Really the photos say it all. But, since I'm the big sister of the bride, I get to say some things, too.
I was so honored when my sister, Mari, asked me to take her engagement photos. My whole family flew in for a jam-packed weekend, and we had one hour between Mari's bridal shower and Andy's "guys' night" to make this session happen before they hopped a plane back to Colorado.
Since January is the dreariest month in North Carolina, I wanted to find a location that remained idyllic—and perhaps even peaked—in the middle of winter. When I saw the tall grass and fence here, I knew my search was over.
We had a blast together, experimenting with sun flares and laughing way too hard when they suddenly forgot how to hold hands like normal people as we were shooting close-ups of the ring they designed. And after listening to me yell, "Kiss! Kiss!" over and over throughout the session, Andy learned how bossy I really am but is still willing to marry into the family.
But what I hope these photos reflect most is how happy Mari and Andy are together. I see in them a bright, bright future.
My, my it was another busy year. I'm tired just thinking about it. But I'm also proud of Calm Cradle's growth and looking forward to all the projects and adventures to come in 2014.
2013: A year in review
Personal: I began 2013 with a newly minted 2-year-old and an 8-month-old...and I'm still alive and standing! Watching the girls grow into a preschooler and a toddler this year has been amazing, mind-boggling and exhausting. One friend who also has kids 17 months apart told me that during the early years, every day brought the "highest highs and the lowest lows." I second that. Last year was indeed filled with ups and downs, but we've come out the other end with two little girls who love to play together (before the playing turns into tackling, hair-pulling and crying), jump off anything they can find to climb, work busily on art projects and explore the outdoors. Their increased independence and fewer completely sleepless nights (thank you, ear tubes x four) left me more time to create, photograph and write than I've been able to do in the last few years. It felt good to develop ideas and then actually be able to follow through on them—with many interruptions and on a different timeline than I might have imagined several years ago. But still.
Travel: We took 10 family trips this year, which I documented in Adventures. (Most of them were working trips for Jeff, and I don't even want to tally up all his additional business travel or I might cry). Our family trips included: Blue Ridge Mountains (here and here), Orlando (here, here and here), Charlottesville, DC, Denver, Boulder/Summit County, Naples, Outer Banks (here, here and here), Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Asheville. We've flown so much with the girls I decided to offer up some tips on flying with young kids, too. Travel with kids is tiring, but we can't help ourselves. Exploring the world around us is a major part of who we are, and we want to instill that value in our kids. Plus we get bored if we stay home too long.
Photography: After years in the making, I officially launched Calm Cradle's children's photography division this fall. I also began migrating my nature photography shop to Society6. And, of course, I took an overwhelming number of photos of our family.
Writing: I wrote a novel! No biggie. I also wrote nearly 70 blog posts. (I bill myself more as a photographer on this website, but really I've always considered myself a writer first and photographer second.)
Design: This year was busy on the design front. I rebranded, redesigned my website (and just updated "Popular posts" on the right-hand sidebar), learned how to design fabric patterns (here, here and here) and created my sister's wedding invitation package, which I'll share with you soon.
2014: A look ahead
Personal: Perhaps my most important goal for the new year is to continually re-balance—and give myself a break when things don't go the way I planned. More than three years as a parent has taught me that "finding balance" is a constant process. Kids, routines and the rest of life change on a dime, so finding balance means constant readjustment. I'm a creature of habit, so this realization has been a difficult one. Instead of setting my expectations for tomorrow based on today, I need to accept that flexibility and shifting expectations is not only okay but necessary to survive and enjoy the next few decades of family life.
As part of that flexibility, another goal is to focus more on my girls when I am with them. I remember seeing moms at the park spend more time playing on their phones than engaging with their kids. I vowed I would never be that kind of mom. And now I'm glued to my phone, for no good reason other than being addicted to it. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge believer in free play and letting the kids entertain themselves, but I fear that I'm too distracted these days.
I haven't come up with any brilliant strategies to accomplish these goals and am looking for suggestions. How do you re-balance and manage your distractions to live in the moment?
Travel: We have a two big trips coming up early in the year and then will probably make our usual family visits, plus one or two extras. Our family travel felt a bit excessive last year, so this year we plan to be more deliberate about trip planning. For example, we used to plan back-to-back trips. Over the last few years, we've learned that travel disrupts family life quite a bit (time changes, plane-contracted illness and getting out of the routine are all rough on kids). So we'll try to build in more down time between trips to re-charge.
Photography: I'm in no rush to grow my children's photography aspect of my business too quickly, since I'm still a full-time mom. I plan to offer mini sessions in the spring (April/May) and fall (October/November) and take full sessions as I can fit them in. As always, I'll continue to build my nature photography portfolio and migrate that work to my Society6 shop, as well as document our daily adventures as a family. I'd also like to build a larger following on Instagram. Any suggestions on how to do that?
Writing: At some point, I'll pick the novel back up, do a serious read-through and define a strategy to tackle the next draft. But I'm not sure when that will happen. Working at the NanoWriMo pace was not sustainable given our other commitments, so I need to figure out how to move forward in a more manageable way. I'd also like to write a few more informal essays this year.
Design: I plan to continue to learn new design skills, software and sewing techniques. (My sewing goals are embarrassingly basic: learn how to choose the right stitch for a project and sew a straight line). I'm also considering adding a dedicated design category to the blog.
