15 Ways that You Can Take Action Towards the Resistance Movement

For many of us, our values guide and shape our priorities and choices in life. They serve as a moral compass for what we stand for, what matters most, and help us decide which direction we need to go in. So I’m not surprised that (right now) many of us feel pulled in so many directions. Our moral compass is calling us to action and there are so many groups and organizations that need our help.

I heard many times over this past week, that my friends have been feeling overwhelmed by the recent executive orders and that they do not know where to begin or how to best use their time and talents to help the resistance movement. They are unsure which direction will effect the most progress or change. So I wanted to provide a few steps in which you can take action and apply it to the areas that are most personal to you. Because, let’s be honest here, this has become far more personal than we ever anticipated. And we need to focus and choose the areas or initiatives where we can apply our experiences and make the biggest impact.

First and foremost, it is important that our actions and words are aligned with our core values. When this happens, we generally feel more content, positive and fulfilled. When our behaviors don’t match-up with our values, we begin to feel restless, pessimistic and fearful (sound familiar?). So let’s take a moment to identify (and for some of us redefine) our core values. Author, James Clear, suggests you choose less than five core values to focus on because “if everything is a core value, then nothing is really a priority”. He shares a lengthy list of core values on his website that you can choose from. Don’t think too hard about it. Just choose the top 5 or so that jump out at you. They might be as simple as family, growth, independence, community, faith, inclusive, learning, well-being, success, etc. If choosing from that list isn’t working, you can also answer some questions about your upbringing that I’ve used with clients in my business coaching to help clarify these further…

  • What were your family’s values about work? How were they taught? What values remain in your life today?

  • What were your family’s values about education and learning? How were they taught? What values remain in your life today?

  • What were your family’s values about love and relationships? How were they taught? What values remain in your life today?

  • What were your family’s values on religion? How were they taught? What values remain in your life today?

  • What kind of behaviours did your family not tolerate: in you, in others? What values do you remember not trying to upset?

  • What was acceptable and unacceptable to your family about the world, cultures, life-styles? How did you learn this?

  • What were your family’s values about money? How were they taught? What values remain in your life today?

  • What were your family’s values about status? How were they taught? What values remain in your life today?

  • What were your family’s values about struggle? How were they taught? What values remain in your life today?

  • What kind of behaviours did your family hide: in you, in others? What brought you and/or them the most shame, guilt or fear?

I imagine that after you have answered some of these questions, it is becoming clearer WHY you feel so strongly about certain issues, stances or the recent executive orders. Where you were raised, how you were raised, and what you experienced helped you to become the person you are today. Now take a moment to be deliberate, and consciously attempt to identify which values are the most important to help you live your authentic life. Which values bring you the most contentment, positivity and fulfillment? Which behaviors or areas of your life make you feel the most restless, depressed, angry or afraid? Are these in alignment with how you want to live or how you are currently living? This is where you get to choose a certain direction and what matters most.

When we move forward in our daily lives and make conscious choices that reflect our core values, we will find that we are working in alignment with WHO we are and that will make all the difference in easing our anxieties or fears. It can also bring us to a place of clarity and joy, as well as personal growth.

Alright, now for step two. Choosing to live in alignment with our values, while finding ways to support and serve others who need more of these in their lives as well. Sometimes these values will affect us in a social, political or cultural way. If kindness or compassion is a core value than you’ll want to make sure that your words and actions reflect this (online, in person, and in every way that you interact). If truth or honesty is a core value than you’ll want to tell the truth, listen to the truth, and share yours with others as well as promoting it in other ways in your personal and professional life. If prosperity or abundance is a core value than you’ll want to increase the supply so others may share in the same fortune or gain access to their share of it. We must always ask ourselves, “do I want to experience this for myself or for all of us”? To learn more about our new president and his core values, you might find this article by Ryne A. Sherman Ph.D. interesting.

Next, let’s discuss step three. You have a good idea of what matters to you and now it’s time to decide where you want to align yourself and your values. Perhaps you are seeing some words that can be easily aligned with organizations or action items below. Choose one place to start, and I suggest no more than three areas to focus on for right now (otherwise the overwhelm may make a visit again). And remember, if it is personal than you can have the greatest impact in sharing your experience, talents and time. Now that you are ready to begin your resistance efforts, here are...

15 Ways That You Can Take Action

  1. Sign up for weekly action alerts and read many other ways that you can resist Trump in small actionable steps

  2. Support your Muslim family and friends at the Council on American-Islamic Relations by working in their D.C. or local offices and online

  3. Combat racism by Showing Up For Racial Justice and helping to end white supremacy

  4. Join an organization from this list that helps immigrants, or support a refugee through an innovative Humanwire fundraising campaign

  5. Share your Planned Parenthood story on social media so others may learn about the many services for women, and urge others to go there for their yearly checkups while supporting them through insurance dollars whenever possible

  6. Become a freedom fighter for the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all through your support of the ACLU

  7. Divest from the banks backing the Dakota Access Pipeline and tell them that we all get to choose who we do business with

  8. Show your support for LGBTQIA rights and see what’s happening in your state so you can take action

  9. Select one of these non-profits listed here as your charity of choice on AmazonSmile if you choose to shop there

  10. Volunteer as a Border Angel or support immigration reform and social justice specifically regarding the US-Mexico border

  11. Take part in the “10 Actions for the first 100 Days” initiative and stay involved in the Women’s March movement through their resources

  12. Email (or send postcards to) the executives mentioned in the “Grab Your Wallet” boycott and spend your money elsewhere

  13. Attend the next Indivisible meeting or join an Action Together Network group in your area

  14. Help to stop the repeal of health care with the League of Women Voters

  15. Urge your family and friends to run for office and and show them resources like She Should Run and Emerge, plus other training mentioned here as we desperately need more women in leadership positions

There's a lot of work that's going to be needed over these next four years. Take time to connect with friends and those who share your values. Set up a time to meet and discuss your values and the options above that you align with (and come up with new ideas too), or attend one of the local resistance meetings in your area.

It’s important that we don’t try to do everything all at once and suffer from burnout. We have a long road ahead. I hope that this information will help you to focus your energy on a few key areas and not feel so overwhelmed. We can do hard things. Keep using your voice. Keep showing up. Keep up the resistance!

The Right to Life: Is it for Some or All?

I recently read an article White, Conservative, Christian Friend—I Wish You Really Were Pro-Life, by John Pavlovitz, and it stirred some old feelings inside of me. You see, I stepped away from the church for many years. I still believed in God, and yet I was having an internal battle about the pro-life vs. pro-choice debates as it seemed to suggest that those who are pro-choice are less Christian or have less morals than others. On the contrary, I believed that some of us (myself included) have just experienced a lot of life and we know what it’s like to have our rights taken away so we could never do that to another.

In my case, after my sexual assault (years ago) I vowed to never let anyone I know be in that same position. So I made sure to buddy up with my girlfriends at parties or bars, and get them home safely. I also vowed to never let anyone take away a woman’s choice. I was stripped of the choice when someone decided to betray my trust and take advantage of me. I vowed to never let anyone feel powerless or alone, like I did. I also vowed to use my voice and speak up for those who couldn’t.

Sarah Lehberger pictured here in the gray jacket in the photo on the left.

So here I am today, to let you know that this divide that the church has created amongst its followers (based on the pro-life argument and most recently on one’s sexuality or gender), has put us in an interesting time where we no longer live in “one nation under God”. So many have fled the church at a time when we so desperately need faith and hope. So many feel excluded and deprived of the same basic rights guaranteed to others. So many feel less than, because we have told them that straight, white fetuses matter far more than they do or that the way that they love is wrong. And I'm not talking in generalities or assuming that all people and all churches have done this. Please understand that due to recent events certain things need to be pointed out.

We have pro-life marches that have garnered national support for years. And yet, we can’t seem to understand why people would march because black lives matter, or why we fight for women’s or LGBTQIA rights through peaceful protests. All of those groups are pro-life in their own way for all intents and purposes.

So, I want to challenge you and your right to life, which is largely based on your beliefs. Is it greater than the right to life of…

  • the muslim neighbor who just moved in next door.

  • your LGBTQIA relative who wants marriage equality.

  • a black man walking down the street who is shot removing a mobile device from his pocket.

  • the Mexican or refugee who flees their country and wants to find freedom in ours.

  • your child’s friend who eats free school lunch while she remains in foster care and is up for adoption.

Because you were born without choice, like the examples above. Each of us deserves dignity and justice as our human rights and fundamental freedoms would suggest. That child in foster care wants to be loved and valued just as much as your neighbor or the man walking down the street. Each of these examples above wants someone to advocate for their life and rights just as much as a fetus in the womb.

Maybe you resent some people in our country due to your life experiences, or perhaps you were never dealt a fair deal? We all have our struggles and imperfections. This life is certainly not easy. And yet, when I consider advocating for life… (to me) that means ALL human life. We must not choose which lives get more benefits, more privilege or rights. We must not deprive other human beings of the same dignity and beauty that we seek, as mentioned in the mission for the March for Life. So I hope that those of you who will march for the right to life this week will do so for black lives, muslim lives, LGBTQIA lives, women’s and children's lives, immigrant and refugee lives, and all of us - if you truly and deeply care.

I urge you to think about whether or not you have been truly #prolife in your words and actions, or if you have been #probirth when you have marched or taken a stand in the past. What our world needs now is more people who are advocating for all lives (including those that live outside of the womb) no matter their race, religion, sexuality, ability, ethnicity and more.

I have heard many remarks over the last few weeks, some of which questioned why I took part in the Women’s March on Washington this past Saturday or why women were marching at all. I wrote about it some last week in my post, A Message for the Advocates and Activists Among Us. I chose to march because I believe in honoring the champions of human rights and equality who came before me. I marched because my mission is to help women and moms be unstoppable and thrive, and this dream cannot be achieved until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. I marched because I want to live in a country (and world) where our differences are celebrated, and where we can find a way to bridge our many divides while finding our way back to a more loving, peaceful and united community.

What I want us all to realize (in order to heal this divide on pro-life vs. pro-choice), is that we need to talk about how many of us fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t believe that anyone wants women to die, just as much as I believe that they don’t want to see babies or unborn fetuses die. I have to believe that we all want to reduce the number of abortions and the need for them, and that would require positive and progressive change. We need access to sex education in schools and outside. We need access to affordable or free contraception. We need access to health care that helps reduce abortions and supports women before, during and after an unintended pregnancy. We need to educate our youth on sexual assault and put an end to the abuse and disdain of women and girls. We need to implement paid family leave policies and flexible work arrangements. We need to look closer at our local foster care and adoption programs, as well as advocate for more education and laws making it easier for families to adopt. My friend, Terra, shares some facts, research and action steps that may help to guide you here.

I don't know if any of this will resonate with you. I truly hope it will expand your thoughts and perspective. I chose to come back to my faith in my early 30’s and to believe in the impossible. If you also believe in something larger than yourself and in the good of humanity, than I hope that you read this as my plea for help. We can heal this divide. Let’s work together for human rights and gender equality, and by doing so we won’t need to choose one side over the other. Wouldn’t it be nice to be one nation that's indivisible again?

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Let's find real solutions to the problems that plague us. We can choose to love our fellow human beings by granting them the rights and freedoms that they deserve - now and in the future! When we choose love, we can experience a more peaceful and united society because ALL human beings will feel valued and will know that they matter.

