Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lessons in Adulthood.

I've always liked change but perhaps I use the excuse of change when things get too difficult to continue. Perhaps deep down I am seeking for a way out. Over the course of the past six months I've been placed in situations which have been completely out of my comfort zone. I've realized that although I'm physically been present in certain cities, I've never been 100% mentally present, always looking for the next big adventure. Attempting to analyze the situation and learn from the circumstances I am currently in, I have thought long and hard about how I handle things. 

Since my freshman year of college, in 2000, I have lived on my own. I've never been a fan of roommates, and I love to have personal time. Over the course of the last six months my personal time has become quite minimal and I've been forced or more or less placed in necessary situations where I am living amongst other people. I am also a person that doesn't like to ask others for help. I tend to try and figure things out on my own and if I can't figure them out on my own, I give up. I suppose I've always been a strong person, asking for help or relying upon others was always something I identified with as a sign of weakness. I love to serve others, but I have a hard time allowing others the opportunity to serve me. 

Last night while at Institute, a friend made the point that perhaps these trials and these challenges are only preparing me for marriage. Once married, I will have somebody by my side 24/7. I suppose at 32, if I'm never going to learn how to live with people, it should be now. When disagreements arise in a living situation, you can't retreat to your own place, rather you are forced to deal with the situation. I am the type of person when upset, that needs a little space. Although I am quite verbal and not afraid of confrontation, perhaps this time of my life is to show me how to immediately discuss issues rather than sitting on them.

As I look back upon even my experience in Switzerland, I made a list of things that I learned while there. Every lesson learned could directly apply to a marital relationship. In retrospect if this is all just to prepare me for me eternal companion, then it was worth it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eyes of God.

While in the library this morning, my computer in front of me and thoughts rapidly flooding through my mind, I noticed in my peripheral vision a man coming to sit at the table. Like any usual reflex, I looked up; however, unlike a usual reflex, I caught myself staring.

He was in his late 30s, tattooes covered his face, neck, and what you could see of his arms and hands that weren't hidden by his black hooded sweatshirt. He placed his computer on the table along with a Jamaican print bag, and sat upright to type or do whatever he had come to do. A little girl and her mother walked by the table, the young girl staring, either because kids stare or she saw something unique, and the mother pulling her child closer to her as if in fear.

What makes this man different than any one of us? What social confines do we have that would place a level of concern or fear in a mother just because someone is different? Why did I catch myself staring anymore than I would have had a man without tattoos sat across from me? Was I as interested in his story as I would have been anyone else? It's situations like this that make me question our intent as humans and how we would view the world if only we had the eyes of God.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sometimes you Just Need to Trust.

While scrolling through Facebook this morning out of usual boredom, I found this photo posted by a friend and it made me think.  All too often we have something small that we love and we don't want to give up, but sometimes we are asked to give it up and what is in store for us are bigger blessings. I feel like right now is one of those moments. I love California, not necessarily Los Angeles, because we all know it gets under my skin, but I don't have a shabby life at all. I love my nice new car, my cats, my photography.

... then there came this opportunity to move to Switzerland.  As much as I love Europe, and everything about it, I am going through this state of hesitance giving up the small things here for the bigger blessings there. It is hard when you know, you actually KNOW amazing things are on the horizon but you just can't seem to get yourself mentally over the horizon. I am struggling with the stress of moving and pretty much giving up my life, similar to what I did back in 2008 when I sold all my possessions, packed my car, moved to California and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

I had a goal to have every single bill paid off before I left the states, I even picked up a temporary job to obtain extra funds and yet I can't seem to get ahead- unexpected things have occurred and perhaps I need to just accept that it is okay if everything doesn't get done before I leave. Stress is not good for multiple reasons, first and foremost, at least my main concern, is the fact that I can't seem to lose weight because my body is in defense mode from the high amounts of stress.

I also wanted to have a photography agent by the end of May, but I haven't had time to look for one and am in the midst of redesigning my website, which I want to be completed before submitting to agents. Perhaps this lesson is that only the necessities need to be taken care of and the rest will all work out the way it is supposed to be but not how I had hoped it would be.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Portrait Project: Heather Charles.

