We ALWAYS go to the Williamson County Fair on my birthday (or at least within a day or two). I love taking photos of all the beautiful lights and the atmosphere. It’s been a special tradition since Megan was a baby. Last year I still made them go through the little farming exhibit for photos.
As you can imagine, there is no county fair this year. I miss it but also decided that the absolute BEST thing about our trips to the fair is that no one complains. They let me take all the photos I want because it’s my birthday.
I often say that my toughest family portrait session all year is when I take family photos of my own family.
I think the best thing we can do to get through all of this crazy year is to modify traditions and make the best of what we can. For example, my family has chosen not to eat inside restaurants. But last weekend, my husband and I went on a date where we picked up food from Costa Vida and took it to a picnic shelter at Evans park to have a quiet meal together. Honestly, it was better than eating in a crowded restaurant.
So even though the fair was canceled, I didn’t let that opportunity pass me by to take advantage of my birthday to get family photos I wanted. They cooperated better than they usually do and I’m pleased with the results.
What kind of traditions have you altered for 2020?
Now that I’ve managed to get some family photos of my own family, I’m ready to book Fall family portrait sessions for everyone else!
You can book a session directly from my online booking calendar or contact me if you have any questions. Don’t wait to book because I can only fit in so many portrait sessions in the Fall. I always hate turning people away.
My birthday was so lovely, and my friends and family are amazing. I took lots of photos at the fair, and saw so many amazing people there. Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to say happy birthday. As always, I celebrated at the Williamson County Fair. I love the Fair and enjoy it every year, including this year.
Things that Aren’t Supposed to Change:
We had a good thing going year after year. I took my tiny, adorable children to the Williamson County Fair. They put on their little aprons and walked through the Little Farmer’s exhibit and got a photo of them picking a fake apple off of a fake apple tree.
Then we pet the real animals, look at the baby pigs, & head out to the midway to ride little kid rides, like the caterpillar and the bumble bee.
After that, since their daddy is a chicken, just us three girls would take a ride on the Ferris Wheel together. Then we’d get a funnel cake and go home.
Preferably the sky would be beautiful and the light would be coming through into the animal barn in just the right way. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t control light, or the sky. So that’s fine. #thingsicantcontrol
Things that changed at the Williamson county fair 2019:
First of all, who chopped down my tiny cardboard apple trees? Full disclosure…maybe my 13 and 11 year old daughters were not upset to have one less pretend farming exhibit to walk through. But I’m not ready to give up on the apple tree photo yet. I guess I should be thankful that the exhibit has remained so consistent for so many years, but the apple tree was my favorite because they caught the interest of one-year old toddler Megan and was one of my first lovely memories of the fair. Now it’s gone.
And let’s talk about that ugly double Ferris Wheel. All week long, people were messaging me and asking “Have you seen the Ferris Wheel?…. I don’t think you’re gonna like it.” Hats off to my people for looking out for me.
I’m trying to accept it. There are probably lots of people who disagree with me and think it’s cool. Honestly, it’s probably more efficient. Usually, I’d be all about something being more efficient. But not this time. At the fair, I’m all about the nostalgia. I want it to be the same, big, round, classic Ferris Wheel that it’s always been. Not this new fandangled thing. (Yes, I do sound twice my age.)
Side note: Open up your emoticons. Do you see a double ferris wheel?? I think not. 🎡
I was *almost* ready to forgive the Ferris Wheel for being different, when we got in line to ride it. Then I realized that the stupid thing only holds two people. What?????? But, the three of us ride together every single year. #fail
The one benefit to not being able to ride with them was I was able to get photos from a different angle. So there is the bright side. ☀️
Change can be good.
Admittedly, I might be a control freak. I want the fair to stay the way it’s always been, and for my kids to stay little. I’m trying to come to terms that I have no control over either of those things.
You’d think after 13 years she’d be better at it.
Exhibits change. Apparently, Ferris Wheels get weird and have smaller seats. Kids get older and want to hang out with friends at the fair. They stop fitting into the tiny farm aprons and lose interest in milking a fake cow. I am so very thankful they love me enough to wear the apron and milk the cow anyway just for me. Maybe in a year or two they will want to bring dates to the fair. These things are inevitable.
