Thursday, September 30, 2010


It was such a beautiful day today. I'm amazed at how warm the sun feels, once you've adjusted to the cooler autumn air...

After dinner, we headed out to the backyard. Who knows how long these warm evenings will last.

Aunt Annie is at our house for a sleepover tonight, and then she is spending the weekend at mom and dad’s with the kids when Ray and I are in Chicago. (for my workshop with Audrey Woulard - I can't wait!!).

I love seeing the kids with Aunt Annie. I know this is the subject of half my posts lately, but they really have a relationship with her unlike with anyone else. She “gets” them. She shows such genuine interest in them. And, the kids know it.

I swear Anna jumped up and down for 20 minutes straight when Annie first arrived. She was just so darn excited!!

(Anna calls this "spider swinging.")

Yesterday after Henry and I went on our bike ride, we had a long chat about Aunt Annie leaving soon. We really hadn’t talked about it much up to this point. He was sad, but had more questions than anything. (How long will she be gone? Where is Rwanda? What will she do there? Where will she live? Who will drive her car? Can we call her on the phone? etc. etc.)

Today, he asked Annie several times “Why do you have to go so far away?” A hard question for Annie. An honest question for Henry. It’s a lot for him to process. I’m glad they’ll have this weekend together, to try and find some answers to those questions, and just to have fun together.

So, Annie and I aren’t sitting around staring at each other…but our time together certainly has a different feel to it. More immediate. Like everything counts. A lot.

She leaves two weeks from Monday, and we know our time is short.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


When I began this blog in January, my idea was simply to track my 101 in 1001 list. That seems SO long ago. Sixty-eight (68!) posts later, and the blog has taken on a life of its own…A direction I never would have imagined. And I’m so excited with how it has evolved. Ecstatic, actually. But, staying true to my original intent, I figured I at least owed myself a 101 in 1001 progress report. And surprisingly, I have quite a few updates to add...

1. Monthly date night: so we haven’t found a new babysitter yet, and I hate bugging my mom and dad all the time. But Ray and I have gone on dates probably about every other month. All things considered, I’ll take that.

4. Pexa/Cox family credo: created. Living by it: work in progress.

5. Update our list of family rules: check! (getting the kids involved: yup! Enforcing with consistency: do I hear my mother calling me??? Sorry, gotta go…)

8. Keep a kids journal: in many ways, my “Everyday Gratitude” has become my kid journal. That's about all I can keep up with!

9. Intentionally photograph the kids at least once per month for a year: check (and then some). Although I do need to get some of the kids together. Might be quite the challenge!

Health and Fitness
Um…yeah…No health and fitness goals to report on. A far cry from my tri-training days just a year ago. And it shows. I hate that!!

17. Really evaluate what I am passionate about in my life: in progress.

18. Create a mastermind / goal-setting group and participate fully: I LOVE JULD!! (my monthly solace with wise and very dear friends!!)

22. Develop a plan to learn children’s and family documentary portraiture and implement: every spare minute…Can't wait for my workshop with Audrey Woulard this weekend.

Spiritual / Inner!
24. Start a gratitude journal as a blog and write in it everyday for a year: check! I’m amazed at how this simple exercise has made such an impact on my daily outlook.

30. Clean and organize the kid’s closets. about half done. The August garage sale made a HUGE dent!! It felt so good to find a little closet breathing space!

Community / Greater Good
37. Make bill paying as paperless as possible: I went nearly all paperless, but then worried that I was missing bills, particularly those that didn’t send an automatic email notice. So, now I still get a few by mail. A good balance. I much prefer the peace of mind knowing everything is paid on time!

46. Develop two new good friendships with people who live nearby: one down, one to go.

House and Home
49. Share fresh flowers from my cutting garden with someone once a week all summer long: my intentions were good, but my garden drowned in weeds and barely produced a bloom. I’ll try again next year.

53. Continue to maintain all gardens organically: Yes, but the weeds were so out of control that I barely got anything out of the garden. I think I need to rethink my strategy for next year.

55. Make a sunflower house with the kids: we planted, we weeded, we mowed, and we grew huge sunflowers. But, the sunflowers were so big, that there wasn’t room left to play. Again, we’ll rethink this one next summer.

