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!
It's done! It's done! Earlier this year, my sister, Mari Melby, asked me to design a printable planner with her. It's been a labor of love...and of fancy pens drying out and printers gone awry, but The Intention-Based Planner officially launches today! You can find it here, just in time to treat yourself and your loved ones to a new year of more intentional living. Plus it's on sale through the end of December. Here are the details:
The idea for The Intention-Based Planner grew out of our desperate desire to simplify, focus, and live more intentionally.
We were finding ourselves playing constant defense against a barrage of tasks and commitments—never ahead of the game, never feeling in control of our time. We were furiously scribbling post-it notes and sticking them to every surface as reminders, to-dos, and brainstorms, only to lose track of them and the information they contained. We were juggling life and work ineffectively, and our commitments were draining our energy instead of replenishing it.
So we set out to design a planner that would help us stop needing to perform logistical miracles with our time and start living with more intention—start saying no, start reducing energy-draining elements, start making more room for the aspects of life that energize us.
What we call a planner is actually part planner; part journal; and part log of events, projects, and travel.
Despite technological advances, we still remember things best when we physically write them out and can flip back and forth between paper pages instead of scrolling down a screen. So we knew we wanted a printable planner and modeled it after the popular bullet journal (but for people who aren’t looking to design and draw every page on their own). The planner incorporates both hand-drawn and digital elements, leaving plenty of bulleted blank space for you to write or sketch ideas.
We recommend printing the main planner double-sided. You may prefer to print the project planner, travel planner, and task list single-sided, as needed. Use a 3-ring binder with dividers to separate the sections.
The Intention-Based Planner
The intention-setting and reflection prompts occur annually and seasonally. You’ll find these pages interspersed with the monthly and weekly calendar pages. Take a few minutes at the beginning of each season to record your intentions, then try to organize the season around them. Be sure to take time at the end of each of season to reflect on what helped or hindered you from in living your intentions.
Use this element to record ideas for any type of project: a room you want to renovate, an essay you plan to write, an event you’re throwing. Jot it down and keep all your ideas in one place. No more lost sticky notes!
Keeping an organized record of travel goals, to-dos, itineraries, and packing lists not only makes trips run more smoothly but also simplifies future expeditions. Don’t throw out your packing lists! Just amend them for your next adventure. The travel planner includes:
Instead of scribbling notes to yourself around the house, keep a running master task list in one place.
We hope The Intention-Based Planner will help you live your best life—one with more intention, focus, and energy.
Mari & Julia
P.S. You can snag your planner here.
Exchanging holiday cards is one of my favorite parts of December. As a lifestyle photographer, I always aim to take portraits that show the girls authentically in a place that has been a special part of our lives that year. We took these photos on the stone wall we had built in the front yard with rocks from our property. "Seek wonder" felt like the perfect wish for the year, since my underlying goal as a parent and home educator is not to extinguish the girls' natural sense of wonder with the drudgery of formal education, but to provide natural opportunities for it to continue to grow.
I hope you'll enjoy the card and outtakes. Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Front of card:
Back of card:
Now for the outtakes. The first one below is probably my favorite, though it's hard to say. It looks like Piper is placing a spell on her sisters, when actually she is throwing pine straw all over them in an effort to foil my attempts at capturing one civilized photo. (Portraits with 2-year-olds are always a trip, aren't they?)
When our dear friend, Alice, was moving out of the area years ago, she gifted us with her childhood desk. Her wood-working aunt had made it for her, and she was ready to pass it along for another child to love. Cricket became the recipient of the desk when we moved into this house three years ago.
The desk was due for a refinishing, and it seemed like a fun birthday present for Cricket to make the project happen this month. She chose this marigold spray paint to match a sunflower photo from a favorite hiking trail in Colorado that hangs on another wall in her room.
I surprised her with these Anthropologie knobs.
To prepare the desk and chair for spraying, I just did a quick sanding. I wanted to preserve some of the wood grain and dents to retain the history and vintage feel, so I didn't worry about smoothing the surfaces or spraying more than a few coats of paint. (I escaped without de-glossing, because the finish was so worn.)
Cricket couldn't be happier with how it turned out. I hope she'll be able to pass it down to her kids one day.
