Friday, December 20, 2013

letters to our sons | December 2013

I have great intentions, but without deadlines most of those don’t come to fruition. One of the reasons I created a blog was to capture this time when my sons are young. So I’m excited to join a group of friends, moms, and fellow photographers as we share about the boys in our lives on the third Friday of each month. We will be writing a letter to our sons each month. You can follow our blog circle to Leslie Norgren  of Loving What We Live Photography next, and continue all the way back here.

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Dear Nolan,

Just typing your name makes me smile. That’s you, above, in a passport photo at age 5 1/2. Hilarious. Happy. Alive. Full of enthusiasm and so full of love. That’s how I’d describe you.

I take a little pride in not having a favorite child, but five is definitely one of my favorite ages. Still unabashedly affectionate, and able to share all your ideas and stories, you delight me.


You recently carried a stack of board books to the couch, announcing that you were going to “reread all my favorites---from when I was little.” I’m including a 40-second video of you reading Brown Bear, because this is my blog and I can get away with it here.

I still think of you as little, but your body is growing. You’ve lost that Buddha belly I so loved. You started kindergarten this year, and you love it, despite the occasional complaint that you have to go “tomorrow, again?”

webNolan's first day at HMK

One of the highlights of my day is walking down to the bus stop with Duke to greet you. I love that you are home an hour earlier than your brothers and that we still have a little “mommy and me time” as you call it. I love that you are already mid-sentence, telling me the big news from Ms. Sheila’s class, before you finish stepping off the bus. I love that your coat is half on and half your backpack unpacked, even though I complain about both every time.

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You say “thank you” more than anyone else I know. I still remember when you weren’t yet talking (and you had us slightly worried you know, waiting until you were well past two to start), and you walked up to your dad, signing “thank you” and gesturing at the balloon you’d been playing with for days. When you learn I’m making pasta for dinner, you run to hug me and always say, “Thanks, Mom. You’re the best.” And I know you’re mostly relieved it isn’t the stew or soup you dread, but I soak it in all the same.

2013 11 26_Powershot_0766Photo taken by my mother-in-law, on my point & shoot, with flash, at the Walnut Room; i.e.: the best camera is the one you have with you!

You will forever be the great surprise of my life. We had just driven all our baby hand-me-downs to your Aunt Elizabeth in Texas when I started throwing up on the way home. I’m a lister and a planner, my boy, and you threw me for a loop, but the best things that have ever happened to me (falling for your dad my senior year, moving to Utah of all places) have all been unexpected. You balance our family in a way that we so needed. You lifted the pressure of comparison off your big brothers, and you gave me a chance to revisit mothering an infant with the full knowledge that it was my last time. So you might be indulged just a bit, okay, more than a bit, but really---we’re indulging ourselves in you.

Thank you, Nolie, for sharing your joy and laughter with all of us. Thank you for teaching us to be grateful and to see everyday things as adventures. May you continue to grow and explore, always knowing you are loved.

More than all the stars,


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Photo+Quote | December Blog Hop

"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful." - Norman Vincent Peale

This marks the final Photo+Quote blog hop. On the 15th of every month we were challenged to pair a chosen quote with a photograph.You can see how the other photographers in the series interpreted this month’s quote by following the blog hop to Pam Parisi of P Squared Studios

A great big thank you to Pam who coordinated the blog hop all year and to all the great photographers who participated along the way!

You can see my past participation in the links below:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Things I Learned in November

Aspen Grove at Warner Lake

Inspired by Emily Freeman’s series and a tradition in my besties’ annual letters, I’m sharing a few of the things I learned this month.

1. “Huh” means the same thing in every language.

Did you know this? Do you find it as amazing as I do? Because even “um” isn’t the same thing in several languages, and don’t even ask me about ‘blah’ (because I’m sure I’ve already told you that story).

2. I don’t shoot weddings, but I found this wedding photographer’s tumblr hilarious.

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A shot I took at my friend Natalie’s wedding in September. Love her daughter’s spontaneous reaction to their kiss!

