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TheAmy Allender Blog is where you can find all the latest projects, freshest faces, and most current happenings from Amy Allender and The Art of Living Project.  Here, you’ll find inspiration for everyday living, Christian devotionals, awkward moments, design inspiration, and tales of my misadventures as I navigate life in Minot, North Dakota {or, as I call it…Practically Canada.}  I would sincerely love to have you follow along.

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Jay, Haley and Kaylin {Family Sneak Peek}

Being a photographer, I see all kinds of kids.  I like them all.  But some of them don’t seem to like me so much.  Or, at least they don’t love that big black, boxy thing I hold up in front of my face every time I tell them to “Smile, pumpkin!”  Sometimes I get kids who practically shoot darts out of their eyes, others look skeptical–giving me a “stranger danger vibe.”  Like, why is this stranger so insistent that I smile?  She hasn’t earned my smiles.  She’s not even funny.


Then there are other kids.  Like Kaylin.  They politely smile at my jokes, and giggle giddily at their parents tickling.  When the black, boxy thing comes up–the smile goes on.  Like I said, I like all kids–but kids like Kaylin make my job easy.  {Just look at that precious face!}  Photographing her family last week was a pure joy.  They are simply a stunning clan.  Tonight I’m showing off a few of my favorites from our day in the park together.
Roosevelt Park family

One of my favorite things about our session was that Jay had a specific shot in his mind.  “The Shoe Shot.”  I didn’t really understand what he was talking about until the very end when the whole family changed shoes…into matching Jordans.  Seriously.  How cool is that?!!

roosevelt park family sessionfamily shoe shot

{Doesn’t this make you want a pair?!}

Thanks for choosing me to capture these precious family moments.  According to the post office, your flash drive should arrive this weekend!



Anne & Jay {engagement sneak peek}

I am very excited to be sharing a super special session with you this evening.  Meet Jay, Anne and Ada.  Aren’t they just gorgeous?!  {The answer is, YES!}


Anne and Jay will be getting married in just a few short weeks.  Last week we got together to take some family photos and engagement photos before the big event.  I had a great time getting to know this precious family. And boy, did Ada make my job easy–she is so beautiful and smiley!  {You know how I love a baby that doesn’t insist on giving me dirty looks.}


Without further ado–here are a few of my favorite image from their session.

Family Photos Oak Park

Minot Engagement

Engagement session

Like I said, this was an incredible session–with perfect weather!  I am so excited for these two to see the finished product…and even more excited {and honored} to be shooting their wedding next month.



Mother’s Day Photo Booth

Mother's Day Photo booth

On Mother’s Day I had the fine privilege of setting up what I like to think of as a “gorilla-style” photo booth at church.  There was a little advertising, but mostly the greeters just steered people into our pastor’s office, where I had a {very cute} photo booth set up.  Photos were free.  Anyone mother could have a photo taken with anyone she chose.  As you can see from this sampling…we had quite a few takers.


I had a fabulous time with these back-to-back snap shots.  Each and every mother is so very dear.  Let me tell you about a few of my favorite moments.


One mother requested to, “…keep our feet out of the photo–he’s [her son] got his snow boots on…it’s been that kind of morning.”


A three-year-old girl was convinced it was someone’s birthday.  She told me, “Happy birthday!”  Her mother corrected her, explaining that it was a different kind of holiday.  Then, when I’d gotten their photo she requested cake…still convinced it was a birthday.  “We’ll work on it.  She just really loves cake,” the mother said.


“It’ll only take a second.  It’s Mother’s Day.  Humor me.”  This sort of sentiment was uttered to grown sons and husbands.  And they did…humor their mother.


Appropriately, the Sunday message was about mothers and how a mother’s love is a very good earthly example of God’s unconditional, never ending, always eager, tender, compassionate, best-interest-in-mind, love for all of His creation.


Mothers are amazing.  And we are lucky to have them.  Period.  End of story.


