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.

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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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…

Sometimes, love doesn’t win. Here’s to new beginnings.

For those of you who don’t already know, my husband Greg and I have separated. I know that many of you who know us are sitting here, reading this, in complete shock wondering how a couple who are so good together and who have made it through so much tragedy, can end up calling it quits.

Well, I could go into great detail how this happens – how much the death of a child changes people; how having a Near Death Experience changed me; etc., but there’s a song by the Eli Young Band called What Does? that nicely sums up our situation.

Sorry, you whispered, me too, I replied
As we both sat there at the end of the line
It’s not like either of us didn’t fight
When the bell was ringing
Yah we went down swinging, you know

I never thought we’d be one more tragedy
You and me, were supposed to beat the odds
When you stick it out or when you don’t give in
and when you give it everything you’ve got

When you hold on through thick and through thin
And when that kind of love doesn’t win, what does?
What does?

I think the hardest part of it all
Is that you won’t be there after we fall
You’ll just be a memory that hangs on my wall
Of a good thing gone
Of a right gone wrong, you know

I never thought we’d be one more tragedy
You and me, were supposed to beat the odds
When you stick it out or when you don’t give in
Or when you give it everything you’ve got

When you hold on through thick and through thin
And when that kind of love doesn’t win, what does?
Oh, what does?

I could say a million and one things about my life with Greg right now and talk about everything we’ve been through, are still going through and will probably go through for the rest of our lives, but this song is the essence of it all. Love changes. Sometimes it morphs into something less romantic than it was, and no one can ever predict how their love will stand up to the test of time.

We have been to hell and back and, often, the trip to hell was paved with a lot of life-sized, lava-filled potholes. While our relationship, our friendship and our understanding of each other has deepened immensely, somewhere along the way, I changed a bit too much to keep our marriage alive and kicking.

But I tried. I tried really hard and, while my reasons are not readily understandable to most people (for Greg is an amazing man who loves me deeply and wants to spend his life helping me figure out all these changes that have been taking place in me), they are completely logical to me and more than enough to spark this huge change to put me on this new path that, now that I’m on it, feels like home to me for reasons I haven’t yet discovered. It’s also a path that I just know I have to walk alone.

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I am devastated that Greg and I have split and I miss him and the life we had together all the time, but I am grateful for his ability to see and understand how different I am from that lady he hooked up with 12 years ago-before our daughter died; before I died; before so much shit happened. I’m thankful that he’s graciously accepted my decision to end our romantic relationship and ridiculously appreciative of him for his continuing friendship, support, ability to listen objectively to my sometimes crazy babbling and ideas, his faith that everything will work out, and for how easy he has made this transition for both of us. He is truly an amazing man-the best I’ve ever known-and he deserves so much more than I am capable of giving him, even though I love him so damn much. 

But like the song says, when that kind of love doesn’t win, what does?

So here I find myself, walking a new path in Vernon, BC, discovering new things about myself every day, meeting new people, hanging out with friends, booking new photography clients, falling in the love with this area and all its killer scenery, and feeling more at peace than I’ve been in what feels like a long while.

I’m ready for this change.

I’m amped for this challenge.

I’m slapping on all the elbow grease I’ll need to rock it out.

I’m ready to take on the world again and do some epic shit.

Most of all, though, I’m happy to be spending some quality time with myself, getting to know who Jo has become since she briefly bit it and then made her way back to the land of the living. I don’t really understand a lot about New Jo, but I look forward to getting to know her inside and out.

So if you see on FB or hear through the grapevine that Greg and I have split, please understand that we don’t really want to have to go into detail with others or explain ourselves. Instead, we want you to know that we are both taking it day by day and adjusting to life without each other’s constant presence, but also finding our way along together, as friends who used to be lovers who went through something that makes everything else pale in comparison. And we’ll get through it eventually, leaning on each other, until we do.

One love, my friends.

My child died to awaken my soul and my gratitude knows no bounds.