3. I get more requests from brides than I do from new moms, even though I’m clearly a newborn photographer. Moab doesn’t need more photographers, in my opinion, but more of them need to get online.

4. DFTBA means Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

You probably already knew that, but I did not. It’s the tag line/trademark of Nerd Fighters, though John Green explains here in his charming way why it isn’t officially trademarked.

We used to say “May the force be with you” in the mornings as part of our goodbye ritual. Then it became, “Have fun stormin da castle!” For a while I switched to: “Be careful out there among the English.” Now we’re saying “Don’t forget to be awesome”---unless I’m yelling, “Hurry, you’re gonna miss the bus!” instead.

5. I’ve learned more about comic books in the last four weeks than I ever imagined, thanks to our new Comic Creators Club. My sons are my main teachers, but Scott McCloud’s Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels has also been the most enjoyable guide.2013 11 11_1113A blurry shot with my niece Jane who lent me her bedroom for the weekend.

6. One of the highlights of the month---and the year---was visiting my sister Erin in California and, with her, attending a retreat led by Karen Maezen Miller. I can’t quite articulate what I learned there, but a little more “undistracted awareness” would have helped me make my connection on the flight out there.

7. I accepted the fact that I’m not getting a smart phone and finally upgraded my Tracfone. Thanks to Katherine’s post, I can finally text a single line in less than 10 minutes. I’m no longer the last person in the U.S. with a flip phone. Gotta say though, that flip phone served me well for nine years.

8. Tracfone required me to give the phone a nickname. True story. Sean came up with Passepartout. I liked the literary reference, though I doubt my non-smart phone could live up to the name and thought it best I be able to pronounce the nickname. So we’re going with Zhean, as in Jean Passepartout.

9. I got obsessed with the idea of habits this month. Not a new obsession but newly intensified after my friend & guru Lori linked to the TEDx talk, Tiny Habits. I’ve been listening to The Power of Habit in the car. It might take me six months to finish since everything is a five-minute drive here. More about this topic at the end of the year.

10. I learned that even though this blog is partly for work, I’m much more motivated to write if I let myself write about what I want. I’ll still be sharing newborn sneak peeks, but changing a few things around here in the new year.

Just for fun…if you read all this way, and can name the three movies quoted in #4, email the titles to dokphoto AT hotmail DOT com and I’ll award you a prize. Deadline is December 9th!

Don’t forget to be awesome!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesdays Unwrapped: a child’s handmade card

There are so many stories from our road trip to Chicago. So many gifts to savor from our time in the city and with family. Today I want to unwrap just one small one.

When my dad pulled into his garage on the drive home from my brother’s house after Thanksgiving dinner, I was struck by the sight of my mom’s handwriting on a pair of plastic drawers. One drawer was labeled Maria and the other Elizabeth. In March it will have been two years since my mom died, and so I have become accustomed to grief’s unexpected, spontaneous strikes. Surely I’d seen those drawers before, and Mom’s handwriting everywhere in Dad’s house, but that night, the sight left me breathless and tear-stained.

One of the tasks that nagged at Mom during her illness was sorting through old papers and she often talked about wanting to give each of her children a box of their papers that she had kept. She often asked me to come home to help with this task, but then, once I was there, would have no interest in it. I assumed these two plastic storage drawers held old class photos and birthday cards of my two sisters. I assumed I reacted to their sight because they brought to mind how my mom would doodle while on the phone, and her favorite doodle---a list of her children’s names.

So I didn’t go out to the garage with them in mind. I was looking for a ladle. But I opened one and found all the letters I had written my mother while in Russia. I’d never even thought of asking for them, and didn’t realize just how much I wanted them until they were in my hands. Thank you, Mom, for keeping them.

I also found this card.

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I was in 2nd grade when I made it. My dad was in the hospital with an infection in his heart, the only time I can recall him ever missing work. I love so many things here---the random circle sticker, my rendering of him smiling in bed, my creative spelling, and the offering of a prayer (poor banished children of Eve, indeed) that I only half-knew so it concludes: the end.

