Christmas is coming! -- The 2017 Holiday Gift Guide 🎄

Welcome to the absolute best month of the year-- DECEMBER! December is a month chock full of so so many things that I absolutely love. My birthday is in December. Christmas is in December. We get to travel home to North Carolina and see mountains in December. Sweaters, hot beverages, gifting and baking are hallmarks of the season and y'all-- it's just my absolute favorite. 

To commemorate this wonderful season of goodness + gifty-ness I thought I'd bring back the gift guide! Last year I put together this guide that I am so so proud of to this day and it's BACK! Here are some of my favorite gifts that I'll definitely be giving this season, broken down by category with easy links so you can shop until your heart is content!

All the gift wrap featured in those post is by the amazingly talented Antiquaria Design!

Gifts for clients!

This is the first year that I've had to think about presents for clients and honestly it felt a bit like uncharted territory at first. When searching I was reminded of my favorite gifts I've ever been given by people I've worked with-- a small plant for my desk, a nice candle to burn while I relax and a notebook. That's how I started my search for the perfect client Christmas goodies and I found some really great things all for under $40 each. 

Customizable Notebooks by May Designs
Holiday Jam Sampler by Confituras
Reclaimed Wooden Tray from Love Ding by Infinite Abyss!
Cactus Business Card Wallet by All of the Abovely
Eucalyptus + Peppermint Bath Scrub by Little Batch Co

Gifts for yourself! 

I mentioned before that December is my favorite because it's my double whammy month-- I get Christmas and my birthday. Historically I get so overwhelmed with shopping for everyone else that when family or friends ask what I might want to be gifted I have no earthly idea. So in the spirit of that I began to compile a few gifts that I might want to for myself. This year was simple -- I wanted a leather bag, some earrings some perfume, something embroidered and, as always, a necklace from 31 Bits.  

Sacred Entry Earrings by Nina Berenato Jewelry
Women's Travel Tote by Esperos
Mystic Layers Necklace by 31 Bits
Scent Cocktail Kit by Commodity Goods
Space Case by Shop Realm

Gifts for your sister or bestie!

If you know me you know this is my absolute favorite category. I have some strong female friendships + sisterhood-ships in my life and gifting them is one of my greatest holiday joys. Every year I try to encourage + empower them with a little something. I try to buy gifts specifically from female owned + fronted businesses for them, and I try to enforce to them that they are capable of anything they might want to do. This year it seems like everyone has been able to use a dose of strength and happiness so I centered my gifts around that. 

Ecru + Matte Black Small Bracelet by Betty Alida
Classic Key Necklace by The Giving Keys
Cactus Botanical Tote Bag by Curious Prints
Rise + Grind Mug by Interlaced Goods
52 Lists of Happiness by Moorea Seal

Gifts for your significant other!

To put it bluntly: my husband is incredibly hard to shop for. That's how this whole category came about. Generally gift guides totally miss the mark on my fella. It's usually a sprinkling of mustache puns, plaid everything and quasi macho things and that's absolutely not what I wanted for my boo this year. These gifts could easily be gifted to any significant other and they are all companies that have a wide number of offerings. When I went to shop at these places there were very clear things that stood out and said 'Tucker Francis' to me and I think you'll find that true for you as well. 

Howdy Baseball Cap by Frankie Jean
Mid-century Silver Capped Glassware by Melody's Joy
Customizable Luggage Tag by Foto
Greenbelt Tee by Curious Ramblers
Dopp Kitt by Esperos
Orange + Clove Candle by Slow North

What are you gifting this year? What's on your Christmas wish list? I want to know!

+ Be on the lookout for some super fun Christmas giveaways this week. It's going to be a blast! 

Monday Funday!

Photo by Ideology Photography

Photo by Ideology Photography

Photo by Ideology Photography

Photo by Ideology Photography

For a while now I've been trying to develop a little catch all for the good stuff. A little catch up. I've always been a little bit reflective at the beginning of the week so we're going to try this for a while. 

What I'm Buying:

I've been doing some shopping! As you probably know, Tucker and I work on a pretty tight budget monthly. Lately fashion and dressing myself well has become really important to me. This month I spent almost my entire $186 budget on things that I feel like are going to be staples of winter wardrobe. Why $186? Because each month I get a $36 fitness + workout budget for my Y membership + $150 of fun money to spend on whatever. I'm great at referral programs (if you want to join the Austin YMCA, let me know!) and so I'm on a few months of free Y membership! 

Here's what I've purchased and what I have my eye on!

What I'm listening to: 

Well I'm glad you asked! This week I've been obsessed with a few new podcasts! I've listened to every single episode (there are only 10 and they're only about 20 minutes each!) of Do Listen Twice! It's a podcast buy This American Life of all of Mike Birbiglia's best podcast hits. It's really great if you're a comedy fan. 

I've also been a sucker for true crime this month, maybe I'm just riding all of the spooky vibes leftover from Halloween! Right now I'm listening to Up and Vanished on the recommendation of my fantastic photographer friend Laura Morsman! I'm also super into Crimetown, which is new and so good! There are only 2 episodes so start now! 

What I'm doing:

This week I've had the honor of shooting with three of my favorite human beings Writes Like a Girl, Glitter + Lazers and The Stylish Disaster! I don't shoot with bloggers a ton, but I love these girls and I fully believe in what they're doing so I'm in love with getting to hang out with them and create photos for them. I also shot a super fun feature for Selva Beat magazine's blog which I'm just absolutely dying over. Here are few of my favorite out takes from that shoot. 