Five years ago today, at around this time, Greg and I were sitting in a room with a bunch of doctors, listening to them explain to us that our baby girl’s brain activity was nearly non-existent and she would never survive if she were removed from life support.

I remember thinking that it was a pretty fucked up world to have a healthy baby progress to a brain dead baby within a span of 24 hours.

I remember sitting there on the loveseat in the family room, holding Greg’s hand and staring at the doctors in numb disbelief, trying to process what they were telling us, but also knowing on some level that I knew the outcome of our daughter’s life the moment they first told us that she had become sick.

“So, what you’re saying, is that our baby is brain dead and you want us to make the choice to remove her from life support?”

I remember asking that question three times before one of the doctors finally looked me in the eye and told me that, yes, that is exactly what they were asking us to do -unplug our daughter from life support and end her already too short life.

I remember them leaving the room to give us time to discuss things and Greg and I both taking all of five seconds to make our decision and end our daughter’s life without any hesitation. Neither of us was willing to let her suffer one-second longer.

I remember returning to Cora’s room to begin the process of not only ending her life, but also holding her for the first time since she was born.

It should be a blur, but I remember every detail down to the sound of the tape ripping as the nurse, Susan, taped Cora’s lifelines to Greg’s shirt so he could hold her while she was still somewhat alive.

And then it was my turn and, when they started to prepare to transfer all of her lines over to my side of the room so I could hold her, I refused. I thought that if I was going to hold my daughter, I was going to hold her while she left the world peacefully, with the woman who brought her into it- without a bazillion tubes coming out of her and machines beeping in the background. They kept everything on and running until the last moment and then they placed her in my arms and, one by one, turned off all of her life-giving machines. Greg sat across from me, with his hand on my leg and holding Cora’s tiny feet and I stared down at our child as silence filled the room at last and she began to grow cold in my arms.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t shift in my chair. I barely breathed as I felt her leave us, but I knew that later there would be enough tears to fill up years of our lives over the loss of this beautiful child that we had waited six years to meet. I remember watching the pink drain from her skin to be replaced by a faded yellow and I held onto her hands, willing them to warm up, even though I knew they never would again.

As Greg sobbed beside me, still holding her feet, I stared at my daughter’s beautiful lips and felt myself fall down the rabbit hole of grief, so deep and so dark, I wondered if I would ever be able to see any light ever again.

I remember lying in my hospital bed a few hours later, Greg’s arms wrapped tightly around me, and the tears finally coming uncontrolled and unstoppable as we sobbed in each other’s arms for all that we had just lost-both past and future.

I remember driving home from BC Children’s Hospital later that evening, in a daze of exhaustion, disbelief, and mind-blowing sadness, barely talking to each other and just crying a never-ending river of tears, asking each other how we would ever survive this.

I remember…

I remember everything as though it happened yesterday and all I need do is close my eyes to see the movie of the memory playing in my mind.

However, instead of that unbreakable sadness that always used to haunt me on the anniversary of her death, I now feel wonder at how I can relive those moments and not feel the darkness anymore. I marvel at how I can look back at the most tragic and life-changing moment in my life and feel strength and light and pride in how far we have come and how much we have learned and grown from our child’s death.

I am grateful that she has taught us how to take life as it comes – good or bad – and forgive ourselves when we fuck things up. I’m grateful that her death reminds us everyday that we are human and that we make mistakes and have to continue to forgive ourselves and keep learning, rather than beat ourselves up. I’m grateful for all the love she has spread, the new friends I have met through her loss, the strength she continues to help me find inside myself, and the lifelong connection that Greg and I will always have, regardless of where our relationship takes us.

I am grateful that her death puts everything else into perspective for me and makes me realize that nothing that happens in life will ever be as awful or as difficult to get through as losing a miracle baby.

Mostly though, I am grateful for her constant connection to me through her signs, her whispers, her visits in my dreams and the messages she delivers in my quietest moments. She’s always here, always helping, always loving, always lifting me up and always keeping my awareness of my soul in tune with the other side.

