Erika Ray Photography » blog

My mind has been a little preoccupied.  Between epic births, Orlando Bloom’s dick pic (yeah I went there), the Final Five, Lochte’s appalling behavior, new Howard Stern, and finally toss in Back to School jitters I haven’t paying attention to the big things.  The important things…

It’s time to give again.  Time to help out our “neighbors” in Louisiana.

  • I tend to quilt because I get an itch:
    “Maybe someone will have a girl?”  They never do…
  • “I love this fabric!”  I always do…
  • “I should probably sew through my stash.” And I do with no plan.

So I’ve got a tiny quilt surplus which should benefit someone.  How about you?  Need a gift?  Want a pretty quilt to let your kids picnic on?  Need a prop for your photography?  Wanna to do some good?!

I knew you did.  You’re good Folks.

This lovely number measures 38 x 38.  Perfect for all of the above.  I don’t usually find quilts snuggly.  Babies usually adore fleece.  I get it, Kids Fleece over homemade…  But this one is backed with flannel, so it helps add some coziness.

Let’s hold another auction!  You could get this beauty for dirt cheap and you will absolutely help out families affected by the floods.  All proceeds will go to Red Cross.

Send a bid to my email (erika@erikarayphotography.com) or a message via Erika Ray Photography on Facebook.  As often as I can, I’ll update the current highest bid on FB (so if you haven’t Liked and/or Following the page, get on it!).
Highest bid on Tuesday (8/23) at noon EST will win all this patchwork goodness!

I’ll accept Paypal.  But if you have another suggestion, I won’t turn away money for the Red Cross.

Alright Ladies and Gents… 
Can I get $5?

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Early in my career, I photographed Staci’s first birth and it’s still my longest one.  It’s also the birth that really showed me how strong a woman can be.  It was over 27 hours and she pushed longer and harder than I could imagine was possible.  You can’t blame her for wanting a different birth for her second.  I spent lots of time telling her, “It won’t be like your first birth.  It will be faster.  I promise.”  What the hell do I know?!  Ballsy words, Erika…  But I figured if I said it enough, it might come true.

Thank God, I was right or she may have killed me.

Staci’s water broke and because she had been 7 cm for a couple of days, she immediately went to the hospital.  She was laughing during the check-in and still able to talk through the contractions.  She took a walk and then tried to sleep.  The nurses told me, “We’re all shocked she’s walking around.”  I wasn’t.  It’s Staci.

She closed her eyes and 8 minutes later she was in active labor.  There was no slow climb or lengthy labor.  It was fast and intense.  Staci was raw and powerful once again.  She was ready to meet her second son and he wasn’t going to wait 27 hours.  40 minutes later she pushed three times and Oliver was in her arms.

She told me later that natural birth is traumatic.  “I don’t remember saying things or doing things.  I don’t really remember him on my chest right after.  It just feels traumatic” * I completely agree.  I think your mind shuts down and prepares you to handle the pain.

She might not vividly remember Oliver’s birth, so here’s what I want her to see in her photos:

She doesn’t do anything in life half-assed.  She does it passionately and goes all in.  She is strong physically and mentally.  When she leaned on her husband, he held her up and gave her more strength to continue.  When her body told her to push, she listened.  And when her son was born, she didn’t take a break.  She reached for him and never let go.  The love was fierce and immediate.  She was yet again breathtaking and magnificent.

“Repeat Client” sounds too clinical for birth work.  A woman lets you see her during her most vulnerable moment.  She cries in pain.  You see her naked and sometimes shaken.  Her family accepts you, feeds you and makes you comfortable.  You’re forever linked to one of her best moments.  But most important, she allows you to see her true core.  Then she calls for a second time.  “You want to see all that again?”**  Oh I do, Lady.  You aren’t a “Repeat Client”.  You’re a friend.

Congrats, My Friend.

Welcome to the Boy Mom club!  We’re a feisty group of ladies.  You’ll fit right in.

*I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point.  I’m sure there were a few explicit words tossed in.  It’s one reasons we get along.

** Not even close to Staci’s text.  It was hilarious and crafted with colorful words…
***  Are you in Columbus?  Visit Staci’s studio Bluespot Yoga.  Witness how strong and powerful Staci is outside of labor and delivery.  Someday I’ll write a post about how yoga has changed my life.  It deserves a post, but I can’t seem to get the words right.  For now, I’ll let her video speak.

