Smells like apples in here…

… so I’ll be brief.

I created some thinly-sliced apples a bit of cinnamon sugar on top of them and it’s just about time to pull them out of the oven and hope that this delicious aroma never leaves the house.

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But I had to share a few things that I’m falling in love with this week.

Like the way he looks at everyone and everything with love. And how he hugged his TSS today when she came to the house. And how he never keeps both socks off on any given day.

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And the way she lines her crayons and her blocks up with such perfectionism and dedication. And how she is picking out ridiculous outfits every day now.

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I even love the animals who have been camping out on my lap while I finish crocheting a blanket.

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And I love the feeling of my camera in my hands.

The sounds of laughter from another room and the warmth in my heart when I stand in a doorway and they don’t know I’m there.

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I hope your house smells like apples and pets keep you warm and laughter surrounds you.

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Your first day

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Little Z-Man, you are starting school this week.
It’s just a lil DayCare/Pre-K program we found for you that you’ll attend three days a week for a few hours each day, but it’s a big, big deal.

This is the beginning of your education, which I promise you is one of the most important and precious things you’ll ever be given (in addition to wisdom and street smarts and love and respect and kindness and freedom and strength and so many other things).

From this moment on, you’ll spend the better part of two decades learning things that won’t make sense now but you’ll appreciate in the future (like doing math without a calculator) and things you’ll wish you would have learned (like balancing a checkbook or killing a spider in the best way for your Momma).

From this week on, you’ll make friends you think you’ll keep forever. Most of them will fade away. The ones you work hard at and the ones you fit best wish will remain for years and years and years. They’ll know your every dirty secret (like the time you peed through your Pull-Ups on the first day of school, which I’m just calling now as happening on Wednesday). They’ll probably know more about your sister than your parents will, too, so keep them close and if they get any good dirt, beat up some boys and tell your Momma.

Some of your friendships you’ll lose. But the memories of those friends — the sleepovers, the laughs, the mistakes and the note-passing — these things you will carry with you forever. I still think about some of those moments from 20 years ago when a name pops up on FaceBook now and then. They made me who I am today — their families welcomed me in to their homes and fed me dinners and took me on vacations.

So all I can hope is that you will be brave and make friends. Build block towers together and chase each other outside at recess. I can’t wait until we all make new friends and I sip coffee with a new friend’s Momma while you play together.

Listen to your teachers. Always. I had some strict teachers and some easy ones; I had some kind ones and some mean ones. But they all taught me not just school lessons but life lessons. I had a second-grade teacher who sent me to the office during a lesson on prejudice and racism and discrimination simply because I had blue eyes. I’ll never forget the fear and confusion and sadness, but to this day, I remember Mrs. N and treat everyone I meet as an equal. My fourth-grade teacher came to Grandma’s funeral and gave me a great big hug that let me know she cared. That meant a lot. My sixth-grade teacher embraced my sarcasm but taught me not to ever cross the line. (I’m still working on this one) My sophomore English teacher told me I was a good writer and introduced me to the school newspaper. I’ve been writing almost every day of my life since then in some way. My freshman year of college, a professor made me feel like I was a number, not a person and I made it my goal never to just be a number in a group again but to always stand out as a good person. I hope you always respect and listen to teachers — they are not just adults at school — they are family, they are friends, they are coaches, they are sweet lil ladies in the fruit section of the supermarket.

I don’t know what education will be like for you. For reasons I will never understand but have to embrace, you were given challenges before you were even born. If I could have, I would have waved my magic Mommy wand and made all of your struggles disappear. But we are given obstacles and challenges for a reason. We must make the most of them and learn from them and grow from them. I hope that education pushes you but doesn’t tear you down; I hope people understand your challenges but never limit your possibility and potential. I will never settle than the absolute best for you and I will never, ever let someone tell us that you can’t do something. All of the above goes for your sister, too. You are both full of potential and I am going to make sure you have the brightest, happiest futures I can offer you.

