3 Things My Mother Taught Me About Life: Happy Mother's Day!

The snow outside my car window swirled and fell on the dark pavement like a heavy, wet blanket. As our headlights punctured through the curtain of frozen rain I remember glancing at my mother in the driver's seat thinking to myself, "Are we going to make it home through this storm?"

My mom, myself, and one of my very close girlfriends were making our way back from Chicago after spending the weekend exploring colleges. Normally driving from our home in Michigan to Chicago took roughly four hours . .  . and we were going on six on this wintery return journey. Lots of cars were parked on the shoulder, waiting it out, and semi trucks sped past our slow moving car and miles down the road we discovered them spun out on the side of the road. My mom said to us, "I don't understand these people. They are driving so fast, hurried to get to their homes or scared to move at all and if they just went slow but steady they'd make it ok." Although it ended up taking us 9 hours to reach our own Welcome mat, this simple trip, this lesson stuck with me for many reasons that echoed the overreaching lessons my mother taught me.

Today is Mother's Day and I wanted to say a few words to my mother about how very much I appreciate and love her and every part of our ever growing and evolving relationship as daughter and mother. Our relationship through the years has mostly been great, but like all children who grow-up I suspect there are times when they don't understand their parents or get embarrassed by their actions (mostly because I think it's in the Parent Rule Book when we are all born that they must embarrass us all).

My mom and I on Mackinaw Island.

My mom and I on Mackinaw Island.

Today I recognize that this confusion is all apart of being young and that although embarrassment is always bound to happen, you can control the way you react to it and even laugh at yourself and join in on it.. sometimes. :)

Using that fateful Chicago trip as one example of many, I learned some key lessons from my mother about life and how to live it that have stood the test of a lot of my challenges and struggles and that have definitely shaped who I am.

1.  The biggest most important lesson is on Fear.

Replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity.

Replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity.

My mother was always the first one to say, "You won't know until you try/ask/call/ or try again." She never let any situation that was unfamiliar to her keep her from going after what she wanted. She was always curious. My mom wasn't afraid to just keep driving, cautiously and slow, but she kept driving because the weather - the fear of what the weather was like -  wasn't going to control how she reacted to a situation. My mom has many times walked right up to complete strangers and asked for directions, cooed at babies, and just blurted out conversation, because she really has no fear in what other people think of her or how she lives her life. If she needed directions, ok lets just ask by pulling into this driveway and asking the nice man mowing his lawn or if we were lost and no one was around (before Google maps) she'd say, "Well let's just try this road or this exit and see where it takes us. We can always turn around."

My wonderful, loving mother always approached situations head on and taught me that I needed to replace the fear of the unknown with curiosity.

2. Another crucial lesson that I learned was to travel. At every opportunity.

Some of my most fond memories come from traveling. My mother planted the seed early in my life that the world is a big place and I have the freedom to explore and discover it.  She taught me that in life I needed to collect moments and memories, not things. Coming from a very small farming town (graduating class of 40 people), a lot of my classmates hadn't been any farther than the borders of the county or state. My mom encouraged myself and my sister to go to summer camp in New Hampshire for two weeks - starting when I was only about 9 years old. I ended up going every year for 5 years. When it was time to start thinking about colleges, my mom was the first to volunteer herself to drive me to Chicago and also encouraged my close friend who was also interested in a school there to come along as well. Today, I have traveled to Scotland, England, Chicago, New York, Turkey, Greece, and even last week to Nashville all on my own - and I owe these opportunities taken to my vivacious mom.

Family vacation to Savannah, Georgia

Family vacation to Savannah, Georgia

3. The last lesson that I wanted to share was a lesson of creating my own path.

My mom helped me to think about how I wanted to get where I was going in life and even if it didn't follow the smooth, paved path of everyone else that was ok. My mom taught me that even if there are obstacles - like 8 inches of snow - in the way that I needed to find a way to make a path to whatever goal I was heading for and not simply sit on the side of the road waiting for a clear and easy path in front of me.

The little girl just could not sleep because her thoughts were way too deep, her mind had gone for a stroll and fallen down a rabbit hole . . .

