Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Christmas Traditions

Cutting down a live tree has been our family tradition for the last 15 years.  The weather rarely cooperates and the hunt to find a tree we love never seems worth it, but there's that memories making thing, and at this point, I get it and choose to play along.  This year, we had a new puppy and it felt like she needed to be a part of the fun.  So, we bundled up and headed out to Eckert's.

About 10 minutes in, our girl was running like crazy and our pup was shivering in equal crazy mode.  We soon realized that bringing a small dog out in the cold is exactly why people buy little dogs coats.

So, my son took on the role of dog watcher while my daughter ran the fields in search of the perfect tree.  After only a few selections, our family tree was chosen and OUR GIRL wanted to be a part of cutting down the tree.

And THEN, she wanted to help CARRY IT.  SO ... she did.  All the way to the end (with maybe a break or 2).

We got back into the shuttle and made our way back to the hot cocoa & restrooms.  When we first came in, my husband and I noticed that although it wasn't that late (2:45) Santa was in the parking lot walking towards the cars.  Sure enough, when we returned after our tree, Santa's spot was empty.  Most people were choosing to use the empty space to their advantage, so I decided to get a few shots of Nani and the kids.

Then off we went to load up the tree and go caroling home in my Jeep lit with Christmas lights.

Once home, we began stringing lights and garland. We took a break for dinner and pj's, then started back up with ornaments. How these kids of mine are growing so fast is beyond me, but what they say is true.  Don't blink.

We polished off the night by getting our tree slice from last year decorated to add on and topped her with a star, by my boy who is evidently able to do that task on his own.  It's definitely started feeling like Christmas around our house, which is good because there's less than ten days until the guy in the big red suit arrives.  Merry Christmas friends!!

Until next time,

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Fall Portraits ...

Portraits.  Ugh.  I have such a love hate relationship with them.  But every picture has a story, right?  And this set certainly has THAT.  I try to take boring portraits of my kids for family purposes every year.  Last year I failed, so I took them in the spring.  I like the fall though, so about a month ago, I wanted to catch the colors before they were gone.  I wanted my kids to look like they own nice clothes and their hair has seen a comb more than once a week.  But, my kids?  Meh.  My son, a typical teenager, doesn't own jeans or khakis, and wears athletic pants and a hat almost daily.  My girl, she will wear a fancy dress on a random Tuesday, and then sweats and a stained shirt the next day.  And since portraits are really meaningless to me, I get super grumpy and just want everything to be easy and done.  It just doesn't go like that though.  Instead, we had a fight in the middle of Walmart over pants my son would never wear, and I threw my own kind of fit right before we walked out and traveled home in silence, instead of going to the park for pictures.  Blech.  After a silent hour lunch, I came back to earth and got some clarity on what exactly we were struggling with.  I decided my kids should wear something they were comfortable in without holes or stains and grabbed my camera.  If they turned out terrible, we could try again.  And they were fine.  I mean, I could sit and point out everything about them that isn't perfect, but really, why?  The things that stand out as imperfections are a kind of cool piece of who my people are.

We walked around to a couple of different places and did a few different posed shots, and I just let them be done.  That's when everything got better.

There's a lovely, enormous downed tree at our local Rec Plex and my kids started counting the rings.  Then they wanted to climb and jump, which I felt they certainly deserved after all the junk I had just put them through, so I told them to go for it, and I just shot.

When I look at the first part of this set, all I can think about is how we fought and argued before we even started and that it was just miserable.  That I was not the Mom I want to be and in turn, my kids were not the kids they normally are.

When I see the second set, I catch my breath and I think, OH, my kids!  They are so grown and sweet and loving life.  I remember this sweet time in the park that felt so carefree and calm and like time had slowed down, if only for this brief few minutes.  Plus, that light behind my girl gave me allll the feels.

This is where my heart is.  Those portraits just made things bitter and robbed us of some of this goodness.  And I don't know about you, but I sure could use more goodness in my life.

Until Next Time,

Sunday, November 24, 2019

A New Puppy

It has been many years since we have had a dog living under our roof.  Ten years to be exact.  And while I certainly haven't been counting the days, months, or years since we had to have Max put down, like I have with the loss of my dad, there is something about the loss of a pet that stings more than you expect.  It took us some time to be able to even consider getting a new dog.  And then some time for our son, and then our daughter, to get on board with the care of having a dog around.  But, when they finally DID get on board, the count was on.  We researched and signed up for a waiting list and when we finally got the call, our girl was over the moon.

