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career life list NYC with Amber

Life List: Row Boats in Central Park – Check!

First, fun news: I have an intern! She’s Alex, and has an enthusiasm for photography – and life in general – that rocks my world. I need to get a better photo of her face, but for now, enjoy her cool-girl photo stance and rockin’ blond hair patch.

On Friday, 3 May, I finally did what I’ve been hoping to do for about 18 months: I convinced an eloping couple that getting into the row boats of Central Park in their wedding clothes was an excellent idea. Since I had Alex to boss around help, she rowed, and I was able photograph them around the 22 acre pond from the stern of my very own row boat. Then I tried rowing, and she snapped some shots of me. It was so cool, like a scene out of Stuart Little.

Life list, go mighty

It’s a career highlight, a Life List item I got to check off, and I’m pretty sure that I won a bet with Katie Jane over who can get newlyweds in a row boat first.

If you do this, I recommend going on a week day and slathering on a good sunscreen.

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Life List: Redesign – check!

Like many long-term bloggers, my little corner of the internet has gone through several evolutions. Right now, one of my biggest goals for this space is to share more photography which is a change from my usual verbose style of blogging about my feeeelings.

There are a lot of reasons for this: I want to promote myself as a photographer for hire. I want to hone my voice as an artist. And (maybe just temporarily) Writing About My Feelings is on the back-burner a little bit.

It ebbs and flows, you know?

My smart friend Jesse built everything for me. We kept the same basic shape, but made the photos to display wider at 800px. We also moved the navigation buttons to the top and removed the color so they wouldn’t compete with the photography. Johanna hand wrote them, which is my favorite part. We also have a hilarious 404 error, which Jesse wrote the quirky copy for. I read it in the back of a cab, and snorted out loud!

The logo is the same; I just couldn’t part with it, and also, I have a lot of business cards printed with it. It’s not going anywhere for a while.

What do you think?

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Life List: Own A Set of Luxurious Stationary – Check!

You know a big Camp Mighty post is coming, but I have to talk about how I crossed something off my Life List while I was there first.

Camp Mighty, Bing and Wantist teamed up to select something from each attendees Life List and gave them a gift based around it, which is… stunning and amazing. Wrapping a baby elephant up for me to kiss on the trunk might have been a bit tough I suppose, but I was just as excited as what they chose for me: a set of personalized stationary from Hello Lucky.

When I opened the box and saw my name – MY name, the one I chose for myself, that I adore, and am proud of, and built a business with – written at the top of a gorgeous, cream colored card in pretty font, I was thankful that I’d unwrapped it tucked into a corner solo instead of sitting in a group, because burst into tears immediately. Later I had lunch Brittany Reiff, the founder of Wantist, and made HER get teary with my story.

Thank you Camp Mighty, Wantist, and Bing! They are lovelier than I imagined, and could not have come at a better time for me.

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Life List Tweek of 2012

image by ali mitton

Camp Mighty is in a few weeks, and I’m excited. As a reminder: part of my attendance requires me to raise funds for Charity:Water, and I’m doing that by selling some of my fine art prints on, which I will be doing right up until I leave.


I decided it was a good time to eyeball my entire Life List to see if it needed tweaking, and it does. As I’ve gotten older, wiser, and more comfortable in my skin, I’m happy to change or delete things off my list that are no longer a reflection of who I am now or hope to be in the future. Also, in keeping with a big rule of Life Lists – don’t have anything on there that will make you feel bad if you don’t accomplish – I’ve removed some stuff entirely.

These are my changes:

“Go ‘real camping’ with no showers and bathe in a river.” turned into “Go camping”, because that’s badass enough. Cabin+flush toilets is just enough rustic, thank you very much.

“Make a bed-size quilt out of re-purposed fabric.” is out. I don’t like sewing, and every time I thought about doing this, it bummed me out.

“Run a marathon.” turned into “run a 5k.”, and I’m perfectly happy to have that be a very, very loose interpretation of “run”. My exercise jam is not running. There is, frankly, too much of me that needs to be tied down by expensive spandex before I can hit the road. (Boobs.)

“Learn to play a song on guitar” turned into “ukelele”. I asked my friend Jon what he thought about me playing the uke, and he laughed. “What’s that, Zooey?” Look, I know they’ve become a bit of a twee hipster cliche, but I love them. Shut up, Jon.

