I am an artist, gardener, animal lover, tea drinker, & world traveler. I love beignets and New Orleans.
You might find me sipping hot chocolate at Cafe Beignet on Royal Street while writing about what I see in the French Quarter. I might be sitting on a bench in Jackson Square with my sketchbook drawing St. Louis Cathedral, or standing on a streetcar heading to the Garden District where I will wander around Lafayette Cemetery and the local neighborhoods exploring with my camera. I may be out with my husband perusing flea markets and antique stores for some unique finds to add to our quaint bohemian home in the woods of southeastern Louisiana. But most times I am sitting on the old wicker swing of my lazy southern porch tending to my plants or with a cup of hot lemon tea (with almond milk and honey please) in hand, a cat on my lap, and reading a good book.
I have been all over the world in pursuit of my true joy in life.........to exploit happiness, humbleness, and adventure in every culture, society, and way of life that I possibly can. I have been to England, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Bahamas, Mexico, Jamaica, and Haiti as well as all over the United States. I love meeting and getting to know the people of these beautiful and diverse countries. I love photographing them and their boldly and richly colorful environments, and writing and sketching about my adventures.
I do a lot of mission and philanthropic work for many different non-profit organizations. It is what I have been called to do in this world and where my heart belongs. I also work with several nationally and internationally publicated magazines as a freelance and contracted photographer and writer.
After a career at the Walt Disney company, first as a technical illustrator for the documentation department, and then as a Visual Communications Specialist and Lead Photographer for Walt Disney Imagineering, I have learned a lot about the creative world. I have worked alongside Disney Legends and incredible mural artists as well as scene painters, designers, and art directors. I left the company in pursuit of running my business full time which I have been doing ever since.
I have retired from weddings and commissioned portraiture after 15 years of running a successful photography business, KHphotographics. While taking pictures is still very much a part of my life, the camera is just one of the many tools that I use as a creative. It is no different than holding a paintbrush or pencil, or even typing on a keyboard......as long as I am creating something.
Here at the Writing Desk I wanted to share some of my favorite pieces with you, where I open my heart, and my notebook, for all to see.
From the streets of the French Quarter where I draw so much inspiration, to the old and frail dock at my grandmother's home in Michigan, to the epic missed photograph in Ghana, to a homeless man who came to our church, to the young man I met at the Pulse memorial, to the man from the fishing village in Ghana, to the mountain views of Jamaica, and to our beloved dog who passed from cancer and who alone made me realize I have more to offer than I thought I did as an artist. I hope you find some comfort in the words I share. Or at least understand my heart a little more.
I was so excited to be in Africa again doing what I knew I was supposed to do....capturing life. I came to a small fishing village in Takoradi, Ghana and my hands were shaking with excitement. Everywhere I turned there was a picture to take. The colors, the smells, the smiles, the chatter......I knew you could see it all in one image....snap snap snap. I was turning from the water's edge where I was enjoying some time with young children who were posing for the camera and climbing all over their families boat when the moment happened. The moment that will be ingrained in my memory and through this image for the rest of my life. I turned every so gently and my instincts said "get ready!" and no sooner did I face the little row of fishing huts than a gust of wind came through, lifted up this fluffy white sheet that was drying on this warm day and with it revealed a man. A man leaning over the edge of his window with his arms propped perfectly and it's as if he saw right through me. I quickly snapped the picture and the moment faded into obscurity. It happened faster than it took me to describe it to you. And it's as if he knew I was standing there, he knew my camera was ready and that perfect gust of wind that carried with it the smells of the freshly caught fish and the soft whispers of the warm air that brushed across my face were coming. He knew that I would have a picture and a memory to hold in my heart forever. He smiled through his eyes that day.....and he just knew without a single word or movement or gesture.
These aren’t just beaten and battered wood planks covered by dirt, water, seaweed, and years of grime that once resembled a dock….this is my life.
