OK, so… WHOA.

I should be posting about how LJ turned one at the end of last month. Or about the fun rustic cowboy/cowgirl birthday party I threw for her and her dad. Or the photos I took of our Christmas decor. Or the sweet NYE photo we took with our friends the Pirates. Or a recap of 2010 complete with a gushing letter to LJ about how fast this past year has gone and that I can't believe how fast she's grown. Or her first word or first steps. Or the bazillions of pictures I've taken with full intentions to post them here. However, having come off the most insanely busy month OF MY LIFE, I feel as if I need to get everything down on paper or laid out in front of me just to sort through the mess that has become by brain.

One thing is for sure: I can't sustain the kind of pace I did last month and keep my sanity too. Looking back I've learned that I need to work on setting better boundaries to guard my time. I want to simplify things so that I can focus on the things that matter most to me: my work and photography, my family and friends, my home, my husband, time with the Lord, and this precious little face:

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So on that note, this is my entry for this week's I ♥ Faces challenge: Absolute Best Face of 2010. How on earth I was supposed to narrow it down to one picture I don't know, but this is what I chose. This was taken in October at a campground east of the Valley- one of my favorite places to get away when I need peace and quiet and nature and stillness. No matter what, she will always be the Absolute Best Face of 2010 to me.

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Where it all began.

Cody, LJ and I went up to Flagstaff for a day trip on Monday. It was a lovely day- gorgeous weather, amazing coffee at Macy's, a drive through Oak Creek Canyon, conversation about where our family is headed next and how we will accomplish our goals. While we were there, we decided to take LJ to the very spot where Cody proposed to me: on a rock at Buffalo Park. Here she is at the scene of the crime:

LJ on The Rock
She was very concerned about being out in nature, and didn't have much tolerance for things like sitting in the grass, touching rocks or dealing with the wind (she literally gasps… it's pretty stinkin' cute). See? Very concerned:

LJ concerned

We have come to the conclusion that SHE HATES IT. That being said, we will be turning this around quickly when she begins joining me at the community garden in a couple of weeks!

On another note, today she turns 9 months old, and my dad is 75! Happy birthday to one of the best men I've ever known. Here's a picture of him with a buddy in a boat in Pennsylvania, circa 1941-ish. He's the one on the left:

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Cute li'l guy, wasn't he?

Love you, Dad! You're the BEST!

Growing too fast.

Yesterday at Starbucks I was chatting with one of the baristas who is pregnant with a little girl, due in January. That was me a year ago, and it feels like yesterday. She was oogling over LJ, and I looked at her and said, "Cherish every moment. It goes by way too fast. And you are going to LOVE having a little girl."

Then the other barista said, "There is no faster hourglass than the life of a child."

OK, Proverbs. But seriously.

Sometimes, I look at my daughter, and I can't believe I'm a mother. I'm still in awe when I'm struck with the realization that God entrusted me with this little life, and how is she already eight months old, and she seems to hit a new milestone every day, and I can't believe how small she once was, and these tiny newborn clothes that I'm packing away are small enough to fit a doll, and she was soooo tiny and there's so much that I will never get to experience again with her. 

LJ has been commando crawling for a while now. And now she's getting up on her hands and knees and doing "the rock." She's learned to feed herself with a bottle, and yesterday I had to lower her crib mattress because she's starting to pull herself up. (Feeding herself a bottle? No, no, no! I want to hold her in my arms and feed her!) Obviously it brings me great joy when she reaches a new milestone, but it's always accompanied by this strange, bittersweet feeling that my tiny girl is growing so incredibly fast and I will never get this time back. And, looking back, there is so much I would have done differently if only I had known.

*Enter mommy guilt.* (But that's a whole other post.)

But it's OK. It's my job to help her grow and learn and set her free someday. I am SO thankful that I get to be with her while she is small. I am such a sentimental person that I tend to want to hold on to each precious stage of her life so that I never forget, but I can't. And now I know that as a mom, those memories are etched on my heart forever and ever. I couldn't forget what it felt like to hold my baby in my arms or the smell of her hair or the first time she smiled at me if I tried. This is the first time in my life where I'm not so focused on the
destination that I miss the journey. Perhaps motherhood is God's way of
reminding me that the journey is actually the best part. All I can do is be present every day. And count my blessings on each one of her ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes.

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Moms… what do you miss the most about when your kids were babies?

First trip to the ocean.

This post is waaaaaaaaay overdue, but too cute not to share, nonetheless. Linnea's first time seeing the ocean. Thanks Jess for taking these for me!

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She was only five months old at the time- it's hard to believe how tiny she was, and how fast she's been growing! Also, I'm not gonna lie: I think she hated the ocean. It was a little too loud and a little too cold for her tastes, but with time I'm sure it'll grow on her! That, or she'll be a mountain lake kinda girl, just like her mama.

One year ago: Dear Linnea.

Dear Linnea,

One year ago, my life changed forever and ever. One year ago, I learned that I had a little one growing in my belly. That little one is you.

On May 13, I woke up feeling a little funny- shaky legs, weak, nauseous. I thought I was anemic again- I was borderline in college, so I thought I needed to find a family doctor so I could go get checked out. I texted my (clairvoyant) friend Jessica to ask if they had a family doctor she would recommend, and her response?

"ARE YOU PREGNANT?"

Apparently if she so much as thinks that someone is pregnant, there's a 100% chance that she is.

