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Happy New Year, Liam and Maggie!

I shot my first session of 2020 last Sunday morning, and thanks to Liam and Maggie, it was a complete success! It was only 19 degrees outside, but these two cuties were total stars. They were nothing but smiles and hugs, and we had a great time together. Thanks for meeting me, Sarah and Ryan! Once again downtown Libertyville proved to be the perfect backdrop for your beautiful family. (And so special that you had taken engagement photos in this same location, once upon a time!) Maybe next time, we aim for a warmer month?! You guys are the best!

2019 Reflections

When it comes to Christmas trees, the Soares family has a long-standing tradition of “the tackier, the better.” We load our trees full of home-made ornaments, old photos of loved ones and pets who are no longer with us, the kids’ favorite cartoon characters, family milestones, and trinkets that we pick up every place we travel. The result, to us, is a beautiful reflection of our family, past and present.

2019 was a lot like my tree…a bunch of chaos coming together to build something that, weirdly, works. It was a year of digging deep, being patient, adjusting, trying new things, refocusing. We learned a lot, grew closer as a unit, and came out just a little more at peace.

That’s saying something.

I have a bad habit of fixating on perfection. Always striving for what we don’t have. More work, less work, more time, less stress. It’s a dangerous pastime, as perfection doesn’t actually exist. I have been working hard to balance this inclination over the past year. To recognize that there will always be a dusty side to the bright and shiny, but I can choose where to direct my focus. To concentrate on everything we do have instead of everything we want.

Not too long ago, I thought that the magic of the holidays was lost to me forever. Our second daughter, Hannah, passed away in September 2014. Grieving during the holidays, for anyone who has been lucky enough to avoid it, is a true test of misery and heartache. Feeling lost and broken while simultaneously surrounded by cheer and joy and brightness is a special kind of torture. We plowed through that year for the sake of our 2-year-old, and we did our best. (My heart is with anyone who is doing their best this holiday season, and I wish them peace in the new year.)

Fast forward five years. Mike and I are leading a blessed new normal with two healthy little girls who have successfully brought back the holiday magic. ‘Tis the season to run to my mail box every afternoon like an over-excited child to check for holiday cards, and decorate to my heart’s content. (Rest assured your holiday cards are always prominently displayed in my home!). The kids are wound tight, and their excitement is contagious. (So is their chronic coughing, but that’s another blog post!) Sentiment abounds. There is so much joy. So much love. So much pressure. And a little bit of bittersweet that will always, always be there.

This was my first year on Instagram. I’m not the biggest fan of social media, but I can’t deny how wonderful the connectivity is with my clients and friends, both near and far. My page, like so many others, only shows the happy and shiny. Fun family winter activities and traditions. Smiling, happy children. Calm, put-together parents. But there are more to those photos outside of the crop. Pan out and you will see endless piles of laundry, and dishes piled in the sink, and dusty, crumby floors. You’ll see frustration and anxiety and whining and limit-pushing and so much bickering. There is an excess of juggling and guilt. There are tears and yelling.

Giving the impression of a perfect life tends to take a lot of heat from the general public, and I get it.

But, on the flip-side, scrolling through our year as depicted on Instagram is humbling. It’s my 2019 goal in tidy rows of images…ignoring the noise and focusing only on the good. The pictures don’t capture the temper tantrums or frustrating mishaps that may have happened just before or after the camera clicked. Those fall away, unremembered. But the good…that sticks forever. And focusing on just the good, it’s clear: all of the effort payed off. There was so much good.

So, I want to take a minute and be truly thankful for EVERYTHING that 2019 has brought to me. For the new things I tried that worked and the things that fell flat. For the loyal clients who have stuck with me for the past 10 years, and for the new clients I just met and already love. For the emotions, both sweet and salty, that makes my breath catch in my throat and my heart skip a beat. For the three crazy people and one old dog that I get to share my every day with. For the “normal people problems” Mike and I prayed for when we were going through an abnormal, terrifying, helpless time that changed us forever. Because that’s all part of it. That’s life. And what a wonderful life it is.

Megan - December 18, 2019 - 9:14 am

Beautiful family, beautiful sentiment, beautifully stated. Peace and love to you all this holiday season.

Peggy Coleman - December 18, 2019 - 10:07 am

Such a beautiful reflection of your year! The sweet and salty is a perfect description of real life for me too. Too often tears are held back but I try to smile freely. Life is good, even with the struggles. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Blessings for 2020

Blake, Sydney and Company

It takes a special kind of family to follow me outside in 20 mile per hour winds and a sharp 30 degrees to smile for photos. Luckily, this is definitely a special family. I had a great time getting to know Blake and Sydney, their parents Mandy and Matt, their Aunties Marcy and Mika, and their grandparents Beth and Mike. It’s always special when I have the chance to capture a big family when they are all together for the holidays. Thank you for letting me into your home and humoring me in the cold! You guys are great!


Beth Krause - December 5, 2019 - 6:16 pm

Thanks Jen! You are a miracle worker!

Hope, Rosie, and Nate

I LOVE THESE GUYS! Hope, Rosie, Nate, and I had the best time with this session. I’m not going to lie…when their mom reached out and asked whether I’d shoot some headshots for them for upcoming theater auditions, I totally geeked out. None of us could keep a straight face for long as we went through different smiles and poses (except for Nate…his blue steel “serious smile” was killer!) At the end, we couldn’t resist snapping a few shots of the three sibs together, playing around with Breakfast Club poses and High School Musical jumps, and having even more laughs. Hope, Rosie, and Nate, I can’t wait to say “I knew them back when…” someday! You’re all stars. Thanks for coming by my studio, and don’t be strangers!



It was the weekend before Thanksgiving when I met Archana and Neil and their new baby, Reva. This was the perfect session to kick off the holiday season, with one of the most beautiful 4 month olds I’ve ever met, new parents with hearts full of love for their daughter, new grandparents bursting with pride, and an adorable dog, to boot. (I mean, serioulsy…Fitzgerald the puppy and Reva make the cutest duo ever!) Reva was so smiley! She enjoyed all of the cuddles from her family, and rocked each of her sweet little outfits. She didn’t even mind when we popped outside in the cold for a few shots in Mary Bartalme Park. I had the best time meeting this awesome family! Thanks for hanging out with me!