Absolutely loved this recent cousin session at Historic Jerusalem Mill. It was totally last minute. 3 of the cousins were visiting from Wisconsin when they realized they had a great opportunity to take some beautiful portraits from their grandparents. I am so glad we did because the session turned out perfect. We met early in the morning (well, early in the morning for me!) and explored the beautiful grounds and captured some great images along the way.
It’s 90+ degrees outside. Humidity is insane. And I’m talking Christmas. For real? For real.
I am so excited to welcome Santa back this year! Last year was so magical - and we’ve added more sessions so everyone can have an amazing experience.
Santa and Me Limited Edition Sessions
Date: Sunday, December 15th
Location: Maryland Creative Collective 1901 Monkton Rd Monkton MD 21111
Times: 10 minute sessions from 9am to 4pm
Includes: A memorable visit with Santa to share your holiday wish list and enjoy milk and cookies or reading a classic holiday story + 5 digital images
Rate: $150 ($50 deposit to book and $100 due before December 1st) OR Prepay at booking for $125
***THIS IS AN AUTISM FRIENDLY/ SENSORY FRIENDLY EVENT***
You may recognize guest blogger Kelly Logan Gould as the beauty and brains behind her former blog Gouldylox. She is a producer, writer, blogger, and creator of the incredible organization, KarmaDogs. She is also a total hair guru so when I needed to latest on the best products to cure my summer hair blues - she was the first person to jump in my head. NOTE: This blog contains affiliate links.
Summer hair, don’t care?
Nah. You know you do. Here are the latest products to make the most of your summer hair care.
Sand, sun and summer shenanigans all lead to greasy hair. One surefire way to degunk your scalp is with activated charcoal. It’s no secret that charcoal will dry up the yuckies and impurities your hair picks up during your adventures. But using activated charcoal on your hair can end those embarrassing flakies and leave your hair shinier than ever. My choice? OGX Purifying + Charcoal Detox Shampoo. It purifies and leaves your scalp and hair squeaky clean without overdoing it. Use once or twice a week to really clean your hair and scalp. $8.99
Need some style boosting help? Cake is a new drugstore haircare line and it’s got the goods. While it smells like cake, it works like a boss B. Don’t let the strong scent of spice cake scare you, these top-notch budget stylers will save the day.
The Wave Maker is a light spray in that uses mainly sugar to give you beachy hair. Unlike others, it doesn’t feel sticky, dry your hair out and it brushes out beautifully. $6.99
The Locks Smith Dry Conditioner will add a softness and shine to hair between conditioning treatments. This won’t leave your hair greasy; just gorgeous. $7.99
Can’t stand the heat? Give your hair some Hawaiian tlc with Maui Moisture Heal & Hydrate + Shea Butter Hair Mask. This mask is like a vacation from styling tools for your hair. Shea Butter hydrates and coconut water smoothes and settles hair back into a happier, hydrated state. Throw it in wet hair and a bun and hit the beach. You won’t believe how soft and shiny your hair is afterward! $9.49
I first met Henry and Jimmy long before they entered this world when I had lunch with their mama. She had just found out she was pregnant and said she felt nauseous. Me, with 3 kids, said, “You’re 4 weeks pregnant. It’s in your head. Or it’s twins” and then I laughed and laughed. So I was pretty shocked when a few weeks later, I got a text from her to the effect of “It’s $*%&(ing twins”.
Henry and Jimmy came into this world a lot sooner than planned. They were so fortunate that their NICU stay was minimal and they did not experience the setbacks many other children born at the same gestation have - but that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy path. After their first birthday cake smash, their mom decided to have a portrait session every year for their birthday - and to include their NICU pictures with it. I love this tradition and I am so honored to have been able to capture it.
TRIGGER WARNING: This article involves child loss.
These sessions have taken much longer than I anticipate to photograph and blog. But it’s not because I’m too busy or I don’t want to. It’s because they are so deeply emotional…. It’s a lot. With each one of these mamas stories, I relive my own. It gives me comfort that I am not alone … but also makes me mourn for just how many moms are living the same life.
I’d like to introduce you to Jessica. What struck me most about Jessica when she entered the studio was just how happy and joyous she was. I remember going through our own Autism diagnosis and I really worried I would never feel happiness or joy again. And yet here was Jessica, who walked in six months pregnant and just glowed and radiated joy. Which is even more remarkable given her story.
