This weekend we hopped in the car and headed south to spend a long weekend on Hilton Head Island, SC. It was probably our last family vacation before baby makes four, so we wanted to go somewhere we could just relax and enjoy each other.
We chose Hilton Head because, despite having flown with Cricket more times than I care to recall, surviving another flight with the combination of my newly giant belly and her toddler desire never to sit still seemed nearly impossible. Hilton Head is within driving distance from us (our directions said it would take five hours but it took more than six with a few stops...) and offers plenty of family-friendly activities, such as kayaking, extensive bike and walking trails, boat tours and good restaurants. Given the circumstances, we knew we wouldn’t be able to partake in most of those activities but could at least check them out for future vacations.
We booked a two-bedroom condo at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, which we loved. Our place sat a few hundred yards from the beach, a few feet from the resort’s little general store (morning coffee and bin candy!) and right on a biking and walking trail that winds through the island.
The weather could have been more agreeable, but we managed to play on the beach, where we learned seashells are a toddler’s best friend (below) and dead eels can still look scary (above); take long walks; tour one of the marinas (bottom left for classy boat-naming inspiration); and find some good eats, including Ruan Thai Hut and A Lowcountry Backyard.
(We also spent an afternoon and evening in Savannah, which is less than an hour from Hilton Head. Check back later this week for a separate post on Savannah.)
Best of all, we escaped our pre-baby to-do list for a few days and were able to focus on the delightful task of relishing our current little family.
I've taken portraits of lots of kids over the years. But last weekend was the first opportunity I’ve had to shoot maternity photos of someone other than myself. That someone happened to be a dear friend, which made the process of preserving her memories of such a joyful—and superbly uncomfortable, let's be honest here—time of life even more rewarding.
The photo session happened to fall on the most pleasant day we've had all winter; it was 70 degrees with bright blue skies. As a native Minnesotan, I still can't get over how the grass in North Carolina stays green enough to create a brilliant background in the middle of February.
To add to the excitement, my friend's son is turning 3 next month, so she also asked me to capture him in all his rambunctious glory. The afternoon was filled with dump trucks and motor sounds and plenty of dashing around. It was great fun!
We're really trying not to raise our daughter to be a girly girl. (We see a lot of hiking, biking, surfing, camping, kayaking and adventure travel in her future...) But I couldn't help jumping on the tutu bandwagon when I saw this DIY post on Design Mom. It's just too cute.
So my sister and I decided to make tutus for our daughters and young nieces as Christmas gifts. We followed Design Mom's instructions but added a bit more tulle to fill them out. They were easy (no sewing machine required), inexpensive and will undoubtedly provide years of entertainment, both for the girls and for us as we watch them toddle around looking adorably ridiculous. Friends with little ones be forewarned: I may have to start making these tutus as birthday gifts forever on.
Today is my grandmother's 91st birthday. In her honor, I'm posting a short essay I wrote about her while awaiting our daughter's arrival. I figure after one rejection and 15 months of wasting away on my hard drive while I was too busy to shop it around, the essay deserves a bit of air. Happy Birthday, Grandma!
Photo caption: Grandma and Grandpa on their wedding day, 1941. They recently celebrated their 70th anniversary. Photo by Doug Berg, Daily Times.
On motherhood, Grandma knows best
It was mid-afternoon, the time of day when I was typically too worn from a restless night’s sleep and the weight of my pregnant belly to do much other than read or doze on the couch. Our dogs, content with my new-found slothfulness, snoozed at my feet.
But something felt different that day—the quality of light seemed suddenly changed and wind gusts were unfastening the last leaves and swirling them to the ground. We’d been longing for this season all year; our first baby was due in a few weeks.
The event’s abrupt nearness pushed me from the couch that afternoon, and I decided to tackle two projects I wanted to finish before the baby arrived: drawing up a birth plan and reviewing a file of Grandma’s correspondence dating back 70 years.
I sat at my computer and allowed my mind to wander to the day I thought would never come. Our birth preferences were simple—nothing bizarre or overly prescriptive. Nothing our doctor would snicker about to her colleagues. The main points included minimal medical interventions and having the baby put on my chest after birth.
