Friday, December 21, 2012

Looking Back Looking Forward

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012

I spend every December alternating between looking back and trying to look forward.  Don't you?  The start of a new year is always so promising.  I try not to be so hard on myself for not accomplishing all of the things that I set out to do at the beginning of the year and I even occasionally congratulate myself for doing those things that I never thought possible.  I have a history of being my own worst enemy and I think that 2012 was the year that I finally, finally learned to just be better to myself.  This isn't a novel idea but for some people (me!) it's no easy feat.

2012 was a great year professionally and I'm really excited about all the opportunities I had to show my work, but I'd be lying if I said it was easy.  For every time I sold a piece or won an award or received an acceptance letter from a gallery, I've received five (at least) letters of rejection.  Those letters that say "...we regret to inform you" or "...unfortunately your work was not selected..."  Gah!  Those letters are awful to receive but I save them just like I save those with the good news (not just because I'm a hoarder).  Over the years those letters have gnawed away at my sad, little ego (I'm human after all) but never my spirit.

Getting used to rejection or at least letting it roll of your back is something that everyone has to deal with and this career/passion/job/addiction of making photographs and hoping people actually like them or are inspired by them, let alone exhibit them or buy them, is not for the faint of heart or thin-skinned.  One thing I've learned in general, both in my former career and in my new one, is that you always have to keep going.  Just.  Keep.  Going.  Look forward.  You can feel bad about rejection or feeling lazy or someone else's success or "winning" when you "lose" (not for them because that's not cool or healthy but for you) but get over it and move on.  Be proud about what you're doing and continue believing in whatever it is and keep at it.  Stop whining.  I try to remind myself of why I do this and the fact that I actually need it in my life.  This was a hard lesson for me but 2012 was the year that I finally learned it once and for all.

I know that 2013 will be a good one.  2012 had some very difficult personal moments but I start every year with the hope that it will be okay and go from there and I hope you can too.  I'll be on a blogging hiatus until January 7th when Ciao, Chessa! will be back with a new look that I can't wait to share and some really fun new features, tutorials and stories.  Until then, happy holidays and happy, happy new year!  I hope it's amazing!

Here's a short list of some of my favorite posts from 2012 and these photos are from the Bergdorf Goodman windows which are my favorite holiday windows every single year.  I always love how the city is reflected back at me with fantasy and reality coming together just like New York.  Just like life.

My Abuelo (This is definitely not a "favorite" but is was the hardest thing I ever had to write and the most personal I've shared on my blog)
A lifetime of half minutes
Ten things to think about on the road to success
Missed connections 
Print is dead! Long Live Print! What to do with your pictures.
Thinking not rushing
Life and a Canyon
Being in the moment
Windows and doors of London
How to create a narrative with your photos
Tiger Day
Asking for stories
Crescent moons
A tall order
Visit the Tate Modern
How to create a gallery wall
Raw vs. JPEG 
Some exhibits are happening
Maybe I heart Times Square (a little)
On Influence

And this year I could only see the windows in black and white.  That's just the way my brain works sometimes.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012
Do you spy me in this one?  I loved it!

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012

I did try one in color and it just wasn't the same?  What do you think?

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - 2012

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Traditions

Monica L. Shulman 

We decorated a gingerbread house this weekend and it was the first time for my baby and my husband.  It's been so many years since I did this that it might as well have been my first time too.  We escaped to the Hamptons last weekend and on Saturday morning we drove out to the Children's Museum of the East End.  I felt like a kid again as I painted the icing on the little house and I couldn't help but laugh when I caught my two-and-a-half year old daughter and my old-enough-to-know-better husband sneak pretzels and marshmallows and whatever else looked good into their mouths instead of onto the house.  Those two are partners in crime and it was hard to tell who was having more fun.  It's all going to the same place anyway, right?  On this day we started a new tradition that will surely become one of my annual holiday favorites.