We may have to take different approaches; we may have to take a detour or re-route our path. There are probably not going to be many shortcuts, but I promise you my patience and my help in any way I can give it.

And may the Lord protect anyone who disagrees with that.

So we start on Wednesday with a new backpack. In it will be a change of clothes and some Pull-Ups since you’re a Big Boy and learning to use the potty and it’s not always perfect. There also will be a communication log one of Mommy’s friends who works in Special Education recommended we start. I began with a letter to your teachers telling them thank you and letting them know all about your family and your favorite things. We’ll get little notes back from them talking about what you’re working on and how we can help and if you’ve had a good day or a bad day. We’re developing an IEP for you (Individualized Education Program, where we outline your potential and let your teachers know that you have a disability but you are not defined by that disability). You may even still receive some of your therapies (probably speech for sure, your toughest area currently).

If you get scared or lost for a moment, remember you love music and start yourself a dance party. I’ll be dancing in spirit right there with you, fingers pointing in the air. Or pick up a book and share a story with someone. Do what makes you happy and what makes you comfortable and the rest will come to you.

I am so blessed to be able to take you to your first day of school. We will make it short and sweet and Addie and I will offer you big hugs and kisses and find you a fun activity to start your day. I’ll squeeze Addie a little tighter and kiss her as I put her in the carseat. And I will try hard not to but very likely will bawl my eyes out for a few moments. I promise they will be happy tears because I’m so proud of you and I’m so proud of this huge, awesome support system you’ve had around you to get you ready for this day.

And I will have an extra cup of coffee and go and enjoy time with your little sister and some of Mommy’s friends and their babies. And just a few hours later, I will pick you up and I bet you anything that you’ll look bigger!

We never take anything for granted in life anymore. You have taught us about the many gifts in life. And this Wednesday, with your little “Zachary” backpack over your tiny shoulders, heading inside a building to meet new friends and learn lots of new things, you will give us another gift.

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“Dearest, when you go away
My heart will go, too,
Will be with you all the day,
All the night with you.
Where you are through lonely years,
There my heart will be.
I will guide you past all fears
And bring you back to me.”
(Edna St Vincent Millay, “Song”)

Growing

We are all growing here in the Z Family.
As surely as the neglected weeds out back and the set-aside to-do list on the table, we are all growing both inside and out, every one of us.

There is a little boy who is most assuredly not a baby anymore, growing steadier feet below him with every cautious step behind him. A boy who is still quiet and calm, chill and loving; whose love for his little sister has grown as well, into a most beautiful series of kisses on foreheads and chubby hands holding petite long fingers.

There is a baby who recently decided that she shall grow up perhaps too quickly, that she will stand up tall and take more and more steps each day; whose blue eyes, just a shade or two lighter and brighter than her big brother’s gray-blue eyes, see everything, take in everything. She absorbs and repeats one-syllable sounds (“Ack” she calls to her Big Brother each morning!) and is as equally fiercely independent as she is needing to be reassured comfort with squeezes and hand-holding. One minute she looks up at you, tears streaming from her eyes, and the next, she takes off, you already a distant memory for that blue-eyed babe on to her next climb or daredevilish move.

Their Daddy has grown, too. He has realized that it’s never too late for change and, on Monday, will be embarking down a new career path, which will bring few short-term rewards but hopefully many for him and his selfless ways in the future. You should see the way he watches his kids now, the way he remembers to thank his wife for the littlest thing, the way he makes great effort for a simple gesture.

And the Momma. She has had a very busy few months of growth. She has had to step away from some things in both a figurative and a literal sense. She has had to de-plus one love temporarily (that’s you, my lil bloggity-blog) in order to build and grow a new one. She took a chance and hopped on a plane and spent 24 long days away from her family, home and passions in order to walk independently in a strange city and yes, in order to do that growing thing.

And now we are here.
Scott and I are ready to watch our little ones do all the growing for us for a while now and are making the most of every day.

