Favorite Five for Friday

This was quite the week!!  I wrapped up portraits at a childcare center, Little Mates in Morgantown.  It was kid wrangling fun, super-charged silliness and lots of singing, and I'll tell you what - I needed a nap afterwards!  I'm hoping to do more school portraits in the coming months.  It's an area of portrait photography that begs to be expressed with natural light, in my humble opinion anyhow - I may be a bit biased, though.  

I also wrapped up a large family portrait session of 9 at a friend's home.  She and her family are very private and wish not to be shared in the social blogosphere.  OH, how I wish I could share their portraits with you, because they are beautiful!  We managed to get our session in just after a thunderstorm, which has been a frequently occurring weather trend this past week (that, along with loss of power as a result of the storms - ugh).  

I'm also prepping the house, yard, art activities, journaling prompts, yoga poses, games, and overall gearing up for the start of our summer camp for girls, beginning on Monday.  Busy Bees is coming up quickly and I'm finding myself excited for it, eager to see the girls and have fun with them, yet also mildly panicked as I juggle all of my creative projects.  Must remember to breathe.  Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming... ;)  

We, the girls and I, attended a Summer Solstice Bubble Festival at the Berks County Heritage Center in Reading with our fun-fabulous neighbor, Jo!  I was thrilled Jo let me know about it and invited us to go!  It was a wonderful way to usher in the joyful celebration of summertime!!!  I, of course, had a blast making photos of the people gathered, enthralled with wonderment at the ever changing shapes and colors, and then... popping of BUBBLES created by the one and only, Grandpop Bubbles!!!  Such a neat event complete with live music, sundial crafts, a fire pit to roast marshmallows and/or hot dogs, and refreshing ice cream!  We screamed for ICE CREAM!  :)  Many terrific thanks to you, my dear friend, Jo, for including us!  

This past weekend we celebrated Father's Day with our favorite guy, Kurt.  We had the good fortune of having family visit with us from Maine!  Kurt's sister, Jeri and her husband, Scott were in town for a day or two.  We celebrated an early Father's Day with a cookout on Friday night, including Kurt's adorable mother and his brother, Jeff and his lovely wife, JoAnne.  We shared a beautiful evening and a delicious grilled meal together.  Our Emilia even had the special opportunity to play round after round of chess with her uncle Scott, who explained the game with utmost patient care.  Thanks, Uncle Scott!  Oh, and now, that's the only game she wants to play!  

And with that...  I'll share my favorite 5 frames from this past week.            

I shared more of the Bubble loving, summer welcoming crowd and event over at my personal Facebook page:  click here to view.  And on my Flickr photo stream:  click here to view !  So many bubbles, so many smiles!  Such a treat!!  :)  

Pool time is an everyday occurrence around here lately.  Yay, for cool fun!!!  I am relishing in this image of my healthy girl, Alanna, as she enjoys a renewed vigor for life.  With shouts of, "Mom, watch this!"  Be still, my beating momma heart.  

Kurt and his mother share a loving embrace during our family get together.  I love this so, SO Much.  The one bit of marriage advice I would hand out to women considering a mate for life is this: make certain he Loves, Respects and Honors his mom.  You won't go wrong.  If he shows this love and admiration for his mom to you and everyone, than he's a keeper.  

Normally, the girls and I would cook up a breakfast fit for a king to serve in bed for our favorite guy on Father's Day, however... this year was different.  We were unable to make this happen as we were without power for more than 12 hours.  So, instead of cold cereal, we took him out for breakfast to a local diner.  I caught this moment on my cell phone and it speaks volumes.  He's an All-Star Dad (note the t-shirt) and I'm so proud of him and all the love he has for all of his girls, including me and Chelsea.  This guy took on the world for me as a single mom over 20 plus years ago with a ready-made family and an ex-husband who was present in our life while Chelsea was growing up.  He continues to take on the world and give us his all, everyday.  There's nothing in this world I wouldn't do for him.  He's a keeper.    

Thanks for stopping by to view, hear all about the latest happenings with me and the family, and for your constant support.  I appreciate your encouragement, my friends!  What have you been up to lately?  What's on deck for you?  How was your Father's Day?  Do share in the comments below.  As always, I'd love to hear from you!!

Happy Solstice!  Happy Summer to you!! 

Five Frames for Friday

The family and I kicked off summer vacation with a visit to Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster.  The shows and rides were a sweet treat for us all!  The expert divers in The Princess and the Frog show made quite a splash!!  It was more than welcomed since temperatures were summer-like, in the low 90s.  A Wonder-full day was had by all!  

Dutch Wonderland's gardens were also quite the treat!  The beautiful roses that followed us all over the park were in full bloom.   

Speaking of blooms!  The catalpa trees (aka cigar tree) are in full bloom!  How I've never taken closer notice of their almost orchid-like blooms I have no idea!  They are sweetly scented and breathtaking!! 

My hydrangeas did not bloom last year - possibly due to the harsh winter, or they didn't get enough hydration in early spring.  I'm not completely sure why, but am SO HAPPY to report that they are all budding and bursting forth like the beautiful mopheads they are joyfully known to be.  Oh, happiness!!      

The sunsets have been amazing lately!  Seems that summer is actually here to stay - for now.  Yay for summertime beauty!! 

Wishing you a happy Friday and weekend ahead!  Keep your eyes pealed for all the beauty that surrounds you each day.  Thanks for stopping by, my friends.  :) 

I believe Magic does happen

When in the throws of life, the day in and day out, all the repetitively natural reflexes and inherent motions we go through, we don't usually find time to take a breather and look with reflective "goggles" at all the magic that is clearly happening at the tip of our noses!  At the end of each school year seems like one such perfect time to take stock, look back at the current school year coming to an end and realize what amazing things actually occurred.  And amazing, magical things have transformed our lives this past year!  I'm a bit overwhelmed by it all...  

My girls were both sad this morning, knowing it was the last day of school.  Say wha?  They LOVE school -- even when they complain and make statements to the contrary, they thrive within the classroom, with their friends, and with their brilliant teachers.  Our girls are fortunate to have some of the best, most creative, talented teachers.  We are all grateful for their tireless dedication, hard work and the ability to bring out the best in all the kids, helping them to grow and stretch their own gifts that much farther, expanding their worlds.  

To get this shot below I had to do some major prodding and gleeful cheering!!!  C'mon girls!!  Work with me here!!  1, 2, 3, jump!  Happy Summer!!!  

(L) First day of school, August 2016, Alanna {5th grade} and Emilia {2nd grade}.  (R) Today, last day of school!  Wow!!  Am I right?!!  You see it too?!  I'm crying over here... whaaaa... my babies! 

Alanna has gone through so much this past year while battling Crohn's disease and is now successfully in remission.  This disease wreaks the worst kind of havoc on anyone effected by it, but most especially children.  Bluntly speaking - it sucks!  It sucks the joy out; the healthy growth; the energy and strength.  Watching Alanna get on the bus carrying her violin case and backpack at the beginning of the year was painful for us, her parents, as she struggled to get up the steps - the bus driver would have to help her by holding her violin.  Breaking my heart in a thousand pieces!!  These past few months though, as she regained her strength and vitality, she easily climbed up the steps taking each one without blinking while carrying her violin!  We couldn't be happier for our precious Alanna's renewed health and vibrant glow (and the rosy cheeks have returned!!).  We have the pediatric GI doctors at CHOP, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, to thank (an amazing team of professionals).  I'm convinced our greatest wealth in life is our health.  I will never again take my childrens' health for granted, ever.   

I am me.
I am calm, thoughtful and cheerful.
I wonder why the world is so cruel.
I hear books flapping around me, the sound of splattered ink.
I see the wrinkled pages. 
I want books on my shelf.

I am calm, thoughtful and cheerful.
I pretend I have imaginary friends.
I feel a cloak, wand and glasses. 
I laugh at Luna trying to eat my hair.
I worry I will never write.

I am calm, thoughtful and cheerful.
I understand, that I need to help everyone.
I believe Magic Does Happen
I try my best at things. 
I hope I can become a writer. 
I am calm, thoughtful and cheerful. 

by Alanna (age 11)

The last assignment for the year in her language arts class is a memoir project.  She put together different pieces of writing about her life - such as the day she was born, where her name came from, stories, 10 bits of advice, and more.  Plus, this poem titled, "I am me."  She, as many of you already know, is a Huge Harry Potter fan and she dedicated her project:  "This memoir is dedicated to all my friends & family who have shown me what type of person I am. And to my idol, J.K. Rowling, for opening so many doors for me!"  What a kid, I tell ya!!  So Super proud of her!!! 