Most of all, I love the back image:

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People joke about the messiness of parenting young children, the mundane tasks, the bedtime sagas and endless questions. It’s much harder to describe the love fest. As a young girl I was in love with my dad, as I assume all daughters are. I needed him to be perfect and so he was.

Each of my sons went through a phase when they would ask me to marry them. When they’d hold my face in their small hands and whisper how much they loved me. Nolan is in that phase now, pausing at random times in our dashing through the loop to take off his mitten and ask me to plant a kiss on his palm. Sitting on my dad’s couch, I held Nolan on my knee while he threw his arms around my neck and laughed in-between kissing my cheeks. My dad was sitting next to me and he smiled watching us. “He’s exactly like you,” he said, and I know he didn’t mean Nolan’s blue eyes or chubby cheeks.

To parent well means to soak in all that unconditional love children give you, to enjoy that brief time when you are the sun of their solar system, and to gracefully let it go. To know you’ve done your job well if you are no longer the center of their world. I am in awe of how my father managed to do that---I can’t fathom how hard it was---or will be---to move from the being the sun to one of many moons.


This post is inspired by Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky and her invitation to Unwrap Your Tuesdays during advent.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A boy, his beautiful mama, and Moonflower Canyon | Moab Utah Portrait Photographer

child photography moab utah

I love capturing repeat clients and seeing babies turn into toddlers, or in this case, a toddler turn into a little boy. Sweet Cael was only six months younger last time we met at the wetlands, but how his face has changed and how he has grown!

Those first three years are like an entire lifetime, and I encourage parents to capture as much as you can---in photos or words, because they change so fast.

natural light photography moab utah

This time we met at Moonflower Canyon. I couldn’t help recalling the wise words of one of my photography heroes, Audrey Woulard, who advises to photograph toddlers indoors, where you plant yourself and wait for them to approach rather than chasing them.

Lots of chasing ensued, indeed, but we wanted to capture Cael in all his Moab glory---picking up rocks, sliding down sand hills, and having a ball.

mother and son photography Moab utah

child portraiture moab utah

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child photographer Deirdre O. Keating

I think we captured Cael’s personality as well as just how busy a mama to a 16 month old is!

dreamy photo of toddler on path

I so look forward to seeing you grow even more, Cael, and seeing where your path leads you.

Friday, November 15, 2013

letters to our sons | November 2013

I have great intentions, but without deadlines most of those don’t come to fruition. One of the reasons I created a blog was to capture this time when my sons are young. So I’m excited to join a group of friends, moms, and fellow photographers as we share about the boys in our lives on the third Friday of each month. We will be writing a letter to our sons each month. You can follow our blog circle to Kirstin Gourley next, and continue all the way back here.

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Dear Aidan,

You were five years old when I first started writing here. One of my favorite posts remains this spotlight on you from 2007. Now you are eleven and writing about you seems so much more complicated. What am I allowed to share? Will I embarrass or misrepresent you? Will I fail to capture memories of you at this age out of fear of falling short?

web 2013 08 02_3154 bri and aidan

What I wrote way back then still holds true: “I remind myself often that I am still learning who Aidan is, that he is still learning the same thing, still becoming himself, and will be, probably for as long as I will know him.”

web 2013 06 13_1529 aidan drawingweb Aidan on his bike

Looking through photos from this year, I notice that while so much has changed (you were always so tall, but now, dear Lord, you’re so grown up!), much remains the same. So many photos of you at the table, concentrating with pen or pencil in hand. Photos of you helping me in the kitchen, whether with the borsch that you detest or with the cranberry relish you adore.

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aidan in the kitchen

And so many changes. Your long wait for a dog finally ended, and now every photo you take tends to be of Duke. Still good buddies with friends you’ve had since you were five (Elijah, Hayden, Alex) and making new friends along the way (Soren and Pinyon). This was the first year you didn’t play baseball (*sigh*), but you snowboarded and played basketball, and got your first skate board. Moved from Shine Time to Tween Time at KZMU. Learned you are near-sighted and got your first pair of glasses. You wrote and acted in your first short film with SpyHop this summer.You flew to Boston with your 5th grade class in the spring, and relished your taste of independence (though your body paid you back for all that soda you consumed---I never want to forget your wise words to Nolan as you were curled up on our bed, “Nolie, learn from my mistakes.”)

web aidan home from BostonPicking you up at the GJ airport---I was so happy to have my three sons together again!

