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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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Sydney { Class of 2016}

A few days before Sydney’s session I was driving north of town and was utterly taken aback by the gorgeous canola fields.  I’m telling you–there is really nothing more stunning than a Practically Canadian summer.  Nothing.  The countryside is simply breath taking and the weather is sweet.


Anyway–back to canola.


I had this thought–I’ve done sunflower sessions and snow sessions, but never canola sessions.  Suddenly it just seemed silly.  Why wouldn’t I take advantage of fields of waist high yellow flowers as far as the eye could see?  Ideally I would have offered mini sessions in the canola–but that just didn’t pan out.  Instead, I took Sydney there with me for some canola field senior pictures.  And I’m so glad she was game to come along.  The air grew cooler, the sun dipped low and we spent the golden hour in the golden fields.  I’m super pleased with the results and I’m thrilled to be sharing some of my favorite images with you today.

canola field senior pictures

If you follow the Facebook page, you might have seen this image that I created.  This happened during Sydney’s shoot.  A family on horseback came trotting down the tractor path as we were finishing up.  They’d braved a slow walk past a clump of field bee hives swarming with very busy buzzers.  I’d driven past the hives earlier in the day scouting our location.  They swarmed my car and gave me a creepy Hitchcock-eerie feeling.  When I asked them about the ride past the hives one of the girls said, “Those were NOT there last week.  It was like fear factor.”  They were eager to ride away from the bees, literally into the sunset.

enjoy every sunsetenjoy every sunset

Anyway…back to Sydney.  In addition to amazing shots in the canola, we also got these.  Seriously some of my favorites from the night.

field senior pictures

If it were up to me every hour would be sunset and every photo would be in a field.  But that would be pretty darn boring.  So we also shot around town–and I wasn’t disappointed with our location choices.  Seriously.  Sparkly skirt + shabby alley??  Yes, please!

alley senior photos

urban senior portraits

Oh, and did I mention she’s an athlete?!  I worked up a sweat climbing high enough to nab this one…but the result is worth it.

Senior Sports portrait

The downside about Practically Canada {okay besides the long commute between towns, and subzero winters} is that road construction has a very limited season.  Currently our downtown streets are all torn up.  Cons: We wandered around, unable to figure out how to get to places I had in mind to shoot.  Pros: There was no traffic and we nabbed a super-cool photo in the middle of the street…until a construction crew drove heavy machinery through and gave us a weird look.

downtown senior portraits

Which brings us to the end of Sydney’s preview.  It’s been sweet, hasn’t it?  I’m so glad she chose me to capture her senior portraits.  Remember to head over to the Facebook page and vote in the B&W vs Color challenge to help Sydney win a free 8×10″ print of the winning image.

golden hour senior portraits

Mr & Mrs Borseth

It seems like eons ago that I shot Anne and Jay’s g-g-g-gorgeous wedding.  In reality it was only weeks ago…but I suppose that’s how summer goes up here in Practically Canada.  We wait for it all year long, then before we know it it’s practically fall again.


But, today’s post is far too warm and sunny to spend our time talking about dropping temps.  So instead, let me tell you what an immense privilege it was for me to be a part of this big day.  There is nothing that delights my heart more than watching two people who love Jesus, commit to one another in marriage.  I love weddings that put Christ at the center–it’s such a beautiful picture.  A miniature, mortal diorama of the love Christ has for His church and the love and submission we are called to give Him.


Anne and Jay’s big day was beautiful on all the levels a day can be: spiritually God-honoring, picture perfect weather, DIY decor that will make Pinners drool, delectable home-cooked food, beautiful singing, and a crowd of friends and family that filled the dance floor.  Now, without any more chit-chat…let’s relive the day.

bridal prep

wedding prep

first look

If I did my wedding all over again…I’d do a first look.  It’s so special for the bride and groom to have a few minutes together alone before the craziness sets in.  {Well–alone except for a creepy photographer standing off to the side…}  Anne and Jay exchanged some meaningful gifts during these moments and their sincere reactions are really what the Art of the Moment is all about.


