pittsburgh bride

Great Expectations: Holiday Edition // WV Boudoir Photographer

As a kid, I knew my Christmases didn’t look like the ones in the movies. Our house was smaller. Our family was broken and spread out. And our budget was definitely smaller. (Who can afford to fly their entire family across the country a la Home Alone?)

It never bothered me, though. If anything, I thought I had it better than other kids. I effectively got three Christmases. Christmas Eve at my dad’s, Christmas Day at mom’s, and then a few days after Christmas we’d make the trek to my mother’s side of the family and have our third and final Christmas before the New Year came. It was great! So many people, and yeah, plenty of presents. It just didn’t look like a Christmas movie Christmas.

By the time I was nine years old, both of my older brothers were out of the house. They came home for a lot of Christmases after that, but as years went on, their holiday visits became less predictable. I’d also ceased communications with my father, and our extended family visits became less frequent. And then, about 6 years ago, it was just mom and me on Christmas morning.

It was a lovely morning, but it felt like there were several missing pieces.

A few years into the Mommy & Me Christmases, I decided to take matters into my own hands. My mother had put together over 40 Christmases for the boys and me, so the least I could do was cook a couple meals and plan a few crafts.

But that didn’t feel quite right either. I didn’t understand it. I was checking all of the Christmas boxes:

  • Christmas Eve dinner

  • Christmas Eve mass

  • Christmas morning breakfast

  • plenty of packages for mom to open

  • our favorite Christmas album on repeat

I still felt a heavy weight on my heart.

I wish I could say it was a crystal clear Hallmark movie moment when I realized it, but that’s just not how it went. It was more of a slow awakening.

When I took the reigns of the holiday, I was doing everything I could to make ours look like the Christmases in Christmas movies.

But our Christmas has never looked like those! Not even the happiest of our holidays resembled the ones in the movies, so why would I try to force it to?

Our Christmas is quiet and messy. It’s silly and disjointed. It’s unpredictable, different from year to year. It’s relaxed and loose. It’s cozy and comforting. Our traditions might not look like the ones in the movies, but we do have them. And this year, instead of trying to make our Christmas something it’s not, I’m going to enjoy what it IS.

Hollingshead Was Not My Maiden Name // WV Boudoir Photographer

By next Christmas, I will be a Hussmann. By the Christmas after that, we might have a child I’ll one day tell that Hollingshead was my maiden name. 

Hollingshead was my maiden name?

That doesn’t seem quite right. 

 

I became the woman I am today with that name.

I attended and dropped out of college with that name.

I started a thriving business with $100 in my bank account with that name.

I fell in love, soooo many times, with that name.

I made terrible, life-altering decisions that I then rose from the ashes of with that name.

I introduced myself to the love of my life with that name.

I was surprised by visits from my brothers with that name.

I worked behind counters until I could start my own business with that name.

I made the hardest decision of my life with that name.

I learned how to love and please my body with that name.

I drove so many miles and booked so many trips with that name.

I rejected men that didn’t treat me the way my mother taught me I should be treated with that name.

I created hundreds of thousands of images of beautiful, incredible women, with that name. 

I voted for the first black President of the United States with that name. 

I removed my toxic father from my life with that name.

I giggled at 31 years worth of twinkling Christmas lights with that name. 

I adopted my beloved Astrid kitty with that name.

I got laughed at countless times with that name. 

I discovered what singing does for my soul with that name. 

I held my mother’s hand in the hospital more than once with that name.

I showed my work on gallery walls for the first time with that name.

I said “yes” to a lifetime of happiness with that name. 

 

My dear future child, Hollingshead was not my maiden name. 

Hollingshead was my warrior name.

Part 2: Okay, I Kind of Lost My Shit When I Lost My Wedding Venue // WV Boudoir Photographer

I think it's safe to say that I had less than 5 "Bridezilla" moments in the first 351 days of wedding planning. (Check my math with my bridesmaids and fiancé.)

Then we lost our venue and the number of Bridezilla moments at least quadrupled. 

I was messaging bridesmaids and family and friends at odd hours, delegating the venue search to as many people as possible, doubled down on bridal shower planning because it was the only thing I could control, and snapped at Ricky when our old venue recommended we get married in a fire hall. (For the record, there's nothing wrong with that, but it was not comparable venue to suggest to someone who'd planned to get married on a hotel rooftop.)

