One of the fun aspects of blogging is coming into contact with individuals that use their talents, skills and interests in ways that benefit others. I’ve had the honor of meeting (virtually, because I am a semi-hermit and like to stay home) several small business owners that challenge me in how I run my business. Obviously, there are WAY to many to share on my blog, but today I wanted to highlight three totally different ones that might interest you.

I remember when my oldest learned to read. He had an amazing kindergarten teacher and I was in complete awe of her ability to teach my son to read. She was animated, full of songs, engaging. As a result, when it came time for me to start teaching I was more than intimidated. With 5 kids at totally different stages in reading, we use a lot of different curriculum. Most of our curriculum is stuff you can find on Amazon or at a homeschool bookstore. However, I’ve recently started using parts of the All of Me Literacy program. I have not dived into all the curriculum provides – it is a complete curriculum starting from letter recognition. Most of the files can be downloaded. Melanie, the creator, is also an ESL teacher and designed the curriculum to teach ESL worldwide. Melanie is passionate about teaching children to read, especially those struggling. The curriculum is very affordable…and she willingly donates downloadable materials to worthy causes. The photos below only provide a glimpse into about 2% of program.

11.14allofme-0111.14allofme-02I was introduced to Dignify last year when working on a Christmas related project. The story behind Dignify is beautiful. I can’t do it justice…click here and then scroll down to the part where it says “It All Began With A Wedding Gift”.Ā  Kantha blankets are hand-stitched in Bangladesh from six layers of sari cloth by women who were previously on the streets in dire circumstances. The kids fight over who gets to use it because it is so soft. When I see them wrapped in it, I often wonder about the woman who stitched it. I wish I could hear her story.

11.14dignify-0411.14dignifyMy girls recently got two little lambs from Live Sweet Shop. They came with their own bags, bows and skirts. The girls have been playing with them non-stop. Part of the proceeds from their purchase goes towards helping families adopt. the receiving family changes each month).Ā 11.14sweeties-0111.14sweeties-0211.14sweeties-0311.14sweeties-0411.14sweeties-0511.14sweeties-0611.14sweeties-07Those girls and their little lambs…melt me.

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  • Tara Adams - Thank you so much for this post, I have just purchased a kantha blanket. One item crossed off the Christmas gift, and with such a good purpose behind it.

  • Amy @thelittlefarmdiary - Thank you so much for ALL these suggestions!

  • Shelley @ dignify - Yay! Thanks, Ashley – of course your photos make the throw look better than ever!

    I think that your blanket must have preceded this practice, but now all of the blankets come with a label stitched with the seamstress’ name. So anyone who buys a blanket now can go online and read her story. It’s amazing!

  • Michelle Hill - This is why I absolutely love the blogging world. Never have I felt so inspired and motivated by such passionate, wholesome people. I’ve done more soul searching by reading words of others and then reflecting on myself than I ever have. It’s almost life changing what this blogging world can do. I love when writers praise and support each other…and appreciate and encourage the (kind) words of their readers.
    I will forever be appreciative of your candidness.
    Thank you for this post.

  • Shira - Your blog makes me smile EVERY day (and usually through happy tears lurking at the edges). We come from dramatically different religious backgrounds, but I really love your perspective, as love and life are something everyone can share with each other, and it’s something you do well. If you’re ever having a crap day and wondering if you make a difference, please know that you do. Thank you for keeping this up – I look forward to your posts, and am inspired by your loving family.
    - Longtime lurker/never r. comment but here,

  • Susanna - Thank you so much for sharing. I have always loved those kantha blankets and now have a great reason to purchase one! It’ll be an early Christmas present for myself.

  • Madison Vining - What a sweet surprise to wake up to! Thank you Ashley!

  • Ruth - Thank you for this post – I have been looking to add some colour to our new living room and have just purchased one of the beautiful blankets. I love to have items around our home with a story behind them… And perfect for a cold Michigan winter!! :)

  • Lindsey Bonnice - Hi Ashley! Thank you so much for featuring our Sweeties!! It’s so special to see them here and I love how much the girls are enjoying them!! Hope they continue to bring smiles to their beautiful faces! Xoxo Lindsey

  • Carrie Rowe - Such cuties!!!

