Tag: Proactive Bridesmaid

Crayons and Old Songs. {Love Story}

Crayons and Old Songs. {Love Story}
Written by ARWB December 2011 Bloggger of the Month, Stephanie Hamling, of Proactive Bridesmaid

I sat behind the tech as she took pictures. Measurements, diagrams, the dull “thumpthump…thumpthump” that ecohed in the small room — there it was, my daddy’s heart. The possibility that something could be wrong with it was as impossible as the fact that something I knew to be so boundless could fit on the monitor’s screen. “Thumpthump…thumpthump.

My Mom had called that morning with the news that they’d gone to the ER shortly after midnight. Dad’s arm had gone numb. They’d been running test after test. He was in his own room when we got there. A nurse was questioning him, “Do you walk much?” My brother and I laughed. My dad walks, hunts, fishes, helps Mom tend a large country garden, enjoys woodworking, and does just about anything his kids ever need help with. And I’d been feeling the guilt of that — repairing my roof, trimming my trees, hauling away the hundreds of rocks left as a legacy from a previous tenant — since I’d heard, wondering what part of that was the one thing that was too much. I’ll probably never know.

When I was small and sick, Dad would pull a rocking chair up to the fireplace and, old blue Kiwanis songbook in hand, cuddle me in his lap and sing to me. “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was my favorite. It’s a shame none of us, my bothers nor I, got his singing voice. It is one worth hearing. We can all lay claim to having a few of his dance moves, though, even if we pale in comparison.

After an evening of coloring, the ornery six-year old me refused to pick up my crayons. With more than fair warning, Dad tossed them one by one into the fireplace. I was bitter about the loss of my favorite, wrapper-less, burgundy stub for longer than I care to admit. First I sat and cried. Then I picked up my crayons. I learned to take care of my things after that. And I learned that getting up and doing something is almost always better than sitting around crying. In retrospect, I bet those ten minutes were far harder on Dad than they were on me.

I recently got into my car, heading back to my house from Mom and Dad’s, and found the gas tank that had been sitting on “E” was filled to the brim. Dad. I walked out my door during a recent visit, and guess who was putting new blades on my windshield wipers? Dad. When he sat up to eat at the hospital, he offered to split his dinner with me because I’d been sitting with him for a few hours. Dad.

I could go on and on — the secret handshake, the games of Crazy Eights, the notes, the hunting knife that he happened to be sharpening when my high school boyfriend walked in the door. For some things though, there just aren’t words.

My Dad has taught me so many things, but, when it comes down to it, he taught me the one thing that trumps all. Love is a verb.

I love you, Daddy.

Content © Stephanie Hamling 2012.

Stephanie, originally from Wonderview, AR, now lives in our state’s capitol. A freelance graphic artist and a local-food activist, she enjoys gardening, photography, and cooking. You can indulge in more of her musings by visiting her blog, Proactive Bridesmaid. Stephanie was Arkansas Women Blogger of the Month in December 2011.

‘Tis the Season: Holiday Cookie Exchange {Handmade Holiday}

‘Tis the Season: Holiday Cookie Exchange
Written by ARWB Dec. 2011 Blogger of the Month, Stephanie Hamling of Proactive Bridesmaid

I got my annual cookie exchange invitation in the mail today, and, so, the wheels are turning. Have you ever hosted or participated in a cookie exchange? This gathering has become one of my favorite Christmas-time traditions. The effort that goes into both hosting and being a guest can be overwhelming, but it is, without a doubt, always worth it.

One of the members of my cooking club, along with her sister-in-law, hosts the yearly event. After ten years, they have it down to an art. I’ve never hosted an exchange, but I’ve taken mental notes from them every year.

In case you are unfamiliar with the concept, here’s how the exchange works. Each guest and hostess bakes a set number of cookies, which they take to the exchange. During the exchange, each person gets a set number of cookies from each of the other guests. Basically, you end up with however many cookies you brought, but you get a far wider variety.


You can organize the event a number of ways, but I’m fond of the way my girls set it up. Two to three weeks in advance, a cheerful invitation arrives in the mail. We know about when to expect it, but for an inaugural event, a little more notice might be in order. Included on the invitation is the standard when and where, RSVP info, how many cookies to bring, and a listing of prize categories.

Yes, there are prizes, and the more competitive among us take them very seriously. Awards are given for best taste, best presentation, and best overall cookie. The first two categories are chosen by popular vote and the hostesses choose the third winner. The prizes are glory, a year of bragging rights, and a small Christmas-themed treat.