Meet Heather Charles, an actress, a friend, and a girl that finds her happiness in her bedroom. Rushing in from a day of shooting on set, Heather sprawled out on her bed and let out a sigh of relief, she was home, she was happy. Inside her room were multiple inspirational notes, memories hanging upon the wall, and an in-depth glimpse into moments of her life that have brought her happiness. Each walls is covered in different affirmations; for love, for confidence, and for hope. Three masks hung upon the north facing wall, Heather pointed at the purple mask and stated she had made it herself, from a mold, by hand. Each mask represented the prior three years of New Year's Eve parties, a tradition she has experienced and will carry on. Below the masks stood a small box which housed necklaces. Every October/November, Heather begins searching for a necklace that she can change out for the New Year, each having a specific meaning to her life and the motivational drive the following year shall be directed by. This year, her motto is "dance."

"Most people don't like clutter in their room, they keep it clean and tidy, but I find my happiness in all of the small tokens and memories upon my wall."

To the left of her window stands a small stuffed cat wearing a beautiful cross necklace containing a piece of her cat Prince's hair, Prince's ashes, sit in the box beneath the stuffed animal.

I asked if this would still be her happy place when she gets married, laughing Heather said, I might just have to have my own room, a place to get away. Negativity and harsh feelings or talks are not allowed in her room, it is her sanctuary and a place she has confidence in finding peace and comfort.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Portrait Project: 2014.

The idea for this project came while I was playing with my nephew one day. My brother came outside to see us behind the big oak tree in the backyard, he commented, “he let you behind there, that’s his secret place.” We all have something, or someplace that makes us happy, and that’s where I wanted to photograph these portraits, in each individual’s “happy” spot. I set out to take one portrait a week, 11 total, prior to leaving the country. However with an overwhelming response, it turned into more. Their only assignment: take me to your happy place. Once there I recorded the conversation so I could focus on capturing them in the moment. Join me on my quest to find where people go to find happiness.

Meet Katie Golden, “Happy” place- Her Room.

I knew that someone would say their room was their happy place, but why was it important to Katie? After living with many different roommates over the years, Katie quickly came to realize that as much as she loved her roommates, she loved personal time even more. Growing up in Ohio as an only child, Katie had her room as her sanctuary. Twenty-four years later, Katie’s room is clean, bright, and airy, something she needs to provide the necessary zen and peace to rejuvenate herself.

Adopted at birth and meeting her biological mother at the age of 18, choosing happiness in each moment has been a theme well-embraced throughout Katie’s life. We never know how much time we have with anyone or anything and choosing to be happy in all moments leaves us regretting no moments. Five years after their first encounter, Katie abruptly said goodbye as her birth mother left this earth. Sitting alone in her room, Katie has time to remember this beautiful woman and their brief time together but knows they will meet again one day.

With a beautiful pillow upon her bed stating: Choose Happiness, and her father’s 1960s guitar, obtained while in the military in Japan, lightly strumming between her fingertips, this light came across her face and I knew that she indeed was truly happy in this spot.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day.

I love my family. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

What My Mom Got Right.

I am not a mom. I do not know how hard it is to be a mom, but I sure as heck can tell you the impact of a mom. My friend made a post on her Facebook today:

"As my 2nd Mother’s Day approaches, I have to say-what a difference a year makes. Last year Landon was still a newborn and to be honest, I was kind of wondering what I got myself into. Becoming a mom was very hard for me. Before Landon I was very self-centered, materialistic and quite honestly worried about things that didn't matter. For me, it wasn't all roses and feel good…and I looked around and thought maybe I was the worst mom ever because everyone else seems so happy and like such naturals and here I was a little bitter that my life was flipped upside down (and I had a SUPER easy baby, he never slept less than 5 hours from birth and rarely cried). Don’t get me wrong, I loved him but I needed to bond with him to fall in love with him.

