Artists Inspired Blog Circle: February | Red

Welcome to my monthly, color-inspired, entry as a part of the Artists Inspired Blog Circle.  FINALLY, a color that was easy for me!!!  With this blog being published on Valentine’s Day, and then shared to social media shortly thereafter, it was pretty clear that I should dedicate it to my one true love.  The one who makes my heart go pitter-patter.  The one who is the subject of at least 75 of my thoughts on a daily basis.  The one for whom my heart (and stomach) hungers.

PIZZA!

Don’t worry–my husband and children are a close second, but what can I say?  The stomach wants want the stomach wants, and mine wants pizza.  All. The. Time.  For my birthday later this month, my family knows what’s up.  Don’t bother with a cake.  Just bring me a pizza with 40 candles on top.  I’m a purist and pepperoni owns my heart so, today, I give you my photographic love letter to the most perfect & delicious food in the universe:  Pizza (featuring the AMAZING pizza at Via Napoli at EPCOT.  Yeah, you read that right–EPCOT serves up some of the best pizza in Orlando, folks.)

img_0904
Ain’t nobody got time for this.  Bring out the star of the show.  (Just kidding, it was a delicious salad.)
img_0909_edited-1
I’d *planned* to get a shot of the whole pizza, but we ALL love the pizza at Via Napoli so we dug in first.  My youngest’s face sums up my feelings.  Laser focus on the task at hand.
img_0922a
Get. In. My. Belly.
img_0925
Hello lover.
img_0910
Utter sadness as the last piece slides off of the plate.
img_0926_edited-1
We don’t fool around with crusts.  That just takes up valuable real estate in the tummy that pizza could occupy.
img_0930
I’m a proud member of the Clean Plate Pizza Club.  Every time.  And, as for salad, well….I do my best.  But it’s not pizza.

Now that you’ve read about my deep and abiding love for this incredibly delicious, wonderfully perfect food, and before you go order some, head on over to my friend Elizabeth Willson’s blog at It’s Still Life Photography and see how she’s interpreted this month’s theme!

Blog Circle Badge1

The Artists Inspired Blog Circle is made up of an exceptionally talented group of photographers from all walks of life, from all over the world. They are wives, mothers, friends, daughters and visual storytellers who draw from their own experiences to create art that is inspiring, unique, beautiful and thought-provoking.

Making Change

It comes in all forms, big and small.  Change your hair, change your clothes, change your address, change your life, etc. Some people love it.  Some people loathe it.  Some people live somewhere in between the two.  It’s the change your address one that I’m most familiar with.  Change is part and parcel of being a member of this family since we move, on average, every 2.5 years.  A new home, city, state, and, maybe even a new country.  If I’m an expert at anything in this life, it’s change.  Generally, I embrace it.   Generally.  Quite unexpectedly, change has happened again.  But, this time, it’s off schedule and out of sync with our “norm.”  Through various circumstances, we’ve moved—again—and this time, not because my husband’s job dictated it, but because our rental home situation, with very little warning, changed.  It’s the change-your-address kind of change all over again, but with a twist.

As a mom of two girls who are 10 years apart in age, change seems to affect my kids in drastically different ways, and yet, if I really look at it, they’re actually worried about the same thing.  To my 13-year-old, change means leaving friends, school, social activities…..everything she knows and loves in this stage of her life.  Usually, she rolls with it really well (to her credit, MUCH better than I would have at that age!) but this time, the idea of moving away from her friends and her school, yet staying in the same general area, broke her heart.  To my 3-year-old, change means the possibility of leaving stuffed animals and toys behind in the old house (despite the fact that I reassured her, at least 48 times a day, that we would pack every single one of them).   When I stop and really listen, though, they’re both worried about the same thing.  Will their “normal” come with us?  That’s a tall order for a mom to answer sometimes, since I don’t always know the answer myself.  This time, I was able to say, without question, that it would.  I was able to say this with such certainty because this time we, quite literally, moved into the home next door, thanks to a little bit of serendipity and some truly wonderful *neighbors who intervened on our behalf in order to keep us in the neighborhood.

