Friday, October 18, 2013

Life and Death Through The Seasons

Well, I had a post written up on August 16th, the anniversary of Skylar passing away. It was full of emotions and updates, but there are several reasons I never posted it.

I don't want this to be a pity-me blog. Yes, it was extremely difficult to see literally hundreds of moms posting about their kids going back to school complete with photos... meanwhile, I was grieving not having my little pre-k daughter to brag about. Here is one of the lines from my post:

"It's difficult to be back in the full swing of life, especially when anniversaries come around and I'm thrown back to the day that breaks my heart all over again."

I was thankful for great friends and thoughtful people who sent me sweet text messages and emails. I don't really expect it at all because I am horrible with dates and don't expect other people to remember either. However, it is nice to know people are thinking about me as I go through some tough seasons. 

July 25th, I had the awesome opportunity to photograph the African Children's Choir perform at the Buckhead Theater. They've been traveling around the US for over a year and there is a documentary film in the making. I was honored to capture their full day including their worship time and VIP meet and greet. I overheard that the kids were going to be surprised with a trip to Disney and asked if they needed that photographed. 

You see, I was already planning to visit my step-grandma in Orlando because she was put on hospice and we knew she didn't have a lot of time left. With her house just 20 minutes from Disney, I volunteered to photograph the kids. They are the most joyful life-giving kids to be around and I knew it would be a much needed encouragement in the midst of suffering. 

When I arrived, it was so sad to walk into suffering, but I was glad I made it. The next day I woke up early to meet the kids for Disney and pulled up just as they were telling the kids where they were going. I quick pulled out my camera and started documenting the day. Make sure you check out the part 2 if you look at the photos... As I was spending the evening with my stepmom, I was just so burdened to see her go through a lot of what I went through with Skylar. I prayed that the suffering would end as did the pastor and others. The next morning, I woke up to my stepmom asking me if I could come check for a pulse because she thought her mom passed away. 

I got a glimpse into how my parents felt watching me lose Skylar, because it was heartbreaking to see my stepmom's hurt and know her loss. After her mom passed away, the next four hours in the house were tough on my stepmom as she went through the final moments with her mom's body. It was also difficult for me as everything that followed was a flashback to two years ago, just with a bigger body instead of a 21 month old. I was surprised to find myself in shock after it was all over with because I just wasn't expecting it. I was really grateful to be there so my stepmom didn't have to be alone, but it was a tough way to start the month of August. As I drove the long drive home by myself, it was a good time to think, process and just drive.

As the 16th approached, my heart was heavy and I knew I had to be "professional" that day as I had several meetings that couldn't wait with clients who just knew me as the owner of Shutter Sweet Photography - not as a woman who is missing her baby girl. I kept busy and distracted myself, but it only delays the grief from hitting. Thankfully, I've learned to make space for my emotions to prevent it from building up and coming out unexpectedly. 

I had two weddings to shoot in September as well as several portrait sessions and events. During the second week of the month, I had 6 shoots in 7 days. Needless to say, September flew by. This month, I had the huge pleasure of photographing the Gooden Family as they went to Charleston for a family vacation and will be sharing those photos on the Shutter Sweet blog soon. I'm currently working on a complete re-design of the Shutter Sweet Photography website and am launching it on October 20th! I'm very excited! 

Just a few days ago, I was invited to go to Uganda on November 14th to photograph the African Children's Choir as they return home. It is short notice and there's no budget to cover at least $2,000 of expenses, possibly more. My photos have the potential to make it into the documentary film and possibly a book that will be produced and they may not. However, that's not why I want to go. I know that I was created to tell stories and capture real moments and raw emotion through photography to share with others that make an impact. When I went to Ukraine in 2005 as the documentary photographer, I felt alive for the first time and loved having purpose. Photography and design skills are my gifts that I can use to bless others. I love documenting life and creating meaningful pieces of art, which is what I set out to do with Shutter Sweet Photography - as you can see with the latest family portrait session with the Hill Family (husband reaching the end of a fight with stage 4 melanoma cancer). 

If you have a willing heart or know of anyone else who does that has skymiles or extra cash laying around to donate(so many people, right?), please contact me! You can email me at ashley (at) or contact me here. Some people may not understand, but I know in my soul that I am supposed to go on this trip. I know there are needs everywhere you look, but I am hopeful some people will be moved to help me get to Uganda. 

