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family history

INSPIRED BY NANA | a newlywed prom

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INSPIRED BY NANA | a newlywed prom

I grew up with a framed, black and white portrait of my grandparents hanging on our living room wall. It was right by the family computer desk, where I spent too many hours playing, so I was very familiar with that picture. He was in a suit, she was in a white formal gown. There are hints of fancy decor around the edges. For the longest time, I figured it must be a picture from their wedding. I was wrong! Years later I learned that the picture is from their 1956 prom. But the thing you ought to know about the prom photo is….

… that they were already married!

He was senior class president, she was class secretary. Together they were a part of the morning announcements, senior prom committee, and were in the running to be King and Queen.

GRAMPS: My best friend was the king and Nana’s best friend was the queen. [But] of course, all the kids, all the members of our class, were all upset because they wanted it to be us. But the school didn’t want it.

Because, they were married.

In December, they had been married in a small wedding ceremony where Nana wore a white dress suit and the next month they attended senior prom where she wore a formal white gown. Since they were living together, there was no need for Gramps to come pick her up at the door of her mother’s home. They simply hopped in backseat of their friend’s car (they themselves carless) and made their way to Milford High’s “Stairway to the Stars.” They would have walked in to see the spiral staircase that Gramps’ recent stepfather Carl made for the event, complete with “wire netting and cotton candy stuffing for clouds” so that the seniors “could really walk up it into the clouds [where] we hung stars”.

Being the married couple at the senior prom wasn’t all hearts and stars. I asked Gramps if he had any particularly fond memories from the event (he said the afterparty) and then if there were any particularly negative memories.

GRAMPS: I think the only negative thing was [the papers] made a big deal about us being married, you know. They would come in... and want to take a picture of the married couple. They would try to get in there, make it a big deal, trying to capitalize on the event. We made the newspapers. I think my mother somewhere probably has an article from the newspaper (laughs).

Nana’s presence at the prom as a married woman did not go unnoticed and it did not happen in vain. In that time, married women had not been allowed to continue school. Using their connections in the community and being in the class presidency, Nana and Gramps petitioned for her to finish her senior year. They brought the issue directly to the Board of Education - and they agreed. Not only Nana, but another female student who was married that year was allowed to stay as well. One student who left to have a baby was permitted to return. The norms were changed.

GRAMPS: All because of Nana.

GRAMPS: The thing is that if you look at that picture, I think, mom’s hand, you can see the wedding ring on her hand.

And I am fortunate enough to be the recipient of that ring after Nana passed away in 2007. I kept her ring in the red, velvet mortuary bag since the day it was handed to me when I was sixteen. I always knew that I would use it as my own wedding ring one day. And I did! I should add that in true Gramps nature, he approached me after my wedding ceremony and said, “You know, I’ve been trying to remember what I did with that thing!”

We were able to use Nana’s original ring from that original prom picture in this photoshoot. To add another layer of connection between her marriage and mine, we used my original veil from my 2012 wedding in the shoot as well.

I searched high and low for the perfect vintage dress to go with these pictures. Something that felt “prom” just as much “wedding” like Nana’s prom photo does. I was only working off my memory off the prom photo, which I hadn’t seen in years, but when the listing for this dress came up on my screen, I knew it was the one. A month later I was able to track down that original prom photo and it truly was a perfect match.

If the thought crossed your mind, “My goodness this girl looks to young to be modeling a bridal look!” 1) you’re right but also 2) I purposefully chose someone the same age Nana had been when she was married in 1955.

We drove out to a quaint historic schoolhouse for the shoot. It’s all a little bit prom, a little bit bridal, and all at a little pink school house. This was the project I set out to do this summer and I’m so happy it’s all here.