Isn’t that what we really want for ourselves, our children and our communities anyway?

A Message for the Advocates & Activists Among Us

How do we break down the walls? I'm talking about the walls of suspicion, hostility, misunderstanding and fear? Last week I saw the walls go up again, over an uproar about Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech during the Golden Globe Awards. A speech that was barely political yet highly controversial.

Streep said, “Disrespect invites disrespect; violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.” She received equal amounts of criticism and praise, and I sat back listening to each side. One message resembled another from my youth...

What I’ve learned since this election is that I need to listen more. I need to understand opposing views, while sharing empathy and kindness, so that I can help to break down the walls that divide us.

Have you felt similarly? Has it been easy? Because it has been disheartening (for me) when the people I love have a different moral and ethical compass than I do. They prioritize basic human rights differently than I do. And yet I can’t give up on them or my faith that one day we can unite for the greater good of all humanity. Yes, it's idealistic and yet I believe that we must continue to be a ray of hope in this fractured and divided world where suspicion, hostility, misunderstanding and fear are telling us to build walls - not break them down. I was reminded of this again at church on Sunday. We have to continue to believe in the dream that we can be one humanity where love brings us together for peace, equality and unity - once and for all.

I have been quieter than normal in recent weeks out of respect for my elders, my family members and my acquaintances, and I have read or listened to their points of view. I know many of you can relate. And now, that we are awake... truly awake... it’s time for us to lead. We can continue to listen and take action at the same time. It’s time for us to be the role models that we want to see in this world and “Make America Love Again” and in order for us to do that we can't remain silent. It’s time to harness our unique power and share it with others because each of us has skills, perspectives, experiences and traits that we can use to serve and lift others, like Martin Luther King, Jr. did so many years ago. It’s time to be the examples of empathy, courage and inclusivity that our nation and world so desperately needs... because hate is far too great of a burden.

Except there seems to be some confusion regarding this president-elect and feelings towards him. Some have shared a quote that says, “wanting him to fail is like wanting the pilot to crash the plane that we are all on”. I don’t know a single person who wants him to fail on either (political) side. Why would anyone want our future president to fail? This is our country and our lives are at stake!

And, if you believe in the inclusivity of ALL human beings, that means you believe in success for all of them. That same success applies to people of any age, gender, race, ethnicity, ability and more, including the president-elect.

Do I hope to God that he proves me wrong with his recent appointments, his actions and behavior? Yes, I do. I really do hope and pray that I am wrong. Although, I will not hold my breath and I will not be complacent because I am both a citizen and a patriot, and speaking up against injustice is my human and moral obligation. So I urge us all to continue to listen and learn from the experiential, cultural and racial lens of our neighbors, communities and strangers, and stop making judgements or assumptions if we truly want to heal this nation and break down these walls. We must find a way to bridge this divide.

If you are like me and you are finally embracing your role as an advocate and activist, please know that you aren’t alone and we've got this!

There are so many organizations that need our support! If you will be at the Women’s March on Washington you can sign up for a day of action and advocacy training here. If you are in the NYC area, my friends at Ellevate Network have put together a Post-Election Advocacy Workshop that you can sign up for here.

We will continue to “fight passionately and unrelentingly for the goals of justice and peace” and as MLK urged in his The Birth of a New Nation, sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church on April 7, 1957, we will “be sure that our hands are clean in this struggle. Let us never fight with falsehood and violence and hate and malice, but always fight with love”.

So next time someone tells you to shut up or act your part or behave a certain way (like they tried with Meryl Streep), remember the famous line from Dirty Dancing... “nobody puts Baby in the corner”. Don’t let them dim your light. You matter. Your voice should never be silenced. You deserve to be seen and heard because you belong. You deserve to dance, speak up, or march for what you believe in!! When they try and put you in a corner and make you one-dimensional it is because they want you to play small. They want you to fit in to a mold that makes them feel comfortable (ex: your job, your role, your title). Your truth is too much for them to handle and that is their problem. 

The time for comfort has past. I do believe that we will be feeling more discomfort than we have known in quite some time. And with great discomfort comes great growth or progress. This has become personal for many and we will not sit by and let hatred win. It is time for action, advocacy and activism now. And whenever I have a doubt about my words, actions or choices in standing up for what I believe is right, I always come back to one of my favorite quotes...

“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” - Marianne Williamson

Let’s outshine the darkness. Let’s be the boldest and bravest versions of ourselves. Let’s break down these walls that divide us. Let’s show the world what we are made of... peace, unity and love. Let's use our voices and unite this Saturday, January 21st to take a stand for what matters. Together, we will march all across this great nation and world - as one!

In sisterhood and solidarity,

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Raising a Son to Believe in Gender Equality in a Trump and Brock Nation

I have long believed in equality. Every human being should have the same rights and privileges, regardless of race, gender, ability or sexual orientation. So here I am raising a son in a time where our country is watching a politician rise to power despite his racist, bigoted, misogynistic and narcissistic views. I can't help but wonder if somehow a time machine took us back to the 1950's? How have we let this man run for office? How is it even legal to allow this kind of worldview in our present day government or in a place of power or authority in our country? And then when reports of Brock Turner's lenient sentence of six months in county jail with probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman came to light, it compounded what I have been feeling as a citizen, mother and human being for the last few months.

My head is spinning, my blood is boiling and I want to vomit in disgust at what we are allowing in this country. I have been quiet long enough, and it's time for that to end.

Right now, the mainstream and overall perception that seems to be prevailing is one that rewards hate, aggression, power, and reinforces the traditional alpha male. I am outraged and overwhelmed with my emotions. I feel helpless to make a positive impact in our government and like I want to somehow revolt. My Facebook friends keep talking about moving to Canada with this current election, and I truly wonder how we got here as a country or United States? Because the term "united" doesn't seem to fit right now, does it?

There are days, as a mother, when I wonder if I am ruining my children's lives because I let my son play on the iPad for too long, or let my daughter play on the Little League softball team instead of the baseball team, or gave them some lemonade made with a powdered mix of artificial ingredients including yellow lake 5. And then I have moments like the one pictured below and it reassures me that I am doing something right. I am making an impact, even if it seems small right now. I am teaching my kids real life lessons about responsibility and respect. And teaching my son that he is not entitled to anything. In this house you are treated as equals. 

And when my emotions subside over the latest news or Trump rant, I can begin to see clearly again that I am not helpless or powerless to make change.

The change must begin with us, and at home. As parents, we must change the dialogue and we must lead by example. Complaining will get us nowhere. We need actions and solutions so that way we can rest easier knowing that our children will (hopefully) never have to experience the same kind of hatred, aggression and a backwards worldview that we are seeing right now.

We need to continue to evolve, and to teach ourselves and our children the following lessons...

  • Penis and Vagina are not bad words. Talking about sexual organs (and our anatomy) and using their proper names will help us embrace linguistic respect which will help to improve our overall respect for these body parts (at home, at school, everywhere!). These body parts make us human, and it's important for our children to learn how to be kind, gentle and respectful to their bodies and others. It's time for us adults to show dignity for the human body and not shame.
  • Gender and the family dynamic are changing. We need to discuss (when the time is right) the many ways in which people can be born as unique individuals, how this can change over time, and share our knowledge and compassion around the subjects. It is also important to discuss our history, and how things have changed even between men and women as their property, the omission of women as role models, and how our rights have evolved over time.
  • We do not control other people. This is a harsh lesson to learn as a parent, and yet it is the truth. Children make mistakes. They fall and fail and (if we are lucky) get back up again. We have to let them learn to be accountable and to right their wrongs (that includes punching their bus mate, cheating on a math test, shoplifting at the mall, and yes even rape). We can't fix everything, although we can try our best to teach them right from wrong from the very beginning of their lives.
  • Following ethical and moral guidelines (or The Golden Rule) isn't just for school. If everyone took those rules and applied them to home, work or beyond than imagine what our society or world would look like today.
  • We are not entitled to "things". If you want something, you need to provide it for yourself and not take it or expect that it is owed to you. Providing for ones self is an essential part of life, and for all human beings.
  • Expressing emotions is a vital part of life. We need to show our sons that it's okay to cry or to feel vulnerable and that hiding or suppressing our emotions only hurts us. Being emotional is not something that is feminine or for girls only, just like enjoying sports and Star Wars is not just for boys. We all need to learn how to navigate through our feelings, and when to act on them, communicate them or when to listen.
  • Feminism and Gender Equality are words that we should embrace. Modern day feminism is not feminine and it is certainly not about being a bitch. A feminist desires equal rights for all human beings. Feminism is a movement towards equality for all. Gender equality is just that; equality in rights, status and opportunities regardless of one's gender. Let's unite on the two movements and stop shying away from them in fear of how we'll be perceived. When gender equality is achieved, everyone wins!
  • It is time to end the phrases, "like a man" and "like a girl". I believe that we can all agree that no man wants to be told to "act like a man" and do XYZ equally as much as no girl wants to be told that she does XYZ "like a girl". We simply need to treat each other with respect and decency.
  • We should appreciate our privileges, whether they are educational, racial, financial, cultural, health related or more. Instead of taking these gifts for granted, it is imperative that we use these to fight for the rights of others who have not had these same opportunities and who do not find themselves enjoying the same benefits.

  • Chivalry isn't dead, it's just called something else… kindness. And I'm not alone in thinking that our society needs more of it. I love it when a man holds a door open for me, and I love it when a woman holds the door too. Extending common courtesy, showing generosity, and having respect for all humanity is something that each of us can benefit from.
  • We all belong... at work, at home and everywhere else. This includes every race, gender, ability or sexual orientation. Women don't belong in the kitchen anymore then men belong in the board room. We all are living, breathing, human beings and as long as we are alive than it is our responsibility to learn basic life skills like how to cook (using something other than a microwave), clean (ourselves, our homes, our clothing) and work (for equal pay). These skills will sustain us while we are here on this earth. And as parents, our job is to make sure that our children can do these things (in time) for themselves. In some cases, we may need to teach our own parents how to do these things as well. Times have changed and this is no longer a single race or gender's effort. It is a human effort. He can change the diapers, she can take out the garbage and we can all make the bed, do the laundry or bring home the bacon.

So, I ask all of you now. Who is ready to join me? Who is ready to lead by example? Who is ready to be the change they want to see in our communities? Because we deserve better. Our country deserves better. Our children deserve better.

And to the Stanford University Rape Victim, I am with you. Every part of me was shaking while I cried reading what you experienced. I feel your pain because I too have known this kind of human betrayal. I stand with you and the village of survivors who have been dismissed and told that they were lying. You are not alone. I support you and I applaud your courage and strength. I believe in you and just as you have stated, "we will not be silenced". We will use our voices to speak for those who cannot, and we will encourage those who need it. We will fight to right these wrongs and to make a positive impact. We will own our truth and we will remind ourselves that we are enough. We will not be defined by our struggle or our circumstances. We will be remembered for how we chose to respond and to rise.

Every obstacle is an opportunity. We have an opportunity here, as parents and citizens of the Unites States of America, to act on these lessons and to be change-makers. I wasn't born a teacher. In fact, I'm still learning as I go. And that's life folks. It's a journey. We have to continually be ready to learn. We can confront the people and the things that scare us, and look fear in the face. We can shape our future, and the future of our children's children. Let's pull together to UNITE and to change a country that so desperately needs it!

