Posts in PERSONAL
Setting up a Christmas Tree Siphon | Fleming's Christmas Tree Farm
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There's two schools of thought on Christmas trees: real? or artificial? There's definitely pro's and con's to both (I think my definition of purgatory is fluffing artificial tree branches for eternity), but one of the biggest con's to a live tree (the watering part) can be solved once and for all by reading this awesome "hack." Side note - my husband hates the term "hack". You should text him right now that you're reading about my tree hack. He'll love it. 

Growing up, we always had a live tree. My dad was firmly on #TeamReal, and I remember fondly the sight of his legs sticking out of the tree as he watered it with an empty 2 liter bottle. Brandon and I have carried on this tradition, and how lucky are we that we live in the Christmas Tree Capital of the World, Indiana PA?! Every year we head out to Flemings Christmas Tree Farm and pick out the perfect tree. Three years ago, I got a little tired of the 2-liter method, and went searching for a better way to water the tree that didn't end up soaking me or my carefully curated and wrapped Amazon haul. Behold, the tree siphon. Using things you can find at home and at your nearest hardware store, you too can keep your presents nice and dry and stop army crawling under your festive shrubbery.

I hope you enjoy some sweet and fun photos of our annual trip to the tree farm! Keep scrolling for the how-to details on setting up the tree siphon!

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How To Start A Tree Siphon:

Materials:

  • 3-4 feet plastic hose (1" diameter or less),

  • empty gallon jug with the top cut off. The opening should be big enough to put your fist through.

  • 4 cup glass measuring cup or other container to pour water

  • empty box big enough to hold the gallon jug and container using to pour water, wrapped like a present except for the top (left open)

  • wrapping paper

  • sharpie

  • 6" cut straight section of plastic hanger (optional)

  • zip ties (optional)

Method: 

  1. Place your tree in the stand and secure it, but don't loosen the bailing ropes yet.

  2. Keeping track of how much water you put in, fill the base of the tree stand until its 2" or so inches below the brim of the stand.

  3. Place the gallon jug in the wrapped box.

  4. Pour the same amount of water into the gallon jug as you did the tree stand, and draw a line on the jug with a sharpie where the water stops. This will be your water line so you can see what's in the stand at all times.

  5. Place the pouring container in the box beside your jug of water.

  6. If you are using the hanger piece and zip tie, place the hanger piece along the end of the tubing and zip tie, creating a "splint" at the end of the tube. Place this end (or just AN end if not using the hanger) into the tree stand.

  7. With this of the tubing securely in the stand, place your thumb over the other end of the tube

  8. Move your thumb just slightly back from completely covering the tube, and put the tube and your thumb in your mouth and being sucking the air out.

  9. Yep. You read that right. You WILL get water in your mouth. Sorry if that grosses you out, but it's so worth it not to crawl under the tree. Simply spit the water out, covering the tube with your thumb right away each time. You don't want to let air back in the tube.

  10. Once all air bubbles are out of the tube and it's completely filled with water, cover it with your thumb while it's still in your mouth. Look at the end of the tube where you're holding it. There should be no air in it at all. Keeping your thumb on the tube as you suck out the air helps IMMENSELY with this. Trust me.

  11. Put your entire hand (with the tube) into the gallon jug and submerge it.

  12. Let go of the tube and push it to the bottom of the jug.

  13. You may see little particles flowing through the tube. This is a GOOD SIGN!

  14. Slide the wrapped present box with your jug full of water and pouring container under the tree.

  15. Go brush your teeth.

  16. The next day (and after), re-fill the jug to the water line.

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Creatives and Burn Out: You Are Enough
 Adventuring in Lawrenceville with a beloved friend! photo cred: Mary Kuehn (the friend, lol)

Adventuring in Lawrenceville with a beloved friend! photo cred: Mary Kuehn (the friend, lol)

Hi friend! This is a personal blog post, which I love to do every once and a while. Transparency means so much when getting to know your photog! If you want to see more portfolio-like content, click on over here!

When people talk about burn-out, it's generally meant that they feel overwhelmed, over scheduled, stressed out, in a rut, passionless, cynical, "over it", hopeless, on and on. It might seem like someone who's in a creative field - who's constantly CREATING something new, something fresh, something exciting - would find it hard to reach that place, right? Maybe you are a creative reading this, and find yourself comparing your work to others, struggling to find your passion, not looking forward to things you used to? Maybe you haven't blogged in two weeks (ahem) and you are just wanting a break to actually be at your house and spend time there, maybe even clean it? (that always gets pushed to the bottom of the list!)

Burn-out is real, and burn-out is relative. Not everyone can produce the same amount in a day, whether that be photos, social media content, articles, products, whatever whatever whatever! I often have to check my heart to not only stop myself from judging MY performance against others, but others against mine! How terrible does that sound? If you are treating others, and yourself, based on what you/they produce, you need to check that at the door. Give yourself, and others, grace! It's okay to leave a few things unchecked on your to-do list. Nothing is as urgent as taking care of yourself and your soul.

I feel that transparency and self-care, along with ALLOWING yourself to put on the brakes every once and a while is NECESSARY - and definitely something I struggle with a lot. Get coffee with me, and certainly you will hear the phrase "I never feel like I'm doing ENOUGH." And I know a LOT of other people that feel this way too. You set a standard for yourself, and if you don't meet it, you "fail." But I realized recently that standards HAVE to be fluid. Your "enough" is based on a million things that are NOT constant like time, energy, commitments, health, family... so why should your standards be rigid if the rest of your life is not? 

