christmas morning began early, as it tends to for families with little kids. our small ones are too young to understand the idea of a holiday or presents though; christmas began early because, well, every day begins early. by 8am they had toured the house, eaten crackers, unwrapped a gift of towels (intended for mommy and daddy), and dropped all the characters of their play nativity set into the djembe, save for one lone camel in the hallway.

oh, and ash banged his face hard enough to loosen his front teeth and give himself a fat lip. merry christmas.


daddy tried to persuade him to open his stocking as a consolation, but he shook his head softly and burrowed into my shoulder, poor lamb.


he was finally distracted when i removed several toy cars from his stocking and handed them to him.


grandpa and grandma came for brunch, bringing glad tidings of great joy, and also christmas cranberry cake. the kids bypassed the glad tidings and went straight for the cake.


the morning was as delightful as only a christmas morning with little children can be. their eyes grew wider with each gift, and we laughed and made small memories of aida’s car noises, ash using his toy drill on aida’s head (much to her delight), aida cuddling her baby doll, ash opening his carrot pouch full of cloth bunnies and wrinkling his little nose. tiny, sweet memories that lose so much in the retelling.


i love it when a family’s christmas tree tells their story. an evergreen scrapbook of family history we set up once a year, special occasions and children’s handprints and gifts from friends dotting the branches.

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our special ornaments were crowded into the top 18 inches of tree space, to keep them well away from tiny hands. there were a few casualties this year, but perhaps they will be even more precious, their cracks and glue a sweet reminder of tiny hands and curious eyes.

last year was a christmas of scarcity and illness; this year was a christmas of abundance. we remember the wisdom of the hard years, the years when christmas brought sharp pangs of grief, loneliness, and confusion. but oh, we reveled in this, our first truly joyful christmas in 4 years.


surrounded by family from near and far, with the light of small children in our eyes and the life of small children in our arms, communing on this holiday, this holy-day, this day of rest, it was a merry christmas, indeed!



advent light

on the eve of christmas eve, joel was very tired. he’s a good dad, an “all day and all night” sort of dad, who’s probably changed more diapers than i have, even though i’m the full-time parent. and he was tired.

so becky and i took the kids to the festival of lights at the grotto, a beautiful monastery and garden not far from our house. it was the perfect opportunity to reflect a bit more on the light of winter, which is something i like to do with a camera in hand – reflect on light, that is.


for photographers, light is everything. light is the artist’s paint, the musician’s sound waves, the sculptor’s clay, the dancer’s gravity. we create art by accepting and working with the light in a particular time and place. the end result, a photograph, is flash-frozen light, caught in all its ephemera, frozen mid-bounce, a moment snatched from its movement at the speed of light and preserved.


conveniently for this photographer, there were lots of lights.

the light of summer is surrounding and enfolding; we talk of the world being “bathed” in light. the light of advent, however, is a pinprick in the fabric of darkness. it’s like the difference between a lake and a raindrop.

at the grotto, we were caught in a rainstorm of advent lights.


advent is about hope. advent is about future.

and how do the lights of advent reflect these things? each tiny flame or bulb fights darkness in its own sphere. each prick of light is a promise that light is alive and victorious, if small.

oh, how wise our $5 strands of christmas lights are! how much they can teach us about living fully and hopefully right where we are, amid the mundane and the ridiculous. along those lines, the most beautifully lit bush that i saw was tucked in a corner right outside the bathrooms. such wisdom!



there are piles of books written on lighting for photographers. one can easily spend thousands of dollars on lighting equipment to control and manipulate light. certain places in the world and types of weather are considered to have “ideal” light. we lament the evils of fluorescent and indoor lighting. we cringe at certain wall colors. we bounce and flash and direct and maximize and balance and filter light, and assign it a numeric temperature on the kelvin scale.

basically, we’re obsessed with light, and we exert very scientific attempts to control the light in our art.

part of why we do it, i think, is because we’re overwhelmed by the power of this thing with which we create.


“in the beginning god created the heavens and the earth. now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of god was hovering over the waters.

and god said, “let there be light”

and scientists say, “we don’t know if it’s a wave or a particle”

and astronomers say, “this is the light from millions of years ago”

and more scientists say, “the speed of light is ultimate”

and photographers say, “hey you, light, you that danced with the spirit over the deep, come dance with us.”