Thanks to everyone who took a moment to smile for the camera last week!  Those of you who requested digital copies will get them tomorrow.  If you requested an 8×10″ print, you can pick it up on Sunday morning.




3rd Grade Optical Illusions {Artists in the Schools}

3rd grade op art

I do lots of things here in Practically Canada.  Lots and lots of things.  Lots of varied activities that lend themselves to a never-boring {but sometimes a little too busy} lifestyle.  But–of all the things I do, working with the Minot Area Council of the Arts {MACA}’s Artists in the Schools Program is definitely in my top three.


You’ve heard me talk about this before.  I’ve cut snowflakes, learned the color wheel and painted many, many canvases.  Last week I did another class focusing on optical illusion art for kids with an outstanding group of 3rd grade students at Bell Elementary.  This project is a little tricky, so I don’t break it out unless the group is well behaved and able to tune in and follow directions.  This particular class was fantastic on all fronts.


I started with the usual discussion on what an optical illusion is.  How sometimes things aren’t always as they first appear {a lesson not only for art, but for many aspects of life.}  The kids always love learning about optical illusions and they are so excited for the chance to make their very own version of op art.


This particular project is great because it combines artistic skill with mathematical skills such as use of a ruler, measuring, and pattern creation.  It’s also cool because every kid can turn out a really cool product–even those who don’t see themselves as “artistic.”  I love proving to kids that they can be artists even if they don’t have a natural aptitude for free hand drawing or painting.  I believe it is vital that little ones embrace their creativity–and that adults don’t stifle it by instilling an attitude that “you aren’t artistic.”  Creativity is key to problem solving…so let’s not crush their creativity!  Agreed?


Okay.  I’m finished ranting.  I just love art.  And kids.  And kids doing art.


So.  Now I’ll explain how we did this one.  It’s pretty simple really.


optical illusion art classroom guide

The top is my example.  The bottom is how the grid looks before it’s colored.


Start kids off with their paper flat on their desk.  Have everyone trace a circle on their paper.  Anywhere is fine.


Have them use a ruler to mark every inch.  Then, without turning the paper…have them slide the ruler to the bottom of the page and mark every inch again.  Have them connect the dots–stopping at the edge of the circle so they don’t draw through it–repeat on the other two sides of their page.


Once the grid is done, have them connect the lines that but up to the edge of the circle.  The top two should be connected with a line that looks like a frown–following the arc of the circle.  The bottom two should “smile.”  Then, turn the paper 90˚ and repeat that process.  Then, it’s just a matter of creating a pattern of color.


Start with a row that runs through the circle.  Color every other square.  Where the circle intersects with a square it should be the opposite color.  {If the square is uncolored that section of the circle will be colored; if the square is colored that part of the circle will be uncolored.}  Inside the circle every other space will be colored.  Then resume the pattern in the squares.


Once that first row is finished, complete the pattern within the circle.  Then finish the pattern in the squares–every other should be colored, with the rows alternating like a checker board.


So that’s it.  Hopefully that’s helpful to my teacher friends out there.  It really is a great project for honing in on all kinds of skills.  Just maybe it’ll be something fun for your classes at the end of this school year!





Peterman Family Maternity {Sneak Peek}

family maternity

Meet the Peterman family.  As you can see they are adorable.  Annnnd….they are expecting a baby!  I can only hope that they had a fraction of the fun during their family maternity session that I had shooting it.  In my opinion, any session that includes singing “Everything is Awesome” from the Lego Movie is top notch.

family maternity

family maternity

I am thrilled for this precious family and the excitement of new life that is coming their way shortly!  Thank you so much for choosing me and trusting me to capture the art of this moment.




Mr. & Mrs. Unruh {Wedding Sneak Peek}

Wedding prep collage

It’s wedding day!


