“Blake is completely dedicated to his family.  Even one night away is really hard for him.”  That’s what Meg, mother to Blake’s two beautiful daughters, told me during our pre-session consult at my office.  She described him as the “family lynchpin,” the steady hand that keeps the emotional balance of their foursome while quite literally, putting food on the table each night (he loves to cook).  If the name Blake sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the man who has helped turned my health around in the last 18 months.  So when he asked me to photograph their family, I couldn’t have been more excited to have a parallel impact on his life.

Two weeks before our session, I sat down with Meg and Blake separately to talk deeply about their family.  It’s commonplace to take a pretty picture these days, but to create documentation that captures the nuances of each family’s micro relationship takes genuine effort and care.  During our conversation, Blake told me how much Olivia, his youngest daughter, loves physical contact with him and Meg.  “She’s constantly nuzzling and looking for attention from us….whether she’s excited or focused, her face tells the whole story.”  Conversely, Victoria their oldest daughter, is “more reserved and less emotional in her behavior.”  She is a typical first born, happy to follow the rules and wait her turn.  She idolizes Elena of Avalor, the Disney princess who rules a kingdom as a teenager, and finds out (sometimes the hard way) in how to be a good leader. This is evident in how she takes charge of activities with her sister but still searches to find the right balance in the sibling power struggle.

Whenever I finish one of these discussions I have the same thought: when you actually sit down with parents and ask questions, there is a world of detail just below the surface, specific only to their family.  And KNOWING what these themes are, and shooting specifically to capture them, is what take images from PRETTY to POWERFUL.  This is where the real value in my services lie.

As we got deeper into the conversation, both parents told me how proud and fulfilled they are by their family.  They both make (hard) career choices that allow them to spend afternoons and evenings with the girls, cooking, playing, zip lining (dad built his own in the backyard) and reading.  Both Blake and Meg choose family over everything else, and I wanted to make sure that that was reflected in our family session at their house.

{Hang on to the end to see which images they picked for the incredible wall gallery we created for their house with these photographs}

When I arrived, their pups greeted me…

A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.

 

The Leshnicks love the outdoors, so we headed into the backyard to enjoy all they have designed for their family. A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.

When I saw this happening, I ran over and brought my camera as close as I could to really show the intimacy of the moment.  It only lasted a few seconds.

A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.

This is one of my favorite moments of the day.  Blake is over 6 feet tall so there was no way I could shoot over his shoulder and keep the camera to my eye, so when the girls snuggled into him to get warm, I quickly held the camera above my head, tilted it over his shoulder, and shot down.  The result was this photograph taken from Blake’s perspective.

A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.

How incredible is this sign?  I love that it’s the first thing you see as you enter the girl’s play area.

A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.A family in Medfield with two daughters is photographed at their home.

There was some competition for parent attention on the couch, which resulted in a brief time out for Olivia.  She went into the corner and drew this by herself.

 

And now for their stunning wall design…

Every client receives a 90 minute design consultation after their session to experience the images for the first time, and create something heirloom for their home.  This is when we get to laugh and cry about how their dynamics manifest in the images, and discuss which images most represent their family.  Whether it’s finally getting images up on the wall, or creating an archival album, it all gets done in an hour and a half.  It’s one of my favorite services as a photographer and super satisfying for busy parents!

 

 

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Karen is an award-winning, Boston-based photographer specializing in documenting and preserving family history.  You can see more of her work online at www.kkpforlife.com, on Instagram or on Facebook.  If you’d like to contact her directly, you can find her at karen@kkpforlife.com.

 

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There is no greater compliment I can imagine than to be rehired by my clients.  Christina and Garrett got engaged in 2015 and married in 2016, and when we met to finalize their wedding album they told me the big news: a baby boy was expected in the fall.  Needless to say, I was over the moon to continue telling their family story when little Liam arrived in early September.