Thank you for reading. Another post is not too far behind... 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Time Flying By...

I've been meaning to write this post for weeks... maybe even months now! Time is flying by and I can't believe August is almost here.

We are finally moving forward with house plans and are really excited to possibly start the permitting process by the end of August. Right now, we're waiting on the architect to finish phase 1 of the drawings for the interior layout this week. I'll see if I can't get some photos to share with you. I cleaned up the property as part of my gift to Kyle on Father's Day and he did a major overhaul on the yard this past weekend. Things are coming along and there's definitely hope and excitement about forward progress since we've been holding onto this property for almost 5 years now...

For the 4th of July, I went to visit the Gooden Family and see miss Nora who is already 4 1/2 years old! She continues to amaze me and fill my heart with joy. Nora's mom wanted to do a photo shoot for the holiday inspired by a magazine photo where they created stars on the lawn. I was all for it and started working on drawing the perfect star. It was hilarious. For being a graphic designer, I am not so hot with a pen in hand. After working on it for a bit, I finally had a star we could use as a stencil to create the stars on the grass. We had a great time and Nora was so patient with us while I climbed up a ladder on their porch and tried to entertain her with a windmill. We got lots of great smiles and had fun even with Nora's hurt leg.

That night, we went outside for TJ's famous firework show. I was so impressed! There was only one mishap that evening from the Funkey Monkey or Monkey Invasion - or something with Monkey in the name. It's a box shaped firework that is supposed to send spiraling flare fireworks high into the air and then explode with a loud bang and sparks of color... The box that we got sent a few fireworks into the air and the rest towards us! Luckily, Jaime dropped the umbrella down as a shield in front of her and Nora. I stood there with my mouth hanging open making sure the ones that hit the house didn't set the house on fire and I think TJ was just as shocked as I was as he took cover in the garage watching to make sure everything was okay as well. Thankfully, no one was injured and the two that went off against the house didn't do any damage. The rest of the show went off without any problems and it was amazing! Nora's face lit up and the look in her eyes was priceless. She even got to play with sparklers! We attempted to write Nora's name but the sparklers were the kind that sent off sparks instead of a constant flare so it didn't work out too well. The neighbors all enjoyed the show as well with a crowd hanging out on the corner and in driveways. The little neighbor girl just younger than Nora came over to give her a glow bracelet and glow stick necklace and talk about birthday parties. It was really awesome.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was playing Disney princess style Chutes & Ladders with Nora and Jaime. As Nora landed on the giant slide that took you back to the beginning, I said, "Oh No!!! Nora!" and made a sound that could best be spelled as "Whomp, Whaaaamp"and then Nora imitated it perfectly! Later, when she went down another chute, she did it on her own and knew the context and everything. I was cracking up and asked Jaime if she had ever heard that before and Jaime said no, that she just learned it from me. That made me laugh even harder, which Nora loved, and then she repeated it over and over and asked Jaime and I to say it with her too. I love that girl.

Earlier that day I asked Nora if she knew who I was and she nodded. I asked her if she could say "Ashley" and she did. While we were playing Chutes and Ladders, Nora said "Miss Ashley" and added the "miss" all on her own. Hearing her say that brought me so much joy and filled places in my heart I didn't know were empty. I never got to hear Skylar speak, so I'm in awe of all that Nora is able to say and do. I'm so overjoyed with Nora's health and the amazing job TJ and Jamie are doing as parents and caregivers (as well as her nurses). Nora definitely has a very special place in my heart if you couldn't tell!

When I got back from TN, I spent all week moving into my new office space in midtown Atlanta. On July 12th, I had an open-house party for the new Shutter Sweet Photography Studio which was a lot of fun. I am really excited about growing and taking my business to the next level. My photography classes are also going well and it's been really fun helping others get excited about photography! This week I get to photograph an event called Embagga Means Party featuring the group Imba Means Sing. If you haven't heard of them, take a minute to check them out! They're awesome and I'm looking forward to their concert this Thursday at the Buckhead Theater.

