Messy rooms.

g room-101.jpg

Some days, I wake up and look at my son's room and sigh. It's always a mess. Carpet tiles askew. Bed never made. Clothes strewn about the room. I turn the other way as much as I can. But honestly, some days it gets to me. The mess feels chaotic - like loud music with a lot of dischord.

Lately, though I have been leaning into the mess. I walk by the room and smile a little. Nothing has changed except, perhaps, for my outlook on it. He's growing up. In 2 years he will be gone, walking across the stage in a cap and gown, a sea of opportunity in front of him. After that, his little room that he has know since he was 2 will be tidy, quiet, and organized. But it won't have him in it.

So today, I sat in here for a few minute. I admired the spots and stains on his white carpet tiles from the juice he spilled when he was sick. I traced the tiny, dirty hand prints on the wall that he outgrew so quickly. I picked up a little matchbox car he has on his bedside table and remember all of it... flood of memories I can't quite contain before they come spilling out around me, messy and chaotic...just like his room.

I guess the moral of the story is that life is messy when we have more in it. Soon enough, his sheets will be tucked in, dresser dusted, and life will be tidied up. For now though, I will hang on to the mess. It reminds me of how much I have to hold on to.

Good Grief

mom.jpg

Grief is a curious and sneaky emotion. It lurks around those dark corners, waiting to pounce on you when you least expect it. Sometimes it stands out there - front and center - challenging you to try to avoid it's clutches. But it's smarter than you. It knows your escape routes. It knows the places you hide. So it always finds you, weak and tired from all the running and avoiding.

I have lived with Grief for a while. I had brushes with it in the past through lost relationships and the general passage of time. But I didn't really get to know Grief until my Mom got sick and died. I knew it was coming. We all did, really. But honestly, there is no way to face it until you come face-to-face with it.

Grief washed over us this day 11 years ago when my Mom took her last breath. We all stood, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, watching helplessly as she slipped away to a dimension I don't quite yet understand. And then Grief stepped in to overshadow it all and run the show for a while. It cozied up to us when my father died one year later. Then, I got real familiar with Grief when my sister died a few years ago. We are well acquainted now.

I used to try to avoid Grief, like the close talker with bad breath at a cocktail party. I had ways of slipping away - or so I thought. But it always knew where to find me again. Lurking in corners, in empty spaces, just waiting for me everywhere.

I live with Grief now. We understand one another. Once I stopped running from it, our relationship became something I understood. I am not afraid now. I know when it comes around, I just need to be with it...sort of lean into my time with it. This isn't something I ever understood until we played the game and I always kept losing. Grief always found me. So I decided to let it in.

I miss my mom. But I have learned to live with this life without her and with Grief standing in her place. I have no other option but to lean into that. I spent so much time exhausting myself by running away from it all the time. But I can't anymore. I am too tired and it knows all my tricks.

So now I lean into the tears, the hurt, and the memories. And suddenly and swiftly, Grief slips away so we can get on with our days once again, living in the present.

 

The Human Experience

  My sweet little garden, on a particularly gloomy spring day in Charleston.

My sweet little garden, on a particularly gloomy spring day in Charleston.

If you follow me on social media, you know that this spot is one of my favorite spots in my yard – or really in my whole world. I don't know why, but it seems to symbolize everything I love about this space – the yard, the privacy hedge, the chair, and my futile attempts at gardening. It's an intimate snapshot of all that I have worked hard for and become over the years.

And yet, it's imperfect. The chair needs a good cleaning and some fresh paint. Weeds are growing through the crack in the pathway. The hedge is out of control with vines and overgrowth. And I have an unplanted hand-me-down pot sitting there, full of leaves, debris and actual trash.

The thing is, this used to bother me. I wanted life to be perfect. I wanted the perfect house, the perfect yard, the perfect family, and the perfect life. I wanted the social media life everyone was selling me. I wanted a spouse that loved me purely. I wanted to enjoy the sunny southern weather here like my friends on their boats and in their backyard pools. This seemed to be the recipe for blissed-out perfection. So in my mind, if I could just get my life to look perfect, it would be perfect.

We all know that's a lie. Yes somehow, we fall into this trap over and over again.

And the trap is deeper that the superficial things. It's about more than a pretty house > pretty yard > pretty life. It's about having life in the palm of your hand. It's about owning every challenge that comes your way. It's about not looking like your world is rocked when you are climbing out of a crisis or depression or another loss you can't bear. You have it together in your sunny, colorful, insta-life.

