Jennifer Armstrong

Launching Jen Armstrong to #SOAR!

I watched Jen Armstrong’s SOAR! submission video last night and couldn’t help but cry. When I first watched it, I was struck by a woman who had been faced with much change. And it seemed that she was set on turning lemons into lemonade. Her background was in teaching, and she was FANTASTIC at articulating her thoughts on video. She was new to photography but had incredible potential from the early shots that she shared in her video. Little did I know how close I would become to this woman, how much I would treasure her friendship in degrees that she will never know. This is her a year ago…

The SOAR! Scholarship is not about “making sure” these women all start photography businesses. It is about something much deeper. I wanted these women to end the year with confidence that they could accomplish whatever their goals and dreams were. But I also wanted them to have a window into my own life. I knew that this personal view would show them how many up’s and down’s happen as we build our dreams. How “glory filled” it can look on the outside, but how the courage to not give up–no matter what level you are at–is the main ingredient. I wanted them to see that dream building is not about waiting for the “right time”. Dream building is intense and hard, but none of us ever signed up for the impossible because we thought it would be easy.

Jen’s life had so many unexpected things happen throughout the SOAR! year. One major piece was that her family relocated. Wouldn’t it make sense to put the dream building on hold and get through the move–come back to this dream building next year? The SOAR! Scholarship takes that option away. And yet, Jen was determined as ever to not only build a new business but to build it in a new community. The courage that she mustered to keep going…I want her to know how amazing that courage was and is.

When life interrupts our dream building, it’s easy to feel like everyone is gaining ground on you–moving and advancing farther and faster than you–leaving you in the dust. These are the battles of the mind that can be fatal. I had the honor of talking through some of those battles with Jen, and I’m so proud that this little “Texas Missy” ignored all the voices and held fast to her passions. It is only a woman of passion, that has been broken, healed and broken again, who can create images that leave us speechless…images like these;

When Jen sees kids on the beach at sunset, this is what her heart guides her to capture. These are images that breathe healing and innocence. These are images that prove she never lost any ground when the storms of life slowed her journey down. Instead, we all witnessed around Jen that the well that holds all her passion goes much deeper than any of us knew.

So, if you didn’t cry (like I did) when you watched Jen’s video submission, you may want to get out Kleenex for her most recent video. The growth and confidence that shines on this woman is so breathtaking. The way she’s sitting, how she moves when she talks, the calm on her face, how she seems to have settled into herself…amazing.

What should you expect with doing SOAR! this year? Let Jen share…

With GREAT excitement, I join all of you in releasing Jen Armstrong to SOAR! See her doing a live shoot on her beautiful, NEW WEBSITE! Read about her recent photo shoots on her beautiful, NEW BLOG!

And tell this lady she is worth every bit of confidence and courage she has found–every last bit of it!

i love you Jen sooooo much!


Discover. Explore. Apply (today!). SOAR!

The 2010 SOAR! Scholarship begins today ladies!  WOO-HOO!

Go to the SOAR! WEBSITE for all the juicy details!  Discover the new prizes (check out the SONY DSLR this year!!)  Explore the forum! Apply to be one of the THREE Recipients, and you may find yourself SOARING this year!

Got questions? We’ve got you covered!  Post up all your questions on the forum, and Linda, Jennifer or Lindsay will be on hand to answer them for you!  Take advantage of their wisdom and experience ladies!  They are so excited to help our new recipients SOAR!

Deadline to apply is Monday, December 20th!

Be sure to meet ALL FOUR video requirements before uploading!  (hint: see #3 thru #7 on the FAQ)

So many things to be thankful for with this year’s Thanksgiving.  SOAR! stepping into its’ second year is one of them.  I also want to give a special thanks to my amazing husband, Brian, who has been working for a couple months on all these details with a team of amazing people under him.  Babe, you make it possible for me to soar.  i love u.



*To hear from last year’s recipients, click on their name; Linda, Jennifer and Lindsay!

the MEN of SOAR! cont…

Didn’t you love hearing from James yesterday?  The men of SOAR! have played such a huge, supportive role this year. Any accomplishments of ours are just as much theirs.

And I have said a lot of things on this blog, but none more true than this.

My husband is amazing. And adorable.  And he is SO much of the reason that this year was even possible for me.

