A full heart.

Tonight was one of those nights that reminded me what sweet little souls I am raising. 

After dinner, Aubrey asked me (again) if she could have her Blankey back. (You can read about the recent Blankey drama here.) Telling her no was heartbreaking, and she was so angry at me. Aubrey has yet to learn how to deal with her anger without lashing out, and with her vocabulary and gift of sass, her being angry means I get a tongue-lashing of words meant to hurt my heart. I tried to explain to her that as a mom, I didn't delight in keeping Blankey away, that it was a hard decision for me, too. "Really, Mom? You don't know what it's like to have something special taken away. Not like you've EVER lost a stuffy! You have no idea how this feels!" (Yup--only 8 and already pulls this level of sass. I'm DOOMED.)

So, I told her about my own Raggedy Ann doll, a doll I treasured when I was a child, and how one day, after my dad had been telling me for days to clean my room, he swept up all the toys littering my floor into a big trash bag and carried them out to our burn barrel (I grew up in the sticks) and lit them all on fire. My Raggedy Ann doll was in the mess of toys in that barrel, and I was simply devastated. "So, I do understand how difficult this is for you. And that makes it even harder for me to take Blankey away, but sweetie, we have to do this right now. I'm so sorry."

During the story, I watched my daughter's face go from contempt and anger, to shock, to disbelief, and finally, back to anger again. "MOM! HOW COULD YOU TELL ME THAT STORY!!!"  And off she stomped, up the stairs, to her room, furious at me for telling her an upsetting story about a stuffed animal. 

When I reached her room to tuck her into bed, she broke down crying, her anger spent. She clung to me, sobbing, sad for her beloved Blankey, sad for my own lost Raggedy Ann. Suddenly, she broke away and ran to her toy box, and rummaging inside, she grabbed a teddy bear and handed it to me. "I want you to keep it. To take the place of your Raggedy Ann doll. So you won't be sad anymore."  

Be still my heart.

No matter how many ways I tried to explain to her that I was OK, that I'd long gotten over my lost lovey, she wouldn't take back the bear. Then I told her the story of how she'd come to own that bear (it was a gift from her Gramps at Disney World on her first trip to the park, when she was just a baby). I saw her face change, and I asked her, "Would you like it back?" She ran back to the toy box, rummaged around to pull out her stuffed horse, Midnight, and offered me a trade. Then she made me promise that I would sleep with Midnight tonight. Looks like I'll have a little extra company in the bed. 

After these dramatic events, I was in Aiden's room, tucking him into bed. He had heard the entire exchange, and we chatted about how sad she was about the Blanket. Suddenly he jumped up, and dragging a chair into his closet, he reached up onto the top shelf and pulled out a plastic linen bag from the corner of the closet. Inside, Aiden's own baby blankets were neatly folded and tucked away. A few months ago, Aiden decided it was time to pack away those sweet baby blankets that he'd treasured as a toddler, and we decided on a linen bag in his closet (put away, but still close--just in case). He plopped the bag on the floor, unzipped a corner, and laid out the three blankets. Running his hand over each one, he settled on one, grabbed it, and ran into his sister's room and tucked it over her, offering his own blanket--the softest of the three--for her to snuggle. 

And darn it, if my heart didn't break again. 

In the span of this one evening, there have been pre-teen meltdowns, stomped feet, angry words, slammed doors and endless complaints. Brad and I have doled out lectures, handed down a grounding, and threatened more consequences. We've laughed, tickled, hugged and kissed. I've wiped away tears--a tiny girl's and my own. And in the course of the day, these kids have exasperated me, driven me to drink, and filled my heart in a way that nothing or no one else has ever been able to. This motherhood gig has to be the hardest, most intensely-frustrating-yet-amazing job I have ever had. And I am so incredibly grateful for it. 

Echoes: the Project

Over the past year, I've become increasingly aware of just how fast my time with my children is passing. Around my birthday and Thanksgiving, it hit me that I had only 5 Christmases left with my son before he will likely leave home for college. I have just a few short years of childhood left before I'm relegated to an advisory role in his life. This terrifies me, and makes me incredibly sad, but also motivates me to really treasure this time, despite being replete with power struggles and mood swings and pre-teen mouthiness. 

I wrote a poem that captures some of my emotions surrounding this time (it's called Echoes and can be found here). I've also decided to let it drive a series of images that explores some of these themes.

In this series, I want to explore the beauty in what I generally find annoying: my children's constant messes. Before you roll your eyes and click away, think about it like this--every day, I nag and yell and scold about the shoes on the floor, the dirty socks stuffed in the couch cushions, the books and papers and toys strewn about. I'm sure you spend a good bit of time doing the same thing, if you are a mom with kids at home. Yet, in this period of reflection, I am fully aware that one day, I will (in some small way) miss this: the clutter that comes with childhood. The noises, the messes, the chaos and unending laundry. And although, I in NO WAY am advocating that we all just embrace the mess and live like hoarders or wild animals, what I am suggesting is that, even in the aggravating reality, there is a beauty to be found. 

