Dear Soon To Be Graduates,

I am so excited for you! You’re getting ready to graduate and it’s clear that you have a bright future on the horizon! Everything is so new and exciting and you’re about to start the journey into “adulthood”…but I want to give you some unsolicited (and significantly condensed) advice….PLEASE don’t waste your 20’s.

School is winding towards the end of the year and over the course of the year(s), I had been invited into classrooms to speak with students in photography clubs as well as future business leaders of america clubs (FBLA) about such topics as starting a business and tips/tricks/advice I’ve gathered along the way. I’m still humbled to even be asked because it wasn’t that long ago (who am I kidding-I’m old, it was a LONG time ago haha) that I was in their seat and would NEVER have guessed this is where my life would have led me.

I didn’t even pick up a camera until I was in college so it’s not like I grew up in the industry, had relatives that owned businesses that I could go to and I certainly didn’t have an interest in working for myself at their age. Hell, we were always taught that you were SUPPOSED to go to college, SUPPOSED to graduate and find a REAL grown up job, work at that said job and built up a good 401K/pension and retire from said good job so that you could enjoy the rest of your golden years doing all the things you wanted to do. That was engrained into me from a young age. No where in that scenario did anyone ever encourage me to be an entrepreneur or plant the seed that it would be possible to be on my boss, be able to build up my OWN retirement doing something I love and be able to do all those things I love BEFORE I retired-I didn’t have to wait to enjoy life in the way I wanted.

Did I mention that after you got your REAL job, you were supposed to get married, find a house and buy a car? Not just any house or car, but the BEST ones you could afford so that you could prove to your peers that you had “made it”.  “Look at Johny over there, he just bought a gorgeous home and drives an expensive car, he must have done really well for himself”. WRONG! In most cases, Johny is working at a job he probably doesn’t love, to pay for the things we were supposed to buy that he probably couldn’t afford, so that he could impress people that didn’t really matter. Do you see where I’m going with this. This has become the cycle most of American employees fall into. Get a job that makes good money, but then live outside of their means so they end up having to work work work to pay for the things. They get burnt out of their jobs and complain their job doesn’t pay enough all the while wishing they could be traveling, etc…..but we’re told THAT stuff has to wait until retirement. I hear so often “when I retire, I am going to travel with my wife/husband”…..why? Why do you have to wait until you retire?

This is a lesson I learned VERY early in my life. Maybe it was because my Mom had to (out of necessity) stretch a dollar further than a dollar could possibly be stretched. She did it though-at one point raising 2 kids on less than $12K a year. We were below the poverty line. My parents had me at a very young age which ultimately set them up for a much tougher life than those who had gone to college. My mom had to drop out of the 9th grade….ninth grade because of me. Rather than going the other route of adoption or even worse-abortion-they chose to raise  a child…a child raising a child in a sense.

Needless to say, growing up, we didn’t have the best of things. I didn’t have name brand clothes-and if I did it was because they were hand me downs, if you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time you know that early on for some of the holidays, we would stand in line at local churches to take advantage of the Toys for Tot’s program. I remember very distinctly the smell of motor oil as my parents tore apart carburetors on the newspaper covered kitchen table in order to collect the copper to turn in for scrap-every little bit helped. I lived in rat infested trailers, drove crappy cars-especially that blue Subaru, good LAWD that car was embarrassing and for a short while was on government assistance. I never knew how poor we were, I had nothing to compare it to until I started going to over to my friend’s houses. I think that’s around the time I started to observe a little more. I would pick up on conversations that had to do with money-or the lack thereof and how my mom would stretch a buck. I knew on the nights we had boneless, skinless chicken breasts it was a day that one of them got paid.

I knew that sometimes as I stood in front of the classrooms and talked about my story, my business and the struggles along the way, some of those students could relate on the same level and others could not. I could tell that when I looked into the crowd which students were listening intensively because they could see themselves in me and that they knew that just because of where they come from…didn’t mean it had to determine where they were going. I wish someone would have told me that back then. I wished someone would have given me permission to consider being a business owner but when you are the first to graduate high school AND go on to graduate college, there wasn’t anyone there to plant the seed because no one had given them seeds to plant. It’s a cycle as I like to call it-people think they are destined to live a certain life because of where they come from/who they come from. I knew there was something more……..I believed there was something more.

Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed anything. I think the way in which I grew up had a lot to do with how I view several things in my life…..especially when it comes to finances. Those close to me, know that I’ve always been fascinated in finance and socio-economics in general. I began picking up books about saving/investing/getting out of debt (total nerd!). I knew I had to do something different with my life in order to break the cycle so to speak. I’d have to get out of my comfort zone, value myself and start making good decisions. Every decision/choice you make will determine the quality of the life you will live. Sit and think about it…we all know people who are happy all the time and on the opposite end of the spectrum are the debby downers of life. When you compare their attitudes on life to the quality of their life, there is often a correlation. The majority of time, those that are bitter with life have made some very terrible decisions/choices along the way that got them there. We control our own destiny and as cheesy as that sounds-it’s the truth. That cigarette you’re smoking is a choice, that credit card you’re racking up is a choice,  the excuses you come up with because it’s easier than thinking of a creative solution-is a choice. YOU made the choices, you created/can create your life.

I learned that lesson very early in life and started making GOOD choices in my twenties. People like to say that the most important part of your life is in your 30’s or 40’s after you have established a career and started a family…I would beg to differ. For me, the most important part of my life was my 20’s. It’s what creates the foundation for the rest of your life in my opinion. Some of us squander away our twenties because YOLO right?

We took this photo the day we walked into the bank to pay off our mortgage.

My twenties consisted of working-sometimes 3 jobs at a time, building a business while simultaneously putting money away for retirement AND raising a family. Now don’t get me wrong, I TOTALLY had fun in my 20’s…we traveled, we went out just like everyone else, but I chose to do those things AFTER making sure the other things were taken care of first.  By the age of 33, I had paid off my student loans, had zero credit cards, paid off my house, had zero car payments, saved for retirement and started a business while being 100% debt free….because I didn’t waste my 20’s.  While everyone else in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s are trying to get things paid off/get out of debt, we’re already there. I did this all while being a business owner….if I had listened to what I was SUPPOSED to do, I’d probably be in debt. Things that some people are waiting to do when they retire ..we are able to do now. We weren’t “lucky”, we didn’t get a windfall, win the lottery or even receive an inheritance…it was blood, sweat, tears…and recognizing that our 20’s was when we had to lay the foundation for the rest of our lives because I valued myself enough to know that I was worth it.

You are not where you come from, make good choices, work your butt off in your twenties and invest some of your hard earned money and YES..it’s perfectly acceptable to not go work for someone else if that’s what you choose. You don’t have to be rich..you just have to be smart! Work hard now….play hard later! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD-DON’T WASTE YOUR 20’S.

I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my own daughter each time she goes off somewhere with her friends…..”make good choices!”. <3

 

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Sometimes, I start writing blog posts with the intention of coming back to them later and finishing them….this is one of those blog posts. I started putting it together mid December and then got swamped with holiday shoots and you know….a baby! haha! Speaking of baby, these photos were taken by my awesome second shooter Amanda Wilson during the very first wedding I shot after having a c-section. Three weeks post-surgery and I was back at it again. I brought Amanda along with Greg and I just in-case I needed to take a break and I’m so thankful she was there…..especially because she snagged some behind the scenes shots for me.

