These are a few of my favorite things....

Listening to Christmas Carols 

Baking and decorating cut out cookies

Watching old Christmas classics like White Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street

and witnessing the sheer excitement of a child experiencing the magic of Christmas!

The Christmas season brings back memories of years past and the special traditions that are shared.  This year my family is going to enjoy a white Christmas in Breckenridge, CO.  We're so excited, but of course it won't be the same not being at home.  We have assured Addyson that Santa will know that she's going to be in Colorado on Christmas and will make sure to visit her there.  We're hoping to make some great memories that will stay with us forever. 

Another one of my favorite things are my awesome clients!  Seriously, it is because of all of YOU that my dream of being a photographer has come true.  It is because of YOU that I get to develop new relationships and friends - and I get to capture memories that your family will treasure for a lifetime. 

I'm excited to see what opportunities are ahead in 2011 and I look forward to offering your families with the best!  So from Homegrown Photography and The Voelkel Family, here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year!

Keeping up with the Joneses | Cypress, TX Family Photographer

The Jones family really knew how pull off a fantastic wardrobe for their photo session...thanks to mom, Annette.  The girls are stunning and I'm sure their dad is going to have to whip out the shotgun pretty soon to start scaring away the boys who are going to be beating down their door!

Here are a few of my favorites from their shoot:

Thanks Jones family - it was a pleasure and I hope to work you again!

A Little Bundle of Parker | Carmine, TX Family Photographer

Is it just me or is this month on fast forward?  Life has certainly been flying be for me lately and I've
been falling behind in blog posts.  The weekend before Thanksgiving I got to meet a really cute couple from Carmine that was enjoying life with their new little man Parker.  

They decided to meet over at The Shelby for their photo session.  Suzanne was one of my favorite clients - I puffy heart her!  She brought items for wardrobe changes, was open for all types of posing ideas - and she wins the award for the fastest order placed - EVER!  

Thanks again guys - it was a great pleasure working with your family and I can't wait to work with you and watch Parker grow!  

Take better family pictures this holiday season | Austin County, TX Portrait Photographer

With Thanksgiving right around the corner and Christmas knocking on the door, everyone will be pulling out their cameras to take pictures of relatives they haven't seen all year and what a better way to make family memories!  But how would you like a few tips to help make your pictures even better?  The following are 5 tips that will hopefully help you create some great pictures this year.

#1 – Turn off the flash!  The flash that comes on cameras should be outlawed, really.  They cause those devil red eyes, horrible shadows and it’s just totally unflattering.  Use the natural light that streams through your living room window or go outside when the light is warm and lovely.  Just remember, flash = bad!

#2 – Find the light
The best light can be found in the morning before 11am and in the evening after 4pm.  These times can vary depending on the season, in summer the evening time will be later.  The light at these times is nice and not harsh.   Sometimes you can’t help taking pictures at high noon, so if that’s the case, look for shade.  Shade is your friend, as long as you have a bright open sky in front of your subject.  Make sure to have your subject positioned on the edge of the shade.  The reflection from the sky will brighten your subjects face and give great catchlights.  Catchlights are the twinkle in their eyes that make your subject come alive in their pictures. 

#3 – Be mindful of the background
What sets a really great picture apart from an everyday snapshot is the background.  Creating interest with textures on the side of a barn or under a majestic old oak tree can really make your pictures something to cherish.  Be careful when you are posing family or children so that branches do not appear to be coming out of their heads or that your dog isn’t in the background making a present in the yard.  Another trick to use is pulling your subject several feet away from the background so that the background is slightly blurred, and your family is in focus.  What I mean by this is…don’t have your family right up against the background (such as a house, barn, etc), but instead, have them move up towards the camera about 10 ft or so.  The background will still be there, but the focus will be on the family. (p.s. - there is a cemetery in the background here...but you would never know if I didn't tell you)

#4 – Get on their level
Whether you’re taking pictures of your toddler or your teenager, get on the same level or plane as they are on.  If they are sitting on the ground, don’t take your shot from up above, get down on the ground so you’re at the same level.  You will be pleasantly surprised at how that change of height can really make an impact on your final product. 

#5 – Composition
The way that you set up your picture in the view finder of your camera can really make a huge difference in the quality of your final picture.  At some point in your life, your Aunt Nelda took a picture of you and your husband, but it wasn’t a close up of just you and your husband, instead, the both of you were just a small speck in the picture that included her entire living room and random other people in the background.  Paying attention to framing your subjects inside the camera is key.  If your camera doesn’t zoom, use the manual zoom – your feet! 

Well, I hope this helps you think about things a little differently the next time you pick up your camera this holiday season.  Make memories that will be cherished for generations!