It wasn't just sass and cinnamon that came out, though. PLENTY of tears fell in the two weeks we were searching for a venue. Some of them were happy tears, in disbelief that I found such an amazing man to marry. But not all of the tears were joyous.

There was a moment I will never forget about 11 days into the search.

We'd gotten so many No's, so many too expensives, and if I had a dollar for every time I said in a saccharine voice, "well at least I still get to marry THIS guy!" I'd have enough money to buy out one of these damn venues so it could all be over. I was also eyes-deep in editing, freaking out about booking enough clients in the new year, and facing an inbox FULL of emails waiting for my reply.

I was working from our bed, because I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted I couldn't imagine doing anything else. But overall, I felt pretty on top of things. We'd gathered a short list of strong venue options, and things were looking up. 

Then we got one. more. no. 

It was from a venue I wasn't even in love with, but it didn't matter. 

I lost it. There I was, in our bed, in my pajamas at 2:30 in the afternoon, sobbing. Nothing made sense in my brain. I couldn't even get to my recent calls to call Ricky. My body went limp, and my sheets were getting soaked in my tears and slobber. I barely had the energy to let the cries out. So I just laid there and whimpered for minutes. 

Before you start to feel too sad, know that this had to happen. It was A LOT for one person to handle, even with the assistance of some of the best humans in the world. It was a LOT, but I didn't even notice how much the situation was demanding of me, taking from me. I was on happy little auto pilot. I had a job to do, and when I've got a job to do, I fucking do it. I was moving too quickly and too optimistically to realize just how depleted I was. 

I needed this moment of sadness to sort of reset my heart and my brain. I needed to empty everything out and start over, from a more honest, realistic place. 

From the moment I received the message about our venue, I knew I needed to allow myself to feel the disappointment. I knew Ricky and I needed time to be sad together. I knew that it was permissible to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

I KNEW all of this, but I didn't give myself the time to FEEL all of this. 

Being emotionally intelligent is a little bit like being book-smart sometimes. You can know all the things your mind has to do to process something. (Hell, you can even write a blog about it.) But if you don't TAKE the time to allow it to actually happen, your knowledge means nothing. 

Two days after my mini breakdown, we received the news that one of our top venue choices was available, and we began the process of securing it for our wedding date. It IS better than our original plan. It DID work out in the end. And yes, I still get to marry THIS guy. 

 

 

 

How Not To Lose Your Shit When You Lose Your Wedding Venue: 9 Easy Steps

"Venues book fast," they said. "Book your venue first," they said. "Once you have your venue, everything will fall into place," they said. 

Okay, great. Done. You got that venue. So you merrily skip through all of your other big wedding decisions like a freaking vendor-booking machine.

Then your venue gets pulled out from under you like the goddamn tablecloth trick five months before your wedding.

And when someone attempts the tablecloth trick, what usually happens? 

ALL THE SHIT ON THE TABLE CRASHES INTO A SHARP, STICKY, WET, TEAR INDUCING MESS.

So what do you do? Panic? Cry? Scream & curse at the heartless soul responsible for this?

Or do you take a deep breath, kiss your fiance, and get to work?

Yes. The answer is yes, you do all of that. 

Because losing your venue is one of the most disruptive things that can happen to wedding planning, I've taken the liberty of designing an easy 9-step process to help get you through it without rashly booking your tickets to elope in Cancun. 


 

HOW NOT TO LOSE YOUR SHIT WHEN YOU

LOSE YOUR WEDDING VENUE

 

1. Cry It Out

It feels like a breakup for a reason. You dated tons of other venues, but this one stole your heart. You moved fast. You started picturing your future together, making plans, finding yourself wanting to see it every day. Then BOOM. Ghosted. It just disappeared with little to no explanation. Allow yourself to grieve that loss.

2. Hold The Phone

You and your fiancé need time just the two of you to feel this together. Resist the urge to call in reinforcements right away. Take the evening, turn off your phones, have a nice dinner and just be together. Take a moment to remember that you still get to marry the wonderful human across from you, so where EVER that happens, it's still great news. Wine helps, which brings me to

3. Get Drunk on a Tuesday

It's totally acceptable to get drunk the night you find out. A little (read: a lot of) booze can really clear your head and empty your heart. Which is just what you need when your wedding gets a shakeup like this. Get tipsy and let loose. Let your emotions run wild. Just make sure your phone is nowhere near you so you don't send any messages you'll regret in the morning. 

