30A Photography Education & Healthy Living » 30A editorial photographer inspiring women to savor life through learning about photography and healthy living. Serving 30A & Panama City Beach, Florida.

I can almost smell it. The rich scent of the leather…  The softness of the cover… The thickness of the pages…  Sorting through the images I can’t help but imagine what the final product will look like…  Imagine the excitement of the couple as they open their heirloom album for the first time…  Think about how much they’ll enjoy it as they flip through the pages as time goes by.

Designing albums has always been fun, but lately I can’t help but get a little… emotional about it. I may not be shooting weddings (for now) but the art and business of photography is still alive and well in my soul. The other day I had a couple from a few years ago contact me and tell me how their wedding album was “their most treasured possession” and how it’s sat on their coffee table for others to enjoy.  Their photos are special. Treasured.

As I’ve been working on Andrea & Daniel’s wedding album I can’t help but think of what the other couple said or how much their album meant. THAT is one of the things I love most about photography. How the little moments, documented the right way, become more than just a memory. They become a reminder of the sacredness and joy of a day that went by all too quickly.  Another thing I love to do is share some of my favorite images of those sacred moments.  It’s something that I neglected to do for a while because I was so busy shooting and then became ill, but now that things are slowing down (hopefully) I wanted to share a few with you.

Andrea and Daniel are a wonderful couple with lots of love and spunk – my favorite type of people. I can’t wait to hear from them years from now, with stories of how much their wedding photos have continued to remind them of the love and laughter they shared on their wedding day. Here is a selection of special moments from their day.

– Holly

(Scroll down for a list of wedding vendors)

 

Thank you to the amazing vendors that helped make this special day a success!

Ceremony & Reception location: Rosemary Beach Town Hall

Wedding Coordinator: Savoir Faire Weddings, Stefanie Tate

Florist: Celestine’s Special Occasions

Cake Artist: Sweet for Sirten

Officiant: Pastor Samuel Delaney

Makeup & Hair: Lanna Bloodworth

Music: Lucky Town

Dress: Augusta Jones

Ring Designer: Southeastern Jewelers; Birmingham, AL

After months of thinking/talking/praying about it, I felt that it was time to simplify life by streamlining my online presence.  For those of you that don’t know, I’ve run a photography business for the past nine years and three years ago started a side-gig, Safe & Happy Family.  But since then “life has happened” and I’ve decided to focus more on what really matters to me – family, food, faith, fitness and photography.  Those are the things that are most important to me, but yet they’re also the things that I’ve struggled with the most.

About two years ago now I sat down and took an inventory of the way things were – I didn’t do it alone though, I talked to my husband, kids, and family. Turns out, they all felt it too. By trying to do it all, I was failing at what I cared about most by being distracted and just… busy.  So I started to make changes. Slowly. I had no idea what exactly it was that I needed to do, I just knew I had to do something. So I started shooting fewer weddings.  Spending more weekends with friends. Sleeping more. Getting a tight hold on my finances and living less on a month-to-month basis.  As I did these things I realized that the dream life I’d been chasing wasn’t really so dreamy, and the behaviors of those I’d looked up to (working all night, never seeing family) weren’t so healthy.  Looking back, I can see how perfectly clear God’s plan for this chapter of my life was. He knew what was to come…  The struggles. The joy. The pain and relief. The sickness and health.

(Photo by Emily Huff)

I still don’t have it together – not even close. I’m wildly, shamelessly, perfectly imperfect.  I mess up a lot and have weeks where I allow myself to fall into my old habits of working too much and allowing myself to be distracted. But then I see the look on my kids’ faces and it jolts me back to reality, so I ask for forgiveness and start all over again. What I’ve learned is to stop beating myself up so much when I do mess up. (Which I’m grateful for because I really mess up a lot!) The thing is, we are inherently flawed.  Every one of us.  But it’s our responsibility to try our hardest to see past our imperfections, not let our struggles define us, and do what we can to use our talents and our voices to make the world a better place. We are allowed to have bad days. God guarantees that we will. But it’s not those struggles but how we deal with them that define us.   And thank heavens for that! I’ve been widowed. I’ve been paralyzed. I’ve lost friends and even lost my faith – but fortunately I found it again.