The Kitchen That Could - Part One

Back in May of this year I said goodbye forever to my kitchen in Houston so that I could live in the country in the 1860's farmhouse that Brad and I have been remodeling for 20 years.  Just kidding, it's only been like 2 years...but it dang sure feels like 20 years!  Here's a look back at the kitchen when we first started tackling it many moons was in rough shape.  The kitchen was in a part of the house were the roof had been leaking for a long time and it needed our help B-A-D!

And take a look at the "padding" we found when we pulled up the flooring....check out the dates too!

I never knew that Lane Bryant was around in those days! :)

Anyway, sorry about the trip down memory lane, but the unfinished kitchen in our country home has been a huge source of frustration.  You see, trying to cook in that kitchen is like camping...seriously.  I have a 2 burner hot plate and a microwave to work with.   (sorry, cleaning THIS thing is just not high on my priorities these days)

But now I have this!

Yes, our refrigerator is in there and we have a utility running water is a big plus, but still, everything is everywhere and trying to cook the smallest thing is a huge undertaking.

Don't ask...not sure how a banjo, guitar and a box of booze got crammed in the kitchen either!

So a couple of weeks ago we decided it's now or never and we decided come hell or high water, this kitchen was going to get finished by Thanksgiving!  I wanted to be able to bake in my kitchen for Christmas dangit!  So we successfully got our cabinets, new stove and a dishwasher.  Now, anyone who's a relative or a friend of the family and has ever visited this house before the remodel, knows that there has never been a Voelkel woman with the luxury of a DISHWASHER in this house unless of course, it's the kind with 2 hands and a heartbeat.  So I am over the moon to know that I will be THE FIRST Voelkel woman to be able to use a dishwasher!

This past weekend my step dad came out to help Brad install the cabinets and stove.  And thank goodness for my step dad who recommended the layout that I wanted for this kitchen...even though our prior measurements determined that it wouldn't work.  Guess we don't know how to use a tape measure too well? :)

With the new layout, we have tons of room, so much that we have a surprise addition that will make you say - holy moly that was a great idea!

On Monday we went to Ikea and spent a good part of the day there.  By the end of the day, my dogs were barking, my brain was mush and we had some pretty awesome stuff.  We decided to use their butcher block counter tops.  I LOVE the look of it and think it will look awesome with the farmhouse feel that we're going for.  We also got a pretty neat light fixture too...but you'll have to wait and see that once we reveal the surprise addition!

Yesterday we got busy doing a little customization on our cabinets.  When we purchased them from Home Depot, they were your average run of the mill oak cabinets, nothing fancy.  But thanks to our friend Beverly down the road, the owner of The Round Top Farmhouses, she gave us a really cool idea to save money and give them a more custom look.  We purchased a sheet of beadboard and cut it into pieces that fit inside the inset of the cabinet and secured them with some liquid nail and tah-dah!!!

 Pretty snazzy huh?  All we have to left to do now is to caulk and paint them.

We've been agonizing over the color for a while now, but we finally agreed on black cabinets and we're going to try to tackle that today and tomorrow.  That's the progress report for now...stay tuned for more updates this weekend or early next week!

Kari + Bradley | Fayette County, TX Portrait Photographer

This past weekend was the Holiday Mini Sessions at The Shelby.  It's been really dry in Shelby, there's a burn ban in effect and wouldn't you know...10 minutes before our 9am session was supposed to start, the sky opened up and down came the rain!  But no fear, the rain only lasted a few minutes and the lovely sun came out to play.

Are these two cute or what?  Kari is the owner at Bad Habitz Jewelry, so of course I knew her accessories would not disappoint.  They pulled their wardrobe together fabulously!  

This is an FYI for future clients...take Kari and Bradley's lead...they got an A+!  Don't wear clothes that aren't want your portraits to tell the story about YOU, not the family that walks around wearing the same shirt and pants - lame! :)

This shot below has got to be my favorite of the day...I can hear Barry White singing in the background..."Let's Get It On" ....wait a minute, please don't get it on! 
I'm almost done...then you can go get a room! 

Thanks again Kari and Bradley!

Country Girls Will Survive! | Shelby, TX Photographer

When Brad and I moved to the country, we knew we were leaving behind a lot of the things that were so readily available to us - Target, grocery stores, REALLY good restaurants, just to name a few.  Now don't get me wrong...there are some good restaurants here, but we miss some of our most favorites and now they're just places we go for very special occasions - when we're in the big city!  We both LOVE mexican food and we can pretty much size up a restaurant by the type of salsa that they serve.  So since we're so far away from good salsa, I make my own - and you can too!