Emilia, 8, finished up her 2nd grade year with a wonderful group of friends under the caring guidance of this ever-so-patient, loving, super creative, Wonder Woman of a teacher, Mrs. Herbine.  She had a "Beach Party" today as their final day of fun together!  We can't sing Missy's praises enough (and notice her t-shirt - she's a keeper!)!!  She helped Emilia (who tends to be unorganized, unfocused, artsy type of kid - reminds me so much of another precious someone I know very well - she could also be her twin!) grow and blossom a great deal this year!!  We love you, Mrs. Herbine!  We will miss you, but wish you a terrific summer of relaxing fun!!!  And, yes, we'll keep up our reading and chore chart throughout the summer! ;)  xoxo  

With all this growth, healing and stretching of the school muscles we welcome our summer vacation!  I'm so proud of my girls and know they will continue to do amazing things and keep on growing and changing.  But, just for this moment, it's especially wonderful for me, the momma, to reflect on all the incredible changes, and to celebrate all the challenges we've faced together as a family this past school year as well.  My heart is full of gratitude.  And I do believe... it's been magical

Happy S U M M E R to all!! 

Hello, June!

The sun came out to play on this beautiful June day!  We've been having a cool, rainy spring around these parts, so seeing our glorious star shining for us was a welcome sign that - maybe, just maybe - summer's on its way!  And we are ready for it!!  There's so many terrific things on the horizon for us this warm-weather season and I'm excited for it all!  I'm also relishing the last few days of school while I still have some quiet time to myself, because that's about to do a 180° on me!!  I'm going to try with all my might to get over here and keep up my blogging momentum throughout the summer; it's a goal I'm setting for myself.  

For now, summer portrait sessions have officially hit an all time high and I'm super excited for each and every one (I'm looking at you families, a childcare center, high school seniors, and a precious newborn baby photo session).  Sweetness!  I also have my 2nd year of Busy Bees Summer Camp for Girls beginning the end of June which runs for 5 nonconsecutive weeks throughout the summer.  The girls are all bubbling with anticipation for our fun, art-filled days together!  I cannot wait to get started with them!  But, I still have those lists to check off and supplies to order...  It's all coming together nicely.  

Anyhow, for now, we welcome the summer season, warmer weather, longer days, and prepare to close another successful school year.  Life's been good and I'm grateful for it all... 

The pool water warmed up today to 68°F!!!  The girls didn't mind one bit their blue, shivering lips and hot baths after pool time - they're just so happy to be swimming again!!!  :) 

I am "trying before buying" a 16-35mm Zeiss lens this weekend for a family session.  Of course, I was eager to run it through some tests to see how she handles.  I was pleased with the results!  I'm thinking... yea, this lens is going on my "wish list," and I'm looking forward to using it with some fast action hero kiddos, coming up!!!  

This lens also has macro style capabilities -- Wow, Yay!!  I had loads of fun testing it out today!  I posted more images on my Flickr page.  If you get a chance, do stop by:  I <3 Flickr!  

How's your summer shaping up?  What's new and coming up on your horizon?  Anything that has you in a sing-song mood?  Do your kids attend a summer camp?  Any vacation plans?  As always, I'd love to hear from you, my friends.  And whatever your summer plans may be, I hope they are super charged with fun, yet safe and filled with beauty!  :)   

It's Your Day, Chelsea!

May is a popular birthday month in our family!  There's another birthday to commemorate.  My strong-willed, free-spirited, smart-as-a-tack, fun-loving, courageous, adventurous, brilliant, beautiful daughter, Chelsea celebrates 27 spins around our sun!  27?!!  How'd that happen so fast?  I pulled out the photo albums to scan in some "ancient" documents to surprise her with, and noticed a few things about our life.  First, I noticed I don't have very many photos of just the two of us together!  We need to work on that, Chels.  Another thing I noticed is that you have always been a light in my life and I had a constant smile on my face looking through our shared memories.  I hope these images bring you big smiles and maybe a few laughs!!

chelsea's birthday 2017

Mother's Day 2017; photo credit: Alanna. silly faces extraordinaire... 

the scary worm picture. ;)-

Mother's Day 2017 - the girls with Grandmom Dorothy <3 Aww!  I adore these faces!! 

We were so young. You were just a couple of days new to the world here, honey.  My precious bundle of baby joy.

Play time!! 

From your baptism celebration.  You were 5 months old.  Something certainly caught your eye!  Was it a dog or cat?  I wouldn't doubt it.  ;)  

Us, Mother's Day 2017 -- thank you for asking for a photo with me!!  See, we're remedying the gap in photos of us already!  Made my day having you home and for the photo op! (Thanks to Alanna for snapping this one of us!) :)

My 3 girls all together again!  You are all so incredibly amazing to me.  I'm forever grateful to be your momma.  How'd I get so lucky?!!!  May angels always watch over you, guide you and protect you. 

Your sisters adore you, Chelsea and send their Birthday wishes your way, too!!  

You loved to dance with me to this song when you were a toddler!  I'll always think of you when I hear this tune.  And it makes me smile, yet again.

Remember the post I did for you five years ago?  Well, if not, or you just want a refresher, here's the link to view:  Hey, Hey, Chelsea, It's Your Day...  You've come a long way, baby!!  A college graduate, living independently and making your way in the world.  I continue to hope all great things for you and always will, my love.  I want you to know I'm hugely proud of the woman you have become and I'm eager to see where your path will lead you.  You have one of the BIGGEST HEARTS I have ever had the privilege of knowing, let alone loving.  You and your sisters are God's greatest gifts to me.  

Happy birthday, Chelsea!!!  May all your heart's desires be yours.  

I love you.  

Always,  Mom
  

“The greatest purpose in life, the greatest achievement one could ever have in life,the greatest satisfaction one could ever get in life can only be found in the service of others.” 
            ~ Omoakhuana Anthonia ~  

P.s. I scanned the printed photos (#4, 5, 6) in using a regular inkjet printer and made some minor touch-ups in photoshop to clean up the images.  I am unsure of the photographers in those, wanting to give full credit, I apologize.  They were made by family and friends.  If you provided a photo in this mix, thank you!!  :)    

One more checked off The List: Baltimore's National Aquarium

For years and years he has been saying to me, "I'd like to visit the National Aquarium and Inner Harbor in Baltimore."  Well, I'm being kind here.  He actually says something more like, "I've never been to the Baltimore Aquarium!!"  Translation:  I really want to go!  Okay.  Okay!!  It only took us 23+ years to check this one off Kurt's bucket list, but, hey, we did it!  With Kurt's 50th birthday to celebrate, we decided to finally visit and plan a weekend getaway for the four of us!  It was well worth the adventuring for all!  

The aquarium is set up as a tiered system of tanks seemingly filled with every imaginable aquatic creature known to humankind.  This works well to keep traffic moving through in order to see everything.  There's even a tropical rainforest at the top of the triangular-looking glass building, where we discovered a hungry sloth (they move quick when their bellies rumble!) and some amazing Scarlet Ibis birds (bright red) while they enjoyed a snack.   

We viewed the "Jellies Invasion" exhibit (strangely alien-like ~ way cool!) and watched the dolphins perform their signature cuteness as they put on a playful show.  They had everyone in the audience smiling!  :)  Once we made it to the tippy-top of the aquarium and viewed most everything they had to offer, we found our way to the harbor view lookout point, where we took a break and watched the comings and goings of the boats in the harbor, including the sea-monster paddle boats.      

After a long day of traveling and exploring the aquarium, it was time to make our way to the hotel where we stayed, The Kimpton Hotel Monaco Baltimore.  But not before I got a shot of Kurt and the girls on this sculpture (thanks family!)!  Okay... Time to head to the hotel, get cleaned up and head out for dinner.  

We cannot say enough glowing, wonderful things about this boutique hotel.  Utmost in quality, cleanliness, friendliness, amenitiness (oh, I guess that's not a word, is it?).  My point being, they've thought of every detail, including putting families on the top floor - where it tends to be quieter (thank you!!!).  The hotel is a clever mix of ornate grandeur, chandelier lighting and marbled walls and staircases upon entering to quickly changing over to contemporary chic, with a tad of groovy funk.  I could have had fun all day just photographing all the unique quirks, the details and surprising stylized rooms!  When in Baltimore, definitely look up the Kimpton to meet your accommodation needs.   