These superficial ideals are more dangerous than ever. We are living in a time where we aren't embracing the Human Experience.  We aren't accepting the bad with the good. We get depressed when we have a string of too many cold days in a row. We get frustrated when we have to wait in line at our local Target with a cart full of possessions we don't even need. We get mad when the barista doesn't get our order right. Or the traffic light hangs us up another 60 seconds.

In the current landscape of social media, we have been trained not to overshare. Don't tell me the bad stuff. I just want to hear the great parts of your life. I have been told not to tell you that my kid is struggling with school, ADD and depression, but I can tell you he loves rugby and is kind to all animals. I can't tell you that the past 15 years have been the ultimate struggle for me because life is hard, y'all. I can't share my fear of failure as I send a proposal for a new assignment out - I just have to ROCK THAT SHIT and OWN IT! Because we all know that leads to success, right? RIGHT?!?!

The problem is, we are losing all sense of why we are here - flesh and blood walking around on planet earth. We are here to experience it all. That doesn't just mean jumping from airplanes or living the sweet life in a van traveling back and forth across North America. (but by all means, it can mean that!) It means doing the dishes, running out of gas on your trip and forgetting your passports. It means leaning into the rainy days. It means living through grief and pain – even if it lasts for years. (Because honestly, sometimes it does last for years. And I am here to tell you that it's okay.)

The Human Experience is what we are here to live through. Leaning into the days and moments that aren't so great is part of why we are here. We aren't meant to be permanently happy and blissful. We need all of it to make our time here on earth meaningful. The good is there... it's just waiting for you to find it. It's hidden in messy bedrooms and piles of laundry. It's lurking at the bottom of your sink full of dirty dishes. It's hiding behind the clouds on a grey and gloomy day. It's in all of it. You just have to be patient.

The rain will soon end, but the sun never stops shining. It's there all along. For now, I am going to watch the raindrops and lean into this beautifully chilly spring day.

 

 

 

Sliver

  This was a test shot as I was walking out the door a few days ago. I almost threw it away. But look at the magic it created.

This was a test shot as I was walking out the door a few days ago. I almost threw it away. But look at the magic it created.

Sometimes, all it takes to grow is that sliver of light you let shine into your heart. Day by day, week by week, the light gets in and makes real change that can only be witnessed with patience and time and perseverance.

The gentle sliver warms the space it needs to and suddenly you are new again.  Thriving. Growing. Stretching towards that accidental slice of golden light. 

And before you know it, you are growing. And changing. And ready to be transplanted into a new place full of sunshine and light and delicious space.

And all it took was a sliver of light to get you through.

KEEP CLOSED?

  Taken at the Garden & Gun offices here in Charleston, SC during the Southeastern Wildlife Expo.

Taken at the Garden & Gun offices here in Charleston, SC during the Southeastern Wildlife Expo.

I am always casting doors open. I aspire to live in the wide open, so I can hear things like birds chirping, see the shadows fall differently, and smell the impending rainstorm as it moves in from the west.

Yet, we are warned. We are told by the writing on the wall to keep closed. Is it for self preservation? Is it a precautionary move? Or is it necessary? Should we be constantly shutting ourselves off because it's just too painful to stay open?

My former self was wide open. I lived fully and without pretense. I fell madly in love, dove straight into uncharted waters and let the current take me fearlessly where I wanted to be. But after years of a battled and bruised soul, sometimes I think a closed door might be a good thing.

The key is not to lock it down and throw away the key. We don't need to vault ourselves. We just need some well greased hinges and maybe a window to the other side. We need to crack the door just enough for the light to come in.

Because after the light pours in, the rest can easily follow along.

 

An early spring

radish

It feels like we are having an early spring this year.

As much as I want to say "praise the maker," I am stuck. It's the same feeling you get when you didn't get long enough to spend in bed on the weekend because obligation rang. Or when a party ended too early. Or when you just weren't quite prepared for your guest arrival.

On the bright side of things, spring is my favorite season. It's gusty winds clear the dust from my aching soul. It's colorful parade of blooms makes me feel like life is colorful and clear and oh-so-alive. The early arrival of spring means a long, lingering season of amazing things...things like fresh, garden grown veggies. Long, lingering days that melt into extended evenings and deep conversations. Bonfires. Delicious meals. Friends. Beach evenings. The best things that life is made of.

