21 In our home & family

the next chapter | personal

Late 1999. I was 32, a brand-new first time mom with a successful career and a baby I couldn’t bear to put in daycare. Vic tells me he has an opportunity to move to Atlanta with GE. With the move, we would downsize and I’d be able to be a stay-at-home mom. Since we both came from homes with moms at home, we jumped at it.

The stay-at-home mom thing? Yeah, that lasted about 6 months. I was young, restless, never one to be able to SIT. I ended up President of my local Mom’s Club chapter (surprise!) – let me tell you, we had some NICE agendas for the meetings. And I made the house my job – with a daily schedule posted on the fridge in 30 minute increments (9:30 a.m. laundry, 10:00 a.m. snack for aidan, 10:30 a.m. vacuum). I probably had the cleanest house in Georgia.

By 2001, Vic told me I needed a hobby. FAST.

I’d always been into photography, so I decided to join the neighborhood scrapbooking group. Me, crafty?!? Gah. But hey, it was something to do. That led me to an online community where I met some amazing friends. We met up at a Creating Keepsakes convention in Phoenix where I won 2nd place in the page layout contest. That led to a cover opportunity and making the 2003 CK Hall of Fame (which may be a joke now, but back in the day it was A BIG DEAL). Vic converted our sitting room into a scrapbook room (affectionately referred to as “Lisa’s Cave”), into which I would disappear for hours at a time making pages.

I was a restless SAHM and when every page selected by a magazine for publication meant a $75 check in the mail and feeling like you’d won a contest – it was like crack, lemme tell you.

Fast forward to a job with Autumn Leaves as a designer and project lead. Member of the design teams at 2Peas in a bucket, Hero Arts, and others I can’t even remember. Traveling to conventions to mingle & teach and working the Autumn Leaves booth at trade shows. Funny note: We decided (via phone) to go ahead with our 3-egg IVF cycle while I was standing in the AL booth at the CHA convention in Atlanta in February 2004.

Then we had Ava, the scrapbooking world got nasty – let me tell you, women-centric industries can be evil. Very. I’d had enough.

After a LONG maternity leave, I was ready to move on. So in late 2006 – at the urging of family and friends – I hung my photography shingle. I shot 50 sessions in 2007,Β  98 in 2008 and and 99 in 2009. But here’s the problem: When you own your own business there is ALWAYS SOMETHING that needs to be done. Always. Editing, archiving, taxes, bookkeeping, marketing, filing, packaging, shipping, loading online, blogging, website updating, ordering…I laugh when people get into photography thinking it’s a great way to make money “on the side.” Take it from me – if you want to be successful, there is no “on the side.” I probably worked 80+ hours a week. Pushing the little black button? About 1/10 of what needs to be done.

And what got pushed aside while I pursued my successful career? Ava, Aidan, Vic, laundry, cooking, cleaning, friends…ummm…. When you’re obsessive like me, there is no such thing as ‘balance.’ You’re either all in…or all out. No halfway. I wish it wasn’t that way…but it is. I loved my job, but my regrets are many. MANY. I missed so much. Trust me, a little piece of your heart breaks off when your child brings home a school assignment about what your parents do, and his says “My mom is on the computer all day.” Seriously.

Which brings us to late 2010 and a move to Erie, PA. A fresh start. We had to give up my income regardless, since it was location-specific, so what to do? And – as all of my friends can attest – I’ve been fence-sitting for months. God bless them for their patience. And my dear husband, who always just says “Whatever makes you happy, makes me happy.” How he puts up with me, I’ll never know. I don’t deserve him.

In the 6 months I’ve been here, I’ve made friendships (real ones, where you can SEE the person!). I’ve remembered how much I love to cook…do laundry (yes, do laundry!)…take pictures of MY kids…read…exercise…relax. Playing games, driving to their sports and watching. Hanging with Vic without complaining about how much work I have to get done. And you know what – I’m ready now. I wasn’t at 32…but at 44? I’m *so* ready.

So the portrait business is closed. Officially. Done. Finally making the decision feels akin to having a boulder lifted from your shoulders. My first creative love was art photography, so I’m going to continue to pursue that. The business is still registered, but Lisa Russo Photography is now an etsy shop only. I’ve found a renewed joy in LOOKING for things to photograph. Finding art in the everyday. But that will be during free time – not all the time. I’ve had 3 very successful careers, and now I’m ready to just love my family. Best career of all. I’m finally ready to realize how freaking LUCKY I am to have that opportunity. Again…I kinda won the lottery in the husband department.

