life

Tiny Changes

These little flowers changed my day in a big way today.

These little flowers changed my day in a big way today.

This morning I sat waiting for a client in a sweet, local cafe. It’s raining and the temperature has dropped a good 20 degrees over the past 24-hours. It’s gloomy, grey and wet… a mirror of my heavy heart these days. Between saying goodbye to our family dog a few short weeks ago and dealing with the rest of regular life like taxes, prom planning, bills and laundry, I just feel like I am moored to Life.

As I sat there, I looked down at the clean, marbled table and paused to notice this tiny vase and these little perfect flowers curling and weaving around each other. I was baffled at their delicate strength. I was consumed by their simplicity for a moment. I became curious about their unassuming gentleness and forgiving nature. They made me stop my train of though for a brief a minute…to pause, to breathe. To remember to forget and to let go.

Life can be altered in these little moments. They are the moments that encourage us to lean in. They are the moments that encourage us to breath, pause, remember or forget. They can be transitional and transformative. But mostly, they are when we can learn to tolerate ourselves, our stories, our lives, and all the things that wait for us beyond their delicate and perfect features.

Changes usually come to us when we are ready. But sometimes, I think the biggest changes can come to us in the tiniest moments, bravely weaving and curling their way gently into our tender, aching hearts.

'Tis The Season

xmas-101-8.jpg

The holidays are here again. The picture-perfect life of candy canes and Christmas lights adorning every available surface are streaming through social media feeds and magazine covers. Happy faces anticipating romantic nights by the fire, cozied up with steaming cups of goodness and a mostly TV-less existence – except for a brief encounter with Elf or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Only that’s not totally true, is it?

Maybe this is true in moments. Or for a day here and there. But when you really boil it down, it’s about all of us working, folding laundry on partially decorated dining room tables and anxiously checking bank accounts to make sure there is going to be enough to see us through the season of spending. We are still living our lives…just with more to do now.

The truth is, the holidays can be hard. Being around family for days on end can be stressful. Cooking freaks a lot of people out. Gift giving can create a lot of anxiety. And lots of people are lonely or dealing with loss, change or pain.

But there is a happy medium…a place where fantasy and reality collide if only for a moment. Not every day is going to look festive and light. Some days are going to be regular… even hard. But it’s leaning into those sweet spots and silent nights where we can find some true holiday spirit and joy.

When I talked to my son on the way to school the other day, I asked him what he was most looking forward to this holiday. He said, without a beat, “decorating the tree with you and drinking eggnog.” In my mind, this activity is always a disaster. Broken lights. Trips to Walmart. Wrestling with the tree stand. It never feels perfect to me. But for him, it’s his favorite time. His memories are of the good parts. The parts that bring him complete joy and gratitude…a representation of the season at it’s best. He’s not focused on gifts or jobs or wrapping - just a nice moment with me, creating memories that will last longer than I am here on this planet.

So this year, I am going to lean in to those simple moments that he remembers forever. I am going to stop worrying if my food is good enough or the gifts were perfect or the house was decorated like a movie set. I am going to spend time making the magic in the best way I know how – together.

Ebb and flow

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If there is one thing I have learned about life, it’s that cycles are always prevalent. The tides ebb and flow. The sun rises and sets. The seasons change and progress. We don’t doubt these things. We count on them to dictate the rhythm of our days.

Yet somehow, I forget that these cycles happen in my personal life as well. I forget that work comes and goes, or that relationships wax and wane. I forget the gentle push and pull of everything and wrestle with the notion that rhythm of my life SHOULD be good, abundant, happy, joyful and full all the time.

But what would I know of life without the dry spells? What would life be in only fullness? Would I recognize the tide if it only kept pouring in? Wouldn’t that mean I would be under water. Wouldn’t that mean I would never know solid ground or the sand beneath my toes.

As I watched the tide roll in the other day, I was confident in what would come next. Just as it flooded the lowcountry, soon, as it always does, it would flow out again, leaving behind treasures and findings and room for the little fiddler crabs to breathe again. I never doubt this. I only know with all my heart. I know it will because I have seen it before. Time and time again.

It made me realize that life flows the same way. Life flows. Things come and go. Its a never ending cycle. Practice and trust. Trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness and grace. Grace and practice. It just keeps on going. Always there. Always flowing. Always ebbing.