We looked at the menus and local restaurants and are so glad we chose to dine at Maisy's Restaurant for the BEST lump crab cakes in town!  Having grown up with family roots from Maryland, boating on the Chesapeake as a young girl and eating fresh crab meat (pulling up the traps on the dock of my grandfather's Chris-Craft boat) and my grandmother's authentic crab cakes, I can safely say Maisy's knows what they're doing!  Superb!  

I think Emmy and I successfully threw Kurt way off when we conveniently went for a bathroom break and quietly spoke to our waiter, CJ about surprising the birthday boy with happy birthday cake for dessert!!  It worked like a charm!!  He had no idea and turned 3 shades of red!!!  Yes!  Happy Birthday again, my love!   

Sunday morning, we had some time after breakfast to relax in the Kimpton's lobby area before checking out.  We didn't have a lot of time to stick around Baltimore and do more sight-seeing, but we made the most of our weekend getaway!  It was a memorable, fun time with the family celebrating Kurt's 50th!!  Great eats, company and loads of new sights and experiences to take in and explore = happiness!!!  :)  We'll take it!     

King, of the Trees

This week, around the homestead, has been anything BUT quiet!  For years I had been wanting to have some worrisome mature trees removed from our property.  They were either largely leaning precariously in potentially dangerous directions or they were diseased or their roots were inconveniently growing rapidly in unwelcome territory.  Plus, (there's always a plus!) we needed to provide more sunlight on our swimming pool, to warm the water naturally.  The time had come to call in the professionals and call them in we did.  We've had tree service and removal on our property in the past, but the expertise, efficiency and attention to detail of Lee King's Tree Service was impeccable, second-to-none.  For all the ruckus (our apologies to our neighbors!!), the nonstop chain saws and chipping machine, not to mention the earth shattering falls of the large trees themselves (I just hope our neighbors will forgive us one day) and the utter mess the tree removal produces, these guys were top notch and professional to the very end of the job.  

If you've been following along with me on Instagram, you know I've been walking around on egg shells, biting my nails, and trying to remind myself to breathe and stay calm...  This was tough for me!  I'm normally a fairly calm, easy going kind of gal, however, this week while the tree removal was underway, I was a mess - unable to concentrate on much of anything other than TREES!  We've grown accustomed to these gentle giant friends of ours for the 18 years we've been living in our home, so I was feeling a mix of emotions from sad to excited, from nervous to exhilarated, from breathing to not breathing, then breathing again.  It's been nerve wracking!!  I am just so thrilled with Lee King and his assistant, Dustin for the outstanding job they did.  They maneuvered the falls of the trees with utter precision, even saving a nest of birds and our retaining wall.  Excellent work guys.  Thank you! 

As for the photos I'm sharing, I decided to show you the story in backward fashion.  Beginning with the end result and working up to the start of the 3 days of tree removal...

This is the final tally of mostly 16' logs to be sold to the lumber mill, which helped to offset our costs.  I was struck by the coloring and variation of the grains in these mostly Poplar trees.  Aren't they pretty?

Lee and Dustin left me quite a pile of mulch!  This will be great around the playground area and the new fence line and baby trees we plan to put in.  Thanks *heaps* guys!! 

We'll need to reseed the grass, and it won't take long to grow with all that sunlight shining down on our yard now!!  Wow!  It really opened up nicely.  

This video I'm sharing is the "Leaning Tower of Poplar Tree."  This tree has been growing sideways all it's long life, worrying me that eventually it would take out Alanna's saucer magnolia tree that I planted for her when she was born, or the pool, or both.  Breathtaking sight to witness as she is felled!! 

Naturally, the girls were curious and had to explore the fallen trees.

Emmy found a small bird's nest - which looks like it was not currently inhabited, but a past home. She was thrilled for the discovery! 

A peek at our yard from a different angle, in early morning light. 

WOW!  What a difference a day makes.  The Sycamore (on the left), and the Poplars (middle and right) are now removed.  Mr. King did leave us some smallish stumps from the Sycamore to use around our fire pit as seats - or for the girls to play on.  Wasn't that great of them?!!  

(Left) Three healthy Poplar trees and, (Right) one diseased Hemlock with blight that have all been removed.   

The bending Sycamore tree before removal.  We found out that its roots were growing into our drain field pipes and wreaking havoc on our septic system.  Bye-bye!

The frogs and toads have been extra boisterous lately!!  Singing ever so loudly throughout the day and well into the night.  Here's a happy little fella hanging out in the pond, cooling off.  Isn't he/she cute?!  Do you think the amphibians will ever forgive us for all the noise pollution they've had to endure?!  I sure hope so.  

If anyone in our local area is looking for exceptional tree service, please remember Mr. Lee King located in Morgantown, 610.858.9435.  He's super busy, but he's worth the wait!  Tell him Kurt & Barb referred him with glowing regard!!  :)    

Thanks for stopping by, friends.  I hope your days are warming up your pool water and you're looking forward to some awesome summer nights of stargazing!!!  Cheers!! 

It's Nifty to be... Fifty!

He's going to want to wring my neck for this one...  But, here we go anyhow - thankfully, he has a forgiving nature!!  

It's someone's BIG 50th BIRTHDAY today!!!  This man is one of the sweetest, most patient, loyal, loving, selfless people on God's green earth.  He works tirelessly hard to provide a comfortable life for his family.  Girls flock to him, especially the cute ones in his family!  He doesn't realize - even after telling him over and over - how amazing he truly is.  He's an artist, a craftsman, a lion-hearted soul incredibly devoted to his family.  I love this man so much.  He's my guy.  And, I know it to be utterly true when I say I'm the lucky one in this match. 

Come along with me on a walk down memory lane...  Thank goodness I'm the keeper of photographs!  Print your images, my friends!! 

Happy 50th Birthday to you, honey!  I love you, Kurt.  When I say "you," I mean everything you were, you are, everything you will be.  You are the world to me and our girls.  Shine on and on, my love!!      

It's a 4 year old's birthday party!!!  At Kurt's childhood home surrounded by family.

Kurt at two - already breaking hearts!

Did someone say 'baseball?!!'  Years and years (and years) of baseball!!  And soccer, and fast-pitch softball, and some basketball, volleyball and football, too.  
But nothing filled his boyhood heart like baseball. 

F A M I L Y P A R T Y T I M E!  What?!  Didn't everyone's family in the early 80s take their shirts off for the "men picture?!"  Kurt's seated (with shirt on) in the #12 jersey... what's that he's sitting on?  A volleyball! 

Kurt (16) with his parents, Dorothy & Walter (the absolute best in-loves ever - love these two beyond expressed words), at a family party.  Is that a football in his hand?  How about that vavoom hair?!  I remember Kurt at this age and had such a crush on him (but I never told him so)!!  Girlfriends?  You too?! 

High school senior portrait, 1985.  What a handsome young man! 

High School G R A D U A T I O N!!!  

I debated over and over if I should include his Navy days in this birthday blog post, since it might bring him down.  But, then I thought, it is part of his story, and his life.  He did not have the best experience in the military.  Sorry to say.  But, Kurt, you have to admit, these photos of you and Rocky Formica are classic! 

Okay, I got him smiling again.  Kurt with his fabulous sister, Jeri, at a family party, 1987.  He adores his sister and I love this photo because that adoration shines through!!  :)

Fast forward in time, 1996.  Kurt and I were dating, soon to be married.  I could fill a book with all of our dating memories, but I don't want to bore you all.  So, I'll just say... here's my handsome soon-to-be husband.  

Wedding day portrait!  Many thanks to our photographer, Neil, for this shot.  
March 1997, my handsome husband! 

Shenanigans are a sure bet with this crew!  This was a snapshot at our wedding with some of Kurt's best mates: (L-R) Rocky Formica, me, Leroy "Woody" Woodward, John Antonini (may he rest in peace), and Paul Tazik.  That's a blast from the past!!  Twenty years ago, friends!  So, who else is turning 50 this year?!!    

1998, Chelsea and Kurt.  I treated Chelsea to a Florida vacation (and Disney!) and we had just gotten home.  We rented a house in Morgantown at the time.  I just love these smiles!!  See what I mean about cute girls flocking to you, honey?! 

