Why I Blog + Keeping Poisonous Plants Out of Our Garden

Sometimes I wonder why I bother blogging at all. Some days it seems like many people view bloggers as just someone to contradict, like the internet is one big arena of the high school debate team. I know I personally do not blog to try to start arguments, debates, or be insulted about the way that we live our lives, and I cannot imagine any blogger who would write with that intention. Most bloggers do not get paid for running their blog, so it is not like they are getting a weekly paycheck for keeping up with a blog, or have a boss telling them what to write about, or editing their entries.

So, why did I start my blog? Way back here on my first post on Tumblr, I started the blog with the intention of teaching my husband more about portraiture. I figured if he was documenting my more creative outfits and outfits I had designed and sewn, with the intention of posting the photos on a blog, he would be more motivated to work on his skills than if he was just photographing me for photos that no one else would ever see. He had experience with photography, but I wanted to work on his skills with portraits so he could assist me as needed in the photography business we wanted to start. I very quickly got bored of only blogging about my outfits, and decided that since I had already gone to all of the trouble to build the blog, I might as well start posting more interesting content.

A couple of generations ago, things like gardening and creating new recipes were common activities. I noticed among my own friends that they were hobbies and interests that were not as common as I am sure they used to be. I wanted to share some of my own experience (especially with gardening), and help inspire others to get out and get creative in their gardens, and maybe try making some healthier meals at home. I started writing about things I was growing in our garden, and documenting some of the recipes I came up with.

I started gardening at the age of two, with the encouragement of my dad. It is something he enjoys as well, and so did his mother. While my dad was always encouraging and teaching me about gardening, his mother was not encouraging to me about my gardening skills. She would tell me horribly mean things, like I would never be able to grow strawberries as well as she does (strawberries are not the easiest food to grow). She would tell me that nothing I grew would ever be good enough to win any awards or receive any recognition. Some of those comments stuck with me for a long time.

Since gardening has been something I have been interested in for so long, I wanted to help demystify the process of gardening for those who read my blog. It really is not that difficult (no matter what my grandmother claimed). I wanted to help inspire others to get outside and grow something beautiful or useful (or both!). Even when I only had a little studio apartment with an old fire escape at the end of the hallway, I still worked on growing a container garden of edibles that became a community garden for my building. I want people to know that it is easy to grow your own food and flowers. That is why I blog.

I also blog as a way to document our lives, mostly for our own reference. It may sound a bit morbid, but after having a couple of close calls with my health where my doctors were having conversations with my husband about the fact that I may not make it to the following day, I wanted to make sure that I was documenting our family from my point of view. A few times, when I have been too ill to be up and about with my normal routine (either when I had a severe case of pneumonia, was on pregnancy bed rest, had meningitis, etc.), my husband actually referenced several of my blog posts to find some of my recipes or figure out how I normally handle certain things around here. I like having that peace of mind knowing that my simple act of blogging could be a great point of reference if needed. Also, it is so much fun for me to be able to document our little guy growing up, especially for family members who are not local!

In addition to all of that, I really enjoy sharing when I have found something that works well for us, like the amber teething necklace post or my rave review of the gDiapers system. Those were not sponsored posts, they were just honest reviews of things that I was excited about and wanted to share with others. Unfortunately, sharing what works for us has not always been met with favorable responses.

After I wrote my gDiapers post, I was suddenly flooded with angry hate mail from crazy crunchy moms who were upset that I referred to disposable diapers as “regular diapers”. I know that cloth diapers are the original thing that everyone used, but sorry…disposables have become the norm, whether any of us like that fact or not (hence my use of the term “regular”). Such a minor thing to gripe about in reality anyway. I posted my low-sugar lemonade recipe, and got more angry hate mail from people who were upset that it was not as sweet as store-bought lemonade. With the disclaimer that it is a low-sugar recipe, without artificial sweeteners, why would you expect a sickeningly sweet lemonade anyway? When I decided to share the artwork I designed for our son’s nursery (for free, as printable pdfs), I mistakenly made a typo in referencing one of the Bible verses. As soon as the first person brought it to my attention, I corrected the post and the artwork, and apologized profusely for the typo. I still got tons of angry emails and comments because I was not able to correct the typo in the pin that had since gone all over Pinterest. Sorry, but that is not my fault…I did not design Pinterest. As I told one angry reader, the last time I checked, there has only ever been one perfect person, and He has never yelled at me for a simple typo. You would think that people interested in free Bible artwork would have a little more patience. It’s not like they purchased the artwork and it was defective!

I may have some strong opinions about how we do things in our house, and I often share those on my blog. But here’s the thing…it’s my blog. Meaning my own personal corner of the internet. I am not writing for a boss, or writing to get a grade at school. If you do not like how we do things here or how I write, you can simply find something else to read. I have a zero tolerance policy for internet bullying and rude comments. Even less patience if those rude comments come from someone I actually know or worse yet have considered a friend. If you have a legitimate concern, that is understandable, but people who just want to complain for the sake of complaining are persona non grata in my world. Just because you stand up publicly and say “here’s what I’m doing and it works for us” doesn’t mean you are also saying, “here’s what I’m doing, rip me apart if you don’t agree”!

Also, I never claim to be a certified expert at anything I write about. I am not a certified Master Gardener (yet…I don’t have the time to complete that process now). I never claim to be the best gardener in the world, or have grown the world’s biggest squash, or anything of the sort. If anything, I always think I am not doing a good enough job with our garden, and if you follow me on Instagram or are friends with me on Facebook, you know that I almost did not even bring my squash to the fair that ended up winning first place and division winner. When I am proud of an accomplishment or award I receive, it is just news that I am excited to share…that’s it. Like most of us, I am always learning and challenging myself to learn more and try new things. My blog is just my way to document the process.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, has it inspired you to get out and try new things in your garden, experiment more in your kitchen, try a new DIY decorating project, give cloth diapers a try, or something else? If it has, please send me a photo! I would absolutely love to do a special post with reader photos that have been inspired by my past posts!