What I'm scheming:

  • Financial, personal and non financial business goals for the new year.
    Last week I met with a good friend who should have a second career as a financial planner and she helped me pave a roadmap to success. I'm so so excited to sit down and make big plans for 2017 this week with all her advice in mind. This includes planning client presents, workshops + conferences, and rebranding! And of course all of my business stuff falls into my personal life: restructuring my work week, setting savings goals, and planning monthly rest breaks! 
  • Just how to expand my little corner of the internet here (this blog). 
    I love blogging. I always have. I had a Xanga in high school that I wrote on every single day. I had two Live Journals in college, one that I kept secret and wrote letters to a friend on. I've had this blog for almost three years, now. I love it and for a while I've felt sort of like it didn't fit my business model. A few weeks ago I took Maggie Gentry's OWN YOUR WHY workshop and I realized that it can fit if I want it to. So here I am, writing you love letters + letting you in on all of my secrets + not-really-secrets. 
  • Networking events in Austin. 
    Starting this past summer I began hosting invite only networking events in Austin. It is my pride and joy! I'm looking to expanding them into being monthly in 2017. If you want on an invite list, leave your email in the comments below!
  • The Holiday Gift Guide + Christmas giveaways galore. 
    Yes. Yep. You heard me right. I'm bringing the Holiday Gift Guide back. I'll be rounding up some of my favorite gifts of 2016 just in time for the Christmas shopping to start! This years catagories: Gifts for your sister/bestie, for yourself, for your significant other and for your clients! 

That's all for now, y'all! Happy Monday!

Olympic gold & why I like competition.

I've always been a huge fan of sporting events. I don't follow very many teams (except for the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Cubs) but I really enjoy watching professional athletes do what they do on a major stage. They train constantly. Their whole life revolves around their craft. Generally no one questions why they are as obsessed and invested in their careers, because somehow as a general population we understand: this is a huge opportunity and it demands your all. I understand being super invested in this way, but that is a blog for another day. 

There has been a rise in the creative community in talking about how comparison and competition is sort of a detriment to the creative process. But as someone who is absolutely invested in constantly moving forward and learning, I have to politely disagree in some cases. I know, I know... I'm causing a stir. Hear me out. It's not what you think. 

I wholeheartedly believe in competition. I believe that sometimes it is detrimental, but that sometimes it is beneficial. It's something that I haven't quite been able to rationalize because at first glance it seems to go against everything I hold dear: grace, sisterhood, forgiveness, lifting up your creative brothers and sisters, etc. But I've always known that these ideologies exist peacefully in my mind. I've always believed that some competition is healthy. Yes, I'm human, and comparison and competition get to me on occasion and breed very unproductive results. But in my time as a creative who makes money off of their work, a meager three years, I've realized that the only way I actually get better is by knowing what I'm up against. From this point I can work on making myself better and by doing so help strengthen the entire creative community. I choose to use competition as personal encouragement rather than a daunting measuring stick. 

I want to stop right here and totally denounce the kind of competition that makes you look at your fellow creative community member as your enemy. I assure you, they are not. But they may actually be better than you at a lot of things, and that might be something that you should listen to when you're ready. And I cannot stress that last part. You have to be ready to subjectively critique your work + your business practices. Okay, let's carry on. 

My breakthrough with all of this was this year at the 2016 summer olympics. Until this moment I didn't really have a physical example of team who competed both as a team and individually at the same time. Sure, in major league sports someone might be nominated as an MVP, but that's just one single player. 

The 2016 Women's Gymnastic team was made up of Laurie Hernandez, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian. They competed together as a team, and they all walked away with a gold medal. Simone Biles, as fantastically brilliant as she is, could not have won the team gold medal herself even though she got gold in everything else that she did in Rio. Laurie Hernandez, who earned a Silver medal for her Balance Beam routine, earned a gold medal with her team because of her outstanding work. She was already a fantastic olympic athlete, but she achieved a higher medal when competing with her team. And these women compete in their individual events against their gold-medal winning team mates! How is that not the most difficult form of competition? How is that not a total cop out when you're training? My only possible answer-- being around the athletes that they know are the greatest in the world pushes them to be better. Competing against those athletes and taking a silver or a bronze medal, is still a great success. The only real competing you're doing is with yourself. You drive to make yourself better. You fight to be faster and stronger and you improve yourself. 

For me, competition and comparison (even though that word makes me feel cringey), just means pushing yourself to be better because you get to be in community with some of the greatest creatives in the world. 

To sum up here's a quote from Simone Biles that I love. 

A successful competition for me is always going out there and putting 100 percent into whatever I’m doing.

In my experience it is never a mistake to align yourself with the best. Work alongside them, build them up and continue moving forward. That's how we all advance. That's how we work every day to make sure we make our better our best. 

Small Goals: November!

Photo by Ideology Photography. 

It's a new month which means I've got new goals in mind! After the absolute whirlwind that was last week, let's just say I'm ready to look ahead and be hopeful. November is my second favorite month, with December being #1 and January being #3 so let's just say I'm a little excited about what's in store.  Lets check in and see how I did with last month's list!

1) Try a new work-out routine. // DID IT! I tried a new workout class and tried some reward systems. Aqua Yoga's #1 fan right here. 
2) Write things down more. // DID IT! And I ordered some new May books to boot!
3) Sell some clothes and some camera equipment. Maybe to Uptown Cheapskate? Maybe on Poshmark? // NOPE! Totally forgot about this one. Moving it to next month. 
4) File my taxes. // DID IT! 
5) Channel my inspiration into a mood board. // DID IT! I channelled it into a hanging inspiration installation. 

I just realized that it's been an entire year of setting goals and taking names. Can you believe that? Here are my big goals for November!

1) Create a gift guide for the holidays. 
2) Re-vamp my website + finish my branding. 
3) Sell some clothes and camera equipment. 
4) Fill out my worksheet packet from Own Your Why.
5) Begin my 27 before 27 list (and finally run the dang 5k). 

What's on your goal list? Let me know in the comments below! 

Just in case you think I have my life together.

Yesterday my good friend Writes Like a Girl wrote a brilliant blog and well... I was inspired to write my own version of it. 