This site update is an outward reflection of the inner journey I’ve been on. It’s my way of trying to focus on what I care most about and sharing my journey along the way. It’s taken me over a month to bring together all of the websites/blogs I’ve had and turn them into a single, cohesive entity.  Doing so has given me a chance to reflect upon the topics that I really want to focus on – what is nearest and dearest to my heart.

(Photo by Emily Huff)

Photography – The art form that has gotten me through it all. Photography has helped me document my children’s lives and allowed me to witness the most intimate moments of other’s lives. After years of saying “maybe one day” I’m finally making it a priority to help others learn how to document their own lives. I plan on continuing to take limited editorial and commercial commissions, but my heart is being led to spend more time documenting my own family and teaching others to see the light.

Food – One of the few things that we literally cannot live without. I had never given food much thought until both my son and I were diagnosed with life-threatening dietary issues.  Now our family spends an inordinate amount of time preparing meals and talking about food.  I love all things food – photographing it, writing about it, and sharing some of my favorite dairy, peanut, tree-nut and gluten-free recipes (I promise they’re tastier than it sounds!)

Health  – Something we all take for granted until we don’t have it – until you’re laying in bed unable to move or your friend from work is fighting cancer… I’m still on the road to recovery from Guillain-Barre Syndrome and I have found writing about health and fitness (although I’m not a doctor!) incredibly cathartic. I’m not naïve enough to think that I can cure GBS, but I hope that together we can continue to raise money for medical research and awareness of food allergies. We’ve raised almost $2000 so far – how crazy is that???

I hope that you continue to follow along.  I can’t wait to see what’s in store next!

– Holly

Staring at the wall, I wondered if the way I perceived the color had something to do with the fact I’d inhaled too many fumes.  Or perhaps it was because it was still wet. The longer I stood there, the more obvious it became that I’d royally messed up…

The 1” x 1” paint chip had been hanging on the wall for weeks and I had looked at it in every light – I wanted the kitchen to be the perfect shade of soothing blue/grey.  I had a vision in my head of what I wanted and decided I’d talked/daydreamed/procrastinated long enough.  I wanted action.  I wanted my kitchen to look like it was straight out of a Pottery Barn catalog and I knew I was capable of doing it myself, so I did the only logical thing I could think of – I ran to the store, bought a few gallons of paint and got to work.  As I rushed through slapping two coats of paint on the wall I was quite pleased with myself.  I was making things happen.  I hadn’t bothered to let the first coat of paint dry completely, so it hadn’t become obvious immediately…  But as I stood there watching the final coat of paint dry I began to come to terms with the fact I’d somehow managed to paint my kitchen a shade of purple resembling a particular dancing dinosaur from a children’s show… The color I’d used should have been named “Barney Purple.”

At the time, the experience wasn’t quite as humorous as I remember it now.  I ended up calling my friend Sarah to come over for a second opinion – she confirmed it was, indeed, Barney purple.  She chose not to make fun of me and instead quietly stared at the walls, then at me and said “Ok, let’s go to the hardware store.”  Driving to the store, I remember feeling incredibly embarrassed. How could I have made such a mistake?  Once we were inside she helped me find the perfect shade and then she and the man in the paint department gave me a little lesson in both home improvement and life.  They explained to me a) how you can’t rush paint drying and b) when undertaking a large project you should always seek guidance from someone that loves you enough to tell you if you’re headed in the wrong direction.  Both seemed obvious points. Both were things I’d completely ignored.

While my eye for color has improved since that unfortunate day, I continue to work on remembering the other lessons I learned.  This week, my tenth since I was hospitalized with Guillain-Barre (GBS), I keep thinking about the kitchen incident and how much it reminded me of where I am with my recovery.  I was told the recovery from GBS would be slow, but in my heart I didn’t believe that applied to me. I was told that there would be huge fluctuations in fatigue and weakness, but I didn’t think that applied to me. I was told that if I overdo it then I would pay for it, but I didn’t think that applied to me.  In the same way that the damaged myelin sheath surrounding my nerves keeps their little messages from being sent properly, it’s like there’s some sort of disconnect between knowing things and truly understanding them in my heart.

