Happy New Year!!!

No, I'm not wishing you an early New Year to avoid missing it if the world ends on December 21st...

Now is just the perfect time to start thinking about your New Year's Resolutions! 

After researching several sources ranging from personal blogs to polls by major newspapers and magazines, the following five lifestyle goals (in no particular order) were identified Every. Single. Time. 

1.) Get healthy.
2.) Get organized.
3.) Connect more.
4.) Learn something.
5.) Help others.

Millions of people make resolutions throughout the year that they break, sometimes weeks or months but often just days or even hours after making a decision to start incorporating lifestyle changes.  With nothing but the best of intentions, they manage to fall off the wagons they've climbed onto, procrastinating (one day at a time) by saying, "I'll start tomorrow..."

And yup, this is me.  So, I thought I'd go ahead and put a plan in place to tackle my own resolutions, and invite you to join me! With the help of some amazing people I am fortunate enough to have met in my travels, My Edmonton Studio has scheduled a whole thwack of wicked-cool workshops (and maybe even life-altering programs) that will help some of us make 2013 the year we stick to our resolutions! 

Consider this your official invitation to join me as I commence this journey.  You can check out the workshops and programs already scheduled by visiting the Facebook Events Page or you can add the MES calendar to your Google sync.  And, if you'd like to keep tabs on my progress, you can bookmark my new blog, Resolve, which will go live on December 21st, 2012, where I will share my goals, personal rants and musings, things I suck at along the way, and (hopefully) a lot of successes!

Registration is currently OPEN for all posted workshops with confirmed dates - please send an email to h [dot] walls [at] shaw [dot] ca for more information!

what I have learned in 10 weeks

In no particular order, I feel like I want to share this list of things I've learned.  Perhaps you will find wisdom and avoid similar mistakes, or just have a laugh at my expense.  Either way, whether you find this blog post educational or entertaining (or maybe both) let me just say it has been a heckuva ride. In no particular order:

Trip happens.  I wear my flats until it's cold.  When it gets really cold, I wear socks in my flats.  And when it gets REALLY really cold, I break down and pull out my winter shoes.  Now, we happen to be in the process of trying to renovate our bathroom (for a second time, going on the 14th or 24th or something month of being a 6-member family with one shower stall in the basement) so we have some bathroom stuff in our bedroom.  Namely, there is a box containing my chandelier and a large mirror.  I also do not have one of those fancy-schmancy closet organizer things so the seasonal shoes are stored under the other bedroom closet-y things like duffel bags and clothes that fall off the hanger.  Now, when one is in a rush in the morning to catch a bus and one needs one's winter shoes from under one's collection of closet crap, one doesn't necessarily have time to stuff one's crap back in before bolting to the door.  This would not be problematic if one remembered the pile of closet crap beside the bed before walking much later that night, in a groggy haze, in complete darkness, to one's bed.  Hip, meet bathroom mirror.  I know that on some level I'm twisted to think how cute that my gaping wound is heart-shaped, and that the egg-sized bruise is very colourful and pretty...

When there is dog shit on your shoe, pretending that it doesn't stink doesn't actually stop it from stinking.  I think some guy did an entire "movement" (pun entirely intended) about this a while back that involved eating frogs.  Anyhow.  Procrastinating the inevitable is really stressful and time-consuming.  The more energy we pour into avoiding simple conclusions like we cannot make the unworkable work, save the unsalvageable, redeem the unredeemable, enlighten people who cling to their myths and beliefs and suspicions, the dead horse will not rise up and gallop again, the more it sucks our will to live.  Getting unfinished work completed, putting healthy boundaries on unhealthy relationships, starting a project that is overwhelming... all stressful until you actually just go ahead, dive in, and git 'er done.  So, when you've stepped in a pile of proverbial puppy poo, as much as you might like to think you can pretend it's someone else who reeks of turd, there are really only two ways to remove the smell from haunting you (and those you love): carefully scrape and wash the shoe and replace it on your foot, or decide that it's not worth the time to scrape it and just throw the damned thing out so you have a good excuse to buy new shoes.  (Cuz new shoes are always made of awesome!)

