Each January, I try to spend some time reflecting on the previous year and setting intentions for the New Year. My goal is to take stock of my own accomplishments by my own metrics—by identifying the experiences I found most valuable, not by anyone else's standards of success.
I'm still pinching myself that my work appeared on my favorite spot on the internet, the incredible Design Mom blog, not once but twice in 2018. The first was my sister's home tour, which I styled and shot in Minneapolis during a blizzard weekend. The second was my own home tour and accompanying essay. For real? My heart still starts to race when I remember these things actually happened.
I really slacked on posting professional photography work here on the blog in 2018, but maybe I'll find the time to catch up it the New Year? (Or maybe not.)
Intro photography course
As a home school educator, I began to look for an introductory photography curriculum for my elementary schoolers last spring and couldn't turn up anything impressive for their ages. So I set out to fill that void and wrote an 85-page, downloadable intro course for elementary and middle schoolers called Documenting Your World. (You can find it here.) Folks, kids can learn so much about photography before they're ready to take a high school course. Don't sell them short by making them wait!
I'm going to announce some REALLY BIG news about this course within the next couple weeks, so please stay tuned. And if you run into me on the street before then, I'll probably talk your ear off about it, because I'm so excited. I apologize in advance.
I had the pleasure of taking on some branding, graphic design, writing, and editing work this year for my sister, Mari Melby, as she expanded her business offerings. (We had so much fun teaming up for her home tour that we couldn't stop there!) My favorite project was working with her to design The Intention-Based Planner, which we just launched in December. (The Annual Reflections and Annual Intentions pages of the planner helped me plan this blog post and get my mind wrapped around 2019.) It's a printable planner we hope will help you live with more focus, intentionality, and energy.
My last living grandparent, Jane Connors, passed away in September. I wrote this tribute to her and would love for you to read it. I think it's my favorite piece I've written all year. In true Connors fashion, we convened in Minneapolis and celebrated the heck out of Grandma's life. I know she would have loved every minute of our family gathering.
We're in the middle of our second year of homeschool—words I never imagined I would say. Home educator is one of the most challenging roles I've ever taken on, but goodness, it's been so rewarding. I don't know how many years I'll last, but I love being able to give my girls this experience while it makes sense for our family. I may, on occasion, accidentally write history and science curriculum for them at a college level rather than an elementary level, however they always tackle it with curiosity and grace and never cease to amaze me. This school year has been the year of the horse here in our homeschool, and I have a feeling some of the curriculum I pulled together is going to turn into a larger writing project for 2019.
I posted a couple fun DIYs this year:
How to frame your photos for big impact on the cheap
Desk refinishing project
We didn't slow down our travel schedule at all with the first two kids. Some trips were fantastic. Others were rather terrible and involved fevers and vomiting and urgent care visits. We've cut down a bit on spontaneous trips since Piper arrived (lessons learned), but we still ended up with a busy year of travel. Highlights included Minneapolis (twice), Lake Superior, Berkeley, Montana/Wyoming, the Outer Banks, Topsail Island, and Asheville. I didn't share much about travel on the blog last year, but I posted a lot of travel and lifestyle photography on Instagram. Join me over there?
Jeff and I have been trying to spring each other loose at least once a year for a longer solo trip, which has worked well and allowed us time for actual relaxation that doesn't exist when traveling with young kids. Jeff has gone to surf camp in Costa Rica the last few years. I usually require some Rocky Mountain time. (I wish we could escape more as a couple, but we don't have the opportunity to leave the kids right now.)
In a surprise twist...politics made me furious again this year. Two results of this anger (besides making lots of donations and voting my heart out) were: 1) I started to grind my teeth for the first time in my life (no joke) and 2) I wrote this satirical letter. The response the letter generated was phenomenal. Some of the messages I received from women who have experienced sexual violence brought me to tears. I see you. I hear you.
Looking back over the year, I'd say the majority of experiences I valued most were not things I planned; they fell into my lap, and then I ran with them. Something I've begun to learn over the years as a parent, educator, and creative professional is to make space in my life—both emotionally and logistically—to be able to say yes to unexpected opportunities. One of the jobs I take most seriously is playing defense for my family and for myself against the pressures of taking on too many structured obligations at the expense of time and energy for creative pursuits. I'm not going to lie. This year felt busy. It would be impossible to have three kids and numerous ongoing projects and not feel like you're always behind. But I think overall, we hit the nail on the head in terms of balancing structured and unstructured time. I don't mean we lounged around during unstructured time, but that we had enough of it to pursue opportunities that arose and accomplish some really fulfilling things with our time.
In 2019, my overarching intention is to maintain a similar balance for our family of structured and unstructured time, leaving the door open to grasp exciting opportunities as they arrive. And along the way, I hope to get a few things done:
One large writing project: I've started the research and writing on a larger project (teaser: horses) and hope to spend a lot of time on in it in 2019. I don't have a goal of completing the project on a certain time line, but I'd like to make substantial progress on it this year.
Photography: Just say no—not to personal photography but to projects I'm not excited about. I'm going to be more selective about the work I take on and more assertive when someone tries to take advantage of my skills.
Travel: Always! I'd like to take at least one or two solo trips to recharge and encourage Jeff to do the same. I've got a few ideas for family trips but want to leave a lot of open space for spontaneous travel opportunities.
Homeschool: The girls told me one of their favorite parts of school time is working on our nature journals together. I feel the same. I want to make sure to prioritize that activity this spring and let curiosity drive our learning. I also want the girls to spend more time writing and less time memorizing content from the social studies unit I painstakingly (over) developed. We'll pick up where we leave off next fall!
Presence with my family: When you're a full-time parent, a home educator, and have a few part-time gigs (and almost no childcare), it's impossible to be present at all times for all people. Plus I think it's good for my kids to know I'm not at their beck and call at all times; I have a life and other responsibilities, too! That said, there's plenty of opportunity to reduce endless scrolling or constant thinking of how I'm going to cross off the next item on my to-do list. In 2019, I don't want to aim for an unrealistic goal of being fully present for everyone at all times, but rather to allow myself to be fully present when it counts most—on family excursions, when my kids are anxious about something, when they genuinely need or want my attention.
Happy New Year! And Happy Intention Setting!
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.