hostile environments

A few weeks ago I attended a training for work called HEAT. Hostile Environment Awareness Training. There were lots of rumors flying around about what to expect, but I lovingly referred to it for the months preceding as “kidnapping training.” This is what my family and friends have come to call it.


And we definitely got kidnapped, along with a few other things that you might encounter in dangerous places. Like suicide bombers and carjackers and stuff. No big deal.

I also learned about sucking chest wounds and how you shouldn’t leave a tourniquet on for more than a couple of hours, or someone might lose their leg. And if you should happen to be injured in the field, dear friend, I can fireman carry you out of that hot mess. Even if you weigh 250 pounds. Oh yes I can.

Basically, they prepared us for any and every possible horrible scenario that we could experience in the field. Which was CRAZY. I’m not supposed to reveal the details (so that they will be fun and new and surprising for my colleagues that haven’t taken the course yet), but it was an intense week.

And I have had the CRAZIEST dreams following. Like so:

-I was kidnapped by my husband’s boss (who is a really nice guy). I might have even been shot at one point? Good thing he was a nice kidnapper. I guess.
-I was with my whole family in a kind of riot/political demonstration scenario and they all somehow got stuffed into a dryer without me…? And survived?
-I went to a place that called itself the waffle factory, where you put a bit of dough or something in the front of a giant assembly line and out pops waffles. They also sold live chickens from a wooden box, which they would slaughter on the spot for you. This whole waffle and chicken place was out in the boonies, and was run by the same hillbillies who were the actors in my real-life HEAT training. They invited me to try the magic giant waffle machine, and then gave me a little room to sleep in. I sniffed that something was up, so I started to walk back to my car, and noticed that they were sprinkling (sprinkling?) little bits of dynamite in a trail from my room to my car. So I booked it to my car and made my escape, while they were brandishing guns at me. I was pretty proud of myself for applying my HEAT training in my dream. Then I woke up and it was 5:30am and I told the whole thing to my half awake and confused husband.


And just for the record, I didn’t get hurt during training, except for bruises on my knees from the times we’d yell “GRENADE!” as a team and dive for cover. And also I had to pee really bad during the hostage training, because anytime we’d try to talk to the terrorists, they’d yell at us. So there was no hope of going to the bathroom. Luckily, the UN troops rescued us in time for a potty break.

At the end of the week, we had a crawfish broil (because we were in Florida, so what else would we eat?), to which the actors who had kidnapped us were invited. That was funny. Like, “You look so different and nice without fake blood on you!”

Anyway, I hope I never have to use any of these skills in real life. The closest I’ve come is watching movies — when people try to hide behind trees for cover, that’s just silly. The tree has to be thicker than the length of your fingertips to your elbow to be viable cover. Otherwise, you’re toast. And I tell them so in the movies when they try to do that. Silly movies.

Oh, it was lovely to come home to my husband. We’ve been enjoying the first little bits of fall that have snuck up rather quickly in Seattle in the last week – a sunset run in Magnolia, pumpkin spice lattes, our favorite hike, movies and snuggling. And now we’re off for a weekend of huge breakfasts and electric blankets and walks in the park and senior pictures (for Brother Bear) with Dave’s family. Mmm good.


ps: have you ever heard of Stockholm Syndrome? Craziest thing! We also learned about this during HEAT. So fascinating.



travel a lot for my job, and I’ve been blessed to see some of the most beautiful and fascinating places in the world. But the world is so BIG! There’s so much to see!

So to answer that age-old question, where would you go if you could go anywhere in the world? Here are the places I’ve been pondering lately…

Arches National Park
San Diego
Italy (again)
Austria (again)
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Norway (in the summer, please)

And speaking of traveling, here’s a few snaps from Maine a handful of weeks ago with my Lovah and family.











i realize i haven’t given birth yet, but…

crossfit. oh crossfit. sometimes people use the phrase “blood, sweat, and tears” for dramatic hyperbole about something they have done or experienced.

like wrapping christmas presents.

or finishing their history final.

or… fill in the blank.

well, i can tell you that i have LITERALLY
sweated (like a BEAST)
and now cried

because of crossfit.

my dearest darling husband first introduced me to this insane sport, because he was a trainer for a few years. yes. he is my husband. he is a beast. he is taken. amen.

i never was much of a fitness buff, and honestly, my motivation usually came from wanting my body to look different. i initially approached crossfit the same way, because those people seriously look amazing. but since starting it a couple months ago, it’s become something much different than that, and i’ve realized how broken my previous way of looking at exercise was. it should make me stronger and more capable, and whatever happens externally to my body is an extraneous side effect. it should never be the goal. i’ve found it’s a lot more satisfying to set personal records for lifting or time than change your weight or waistline. those are nice, they’re just not all that lifechanging (unless you’re losing 100 pounds or something).

