staying at home: homesteading

for the second installment of my staying at home project, i documented another longtime friend of mine who is near and dear to my heart. she and i met in our “previous lives”- which is what i often call my time as a teacher before i had kiddos, left the workforce, and picked up photography. she was my assistant teacher, but the truth is, she helped me do so much more than teach. she helped me rediscover the goodness in myself and the people around me. she helped me turn my bad attitude around. she reignited my love for teaching that had slowly started to burn out.

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this lady, right here? she is a fountain of strength and grace and humility. she has walked through the fire for her son and her family, and still she wakes up and tackles each day with determination and a steady joy. Even on the hard days, the days when she feels like she could just give up, she finds ways to make those around her feel valued, listened to, and loved.

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pam, her husband, and her son live with her mother on a beautiful piece of land that has space for more animals than i could count, a garden, a sprawling yard, and lots (and lots) of bugs for her kiddo to catch. while pam and her mom often care for the animals together, on the day i was there, pam was tackling the morning chores on her own. i watched and documented in awe as she completed her tasks with a steady, familiar rhythm as her son wove himself in and out of the scene. if she ever felt overwhelmed with his boundless energy (as i often feel with my own children when i’m trying to accomplish something), she never once showed it. she never faltered in her work, but instead found simple ways to include him, to teach and share with him, and to acknowledge him as an important part of their life and home.

the best part of my time there, though, was seeing the subtle evidence of how their lifestyle and pam’s loving demeanor has influenced her son. as she worked outside, he played outside- never once did he ask to go in or complain about the bright sun or hot air. as she showed loving care towards their animals, he showed loving care towards their animals. he greeted each of them, helped feed them, showed me where they slept and what they ate, told me their names, and shared stories about them. she moved from one task to another, he offered to help. she got dirt on her hands and mud on her boots, he got dirt and mud pretty much everywhere.

i think that one of the most challenging parts of parenthood is meeting your kids where they are. to acknowledge their interests and strengths and find a way to nurture and encourage them requires us to set aside our own expectations and desires. it takes patience and commitment to keep ourselves calm and steady as we allow our children to wander, explore, and expand their own understanding of the world. but pam, this beautiful friend of mine, has done this for her son and more. she has allowed him a childhood in which he can get his hands dirty, roam free throughout their yard, keep a bucket full of crickets and grasshoppers, and learn about life in a way that is meaningful to him. she has fought for him, lifted him up, and loved him through good moments and bad moments, quiet and loud, tears and smiles. she has shown him that real love is deep and beautiful, in its own messy and imperfect way.


suburban homestead

one of my very favorite things about doing documentary sessions is that i get to witness the way other people live their lives. i get to observe some startling similarities to my own life and all of the universal truths about parenthood and young children and just being a person trying to make it through the day, but i also get to see people doing amazing things that i could only ever dream of accomplishing.

this family, for example, decided a few years ago that they wanted to try growing a fig tree in their backyard, and since then, they have turned their entire yard into this incredible homestead with fruit trees, vegetables, berry bushes, herbs, and more flowers than I could ever learn the names of.

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it was amazing to me to see how they gave a purpose to every bit of space available to them, making use of the sunlight and the shade, and cleverly fitting in plants, trees, and bushes in spots that most people would deem unusable.

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the best part of it all, though, was seeing how their entire family tends to the garden together. the kids led me around the entire house, showing me the sections they planted on their own, naming their favorite herbs, and teaching me how to harvest the flowers and berries that were ready for picking. They ate foods right off the plant that my own children wouldn’t look twice at even if they were dipped in chocolate, and over and over again i found myself wishing we lived next door so that they could share some of their incredible knowledge (and maybe a little of their harvest!) with us.

as i followed them throughout the evening, i was in awe of the subtle flow of their routine. while mom and dad moved from section to section of the garden harvesting, weeding, pruning, and tending, the kids wove their way in and out of the work. they would pick, eat, explore, play, run, laugh, pick more, eat more, ask a question or two, help out a bit, run off for a little while, and then return. back and forth, from the garden to the swing set to the patio to the flower beds as the light from the setting sun drenched the tops of their heads and their shadows lengthened.