The little girl just could not sleep because her thoughts were way too deep, her mind had gone for a stroll and fallen down a rabbit hole . . .

My mom taught me that it's ok to go a little slower, but that I have to be moving on the road - no matter how fast or slow - to reach my destination.

Some of the beautiful flowers from my mom's garden.

Some of the beautiful flowers from my mom's garden.

One of my favorite pictures of my mom that I took at her birthday last year.

One of my favorite pictures of my mom that I took at her birthday last year.

 

Happy Mother's Day Mom!! I love you!

Love Always,

Courtney Carolyn

3 Tips on How to Capture Real Family Moments this Thanksgiving

The snow falls softly on the window sills as the aroma of pie floats through the air. I can hear sports castors debating about a play during the football game as I slip my cold toes into my warm, fuzzy socks and shuffle around my parent's home with my dog, Porthos, trotting right behind me. I am at home for the Thanksgiving holiday and I am capturing this unique time in my life. I believe that it's the moments between the cheesy birthday cake smiles and the standard I graduated from college look at my piece of paper images that are truly most important. Capturing images of your family and what they are like and interested in today, right now is a precious thing that I know you will treasure long after the cake is gone and the diploma hung on the wall. I love seeing these kinds of images of my friends and family, and I am going to share 3 helpful tips on how to capture real life family moments this Thanksgiving - or it can even be if you want to capture what Sunday mornings look like or any ordinary, real day.

1. Anticipate Moments

As a wedding and lifestyle photographer a big part of my job is anticipating moments and having my camera ready. You need to be aware of the events of the day and where all the excitement and action may be taking place and then anticipate when to click the shutter. Be wary of over shooting as you may still miss an important moment if you are machine-guning shots, take your time and wait for a moment to happen. And have your camera ready - even by looking through the viewfinder as you watch the scene can help dramatically.

Much like I did as my dad carved up our bird and Porthos watched, entranced, as each piece of meat traveled off the bone and onto the serving dish .... and then one hit the floor and he was on it! This is so typical of how he always acts - hanging around the kitchen just waiting for one of us to drop something - ha!

2. Don't Forget About the Details

As your family goes about their day take some time to open your eyes to all the small things that make the day special. For Thanksgiving, food is obviously an important detail, but I also walked around our kitchen, living room, and dining room noticing the Christmas bells already hanging on the front door and on how much time was left on the kitchen timer as well as the fact that my parents live in the country with big trees and a barn - and did I mention the food?

Don't be afraid to get close to see even more details and explore new ways of looking at these seemingly ordinary objects. Having detail pictures of the day help tell a well rounded story and one that may look different every year as the kids get older or as you spend your first Thanksgiving with your new husband's family.

3. Show What's Unique About the Day

Every story has unique characters with interesting customs and while you probably already know that your family is it's own distinct tribe, be sure to highlight these special traits with your camera. Here in Michigan, it's not Thanksgiving without watching the Detroit Lions play football and convincing Dad to flip the channel to the Friends Thanksgiving episodes that air back to back all while good food cooks and puppy dogs cuddle with us.

Remember, even you have a unique perspective on these events! If other people are also taking photos be sure to jump right in and capture how you see your family and the events because it will look like no one else's.

It's natural that if some one is blowing out birthday candles you'd want to capture them, but a lot of the time it is seeing everyone else's reaction to this that is all the more interesting. Sometimes the real story can be seen when you turn your camera away from the spotlight. Another unique way to capture your family is to find a different perspective. Stand on a chair or squat down to capture an image from a different perspective and you will find out why I am always doing this during a family portrait session or at a wedding - I don't look so crazy now eh?

It's important to document these things when you are with the special people in your life, during events you cherish, but don't forget to put down the camera or your phone's camera and make memories. Dig in!

- Courtney Carolyn

How did it go? Were these tips helpful? Join the conversation below!

5 Lessons from Dating my Boyfriend of 4 years

Today, October 23rd 2014, marks a historical day in my personal life. I have officially been dating my boyfriend, Scott, for four years. We celebrated last night by going out to a nice dinner at Red Lobster and I only managed to embarrass Scott and myself once.

