Category Archives: News & Me

There we sat. Feeling like frauds. How on earth did we get to this place? Sitting in a hospital room, waiting to be sent out into the world with a tiny baby that we couldn’t even get into the car seat without help.

Something must be wrong with the universe.

Somehow we slipped under the radar and were granted a tiny little charge. Someone who would make me grow to question everything I thought I ever knew about people, love and my place in the world.

With a little luck (and a lot of cursing), we got the car seat into the car and managed to make our way home. Both of us terrified of the little bundle in the backseat.


Once home, we all squished together on the couch, and I couldn’t help feeling that even though I finally had my own little family, I had never felt so alone.

My mom was several states away. And I lost my dad to cancer just the year before. My aunt and Gram were back in North Dakota (go Sioux!), and my in-laws tucked away up north.

My brain raced at the idea of raising a family on my own. I had nightmares about how I was going to fail at motherhood because I had no help. To add to my new mama stress, we had just moved to the area, and I had yet to make any solid friendships.

But just as with everything else I have found challenging in life, I somehow survived. And so did our little girl. I think one of the main reasons for this is the telephone.

I spent hours on the phone each week talking with my grandma and asking for her stoic Norwegian advice (if you know an old school Norwegian, you know what I’m talking about). But my lilac-loving gram somehow made the world a safe, warm place. I relied on her advice. From fevers to splinters to ill-fitting shoes, she was always there for me.

Until she wasn’t.

In the winter of 2011, I lost Gram. Along with missing our holiday phone conversations as she attempted to walk me through lefse making from 1,200 miles away, I miss her parenting advice because it wasn’t just any old advice. It was clean, efficient and nurturing (for me and my kids).

She had a Grammy-specific style of parenting that successfully married “do exactly what I say” with “a house filled with love.”

In her absence, I began to seek out motherly advice and stories from anyone who was willing to share. My aunt was a great source of inspiration. As a mom of four, she was a wealth of support. To this day, her birthday party advice has been shared countless times over the years: The age of the child directly correlates to the number of children invited. That is parenting gold, people!

The rest of my conversations happened with my clients – moms of varying age and with varying numbers of children. Their stories always pulled me in. They, too, had priceless pointers and hilarious stories of poop art on the walls and sharpie art on the arms. Hearing their experiences had me vigorously nodding my head and repeating excitedly “me, too!”

What I discovered is while we all are different, we experience many of the same things. And we all have something to offer other moms… all of us… new moms, veteran moms, aunts, friends, and siblings.

There are so many stories to be shared.

Thousands of parenting tips. (nay, millions!)

And an equal number of tears of laughter waiting to be spilled.

And this is when the idea hit me to write a book that desperately needs to be written; a book where moms from across the country share their stories of motherhood – the good, the bad, and the hilarious.

A new parenting book is in the works: Crowdsourcing Motherhood. Come share your story for a chance to join the crowd and be in the book.

Do you have fantastic mothering advice or survival tips? Join the crowd and be a part of a book.

Because good parenting isn’t all trial and error. We all have lessons we’ve learned and stories to share.

We need to crowdsource motherhood.

I’ll be spending the spring of 2015 gathering stories and creating my book. I want to hear from you because I know you’ve got something to share! I’m looking for stories about struggles you overcame, advice you’ve received, advice you now give, and/or humorous stories (check your FB updates! That’s where we share some of the most hilarious moments).

Sometimes seemingly simple advice is life changing. Several years ago I was complaining about how my daughter refused to wear pants. The wise woman I was chatting told me not to fight my daughter’s desire to wear frilly skirts because one day she would permanently shed them in favor of jeans. I’m glad I listened because that day did arrive. And now have a few extra years of beautiful, twirly frilly skirt memories to fill my heart rather than countless “wear jeans today” arguments.

Use this link to tell me more. You don’t have to go into great detail; I’ll connect with you if what you share has a place in my book.

As a little sparkly bonus for those wanting to spread the love, I’ll be including family photos in the book, which means you might receive a complimentary photo session with me. ;)

Much love to you beautiful women. All of you. The ones who feel like they’ve got motherhood nailed, the ones who feel like every day is a crapshoot, and especially those who feel like you’re drowning. You are not alone. We are all in this together.

Lifestyle family photographer Bay Area

P.S. Here’s one of my all-time favorite photos of my gram and bop. Notice they’re the misbehaved ones in the photo? My Bop has his finger in my aunt’s ear, and my gram is giving us bunny ears. Oh, and lest you miss it, her sweatshirt reads: “Runs with scissors.” LOL! It  was one of her favorites.

