Let's be REAL...

As I sit down to write this post, my mind is being barraged with thoughts and ideas...they are swarming...and I'm not quite sure where to land with them all...

you see, I don't consider myself an expert in any way when it comes to this topic...

I have NOT arrived or have it figured out...

I am soooo far from it...

and at the same time, I feel as though these light bulbs go off at sporadic times that reassure me that I "may" be on the right track at least?

I remember a "word picture" I had in college when, after weeks in a class and countless chapels, I would have this crazy "epiphany" (if you will) and I felt as if I had climbed a big step...as if I'd been walking along, just putting one foot in front of the other, doing all.the.things. and then there was this huge step and sometimes I honestly felt like God just scooped me, and put me on that next step and said, "okay, now keep going"...

There was a level of anxiousness associated with that next step because it took me further away from my comfort zone and it forced me to see things through different "glasses"...
fortunately, there were others that had been on that "new" step for awhile and they encouraged me along, and reminded me that it wasn't worth climbing back down, it wasn't worth it to go back, and if this journey was going to be "worth it" in the end, I needed to keep walking...through successes AND through failures and missteps and even trips and falls...

Okay, so where am I going with all this...I promise I'll get there after a couple times around the barn if you care to stay with me...

For me, a lot of how I am just "wired" is connected to this idea of authenticity...

Let me explain lest you think I'm some arrogant sassypants who thinks she's the bomb...

My childhood was spent in the mid-late 70s and 80s...I lived in an area, that at that time, was rather poor.  My family used a measure of that era's "food stamps and welfare".  My mom sewed a lot of our clothes and I was bullied in elementary school by the popular girls. My parents were divorced and as I look back at that time in my life, I realize that with my whole being I wanted to be accepted.

Don't get me wrong, I was loved...my parents, infact, gave me the best gift by not only loving me and providing a safe, emotional place for me to come home to, but they also didn't rescue me from the struggle and the hurt that I faced. My mom just walked beside me and loved me through it.

I tell you all this because, I'm just now seeing a smidge of the benefits of all that...

When I say that I was "wired" to have this "seeking for authenticity", it's because I didn't just want to be accepted...I recognized early on that I just wasn't going to make the cut...I didn't have the money for the cool clothes, it was taboo to have divorced parents, I didn't necessarily fit in, even though I wanted to...but, I WANTED to be accepted just how I was...with my mousy, shy personality, with my red cordorouy pants, with my obsessive desire to read books, with my excessive push to be perfect...

I didn't want people to like me for the "show" I could put on, so I didn't put on a show. My parents didn't hide the fact that we didn't have a lot of money, they stood their ground when people may have given those pitiful looks when it was discovered that my parents were divorced.

 I wanted someone to love me just because I was me...I think that's probably what we all long for...except what I've seen more often than not, is that people trade authenticity for acceptance, instead of merging them together in their relationships...
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Oh my goodness, this "wiring" stayed with me all through college, even to the man I married...bless his heart...

 although I may be "wired" this way, it doesn't mean that I go about it necessarily the right way all the time....

In order to make sure that A loved me for ME and not for his perception of me, or for whatever "vibe" he or others might have incorrectly construed...I made sure to show him all the YUCK about me before we even dated...

If I'm being completely honest, I even treated him poorly just to see how he'd react, if he'd leave because I "messed up"...

(do you feel better now?...you get that I truly am a leeeetle bit crazy???)

Even though I "may" have gone about it in a "not so great" way...my purpose has been the same...

because as I get older, I'm realizing that I'm losing more and more control over things that I thought I had control over...my children are becoming independent and making choices that have a bearing on what others think of me, my health/fitness is not so easy to manage any longer...I feel as though I'm in uncharted waters and I don't think we were meant to live a life of trying to show that we've got it all together all the time, when in reality, we're all just doing the best that we can...

I say this because I find myself ever so grateful for the struggle that my parents allowed me to go through...(and I know that my struggles may seem piddly to others, and that's okay...I'm not trying to tell anyone how to live their lives because I haven't walked in your shoes...) but, I know from my own experience that as I refused to settle for friendships that were less than REAL, I now have relationships that are priceless...

I wouldn't trade my Anthony, my Anne, my Sara, my Laurie, my Katie, my Anna...and so many precious others...

Some may look at me and may pity my faults, they may judge my words, they may steer clear of my yuck...but, my authentic friendships, that have been cultivated over time and real connections...they see some of that stuff and laugh at my crazy, they accept without judgment or pity, my fallbacks, they know that what they see is what I am...I disappoint them at times, but they hang in there with me...because they also know that I'm all in...

what's great about that too (getting into these mid 40s now) is that I'm not exhausted trying to prove myself to others in order to get them to "like me"

don't get me wrong...it's not always easy...

Do any of you have people that you must interact with that it feels like their whole purpose in life is to make sure they put you in your place?  Where it feels like they live to proclaim to the world how you don't measure up, or they look for subtle ways to pity you in public to make themselves appear larger than life?  

When you live authentically it's risky, it's makes you vulnerable to those that will appear to "have it better" than you...and that's scary and feels unfair and sometimes can leave you feeling stupid...I've been there...like, even yesterday I was there for pete's sake...

BUT, I then remember that my "authenticity" ultimately lies in Who made me, just the WAY He made me. That being honest about where I am in this life journey, with my mistakes and my challenges, with my shame & regret, AND with my crazy fun, super awesome success times too that... I've been fortunate enough to gather authentic friends through which He uses to love me...