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Thank you for reading my rant, and now back to the regularly scheduled programming, so to speak. I always try to keep our garden free of any poisonous plants. I have realized recently that this is not always something that people take into consideration when planning a garden. If you have children, grandchildren, or pets, it is a good idea to keep in mind that some plants may be toxic or poisonous if ingested. Our son does a pretty good job now of knowing what he can pull off and snack on in the garden and what he cannot. He even can tell when a tomato, strawberry or kumquat is not ripe yet. I have worked with him extensively on this for months. However, one of my good friends had a scare a few months back with her daughter. She texted me a photo of a plant that her daughter had nibbled on, and was worried that it may be poisonous. Thankfully it was not poisonous, but it motivated me even more to make sure that nothing in our garden was toxic. Even though I grow specific plants for our pets to eat, some of them have a tendency to nibble on just about anything when they are in a certain mood.

When planning what I would plant in our garden, I selected mostly plants that have edible flowers, such as sages, rosemary, roses, nasturtiums, and lavender. I wanted to be sure that just in case something was accidentally ingested by our son, one of his friends, or one of our pets, it would not be a problem. I used to grow things like sweet pea flowers, just because I love the way the smell. Unfortunately, sweet pea flowers are highly toxic. I tried planting them in places that I thought our pets would not find. Our one cat became so infatuated with the smell that he seemed to find them no matter where I planted them. I have since stopped growing sweet peas.

When we purchased our house, it had lots of elephant’s ears plants everywhere (seen above). They are highly toxic, and unfortunately grow from little tiny pieces of the root system, making it difficult to completely get rid of them. Even the tiniest piece left underground seems to allow them to come back. I thought I had previously gotten rid of all of them when we first moved here, but they keep popping up when I least expect it. It means that I go out in the garden early each morning and do a quick check before our son and any of our furry kids wake up and come outside to play. Another thing that I keep trying to get rid of is the English ivy around our son’s garden, also poisonous if ingested. Ivy is nearly impossible to kill off, and it keeps coming back despite my best efforts. I have resigned myself to the fact that it may be a lifelong battle, but I at least try to keep it trimmed back enough so that it does not drape down into E’s garden. It is currently growing in the retaining wall planter above his garden.

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When I was purchasing plants for our back yard garden, I researched each plant online before purchasing. I have a variety of succulent arrangements in containers in the back yard. When I first researched the fire sticks shown below, all I read online was that they could be a mild skin irritant. That did not seem too serious so I did not worry about it much. However, in the series of gardening classes that I recently took at our local botanical garden, the instructors started talking about how dangerous fire sticks can be around children. They can be poisonous and deadly if ingested in large enough quantities, and can even cause temporary blindness. I was completely freaked out and it was a scary reminder that I need to always be sure to get my information from a reputable source online. I since replanted my fire sticks in their own containers, and relocated them up onto the high ledge above our son’s garden, where they are out of reach from him and all of our pets. Similarly, I also made sure all of my medicinal herbs are not accessible. Most of these are intended for internal use, but that does not mean I want anyone going in there and nibbling on things they should not be eating (more info on my herb garden coming next week).

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If you are researching plants for your own backyard, I highly recommend referencing the ASPCA list of toxic and poisonous plants. Many of the things in our garden that were planted by previous owners were on that list, and I have removed them, such as lantana, elephant’s ears, etc. If you ever have any concerns that your pet or child has eaten a plant, contact your veterinarian or pediatrician immediately.

Happy Birthday, E!

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One year ago today was the scariest, most stressful and also most exciting and best day of our lives. Our baby boy was born.

I was dying to get out of that hospital and start taking pictures of our little guy, but we were held up in the hospital for a week. This was the first photo I took of him with my “real” camera while we were still in the hospital. He was a perfect little happy, smiling photographer’s child even from the first day he was born. πŸ™‚

Happy birthday my little honey bee. Mommy loves you more than words can express.

Weekly Dose of E

My little baby boy is growing up so quickly. I cannot believe he is almost one already. He was sleeping so sweetly the other day, and he reminded me of a peaceful little newborn baby. So of course I did what any good baby photographer would do…I had to break out my macro lens and get some sweet baby detail shots. πŸ™‚

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10 Months of Cloth Diapering Using gDiapers

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Our little guy is now 10 months old, and we are still going strong with the cloth diapers over here! I know the thought of committing to cloth diapering can be overwhelming to some new parents, so I wanted to post an update to reassure those considering it that the process is way easier than you would think!

Over the past 10 months, I have come up with some useful tips that new parents might find helpful. If you missed my earlier post on using gDiapers, you can find that here, and my post about what I keep in my diaper bag here.

Here are the tips I have learned over the past ten months:

  • Instead of trying so hard to make sure you get out each and every poop stain, just use the clothesline out in the sun to dry the diapers whenever possible. No pre-treatment, extra soaking, stain removers and stress needed. Let the sun do the work for you!
  • Since we live near the ocean, there are plenty of days where the humidity level outside is a bit too high to dry the diapers on the clothesline. On those days I just use the dryer on low, and I’ve tried not to stress myself out about the diapers looking “perfect”. Early on, I spent way too many hours trying to pretreat poop stains and driving myself crazy. Don’t do it.
  • Now that our baby is a bit bigger and definitely consumes more fluids than when he was a newborn, I have found that doubling up the cloth inserts in the outer shell works best for us. It provides enough to absorb without being too bulky.
  • Likewise, at night we needed some heavy duty action. We have found that doubling up the biodegradable inserts works best for us at night. Yes, I know this will make many cloth diapering purists angry at me again, but I don’t care. I got some angry hate mail after my last post from crazed cloth diapering extremists who were angry that I was promoting the biodegradable inserts. If you can do 100% cloth 100% of the time, good for you. I can’t…I know that I can’t and I own it. We love gDiapers because they are a HYBRID system. If we had to do 100% cloth diapers all the time, we would not stick with it. We lead very hectic lives and the convenience of the hybrid system is what works for us.
  • When I am out of the house all day, I hate lugging around poopy cloth inserts. The biodegradable inserts are a lifesaver for me whenever we are outside of the house.
  • As much as the purists hate the concept of the non-cloth inserts, I have found an amazing benefit to them. The inserts with just pee on them are compostable. I have to tell you all, my compost has never been better! It is rich, dark, and absolutely the best compost I have ever made in my life. I have been composting since I was a kid, and I am actually going to be a little sad once we no longer have a baby in diapers to help enrich our compost!
  • Aren’t you going to do laundry anyway? I usually wash our diapers with our sheets and towels, every other day. I would be washing the sheets and towels on pretty much the same schedule anyway, so it’s really not any extra work!
  • We very rarely have any trouble with diaper rash thanks to using cloth diapers.
  • The gDiapers sizes last for a really long time, which is awesome! We have been using the size medium for what feels like forever, which is definitely appreciated…less stuff to buy!
  • Plus, there’s always the added bonus that cloth diapers are way more adorable in photos than traditional disposable diapers. πŸ˜‰ If you want to see more adorable photos of our little guy in his gDiapers, there are tons of them over on my photography website http://www.apluscphotography.com.

Hopefully this will help inspire some new parents to give cloth diapering a try!

Newborn & Infant Photography Safety

A+C Photography - Newborns & Babies Photography Safety

There are a lot of articles and blog posts out there regarding safety tips for photographers when working with newborns and babies. Most have some really great tips, but there were a lot of other things that I have learned over the years that I haven’t seen listed in most of those articles. I wanted to write this blog post to help other photographers learn how to safely work with shooting babies. I seriously cannot believe it has been almost 20 years since I did my first few baby sessions (wow that makes me feel so old)! Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been shooting babies exclusively for 20 years, but I have done it enough now where I have a good concept of what works and what does not.

If you are a new photographer, please take the time to read and review all of the safety guidelines that I have detailed below. You have a very important job of keeping someone else’s baby safe and protected while you work with them! For new parents, please be sure that you work with someone who is experienced and knowledgeable about newborn and infant photography safety when planning your baby’s photoshoots. If you have any doubts, be sure to ask lots of questions!

1. Newborns cannot regulate their body temperature the same way that we can, so be sure to keep the room that you are shooting in extra warm and toasty.

2. To keep my studio warm, I use a space heater and a rice bag near the baby. I don’t ever place the baby directly on the warmed rice bag, but always make sure there is a blanket between the baby’s skin and the bag. Rice bags are very easy to use and heat up. I just sewed together a little pouch of fabric, about the length of a newborn’s body, filled it with rice, and sewed it shut. When I am going to use it, I heat it in the microwave next to a mug of water for about a minute.

3. When shooting newborns outdoors, be sure that the weather is warm enough. Do not ever force a baby into a situation where they seem unhappy. I remember one particular session that I shot a couple of years ago where even though it was not that cold outside, the baby was just not happy in my outdoor studio area. Instead of forcing the issue, I explained to the parents that it would be much better if we went back inside and continued with some indoor shots instead where their baby was happy.

In the image above of our son, we shot this just after he was born, in March (when it is still a bit cold here). You cannot see it from the images, but he actually had 2-3 layers of clothes on underneath the knitted wrap to make sure that he was warm and cozy. Even with older babies, I never put them in a situation where they will get a chill when shooting them outdoors. If I am shooting a baby in the nude or just a diaper outside, I will only do that on a warm day, and only in very brief increments of time.

4. Never use direct flash or un-diffused strobe lighting since the bright flash of light can be damaging to their developing eyes and brains. It is much better to use natural light and/or continuous studio lighting. If strobes are used, they should be properly diffused so the flash of light is not so harsh and jarring to the infant. When I did my first few little baby portraits, all I had was my film camera and a white shirt that I wore so I could position myself as a reflector while shooting (I was in high school and did not have much budget!). I definitely recommend using a reflector whenever possible. You can even use a large piece of white foam core if you cannot afford a regular reflector.

5. Never place a baby in anything that could be breakable, dangerous or sharp. This includes any glass objects (vases, mirrors, glass bowls, etc.). Even though it may seem that newborns do not have the ability to move much and break something, they can move more than you would expect.

6. Beware of trying to mimic composite shots. I personally never shoot babies in a complex composite pose since I do not like to perpetuate the illusion that I am doing something unsafe with any baby that I shoot. I feel that this is a dangerous trend in the industry, and new photographers need to understand that no baby should ever actually be placed in things like a sling hanging from a branch, a swing hanging from a tree, on top of a mirror, etc. Most of the images that you see that show these types of things are actually composited images when done safely.

7. Make sure that you wash your hands and/or use hand sanitizer regularly when working with babies. Their immune systems are not fully developed yet, and you want to be sure that you don’t pass along any germs to them.

8. Similarly, make sure that you are up to date on your TDaP vaccines. Pertussis can be deadly to infants, and adults can often be carrying the disease but show no symptoms. It can be passed from adult to infant while holding the baby, so make sure you have your vaccine. Babies usually do not have their complete set of vaccines to protect them from pertussis until they are at least 6 months old.

9. Study charts about infant developmental stages for various ages in the first year. Realize that a 3 month old will not be able to do things like sit up on their own, and it is not safe to try to force them into a pose that they are not developmentally ready for yet. Our little guy was able to sit himself up in a baby chair at 3 months (with spotting), but that is fairly unusual.

10. Always be sure to have a parent very close at hand near the baby to act as a spotter. Babies of all ages are wobbly, and you never want to have the baby fall over while you are shooting them.