Business: When I have a good week—defined by these things: the girls are healthy, happy and independent; Jeff is in town and available to help with wake-up and bedtime routines and I feel a sense of accomplishment with Calm Cradle—I become overly ambitious. I plan to take huge steps forward with my blog and business. I think I can squeeze more and more projects into my day. And then, inevitably, the next day or the next week, the kids get sick and swear off sleep, my husband hops a plane for a business trip and I get crabby and stressed and fall behind on everything I had planned. I lose confidence and momentum. So my most significant business goal for the year is to go with the flow. If advertisers approach me, I'll consider them for the blog. If the children's photography aspect continues to pick up, I'll consider stepping back a bit from blogging to focus on portraits. And if things get too crazy with family life to make much progress on either front this year, then there's always next year, right?
This week Calm Cradle Photo & Design turns 2 years old. It continues to amaze me that people out there are interested in hearing what I have to say, seeing how I view the world through photography and even hiring me to document a part of their own lives. Thank you for playing a role in this grand adventure. I look forward to spending 2014 with you!
The girls' play kitchen is tucked into a corner of our living room and always seems a little lonely amidst all the "real" furniture. So I decided to make a hanging sign to add some life to the blank wall above the kitchen and transform the beloved toy into a tea shop. (The shop motto is "Bate, bate chocolate!" which means: "Stir, stir the chocolate!" It's a quote from a Dora the Explorer, which Cricket always says while mixing concoctions in the kitchen.) Here's how to make a hanging sign for your budding entrepreneurs.
2 dowels (cut slightly wider than the sign)
Sewing machine for hem
iPad/computer/Photoshop or other design program
I drew the tea cup on my iPad using Paper 53, then added the border and text on my computer using Photoshop. I sized the file (18x21 inches) so I could make the sign by ordering one "fat quarter" of fabric from Spoonflower. To simplify, you could skip this step and draw the sign by hand.
When the fabric arrived, I hemmed the edges with my sewing machine, leaving a narrow pocket on the top and bottom to slide the dowels in. I cut the dowels (okay, okay, I had Jeff cut them) so they were about 1-1.5 inches wider than the sign on each side. Then I put a nail in the wall, tied the ribbon onto each side of the top dowel and played around with the ribbon length until I had it right. Et voila: a hanging sign!
Click here for more DIY ideas. You can also check out my Getting crafty and Activities for little ones Pinterest boards.
I'm always on the lookout for activities that both the girls can enjoy and only require so much clean-up on my part. A felt board seemed like just the thing, so I made them a very simple one for Christmas based on this elaborate one, which caught my eye on Pinterest.
2 pieces of foam board (or canvas or heavy cardboard)
hot glue gun
felt in a variety of colors (8.5x11 sheets or larger pieces cut from bolts)
I used 20x30-inch foam board, so it would fit onto the shelf of our easel, and hot-glued two pieces together for stability. Then I wrapped large pieces of felt around the board for blue sky and green grass and glued them to the back. After that, I went to town cutting out some basic items the girls could place on the board. (Don't feel like the pieces need to be perfect—the kids could care less and will probably lose or eat half of them within a few days anyway. I freehanded everything except the cow and the horse, which were way beyond my drawing abilities.) I glued a few things, like the mountaintop, barn and flowers, but most items are just single felt pieces. Now we can add more animals and details at the girls' requests.
Click here for more DIY & events inspiration.
The holidays already seem like a distant memory, which means I'd normally be feeling caught in the doldrums of winter by now. But we have so much to look forward to during these cold months ahead: a visit from my entire immediate family (there are 15 of us now!), my sister's Colorado wedding and a trip to Florida to celebrate the 85th birthday of Jeff's grandmother. Instead of sighing and counting the days until next Christmas as I sift through these photos, I'm looking forward to the adventures on our immediate horizon. It's a good feeling.
Above: Just a traditional Christmas Eve...tree vacuuming session?
Below: After a busy year of travel, we opted to stay home for the holidays. I'll admit pangs of sadness at missing a white Christmas with family in Minnesota but, really, I couldn't complain; you'll note the short-sleeves.
We explored old places and new, like Prairie Ridge Ecostation.
We strolled along the creek and drummed our hearts out at the museum.
We baked, decorated and ate cookies. So very many cookies. And the toddlers decorated the Christmas tree.
My uncle made us each a beautiful monogrammed stocking ornament. Cricket immediately took charge of hanging them ever so gingerly...all on the same branch.
We got obsessed with cameras(!) and tractors.
We decked ourselves in new garb and discovered the joy of tearing open gifts, whether they were addressed to us or not.
Two of my DIY gifts for the girls included a sign for their play kitchen and a felt board. I'll be posting more on these items over the next few weeks.
Click here for more DIY & events posts.
Happy New Year! Let's talk about wood prints. They're one of my latest obsessions, and I ordered three for gifts this year. Since the photo is printed directly onto the wood, the texture and tint from the grain produce a vintage effect.
It was Jeff's idea to transform the Matterhorn image above into a wood print as a wedding gift for a dear friend I studied with in Switzerland way back in the 90s. Since I took the photo on 35mm film and the 90s is quickly becoming vintage, a wood print seemed like a nice touch. Here's what it looks like from the side.
A wood print seems like a natural fit for an image of an old barn, too. You may remember the photo below from this post about our friends' farm.
My sister-in-law and her family recently moved, so I thought a wood print of this photo—the view from their former backyard—would make a pretty housewarming gift.
I'm Julia Soplop. I've spent my life documenting the world around me in writing and photography. 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.