Let's be the role models and heroes that we needed and that we were born to be. Each of us has it in us. I'm ready. Are you?

What Matters Most in Your Life? | Fairfield County Family Photographer

Am I the person who you can let into your home, heart or the most important events of your life? Am I the person who you can count on or trust to know what matters the most to you? Am I the person who will allow you to be yourself and will bring out the best in you? Am I the person who will listen, support and encourage you on this journey? I sure hope I am this person (and photographer). That is what I strive to be for each of you, so when the years go by and we get to celebrate your union, your new job, your growing family, your special occasions or joys in life… it is my greatest honor to be your trusted partner with whom you share these days with.

This family holds a special place in my heart, and I wanted to share some of their life with you. We first met when they were planning their wedding a few years back and I immediately knew that they were amazing together. After photographing weddings for quite some time, I was lucky to be able to sense the connection and intimacy between two people early on. Connection and intimacy are hugely important because they are built on trust. Lauren and Andrew had that and so naturally we were a match made in heaven.

I pride myself on building that same kind of trust with my photography clients because I want them to let me in on their most intimate moments so I can document the things that matter the most.

And so when Lauren and Andrew asked me to come photograph their "new normal" or a day in their life with their first child, DD, I could not wait to be a part of it! We talked about the things that they loved doing together on the weekends. And that's what we would capture this time around. Because life with a toddler is active and they didn't want to forget any of it! Here's a peak into their new parenting life with their spunky daughter, DD...

Lauren's thoughts on becoming a mom and new parent...

"I have always dreamed of becoming a mother and hoped and prayed that one day I would have a family of my own. I would say the most surprising part of being a parent is the way in which your heart overflows with love! I never knew it was possible to love another this much. I also never realized how long it takes to get out of the house with a baby/toddler! I remember the days of running out the door with a coffee and my keys! Now I need to plan the night before and make sure there are snacks, diapers, change of clothes, wipes, toys, books, and pacis. All while I drive off forgetting my coffee in the kitchen. Thank goodness for all the drive through Dunkin Donuts!" :-)
"DD has changed our family in a tremendous way. Our life is full of craziness but filled with LOVE! I want to teach her to always be grateful for what she has and work really hard in life. I want to give her all the things that I did not have without spoiling her (too much)!  Working and being a mom is the hardest thing in the world. I am so grateful to have my career and was lucky enough to stay home for the first year and keep my teaching position. However, going back to work was WAY harder than I realized. It took me a few months to get into a new routine and balance all of the things in life that must be done!! I missed her so much… but knew how important it is for her to see me working and realize that women are able to do it all."
"Each day DD does something to make me laugh out loud! I had heard from so many mothers, that the days are long but the years go by so quick! I can truly say that I believe that now. I will miss her saying...” Mama I’m your DD girl"… as I don’t see that lasting into the teenage years."

Thank you Carlson family for welcoming me into your lives once again, and for being the gracious people that you are! My sentimental heart loved hearing about the history of your (newish to you) home, and all of the love and time that you put into the renovations.

Watching you interact with DD and seeing how you nurture and play in your new role as parents truly warmed my heart. She is one determined little girl and I just loved her energy! I see many lemonade stands, family picnics, and sunshiny days at the beach in Rowayton in your future. And one day, when DD is old enough to look back on these photos and to see the sparkle that she put in your eyes, she will know how truly lucky she is to be yours and that she mattered the most!

xo,

 

Mother's Day Giveaway 2016

I am so excited to share the results of my Mother's Day contest that ran last week on my Facebook and Instagram pages! The entries I received were so thoughtful, and full of compassion or admiration for the Moms that others wrote in about. 

I could't help but be moved to tears at some of the stories of the hardship, heartbreak and struggle that these Moms have faced (most times unexpectedly). And then my tears would end in smiles for the women, as the writers would explain how they had somehow found their strength and resiliency to carry on. Many of the stories were relatable, and I feel like we all go through similar seasons in our motherhood journey and too often we don't share our struggles or reach out to others for support or guidance. Let's work hard to put an end to that, and start lifting each other up during these challenging seasons.

Together, as a tribe or sisterhood of women, let's help each other to rise and feel confident in our mothering and nurturing abilities.

Let's encourage each other to share our stories because this life isn't about what we are (roles or titles) and what we do (roles or titles). This life is about who we are (individuals) and who we want to be as we continue to grow and learn. This life is about WHY we were put here on this earth, and our challenges or hardships are certainly part of the story. We do not have to be defined by these "ugly", "sad" or "disappointing" parts of our lives (as some would call them). We get to use them as our motivation to keep growing and becoming the best versions of ourselves that we've ever known. We get to embrace our messy lives and our imperfections, and allow them to shape the who and why in each of our stories. Let's embrace them together, because we are unstoppable -- and our stories are not yet finished! 

So, without further ado, the winners of the #MomsAreUnstoppable Mother's Day Giveaway are...

  1. Alison O'Connor - You have won the "Movie Tickets for two to see Bad Moms" (Fandango Gift Card worth $25, opens in theaters on July 29, 2016), and you were nominated by Molly Smith.
  2. Dawn Petersen - You have won a "Spafinder Wellness 365 Gift Card for Pampering" (can be used for your choice of a massage, facial, yoga or other services worth $25), and you were nominated by Krista Petersen.

  3. Aurora Goncalves - You have won a "Spafinder Wellness 365 Gift Card for Pampering" (can be used for your choice of a massage, facial, yoga or other services worth $25), and you were nominated by Michelle Teixeira.

  4. Stephanie Maquat - You have won the "Brunch for two at Terrain in Westport, CT" (Gift Certificate of $50 towards meal), and you were nominated by Carole Lisi.

And the Grand Prize Winner is... 

Meaghan Lane! You have won a Lifestyle Family Portrait Session with me (Sarah) that includes ten (10) high resolution images for you to use with personal printing rights (Gift Certificate for session and images worth $945), and you were nominated by Heather Pepper Lane.

I will be reaching out to all of you via email, and your gifts will be in the mail soon! I hope that you get to celebrate and honor yourselves with these gifts, and that you will know how much you are admired, appreciated and loved for being the unstoppable Moms that you are. Not only within your family but also within the sisterhood of Moms that surround you.

xo,

 

Mindy & Lou's Birth Story

I recently shared a photo on my Facebook page from the home birth of my brave and strong friends and their beautiful baby boy. The photo gained quite a bit of buzz due to the unique and surprising nature of its content. It gave us an intimate look at the concept of a water birth and also the rare occurrence of a baby born "en caul". 

I also believe that this unique view of birth was quite intriguing for many who have never had the opportunity to witness or watch this miracle of life. You see, a number of adults do not get to fully view the birth of their own babies (for various reasons) and for parents (like me) a lot of our birth story is a fog because it is an out of body experience, combined with the sheer exhaustion or the medication taken, and for some it passes by so quickly that it can be hard to recall all of the details. So you can imagine my excitement when Mindy and Lou commissioned me to be their photographer for the birth of their first child. They didn't know the gender of the baby, and were hoping for a natural approach that would allow Mindy to labor and/or birth in her bathtub at-home. She wanted to be surrounded by the comforts of home where she is at peace and could have the birth that she had dreamed of.

She had a wonderful team of experts on hand to help bring the baby into this world, along with her husband (Lou) who was her fearless hand holder, cheerleader, comforter and best friend. I will let the slideshow tell the story of their incredible birth.

In my original Facebook post, showing the baby born "en caul" (with part of the amniotic sac or membrane remaining on on the head), I shared that "birth with a caul is rare, occurring in fewer than 1 in 80,000 births" as described by Wikipedia and I have heard that these statistics might conflict with what the medical community has experienced as of late. The caul is harmless though and is immediately removed by a physician or midwife upon delivery. There are also some old myths and superstitions about the caul or "caulbearers" themselves (the newborns), and many cultures believe that this rare occurrence makes your child a "King by right" and that he or she is special. The child can have unique traits that may range from leadership abilities to natural healers or having greater insight. As a parent and photographer, I find this fascinating, and I wonder why so many of us have never heard about this unique history or phenomenon until recently?

And if this sounds at all familiar to you, it’s because Jessica Alba shared a similar birth story as she also had an "intact sac" during the birth of her second daughter, Haven. This unusual phenomenon is especially interesting because babies do not know that they have been born yet while they are inside the caul. Mindy and Lou's baby Quin hadn't taken his first breath yet (in the outside world) as seen in that original photo, and it was a second or two before the midwife had removed the caul and we heard his first faint cry.

Thank you to the tribe of women who helped to bring Quin into this world in the most sacred and empowering way. Joni, Gengi and Christy from Circle of Life Midwifery in CT, Robin from Doula Westchester in NY and Mindy's friend, Stephanie, who's Reiki healing, cooking and constant support did not go unnoticed. It was an honor to work along side of you all.

Mindy and Lou, congratulations on the arrival of Quin! He is simply amazing, and I can't get over the fact that his name (when said in Portuguese) sounds like King! Your encouragement and love for one another (throughout this entire journey) has been truly inspiring. Thank you for courageously allowing me to share your birth story. I hope that it helps to empower others to birth without fear (however that looks for them) and to celebrate our most cherished roles as mother and father.

xo,

Sarah
 

Can Women Have It All?

I have struggled with this question for years. Why? Well, I think that at various stages of my life this question felt more like a dare. I dare you to answer this for all women. I dare you to define this for each and every one of us. It is such a weighted question, right?! And there were times when I felt like my answer was, no. Other times I felt like the answer was, not all at once. There have also been times when my answer was, yes. Each time was different for me based on the circumstances, timing or the stage I was in. Either I was younger and working full time while trying to have kids, or a new mom who was also juggling a career with no free time on her hands, or at the place that I am now where my kids are all school aged and I have found personal fulfillment in both my career and motherhood.

I recently photographed Kelly, an Independent Consultant for Arbonne, for her professional headshots, and asked if she thought that women could have it all nowadays? She said, “yes, provided each woman takes the time to define what “it” is for them - family, career, faith, friends, wealth, health, abundance, and the list goes on. Just as each woman is truly unique, so is her definition of what it means to have it all.  When we truly accept that (for ourselves and each other), true success will be in reach for us all.”

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I agree with Kelly 100%, and she summed it up better than I have ever been able to. What I realize now, as my kids get older and my priorities have shifted (once again), is that I get to choose. Do you hear that ladies?

[Tweet "We get to choose or define what “it” is!"]

There is so much power in that! And it was the times when I was failing at choosing my priorities and setting healthy boundaries for myself,  that I was overwhelmed with life, work and motherhood the most. That's when I felt like I had no balance. That's when I was consumed by guilt and I felt like I couldn't do it all or have it all.

I realized that I had tried to do everything, and in the process I lost sight of what mattered the most.

By saying yes to every social engagement or every volunteer opportunity or every chance to climb the corporate ladder or make more money, we are often times hurting ourselves. Society tells us that we need to have it all and show off our superhuman skills by also doing it all. And that we will be praised for our perfection. So we try to be the perfect mother, professional, spouse or partner, and then we feel like huge failures for not doing it all… well. So we come to the conclusion that we simply can’t have it all… because we have failed.