  • Emmy A - You were so right. Firecracker was never meant to be the youngest. She was meant to be a big sister.

  • Melissa @ Bless this Mess - YAY!!! I’m a sentimental old fool and have been looking for something special to give myself this year. I don’t really need things but I like things. I just ordered a lovely orange and green blanket and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to wait until Christmas to get it out. Thank you so much for sharing. I had no idea such a thing existed and I love it.

  • Currently... Fall Edition - Bless This Mess - […] know about this wonderful company called Dignify. Ashley at Under the Sycamore mentioned Dignify in this blog post (beautiful pictures too) and I was totally smitten. Here’s what Dignify does and […]

  • Gazco Studio 3 - Amazing….
    Thank you for sharing this…….


At this very moment, in our city, there are hundreds of children without a family, without a home. Not millions. Not thousands. But hundreds. These children are placed in a shelter simply because there are not enough right foster homes available for them. Some of these children are teenagers about to age out of the system. They will be thrown out into the world with little support, little direction and inadequate preparation for what is ahead. No family saying, “I am with you!”

This Sunday (Nov. 9th) 111Tulsa will be holding its first citywide RECRUITS event for all individuals that are interested in learning more about how to get involved in foster care in Tulsa County.Ā  Program speakers, activities, breakouts, and expo participants will be catering their presentation and information to individualsĀ that are new or wanting to get more involved with foster care and adoption.

Program speakers include adult adoptees, foster parents, adoptive parents, DHS staff and adults that grew up in foster care.

Vendors include foster care agencies, adoption agencies, related volunteer organizations, support for foster families, and counseling providers.


The event is free, but registration is requested. For more information visit the 111Tulsa website.

Sunday, November 9th 2014


1915 E 3rd St
Tulsa, OK 74104


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  • Carrie Campbell - I don’t live in the Tulsa area, but that sounds AWESOME! What a great resource.

  • Shannon - I’m not able to go to this, but want more information on volunteering. I couldn’t find information on how to volunteer on the website. Where should I go to find out more?

  • Kim B. - What an important endeavor. My parents live in the next county over (I.e. more rural), and the need is just so great. I hope and pray that this initiative finds the volunteering souls it needs.

  • Catherine - This is so awesome! I would totally love to go if I lived near there. When we settle more permanently I will be looking for something similar wherever we end up.

  • Kelly - As Foster Adoptive mom of 7 children – 1 of whom I adopted 1 year ago when she was 16 years old – I must say this sounds so incredible? I love the line up of program speakers, what an amazing way to spur others into awareness and action. Way to go Tulsa!
    Thanks for being an advocate for foster adoption Ashley!

  • Jordyn Lovett - i am so glad you wrote about this! My mom is Trucia Howell, she works for DHS and is over all of adoptions and foster care in the state of Oklahoma. She will be there and would love to talk to anyone who has questions! The need for foster families is so prominent in Oklahoma and I hope this event is a great success!

  • Gazco Studio 1 - This is so amazing! I would completely love to go…

Recently, I wrote a guest post for Mpix with a few tips on taking your own family photos, click on the photo below to view the post.


A couple other things I would note regarding taking your own family photo are:

Use a tripod or something steady – Since you are taking the photo yourself, you will need somewhere to rest and stabilize your camera. A tripod comes in handy for this, but you can also use your MacGuyver skills to stack objects or form your own version of a tripod. Just be sure your camera is steady and level. If you have family members that will not look at the camera on their own, consider a flashing/musical toy or something similar propped on top of your camera to get their attention.