56. Build a fire pit: built, but remains unused. I’m still not sure how the summer escaped us without a single bonfire. Maybe a nice autumn blaze??

63. Go on a long weekend trip with Ray to Chicago: yes, yes, yes!! We leave on Friday morning. I will attend my photography workshop (!!) on Saturday and part of Sunday, but we’ll have the rest of the time together, including Monday for ourselves. 3 whole nights without Anna snoring between us!!

66. Go camping in 4 state parks: Jay Cooke State Park with my family in July. Fun was had by all.

Fun For All Of Us
77. Go to a Twins game at Target Field: Henry, Ray and I enjoyed a beautiful evening with the Twins in August. Great game. Great fun!!

90. Start my own successful / sustainable business: working on it!!

94. Build HSA account to a minimum of $6,000 at the end of a calendar year: I was well on my way. Then my root canal and subsequent crown derailed the momentum. $3,000 later, and we’re building the fund all over again. Oh well, at least we had the HSA to fall back on!

95. Sell clothes and “stuff” on Craig’s list or Ebay and use proceeds to buy all birthday and holiday gifts during one year: the summer garage sale gave me a great jumpstart towards the goal. I also have lots of clothes photographed and ready to post on CL or Ebay. But, I just haven’t set it up yet. It is so much work and I’m not sure it is worth it. Another garage sale in a year or two might be the better way to go. (and more fun too!!)

101. Take portraits of Grandpa Pexa:
check. But, I’d like to try again.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lessons learned...

This is Sophie. She is four.

I've known Sophie since she was born, but only through her mom's stories. Her mom Jen and I have become dear friends over the years, but I've never had the opportunity to meet Sophie until yesterday.

After a long day of work (on a Saturday no less), Sophie was an absolute breath of fresh air. She is all personality, and cute as can be.

This was the first time I was taking pictures of someone who didn't know me, and frankly I was a little nervous about it. But, Sophie put me right at ease. (Funny how a 4-year-old can do that!) She is sweet and smart and fun and SO had much to tell me.

Miss Ava is Sophie's baby sister. She was a little sleepy when I arrived, and was off to nap-land soon after. But, I still got a few cute shots. Ava was all smiles, especially with a little coaxing from dad.

Every time I take pictures, I learn a little more. (well in my case, a lot more, considering my learning curve is straight UP...) And this time was no different.

Yesterday's big lessons came courtesy of Sophie...

We were taking pictures in the front yard, and things were going along swimmingly. Sophie was posing and smiling and playing, and I just snapped away. Before we went to explore the backyard, I wanted to get a few pictures of Sophie on the front steps. So, I asked her to have a seat on the bottom step. She came over and plopped down just where I had asked her too....which was right in the middle of a mini-puddle of water.

Sophie stood up, looked right at me, and burst into tears. It seems that I had caused a mini-puddle on the back of her most-favorite-flowery-pants-ever. My heart sank...But after a few consoling words from mom, Sophie recovered in a flash. She was brave, and knew that pictures must go on...

Jen and Sophie retreated to the house for a quick wardrobe change, and returned with blue polka dots. My favorite!

Her new ensemble also included this adorable pair of sparkly shoes. (Sophie, I learned, is quite the 4-year-old fashionista!)

And for me...

LESSON #1: Look at what you want your subjects to sit on, before you ask them to sit!!

LESSON #2: Don't be afraid of 4-year olds. They are actually quite nice (and forgiving, even when you make them sit in a puddle!)

Thanks Sophie!!

These next few are some of my favorites...

Jen, thank you for sharing your darling girls with me. It was a perfect ending to my day!

Morning fog...

I am grateful for the backyard beauty outside my window every morning. There's no way to take this for granted...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In a flash...

I was leaving the house for work this morning, just a little after 7 a.m. It is a rare Saturday when I have to work, let alone go downtown to the office. But, this was one of those mornings. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

As I was headed out the door, I noticed that there was a beautiful sunrise taking shape, with the sun barely up over the trees. And then, when I started backing my car out of the garage, there were raindrops on my windshield. I didn’t expect it to be raining, given I had just noticed the sun coming up. For some reason, a thought popped into my head. There must be a rainbow somewhere. Now, I'm not normally a pretty-rainbow-and-unicorns kind of person...the thought just flashed. But, sure enough...I turned around and directly to the west, there was the most vivid double rainbow I’ve ever seen. Ever. And I could see them, end to end. It was amazing. I couldn't help but be in awe.

