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I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the end of this month, but I’m here and in one piece and I can think straight again. For those of you who had inquired after Kaweah – my sincerest apologies. I had overlooked giving you all an update. She’s doing fine now. None the worse for wear. I bought her a pillow today and she’s curled up sleeping Nice.

My annual MRI came back clean for breast cancer. We’re almost three years out since the end of my treatments. Awesome sauce. Never take a day for granted. Try to make the most of it. Rarrrrr!

Have you ever gone to a restaurant often enough that you think you know the menu and then one day you notice a dish and wonder “where have you been?” I met up with my friend and fellow local blogger Elana, who so kindly treated me to lunch at The Kitchen on Friday. I usually get the salmon salad or the hazelnut, chevre, and beet salad… but hellooooo! What have we here?

our lunch at the bar

roast duck, frisée, and egg salad (swoooooon)

Deviation from my normal order paid off in spades. What a great new favorite salad to accompany time well spent talking with Elana. We’re both busy girls, but this kind of person-to-person interaction means a lot to me. Call me old-fashioned…

One of my readers sent me a couple of dog collars last week (thank you, Shelley!). Her company Poetic Paws makes them and partners with Best Friends Animal Society to help abused, neglected, and homeless dogs find forever homes. I was originally planning to keep one for Kaweah and donate the other to my local Humane Society in Boulder, but Kaweah didn’t like having a bow around her neck and it took a lot of “No!” and “Leave it!” to get her to stop trying to tear it off. What do you expect from a hillbilly dog? Still, I managed to get her to model one of them (sort of), but I’ll be donating both to pups who really need them.

it’s very sparkly

kaweah succumbs and holds still for a picture

I’ve thought about gifts a lot lately. I neither expect nor want gifts (stuff) and I think it’s a good place for me to be. My “gifts” to loved ones are gestures of love and thanks. The gifts I receive on a daily basis are those things that have no price – life, health, the best partner, loving friends and family, living in a place I love, smiling at strangers as I walk through town.

Several months ago I had collected enough travel soaps, shampoos, and lotions to donate to a women’s shelter. My friend, Erin, volunteers at the local women’s shelter in Boulder, the Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN). She gave me the address of the outreach office where I could drop off those little soaps and bottles. While there, I left my information and said I’d be happy to offer my services – what little they are – to the shelter. There were emails, meetings, forms to sign, logistics to plan, and this past week I was able to provide photo shoots for some of the women who utilize the services that SPAN offers.

My original intent was to provide basic head shots for the women to use professionally. Many of them are in transition, looking for work and trying to find a place to stay. But few of the participants were interested in head shots. What they really wanted were photos of their children.

For someone as OCD as myself, it became clear from the start of the shoot that planning and scheduling was out the window. Some people didn’t show up, others were late, others couldn’t get a ride to the location. That’s the nature of the situation. We did what we could as best we could. I say we because there was no way to do this effort alone. I had the generous help and support of Manisha and Erin. It was so much more than just the technical assistance that they provided – Manisha helped to round up the children and sweet talk the little girls and boys into giving us Just One Smile. Erin explained the privacy contracts (some women could not have their photos shared for their safety) and gave instructions in Spanish. She spoke Spanish to the little ones in such a musical voice that I couldn’t help smiling myself.

Normally I’d give digital copies, but since so many of them don’t have permanent residences let alone computers, it was decided that prints would be better. Pro Photo Rental and Pica’s Boulder have both graciously offered to provide financial support to cover the cost of professional printing for this and future SPAN shoots. I cannot thank these two amazing local businesses enough for their dedication to our community. When I informed the women that I would have prints for them in a couple of weeks, they were all so thankful and excited.

When I shoot, my mind is entirely on the shoot and there is little room in my brain to process much else that is going on around me. So at the end of the day when everyone had their photos taken and I hugged Erin good-bye (Manisha had to leave early, but they tag-teamed), I sat in my car and a flood of thoughts burst into my head. I had gone into this all wrong. It wasn’t about head shots, it was about capturing their children. One woman didn’t want her photo taken at all – just the kids.