So, this time around, our normal just shifted to the left (or the right, depending on which way you’re looking at the houses!).  A literal laundry-basket move; it was exhausting.  My eyeballs hurt at the end of it and my in-laws and I made so many trips back and forth between homes, we wore a path in the grass.  Though everything we own is finally inside the new house, things aren’t quite in all their places yet and everything is waiting (and waiting….and waiting) to be hung on the walls.  Furniture is in different places, rooms are in different locations, nothing is the same but our normal is here.  Nothing changed with my 13 year old’s social life and every single stuffed animal made its way to my 3 year old’s new bedroom and, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters to both of them.  We’re still sitting down for dinner as a family at night and waking up as a family in the mornings, which is all that matters to me.  And, really, it’s what I want to give them:  A soft place to land in the midst of uncertainty and a life that feels “normal,” even if it’s really not.

IMG_1556.jpg
Playing amidst the chaos of packing up the old house.
20170127_112124
Moving into her new room
img_1567
Enjoying a little bit of playtime during a break
img_1573
A long, empty room with a hardwood floor is a HARD thing to pass up

img_1572

img_1586
Work, work, work, work, work
img_1588
Making sure the beds are set up properly
20170204_172707
Reclaiming a sense of normal and baking a birthday cake for their dad
img_1684_edited-1
Back to a routine….

img_1607_edited-1

img_1641
Nap-approved
img_1631
A new yard to play in has been a definite perk!
img_1658
Work space:  Check!

img_1680

img_1714
The attack cat, standing watch.
img_1655
Yep.  Back to “normal.”

Change is a great way to have your life turned upside down.  It’s a great teacher, too, and I find that I always learn something from our change-your-address kinds of change—even one where we didn’t really go very far at all.  So here is what I’ve learned this time:  My kids are more alike than they realize.  Having great neighbors who want to go to bat for you is priceless.  The house that we called home for our first 2 years here was not feeding the soul of my family.  A home filled with sunshine & light, both figurative and literal, is a wonderful place to live.   And, though I learned this a long time ago, it reveals itself to me with each and every move:  A house and a home are not the same things.

*Side note:  That part about my neighbors working to keep us in the neighborhood is kind of huge.  When you move as much as we do, you don’t often feel embraced as a part of a community.  More often than not, people don’t go out of their way to get to know you because they know you’re temporary and, if I’m being honest, it’s easy to fall into the trap of not getting to know neighbors for the exact same reason.  To be embraced by a group of neighbors as we have here has been one of the greatest gifts, and experiences, of living in this area.

Artists Inspired Blog Circle: January | Grey

Hello, dear reader!  Every month (as you’ve likely noticed), I write a blog as a part of a broader blog circle and, each month, we share our take on a different color.  When I started this blog as a whole, I planned to write MORE than once a month.  Then….well, you know the saying.  You make plans, God laughs.  Boy, did he laugh.  I must be a straight up comedy routine at this point.  Life has, more or less, kicked me in the teeth for the better part of 5 months and I’m *still* trying to sort out what His plan is in all of this.  It must be good….or, that’s what I keep telling myself.  So, here we are–a once a month entry (if that!), hoping for something better (more prolific, more profound, even?) in the months ahead.

Grey is a very appropriate color for me these days.  If I could apply a color to how I feel, grey would most definitely be it.  You know that part in Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy steps out of her house when she lands in Munchkinland and the world goes from black & white to glorious color?  Well, that’s me, but the opposite.  Way back in August, I was caught up in a proverbial (and seemingly non-stop) tornado and my world went from color to black & white for a bit. Much like another very famous saying, $hit happens.  And, it kept happening.  “Overwhelmed” might be a good word to use for it, if one were to need a label.  Originally, I’d planned for that to be the focus of this month’s blog (I know it seems like it probably is already!), but, considering that *I* am still trying to figure out what the big-picture plan is here, it didn’t make much sense to try to rationalize it in blog-form just yet, with pictures attached, no less!,when I’m still sitting and waiting and looking and hoping that all the color will soon return.