We had known for a few weeks that we would be getting her, so we had been slowly gathering items.  The bed, however, was something that seemed fitting to make a special visit to the pet store for.

 After picking up food, a bed, and a couple of chew toys, we made sure to get an exact weight (a big 3 lbs) before heading home.  Then, it was time for a little bath and some snuggling.

It surely felt like our new addition was over me taking pictures, so I tried to limit how much I hovered.  I let the kids get to know her and and her to know the house.  She has taken to Emma and followed her around every where today.  Lots of playing and petting, which is so exciting to our girl.

By the end of the day, she was pretty tuckered out.  At dinner, we finally agreed on a name - Nani (pronounced NAH-nee, which is Hawaiian for beauty) - and I got a few opportunities to chill with her.  I know once everyone returns to a regular schedule, I will have TONS of one-on-one time to cuddle with her - and clean up after her as we go through all the stages of puppy training.  It's a good thing she's so dang adorable.

Until next time,

Friday, November 1, 2019

Trick or Treat

Trick or treat.  That place in the midst of fall, where the weather has a hard time deciding if it is already winter, or still has a bit of fall left.  This year, our area had a cold spell and it left us scrambling for what out plans would be.  Thankfully, our church had a trunk or treat the weekend before and our girl had a great chance to wander indoors and get a good fill of candy.  So, when the freezing temps hit, we decided to look into some other indoor alternatives.

We found out that our local mall was having an indoor trick or treat before Halloween officially began, so we decided to give that a shot and see if it would fit the bill for this year.  Unfortunately, everyone in our local area decided on the same idea, leaving stores empty handed and a line that wrapped around the entire mall.  After about 20 minutes of standing in line and 2 pieces of candy, we sadly decided to call it a flop and head to a second indoor option at the police station.  With what seemed like more people, we had worse luck there, where the parking was already gone and people were standing in a long line outside.

So, home we went.  We decided that we would try just our street.  It is pretty short and we hoped that it would give a good feel for the weather.  Of course, my husband had plans a brewing.  He talked Emma into "just one more" and before we knew it, we were on our way!

 While we had a short time out this year, we still managed to make it to a well known cul de sac and some fire pits to help us warm up.

We even made it to a friend's house close by before turning back and making our last stop home.  While trick or treat isn't quite the same without the big kid along anymore, I think he has a good time passing out candy to everyone, so I still call it a win.  The bitter chill may have stopped us from showing off the fanciness of the mermaid costume this year, but it didn't stop our girl from stocking up on lunch candy for the rest of the season.

Until next time,

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

#Keirastrong Forever Trivia

It's crazy to think about how a community can come together.  How an empty space (our church, The Summit to be exact), can be filled by people that have given generously and are linking arms together to the trumpets of a little girl and her kindness.  But, that's exactly what happens on #Keirastrong Forever Trivia Night.  Volunteers take an empty room and turn it into a gathering space, filling it with tables and decorations; a hallway fills with raffle baskets and auction items, and then a building begins to overflow with people full of love.

Robin and I have talked about Trivia Night gobs and it always comes back to this: the people in this room have a personal connection to Keira and her family.  Many of them were not only a part of her cancer journey, they knew her before it began.  Which is why this Trivia Night is not only important to the foundation, but to the Stouts.  While the major goal for the foundation is to help raise money to help families of kids with cancer with their mortgage payments, it is about so much more.  For Robin and Dave, it's about coming together to love and remember Keira.

When Robin and I spoke ahead of time about pictures, she wanted to remember all the fun that happens at trivia, and there was no disappointment there!  Brian is always an amazing host - it's like he has done this before.  (Oh wait, he has; make sure to check him out at Trivia Riot!)  I'd like to tell you that I think his experience is what makes him fantastic at creating a killer Trivia Night, but I think it's more.  Something about the iconic tv shows, movies, and music he picks make the night pretty awesome.

Of course, there's more to making trivia fun than just a great host.  Your people have to be into it too - and this crowd is!  They sing, they dance, they celebrate, they give accolades - they know how to do it right!

It's not just fun and games though.  I mean, there is fun AND games - like mock Mouse Races (see kids in mouse ears) instead of a heads or tails to announce that #Keirastrong Forever will be having Mouse Races in the spring.  But the night also has it's moments of pause - like auctioning off a t-shirt quilt handmade by Keira's Mimi, using one of Keira's own shirts in the blend.  That quilt was pretty fantastic, as was Mr. Tom being the winning bidder to have this blanket at the fire house where Keira was an honorary fire fighter.  Tom will be the first to let you know that Keira was one of them, so it seems fitting that this piece has landed there.