But that’s OK, because the new can be good too. It’s exciting to see the young women my girls are growing into. It’s fun to watch them have fun with their friends, and explore the things they are interested in. It’s fun to make new traditions.
I’m learning to accept all these things.
But I’m still not sure about that Ferris Wheel. 🤨🎡
If you haven’t been to the Williamson County Fair this year, there is still a little time left. Check here for the hours for this weekend! Really, despite all my teasing, they do a fantastic job of organizing such a huge event. I 💙🎡
I hope this blog post is an opportunity for you to learn from my mistakes. I’ve had 8 years of back to school photo experience now (even more if you include Preschool) and I’ve learned a lot. To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought when I first started taking the photos, and that was my biggest mistake. Just a little thought on my part back in 2011 when my oldest started Kindergarten would have made the next 7 years a lot easier.
I’m not saying that back to school photos need to be a big stressful ordeal. On the contrary, I’m saying if I’d put a little thought into it, then they would have been less stressful and more fun than they turned out being when I didn’t have a plan. 🚌
The GOAL for back to school photos:
First of all, you need to know what your goal is for these photos.
For me, back to school is the ideal time to document how my girls are growing and changing over the years. The best way to do this is consistency in the way you take these photos. More than any other pictures I take, I want these to be consistent from year to year, and that’s where I messed up in the lack of planning. I didn’t think enough about making my plan in the beginning, and then my desire for consistency led me to continue doing the wrong things year after year.
So here are my tips to help you come up with your own plan.
TIMING: Make sure you have plenty of time to take the photos without stressing. No one wants to be late on the first day of school. Think about what works best for your family. Will it be before breakfast or after? Can you incorporate a fun tradition, like maybe first we take the photos and then we go get donuts if we finish on time? I’m not above bribery, but most of all, I Iove incorporating traditions into our children’s lives. It makes for wonderful memories.
LOCATION: Choose your spot wisely! This part is where I was all over the place because I didn’t’ have a solid plan and I ended up with multiple spots where I routinely took photos for the sake of consistency. I wish I had chosen one thoughtful location. That would have cut down on stress and the time it took the photos and resulted in better and more consistent images from year to year. Make sure you choose a spot that you can get to easily each year and is in the shade so that you don’t have harsh light. For me, I wish I had specifically chosen in front of our front door. I started out taking photos out in the yard in the opposite direction and it was too bright some years. In front of our door is shaded always and would have provided a more consistent spot. I regret my idea to take photos in front of the Elementary school. Read more about that below. I think in general, in front of your front door is a great spot for back-to-school photos. I’m not saying you can’t also take pictures at school. I’m just saying that your “spot” that you are going to focus on getting consistently year after year should probably be at home.
PLAN OUT YOUR SHOTS: Make sure you get in close for a headshot, but also back away for a full-body view. After all, they put a lot of thought into what they are wearing and you want to document that. I do the same thing with my girls together…I always get in close for a cheek to cheek shot of them together, and also a few of them hugging or interacting in some way. Bonus TIp: Not all the shots have to be before school. Consider making it a tradition to have your camera ready and capture them getting off the bus in addition to your morning shot. Many times, they will be much more relaxed at this point.
CONSIDER PROPS CAREFULLY: You all know I’m not big into super staged proppy photos, but I do think there is a time and a place for a simple prop. The chalkboards listing your child’s grade, for example, can be really cute. Just make sure it’s something you can easily recreate each year without stress. CONSISTENCY IS KEY! Don’t make it so cutsie and complex that you can’t recreate it next year. Remember, your kids should be the focus. Do include details like backpacks & lunch boxes. These showcase their personality and you will be amazed at how that giant looking backpack on your Kindergartener suddenly looks so tiny on your teenager.