I honestly don't know if my dog loves me or hates me. I know that you're inclined to say that he loves me and that's true 99% of the time, but the other 1% is literally an 80lb dog who is convinced that I will steal his toy/food/toilet paper ball/piece of kale. He thinks that after I do that he will inevitably starve to death and die. He will protect his 'resource', as the professionals call it, at all cost even if that means biting his mom, whom he loves the other 99% of the time. I can't for the life of me bring myself to get rid of him because I know what that means. And a small part of me knows that a very small part of the reason I can't bring myself to get rid of him is that I'd have to explain it on the internet. And I can't for the life of me get my father's voice out of my head either-- "He's a wild animal, Chelsea. You can't trust him." But he has to know that I trust him or that makes him feel insecure about his "resources". He may not love me 100% but I realize that the sheer time I spend thinking about him and his security and whether or not he loves me indicates that I love him. 

Sometimes I look around the room and wonder how all the stuff that I've left lying around got there. Why that cool Swedish designed brush I bought from Ikea for $3.99 is lying on top of my desktop keyboard. Right now there are 6 cups sitting around me as I sit in the living room floor at my laptop. Only 4 of the 6 cups are mine. And 2 are from today. So that's not that bad, is it? It is. I'm just not naturally a very tidy person. I actually have to work really hard at it. And on weeks when I'm busy? It's the first thing I stop working hard at. 

I try everyday to stay hydrated and for some reason it feels damn near impossible to actually do. I just don't think about drinking water that often, though I should. I only think about drinking water when I'm swimming in a pool alone and bored. But I can't drink it because it's sitting on a bench forever away from me. My husband is super good at being hydrated. He's actually super good at most things. I really love water. I enjoy drinking water, but the task of actually making myself drink a certain amount is something that I have to constantly train my brain to do. 

To sum up in the words of Nicole:

I'm just saying, as a reminder, Instagram is far from real life. If you've ever looked at my feed and thought, "wow, Nicole (or Chelsea!) sure does have her life together," be warned that I do not. I have no idea what I'm doing the majority of the time -- just like everyone else!


The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance 005: On Being a Supportive Creative

Welcome to The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance! It’s is a semi-frequent blog series about the lessons I've learned while suddenly working for myself. You can read the other sections about how I got started, finding my community, why money and I are friends now and why you should schedule your next vacation right now.


When I moved to Austin, TX I knew no one. All I had in my corner was the internet, a year's worth of shooting photos. I began scouring the internet for people who looked cool and like they might want to hop in front of my camera, and because the Lord is good I somehow landed a coffee date with Nicole Seligman of Writes Like a Girl. She did as many Austinites do, and she introduced me to other people that I should know. She opened up doors for me that I could not open myself. She was supportive in every way that she knew how to be. Her kindness towards me as a business meant more to me than I could ever express and I vowed that I would run a business that operated in that way -- a way that builds others up. 

I've been thinking about being a supportive creative a lot lately. I've been talking about it with a lot of close friends.

1) Vote with your money.

I feel like this goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway. Buy things from your friends. When you gift, gift with intention. Use the services of those close to you when you can. It doesn't have to be all the time, but just be mindful. Sometimes the most practical way to support someone is to vote with your money. Vote for your friends. 

2) Share the cool stuff that they're doing. 

If you think something they're doing is neat, but you don't have a need or money for it? Share it on social media if it's appropriate for the situation. Tell your friends about your sister-in-law's mini sessions. 

3) Introduce them to other cool creative friends. 

If you know someone your creative friend should know, bridge the gap! Last week I was meeting a friend for coffee and she disclosed to me that she was a writer. I immediately thought of introducing her to a friend, who was an editor of a magazine that was looking for contributors. A few minutes later the editor friend walked through the door of the coffee shop and I was able to introduce them on the spot. Sometimes you get to introduce people in person, other times you get to do it via email. The important thing is making the connection. It takes less than 30 seconds to potentially help a friend further their business goals. 

4) When you can, pass work to someone in your field that's a better fit. 

This is a tough one because at first glance it may seem counter-intuitive, but know what you do well and pass the rest. I thoroughly enjoy my work. Being behind the camera makes me feel super alive. But being behind the camera doing HDR real estate photography makes me feel sick to my stomach. Why? Because a) I don't enjoy it and b) I'm not good at it because it isn't something I enjoy. I make a habit of passing good work that I wouldn't excel at to fellow photographers. I am also grateful to get referrals from both clients and photographers. You will make better work for clients that you should be working with. A good friend shared this quote from one of her friends with me and I've been thinking about it non-stop: 

Every job you take should have at least two of the following components: 1) Good people. 2) Interesting work. 3) Great pay.

If the work isn't interesting to you for the pay that it would take you to be interested in it, pass it! Give someone else the opportunity to choose. 

5) Show up. 

Whether it's an art show, a free workshop, a sidewalk sale or their wedding -- when it's possible go to their events! A lot of work goes into planning things like that and sometimes your attendance really can make all the difference. 

6) Share your knowledge!

This has been one of the most rewarding things for me lately. Three sweet gals reached out to me this year and asked if I wanted to mentor them and I said yes. Did I have time? Not really, but I made it because that's something that's always been on my bucket list. I got to see great improvements in these ladies' work and I got to support them in making their dreams come true and that has been the best. I also get to write stuff like this for people like you which is awesome.  

The Importance of Dressing Yourself

To be honest, this is something I never anticipated to be writing. But after the gentle nudging of a few friends, and the realization of what a difference this has made in my life, I thought it was time I took a shot at it. 

I've always been me. I've been plus size for most of my life, and to be honest it's never affected how I dressed myself. Sure, clothes are much harder to buy. Sure, I'm sometimes super self conscious. Sure, sometimes I look at myself and I don't see what other people do whether for good or bad. But honestly into my teenage years and my adulthood, I didn't want to bother with how I presented myself. I bought clothes that fit. And slowly I began this decline into feeling less and less like myself. Getting dressed in the morning became taxing, when my jeans felt too tight it felt like an attack on my soul, and all of the plus size bloggers felt like the way that they dressed was unattainable. 

