A Couple of Cuties: The Ganson Children Part 1

About 8 years ago, I met a woman at a church function. She was a single gal who had just spent several weeks if not a few months hiking the Appalachian Trail. That in and of itself would have fostered an interesting conversation with a stranger during a house-warming party. But, as I listened closer, I realized that she hiked it all alone.

Though I am an introvert and enjoy hiking, I could NEVER envision having the courage to do something like this. Simply because I live in too much fear for my own safety. Intrigued, I peppered her with questions about this trip and how she managed it. We became so engrossed that the time slipped away, as did the room and everyone else in it.

One of my friends came over, saddled up beside us and said, “You two are having way too much fun over here by yourselves.” When she learned that Michelle and I had just met, she was incredulous. So began a very fun and heartwarming friendship.

The two things I remember most about Michelle were her piercing eyes and her boisterous laugh. The latter being something we shared, which was why we would always draw attention to ourselves at the subsequent gatherings we both found ourselves at.

A few years later, she got married and settled into a new life. We lost touch with each other due to nothing other than crazy schedules and life changes. I had toddlers and she was working at the bank. So, imagine my sheer DELIGHT when she contacted me a few months ago to take some photos of her children.

I spent the evening with them a few weeks ago, and LOVED getting to know her two oldest, both of whom have piercing eyes like their mother and father. And of course, since usually apples do not fall far from the tree, their giggles reminded me of their mom and all of the fun conversations we shared years ago. Incidentally, when my children were about the same age as her older two are now.

Time is such a funny thing. It moves by so quickly even when it feels like a day is an eternity, which is why I like taking pictures.

Because there are just some moments and faces you do not ever want to forget.

To be continued…


The Spear Gang: A Beautiful Bounty

Last weekend, I got to spend the evening with our friends, the Spear’s. They are more affectionately known to most as “The Spear Gang,” and this is why….

I have known the oldest Spear for a few years now through our violin studio and have watched her grow into a beautiful young woman whose playing always leaves my husband and myself completely dumbfounded. But, when we have large recitals, they are always busy times, so I’ve never really gotten a chance to engage with the rest of the “gang.” Aside from, of course, watching the boys play pick up football or ride their ripsticks in a parking lot. (Speaking of being dumbfounded, how in the WORLD do kids ride those maniacal contraptions?)

What a pleasure it was for me to spend a little time with them individually. Besides listening to the cello, violin, AND the guitar, I got to hear who loved to do art, who enjoyed reading, who was beginning to take up golf with their father, and who liked to “monkey” around in the trees.

In this family, it is very easy to see their similarities. You need to look no further than their playful eyes and smiles. But, what I drove away thinking that night was how delightful and yet very different they all were in their own way. It became an AMAZING opportunity for me to view God’s handiwork in the unique and the small.



“Better Late Than Never”

*Here is Maggie’s article that won a “Silver Key” in the 2012 Scholastic Writing Contest. I have been wrestling with WordPress for 30mins trying to get it correctly formated, so forgive me for its present state as I no longer have the time to fiddle with paragraphs and proper indention.

This was an AMAZING opportunity suggested by my daughter’s writing teacher in early October. I never dreamed of all that we would gain by her taking on this project which consisted of interviewing a passenger on the 31st floor of the Duke Energy building, countless drafts and revisions, and visiting the Charlotte Aviation Museum to see the plane.

The article was due December 15, 2011 and Maggie found out last week that she received a “Silver Key” for her work. She was SO excited but not nearly enough to make her want to read her article again. By the time she submitted it, she did not care if she ever saw it again due to having to go through it so many different times welcoming her to the true writing process.

One day in her writing class, she turned in the article thinking she was finally finished. Her teacher looked at her, praised her effort, and told her to go through it again. Maggie, fully believing she had reached the finish line felt dejected. Her teacher wisely said, “Maggie this is like running a marathon, and you are around mile marker 20.” And when all else failed to encourage my daughter, her teacher looked at her with all sincerity and said, “Maggie, you is kind, You is smart, and you is important.”(a line taken from the book The Help)

Several friends and family asked to read the article, so I am putting here for ease sake. Again, I apologize if it reads disjointedly due to having to copy and paste it.

“Better Late Than Never” by Maggie Luke 13 years old.

A massive commercial airliner has just arrived at the Charlotte Aviation Museum.

From one angle, the plane looks as though it shouldn’t be lying motionless in a

museum. It should still be soaring, gliding, and maneuvering through the skies. Then

suddenly, its battered appearance is revealed.