This ring bearer…he’s too much.  He’s just. so. cute!!  You might even recognize him from last winters Christmas mini sessions


Oh, did I mention that Jay sang a song to Anne during the ceremony?  Yeah, he did.  This couple is just that precious.

wedding party

bridal portraits

Now. If you are into crafts, DIY and all things awesome…take a moment to go to the bathroom right now.  If you don’t, I’m afraid you’ll wet yourselves with giddy excitement when you see the adorable reception details that Anne coordinated and crafted {along with help from friends and family}.  Okay?  Scroll down…but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

reception details

Chalk board signs.  A cookie bar.  A COOKIE BAR!! A pop corn bar. One of the cutest photobooths I’ve ever laid eyes on.  Gorgeous graphic printables. An awesome kids area. Cupcakes galore. Ball jars.  Wholesale roses in DIY arrangements.  {Read…they did their own floral!}  Color me impressed.  This was a seriously gorgeous fete.

dances 1

I only post my favorite favorite images here in the preview…so I love all of these–but I really, really love those shots from the father-daughter dance.  What a moment.



Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Borseth.  I’m so very honored to have spent the day with you and your amazing families.  Your images are all done and will be in the mail to you tomorrow!!

Mikaela Class of 2016 {Sneak Peek}


This is Mikaela.  She’s crazy photogenic.  Like, seriously.  I photograph a lot of people–and I love them all–but she was seriously easy to shoot.  She’s natural and confident in front of the camera, and magically has complete control over her face.  {Something I’m still trying to master.}


I had a great time hanging out with Mikaela and her family prop-hauling, bubble-blowing, hair-fixing, pose-suggesting entourage.  She asked for shooting locations that were unique, she was up for pretty much anything, and she specifically wanted some shots standing in the water.  I think the session we put together answered that call.  The class of 2016 senior season is shaping up to be my best ever.


volleyball senior portraits

Mikaela is the first athlete I’ve ever photographed with gear.  And it was so. much. fun.  Especially the part where her mom and uncle were holding a {surprisingly heavy} volleyball net up in the background.  It was so kind of Surrey to unlock the school for us so we could get this shots on her home court.


And speaking of school spirit…I think Surrey’s bleachers are just darling.  So I insisted that we take a few shots there too.


From there things got a little itchy.  If you’ve looked at my other work, you might have noticed that nearly every senior shoot ends up in an open field somewhere.  Mikaela was no different.  Like I said, she was a sport–wading into tall grass, looking beautiful with gorgeous back lighting…all the while being eaten alive by North Dakota’s state bird–the mosquito.  By the end of this series, I was literally shooing the blood suckers off her arms and legs in droves.  She might feel differently…but I think the end result was worth all the swatting.

senior portraits field golden hour


The last stop of our photo-adventure was the back side of Roosevelt Park.  It took a lot of scouting to come up with this place, but I think it’s absolutely perfect.  And isn’t that hat precious?!  She’s so cute.  Not to mention that our day was perfect too–I mean how often in Practically Canada do you get an evening with absolutely no wind?  Look at this super still water!

{And, I should add that we owe a big THANK YOU to our amazing bubble blowers.  They risked falling in the river to help us get these shots!}

bubbles senior portraits

Okay.  I mentioned earlier in the post that she wanted some images in water.  Well…this is what we came up with and I’m pretty much in love.  That’s why I saved them for last here.  The lighting, the sunset, the water…stunning.  These photos are cool.  And that’s all there is to it.

senior portraits in water

So there you have it.  I am so happy with the way these photos came out and I hope she will be too!  As you can see, I had a lot of favorites from this session…so I had a VERY hard time choosing just one for the B&W vs Color challenge on the Facebook page.  So I didn’t just pick one.  I picked two.  Be sure to head over to Facebook and vote for your favorite.  If enough people chime in with an opinion, Mikaela will win a free print!

The Basement { Part II : Closets and Contractors }

I’m kind of a hypocrite.  I have a very strong dislike of wood paneling.  But if I call it bead board and plan to paint it white…suddenly it’s chic to me.  I can’t explain my thought process.  At any rate, the stairs and laundry center are lined with bead board.  And I like it.

basement bead board

For me, one of the hardest parts of a project is outsourcing the stuff we can’t do ourselves.  It’s not a control thing.  I like skills…but really, I don’t have a desire to be a master plumber or a wiring guru.  It’s definitely not that I think I could do better.  Some things I would gladly leave to the pros.  Maybe it’s the money.  Maybe it’s that I don’t know enough about construction to know what is fair or what is necessary–so I get flustered.  It’s just hard.


But, there comes a time on every major project that a contractor is needed.  So, after the studs were up and the walls were framed in…it was time for me to make some calls.  I guess that’s the other hard part about contracting jobs out:  the calls.  I don’t know who to call.  Half the time I don’t even know where to start.  And after a terrible experience with an electrician during the bedroom remodel…I’ve been a little wary that I’d get another dud.


