Catch and Release

The mornings unfurl before me now, expansive, open ended. Suddenly there’s time to sit on the screened porch, the cicadas humming, their white noise infiltrating the silence, the rain playing its staccato beat, and write. Think. Be. Suddenly there’s endless time to swim and train, to run errands, unencumbered. To meander around bookstores, the colorful spines of the books lining the shelves, a running rainbow of words and stories.

It’s unsettling, this free time, and I’m unsure how to navigate because in the midst of exhaling, of realizing this gift of quiet and time to myself after years of very little, is the immutable reality that my role as a mother is always changing. We spend years knitting together our own version of motherhood. We question; we cry; we laugh. We sigh exasperatedly and feel that we will never quite get it right. And all the while, as we furiously create new layers, new textures, and designs, we realize that the other end is slowly and methodically unraveling.

Motherhood, it seems, is a catch and release, a ceaseless practice of gathering close and of letting go. And the unraveling around here lately has reached a furious pitch; we are on the cusp of change, just dipping our toes into the liminal spaces between the shadows of childhood and the hazy beginnings of becoming.

The sun hadn’t yet begun its wide arc across the sky as I stumbled out of bed and downstairs to find Pacey already dressed, packed, and ready to catch the bus on his first day of high school. Over the rim of my coffee cup, through the steam, I examined him, memorized the few remaining round, boyish features that lingered along the lines of his face. We’ve grown together; we’ve argued and said many harsh words; we’ve snuggled and watched movies and read books; and now that he’s tipped the scale towards more man than boy, now that he’s starkly taller than I am, I see that I’m releasing more than I’m catching. Our orbit grew ever so wider as he walked to the corner, backpack-less despite my futile protests, brown paper lunch bag in hand, his plain black lunchbag quickly becoming another unwanted relic of middle school. I couldn’t help but see the boy he was, the knock-kneed, striped polo shirt, backpack so large that it almost swallowed him figure that I sent to kindergarten in a release that was no less large, no less wrenching than this.

I know our time together, this day to day getting on with school and soccer and home and endless summers has already reached its pinnacle. We are on the downward slope, quickening with each day towards even more difficult releases, and I frantically want to grasp at every scant piece of his boyhood that remains on the edges. And while I know that the teen years are a time of reckoning, a time of push back and brassy behavior, I can’t help but want to soften my response to the increasing chaos and embrace the crazy, emotional, and sometimes obnoxious ways they embrace the world. Because I’m learning that softening, a more emollient and gentler approach with my children and maybe more importantly myself is the answer to the tumultuous way life refines us.

To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. —Pema Chodron

Every part of me wanted to panic and rattle as I struggled with gracefully allowing Rowan to board the bus later that morning. It was now her turn, with her too-big backpack and knobby knees, another image that will be a fallback, a marker, one to draw up when we need comfort. The bus drove away with a loud rumble, and I saw in such sharp relief that our entire reality shifted in that moment. Another orbit dramatically expanded and our slow mornings and drawn out and placid days are now the stuff of memory: another release, more merciless unraveling.

We talk of how babies change our lives, how time to ourselves becomes something of luxury. We move sleepily through molasses infused hours that bind each day indistinctly to the next, and then we finally come to the day we send everyone to school. I’ve been expecting to find more clarity; I expected to be invigorated by the freedom, and it’s surprising to find it feels just as hazy but with less noise. We will find our way, our comfort with this new routine and schedule, but for now, it feels strangely foreign and ill-fitting. It’s scratchy and unfamiliar, and in an attempt to not unravel myself, I’m softening my approach here, too. I’m, begrudgingly at times, giving myself the space to feel completely raw and uncomfortable because I’m learning that this constant knitting and unraveling is life’s way of refining us. The unraveling will relentlessly continue, but on the other end, unfurled and beautiful, ragged and undefined, there are new intricate layers and designs surfacing.


Pitching Tents

Our campsite sat alone at the edge of a winding array of freshly groomed and perfectly square parcels of temporary residences. Slowly, we pitched our tent, what would become our shelter for the weekend, vulnerable and thin. Carefully choosing a corner of our site that had just enough tree cover and just enough space to hold the rectangular base of our tent, we brought the tent to three dimensions.