Okay.  So, technically today isn’t the day.  But it is the day that I’m finally showing off some very special images from an awesome wedding.  Everyone–say HELLO to Mr. & Mrs. Unruh.

first look collage

I love that these two opted for an “anti-first-look.”  A few photos of bride and groom before the ceremony kicked off–but they didn’t see each other, so they still had the big surprise of seeing each other at opposite ends of the aisle.  So sweet!  {And really, it had to have taken some major self control not to peek around the door.  I don’t know if I could have done it.}


The ceremony was held at one of my favorite hidden gems of Minot–the Carnegie Center.  It’s a historical, and gorgeous, and the perfect spot for this intimate ceremony.

Carnegie Center Wedding

Carnegie Center Wedding

Now, let me tell you two awesome things about their reception that I personally l-o-v-e-d:  The cake and the dancing.  The bride’s family owns a local cake shop with my favorite cake in all of Practically Canada.  {It’s Lalee Cakes–check them out here.  Her frosting is out of this world.}  And while the fam doesn’t own a dance company…they sure do know how to groove.  {And it was contagious.  I may have set the camera aside to dance to a certain One Direction song…}

Minot wedding reception

This was really such a fun day spent with lots of great people.  I’m so honored to have been included in this very special day.  Here’s wishing the newest Mr. and Mrs. all the happiness that ever after can hold.




Refinishing The Coffee Tables

It’s been a few weeks since I told you I planned on refinishing antique tables I inherited from my grandparents.  If you missed the “before” post, you can read it here.  The original plan was to simply strip off the old finish {the shiny part}, that had been damaged by years of second-hand smoke exposure, multiple moves and age.


refinishing antique tables

I started off by using the deglosser that came with the Rustoleum kit I used on the cabinets–when I redid the kitchen.  I thought this might be enough to take off the old finish and allow me to put a new coat of glossy polyurethane on top.


The deglosser did it’s job.  I was left with a mostly matte finish on the tables.  This would have been perfect if I had planned to paint the tables.  I have no doubt that paint would have adhered beautifully to the new, dull surface.  However…there was still residual finish on the tables and there was still a good amount of damage left.  {Doesn’t that sound weird?  A good amount of damage?}  Too much damage to proceed with a new top coat.  I’d come this far…and I wanted to do it right…so {a little begrudgingly} I decided that the tables needed to be completely stripped before I could confidently add a new finish.


Completely stripping the old finish and stain required a few new tools {hooray!}  I’m not the owner of this brand new orbital sander and a Dremel.  Do any of you have a Dremel?  Do you like it?  It wasn’t nearly as handy as I had hoped.  It’s like a power tool for Polly Pocket!  So tiny!!  But it did help a lot on some of the tricky curves.  My biggest complaint is that I’ve been going through accessories like crazy.  The pieces that work only last a short time.  Okay, I’ll go into the exact pieces I used on another post.  Long story short…I own a Dremel.

refinishing antique tables

I used the orbital sander on all the flat surfaces and took it down to the bare wood.  After losing my mind using just the Dremel on the table legs {and going through loads of tiny accessory sanders}, Derek went out and bought a paint stripper that attaches to the drill.  It works wonders!  This 3M product, lasted a long time, didn’t chew up the wood and worked efficiently.


refinishing antique tables

Once everything was naked it was time to stain.  If you’ve been reading the blog for a while now, you might know that I’m a color-commitment-phobic.  {That’s why I didn’t want to paint them.}  I stood in the stain aisle for about 20 minutes…thinking.  I walked out with the perfect color.  Turns out it’s nearly identical to what I started with.  That’s totally fine, I thought they were pretty–they just had a rotten finish on them.  The real bummer is that to you, at home, you probably won’t be able to see much difference in the before and after.  You’ll just have to take my word on it.  The look much better.


