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Lauren Natalie PhotoShoot

When Lauren, my world traveling, picture taking friend, and I were chatting about taking pictures, I mostly just wanted to hang out with her, but she brought her camera, too!  So fun.  She had just returned from Ethiopia with a Luis Palau trip, just in time to see us!  What I love about the progression of these photos is that they start out like most photo shoots; civil children, well posed, normal behavior.  But you see, she opted to stay for dinner and after, so she was able to get some pretty good shots of the normal happenings around here.  And the chickens found their way into a few of the pictures, as well.

Thank you Lauren, love them!

So we start:

{All 5 of us, smiling, looking, calm, total photo win}






Then she told the kids to play, too cute.





{This pic above it the epitome of my boys}




We busted out the ‘bobby pops,’  and when you look deep into their eyes, their sheer joy should give you pity in your hearts for them that their parents don’t give these poor children sugar often.



{My forever good looking make-out partner}



First one to bring out the chickens

Proud of his bobby pop.










A girl and her chicken


{Chicken Feed Confetti}




Praying for dinner


Looks about right




checking out sister’s toys in her room


Oh k…so here is after dinner shenanigans.  It was pretty cool to have someone else here to capture these moments.


The beginnings of our hide and seek, my kids love playing together



Found her




{And the lovely photographer herself, thank you Lauren!  We love you, you are such an incredibly talented person, thanks for capturing smiles and real life. Next time you walk El Camino de Santiago, we’re in!  Love these sweet captures of this season of our family.  Come back for dinner}


Thank You for the Books!

The kids in Maria’s class, and all the fifth grade classes at her school, wrote us a note to thank us for their books.  Each time I go in, they all are reading one of the new books, they are excited, they are interested, they are learning new things.  We were able to clear out very old, tattered, outdated books off of shelves, and the teacher sent some of them home with students who may not have any books at home, all to make way for new books that classes for years and years will enjoy.

Loved these cute little notes, “We are excited to read them all,” one says.  I say, go for it!

(Also, ‘YOLO!’ ; )

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“Someday I’ll repay you guys for these beautiful books”

Sweet kids.  Thank you for donating, it’s changing lives and stirring excitement, and it will for years to come.

“According to the US National Commission on Reading, the most significant factor in a child’s educational success is an introduction to books.” -Tsh Oxeneider, Notes from a Blue Bike

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, what a huge, life changing gift.


Amy, Maria and 100 fifth graders


One Banana // Maria is 12

We had been trying our best to convince her, mostly straight faces, “No really, in America on your twelfth birthday, you get one banana.  That’s it.”

She was laughing and shook her head, “Noooo,” with a gleam in her eye.

“Seriously, it’s like, tradition.”

Our friends pulled into the bandwagon, nodding their heads,”Just one banana,” they assured her, “Cause I mean, you know, twelve.”

She always just laughed.

The morning of her golden birthday, she woke up as a twelve year old, rubbing her sleepy eyes, tired grin on her face as we gave her big hugs.

“Look at this big twelve year old!” we said.

“Maria,” Finley made intense eye contact with her, “Can I please share your cake, please?” he knew this whole birthday gig, just making his preparations.

“Time to get ready for gymnastics,” I told her over my shoulder as I leaned on both hands over her open closet, looking for the right outfit for her.

“Ok,” she said.

We put all the kids into the car, as Andrew and I loaded the double stroller in the back.

Before we started backing up on the way to gymnastics, we turned around and turned on the video camera.

“Maria…” we told her, smiling.

“Yes,” she asked us.

“Maria, we are not going to gymnastics today…”



“We’re not?” she asked, surprised.

“Nope, did you know that today is a very special day?  Today you are twelve years old…”


“Where are we going?” she asked, but by then, the boys had made eye contact with each other on either side of her, and all three were loosing their cool, squealing as they started to read our faces even though they didn’t know what was happening.

“Today, we are going to a special place…

We’re going to where Micky Mouse lives.”

Silence.  Mouths open, curved into a circle, Finley asked,

“Mickey’s house?”

“Yes, and Mater, and Donald Duck, and Goofy, and Minnie and Elsa and Anna and…”

And Olaf”

Silence for a couple seconds as it all sunk into those round eyes, then if you could hear the sounds of joy busting out of three little bodies, as Elijah mouthed whispered, squeaky, “Olaf?  Olaf?” and we put the car in reverse and pulled out of the driveway.

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Our dear friends Matt and Sam had given us gift cards when we first brought the kids home–such an amazing gift–and today was the day.

We rode the tram, the parents had words about parking, we made up, we loaded the stroller, we saw the gates.