You see, Jessica was pregnant (she has since given birth to her beautiful daughter, Ellia) and had her son, Camden, in the studio. But in between Camden and Ellia is her daughter Kennady, who passed a little over a year ago from neuroblastoma. I will forever admire the strength and courage that Jessica showed just in her ability to tell her story. Her bravery in welcoming another baby into the world is incredible. You can learn more about Kennady and her journey with neuroblastoma by following her on Instagram. But I will do my best to share it here, as well.
Jessica was only 23 years old when her son, Camden, then 18 months, was diagnosed with Autism. At diagnosis, Camden was aggressive and would slam his head onto any surface of flooring when he was upset, uncomfortable, or in any public situation. He lost all speech and became completely non-verbal.
The diagnosis turned her life upside down. She had just given birth to Kennady. Jessica shared, “I remember being freshly a new mom of two, being told he was Autistic and just cried because I didn’t know how it would affect us”. They didn’t know anyone else who had children on the Autism Spectrum, and she just felt very alone and isolated, as if she and Camden just didn’t fit in the world. Not wanting to give up, Jessica put him in every program/therapy she could get him into.
Jessica shared, “I knew my son was worth much more … so I fought hard for him to have a productive and happy life, in case there ever came a time where he had to go on without me. I suffered badly with anxiety and still do in moments of how he will be as an adult, which is much different than what parents have to stress about with “typical” children. Everyday is a new “what if” or struggle but sometimes all we can do is look back on the progress we’ve already made and put all the faith into them and know that they are strong and capable and will do big things regardless of a diagnosis.”
Fortunately for Jessica, early intervention was very effective and helped Camden tremendously. Now Camden is very sweet and loving. He has found his voice again and has been Jessica’s “rock” through Kennady’s illness and passing.
I asked Jessica what she wanted the world to know about Camden and about her journey as his mom. She simply stated that Camden is different, but he’s not less. They struggle with his “invisible disability” – or in other words, a disability that isn’t immediately evident to those around him. They often hear he doesn’t “look autistic” – which by the way, if you don’t know, this is on the list of “never say this to an Autism parent” phrases. Still, she encourages everyone to slow down and take time to get to know him. If you look past the quirks and you will find a child who is extremely smart, loving and funny. He wants what we all want: to be loved and accepted by those around him. She no longer fears being a mom to a child with a disability. She knows she can handle anything this life brings her.
“I do worry immensely about his future and what it holds. I’m scared there will be a day I won’t be able to stand up for him or fight for him to have the help and support he needs and deserves. I’m also scared he will be abused, bullied or neglected by people who don’t care to understand his differences.”
Ok. So here is where I need to take a pause. Because this next statement … brings me to tears every time I read it. If there is one thing Jessica wants you to know about Camden, it’s that he is one of the strongest kids she knows.
“Camden not only has had to deal with the struggles with his delayed development but he also has had to become a bereaved sibling in the past year to his very best friend. The only child we all saw a genuine connection with. Everyday he has to battle everyday with social frustrations as well as going through the unimaginable. He’s my hero.”
So I’m sure you’re anything like me, you’re probably on the verge of tears and just feeling so deeply for Jessica and her family. But for as challenging as her recent years have been, she’ll tell you she is a survivor. “… my life isn’t over, will never be over because of an Autism diagnosis and that if anything it has drastically changed my life and has helped me view everything from a much more empathetic and loving lens”.
She credits Camden’s Autism for helping her become much more patient, much more empathetic and much more loving as a whole. She sees and understands things from a deeper perspective and credits Camden for that. This in turn has allowed her to help and support other parents who are just beginning their journey with an Autism diagnosis.
Ok. Whew. I did it. It might not be as coherent as I wanted …. But let me tell you, this took a lot for me to get through. I have the most amazing respect and admiration for Jessica and her family. They’re incredible. Camden was just the sweetest boy during our session and I’m hopeful to see them again.
P.S. If you’ve submitted an application to be in this series - I haven’t forgotten about you. I am committed to photographing as many moms as i can - I am just working through scheduling now.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that my youngest son has Autism. He is easily the most challenging, as well as the best, thing that has ever happened to me. Being self-employed has allowed me the opportunity to give Cooper as much time and attention as he needs, but it also brings pretty hefty medical bills. To help pay down the few thousand we owe, I am offering some of my sessions for an amazingly low price.