Here are a few images I captured today to get the project started. I'd love to hear your feedback on it, or to see you "find the beauty in the mess" in your own home. 

board game
paper airplane
socks on floor

Echoes: the Poem

With a growling scream, you were free, your infant wail piercing the air as you were placed on my chest, and the soundtrack to my life changed.
Noisier, more chaotic, with lulls and crescendos and crashing refrains.

Infant grunts grew into cries, then wails, then screams of frustration.
Tantrums ensued, your angry shrieks layered over my mortified silence as we moved through public places.
Sing-song voices rang out from the television and the car stereo, while the thin sound of a bucket of blocks being dumped on the carpet competed for attention.
Stuffed animals grew falsetto voices or deep baritones; inanimate objects suddenly grew a personality of their own, with their own opinions and complaints to carry to my ears.  
Tiny giggles grew into great guffaws that rang throughout our home with careless abandon, only to transform into a self-conscious laughter that sought peer approval. 
Sitcoms with their hollow laugh tracks and the tittering gossip filled our living room, then moved to the loft upstairs, and later their muffled voices teased me from behind your bedroom door. 
Game soundtracks, which once annoyed me with their cartoonish "Boing!" and "Beep!" and "Zap!"  were replaced by the haunting sounds of gunfire and explosions, overlaid by discussions of sports stats and the relative merits of the new girl in science class; punctuated by bodily noises and the accompanying hoots of laughter or disgust. 
Soft, mushy syllables sharpened, deepened, then grew piercing; once disarming, words became, at times, a weapon, and occasionally, a commodity more precious than gold. 
Suddenly, the cacophony of youth morphed into computer keyboards clacking, punctuated by notification dings and the ticking of a text being tapped out by your thumb.
Music, with its bass thumps, electric riffs or acoustic twangs blared from behind your door or escaped from earbuds, replacing the sunny chatter that once annoyed me with it's steady hum. 
The timeless sound of too-big feet shuffling along a gymnasium floor to a graduation processional that generations have marched to before.
The piercing shriek of packing tape being wrestled from the roll. The thump of a loaded cardboard box landing on the floor.
Doors slamming, the solid thump of the trunk lid closing.
A muffled goodbye, my head buried in the soft, sweet place on your neck that has tantalized me since your day of birth as I whispered my pride and choked back my tears. 

And then, silence. 

When I am still, I can hear it. The echoes of your voice.
Your childish laughter bounces through the room, teasing me, as I stare incomprehensibly into the mirror in the morning.

I delight in the traces of your presence. The scuff on the wall draws my fingers to it when I pass, and I hear your footfalls as you run for the door, dragging your hockey skates along the wall in your haste.
The dent at the bottom of the stairs, made amongst triumphant cheers as your toy trucks careened down the steps, elicits a smile.
The baby teeth tucked in my jewelry box, as precious as the pearls they lie beside, remind me of the joyful laughter that followed many moments of hesitation and nervous whines. 

And then, the echoes fade. The silence creeps over my memories as a fog overtakes the waters at dawn.

And the quiet is deafening.
 

Metamorphosis: A letter to my son

For 2017, I've joined a blog circle of women who will each write a monthly letter to their child(ren). Read mine, then click here to read Evangeline's letter, then follow the links on around--you'll eventually land back here. And if you'd like to receive my letters and blog posts directly to your email inbox, click here to join my mailing list. (I promise, I'm not going to spam you or share your info). 

Dear Aiden,

My sweet boy, as 2016 comes to a close and the promise of an unspoiled year shines before us, I can't help but reflect on how much you have changed in the past year. At 11, with 12 just a few days away, you have spent the year straddling the divide between childhood and adolescence. Some days, you are still the effervescent child you have always been, bubbling with enthusiasm about your latest topic of fascination. You will still sweetly request cuddles at bedtime, begging me to play with your hair or scratch your back while I sing old jazz classics or broadway songs. You don't sigh or pull away when I embrace you, and for a moment, I can still smell the sweet scent of the skin at the nape of your neck and remember the countless nights that I have repeated this ritual. 

Other days, adolescence dominates, and you turn mercurial and moody. You swing from bravado to anger to tears in a moment, and your father and I are breathless trying to keep up with your moves. Your wit and sarcasm have not yet been tempered by time and wisdom, so often you disrespect when you only meant to disarm with laughter. You shrug away my embrace, you deliberately sabotage my attempts at tender moment, and I am frustrated at feeling as if my little boy is slipping farther away. 