Here are the links to the wedding we shot that day:
Getting Ready + First Look
Ceremony + Reception

behind the scenesUs photographers….we don’t just snap the photos- we’re the drink fetcher, the family wrangler and the dress holder/carrier! HAHA

behind the scenes

I have to be honest…during this wedding one of my nightmares came true. I am SO SO SO thankful Amanda was there. I had zero problems shooting after a c-section, but I did have a reaction to some medication that I had to start taking after having to go off of it during my pregnancy. My stomach was not having it that day and I had to sneak off several times after feeling sick. We didn’t miss a single beat….that’s how we roll! haha! behind the scenes behind the scenesApparently, I love to boss people around….I have no idea what I’m saying here but I think I’m trying to show them where to stand!

behind the scenes behind the scenesSee….I really am a Ninja! haha! I’m going to try to make a point to share more behind the scene images from when we’re out shooting….lord knows I don’t have a shortage of them. Greg takes lots of embarrassing photos of me while I’m working on purpose. He has impeccable timing….it’s always RIGGGGGHT as I was taking a bite, or mid sentence where my mouth is all crooked, I’m bent over to pick something up! This year….i.will.get.revenge! MUAHH A HA HA!

 

PA is so wierd. One day it’s 50 degrees and feels like spring, the next it’s bitter cold and then BOOM just like that the temperature drops just enough to get those nice big fluffy snow flakes. The kind that lay heavy on the trees limbs and make it so quiet….except for when you’re walking and can hear the crunch of the snow and snow falling off the branches near by. THAT kind of snow! I had been wanting it to snow forever and since this winter has been so wierd, he hadn’t had any “pretty” winter days yet this year-at least around here! So imagine my excitement when I wake up and look out side and see that FINALLLLLLY the weather men/women weren’t talking out of their bum AND people didn’t run to the store for bread and milk for nothing! haha!

Any ways….this is Morgan! She should look familiar because I shot her senior photos earlier this year! She’ssssss back! Not only did she get ready with less than a 2 hour notice, she willingly stayed out in the cold so that we could get these shots in our secret location -otherwise known as private property! haha

Let’s talk about how gorgeous her eyes are! I love that her scarf is literally the same shade as the trees….totally unplanned.

WHOOPS!

Oh HAYYYYY!!

I love love love this shot! <3

I’m SO HAPPY we got to shoot these while we did…..it was starting to melt and I knew that after a few gusts of wind, the snow wouldn’t lay pretty on the branches anymore!

No fake overlays here…..that’s real snow!

I love the contrast in this image.

I have been so very fortunate this past year to have some amazing seniors. I can NOT wait to see who I get to work with next year!

He’s 6 months already! WHAT?!  Time has gone so fast and I have been making a conscious effort to document the every day life moments. The moments where the house is a mess and the lighting may not be right …but ya know what-it’s real life. I don’t want to forget any of these moments, even the mundane ones. He’s my baby in the literal sense…my last pregnancy so I want to savor it.

He doesn’t do much yet, he lays around, eats a lot, jibber jabbers and is getting the hang of sitting up on his own. He knows his routine and it’s really cute at bed time to watch him get excited as we carry him up the stairs because he knows he gets to go to bed. <–I know that won’t last long.

He’s my little buddy and because he spends a lot of time with me in the studio while editing, etc, he should know a ton of photography terminology when he can talk. If his first words are color saturation or white balance-I wouldn’t be surprised! haha!

So here ya have it, a few photos of the behind the scenes of Levi…messy house and all!

He’s at the stage where if he is laying in his pack and play and sees us walking by, we wants to be part of the action. He’s content until he sees one of us and then all he wants is out!

He loves sweet potatoes!  He’s a messy eater but we get the job done! haha!

Did I mention…he’s getting the hang of holding on to his bottle on his own. That means, I get my hand back! haha!

Twinsies!! Although at this point, Levi has more hair than Greg!

Airplane with Dad. This was one of the lucky times he didn’t puke on his face!

Sometimes he’s not happy…but for the most part, he is such a happy content baby. But in an effort to keep it real…..here’s a crying photo! 🙂

Tummy time is not his favorite…which makes me think crawling isn’t in the close future. I’m ok with that because we leave for the beach in a few weeks and I secretly don’t want him to get any more mobile until we get back from out of the sand.

And…everything goes right in the mouth. By the way, do you love my couch pillows?!

He’s big enough to touch his feet to the bottom even with it moved up all the way. It’s so crazy to me that a month or so ago he couldn’t reach.