It all came together for me this week.

I was sitting in our yard on the warmest, sunniest day so far this year (Thanks for joining us, Spring!), my eldest pouring dirt in his lap with childish squeals while my littlest ripped leaves up into a box in a corner of the yard. I had been researching one thing or another for my photography business when the sun warmed my hair just right that it stopped me, right then, right there, and poured such emotion over my heart, I wasn’t sure if I should do a Crazy Woman Dance right then and there for the elderly neighbors to enjoy (and to cause them to call the cops on behalf of my poor children) or simply burst into tears and cuddle my babies close. I did neither.

I just took it in, promised myself I would continue to build these moments, to take time out for myself now and then, to feel the warmth of the sun on my head. Oh, and to wear sunscreen. A sunburn would really kill the moment.

So we have been growing here.

Addie is 21 or so pounds and just a few weeks away from her first birthday. (HOW can that be???) Her hair is look in front and short in the back and turning lighter as it comes in (perhaps another blondie?). We get asked all the time if we cut or style her hair. She took her first steps last week — the record is seven at a time, but she’s doing those bits of walkin’ more often throughout the day. She has a long torso and short legs just like her Daddy and her brother. Although we still her that she looks like mini-Momma, more and more I see her brother’s face, especially when the two of them are laughing. They sound the same when they cry and they definitely are impossible to tell apart during giggles. She is stubborn and hard-headed and loves to test the limits already — currently with eating dog food and pulling down the toilet paper, but soon I’m sure it will be with curfew and clothes and boys. Groooooooan. She has her first two teeth coming in on the bottom and will go to anyone, no matter how old or how strange they are to her.

And the Z-Man. Man, this boy just blows me away. He will be three in early August and I can’t understand when he went from a baby with DS and we went from scared parents to this moment we’re in where we have truly come to terms with his life and ours and we embrace every opportunity and relish every accomplishment. We have only three months left with his therapists and my eyes well up with tears every time I even think about these pseudo family members leaving our lives. They have been in our house every week since Zack was three months old. They watched his highs and lows, admonished us when we needed it and celebrated us when we deserved it. They’ve seen us change jobs and gain a baby and they have seen it all — our best and our worst. Zack is doing very, very well. He “gets” it, if you know what I mean. He understands when you tell him something, he understands when you ask him something. His gross motor skills are something we are all shocked by and proud of, they’re so fabulous. His communication is still severely delayed. He has all but ignored our attempts at signing lately and while he can make the best animal noises and every now and then repeats a word (this week it’s been “Come!” and “Go!”) we still have a long way to “GO!”. He still absolutely loves his books, anything to do with animals and is enjoying the open-door opportunities to should “Car!” when something drives past our house.

But those moments when it’s the two of them together, that’s when my heart is stretching out past it’s boundaries. Every bath time with splashing and sharing toys and giggles and every playground trip with dirty shoes and dirty hands and exploring tiny tunnels, my heart strings soar.

We talk often about whether or not we’ll have another baby, and at this point, we simply just can’t decide. So for now, we are enjoying our two babies. Pretty soon, I know I’ll have to stop calling them “the babies”, but seriously, let’s all just acknowledge that they may very well be “the babies” in 30 years. (If that’s the only way I embarrass them, I think we’ve done pretty well).

It’s not always easy. And it’s certainly not always perfect. Heck, I used Addie’s body to hold a restaurant door open this morning while carrying her, her brother and a diaper bag by myself. And then there was the time I sacrificed a yard stick, cell phone and broom all for the sake of editing just one more photograph.

But we have grown into this beautiful, connected, cohesive, solid little unit of four. We have grown into the Z Family I knew we could be, the family I always wanted for myself and dreamed of for my future. And now that future is here. I’m loving every minute and running outside into the sun every chance I get — even if there are chores to do, photos to edit and OverTime to earn.

Life is short, way too short.
And I’m not done growing.