Maybe an early spring - crisp and bright like garden radishes, crunching with peppery brightness - is just what I need after all.

As I see it

tomato soup
Chef

Recently, I spent some time shooting behind the scenes with the Chef Ken from  NAPA  in Mt. Pleasant. I followed him around like a lost puppy, watching him craft dishes and cook delicious, made from scratch foods right before my very eyes. I lurked near him in the kitchen, dodging busy sous chefs and prep cooks. I listened and asked questions while still trying to be a silent observer.

To be honest, this is sort of what I love - what happens behind the scenes. What does life look like when you peek behind the velvet curtains we veil everything with. Is it authentic? Is it beautiful? Is it messy and gritty? I love all capturing the reality of what is happening - whether it's a chef dishing up his daily orders, a nurse doing infusions on a cancer ward, or a mom with her baby at the park. It's what I come back to as a photographer time and time again - authenticity. It's what challenges me and excites me at the same time. Getting a shot that isn't staged or styled is harder than it looks.

I approach all my shoots the same way I approach life now - with wide eyed curiosity and a deep desire to show life as it is and how I see it.

 

Lately

raised beds

I have been more quiet than usual this fall and winter. I have been working on some exciting projects and new ventures. Thankfully quiet = busy right now!

One of the projects I have hit the ground hard on is a book on saving seeds I am wrking on with my good friend Julie of Julie's Garden Delights. I liken this project to a type of step by step for seed saving gardeners which has taken me literally from Spartanburg to Charleston and everywhere in between. I have learned so much on this project - not just about seeds and gardening, but about myself and my work. I love when a project comes along and changes everything, don't you?

Here are some images for you to see. I have no idea what's been rejected, but images of vegetables never disappoint! Special shout out the the folks at Charleston Parks Conservancy for my all access pass to their gardens!

sprouts
chopping
carrots
seeding
magnolia garden-137.jpg

My best self

sunset

I resolve to love more and to give more. I resolve to be more gracious at receiving. I resolve to be more aware and mindful each day – to move more and eat healthier. I will work harder at being my best self.

But I also resolve to stop judging myself and others and to know - without a doubt -  we are all generally doing the best we can with what we know. I resolve to stop holding myself to ridiculous standards that don't mean anything to me and to set my own goals that will set me up for successes.

I resolve to remember that just because today is a day on the calendar, that it doesn't mean anything. There are 365 days this year - each one a chance at redemption, love and becoming who I am supposed to be. So if I lapse or falter or trip, I am here, to pick me right back up and set me back on my path... venturing towards my best self.

Back to me.

Wild love.

boy and his dogs

"Sometime's hope will look a lot like you." Unknown

It's Christmas.

I didn't do a card this year. In the past, we have had some winners. The first one was you as a naked baby sitting on a stool with little, white, drawn-on angel wings attached to you. That's where we started. And truth be told, we are still there. I could draw wings on you in this photo and it would be very fitting. You amaze me still...every day and in every way. Your heart is kind and full and ready to give. Your soul is like gold. To me, you look a lot like hope.

But we are at 15 now. It's been a tough year for you so far. Fifteen is hard. Between hormones and high school, you have been battled, beaten and worn down. But you just keep getting back up, facing it every day in the only ways you know how at 15. By flying with those wings.

I have admittedly been worried about you lately. It's what parents do. I know you feel it, too. The future is looming. There is so much pressure to Be and Do and Achieve. The expectations that life puts on you at this age are unfair. I don't buy into them. And yet, I still fret. I worry because I am unsure of what life holds - not only for you, but for me. I am unsure of how much to push, force, or encourage you to do things like study for an English exam or practice guitar. The doubt and pressure you are feeling are most certainly trickling down from me standing on a little shaky ground of my own.  Some of it matters. And some of it just doesn't. It's a fine line that is a unclear to a lot of people.

I saw a video the other day. It said something I was so sure of and I will never forget. It said "The world is desperate now. It is desperate for unconditional, wild, defiant love. Be that love."

I may be unclear about many things, but if there is one thing I am sure of it's this...we need love. Wild love. Unconditional love. Defiant love. So stay on your path...this path of kindness, empathy, caring. It's in you.  Be brave with your self because your self is beautiful. Spread it around like confetti. It may hurt sometimes, but I know one thing: the world needs more of you.

Merry Christmas, my wild love. You are all I could ever hope for in this world.

Owning it

IMG_2384.JPG

Lately, I have been taking on too much.

