Create Perfect Panoramas with Your Camera

Panoramas are really something to behold. A panorama is a large image that is mostly used in landscape photography.

Most everyone who owns a smartphone has played with the panorama feature using the camera application built into their phone’s software.

The concept is to take your phone and move it horizontally along the course of an area and the phone will take an image of the area that you shoot. This image is one long image that is technically multiple images stitched together to create one image that is a lot wider than what just one shot could accomplish on its own.

Panoramas have existed for far longer than our phone’s ability to shoot them.

Creating a panorama using your phone is easy because the device walks you through each step and basically does all of the work for you; wonderful technology.

The technology is good, but it can be a touch limited as far as image quality goes — and as many of you know, image quality is a high priority of mine. The downside to using a phone is that the image sensor doesn’t have the pixel density of higher quality cameras, and sometimes the images can be stitched together improperly which can create a whole course of trial and error re-shoots that can be annoying.

So, the focus of this post will be on shooting panoramas with a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera.

The same concept applies when shooting with a DSLR as when shooting a panorama with your phone; you’ll be taking several images in a row, one right next to the other for as long as you want the image to be.

This requires some planning. You’ll need to decide where to begin the image and end, what lens to use for the shots and you’ll need to use some imagination as to how the final image should look. The one downside to shooting panoramas with a DSLR is that you won’t see the final image until you get the images back on the computer at home (or on the go if you have a laptop).

When I shoot these kinds of images, I generally tend to shoot between three and four images to create the final image. However, that’s due to my using a very wide lens — if you’re using a lens that is longer than 24mm wide you’ll probably need more than just four images to create a decent panorama, and that’s OK; whatever works.

To successfully shoot the series of images that will make the panorama, you’ll need to keep parts of the previous image in the frame in order for the image to stitch together properly and to decrease any image distortion the lens may introduce. If you look at the four individual images attached to this post, you’ll notice they all share many of the same structures as the previous shot.

The panoramas I put together come together nicely nearly 100 percent of the time and that is largely due to shooting the individual images properly the first time around.

 

Once Photoshop is finished stitching together your images into a panorama, you’ll want to zoom in and scour the areas where the images merged together to make sure that there are not any lines from buildings intersecting in strange ways.

A good example would be a panorama of a skyscraper. Say you have one image with part of the skyscraper in it, and the next image in the lineup has the other half… but not quite enough of the skyscraper to line up properly. Suddenly, Photoshop doesn’t know what to do with the images and your image has windows that are misaligned and deformed; not good.

That’s why making sure you shoot your images properly the first time is key to making this process work.

One thing to also keep in mind is moving subjects. You’ll notice that there were some people in the panorama I have attached to this article. I had to shoot my images quickly so the people didn’t end up moving too far before the next shot was taken.

If a person moves from one shot to another, chances are you can have two sets of the person in the same panorama, which creates a headache in post processing.

Once you have your images, the magic happens. Take your images to the computer and use Photoshop’s photomerge option to stitch the images together. Much like your phone, Photoshop can (brilliantly) stitch together the images you’ve taken with great accuracy.

After Photoshop has merged your images together, you’ll need to do some cropping to get rid of some of the jagged edges of where the photos jut out in odd places, but after you do that your image is complete.

Panoramas are a fantastic way to show a large area in a single image without needing the use of a wide angle lens.

Recent technology allows for us to create these kinds of images on our mobile devices, and that’s simply awesome, but if you want to create a high quality image worthy of a large print size, stick with a DSLR set up.

You won’t regret it.


Justin McKee is a photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.

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5 Easy Ways to Bond with Your Significant Other

While gifts, dates, and elaborate shows of love are always great ideas, this Valentine’s Day I decided to do something a little different for a post.

Who doesn’t want a better, more connected, and meaningful relationship with their significant other? I’d be willing to bet most would like that more than anything money can buy. So I created a list of ideas on how to better bond with your loved one, no matter if you’re in a new relationship, have been serious for a few years, or are in any stage of marriage!