so back to blood, sweat, and tears.

blood and sweat are easy – after the first few classes, i already had callouses on my hands from the weight bar (soooo feminine, i know. wait. it gets better). then they started ripping off and bleeding, at which point i had to wrap my hands like a boxer to keep going. dave said weight gloves are for pansies, but i’m a girl, so i don’t really give much heed to that point.

sweat, duh. never sweated more in my life. and dave still somehow thinks i’m cute in the middle of that. what?!?

and finally, yes, i literally cried the other day in a workout. not wept, just cried, just a little. i probably made a pretty pathetic face, too. i can’t even remember what we did. something awful with 400m sprints, overhead lifts and squats (if you want to get technical, i think it was a snatch balance), and some other element like burpees. which i hate.

but i FINISHED it. and after i did, i lay on the floor panting, grit and sweat coating my whole body, surrounded by teammates in the same position.

and i felt like a champion.

flooded with endorphins and sweet relief, i finished something that halfway through, i really didn’t believe i could complete. i had felt like quitting. but i finished.

i’ve had extra motivation lately from the olympics, and watching these incredible humans do unbelievable things. did you SEE those gymnasts? and the sprinters? golly gee whiz. dave is also ridiculous motivation, because not only is he the most encouraging person i know, but probably the strongest and most determined. his resolve and focus astound me. so anytime i’m in class with him, all i have to do is watch him and know that i can finish strong too.

the other night, i was the last in the class to finish our workout of the day (WOD), and was finishing my last 400m run. at the halfway mark, i turned the corner and saw dave standing far at the end, cheering me on. he ran the rest of the way with me, despite the fact that he had just completed a grueling workout of his own. i love him so very much.

it took a lot of cajoling from dave to get me to join him in this fitness exploit, but i finally jumped in, and i’m so glad i did. i’ve already noticed a difference – no more back pain, and little movements, little lifts, little feats of endurance are easier to me. it’s changed my quality of life, and that makes me want to keep going.

there are all these maxims in crossfit culture (and it is very much a culture), and one that resonates with me is “every day better.” it’s not really about competing with the others in the class (because i’m tooooootally not there yet), but against yourself, and your own limits. i love that – it takes the pressure off and challenges me to healthy growth.

i wish i had pictures of our crossfit times, but we’re too busy doing pullups and deadlifts and making prehistoric noises to be taking pictures. but i will someday.

so i leave you with this: we are leaving for vacation tonight, and i have a feeling i’ll look something like this when we come back to our next crossfit class:


Attitudes of highly creative people, according to Darren Rowse:

Seeing problems as interesting and acceptable.
Confronting challenge.
Suspending judgement.
Seeing hurdles as leading to improvements and solutions.
Flexible imagination.

Do you ever read lists like this and find yourself thinking, “I can’t identify with more than 2 of those”?

No? Just me? Okay good. Off to re-wire my brain now. But seriously.





Some snaps

So, here is our life for the past few weeks.


coffee at breakfast and tea at our favorite shop in Ballard (after watching Brave – best date night ever!)

20120719-112503.jpgwe took a kayaking adventure around Burrows Island and decided that we need to own a kayak one day.


20120719-112520.jpg20120719-112530.jpgDave broke in his new portable grill with the fam (super tasty!), and I went to grocery store and didn’t notice the butt on this squash until Dave started giggling. We have a lot of potty humor around here.

20120719-112539.jpgwe took a bike ride on 4th of july with our friends (so beautiful!)

20120719-112551.jpgwe make really tasty breakfasts. srrlsy.

20120719-112559.jpgwe saw les mis (fantine! eponine! i love the tragic ones!)

20120719-112608.jpgdave got me these beautiful flowers (hooray for 3 months of being married!)

all the hype is more than true. marriage is incredible.


What could be more boring than talking about the weather?

Well, in Seattle when it gets above 65° and quits raining, that’s cause for not only talk, but celebration. Especially if it’s in July.

So, we’re talking. And we’re celebrating.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in NC, everyone is enjoying a million days in a row of triple digit heat. I hear this is the case in most of the country except for our little isolated Northwesterly pocket. Can’t complain about that.

But tonight my mama sent me a video of a thunder and lightning storm that she and my dad were watching from the front porch. Heavy gray clouds, quiet rain, and the occasional flash and boom. And that made me miss those hot southern summers.

I used to dread summer. WHAT’S THAT you say? Well, I did. I think it had mostly to do with the horror of wearing a bathing suit and short shorts 95% of the time from May – August. Wasn’t a big fan. I think I’ve since outgrown that… healing and such, you know. Being in a swimsuit and shorts isn’t so scary anymore.

