A little apartment in Portland, Maine.

While I was home, I rode into downtown Portland with my sister one morning. She had to work and I had a camera so I figured she could go to work and I could walk around with my camera. So she did and I did. 

I don't often spend much time alone when I'm in Maine. Generally I hop from my sister's house to my mum's to my grandmother's with some shopping and baby snuggles in between. While I love spending time with family, I always appreciate a couple of hours to myself. 

So I walked up and down the streets of downtown Portland and remembered why I love this little city. All the brick buildings. The cobblestone streets. The ocean! The independent shops and restaurants. This city is so full of charm. 

Adrian and I are hoping to move to Maine one day to be closer to my family. I'd love to live in an apartment in the Old Port, close to my favorite coffee shop and donut shop and little bar. But I think most likely at that point we'll have a family of our own and a little apartment downtown just won't be practical. So in another life, maybe. Or maybe when we're old.

Yes, I think perhaps when we're old we'll have a little apartment in downtown Portland and we'll remember the first time Adrian came to Portland and the time when I walked and snapped pictures while my sister worked. 

And Portland will look mostly as she does today because that is her charm. 

I think I've just found a new dream.

(Side note: If you're ever in Portland, do yourself a favor and stop by The Holy Donut. I'm in love!)

Oh Hello Family Photos: Portland, Maine Photography

I have been so tired this week. Each night around 9pm, I struggle to keep my eyes open. I think it's that transition from vacation to work. Sigh. Here's to hoping for more energy next week!

So I spent all of last week back home in Maine with my family and it was wonderful. It had been four months since I had seen my niece, who is only eight months old. It is heartbreaking to realize I've missed half her life. But we got in as many snuggles as we could while we were together! When she woke up crying in the night, my sister and I were both thrilled that I got up and held Alexia until she fell back asleep. 

Each day that I stay at my sister's house, I tell my brother-in-law that it will be like I'm not even there. Which is never true because I follow them around snapping pictures at every moment. Luckily, he usually likes the pictures  so it makes me so happy to be able to pay him back a bit for his hospitality.

This vacation, Danilo agreed to go out into downtown Portland to take some family pictures. I am in love with how they turned out and I think Erin, Danilo and Alexia are all pretty pleased with them, too. Alexia doesn't say much, but I know she's loving these photos.

I love this little family and am so glad to be a part of them. It has been so exciting to see Alexia growing and changing and to see my sister and brother-in-law as parents.

Annnnnnd I might be biased but my niece is hands-down the cutest. Ever.

Practicing Hospitality: Easy ways to welcome guests into your home

I heard a few years ago that some families are creating mottos or values which they prioritize. For example, a family might practice generosity and their family motto might simply be "The _____ family is generous." They remind themselves of this and teach their children to similarly value that trait or characteristic.

I think what others notice about Adrian and me is that we are hospitable. I don't think we initially set out to be hospitable but with my love of party planning and his cooking talents, we found it best to shower our friends and family with love through opening our home to them at every chance we get. 

I wanted to write a bit about what we do to make guests feel at home when they come to visit. This is by no means an exhaustive list of must-dos, but rather a compilation of a few ideas that have worked for us over the years.

Before your guest arrives:
  • Check in with your guest before they arrive to find out about food allergies and/or preferences. Adrian is an excellent cook and many of our guests have favorites dishes he's made in the past and we aim to please.
  • Have a few ideas of places to visit. Lots of cities have passes available to different museums. Chicago offers these through the libraries. I usually try to get passes before my guest arrives. I also do some research beforehand, searching for attractions, neighborhoods, stores or restaurants that might be interesting for my guest. In the end, the guest has the final say. Sometimes we do none of what I've thought of and that is totally fine. The idea is to avoid the "I don't know. What do you want to do?" conversation. 
  • Set out a welcome basket. I love to include favorite snacks/drinks/souvenirs/trinkets, anything to let them know that we are excited to have them with us. If they lived in Chicago or visited before, I try to find snacks or foods I know they love that they can't find in other places.
  • Have fresh flowers just because. I love fresh flowers and they don't have to cost a lot. Grocery store flowers are fine. (The flowers in this post came from Whole Foods for just $10.) They brighten up a space and add some cheer.
  • Set out towels, face cloths, toiletries. I generally fold them and place them on the desk in our guest room where they will be seen. If our guest wants to shower at 5am, they have everything they need to be able to do so without searching.
  • Place extra blankets at the foot of the bed or in a basket nearby. Who hasn't shivered through a night and wished for extra blankets? It's awful so extra blankets within reach are a godsend. You never know how a guest prefers to sleep, but best safe than sorry.
  • Have extra toiletries on hand. I usually try to keep a small stock of new toothbrushes, deodorant, etc on hand in case a guest forgets something.