Now if any of you know me, you know I blog stalk the Pioneer Woman.  You're scratching your head, wondering who one earth the Pioneer Woman is right?  Well, she's Ree Drummond, an awesome woman from the city who married a rancher and has lived to tell about it!  She writes about cooking, photography, ranch/country life and homeschooling.  She's actually become so popular with her cooking, that she wrote a cookbook The Pioneer Woman Cooks - Recipes From An Accidental Country Girl and it came out last December.

Can you imagine how excited I was when I found out that she was going to be having a book signing in HOUSTON!  Poor Brad...I drug him and Addyson with me.

He was overcome by the enormous amount of estrogen in the room, but he survived and now he's glad that I am making some of her recipes!

I love this book and recently, I thought I had lost it or someone stole it and I was sick about it...but luckily, we found it and all was right with the world again!

One of my favorite recipes of hers is Restaurant Style Salsa.  This recipe isn't in her book, but it's on her blog and it's my #1 go-to recipe for salsa.  So, in true Pioneer Woman fashion, I've photo-blogged step by step instructions for you - so here we go!

Here are the main players:

Some items not shown are: jalapeno (optional), sugar and lime.  Yeah, since the grocery store is such a long haul for me these days, I just had to make due with lemon...and it worked just fine!

Start by chopping 1/4 cup of onion.  Then put 2 cans of Rotel and 1 can of whole peeled tomatoes into your blender or food processor.  Now this is where you can change the heat of your salsa without using jalapeno.  My crazy husband picked up the Habanero Rotel and it was really hot, so if you want to add jalapeno, I'd recommend using the plain jane original Rotel.

Next, add the 1/4 cup of onions and spices (1/4 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp sugar and 1/4 tsp salt).  Then you'll want to add 1 clove of garlic.  Or, if you're like me, you can add 1/2 tsp of the ready made minced garlic in the jar :)

Then add in your cilantro.  I used 1/2 cup, but you can add more to suit your personal taste.

Then squeeze in the juice of 1 lime or in my case, 1 lemon.  Now, just pulse your blender or food processor 7-8 times or more depending on how chunky you like your salsa....and that's it!  Make sure to taste your salsa with a chip to see if you need to add more salt or any other ingredients to make it to your liking.  Once you're done, please refrigerate for at least an hour before serving so that all the flavors can mix together.  Enjoy!

Here's the full recipe:
1 can (28 oz) Whole Tomatoes with juice
2 cans (10oz) Rotel (dice tomatoes & green chilies)
1/4 C chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced (or 1/2 tsp of jar minced garlic)
1 whole jalapeno, optional
1/4 tsp each (salt, sugar, ground cumin)
1/2 C cilantro
Juice of one small lime

Barnyard Antics | La Grange, TX Photographer

The little town of La Grange is probably the most widely known as the headquarters for the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, however, I would have to disagree!  Yesterday afternoon our little family decided to visit The Jersey Barnyard.  We've traveled past this place several times during our comings and goings back and forth between going to see Texas artists at Swiss Alp Dance Hall, shopping at the awesome little boutiques on the square and of course, getting our fix of the best Kolaches in the world from Weikel's Bakery.  So yesterday we decided to stop and check it out....and we are SO glad we did!  We decided to take the guided tour and it did not disappoint - in fact, I may have talked Brad into adding some of these barnyard animals to our family!

The guided tour allowed the kids and parents to feed and pet many of the animals.  From the miniature horse named Midnight to the goats, rabbits and chickens.

Then the excitement came when we got to meet the baby calves and actually bottle feed them.  Addyson's little calf sure did get mad when his milk ran out...he tried to plow through the fence!

Next on the tour was the hayride to the dairy processing center.  The hayride was actually pretty long, so it was really nice to relax and take in the scenery.  Their farm sits on right at 900 acres and it's been a working dairy for the last 100 years. 

We made a pit stop along the way during the hayride...and that was to meet this hunk of burnin love!  This dude weighed in at a whopping 600LBS!  Holy moly!  

We finally got to go into the milking center where the heifers line up and are hooked up to the milking pumps.  And then - what I had been waiting for the entire time....we got to try milking a cow for ourselves!  I was a pro... I wonder if they're hiring?? :)

Did you know that Jersey cows produce milk with the highest milk fat content and that is why Blue Bell only uses milk from Jersey cows for their ice cream.  The higher milk fat content makes it the creamiest! AND, you know Belle from those Blue Bell commercials?  Yeah, she lives on the farm...she's a celebrity around those parts....

She wasn't there yesterday though...I think she was out getting her tail washed and a hoof-icure!