Checking In: Real Life

Friday, March 23, 2018

I'm sitting at my desktop on a grey Friday afternoon after sluggishly napping next to Quinn as he watched a movie. It took Lucy getting home from school, trying not to cry because her bus friend accidentally scratched her face, to rouse me from the nap stupor and spur me back to MomLife. Poor kiddo--- her friend really didn't mean to, but she dealt Lucy a pretty rough scratch, right under her eye and across her cheek. So I made her stand still for some Neosporin, convinced her that bandaids wouldn't do much good and would only annoy her every time she blinked, and then plyed her with her daily screentime as a way to forget her troubles... so now she and Quinn are happily playing Terraria on the couch and I am on the computer, trying to blog. After so much time away from writing blog posts, I am rusty and sheepish; eager, yet hesitant. I have some SleepMusic  (a really chill mix of indie rock/folk music on YouTube) playing in the background while stray ants march across my desk, from left to right, every couple of minutes, despite the peppermint essential oil and vinegar I keep wiping the desk down with. I should probably find the source of their entry and give them a Terro trap. 

So this is me right now- this is real life. This is Friday, before the baby wakes from her nap, before Noah comes home from his Friday CCL program. Before Joe walks in the door. 

It's quiet. And my previous lethargy makes me feel a little melancholy now. The grey skies and the constant list of things still undone... it all contributes. But it's also peaceful. And I feel calm. Unlonely. Capable. I am fine. 

Yesterday, I tried to grab a couple of "big camera" photos of Larkin while she sat in the corner chair, because she is always SO CUTE. She mostly wasn't having it, but I grabbed a couple. And then my camera was out and I decided I'd shoot some photos around the house, so I could come here to share some of my daily SURFACES. Random, I know... but just.... it seemed like a good a thing as any to document the dailiness of the places we stash stuff here. The orderly places and the places that are NEVER under control. I know it will be fascinating, if only to me, several years from now, to look at the tiny details here.... what we decorated with, what the kids were into, what piles never go away.... Details of a life being lived. 

** A testament to the Universe being in alignment-- after shooting these photos and planning a blog post, I was scrolling through one of my recent hashtags on Instagram and found an old "mom confessionals" with a fisheye photo of this very same spot you're about to see, with the caption beginning "Real life:", then going into minute detail about the clutter, and ending with the profound conclusion (which I clearly need to remember more often so I don't feel as bad): "This is real life, and while I dream of clean, I'm trying to remember to be glad we have so much active LIFE happening here and so many anthropological artifacts that testify to a pretty sweet little life together." **

1. My peninsula yesterday, with notes added. It's.... It's just always a morphing version of this. Sometimes I get it 90% cleared, but that only lasts for a day or two, and then more life comes along to refill it in a slightly different configuration. It is what it is. But not all my home surfaces have this problem. I do have a few that I can keep relatively orderly:

2. Perpendicular to the peninsula is this charging station/storage counter. Never mind the spare pancake just hanging out there and a few other things that need to be put away, I am generally able to keep this spot pretty tidy. now, I am the *only* one keeping it tidy, so I am often battling the four other people in this house who like to set things here... but it's small and I am generally victorious.

3. And this area across from the peninsula, right by the laundry room and back door--- It bears the hefty burden of our 100+ Chatbooks, leaving little room for much else, so this spot is pretty cute, most of the time. What I love right now: My Rifle Paper Co. "Happy" print from my BFF Genny-- the colors are pure joy!! And the stack of Rifle Paper Co. Chatbooks in front, a special series they offered that I jumped on because, can you tell?, I love Rifle Paper Co. (I am not getting paid to type their name thrice.) And I love the Borax crystal "geodes" the kids and I made over Spring Break last week, sitting atop the stack of books. Want a closer look?

4. How cool is that?? We used the tutorial on Borax crystal geodes, and it worked fabulously. We are already wanting to try it again!  