(Warning: The following not-family-friendly satirical letter does not fit the usual tenor of my blog, but desperate times call for desperate, late-night therapeutic writing measures.)
Dear Boys Who Behave Badly,
It is with great pride we write to you on this joyous, historic day to celebrate the reauthorization of the Boys-Who-Behave-Badly-Towards-Women-Shall-Face-No-Consequences Act (first established at the dawn of time).
In November 2016, you went loyally forth to the polls and voted with all your masculine vigor to remind our nation that even in this century, admitting to and bragging about sexually assaulting women WILL NOT disqualify a man from the highest office in the land.
We would like to express our gratitude to you (and, ironically and confusingly, to college-educated white women) for reaffirming this God-given truth, which bestowed upon us the confidence to do what we did today.
Always remember: WE ARE THE VICTIMS. As the esteemed Lindsey Graham so thoughtfully said, "I keep telling my colleagues, if this is the new normal, God help us all.” WE ARE THE VICTIMS. We refuse to let our bad behavior haunt us.
We are God’s gift to women (you may be more familiar with the terms “pussies” or “wombs” in reference to these insubordinate creatures), and we will continue to dominate them forevermore.
We will fight against honesty. We will shame and mock accusers. We will use Bill Clinton’s sexual missteps to justify our own for perpetuity.
We will denounce all the preschool and elementary school teachers out there telling kids such shameless lies as, “You can’t blame someone else for your own bad behavior,” and “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” And we will stand firmly against the most laughable, disrespectful lie of all, that “No means no.”
As one venerable professor wrote this week, “If someone did not commit sexual assault in high school, then he is not a member of the male sex.” Boys will be boys—FOREVER! You know these alternative truths to be self-evident.
We say unto you: be vigilant; be belligerent; remain staunchly condescending; cling to ignorance; do not give up on incompetence; hold fast to amorality. And, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, should you ever accept the liberal conspiracy messaging that you need to keep your dick in your pants when it is unwanted. Your dick shall goeth wherever it desireth, whenever it desireth, for eternity. Amen.
We leave you now with the eloquent words of our courageous leader—words to sear into our memories, words to live by, words that bear witness to the beauty of our God-sanctioned entitlement: “I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Signed with sweet relief and a healthy dose of toxic masculinity (while glancing over our shoulders, hoping our own skeletons won’t emerge from the closet—but prepared to grab ‘em by the pussy if they do),
Hurricane Florence had descended on us overnight. The wind was gusting, and the rain had just begun. The lights were flickering as I stood in the kitchen. My mom had been worried about us, so I assumed when she called around noon she was just checking in on the weather. But her voice was shaky, which meant she had bad news. My heart sank. As she told me my grandma, Jane Connors, had passed away that morning, the power went out.
Darkness. Silence—except for the three kids buzzing around me, wondering why I was crying.
As I hung up, the fabric sheers on the table caught my eye in the dim kitchen—a gift from Grandma. I had been using them to cut yarn for a weaving I was working on when my mom called.
My eyes tracked around the room. Next to the sink sat my favorite spatula, used that morning to fry eggs—a thrifted gift from Grandma for my first apartment. Next to the spatula, a mixing bowl—my favorite and another thrifted find from Grandma.
I thought of all the items tucked inside the cabinets from Grandma: cake pans; sauce pans; plates; bowls; serving spoons; a wooden recipe box overflowing with recipes in Grandma’s handwriting, crucial parts underlined in red; illustrated instructions on how to properly cut onion and pepper; oven mitts; and on and on. I was literally surrounded by Grandma.
We knew Grandma was living on borrowed time after a series of terrifying medical episodes that began five years ago, which we expected to end her life. Perhaps because she kept on living and sewing and cooking and defying expectations and prognoses, her passing seemed almost surprising. And because she was my last living grandparent, her death feels compounded, as if the other three have left us all over again. (How long does it take to process the passing of a generation?)
It wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I began to understood what Grandma taught me over the years, and only now am I starting to stitch those gifts together into a few discernable lessons.
Grandma was born in 1931, a child of the Great Depression. Her sense of frugality and practicality shaped her, how she functioned in the world, and how she raised her family. She was a mother, a thrifter, a seamstress, a cook, a baker, a painter. And she was meticulous in each and every endeavor.