Two nights ago, we had a pre-50th birthday dinner celebration while Kurt's sister, Jeri was in town visiting from Maine.  Jeri brought the cake and their mom for an evening of fun with us and the girls, complete with museum-mannequin games and lots of great conversation!  
Thanks Jeri and Grandmom!!  

50, baby!!!  You've come a long way!!!

Here's wishing you the happiest, brightest birthday ever, my love!  I'm grateful for your love, your wit and charm, your devotion and sensibilities, your patience and for all the ways you help us grow as a family and as individuals.  I couldn't be more proud of the man you've become and I'm eager to see where we'll go from here.  Don't they say '50 is the new 40?!'  You wear it well, honey.  I'm still crushing on you after all these years!!  You are amazing and forever young-at-heart!  Thank you for giving us your all, everyday.  I love YOU, Kurt!!   

P.s. We aren't finished celebrating just yet, friends!  There'll be more honorary festivities coming up to highlight on the blog!!  :)

P.p.s.  I wish I could give every photo proper credit in this post.  But I am unsure of the image makers in many of these photos.  They were made mostly by family and friends.  If you provided a photo in this mix, thank you!!  I scanned these in using a regular inkjet printer and made some minor touch-ups in photoshop to clean up the images.  

...at the end of the day...

As Margaret Atwood has famously said, “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."  

Check.  And it's only midday.    

The weather has been cool and rainy here lately.  So, when I noticed the sun was shining, I took a walk through my yard with my macro lens and, coincidentally, I now smell of dirt.  I love springtime (and dirt!)!!  

How about you?  How's your weather?  What's blooming in your yard?  Thanks for stopping by!!    

P.s. Happy birthday in heaven to my Great Aunt Helen!!  I'm certain she's keeping the angels in line.  <3  Love you, Aunt Helen!!  You're a shining star!  

How to Get the most out of your Family Portrait Session | Tips and Advice

With Mother's Day coming up in 2 weeks, and springtime family portraits just around the bend, I want to be certain that you have the very best experience possible.  I've put together some ideas and tips based on the many questions I've received from my client-friends over the years.  It's my hope that you'll take my words of advice into consideration before you invest in making and documenting lifelong memories to cherish.  So, let's dive in... 

1. Be well rested and fed

This is probably the most important couple of vital factors to take seriously if you want to have a successful photo shoot.  I cannot emphasize this one enough.  If the kiddos are cranky because their blood-sugar levels are low, there's bound to be tears, grumpy faces and tantrums.  This, in my experience, has been the number one surefire hit or miss for every family photo session I've ever had the honor of shooting.  When the family is hungry or missed their nap time, or both, everyone will end up stressed and miserable.  This does not make for great family photos, as you can imagine!  So, please, do yourself a favor and make certain everyone is well fed and well rested before your photos take place.  You'll thank me later... 

2.  Color coordinate your outfits

I took some time out this morning and used my daughter's brand new watercolor pencils to create a color wheel to share with you.  My advice to you on the most frequently asked question: "what should we wear?"  I believe choosing a color scheme (at least 3 colors you love) and then mix and match them up between all family members works great.  I also would recommend choosing complimentary colors [those are the colors directly opposite one another on the color wheel] and then mix and match those with an added neutral color [brown, black, white].  I'd avoid wardrobe pitfalls where the entire family wears white tops, khaki bottoms or blue jeans.  I've even done that for a large family group shot with my own family.  We can do better than this, my friends!!  I always (always!) tell my client-friends to dress comfortable, nothing too tight or snug where you find yourself constantly adjusting, fidgeting with your ensemble.  When you feel comfortable with what you are wearing, than that will reflect in your photos and you'll thank yourself later.        

3.  Relax and have fun!

This is the key to your successful family photos, in a nutshell!  Relax, breathe, and be prepared to have fun!!  Let your photographer lead you through the process, keep yourself open to the possibilities, play with your children and with your spouse, too!  It's okay, this isn't rocket science we're inventing.  This time together should not only be about documenting the moment, remembering how little your precious ones were, or how young you were also, but it should be about enjoying this moment in time, as well!  When you have fun at a photo session, get silly, sing (yes, well, that might be me doing the singing), dance and laugh, you're going to look back on those memories with even more fondness, with greater appreciation that you booked the session and made sure everyone was prepared for a successful day together.  Some of my favorite moments with my client-friends are the in-between-poses, when everyone is just a bit more relaxed, off their "guard," and my lens catches them in that candid frame.  That's the golden moment.  That's what I work towards.  So, have fun with it!!  You'll be grateful you did!!  :)      

image of me with my family by Lindsey McDonald (thank you, Lindsey!), 2014 

image of me with my family by Lindsey McDonald (thank you, Lindsey!), 2014 

P.s. I am still booking Mother's Day mini portrait sessions!!  There's just a couple of spots left, so be sure to contact me to secure your time!  I have it on good authority that the weather will be picture perfect that weekend!  Don't delay, now's the time to get in on this offer:  Mom's Day Mini Portrait Session

Hakuna Matata

It isn't ceremoniously springtime until the "sugar ants" make their appearance.  They're back!  It's definitely spring here in the Northeast!  We've begun the relentless pursuit of starving them out - no offense little fellas.  Keeping the counter tops and the sink clean, maintaining a tight lid on the compost bucket (tight lids on everything, this is war!) and basically, enduring their onslaught of tiny, marching bodies until they tire of us and move on (can't come soon enough for my liking!).  But... this post isn't about marching ants (hurrah, hurrah), however, it is in direct correlation with the animal kingdom, more specifically, Disney's Animal Kingdom!!  

Nineteen years ago, on Earth Day, Disney World opened their park doors at Animal Kingdom with a clear mission in mind: celebrate the animal world and bring about conservation efforts and education.  It's been their steadfast goal and I was surprised to learn that since 1995, the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund has devoted more than $6 million to conservation efforts around the world and has supported more than 230 projects.  Wow, incredible work they are furthering and digging into.  Well done, Disney!! 

My family and I spent our last full day in Florida at Animal Kingdom.  It was bittersweet knowing it was the last day of our completely wonderful, amazing, treasured Florida vacation and our first "real" family vacation together.  I know it won't be our last!  We were all tired by this point, oh man, I had a huge blister on my pinky toe from all the walking and breaking in new shoes (didn't anyone ever tell me not to do this on vacation?), and we decided to take it easy.  Well, what were we thinking?!!  This is Disney World and there were loads of experiences awaiting us!!  Come along with me... 

Upon entering the park, the grand focal point and welcoming exhibit is The Tree of Life.  Standing 14 stories high, with over 300 creatures from the animal kingdom exquisitely carved into the trunk, and 50 feet wide, it is awe-inspiring, reminding us how small, vulnerable we all are, yet how beautifully majestic our world is, and that we should never take it for granted.      

Our first stop was It's Tough to be a Bug! situated beneath the Tree of Life.  This is a cute, interactive, educationally fun show featuring the character, Flick (an eternally optimistic ant from Disney's movie A Bug's Life).  I was not able to get any images within this theater as the screen is not photogenic, plus I was too busy covering up my lens when water was spraying over us!  It's a must see - the kids all loved it! 

Our next stop was completely by accident, an unplanned delight.  We took a wrong turn as we meandered through Asia, hearing applause, our curiosity took hold, we peeked in.  We were in search of a cool spot to sit before our next FastPass so we had time.  We watched the stage show, Flights of Wonder, with exotic, colorful birds that would fly on command.  Really neat!  

Then it was time for face painting!  Alanna remembered having her face painted here when we last visited with an entire crew of family members.  Pleasantly, we found what she was looking for in Harambe, Africa!!  

Finding Nemo - the Musical, was another delightful performance and a treat to experience.  They've perfected the stage presence for this one!  It moves along at a good pace to keep all ages entertained and tuned in, eagerly anticipating the story line and leaves you wanting more! 

Speaking of wanting more, the Festival of the Lion King show was a vibrant array of characters, exuberant dancing, all the songs we know and love, and agile acrobatics!  They ask for young members from the audience to participate and dance in the show towards the end (head's up!).  Our girls were too shy for it, but there were lots of others that weren't as shy!  The round-tent-like show was a phenomenal performance that had us singing, clapping along and ear-to-ear smiling!! It's another must-see!  I added in a clip of the Circle of Life finale for you to enjoy (be warned, you may be inclined to sing along!!). 

