So there we were. Three days after meeting each other, the man who returned after two years living in Alabama claiming he had a five-year plan that didn’t include getting married, looks at me and says, “There is not a doubt in my mind that I’m in love with you”.
That weekend, with the $800 he had in his pocket, the Bearded Gent (who was not so bearded at the time) bought a ring and proposed to me a week and a half later. When I share this story the first response is always, “what did your parents have to say about it?” and I always find myself chuckling. Why? Because my mother and father were talking marriage after the third date. My grandparents were married six weeks after meeting. My grandfather passed having never taken that ring off.
What can I say? When you know you know and life is too short to put something like that on hold.
(A quick PSA – If you are a little lost on where we are at in the story, make sure and read Part One right here!)
And while I have never made the connection before, as I type this, all I can think of are the lyrics to the song from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers…. “Oh, they say when you marry in June you’re a bride all you’re life”. Huh. Dumbfounded.
At the ages of 19 and 21, we promised forever to each other that summer. We had no idea what our plans were or how we were going to build our dreams, but we had that old ’93 Jeep Cherokee, no money to our name, and a belief that growing together through all that was to come was in fact the dream.
During the next year and a half, he would be working hard in pool construction and I would cultivate my love of photography and purchase my first film camera. I would also be busy documenting our local adventures together and falling more and more in love with memory keeping. We would also be busy re-purposing and adding thrifted finds (thanks to that poor newlywed budget) to our humble little apartment as we worked hard to make it feel like a home.
And our talks of wanting to move somewhere other than Arizona would become a regular daydream.
We knew that creating our family would be completely up to God’s timing and we were so excited when we found out we were pregnant with a son. It was love at first sight and motherhood fit me like a glove.
We arrived home from the hospital and the very next day I sat down and started my first business with Tanner in my arms. It was an online scrapbooking website. My plan was to create projects based on products available on the market and inspire others in what they could create for their own memory keeping. No business plan. No experience. Just a big idea.
Something you must know about me before this story goes on? I know of now halfway or middle ground in which to live my life. I am dialed in at 180 or zero. Functioning in any other way feels absolutely foreign.
With no idea what I was doing, I built a (probably pitiful) website for the first time ever using a clunky drag and drop system and yet, I somehow managed to get the top companies in the memory-keeping industry to send me thousands of dollars in products every month so I could share inspiration projects with my audience. I probably had zero traffic and missed some deadlines, but it was my first taste of entrepreneurship. I was hooked and it solidified the fact that, with enough effort, I didn’t have to work for anyone else while helping to support our family. We had big dreams after all. Not to mention, doing it all from home. That was key.
The Bearded Gent was cheering me on the entire way even though my “business” looked more like a hobby probably. And yep, we were still daydreaming about moving to a place that inspired us.
By now my first business had fizzled out. I was deep into photography documenting our lives and sharing it through a personal blog with friends and family (anyone else remember Blogger?). I was also starting to get asked to photograph people’s biggest moments – weddings, anniversaries, etc. While Jarett had an incredible job working for the corporate office of a worldwide commercial cleaning company, I desperately wanted to start another business for myself. I’m the daughter of an entrepreneur – it’s in my blood apparently. I wanted one, again, that allowed me to be with our cubs day in and day out, but didn’t require so much space since we were short of it in our three-bedroom townhome. And one that actually made some money – what a concept!
I started officially offering my services as a full-time lifestyle and wedding photographer. And of course, the Bearded Gent cheering me on the entire way.
We also moved to the east side of the Phoenix valley in hopes of, just maybe, finding an area of Phoenix that felt like a better fit (and to help create some much-needed space we were craving).
*Sidebar: Getting married and having kids so young can make it difficult in creating much-needed boundaries and developing your own identity as individuals as well as a family. Not that I would go back and do it any differently of course. Just a love note to you youngsters out there.
Another rented townhome and one that I was getting permission to make changes to. I couldn’t help myself when it came to home projects. Painting, bedroom makeovers, there was even a garden we added to the backyard.