Sessions Included: Family, Child, Maternity, Simply Senior
Session Must Be Completed by: July 31st
Session Length: 45-60 Minutes On Location (within 30 miles of Zip 21236)
$395 - Includes 30-40 Digital Images (Regular Pricing $495 - $695 depending on session type)
Digital + Print
Session Fee - $99 - includes session time + 1 digital image and matching mounted print (8x10 or smaller)
Additional Images May Be Purchased:
3 Additional - $195 includes digital image + matching mounted print (8x10 or smaller) of each image
10 Additional- $295 includes digital image + matching mounted print (8x10 or smaller) of each image
30 Additional- $395 includes digital image + matching mounted print (8x10 or smaller) of each image
Hey Class of 2020! The seniors are gone, high school feels empty and guess what? It’s YOUR TURN now. This year is all about making memories. If you ask anyone who has been out of high school for more than a few things – they’ll tell you a few things consistently:
Hang out with your friends as much as you can
Make new friends – branch outside of your circle
Stay in touch. Make the effort to have real in person visits or phone calls instead of social media
Pick your friends over boyfriends. “It sounds so dumb but I wish I hung out with my girlfriends more instead of my boyfriend at the time. My mother was right – the boyfriend wouldn’t last, but my friendships would”
Thank the ones who got you this far.
So how do you make all this happen? Check out this bucket list of 50 Things to Do Before You Graduate
1. Join a new club! Not only will you gain skills and maybe find a new interest – you will grow your group of friends.
2. Attend the Maryland State Fair (and wear a concert T shirt bc that’s how I met one of my best friends)
3. Go to homecoming
4. Attend a high school football game (or other big sport at your school)
5. Attend a pep rally
6. Attend the ring dance
7. Spirit Week!
8. Make a plan for the future. Whether you’re going to college or starting your career – take the time to develop a plan for your future now. Because your future will be here sooner than you think.
9. Take professional senior pics. You won’t do this again until you get married – so make it count!
10. Host a bonfire
11. One word: HAYRIDE!
12. Have a pumpkin carving party
13. See one of your favorite bands in concert
14. Go camping
16. Bowling! (Is Rock n Bowl still a thing??)
17. Drive in movies at Benjie’s
18. Pay it forward
19. Try a new food. Check out the restaurants in Bethesda for amazing authentic cuisine.
20. Host a movie marathon with your friends!
21. Pull an all-nighter
22. Watch the sunrise
24. Make some good healthy habits now so they’re easier to stick to as your life becomes more complicated
25. Learn to stand up for yourself and that it’s ok to say “no”.
26. Learn to cook a real meal
27. Bake Christmas cookies
28. Go Christmas Caroling
29. Play in the snow
30. Start a collection
31. Create a playlist of the songs that mean something to you and remind you of your friends and this incredible year!
32. Go 24 hours without a phone
33. Attend a high school play
34. Attend a minor league baseball game – bonus points if you stay for fireworks
35. Go to an Amusement Park
36. Sunflowers in Jarrettsville
37. Volunteer for a day at a place you want to learn more about
38. Day trip to DC and see the touristy things you’ve never done
39. Search for fossils at Calvert Cliffs State Park
40. Change your hair. Like a lot. Manic Panic anyone?
41. ROAD TRIP !!!
42. Print your pictures and make a scrapbook or collage for college!
43. Register to vote
44. Go hiking
45. Do something by yourself – go out to eat, go to the movies, something – be ok with being alone
46. Open a bank account
47. Make a vision board for your future goals
48. Visit your elementary school teachers (bonus if you bring your cap and gown to show off to the younger generation!)
49. Write a letter to your future self
50. Go to prom (and graduate!)
You get one chance to make this amazing. Make it count. When someone asks you in 10, 20 or 50 years what was your biggest regret - be able to say “nothing. It was amazing!”.
Did I miss anything on YOUR senior year bucket list??? Drop a line in the comments!
Reina is a good friend of Kaila and they booked their senior portrait sessions at the same time - but scheduled them a few weeks apart. Reina also wanted to put her own spin on her session and I loved partnering with her to design the best experience.
Reina just graduated from Hood College this past weekend with a degree in nursing. She has been working towards this dream for the past 9 years - and credits her friendship with Kaila with getting her through the last few years.
Graduating college wasn’t just important for Reina to achieve her careers goals. It was also important for her to graduate for her kids. And with that - we knew we had to include them in her session. We spent the first half of the session with her family and then switched gears towards more of my style of senior portraits. Kaila even joined us for a few snaps to celebrate!
Congrats Reina! You did it!
Kaila contacted me in March in search of a senior photographer. She was graduating nursing school and wanted to celebrate in a huge way. This had been a goal of hers for so long and she wanted an over the top senior shoot - and one where she could include her family.
We started planning and talked through everything Kaila wanted to incorporate. It was extremely important to her that we use Hood College as the primary backdrop for her session - especially the nursing department. But she also wanted to include some cool urban elements too by shooting in downtown Frederick, MD.