even amid the normal chaos of raising two young children, there was a peace that settled across their garden as they poured their time and love into it. they have worked together to create this space that provides a unique sort of life to their family that goes beyond food and dried herbs made into teas and tinctures- it is time spent together, a way to learn about and connect with the world that sustains us, and an appreciation for the value of hard work and commitment.

this homestead of theirs, this life that they have built, the family they are raising- it is a beautiful thing that was inspiring to witness and a privilege to document. happy homesteading :)

staying at home: infusion day

not too very long ago, as i pushed my way through the daily grind of stay-at-home-momhood, it occurred to me that stay at home parents face a unique set of challenges and possess a unique set of strengths.

before i go further let me clarify- every type of parenting is hard. single parenting. working parenting. mixed family parenting. adoptive parenting. special needs parenting. it's not a contest or a competition. we're all in the trenches. 
parenting. is. hard.

all the kinds of parenting share some of the same hard things, but they all each have their own unique hard things, too. and since i'm a stay at home momma, i'm up close and personal with the uniquely hard things that go along with stay at home parenting.

so as i got to thinking about these unique challenges and strengths, i also got to thinking about some of the other stay at home parents i know, and how they handle not only the struggles that come with being at home all day, every day with their kiddos, but also how they handle their OWN stuff on top of that.

cause some of these women i know, they've got some big stuff to handle.

and when i couldn't stop thinking about all of these things, i decided i needed to stop trying to stop thinking about them and start documenting them instead.

so i’m starting a new long term project with no timeline and no agenda other than to capture the realities of what parents raising their kids at home face every day. because there are some days when i feel like i can’t do it anymore, and i simply need to know that i am not alone in order to keep pushing forward, and i’m guessing i’m not the only one who feels that way.

i’m kicking off the project with a woman who is, day after day, my inspiration. she has a heart for God, a heart for others, and a heart for her children that never fails to amaze me. she faces life with grace, poise, faith, and strength, even in the face of difficulty, heartbreak, and uncertainty.

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this is my best friend, meredith. 10 years ago, meredith was diagnosed with crohn’s disease. an autoimmune disorder that affects the GI system, crohn’s disease has no cure and involves pain, uncertainty, medication, and lifelong dietary and lifestyle changes.

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when meredith was first diagnosed, she was newly married and working as a teacher. she was started on IV medication infusions to control her symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. every 6 weeks she would have to take a day off of work to spend several hours in the hospital to receive treatment alongside others with chronic illnesses. as she and her husband started (and then grew) their family, meredith stopped working to stay at home to raise and homeschool their two children. after consulting with multiple doctors and spending weeks praying and researching, they decided that she would continue with the infusions throughout her pregnancies and while breastfeeding. this meant that she now had to find time for her infusions along with childcare for while she was gone. on several occasions she even had to take her infant daughter with her to the hospital.

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and then meredith found out about a program that would allow her to receive her infusions at home. after jumping through the hoops inevitably present with the doctors, the insurance company, and the nursing program, she was able to set it up to have a nurse come to her home every 6 weeks to administer her treatment. this allows her to not only receive her medication in the comfort of her own home, but it also removes the stress of finding and arranging childcare- and, now that she’s expecting another baby, keeps her trips to the doctor’s office to a minimum.

while this change has its obvious benefits, it also presents its own set of challenges as well. on top of inviting a nurse into her home for several hours every 6 weeks, meredith also needs to keep their daily routine going while hooked up to an IV pole. she has to deal with the immediate side effects of the medicine while she continues to be a mother and a housewife.

she plays, fixes hair, makes lunches, does potty runs, settles little bodies for naps, snuggles tears away, cleans up messes, and dances to goofy youtube videos, all with an IV in her arm and a smile on her face.

to add to the balancing act, the day i was there taking these photos, she was still in the process of unpacking and organizing after their move just a week prior, AND she was taking care of two extra kiddos for the day. still, she continued on unfazed, handling the day with a positivity i’m not sure i would have been able to muster even on a normal day.