So, neither myself nor my mess of a life are the subject of this particular blog (because, frankly, that’s just me whining and that’s kind of boring.).  Instead, I did a u-turn and chose to focus on something I love:  the beach.  Which, as it so happens, can be a pretty freaking awesome metaphor for life kicking the crap out of you.

I love (LOVE) a good beach day and I’ll take it any way I can get it.  Of course, most people assume that a “good” beach day is warm and sunny and those are great!  I do so love laying on the sand and soaking up the rays in the warm, warm sun. Ha.  Just kidding.  I’m a mom–I never get to lay on the sand and soak up rays, but you know what I mean.  Good beach day = postcard weather.  To a crazy person (me) with a camera (still me), though, a good beach day means big waves and a moody sky.  There’s a peacefulness that comes with watching the tide ebb and flow, the waves crash on the sand, and the clouds swirl above as they morph into a new shape in the blink of an eye.  There’s also that metaphor:  a day can start out calm enough–a greyish sky, some gentle waves–and before you know it, you’re out in the water, caught in the swell with the clouds deepening and the wind picking up.  You pretend you’re ok, even though it feels a little bit like you might drown.  But, if you’re lucky, you get your feet back on shore and you see that the wind has calmed, the clouds are parting and the sun is returning again.  That’s where I am right now (I think).  Back on the shore.  Taking a breath.  Ready to turn my face to the sun again.

img_4944watermarkimg_7922aimg_7836aimg_3287bwimg_6120bwimg_6020bwimg_5897bw

PS.  I’m aware that I referenced God & swore all in the same blog post.  I’m imperfect.  He loves me anyway.  ❤

Next up in the blog circle is the incomparably talented Elizabeth Willson of It’s Still Life Photography.  Click here to see her take on this month’s theme and then make your way around the circle to see how each of our talented artists tackled this challenge!

Blog Circle Badge1

The Artists Inspired Blog Circle is made up of an exceptionally talented group of photographers from all walks of life, from all over the world. They are wives, mothers, friends, daughters and visual storytellers who draw from their own experiences to create art that is inspiring, unique, beautiful and thought-provoking.

I Love To Tell The Story

Sigh. There’s just no way around it any longer.  Change is happening here at Nikki Smith Photography.  Actually, it’s been trying to happen for a while now and I’ve been trying my Olympic-level best to ignore it.  I’ve been brushing off that persistent whisper in the back of my mind, thinking it would just go away if I didn’t pay attention to it……but, it hasn’t.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Lately, it’s become very obvious to me that I might be something other than a photographer.  Yeah, I have a camera and Photoshop.  Yeah, I know my gear.  Yeah, I love taking pictures.  But, I’m actually not just taking pictures.   I’m collecting memories.  I’m telling the stories around me.  I felt it when I wrote my blog about why I need to take pictures.  I’ve felt it over the past several weeks, sifting through my late grandmother’s picture boxes, reminiscing over the stories I knew, wondering about the ones I didn’t, mending my shattered heart with the past.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the enormous privilege of documenting not one, but two military deployment homecomings.  While capturing those moments and then editing those galleries, I really, really felt it.  The pull I’d been resisting for longer than I care to acknowledge was stronger than it’d ever been before.   My need to tell stories is a living, breathing part of me and I cannot ignore it any longer and I have to do something about it.

Which leads me to this change that I’m making. I believe SO strongly in this change, so strongly in how important it is to tell all the stories, that I’m going to do something crazy (it makes me get a little pit-sweaty when I say it out loud, truth be told). Ready?  Here it is. Now that my 2016 session calendar has officially closed for bookings, I will no longer be offering posed family sessions.  Holy crap, I said it.  Well, wrote, it, but whatever.  It’s official.  Nikki Smith Photography is going in a new direction.