And I’m happy to report that these suggestions have worked to improve my own connection with my husband! Without further ado, let me introduce my favorite easy ways to bond with your significant other. The first may be the most valuable.

Unplug

In this day and age, we are connected to our mobile devices 24/7. It’s easy for the hours to waste away while on your phone or tablet. And don’t get me started on the notifications that seem to pop up every minute that call for your attention, interrupting what could be a meaningful moment with your partner!

Constantly looking at a screen caused an issue in my relationship with my husband before we were married, so we agreed on a rule. While we’re out to dinner, participating in an activity, or watching one of our favorite shows or movies at home, we put the phone away completely or not touch it if it’s beside us until the event is over. Sometimes there are moments where we need to check something, but we keep the time on our device as brief as possible.

This rule has really helped us feel more connected to each other and appreciate date nights more than before!

Play Games

Whether it’s old-school board games or those involving cards, choosing a simpler past-time for an activity can bring our your inner child and form memories that last you throughout your relationship. Play them at the kitchen table, on the living room floor, or snag some travel size versions to take with you to the park. Friendly competition is fun!

Justin and I enjoy Uno and Battleship most, but if we have more people to play with we’ll go for Cards Against Humanity or Dutch Blitz.

Cook Together

If the way to the heart is through the stomach, this is the perfect way to bond with your significant other! Even if it’s not an elaborate meal where a lot of prep is involved, split the steps between the two of you and work together to create a delicious dinner. I typically will chop ingredients or take care of pasta, while Justin takes care of browning and searing meat, or draining heavy pots.

This also gives both of you the opportunity to teach the other new cooking techniques, recipes, or how to use certain appliances. And I personally believe the food made together tastes better than any takeout option.

Try Something New

There’s no way some sort of bond wouldn’t happen when you both do something completely new! Sharing a first experience will bring you closer, because you associate that one thing to the other person. It’s exclusive to the two of you, and therefore can be something special you can keep within your relationship if it turns out you both enjoy the activity!

Here are some specific ideas: attend a symphony, travel to a location neither of you has explored before, visit a local museum or art gallery, volunteer for a charity you both care about, or go camping.

Hold Hands

This is probably the easiest option of my list, because you can do it whenever you’re together! Taking your significant other’s hand makes you feel close and connected more than just physically. That emotion of love happens immediately, and travels up your arm and into your heart.

This sort of touch can provide a sense of calm, assurance, joy, safety, peace, and comfort. It can even conjure the phrases “it’s okay,” and “I forgive you” after an argument. This type of innocent, physical touch can begin a bond and strengthen it.

I hope you liked my little list! I encourage you to try this out with your loved one — not just on Valentine’s Day, but throughout the year — and watch as that unspeakable connection grows!

—K

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Sighs & Smiles — The Ups and Downs of January

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these posts! Let’s just get right to it and not waste time.

Sighs

  • I’ve been dealing with an uncomfortable side effect from my 2016 surgery more in the past couple of months than ever before. You see, the area where they resected my small bowl has become dilated to a size that’s closer to my colon. Because of this, I tend to easily become bloated regardless of what I eat or drink. Every afternoon and through the evening, my abdomen becomes distended. It seriously looks like I’m pregnant, and it’s not pleasant. Hopefully it’s one of the things that Mayo Clinic surgeons can fix (more on that in a minute).
  • January was so long and tedious! I feel like it has lasted forever. I’m so glad it’s done! Anyone else have the same thought?
  • Bills. Especially heating bills. DTE is filled with crooks. I don’t believe for one second Justin and I used so much electricity in one month for an 800 sq. ft. apartment to get the type of bill we received. Ridiculous.
  • Justin’s grandma on his dad’s side passed away earlier in the month. I had only met her once, right before the wedding, and I’m glad I was able to before she left this Earth.