Maria skipped along beside us, grabbing our arms and grinning at us as we got closer.  We got in line, and walked through the gates, a horse drawn carriage walking in front of us, Goofy to our right, music playing.

“Goofy?” Finley asked in a whisper, surprised at his size.

The kids ran up to Goofy, except Elijah, who buried his head in Andrew’s legs, certain Goofy was the world’s scariest creature with a green cap.





“Omg…wait–he’s still right there.”



We spotted the Town Hall across the plaza where a birthday girl got a special greeting.IMG_3783


And a call from Mickey himself.

“Mama….it was Mickey…”IMG_3789

We asked the kids if they wanted to ride on a flying elephant, the boys nodded solemnly, while Maria squealed, “Yes!”

When we got in line, Maria looked at us, “Mama, poor Russia.”

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Andrew and I used to have year passes along with our friends back when we were first married.  We would run around the park, only to hop in long lines waiting for the big rides.  It was a lot of hurry up and wait, a lot of running past the small things.

Today was the first time we had ever gone with our children.  It was slower, and it was better.


We swapped out rush for investigation, for discovering and savoring the moments we found.

Even if Finley was too nervous to meet these two British people.


It was fun, and it was actually, I mean really, it was magical.

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(There is an actual Elsa Doll in that bag, I guess the only place you can find them for a normal price is Dland.  Grandma B sent Maria a Disneyland gift card just so she could use it on her special day)




Family Shot.

Well, 3 for 5 isn’t too bad, right?

Finley and Elijah are ready to rough someone up, Russian Mafia style.


Andrew and I each picked a ride to go on with Maria.  While she and Andrew were sailing the Caribbean with Pirates, I got two fast passes for Splash Mountain.  When it was time, we grabbed our tickets, kissed the boys and ran past hundreds of people in the regular line, right to the front.

{Right before we stepped into the logs, and right before she noticed that it was in water}

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We stepped in, “Mama, is in water…” She had never been to a park remotely close to this in her life.

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That said, she thought the singing and dancing animals were, “so cute, mama, look!”  She marveled at everything she saw at the park throughout the day, not quite believing anything could be this cute, this magical and sweet.

She even did great on the fall, even though she was scared.

(Um, what’s up with the guy with the bag, right?)

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We did a few rides as a family if there was no line, which was so fun.  Little Elijah though, spent most of the ride burrowing into papa or mama with his eyes closed.

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But none of it slowed him down, he loved his day, maybe just not Pinocchio.

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Watching the Asimo robot show.

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For birthday dinner, Maria was the only civil one.  She felt special and fancy, we even let her have a sip of a cappuccino.



The boys were crazy beyond, cackling out of joy, disturbing the people sitting around us–until we realized they were all crazy kids, too.






“Finley, what do you want for dinner, Chicken or Salmon?”


“No, Chicken or Salmon.”


“No, Chi–”

“Just get it for him”





As the day turned to night, and the little ones weren’t self combusting of tiredness, we stretched our day, we savored each next new thing.  We followed her lead.



(How cute is that dad and his daughter in the background–I die)

One of us staying with the boys, Elijah passed out, thumb in mouth, blankie over his snoozing lips as they spun around, golden light glowing in the cool evening sky, music surrounding us, a twelve year old girl’s smile visible a mile away as she knew, she was special, she was important.




We spun and twisted across the ground, we laughed and laughed and held each other close.




We saw Maria shift between two ages while at Disneyland, sometimes she was her poised twelve year old self, and other times, we saw her running joyful, filled with abandon and freedom, happiness on her lips, freedom in outstretched arms, young giggles escaping her mouth as she ran in circles with her brothers, more like a child of 6, a child who never got a childhood until now.

Living life with her family, safe and loved, loving life.

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Maria literally found two fast passes for Space Mountain for 9pm on the ground, “I did it!” so she and Andrew ran in, while I propped by feet up next to two sleeping boys.

“Awww, twins huh?” said strangers.

“Yeah, ” I said back, tired, don’t got time to explain.

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It was time to pack up and head back to the tram and say goodbye to Disneyland after we saw the fireworks show.  Andrew folded up the bulky stroller, and Maria and I both grabbed a sleeping boy, “I can help, Mama!” when she saw Andrew’s full arms.

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We headed back to our car, where all the kids fell into a deep sleep and Andrew and I talked.  We agreed, it was the best Disneyland trip ever.  A moment in time we will always cherish.

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She never even got that one banana.

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“No medicine cures what happiness cannot.” 

-Gabriel Garcia Marquez