The prize for best taste necessitates tasting, of course. After a round-robin story telling session about the origins of our cookie recipe, we have a tasting. We make the rounds to check out the presentation and have a nibble. Each person’s cookie is assigned a number for voting, and secret ballets are cast. After prizes are awarded, its time for everyone to grab their take-homes.

And, that is how it’s done folks. There are more bells and whistles that can be added as you wish. Our hostesses start the party with appetizers and drinks and we play a few rounds of party games, everything from bingo to a complicated race involving unwrapping a Hershey’s Kiss with mitten-covered hands. They end the night with a handmade party favor for each guest. Seriously, these ladies could write a book.

A cookie exchange is great to find new favorites, to get more bang out of your baking time, and to take care of treats for holiday parties or teacher gifts. If you ever have a chance to attend one, I hope you will. If you are encouraged to start your own, your friends will love you for it!

Tips for the hostess:

  • Tag team with a friend. Split the duties and alternate houses each year.
  • Don’t limit your group to only great bakers. Break-and-bake and even bakery cookies are welcome in our crew.
  • Send the invitations early and have clear instructions.
  • Have a few boxes or plastic bags on hand for folks who forget to bring anything to transport their cookies home.


Tips for the guests:

  • RSVP!
  • Put in some effort, but don’t stress. Some of the worst cookies make the best stories and bring out some great cooking tips.
  • If you know how many cookies each guest gets, prepackaging make things go more smoothly.
  • Thank you cards are never out of fashion. A hostess gift is a nice touch.
  • Bring a copy of your recipe for each guest, so they can recreate their favorite. Try to pick a recipe that travels well and has a good shelf-life.


My name is Stephanie Hamling. Originally from Wonderview, Arkansas, I now live in our state’s capitol, Little Rock. A freelance graphic artist, I also work as a social media liaison and webmaster for a local grocery market. My joys include gardening, cooking, photography, spending time with family, and blogging.  Stephanie is the Arkansas Women Bloggers December 2011 Blogger of the Month.

Great Photography on a Budget

Written by Stephanie Hamling of the Proactive Bridesmaid.

We’ve experienced a paradigm shift in the blogging world over the past several years. When I began blogging, most of my peer sites read like personal journals, long blocks of text with little to break them up aside from an indention and a hard return. These days, if you don’t have an eye-catching photo to kick things off, you are likely to get passed over, no matter how good your writing.

Early in my experimentation in digital photography, a fellow blogger complemented me on my shots and lamented her lack of high-end photography equipment. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was using a basic point-and-shoot that set me back about a hundred bucks.  Years later, I’m still using that little work horse, but I like to think I’ve progressed a bit and learned a few valuable tips.

Shoot a lot of photos.
Seriously, go to the edge of ridiculous and then shoot a few more.  Unless you are shooting on film (in which case you probably know far more about photography than I do) there really is no longer an excuse to be stingy with your shots. Few things are more frustrating than getting a photo that is almost perfect. Even the best of us occasionally lose focus or inadvertently crop out a bit of our subject.  Additionally, you don’t want to end up with the perfect vertical shot  only to realize in editing that what you need is the perfect horizontal.  Finally, there are few exercises more valuable than looking at dozens of shots from slightly different angles and from varying distances to  figure out a style you like, not just for that shot, but for future  shots. With over six years in, I still take about thirty shots of any  still life that I set up.


 Natural light is your friend, and the in-camera flash is your last resort.
Mid-morning sunlight is a photographer’s dream, and mid-afternoon is a close second. Shoot during these slots whenever you can. Photos will have a natural depth of field and shadows will be soft and diffuse.  Sunlight during the rest of the day will be sharper, but with screening and bounces, you can still use it for great shots.  Whatever light you have to deal with, you can help it a bit with bounces and screens.  The goal with these techniques is to even out your light, giving you fewer hot spots and shadows. About ninety-percent of the time, I’m shooting indoors in front of a large window. This gives me one major light source. Since I’m shooting a three-dimensional object, it stands to reason that I want to get light all around it. I do this by putting a bounce opposite the window and beyond the object I’m shooting.