When I look for a contractor here’s my basic process.  Step 1.  Ask for referrals.  From real people.  That I really {at least kind of} know in real life.  The Internet is good for reviews, but I trust a face to face review over five stars on Google.  I ask around at church, the gym, the coffee shop…basically anywhere I can get a small-talk conversation going about my latest project.


Step 2.  Internet.  I like to cross check word of mouth referrals with the what people are saying online.  If asking around didn’t yield any results I go to Angie’s List.  It’s a bonus if they are registered with the BBB.


Step 3.  Call at least three.  Get them to come out and give you a quote.  See what they think would be best for your project.  I give preference to contractors that don’t look at me like I’m an idiot when I explain that we’d like to do part of the work ourselves…and who don’t seem judgy that a girl is lining up the project.


We got three quotes on electric and three quotes on plumbing.  And as luck would have it, they were able to come during the same week.  That was really nice because once the studs were up there really wasn’t much we could do ourselves until the fancy stuff was taken care of.


During their estimate visits, the electricians brought a slight code violation to my attention.  Turns out you can’t put a circuit panel in the back of a closet…awkward.  Really, it makes perfect sense…but we hadn’t thought about it.  As to prevent a fire hazard…we changed the layout of our closet.


You can see the closet in the photo below.  The panel is that open boxy thing right under the joists to the right of the window.  Originally the closet would have gone all the way to the ceiling and been flush with the side of the circuit housing.   To leave it exposed we created a shelf/cubby closet next to the full height closet.  Make sense?  I don’t look at it as losing closet width, but gaining a cubby and a shelf.  {Lemonade, am I right?}

basement closets

The electricians came and did their preliminary work and told us to call them back to the job once we had the drywall and ceiling in place.


The plumbers came and did something similar.  They roughed in the basic set up then came back to finish.  This meant we got to go shopping for the fixtures we wanted.  After weeks of 2×4’s and toe nailing getting to even think about shower stalls and sinks made it feel like we were getting places.


The plumbers were kind enough to let us fix the concrete that they had to jack hammer up in their process.  It took an afternoon for Derek to get it done…but in the end we saved about $300 by doing it ourselves!  {And it was pretty easy with the help of that darling baby cement mixer we rented for $20!  Notice the girl with the bad back…who was unable to lift or help in the concrete process at all was calling it “easy”…}

basement bathroom

Next time I write about the basement I’ll show off the bathroom {it’s nearly done now!} and I’ll tell you a very embarrassing story.  But right now, I’m off to sort some more senior photos and cut some door casing.



Ghosts of North Dakota | Balfour, ND Senior Session

ghost town senior photos, Balfour, ND
ghost town senior photos

Once upon a time when I was new to Practically Canada I was strolling through our local bookstore.  For the first time ever, I laid eyes on one of the Ghosts of North Dakota photo books.  Instantly, I was captured.  Naturally I gravitate toward desolate, creepy things–it’s a quirk that leads me to long walks in cemeteries and a love of all things fall.  {But now I’m getting off topic.}


Ever since that first peek at Ghosts of North Dakota, I’ve thought a session in one of the Practically Canadian ghost towns would be simply the best.  I also knew it would take a very special senior to pull off such a sweet spot…it would also take a special senior to want to trek out to a ghost town with me for their senior portraits.


Maddie is that special senior.  While eating Easter dinner with her family {they were kind enough to take Derek and me in for the holiday} we started chatting about photos.  She told me she wanted something really different.  She likes vintage, she’s got timeless beauty, and for some reason enjoys my company enough that she and her mom didn’t mind spending an hour in the car with me en route to our location.  She was perfect for this location.  I’m so glad she was game for a ghost town and I’m so excited to share this preview with all of you tonight.

Balfour senior portraits read more…

My Favorite Sidewalk Chalk Supplies

best sidewalk chalk supplies

side walk chalk mural

I’ve been so flattered by the very kind and positive comments about ChalkFest.  A few people have asked what I used to make the mural and get such nice crisp lines.  Instead of tell you…I thought I’d show you.  I used a combination of tools.  I bought everything at my local Wal-Mart.  Everything was cheap.  In the $3-6 range.  I was super pleased with everything I bought, but here’s the skinny on every product I used.


{I forgot to mention in these graphics that the chalk I used was Crayola and the paint supplies are all from RoseArt.}

best sidewalk chalk supplies

best sidewalk chalk suppliesWith the chalk markers be super sure you get all the paint mixed up really good…otherwise it’ll clog.  Also, this is really better for older artists because the paint comes out really fast.

best sidewalk chalk suppliesbest sidewalk chalk suppliesI really loved the chalk paint mixes and if you want to skip all the products you could easily just use it with brushes instead.


