Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Insta-Inspire Photography Retreat

Back in November, I was doing my daily routine of stalking my very favorite photographer ever on instagram (@megloeks--warning, you might be scrolling for hours) when I saw that her latest post mentioned something about her coming to Salt Lake for a photography workshop. WHAT??! I immediately got hot flashes as my fingers flitted from one website to another in order to find out more details. haha!

I signed up as soon as I could, but was so disappointed to see that Meg's shoot along class was already filled. I even messaged one of the director's to see if there was a waiting list or something, but no such luck. So instead, I browsed some of the other photographers who were also going to be there and picked another one to join for the class, hoping I would still be able to meet Meg.

A few weeks ago, the day finally came an I found myself feeling so anxious about going by myself. I kept asking myself what in the world I was thinking going to a weekend retreat by myself with nearly one hundred other photographers! It didn't help that I had just been away from my family for nearly a whole week in Kansas and so I felt guilty leaving for another 3 days since I would be just staying the night at my sister's house in order to avoid driving back and forth every morning and night. 
Ryan and I switched cars and because his car had been parked in the sun all day and the AC was broken, I was a hot and sweaty mess by the time I rolled into the hotel parking lot...20 minutes late.😩
Once I slopped into the lobby, I was overwhelmed with dozens and dozens of ladies standing around already chatting with one another like they've been best friends their whole lives. I made my way to the check in table to get my name tag and swag bag (aka a bag with a coffee cup and mints lol), and then proceeded to be the most awkward human being in existence. I didn't know or even recognize a single soul, so after standing around for a couple of minutes I went into the bathroom and wiped away the sweat and tears that were nearly started to take over. After a few encouraging texts from Ryan I decided to brave the crowds again. If only they had all been sitting at tables, it would have been way less intimidating to introduce myself. Oh well. I stood by myself again close to a tight circle of women and tried to inch my way in. After probably ten (yes, TEN!) minutes of standing around, about ready to run home any second, a couple of ladies stood close by so I seized my chance and attacked them with my name and questions about who they were on instagram. It went pretty horribly, but at least they mentioned that people were ordering dinner from the hotel cafe, so I stood in line to oder food (even though I wasn't that hungry, but it gave me something to do lol), and finally was able to sit down by someone and strike up a conversation. She ended up being one of my buddies for the rest of the weekend. Phew! I got off to a really rough start and even considered canning the whole thing and running back home, but after confiding these feelings to a couple of girls, they assured me they felt the exact same way. πŸ˜…

Because I signed up a couple of weeks after the early bird registration, I missed out on the extra shoot along at Antelope Island. There were about 20 of us who had to stay behind for a walk around the city to photograph street life (not my cup of tea, but at least my new buddy, Gina, was also left behind). We all commiserated in the fact that we were being left out and had to stay to do something really lame. Gina and I even considered driving ourselves out to antelope island and sneaking into one of the shoot alongs, but we lacked the guts. 

The next morning was much much better, and I even made a few more friends. It was much more structured, which meant I didn't even have to worry about talking to new people if I didn't want to haha. 

I went to several classes and listened to speakers and then walked down to a restaurant where we were supposed to have lunch with the guest photographers. We were automatically assigned to a photographer, but my table was right next to Meg's table, and since our individual schedules hadn't been monitored, I sneakily slid right over to her table instead. Gina was in Meg's group, so we both talked about our idol photographers. Mine being Meg, her's being Tara (@taraherron_photography). Then Meg entered the restaurant and then sat RIGHT across from me (cue fainting Hannah)! 

I ordered a lemonade and then she ordered the same thing (πŸ™‡‍♀️lol), then she told me she liked my shirt and I blubbered out some sort of thank you. I was so dumbfounded to be sitting right by her, I honestly couldn't think of any questions to ask her, although she did announce that she was pregnant and even said that they are considering the name Scout and I told her that Jane's nickname is Scout. So basically we are BFF's now. πŸ€“

She even humored me with a selfie together haha. Then I sat front and center during her presentation and was able to sneak another picture then. It was definitely the highlight of my weekend being able to meet her and sit in on her classes. 