James mentioned a lot of what they’ve had to do…”posing, searching for shoot locations, posing, moving furniture, posing, holding props/lighting apparatus, posing, brainstorming, posing, looking at images, posing, answering the phone from all the calls from the other SOAR ladies, posing, picking up household duties that become secondary to homework/blogging, posing, watching Me Ra on the Nate Berkus Show, etc.”…not to mention all of the emotional support that was involved!  I am so glad they are getting some “time” this week, even though it may have been a little painful for each of them :) . And I am so proud of and thankful for Michael. Again and again I’ve seen how his life is a gift to me; he’s helped me grow in many ways.

Yes, it’s a 4min. video.  Watch it. He’ll make you laugh. And did I mention he is handsome?  ;)

Let’s do this y’all-

one grateful wife

Go with it…

Sometimes, y’all, I just have to laugh at myself and the little situations I get myself into…

Watch with me for a sec.


When I got inside, a couple of things happened.

1)Realized that, even though I brought my computer with me so I could work on things, I brought the wrong external hard drive with me.

2)My before pictures [wide shots explaining where I was, the light, how I moved things around to adjust with light] were on another hard drive.

3)I only had a couple of “after” pictures on my desktop.

Just last night we were on a teleconference with Me Ra talking about making something work with what you’ve got.  If I ever wanted to prove what going with what you’ve got is all about, believe I am doing it here! I actually did this photo assignment well ahead of time which is what is most frustrating!

What I can tell you is that I just looked for the perfect window.  The sweet mama who let me come over had gorgeous light in her kitchen and a great table.  I dressed baby James in a little cocoon and matching hat [made by Lindsay Baumgartner!], propped a basket facing the window, and started!

There you have it!  The somewhat dramatic version of my photo assignment!  Here’s to changes in plans!

Let’s do this y’all. And somebody help me!,


an interview, if you will…

If you are here today, I am guessing you saw Linda’s video from yesterday. She nailed it! This is not meant to be a self-deprecating comment at all…but really, I am not sure I can convey the “journey” more appropriately than Linda has done. I loved it and though it was her words, her story, it was such great symbolism for the whole SOAR process. So I am simply going to let Karen and Fay’s questions conduct an interview with me :)

the state your business was in last january…

Non-existent, actually.  I told my husband just a few months before January that I hoped, maybe one day, that I could learn enough to create a photography business.  But in January, there was not an ounce of a formed business in me!  Just the dream.

(from our self-portrait object exercise-january)

who were you then? <a metaphor>…

Ha!  I have to go with the blushing bride on this one.  That somewhat naive, overwhelmed, excited girl whose life is about to change-she’s just not quite sure how.  And it would probably do no good for a wiser, married person to try to explain about how, on so many levels, her life would change…Basically because the bride and the married person just don’t speak the same language yet.

(self-portrait exercise-jan)

three new skills you now have <photography aside>…

<One> Using the “What is So” framework for thinking through a situation and making action steps in that situation.  I have to laugh because, even in conversations I’ve had with Michael, we’ll totally use that phrase to work out family situations!  And if you were spying on the voice in my head, you might hear things like this sometimes…”Okay, what is so is that my daughter and her friend just turned on the sprinkler and now all the children I am watching have clothes that are soaked.  I have a choice about how I react to them (calm down!). Once I deal with them, how am I going to clothe all of them while their original outfits are in the dryer (make action steps)…”, etc. “What is So” is kind of a life-saver for me, business or not!

<Two> Writing shorter, more to the point blogs! :)

<Three> Being more clear about goals…instead of, I’ve got to get business!, which is vague and overwhelmingly undefined, decide what monthly income targets I want to reach and help let that determine when I can work and other details.  (I want to book 5 sessions this month-what am I doing towards that?)

what do you wish you would have known then versus now…

That’s easy.  That success does not look like what I thought it looked like.  I had many preconceived notions about a successful business woman-how she acted, how she thought, her confidence, what she looked like on a teleconference call :) . Thank goodness there are REAL women running businesses everywhere.  Fay clarified my comment and spoke about how my notions were completely relative to how I viewed myself.  She said, “We judge ourselves on pictures that aren’t real.”  Yep.  I certainly did!

(I took this picture while on one of our teleconference calls. We were asked to do an exercise and all I could find was my children’s pen and their construction paper…I was laughing at how “professional” I was!)

a metaphor for you today?…

I’m not sure it gets more cheesy than this but, a roller coaster. Right now, I’m best described, riding the ride. Peaks and valleys, exhilaration and disappointment, but moving forward and always supported.  Sometimes feeling the support is more valuable than being on the top of the peak!  (I think Karen may have said that best).

(my girl–hanging on for the ride–taken earlier this year)

It’s unbelievable to me that we are at this point, writing about where we see ourselves “now.”  This now is something I couldn’t have even dreamed (certainly not the SOAR part).  And riding the ride is a heck of a place to be. I am so thankful.

