Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas 2011

I hate to sound all cliche but I'm going to go ahead and say it. The older I get, the more I realize time with family is precious and special. I will also share something with you out there in blog land...the older I get, the more emotional I get around holidays...birthdays, Christmas, and Easter especially.  That being said I will go ahead and admit I was a hot mess over the Christmas holiday. It started about 2 weeks before-when the decorating started, and the television programs-like Charlie Brown Christmas started popping up on TV. Without fail, every sappy news story, every church program on TV, even every cartoon...tears ensued. Mom says its because I'm turning 30 this year. I told her to stop reminding me of that. 

But the holiday is touching isn't it? The family time, the sense of good will toward men and even strangers, and the celebration of the birth of Christ. That stuff is special! I'm not the only one crying my eyes out at the drop of a hat right? Poor Darren. Lucky for him I don't think New Years will be too emotional...he'll just have to prepare for more happy tears come time! 

We were fortunate enough to have SIX stops to make Christmas day this year-my dads, my moms, Darren's moms, Grammys, Darren's dads, and Darren's grandparents...whew what a fun and busy day! Without further ado here are some of our Christmas photos-please excuse the blurriness of some...I am trying to learn to use only manual mode on my camera and my lack of skills certainly do show at times. Merry Christmas!!!

The chaos that is at moms-6 big kids can fill a room quickly

Michael had his own section in the corner!

Coco kept guard of me and Darren's gifts-I was more interested in everyone else's gifts

Not sure why I was so interested in watching was a bunch of hunting and ski stuff-the anti Jen!

Love this one!

I consider this one by mom a success. In manual mode, in mom's hands, this could have been bad. Ignore Darren's eyes haha

Love to see that smile!

Poor Dylan-he sat beside me where I gave him a new do, and the flu! You're welcome. 

That weird look on my face? Me about to burst into tears...again. Over a stand mixer! Get it together crazy!

Much better. Now my siblings are teasing me....hahhaa

He thought I was just taking a pic of Rocky-but doesn't Rocky look sweet here?

Sam helps Coco with her stocking each year, suddenly she's the most popular person in the room. 

Coco's lovely new coat!

The massive pile of gifts at Darren's moms-I told her it reminded me of the Grinch's sleigh all piled up! PS check out the left of the pic-look who is digging in the Reese Cup cookies again...Darren... :)

Brian with his girlfriend-she was sooooo happy to see him!

Maxwell with his momma, so cute and so rotten!!! 

Exchanging gifts at Grammys-so packed but soooo fun! So much love in one room. Pop was dearly missed. 

Granny G held Coco the entire time-so sweet, you can tell she does miss her pups!

Love Ann's face here haha :) She is multitasking-taking pics, talking to the babe, and passing gifts. Talent runs in the family!

Michael's new Iphone-and new girlfriend Siri.

Nosey. Always.

Can you guess who is manning the camera? Darren has a favorite subject.

Grammy taking it all in

Love this one, the kids crowding around Grammy :) So sweet! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Check In

I'm still here I promise! We have been in the process of moving and I got a new job in the same week, so with that plus preparing for Christmas, we have been a bit busy. 

I just wanted to drop in and share a WONDERFUL article that my friend E shared with me this morning. It is long but I promise it is worth the read. 

Merry Christmas my friends! 

“Maybe Christmas Doesn’t Come from a Store”