When I turned 25 I made a 26 before 26 list and on it I put that I wanted to 'Dress in Happiness' daily. This was I project that I followed for the past year by Natalie Creates in which she got dressed fully every day and began to realize that there was a direct correlation with putting on a good outfit and feeling great. In one blog post she mentions that a few things happened to her. She said that it was transformative to her spirit and her work ethic and she 1) felt pretty. 2) felt ready what would be ahead. 3) felt capable. 4) felt that she was worth it. 

Those were things I desperately wanted in my own life. Natalie, through her project, also ended up prioritizing her health and wellness resulting in a fitness and weight loss journey. I found that deciding to honor my body by dressing it well, I also wanted to do good things for it. In this past year not only have I developed a personal style, I've found many different things I enjoy doing for exercise, I've prioritized hydration, and I've began to focus on nutrition as well. Yes, I've lost some weight, but honestly that's no longer important when compared to the fact that I feel good. I feel good in my skin. I feel good in my style. I feel good being me.

Even when I put on stretchy pants and a t-shirt, the outfit feels put together and cohesive because it is. I try not to wear things that I don't love or feel great in. I try to buy things that I absolutely love and work with people that I absolutely love. Dressing myself well has infiltrated every area of my life. 

I also found rebuilding a wardrobe on a budget fun and exciting! I began investing in pieces that I knew would last for a long time, like this great hat from Goorin Brothers! Then by using local thrift stores and online retailers like Thred Up (where this great denim shirt is from!) I am able to continue constantly evolving my closet as the seasons change along with my body and my style. 

How do you feel about personal style? Is it something you're scared to conquer or are you the queen of your domain? 


Hat: Goorin Brothers (link to the brown version) 
Top: Denim shirt by Old Navy c/o Thred Up (Use code: PLUS50 for 50% off plus size clothing for first time orders!) 
Dress: Lularoe Nicole c/o Megan Mcclary
Necklace: Shaman's Medallion c/o Psyche Jewelry
Boots: Thrifted at Style Encore, by Joie


Small Goals: October

In the words of the amazingly indescribable Anne of Green Gables, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."

It's here! Pumpkin everything, cooler weather EVEN IN TEXAS, and the best of all -- soup season! 

I love October more than I could possibly express to you. I love feeling the air change. Though it's always bittersweet in Texas because the leaves changing is something I miss terribly. September was full of good stuff. I hosted a wonderful workshop at The Paper + Craft Pantry, I visited Round Top, Texas, I started hosting one on one marketing + social media classes and I felt like I finally had some progress health wise. This month ended feeling like a win, even though parts of it were low + stressful. 

1) Get back in the habit of swimming regularly. 
Sort of kind of? at the end of the month I recommitted to making health a part of my daily routine. and in October I'm going to try biking! 

2) Blog more & contribute to another blog. 
DONE! I blogged fairly regularly here with my new goals in mind + I wrote this blog on scheduling for The Paper + Craft Pantry. 

3) Buy some clothes that make me feel good. 
You guys. This is a big deal and I'm super happy about it. One of my only fitness goals was to fit into jeans sold in store at Old Navy and I BOUGHT 5 pairs (for 10 dollars, too, thanks clearance!) 

4) Find a new hydration app and STAY HYDRATED. 
I didn't find an app but I did recommit myself to hydrating. So there's that! 

5) Fill up 2 new recipe cards with ✨new✨ recipes I like.
I bought this recipe book from Julia Turshen instead and so far my favorites are the Turkey Meatballs, Indecision Chicken + her amazingly incredible Jam Buns! 

For October my goals look a little something like this... 

1) Try a new work-out routine. 
2) Write things down more. 
3) Sell some clothes and some camera equipment. Maybe to Uptown Cheapskate? Maybe on Poshmark? 
4) File my taxes. 
5) Channel my inspiration into a mood board.

On Getting Behind & Catching Up

Photo Sep 28, 9 02 01 AM.jpg

Sometimes life kicks you right in the face. 

I don't think it means to. I think you're sitting on the floor, making to-do lists and somehow, someway life comes by and just accidentally over-extends it's leg and makes contact with your chin. Your eyes water and your face grimaces and your happy little floor sitting, list making experience is over. 

That was my last week. 

I won't go into details but both my health and my home life were in absolute shambled disarray. I promise I'll tell you more about it later, but for now just know I had the kind of week where I cried more than I laughed. It was a bummer. 

When you have those kinds of weeks, nothing gets done. You try to be productive but its hard enough to just keep up conversation with those close to you. 

That means this week, the week where things are looking up and life is feeling better and my brain is less scrambled, well... they're spent playing catch up from the time where I was down for the count. 

One of the things that's been making me feel crushed is this blog. I neglected it last week because life made me. And I wanted to be back but I didn't know how to re-start. 

This is it. 

This is my dive back into the pool.

I don't have much for today, but I just want you to know that if you're struggling through something and you're not quite sure how to come back, it's okay to make a mess of it if you're trying. 

Sometimes what counts most is just showing up, telling your story, and giving yourself grace with the rest. 

The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance: Scheduling (Part 2!)

Hey there! I hope your week is going right along. I've been up since 6am this morning trying to knock out a bunch of work and this weekend is progressing along quite nicely. 

This week I had the honor of blogging for The Paper + Craft Pantry! The Paper + Craft Pantry is a workshop space + stationery retailer here in Austin, TX! I'm teaching a workshop there this weekend on marketing your small business with the tools in your arsenal (and there are still spots available!)

I wrote a blog post over there about scheduling as part of The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance which is a semi-frequent blog series about the lessons I've learned while suddenly working for myself. You can read the other sections about how I got startedfinding my communitywhy money and I are friends now and why you should schedule your next vacation right now

Hop on over there and check out their website and check it out! 

