The Art of Un-Schooling & Creative Living

 PC: Jenn Davenport Photography

PC: Jenn Davenport Photography

I met Alyssa Lillegard over coffee in 2011 where she officially became my wedding photographer. I'm not really sure how we went from photographer and client to mentor and mentee to eventual friends, but I'm so glad we did. She's been my family's photographer ever since, a sounding board as I built my business, and an encouraging voice through life's various seasons.

 PC: Juniper Tree Photography

PC: Juniper Tree Photography

Alyssa is a wife, boy-mom, and wedding and lifestyle photographer with 13 years of experience under her belt. She grew up in a creative family, and after watching a photographer work, Alyssa decided she wanted to be one as well. "I tagged along on a commercial shoot and sat in for the model while she was getting ready. I had the chance to ask the photographer of the shoot some questions and chat for awhile, took his words to heart and started working soon after. I photographed my first wedding in 2005," remembers Alyssa.

Having a mom who paints, art was a natural part of Alyssa's life and it led to her wanting to create from an early age. "I think, like with most photographers, capturing what is fleeting is what drew me in initially. Helping people exist in photographs. Iʼve always wanted to be an artist: My first grade 'What I Want to Be' photo has a drawing of me as a painter (is it weird that I remember the color of the beret I drew on my head? It was turquoise.). I quickly found out Iʼm horrible at painting but I did and do still love to draw... Iʼm interested in all areas of art, really, but photography seemed like a good fit for me. I love light, and spend a lot of my time just looking at the sky, or taking in the way the light settles into a room."

Alyssa's creative bent has led her to tackle teaching her two boys (ages 7 and 3) at home - something she never would have considered before her oldest, Jack, was born. "Ultimately, it boiled down to time and freedom. I know I sound like an overly attached mom but I wasnʼt ready to spend only evenings and weekends with my boys. Childhood is such a short period of a personʼs life, I really wanted them to have
that time preserved...I wanted them have the time to learn what and how they want.

"Jack is a deeply creative and emotional almost seven year old and I feel like he needs that time and freedom to really discover who he is and what he wants. He spends 95% of his day drawing and writing out his comic books and working on ideas. Dutch is a whirlwind child and has to constantly be moving. He loves the outdoors and has never met a stranger. In theory, his personality is one that would be successful in school, but Iʼm pretty sure heʼd be the child constantly being told 'school is not a place to talk, it is a
place to learn.' And his incessant curiosity would be hampered simply because a teacher canʼt cater to one child," says Alyssa.


Alyssa hadn't planned on taking the "unschooling" approach to homeschooling. She started out like many homeschool moms do - on a strict schedule and fearful of her oldest falling behind. "We both spent the first two and a half months crying and arguing about why he wasnʼt interested in something. Josh (my husband) told me one night, 'I wasnʼt interested in this at six either, itʼs normal.' And really, what child is interested in doing something theyʼre being forced to do? I was doing exactly what I had wanted to remove Jack from."

The December Christmas hustle forced Alyssa to let go of the schedule and instead, she simply allowed Jack to play. They read, did crafts, drew, and played some more. "That is when I really started to see the transformation in how he could entertain himself," says Alyssa. "I stopped worrying about the things he wasnʼt interested in and started focusing on the things he IS interested in: art. Jack has a hard time focusing on things but his dedication to his art rivals dedication from any adult.

"As with anything in life, something different works for every individual/family," reflects Alyssa. "Having a strict schedule didnʼt work, right off the bat. I hear a lot of 'well kids will have to learn to do things they donʼt want to because thatʼs part of being an adult.' And itʼs true, we all do things we donʼt want to but I donʼt have to push my agenda on my kids when itʼs not necessary. Thereʼs no window that will close on them if they donʼt learn a certain math concept at 6 and instead they learn it at 8...or 9. Really, it wonʼt matter in the long run. The learning ship has never sailed."

Alyssa sums up her homeschooling goal in teaching her children how to learn so that they benefit from a lifetime of learning and curiosity. Her house is filled with books, music, and blank papers just waiting to be filled with art and ideas. "In the evening, I go around the house and pick up all the papers and books and thereʼs rarely a flat surface that doesnʼt have a book left on it," chuckles Alyssa. "We talk about different types of art and we spend most of our days creating. And our home is filled with music. Always. I want our boys to remember these days: where we lived and learned together. Itʼs rarely glamorous and often difficult but I hope theyʼll be happy they were unschooled when theyʼre adults."


