When you have big brothers….

Big brothers, who think photobombing is the best thing ever….

Especially photobombing that involves ‘gross things’…

You learn a few tricks and your photobombing game is pretty strong.

IMG_1005Checking out her pics….

10.15cousins-05This girl.  She keeps me on my toes. Always talking. One-liners all the time. Goofy. Serious. Sweet and spicey.

When we chose to build our family through adoption, we knew it would not mean a one-time moment kinda thing. It would be a life-long thing…a life-long full of questions, often unanswered. A life-long of unique joys, challenges, celebrations and heartbreaks.

A sweet new baby joined our family. My nephew. Her cousin. So much celebration. So much joy. So many questions….

10.15cousins-01There is a group of people that I often clamor to hear their voices – those who have similar stories to my daughter, adopted internationally into a trans-racial family. I listen to their perspectives, joys, hurts, and advice. I know my daughter’s story will be unique to her, but I also treasure the insight they give me.

Adoption is beautiful, but it can be so complicated. It is not easy to explain to your daughter why she was not in your tummy like her cousin was in her aunt’s. It is not easy to talk about families you are born into and families that you choose. Talks about skin, hair, eyes…these are the hardest talks I’ve ever had, but ones I would never in a million years wish away. She is only four. I know we are only getting our feet wet, barely dipping our toes in the sea of questions.

I’ll keep dipping my toes in each time she is ready. When she wants to jump or dive, I’ll do that too. She gets to lead, I get to hold her for as long as she’ll let me.

I didn’t get the gift of carrying her in my womb, but I get the honor of holding her in my arms.


back to top share on facebook tweet this post pin site image email a friend
  • Jennifer - What a precious post. I’m thankful for your honesty. Adoption is hard and messy and beautiful and redemptive. And that sweet little girl is so blessed to have you to walk with her through it. And why is she so cute?!

  • Güliz - Merhaba..
    Sizi o kadar çok be?eniyorum…
    4 çocuk dan sonra evlat edinmi?. kendi evlad?n?z gibi benimsemi? siniz…
    O çok ?ansl?…Çocuklar?n?z çok ?ansl?..
    Ben sizi Türkiye den zevkle takip ediyorum..
    Mutlu Kal?n…Sevgiler

  • Diana - I think a lot of those same things with adoption, even though we adopted domestically and are all the same race and our son can generally pass for being our birth child (although it’s rather shocking the number of strangers who notice he has different color of eyes than myself and my husband and ask about it). He’s only two but has had many cousins born and already asks questions. He knows he was in someone else’s belly and we pray for her every night but I know, like you, this is just the tip. I appreciate your honesty about some of the harder, stranger sides of adoption. It’s wonderful and amazing but also hard in ways that were hard to anticipate.

  • Sarah Pratt - And she is blessed to have been given a life full of love! Adoption is a beautiful thing. I have a dear friend who has been given the opportunity to love and raise a boy through adoption. My sister in law, as well, is loving and raising FOUR children, who otherwise would have had really unhealthy and tragic lives. These children will get opportunities to succeed in life. But most importantly, they will KNOW and FEEL love.

  • Rae - Beautiful post, Ashley!!! <3 I hope I will get the honor of adopting a little one too. Thank you for being such an inspiration and sharing the joys and struggles of your life with us. It is truly appreciated :)

  • Amanda - I was adopted internationally from South Korea before I was a year old into a multi-racial family. I’ve been called names, had people say hurtful things out of ignorance, and felt utterly alone in my story. I still have questions. I still feel the hole where the love of a biological family should be. But without the brokenness of abandonment, there would not be my husband, my daughter, and so many other beautiful blessings in my life. I choose every day to view adoption as a gift. It’s true that people never stop and truly consider what adoption rips from a person, the heartbreak that goes along with it. But I cling to the good and to a Savior who reminds me that I am also adopted by Him. And his love is SO GOOD and adoption echoes that love to me. There are no good answers to those hard questions. But my comfort has always been that my story is the story that God always intended for me. And that it’s beautiful to him even when it hasn’t felt beautiful to me.