Monica L. Shulman

Monica L. Shulman

Monica L. Shulman

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thinking about Newtown


For several days I've been contemplating what to write about the tragic events that took place in Newtown, Connecticut last week.   I've been allowing myself to watch the news and read the paper in spurts because I felt so overcome by sadness on Friday and over the weekend that I realized I needed to stop myself.  When you're a kid you're supposed to feel safe and protected.  School is a sanctuary - a place to have fun, learn, and see your friends - and on Friday that feeling was taken perhaps forever.  I see the look of hope and wonder in my daughter's face whenever she figures something out and it brings light and joy into my life.  I listen to my 4 year old niece tell me about things she is learning in pre-K and the excitement in her voice is palpable and it makes me feel eager  to watch her grow and become the person who she is meant to be.  I feel such a profound sadness for the families of the victims and I simply cannot image the pain and loss that they are living through.  Losing a child, especially at such a young age, is the most unnatural and painful experience I think any parent would have to endure.  For me it is simply unthinkable.

As a mother I want what most other parents want.  I want my daughter to be happy, and to live a life that fulfills her and that she feels motivated by.  I want her to be strong and to always feel and be safe and secure in this world even when things are inevitably stressful or seem too hard.  I want her to feel excited and inspired about things and I wish that she will always know how much her parents love and adore her and each other.  It goes without saying that I want her to outlive me and for me to live long enough to see it all happen for her.  So many people were robbed of these basic feelings and desires on Friday and my heart breaks for them. 

Many of us feel so helpless in the wake of all of this but I read that you can write a letter of love and support to the school and parents to this address:

Sandy Hook Elementary School
12 Dickenson Drive
Newtown, CT 06482

Also, I thought that this article was helpful to find more information on what you can do.


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Friday, December 14, 2012



In an effort to get away from the craziness of the holidays we're taking a last minute long weekend in the country.  On Sunday morning we're heading back to the city for a family party followed by a visit to the tree but a little time breathing the fresh air out of the city is just what we need.  This is my favorite time of year but sometimes it can be a little overwhelming with everything.  Still, experiencing Christmas through the eyes of my toddler is so magical.  I hope your weekend is great and here are some fun links from around the web.

57 reasons to love photography in 2012.

8 fantastic photo ideas you can try right now.

The 12-12-12 concert was amazing.

Hilariously awkward family photos.

Coffee and cream.

I'm going to try to make these chocolate chip cookies if for no other reason than the photos are making me salivate.

DIY felt acorns.

This is from earlier this year but I loved it then and I love it now: Rant: I love photography.

I've been wanting Paris in Color forever since it's all about one of my favorite cities and it's by one of my favorite bloggers.

By the way, don't forget to sign up for my giveaway - a 2013 NYC calendar from Pinhole Press.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

What is Balance

This post is adapted from an article that I wrote for the BonBon Rose Girls last year.

December is always a month of reflection for me.  I think back on the last year and try to focus on what's coming or what could come and lately the thought that most consumes me is how I will ever find my balance.  Actually, it's whether I will ever find my balance.  I know I’m not the first woman who has ever had to deal with this and it's refreshing and comforting to know that I'm not alone in trying to figure out what works and trying to strike the ever-elusive balance. 

So many women and men (those with children and those without) I know personally are searching for the balance.  Everyone’s experience and circumstances are different and although I wish there was some way around it, the truth is that there is no magic formula that works for everyone.  I am primarily a stay-at-home mom but I work from home on my photography business.  Lucia is in school three mornings a week and I always fill my time while she's there.  I have a nanny (who is amazing!) who comes to help me two days a week and on those days I work from home, go out to meet with clients, handle all of my business errands, blog, take care of personal things like doctor appointments and such, go food shopping, run other household errands, work out and generally do all of the things that are easier to do when I don’t have my baby with me. 

In the two and a half years since she was born I started to see some patterns and I noticed all of the things that I have to work on in order to make it better for me, my family and my business.  I was able to narrow it down to five basic points.  While often times following my own advice has been a tall order, like everything else, it’s a work in progress.