To add to the blog post, I wanted to share a few of my favorite scheduling practices that I try to implement weekly. I find that knowing someone else's method can help bring you to a method of your own. 

One of the things I do weekly is that I take Monday morning to plan out my entire week. I try to make all of my dinner plans, finalize meetings, figure out date night with my husband, and a day off for myself (usually Thursday!). I also enjoy going to the movies solo so I try to pick out which movie I'm going to see in advance so that way the midst of all the meetings, work blocks, and shoots that I may have depending on the week it doesn't get lost. It's a good time to set intentions for the week as well. 

Another thing that makes scheduling easier is finding a planner that works for you. I have this planner from and it has a monthly view with plenty of space to write in daily appointments, and a weekly view that spans two pages-- plenty of room to plan out details and keep to-do lists. 

When possible I like to schedule all of my meetings on Monday + Tuesday.  I like to work from home on Wednesdays, I take Thursdays off and most of the time I shoot on Friday, Saturday and Sunday! Is every week like that? Definitely not. But I attempt to make it that way. 

The last scheduling trick I've learned is to a fun one. I schedule fun things into my work week as seriously as if they were meetings. When I have two or three meetings out, I make sure to go swimming or take a workout class before I head home. If I have a long day of shoots then I make sure to schedule some time the next day to make breakfast with Tuck. When you take scheduling seriously, it's like time is on your side. It's all about making it work for you!


Mexican Cokes, swimming at 6, and how I committed to getting to know me better this year.

Photo by Nicole Seligman of Writes Like a Girl!

Photo by Nicole Seligman of Writes Like a Girl!

A few weekends ago I had a long conversation with a good friend about how hard it is to realize that you're an adult living an adult life, but you aren't quite sure who you are. It seems really simple, right? I'm Chelsea. I'm a photographer. I live in Texas. I'm me. But the parts that tricky is really knowing yourself. There's a tricky part about growing up that leaves us sort of not knowing... We have this big beautiful life to fill, and if we're not careful we'll start filling it with stuff that we're only meh about. Figuring out more about yourself gives you a deeper understanding of who you are, why you're here, and what you can do with your one big life. And to be honest it's made my life easier! I feel like I'm sort of building this compass to make decisions by. Which is something I've desperately always wanted. 

One of the most gratifying things I learned this year was that I really loved risotto. I don't just like risotto, I love it. I love making it. I love the smell of it when it is cooking. I love the process. I love how versatile it is. I love how it makes everyone feel. I love that people think it's impressive that I can make it (I just think it's following directions.) I love every part of risotto. I made risotto three times in one week just because it made everyone around me so happy. And when I make it now I still feel so good about it -- like I'm working at something bigger than dinner. I couldn't explain that feeling for a few months and now I know what it is. 

For me I became super aware of the fact that I didn't know myself well one day as my husband left for work at 5:30am. It was in July, which you know already was a super hard month for me. He left and I thought "I wish so badly I had something that was waiting for me this morning." I have set goal after goal to 'find a hobby' and it nothing ever stuck. I was unhappy with myself, my mental state, and my health but couldn't find any sort of physical activities that I enjoyed doing to help improve that feeling. I realized that morning that I didn't know me. I didn't know what I liked or what would make me happy when I was sad. 

On a whim I put on a swimsuit, got in a car and drove to a pool. I made myself jump in at 6am on a Tuesday and I haven't looked back. I have always enjoyed swimming, but I didn't know quite how much. I thought that everyone loved swimming. And most people really like it or even love it. But I could do it every day, twice a day if time allowed. I love it. I love it. I love it so much. 

So I was there, in the pool, sort of having a crisis of self. What did I do because I enjoyed it? I always solve problems with list making so I started writing things out. I made a few different lists of silly things like '10 places I'd take someone who was visiting" or "Top 5 roadtrips" and then I started lists about things that helped me figure myself out. 

This sounds like such a bizarre thing to be talking about on a blog platform, but I think it is so incredibly important.  To be in positive relationships with people you have to know and love yourself. To figure out what you want for your life you have to first know yourself and your ambitions. To serve and help others, to be a productive member of society and to live a life that's going to make 80 year old you happy, you have to put in some work to figuring yourself out. 

If you're looking for a place to start, try filling out these lists/questions? 

  • What makes you happy when nothing else can? 
    For me this is swimming, a Mexican coke, snuggling with my dog Hank, talking to Tucker about random pop culture things and a warm cup of coffee.
  • What's something that you surprised yourself by doing?
    For me: Starting a business and working for myself for sure. 
  • What are the top 5 places you'd like to travel to? 
    Seattle, Greece, Canada, Sydney and Spain. 
  • What forms of entertainment do you enjoy?
    Television, Movies and Podcasts. 
  • What are five crazy things you want to do in your lifetime? 
    I want to live in Europe for a few months. I want to swim a large body of water. I want cook my way through a cookbook. I want to shoot the cover of a magazine I currently read. I want to get a tattoo. 

    Some of these things might sound good to you, or not. That doesn't matter. I gave you my answers because telling you to list out things for self discovery sort of seems silly, and it really isn't. I'm here to make you feel normal, and even cool, about putting effort towards knowing what you like and dislike. 

    Before I made my first crazy things list I had never said out loud to myself or anyone that I wanted to live in another country for a short time. I'd thought about it several times, but no one knew. Not even me, really. I think that's the beauty of getting to know yourself better, you never know what sort of beautiful things you want for your life. 


The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance 004: Why You Need a Vacation!

Welcome to The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelancing! This is a semi-frequent blog series about the lessons I've learned while suddenly working for myself. You can read the other sections about how I got started, finding my community, and why money and I are friends now

Today we're talking about one of my new favorite topics- vacation. When I was growing up it was rare that we would take vacations as a family, but the few times we did they were the highlights of my childhood. Disney World, California and going to the beach with my grandma. Those are all such special memories to me. Since I was in college I've always tried to travel. Living on the East Coast it was super easy to take a roadtrip and go somewhere you've never been before. I traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Boston, Washington D.C., Louisville, The Outer Banks of North Carolina, Nashville, Charleston, Chicago, and Austin -- all in a matter of five years, and all relatively inexpensively. 