  • Melanie - I love what Amanda (above) shared. We are ALL adopted, right? By a good and loving Father who loves us more than anything. He CHOSE us!! What a gift to have those conversations with our kids. Praying for you, Ashley, and for all those who have chosen to adopt a child into their homes & hearts. Love this post so much.

  • Renee - Your perspective on adoption is so helpful to me. While mine is a two-mom family, I am the non-biological mother and deal with many similar questions and challenges with our two children. The are only age four and one, but preparing them for the road ahead is a thoughtful process. It’s a beautiful experience, but not one without heartbreak – as most beautiful experiences are :). Your approach with your daughter of it being ‘her story’ really resonates with me and has been a bit of a guidepost, particularly when talking with other people about our family. Thank you for sharing these parts of your family with us.

  • Marsha - That last line! POW.ER.FUL!!! I pray those words burrow deep into her heart as she grows.

  • Shelly Cunningham - For real, she is the cutest thing EVER! I love your approach to her circumstances and think you are so inspiring!

  • Shira - Thank you for this post – made me teary-eyed and smiling at the same time. Please know that these posts affect (for the good!!! the very good) a far broader circle than just those who adopt: our baby is growing in a surrogate’s belly. Genetically ours, so we won’t have the skin/eye/hair questions I expect, but we’ll have the same “why wasn’t I in your tummy?” questions – and the answers are hard. Your line about letting her lead, and especially the last line are the very best; I will keep those in my heart for a long time to come. Thank you for posting this.

  • Bev - I was adopted when I was two months old and It was always a part of ‘my story’. When I was 30 I had the privilege of being able to search for and meet my birth parents. This was very hard on my mom even though I worked really hard to assure her that even though I wanted to meet my birth family SHE is / was / and will always be my mom! Later when my mom was dying she was able to express her gratitude to my bio-mom (aka birth mother) for the gift of me (lol) and she was sooo happy for me that after she was gone I would still have a ‘mom’. (Believe me I know how lucky I am). With adoption comes loss. There is no way way around it. For me, thinking about it generally comes with emotion. There is pain. But, I wouldn’t want it any other way. My family is my family. (I tell people that I have a family forest instead of a family tree). So, if someday your daughter cries about it – that’s ok. It is a loss and it is ok to be sad about it. But, it doesn’t mean that she would want it any other way. You are her REAL mom/ dad/ brother/ sister etc. Of course you know that – it’s just my adoption pet peeve that I like to educate people not in the ‘adoption know’ about. The people who chose us and raise us (and put up with us) are our REAL family :) And if we are lucky enough to know our birth families we just have more people who love us and we get to love ?? Thanks for sharing your story with us :)

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Thank you for posting this. It is so incredibly timely. Dipping our toes over here.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - I cannot thank you enough for the time and effort you put into these classes. I learned so much from you. I can’t wait to see what is next for you. I’m so very thankful for all that you share with us.

  • Sarah - Still dipping our toes in too. My daughter is 10 1/2 and home at 5 months. Open communication and little tidbits as they ask and are ready to ask and understand along with ALWAYS truth. No secrets and my daughter knows that she can ask me at any time. So far, she has not asked anything that I have not been able to share with her or have had to say “I don’t know”. I know the difficult questions will come in time. I will be ready. SO blessed to have been given the gift of being her mom. The magnitude of her loss being my biggest blessing is not forgotten.

  • Tammy - So very very beautiful Ashley!

  • Tiff - I love this. Thank you for sharing. We adopted our daughter through foster care and we don’t technically know her ethnicity, among most everything about her history but we do not look alike. She is almost 4 and has Down Syndrome and is still learning to navigate this whole world of speech but I know these questions will come for us too. There is so much heart break and beauty in adoption and I feel honored to be my girl’s Mommy also. You two are absolutely precious together. It’s truly amazing how God orchestrates families!

  • kimberly oyler - oh my gosh, that last line. tears.

  • Tia Mirxk - Have watched with so much pleasure how you have taken this little girl into your family, how you loved her even before you knew her and how all of you have made her a much loved part of the family. One more thing, how you have made her birth mother part of your life too!