Don’t get me wrong.  Posed family sessions are wonderful.  I’m not knocking them at all.  They are important and beautiful and have their place in the family album.  But, can I tell you something?  I have to force my own family to do them.  There it is, the truth.  Once a year, just in time for Christmas cards, family photos are forced in my house.  There are families who LOVE posed photography.  My family isn’t one of them.  My kids drag their feet about it, my husband huffs and puffs and rolls his eyes and smiles (kind of) but, only after I threaten to nag him for all of eternity if he doesn’t.  We collectively smile, through clenched teeth while telling each other to smile, for the camera, but no one really wants to be there (except for me, because I’m the mom who WANTS the pictures to be made).  Sound familiar?  Maybe just a little bit?  If you’re sitting here reading this, nodding along because my family sounds like your family—you’re my people!   We get one another.  We want family photos.  But getting them by way of threats is exhausting.  Instead, we want them to reflect who we really are.   We want the kind of photos that immediately spark a story that starts with, “Remember that time….”  We want MEMORIES!   It’s what I want for my family and it’s what I want for your family, too.

So, if I’m no longer offering posed family sessions, what exactly am I offering?  Well, I’m so glad you asked.  Starting in 2017, I’m beyond excited to introduce Family Story Sessions, where, together, we will tell the story of you.  What is YOUR story?  What do you love to do?  What makes your family’s heart sing?  Who is important to you?  Where is your heart the happiest?  Let’s go on an adventure or just hang out in your driveway for a family game of basketball.  Grand or small, let’s capture the memories that, one day, will be your family legacy!  Let’s tell your story. 

Ahhhh, if only it were as easy as that, right?  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “I’ve got a camera on my phone.  I already take my own photos of us doing that stuff when we go do it.  Why do I need to hire someone?”  True, but……can I ask you a question?  How often are YOU in those photos with your family?  Letting someone else take control of the camera means you’re free to have fun, too!  And, wanna know a secret?  That person with the camera (ME!!!) sees things you don’t.  I can see the moments that make the memories while you’re busy making them.

For years I’ve only included posed photos for my own Christmas cards.  Here is just a glimpse of the things we’ll be including this year, because this is who we are.  We’re beach lovers who do family story-time, we love ice cream treats and jump on hotel beds, we learn to ride tricycles and play airplane-ballerina in the driveway on summer evenings and we’re the people who ride through Target in our Iron Man mask.  We’re those people and these are the memories that tell our story.

 

Of course, with a new direction comes a re-branding.  Introducing my new logo.  Nikki Smith, photographer | storyteller.  It just feels a little more…..me.

story-telling-logo-3

Brace yourselves, because there’s more (what?!).  To celebrate my new Family Story Sessions, I will be hosting an open model call after the first of the year.  ANYONE in my local area (St. Johns, St. Augustine, Greater Jacksonville) or, anyone who wants to travel to my local area, can apply.  All you’ll need to do is tell me what YOUR family loves to do together!  So, put your thinking caps on and keep an eye on my Facebook page (here) for the announcement.

If you’re sitting there thinking that THIS is the type of family session you’ve been waiting for but you aren’t quite sure what you’d like to go do, message me!  I’m keeping a list of great memory-making activities that I’m updating almost daily.  PS.  While I will no longer be offering posed family sessions of any kind, sessions for children, toddlers and high-school seniors are still available for booking (just a little more relaxed now).  But, couples??? Let’s go tell your story, too, in a Couples Story Session!

Love,

Nikki

Gather the Stories

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why I take pictures (all the pictures) and about one of the people who drove that need.  That person, my grandmother, passed away on September 19th and, while not wholly unexpected (her health had been slowly declining over the past couple of months), my heart is, nonetheless, shattered into a million pieces.

Loss is a funny thing.  The news came in the middle of the night (my phone rang at 12:32 am) and, immediately upon hearing what my heart already knew, I remembered………nothing.  Not one memory from my lifetime with her.  Instead, every unsaid thing that I yearned to say to her, and planned to say to her during a scheduled visit in a few weeks’ time, flooded my mind.  I wanted to thank her for loving me, to tell her that my life has been better because she was such a big part of it, that *I* have been better because of her influence, and a million other things that I hoped she already knew, but I never got the chance to say out loud.  It wasn’t until the following day, when I arrived in her hometown, that the memories came.  At first, they were just flickers and then it became a highlight reel, bombarding me left and right, and now, every time I close my eyes in a quiet moment, something new and specific and wonderful and, yes, heartbreaking greets me.  Maybe, by keeping those memories from me, my brain was protecting my heart in those first few hours in the middle of the dark night, but whatever the reason, I’m grateful that the memories took their time to find me so I can, in turn, take my time with them.