Last year, I witnessed this immediate bonding after my sister delivered her daughter. When my niece—naked, raw and wide-eyed—nuzzled into my sister’s chest and peered at her parents for the first time, I craved the same powerful experience with my own baby-to-be.
Energized by the completed birth plan and the intimate image of greeting our daughter, I began to sift through Grandma’s correspondence.
I always admired Grandma for her wise and self-sacrificing ways. Her life has been full of leadership roles and volunteer efforts, but she has derived her greatest joys from being a mother. Now that I was about to embark on motherhood, I realized I have much more to learn from her vast maternal experience.
At nearly 90 years old, she is a mother of six, grandmother of 16 and great-grandmother of 23. When I asked her a few years ago to describe the significance of motherhood in her life, she looked puzzled.
“How important has it been?” she asked. “It’s been my life!”
Age has affected Grandma’s memory. Thankfully she wrote masses of letters and other documents throughout her long adult life. I cling to them, working to glean everything I can from her spectacular example of motherhood.
I started with letters Grandma wrote to her parents during World War II as a new mother whose husband was off flying for the Navy. But I found, tucked into the packet, a more recent essay, dated June 9, 1976, which she had typewritten on Children’s Health Center of Minneapolis letterhead.
Grandma was one of the founders of Children’sand became the chair of the board of trustees in 1974, one of the family legacies of which I am most proud.
As part of the board, Grandma attended a White House seminar on the prevention of psychosocial disabilities in infancy. In the 1976 essay, Grandma wrote to the board, responding to the conference from three perspectives: “as a mother, a layman, and a volunteer trustee.”
It was no surprise she began with her perspective as a mother:
“Through the years I had the opportunity to observe my grandparents, parents, ourselves, and now our six children, working with their families. One factor is unchanging: the instinctive need to be close, physically and emotionally, to one’s infant from the moment of birth. Mothers need to hold, cuddle, and talk to their baby whom they have carried with them for nine months…When the baby is whisked away to the nursery right at the peak of excitement, the fulfillment and love in the first few minutes and hours following birth is denied the mother and leaves her with an incredibly empty feeling. That exhilarating intensity of emotion does not seem to be repeated at a later time.
“It is rewarding to learn that this phenomenon, which is so instinctive, is fully documented by the scientific community. Perhaps now it will be possible for the health care system to accommodate these deep-seated needs.”
The poignancy of the essay, which fell into my lap moments after I finished the birth plan, struck me. Nearly 35 years ago, Grandma was advocating for the right I was now requesting, for a quiet moment of mother-baby bonding following delivery.
Grandma’s essay, informed by her extensive maternal experience, encouraged me to fight for the last point in my birth plan. So be it if the nurses rolled their eyes. In her nine decades of wisdom, Grandma knows a thing or two about what moms and babies need.
The light fading, I settled back onto the couch as the dogs sighed and welcomed my return to the land of idleness. The baby was about to arrive. I was finally ready.
(Note: Our daughter, Cricket, arrived two and a half weeks after I finished this essay. The doctor lay her directly on my chest. She was purple and screaming and perfect. And I was madly in love.)
Looking for something a bit prehistoric? Meet Diego, a giant tortoise from the Galapagos Islands. He may be more than 100 years old, but that doesn't stop him from getting frisky. He was found on the island of Espanola in the 1960s—one of the last tortoises to survive there. Since then he's been getting busy from his perch at the Charles Darwin Research Station, helping to repopulate the entire island of Espanola. He continues to contribute offspring today. (Here's a cute series of baby giant tortoises I shot the same day.)
My husband, Jeff, and I had the pleasure of meeting Diego while we honeymooned in the Galapagos almost four years ago. (Jeff planned the trip as a surprise. Yep, best husband ever.) Guests to our home always inquire to whom this fabulous leg belongs.