It's no wonder that when I moved to Texas, landlocked by only the gulf of Mexico, Mexico and more Texas, that I sort of forgot how to travel. Couple this with the fact that I was now thrust into working for myself and you've got a recipe for a no-vacation-disaster. We're figuring it out, but today I want to talk about vacations. Why you need one, how you should try and do it and what makes a good vacation good. 

To me a good vacation is equal parts rest & exploration. Sometimes just seeing a new place by car is enough. Sometimes you need to hike something tall or eat something that you've never heard of to really feel like you're breaking from your cycle of normalcy.

But why should you do it? Here are a few tips. 

  • You deserve a vacation.
    If you're like most Americans, a vacation isn't even on your radar. You haven't thought of one in a while, and you certainly don't plan on taking them regularly. You're a grown up now. And you work hard. But I'm here to tell you this: You deserve a break and you should take one. 
  • YOLO. 
    That's right. I said it. And I mean it. You only live once. I don't mean this in a rap song kind of way (or do I) I do mean it in the since that you only get once chance to knock things off of your bucket list. Why don't you start planning on doing something you've always wanted to do? 
  • Your brain will be happier. 
    I don't need to tell you that your brain probably needs a break. Your mental health will benefit from you saying yes to rest. 
  • You'll do better work.
    That's right. Plenty of studies show that after a vacation, you're more productive. Sometimes when you're reaching a creative block with your job, the best thing you can do is step away from it to re-center yourself. 

    So now that you're convinced, what now? One of the challenges I find myself facing most often is realizing that I don't know how to relax. I know that sounds silly, but for me down time or days off tend to make me feel more anxious. I have all this time and work that still needs to be done. Why am I not working? To counter that I like to have a routine-- I swim, I cook breakfast at home or eat something tasty out and I go see a movie. After that I'm generally good to go on days off. I've recently discovered that cleaning something or doing laundry on my days off helps me to still feel productive, while helping me rest. Vacation for me is similar. I did a few on my last trip to Marfa that I think translate well to any vacation. 
  • Buffer
    Give yourself a few days. My husband was only able to join me to travel somewhere for 4 days, but I had 8 days that I could take off. So I took them and we planned our vacation in the middle. The first two days were spent getting ready for our trip, the next four were spent traveling in West Texas, and then the last two I spent slowly getting into the groove of work. This made my first official day back seem a lot less stressful
  • Vacation Responders
    Use it. For me the vacation responder is the true tell of whether I'm actually on vacation or not. If the responder is up, I feel like my emails aren't a priority. Even saying that out loud here makes me feel nervous, because I feel like we all live and die by our inbox. Stepping away from email during the week won't kill anyone. For me I found comfort in still being able to check my inbox, but giving my permission to not respond unless it was a job I really wanted to book or a dream client. I responded to two emails (and politely ignored the rest) while we were on vacation, and I ended up booking both shoots. So win/win, right? 
  • Unplug
    Unplug for at least one full day. For me this meant not taking my DSLR on our trip at all, and opting for film instead (to resist the urge of editing on vacation) and taking an entire day to be without electronic distractions. I had it on airplane mode and I snapped photos when I wanted to. I even Instagram-storied them later. But I took about 12 hours off of cell phone service. I found I was more aware of what was around me and I enjoyed the photos I was snapping even more. 
  • Try New Things
    Whenever I travel I always try to do something or eat something I've never tried before, though to be honest it's usually eating. It gives me an excuse to be adventurous and it gives me something to associate with the trip. When I went to Fort Lauderdale in college it was a Pina Colada. When I went to Charleston it was trying apple on my grilled cheese. I learned to dive when I was on a vacation to California in middle school. Two weeks ago when we were in West Texas I tried a martini and Bacon Wrapped dates for the first time. Those things will always remind me of those places. 

    Vacation can be such a wonderful thing especially when you can streamline the stress of planning. What are your favorite vacation traditions? What vacations are next for you? 

September small goals & a little update!

Oh boy, did I ever forget about last month's goals. To be honest I'm going back to look at them right now and I have no clue what I'm in for. 

Oh! Okay! It's not that bad! Here are last month's goals & how I did. 

1) Stick to a monthly budget. 
Sort of? We made a budget and we worked really hard to stick to it but a bunch of unexpected stuff came up. We're trying again this month.

2) Makeover our bedroom.
Not even a little bit. 

3) Bake a cobbler
I did it! Yay!

4) Go to 10 classes at the YMCA.

5) Plan a vacation.
Yes! I did it! And I'll be writing all about it this week :) 

3/5 really isn't that bad!

As for this month I have a lot to tell you & a lot of thoughts so here goes.
For the past 6 months I've been trying to figure out what to do with my little corner of the internet over here. I want to blog work, yes, but I know I have more to contribute to the world than pretty pictures. I started this blog as a way to navigate where I'm at in my life and recently that's included the hard parts of owning a business! I've also been sharing the moments I feel so lucky to get to photograph. In the process, I've fallen in love with helping people streamline their lives so they can spend more time enjoying the things they love, both big and small.

Isn't that what all of this is about? Getting to a place where we can be working less (and better!) while enjoying our lives more? 

That's what this space is going to be from now on. What does that mean?

Less session sharing (but don't worry, I'll still be sharing work from time to time!) 

More words (from me!) 

Less filler, not that I intentionally had any before. 

More talking about what we're going through and how to beat it. 

And a whole lot of honesty and grace. I'm so glad you're here. 

With that in mind, here are my goals for September: 

1) Get back in the habit of swimming regularly. 
2) Blog more & contribute to another blog. 
3) Buy some clothes that make me feel good. 
4) Find a new hydration app and STAY HYDRATED. 
5) Fill up 2 new recipe cards with ✨new✨ recipes I like. 