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Things you should do in case the Mayans were right…

The world could end today.

Here’s my suggestions on the best way to go out:

– Visit the blog’s Photography Page and learn about great specials I’ll be offering in 2013 to celebrate in case we all survive.

Donate to the National Down Syndrome Society. You can’t take money with you. Plus, I swore I’d work as an advocate for Zack and this organization that has done so much for our family until the day I died… Well…

– Snuggle with your family. Tell loved ones far away how much you love and appreciate them. We should have been doing this every day, all along, anyway.

Good luck!

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A new adventure – Spread the word!

This might surprise you, but I’m actually quite an adrenaline junkie. No skydiving or speed racing, thank you very much; I get quite a high in a much simpler way.

The way that the light from a nearby streetlamp bounces off of a white wedding dress.

A little pink tutu contrasting with green and white polkadots.

A candid smile, a favorite hobby. Those agonizing three seconds before an image appears.

The way that black-and-white changes everything.

I don’t hide my love for photography very well-just ask anyone who’s been to my house. My favorite memories are captured in eclectic frames in every room. My second date with Scott, the day we brought Baby Girl home from the hospital, the day we found out Zack had Down Syndrome. Large round bellies and Autumn leaves. It’s all here, just a few footsteps away…the good, the funny, the precious.

I don’t have to go far to remember the rain on my wedding day that mingled with the bubbles, the way Zack looked when he was more baby and less Big Boy, taking photos in a thunderstorm with my uncle, the simplest and best memories I’ve had with my family and friends. My camera has made all of those memories tangible and unforgettable.

Effective immediately, I’m now offering you and your loved ones a way to have all of that at your fingertips, too.

Visit the Photography page on the blog website for more information and to view some great specials for November and December.

Engagements, anniversaries, reunions, babies, maternity… It can all be captured. And treasured forever. Holiday cards, photo albums, an 8×10 above your mantel… What would make your house a home? What one moment will you show to grandparents and friends in five months or five years?

Give it a thought, send me an e-mail…

And please, pretty please, spread the word.

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We took a walk, took a moment

I’m glad it’s not perfect all the time. If it were, it would be harder to enjoy those little moments and little hours of perfection that sometimes slip by without us even noticing.

For couple of hours the other day, nothing else mattered. Nothing else even existed, really. Just my family, some leaves and a little bit of love.

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The defining moment was after taking dozens and dozens of photos, I handed the camera over to Scott and said, “Sometimes you have to be, not just see.”
And to my surprise, he didn’t just put the camera down or hide it for a few days, he actually took some pictures; some good ones too.

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And when he wasn’t looking, I looked at him like I probably haven’t looked at him in years. I looked at him like the lovers look at each other in the movies, from across the room, with everything else a blur. I don’t know if Scott has ever looked so handsome to me. The way he was twisting the leaf in his hands and watching his family run about in the leafy park. He looked so content and so peaceful and it made me so truly happy.

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My happy day actually began much earlier, when I decided to get something out of the closet and just embrace the past for all that it is and was and not keep it hidden behind closed doors like it didn’t actually happen or like it has to be preserved in plastic until the end of time.
So Zack wore one of the outfits that Uncle Paul had given him years ago when Zack was just a little blob on an ultrasound. And so then we had to put Addie in one of the outfits, too, take some pictures, send them to Aunt Alice and just feel glad that we were remembering that day, even if there was drool and some breakfast On Zack’s Brazil shirt.

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The four of us decided to take a walk-the day was perfect – the temperature, the sunshine, all the leaves and that little Autumn breeze.
Two strollers side-by-side, the adults talking about their days and dreams, pointing out cows and colors to the little ones who were taking it in with their wide blue eyes.

