Toytle Power!

Hey friends,

I want you to meet my beautiful friend, Diane. For the last 4 years, she has been fighting leukemia. And if you've ever known anyone with cancer, you know that it can be a vicious, never-ending nightmare that wreaks havoc on the individual, as well as their family and friends. Throughout her journey, she has experienced a multitude of painful complications, including Gastroparesis and tumors that won't stop spreading. But despite all of that, she has remained an inspiration to everyone she meets or who simply hears her story. She has remained strong in her faith, shown more courage than I have ever witnessed and is continuously a light to those around her. She doesn't hide her pain. She doesn't pretend that everything is okay. She has good days and bad days, but uses her bad days as fuel to remind us all that we can't ever lose hope, even during our darkest seasons of life. 

I've watched in awe as she fearlessly made decisions that risked her life more than once for surgeries many advised her against and for trials that may or may not have worked. But after traveling back and forth multiple times this year to be treated with the utmost care by the best doctors at John Hopkins, another fearless, yet heartbreaking decision was made: she came home to Phoenix once again, this time in the care of hospice.

I'm sharing her story today, because some of her closest friends have started a page to help make Diane's last wish come true. I know it's sometimes difficult to give when you don't know the person, but I hope you'll take the time to read about her journey, see her light and contribute what you can. She's almost half-way there!!

To read more about her story and donate to her last wish, click here. 

In addition to the personal contribution I have already made, I'll be donating 100% of the proceeds from the next person who books a Mother's Day Mini-Session with me. Sessions are still available! :)

Some fun facts about Diane: 

I don't know anyone who talks and jokes about poop more than this girl. She has the coolest shoe collection I've ever seen. You can't talk to her without silly faces being made. Her laugh and smile are infectious, which is how her light shines through. She has a love story with her boyfriend that is one for the books. Seriously, their love for each other inspires me just as much as her courage does. And you will never, ever meet a bigger Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan! Literally no one can top this girl's love for those toytles!

About the Photos

I decided to pull from the archives to share (and re-edit) some photos that were taken shortly after Diane was diagnosed, but before chemo stole her hair. We had wandered around downtown Phoenix one afternoon and she let me snap some photos of her, back when extreme sun-flare was all the rage. Since she and my best friend were practically sisters, we hadn't really hung out one-on-one together like that before, so it was really fun getting to know each other better! We mainly joked around and laughed a lot as we tried not to get eaten alive by ants, but it's a day I'll never forget.

Sending you all the love in the world, Diane. You deserve it. Big toytle hugs!

Mother's Day Mini-Sessions

Last year was the first year I started offering Mother's Day mini-sessions after experiencing a significant life event that shook my world. My grandmother, who had lived with me for 10 years, had recently passed away from cancer. For years, I wanted to do a generational photo shoot with her, my mother and I...but we never did. I let life get in the way; always thinking we had more time. I was so disappointed in myself for not pushing harder to make it happen that I decided to turn my regret into something more positive: giving other families an extra little push to do what I no longer could, by creating an opportunity for them to do so.

This isn't just a "look at the camera and smile" experience. These sessions are more structured and interactive than any other photo session you've had before, so that we're creating honest moments that spark genuine emotions. The goal is for mom (and/or grandma) to feel seen, loved and appreciated. 

My mini-sessions are a quick 20 minutes so that you still have time for brunch beforehand or dinner afterwards, but in no way will you feel rushed. In fact, it's just enough time for your mom to feel all the feels and go home with happy tears streaming down her face.

BUT DON'T WORRY, all hard evidence of ugly crying will be immediately destroyed. ;)

Mini-sessions are only $250 (plus sales tax) and will be held at Heritage Square on:

Saturday, April 30th

Sunday, May 1st

And Papago Park on:

Saturday, May 7th

Sunday, May 8th

This also includes two tangible gifts that are just for mom:

Gift #1 is a $50 product credit to be used on prints, wall art or digital files to help ensure these moments will be cherished by you, your future self and future generations.

Gift #2 is a gorgeous candle from Standard Wax, my favorite local candle company who is all about bringing art into your everyday.™ At the session, mom will be given their Scent Kit Gift Set, which is a miniature collection of their fragrances, so that she can decide which candle to order using her unique gift code. This covers the cost of the 10.5 ounce candle AND shipping! Valued at $42.00

My personal faves are Sonoran Wildgrass and Sage + Pomegranate. So good!

Sessions are limited (up to 5 people per session). Email to book! 

Some might say this is a little steep gift for Mother's Day, but I think we can all agree that the session itself isn't just for mom; it's a gift that will last for generations.

Have other plans on those days? Would an in-home session work better for your family? Is mom or grandma out of town? Is grandma a snowbird and won't be back until the fall?

Don't fret! Gift certificates are also available for a full 1-hour session. Price is the same, but does not include the two gifts. Email me for details!

Brooklyn Grace

Two blog posts in one day?! Yep! I just blogged Andy and Megan's maternity session, in case you missed it, which I have been meaning to do forever. But I didn't, and now baby Sagadin is here! Whaaat?! Fastest labor ever. ;) Just kidding. I wanted to share that session before this one, because we juuuust did this one and I'm super anxious to share!

Right after baby Sagadin was born, who we now call Brooklyn Grace, Megan's mom asked if I could come over and take some photos of the 4 generations of women: Great-Grandmother, Grandmother, Mother and Daughter, before Brooklyn's Great-Grandmother traveled out of town. I immediately said yes, because not everyone gets to have a photo with the 4 generations of women in their family. That is a moment that deserves to be documented. I feel very fortunate to have one with my Great-Grandmother, Grandmother and Mother. And my niece has one with 5 generations! So for me, it was a true honor to be able to give that to Brooklyn.