MAKE IT FUN: I’m not going to lie. There have been years I’ve royally failed at this one. I want the photos and everyone else just wants to go to school so it all ends in a stressful mess. This is where timing and planning would have gone a long way in simplifying my process and still getting the images I wanted. Above all, go for giggles over the perfect poses. Capture their personalities. Ask them to wiggle, tickle each other or do a little dance. I mean, you can even let them dab or floss if that’s what it takes to get the photo but still keep it fun. Remember, this is a stressful day for them, so try to get it off to a great start. When you are done, give them a hug and tell them to have an amazing day!
Now that that is all finished, pat yourself on the back, you’ve made it through another parenting milestone. You are raising amazing humans and should be proud of yourself. Go call a friend and get a pedicure. Or maybe even a Margarita. How ever it is that you treat yourself…go do that. Parenting is hard stuff and it’s important to celebrate the little wins. You deserve it. ❤️
I’m going to start this off by saying I can’t believe I’ve never been to Point Mallard Water Park before. I had some friends go last summer, but I couldn’t make it. After going there, I don’t understand why it hasn’t been a place that we go several times each summer. I’ve heard a few people talking about it, but in general, it feels like one of the best-kept secrets for a day trip from Spring Hill. Or possibly maybe I haven’t been paying attention and am the last one to figure this out. Either way, I am really glad my friend Christy decided we should go yesterday, despite the iffy chances of rain. (Note: Megan isn’t really into waterparks and had the option to spend the day with her daddy alone, so it was just Kayla and I and our friends.)
So where is it?
The water park is in Decatur, Alabama….which is sort of Huntsville. Our plan for if a downpour began and ruined our waterpark adventures was to go to the Space & Rocket Center instead. It takes about an hour and a half from Spring Hill. Christy picked Kayla and me up around 8 and we stopped for gas and for breakfast and still got there about 15 minutes before they opened at 10 am.
This is the really cool part. Admission is generally $20 for adults (12 and over) and $15 for kids. But Monday – Thursdays (excluding holidays) are half-price days. So it was only $10 per adult and $7.50 per child. (Please check their website before going to double-check prices and half-price days.) Just as a comparison, Nashville Shores is generally $36.99 for adults and $28.99 for kids, though you can sometimes get deals for tickets for $24.99. That’s a big difference. And spoiler alert, I liked Point Mallard better than Nashville Shores.
What we liked about point mallard:
The park was clean and updated. I was shocked when my husband said he used to go to Point Mallard as a kid. The place did not seem old to me at all.
It wasn’t super huge, but had pretty much everything you’d want in a waterpark…a wave pool, lazy river, kids play zone and multiple water slides.
The park is situated on a gorgeous lake. It’s a really beautiful spot, and they even have a little sandy beach on the lake.
It was not crowded at all. Since this was my first time there, I’m not sure if that’s what it’s always like on a weekday (we were there on a Monday) or if the threat of rain kept the crowd down. Either way, it was awesome. The girls never waited to get on a waterslide, and we never felt crowded.
There were several options for food. There was a pizza place, a barbecue place (which I’m not sure was open when we were there) and a place with all your standard park foods. I had a hamburger and fries and Kayla had chicken nuggets. It was nothing special but good enough. We also bought ice cream cones and I remember thinking that the $2 a scoop price was reasonably priced for a place like that.
You can bring your own floats. I didn’t actually know this before we went and I told Kayla she had to leave her banana float at home, but I had I known it was allowed, this would have been a bonus for her.
What we didn’t like about point mallard:
There are two sections to the park and they were kinda spread out pretty far. This is probably good when it’s crowded so it doesn’t seem so cramped, but the first time we walked between the two sections, we did so barefooted and I regretted it. The ground was really hot and there were also sections where the road was gravel and my tender feet did not appreciate it. Then we left out of the exit in the second section and had kind of a long awkward walk back to our car near the first section. Next time we would probably park closer to that second section near the wave pool.
You could only use goggles that didn’t cover your nose. This wasn’t a big deal and I’m sure there is some safety reason I don’t fully understand, but it annoyed Kayla slightly. It was also clearly stated on their website which I didn’t read before we went.
You have to rent wave pool floats. At waterparks I’ve been to in the past, the big innertube floats for the wave pool are just available for anyone to grab. At Point Mallard you have to rent them for $5. One of Kayla’s favorite things to do is to ride on the float in the wave pool so I rented her a float.