I want us to stop for a moment and challenge that way of thinking! What if our grandmother's and mother's definition of "having it all" is different than ours? What if we have confused the notion of “having it all” in recent years, with saying yes to it all and accepting society’s expectations of us? An article written a few years ago, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, took an interesting stance on this same topic and talked about the “man’s world” that our mothers and mentors warned us about. She made some great points in her article. I also felt that my Generation X perspective was a bit different. I am grateful for the opportunities that we have inherited from the women before us, and at the same time I think it is important that women in their 50's, 60's and 70's try to understand that we (Gen X, Gen Y or Millennials) are working hard to make our own definitions or rules for having it all.

Today, having it all doesn’t necessarily mean that you are wearing a suit jacket, stilettos and perfect hair like the images we were shown years ago of working women. Nowadays, working moms might have a (home) office, (kitchen) conference room and (yoga pants) wardrobe that varies from one person and job to the next. You can see some of the images of working mothers that are slowly creeping into our media and perception, and this is a personal photography project that I want to tackle myself because Millennials and future generations need more role models showing them that it is okay to choose and to align your priorities with what makes you truly happy.

So I ask you this, what if having it all really means that you get to say no to the things that do not serve you or make you happy? What if having it all means that we are liberated to choose the things that bring us joy and fulfillment, whatever they may be? Here are some examples of what I mean. What if having it all means that you don't reply to emails during dinner time because family time is sacred? What if having it all means that you’ve chosen to wake up at 5am so you can sneak in workouts or meditation (alone time) while everyone sleeps? What if having it all means that you choose one less networking event a month so you can enjoy a date night or moms night out? What if having it all means that instead of being your child's room mom this year, you choose to mentor a young woman at your office? By taking stock of our lives and our priorities, and by setting healthy boundaries for ourselves, we get to decide what matters most.

It’s time that we start looking at the concept of having it all and accept that for today's millennial woman, it isn’t about having or doing it all (at the same time).

Instead, it's about having the freedom to choose what our (professional or personal) lives look like and being able to define what "it" is that will make her happiest. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, unhappy and like a failure who can't find balance, than I challenge you to take a look at what you’ve chosen as your top priorities. Take a really good look at yourself and ask if you can change anything? Is your current situation really working for you and giving you personal fulfillment? Can you work closer to home or take a different position at a company that gives you more flexibility? Again, what do you need more of…is it time or money? Do you need influence or prosperity at this stage of your life…or is something pulling you in a different direction? Do you want to build meaningful relationships or build your status? Do you need to work that Sunday or can you choose family instead when that next job or lead comes in?

Life is about making choices. The choices might seem like they get harder as you age, and sometimes they do. It’s up to us to choose with intention because no one else can create the life of our dreams and the life that we want to live.

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So for those of you who are still feeling ashamed or torn about the idea of choosing, I urge you to think about this. It doesn’t matter who is disappointed when you say no to that volunteer position, or who takes pity when you leave that high paying job for an at-home direct sales position, or who wants to make you feel guilty for trekking through this new territory… because none of them live your life. You don’t need their permission or approval. You just need to figure out what will make you happiest.

Ladies, we need to start supporting each other in these hard choices and lift each other up because it really does take a village. We need to start accepting that what you need is not the same as what I need, and that is okay. We need to teach our daughters about creating healthy boundaries which was something I was never taught in school, church or at home. We need to empower younger generations to create the jobs that they cannot find, which will allow them the flexibility and commitment to their career and family that they so desire. We need to applaud each other for choosing boldly and for standing firm in our choices. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) shared her thoughts on this topic in a recent article and said, "all of us should be able to offer our experience, offer advice, and try to learn from one another." I agree whole-heartedly with her.

We don't have to feel alone, judged or ashamed, if we start working together to empower one another so we can be the best mothers and professionals that we can be! Success or fulfillment looks very different for each and every woman in this day and age, and that signifies our progress. I look forward to the time when this topic is no longer geared towards women only. As we continue to work towards gender equality, I do believe that this conversation will continue to evolve and once again the dynamics will change.

So tell me, where are you in your journey to having it all or defining what "it" is, and how can we support you? Has choosing been hard for you? Have you decided to set some new boundaries by saying no? Let’s keep the conversation going…

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Professional Headshots for Your New Endeavor - Portrait Sessions in Easton, Connecticut

When was the last time you had a really, great photo of yourself? I'm not talking about the selfie that you took with your kids on the beach, or the one where you have to crop out that arm around your shoulder from the group photo at your cousin's wedding. Maybe you've actually had your photo taken professionally, except it was ages ago and your appearance (ahem, gray hair?) has changed some. It's time… to do something for yourself and to show the world the real you. I have some portrait sessions available between Mondays and Fridays the entire month of September and I'm running my first ever headshots "Back to School" SALE! Let's get together (now that the kids will be in school and you can concentrate on you again) and create a portrait that you will be proud to share. I want to help you see the best version of yourself, so you can update that professional LinkedIn or social media profile picture. You deserve something that is better than the blurry photo taken on your mobile phone.

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If you are going back to work this fall, or working on a new direct sales position then hurry up and grab a session today! Heck, you might be taking a leap of faith by accepting a role on that non-profit board, or maybe you are finally ready to launch that business. Either way, I'm here to ease the pain of updating your professional photos. And, I know what you are thinking... "I'm not very photogenic. My favorite photos of myself are all candids." Mostly everyone feels the same, and I hear this all the time. Usually it's because they haven't had the opportunity to get to know (or feel comfortable with) the person taking their photo, and so it results in an awkward moment and image. And if you were captured in a candid way, than most likely you let your guard down by simply not knowing that your picture was even being taken.

My goal is to work with you in such a way that you can relax and be yourself, all while letting your friendly smile and approachable personality shine through. With me, you can let your guard down and together we'll laugh, talk about your passions and goals, and bring out the dreamer or the doer in your photographs.

I know what it's like to take that step in a brave new world. I get you... the leap of faith taker, the aspiring trailblazer, ambitious innovator, empowering change maker, determined entrepreneur or courageous spirit. Your goals and dreams, they matter. So do YOU! It's time you made this (and you) a priority.

Join me in Easton, CT at my studio office by clicking the session below or ask about my availability within Fairfield County or the NY Metro area for travel by emailing sarah {at} sarahlehberger {dot} com. (Note: this method of writing out (at and dot) is to protect against online spammers, you may use the normal formatting for the email address when writing.)

The details of this "Back to School" sale are as follows…

  • Your private headshot/portrait session will last up to 20 mins.
  • You will receive up to two (2) portraits in color (and black and white if you choose).
  • You will have download access to your high-resolution, retouched images provided in a private online gallery.
  • You are granted printing rights, social sharing and web use for your business or personal profiles.
  • Your cost is $150 plus CT sales tax. No additional fees, nothing extra.

Click here to book your 20 minute headshot session in Easton, CT during the month of September: $150 (regularly $250)

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 The fine print: The "Back to School" headshot/portrait sessions are for individuals ONLY. No couples, families, groups or on-site corporate locations. If you wish to schedule an on-site portrait session or personalized headshots (with multiple wardrobe or styling needs) at a location of your choice, please contact Sarah to discuss your options. I commit to only a limited number of weekday sessions per week and month, so I urge you to reserve your spot right away! Please also note that since your portrait sessions require a great amount of preparation to make it a success, your payment is not refundable or transferrable, if you cancel or decide to postpone your session less than 24 hours before your session. Once your payment is received, you will receive an email confirming your appointment and further details to make your portrait session a success.

I can't wait to work with you, and I look forward to hearing about your exciting new endeavors!

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10 Things I Wish I Knew About CrossFit Before I Started

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I’ve been hearing about the CrossFit (CF) craze for a few years now (at least). And like most people, I kept hearing about the hidden dangers, injuries or intense regimens that made me skeptical of the overall safety of the workouts. I never heard anything positive or remotely encouraging, until a year or two ago. Friends of mine would talk about their CF transformation. I started to lean in and wanted to learn more. I’m a truth seeker by nature (once a journalist, always a journalist) and I knew there had to be more to it. After all, most of my military or law enforcement friends were now training at a CF gym and their wives started to join in as well, and a few of my old high school buddies were doing it for their body building and/or modeling careers. So there had to be some myths to all the controversy, right? No one wants to go into a gym to hurt themselves purposely, do they?

And I wondered, what about us regular people? Does it work for those of us non-athletes with a little (ahem) belly or junk in the trunk, or perhaps those of us who have not worked out (hard) since playing a sport in high school, or maybe those of us who have had children and are not able to lift anything heavier than a full baby carrier? I decided to go in and check things out for myself. I wanted to be objective. What I was about to find out would surprise me. Here are 10 things that I wish I knew about CrossFit before I started...

  1. You don’t need to look like a body builder to do CF. - There are people of all shapes and sizes with all different fitness goals. A good gym (often called a box) will assess your goals and have you take a beginner class for starters. Then you get to decide if it is right for you or if you are ready for the challenge.
  2. You don’t have to be an athlete to do CF. - Although once you join, you may start to see signs of the athlete within you. I know I did and I had forgotten what she looked like!
  3. You aren’t required to flip a tire larger than your body or lift an Olympic-sized barbell when you join. - Every gym varies on safety and it is VERY important to do your research. I can say that in my short time at CrossFit Tritown (under 6 months) I have yet to flip a tire or lift a barbell. My workouts are scaled to me and my abilities, and are not meant to push me to my breaking point. I would run in the opposite direction if you visit a gym that doesn’t put your health and safety first.
  4. You won’t be in competition with your group or classmates. - That’s right, you have classmates. And they aren’t the bullies from high school or gawkers that you avoid at other local gyms. They are real people who have real struggles just like you and I. They have body and weight issues, they have health issues, they have battle scars and wounds too. Your classmates will become some of your biggest encouragers, and it’s exactly what middle or high school gym should have felt like. You’ll find that the only person you will be in competition with is yourself.
  5. It’s not as expensive as I thought it would be. - My local gym is way cheaper, except I’m not looking to keep doing the same things I’ve been doing for the last 10-20 years (that didn’t work by the way). I’m putting my health first, and like most people who pay the roughly $150 a month, I know I need the coaches and team to hold me accountable. Plus, I value experts and hire them to handle certain areas of my home (cleaning, landscaping) or photography business (post production, design), and the same thing goes for my personal life (hairdresser, therapist). I have found that investing in the things that matter, makes all the difference!
  6. I won’t be forced to run long distances. - There is a cardio component to most CF gyms as well as an interval workout, and it varies depending on the location and owners so ask around. I’ve also heard that some gyms will run A LOT, while my current location will run a short distance for our warm ups and occasionally a 400 meter interval on a workout. It’s nothing that I can’t handle (note: I’ve had past knee issues) and those with injuries can modify or scale their warm ups/workouts with the help of the coaches.
  7. The terminology isn’t as scary or silly as it sounds. - Things such as WODs (workout of the day), Burpees, ball slams and Helen can actually be fun and challenging! It was totally empowering the first time I could say, “I kicked Helen’s ass today”! Yes, I was slow and yes, it was hard. And, you know what? I finished! (Note: Helen is a benchmarking workout, and much like running a 5k race or similar, the goal is to see how far you’ve progressed…and if you are getting fitter and developing speed or power over time.)
  8. It’s not a cult. - Like every new fitness craze, outsiders may consider it a cult until they try it or learn more. Here are some examples you can probably relate to: Jazzercise, Tae Bo, Zumba, SoulCycle, Pure Barre and many more. Plus, while you are working out, the coaches give you options to scale and you are allowed to speak up and say things like, “my knee doesn’t feel right…or I’m not comfortable with this equipment…or am I doing this right?”, etc.
  9. I won’t lose my soft touch. - Early on, I told a friend that I didn’t want to give up my lady hands, and replace them with callused or torn hands (which happens often for gymnasts, lifters, etc.). She didn’t have a solution for me, but my coach (Garvin) did! He introduced me to Callus Armor, which has been my saving grace and I use it now before each workout!
  10. You don’t realize the power of community, until you experience it while working out. - There’s a reason why I never wanted to work (solo) with a personal trainer. Because misery loves company… and I don’t want to be the only one sweating! I admit it, I want to have a group of people to laugh with while I’m working out and looking like a sweaty fool and trying my hardest to increase my strength and abilities. A whole group of coaches, classmates and athletes all cheering me on and vice versa? It is worth its weight in gold! You feed off of each other’s energy, drive and determination! I never got that from a cycling, Zumba or other standard gym class before, and quite frankly no one gave a damn about me or my progress.