So here I sit one year later, 100% a different person- a better version of me and I owe it to my son. Who would have thought such a little being could make such an impact. He did flip my world upside down and I needed it all along. I am so madly in love with him and honestly can’t imagine my life any other way. He helps me to appreciate every day and really soak in every second with him. He’s the greatest thing that has ever happened to me and I am so proud to be his mom. I always say these are the days of my life, the days I will hold dear to my heart forever. This post is long and TMI but I thought I would share a little of my reality, just in case there are any new moms that feel this way…for me, it was normal. But maybe I am the only one!"

Her post really made me think, what IS normal? How are you the perfect mom? How do you do it right? The answer is,  there is no perfect way. There is no way to be perfect but the mere fact that you are a mom means you are on the right track. Everything is about learning, no one else has your life, walks in your feet, or has your child. No one else can tell you the right way to parent. There were times I didn't get along with my mother, there are still times I don't get along with my mother, but that doesn't mean she isn't a good mom, she is my mom. Brooke said it right, she loved her son but she hadn't bonded with him. Spending time, growing, learning, and teaching, that is the best way to be a mom. Thanks to all the women that have impacted my life, the example they are to me, and the example I hope to be to my future posterity.

So, I ask, what is it that my mom got right? ... She had me, she gave her time to raising two children, and did in her heart and mind what she believed was always best for us. It may not have been what anyone else thought was the best, but it was her best and heck, I don't think I turned out too shabby.  

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Whole Lotta' Change.

I have been so busy lately but extraordinarily happy.  Things are all coming together in my life and although the last year, make that two years, have been filled with a lot of growing pangs, a lot of tears, a lot of excitement, and a lot pf prayers, it all finally makes sense. I am always so marveled when I come out of a trial to look back and realize, “Ah, so that is why I had to go through that…” I had this ah hah moment while in Sunday school a few weeks prior. We were talking about faith, which is one of my strong attributes, and how sometimes we have no clue where we are going or what we are doing.

I am a photographer by trade and it has been a rewarding and hard sought year of capturing moments of beauty across the world, including Thailand, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Russia. After this last trip I came home and was really at rock bottom.  I had spent all of my savings on the trip (in which I had a distinct impression to go to Russia and am grateful to have followed that impression- but the other parts of the trip were extremely expensive), my lease on my apartment was coming to an end in June, my church calling, which had always been something highly demanding, was Girls Camp Leader and that ended in June as well.  I knelt to pray numerous times, “What am I supposed to do with my life?”

While working in the temple I made it a point to pray about something new each shift. I began praying about my life, and had a strong impression that something big was going to happen in July. My life was coming to somewhat of a crescendo and I knew it had to be leading up to something. It was midnight and I was headed to bed, I had just said my prayers and said with quite frustration, “I give up.” Just then I heard a ding on my phone, it was an email notification. “Family in Geneva Switzerland is interested in you.”

I had signed up for a nanny website a while back to pick up extra hours in Los Angeles when I wasn’t doing photography. Here was a family in Rolle, Switzerland, about 30 minutes north of Geneva, that was interested in learning about me regarding an aupair position. I read through their profile, I was nothing they had requested: SPEAKS FRENCH, 27 YEARS OLD, BRITISH. How in the world this family found me is unknown. The more interesting part that I would later learn is that the day the family signed up for the site, they emailed me and never emailed another person. We exchanged emails for a month. Extensive emails, asking in-depth questions about each other, it felt as if it was a marriage inquiry. I was hard on questioning them because if I moved, that meant giving up everything in the states.

Everything was too good to be true, the kids were 5 and 8, the parents are extremely involved, the mother stops work at 3:00 and makes herself available to take one child and I the other. I will be driving them to activities after school, engaging in wholesome entertainment, with some light housework, ie making beds and picking up toys. They have their own housekeeper, the mother does the laundry and cooks meals, I am just there to lend an extra hand. I get nights and weekends to myself, and on top of it all, the pay was incredible.