Seeing this photo makes me miss her so much. And it also puts a HUGE smile on my face. I adore her… even long after she’s gone.

Reading to my crazies is one of my favorite parts of motherhood.  I’ll quickly pass up trips to the playground in lieu of curling up on our big chair and reading. In fact, I love it so much that we regularly miss their bedtimes because we’ve “just gotten to the good part.”

Right now we’re on some pretty action-packed series, but in the past, some of the books have been truly mind-numbing. Others, however, have left a lasting impression.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing simple lessons I’ve learned about life and parenting through children’s books.


Many Moons 


The book I need to start with is a book from my childhood. A book I remember my mom reading to me, but as an adult, I couldn’t for remember the title for all the margaritas in the world… I could only remember the premise (A princess, a stubborn king, a jester and the moon). But I knew it was one of my all-time favorite books.

When I first met my now husband (My Guy), we were in the delightful discovery phase of our relationship. Back in the days when I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a small one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. When my biggest worry was making it to the bus stop by 8:05 a.m. to catch the number 45 to the financial district. When life was was comparatively less complicated.

These stress-free days always ended with long phone calls with My Guy. And during one such call I had revealed a sliver of a memory from when I was a child. I recalled reading a book about a princess who wanted to wear the moon on a necklace. This was such a tiny part of our conversation that I didn’t even recall that we talked about it a year later when he gave me the book for Christmas.

Parenting Lessons from Children

Ahhh the sweetness of the courtship… My Guy spent a ridiculous amount of time hunting down this book (remember this was pre-Google – holy cow, we’re old!). Once he got the book, he dug up a picture of me when I was in first grade to include on the inside cover. (I think he sealed the deal for marriage with that genius move.)


I tucked this little gem, first grade photo and all, onto a bookshelf and quietly waited for my turn to read it to my children some day. I anticipated reading my kids all about the princess who wanted to wear the moon around her neck and the king who couldn’t figure out how to do that for her. And when that day finally came, I got more out of the book than my crazy babies.

If you plan on reading it, and I hope you do, know that the book is really long and requires lots of summarizing or it will go over a young child’s head.

But it’s SO worth wading through just to get to the golden nugget of truth: let your kids solve the problem.

I know. It sounds so easy, but as parents, we’re wired to teach, not ask. Since learning this little trick, we’ve used this countless time when our kids ask us questions that we either don’t know the answer to or don’t want to tell the the truth because the time isn’t right.



“The thing to do is find out how big the Princess Lenore thinks it is…”

Rather than jump online and Google it, we resist the urge to answer it for them and instead ask them what they think. Their answers astound us. We clearly don’t give our little wild ones enough credit.

I highly recommend reading the book, if not to your kids, to your spouse. It’s such a wonderful life lesson. Who knew a children’s book would help us parent?!

The next book is a personal favorite because it goes to the core of my parenting beliefs. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.


Lifestyle family photographer Bay Area

P.S. Have a book from your childhood that you still remember? Share it on my Facebook page… I’d love to hear about it!

You know the drill. When it comes to getting our family photos taken, the stress starts the moment we book our session.
We worry about if our kids will behave for the photographer. We fret about whether our husbands will be up for another round of pictures. We triple check ourselves in the mirror, debating if we should wait until we lose that last 10 lbs.

But what causes moms the most anxiety is figuring out what to wear for the yearly family photo session.


Stress no more! I’ve broken it all down and have detailed my top tips for easy family styling right here!


1) Shop in your closet
I recommend that 70 percent of what my clients wear for their family pictures comes from their own closets. When you shop in your own closest first, everyone feels and looks more comfortable in front of the camera, because what they’re wearing is really what they normally wear. This point is particularly important for dads and older kids… both are quick to express their discomfort. ;)

Plus, when the majority of what you’re wearing comes from what you already own, you avoid looking like you’re trying too hard (which can easily happen with an overstyled, all new wardrobe). And, something we don’t think about enough, when your family dresses the way they normally do, every time you see the pictures, you’ll take a trip down memory lane… nothing takes me back in time like seeing my child in one of their favorite t-shirts or frilly skirts.

Pro tip: If you do wind up purchasing new clothing, be sure to wash it before the shoot to give it a little softness.