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the truth is, being at home with your kids every day can be a lonely and never ending cycle of caring for others. laundry, dishes, meals, messes, dressing, pottying, teaching, playing, negotiating, refereeing, guiding, loving, the list continually grows as it repeats itself. to say that it is easy for your own needs to get lost in the shuffle is an understatement. there is a certain beauty in meredith’s situation- her children are learning compassion and understanding for what others are going through. she is teaching them by example how to persevere when circumstances become difficult to endure. she is showing them how to lean on the Lord and His strength when your own falls short of what you need. it is not easy, but in the end, it is so very worth the struggle.

conversation update

melissa and i have kept on talking to one another as our summers have unfolded, and we both have really stretched ourselves in ways i don’t think we ever expected. i even used a street shot for one of my images instead of my own kiddos. we’ve looked at composition, colors, layers, framing, gestures, lighting, shapes, and moment. there are so many elements to our photographs that we never considered, and so many different ways to connect to an image.

here’s my latest reply to her:

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and below is our conversation from the beginning- click right to see the progression!

the conversation, continued

in case you missed my last post, here’s a quick recap:

  • my friend melissa is awesome and has the best ideas

  • her latest idea was to have a “photo conversation” with each other throughout the summer

  • i started the conversation with this photo-

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so now we’ve “spoken” back and forth a few times and let me tell you what- this project is every bit as wonderful as i anticipated (and then some).

here’s the photo i just sent off to her today. click right to start the conversation from the beginning to see how we got here!


conversation starter

i took some photos today for my 365.

they were not good.

i deleted all of them.

buuuut, i still have a deep rooted need to share a daily photo.

so, i thought i’d take this opportunity to share a new collaboration i’m starting with one of my very most favorite photographers, melissa hines. she is talented and brilliant and always comes up with the best ways for us to work together to help grow ourselves as artists (and humans).

this summer, we plan on having a conversation with one another entirely through photos.

yup.

how cool is that?

i kicked us off earlier this week by sending her this shot:

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and now i’m sitting over here eagerly waiting to see what her response is.

i’ll be blogging our conversation from time to time, with all of the previous images included so you can follow along.

it’s going to be a good summer :)

celebrating charlie

two weekends ago, i had the pleasure of photographing “baby charlie”’s (as he is affectionately known around our home) fourth birthday party.

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i remember the day charlie was born, with his thick blond hair with the little front cowlick.

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i remember the day charlie was two pink lines, and his momma told me about the answer to their prayers as i snuggled and nursed my own little new one.

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i remember when charlie was a wish in his momma’s heart, and we talked and dreamed and hoped about the journey she had ahead.

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i remember when charlie’s momma and daddy got married, and the immensity of their love and joy and anticipation of everything their future held as they said i do.

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i remember when charlie’s momma walked into my life, and her friendship transformed me and lifted me up and brought me back from somewhere i had gotten lost without knowing it until i was found again.

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her beautiful heart is in his sweet soul. the light that shines from her eyes shines from his too. her kindness and concern for others, her love of animals and God’s creation, her heart on her sleeve- all these things she has given to charlie, and in these last four years they have grown and expanded in him and created a little one so vibrant and full of life that you can’t help but smile when you are with him.

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charlie, you are a precious gift to your momma and daddy, to your friends and family, and to anyone who is fortunate enough to cross your path. what an honor it was for me to be one more soul welcomed into your home overflowing with love and company to celebrate your four years with us.