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And then, near the end of our walk, I saw it — piles and piles and piles of golden leaves just begging for jumping toddlers. And a Momma.
We threw leaves up into the air, we rolled around in them, and sometimes we just laid down and looked up at the sky together. There was spinning around and of course lots of jumping.
And when Scott wasn’t looking, I took Addie out of her stroller and laid her gently into the leaves and just watched her take it all in for the first time… The feel of a crunchy leaf in her tiny fingers and the breeze on her bare feet. Zack handed her a leaf and applauded when she came down to the space on the ground next to him. He gave tickles and even a kiss. Her smiles in return gave it all away. They really have a beautiful love for one another. And I hope we do this often enough that falling leaves and empty parks on neighborhood walks always remind them of that love.

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We took so long on that walk that dinner was a little later than usual that night and then, because Momma had to look at all of her photos to see what moments had been captured, bedtime was a little late, too. After all, there was backlighting and bokeh and all sorts of beautiful smiles.

I went to sleep smiling that night, and I think everyone in my family did, too.

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Letting it be and catching up

The older I get and the more life experience I have under my figurative belt, the more I learn that my biggest fault may just be how hard it is for me to just let it go.

If I don’t get home on time from work, I have a very understanding husband at home who appreciates my hard work and time away from my family.

If I think a negative thought regarding Zack’s Down Syndrome, I’m human, not a monster.

When Addie got her first boo-boo on my watch, it’s so wonderful that her Momma gets to kiss it better.

I’m working on it. I went through a few weeks recently where I took everything more to heart than I should have; allowed little things to bother me as if they were the end of the world.

So I repeat to myself every time I feel the urge to blame myself for poverty, hunger and civil wars… Let it be, let it be, let it be…

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* * *

In the days before their wedding, our dear friends Ryan and Ruby asked me to fill in as a photographer on their big day when their hired help left them stranded. I was honored that they thought my photography skills worthy of some of the most special moments in their lives together, but I was also incredibly nervous and unsure of my abilities.

But, alas, a “let it be” or two and there I was, early for the first time in my life, testing outdoor lighting, admiring brick pillars and wood walls and the love between a really lovely group of people.

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Ruby has been more than patient with me as I wait for my final package to arrive so that I can present it to them, hopefully next week, and so I was hesitant to share too many photos, but what the heck… Let it be.

I was able to capture some of the pre-ceremony moments between Ryan and his groomsmen (including my handsome hubby) and also some of Ryan’s family. The laughs shared between friends, the doting look in his parents’ eyes, the immense pride that was at this location… it gave me a sort of adrenaline high that I can’t explain.

And then, perhaps my favorite moment of the day: Ruby really wanted a photo with Ryan before the ceremony, but didn’t want them to see one another. We had only a moment or two, as we were already running late (tee-hee!), but we perched each of the newlyweds-to-be on one side of a large brick pillar outside of the reception room. The early evening light was streaming in the glass doors behind them and there, as I clicked away and played with settings, Ryan and Ruby grabbed each other’s hands and both smiled simultaneously. It was as if they had each found their peace. It reminded me of the love and peach I’ve found with Scott every time our hands meet. And then, I felt almost as if I was intruding as Ruby started praying, in a low voice that only Ryan and myself could really hear. It was so sweet and moved me so much that I decided I had captured the shot and put my camera down. I had to hold back tears.

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It was a fun evening — a little edge, a little rock ‘n’ roll, some s’mores and so many laughs and memorable moments, most of which I think we’ll just keep to ourselves.

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* * *

There’s a new baby in town.

Our friends Reva and Bret (parents of Zack’s friend Owen) welcomed their baby girl, Ella, into the world just a few weeks ago.

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Ella’s a tiny lil round thing, especially compared to her big brother who was large and in charge from the day he was born. She looked a lot like Owen did when he was a newborn, but on my second visit with them the other day I saw a lot of her own unique looks coming out more, and some of her Mommy and Daddy, too.

Reva and Bret seem to be adjusting to two kids really well now and as much as I love seeing Reva with her little girl, there’s nothing quite like a big brother doting on his little sister. (I know this from personal experience)

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We’re already hoping Ella and Addie are friends when they get a bit older — Girl Power! Of course, that all depends on Addie keeping her paws off of other girls’ headbands.