The evening rounded off with some more celebrating, a room full of singing and laughing, and some final number crunching when the results came in.

In the end, although there may be only one table that wins in the room, because of the generosity of so many, the money raised this evening will help cancer families win over some of their financial burdens as their child has the fight of their life.  If you haven't been able to attend, keep an eye out as school starts next year to get yourself a table.  And if attending in person isn't an option, that auction I mentioned goes on-line ahead of time and is a great way to support their mission.  I can't help but look forward to the next one!

Until next time,

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Pumpkin Picking

Over the years, pumpkin picking has changed for us.  When we just had Aaron, we went to a large farm about an hour away and had our pumpkin patch experience there.  When Emma came around, we found a smaller and closer farm and enjoyed many years there until they unexpectedly closed.  We found many small transplant farms on-line (pre-picked pumpkins in a line), then last year, we found an actual patch that we got to have a great experience at.

This year, very last minute, we realized if we didn't push some things around, pumpkin patch time wasn't going to happen.  Emma's school had gone on their field trip a few weeks ago and the weather was terrible.  I felt like she got cheated, and with so little time to make a decision and get there before sunset, we headed back.  Before we even pulled in, I could tell we were going to have such a better experience.

My girl and her doll are a pretty typical duo.  This was her first doll from many year ago and the carrier is actually mine from when I was a kid.  Sometimes I am frustrated that my girl seems to need to always have something with her, but this day, I am thankful for the constant doll that came along for the ride.

Pumpkin picking is so personal.  While we all began to wonder, none of us were looking for the same type of pumpkin.  My husband's top priority is a strong stem, while my care is for the general roundness and smoothness of the pumpkin.  And of course, my kids fall somewhere in between.

 After spending some time searching, and searching some more, we hauled in our loot and weighed our finds.  There was so much more to do and no time to waste!

How a pool of corn can entertain kids so easily (and adults?) is beyond me, but it sure does.  I liken it to how kids can be more happy with the big empty box than the actual toy.

There was pumpkin shooting for the big kid - because who doesn't love that - and funnel cake for the bellies.  Yum.

We polished off our afternoon with some goat feeding, face painting, a photo opp, and one last swing.

At the end, I leaned my head on my husband's shoulder and we were both so thankful we said yes to this one.  Amidst the busy, an afternoon on the farm was such a sweet retreat for us.  Maybe next year, I'll remember to block out the weekend at least a month out.  But probably not.

Until next time,

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Growing Sunflowers

Sometimes, a story takes some time to grow and develop.  Last summer, we took our daughter to a field of sunflowers to explore them in real life.  When spring arrived this year, my daughter was excited to see sunflower seeds to plant, and my husband, never one to back away from trying something new, decided to grab three bags of seeds and see what they could do.  I was so hesitant because I knew we were getting a late start, but with a bit of effort, my two got to work protecting those delicate seeds and checking on their progress.

Sunflower prime season (typically early July) came and we didn't have much to check out.  I called around our area to try and go exploring like last year only to find out that all the water and flooding in our area had washed out several fields.  So we just continued to check in on our little guys and by the end of August, we had blooms!

It was pretty neat to see my daughter get to check on them as often as she could.  It was obviously a very different experience than visiting a field a single time and exploring.  She could go first thing in the morning (in her pj's!) or late in the afternoon after school.

 We got to see flowers grow taller and blooms get bigger.

We got to watch leaves slowly grow stronger and see how bees and bugs were at most of the blooms.  We even got to share our excitement and flowers with Grandma, and this encouraged her to try at home as well.

Of course, at the end of the season, we got to see our flowers begin to wilt.  And that wasn't nearly as exciting.  It's often so bitter sweet, the end.  No matter how or when it comes.

We did some research into getting those seeds out, so hopefully that is successful (if you have tips, send them my way!).  Then my duo has already decided on an earlier start and a larger garden for next year - and I can't wait!

Until next time,

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Playoff Beard

Let's talk superstitions.  Hockey playoff superstitions - in the form of a certain facial hair collection of sorts.  According to Wikipedia, the tradition started in the 1980's with NHL players and has transitioned to fans - specifically to my husband.  My lovely husband whom I adore, but whose beard I could certainly do without.