We all had a great time at Point Mallard. The ride didn’t seem that long and I thought it was a better park overall than Nashville Shores. We are definitely adding this day trip to our normal rotation.
We went to St. Louis 3 years ago, and I meant to write this post back them. At the time, I had decided that blogging our adventures would be something useful that I could share with my followers. As an ENTJ / Enneagram 1 / Type A personality, planning is something I’m really good at. I love researching vacations in-depth and for me, the planning is a big part of the fun. I know that not everyone feels that way (I have a good friend who practically has a panic attack at the idea of a Disney vacation because of the planning involved), so I had every intention of blogging our trips so that others could learn from my intensive research if they liked. It just never happened. And I always felt like I should do it right after a trip. Like if I waited too long, then it was too late.
But recently, a friend decided to take her family to St. Louis and started asking me about all the details of our trip. I started thinking about how much easier it would be if I had blogged the trip, to share my information with her. Then I thought, why not just go ahead and blog it? Most, if not all, of the information is still relevant and useful. Who cares if it was three years ago? So here you go. I plan to do more if people seem interested. I know I often get asked about our Disney and Universal planning as well.
Why St. Louis?
I had wanted to go to St. Louis all my life, so much so that it had become a running joke between my husband and I with me whining about how he’s never taken me to St. Louis. When I was a kid, I had an assignment to do a report on a state. We did not get to pick the state, but it was assigned to us. All my friends got “cool” states like Florida, Hawaii, and California. I was so bummed to have gotten Missouri. This was back in the olden times, and there was no internet to help us do the report, so we had to call the chamber of commerce for the states we got and ask them to SNAIL mail us travel brochures. (Kids, can you even imagine??) For reasons I don’t completely remember, I became fascinated with St. Louis, and in the Arch in particular.
So in 2016, I finally took matters into my own hands and decided that we were going to St. Louis on vacation. I’m not sure why it took us so long. It’s a perfect choice. It’s only about a five-hour drive from Spring Hill / Nashville and there are tons of free or almost free things for a family to do. Our trip was during the week of July 4, chosen only because that was when my husband was on vacation for shutdown. As a point of reference, my girls at the time were 8 and 10 years old.
An Overview of Our Itinerary:
We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in a suburb called Creve Coeur. We knew that we wanted to stay at a Marriott because that’s where my husband stays when he travels for work and we collect reward points from there. One of my clients tagged a friend of hers from St. Louis in my post asking for suggestions and she ended up messaging me and being so super helpful. She suggested a couple of different Marriotts that would be fairly close to activities we would want to do.
We knew we wanted a pool, and also preferred a suite with a separate living area from the bedroom, so this is the hotel we chose from her suggestions. It was perfect. Nothing fancy, but the room was nice and big and allowed Kayla to go to bed before everyone else, and had an indoor pool and hot tub for the girls to play in. There was a mini-fridge and microwave that enabled us to bring our own food for breakfast. There was a bistro that served food and the staff was very nice…especially when Megan smashed her finger in the hinge part of the public bathroom door near the pool. She screamed bloody murder and half the hotel staff came running to help us and bring us ice. (She was fine…just bruised.)
Sunday: Driving to St. Louis and Magic House
As I said, it’s only a five-hour drive, so we left early, stopped for lunch, and then drove straight to The Magic House – St. Louis Children’s Museum. Admission was $10 a person (now $12 a person). So while the Magic House was really cool, on the day we were there (July 3, so everyone in the world was probably on vacation), it was SOOOO crowded. It’s in this really neat old house with lots of small rooms and hallways so it was not fun with so many people. That being said, my kids loved it. I wasn’t sure they would because it seemed to be aimed at a slightly younger demographic, and there was a big room they weren’t even allowed in because they were not under eight years old, but they seemed to find plenty to keep them occupied.
There was this one exhibit where they had to follow all the clues to see who committed a crime, that even had detective costumes for them to wear. They spent FOREVER playing at that exhibit. They also had this temporary Art & Technology exhibit that Megan (my artist) really loved. She decorated a coloring page with a bus on it, then they put it in a scanner and her bus became part of this 3-D neon digital world that was being projected onto a big wall. She got to watch the bus she designed to travel through the digital town full of buses, houses, and airplanes that other children had designed.