Talks of moving somewhere out of state continued on, but growing careers kept us where we were.
We were officially outnumbered, but family life was magical. Don’t get me wrong, hard times found us for sure. But the Bearded Gent and I were made for the chaos and lost ourselves in parenthood and the joy of it all.
My career as a lifestyle and wedding photographer had taken off. However, now as a mother of three, I found the demands of being away on the weekends as a wedding photographer to be too much of a sacrifice. Tanner and Blake were beginning to get into sports and I found myself having to miss out on more than I wanted to. But it was when I heard of a scary situation a fellow photographer had to go through, in having to leave her toddler in the hospital after a choking incident to be at the wedding she was booked for that day, that I knew I had to make a change.
The very next week we made the decision that I would pivot, no longer book weddings, finish out the ones I already had on the books, and focus only on portraits and lifestyle photography. This would allow me to be more in control of my schedule and keep weekends free for our family as we needed. It was also at this time that blogging became a regular part of my business and I shared everything from personal stories and moments of our lives to tips on photography and recent photo shoots.
Design had also become a huge passion of mine as I was a one-woman show doing it all. The website, the client brochures, the packaging – all created by me (thanks to a growing family and a tight budget) and I loved every bit of it. I also began creating and designing digital and educational resources for fellow photographers. From that, I also found myself taking on a part-time gig as a lead designer for a website design agency. Because, you know. One’s plate can never be too full and I had not yet learned the art of focus. My creative heart wanted to dabble in it all I guess. I quickly realized how much I could make building websites through my own company so I started one with a fellow friend and photographer who had also become involved with design.
And the talks of moving and the dream of living somewhere else continued on while we stayed put.
By this time we had moved back to the Phoenix area. There was a feeling that a move was never going to happen and we needed to accept that we were meant to be in Arizona forever. After all, I am a second-generation native.
Despite that feeling, however, we only wanted to rent a home instead of feeling tied down with the purchase of one. You know, just to keep options open.
Our family was complete and we reveled in the hustle and bustle that four kids brought us. Life was busy in the sweetest of ways. Our rented bungalow in my childhood neighborhood had tons of character. It was also dated and worn. With the blessing of our landlord, I found myself tearing out the Murphy bed in one of the bedrooms, painting everywhere including right over the stenciled florals in the kitchen, and I would share these minor projects on my blog and through social media. I loved decorating that home and longed for our own to really get my hands dirty.
It was at this time I was in high demand as a lifestyle photographer. And, while I loved it, I hated that my busiest time of the year was when I wanted to slow down and be home more. The holiday season. I wanted to be home baking, decorating, and making those months magical for my cubs and family. Instead, I found myself spread thin in trying to accomplish that while also meeting holiday shoot and print deadlines for my clients. Not to mention, my website design company had grown by leaps and bounds and that didn’t help my ever-bloated work schedule.
The opportunity came to shoot a national campaign for PetSmart. One of the best experiences of my career. And at the same time I was also approached by a product company with the idea of being their full-time in-house photographer. Doors were opening to new avenues in my creative career, but my human limitations were obviously in the way of being able to do it all.
Building dreams while raising babes is not for the weak – at least the way I was doing it, that’s for sure.
Knowing that I would forever and always continue building my own brand alongside any other opportunities that came my way, I wished my business partner the best, and left our website design company for her to continue driving forward. I now found myself in a whole new playing field within the product and commercial photography industry.
And of course, the Bearded Gent was there cheering me on while the conversation of moving had ceased.
The lease was up on our bungalow and we had made the decision to move, now, to the west side of the valley. A home had posted for rent which happened to be five doors down from my mother and with the amount of space we were needing. We had fallen in love with the growing area and also were very impressed with the schools. Not to mention, it was also closer to the company I was working as a contracted photographer for.
It was at this time that things started to change with the Bearded Gent’s position and definitely not for the better. A change in management had caused a lot of issues, a lot of stress, and he found a desire to start his own company for more freedom and flexibility. Simultaneously, and after seeing the value of having an in-house photographer, the company I was working for offered me a full-time position as their visual manager. Photography, design, styling, brand strategy – all of the skills I had been discovering, building, and sharpening over the years. Not to mention, getting to split my time between working from home and working with the team at the office. It seemed like the perfect fit.