… and then we assign it a number on the kelvin scale. who can blame us for feeling intimidated?


so, as a photographer, i’m obsessed with light, and spend a lot of time thinking about its personality. but the festival of light at the grotto isn’t about just any old light. it’s about advent light, christmas light.

during advent we decorate with thousands of baby lights, because christmas is about a baby.


a baby who embodied light. the light of the world.

the egg of earth and the seed of light wove the cells of a solid, breathing human, who was born under a special light. this is the story that we celebrate, and this is the mysterious personality of advent light.


advent light is a great equalizer. it falls on the rich and the poor, the good and the bad, the kings in the east and the animals in the stable.IMG_1947

(as a side note, the implication through petting zoo selection that there likely were alpacas in jesus’s stable may be exceeding the bounds of artistic license. but hey, at least the alpacas were cute.)


advent light is sparse, leaving room for wonder.


advent light is soft; it is mysterious because it dances with the shadows, instead of obliterating them.



advent light is arresting; it surprises us; we stop, and we reflect.


as we pause to reflect, advent light shows us the contours of reality, silhouettes and angles and sharp contrasts are thrown into relief. we see facets in life where we assumed there were straightforward planes; advent light challenges our assumptions about the world.


advent light is beautiful.


advent light brings us together, in from the darkness and cold of our separation, crowding into the stable with kings and goats to celebrate hope, to celebrate the tiny beginnings of great things, to celebrate humility.IMG_2061IMG_2071IMG_2027

i don’t have a tidy ending for these random musings from a trip to the grotto, but maybe there’s truth even in that. advent light isn’t the end; it’s the beginning. the seed of something wondrous and huge and marvelous, at present still tiny and unfinished. it is the mystery of a tiny flame of light that holds the promise of a thousand suns.

“the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”


solstice light


there was a day, one or two before solstice, in which the clouds greyed and spat halfheartedly, and then for a moment the sun fought a path through before being swallowed by gravity. the small ones wore blue, because blue is the complement color to the yellow light of sunset. as if a photographer planned it … no, they wore blue because they own blue.

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much is written about the dark of solstice, that consuming dark which draws us into our homes and hearts. the enveloping, terrifying dark of a world rehearsing its own death. the contemplative dark of a world awaiting an advent. the rejected dark of a world punctuated with fluorescence.


but what of the light of solstice? the cold, brave rays that bring the lines of the world into sharp relief? the tenacious light, bearing witness to the power of tenacious hope? this light that, like a flickering candle, cuts through the darkness of space, the darkness of the universe, flaming an ode to the enjoyment of the present?

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we tolerate the light of summer, but we glory in the light of winter. the light of summer is ubiquitous, but the light of winter is a gift. a gift like the december bloom of a japanese quince pruned out of season.


that evening, surprised by light, we worked …


and played …


and basked …


and marveled …

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and learned …


and laughed at this face …


and then, the gift of solstice light slipped away. too dark to photograph, too dark to work, too dark to play, and we rested.


the light of winter solstice, like the candles of advent, reminds us not to give up. it reminds us to keep working and playing and laughing even when it looks like darkness will win. our bodies are bundled against the cold, but the light of advent draws our gaze and warms our faces.

it is that light, tenuous and sparkling, that gives us “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”

happy solstice.

the happy one

they played and they ate and they cried and they were changed, and then they slept.

i darkened the living room, and breathed in peace. i breathed in more energy with each breath than i drank from the coffee, though i had that too. i nourished my body, caffeinated my brain, soothed my emotions with a cranberry-scented candle, and centered my spirit in the silence.

a long moment later, her soft cry carried down the hall.

i scooped up her warm soft body, and she buried her flushed face in my neck. i inhaled her babyness, her cloud of fluffy hair, and brought her to my breast. her eyes closed, but she did not sleep again.

the candle burned steadily.

her first name, aida (eye-EE-dah), has many meanings. “happy.” “gift.” “returning.” her middle name, sage, means “wise one.” her last name means “bright,” or “shining.”

aida sage’s eyes suddenly opened, and she popped up, grinning, as a rogue curl flipped over her ear.

and then i took pictures, because she will never be 1 year and 29 days old again. 01 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14