Life Behind the Lens
My Three Girls
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
By PBJ Studio
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I had three girls.  With each pregnancy, I had a boy’s name chosen, but never one for a girl until the very end.  When my hands were full of spilled milk and dirty diapers, I didn’t consider that one day it would all be worth it.  I was in too deep with barely time to think.  At the end of the day, I looked at the mess and was grateful everyone had survived.

They were homeschooled when homeschooling was a super-cool rebellion.  We crawled through swamps to find tadpoles to study.  We gathered caterpillars to watch the transformation they made into gorgeous butterflies.  I read aloud every night from The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings Trilogy and Watership Down.  Nine years of intense “am I crazy?” fears that kept me up at night wondering if I was harming them in some way; that they’d be socially maladjusted for not hanging with their peers for their day to day socialization.  We joined co-ops and created our own learning opportunities with other students on a weekly basis.

Then our household finances changed.  I went to work full time and the girls went to public school.  Suddenly I was not a cool super-mom anymore.  It was time to experiment with dangerous friends and see if what they’d been taught about themselves and what was harmful to them was true or not.  They were hard years where I wondered if I should have ever been a parent.


It wasn’t easy for them to turn things around.  For years, they lugged around backpacks so heavy that a mule would struggle with the load.  And sometimes while juggling a baby on the hip.  I became the encouragement on the other end of the phone when tests seemed insurmountable mountains.  I’d remind them of the strength to learn I’d seen in them during our school years together.  Scholarships and grants were found that could ease the financial burdens.

Now here we are 25 years later.  I’m not bragging when I say that they are great at what they do.  They work hard, don’t cut corners and truly care about people.  Health care professionals are in awe when they find out I’m Amanda, Jessica or JoJo’s mother.  I’ve seen it more than a few times.

Recently, I’ve felt burdened to go to each girl, take their face in my hands and tell them how proud they have made me.  I told each of them that I was glad they were girls.  They are strong, fierce, loyal and independent.  There are people I don’t know whose lives are better because of these girls I raised.

Tonight, JoJo dropped off her nursing graduation photo.  I told her again how proud I was as I hugged the stuffing out of her.

“Little did she know…” she movie quoted from Stranger than Fiction.

Honey, you got that exactly right.

Ya ‘Mon! [My Jamaica Trip]
Monday, November 27, 2017
By PBJ Studio
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This month I went to Jamaica with the Methodist Medical Mission team from Kansas and Nebraska on my very first missions trip out of the country.  I heard about their adventures over a year ago when my daughter Amanda returned from her first trip where she’d done all she could do to help.  Teams just like ours head out every 3 months or so to provide free medical services in Falmouth.

I brought along a new point-and-shoot Sony camera, so I could get good and close without being too obtrusive.  Our team consisted of doctors, nurses, a physical therapist, a psychologist and lots of people with big hearts ready to work.   Many had been several times on these trips to serve; one couple had even been 21 times.  Jamaica is like a second home to them.  

Heading out, we flew with boxes filled with used medical equipment like crutches, wheelchairs and canes.  I love lists, so I started creating a list of What I Wish I’d Brought (talc, sleeveless shirts, sports bras).

I arrived on Wednesday, Nov. 8.  It was 40 degrees in Kansas when I left and in the mid-80s when we arrived Jamaica.  From the first day to the last, my hair was in a sweaty ponytail. 

The language is English with a touch of Patois which is filled with ½ English words.  If I just got people to slow down when they spoke, I could usually figure out what was being said.  Every stranger in the street was welcomed with a greeting by our team.  If the Mission worker had been there before, they were often greeting by name like old friends.  The Jamaicans knew we were from the Mission and strangers would stop and ask if there were specialists like Dentists or Eye Doctors with us because they had a specific need. 

I learned that to attend school, children must have a uniform.  Several families will share a uniform to give their children a chance to attend.  I was told that sometimes a child will only get to attend once a week due to uniform sharing.

A little girl ran past me with a fish floating in a plastic pail.  “Is it show and tell today?” I asked.  “No, that’s her lunch” was the response.  

I was able to follow nurses on home visits for those unable to get to the clinic.  They were always so grateful to have these visits.  Sometimes two or three visits were required to get all that was needed to the home-bound. 

It was during these walks that I got to fill my senses with the beauty and hardship that makes Jamaica.  

We visited a girls’ home and I said Jamaica was beautiful.  This girl looked at me and said that her best friend had been killed; that people die in Jamaica.  I told her that people die in Kansas too.  We connected through suffering, then played basketball.  You can guess who won.  But I didn't lose after all.  I might just have gained a special pen pal in Jamaica through our brief time together.