I went into this treating it like a job, but felt a lot of emotions when I drove away from the park. This shoot was meant to be my gift to the women at the shelter, but it has in turn become a gift that they have given to me.

41 nibbles at “gifts”

  1. kathy says:

    You have a beautiful spirit.

  2. Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) says:

    What an amazing thing you did, Jen…and in the process, you feel blessed. It’s funny and amazing how many times in giving to others, it actually makes me feel like I am the one getting the gift, too.

  3. Alison says:

    I’ve been a lurker for a year or so… but have to come out to say this brought tears to my eyes! Your photos are always beautiful, but the ones today were just precious. I’m sure the women will treasure them for years to come. Thanks for being you and for providing such a service to women in need. :)

  4. Jess says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this story. Just like Alison, I felt the tears coming on. The most meaningful part to me is that we can’t always predict what will happen when we set out to give. We don’t always know exactly what someone needs. What a powerful life lesson! I’m sure these women will cherish the photos of their children and it will give them strength to carry on through their struggles.

  5. vanillasugarblog says:

    congrats on a clean MRI.
    that is the best feeling in the world.
    wonderful story!

  6. Lisa says:

    What a wonderful thing to do. Thank-you for giving yourself to this.

    I’m glad that your MRI was clean.

  7. Kat says:


  8. Annie says:

    This is a really cool thing to do, Jen. I love how the best gifts you can give to others are often the best things you can give yourself as well.

    I’m thrilled to hear that your MRI was clear. I just passed my 10 year mark this month and could not be happier about it!

  9. SallyBR says:

    First of all, the best news is your third year with a clear MRI… What a wonderful feeling for you and everyone who loves you!

    not enough words to describe how touching this post about the children portraits was. The expression on the kids eyes says it all, I can only imagine the thrill of each Mom. Just wonderful….

  10. Sharon Miro says:

    OH! Your generosity of spirit takes my breath away.

  11. manisha says:

    Thank you for letting me be a part of this wonderful day! Such adorable children and strong women! The pic of the baby would qualify as a self portrait. I think that’s pretty cool on so many fronts! Hugs to you!

  12. Kath says:

    You’ve given me the gift of your friendship, which is priceless. And yay for a clean MRI!

    Love you, Jen! xoxo <3

  13. anandi says:

    Wow, those shots are really lovely, and what a nice, unexpected thing for these women to have after all the hard times they’re going through. This made me weepy. I’m glad there are people like you in the world (and glad to have known you in person, even!) :)

  14. Kimberly says:

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post!

  15. knitopia says:

    URB, how wonderful! And I’m glad to see Pica’s involvement because we eat there on occasion.

  16. Kristin says:

    Congratulations on the clean MRI & Kaweah’s recovery. What a lovely post…and so true. In my experience, I almost always get so much more than I give when I volunteer my time.

  17. Barbara says:

    A beautiful post Jen.

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Jen–what a wonderful way to celebrate your 3 year mark by taking these wonderful photos of the children. Things that we all very much take for granted.

    I enjoy your FB comments and travel with you through your photos. By the way, the Dogwoods bloomed beautifully along the Colonial Parkway.

    Elizabeth (6 years post treatment and with my husband at the Cleveland Clinic)

  19. farmerpam says:

    Those Mom’s will cherish your gift more than you can imagine. Yeah, I have tears in my eyes too. Such a touching post, thanks for sharing.

  20. Cynthe says:

    Sweet tears….tears of sweetness. This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve ever read. Thanks for wrapping up April (my birthday month) in such a lovely way.

  21. Paulette says:

    Jen you are a bright light in the lives of those who know you and read your blog. Inspiration is the word that comes to mind when I read your your posts. Thank you for sharing such a touching post and congrats on your clean MRI, wonderful news. Paulette

  22. Lanette says:

    Magnificent… a perfect tribute!

