I forgot how amazing 4-month-old babies are—the roundness, the drooling smiles, the gleeful squeals, the constant observation of everything around, the ever-grabbing hands. At this stage, Nora is the definition of roly poly. I spend most of the day squeezing and nibbling her. And oh, those goofy ears! I just can't get enough. And is that a hint of auburn in her peach fuzz?
Four months is also a challenge to photograph. If you put Nora on her belly, she'll roll onto her back. If you put her on her back, she'll roll onto her belly. If you prop her in a sitting position, she'll hold steady for just a moment before tumbling (see evidence below).
When I take portraits of my girls, I rarely have the luxury of spending an hour or two with them, as I would with a client. Typically I see an opportunity open up and run for the camera. I snapped these photos several weeks ago at my parents' house in Minneapolis. (See Cricket's portraits from the trip here. See my other Minneapolis travel posts here and here.) We had about three minutes before she saturated her dress with spit-up, and we couldn't get her to stay sitting in middle of the couch, so we had to wedge her into the corner.
I love how the photos turned out for several reasons. First, the background is recognizable to me as my parents' place, so I'll remember our trip when I look back at them. Second, Nora is giggling at Grandma, which I hope I'll remember, too. Third, her adorable outfit was a gift from my lovely friend, Heidi. Nora wore it to the wedding we attended in New York last month, but she required a wardrobe change before I had a chance to get a photo. Fourth, I love the blurred fingers and toes in some of the shots, which will remind me of her constant wiggles.
I'm considering the photo below a draft of what I hope to capture in Nora's 5-month photos. She spends a lot of time rolling around, shrieking with delight and grabbing her toes. But the moment always ends just as I grab my camera.
About 90% of the time, Nora actually looks more like one of the outtakes below.
Remember last month when I posted that I was craving a more rural life? And the last few weeks when I posted here and here on feeling sentimental about my homeland of Minnesota? Well those trips and photos and write-ups have gotten me thinking about where it really is I want my kids to consider home. Sometimes I'm intimidated by the idea of choosing that place for them. After all, they only get one childhood—no do-overs, no backsies. Perhaps we should move them to the mountains? Or perhaps to the beach? Or perhaps we should stay here in Raleigh, an area that is comfortable if a bit bland?
This weekend, we declared we would take a break from feeling antsy and anxious about our next steps. So at the invitation of my niece, Iris, and inspired by Design Mom's Love the Place You Live series, we headed to the Eno River State Park in Durham, NC, for a hike with the little ones.
And I'm so glad we did. It is days like these, places like these, that remind me why we live here—why we call it home. Sure our area isn't the most exciting spot, but it has all our girls need to explore, to learn to appreciate the world around them, to laugh, to run and to hold hands with their mom and dad when the terrain is too tough to handle on their own. Plus the weather here in the fall is perfection.
Who knows where we'll end up in the future, but for now, we’re home.
Above: Cricket hiking with Dad.
Below: In addition to Jeff and my sister, Meg, and brother-in-law, Christo, my hiking companions included Nora (left), Iris (middle) and Cricket (right). (Thanks to Christo for taking the photo on the right.)
Below: We hiked down to the river—and by hiked, I mean some of us walked while others ran, galloped, skipped, tripped, fell and ambled off into the forest—collecting rocks along the way to throw into the water. Some of us have better aim than others, so some of the rocks landed in the water while other rocks landed on members of our party. (Oops.)
Below: Tearing around the inside of this old cabin was a huge hit with the toddlers. The only challenge was to avoid the copperhead that guards the place.
Below left: A park ranger informed us this bridge and the one at Grandfather Mountain are the only suspension bridges in the state.
Below right: Orange fungi.
Below: This metal cover, which made great sounds when stomped upon, was a favorite park feature among the toddlers.
P.S. I cringe at posting iPhone photos, but sometimes you just can't carry a DSLR and two kids at the same time. That said, I do love some Instagramming. You can follow my Instagrams here: @jsoplop.
P.P.S. Stay tuned for Nora's 4-month portraits in my next post.
It's nearly impossible to write about Minnesota without referencing water. It is, after all, the land of 10,000 lakes, and there is a certain lake culture here I have yet to find elsewhere. (During the long winter, that lake culture transforms into a culture of ice and snow, of skiing and sledding and skating. And hot chocolate.)
Earlier this month, we spent a week in my hometown of Minneapolis. (See my previous Minneapolis posts here and here.) Whenever I venture home, I'm drawn back to the water, typically to the string of lakes in the middle of the city--Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake—connected by walking and biking trails. My mom grew up on Lake Harriet, so it has extra significance for me. I'm forever imagining her as a little girl, fishing, sailing or just wandering around the lake on a summer day.
My best friend, Rachel, recently wrote a piece about Minneapolis on her fantastic baking blog, Sweet Tarte. (Check it out. Seriously, your taste buds will thank you.) I couldn't agree with her more on how difficult it is to write a travel post about your hometown. I'll admit I have no idea where the hot spots are these days. But I'll share with you a few of my favorite places, all of which involve water, baked goods or biking, often in some combination.
Above: SUP with pup. Stand-up paddle boarding has made its way to Lake Harriet.
Below: Canoes at Lake Harriet.