Yesterday, Ava asked me to sharpen a colored pencil for her, and I got up and did it. 3 years ago, I would have told her no, or to find another color, or later, or to get Aidan to do it. I have a lot (!) of time to make up for. And I can’t wait.

  • Renee
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 11:49 am

    Right there with ya…mothering is rewarding and I wasted much time thinking I NEEDED to do something else. You’ll enjoy it. I have.

  • Dena Robles
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 12:11 pm

    I am so happy for you and wish I had an ounce of your peaceful resolve. I am still fence-sitting after relocating last August, every time I move it gets harder and harder to start back up. And wow, I had no idea you were such a biggie in the scrapbooking days! Wishing you well in the next chapter.

  • Julia
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Congratulations on making this decision. I think you’ll be incredibly successful at this career too! The money’s not great, but the rewards are priceless!

  • shelby
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 12:35 pm

    congrats Lisa!
    I did the same too…always looking for something more when I had Anna and I think I missed so much. Now I am catching up and loving it πŸ™‚

  • ShannonS
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Congratulations on your decison. I too have been doing a great deal of soul searching.

  • berta
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I will miss the baby photos, but your peace of mind is what is important!!! And I love your art photos too! I first “met” you in CK HOF and your scrapbook pages. And reading your blog when you were in the hospital keeping Ava from joining the world too soon! Your blog is one of my go to blogs, that is where I found out about the wonderful Keurig machine! So don’t stop blogging.

    Doing what you need to do as a mom, wife and photographer is what is most important. But that means you now will never make it to N CA for a photo shoot πŸ˜‰

  • Leonie - Australia
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 1:09 pm

    Good for you Lisa, believe me there are many thoughts & regrets that go through your mind as each of your children leave home but having spent a LOT of quality time with them, being there to listen to them, hug them, laugh with them will not be one of them. The baby of our family left home last year & the sound of silence just hangs in the air, horrible, so enjoy them while you can before you know it they will be independent & those beautiful childhood days will all be memories, much nicer if they are happy ones for you all.

  • Jennifer mcguire
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 1:14 pm

    You rock! Good for you. Makes me feel a bit guilty, but each person has to decide what is best for them. Promise me you will still take photos of my baby someday!

  • Holli
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Lisa, Your story is SO much like mine… had a baby, moved away, eventually became pres. of my mom’s club, scrapbooking, designing, photography. Wow. I actually have tears in my eyes right now as lately it’s been a serious personal struggle for me and I don’t know what to do. I do love my business so I can’t give it up just yet but know that at some point this journey will move forward to something different. Anyway, I’m glad that you are feeling happier with everything and are finding your next chapter and taking time to enjoy your family! πŸ™‚ That makes me smile.

  • Lisa Kelly
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Love your story, so happy for you that you have made a decision you are beyond happy with. Well done lovely lady.

  • Jill Jarvis
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Oh Lisa this almost makes me cry. I’ve been following you since you were that big shot scrapbooking gal! I am sure your family is over the moon excited to get more of you affection!!

  • Casey
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 8:20 pm


    I followed your blog back when you were living in Atlanta, I am a lifestyle photographer living in the Chautauqua Lake area, and also shoot in Erie, Pa. So just around the corner from where you are now. My sister lives and works in Erie, so we are there often, and it’s neat to see pictures you take locally, it’s a fresh perspective on a place that I have always called home, and now has become so familiar it’s easy to miss the beauty of it! I am 28 with a four year old son, and left my coporate job to be a stay at home mom when he was born. We built our house the first year of his life, and to save money, I was the General Contractor, so that kept me plenty busy, but after it was finished (is it ever finished?) I was looking for the next project and I began my photography business. Thinking it would take a while to build and I would have something to do from home once my son went to school. It took off immediately, and I am “always” in some sense it seems working, either on the computer, planning shoots, etc. I have been in business 3+ years and it’s going very well, but sometimes I wonder at what cost? I give you so much credit for the decision you have made, and it has given me a great perspective further down the road about how I might feel looking back. Thanks for sharing! I am an “all or nothing person also”, so balance is always alluding me! Best of luck to you in your fine art work! If you ever have time, I would love to meet you and chat over coffee or something. Your life experience, perspective, and time in this industry would be very helpful to me, and give us plenty to talk about! Best Wishes!