One of the things I’ve always admired about Christina and Garrett was that they work so well as a team.  Throughout the wedding planning process and all emotional milestones along the way, they were constantly in sync. Not because of some silly soul mates notion, but because they always put the other person first.  There’s a deep, palpable respect for each other that is so evident to anyone who’s lucky enough to call them friends, and it’s a beautiful synergy to witness.

During our afternoon together, I watched them work through the kinks of parenting a newborn, and you know what?  Everything was exactly as I’d remembered: incredible teamwork, always putting each other (and now Liam!) before anything else.  Babies cry.  They do.  And I think it’s important to document the entire story, not just the pretty parts. Because mom and dads overcome A LOT the first few months of parenting, and I want them to remember that later on.

I love that Liam will have a record of all the little details of their lives when he arrived: the pillows on the bed, the flowers in the garden, the puppy that first called him brother.  Enjoy today’s sweet tale of becoming three.

Christina and Garrett have the most beautiful front porch!  I loved that it was warm enough to go outside and shoot with Liam.

Getting a few licks in from his new brother.

I mean, how beautiful is this woman and child reunion?

Favorite shot of the session?!  Maybe.  I love love love all the details in their kitchen, and how damn proud dad is of his son.

 

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Karen is an award-winning, Boston-based photographer specializing in documenting and preserving family history.  You can see more of her work online at www.kkpforlife.com, on Instagram or on Facebook.  If you’d like to contact her directly, you can find her at karen@kkpforlife.com.

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Today marks 365 days since I quit.  In September of 2016, I was sick of looking at myself in the mirror, hoping I would magically return to my pre-baby size.  Wyatt had just turned 9 months old.  No longer could I claim, I just had a baby. But my mompreneur schedule was wild – odd, unpredictable hours that usually required a few late nights a week and weekend work.  It made eating the right foods really difficult (wait, what are the right foods??) and finding time for exercise a fantasy.

Weight gain in your 30’s compounds quickly – starting at age 40, the average American woman gains a pound a year.  That means by my late 40’s I would have been about 25 lbs heavier than I was when I got pregnant, putting me at much higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. It’s a slow progression and I was so afraid I’d wake up one day and find myself unrecognizable (and terribly unhealthy). But I didn’t know what the hell to do about it.

Then one day, while staring down another cider donut, I had a conversation that changed my life. A friend told me about fitness guru (he’ll hate that title), Blake Leshnick. She described him as being truly dedicated to his clients and in love with his craft, but I think the thing that made me most excited initially was that he would come to my home for workouts. No added travel time to the gym and I could set up workouts anytime between 5AM and 8PM. I called him the next day.  I was ready to quit feeling sorry for myself.

But I didn’t just want to lose weight, I wanted to get STRONG. After a c-section in the winter of 2015-16, and a spinal fracture in the spring of 2016, my lower back was incredibly weak. I had trouble picking up my son and couldn’t carry him for more than a few minutes. Then I’d head to work and haul 10 – 15 lbs of camera gear around for hours at a time, which was both exhausting and painful. I was so incredibly frustrated and sad.

This was the first time that I was approaching weight loss with my health being the biggest the motivator – not just getting into a smaller size jeans. Working out with Blake twice a week in my home (I literally NEVER work out if he’s not here), I’ve seen my body transform in the last year – particularly in the areas we targeted (biceps, abs and glutes):

  • I’ve lost 26lbs (15% body fat)
  • Add 33% muscle mass to my biceps
  • Added 20% muscle mass to my glutes
  • Down 3 pants sizes
  • Lost 5.5 inches around my waist

The functional result? My back is pain free, my wedding day shooting stamina has exploded, and I’m a much better (and happier!) mom.   Now I can hang onto my gear for longer periods of time, and deliver better results.  I rarely have pain while shooting and I’m never sore the day after a wedding (I used to wake up stiff as a board – most photographers do). Which means I’m a better mom and wife in my non-work time. And that is HUGE.

So how exactly did this happen?