Smiles

  • I’m listing the upcoming Mayo trip happening at the end of February under smiles because I’m hoping the outcome will result in a better quality of life. Right now, I have a couple of tests and a consult on the itinerary, with potential surgery on March 1. Surgery is daunting and always something to take seriously, but I need it to fix the ongoing fistula and hopefully resect that dilated section of bowel. If they notice any sign of that pelvic mass I had back in September, they’ll remove that, too. Recovery is going to suck, since they have to cut me open, but I’m hoping I won’t be out of commission for too long. I’ll be posting regularly on the trip, so make sure you follow me on my Instagram account!
  • Justin and I took a spontaneous driving day to search for snowy owls we knew were nesting near where some of my relatives live in Michigan’s Thumb. We actually saw two of them, and they were so chill. They allowed us to take many photos, some up close. I love owls! We did see a couple of bald eagles as well, but they were too far away to photograph with the lenses we had. But we still considered it successful, and we’re going to try and search for more wildlife this weekend.
  • If you missed my last post, I started my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge, and I’m already excited to get into some new series! Books are seriously the best.

What have been your sighs and smiles for January?

—K

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Challenge Yourself with Goodreads in 2018

You didn’t think I forgot a post about the 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge, did you? Nah, it’s been in my mind throughout this entire month but I’ve had other things I wanted to share first!

Each year, the website Goodreads offers a reading challenge to its users for fun and to help encourage them to read more and discover new genres or books. For 2018, I’ve pledged to read 21 books, which is only one more than last year’s completed goal, but I didn’t want to overwhelm myself.

I’ve already read two books and have started my third, so I’m making good progress! I think in the next week or two I will reserve some novels from the library so I have them when I need them.

I’m looking forward to some new books to love, and can’t wait to dive headfirst into series I’ve heard so much about. I have to say quite a few of novels on my to-read list are coming from my friend Jashana, who is active in the book community on YouTube and reads way more books each month than I can fathom.

Here’s some of the books I’d love to read this year:

  • Love & Gelato — Jenna Evans Welch
  • A Shiver of Snow and Sky — Lisa Lueddecke
  • A Wrinkle in Time — Madeline L’Engle
  • As I Darken — Kiersten White (and the others in the series if I like this first book)
  • Bonfire — Krysten Ritter
  • The Screwtape Letters — CS Lewis

And here’s some to-read ideas if you need them:

  • The Lunar Chronicles — Marissa Meyer
  • The Night Circus — Erin Morgenstern
  • In Stitches — Dr. Anthony Youn
  • Lying — Lauren Slater
  • Creature — John Saul
  • Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience — William Blake

And with that, I’d like to present my video book review on the 2nd and last book I completed for this challenge: Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks. Did I enjoy it? Did I hate it? Find out by watching below!

And if you missed the review of the first book I read in 2018, go here! I plan on attempting to film short video book reviews for each book I complete this year as a new way to make this challenge interesting!

Want to connect with me on Goodreads? Click here and add me as a friend, then join the challenge! Give me your recommendations on what I should dive into this year!

—K

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Creamy Chicken & Rice — Customizable Comfort Food

Using a slow cooker and rice cooker — my two favorite small appliances — this weekend, I created a dish I hadn’t made before. I’m not a great cook by any means, but fortunately it was simple and turned out well enough that I thought I’d blog about it. Because don’t we all need more recipes?

I know I do. Especially since my husband’s definition of cooking is making ramen noodles (love you, honey!) with some awful smelling chili oil. Since red meat is usually on the more expensive side, we stick with chicken a lot, and I love pairing chicken with rice — my most-loved carb.

This recipe is based off one I found while browsing Pinterest, but it’s easily able to be customized to your tastes. I did a little bit of that, but since it was my first time making this dish I stuck to the original pretty closely.

Here’s the recipe for Creamy Chicken and Rice:


Ingredients

  • 1 package chicken tenders cooked and shredded
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar or colby-jack cheese
  • 2 cups uncooked rice (this yields about 4 cups cooked rice)
  • 2 1/4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Up to 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Melt butter in large pot on stovetop
  • Add minced garlic and whisk for about a minute, then whisk in salt, pepper, and flour
  • Add chicken stock and bring the mixture to nearly boiling, whisking continuously, then stir in 2 cups of cheese until melted
  • Stir in shredded chicken and cooked rice, then transfer everything to a 9×13 baking dish. Top with breadcrumbs and the remaining cup of cheese, then bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and the breadcrumbs have browned

There’s no way to make dinner item look pretty, but it sure tastes good!