So grateful, in so many ways, for our Cora Jane. 045_DSC_0067-123-Edit

Mexico 2015: More life lessons and impending liver failure.

I love Tequila.

Out of all the boozes out there, Big T is the only one that doesn’t make me too drunk to speak or draped over the toilet the following day rueing its existence (except for that one time in Mexico a couple years ago when I may have bet Shannon that I could “drink all the Mexicans under the table” – the glass table that I was dancing on. Admittedly, that did NOT end well.).

I also love sunshine.

Given the choice between sunshine and warmth or snow and cold, it’s a no brainer for me – even though I love skiing and winter sports.

Put the two of them together and Tequila and Sunshine = Jo’s Happy Place.

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See how happy I am!! It could be a combo of the sunshine, Tequila and a husband who is hilarious, but I’ll take it.

I have only just returned from my happy place (this time it was the Crown Paradise Golden in Puerto Vallarta) and I’m already lamenting the snow and cold, dreaming of warmer times and a good, clean all-day buzz. Some may think that being buzzed all day is unproductive and lackadaisical, but I beg to differ. I get a lot of smiling, dancing, laughing and body healing accomplished by being buzzed all day. I am a great problem solver while buzzed (hmmm…I can’t seem to fit this entire drink in my big cup, so what will I do with the left over? I know, I will drink them both!); I can handle more stimuli; I can think of clever retorts quickly and easily; and I can learn other languages without struggling.

During this trip I learned so many new spanish phrases, for example:

1. If I’ve had enough of silver vendors harassing me to buy from them, I simply say, “No more silver, please!” or “No más plata, por favor!” When the vendors come by for the third or fourth time and just keep asking me, I change it to, “No more silver, for fuck’s sake!” or “No más plata, para joder amor!”. That seemed to really help.

2. If I am shopping and I want to know how much something is, I ask, “Cuánto Cuesta?” And, when they give me an astronomically high price, I say, “Es muy caro!!!!!” or “That’s too expensive.” I just keep saying that until I get the price I’m willing to pay or I walk away and do the same with the next vendor. If it’s really ridiculous (like the dude at the resort who tried to tell me a silver ring that looked almost exactly like the silver ring Greg bought me in the Mayan two years ago -for a mere 300 pesos-was worth $250 USD), I say, “Debes pensar que estoy loco.” or “You must think I’m crazy.” That, too, seemed to make people laugh and drop their prices by a couple hundred bucks. That or make the universal “She’s crazy” signal by making a circular motion with their index finger pointed at their head. Bahahaah…

3. This was my fave expression of the entire trip and is our version of What The Fuck? “Que Mierda?” or the more vulgar version of “Chinga tu madre”, which literally translates to “Fuck your mother.” I’m not sure why this made me laugh so hard, but I sure know it well after a week of saying it a lot.

We hit Mexico around every two years and every time I go, I learn new words, new customs and make new friends. I met a fantastic couple named Beth and Ken from Wisconsin. I picked up on Beth’s energy from across the pool and realized she was sitting near my posse. When I got closer, I saw she was wearing a dragonfly on her necklace and the floodgates of intuition opened up for me. Maybe it was because I was drunk, but maybe it was also just meant to be. Once I started talking to Beth, I couldn’t stop the flow and I loved her and her hubs instantly. What a life they have led! So much adversity and they’ve come through it beautifully. I will keep in touch with them forever.  People laugh at me and my fetish for everything dragonfly all the time, but I’m pretty sure the dragonfly is my spirit animal…spirit bug, maybe? Whatever it is, the littel critters connect me in all sorts of ways to all sorts of people and I am grateful for them and all the connections they make for me. Here’s a sweet pic of me, Beth and Ken. Love them!

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While we usually stick to the Mayan area, where there are less tourists and it’s a bit quieter, this time we chose to go to the bustling hub of Puerto Vallarta. Probably not the best idea for a gal who is an empath and absorbs everything from everyone.