You see, as a child I stood on that dock with my Grandfather and my Dad and learned how to fish. I sat on a lawn chair that was once placed next to my Grandmother and many a night we watched the sunset together. I jumped into the water and swam across the channel with my Grandma to her friend’s house. I stepped onto the boat with my Dad to wonder around the lake and let the breeze whip against our faces. I swam with my friends, I baited hooks, I caught minnows and bluegill and sunfish. And in the winter when the lake was frozen we would walk past it and ice skate, icefish, and just plain be kids.
My footprints are all over that dock. 36 years of footprints. My brother’s and niece and nephew’s are too. My sweet dog Dizzi walked on that dock to get to the boat for her first ride. The reminants of the memories I have of my Grandfather are there, he died when I was only 8. My Grandmother’s words of wisdom are there. It was her favorite place to sit with me when I would stay the night on the weekends. We caught fireflies in mason jars, we watched peonies grow in her garden, we planted seeds, we watched sunsets and birds, all from those beaten pieces of wood. We watched frogs and caught turtles. We splashed in the water and made memories I will treasure for the rest of my life.
But more than just the memories that that dock and I share, it represents me. Just like those split wood planks that sink deep into the water, so does my soul. Over the course of time and everything I have been through I have been beaten up and chipped at and sanded down and stepped on, much like that old wooden dock. Sometimes I feel like I can barely keep my head above water and grasp at the surface…..just like those wood planks that have sunk beneath that very same surface.
But just like that dock on the water of Bowker Lake where I spent much of my childhood, I am still here. A little worse for the ware, a little beaten and broken and sunk……but I can still hold the weight of the world and still rise above all else….and you know what friends…….you will too.
I have to share with you something that happened at church on Sunday that has really stuck with me all week.
We’ve been praying a lot lately about Shane finding a job and paying our bills easier and being able to find more happiness and less worry. In service we were holding hands hard and praying together. Afterwards our church offers coffee and refreshments in the community room and of course you say the words “free coffee” and Shane will be there lickity split. We were talking to some of our friends and relaxing and enjoying the day just sitting there when we noticed a man who had come into service late and he was sitting by himself at a table. We said hello to him and he started a conversation. He said “I am so blessed today and every day!” with such excitement and enthusiasm. He then went on to say “People say ‘good luck’ to me all of the time or that they wish luck upon me and I always tell them that there is no such thing as luck, you won’t find luck in the bible and God never talks about luck…….I am blessed. Say ‘bless you’ instead”. And it hit me like a ton of bricks as I was handing him another piece of pound cake……..this lovely gentle man is homeless.
He had the biggest smile, the heartiest laugh, and the most heartfelt grasp of what life really means. He had what I like to call the “Africa smile”. The “Africa smile” comes from my trips to Burkina Faso and Ghana where what we (as Americans) perceive to be people living in poverty, are actually people rich in culture and life and happiness. I remember being in the bush in Burkina and seeing so many beautiful and genuine smiles, laughs, and pure joy……and most of them had absolutely nothing, sometimes not even clothes. They found their joy in life and it comes from living it. In Ghana I remember being on the Gulf of Guinea coast in Takoradi where people live in boats on the beach and fish and make netting as their source of income. The smiles that exuded from these people were so infectious, and compared to what Americans are accustomed too, these people had less than nothing. But we Americans have it all wrong. Happiness does not come from “stuff” or money or anything you can hold in your hand or take a picture of. It comes from knowing that you are already blessed and there is nothing in life that you need more than a smile and happiness in your heart.
As we told him to have a “blessed day” and he smiled back at us and said the same, we exited the building and saw a dog with no leash laying beside the doors to the main part of the church and I knew he belonged to our new found friend. I said “bless you puppy!” and he perked his ears up and sniffed the air. It was sort of a perfect end to our morning.
So you are right my new friend…………..luck isn’t in the bible, God won’t send you “luck”. But He WILL send you blessings, and you were one of them. Thank you for the reminder. We hope to see you and that smile again soon.