  • christina larsen - I understand the questions. The questions I am sure are different for all adoptive families. Bringing O into our home at the age of 5 brings her memories of her past into our present and future as well. All good questions…so many I don’t have answers for. Your sweet angel is so cute…embrace the hugs at every turn.

  • Elise - Beautiful!!!! I appreciate your perspective and your words help to guide me through my own walk. Thank you for your honesty!!!

  • Emily - …and now I’m all verklempt. Love to you both <3

  • Carrie - Love this! Just simply beautiful :)

  • ileana - Love your post! My son just turned 20! I can’t believe it has been 20 years since I first met him and his birth mom! Crazy how fast time flies by. What I have found is that every adoption story is different and beautiful in its own way. It is difficult one minute and you forget that there was even an adoption involved the next. My son has had different questions at different ages, most related to his understanding of the birth process 😉 I like to romanticize the notion that this was a difficult decision for his birth mom, but I’m not so sure about that. Maybe more so now than at the time. I had the privilege of meeting her and spending time with her. She turned his care over to me, and I hold that responsibility above all else. Most important of all, he is a very happy boy and we love him more than life itself. Somewhere along the way, I realized that no matter whether they’re adopted or not, they’re really only on loan to us for a season, and we just have to teach them and love them the best we know how.

  • libertad vera - I´ve been reading your blog for years now, and yet, this is my first comment: The last line you wrote make me cry… You and your entire family are the sweetest. God bless you all. Greetings from Mexico City.

Saturday night I posted this image to the private SnapShop flickr group (a place for students to submit photos to share and get feedback from me and others). Pardon the grammatical error!:flickrend

SnapShops ended.

Saturday night I answered the last camera question and provided feedback on the last photo. And then I closed my final SnapShop course. After 8 years of teaching it was very anti-climatic. I felt like I should be throwing a party or doing something to mark such a big milestone. These were the courses that provided for adoptions and helped our family transition when my husband changed jobs. These were the courses I was able to ‘meet’ students and blog readers from across the globe. These were the courses that I poured so much into for so long. It felt like I should be marking the moment in a significant way.

Instead I logged off my computer, turned off Netflix and went to bed. Running an online business can be so weird. There weren’t physical doors to shut or a sign to hang outside that said “Closed”. Weird is the only word I can find to describe it.

It is a good weird. Seasons change. I like change. I am excited about what is to come…about less time juggling work, homeschool and motherhood. I am also excited about the future of the SnapShop content. I’ll be spending the next month or so finalizing what is to come for that content.

I’ll be announcing what is coming, hopefully next month. I’ll share it here, but I know not everyone reads this little space regularly. If you are interested in getting an email when I have news to announce, you can fill out the form below.


Fill out my online form.


I want to thank all of you that participated in a SnapShop course over the last 8 years. What a gift it has been for me to see your photos and be invited along in your photography journeys. I am so thankful for the stories you have shared with me and the glimpses into your lives. Getting to know you was the very best part of SnapShops!

In honor of my ‘retirement’ I told Chris I would like him to arrange a time for me to get to take a nap with my newborn nephew. Nap with a baby – there isn’t much better:)

back to top share on facebook tweet this post pin site image email a friend
  • Raimie Harrison - Dear Ashley,
    Congratulations! You have done amazing things with this course and have been a help to so many because of that. Way to go! I have always admired the way you prioritize clearly and deliberatly for your family. Your passion for them shines through in so many aspects in this online space. Welcome to the next chapter! Love, Raimie Lu

  • Mary - just wanted to thank you for your snap shops! I took your second to last session this past July and loved it. My pictures have improved so much and I actually enjoy getting my camera out now whereas before it always ended in frustration. Thanks for your instruction. I’m curious to hear what you’ll be doing with the content from the class. I personally would love to have access to it again :). Enjoy the next chapter!

  • Ranee - I will be reading here, but submitted the form too anyway! I loved the DSLR course and am excited for you for what is to come! :) Good luck with that nap! :)

  • Jen @ RamblingRenovators - So happy I took your phone course while I had the chance. Even now, if I have trouble figuring out how to shoot something, I think “what would Ashley do?”. Thanks for helping me capture the life around me in the way I wanted it to be captured. Looking forward to your next chapter.

