Chester State Park is has trails, a play ground, kayak rentals and rentable buildings for events. I visited by myself with camera in hand to get out into nature and find some peace. This is my version of meditation. Many call it "Forest Bathing" and it's been proven as a way to destress, especially for those of us who work in front of a computer all day. Read this article about how Forest Bathing can be a way to find peace. I hope just looking at these pictures inspires you to get outside and enjoy nature.
1. Take pictures of each child individually in their costumes.
You know how kids love to show off their creations, so let them! They can be the "shining star" in each of these pictures. Make sure you have great lighting and a Halloween-esque background.
Note: Not every child will enjoy this part....especially if it's not moving quickly enough right before trick or treating.
2. Get the Groups!
If anyone matches then they need a group picture. Everyone who is dressed up should get in a group picture. Then I like to get each family, just the cousins, and just the siblings. Each grouping is important to represent!
3. Get the pull back images.
Show what some of the houses looked like and how the kids walked or skipped up to ask for treats. Group pictures in front of some fun and scary houses can be a favorite!
4. Get the details.
It's so easy to forget to get the details like candy, facial expressions, and silly moments. Sometimes getting down to their physical level makes it a little easier to remember to get the details and see things from their perspective.
5. Don't forget to get in the picture too.
Hand your camera over to someone...I know it's hard! You may not want to be in front of the camera, but your kids are going to want to see pictures of you in the future. Give them the gift of showing up in pictures so they have something to hold on to with you in it.
I have lived in Rock Hill for the past 4 years, but I'm not sure why I have never made it to Waxhaw for a little day trip! I finally made the 40 minute drive because I was meeting another photographer there who is helping me with the transition from my Nikon DSLR to my Fujifilm mirrorless camera. More about that in another post. If you need a very talented photographer for a wedding or for engagement pictures I highly suggest hiring Alayna Waggoner because she is awesome in every single way!
We met at Provisions, which is a fresh local food market and restaurant, right in the downtown area. I had the crab cake sandwich and tomato basil soup. It was fantastic! If you want to eat fresh and healthy food this is the place to be.
After our lunch Alayna was nice enough to show me around the downtown area a little and we enjoyed some shooting time together. We reminisced about how we miss our friend and fellow photog Melissa Butler, who is another amazing photographer, who moved to Lafayette, Louisiana. I am very lucky to be surrounded by others in the same business who are great friends and choose to build each other up. The photography world can get very competitive, but we are all stronger when we band together.
I said goodbye to my new friend, Alayna, after our trip into the antique shop. She just recently purchased a home and had a long list of home improvement projects she needed to get back to. I loved hearing about all of the cool and fun projects and we made our way through Waxhaw. I decided since I was on spring break to make the most of my trip and continue on my journey discovering each store that ran parallel to the train track. (I will be bringing my kids to Waxhaw at some point since my son LOVES trains).
The next store I toured into was "Sassy n Classy" and the owner Pat Beatrice greeted me with a big smile. Pat was so welcoming and we got talking. I learned that she has been the store owner for 8 years and has been selling beads and making jewelry for over 18 years. She has 11 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild. I could not believe what a hip and young-looking grandmother she was! Her positive energy and stories about her family made me feel like we were old friends. I enjoyed our lively conversation and she acquiesced to my request to take a few pictures of her and her store with my new camera, even though I'm not completely confident with it yet. It was such a fun experience trying on hats with Pat and I even got in some of the pictures because there was a fabulous mirror near the natural lighting in the front of the store! If you make it down to see Pat at "Sassy n Classy" please tell her I sent you there to get a hat for the derby. I bought a perfect hat for the beach since I was heading there this week too!
Photography tip: If you are taking pictures inside a location, try to find the light by getting next to windows that allow for diffused natural lighting.
My next stop was the Waxhaw Creamery, of course! My son has a peanut allergy, so since I didn't have him with me I went directly for the peanut butter chocolate icecream. It was soooooooo good!!!! I met another friendly soul who had her two children with her. We decided we would plan a play date at some point since we had so much in common (both Biology majors and teachers) and our children are close to the same ages. I'm excited to have my kids meet her kids soon!