Too many projects. Too much responsibility. Too much drama that doesn't belong to me. I am like a dry sponge just looking for something to soak up right now. And often, that means I am soaking in the wrong things...because to a dry sponge just wants something. Anything.

When I am in that dried up space, I try to pause for a second. Take a breath. And just be wherever I am. I quickly let go of what is not and hold on to what is – air...water...life...love...family..sunrises... sunset. These are the simple things. But they are the essentials that are as life affirming as they are neccessary.

We are all bombarded daily with stuff that doesn't belong to us, yet somehow tries to own us and take us down. Traffic. Deadlines. Money. And even just the simple, day to day activities like having food to eat, clothes to wear, and keeping a roof over your head are really stressful. But they don't have to own us. We have to learn how to own our own selves within this framework. The first place to start - every day for me is to take a simple breath and pause.

It's as easy and complicated as that.

In the middle.

pumpkins

Cultivating things takes patience. It's a lot of work in the beginning. A lot of planning, nurturing and caring for the eventual lovely harvest that yields all the best parts. But what about the middle part?

The middle is where the work really is getting done, but you can't see it. Sure, you can define the measured growth along the way. Pull a few weeds. Do a little watering. But the parts that are really making things happen are a little undefined. Maybe the fruit hasn't started forming on the vine. Maybe it's happening underground in a place you can't see it. But the magic is in the middle.

The middle part is always so undefined...uncelebrated. It's the part we want to be over, so we can see the fruits of our labor. We want to fast forward through this part when in reality, this is the most needed part. This is where ideas incubate and bloom. Where you build the muscle for the product. It's where you refine and redefine what the final outcome will be and how it will look. It's essential in the end product.

We are all in the middle really. We are all watching patiently. Revising. Revisiting. And just watching patiently to see what comes of it all. Be patient here. This is where the good stuff is happening.

Blooming.

Growing...

 

First the rain...

Sunset.jpg

 

I shot a wedding this weekend. It was on a boat that puttered slowly and gently around the lowcountry waters, shifting ever so gently back and forth with the sway of the boat and the shifting tide.

The skies were clear when we started our day - even with some hot sun piercing down on us. And then suddenly, the rain came in. It was a steady rain with no signs of letting up at all. Grey skies all around and a constant, gentle drizzle as we coasted the waterways.

Then as suddenly as the rain came, the clouds began to part just in time for us to see this remarkable sunset, color-filled and awe inspiring. I hustled the bride and groom to the back of the boat where I could get a good photo of them. It was all she wanted - a beautiful sunset photos of her and her husband, ready to start their lives together.

As I was snapping away at the photos, I heard one of her friends holler to them over my shoulder. "First the rain, then the sun..." It stopped my in my tracks. 

Of course.

Of course the rain has to come first. Of course you have to weather the storm first to appreciate the sunshine and the sunset. The thunder is there to shake us and move us. The water is there to nourish and refresh us. And then...the sunshine. To help us grow and bloom.

I have been here. Standing on stormy ground. Always hoping to find a way out. Maybe you are there now. Maybe you are stuck in a storm.  Just know in your heart that the sun will shine soon. It has to. There is no room for only rain. We need both to survive. So settle in and cover up, because this, too, shall pass.

Here is where...

meditate.jpg

I have spent the past few years unraveling myself. Gently brushing out the cots and the knots of some pretty colossal perceptions that may or may not have been a reality. While I have done other life-building things like losing myself in the woods for 3 weeks or traveling to the other side of the globe to wander and wonder, the place I have done the most work to get my head straight is right here in a small, humble corner of my bedroom underneath some magical morning light sitting on a folded blue blanket.

This corner brings me more peace and angst than I can express. Some days I have avoided it. Other days, I can't seem to remove myself from just resting here quietly and gently with my breath. Because some days, my breath is all there is to focus on.

One of the hardest things I have ever done is meditation. I remember the first time I tried it. I read about it in a magazine about 15 years ago and decided to give it a whirl. All I could think about at the time was "is my child going to wake up?," or "wow, my head really itches." Like most people do, I spent a lot of time in my head the handful of times I tried it.

