We absolutely love Jen’s blog, Nectar and Light— she’s an incredibly talented photographer and writes so beautifully about food, travel, and her three adorable girls. When we heard about her brilliant new book, Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids, we saw an opportunity to get to know this seasoned writer and photographer.
Can we get an Insight into Your Background; What Inspires your art and how does being a Parent Influences what you do?
I’m a photographer and writer living in Asheville, North Carolina. After spending seven years with the US Navy (both my husband and I were serving) and living in both England and Italy, we moved to Omaha, NE to be close to my parents while we started our family. We’ve since made homes in Brooklyn, NY and now Asheville. I photographed with a lot of film while living in Europe and when I had my eldest daughter, dabbled in early digital cameras (which was around the time my second daughter was born) , I became interested in the Polaroid cameras of my youth – then became obsessed with shooting instant film – it was a game changer for me. You really have to slow down with Polaroid cameras, take your time and study the light; it was an incredible education on how to use natural light. I shoot exclusively with natural light even today – in both my film and digital work.
How old are your kids, and what are their names?
Adevah Fey (Adie) is 8, Ayla Eve is 6 and Ari Rose will be 5 in June.
How was Moving to Ashville Like — What brought on the decision and what are the perks? And how is your family adjusting. I mean, we all want to make the big “move” (or at least I do) but we are hindered by fear.
I loved New York. As soon as we moved there, I felt like it’s where I was always meant to be. I still feel that way. However, my husband spends a lot of time on the road, so taking the girls to three different schools, grocery shopping and just about every errand was my responsibility — which was overwhelming and tasking to say the least. When we had a mold issue in our apartment building and had to find a new place (of a certain size, certain price range, and walking distance to school with immediate availability!) and couldn’t, we took it as a sign. We put everything into storage, packed the girls and our dog into the car and drove South. I’d never been to Asheville, but my sister is in Raleigh, my brother is in Pinehurst, and my parents plan to retire in North Carolina. I’d heard so many amazing things about Asheville so we drove straight here. I found a house the first day in town and everything just serendipitously fell into place—it was kind of crazy and felt very much like it was meant to be.
The girls still pine for New York, but are really settled and happy. It took me a little time to adjust and adapt —we have an enormous front yard in a beautiful, safe neighborhood, but I still would not let them go out front without one of us out there with them. My husband had to remind me that this was one of the reasons we moved here – to allow them the ability to run and be free. But they LOVE their school (we tried homeschooling for a bit but my girls are social butterflies and I just didn’t have the time to take them to events and activities —so they are back at school). They play soccer, ride horses—and are so happy.
Tell us about your new book!
Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids is not your average how-to book. It’s so beautifully done because we showcased the gorgeous photographs these cameras are capable of taking. I co-wrote the book with two good friends, Amanda Gilligan (who took the above picture of our family) and Susannah Conway, who are also Polaroid enthusiasts. Our “instant art” has a pretty strong following and we all found that we were being asked the same kinds of questions about what type of Polaroid camera to buy, how to shoot them, etc. We saw it as a great opportunity to bring this information to a larger group. Instant photography is thankfully experiencing a resurgence of popularity thanks to the hard work of the team at Impossible Project; more people than ever want to learn to play with these old cameras and create beautiful shots – and that’s exactly what our book helps them do!
Your blog is so inspiring—the beautiful food shots, the ideas, and the stories that are attached to the food. Are all of your girls good eaters? What would you say is a perfect weekday breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack in your family, and for the weekend—what would it be?