And as I watched my mom’s sweet video this afternoon, I remembered what I love about southern summers.

A long, long day in the pool, trying to escape the heat. Then you come home ’round 3 o’clock or so, have a snack, and snuggle up under some blankets in your over air conditioned house to take a nap.
Sugar Ray on the radio.
Brown skin.
Playing in the sprinkler until a sudden storm whips the sky into a frenzy and you run inside screaming with the thunder.
That storm cools the air for the rest of the evening and you swing on the porch after a big dinner (which probably included watermelon) for a cozy chat with the family.
Lightning bugs.
Sleeping with the windows open and only one sheet.

So good. So  many warm memories. And I’ve fallen in love with Northwest summers (honestly, it’s why everyone moves here), but the two experiences are so very different. Both are cherished.


Today I am

-listening to Arcade Fire (which falls into Dave’s “hippie fire dance music” category, which is why we don’t listen to it on road trips : ).
-wearing a red sweater.
-eating zucchini “brownies,” which turned out to not be brownies at all, but more like chocolate zucchini bread. if I think of them that way, they taste better.
-totally thrilled that tomorrow I’m getting my split ends chopped off AND we’re getting internet. glory hallelujah, what day.
-reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
-super thankful for my super hot husband.
-thinking about my job and why I do what I do.

Yesterday I got an email from a colleague that said “Abby has photo groupies!” Below that was a forwarded email from a college student asking a series of questions about my job and what’s brought me to where I am today. I’ve been getting these kind of inquires more and more often lately, which is flattering, and humbling, when I feel like I have SUCH a long way to go, and am really not that much further ahead than the students writing me (how about 3 years ahead – wowza).

As I wrote this email to her, I realized how incredibly helpful it is to articulate these things, because it keeps me focused. Why AM I doing this job? Where am I going? Where do I hope to go? It makes me reflective and thankful and motivated.

So here’s what I wrote…

(1)  How long have you been a photographer?
        I started doing photography as a kid when my parents taught me the basics (both were amateur photographers). In high school I took darkroom classes and set up my own darkroom at home. Then I studied photojournalism (and everything was digital by then : ) at the University of North Carolina and graduated in 2009. Throughout college, I had a few photo internships, and then started with World Vision in October 2009.

(2)  What brought you into the field?
        When I was 16, I took a missions trip to Ukraine with my youth group, and my youth pastor asked me to be the team photographer (I had just received a new camera for my 16th birthday). I loved doing this, and it ignited a spark in me for hearing and telling people’s stories using beautiful photographs. This is still why I do what I do, and those pictures from Ukraine are still some of my favorites. 

(3)  What is your primary income stream?
        I work full-time for World Vision, so that’s where my salary comes from. However, I did have to intern for free first (see below : )!

(4)  How long did it take you to establish your position as photographer working with World Vision?
        A friend introduced me to Jon Warren, and I asked him if he needed an intern. I had been working in Portland as an intern for the Oregonian, and was planning to move to Seattle to be with friends after I finished my internship. Jon agreed to take me on as an intern (his first ever!), and so I began in October 2009. After Christmas break that winter, I came back to the office in January 2010, and just a few days later, the Haiti earthquake happened. Jon was due to go to China to take photos, but had to go to Haiti instead and couldn’t cancel the China trip. So they ended my internship and asked me to fly to China with a team five days later. After that, I had a few short-term contracts (3 months and 6 months), and then was hired full-time last June. All-in-all, I had been here almost 2 years before I became full-time staff. 

(5)  What do you believe have been the key factors in your success?
        I think this job takes a lot of humility – you have to be willing to submit yourself to harsh criticism if you want your portfolio to be stronger as a student, and as a professional, you have to listen if someone you respect says your work is weak in one area and you need to strengthen it. It’s often hard to see your flaws when you’re doing something you’re passionate about and feel proud of. Sometimes you know when you’ve done bad work, but sometimes you need someone to kick you in the pants if your work is just okay and has the potential to be awesome.  
        It also takes humility to shut up and listen to your story subjects. You are a conduit for someone else’s story – your opinion doesn’t really matter all that much, so it’s better to listen. 
        Good mentors are key to growth and fueling creativity. A good editor or coach will catapult you towards new and better storytelling, because they can see your strengths and weaknesses, and know how to encourage you to be better. A bad coach won’t see these things, or won’t take the time to help you develop, which can be crippling. I’ve been blessed to have mostly great coaches. 
        And a lot of these coaches have been at phenomenal workshops I’ve attended. These intensive weekends/weeks/months have been the periods where I’ve grown the most as a photographer because they are high pressure, high stress, and demand creativity in an environment of very creative people. I’ve loved them all and they’ve given me some of my best skills and photographs.