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here’s to all that you are and all that you will be. happy birthday :)

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why documentary: your looks vs. your legacy

there are a lot of different names for the type of photography i do- family photojournalism, documentary photography, storytelling sessions, etc- but when you boil it down, they are all rooted in the same basic principle: to photograph your life as you live it. no posing, no direction, no special outfits or locations, just you and your people being who you are.

because the concept of this type of photography is still so new and generally unknown and misunderstood, it’s been my intention for awhile now to start a blog series on why documentary sessions are so valuable and meaningful. like many other things, however, it has continually gotten pushed to the bottom of the pile as other things popped up and took priority. i was frustrated with myself for not getting it done, but when i came home from a recent trip to visit my grandparents, i was thankful i’d put it off for so long. this set of photos was meant for this series, and it’s the perfect way to kick it off.

my grandfather turned 90 a few weeks ago, and so the day after thanksgiving, we all loaded up and made the 6 hour car trip to celebrate with him. it ended up being an 8.5 hour drive, so when we finally arrived, we all felt like this:

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And even though it poured the entire next day, we managed to have some fun in the condo my grandmother booked for us.

it was fun to capture these moments of my kiddos enjoying our trip, but what i was really looking forward to was creating photos of my grandparents. i don’t get to see them nearly as often as i would like, especially now that i have three little ones and road trips are a bit more challenging, and even though this was a solidly joyful visit, in the back of my mind, i was acutely aware that this could very well be the last time i get to see my grandfather.

i have many deeply fond memories of my grandparents from my childhood that reach far beyond the way they looked. i remember how their house smelled. i remember my grandmother’s meticulous decorating and her treasured possessions. i remember the way my grandfather would point when he was talking (see above!) or telling a joke. his laugh is still the same now, although perhaps a little bit slower and quieter than it once was. i remember the way my grandmother would tilt her chin up to look down through her glasses at the right angle as she focused on a task. i remember how she would always find a way to let me help, the way she let my boys help get some decorations ready for the evening’s party, and the way she always had something small but special on hand for me to keep as a reminder of our trip to see her (i don’t think she really bought these harry potter glasses for herself like she said she did!).


when we walked into their apartment a few weeks ago, all of those memories came flooding back, the way they always do whenever we manage a trip down to see them. i was determined to create photos that held evidence of who my grandparents are- the things they value, the way they care for and live in their space, the way they love us, and the way they love each other.

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if i had asked them to stand next to each other and smile, they would have done that for me. they would have put their arms around each other and stood close and beamed because their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren were surrounding them. but this- this is so much more. i waited and i watched and i was rewarded with this brief but deeply real and pure exchange of smiles and touch and love that has lasted through time and through life.

the rest of our trip was full of moments, large and small, that held significant meaning for me, each in their own way- people, gestures, expressions, interactions, connections. each was a part of something larger than itself; these moments were and are the building blocks that when put together, create who we are as a family, with my grandparents at the foundation. they have spent their lives pouring themselves into us so that when the time comes, we can continue their legacy for them.

here’s what we need to keep in mind when we choose to have photos of our family taken- we are so much more than the outfits we put together or the way we do our hair or the way that we smile. well coordinated and posed family pictures in a stunning location are a beautiful keepsake to have (i have dragged my own family out for quite a few, believe me), but there is so much missing from them. they can showcase how our faces change throughout the years, but they can’t document how we grow in our hearts and in our souls and in our lives. they are an accurate and lovely representation of our physical beauty, but they simply cannot show the depth of our personalities or the way that we interact with the world. i am so thankful for the last photo shown above because it will help me always remember how my beautiful grandparents looked in that moment, but i’m even more thankful for the other photos in this post because they show me the legacy that they lived and will leave for us; they will forever make me feel the way i felt when i was with my grandparents then and now, and that is a treasure worth holding on to.

your life isn't boring

a few nights ago, i did another session in my favorite spot in my favorite forest- which brought the count up to 3 out of the last 4 days spent photographing in the woods. i ooo’ed and ahhh’ed over its beauty with my clients like i always do, i gushed over how much i love it there, and i left satisfied that i created images of the family that were enhanced by the gorgeous location we were in.

but then something happened.

i came home, put the kiddos to bed, and while i sat next to my littlest kiddo making sure he was really asleep before i tried to escape, i scrolled through my newsfeed. in my newsfeed, i saw a photo from another photographer out west with a gorgeous, sweeping landscape with huge beautiful mountains in the background. and guys- i was immediately jealous.