Now, I wasn't going to go all "double-rainbow-guy" on it (have you seen this video?). But, there was also no way I could just drive off without sharing it….

I put my car in park, ran back inside the house and called to the kids. Come downstairs quick!! Everyone was up early this morning (sorry Ray!) and they were all piled in our bed watching Saturday morning cartoons. Henry and Anna ran down and we shared the rainbow together as we stood on the front porch. It was a quick moment and I’m not sure the kids appreciated it as much as I did. But it was a moment none-the-less. We shared something beautiful and unexpected and that’s what mattered most to me.

The kids and I exchanged a few more hugs and kisses. And just as I turned to leave (again), Henry said “Mom, rainbows are good luck. It is going to be a good day!”

If I have to work on a Saturday, this is exactly the send-off I’d hope for…

(I know, I know. Cue: sappy music and tears welling up in moms's eyes..)

I happened to have my camera in my car, so before I left my driveway, I snapped this quick picture. Since there were houses in the shot, I thought I’d drive a little and take another few pictures. But, I hadn’t even made it a half mile down the road and the rainbow was gone. Completely gone. The clouds had moved in over the sun, and it vanished...

Life is like that. Little moments. Gone in a flash. I think life presents its beauty to us all the time. The question is whether we stop to notice it or not. There are opportunities all around. Windows opening. Love. Little kindnesses. Joy. It is there in front of us. We just have to be present for it. Notice. Before it vanishes.

Damn if I’m not going to try and take notice of those gone-in-a-moment flashes.


(See what a little rainbow in the morning can do? Turned me into a two-cent philosopher…)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Full circle...

I've been avoiding this post.... this conversation with myself for the past two weeks. I'm not sure how to write about it. Since no answers have arrived over these past weeks, I will just begin and find out what I have to say…

My sister Annie is leaving for Rwanda in four weeks. She'll be gone for 28 months in the Peace Corp. We most likely will not see her during that time. We don't know if she will have electricity in her new community, and therefore we have no idea how we'll be able to keep in touch with her.

Annie is currently a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. In Rwanda, she'll teach school -- science and math and English.

I wrote about some of this a month ago when Annie was still waiting for her assignment. (see post: We adore her...) At that point, nothing was firm yet. It was all going to happen "sometime." We were just thinking about being sad, but we weren't really there yet.

That was then...

Annie's official Peace Corps "invitation" arrived two weeks ago. She accepted the position in Rwanda. She leaves October 19th.

Now it is real.

Let me first write this just to offer some context to what may come after:

I am amazingly proud of Annie. So proud that I can't possibly put it into words. I am so excited for the adventure that awaits her. I am absolutely inspired to see her LIVING what so many people (myself included) only dream of. I am in awe of Annie's willingness to give up all the comforts here in the U.S. in order to immerse herself in a culture that is completely apart from what she has known. Her heart is so full of love and joy, that she is willing to go half way around the world to share it. I love that Henry and Anna will have a first-hand opportunity to learn about Annie’s experience and about kids who are living in a way that is so different from their own privileged life in Minnesota. I can't wait to see how Annie will grow during her assignment...who she will become because of this life-changing opportunity.

In short, I love her and adore her. And I support her Peace Corps decision wholeheartedly and without question. Honest.

With that said, I still have more to say...(what a surprise, huh?)

I am sad. Like my-heart-is-breaking sad. So sad, that I've been pushing away these thoughts for weeks (months, really). I don't know what to do with the sadness....

Annie was born when I was sixteen. She was an amazing gift to our family, and I loved her as my little sister, but I'm sure in a way that was much different had I been three or seven or even ten years old when she was born.

When Annie was only two and a half, I was off to college for four years, and then to Alaska for the better part of ten years. So, while I was on my own grand adventure, Annie was growing up. And I missed A LOT!! (holidays, birthdays, loose teeth, dance recitals, camping trips, school projects...)