Kyle's birthday was last week and we kept it pretty low-key this year as we near the big 3-0. We got to enjoy the day off together, which was really nice since we've both been working like crazy. We're hoping to get up to Clemson for my birthday (also the UGA game) but we'll see how that goes. Time just keeps flying by, but we're trying to enjoy it as much as we can. Hopefully you are too! Those are all the updates for now. Thanks for stopping by and reading the blog!!!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mother's Day Mix

Every year, Mother's Day comes like clockwork. Last year, it was rough. It was hard for me to think about anyone else but myself because I was just that depressed. I was a mother without my child and hated everything about it. I wanted so badly to have my little girl with me and just wanted the day to go away. It hurt too bad - it was still so raw.

This year was better. I'm obviously still a mother without her child, but the wounds have started to heal. I'm also able to better appreciate how much my mother(s) have have been there for me and were happy to celebrate them too. On Sunday, Kyle was here with me (he had planned to go to Maine to be with his brother for his graduation but plans changed), and I woke up to him sneezing like crazy. Apparently, he went to pick a ton of daisies for me before I woke up and was allergic to whatever pollen is out there right now... The flowers looked beautiful though and made me smile!

We went to breakfast with some dear friends of ours - a wonderful couple who we love spending time with. We can connect on so many levels, one being that they lost their son at birth a few years ago. I obviously wouldn't want anyone to ever lose their child, but it was so nice to share the holiday with another mom who can relate. I totally indulged in three scrambled eggs and an extra helping of brown sugar-coated bacon plus fried green tomatoes & pimento cheese grits on the side. So as you can see, it was already a good start to the day. After that, I definitely took a nap and Kyle passed out from the benadryl too. I set an alarm to give myself enough time to get ready for a wedding I needed to photograph that evening.

I was the hired photographer for the wedding, which was a great distraction and helped me put others before myself. I love photographing weddings, especially since my clients are awesome and are typically surrounded by a great group of people. A few guests asked about my tattoo and I was able to share about Skylar. I recognized that I am still a mom even though I feel like it less and less as the days pass by. It's not that I am forgetting about Skylar at all - it's more that I am trying to find a new "normal" with Kyle - just the two of us here, now. I don't really get to do "mom" things anymore and I am focused on work instead. It's just different.

When I got home after the wedding, Kyle and I had a late night snack and he gave me a present that he picked up while in Guatamala (he was there for 2.5 weeks with his brother to celebrate Matt's graduation and brotherly bonding time). He told me that this present was looking forward. I opened it to find a hand-knit little hat and pink baby booties that look super warm. Tears welled up in my eyes. They were a Mother's Day mix - sad tears remembering Skylar and how cute she would've looked in those, and happy tears looking forward with hope that I'll be a mother again some day when we adopt. Plus, they were pink, which meant Kyle was thinking about another little girl :) It was the most thoughtful gift and made me feel really loved and full of hope.

The day after Mother's Day, Kyle and I flew up to Indiana for my grandmother's memorial. A month ago, I went with my mom to visit her and say our good-byes because we knew that she didn't have much left. It was so tough. I always cry in movies when there is a "good-bye" and in real life it's even worse.

My grandma helped raise me when I was a kid. She taught me how to tie my shoe, fixed me giant bowls of ice cream after school, told me stories (sometimes the same one over and over), did my laundry and helped my parents any way that she could. I have lots of fond memories with my grandma. She would call me "little shit" with a cold Miller Lite in hand. She would tell me the newest joke she learned and was a fiesty woman who always looked 20-30 years younger than she was. No one believed her when they found out her age and would even ask to see her driver's license. Even on her death bed, she looked a mere 70 even though she was 94. It was the first time that I ever really saw her look old. My heart sank a little as I took in her sunken face, her labored breathing, her weak voice, etc.

Her death wasn't a quick and painless one as we all wish for (or at least I do). I wish there was something more I could've done for her besides running my fingers through her hair and telling her I loved her. I wanted to take away her suffering. I believe she's in Heaven now and I hope that she's able to tell Skylar all of the stories and jokes that I heard over the years. I hope they are loving each other's company, and to be honest, I'm a little jealous.

I'm so tired of sorrow. I'm tired of tears. I'm tired or seeing other people suffer. I can't imagine the pain my mom, uncles and aunt felt as they had to go to their mom's memorial service just two days after Mother's Day. It's one thing to be a mom without a child, but I have to think that it's a completely different sadness experiencing the holiday as a child without a mom. All grandma would've wanted was for everyone to be together and happy, which is what happened. It was really good to see family and it was the prettiest day to be outside if you had to be in a graveyard. We were obviously sad, but I felt a peace throughout the day that was really comforting. I think just knowing that Grandma would be really happy if she could be there with "all us kids."