From now through 2/29/12, receive a 15% discount when you purchase any size print of Giant tortoise.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
I have to admit I’m not that into the actual holiday. After all, my husband should be doing romantic things for me (and I for him) all year long, right? So in lieu of writing about the gooshy side of love today, I’m focusing on the cozy, I’m-in-awe-of-you, I-want-to-make-the-world-a-lovely-place-for-you-type love we’ve got going for our families.
A few months back, I happened upon an interview from Design Mom’s series, Living with Kids, with Milk + Bookies founder Meredith Alexander, who described her home as “my love letter to my family.”
She took the words right out of my heart. What a stunning way to view the haven you work to create for your children, the space in which they will grow and from which they will develop their views of the world.
As our family expands, we are constantly retooling and redesigning the rooms in our house to fit the needs of the little ones and to keep us breathing easily when, for example, the toddler transforms into a tornadic force with the strength to destroy everything in her path. Some of the work we do is more for fun or aesthetics, while other projects are boring and expensive but required to keep everyone safe.
Despite the specific reasoning for each home improvement task we take on, I now consider all of them words or phrases that make up the ongoing love letter my husband and I are writing to our family. That thought makes it all worthwhile, because it’s our hope that the home we create will be our kids’ safest, happiest and most restful place on earth.
How is your love letter coming along?
Photo captions: Valentine’s love from the stoplights and Christmas lights in SoHo.
I'm always the last to know about anything trendy, but I've finally signed up for Pinterest and can't get enough of it. It's a great place to organize and share your ideas about all things creative. And it beats the heck out of the piles of post-it notes I have lying around covered with resource lists.
Are you onboard? If so, I'd love to see what you're up to, so leave your username in the comments or just follow me here and I'll follow you back. Happy pinning!
(Image via babble.com)
Captions: Self portraits. 27 weeks.
It suddenly feels a bit too warm in here; someone must have turned up the heat a notch. No? I guess it's just the fact that I'm entering the third trimester and realizing how close we are to having 100 percent more babies than we do now. In about 12 weeks, we'll have two little girls under 18 months old. It's going to be wild around here! But that's how we prefer it.
Despite experiencing less overall anxiety during this pregnancy than the last, I'm now spending more and more nights lying awake wondering whether the baby is kicking enough; whether her big sister, Cricket, will feel replaced (and whether Cricket will try to pick the newborn up by the nose, like she does her doll); and how I'm going to manage breastfeeding while chasing a toddler.
But one of the only fun symptoms of pregnancy has also plunged into overdrive in recent weeks: nesting. My to-do list is expanding as rapidly as my belly, and it's beginning to feel like we're racing the clock to cross off all the items. (Probably because we are.)
Since we already have a lovely nursery, I'm throwing most of my energy—and my husband's—into designing Cricket's big-girl room. We've roped my lucky in-laws, who will be visiting this weekend, into helping us build an adorable upholstered bed for the new room, inspired by Design Mom's toddler bed. I can't wait to show you the finished product next week...or soon, anyway.
In the meantime, here are a few self portraits I shot today to include in the newbie's baby book. (Yes, starting the girls’ baby books is on the to-do list.)
Welcome to the first of what I intend to be many "Around the house" features, which will demonstrate how I've displayed photos or other artwork in my home.
In this example, I used the basic matting and framing technique I described here, then tilted the frame against wall instead of hanging it.
My husband loves the trend of not hanging every piece of art, because it’s become my role to create or locate our art and his to hang it. However, we discovered once our daughter began to walk—and knock into or tear down anything she could access—that it’s a good idea to secure frames to the wall even if they are just leaning to prevent them from falling onto her head when she inevitably rocks the surfaces on which they’re sitting.
This jewel-toned photo, Petal-less, resides in our living room, which is full of bold colors. (You’ll see more of it soon.) I love how the photo compliments the peacock lamp on the table and a grass green chaise that sits across the room.
We use the living room for just about every activity. In the morning, it starts out clean and picked up but within a few hours, it’s strewn with toys, books and sippy cups. So it’s nice to have a few outposts of simplicity here and there that are out of the reach of tiny hands, like this little display.
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.