Sunday, October 31, 2010


After just posting about the power of black and white photos, I captured these two today. Anna and Great-Grandpa.

Although technically, they are far from perfect, these pictures take my breath away.

At nearly 101 years old, Grandpa Pexa is still the most vibrant and caring and loving person I have ever known. Ever. And when he hugs you, when he says he loves you...well he means it. Grandpa loves from his soul.

For Henry and Anna to know him - for him to be such a central part a of their daily lives...well, there isn't anything I could be more grateful for.

I know someday Anna will treasure these pictures as much as I do right now.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Over the course of the last week, I have randomly come across these three items:

First, from the book "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell:
The emerging picture from studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert - in anything," writes the neurologist David Levintin. "In study after study of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, and what have you, this number comes up again and again....It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.
Then, from California wedding photographer Jasmine Star's blog:

Practice and honing a craft is the key to growing success. Hands down. There isn't a magic pill to just get better. Trust me, I prayed for it. And it didn't come in a package on my came, rather, in the form of blood, sweat, and tears. Day after day of giving myself practice assignments with my camera, second shooting, and participating in photography forums to help my progress….Go and practice.

Finally, this from one of my favorite blogs "The Shutter Sisters," and guest blogger Karen Grunberg (this is a much abbreviated synopsis...)

…Over the years, I realized that I was improving but I wasn't consistent and I couldn't tell if my better photos were due to luck or because I was getting better at photography. This is when I started the daily practice. For the last three years, I've been taking photos every single day. Every day. Bar none. The daily practice means that I can notice subtle changes in light better. The daily practice means I can focus on the photography more. The daily practice means I can develop my personal style. I know that the idea of taking photos every day might seem overwhelming and too time-consuming but, like most things, the biggest part is showing up. The most important part is to just do it. Grab that camera and take photographs. Again and again and again. Until it becomes a daily practice.

Okay, I think the universe is telling me something. Of course, this is nothing new. I have been practicing. More than ever. But, I need to ramp it up. I have to give myself permission to spend the time doing so (which of course is always the hardest part - - doing something for me.) And, I don't only have to take portraits. There are photo opportunities all around me. I just need to get used to a camera on my hip, all the time (especially now that there isn't a little one or a diaper bag on my hip...)

So, I am making a commitment right here and now. DAILY PRACTICE! Pictures everyday. I can't guarantee I'll post everyday, but I will have at least one picture I could post from each day. Practice, practice, practice!!

And, no better time than the present....Here are my first daily practice shots.

This afternoon, I was at the kitchen table working on a menu and grocery list for the week ahead. (I'm really trying to get back into this good habit again, in the hope of being more organized and somehow squeezing a few extra minutes out of each day).

Anyway, Henry came into the kitchen "bored" and he rifled through a collection of art supplies and miscellaneous things Annie had left before she flew to Rwanda. He found a bag of these little cups, and ended up spending a half hour stacking them in various configurations and then knocking them down.

Besides making for a few cool pictures, the thing I found most striking was that, as Henry built his structures, a few cups would inevitably fall down every so often. A year ago, with the first tumble, Henry would have stomped off in tears, angry and frustrated. But instead today, he laughed (laughed!) and just kept building.

I am amazed at how much can change in the course of a year...

It gives me hope!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Black and white...

Yesterday, I finished going through all of the photos I took of Brennan and his mom and dad last weekend. For the first time, I prepped all the pictures in color, and then made a black and white copy of each one as well.

As I converted the photos one by one, I was absolutely struck by each image as it changed from color to black and white. Going through this process, it was like I finally understood the power of the black and white image..... Why they are often so compelling and emotional, so timeless. When I took the color away, I could really see the subject of the photo. I understood more of what the image represented. It was one of those "a-ha" moments.

So, thanks Sandra for another fabulous opportunity to learn from our time together last weekend!!

(I know the angle on this one -below- isn't the best, but there is something about it that I just love. Maybe because I was lucky enough to capture a moment of pure joy - - not for the camera. Just for the moment.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Safe and sound...

My sister Annie made it to Rwanda. AND SHE IS FINE. Actually, much more than fine.