I put three coats of oil based polyurethane–I chose Varathane–on each table.  Since the weather turned chilly again and I’m still cat sitting {any my guests tend to be on the ornery side} we had to do some of the finishing in our tiny front room…the only space that can comfortably be blocked off from all furry footprints.  I could just imagine a perfect glossy finish with cat hair and paw prints embedded in it.  But, the crisis was avoided and the nearly-finished products are looking stellar–if not much different.

refinishing antique tables

Once these are all done, we’ll be starting on the coffee table.  It’s been a lot of work–lots more than I had imagined from the get-go–but I’ve learned a lot and this is by far the most professional furniture redo I’ve ever done.  Color me pleased.

How We Memorized Colossians

Open Bible

Thanks to everyone who gave positive feedback about our latest adventure:  Memorizing the entire book of Colossians.  I’ve had several inquiries about how we actually did it…what it looked like day-to-day.  So instead of emailing each of you individually I thought I’d tell you about my experience and pull together a few resources for you as well.  {Call me lazy if you must…}


If you look around online, you’ll find that most “big chunk” memorization techniques are pretty much the same.  Memorize one verse on the first day.  The next day review the first verse and add one more.  This is basically what we did, but realistically there were a few changes.  As much as I wanted to stick with a rigid plan, this is actually a more accurate picture of how we memorized the whole book.


Day One–Memorize Colossians 1:1.  Read the verse aloud 10 times.  Say it 10 times from memory.  {Easy peasy.  Took about 5 minutes.}


Day Two–Memorize Colossians 1:2, review 1:1.  Review 1:1 by reciting it several times {this changed from time to time but usually about 5-10 times.}  Read 1:2 aloud 10 times.  Recite 1:2 from memory 10 times.  Say both verses once.


Day Three–Memorize Colossians 1:3, review previous verses.  Review 1:2 by saying it several times, read 1:3 ten times aloud, recite it 10 times from memory, say the whole thing once.


Okay.  You get the picture.  Keep doing this day after day–adding only one verse at a time.


Now–When that passage of Scripture started to get lengthy the plan changed a bit.  A lot of times, we only reviewed the previous verse by reciting it once or twice, just to save time since reciting the whole thing started to take up more and more time.  Once we crossed over the half way mark, there were some days we didn’t even review everything we knew up to that point every day.  By the time you are to Chapter 3, verse 1, 1:1 will be almost second nature to you.  In fact, the whole first chapter will seem so easy to recite you could do it in your sleep.  So…sometimes we would only recite the chapter we were working on, or a chunk of verses surrounding our new verse.


We saw memorizing as a team sport.  I highly recommend working with your spouse–if you have one.  It’s fun.  For real.  We did a lot of memorizing while we road tripped.  In this case, it wasn’t safe for Derek to take his eyes off the road to read the verse 10 times, so I did it for us.  I’d read the verse 10 times aloud.  He’d repeat it back.  Then I’d recite it from memory.  When we recited all that we knew we would alternate verses.  When we weren’t together–we just did our memorization individually and checked in with each other…making sure neither of us fell behind.


Verse numbers?  Most resources you find online will tell you to memorize the verse numbers.  Lots of resources suggest that when you recite a verse you say it like this:


Colossians 1:1 I, Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God and our brother Timothy.  Colossians 1:2  To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse:  Grace and peace to you from God the father.  Colossians 1:3  We always thank God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you, Colossians 1:4…..


Maybe that will work for you, but it didn’t work for me.  Breaking up the text with the verse numbers ever time I recited it just broke up the meaning and caused me to lose my train of thought.  Instead, I found that I could keep track of each verse in my head.  About every five verses I made a point to remember which verse number I was on so I couldn’t get too far off track.  And since we did recitation together {alternating verses} usually Derek would catch my mistakes and I’d catch his.


With the method outlined above it’s plausible to memorize Colossians in 95 days, as there are 95 verse in the book.  It took me much longer than that.  I started in July.  I finished at the beginning of February.  That’s about six months–nearly twice as long as the estimate.  But that’s okay.  Life happens.  We get sick and unmotivated and family comes to town and Christmas festivities take over our brains.  That’s fine.  At first when my deadline came and went I was a little disappointed, but in the end I realized that it’s not how fast we were doing it, but that we were doing it at all.  That we’d stayed committed and were willing to see it through to the very last verse.