If you a religious person, you may have heard the phrase that "Jesus is enough." That sounds amazing and is probably on a t-shirt somewhere, but what does that actually, tangibly mean and how do I live my life showing that I believe that? I'm sure the answer is different for everyone, but what I've found is that to embrace that God is enough and not rely on yourself means that first you set realistic standards of what you CAN do. Be honest with yourself. Then, you do what you CAN in a day given all the factors against you. At the end of the day when you're looking at all the things you didn't get done but wanted to, you then CHOOSE to not worry, be thankful for what you DID get done, and literally just relax and take time to recharge. Some pastors call that "resting in grace" - and I had to figure out what that tangibly meant. I spend so much time and mental energy thinking about what I HAVE to do, that figuring out what I WANT to do with my free time (that I have to MAKE) was a challenge. But now, I realize that's what "resting in grace" means for me: just rest, and stop freaking out, because God's got you and it's going to be okay.

You may know that almost 3 years ago now I lost my father to a really aggressive cancer. I often think about how he worked so hard as a mechanic his whole life, with the goal of retirement and adventuring with mom, taking trips, and filling his time with memories. Luckily, dad also knew how to enjoy life right where he was, and often took trips and had adventures (not to mention a million hobbies) to enrich the everyday life instead of just grinding away for that "someday." It took me way too long to realize that this is the key to happiness for a "type A" like myself - make time for rest and fun in the here and now.

Before he passed, I inherited his old Canon A1 film camera, and recently committed to learning how to use it and shoot on film. It's a completely different beast than digital, and the thing I've loved most about film is that it FORCES you to go slow, wait for the moment, notice all the details, and value the experience. Digital cameras can rapid-fire off shots like a machine gun, and while that's definitely my go-to for client sessions to ensure I don't miss anything, film has been an amazing antidote for burn-out for me because of all the reasons above. Any time I go on an adventure, the film camera comes along - not so I can "work", but so I can be more present. I'm still not perfect at it, but I'm having a great time with it, and it's a way to keep dad with me in those adventures he loved so much too.

If you are experiencing burn-out, I encourage you to tap into your curiosity. Learn something, pick up a new hobby, inject some "different" into your life. It will give you a distraction, a spark, a reprieve, and you just might discover one more thing that you're awesome at! Hope you enjoy these highlights from a few of my adventures this summer, all shot on film and with dad's A1!

 My husband Brandon in the Greenhouse at The Frick in Pittsburgh.

My husband Brandon in the Greenhouse at The Frick in Pittsburgh.

 Friends Liz and Adam exploring The Frick with us!

Friends Liz and Adam exploring The Frick with us!

 More candids in the greenhouse at The Frick!

More candids in the greenhouse at The Frick!

 Brandon waiting to board the Assateague Adventure boat on our trip to Ocean City.

Brandon waiting to board the Assateague Adventure boat on our trip to Ocean City.

 Skimming for critters in the bay at Assateague.

Skimming for critters in the bay at Assateague.

 Found a lot of minnows!

Found a lot of minnows!

 The bay side of Ocean City, Maryland.

The bay side of Ocean City, Maryland.

 Fenwick Island lighthouse in Delaware.

Fenwick Island lighthouse in Delaware.

 Pier at Ocean City.

Pier at Ocean City.

 My best friend's amazing daughter who let me braid her hair in a crown 'cause she's a princess!

My best friend's amazing daughter who let me braid her hair in a crown 'cause she's a princess!

 My mom Judi and her grumpy pup Digger.

My mom Judi and her grumpy pup Digger.

 Eclipse Bridge at Buttermilk Falls in Armaugh.

Eclipse Bridge at Buttermilk Falls in Armaugh.

 My gorgeous friend Mary and I (behind lens) being silly creatives together in Lawrenceville!

My gorgeous friend Mary and I (behind lens) being silly creatives together in Lawrenceville!

 More gorgeous Mary laying on the ground by ice-cream-esque lines in a cemetery because why not?

More gorgeous Mary laying on the ground by ice-cream-esque lines in a cemetery because why not?

 The street art in Lawrenceville is pretty colorful and amazing.

The street art in Lawrenceville is pretty colorful and amazing.

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Is a Tattoo Right for your Wedding?
 Hands in pinky promise against a yellow background with wedding ring tattoos of anchors on ring fingers

I'm sure by now you have seen or at least heard of the new trend to skip the wedding bands and get a wedding ring tattoo. While it's certainly a cheaper alternative to shelling out $$$$ for a sparkly stunner, there are definitely some things you want to consider before getting inked. How do I know? I'm in the "ring of black" club myself. (It's not actually a club. I just made that up. I'm lame sometimes.)

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There are actually quite a few of our friends that have wedding ring tattoos. You can see Brian's diamond on the left, Brandon and I have the anchors, and our friend Dom has an "E" for his wife Emily. 

DECIDING ON A TATTOO

So why did we take the plunge? When we got married, Brandon and I were both about 50lbs heavier, and while I could get my beautiful rings (pic below) adjusted as the weight came off, his Tungsten Carbide ring was not able to be resized. (Did you know that TC rings can't be resized?! Because we didn't when we bought it! Don't say I never warned you!) For our 4 year anniversary, I rallied for tattoos instead of a hubby with a naked finger.