You still read more than anyone I know (which is saying something as all my good friends are readers). The recent big hits have been the Fablehaven Series, The Sisters Grimm series, and Ungifted. Comics like Cul de Sac and Bloom County have you constantly trying to share jokes with us in fast 100-words-per-second retellings. Your own comics (Duke the Dog, Supes, Smart Alex, and KidBot) line our walls, appear in your school paper, and are the inspiration for Comic Creators, the afterschool group you’re helping lead.

2013 01 aidan reading

Four paragraphs in and I’ve captured only facts. See how carefully I want to tread? I was more sure of my footing in 2005. You still go to the beat of your own drum, and it is one of my very favorite things about you. It isn’t always easy to know when we should ask the world to conform to you, and when you should conform to the world,  and when neither should conform but just let each other be.

web my blurry boyYour favorite reaction to my camera, “Let’s see if I can whip my head so fast that it blurs and looks like a face melting!”

We haven’t hit teenage angst yet, though you’ve definitely mastered the eye roll already. I find myself thinking of Dar Williams’ lyrics from “When I Was a Boy.” She sings about all that she gave up when she left childhood behind and tried to fit into society’s idea of a woman. In the final verse, her friend tells her that he’s had losses too, and what he misses most from his childhood:

my mom and I we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked.
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do
And I have lost some kindness

 We still talk, and I hope we always do. Last week we enjoyed “Gravity” together---and you are still a great movie partner, on the edge of your seat with excitement and so emphatic afterwards about how awesome the movie was. How I enjoy that! With questions from school, plots from your latest book to share, and jokes---oy, the 11 yr. old boy humor.

I remember you getting hurt in a parking lot at the young age of three, and telling me it was just sweat, not tears on your cheeks. I remember looking at the sky wondering where did this come from---no one had ever told you not to cry. Weeks later you announced, apropos of nothing: “I’m done with crying.” Thankfully that wasn’t true, but I admit, I worry that the mixed-up messages from our culture about what it means to be a man will stifle you, will push you to live without vulnerability, without the full-color range of emotions available to you (as your pal Scott McCloud describes emotions—primary colors that mix into infinite tones).

webAidan at 11

You haven’t lost any kindness. Watching you when your brothers are in need, in your attention to Duke, interacting with Miss Bobbie and your grandparents, I am in awe of your awareness, your intuitive sense of what others need, and your kindness.

You may move too fast for my shutter speed, Aidan, but I want you to know I see you. My vision may be clouded with my own expectations and hopes and fears, but I have faith in you. I’m as crazy about you at eleven as I was about you at one. I’m slowly learning to give you more space, more control, and more responsibility. The notion that we only have seven more years with you living under our roof and at our table daily leads me to panic. There’s not enough time for all I want to share with you, all the places I want to take you and your brothers, all the memories I want us to create.

Discord comes from our doing. Compassion comes from undoing.                                       –Karen Maezen Miller

And then I wake up, and see that the future is not here but meanwhile you are! Right here in front of me. So glorious to behold!

More than all the stars,


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Graysen | Moab Utah Newborn Photographer

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Once upon a time I was really good at posting sneak peeks---a glimpse of the gallery in the works. Now, when I have to choose, I prefer to spend time finishing galleries rather than posting. And when I do take time to blog, I want to capture my own boys if possible.

So sweet Graysen is probably close to his two-month milestone by now, but I just have to share a peek. One of my favorite shoots so far!

mother and newborn baby lovely

(Seriously, who looks this good just days after giving birth?)