“Backpack through Europe” became “tour Europe”, because I’m sure as shit not backpacking anywhere. “Backpacking” was added when I was 15 and made my very first Life List, and it sounded like a lot of fun. At 30, it sounds horrible.

“Make an article of clothing for myself that is acceptable to wear out of the house.” is gone, because, again, I hate sewing.

“Help build a house in a third world country” turned into “Travel to Africa and document charity efforts with my photography.”, because I’m way better with a camera than a hammer, and I pretty much just want to be Karen Walrond when I grow up anyway.

“Hold a tarantula.” turned into “Pet a tarantula.” because let’s not get crazy. But maybe it can sit on my lap? We’ll see.

“Give birth” turned into “Become an essential part of a child’s life.” because that makes more sense to me right now. Related: if anyone needs a thoughtful, loving, atheist (no)god-parent for their kiddo, I’m all yours. I can teach them about evolution, loving thy neighbor, and the art of frozen margaritas.

“Crochet an afgan.” is out, because I hate sewing-ish activities, too, or anything to do with putting textiles together.

“Grow an appreciation and knowledge of good hip hop” is out. I tried because I thought it would be cool, and hip hop has an amazing story from the bit I’ve read, but I don’t care enough to get into it in depth.

I’ve added “Learn French, conversationally” and “Learn Italian, conversationally” to my list, too, because these days, languages are fascinating me. I’m also considering removing “do a huge zip line”, as I have a well documented fear of jumping off of high platforms into the air, but I’m going to let Future Amber figure that one out.

How are you doing with your Life List?

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Life List: Do Something I Love for a Living – Check!

When I was in high school, my dad once said to me, “You won’t need much by way of college, really. You’ll just get married.”

Right? That statement still runs through my brain sometimes and blows my mind.

Believe it or not, though, I lived with some watered-down, only slightly-more-liberated version of this vision of my life until a couple of years ago. I pursued things, but it was always until my “real life” of baby-having and mothering started. It’s been on my Life List for years, though, so in the back of my mind somewhere, I must have always known there was more in the cards for me.

Today, the “aw shucks” quiver has left my voice when I tell people “I’m a photographer”, but I still lay awake some nights staring into the darkness, wondering how life is supposed to go now that, for the first time, I’m totally independent of anyone else to support me.

What if I fuck up?

Yesterday I met a new client who lives in the neighborhood and needs help on a cool project. We met in my studio and talked for a while, but didn’t take any shots so I refused to let her pay me.

“I’ll buy you a drink then!” she said, so we went around the corner to talk some more, which turned into two drinks, girl talk, and a new neighborhood friend.

Two drinks at 3 pm left me a bit tipsy, and when I got home, I started fussing about my life to Gavin via IM, trying to figure out when I’ve “made it” and could cross this off my Life List. This is what he said to me, and (when I sobered up and read it again) I felt so at ease with where I am right now:

You can cross it off right now
Because you ARE doing something you love for a living
If you always chase some phantom idea of “better”, you’ll never be present and happy
You have a lot to be present and happy about.
You live in one of the greatest cities in the world and you are surrounded by cool people who inspire you and you get to do something awesome for a living, and you get better at it every single day.
You’ve already made it, Amber. Enjoy where it takes you, don’t obsess over where that “where” is.

Gavin, you’re the best, and I owe you a huge hug. (When I asked if I could quote him, he said yes, as long as I made him sound “wise and shit”.)

There are pockets of “But wait! I want to do this, this and THIS with my career, too!” in my life, but I suspect that they’re always going to be there in some form to keep me motivated (Related: will someone PLEASE elope to Paris and have me photograph it?!).

A look back to where I started shows I’ve come pretty far, though. People trust me. They trust me with their sweetest memories, they write me checks before seeing my final product, and they count on me to not make them feel foolish in front of the camera. It’s extraordinary and humbling, scary and wonderful… and it’s paying my rent.

I’m doing something I love for a living! Kermit Arm Flail!

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life list NYC with Amber

Life List: Fly Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease… on a Trapeze – Check!