Life Lesson #4235: Jo LeFlufy does not do well with any kind of bustling hub. This includes large resorts packed full of people, beaches with a bazillion vendors trying to sell me something every two minutes, or crowded downtown areas with crazy drivers, loud music and people moving in all directions at once. To put it lightly, I was overfuckingwelmed and, despite the perfect combo of sunshine and Tequila, I was feeling stretched a bit thin by around Day 5 and I hid in our room and slept for a few hours with earplugs in, trying to ground myself again. I also escaped from everyone after dinner that night and hung out at the beach, by myself, just listening to the sound of the waves…and the couple banging on a palapa under a palm tree behind me. Ah, yes, the beautiful sound of the ocean and drunken carnal desire!

All in all, though, this trip, aside from the overwhelming number of peeps, was super fly fun.

I hung out on the beach with my friends and got a sweet henna tattoo on my arm to cover up a huge derby bruise!

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I watched a Disney show at the nightclub at our resort and sang ALL THE SONGS!

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I soaked up all the sun, wore a sweet fedora all week, and drank all the Tequila I could handle!

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My hubs caught a big, pretty fish (Mahi Mahi) that smelled really awful but tasted delicious!

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I bought two pairs of sweet, hand made shoes from a dude named Hugo. All of us bought them and we chose our own colours and patterns. He was really fast and skilled at making all sorts of patterns and easy to chat with because he spoke English really well. The shoes are ridiculously comfy and I can’t wait for summer here so I can wear them all the time! Here’s a pic of each kind he made me!

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We also ordered “Sexy Coffee” every night. I’m not sure why it was sexy, but the fact that they lit the booze on fire and did really cool things with it was pretty entertaining. It was also delicious.

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That was not the best pic, but I was drunk and my hands were not steady. Pfffft.

We headed downtown one night to grab some authentic tacos from the street vendors and it was so much fun. I ordered Marlin Tacos for about $2.50 each and they were SO DAMN GOOD that I kind of wanted to eat 15 of them instead of only two. So spicy and tasty – like spicy fish bacon. I am in love with Marlin tacos and, despite the number of people in PV, I would go back just to eat at that guy’s taco stand again. Nom nom nom.

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Part of the “fun” of this night, was dropping my wallet in the cab that brought us downtown. When I looked in my bag to grab my wallet and pay for our tacos, my wallet was not in it, even though I had pulled it out to pay the cab driver. ER MER GERRRRRRRRRD. I had a momentary panic attack until Greg (aka The Smartest Husband On The Planet) pulled out his camera and showed me this:

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Yes! That’s me, in cab #161. It took a couple hours of me phoning our hotel and them tracking down our cab driver, but I eventually recovered said wallet…a few hundred pesos short, but whatever. The first couple of times I phoned, I was told that they couldn’t find the wallet. However, when I explained that we had a photo of the cab and the driver and the cab number time stamped for when I lost my wallet, the tune changed and it found it’s way back to me. It’s a miracle! Maybe the cabby thought he needed to help himself to a Finder’s Fee? Whatever the case, I was just happy to get it back with all my ID and cards. Of course, I had to call and cancel all of my cards that night because, these days, all it takes is snapping a pic of the number and the CCV on the back and boom, there goes my identity. All is good now. I have new cards, still have my licence and learned a really valuable lesson about travelling – leave your cards in the safe in your room. DUH!

The highlights of this trip were finding Pomegranate Tequila (that shit is the BEST) in the market and unplugging for an entire week. I thought I would suffer from Technology Withdrawal, but it was the opposite for me. I relaxed more than I have in years and my brain slowed down so much that I had to regularly poke it to make sure it was still working. It was amazing – so much so that I came back and plugged back in only to find myself tense, stressed and annoyed about being tied to technology. This makes me wonder if perhaps it’s time to start farming out even more of my business to others so I can just shoot, hand over the pics to my people and walk away. Something I definitely need to think on some more.