1.  Define what balance means to you

Balance to me means doing my best in any given situation.  I’m usually wishing that I had more hours in the day so I could get everything done but I have to do what I can with the 24 that I have.  I used to spend a lot of time feeling guilty and I still do but it doesn’t help me at all to be a better parent or a better business person.  I set my own barometer for success and along the way I’ve had to accept that sometimes it’s just not possible to do everything (keeping up with this blog, for example).  For me this has meant taking on fewer work projects and being realistic about what I can deliver.  Ultimately, if I have to choose between my work and my family, my family always wins.

2.  Get and stay organized

I’m pretty diligent about making my schedule.  Before I had my baby I could make it up as I went along, but now I have to do it on a weekly or daily basis and (try my HARDEST) to stick to it.  I love making lists.  I make a long, long list at the beginning of the week and I break it down into categories.  I need to have that order and I feel such a sense of accomplishment when I take my red pen and check the completed items off.  It’s a little thing and it goes a long way for me. 

The planning is tougher when you have a kid since things don’t often (rarely) go as planned, but if I have my schedule set out for the days that I have my babysitter it's infinitely easier.  Also, I no longer have an office at home–I have a small workspace in my bedroom or at my kitchen table so being neat and organized is key.  I can’t let the pile get too high or my head feels crowded (like right now where I have a stack of personal bills, presents that need wrapping, a stack of business items I have to file and a bunch of packages that need to go out that are holiday orders from my Etsy shop).  I have a “work closet” where I keep all of my gear, test prints, samples, files including contracts and invoices  and a lot of other random stuff and supplies that I need.  Also I keep only one calendar and I cannot live without it.  If I'm honest, deep down I wish I had my own space to work and be inspired and more often than not I feel crowded.  In 2013 I hope to find something for myself where I can go for a physical escape.  I've been wanting to start painting again (oh yeah, I was a painter for years forever ago) and I'm hoping it's in the cards for me again soon.

3.  Change is necessary and normal

My daughter is a routine-lover just like her mom and she needs it and thrives on it as much as I do.  While her routine has been set for over a year now, everything changes…especially when you have a kid.  Obviously if my baby is sick one day or my sitter cancels I have to switch things up but at least if I’m organized and stay focused, I can do my best to make it all work.  Adapting to change is hard for me but I've gotten better at anticipating it and making it work.

4.  Focus 

Staying focused is very difficult for me.  This part goes hand-in-hand with being organized.  Whenever I feel the procrastination coming on or I sense myself getting sidetracked (Twitter and Facebook -- not to mention Pinterest -- are amazing but it’s so easy to fall into the time suck) I try to remind myself that I only have 45 minutes until the baby wakes up or the babysitter has to leave early or whatever it is that will get me back to what I need to get done.  I always check back on my list to see what’s next and what’s left.

5.  Take time for yourself

I never made time for myself when my baby was first born.  I was all over the map trying to do everything and be everything.  But you know what?  I need to spend time on my marriage, I need to work out for my body and for my mind, I need to go out and take photos for my personal projects and I need to see my extended family and friends.  These are the other things that are important to me and that help me grow as a mom, wife and person.  The baby goes to bed every night by 7:30 and then we have the entire evening to ourselves.  While I do end up working late at night and my husband works very long hours at his job, we make it a point to have dinner together at least twice a week and when we don’t have dinner together we still find time to sit down and talk about our day and all those million other things. This time for myself really helps me to stay focused.

I always joke that I’m a professional juggler and it’s so true!  As parents we’re always trying to figure out how to find time for everything.  I have the utmost respect for all mothers – those who work at home, those who work outside of their home and those who are stay-at-home moms.  It is a full-time job on top of whatever else it is that you do.  Along the way I’ve learned that everyone, myself included, has to do what they feel comfortable with and what is best for them and for their family.  I find comfort and satisfaction knowing that I’m doing the best I can and that I’m accomplishing so much in all the different areas of my life.  Maybe someone else thinks they can do it better than I can and maybe that’s true but in the long run, I’m the only one who knows what works for me.

