Winter Sunset Walk

PNW winter sunset walk

As you know, I love taking walks and on this Winter walk I captured God’s gifts to me: Nature and Sunset!


Nature is such a precious gift from our Creator.


I’m seeing lots of birds on my Winter Walks. Some days they chirp ever so sweetly.


winter sunset

Some days I feel like they are “talking” to me. Cheering me on, singing to me… One day, I felt they were laughing AT me! haha!

I hope you are able to get out and walk in Nature! It’s worth the effort!


Personal pics and news

personal collage

Country Cottage Living (my blog) is mostly comprised of my Creative “Work”… but once in a while I want to share snippets of the ‘real’ me and a few pics of my family. Sometimes, it all gets “mixed” together cause I take pics almost every day!

The above collage is a mix of December and January: from left to right: Anna holding a candy cane cake, sunset on my country road, my hubby and kids having “couch-church,” an ivy covered barn in our ‘neighborhood,’ a smoking chimney in our neighborhood, a horse I met on one of my country drives, my new crochet slippers and our Christmas tree, Mingle Magazine (with 2 features of my creative work), me starting cross stitch, chasing Winter Swans, my hubby and daughter, Winter Fields in my neighborhood, foraged crab apples, a Winter country drive, my devotional quiet time, and my Mom’s hand and snowflake.

Also, last month I celebrated a birthday and invited some dear friends over to make homemade doughnuts:(recipe from the Pioneer Woman!)


We also had our “first” snow – which may be our only snow! We shall see!

I don’t post as often here because of Instagram. (I post there more often with my Creative “work”) @melaniebeilner

I did update my “Portfolio” Simply Lovely Photography page HERE! – It’s kind of like a ‘year in review’ 😉

Thanks for following along here friends and family!

I really enjoy styling and photography right now and am thankful for the creative outlet and all the blessings God has given me! Whatever talents God has given you; DO and ENJOY!

P.S. In case you’d like to see my 2 recent posts on Kindred Spirits Club blog; Tea Time and for the Love of Anne! (click on link!)

Seeking Real Beauty

Recently, I began thinking about “Real Beauty” again. What is it? Can one capture it in an image? Can one experience it on Instagram?


I’m reviewing my previous and current thoughts on the topic sharing excerpts (in the color green) from my first writing (over a year ago)…and then my thoughts more recently (in black).

*Today I was reminded that “real” and “perfect” don’t exactly go together.*

Life is such a messy business, isn’t it? The perfect images we see everywhere draw us in to their beauty. Why? Because they are pretty. We feel “at rest” when we look at them. For awhile. And then after a while I start to “want.” Long. Desire. Covet.

I am on a mission to search my heart, ask God to show any bad ways in me. I want to know if the images I produce (for magazines) are harmful to others.

*I miss real life.*

I was reading a Stylist’s blog, Frolic, recently and she had just turned 40 but her job for years has been a “Stylist” helping with props on photoshoots for professional images. She shared that she was tired of making scenes for photos (picnics, etc.) and wanted to live “real life” and have “real” picnics. This really spoke to me because I had started feeling the same way. It was one of the things that spoke to me as I’m transitioning from mainly planning deluxe styled photoshoots to living real life and then photographing it. (this is definitely a “work” in progress!)

061214 372-166 (2)

My first official “styled” photoshoot with LanaJenae Photography

*I don’t set the table and I don’t create a “Home” for my family like I used to do before I decided to become a Stylist.*

Since I wrote the above I’ve been trying to set the table (sometimes!) and live real life with a little style. I’ve had a few small groups of family and friends over and set a pretty table.

*Do laughter and styling go together?*

Going that extra mile to coordinate a color scheme, picking some fresh flowers for the table, pulling out the linen napkins. A little goes a long way for making me feel like this is a special moment with my family or friends. I’m learning a lot! Laughter and styling can go together. (especially if my expectations are not like Martha Stewart’s; I have high expectations for entertaining; it is something I need to work on!)


a recent “real” get together with some family; This was a “real” table setting for a “real” event!


*Is there a place for magazines and perfect images? or does it just hurt the people who view them? Do we feel good or bad after viewing perfect homes and outdoor picnics that probably will never happen in real life?  As a Photographer/Stylist, is it wrong for me to create a “perfect” scene for the camera to capture?*

This is a super hard question. And as I discussed this, in-depth, with a dear friend this week I was reminded by her that what matters is my heart. and my heart’s intent. Do I desire to please God? or do I desire to make others jealous?

*But real beauty fills my soul. Real beauty can not always be shown in an image on Instagram. Real beauty is love, kindness, gentleness. Real life.*

I’m learning that the definitions to “real beauty” are many. I’ve shared my thoughts with a few friends this week and got their feedback on what “real beauty” is; it is a large vague topic.

What is beauty?

It depends on the beholder. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So true. However, I came up with a few answers that I’d like to share: (I also started reading a good book called “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge and it’s all about Beauty!)