Use your timer and run! – Nearly every camera comes with a self timer. There are also options to purchase wireless remotes and even use your smartphone as a remote. A remote is much easier than a timer since it gives you the ability to take several shots quickly. I lost my remote and have not set up my iPhone as a remote, so the self timer works for me. After everyone is in place, leaving room for you to jump into the shot, engage the timers and run as fast as you can to jump into your spot.
For the post, I just needed a couple shots of our family. I wanted to keep the post as simple as possible – no new outfits, no big plan, just us. We haven’t taken family pictures in quite a while, so it was surprising how willing my kids were this round. I had no expectations other than a family shot with all of us in focus. The kids were in such willing moods and were asking for photos. Little One wanted some just with her daddy and the football.

11.14mpix-0111.14mpix-02This guy wanted one with just Chris and meI. He is seeming so old lately…11.14mpix-03Then he had a couple pose ideas he wanted with his dad. I never realized he got his arch eyebrow face from his dad.11.14mpix-04We moved to a second location. The older boys were patiently waiting on everyone to join them at the table while I was messing with my camera settings. Somehow my three little boys are all young men.11.14mpix-06When Little One is asked to smile for the camera, she squints and closes her eyes. She thinks it is so funny. I tell SnapShop students to celebrate things like that because one day it will probably change. I have to remind myself of my own words. Either one day she will stop closing her eyes for pictures and I’ll look back fondly at this time. OR it will be something she still does in the future and I’ll laugh when I look at pictures from this season knowing it is just what she’s always done. Either way – she closes her eyes and thinks she is hilarious. She kinda is.11.14mpix-0711.14mpix-08My youngest son was in a great mood. He would smile up until I snapped the picture – and then he would frown. He, too, thought he was hilarious. He is using all his effort to not laugh with his siblings. If you know him well, it is especially funny the effort he went to make sure and not smile for this picture. Kids are so much fun.11.14mpix-09I bet you’ll never guess which of my 5 kids loves being photographed.11.14mpix-1011.14mpix-1111.14mpix-1211.14mpix-13While she was standing on that table, she wanted to take a picture of Chris and I. I set up everything on the camera and then handed it to her. This is the first shot she got.11.14mpix-14

Then Chris helped her adjust her angle and she did a pretty great job (I cropped the photo).11.14mpix-15

The Mpix post is “How To Shoot A Family Holiday Card” – because hiring a professional photographer isn’t always an option. I provides a bit of help to those of you tackling a more posed shot of your family!

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  • danielle - These are great shots! My boys went through a lift one foot for pictures phase…

  • Angela - Little girls and their daddies. Little boys and their daddies. I love both! So precious!

  • Michelle Hill - Your family is stunning!
    Looking forward to the guest post link!

  • Kari - I’ve followed your blog since Firecracker first earned her name. Sorry I rarely comment but that picture with the two boys made my heart skip a beat. They look so grown up!

  • krista - love this! we did this just a few weeks ago… with 3 under 4! i’m so glad one of the family turned out and we got some with the baby. looking forward to reading your post!

  • Cassie - I’m so impressed with that last shot your girl took! I just bought my first DSLR this weekend and I’m so excited to learn how to use it! I’ve been following your blog for a while now and I love how you post the settings for your photos sometimes. I love your tips and can’t wait to learn more! My goal is to capture real life in my future family (we don’t have kids yet), and I feel like your tips are so helpful in capturing real life instead of always staged photos. So thank you!

  • Kristin - Your family pics always make me smile & I always love how effortlessly natural and polished they look at the same time.

  • Christin - Love this!!! This is going on the list of thing to get done this month!

  • Jenna - Adorable pictures of everyone! I’m loving your outfit, particularly the shoes :)

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - I love that last picture of you and Chris! You look amazing!

  • Alisa - You’re wearing fancy shoes!

  • Martha - My funny little oldest little one learned to wink at age 2 and every photograph for a year showed him with one eye squeezed shut. I love to look at those old photos and remember

  • Brittney k - Ashley, because of your recommendation, we just made our first mpix purchase this week. Super happy with their product! Thx for highlighting them!

  • Gazco Studio 2 - precious pictures…..