And while I was there, we were able to sneak in some photos of the nursery, which I absolutely adore! Andy and Megan did such an amazing job! I love how it all came together, but mostly, I love these precious moments between Megan and Brooklyn. I get tears in my eyes every time. Ah, so sweet. :)

And if you can listen to this song while viewing the photos, I think it adds a little something extra. It's called Remington, by The Honey Drewdrops.

Congratulations, friends! Brooklyn is so loved! 

Baby Sagadin ::: Phoenix Maternity Session

Blogging is not my forte, guys. But it really is the best place to share stories and photos from my sessions, so here we go. Back at it again!

I still remember how my sweet friend, Megan told me she was pregnant. We were at a restaurant with some of our friends and it had been awhile since I had seen everyone. She was sitting next to me, across from her husband Andy, at the far end of the table. I asked her how things were and if anything was new. She shook her head and said "not too much", then asked Andy to hand her her phone. My focused switched to something our guy friends were talking about, so my head was turned as she pulled something up on her phone. 

Suddenly, Megan taps my arm, slides over her phone to me and calmly states, "well, actually this is new". I picked up her phone, expecting to see a photo of a new car, RV, boat or some other new toy Andy had been eyeing. But instead, it was an ultra-sound photo of little baby Sagadin.

Cue the shocked face, big hugs and lots of excitement!

I was so happy for my friend in that moment, because I knew how long she had been waiting. I've seen her motherly instincts shine as I've watched her interact with her younger sister and older brother, care for her puppies and even tend to our crazy group of guy friends when they get sick, injured or out of control. She's a nurse by trade, but a nurturer for life. She doesn't take things too seriously and has the perfect sense of humor to help keep her sane during what some might consider to be difficult moments. And I know, without a doubt, that she is going to be an amazing mother.

And then there was Andy, who was grinning from ear-to-ear and saying all the right things...but you could still see some fear in his eyes. I wasn't worried about him though. In fact, I was really excited for him. See, when Andy loves someone, he loves them deeply. With his friends, he shows us how much he cares by using humor, hospitality and leadership. He brings people together and then becomes the bond that keeps everyone close. He's not afraid to talk about shit and in fact, he prefers it. He's also a nurse by trade and a nurturer for life, but the way he cares for and is attentive to Megan is the absolute sweetest. I'm so proud of the man he has become and can't wait to see him as a dad. 

As you look through their maternity session, you may notice that Andy looks different in some of the photos. That's because we did this session twice...but that's a story for another day. ;)

Grace Stufkosky

When your client asks to be photographed in a local bar or restaurant, you don't just say yes; you say yes while jumping up & down, and your heart pumps to the beat of your favorite song. Because this client, well...she gets you. Like kindred spirits. BFF's. Long lost sisters. And you know a wonderful collaboration is about to take place.

I liked Grace from the moment she emailed me. We had never met before, despite being fellow photographers (she's the lady behind Grace Stufkosky Photography), but I could tell she was kind and genuine. She knew what she wanted, but also gave me the freedom to create something special for her. And for a photographer, giving up that much control can be really difficult. It's kind of like being a backseat driver in your own car. Being in front of the camera is a vulnerable place to be and we know it; we see our clients be vulnerable with us day in and day out. We know how to be given that vulnerability and handle it with great care, but we're not usually that great at giving our own away. So when we need to update our head shots, it can feel extra daunting to give up the control we're so accustomed to having. But not Grace. She trusted me from the moment she found me on Instagram, and I could not have been more honored by that. She handed over her vulnerability without any hesitation and I held it close the entire shoot. 

Grace is an extremely talented photographer who specializes in food, drinks and interiors, so many of her clients are local bars, restaurants and magazines that feature related topics. While she loved the portraits she had previously, she wanted something new that would easily communicate to her potential clients exactly who she is and what she specializes in. She of course wanted to show her professional side, but she also wanted to give clients a more accurate idea of what she's like to work with, which is casual and easy-going. She needed more of a visual voice to tell her story and attract those ideal clients. She didn't need your basic head shot, she needed an environmental portrait. And I was beyond excited to help!

There were plenty of bars and restaurants that we could have asked to photographed in, but Bitter & Twisted was our number one choice for their killer style and giant windows, flooding us with all the natural light we could possibly need. Seriously, that place is amazing. The first time I met some friends there for happy hour, I felt like I had been transported to New York City. The high industrial ceilings, concrete walls, classy red booths mixed with high-top tables, a gorgeous bar that serves deliciously unique cocktails, and tall neighboring buildings that were visible through the wall-sized windows made me feel like I was in an episode of Sex in the City.  And. I. Loved it. Thankfully, Grace had just recently done a shoot with them, so they welcomed us with open arms during their off-hours and let us have free reign of the entire place. Thank you again to the B&T staff for their generous hospitality! We are incredibly grateful! 

Grace, I know I've already said this a few times now, but seriously, it was such a pleasure and an honor working with you! You have such a kind heart and I'm so excited to now call you my friend! I hope these portraits serve you well and I can't wait to see you again!

To learn more about Negroni Week, click here!

To learn more about Negroni Week, click here!

Fun Fact: The drink featured in this series was part of an annual event called Negroni Week, an international charity campaign where participating venues donate proceeds to the non-profit of their choice. For each Negroni drink purchased, B&T donated a portion of the money to HALO, an awesome local no-kill animal rescue group. Great work, guys!

Isn't Grace a total babe?! :)