These shifts that accompany the raging hormones (and your rapidly growing frame) have left your father and I off-balance. There are days when we feel as if a stranger has moved into our home, and yet in a moments' notice, the sweet boy we recognize can come bounding back again. Dad and I are trying our best to keep up. We are breathing deeply and stretching our patience as far as we can, and yet so often, we find ourselves speaking harshly or reacting with anger. It is incredibly unsettling, to have reached this point in our parenting journey--having accumulated quite a bit of wisdom along the way--and yet to suddenly find yourself as lost and clueless as a new parent again. 

But despite all of the changes that have swept through our home in the past year (a trans-Pacific move, new home, new schools, new friends, new routines, and new phases of life), one thing has never wavered. Not once. My love for you is constant. Despite the angry words we sometimes exchange, the exasperation with which I may speak, I have never once wavered in my love for you and my faith in your potential. I love you so much, Aiden, and no matter how large you may grow or how angry or moody you may act, my love will stretch and grow and shift to accommodate you. And although some days I may fail, I will try my best to give you the space you need to grow. To not suffocate you with my memories and expectations, but allow you to stretch into your full God-given potential. 

This time in your life is so incredibly difficult for all of us--but so very important. And I feel so privileged to stand witness to your transformation. 

Love, always,

Mom

Merry Christmas from the Parker Pack!

What a year we have had! 

We started the year off enjoying one of our favorite holiday traditions: the smashing of the gingerbread houses. We take hammers and demolish our delicious creations to symbolize leaving the previous year behind us, yet we all nibble a tiny piece of the gingerbread, because although we leave the past behind, the experiences we gained will continue to nourish us and help us grow in our lives. 

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After the holiday fun, it was back to work and school. The kids and I rushed to complete our homeschool year before the impending PCS. Science fair projects, botany experiments, lots of great books, and even a few field trips were crammed into the spring months. We concluded our study of the Eastern Hemisphere and World Cultures by visiting Shangri La, the former home of Patty Duke and one of the largest collections of Middle Eastern art in the U.S. We stepped back in time by visiting the Hawaii Plantation Village, to learn about the many cultures that immigrated to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. And to cap off our marine biology unit, we went on an excursion to swim with a pod of wild dolphins in the Pacific waters. Our final homeschooling months were quite memorable!

Between January and Easter, I also spent every spare moment working on Forget the Frock. Forget the Frock is a non-profit campaign that asks people to purchase t-shirts from charities (that will use the funds to feed the hungry, care for orphans, or rescue the enslaved) and wear them on Easter Sunday instead of buying new Easter clothes. This our 5th campaign to participate and my 3rd year as Creative Director: I design all of the graphics and imagery for the campaign and manage the social media campaign to get the word out. It was crazy hectic and bigger than ever, but I'm so happy that our partner charities were able to raise over $285,000 from the campaign. Made all of those late nights and marathon Illustrator sessions designing graphics worth it! 

In April, it was time to pack our belongings and head east, back to the mainland. Our household goods were loaded into crates and shipping containers the first week of April, and we then spent a week in Waikiki hotels, savoring our last days on the island.

Our last day before flying, we enjoyed a final, farewell tour of our favorite haunts: we drove to Haleiwa to stock up on our favorite Hawaiian coffee, then ate lunch at our favorite sushi restaurant, Banzai Sushi.

Afterwards, we drove the northern coastline of Oahu, enjoying the sights, before landing in Bellows beach for a last afternoon at our favorite beach.

Then it was on to Diamond Head beach park, where we watched the sun set in front of the iconic volcanic mountain and a historic lighthouse. After the sun had slipped below the horizon, we drove into town for ahi tuna tacos and a dessert of Leonard's malasadas. It was the perfect way to close out our time on the island.

The next day was filled with travel adventures: a long, overnight flight to LAX, then Houston, where grandparents snagged the kids from the airport for a couple of weeks of spoiling. Brad and I (with dog in tow) flew on to Tampa, where we would spend the two kid-free weeks buying a car, securing housing, and trying to enjoy some grown-up fun. We spent a good portion of that time dealing with used car salesmen and realtors (and having our nostrils assaulted by a lot of disgusting smells), but we finally found a car we liked for Brad to commute, and a home in Lithia that had everything we were hoping we could find. The only drawback: a week until we could take possession of the house, and then at least another month of 'glamping' in the house while waiting for our household goods to arrive.

The kids arrived just after we signed the lease, and since we had to live another week in a hotel, we figured we might as well turn the week into a vacation. We found a two-bedroom condo on AirBnB that accepted pets located just outside the gates of Disney World, and off we went to Orlando. We purchased Disney annual passes and proceeded to spend a week exploring parks, riding roller coasters, acting like children, eating junk food and staying up late. It was wonderful!