His beautiful mama, KaLeigh, is an amazing photographer herself. You might remember my interview with her in April. She also happens to be the sister-in-law of one of my favorite people on the planet, CeCe, who gifted her this session. It’s a bit intimidating to take photos of another photographer---but it’s also great fun. Because KaLeigh gets it, she knows the value of capturing a moment in time with a lens, and we had a great time creating timeless keepsakes of her brand new son.

graysen baby boy in a basketmoab baby photo dokmoab newborn photography baby boy sleeping

beautiful baby boy floating on a cloud

family with newborn moab utah

This boy was born knowing how to pose. What fun KaLeigh is going to have photographing him! The children of photographers are never short on photos, but there are so few photos of them with the parent who’s behind the camera.

I’m so grateful to CeCe and her husband Rick for making sure Graysen has photos of his early days with both of his parents. It was an honor to witness the love welcoming this little guy to the world!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Right Now

web2013 10 18_nolie and potato head_edited-1

waking up early and trying to make some headway before the boys join me.

listening to “For the Good Times” by Ray Price via YouTube obsessively. One of my mom’s favorite songs that I probably hadn’t heard in 30 years until John Legend’s “Lay Your Head on My Shoulder” brought it to mind this week. Would love to hear Adele remake this cheesy yet wonderful song.

working on three galleries and freaking out about my schedule over the next few weeks.

struggling with saying no to great opportunities that come at the wrong time, with balancing the need to make money with the desire to freely give my time or talents.

needing to constantly remind myself that every yes means not having time for other priorities.

watching Homeland…in about ten more minutes. Also “The Way Way Back” this weekend which was delightful. Though it was slightly painful to watch Steve Carell play a jerk.

eating Goodness Knows Very Cranberry squares. While editing.

drinking more water and pretending I don’t know that pumpkin spiced chai is everywhere. Lamenting finishing our last box of PG Tips tea…

wanting more time. Always more time.

reading Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis---actually listening to on CD. Looking forward to our book club’s next pick, The Snow Child, as I’ve missed the last couple (see wanting).

thinking that September had a wonderful pace to it, with white space and some actual free time and wondering how/why I always seem to lose that.

loving fall weather and that our boys played outside all day today---basketball on our driveway this morning (I lost playing HORSE with the bigs), Sean playing soccer at a friend’s after lunch, Nolan on a hike with Duke and me to the Radio Tower, and then all three spent the evening playing in the yard with our neighbors’ grandkids. How I wish we had more kids on our block all the time!

planning on a birthday weekend with my sister in California and Thanksgiving in Chicago.

feeling grateful for all of Brian’s progress on our basement (so close to finished!), for health, for a surprise bouquet of sunflowers, for the luxury of angst about problems that are mostly of my own making, and for these three little men most of all.


This post is inspired by the ever-inspiring Elise and her Currently series, and my own post from long ago.



Friday, October 18, 2013

letters to our sons | October 2013

I have great intentions, but without deadlines most of those don’t come to fruition. One of the main reasons I created a blog was to capture this time when my sons are young. So I’m excited to join a group of friends, moms, and fellow photographers as we share about the boys in our lives on the third Friday of each month. We will be writing a letter to our sons each month. You can follow our blog circle to Kirstin Gourley next, and continue all the way back here.

IMG_1582 sean

Dear Sean,

Today you asked me why I was heading to my office instead of joining you and your brothers for popcorn and “The Ransom of Red Chief.” When I told you that I had a letter to write to you, you replied, “But I’m right here---why would you write me instead of tell me?”

Perhaps you were right, but I don’t think you could sit still long enough for me to tell you, and you would blush and ask me to tickle you instead of talk as soon as I said I love you. I am writing to you right now, to you at 8-and-a-half-years-old, but also to you at some older date when you might read this. Mostly what I want to say is simply that I see you, I love you, and am amazed by you.

sean reading at bookstore in denver

Eight is the year you became a real reader, though you’ve long known how to read and enjoyed books. In the past though, you really preferred to read with someone. You liked reading for the shared experience. This year you made the leap to enjoying it on your own.

To borrow Whitman’s phrase, you contain multitudes. Shy at times, but an extrovert at heart. Joyful and exuberant, but eager to retell any sad story you hear. I don’t pretend to have fully grasped you by any means. You confound me, challenge me, and teach me, just as you did as a toddler. You were probably three by the time it dawned on me that you were an extrovert in a family of introverts, and just giving you more opportunities to be social made you more content.