This trip, poised perfectly at the cusp of summer and fall, was a reaching, a narrowing of my purpose to provide my children and myself with what I believe we need in this world: nature, the rhythm of a day lived wholly outside, living by the sunrise and the sunset, simple, quiet togetherness. A longtime camper, our recent lives have included no weekend excursions. It simply wasn’t something that we found worked as a whole family, but recently, I’ve longed for the simplicity of the mountains, the way the crisp morning air provides a stark contrast to the day’s waiting warmth and humidity, the pungent campfire smoke, and the ambling way the hours drift by.

Just as my meager and out of practice fire began to finally form in the ring, a summer thunderstorm rolled across the tops of the trees and rain began to fall, slowly at first and with just enough time before the skies completely opened to dash on the rain fly and find solace in the tent. The rain pelted on the tent in a disparate but comforting rhythm, the delicate rivulets decorated the outside walls haphazardly in a veiny and translucent roadmap. Our new tent was being water tested within an hour of its debut, and we laughed at the impeccable timing of a surprise storm when the weather had shown no chance of rain.

Like the tent, I was also being tested within an hour of our arrival. This camping trip was the beginning of a different story I’m choosing to tell myself. Different than what I believed was capable of doing on my own. Different from the story I had been telling myself for years. A story that has had a rigid perimeter and a stringent middle. A story that says the idyllic, the ideal, the normal is the only definition of success and happiness.

It’s so easy to get absorbed in the caricatures of life we see every day, so easy to become enamored with the vision of a curated life, an exacting script to follow, a carefully plotted beginning, middle, and end. What I’m beginning to learn, what I’ve been learning over and over, is that there is no such script, no such predetermined plot line for a perfect life. Our decisions, our actions, and our desires form the plot line as we go, and it becomes perfect in its own design. It leads us to where we are meant to be.

And so I found myself alone with my children in a tent, during a thunderstorm in the mountains, making shadow puppets on the tent’s walls, laughing about the gibberish the lines of rain created, telling scary stories. I felt myself relax into this space just a little, the rain slowly peeling away the murky layers I’ve carried in a futile attempt to control and create a life that fit my exacting mold.

The storm finally waned but the rain drops deposited on the trees’ leaves relentlessly pelted the tent’s roof throughout the night, and it left me feeling raw and vulnerable, cracked open and exposed. My nerves were already on edge from venturing into this space on my own, and in the thick darkness I could hear Gage stir, sniffle, and then turn with a garbled release of sleepy words. In turn my emotions ran rampant and fluctuated between courageous and terrified. We knew no one else in the campground, my cell phone defiantly displayed No Service, there was word that a bear had been nosing around campsites at night in search of food, and within an hour of our arrival my story of how our weekend would go had been changed, wetted, and shifted.

Suddenly I had an intense and almost uncontrollable urge to go home, to frantically disassemble the drenched tent, pack my sleepy children into the car, and crash through the closed park gate, leaving the rain and the bear behind. I questioned my purpose in bringing us here, alone, without another adult to lean on for support. The sense of being utterly alone and unmoored in the world for that moment was inescapable and oppressive. I wondered: was I really interested in bringing us closer to nature and an easier way of living, if just for a few days, or was I trying to prove something?

Without the mind-numbing escape of social media or games on my phone, I found that my only way through this rainy, restless night was to breathe through the panic and to hold my fear gently. The soaked leaves finally dried, and we emerged from our soggy cocoon to face a new day, the fears of the night before fell away as we set to the morning duties of drying off chairs, making coffee, setting up the stove and making breakfast. The frantic questioning of the night before was silenced, quieted in the way that mountain mornings can hush most stress, and I trusted that we were here, in this magical place, amidst strangers and maybe a roaming bear, for exactly the reason we needed to be.

There was nothing left to prove because in the uncomplicated morning air, it was clear that this exodus from our normal lives was simply about us being together in this space that felt magical. It was about creating the plot line for our lives, in all of its messiness and unexpected turns and soggy tents. Rather than living in a desperate attempt to prove myself and create and curate my identity and our lives to others, what was brought into sharp focus was a need to simply be, to exist together in this splendid slice of time, a halcyon way to close the summer out, unfettered and free.



