After she graduated from Radford, Emily was ready to take on the world. She landed a great job in northern Virginia, and loved her community at her church in McLean.

And then Daniel came to town.

Daniel plays soccer for DC United (so cool!) and was transferred to DC from Texas. He wanted to get involved with a church in his new town, and he was immediately drawn to Emily.  Now, at this point in time, Emily had it all figured out. She was comfortable with how things post-grad were going, so when her good friend Jordan kept trying to set up a date with Daniel, she was hesitant. Yea, she knew those sports-player types. They had the world at their fingertips, and Emily wasn’t into those games.

Jordan was not going to give up on them. He saw something in both of them that they’d realize, so he kept up with his Cupid shananigans. They finally set up a time to meet.

One glance into those “brown puppy eyes” was all it took for Emily to fall hard. She noticed right off the bat that he was unlike any guy she’s met. He LOVES to fish and bow-hunt and be outdoors (definitely a Southern boy!) and is really laid back despite his career on the big screen. She’d finally found the ONE!

Ever since she was a little girl, Emily’s been fascinated with fireflies. She loved the nostalgic sense of whimsy she’d get when she’d run around at dusk, observing the glittering trees with awe. She shared this joy with Daniel, who loved to accompany her on walks in the summertime and catch them. She, of course, became his “Lovebug“.

One afternoon while in church, one flew in through the window and immediately landed on her while sitting with Daniel. If that wasn’t a sign, she didn’t know what one was!

Shortly after, Emily came home from attending one of Daniel’s games to find a dark room and a sign saying “You Are the Light of my Life” written in glow-in-the-dark tape. Beneath it were two dozen red and white roses and a book… The book was all about a Firefly searching for its other light and it finds its light, it isn’t lonely anymore! She spun around to find Daniel on one knee, and the rest, they say, is history <3


Work it on out, girl!

Can’t get enough of those red shoes…

Who doesn’t love photobooths?! The sunset was amazing…

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  • Alicia Lacey - gahhh that sunset is to die for!! ReplyCancel

“There are places I remember,

all my life,

though some have changed,

some forever not for better.

Some have gone and some remain.

All these places have their moments.

With lovers and friends.

I still can recall.

Some are dead and some are living.

In my life, I’ve loved them all…”

We all have places that we return to. Places that restore our spirit or rejuvenate our soul. The most meaningful locations can change our perspectives and are magically nostalgic. Often times, these places are difficult to return to, as the emotions they trigger challenge our comfortability. But when we return we are uplifted, as we break free from our comfort zones and embrace the emotions and epiphanies. We ask ourselves why it took us so long to get back.

These places are not limited to locations, although they often are. For me, it can be a return to the canvas, or my backyard. A place like Sedona where I re-connected with my grandma, and myself.

Ethiopia is the perfect example. When I came here I knew I’d leave all luxuries behind. I think my tailbone may never recover from the numerous 10 hour bus rides, where 60 people are crammed into 35 seats. It is emotionally unsettling as well. The poverty, the desperation, the beauty, the contrasts from my other life kick my mind into overdrive. But Ethiopia renews me, and reminds me of what really is important. It is medicine for the soul.

Within Ethiopia, there is another place. The Hope Academy. Mike and I come here often, but not often enough. It is a quaint, two room kindergarten, built from mud and sticks and filled with the cutest miniature desks and chairs. Mike teaches the kids here every Monday.

When we arrive, the love from the kids is infectious. As we climb up the stairs past the corrugated tin roof, the chants begin. Michael! Michael! Carly, Carly, Carly! They run up to me and kiss my hand. I bend down and look into their eyes and they kiss my cheek. This kind of love is so addicting.

I wanted to return some of this love. My own nostalgia from childhood craft days and field days gave me some ideas. After some serious thought, we decided on a Friday was outdoor craft day. We raided the local market and hardware store for supplies, and ended up with materials for makeshift tie-dye, homemade bamboo bird feeders, and a downloaded version of the Macarena.

We had so much fun! The kids giggled furiously during the butt shake section of the Macarena. The tie-dye came out great, and Mike’s bird feeders were a real hit. We glued sticks to bamboo, covered them in peanut butter and then rolled them in roasted oats. It was a great day.

There is a saying in Amharic that children are the spice of life. And certainly they are. A place like The Hope Academy does wonders for the heart and the mind. It is so small, run down and seemingly depressing. But it is full of beautiful children that are so ready to laugh, so bursting with love, and so eager to learn. It reminds me of another reason we return to our most precious places.


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Chiri is everything you could want from a rural African village. The drive in is incredible… with plenty of look out points and lush greenery. The further up the mountain you go, the more immersed in Africa you become.

Mike and I visit Chiri often, which is just an hours drive up the mountain. We stay with our friends who work at Lalimba, a local hospital that also functions as an orphanage for 12 beautiful children.

The orphans have a large place in my heart. In Ethiopia, family is everything. In reality, Ethiopia has very few orphans. If a child loses their parents they are always taken in by extended family. To be an orphan here is to truly have nothing, and no one. Yet the children at the orphanage are remarkably happy, caring and genuine. It is as heartbreaking as it is uplifting.

Let me backtrack for a second: Since my first visit to Ethiopia I have wanted to create a project that would enable me to share my passion with those less fortunate. It was also important to do so in a sustainable way. Mike and I have noticed that too often, visitors and volunteers give and then leave. I wanted to create something that would last longer than myself.