So, the Bearded Gent put his two weeks notice in and I accepted the offer to go full-time as a visual manager. It was slightly terrifying, but mostly exciting. With me earning a large and steady salary doing the things I love and the Bearded Gent enjoying time as a stay-at-home dad while planning out his next moves, it felt incredible to have worked to this point.
Despite now working for someone else, I was doing things I loved. I was gaining experience, learning a ton, and still building my own brand and business. This essentially meant fulfilling two full-time roles. During regular hours I was fulfilling my duties as a visual manager and outside of those hours I was still photographing clients, sharing life and work on my blog, and taking on website design projects here and there. Because again, apparently one’s plate can never be too full and I hadn’t yet learned the art of saying no. Looking back, however, I think it was more about an internal fight against working for someone else. I knew I didn’t want that to be my forever situation. But I wanted the Bearded Gent to have a proper chance at building his business. So I had to keep a tight grip on keeping my own brand afloat so I had something to rely on for when I wanted to make a change.
A question I’m sure you have at this point in the story – why are you the way that you are? And all I can say is, I have no idea.
I continued to make things beautiful wherever, and however I could. Jarett and I also loved doing home projects with the extra time he had. We even had one go viral which really opened my eyes to the world of blogging. You know, the one where you can actually making money doing it.
Unfortunately, and for too long if I’m being honest, I did what no human is capable of. I was working 80-90 hour weeks between both of my professional roles. I never slept, ran my body off of caffeine., and all while trying to be present and a good mom. I would say I fell short, but that’s just it. My perfectionism was steering the ship. So for everyone else, my obligations were fulfilled. For myself? Well, the writing was on the wall.
The company I was working for grew tremendously and more was being added to my plate. I felt myself fighting against being micro-managed, having no boundaries when outside of normal working hours, and feeling the exact feeling I imagined I would should I ever work for someone else. With the start of the Bearded Gent’s new business, I tried to keep going as long as I could.
I always envisioned a nervous breakdown being an instantaneous thing. One moment you’re fine and then the next everything snaps and you have officially lost it. Like Diane Keaton in Baby Boom. The reality? It’s like a slow-motion bullet.
Collectively, everything I had taken on and how I decided to handle it for the last four years was all spiraling towards me. My health had depleted to nothing and my mental state was causing anxiety over the simplest of things – like leaving the house. Looking back, it took longer than I wished for us to realize what was actually happening. It didn’t help that I like to suffer in silence (ask the Bearded Gent, I don’t make a peep while birthing children) and I have the hardest time saying no. When asked if everything was okay, I replied with an ‘absolutely’ and put my head back down to keep going.
And then the bullet hit. On the floor, unable to stop crying, it felt like all around me was crumbling. I had lost my muchness.
I was a shell of a human being. The heaviest I had ever been, exhausted beyond measure, unhappy, and feeling stuck. I was bitter and resentful over, what I felt like, caused it all. Burned out doesn’t even touch how far I had fallen. I was a complete and total mess.
Without saying it, the Bearded Gent and I both knew we weren’t yet at a comfortable place for me to quit so his business could take the spotlight. And maybe that was the quiet part that fueled me to keep going as long as I did. My family needed me to. How could I let them down? When in reality, I not only let them down, but I let myself down in trying to manage unrealistic expectations for myself. And I was paying the price through my physical and mental health. The Bearded Gent picked me up off of our bedroom floor, held my face in his hands, looked at me, and said, “You can’t do this anymore”.
It would be weeks of reflecting, of analyzing, and of praying over the next decisions we made as a family. I figured if it took four years to hit rock bottom, it was going to take me a good amount of time to get back to feeling like me again.
But God’s timing sure has a funny way of surprising us. Just when we think we can’t handle anymore, two lines appear on that pregnancy test…
Psst… dive into part three right here.