In 1999, I needed some upper division liberal arts credits for my Communications major. I took a semester of photography and bought a Canon Rebel camera with film. It was hundreds of dollars which was paid for with weekends of waitressing tips, the second most expensive single item I had bought “by myself” at that point in my life. Second to my used teal Mazda, paid for with gifted savings bonds. The first photography class taught me basics in photography without a flash bulb, developed in a dark room with chemicals. I loved it. This was pre-digital photography if you weren’t born yet in 1999 and weren’t preparing for Y2K. I was 20 years old and discovering a whole new side of myself behind the lens of a camera. I saw light differently after learning photography. Then I figured out I could take photography in different schools around campus, including Art and Industrial Technology and those would also count towards credits I needed. Three semesters of photography around campus taught me I loved photography as a storytelling form. Fast forward 15 years, the photography of my college years has evolved. I don’t take as much time for it as I used to. I shoot in digital. I gave up my digital Canon Rebel a couple of years ago and my film camera has a prized place on a shelf. There’s no dark room. I don’t spend much time editing on fancy software. And I certainly don’t print enough pictures. But photography in college taught me to stop and capture the moments. They aren’t perfectly set or staged. They are real-life moments to cherish. I still take thousands of pictures each year and share some with you and my family. This year as in past years for Christmas family members in both my family and my husband’s family received customized family calendars. I create two, one for each side of the family, complete with birthdays and anniversaries listed. They are a series of snapshots of family members, with our children of course as the most heavily photographed often included. But I try to include as many family members as I can. With the 2015 calendars completed and now in-hand, I started with a new folder on my computer this past week to collect pictures for next calendar year. Here’s a peek at a few of our celebrations over the past week plus with my photography at Christmas. December 19 was Grandma Nola’s 85th birthday. Elizabeth made “Nola the 1st” homemade signs. Nola the First, like Sophia the First, a favorite Disney princess show. Niece Nola is the second. We celebrated after church on Sunday, December 21 at the farm with Uncle Jim, Grandpa Sonny (who turns 90 in January), my mom, brother Joe and our kids. My dad and husband were there too. One behind the camera and the other making coffee when this picture was taken. Christmas Eve was at our house with Nathan’s parents, his sister Lori, my brother Robbie, sister-in-law, Jenn, Nathan and our kids. In the hurry-scurry to get the meal on the table before the church Christmas program I didn’t take any pictures until just as I was about to sit down. Brussels sprouts in hand I realized I should capture the loved ones sitting in our cozy home ahead of me. Of course I didn’t pay attention to my focus at all or lighting. But needless to say the moment is captured, blurred faces and all. The picture still fills me with Christmas joy. Christmas Day had four of my grandparents’ five kids home, six of ten grandchildren and all four great-grandchildren. (We missed our Maryland family.) All but Aunt Holly stayed through the weekend. Therefore, I missed her on the group pictures. I gave everyone a Sunday morning warning, after we eat, before you leave, we are taking a picture. The fireplace was blazing hot. We were full. The Vikings were playing Da’ Bears. My timer was set for two seconds instead of ten seconds. Thankfully my sister had her tri-pod set up. Nola the second aka Nola the toddler was due for a nap but not nearly as out of sorts as her five-year-old cousin, Anika. I had about two minutes or less to get a picture of all of us left at the farm before we split in all directions, for the couch, for football or for home. It’s the best we were going to get before we all melted in front of the fireplace. (Thanks, Dad, for keeping us toasty.) The grandchildren/ great-grandchildren photo is precious with Nola the toddler, holding bells on Grandma Nola’s lap. And Anika is crying mad. But what I have learned about photography at Christmas is that moments like these matter more and more to me. The photos represent days of feasting (thanks Mom) and hours of nightly board games. Most years with more snow we would snowmobile together. We are family who are friends and have another year of Christmas memories shared together. The best compliment came from my grandma yesterday when she said to me in her kitchen, “I know not everyone likes taking those pictures, Katie. But they sure are fun to have.” My social media filter, Grandma Nola, is why photography at Christmas matters. If Grandma is happy, I am happy. I hope you enjoyed some moments at Christmas to cherish and remember. What’s a favorite picture you remember and enjoy from your Christmas or Christmases past? Thank you to those who commented on Cows for Christmas. I donated an additional $60 last night to Heifer International and next year will plan to add to that effort. I have some 2014 wrap-up comments to share tomorrow to put a book-end, bow on the year. I’m definitely ready for a fresh new year but until it is here I am off to have just one more piece of my mom’s fruitcake while the girls go out to do cow chores with my Uncle Jim.