These are the key components that Blake introduced to help me stay on track with weight loss and fitness every day.  Like most new behaviors, at first they felt challenging, but now they are just habit:

  • Drink at least 60 ozs of water a day
  • Walk at least 10K steps a day (I monitor this with my apple watch – see below)
  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, ideally 8
  • Monitor your calorie burn on a daily basis
  • Count calories, at least for a month or two, to ensure your output is greater than your input
  • Stick to high protein, low sugar choices for most of the day (I love Siggi’s yogurt and Think Thin Bars)
  • I did the 5-2 diet for about 8 months, and that really helped focus my weight loss
  • Focus on weight training over cardio – it will help you build muscle to burn more calories at rest and won’t leave you starving like a vigorous cardio workout.  For me, cardio workouts used to lead to a HUGE meal afterwards, negating all my hard work.
  • Hire Blake.  Just do it.

(Above: Apple watch activity tracker)

And there have been other real changes in my life as a result of this. I HAVE ENERGY. When I first started monitoring my steps I was around 4- 5000 a day. Now I hit 10K without even thinking about it. I used to scheme about the shortest route between two points.  Now I actively seek out the longest. Instead of taking an Uber, I walk. When I go to the store, I park in a spot that’s furthest away from my destination. Even on marathon days at my desk, I set reminders to get up and walk for 30 – 40 minutes at least once. These are things that I found easy to work into my life and have made a huge difference in my overall daily calorie burn.

But maybe the best part of all of this has been that I will live a longer, fuller life because I’m changing the way I eat and move now.  I want to make every moment count with my family, and I know that changing the way I live in my 30’s will have a major impact in my 60’s and 70’s.  It’s never ever too late to make healthy changes, y’all.

So if you’re considering tuning up your body and mind, start the journey today.  Just do one thing – add another bottle of water to your intake, get yourself a step counter, ask a friend to go for a walk.  Your momentum will build, and your health will build with it.

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Karen is an award-winning, Boston-based photographer specializing in documenting and preserving family history.  You can see more of her work online at www.kkpforlife.com, on Instagram or on Facebook.  If you’d like to contact her directly, you can find her at karen@kkpforlife.com.

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  • September 15, 2017 - 8:41 pm

    Lisa Reisner - On the 5:2 were the 2 days always in a row? What would you eat on those 2 days?ReplyCancel

    • September 15, 2017 - 10:37 pm

      Karen Kelly Photography - I definitely did not do two days in a row – ever! My meals would look something like an egg or a siggi’s yogurt in the morning with 20 ozs of water, then an early afternoon snack of walnuts or almonds, then a very basic dinner of a protein and a small salad. I did not stick to 500 calories a day, it was more like 700.ReplyCancel

  • September 15, 2017 - 8:43 pm

    Michele A - Super motivational, Karen! You’re winning at life!ReplyCancel

    • September 15, 2017 - 10:44 pm

      Karen Kelly Photography - You are so kind Michele! Thank you!!ReplyCancel

  • September 16, 2017 - 5:15 pm

    Kelly - This is such an inspiring post! Thanks so much and good for you! I can attest to the fact that you have tons of energy at work, and a great attitude about everything.ReplyCancel

  • September 19, 2017 - 1:09 pm

    Joy - Karen – Your example is spot on! I lost nearly 20 lbs. and gained muscle, stamina, happiness and a “new life” following a very similar regime. ( I’m only 5’1″ tall and built just like you…at 53, I feel amazing!!!) Thank you for sharing your journey❤️ReplyCancel

“Most folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”

-Abraham Lincoln

As I embarked on my return trip to the self-sustaining marijuana farm in Maine this spring, I had been thinking a lot about happiness.  What are the things that make humans happiest?  Do we understand about what actually makes us happy?  Is happiness something we can will, or is it something that happens to us?  If happiness is a concept, can it be different for each of us?  To be “happy” is a notion that is incredibly simple, yet inherently complex.  Looking in on someone else’s life – a life that is very different from your own – can leave you with a wide-eyed sense of misunderstanding.  It can also give us great perspective on our own lives.  This year, I attempt to pull back the curtain a little further on the mindset of this beautiful family who, for the second year in a row, graciously allowed me document their lives for 36 hours.  And maybe, just maybe, there’s an insight for us in how they’ve chosen to live.