This thing has been a hit ever since Dad brought it home. Although it’s meant to bounce, he hasn’t gotten the hang of that just yet, he basically just sits in it and swings back and forth. Whatever…it keeps him occupied long enough to go to the bathroom! haha! Look at those little chicken legs…..he  gets’ that from his father….there isn’t any thing “chicken” about mine-that’s for sure! haha!

She told me after the shoot that she didn’t contact me at first because she figured I’d be booked up for years…..it wasn’t until Cory and her family urged her to reach out “just to see” if I would happen to still be available. She told me she got my email telling her that yes, I was in fact, available while she was shopping at mall and she stopped in her tracks and squealed! <3 <3

Meet Michealene and, her soon to be, hubby Cory! They have very cool story! They’re both veterinarians who met in the Caribbean while attending vet school. Cory is a southern boy and she’s a Pittsburgh girl. He loves all things horses and she loves glitter and sparkly things.

They are tying the knot at the Pittsburgh Field Club in Fox Chapel in September….and I.can.not.wait!

 

 Tell us the whole story…how did ya’all meet? <—in my southern voice! tee hehe!
“We met in 2010 in St. Kitts while attending vet school at Ross University. I was good at Anatomy and Parasitology, he was not, and he was good at Physiology and Pharmacology, I was not, so we formed a little study group and helped each other out! He was my friend’s friend, so I felt that I could act like my weirdo self around him, just like I did around my good friends, and somehow through all my weirdness and overly strange ways that I taught him to remember things for tests, he got a crush on me?!?”- Michealene

Who said “I love you” first?
“He did only about a month after dating! Actually he said it before we were dating, but I don’t count that one ! He liked me a long time before we started dating!”- Michealene What are some of your favorite hobbies?
“Cory’s all time hobby is horseback riding and I enjoy it too, although I’m in the learning phases. We work so much it’s hard to say we have a hobby nowadays other than relaxing on the couch together and watching tv. Haha. But we do both enjoy getting to spend time with our friends from both near and far when we get time off of work! “-Michealene What do you think is unique about the two of you as a couple?
“We are completely opposite!! I’m sure a lot of people say this, but we’re like..hmm…like, I would marry cheese I love it so much and he hates it kind of opposite. But we never fight or argue about our different opinions. Somehow through the wedding planning process and house hunting process, we’ve agreed on absolutely everything.”- Michaelene Tell us a funny story about the two of you.
“The first time Cory brought me to VA to meet his entire family we went to a fast food place that you stand at the window outside to order. There were a lot of people in line and when we got up to the window he began ordering. When it was my turn he turned to look at me and couldn’t find me. Why? Because I wore a pair of wedge heels and somehow while standing perfectly still twisted my ankle, lost my balance and fell perfectly on my back in front of everyone without making a sound!! HE was so embarrassed but all I could do was lay there and laugh! His family still brings it up every once in a while!”-Michealene Things each of you couldn’t live without?
Cory:  his recliner chair and family.
Michaelene: cheese, leggings and sleep! Tell us some random facts about yourselves:
Cory secretly wants to learn how to waltz. he’s the only person I know whose favorite food is meatloaf and orders it at every restaurant he can find it. He’s only had hair for 13 years of his life…… didn’t grow in until he was 3 and started losing it when he was 17.

Michealene used to teach ballroom dancing (She tried teaching him to waltz ONCE but he fell on top of her and dislocated my knee cap….). She is really am drawn to anything that glitters and sparkles, like a bug to a lamp, and once said if they made real glitter tattoos, she’d get her whole body done! She often times remember people’s dogs names better than their peoples names..oops. You guys…..that cowboy hat!!! It’s legit! <3 Where do you see yourselves in 20 years?
” Hopefully it’ll be the exact same. He’ll be sitting in his recliner watching the news while I’m up dancing in front of the TV to see how long until he picks me up and puts me in a wrestling move and then we laugh until it hurts. “- Michaelene

 

 

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