 

 Tungsten Carbide ring with abalone inlay and moissanite wedding ring set on the beach with seashells

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GET A TATTOO

I am obviously not a tattoo artist, so I preface this with a "Call and ask your tattoo artist first!"

  • What does it cost? I called a LOT of tattoo shops and most told me that finger tattoos would be charged "shop minimum" (to my understanding, it's the baseline fee that covers your needle, the time, etc.). It depends on the shop of course, but ours were $60 each at Ikonic Ink.
  • Did it hurt? Yep. But it's over so fast that it's no big deal. I have tattoos on my wrist and feet, and this one was the worst.
  • How well does it heal? My tattoo artist warned me about this (and some shops won't even do finger tattoos because of this), but finger tattoos often won't stand the test of time. Between hand washing, friction from gloves/rings/etc., and other ways we abuse our hands, finger tats often wear more quickly than other tattoos and will need to be touched up.

WHAT TATTOO SHOULD I GET

Of course that's entirely up to you, but something my artist told me, and I totally see why because of the healing process mentioned above, is to get something simple. We chose anchors to symbolize that we were there for each other to keep our marriage steady through the storms. Everyone say "awwwwww!!" Diamonds, crowns, initials, keys and locks, and anniversary dates are popular too. 
 

 engagement ring balanced between pink sparkly high heels worn by a bride on her wedding day

I LOVE SHOWING OFF MY ENGAGEMENT RING!

Cool. Me too. Getting a tat doesn't mean you have to give up your rings. In fact, I still wear mine over top of my tattoo. Plus, it is a precious family heirloom that can be passed on to your children (and rings are REALLY fun to photograph!) 

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 cushion cut engagement ring on top of a mini pumpkin in the fall with leaves
 engagement ring with orange camaro and silhouette of couple in car paint
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The Perfect Font for your Treasured Photo Collages

Are you putting together a collage or scrapbook of your favorite wedding photos? Making a keepsake gift with some family photos? This post explains how to create a font as unique and meaningful as the photos you already love!

Brandon and I were just getting back from our honeymoon when I got a call from my mom with some pretty horrific news. My beautiful wedding gown, AND my mom's lace veil, were both destroyed in a fire. She had taken it to get preserved and the structure went up in a blaze, taking my "something old" and "something new" up with it. 

It's never easy to recover from a tragedy like that. It makes the photos even more important, and my job as a photographer even more meaningful. Here's some shots of my wedding day pretties of past, taken by the lovely Jessica Oh! Photography

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Visuals like these photos have so much impact, so much significance in the process of remembering. I have been very blessed by an amazing husband who probably cried over this more than I did. It sort of set the tone for our marriage, really. Him being so deeply, genuinely caring with his gentle love and willingness to help.

CHOOSING A BUSINESS NAME

We have weathered many storms since the fire, including the death of both of our fathers in 2015 and 2016, just 8 months apart. I get a lot of people ask me why I don't change my business name to my married name, Stiffler. Maybe up until now it was just the laziness of a total overhaul, but now my maiden name, my dad's name, is more special to me than ever.
 

MAKE YOUR OWN CUSTOM FONT

A few weeks ago when I was home visiting mom, cognitive wheels spinning about the new website and branding, I asked her for as many samples of dad's writing as she could find. He had a very unique script. He was an absolutely brilliant man, but sometimes mixed his capital letters and had a tough time spelling. We found lots of samples on old e-bay  printouts, part numbers and product names scrawled on the receipts from whatever engine he was rebuilding that month.
 

With the help of calligraphr.com, I was able to take these samples and trace them onto a template and make a FONT - yes a font! - of my dad's handwriting. The process is super simple. First you create an account (it's free, for this purpose anyway), then you download a template to print out. The template is just a bunch of blocks where you write your characters. Then you scan the template, click "upload" and just like magic, you have a font! You can then download your font (a .ttf file), double click the file, and hit "install." Done.

CREATING A LEGACY

My "Kevin" font about knocked the wind out of me when I saw it for the first time. You may also notice that I have his handwriting tattooed on my wrist as well, paired with a green cancer ribbon.  I never realized how much of an impact a person's handwriting can have on your memories. If there is someone significant in your life, I encourage you to take a few moments and make their handwriting into a font. It's a really powerful memory that can evoke emotions much like a photograph. 

As a lasting legacy to my dad, not only have I decided to stick with Jill Gearhart Photography, I have used his handwriting in my new logo and various places throughout my website. I've provided a download below of my dad's font, if you would like to use it, too :)

The Moving Advice No One Gave You
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It's been a while since I've shared a personal post, so if you are looking to learn a bit about what's been going on in my life, read on! If you are looking for some "regular" blogs showcasing beautiful weddings and other work of mine, click here!

The past month or so, I've been spending every free minute doing something I hardly ever did these past 5+ years after moving out on my own: thinking about, caring about, and working towards having a beautiful home that I love. I am so grateful for the Lord's provision of a nice home with space for my husband and I, but since we both prioritize quality time and memories over material things, most of our extra time and money went into experiences. Trips to Pittsburgh, trying out new restaurants, we rarely had a whole entire weekend at home! And we loved it!