What do you think?  How do you try to strike the balance?  Do you think it’s possible?

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2013 Calendars and a Giveaway!

2013 Calendar Giveaway

I've been hanging a calendar in my kitchen since forever.  I know they're kind of old school and I definitely can't live without my google calendar, but I like having my calendar up and making it part of my constantly growing gallery wall.  I discovered Pinhole Press calendars and after falling in love with the thickness and quality of the paper and print, I gifted them to friends and clients.  After a great giveaway last year I decided to give one away this year, as well.  This version features some of my favorite photographs of some hidden details and moments of my hometown, New York City and I hope you love it as much as I do!

Here's how to enter:

1.  Leave a comment below.
2.  Share the giveaway on Facebook and let me know about it for an extra entry.
3.  Share the giveaway on Twitter and let me know about it (I'm @ciaochessa) for an extra entry.

The giveaway will be open until next Monday, December 17th.

2013 Calendar Giveaway
From the time I kind of fell in love with Times Square.

Do you still buy the "old-fashioned" kind of calendars or do you keep everything online? 
These calendars make great gifts and Pinhole Press is currently offering FREE SHIPPING through December 15th.  Check em out!

2013 Calendar Giveaway
My favorite holiday windows.

2013 Calendar Giveaway

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Friday, December 07, 2012


Copyright Monica L. Shulman
Having a post-nap discussion regarding whether to read The Little Engine That Could or Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! first.  A growing tradition.
Lately I've been thinking a lot about traditions and celebrations.  The traditions we had growing up and the ones that my husband and I have slowly been creating over the last 11 years that we've been together and especially since the baby was born.  This year, like every other year, we went to pick out a Christmas tree on the corner of where we live.  We checked out a few, haggled a bit and then carried the winner to our building.  Actually I carried the kid and my husband carried the tree!

When her dad put the last ornament, a giant crown that my mom bought me what seems like a million years ago on the very tippy top of the tree, Lucia hugged me so tight.  Her eyes were glowing from the twinkle lights on our tree when she looked right at me and in her sweet, small voice said "Mommy I see me in your eyes".  I had a flashback to my own mom and how my sister and I would sit with her on the floor every Christmas.  There are so many pictures of all of us together doing things that seemed like nothing but that now I realize were everything.  I gave my baby an enormous hug and kiss and she started applauding and we were all so excited that the three of us started to clap in the middle of our living room.  Why not celebrate everything?  Tis the season after all.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and here are some links from around the web.

A lament for the photo album.  I especially loved reading it since I wrote this a few weeks ago.

Famous pictures made into arms-length self-portraits.  This is awesome.

A recipe that includes two of my kid's favorite things via who else but the Smitten Kitchen.  God, I love that woman.  Roasted pear and chocolate chunk scones.

Whimsical street art.

Speaking of whimsy...the Adorable Flying Henry book is here!

The best photography blog posts of 2012 according to Photoshelter.

A holiday gift guide that include a tiny, wooden camera for the three and under set.

I discovered this wedding photographer the other day by pointing and clicking and procrastinating my way through research for a new project.  I have no clue how I found him but I wish I was having another wedding so I could hire him to photograph us.  Damn you, Pinterest!

Speaking of Pinterest, I think this is my favorite pin of the week.

Everyone has their own recipe for chicken noodle soup and I'm kind of in love with this one.  So simple.  So delicious.

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

My Personal Holiday Gift Photography *Wishlist*

holiday wishlist

Everyone has a gift wishlist.  Don't they?  If you don't, you should!  Some things on my list are obvious reaches (for now) but that's why they're wishes and I like to work to make my dreams come true.  Here's my personal wishlist of all photography-related goods.  Don't be fooled's much longer than this but I controlled myself.  Happy shopping!