After a week at the Disney parks, we headed back to Tampa to grab keys and move our few boxes of camping supplies into the house. Brad headed back to work with our ONE car (the van had yet to arrive by boat) so the kids and I spent our days playing in the neighborhood pool and exploring the woods behind our new house.  We ate off of a card table, sat in bean bag chairs and lawn chairs to watch the tiny tv we had shipped in advance, and slept on air mattresses.

We also spent every weekend out of the house, exploring our new neighborhood and the surrounding Tampa Bay area. We picked blueberries. We went to Disney. We explored downtown and went to Anna Maria island. Our van finally arrived, giving us a bit more freedom to explore. 

What we hadn't counted on exploring was the St. Joseph's Children's Hospital, but some abdominal pain landed Aubrey there over Memorial Day weekend. After tests and observation, a complete bowel flush and lots of poking and prodding, they ruled out appendicitis and other scary stuff and sent us home with antibiotics for a UTI and an otherwise clean bill of health. 

Finally, after 68 days without our things, our household goods arrived! It was great to have all of our creature comforts again, but it also kicked off a month of unpacking, sorting and organizing. Yuck!  The kids kept busy in summer camps to give me time to work: ice skating camp, ice hockey camp, church camp and musical theater camp, where Aubrey played the title role of Alice in Alice in Wonderland, Jr. 

We welcomed our first visitors in August. My mom, Marilyn, and my grandmother, Charlotte, came in for a quick 3 day visit. We took in the zoo, enjoyed the flamenco show at the historic Columbia restaurant in Ybor City, went exploring the local antique stores and snuck in a quick beach visit, despite the kids also being in ice skating camp during the days. 

Just after the grandmothers departed, the kids started school, Aiden joining the 7th grade and Aubrey joining the 3rd. Both kids were nervous to go back to public school, but also excited to meet new friends.

They have both adjusted beautifully and are thriving. Aiden is part of the orchestra at his school and is taking a STEM elective that has him building rockets and contraptions and experimenting with computer-aided design. Aubrey is making straight A's and is beloved among the students in her grade--her teachers have told me that she is engaged and encourages participation among her peers, and can always be counted on for a little comic relief. Aiden had his first orchestra concert earlier this month and performed beautifully--he has earned second chair in the advanced orchestra in his grade. And Aubrey took her first field trip to United Skates of America for some physics lessons and skating fun. 

Password is cowboys

In October, Brad was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, an honor he has worked hard to earn. His parents, Scott and Livy, were able to join us for the ceremony and the party we hosted the following day. 

October also brought Halloween, one of the kids' favorite holidays. We decorated the house with lots of spooky elements, and we enjoyed a weekend of Halloween activities: a fall festival in our neighborhood park square Saturday morning, a trunk-or-treat event at our church on Saturday afternoon, a neighborhood Halloween party Saturday night, a Halloween party on Sunday morning at church, and of course, trick-or-treating on Halloween night itself. The kids basically lived in their costumes for three days in a row. Unfortunately, Brad had to miss all of the festivities: he was stuck in Washington D.C. for a course for work. 

And now, here we are in the throes of fall. The weather is gorgeous here in Florida, with cool breezes that have chased away the humidity. So many fun events loom on the horizon: Thanksgiving and our first Christmas in our new home, Hanukkah lights and New Years fun. As we head into the crazy chaos of December, we want to take this moment to remind all of our friends and loved ones of how important they are to us. We have been incredibly blessed by wonderful friends that we left behind in Hawaii, a huge collection of friends scattered across the country that we've known over the years of military life, and new neighbors and Floridians that have welcomed us with open arms. We have a wonderful and supportive family that has cheered us on and loved us, despite the miles and the crazy realities of Army service. We are so grateful for the many people that have touched our lives this year, and we wish all of you great happiness and success in the coming year. 

Merry Christmas!

 

  

I've lost it

My joy, that is. I've completely lost my joy. 

There wasn’t a single event that stole it from me. No life-changing experience that robbed me of it. Instead, it was a steady chipping away, piece-by-piece, by the annoyances and hassles of daily life. Years of neglecting myself, of giving all of my time and energy to the service of others, without taking time for things that make me feel alive. The daily realities of being a mom—a thankless, tedious, repetitive job with little thanks and lots of bad attitudes—have left me feeling smaller and more weary with each passing day. 

I don’t think I’m alone in this experience. I think for many mothers, it is easy to find ourselves at this place—worrying, anxious, exasperated and on edge. The constant vigilance it requires to keep our children safe and thriving takes a toll, and when you add to that the pressure to somehow make this life worthy of a Pinterest board or something lovely to post on social media, then suddenly it all seems overwhelming. 