People described my home as "cute" and "cozy" which I have to remind myself isn't a bad thing. But I wanted amazing. Who doesn't?! This new year, my resolution was to, and I quote, "give a crap about my house." Little did I know that an amazing place was right around the corner. Literally. I moved our entire life as a married couple right around the corner. And as with any major life event, I couldn't have gotten through without my amazing church family!

Please enjoy a lighter take on the moving advice no one gave you! I hope it saves you from a few headaches and disasters during your next move! *all photos are from my iphone, as you probably realized. I'm a better photographer than this lol.

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INVITE YOUR FRIENDS WITH KIDS

You may shy away from asking for help from your friends with kids, but it's actually a great opportunity to put young legs to work! We had some help from a nifty hand cart from Harbor Freight, which made moving fun for the kiddos! They actually argued about who could pull it. How's THAT for free labor?! Shout out to Jill and her amazing kiddos. Love you all!

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EVERYTHING IS A STEPSTOOL

You know that feeling at Christmas when you are wrapping a present and you lose the tape? That's how moving is when you need a stepstool. It's always, without fail, in another room, or on another floor. Luckily, if you are reckless like moi, everything can be a stepstool including appliances. As my husband knows all too well, my motto in life is that there's a solution to every problem!!

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MUSCLES + TRUCKS

I honestly thought I could get around this one since we were, after all, moving literally three houses down and around the corner. Even if it's a baby move like mine, you'll always need muscles and a truck in you have furniture. I personally apologize to everyone involved moving that 34234 pound hutch. Love you guys.

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HUMANS > RATCHET STRAPS

Have you ever used a ratchet strap? It is very likely that I am just mechanically challenged save for camera gear (watch me open a lock sometime, haha!), but I cannot for the life of me figure out ratchet straps. Chalk that up to one more thing I should have learned form my dad when I could. But the funny thing is, almost everyone else I've talked to struggles with those buggers too. So, in the same reckless fashion as the stepstool thing, hop up in that truck and use your greatest asset - yourself - to hunker down that hutch. (Please don't actually do this unless you are, again, moving around the corner. I'm pretty sure it's illegal and all that good stuff).

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LOOK UP THE MANUAL

What happens when your new appliances are High Efficiency but your brain is not? The photo above. I know you might be excited to not have to haul your laundry down three flights and into the basement and all you wanna do is take that Whirlpool for a whirl, but please read the manual first. Also, even though the detergent reservoir can hold a lot and the soap disappears as your pour it in, it does NOT, in fact, hold a half bottle of soap to dispense the proper amount on it's own. You still have to do a little bit of thinking to measure your soap, unfortunately.

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KNOW WHERE YOU PACKED THE COFFEE

I think the photo pretty much explains this one. Things that you use all the time and pack last should also be unloaded last, so you know where to find them! I knew where my trusty pink water bottle was at all times. But the connectors to hang the shower curtain? Box of kcups? Silverware? Who knows...

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TAKE TIME TO REMINISCE

I never thought I would miss our old house, the peeling wallpaper, the floors that offered fun sounds as you walked and the occasional splinter. But something weird happened as I mopped each room after cleaning all day, shutting out the light as I finished each. I was just a tiny little bit sad to go. This is where our marriage was built. This house is the first real home Brandon has had since moving out on his own, the house where we hauled all of our wedding stuff as we left for our honeymoon. The house where we got a puppy. The house where we built and grew relationships over dinner and board games. The house where we accomplished great things to set us on the path to achieving our "adult goals." Brandon finished his undergrad here. We were both unemployed here and had summers with fishing and $3 minnow buckets for fun. We had some serious conversations here, we started marriage counseling here. We lost our dads here. We found a church here, and new purpose and passions and dreams. I was sad to go, but it makes it so much better to know that now, in our new home, is where all of our hard work and heartaches are going to bear fruit and we can finally say "we made it."

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The Advice You Wanted Most and All Of Your Favorites | Indiana PA Wedding, Family, and Senior Photographer
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2017 was such a great year of learning, both for me and for you! This year was the launch of some big things around here, my favorite being this blog! For the past 40 weeks, we have spent a few minutes together every week, sometimes featuring guest writers, but always showing off the vibrant and genuine heart and soul of my favorite people - YOU! Your love and support is literally everything to me and to the success of this fun little venture. It is my hope that through this special platform, we were able to connect in a way that goes way beyond showcasing my work, but that it was literally time spent creating value for YOU. Whether that be through advice for brides, answers to frequently asked questions, tips, tricks, and ideas, or just through the honest, thoughtful, genuine, voice-filled writing that shows you more of me, my family, and my heart. It is my hope that hanging out here every week has helped you learn, prepare, relax, and trust anything and everything about having photos taken and most of all, memories made.

Mushy stuff aside - remember those superlatives in your high school yearbook? Most likely to succeed? Biggest class clown? Prettiest eyes? Nicest smile? As a year end treat, I've wrapped up all of your favorite blog posts, shoots, and moments of 2017 to romp through all over again, as shown by page views analytics data! This year alone brought almost 10,000 views to my website since May, and I am so looking forward to an even bigger and more vibrant 2018!

 MOST VIEWED BLOG - What to do with your wedding dress after your wedding

MOST VIEWED BLOG - What to do with your wedding dress after your wedding

 MOST HELPFUL BLOG POST - Make your handwriting a font

MOST HELPFUL BLOG POST - Make your handwriting a font

 BEST BLOG FOR SENIORS - Who to bring along on your senior session

BEST BLOG FOR SENIORS - Who to bring along on your senior session

 BEST BLOG FOR FAMILIES - Are Your Kids Old Enough For Family Photos?