(6)  Have you altered your career trajectory along the way? If yes, how often and why?
        I’m still pretty early in my career, so I haven’t altered it too much yet, but being recently married and thinking about the prospect of having kids one day, I can see how it might change. This job is demanding – being in the field is exhilarating and exhausting, and it’s hard to be away from home and family for long periods of time. That’s also balanced by slow time in the office when nothing much exciting is happening. I travel internationally an average of 4 times per year, and domestically an average of 2-3 times per year. The rest of the time I’m sitting in – guess where – a gray cubicle typing on a computer. So that’s an interesting tension in my job – I have two worlds, and I have to learn to excel in both. 
        Another thing I often heard when I was working with different photographers as an intern was that they were tired of being observers and wanted to be directly involved in people’s lives. So much of honest photography is fading into the background so you can capture real moments and not alter the situation too much by your presence. One photographer I knew quit his job and went to nursing school because he wanted direct touch with people. After a few years of doing photography (especially non-profit photography), I resonate with this. Not that I’m leaving photography yet, but it’s an interesting thought for the future. 

(7)  What advice would you offer a photographer interested in pursuing your career type?
        No one ever likes to hear this, but I think you have to be willing to work for next to nothing, or nothing at all, for a while. Not forever, but long enough to develop a strong portfolio and contacts and get yourself established in a good/rewarding job. I think if you really want it, you’ll find ways to make it happen. I lived with family friends and nannied for their kids while I interned at World Vision for free (they’ve since started paying interns). Some people wait tables or work at coffee shops. This doesn’t sound glamorous, but nearly everyone has done it. 
        I’d also say it’s helpful to have people regularly review your photography. Almost everyone will have a different opinion, but it’s good to hear varying perspectives and let that inform how you assemble your portfolio. An image that you may think is really strong may actually be weakening the rest of your portfolio. 
        A few years into this job, I’ve found that it’s sometimes difficult to maintain your passion when it’s also what you do for a living. My advice would be to constantly seek opportunities for creativity – photoshoots with friends, portrait sessions, covering a concert, concept photography, experimenting with film, etc etc. Keeping a blog or Tumblr or even posting photos on Facebook can be a great motivator, because you get feedback. I think there’s something about art that makes you dissatisfied until someone else sees it. Maybe that’s really narcissistic of me, but I think good art wants to be seen, and should be seen. 
        And recently I’ve been learning the importance of developing your personal style. I heard a lot about this in school, but looking at different photographers’ work now, it makes more sense. Especially if you’re considering something like wedding or portrait photography, people will hire you for your style, not the strength of individual photos or stories. Ask someone else who knows your work to help you identify elements of what makes your photography YOURS, and why it stands out because of that. This is somewhat innate, but can also be developed. I was thinking about this concept yesterday while looking at this photographer’s work: 


ps: just for fun, here are a few photographers I look to for inspiration:
Alyssa Bistonath
Kristen Marie :
Esther Havens :
Alex Webb:

Instagram jam from San Fran

Went to San Francisco last week for training (so I can still keep my head on straight and tell good stories in the middle of earthquakes, floods, famines, coups, etc). Here are the more interesting bits of the week, as seen through Instagram.







[brought one 4×4 animal style burger home to a very happy husband. for those of you who don’t know, in-n-out is a california-only establishment, so those who have tasted of its glory and live out of state dream of moments like this.]

Married life.

So it’s been nearly two months since my last post. The last time, I was just days away from marrying Dave, full of anticipation and excitement. And everything went swimmingly, and now we are snuggling down into married life. Snug as a bug in a rug. Thank you, southern upbringing, for that little colloquialism.

I realize that this is a bit out of order, as I sorta skipped over the wedding and the honeymoon, but that will come later. For now, we’re enjoying the beautiful reality of being husband and wife, living life together.








Marriage has brought a lot of soul-searching, though not of the “this-is-not-who-I-thought-I-married” kind (which we keep hearing we will experience… but haven’t. I feel like Dave is who I knew him to be in all the months before we were married, sooo… ?).

I guess what I mean is taking a good hard look at things I thought I was sure of — social issues, facets of my faith, my creativity, my projected career path, etc. Dave is so good at asking the deep questions, inviting me to consider a maxim, a lifestyle, a philosophy, a habit more thoughtfully… to really probe it. I’m so grateful for this and think it’s going to bear good fruit in me, in him, and in our marriage.

So much has happened in these first 8 weeks, and the best way to sum it up is: BFFs + marriage forever = awesome.


Only five days to go… Things are surprisingly laid back and peaceful around the Metty casa. Chalk it up to my wonderfully diligent parents and the generous peace that’s been poured out on us. So thankful. And the forecast for Saturday looks tremendous!

Here’s a few snaps from this week so far… I love NC in the springtime.