You will recall from Dr. Suess’s holiday “horror” story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, that the devilish Grinch determined to rob Who-ville of every holiday treat. In a nefarious scheme in which the Grinch dressed as Santa himself, he moved through Who-ville taking every package, tree, ornament, and stocking.
We now come upon him as he leaves the city, chuckling to himself in delight over the pain he will have caused children like little Cindy-Lou Who.
Three thousand feet up! Up the side of Mt. Crumpit,
He rode with his load to the tiptop to dump it!
“Pooh-Pooh to the Whos!” he was grinch-ish-ly humming.
“They’re finding out now that no Christmas is coming!
“They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
“Their mouths will hang open a minute or two
“Then the Whos down in Who-ville will all cry Boo-Hoo!
“That’s a noise, “grinned the Grinch,
“That I simply MUST hear!”So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.
And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.
It started in low. Then it started to grow …
But the sound wasn’t sad!
Why, this sound sounded merry!
It couldn’t be so!
But it WAS merry! VERY!
He stared down at Who-ville!
The Grinch popped his eyes!
Then he shook!
What he saw was a shocking surprise!
Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN‘T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?”
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!”
(Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, New York: Random House, 1957.)
Part of the purpose for telling the story of Christmas is to remind us that Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Indeed, however delightful we feel about it, even as children, each year it “means a little bit more.” And no matter how many times we read the biblical account of that evening in Bethlehem, we always come away with a thought—or two—we haven’t had before.
There are so many lessons to be learned from the sacred account of Christ’s birth that we always hesitate to emphasize one at the expense of all the others. Forgive me while I do just that in the time we have together here.
One impression which has persisted with me recently is that this is a story—in profound paradox with our own times—that this is a story of intense poverty. I wonder if Luke did not have some special meaning when he wrote not “there was no room in the inn” but specifically that “there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7; italics added.) We cannot be certain, but it is my guess that money could talk in those days as well as in our own. I think if Joseph and Mary had been people of influence or means, they would have found lodging even at that busy time of year.
I have wondered if the Inspired Version also was suggesting they did not know the “right people” in saying, “There was none to give room for them in the inns.” (JST, Luke 2:7.)
We cannot be certain what the historian intended, but we do know these two were desperately poor. At the purification offering which the parents made after the child’s birth, a turtledove was substituted for the required lamb, a substitution the Lord had allowed in the Law of Moses to ease the burden of the truly impoverished. (See Lev. 12:8.)
The wise men did come later bearing gifts, adding some splendor and wealth to this occasion, but it is important to note that they came from a distance, probably Persia, a trip of several hundred miles at the very least. Unless they started long before the star appeared, it is highly unlikely that they arrived on the night of the babe’s birth. Indeed, Matthew records that when they came Jesus was “a young child,” and the family was living in “a house.” (Matt. 2:11.)
Perhaps this provides an important distinction we should remember in our own holiday season. Maybe the purchasing and the making and the wrapping and the decorating—those delightfully generous and important expressions of our love at Christmas—should be separated, if only slightly, from the more quiet, personal moments when we consider the meaning of the Baby (and his birth) who prompts the giving of such gifts.
As happens so often if we are not careful, the symbols can cover that which is symbolized. In some of our lives the manger has already been torn down to allow for a discount store running three-for-a-dollar specials on gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I do not feel—or mean this to sound—like a modern-day Scrooge. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh were humbly given and appreciatively received, and so they should be, every year and always. As my wife and children can testify, no one gets more giddy about the giving and receiving of presents than I do.
But for that very reason, I, like you, need to remember the very plain scene, even the poverty, of a night devoid of tinsel or wrapping or goods of this world. Only when we see that single, sacred, unadorned object of our devotion—the Babe of Bethlehem—will we know why “tis the season to be jolly” and why the giving of gifts is so appropriate.
As a father I have recently begun to think more often of Joseph, that strong, silent, almost unknown man who must have been more worthy than any other mortal man to be the guiding foster father of the living Son of God. It was Joseph selected from among all men who would teach Jesus to work. It was Joseph who taught him the books of the law. It was Joseph who, in the seclusion of the shop, helped him begin to understand who he was and ultimately what he was to become.
I was a student at BYU just finishing my first year of graduate work when our first child, a son, was born. We were very poor, though not so poor as Joseph and Mary. My wife and I were both going to school, both holding jobs, and in addition worked as head residents in an off-campus apartment complex to help defray our rent. We drove a little Volkswagen which had a half-dead battery because we couldn’t afford a new one (Volkswagen or battery).
