Adventure on the Eno

You never know what you’re going to get when you take a toddler hiking. Will they want to walk the trail, be carried in your arms, sit in a pile of dirt crying? What will be their tiny toddler inclination on that particular outing?

All my children lean toward often unpredictable, but my toddler owns that territory. 

Yet even with that unknown, today’s 70-degree overcast weather beckoned us to the woods. We decided to hike the Cox Mountain Trail at the Eno River State Park. We decided to do it sans stroller or carrier.

The Cox Mountain Trail is probably best known for this sweet footbridge. It was both precious and terrifying to witness my toddler nugget bouncing across it.

The weather today was such a contradiction. It’s late winter, it felt like summer, daffodils were blooming like spring, and the leaves on the trees looked like fall. 

And Cammie played to her heart’s content in those leaves. 

And dug her hands in abundant moss.

Throwing rocks into the river was entertaining for many minutes.

Dodging intricate tree roots and balancing on fresh mud kept us on our toes.

We rested and played hide and seek in a cabin along the trail. 

It was a beautiful experience full of joy and play until the hike out. Cammie wailed in my muddy arms because she didn’t want to leave. I don’t blame her, but I’m glad we made it out alive. 

I love living so close to such great trails and braving them with my youngins’.

The strength of a river

This is the Tar River, which flows through the town of Princeville, NC, where I visited last week. 

It offers a rich history to the town, which is the first all-black town and independently governed African American community incorporated in the United States (1885).

What it also offers, unfortunately, is life-altering, catastrophic flooding that brings ruin to the small town. Between the years of 1800 and 1958, the Tar River flooded the area seven times. Flood waters from Hurricane Floyd in 1999 crested at 24 feet and 24.5 feet from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. According to locals, the water rises for three days, and takes three full days to recede.

You can imagine the damage this does to a place.

I visited the current Princeville African American Cultural Museum and Welcome Center, which began as the Princeville Colored Grade School in the 1930s. 

The hardwood floors were original, but were completely ruined from the Hurricane Matthew floodwaters.

The below structure is an example of an elevated structure built to stand above floodwater levels. Interestingly, this example is the town’s Senior Center. 

Below is the historic Mount Zion (Radicue) Primitive Baptist Church. Absolutely gorgeous, absolutely historic, absolutely wrecked from flooding.

The church was founded by Elder Abraham Wooten in 1876, with the below monument dedicated two decades later. According to Documenting the American South, this monument may be the earliest dedicated to an African-American in North Carolina.

Wooten and his founding of the church were significant because of the circumstances surrounding its creation.

Immediately following the Civil War, African-Americans were given very little religious freedom. A resolution was passed in 1869 by the Baptist Association that white members should control any Baptist church government.

Wooten fought and gained support to join any church he chose which opened doors – literally – for the formation of independent African-American congregations. The Radicue Baptist was born from those efforts. 

So, it’s devastating to walk on the ruined floorboards of this historic church.

I find beauty in old things. Even old, damaged things. I guess I’m weird that way.

I want to hang on to hope that the town of Princeville can rebuild and begin to preserve its rich history, but it has the strength of a river to battle. 

Megan + Doug Sterlina maternity session

Megan and Doug were such a pleasure to photograph, partly because of their obvious GORGEOUSness (that’s a word, right?), but also because they were so down to earth. You don’t meet many soon-to-be first time parents that are relaxed and easy to please. 

At 32 weeks along, Megan was stunning and full of smiles.

Father-to-be Doug was helpful throughout the session, paternal even. He made sure to hold Megan’s hand as we walked through American Tobacco Campus, which still had a fresh layer of ice covering the ground after a recent snow.

Their snuggles were genuine and made every photo feel natural.

I couldn’t help but take a photo with tiny baby shoes. The reality is that they’ll probably only be worn once, twice, no more than three times. But being so delicate, they represent the tiny human to come, and therefore, must be photographed.

I love meeting new friends with babies on the way. It’s such an exciting time in life and the changes ahead of them are so incredible, so unbelievable, I can’t wait for them to get to fall in love with their little one.

Juicy fruit

I chose berries for this faux macro experiment because you can’t really go wrong with photographing berries. They are tempting and brilliant, making them the perfect colorful subject.

The technique involves removing the lens from the camera and shooting with the lens unattached to create a faux macro effect (directions below).

This was my first attempt and I am eager to try again. I need to use a tripod and move the lens much closer to make this work. 

Also, an aerial shot done with a drone. 

Just kidding. Done with a regular camera and lens, but it was too pretty a scene to pass up.

Enjoy, and happy experimenting!

Parent or photographer?

This is my baby Cameron and this is my attempt at a 2-year-old photo session with her. These images are proof that it is easier to photograph other people’s children than my own. 

It was five o’clock in the evening, which may have been my first mistake. As a professional photographer, I shoot client portraits at times that are convenient for lighting and for families. But I obviously didn’t give myself that same grace. I shot these as a parent. Right after school pickup and right before dinner. Silly me. 

I tried to coax Cameron with hugs and snuggles and by wearing a kitty cat headband. It didn’t help. She was in her own comfortable environment with toys and siblings and too much to entertain her. I needed her to be out of her element, with nothing else to focus on besides me and the camera.

My next method of bribery was propping her up beside her favorite and only brother Caleb. Those were actually decent photos, but then again, she wasn’t alone in them. My goal was to get one good 2-year-old portrait of Cammie.

Then she rolled around on the floor for a little bit, which is wonderful if you are six months old. 

And then the final image is the sole image where she stood still and grinned at the camera. 