  23. Yvonne Liu says:

    You are an inspiration.

  24. Jill says:

    It’s beautiful when a gift turns full circle.
    And, Congrats to my survivor sister!

  25. Collette says:

    Lovely post.

  26. Diana Banana says:

    when my parents moved to the states from taiwan, they didn’t have an extra cent to spare, much less any cash for a camera, film or processing. the only photos they have of me from age 3 months to 4 years, and my brother from 4 years to 8 years, are from school pictures, and copies from other family members pictures. one day of shooting, a few bucks of equipment rental, and a bit of extra time for printing will mean a lifetime of memories for these people. what a wonderful way to give back!

  27. Perfecting Pru says:

    Sometimes treating someone else makes it a treat for you. It’s lovely when that happens.

    Congratulations on another clear MRI scan. I am so pleased for you.

  28. Mia says:

    The pictures are beautiful–and so are you, Jen

  29. Linda says:

    Literally…tears. It is amazing from whom we can learn, isnt’ it? …and so happy about the clean MRI. Good people deserve good news.

  30. Nicola Stratford says:

    Delighted about the clear MRI. :-)

  31. Sil says:

    Jen, you are awesome! I’m so glad to know that your MRI came out clean. And glad to know that miss Kaweah is doing great too. Thank you for this beautiful post.

  32. Michelle says:

    Jen, what a great post…what is really neat to me is that I read two blogger regularly and that is you and Elana (I am assuming this is Elana’s Pantry Elana?)…It hadn’t even occurred to me that you were both in Boulder and might even know each other…in some weird way, it is comforting to know you are both friends. You both provide great reading, recipes, and of course your pictures…congrats on your continued good health!

  33. Maria says:

    What a genuine gift. And an inspiration. Your photos are beautiful.

  34. Lori says:

    Lovely Jen. Very lovely.

  35. Barb says:

    Your photos are beautiful! What a generous, lovely gift you have given.

    A great big congratulations on your clean MRI! I cannot tell you how happy I am for you!

  36. Raina says:

    Jen, you are such an amazing person. You are incredibly talented at what you do and you always manage to capture the most beautiful things that words can’t even describe through your photographs. You are an inspiration to me and I am so thankful that you continue to share pieces of your life with us through this blog. Thank you.

  37. Diana says:

    Oh Jen, I love that! I do a lot in my city with the homeless and with women escaping domestic violence. What a brilliant idea to help them out. Think I might give it a try!

  38. Em says:

    Wow Jen, thanks for sharing your gift…and your good news. You’ve just inspired my day.

  39. Lauran says:

    Jen, that was such a wonderful thing to do, and the fact that you felt moved and touched at the end is so magic. It makes me want to do the same in my community.

  40. jenyu says:

    Thanks to all of you for your lovely comments xo And a special yay for all of my readers who are themselves post-treatment.

    Manisha – thank you for being a part of it, my friend. Much love to you, always.

    Anandi – xo :)

    Cynthe – happiest of birthday months to you, hon.

    Mia – thank you, sweetheart.

    Michelle – Elana is a fascinating and wonderful woman, isn’t she? Good to know you have great taste in blogs :) xo

    Raina – you are too kind, really.

    Em – xo

  41. Laurel says:

    I have a backlog of posts in my RSS reader so I didn’t get to this one until now. It was so touching I’m glad I read it. As a parent, photos of my kids are some of the closest things to my heart (they grow so fast, as everyone says). Not everyone would be able to hear and understand that these women wanted something different from you than you’d originally planned to give–that’s real gift-giving. Thank you for giving them both the photos (these will be so, so precious to the recipients) and your understanding. Good on you. I hope you get to do this again, and if you do I’d love to see the photos.

    Also very happy to read about your clear MRI.

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