Nevertheless, when I realized that our own night of nights was coming, I believe I would have done any honorable thing in this world, and mortgaged any future I had, to make sure my wife had the clean sheets, the sterile utensils, the attentive nurses, and the skilled doctors who brought forth our firstborn son. If she or that child had needed special care at the Mayo Clinic, I believe I would have ransomed my very life to get it.
I compare those feelings (which I have had with each succeeding child) with what Joseph must have felt as he moved through the streets of a city not his own, with not a friend or kinsman in sight, nor anyone willing to extend a helping hand. In these very last and most painful hours of her “confinement,” Mary had ridden or walked approximately 100 miles from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. Surely Joseph must have wept at her silent courage. Now, alone and unnoticed, they had to descend from human company to a stable, a grotto full of animals, there to bring forth the Son of God.
I wonder what emotions Joseph might have had as he cleared away the dung and debris. I wonder if he felt the sting of tears as he hurriedly tried to find the cleanest straw and hold the animals back. I wonder if he wondered: “Could there be a more unhealthy, a more disease-ridden, a more despicable circumstance in which a child could be born? Is this a place fit for a king? Should the mother of the Son of God be asked to enter the valley of the shadow of death in such a foul and unfamiliar place as this? Is it wrong to wish her some comfort? Is it right He should be born here?”
But I am certain Joseph did not mutter and Mary did not wail. They knew a great deal and did the best they could.
Perhaps these parents knew even then that in the beginning of his mortal life, as well as in the end, this baby son born to them would have to descend beneath every human pain and disappointment. He would do so to help those who also felt they had been born without advantage.
I’ve thought of Mary, too, this most favored mortal woman in the history of the world, who as a mere child received an angel who uttered to her those words that would change the course not only of her own life but also that of all human history: “Hail, thou virgin, who art highly favoured of the Lord. The Lord is with thee; for thou art chosen and blessed among women.” (JST, Luke 1:28.) The nature of her spirit and the depth of her preparation were revealed in a response that shows both innocence and maturity: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38.)
It is here I stumble, here that I grasp for the feelings a mother has when she knows she has conceived a living soul, feels life quicken and grow within her womb, and carries a child to delivery. At such times fathers stand aside and watch, but mothers feel and never forget. Again, I’ve thought of Luke’s careful phrasing about that holy night in Bethlehem:
“The days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and [she] wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and [she] laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:6–7; italics added.) Those brief pronouns trumpet in our ears that, second only to the child himself, Mary is the chiefest figure, the regal queen, mother of mothers—holding center stage in this grandest of all dramatic moments. And those same pronouns also trumpet that, save for her beloved husband, she was very much alone.
I have wondered if this young woman, something of a child herself, here bearing her first baby, might have wished her mother, or an aunt, or her sister, or a friend, to be near her through the labor. Surely the birth of such a son as this should command the aid and attention of every midwife in Judea! We all might wish that someone could have held her hand, cooled her brow, and when the ordeal was over, given her rest in crisp, cool linen.
But it was not to be so. With only Joseph’s inexperienced assistance, she herself brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped him in the little clothes she had knowingly brought on her journey, and perhaps laid him on a pillow of hay.
Then on both sides of the veil a heavenly host broke into song. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang, “and on earth, peace among men of good will.” (Luke 2:14, Phillips Translation.) But except for heavenly witnesses, these three were alone: Joseph, Mary, the baby to be named Jesus.
At this focal point of all human history, a point illuminated by a new star in the heavens revealed for just such a purpose, probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen.
Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began.
It is for this baby that we shout in chorus: “Hark! the herald angels sing Glory to the newborn king! … Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die: Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.” (Hymns, no. 60.)
Perhaps recalling the circumstances of that gift, of his birth, of his own childhood, perhaps remembering that purity and faith and genuine humility will be required of every celestial soul, Jesus must have said many times as he looked into the little eyes that loved him (eyes that always best saw what and who he really was), “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3.)
Christmas, then, is for children—of all ages. I suppose that is why my favorite Christmas carol is a child’s song. I sing it with more emotion than any other:
Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his wee head. …
I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my side until morning is nigh. …
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven to live with thee there.
(Sing with Me, p. F-2.)
“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’”
Jeffrey R. Holland