After this I spotted a beautiful memorial and stopped to honor our veterans at the Military Wall of Honor. My husband serves for the Air National Guard, so this was important to me. A HUGE thank you to all those who have served!
I popped into a few more cute stores and enjoyed browsing all the unique gifts, furniture, and home decor items.
Photography tip: If you're shooting in manual mode make sure you have your light meter dialed to close to zero for good exposure. The easiest way to do this is by adjusting shutter speed.
This is one of the toughest questions to answer because a lot of it depends on how you plan to use your camera. If you are like me, your main reason to pick up your camera is because you want beautiful pictures of your kids and/or pets, or you need solid images for your business/social media page/ blog, or to simply create art.
If you have no experience with a DSLR camera I would suggest starting with a Nikon D3000, D5000, or D7000 series camera or a Canon EOS Rebel series. The pricing is not going to hit your wallet too bad, yet you will get wonderful images if you learn how to take control of it. (This means you should learn how to use your camera in manual mode.) These are also very good cameras to learn on because you can "grow" into them. At a certain point you might end up needing the next step up, but you will know once you get to that point.
Below are a couple of great resources that will help make your best camera choice. I highly suggest always reading online reviews before purchasing a camera. I personally own a Nikon D5000 (I learned on this one) and a Nikon D5500. I like the D5500 because it is small and lightweight compared to other DSLRs and there is a WiFi option. I also like that I can easily capture my daughter flying through the air like a super hero with this camera as well....see picture above! ;)
A guide to DSLR cameras: https://www.reviews.com/digital-camera/dslr/
A guide to digital cameras: https://www.reviews.com/digital-camera/
No parent should ever have to go through the unbearable pain and suffering of stillbirth. But it happens. Every single day. Seven years ago today I found out that my first child, Aiden, no longer had a heart beat. I was 24 weeks along into a happy and healthy pregnancy. My husband and I were devastated when the doctor said he was sorry that there was no heartbeat. We went home and cried a bucketful of tears. I hoped and prayed that the machines were all wrong and I would miraculously give birth to a crying baby. My wishes did not come true. The next day was the longest in my life. We had to go to the hospital so I could be induced.
I will not go through the whole story, because honestly, it just takes too much out of me. However, I want every parent who is going through this right now, or who has gone through this to know something. You are not alone. You will survive. You will pick up the broken pieces of your heart and create a new one. One thing will stay the same from this point on though. Your heart will always hold a piece of your child or children that died. You will never be the same again, nor should you be. You will be more. More compassionate. More understanding. You will not be afraid to sit with another who has a bleeding heart full of grief. You will love more deeply and dance more freely. You will care less about materialistic things and more about time with loved ones. But all this will not come easily or quickly. You will have very difficult days. And many hours will be spent feeling a mess of emotions. Of course, we would all give anything to have our children back on Earth with us, no matter how "more" we become.
When I first lost Aiden I did not believe any of what is in the previous paragraph. I thought I was broken and could never be put back together. I felt an emptiness like nothing I imagined was possible. Others would look at me with pitiful eyes and not know what to say. I certainly did not know what to say either. There are no words during this time in your life....there are only tears.
I remember the months after we lost Aiden, I just wished I could transport myself to years from that time. I thought time alone would heal my wounds. I found out that it is not just time that helps. I needed to process my thoughts and feelings in order to heal. I am writing this blog in hopes it will help others in the same place I was 7 years ago today.
Below is a list of the tools I used to help me cope with my deep rooted grief. These are not in any particular order. You will want to use the healing tools that are right for you. Not all of these work for everyone.
1. Writing in a Journal
This included writing notes to my son Aiden. I would write down all my hopes for him. I would write how much I missed him and what we would be doing right now if he were here. I would write my feelings about the grief and trying to see the world as beautiful again and how tough that was in the permanence of his absence.
2. Yoga and Meditation
Focusing on my breathing helped decrease my anxiety. This especially helped when I was pregnant again and desperately overwhelmed about the thought of losing another baby. I listened to peaceful songs during this time that would help decrease the anxious thoughts.