11. If shooting a baby on a bed, be sure that they are always in the middle of the bed and not on the edge. I almost had a scary incident with this kind of situation back when I was 14 years old and shooting a newborn. Even newborns are capable of moving themselves around.

12. Always do a quick check of the baby’s fingers and toes to make sure that no loose threads, hairs, or fuzz are wrapped around them. This is especially important when working with furry or fuzzy wraps or rugs. Babies can loose circulation on their fingers or toes so quickly, so you want to make sure nothing is wrapped around any of their little digits that could interfere with their circulation.

13. Go slowly and be patient. Be sure to allow plenty of time for feeding, cuddling, diaper changes, etc.

14. Always keep in mind that babies are little teeny tiny people and not a prop or a doll. They have unique personalities and preferences, just like anyone else. If a baby seems uncomfortable or unhappy, don’t force it! Work with the baby and you will find that the shoot goes much easier. Sometimes the poses that the babies puts themselves in are way cuter than how you were originally trying to pose them!

15. Never shoot a baby in bright, direct sun. Babies younger than 6 months old should not ever wear sunscreen, and even between 6 months to one year old it is better to skip this if possible. Babies are very sensitive to sunburn. The sun is harshest between the hours of 10-2 pm. Plan accordingly.

16.Β Never shoot a baby in an environment with a lot of bugs around such as mosquitoes. Babies younger than 6 months old should not ever wear bug spray, and even between 6 months to one year old it is better to skip this if possible. Mosquitoes carry diseases that can be deadly to those with weak immune systems, such as an infant. Don’t take any chances. Be safe and cautious with your choice of location and time of day. Mosquitoes are most active around dawn and dusk and near bodies of still water. Plan accordingly.

17. If you or anyone in your household is sick, reschedule the session. It is the professional and considerate thing to do since you should make every effort not to get your client’s baby sick.

18. Always have a client image release contract, even if you are just starting out and shooting for free. This is important for all parties involved. You want to make sure that you have the parents’ written permission to use images of their child for your portfolio. You also want to give the parents peace of mind about where their child’s images will be posted online (e.g. their sweet baby’s photo is not going to be seen next to some outtake from filming a bloody horror movie).

If you are interested, you can view more of my photography on our website, our blog, and our Facebook page (click on each to open in a new window).

Striving to Find Balance

After having lost a year with working on my photography business, now that I am feeling better I am super determined to get things rolling again. It has been a lot of work lately trying to get everything restarted and re-branded since we are no longer putting weddings as the primary focus of the business. I am firmly resolved that I will bring the business to the level that I feel it should be in terms of quality, service, and success.

So far, I have been struggling with the whole work-at-home-mom thing. Little E does not like to nap, which makes it difficult to get much done during the day. If he does take a nap, he tends to wake up within 10-15 minutes maximum. He sleeps well at night, but just fights sleep during the day. As a result, I end up waiting until my husband gets home and can entertain E for a while, or waiting until after E falls asleep at night to get most of my work done. Most days, I find myself spending at least 6 hours straight at night working on the computer, which means I end up getting very little sleep myself.

I keep telling myself that this crazy intense period is just temporary until I cross off all of the things on my to-do list to get the business relaunched. It just does not seem like a good long term solution though since I know there will always be busy periods, especially if the business starts to grow as I hope that it will.

My husband and I keep discussing the issue, trying to figure out a solution. As the piles of dishes and laundry stack up (some clean, some dirty), I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed. We discussed looking into hiring someone to come in occasionally to either help with taking care of E or helping with the housework. We are both very strongly committed to the decision of not having someone else raise our baby, and that I am the person taking care of him during the day. So then that leaves the option of having someone come in and help on occasion with laundry, dishes, and general cleaning up. This makes me so uncomfortable though since I have really neurotic standards about how things should be washed and put away. I picture having someone come in to help, and me spending most of my time instructing them how things should be done, not really solving any problems (the whole if-you-want-something-done-right-do-it-yourself complex).

I stumbled upon this graphic last night online, and it really made sense to me. I am going to try hard to start applying some of these guidelines to my life.

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Since my husband works an average of 50-60 hours at his full time job on a good week, we struggle to find quality time together. He assists me with most of my photoshoots, which is great since he can also take care of E while I am shooting. In the picture below, you can see them spending some time together while I was working on a recent shoot. πŸ™‚ It was E’s first time seeing the ocean and he was fascinated by it. We have brought him to the ocean in the past, but for some reason, he happened to have his rare long nap whenever we went!