Just about any large, flat expanse of white with work as a bounce. I have a fabric draped pvc frame I use for big projects, but I encourage you to use what you have. When I’m enjoying a meal out, the company and food come first and the photos come second, so I don’t like to carry lot of gear. That said, I don’t hesitate to use my water glass as and impromptu tripod or my white napkin or bread plate to bounce light. In a pinch and see someone in a white t-shirt? “Excuse me, sir!”

I use screens far less than bounces, but they are invaluable in particularly harsh light. Unlike a bounce, screens are placed between the light source and the subject. Screens will block some light, bounce some light, and let some light straight through. The overall effect is much softer light and less harsh shadows. I use a tulle covered pvc frame as my screen for most projects, adding layers of cheesecloth or thin cotton fabric if needed. A flour sack dish towel draped over the window works as well. I almost always use a bounce when using a screen.

These photos taken of the same subject during the same time of day show the difference between results with the in-camera flash (left), natural light from a single source (center), and natural light using a bounce (right).

Explore and experiment with your camera’s settings.
I love my camera’s macro setting. It is perfect for the many close-ups I shoot, allowing the camera to focus clearly on objects within a fraction of an inch from the lens. Although you have less control with this automatic feature than you would with a special lens, you can still create some great effects through a bit of trial and error. Most cameras will indicate which area of the frame will be in sharpest focus, so you can adjust as you shoot. Find your own favorite feature of your camera!


A very simple shot can be made a little more interesting with the macro setting which puts the area of the subject closest to the lens in sharp focus and slightly blurs the background.

Photograph things you love.
Just as with writing, it will be obvious from your photos if you are passionate about your subject. If you are trying to copy others who have better equipment, more training, and a bigger budget, you doom yourself to failure and discontent. If you are creatively pushing your limits to capture a subject the means something to you, most likely you are enjoying life and getting good pictures.


My mom doesn't like photos of her hands, but from her wedding ring, to the veins that run in the same pattern as mine, to the fact that they are always doing something for someone else, I think they are beautiful.

Play with your photography!
Take plenty of shots of anything that interests you and make use of natural light and the features of your camera. The more photos you take, the more you will begin to develop and eye for the kind of photos you want to take. What are your best photography tips?

Content © Stephanie Hamling 2011.

  Stephanie, originally from Wonderview, AR, now lives in our state’s capitol. A freelance graphic artist and a local-food
activist, she enjoys gardening, photography, and cooking. You can  indulge in more of her musings by visiting her blog, Proactive Bridesmaid , which celebrated its sixth anniversary in June. Stephanie was Arkansas Women Blogger of the Month in December 2011.

Miss December 2011- Stephanie Hamling

Miss December 2011- Stephanie Hamling

My name is Stephanie Hamling. Originally from Wonderview, Arkansas, I now live in our state’s capitol, Little Rock. A freelance graphic artist, I also work as a social media liaison and webmaster for a localProactive Bridesmaid grocery market. My joys include gardening, cooking, photography, spending time with family, and blogging. Proactive Bridesmaid, my blog, started in 2005 as a way to keep my friends entertained and updated on my life. Like many bloggers, I had no thought that it would reach a wider audience. If I had, I might have chosen a more easily explained title.

Why Proactive Bridesmaid? When you come from a big Catholic family, two things that are a given — you are going to be attending a lot of weddings and a lot of funerals. When I started blogging, I was between my sixth and seventh times being a bridesmaid. I topped out at eight. Acting as a bridesmaid can be a good metaphor for life. Sometimes you do things you wouldn’t normally do for people you love, but sometime you have to speak up and let people know if you think they are making a bad decision. (Wood-grained satin and silver pantyhose, I’m looking at you.) And then you keep loving them and stand beside them, no matter what. So, that’s the why of Proactive Bridesmaid; stand up and speak up. Where better than a blog to do that?

On Proactive Bridesmaid’s Facebook page, I describe myself as “blogging about grace, grits, and everything in between.” I like to write about topics, usually everyday things, that inspire awe. I also like to write about cooking. The two collide more than you might imagine. I still feel a sense of wonder at kitchen alchemy and was blessed that many of my cooking skills and implements came steeped in family tradition. Dough that raises and egg whites that whip into snowy peaks still amaze me. Don’t even get me started on my Grandma Gangluff’s iron skillet. I’m a Southern girl through and though. When I was about thirteen, my daddy opened the car door for me and said, “I want you to know what it’s like to be treated like a lady, and, the first guy who doesn’t, I’ll kick his butt.” Moments like that shaped the way I ask to be treated in relationships. My parents also shaped the way I treat others. They expected more from me than they knew the rest of the world would, and I do my best to live up to that.

