Destination Wedding Advice: Dos and Don’ts for wedding photos.

So you’re engaged and you’ve decided to get hitched in a gorgeous tropical paradise? Rad! I mean who wouldn’t want to hang out on the beach where the beer is cheap and the wind is…windy! I did the same thing (in Cuba, which is my fave) and I couldn’t be happier for you.

However, before you take off running for the plane with your wedding dress and insulated sippy cup in hand, I would like to share some unsolicited but extremely helpful advice that will make your wedding photos 100x better and make your photographer want to high-five you no less than 22 times an hour. Had I known any of this when I got married in Cuba in 2007, my photos would have been much less nightmarish and much more wowzas! Hindsight, eh!

1) The time of day is key to photo success!

Busy resorts (especially popular All-inclusives) have A LOT of people who get up and start milling around early each day (by 7:30 in the morning there are people at the pools, people at the beach, people on the walkways, people people people…and it just gets more crowded as the day goes on…until around 6:00 in the evening when everyone makes their way back to their rooms to get ready for dinner. Also, midday light (anywhere from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is shit light if you’re anywhere near the beach or out in open areas. Close to the resort or under cover is okay during those hours, but down at the beach is NOT a good place to be.

The two hours before sunset (which vary depending on the time of year) and the sunset hour are THE BEST time of the day to do portraits and have your ceremony because there are barely any people wandering the beaches AND the light is fantastic. That is the time when the light is nice and even, it doesn’t create brutal shadows under people’s eyes (like midday light does) and there isn’t as much contrast so it’s easy to get the people and the gorgeous backgrounds nicely exposed in the photos. Good light makes EVERYTHING easier for EVERYBODY. Trust me on this one. This ain’t my first rodeo.

If you Google the sunset times for your area for the time of year you will be there and plan accordingly, you will end up with amazing photos, even if your photographer is not ridiculously skilled. It’s best to start your outdoor portraits 2-2.5 hours before sunset and hold the ceremony approximately 30-45 minutes before sunset. That’ll give your photographer 2-ish hours to shoot portraits before the ceremony and that’s plenty of time. You can also schedule your Getting Ready pics inside approximately one hour before you head outside to shoot portraits. Again, plenty of time.

2) LOCATION is also RIDICULOUSLY important for rad photos!

Try to choose a ceremony location where people are not out in hordes or you’ll end up with unwanted people in your photos. Unwanted people and objects can cause a huge obstacle for your photographer and potentially lead to extra charges to do the extensive editing required to remove them. Even worse, if you choose a photographer who is not a skilled editor, they may not even know HOW to remove people and objects from photos. Regardless of who you choose as a wedding shooter, the issue can be mostly avoided by choosing a suitable time of day and location for your portraits and ceremony.

The last thing I want to talk about is that many resort guests and locals are oblivious and don’t pay attention to their surroundings so they do all sorts of stupid shit during wedding ceremonies. They will stop to watch or take photos (and selfies with the wedding in the background) or sit within the line of sight of every shot your photographer is taking without even noticing they are in the way. The better the location and the less people around, the better for everybody.

NOTE: You don’t HAVE to get married where everyone else gets married at the resort. If the coordinator shows you the usual spots and you don’t like any of them, find a few other spots you will like and just ask if you can have your ceremony there. People do this all the time and most resorts are quite accommodating. You are paying for the privilege of being married there, so you should be happy with the location. I’ve only heard of one instance where a couple was given a flat out refusal to move their wedding where they wanted it and it was because there were free-roaming alligators right behind where the couple wanted their ceremony. (It WOULD kinda suck if you were about to say “I do” and your leg was ripped off by a hungry alligator…). In addition, if you want a ceremony later in the day and your coordinator says no, just tell her that you will find your own wedding commissioner. There are SO MANY of them in destination places that will come to the resort to marry you for a small fee. Your coordinator is either going to figure it out for you OR you just go talk to a bell hop or the concierge and ask them to hook you up with someone who can marry you. Again, these are things that most destination couples don’t know and they often just let the coordinator tell them what to do and never question it. Most resort coordinators want to please you and are very accommodating. Just ask. 🙂

And now, to illustrate all this shit I’m babbling about, here are some classic examples from an 11 a.m. beach ceremony I recently shot in Mexico. The light was already harsh by 11 a.m. and the people were out in droves.

Just to the left of all these pics was a long line of yellow caution tape that would have been very time-consuming to edit out of all the pics. I took a few shots with the left side of the beach showing, but after thinking about how much extra editing it would be, I chose to keep my angles tight to avoid the yellow tape. I knew that I would still have to edit out a lot of people and objects to make the photos look more professional. I also removed the buoys in the water and the flag from most of the photos because they were distracting.

Here’s another couple examples showing how the time of day can drastically affect the photos from second to second.

These two shots were, literally, separated by ONE step. This is what midday light does – changes from second to second. There was NO way I could have changed my settings fast enough to get both of these shots to look right and, in the second shot, look how the dark circles appear around their eyes. This not only hides eye color and makes it difficult to see emotion, it also accentuates wrinkles and makes people appear older than they are. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

These two shots were taken approximately five seconds apart. In the second shot, the sun shot out from behind a cloud just as I was clicking. Drastically different photo, same settings in the same place. Midday light is a challenge for the best photographers, but it’s hellish during a wedding when everything changes so rapidly and we don’t always have time to set up our couples for “perfect” shots.

Lastly, after seeing all of those photos, check out the difference between those and photos done at a good time of day in a good location.

We shot this Day After/Trash the Dresh Sesh a few days later near sunset and just down the beach from where the wedding was shot. We banged out the entire shoot in less than 30 minutes because of the even light and the lack of people wandering around on the beach.

Light and location are EVERYTHING!

So if you are planning to have a Destination Wedding, please consider all this before you start shooting. I promise that the little bit of extra thought and planning you put in will make a huge difference in the quality of your pics.

Follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/jojohnsonphotos

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And check out my other blog that has nada to do with photography and everything to do with life (including my tried and true potty-mouth tendencies) at https://jojohnson1723.wordpress.com/

For Destination Wedding pricing, go to https://www.jojohnsonphoto.ca/investment

To see this full wedding and Day After photos, go to https://www.jojohnsonphoto.ca/weddings and look for Kristin & Kyle.

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Because of Cora…More on infant loss and grieving through the pain and happiness.

Infant loss. Baby girl Cora Jane LeFlufy. June 2, 2010.
June 2, 2018.
Infant loss. Baby girl Cora Jane LeFlufy. June 2, 2010.
Today would be Cora’s 8th birthday. Eight years ago today, she lit up our souls with her unexpected arrival. Eight years ago tomorrow, she plunged us into the abyss of grief and darkness with her untimely departure.
Eight years-some of them in a blink and some of them with the endless, painful ticking seconds on a clock composed of grief and despair.
Every year, these two days come and go and I power through a gauntlet of emotions-sadness, anger, loneliness, wonder, awe, gratitude-
but the journey always takes me to the same place: peace.
All that we went through-before, during, and after Cora-was a gift. Yes, you read that right. A gift.
It seems strange to think of it that way, but death (especially the death of a child) has this uncanny ability to trigger growth of our self-awareness and understanding. Grief shows us who we really are-good, bad, ugly-and, if we’re lucky enough (like I was) it shows us how to accept all aspects of ourselves and how to make changes that make us feel better about ourselves and our life’s purpose.
Because of Cora, I now understand all my shit and I know how to deal with myself.
Because of Cora, I no longer waste time on shit that doesn’t matter to me nor do I languish over anything that makes my heart hurt or causes me to question my feelings. If it makes me feel sucky, I feel through it and move the fuck on.
Because of her, I give less fucks. If something doesn’t directly affect my life or cause injustice for someone or something I believe in, I simply don’t give a fuck about it. Don’t take this the wrong way, I still give fucks, just about the things that matter most to me. I don’t care what people think/say/do about me unless it physically hurts me. I don’t care what people think/say/do about you unless it physically hurts you. But I still care about all the animals…they are one fuck I will always give. 🙂
Because of Cora, I’m both more compassionate and less tolerant (more about this in my next blog).
Because of Cora I don’t beat myself up over my mistakes and I’m faster to forgive myself and others.
Because of Cora, I’ve tapped into the power and presence of Source energy-where I can feel her and my other babies and my mom and so many others.
Because of Cora, I’m a much better human than I ever was without her (even though I am much less kind to whiners and complainers than I used to be).
How can a gal not feel grateful for that kind of gift? She was worth every second of the 30 hours we had with her.
Happy 8th Birthday, Cora Jane. 🤸🏼‍♂️👼🏼🤸🏼‍♂️

June 3, 2018

unplugging a baby from life support

Up to this point, it has been too painful to look at this pic, let alone share it.

It seems fairly boring unless you know that this is a pic of Cora’s BC Children’s caregivers unplugging her from life support. Now that I’ve told you that, it has a lot more impact, yes?

It was the first and last time I held her and she died in my arms almost immediately after they stopped her machines.
They wanted me to hold her for awhile while the machines were keeping her body alive, but I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t handle one more second of knowing she was already gone while machines kept her blood pumping and heart beating.

I brought her into the world and I was determined to hold her when she left it again.
After all, it was the least I could do for her after allowing people to poke and prod her for 24 hours.

Born healthy and thriving only one day before and braindead 30 hours later.

It’s hard to wrap my brain around, even eight years later.  Even knowing the sequence of events and the tragic mistakes that led to it, and regardless of how happy I am in my life right now, it still hurts if I think about it.

This pic is a painful reminder that love is a gift and we never know how long we have with our loved ones. It’s a reminder to love harder, laugh larger, give less fucks about the small annoyances and what others think of you (as I may have already mentioned a few times above…). None of that crap matters. Remind yourself regularly how blessed you are to have your fave people in your life (even when they annoy you so much you sometimes want to hit them upside the head with a plastic shovel…). As surreal as it sounds, they could be gone in a blink.

8 years ago today. RIP Cora Jane.

Are you a good houseguest or a bad houseguest? House Guest Etiquette a la Jo.

I just had the BEST weekend with the BEST houseguests, pretty much ever and it wasn’t just because they were my cousins, it was because they were so respectful of our space. They cooked, they cleaned, they bought (and brought) groceries and they were helpful and fun.

To be honest, we’ve had a few shitty houseguests in the past couple years, so it was so nice to see that my cousins were on the same wavelength as me. I was sad to see them go and, for me, that’s not a common feeling. I’m usually elated to bid our guests adieu, but it’s usually because I’m exhausted from entertaining them, cleaning up after them, and providing everything for their stay.

My idea of what makes a good houseguest stems from a childhood with a mom who had very particular Martha Stewartesque notions when it came to being a guest in someone’s home. She drilled it into me and, when people visit and don’t seem to have any houseguest common sense, I kinda lose my shit.