Below left: Each morning of our trip, my parents watched the girls for an hour or two so Jeff and I could head out to a quiet breakfast. One of my favorite summer foodie activities is sitting at the Sebastian Joe's patio in Linden Hills with either ice cream or coffee in hand. Some days we brought over cinnamon rolls from the neighboring Great Harvest Bread Co. (my first place of employment as a 16-year-old!) or bread, cheese and pastries from nearby Turtle Bread Company to enjoy with our coffee.
On a cooler morning, we strayed from Sebastian Joe's to try out Rustica Bakery on Sweet Tarte's recommendation. What Rustica lacked in ambiance, they made up for in pastries and coffee. Oh my, I think they might make the best mocha in the city.
The greenway system in Minneapolis is quite extensive, connecting suburbs, lakes and urban areas for bikers, runners and walkers. One morning we hopped on the Cedar Lake Trail from my parents' place and biked down to and around Lake Calhoun. For avid bikers like us, this trail offers a pleasant way to see the city.
Below right: Have you heard of the Lake Harriet elf door? Leave a letter for the elf inside the tree and he'll write back. It's magical.
Below: Across the street from Lake Harriet, Lyndale Park Rose Gardens boasts a huge variety of roses, two fountains—which were quite popular with Cricket—and lots of room to run or throw down a picnic blanket.
Below left: Cricket blows dandelions with Dad at the rose gardens.
Below right: Running fast!
Below: Beautiful weeds along a bike path off Blake Road in Hopkins.
Below left: Each year on the Saturday after Labor Day, the neighborhood where I grew up, Interlachen Park, hosts a festival of garage sales. It's no ordinary garage sale. It's paradise for DIY-ers and thrifters alike. As kids, we'd set up a lemonade stand, then run around the neighborhood buying junk with our proceeds. I hadn't witnessed garage sale day in about 12 years and couldn't resist introducing my family to the phenomenon. Even I was amazed at how extensive the event is!
Below right: Cricket dashes around the playground at my alma mater.
P.S. I'd like to share a photo lighting tip with you. If you're new to photography and begin researching the best times to be out and about taking photos, you'll undoubtedly come across advice to shoot during the "golden hours," which are an hour or two after sunrise and before sunset. The light during these times will create beautiful effects. But if you're like me, you're almost always stuck inside at those hours feeding kids, getting them ready for the day or starting the bedtime routine. Many of our most memorable moments take place outside the golden hours in the blaring sun. Don't let these moments pass by without documentation simply because the lighting isn't quite perfect! Breaking the rules can make photos more interesting anyway.
We spent last week in my homeland of Minneapolis, witnessing the brilliant summer gardens in my parents’ yard fade into the drying flowers and brittle leaves of fall. A steady breeze drifted through screened doors and windows, carrying with it the unmistakable scent of Midwestern autumn, and the quality of afternoon light seemed to shift before our eyes—yet another confirmation of summer’s swift end.
In my next post, I’ll fill you in on my favorite activities around town. But first I'd like to share a few images from my parents’ place. Eight years ago, they moved one mile away from my childhood home, but this “new” house has already earned sentimental status in my book. It was this house—which feels like a tree house—that greeted my husband and both our daughters when I brought each of them to Minneapolis for the first time.
We joke that my parents’ plot of land and the narrow, adjacent swath of woods should be declared one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. It teems with wildlife—great-horned owls, hawks, coyote, fox, deer, raccoon and on and on.
Above: Dragonfly silhouette.
Above: Moth on Autumn Joy sedum.
Below: Moss rose.
Below: This summer a wild turkey mother declared the area home, settling in to raise her nine babies. By the time we arrived, the babies had grown to adult size. The mother (below left) was identifiable only by her behavior; she was ever vigilant, neck high, eyes scanning for danger.
Cricket took immediately to the turkeys, spending much of each day searching for them. They never stuck around long once located...Cricket always shrieked with joy and sent them waddling off to the woods, herded by their mama.
Below: When not turkey hunting, Cricket enjoyed throwing rocks off what we refer to as the “romantic foot bridge” and skipping down the winding garden paths. (You can find Cricket's 21-month portraits, taken on this trip,
Below: Hosta along the front walk.
Above: Turtlehead flowers.
Below: Black-eyed susan.
Above: At first I was disappointed when this hawk swooped onto a branch next to the deck during Cricket's nap time, knowing she would have loved to watch it. But then I realized it was tearing a baby bunny to shreds, which made me glad my chica was snoozing.
Below: The same dragonfly that starred in the first photo above.
Capturing an in-focus, smiling, forward-facing photo of a toddler is...challenging. Most of my shots of Cricket these days are either of her running away from the camera or running too close to the camera. They are almost all blurred, regardless of my shutter speed.
When she was around 1 year old, I abandoned my attempts to corral her for formal portrait sessions. Now I just try to capture her in action. (When she's not sleeping, she's in action. Lots of action.) Sometimes they are simple shots with my iPhone (above). Sometimes they are more deliberate shots with my camera and an appropriate lens. They are always somewhat impromptu. After about a thousand photos, I eventually get a few I'd consider portrait-worthy. The rest I'll keep forever, too, to remind me of the energy she had way back when she was a tiny girl.
These shots are special to me, because I took them on our recent trip to my homeland, Minnesota. Really I don't think anything could compare to a Minnesota summer. (My next posts will include more trip photos.)
Above: Swinging at my alma mater, The Blake School.
Below one: Playing in Grandma and Grandpa's yard.
Below two: Running around the Lyndale Park Rose Gardens on Lake Harriet.
Below three and four: Playing at Grandma and Grandpa's again.
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.