I prayed. This was a big move, if I were to make it, things needed to be perfect. Scared about the visa, I am 31, to be an aupair, you need to be 27, things worked out perfectly. As everything fell into place I knew that it wasn’t by my doing, it was by the hand of God, it had to be, it was all too perfect. We Skyped, we talked for hours, I met the children, and fell in love. When she looked at me over Skype and asked, “So, will you be my nanny?” I couldn't have been happier. I have started learning French, exciting, my lease is up in Los Angeles at the end of June, I have accepted contract work at an airline leasing company for the next month to save up money, and will move into my brother’s house mid-June, selling everything I don’t want to keep. Travel to Utah the second week to shoot a wedding at Mt. Timpanogas and starting this new adventure on July 25.

I don’t know why I am headed to Switzerland. I don’t know what the purpose is for any of this, but I know I am supposed to be there. It may only be for three months (if my visa doesn’t go through, which we wont file for and find out about until after I am there) and perhaps it will be for the full contract, a year, I don’t know but I am excited to find out. 

Friday, April 25, 2014


While in the hospital saying goodbye to Babooshka, Nelya had asked Irina to ask me what my favorite color was.


On Monday night I headed over to my neighbor's house to bring them dinner.  When thinking of what I could possibly do to help during this hard time, dinner seemed to be the first thing that popped in my mind. I wasn't planning on staying, but you can't enter a Russian household without being filled with love and food. Nelya prepared four cups of tea, and motioned for me to sit in Anna's chair. The flowers I brought the family Tuesday night were sitting by her chair, they again thanked me for the gracious gift and returned their gratitude in the form of a small box.

Nelya motioned for me to open the box. As I untied the blue satin ribbon that held the box together, my eyes came upon the most beautiful topaz necklace made by Nelya. Irina spoke in Russian and Leon translated, "It is semi-precious, the stones." It wouldn't have mattered if it was made out of plastic, this necklace instantly became incredibly valuable, it was in memory of Anna.

We shared dinner together, while laughing and talking. Leon shared photos of Anna they had printed for her funeral on Monday. Her clothes were hung on a aluminum hanger in the hallway with her white shoes beside them. I couldn't believe she was gone, it is all still very surreal. Leon said I could go look into her room, as it was just how she left it. Her twin bed perfectly made pushed against the wall. Her little vanity area where she got ready for the day and upon the wall hung the photograph I had given them for Christmas.

After dinner we shared chocolate, a very Russian tradition. Nelya said it was chocolate covered birds milk and was something Anna enjoyed. As I left they house the insisted upon giving me more food.

"Niet," (no) but they wouldn't accept that reply.

"Ya tebya lyublyu." Irina corrected me and said, "Ya tebya lyublyu vas," is plural. 

I carried a handful of chocolates down the stairs and over to my apartment. Goodnight my friends, goodnight.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Russia will Always Have a Piece of My Heart.

Leon called last night as I had walked in the door, I didn't answer as I was putting all my things down. No sooner had the call ended that I received the most painful text, "Hey Nicole, it's Leon, I just wanted to tell you that Babooshka had a heart attack and is in cardiac arrest and she is on life support. She is going to pass tomorrow morning."

My fingers couldn't dial fast enough. No answer. I began texting, "Where is she, can I come see her?" I grabbed my keys and headed out the door to Cedars Sinai. I was more emotional than I had been with Goose. I would assume the complete shock of things and the sudden digression would be what played into these extreme emotions. Seperstein Critical Care Unit, room 7S26, lay the most beautiful woman. As I walked into the room I embraced Nelya, so tight neither of us wanted to let go as we cried in each others arms. I then walked over to Irina and gave her a hug. We had to place yellow robes on as we entered the room. I listened as a Russian nurse explained things to the new American nurse taking over. All of her vital signs.

Nelya had fed her mother Easter dinner at 6:00pm on Sunday night, shortly after, at 6:15, she had a heart attack. They called 911 and rushed her to the hospital. Once at the hospital the doctors found that her brain activity was dead and her kidneys had failed. Irina turned to me and said, "Jesus took her on his day." I asked the family how to say I love you in Russian, "Ya tebya lyublyu." As I combed her silver hair on her head with my fingers, I whispered in her ears, "ya tebya lyublyu." Irina told her grandmother that Nicole the photographer was there. I continued to rub her hair as her eyes opened and her mouth began to move. I would like to believe she was trying to talk to me. Nelya asked Irina to ask me what my favorite color was, she wanted to make me a jewel necklace in memory of Anna.