Mexico, in a nutshell, is pretty rad for forcing a gal to relax, teaching some fairly good life lessons and, of course, making impending liver failure a good possibility. You should consider going. Your stress level will plummet drastically and your liver will thank you for the workout.

As always, One Love, peeps. One Love.

Resolutions lead to disappointment. I’ll just keep being human instead.

It’s 11:34 p.m. and, of course, my brain refuses to shut down for the evening. In celebration of my cerebral dance party, I’ve decided that pretty much everyone who is awake right now most likely wants to read my thoughts (not, like, telepathically…here, on my blog. Sheesh.).

This time of year everyone is posting their New Year’s Resolutions – lose weight, exercise more, be kinder, be more loving, clean up the dog poop in the yard every day instead of every two weeks (What? That is actually a legit and doable resolution.), etc.. I have never been crazy about resolutions. In fact, I’ve never been crazy about setting any kind of goals because, honestly, I’m not a goal reacher kind of girl.

I’m more of a “Hey! I have two days to get this wedding edited and I haven’t started yet, so I had better get at ‘er” kind of girl. (Disclaimer: If you are one of my clients, that statement was purely for comic relief. I always start my edits at least five days before the final product is due…#kiddingnotkidding…or am I? You’ll never know.) The truth is that, as I age, I realize more and more about myself and one of the biggest things I have learned in the past few years is that I don’t do well with goals, but if someone challenges me by telling me I can’t accomplish something or dares me to do something, I will complete said task every dang time (Dude, I’m a SCORPIO. ‘Nuf said).

Deadlines? I can rock those because they are necessary, but goals and resolutions? Pffffft. Goals are for people who don’t understand how defeated we can be by our own expectations. You’re better off to just say, “Yah, maybe someday I’ll do that.” Expectations lead to disappointment when they aren’t met, so if you don’t allow yourself to have expectations, you seldom end up disappointed. Plain and simple logic.

Hence, my refusal to make a list of Resolutions at the beginning of a new year…or, well, ever.

So, go ahead, you neurotic goal chasers! Pull out your List Pads right now and detail new goals and resolutions under the heading “How NOT to end up like Jo LeFlufy”. I’m okay with that and, snicker if you must, but I’ll be the gal drinking a beer and enjoying it (because I surprised myself by accomplishing things I didn’t know I would accomplish today) while you cry in yours (and stuff your face full of french fries because your resolution to eat more healthfully and hit the gym every day come January 1st only lasted six hours and you just yelled at the old bitty who cut you off after you vowed to give up your road rage tendencies). (p.s. You’re totally welcome for that last, run-on, sentence, which was the BEST I’ve ever written. I didn’t even know I would write such a great run-on sentence today, so to celebrate my feat, I’ll probably kick back and enjoy some french fries with my beer.) Cheers, mate!

My suggestion (because you’re totally asking for my advice, right!): Be human. Enjoy the moments. Forgive yourself when you don’t accomplish herculean tasks every day and celebrate the things you do get through. Keep moving forward and learn to let go of your expectations. You will never be disappointed by anyone or anything if you don’t expect anything from them.

Oh, and remember that we are all connected and we are all love. One love, people. One Love!

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Forgiveness. What the f$@k does that even mean?

I am on a spiritual journey. Cliché, I know, but true nonetheless.

Part of this experience has been a seemingly endless uphill climb toward learning to live from a place of love and remembering that my actions and words affect more than just the person immediately receiving them because we are all connected through energy.

When you become aware of the oneness of the universe and you start to literally feel (not just figuratively feel) that connection to all things, like-minded people somehow find their way to you. And when they do, common themes keep popping up and challenging the way you think, act and interpret the world around you.

I’m now very aware. I now have so many connections with other spiritual people that I feel as though I have a whole new section to my family. I am now being challenged, more so than ever before, to think about my effect on the rest of the soul pool.