If you haven’t had a chance to read about my first trip to farm in 2016, I highly suggest you check it out before reading today’s update. {Note: All names have been changed to protect the identity of my subjects.}

When I pulled up to the Callow home on a dreary Monday morning in June, there was a light fog coating the farm.  An “authorized personnel only” sign lay at the foot of their driveway and at least 5 handmade signs warning travelers, “Do Not Spray Without Consent,” littered the road leading up to their house.  The family dogs alerted to my arrival and Bonnie (mom) met me outside.  There was a flicker of warmth in her smile and it calmed my nerves a bit.  A long wall, at least 10 feet high, was being built along the front of the property.  Later, when I asked Pete about it, he responded, “Well if Trump can build one in Mexico, why can’t we build one here?  Making Maine great again.”  He said it with one of his ear to ear smiles, followed by a chuckle, then flew out the kitchen door.  I still am not quite sure how to interpret his comment, but I can tell you that I felt a growing sense of privacy within the family culture.

 

Here’s the gear I packed for the trip:

  • Nikon D5
  • Nikon D4
  • 24- 70mm f/2.8
  • 35mm f/1.4
  • 50mm f/1.4
  • 105mm f/2.8
  • 256Gb worth of memory
  • A few lens hoods and plastic lens coverings in case I needed to shoot in the rain
  • 1 flash
  • The highest boots I could find (Hunter)
  • A raincoat
  • Waterproof pants

I stepped through a broken wooden threshold into their kitchen, and was greeted by Sylvia, their oldest daughter, with a running hug.  While I knew she would probably remember me, establishing relationships with children as a photojournalist while not interfering with their lives can be challenging.  Last year, after grappling with my presence for a day, she finally asked, “So are you a kid or are you an adult?”  I can understand why it’s not clear how to categorize this 30-something-year-old female who arrived from a far away place to lay on the floor and climb trees while taking pictures of her family.  Admittedly, it’s kind of weird.

Pete (dad) gave me a huge handshake and gave me a quick update on the farm.  But before he told me anything, I noticed he was in Carhartt pants, a blue button down and a hard hat.  A pretty radical shift from last year’s torn sweater, weathered jeans, and knit cap.  He explained to me that the farm was no longer independently growing marijuana, but that he had subdivided small plots on his land to allow others to rent and grow their own herb.  Pete proudly explained, “I make $50,000 a year from those plots.”  At that moment I realized I wasn’t speaking to a farmer.  I was speaking to an entrepreneur.  More on this in a bit.  Here’s a close up of one of these plots.

 

Simon, their five-year-old son, continued his flirtation with the camera this year.  Here you can get a better understanding of the wooden planting boxes and subdivisions of land rented out to herbal growers it the area.

 

 

Morning chores for Ivy (9 years) include feeding their oversized bunny.

 

 

Little Sylvia (7 years) still isn’t so happy to have me around, but I appreciate her acceptance for a few days.

 

 

The day before I arrived, Pete had fallen off his truck and given himself a nasty welt.  He used a cleansing agent that he formerly used on the pigs to clean their wounds, which colors human flesh blue.  Then he was off to run errands in town before returning home in the afternoon for a smidge of family time.

 

 

During Sylvia and Ivy’s home schooling lessons with Bonnie, they were learning how to draw maps.  Ivy drew a map of the farm.

 

A family who lives on a farm in Maine practices home schooling at the kitchen table.

 

The upside of the fact that it rained all day was that the family (minus dad) was together all day.  It gave me a nice opportunity to document lots of the ordinary moments in their family as well as their interactions together. Without TV’s, ipads and computers, the kids find themselves creating group projects (like sewing), playing cards, or helping mom create the next meal.

 

 

The family acquired their first sewing machine and Ivy was intent on learning how to use it.  It turned into a great rainy day activity while Bonnie and the girls researched dresses in books, used the chalkboard to dream up concepts, and planned how to properly stitch each piece.