4. Once You've Completed Steps 1-3, ABSOLUTELY CALL IN REINFORCEMENTS

Start with those closest to you. It helps if you have a baller fucking fiancé and maid of honor. Then when you're ready, take to the internet.

Facebook is a beautiful beast, full of people who can help you. I know you don't want to talk about it, but it is in your best interest to reach out and ask for help on this one. Not only could they have ideas you wouldn't have thought of, but just seeing all your friends and family rallying and supporting you can get you through this crazy time.

BONUS TIP: Write down the names of people who went above and beyond to help you. Make a note to send them a thank you note once the dust settles.

5. The Dishes Will Get Done...After You Find a Venue

Don't worry about letting a few things slip to the back burner. This is kind of a big deal, and people will understand if you need a few days to get your shit together. 

6. Don't Be Afraid to Use Your "I Lost My Venue" Card

You never know when your sob story will come in handy. You should totally include it in all your emails to new venues. People will pull strings for jilted brides. (If strings are pulled for you, be sure to write that name down for thank you notes, too.)

7. You CAN Put Lipstick on a Pig

As you're shopping for new venues, you're going to get a lot of No's, which might lead you to booking a less than ideal space. This is when you need to channel your inner Joanna Gaines and see the potential in places you might not immediately fall in love with. (You KNOW you wanted a reason to troll Pinterest again anyway!) White lights and candles go A LONG way in transforming a space.

BONUS TIP:  Your guests are going to remember how your wedding made them FEEL, not what color the walls were in the reception hall. 

8. #blessed

At this point, it could really do you some good to take a beat and make a list of all the things you DO still have. Your fiance, for starters. Your amazing wedding party, wonderful vendors, friends and family who are still super stoked for your wedding. Focusing on all that goodness is key.

9. When One Door Closes, Another One Opens to the Whitewashed Warehouse of Your Dreams

There is a solid chance that you will find an even better venue. It might not seem like it right now, but remember how you thought you'd be with your high school boo forever? How'd that work out? Chances are, you found someone way more awesome. If you're open to the possibility of finding something better, you will.


As you research and contact new venues, it's okay if you feel the tears and/or rage well up. Let them. But keep referring to Step #8 as often as you need to, and your wedding day will be even better than you'd imagined with that punk ass venue that cancelled on you.


Check back next week for Part 2: What the 3 Days After Losing Our Venue Actually Looked (and Felt) Like

Mini Sessions Are a Bitch: Why I Do Them Anyway // WV Boudoir Photographer

Ask any portrait photographer, and they'll tell you that they don't exactly look forward to mini sessions. 

If you've been a customer who has purchased a mini session, THANK YOU. But, step behind the curtain with me for a moment.

Mini Sessions, or miniature portrait photography sessions, usually take place over the course of one, or two if the photographer is batshit crazy, days. These days are generally 8-10 hours long. If the photographer has decided on 30 minute sessions, that's TWENTY families, people, couples, per day. Many of these people are relying on you to create THE MOST AMAZING CHRISTMAS CARD PHOTO ANYONE IN ANY FAMILY ANYWHERE HAS EVER SEEN. I don't care how much you love your job, that's A LOT of people to make/keep happy in a day or two. And don't even get me started on the money. 

That said, we continue to do them. You might ask why we continue to punish ourselves holiday after holiday with these chaotic carnivals of joy. 

I can't speak for any other photographers, but I have one irresistible, unavoidable reason to keep doing mini boudoir sessions. 

I want as many women as possible to experience all that boudoir has to offer.

When I started this business three years ago, I believed in boudoir. But now that I've had over 150 women trust me with these intimate images, I KNOW how powerful a boudoir session can be. 

 

I've seen women in the middle of a 150lb weight loss journey take everything off and dance between the sheets.

I've seen Cancer survivors reveal their scars to me.

I've heard women tell me that they've never believed they were beautiful until they saw their photos.

I've held women as they cried when the weight of the divorce hits them mid-session.

I've celebrated with women when they candidly tell me the best sex she and her husband ever had came after she showed him her photos.

I've high fived modest, shy women when they say YES to the implied nude "sheet shot."

I've listened as brides to be share all the details of the day they'll marry their best friend.

I've received texts just minutes after sessions thanking me for a confidence boost they didn't even know they needed.

I've smiled with mothers as they reclaim their baby body, watching as they become proud of the miracle they are.