5. But then there is this spot-- the buffet sideboard in the dining room. YOU GUYS. No matter what I do (see the storage cubbies? See the shelf to the left side? Not shown: more storage baskets below), this is the catchall for the kids' MISCELLANY. Toys they've been playing with that are too tiny or intricate (read: LEGOS) to go in the other room's toy bin. Art supplies that didn't make it back to their homes. Party favors and Happy Meal toys. A stack of books. A stack of drawings. Card games. A random photo album. Just.... STUFF. Stuff that doesn't have a dedicated home, but is too "fresh" to just be tossed.... Stuff I cannot keep on top of, but that NO ONE ELSE here is even trying to help with. It's impossible. Four kids and one husband against me.... All of us sentimental and creative-- two things that add to the build-up of "stuff".... It's an impossible task, this sideboard area. I need to see it with grateful eyes like I mentioned above.... Grateful for all the LIFE happening here, and family togetherness that happens in this room that gets moved over here for more family togetherness in the form of meals together. It's okay. I guess. But man....

6. Let's cleanse our palates with the mantel over the fireplace, then, shall we? A favorite canvas print and Joe's Orpheus robot from Christmas. AND NOTHING ELSE. (well, also a tiny, mostly-hiding woodland cottage behind the robot. Trust me, it's cute.)  Ahhhh......

7. Back on the other side of the living room, right as you are about to reenter the kitchen (see the blurry clutter peninsula in the background?) is a set of shelves whose tops are usually more in control than this... but this is real life, so this week it has been a catchall of leftover toys and items I just need to put away. And the DVDs below, not really shown, are in constant disarray thanks to the 18-month old in the house who likes to take them off of the shelf and not put them back nicely. It is what it is. 

It comes down to -- my world here is a constant study in contrasts. Opposition in all things. Right? For every clean area, there is a clutter spot. For every upbeat morning, there is a melancholy afternoon. For every talent, there is a weakness. For every moment I wish I could get a break from the constant-ness of motherhood, there is a moment of pure joy as I watch/listen to/interact with these kids and feel utter devotion. It is hard, and it is never ending, and it is so so beautiful. Even when it's messy. 

Writing about it... taking photos.... These things remind me to stop and really SEE, and it re-centers my gratitude. I should write more. 

And I should show you guys more of the photos I am always, always taking. Like these last three photos-- the ones I mentioned before, when Larkin was being cute in the corner chair, but not willing to be still for me to get that "perfect portrait". So photo #1: the only time she sat still, because her baby food pouch kept her busy. Photo #2: She is laughing because I'd tried for a good chunk of time to get her to sit still, and as soon as I'd move my hands away from placing her, she'd move away, and I'd laugh, and then she'd laugh, and it was totally a game to her, so then I just held her in place for this quick snap-- you can see my hand. And photo #3: when she finally tired of my attempts and still didn't want to pose. So then I knew it was time to put the camera away and just enjoy her.


So that's all for today. A check-in after two months away from my blog. It feels good to stretch my fingers and type a little again. I need to try to do it more. For my own soul. For the exercise in seeing it all more clearly, and therefore with more gratitude. 

Until next time---

2017 Year in Review for Emily Southerland Photography

Monday, January 22, 2018

2017 was a wonderful year for Emily Southerland Photography. Always just the right amount of clients to keep me busy, but not overwhelm the tentative balance of my family's rhythm (usually). Always a steady stream of newborns to coo over and snuggle, between the families, the babies, the kids,  and the handful of incredibly awesome seniors I see each year. And always one or two weddings (usually of people I love enough to break my "I don't do weddings" rule for!). 

I'm grateful for my clients. For the ones who trust me the first time, and most especially for the ones who come back, time and again, and still find my work has value for them. I love my work of trying to draw out authentic smiles and real interactions. I love being able to help my clients tell a piece of their story through photographs. 

I'm not yet hungry for more. More acclaim, more recognition, more referrals, more work. I'm not yet itchy to change my path... my prices, my style, my equipment. Hopefully that doesn't feel stagnant to any of you out there... because for me, it feels like if I continue to do exactly what I've been doing for a while now, I still have so much room to grow and to learn and to listen to. I think there is still a place for me to find fulfillment, right where I'm at. I hope that rings true in the images I share. I hope my photos of other people bring as much joy to them as my own photos of my family bring to me. 

It is good work to be doing, and I am forever grateful that I get to continue along this path. 

Happy 2018! Will I be seeing your family this year?