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  • Lauren Kamenitz - beautiful erika! my favorite moment from post-births is always the one where mom places her hand on her belly like she’s grown accustomed to for 10 months, but the baby is right next to her now! it’s a beautiful message you wrote to moms!August 15, 2016 – 1:03 pmReplyCancel

A month ago, the news was difficult to watch and yet I couldn’t turn it off.  Every day I’d say, “That’s the worst thing to happen!”  And then within a couple days, I was saying “I guess it can get worse…”  The news was full of unthinkable violence and hate speak easily rattled off of tongues.  All of this was peppered between stories of political absurdities.  My children were asking difficult questions and I had to deliver difficult answers.  My faith in humanity was being questioned.

But then one beautiful Saturday morning, I got the call that Liv was in labor.

The house had that new baby buzz.   Liv was in labor, but still able to talk and laugh.  Her wife Julia was helping by providing popsicles, juice, and changing the music at Liv’s request.  Midwives were setting up and I was getting ready to capture a very special birth.

All births have their own special vibe: first baby, first girl, all boys, good friend, surprise baby… This one was no different.  Julia and Liv were helping Hyun and Wessel start a family.

Liv’s labor progressed quickly.  The room started to fill with the fact that a baby was coming.  Wessel and Hyun were at the edge of the pool eager to meet their son.  Julia comforted Liv during her most difficult contractions.  I caught Wessel’s face and I knew that he had seen the first glimpse of his son.  Minutes later, he was helping the midwife catch his son.  Soon after with Julia and Liv on the couch, Hyun and Wessel were holding their son, Junhee.  A family was born.

During that afternoon I was reminded that selfless kindness and pure love is our true humanity. And very quickly, my faith was restored and won’t be shaken again.  Every day there are acts of love being put back into the world and those will grow into even greater acts of Love.  I’m grateful that I was able to watch one of those acts grow.

The world always needs more love.  And that’s just what it got one beautiful Saturday morning.

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*Junhee decided to two drop poos during a photo…  The kid’s got his timing down.  

I have no doubt he’s going to be hilarious.

Midwives: C.H.O.I.C.E.

  • Val Ely - Wow, Erika. I am speechless. What a complete and utterly gut-wrenching display of selfless love. You documented their story beautifully. Thanks for sharing it. I feel weepy now.August 10, 2016 – 10:28 amReplyCancel

    • Erika - Thank you. It truly was an honor to document both days.August 10, 2016 – 5:46 pmReplyCancel

  • Pam Sherratt - This made me cry! Such a wonderful, wonderful story. What a great life that little boy will have.August 11, 2016 – 7:22 pmReplyCancel

Let’s look at some Ray Standards for the Instant Pot. I rarely cook the same thing twice.  But these have been made at least twice and have been well received by adults and two kids.

Weeknight Spaghetti ::  As the title suggests, a nice weeknight meal.  Plus a good use for a pesky half pound of ground beef.  I didn’t think it’d be enough meat, but it was exactly the right amount.  I really enjoy pasta in the Instant Pot.  Not only does it become a No-Watch meal, but if cooked correctly it turns the pasta into plumpier (is that a word? screw it…) bits of goodness.  It also uses some of the fish sauce you bought for one recipe a month ago…  If you don’t have any, you could leave it out with decent results.

Mall Food at Home (aka Bourbon Chicken) Mark stops EVERY. SINGLE. time someone is waving a tiny piece of Bourbon Chicken on a toothpick.  Plus always goes back for seconds and doesn’t care if the employee recognizes him.  So I was really hopeful for this recipe.  Fine there’s no actual bourbon in it (name comes from the flavors…), I got over this fact long enough to try it.  I love chicken thighs.  I believe they kick Chicken Breasts’ ass..  Why?  They’re much cheaper, they have more flavor and do so much better in the Instant Pot than chicken breast.  But I thought the cooking time was a little long on this recipe.  So I adjusted the cooking time to 5 minutes, Natural Release for 5 minutes, and then Quick Release.  Check for doneness.  If not fully cooked, put it back on for another minute.  Serve with white rice.

Healthy Good Mornings  Before the Instant Pot, I had never tried Steel Cuts oats because of the cooking time.  Who’s got time for that shit in the morning?!  So I really wanted to try the sped up Instant Pot version.  But I struggled finding a good steel cut oats recipes.  Every one I tried didn’t taste good. Maybe this was how steel cut oats actually tasted…  I wasn’t ready to give up.  I stumbled on this one and the cup in pot method made a huge difference.  Another plus?  This recipe is a really good use of the timer function.  Set it up the night before and wake up to a warm healthy breakfast!