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. Yet, 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?

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.

 

 

 

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.

Happy Birthday

Birthday cake

In honor of another year around the sun, I have a list of 47 things I learned at each stage in my life. Enjoy!

1. Take baby steps.  It's not worth worrying about the magnitude of what has to get done. Take it in all in little baby steps and before you know it, you'll be on the other side.

2. Throw a tantrum. Not really...but every now and again, it's okay to just blow off a little steam and tell the world how you really feel.

3. Find comfort in your momma... or anyone that you are close to.

4. Get dirty. Eat Mud pies (okay, maybe not really). But get dirty. It's the only way to experience life. Hands muddy. Face marred.

5. Never stop learning - Learning is key to growing. Always keep a wide open mind and learn to say "I don't know" more often than you feel comfortable with.

6. Keep showing up. Even when you don't want to. Whether it's in first grade or just being a parent, sometimes showing up is the hardest part.

7. Always try to create something. Being creative isn't just for kids. It's for everyone. Finger painting, drawing, getting messy are just a part of how we learn and open out minds.

8. Be kind. Compliment someone. Help people who aren't as fortunate. Stand up for someone being picked on. Help someone who is struggling. A little kindness goes a long way.

9. Don't always listen. Sometimes tuning out the world is the best thing you can do. Turn off the news. Tune out the bullies. And keep marching your little march.

10. Grow gracefully. Getting older is no joke. But relish in it. Stop worrying about the number and just be you!

11. Realize your strengths. You have your own set of gifts. Use them.

12. Don't abuse yourself. Don't say bad things about yourself. Don't mistreat your body. And don't let anyone else do either.

13. Change is inevitable. It's been proven. You will change. Your body will change. Don't fight it. Just roll with it.

14. Handle pitfalls with pride. Sure, sometimes you make a fool of yourself.

15. Change is good. Even when it doesn't seem like it, change is a good thing.

16. Fall recklessly in love. Trust me on this.

17. Understand your true beauty. Not physical, but the beauty that makes up the whole you. See the you your family and friends see.

18. You are always just beginning. That's the beauty of life.

19. Follow your drumbeat. This can be hard to do. Especially when it's out of rhythm with those around you. But listen closely to that beat. It's trying to tell you something.

20. Slow down. Seriously. Stop rushing life.

21. Party like it's 1999.

22. Be proud of your accomplishments. They are always bigger than you give yourself credit for.

23. Hard work pays off....most of the time. This isn't always true. But most of the time, hard work pays off. You will always feel better knowing you put in the effort.

24. Shed that which no longer serves you. Friendships. Relationships. Weight. Things. Get rid of it if it doesn't fit you.

25. Stand your ground. No matter what others say, think or feel, make sure you are unwavering in your beliefs.

26. Love deeply. Sometimes it won't be reciprocated. That's okay. Because even though deep, feeling, big love is scary, It's the only way.

27. Lose yourself for a while. Free fall. You never know what could come of it.

28. Find your tribe. This is important. Your people know you. They come in the strangest forms.

29. Live on your terms. It's gonna piss some people off. But do it. Trust me.

30. Try new things.

31. Be ready for unexpected magic. It comes when we least expect it.

32. Dig deep. Sometimes we have to dig deep... even during the best parts of life.

33. Love unconditionally.

34. Buckle your seat belt. Life is a bumpy ride. Make sure you are buckled up for all it's twists and turns.

35. You can do hard things. You can. You have. And you will.

36. Listen. The best thing you can do for yourself and others is to listen intently.

37. Don't be afraid of letting go. Everything comes to an end, whther we want it to or not. Seasons end. Life ends. It's all a cycle. Try to embrace it.

38. Give yourself some breathing room. We are not meant to push through with limitless energy. Take a step back. Catch your breath.

39. Get close to God. Or the universe. Or karma. Whatever it is you believe in.

40. Rest. Or pause. Or just watch Netflix. Just remember to recharge. 

41. Go back to your roots. Know where you come from. It will answer a multitude of questions. Trust me on this.

42. Travel. A lot. See the world. Experience as much newness as you can. It's the best part of life.

43. Nourish yourself. Eat well. Sleep. Move. Drink water.

44. Trust your gut.

45. Ask for help. There are people out there who want to help you. Just look around. They are so very close.

46. Understand what you suck at. And stop trying to do it.

47. Lean in.

 

The Real Picture

hands full

No matter what my shoot - be it commercial, personal, editorial - and no matter what my subject, I am always trying to tell the story. I am always trying to covey something with my images - mood, story, or feeling.