After the amazing Festival of the Lion King show, we were ready for a slower pace and more animals!  Kilimanjaro Safari is a wildlife adventure.  We thought that either early morning or later afternoon would be best to view the animals since they might be more active at those times of day.  We did see a lot of amazing animals, but we may have had better luck in seeing more activity a bit later.  Still, it was great!  And the girls loved (loved!!) witnessing the animals in their natural habitat.  It was another treat!  Interestingly, the "110-acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve is a spectacular sanctuary dedicated to the protection of African animals" that keeps you wanting more!  See if you can spot the furry head of a daddy lion sunning himself, napping in the eighth image below with the boulders.  Once you see him, you can't unsee him!  And then there was the silverback Gorilla that made his presence known.   

After our safari exhibition in the wilds of Africa, we were all set for dinner.  We ate at the Tusker House Restaurant with Disney characters popping in at our table to say "hi!"  This restaurant is a full all-you-can-eat buffet!  And the prices reflected that, too.  Be forewarned if you decide to make a reservation and eat their delicacies (and everything was incredibly delicious!) that they are priced a bit higher than a regular restaurant.  ;)  

After dinner, with full, satisfied bellies we were all set to head back to our resort for a night swim and pack up to head home in the morning.  On our way, we noticed another spectacular show happening.  The Tree of Life Awakenings, a gorgeously colored light show set to music.  The animation jumps off the tree and we were all mesmerized.  The story unfolding is centered on a young doe.   "A feast for the eyes, each revelation celebrates the eternal balance and harmony that exists in all living things, big or small, and is sure to inspire and delight the entire family, big and small."  Truly magnificent!

And with that, our Florida vacation is a wrap.  I hope you enjoyed hearing about our adventures and viewing my images.  I shot most all of these on my Sony a99 with a 50mm f/1.4 lens since that was lighter for me to carry, however, some of the images were shot on my iPhone.  You may be able to tell the difference. ;) We all had a marvelous, whirlwind vacation together!  We loved every minute of a every adventure... the girls didn't want it to end.  You might tell by the unenthusiastic faces on the flight home.  Thank you, Disney.  We are grateful to you.

It's that time again...

They're here!  The lilacs are in bloom!!  I pulled out my step ladder and shears and went to the task of snipping and shaping a bouquet for our dining table.  Their fragrance is the most amazing joy!  Breathe deep!!!  Ahhh...  I strongly suspect this is what heaven smells of.  

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I hope you are enjoying the earth's awakening, the rebirth and the flowers where you are!  I could never tire of springtime blooms!!  How about you?  What's blooming in your area?  Did you pull out your ladder to snip some lilacs for your table as well?  :)  Thanks for stopping by, friends!   

Happy Easter Greetings

I had big plans for my Easter post to share with you (had being the key word here).  I was to join friends on Good Friday at Longwood Gardens and I was going to overload your screen with springtime flowers aplenty!!!  It all looked lovely in my mind, however, a bug caught hold of me and I ended up in bed most of the day.  Whatever strain of nastiness that knocked me out felt suspiciously flu-like.  Thankfully, I'm upright today and taking care of all things Easter for our girls and our upcoming family festivities.  

All day my pretty, workhorse of a camera kept calling to me.  That little voice wouldn't let go to make some springtime Easter photos to share.  When the twilight sky turned all hues of pink, I grabbed my faithful companion and out we went (tissues neatly tucked in my pockets).  Some of the best plans don't end up working out perfectly, but they ultimately come along in their exact perfect timing. 

Wishing you a joyful Easter full of sweet surprises, a childlike wonder to keep you curious and gratitude to fill your soul...  Stay healthy, my friends and beloved ones.  And above all, know how much you are deeply, infinitely loved - Jesus told me so.    

Special Announcement: Mother's Day Weekend

First off, I have to say that each and every mom in the photos below have my utmost respect and love and gratitude.  Motherhood is truly a remarkable journey - that deep pull to create a life, a family, isn't always the easiest call to answer, but these ladies know it is the most rewarding.  If any of the familiar faces below take me up on my offer, you have a special thank-you gift awaiting you Mother's Day weekend.  :) 

My offer!  Mother's Day is quickly approaching and I've worked up mini-portrait sessions to delight and honor every possible mom under the sun!  Mommas, Grandmoms, Great-Grandmoms, Adopted Moms, StepMoms, FurMoms...  I think you're getting the gist.  Have you been thinking about having a multigenerational photo created?  Or possibly you've been wanting to treat your Mom to portraits?  Or, if you're like me and are always the photographer, you simply want to be included in your family's portraits for a change of relaxed pace - make them remember that you were there, too!!  Any of these scenarios - or ones I haven't even dreamed up yet - are ready to come to fruition.  I've designed collections that are sure to please every mom and fill your walls and home/office with family portraits!  

Pressed for time in your busy life?  Than this is the perfect opportunity you've been waiting for...      

The details: 

When?  Sunday, May 14 - Mother's Day

What time?  Portrait sessions are limited and will run on 30 minute intervals beginning at 11:00am and ending at 3pm (the last appointment will be 2:30pm).   

Where?  In Barbara's backyard and in her outdoor, natural-light portrait studio, 322 Westley Road, Mohnton.  

How to book?  Contact Barbara by email:  my3girlsphotography@gmail.com to set up your appointment.  

How long after can we see our photos?  You'll book a separate "Reveal" appointment to make your selections and fill your photo orders also at Barbara's home office.  If there's no alternative, convenient reveal appointment for you within 2 weeks of Mother's Day, than Barbara will send you an online gallery and password via email to fulfill your own photo orders.  

What's the cost?  There are 3 collections offered, however, a la carte options are available.  A minimum purchase of $50 is required.  There is no additional session fee.  For each printed image chosen, a duplicate keepsake digital image (JPG file) will be offered to you for online sharing and storing on your hard drive at no additional cost. 

Make mom happy this Mother's Day with an honorary portrait session, gather the family (pets are welcome) and let's make some wonderful memories for the most special lady in your life. 
  
I look forward to having your smiling faces come visit me on Mother's Day!  We're going to make precious memories for mom to treasure for a lifetime!!  :)   

The Wand Chooses the Wizard

My Alanna, once a below-grade, struggling reader who was nurtured by the best teachers and reading support staff, is now an above-grade reader, possibly one of the strongest writers in her fifth grade class.  She's a kid who feels lost without a book in her hand, a story in her mind, taking her to new worlds, revealing life beyond her rural walls and affixing to her imagination.  After reading - and completely falling for the fantasy world created by Bruce Coville in The Unicorn ChroniclesI knew she was ready for another magical world.  

I kept placing J.K. Rowling'sHarry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone in her view, on her bedside table and offering gentle nudges, but she resisted me again and again.  Finally, one night, frustrated that she didn't have anything new or interesting to read, I offered Harry Potter to her yet again.  I gently suggested, "Why not just read the first chapter and see if you like it."  My dear friends, I am happy to report, my devious literary plan worked like a spellbinding charm because she was hooked!!  And by "hooked" I mean she became literally obsessed.  I had no idea where this love of Rowling's magical, mystical world would take her, but after reading ALL seven of the Harry Potter books at least three times (maybe four now), plus the newer releases of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, my husband and I knew we had to take her to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando!!!  And take we did!  

Our previous days spent visiting Disneyworld's Epcot and Magic Kingdom were quite thrilling and wonderful fun for all of us, but NOTHING could prepare us for what lie ahead at Universal Studios!  Now, Universal Studios Orlando has two different parks!  There's Universal Studios Florida (where we started our quest with Diagon Alley) and Universal's Islands of Adventure (where Hogsmeade is located).  The two parks are connected by railway, the Hogwart's Express.  It was necessary to purchase park-to-park tickets for us to get the full magical experience of both parks and both wizarding worlds and quite happily we did!  The buildup, the anticipation for this day spent reveling in the wizarding and witchcraft world of Harry Potter and all of his friends (and some foes) and familiar magical creatures left us awestruck with reckless abandon... 

I entered Diagon Alley ahead of my family so I could get their immediate reactions upon entering... I'm so glad I did!!  :))  Alanna, proudly representing the house of Ravenclaw, is doing a happy dance!!!  Emilia, proudly representing Gryffindor, couldn't hide her enthusiasm!!! :)  

Our first stop, Ollivander's, makers of fine wands since 382 B.C.!  The girls couldn't wait to find their very own wand in this floor to ceiling stacked boxes and boxes full of wands!   

Ah, I think Alanna was a bit overwhelmed... 