My journey into CrossFit is unique, although I'm sure that others can relate. I’m 38, and I’m not completely out of shape nor have I ever run any kind of marathon. I’m somewhere in the middle. While in high school, I suffered a knee injury one season which sidelined my track, soccer and dance performances a bit. That injury has followed me for the rest of my life and I’ve always made excuses about why I can’t or won’t do something because of it. It also gave me permission to gain weight for the first time in my life during college. Yup, this old skinny girl (who was teased most of her youth) had finally put on 15-20 pounds. Not a big deal for most people, and yet for me it was. For the first time in my life I could feel normal and like I fit in. I could hide behind those pounds from the body shaming that had followed me years earlier.

And then after college came marriage and kids. I certainly didn’t expect to gain over 65 lbs. with each kid. I was considered high risk and on full restrictions from my doctor with each pregnancy. The weight gain was a result of not being able to exercise during this time AND I enjoyed every second of indulging then too. Then, I was done having babies. The weight made it that much harder to get strong post c-section and hernia surgeries, and I started having severe back pain when I was on my feet for long hours during work.

Fast forward to this past year. I was mostly happy with my weight, finally down to my goal of 125 pounds (I’m 5 feet and 5 inches tall). So what’s the one thing that has bothered me most recently? I have felt weak, fragile, and like my body was trying to tell me something. It took some health scares and personal struggles to wake me up. I decided that my excuses needed to stop. It was time to get healthy again. It was time to stop hiding behind the extra weight, the knee and my own self.

It is time to own my strong and to give myself permission to be a fierce woman and athlete again! Who cares if I’m "too" skinny and have a small upper body? I was born this way and I'm okay with it. I’ve got a baby belly that tells the story of two incredible births and hips to hold my children on. I’ve also got these new “guns” and strong shoulders, thanks to CrossFit, that I had only dreamed of before.

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Let's be honest. My workouts aren't pretty (thank goodness there are no mirrors in the gym!!!). And I still have a long way to go. My core is shot from having babies via c-section, so I am working hard to strengthen this area again. Mostly, I don’t want to feel like the victim of my body and its limitations. Sometimes I think that my body betrayed me. Although it is likely the other way around. And right now, I wan’t to tell my tumor, 3 nodules and crazy thyroid hormones to go to hell because they will not get the best of me. I will get the best of me, and so will the people I love. I want my children to see my transformation and for them to learn that they, too, can be fearless and do anything that they set their minds to.

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Thinking back to my first day walking into CrossFit Tritown, I knew it was meant to be. They had this “unstoppable” sign hanging on the wall, and I knew it right then and there. This would be the next step in my unstoppable journey. The owner, Kevin, and every single one of the coaches has exceeded my expectations and they have turned me into a CrossFit believer. The community and support I’ve received from all of my classmates makes me feel like I am part of a team while on this journey. It has inspired me and empowered me to keep going. Everyone deserves to find a health, fitness and athletic community like this one. I only wish I had known all of this earlier and started sooner!

Do you know of a great CrossFit community near you? Did you have a similar experience finding one? Feel free to comment below and share the location and/or tag the people that inspire you!

PS - Thanks to Ashley and Garvin who took these iPhone photos for this post! :-) And if you are still curious and want to see more of what goes on inside the gym, follow along on Instagram here @cftritown.

A Love Letter to the Father of My Children

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I'm guilty of getting you a tie for Father's Day, or that tent so you could camp out in the backyard during the summer with the kids. Every year I try to be a creative gift giver, and this year I decided that it's time I give you something more meaningful. You see, while the kids were these young, toddler hurricanes, I was too exhausted to tell you how grateful I was for you. I knew you worked hard to provide for us and to make sure that we all had what we needed to survive, and I was just as busy doing the same that I didn't think I needed to acknowledge it. I assumed you would know how I felt. I was wrong.

So I want to say it out loud. I am grateful for every single minute that you devote your attention to our kids. From the minute you wake up and set out their cereal bowls until the second that you come home and tuck them into bed at night, I take notice and I appreciate all that you do. You don't have to join in on our dance parties, read one more book to our son, or help our Mad Lib crazed daughter finish her latest fill-in-the-blank story… but you do and it matters to all of us.

Thank you for stepping up. For changing diapers in the family restroom at Target. For taking the morning off to read in their classrooms. For getting out of work early because their team needed a coach that afternoon. For watching their performances and cheering them on despite the score or the outcome. Because when all is said and done, this is what they will remember and this is what makes my heart grow fonder.

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Years from now, they won't remember that deal that you closed, or that case that your firm won, or the long hours that you put in to pay for their summer camp. What they will remember, is that you showed up to give them support, love and attention. I will remember too, and so I will say now (what I didn't say in my fog back then) that I appreciate all the sacrifices that you make to be present, and to fully engage in their lives.

I know that your time is limited and the demands on your schedule are intense (and sometimes seem endless). I know that there have been times when we have seen our family and our careers as competing parts of our lives. And I want you to know that when we have chosen family as the priority, those have been the happiest days of my life.

Father Coaches Son in Little League Game Collage

We have certainly had our challenges as parents and spouses over the years. [Tweet "I didn't want one more day to go by without you knowing that I see you."]

I see your efforts. I see your sacrifices. I see you coming through for them.

I see your…

  • boo boo kissing
  • pancake making
  • monster under the bed scaring
  • "let it go" singing
  • fire fly watching
  • fort building
  • discipline giving
  • vomit wiping
  • baseball catching
  • back handspring supporting
  • breast stroke teaching
  • broken toy fixing
  • snowboard riding
  • garden planting
  • rocket ship launching
  • Lego building
  • tear drying
  • dream encouraging

… and so much more!

Your children may not be able to express their gratitude for all of your efforts in those moments, but I can. Thank you for showing up, loving them unconditionally, and for making your family (their future and well-being) a priority. Thank you for recognizing that I also have career and other goals, and that I am a much happier person when I get to co-parent vs. do it all. Thank you for working hard to be an amazing Father to my children, and even if I don't say it every day... I hope you'll know that I appreciate everything that you do.

Signed,

Your Grateful Wife

PS - If you know of or have a special husband or partner (father or father-figure) who could use some acknowledgement and appreciation for showing up, please feel free to tag them in the comments and include the things that you "see" him doing. Let's add to the list above, and recognize them for all that they do. 

xo,

Calling all Warriors: A Note on Life, Loss and Moving Forward

I wasn't prepared for this. I mean, I knew that 40 was on the horizon, I just wasn't expecting all of this loss, tragedy and heartbreak before that big milestone. My Mom used to tell me, "don't grow up too fast, Sarah. It's hard being an adult". I couldn't really hear what she was trying to say back then. I always felt somewhat invincible (it's a teen thing, right?), and I just wanted to live life on my own terms. Until tragedy struck at our small town high school and it jolted me into realizing just how fleeting this life can be.

I quickly learned that pain and loss are universal feelings and experiences. It is one of the times when we can put ourselves into someone else's shoes and have great empathy for them. The circumstances may be different. The relationship or the connection is different. The memories you shared and cherished are certainly different. And yet the feeling of immense pain, heartbreak or loss… that we can all relate to at some point in time.

So here I am, finally wrapping my head around those words that my Mom told me all those years ago. I get it now. She couldn't tell me back then that you would experience death, tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal and incredible loss before you are ready for it. That it could happen frequently. That it would almost always be unexpected. That it might take your breath away. That it could paralyze you with fear. That your fear might turn into depression or anger. That you might have to fight your way out of the darkness to survive.

I'm not sure if anyone can prepare you for...

  • the loss of loved ones to suicide, car accidents or other tragic events.
  • the anxiety you feel after experiencing traumatic stress, acts of terrorism, natural disasters or random acts of violence.
  • the harsh reality that loved ones will lose their babies.
  • the amount of funerals that you will attend for friends who have become widow/ers.
  • the betrayals from those closest to you and of whom you trusted most.
  • the fact that cancer doesn't discriminate.
  • the moment when your parent(s) become ill and/or you need to care for them.

You are never ready to experience any of these I suppose. I certainly never expected to face them all (mostly) before I turned 40. Philosopher Roland Barthes says that "love is the romantic solution to the problem of death". I suppose I find some truth to that, and it's probably why I feel so much joy and fulfillment in photographing families now (and weddings in the past). Surrounding myself with love became the solution to my heartache. It filled the void. It eased the pain.

I've also come to realize that the greater the attachment I had to the person, the greater the pain. The greater the shock or dismay in the circumstances, the greater the loss felt for me. I've also learned that I have to believe in second (or third or fourth) chances at happiness. I trust that I can fight my way back through personal empowerment. If all else fails, I will pave a new road when all other paths lead to continued fear, pain and suffering. And I admit that therapists should be on speed dial, and as acceptable (and as routine) as going to your primary care physician.

It has taken me a few months to find the courage to write again. To find my new normal. To find my words. To share what's in my heart. I've been moving through a really transformational time and learning to move forward again. I've been working on my healing and regaining my strength. So it caught me off guard when I woke up on June 1st and suddenly found myself struggling to breathe. The anxiety had begun to creep in again. It's hard to explain the short gasps of air and the tears that come unexpectedly to someone who has never experienced anxiety or a panic attack. It simply removes your ability to think clearly or breathe. And it hit me that as I was feeling these things, I wasn't alone. There were so many others who were fighting this darkness. So many others who are feeling a loss right now.

Two years ago this June the world lost an amazing man, Eric Langlois. I wasn't one of his closest friends, and yet his disappearance, our search for him and ultimately his death will remain with me forever. The experience serves as another reminder that this life passes by too quickly. It also reminds me of the devoted and affectionate spouse, mother, family member and friend that I want to be. It reminds me that having a community is far more important than we want to admit. It reminds me that I need to work hard to thrive (in my daily life) because I was not put here only to survive. It reminds me that I need to use my gifts and find fulfillment while I have the chance to. It reminds me that I want to experience an exhilarating life. It reminds me that we are so deserving of joy.

Eric would have wanted all of us to live life to its fullest potential. Your loved ones would have wanted that too. Life's harsh realities are not meant to keep us down. They are meant to teach us and shape us into the individuals we were destined to become. It's up to us to find out WHO that is and to move forward.