(that whooshing sound you hear outside your door is not the crazy wind. It is my entire family breathing a huge sigh of relief!!!!!!)

Despite all the last-minute tears and inevitable doubts (OMG, what have I done???), Annie had a relatively uneventful 36 hour trip, from Minneapolis to Philadelphia to Brussels to Kigali. And, although it is not nearly enough for our insatiable taste (we are dying to hear every detail), she has already sent us an email, posted on her blog and called my mom this morning. (a nine minute conversation - - not that we're counting).

Here are a few Annie quotes to date:

From her email: It's beautiful here, hard to describe. There are hills everywhere and all the buildings are built right on them. Everything is very green. The weather this morning was beautiful, about 75 and sunny. It feels real now and I'm just so excited. I know I'm going to fall in love with this country!

And from her blog post: This has been the most amazing experience already! We have been staying in Kigali and have had a lot of basic orientation. We are staying at a conference center and aren’t allowed to leave on our own but we are able to walk around the city with one of our teachers. It was easily one of the best experiences of my life!

Of course, I miss her terribly already, but I can't explain the overwhelming relief I feel knowing that she is okay.... That she is fine. Happy. Safe. Excited. Overwhelmed. So very "in her element."

(Funny how the heartbreak from just a few days ago, can so quickly transform into something so joyful!!)

Although I'm sure Annie will send/post photos of her own soon, I found these Rwandan pictures on the web for a little reference (my apologies to the photographers who I am stealing from...)

Trip to Africa, anyone?? (seriously.)

In honor of Annie's safe arrival, I made a blog button for her. See "The Long Way Around" over on the right, under the INSPIRED heading. Click to go to her blog. Annie sounds pretty occupied at the moment, but promises she will start blogging soon. (And, I certainly hope so! I'm wearing out the refresh button on my computer, checking her blog every ten minutes, as I desperately hope for an update!


Since I was on a roll yesterday, I made my very first blog button too. (also on the right). I doubt it will get much use, but I at least wanted to practice my new blog button making skills. And, if anyone happens to be in need of a blog button, just let me know! With two under my belt, I'm now a self-proclaimed expert!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A good morning...

This is Brennan. He is 8 months old.

Adorable doesn't begin to describe this little guy. Really.

Sandra and Ben are his mom and dad. I've known Sandra through work for the past few years. She was actually one of the very first people from work that I told about my new "hobby." I just had an inkling that Sandra would understand my new creative urge. I knew she was a writer, but I've since learned that she draws as well. She gets it.... Plus, she just started a brand new business venture of her own. (I am so inspired by her!)

And, you have to see her light up when she talks about Brennan. This is one lucky little guy!

So, when I asked, I was hopeful that she'd humor me with some photos...To my great fortune, she did!

This is the family tortoise (one of 3!) I love Brennan's expression. As if to say "yeah man, I've got a tortoise. It's cool..."

This may be one of my favorite pictures of the morning...

Not even a year old, and Brennan is a budding pianist. He pounds the keys quite dramatically, and then looks up with this amazing grin, ready for mom and dad's applause and adoration. And of course, he gets plenty of both. (well deserved, I might add...)

Sandra and Ben, you were so kind to let me spend an hour with you this morning! These photos are just a few of my favorites. More to come.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Embracing the chaos...

Back in the day before I had kids, I thought I had a pretty clear idea of how I would parent. What I would and would not do. What I would and would not expose my children to. With the best of intentions, I would create a wonderful environment in which my children could flourish and thrive.

With this in mind, I declared (--unfortunately out load and within ear-shot of other people, including my mother) that…

  • My kids would not wear stereotypical, color-coded pink and blue clothes. It would be primary colors all the way!
  • My kids would never use a pacifier, or become attached to a blankie. (afterall, they would just be attached to me).
  • In our home, we would not have room for Barney or Disney or any of the other commercialized toys that are incessantly marketed to kids.
  • No plastic!! Only wooden and natural toys.
  • No fast food, especially McDonald’s.
  • And right up there on top of the list: absolutely NO Barbie anything. Period.