Here’s what my dearly departed Mama Wendy made sure I understood if I was going to visit somewhere. (Also, I may be paraphrasing a little here):

  1. NEVER be a wanker who overstays your visit. Always ask BEFORE you go for a visit how long your host is willing to put up with you. It’s not rude to ask someone this, it’s polite. It doesn’t matter how much we love our friends and family – everybody has a saturation limit when it comes to houseguests. For example, I’m good for around three to four nights and then my eye starts to twitch and I start to feel a bit stabby. If I tell you that I’d love to have you visit for the weekend, it means I’d love to have you visit FOR THE WEEKEND. If you then decide that you are loving my place so much you want to stay longer, I’m probably going to secretly imagine myself stabbing you in the eye with a fork while I’m politely insisting that I’m okay you extending your stay. News Flash: I’m not okay with it. Nobody is. Get the fuck out and, while you’re at it, make sure you’re gone by mid-afternoon on Sunday and mop the floor before you leave, just for good measure.
  2. Food is fucking expensive, so unless you’re visiting millionaires, don’t be a freeloading asshat. If you’re by yourself and heading to visit someone for a night, it’s usually fine to allow your host to feed you. But bring a gift-dessert or something (or, in my case, bring me ALL THE WINE) just to let them know you appreciate their hospitality. HOWEVER, if you’re bringing more than just yourself OR you plan to be there more than one night, chip the fuck in on food, homie. Bring (or buy) some groceries or, even better, make a plan with your host for meals and offer to either shop with them when you arrive or bring the ingredients for a couple of those meals. This will not only make you the most-appreciated house guest ever, it will also get you sincere invitations to come back. For reals.
  3. Get off your ass and help. Help cook. Help clean up after meals. Help clean up anything that is a mess or dirty. Clean up after yourself. Don’t leave your shit laying around. Don’t treat your host’s place like it’s a hotel with a maid and room service. Again, that will just make your host stabby and nobody wants any version of Norman Bates for a host.
  4. Clean up your GD room when you leave. Strip the sheets and pillow cases and either put them in the laundry or wash them if your host prefers. Alternatively, if your host is much less anal than me and says it is unnecessary for you to strip the bed, AT LEAST make the bed then. Leave it as you found it. If you slept on the couch, use some common sense – clearly you need to clean up your bedding. Don’t be a fucking slob of a houseguest. This isn’t rocket science, people.
  5. Lastly, have some respect. If your host goes to bed early or you are a night owl, don’t blast the TV or stereo or dial up your buddies and FaceTime at midnight in a drunken stupor with your phone on full blast. Quiet the fuck down and have some GD respect.

Admittedly, when I was younger and didn’t fully appreciate the costs and tasks involved in running my own household, I was most likely NOT a good houseguest. I’m writing this in hopes that it will help the younger versions of me out there turn over a new leaf and start becoming more likeable when you’re visiting.

Peace out, stellar bitches!

Fool me once. A little introspective reflection on this fine sunny Sunday.

For the past four months, I’ve been diligently writing a book about our daughter, Cora’s, death, so I’ve been too mentally spent to blog much. However, blogging has always been my outlet, my therapy, my chance to get shit off my chest and flush it out and then keep moving forward, so before I fester much longer, I have to get this out and then move on.

Today, after A LOT of introspection and a few candid conversations with some very close friends, I finally find myself calm enough to blog about something that just about made my head explode the other day. I’m going to share it with ya’ll, but before I do, know that I have come out the other end having learned a VERY big life and business lesson and acknowledging my part in the truth of it all. I speak my truth and I don’t mind if it ruffles the odd feather.

A few years ago when I first moved to the Okanagan, before I built a house, I moved into a small walk-in basement suite that was actually an amazing little shooting space. Since it was a new space and a new area for me, I wanted to test it all out before I shot any paying clients there. I could have just hired a model. In hindsight, that would have been the smartest thing to do, but I was chatting with one of my friends about Boudoir and she said it would be fun to try, so I asked if she would be my model for some boudoir images.

The deal was that I would do a shoot with her and, in exchange, she would give me permission to use her photos for promotional material. With paying clients, I never post their pics unless I get their permission and many of them don’t want their photos posted, so I respect their wishes. These particular pics were meant to be my Go-To pics because they were free game.

She agreed without hesitation and we ended up doing two shoots so I could also try out some new techniques I’d been studying. I paid for the hair and makeup for both shoots (a total of $300) and we shot two sessions that are in around the $1500 price range for paying clients (or approximately $3000 for the two sessions). I also gave her twice the number of photos I would normally give to a client who had paid for an equivalent session. We both put a lot of effort, time and fun into the sessions and the pics turned out even better than I thought they would. I ended up with a huge variety of photos, ranging from light and fun to dark and sensual. We were both fairly jacked about the efforts and the results and, after I delivered her pics, she gave me rave reviews and told all her friends about me.

It was, all around, an amazing experience and I was really happy it had worked out for both of us.

Fast forward to approximately a year ago when I got a message from her asking me to remove one of the pics I had posted of her. It was a pic with no face in it, just a sensual black and white shot of her from behind at an angle. It was tasteful and hot and completely anonymous. She said that she didn’t want any of her hubby’s friends to recognize her, so I took it down. Even though she had agreed to give me free license to use the pics, I was understanding and took the pic down. I was a bit irked, but I STILL took the pic down because I love this lady and I didn’t want to upset her.

Six months after that, I posted another shot of her sitting naked in a lake, facing away from the camera, but her face is turned sideways so you can see her profile. Again, she messaged me and asked if I could remove that pic and use another one I’d taken that didn’t show her face. Again, I was totally understanding and, even though I was actually pissed off about it, I STILL removed the pic.

Each time this happened, I received an “I’m really sorry, Jo.” However, there was literally no acknowledgment of the value of our trade OR the fact that I had completely upheld my end of the bargain and she wasn’t reciprocating.

Fast forward to present day.

I have a Boudoir Ad running on FB right now and I have been using a pic of her in the Ad. She’s clothed, but if you look REALLY closely, you can see a bit of her nipple beneath her shirt. 

This week, she sent me another message asking if I could edit the photo so that her nipple wasn’t so visible because she was worried some of her coworkers would see it and wouldn’t be cool with it. She also added in the fact that she was “really sorry, but…”.

I sat there, reading the message a few times and feeling my anger build up steadily. I even tried to take a few deep breaths and drop down into my heart center to calm myself and take the request in stride.

It didn’t work. I was PISSED OFF.

Not only had I given her thousands of dollars worth of my time and work (including paying for the Hair & Makeup artists both times out of my pocket) AND given her extra photos, but I had also spent hours looking through thousands of my boudoir pics to find one that would be accepted by the FB Ad algorithm. Before I had even submitted a pic of her, I had tried 12 or 13 others and that were all rejected by algorithms for being “too suggestive”. When I had finally submitted her pic and it had been accepted, I had actually jumped up and done a happy dance in my office and air high-fived myself. I hadn’t dared touch the Ad since then because I was worried that it wouldn’t be approved a second time if I made any changes (besides retargeting) to it.

So, when I read her message, logical thought eluded me and my head damn near exploded off my shoulders. 

Normally, when a photographer and non-paying client do a trade collaboration, there is a clause in the contract that states that should the “model” require the photographer to remove photos from social media at any time, the model will be required to compensate the photographer for the full amount of the session. I didn’t add that clause to the model release I had her sign because we are friends and I trusted her. That was clearly a gigantic mistake on my part and it just pissed me off more because I was angry with myself for being so trusting and letting that shit slide.

I was sitting there, seething – angry with her and at myself – and I couldn’t calm myself down.

I wanted to say NO. I wanted to remind her of the value of the photos I had given her and how much they would have cost had she paid me to do the shoots. I wanted to tell her that she was being a complete shithead for thinking it was totally okay to continue to shit on our agreement.

But I didn’t.

I took the photo down and reworked the ad (going through the disheartening and frustrating submission process for the second time) because, again, I didn’t want to upset her.

The entire time, I felt frustrated and angry and completely pissed off at myself for being so stupid. So many thoughts were racing through my mind:

  • How can someone who is supposed to be my friend think it’s okay to agree to something and then back out of her end of the agreement after I’ve fully upheld mine?
  • Why can’t I just tell her to stuff it and let her know that I’ll be using the pics as per our agreement and, if she doesn’t like it, she shouldn’t have agreed to do the shoots in the first place?
  • Maybe I should just tell her that I’ll be more than happy to remove all the pics of her I have ever used if she pays me the $3000 for both shoots.
  • How can I have made such a rookie mistake by leaving the most important clause out of the Model Release?
  • Why do I keep allowing this kind of shit to happen?

And then my anger popped in a bubble of “OH SNAP!”

And there it was…Why do I keep allowing this kind of shit to happen?

Guess what, kids? This is not the first time this has happened. Years ago when I was still in Kamloops, I did the exact same thing with another friend and ended up with the exact same result. [She was going through a divorce and we were spending a lot of time together and I could see that she badly needed a pick-me-up, so I offered to shoot her for free if I could use the pics for promotional purposes. She also wholeheartedly agreed and we did a killer shoot in a natural waterfall and the photos were amazing. Then, a year later, she got a new job and was suddenly worried about her reputation and asked me to take the photos off social media, and I did. And again, I got an “I’m really sorry to ask this but…” and nothing else.]

That first experience left me feeling completely hurt, totally used, undervalued, and disrespected. It made me question my friendship with her (and, honestly, it was never the same for me after that and I have never trusted her since) and question why I would offer someone something so valuable when it was so easy for her to just renege on her end of the deal without a second’s thought for how it would affect me or my business.

Imagine my chagrin when I realized that this was the second time I’d allowed this experience to unfold in my life. It immediately brought me to the “fool me once” saying.

This time, though, the anger went POOF the second I realized I basically set myself up to re-live the experience. I immediately let the anger go to focus on the lesson. This time, the motivation to NEVER repeat this mistake again has sparked change in me AND in the way I will be approaching my business from now on.

Not kidding, it was actually a fucking blessing in disguise and it brought to light other instances (too many to count, actually) where I have offered to shoot for free and then been ridiculously disappointed when the people I shoot don’t share my work, thank me, or even leave a simple review on my FB page or Google.

This has made me realize, quite clearly, that I can’t shoot for free and have expectations for reciprocation UNLESS I outline those expectations clearly, in writing, and have people agree to them, in writing. Or, more importantly, shooting for free never seems to end well for me, so I won’t be putting myself in that position anymore.

I may be thick, but I get there eventually.

I’ve learned that it is much safer for my peace of mind and my business if I just hire a professional model when I want to try something new. I’ve learned that I am too generous in certain areas of my life and that, even though I still want to be generous, I need to focus that generosity in ways other than donating my time and energy to shooting friends and family for free. And, most of all, I have learned that I am still allowing myself to react to the shit that others do rather than reminding myself to breathe, take a step back, and put myself in their shoes for a few minutes before reacting.

That last one means more to me than the other two because I want to live my happiest, most-fulfilled life and I can’t do that if I’m allowing anger to cloud my thoughts and clutter up my heart, giving free reign to my ego to point my finger at others and forget to point inward.

Lastly, I love how life brings me these challenges that strip me down to the heart of the matter and show me when I’m a big part of the problem. There’s nothing more motivating and humbling that having my self-awareness smack me across the face.

Angela & Kevin – First Okanagan Winter Wedding of 2018

When I first met Angela back in 2012, I felt her energy long before we were introduced and I knew instantly we would be friends. Flashback with me to the day before a wedding out in Cherry Creek. I was walking down the stairs to a beautiful backyard garden and I felt a warm and happy feeling rush through me. I looked over at the ceremony site and there was Ang, chatting with the bride and groom. My feet bee-lined for her and we instantly hit it off! Ever since we’ve had a connection and I LIVE for weddings where she is performing the ceremony! She’s warm and funny, but more than that, she’s all about energy and she’s an empath, like me, so we totally understand each other. Also, like me, she wears her heart on her sleeve and isn’t afraid to show her dark side just as much as her light. These are the people I’m drawn to – the ones who keep it real, admit when they are angry or down or being less than stellar, but also know that their light balances them. Ang is part of my tribe, even when we don’t see each other for a long time or keep in touch as often as we could.

I touched base with her a few weeks ago to see if she was available to marry one of my couples and she hit me with the best news ever – SHE was getting married! I was over the moon happy for her and, as she told me her story, my heart swelled up to bursting and I was so thrilled to be part of her day!

There is something so satisfying and heartfelt when twin flames, who have been separated for more than half a lifetime, finally find a way to burn together. This is how it is with me and my guy and this is how it is with Angela and Kevin.

Best friends and inseparable in high school, they were in love then, but didn’t realize it, and they lost touch over the years and went on to live their lives. Marriages came and went. Children were born and raised. Life happened. But through it all, they never stopped thinking about each other and wondering what life would have been like had they taken the leap back then.