This was a filling, comforting meal, but Justin and I both admit it was missing something. He suggested taco seasoning, and I think we’ll try that next time. Steamed veggies also would go well in this dish or as a side!

And to be honest, I don’t think I’ll add the oven step next time either. Baking it made it a bit more solid, and I would prefer it less so. Obviously, if you do that, remove the bread crumbs from the equation.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and possibly try the recipe! Buon appetito!

—K

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5 Things I Love Today — Jan. 18th, 2018

Hello lovelies! It’s time for another edition of “Things I Love Today!”

Most of these things revolve around two topics: eating and staying warm, because there’s not much else to do when you’re facing frigid temperatures, ice, and snow day in and day out. Needless to say, I’m over it. I want warmth, sunshine, and green trees again.

Without further delay, here’s today’s list!

Our Electric Blanket

I’m taking credit for this one, since I suggested an electric blanket as a Christmas gift when my mother-in-law asked for ideas for her son. Honestly, it’s been a luxury neither of us take for granted, as we try and keep the heat down to save money, yet deal with freezing floors and drafty door cracks. It’s been used every single day since it’s been in our possession. I highly recommend getting one if you’re in colder climates!

My Mug Collection

There have been times I’ve wondered if I have too many mugs, but this winter I’ve proved that’s not possible. Between my husband and I, we’re using an average of one a day between the teas, cider, and cocoa we’re whipping up to help us combat our chilly apartment. I think there’s about 8-10 mugs in my cabinet, one large enough to eat soup out of, and one as tall as a tumbler! Combine it with that electric blanket I just mentioned, and well, you’re in for a cozy night.

Tim Horton’s

Depending on the area in which you live, you may not know the glory that is this Canadian eatery chain that sells delicious breakfast and lunch items. I’m not sure if they’re most famous for their Iced Caps (short for Cappuchino) or Tim Bits (their cute name for doughnut holes), but I’m partial to the bacon, egg, and cheese croissant sandwich. I eat one at least once a week, so does that count as addiction? Either way, I need the protein and calories, and it’s perfect for picking up on my way to work. The bagels are a favorite as well. I love you, Timmy Ho’s!

Kohl’s Cash

This is pretty self explanatory. Spend money at Kohl’s stores, get money back! Due to the purchase of a new bed set, I had about $40 to use, and there’s nothing quite like shopping for “free.” I had one specific thing in mind (see the next paragraph!), but didn’t realize it was going to be so inexpensive, so I was able to take my time and ponder what else was needed. After looking and debating for about an hour, I decided to go the cute route and purchase a few adorable clothing items for Hannah, my best friend’s daughter. Seriously, though, I hope Kohl’s never gets rid of this awesome perk!

My New Rice Cooker

This is what I purchased first with the Kohl’s Cash! My rice cooker was my 2nd favorite kitchen appliance (nothing beats my slow cooker), but it had died sometime between the last time I used it and when I unsuccessfully tried to use it for dinner about a week ago. I am the WORST at cooking rice, so this gadget was something I wasn’t going to go without for long. I purchased one — on sale — from Hamilton Beach, and it also has the option to steam food while the rice cooks. I plan on using it for the first time this weekend and can’t wait to test it out.

I hope you enjoyed my list! What are YOU loving right now?

—K

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Get Creative with Crayons

Guest post by Justin McKee

We’re revisiting our childhoods this post by playing around with crayons, and incorporating our privileges as adults to mess with heat to melt them.

I did this project a few years ago just for fun and I thought it’d be nice to revisit it — especially now that I can write about it.

The crayon thing is cool, but you might be asking: “how does this apply to photography?”
I’ll get to that in a moment.

First thing’s first: get some crayons!

I chose to get a big roll of paper and used painter’s tape to attach it to a wall on a slight angle. From there, I lined up the crayons, taped them together securely and then attached them to the top of the paper.

Remember, we’re going to be melting these, so make sure you have a lot of paper for the wax to drip off of.