Case in point… I have experienced one of the most surprisingly confusing/joyous/frustrating/ecstatic moments of my life since I last wrote.  One day my legs felt strong and my frustration level with my current “situation” was through the roof.  Between the anger/frustration and my perceived strength I knew I could walk. I wanted action. I wanted to walk. That afternoon I was working with a former college football player turned physical therapist/researcher, and I trusted him to catch me if I fell.  My requests to try walking were met with uncertainty but he finally, cautiously, wrapped a gait belt around me and held a death grip on me.  We tested out my legs by standing slowly.  I straightened my body into a position I remembered from my gymnastics days and pretended I was standing on the balance beam with an imaginary string pulling my head up.  He held me up enough so that I wasn’t bearing my full weight, but I found I was able to support much of it without my legs buckling – a huge feat.  “Ok, good job. Let’s try walking.” I inched my right foot forward and placed it on the ground. Then I moved my left foot forward.  Unlike every other day I’d tried it didn’t get stuck and I was able to push it forward.  Then I did it again… And again… Sure enough, I was walking – or something resembling that… It was awkward and zombie-like and I only made it a few steps before collapsing into my wheelchair, but I did it and didn’t care if I looked like a zombie or not.  We were all so shocked that it took me a second to process it and then I said “Ok, now can I get rid of the wheelchair?”  Everyone aside from me broke out in laughter… “No, that will be a while. You still have a way to go. But that was a great start. Don’t dare try that outside of physical therapy. Promise us you won’t. You can get hurt very badly. Do you promise?”  Instantly my mind went to daydreaming mode and I started thinking about how I’d be back to normal in a week – chasing my kids around the yard and doing intense cardio every day.  I replied, “Sure, I promise…” But mentally I had already begun making plans.

A few days later I did it again. This time I had two people hold onto me and I used a walker, but I did it. I walked…. It was less awkward and I made it a few steps further.  I was looking down, watching my feet and my body move forward as I was asked “Can you feel your feet on the ground?”  I slowed down to think  before I stepped again and realized that I couldn’t feel them at all…  Then I made it a few more steps before I fell into my wheelchair, overwhelmed with emotion again. I had walked (with help) but I couldn’t feel my feet.  Once again, I was given the warning: “Do not try this at home – you’re too weak.  You need to work on crawling before you can walk.  The muscles aren’t strong enough and the nerves are still healing.   You did a great job, but if you try to walk on your own you’ll cause further damage – you’re not ready to do this without our help.”

 

The moment I’d dreamed of for several months was not at all like I thought it would be.  I’d envisioned one day everything would come together – I’d be strong, I could feel, and then I would be off and running. But instead there was a day that followed where I was too tired and weak to stand with help and then another day I woke up (after overdoing it the day before) and I was hardly able to feel my hands and legs.  Perhaps all the experts that have told me recovery would be slow and non-linear were right after all… The recovery process is more like the NASDAQ market – there are lots of daily fluctuations, but over time things will improve and I’ll get better and better.  As frustrating as it may be, looking back that’s exactly how things have progressed.  I’ve made huge strides in the past ten weeks and mentally I’m ready to run, yet I keep being told I’m still not there… In order to heal I have to humble myself, trust the experts and get on my hands and knees and practice crawling – just like a toddler.

And in between all the crawling I need to be still and wait for the paint to dry. Wait for the nerves to heal.  Wait for my body to recover.  Waiting is the only thing to do, no matter how badly I want to slap up another coat of paint and get my project completed.  Or, in this case, toss my wheelchair aside and run down the street.  Yet God keeps (emphatically) telling me I don’t have a choice.  As well as my doctor… And my physical therapist… And my family…  The only choice I have is to wait and when the moment is right and I have the right people to guide me, only then can I stand up and slowly put one foot in front of the other.