So when the Blues were in the playoffs, and then WON THE STANLEY CUP, that beard coming off felt like it might never happen.  Seriously.  And THEN.  Then, my husband informed me that the beard can't come off until after the Championship Parade.  Of course.  Let me just say, the excitement I had over the shots I got at that parade came pretty close to how I felt that night when my husband told me he was going to shave.

Even more exciting - or maybe adorable - is that my daughter was excited too.  And so she asked if she could help.   And how do you say no to that?

While maybe not an everyday occurance for my girl to shave my husband's playoff beard off, certainly something as simple as shaving IS.  I see the little details that I want to remember about today - my daughter's sweet smile and the way her hair falls around her still young face; the gray hair that is mixed in with my husband's beard.

There's a lot of trust in a situation like this, at least from my point of view.  My husband certainly guided my daughter, but at 6, her experience with shaving off a 2 month old beard is zilch.  My husband never seems to mind those sorts of things that make me cringe.

She was pretty adorable and excited about not only what she was able to do, but about getting to see Daddy's face again.  I'm right there with you sister.

And when the shaving cream came out, the giggles did too.  It might have been my husband's most favorite part.

Everyday life is too boring for professional photos?  Not a chance.  Every day spent engaging with those you love has beautiful moments that are totally worth it.

Until next  time,

Thursday, June 20, 2019

St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup Championship Parade

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words.  I certainly hope that is true of this set, because this experience felt beyond words.  When the St. Louis Blues recently won the 2019 Stanley Cup after a long 52 year wait, the city parade was sure to be one for the books. The last official estimate I saw for the crowd this day was 390,000.  The sidewalks were jammed packed, sometimes 40 people deep.  My family stayed the night in a hotel downtown and my boys were on Market at 6:15 am to have a spot for us to experience it all.  The media was everywhere, including on a rooftop behind me when the crowd was yelling for them.  While I secretly wished I too had a press pass, after this, I realized experiencing it with the crowd and my family was the better story.

This celebration wasn't just about the team that won The Cup; it was about the people that supported them getting there.  Key players like Laila, our infamous "Towel Man", alumni players and more.

I needed more than just shots of players.  I needed shots of us too, and I made sure to even grab a selfie thanks to my sister-in-law.  This day was one for the history books in more ways than one.

The players excitement and willingness to be a part of the celebration is what made the experience what it was.  Many players came right up to the barricades to celebrate with the fans.  And my son wasn't shy about requesting selfies with players.

Many of them stopped to sign memorabilia, give high fives, and ramp up the crowd along the parade route.  Most of them were out of their cars walking for the bulk of the parade.  My sister-in-law even got a necklace off Edmunson for a friend's daughter.

Our group got the attention of Tyler Bozak's wife, Molly, and she was pretty sweet with their little one.  She set her down where she took a string of steps and it was clear that their excitement was about more than just our city winning the Stanley Cup.

It was fun watching Parayko with the media's camera getting selfies with the crowd and Bennington (in our house, known as Mr. Do-I-Look-Nervous) as he walked with a local high school band.   Then local player, Pat Maroon, surrounded by media at every step, brought the Stanley Cup to our section and held it up for all to see.

The selfie below, while not the best, is my absolute favorite.  Petrangelo's crew smiling over his shoulder and his hand on my boy's shoulder was worth a million bucks to this Momma.

And as a final wave out, Conn Smythe MVP winner Ryan O'Reilly's speech from the float left my husband knowing exactly which player's jersey was going to be his Father's Day request.

This was certainly a once in a lifetime experience and truly unbelievable.  And even though this was out of my element, I am so thankful I said yes to getting to be a part of experiencing it with my family!

Until next time,

Friday, April 26, 2019

2019 Rest & Retreat

Once year, each April, I take time to retreat.  While I am still learning about all the labels the world has tried to adhere to me, I know in my soul that when life is ... well, life, I feel the need to retreat.  So, this yearly chance to get away and recenter is always a sweet space for me and helps to bring me peace.

While in the same area, this year's retreat was in a new space and brought me the opportunity to photograph new things.  As we all began to settle our first night, God was out back showing off, so I slipped away to shoot.  I was amazed at how the clouds had so much tone and depth and such fantastic color to them.  And how the water was like an enormous glass mirror for the color and light.

As storm clouds rolled in and the light disappeared, I returned to the house for the evening.  Our first morning always gives us two hours of solitude after breakfast.  This is the highlight of the weekend for many of us.  It seems silly that I need permission to be silent.  Or that I need someone else to tell others to be silent.  But as a person who feels the need to retreat in order to gain rest, I do.  Like other years, I spend my two hours of silence walking and talking with God.