How to style your family for pictures graphic

In the photo above, the only thing new is a cute pair of shoes for mom. She shopped her closets first and found the one thing that would pull the whole family together!


2) Choose your clothing first
So many moms become quickly overwhelmed when thinking of styling their family for pictures.  The trick is to choose your outfit first, and then move from there.  Once you feel really good about what you’ll be wearing, creating everyone else’s outfits will be a snap.


3) Let other people do the work for you
When thinking about what colors to dress your family in, start by looking around your home.  What colors are you drawn to? It’s likely you’ll have a repeating color in your most lived in rooms.  Take this color and search on for an incredible selection of color pallets. Or, find a pattern of a pillow, dress or tie that you like and use that as your color pallet. Style experts have already combined and coordinated the colors, so why not use what they’ve already designed?

how to dress for family photosHere is a color scheme I found on Kuler. I searched on mint and coral (two colors of our living room). If I were to dress for family photos based on these colors, I would go with creams and corals with just a pop of mint. Easy peasy!


4) Color pop vs. color explosion
Pops of color can help a photo come alive, but the trick is to keep it to a minimum.  If everyone is wearing bright, cheerful colors, it can be distracting from the people in the pictures and date the photo (much like the white shirt with blue jeans on the beach that we saw so much of in the ‘90s).

The focus is put back on the people when you tone down the clothing – you could dress your  daughter in a bright green skirt and your son in socks with green in the pattern.  There are many ways to show color without wearing it head to toe.


5) Look at the whole rather than the parts
Even though you’ll have several actual outfits in the picture, consider it as one well coordinated outfit.  The key here it to not repeat the same outfit for everyone. For example, everyone wearing jeans and green or yellow shirt isn’t coordinated, it’s matching.

Instead dress each person using the color palate incorporated it in different ways. Play with texture, layers and a little pattern. For example, the color blue can show up in several ways: shoes, pants, a layering tank, a belt, hair clip, sweater, etc… By moving the colors around for each person, you can avoid that “color block” look that happens when families stick to one or two colors for shirts.

How to style your family for pictures

This family did nearly all of their shopping in their own closets and while the youngest’s outfit is more purple than blue, it still works because she’s got a red stripe on her skirt (I love the uniqueness of her faded outfit… it’s her through and through and let’s be honest, imperfections are more fun!). I love this family’s style! Everyone is an individual, and they look wonderful as a group! 


6) Ask your kids
Many children fight dressing for pictures. And who can blame them? We put a lot of pressure on them to not only act a certain way, but also dress in a way. Try asking them what they would like to wear. It sounds scary, but it can be fun! They’re very creative and you might love what they come up with. If not, maybe it can be a bottom layer?  Just knowing they have it on might make the difference between an uncomfortable child and a confidant one.


7) Location plays a part
As a general rule, you and your family will stand out more if you dress with the session location in mind. If you’re getting your pictures taken on the beach, and everyone is wearing tans and blues, you’ll blend right in. Likewise, if you’re posing in a park with a lot of flowers, wear muted tones so you’re not competing with nature’s colorful backdrop.


8)  Think beyond the holiday card
Make your holiday pictures work for you. In fact, why not consider it a family photo session that you *might* use for your holiday card? Ask yourself what else can you do with the photos.  You can create gifts from the pictures, family keepsake albums, and decorate your walls.

Pro tip: If you plan on hanging them in your home, use one color from your home decor in your clothing.

How to dress for family pictures

The family in the picture above wore blues, yellows and grays (with brown accents). This works perfect for them and the pictures they enlarged didn’t clash with their home decor.


9) Trust yourself
Once you have all the outfits spread out on your bed, and something doesn’t feel right, but you followed all of the “rules,” change things around until you do like it.  If you’re not happy with what you’ve put together, you’ll think about how it could have been better every time you look at your pictures.

Trust your own sense of style. I call this Style Feng Shui. ;)


Lifestyle family photographer Bay Area

P.S. Care for more tips? Check out my own personal battle with my style demons here: Hammer Pants, High Tops and Family Photos

P.P.S. Need help finding the perfect family photographer? I can help with that, too. Check out my 5 tips that will help you hire the perfect family photographer!

Two weeks ago I padded out to our mailbox to sift through the pounds of paper recycling when I flipped by Xfinity’s latest mailer… and my jaw dropped. DROPPED.

Sweet baby Jesus. Is this advertisement from Comcast for real?