So that’s my story.  Here are some resources for you as you set out on your very own Scripture memorizing journey.  Find a technique that works for you and go for it!


Here’s a post from someone who grew up participating in Bible Quiz.  He explains how he memorized more than 500 verses in a single year.


This is an amazing PDF that explains the technique I described above as well as information about retaining memorized Scripture, how to choose the book you want to work on, and why it’s such an enriching experience.


And this is a blog post with 10 good reasons to memorize a big chunk.  You can totally do this!

Colossians Complete


To me, there really isn’t anything sweeter than an accomplished goal.  Dreaming big is fun.  But imaginings are much sweeter when they come to fruition.  I’ve got some far out goals that are a loooong way from being reached, so in the mean time, I’ll savor every mini-goal that comes up along the way.


Last month Derek and I officially reached a goal.  We finished memorizing Colossians.  A whole book of the Bible now lives in my head.  I know it’s a short book, but now I know the whole thing by heart.  Yes, there were hard days.  There were days when I didn’t memorize anything at all.  There were days when the spiritual warfare that comes along with an undertaking like this was hard–so hard I wanted to throw in the towel.  But by the grace of God, we did it.


I’ve done a lot of really cool stuff in my life.  Like, really cool.  But I’ll admit this is one of the coolest, and best ways I’ve ever spent my time.  So tonight I thought I’d lay out some of the things I’ve learned any why I enjoyed this process so much.


Dwelling on the right stuff.  Philippians 4:8 tells us to let our minds dwell on the right stuff.  I’m constantly surrounded by people, TV, books, and talk radio.  I try my hardest to be intentional about what I let my mind consume.  I’m incredibly prone to dwell on worries and woes–but while we memorized Colossians I spent a lot of time dwelling on the right stuff.  In an attempt to keep it all in my brain, I’d go over the verses–sometimes multiple times a day.  This calmed me, refocused my thoughts and allowed me to meditate on His word all day long.


Filling up dead space.  In my day there are chunks of time where I’m alone with my thoughts.  Whether that’s while I’m out on a walk, going on my weekly ice skating excursion, or while I’m driving–there are times when it’s just me and whatever is in my head.  Instead of using this time to stress or worry, I go over all four chapters of Colossians.  It takes about 30 minutes and I always feel refreshed.


A better understanding.  Because we were going over the same verses day after day, only adding one new verse every day {sometimes every few days toward the end}, it gave me a chance to really think about every word in every verse.  The big picture context came into focus as more verses were added–but this process allowed me to zero in on the importance of every verse.


Quotable quotations.  Since I was dwelling on the words and thinking deeply about their meaning, verses were on the tip of my brain–just begging to be quoted in everyday conversation.  I can’t even begin to count the number of times a Colossians verse has come in handy in the past few months.  The verses come to mind easily and I’ve found that the context {as well and individual verses} have been very useful as I’ve prayed for people, prayed aloud, encouraged, and fielded questions about my faith.


In the past, sometimes when addressing a tough question or situation my mind would go blank for Scripture–even though I knew it was in there somewhere.  With four chapters fresh in my mind, I am finding these moments less intimidating and my mind drawing fewer blanks.


BFF.  This process stretched Derek and me both mentally and spiritually in a new way that moved us closer to God and closer to each other.  It was a great time of holding each other accountable and encouraging each other on days when we didn’t “feel” like memorizing.  {It’s really cool that there was never a day when we both felt that way.  When one was slacking off, the other was quick to insist that we at least go over everything we had learned so far.}  It’s really cool to have shared this process and victory with someone.