The fruit was amazing: pineapple, papaya, guava, oranges, watermelon.  The music was often all-night long.  One of the street vendors would sing hymns late into the night as a lullaby. I gave her a couple of dollars to thank her.  Someone commented that they thought Shirley was singing with more gusto than usual that day. 

On the weekend, we visited the beaches.  The turquoise water was warm and there were lots of pretty shells to be discovered. 

I love the sound of the ocean.

After a weekend of fun in the sand, we returned to several days of hard work.  The word was out on the street and people came from all over to receive medical care.  

We return with a lighter load than we brought because everyone ends up giving most of their clothes away as they are leaving.  

Here's a list of what I brought back from Jamaica:

1.  Over 1,000 wonderful photos

2.  Some trinkets, shells and sand

3.  An awe of how much giving a kind heart can do

4.  An appreciation of how blessed we are in the USA

5.  A desire to return again


As they say in Jamaica...

There are no problems here 'mon

Just situations!


A huge shout out to the caring medical and non-medical personnel who handled so many situations.  You are amazing!

When It All Comes Together
Monday, February 13, 2017
By PBJ Studio
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It was a wonderful and wild weekend at the Kansas Professional Photographers Association’s (KPPA) annual winter conference this weekend.  I unexpectedly came home with some heavy glass and a bit of ribbon that said I did awesome with my Illustrative piece called Scattered Showers with a Chance of Flowers.  

  •          1st Place in Illustrative
  •          Best in Show for the General Category
  •          A judge’s ribbon with a personal note written on the back loaded with encouragement in future endeavors.

Here are the separate pieces for this image which I photographed and Photoshopped and brought together. 

Here is my Steampunk model/son-in-law TJ yawning because my daughter blessed him with new daughter, Quinn, in August and we were at the studio taking newborn portraits.

Creating something weird and wonderful is a step out of my usual forte.  I’m the kid in the class who does the project exactly as the teacher specified so I can get the A+.  It wasn’t until I was in a college graphics design course that I realized that I was the loser with this attitude.  Next to me was the kid who didn’t care what the project was because he had a better idea.  He was the real winner in the creative world with his C-.  (Learning Secret #205:  the teacher doesn’t know everything.  You can learn a lot about art from the oddly-dressed student next to you.)


Last September, I thought I’d try and see what Steampunk in a sunflower field would look like.  With a $50 investment in props and a willing model, I thought I’d try.  The field was mud from a day of rain so we were wet, filthy and exhausted by nightfall.  I dragged my muddied equipment home and dropped it just inside the studio door where it was promptly removed in the night by a thief who thought to try and see if there was anything worth snagging in an unlocked business.  Just enough value to be under the insurance deductible.  Go figure.


I wanted to curl up and cry and shake my fist at the world, but there was no time.  So I took my hard-earned profits from sunflower field family sessions and replaced it and jumped into fall senior sessions and fairies.


Competition was coming, but it always seemed far enough ahead that I’d have time to chew over things and settle into feeling confident about my submissions.  Suddenly, our digital files were due by midnight and I wasn’t ready. 


KPPA is an amazing organization with very talented professional photographers who are committed to helping their fellow Kansans reach higher in their creativity and succeed in business more than they ever could have imagined (KPPA: click here for more info).  I was emailing, texting, Facebook messaging and calling fellow members and mentors on Super Bowl Sunday to ask critical questions like… Sunflower Seeds or No Sunflower Seeds?


So when we sat in the darkened room last Friday for judging and this image was projected on the wall,  there were quite a few who knew I was the creator.  Then the judging panel from states as far as Florida pointed out this and that and said things like Weird, Wonderful and Monty Python-esque.  They scored and a tally was given. 




Now friends, this is score is very important.  It speaks volumes.  If you know me well, then you know that I don’t like numbers.  But this number was special.  It gives voice for this art work. It shouts out. 


“I need to go to Nationals!”
“I need to be made into prints because people will want to buy me!”
“I came from a confident creative who knew what they were doing!”


But it was just little old me sitting in the dark not breathing.  There was a collective gasp from all the ones who were in the know because they’d taken time from their families and the Super Bowl game to give me advice, pounded my back and hugged me.  We were a team and with their encouragement I was being lifted up on the shoulders of those whose work I admired.  The next day the lights were on at the annual banquet and I was given glass and ribbons, while cheers and a camera flashed as I attempted to appear cool, calm and professional (which I failed miserably in to everyone’s delight)

Thank you everyone for your overwhelming response in Facebook.  I love you all.