My mind was swirling as I quickly read through the ad. What were they selling? Oh, yes. I see, it’s not really unhappiness but rather more ways to watch TV.

While the headline screams ENTERTAINMENT, all I see when I look at this ad is a very, VERY unhappy family. Good grief. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near them.  Look at their faces. Look at the SPACE between them, even though they are mere feet away from each other.  My mama heart is breaking as I type this…

And then I got to thinking… is this an oversight by Comcast’s crack advertising agency, or is it reality? Do we really look like this? Is this how we entertain our families? 

Jennifer Chaney Family Photos

Most likely yes, we do sometimes look like this. Probably more often than I think. Which makes me want to toss out my iPad, disconnect our cable and head for the mountains to run in a daisy-filled meadow with my crazy kids.

While I know this ad was meant to inspire me to pick up my phone and add their service, it did the opposite. And I love Xfinity for it!  

Why? Because it showed me what my family might look like on any given Saturday evening. Granted my kids are younger and their screen time is very limited. This advertisement gave me a peek into a future I don’t want to have. And I’m writing about it with hopes that other moms will see this in the same way… as a reminder of what not do.

Please, for the love of all things chocolate, don’t let this be who your family really is. It’s not too late to put your phone down and engage with your kids. Save your screen time for when they’re at school or karate class.  They’ll thank you for it… or you’ll thank yourself for it. Either one. Probably both. :)

Lifestyle family photographer Bay Area

P.S. I wrote about my effort to put down my own phone in a past article. You can read it here: It Can Wait :: It’s Time To Put Down Your Phone


I think my kids are part Eskimo. Or at least their Nordic heritage is showing because those two wild ones can’t get enough of the snow. I, on the other hand, can do without it.  Maybe that because I’ve spent far too many winters in the frozen tundra of North Dakota.

I’ve had my fill of snowsuits, sledding, and icicles, but I really do enjoy the beauty of winter.

So when I watched the movie Elf for the first time and saw Buddy create an amazing, enchanted wintery room, I knew I had to give it a go. And since I’m a realist, I knew there  was no way I was going to stay up all night to craft one. My winter wonderland would need to be easy to put up and equally easy to take down.

And with that, I give you my Buddy the Elf inspired Winter Wonderland. A simple, pain-free family craft that is perfect for busy mamas.

What? Sound too good to be true?  It’s not. I promise. I have a low tolerance for detailed crafts, so I wouldn’t lie to you.

You can see how easy it is by watching  this time-lapse video I created (Time-lapse is a little like the stop-motion claymation from the 70s, but you use photos rather than moving a clay reindeer bit by bit. Yes, I just referenced something from the 70s. I’m old.)


Okay, are you convinced that it’s easy?  I did it with a broken foot, so pretty much anyone can do it, right?

. . . . . 

You need these 4 things that you likely have laying about your home.

White paper




How to make a winter wonderland


Cut out 25 snowflakes (they don’t have to be pretty)

Cut out 25 circles (small, medium, and large)

Tape the tread to the ceiling

Tape the circles and the snowflakes to the thread

Cut strips of paper for paper chains

Hang chains from pretty much any hook, corner, or curtain rod (tip: these chains are perfect for the younger ones to work on).

Tips for making a winter wonderland

Easy peasy.

This is our new day-after-Thanksgiving tradition. It’s ridiculously easy, but looks like it took a lot of effort… my new criteria for all things crafty! If you’re like me and want to keep it simple, check out my 12 Days of Christmas Elf  post.


Lifestyle family photographer Bay Area

P.S. Elf is my favorite Christmas movie of all time! “I just like to smile! Smiling’s my favorite.” or “SANTA! OH MY GOD! SANTA’S COMING! I KNOW HIM! I KNOW HIM!” And my favorite quote: “Francisco! That’s fun to say! Francisco… Frannncisco… Franciscooo…”

It was 9:30 in the morning and my plans had been thwarted by a wild tumble to the ground that strongly resembled a drunk Bambi on ice.  This unexpected interruption resulted in a broken foot.  So instead of spending the day downtown making last minute purchases for our family photo session the next day, I was lying on the couch with an elevated foot, waiting for the clock to strike three so I could hobble to my x-ray appointment.

Panic set in. 

This was not at all how I planned on things unfolding.  I had been primping, purchasing and planning for a solid two weeks.  Today was my day to finalize our outfits and put the finishing touches on our home.  And our photographer was already on a plane flying in from Canada. There was no turning back.