Dizzi, you mean the world to me. No, really you do. We have had you for close to 8 years now. I always had dogs growing up but they were never in the house (don't judge people, back then when you had hunting dogs, that's just the way it was) so I never had the relationship I have with you. And I have always had cats, but let's face it; we both know how cats are. I will never forget the day we met you and that desperate "take me out of this foster home with 5 children and 5 dogs before I hurt myself" look on your face. That moment when you laid down and rested your head on Shane's lap with those pathetic eyes and your foster Mom said "oh, she's never done that before!” We sort of looked at each other and knew that we already loved you. And very soon after that you came home with us.
Over these 8 years you have been there for me in ways no human companion ever has. You have been there to bow your head at me and snuggle when I have tears, you have cried with me, you always know when I need a hug, and any time Shane and I have had an argument (even a play one) you have stood your ground in between us and growled your toothy funny growl and shake your little butt and nubby tail until we can’t help but laugh and smile again….every time without fail. You put your paws on our shoulders when you need attention and a hug, although I think it’s because you know when WE need it. You fall asleep with me on the couch when I am sick and make me feel better. And somehow you know when to be the most patient with people and other animals that might be shy or scared around you because they don’t know you. You know just the right moves to make and you win their hearts every time (even the people who have sworn they don’t like dogs). You are so good in the car, you just sleep, and you’re so calm. I always tell people how good you are and that when it’s not too cold or too hot, we take you everywhere with us and leave you in the car when we have to run errands or something and that it’s like you know we are coming back. You don’t like being left alone in the house though, but I think that maybe where you have stayed before left you alone a lot and you just don’t want to be by yourself. And that’s ok.
Taking you on road trips and having you with us every chance we can gives me great joy in this life. You never cease to amaze me. Every time I take you out in public you draw a crowd with your personality, sweet demeanor, butt wiggles, and your cute toothy face. You get hugs and kisses from complete strangers, and sometimes I think you know just the right people to introduce yourself too. Like the homeless man on the street in St. Augustine
that you just walked right up to and snuggled and he just laughed and laughed and kept saying “thank you”. Or the first time I took you to my Grandma’s nursing home and I let you choose the rooms to visit and every time it was someone who truly needed to see you. Seeing you lean against that man’s wheelchair for the first time having never been around one was one of the most memorable moments for me. And all of the times I have taken you to the Orlando Fringe Festival and you know just the right people you want your picture with, and every time I pull in the parking lot of the Shakespeare Theater you get so excited you can barely control yourself! The first time you went on the boat with my Dad (your Grandpa) in Michigan and you wore your lifejacket because you love the water but you can’t swim and you just closed your eyes as the breeze hit your face. You loved the soft grass up there too, you ran around in it so fast that you did a baseball style slide and got right back up and did it again. I know you love it there. When we first took you to the beach and you got so excited to run in the sand and splash in the shallow water and everyone on the beach said “take her off that leash and let her run!” and we did and you were so happy and everyone just watched and laughed and smiled with you. And when we just took you to the French Quarter in New Orleans over Christmas and we put your winter coat on and everyone just came up and loved on you and you had the best time. We had complete strangers come up to us and say they could see how well we take care of you and love you. So many people you have met, and that makes my heart bigger every time.
Being around people and loving on them is what you were put on this earth to do. To bring a smile to people’s faces, to melt their hearts, and to lift them up. People are what gives you the energy and will to move on. Don’t get me wrong, I know you love other animals too, when you meet them on your terms, but let’s face it; companions of the human kind are what you crave and love the most. That’s why we set up a photo shoot with your friends so they could come and see you and Emily could take our pictures together again. We set up a kissing booth and you just got right in there and snuggled with anyone who would take it! Everyone loves you my sweet puppy girl. I hope you know that.
I never thought I would have a pet that clearly means so much to everyone, not just to us. But you are so much more than a pet. You are my best friend, my confidant, the one who is there to wipe my tears, the one who always knows how to make me laugh, make my heart melt, and lift me up when I need it most. I love it when you press your head so hard into my chest I almost fall over and you snort. It’s the best sound in the whole world. I love when you fall asleep with your tongue sticking out and Shane has to push it back in your mouth so it doesn’t dry out. I love when you have to spin around exactly ten times before lying down in your bed and when you first meet someone you sniff their hands. I love everything you do. I love you.