"Yellow," but what was her favorite color? They discussed and replied, "We don't know."

As we sat in the waiting room while they changed her bed, Leon and his grandfather Yuri arrived. We talked about my trip to Russia and the good timing of it. Leon said, "She really loved her, you made her happy." We laughed about my experience. Leon said Babooshka got sick last week with pneumonia and was in the hospital. They released her Thursday and the family didn't tell me because they didn't think it was anything big.

I turned to Leon, "I am kicking myself in the butt for not getting a photo of all of you together." He said, "I know, I should have pursued that." I had told the family I wanted to take a photo of all of them, somewhere between my busy schedule and life, the photo was never taken. Photos are incredibly valuable and priceless. I will forever be grateful for the photograph that began this beautiful friendship and never again will I delay on a prompting to take a photo because time is not forever.

April 22, 2014 at 9:20pm, Anna Podlesnykh, aka Babooshka joined the angels.

Here are the journals from the trip to Russia. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dorothy Maloney.

"My name is Dorothy, like the Wizard of Oz," said  the most life-filled and energetic 93 year-old I have ever met.

There is something about small towns that I absolutely love. The unity, the serenity, the country. Ok, make that there are many things I love about small towns. My mom's good friends own a 700 acre ranch in Bitterwater, California. Most have never heard of this town, the closest city is King City, and if you haven't heard of that, perhaps you have heard of the Pinnacles.  The Pinnacles are beautiful rock formations made from volcanos many years ago and now a national park.

When mom asked if I wanted to come up to this town and photograph some things, I was slightly hesitant, being the same weekend as General Conference and a good friend's birthday. She made it quite impossible to refuse her offer, so my bags were packed at 5am on Friday morning as we made our way up north. Once in the town we made our way to this beautiful house where Tim and Nancy live. Everyone knows about everyone, which I suppose you could take that in a good or bad way, but I loved it.

In the past 48 hours, I have fed cows, birthed kittens, saving one of them, seen a car burn, volunteered at service auction, and met the most beautiful and interesting woman; Dorothy Maloney. Dorothy is from New York, she came here to King City after her husband, the love of her life, passed away.  She worked at an electricity company and her husband was head of the english department at New York University.  She waited 15 years for him, and another 6 years before she could marry him because he was Irish Catholic and had to wait until his mother passed away to get married. When she spoke of her husband, her eyes lit up as she had a smile from ear to ear. Her daughter had moved to King City, so she sold everything in New York and headed to CA. She didn't know a soul so she walked the streets, met everyone, and now is quite famous in the town. She is beautiful, inside and out. This woman was so inspiring, humorous, and just everything you could want in a friend, a mother, and a grandmother. She loves to read and one day her great grandson asked her, "Great grandma, do you read with your head or your heart," I can answer that for her, there isn't anything this beautiful woman does without her heart.

Meet Dorothy:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Facing Storms of Life.

Storms in life are inevitable.

One time in Relief Society, the teacher said that ships who are in storms have a 66% higher percentage of surviving if they hit a huge wave head on, as opposed to avoiding it. 

Life can be scary; scratch that, life is scary. It is the easy thing to run, but what do we learn from running? I have noticed personally that if I run from problems, a new environment doesn't make the problems diminish, I carry them with me. It is easier in life, in the moment, to run from hard things rather than to face them head on however facing hard things can give us the courage, strength, and faith needed for life. I truly believe the Lord puts us in certain situations because we have to grow in that area. If we keep getting placed in the same situations then that should be a huge sign that you are not learning the lesson. 

Smack in the face with a ton of bricks, that is my life. I had dinner with my friend Jessi last night after our shift in the temple. We both shared some really difficult times we have gone through and I told her that when I go through situations, I try and pray to figure out what I am supposed to learn. Sure, I could easily go from point A to point B without any struggles, or I could go from point A to point B, have struggles, and then truly appreciate my final destination. 