 

A mother on a farm in Maine teaches her daughters how to sew a dress with a sewing machine.

 

A new oven, good for baking pizza and bread, yielded a delicious loaf for the morning snack.

 

Children gather around their mother on a farm in Maine as a photographer documents their life.This is a picture of the remnants of breakfast made by a family on a farm in Maine.

 

Rainy afternoons can feel DAYS long, and as I watched everyone’s boredom set in, it became harder to disappear into the background in this small space.

 

 

Once the rain cleared up, Bonnie and kids headed outside to do a few chores.

 

 

Pete returned home in the late afternoon.  Not only had he sustained the leg injury the day prior, but he had been hammering stakes into the ground for the last two days.  This was the only time I saw him take a break for a few minutes.  I really wanted to convey a sense of how tall and solidly built Pete is, so I turned over an old barrel I saw in the corner, dragged it in front of the bed and hopped up.

 

A family in Maine gathers together at the end of a long day of work on the farm while a photographer documents their lives.

 

This is the bed where Pete and Bonnie sleep.  It’s parallel to the stage behind me (seen below), with several mattresses that the children sleep on.

 

 

When I was wrapping up Day 1, I had a realization:  I had been on my feet for 8 hours following a 3 hour drive to Maine that morning, and I had no pain.  Two cameras and four lenses on my person all day, without sitting down once, and my back was good as new.  It made me well up with gratitude and pride for all the work I have done over the last 10 months to get my body back in shape.  The last time I was in that house I was three months post c-section, and 4 weeks post lumbar fracture.  The spring of 2016 was one hell of a good time.  But man, am I so glad I pushed myself through it. Roots workshop changed everything for me.  It’s changed my approach to photography, it’s changed the memories I produce for my clients, and it’s made me love my job so much more.

I headed back to my hotel around 5:00PM that evening, and returned at 6:00AM on Tuesday. Pete was on his way out the door and Bonnie was brushing her hair in the kitchen.  The kids were still asleep.

 

 

Bonnie headed out to milk the only female cow that hadn’t been moved up to the mountain.  It’s clear they have a real connection, but lady cow wouldn’t let me forget that she did not appreciate my presence.  Snorting and staring, I was pretty nervous when I lay down at her feet to photograph Bonnie milking her (below).

One of the biggest differences in terms of the makeup of the farm from last year to this year was the absence of hogs.  As a result of changes at the state and national level regarding the process and quality of the milk being fed to the pigs, it became nearly impossible for them to acquire it.  So the hogs were sold to the butcher for about 5000 lbs of meat.  As I dug deeper into the specifics of these changes, I learned that it’s getting stringently harder to be a small farmer.  The quality and conditions specifications for producers now include regular water checks, packaging specifications (i.e. butter must be molded into sticks) and other checkpoints that are increasingly difficult for small farmers to meet.

 

A woman in Maine milks a cow on her own self sustaining farm.

 

I loved witnessing the children waking up, and being able to see where they slept.  They sleep in the same space they spend their days doing laundry, sewing clothes, reading books and playing together.  Their sleeping quarters have changed a few times since I visited last year, and like all things on the farm, they adapt their lives when the situation requires it.

 

Children play in bed on a farm in Maine as a photographer documents their life.

 

One of the most familiar, yet unexpected, parts of this trip was a conversation I had with Pete as he explained his greenhouse building business to me.  “Last year I made a lot of mistakes. I bought too much wood.  And the amount of money I had to spend on advertising in the winter to move one shed just wasn’t worth it.  So this year, I’m limiting the wood I buy upfront.  I’m going to make as many as I can until I run out, and then that’s it until next year.”  Right.  This man knows how to adapt.  Arguably the most important characteristic for any small business is the will and ability to change when something’s not working.  The faster you can adopt change, the more successful you can be within your field of competitors.