I used to be a woman that took risks, that laughed loud and freely. I knew the value of silliness and feeling free to dance, to sing, to really live. Somehow, I've lost that. I don't know if it is the constant fear-mongering that happens in our culture, the zillion news stories or website links outlining the many ways we can SCREW UP OUR KIDS, whether it be through toxins in baby wipes or chemicals in our food or by turning our backs for just a second when they are playing. Or maybe it is just the toll of being so busy, running our kids from place-to-place, the constant demands on our time by schools and clubs and sports, never stopping to just be. Or is it the addictive device we carry, the constant source of entertainment that has trained us to feel we need to be consuming media at all hours of the day? I don't know, honestly--but I know for certain that something has to give.

So, I'm on a mission to find my joy. I want to be present in the moment. I want to introduce my kids to the silly, spontaneous, fun person I used to be. I want to stop seeing my life as a checklist and remember it as a journey, approaching it with curiosity and hopefulness for what beauty may lie around the bend. And since imagery is one of the languages I use to communicate, you can expect many images and even videos of this journey to come. 

Follow me on Instagram if you haven't already--that will be the easiest place to find my photos, using the hashtag #findingmyjoy. Feel free to join me in this journey, just tag your images with #findingmyjoy so I can find them and be inspired by your journey, too (and tell me in the comments below so I can know to look).

Wishing us all a more joyful journey ahead. 

Composed

I was at the bus stop this morning, chatting with the other moms while we waited for the big yellow bus to arrive, scoop up our children, and buy us a few hours of freedom. Standing there, I mentioned during our conversation that my husband, Brad, was still away on TDY. The other mom looked surprised, "He's still gone? All this time? But you've looked so composed!" 

My people-pleasing ego really liked that praise, and I think I muttered something like, "Well, this is only 3 weeks. It's doable. Much better than the 6 months or year apart we are used to." 

I said it for two reasons: one, it is the optimism I've trained myself to see my life through: it can always be worse. Two, if I'm being totally honest, it makes me seem a little badass: I've done a year. I'm hardcore. This is NOTHING. 

Yup. I'm really that petty and prideful on the inside. Ugly, isn't it? But give me a little grace--I am working on it. 

But here's what I should have said to that sweet mama, the one who also has a husband that travels, plus three kids under 7:

I'm not composed. At all. I'm struggling. Every single day is a struggle. What you see as 'composure' is a well-rehearsed performance, born out of years of experience at being a 'work widow.'

My home is a mess. There's a week's worth of shoes and dirty socks by the front door that I keep stepping over.  Every day, the kids drop their shoes and school stuff by the door, I nag them to put it away, and the third or fourth time they actually do it but only half-way, and I'm too tired to keep at them, so the pile grows. I know I should punish them, but honestly, I'm exhausted from spending all of my energy trying to enforce the chores and rules and routines while still keeping them alive and fed, so I just walk past it and ignore it. Really awesome parenting, I know.

 I'm so behind in laundry, there is a basket of folded clothes at the base of the stairs that I've been nagging the kids to put away for a week. Another basket of unfolded clean clothes in the laundry room, and full hampers in their rooms. Just looking at the mountain is overwhelming at this point, so I'm ignoring it. 

I'm really good at ignoring things that overwhelm me.

This level of avoidance is a new development for me. I've always been the Martha Stewart wanna-be, the woman who crafts and bakes homemade sourdough and who takes pride in a neat, well-designed home. I look at the state of my home now and how it used to be and I just scoff, "What happened to you?"

When their dad leaves, my kids act as if the entire daily routine has gone out the window. With every deployment, I've learned it always requires two solid weeks of retraining, with a lot of chore charts and positive reinforcement to get them back on track. I've even lugged out the chore charts and jars of poker chips and have put the phrase, "Check your chore chart!" on repeat this TDY, yet I'm half-assing it. I know it and they know it. Honestly, it's only a three week separation and I'm pretty much just waiting it out at this point. I'll retrain them when I have backup. 

I'm taking some small measure of comfort in the fact that so far, I've yet to have a total meltdown and completely lose my shit in front of my kids. On every TDY or deployment in the past, I've had a moment when all of the constant running, pulling, doing, cooking, cleaning, and demands on my time and energy and sanity, without the relief of another set of hands and the mental stimulation of adult conversation, become just too much.  I end up screaming at someone, "I CAN'T DO THIS!! I AM ONE PERSON!" and scaring the crap out of the receiving child before I dissolve into tears. So far, we've avoided the drama this TDY. Perhaps this is a sign of growth? Of course, there's still a week left in this TDY; I probably shouldn't be so confident. 

I wake up tired. I go to bed exhausted. I'm cranky and snappy by the kids' bedtimes and then spend the hours after bedtime feeling like a crappy mom. I'm perpetually behind. As much as possible, I've cut all the frills out of our lives, operating in "survival mode." It's also why I limit my kids' activities and refuse to sign them up for every sport or club, because although it all sounds fine while daddy is home, I know I can't keep up with it while he's gone.  I've embraced a simple childhood and practiced the word "No" again and again. 