The curator or guide to help young wizards and witches discover their very own wand chose a member of the audience at random to come forward and try out each wand until the wand itself chooses the recipient.  It was a magical delight of mishaps and of the shining moment when the wand reveals its chosen owner. 

The Ivy wand won over Alanna's heart and the Hawthorn chose Emilia. 

Inside Gringott's Money Exchange we met this salty-looking character.  We asked multiple questions of him and he had plenty of matter-of-fact style responses for us.  Such as, "How much money do you have?"  The goblin banker's reply, "More than you'll ever know."  ;)  Another question we had for him was, "Are those your real ears?"  His reply, "Well, of course!"  

Street performers dazzle the crowd with a magical puppet show!  

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After taking in as much as we possibly could of Diagon Alley, we were all set to take to the rails for the Hogwart's Express departing from King's Crossing Station, 9 3/4 platform to our destination, Hogsmeade Station.  The train ride itself is another magical experience!  It's about a 5 minute ride with plenty of fun surprises and a magical view as we traveled through the countryside!!  

All aboard!!! 

Seriously, what a fun juxtaposition to arrive Hogsmeade with snow littering the quaint village  rooftops while folks are dressed in sleeveless shirts, shorts, sun hats, doing everything they can to stay cool.  Wild!   

Inside the Owl Post we found quill pens, journals, postcards, wax seals and more!  The girls found trinkets to their heart's content!!  Me?  I found trinkets to photograph to my heart's content! 

There it is!  Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!!  It is amazingly grand!! 

We had no idea how thrilling and surreal the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride would be!  Serious stuff.  When they tell you that you must lock everything you are carrying up in a secure locker before entering, that should have been our first clue.  Hey, how scary could this possibly be, right?!  We're looking around us and notice that there are lots of kids of all ages, so we went for it.  Little did we know that our girls were not quite ready for this one.  Kurt and I loved it!  My overall reaction was a mixture of wide-eyed shrieks of outright laughter and terrified screams!!  I mean, when a dragon breathes smoke and vapors in my face, just inches away, okay, I'm screaming!!!  It was INCREDIBLE!  Our girls, however, were scared out of their wits and cried uncontrollably afterwards.  They did eventually calm down, but... it took a lot of reassuring hugs to get there.  This ride is like nothing I've ever experienced before.  Universal has outdone themselves with this nonstop thrill ride! 

Here's the excerpt about the ride and the experience from Universal's website: 

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

"Enter through the towering castle gates and make your way down the familiar passageways and corridors of Hogwarts™ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Visit iconic locations such as Dumbledore's office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Gryffindor™ common room, the Room of Requirement, and more. 

Then get ready to soar above the castle grounds as you join Harry Potter™ and his friends on an unforgettably thrilling adventure, coming face-to-face with an array of magical creatures. This amazing attraction uses groundbreaking, state-of-the-art technology (and a little magic) to create a one-of-a-kind ride."

After all that excitement and literally coming back down to earth, we decided to get ourselves a sweet treat of frozen Butterbeer (there isn't a drop of alcohol in this beer).  The girls stamped their approval on it!

It was a full day of exciting thrills!  We had to catch the Hogwart's Express back to King's Cross Station.  It did not disappoint, nor repeat the first ride.  And we traveled with more smiles on our faces!!

Outside of Diagon Alley's entrance we found the Knight Bus, otherwise known as "Emergency Transport For The Stranded Witch Or Wizard."  The girls had an opportunity to chit-chat with the talkative shrunken head which hangs over the steering wheel, and the bus conductor, too. 

This, my friends and family, is one happy, tired, overall satisfied family right here.  A group of young women noticed me struggling to get an "usie-selfie" family shot with the turning sphere in the background before leaving the park, and took pity on us.  They got a few pics for us, attempting to time it just right.  I'm grateful they did!  They had all of us giggling with their remarks and friendliness.  Thanks so much ladies!  We gave them our 4 Fast Passes we hadn't used in exchange for their kindnesses.  :) 

What an - I can safely say this - AWESOME DAY we had together among the mystical, magical creatures and people and rides and shops and witchy, wizarding FUN!!!  We all want to go back!  

Sincere gratitude to Universal Studios Orlando for the imagination, the joy, the smiles you put on my family's faces.  Most especially, my deep gratitude to J.K. Rowling for stirring the heart of a ten-year-old girl to dream in fantastic colors, for transporting her imagination to an all new level.  You have my utmost respect and admiration.  

Mischief managed...       

When You Wish Upon a Star...

We were up bright and early for a full day of delights at Disneyworld's Magic Kingdom.  Just in time to have breakfast with the princesses at Cinderella's castle!  Something we hadn't done before and we were all pleasantly surprised at how elegant it was.  The food was exceptional, just about everywhere we dined that was the case.  We opted not to do the meal plan with our package.  There wasn't any way on earth we could eat that much dough ($$$)!!  Our daily routine was simple:  eat a healthy, hearty breakfast; have ice cream for lunch (yay!); and then a well balanced, delicious dinner, also drinking plenty of water throughout the day to keep us hydrated!  It worked great for us!  

Full disclosure - I am not being paid by Disney for these posts.  These are for my own enjoyment, and that of my friends & family who happen to stop by and spend any amount of time here.  If, however, Disney decides to pay me, I'll keep you informed. ;)     

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The music playing through the park inspired the girls to dance!  Notice their matching berets they had chosen the night before from Epcot's France.  

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At breakfast with the Disney Princesses...

All of the princesses were very warm and personable, however, these two exceptional ladies made an extra special impression on us.  Thank you, Princesses Snow White and Jasmine! 

There was a small window of time before we were off to our first Fast Pass entry.  The parks were packed and we were extremely thankful to have scheduled up to 3 Fast Passes per day.  The carousel is always a favorite and not much of a wait - bonus!! 

I have made it a point to ride this particular colorful, cheery ride each time I've visited the Magic Kingdom.  I was about 9 the first time I experienced "It's a Small World" and I can tell you it hasn't changed much, if at all, over the past many decades since then!  It is the happiest cruise that ever sailed! 

We had time after It's a Small World before our next scheduled Fast Pass, so we decided to try out Peter Pan's Flight.  We waited for an hour inching along in line.  The waiting area is designed to delight young and old alike, and we enjoyed all the magical treats along the way, including making friends with the young family behind us, chasing shadows, having pixie dust sprinkled on our heads and Emilia's loose tooth that managed to come free!!  (yes, the tooth fairy found us on our vacation - isn't she something else?!)  However, the ride itself was a bit of a disappointment.  I suppose if we hadn't waited so long for it, we wouldn't have built up such high expectations.  As the girls disembarked from the ride, they turned and said to us, "That was it?!"  Sorry, this ride fell flat for us. 

A ride that is a complete treat and hasn't ever fallen flat for us was the Jungle Cruise!  A guide with a quirky sense of humor lead us through the exotic and exciting rivers across Asia, Africa and South America.  So many of her jokes warranted a punch line drum sound effect to exclaim "Okay, laugh people!"  Ha!! :) It was great fun and our guide was a good sport! 

We found some muppets putting on a show from the windows of the Hall of Presidents!  All hail the Muppets!!

"Partners. We believe in our idea: a family park where parents and children could have fun - together." -- Walt Disney

This quartet with whistles were quite talented!  They kept me and a small crowd happily entertained while Kurt took the girls into Mickey's Firehouse on Main Street to pick up their Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom spell cards.  A quest game and a scavenger hunt that the girls played after dinner.  We took an afternoon hiatus and went back to our hotel to rest before then heading back for our dinner reservations at Be Our Guest.  Yay!!

The girls, riding the Disney bus from the hotel back to the Magic Kingdom, using their lanyards (thanks Aunt Jeri!) to hold their magic spell cards.  And Emilia with her Minnie ears that her fabulously talented second-grade teacher made for her!!  Thanks so much, Mrs. Herbine!  Ears to YOU!!  :) 

We were worried we might miss the Beast while dining in his castle, but ... we didn't worry for long!  After our amazing, scrumptious, lick-the-plate-clean (okay, no, I didn't actually do that, but the meal was that good that I may have if dared!) dinner, we walked around the different rooms to view all the intricate details and I could post 10 more photos right here, but I don't want anyone falling asleep through this blog post!!  You'll just have to go visit this amazing restaurant for yourself (but be sure to get your reservations in early because they were booked solid).  

We met the Beast after dinner!  He was l o n n n g g g on charm and grace for such an overbearing one!!  Emilia felt no need for hesitation and gave him Big, Big hugs!!  Alanna ... was more shy with introductions.  Their reactions were priceless...   