After Magic House, we checked into our hotel, had dinner at the hotel Bistro there and then let the kids play in the pool until bedtime.
Monday: St. Louis Science Museum and Independence Day with Fair St. Louis
My husband is not a big fan of huge events with lots of people…especially the driving/parking part of all of that, so this item on my itinerary took a little persuading, careful planning, and a little luck because I wasn’t 100% sure it would work.
Fair St. Louis is a huge Fourth of July event that included a concert by FloRida (who my 10-year-old at the time loved) and fireworks (which I love). It started at 1:00 at Forest Park. So my plan was to go to the St. Louis Science Center and Planetarium in the morning, which is also at Forest Park, and then leave our car there for the Fair St. Louis event. In my mind, the Science center was really close to Fair St Louis but I underestimated how big Forest Park is. I also wasn’t 100% sure we would be able to leave our car at the Science Center, but we got lucky. They did allow us to leave our car there, and there were buses that took us from the Science Center right to the Fair location.
I had not-so-great point and shoot with me for most of these photos, and wasn’t trying very hard, so please forgive the crummy pics.
The concert was fun. There was soooo much mud, and we couldn’t help but laugh at people (mostly drunk) slipping down the hill in it. People were absolutely covered in it. It was sort of Woostock-ish. The kids probably got a little too much exposure to misbehaving adults, but all in all, it was pretty good for their first concert, and the fireworks were AMAZING.
Tuesday: City Museum, Crown Candy Kitchen & St. Louis Arch
The City Museum is one of the neatest places I’ve ever seen. Of all the museums we visited, this was our favorite. It’s a hundred-year-old warehouse in downtown St. Louis in which artists have repurposed the pieces of old cities to build miles of tunnels, slides, climbers, bridges, and castles. It’s really neat and easy to spend a lot of time in there. It’s $21 a person for admission. I would call this a can’t miss attraction if you are visiting St. Louis!
I especially love the photo of Kayla throwing a tantrum in the “Odditorium.” #memories
Crown Candy Kitchen was a place that everyone kept recommending for us to eat, and they were not wrong. So, so good. I’m pretty sure my husband was in heaven with his “Heart-Stopping BLT.”
After dinner, we took an impromptu walk along the St. Louis Riverfront trail – a 12-mile paved trail along the Mississippi River, between the Gateway Arch and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.
So, a note about the Gateway Arch: I had mentioned in the intro that I had always wanted to see the Arch. You can probably guess that my main interest was in photographing it. I wouldn’t be opposed to also going up in it, but we happen to have two family members who are pretty afraid of heights. Not to mention any names, but to go up in it, it would have been Megan and I alone. I made the decision before we got there that going was not as important to me as finding a place to view it properly.
Wednesday was our museum day. I also had tentatively planned to go to the Botanical Gardens, but it didn’t happen because everyone was tired and ready to go back to the hotel. The Art Museum and History Museum were both free, which is one of the really cool things about St. Louis – a lot of the activities are free or not very expensive.
Three of us enjoyed the Art Museum. One of us did not. 😂 My only regret was that she didn’t throw her 2nd tantrum of the week in front of a more recognizable piece of art. It’s probably good for me to note that the Art Museum would not be a top choice for any small child, but you know…sometimes grown-ups want to see stuff too.
She enjoyed the History Museum quite a bit more, primarily because they had a section called the “History Clubhouse” that was a hands-on learning play place for kids. If you are choosing between the Art and History Museum for little kids, choose the History museum.
Thursday: St. Louis Zoo
It was raining when we first got to the zoo, but that wasn’t a big deal because they have a lot of indoor exhibits. The Zoo is a really awesome one, and the most awesome thing is that admission is free! There were some things we paid for though, such as feeding the stingrays, carousel rides, and riding the railroad train…which you will want to do because it’s a big place. We got the Adventure Pass to cover all the extras for about $12 a person.
This was Kayla’s happy place and made up for the Art Museum.