What about you? What are your goals for the month? Let me know :) 

Curious Ramblers // Travel Inspired Basics

I'm generally always excited about the projects I've been taking lately, but there was something different about this shoot. Kate Pemberton of Curious Ramblers and I worked with art director Rachel Giberson to plan the location & feel for the shoot and something about travel inspired product shots in the Texas Hill country felt extra dreamy. On the day we shot it rained on and off and everyone was in good spirits despite the added humidity. 

I'm so grateful to have been a part of telling Kate + Peyton's story. It is one of being adventurous in the mundane and the spectacular, while still enjoying every single aspect of travel. Whether it's a bridge, a river, a weird West Texas town or swimming hole. Curious Ramblers is live now! Go check it out and snag something for your next adventure. 


The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelance 003: Money is Your Friend.

You already know that July was nuts for me. A big part of the craziness was because I started looking at photography as my longterm career. For a while I sort of avoided looking into the future with this job because I was afraid I might not like what I saw. It's easy to get into a bad place by working for yourself. Falling into financial insecurity or letting your anxiety rule your world are the two reasons people stop working for themselves. 

It's hard, y'all, but it doesn't need to be scary! I'm breaking this part into a two part series: stress + money. 

And just a note: as businesses, we need money to survive. That's sort of the part that makes this our job. To keep moving forward we need capital. Money is hard to talk about but it is so, so necessary. It's normal to go through phases of having to figure out how to make more money, spend your money wisely and keep up with it.

Here are a few of my best tips for looking at money as your friend and not your foe. 

1) Church + State

My biggest & most life-changing tip just happened to me. A year ago a very trusted friend told me to set up a business account and I remember thinking that it seemed impossible-- but it's not. Go get your DBA or if you really have your business life together your LLC and go set up a bank account. Make all of your business money go through there. The goal, obviously, is to keep some money in this account. If you're bringing in $4000 a month from freelance work, take your taxes out and put them in a different account, and then try and live off of a monthly paycheck of $2500. You'll have about $1000 leftover for business expenses which can include saving up to pay yourself the difference during a slow month. For me the steadiness of having a paycheck has made ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD. Now I feel like a normal human being that can do this, rather than a clueless teenager who doesn't understand where her money went. 

2) Supple Supplements 

Now that you have a business account, let's pad that sucker! This is where we talk about working hard and building up that business bank account. Are you an incredibly talented photographer who also has a network of friends with children? Babysit to build up your business account. Do you offer mini-sessions? Contribute to stock photography websites? Take on projects through websites like Flashstock or Snapwire? Do you have gear that's collecting dust that could be making you money? There's no shame in working specifically to put money in an account. Do what you can to build that up and you'll be incredibly grateful in the long run. 

3) Rock Steady

One of the biggest goals for the past year that I sat for myself was to gain a few monthly clients. This would be someone that I would work for every month for a contracted period of time. I aim to bring in at least $1000 of monthly contract work per month, though lately my goal has been more. For example: A lot of you know I shoot photos for Nicole for her blog Writes Like a Girl. We shoot together twice a month. The money she pays me goes towards my monthly contract work goal. I have several clients that are like this.

4) Expense Report

If you're going through all of this trouble to separate your money, then you had better be expensing the fun things that you get to expense. Go on trips for work! Attend workshops! Take that class you've always wanted to take! Be sure to speak to an accountant before your break the bank on that Hawaiian vacation though. Only certain parts of trips (like the parts where you're actually working + travel) are expense-able. 

Do you have any questions or comments for me? Feel free to comment below or email me! The Normal Girl's Guide to Freelancing is going to start going out every Monday and I'm excited that you're coming along for the journey. 

Small Goals: August

Hello there!

It's crazy how quickly time passes when you're having fun or when you're so busy that you forget to shower for days. Either/or. 

I'm not going to lie, you guys. I was absolutely not ready for July. 

When I walked into the month I didn't expect to completely re-evaluate my life. But alas, that's what July had in store for me. 

A little backstory-- on July 4th I finally confessed to myself and everyone around me that my current business model wasn't working for me and that I was interested in changing it. I was overworked, underpaid and I needed a break all around. I began looking for part time jobs, full time jobs, and everything in between. I got a bunch of interviews, all of them for full time jobs, and all of them very promising. Then I realized that that's not at all what I wanted. 

I just needed a break. I needed to breathe. I needed to figure myself out for a second. 

The financial burden of being self employed is a hard weight to carry. Coupling that with feelings in general can sometimes feel like too much. If you feel that, know you're not alone. 

I told all of the full time job prospects that I wanted to withdraw my application. 

And then I got a great part time job doing social media for a cross stitch company out of Utah. I'm feeling a bit more free + I'm excited for August!

Enough about that, you're here for GOALS!

Here's how my goals went for July:
1) Get a haircut & evaluate my wardrobe. 
Y'all I chopped it. My hair is gone! Success!

2) Go to an exercise class that's out of my comfort zone. 
While I didn't attend a class, I did ride a bicycle all over downtown Austin this past weekend and it was definitely not as easy as I thought it would be. Thank God for pedal assist bikes!

3) Evaluate my portfolio.
Did it. Also evaluated my entire career. So it goes...

4) Open a business bank account.
Did it! Couldn't be more excited about it either!

5) Celebrate my 4 year anniversary! 
We went tubing down the river and it was absolutely perfect!

So what's in store for August? Well... I'm so glad you asked!

1) Stick to a monthly budget. 
2) Makeover our bedroom.
3) Bake a cobbler. 
4) Go to 10 classes at the YMCA.
5) Plan a vacation.

What's on your goal list for the month? Let me know or link it up via Write's Like a Girl's #goaldigger link up!