After dinner, the girls were on a magical mission!  A quest to defeat the evil Hades using their spell cards and magical powers!  This was a neat, interactive scavenger hunt and we were all caught up in the fun quickly!  

It was another successful day full of laughter, surprises, magic and amazement!!  The Magic Kingdom is timeless for me, a place where time seems to stand still - a magical portal to childhood.  Our girls had a thrilling, happy day and Kurt and I did too!  Disneyworld is the happiest place on earth!  The staff at Disney, even the lifeguard at our hotel pool who gave us tips and advice, are all top notch folks that seemingly feel honored to be a part of the Disney experience.  Every single person (every one!) we met on our travels were all wonderful, ready-to-please, ready-to-help, on-the-ball and on their game!!  Truly, the rides are fun, captivating, but the people behind the gates, the costumes, the masks, at each turn, employed by Disney are what make Disneyworld even more meaningful and special. Thanks, Disney for another spectacular day!!!  We loved making memories with you!! 

The First Twenty

The first twenty years are in our "The Story of Us" book and we are now onto our next twenty, or more with a stroke of luck and a prayer!  Kurt and I have built a life together, and if I told you it was easy, I'd most certainly be lying.  Our life has had many setbacks, disappointments, struggles - deeply personal ones that we've had to work through.  That's the great thing about marriage though!  Once you work through the messy stuff together and you come out the other end, you can high-five one another, and say, "Hey! Look! We made it!"  It strengthens the marriage bond.  

People will always tell you how hard marriage is, that it takes constant effort, constant attention, constant compromise, and a constant, everyday devotion to one another.  I absolutely would agree with that.  But... I'd also add laughter and fun.  Each day it's important to make one another laugh.  I think that's what my guy and I have perfected.  He can make me laugh like nobody else, and I'd say it goes both ways.  We know how to laugh through life's ups and downs.  So, when we knew this monumental occasion was coming up and being that our young girls are at a perfect age to enjoy Disneyworld, well, the plan unfolded.  I mean, what better way to celebrate your 20th wedding anniversary than at the happiest place on earth?!  

We started the Orlando segment of our vacation at Epcot complete with amazing rides, aquarium enchantment, beautiful flower garden festival and dinner in France!  Oui, oui!!    

A favorite ride at Epcot includes Spaceship Earth - with a journey through time highlighting how story-telling has evolved and helped to form our culture, our very existence.  It's quite astounding to think we have evolved as a human species from documenting our lives on cave walls to now -- blogging with internet connections around the globe in a matter of seconds.  umm... wow.  I wonder what the future will bring for our grandchildren.    

Another favorite ride of ours was Soarin.'  I couldn't get any photos on that one, but if you get an opportunity to visit Epcot, do yourself a favor and take the Soarin' experience!!  Really neat!!  It was like flying through the world:  great mountain tops to lush valleys to castles in the sky to polar bears roaming the arctic!!  Truly magical. 

The Seas with Nemo & Friends was our girls most favorite!  (funny, I think it was Alanna's favorite the last time we visited - she was 3).  It is a sweet ride that tells the Nemo story.  Afterwards, there's a terrific aquarium (tanks full of all sorts of fish, some manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and more!) to tickle your sea-loving spirit.  The dolphins put on a show for us!  We loved it! 

silliness ensues as the girls pretend to be swallowed by "Bruce" the shark. ;) 

We made dinner reservations at Les Chefs de France months ago - thankfully!  The lines were long and if you didn't have a reservation, you weren't getting a table.  We were ready for dinner made to French expertise.  And the desserts!!  Heaven.  Pure heaven.  The food was delicious and the service was très chic!  I asked our server many questions just so I could hear her beautiful French accent.  :)   The evening was divine.  

bon appétit!

Afterwards, there were fireworks over the tree line that we caught glimpses of, and purchases of french berets and tiny Eiffel towers.  We had a super early morning the next day so we made our way to our hotel to settle in for the night.  All in all, a marvelous, magical day for an anniversary.  

Thanks so much for stopping by to view my Epcot images and hearing about our day's events.  I'd love to hear from you.  Have you visited Epcot?  What was your favorite ride?  Do you have any marital advice for my guy and I?  And if you are married, how many years for you?  I'm thinking a cruise for our 25th!  ;)  Thanks again, friends!  And Cheers to all the happily married couples out there making magic happen through the years!  Keep on high-fiving each other!!  xoxo  L'amour est le plus grand!  

One Candle for Forty Eight

Monday morning came too soon, but we were ready to move on to our next destination on our list of people and places to see.  We loaded up the rental car, said our good-byes to our Miami family and headed out on the open road, taking the Tamiami Trail (State Route 41; a 2 lane highway that leads you through forest and the swampy Everglades) across southern Florida and up the Gulf Coastline, watching for 'gators, unique birds and admired the landscape along the way.  We were on our way to visit with more family members, John & Kay, in Englewood (along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico), at their vacation home. 

Families can be an intricate web, a tapestry of designs, stitched together by marriage, children, siblings, branches that extend outward, stretched by sheer love.  I count myself among the fortunate to have the direct experience of loving family members that have accepted me as part of their own on those far-extended branches.  You know you've found the gold thread in your family tapestry when new members enter in and, without so much as a double look or the blink of an eye, they turn to you and call you "daughter."

When my stepfather, John (a loving man who helped to raise me and my sister from very early on) and my mother's marriage dissolved late in my teen years, I was heartbroken.  I was heartbroken both for my parents and for myself.  Fortunately, for all involved, hearts are resilient and heal and go on loving.  John remarried a woman I would soon come to know as one of my closest, dearest friends, another mom for me to love and cherish, and another grandmother for my girls.  I don't know how Kay does it, but I am certainly grateful that she hasn't wavered from her commitment to her ready-made family, not only taking on a step-motherly role for me and my sister, but also a grandma for our children, seemingly without ever questioning and diving in with a heart wide open, and the sincerest devotion to all of us.  Kay is one of those rare gems in life that sparkles with the utmost of patience, humility, loads of terrific wit and laughter, and, above all, Love.  She's a keeper!!  I'll share her, but won't ever let her go!  

We arrived late in the day, just in time for more 'gator hunting, a beautiful sunset, delicious dinner and then s'mores with John & Kay's neighbors, Katie & John!!  

Englewood FL with family-2.jpg

Tuesday was my birthday!  I had mentioned to Kay that it would be great to spend some time playing in the ocean with the girls, catch some sun and surf, just relax - that's really all I wanted for my birthday, to have my toes in the sand, listen to the surf on the shoreline, let the girls play in the waves and do some shelling.  My birthday wish came true!!!  

Kay took us to Boca Grande beach on Gasparilla Island, just north of Sanibel/Captiva Island on the Gulf.  It was a gorgeous beach day, with light winds and mid 80 temps.  The water was a bit cool, but the girls didn't mind and had a blast!  They have never seen so many different shapes and variation in colors of shells before!  This definitely is not the Jersey shore we are accustomed to visiting during our summers.  Check it out... 

It was hard leaving this beautiful beach, but there were more celebrations coming up!  So, we packed up for the afternoon and headed back to home base to prepare for our adventurous evening out. 

John & Kay treated us to fine dining at Rum Bay Restaurant on Palm Island!  We took a ferry ride to reach our destination, and along the way the captain allowed each of our girls to take the helm for a bit.  Their reaction was priceless!  They both handled it well, but weren't too sure they knew which way they should set their course!  Haha, too cute! 

Plus, there was a sweet bonus for us to enjoy!  Dolphins!!  A small pod of dolphins playfully swam along the rear starboard side of the boat, leaping and splashing.  It was yet another fantastic birthday gift!  Alanna & Emilia were thrilled, too!!!    

Here we are, happy, satisfied bellies full and our to-go boxes.  Our waitress kindly snapped a few pics for us to remember this wonderful evening together.  Coincidentally, we were not only celebrating my birthday, but also our 20th wedding anniversary.  Kurt and I married the day after my birthday so we'd always have double the reasons to celebrate our life together!  So far, it's worked out wonderfully!   

Kurt caught this moment for me back at John & Kay's home where we finished the night with birthday cake (gluten-free no less!) and ice cream!  What a fabulous day it was!  And I told John & Kay this was the best birthday I ever had!  If birthdays keep getting better and better each year, I'm up for that! 

