a family gathering at resort destinations in Southern Colorado, Randy was TOASTED in person and via notes gathered in a special scrapbook, and we all enjoyed ROASTING in a series of hot springs. It was a lovely, weekend-long celebration of a special man. (It took alot of preparation–which was supposed to be my “monthly focus” for September, but since I am the Queen of Procrastination, I spent the past two weeks scrambling to complete everything.)

Festivities actually started last weekend with our church family. “Old Randy” was asked to sing Happy Birthday to “young Randy” at the end of the service. We brought a gooey chocolate birthday cake as dessert for a pot-luck dinner. Celebrating special occasions together is building deeper relationships with our new friends.

"Happy Birthday" from Old Randy to Young Randy

Gooey Chocolate Birthday Cake

Roger arrived on Friday in time to join us way back in Largo Canyon. We picked up Jakob from Mustang Camp and took a hike up to a mesa-top ruin behind the property. After a false start, we finally found the proper trail. The views were amazing, the hiking was invigorating, and the family time was priceless.

a steep hiking trail to get up the mesa

ruins with a view

It was late when we finally got to the hotel in Durango. And later when Randy arrived with his folks, who flew in to join us for the weekend. And even later when Rob and (girlfriend) Elise finally arrived. (They could have driven from Denver faster than all the flight delays.)

We all took our time getting up and moving on Saturday morning. We enjoyed chatting over breakfast, Anna took a swim, Jakob played electronic games, Jill read a magazine article or two, and a few smoke breaks were taken. Rick and Val (Randy’s brother and wife) joined us for wandering the historic area of Durango which includes quirky boutiques, wonderful art galleries, and traditional tourist traps. Poor Rob had a horrible migraine but was able to join us for crepes at Michel’s Corner, our favorite restaurant in the area. Randy received the scrapbook with comments, memories, cards, and best wishes from far-flung family and friends from across the years. A big THANK YOU to all who contributed!

Historic Durango is beautiful on a crisp fall day

Michel makes WONDERFUL crepes

After lunch, we piled into vehicles and drove through beautiful mountainous scenery from Durango to Pagosa Springs. Along the way, we waited for the narrow-gauge-train to cross the road in Durango, and enjoyed watching a real-live, gen-yoo-ine, cattle drive along (and across) the highway.

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Train

a gen-yoo-ine cattle drive...

We enjoyed soaking in the wonderful hot-springs for a few hours in the afternoon, before getting ready for dinner. We didn’t end up where I had planned (long story), and I didn’t think to call ahead for reservations (another long story)…but when we finally got seated and placed our orders, the food was wonderful. Randy was overwhelmed with the gift of a good laptop computer–another big THANKS to those who helped purchase it for him! A few toasts were made, and Randy made a speech (or at least shared a few comments).

Randy shares his heart...

More time was spent together back at the hotel–visiting, more hot-springs-soaking, on-line game time for Anna, early bedtimes, late bedtimes, and more. Late night and early morning reflections in the steaming ponds and hot springs were beautiful and cold crisp air makes soaking in the hot water even more relaxing.

Pagosa Hot Springs--historic bath house

Pagosa Hot Springs -- along the San Juan River

Goodbyes were finally said on Sunday morning—it was sad to see everyone scatter back to their far-flung homes after an enjoyable weekend spent together…

“Big” Birthdays?

Certain birthdays are supposed to be epic. They are “milestones.” They are looked forward to eagerly…or with trepidation. They are significant markers of time passing.


I apparently live on a different timeline.

Sweet 16? I spent that summer right after my birthday in Mexico. At one point, we participated in a big, village-wide Quinceneros party to celebrate a girl moving from childhood to adulthood on her 15th birthday. My turning 16 paled in comparison. (And back then, you didn’t get your driver’s license until months later since you couldn’t start driver’s ed until you were already 16.)

I had friends who moaned about turning 20; stressed over leaving their teens behind. My teen years were not so stellar that I wanted to spend more time there. And I had gotten married at 19, so turning 20 was an afterthought that year

What about turning 30? A friend or two were stressing out about still be unmarried at that age…about their biological clock ticking with no children on the horizon. Me? When my mom asked what I wanted for my 30th birthday, I responded that all I wanted was for this baby I was carrying to be BORN already! (And, indeed, James—baby number 5—WAS born on my 30th birthday!)

40? Nah. Still not a “big one” for me. At 38 I hit “mid-life-crisis.” I grieved all the things I would never do. I laid in bed for a few days feeling sorry for myself. Then I put together a scrapbook with pages decorated to fill with photos each time I accomplish something I dreamed of doing. My oldest two children left for college the next summer. 40? Forty was an insignificant transition when it came (unless I count having just birthed our youngest child a few months earlier…)

"milestone" or not...time moves on

So now I’m looking towards my 50th birthday in May of next year. Will THIS one be a milestone birthday? I’m certainly moving toward it with intention, and with introspection. But “milestone”?? I’m not so sure about that. The five years leading up to it have been significant—husband’s life-threatening cancer, death of a son, wandering the western USA in an RV for 9 months, getting EMT certification, moving to become directors of a mission in NM. Certainly no shortage of significant, life-changing events during this time. But none of this has been connected with turning 50.

Oh well. I guess I won’t worry about it. I’ll continue to enjoy the good times whenever they occur. And I’ll try to keep walking through the challenging times. My “milestones” may not match with decade-birthdays…but I certainly have plenty to celebrate, no matter what the date!