BEST BLOG FOR FAMILIES - Are Your Kids Old Enough For Family Photos?

 BEST BLOG FOR BRIDES - Not Your Average Wedding Tips

BEST BLOG FOR BRIDES - Not Your Average Wedding Tips

 BEST BLOG FOR BRIDESMAIDS - 10 Lessons for Bridesmaids

BEST BLOG FOR BRIDESMAIDS - 10 Lessons for Bridesmaids

 MOST PUBLISHED WEDDING - Dan + Danielle | Car Themed Wedding at Farm on the Ridge

MOST PUBLISHED WEDDING - Dan + Danielle | Car Themed Wedding at Farm on the Ridge

 MOST LIKED WEDDING ON SOCIAL MEDIA - Wayne + Cortney | Gatsby Themed Wedding at People's Natural Gas Park

MOST LIKED WEDDING ON SOCIAL MEDIA - Wayne + Cortney | Gatsby Themed Wedding at People's Natural Gas Park

 MOST READ PERSONAL BLOG - Why You Need Marriage Counseling

MOST READ PERSONAL BLOG - Why You Need Marriage Counseling

 MOST INFLUENTIAL EXPERIENCE OF 2017 - Winter Wedding in the Poconos

MOST INFLUENTIAL EXPERIENCE OF 2017 - Winter Wedding in the Poconos

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Are You Watering Your Tree the Right Way? | Fleming's Christmas Tree Farms | Indiana, PA Family Photographer
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There's two schools of thought on Christmas trees: real? or artificial? There's definitely pro's and con's to both (I think my definition of purgatory is fluffing artificial tree branches for eternity), but one of the biggest con's to a live tree (the watering part) can be solved once and for all by reading this awesome "hack." Side note - my husband hates the term "hack". You should text him right now that you're reading about my tree hack. He'll love it. 

Growing up, we always had a live tree. My dad was firmly on #TeamReal, and I remember fondly the sight of his legs sticking out of the tree as he watered it with an empty 2 liter bottle. Brandon and I have carried on this tradition, and how lucky are we that we live in the Christmas Tree Capital of the World, Indiana PA?! Every year we head out to Flemings Christmas Tree Farm and pick out the perfect tree. Three years ago, I got a little tired of the 2-liter method, and went searching for a better way to water the tree that didn't end up soaking me or my carefully curated and wrapped Amazon haul. Behold, the tree siphon. Using things you can find at home and at your nearest hardware store, you too can keep your presents nice and dry and stop army crawling under your festive shrubbery.

I hope you enjoy some sweet and fun photos of our annual trip to the tree farm! Keep scrolling for the how-to details on setting up the tree siphon!

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How To Start A Tree Siphon:

Materials:

  • 3-4 feet plastic hose (1" diameter or less),
  • empty gallon jug with the top cut off. The opening should be big enough to put your fist through.
  • 4 cup glass measuring cup or other container to pour water
  • empty box big enough to hold the gallon jug and container using to pour water, wrapped like a present except for the top (left open)
  • wrapping paper
  • sharpie
  • 6" cut straight section of plastic hanger (optional)
  • zip ties (optional)

Method: 

  1. Place your tree in the stand and secure it, but don't loosen the bailing ropes yet.
  2. Keeping track of how much water you put in, fill the base of the tree stand until its 2" or so inches below the brim of the stand. 
  3. Place the gallon jug in the wrapped box.
  4. Pour the same amount of water into the gallon jug as you did the tree stand, and draw a line on the jug with a sharpie where the water stops. This will be your water line so you can see what's in the stand at all times.
  5. Place the pouring container in the box beside your jug of water.
  6. If you are using the hanger piece and zip tie, place the hanger piece along the end of the tubing and zip tie, creating a "splint" at the end of the tube. Place this end (or just AN end if not using the hanger) into the tree stand.
  7. With this of the tubing securely in the stand, place your thumb over the other end of the tube
  8. Move your thumb just slightly back from completely covering the tube, and put the tube and your thumb in your mouth and being sucking the air out.
  9. Yep. You read that right. You WILL get water in your mouth. Sorry if that grosses you out, but it's so worth it not to crawl under the tree. Simply spit the water out, covering the tube with your thumb right away each time. You don't want to let air back in the tube.
  10. Once all air bubbles are out of the tube and it's completely filled with water, cover it with your thumb while it's still in your mouth. Look at the end of the tube where you're holding it. There should be no air in it at all. Keeping your thumb on the tube as you suck out the air helps IMMENSELY with this. Trust me. 
  11. Put your entire hand (with the tube) into the gallon jug and submerge it. 
  12. Let go of the tube and push it to the bottom of the jug.
  13. You may see little particles flowing through the tube. This is a GOOD SIGN!
  14. Slide the wrapped present box with your jug full of water and pouring container under the tree.
  15. Go brush your teeth.
  16. The next day (and after), re-fill the jug to the water line.
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How I Found Inspiration Again | Winter Wedding in the Poconos
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This year, after almost giving up after six years of business, I really decided to work ON my business and not just IN my business, and I found that inspiration during a styled wedding shoot and photography workshop in the Poconos. My photography story starts much like other people's - friends of mine got engaged, asked their "artsy" friend with a camera that wasn't a cell phone to take some pictures (Pinterest was just starting back then, and ipods still had the big circular touch ring on the front of them, cars still had CD players - it was basically the stone age). 6 years later I've met dozens and dozens of couples and was given the privilege of photographing their weddings, engagements, family sessions, and more! So why, even if it appeared that I was successful, was I feeling like I was in a rut?