The rest of the afternoon went by quickly with more short classes and moving around. Then We broke up into our shoot along groups and I was still considering sneaking into Meg's class. haha But she was doing an indoor session and I actually wanted to work more on my outdoor, so I decided to stick with my assigned photographer. I was in the same group with a few other ladies I had made friends with, so that was really nice and so fun. Everyone was really friendly and the shoot along with Melissa (@missmelis1112) ended up being amazing. We went to Ensign Peak, which I had never been to before, and the sky was beautiful and the flowers were in bloom all over the hillside, and the model family was just so perfect and sweet. I learned a lot about how I want to direct my own family sessions and was really happy about how my photos turned out. Here are just a few that I've edited. I took over 800 so I still haven't had a chance to go through them all yet.

The clouds were amazing. The sun would break through and create such gorgeous light. The city was beautiful, so I took about 6 photos and stitched them together to create this panorama effect. 

Sunday was the last day, so we finished up with a couple more presentations and some editing demonstrations, which were really fun to watch, then said our goodbyes.
All in all, it was really a fun time and I learned a lot even if it was a really rough start haha. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Saying Goodbye to Theresa

I've been putting off writing about this experience mostly because it seems overwhelming to put it all into words, but I am already forgetting parts of the story so I want to write it down while I can still remember. 
On Tuesday, April 10th, I got a phone call from my mom telling me that my Aunt Theresa (who was diagnosed with breast cancer almost 2 years ago) was given 2 weeks to live. I was appalled and confused at how quickly things had spiraled down. Theresa has always been SO positive and so we didn't really understand how serious it was getting. And I was devastated that my plans to go visit with the girls in May would be too late.
My mom said that she and my dad were flying to out to see her that weekend. So in an emotional outburst, I called Ryan to see if it was a possibility for me to go too. He was so supportive and didn't hesitate one moment about my going. 

After several hours of texting and calling, Brittney, Danika, and I coordinated flights from Saturday morning to Wednesday night. After our flights had been booked, my mom called us to let us know that Theresa and her whole family was considering sending her to Arizona for some treatments that were recommended by some friends. They hadn't made a decision about it, so we prepared to go visit with the possibility of only being able to see Theresa for less than 24 hours before she would leave for Arizona.

So on Friday night, I drove up to Brittney's house in Salt Lake and stayed the night to prepare for our 3am wake up call in order to make our way-too-early flight.

While waiting to board, we had some really good conversations about our experiences the few days prior and talking about the stages of grief. Danika mentioned that anger is part of the grief process and we all recalled how short-tempered we each had been after hearing about the news. It was interesting to think about how we react during tragic experiences. 

It wasn't until about 11:30am when we finally made it to the Missouri Airport, where our parents were waiting to take us to Theresa's house. 

We stopped by a grocery store to pick up a few things and then took the long cut (AKA got lost πŸ˜†--my dad will never live that down) back to the house. Two hours after landing, we finally made it to Wathena, Kansas, where Chris and Theresa live. 

My mom showed us some pictures of Theresa before we got there to help prepare us. She's always been a very thin and active woman, and I knew she had lost a great deal of weight, but I hadn't really thought about what that would look like on her already thin frame. She weighed under 90 lbs and was just bone. We were so glad we had a picture to see before getting there to take that initial shock away. Looking at her, I felt that there wasn't much longer and that if she were to go for treatments in Arizona, it would only mean she would pass away there in a hospital instead of here being around her family.

All of my cousins were there, except Colby who was flying in later that same day. They had all been camping out on air mattresses upstairs, helping keep each other's spirits up. It was amazing to see how everyone stayed so positive for the most part. 

Every time someone new fly in or came to visit, there would be another wave of emotions hit. Even some of Theresa's own kids were shocked by her appearance, meaning that the weight loss had happened drastically in just a few short weeks. 

But even though her body was emaciated, and it took all her energy to speak, she was completely herself. She was always so energetic and spunky and had the most animated voice. And you could still see that through her whispers.  

Katelyn and Aubrey flew in shortly after we did. It was so nice to have each other and to spend time together during this hard experience. We missed Brooklyn, but she was flying out to Portugal at the very same time. We all slept in a hotel in St. Joseph, MO. together and had such a fun time--except for when Katelyn woke up at who-knows-what-time with a blood curdling scream!  😱Danika and I immediately started screaming too until Katelyn woke up from her night terror and calmed everyone down. πŸ˜³πŸ˜“πŸ˜ͺphew! haha! Now I know how Ryan feels when I have night terrors. 😬oops. I guess it's a Brand curse because my mom and Brooklyn get them too.

My Grandpa Brand was so cute to watch. He had just bought an iphone and figured out how to use it, so he was constantly taking pictures of everyone. It was so nice to spend time with him and grandma because we don't get to see them very often.