my first thought was, “gosh, i wish i had somewhere beautiful like that to shoot”.

and then i thought “it’s just so boring here in pennsylvania”.

i had just left a forest of stunning, towering pines 2 hours prior. but i saw those snow-capped mountains in that photo and they were so beautiful and striking and eye-catching that they shoved my favorite forest right out of my head.

i started to sift through the photos i had taken that night, and i completely failed to appreciate just how lovely the backdrop of our shoot was. i was too distracted by the shot with closed eyes, the perfect shot that of course was out of focus, and the nagging remnants of that other photographer’s mountain photo still lingering in my mind’s eye. but then, God started working on my heart (as He so often does) and i started to see my photos again- to really see them- and something else happened.

something clicked in my mind and it occurred to me that in the last several months, i’ve taken photos in a forest, in a sunflower field, at a lake, on some boulders lining a creek, in a pumpkin patch, in a fruit orchard, on a hillside covered with dandelions, alongside a freshly planted corn field, and in a flower filled garden overlooking rolling hills. and i never had to drive more than an hour to take any of them.

so here’s the reality-

this.

is.

NOT.

boring.

and neither is your life.

hear me out on this one.

the reason a lot of people say they don’t want a documentary session in their home is because they’re afraid their life is too boring and won’t photograph well. but here’s the deal- your life ISN’T boring. it’s no more boring than the forest or the sunflower field or the lake that i frequent with my kiddos for day trips and photo ops. it only feels boring to you because you see it everyday. once something becomes a fixture in our lives, once we become accustomed to something, once our sense of wonder is replaced with a sense of familiarity, a false feeling of boredom starts to settle over us. we like things that are new and fresh and different. it’s why i was so easily distracted by another photographer’s image- they have a backdrop i don’t have access to, one i don’t see in photos often (or in person at all).

sometimes what we need to restore our sense of awe and wonder in the things that have started to feel stale in our lives is a fresh perspective. at the end of each day, ask your kids what their favorite part of the day was, or what they wish they could change about the day (their answers may surprise you). take a few minutes each day to observe the things around your home that serve as evidence that your people live there (example: this morning there were 3 nerf guns scattered across my living room floor). or, maybe, allow someone into your home to document your family as an impartial observer so that they can show you that your home, your family, your life are all every bit as stunning as a forest full of towering pines.

at the lake

most of the time, i’m wildly critical of my own work. i nit pick and get frustrated with what i should have done differently, and often, if i’m not planning on sharing the photos, i’ll do a quick edit, stash them in the proper folder, and permit myself to not look at them any more.

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but sometimes- every once in a great while- i’ll take a set of photos that i just can’t get enough of. that as i edit, i can feel my hands start to get all tingly with excitement because i want to edit faster so i can see the end result.

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this was one of those times- and i’m extra smitten with this particular set of photos because all but a select few were begging to be converted to black and white. and i know some of you color junkies may disagree with me, but i promise you, i tried most of them in color too and believe me- the black and white just makes them sing (i think it’s that lovely cloudy sky that does it).

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and who knows, maybe the reason i love them so much isn’t because there’s anything particularly fabulous about them, but because they perfectly illustrate just how lovely the evening was when i took them. the weather was perfect, the lake was quiet and empty, the children were happy, and the company was good.

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i’d argue that if that is the case- that i love them not because of their artistic quality but because of their emotional and personal quality- that that makes them even more valuable than if they were just beautiful photographs. what good is a visually stunning photo if it makes you feel nothing? i love these because i look at them and remember how the air felt on my skin that afternoon. i can smell the subtle hint of fall in the soft breeze. i can hear the scratch of the boys’ sticks across the sand and the baby’s footsteps as he tried to keep up.

i keep looking at these photos over and over because they are our life, and our life is good, even when things are crazy, or hard, or the world seems to have lost its way. i look at these photos and i am thankful for our quiet afternoon of peace, together, at the lake.