And then, unexpectedly, it happened. They reconnected and the moment she saw him, 30 years disappeared in a blink and she knew that she was home. It was the same for him and they decided that they’d waited for each other long enough.

Maybe they were rushing? Maybe they were acting like two crazy kids in love? Maybe they were being irrational? No way! I believe they were meant to be separated for those 30 years so when their paths finally came together again, they could easily walk in sync with open hearts and a perfect understanding of what real love is – raw, open, at times messy and painful, but also sprinkled all over with little moments of pure fairytale and feeling of coming home at last.

Welcome home, you two. So much love coming your way and I can’t wait to share moments with you for many years to come!

 

 

Surviving Infant Loss: You gotta feel it to heal it!

Call it a combo of smoke constantly blocking out the sun, writer’s block, and social media sadness overload (or maybe it should be called Social Media Sickness – SMS)…Whatever it is, here I am, feeling like a bag of shit in the middle of my fave time of year and carrying that heavy cloak of grief on my shoulders again. Of course, it’s all for a really good reason.

Let me explain.

When I say “writer’s block” what I actually mean is this:

Trying to write a book about the death of our daughter (in hopes that I can send it out into the world that other grieving parents may find it, read it, relate to it, and understand that there is light in the darkness and still hope for happiness) is really brutal on the heartstrings045_DSC_0067-123-Edit.

I’ve spent the last seven weeks reliving every horrific moment of Cora’s life and death and even though I thought the darkest aspects of my grief were gone forever, I’m realizing they are always there, lurking below the layers of seven years of life that have grown over them. I may have buried them, but now I’m the Indiana Jones of Memory, just digging that shit up and bringing it back to the surface to cause chaos and wreak havoc on my heart and my life again.

Suddenly I’m feeling everything deeply, crying all the time, and I have no energy to be social or put myself out there into the world. It’s exactly how it was when Cora first died and I was exhausted, angry at the world, and intolerant of bullshit…Oh! Wait. I’ve always been intolerant of bullshit. Ha!

After I came back from the other side, I truly thought that all my grief was gone. I felt so alive and so full of love and understanding for the world. I felt as though I would never again feel sad or angry or ever let the state of the world drag me down. Of course, anyone who has ever died and come back understands that human emotions and thoughts eventually return and immerse us in the day-to-day ups and downs of life again. We can’t escape our human experience -we are not meant to- but I am still genuinely surprised that I can feel grief this strongly again after seven years.

I saw a post on IG the other day and bells went off in my brain. Life is a spiral where we continually come back to the things we think we’ve conquered and understood so we can see the deeper truths in them. This is how spiritual growth happens. This is how we build up our strength and resilience – often through expanding our willingness to be vulnerable.

So I get it.

I get it that it fucking SUCKS to believe I’ve conquered a massive mountain only to find myself standing at the mid-way point again, staring up into the unknown above me with the weight of grief pressing me down, making it tough to keep climbing. I get that I will probably always be feeling it in one way or another until I, once again, head back to the other side.

I also get that I can’t just quit writing about her because it’s painful. I can’t just give up on this gut-driven, fierce compulsion to share our story in hopes that our pain will resonate with others and help them through their own. I get that it’s worth it and that I wouldn’t be compelled to do it if I weren’t meant to. I am and I will, even if it tears the scars open again.

When this happens to us, we can’t just shut it out. You gotta feel it to heal it, even when it pops up at inconvenient times or in my fave season when I should be full of light and mischief and beer!

So I’m rolling with it -feeling the feels, as they say – and balancing it out with exercise, friends, tears, beers, and belly laughs.

Hopefully, when this book is done and I’ve once again run the gamut of emotion and heartache, I will be able to sit back and feel the love and light of the incredibly positive impact Cora had on me and so many others in her short time with us.

Cheers.

Fuck the Box! Listen to your gut.

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Gut instinct. So often we ignore it and do what others tell us we should be doing, molding ourselves into a box we just don’t fit inside. I say fuck the box. Get out there, listen to your gut, and breathe it all in.

So many business experts preach that, in order to be successful in running a business, you have to specialize in one area. I call bullshit!

When I was hip deep in running a photography business, every business class I took (with extremely successful photographers turned business coaches) repeated the same mantra “you must specialize to be successful”. I wasn’t nearly as successful as they were, but I wanted to be, so I ignored my gut instinct and followed their advice.

There were some glaring issues with their teachings (that I won’t even get into here because, seriously, there are too many to even touch on), but at the time I ignored my intuitive doubts in my hungry pursuit to be great.

I just wanted to be like them, so I followed their models and narrowed my focus from a wide range of photography to Wedding, Family, and Boudoir and, eventually, to just Boudoir. I trusted that if I specialized like they advised, I would find extreme success. After too many years of struggling (and still ignoring my gut instinct) to make the specialization work and being ridiculously bored and stagnant because of such a narrow focus, I couldn’t breathe anymore. I was forced to give myself a harsh reality check and completely revamp my career goals, but it was during this much-needed revamp that I had a huge epiphany.

Why should a person, like me (who has developed such a wide variety of skills in my 42 years and has such a huge amount of creative energy), have to narrow down anything in order to be successful? Why should I limit myself to only one kind of photography or, even better, to ONLY photography, just because others say that is the only way I will find success?

I finally just said fuck it to that line of thinking. It certainly wasn’t working for me and it was stifling, so I decided to toss it out and start from scratch. I took stock of all my skills and choose the ones I was both best at and enjoyed the most and allowed a business to naturally develop around them.

The way I saw it, if I wanted to be a photographer and a writer and an editor and many other things (because I was good at all of them), that’s exactly what I was going to be.

I’m just not made to fit into any kind of box.

It’s now April and I am currently still shooting (weddings, families, boudoir, commercial…whatever I fancy), writing (blogs and articles for other businesses and myself), editing (two novels), AND marketing social media for some local businesses in the Health & Wellness industry.

And guess what? I’m killing it! I’m not even remotely specialized now. In fact, I’m all over the fucking map and I have never felt so strong and confident in my work or so motivated and challenged.

  • My brain is happy with the constant stimulation;
  • I am still shooting hilarious and interesting people;
  • I am constantly increasing my knowledge of all things social media marketing (and understanding how much easier it is to market someone else’s business than my own);
  • I have learned how to build effective, kick ass websites;
  • I can read Google Analytics and Facebook/IG insights like a boss (and apply them to my marketing campaigns and Ads);
  • I am learning how to adjust my editing from the proper English of my youth to the modern English we are now immersed in (and, trust me, this is a tough but satisfying experience for me); and
  • I am earning money doing a bunch of different jobs, all of which I thoroughly enjoy.

Basically, I’m following my gut and heart and pursuing ALL of the things I love the most and I’m finally able to let my creative lungs fully expand.

So my message to all of you peeps out there–who are feeling stuffed into a box that just doesn’t quite fit–is to listen to your gut, not the so-called experts, to be able to take a fully freeing, creative breath again.

Fuck the box. Get out there and breathe it all in.

Oh Weddings! How I missed you!

Oh, weddings! How I’ve missed you!

Wed_fave_2017 (363 of 21)A few months ago, when I sat down with the intention to choose my favorite wedding photos from the last 10 years and blog about them, I had no idea it would turn into such an emotional roller coaster. I found myself laughing hysterically, blubbering about the best sappy moments, giggling at remembered speeches, snorting at dance floor shenanigans, and energized by my work. It was the first time I’ve truly realized what an impact my own photos (and those of my regular second shooters) can have, even on me. Every time I opened a new wedding, it was as though I were right there again, re-living the moments and feeling all the feels.

I have seen a lot in ten years of shooting weddings, some of it hilarious, some of it unbelievable, some of it heart-wrenching.

There was that time a couple bridesmaids got into a fist fight over who the bride loved more; the groom who dropped the rings over the side of a boat and then one of his groomsman took off all his clothes and dove to retrieve them…in November; the mother of the bride who got so hammered she fell backward on the dance floor and flattened the band’s equipment in spectacular fashion; the officiant who farted, really loudly, in the middle of the ceremony in a church, leaving everyone too uncomfortable to laugh…until I snorted and everyone let their guard down and had a good, hearty chuckle.

Hilarious.

That one wedding where a bridesmaid actually pulled her cell phone out of her cleavage and started taking selfies in the middle of the ceremony until I snatched her phone out of her hand and shook a no-no-no finger at her, bringing huge guffaws from the guests.

Unbelievable.

There was also the wedding where I walked into a dressing room and found the groom making out with the bride’s sister (awkward); the father of the bride who died of a heart attack only one day before the wedding but my couple chose to get married anyway (and the bride’s brother walked her down the aisle and danced with her in place of their dad); the groom’s youngest brother who passed away a couple weeks before the wedding (in a workplace accident) and was given a place of honour (with his picture) at the head table where he would have sat, had he lived.

Heart-wrenching.

All of the stress (good and bad), the smiles, tears, belly laughs, awkward and intimate moments, and the days I would leave after working a 14-16 hour day, exhausted, but with a giant spring in my steps because we had absolutely killed every shot that day. It all came flooding back to me as I browsed through my weddings.

I honestly thought I was finished with my wedding shooting career, but feeling the impact my work has on me and realizing it’s much more intense for my clients, I suddenly found myself soul-searching for answers.

Isn’t this the epitome of why I loved being a wedding photographer?

Isn’t it amazing that I have the ability to bring people back in time to relive their moments as though they have just happened?

Were the long days of shooting, the endless hours of editing, the wedding-day stresses and troubleshooting, as well as the time put in to maintain client relationships, all worth it?

Uhm…YES!

Yes, they were all worth it.

So what happened? What made me decide to throw in the proverbial wedding towel?

Hmmm…

I’ve already written about the difficulties I went through after dying and coming back. I was an insatiable sponge that absorbed all the energy around me, positive or negative, and couldn’t wring myself out, no matter what I tried. Some days I felt as though I were actually reading people’s thoughts, not just picking up their energy, and it was horrible. I didn’t want to know what was going on in anyone’s head. Keeping up with my own thoughts and feelings was more than enough.

Add into the mix that I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer in love with my own husband and was starting to feel like a fraud while capturing the kind of love I was no longer in. Eventually, after working such long, relentless hours (by choice, mind you), fighting off all that energy and ignoring all the signs that my marriage was pretty much over, I lost my creative self somewhere under my own depleted and confused energy.

So I quit. I walked away from something that I was really damn good at and had always enjoyed and convinced myself it was for the best.

And it was, for a time, but not anymore.

I’ve taken the pressure off myself to continue with full-time photography and switched my career focus to something completely different, so I no longer have to shoot 15 or 20+ weddings a year to make ends meet. Now, I can bring the fun and enjoyment back into my work! I can shoot when I want, for my own enjoyment and creative release and to capture all those magical moments that live on forever in a snapshot.

I’m amazed that this has come back into my periphery and that I have allowed it to so easily seep back in and inspire me, but I’m embracing and rolling with it.

And, before I leave you with a link to a slideshow of some of my fave shots from ten years of weddings, I want to send a shout out to the dozen or so clients who sent me messages letting me know how much they still love their photos and asking me to reconsider my decision to get out of the wedding biz. Your messages tugged on my heart strings, brought tears to my eyes, and made me laugh my face off (big, snorting, belly laughter). You guys are the reason I love this gig and your love and kind words were a turning point for changing my thoughts about this and bringing me around. You guys are fairly rad hoomans!

[SIDE NOTE: A couple years ago, I had a huge mishap with two hard drives and lost 20+ weddings from the beginning of my wedding career, so I’m missing a lot of great moments. That was a good lesson to learn about triply backing up wedding archives after I’ve shipped them off to clients]

The photos in the slideshow are not, by any means, my “best” shots, and they won’t mean something to everyone, but they mean something to me and will always make me smile my face off when I look at them. If you would like to see more wedding shots, you can visit www.jojohnson.ca/wedding

Slideshow can be found at http://www.jojohnson.ca/blog/weddings/ (sorry, it wouldn’t move from one wordpress blog to another so I had to use a link. 🙂

Joy Should Never Have Guilt Attached To It.