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Lately I’ve found myself in the odd situation of being forced to rest.   Today I wanted to be up running around, but instead I was given the choice of laying down for a few hours and either napping or finding some other way to rest.   I chose to spend my time on the couch editing photos, which brings me my own kind of zen. Digging through my electronic photo catalog I found an assortment of photos I’d taken from my month in the hospital. I’ve had people ask me how things have been and what the rehab hospital was like, but I’ve had a hard time explaining it so I thought I’d get a little visual help.  In short, it was hard… After spending eight days in bed at my local hospital, I was looking forward to a change of scenery.  I felt like I’d either stared at the ceiling or watched the IVIG infusion trickle out if its bottle and into me for days.  At one point I took out my camera phone and took a snapshot of the medicine hanging above me, but then I realized that was the extent of excitement and so I curled back up in a ball and let the morphine work while I prayed the infusions were helping.

Fast forward eight days to my arrival at the rehabilitation hospital. I had no idea what a rehabilitation hospital was before we headed there – all I had heard about was a different kind of rehab that I was pretty certain I didn’t need… When we arrived I was still highly medicated, a bit disoriented and for some reason I was shocked that it didn’t resemble a hotel. “Oh, ok. Wow…  This is a real hospital…”   I had been admitted to the spinal care injury unit, which also dealt with “medically complex cases” like Guillain-Barre Syndrome.  It turned out there were doctors and nurses everywhere, hospital beds, and people coming in all through the night to take my vitals and give me meds. But there were also all sorts of crazy contraptions to help get me moving and therapists that knew just how much to pick me up and where and how to brace my weak limbs so I could begin gait training (a fancy term for re-learning to walk).  They would hoist me up so most of my weight would be off my legs and then they would work as a team to help me inch forward.  They knew exactly how to push me to the point where I couldn’t take any more, but no further.

The staff became like family. They rejoiced in the smallest of victories and comforted me when I felt like the physical pain was too much to bear.  They ran down the hall when there were problems and sat on my bedside when I didn’t want to be alone.  They woke me up before the sun, sharing scripture (which I welcomed) and stories of overcoming their own challenges.  They saw straight through my own b.s. and called me out on it in a way that wasn’t rude or disrespectful, but loving. Like a parent.   And they listened to me and worked together to make daily adjustments so that I would be able to function, albeit at a new normal, by the time I left.

My stay there was only three weeks, but it felt like much longer.  I started out taking photos as a distraction but then I found that it forced me to move around and become more comfortable using my wheelchair. Sometimes I would only feel like sitting up in bed and taking photos of my food, and others I wanted to photograph flowers.  The weekend my kids came to visit was clearly my favorite – I wanted to soak every second of them in and have proof that they had been there when they were gone. Some of the photos I took are too personal to share – I’ll save those just for me.  But here are a few others from my stay. The photos are a mix of iPhone and “real” photos, with a few (most of the pictures with me in them) taken by my husband.  They’re not perfect and they’re definitely a lot less shiny and happy than usual but they’re honest, raw and taken from my new (temporary) eye level.  This is the view from my chair.

– Holly

Coming in the door, I was greeted with a huge sparkly sunshine – the kind I always tried to draw as a kid but never quite pulled off with such pizazz.  This one was not only extra large and happy, but was directly adjacent to another painting that reminded me of the waves nearby.  The artwork was so adorable that I hardly even realized that the paintings had been made to adorn the new handicap ramps leading up to my front door.  Everything was fresh and bright and the kids were acting like their silly selves, but something just felt off – like something had been missing… Then I realized the something had been me.

I recently spent a month in the hospital fighting Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP) aka Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or GBS.  One month, two hospitals and several hundred miles from my family.  When I went in to the ER on a Friday night I never could have imagined all that would transpire.  I walked in with my legs weak and my heart racing, but I walked in…

As I lay here sprawled out on the couch it all seems like some sort of crazy dream – surely I’m going to get up and walk to the kitchen and laugh about what a long nap I had.  But then I sit up and realize my eyes are wide open… I move to the edge of the couch and have to drag my legs to transfer to my wheelchair and realize that yes, I’m still wide awake and no, this hasn’t been a bad dream.

Ten days ago I was finally discharged from a short-term rehabilitation hospital to recover from home.  I’m not cured, but right now I’m waiting for the damaged nerves to start healing, which is pretty much like waiting for paint to dry.  Now that I’m back at home, there are two questions that people have – “How are you doing?” and “Can you walk?”  My response to both, so far, has been either a sigh or silence.  Because, honestly, I’m not sure how to answer. At least, succinctly.