In an effort to try to be as mentally and emotionally present for my family as possible, and still feel that I am giving my own goals as much attention as possible, I am trying to come up with a set of guidelines for myself. So far, these are the rules that I have set for myself:
1. No photoshoots on Sundays (with only a very rare exception). Sundays are our family day, so we can go to church in the morning, and spend the rest of the day together, either doing something fun, working on a project for the house, etc. Most clients like to schedule photoshoots on the weekend when they are not working, but if I book up both of our weekend days, I will end up never spending any quality time with my husband, and that is not an option ever.
2. I am trying to set aside two designated times per day to work on emails. It is tempting, especially with a smartphone, to try to keep up with emails and messages in real time, answering everything as soon as it comes in. That is exhausting, and does not allow me to give my full attention to E when he needs it. If something is really urgent, it is much easier for me to talk on the phone than answer an email. I am convinced that part of the reason he is such a happy baby is due to the fact that I try very hard to give him my full attention when he is awake, and stay positive and happy around him.
3. I am trying to not feel so guilty for allowing E to have a bit of tv time some days. I struggled with the desire to keep him from watching tv much, especially since he already turns into a little tv zombie when one is turned on. However, some days I have found that is the only way that the laundry or dishes really get done. This baby has a ton of energy and likes to be entertained!
4. I am not going to worry about feeling guilty anymore about not putting 100% effort into some of the friendships where I feel like I am doing all the work to maintain the friendship. If someone does not reciprocate the effort to maintain a friendship and expects me to be the one to always initiate plans or phone calls, that friendship is going to be put on the back burner for a while.
5. If we are invited to a party or event, the only camera you will see in my hands is my iPhone. I have too high of standards to allow myself to just shoot a bunch of images and spit them out for a friend, even if it is just for a family event. I have fallen into this trap in the past, and often feel like it is expected since I am a photographer. I am a perfectionist, and have to spend time perfecting in post-production every image that I take. That all ends up taking up a bunch of my time that could be spent focused on other things, and I will not do it to myself any longer. If you have a friend who is a doctor, you wouldn’t expect him or her to go around a party giving everyone a quick checkup, right? So why is it that people expect a photographer to always have a camera in hand, and be willing to shoot everything?
6. I am going to allow myself to continue to work a bit at night since it is the only time of day when the house is quiet, but I am going to start setting a timer for myself so I don’t force myself into chronic sleep deprivation. Things that are not finished by the time the timer goes off will have to wait until another day.
7. I am also going to start forcing myself to take a couple of nights off per week. E and I had a nice relaxing day yesterday with a couple of playdates, and I was determined to not do any work for one day. Yet once he fell asleep (and my husband was at work stuck in a lab overnight), I found myself bored and started working again. Before I knew it, it was 3 am before I went to sleep. It would have been much better if I had just taken an entire day to relax!
8. With my huge list of food allergens that I have to avoid, I am going to start prepping meals ahead and freezing them again. We literally have to cook almost every meal we eat from scratch, and it gets quite overwhelming on some days. There are so few places where I can actually eat without having a problem, and it gets old. A selection of homemade frozen meals would really help cut down on some of this stress.
9. I am not going to stress too much if the basket of clean cloth diapers never makes it back into the individually sorted baskets on the changing table. Just being committed to cloth diapering (and line drying them) is an accomplishment on its own.
10. With the exception of my husband’s work clothes, I am going to try to stop stressing out if every piece of laundry is not completely wrinkle-free.

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I normally do not welcome unwarranted advice from others about parenting, but in this particular instance, I am curious if anyone else has any wisdom to share. Any other small business owner moms/work-from-home-moms have any advice for me on how to balance it all?

My Journey As a Photographer

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I often get asked how I got started as a photographer. Since I had to take over a year off from shooting while laid up with my pregnancy and my difficult postpartum recovery, I feel like I have had to start over with the photography business (link here). My husband (and business partner) and I had to make the decision that we will no longer be shooting weddings since I can only handle being on my feet for about two hours at a time before the pelvic and leg pain from the pregnancy comes back. Since weddings were the primary focus of the business before, I have been working on refocusing and re-branding the business to just focus on portraits, primarily babies & families.

It is interesting to me how everything with my photography has come back around full circle to where I started as a photographer, many years ago. When I was in high school, I started taking an interest in photography. My dad, a former photographer, got me a camera and started teaching me about photography. I signed up as the photographer for the community service club at my high school. I went around photographing all of the volunteer events and absolutely loved it. I loved focusing on the joy and happiness of the interactions. There was one place where we all volunteered where I really took an interest in photographing the events, a local shelter for women and their babies.

His Nesting Place is a house in Long Beach, CA where women can go with their babies when they don’t have a lot of options. They are an alternative to abortion, and provide a safe haven for women and children at risk. I loved volunteering there so much, and started photographing all of the new babies that came through there, gifting the mothers with some prints of their babies. This was many years ago, before the digital photography revolution, so those prints were very precious. I received so much positive encouragement with my photography from the staff of His Nesting Place, and it really helped spark my confidence as a photographer. I did not have any fancy props or elaborate set ups, but I took some beautifully simple pictures with just window light, a bed, and a baby. Back in those days, I was spending most of my babysitting/pet sitting/house sitting money on film and lab development. πŸ™‚

Every year, our club went to a tri-state convention where our yearly scrapbook with all of the photos from our events was entered into a competition. My photos kept winning out of all of the high schools from three states. I got so much encouragement from the staff at His Nesting Place to consider pursuing a career in photography. When I spoke with my high school guidance counselors, I was strongly discouraged from doing anything of the sort. To a prep school guidance counselor, apparently photography is not a valid career path, especially for a student who showed strong aptitude in math and science.

I put all thoughts of becoming a photographer aside while in college. However, whenever I was stressed out, I would find myself wandering around campus taking photographs of the architecture, flowers, etc. The guy at my local photo lab at that point thought I was crazy for studying engineering when clearly I had a strong creative side that was begging to come out. When I made the switch to fashion school, we had a lot of marketing classes where I really started to have fun with my photography again.

After I finished school, I found my way into working in e-commerce in the fashion industry. It was the perfect mix of my engineering background and my creative, fashion-loving side. E-commerce obviously is very photography dependent, so it was a natural progression for me to start using my photography skills at work. Years later, and a few different jobs later, I entered a very challenging phase in my life.

My grandmother was suddenly sick with cancer and dying. We were very close, and she was one of the few people I talked to every day. The stress of knowing she was dying flared up a very large cyst/non-cancerous tumor in one of my ovaries. Work was getting out of control also. My boss’ plan was to get rid of much of my support staff, and increase my workload significantly. I left work early one day to go see my grandmother at her house when I found out how sick she was. I tried to not tell her that I was feeling sick myself, but she knew right away when she saw me.

I had a long talk with my grandmother about the stress at work, and the strain it was putting on my body. I had been showing her various pictures that I took both for fun and for work any time I saw her. She urged me to consider a career change at that point to lessen the stress on myself. She told me that she had been watching my photography progress over the years, and that she strongly felt that it was time for me to get rid of all the stressful parts and just focus on what I love, the photography. She was very wise and I really valued her opinion, especially since she was right from the start about my husband when I had some reservations about him (he was very anti-religion when we started dating but soon had a conversion of heart).

