Where Do You Come From?

I have never had a conventional life. From a very early age my family seem to move quite often. I can remember as a young child my mother saying that when she was first married they moved 9 times and never got off the block. My dad's family had two rentals on their property. As we grew older we still moved often. Mostly within the same town but from one house to another. When I  got married at a very young age this moving situation continued. We had a small apartment, then a small starter house, then a suburban home for our family of 4 kids under 5. Then I got the country bug and we moved to a mini-farm in the country and lived in a very old farm-house.The kids loved the country life where we raised every farm animal under the sun. We heated with wood in the winters and I had a huge garden and canned all our food. I loved this life until my husband got transferred so we had to  move back to where we came from and rented a small 2 bedroom house in town. We were cramped with four kids and two dogs and two horses boarded out but we managed. Finally we bought 5 acres and built a nice two-story home where things seem to settle down and we lived there for 15 years.

After the kids were raised as happens I got a divorce and moved to an apartment of my own. All of these moves were in the same state of Illinois. But when I took a job as a ranch cook in Montana life got really interesting. I met a cowboy from Belgium (yes they have them there, not many but I found one) After the season ended he flew back to Belgium and I moved to Wyoming where I was cooking at a lodge and about starved to death until a good friend offered me  a great job  in Florida to manage a horse farm. My Belgian cowboy came across the pond and we got married, shortly after that we moved to Montana where we so wanted to live and build our life. This was the state where we met the mountains were calling us home.

We worked on several ranches there and part of your pay is a home to live in. But guess what, when the job doesn't work out you lose your home also.  Needles to say finding the right job for both of us was difficult and we ended up moving 9 times in the 10 years we lived in Montana. So not to sound to crazy we did build our dream home, a nice cabin on a mountain side where we lived for 5 years. So the first 5 years were the crazy ones.

When the economy started to fall and things got tight, we knew we could not eat the mountains nor would they supply us with any security for the future as we were approaching the fall of our life. My husband thought it was best to go back to Belgium and secure his government pension along with cheap health care. All this seem to make sense since we were not getting any younger. So we sold our dream home and moved across the ocean and built a nice cottage home in the country.

Every time I moved to a different area the local people, you know the ones that have lived in the same house in the same town all their lives would always ask "So where are you from? How on earth do I answer that? I have tried to say I was born and raised in Illinois, but that is only part of my story of where I come from. I have tried to explain to them all the places I have lived but then they get a strange glossed over look in their eyes that says I think this girl is crazy. So usually I just say "Oh lot's of places" and leave it go at that.

Now that I have been living in Belgium for the last 5 years, I have been struggling with the language, culture, and making friends but mostly missing my 4 grown children and my 7 beautiful grandchildren. My husband knows all to well what it is like not to live where you feel you do not belong. He had the same feeling when he lived in the USA for 10 years.

We both agreed that it would be best if I split my time between Belgium and Colorado. So come Oct 13th I head to the beautiful state of Colorado to spend the winter months and then back to Belgium for the summers. I told you I do not have a conventional life.

So now I will be once more  be faced with the question "Where do you come from?" I have given this some thought and I think I will answer  "it is not so important where I come from as long as I know where I am going."

What do you think? Good answer?

Photography, Ranching, Autisum What?

When I wrote down those three words in the title of this post so I would remember what I wanted to write about I thought "what?" how could these three ever be related? Well let me tell you a story about all three. During a recent trip to one of my favorite states Montana, a good friend who lives on a ranch there agreed to help me find some great ranch horses to photograph. She is a very busy ranch women, mother of two young children, and wife. I knew this was a real gift from her to find the time to help me.

It was a great trip and I got many amazing photographs around their ranch and the area. I told her before I came that I would be willing to photograph her family for her as I knew with their lifestyle going for a portrait session is almost unheard of. She said she would really appreciate that because you see she has an autistic son who is 4 and quite a challenge. Although she has many photographs of both of her children as they grew over the years, there were very few with her in the photograph which is common with many moms with young children. Ranch women also have a difficult time juggling family and ranch work let alone finding the time to gather everyone for a family portrait and all the work that goes into preparing for it particularly during the busy months of summer.  So I was more than willing to help her with this.

As I pulled up to the ranch I was excited to meet her family. We had not seen each other for the last 10 years. She has a little girl who is 6 and her little special guy who was 4 . As we talked in her ranch kitchen I could see her total dedication to her children. She was doing everything possible to help not only her child with special needs but her little girl who also needed mom's attention. On top of all the challenges of living on a Montana ranch, which I know all to well, I had to wonder how she holds it all together. But then I remembered something my own mom would say, "you are never given more than you can handle."

This family is the real deal, they work hard and they live basic and that is what I was hoping to capture in these photographs. Rural people have different needs than say suburban and city people when it comes to a portrait sessions. They work with the land and animals, and wearing dresses, ties, suits, and pearls is saved for weddings and funerals. Most of the time a shopping trip of any kind is an all day affair of traveling at least 50 miles, and happens once a month or so. It also includes shopping for groceries, ranch supplies, a stop at the tire shop, and if your lucky maybe a new  pair of boots. No time to window shopping at the latest styles, testing the latest fragrances, or dreaming about that gold necklace, getting the basics is all they have time for or are interested in.

As we headed outside for our photo session, she had her little ones dressed up in nice clean ranch wear. I knew I would have to work fast as her son was racing around the ranch with my friend closely watching to make sure he stayed out of trouble. I told her to just forget about me and the camera that I would catch the moments as they happen. I knew in this situation there would be no posing and I was going to have to be alert to each moment as it would arise. I was up for the challenge.

I took photos of the kids in a hurry while they were still clean. Her little girl really enjoyed the camera and was so funny as she went from place to place posing. Her son was on the go. He was in his own world of discovery that none of us will ever understand. No fear, just curiosity. I managed a few nice shots of him as he went from one thing to the other. Then they both headed to the corral full of horses and cows. I had a feeling that the clean clothes would become a thing of the past.  Both of the kids had a great time  playing with their pony, climbing on the hay feeder pouring water from the stream in their hats and over their heads. I could not stop pushing the shutter. They were taking me back to my childhood and the fun of just playing and discovering.

Later my friend's husband showed up from the field. This was July and haying season had just ended. I knew taking family pictures was not top on his list of things that had to get done. My friend managed to get the kids dried off and into new clothes so we could try some kind of family portrait.  I saw a hay wagon sitting  next to the yard and told them all to just climb on it  and we would see what would happen. Her little cowboy was running up and down back and forth and there was no way you could tell him to stand next to mom and dad. He had his own agenda. I told the rest of the family just to keep looking towards me and I would try to catch him as he went by or when he would occasionally stop to see what everyone was up to. I managed to capture a few nice shots of them all together.

Then as dad headed back to work, I glanced and saw my friend  sitting on the hay wagon having a moment with her little guy. I quickly turned my attention to them. Although he was carrying a wire in his hand, the moment was too precious to let go. I caught one more photo of him gazing into her eyes and knew this was a fleeting moment and very special.

After she had received her photographs. She wrote me saying how she appreciated having these photos of her family. She said that the one photograph of her and he son looking at each other meant the most, because no knows how hard they both have worked together to have a brief and rare moment when they look at each other with love and appreciation. It may have not lasted but for her it was validation of the love they share. We all only have moments to cherish along the way in our lives and if I can capture and preserve those moments that are special for someone else, than I know I have picked the right career.

Here are a few of the photographs I caught of this special ranch family's life.