But, I don’t just have my memories.  Now, I’m the keeper of hers, too, by way of boxes and boxes of old photographs (it appears that my mission to document everything is an inherited trait).  She didn’t take them, but she sure collected them.  Print, by print, by print, by print.  I’ve known about her collection for years and my need to come home with it was palpable.  These pictures are my last remaining link to her and I need them almost as much as I need my next breath.  If you gave me a stack of gold, I’m not sure I’d find it to be more valuable than what I brought home with me in those boxes.

My grandmother’s early life was defined by significant amounts of sadness and tragedy.  Everyone (everyone) in her immediate family (father, mother, brothers and sister) passed away at a very early age.  Before she knew it, she was the only one left; all she had was her memories.  And pictures.  So. Many. Pictures.  My grandmother spent her life quietly keeping the memories alive of those who had gone before her with a story here, a reference there and, I listened.  I listened all the time.  I soaked it up like a sponge.  Much in the way that I feel like I could write a novel about my grandmother, I’m sure she felt like she could write a novel about all of those people who had long since passed.  Thanks to those stories and mentions, I know who most of these people in her pictures are.  I know her parents, her brothers (even the one who died at the young, young age of 19), her sister, her sisters-in-law and more.  I never met them, but feel like, on some level, I had.  But, there are so many other people that I don’t know.  My grandmother’s archives date back to the 1900s.  And, I don’t mean the 1910s or 1920s.  I literally mean 1900.  Brittle, yellowed and fragile, I’ve now inherited the road map to my family’s past.  Then, there are the pictures of my grandparents, my Mammaw & Pop.  Beautiful and handsome, young and happy.  In love, both with each other and their life together.   Yeah……I know the stories.  But I don’t know all of them and, as I sift through all of these photographs, I would give anything (anything) to hear her tell me just a few more.

And, so, here is my plea to you.  Get off of your devices (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, even this blog can wait) and go have a conversation.  Call or go visit the person or people who matter the most to you and gather the stories.  Know where they came from so you can know where you came from.  And, of course, take the pictures, but not just the posed, staged and perfect ones; the real memories, the ones that will sustain you for years to come, lie in the imperfect, spontaneous moments.  Then, for the love of God, print them.  PRINT THEM.  Actual, tangible prints that you can hold in your hands—not just the bound, pretty, easy-to-keep-stacked-and-stored photo books.  Because, one day, someone in your life will also be shattered and those prints will be their lifeline to you.

For 39 years, 6 months and 22 days, there was someone on this earth who loved me unconditionally, who was never angry with me (not once), who was never disappointed in me, who was never harsh with me.  She just loved me.  In her eulogy, the pastor at her funeral chose, rightfully so, to focus on the fact that my grandmother was a hard worker.  And she was.  But, I don’t think it was just a dedicated work ethic that drove her—at least not in the way it drives most people.  My grandmother was driven by love.  And, of all the lessons she taught me over the past 39 and a half years, love, faith, kindness, patience, forgiveness and perseverance were, without question, the most important.   I am the person that I am, in large part, because of the person she was and, for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I’ve been “okay” for the past several days.  Today is my day to not be okay, because I’m not.  I am devastated.  My heart is broken in a way that it never has been broken before.  But, I know I will be okay again, because she taught me how to be.

img_7930bw
A fraction of the bins of photographs from her collection
img_7932edit
One of the oldest albums in my grandmother’s collection
img_7937edit
My grandmother’s life as a small child
img_7938edit
My beautiful grandparents, enjoying a day on Pensacola Beach
img_1221bw
The last picture I have of my sweet grandmother & I