When the time came and my grandmother was about to pass, the growth on my ovary ruptured and I had to go to my own hospital across town.Β  While I was in the Emergency Room, the doctor was concerned about how many times I had been in there in the few years prior with similar situations. He told me that I was at extremely high risk for developing ovarian cancer, and he highly recommended that I have my ovaries removed right then and there. Since my grandmother was sick, we had moved our wedding date up to a.s.a.p., in the hopes that she would be able to attend. I refused to have my ovaries removed then, especially since our wedding was going to be taking place in just a few days. I still had hopes that maybe, by some miracle, I would be able to get pregnant, and I was not willing to give up on that hope.

The doctor recommended that I seriously evaluate my life and cut down on my stress levels since I refused to have my ovaries removed. My grandmother passed that night, and her funeral came a few days later. Our wedding took place a few days after that, despite how upset we all were.

I ended up taking a week off work for my hospital visit, my grandmother’s funeral, and our wedding. When I had a meeting with my boss, she said that it was “very inconvenient” that I had taken a week off, and I would not be eligible for a raise since I had taken that time off. I had barely taken any of my allowed vacation time in the years I had worked there.Β  My husband and I decided at that point to add me onto his insurance, and that I would quit and start working on starting our own photography business.

We started out primarily focusing on weddings, but I also started shooting babies, children and families again. It felt so easy and fulfilling, without being stressful like a “regular” job. I felt like I was really getting the hang of things when everything got put on hold with our move and then my pregnancy.

After our baby E was born, I could not wait to be able to start shooting again. Before E was born, I feel like I approached the photography business in a certain way. I wanted to make sure that I got most of my weddings and engagement shoots published in wedding blogs, so I tried to mold my photography around what it seemed like the blog editors were looking for. Props and styled shoots are popular, so I worked hard on incorporating lots of props and styling into my shoots. Certain styles of photo editing and actions are popular, so I started editing my photos using a combination of those techniques. In retrospect, I feel like I put aside my own creative voice a bit in order to try to get my work to conform to what the blog editors wanted. Don’t get me wrong…I still love the work I did before I was pregnant with E (and it definitely got us published in many places and won a prestigious award), but I still felt like a bit of my own creative voice was missing from it all.

Recently, I started trying to prepare myself to get the photography business back up and running again. I evaluated my portfolio, and even went back through and looked at some of my really old photos and editing, from before I started the business. I started thinking back about all of the photos I used to take at His Nesting Place, and the clean simplicity and beauty of them. I wish I still had some of them to reference, but I made the dumb mistake of letting the school convince me that they were their property, even the negatives, even though I paid for it all with my own money.

I came to the realization that I would let my own creative voice dictate my photos going forward, and try to ignore what the “trends” are as dictated by blog editors. I loved some of my customized photo editing before I started purchasing Photoshop actions, and have been inspired by those to try some new things lately. I decided to do E’s three month photoshoot with inspiration from my memory of my old photos that I used to take at His Nesting Place (example from this shoot seen above). I contacted His Nesting Place to see if I could start volunteering there again and photographing the babies again. I am so grateful that the Lord has blessed us with E, despite all my infertility problems, and really want to find a way to give back.

A lady from His Nesting Place called me the other day and let me know that unfortunately, they cannot utilize my services to shoot the babies at this time since the house is currently vacant. Apparently they had some major plumbing problems, and have had to turn all of the women and babies away for now. Many of them are living on the street until HNP can raise enough funds to have the plumbing repaired. I am excited that I will be helping HNP with a charity fundraising event later this month. I really hope they can raise the funds quickly. Their cause and mission is so close to my heart, and I feel especially supportive of them since they were so encouraging and supportive to me when I was just starting out with my photography. I find it so amazing that I started feeling my love of photography when photographing babies at their house, and now my journey has come back around to focusing primarily on photographing babies. If you would like to help His Nesting Place get back on their feet, please click here to contribute!

Starting to Get Back to Normal

Things were crazy ever since I got sick a couple of weeks ago. I am feeling much better, but had been discouraged from blogging while I recovered. I got frustrated by some of the comments from strangers on other posts, and it made me feel much less motivated to blog about anything. One frustrating thing was that there have been a lot of people complaining about my lemonade recipe that it is too time consuming to make. Yes, it takes a decent investment of time to make the syrup with very little sugar. However, you do not have to stand over the stove the entire two hours. If you don’t like the idea of taking that much time to make something, feel free to have some store-bought lemonade, or make your own with either tons of sugar or artificial sweeteners. I am just trying to share what I have found to work for us. When I was really down and upset, all the negative, nit-picky comments seriously made me consider deleting the entire blog. After a bit of internal debating, I thought better of that idea.

Anyway, I never got any definitive answers about what exactly I was sick with. It was most likely some kind of viral meningitis, possibly caused by a mosquito bite. The whole ordeal was insanely difficult. My temperature kept going back and forth between two extremes from 95.9 to 102 degrees F. Just when I thought I was getting better, my temperature would either drop really low or spike back up high again. The headache was so intense that I had trouble speaking and communicating verbally. My back still hurts really bad where the doctor did the lumbar puncture, right in the area where my spine is full of arthritis from previous fractures. It still hurts really bad, but nowhere near as bad as it hurt even a week ago.

The worst part of the whole illness was the fact that I was not able to hold our baby. I was advised by multiple doctors not to hold him, which meant pumped breastmilk only. He was definitely not used to having his milk in a bottle, and it was really upsetting him. He would scream and cry for hours, from being sad and upset and also from the extra gas bubbles the bottles were giving him. When I would walk past him, he would cry and reach his arms out for me. I had to keep going in the other room and hide my crying so I didn’t upset him even more.