With GBS, there is no cure and the course of the illness varies drastically among patients-  some patients are mildly affected and only have some numbness and tingling while others lose control of every part of their body and end up on a ventilator for months.   Who is affected, how they’re affected, and how they recover makes absolutely no sense.  GBS doesn’t discriminate.

The course of my illness has fallen somewhere in the middle – GBS has affected many different types of nerves in my body and some have been more severely affected than others.  I was fortunate enough to receive a disease-modifying therapy (IVIG) that, in some patient populations, has been shown to lessen the severity of the illness and accelerate the recovery, but there is no way to know if and how well it worked.   The only way to tell how a GBS patient will fare long-term is with a crystal ball.

As for now,  my hands work, but they’re clumsy, weak and a bit numb at times.  I can type and am gaining sensation in the one hand that was more severely affected, but if I put them under water they’ll feel two different temperatures. As for sharp knives??? I’m sure I could handle one if I really concentrate but… That’s not something that my husband is comfortable letting me try quite yet.   My blood pressure and heart rate are finally under control but are going to have to be closely monitored as I recover and my breath support and swallowing are doing much better.  Half of my face is still pretty numb as well, but I’m finally able to smile.  I’m tired a lot. Very, very tired.  But the level of exhaustion depends on what I’ve been doing and what kind of therapy I’ve had that day/how hard I’ve pushed myself. One moment I can feel peppy and strong (typically in the morning) and then a few hours later I can feel weak and so tired I can hardly hold my head up.  Having girls around to remind me to get out of my PJ’s, brush my hair and put on some makeup has gone a long way toward making me feel “normal” again, and one of the few outings I’ve taken in over a month was to get my hair cut.  (Then I slept.  A lot.)

The answer to the second question – “Can you walk?” is much simpler. “Not yet…” I can finally move my legs some (I couldn’t at all when I went back in the hospital five weeks ago), but I can’t yet bear my own weight or stand on my own, which means I’m in a wheelchair.   I’ve tried to stand on my own outside of physical therapy once or twice –  I got in big, big trouble. One of the best descriptions I heard of a patient with GBS is that they had “jello legs.”  They’re there. They can wiggle a little.  But if you try to put weight on them they give out. Just like jello. As a result, I can’t yet be left alone for very long in the event I fall and can’t get up.  Yep, just like the old people in the TV ad.   I would say that this level of Holly supervision is overkill, but I kinda sorta fell out of my wheelchair in the hospital just before I left and ended up face-down on the floor.  I was laughing hysterically, but then realized I couldn’t get back up to the chair or a bed so I laid there for a while until I was able to summon someone to help. There was lots of paperwork that had to be filled out and the incident was chalked up to “user malfunction.” Seriously though, remembering all the tricky parts of wheelchair life like putting on the brakes takes a little getting used to… I promise I’ve learned my lesson though…

All jokes aside, this month has been intense.  GBS is one of the strangest and most frustrating illnesses I’ve ever run across.   I’ve spent the past month laughing about how ridiculous this illness is (when I’ve been awake and in the mood to laugh), and now that I’m home the laughter is mixed with increasing frustration because I’m ready for all this to be over.  My entire family and support network is exhausted and ready for this to be over as well… Thinking back on how far I’ve come over the past couple weeks though, where I am today really is a miracle.  An honest to God miracle…

If I’ve learned anything about GBS it’s that it will do everything it can to beat a person down.  It’s a marathon of tears, fear, praying for healing and hoping for miracles.  It not only tries to steal the happy away from people, it keeps them from smiling both inside and out. It drains you and frustrates you and literally freezes your facial muscles, taking away your smile.

I may not be walking or have the most amazing handwriting yet, but I’m finally able to smile again.  And when I make it outside I have a huge, sparkly sunshine and some ocean waves painted on my doorstep to remind me that I have a long way to go but I’ve made it home.  And that’s something we are all giving thanks for.

– Holly

p.s. – We are still continuing to raise money for GBS research and advocacy efforts through the sale of cute t-shirts.  If you haven’t bought yours yet, head on over and check it out! (Click here.)