So warriors, fighters, soldiers, survivors and troopers, who will you become? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments here so please do share!

How do you move forward? How do you grieve, let go, feel the emotions, deal with your suffering, and embrace the changes? Here are a few things that continue to help me during these times of loss and pain…

  • choose your thoughts wisely, they dictate your emotional responses
  • allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the circumstances, not a victim of them
  • seek comfort and support from loved ones/your tribe/a sisterhood/homies
  • give yourself time to heal and to mourn the loss
  • learn to ask for help, even if you don't know how because you are used to being the helper
  • be patient with the pace of your recovery
  • talk to someone you trust and/or find a therapist who can help
  • recognize all the joy that is present in your life and hold on tight to that, and when possible - celebrate it!
  • practice gratitude, for each and every thing that you take for granted
  • accept the event(s) for what they are, the ever-unfolding dance of life
  • remind yourself that there is so much more adventure ahead, and even if you can't see it - believe in it!
Photo Credit: Dave Noonan, Modern Fotographic

Photo Credit: Dave Noonan, Modern Fotographic

Love and light my friends! This is me with one of my tribes. Out of the darkness, we can move forward together...

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Moment Protector | Fairfield, CT Family Portraits

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I know why you are so sentimental. I feel the same way. My eyes well up with emotions just thinking about how treasured this time is with my family. It's sacred. It's beloved. It's cherished. And, I know fully well that it will be even more so in the future, because... ...there will come a time when they won't need you to zipper them up.

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...there will come a time when he trades his perfect little bowl (hair) cut for something trendy that the big kids have.

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...there will come a time when they won't ask you to cuddle on the couch and read them stories.

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...there will come a time when they won't rest easily on your shoulders, fit nice and cozy on your lap, or tuck perfectly below your chin where you can smell their shampoo and sticky fingers.

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...there will come a time when they won't snuggle up on your chest as you lay relaxing on the couch.

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...there will come a time when her softest bunny will no longer sooth her or dry her tears.

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...there will come a time when they will hide their silly faces and spunky personalities from the camera.

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...there will come a time when you look back and remember how fleeting these moments were.

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My hope for you is that as you look back on these photographs in five, fifteen or thirty years from now, you will remember just how exciting, dreamy and adventurous your life has been. [Tweet "I want your children to get a glimpse of their lives and see how much they were adored."]

I pray that each of you will look back on this time and realize that these really were (and are) the best of times, because "a happy family is but an earlier heaven". - George Bernard Shaw

Healing + Inspiration. Where Do You Find Yours?

In the midst of the chaos that is my life right now, I found myself feeling rather empty. I've been looking for my next inspiration. To fill the void. To remind myself of my own worth. I know I am not alone in feeling BLAH during the winter months. I always get the blues this time of year. Yet I know that this is more than just the seasonal blues. I've been feeling like I'm stuck in a creative slump. My photographer and artist friends get it. Business people feel it too at times. We all get stuck in a rut, and need fresh ideas to get us out of our creative "block" or to push us outside of our comfort zones. This is why I launched my #RedefineFeminism Project. I am just getting it off of the ground and I had intended on working on it and finding models while I attended a photography conference in Maine a little over a week ago.

Inspire Photo Retreats is my all time favorite work conference that I head to once a year, and this was my 5th year attending. It's a place where I go to get bear hugged by some of my favorite people, find inspiration, and get my learn on. I can still remember my first trip to Inspire and how nervous I was. I talked about it on a photography industry blog and I remember wanting to shout it from the rooftops to everyone I knew that they needed to go and connect with this amazing community of photographers! So each year I returned and hoped to gain more from my colleagues, peers and educators.

Then, life happened this year. I told myself, "you are going to need to sit this one out". It's been a series of trials and challenges for us on the home front, so I intended on giving things the attention they needed. Of course I was bummed and I knew I'd be watching my social media feeds blow up with all the photos and hilarities, so it would be torture not being at the conference or around the people who fill my cup (in more ways than one). ;-)

And then I got a request to speak at Inspire... which I wasn't expecting. The universe, she is funny this way. Sometimes she knows where you need to be and finds a way to get you there. So, I accepted the offer and gladly gave my interview on Tiffinbox, a blog aimed at inspiring photographers, discussing my experience and "How Brand Storytelling is Crucial to Staying Ahead of the Game".

I showed up and truthfully, I was feeling pretty broken. I was preparing my presentation and I was feeling so un-worthy of even speaking. I spoke the year before at Inspire, but that experience was so very different. That talk was purely motivational and inspirational. I could do THAT. This talk about marketing and branding was feeling so out of my league. I thought to myself, "who is even going to come to my presentation"? I was sure that the room would barely fill. And let's face it... no one wants to listen to a "no name" photographer who they've barely heard of. They want the "rock stars", right? The big names, with the ginormous following, and the ones who get paid to be on the speaker/teacher circuit. Yeah, that's not me.

I soon realized that I was judging myself. I do this sometimes because if I can say all of the horrible and negative things about myself, than I will have beat them to the punch. I wouldn't be so shocked or dismayed when or if they said... "she sucked" or they stood up and walked out. My fear and self-judgment had taken over my mind, and yet I had to walk in there and give the presentation anyway.

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They clipped on my mic, connected my laptop to the projector, and I began. And slowly, the room filled. I was shocked! I continued on and powered through just hoping that someone would take away a few nuggets of information and find value in it. I had been talking for an hour and 20 minutes when I realized, I've almost made it through! And then one by one, you lined up to talk with me afterwards. Thank you, all of you, for making me feel like I had something worthy to share with you (even if I do make some pretty awkward faces and lots of hand motions while I talk)! Huge thanks to the incredible Kate McElwee for these images too!

I'll spare you all the details, but I was a different person two weeks prior to Inspire. My heart was lighter and happier. I received heavy news that would forever change me prior to coming. And what you all did to remind me that I am not alone and that I have something to offer the world, it lifted my spirits. It reminded me of my worth and of my gifts. And that I need to keep sharing them. So thank you!!

Mark, Enna and Eric of the Inspire Planning Team, thank you all for believing in me once more and giving me the opportunity to be a part of this incredible community in so many ways! To all of the beautiful souls who met with me for mentoring (Nicole, Jaimee, Robyn, Maureen, Heather and Nicole), our time together was nothing short of awesome! Each one of you brought your vulnerability, enthusiasm and dreams into our meetings, and I can't wait to see you all soar! To my Alternative Process ladies (you know who you are), you kicked this retreat off right with your creativity, energy and all of our laughter -- so thanks bunches and hugs!

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I didn't get to work on my personal project, like I had originally planned. That seems to be the theme of my life this year. Stop planning. Learn to be present and appreciate what's in front of you. Sometimes, things don't go as you've envisioned. And that's okay. Sometimes, you need to live in the moment and let things develop into something unforeseen. Carry on, warrior.

I left the conference with so much more than inspiration this year. I left with new friends. I left with revelations about myself and the motivation to keep pursuing my personal project. I left with the restoration of my soul, which needed healing. And for these gifts, I am grateful.

So I ask you now, where do you go to find a good dose of inspiration? Where have you found your most recent prescription for healing that isn't found in a drug store? I'd love to hear your thoughts, and couldn't we all use more of this kind of nurturing in our daily lives? I know I could use it more often.

I Am Not Alone. A Daily Reminder.

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"I am not alone... I am not alone." The words of this song are ripping through me as I sit here un-showered, feeling broken and completely vulnerable. It might seem weird that the first place I came to is my blog. And yet, for me, it's not weird at all. It has become a diary of sorts. A place for me to share my hopes, dreams, failures, insecurities, and daring adventures. A place that allows me to speak my truth and own it. So here I go…

This has been one of the most challenging years of my life. My courage, my strength and my resilience have all been tested. Over and over. And I usually put on a brave face. I show the world my spirited and unstoppable self, because no one wants to hear about your moments of weakness, sadness or fear. No one wants to talk about those things. People don't want to hear all about the BS in your life, because they have their own to deal with. At least, that's what I've been telling myself.

And the worst part of that lie, is that it only secludes you more and makes you sink into that dark place where you lack connection. Where you feel empty, alone and depressed. So here I am, fighting the darkness. Trying to find the light… once more. It's time for me to rip off the bandaids of my wounds and put it all out there.

My life hasn't been the fairytale that I dreamed it would be.

It wasn't a Disney princess kind of fairytale that I believed in. I guess it was more of a Pretty Woman version that was in my head (without the prostitution, LOL).  Well, it hasn't been the epic romance that I told myself I deserved. I haven't been as healthy or happy as I wanted to be (hello, postpartum depression). I haven't been as good to myself (or my loved ones) as I've wanted. Quite simply, it hasn't been easy.

Over the course of the past year, I had some pretty major life "shake ups" or wake up calls. I didn't want to talk about them (in great detail) because I felt less than worthy and I didn't want to seem weak. After all, I am fearless, right? When you're fearless you can't be weak. Except I was and right now, I am feeling raw and torn apart. So here goes…

Last spring, I found out that I have nodules in my neck and on my thyroid. The lumps, thankfully, were benign and I have to continue to get them checked yearly in hopes that they stay that way and don't continue to grow. And with the biopsies and testing, it also showed that I have an Autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's disease.  I have been trying to treat this naturally and with changes to my diet, rather than using harsh drugs. I have joint pain at times, I'm losing hair, and I don't bounce back when I get colds or viruses as easily anymore. It hit me like a ton of bricks at first. I think because instead of feeling like my gutsy and confident self, the reality is that I am now vulnerable (and I hate that this makes me feel weak). The doctors made it official -- "you are now middle aged, Sarah". Gulp.

Then later this summer, I learned that my last living Grandparent was dying from stage 4 brain cancer. It brought back so many memories from growing up, like the time I lost my Grandfather to prostate cancer or the time my Grandmother fought stomach cancer while I was pregnant with Ava. Cancer has been a reoccurring presence in my life, and it plays a large role into why I am so nostalgic. I had to really dig deep into my past to discover that I get so homesick, because I wish I could go back to those times before my Grandparents were gone. Those days were magical for me. They were larger than life and so vivid. Those were truly the best of times, no matter how cliche that sounds. And although I can never get them back, it gives me great comfort and healing to be able to preserve those magical moments for other families. Because we never know how long that magic will last. And I simply need to hold onto it, because one of my greatest fears now is that I will be taken from my children in this same way. By this same disease that has robbed me of time with my Grandparents. It might be an irrational fear, but it haunts me. And now it will be compounded with each thyroid checkup in the future.

And lastly, and probably the hardest to admit, is that this winter my husband (and partner for the last 15 years) and I have reached a cross roads in our marriage. A place where we have to decide if this is worth fighting for. A moment where we have to look at the truth of our failures and mistakes and see if we can get past them all. Yes, we still love each other. And marriage is just plain hard. It's really eff'ing hard actually. Throwing some kids into the mix doesn't make matters any easier. And well, neither of us is perfect. I can't pretend that we are going to be all right or that I'll get my happy ending. I don't know what lies ahead. I only know that I am trying my best. I'm just going to put one foot in front of the other right now.