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Take a Breath and Put Down the Doilies, the Vintage Suitcase, and the DIY Handbook...

*Warning-rant post, long, with no pics-but if you're wondering what the heck my problem is lately, this will tell you! 

Doesn't make sense to you? Ahh, you must not have planned a wedding in 2011. In a horrible economy, where it looks like everyone is trying to save money by doing everything DIY (Do It Yourself) the wedding industry is currently driving brides (aka me) bananas by making us feel inferior if we don't go out in search of vintage everything and make your own crap-and get this, spend thousands of dollars on a 4 hour party (what happened to the bad economy issue people???). Sound cynical? Well at this point I am certainly getting there. 

When we got engaged back in August, we had a simple plan. Or so we thought. We'd get married at the beach in Duck, NC where we met. We'd rent a beach house and invite our closest friends and family. We'd marry on the beach and have an intimate reception following at our beach house. Sounds simple, right? We actually thought it would be so simple, that we could go ahead and marry by the end of October (aka, now). We set our sights on October 22, 2011 and off with the planning we went. Why so fast? We just want to be married-and we thought it would be simple! We started researching right away-we knew right off that we'd have Hollie D. photograph-we love her! We knew it would be in Duck, NC. We were interested in the same pastor my good friend Ashley had for her wedding. Then came looking for the beach house. Figuring out the food. Figuring out who would get to stay in the beach house. Random issues came up immediately-you have to have "event insurance" to even have a reception at a beach house, even if you're only having 30 people there. You can't really get around it, because someone will notice the 30 cars blocking up the street around your rental. Catering was more than we wanted to pay. Everything became more than what we wanted to pay. I spent hours and hours scouring wedding and photography blogs looking for ideas-and all they gave me were feelings of inadequacy. Countless brides having a $20,000 budget for their DIY wedding. Excuse me, if you are doing everything yourself and making your decor out of doilies from the dollar store, then why is your wedding still the price of a decent car? What the hell is going on here? 

The anxiety continued to build. Not only was the stress of just the planning becoming too much, but very little of our friends and family even seemed excited or the least bit interested...making us wonder why would we spend thousands of dollars on something very few people seemed to care for in the first place? There have been more nights I can count on my 2 hands where I've been up until 5am reading blogs and researching ideas. Beach wedding. Photobooth. Caterer. DIY decor. Tick-tock, tick-tock. With time not on our side, we pushed the date back again. April 21, 2012. That should be enough time right? Well it's now late October-we have a photographer and my dress, the rings are on order (they have to make mine in my size, it wont come standard and they can't size it...) and this is all that is done. That's it. We have no place. No idea who would be there, who would perform the ceremony, what we'll eat after...BAH! Now we are starting to get the questions-where will it be? What do you guys have left to plan? (um, everything?) We also hear things like "I can't wait till your wedding, it's going to be sooo fun!" only to think in my head, we only planned on inviting 25 people at the most, what about all these other friends and extended family that thinks they're coming to a big shindig? How do we tell our friends and family that are looking forward to a big party that we want nothing more than to elope? 

GASP? Did I just say the "E" word? Yes I did. I've thrown it around countless times in the past month or so to friends and close family-and the response is usually not pleasant. We are met with a lot of "you can't do that! You have to have a party" What people don't realize about Darren and I-we are not party people. I like throwing events for other people. Don't get me wrong. You need a baby or bridal shower? Call me, I'll throw it for you and do a darn good job. Throwing a party for myself-especially a wedding? No thanks. The issue here isn't that I don't like weddings. I LOVE WEDDINGS. I've been obsessed with this wedding stuff since I was about 12 years old. Yet, the older I get, the more I realize, the big wedding with the fancy flowers, huge cake, 200 guests, expensive reception-they're just extra. They're just fluff. Unnecessary. In the midst of this planning frenzy there have been a few times when I have an epiphany at 4am and think, I don't want this! This freaking out all the time is for the birds! This is not what our wedding is supposed to be about! This is not what I care about. What I care about is Darren. I want to be with him, forever. All that matters to me is we set aside a day to express our love to each other, get married, and have a few pictures to document the day. That's it. I don't need 200 people there. There only needs to be two people there. Darren + Jen. Hollie too, since she has the camera. The rest? That's just extra. 