So, sweet mama, what you're seeing? It's not composure. It's a strange combination of hard-earned wisdom about my limits and a bunch of apathy and a dash of avoidance. Please don't look at me in the 5-10 minutes we spend together in the mornings and fool yourself into believing that I've got it all put together. In all honestly, I probably haven't showered in two days, and once my oldest is on the bus 45 minutes after my youngest, I'll either down a pot of coffee and push through or just crumple into a defeated pile on the couch and take a nap for an hour. 

I suspect the source of your comment was probably a comparison of how I appeared somewhat sane in the mornings and you comparing it to your own experience of being harried and exhausted and tired when your husband travels. (Or else, you are just a really kind, sweet soul who was taking pity on my crazy and offering me a kind word. Which is quite possible.)  But if you are in any way comparing my five minutes with your reality, just stop. Please. Anyone can appear sane and composed for five minutes.

As a photographer, I know this so well. With the right lighting and styling and artful angles, you can make the darkest, most horrible things look beautiful for just a moment. But the reality is often far more complicated than what falls within the boundaries of the frame.

I promise, to you or any other mom out there struggling and comparing yourself to another mom: the reality is, we're all struggling. Composure is just a myth. Every second spent in motherhood is fraught with doubt and guessing and uncertainty and frustration. Parenting is insane--it really is. We bring these helpless beings into the world, we love them with a fierceness that is just unexplainable, yet they make our lives crazy. They're unpredictable and demanding and completely dependent upon us and sometimes, really bratty. They can also break our hearts with a smile or a giggle. We would tear apart another who would criticize them, yet at times, we mutter what little assholes they can be under our breath. We want the very best for them, yet our best never seems to be enough: they are forever demanding more and we are forever seeing someone else that appears to be doing it better. Then, take this two-person job and suddenly shift it all onto the shoulders of one person, it becomes monumentally hard. And so, so isolating. (There's a reason God designed this parenting scheme to work best as a partnership between two people).

I honestly have no idea how full-time single parents do it, but I suspect that if asked, they give the same answer that I give when non-military parents ask how I manage a year-long deployment: you figure it out, because you don't have the option to fail. Someone is depending on you, so you figure it the eff out. Quitting, failing, giving up aren't options, so you just do it. I'm not made of special stuff. There isn't anything particularly unique about me. Just like any other mom, I love my children enough to do my best to raise them into successful adults, and no matter how my surroundings or circumstances my change along the way, I'll find my way. No mom out there possesses a secret gene or trait that makes her better able to do this. Each of us is unique, with our own talents and skills and varying strengths, sure--but we all contain the ONE thing we need to do this job well: a sacrificial love for our children that pushes us beyond our boundaries to meet their needs. 

I may not have composure, and my house my not be clean and my hair may be dirty--but I love my kids. So do you. We'll give them what they need to grow into independent adults--it may not always be pretty or Pinterest-worthy. But at the end of the day, that's enough. 

Fall is coming...right? RIGHT?

My favorite season is fall. I absolutely adore everything about autumn: the new crispness in the air, the way the world looks different each morning as the leaves transition from green to amber to orange and brown and then slowly fall to the ground. I love the holidays (Thanksgiving is my very favorite day of the year). I anxiously await the moment I can drag out my bins of sweaters and boots and flannel shirts and my collection of funky jackets. 

So, considering this great love I have for fall, you can imagine my angst at living in Hawaii for three years, land of eternal summer. Whereas most people would find 88 degrees and sunny every single day to be paradise, I found it monotonous. It was one of the biggest drawbacks to living in Hawaii for me: I missed SEASONS. 

After three years, it came time to move from Hawaii and I began to look forward to living in a land of seasons again. But then, of course, the universe played an awful trick on this fall-loving gal and sent me to Florida. So long dreams of fall leaves and 4 seasons. SIGH. 

Well, Florida does have its own charms, and although I'm still not pleased about the fall thing, I've decided to cut the state some slack and make the most of my time here. I am enjoying it so far (although I look forward to the end of the rainy/muggy/hot season we're in now). But this burgeoning love will not stop me from wistfully thinking of the lovely fall seasons I've enjoyed elsewhere. 

One of my favorite fall seasons actually came while living in Hawaii. It was the end of September 2014. Brad was deployed, I was homeschooling the kids and suddenly it felt as if the island of Oahu had shrunk to a miserably small, postage-stamp sized rock in the middle of the ocean. We'd been on the island over a year and the ever-present sunshine had become stifling. I yearned for sweaters and boots and fall leaves and camp fires and wide-open spaces. So I found a space-A flight (basically, open seats on a military aircraft moving cargo) to Travis AFB outside of San Francisco. I rented a campervan, which is a glorified 15-passenger van that was converted to have seats that folded down into a queen-sized bed and a camping kitchen in the back. The kids and I then spent three weeks traveling from San Fran to Pullman, WA, through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland, and then down the west coast back to San Fran. It was three weeks of camping in state and national parks, traveling 3000+ miles of highway, homeschooling on the go while visiting museums and historical sites, visiting every bathroom along I-5, and laughing. Lots of laughing. (And quite a bit of bickering, because KIDS!)  But it was one of the most amazing fall seasons of my life. 