NOTE: Originally posted in January 2017

ritchie-valens-43343I’ve been mostly MIA on my blog for nearly two years, but up until a week ago, I really didn’t know how to explain my absence to anyone. I wasn’t ready…until now.

Let me backtrack a bit:

On June 3, 2010, our beloved newborn, Cora Jane, died after picking up nosocomial pneumonia in the hospital and my life was turned upside down and sideways. The road of grief was long and winding and lasted years for both my husband and me. It fundamentally changed both of us but we eventually found solace on different paths – me in roller derby, he in motorcycle adventures. We lost each other somewhere in the meleeand I never quite found my way back.

On March 14, 2014, nearly four years after losing Cora, the stress of grief and life got to me and became really sick. I died a little bit and had one hell of a wickedly, wickedly, wickedly, awesome Near Death Experience (NDE) where I hung out with my dearly departed mom for an entire day and we chatted about the meaning of life and soul contracts. I learned more about myself in that brief blip in time than I had learned in nearly 40 years.

During that experience, mama told me something that I inherently knew but didn’t want to admit to myself: I was not in love with my husband any longer and our relationship was no longer viable. When she said it, I knew it as truth.

However, when I awoke in the hospital and my husband welcomed me back with a floodgate of tears and love, I just couldn’t bring myself to accept my mom’s revelation.

I was full to the brim with love and peace. My experience had opened up my soul so completely that I couldn’t fathom not loving my husband (and everyone else in my life), so I put those thoughts to the very back of my mind and got to work on loving everything. I spent the following six or seven months living life in a bubble of pure bliss, loving everyone and everything and understanding everything about the world. I was in a state of euphoria and it was the most magical feeling, aside from being dead, that I have ever known.

Then, one day in October 2014, it all crashed down around me when I opened the front door and was blasted by a shock wave of negativity that left me sitting on the floor, panting and panicked. It was the first time in my life I had what would later be described to me as a major anxiety attack, and so began the boomerang of the NDE survivor spectrum, extreme empathy. I began sucking up all the energy around me, especially the negativity.

For months, negativity plagued me. I would feel it everywhere I went and it would just keep building up inside. Anger would “jump ship” from someone else to me as I passed them on the street. Frustration would creep up on me if someone in the vicinity was frustrated about something. Despair, antagonism, fear, worry, stress, anxiety…you name it, I absorbed it. I was a Sham Wow for any kind of crappy feeling or emotion and just kept pulling it all in with no means of wringing it out until I was nearly bursting. It was debilitating. I started staying in the house for long periods of time (sometimes up to two weeks), shutting out the world and completely at a loss as to how to stop it.

I stopped working. I stopped hanging out with my friends. I basically stopped living. I was stressed out and afraid all the time. I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two each night and I was so moody that I would erupt like a volcano over nothing on a regular basis.

I actually thought I might be going crazy and I thought I needed meds to bring me back to sanity.

Through all of it, my husband was really understanding and took care of me —working all day and then stopping for groceries, cleaning the house, making excuses for our friends and family for my constantly skipping functions —and the entire time, I felt resentful of him. I resented him for being so nice and kind to me. I resented him for loving me so much. I resented him for being so nice when I was being such a stone cold bitch and didn’t really appreciate any effort he was putting into our relationship. Nothing he did was good enough or, well…enough, period. I couldn’t understand why he was such a huge source of my anger when he was doing everything he could to make me happy. The guilt of it was all-consuming.

I was more despondent than I have ever been in my entire life, even after Cora died, and everything became a downward spiral. I started losing friends because I couldn’t keep up relationships. I lost business because I couldn’t find the energy to shoot anymore. I alienated my husband and kept him at arm’s length at all times. I just shut down.

At the time, I didn’t understand anything that was happening to me and I didn’t know how to clear the energy out of me or block it from getting in, so I just retreated into myself and grew more miserable every day. I was stuck in a dead end and I felt like I was constantly beating my head against a wall.

One night while my husband was on a motorcycle trip to Mexico, I was laying in bed asking my soul guides for help and my mom’s voice came through loud and clear. “Jo, remember what I said? It’s time to stop pretending and get moving.”

And just like that, something clicked. During my NDE, my mom had also told me that those moments in life when we feel like we are at a dead end and are beating our head against a wall are moments when our soul guides are trying to steer our feet onto a new path and we are resisting. She said that when this happens and we continue to resist, life gets harder and harder until our vibration gets so low, nothing but pain and misery get in. Sometimes we find our way back—if we realize what we’re doing and trust our guides to help us out of it—and sometimes we don’t. Laying there, in that moment, I realized that everything I was feeling and experiencing was coming from my own resistance to the truth —I was no longer in love with my husband. I loved him, yes, but only as a friend. I had been forcing my heart, in vain, to find its way back to something that no longer existed. I had denied the truth in my heart and it had finally caught up with me and kicked my ass. My own resistance had backed me into a corner and forced me to face up to my fears or stay lost forever.

And just like that, I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore. When he called me the following day, even though I knew I was going to hurt him so much, I told him that I was leaving him.

Not only was it an awful feeling, but it was also, remarkably, a great feeling too. The moment I got the words out, I felt the weight of all of that negativity shift and begin to dissipate and I knew that I was doing what I needed to do to save my own sanity. The entire situation sucked moldy ass crackers, but for the first time in a few years, being honest with myself, and him, felt so liberating.

And, suddenly, the world came back to life for me. My vibrations started to rise and I started surfacing from the mire.

Fast forward 20 months to where I’ve gone through some hugely significant changes, all good for me.

I have moved to another city and slowly begun to establish myself here. I have learned how to control the way I take in or block other people’s energy and I no longer get bogged down with it. I also pay close attention to thoughts and feelings that come up within me and I honor and acknowledge all of them.

But up until last week, I wasn’t ready to let go of the guilt I’ve been carrying around for so long.

I couldn’t shake the guilt of not being able to love my ex the way he wanted me to and of disrupting both of our lives to follow my heart. I knew we were both better off because it is so unfair to pretend you feel something for someone that you don’t, but it was still eating me up inside.

Last week, Greg (my new guy) and I had a conversation about how I seem to keep my life with him on the down low. He also said he thought it was because I was trying really hard to be sensitive to my ex’s feelings. Even though I didn’t actually realize that I was doing that, as soon as he said it, I knew it for truth and I acknowledged and sat with it for a couple days.

I, indeed, stopped blogging about most things in my life because they have involved Greg and I was being sensitive to my ex’s feelings and didn’t want him to think I was throwing my happy moments in his face. It had been 20 months since we officially separated and I was still trying to censor my life to avoid hurting his feelings. I was, in essence, subconsciously suppressing myself because I was unsure if my ex was happy and I didn’t want to hurt him more by admitting to my own happiness.

My ex is a good man and I want him to be happy too, but his happiness isn’t my or anyone else’s responsibility. His happiness depends solely on his outlook. I have been burdening myself with too much guilt for following my heart, something that has brought me great joy and anything that causes a person joy should never have guilt attached to it.

So 
I have only just chosen to forgive myself and embrace my new life and all that it is.

I feel like I am home, in all ways, since I moved to the Okanagan. Back in a small town, living with the guy I fell in love with the moment I laid eyes on him when I was 17 (true story), and happily struggling through the ups and downs of the day-to-day.

Chugging forward with an open heart full of gratitude and newly lightened shoulders, I can’t wait to see what amazing things this year will bring for me, my life, and my relationship with my new guy.

I wish you all dragonflies and let the blogging begin again!

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Letting Go of Toxic People

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I lost my shit yesterday, on one of my long-time friends, over something that was absolutely none of my business and, when I finally came up for air, I realized that I felt a huge sense of relief and no remorse.

It took me all night to process why I didn’t feel awful for saying some really awful shit to someone I love. I tossed and turned all night while I mulled it over. It’s not like me to say hateful things without extreme regret and a profuse apology. It’s not like me to deliberately hurt someone’s feelings and then walk away feeling relieved.

I mean, what kind of friend does that?

This morning, I do feel fairly shitty that I couldn’t just keep my big mouth shut and give her the sympathy and support she was seeking, but I also still feel a huge sense of relief. It was not the right time to say what I said, but when is the right time to ever tell someone any awful truth that we see about them?

Toxic people are like a bottle of poison we ingest slowly

Firstly, I turned quite toxic for awhile after my kid died and I lost quite a few friends because of it. When some of those friends told me I was toxic, I hated hearing it and I resented them for saying it, but I listened to them. Once the initial anger dissipated, I knew that they were speaking the truth and, as much as it hurt, I knew I had to do something about it.  When I’d had enough of feeling shitty, I took their words and used them to make all the changes I needed to climb back up out of the abyss of pain and anger I was wallowing in. Understandably, I hated being told that I was toxic because nobody ever wants to hear that about ourselves-especially while grieving the loss of a child or other loved one- but the stuff that hurts us the most is the undesirable truth and that is the part we need to take in, meditate on, and process. That is the part we need to focus on fixing, for our own well-being.

But some people, no matter what we say or how we say it (nicely or not), just don’t want to hear any of it and they don’t want to learn and grow from it. This is my friend.

She is an energy vampire and a martyr.

funny cartoon about energy vampires

For the past five or so years, she has been sucking the life out of me on a regular basis without even realizing it. I find myself avoiding visits with her when she invites me to visit or she comes to BC because I’m completely drained after only a couple hours with her. When my phone beeps with her text tone, I immediately dread reading the text because I know that, 9 times out of 10, she is going to be complaining, whining, seeking enablement (which she thinks of as support, but just isn’t so. I can have sympathy and support someone, even if I don’t agree with them. What she wants is for people to agree with her, take her side, and tell her that all of her feelings are justified. That’s not supporting, that’s enabling.). In general, every conversation we have is her telling me how difficult her life is and how extremely unhappy she is with it. And, no matter how much positivity and light I try to throw at her, no matter how much I try to be loving and supportive or suggest helpful ways for her to improve her life situation, she balks. She argues with me that she can’t get out of the situation she’s in (when she can). She makes excuses for everything to justify feeling shitty (even though she is creating her own shitty reactions to her situation). She comes up with every reason under the sun why she just can’t fix her unhappiness and it’s never about her. It’s always because someone or something else is preventing her from finding the happiness she longs for.

I figured out last year that she is physically addicted to drama, although she swears she isn’t.

saying goodbye to the Drama Llama
Two words: Drama Llama

Drama causes the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to secrete endorphins (pain-suppressing and pleasure-inducing compounds that ease anxiety and stress). She thrives on drama because the endorphins it creates make her feel good, but when the drama passes, she starts to feel shitty again so she either creates or finds more drama to pick herself back up. It’s an exhaustive, body and soul-depleting cycle, but she has NO idea she is behaving like this and she won’t listen to me or others who have tried to help her.

And so yesterday, when she texted me with a simple, “Broken heart today”, I immediately knew I’d had enough and didn’t really care why she was broken hearted. I was simply exhausted with her perpetual cycle of whining and bullshit and I couldn’t stop myself from telling her what I felt about all of it. In hindsight, I should have just left her text alone, but I always wonder if she is, in fact, in dire straits and if I can do anything to help. Obviously, I’m a bit obtuse sometimes and have been helping to keep the cycle going.

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And so, I lost my shit and told her that I couldn’t deal with her anymore. It was definitely the wrong time and place, as she was genuinely distressed, but I couldn’t bring myself to have sympathy for that situation either. I was just done with all of it.

A sleepless night later and I have asked myself some really soul-searching questions. What is it that makes us hang on to the toxic people in our lives so long, and through so much shit, before we are so depleted that we have to bail to save our own sanity and souls? Why is it I couldn’t find a way to get through to her a long time ago and maybe stop her train of self-pity and soul-destruction in its tracks? What will it take to get her to realize she is constantly creating stress, drama, sadness, and despair for herself and that she’s draining the people around her?