One of the girl’s favorite things was playing in a mister fan at the zoo. It’s the little things I guess.
Friday: More Gateway Arch, St. Louis Citygarden Budweiser Plant & Dinner at the Biergarten
So my husband loves me so much that he suggested a second stop by Malcom W. Martin Memorial Park to get more photos of the Arch, and I’m glad he did because it was completely different in the morning light than the first photos I took.
Citygarden is a really neat park in Downtown St. Louis with a fountain the kids can play in. They absolutely loved it. It was a lot of fun and also free, and Bruce and I really enjoyed just relaxing and watching them play. We brought them a change of clothes for afterward so we could head to the Budweiser Plant.
Budweiser offers a free tour of their plant in St Louis which was neat, but the real attraction for the kids, of course, were the Clydesdales. After the tour and hanging with the horses, we had dinner at the Biergarten.
Saturday: Grants Farm & then Drive Home
Usually, on a road trip, I feel like we waste two days of the trip driving. The great thing about St. Louis being so close to Nashville was that we were still able to fit activities in our travel days without being too rushed or tired. So before we hit the road for Nashville, we went to Grant’s Farm. Grant’s Farm is the ancestral home of the Busch family (as in Anheiser Busch) and has lots of fun activities for kids. Admission is free (yay, St. Louis!), but there are a few extras you can buy, such as feeding the parakeets, which was a favorite for my girls.
So was that useful information?
I would love to hear whether or not you found that to be useful information and would like to see more blog posts on our adventures. If so, please post a comment below!
One of my favorite things about my job as a family portrait photographer is getting to know families, especially when they come back for repeat sessions. I photographed this beautiful family around this time last year and just loved getting to know these three beautiful sisters, so I was so excited to see them again this year.
Last year I wrote: “They are totally my happy place. So much energy, and wonder and joy. They were just perfect.” I would say exactly the same thing about our session this year. Only one thing was different…
Last year for their session, I wrote about how important it is to tell me if one of your children is particularly shy before the session. That lets me know that I need to maybe approach that child a little differently and give her time to warm up to me.
But you know what’s great about being able to see client again and again? This time, the children remembered me, and they knew that the session wouldn’t be scary or boring. They came into it knowing we’d play and have fun. This makes it especially easier for kids who may be a little shy. Knowing me coming it to it, they feel more at ease and have an easier time getting into the session.
And I got the chance to see how much they’d grown over the year, and hear about their new interests and what brings them joy. (New Harry Potter fans are the BEST.)
I’m sometimes asked by potential clients about what props that I include in a session, or if there are any props that they should bring. That’s kind of a complicated question and for me, depends on how you define “props.”
My gut response is that I don’t do props. But to me, a prop is something fake or staged for a photo. So what I mean when I say that I don’t include props in a session, is that I don’t show up with a wagon full of cutesy stuff to include in your family photos. I don’t create an elaborate scene of decor or other items. I prefer, generally, for people to be the main focus of a photo, and even for my studio type work (like Santa sessions) I prefer the backdrop to be simple and minimal.
However, I do love to include YOUR stuff in photos. The end result may be the same to someone who just looks at the photos as an outsider, but to me, this is a very important distinction.
One question I ask clients when they book a family session with me, is for them to tell me about some things that are valuable to their family. The reason I ask this is that I like to include MEANINGFUL objects in family session photos. Nothing that I bring is going to be meaningful to you. I could buy a bunch of brand new cute stuffed animals. But I’d rather include your daughters well loved ones. I love including books in photos, but only if they are books important to your family. I do bring some quilts to each session to use if we need them, but if you have one that grandma made, I’d much rather use that.
I fell in love with this family right away. I mean, they had me at Harry Potter. I do believe I could have just shot the entire session while these kids happily read their books. And I loved that they lived right next to Henry Horton Park. What an amazing back yard!! This is the place where they take lots of walks together as a family, so it means so much more to look at these photos of them together, because it captures their lives as they really are. What about you? What are the things (or places) that are really important to your family? Have you ever thought about including them in photos, either your personal photos that you take or ones you’ve hired a professional to take?