Pulled Pork with a Twist  I buy our pork butt from Costco.  Which means I buy about 12-16 pounds at a time.  I wrap them in smaller portions, shove them in the freezer and wait for a large hungry crowd.  This recipe was a hit.  I think in large part due to its non-traditional pulled pork flavors.  If mid summer has got you sick of normal BBQ-y pulled pork, try this one!  Don’t forget the slaw.  If you need to speed up the cooking time, cut the butt into smaller pieces.  4 big pieces will probably only take 50 minutes.  Always test if you can shred the pork easily with a fork.  If you can, try shredding it in your mixer!  Faster and way more fun.  Edit:  I’ve seen a few forum comments mention that the fat in pork butt makes it mushy when you use a mixer to shred it.  I thought mine was mushy ONLY because I added too much of the reserved liquid.  Maybe it was my mixer as the first time it was perfect, but I used forks that time.  I will say that the mixer works perfectly for shredded chicken.

Best yogurt tutorial  I go through phases with yogurt.  I really wish I loved it.  Mark also went through a longer phase with yogurt, so his phase indulged my Instant Pot curiosity phase.  This recipe was also approved by his co-workers.  It makes enough to share if you live in a house with people who go through yogurt phases…  One note: yogurt takes a long time to make.  I’m still trying to find the best time to start it…  I always use a half gallon of milk and a heaping tablespoon of Greek yogurt.

How about I share my favorite Mac n’ Cheese recipe?  Who doesn’t love a good Mac n’ Cheese?  It’s a handy back pocket recipe!  Little ones coming over?  Mac n’ Cheese!  A dish for a new neighbor?  Mac n’ Cheese!  Need something to make you feel cozy?  Mac n’ Cheese!  (Fine… Unless you can’t eat dairy, then it’s your enemy and I feel sorry for you)

Healthy-ish Mac n’ Cheese

adapted from “The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook”

serves 6

  • 1 lb. uncooked whole-wheat macaroni (or regular. whatever is leftover in your pantry.  but whole wheat pasta cooks beautifully in the IP.  I never could get the right balance on my stove.)
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 t. yellow mustard
  • 1 T. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t ground black pepper
  • 4 C. water
  • 1 (12 oz.) can of evaporated milk
  • 10 oz. of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 8 oz. of shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 oz. of Parmesan cheese

Note on cheese…  I’ve made this using the exact cheeses and the exact amounts.  I’ve made this with a little less and I’ve made this with Colby, mozzarella, and just a handful of Parm.  Get crazy, Folks.  The world is yours!

  1. Fill the instant pot to the 4 cup line and set to Saute.  Add butter, pasta, mustard, salt and pepper.  Give it a quick stir.  Secure the lid.
  2. Select Manual and cook at high pressure for half the time as the lowest cooking time minus one minute (A good point for ALL pasta dishes).  I do 4 minutes for regular macaroni.
  3. When finished cooking, release pressure by turning the valve.  A towel over the valve is helpful because sometimes pasta water spurts out…
  4. Check pasta.  If not tender, cook for another 2-3 minutes on Saute.
  5. If done, select Saute (I always forget that I have to hit Cancel before I hit Saute).  Add evaporated milk.  Stir well and then add cheeses by the handful.  Stir until melted.  Add another handful.  Continue until you’ve got a creamy ooey-gooey masterpiece…

And now the world is yours again!  Pour it in a 9×13 pan.  Add butter and breadcrumbs.  Broil until golden.

OR let it cool in the pan.  Put in fridge until later.  Pull it out and bring to room temp.  Bake in a 400 degree oven until warmed about 30 minutes.

I promise to share hits with you.  I’m testing a new baked beans recipe this weekend.  Bourbon and orange flavors…  If it works out and y’all will be the first to hear about it.  I like standards and what’s more standard than a solid baked bean recipe for the Summer?

I did not include my family’s all-time favorite recipe.  Not because I’m selfish, but because I tweak it a bit and I really want to include pictures.  I want to nail this one for y’all.

IP low-country seafood boil

I’m aware that this picture has nothing to do with these recipes, but what’s a blog post without a picture?  

It’s shit that’s what!  

But it’s a good reference for what can fit in one pot.  See that big bowl on the left?  All inside one pot.  The 6 quart makes a good amount of food, Folks.  I used two Instant Pots to make two servings of a Low-Country Seafood Boil (his rib recipes are really tasty).  If you look really close, you’ll see a Mac n’ Cheese in the background.

Repost from June 1 2011

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_DSC5167I have a hard time looking at these photos.

As a photographer, I’ll hate how I processed them.  But I processed them as quickly as I could so I wouldn’t have to look at them.  I’m a cry baby, so I’m sure I was editing through tears.

As a mother, I hate how the pain is visible on his face.  He never looked at me in any of the photos.  And his normal easy smile was nowhere to be found.  I hate that I can remember him clutching my leg while we walked to his class.  I hate how it reminds me that for about two weeks I had to watch him almost get sick before leaving the house.  Experienced and seasoned Moms told me to be patient.  I knew they were right, but patience and pain are an evil concoction to swallow daily.