SEE ALSO
INSPIRED BY GRANDMA | Grandma Kaiser and the nudists

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THE BABY CLOSET | the cozy thrifted baby space with no emotional damage

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THE BABY CLOSET | the cozy thrifted baby space with no emotional damage

I love thrifting, tiny things, cute things, naps, small spaces, coziness, forests, sleeping, art, cats, and my baby. Combine them all together - we’ve got the baby closet. While our apartment IS actually a two bedroom, why would this new tiny person need a whole big room? We figured we’d much rather use the big room for storage, projects, an office, an art space, and guests, and give the little space to the little baby. So far there’s been no emotional damage from being put in the closet every night and it has become my favorite room in the whole house. Time to share!

The baby closet is roughly 4.5 feet by 7 feet in size. This is the view you’ve got of it from standing in the shower. Yes, I’ve put him in there while I’m in the shower. It’s a walk through closet - the other door leads to a spare room.

Sometimes we turn the ULTRA NOISY POSSIBLY BROKEN bathroom fan on as extra white noise for him. Well, we did until the neighbor complained about “a vibrating noise on the wall all night long” -_- Have tried to avoid using it since that.

Look at that. THIS CLOSET WAS MADE IT FIT A CRIB.

This blanket was a baby gift from our dear friend Loie. She crochet it herself! Loie was kind enough to let me pick the design and colors. I like the look of those Hudson Bay blankets so she made it similar to that! I sewed the pine tree pillows from a thrifted green bed sheet and strung the pom pom strand myself. I was listening to a depressing podcast episode about Elvis as I put the garland together and that memory still comes to mind every time I look at them. It’s weird.

This little gallery wall opposite the crib is the main reason it took me almost ten months to share these pictures. It’s just never DONE done, you know? I finally had to say, “Okay, it’s done enough that I should take some pictures” but I can definitely see myself adding to it here and there when inspiration strikes.

We actually never have the overhead light on in the closet like you see in these pictures, partially because the light switch is inside the spare room rather than the closet itself. Too much effort. The Hatch nightlight/white noise machine is what you’ll typically find going on and it the coziest, most soothing little closet space at night.

There are a couple of cat elements to the room (how could it not?). As a tangent, why are cats found on baby GIRL things but not baby BOY things? This huge grey striped cat was a baby gift from my sister who honestly didn’t know how huge that cat was going to be when she opened up the pattern. We are incredibly grateful for its great size!! We found this nightstand at our beloved fake Target thrift store in downtown Minneapolis.

That’s us! Just know that getting Jason’s hair perfectly accurate is probably the thing in this whole room I’m most proud of. On the right is Spencer’s Korean name, which is legal middle name. In English it’s spelled Taeyoon. Jason wrote it down for me on a piece of paper so I could practice writing it in Korean to make this little framed piece. My ignorant American brain looks at it and sees “EH” followed by a smirking face with a halo.

And there he is!! I found a little mini decorative cutting board at the thrift store, took off the loop of twine from the top, and painted it over with the cutest little baby face in existence.

I received this gold foil print from a past photography client who opened the most beautiful church-themed print shop! The shop is W Paper Co and I knew it would be perfect in a baby room!! The frame, and all the frames in his room, were thrifted and painted white. So. Many. Layers. Of. White.

While we’re on the topic I’ll tell you these striped jammies are also thrifted.

This cat has a nice little backstory. When I was in my second trimester, one of my grandfathers passed away in Connecticut (see his wedding picture in this post). We didn’t fly out to attend Pop Pop’s funeral because coincidentally we had already booked a trip to CT for a week and a half later. So when we arrived, the funeral had already come and gone but my mom had a bag of Pop Pop’s clothes she was going to donate after we went through them for anything we may like. I took two old, soft, polos - one orange and one blue. I brought them back to Minnesota and carefully turned them into this cat you see here. I was very nervous to mess up and ruin the fabric forever and knew I couldn’t just ‘wing it’ like I usually do (and often fail) so I purchased this cute cat pattern on Etsy. Pop Pop didn’t vocalize many strong passions or opinions, except that he absolutely loved his cat. In an additional homage to his time in the Air Force in the Korean War, there is an airplane on the back of the cat’s blue shirt.