  • Marjorie
    Friday | March 25th | 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Awesome post Lisa…this will be your sweetest *job* ever. Like Berta, I’ve been with you since your days in the hospital with Ava. Can’t wait to read more posts.

  • Robin
    Saturday | March 26th | 2011 at 8:53 am

    Yep! Made almost the exact same journey you did (although it didn’t bring nearly as much success as yours) and decided the same thing in January – to “retire” from photography at the end of this year. It really did feel like a weight had been lifted! My only regret now is that I didn’t quit immediately. i.e. It’s going to be a LONG year! haha! πŸ™‚ Best to you! You are one talented lady!

  • Kim
    Saturday | March 26th | 2011 at 7:45 pm

    I, too, have followed your blog for many years now. I want to wish you the best of luck with your new career. I struggle with the “balance” thing on a daily basis. Slowly, very slowly, I think the scales are tipping more in favor of my family and the career I have at home with them. I am trying to change my mind-set from “having it all” to focusing on my top priority: my husband & children. Thanks for your post, it is always nice to find someone else struggling with the same decisions.

  • Alison
    Sunday | March 27th | 2011 at 9:23 am

    I am sure it is so great with a final decision. Your story will inspire and touch many women… as it does me:)

  • Desiree Smock
    Monday | March 28th | 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Hi, Lisa – don’t know if you remember me from Beyond (Grow, too?), but I just happened to find your blog post today and just wanted to wish you the best – I loved your professionalism as a businesswoman and artistry as a photographer and I just know that if that kind of talent and energy is directed toward the people you love most, the best is yet to come….take care and keep writing, keep creating. I bookmarked your blog so I’ll check in from time to time….all the best,

  • Lisa
    Wednesday | March 30th | 2011 at 1:30 pm

    I’m pretty sure I responded to everyone individually but – if not – thank you, THANK YOU for your notes of support and for all of the e-mails from fellow fence-sitters. I am *so* happy with my decision and had the most relaxing weekend I can remember in recent years. Good stuff! πŸ™‚

  • heather
    Thursday | March 31st | 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I have followed you silently for a LONG time (since your early scrapbooking years and YES CK Hall of Fame was a BIG deal – You were always FABULOUS!)…I refound you when I entered the photography world myself in 2008 – with the anticipation of it being a “side” thing to get me out of the house while being a restless SAHM…Now I am a full-time wedding/portrait photographer working 80+ hours a week with a 5 and 3 year old! Every word that you write here resonates with me! My life, thoughts and feelings are all so similar to you and what you have been through! Thank you for sharing – it has hit a nerve and validated my wishy/washy thoughts that my husband always has to listen to!! I am not closing up shop, but do know that I need to find more balance…somehow! Best wishes with your new venture and enjoy every minute of it!!

  • Seanna
    Saturday | April 2nd | 2011 at 4:44 pm

    First, I’m glad we had the opportunity to have you photograph our girls wayyyy back in 2007. I still have a half-dozen portraits hanging in my kitchen and everybody comments on them, always. Delivery men, friends, relatives, doesn’t matter. I just made one of the smaller prints into a scrapbook page and it was so pretty, thanks to the photo, the consensus was to frame it.

    Second, this is a good thing. Doesn’t have to be forever. Everything has a season and you are going to be in the middle of a pretty kid-centric one for a good while now. Having come out of it on the other side, I say this is a good thing you’ve chosen for a person who is intense and maybe a little workaholic-ish (and I can relate).

    Third, I was behind on your blog because one of my 18-year-olds needed us all week this week and I have not been on the computer much, and I have to tell you that the chicken and rice recipe you posted from the republican cookbook is identical to the one my mom has been making for about 30 years. I kept reading, thinking “ok this one will be slightly different”…nope!

    If you are taking requests for photos, I vote for some more photos of Erie. I grew up in suburban philadelphia (radnor) but the photos you posted look so different to me from what I grew up with. It’s pretty interesting.

  • ania
    Monday | April 4th | 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Ahh, I wasn’t aware you actually started out w/scrapbooking! Loved lurking around your blog, loved your images – best of luck with your choice and future endeavors!