Today I held Jon tightly and had my first teary-eyed goodbye at an airport gate. Strangers walked by and smiled gently as I wiped the tears that traced my cheeks, and I had to almost laugh at the subtext of my story because I was only going to be away for 48 hours. Still those tears have been pooling, nudging, wanting to fall for more than just today.

I don’t know if it’s the heavy, heat of summer, the prospects of a short visit to parts of my past life this weekend, or just my nature that has me splashing messily around in my emotions. Maybe it’s part of the journey, maybe it’s the two-to-one intervals of making progress and stepping back: the ebb and flow of growth.

And while it’s incredibly easy to slip into auto-pilot mode and float along on the surface of my life, it’s not how I’m built. The more I avoid the deep, sometimes murky parts of life, the more dark and murky and confused I become. In the last few years, I’ve felt pressure— internal and external— to carefully curate what I present to the world. Because this has become less of a purely personal blog and more of a blog for my business, I’ve held back from writing. From sharing, from thinking, from really being who I am. Because what would people think? What would clients think? What would colleagues think? Shouldn’t I be building my brand first and use my blog for a different purpose than I once have? And while everyone says that branding should be personal, I feel like there’s an asterisk: *but not that personal.

I have my own asterisks.

*I’m tired of branding myself.

*I’m tired of curating myself.

This summer has been full and active and filled with layers that I know I need, but it has also felt dark and heavy, and I think that is a culmination of over two years of layerless living. I threw myself so fully into building a business, into becoming successful, into learning, into fitting in that I gave up on the dimensions of my own story beyond photography. When that happens it’s incredibly easy to slip into old habits of self-criticism, of feeling eternally less than, of never measuring up to self-imposed notions of perfection.

I clipped my own wings.

Is it any wonder that now I feel stuck? I know this place well. It’s a cycle that I’ve perfected since childhood, and for the past two weeks, I’ve hidden. I’ve managed only the bare minimum of social media business tasks. I’ve really wanted to stay under the covers, and a bad cold gave me the excuse to do that some of the time.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
-Brene Brown

My story may not be tidy and exceedingly peppy all of the time. It’s true that sometimes I think “too much” about life, and I will always prefer a deep, whole-hearted conversation over small talk. I could choose to continue running from my story, but instead I’m ready to own it, to share it, to layer it with what fits, and to ruthlessly extract the parts that don’t so that I can authentically and carefully


Finding Purpose

Today I had the honor of speaking at my alma mater to a group of students who achieved principal’s list during the last quarter. I definitely had a mix of nerves and excitement. Even though my background is teaching, this does not equate to being a gifted or comfortable public speaker. I gradually found comfort in my classrooms, but the big difference is they become safe places. Each of my classes would become more like a big, somewhat dysfunctional family. In contrast, a cafeteria full of 60 teenagers staring at me talk into a microphone is vastly different.

I was asked to talk about passion, life goals, and purpose. My life’s path has definitely not been a straight and simple one, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time (over) thinking about what I was meant to do with my life and always coming up short with finding a clear answer.

I have a rising freshman of my own at home, and he and I often have conversations about careers, life goals, and exactly what he wants to be when he grows up. And right now, he doesn’t have an idea and he tells me he’s too young to plan for the rest of his life… Wise words! Because I think back to always wondering what I wanted to be. What did I want to do with my life? And I never knew for sure. I changed my mind quite a bit, and I might have had five different majors in college. Five! And they really varied: in my 4.5 years in undergraduate school, I spent time as an English, history, art history, early childhood education, and a nursing major. (Hence the extra semester needed to actually finish my final major choice!)

Because of this constant indecision, I have always looked around and wondered how people get to where they are. On the surface it has often appeared like luck, a golden thread randomly woven into their fabric of life. There were many years of my adult life where I sat back in a protective cocoon, wondering when that thread of luck might weave its way into my life, too. It was a frustrating place, one of observation and envy, one of an almost consuming powerlessness.

And it always came back to that overwhelming question: what do I want to really do? I remember being captivated by my senior high school English teacher and her passion for literature and writing and the craft of teaching. She filled the room and shone an incandescent sort of light for us— a weary lot of overachieving seniors, but in the midst she drew out our creativity, our depth of thinking, and the writers we could one day be.