I loved getting to spend time with my other Aunt, Trisha, as well. She told us so many great stories about their childhood and talked about my dad with such adoration. She said over and over how he was just the best big brother. 
I loved hearing about her relationship with Theresa when they were younger and all the mischief they all got into. I hadn't seen Trisha for years and years, so it was so nice to be able to get to know her. We all just admired her so much.

My dad seemed so steady through this whole thing. We had so many great discussions about what we believe and how the idea of death has made us consider how we truly feel.

It was so special to each take a turn caring for Theresa. We had some watermelon that I chopped up so I got to feed her a few spoonfuls and give her sips of water. 

I can only imagine how my grandparents felt watching their daughter go through such pain. 

It was nice to have Theresa's bed in the living room where we could be with her at all times. When she felt she needed rest, we would all go upstairs and chat for a couple of hours. 

I think either Emily or Kaile painted Theresa's toes. My parents, Brittney, and Royce decided to go to a local crossfit gym while they were there and somehow they were able to drag me along with them. My initial excuse was that I didn't bring any gym shoes with me, but they pulled out a pair of Theresa's and let me use them. It was miserable and I wasn't very cheerful about it, but I came home and chatted with Theresa about how I wore her shoes and how she was always so positive and peppy, even during hard things. A few weeks after I came home, I went to my mom's house and she had the same shoes that I wore while I was there. She said everyone said I could have them, so she brought them home to me. It was such a sweet and special surprise and since then it has reminded me to be more like her when I'm wearing them.

My Grandpa with Theresa.

Someone came to read Theresa's final will and have her sign.

The whole time we were there, the house smells so good. There were always oils diffusing and I'm sure whenever I smell those scents it will remind me of this time. 

Theresa with all of her kids: Colby, Brandie, Royce, Emily, and Kaile. 
Emily had been her main caretaker the last couple of months, even though it was her final semester in college. Everyone dropped everything to come help and see their mom. Brandie, who has three little kids about my kids' ages stayed over night the whole week. Being in that same stage myself, I know what a huge sacrifice and difficulty that must have been. 
Colby is in the middle of residency as a surgeon, Kaile and Royce have been been working and in school. Emily and Royce were both working on homework and final projects during the nights to make sure they didn't fall behind. I just was amazed at everyone's dedication even during such busy seasons. 
My uncle, Troy who lives in Spain, was desperate to come visit Theresa one last time. He figured out the finances, only to realize that his passport was expired. He was hopeless and we were told her wasn't going to be able to come after all. Then a couple of days later, he said that he was miraculously able to obtain an emergency visa and booked a flight. His flight wasn't going to get in until a few hours after Brittney and I flew back to Salt Lake, but I was just SO happy he would get a chance to see Theresa.

Emily, rubbing her mom's feet.

Emily had her best friend, Sam, staying the week as well. She was such a sweet girl and we all just fell in love with her. She was such a good support to the family and offered to help with anything she could. Friends and neighbors brought so many meals, taking into account all of the extra family members who were staying at their house. And there were so many flowers and cards. This was just one table full.

I felt like I had cried all I could before arriving, and mostly I just had a lump in my throat the whole week.
By the end of my stay, Theresa was losing more energy and it was hard for her to even get her muscles to swallow tiny sips of water. On Wednesday, she had only eaten a couple spoonfuls of pudding and a few sips of water. I just hoped that Troy would be able to see her before she passed.

All five kids and Theresa

I loved seeing all my cousins (missing Brandie in this photo) and connecting again. They are our only cousins we ever really knew growing up.

I had been pretty stoic most of the time, but once it was time to leave, Theresa was asleep so I had to just give her a quick kiss goodbye and it all came pressing down on my chest that she would be gone. 
I just kept imagining her lively personality and strong body, now just to see her unable to perform small things for herself. It was almost like seeing a completely different person, and maybe that's why I was feeling so matter-of-fact about it all.

Brittney and I left (Danika had flown home the day before), and I was mostly teary-eyed the rest of the evening. I loved flying with Brittney, because we had some great discussions about everything. Theresa was always the instigator for family get-togethers. 

If we learned anything from this experience, it was that it's worth the time, effort, money, anything to spend time with family. It's worth it. And so we decided to start doing something about it. It breaks my heart that we've grown up not seeing our grandparents very often at all, or that it takes a tragedy to get everyone together. It has made me feel such love for my own little family and a desire to plan getaways with my family and extended family. 