One year, my friend and I decided we wanted to learn how to sew dresses for ourselves. So Grandma spent several summer days teaching us to make sheath dresses, despite the fact that my friend and I were rather helpless behind the sewing machine. (“Measure twice, cut once!”) Later she helped me make a lavender silk wrap to accessorize an outfit for a school dance. I’m no master seamstress and can’t usually remember where to find the power switch on my sewing machine, but every once in a while, I whip up a little something (usually a Halloween costume for the girls) using the skills Grandma taught me.
Another summer, Grandma offered my sisters and me cake-decorating lessons and then outfitted us with industrial-level decorating supplies for Christmas. I don’t make a huge hoopla over my girls’ birthdays, but because of the lessons Grandma gave me, I’ve made a tradition of decorating an intricate cake for each celebration. It’s something special and unique I can do for them without going over the top.
Yet another summer, I came home from a trip to India with piles of fabric and ribbon. Despite her horror at how impractical and slippery the silken fabric was (only cotton is practical, people!), Grandma helped me make a duvet with matching pillow cases that I still treasure today. And I have grown as a person enough by now to admit she was right; if you make a duvet out of slippery fabric, it will always be slipping off the bed.
Through these projects and others, I witnessed Grandma’s astute attention to detail, her single-minded focus when working on a project, and her unwillingness to pay for something she knew she could do better herself with hard work and a bit of elbow grease. Either through her genes or her influence, she shared these traits with me, much to my luck.
In addition to being deeply practical, Grandma was deeply empathetic. It was the way she mixed these two characteristics that had, perhaps, the greatest influence on me.
I didn’t think of Grandma as an emotional person in the sense that she wasn’t the kind of person whose lap I’d climb into for snuggling. I remember noting that at Grandpa’s funeral 20 years ago, when the rest of us had devolved into tears, Grandma sat dry eyed, then bustled home and cooked a meal for all the attendees, because that’s how she knew to honor someone; that’s how she knew to comfort the rest of us.
She felt deeply the pain of others—sometimes on a nearly frantic level—and her aid for them came not in emotional ways but in practical ones, often through food or in items she could sew to make them more comfortable.
She had a particular heart for women and children, for the poor and the sick. She knew how hard parenting was. She knew how devastating it was to lose a baby. She knew what it meant to struggle financially. She could sympathize in these ways.
But perhaps even more impressively, Grandma could empathize. She didn’t have to have a spouse walk out on her to imagine how difficult life would be raising kids without a partner. She didn’t have to have a child gunned down to imagine the pain and trauma experienced by the families of Sandy Hook. In a world that feels increasingly and disturbingly devoid of empathy, Grandma had this skill in droves.
You could find her in the kitchen testing recipes, which, once perfected, she would copy onto notecards and pass out to family and friends. She was a newshound, forever cutting out and sending New York Times articles to interested parties. She sewed indestructible oven mitts to protect us from burns and—famous in our family lore—neon orange fleece hoods to protect us from hypothermia should our cars break down on a winter day in Minnesota. She prayed for her family and for strangers throughout daily life and disaster. She identified, collected, or made all the crucial baby items we needed to make the tough transition to parenthood that much smoother.
Grandma devoted her life to the thankless task of caring for others in the ways she knew how. You wouldn’t find her on the volunteer roster of a nonprofit. She didn’t have a college degree or a lengthy professional resume. But she was relentless in her own methods of caring.
Grandma showed me that two of the most important things we can do in this life are to empathize with other people—to feel their pain as our own whether we’ve shared their experiences or not—and to use our own unique gifts to try to make their lives a little better.
During the hurricane, we had pulled a mattress into the living room, so the girls could sleep on the first floor in case a tree fell on the roof. The wind and rain had been so loud the night after Grandma died that we slept fitfully. At one point Nora woke up, scared because she thought it sounded like there was someone walking on the roof.
The next morning, Cricket and Nora were snuggling on the mattress and from the kitchen I overhead Cricket say, “Nora, remember how you said you heard someone walking on the roof last night?” Well I think it was Great-Grandma and Great-Grandpa coming down to say goodbye.”
Nora thought a moment and responded happily, “Yeah, me too.”
(Photo credits unknown. The last photo might be deceiving; Grandma went on to raise six children.)