The girls are great eaters. It’s not always been that way and I’m sure there will be times that only few foods will make them happy, but Den and I are well- traveled and love food; we’ve exposed the girls to a lot of different types of ethnic foods and we’ve had a pretty positive response (Adie could eat Tako and Sake by the bucket full). I recently made Hainanese Chicken Rice after a trip to Singapore and the girls loved it. Ayla was the toughest for some time, but she’s recently started eating a lot more, and more importantly, been open to trying things she once turned her nose up at. Some of the girls’ favorites that I make at home include crab enchiladas or shrimp tacos served with Spanish rice; I make a lasagna with Bolognese, chicken and broccoli they love; a recipe for penne al salmon we brought back from one of our favorite restaurants in Sardinia when we lived there. And we all love a good roast (a habit Den and I got into while living in England) with goat cheese and roasted garlic mashed potatoes! On the weekend Den makes either pancakes or waffles from scratch – that is always a treat.
Clearly you have a great love for music. Do you play it all day? Do you have ‘kids’ music in your records, or do you just expose them to what you’re into?
We do. ALL the time. Music really shaped my childhood and I want my children to have that same experience. I gave Adie a ‘Punk 101’ cd I made for her on her second birthday and the girls have slept to a lullaby mix I put together when Adie was a baby that includes Harry Nilsson, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Nico, Joni Mitchell and Cat Power to name a few. If the iPod isn’t plugged into the stereo, a record is playing or the girls might be spending some quiet time with their iPod and a book. We don’t do a lot of kids music – there are a few exceptions like Rabbit! who we LOVE and Lisa Loeb’s “Camp Lisa” album as well as They Might Be Giants. They listen to what I listen to. They are on a big 80’s kick right now, which is awesome… until Ayla breaks out into “I Know What Boys Like” by The Waitresses at the grocery store. We had to have a little chat about that!
Any laid-down rules about TV/screens?
We try to keep the TV off during the week and we really don’t do any computer time at all. I just don’t feel like they need it yet. If they are all really wound up I might put it on for 30 minutes while I’m making dinner – but that’s become less needed as of late. They do have a quasi iTouch (my old generation iPhone) that they all share but they have to earn that time (being good to each other, not giving me a hard time about homework, etc.) My mom bought us a Wii a few months ago and we’re really addicted to the Just Dance series of games (pretty sure that’s where their love of 80s music has stemmed from) – that’s the exception during the week – and Mario Brothers is for weekends only!
What’s your mom uniform?
There are a lot of black leggings, stripped tees, maxi dresses, kaftans and chambray/denim shirts in my closet. I love clothes, but I really love well-cut basics with a little edge. Can’t live without my shrunken jean jacket I’ve had since I was 18, my J. Crew army jacket and road-weary Frye Campus Boots. But I’m a jewelry girl – that’s how I really express myself in terms of my wardrobe.
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
I keep it simple and quick in the mornings. Love Laura Mercier’s tinted moisturizer, NARS blush and mascara – like my jewelry, I’m prone to really going all out with my lipstick – love strong reds and pinks. Current favorites are NARS Fire Down Below, and I love the updated formula of the Sonia Kashuk line at Target – so inexpensive and the colors are gorgeous and creamy – love both Ruby Rose and Rosette.
What is your best kid purchase/bang for your buck?
Books. The girls are big readers. We have library memberships and go often, but there is something pretty special about having your own little library as well. We’ve spent time teaching the girls to take care of their books and a lot of the girls’ favorites were my books when I was little; I love thinking that maybe their own children will enjoy them as well.
How do you celebrate your kid(s) birthdays?
We really don’t have a routine and we don’t always commit to throwing parties – it really just depends on where we are in our life at that moment. For Adie’s 6th, we threw a big party and rented out an old barn decorated with faerie lights and played Johnny Cash – we set up a photo booth by pinning an old floral sheet to the side of the barn and setting a saddle on top of a vintage trunk – it was so much fun. The next year I got a baby sitter and she and I spent the day wandering Central Park, The Met and stuffing ourselves with burgers and shakes from Shake Shack.
What websites inspire you and which parts of your life, specifically ?