My husband was amazing during the whole ordeal. He was incredibly patient, despite having a baby screaming in his ears all day long. He even played along with some of my crazy preferences, like hanging out the cloth diapers to dry on the clothesline (even though that meant a lot of extra work for him).

Toward the end of my illness, I woke up one morning with a horrible blocked milk duct. I had been trying to make sure that I got all of the milk out while pumping, but apparently that had not been the case. So in addition to an unbearable headache, I also had excruciating pain from the blocked duct. I tried everything I could to get it unblocked, and nothing worked. On the second day with the blocked duct, I gave up and started nursing again. That helped within a few hours.

Now things are starting to settle back into our normal routine, and little E is so happy to have me holding him again. He is extra cute lately when he is playing with his play mat, as seen below. He recently discovered that he can hold onto the ring below one of the birds, and he has been going wild playing with them ever since he made that discovery. πŸ™‚ He is also turning out to be quite a little chatterbox with all kinds of adorable baby sounds nonstop!

Being that sick so soon after being laid up for so long has really motivated me to start to get my life back on track in terms of goals. I have been dying to get our photography business back up and running again, and I have been working around the clock lately to get ready to do that. I started planning some upcoming sessions, redesigned our logo and website, freshened up the portfolio, started submitting some sessions to blogs for publication, have been reading a lot and watching tons of educational videos to help me bring my photography to a whole new level, and I have been working on tons of new informational packets and plans for the business. I am really excited about it, and really looking forward to the next few months as I re-launch the business. I am so excited that just a couple of days after starting to submit sessions to blogs, I already have two selected for publication! Be sure to check out the updated website here!

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A Brain Infection? Seriously?

Friday afternoon, I was feeling a little tired and run down, after a rough week of trying to soothe baby E all day, every day this past week. We had gone to the sushi restaurant that we usually frequent, and it appears that the chef working that night did not understand my request for no soy sauce on any of my sushi, therefore aggravating E’s soy allergy via my breastmilk. I did not get much sleep the whole week since he was feeling pretty miserable.

Around 3 pm on Friday, I suddenly started to feel like I had strong chills from a fever and a really severe headache. I took my temperature and it was 102 degrees. Thankfully, my husband was finished early with work that day, and was there to help me take care of the baby. I took some Tylenol, ate a lot of homemade soup, and took a nap. When I woke up, my headache was significantly worse. It was definitely the worst headache I have ever had. It was even worse than the headaches I used to get in high school, after I had three concussions in a period of two months from cheerleading accidents. My body aches from the fever were getting worse, particularly in my neck. My neck felt really stiff, but I initially figured that may have been my arthritis in my neck from the cheerleading accidents flaring up since it has been really humid lately. As I laid in bed trying to rest, I told my husband that I felt like my brain was infected, even though that seemed ridiculous to me at the time. I figured I must be coming down with the flu, and just needed to rest.

Later that evening, with no respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms showing up, I started to realize that this could not be just coming down with the flu. I remembered that I had noticed a bug bite on my foot on Tuesday and started to get concerned. We live in an area with a lot of mosquitoes thanks to a nearby lake, and West Nile Virus had been confirmed present there this season. I started to get worried that I had come down with West Nile and/or meningitis.

When I was in college, there was another student who went to the same mass that I sang at that came down with bacterial meningitis. He figured his headache was symptomatic of being a tired, run down college student, and did not seek treatment. He died within a couple of days. The rest of us that went to that same mass were all informed and told to be very mindful of symptoms since we had all shared in the same drink during the Eucharist. Thankfully, no one else became ill. That experience was one of the most profound influences on my adult faith and belief in the power of the Holy Eucharist. Bacterial meningitis is extremely contagious, particularly via saliva. The Lord protected everyone, and I have always been grateful since then.

When my husband asked me what I thought was wrong, that story came to mind, and I started trying to tell him about “that guy in school who got sick and died from that bad disease”. I was not thinking clear enough to give him more information than that, but I knew I needed to be seen. My fever started going down, so I initially figured I may be okay. However, when the intense headache and neck pain remained despite my lessened fever, I knew we needed to call someone and start asking questions.

We called the hotline from our insurance to speak to a triage nurse, who advised me that I needed to go in to an urgent care center right away. The only ones available were at least a half and hour to and hour drive away, so I asked if I could just wait until morning to go. She told me that there was a good possibility that I might not make it if I waited until morning. We were pretty upset and left right away.

By the time we got to the urgent care clinic, my fever was gone but the other symptoms were not. The doctor there said it was probably not bacterial meningitis since my fever had gone down, but he highly recommended that I go to the Emergency Room for a lumbar puncture since they were not equipped to perform one there. That was the last thing in the world I wanted to go do since I had so much pain and problems with the spinal during my c-section. I had a number of fractures in the lower region of my spine during college, and I now have horrible arthritis in the whole lower area of my spine. I knew that a lumbar puncture would be very difficult to perform on me and more painful than it already is normally. He recommended that we go to our normal hospital since it may be likely that I would be admitted long-term.

When we arrived at the ER, my fever was still down and the nurses at the check in station did not seem to take my complaints too seriously. After a couple of hours waiting, I started to feel very feverish again. I went back up to them and asked them to check my temperature again. Just as they confirmed my fever had indeed spiked again, a nurse from the ER came out to bring me in.

While we were at the urgent care, our baby seemed a little confused why we were out somewhere and not at home resting. He was confused but overall happy. Once we got back to our normal hospital, it was the strangest thing. It seemed as though he recognized the place and started looking concerned. He kept staring at me with a sad, concerned little face, as shown in the picture below.

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Once I was brought into the ER, they started running a huge battery of tests on me, including (but not limited to) a CT scan, a chest x-ray, an EKG, and more blood work than I have ever seen in my life. I asked my husband to take the baby home and start trying to feed him some of the emergency breastmilk that I had stored in the freezer. Before now, we have not had good results with feeding him pumped breastmilk, so we had kind of given up on the whole thing. Every time we have tried, he cried and reached out for me. Usually, he ended up throwing it all up after consuming it, so we stopped trying. Thankfully, my husband was able to successfully feed him while I was still in the ER.