My blog has become my family anthology, photo journal, and go-to cookbook — a modern Book of Days. It’s a welcome mat to my life. Sometimes, it’s my therapy. My style has changed radically since that first post. That’s appropriate, because so have I. When I was in the midst of my honors college entrance interview at eighteen, the interviewer said, “You can write.” It took close to a decade for me to believe him. I finally realized that I didn’t have to write to change the world, I had to write to change me.


Are you interested in nominating a fellow blogger for Blogger of the Month? Contact julie@arkansaswomenbloggers.com with your nomination. Click here to read about past recipients of the Blogger of the Month honor.

Poetry and Coon Hunting

I couldn’t have told you this morning who Arséne Houssaye was, and at this moment I can tell you little beyond the fact the he was a 19th century French poet credited with one of my favorite quotes. “Tell me whom you love, and I will tell you what you are.” Heavy stuff, right?

This post will be the first time many readers have heard from me, so I thought it only appropriate to tell you what I am. The best way to do that is to tell you what, and whom, I’ve loved. I transplanted myself from a very rural area into a small city for college and then a bigger city for work. It’s a common story, so common that I took it as a given. After two layoffs in two years, I’m questioning that assumption.

It is only in recent years that I have come to a full realization of what I left behind and how much I miss it. I miss traipsing through my parents’ huge garden, getting tangled in the blackberry patch with my grandmother, and tearing up and down the gravel road on bikes and bare feet with the gaggle of cousins who lived whistling-distance away. Family and friends are not unique to growing up in the country, I realize, but they were a legacy I was born into there rather than something I’ve had to struggle to recreate for myself in the city. I miss that ease.

Sometimes I wonder if I gave up my birthright. I miss little girls who were more concerned with fishing than beauty pageants. I miss young men that were raised to be gentleman and knew how to treat a woman like a lady. I miss one in particular who had the audacity to ask me to go raccoon hunting on our first “date.”

Yes, I’m serious. And I went. If you are still with me at this point, you will enjoy the story.

I looked in askance at his Bevis and Butthead T-shirt, a choice of attire that I knew my parents would notice, not mention, perhaps, but notice. He handed me his sister’s coveralls. She was four years younger than me and all of a size two. I could not have fit one leg into them on my best day. The first sparks of infatuation were, perhaps,  even more blinding than love. Embarrassed, I pointed out the obvious. He offered me his coveralls and traded up to his dad’s. I, by the grace of God, slid the pair on. They weren’t a bad fit once a foot or so of the legs were rolled into cuffs. There was a height difference between the two of us that soon made me gain a whole new appreciation for porch steps and truck step-sides.

I climbed into the truck, not knowing until later that I had ousted Ace from his seat of honor in the cab. That fine dog suffered the indignity of the truck bed for that night at least. We were formally introduced in the back yard, and I suspect that Ace was partial to blonds. Dogs can always sense if you are a dog person, and they can sense respect versus bullshit better than any human I have ever met. If I had known half of what that dog ever forgot about his master, well, who knows where that would have led? There is something about the bond between a boy and his dog that even a seventeen-year-old’s hormones cannot overcome.

It was not the worst date I have ever been on, and it was certainly the most memorable. I have always been a sucker for old pickups and back roads, although the moonlight is hard pressed to work its magic when your companion has a shotgun in hand. We walked and talked. I do not remember what we talked about – dreams, aspirations, teachers we could not stand? After twelve years the topics have sunk into a fog. I remember him carrying me over a puddle and kneeling on the ground to re-roll the cuffs of the too long, blue coveralls. I remember thinking I would have been completely lost had I been by myself. When I remember, I forget a hundred things I learned in nights that followed, and I can see with perfect clarity why he became my first love and, in part, made me what I am.

Content © Stephanie Hamling 2010.

Stephanie, originally from Wonderview, AR, now lives in our state’s capitol. A freelance graphic artist and a local-food activist, she also owns and operates Calligraphy for All Occasions (please hot link to http://www.facebook.com/stephanie.hamling#!/pages/Little-Rock-AR/Calligraphy-for-All-Occasions/110014482351548). Stephanie enjoys gardening, sewing, soap making, cooking, and running. You can indulge in more of her musings by visiting her blog proactivebridesmaid.wordpress.com, which will celebrated its fifth anniversary this June.