Sometimes, you need to let go of your desire to be helpful and just let people lick the frosty metal pole. This is a hard one for me to admit I still suffer from.  You can't save people from themselves, period.  No matter how benign your intentions are, if someone genuinely believes that you are telling them not to lick the frosty metal pole because you are hoarding the opportunity to experience the shangri-la of all life experiences and prevent them from having some sort of life-changing epiphany, then it's best to just let them get on with it and lick the damned pole.  Whether it's a co-dependent relationship, a bad business decision, a risky undertaking, I need to remind myself, "It's not your fault or your problem." I need to start triple-dog daring people instead.  Then, when someone goes ahead and licks the pole, in my opinion it's definitely an occasion where yes, I can and should say, "I told you so," completely guiltlessly, because really, I did tell them so.  I will revel in it.  Then let them do it a million times if they have to.  And when the bell rings, run off to resume real life while they stand there screaming like an idiot.

The problem with vaguebooking.  Sometimes, people vaguebook to get attention, but sometimes you just really need to say something and can't or won't name names for personal reasons.  While it's true that a vaguebook status is frequently intended as a passive-aggressive attack on some unknown person who will hopefully see it and KNOW it's about them, often people who have NO CLUE what is going on in your life will think it's directed at them.  So, if you happen to post a vaguebook status and people suddenly start apologizing, unfriending you, or sending you nasty private messages, while you run the risk of unintentionally alienating people, you might also tap into a few people who have a guilty conscience or just find out that some of the people you know believe they are the center of the universe.

There is no "unfamily" button.  I love my family.  They drive me insane, we are all kinds of stubborn, our opinions seldom match, and sometimes we make dysfunctional families look like the Cleavers.  With a few major adjustments in our family management, the last several months have been a roller coaster of emotion while we adjust to the new regime: tension, stress, joy, happiness, relief, disbelief, and a whole lotta WTF? are all in the cornucopia of crazy that is my family.  Families are more often than not not only our greatest asset but our biggest PITAs.  The key for me right now is learning to roll with the punches, which sometimes means I have to take the time to clean the poo off my shoe and at other times, let them lick the frosty pole because while you can "unfriend" your acquaintances on Facebook, in real life there is no "unfamily" button.

Usually, a breakdown is just the doorway to a breakthrough.  Passive-aggressive people who manipulate others with head games bring out the worst in me.  After a complete, utter, total, ugly-crying-by-myself-in-my-beautiful-new-space-surrounded-by-gorgeous-costumes breakdown, my breakthrough was remembering that the only way people can keep hurting me is if I keep going back for more.  Brilliant, right?

A litmus test is always a good idea.  If you ever want to know if you're being scammed, manipulated, or sold a lemon, ask a simple question.  Make sure it's incredibly basic, and pay attention to whether the response is a) rehearsed, b) ridiculous or c) wrong.  If it's wrong, then walk away.  If it's rehearsed, you have a 50/50 chance of knowing if they actually understand what they just repeated.  Proceed with caution.  If it's ridiculous - if they ramble on, giggle too much, make cutesy jokes, change the subject, or make random shit up to explain it, they are probably just trying to dazzle you so you will hopefully forget the question you asked in the first place.  As I am a photographer, and know photography, my favourite question to ask fellow photographers when I feel like maybe they aren't really all that and a bag of chips is that they explain the relationship between aperture/DOF, shutter speed, and ISO.  Weeds the hacks out SUPER fast. *cough*

Impulse buying 650+ costumes is bad for your mental health.  I wish I could describe my purchase of 650+ costumes this summer with a logical, rational, witty explanation.  But I would make no more sense than ^that guy^ did. I was like a lemming running headlong into something that was exciting and unknown, but that would ultimately kill me.  The original plan was to set up a virtual store and build a buzz while I found just the perfect spot to use as a storefront that could later be converted into an awesome creative space, make a respectable profit by selling 99% of the costumes by Halloween... while still getting first dibs on the costumes I loved that made "take it all or leave it all" so perfectly do-able...

While looking for a space, the costumes (24 x 18-cubic foot boxes plus a mountain of garment bags and about 40 styrofoam heads wearing feathery Vegas showgirl hats...) were to be stored in my living/diningroom, as the seller was moving out of his rental property and needed them picked up quickly.  Sure.  We can put them in our house for a week or two, just until I find a place to rent.  No biggie, right?