And then one a random day, he stopped half-way to the main door and said “I can do it from here”.  I was stunned.  Just the day before, I had to walk him all the way to his classroom.  I practically had to push him into the room.  But on that day, two weeks into Kindergarten, he ran from me.

And he never stopped running.  But he’d always look back and wave at least three times.  If we drove with Becks, he’d ask for me to roll the back window down so he could say good-bye.  He’d blow kisses to both of us and run for the door.  Even on the playground he never stood by the fence which butts up against our yard.  I thought maybe once he was looking for the dog, but he was looking for a basketball that got lost.  He was always running on the playground, never looking for us.

This is the start of him running from us.  In Kindergarten, he was cute doing it.  As he gets older, I realize it won’t be so precious.  Sometimes he’ll be running because he’s angry, testing, or sick of our lectures.  But I’ll always remember they way he ran as a 5 year-old.  His book bag was a little too big and the straps were usually twisted.  He’d run for a couple feet, stop, look back, and wave.  Repeat three times.  Struggle with the heavy door and disappear into a life without me.  A couple hours later he emerged stronger, smarter and more confident.

Keep running, kid.  I’ll be here if you get tired.

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Last day of Kindergarten photo

Photography gave me something which was a Gateway to a bigger key.

Photography was an adult first: an instant satisfaction. A reminder that I was good at Something.

Growing up, drawing did that. I was good at something simply to be good at it.  It gave me joy for the sake of being joyful.  Nothing else.  But as a semi-adult, I understood that drawing well doesn’t pay the bills. So I let it go and considered it foolish. Especially when you think about the future of paying half the bills and/or have children to raise.  I thought I’d be financially “smart” about my Future (nutty and misguided).   Any “talent” felt silly unless it helped monetarily. I think a lot of people do that as adults.  Moments to get lost in joy are replaced with laundry, spreadsheets, taxes, cleaning sauce off faces.  All are necessary, but so is finding time for Something more.

Photography reminded me: I’m better than most at something. Something! That Something made me work hard to get better at it. To explore. To push all other needs out of the way. To grow with photography. To pursue something that was considered “fun” and not something that would greatly impact the family. It felt selfish. And nonimportant. But I ignored those feelings. I got selfish for my Something.  And that selfishness made me better not just with Photography, but with all aspects of life.

Finding one Something is life changing if you get outta your way. You only need one Something, but other Somethings will follow.

It’s a shame more people can’t realize that Something can literally be anything if we let it. Maybe it’s an interest in: cooking, preserving, sewing, small talk, kindness, party planning, handwriting, dressing, volunteering, yoga, computer fixing, movie watching, walking, or cussing. Everyone has a Something.  I encourage you to find yours and own it. Why?

Photography re-gave me the adolescent confidence people quickly forget or deem foolishly unnecessary. And with that confidence came a reminder…

You do something because you need to do it. Not because you want to do it. But you NEED to do it. So you squeeze it in at all costs. You don’t lists reasons to not do it. You don’t apologize for doing it. It becomes part of the deal. It’s not about financially supporting you. It’s about being you. Not the Sister, Mother, Brother, Father, Friend you. It’s simply about being the true You. When all else is stripped away, your Something is you. No one can take it once you’ve found and accepted it. No one.

Ignore accepting it and you’ll become sick. Lost. Confused. Stale. Everything suffers. People become distant and you will wither from the weight of ignorance. You’ll shuffle through life. You might idolize and hate those that have their Somethings, but you’ll still fight yours. Because that seems easier. But it’s futile.

So listen now… It really isn’t negotiable.

You can’t fuck with your soul.
So don’t. Quit trying.
Give in and don’t apologize.
Quit fighting your Something.
Embrace your Something.
And let the rest of life fall in line.

Once you accept it, your life isn’t unicorns shitting rainbows. What it means is that you’ve accepted your Something as a true North. When all else fails (and it will), you’ve got a confident You to correct the course.

So quit fucking around. It’s the weekend. Do it now. Embrace your Something. Be You.

20160505-_ELR5651* Why Erika would you post a blurry photo?  

Easy, Folks…  I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again.
Just because you find your Something doesn’t mean life is easier.  Shit happens.  But if you find your Something, your You, it’s always there.  You might not see it clearly, but your Unicorn is hanging out ready to help guide you through the muck of Life…

Plus all the other photos Coop took weren’t flattering of my ass.  

Another Something of mine?  Believing my own crap.

  • gkgirl - love love love this!May 13, 2016 – 6:54 pmReplyCancel

  • Arlene Giddings - love love love this.May 13, 2016 – 10:53 pmReplyCancel