3. Going to a Counselor
This helped me to process all that had happened. The counselor was not judgmental and would just let me talk about my feelings. I spoke about the good, bad and ugly parts of my life at that time.
4. Choosing an Artistic Outlet
This was photography for me. But it is different for everyone. Here are some other ideas: painting, dancing, singing, drawing, pottery, jewelry making, wood working, knitting, cooking, etc. Just do something that gives you peace, even if that peace only lasts for a few minutes.
Speaking to God can be healing. Every religion has some form of prayer because it is good for the soul. Even if you're not religious, you can use spiritual thoughts or just talk out loud.
6. Grief Group Meetings
These can be found at local bereavement organizations, churches and sometimes hospitals. Search your area for these and ask around. Sometimes they can be difficult to find, but I assure you they exist. Our society is really good at covering up grief. Being in a bereavement group will make you feel less alone.
7. Honoring Your Child/ren
My family bought a brick with Aiden's name that was placed at a butterfly garden that we can visit. We celebrate his angelversary every year by bringing our loved ones together for a small ceremony and dinner. We have a shelf in our home that has important items that make us think of him. We light candles in his name. We donate gifts to the Children's hospital to honor his memory. We talk about him often so that our living children know about him and he is never forgotten.
Take time and let yourself cry. I could not believe the amount of tears a human could produce until I lost Aiden. Crying releases good chemicals in your brain and provides an outlet for your feelings.
9. Talk About It
Talking about your feelings to those who are supportive can be beneficial. Make sure you let them know that you are not looking for them to fix anything. You just need them to listen, hug you, and maybe even cry with you. There are some people who are not good listeners and just want to "fix" you. Try to avoid talking about your feelings to these people. They mean well, but you will feel worse after talking to them about your difficulties.
10. Don't be Afraid to Ask for Help
I went back to work fairly quickly after February 7, 2011. I didn't know what else to do. Luckily, I had a very supportive team at work that were great friends and took over when I needed a break. I asked for help when I needed it and everyone was more than happy to help. If you need to take more time off from work then do it. You are entitled to maternity/paternity leave (if your company offers maternity/paternity leave) and if your employer gives you a hard time then do your research about the Family Medical Leave Act.
There are many more ideas and tools you can use to help you through your grief. These are just a few things I did. My only other suggestion is to feel it. Do not hide from it. Do not distract yourself from it. Any time I did these things I did not heal. I felt worse once I came back to feeling the grief. think of it like going to the gym. If you don't go to the gym for a while you are very sore once you go back. Healing from your grief can be like lifting weights. You build a tolerance over time. If you stop working on it then it hurts more later.
Please do not get the impression that I am "over" my son's death. That is not possible and could not be further from the truth. It is a part of my life and I have made room for it. I still cry, I still need a creative outlet, and I still need to talk about him. However, I know that if I did not use these tools to help me deal with my overwhelming grief I would be in a different place in my life. I actually might not be here at all. Seek help when you need it. My heart is with you during this difficult time!
My family and I have lived in Rock Hill for almost 4 years now. We love it here. From the Children's Museums, to the Museum of York County, to Glencairn Gardens, to Old Town (downtown Rock Hill), to all the random playgrounds spread throughout the area; we always have something to do with the kids. So we thought that we had found all the fun spots that are cheap or free because we like to save money and still be entertained. We had no idea there was a fantastic playground complete with walking trails, camping areas, and access to the river close to where we live!
I forget exactly how I came upon this gem, but Westminster Park is the little known park I am writing about. It is located at 3916 India Hook Rd, Rock Hill, SC 29732. If you already knew about this park then awesome, but I was clueless that it existed! It is basically at the end of India Hook road, so if you think you drove past it you probably did not. It will be on your right. Once you turn into the park you will be on a long dirt road that will take you to the playground, which is right next to the soccer fields. There are also walking trails, but I did not get any images of those today.