I do NOT recommend using a hair dryer. I started out with one for this post to show how badly the effects of it can be. You’ll notice in the pictures the wax went in every direction but down when I used the hair dryer (even when I pointed the dryer straight down).

So, pro-tip: Don’t do that.

Alternatively, I tried a curling iron; that didn’t work at all. There simply isn’t enough heat.
In the end I opted to use a candle lighter (one of the long ones). I held the flame well away from the crayons to make sure that no fires broke out — you have to be smart here if you decide to use fire. It’ll take longer to melt the wax, but at least your house will still be standing at the end of the night.

From there, I simply let the crayons melt and drip down on the paper.

OK, here’s where the photography part of the post comes into play.

Look for different angles to shoot this unique subject. That’s the challenge.

I tried different angles, apertures, focal lengths and more before I was satisfied with the three shots attached to this post.

I used a number of lenses ranging from a 16-35mm f/2.8 to a 70-200mm f/2.8.

The best part of this project is that you can take your time with it. Once the wax dries in its drippy form, you’ve got all the time in the world to shoot.

I used a single source of light that was adjacent from the wall and I made sure the light was very close to the crayons so there was as much light as possible. Making sure the light is closer lets you use apertures as wide as f/2.8 and as closed down as f/14 if you want to play with depth of field.

If you decide to try this project, be sure to be safe and have fun! It’s a unique blend of crafts and photography that is simply a blast to play around with.


Justin McKee is a photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.

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Using Light to Prevent Signs of Aging

I’ll be straight with you.

In my teens and early 20s, I didn’t really use sunscreen. It was trendy to be tan, so I’d forgo the protection and allow myself to burn slightly, so after it faded I was left with a subtle, yet sun-kissed glow. In my mid 20s, I typically put it on at the start of an outing at the beach or fishing excursion, but neglected to reapply it. I didn’t use it every day, until I found a tinted moisturizer with SPF in my late 20s.

Now I wish I had been wiser. After some small freckles appeared on my face and larger ones developed on my shoulder after the most severe sunburn of my life a few years ago, I worried more damage had been done underneath the superficial layer of my skin, and would appear later in life in the form of ugly age spots or sun spots.

Little did I know you could correct this problem!

It happens with a skin treatment called IPL, or Intense Pulse Light, and the procedure uses a spectrum of light that targets brown and red spots to give you a more even and brighter skin tone. The light brings those spots to the surface to the skin, (called peppering) where they eventually slough off throughout the new few days.

Individuals typically receive five treatments in total, one every five months, and they take about 30-45 minutes to complete.

Before I made the choice to undergo IPL, I had my skin analyzed using a VISIA Complexion Analysis. This machine, which is available in the office which I worked, takes a deeper look at your skin on different levels. It’ll show you pigmentation, texture, pore size, wrinkles, oily areas, and more. It’s an incredible device! In my case, it showed me I indeed had high percentages of brown and red pigmentation lying under my skin.

That’s a look at my results from the VISIA! The left side was taken in May of 2017, before I started using any type of professional skin care products or underwent any sort of micropeel, and the right side is from November 2017, right before my first IPL treatment. The higher the number, the better. Obviously you can see there was some difference from just the products and monthly micropeels, so I’m excited how much better my numbers will be for brown and red spots after my five IPL treatments are complete!

So I decided to get my face and shoulder treated, and I wanted to share my experience!

After cleansing my face, my aesthetician protected my eyes with special goggles or covers that gently adhere to my eyelids. This is VERY important! Then she applied a clear gel to my face to act as a cooling agent, tested different strengths of the light, and then chose what level worked best based on my skin’s reaction.

During the treatment she went over each area of my face and shoulder twice. While I cannot say this treatment is completely pain free, it’s very tolerable, and feels like a slight pinch whenever the light is activated. Some spots on my face were more sensitive than others, like around my eyebrows and upper lip, but on a pain scale of 1-10 I’d give this a 1 or 2, with the more sensitive areas maybe reaching a 3.