And my conclusion: I have no idea.

Maybe she will never be happy. Maybe she will always be addicted to drama. Maybe this is her path to walk and there is nothing I, nor anyone else can say or do to help her take a different path.

What I do know is that I allow her to bring out the absolute worst in me and I’ve been allowing it for years (as many of my friends and family can attest to). I can be in a fantastic mood and we will have a conversation and it will end with me feeling like a bag of old, unhappy shit. She brings out my tell-it-like-it-is, self-righteous, Judgey McJudgerson side (something I put a lot of effort into ignoring), and I allow her to create feelings of hopelessness and helplessness when we interact. Sometimes I just cry for 20 minutes in frustration that she can’t see how much she wants to remain unhappy. For whatever reason (probably because I love her kids so much), I just can’t seem to let go of her and keep perpetuating the effect she has on me. Who knows, maybe I’ve become addicted to her drama. Whatever the reason, I cannot allow myself to go down that rabbit hole anymore, regardless of how much I actually love her and her family.

I read a quote yesterday that made me finally come to my senses: “At some point, we have to realize that some people can still stay in our hearts, even when they can no longer remain in our lives.”

This is where I am at. I love her and wish her happiness, but I can no longer participate in her toxic cycle and I have to accept that and be okay with it for love of my own sanity.

Lastly, being such an asshole yesterday was a good reason to go within and do a little housecleaning in my “Don’t be a judgmental douchebag” closet and remember that anger and self-righteous bullshit are never the answer – even when we feel totally justified in our beliefs. Although I won’t say that it won’t happen again, it has definitely brought some of my own undesirable behaviors into the forefront of my mind and I will, once again, be a lot more aware of how I’m treating others.

And, like everything challenging that life sends our way, all we can do is choose to learn from it and grow.

Cora’s Would Be 7th Birthday.

NOTE: Repost of a post I wrote on Cora’s 3rd Birthday and then again last year. I just couldn’t write about her this year – something about it hurt a little too much.

Life, like childbirth, can be simultaneously painfully messy and beautifully rewarding.

We walk the paths we are meant to walk, even when they cause astronomical amounts of pain, because those paths lead to growth and new awareness. All we have to do is trust the journey and it will always take us where we are meant to be.

Losing our newborn (only one day after she was born) was definitely not how I imagined I would begin my latest journey of colossal transformation. It’s also not something I would wish on anyone, but the rub of it is I also know how good it can be for people to go through something so devastating. I am always grateful for every lesson I have learned from the experience of losing Cora, finding my way through the epic journey of grief, the mind-blowing number of people she touched and continues to touch, and the incredible people I’ve come into contact with as a result of her death. I’m grateful for the growth of my soul, especially the connection I’ve developed with my dearly departeds (who are always with me) and my soul guides (who are always whispering in my ear).

I honestly wouldn’t change any of it, even if I could, because it shaped me and opened me up to the bigger picture. I always say that her death awakened my soul and it’s absolutely true.

This is a repost from Cora’s 3rd birthday, but it’s still 100% relevant.

I remember everything about you. Your big hands and adorable “Johnson” feet. Your beautiful, huge, squishy lips. I remember how your fingers felt wrapped around my finger and how you felt in my arms. I remember the feel of your soft skin and your silky hair – so much of it and so curly, like your dad’s. I remember the beautiful sound of your tiny, soft cries when you first graced us with your presence and how your little face screwed up in anger when the NICU team was assessing you.

I remember how hot your head and feet were when I would cup them in my hands and sing to you, trying to get your vitals to stabilize. And I remember the one and only time that you opened your eyes and looked up at me while you squeezed my finger. You seemed so strong that I thought nothing would ever take you from us.

I also remember how your eyes became blank and empty a few hours before you left us and how your daddy had to look away until the nurse closed your eyes because he couldn’t bear the thought of you already being gone. I remember looking down at your beautiful, but extremely swollen face as you were dying in my arms and I remember thinking that no person should have to lose two babies in one lifetime. I remember knowing, instinctively, that this time was different and that it was going to change me completely and that my life would never be close to the same again.

I remember absolutely everything about you and our brief time together – all of the pain, beauty, joy, heartbreak, and grief. I remember it all so vividly, but what I remember the most is love. A love so full that it radiated through me – all-encompassing.

If I forget everything else about our experience with you – your hands, your feet, those lips, the feel of your soft skin and cheek against my lips; the pain and all the other emotions of bearing and then losing a miracle child – I’m going to cling to the love forever. That love was the greatest gift I have ever received.

Happy 6th Birthday, baby girl. My gift to you is to love all that I am while I continue to carry all that you are inside my heart.

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Rescuing Animals is Heartbreaking Work.

NOTE: Repost from 2016

Buddhist’s say that the path to all suffering is paved with attachments. The more you attach yourself to something, the more likely you are to suffer if you lose it. So, to avoid suffering, you simply avoid attachments.

What, the fuck, ever.

I love animals more than I’ll ever love people.

I’m abrasive, outspoken, stubborn and opinionated. I see through other people’s bullshit in 2.6 seconds and I call them on it when I see it. It doesn’t make me the most popular gal on the block and it doesn’t win me a lot of friends. My circle of bosom friends is small and tight—limited to those who totally get me and love me for me anyway, as well as call me out on my bullshit when it’s needed.

As a result, my relationships with animals have always been more intimate and intricate than most I have with people. I speak animal. I understand their body language, learn to interpret their sounds and have a mad respect for the fact that they are animals, not people, and will never judge me.

A week ago, when my new guy, Greg, and I were faced with rescuing two abandoned ducklings or leaving them to die in the elements. It was a no-brainer for both of us. We captured them (well, they ran into Greg’s hands), warmed them up, got some food into them and never looked back. I anticipated that I would be giving them round-the-clock care for a few months until I could find a place to send them where they would be cared for by humans who already had ducks. Or, if no place could be found, we would build them an enclosure and I would keep them, free to come and go, but always having a safe place to return, until they died at a happy old age. There was never a moment that I wasn’t committed to the well-being of those tiny, fuzzy, adorable babies.

The weakest one would barely eat and died within a day of being rescued. She was just too weak to eat enough and even body warmth and the heating pad and heat lamp couldn’t keep her warm enough. I was sad, but the other little one was thriving, so I thought that at least I could still focus on raising her sister and giving her everything she needed.

We named her Radish and we kept moving forward, without hesitation. Her care was constant. I had surgery two days after her sister died and Radish’s care still took precedence. We worked her routines into our own, working together to make sure she was always cared for and content.

Raising Radish was a non-stop gig and, although I joked with people about how they could borrow her so I could have a break from her constant peeping, I loved every second-Every. Single. Second- of it, even when she was crapping down my shirt…a few times a day.

Last night, after she’d been doing really well in it during the day, I decided that she was ready to sleep in her cage, under the heat lamp, instead of in her little night box with the heating pad underneath it.

I was wrong.

Despite doing well each time we checked on her, around 3 a.m. I found her cold and wigging out, in shock, after wandering away from her heat lamp, probably in search of a drink of water or us. We tried to warm her up and bring her back, but instead watched her slowly die. For 15 minutes Greg held onto her, while we talked to her and petted her. I even asked my soul guides to help her and willed her to pull through with everything I had. Eventually, though, her pupils became pinpoints before completely dilating as she went limp in Greg’s hands and we lost her…and I lost it.

I made the call; It was totally the wrong one and she paid the price for my ignorance—something I’m sure I’ll eventually come to terms with.

Right now, all I feel is overwhelming sadness that she didn’t make it. Even though, statistically, only 2 out of 10 wild ducklings make it past the first two weeks of life, it’s still killing me that we couldn’t save either Radish or her wee sister.

Funny how attached a person can become to an animal in only a week. I am crushed. Devastated. She was my constant shadow for the past week and she had such a funny little personality—from the way she attacked her food and burrowed her bill into my neck, to the way she jumped at every dandelion in the yard and tried to eat it, no matter how large it was. Just a duck? Not a chance. She was already a member of my animal family and I loved her as much as I love my cats and dog.

It’s been a hell of a rough day. My eyes are puffy from crying every few minutes. My chest feels heavy with her absence. My ears miss the sound of her little peeps and the clickity click of her claws on the floor as she followed me around. Perhaps the fact that it’s three days away from the 6th anniversary of my daughter’s death has me a tad more emotional than usual. Perhaps it’s the way that Radish looked to me for all her worldly needs, something I never had the opportunity to provide for Cora. Whatever the reason, it sucks and it hurts.

However, as with anything in this life, there are lessons here that have been slowly revealing themselves all day.

One: Humans, no matter how virtuous our intentions, are seldom a suitable substitute for nature. There’s a reason the circle of life exists and often that circle will complete itself, regardless of how much we try to interfere. We tried and we failed, but I learned A LOT about how hard it is to rescue a wild animal, how much time and energy it takes, and how hard it is to avoid forming an attachment while doing it. I have a hugely newfound respect for those superheroes out there who rescue animals on a regular basis. I can’t even fathom how they continually handle the loss of the creatures they try so hard to care for and rehabilitate.

Two: My heart is strong enough to always find its way back to being whole. After my first baby, Kieran, died (when I was only 23 and 6.5 months along), I thought my heart would stay in pieces forever, but time stitched it back together. When my mom died suddenly only six months later and it was ripped apart again, I was surprised to find it didn’t stay that way. Those losses were followed by other losses and more heartbreak until, finally, the biggest heart-shattering event ever when we lost our beautiful baby girl after only 30 brief hours with her. After that happened, I thought I was done. I thought that my heart could only be shredded so many times before it would refuse to pull itself back together and just give out completely. Yet somehow, time healed it again. And now, here I am, feeling the now familiar weight of grief pressing down on my shoulders and my heart splitting apart once more, but this time, a new awareness is shining through all the heartache. Each time something has broken my heart and it has repaired itself, it has grown a little stronger, until I’ve reached the point that my heart has an infinite capacity to be broken and repaired.  

It sucks, and it hurts like hell, but I have to say that all of the pooping, peeping, snuggles, laughs, stress, worrying, and sleepless nights we put into that tiny duckling only to have it end in tragedy…well, it was all worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

RIP Radish.

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Change your thoughts now! Your 40-year-old boobs will thank you!

NOTE: Repost from 2016.

40 somethingIn a video I posted last week (which you can watch here) I spoke about how our thoughts affect our lives and I wholeheartedly believe that if you change your thoughts, you can change your life.

Today, as I stood naked in the bathroom mirror, lamenting the altered state of my 41-year old boobs, a memory popped up from childhood.

I must have been about 12 or 13, and I was sitting on the edge of my mom’s bed, chatting with her as she stood naked, applying makeup, in the big mirror above her dresser. I don’t remember the full conversation, but I remember her laying down her eyelash curler, grabbing her boobs, smiling and saying, “I may not be crazy about the way my ass looks right now, but at least I have nice boobs and a beautiful smile.” She was around 34 or 35 at the time and she did have both of those things! At that time, though, I didn’t realize how profound her words were, but years later, after hearing her say stuff like that on a regular basis, I know how blessed I was to grow up with a mom who kept it real. She didn’t always love every part of her body or all of who she was as a person, but she made damn sure she could always find something she loved about herself (and me) and always made it known.

I should probably disclose that my mama had implants. She was diagnosed with Fibrocystic disease in her early 30’s and, as mammograms weren’t popular then, the recommended treatment was to remove breast tissue and get implants. That’s exactly what she did. Not only did it alleviate her fears of developing Breast Cancer, but it also made for one fantastic set of Ta Ta’s! When she died suddenly in 1999, I joked with one of my friends that mom would have been super jacked that she’d still had a great rack, at 47, when she died. LOL. Using humor while grieving is a legit coping mechanism!