  • Holly - I loved SnapShops! I agree endings are weird, especially when it was such a significant part of your life for so long.

  • Emily - I loved Snap Shots too! So thankful for being a part of one of your classes. Thank you, Ashely!

  • Rose - Can’t wait!

  • Kathleen - Thank you for the time you invested in teaching! What I learned in your course has changed the way I take pictures of my girls, and hopefully blessed the memories they will look at some day!

  • Anastasia Curtin - Dear Ashley,
    Thank you so much for all of your hard work that you had invested into the SnapShops. I took a DSLR course about a 1,5 ago, and had a wonderful time participating, learning and gaining experience through your course. I am far from being a professional in photography, but your class helped me gain more confidence in using my DSLR. Unfortunatelly, the only constant thing in our life is a change, I hope yours is for the best. Wishing you luck with all future ideas and plans. We love reading your blog here in NJ :)))))xoxoxo

  • Emily - Thank you so much for having the snap shops! I wouldn’t have transitioned from film to digital so smoothly if not for you.

    For the record – the image you shared during the course of the Still Life With Shoes (that’s not what you called it, but that’s how I think of it) is in my brain as inspiration for a type of family portrait I want to do of our family one day. Maybe not with shoes, but a still-life of beloved objects that represent our family. I would love it if you’d share that image, and any other still-lifes (still-lives?) you’ve shot and share some tips in a blog post one day. If you’d like.

    Again – thank you so much. For everything <3

It was quieter here on the blog last week. Last week was full. To say the least.

My nephew was born!!! I am so smitten with him. Smitten.

It was my birthday.

It was also the final week of SnapShops, which meant lots of computer time answering questions and providing feedback on pictures.

Also….we are doing that kitchen update. There are no clean or quiet corners in my house. I worked on SnapShops on the front porch. It was the only quiet spot I could find.

And I snuck in lots of cuddles with my nephew. Okay, not lots, but some. My 3 year old niece can’t handle sharing him.

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset


This week I am hosting another Embrace the Camera week with my friend Emily. Basically, Embrace the Camera is the idea that a lot of us hide from the camera for reasons like we don’t like how we look or we feel awkward or whatever. BUT when we look at pictures of those we love, we see them – not their flaws. I want my kids to have pictures of me from their childhood. I love looking back at pictures of my parents and grandparents from years past. I want my kids to have that too.

To begin the week, I thought I would share a short excerpt from my SnapShop class. Below is a small section from one lesson. It goes over tips for getting in front of the camera and practical ways you can do just that!


There are a couple of ways I achieve getting in the shot with those I love…of just in a shot in general.

SOMEONE ELSE: I either put my camera on full Auto or I get all the settings how I want and then ask someone to take the shot. I also try to be very descriptive of what exactly I have in mind. Poor Chris. (I also do this with my older kids)

PHONE: This is often the easiest, but phone quality does not compare to most DSLRs. I am really trying to do a better job of using my DSLR more and phone less for shots that include me.

TIMER: When taking shots with my DSLR, I set the camera where I want it and then focus where I am going to be in the shot. Once I take a few practice shots to make sure the settings look good, I turn on the timer. Then I focus again and press all the way down to start the timer. Then I step into the shot in the area that I focused.

The “X” is where I focused, adjusting the settings, and then activated the timer before stepping into the shot.

I used the same concept for the following pictures…set things up, used the timer and then jumped in the shots.
Next, I few more examples and what methods I used:

3.16embrace-3(pp_w744_h744)Top row:

  1. I found the angle I wanted and then did my best to describe what I wanted to a friend. She was using my iPhone and I had her stand in the spot I wanted and told her not to zoom. This could be misunderstood for being very bossy, but I did it with a nice voice!
  2. I used a Belkin remote & my iPhone for this shot (but the camera app with the remote does not work well in low light, I’m not a big fan of it)
  3. I had my daughter stand still and I walked across the sand from her. I propped my iPhone against my jacket and set the shot up how I wanted. Then I used the timer on the Camera+ app. I set the timer and ran over to her to start spinning. I got lucky that she was right over the sun when the timer went off.