 

Every woman has a damn good reason to do a shoot, but not every woman can afford it. 

While I still have to pay my bills, I price my mini sessions as low as I possibly can in the hopes that women who understandably can't swing our normal prices will give themselves this gift.

Making a Good Thing Great: Thoughts on Couples Therapy // WV Boudoir Photographer

Ricky and I are going to pre-marital counseling. Our officiant isn't making us, and we're not getting married in a church, so it isn't a requirement. We are voluntarily participating. I think Ricky and I are a pretty solid couple; obviously we aren't perfect. But you don't have to be broken to attend therapy. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," doesn't really apply here.

I say, why not make a good thing great.

And that's exactly what is happening. Ricky and I are learning so much about each other and feeling closer after every session. We're collecting tools for our marriage toolbox, so to speak, so that when something does need repaired, we have what we need to fix it. 

I'm a pretty therapy-positive person anyway, but I know not everyone is. I'm not the boss of you, and I probably shouldn't tell you what to do, but I'm going to.

Go to therapy. 

You don't have to go forever, and you don't have to go alone. You decide what you need. You don't even need to have a blaring problem to go. 

Something I've found super valuable about counseling is the chance to just. talk. In therapy, it's okay to go off on tangents, it's okay to meander with your thoughts. Sometimes, that's where the epiphanies are. Hidden in the weeds of subconsciousness. 

Likewise, it's been wonderful to watch Ricky open up about things he finds difficult to talk about. With a third party present, asking questions I might not think to ask, going down paths we might not go down on our own, he feels freer to explore his ideas. And I love it. 

Have you attended therapy either independently or as a couple? What has your experience been? How do you think it improved you and/or your relationship? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

 

Photo by the super talented and wonderful Lauren Webster Photography


DISCLAIMER: I know therapy isn't cheap. I know we are so fortunate. But there are lots and lots of resources, financial aid, payment plans, online options, etc. to make therapy more accessible.  

I Did Wedding Dress Shopping Wrong

I did wedding dress shopping wrong.

Which is funny, because my maid of honor, bridesmaids and mother did it exactly right. My MOH planned and scheduled an amazing day of appointments, complete with time for a nice long lunch (and beer!). My bridesmaids brought healthy snacks and all the encouragement without any of the opinions you see on "Say Yes to the Dress." My mother was a quiet light of love and support the whole day.

But I definitely did it wrong.

I started to worry in the days leading up to dress shopping when I wasn't feeling as excited as I thought I'd be to put on the dresses. Don't get me wrong; I was over the moon about a weekend in the 'Burgh with most of my girls. But I wasn't, like, giddy about trying on dresses. 

So the day comes, we're having a blast, but when I was putting on dresses, none of them made me FEEL all the FEELS everyone tells you you're going to FEEL. I started to get a little frustrated/exhausted/worried and even cried at our last appointment because my head and my heart were just so tired. (Shout out to Glitter & Grit in Pittsburgh for sweetly allowing me to take a beat for some deep breaths and refreshing. Erin even suggested I put on the dress I tried on right after I cried one more time at the end to make sure the tears weren't blurring my dress vision.)

So we didn't get a dress. Because I liked everything and LOVED nothing. 

We all decided it would be best to take some time, maybe go shopping again later with a little less pomp and circumstance.

Well, here we are three weeks later, and I haven't so much as LOOKED at other shops I'd like to go to. Why wasn't I jumping on this? Why wasn't I excited and determined to find THE DRESS?

And then it hit me. 

I wasn't driven to find the dress for two reasons.

1. I'd already found it.

2. I just don't give as much of a shit about the dress as I thought I'd be. And THAT'S OKAY.

The more I thought about the dress I liked the most (we all affectionately refer to it as Air Dress), the clearer my reasons for liking it became.

I like Air Dress because it will be SO EASY to DANCE in!

I like it because it's sophisticated, a little funky AND whimsical--just like I like to think I am.

I like how our photos will look with Air Dress in them.

I like how effortless Air Dress is.

I like that I've already found it which means I can turn my time and energy toward our guests' experience. Which is what I've cared as much about as I thought I was supposed to care about the dress.

I am way more excited about seeing our family and friends enjoy rooftop cocktails and live jazz. I am so much more excited about the photo booth with our sidecar in it. I can't wait to see people's faces when they come in for hugs and congratulations. 

I'm most excited about OUR wedding, not MY wedding dress.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a dress to order. ;)

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