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From day one you seemed fully in your body and at home in this world. You love to move, whether it be racing toward home plate or shaking your boogie in a dance off. You play with gusto, and I see more than a bit of your dad in you as you race to be the first, to climb the highest. You have his love of adventure, his physicality and his competitiveness.

2013 08 02_2611 sean up high 

I often tease you that you are a combination of my two favorite men, because I see so much of your dad and my dad in you. Years ago I was describing a habit of yours over the phone to my mom, how I had noticed you would ask questions you already knew the answer to just for the sake of conversation. She immediately replied, “Don’t you see it? You’re living with your father.” And I laughed so hard, because I hadn’t seen it but she was exactly right. Just like Grandad, you are so good at arguing for the sake of argument---sometimes taking the opposite side of what you really think just for fun!

2013 09 01_6053 sean and frog

And like your father and granddad, you have such a kind heart. As tough and rough as you are, you can cry, usually not over bumps or scraps but because your feelings have been hurt or because you hurt for someone else. I pray that you never lose that ability, Sean. It’s helped me be a better mother, because I could sometimes forget just how young you were. So clever and so articulate, but still so young.

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2013 08 26_4562 sean's goblet sundaes

You are an adoring younger brother, ever at Aidan’s heels, and a strong and protective older brother, leading Nolan in play. You are naturally responsible and often harsher on yourself than anyone else is. God helps us if you ever receive a B. I love that you hold yourself to high standards, and that you follow through on your commitments. Those are great traits that will take you far (though hopefully not as far as your teacher predicted when he told you that, at this rate, you would soon rule the world). Yet, I also hope you will have as much compassion for yourself as you do others, and welcome the mistakes that teach you as much if not more than your successes.2013 07 28_3938

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I’m grateful to be your mom, Sean. To have this close-up seat to watch you grow and explore. At 8 1/2, you say you want to own your own island and a castle in Ireland someday, that you plan to be a writer and illustrator and actor and possibly a doctor too (ETA: I forgot blacksmith, your latest calling). Unlike your brothers who both say they plan to be bachelors---and have tried to get you to promise the same, you’re confident that you want to marry “and have a bunch of kids.”

Thank you for all you’ve already taught me, and for all the joy and lessons ahead. May you always be as eager for any excuse to celebrate as you are today. May you always be the loyal friend and trustworthy brother that you are today. And may you always know that you are loved by me.

More than all the stars,


Monday, October 14, 2013

Photo + Quote | October Blog Hop

"Be who you are and say what you feel,

because those who mind don't matter,

and those who matter, don't mind."

-Dr. Seuss.

Each month a group of photography friends and I interpret a famous quote through images we have captured. Here’s a confession, and I hope you won’t hold it against me:

I really don’t enjoy Dr. Seuss. (*gasp*)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a work of perfection, agreed. I stand in awe of his writing and rhyming in that one. But the stories with more nonsense words than real ones, the sheer length of some of his plot-less stories, and his funky illustrations all wear me down. Doesn’t The Cat in the Hat freak you out just a little?

Well, I know I’m in the minority in this one. I appreciate the impact Dr. Seuss had on children’s literature, and the life-lessons in several of his works. I haven’t let my own distaste deter my children from enjoying him. The first book Nolan could read from memory was Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? I love the Dr. Seuss-themed quilt his grandmother made him. I even threw him a Dr. Seuss-themed birthday this year.

nolan's 5th bday collageweb2013 03 11_1894_edited-1web2013 03 11_1948_edited-1bday collage2

So forgive me if I slip There’s a Wocket in my Pocket to the back of the bookcase in hopes of never reading it again.

Hopefully Dr. Seuss was right, and those who matter won’t mind… that I’m not a fan.

Photo+Quote is a monthly series that I’m using to dig deeper into my own archives. On the 15th of every month we are challenged to pair a chosen quote with a photograph.You can see how the other photographers in the series interpreted this month’s quote by following the blog hop to Pam Parasi of P Squared Studios.

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