The week leading up to the session RAINED non stop. I was so worried the ground would be saturated … and while it was, we could work with it. The bigger issue was the morning of the session - the winds started. Like SERIOUS 60 mph winds. We debated rescheduling but since Kaila had family coming from Connecticut for the session, we agreed to work with it and do our best.
I’m so glad we did because the session was incredible. It was a little chilly and a lot windy - but we had so so much fun. Kaila graduated this past weekend and is now well on her way towards her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. Congrats Kaila! Your family is so proud of you!
Sometime around Christmas, I was chatting with a friend of mine about the challenges and joys of being a mom to a child with Autism. We started talking about how wonderful it would be to photograph the moms we knew with their children – to capture some of that magic in a bottle. I opened up a model call in January and quickly gathered a long list of names of women eager to participate.
One of these women was Luisella. Luisella’s son, Mikey, attends the same school as my son Cooper does and is the sweetest, most charming boy ever (well, besides my own!). The weather gods were against us and we continually kept rescheduling due to threats of snow and ice. But finally, the day arrived and it was magic.
My model call was free – but in exchange, moms had to tell their story. The good and the bad. Part of what has taken me so long to complete this series is that their stories are sooo powerful, I can’t get through this without crying – let alone be able to tell them again.
When Sella was 33 years old, she attended a party at a friends house and naturally, Mikey, then 2, went along. After Sella left, another party guest – a specialist in Autism - told the host that Sella needed to contact her immediately. She had observed Mikey throughout the day and was concerned that he was showing signs of Autism. That party guest’s instincts were right, and Mikey was diagnosed with Autism shortly after.
Mikey is now a pre-teen. He arrived at the studio early with a family friend, to give him time to acclimate to the environment. He was instantly enamored. Mikey doesn’t speak a lot. He is largely non-verbal but he can communicate with simple words and sentences and is pretty effective with non-verbal communication as well. If you slow down and focus on him, it’s not hard to understand what he wants and needs. And BOY, does he have personality.
I took Mikey into the shooting room of the studio, which was a little packed with items as we were in the middle of a remodel. One of those items was a white bed that I had pushed up against a window to use for cuddle shots. Mikey laid down, stretched out and gave me the best Bert Reynolds pose I’d seen in years! We all couldn’t stop laughing.
Shortly after, Sella joined us. Mikey was relaxed and comfortable in the studio and thrilled to have his mama there. We started our session with just some snuggles and laughs. The love between these two is so amazing and you can just feel their energy in the room. Sella will be the first to tell you that she wasn’t sure what life with Autism would bring. She tries to take each day as it comes and to celebrate each accomplishment. Sella credits Mikey’s Autism for making her more patient and understanding and all around, a better mom.
Before our session, Sella told me that Autism is tough – but she and Mikey are tougher. When I asked her what she wants the world to know about Mikey – she told me he is amazing. He might see the world in a different way – but he wants the same things we do: love, friendship and happiness. Every day is a constant worry that someone might hurt Mikey or take advantage of him. She fears what will happen when she passes away. Who will care for him? Will they care for him like she does? Will he be ok? All of these emotions came through as Sella worked with Mikey during the session as she snuggled him and coached him through everything from proper enunciation of his words and re-enforcing the behaviors he has been working on. All parents are teachers, but parents of special needs children have to be the best teachers. Always firm but loving, experts in everything and constantly “on”.
After we finished the casual part of our session, Luisella snuck off to the other room to pick out a dress for our style closet the more formal part of the session. She chose a beautiful, floor-length, navy strapless gown. She walked into the room and the world stopped. At least Mikey’s did. His eyes grew wide and a huge smile grew on his face as he exclaimed, “A PRINCESS! A PRINCESS! We go get married!”. We all cracked up and you could see joyful tears filling Sella’s eyes. Mikey’s love for his mom was sooo clear in that moment. As she stood in front of the backdrop, Mikey wrapped his arms around her waist and connected with my camera so deeply.
I am so blessed that I captured that moment. I gasped. My eyes filled with tears. THAT was the image I had been dreaming about. The image that shows strength, undying love and connection. The image that shows the world that kids with Autism may be different – but they are kids, first and foremost. They aren’t locked in their brain or in another world. They’re intelligent, engaged, loving and caring kids – they just need you to take the time to see the world from their perspective.
That night, all I could think of was that image. I did the quickest edit possible to just share it. As I wrote the caption, it was more a conscious flow of thoughts than anything else. But it was pure, so I’ll share it here again.
Thank you, Sella, for letting me into your world and sharing Mikey with us. I am eternally grateful.