But there are days – OH! There are DAYS!!!!- when I question the meaning of things I hear all the time because I really have no fucking idea what they mean.

Days where I discuss being hurt by someone whom I believed to be a friend and my spiritual friends say, “Just forgive her and let it go.” Or days when I see somewhere that a guy beat his puppy to death because it wouldn’t stop barking and my spiritual friends say, “It’s his lesson to learn, not yours. Forgive him and let it go.” Or days when the odd client slips through my usually keen sense of “this is a gooder” radar and turns into someone fighting a huge battle against the world and probably herself and she goes out of her way to make me feel like a shitty photographer because she’s not happy with herself. And, once again, my spiritual friends (which make up most of my close friend pool these days) say, “Forgive her and let it go.”.

Have you ever tried to forgive someone and let it go? How do you go about it? Do you just say to yourself, “Hey self! That person has not been very nice to you and has done some nasty things and really hurt your feelings, but it’s all okay. Today, you choose to just forgive them for doing such shitty things to you and let go of all the hurt and unhappiness that they have caused you.”? Does this work for you? Because I have tried this technique many times and the next time I see that particular person, I immediately feel shitty, remember all the hurt they have caused and also immediately wish that someone causes them the pain that they caused me. Then I immediately check myself and remember that I have already supposedly forgiven them and let it go. And then I beat myself up a bit for not truly forgiving them or letting anything go. Clearly, this technique doesn’t work for me. If I never see the person again, it might, but what if that person is in my life on a regular basis?

I’ve tried other techniques too. Contacting the person to let them know I forgive them for whatever I feel they’ve done and also letting them know I’m forgiving myself for any part I had in it. Nope. Doesn’t work. I still feel instant angst when I see them or hear their name in conversation.

I’ve tried blogging about how I’m forgiving them and hoping that since I launched it to the universe, I can let it go and get over it. Nope. No dice, homies.

I’ve poured out all my anger and frustration and nasty scum hatred feelings to my counsellor or my girlfriends and hoped that it will be enough to get it out of my system and move on. Nu-uh.

Basically, up until the last couple days, I had no friggin’ idea what forgiveness actually was. Nor did I understand how NOT to hold a grudge (even though I foolishly tell myself that I’m not holding them). When people hurt me-whether it’s intentional or not-forgiving them for the pain they cause is not as easy as just saying, “Abracadabra! I forgive you for being a Grade A Asshole and I’m letting it all go.” and shrugging it off. Once you let the pain in, it takes work and a shit ton of effort to actually get rid of it. And, if you’re not on top of it, ALL THE TIME, it seeps back in and infects you time and again.

Today, I had an epiphany and I, not a word of a lie, hit my knees at the beach in a completely stunned moment of pure awareness. I stayed there on my knees for a full five minutes, with my eyes closed, grasping the full meaning of what forgiveness truly is.

Forgiveness can never be given if it’s accompanied by fear and fear is what wounds us the most, not other people’s actions or words.

For example, if someone says or does something to me that I interpret as nasty or painful or hurtful, I can guarantee that the pain stems from fear. If I think this person’s words or actions will make others think less of me or think that I am someone who I am not, I am coming from a place of fear. Our ego always wants everyone to know that we are awesome and how hard we work at being awesome. It foolishly tells us that one person, out of the hundreds we have contact with, will ruin us with their words and actions, so we go into overdrive-defending ourselves to anyone who will listen and trying to prove that we are not who this other person says we are. Even when we are extremely on top of this part of ourselves and we recognize it easily, the ego can still take over and mess up our heads.

If, on the other hand, the same situation happens and, instead of reacting with fear, I simply choose to react with love, the pain never enters me in the first place. It can be something as simple as telling myself that sometimes, no matter what I do or say or how kind I try to be to others, it just won’t be enough for some people. And, you know what, that’s okay.