The Bunkroom: Three Kids Sharing One Bedroom

Friday, January 19, 2018

 I have this lofty dream-- a dream of one day having a big barn in my backyard, and in that barn, a long room decked out to be a bunkhouse for visiting cousins, or a gaggle of my girlfriends out for a crafty weekend. It's a long shot-- maybe it'll never come to pass. But somewhere along the years of my life, that long room and a vision of a row of beds has stayed with me, charming and cozy and social and inviting. 

So when Larkin joined our family, and I had the choice to ditch our guest room to use as a child's bedroom, or to put Larkin in the current "baby room" occupied by Quinn and just toss Quinn into the room already occupied by Noah and Lucy, that bunkroom concept suddenly became relevant in an immediate way. Maybe I'll never have my posh barn and allll sorts of lovely space for a row of guest beds. But when I stood at the doorway of this fairly long, sloped-ceiling bedroom that my two older kids shared, I could instantly see that if I planned it just right, I could fit Noah's extra-long twin bed and Lucy and Quinn's toddler-sized beds into the space just like a bunkroom. 

It would be a full room, but if I worked on unifying the three kids' areas with similar items (lamps, shelves, quilts, etc.) and maximized storage with some IKEA shelving on the opposite wall, I knew I could manage the space and the kids' toys/books/tchotchkes  without it feeling overwhelmingly crowded. Never mind managing the post-bedtime shenanigans of THREE in one room-- I knew we could at least try this out before resorting to giving up our guest room. 

 My goals, then, when getting all of this set up, were first to work on making matching patchwork quilts that would work for a girl and two boys. Second, to take advantage of my local IKEA to get shelving for the opposite wall to corral the many many books and stuffed animals in my kids' lives. And lastly to find a way to keep their nightstand/shelf areas small and manageable, with similar lamps and other items to keep things looking intentional and uniform, but still give them space for their personal treasures they like to keep close. 

I'm so pleased with their final room, and would love to take you on a tour of all the details. But please listen to me now: These photos are 100% planned and STAGED, with only their cutest toys out and the raggedy junk they won't let me throw away (you know what I'm talking about. Surely your kids have all sorts of junk "treasures" too. Surely.) hidden strategically from view. Please know this: their beds almost never get made, much to my quilt-loving dismay. They somehow manage to unearth 500% more junky treasures every single night between bedtime and morning, and these "treasures" end up in the aisles between the beds, and it's a never-ending battle to re-corral this capital-S Stuff.

Noah's books are usually stacked pell-mell (and with little regard for their covers) in the shelves next to his bed, waiting for his next bedtime perusal of them in random order. 

Lucy's nightstand usually has scraps of art and "maker's" odds and ends cluttering each shelf, as well as her current favorite Beanie Boos and other stuffed animals scattered about. Often there are a few costume pieces nearby as well. 

And Quinn likes to take out ALLL his trains and vehicles to play with and leave next to his bed, and has taken to also liking to have 10+ books surrounding him as he falls asleep. 

All of this has been tucked away for "photo shoot day." 

This bunkroom is my "ideal"-- the way I planned it, the way I envisioned it, and the way I know it will never actually be on a daily basis. But I decided that because I dreamed it, I get to stage it for pretty photos, even if it's a reality only in my mind. 

Anyway.... Here, a cleaned-up version of my kids' worlds, beginning with Noah's area:

 Noah still has Old Mai, and cherishes him as much as ever. He is usually not to be found upstairs during the day, in fact. Noah usually brings him down for breakfast, then tucks him somewhere to wait for him while he goes to school... a window, a chair somewhere... It's sweet. 

 Noah has endless books.... And as much as I'd love him to be a total fiction geek, he's still really in love with non-fiction books and comic strip books like Calvin and Hobbes. But he's reading more fiction as he grows older, and it's a lovely mix of everything on his shelves. He also loves to draw and write, so there are almost always notebooks and pens somewhere near his bed.

Next is Lucy's area. So yes--- she is still in a toddler bed. We actually do have another XL twin mattress out in the garage. The day will come when she is ready for something bigger like that. But for now, she sleeps curled up and loves to be cozy, and has never had a problem with her current bed. So for now, we maintain the status quo. And it DOES fit the room better for now. 