How do you possible gather up the strength to face a storm head on, knowing there will be pain, it will be hard, how do you have faith that facing the storms of life will be better than sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the storm to pass, if it ever fully does? The Lord doesn't give us all of the answers to life, he doesn't tell us if every decision we make is the right one, he trusts us enough to make our own decisions, and it is only when we walk forward in faith, that we have a confirmation if what we are doing is right or wrong. He will never lead us astray, he will never let us get hurt, but he will let us make our own decisions and we can't expect him to solve all of our problems or tell us every road to go down, that is not why we are here on this earth. 

I would rather walk forward, hit a dead end and know that was for sure the wrong way to go, than always wonder if I should have gone down a certain path. I don't like challenges, I will be the first to state that, I also don't like growing pains, but I do like the affirmation that my decisions are right and that is something I never receive until after a trial of my faith. Sometimes I would rather the Lord handed me the direction I should choose, narrowed my choices down rather than having so much confidence in me as his heavenly daughter, to make the right decisions in life.

Walk forward. If it is the wrong path, you will know. But standing still in a stagnant state does nothing for yourself, and will never solve your problems.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Five Year Plan.

While in Copenhagen, a young man I met in the Generator hostel turned to me and asked, "What is your five year plan?"

I contemplated a moment to think. What was my five year plan? I had no answer. I had not one inclination in my mind as to where I would be or could be in five years. Five years ago if I would have told you where I expected to be now, it would have never been where I actually am. I struggle to believe that we can in fact make a five year plan and hold true to it completely. Things happen in life that continually change our circumstances, priorities, and values. What matters most to me now may not matter to me at all in five years. I suppose if I could predict the future, have it the way that I want, this is what I would see in five years time:

Professionally: Have photos in print, magazines, have a successful name for myself as a travel and landscape photographer. While at my home base, which is yet to be determined however I don't feel it is Los Angeles, I will take family, event, and wedding photos.

Possible locations: Washington, DC. If I get the job for Nat Geo, or perhaps just move to DC because it would be a better place to live and prettier than LA. Get a job being a travel photographer somewhere out of the country, because we all know I wish I was European.

Personally: Have a husband and at least one child. Have the ability to take care of my family and children and maintain my professional business.

... and if I don't have a husband and child I will just be the best aunt in existence.

I honestly don't know what my five year plan is and I think that isn't a bad thing. I am not leaving myself open for failure because I have this specific plan and if things don't work the way I have them in my head, I will be disappointed. There is enough disappointments in life without me adding to them with unmet expectations. Of course I have desires, of course I have direction, but I don't have anything set in stone, other than a desire to be a better person than I was the day before- both professional and personally.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I will start off by saying that Russia was hard; rather, the most difficult country I have ever visited. There were moments of tears, moments of loneliness and confusion, and most of all, moments that I questioned why I felt so impressed to go to Russia, Voronezh in particular.

While in Moscow I had somewhat of an epiphany as I showed photos of Аnna to Illya, his great grandmother and the woman I refer to as Babooshka. Illya had never met Anna, never even seen a photo of her until I had showed him the one of the two of us. Timofey hadn't been home to see any of his family in 17 years. I knew at that moment that I was the bridge for their family, but it wasn't until tonight that I really understood what that meant. 

At 8:00 I knocked on my neighbors door, Irena answered, all three of the ladies, including Babooshka were sitting at the table. I walked in and handed them the matryoshka from Voronezh, telling them it was from the small town she was from. I proceeded to show them photos on my iPad of Анна, Voronezh, and Moscow. 

Irena looked at me in awe, "I can't believe you went there. I can't believe you're safe and are home. I felt so guilty when I told you where she was from and then you decided to go. My son yelled at me and told me it was my fault you were going to the middle of nowhere. I figured when I told you to go to Russia you would go with a tour group, not on your own. We prayed for your safety, you are brave. You are just like a Russian, strong, and you are now ready for Siberia." 

She was astounded that I had found this small town of Анна, no one in their family had ever been there. Babooshka was born on June 21, 1916 (something that they actually have to assume because birth dates were not exact, they only knew she was born in peak harvest season). She lived in Анна until the age of 17 and then moved to Voronezh and on to Uzbekistan. 