All this came to me this morning, as I stood looking at my boobs and struggling to find anything appealing about them. I, too, used to have a great rack when I was younger. However, after 41 years, an invasive breast reduction surgery that left them heavily scarred, a noticeable drop after my milk dried up after pregnancy, and well, the old boobies ain’t looking 20 anymore. They aren’t awful, but they are most definitely my least favorite part of my anatomy. For the first time in my life, I can completely understand why so many women feel the need to have their breasts done – be it with implants or lifting or whatever else.

However, I understand something else so much more: I am NEVER going to love every aspect of my body or myself, so it’s critically important that I make time to focus on those parts of myself that I do love- like my arms or my ass or my great smile!

When we spend time picking ourselves apart, it eats away at our souls – it kills our confidence, depresses us, make us feel ugly and undesirable, causes us to compare ourselves to others because we don’t feel comfortable in our skins. I was BLESSED to have a kick-ass mom who ALWAYS found something to love about herself and her body (even on days when she wasn’t crazy about the whole package), but, even with her positive influence, I still struggle with self-love sometimes.

This is why I dig shooting Boudoir so much; it gives me a great opportunity to teach someone else how to start focusing on the parts of herself that are radtastical. It’s so easy to show a woman what a superbabe she is when she’s standing naked before me and I’m truthfully expressing admiration for her beautiful legs or her to-die-for hair or her smooth skin or her killer ass or, well, you get the picture…pun intended!

Growing up with a mom who could see all sides of herself taught me that it’s important to check your thoughts when you’re, for example, standing naked in front of the mirror, wishing your boobs were perkier and prettier. It’s important to learn how to smack yourself upside the head as soon as you start to fall into that rabbit hole of negativity. It’s important to develop the presence of mind to regularly tell yourself to snap the fuck out of it and take a closer look at the superbabe who stands before you. Maybe you have pretty, toned arms or a beautiful curve in your waist or a perky ass. Perhaps you have naturally white teeth or gorgeous hazel eyes with a wicked pattern of greens and golds in them. Whatever you have, it sure as shit is more than the not-so-perky boobs you’re focusing on and whining about. 🙂

Changing our negative thoughts about ourselves, both inwardly and outwardly, is a tough habit to break, but the effort is so worth it. If you aren’t happy with something about yourself, it’s up to you to either find a way to change it or, if you can’t change it, to find a way to accept it and focus on the things that do make you happy.

But how, Jo? How do I change my thoughts???

Start by taking one minute out of your day, every day, to talk yourself up. If you can’t find one thing every day that you love about yourself, I believe you are simply not trying hard enough. Finding ONE thing to appreciate about yourself every day is easy peasy- maybe it’s the shape of your toes, your ability to get shit done, being kind to people, how awesomely loud your farts are…whatevs.

If you have to put a sticky note on the mirror to remind you to look for the good stuff, then do it. If you have to ask your friends or significant other to smack you every time you say something negative about yourself, then do it (I’m sure they would be happy to do this for you…haha). Whatever you do, find a way to recognize and brag to yourself about the parts that you like or admire.

I may not be over the top about my boobs today, but I’m pretty in love with my lips, my muscular legs and arms, my ability to look for humor in any situation, my knack for not giving a fuck about things that aren’t vitally important, and my innate ability to see when I’m being a douche to myself (and others) and snap myself out of it. That’s a lot of good stuff to make me happy.

Change your thoughts, change your life.

Get on it.

Oh, and speaking of 40 something superbabes…
superbabe

Celebrate the Journey: Learning to Love Your Body!

NOTE: Repost from 2016untitled-29

How often in our lives – especially in this age of being constantly bombarded by fake, photoshopped BS ads in the media – do girls or women look in the mirror and say, “Damn, girl! You got it going on!”? Do you know how to love your body and yourself in general?

When is the last time you looked in the mirror and just accepted yourself for who you are – even if you are on a physical or mental journey to improve yourself and learn and grow?

It’s a tough question for a lot of us women because we tend to concentrate on the negative aspects of our personalities or the flaws we see in our bodies. Many of us don’t know how to accept where we are at this moment in our journey through life (even when we’re working hard to improve aspects of ourselves) and instead of going with the present flow, we concentrate on the future, not the here and now.

And it’s so easy to do – ignore who we are right now because we’re so focused on who we want to be later (after we do the work to improve ourselves). I grew up with a beautiful and ridiculously outspoken mom who constantly told me to love and accept myself for who I am – even when I didn’t like who I was at the moment – and I STILL fall down that steep slope of comparing myself to others. It’s so easy to conveniently forget that to learn and grow ourselves (and our souls), we MUST learn to love the process, the entire process, including the downright shitty parts.

We conveniently forget that we are all different and multi-layered for a reason. We forget to celebrate the beauty that shines from our unique characteristics that develop as we learn and grow through life. We forget to celebrate all that we are and all that we will become while we focus on the end game instead of the journey.

Accepting where you are right now is as simple as waking up in the morning and telling yourself that you probably won’t do or say all the right things and you may not look exactly how you want to look or behave in the best possible manner, but no matter what comes with the day, you love and accept yourself and where you’re at in your journey.

I declare that from this point onward, I will help all the women I already know, and all those I will meet, learn how to celebrate their journeys through this life. Of course, I would love to do this by using my camera to capture all that you are at this moment, but I promise to do it any way I can, camera or not.

Don’t you think it’s time that you learn how to celebrate your journey?