Once your guest has arrived:
  • Pick up guests at the airport. It can be difficult at times and yes cabs are easy, but nothing says "I can't wait to see you!" like picking someone up at the airport. Even better if you can meet them inside the airport!
  • Help without offering. Adrian is wonderful at anticipating needs. You almost never hear him say, "Would you like me to __________?" He just does whatever needs to be done. The question "Would you like me to help you with ________?" can leave a guest feeling like they need to refuse in order to be polite. How often have you said, "Oh no, I'm okay" just to be polite? Carry luggage, open doors, anticipate needs. Guests always appreciate it.
  • Give your guest space. While it's super exciting to see them, they may be exhausted and might just want some down time alone so offer that to them. They may also need a couple minutes alone to let their loved ones know they arrived safely. 

After your guest has left:
  • Make sure your guest arrived home safely. I always ask our guests to text me to let me know they got in okay. If they don't text me, I call them just to double check. It's also a good chance to let our guest know how much we loved having them. 
While I'm sure none of these are particularly life-altering, the idea is to make others feel at home and welcomed. We think about how we feel when we're not home and strive to meet those needs for our guests to cut down on the discomfort of being away. I find it's small preparations that make people feel comfortable.

I hope these ideas help you out the next time you have a guest in town! Tell me, what are some things you do to make guests feel welcome? I'd love to hear some fresh ideas!

DIY Diecut/Cut Paper Cake Topper: Dessert First

I had a great discussion with my friend Jen about the place my photos have in my life and maybe in the lives of others. Sometimes I feel like my work is frivolous. Is there much meaning behind a picture of a pretty cake with some flowers and a "dessert first" sign? Sometimes it feels indulgent and superficial.

And maybe it is. But sometimes life is so heavy, no? I work and live in a neighborhood most often characterized by violence and poverty and a serious lack of hope and opportunity. And certainly there are beautiful parts to this neighborhood: the sense of community, the cultural pride, the vendors on every corner reminding people of home, the spirit of resilience and joy. So much joy. But sometimes, oh sometimes, it's hard to remember those good things when life just seems so heavy. 

In the midst of a dark Winter, it's hard to remember that Spring is in fact coming.

And I think that, that's why I make these photos. To remind myself that there is a light at the end of this proverbial tunnel. That flowers will bloom and birds will chirp and we'll watch movies in my backyard. We'll have drinks and laugh and string lights up so we can stay out long after the sun as set. And when that first ice cream truck of the season makes its rounds, we'll be out there waiting in line because Spring has finally come and the darkness has passed.

So here's this cake I bought and these flowers I chose and this little sign I cut, reminding me that sometimes I should eat dessert first. Because the small joys can get us through the tougher seasons.

Growth Mindset, or why I'm not giving up.

I spent two Fridays this past month in a rather intense leadership institute for my work. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet other educators, to learn new techniques for working with my students and to discover a bit about myself in the process.

During the trainings, we discussed fixed vs. growth mindsets. If you're unfamiliar, the two mindsets vary in that fixed mindset believes that intelligence is static while a growth mindset states that intelligence can be developed over time. (This infographic summarizes the two quite well.)

I think I have tended more towards a fixed mindset, unfortunately. When I try something new, I often believe that if it doesn't go perfectly the first time then it must be because I am just not cut out for whatever it is I'm trying. I am lucky to have Adrian who continually reminds me that not everything can be mastered in one try. 

While I still hold to the belief that natural talent is necessary for some endeavors, I am working on cultivating a growth mindset. A mindset where I don't shy away from challenges or difficulties and I don't give up after one try. Where I embrace failures and take learning slowly. Easier said than done.

This past year, I have put a lot of time into learning the ins and outs of my camera. My goal was to be able to capture photos just as I saw them or, often, as I had envisioned them. And while I certainly have a lot to learn, I feel so much closer to my goal now than I did when I began. And it is so wonderfully encouraging. One of my resolutions for 2014 is to take my time with my photos. Not allowing myself to rush or to not set up a shot perfectly. To work slowly and intentionally. And I have been so pleased to see my photography skills grow and develop as I work towards my goal.

Lately, my straight out of camera shots require little editing afterwards. And that, that makes me absolutely delighted. I am proud to have put the time into developing these skills and am so excited to see how much better I am today than a year ago and how much better I will be a year from now.

But most of all, I'm excited for what this means for me in other areas of life. To hopefully continue seeing each challenge as a chance to develop new goals and to not shy away from a few failures along the way.  Here's to working hard, taking chances and building new skills along the way.

(Linking up with Treasure Tromp's Treat Yo Self Thursday)
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