Theresa passed away in her sleep two days after I went back home, but the experience of being able to be by her side and feel the love is something I will never forget. It was such a special experience and I'll always treasure the memories I have of my sweet aunt as I grew up. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Easter Weekend

We started celebrating Easter a week early by dyeing eggs. I boiled a bunch in a big pot, and the girls set to work. They were fascinated with the colors and each had their favorite. The kit I bought had a crayon that came with it for you to draw designs on the egg before dyeing it, but it didn't really work. And the stickers didn't stick whatsoever, so pretty much all of them turned out solid colors. 

Lots of eggs got cracked and I learned that I just need to relax a little and let them be. haha
They had fun trying all the colors and we had so much leftover dye.

While I was dumping the colors, Jane started chomping on the egg right there without even peeling it. haha. I then spent the next 30 minutes peeling all of the eggs and making egg salad sandwiches for them, which they actually loved. I was surprised Norah liked it so much because she is normally wary about trying "new" foods. 

The Tuesday before Easter, we hosted a little easter egg hunt with playgroup and all the moms. It was so fun chatting and letting the kids play together so well. I stuffed all the eggs the night before with pretzels, fruit snacks, and raisins. haha I also saved some leftover eggs from a ward hunt we had a few days before so the kids had some sort of good candy. 

We went in and the kids devoured their spoils then we played a few rounds of Pin the Tail on the Bunny. 

Ryan's mom had come into town that same afternoon so she kept an eye on the kids while all of us moms chatted in the kitchen. Here they are all piled up on Norah and Lucy's mattresses (their favorite game haha).

Just after everyone left from the egg hunt, I started feeling a little under the weather, but chalked it up to just having a busy day. The next morning I was just feeling a little sick and stayed in bed most of the morning. Ryan's mom offered to take the girls to the Jordan River Temple open house so I could rest, which ended up being so nice and very needed. My mom went with them and the girls had such a great time!

I felt much worse the following day and was diagnosed with strep throat. πŸ˜“After hardly being able to get out of bed the entire day, Ryan said that his throat was starting to feel a little itchy and sore. So we all went back into the doctor on Friday morning and it turned out that Ryan and Lucy both had strep (Jane and Norah most likely had it a few days before and fought it off on their own, but we didn't get them tested).

Luckily no one else reacted as badly as I did and Ryan was able to take over everything while I stayed in bed. I felt SO sad that I was missing out on being with the girls, especially during Easter weekend. I just really wanted to feel better so we could celebrate and do some fun activities. I'm just glad we were able to do a few fun holiday traditions earlier in the week.

We loved listening to General conference on Saturday and Sunday and the girls loved it too (probably because of the snacks haha). We kept the day pretty simple and just had soup for dinner instead of the Easter feast I had wanted to do. Oh well.

On Monday I was feeling a little better and I really wanted to go see this Easter walk through in Alpine I had heard about. So in the afternoon, the girls and I drove there and went on the self-guided tour of Christ's tomb that this family put together for anyone who wants to see. It was amazing and such a special thing to be a part of. They had beautiful music playing and animals. I think they originally had more animals, but since it was the day after Easter and the last day of the tour, there were only two sheep left. 

The girls kept running up to the top and climbing on top of the tomb, which made me frustrated and nervous that they might fall off the side.

I tried to talk to them about the importance of what we just witnessed, but it didn't seem to make an impact at all, which left me feeling discouraged and sad. It started raining, so we headed back to the car and Norah impatiently said, "Mom! I told you we shouldn't have done this!!" She's not a fan of getting wet from the rain, but I just felt annoyed and mad that this special thing was ruined. 

But the past few days, the girls have talked about it and even though it didn't seem like anything stuck, they actually recall how Jesus died and lived again.

I normally try to do some sort of fun photo for each holiday, but again, I was not feeling up to doing anything besides laying in bed, so I took these pictures a few days after Easter instead haha. 

These are the same dresses I made two years ago for Norah and Lucy. Norah's dress is so short on both her and Lucy now haha. It makes me want to make some more for next year!

Anyway, it wasn't what I planned Easter to look like, but it really did end up being a good day. We got to listen to Conference and spend time together. 

Sharing a Room Again!