I denied that it was even a possibility, even though it completely was. I mean, after all, I was actually starting to wonder if your dad and I could even have kids, because honestly at that point it was kind of crazy that we hadn't gotten pregnant yet. And three days before this fateful day, we had a discussion about whether or not we even wanted kids- we were so not ready to have one that we thought, heck, we'll probably just be fine if we never have kids! 

But with the idea firmly planted in my head, I started to do some research online. And as I learned things I never knew about the symptoms of pregnancy, all of which I had, and I thought about the happy hour I was planning to attend later in the week with my friends, where I would probably have a couple of beers, and that if I'm pregnant I can't have any beers, so I'd better be sure that I'm not before I go, I made that fateful if not prophetic trip to Walgreens to pick up a pack of pregnancy tests, where I was ambushed by an employee whose sister had an eerily parallel story to mine, and said employee was super excited for the child that may or may not be residing in my uterus. If that run-on sentence is any indication of the whirlwind that day was, the events leading up to the positive outcome of the pregnancy test I took pales in comparison to the emotions I felt when I learned that I was the mother I wasn't even sure I wanted to be.

But now I'm your mom, and I can't imagine my life any other way. You were a big surprise, but the best surprise I've EVER received. You're a miracle and a life-changer. You're an angel on earth. Sometimes I wonder if you were timed to save my life, but even if none of the medical issues I've faced since learning of you were even there, I wouldn't question the gift that you are. I never thought I would want more than one kid if I was blessed with one (because no matter what, kids are a blessing), but now you're here and your daddy and I want to give you a brother or sister. But, my little one, if you are the only one God has planned for us, we are completely OK with that. You have filled my heart to the point that I think it would just burst at any time, and I wouldn't change the outcome of that day if my life depended on it.

So, on this anniversary of the discovery of you, I am on my way with you and Auntie Jessica for a girls' weekend in California with Auntie Amber. I love that we're spending this time with my dearest friends who were there from the very beginning of my journey toward knowing and loving you. But the best thing of all is that you are here with us. A happy, healthy little girl so full of life and joy for whom I will be forever grateful.

Yes, indeed. One year ago, my life changed forever and ever. I will never forget that special day as long as I live. And now I'm going to go wake you up from your nap so I can kiss your precious cheeks over and over and appreciate that you are in my life and in my heart for the rest of my days.
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With all my love,

Mama

Mum Mum’s memory book.

My sister and I spent last Sunday afternoon sorting through Mum Mum's things in her room. What a treasure trove that was! We found so many old pictures, keepsakes, cards, and little pieces of history that our dad helped us piece together. While sad and strange, it was also quite fascinating. One of the most interesting things was a funeral program we found for Mum Mum's two cousins who died in WWII- one in Belgium in 1945 and the other in Normandy in 1944- brothers who shared a funeral in 1949. I could only imagine… Cody's grandfather survived that war, and he is still traumatized by his experiences there to this day. We also found pictures dating back to the late 1800s of  family members. My dad said he'd commission me to put together a family history- heck yes I'll do that! I mean, shoot, we have a family history based on my maternal great-grandparents from Iceland dating back to the 1100s or something crazy like that. No joke- the genealogy is more than 100 pages long! Why not make one for the other side of the family?

My favorite discovery was a little memory book that Mum Mum put together. No one knew she had it- my dad said that had he known it was there, he would have pulled it out often for her to look at in her final weeks. It was just a little pocket photo album, and in the very front was this poem clipped from a newspaper:

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And when I turned the page, the first thing I saw was a picture of me as a child.

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She kept all of my school age pictures in this little photo album, but it wasn't just me- it contained old photos of all of her kids, her mom, and her brother. She loved all of us so much. There was a picture of one of her beloved dogs, other newspaper clippings, and even a little card I gave her when I was little.

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Who knew she kept it all these years?

Remember the Skaggs story? I found the picture in this little album. I was dressed up as Bugs Bunny. Hahaha.

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Here's my dad and uncle- on the back of the picture she wrote, "Two little boys."

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Mum Mum LOVED her dogs- she has never forgotten a beloved pet. I have no doubt that she is reunited with all her cherished little canines up in Heaven 🙂

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Rainbow Bridge, Heaven, whatever.

Here are some of my favorite photos of Mum Mum and me from way back when. Such sweet, sweet memories…

Greeting her and Other Mum Mum (her mom) when they first moved to Arizona from Pittsburgh.

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Such a character! My dad giving her smooches.

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I don't know what I was eating, but whatever it was I liked it A LOT.
You can tell by the "don't eff with my food" look I'm giving the camera.

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Hugs 🙂

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…and kisses. I don't know why, but I really liked to give this
leopard of hers kisses every time I went to her apartment. I know. I was a
weirdo.

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Mum Mum gave me this stuffed cat and I named her Christina.

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She hated having her picture taken…

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…unless Muffin was in the picture! Later she would go cook up filet
mignon and feed it to the dog! (I'm not joking. She actually did this!
That dog ate better than we did. Haha)

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And finally…

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There was nothing I loved more as a child than to run around in circles yelling, "Chase me! Chase me!" And although Mum Mum couldn't run fast, she would always play along and say, "Come here, you little squirt!" And I would giggle and giggle, and run to her and hug her tight, and say, "I'm so glad you're here, Mum Mum. I love you."

This special lady was a part of so many of my most precious memories- ones that I will cherish forever. I'm so glad she's in a beautiful place, that she has been made whole once again. I'm smiling for her now, always.

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You were so good to me!

There are so many things

I wanted still

to do – to say to you…

We cannot see Beyond…

But this I know:

I loved you so- 'twas heaven

here with you!

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