Before I had the lumbar puncture, I was given a small amount of morphine in my IV to try to help control the pain from my headache. It was not really helping unfortunately. I did not want to have a lot of strong pain medicine going through my bloodstream since I refuse to feed our baby formula. With him already showing signs of food allergies, that is something that I am extremely adamant about.

When the doctor went to perform the lumbar puncture, he had a very difficult time performing the procedure because of all of my arthritis in my spine. He injected some local anesthesia, which did not help much. He said he unfortunately had to perform it in that area since that is where there was the most fluid accessible. However, thanks to my bone spurs and arthritis, he kept hitting bone instead of finding the fluid initially. After multiple attempts, he was able to extract the needed fluid.

Before my results were confirmed, I felt so down with the way some of the staff was treating me. They seemed deathly afraid to come near me. I do not blame them…I would be pretty scared to if I had to treat someone who may have a highly infectious, potentially deadly disease. In the past, I have been sick with some pretty serious illnesses, pneumonia, SARS, etc. I have never felt so nervous as I did that day based on the way I was gauging other people’s reaction to me. I seriously felt like a leper. The doctor and two of the nurses however, were always kind and warm, explaining everything that was going on. I was shocked that the doctor even extended his hand to shake mine when I arrived, even though he knew my symptoms. It reminded me so much of the story of the Good Samaritan. It was pretty amazing when I realized that was today’s Gospel reading while watching mass on TV.

When the results from my lumbar puncture came back, they confirmed that I was not sick with bacterial meningitis, which was a good thing. Unfortunately, since the infection was caused by a virus, there was not much they could do to treat me. I was advised to go home and rest, limit my contact with the baby completely if possible, and follow up with my regular doctor on Monday. The ER doctor was also concerned because my white blood cell count was measuring abnormally low, particularly for someone who has recently had a baby. He was concerned that I may have some underlying issue that caused me to get so sick in the first place. He advised that until the cause of the low white blood cell count was definitely determined, I should avoid guests other than immediate family and limit where I go, possibly for a few months. He was more concerned about other people getting me sicker than the reverse.

The ER doctor informed me that it appears that I have a viral infection in my brain and cerebral spinal fluid. He could not confirm exactly what the virus is, but I am assuming it may likely be viral meningitis or something related to West Nile since I had that bug bite earlier in the week (or both). He mentioned that if someone had a virus when I was at my physical therapy appointment on Thursday (the only place I had gone in days), it is possible that I caught it and for some reason it went straight to my brain.

I left the hospital Saturday morning, and have been trying to rest at home as much as possible since. I was told to lie down flat in bed to prevent spinal headaches from the lumbar puncture, but I have been sitting up every couple of hours to use the breastmilk pump. Even though the doctor told me that is not the end of the world to feed the baby formula for a couple of days, I am adamant to avoid that at all costs, even if it made my headache worse.

Baby E had the saddest little face when I came out of the hospital and went back to the car. He looked at me like, where have you been, Mommy? Then he started to cry, like he was so sad that I had been gone. Below is his sad little face when he saw me pass by in our house and wondered why I would not take him when he was reaching out to me.

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My husband has been great about taking care of the little guy, but it has been absolutely heartbreaking to listen to him crying. He has been crying because he has been getting extra gassy from using the pumped milk in a bottle, and he also cries sometimes when he sees me pass by and I won’t touch him. I am really hoping my symptoms will start to improve soon because it is making me depressed to see him so upset.

Since leaving the hospital, my fever has been rollercoastering up and down. It seems like it has broken, and then it will suddenly start climbing back up. Today, I started developing additional symptoms, sensitivity to light, dizziness, and diarrhea. I took some over the counter medicine to try to stop the diarrhea, but if that does not help I will have to go back to the hospital. We are playing it by ear now since I do not seem to really be getting any better. While there is not much they would be able to do for the virus itself, I want to make sure that I do not get severely dehydrated.

It has been hard to grasp how I could get so incredibly sick after having already been through SO MUCH with my pregnancy and postpartum recovery. Ironically, I was actually working on writing a blog post on Friday about how proud I am of how hard I have worked on my recovery when I started noticing my symptoms appear. I will finish that post soon I guess, but I am assuming my physical therapy exercises will have to take a hiatus for a bit. I am trying to stay strong in my faith that the Lord will handle the situation. He knows how much that little baby boy depends on me, and I am confident that He will help us through this rough patch. We are praying with all of our strength for a speedy, full recovery.

Saving Every Last Drop – Preserving Broth & Juice

Alicia in Wonderland Blog

Alicia in Wonderland Blog

Once our baby is consuming food other than just breastmilk, I plan on making our own organic baby food and freezing portions of it. I found these baby food freezer containers and like the fact that they are bpa free. I originally bought these freezer containers only for that purpose (you can find containers here) but soon realized they could serve other purposes too. When our little lemon tree had its big bumper crop of fruit for the year, it was more lemons than we could use at one time, but I didn’t want to waste any of that precious juice. I juiced all of the lemons that we weren’t going to be able to use right away and poured the juice into the baby food containers. It worked out to be approximately two lemons worth of juice for each 2 ounce container. After they were frozen, I transferred the frozen cubes to freezer bags for long term storage so the cubes could be used for other things (you can find the freezer bags I use here). It worked out really well since now I always have fresh squeezed lemon juice on hand whenever I need it for a recipe or for making lemonade!

After I perfected my pot roast recipe (recipe shown here), I wanted to save every last drop of the delicious broth that was left over from the crock pot. I used the baby food containers again to make some small portions of broth, perfect for making my homemade dog treats (recipes here and here). I also saved larger portions of the broth in the freezer bags.