1.  The ONA Brooklyn Bag $329
 I've wanted this bag since forever.  It's so classic and chic and it fits all my gear.

2.  Tim Walker: Story Teller $47.00
I love this book and study it every time I'm at the bookstore.  It's just so beautiful it deserves a spot in my growing collection.

3.  32GB iPad Mini $429
What's not to love?

4.  Tenba Messenger Wrap $13.95
This lens wrap is so handy.  Every photographer should have one.

5.  Nikon D4 5,996.95
Because every girl should dream big.  I'm still saving for this puppy but this is what wishlists are made of.

6. Subscription to PDN Magazine $65.00
This is my favorite photography magazine.  It always has beautiful imagery and the articles are very informative.  I always learn something and end up feeling inspired after going through an issue.

7. Lensbaby Composer $199.95
I really want to add this lens to my rotation.

What's on your wishlist?

See my other 2012 holiday gift guides here.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Our Holiday Cards

Holiday Cards from Pinhole Press

I've been sending holiday cards for years and years but never made my own.  When the baby was born I was inspired to choose my favorite personal photo from the year and make a card to send to our family and friends.  This has become one of my favorite traditions of the season.  I am notoriously indecisive so choosing a favorite is rarely easy but the process has become so much fun for my husband and me.  I usually put together a top five and then we pick our favorite of the favorites together.  This year we chose a photo of Lucia fearlessly walking toward the ocean last summer.  She fell in love with the beach this year and I love that the photo really shows her independent spirit and adventurous personality.

For the last two years I've been making my cards at Pinhole Press and if you follow this blog you probably know how much I love their products.  The holiday cards are no exception.  The paper quality is so thick (my favorite) and super fancy and I love the design on the back of the card we chose.  We also made our address labels with them.  Instead of using a family photo I used one from my archive of New York photos - I'm very proud of this picture that has done so well in a few shows this year and I think it looks so cool on the label.

Pinhole Press is offering Free Shipping through December 15th on all their products.

I've made so many things with them over the last year (like this, this, this and this) and recommend them to clients all the time. 

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Why New York.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman
Central Park

"In that spellbound moment when we're suddenly willing to call this the only home we'll ever have on earth, New York let's us into a bigger secret yet: that it "gets" us."

I was browsing through a random book at Strand a few months ago when I came upon this quote.  I took a photo of the text and when I got home realized that I left out the name of the person who said the words.  I read it a few times because it really resonated with me and I loved it so much.  If anyone knows who said this, I'd love to know.  

Sometimes we think about what it would be like to live somewhere else and we feel so sad about leaving the city that we quickly change the subject.  I just push it out of my mind because I simply cannot imagine living anywhere else.  I didn't grow up in Manhattan and travel is my biggest passion (after photography) but to live?  I don't know.  I've lived in other cities here and abroad and loved it while I was there and it would be fun to try a new city but I simply love living here.  I love introducing my daughter to my favorite places and exploring the city with my family and finding new spots to fall in love with.  And, I love how New York makes me feel - curious, adventurous, alive, energetic and inspired. 

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Instagram Weekend

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - Instagram

December is here!  The month is going to fly by and before we know it 2013 will be here.  I've got a feeling it's going to be an amazing year.  But let's not rush it - time passes by quickly enough.  This weekend was filled with some of my favorite things including getting our Christmas tree!  We put the lights on but we're going to finish trimming it tonight.  I've never seen a more excited and curious two year old.  I hope you have a great week and here's a glimpse of my weekend via Instagram (more there).

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - Instagram
Toddler ballet.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - Instagram
Gorgeous bowls at Anthropologie.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - Instagram
Our tree is almost 7 feet tall! I always buy 2 or 3 new ornaments every year to add to our collection and this year, after 11 years together of bringing home 4 foot trees, I think I have to up the ante on the light and ornament front.  The tree is enormous and will likely be half naked. 

Copyright Monica L. Shulman - Instagram

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