I am writing you this letter so you know exactly how I feel about you. You have gotten me through the hardest times in my life, you have been there every step of the way and I don’t know what I would do without you. You have changed my life in the most amazing ways and I know you love me unconditionally just as I love you. I know you are sick. I know you are getting old. And I know some times when you look straight into my eyes you are talking to me and telling me exactly how you feel. I know that we don’t get to keep you forever. We are just so blessed to have you for as long as we can. You have brought so much joy and laughter to our lives. I promise you that I will not let you suffer. There are things we can do for our furry companions that we cannot do for our human ones. And as hard of a decision I know that letting you go will be one day, I promise to make the right one for you. I promise not to be selfish and to only think of you and your best interest. I promise that I will be there to hold your paws, to touch your face and kiss your cheek and tell you that everything is going to be ok, because it will be. Because no matter what happens or when it happens I know that you will ALWAYS be with me. You will always be there to wipe my tears with your furry face, to press your head in my chest and snort, and to introduce yourself to strangers, whether that is here or over the rainbow bridge. Because you are the most special dog in the whole universe and I love you more than chocolate chip cookies and mint chocolate ice cream with sprinkles.
I’m sitting at a marble topped bistro table in a white wrought iron chair listening to a melancholy man play a lonesome guitar. It seems fitting for my mood right now. It’s hot outside and everything moves a little slower here.
I'm watching birds float through the open doors of the cafe from Royal Street. They hop around the checkerboard floors in hopes of finding leftover crumbs or a friendly stranger.
I watch clusters of people walk by to the tune of the lonesome guitar player that's only playing for me. The passersby peer in the near empty cafe and I glance back at them trying to smile my usually charismatic smile. Some days it's just hard to force your muscles to do it. It's just one of those melancholy days.
There’s an antique store across the street. The gilded and ornate chandeliers are glistening in the window. The man with the guitar is wearing a Key West style straw hat with a black band and one colorful feather on the side. He has thick dark-rimmed glasses and a short sleeve white button up shirt, thin black tie, black dress pants, and shiny black shoes.
There’s a breeze coming in from the courtyard and it’s blowing the paper napkins on my table. A waiter took an order of freshly powdered beignets outside and some sugar blew on me like soft powdered snow.
In my little café on Royal Street.
Tuesday October 4th, 2016
I was eating my favorite sandwich at my favorite local joint. A Tuscan melt on homemade pumpernickel bread with a side of sweet Asian coleslaw and a pumpkin-colada iced tea (trust me, it's the best) at Pom Pom's Teahouse and Sandwicheteria. I was sitting at the table closest to the door because it had the best sunlight to draw from. I brought my sketchbook and pencils so I could just sit and take some time for myself and get lost in the moment before my super busy week ahead.
But something was sitting deep in my stomach. A knot. A knot I knew I had to recognize and deal with sooner or later. A knot with a Pulse.
I did not know anyone personally that was in Pulse the night of June 12th 2016. But I didn't have to to be affected by what happened. We were all affected in some way or another. And dear friends and people I consider family did in fact know those who were there, and that is too close of a connection to be ignored. I knew that when I came back here to Orlando in October I must visit the memorial and I must do it on my own. At first, because I just needed to see it and pay my respects, but soon I realized that my camera needed to join me.
This was not about taking selfies (which we've seen people do and it's totally inappropriate), it wasn't even really about documenting it. It was about releasing and sharing it with the world. It was about using my camera as the artistic tool it was always meant to be for me. God gave me the gift of being an artist and it was time for me to pay my respects to the 49 angels watching over all of us and to God for the gift He has given me.
What I didn't expect was who I would meet while I was there and the feelings that would result in it.