From one point of view, the airliner seems tall and proud, altogether triumphant at its

survival. But at the same time it looks sad and dejected, a shadow of its distinguished

former self. Whether it looks sorrowful or dignified is a decision that the thousands of

people visiting it must make.

At the very back of the aircraft, the tail is raised high, but below it is complete chaos.

The covering of the body is ripped off, and the inside is rusted. It seems as if the

underside of the aircraft had to bear an extremely violent collision. Instinctively, anyone

who sees it realizes that there has to be a story behind this plane. Even now it stands

there, silently telling a tale to inspire the world.

In January 2009, Flight 1549 set out on an ordinary routine flight, set for an hour and

a half. Most of the people on that flight expected to be home in time for dinner. Two

and a half years later, it arrived at its destination.

Forced to make an unplanned ditching in the Hudson River, the unfortunate aircraft

had been stored inside a hanger in New Jersey for the past two years. Finally, it felt the

wind again as the plane was hauled along to its original destination. This endeavor was

estimated to cost 2.8 million dollars. But whatever the expense, the receiving city was

determined to have the plane home. Flight 1549 was bound for Charlotte, N.C.

On June 10th, a special ceremony was held for all the passengers of the flight

which so many called the Miracle on the Hudson. A large part of the miracle was that

no fatalities occurred. Only two people were seriously injured.

It so happened that one passenger was not present at the ceremony due to a

previous family engagement. His name is John Howell, and this is the person I had the

privilege of talking to about his experience that day.

As John Howell stepped aboard Flight 1549, he wasn’t contemplating anything out

of the ordinary. He was thinking of his meeting, and the dinner that was waiting for him

at home. But about ninety seconds into the flight, he was definitely thinking about the

plane, and his thoughts were not carefree.

“I was in the second row, and we could hear the geese crashing into us,” he said.

Either from the perspective of the geese or the perspective of the plane and its

passengers, this was definitely not a good thing. Since the beginning of flight, birds

have been a serious complication. Even one of the Wright brothers collided with a

songbird. Unfortunately, these weren’t songbirds that fate collided with Flight 1549.

Huge Canadian Geese flew in a V shape formation towards the plane, and somehow

managed to strike both engines. John remembers the engines revving up very hard,

and then breaking down. All was deathly quiet aboard the plane. “Then you could hear

the clicking noise of the engines trying to turn back on,” recalled John.

It cannot be said that the plane was doing anything dramatic. The pilot was in

control, and the flight glided up and down, heading for the George Washington Bridge.

“I could see that we were headed for the river,” John said, “I stared at the flight

attendant, trying to confirm the situation. She gestured to me, saying that everything

would be fine. At that point, I realized that she had no idea where we were headed.

Probably, she thought that we were on our way back to the airport.”

John knew that this was not the case. “I couldn’t believe I was doing this to my

family. They had already lost my brother, a first responder, on September 11, 2001. I

didn’t know how they were going to survive this.”

When the plane landed in the Hudson River a minute or so later, there was a severe

jolt. One passenger remembers hearing the airbus groan, as if complaining about

the collision. Looking out the window, all anyone could see was murky water. Suddenly,

the plane bobbed up, and people could perceive sunlight. John remembered how he

had slowly unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. Already, the aisle was jammed with

people on their way out.

“I travel to New York frequently, and all the safety instructions that they give out, I

know by heart,” he said, “But I went out onto the wing without even retrieving my life

jacket.”  “When I stepped outside and saw the ferry boats, I wasn’t worried anymore,”

John said. After a while of holding ropes for other passengers, John finally clambered

onto a boat himself.

Every passenger that day was brought safely off the plane. Captain Sullenberger

walked the interior of Flight 1549 three times, making sure that no one was trapped


The full count of people saved that day was 155, and everyone was accounted for.

This was extraordinary, for never before had a plane crashed in water with no fatalities.

At that time, the mood in New York was not good. The people needed a miracle. On

January 15, 2009, they received one, with the Miracle on the Hudson.

Now, two and a half years later, this plane was on its painstaking journey to

Charlotte. It took a whole week to get it there, but now it sits inside the Charlotte

Aviation Museum, which is near the Charlotte/Douglas Airport. Flight 1549 was not

repaired, and visitors can view it almost exactly as it had been when the plane was

submerged in the Hudson River.

It seemed fitting to John that the aircraft should be moved to Charlotte and left

untouched. Many of the passengers live in Charlotte, and now their families can see

the plane. No one can fully appreciate the devastation done until they witness it.