One of the hardest things to do is to let that happen with shoots that have expectations. Whether people are trying to pose for traditional Christmas card photos or whether I am working on a commercial shoot for a big client, most people have trouble letting go and letting things evolve during our time together. Sometimes the mood isn't quite right. Or what they thought looked good in their head looks awful in camera. So I sometimes have to convince my clients to just let things be as they are. I have to show them how to trust me. So we wait sometimes....longer than normal. And we let things happen as they need to.

As a photographer, this is one of the hardest parts of my job. It requires my clients not having attachments to the outcome. Mostly, it requires a large level of trust in me and what I am doing. 

Admittedly, this is even hard for me at times. It not only requires them trusting me, but it requires me trusting myself. When a client has paid a large sum of money to do something...believe me, my goal is to deliver a product that they love every.single.time. But there has to be a letting go in the process. Both from them and from me.

In this shoot, we were trying to get a specific shot...newborn twins with momma. But the 2 year old toddler had something else in mind. He wanted to be in on it – on the bed, bouncing from all the sugary snacks we were feeding him in bribery to behave. He was done...finished with me and this day by this time...buzzing with sugar and ready for attention. This tells so much more of the real story. A young mom, hands full with identical twins and a toddler, life moving at a blurred pace.

And honestly, this is the story. This is what she will remember for the rest of her life. Not just a pretty picture, but a real one.

Changing Tides

sunset

Often when the tides are changing, things can get a little tricky.

On the surface things can look smooth and easy, like the world is just floating along as it should be. But those undercurrents can be tricky. They sweep you away faster than you'd like, down paths you didn't think you wanted to go. So you spend your time paddling, treading water...forever trying not to get sucked under.

But sometimes that current sweeps you exactly in the direction you want to float. And instead of paddling and fighting, you simply need to float in the direction it's all taking you. Wistfully and blissfully... not fighting a thing.

That current can be confusing though. The very nature of getting swept away – even if it's in the right direction – can lead you to want to fight. When all you are used to doing is fighting a current, you can't help the feeling. You are always prepared for the fight.

Trust. Let go. Have faith that you will end up where you need to be doing exactly what you were meant to be doing.

Puzzles and life

An iPhone photo of the worlds most impossible puzzle.

An iPhone photo of the worlds most impossible puzzle.

Those that know me know that I am a huge fan of puzzles. I enjoy the challenge of a big puzzle and the gratification of the seeing all the pieces come together in harmony to create the final picture.

One thing I have learned from puzzling is that sometimes you just have to leave a parts of a puzzle alone - walk away from it. Or work on a different corner while scouring those pieces for the solution. They are always there, but often you aren't seeing them as they need to be seen. You need a different perspective. Its only after that shift - that moment away - that the picture takes shape, coming into focus, fitting the image you wanted to create in the first place.

If you think about it, that's a lot like life. Often, we force pieces that don't belong in next to each other, searching for answers in places they really aren't. All the while, all it is we need is a little rest, perspective and change of view. Or perhaps some time to work on a different corner of our world in order for it all to come together how it's supposed to.

Just remember, its the middle part that is always the hardest.

Tiny Squares

A recent snapshot from my Instagram feed.

A recent snapshot from my Instagram feed.

In many ways, this is what my Spring has looked like. And at the very same time, this is also not at all how my Spring has looked. Sure, I have seen my fair share of new life, beautiful landscapes and miles of gorgeous green. But there are a lot of gaps that are here that you can't see at all. There have been spaces filled with heartbreak and hard times. Love and loss. And moments where tears filled my eyes and my days. But these moments were in there too. These were the snapshots of my days that I clung to in between those other - and often unbearable - times.

My reason for posting this is not to tell you I have had a hard spring. Nor is it to tell you I had an easy spring (which I did not). It wasn't written to share all too intimate and unnecessary details of my life (keeping things professional here). It's actually to remind us of something important.

