Attending Sunday School with Jimmy Carter

Over President’s Day weekend and on a trip to Florida Don and I stopped in Plains, Georgia, to attend Sunday School taught by former President Jimmy Carter.

Knowing to arrive early for the 10 a.m. class, we pulled into the Maranatha Baptist Church parking lot at 4:30 a.m. We were immediately greeted by John, a church member who chatted a bit about one of their former ministers from Nashville, and then advised us to limit what we brought into the church – like take only your car keys, a Bible if you brought one, and perhaps your phone. He then gave us a card with #60 on it and directed us to park.

We parked and slept in the car until about 7:15 when we noticed the Secret Service and its canine unit sniffing the cars. Soon Miss Jan, a retired school teacher aka “the Princess of Plains,” directed us from our cars to the front of the church.

Miss Jan poses for a quick picture after asking visitors to form a single file line by their arrival number

Miss Jan was very good at her job.

For the next several hours Miss Jan and Miss Jill (regretfully I have no photographs of Miss Jill) advised us and the other guests on what to expect and what was expected of us. They asked us not to clap or stand when the President enters, “after all, this is Sunday school” and “please don’t bring up current politics – we pray for the President at this church.”

Around 9 o’clock we learned that #60 would put us in the second row in the overflow room. The couple sitting next to us told us they had talked to cardholder #29 who had arrived at 2:50 that morning. Don responded that it would take George Washington to get him to church at 2:50 in the morning.

The overflow room turned out to be kind of nice and personal. Jimmy Carter walked in to visit us around 9:45 and began asking us where we lived or from where we had traveled. Often he would add a comment or two of his own based on where he’s lived or traveled. He was friendly, soft-deprecating and often humorous.

After asking questions of us, he asked if we had any questions for him. Several people raised their hands. One visitor asked what he had found most satisfying as President. He answered “working for peace” and then smiled and added “and retreats to Camp David.”

Jimmy Carter talking in the overflow room in his church
Jimmy Carter responding to visitor questions, Plains, GA

Carter then left to start the Sunday school lesson from the church sanctuary which we viewed from a screen above. The morning’s lesson was titled “You shall be holy” and was based on Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18. The study materials framed the central question as “What does it mean to be holy?”

Carter introduced the study by sharing something he had learned from Miss Julia Coleman, one of his high school teachers: “we must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.” It was something he had also included in his inaugural address.

He then turned to a discussion of the study materials which quoted Mother Teresa as saying, “Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things. It consists in accepting, with a smile, what Jesus sends us. It consists in following the will of God.”

The passage from Leviticus ends with “love they neighbor as thyself”and based on this verse, Carter challenged us to think of someone we know in need, perhaps an elderly person, perhaps someone else, and to spend the next week or so paying a little special attention to them. He said, “it can be as simple as baking a cake for them” and then he chuckled and added, “or maybe just sharing 1/2 of a cake you’ve baked with them.”

We stayed for the church service, a requirement for having your photograph taken with the Carters. The Church is currently without a pastor and so the Georgia Southwestern University Gospel Choir sang in lieu of a sermon. They were amazing.

Below are some other photographs from the morning:

Sanctuary, Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA

the ever present and watchful Secret Service
our picture with the Carters – photograph courtesy of Miss Jill

Don and I are grateful to have had the opportunity to join the Carters for Sunday school and church. Had we had more time, we would have accepted their invitation to join them for lunch just down the street at the Silo Restaurant and Bakery. Maybe we can work that in on another visit – that and the peanut butter ice cream …

Thanks for following my blog.

Who spiked my punch?

It’s December 22nd, and I’m still buying and wrapping presents and trying to find the stockings to hang by the chimney with care.

I feel a little like this:

possibly the home of Clark Griswold’s other cousin?

There’s so much going on, just where do you focus?

And after periods of trying to whittle down my holiday to-do list, I … crash. Sort of like this:

Christmas afternoon 2009: Rex, at 14 weeks old, was a Christmas present

Only today it’s me instead of Betsy on the couch, and Rex now wears an ugly Christmas sweater. It’s the only thing he’ll wear. Ever.

When things get a little out of sorts for me, I often look to nature and/or photographs I took in New Mexico, particularly those showing the seasonal migration of sandhill cranes to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

In doing that this week, something occurred to me. I’ve never shown you images of these amazing birds in flight! And I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of them!

So here’s one of my favorite bird-in-flight images.

seasonal migration of Sandhill Cranes to New Mexico

Do you know what’s so great about this photograph? It’s that the birds separated out for me. That’s what you want when photographing flying birds. You don’t want them to overlap. Well, there’s that and a pleasing flight pattern. It really can be quite challenging …

Well, I really should get back to my to-do list. Thank you for following my blog.

Oh, and I almost forgot, from me and all those gentle giants out there in New Mexico, Season’s Greetings everyone!!!

Better than Fall Color?

Like a lot of folks and especially photographers, I spent much of the last four weeks chasing fall color. It started in mid-October when my sister and I took a weekend trip to Damascus, Virginia. Here’s what we found right across the state border in our home state of Tennessee:

fall scenic of stream at Backbone Rock State Recreation Area, Stream Valley, Tennessee

But guess what? Fall color wasn’t the highlight of the weekend. The highlights came the next day.