WRONG.  Some 10 weeks later, we were STILL eating our suppers at the desk/in our room/in front of the TV/not at the dining room table because it was dismantled and stored in the garage and it damn near killed me. When I finally, at long last, found a property and moved the costumes out, we threw a party, during which I cried like a baby because it felt SO good and SO happy to have my home back, to have friends and family over, to eat a belated turkey dinner surrounded by people and not sequins.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time, though.  It really did...

Which leads me to...

I don't much care for commercial realty.  If you ever have to find a place to rent or buy for your business, rest assured that it is at least as frustrating as house hunting, for exactly the same reason: lots of places might be *almost* perfect, but the chances of you finding your actual dream home already built are slim to nil, and if you do find it, it's probably a) in a bad location or b) out of your price range.  Which in and of itself is a special kind of hell.  But what makes commercial realty so much WORSE, is that instead of having at your disposal a motivated (in my experience often to the point of being irritating) realtor who hounds you day and night and acts like a junky who just mainlined some Honey BooBoo juice when you finally get your house "showhome ready" or put a bid in on a home... commercial realtors move at the speed of molasses in February.

Days and weeks went by with no response to my inquiries, through realtors, through Kijiji, through various agencies.  And the ones I did go look at were countless nightmares, ranging from psychotic snobby owners to dumps that I'd be scared to rent.  I looked at so many spaces that when I found one that was literally too good to be true and was in fact WAY out of my price range, I actually wasted 3 weeks negotiating back and forth, dickering over (honestly, literally) $.25/sqft/year.  When that deal fell through, I sighed (and cried) and went back to Kijiji.  Lo and behold there was a new listing and I went to look at a space, expecting nothing special, but fell instantly in love with the space, the building owner, and wept with the relief of finally finding a normal guy who just wants to not have the upper level of his shop sitting empty.  Sweet, sweet relief.  The irony?  When he's not machining, the building owner is a home realtor...

I have a crapload of costumes to get rid of still.  The original plan gave me a full 6 weeks to market and sell costumes in a physical location; in actuality, I have had less than two.  The damage is already done, though, and so instead of being bitter we've been making lemonade by just having a tonne of fun being able to actually play dress-up...

It's not too late to get up on your own sparkle Mario or glitter fart faerie costume, though - for another 48 hours or so, That Costume Place's collection will still be on display with hundreds of pieces available for rent or sale, but by Thursday, it becomes My Edmonton Studio, which I am *really* excited to reveal the full details on.  It's so exciting that almost feel I ought to caution you not to choke on anything when you see the new blogsite!

So, that's been my life for the last several weeks, rounded nicely out by enjoying my morning walk to school with Serejane, being able to play backgammon at my dining room table with my husband again, chilling out with my amazing sons who make me prouder as each day goes by with the mature, wonderful, funny young men they are becoming, the wicked class I am taking this semester, my growing excitement over my baby sister's birthday party next weekend, being an invited speaker for an Edmonton based UN youth initiatives group, and finishing up a whole thwack of wedding and family portraits (and one VERY saucy boudoir session) for my incredible clients, who fortunately find my brand of crazy tolerable enough that they continue allowing me into their lives to pictureLOVE.  

And now, I leave you this parting sentiment:

something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue...

I have been thoroughly enjoying having more time to dedicate to shooting this year, especially in the last couple of months since leaving the Photographer Studio in the hands of my former partner, who is taking it in a new direction with renewed energy and vitality - it will be exciting seeing what she and her new "work wife" do with the place!  I, on the other hand, have had a very disappointing month looking for just the right space to fully realize my dream of opening a creative commune - a space that is dedicated to providing affordable access to a venue that is outfitted for those who need a place to dance, rehearse, teach, paint, sculpt, sing, and (of course) take pictures.  I won't get into great detail, but let me assure you it has been a stressful journey navigating the world of commercial real estate - from negotiating leases to meeting tyrant landlords to viewing spaces with misleading ads (really, just call a fixer-uppper a fixer upper...)  Anyhow, I have my fingers crossed that Tuesday's viewing works out and I will have a space to set up my costumes and my mannequins and mr paper drops and go to town.