That was just one example of the effect that fear can have on us. Fear comes in many shapes and sizes and it causes a whole host of negative emotions and actions – hatred, anger, revenge, phobias, frustrations, etc..

The thing about forgiveness is that you are never really forgiving others, you are actually forgiving yourself for letting fear get the best of you. If your shittastic ego gets the better of you and catapults you into a place of fear, the mere act of recognizing is forgiveness enough. In the above situation, if I recognize my fear and tell myself that I’m afraid of how others will see me or what they’ll think of me, just admitting my fear dissolves it and helps me remember that what other people think of me is none of my business.

If there’s no fear, there’s nothing to forgive.

[Let me digress here for a moment and talk about forgiveness of heinous acts such as rape, murder, abuse and other appalling acts of violence. I can’t even begin to understand the fear that these types of trauma would cause, nor can I say that it would easy in any of these situations to recognize the fear and learn to forgive by recognizing it, but I do believe it’s possible, with time, to come to terms with any kind of brutal act of violence or loss. I believe that we choose our path before we come to live our human existence and some of us choose to go through awful shit in order to learn the strongest lessons our souls can handle and to teach compassion to others and ourselves. So, most of the forgiveness I’m writing about here is small beans in comparison to, for example, forgiving the guy who stabbed your mother to death in a home invasion or recognizing and conquering the fear that lingers from being brutally raped.]

While I’ve been writing this, words have appeared before me, as they often do:

“She is who she is, but I don’t have to like who she is or keep her in my life.”

Basically, let people be themselves. Let them fumble along their own path, in search of the lessons they are meant to be learning and they are most likely struggling with their own fear. However, if people make you feel shitty about yourself or as though you are incomplete and always striving to meet their expectations or that you are never good enough, loved enough, cool enough, liked enough, wanted enough, etc., get away from them. Do everything you can to distance yourself from them. Do everything you can to ensure your paths don’t cross often. If that means giving up time with people you really enjoy, so be it. Those people will find a way to you if they are meant to still be in your life. If you can’t avoid the people who drag you down, guard yourself against them when you are near them by reminding yourself that they are struggling with their own journeys and they aren’t as aware as you of how their behaviour can affect others. Remind yourself that love, not fear, directed at them, may not have an immediate result and may feel like a useless effort, but every little bit they get from you will help them figure out how to come from the same place (or closer to it) someday in the future. And, if all else fails, you can always hit them upside the head with a shovel and casually dump them into the holes you’ve dug in your garden for “excess compost”…Just kidding. Seeing if anyone is actually still reading this.

And, in case you haven’t figure this one out yet (because sometimes it takes us many, many years of living to get to the point where this becomes second nature), do everything you can to surround yourself ONLY with the people who lift you up, make you feel loved, make you feel whole, accept you for who you are and respect the journey you are on.

No fear means no need to struggle to forgive. It really is as simple as my spiritual friends make it out to be.

After all this, I’m hoping tomorrow’s beach excursion will bring an epiphany of being less judgemental, another aspect of life I struggle with every damn day.

Enjoy the holidays. Merry Christmas and all that jazz.
One Love, peeps. One Love!

p.s. I did not even remotely proofread this, so if my grammar sucks and my punctuation is misplaced, I don’t really give a…

Let go of that baggage and embrace your life experience. And, also, bums.

I’m totally off the grid these days – still finishing this year’s two final weddings and editing, oh, 14 Boudoir sessions to get them out in time for Christmas, so I don’t have a lot of time to bloggity. However, this happened and I feel it’s worth sharing.