While cruising Instagram feeling sorry for myself in comparison to other great artists, I realized that my business was actually just a hobby. I wasn't working on it everyday, I wasn't progressing. I didn't have momentum. I was stuck. Luckily, on that endless feed of others' highlight reels that we call Instagram, I discovered that the amazing girls of Spark, a Christian women's photography group, were hosting a photography workshop in March - on my birthday, to be exact. While I was blessed enough to call one of these women both my friend and wedding photographer 4 years ago, I had little hope that I would actually get to attend this extremely limited workshop. Whether it was divine providence or really good luck, I was accepted and able to take one of the handful of slots being offered. What a great birthday present! We learned so much that day about things like posing, blogging, client experience, second shooting, and more! The best part was that we were able to finish our day with an amazingly gorgeous styled winter wedding where we could shoot along these legends and build our portfolios at the same time. The photos for that magical day are featured below!

After the workshop was over, I had 4 hours to stew in my own self pity and comparison depression as I drove back home to Indiana. I know that many photographers, along with most anyone else who has a goal they are chasing, thinks the same kind of thoughts. Do I have what it takes? Am I wiling to put in the work? Am I even good at this? I'll never be *that* person, why don't I just give up? Luckily, I have been blessed with an amazing husband and a healthy dose of stubbornness, and after about a week of tumult in my brain, I emerged wide-eyed and ready to start new. I forged so many paths this year to gain this crucial momentum that I was scared of for so long. A website reboot, blog posts, social media posts, gear investment, networking, education, on and on. The biggest lesson I learned, however, is to stop doubting my talent, even if it's not like other peoples. Just like in life, it's crucial to find out who you are, this time in terms of business. Once you know what your style is, what your message is, and what make you uniquely better, everything else will fall into place. This has been the best year yet, and while it's been a lot of hard work, doubling my success in just a year is well worth the price.


VENDORS:

Dresses - Rent The Runway

Videographer- TONEmedia

Calligraphy Signs - Penned By Alice

Jewelry - L Priori Jewelry
Bouquet Ribbon - Honey Silks & Co.


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Turning 30: Just, no. How we should (and do) say no to good things
 The beautiful photos featured in the post are by the talented and ever-lovely Jacklyn Anderson of  J.jae Photography !

The beautiful photos featured in the post are by the talented and ever-lovely Jacklyn Anderson of J.jae Photography!

This year, several of my friends and I turned the big 3-0 and through our coffee shop talks and musings about life in general, we all feel the same thing about being ushered into the third decade of our lives: our "no" means so much more than it ever has before.  Perhaps it's because we are finally out of the emotional throws of our adolescence (or are we? haha!) and now entrusted to more adult-y things, but I know for me, I have never been busier. These lovely women featured on this blog post were sweet enough to take time out of their crazy 30's lives to answer the question for you: "how do you say no to good things?" 

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Jill: I find myself thinking about seasons past and wondering "how did I have time to do that?" How did I have time to walk my dog for an hour every morning at 7am? How did I have time to exercise everyday after work? How did I have time to practice my clarinet, go to rehearsals, cross stitch, watch the entire Harry Potter series in a week, read a 450 page book in under a month? On and on. I admire my neighbors that have time to sit on their porch and relax and enjoy the weather. It's really tempting to say "I didn't have as much to do back then",  or "my schedule doesn't allow that", and while that may be a little bit true, I've learned that its mostly about what you MAKE time for. My husband and I have made the intentional shift in our household to stop saying "I didn't have time", but instead saying "I didn't MAKE time."

Truth is, we all have the same about of time. CEO's of Fortune 500 companies have the same amount of time as any one of us. We have to tell our time what it's doing, not the other way around. A lot of days I feel completely overwhelmed keeping up momentum in my photography business, running a thriving church as our Campus Director, and working a part time job as an office manager at a local non-profit. I get up and do dishes instead of spending time in prayer and reading my bible. I have lunches made before I even eat breakfast, if I do. And it's usually coffee and a clif bar as I'm running out the door. I share none of that for self-gratifying reasons, but to expose that sometimes I am out. of. control. with my "productivity". I MUST discipline myself to focus only on one thing at a time so my mind isn't fragmented and inattentive and so I don't feel frantic all day long. The end result is REALLY hard to get to, but REALLY worth it. I turned off notifications on my phone. I won't allow myself to check my church email before 2pm, and I spend precious free time not stuffing in more tasks, but caring for myself and my husband. 


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Mary: I think we've all probably been learning and unlearning and relearning how the word "no" works for years, but like Jill, it was all a little more intense for me this year. I've had to say some of the hardest noes of my life in the past few months. Some were to others, some to myself. I didn't like it. But I want my yeses and noes to matter. I want to give them fully--I love that verse where God tell us to "let your yes be yes and your no be no," to make it simple. Let your words carry their full weight, and own the decisions you make. That's amazingly freeing! Pay attention to what you value, because you say yes or no based on what's important to you, and acknowledging that helps you choose well. If you're helping someone else, they will be so much better served by your honest no than your half-hearted, half-effort yes, and then your full yeses will be even more meaningful, even when they require a lot of you. Oh and one other thing--a big part of a healthy relationship with "no," I'm realizing, is being willing to recognize that I am not the only person who can do things. In most cases, someone else can do the things I can just as well or better, and I need to just get over that feeling that if I'm not the one to do it, it will all go wrong and the world will collapse. That gets arrogant awfully fast. Let someone else have a chance!


