The one thing you should do before you get married....

We get engaged and then the next couple of months are a whirlwind of bookings, appointments, flower picking, dress shopping, location scouting, etc. All of this is so wonderful because your wedding is a celebration of who you guys are as a couple. However, if I had one piece of advice it would be don't be so busy preparing for your wedding that you forget to prepare for your marriage.

I recently did a branding shoot with a local couple, Ethan and Emilie Tapscott. These two are fun, adorable and oh-so-sweet! They dedicate themselves to engaged and married couples as marriage mentors because they believe in the importance of strong marriages! You can check out their website HERE . They do one-on-one counseling with engaged couples as well as counseling, workshops, retreats, and classes for married couples as well! Even if you don't book premarital counseling with them, you should check out their blog for interesting topics to think about and discuss with your partner, OR check out their facebook page where they post events held locally that both the engaged and married will enjoy! 

Seriously, look how fun these two are... I'd hang out with them again any day! 

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20 Things to do in Lincoln, Illinois...

I have many, many clients who travel to my studio from all over the Central Illinois area for their photo session! Whether you are looking for something to do after your session or are trying to entertain siblings during a newborn session, I have compiled this list of things to do in Lincoln while you are here, better yet, MOST are within walking distance from my studio! 

1.) Parks: Lincoln has many parks but there are 2 parks and 2 school playgrounds within walking distance of my studio. (1) Scully Park: located right off the square this park has swings, a structure playset built like a firetruck, a play firehouse, and a BEAUTIFUL fountain, (2) Latham Park: located off the square right across the street from the Lincoln Public Library. This park has swings, a wooden structure playset, and a giant cement tunnel for littles to crawl through, (3) Central Elementary School Playground, (4) Carrol Catholic School Playground

2.) The Square: The square is just a short 2 minute walk away from my studio. It is home to many restaurants, shops, our beautiful, historic courthouse, a beautifully rebuilt theater, as well as many other attractions. There are historical markers located in many spots for you to educate yourself on Downtown Lincoln's rich history. 

3.) Guest House Coffee & Pastries: This coffee house is new to Lincoln and is a great spot to go with the entire family. They have delicious locally-roasted coffee as well as some of their own roasted beans! Don't like coffee? No problem! They have a WIDE selection of gourmet treats baked fresh daily that will not disappoint. Plus, they provide a variety of games that you and your family can enjoy while enjoying your yummy treats. To Find out more, visit their website HERE

4.) Lincoln Public Library: If you aren't a resident of Lincoln, you wont be able to check out the books, but there is still plenty for you to enjoy here! Located right off the square the Lincoln Public Library has a designated kids building that holds, toys, felt boards, books, coloring pages, puzzles, computer games, and many other activities for you to enjoy. Check out more information HERE. 

5.) Train Station: located right off the square this historical site right off the square has a rich history. In 1853 Abraham Lincoln used watermelon juice to christen the town of Lincoln, Illinois, near this very site. It thus became the first town named after Abraham Lincoln before he was famous. This station is also used for Amtrak trains! Find out more about that train depots rich history, HERE

6.) Thrifting & Antiquing: as a photographer, thrifting is one of my favorite hobbies. I am constantly on the lookout for unique props that I can use for photoshoots. There are 5 amazing shops I love to visit right on the square (1) Witz End Boutique, (2) Pink Shutter Thrift Shop, (3) Copper Penny, (4) ReNew, and (5) Cherished Memories

7.) Lincoln Grand 8 Theater: This beautifully redone theater is located right off the square and 2 minutes from the studio. They provide a wide selection of snacks and movies and the building is beautiful! Find out more information & Showtimes, HERE. 

8.) Food: I love me some local restaurants and this is a list of places everyone should try! All but 1 are within walking distance of my studio. Here they are: (1) Guzzardos Italian Villa, (2) Sorrento's Pizzeria, (3) Peggy's Place Bakery, (4) Flossie and Delzena's Gourmet Grind & Gift, (5) El Mazatlán Mexican Restaurant, (6) Chi, (7) Deep Roots Bakery & Café, (8) The Mama's Arcade Café, and (9) Bluedog Inn.

9) Russell Stover Candies: I love me some yummy treats! Make sure you stop in at this Russell Stover Candy Store to get homemade fudge, old fashioned ice cream, traditional Russell Stover candy, gourmet caramel apples and more. More information and hours can be found HERE. 