Remember that time long ago (in May) when Design Mom featured my home tour? I'm still pinching myself in disbelief that it ever happened. And I'm still getting a lot of questions about the frames lining our upstairs hallway from one of the photos that appeared in the post.
So I'm going to let you in on a little secret, which isn't actually a secret if you know me: I'm a cheapskate. I don't care about brands. I don't buy an expensive version of something when I can buy an inexpensive version. And I don't mind rolling up my sleeves and making something if it means it will fit my budget now instead of two years from now.
This long hallway wall sat empty for a long time before I finally decided what to do with it. It doesn't get a lot of light, so I knew the art needed to be bright and reflective. I also wanted a simple, sharp, clean feel that drew the eye down the hall to the colorful piece that local artist Jenn Potter painted for that space.
Eventually I decided small black and white prints with large white mats (plenty of negative space) checked off all my requirements. Designers often work in odd numbers, but I just couldn't figure out how to make the wall work with three or five frames, so I settled on four. (If you have a choice, go odd.) When I looked into custom framing four small prints with 24x36-inch mats, it was going to cost me in the neighborhood of $1,000.
No, ma'am. I frame way too much in a given year to spend $1,000 on one wall. So I headed to a hobby store and went to work trying to create the same look for a fraction of the cost. I ended up framing all four prints for around $120 total.
Here's how I did it.
Poster frames with thin black borders (24x36)—$12.99 each
White mat board for each frame at least 24x36 inches (uncut)—$7.99 each
Prints (11x14)—$5.00 each
Spray mount adhesive—$5.99
Scissors or crafting knife
Measuring tape or yard stick
I bought the inexpensive poster frames and uncut mat board at A.C. Moore (which doesn't list their inventory online). You can find similar supplies at other hobby stores, such as Michael's.
The mat board was larger than 24x36, so I carefully measured and cut the outer edges to size to fit the frames.
Instead of cutting windows in the mat board (which is difficult and frustrating without good supplies), I glued the photos on top of them. Guests to my home haven't noticed this shortcut, even upon close inspection! To do this, I measured and marked in pencil (and double and triple and quadruple checked) where I wanted to place the photos: 6.5 inches from the top and 6.5 inches from each side.
Next I set up a place to spray the adhesive on the backs of the photos (in a well-ventilated area), sprayed them, then placed the photos extremely carefully onto the mat board where I had marked. There is a lot of room for error here, so you may want to purchase an additional mat board in case you make a measuring or gluing mistake.
I assembled the frames. Normally I hang frames about two inches apart. But to continue the theme of negative space and keep the eye moving down the hallway, I spaced the frames 13 inches apart.
Voila. You've got yourself a series of art for a fraction of the cost of custom framing.
In other news, check out my new photography class!
“Documenting Your World Through Photography: An Introductory Course for Elementary and Middle Schoolers”is an 85-page downloadable PDF packed with lessons and photo examples from my own portfolio.
Lately I've been frustrated trying to find a photography course for my elementary-aged kids that doesn't underestimate their abilities or introduce concepts at a high-school or college level. So this summer I sat down and wrote the intro photography course I wish I could have taken as a kid when I got my first camera at age 7.
I'm thrilled to share this course with you now. It's called: "Documenting Your World Through Photography: An Introductory Course for Elementary and Middle Schoolers." You can purchase the 85-page downloadable PDF here. (Use code SNAP15 to get 15% off through 8/15/18.)
But first let me explain why this class should be an important feature of your curriculum.
HOW DOES PHOTOGRAPHY BENEFIT THE DEVELOPING MIND?
As a photographer and writer, I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to the joy and pain in others’ lives, to the beautiful and mundane in this world.
To quiet your body and mind, to observe what is in front of you, to learn how to find the thread of a story, to document it from a unique perspective, to transform it into something extraordinary—these are some of the most essential life skills we can teach our children.
Why? Because effective storytelling is what propels us through life. It doesn’t matter what particular careers we pursue; college essays, job applications, grant proposals, social media marketing—they all force us to weave engaging stories to convince our audience to feel a certain way.