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Lauren: As a 30-year-old mom, I find that a good night of sleep or staying in would feel really great once the kids are asleep, but sometimes saying no to this in order to get some time with my friends is necessary for my mental health and spiritual reset. I can easily get distracted by my busy-ness that I lose my focus on giving God time. Being around my friends brings reminders and uplifting word that encourages me to bring my focus back on God in my situations. There are also days or nights when this can go the other direction. If my husband and I need time or if I need to be with my kids, I may need to say no to my friends so that I can form my family. For us, me saying no to a full-time job and paycheck meant that I get to stay at home and teach my children how to grow, live, love, and do all those other fun things you need to do in life. I think as I make the list, it’s really just a matter of saying no to something good only to lead to something else good, if not better.

 


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Hannah: In my younger, single and childless days, saying no to good things never happened. I wanted to be where things were happening! I was afraid that if I said no, I would miss out on fun times or important things. In my current season of life, I have three children and a husband that need so much of myself, that saying no to good things has almost become a relief. I no longer feel I am missing out and I no longer feel the pressure of being everywhere. I view it as an opportunity to prioritize myself or my family. (I say this as I have literally just said NO to a fun gathering). Saying no, also means that when I do say yes, I’ll get to savor and enjoy those times even more. Saying no to good things has actually enriched my life. I prioritize and give full attention to where it’s needed. I no longer miss out on anything but instead, I experience good in any decision I make.


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Laura: Saying no and being okay with that is something I think a lot of people struggle with. The key to it is knowing from God what to do! I’m a music teacher, and a few weeks ago I had a crazy week. I was taking students to an all day/evening choral conference, and two days after that, I was hosting County Chorus. I was in charge of bringing 200 kids to my school, feeding them, and successfully putting on a concert that evening. It’s a lot of pressure! And to top it all off, my grandma passed away a couple days before. In the midst of all this, a friend of mine asked if I’d be willing to stay with her kids while they were out of town for 3 days. I wanted to help, but I also knew that adding one more thing to do and think about would be a challenge for me, as I already felt like I was at my limit. I asked God what I should do, and He said that whatever I choose, He’ll back me up. I was free to say yes, and I was free to say no. I ended up saying no, and I’m so very glad that I did. I triumphantly got through that week (thank you Lord!), but I look back and feel thankful that I didn’t have to stretch even further to do or think about more. I sought the Lord, and He led me! There’s comfort in the freedom to say no!


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My hope is that by getting a glimpse into many different 30-somethings' lives, some married, some single, some in full-time careers, some starting businesses, some with kiddos, some that live at home, and some that travel the world, you can connect with our stories and hopefully be blessed by the life lessons we've learned these past 30 years.

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Why I have a Honeymoon Every Year and How You Can Too
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I can't imagine how anyone would forget their anniversary. I believe that marriage and love deserves to be celebrated, that it's something to prioritize, work on, protect, and hold in high esteem. When some friends of mine recently came over to my house to talk about decor and furniture and how to improve our little spaces we call home, I realized something about my personality. While I dream about a home that I would feel comfortable asking Martha Stewart over to dinner in, my husband and I prioritize, and therefor spend our money on, experiences. One of the biggest "experiences" we plan and look forward to each year is our anniversary. So much expectation and joy goes into selecting and preparing for our annual trip that I've fondly picked up the habit of calling it my honeymoon each year! 

OUR HONEYMOONS OVER THE YEARS

This year was our 5th honeymoon, and we wanted to make it truly special for this milestone year. For our original, first honeymoon we went on a trip through New England and then to Canada, but our very favorite part of the trip was the time spent in Portsmouth, NH. As soon as we came home from "eating our way through New England" as my mom put it, we dreamed of going back someday. With high hopes and a big glass jar to collect pennies in, we believed in faith that God would give us the provisions to go back for year 5.

Year 2 we spent a weekend in Pittsburgh exploring the city, year 3 we stayed close to home and decided to just exchange gifts since my dad was so sick. He actually passed away three days later. I thank God that He put that on my heart that we needed to stay home that year. Year 4 we had a blissful and serene 31 hours away from civilization in a cabin on the river, and now in year 5 I am overjoyed and so humbled that God provided the way for us to go back to Portsmouth. And we didn't even have to use our penny jar.

HOW YOU CAN TAKE A HONEYMOON EVERY YEAR

So enough about me. You may be wondering "how can I have a honeymoon each year?" Our honeymoons are built around the things that we love to do together, the things that our souls need, the things we look forward to the most about every day life, only enhanced. Maybe you and your spouse love to try craft brews. Visit a brewery in another city! Maybe you like to watch football - follow your favorite team for an away game in a nearby city or state! Do you have busy schedules and just need time to rest and unplug? Air BNB has lots of places that fit the bill! With a little planning and a lot of love, even something silly like visiting coffee shops and thrifting can be exhilarating if you can get creative. Places like TripAdvisorGroupon, Yelp, Instagram, and good 'ol Google can be invaluable while planning your honeymoon. Go as big or as small as you want!