I loved creating this little space bit by bit, usually by hand with a paint brush. The little mushroom and acorn paintings were finished literally two days before he was born! I love when art, even just simple decor for a baby room, means something. A connection to a story, a family member, or even just an interest. I hope one day Spencer will ask, “What’s that?” about the space around him and I can share all the reasons I made this space for him.

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PRESERVING STORIES | one year ago today I took pictures in our messy home with a mouse hole

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PRESERVING STORIES | one year ago today I took pictures in our messy home with a mouse hole

ONE YEAR AGO today, I pulled out my camera and tripod to take a few pictures of the space we called home before starting our journey to leave it. I left it completely untouched (that's the delicate way to say MESSAY) from the day/week/however long since we had last tidied it up, let Jason stay in his gym clothes (including a tee shirt with a distracting LOGO on it; typically a crime for pictures), okay but I will admit that I did double check that my makeup looked nice. You're going to see lots of dirty laundry and the tin foil we shoved into a hole under the kitchen counter to plug up a mouse hole.

These were just for my sake, not for sharing. The pictures are... not exactly a reflection of my style as a portrait photographer. I thought this would bother me and that I would never share them because of it. Finally looking through these pictures a year later, I never expected to have such an emotional reaction to these seemingly mundane photographs and I want to share exactly why.

We were unknowingly on the tip of, what I consider, the most stressful month we've ever handled together. We ate our meals and did our work in one corner of our bedroom, a spot where the bathroom door and bed are both within arms reach, because only that room had an AC unit. Jason was on a major time crunch to finish his grad school project... in order to graduate... in order for us to leave.. in order for him to start his full time job.

There were so many hard goodbyes to say and so many "I need to see you one last time!" when we knew perfectly well that it wasn't going to happen because we were just too busy, on top of juggling family coming to town for graduation. I sold off our furniture piece by piece and tossed/donated so many of the little things that I only remember now because of these pictures.

Our apartment manager turned very manipulative and dishonest, bringing on extreme stress for myself and hopeful tenants. I had to make so many phone calls and stand up for myself and I haaaaaate confrontation. The lowest point was the day I got in contact with the landlord himself to discuss the manager's deceit.... only to find out that it was his dad.

I was also dealing with some photography clients that were deeply unhappy with me. I don't want to get into any specifics, but as any photographer knows, it absolutely shakes your confidence when this happens. Around this time, I bought my first bottle of fish oil supplements because my hair literally started falling out.

Jason graduated on a Friday afternoon and that same night we packed the little blue car like a jigsaw puzzle that our life depended on - every nook and cranny carefully utilized. On Saturday at 6 AM we said a last goodbye to our little apartment of five years (with a unspoken EFF YOU to our manager's apartment downstairs as I closed the car door).

Sixteen hours later, just one hour from our destination, a very large deer meandered onto the I-90 as we approached 80 miles per hour. We collided. The car was totaled and that deer has gotta be VERY dead somewhere. It happened in slow motion and so fast all at the same time. It was one of those experiences that really jolts you (not physically, we were fortunately unharmed) because for probably the first time in our marriage, Jason was very shaken up and couldn't think straight and I was the calm one. I prompted him to try his best to get the car moved over to side of the road. Within a few minutes, even the emergency hazard lights were dead.

 It was a cruel, sad, ironic fate that the little blue car that my dad had bought me for college lasted juuuuuust long enough to finish out college. In 2009 my roommate and I had driven it on a cross-country road trip out to school and now in 2017, the DAY after my husband's graduation, it went to the grave heading back eastward.

The local sheriff of the population 700 town dropped us off at the one motel (conveniently next to the one gas station and one auto shop and one diner) and six hours later we were navigating South Dakota taxi services and car rentals. Those little midwestern towns aren't quite awake on Sundays, but one service took sympathy on us and the owner came with his wife and dog in the taxi to help us out. Soon enough we were transferring all our belongings from a little blue smashed car into a humble rented mini van.