Onward, onward....  Today's post, despite the title, has nothing to do with weddings.


Something old:

There are several sessions I shot earlier this year that I haven't had the chance to blog, so I want to share just a few images, starting with a couple of babies.  And yes, I realize that "old" may seem a bit of an oxymoron but really, these guys are practically in college already...

Meet N.  N was a disappointment because I had specifically told Mom and Dad to make me a crazy-haired Chinese baby.  And what do they make instead?  This perfectly round, adorable, sweet, chubby baby with downy-soft baby hair...  (N is smirking in this picture because he knows I can't resist him in spite of his un-crazy hair...)

He had perfect little fingers...

...which he had no trouble jamming in his mouth.

He was very alert for most of our visit.

But I wore him down eventually - is this not the most adorable yawn?  Don't you just want to hunker down and have a nap with him cuddled into the crook of your arm?

I shot Mom and Dad's wedding a couple of winters ago, and I should have known that no session with V & J would have been complete without some seriously funny incorporation of entirely made-of-awesome kitsch.  For their wedding, it was Hello Kitty.  So I was not surprised in the least when they asked me to feed their child to a shark...

A very belated congrats, guys - he is simply perfect.  P.S. you don't bring him to visit me at work often enough.  I'm totally OK squishing him if you need... Just sayin'....


Next, we have something new, and it doesnt' get any fresher than birth photography which is commonly referred to by me as my preferred form of crack.

For obvious reasons, there are only a few pictures I can share as this is a very intimate process.  Let me pause here for a minute and say that I have attended many births as a photographer and friend, and of all the people I know, watching this Mama through labour and delivery is the most amazing, uplifting, goose-bump worthy experience I have ever been honoured and privileged enough to experience.  I think "organic" and "warrior" can peacefully co-exist when describing her.

I got the call just as I was stuffing my face with casserole... and being the third labour I knew I had to hustle.  When I arrived, things were already well in progress.  W was recording the process through art...

C, on the other hand, was very concerned.

Apparently, he is very concerned about his Lego.  There are two problems with babies and Legos.  One is of course the baby might choke.  Two is of course that the baby might want expect to share.  Both weighed heavily on C's mind as he watched Toy Story and waited until he was on duty to cut the umbilical cord.

Within minutes of my arrival it was time to move to the birthing pool.  J, smiling, singing, and bashing her head against a wooden chair, was steadfast and focussed, and her incredible supportive hubby J was never more than a few feet (or a smart-ass remark) away from the entire process.

When it was time for delivery, both the kids jumped in the pool.  W's main job (besides making very detailed pictures of her Mom in labour) was to catch the baby.  Which she did...

And handed it off to Mom, who, like turning on a dime, went from head banging and moaning and groaning with effort to that sublime ecstasy of delivering her child in a split second.

Ohhhh, the goosebumps!  LOVE!!!!

Finally C's big moment arrived, and he operated those medical scissors like a pro.  And after baby was cut free so Mom could get some post-partum attention, Dad and W took over, marvelling and basking in the new baby's arrival.

(side note: C had again become terribly concerned about the baby's pending doom in relation to his Lego, and had retired to the rec room to sort that issue out...)

 While their newest addition got a snack, the family rejoiced, made some calls, updated Facebook...

W, being such a big girl, was terribly helpful.  She got to write out the official baby announcement (with a little help from the midwife.)

And make placenta prints (also with a little help from the midwife.)

Meanwhile, No Name Baby showed off his delicious lips and his hairy thighs and ears.  (Mom tried to convince Dad to drop trou and prove that the hairy was from Dad's side but he declined...)

Time to weigh in.  We made guesses and I think I won...

W wanted to see if she could operate the apparatus and this extreme confidence and comfort at being a big sister was so sweet!

No Name just laid around being cute, taking in the scenery.  That's what fresh babies do best though, right?

After all the weighing and measuring and diapering was done, W surprised us all by confidently picking up the new baby and walking it over to Mom's waiting arms!

No Name's lack of a name is standard - this family had a few names picked out for each of their babies and waited a few days to see which name fit best.  But a newborn baby by any name is just cause for peace and love and joy.  This beautiful family, so close to my heart.  After all the chaos and craziness, sometimes you just needs a good old whole-family cuddle.