Aging is so intriguing to me. After seeing my grandma and others around me get older, I have realized that the mind doesn't really age at all. I think it actually physically stops growing around age 27, but people tell me they don't feel any older than in their 20s or 30s regardless of how old they actually are. It makes me wonder if it's because we were created for more... As I see new wrinkles starting to make their mark on my face with a certain permanence, I wonder how I will feel when I'm older. I wonder how long my body will make it. I hope I age as gracefully as my Grandma did. So far, it looks as if those genes are in fact running in the family as my mom is looking quite a bit younger than her age - don't worry mom, I won't tell anyone what milestone birthday you just had :)

As we're quickly moving into summer here in Georgia, I am reminded how fast time flies. I will be teaching my first photography class at the end of May, which will be here before you know it. Unfortunately, I don't have any new announcements as far as our house is concerned, but we have made some progress after a few changes to the layout that still need to be drawn up by an architect so we can get permits. Hopefully that will happen by June so we can get started!

Kyle and his brother had an awesome time in Guatemala and El Salvador. They climbed the tallest mountain of course, went surfing, relaxed on the coast, rode chicken buses, ate some crazy food and found some good brews to drink. You can ask him about his trip for the details... I don't want to steal his thunder. Kyle posted a few pictures on Instagram if you're interested. I'm also on Instagram under ShutterSweet if you'd like to follow us. As photographers, we post quite a bit of our lives through photos... There's a picture of my grandma from our last visit together, the hat and boots Kyle bought for Mother's Day, and more.

Anyway, I hope this post finds you well. We will hopefully have some exciting house updates for the next blog update :) Peace to you.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Already?

Wow. I am kind of embarrassed that I haven't posted in three months! Sorry about that for those of you who check the blog every now and then for new posts. Let me fill you in on our life the past three months and I think you'll understand... 

The holidays provided some great time with family, but Since Skylar's been gone, they're always slightly depressing because I miss her and wish she was here to join us. I can't believe she would be 3 years old! I would have a little lady to play with! 

Since her passing, it's been tough to stay focused and have the motivation to do things - despite my endeavors to start two companies... I've been able to manage and have enjoyed it, but there were definitely times where I would ask myself, "What was I thinking?!" and would struggle to get out of bed. This January was the first time that I felt like I had most of my energy back. I would say I am 90-95% back to fully functioning Ashley. Thankfully, I'll never be back to my "old-self" again as Skylar has completely changed my perspective and heart forever.

At the end of the year, Kyle quit his job with CNA Insurance, for no other reason than it just wasn't something he loved to do and he was looking for a change after 5+ years of working there. They were a great company to work for and were so supportive through our journey with Skylar. We have nothing but great things to say about them and hope to keep in touch as we move in a different direction. 

As far as my business is concerned, I've been running around like crazy (in a good way)! At the end of February, I participated in my first bridal show. The month of January and most of February was spent preparing and getting everything ready for the 10x10 booth display. Ordering prints, designing layouts and displays, having Kyle make some tables for me :) I was able to use everything again for the second show in March. I had some amazing friends and assistants helping me manage the crowds and it was a great experience. I booked several weddings and am excited about the shoots this year! In addition to all of that, I've had portrait sessions and events that you can see on the Shutter Sweet blog if you're interested. 

When Kyle quit his job, he lost the company car so we've been sharing a car since January. It's not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It's definitely teaching us better communication and patience! Someone did back into my bumper last month leaving it not drive-able, and we were completely without a vehicle for a week which was a little crazy, but we managed. 

House Updates: I wish I had more for you. We've finished the interior layout and are waiting on the roof drawings and framing plan to be finished before we're able to apply for permits. Hopefully this will be wrapped up in the next two weeks. The house is completely gutted and there's just a few rooms of sub-flooring left to pull up. We're really excited to share the renovation with you through pictures once it starts. 

That's pretty much the shortest summary you'll get on this blog I think :) The next blog post will hopefully have pictures of our renovation in progress! Thanks for reading. Peace.