A few years later, I found myself on the other side of the world. Riddled with jet lag and angst over leaving my life and indulging in something for myself, I found myself sitting on a bolster in the middle of a rice field in Bali. With a gentle breeze floating around us that felt like cotton balls up against my prickly, moist skin, I was told that the first thing we would do was meditate for 20 minutes, sitting in silence, not moving, resisting the urge to itch anything or move very much. I started panicking. Would someone be watching? Would I get in trouble if I had to itch my back/hand/arm/foot? I am good at a lot of things, but sitting still for 20 minutes is not one of those things. I practice for a full week out there and somewhere along the way, off and on, meditation became something I needed. The silence. The stillness. And mostly, the breath. Steady, gentle, constant, deep breath. Fulfilling breath. Life affirming breath.

With much practice over the past years and a lot of trial and error, meditation has become part of my self care routine. While this is a blog about photography (in theory), I cannot stress enough how important self care is. - to my career, my mental health, and my family. It is paramount to the quality of work I put out into the world and the quality of myself I put into my life. Believe me when I say that for years, I have been on auto pilot. I had to be. And truly there is nothing wrong with that. It's about surviving.

But somehow, this time of self reflection, while often painful and resulting in tears, has also been a monumental thing. It had allowed me to grow and change and uncover the things that were shaping me. It has allowed me to rewrite my story. It has been a harbinger of change, and a beacon of light in the most difficult times, gently holding my hand through it all, whispering to my heart "Here is where you belong. Here is where you are whole. Here is where..."

 

Waiting to bloom

LWP_0232.jpg

I have lived in fear and self-doubt for most of my life. My story is a wild ride of elements that sound like I should have packed it all in years ago. On paper, most people would have given up. But somehow, here I am, still standing.

Aside from the self doubt, there has always been a gentle undercurrent of hope in my heart. A spot that says "Keep going...you have got this." It's like a gentle hand, softly guiding me through the mud and mire of life. The hand that knows that I have it in me to bloom through it all like a delicate and brightly colored lotus flower rising from the mud.

It's the voice that says - do not give up. It's the voice that says - give it one more try. It's the voice that says - you can do this.

So I keep pushing. I keep persevering. Through the mud and the mire and the muck. Because under it all is a big, bright flowery dream that is just waiting to bloom.

Cultivating Kindness

tomato

Today has been an awfully hard day. The biggest mass shooting in American history just happened. It seems a little disingenuous of me not to mention that out of the gate. People are hurting and in pain. Even the ones not related to the shooting or the victims are carrying a burden today.

And yet...

And yet, all I can think of – all I can muster up the strength for today - is love and kindness. All I know how to do is to give love somehow. All I can say to everyone I know - whether I know them or not - is that I love them. I love them DESPITE our difference of opinion in gun control. I love them DESPITE the fact that we grew up so very differently. I love them DESPITE the fact that I don't know them.

I find that, generally speaking, this is all we ever need: someone to love us, to hear us, to see us. Right where we are in the present moment. And that requires us to get up close and personal with each other. It requires us to get to know one another on a fundamental level. Moreover, it requires us to get to know ourselves on a fundamental level. Live with our truths and speak them. It requires that we live with them, side by side, day in and day out, and accept them for what they are.

I struggle with stating my truth sometimes. Like many of us, I suffer with I-wonder-what-they-will-think-of-me-itis. Will I offend them? Will they "unfriend" me? Will my business suffer because of this? I become the Switzerland of social media. Not commenting. Not voicing what I feel in my bones. Perhaps my silence is not a sign of passivity. Maybe it's not because I feel powerless around you, but more because I feel the visceral contempt you have for my political beliefs is the opposite of that which I seek: LOVE. TRUTH. BEAUTY.  KINDNESS. COMPASSION.

So now each day, I start there. I start with Kindness. I begin with compassion. I seek out love and belonging. And then I let it take fire. I spread it around however I can. Is it perfect? No. But it's a place to begin... a place to breathe into.

_________________________

I woke up this morning feeling helpless for the world. People were already arguing on Facebook about our President reacting or not reacting. They were already slinging insults over their rights for guns and their panic over gun control as they watched their kids walk into school, some wondering if they were safe today. Was it going to be their baby next? Their concert going teenager? The conversation was already heavy. And I hadn't even had a cup of coffee.

As I sat in traffic after dropping my tired and grumpy teenager off at school, I took a giant deep breath into my heart and I let it go. I envisioned micro packets of love and kindness riding dancing around like little dandelion seeds. They circled me, my car, and swirled around outside of me into the universe, dropping microdrops of love everywhere. Maybe they landed on the grass, or a windshield, or just floated aimlessly up into the sky. Dancing freely, looking for something to plant themselves into...looking for fertile ground to take root.