Had a text convo with a friend last night and they said they have a lot of baggage and it was suggested in a negative way. I slept on it and woke up with it still on my brain. I just sent them this and I’m posting it here because I believe everyone can benefit with a change in their outlook on their so-called “issues”:
“There’s really no such thing as baggage. We are what we are and anything we carry with us is life experience, not baggage. If something from our past makes us believe we are damaged in some way-incapable of something for whatever reason – then we perceive it as negative and we call it baggage. In reality, it’s just part and parcel of our life experience thus far. The trick is to use it to improve upon ourselves and not repeat mistakes. You don’t have baggage anymore than I do. You have life experience. Everything you’ve lived up to this point has shaped you into who you are today and that is not negative or damaging in any way. You are who you are because of that so-called baggage and I love who you are and who you’ve become BECAUSE of that life experience. Embrace it. Use it. Learn from it.”…unless you are actually carrying suitcases. Then, well…
Jo’s words of wisdom #259. 

And also, this, because it’s one of my fave poses to put my clients in lately!

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One love ya’ll. One love.

Everyone’s dying to teach us lessons, especially the dead.

Today, I am feeling ALL the feelings and here’s why:

Back in September, a past Boudoir client of mine lost her life to the Big C (dirty little bastard that it is). She was young and she fought really fucking hard to stay alive so she wouldn’t leave her husband and two year old daughter behind, but sometimes, even though we don’t realize it, our time is up, we’ve learned all we need to learn, and it’s our time to go home. Even more often though, the minute our loved ones pass away, they leave a lesson for us to learn while we journey through our grief over their loss.

I’ve learned this lesson through my journey through grief for Cora. In fact, I’ve learned so many lessons from her death that some days I feel as though I know everything and nothing can surprise me.

Not today.

In September, a few days after Dana passed away, I woke up in the middle of the night with a strong urge to look at the photos I’d taken of her. I returned to sleep, but first thing in the morning, I sat down and pulled up her photos. I sat there, staring at her beautiful face and knowing that her family was just beginning to feel the all-consuming emptiness that grief fills us up with when the most important people in our lives pass away and someone or something whispered to me that the photos would be needed. Not just the photos she had chosen, but ALL of the photos I’d taken at her session. I gathered them all up, copied them to my desktop, and left them alone. I knew they would surface again.

A few days ago, Dana’s husband contacted me through Facebook and introduced himself. He explained who he was and asked if I had any more of the photos that I’d taken from our session together in 2010. I, of course, immediately felt that tug in my belly that, of late, lets me know my intuition is sharply honed, and I knew that it was probably Dana who had let me know I’d need the pics eventually. So, I sat down and imported her entire shoot into Lightroom and edited all of the pics that I had left untouched since her session. It took me all day and I had to periodically walk away from my computer because I couldn’t see her through my mask of tears.

I wasn’t crying for her. She is in the most amazing place, feeling a love that is all-consuming and all-knowing. I was crying for all of the people left behind who have to stay the course of loss and have to weather the turbulent sea of grief. The ones who haven’t died (like I did at the end of my grief journey) and had a Near Death Experience to set their hearts at ease and put them in constant touch with their deceased loved ones. The pain of that loss is so unbearable if you don’t experience the miracle of being able to reach out and feel your dearly departeds all around you.

I wept for them. For their pain. For their loss. For the uphill battle with grief that they are engaged in right now. I know that pain. I know that loss. I’ve been through that battle. And it sucks ass crackers of epic proportions.

But even through feeling all of the feelings, something else shone through for me – something profound and uplifting and beautiful. My job allows me to capture the essence of people and preserve it, for the rest of time. My easy relationships with clients allow me to catch all that is THEM and keep it frozen in time. And, best of all, when something tragic happens and one of these amazing people I am privileged to work with passes away, I can help their loved ones through their grief by giving them a huge piece of that person’s essence in a simple photograph.

A simple photograph.

How amazing is that? How blessed am I to do what I love and be able to help people at the same time!

Like I said, I am feeling all the feelings today, but mostly, I feel grounded and content and amazingly blessed to be able to help people- in any way I can – to get through their journey, whatever it may be.

Today is my last day in my 30’s and I could not have asked for a better lesson, better learning experience, better opportunity to learn and grow a little more.

RIP Dana Ranger and thank you, so much, for the lesson today. 🙂untitled-23

One love ya’ll. One love.