For the mom thinking of homeschooling, Alyssa insists, "You can do it. You don't have to have the patience of a saint. You can ask for help. Better than teaching is helping to learn and learning right along with them. You also can't do everything so don't keep doing something that isn't working for you or your child and is just making you miserable. This is your familyʼs journey. No one elseʼs. And if youʼre looking for someone to encourage you and talk to you about homeschooling, hit me up. Iʼm always up for listening and encouraging."

As for where Alyssa's photography business is heading, she says she doesn't know. "A month ago, I would have told you that Iʼm ready to be done. As all photographerʼs say, many many times throughout their career. Now, Iʼm feeling re-inspired. Iʼm reading a book called 'The Artistʼs Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children' and it talks about carving out the time for things that make YOU happy as a parent that fulfill you so you can come back to your life as a parent better." Alyssa still accepts photography bookings and you can catch a glimpse at her creativity by jumping over to her website by clicking here.

Whether you homeschool, un-school, or public school, creativity is a wonderful thing to pass onto your kiddo. If you have ideas or examples you'd like to share on how you encourage creativity in your children, please email me at



Gina Gleason: Beauty Made Simple

Gina Gleason: Beauty Made Simple

Visiting Gina Gleason at Trendz Salon is one of my favorite events. She’s been a hair stylist for 20 years, has two kids, a sharp sense of humor, and a magician’s touch when it comes to coloring hair. And while I often feel like falling asleep in the salon chair, it’s much more fun to chat with the stylist I’ve been seeing for so many years.

Carly Giles: An Adoption Story

Carly Giles: An Adoption Story

Carly and Buck never thought adoption was in the cards for them. But nothing about parenting has gone the way the couple has expected. Despite fear and confusion, the Giles have stepped out in faith to build their beautiful family without regrets.

Piper Backholm: Life and Mamahood with T1D

Piper Backholm: Life and Mamahood with T1D

Type 1 Diabetes is not something you hear about often. We tend to associate it with needles, but don't understand that it also contributes to hormone issues, overall health and thyroid problems, and high-risk pregnancies. Piper Backholm is a young mom with a beautiful 1-year-old daughter named Opal. Diagnosed when she was 4 years old, Piper has been battling T1D for most of her life. 

Sarah Hatley: An Eye for Design

Sarah Hatley: An Eye for Design

Sarah Hatley has the kind of eye for design and color that effortlessly pulls together a room. If she ever decided to come out with her own show, Joanna Gaines will have to move over. Sarah has been a part of 5 full remodels and around 6 other partial ones. "I love the before and after the most," says Sarah. "It's really fun to see one man's trash become another man's treasure." 

Mom Meets Entrepreneur: The Story Behind Pure and Coco

Mom Meets Entrepreneur: The Story Behind Pure and Coco

Rene Bartosh is wife, mama, business owner, entrepreneur, and coconut-oil-magician! We've bumped into each other as business owners in the past (and also because her sugar-scrub is da-bomb). Recently, we met up and between both of our one-year olds squealing and using us like jungle gyms, I was able to pick her brain about running a home-business with two kids.

Life Doesn't Look Like Pinterest

Life Doesn't Look Like Pinterest

I hear it semi-frequently, "I don't know how you do it all!", or "from social media your life just looks pinterest perfect". It comes from people who don't know me well and each time it comes as a surprise to me. I guess I'm better at presenting someone who appears put together than I think I do. Or more accurately, I'm better at censoring than I think I am…

Why Does Photography Cost So Much?


It's hard to justify paying someone hundreds of dollars for a one-hour portrait session. Especially when LITERALLY everyone and their mother has a DSLR or a fancy camera phone anymore.

I hear you babe. Why should you save and budget when you can ask Uncle Larry to take your photos?

Let me tell you! You are paying for so much more than that one hour of photography. 

Take a look at the before and after images below:


What you may or may not notice between these two images is a removal of distractions and blemishes or bruises, color retouching and brightening, and a darkening of the background to draw the eye to the subject. One photo took all of those steps - each one something learned over years of learning and experimenting. 

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here is what you pay for in a session...

You are paying for experience - years of practice and education, learning to shoot in manual, edit in photoshop, and communicate with clients for proper posing and wardrobe.

You are paying for high-quality equipment and editing software used to capture the most precious of memories.

You are paying for an artist - someone who captures you in the best way possible. Someone who can snap those beautiful moments you want to bottle and save for the rest of your life. Each photographer eye is unique and brings something different to the table.