When I asked John Howell if there was anything he wanted to see in the plane, his

reply was immediate, “My seat,” he smiled, “Originally, I thought that they would be

auctioning off pieces of the plane, and I wanted to find a way to get my seat. I thought

it would look great in my living room.”

Not many days go by when John doesn’t think about the Hudson and what

happened there. “For me, the story is tied very closely to my brother who died on 9/11.

Finding myself in New York, such a short distance away from where my brother died,

and all of us getting to walk away from the plane, I think that must mean something,” he

said. “Do I have some higher calling, or something that I’m supposed to be doing? Or

does it just give me more opportunities to tell people what my brother did?”

For John Howell, the Miracle on the Hudson was a series of miracles. Everything that

happened that day aligned to make January 15th end the way it did. The pilot was

prepared for the job, the water was smooth, there was no wind, no ice, and no rain. So

many things could have gone wrong with the rescue, and none did. In short, this is why

Flight 1549 is a miraculous plane. This is also the reason why the Charlotte Aviation

Museum is honored to be its final landing place.

Maggie and John Howell

David and Danielle Sitting in a Tree: An Engagement Shoot

Saturday, I had my first, official engagement shoot. I confess to being a little nervous. So much that when I woke up early that morning and checked the weather which read 68* and “abundant” sunshine, I assumed that meant at 7:00am. And it most certainly…did not.

David and Danielle braved the cold with me, and I found them to be most delightful subjects. I had yet to meet Danielle’s fiance, but it only took a few moments for me to see what drew her to him. He is very kind and tender, and it was wonderful to be invited into this special season of excitement and planning.

My hope for the morning was that I would be able to capture some images that they would always have as a reminder of what being engaged felt like for them. And if nothing else…they will have proof that their puppy, Luke was once small even though he has always been HUGE!! He was SO sweet and a testimony to my growth as a photographer since there are more photos of the humans than the Lab puppy.

Godspeed, you three.



Baby Mine: The McCollum Family

You may remember the story I wrote on the miracle of Baby Caroline. It is definitely worth reading, if you are new to my blog. Not because of my retelling of it, but because stories like this never get old or lose their ability to inspire.

Though I still call Caroline McCollum “BC” which stands for  baby Caroline, she is no longer an infant. This December, she turned 3 years old AND became a big sister.

Nick and Julianna are friends, who also happen to be neighbors. This is such a wonderful combination with lots of life perks. But, for me, it also carries with its own strange form of exposure.

For example, our cul-de-sac is the McCollum Family’s exercising mid-point.They walk or run to our house and turn around to begin retracing their steps. Again, a HUGE, fun bonus, but not so much if you are the first person in the hood to have your Christmas tree by the curb…the day after Christmas. If you can even wait that long.

Two years ago,  I remember throwing open my front door to drag out four large garbage bags full of clutter shenanigans only to look up and see my friend/neighbor jogging by our house. I startled her with my frantic commotion and intensity, practically falling down my front porch steps, while never wavering in my grip of the clutter. I knew that if I could just make it to the trash can with this external excess, my internal life would begin restoring itself.

She stopped in her tracks and we just looked at each other for a second. Her face beginning to crack into a smile because, she knows and loves me well in every emotional state and episode.

“Hi, Julianna,” I said, panting harder than her in mid-run.

“Hey, Carrie,” she said with a knowing giggle.

“I’m just picking up a bit, nothing major,” I said.

“I see that,” she said.

She then smiled at me and went on her way.

This past Saturday, I went over to their house to snap a few photos of their new son, BG. Which is another perk of having friends in the neighborhood. They let you practice your photography on their budding family. That morning was actually one of the highlights of my holiday season.

and this is why…..


Though both experiences in DC were almost indescribable, the difference between our time at Mt. Vernon Estates verses walking the Mall to see the monuments/memorials was about 36 hours and 18* degrees. That Friday, I walked into George Washington’s Mansion and saw his original bed, desk, and travel trunk wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. But a day and a half later, I stood before a chiseled Abraham Lincoln and a wall covered with 58,267 names of the men and women who perished in the Vietnam War zipped up in a fleece and wrapped in a scarf. One day was sunny while the other promised rain.

Looking back on it, the weather was a foreshadowing of my mood to come. I had never seen the monuments or memorials before that day, but I had always wanted to walk along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. When I was in Jr High School, I became fascinated with the conflict. Like any and everything academic, the larger picture was lost on me at the time. But, one night I came across the song “Goodnight, Saigon” by Billy Joel and for some reason, the loneliness and egregious loss of war resonated deep within me.