Hollie shared a great blog post with me the other day after one of my many wedding freakouts. The following was taken from Jonas Peterson's blog. If you've read the post this far, you should stick around and read this part, because it is by far the best part. He sums up what I've been screaming in my head for months now, but I've been too afraid to say it. The wedding industry has become a beast that can't be tamed by most, and people are getting lost in the details-and I am here to tell you that I REFUSE to do it. I couldn't have said it better myself:


It’s 4.47am when I sit down to write this. I woke up 30 minutes ago and couldn’t go back to sleep. I’ve been thinking about this for so long, but a couple of things lately have reinforced what I already knew.
The wedding train has derailed.
Put down those mason jars, store away that vintage typewriter and fairy lights and sit down because you need to listen. This is an intervention. The whole wedding industry has gone detail bananas and we need to clear a few things up.
- You! Over there! Step away from the hay bales and the Vintage Navajo rugs and come over here. Sit! Down! No, you don’t have to put lavender on the plates, you need to wake up!
We’re getting lost in details. The whole wedding industry is drifting away from what weddings are about and we’re all part of the problem – bloggers, photographers, planners and vendors – all hypocrites feeding the detail beast.
Strip it back.
Peel the layers off.
And start again.
At the center of every wedding we have a girl. Who fell in love with a boy. Or a girl who fell in love with a girl. Or a boy who fell in l… you get my point.
The rest is fluff.
If you read magazines and wedding blogs today, you’d think it’s all about the dress, the decorations, invitations or a million other things.
It’s not.
It’s about celebrating love, a manifestation of commitment, a gathering of friends and family.
Because you’re in love.
But if you visit many of the blogs today, you’d think it’s about other things. Heck, there are even themed shoots with no people. As if candles and old LP players on a blanket in a clearing in a forest make a wedding. Just add people. And maybe a groom. Or actually don’t, the wedding is about the details, remember? Details, details, details.
Strip it back.
Peel the layers off.
And start again.
Weddings are about people, it’s about commitment and celebrating love. It’s about you. Build on that and everything else will follow.
I am a detail person, so it’s not that I don’t like details. I love details. Details, details, details. Love them. I honestly do. I’ve worked with some of the best planners in the business and they’ve styled weddings to perfection, made details stand out and it’s always been great, because they’ve built on the couples, starting with who they are. And I actually like shooting details. A lot.
When I was younger I used to record mix tapes and give to girls I liked.
Every detail was thought out, every letter, every scribble, every word on that tape had meaning. I love me some details. I grew up in a house with vintage bottles and mason jars everywhere. That and rocks collected from oceans and fields. So I get the jar and bottle thing, I truly do. Throw in some rocks and I’m there. But remember what the wedding is about, why you’re doing this, that’s all you really need. Don’t stress out about building a fairytale wedding, perfectly crafted, every detail borrowed from somewhere else.
Look away from the blogs and magazines.
And look within.
Why are you doing this? What does it mean to you? Do you really need all that…stuff? And if you want stuff, are you adding stuff that actually means something to you? What do you want to remember from your day? The cake, the flowers, the dress from Hoya de la Poopy?
Or do you want to focus on that moment between you two? The boy? Who fell in love with a girl?
Strip it back.
Peel the layers off.
And start again.
 "Sure, I would have loved for my family to be there, but I knew that they hated how unhappy I was during the planning process. I knew that they'd want me to feel relaxed, sane, and like myself on my wedding day. While we were planning, whenever I was stuck, I'd ask Richie: "What do you want at this wedding?" and he'd always say, "To marry you." And I felt the same way, but there were centerpieces to make! And menus to plan! And people to seat! The week before, though, I got it. Yes, I wanted to look beautiful and get great pictures-- those things would be nice, but mostly, I just wanted to marry him."
So my wedding isn't planned yet. Oh well. Don't be surprised if I post on here one day "I'm Married!" and no one knew it was happening. Let me tell you folks, it's going to happen-the only question is whether it's going to happen with 3 people or 50. Either way, it will be perfect, because I am going to marry the man of my dreams. 

I am hoping this is my first and only public wedding rant. I just had to share it. Just in case there was some poor girl out there right now at 2am burning her fingers on a hot glue gun putting together DIY centerpieces because the wedding industry told her she had to. Sweetie-Put down the glue gun and go snuggle your fiance. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Engagement Photos by Hollie Dyson

*Oops! The original post had the wrong engagement pics in there...that's why they looked so pixelated, so please enjoy the new and improved pics! 


If you've never checked out Hollie's work, um you need to go check it out, Ok you can check out some of it here first. But after that...go to her site! Book her! She is amazing!

We had a great time on this shoot! We started outside a library with lovely willow trees, then went to a field, then walked around Carytown for a bit, it was great!

I feel so lucky to have such a talented friend. We love you Hollie! You're amazing! We can't wait for you to photograph the big day! xo


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