I was walking back from the far corner of the memorial wall and contemplating on if I was done or not. I mean, I had walked back and forth along it slowly for a good 30 or 40 minutes at this point and someone handed me a black sharpie so I could write some words on the wall, and I did. I was choking back tears and watching a group that got off of a tour bus and wondering why I hadn't seen anyone break down yet. I wondered because it was beyond me how my legs were still able to stand upright at this point, when I just wanted to drop to my knees and pray. I looked up and saw a young man talking to another man who was drinking from some sort of bottle out of a paper bag. The man with the paper bag started talking about his support of Trump and the young man very politely said he fully supported Hillary and that he kindly requests that this drinking man not bring politics to this place. The man apologized for being inconsiderate and slowly walked away. I was lingering, wondering if I would need to step in and say something as I felt pretty protective of this place already. I put my hand on the young man's shoulder and looked him in the eye and he knew what I was saying.
His name is Matt. He introduced himself as gay and Muslim. I told him that I am straight and Christian. We laughed for a moment. He told me that I am important. He said to remember to tell everyone you love that they matter every day, even strangers. "Their life matters and your life matters". He said he met someone at the memorial one afternoon and told him he mattered. That person told him he had contemplated suicide. What he said to him changed his thoughts that day. He said he comes here every day with his Mom and was here when Hillary Clinton visited. He said she hugged everyone and cried with them. I saw tears welling up in his eyes and that's when I broke. I put my hand on his shoulder again and he turned around and hugged me. He hugged me tight. He thanked me for being there and for caring. I thanked him for showing so much love. He said it's sad that so many people feel that Muslims are the problem. And I said the same about Christians. We smiled. And in that moment we were proof that none of those adjectives that describe a person really matter. What matters is that we were able to stand there as human beings and share our stories and hug about it. We cried together and I asked if I could take his portrait. I asked him to sit next to his favorite spot and he chose the sign that says "love more hate less" and he said it's "because everyone everywhere needs more love". He crouched down and looked up at me with such sincerity and heart in his eyes that I was wiping away tears by the time I removed my camera from my face. We hugged again and wished each other well before we parted. As I walked away I looked up to the pale blue sky with the setting sun and the black and white Pulse sign in front of it and said "thank you God for this moment. You are amazing."
Every artist in the history of time has had the “one that got away”. Whether it be a great idea that was never a reality on paper, you just couldn’t get your hands to draw or paint what you needed or had envisioned it to and your canvas sat empty, your words just never sounded as clear when you started writing as they did in your head at that one moment, you forgot to jot down that great thought/idea/dream you had and now you forgot what it was, that beautiful melody that came to you when you had no way or recording it just never became a reality……..or as a photographer….you saw a moment happen and you let that moment slip away because you never spoke up and let fear get the best of you. Although I have had many of those moments as an artist, there was never one I regretted more than the shot I missed in Ghana, Africa. I remember it so vividly and clearly that I could most likely paint you the picture, but it would never be good enough or even come close to doing it justice. So I will do my best to paint it for you in words….
We were driving down the long road from the capital city of Accra to the coastal fishing town of Takoradi, where we would be spending the majority of our trip. The sun was starting to set and our driver wanted to get us there as quickly and efficiently as possible as driving on African roads at night can be very dangerous. We had made several stops along the way and our driver and new friend Clemence, kept telling me that if I saw anything I really wanted to photograph to let him know so he could quickly pull over. The several stops we had made took longer than expected so when we got back on the road I told myself I would only ask to stop if it was something REALLY amazing. We were all chatting in the truck and getting excited about our adventures to come, when IT happened. That moment, that image….the image that is engrained in my head permanently and forever………the moment that I ever so graciously let slip through my fingers. When I saw it I remember thinking “this is what National Geographic Photographers are made of”. It was cover material……….and I am not kidding. My lips started to separate to speak the words “pull over….pull over right now” and then the doubt set in. And by the time I started doubting myself we were too far past it to pull over, the smoke had cleared (both literally and figuratively) and the moment was gone forever……….
As we were driving along that rough road that goes right along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea in the South Atlantic Ocean, there was a brush fire. A brush fire with enough smoke to block our views and force us to look in the other direction to see what was going on. To which I saw an African woman with her large wooden bowl balancing atop her head, filled with the days catch if fish for her to sell on the side of the road, with a baby strapped to her back, and a small child at her waist that couldn’t have been older than 4 years of age. They were walking slowly down a path and behind them was this brush fire and smoke. They looked like they were coming out of the fire itself. Her face was covered in ash, the child had a hand to his face trying not to cough, and the baby was bouncing and happy as they always are in this part of the world. Their silhouette coming out of the smoke and then turning into the full vision I just described was breathtaking.