I took my Nikon D5500 camera and 35mm 1.8 lens with me on our little adventure. It is nice and light-weight compared to other DSLR cameras, so it's easy to carry when playing on the playground with my kids. I try not to ask them to smile at me or look at me. I always get fake smiles when that happens. The point of taking my camera with me is to capture these fleeting moments in the way they occurred. I played with them, told them jokes, made silly faces and engaged them all while trying not to hit my head on the playground equipment!
One little warning though. I always go to this park with either my husband or friends because it is desolate and nobody ever seems to be there. I don't think anything bad has ever happened there, but I am just extra cautious when it comes to my surroundings. It is open from dawn until dusk.
Photography Tip: Use shutter priority mode when on the playground. Your children will be moving fast so you want to capture that motion. You will want your shutter around 1/500 if they are moving fast (sliding, running, etc). You should have it at least at 1/125 if they are standing still, sitting in one spot, etc. I kept mine at 1/500 because my kids were moving A LOT. I had my ISO on 200 because it was very sunny so I could decrease it pretty low. Shutter priority allows your camera to choose the aperture depending on light. So each picture I took had a slightly different aperture.
If you want to learn more about how to use your camera to capture special moments of your family please check out the upcoming classes I have available in Rock Hill, SC. Click Here for more info.
I've been meaning to do this. It seemed simple. Choose 12 images, one from each month, that were my favorites from 2017. Maybe you share my pain and have tried something similar. How is it possible to choose 12 out of thousands of pictures that I have taken and edited to be my favorite? (Note: There may or may not be more than 12 pictures here, don't bother counting. ;) I knew this was going to be a time consuming task, but I didn't realize that I was actually going to enjoy it. Reflecting on this past year. How much the kids have grown, the new schools, the potty training highs and lows, the family vacations, the tears and smiles, the birthday parties full of energy, the stages they go through (trains to dinosaurs and princesses to heroes), the dinner table negotiations, the million hugs and kisses, the hundreds of books read at bedtime (usually the same ones over and over), the endless love. It's easy to get so busy and overwhelmed and not have the time to reflect and recognize the amazing blessings we live with. I know I need to do this more often!
This is not typical of me, but sometimes I just don't take my DSLR Nikon D5500 camera with me to fun experiences. I feel like it can be a little daunting knowing I have to keep it around my neck, then come home and transfer all the RAW files to edit in Lightroom. Not that I don't love it, but I need a break from it sometimes. So in comes my new iPhone 8, which I recently had to upgrade to for more storage capabilities, and I decided those pictures would be good enough for this trip. I'm actually really glad I did, because I was pleasantly surprised at the images I captured and then edited directly on my phone with the Fotor app. It was a simple and faster way of getting those images into Facebook and sharing.
We decided to brave the cold on Sunday, December 10th when it was a chilly 35 degrees to get some fun in at Carowind's new Winterfest in Charlotte, NC. We dressed warm and brought those "hot hands" warmers with us, so it wasn't too bad walking around with it being so frigid. Since we are Gold Pass members, Winterfest was included for us, but you can find out more ticket information at www.carowinds.com/play/winterfest. I was amazed and nostalgic as my family and I perused the beautiful display of lights, watched the singing and dancing Christmas entertainment, rode some of the rides that were still running, and visited the BEST SANTA EVER! I asked both my kids (3 and 5 years old) what they liked best. T said he liked the Santa and L said she liked the lights. My personal favorite was that the lights were synchronized with the music throughout parts of the park.
If you weren't sure Winterfest was worth the trip, I would say that it is. However, we went on a Sunday night when it was cold with less crowds. I always appreciate having more space and less crowds to enjoy a fun experience. I suggest trying to go on a Sunday night if possible. If you end up buying a season pass for 2018, then you can get your trip to Winterfest included in the season ticket price. Feel free to share your experience in the comments if you end up going.
Photography Tips: If you are using an iPhone to photograph a night time experience with Christmas lights be sure to use the tap and drag option for exposure. All you have to do is press your finger on the image for a few seconds. A little sun will pop up. Touch the sun and move it up and down for a change in exposure.