What can cause more excitement than fall color? Snow! Yes! Our Sunday morning adventure began with snow. Granted, we had to drive to the top of White Top Mountain (that’s really the name), but here’s some of what we saw:

Admittedly, not a blizzard, but for this Nashville girl escaping 80 degree temperatures, it was way cool (in fact, really cold). Certainly an exciting and invigorating way to start the day.

We next visited Grayson Highlands State Park and just a short hike down the Appalachian Trail we found THE highlight of the weekend – wild horses.   Needless to say, I love wild horses. They’re so beautiful and free. I think the last time I saw some was several years ago on a trip to Wyoming.

Okay, so these horses weren’t running wildly with wind blowing freely through their manes like you see in the movies, but …

here are a series of images, shown in chronological order, that are very tender and sweet. It started with this:

and then this happened: 

Dam and foal #2
Dam and foal #3
Dam and foal #4
Dam and foal #5
Dam and foal #6

Now how many weekends have you found beautiful fall color, been surprised by the first snow of the season, found wild horses on the Appalachian Trail, and a foal nursing from her mother? Whatever you may think of the images, it was all pretty awesome.

I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to spend this “fall color” weekend with my sister and to share it now with you. 

So here’s a thought – as we move from Thanksgiving to Black Friday and beyond, should you get a little overwhelmed by it all, you might think about these images. Why? Because they might help you keep things in perspective.

No matter the deal you may land on the internet, the best things in life are actually … free. Better yet: “the best things in life aren’t things.” – Nancy Whitfield

Thank you for following my blog.  Happy Thanksgiving.

in an Oregon state of mind

Don and I spent some time in Oregon in June.  Neither of us had been there before. Here are some quick take aways:

  1. it has an incredibly diverse landscape;
  2. it seems like everyone has a dog and takes the dog(s) with them everywhere they go; 
  3. Road signs say “Speed 60” instead of “Speed Limit 60.” Why no limits in Oregon?
  4. They don’t let you pump your own gas and gas stations often close at dusk;
  5. Seafood, beer, wine, fish hatcheries, logging, and Les Schwab Tire Dealerships seem to dominate the landscape (btw Les Schwab did a great job patching two flat tires for us); 
  6. Oregon appeals to a lot of outdoor enthusiasts and photographers (ask Don about breakfast with the professional windsurfers sometime); and, be sure to remember this last one …
  7. the Oregonians we met and spent time with clearly love Oregon and appreciate what they’ve got.

So what photograph(s) do I share?

Well, at this point, only two. 

So because Oregon is such a dog loving state, we’ll start with “Fetch.”

yellow lab chasing ball in water in Joseph Oregon

“Fetch” was taken in Joseph, Oregon, in the heart of what is called Oregon’s “Little Switzerland.” The mountains in Joseph look a lot like the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. I was sitting on a boat dock when a woman nearby started throwing a ball in the lake for her yellow Lab to retrieve. I went over and started talking with her and then made friends with Kona. Good times.

This second image was taken on the Oregon coast, I think near Newport.

Oregon Coast



I like the whimsical nature of this image. Often I look up at the clouds and think about the shapes they make. The boulders in the background of this image also invite you to imagine. Is that a dragon back there? Or maybe a clone of the Loch Ness monster?

It’s never been a goal of mine to visit all 50 states but when I took a silly Facebook quiz many years ago I realized I had then been to 40+ states and so started considering it.  This trip made Oregon my 48th state to visit. What’s left? North Dakota and Hawaii. Will I visit those states? I don’t know.

Sure, I like to travel, but in recent years I’ve come to realize that while it’s fun to visit new places, lasting contentment does not come from travel; it comes from appreciating wherever you presently are.

A couple nights after coming home from Oregon I did a photography session with newborn twins. As I looked around at the location the parents had chosen, it occurred to me, particularly in that golden hour of light, that the setting was as beautiful as any I had encountered in Oregon, and I was so lucky to be there, in that place, with that family, in that moment.

That state of contentment where you appreciate where you currently are – it’s the only state you really must visit.

Thanks for following my blog and joining me as I remember our time in Oregon and think like an Oregonian.











The Iroquois Steeplechase

What was on Nashville’s hot list this weekend? The Iroquois Steeplechase. It’s been a Nashville spring tradition since 1941.

As one of the premier steeplechasing events in the country, the Iroquois offers the well-heeled social and equestrian circles of Nashville an opportunity to sport new spring fashions, party, and raise money for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. It’s a fun place to hang out for the day, especially if you’re a photographer.

So what did I see and photograph Saturday? Well, for starters, hats. Lots and lots of hats. Here’s a sampling:

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Then, there’s the people watching. Let’s just say there were many fashion conscious people out there:

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Some things I found humorous:

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Some images seemed timeless:

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And last but not least, there’s the horses, the races, the jockeys, and the winners:

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All in all, a great day. Thanks, as always, for following my blog.