Our first big date at the Theta Chi Formal in Canada - Courtney 19, Scott 21

Our first big date at the Theta Chi Formal in Canada - Courtney 19, Scott 21

After we ordered and started digging in to the heavenly garlic butter biscuts, our waitress, Jennifer, asked, "Are you two dining in tonight for any special reason?" and me being me said, "Yup! It's our 4 year anniversary." She wished us congrats and went about to her other tables and we didn't really think it was that big a deal until she returned to announce, "As a special congratulations, we are going to complimentarily give you any of our sharable desserts tonight.", with a very friendly twinkle in her eye. Scott and I sat there looking at each other and then thanked her for that nice offer and said we'd order something once we had finished eating. But then the manager came over.

The manager came out to wish us a happy 4 year WEDDING anniversary. She said, "Wow married for four years congrats!." I quickly corrected her by saying, "Oh no not wedding anniversary, dating anniversary." The words sort of fell lamely out of my mouth, as suddenly it seemed like dating for four years wasn't all that big a deal. It felt this way to me because the manager quickly followed up with an "Oh, Well. Congrats on your four year . . dating . . anniversary. Enjoy your evening.", and she hurried away, but not before I saw her face contort at the word "dating" and the way she slowly stumbled over her response. Scott and I sheepishly hid our faces behind our water glasses and decided we were too full to accept the dessert, and even to full to take it home with us.

Just hanging out at an Adrian College football game - our alma mater

Just hanging out at an Adrian College football game - our alma mater

Scott said, "There's always something with you," referring to me and my incapacity to just have a boring, uneventful evening. I replied, "I said four year anniversary! I didn't say wedding anniversary and besides our hands are sitting right here - no rings. They assumed marriage and now we feel bad."

The whole evening I began reflecting on my and Scott's relationship over the last 4 years - has it been that long? - and what I have discovered about dating the same man for four years and about relationships in general. I have summed these thoughts up into lessons for every year I've been in this relationship (plus 1 for the year I new Scott before we became "official").

We make goofy faces . . .   a lot.

We make goofy faces . . . a lot.

Lesson 1 - You know you have a keeper when your boyfriend doesn't scare easily.

When I first met Scott, I didn't have as clean a break from my ex-boyfriend as I might have thought or that I had hoped for. Scott was there for me at a time that was very stressful and he always reassured me that he wasn't going anywhere and that he didn't care about my past with this guy. A lot of guys don't want to deal with potential "drama" of ex-boyfriends, but Scott said I was worth the inital drama to get to a place where we could just start fresh as "us" Courtney and Scott. (I think I heard Nicolas Sparks typewritter chime in approval of these sentiments.)

Lesson 2 - You know you have a keeper when your boyfriend is good in an emergency.

Remember Scott's thoughts on me never having a dull moment? Well in our second year of dating, my off-campus apartment complex caught fire and basically burnt to the ground. Thankfully I was blessed and my particular apartment mostly only sustained water damage and structure collapse damage.

Scott showed up during this blazing event to help calm me down and also really stepped up in helping me figure out where I was going to live - because I was basically homeless - how to get my stuff out of the building within the alotta 5 hour period the firemen gave us access, and just proved how much of a giving heart he has and that when shit goes down he doesn't run away, he sticks it out.

Lesson 3 - Communication is one of the most important factors in a relationship.

Scott hates it when I say this, but I can talk to him like I talk to one of my closest girlfriends. You have to be able to communicate with your significant other and cannot be afraid to talk about the big stuff; religion, marriage, politics, money, and life goals. You don't always have to agree explicitly with the other person on this stuff, but you have to know where their philosophy on these topics rests. Scott and I are good communicators but as in every relationship, romantic or friend, there are times when you have a difference of opinion and fight. As long as you both can communicate to each other your thoughts and feelings without being hurtful or unfair fighting (low blows like name calling) you are well on your way to having a satisfying relationship.

Lesson 4 - In every relationship there is an inevitable friction point that will make or break you.