If you are bringing your DSLR camera make sure you increase your ISO in darkened situations. Do not use your flash! You should shoot in manual mode to give you full control of your camera. If you do not know how to use manual mode yet you are missing out on all the beautiful images you could create with your camera. If you want to learn how to take full control of your camera in 2 hours take my Introductory Photography Class. I will teach you how to go from auto mode to manual mode and you will be amazed what your camera is capable of when used in manual! Click here if you are interested in getting better photos with your DSLR camera.
One of the events I look forward to each year in Rock Hill is the downtown area being transformed into a winter wonderland, despite the lack of snow. Being originally from Syracuse, NY (usually wins the prize for snowiest city in the nation) I'm much happier with the fake snow they provide at this event....I don't have to shovel it! The amount of time and coordination for an event like Christmasville must take hundreds of elves along with the magical leadership of Mrs. Claus and Santa. There are a TON of activities going on all weekend long from Thursday-Sunday. This includes cookie decorating workshops (I'll have to try this next year as I ALWAYS burn my cookies), Tea time with Mrs. Claus, the Children's Museum Celebration, a Fezziwig Ball, Horse Drawn Carriage Rides, Santa's Toy Workshop, Train Rides, Trolley Tours, Pony Rides, Window Exhibit contests, a ton of street entertainers, book stories with The Grinch, and so much more. If you want to know more so you can plan your trip here for the 2018 year take a look at www.christmasvillerockhill.com for a list of the events.
Both my 3 year old son and 5 year old daughter had an AMAZING time at Christmasville. I brought my Nikon D5500 and iphone 8 with me to capture each moment as we enjoyed our little town turning into the North Pole. You can see our adventures in the images above. If you aren't sure you should attend this next year, just go and you won't be disappointed. You do not need to spend any money as the event is FREE, but there are fees to ride the carnival rides and ice skating rink. There is a huge tent you can walk though to buy local products as gifts and Amelie's Cafe was open for the most mouth watering eclairs! There are also a lot of food tents if you come very hungry. I actually wish I got more pictures, but there is so much going on that it's really hard to capture it all!
Photography Tip: Use an aperture of 2.8f or less when you want bokeh (blurred background) in a portrait. Most of the street characters I took pictures of as I strode through main street had bokeh because of the aperture I was using. If you want an image of the street and more of your image in focus you should choose a higher aperture. Remember when you are at an event with your family to not only take pictures, but also enjoy the experience. If you aren't getting the images you visualize don't get frustrated. Every time you press the shutter you are learning more about how your camera works. If you are using your camera in auto then you are not taking control of you camera. If you want more control and less frustration, take my Introductory Photography Class that I offer. Click here for more info.
We enjoyed our time at the October Autumn Farm Festival at Black's Peaches Farm, 1800 Black Hwy in York, SC. If you want to visit a quaint farm with your family that is not too far from Charlotte this is the place! They are not only a farm, but have a bakery and eatery inside as well. Want perfectly fresh apple cider? You need to get there!
Black's Peaches had Fall Fest going on when we visited and it was a good ole' time! There were a ton of activities and outside fun to be had. They had farm animals (pigs, goats, donkeys), an educational area all about corn, hay bails painted with characters, a hay ride through the field and woods, multiple slides, a pretend cow milking area, a tractor for photo opportunities, a picnic area, a house made from hay with games inside, a maze where you could not lose your children, a sunflower field, and the store where you could buy food and drinks. Plus, it was not crazy busy like many of these festivals can be sometimes. It was a perfect day!
Photography Tip: Always keep checking your light meter if you are using manual mode. If the light meter shows you are too far to the left or right from zero your pictures may be too dark or too bright. You can correct this by changing your shutter speed or aperture or ISO. I typically change shutter speed the most. That doesn't mean you can't use those images though. Once you get your SD card home use a free editing website like picmonkey.com or fotor.com to brighten or darken those images that you still want to keep. You can do so much more than only adjust exposure though. You can add color, turn pictures black and white, add clarity, change contrast and more. Have fun with it and try something creative! I personally use Lightroom, but that is certainly not the only option out there.
Larisa is a natural light photographer and teacher in the Rock Hill, SC and Charlotte, NC area.