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And more adrenaline rushes to come — Reva asked me if I would take photos of Ella and then of their family in about two weeks. Hooray! I’m so excited to capture more exciting life moments for people I adore so, so much.

* * *

September is going to turn out to be Wendy and Scott Bring the Love Back Month. Not that things were absolutely horrible, but rather we just haven’t been putting each other first. I never wanted to be that Readers Digest article, but yes indeed it is hard to keep your relationship first when you have time-sucking jobs, therapies, two kids, five animals and a mortgage payment.

We started the month off with our Date Night at Ryan and Ruby’s wedding. It was our first overnight time away from the kids, EVER. We have never, ever taken that much time away from them. And that will only be the record until next week when we visit Richmond for two days for our anniversary. And later that week, our friend Ben’s wedding.

We are both trying to do more thoughtful things for the other person — you know, those sweet little gestures you do when you’re first together. I do dishes, Scott buys me M&Ms… mmm, life and love is good.

We also watched the movie Fireproof together the other day, which was recommended to us by Ryan and Ruby themselves several years ago (life really does come full circle, I tell ya). We’re also reading a chapter from the accompanying book, The Love Dare, each day, too. It encourages us to be more proactive about being thoughtful, selfless, polite, calm, etc. You know, the old Love is Patient, Love is Kind… one day at a time.

At our wedding, we even played one of the songs from Fireproof as a peaceful, reflective moment during our ceremony.

Love is not a fight, but it’s something worth fighting for…

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* * *

And our babies, oh our sweet babies.
I know nothing is as cute as a photo of them or stories about them, so enough about all this serious stuff!

They’re doing amazing.
Addie just turned four months old yesterday. She’s rolling back and forth, stomach to back and back to stomach and holds her head up all the time. She tried cereal for the first time yesterday and the jury’s still out on it. Her hair is getting longer and crazier; it skims her eyebrows in the front and the girl’s got sideburns that can rival Elvis’. She wakes up happy and smiling, grabbing for her pants or sleep sack and reaching as high as her thin, long arms can reach.

I’m still searching for the perfect ratio and balance, but I think I’m getting pretty close.

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She loves her brother, I’m certain of it. When he comes nearby her, no matter her mood or location, she twists and turns her body to get him in her sight, a huge smile framing her face. She even puts up with the few stray trucks that find their way to her poor head and the way he practically sits on her, just eating up her personal bubble.

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And Zack checks up on her pretty frequently. He still calls her “Ad-da” and comes to her rescue anytime she starts crying or anytime someone is holding her. He seems very protective of her now and hardly pokes her in the eyes at all.

Zack’s doing so, so well. His physical therapist, Miss Kathleen, was just here and confirmed that he has officially reached her two-year-goal of rolling, crawling, sitting, standing, walking to play. He’s half-running now, really. He understands how to get to the car and will walk there while holding my hand on our way to a playdate. He climbs up the stairs while holding on to the wall and understands directions like “go to Zack’s seat” at mealtimes. He babbles quite often and we’re able to pick up on a few words here and there. He proclaims Da-Da so proudly and excitedly. He’s a little Daddy’s boy and I’m alright with that; it’s beautiful to see Scott’s love for his son. Zack is swinging bats and walking while throwing balls, making baskets and reading books. He’s feeding himself using a fork or a spoon and has some groovy dance moves (he gets those from him Momma). He climbs on everything — like the dining room table last night (Don’t worry, we got a picture!).

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No matter what happens with all of these photography opportunities (Nicole says I’ve caught the photography bug), my favorite subjects are still the blue-eyed loves I come home to every night.

So I’m letting it be, and sometimes that means not forcing myself to write a blog entry and not always publishing the ones I do write.

Letting it be is whatever works for you, whatever brings you your peace.

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