Yesterday, two of my dearest girlfriends (Ashley and Alicia) blessed me with their prayers. I haven't prayed so much or asked for prayer (like this) since I was a teenager. So here I am, exposing myself and telling you that I am struggling. Telling you that I am fighting the urge to hide and sink into the darkness. I am fighting it because something inside tells me that I am not alone, that someone else is feeling the same way right now, and that someone reading this is also struggling. Together, we can pray for each other. And as my girlfriends helped me to see yesterday, I don't hide anymore. I go ALL IN. Our stories may not be the same… and yet our pain, our fear, our uncertainty is. So this is me, reaching out. So we can support each other during the good and the bad. Because even the strong are allowed to have their moments of weakness.

During a low point this week, I bought myself a gift of these MantraBand bracelets.

I needed to remind myself that I am worthy, I am enough, and I matter.

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I needed to be kind to myself and shower me with some love for once. I needed a visible reminder that:

  • I will get through this. I have to believe it.
  • I will find peace. It is within me.
  • I can take one breath (or step) at a time.

And quite possibly the greatest reminder of them all…

I can be fearless, even when I am feeling vulnerable.

"To be fearless is to do what scares you, to take a chance, to make a change, to love again. And to get back up after you fall. To be fearless is to know your fears, but never let them stop you." 

I hope that someone out there (feeling stuck in the darkness) reads this and finds some light, and may you know that you are not alone.

Ellevate Women and Their Personal Brand

I first heard about Sallie Krawcheck and her Ellevate Network a few months back while reading a Forbes.com article. I quickly joined the women's network after learning about her beliefs and mission to empower women to succeed. I knew I had found "my people" in the form of a large network. They offer free webinars and training, and last night I was able to attend one of their NYC networking events on the topic of personal branding. Now, I know what you are probably thinking. I've never had luck with those types of events or found women or businesses I truly connect with. I know how you feel, and I urge you to keep looking and to check out Ellevate to see if they have a chapter in your location. It will be so worth it!

I walked in last night and rode the elevator up with some warm and friendly women, and then was greeted at the check-in table where I'd get my name tag. Yup, the dreaded name tag, but I assure you that it is needed at these events because after you've met at least three people you are struggling to remember everyone's name and it almost feels like you are right back at sorority rush. Plus, you are usually juggling a wine glass, a plate of apps and your bag, and I found that it can be hard to exchange business cards. (So I suggest leaving the laptop behind and grabbing a girlfriend if that helps you to break the ice.)

Now, I wasn't there to photograph this event (although I did bring my camera as you'll see below), instead I was there to listen and learn. I don't know about you but after having babies and feeling like those brain cells had died off for a bit (you know the fog), I am finding it so gratifying to be out there and learning again in these types of settings. As a "solopreneur" I don't have these big corporations or even small companies hosting my "lunch and learning" sessions anymore, so these networking events or industry conferences are what help to get my juices flowing and these inspirational women did not disappoint. Pictured from Left to Right: Lazetta BraxtonClaudia ChanKelly WatsonSallie Krawcheck and Lesley Jane Seymour

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The event began with Sallie giving the warm welcome to us attendees and the introduction to MORE Magazine's Editor in Chief, Lesley. I was pleasantly surprised by her authentic stories and humor in front of such a large crowd (of complete strangers). I laughed A LOT and learned equally as much about branding, which happens to be a topic that I know quite a bit about as a mentor and coach to creative entrepreneurs. It turns out that each of these women would share their career journeys, which would include failures, falling on their face, and my favorite part... the triumphs! (If you are at all curious why personal branding should matter to you, find a copy of the Dec/Jan issue of MORE on news stands until the 27th. See the section below, and yes - I totally flag my fave articles (a guilty pleasure)!)

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One of the highlights of the evening was hearing Claudia speak. I could really relate to her journey and reinvention of herself. I wasn't expecting this much honesty and wisdom, and I was blown away. I walked up to her afterwards and told her that we needed to connect because our missions were similar. I meant it, so I handed her my business card and well... you'll have to stay tuned to see what develops.

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The biggest personal brand take aways that I wanted to share with you were these...

  1. Define and declare your personal mission (WHO are you serving and WHY)
  2. Figure out your authentic brand strategy and don't be afraid to be vulnerable
  3. Your brand extends to who you are online so embrace technology and social media

And lastly, brands aren't just for celebrities, corporations or C level execs anymore. So get on board ladies and learn how to develop yours today and share it with the world! If you have any questions email me at sarah {at} sarahlehberger {dot} com.

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And to Sallie, the fearless leader of Ellevate Network, who is bringing together women in such a positive way... thank you! We need more women like you, who are willing to embody the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi and “be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

Feminism in 2015 | My Personal Photography Project to Redefine Feminism

Ladies, I believe that we are on the verge of something really exciting. A change to our future economy and capitalism. A demographic shift where baby boomers are retiring and where millennials and women will be stepping in to replace them, and I know I am not alone in feeling the energy in this shift. Sallie Krawcheck, chair of the Ellevate Network and Ellevate Asset Management, recently discussed her thoughts on this in an interview with PBS that really sparked some things in me. And I've been thinking about a woman's advancement in this day and age and the choices she has to make in order to find her own success or happiness. With these choices comes the knowledge and responsibility to continue the mission of our grandmothers and mothers who fought so hard for our rights back in the sixties and seventies (or earlier). I have so much respect for the women who went before me. I've always felt bonded to them and their feminism movement, as-if I was a part of their (modern day) gutsy and daring sisterhood. This sisterhood started out as the disadvantaged, dehumanized, discriminated against and exploited gender that didn't take no for an answer. When they were told they couldn't or shouldn't, they did it anyway. When they were told that they were weak or stupid, they proved them wrong. When they were told that they had little worth or value to the political, economic, social and cultural world, they started a movement and made historical changes to our society and women's rights.

And a few things have really been bothering me lately. Are we living in a state of failure for the modern day feminist? Is feminism dead? What has happened to this generation of women that is too scared or too ashamed to call themselves a feminist? And why is there a movement of women against feminism? Have we lost our marbles? Are we confused about the progress we've made? Or are we just tired of the never ending war to choose one side over the other? It seems to me that we have set ourselves up for failure because we haven't defined what the modern day feminist needs (is it still equality?) and because now we are making it a woman vs. woman thing. If we are going to pin ourselves against each other, instead of supporting each other, than we are certainly doomed.

I believe the war on "this side" (right) vs. "that side" (wrong) has caused us to pause and has hindered our progress. Who is making up the rules ladies? And why must we choose between one side or the other? Here are a few everyday examples…

  • Career vs. Family
  • Me 1st vs. Family 1st
  • Pinterest Mom vs. Guilt Ridden Mom
  • Stay at Home Mom vs. Working Mom
  • Bossy Girls vs. Weak Girls
  • Princess (Feminine) vs. Powerful (Masculine)

I feel like we have let down the sisterhood and started taking NO for an answer. We have let them down by fighting amongst ourselves, instead of advocating for our rights and standing up for each other's happiness. We have clearly let them down when you feel like you need to take a side and choose between Leaning In or Leaning Back? We have let them down by making posters that say "I don't need feminism" and posting them on social media for the world to see.

My friend Jen Rozenbaum had an interesting perspective on this topic recently and she said, "I want to have women’s rights. I want to be able to succeed politically, socially and economically. I don’t however want to be like a man. I want my attributes as a woman to lead to my success. I want someone to hire me BECAUSE of what makes me, ME." I agree with her wholeheartedly on this. Another article titled "The Princess Effect" discusses how women's magazines demean powerful women - even when they're trying to celebrate them and quotes Anna Wintour for saying, "the notion that a contemporary woman must look mannish in order to be taken seriously as a seeker of power is frankly dismaying. How has our culture come to this?"

When did it become a bad thing to be soft, nurturing or tender AND to combine it with brave, confident or powerful?? At what point did someone say you can't be them all? You have to choose feminine or masculine qualities but not both. Who is dictating our feminism anyway and the traits that we are born with? I think it's time for us to take back the word feminism and make it work for us! Let's put an end to the dichotomy that deprives us of being complete human beings. We might have failed at the "modern day feminism" according to Rush Limbaugh, so let's do what true leaders do and come back stronger from our failures and mistakes. Let's learn from our past struggles and triumph the way that courageous and resilient women do. Welcome to the fourth wave of feminism. The movement is growing strong and picking up speed.

So I want to know, what do we want this fourth wave of feminism to look like and how are we going to define this movement for ourselves?

  • I want to see more examples of women putting their health and happiness first, so our children will learn that in order to love others we must (first) love ourselves.
  • I'm confident that (together) we can abolish gender role expectations (heck, he can parent and clean just fine, and I know she can use power tools and run a nation!).
  • I want to see women leading the workforce, polls and universe, simply because she is authentic and unstoppable! (It has nothing to do with her having a "pair", being a b!tch or acting like a man.)
  • It's time for us to establish more flexible working hours and telecommuting jobs for mothers, and to provide her with small business training so she can create more jobs for herself and others.
  • We need to take a stand for our daughters' futures and teach them about doing meaningful and purposeful work while also following their passions, so we can show them that you don't have to choose between career or family. They can co-exist today because we make our own rules (can I get an amen to that one?)!
  • Women need to stop shaming each other (body, parenting, career, etc.) and start showing more compassion and support. It's time we had inclusive, open and welcoming dialogue with each other. We are all just trying to do our best, and our children (if we choose to have them) will learn and benefit from the encouragement.
  • Our young girls need to learn how to build confidence, especially when it comes to believing in themselves, following their dreams, and knowing that they matter. Let's invest in the future of young women and in doing so I believe we will put an end to the devaluing of our gender and a woman's work (in and out of the home).
  • Let's embrace who we are and celebrate our greatest strengths AND vulnerabilities, because we are more than just the stereotypes that you see in the stock images of feminists, parents or working moms. In fact, I want to rid us of these stereotypes because we are unique and extraordinary!

So in this spirit, I am launching my new personal photography project. #RedefineFeminism

I am looking for women models and I want you to help by commenting and tagging someone who you think fits the vision described here. You can even email me with more info if you feel compelled or want to be photographed in Connecticut! She is not one size fits all, nor does she look like me or you. She is unique and she is paving her own way…

She believes that she can have it all because she knows how to choose her priorities and honor herself in the process. She's a gutsy and visionary woman, and she isn't afraid to use her voice or be an advocate for what she believes in. She has experienced challenges along the way, and yet it has allowed her to live fiercely and go boldly in the direction of her dreams! She is idealistic and she believes that women can change the world. She has struggled with guilt and shame for her failures, and yet she remains confident and optimistic because she is not defined by them. She refuses to quit because she has this one life to live and she wants her contributions to matter (not just for herself but for the generations that follow). She empowers and unites others because it is a part of her human nature. She is unstoppable because she needs to feel alive!

Please join the conversation and let me know what else our feminism movement needs? Let's talk about who is doing this well and what she stands for, so we can lift her up and support her. Let's continue to elevate women and show the world that united we are stronger! I want to hear your thoughts and please share (and tag) this with anyone who you think this subject might speak to so we can continue the open, inclusive and welcoming dialogue. And here is mu very first model for this project. In Kate's own words...

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I hope you'll join me in this movement to #RedefineFeminism in 2015!

My Thoughts on the Perfect Holiday Card

Each year we try and each year it's painful. Like most Americans, we attempt to send out a holiday card so you can see how much the kids have grown or how many gray hairs they are giving us. Some years are better than others. And yet something has been bothering me this year. Why do we all try so hard to make it perfect?