Happy drawing!

The Basement {Part 1}

Things fell off the blogging cliff for a while here.  It’s amazing the things you’ll cut out of your life when you are under a mountain of stress and deadlines.  Showering and leg-shaving are always among the first time suckers I cut out when I need a little extra work time.  {Don’t judge me.}  But at a certain point other things get cut too…and unfortunately over the last few months, blogging about our basement project has been one of those things.


Today that changes.


Partly because some of you have asked.  Partly because some of my family probably will never see this amazing redo in person {due to an impending move}.  Partly because I’m crazy impressed with the skills Derek and I have shown.  It’s been like living inside HGTV.  {That’s still a thing, right?  It’s been years since we’ve had cable.}  Maybe I should say it’s been like living inside This Old House Magazine.  {My current fave reading material.}


As to avoid sensory overload, let’s all refresh our memories on where we started.  When we moved in, we loved our house.  There isn’t an abundance of square footage, but that’s okay–it’s just two people and a cat–so we don’t need too much space.  But from the get-go we knew we planned to finish the basement to add a little more living space and a second bathroom.


We got settled and for the first 18 months of life in Practically Canada used the basement for storage and laundry only.  A lot of storage.  Storage of all the things I just couldn’t part with–even though they wouldn’t fit into our 1200 square foot abode…because “Someday we’ll have more space and I know we’ll be happy we saved __________.”  Storage of my vast collection of seasonal decor and craft supplies.  Vast.  It looked like this.

basement before 1

It’s embarrassing to show this to you.  But we did the best with what we had–and I’m pleased to admit that I’ve parted with/used up quite a bit of what you see in the photo above.

Basement before 3

There were a few weird walls up, some wood paneling, crazy wiring and two “work benches.”

basement before 2

We didn’t get lots of water in our basement…but on occasion {after heavy rains or when all the snow finally melts in spring} we did get a little flooding around the edges.  So.  We cleared everything out and took down all the walls to expose the foundation.  Then we hired Innovative Basements to do some waterproofing for us.  We have been so happy with the results–pricy but worth it.  Totally worth it.

Basement cleared 1

basement innovations

Innovative basements puts a drain around the edge of the foundation {jack hammered and placed into the floor}.  Then they cover the walls with vinyl-plasticy sheeting.  If water comes in, it drips down the plastic, into the drain and is pumped out.


This all happened last summer.  {Yes, a full year ago.}  Really we wanted to be working on this sooner.  But there was that whole back surgery thing.  Followed by the need for a new roof.  Having a finished basement will be nice–but we refuse to go broke over home improvement.  So we put this project on hold until we saved up a little more money and gave me some time to heal.


Flash forward.  While I was still struggling with a back that just refused to feel better–we started in on the basement.  I helped plan.  Derek did the heavy work.  I pulled out nails and staples.  Derek and manly friends started framing walls.  Sometimes I held a stud in place.  Sometimes I got really cranky because I wanted to help–but couldn’t.

20150404_140837  20150412_161056

Through medical and spiritual intervention, my back has {finally} started to improve over the last month and a half.  {God is good!}  So I’ve finally been able to help a little more…not with heavy lifting.  But I can do a lot more than before and I’ll take it.  I’m so excited to be feeling better that I can hardly keep myself away from the project.  I’m currently writing this post from the coffee shop–where I’ve been working all day–because if I were home, I’d be itching to do something in the basement.


I’ve been learning so much through the process of working on this space.  I’m collecting skills like 90’s kids collected Beany Babies.  Love it.


So there.  That’s part one.  And I know it’s not the pretty reveal you might have been hoping for.  But I’ll post more.  Promise.  I’m also getting a wide angle lens for my camera so I can get nicer photos of the space.  So far they’ve all been snapped with my phone {like that isn’t obvious…}  Stay tuned and check back.  I’ll relive the stories and awkward moments for your enjoyment.


Have a beautiful Thursday.



My Three Sons { a sneak peek }

When Denise first emailed me to inquire about a photo session for her three sons, she used the words “fun” and “playful” to describe the feeling she wanted to communicate.  I am so glad those are the adjectives she chose, because had she said, “posed” and “traditional,” I don’t think I could have delivered on that promise.


I’ve found that the best photos are those that match the personality of the subjects.  Serious people take really nice serious photos.  Zany people can pull off wacky poses.  It’s all about knowing yourself, and as a photographer, knowing your audience.  Denise knows her audience very well.  Her sons are very sweet and very handsome–but two out of the three have a hard time sitting still.  {I’ll give you one guess as to who’s who.}  So instead of sitting and posing, we played and ran around and laughed…and the younger two did a little whomping on their {dazzlingly patient} older brother.  All in all, I think we had fun {at least I did} and hopefully the two little ones were worn out by the end of it all.