It is very difficult to walk the 493 feet of the Vietnam Memorial wall and not become overwhelmed or desensitized. So, we just stopped and took in a few names to make it seem real.

I really do not have words to describe what it was like to see the Korean Memorial. I did not know it existed until I saw it, nor did I know the details of that conflict until my sister’s fiance(now husband) explained it to me over a popsicle.

The faces of those sculpted soldiers walking through the rice patties is STILL imprinted in my mind four months later. It is hard to say that something so penetrating and haunting is a “favorite” of yours, but it most certainly left the greatest impression on me.

We were fortunate enough to be in DC just two months after the new Martin Luther King, Jr memorial was opened. As you walk up to it from behind, there are three mountainous structures with the Jefferson Memorial seen across the water.  It does not make sense until you see it from the front.  MLK is chiseled into the middle, protruding structure and there is a beautiful inscription on the side of his rock.

*a picture of my girls standing where Martin Luther King, Jr stood giving his “I Have A Dream Speech.”

*Jefferson Memorial

*Lincoln Memorial

*Rocket Pops at the Mall with my girls and my twin sister, Susan. She’s just a wee bit taller than me.

Chasing Butterflies in George Washington’s Garden

“I can truly say I had rather be at home at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the Seat of Government.” George Washington

For the past year and a half, my girls and I have been studying American History. It has been an introduction for all three of us, because I managed to make it 36 years on this earth without ever really knowing the birth story of our nation.

In our study, no other man has captivated my heart and mind like that of George Washington. I confess to have developed a strange “crush” of sorts when I read of his courage in battle and his humility in office.

But, in all that we took in about the life of this great man, my favorite stories had to do with his quiet, contemplative farm life on the grounds of his beloved Mt. Vernon estate. Whether as a general in the thick of war or as an elected official presiding over a new nation, he often found comfort day dreaming about sitting with Martha in the evenings on the veranda overlooking the Potomac River. To him, home was a feeling; a state of being.  At  Mt Vernon, fellowship, acceptance, work, and rest were always present and always plentiful.

Over the semester, I began to dream about visiting Mt. Vernon for myself one day because I had grown to love the idea of it as much as he had. I never thought I would get the opportunity but desperately longed to walk the same paths he walked and feel the same solace that he felt among those trees and hills.

On September 30, 2011, a glorious fall day, my girls and I pulled up to his home right outside of Alexandria. We were visiting my sister who lives in Washington, DC and had invited us up to see Les Misrables at the Kennedy center. So, having a place to stay, I planned a four-day trip, which included a day trip to Mount Vernon.

It was a wonderful day that felt like a tonic to my weary soul.

I had come heavy-hearted because our community had just buried a dear friend a few weeks prior, who died from a brain tumor. I knew that I would be channeling Sydney when I stood before a Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art the next day.

But, late that afternoon while taking pictures in George Washington’s garden, a very LARGE, orange Monarch(which is her symbol to me) fluttered by me. I nearly went CRAZY. It was late in the season to have such a sighting, particularly so far north.

My girls, bless them were SO tired and had parked themselves on a bench outside the garden. I told them about the Sydney butterfly and begged for just a few more minutes.

“Go,” they said wearily but very happy for me. “Go and chase butterflies.”

I took a deep breath, prayed, and hoped to be able to find it once again. Quietly, I followed it to a patch of purple, spindly flowers. I stood very still watching the butterfly, and could not have been happier or felt more alive.

Unbeknownst to me, two women had stopped behind me to watch the moment unfold. The monarch finally opened up its wings and the onlookers heard my shutter click.

“Oh, you got it, didn’t you?!” they asked, excitedly.

Startled, I turned around with tears in my eyes.

“I did,” I said. “But she’s still gone.”

They were puzzled, and I explained to them why I was chasing butterflies.

“Bless you,” they said. “And bless your sweet friend.”

I am remembering this story because a year today(December 23,2010), I sat with Sydney in her bedroom. She was in a hospital bed because her tumor was reeking havoc and had rendered her unable to walk. We were all very worried about her recent decline.

Sitting there, I did not know that in a seven months, she would leave us. Forever.

I did not know that the photograph I had framed for her that day as a reminder of how I would always see her would become an image to us all in our remembering.(They were released at her graveside the day of her funeral.)

And that wherever I would go in the future, it could always become a sacred opportunity to be surprised by chasing butterflies.

Mt. Vernon

Me, George, and the girls. (Sorry Martha)

George Washington/family tomb

The Slave Memorial Garden

Slave Quarters