She was the reason I finally decided to teach English. I wanted to be like her; I wanted to fill a classroom with my passion. I wanted to read and write and teach. At least that’s what I thought. I’m an introvert by nature, a fairly quiet person. I work hard to not fill any room, so my experience in the classroom always felt flat. It wasn’t one of passion, but struggle; not a time of joy, but frustration and regret. From that first year of teaching, I knew I wasn’t where I wanted to be, yet I stayed for ten years hoping to one day understand that it was what I was meant to do. If I wanted to be like my teacher, I had to.

But that burning question persistently loomed well into my 30s. Two years ago, I was talking to my stepdaughter, then a college freshman, and she was embarking on a similar search as she tried to decide on a major and internships and big life questions. I found myself recanting my choices and paths.

I described my admiration of my teacher; I explained my frustration with the reality of teaching, and my perceived failures there. And what usually happens when we are helping others with their worries is that we help ourselves, too. I found myself explaining to her that admiring my teacher all those years ago did not mean that I was to teach.

Instead it was her passion I should have emulated: the way her eyes sparkled, the joy she held for her work, the momentum she created, the work she gladly put into making a happy space in her life.

I took myself by so much surprise in that statement that I had to pause to allow it to register. I had never thought about my own choices in that light. Rather than living with a sense of listlessness and confusion in what the future holds, I realized that it was up to me to bravely mark the trail towards what will make me most happy. And it didn’t have to look like anyone else’s path. Some people know what they want to do all along the way and some people, like me, might have to try a few things on before they realize what really fits. And neither way is wrong.

At that point in my life, I knew I loved photography. I knew I loved taking pictures of my children and family and capturing our life’s story. There was a quiet part of my heart that thought just maybe I could actually do this as something more than for our family, but it felt so large and frightening that I often tucked it away. Typically I wasn’t in the business of large and frightening decisions.

But immediately after that conversation, I realized my eyes sparkled when I was absorbed in photography. I would gladly put hours of work into learning and understanding the craft, the creative aspect, and the technical requirements. Finally! It was my own interpretation of my English teacher’s incredible passion for her craft. I realized that finally, at 35, I had found what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t know exactly what it would look like, and I certainly didn’t realize how hard it would be, but I knew I didn’t have to wonder anymore. It was up to me to take that golden thread and weave it through my own life, build a business, and create something wonderfully fulfilling.

Today has been full circle in many ways. To my surprise my Timehop app showed me this morning that I published parts of this blog two years ago today. And even though I honestly wanted to be sick driving to speak this morning, knowing that it was two years ago that I was brave enough to set into motion my photography dream made me feel a little braver in encouraging others to stay the course towards their dreams.

I ended my brief and somewhat shaky-voiced speech like this:

Some of you in this room may know without a doubt what you want to do. You might have a path plotted out from here until you’re my age, and that is amazing. Some of you might be more like I always was. You just might not know for sure what will be next for you after this chapter in your life is over. What I’ve learned along the way is that there isn’t one right path for any of us. Whichever place you find yourself, I urge you to search for the thing that makes your eyes light up and build your life around it. Fill the room with the part of you that shines and inspires others, and all of us will end up exactly where we are meant to be.

And I think that’s applicable no matter our age, no matter our place in life. No matter how lost or restless we feel, there’s a path for us to follow. It might be straight and simple or it could be convoluted and winding. Neither is more successful; neither is better; neither is correct. Because there’s beauty to be found in both the decisive and the indecisive.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray. -Rumi


Trust the Flight

On every flight, I grip the armrests pulling my knuckles tight. Impulsively, I resist the lift of the plane into the air. I push myself down into the seat and grasp for the safety of the ground below. My fear of flying, my tendency to expect the worst, to stress the possible and terrifying outcomes, makes the lift the worst moment of the flight.

But eventually, the plane pulls off of the ground, fighting gravity and the weight of passengers, luggage, and the sheer heft of itself. It’s a familiar struggle between the momentum generated to take flight and find lift and the desperate pull of gravity, of the earth’s roots, and the safety of the ground.