New York Trapeze School | Pier 16 (South Street Seaport), New York, NY 10036 | Manhattan

Well… maybe not with the “greatest of ease”.

I started off pretty positive…

… however, if you read the last post where I jumped off of something high into the air, it will not surprise you that I got to the top of the ladder at trapeze class and shook my head.

“I am not going to jump off of this.” I said to the instructor, looking down. “I’m terribly sorry, but it’s back down the ladder for me.”

She blinked at me a few times from under her hoodie; later I found out she was briefly accessing if I was one of the scared people that needed the kind-and-gentle approach or a tough-love kick in the rear. She went warm and reasonable with me, which ended up working.

“What are you afraid of? It’s safe!”

“It’s high.”

“It’s supposed to be high.” she said, somehow managing to avoid a “Duh!” tone of voice. “That’s the point. Don’t worry, you’re totally safe. We have celebrities and little kids that come here. No one gets hurt.”

The ladder already had someone else on it waiting, and I was all strapped in, and really, the only way off the platform was through the air. So I smushed the tears off my face with my sleeve’s edge and jumped, while doing an epic ugly-cry that turned into a belly laugh, because, after two seconds, it got really fun to be swinging around up there.

You can’t tell from these photos if this is the most awesome thing that ever happened to me or the worst, right? Neither can I. I think, though that jumping off of things that are high is not my jam. But in retrospect, it was cool, I felt victorious, and, after the four staff members on the ground all shouted up at me to open my eyes, I was able to get an amazing view of Brooklyn, the FDR, and the river between them.

Thank you to the crew at the Trapeze School of New York at Pier 16, especially Dana who picked all the right words to get me to leap, and to my sweet friend Lara Ruth for setting this up and snapping shots with my camera. Now go do this!

first photo by James Stress

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Life List: Hike in Hawaii, Jump Off a Cliff, and Yell “Geronimo!” on the Way Down – Check!

Twin Falls | 6300 Hana Highway, Haiku | Maui

When I imagined checking this off my Life List, I pictured it being thrilling and breezy. No big deal, leap into the water, “Geronimo-oooooo!” Splash! Yay!

Then I got to the top of the waterfall and looked down. And down and down and down.

Hmmm. This ice cold pit in the middle of my stomach was… not what I had imagined feeling. Instead of jumping I stayed put, wrapped my arms around my torso, and shook.

Daffodil’s eleven year old had picked this particular waterfall for me on the grounds that it “wasn’t too scary”. He grinned and launched himself by me into the water as easily as I’d been imagining I would.

“Come on!” he called up from the lagoon. “It’s fine!”

Her husband jumped, too, and Daffodil perched with my camera aimed at me, waiting, while tears dripped onto my swimsuit. It was really not ok.

“Ugh! Why is this so difficult?”

It was obviously safe, but I was terrified anyway, and as the minutes slid by, it turned from something fun into a Big Fucking Deal. I started to feel awkward and kind of over it.

Luckily for YOU, she caught my entire crisis on camera.

“Why the fuck is this so high?!”

“Ok, here I go!” Except not.

Actually crying. Like a weenie.

After a solid 15 minutes of standing there freaking out, I concluded my “work up the nerve” method was bunk. The “nerve” wouldn’t come; it was simply a decision to be made or not. So I decided.

“I don’t think I’m going to do this.”

“Um, I’m not letting you leave without doing it.” Daffodil called back. “You know this. And it’s really not that big a deal. Just do it!”

So I changed my mind and launched myself into the air, completely scared out of my mind.

I kind of had to, right? I’d traveled nearly 5000 miles to be there, and it’s been on my Life List for years. Plus Lucy was watching. She’s seven, and according to her, I’m “really cool and fun”. Girls in our culture are bombarded with messages telling them to be pretty, not feisty; to be cool, not strong. I had an example to set. She couldn’t see me chicken out.

Later Daffodil, who jumped for the first time herself right after me, pointed out that it was so, so much more than just jumping off a waterfall.

I surfaced laughing and exhilarated. It was amazing to have done it, and I was giddy.

Then another jump, right after. It wasn’t easier the second time – it might have actually been more difficult because of the fresh memory of the feeling of falling which is, frankly, horrible – but it cemented my bravery. Which is important, because the pursuit of bravery is kind of my thing these days.