(Thanks to my Creative friend Annetta Bosakova for posting so many beautiful quotes and grabbing my attention to it! (on IG: @annettab or @annettabosakova)

God is beauty.

“Every experience of beauty points to eternity.” -Hans Urs Von Balthasar

We each have a unique beauty all our own.

True Beauty is being ourselves.

“As women, we desire to possess a beauty that is worth pursuing, worth fighting for, a beauty that is core to who we truly are. We want beauty that can be seen; beauty that can be felt; beauty that affects others; a beauty all our own to unveil.” -Captivating

“Unveiling our beauty is our greatest expression of love, because it is what the world most needs from us.” -Captivating

*Enjoying Beauty (and not coveting).*

I believe (whether we realize it or not) we are all seeking real beauty everyday. We are hungry for it. We long for it.

As far as beautiful images are concerned, I think we are subconsciously longing for eternity. For Heaven. For Paradise.

From Ransomed Heart…”I was thumbing through a Williams-Sonoma catalog. It calls itself “a catalog for cooks,” but really, it’s a catalog of the life we wish we had. Everything is beautiful, delicious, elegant. The kitchens portrayed are immaculate—there are no messes. Cooking there would be a joy. The tables are sumptuous with their beautiful china place settings, wine glasses brimming with nectar, gourmet foods deliciously prepared, invitingly presented. Fresh flowers abound. The homes are lovely and spacious; the view out the windows is always a mountain lake, a beach, or perhaps an English garden. Everything is as it ought to be. Glancing through its pages, you get a sense of rest. Life is good. You see, the images whisper, it can be done. Life is within your grasp. And so the quest continues. But of course. Our address used to be Paradise, remember?”

The Garden of Eden was a perfectly beautiful place. A lot of images seem “perfectly beautiful.” -Not exactly attainable in “real life!” However, we do have some real moments of bliss and absolute beauty. (Thank God for these “epic” moments! These moments may look like a magazine image but more than likely they will be simple moments.)

Back to “Magazine” Beauty… (and Instagram and Pinterest, etc.)

When I was a teenager (and my early 20’s) looking at images in magazines and on TV, I measured my life by such images. When I looked into a home magazine or people magazine, I believed that it was totally real. I wanted beautiful. I wanted my life to look like the pictures in the magazines. After years of trying “so hard” I burnt out and hit a brick wall (some might call it a mental breakdown). God healed me in so many ways and I was able to relax and not want so much and try so hard. So, you could say that magazine images had a part in the devastation that I found my life to be in.

Now, many years later, my creativity pursuits have turned to photography and styled beautiful images (for magazines and my blog.) What gives????!!!

Well, for starters; after I became healthy after a year long serious illness, I wanted to follow my dreams and live life! I decided to pursue and follow my heart. I researched how to “become a prop stylist” and only at that point did I realize all the effort by a team of people that goes into an image for a magazine.

For some of the most popular home magazines or brands, a whole team of people is needed; a prop stylist and assistants, an art director, a photographer and assistants, a graphic artist, a person who irons the curtains, etc, etc. This team of people sets up at the desired location sometimes for several days to get maybe only a handful of photos for the magazine. The effort is ginormous, it costs lots of money and all to manipulate and perfect a photo.

So, partly the truth can set us free when we ooh and awww over magazine photos. It is truly a work of art that is not the “real life” of the homeowner. I have worked as a team of 2 on photoshoots and these experiences have been truly euphoric and heavenly. The creative challenge to get the photos just right absolutely is the biggest creative high I have ever experienced. It is so exciting and when I’m in the middle of it I feel like I’m in heaven!

BUT, am I hurting other people? Wow! This is so tough. I will be continually praying that God would guide me and use me. And I do have to say more often here; the photos I produce are either completely manipulated and not a part of my real life at all or they are just *a moment* in my real life. The photos are not meant to fool you or make you feel bad.

If you are here at Country Cottage Living, you and I enjoy similar “kinds of” beauty. (or you are my Mother!) (Hi Mom!)

I have no ending or revelation for this topic as it is one I shall be seeking truth in always. (and sharing more here.)


The above excerpts (in green) are from a writing I started a year ago and was recently published on my friend, Dana’s blog Rebellious Beauty. If you’d like to read the 4 part article, titled,

Images (and coveting); What God has given me Is Enough, Real Beauty, Wanting a Forever Home, Thanking God for My Life

go HERE.

Giving Up & Resting

“Don’t give up!” and “go for your dreams!” are popular slogans that I would support most of the time. However, I recently came to a Season when God was telling me to “give up” and “rest.” I would think most people would see these words as negative and “no fun.” Indeed, I did!