We all know that Instagram and Facebook make everyone's lives look envious at best. But those are simply moments - snapshots in between the other parts. Everyone is carrying their burdens. Lots of people have laundry and chores and days filled with nothing but work and computers. Some people have crosses to bear that most often we cannot see - heartbreak, stress, struggles that don't appear in those tiny squares next to their napping cat or the pie theu just made from scratch. But we fill their gaps with a story that we are telling about them. We are filling the gaps with our story. However, that's not our job. Our job is to tell our story.

Whatever your story is on the inside is okay. Whatever story you are telling on the outside is okay too. It's all okay. Because it's your story. Some people want to only hear the good. And others want to hear the real parts - the meat and the details. (Those are special people. Keep them close. They will support you through the details.)  Just remember, you have to keep telling your story however you want to remember it, not how the rest of the world wants to see it. It is your story after all.

If I told you my story over the past 10 years - mostly it's been good. It has looked like this photo in my heart. But truthfully, I could tell you they have been the most formative and difficult 10 years of my life. I lost 2 parents. I said goodbye to countless aunts and uncles. And I even buried one of my sisters. I have raised a boy from toddlerhood to a blossoming teenager and bought a house. I took myself half way around the world, been on some fantastic trips, and loved many people. I have even shifted careers. But what I will most remember about these years is not the trial and tribulation. It's moments like the ones you see here...these snapshots of my life. They represent it all - new and old, big and small, bold and fragile, cloudy and bright.

It's all there looking back at me in those tiny squares. 

Twelve and a bit.

manlet

He is changing so much these days. Watching him grow and change before my eyes sorta makes me feel like I am watching a time lapse video of a plant emerging from the soil. It happens so fast. And each day I am sure he is another inch taller. Each moment, his face looks a little bit different.

I have many nephews. I have seen this happen up close and personal. I have watched them all emerge as young men in a matter of what seemed weeks. For the life of me, I just can't understand how it all happens so fast. Before you know it, 10 years of your life are gone. You blink again, and 20 years have passed you by like lightening. They become men.

These days are just slipping through my fingers. I hate how quick it's all happening. I hate that in a few short years, he will be off with friends on all-weekend benders. I hate that a few years after that he will be off at college and I will see him a half a dozen times a year - and beg him to shave and get a haircut and let me wash his clothes and feed him something nutritious.

If I could just slow it down a little more. If I could just pause the clock and sit with him on the couch for a few more minutes...if nothing more than just to watch him grow.

 

look...and see.

sunset

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity,
while we ourselves dream of rising.

How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

—Mary Oliver

 

Welcoming Spring.

tulip magnolia

Over the years, there have been many symbols that showed me the onset of Spring. Changing temperatures are a clear sign. But it's those visual pieces that stir me to remember the joy that Spring ushers in with her arrival.

When I was a child, the crocus blooms peeking up through the melting snow in our backyard were my first sign of the excitement of Spring's approach. In high school and in college, the budding azaleas made me pull out my shorts and search for the sunscreen.  And later, the lovely daffodil bulbs that carpeted my backyard in the south were clear signs of the arrival of the party of Springtime.

In recent years though, I have bid farewell to Winter with the onset of these gorgeous blooms. The Tulip Magnolia is a sweet smelling spring tree that buds in my yard each year. I love what the tree (and really all of Spring) represents: rebirth and regeneration and growth and perseverance. The cycle of life - carrying on as it should - in beauty and grace.

So today was the magical day. Gloomy and cloudy and overcast and drizzly. But this has been trying to happen for a week and today was finally the day. I am so glad. Because all this means to me now is that spring is sitting on my doorstep, waiting for me to welcome it inside.

 

The rollercoaster ride of parenthood

My little guy is turning into such a man these days. Responsible and noble. Kind and generous. At the same time he is still a little kid. Shy and awkward, with so much to learn.

It's such a thrilling age - this preteen/tween stage. So many people hate to parent kids of this age, but I am really loving it. You can see the shape of who they are going to be in a few short years when they spreads their wings and jump head-first into this big wide world. And they are like curious little sponges (probably looking for information to prove their parents wrong at any turn).

It's a rollercoaster ride - this parenting thing - filled with loop-de-loops, ups, downs, corkscrews and death defying tricks you are never sure if you will get out of alive. But at the end, I am sure I won't get off and think I am going to be sick. I think I will rather say - WOW! That was the ride of my life. I am so glad I took the chance to do it.

Each day brings it's own ride. But I wouldn't trade a second of it for the world.