I did it!

P.S. My bathing suit top – and bottom.

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Life List: Officiate a Wedding Ceremony – Check!

“Mawwiage. Mawwiage is what bwings us togethaw today. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam…”

After listening to these two wistfully talk about getting married next year, and seeing how badly they wanted to be married RIGHT NOW, I shrugged and said, “Guys, just elope. I’ll even take the photos for you. No big deal.”

They sat on that for a few weeks, then she called me and said, “Ok, we’re eloping. We want you to do it.”

“Take the photos?” I asked. “You got it.”

“No, marry us. It’s on your Life List, right?”

So it is. I’ve never been more honored.

I got ordained by the Universal Life Church, then went to City Hall to fill out some paperwork, and now the power is vested in me by the City of New York to legally wed people to each other.

They’d wanted to get married under the cherry trees in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, but the blooms had vanished by their wedding day. I picked a spot under an oak tree instead. Cherry blossoms bloom and die quickly, but oak trees can live for hundreds of years, and I thought this was fitting for a wedding.

The ceremony was short and sweet; we’d written it together over beers at our favorite bar a few weeks prior, and then we took a few photos around the grounds and slipped out.

(Sidenote: you are supposed to pay $400 and obtain a permit to take wedding photos in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, something we did not do, so consider this a bit of a disclaimer. We went guerrilla.)

Who’s next?! You can pay me in a six pack, because I am classy.

I love these guys!

p.s. Vanity dictates I tell you I was wearing super awesome heels, but slipped on my espadrilles to walk to the flower bed and totally forgot to put my them back on for portraits. But trust me: super awesome. You can see them in the “getting married” photo. Someone asked me if I was going to  perform the ceremony “barefoot in the park”, and I killed them dead with my withering stare.

p.p.s. If you want your feelings hurt: she’s 23, but he is 21, meaning he was born in the 90’s. PEOPLE WHO WERE BORN IN THE 90’S ARE GETTING MARRIED.

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How to Build an Owl by Kathleen Lynch (Life List)

print “Owl No. 1” by Lisa Congdon, available here

Remember how I was going to memorize 10 inspiring works of poetry for my Life List?

1. Wild Geese by Mary Oliver
2. i carry your heart by e.e. cummings

I never did memorize Where the Sidewalk Ends – my heart ended up not being in it, even though it was one of my favorites as a kid. I memorized this one, though, and counting it for number 3. It’s not specifically an “inspirational poem”, but the fact that this exists, that it is both perfectly quirky and perfectly beautiful, moves me.

Poem via Swiss Miss

How to Build an Owl

1. Decide you must.

2. Develop deep respect
for feather, bone, claw.

3. Place your trembling thumb
where the heart will be:
for one hundred hours watch
so you will know
where to put the first feather.

4. Stay awake forever.
When the bird takes shape
gently pry open its beak
and whisper into it: mouse.

5. Let it go.

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Life List: Pick an Orange from a Tree and Eat It Immediately – Check!

Pro tip: In photos, stand behind bushes for a slimming effect!

“Awww yeah.”

“I got dirt in it.” I said, mid-peel, frowning, and Elizabeth shrugged.

“You’re eating something from outside. You get dirt.”


I will shamelessly admit that it was only after spotting the orange tree outside of Elizabeth’s parent’s front door that this got added this to my Life List. Totally allowed.

The sections in these oranges are varied sizes and shapes, and the fruit is extra juicy, so you have to eat carefully if you want to stay clean; something I immediately gave up on. Even when I first dug my fingernails in to open it, oil from the peel misted out and settled in my hair. (Hours later, I could still smell it when I shook my head, and it made me smile.) This is why Elizabeth prefers to make them into oj, but her parents eat them straight up, like I did. The mess was worth it, in fact, it made it more fun. Eating this orange was joyful.

Her dad invited me to take some for home, and there are four that traveled back to New York with me, waiting for me to relive the experience, which I described later to a friend as “like biting into sunshine”. I have a feeling, though, that it won’t be quite the same as eating them while standing in the golden light of garden with smell of orange blossoms drifting on the breeze and Elizabeth making me giggle.

Thanks for the photos, Elizabeth!

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