Middle row:

  1. This was a dslr shot. I set the camera on a ladder across the room. I took a few shots of Chris while I was getting the settings and focus where I wanted. Then I set the timer and stepped into the shot with him.
  2. I handed my phone to my oldest son and told him to take a picture that included the bottom of my boots and both of the chickens legs. I find if I can give my kids exact places to crop, they usually do a great job of following those kind of directions.
  3. Chris took this with his iPhone.

Bottom row:

  1. The boys piled on top of me and I stretched my arm out with my phone as far as I could. I used the back facing camera so we could see if we were all in the shot.
  2. Chris took this with his iPhone.
  3. I held my phone out and tried to keep the arm that held the phone out of the shot.

In October 2009, I came across the story of Aleida Frankin. On August 6, 2008 she wrote a blog post with pictures of her and her daughter.

In the post, she wrote, “There is a reason why I’m posting these pictures.  Pictures that I’m actually in.  Not because I think I’m all that and a trip to Hollywood.  No.  It’s because I’m actually tired of being worried about how I look and not taking or having very many photos of me with my children.  I have very few pictures of me and my babies when they were babies, and I have myself to blame.  Precious opportunities to capture on paper, lost because of my silliness.  Well no more I say!  One day I won’t be here and there will be hardly any pictures of them and their mama.  So ladies, hand over the camera and get in those photos!  Please.  You’ll be happier you did.”

One month later her life was suddenly cut short by a driver who ran a red light.

Such a powerful and heartbreaking story. Aleida has left a legacy behind for so many. Her life has challenged moms across the globe to get in front of their cameras. Her words challenged me back in 2009 and have shaped my perspective of being in front of the camera and not just behind it.

Here are few more examples that were taken primarily with my phone:

3.15mom copy

I’ll be sharing my photos each day this week on Instagram (they will also pop up on the sidebar of my blog). You can find me at @underthesycamore, you can find Emily at @theandersoncrew If you participate, use the hashtag #embracethecamera, so we can see your photos (if your account is public). Now, go embrace the camera!


back to top share on facebook tweet this post pin site image email a friend
  • Southern Gal - I try to do this a little more. My mama used to avoid the camera like the plague when I was young and into my teen years because she didn’t like her teeth. We have very few shots of her or daddy during that time. I was following in her steps for a while then realized my kids would want to see me some, too!

    Quick question. Do you use your DSLR shots for instagram? My phone shots are usually hideous in low light.

  • Tanya - Thanks for posting this. It’s too important. I’m crying over Aleida Frankin, but thankful today I still have the option. I WILL be in pictures today!

    Congrats on that cute little nephew!

    Happy birthday!

    Yay on wrapping on SnapShops! I’m so glad I was able to take that course. Thank you. :)

  • Raimie Harrison - Dear Ashley,
    Thank you for the reminder and the tips! This inspires me and I’ll think about this this week!! Xoxo love, Raimie Lu

  • Madeleine - Thank you so much this is so helpful and you’ve explained it so well. :)

  • Brandi - I am completely determined to get into my own Christmas card this year. I don’t know that I’ll make it happen, but I’m going to try. And a shot with my hubby…the one of you and Chris in the water, so so good. Thanks for the inspiration, as always!

  • Rebekah - Wow! Thank you so much for sharing your tips and Aleida’s story! My dad died when I was younger and though I have pictures of and with him, I wished I had more. I think the loss of my dad is why I am so passionate about capturing memories with my camera but I have to admit that I am much more comfortable behind it than in front of it. Usually because I am self conscious if how I look but I am trying to get over it and get in more pictures with my kids and husband. Love your blog!

  • Maureen - All this joy! What a host of inspiration to get in the pictures.
    Thank you

  • iamcart - Thank you so much for this tutorial, can’t wait to get started!!

  • Emily - We had no wifi when you posted this (moving house…my brain is fried) so I missed this, but I’m going to make a point this week and get in the shot more. I try to anyway, so a bit of a push to share them is always welcome! Thanks for the reminder!