I PLANNED OUR TRIP AROUND MACARONS AND STREET ART

If you've read this far, you obviously care about me and probably would love to hear more about my trip, right? So glad you've kept reading, because I can't wait to share my first travel blog! I certainly felt SUPER weird pulling out my gigantic camera and pointing it at all of my food at the restaurant, but I did it all for YOU! If you're a regular reader of the JGP blogs, you may have caught the post about Instagram being the unsung hero of search engines for exploring new places (if not, read it here!) Using this same strategy, we found some incredible street art in Salem where our trip first started. Keeping with the whole "new and exciting" thing, we wanted to add in a place we've never been before.

FIRST STOP: SALEM, MA

Salem is an hour from Portsmouth, and even though I realized too late that we would be there in October and close to Friday the 13th, we had lots of fun! I'm not really big on the touristy museums (a past Gettysburg trip was a testament to my love for my husband), so we had fun exploring and "living like a local" for most of our time there! We had incredible crepes from a place we found on TripAdvisor, toured the cemetery where voyagers on the Mayflower were buried, ate macarons (of course), and checked out the local thrift and antique stores. The best part, and my husband is so sweet to indulge in my obsession, was finding the street art! Recently, Salem's Point district got a major facelift thanks in part to a handful of talented mural artists. I always admire the larger-than-life and often quirky and thought-provoking masterpieces these artists create. This shouldn't surprise anyone, though, if you've seen the rest of my webpage. Give me all the color! We ended our time in Salem at the incredible Far From The Tree hard cider and tap room, where we left thoroughly delighted and bogged down by 3 growlers to share back home!

NEXT UP: PORTSMOUTH, NH

Public service announcement: tapas restaurants are not for the frugal, friends. Nor are they for the frugal AND hungry. After leaving Salem and it's delightful street art, we checked into our Air BNB in Portsmouth and went out for tapas at an awesome restaurant called Moxy, and followed it up with ice cream from Annabelle's - which is apparently pretty famous! I told you we ate our way through New England!! Day two of our trip was full of walking and shopping, starting off the morning with some amazing popovers at Popovers on the Square, followed by a "3 hour tour" (Gilligan's Island, anyone!?) of the harbor via Portsmouth Harbor Cruises. Much like our original honeymoon, I did not pack correctly, but did not let my "wife-cicle" discomfort inhibit the breath taking views of the harbor!

Other than street art scavenging and local food, something else I like to do when I travel is do some Christmas gift shopping. While it's really easy to hop on amazon on December 23rd and knock out your list in your PJ's (trust me, I'm an Amazon fangirl!), there's something so thoughtful and intentional about perusing local wares and finding something that reminds you of a loved one at home. We had a blast finding just the right unique gifts as we walked the beautiful colonial style streets and store fronts.

Then, the moment that was 5 years in the making, our anniversary dinner! When we first visited Portsmouth, we had an amazing dinner at Portsmouth's most celebrated restaurant, The Black Trumpet. I think I made our reservations for this year in like, August. We talked about this meal for literal years. Experiencing chef Evan Mallett's restaurant 5 years after talking about our experience over and over again made me realize that sometimes, the anticipation of something is better than the actual thing. Remember your high school prom? You might have had a better time thinking about it, picking out a dress, and getting ready for it than you did at the actual prom. This is kind of like that. The atmosphere was incredible, the food was great, but man, I wanted it to be the best thing I ever ate ever. And I've eaten at a lot of great places (we love experiences and food after all)! We were really delighted with our free dessert, however! We ended the night at Latchkey, a super-cool (cooler than us) speakeasy style club with lots of amazing seating and even better cocktails!

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If you know me, you know that me "shutting my brain off" from work, church, and my business is almost impossible. But dang, I was so proud of myself for doing so on this trip. Sometimes on the last day of a vacation where you can "escape", the impending doom of normalcy can taint even the most amazing experiences. God really blessed both of us with not only the provisions to take this trip, but the mental clarity to enjoy it thoroughly. Even the last day.

I can confidently say that I had the best BREAKFAST I ever had at The Friendly Toast in Market Square in Portsmouth, and after a bit more shopping, we hopped in the car and went on another Instagram inspired adventure to find some apple cider donuts. Unfortunately Lil's Cafe didn't have the precious pastry, but they did have some bomb.com pumpkin cruellers and a really unique and tasty rose tea latte.

A recent love of mine when exploring a new city is finding thrift stores and nabbing some great clothes for not a lot of money. After all, I need all the funds for macarons I can get! Kittery had an awesome place called Lost Cost Treasures where I found a great dress and shirt!

The beautiful drive home

Route 1A is the most gorgeous drive on the planet, I'm convinced. After leaving Kittery, we headed south along this amazingly scenic road, stopping to admire the beaches along the way. We were spoiled enough to stop for dinner at The Beach Plum, voted NH's best Lobster Roll, and ate it beach side at Rye beach right across the street. Realizing that we couldn't extend our honeymoon forever, the 10 hour drive barreling down on us, we cued up a podcast and headed home.

Once we accepted that our trip was over, my mind went back into "do-er" mode (it was about an hour into the trip home as I sent email after email), but realizing that "home is a good place filled with good people" makes coming back to Indiana a good second act to the amazing honeymoon God blessed us with.