So then I asked him, “What would a perfect year on the farm look like?”  He replied, “Just like this.  Keep doing what we’re doing.  Keep things going.”  No pie in the sky, big plan for outsourcing all the hard labor.  No ideas about selling his businesses.  Just keep on, keeping on.  Separately, I asked Bonnie the same question, and got a similar response, “Just keep the farm open.  Another year like this one.”

Conceptually, this was a really hard idea to wrap my head around.  Just keep doing more of the same?  No short term and long term goals?  In my mind, this does not compute.  And I’ve wrestled with it ever since I had the conversation.  I’ve tried to get myself into the mentality that happiness for them can simply be a straight, consistent line.  Maybe they’re not allowing themselves to dream.  Or maybe they don’t want to.  Or maybe this really is their dream.  Looking in from the outside, it’s a hard life, a life that’s wearing on them.  But what is happiness?  Maybe it’s getting their hands in the dirt every day.  Maybe it’s being part of a community and ideology much bigger than themselves.  Maybe it’s the relief of not having to keep up with the Joneses. When you look at the statistics on happiness, there’s solid research to show that being part of an ideological community is the most predictive factor of human happiness.  And trying to outdo your neighbor is one of the things that makes middle-class Americans most miserable.  So maybe they’ve got it right, and we’re upside down.

 

 

Much like last year, the family is constantly penning and repenning groups of animals around the property.  Bonnie and Sylvia drove to the land they own next door to pull some old stakes out of the ground that they need to pen in the cows up on the mountain.  The really are very few jobs that are too arduous for the children to do around the farm.  And it’s important that they get as much done as possible while the rain has stopped.

 

A little girl does farm labor in Maine while a photographer documents her work.

 

This is a hard life.  I can see and feel the weight of the years building on the family.  But it’s a lifestyle they choose and Bonnie and Pete have a real understanding of how they want that to look.  I’m not sure we can all say the same for our day-to-day and what we find motivation in each morning.  Sometimes more choices aren’t better, they are just more choices.  Perhaps somewhere in between both ends of the spectrum ends lies a quiet perfection.

I’m looking forward to continuing their journey in the coming years.  They already have a family album on it’s way to their home 🙂

 

—–

Karen is a Boston-based photographer specializing in family history.  You can see more of her work online at www.kkpforlife.com or on Facebook.  If you’d like to contact her directly, you can find her at karen@kkpforlife.com.

All images are copyrighted to Karen Kelly Photography and have been registered with the United States Copyright Office.  Any violation of this will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law.

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A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of photographing a family in Hingham that I have been connected to for years.  That’s one of the amazing things about Boston – you’re never more than 3 degrees of separation from anyone you meet!  The Cavanaugh family welcomed their THIRD son in April, and I was lucky enough to tell the story of their new lives in Hingham.  I have been documenting this five-some since their oldest son, Charlie, was born in 2013.  In many ways that feels like yesterday, but when I saw how big and handsome he’s become I’m quickly reminded that a lot can happen in four years 🙂

The Cavanaughs have a beautiful new home in Hingham, and it was amazing to see all the hard work they’ve done, infusing the house with modern, ocean community charm.  We spent time playing games outside, jumping on beds, and yes, cuddling their newest addition, Drew.  I am always so grateful to continue a family’s story from one year to the next, because I become more and more familiar with the little nuances that make each dynamic and personality unique.  Today, we celebrate their party of five.  Welcome to the world, baby Drew!
A family welcomes a new baby during a photography session in Hingham, MA.A family is photographed with their new baby during a photography session in Hingham, MA.

A family of five is photographed in their backyard in Hingham, MA.A family is photographed at home in their yard while welcoming a new baby during a photography session in Hingham, MA.               A newborn baby in Hingham, MA is photographed with his mom, dad and brothers.

A newborn baby in Hingham, MA is photographed with his mom, dad and brothers.   A family is photographed inside their home in Hingham, MA.

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Karen is an award-winning, Boston-based photographer specializing in documenting and preserving family history.  You can see more of her work online at www.kkpforlife.com, on Instagram or on Facebook.  If you’d like to contact her directly, you can find her at karen@kkpforlife.com.

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