Walking or hiking on trails isn't always as simple as you might envision.  After all, the whole point is that you feel like you are IN the woods.  Of course, if you have no idea where you are, or where you are going, then getting lost and having no way back would deter a lot of people.  So, there are lots of signs that show you you are on the right path, even when there are two paths to choose.  Physical signs, like trail signs and the blue rhombus to mark your path, as well as visual signs, like carved out spaces or the new grass under foot.

As I continued on the trail, I was so excited to hear a small stream and I loved being able to feel like God had come closer.

When I first started the hike, there was a map (similar to the one above, but at a different starting point).  I choose not to take a close look and instead followed what looked like the clear path (of course I did).  Only, as I started it, I couldn't quite tell which direction to go, so I went back.  I decided to go the opposite direction because there were more signs and I felt I would have clearer guidance coming from the other side.  Yet, as I walked, I began to find it harder and harder to find my way.  I kept looking for the signs, but I was struggling.  I came to the map above and took a picture, thinking only about the story I was shooting and that signs would be a part of it.  Wanting to talk about how we all want God to show us we are on the right trail; to give us signs and show us a map of the big picture - and even point to the place we are to say, look, YOU ARE HERE.  The thought to use it as my own guide didn't cross my mind.

Once I was on the other side of where I had turned around before, the direction wasn't any clearer.  I again searched for signs.  Typically, the signs work together.  You will see a clear cut path, with a sign with a hiker, and a blue rhombus in the distance.  I wasn't seeing them together.  Particularly the blue rhombus.  What I saw instead was a very steep path that was easy to see, but certainly difficult to walk, and didn't feel right.  Then I remembered the picture I had taken.  So I checked the map and decided that perhaps I was too close.  Low and behold, when I moved to change how I was seeing things, there in the distance was a blue rhombus - hardly noticeable in the center picture below.

And the path designed for me was, well, designed for me.  No steep hills, no tall weeds to fight through, and a lovely view.  There was even a marker at the end to show me that my path, while difficult, was straight ahead.

We want life to be like this: signs everywhere to tell us we are on the right path and easier trails when things are hard or don't look right.  And sometimes, it is.  There are clear cut signs: maps we design, paths someone has laid before us, a person we meet on the trail.  Sometimes God tells us we are on the trail with a unmistakable blue rhombus.  Other times, not so much.  We may feel lost, even when we are on the right path, because we don't see the signs right away, if at all.   We are discouraged and question where God is and why we even got on the path in the first place.  We have all been there, some of us in darker places than others.  And there are no easy answers.

But God reminds us that He is always with us, even when He is silent - even if we have ended up on a different path or that things are painful or hard where we are.  He reminds us to take heart.  He is there - He is with us.  He hasn't left.  

Pray for Him to help you see as He does.  To be able to step back and change your perspective.  
Pray that you will feel Him sitting beside you.  Because it doesn't matter if we are on the path designed for us or not, He is surely there.  He never leaves.

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  ~ John 16:33

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:20

~ Until next time,

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Hello Spring! Wanna Play in the Rain?

As Spring FINALLY makes her debut, I decided to polish off this set from last year in honor of the (hopeful) end to the winter blues.  I have done pictures of my daughter playing in the rain every year since she was little and I have loved them all.  This set got me thinking about how playing in the rain for me, unlike my girl who runs out to embrace it, used to be a struggle.

 Of course, there was that ONE time in college that a dear friend convinced me to play in the rain and I got DRENCHED (and I even have the picture to prove it).  But typically, I had a hard time feeling free in the rain; it was heavy and cold and I just didn't love it.  And then I met my husband.  He got out in the rain with our son when he was so little and they had the best time ... and I saw all I was missing and decided to join in.

 My girl obviously has no problem.  She loves the running and splashing and jumping.  She giggles and smiles and seems to never tire of it.  When it rains, with a big grin on her face, she says, "Momma, can we go play in the rain?!"

And while I certainly don't have my daughter's excitement and joy about it, I do love to watch her and I love that I am invited to be a part of her joy.

And yes, to even get drenched from our head to our toes.

I hope you have someone in your life that gets excited when they see the rain drops coming and invites you to let go and play with them in the rain.  And if you don't, then let me be that person.  The next time it rains, think of me and my girl, and grab your rain boots.

Until next time,