During my last visit I marveled at the joy that simply seeing a photo on my screen brought to children and grandparents alike. I imagined that a physical, tangible print would bring a more lasting joy. I wanted to teach photography to children in a land where a simple photo can bring so much happiness.

In a place like Chiri, there are no cameras nor photographs. Families live in a single room, three or four to a mattress. Everything is shared, and possessions rarely extend past the basic necessities. Even if a family wanted a portrait they would have to travel by bus to Bonga, pay a premium for a photo and then wait several weeks for a print to be mailed from a larger capital city. The luxury is simply outside of their means.

It is a sad reality because a single photo means so much to a family here. One photo will be cherished for generations as a treasured keepsake. Such a stark contrast to back home, where often times we will store over a thousand pictures on a single Facebook profile.

I wanted to help. So I bought a Fujifilm Instax camera, a modern polaroid camera that prints photos and develops them in 60 seconds. Through social media, I asked for help and I was overwhelmed by the support from friends and family, who donated over 200 prints for my project.

Thank you so so much!

However, I didn’t want to simply give away photographs. I had a better idea.

Last week, Mike and I started a photography clinic at the Chiri Orphanage. With Mike translating, I taught photography 101 to the twelve wide-eyed orphans. We covered concepts such as composition, lighting, and timing and the kids soaked it all in! They took turns acting as a photographer and a model, and each of them walked away with their own portrait. Afterwards, we evaluated each one, identifying what makes for a quality photograph.

I’ve never seen these kids as excited as they were when we were teaching. Their eyes lit up as they watched the magic camera produce instant memories, and their enthusiasm for knowledge was infectious. I hope that the project will bring happiness to the community and may inspire one of the orphans to pursue art as they grow up.

In the coming months, the orphanage will double as a tiny photography studio, where a family can come and receive a cheap and instant keepsake. In turn, the proceeds will all go to the orphanage, where it will fund special field trips or contribute to other projects, such as their sheep farm. Each photo is only 5 Ethiopian birr (which is about 25 cents). In context, 5 birr is the same price one would pay for a breakfast of tea and bread.

I can’t wait to hear about the progress of their photography project. The orphans are the sweetest kids you’d ever meet. Their smiles, as well as the ones they will soon capture are truly priceless.




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  • Ashley Goodwin - You are amazing and I really don't even know what to say. I'm inspired by your drive to teach and share and am in awe at how WE take photography and images for granted. You're doing big things Carly. Amazing. For real.

    And those kids are gorgeous, their smiles make me smile! Xo ReplyCancel

A few weeks ago, Mike and I went on a small afternoon adventure to a fork in the river. We were trying to spot the elusive hippopotamus’ that often feed in the Sheta river. While we didn’t see the giant herbivores, we did not come home empty handed. The walk itself was beautiful; we meandered through a palm tree oasis, past monkeys and quaint homes on our way to the quintessential river paradise. And then we happened upon the most photogenic family that i’ve ever seen. A baby was standing at the entrance to the family’s one room circular gojo bet, the traditional Ethiopian house made of eucalyptus, mud and straw. Immediately she caught my eye. Her eyes were magical. Her family came to us for a small photo session, and they were so grateful just to see the results. Of all the things I will miss about Ethiopia, the sweet and genuine disposition of the people might be the greatest. You can notice it in how they act and welcome strangers. You can see it in their eyes.

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The idea of Zanzibar was all Mike’s fault.

I know I’d heard of it before… but it seemed like one of those unreachable exotic locations that you had to take an 18 hour plane ride to. Which is partially true. I never gave it much thought until Mike mentioned it while daydreaming about cool places to see while he’s living out here in Ethiopia. Once I googled it, there was no turning back.

From the second we landed in our tiny 20-person airplane, the entire experience felt like a dream. We got in a cab to drive an hour south to Jambiani, a private area known for the best beaches. On the way there, we made friends with the cab driver who ended up persuading us into renting one of his mopeds. Even though Mike or I had never driven a manual vehicle… or a motorcycle… or even on the opposite side of the road… we were ecstatic to discover Zanzibar and view it how it’s meant to be seen.

My favorite part of any vacation isn’t actually relaxing. It’s actually observing the culture. I LOVE culture. I was kind of mad at myself for not exploring anthropology a little earlier in my college career.

I took my first course—Perspectives on Africa—the very last semester of college… and loved it. I drank it all in and became obsessed with all of the customs of people in different parts of Africa. It was even cooler because Mike had just started his time in Ethiopia, so I could relate the lessons I was learning to his new experiences in this foreign land.

It was so refreshing to see how untouched much of Zanzibar still was, despite it having world-famous beaches. The culture is just as rich as it’s been for hundreds of years. The ugly side of tourism  has yet to affect the integrity of the island.  I marveled at the gorgeous architecture that was brought from the Arabs. I tasted the famous spices. I drooled over the beautiful textiles that the women wore as shawls.

And the DOORS?! If you know me, you know I love doors. I don’t know why. Especially the really old creaky ones that tell a story. But I LOVED Zanzibar’s doors! The craftsmanship is insane. Whenever I get a door of my own, you can bet it’s gonna be a Zanzibar door.

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  • Ashlyn - Carly, I love reading about your adventures. Your perspective of the world and other cultures is great! I would die for that experience to travel and live amoung the locals. Your pictures are great too! :) ReplyCancel

  • Emily - Carly you take the most amazing pictures for someone your age. I can't believe we actually sat in the same classroom together at JMU. You are truly an inspiration! Keep it up. ReplyCancel

    • Carly - Wow, Emily that's such a nice comment! Thanks for the kind words and motivation! :):) ReplyCancel