Destination Wedding Woes & The Shit We Carry With Us

wedding couple destination wedding cuba
If you know me, you know I’m not afraid to share my thoughts and feelings and, often, after I’ve had some time to process, I need to blog to get it out and forget about it. This one is long, so if you have shit to do, this will probably distract you…
A couple years ago, I had one hell of a shitty experience shooting a destination wedding (due to both my own shit and others’). It was the straw that temporarily broke my wedding-shooting back and I gave up shooting weddings for awhile until I could find my way back to a healthy wedding-photography mindset, which I’m happy to report, I have.
And, ironically, it had zip to do with my ability to shoot a wedding and everything to do with my ability to allow self-sabotaging insecurities creep in and overrun my creativity and talents. Ya’ll know what they say about hindsight, right?
Although this wedding was in Cuba in 2015, the story actually starts wayyy back in high school (think early 90s…yah, I’m getting up there) and it carries on into the present. It’s not pretty or easy to talk about, but I’m going to spit it out here and then let it go.
In high school, my main crowd was made up of what is probably best described as the “In Crowd”. Of course, that’s totally tongue-in-cheek because our graduation class was a whopping 34 people so how many crowds could we actually have? Amiright! Anywho, this crowd was made up of a core group of ladies and, at the head of those ladies was a quintessential Mean Girl. Let’s call her Penelope.
Caveat: High School sees people put up with a lot of shit that our adult counterparts wouldn’t put up with for ten seconds, so try to keep in mind that these days, I wouldn’t keep people like this within a mile of my day-to-day life.
Penelope was pretty and popular and, as these things go, had minions who followed her lead, no matter how shitty and cruel it was. Penelope would, essentially, “allow” the rest of our girl group to like me one day and then shun me the next. I spent my entire high school experience walking around on eggshells around her-always fearful of what I would say or do next that would change my status with her from “friend” to enemy. One day she would laugh when I was being my quirky, outspoken crazy self and everything would be good and the next she would shun me and call me a loser for being the same way. It was a constant roller coaster of being accepted and rejected and I rode that shit for years. Sometimes I would be accepted and allowed to hang out with Penelope and her Posse and sometimes (for months at a time) I would be shunned, ignored, or, even worse, publicly ridiculed. Like that time, for example, in Grade 10 when I was, once again, on the “you’re not cool enough to hang out with us” list. One day after gym class, Penelope and her bosom buddy Petunia (who I will introduce below) and the rest of my so-called friends made fun of the way I pulled up my pants (because, apparently, I did it “weird”), pantomiming (pun-intended) me pulling them up over and over again and laughing hysterically until I left the locker room (and school) in tears. I stayed home for two days, pretending to have the flu so I wouldn’t have to face all those chicks while I was still so hurt by their teasing.  I think it was around the start of Grade 12 that I reached my saturation point and I finally began to activly seek retaliation for Penelope’s mean girl behaviour. I sought out opportunities to undermine her, embarrass her, and hurt her feelings whenever I could and every time I managed to stick it to her, it felt really good.
[NOTE: This was ridiculous and utterly childish vindictive bullshit behaviour, but I was 17 and didn’t understand the world the way I do these days. I did what any kid would do and I fought the pain of being treated like shit by treating her like shit. I felt justified at the time. It seemed only fair that after being shit on for years, I was finally starting to give her a taste of her own pain-inflicting ways. I don’t regret it and I’m not ashamed of it. It was simply how I coped without knowing enough to learn and grow from the life lesson behind it.
Strangely enough, we even hung out for awhile after high school. I can’t tell you why because I didn’t even LIKE Penelope and our relationship was strained and unfriendly a lot of the time, but we did have some good, genuine laughs now and then and perhaps thats why I stuck with it. She finally just phased me out of her life and I was totally okay with it. Kind of relieved, actually. It wasn’t until after she phased me out that I realized how dysfunctional our “friendship” had been and how much easier it was without her in my life, but I learned A LOT from that relationship and learned to recognize my vindictive tendencies. If someone hurt me, I retaliated. I hadn’t yet learned the “just forgive them and forget them” method of living a much happier life, but recognizing my patterns through that relationship helped me to learn it.]
Petunia was another gal in the same crowd and she was, by far, the one who followed Penelope’s lead most often. Petunia has a giant heart and has always wanted to see the best in people, but she’s also really easily led and didn’t even realize how cruel she was to me so often while we were growing up. And, despite all the shit of high school, I’ve always loved her.
In 2014, Petunia called me up and invited me out for lunch and told me she was getting married in Cuba. She wanted me to be part of the wedding and, thinking about Penelope who was going to be the MOH, I politely declined, but said I would definitely attend. We ended up agreeing that I would shoot the wedding so I could still be a part of the day.
However, by this time I was pretty jiggy with my intuition and, from the moment Petunia told me she was getting married, my gut alarm bells started clanging to the tune of, “JO! Stay away from anything to do with this wedding!” And, like the ridiculously stubborn Scorpio I am, I shushed my gut and told it that everything would be great – after all, 20+ years had passed and we were all very different people. It would be a much different experience than high school. We’d all grown up and had some life experience to change us, right?
Nope.
To make matters far worse, Petunia said something like, “Peter (let’s pretend Peter is the name of Petunia’s Fiancé) isn’t going to be super excited about the cost to get you to shoot our wedding, but I’ll convince him that it’ll be worth it.” Great! Can’t wait to rise up and meet that challenge. Ding Ding, gut alarm. Ding Ding, gut alarm.
I tried to psych myself up for a week hanging out with Penelope, Petunia and another friend of ours (let’s call her Poppy) whom I love all the way up to the moon and always have. I figured that if Poppy was there, any shit that happened would be worth it because I would get to hang out with her after so long.
I also invited my Sis-In-Law and another friend to come for the week. I figured that I could hang with my own peeps if I didn’t want to hang with all the wedding guests and it would be a good opportunity to chillax and get some much-needed bestie time in.
Nope again.
Firstly, before I get into the point of this entire post, let me just fully disclose my giant fuck-ups with this wedding.
1) I told Petunia and Peter that I would be happy to shoot them doing other things besides the wedding – if they went on excursions or whatever. What I totally forgot about and didn’t really think through was that I get brutal motion sickness, so when they decided to take a bus tour through Havana and a catamaran tour, I couldn’t go on either. Trying to shoot on a bus would have done me in, but trying to shoot on a boat would have put me where I’ve been too many times (arms wrapped around a rail, supplying a never-ending stream of chum and bile to the happy fishes). When I say I get motion sick, it doesn’t even really describe how brutal it is. I end up feeling like death for days afterward. (I tried to make up for it by shooting a bunch of photos during their stag/stagette night).
2) I completely ignored not only my gut about what a terrible idea it was to even attend the wedding, let alone shoot it but I also ignored the concrete realization that my own marriage was done and I was not in a good mindset to shoot a wedding. My husband and I had been down a long road of shit and heartache and inability to comprehend each other after our daughter died and we were separating. (I tried to ignore that feeling because it was much too late to back out of shooting the wedding and I was trying to pull up my big girl professional panties and do my job).
3) I foolishly believed I had dealt with all the shit feelings I had about Mean Girl Penelope from our younger days and trusted that I was capable of being my usual self –the chick who doesn’t give a fuck what others think of me and who trusts in her creative and artistic talents.
That last fuck up, on top of everything else, is what did me in. I may have believed I had moved on and was fully capable of being my adult self and recognizing and dealing with my insecurities as they reared up, but I had never actually been around Penelope to test that theory and have some practice with it.
Triple nope.
Do ya’ll know what ignoring your intuition and insight gets you? A shitshow, that’s what.
The first night we were all together in Cuba and everyone was drinking it up and having a good time, I let myself relax and thought that it was all going to be all right after all. Everybody was getting along well, we were all laughing about funny things that happened in high school (because despite the emotional roller coaster, I still had some good times), and enjoying ourselves. I woke up feeling happy and excited to do a rad job on Petunia’s wedding, yet still, my gut was not having it. 
The next night there was a stag/stagette and, near the end of the night when she was a bit drunk, Penelope was kind enough to tell me, “Peter really didn’t want you to come to shoot the wedding, but both Petunia and I convinced him it was a good idea and that you will do a great job. I hope you do.” She giggled and walked off and I stood there, feeling a flush creep up my face and insecurity begin washing through me. I fucked off back to my room, put my camera away and journaled the entire night, in an attempt to analyze my feelings and get them under control. (This is what I do when I need to process, I write it all out and analyze it until I find the hidden meanings, the lesson, or the solution).
The following day, I was sitting with Peter, waiting to meet with their wedding coordinator while Petunia was up chatting with some other people, and Peter and I were chatting about weddings and my wedding experience. I mentioned that I had heard that he didn’t want to hire me because I was expensive, but I wanted him to know that I was good at my job and he wouldn’t be disappointed. I was still feeling insecurities creep in from Penelope’s comment the evening before (and, truthfully, journaling about it had not helped take the feeling away) and I was also feeling a bit annoyed because I had already given them a HUGE discount (I halved my regular price, actually) and here I was, dealing with how “expensive” I was, yet again. I was feeling fed up with people not realizing my worth (ah, the Ego eh…) and when Peter made a comment about Petunia mentioning I was thinking of retiring from shooting weddings, I lost my shit for a sec and snapped at him. I told him that weddings were too much stress and too much work (which they aren’t) and I was tired of people bitching about how expensive wedding photography is and being completely ignorant of the amount of time and work that goes into photographing a wedding. Needless to say, that conversation didn’t go over very well with either of us and totally left me looking like an asshat who hated shooting weddings (which I didn’t and still don’t). It wasn’t my best professional moment, although it was a raw and true one, but at that point, my anxiety level was rising about a meter a minute and I was already in danger of drowning.
After that, everything snowballed.
By the morning of the wedding, I was stressed-the-fuck-out. I told my Sis-in-Law at breakfast that I could feel that it was going to be a shitshow and, well…what we focus on, we create. Simple concept. Profound result when we allow shit thoughts to take over.
It was, literally, one thing after another…
It started out, right off the hop, with Penelope telling me what she thought I should and shouldn’t shoot. “Oh, no, don’t get a shot of Petunia brushing her teeth in her wedding dress. That’s just tacky.” “You should get a shot of such and such while they are doing such and such.” This happens to me ALL THE TIME when I shoot weddings and I just smile and nod and, if their idea is good or will fit in with what I’m doing, I’ll happily snap a suggested pic. However, after about the sixth suggestion, I was fucking annoyed that Penelope seemed to think she knew how to shoot a wedding better than I did. (yes, hell again, Ego, fancy seeing you here again so soon…;)) Moreso, though, there were now regular looks being exchanged between Penelope and Petunia and I was picking up on all of them. Looks that said, “Are you seeing this? The photographer is refusing to shoot photos. Can you believe it?”
Here are two of these look moments that stuck out to me and completely unravelled my confidence (even though I knew the shots WOULD NOT work and had proven it by trying it during other weddings and failing):
The wedding party wanted to do pics at the beach, mid-day. I told them that, from my experience, there would be too many people, it would be stiflingly hot, the light was too bright and would cast too many shadows under their eyes, etc. I suggested we shoot at the beach near sunset when the light was good, there would be next to no people, and we could get a lot of good shots in a short time. Penelope gave me “Don’t you think you should taking the kind of photos the bride and groom are asking for?” to which I replied, “She hired me because I know what I’m doing and I hope she trusts me enough to know the reasons I’ve given her are true rather than wasting time at the beach when we could be shooting elsewhere and getting good shots.” And that was followed by “the look” between Penelope and Petunia again.
I was chatting with someone while we were waiting for a few wedding party people to meet us at a room and a sweet moment developed between the Peter and his stepdaughter. I heard Penelope said to Petunia, “You should get Jo to take a pic of them ” and Petunia immediately nudged me and said, “Look at them. Can you take a pic?” but by the time I turned around and brought up my camera, the moment had passed. Petunia asked me to re-create it and I explained that, if I asked them to do it again, it would not have been a genuine shot and it would have shown in the photo. I told them there would definitely be other moments and I would catch one of them. Again, that look. I’ve tried to re-create real moments after the fact and, trust me, they are ingenuine. That’s not me. I’m not going to force a moment just because someone sees me with a camera and tells me I should. There are HUNDREDS of moments during a wedding day and we can’t be expected to capture every single one. We grab the ones we see – the genuine, unscripted ones – and they end up being spectacular.
The rest of the day continued along the same lines…
I realized around dinner time that all the insecurities I had taken away from being around them in high school had come back full-force and that I had completely reverted to that “please just like me” pathetic person I had been back then, willing to put up with any of Penelope’s shit just so I wouldn’t have to be shunned or see her give that fucking look to Petunia. It was at dinner that I finally decided to have a glass of wine and just say, “fuck it” and go with the flow. I don’t normally drink at weddings until the end of the day and, even though I had tried to drink a beer earlier that afternoon, I’d only made it through a few sips before setting it down and forgetting about it. The wine helped a bit and at least relaxed a bit of my anxiety. After dinner, I tried for an hour to wrangle the wedding party to get them down to the beach for sunset photos, but it was like herding cats and, by the time I finally got them down there, we had about 15 minutes of light left and I was completely exhausted after a day of fighting my own shit and theirs. The pics weren’t my usual caliber and I was completely defeated.
In a nutshell, it fucking sucked.
Ironically, during the reception, I somehow found myself standing with Poppy listening to Penelope while she told us about how much her daughter struggled with her little school friends. “One day they like her and the next they tell her they don’t want to play with her. Girls are so mean and it’s so hard to see her struggle like that.” Poppy and I stood there, mouths hanging open, looking at each other in complete disbelief that the Queen of the Kingdom of Mean Girls still didn’t have a fucking clue what a colossal cunt she had been all through school. At that point, which was near the end of the evening, I’d had enough and I didn’t need to be there to shoot anything else, so I packed up my shit, grabbed another glass of wine for the road, and headed back to my room.
I went to bed that night and cried myself quietly to sleep. I was mortified that I had allowed insecurities and anxieties ( from more than 20 years ago) completely rear up and take over. I was frustrated because I knew that the photos of the day were not the amazing, creative, happy quality I usually produced. And, mostly, I was pissed off for allowing my ego to get my back up when faced with a semi-drunk (and a few completely drunk) wedding party peeps who were pushy, didn’t want to hear my advice, and made me feel like I sucked and didn’t know what I was doing.
So how did it all end, you wonder?
No surprises here.
Petunia didn’t like her photos.
Peter wrote me a scathing email about how I was an “amateur masquerading as a professional”, how I’d “misrepresented my abilities and duped his wife into hiring me” and how I’d spent the entire trip in a “tequila-infused stupor” (even though I had only consumed tequila or been drunk on the first and last day of the entire trip and had barely drunk anything for the rest of it). It bothered me that he could say such shitty things, but I was also expecting it from him, so I wasn’t surprised. If a person doesn’t want to hire you from the get-go and you hear it from multiple people, it’s not a stretch to receive an email about how much you sucked.
The one thing, out of the entire email, that yanked my chain and made me feel genuinely angry was that he also said I didn’t make his wife feel beautiful at all during the entire wedding. That one pissed me off. Petunia had been ridiculously insecure about her looks since we were in Elementary school and, during the day of the wedding, I told her (probably 25 times) how ridiculously gorgeous she looked, how she made such a stunning bride, how she chose a perfect dress for her body type, how gorgeous her hair and makeup looked, etc. If there is something I’m going to do while I’m shooting ANY WOMAN, I’m going to make her understand that she is beautiful in as many ways as possible. I purposely sought out opportunities all during the day of shooting to let Petunia know how amazing she looked. So when I read that bit, my head blew off my shoulders and spun in circle like that chick in the Exorcist…for a few minutes anyway. BUT, ironically, looking back, I realized that if a person is focusing on an insecurity, they don’t hear the truth of what’s being said, they hear what they want to hear. Just as I was focusing on my insecurities surrounding high school bullshit, so Petunia was focusing on being uncomfortable with her body and being the center of attention. She probably didn’t hear my words of admiration at all. It also explained why she didn’t like any of her photos, even though she was a fucking knockout in all of them. In the end, I couldn’t change any of it, so I let it all go.
I responded by editing all 300+ photos anyway, refunding all of their money, and sending them a short email that said I was sorry that I didn’t meet their expectations and I hope that they can still look back on and enjoy the photos anyway. I didn’t try to defend myself because, really, they wouldn’t have listened or understood anyhow and it hardly mattered anymore. People believe what they want to believe, so why waste time trying to convince them otherwise. And, obviously, there went that 34-year friendship with Petunia. That stung a bit, but the nature of life is that people come and go.
Then, in a huge dramatic fit, I decided that I was done and I gave up on weddings “forever”, had a slight mental breakdown, and went to a “few” (ahem…nine or so) counselling sessions to learn how to deal with all of the baggage I’d been carrying around since high school. That’s how I learned about “Playing the Victim” and how to prevent myself from ever falling into the trap of giving my power away to someone else by allowing them to dictate my emotional responses. It’s how I learned, for good this time, that people can be assholes and definitely deserve blame for the heinous shit they do to us, but WE are 100% responsible for our reactions to that shit, not them.
So, all in all, it was a rad life lesson about listening to my gut (which I now do regularly), owning my shit (which I do 100% of the time), and forgiving assholes for being assholes and moving on.
And I’ve come to my senses about giving up weddings. I’m good at them. I enjoy them. I’ve come through the grieving process of my own marriage ending and I can look at love with a clear heart again. Time to get back at it. 🙂

A Reflection Like No Other- Vernon Boudoir Photography

One of the job perks of being a Boudoir Photographer is constantly being given the opportunity to show our clients how their loved ones see them. We don’t see ourselves the way others see us – especially the way our spouses or our children see us. When we look in the mirror, we tend to focus on our flaws while the people who love us see all the little things that make us beautiful to them. If only we could look in the mirror and see ourselves the same way the people we love see us!
This is what Boudoir Photographers do – we use our cameras to become a reflection of the beauty within each of our clients. It is uplifting, fulfilling, heart-exploding work and I can’t imagine how empty my work life would be if I didn’t shoot Boudoir.

Feeling blessed today and looking so forward to the year ahead.

 

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

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boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

boudoir, vernon, photography, sexy photos, beautiful lady, okanagan, kalamalka lake, jo leflufy photography

Give me a call at (250) 320-4418 or check out my website at http://www.joleflufy.com and book a session today! The time to shine is now!