10.) Cindy's Cottage: Although Cindy's Cottage isn't within walking distance of my store, it is worth visiting while you are here. This shop is home to boutique clothing and jewelry, bath salts/bombs, candles, vintage and farmhouse furniture & décor and much more. There is something for everyone! More information HERE

11.) Lincoln Park District Rec. Center (Summer Only): If you are here in the summer and you love to swim, check out Lincoln Park District's Recreation Center. Their outdoor swimming area is clean and fun! It has a great toddler/childrens area with new play equipment, and water spouts. They also have a regular sized pool with a slide that older kids will enjoy! More information HERE. 

12.) World's Largest Covered Wagon: This roadside attraction isn't walking distance from the studio but it is certainly worth seeing. This 24' tall covered wagon is being driven by a 12' tall Abe! More information HERE.

13.) Lincoln Heritage Museum: This museum is located on the campus of Lincoln College. It shares the life, legacy and character of Abraham Lincoln in engaging and entertaining ways and is home to a vast collection of historical 19th century artifacts. The first floor showcases more than one hundred rare and original historic pieces relating to Lincoln and the Civil War, complete with stimulating visuals and story-telling which complement the pieces and provide historical context. Upstairs through object reproductions, attractive graphics, and realistic 19th-century room recreations, it is an excellent opportunity for you to engage with history and feel like you are stepping into the past. For more information, click HERE

14.) Wildlife Parks: Edward Madigan State Fish & Wildlife Park, is a 974 acre conservation area that houses multiple covered picnic areas, a playground, trails, hunting, a beautiful river, and wildlife viewing.  Kickapoo Creek State Park, is a beautiful 160-acre wooded park. It has over 10 miles of trails, covered picnic areas, canoeing, fishing, and a beautiful wooden bridge. 

15.) Sir Renna Tea: Sir Renna Tea is located on the square of downtown Lincoln and historic route 66 and only a short walk away from the studio. Come here to enjoy delicious bubble tea, snacks, and shop unique gift items including Route 66 souvenirs. 

17.) Abes Caramelcorn Shoppe: Newly renovated, Abe's offers a unique retail shopping experience, merging the nostalgic small town feel, with a cutting edge selection of merchandise. Make sure you stop in to get some of their famous caramel corn, cheesecorn, and mix corn! 

18.) Small Town Creations: This little studio located on the square provides a twist on the traditional paint night parties. Host a vinyl workshop and take your work of art home the same evening. Custom work available too! More details, HERE. 

19.) Mel-O-Cream Donuts: This donut shop has been family owned and operated since 1964 and will not disappoint with their delicious treats! More information HERE. 

20.) Lincoln's Loft: If you are looking for a place to stay, Lincoln's loft is a beautifully renovated loft apartment in downtown Lincoln, IL. just completed in June of 2018! Featuring the original hardwood floors, and exposed brick walls, this fully equipped loft preserves the historical feel but with modern amenities! This loft is located on the square in downtown Lincoln and just a short walk away to everything you might need, including my studio! Stay for 1 night or 10 in this beautiful place! 

While this is everything Lincoln has to offer, these are some of my favorites. :) Enjoy! 

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The beginnings of love....

I recently went through some business counseling. They asked me all the right questions, forced me to dig deep into who I am as a photographer, what I love to do and why, what do I want my business to be and how am I going to get there... basically all the hard questions that I didn't want to focus on because it takes time, a thing which I do not have. But it ended up being one of the best things I've ever done. I will be writing more on that later. But what I discovered about myself was significant. 

I love to photograph the beginnings of love. This can be found in newborns and weddings. There are more in common about these two life transitions than one might think. Both of these times are moments of sweetness and grace, where the other person feels intensely present to us. Devotion, hope, and a future are vivid. Putting the other person first (whether that's spouse or child) is not just considered a privilege but an honor. We are so filled to the brim with love and thankfulness that we cannot EVER imagine taking this relationship for granted. 

But that is exactly what happens. We have this idealistic view of what our marriage is going to be like. We have this idealistic view of parenting and how our children are going to behave. We think we know what our life will be like. But then life smacks you in the face. Whether it’s sickness, a colicky child, a sudden death, a disobedient child, financial difficulties, or just the mundane of day to day life, we begin to realize that marriages are hard and children are difficult. We are left feeling tired, lost, hopeless or indifferent. But more significantly, we have forgotten who we are. 