Happy Things

Y'all the past few weeks have been insane. My life sort of got flipped + turned upside down an while I'm a-okay now, I wasn't for too many of the past twenty or so days. I made some lists, I decided that I was unhappy in certain areas of my life, and I decided to push on. It's hard to come to a realization like that. If you're there right now, you can talk to me. I've been in the thick of it. Because I love sharing lists and I love reading lists, I thought I'd publish a happy little one. Happy Sunday!

  1. photoshoots that go well
  2. deciding to do something different + then doing it
  3. postcards
  4. mail
  5. clean water
  6. cold, leftover pizza
  7. the number thirteen
  8. the color emerald
  9. business bank accounts
  10. fast memory cards
  11. movie trailers
  12. going to the movies alone
  13. my pup, Hank
  14. weird cameras
  15. lager beer
  16. earrings
  17. beeswax candles
  18. essential oils
  19. not being intimidated by silence
  20. soundtracks to films
  21. pools
  22. swimming
  23. cold water
  24. 100 degree weather
  25. popsicles
  26. magazines
  27. when a stranger tells you they like your dress
  28. new agendas
  29. swimsuits that fit
  30. shorts that don't fit anymore
  31. sports bras
  32. a happy husband
  33. bahn-mi
  34. the word noodle
  35. naps
  36. good client feedback
  37. summer skin
  38. getting to mentor someone
  39. educational books
  40. early bedtimes
  41. early alarms 
  42. my swim team
  43. going to classes
  44. the Hamilton soundtrack
  45. comic-con
  46. felt banners
  47. the vibrance tool in Lightroom
  48. new pieces of jewelry from new friends
  49. clean blankets
  50. all the laundry put away. 

10 Frames with Maggie Shirley

I absolutely love a name that's comprised of double first names. To me Maggie Shirley seems like the name of a very witty and famous author from the 1930's with titles like It's Not That Depressing by Maggie Shirley or New Deal With It by Maggie Shirley. The name just seems so notable, which is fitting.

Maggie is much cooler than my anecdote about her name. She's sweet, witty , incredibly kind and one of the most interesting people I know. I'm so happy to know her & when she reached out to have some photos taken of her I absolutely almost fainted I was so excited. She emailed me while sitting next to me at a co-working meet up. I yelped out loud. 

When we got together it was just beginning to get super hot in Austin. That didn't' stop us from throwing confetti in the air though! After our session I sent her out on the town because she looked so great. Here are 10 of my favorite photos from our session.

Small Goals: July!

It's hot outside you guys! The pool is constantly calling my name and I am answering. I've always got a cantaloupe or a watermelon handy. The fireworks stands are lining the highway in between all of the peach stands. That means it must be JULY! Summer is in full swing and I could not be happier about it. 

Here are my goals from June:

1) Read 2 books. // Didn't do it! Ran out of time.

2) Do it now. // I did it and I learned to do things I don't want to do! 

3) Swim once a week, Bike once a week. // Did it! I also joined the YMCA!  

4) Spend more time with #hankfromaustin. // Did it! And he's being a pretty good boy now!

5) Open a business bank account. // ... My DBA isn't here still but I got an email that it's on its way!

For July I plan on re-evaluating my business & my body of work. I also plan on investing some time into myself and continuing to further my health and fitness goals and ideologies. 

1) Get a haircut & evaluate my wardrobe. 

I've been feeling pretty blue with my style lately. My body is going through some changes and things that you used to look great on me don't anymore. I think getting a new 'do will help. 

2) Go to an exercise class that's out of my comfort zone.

I am so so comfortable in the water. I can swim like a fish. I do water aerobics like a boss. But other classes? They feel scary. Will I take Aqua Yoga? Will it be a Zumba class? Who knows! We'll fine out.

3) Evaluate my portfolio. 

Essentially I will be sorting through hundreds of thousands of photos to figure out what I enjoy most and what I do best. NBD. :|

4) Open a business bank account.

Will this be the month? Fingers crossed. 

5) Celebrate my 4 year anniversary!!!!!

It's coming up on the 8th! Isn't that crazy?!

What's on your goal list for the month? I want to know! 

Around Here with Grove Collaborative

Occasionally I like to catch you up with life around here is looking like. Life has looked a lot different lately than it ever has before and I'm feeling really good about it.

About 3 weeks ago I woke at 5:30am with my husband, Tucker. He has to be at work on most mornings at 6am. I decided that after years of wanting to be a morning person, I was going to decide to be a morning person. I was going to give it a try. So at 5:30am my body left the bed and I walked our dog and made the decision to go for a 6:30am swim at Barton Springs Pool. If you aren't from Austin then you probably don't know how cold this pool is. I've always wanted to swim early in the morning and I've always been to afraid. I don't know what came over me that day but I decided that it was what I wanted. I've been in the water everyday and I've woken up at 5:30am or 5:45am on most days since. 

Swimming everyday has had a lot of an impact on my life. It's turned me into a person who gets the correct amount of sleep (7 and a half hours instead of 9!) and a person who manages their stress better than before. It's also been a healthy, positive change in my life that was pretty easy for me to make which feels good. 

We've been eating a lot of salads because it's way too hot to cook and because our CSA is chockfull of delicious summer veggies! Our go-to foods have been frittatas when it's not too hot to run the oven & salads full of farro & barley with a squeeze of lemon + tons of olive oil on top. 

I've also been determined to turn myself into someone who enjoys cleaning. I recently read an article somewhere on the internet about turning things that you don't enjoy into things that you do enjoy by adding a new element to the task. Recently I began listening to podcasts when I do something my I'd rather avoid and it's been pretty wonderful. I've turned into the roommate that does the dishes! 

One more thing I've been loving lately is Grove Collaborative! Grove Collaborative is company that will deliver natural and affordable home, beauty and personal products right to your door. If you know me you know these two things: 1) I love efficiency. 2) I always forget something when I go to the store. Grove Collaborative helps me with both of those things. The prices are comparable to the grocery store too-- which I love! If you want to give it a try here's $10 and a free Mrs. Meyer's hand soap to get you started!