Of course, I had Barbies when I was growing up. In fact, I loved them. (loved them). But now that I would be a parent, I was not going to expose my kids to the completely unattainable and unhealthy ideals of beauty that Barbie represented. For god-sake, I had a master’s degree in woman studies… I was prepared to be super-natural, holistic (read: granola) mama! My home would be different dammit.

And then something happened. Something that changed everything…

I had kids.

(Seriously. What was I thinking?? Did I think I'd be raising my kids in a plastic bubble?)

Nuks, pink, blue, happy meals, disney, dora…Yup, we’ve pretty much done it and watched it and had it all at our house. Of course, I haven’t abandoned all of my pre-kid ideals. I still want those things for my kids. I still believe in what those ideals represent. And more often than not, we actually do live by those values. But, now I think the idealist and the realist in me are seeing a little more eye to eye. I can only do my best. And I am doing just that. My best.

I must admit though, I was still clinging to one of my pre-kid declarations. We were still living in a Barbie-free household. I was holding out, despite Anna screaming “I WANT THAT” whenever a commercial came on advertising Glitter Barbie or Boob-job Barbie or Botox Barbie.

I was strong. I was resolute. I was determined. No Barbie.

Until yesterday…

Yes, I know it is only a bike, but it is a BARBIE bike. I figure it is all downhill from here…

(I found it on Craig’s list. Really cheap. Barely used. Anna’s Christmas present…. And, okay…I admit it. When push comes to shove, a really good deal can often trump my high minded ideals).

Oh boy....

My mother-in-law (whom I love!) visited recently and described our household as “chaos.” Granted, she has a pretty strict behaviorist viewpoint on child-rearing (which is diametrically opposed to my "free-style" form of parenting). In some ways, maybe it is chaos around here. But, you know what? It is my chaos. My life. Our life as a family. I love my kids unconditionally and they know it. They really know it. I’m confident the rest will fall into place, imperfections and all. Plus letting my kids be exposed to all of those things that I don't really love have made for some pretty amazing and insightful conversations between us.

I think that is where the real parenting happens.

So, happily (and with great relief), I’m making it official: I’m off the hook! I’m embracing the chaos. Guilt-be-gone. I’m done. And despite all my mommy flaws, my kids are amazing, kind, respectful and loving little people. Really, what more could I ask for.

(Hey, I wonder if I could still consider us Barbie–free if Santa brought the bike…)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dance, dance, dance...

I stopped by my mom and dad's house today. My mom passed along a card and a CD that Annie had left for Henry and Anna before she flew off to Rwanda.

When the kids got home this afternoon, we turned up the music in the kitchen, and I read the card to the kids:
Henry and Anna,
When I was little and your mom was in Alaska, I missed her so much. But, she made tapes of music for me that I listened to all the time. It made me feel better to know that she was thinking of me. Listen to these songs and think of me, and I will listen and think of you two. Most importantly, sing as loud as you can and dance, dance, dance! I love you both to the moon and the stars! Love, Aunt Annie

So, as instructed (and with joy), we danced...

And danced...

And danced...

All around the kitchen. For the entire 54 minutes of the CD.

(well, mostly Anna danced and I took pictures. Henry danced for a few minutes before I pulled out the camera, watched for awhile longer, and then took off downstairs. He is in first grade, afterall...)

As each new song came on, I teared up, knowing exactly why Annie chose it. After the 3rd song - - and the 3rd bout of crying, Anna stopped dancing, looked straight at me and said "Mom, if you cry, my friends won't come over anymore."

Okay, okay. I get it!!! Geeesshhh!

So....we will dance, dance, dance and sing loudly. We will celebrate and learn about new places and new people. We will think of Annie all the time, and send her love all the way to Rwanda. We will share our love here, with those near and dear. Everyday.

And, as I promised you Anna, I will do my best not to cry. I certainly do not want to be responsible for your social demise at the tender young age of three!


Monday, October 18, 2010


It was a weekend like any other...

Well almost - -

We lounged around. And snuggled.

And stared.

We played a mean game of Monopoly, with some major dollars trading hands.

We sent Buzz and Woody on wild adventures.

We made projects.

We celebrated 3 years worth of birthdays in one day.

We took some pictures.

We hugged (a lot).

We cried (a lot).

And then, with more than a little heartbreak, we said goodbye. For now.