Curious about No Name's now?  Well, the name starts with "C" and big sister W had a form ready to fill in.  X means "no" and check means "yes."

Congratulationss on the arrival of your gorgeous new son and brother, J, J, W, and C.  He is as gorgeous and delicious as expected.  I'm so glad I was able to be there for his arrival and thrilled that my talented colleague TJ Aneca was able to provide you with some stunning newborn portraits (I rock the chaos, she rocks the poses lol).  I look forward to an invitation to photograph (and cuddle) C in the sweater made by the talented Mom of my other equally talented and very esteemed and loved colleague Helena of Apple Fresh.


Something borrowed:

I have, in the past several years, been gifted several amazing props and pieces of furniture by clients.  Meet Colin Dvorak, who has recently embarked upon becoming a certified home inspector.  Needing pics for his new business venture, this knowledgeable and friendly guy generously offered (as I am currently studio-less, as I already mentioned lol) to let me borrow some storage space he had to acquire a gorgeous couch gifted by yet another incredibly generous client.  I am excited for my couch, but even more excited for him and his spectacularly lovable family to embark on the next phase of his career as a certified Buyer's Choice guy in the Spruce Grove/West Edmonton area.  Ask for him by name, and tell him "Hope" sent you :)  

PS I need some carob, blueberry-oatmeal,  and candy cane cookies, Mrs. Buyer's Choice...


And last but certainly not least, something blue:

I have been an active photographer for the charitable organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep for about 5 years.  You may be inclined to think that I am blue about the organization but I am not - what we do is amazing.  When there is no ability to come home with your newborn child, what we do is provide images from those precious few hours that our families are able to spend time with their babies before they must say goodbye.

No, what makes me blue is not the angels we photograph - I can accept that death is a part of life - but rather the decline in membership and lack of awareness and commitment for this group and the valuable service it provides to the community.  Despite our efforts to recruit more photographers, in a city of about a million people we have a surprisingly small collection of dedicated souls willing and able to provide bereavement services to families in need and even less support from hospital administrators.

If you are a photographer, I urge you to consider joining this charity.  Other than a very low and affordable admin fee (seriously you spend more on coffee in a week) it doesn't cost you financially, as you can claim your expenses, and the images you produce are both priceless and invaluable.  There is a sporadic, short-term commitment required (my visits generally run 45 minutes or less once or twice every other months so that the family can resume its grieving process uninterrupted), there is no additional external fundraising commitment, and no pressure to take on more than you can handle personally.  But, due to a shortage of volunteers, we often struggle as a team to find available photographers.  After meeting so many families going through this process, I can assure you that the intangible paybacks far outweigh any considerations you may have.

Perhaps you are afraid to enter a room with a deceased infant but I assure you that after doing this for several years what I have learned without any shadow of a doubt is this one thing: a baby = love.  These sessions are not gross or morbid or scary or weird, but rather full of the kind of pure and raw love than can only be shared between a family and a newborn.  I beg of you to put your judgment and fear and hesitation aside and do what you can: donate, participate, celebrate the courage of those who never get to bring their children home after delivery.


So, something old, new, borrowed, and blue.  Rather than end on such a sombre note I will leave you with this teaser of my next blog entry about B & A's incredible wedding...

Talk to you soon!

muchLOVE,  ~H.

And then there were 4...

I met a couple a couple of years ago and fell instantly in love, with them, with their son, and eventually with every member of their extended family that I was fortunate enough to come in contact with. I will admit, though, that my biggest crush has been on G, who seriously defies gravity when it comes to being out-of-this-world-cute....

When Mom & Dad told me they were expecting Baby Number Two, I was of course torn.  

I mean really, can "G" really be rivalled?  Matched?  Equalled?  

Well, lucky for me, Mom and Dad are pretty fantastic at churning out perfectly wonderfully adorable babies.

C?  He is amazing.  I mean really... look at those lips!?

 And even better, G actually *kind of* likes C.

 Ultimately, I think I can handle this degree of adorable.  I mean really, it's what I do, right?

A very belated congratulations to you all...  I hope you know how much I adore you guys, and how much I have enjoyed watching your family grow. Call me.  I have Tupperware for you.