I’m addicted to Refinery29 and Honesty WTF. And I’m a little hooked on Pinterest. But I’m trying to spend a lot less time online these days. It’s so easy to find you’ve wasted two hours reading about something that’s really not relevant to your life – it’s so easy to get sucked in. And there’s just SO much online these days – it can feel overwhelming and oppressive rather than uplifting the way it once did. I recently deleted my Facebook account as well – it felt SO good.
What’s a typical weekend like?
We try to honor our weekends. As a freelancer, I sometimes have to work, but I try to keep that at a minimum. It’s not uncommon for us to spend a day in PJ’s and not leave the house, especially in the colder months. In the spring and fall, we have soccer commitments, but we try to go out for ice cream or do something fun after the games. We try to do something special every weekend – either going out to lunch or dinner – some sort of outing… it’s a challenge to want to treat the girls all the time and for them to learn not to expect it or start feeling entitled to something. It’s a lesson we’re always working on – respect and gratefulness.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list — never gets crossed off and nags at you?
Dusting and vacuuming! I mean, I DO dust and vacuum – just not as often as I should. I rather have a bit of dust than have the house cluttered – so that’s where my energy goes.
Favorite book(s) for your kids, for yourself?
Right now I can’t get enough of The Eye Has To Travel by Lisa Immordino Vreeland. And I always return to my favorites when I’m feeling out of sorts… The Odyssey translated by Robert Fagles and Tom Robbin’s Jitterbug Perfume—they are sort of my bibles. Adie is reading the Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler and has just started Harry Potter; Ayla and Ari are head-over-heels in love with the Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie series. We’ve also started reading The Daily Book of Art: 365 Readings That Teach, Inspire and Entertain—the girls are really passionate about art—it’s a great little daily lesson.
Best family trip?
Two years ago we drove through the Badlands of South Dakota and camped in Black Hills, Wyoming, Montana and Washington before spending a week with our friends in Vancouver. It was amazing. I didn’t grow up camping so this was a real adventure for me. My husband was in heaven and the girls never slept better.
Any personal/parenting “a-ha” tips? What ‘s the best parenting advice you ever got?
When we were first learning to discipline our first daughter, all I had to do was raise my voice a bit and put her in a “time out” and the likelihood that she would repeat that offense was slim. She is still like this. And of course, when you have a child like this – especially your first, you pat yourself on the back and think, “Damn, I’m good at this.” Our second came along with colic and has always been emotionally vocal. I’d always tried to treat Adie and Ayla alike and when my best friend made the simple statement, “She’s highly sensitive,” everything changed. I realized that you cannot parent two children the same way and you have to respect their unique personality characteristics when dealing with charged situations. It really has been my greatest lesson as a parent. Ari falls somewhere in between her sisters in terms of her emotional response – they are all so different and it’s a challenge to respond to each of them individually and as a unit. We are a constant work in progress!
You feel your best when?
When I find that reserve, I keep deep down that helps me maintain patience and understanding throughout the day. There is so much to juggle and I feel happy and grateful when I can slow my mind down, remember that this life is precious and should be honored every single day.
Your guiltiest pleasure?
A small scoop of chocolate ice cream in the evenings after I put the girls to bed. Sometimes I zone out to the Real Housewives (so embarrassing!) and other nights a hot soak in the tub and going early to bed– that’s a rare pleasure.
What’s your proudest moment in parenting?
I have these moments all the time. The first time your daughter takes a step, the first soccer goal, when they bring home a gold star from the teacher and they are absolutely beaming – I’m so sappy – all of this gets me emotional choked up and I’m just so happy because THEY are so happy and proud of themselves – it’s the best feeling ever.
We had a great time getting to know Jen Altman Asheville. We bet you enjoyed every bit of this “chit-chat”, and guess what, we’ve interviewed and gotten to know other great personalities like Jen — you can find them on our blog!
POSTED IN: WE WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT · TAGGED: EASY BREAKFAST, EASY DINNER RECIPES, FAMILY DINNER, FAMILY TRAVEL, JEWELRY, KID PHOTOGRAPHY, MAKEUP, MOM UNIFORM