My soul has no fear of heights.

I sometimes imagine that my soul is another person who is separated from my body by an extremely thin, but ridiculously strong piece of porous glass. As I walk along on one side, my soul mirrors me on the other and mimics all of my actions. When I find the presence of mind to slow down enough to listen and feel for it, my soul presses its palms and forehead onto the glass, willing me to press my own against the glass too, so it can seep a little bit of itself back into me and re-establish our connection.

Sometimes when I least expect it, I crash headlong into that unbreakable glass and collide with my soul again, knocking us both on our collective asses.

Good thing there is more padding than usual on my ass right now because I ran into my soul so hard last Sunday that I must have bounced half way across the universe before I landed on it. It’s amazing what can happen when I go adventuring with a beautiful friend at my side, my camera on my hip and a smile in my heart.

I saw some areas of BC I’ve never seen before – Echo Lake, the scenery on the way to Cherryville, tiny little lakes here and there on the way- and I grabbed shots of some of them and couldn’t believe I’d never seen such hidden gems before. With each passing click of the odometer and each pristine lake we passed, I felt my stress level dropping and the dim awareness of the image in my soul mirror becoming sharper and beckoning me to come closer.

Lost Lake

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Fall has come to Echo Lake

However, it wasn’t until we made our way up to the top of Mt. Scaia in Granby Provincial Park that my soul decided to knock me on my ass.

Somewhere along my life path, despite skydiving many times, I have developed a borderline phobia of heights. I have no idea where it came from because when I was younger, I would climb the tallest towers and trees I could find and I would dangle myself off branches over canyons and the like without so much as batting an eye. My friend Susie and I used to go to this place we called the Swinging Tree – a giant tree hanging over a steep gully where her brothers had tied a thick rope to the trunk. We would grab onto the rope and run as fast as we could off one side of the drop off and swing out and over it all the way to the other side. It was ridiculously dangerous and probably not the smartest extra curricular activity for a couple eight year-old girls, but it was SO FUN! The drop in the middle was probably around 50 or 60 feet to the bottom, but it didn’t even phase me as I was swinging out over the gully and hooting with delight. These days, if I get within 10 feet of a cliff edge, my knees soften, my heart rate spikes and I can hear the blood rushing in my ears. It makes me feel as though I will soon pass out, so I steer clear of anything high and just chock it up to something I can’t explain.

That is, until recently, when I decided that after dying for awhile, being afraid of something- anything really – is fucking ridiculous and I needed to start dealing with it. Who knows, someday I may have to climb something high to save a life and I’d hate to be paralyzed by fear with a life hanging in the balance. And so I’ve been adventuring in high places and trying to figure out how to get over the irrational fear they instil in me.

So there I was, standing on the top of Mt. Scaia and looking over the edge of a fairly high cliff. The old familiar feeling of weak knees and speedy pulse rate was in full force and I was about to just back up and head out into the flatter parts and rolling hills of the alpine-a safer and easier place to be. I stood there, taking deep breaths and willing my body to calm down and I sat down and closed my eyes and just listened to the world around me…and was met with pure silence.

No vehicle sounds. No animal sounds. No wind. No talking. No hustle and bustle of people in populated areas. Silence.

It was so unexpected and, well, HUGE, that it immediately penetrated all of me. I felt as though a warm and sure hand was washing me clean with a giant wet wipe. Cleaning out all the toxic crap that builds up when I don’t take time to listen to my inner happy being.

I stood up, walked to the rocks by the cliff edge and sat down. My heartbeat was calm again, my knees weren’t shaking anymore, my mind was focused and absolute. I picked up my camera and started shooting the vast expanse of mountains stretching out before me. I even shot the cliff below me, so I could remember how easy it felt to be there. It wasn’t entirely a cake walk, but it was the most calm I’d been at any height in many years. And as I sat there, shooting scenery and feeling everything inside me return to stillness, I realized just how out of touch with myself I have been lately. Springing to mind was the image of my soul and me running headlong into that ever-present window and sharing our light with explosive, freight train-like force.

And as I sat there, smiling, breathing, feeling so full of all-knowing emptiness, I knew that I wouldn’t have my fear of heights much longer and that something had changed inside me, yet again.

I love moments like this-sitting on top of a mountain in the sunshine, just breathing in the silence and stillness. They are so simple and seemingly insignificant on the outside, but so deeply profound within.

My friend said last night that the alpine = good medicine, but more than that, so is taking time to unplug, breathe, and appreciate the beauty around and within us. So is making the effort to listen to ourselves, to connect with our souls and stay grounded, clean of toxic energy and capable of dealing with anything life throws at us.

What a Thanksgiving that was. Grateful doesn’t even cut it.untitled-470

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My life theme: Swimming Against The Current.

walking away from toxic people

Funny thing about life, it moves us forward, no matter how much we try to swim against the current.

It’s been nearly five months since Mr. LeFlufy and I called it quits. I now live an hour and a half away in a tiny 600 square foot suite with one of our cats, my mom’s fave blue chair, a sweet mountain bike, a shelf of my fave books, a few essentials and not much else. Gone is the big house, the fur family, the mountain of “stuff” that I used to have, the ease of a love that survived for 12 years through a shitload of ups, downs and one significantly enormous tragedy. Gone are the daily laughs that Greg and I shared when we lived together, the safe feeling of being snuggled at night by him and cuddling our fur babies-the comfort zone that we’d slid into at some point during our time together.

Even though it was my choice to end our marriage, I still have days where I feel decimated, lost, confused as to why I couldn’t just stick around and fight through my feelings of unhappiness and discontent. I question why the universe couldn’t just leave me the fuck alone, for once, and why it had to make me into an energy-guzzling crazy person who couldn’t handle living in close proximity with anyone anymore (even a guy who loved me implicitly and bent over backwards trying to make me feel loved) without feeling like I was losing my mind.

I am a sponge for energy these days and I can’t keep other people’s energy from seeping into me and changing my moods, energy levels, mindset. This grief over the end of my marriage has just compounded it. I can go from happy to raging, in a split second, after passing someone in a shitty mood on the street. I can switch from being energetic and full of zip to being completely exhausted and needing a nap after having a brief conversation with a friend who is upset about something. I can rub against a stranger in passing and instantly feel what they feel, but without any understanding as to why they feel it. This energy transfer issue started shortly after I died and it has become harder and harder to get a handle on ever since. It leaves me feeling crazy beans a lot of the time, so I spend a great deal of my time alone these days, avoiding other people’s energy.

When this all started, I reacted completely defensively because it felt like I was being invaded-violated almost. Rather than let energy just run through me and accept it, I started to lose my shit. It infuriated me that I had no control over my own reactions. When I realized I couldn’t control it, I just started throwing up walls against all energy, including Greg’s. If I blocked everybody out, I could keep myself level and feeling somewhat normal. I could continue to function, just with little to no feeling. It worked perfectly, but it had the dual (and completely negative) effect of morphing my romantic love for him into something different, something with a lot less feeling inside it and, by the time I finally caught on to it, it was too late to recover it again.

So I decided to no longer waste our time and I moved on. Greg knows this. We have discussed it, at length, but it doesn’t make either of us hurt any less about the outcome.

Time truly does heal. It also allows us to process, understand and find the strength to move forward.

The simple truth is that I’m happier being alone, where I can hang out in my bubble and have the time and space to work on learning to let energy flow through me when it comes, instead of freaking out and raging about it or just blocking everyone out (which is still my fail safe). I’m happier being independent and having to fend for myself, work shit out on my own, embrace the challenge of following my intuition. I am happier knowing that he doesn’t have to deal with the craziness that has been me for the last year and a half. I’m happier knowing that he no longer has to constantly wonder if I will love him or leave him every day and that he finally has some peace too.

But I’m also sad that we no longer have our life together, that I miss him and our animals, that we are hanging out less and less now that I live in a different town. I mourn what was, but I also accept that it’s healthy to go through this process.

Life happens the way it does because it’s meant to. I finally accepted that truth about four years ago when I was a year into grieving the loss of our daughter and realized I would never fully understand the reason for such a tragedy. Life experience happens because it is meant to-even when we don’t understand it, agree with it, or know what to do about it.

The more we fight against it-the more we try to change the inevitable outcome or struggle to try to control it-the longer and more painful and exhausting the journey becomes. I often day dream about just plunging myself into the current of life and letting it take me wherever it wants, without struggle or resistance, but, I am a strong swimmer, so this is just not my way. I have to dig in, resist, struggle against it all until I learn how to accept the limits of my strength and let go, a little bit at a time, enough to let the current sweep me a little farther downstream.

I’m still swimming against the current right now, but I think I’m nearly at the point where I’m almost spent with the struggle and will have to rest and relax enough to see where the flow takes me.

Ending a marriage is a grieving process, but don’t worry, it’ll buff out.

Greg’s favourite thing to say to me is, “Don’t worry babe, it’ll buff out!”

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In the last few years, whenever I’ve been hurt or sad or pissed off about anything, he has listened to me bitch about it, given me his take on it and then finished off with, “Don’t worry, Babe, it’ll buff out!” Sometimes, this has driven me absolutely crazy, while other times it has made me laugh out loud. Lately though, it seems to have become my mantra. I find myself saying it at least once a day and it always makes me smile.

I have to admit that I am struggling right now. Each day brings new challenges – learning to live alone and apart from Greg after 12 years of living together; still trying to figure out how to control the influx of other people’s energy that can overwhelm me so easily; moving my business to an entirely new location and beginning to build an entirely new clientele; having to leave my bubble and put myself out there for the first time in a very long time to make new friends and forge new relationships in this new community; etc.

There are days where I wake up incredibly sad about now having to navigate life without my bestie rock beside me and others where I wake up excited and filled with anticipation of what will come. Days where I feel empty because I miss Greg so much that my heart hurts and others where I feel grateful to be alone and not have to take in anyone’s energy. Even though he is only an hour and change away and we still talk almost every day, it still feels like our relationship has died and we are now going through a grieving process of sorts.

And, even though it was my choice to end our marriage and uproot my life to start new and fresh in a different place, it is still a daily struggle and a challenge for me.

I’m not seeking sympathy.

I harbour no delusions that this will be easy. I am much too familiar with grief to believe that ending an entire chapter of my life would be as simple as shedding a few tears as he faded in my rearview mirror. I struggle. Often. I have nights where I lie awake for hours, pondering my prospects and wondering if I have the wherewithal and the chutzpah to keep my forward momentum and make it on my own. I have days where I am convinced there is a grey cloud of impending failure following me around, just waiting for my feet to stumble and trip me up, so it can swoop down and lock me in its greasy, gloomy grasp, causing me to doubt my choices, second guess my strength, give up on my abilities to kick ass. On these days, I set my shoulders and carry around the weight of sadness and self-doubt and I wait it out because I know it will eventually pass.

And, as grief allows, I also have many good days. Days where I wake up feeling like a shiny new quarter. Days where I practically skip out the door on my way to new adventures, new discoveries and new possibilities. I laugh until my abs hurt, smile until my cheeks get sore, and can think of nothing except how lucky I am to be alive again, to be motivated to get shit done, and to continue down the life path I’m on. On these days, I can’t wait to see who I will become, who I will inspire, who will inspire me, how far I will take myself. I vibrate with the energy of evolution and innovation. I buzz with the potency of potentiality.

Large life changes, even the expected ones, bring about a large shift in consciousness and that means a lot of processing of emotions – usually of the roller coaster variety. I guess it’s a good thing I enjoy a good roller coaster ride because, by now, I’m fairly adept at letting go of the Holy Shit Handles, letting gravity take over, and just riding the rails until the ride comes to a complete stop and my feet are once again on solid ground.

I know I have to go through this and that all of this emotional up and down is to be expected and that I will get through it, but that doesn’t make any of it easier. And, even though the ups and downs of this particular ride have been fairly significant lately, I know that in time, it’ll buff out…