You are paying for posing knowledge, preparation, consulting, editing, and packaging.

You are paying a business-person who needs to pay bills and has carefully calculated how much it will cost him or her to stay in business and be available to capture your memories 1, 5, and 10 years from now.

It's your valuable time and money going into your session as well, so it's important to know that you've chosen a photographer you'll love and appreciate and feel confident she's worth every penny. And hopefully it will be the start of a relationship that lasts for many years to come!

Have questions about photography or a portrait session? Leave a comment and I'll write up a post answering your questions!

5 Tips for Planning Your Best Photography Session

5 Tips for Planning Your Best Photography Session

Planning a photo session involves a lot more than simply contacting a photographer. A great photo session is equal parts effort from photographer and clients on wardrobe, location, and attitude. The more you give a good photographer to work with, the better your photos will turn out! Here are 5 ways to help ensure your photos are hang-on-the-wall worthy…

The Minimalism Journey


Minimalism. It’s a bit of a trend right now. Some love it, some hate it, some don’t understand it. I’ve seen friends and acquaintances discuss it on social media, some feeling it just means tidying up a space. Others think its just a trendy way to describe self-discipline and immaculate houses. 

Ultimately, minimalism means different things for different people, but at it’s heart, it means reducing possessions and clutter in order to lead a less stressful, more intentional lifestyle. It’s about an ordered house, yes, but it’s also about not packing your schedule full to bursting and simplifying everyday tasks.

Minimalism to me has been a massive help with my anxiety as I find freedom in decluttering and getting rid of excess things. It helps with poor money habits as I double check myself before buying anything. It’s reduced the amount of work in the kitchen as I simplify meal plans. And it’s helping me shed the guilt of saying “no” to people and things and appointments that I am not called to in this season.

In the space of what was cluttered, scrambled, rushed, or guilted, lies rest, peace, worship, and more meaningful relationships. Minimalism can be intimidating and guilt inducing for those who genuinely like the stuff they have in their space. So if you like your home and the things in it or aren’t stressed by clutter, minimalism isn’t for you. And that’s ok! If minimalism induces stress or guilt, don’t do it. That’s the opposite of what it’s meant to accomplish.

But if you’re like me and tend to be a more sensitive person who gets easily overwhelmed and finds peace in clear spaces and the art of simplicity, I can’t overhype the minimalism journey enough. So if you’re thinking of diving in, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way...

1. Minimalism is a journey, with varying levels. Some people get rid of almost EVERYTHING while others simplify, keeping the knick knacks or other items that make them happy. But its not something that happens overnight. I’ve been at this for a year now and I’m STILL finding things to get rid of and new systems for doing things. It’s about cultivating a lifestyle of intention, not about stressing over how few possessions you have. I like to think of it as a diet: if you lose the weight too fast, you’re more likely to gain it all back and then some. But gradual lifestyle changes are the steps to success.

2. Be gradual when getting rid of things you’re emotionally attached too. Don’t throw away things you’re going to regret. Instead, start small and see how you feel and go from there. Finding yourself detach emotionally from possessions is incredibly freeing!

3. Make useful things beautiful. For me, I’ve hung onto only a few Knick-knacks and instead decorate my home with photos and fresh flowers. If I feel the space is too sparse, I dress up the necessary things. For instance, I’ve covered light-switch plates with pretty paper, displayed my tea in mason jars, and organized my library in a way that’s decorative. It’s an excellent opportunity for creativity and it re-familiarizes you with what you have.

4. Don’t compare to other minimalists. You’ll always find someone with a better system, less stuff, or a cleaner house. It’s not a competition. Instead, take time to learn what you admire and find inspiration in other people’s efforts.

Are you on a minimalism journey? I would love to hear about it and/or see photos of your home! Email them or leave them in the comments!

Of Grace and Carpentry


Jake, my husband, has a shop that he doesn’t get to be in near often enough. We moved into our new home and he discovered that, hey! He’s handy! Like, I’ll-fix-any-problem-in-the-house-make-my-own-furniture kind of handy. I, of course, am thrilled. Because what woman doesn’t like a man who can build her basically whatever she wants and smells like fresh sawdust?

He’s working on an interactive station for Juniper right now. It’ll have little knobs and latches and doors on it for her to play with. First he’s sanding. Then he’s assembling. Running his hands over the grain of the wood, brow furrowed slightly. Shoulders stooped. Silent in concentration and study, pondering how to improve his handiwork. His thoughts dedicated to our daughter. Will she like this? I hope this entertains her for more than five seconds out of the day. I sure do love that girl. How can I make this more enjoyable for her?