Roosevelt Park Family photos

I’m pretty much in love with this series of images.  It’s all fun and games to the middle child–meanwhile the well meaning youngest just giggles.

brothers image series

While the boys were laying on the blanket the little ones were pretending to sneeze–then laughing wildly.  I still don’t quite understand why it was so funny.  To me the funniest part was that one would go, “Ahh, Ahhh, ahh…” then roll over toward toward Jordan {big brother} and let out a spit-shooting “CHOO!”  Then they’d laugh again and roll around, occasionally giving Jordan a solid hit on the head…or kick to the belly.
brothers image series

The moral of the story is, I love people with personality–and I love parents that are eager to let that personality show in photos.  That’s the Art of the Moment.  I’m sure as time goes on, they’ll learn to sit still–and stop hitting–and smile on command–and stop pretending that they just “fell asleep” with closed eyes and gaping mouth when Mom requests that they look at the camera {yes, that was happening}–but I think these things are precious and worth remembering.  Unabashed childhood and confidence to be a full fledged goof ball on picture day are fleeting.  I think it’s a stage of life worth freezing and keeping forever.

roosevelt park

ChalkFest {Minot Sidewalk Chalk Mural }

The earth laughs in flowers

Hemingway once wrote, “The earth laughs in flowers.”  That might be true…but a few weeks ago the earth was laughing with flowers, butterflies, rainbows, ice cream cones and a few basketballs…or at least that’s what our community chalk mural was filled with.


A few weeks ago I was the featured artist at Minot’s Arts in the Park series–from the arts council.  And…in an effort to draw a bigger {maybe younger} crowd I decided to create an interactive sidewalk chalk mural.  1.) Because I love side walk chalk–and all chalk, really. 2.) Because I really like to think up ways to get the community involved in art. And…3.) Because I get nervous being “featured” at anything–I’d rather make up some activity and trick others into hanging out with me.  Yes, I’m really that awkward and creepy.


I put this flyer out on the web just a few days before the event {it was a last minute decision.}  And I was so impressed at how kind people in town were to share it.  Minot really is hungry for fun things to do…so folks are eager to share and spread the word.

chalk fest

And I think it paid off.  We did have a bigger and younger crowd.  I started with this blank canvas…and if I did it all over again, I’d bring a broom to sweep up the goose poop and dirt before I started drawing.  {I touched a lot of goose poop with my bare hands that night…}  Before the concert I drew in the quote and outlined a few flowers.  When folks arrived, I encouraged them to color in an outline or draw flowers–since that was the theme–but I don’t like to be bossy, so really there were no rules.

side walk chalk mural, minot, ND

I was hoping we’d get more people who stopped in and contributed a flower or two–and some did–but I was just as content with the solid stream of kiddos and teens who stayed and colored with me the whole night.  Some even stayed after the band had packed up and gone home.

side walk chalk mural, minot, ND

In the end, I think it came out pretty well.  Colorful, joyful, summery.  If the earth laughs in flowers, I honestly believe sidewalks smile in chalk.



The Winningham Family {Sneak Peek}

trestle family photos

Hey everybody–it’s time for you to meet the Winningham family.  This is a very special session for me to be showing off to you…because it’s the first session I shot with my beautiful, brand new camera.  Yes, that’s right–it was time for an {early} upgrade.  My other camera took a dive at the very end of Ethan’s session and it turned out to be super expensive to fix.  Bummer.  But–the upside is that I LOVE my new camera.


This sweet family was kind enough to move their session date while we waited for my new model to arrive.  {I’m telling you, they are a great bunch!}  And after the waiting and schedule shifting we ended up with a gorgeous day.  Even the wind and mosquitoes behaved {very unusual} while we shot these fresh family photos.
testle family collage

trestle siblings

I’m super stoked about how these images are turning out–and this is only a small sampling of a few of my favorites.  I’ll be busy the next few days finishing up and getting the whole shabang loaded onto a flash drive.  So–if you are a Winningham, be on the lookout for your photos to arrive in about a week.


If you aren’t a Winningham–keep watching the blog here.  I’ve got two awesome seniors, a wedding, and a quirky group of brothers soon to appear–AND–I’ll finally get around to showing off the progress we are making in the basement.  I know, I know…it’s been far too long since we’ve done a project together.  I’ll show you how our dungeon is shaping up next week.



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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