Wednesday morning came too soon, and yet again it was time to pack up the rental car and hit the road.  This time we were headed to Disneyworld and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando!  More on that next up!

It was sad saying good-bye and I felt that choked up feeling, wanting to say so much, how grateful we are to have them in our lives, how much they mean to us, and how thankful we are for all the magical treats, experiences they bestowed on us during our visit.  Thank you, Papa John & Kay!  Your loving kindnesses and generous nature are appreciated beyond any words I could ever write.  I hope you feel our love from across the miles, just as much as when we are together!  We love you.  

And, I knew Emilia and Grandpa John would be best buddies.  They're 2 peas in a pod!  ;) 

Thanks so much for taking time to stop by, and hear about our happy trails, friends!  I promise, just one more blog on our Florida vacationing journey!  Here's to more adventures and joyous celebrations to commemorate!!  Cheers!!! 

That time I told Lenny I loved him

While visiting our family in Miami, my sister said we just had to explore this local farmer's market filled with many goodies, treasures, a true taste of Miami.  Laura worked this market and is acquainted with many of the folks, plus she wanted to introduce us to her friends and colleagues.  We didn't realize this outdoor market was located in a more upscale part of Miami and as we made the drive there we admired the beautiful, somewhat elaborate, sprawling homes and the lush greenery and flowers!  Oh, the flowers!!  Little did I know that along with all the pleasant flavors, aromas, cuisine and delightful people, there was another surprise coming my way.    

The koi pond held so many fish of different colors and variations - a banquet of amazement for us to admire!   

After walking through the market, making our purchases of fresh smoothies, trinkets for the girls, and lunchtime sandwiches, and admiring, tasting all the offerings, we decided to exit and find a quiet spot to sit and lunch in the shade.  We fed the fish some popcorn, not too much though, just enough to watch them hungrily devour the treats.  I wanted to snap a pic of the front of Pinecrest Gardens welcoming area to post on my Instagram account, so I set to work on my documentary project. ;)  

Just after snapping a few pixels in front of this site, I turned around to look back towards the market.  My eye immediately took notice of a small entourage of men walking directly in front of me, chatting, enjoying the beautiful day in relaxed fashion.  I recognized the man in front, leading the other two quite large, muscular men.  I stood in awe, starstruck, unable to speak, as I watched artist, musician, actor, and designer, Lenny Kravitz cooly, ever so calmly, stride by me.  I could have reached out and touched him I was that close.  Funny thing is, just a week earlier I had watched his live interview with New York Times Talk design reporter, and learned more about this iconic man and his love of interior space, as I listened to him discuss his foray into architectural design.  Shazam!  I share this same appreciation for architectural design and took classes at one point in my life.  His charismatic warmth and tenderness along with his insightful cleverness had me hooked listening to him speak.  I thought I adored him before, but learned that I adore him even more so now!  

After Lenny and his bodyguards walked by, and was able to breathe again, I turned to my husband and exuberantly announced, "That was Lenny Kravitz!!!"  He didn't believe me, at first.  I kept insisting it was him!  He said, "Well, go see if you can get a picture of him!"  Should I?  Yes, you should!  Okay!!  I took off running in the direction Lenny walked.  I could hear my family chuckling behind me, and, well, I was so giddy, lighthearted it didn't matter!  I found Lenny just as he was climbing into the backseat of a 2 door sports car with heavily dark-tinted windows.  The larger bodyguard of the 2 was holding the seat up for him.  I was in earshot distance and not wanting to thoroughly disturb the guys Sunday outing, I said quietly, "Lenny."  Knowing that if my husband was correct they would not have responded to me.  That was not the case!  The burly bodyguard immediately shot me a look that said "Warning... Dangerous Territory! and Don't come any closer!"  I didn't move.  However, knowing it was indeed Lenny I proclaimed, "I love you!"  with a hand raised to wave at him.  He in turn waved back to me, with a smile in his voice and said to me, "Thank You!!"  

Now, you are really going to get a chuckle.  I turned around and ran back to my family and told them what happened, my camera firmly strapped around my body.  You got it.  Not one single frame was made, no photographic evidence whatsoever!  I am laughing at myself, believe me, and then kicking myself for not politely asking if I could get a photo with him.  He was so relaxed though, enjoying his day and the beautiful weather, that I didn't want to upset his privacy.  I have the memories imprinted on me, though, and I'll never forget the feeling of being in the wake of Lenny's sexy-cool-chill style that is his signature groove.  Wow, my friends!  What a magical day it was!!  Thank you, Universe, for the uplifting, joyous surprise!  Life is sweet!!   

This song is for my husband.  Kurt and I just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and I feel like Mr. Kravitz created this song just for us ... because he's just that kind and, well, his mantra really is "let love rule."  

P.s.  Upon further investigation, I noticed Lenny posted on his Instagram feed (March 5, the same magical day) that he was "Backstage with George Clinton and Mudbone at the #PFunk show in Miami." At The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater.  :))  

Blue Horizon Farm | Miami Florida family

It never ceases to amaze me.  We can get on an aircraft, sip on juice, eat peanuts, read a chapter from a book, take a cat nap, get pictures of clouds and the landscape from a distant, bird's eye view and within 3 hours time be transported to an all together different climate, with contrasting plants, animals, trees and landscape.  Seriously, I am in awe every time.  

My husband, young girls and I just wrapped up our Florida adventure, where we covered more than half of the sunny state in an eight-day, whirlwind vacation.  Our adventure began in Miami where my sister, Laura and bro-in-love, Brendan and their 3 beautiful children live and farm.  We toured their 1.5 acre farm complete with a young fruiting orchard, thriving organically cultivated vegetable garden, 5ft diameter composting systems, out-buildings, tall grasses growing wild for privacy, flowers galore, and happy, healthy kiddos.  They are in the process of building their dream home - designed to accommodate the natural landscape and climate as ecologically friendly as possible.  This was our first visit to their farm, and we were pleasantly surprised at all the amazing work they've been diligently able to complete, considering they are raising 2 young 'uns, work full time, and at multiple side jobs, and manage their homestead.  I am super thrilled for them and can't wait to visit again!  Here's just a small taste of their plot of tropical heaven (over a 2 day time frame):  

They have a trampoline for the kids to release some bouncy fun and energy and get a healthy workout in the process!  I even got on it for a bit, and I was soon feeling muscles I didn't know existed!  Great fun!! My oldest nephew stopped by for a visit since he lives about 15 minutes from the farm.  Kai's dream has always been about skateboarding - as you will notice his stunts carry over onto the trampoline!!  

While visiting with our family, we stayed at a local campground, Miami Everglades RV Resort, just around the corner from the Blue Horizon Farm.  The camp, we noticed, was mostly a "snow birds" haven of quiet, clean, fun getaway.  Kurt and I imagined ourselves in 20 years time loading up an RV and doing the "fly south for winter," snow-bird getaway!!  Not a bad idea, whatsoever.  We stayed in a cute little cabin for 4, ate our breakfasts out on the picnic table, watched for tiny lizards darting here and there, and enjoyed peaceful nights of slumber here.  Great place to visit!!  

Across the dirt lane from Laura & Brendan's farm stands towering this enormous Strangler Fig tree that caught my imagination and eye almost immediately.  It's overall greatness and flow of the green foliage dancing in the wind made us think of the Studio Ghibli movie, My Neighbor Totoro, a delightful film that my girls have fallen head over heels in love with!  Okay, I love it, too!  If you have young children, they will adore this magical film.  We sang the Totoro song all weekend long, and especially when visiting this magnificent being of a tree!  See if you can spot my nephew, Junah among the tree's sprawling branches as he climbed high.     

Emilia had the good fortune of planting baby tomatoes with her uncle Brendan and cousins.  She's our nature girl who dreams of one day becoming a farmer.  She has repeated this throughout her almost 8 years and I do believe she will achieve her goal.

We are looking forward to returning to Blue Horizon Farm and to our Florida family.  It was so good to spend quality time together, even though it ended much too soon.  Thank you, Laura & Brendan for your hospitality and love!!  We had such a fun visit with you all!  And Brendan, your vegan chili is the bees knees, my brother!  Thank YOU, Sutton family!  We love you.

I do have another stop to highlight from our Miami adventures and one positively cool, rocking story of a celebrity meeting to share with you all.  Stay tuned for that coming up next!  If I've shared the story with you already, please do not spoil the fun.  Keep it on the down low until I publish it on the blog for all to read.  :) Thank you!!