Thanks for doing this with us. And stick around…there’s a little more to come!

Let’s do this y’all,


Stuck in the rules VS my little rule-maker…

“So, Linds, is this picture okay?  I mean, is it okay to have this element in there? In terms of good photography, is that an acceptable thing?” -Me

“Jen, at the end of the day, do you like the picture? Stop getting so caught up in what you’re supposed to do that you sacrifice what you like!”  -Lindsay Baumgartner, about 3 days ago.

Sometimes, I just get stuck in the rules.

Can’t help it.  I’ve been a rule follower my whole life.  Believe that if we are playing a game, I am the first to pull out the rules if there is a question.  And I guess in most circumstances, following the rules sounds good.  But if you’re willing to look a little further, what really matters is the heart behind the rule-following.

In the Artist Way, chapter 9, a small paragraph touched on something I’ve been thinking about for several months now.  Actually, make that a couple of years…since we had kids.

It says,

“That part of us that creates best is not a driven, disciplined automaton, functioning from willpower, with a booster of pride to back it up.  This is operating out of self-will…Over any extended period of time, being an artist requires enthusiasm more than discipline.”  Cameron goes on to say, “Enthusiasm is not an emotional state. It is a spiritual commitment, a loving surrender to our creative process, a loving recognition of all the creativity around us.”

When I first read this I thought, oh gosh…here we go with the “fru-fru” stuff. [translation-touchy, feely, emotional work]  But I kept reading because I could feel something brewing. I got to the part about the artist needing to treat work as play…paint being gooey stuff, a bunch of sharpened pencils being a fun start…and of course, thought of my babies.  They LOVE to paint regardless of the mess. They love to do ANYthing regardless of the mess. And at that moment, I recognized a picture of me as a parent.  I saw the discipline part of me [the adhere-to-the-rules-no-matter-what, part of me] and all of the messes I’ve avoided because I haven’t let my children be a little more “free.” In a split second, I wondered if I had stifled some creativity, some freedom to show their personality for the sake of getting them to obey at my first word and I wondered about times I didn’t let them do something because I didn’t think they’d remember to clean up after themselves. Now don’t get me wrong.  It is my job as a parent to train my babies and help them reach their potential. And self-discipline is a major part of that. But their potential is not reached through discipline alone. It’s also through discovery…through the freedom to explore…the freedom to just get messy. And suddenly, I recognized a picture of me as an artist.  I saw the discipline part of me…  you can guess the rest.

My daughter is not afraid to get messy. She’s an artist, a creator, a risk-taker. And she’s also joyful, determined, loving. She’s just fun to be around. I can no more explain half the things she does but at the same time, understand all of them.

She is who I am if I just “let go”. I have spent a lot of time trying to direct her “free” for good but am realizing how much I need to learn from her “free” as well…How much my creative side needs her “free.” I really won’t ever get to know her if I keep trying to shape her into purely a rule follower. In fact, the more I get to know her, the more I’m starting to think she’s a rule-maker. 

And being a rule maker, as far as being an artist, sounds way more fun!  Committing to a little more fun in the coming days…

Let’s do this y’all,


Pardon the interruption…

I should be writing about SmugMug-they partnered with SOAR and have given us the amazing gift of sponsoring our websites.  [I still pause when I think, “my” website...]  I will do that very soon, but I have the strongest urge to talk about something else today.  I need to tell you about a lady…

Do you remember feeling like you did when you were little? [it helps if you close your eyes ;) ] The feeling when you dreamed limitlessly?  You weren’t often deterred.  If for some reason you were scared, you checked in with those who provided your safety and you were back on your way.

[pictures from a beach session last weekend]

When we get older, something happens. Whether it’s circumstance or experience, or something endured, at some point, there is cause to doubt those early dreams.  The early feeling of invincibility

is replaced by vulnerability.  With eyes on others, awareness brings insecurity. And suddenly, the road leading to the place where you create becomes littered with caution signals and stop signs.  For some, it’s just a touch of this, for others, it’s the extreme.

When I was little, I remember doing craft projects out of Highlights magazines using my mom’s leftover sewing supplies.  I wrote [silly] songs.  I wrote poems.  I wrote stories in my head and didn’t stop until they were finished.  I created and made everyone listen.  And I’m not sure of all of the reasons, but as I got older I just got more scared to share me, so I tried to become a little bit more of what others wanted me to be…

The lady I mentioned has a mission. Her mission can be described in a lot of ways but one is to help women, ultimately, share themselves. In fact, the most powerful thing she has taught me this year is that openness and authenticity ministers more deeply to people than does just being a success in front of people.