We tried sharing rooms a couple of years ago, and it didn't last very long before we felt like we were going crazy with the screaming and jumping and, overall, not sleeping. I updated our experience two months after putting them together, trying to stay positive haha, and then soon stopped the madness by putting Norah in the guest bedroom downstairs. She loved that she had the big bed all to herself and everyone went to sleep almost immediately every night, including Ryan and me. πŸ˜…

Since then, we have switched everyone in and out of every room for different reasons. haha Norah was down in the guest bedroom without any problems and Lucy was upstairs, which is where we store all their toys and clothes. So this last summer when Lucy was taking a little longer to fall asleep at night or during nap time, she started becoming distracted by the toys and ripping books when she became bored. ugh. So to spare the rest of the books from being destroyed, I switched Norah and Lucy with hopes that the dark basement would be helpful for Lucy to fall asleep more easily during naps. 

The room had a dresser in there, but I discovered that while the girls would be playing in the backyard, they would climb through the basement window (which we can't even shut all the way...sigh. The joys of old houses and negligent landlords) and onto the dresser...and back and forth and back and forth, usually getting stuck at some point, warranting my aid. So We pulled that dresser out of there before putting Lucy in and just like that it left her with only a bed and a fan for white noise...and no lightbulb haha

There was a little hole in the wall down in that room and since Lucy has been in there it has grown just a little, so we would often joke about her pulling a shawshank redemption stunt. haha Anyway, Lucy was doing great and everyone was getting sleep! 

Then in October, Ryan sister, Janel, came down from Alaska and moved in with us. She was on the couch for a while before we figured out how to move everyone around. We finally decided to have her move into Jane's room downstairs and have Norah and Jane share. We didn't want to rock the boat with Lucy, and since Jane was still in a crib, we thought it wouldn't change much! hahahhahaaawaaawwaaaaah! πŸ€ͺπŸ˜†πŸ˜ŸπŸ˜«πŸ˜­πŸ˜­

Well, since we went to Arizona for Thanksgiving, and Jane was sleeping in a pack and play she figured out how to climb out of that. And if she could climb out of that, then she could surely scale the crib bars. Yep. She mastered the crib in about 2 minutes, so we just converted her crib to a toddler bed so she could actually get back in once she got tired (ha!). We lasted probably a month of crazy Jane bothering Norah and getting into everything and climbing the dresser just to show us that she knew how to climb things now haha. And then one night while I was thinking about how to not go crazy, I asked Ryan what he thought about having Norah and Lucy share again and instead putting Jane down in the slammer. 

And we are back at that again. Our conclusion is that no solution has worked and that everyone gets a little crazy. So we just take out lightbulbs, put locks on doors, and eat lots of junkfood in order to survive. πŸ™ˆ
I often think about how other parents handle their kids sharing rooms and the chaos that ensues during bedtime, and I wonder if I'm out of line or not. But in the end, it's all in the name of sleep...and sanity. 😝

Friday, March 23, 2018

Jane Update: 2.25 years old!

Jane is so fun to have around and I love watching her try and keep up with Norah and Lucy. She loves playing barbies with them, and always starts playing by having her barbies say hi to everyone. 

I have a growing suspicion that Jane’s beloved plant she got from nursery is turning out to be just plain grass. πŸ˜‚πŸ€« but she’s so proud of it so we are currently using it as our Easter table centerpiece.

She gives it a hug every day after I give it a little water and says, "plant growing!" It's so sweet! 

Jane is always trying to sneak into the bathroom to use the toilet. She is constantly taking off her diaper and then having accidents everywhere. The other day I cleaned up 3 different pee puddles. 😩I'm so not ready to jump back into potty training, but maybe it'll be easier to just deal with it than constantly finding soggy diapers shoved in the dress up box. haha
So I bought her a little potty seat to go on the toilet since she is too afraid to scoot back far enough without getting pee everywhere. Wish me luck!

Jane is so snuggly and LOVES getting back tickles. She will lift up her shirt and say, "tickle back!" I love it too because she will lay on my chest the whole time. 
 I got her up from naps one day and she was especially snuggly and didn't want me to put her down, so I got out my tripod to take a picture with her. 

Jane's favorite bedtimes songs are "Jesus" (I'm trying to be like Jesus), "Twinkle Star", and "ABCD's" haha. When I lay her down she will get the most mischievous smile on her face and say, "ummmmmmmmmm..." for like 30 seconds before stating what song she would like. She knows she is stalling and tries to drag it out as long as possible. I usually have to slowly close the door as I finish up singing a song before she can squeeze in any more words. haha

I love all three of these girls and feel so blessed to have them as my own!