Here’s a little happy video to enjoy that sings of rain and seeds and God’s goodness.

Johnny Appleseed Song

Keeping it in the Closet
Sunday, February 05, 2017
By PBJ Studio
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When I started a blog, I didn’t know what to do with it.  Where to go.

It’s 3 a.m. and blog time.

About me from my website: Janene the Photographer

A snippet about me from real life in 2015.  Whirlwind romance of 5 weeks, dream wedding on a hillside under an open blue sky in the Flint Hills in a $20 dress [which was amazing], holding a handful of prairie flowers, making lifetime vows in front of my pastor Dad, with my new best friend-turned husband who decided he didn’t want to be married to me by that very-same afternoon. 

Suddenly, I knew more about abandonment, grief, loss and anger than I’d ever wanted or needed to know.  Ginormous [is this a word?  Who cares?  MS Word doesn’t care.  My 3 a.m. blog; my word] trust issues grew like Jack’s bean stalk overnight.

The person I was who started life as an extrovert, turned introvert, turned extrovert, now turned introvert again.  And I’m a small business owner whose business would pretty much thrive if she would be more open, and funny, and smiley. 

Anyhow, back to the subject of my post.  My closet.  Actually -- his closet turned my closet.  An empty place that sucked air out of me every time I walked past it to bed at night.  This spot of vast openness in a very tiny, yet wonderful, place where I live and create [upstairs in my photography studio] has become my Tardis/Wardrobe/Stargate.

The great adventure started with the movie The War Room which I watched when I still believed that there was an inkling of a chance that my lost love would return to me.  I cleaned that closet out and set up a reading light, sticky note pad, pen, Bible, propped up my wedding photos and started to ask my unseen, all-powerful Father-God and his loving, giving Son Jesus for hope and help.  Feeling very small, I was ready for big miracles. 

And I really did see miracles happen.  For everyone else.  Their jobs, griefs, fears, pain and even broken marriages were healed when I prayed.  All their sticky notes of prayer requests on the wall were brought down again because they got answers.  All those notes for my sad little marriage remained.

One morning [3 a.m. – surprise!] I woke up, opened my prayer closet and took down all the wedding photos and walked them outside to the trash can.  There wasn’t any anger or grief; only the cold, hard, factual knowledge that it was finished. 

The prayer closet was abandoned after that.  Just another loss in a string of painful losses.

Then I went to an Encounter the Cross retreat for women.  Dragging my bedding and barely beating heart, I went back to those Flint Hills under the vast blue sky and boarded a bus with a bunch of strangers.  [If you find the courage and need a little electro-shock to jump start you back into fully living life, I recommend this weekend.  Click here: Encounter the Cross. If you don’t find the courage, find me because I’ll be attending again as a server and can be your smiley face in a sea of strangers]. 

There, I laid down my disappointments and fears and found forgiveness and healing.  You don’t realize how heavy a dead marriage is until you let it go [future cross stitch pillow].  I was encouraged to start journaling and praying again.  When I returned home, I cleaned out that closet for a second time.  Sticky notes were abandoned and journaling started.  It was all about other people now.  They all got answers when I prayed, so I would commit myself to helping others.  I would be the secret, saintly Mother Theresa of the Prayer Closet.

That lasted about a month. 

Then last fall I met a wonderful, new guy friend, who challenged me to take my belief that Prayers for Myself Don’t Get Answered to the closet.  So I did.  The closet was cleaned out for a third time and replenished with supplies [tissues]

Guess what folks!  Prayers for me do get answered!  There are mind-blowing miracles waiting for me to just ask.  I went from journaling numerous different prayer notes on a page to giving each person or concern an entire page.  Now I’m walking through the day looking for where and when I’ll hear some answer to a prayer.  I’m watching/listening for new requests to start a fresh page. 

Why do I share about my prayer closet today?  I went to sleep last night listening to a recording of our nation’s national prayer breakfast and felt a glimmer of hope [National Prayer Breakfast].  We’ve been through a lot in the past year.  I’m probably even going to need to splurge on a second prayer journal soon.  But the God who hears us when we pray, but doesn’t always give us the answers we want to hear, is mighty and able to do exceedingly above what we could ever think to ask.  Carve out time in your busy life to pray for our nation, our leaders, your family and friends and even leave a page or two for yourself in that journal you are keeping.  If your life is as full of crazy bumps, turns and stomach-flipping drops like mine -- you will need it.