Storytelling matters. While I hope your children grow to enjoy photography as an artistic expression, I’ll tell you right now: they don’t need to become professional photographers to benefit greatly from learning how to look closely, to document life, and to communicate more effectively. The basic photography skills your children will gain from working through this course are the building blocks of an artist, but they are also transferrable to other forms of storytelling the world will expect your children to master along the way.
Your children don’t have to wait to learn photography fundamentals until they can handle a high school or college photography course that requires thousands of dollars of equipment and the ability to understand the relationships between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Meet them at their level and help them get started with this course. They can start building their foundational skills now.
Now for some details about the course.
Students will first familiarize themselves with the camera they'll be using, then learn some basics about light, composition, and perspective before moving on to experiment with a few genres of photography. Next they'll learn about storytelling through photography. They'll wrap up the course by creating their own photo series.
You do NOT need a fancy DSLR camera to take this course; you just need a mobile phone camera or a basic point-and-shoot.
You do NOT need photography experience to teach this course. (And even if you are a professional photographer, the course will help you break down concepts into digestible bits for your kids in ways you may not have considered.)
Ready to get started? You can purchase the course here. (Use code SNAP15 to get 15% off through 8/15/18.)
Questions? Jot me an email.
I may receive a small commission from the Amazon affiliated link on this page at no additional cost to you.
I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that Nora turned 6 a couple weeks ago. The last year has been one incredible growth for her; she's learned to read, swim, ride a bike, ride a horse, write hilarious stories and tie her shoes. The transformation that happens during kindergarten is mind blowing, isn't it?
Nora continues to be a thoughtful, loving sister and a nurturer of animals. She still dreams of becoming a vet and is getting good practice caring for our dog, Finn, and her new baby hedgehog, Thistle. She has perfected a vicious lion roar, and today she added a spot-on chickadee call to her repertoire. She had chickadees peeking out of their nests and calling back to her!
Just this morning, Nora handed me a poem she had secretly written, inspired by an Emily Dickinson poem we read. It included these lines:
"I heard the sounds of nature.
I have heard the wildlife's voices.
I have listened to the wild.
All creatures big and small,
I am thankful for them."
I had to breathe deeply and pause a few times to finish reading her words without tears. My little observer. My sensitive soul. My grown-up 6-year-old.
We were heading to Topsail Island the week of Nora's birthday, so I planned to take her annual portraits at the beach—a throw-back to the portraits of her 3-year-old self collecting shells at Carolina Beach. My vision involved a blue-sky sunrise session filled with golden light, and the forecast was perfect for it.
But we woke up to thick fog. For a moment, my heart sunk. And then I realized Mother Nature's plan was so much better than my own.
Nora loves nothing more than being alone and deep in thought. When she falls into this state, you can always tell, because she unknowingly hums or sings to herself. If you look closely at some of these photos, you'll find she was singing her heart out to the ocean. Then she started to collect shells. And, finally, she started to find bits of washed-up fan coral. The fog served to isolate Nora in her own world, allowing the portraits to capture her to the core—wild haired, free spirited and lost in the utter peace of solitude.
Want to know two secrets to photographing toddlers? 1) Acceptance that they, not you, are going to dictate the session; and 2) a fast shutter speed to capture constant motion.
I didn't have a plan for Piper's 2-year-old session other than trying to convince her to hang out on the front porch with me. She took care of the rest in a way that turned out so much better than I ever could have orchestrated myself. These photos capture her in her element. They place her in the context both of her birth month (spring blooms) and our beloved home.
None of us has accepted that our tiny newborn Piper is already 2. She is joy. She is spunk. She is humor. She is mischief. She is an incredible communicator. Here is a sample of things that have come out of her mouth within the last 24 hours (no exaggerations, I swear):
In reference to the caterpillars we're raising on the kitchen counter, "Look, the caterpillars [pronounced abby-pillars] are in their chrysalides."
She spins the globe, places her finger on Asia and says without prompting, "This is Asia."
Her jokes are the best: "Woof, woof! I'm a chicken!"
I have so many favorite aspects of this parenting journey so far (and, of course, plenty moments I'd rather forget), but one of the most rewarding parts has been the bond Jeff, Cricket, Nora and I share of just loving on Piper and being in constant awe of her together. The big girls are just as sad about Piper growing up too fast as Jeff and I are. She is the perfect little exclamation point at the end of our family.
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.