I’m speculating. But I know my husband, and I know these thoughts were running through his head at some point in the creative process. I think about how handsome Jake is. The way I love watching his hands create and work with a variety of tools, gadgets, and wood. About how much quieter he is than me.

I think about Jesus being a carpenter - the creator of the worlds sawing, hammering, sanding away to create a product that would be of use to someone. Can you imagine being the recipient? “Oh this ol’ table? It’s no big deal, it was only made by GOD HIMSELF!” The Creator of all things, dedicated to the mundane for about thirty years before starting his official ministry.


I can only imagine Jesus in present day, running into modern church members prior to starting His ministry. “Jesus, didn’t you know, you’re wasting your talents and short time here on earth? You really need to DO something for God you know.” 

I think about my own desperate need to DO something for God. Something grand. Something self-sacrificing. Something that would tell the world HOW SPIRITUAL I AM. <insert cringe emoji> And I think about my husband and his incredible ability to simply be present. Who isn’t distracted by a million commitments, but instead pours his heart into the lives he’s been given and is the best husband and father I’ve ever witnessed.

And yet something inside of me is yelling, “Babe! Come on, you need to DO something for God, you know? Have a ministry. We need to serve more, do more, be more places!” And I don’t (usually) say it out loud because I’m also secretly marveling his ability to be so....content.

I’m slowly coming to realize that it’s not about doing, going, doing more, doing better. It’s about worship. Having your thoughts dedicated to those around you and their well being. Caring about the mundane tasks at hand and meeting God in them with worship and praise and communication. And when that happens, service starts to pour out.

My husband, so concerned with blessing Juniper and I, creates beautiful furniture and gifts to please us and make our home a more lovely place. Not trying to prove his abilities or worthiness, but instead display his love and care using the talents he was given. Working and serving from a place of rest and thoughtfulness.

And me with my spiritual checklist can never seem to do enough or get close enough to godliness....or to God for that matter. Except in these moments where I practice inviting God into the mundane moments of my life. I’ve been more intentional about it lately through many difficult lessons. And guess what? God shows up. And He gives me tiny ministries that very few people see and that don’t usually involve a lot of grandeur or applause. And its beautiful and intimate as God cuts away the rough grain and sands out the uneven parts of me.

It hurts. Oh man it hurts. But He’s shaping me, thinking of my best and His glory. And by simply being who He created me to be and living in rest and worship, the tasks and the ministry follows....but maybe not how I originally thought it would. And occasionally my husband, in his quiet, steady manner, reminds me of God’s character and the gentleness of His carpenter hands.

2018 Prices and Q&A


2018 brings many changes down the pipe for Juniper Tree (Formerly Chez Photography). And with that comes a change in price, how I run the sessions, and what I put on my blog/website. Here are some anticipated questions, answered for you in advance!

Q: Why are your prices so much higher this year? And why don't I see discounts for returning clients?

A: Charging for sessions has always been a difficult thing for me as I would happily GIVE away my sessions to everyone if I could. But I am quickly running towards burnout and making a very, very small amount of money by the time I've paid all of my expenses, upgraded my equipment, taken educational classes, etc, etc. The new numbers reflect what I need to charge in order to make Juniper Tree something viable. I realize it bumps my sessions out of some people's price ranges. If this is the case for you, I'm happy to help you track down another local photographer that fits your needs. I am simply unable to operate any longer under previous session costs.

Q: Do I get more photos with the increased cost? 

A: My session packages are essentially the same, but with a more relaxed time frame and more involvement on my part as we plan your perfect session.

Q: Are you still shooting weddings?

A: Yes! I have yet to come out with a new price/package list, but I will be taking a limited number of weddings for 2018.

Q: Do you shoot outside of Grays Harbor?

A: Absolutely! Family sessions, weddings, engagements, you name it, I'll do it. Travel costs vary upon location, but I've travelled north of Seattle, over the mountains, and to the coast for my sessions. For the right wedding, I'm also willing to travel out of state.

Q: Are digital copies still included in your packages?

A: Yes. Nearly all my clientele prefer having the digital copies of their photos. I also offer high quality prints, albums, and other photo products through my professional print lab. This is a topic we will cover in preparation for your photography session as we figure out what is best for you and your family.

Have any other questions for me? Shoot me a message or ask them in the comments!