So, it’s something. But I wanna do better. There is always tomorrow. And there is always a cute Cammie to pose for me.

Celebrating Cameron

The baby of our family, Cameron, is now a toddler. Turning two years old today, she has now officially emerged from her little baby cocoon and is on the road to adolescence. Yes, my timeline is a bit dramatic – but I promise it truly does go by in the blink of an eye!

But enough about my emotions. Check out the fun we had today celebrating Cameron, aka Scooby.

She partied topless (and pants-less) for most of the morning, much to her delight. What is it with the desire to run around naked?! I don’t get it. I digress.

Also, we are in a phase where this (see below) is her smile. I promise she’s a happy child.

We decked the walls with homemade decorations in the wee hours before her brunch party. All the big kids helped mommy and daddy with this.

We gave Cameron her birthday gift early so she could play in it the whole day. The kids all enjoyed her new pop-up ball pit. I’m thrilled, because sometimes you just never know what’s going to be a hit and what’s going to be a waste of space, hunk ‘o junk.

Oh, and there’s her “smile” again.

Lots of yummy food was prepared. I love being pregnant and cooking up a feast. I get to make everything I personally am craving. So, yay for me. The menu consisted of white chicken chili, Pioneer Woman’s Cowboy Quiche, mustard roasted potatoes, tomato feta salad, white cheddar mac and cheese, lemon yogurt cake and cupcakes.

When party time came, Cammie was appropriately dressed in the same adorable skirt that Natalie wore for her second birthday.

And then friends came over to shower her with love and affection and joy and kindness and delight and sharing of toys and all the things a parent could want their children to experience.

Hubby and I are absolutely blessed by the presence of these folks, who stick by us through all the years and all the kids and all the ups and the downs. We’re an undeniably lucky crew.

We blinked our eyes and Cameron turned two. She’s a much changed girl from last year

This year she embraced the birthday process and the happy birthday song and even blew out her own candle. She also enjoyed the heck out of that cupcake.

With memories still fresh from Christmas, she remembered that opening gifts is awesome and that she should get fired up for this part of her big day.

Cameron received many, many generous and treasured and thoughtful gifts. 

And since we are parents who accidentally scheduled her party during her nap time (because we are brilliant and not insane and not forgetful), Cameron was a tired toddler who almost took a nap on her first gift, a puppy dog sleeping bag.

We have so many friends and family to thank for celebrating with us. It would never be the same without you all.

Here’s to cherishing another blessed year with our Cameron!

What made my year

The year is almost over (seriously?!), but the memories of 2017 will stay with me far into the coming days. I try to make it a habit to look back at the good, the bad and the ugly of each year and make a Top 10 list of sorts. It is a blessing of an exercise just to sort through all the memories, acheivements, battles, failures and wins.

In compiling these lists, I came to the conclusion that anything that sounded good at the end of this sentence should make the cut:
“2017 was the year that such and such happened (Such and such of course being my memorable event).”

Please enjoy my Oh, That Was the Year [THAT] Happened List
(in no particular order):

#1:  My youngest child turned ONE. Cameron, aka Scooby, already lived one full year of her astonishing life. How could it have passed so quickly?

#2:  I became more church involved. I used to feel like such an outsider at my church, and I used to blame that feeling on my church community, staff, etc. I realized over time that it was me choosing to not connect that was causing the distance. I decided to commit more of myself through volunteering in the nursery, volunteering with church needs, teaching Sunday school, joining Women’s Bible Study, joining church-based Facebook groups, and taking road trips with other church moms. It has made all the difference. I now feel like it is MY church.

#3:  Hubby and I looked at one another and said, “Oh crap, we want another kid, don’t we?!” We decided to go crazy and attempt a fourth Busbee nugget. We got very, very lucky and were blessed with a beating heart growing in my belly. I want the world to know that I do not take this budding life lightly. The struggle that I know other hopeful parents face in trying to start a family is one I think about on a daily basis. I just try to do my very best to trust God’s plan for my life and be immensely grateful for it.

#4:  I lost my dearest kitty, Pinto. He was an indoor/outdoor kitty and he went on a hike one day and never came back. He was 15 years old and was notably sick. I think he made the process easy on me by not allowing me to see him suffer. Pinto just went away to rest peacefully, and that’s the best a cat mama can hope for.

#5:  I went surfing in Hawaii, crushing my fear of deep water. This was pretty huge for me. Okay, I was a really bad surfer. But the attempt was real!

#6:  Hubby and I put our faith to the test as I transitioned from the workforce into being a stay-at-home mom and full-time freelance photographer. It is terrifying to leave something comfortable, something that pays a consistent salary, something where I have adult coworkers. Part of that big change of course is living off one salary, giving up office benefits and healthcare, and paying for my own office supplies. It’s been an incredible adjustment!

#7:  We took a cruise with our closest friends. Six days at sea and island hopping. I honestly can’t even remember the destination. It’s the company that counts. We had an absolute blast traveling with our kiddos and the Bowen family.

#8:  I got a new job and I struggled with it. Staying at home full time with my children is hard work. I swear, there are times when I feel not nearly enough for them, like I’m just not built for this job. But I spent the past six months learning to balance life at home, learning to cook eggs to order, learning how to be the sole disciplinarian and home manager. Coupled with freelance, I feel as if I work double the hours as I did when I went to the office.

#9:  Both big kids went to elementary school. My two eldest kiddos are now in school, Caleb in third grade and Natalie in kindergarten. It feels immense. It feels like it all happened overnight.

#10:  We spent a bliss-filled weekend in a mountain cabin. I love the mountains and I love cozying up with family and friends. 

So that was my year. And how quickly it passed!