This is where I come in. By photographing you at the beginning of love, I can return you to this relationship with a sense of gratitude and wonder. I believe that through your entire experience with me (booking, conversations, dreaming, planning, photo-taking, and viewing) I can assist you in recovering your identity and mission. Through your experience with me, not just the photos themselves, I believe we can recover hope, dignify suffering, develop empathy, laugh, wonder, and nurture a sense of communion with each other. I believe that your experience with me and the finished product can heal your feelings of hopelessness and indifference. Not just for the person you are right now, but for the person that you are becoming. These photos become a visual symbol of hope. When you view these photos, presently and in the future, you will remember the truth of their message and be reminded of who you are! And when we are reminded of this, our burdens will begin to be lifted. We will no longer live life aimlessly or indifferently because by remembering who you are, you will KNOW what to do!  

When you invest in a session with me you are not just investing in photos, you are investing in an experience. An experience that will benefit your present, AND your future. An experience that produces a product with an eternal message. A message that needs to be heard not just by who you are at this moment, but the person you are becoming. Who could put a price on that? 

Enjoy some of the sneak peeks from Carissa and Zack's newborn session with baby Murphy, part 1 in their Baby's First Year Experience. This session took place at the Photos by Ariel Studio located in Lincoln, Illinois. Interested in booking your own session? Contact me here.

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My 9 favorite pregnancy products...

My pregnancies were HARD. I had severe hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme morning sickness) which led to weight loss, many hospitalizations, IV's, and nutrition bags. Then I had typical pregnancy problems of extreme exhaustion, fainting, bloating, swelling, insomnia, sciatica, back pain, and all the other wonderful things that happen when we were pregnant. Don't get me wrong... having had two miscarriages I was extremely grateful for the sweet lil' babe in my belly but my goodness it was definitely not an easy time. So, I decided to share some of my favorite pregnancy products that got me through with all of you pregnant momma's out there..... 

1.) Sensodyne Toothepaste. Ha! Bet you didn't think this would be on here, huh? Well, turns out when you vomit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 10 months it RUINS the enamel on your teeth. Take it from me, if you have vomiting, use this enamel protecting toothpaste. 

2. Belly Bands. These wonderful things can be found here. During the first 20 weeks or so of pregnancy it's a great way to still wear your normal pants and you can wear them unbuttoned with these things. Great transition piece from regular clothes to maternity clothes. 

3.) Stretch Mark Cream. I used Palmer's Cocoa Butter in all 3 of my pregnancies and managed to make it through without 1 stretch mark! Not making any promises, but this stuff worked for me! It can be found here or at any major drug store. 

4.) Pregnancy Pillow. Sleep gets super hard towards the end of pregnancy. With the constant peeing and the not being able to get comfortable, its just tough to wake up and feel rested. A pregnancy pillow similar to this one helped me tremendously. Yes it's big and obnoxious but who cares if it means you get good sleep! Especially when this is baby #3 and you have to wake up bright and early to take care of two other littles. 

5.) Heartburn Medicine. Pretty self-explanatory but I CANNOT stand tums. Heck, I couldn't even keep ice down, much less those nasty, chalky tums. But these were amazing. They taste like starburst! Yes please! You can also by them at CVS, Walgreens or any other drug store. 

6.) Maternity Leggings. Leggings are comfortable all the time but in pregnancy they are a MUST (plus they are great for postpartum too)! When that awkward "things fit, but not really" stage comes along, it happens fast and you'll want to wear something that feels like nothing. :) Cute and Comfy clothes are non-negotiable in pregnancy. Just do it. 

7.) An awesome water bottle. I use this one but it really doesn't matter what one you use as long as you like it. I tend to drink more water if I use a water bottle with a straw. Not only is this a wonderful pregnancy product but also an amazing postpartum product, especially if you are nursing! 