 Lucy also still cherishes her lovey, her Bunny Bunny. But Bunny Bunny usually stays in bed all day, ready for snuggles at the end of the day and not getting field trips to the downstairs much.
 Lucy enjoys stuffed animals and little tote bags and pieces of costumes and dressing her critters up in doll clothes. She looks at books, and now that she's officially a reader, she is bringing readable books to bed with her, which is so neat. She's also come to appreciate the value of a water bottle and some chapstick on her nightstand, so she usually has those items near as well. 

(Her gemstone book was one of her favorites last summer because of the cartoon Steven Universe, where many of the characters had gemstone names. I love when little things like that provide a gateway to more knowledge!)
Both Lucy and Quinn have these neat book holders from IKEA at the foot of their beds. They fit perfectly, and I try to remind them that they can put their books there when they're done with them... but they rarely remember to do so. Oh well.  

Onward to Quinn's space:
 Yeah... that's a poop emoji pillow. Over the last two years, I've frequently said of Quinn that his passions are trains, the color green, and potty words. Even as he's about to turn five, I can honestly say that still holds. This absurd pillow was a Christmas gift to him last year from his Aunt T and Uncle Steve, and it fits him perfectly. And yes, Quinn also still adores his lovey-- the polka-dotted taggie blanket he got from the hospital when he was born. 

 Quinn loves trains. And Wall-E. And many other vehicles. His nightstand basket(s) are full of random Hot Wheels and train cars and airplanes and diggers, as well as random robots and Happy Meal toys, etc. It's heaven. And he will often empty those baskets instead of going to sleep and I'll come in later to find him sleeping on a minefield of sharp metal parts that I then have to try to tidy up for him so he doesn't roll onto something really painful later and wake me up. 

Moving on the the opposite side of the room, you will see the long, low IKEA shelving that we got that fits the space incredibly well, while still leaving room for the dress-up  cabinet Joe and I prepared for them several Christmases ago. 

My goal over here is to try to keep the shelf tops as clutter-free as possible. In a crowded room like this, that kind of thing can add to the chaos really quickly. So I try to help the kids contain their stuff to the shelves below. 

Each kid gets 2-3 cubicles for their own treasures and stuffed animals, and then the remaining cubicles are for the shared book library. We have too many books, but that's a happy dilemma, so I try not to fuss too much about the extras that inevitably end up spilling out. Noah actually gets 5 full cubbies, but that's because for now, his books are his alone, until his siblings can catch up to that reading level. I imagine one day many of his books will integrate into the family library as he leaves them behind.

 And that's the bunkroom! Cleaner here than it ever will be again.... But even in its real life state, it's bright and light and warm and cozy and welcoming. The kids are happy here, and for the most part, they're not too terribly naughty and loud at bedtime. In fact, I think sharing the room together has helped Lucy and Quinn grow closer. They can often be busted "after hours" for playing and talking to each other when they should be settling down to sleep, and there is a delicious conspiratorial air between them when I poke my head in to give them the "mom face" and tell them to stop talking and go to bed. 

 I have visions of filling this doorway wall with metal and cardboard and other 3-D alphabet letters all over, a full A-to-Z display... and I have maybe 45% of the needed supplies... But we'll see if I gather fresh steam for a new project in here. Til then, the open walls help keep the open feeling needed in a crowded room, and it's all good. 

A close-up of the dress-up cabinet. As Lucy plays less and less in here, I cross my fingers tightly that Larkin will take up that mantle and use the heck out of this fun collection of costumes and accessories. And then, we'll probably keep a lot of it for "someday" visions of grandkids. Dress-up is marvelous. 
And last photo, for fun-- a real life reminder that three kids in one room is not great when it comes to storage--- that poor plastic dresser squeezed between two full-size dressers is where I have to cram Quinn's clothes.  And as he gets older, his clothes get bigger, and there will soon not be enough room in here for all three kids' clothing. But for now, it's (kind of) working. But the inside of the closet is hideous and that's real life. Also, shoutout to the #hesspukebowl. Haha.

Thanks for joining me on this fantasy tour of the bunkhouse I'll never have, in the form of a bunkroom created out of necessity and then faux-staged for perfection, just for 20 minutes, just for photos.  It's been fun to see what I WISH this room could be every day...  but then it's also fun to reflect on my kids' REAL choices and each of their individual treasures and favorites. it's a good space, and has been good for my three kiddos together. 


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