In marriage, they call this friction point the first year. While still dating I believe this takes place around the 3 year marker. At this point in the relationship you have to evaluate how the relationship is or is not working and your goals and dreams moving forward. You will inevitably have to have the hard "talk" with yourself and your loved one. Where are we going? Are we happy? What do you want out of life? What do I want out of life?

At this friction point all of the previous lessons/abilities come in handy as your significant other will most likely feel scared, like your relationship is in a state of emergency, and that they need to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

Lesson 5 - Celebrate your love.

As a wedding photographer I get to spend my days around couples who are so in love and then make the ultimate commitment to spend their lives together. Marriage is a big deal and celebrating your years together is something you should cherish, but I also think celebrating your years together in general is something you should cherish married or not.

After our night at Red Lobster I told Scott, "It's a big deal to make it four years in the dating world. Why was that manager any less impressed with it because we weren't married?." I in no way undermine the importance of marriage or relate it to dating in anyway but I added to Scott, "Why shouldn't we celebrate this four years? I mean if we get married we have to start back at the 1 year anniversary again and it's almost like we loose these 4 or whatever years."

Scott replied with, "Well, babe, you're right and that's why I love you - even though you are a disaster sometimes."

Cheers to us Scott! And I hope you enjoyed a look back on a small glimpse of our four years together!

Love Always,

Courtney

Our first Chi Omega Formal - Courtney 20, Scott 22

Our first Chi Omega Formal - Courtney 20, Scott 22

Journeying to Kentucky with Scott's church on a mission trip in 2012

Journeying to Kentucky with Scott's church on a mission trip in 2012

A trip to the Binder Park Zoo! I think I'll pet a giraffe.

A trip to the Binder Park Zoo! I think I'll pet a giraffe.

Attending numerous Michigan State Football games together, including this one from 2009 - Go Green! Go White!

Attending numerous Michigan State Football games together, including this one from 2009 - Go Green! Go White!

Doing the college spring break trip to Orlando in 2011

Doing the college spring break trip to Orlando in 2011

Our last Chi Omega Formal in 2012 - Courtney 22, Scott 23

Our last Chi Omega Formal in 2012 - Courtney 22, Scott 23

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What are some things you've learned about dating or marriage? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

The Beginning of a Dream I Want to Remember: Relationships that Inspire

I wanted to take an opportunity on an ordinary day to say just how much I love and appreciate my boyfriend of 3 years, 3 months, 23 days, and about 7 hours, Scott. I didn't know it when I first met Scott, but I am a very lucky girl, and ever since the small, half-naked fairy man shot me with his love arrow (in the figment of my imagination of course) I look back and think about how fast life moves along, and am surprised by how my mindset has evolved. Relationships are rarely if ever easy and it takes most of us a few tries to get them "right". People are always a work in progress, and I am a firm believer in embracing that fact and not trying to box yourself in to being a grown up where everything is as it should be, you make a ton of money, and you get cheesecake served to you every day.

Sorry, cupcake, but life isn't about getting it all worked out and then just kicking back as the money rolls in and you enjoy the scenery. Even if you go into business for yourself and follow your creative passions and are successful, you'll find you won't be doing much relaxing, but will be working hard at keeping the ball rolling. Owning a successful business or being successful is kind of like riding a bike, if you stop pedaling, you stop moving.

So stop thinking that once you get this done, or get that job, or lose that weight, that's when it'll get easier and that's when you'll be happy. Life is happening all around you, right now, right this second and you can't be chasing the potential of your life and miss all the things happening in the present. Am I saying not to have dreams? No. Dreaming is what makes life interesting. Am I saying you should just give up now and live in a hole until the world implodes or is infested with zombies? No. Dreaming leads to wanting more, and wanting more means you can't give up now. All I mean is that have you ever driven home after a long day at work and think to yourself, "I can't even remember driving here."...? Yeah, me too. Guilty as charged. That's my point.

I've been able to learn a lot about myself in my relationship with Scott, and he has the biggest heart and is the world's best cheerleader (despite having spent more time being an offensive blocker in college and high school). I've leaned that you can't take life for granted. You have to be the author of your own story, but you also have to enjoy the journey of that story.