Here are a few pictures of my trip, but you can read my entire journal of the trip on my old photography website by clicking here

The Morning Buzz

The move is complete, we're all unpacked and settled, and the kids have gone back to school. Time for me to get this blog, website, and all my social media accounts up-to-date! I'll start with a few pictures from my morning walks.

Now that I've been forced to become an early riser (completely against my will), I've decided to make the best of my mornings. Once I drop the kids off at the bus stop, our dear pup, Freckles, and I go on a walk, with my camera in tow. Although there aren't a lot of human subject about for me to photograph, I do enjoy my time with nature.

On a recent morning, I stopped to snap some bright flowers waving in a lovely patch of light when a bee lazily flew into the frame. I looked around and noticed that there were a lot of bees working about the bed of flowers, so I dropped to the sidewalk, took a seat, and waited. My patience paid off and I was able to capture many of these industrious workers in action. 

 

All of these images can be purchased/licensed through Offset. Check out my Offset Portfolio here.

Help! Send a life raft...and recipes!

I'm drowning in blueberries. 

It's blueberry season here in central Florida. Hand-lettered plywood signs dot the highways, directing drivers: "Five miles ahead! U pick blueberries!" Last week, our family donned some long-sleeves, lathered ourselves in bug spray and headed off to Lyna Berry Farms in search of fresh, ripe, juicy blueberries. And goodness, did we find them!

After tying buckets to our waist, we slipped our way through the rows of berry bushes, sampling the various varieties before settling on a patch of the largest, juiciest berries we had ever seen. The size of grape tomatoes, the plump delights fell from the bush at the slightest nudge, into our waiting buckets. Aubrey couldn't resist their tempting sweetness, and she spent most of the morning gently polishing a freshly plucked berry on her shirt (to 'clean' it, of course) before popping it into her mouth. Aiden was a bit more disciplined in his berry picking, sampling far fewer than he placed into his bucket, but soon he was bored with the practice and found entertainment in recycling dropped berries from the ground into projectiles to be thrown at his sister. 

Along the way, we encountered a couple of rabbits, their downy cotton tails flashing as they hopped beneath the tangled rows. A giant grasshopper was found, which Aubrey attempted to feed and Aiden delighted in holding--that is, until the grasshopper decided to poop on the dear boy's arm. Although it would seem such an act would offend the receiving party, in this case, it brought quite a bit of laughter and an opportunity to chase his sister with the bug's droppings. What can I say--the boy is eleven. 

Soon our buckets and bellies were full, and after paying the dear woman who ran the farm, we loaded up and headed home. 12 pounds of blueberries made it home with us. That's when the real fun began for me. I began with baking shortbread and reducing the berries into a delicious compote, which we layered together and slathered with fresh yogurt cream. The next morning, lemon pancakes with homemade blueberry syrup. The following night, a quick blueberry cobbler. Next up, seared pork tenderloin with blueberry pan sauce.  And after all of that, we've barely made a dent in the blueberries! A batch of blueberry jam in in order next, and I'll freeze some of the berries for smoothies. And don't forget the blueberry gin fizz to cap off a day of baking!

Here's one of the recipes, for you to try. Watch the growing calendar in your area for blueberry season and get out to a local farm. Your stomach will thank me later. 

Lemon-thyme Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup

1 cup all-purpose flour mix (I use gluten free Cup4Cup for my wheat-allergic son)

2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Scant 1 cup milk 

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp butter, melted

1 egg

1 tsp. lemon zest

1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme (vary according to taste)

Additional milk, if necessary

Canola or vegetable oil 

2 cups blueberries, washed

1 cup water, divided

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. cornstarch

1. Begin by making syrup: place blueberries and sugar in a heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat and add nearly all the water, leaving approximately 1-2 Tbsp of water in the measuring cup. Cook the blueberry mixture over medium high heat, bringing to a boil and stirring frequently, until the berries have burst and the mixture has thickened slightly.  

2. Add cornstarch to the remaining water in the measuring cup and stir until mixture is smooth, with no lumps. Slowly pour cornstarch slurry into simmering blueberry mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to stir blueberry syrup until thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Turn off heat and allow mixture to rest while you make pancakes. (**The syrup can be eaten as is, with blueberry chunks in it--this is how we like it--or you can use a stick blender or transfer the mixture to a blender to puree into a smooth syrup. You may need to add water to get syrup to the desired, pourable thickness. And be careful blending hot liquids!)