Three weeks ago, white-knuckled, I pressed myself down into the airplane seat, resisting the lift. I tensed, held my breath, and closed my eyes all while attempting to appear completely calm. I was on the way to Connecticut for a visit with a dear friend and a mentoring session with the wonderful photography team, Justin & Mary. Within that tension and breath holding, were many questions about my future dreams and goals, overwhelming fears about moving forward along a given path, and doubts regarding the choices I wanted to make.

I walked into my mentoring session the same way I boarded the plane: anxious, nervous, and afraid. We talked finances, we talked about dreams and a vision for my business, and we reviewed my website and social media accounts. Little by little I felt myself approaching take off. I felt myself impulsively pulling back; I heard myself making statements that were safe because I wasn’t sure I was brave enough to fly in the direction I thought I might want to.

I knew then that I had two options. I could walk away, stay grounded. Or I could trust the flight.

When Mary told me that she could tell just from my galleries that my true heart and soul was with my families, that because I choose to see and honor the beauty and complex imperfection of my own family’s blended history, I can also see and capture the beauty in the imperfection of the families I work with, tears filled my eyes. Mary saw my heart, and at that moment I felt safe enough to finally acknowledge it. I knew at that moment that I was finding the trust to finally lift off.

For months, I had been stuck in the moment before the lift, of fighting the flight. The moment just before the tires release their hold on the earth. I was struggling to stay grounded, safe, and rooted because choosing anything else felt too risky, too lofty, and too unknown.

But in the midst of this struggle there comes a point where the plane must fly. And we must too. We have to trust the flight and relax into the lift. Whether they are small, quiet changes or big, scary dreams, there’s a point where the fight to stay safe is no longer worth the struggle. We must grow.

We must fly.Mentoring with Justin and Mary

The Next Thing

We all have these moments. Moments of possibly standing at the brink of something vast, your toes curling the edges, your breath catching and rattling in sharp and uneven inhales. You have a nagging feeling that there is something you should be doing, a direction you should be moving, a plan of action that will propel you towards your goal, your purpose, your passion.

But you continue to stand there, feeling rather blank and somewhat foolish for not being busy and inspired. The world around you echoes with words like hustle, big-picture, long-term goals, and life’s passion. It clangs loudly, an awkward dinner bell calling what feels like everyone forth to feast but you.

I often find myself in this constant, toe-curling pattern, and my impulse is to shrink, to raise my flag of defeat at being successful or creative or driven. It’s the beginnings that paralyze me. The myriad options that are too vague and hazy, the edges too undefined. The possible trajectories at once trace the ground in a busy and veiny map and yet are uncomfortably absent, rooting me paralyzed to the spot where I stand.

I used to find myself frantically bobbing in the open water during races, gasping for breath, unable to see the immediate and logical solution of simply beginning: a few clumsy strokes slicing through the water, a few bubbles, and a few kicks. Over and over, until the entire process feels less overwhelming and much more reasonably accomplished.

And so it’s gone with pushing the shutter button and writing and having big ideas and moving forward in business.

But what I’ve learned (and often struggle to remember) through the multitude of open water panic attacks is rather than envisioning the entire race course, the huge and audacious but hazy idea, or the carefully crafted photography career, it’s much less terrifying and overwhelming to simply do the next thing.

The next thing might be one clumsy stroke in the water. Or a frustrating brain dump of awkward and simple sentences to reclaim the rhythm of fingers on the keyboard. It might be one email sent. Or finding the courage to shoot a session differently. And while disconcerting at first, the next thing might be embracing the discomfort of not knowing exactly what to do next or where you want to go and instead choosing to rest for some time in gratitude with everything that already is.

Because all of the single strokes and awkward bubbles propel you to the finish. The end becomes clearer, the strokes a little smoother, your confidence more palpable, and suddenly your toes brush the sand at the bottom, and you emerge from the water. Rebirthed and ready.


Do What Lights You Up

Much of my daily thought process is consumed by thoughts that contain the word should.

Big life thoughts that say maybe we should finally get our wills together. (Really though. This is a big, important, adult-like should that warrants some serious thought.)

Or littler, everyday thoughts that quietly nag that I should probably drink more water and less coffee. (I’m not sure that will ever happen.)