When Ray and I moved back to Minnesota to build a house and get married and start a family, Annie was just about to go off to college herself. Our sisterly timing was rotten. We just kept missing each other. But finally these last five years or so, we’ve been in the same state, and it’s been wonderful. We’ve really had an opportunity to be sisters, with a real sister relationship. I’ve cherished this time.

Despite my breaking heart, I know she and I will be okay. We've been apart most of our lives, and only grown closer. I know that will be true again now....

I also know what is the hardest part for me...

I've been so grateful that Annie has been such a big part of Henry and Anna’s lives. She’s been there since the day they were born . . . She is part of their center, of who they are. She loves them fiercely. That relationship has been so important to me.

The kids are going to miss her so very much. Crazy miss her. I don’t even want to think of the tears that are coming. But for me, it is most difficult to think about WHAT Henry and Anna will miss - - They won't get a big swinging hug and a dozen kisses from Annie every week or two. They won't have her a simple phone call away to listen (with genuine interest!) to their daily rambling (including, in Anna's case, often unintelligible ramblings). And, they will miss sharing with her many of the same things I missed when I was gone. The everyday things... (holidays, birthdays, loose teeth, dance recitals, camping trips, school projects).

Maybe that's why it is so tough for me...I guess we've come full circle.

I have to remember though that “different” doesn’t make it “less.” Henry and Anna will still have her. Sure, not for a hug, but instead for something different and new that is still full of love and full of Aunt Annie. If this is really important to me (and it is!), I will find a way to continue to have her front and center, even when she is thousands of miles away. For the kids. And for me too.

Nothing is going to take away the sad. Nothing. We'll just have to get through it. But, none-the-less, we'll still send her off with all the love that we have ("we'll love her to the moon and back," as the kids would say. Now maybe for Aunt Annie, it will be "love to Rwanda and back..."). And, we'll send her with prayers for safety, and amazing adventures and electricity! (oh god, for everyone's sake - and for my mother's sanity - please, please, please….let there be electricity!!)

I called Annie the other day and told her that I have this inclination to just sit around and stare at her until she has to leave. I was serious. And that might be entirely possible, it if wasn't for all of the other (many!) friends and family who love Annie just like we do. My guess is that there will be lots and lots of people staring at Annie over these next few weeks...!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The perfect spot...

I'm so honored that my dear friends take time out of their busy schedules to let me take a few pictures. And this weekend, my job was so easy with this beautiful family....

Ashton (5) and Ava (2 & 1/2) went to daycare at Tonya's for years with Anna and Henry. I have always held a special place for these two kiddos. They are just as sweet as can be!

And boy, were they ready to have their picture taken on Sunday!! I was so impressed! My inkling is that mom may have bribed them with promises of a post-picture treat, or they were simply practicing for their future modeling careers. Either way, they did great!!

Location, location, location - - Ashton was all over it. He ushered me from place to place in Grandma's yard, showing me great photo op spots.

And, he had a pretty good eye too (especially on the lava rocks, as he called them!)

I think Ashton would have been up for another hour of pictures. He was totally into it...and when you get shots like this, why not??? He's adorable!

And Ava - - She just may be a daddy's girl.

She is a little peanut....But don't underestimate this blond-haired beauty. (do you see that look in her eye??) Ava is absolutely as sweet as pie, but she is no shrinking violet, either. I have no doubt that she makes her wishes very clear at her house. And, she has this deep raspy voice that takes everyone by surprise.... Just what I like in a little girl - a little spice and feisty! I'm sure these qualities will serve Ava very well in life!

I think this next one might be my favorite from the day (and there were lots of favorites to choose from...) She just looks so happy.... That little kid, full of pure joy, kind of happy. Not-a-care-in-the-world happy. The kind of happy every parent hopes they can give their kid, every day....

I LOVE the 5 and 2 1/2 year old attitude in this picture!!

Thanks again!! I can't tell you how much I appreciate this!!

(And, know that Anna can hardly wait to visit on Friday!! When I told her about the play date, she jumped up and down for a few seconds, then she froze and took off up the stairs. When I asked where she was going, she said, "Mama, I just have to go and pack my backpack with all the things that Ava likes to play with. Right now!!" . . . . Clarissa, you may be in for quite the afternoon with those three little girls!!)