What was I going to do?

Oh yes.  I know.  Why not have a mini-breakdown complete with hyperventilation and uncontrollable sobbing?  Because let’s face it, even with two good feet, I could barely handle the pressure of perfection for the family photo shoot.  This was just the final push off the edge of sanity, toward which I had been inching for the past three weeks.

After about 10 minutes of crying and cursing, I finally exhaled and focused.  It was time to do what I do best, what moms do best: change gears and develop a new plan.

I’m a mom of two crazy kids, a giant-destructo-ridgeback puppy, and a senile cat.  I can solve this problem.  

How to dress for family pictures

The first thing I did went against every mama bone in my body, but it had to be done.

I asked for help.

And to my mild shock, friends happily came to my rescue.  Some came and de-cluttered my home so the house cleaner could work her magic, while others whisked off my kids for an impromptu play date allowing me to rest before our photographer arrived.

I really like my friends.

With the house cleaning and the kids out of the way, I could now tackle the one thing I was fearing the most: clothing.

Every year I tell myself to just breathe and let go of the pressure surrounding family pictures.  For the most part I do a pretty good job because I learned a very important lesson a couple of years ago when we had our pictures taken on the beach in Carmel (you can read the full family fashion post HERE).

Right now I needed to draw on that last experience and to embrace the advice I give all of my clients when it come to the session and, more specifically, clothing.

Be yourself. 

And yes folks, this is where I’m going to use my crutches to help launch me up onto my soapbox so I can preach the word of imperfection, or, rather how to find and embrace your own version of perfection.

Pictures hold our memories.  They’re a catalyst for recall.   When we see a picture of our child kicking around knee deep in powdery snow, we remember so much more about them on that day than what we see in print.  We see their youth, their spirit and their personality.

When you’re getting your pictures taken once a year, it’s critical that you keep this in mind.

Your family is perfect the way it is.  Embrace it.  Don’t fight it.

If you don’t follow your own family’s fashion, the first thing you’ll recall about the family picture won’t be about how goofy and wild your daughter is, but rather about how stressful it was to find the “perfect” shade of fuchsia tights to go with the “perfect” navy button down sweater that your husband is looking completely uncomfortable wearing.

I promise you that no matter how well-coifed and JCrew-fashioned your family looks, you will remember what lead up to that moment more than anything else about that picture. 

Remembering my crazy kids for who they are is more important to me than remembering them for what they weren’t… coordinated (as illustrated by the photo below taken last fall).

How to dress for family photos

And now I’ll shuffle down off of my photo soapbox and move on with the rest of my story.

Because of my broken foot, I was forced to take my own advice and wound up working with what we had.

For our photo shoot this year, I shopped in our own closets.  With the exception of a new Darth Vader t-shirt for Chachi and a twirly, polka dot skirt for Sassy that I found on sale at crewcuts, everything we wore, we already owned.

When we all got dressed on Sunday morning, I felt an odd sense of calm.

Was my family wearing exactly what I wanted?  No.  Was the house exactly the way I had imagined?  No. Was my daughter’s hair styled to Pinterest perfection?  No.

Was everyone happy?  Yes!  Especially me.  I was finally getting our pictures taken… broken foot and all.  And really, the crutches only add to reality of my life. (Who remembers when I broke my toe last year?)

I wholeheartedly believe in redefining perfection for family pictures.  Especially this time of year when the Christmas card competition is in full swing.  Everyone is wondering who will be the first to send out their card?  Who will have the most pictures or the most gasp worthy highlights of 2013?   And which family will look magically like they walked off the pages of a Boden catalog?

Spoiler Alert: It won’t be us.

My perfect family photo includes my daughter’s ripped leggings, my son’s floppy red hair that is desperate need of a trim, my husband in his conservative polo, and me with my crutches.

It’s who we are.  And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Lifestyle family photographer Bay Area

Here are a couple of bonus photos for you!  I crutched my way down the hallway to get a picture of our photographer (who shall remain nameless until the photo unveiling next month) capturing my boy in full concentration.  Good grief it’s nice not be behind the camera!

How to dress for family pictures

And then there is the one of Chachi lounging on a rock outside a theater.  We had just seen a 3-D movie and he refused to recycle the glasses.  I’m glad he held out.  They really complete his outfit.

Tips to dress for family pictures

Why wouldn’t I want to show the world who he is?  It’s way more interesting than a buttoned up version would be.  I dig this kid.