Popular areas to treat are the face, neck, chest, and hands. I obviously am focusing on my face, but I’m also treating that spot on my shoulder I mentioned earlier. Since most of the pigment is deeper on my face, I’m not seeing a big difference with my naked eye, but I can tell it’s working because of the tiny spots coming to the surface. The VISIA will confirm the difference after my final treatment. When it comes to the spot on my shoulder, I can already see a huge change. I don’t have any before and after pictures, but I can say the spots are definitely disappearing!

Is IPL something you’re interested in? Before you schedule an appointment, make sure the person performing IPL or any type of skin treatment is certified. You definitely don’t want someone messing with your skin — especially the skin on your face — who doesn’t know the proper techniques and equipment settings.

Want to learn more about skin care treatments? In April, I told you about my experience with dermaplaning, so if you haven’t read that post, go check it out!

—K

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Book Review: The Wife Between Us

Here’s to trying something new with my blog in 2018! Hopefully it’s not the only new offering you’ll see this year.

In my continuing desire to get more comfortable in front of the camera, I decided to record a book review video. It’s brief and spoiler-free, and something I’ve been wanting to try for a couple of months. I hope you’ll take a few minutes and watch it!

My trial run features the fiction novel called The Wife Between Us, by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. I received this book from Book of the Month, a subscription box service that I’ve been using since July, and it was the novel I chose for the month of December.

It’s also the first book I’ve completed this year, which means I’m already on my way to reading more books than I read last year — but more on that in an upcoming post!

So turn up your volume, or put on your headphones, and click on the video below to watch!

So after watching, is this a book one you’d add to your list?

Also, I’d love your feedback on this type of blog post. Do you like the review in video format? Would you rather I typed it out as a normal post? Or would you prefer not to see book reviews at all? Leave me a comment here or on one of my social media pages.

What books would you like to see me review in the future? What recommendations do you have for me?

—K

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What Winter Can Teach Us About Contentment

Guest post by Joey Cottle

Happy New Year. I want to offer you a New Year’s resolution.

Resolve to get outside. I know that seems crazy because it’s absurdly cold in Michigan right now (and in the U.S. in general), but I mean it.

But you’re an outdoorsy person, you say. Of course you’d tell us to go outside.

I’m not telling you to go camping right now or climb a mountain or anything like that. I talking simpler. Take a walk. Go sledding with your kids. Find somewhere you can go ice skating. Have you ever seen the stars on a crisp winter night? They’re brighter than any other time of the year, and you’ll have a great chance of seeing the northern lights.

But I’m cold, you say. I hate being cold.

And that’s the rub of it. So many of us who live in the great white north get frustrated and depressed during these six-ish months of the year because we’re afraid of the cold and annoyed with snowy commutes. And I get it; don’t get me wrong. It’s gray until April, and the commutes really are annoying. But, I think there’s a deeper lesson for us here, something God is trying to teach us that we might be missing.

There’s beauty to be had in all of life, whether it’s sunny and 85 or snowing and just above zero. Just yesterday I was driving through East Grand Rapids and I found myself overwhelmed at the beauty of the snow-covered neighborhoods. Yes, the roads were crap and it took us forever to get anywhere, but if you took a minute to look, it was really beautiful. This morning I woke to temperatures just above zero, but the sun had broken through the lake effect snow clouds and given the day a golden hue, the brightness magnified by the white on the ground. If I’m honest, these are some of my favorite days of the year; there’s no breath of air like the bitter cold crispness of deep winter.

I think God wants us to learn to appreciate our circumstances. The apostle Paul said to the Philippians, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Winter is a good place to start learning contentment. Try to look beyond the hood of your car on Tuesday morning to see how winter has painted the world around you. Go take a walk around the block and see the snow clinging to tree branches and cardinal bellies. Take a drive to the ski lodge and hit the slopes for a day. Throw on your boots and go sledding with your kids.

If you learnt to enjoy it, just maybe winter will be over a little too soon.


Joey Cottle is a pastor and writer from West Michigan where he lives with his wife, Abigail, and two kids, Liv and Levi. He’s passionate about theology, leadership, and a host of other things. Check out his personal blog here.

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