Have a happy day, and tell those you love that you love them everyday, not just when Hallmark says you should.

Love Always,

Courtney Carolyn

Ten Must-Watch Christmas Movies According to Courtney

  "Everybody likes Denny's, it's an American institution!"  - Scott Calvin, Tim Allen, The Santa Claus

The snow is softly drifting and swirling through the crisp December air, the colored lights on my small Christmas tree glisten and twinkle in the reflection of the bulbs, and I'm wrapped up in my black and gold fleece blanket listening to the amazing vocals of Bing Crosby.

Christmas time is here. For many people, this time of year is focused on spending time with family, traditions, and the celebration of faith. One of the many traditions that my family has is watching Christmas movies together throughout the month before Christmas. I have compiled this list of  "Ten Must-Watch Christmas Movies," that my family and I love and that we watch repeatedly each year without fail. We never tire of these Clouse Classics and we each could probably recite most of the lines in these holiday flicks without thinking twice!

(Fun Fact: My family and I are known to be fluent in movie quotes.)

I invite you to take a look at the list below of Christmas movie cheer & invite you to share your favorites with me. So pull out the popcorn & hand me a couple Russell Stover chocolates and hit play!

(in no particular order of importance)

"Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." - It's a Wonderful Life

1. It's A Wonderful Life

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"Tinsel. Not just for decoration." - The Santa Claus

2. The Santa Claus

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"...And may all your Christmases be white." - Bing Crosby, singing in White Christmas

3. White Christmas

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4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (animated)

"His heart was two-sizes, too small." - How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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"SQUIRREL!" - Clark, Chevy Chase, Christmas Vacation

5. Christmas Vacation

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"He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny!" - A Christmas Story

6. A Christmas Story

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"Sometimes the darkest moments give birth to the brightest miracles." - Silent Night

7. Silent Night

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"Would it please the court if I gave you your Christmas card? I don't think I'll see you again. Unless I get arrested which is highly unlikely because it's Christmas Eve and I'm going to bed uncharacteristically early." - Susan Walker, A Miracle on 34th Street

8. A Miracle on 34th Street

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"GO AFTER HER!" - Scrooge, A Christmas Carol

9. A Christmas Carol  

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10. The Nativity Story

"And you shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins." I know. Mary, God showed me. An angel came to me in my dream." - Joseph, The Nativity Story

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What are your must watch movies at Christmas time? I'd love to hear your recommendations in the comments!

Run for the Roses - A Soul Searching Trip in Charlestion

Life is about great adventures, whether they be big or small, good or bad. Life can also be compared to a race. You spend years practicing your skills and building yourself up all to what seems to culminate as one big race day where you either survive and are the first to cross the finish line or get lost in the crowd.

I just recently returned from a week long trip where I did some serious soul searching. Now, originally this was not my intention. The main reason I was going away was to continue to build myself and my photography skills up to rise above the level I was currently at. I'm a strong believer in learning new things and this trip, that was really a work trip, was no exception.

I first heard about Bob and Dawn Davis while searching for photography workshops a couple months back when I was planning a spontaneous trip to New York City. Bob is an awesome photographer and Dawn is his wife and photography business partner. They are a husband and wife team that combine their creative and technical photographic skill, personality, smart business savvy, and their kindness for others and education to create what they (and everyone else) call Bob and Dawn Davis Photography, which is based in the Chicagoland area.

I had the pleasure in New York, a couple months back, of taking Bob's "What the Flash" lighting workshop and he opened my mind's eye up to a lot of new possibilities with photography. I wanted to know more about Bob, so I visited his site. That's were I stumbled upon what could be considered my ticket to race day; a photography workshop hosted by Bob and Dawn in Charleston, SC. My adventure bell started ringing and I signed up, not knowing how I'd get there or if I'd be surrounded by a brunch of super-technical speaking photographers that I'd be intimidated by, not knowing anything, but feeling in my heart that it would be something amazing.

So this is where my recent "work trip" and soul search began.