After a year of being on a creative “high” and planning many deluxe photoshoots I knew things had to change. I was burnt out. So, when I kept hearing, in my quiet time, “let go.” “give it up.” I thought this was the end of my “Stylist” Dream. I was so “at the end of a rope” that the continual whispering in my heart had me giving in and giving up. However, this took much courage (I wasn’t ready to give up on my dream; I still wanted to style and photograph; I loved it.)  I stopped planning photoshoots late Summer. I grieved. I was sad. I rested.

But. As the days went by and I talked to God about what next; He whispered to me different words and by the end of the Season He had given me a HUGE to-do list. Some of it I wanted to do and some of it I didn’t want to do.

First, I needed to Embrace the Wild, Connect with Others and Integrate my styling/photography with my real life. Then, I was to Give and Share my Creativity.

Embracing the Wild is just a fancy way of saying; go into Nature. I love Nature but I’m timid about going into it especially by myself. I have moved forward in this goal and have taken drives toward the mountains (with no map or agenda) and have seen sights that took my breath away. I have walked onto private property and have walked though a beautiful field that was calling my name. I found a logging trail and hiked up a short ways so I could have a better view of the mountains. I’m still timid about going out alone and I have not been brave enough to take a hike by myself so we shall see. Baby steps.

embracing the wild

Connect with Others. I hadn’t seen some family and friends in ages and each week I made an appointment to see each one on my list. Honestly, I would have rather stayed home. I wasn’t in the mood but I slowly but surely made my way through the list and now I feel better. I also decided that connecting on social media with my closest family and friends was not real enough so I made more of an effort to connect in more meaningful ways.

Integrate my creativity with my real life. So, when I stopped planning photoshoots I basically had to trust that I would have something to photograph. I let my “inspired” moments guide me and pretty soon I started a collection of simple everyday Seasonal moments to be thankful for. This inspired me to start my book idea again and the “Fall” ABC book is mostly done! yay!

Fall Thankful Book

Give/Share Creativity. This was a hard one. I’ve longed to be paid for my creative work. Instead, God was asking me to give it away; especially to family and friends. This led me to spontaneously give a few photoshoots away and it felt good to give my talent.


Now. You are probably wondering what this big “to-do” list has to do with “giving up” and “resting.” Well, as I mentioned. These “to-dos” came a few at a time as I would do my quiet time. I was able to focus on a few for a few weeks and then God would give me more things to do.

Next, He wanted me to Simply Enjoy Creativity, let go of titles I desperately wanted, write more about real life and step back from social media and blogging. Whew!

Simply Enjoying Creativity. This was a big one for me. It meant I needed to take pictures and be creative in other ways just for the enjoyment. To create with no agenda. To create and not share it on social media or my blog.  To create to simply enjoy. God wanted me to make a small quilt (that I had been wanting to do anyway!) and He wanted me to work on my ABC book again. (which really was on my dream list but I had kind of given up). So God turned a chore into accomplishing stuff on my dream list. Weird, huh? I realized that all those hours I was Instagramming and blogging was taking away from 2 things I REALLY wanted to do. It was hard to hold back some but I did it and I was able to focus. (Next week, I need to finish these 2 projects and I need to “hold back” from everything else; hard to do!)


Letting go of the titles I so desperately wanted: Stylist and Photographer. Recently, I got my latest Magazine feature in the mail from Bella Grace Magazine. At the end of my written work, the Editors put, “Melanie is a Wife, Mom and Homemaker who is passionate about photography.” At first I was like, hey, I’m a Stylist and Photographer! But it only took me one second more to be like, “haha!! -God, you got me!”  And it’s all starting to make more sense. My priority has always been to be a Mom and Wife first anyway. God is just reminding me that that’s what He wants for me. He still wants me to live a Creative Life and be happy but not as a “Career” woman as the priority.

Bella Grace Magazine

Bella Grace feature

Write more about Real Life. This started out a little awkward but as time has gone on the words just seem to flow really easy. I keep little notes on my thoughts and prayer time and usually these thoughts turn into blog posts or they become subjects in my magazine write-ups or IG posts. Basically, I really want to encourage Creativity and I want to share my story in case it helps other Creatives.

Stepping back from Social Media and Blogging. This is hard too. I am absolutely addicted to Instagram. I will write a whole separate post on “Creativity and Social Media” but for now let’s just say that for many reasons including getting other stuff done, God wants me to “pull back.” (ouch! Guilty as charged!)

So, as I look back on this Season I am completely amazed. My “giving up” and “resting” turned into re-direction, less stress and yet I realize I accomplished so much and have so many great photos and photoshoots. Even though I thought I might never do a “deluxe styled” shoot again, it just happened naturally in everyday life; which is pretty cool because I didn’t have to do any planning and I was with family and friends (which was right where I needed to be!) So, instead of charging you with the very positive quote, “DON’T GIVE UP!” I challenge you to listen to your heart and your body. If you are tired and have tried everything, maybe -just maybe- you should give up and take a nap. Let God lead you day by day and see where He takes you!