I need to tell you that Me Ra Koh is one of the most amazing, most authentic, most beautiful people I know.  And she just keeps proving that.  She’s taught me me not to settle.  She has taught me to take pictures like I used to write stories.  [okay, let’s back up.  she’s taught me how to use a camera! something I always wanted to learn]  She’s taught me that growing is so much more valuable than arriving.  She’s taught me to celebrate the victories, even when they are disguised in failure. And most importantly to me, her stories and her advice lead me back to the One who allowed me to be close to her in the first place, to a Truth that also doesn’t settle.

Very recently, I hit a wall of disappointment. I decided I wasn’t cut out for this and considered being done. I confided in an amazing group of women who I love and would not know without Me Ra [Linda, Lindsay, Karen and Fay, Genie]. In between flying for TV appointments, writing books, putting on conferences, running several aspects of her business, and oh yes, raising her two children with her husband, Me Ra noticed that I was having trouble and called me. And she just listened.  Then she told me stories that related.  By the time we got off the phone, I was ready to look at things differently.  She didn’t have to call.  But she wanted to.

And she’s done similar things like this throughout the year.  She is the real deal, y’all.  And in case you haven’t met her yet, I just wanted you to know. There are a lot of us who have been touched by something she’s done. I dare you to share “yourself” here.  :)

Let’s do this y’all,


Nighttime lovin’

She described him as gregarious, doting, intuitive.  He explained how thoughtful she is, that’s she intentional, and nostalgic.

And then, unfortunately, he used some descriptives I can’t put on here :)

Scratch that.  I mean fortunately.  Marriages fall prone to so many things. Isn’t refreshing when married couples still talk [flirtingly] about each other?  That’s a word, right?

Yes, they’re married.  Almost 13 years married.  I broke the rules.  Technically, they WERE engaged.  So…

The rules were to shoot a nighttime engagement session.  What do you do when you are just beginning and don’t have a session booked at the time, let alone a nighttime session?  You call faithful friends to help you, once again.

Meet the [we are committed to helping the Armstrongs through their crazy life] Holts.  Can’t begin to tell you the ways these two have proven their friendship in the nine years we’ve known them. We don’t deserve them.

So I broke the rules on the couple but I stayed within the bounds on the assignment.  I focused mainly on lighting.  And with that in mind, didn’t edit anything as this was a learning time for me and I wanted the “pure” results.

We went to a town center in the southwest side of Houston and stopped in 4 basic places.  At a storefront, (picture above)

near street lights,

in a little-tucked-away corner on the courthouse steps [with uplighting],

and to a park bench near well-lit trees.

I didn’t use my flash in any of these shots–not sure but I think that was another objective. The most trouble I had was battling movement blur.  Ben had to tone down his “gregarious” for the shot to be a little more in focus ;)  Even with his help, I missed a couple times.

I’d love it if you have any thoughts on the lighting, tips for nighttime shooting [especially with movement!], or if you’d love to just chat about marriage.

Either way, let me publicly thank you, Ben and Kim, for this and for many nights not captured in pictures.  Thank goodness.

‘Night y’all,

Let’s do this,


a little bit about branding

Hey friends, things are in full swing. We’re “branding” up a storm around here.  Funny, had you said “branding” to me two years ago my only thoughts would have been of cattle and a hot iron :)  I’ve graduated, and now I get to tell you about it here.

(seriously YouTube…you had to pick that frame of me to start the video!  i’m letting go, i’m letting go…)

Let’s Do This Y’all!


No excuses.

So you’ve seen my girls’ videos, Lindsay’s and Linda’s, and they’re both stinkin’ funny!  Minus a silly little ending, this video gets a little more serious today in talking about a chapter from the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Nothing drove the point of this chapter home further than what I experienced  weekend.  Good friend, good times, and a good reminder…and I was privileged to document it all on my camera!

Gain disguised as loss is a potent artist’s tool.  To acquire it, simply, brutally, ask:  ”How can this loss serve me?  Where does it point my work?” The answers will surprise and liberate you.  The trick is to metabolize pain as energy.  The key to doing that is to know, to trust, and to act as if a silver lining exists if you are only willing to look at the work differently or to walk through a different door, one that you may have balked at.

j. cameron

note: The video says it’s almost seven minutes…it’s NOT!  Apparently we uploaded several minutes of a black screen to the end.  :)

Let’s do this y’all,