Jason started work the very next morning.

We utilized our last few hours with the mini van rental to pick up all the boxes we had mailed to ourselves to a friend's address. Jason went through the sea of boxes across our living room floor while I took a long deprived shower. He tapped on the curtain and gently told me that all but one box had made it. It was the box containing my thirteen journals and diaries, started at age five, that was missing. He didn't hesitate to reach through the streaming water, fully dressed, to pick me up as I crumpled to the ground.

If I were to choose one moment in my life of complete sorrow, hopelessness, and pain - this would be it. All my memories, all my memories, were gone. It felt as if my past had died. I can't think of words to adequately describe that heartache. From losing friends in middle school, to feeling on top of the world at summer camps, prom, the annual family camping trip, the wide range of roommate experiences, meeting Jason, marrying Jason, my parents' divorce, every emotion on the spectrum was in there. Every Christmas, even 9/11 is in there, so many doodles of my childhood cat Nippy, every little thought or moment that I deemed journal-worthy for over twenty years was suddenly gone.

That heartache is still there every day, because a year has gone by and the journals never made it here. Despite my efforts with the USPS, we never received any information regarding the lost box. It's actually too painful to research it too deeply, because all sources point to the fact that the USPS throws a lot of stuff away and sells anything worthwhile in a giant "lost stuff" auction in Atlanta, Georgia (wtf?). If the box would have gone back to this original address in Utah by some miracle, our apartment manager that ended things so dishonestly is not someone we can rely on.

It stings constantly and honestly the only way I can bare it is to completely block it out of my mind as much as possible. When these painful memories come to mind, I know that I have about five seconds to switch my train of thought before I start slipping down a hole of absolute grief.

When I took these pictures a year ago today, I had no idea that following month would lead to all this. The goodbyes, the stress, a giant chapter ending, a car crash, a giant chapter starting, and losing such a beloved part of myself, all comes back when I look at these messy little pictures of ourselves from back then. Nothing can ever replace what I lost and I don't expect myself to ever "get over" it, but the experience has renewed and refined my passion for record keeping, family history, journaling, documenting, picture taking, story telling, remembering, recording, writing, listening, preserving.

In the past year since then, it's plain to see how clearly these passions have taken hold. First, I started journaling again... digitally.

In the fall, I orchestrated a massive family history project collecting memories of my Gramps from all his children and grandchildren. I organized everyone's memories into a book and we gave it to him for his 80th birthday.

I finally caught up on making family photo albums - we've got one book for every year from 2011 up to now! It is honestly my least favorite task in the world, but I care deeply about the final printed product because all the family snapshots we took since our first point and shoot in 2003 are totally gone. Those were the days before people really understood digital archiving or external hard drives! I think it's so important to have a digital record and a printed record of your favorite family pictures just in case.

I'm making a A-Z alphabet book with watercolor paintings for our baby (he'll be born almost exactly a year after that car accident day) and it's chalk full of references to our lives before he was born and our family history. 

My sister and I took a story about our Grandma Kaiser and turned it into a full out photoshoot! I've got lofty ideas to do more like this sometime in the future.

And of course, if you've been around this website of mine at all, you'll know that I've pushed preserving stories as the most important part of my mission. If you've watched either of my intro videos, "she loves what kind of pictures?" and "totally random things about me!!" you know that bits and pieces of what I've written in this post are in there as well. 

Preserving stories is ME now. It's the whole focus of my business as a photographer, my goal as an artist, and my "why" as a human being.

I wish I could end here with "I'm so grateful for this trial because it taught me this important thing" but that would be a lie. Looking at this picture of all my journals laid out before we boxed them up hurts. I hate that this happened more than anything else I've ever experienced, but I'm trying my best to build myself up from it by focusing on what I have still yet to create.

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