I started pooling my resources and researching how I'd get myself down to the place where The Notebook was filmed, where Spanish Moss clings to the tree limbs, where people say "ya'll" with sweet tea, and where having a historic home was the norm. Enter my parents.

My mom and dad.

My mom and dad.

They agreed to help me on my quest by volunteering themselves as drivers - plus they had never been to that part of the country either and were intrigued by a road trip. It turned into one big family vacation with my older sister, Katie, included too. About 5 days before the workshop, we were all loaded up in my mom's red Saturn Vue (I was literally wedged between a cooler, my laptop, camera bag, and the door) and we began the first leg of our trip stopping first in Louisville, KY.

We visited Church Hill Downs, which is famous for the Kentucky Derby, and got a backside tour (yes, that's their word not mine) of the stables and where the trainers work and live.

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There were horses a plenty getting bathed, brushed, or fed (paradise) and we even spotted the 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner, "Mine That Bird", who was slated with a 50 to 1 chance of winning the Derby. My family and I thought that was pretty neat in and of itself, but "Mine That Bird" had more interest in his hay bale and licking the wall then us during our visit.

(R) Mine That Bird, 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner - oblivious to us tourists.

(R) Mine That Bird, 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner - oblivious to us tourists.

Our car dotted across the country from Michigan to Kentucky and then to our next stop 9 hours later in Savannah, GA. There was no shortages of what one might normally expect on a trip where you're trapped in a car with you mother, father, and sister for 9 hours - someone yells angrily at a trivial problem because they're dying of hunger or legs and bodies start to cramp up in the crowded car and tensions rise because we can't escape each other - but the destination and adventure is always worth the trip! 

Savannah. Savannah. Savannah. You are my new favorite city. You are beautiful and quaint and not too busy body. You have a history and art scene that could keep me occupied for years. Savannah... I know Ray Charles was singing about the whole of Georgia hen he sang, "Georgia On My Mind," but it reminds me of you.

[PLAY Ray-Charles - "Georgia on My Mind"]

The Saturn skidded to a halt at our final destination of Charleston, South Carolina, the day following our visit to Savannah and we all burst forth from the car ready to stay in one place for three consecutive nights and I was so ready to begin learning all I could.

I still had a couple free days to explore Charleston with my family before the workshop and we started with some local southern cuisine at Jim n Nicks Bar-Bee-Que, the kind of cuisine that is full of ooy-gooy BBQ and washed down with a brew or two. We sat in a surrey "with a fringe on top" and were pulled through the French Quarter District learning a lot about the history of Charleston. We made an unplanned trip to the ER (because honestly that's our luck, but everyone is okay). Lastly, we visited Boone Hall Plantation, a relic straight out of Gone with the Wind where you'd expect to see Scarlett and Rhett traipsing across the property, and the day ended with us exploring the lush and humid Cypress Gardens together.

Cheers! We made it!

Cheers! We made it!

(L) Me! (R) My big sister, Katie - photo credit to my mom :)

(L) Me! (R) My big sister, Katie - photo credit to my mom :)

Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens

Boone Hall Plantation

Boone Hall Plantation

The rest of our time in Charleston was divided, my parents and sister out seeing the sights and I spent 3 days behind the camera lens and furiously writing down business strategies and better practices for my photography. I connected with so many great photographers from all over the country and can't wait to watch as everyone grows creatively and reshapes their businesses! I also walked away with a ton of real world photography experience and skills that I never learned in college!

Workshop photographers - We pack light (pun intended).

Workshop photographers - We pack light (pun intended).

Workshop photographers flexing their creative muscles.

Workshop photographers flexing their creative muscles.

Workshop photographers - We had fun and are excited about life! :)  Photo by Pam Bell Photography

Workshop photographers - We had fun and are excited about life! :) Photo by Pam Bell Photography

I believe everything about this trip will help to push me farther in my business and to race towards the direction of my dreams. As a very wise lady from our Church Hill Downs tour said, "not many horses get a chance to compete in the Kentucky Derby . . . and those that do, well, they only have one chance, one shot to win that run for the roses. . ."

Love Always,

Courtney Carolyn