Tags: prayer
Big Decisions are Made in the Little Ones
Thursday, August 11, 2016
By PBJ Studio
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Big decisions are made in the little ones.

This is a truth that has really struck home in the past week.  

Here is a photo that was taken at a garage sale of a clock I was considering to buy.  I love the 1950’s atomic era décor.  It was authentic, it worked, it was $10.  I had $15 and had just started my search for treasures that day.  I imagined a crazy, creative photography studio where it would hang center stage as a reminder of what I wanted to become.  The garage sale host saw that I was wavering and had me sit down to take a cell phone pic to seal the deal.  I bought it and put it in the bottom of the closet where it rested for a couple years.  I’d pull it out every so often, plug it in and wonder if it would fit somewhere in my home office.  It never did, but I couldn’t let it go.

Guess where it hangs today?  Right there next to the big screen where I show clients their portraits!

Buying the clock was just one of a thousand little decisions that brought PBJ Studio into existence. 

Some of those little (or BIG in looking back) decisions:

  •          Do I save up for that lens or do I put it on the credit card?
  •          Do I edit those photos and get them ready a day sooner or do I watch that television show?
  •          Do I increase my prices and risk losing some of my clients or do I put in more hours to meet my growing expenses?
  •          Do I spend the time and money to attend that conference or learn from that teacher?
  •          Do I try to meet the photography needs of everyone or do I focus in on a narrow market and be the best I can be?
  •          Do I post that feeling online or is that a private thought that needs to be mulled over a bit before release?
  •          Am I available to hang out with my grandchildren today or do I need to keep my office hours and get the despised bookkeeping in order?
  •          Do I need to hire an assistant or do I just need to work harder and quit complaining?

Each daily decision I made, brought me closer to the reality of having my own sustainable business. 

But having a photography studio isn’t my only life goal.  There is the balance of body, mind, spirit and soul to consider.  I have to stop and re-evaluate every so often. 

Here are my recent life-after-50 goals:

  •          be at home in my own skin
  •          be present in each moment and not just planning (my fav pastime) or reminiscing
  •          surround myself with people who love me
  •          play in the dirt with plants
  •          see new places
  •          enjoy nature
  •          make people smile and shed a few tears over what I create
  •          write stories and publish
  •          find ways to feed my creativity and push self-imposed boundaries to see what I am capable of doing in the time and space I’ve been given

As my life goals, these need to be worked out to become a daily reality.  I won't be able to address each one every single day, but in bits and pieces, with a solid plan in mind, I can eventually build them in by the little choices I make.

Three more Truths:

  •          Nothing ever stays the same. 
  •          Balance is essential. 
  •          If there is not maintenance or attention given to an area of my life, a weakness will develop which puts added pressure on another area. 

Here are a few of my current weaknesses I’ve identified:

BODY:  Do I want to have a strong, healthy body? 

Well, I need to make that decision in the snack I choose when I’m on the run between meetings.  Maybe I could do a little food prep on Sundays so it’s ready ahead of time.  Maybe I could add the Zumba classes to my calendar and schedule meetings around them. 

SPIRIT: Do I have a faith that is ready for anything life hurls at me? 

I could find an online Bible study that I listen to in the morning as I am getting ready for the day or food prepping.  (I found this link to some amazing women who share their Biblical lessons learned:  I could also save some Bible verses into my phone that I could memorize.  I learned quite a few Bible verse songs as a child. Maybe I could sing them when I am driving.  I could talk about them when I am chatting with friends or family. 

MIND:  Do I invest the time to learn so that I can hone my craft (be it photography, writing, gardening, etc.)

Here’s a thought:  I could set learning goals.  Hmmmmm.  Wasn’t there that movie where a mom learned to surf?  I don’t need to learn to surf living in Kansas, but I could learn to Salsa which would be fun and strengthen my body too.  I could add training videos to my calendar like I do business meetings so could improve my photography, editing sales and business skills.  I could be become a Business Ninja!

SOUL: Do I take the time to celebrate?

There is much to celebrate: victories, awards, opportunities, special moments, goals reached.  I need to make this a priority so I stay encouraged and motivated to look to the next challenge as a potential victory.  I can choose to celebrate mowing the lawn at the studio I dreamed for years of having – even when I don’t enjoy mowing (not even a little bit).

Here’s an oldie, but goodie:

Count your blessings, name them one by one!
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings
Name them one by one!
Count your many blessings, see what God has done!