3. For the pancakes: place lemon juice in a glass measuring cup (2 cup size). Fill measuring cup to the 1 cup line with milk and allow to set at room temp for 5-10 minutes to sour.

4. Melt butter in microwave or on stove top. Remove from heat and stir in chopped thyme and lemon zest. Set aside. 

5. In a separate large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. 

6. Once milk has soured and thickened, add vanilla and egg to the measuring cup. Whisk to combine wet ingredients. 

7. Whisk milk mixture into dry ingredients until just combined. Add melted butter mixture and stir gently. Allow batter to rest 3-5 minutes while you heat griddle.

8. Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat. Grease lightly with oil, then ladle/pour a scant 1/4 cup batter to make each pancake. Once edges are dry and bubbles appear throughout pancake, approx. 1-2 minutes, flip to other side and cook an additional 1-2 minutes, until pancake is cooked through and springs back to the touch. Remove and keep warm. 

Serve a stack of warm pancakes drizzled with the blueberry syrup and enjoy! (PS--this blueberry syrup-blended or strained- is also great as a base for a natural soda, if you have a SodaStream or other soda maker; and also mixes nicely with gin, lime juice and club soda for a refreshing summer cocktail!)

 

 

What's your favorite blueberry recipe? I'd love some additional ideas!

How many can I fit in my mouth at once? 

How many can I fit in my mouth at once? 

Beware the sour, unripe blueberry. 

Beware the sour, unripe blueberry. 

Eeeewwww! He pooped on me!

Eeeewwww! He pooped on me!

Moonlight over the Mokuluas

Some nights, I just need a break. An opportunity to walk out the door, leave my children and husband at home, and clear my head of all the noise. As a mom whose life is consumed by homeschooling and cooking and childcare and chores, while still trying to work from home on a burgeoning photo/design business and a national social media campaign for a non-profit, and attempting to coordinate a trans-Pacific move, my head is perpetually filled with to-do lists. I get to the point where people talk to me, and I cannot understand what they are saying--I have to stop the whirling in my brain and have them repeat themselves in order to get my brain to shift gears from all of the stuff going on inside. 

I had reached this point on Wednesday night, so my dear husband came home early and sent me out the door with strict instructions to relax. "Go get a pedicure," he said. Although it would have been lovely, I had something else in mind for my evening of relaxation. I really wanted an hour or two to just shoot for me, and I knew that I'd seen a full moon out the night before. I pulled up a photo planner app (Photo Pills, if anyone is interested) and checked to see when and where the moon would rise, and wouldn't you know it--the moon was scheduled to rise at 8:50 pm over the very spot I'd been DYING to photograph the moonrise. It was fate, I tell 'ya.

I quickly packed up my tripod and gear and drove across the island, hitting Whole Foods for some picnic provisions along the way.  I arrived on Lanikai beach in full dark, which made hiking across the sand to my shooting location interesting, then set up my gear and waited. I enjoyed the quiet of the night, relishing the sound of the waves hitting the shore as I sipped my beer and ate my dinner. Soon, I saw the sky beginning to lighten in the direction of the Mokuluas, two tiny islets just off the windward coast of Oahu. The show was about to begin. 

And what a gorgeous show it was. The moon began peeking over the horizon, fiery red, a tiny sliver staining the sky and clouds around it orange. Slowly it ascended, just between the two islets, and sent a trail of gold across the surface of the water. As it rose, the moon passed between and behind clouds, sometimes blocked completely, and at other times it would suddenly break free of it's cloudy prison and defiantly blaze it's light upon the shore. It was a beautiful show that I happily watched for two hours, taking many shots from different angles, playing with multiple compositions and exposures. Finally, the damp chilly air drove me from the beach and back to the van for the long drive home. It was a lovely evening, exactly what this busy mama needed to feel refreshed and ready to tackle another day of chaos. 

 

First light.

First light.

Breaking through.

Breaking through.

My favorite of the bunch.

My favorite of the bunch.

A walk along the shore

For all of its flaws and hassles, there is one aspect of living in Hawaii that I cannot deny is fabulous: being in such close proximity to so many lovely beaches. There are perfectly manicured resort beaches; wide-open beaches with an endless, wide swath of sand; wild beaches with rocky shorelines and coral bottoms, perfect for exploring with a snorkel; tiny alcoves of sand tucked back into the cliffs, where the water gently laps the shore; and steep shorelines with massive waves crashing against the sand. I recently decided to swing by a beach just a few minutes from our home. Nimitz Beach will never make the tourist guide: it is a bit rocky, there are abandoned WWII pillboxes littering the shore, and the surf break is lousy, but it is quiet and still and lovely. Generally, I have this beach to myself, occasionally running into a lone fisherman or a photographer with a family clad in matching outfits. On this day, I wasn't wanting to swim--I just wanted to walk the shore, enjoying the sound of the surf crashing against the beach, and take in the sights and textures.