Business owner type thoughts that weigh on me and say maybe you should choose a narrower focus and pick a niche, define your style more clearly, post to Facebook more often, and figure out exactly who you are once and for all, please.

There are mom thoughts that tell me that I should be more creative, do more arts and crafts, get messy and let her paint. (When the truth is that sometimes the arts and crafts bug hits, and we do, but most of the time? We don’t.)

And then those simple maybe I should get out of yoga pants today and put on some make-up for once thoughts.

This endless cycle becomes a checklist of sorts. All of these should do, should be thoughts quickly tally up to a very large you-aren’t-enough list that becomes quite unruly, and we begin to feel very small and powerless in comparison to all of the ways we’ve expertly determined that we just don’t measure up.

And that moment right there, just at the point when it feels a little hard to breathe, is when my impulse to shut down begins. Because it’s much safer on the couch and much easier to close off to life (preferably in yoga pants).

Solitude is chosen separation for refining your soul. Isolation is what you crave when you’ve neglected the first. -Wayne Cordeiro

It becomes very, very tempting to sit in that isolation and brew in all of those shoulds that expose our perceived limitations.

And sometimes that brewing time is needed. Sometimes we need to sit in those tough, sticky moments before we can muster up enough energy to move past them.

Even if the only realistic movement we can imagine is to make the bed well after lunchtime. My grandma said a room is always better with a well-made bed. Maybe that can also be expanded. A day is always better with a well-made bed? Perhaps.

And that freshly made bed might urge you to tackle a fairly non-essential, though good it if it’s done kind of should, like putting away laundry. And maybe that’s the extent of the day and the rest is simply surviving and trudging through the muck.

Or maybe it’s just enough momentum to glimpse beyond the list of ways you don’t measure up to the actual you that’s perfect just the way you are (even if every one of those should be thoughts are maddeningly screaming otherwise).

Because when you can see just a few rays of light beyond the murky darkness you’ve created in your mind, you can begin (and begin once again) to move in the direction of what feels right for you, what makes your heart sing, what fulfills your soul. What lights you up. Because that will be your most important work. That will be the work that truly matters.

What lights you up? What shines the light beyond that mountainous, not-good-enough checklist? Do more of that. Even if it simply begins with a made bed and folded laundry.


Finding Words | Personal

I’m not sure why writing comes in ebbs and flows. It pulses. Faintly underneath the fear and muck of this life, it’s the draw that gently nudged me. To come back to focus. To come back to clarity in my mind instead of blindly navigating through.

I often feel restless and dissatisfied. There’s a deep ache and yearning for something that’s not there. Something that should be there. It always seems so grey and fuzzy this should be there but isn’t feeling. So I sometimes flail about recklessly dismantling things until the newness buries the anxious tension.

I’m sure that isn’t the smartest practice. And as I lie here, the rush of traffic swelling behind me continuously rising and falling. Rowan is beside me. Safe in her warm, middle spot in our bed. Secure in her girly nightgowned world, I wonder if it isn’t the world I am restless about. Maybe it isn’t the changes that anchor me to something secure. Maybe it is this. Maybe it is a writing practice. Maybe it is getting all the jumbled words and thoughts into a slightly coherent space and stepping back and seeing what has become of them.

I feel rusty. Especially in this early morning, the words feel pedantic and simple. Flat and lifeless. But it’s a start. It begins with one. Then two. Then ten and more. Maybe it is a free flowing of words that will start the upward climb to consistency. Maybe it is writing just for me in the grey light of the early morning. Maybe it is being totally incoherent and rambling. Maybe it is the journal-style brain dump that is the foundation for a more consistent practice. And in the end a more secure view of myself and the world.

In the rush of this business over the last year, every ounce of my creative energy has been poured lovingly into photography, and it has been a necessary care-taking process. I simply have not had enough left in me to write more than short snippets before image-laden posts and maybe a simple personal post here and there. But now that the business-life dance is finding some sort of consistent rhythm, I feel ready to find words again. Because I am not only my pictures and my work. I am not only my running, biking, and swimming (or lack thereof this year), and in words I find the meaning to frame this crazy and beautiful life.

I look forward to once again sharing them with you. <3