Being vulnerable.  Memorizing Colossians wasn’t all rainbows and ponies and fun times.  It was hard.  Not just mentally hard.  It was also spiritually taxing.  God loves it when we study His word, spend time with Him and hide His wisdom in our hearts…but Satan hates it.  The spiritual attack I encountered while memorizing Colossians was one of the biggest I’ve ever faced.  BUT–I wouldn’t change it for the world.  As cruel as the attack felt–God’s grace is greater, He is mightier.  We made it through and God has blessed us for persevering. Better Praying.  Paul is an expert on prayer.  Within the book of Colossians {and the other books he wrote too} there are great examples of how to pray, what to pray for, how to word your prayers, and how to pray with expectation.  Ever since I started memorizing, my prayers have changed.  Paul leads by example and he is a great example to follow.It’s left me wanting more.  Until we set this goal, I didn’t see myself as much of a Scripture memorizer.  I have verses committed to memory.  I like memorizing, but it wasn’t my favorite Bible-related activity…and I didn’t prioritize it like I should have.  Now, I see that I can memorize big chunks of Scripture as long as I attack it with a plan.  We haven’t started in on another book and I’m not sure we’ll do another one in the near future…but I’m wanting more.  I’m anxious to select another passage or chapter to begin memorizing.I know I can do it.  As we move forward I’m confident in my ability to memorize Scripture, but I’m also confident in your ability.  Really, if we can do it–so can you.  I started memorizing when a friend told me her 12 year old cousin memorized a whole book of the Bible.  I thought, “If a 12 year old can do it, so can I.”  I want you to have that same mentality.  Memorizing a big chunk of Scripture {or even a small bit} is so worth your time!  Most days it didn’t even take more than 15 minutes {the longest it ever took was 30}.  It’s doable and I challenge you to give it a try.Amy



Jordan | Class of 2015

senior photos library

In January I was contacted by a very sweet “senior mom.”  You know, a mom of a high school senior.  She had a request that was unique for me–unique for January in Practically Canada.  Her son, Jordan needed senior portraits.  He will be graduating in 2015.  He’d like his photos outdoors.  He’d like them in the snow.  And so I started on a quest to create the perfect winter senior portrait session, just for him.


In other parts of the country, this request might not have been such a tall order.  But here, where the wind howls with temps that could make a penguin shiver {okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a bit}, where the wind blows hard and strong, where snow can blow away over night, and snow might not even be in the forecast despite the cold air–it was a tricky request.  But you know me.  I like a challenge.


So I agreed.  I explained that we may need to schedule and reschedule.  And they were okay with that.  And that’s just what we did.  Take #1–unseasonably warm {40˚ F} weather melted our snow leaving brown, muddy terrain.  Take #2–winds of 30 mph, and a windchill advisory kept us inside.  Take #3–the high was -8˚, again, we cancelled.  Take #4–27˚, snow on the ground, snow in the forecast, no wind–jackpot.

winter senior photosWe were still pretty chilly–but it really was a magical afternoon and I love the effect.  I’m simply smitten with the images in this first group–especially the one on the left where you can see the snow falling!

winter senior photoswinter senior photosI’d say the scheduling and rescheduling was worth it.  Eeek!!  I just love these!

winter senior photosJordan loves reading, so at the end of our chilly session we headed to one of my very favorite places in town–the library.  The staff at the Minot Public Library are amazing.  They’ve let me shoot inside several times now, and I am so grateful.  I think these images stuffed with books are just the coolest.  This was my favorite part of the session because I learned that Jordan and I have similar taste in books–and similar pet peeves when book and movie don’t line up like we think they should.

library senior portraitslibrary senior portraits

Congratulations on your senior year!  I had an amazing time working with you–and meeting your amazing mom.  I’m so grateful that you let me share this special snowy afternoon with you.



Well, hello there!

Hi. I'm Amy. Thanks for coming by. I'm in to trying new things and learning to live better. I hope you'll hang around...together we can come closer to mastering the Art of Living.

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