"We figured you would go to Moscow or St. Petersburg, or maybe even Uzbekistan, but why Voronezh? She only lived there for a little over a decade?"

I told her Russia was hard. It was a difficult and trying experience and when I got to Анна I questioned why I was there, why I had even come to Russia. Irena said, "I knew you would get there and ask yourself that, we sent you to the end of the world, the middle of nowhere. It is desolate and dirty." I told her it wasn't until I showed photos to Illya that it all made sense, that I could be the middle man for this family.

"You are the family alliance, you are a hero, you are heroic for our family."

She continued in awe, awe that I had found this small town and photographed it for them. I told them I photographed a war monument there, asking if anyone in their family had died in the war. Irena pulled out a photo and said that Babooshka's husband died in 1944, Anna was 24 when he died and had two young children to raise on her own. It was sad but the harsh reality of Russia at the time. Shortly after his death, Anna took the children and moved to Uzbekistan.  Irena translated everything for Babooshka, lifting her scarf and raising her voice in her ear. As the photos of Illya and Timofey came across the screen, tears of happiness and a raised pitch came out of their mouths, "Timofey, Timofey."

I told them I would go through all of the photos, make a photo album for them and give it to them in the next few weeks. Once again speechless, all she could say was, "you're a hero." I went to leave the house and Anna got up walking to the door to give me a hug and kiss. "You are always welcome in this house, you don't need to bring photos, just come, please come, you're our hero."I held back tears, perhaps because it has been a rough 24 hours for me in general, and also because it was emotional to see the impact just a few photos had for this family. I had stepped foot on soil that their grandmother was from, a place they had never been but only heard of. I had, in their eyes, risked my life to do this for their family. A young girl, by herself, took her camera to a foreign country, where no one spoke English, and went to the ends of the earth just to bring back these images for their family. 

This is what makes my job worth while, this is what washes away all the hard times I went through within that long week, this is what gives emotion and feeling behind the photographs I took, and this is what will live on in that family for generations to come. 

"I will write this all down, everything you have done, for Anna. She may not be able to hear everything we talked about but she can read, and this is history, you've made history for our family."

Everything will be alright in the end and if it's not alright, it's not the end.

I returned home from my trip yesterday and was a mess. Home to face a stack of bills and reality. There are reasons I went to every country I visited and part of me still questions why I ventured to certain parts of the world, but with an empty suitcase, lots of emotions to sort through, and a box of pizza I began to process life. I wouldn't say much was accomplished last night, outside of diminishing a pizza, but as I went to church this morning my friend Rob gave me a lot of good advice.

I often wonder why I am a member of this church, what my purpose is, why I am a photographer... the laundry list of questions goes on and on. Personally, it is hard to have so many questions without any answers. It is hard to digest that sometimes in life, you simply don't know why things happen and you never will. I had a breaking point last night where I just wanted an end to all of the crap, the pain. I understand why we go through trials, but in the midst of them, the last thing I want to do is understand.

On my recent trip out of the country I sought closure for some things in my life. Sometimes, even though we are seeking closure, when we receive it, it can still be hard to accept. Today when I talked to Rob, he gave me really sound advice, opened my eyes to perhaps things I already knew but needed to hear from an outside person. Sometimes we hold on to things in life because we want them so badly to work, we convince ourselves that we won't have another opportunity for happiness, and in the process settle for anything, even if it is painful. There is only so much that you can do in your own human power, you can't change a situation or people, you can only control yourself and your thoughts and your actions.

This year has been about rebuilding from the ground up, which is never easy. Every time that I think I am headed in the right direction, I feel as though a wave comes crashing down and I have to start all over again. I suppose I keep setting the reset button so I can get things right, I just wish I could catch on so I wouldn't have to keep starting over. I watched a movie on the plane ride home, it was amazing: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. There was a line in the movie, "Everything will be alright in the end and if it's not alright, it's not the end."

It's not the end, in fact, things are so chaotic that is must mean it is just be beginning and I am going to have one heck of a story!

My world... my thoughts

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