I remember the feeling I felt when I saw that moment and it still makes me gasp. Why I couldn’t muster the words “pull over” is still beyond me. Part of me I guess was afraid, afraid that I wouldn’t do that moment justice and that it would never live up to the feeling that I felt and the breath that I lost after witnessing it. It stopped me in my tracks, but that didn’t mean I had to stop everyone else too. I mean, we were in a hurry to get to our destination and I would have plenty more opportunities for great pictures right? And I did, I loved photographing the people there, but none of it ever quite lived up to that one fleeting moment. The one that got away……
While I am a firm believer that even (and maybe even especially) as a photographer that there are moments meant NOT to be photographed and only remembered in your heart, don’t let any moment pass you by. Maybe it was my job to remember that moment ever so vividly and paint you the image with words rather than pixels or emulsion. Or maybe I should have spoken up and I failed miserably. It’s a battle we all fight as artists. A battle with our minds and hearts, the constant negotiations with what I like to call our “inner vampires”. Just look up the song “die, vampire, die” and you will know what I mean. So artists, know that you are not alone…..we all have those moments that got away. The ones that you will always remember happened and never forget the circumstances and the regret you feel for not coming to fruition. But let it teach you a lesson on fear. Fear will destroy you if you let it. And if you let it take control over you it will wash away all of those amazing moments you wish you could have expressed to your full potential. So lesson learned….. speak up, speak out………and always have a notepad, writing utensil, and a camera with you at all times!
"It's a 40 minute drive if you take the highway, and about an hour and a half if you go through the mountains"..... I prayed we would go through the mountains.
The view out of my bus window was spectacular. I happened to pick the right side and all of the cliff views were there. We started our long trek up the mountain and my ears started to pop. I looked out and my breath gasped. For a brief moment I forgot I even had my camera with me. I started to see the rainforests through the trees and wondered if I could ever capture the beauty I saw with my keen eyes through the tinted glass of the moving bus. There was a bar on the back of all of the seats to grab onto. The whole back row was one seat and we all shifted to one direction every time the bus came around a corner. It felt like a bit of a rollercoaster ride. My left hand was grabbing the bar to steady myself and my camera was wrapped around my right wrist and held with one hand so I could take a picture. I snap, snap, snapped to make sure my timing was there and I could get the shots i was hoping for. My eyes started to fill with tears at the sights I was seeing. Huge families of palm trees jetting out from the steep ridges in the mountains and raised towards the sun. The streams of water coming from the rainforests into the valleys and around huge rocks looked like a seen from a movie, not what was right in front of me. The small villages built right into the cliffs with stone steps leading up even further. Goats climbing trees like they were trampolines. People smiling and waving after seeing a tour bus full of children. I am sure my mouth was agape as I looked out that bus window both in awe and in fear as I felt the bus move in one direction as it came around the harsh corners and honked at any car that was in the way. And I didn't care if anyone saw me like that.
Some days you're going around that harsh turn and honking at the car coming towards you. Some days you're looking out the window at the rainforest tucked deep into the crests and the water coming down in streams below. Sometimes you notice things no one else does, like the beautiful woman in her Sunday best sitting under a tiny thatch roof selling her fresh fruit or the man with long dreads carrying his dog up a cliff because it was too hot for him to walk. Sometimes you gasp when you look down at how far you've come up. Sometimes you look at the road ahead and think "how can I get through this without being sick to my stomach". And sometimes you coast through the valley with a sigh of relief that you're on the ground.
I've roughed many mountains in my life and there is always beauty found in the crevices. There is stillness in the valleys. There is fear in turning that corner and not knowing whats there to block your way. But sometimes, just sometimes, you come out the other side and see the most beautiful turquoise ocean and that scary mountain behind you. You've reached your destination and its everything you dreamed it would be. But eventually, and maybe even on purpose.....you need to rough that mountain again just for the view.