I posted this photo (above) on Facebook and captioned it "Wreck the Halls" and everyone told me it was either cute or they loved it and I should send it. It's our real life, after all. I would have loved to, except my husband (the eternal blinker) wasn't thrilled with the photo. He doesn't need perfection, he just wanted his eyes to be open (can't argue with that). People assume that it's easier for us photographers to get a nice family photo. Nope. Easy isn't the word I'd use. Torture, maybe? And this wasn't even a professional photographer who took these, it was my brother in law (thanks Ken, I owe you a few drinks of course!) who had to put up with my unruly kids. And believe me, there were at least 30 photos of my family NOT looking at the camera or smiling, and one of us was always blinking. ;-) The thing is, WHY do we even bother? WHY must we send a photo or holiday newsletter sharing the lengthy stories of "who did what"?

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I think there are three main reasons why people send out holiday cards.

  1. Competition
  2. Tradition
  3. Guilt

Which category do you fall into? Or is it a combination of all three? Sending holiday cards with photos has become as competitive as children's sports! A certain photographer I know is asked every year to create the perfect backdrop or holiday setting for his adult clients and they pay an obscene amount of money to send out this Photoshopped idea of perfection. And then there's this family member of mine (who shall remain nameless) who sends out their card with full letter each year and tells of their news, health woes and lengthy paragraphs about each child's career, travel, hobbies, etc., because it's what they've always done. Lastly, there are those who despite all their best efforts just never got around to taking a photo or sending a card and now with the holiday upon them they are feeling the guilt. So why do we to this to ourselves? I honestly feel like we (Americans) have forgotten what it's all about! The real reason why we send these cards isn't to impress or "one up" the competition. It isn't to spew your family's entire past year into one letter because you forgot to email or correspond more regularly with your loved ones or (gasp!) use a phone. And it isn't because we feel like we should (or we have to) send one like it's a chore or mandatory parental responsibility. The real reason behind them (cards or letters) is the sentiment or emotion that we are trying to convey during the holiday season. It's a celebration of life, sharing of joy and love, and for some... a reminder of faith and hope.

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So here's what I have to say. Enough already. This thing called life, it's not a competition.

We are all doing our best to just get by, day by day, without feeling like we need to fake it to be worthy of hanging on someone's mantel or windowpane. Don't get me wrong. I understand that there is *magic* in that one rare moment (see above) where everyone is smiling (not screaming, frowning or dripping boogers) or looking in the same direction. I am thrilled if I can get this photo at least once a year for my own family, and the things is... I don't want it for the card. I want it for me and more importantly for them. And I want to tell you that some of my all-time FAVORITE cards aren't the kind photographed by professional photographers. Here are some examples below. My friend Marisa is so great at coming up with a family poem about her 3 sons each year, and I can't wait to see what she'll do the following year! My friend Karen just sent this creative card, with scrapbook style cut outs of photos and it featured her family lizard - awesome! My friend Jo's kids all had on their pajamas and were laughing and being their authentic selves. And lastly, my friend Linda's boys were just chilling outdoors wearing their bike helmets - totally them! See the examples below in the quick iPhone image...

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The point is, perfection is so overrated! Send something that reflects you (the creative, the goofy, the athletic, the messier or nerdier the better!). And if you still have the urge to write and send an entire letter about the past year, ask yourself, "why do they need to know, and if it is so important than why didn't I tell them sooner"? Find a way to abbreviate those letters and maybe keep the whole (scary) colonoscopy story to yourself. ;-) Now, maybe you are one of the people feeling guilty because you didn't send a card or anything out yet? Well, do yourself a favor and quit feeling guilty. Don't let yourself feel ashamed for not living up to the grand expectations of others... OR... for feeling like you didn't do enough. We all have bad years or busy months. Life is overwhelming at times. Let yourself off the hook! You do plenty! You are enough. [Tweet "All the effort you put into making the holidays extra-special doesn't go unnoticed. Not by me."]

You aren't screwing everything up. You are busy nurturing relationships, celebrating those loved ones, and riding the wave (and adventure) of life! So next year, when you are trying to remember why you even bother with holiday cards and you are stressing about what to do, keep these things in mind...

  • Authenticity is Beautiful - real life trumps all, no matter what your photo (check out Beyonce's) or family looks like!
  • Heartfelt Traditions Matter - share your sentiments for the season along with a personal note or best wishes!
  • Offer Gratitude - maybe it was a long or hard year, so try expressing your thanks for the encouragement or support!
  • Let Go of the Guilt - if sending in December is too much than try a Thanksgiving or New Years card, and online e-cards work well too (like this one from Lucasfilm mentioned on CNET)... or just skip it!
  • Share your Talents - you love to write poems or maybe you have a flair for humor, so why not try doing something unique and hand-crafted that your friends will appreciate - and maybe even via social media where it can go viral?!
  • Celebrate your Joys + Gifts - be sentimental, show the spirit of you or your family, and don't be afraid to be bold in your thoughts or wishes!

Regardless of how you send something (or don't), isn't it time we started to celebrate just how beautiful our imperfect lives can be? I have a wish for the New Year that we (as humans, parents, individuals) will want to compete less for perfection and encourage each other's unique gifts or talents more. I have a dream that we will all celebrate our traditions and let go of the expectations of what they have to be (or used to be), and instead make them what we want them to be. I hope that we can begin to let go of the idea that being busy means we are validated as successful individuals, parents and children. It doesn't matter how busy you are. If you are unhappy or filled with guilt, and don't have time for yourself or the things that truly matter, than what kind of success is that? I've been there, on that sinking ship where competition, expectations and validation have dictated too much in my life. I don't want to go back there. I want to be happy while living a life with purpose and intention.

So here's to embracing our imperfections, celebrating traditions, and letting go of guilt and validation so we can start living the life we've always dreamed! Happy and Merry Everything!

A Lesson in Confidence, Being Bold and Peeling the Layers

Have you ever had a first impression of someone and gotten it completely wrong? Yeah, me too. I first met Sarah over email a few years ago. We had been trying to set up an extended family photo session and due to weather and other issues it didn't end up happening. I thought for sure that I had let her down. And here's the thing… when we first met I could sense this bold quality about her. She was self-assured, forward in her requests, and brazen which intimidated me a bit. Well, I want to admit to you all and to Sarah that I was wrong. Let me explain... It's hard for me to write this, and I think that's because it is coming from a place of embarrassment. I realized that I hadn't really taken the time to get to know Sarah. I misunderstood her, and I was probably judging this beautiful woman who seemed to have it all. I am sharing this because I think (as women) we feel threatened by someone's confidence quite often. And what I have learned through the years, is that there is more to that confidence than meets the eye. There is more to that hard outer shell (of us human beings) and if we simply took the time to peel away at our outer layers, we would find so much truth, beauty and vulnerability at our cores. We might find a real connection and build truly meaningful relationships. And for me, this extends into my work because it is so very personal.

So, what I'd like to do is tell you about the Sarah that I've gotten to know, and the woman who is so very BOLD and for reasons that you may not know. When her daughter was 1 1/2 years old, Sarah was diagnosed with cancer (after a few months of suspicions that something wasn’t right). She had to undergo a radical hysterectomy and the recovery was tough. Sarah told me that, "while it was very emotional and painful to go through the diagnosis, procedure and recovery, I knew I had to be brave and fearless for myself and my family."

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Motherhood was something that Sarah longed for and she was not going to let cancer take that away from her. Learning about this part of Sarah's journey made me realize one thing. The boldness I had sensed in her, it was really her bravery shining through.

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Thankfully, Sarah gave me a second chance as you can see. :-) I've learned so much about the amazing and sentimental woman that she is, and how she loves family snuggles in her bed. I've witnessed her emotional side especially when it comes to her supportive husband, their spirited daughter, and fur baby, Murphy. I've been touched by the gratitude she shares for this life and for her health. Sarah prays for a child to come into her family through adoption. If you are the praying type, I know she'd appreciate yours as well.

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The more I work with courageous, resilient and gutsy women (like Sarah), the more I want to show the world that there is so much more to them than meets the eye. I hope you'll see that there is a softer side too. There is a playful, romantic, affectionate and optimistic part of her. A side that believes in living out her dreams. A side that believes in fighting for what matters. A side that is tender and wants to keep her loved ones close. A side that is nurturing in so many ways.

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Sarah, I hope you'll know how much I have appreciated you letting me in. Not just into your home or your family life. Letting me in and peeling the layers so I could truly get to know you. Sharing some of your deepest and darkest moments. We are women who (through our struggles) have had to be our most daring selves possible. This kind of daring can sometimes be misunderstood as too confident or bold. People have misunderstood mine. I misunderstood yours and for that I am deeply sorry. And thank you for proving me wrong! I now see you as the… VIVID, BRAVE and UNSTOPPABLE woman that you are!

PS - If any of you are drooling over Sarah's navy nails up top, you can visit her store to get them yourself!

Hey Moms! Where's your Oxygen Mask?

There have been some relevant stories lately about celebrity Moms making waves for saying things like… I have to put me first in order for us all to be happy. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen was one of them and she was criticized after telling The Sunday Times that she puts herself first. She said, "You know how they say on the plane you have to put the oxygen mask on first and then put it on your child? So, I think it is the same, as a mum, to take care of myself. You can feel a bit guilty… But if I put my oxygen mask on first, if I'm feeling fulfilled and present and good about myself, then I'm going to be a much more patient, loving, understanding mother and wife. You have to fill your glass so that everyone can drink from it."

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Image credit: Anonymous via Apartment Therapy

CNN posted a great question in a similar article asking...

When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?

And another celeb whom I adore, Jennifer Garner, recently made the news rounds for delivering an authentic speech about gender equality at the Elle Women in Hollywood event. She pleaded with Elle and the attendees to "think progressively on behalf of womankind". If you haven't read the article you can do so here and you'll probably love her even more for saying what we've all wanted to say -- out loud.

So, I'd like to ask you all too. Why doesn't anyone ever ask men about work-life balance? Why are women criticized for putting themselves first? Why do we try to be Supermom even if it means we are losing a part of ourselves in the process? When did we start carrying all of this weight (and guilt) for wanting some freedom to be ourselves -- as individuals?!

I say, it's time to put a stop to the madness!

Here are my suggestions...

  • Let's end this vicious cycle of racing for the Supermom cape when all they want is our presence.
  • Let's make it our mission to divide up the household (adult) chores. (We deserve it and quite frankly, they can handle it.)
  • Let's stop trying to live up to the "Pinterest Mafia's" idea of being a perfect Mom and embrace our lop-sided cakes and #PinterestFails for what they truly are… real life.
  • Let's stop trying to do it all and be everything to everyone (except ourselves).
  • Let's delegate more to our kids, even if they pour a few helpings of Cheerios onto the floor and not necessarily into their bowls. They are capable!
  • Let's stop feeling guilty for taking some much needed "me time" even if it is simply reading a book while hiding in your car in the garage. (Because we all know they would have found you in the bathroom, right?!).
  • Let's stop holding ourselves to unattainable standards (beauty, body, parenting or otherwise) that no one can live up to.
  • Let's stop judging the women who put the oxygen mask on first. (After all, it is for her own survival!)

Most importantly, let's try to live our most authentic life possible and just worry about being true to ourselves. And in the meantime, I'll keep grabbing my coffee mug as it's the oxygen mask I put on daily before helping anyone in this house. ;-)