8.) Chiropractic Care. With all the terrible pains I struggled with during pregnancy, I decided to try chiropractic care and it worked wonders with my sciatic pain and migraines and overall energy level. Some women say it even helps their morning sickness (didn't really help mine). Still recommend it. Made my pregnancies tolerable. :) 

9.) Photographer. Get an amazing maternity photographer. Not just one who "does" maternity photos but one who truly specializes in maternity and babies. Pregnancy sure does a number on women. In addition to some of the not-so-glamourous symptoms, we have to watch our bodies transform into something we aren't used to seeing everyday. And even though we know in our minds why it is happening and how we are growing a human, it still does a number on our self-esteem. Hiring an awesome photographer who knows how to pose different body types, which angles to shoot from, etc. will only help you see the beauty that every one else sees when they look at you during this season of your life. Treat yourself to a maternity session! You deserve to feel as beautiful as you are! Click here for packages and pricing. 

Well, those were my MUST-HAVES for pregnancy. What are some things on your must-have pregnancy lists? Also, enjoy these maternity photos of this beautiful first-time mama! The location of Washington Park in Springfield, Illinois was the perfect setting to reflect what this beautiful couple feels at this amazing season in their life. Can't wait to meet their sweet baby boy! 

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10 things I wish I had done BEFORE baby arrived...

There is a meme that goes around that says "Every month of pregnancy has 30-31 days except for the last month, which has 10,348 days." I am here to say there is no truer meme. Ha! So while you are waiting to meet your precious newborn, read over these 10 things I wish I would've done before baby arrived. 

1.) Talk about a birth plan. Obviously births can be full of surprises as well. But educating yourself on options during birth is super helpful when they ask you what you want while you are feeling the worst pain of your life. Need some help with birth coaching or education? Consider hiring a doula. Click here for more information. 

2.) Freezer meals. No one has time for home-cooked meals post-baby, so do as much as you can before. In addition to this, I would make a meal plan of very simple meals you can make and have on hand. 

3.) Pamper yourself. Get your nails done, hair done, a massage, or whatever it is that helps you to relax. You deserve it! 

4.) Pick a pediatrician. Make sure you have your pediatrician all lined up and ready to go. 

5.) Childcare. If you work, make sure you figure out your childcare options when your maternity leave is up. 

6.) Date night! Revel in this baby-free time while you have it. Life after baby isn't easy on a relationship. Sleep-deprivation, being overwhelmed, and being in post-baby pain can sometimes cause us to squabble with our partners simply because we are tired, overwhelmed, and frustrated. It really helps to do some pre-baby bonding to strengthen your relationship. Make sure you talk about expectations for after baby arrives as well. 

7.) Postpartum wardrobe. If you plan on nursing, make sure you invest in an awesome nursing bra or two. But even if you don't plan on nursing, there is a weird time post-pregnancy where you're maternity clothes look weird and your regular clothes don't quite fit yet. Get your postpartum wardrobe with the following items: Bras and Tanks (nursing ones, if you are nursing), Underwear (get some that you don't really care about that you can throw away once the bleeding stops), Jeans that are a couple sizes bigger, yoga pants (you will live in this!), Flowy tops (tight tops tend to make us still look 5 months pregnant), a beautiful maxi dress for those gorgeous newborn photos you will be wanting. 

8.) Deep clean. Looking back, I wish I had hired someone to do this, just this once. Who feels like mopping floors when they are 9 months pregnant? Plus, you certainly wont be getting that done once baby arrives. Can't afford to hire someone? Look on the bright side, maybe all that mopping and sweeping will make you go into labor! :) And while your at it, get rid of all the junk. Clutter can get out of control fast. Go through your house and donate, trash, recycle, or box up as much as stuff as possible. 

9.) Organize Everything. Wash, separate, organize all the baby things before baby arrives. Don't forget to give your partner a tour of where everything is at. It never failed that every time I asked my husband to fetch me a burp cloth, pacifier, diaper, wipe, bottle, or whatever he would give me this blank stare. Ha! So make sure you give your husband (and any older children) an orientation on the location of all the important things. :) 

10.) Maternity Pictures. Each pregnancy/birth is a once-in-a-lifetime event that you cannot recreate. Women often don't want pictures during this time because they feel they do not look their best. In short, we feel like giant whales. But I have been trained extensively in posing and photographing expecting women in a way that makes them feel beautiful. Trust me. Not only will you enjoy looking back on these later in life but so will your child. 

Enjoy these sneak peeks from one of my most recent maternity sessions with Heidi Fombelle located at Kickapoo Creek Park in Lincoln, Illinois. Interested in having me capture this once-in-a-lifetime experience for you, click here. 

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