I'm having to watch the cycle start again with my own daughters...different state, different town, different circumstances, but the REAL is still the same...I'm watching the internal struggle of deciding, "am I going to put on a good show, or am I going to be authentic"...that authenticity costs them popularity, it sometimes costs them pride...

and as a mom, I have to hold back and not rescue them either...because I know that this struggle now, IS worth it in the end...

I'm praying that as they work through choosing to put pride & selfishness aside, and rather 
focus on who they were created to be in the now...
focus on walking alongside others and bolstering them up...
focus on honesty & truth & even the risk of vulnerability...
focus on putting one foot in front of the other 
that...

 they'll be courageous and ready when their next step comes...AND that they'll have developed relationships that are encouraging and spur them on to be all they were created to be!


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FAMILY SESSION: celebrities and MUCH LOVE

I met a real live actor on this day...

I didn't know it until afterwards when I went and googled him...

All I knew and what was incredibly evidenced by the way they all were with each other, is that this little girl is ADORED!

She's one of a kind...she's got her own style, and when she laughs, she lights up and everyone around her can't help but be happy as well.

I love the free-spirited nature that they have instilled in her...her grandma wanted this session special...just for her, for her mommy & daddy and for a couple shots together with grandma...

They live on what feels like the otherside of the world...but, there's a connection there that is unbreakable...no matter the distance that separates them...

I enjoyed going back through this gallery...it made me laugh, it made me say, "awww", I remembered the funny hat and green coat and the little stuffed animal that she didn't want to put down...

I remembered talking with her mom & dad and all the exciting things they do as actors and auditioning for roles...

and I loved the way they just LIVE OUT LOUD...












Check out some his commercials HERE  He's fantastic!

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FAMILY SESSION: Squealing and Giggles

Our house was full of teenagers again last night...
a bunch of middle schools girls and guys...

I had to laugh at one point because, as all of the girls were squished onto the small couch, squealing, tickling, giggling, high pitched yelps, hair tangled, more giggling...

the guys (and my husband) sat at the edges of the living room watching this "phenomenon"...

I'm not quite sure what was going through their heads...but, I'm thinking it might have been something like, "I don't know what those girls are doing and holy cow are they loud!"

It's what girls do...and having 3 of my own, I'm used to it...lots of drama and giggles and squeals of delight...lots of silly and sometimes tears...and definitely lots of hair!


So, it doesn't phase me too much when I meet up with these 3 darlings and they each have their unique way of stealing the camera with their twinkling eyes and beautiful smiles...
Our sessions are typically filled with large amounts of sing-songy yelps and ohhhh the ideas! 

I inevitably end up laughing myself and marveling at their imaginative and creative set ups! 

As with my own 3 girls, I am once again inspired by the uniqueness of each one...how they each play a different role in their family and you can't imagine that group without one of them...it's as though they complete the circle! 

I can't wait to see them again this summer!











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We're Back Part 2

I started yesterday's recap of our adventure with Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure...

In reality, we spent our first day at the Magic Kingdom...we spent about 13 hours there to be more accurate...it was a long day, but because of my Spreadsheet Man, we were smooth sailing the entire time!

However, I promised the UNbelievable thing #1 today and I want to deliver that to you...

Let me back up just a tad, to give some background info...because you see, this has happened a few times to me, but not really to this extent before...

Y'all know I'm a rather wordy person...I will talk to anyone about anything (as long as they appear somewhat friendly, or if I'm in a crabby, ornery mood and then I'll talk to just about anyone even if they appear to be a snob...I digress)

It's how we were "family of the day" TWICE at Disney about 4 years ago...because who knew if you start trying to get the people waiting in line an hour early to sing Disney songs together, or even start the wave, that Cast Members take notice...it's how I sometimes get free Starbucks (although I think it's more because they can't handle my ever running mouth and just want to get me OUT of the drive through as quickly as possible!!!) 

I do recognize that I need to tone it down at times...I promise I'm working on it :) 

Anyway...the point is, I tend to meet people everywhere and I love it...absolutely, utterly and thoroughly love it...words are my love language!

SO, I started talking again with people in line while at Universal Studios. 
And then their kids joined in, 
and my kids joined in 
and my hubby joined in...
and soon we were ALL talking and chatting it up and not long after that we found ourselves linking arms and running down the streets towards Gringotts...

we thought that might be the last of it and said our goodbyes...

but sure enough, at the end of the day, we "happened" to be at the SAME bathroom in the entire park and we took a picture to commemorate...

Our schedules were seemingly different from then on, but we thought there might be a possible meet up at Animal Kingdom on Friday, yet, we weren't planning on it persay...

we were wrong again...

The next morning, unbeknownst to us, they had rearranged their schedule due to park crowd projections and we RAN INTO THEM IN THE PARKING LOT of the Universal park on Tuesday.

This time we hung out a bit more, did coasters together, talked more, found more in common...

they are teachers, they love Jesus, their kids are fantastic (this is just to name a few)

We said goodbye again and crossed our fingers for Friday...UNTIL...

I got a text on THURSDAY saying, "we ended up at magic kingdom today and thought we may run into you here?"

turns out AT THAT MOMENT both our families were running for the same coaster at the Magic Kingdom on Thursday...

seriously people, this stuff just isn't made up and it just left us dumbfounded and laughing...because neither family was planning meet ups, we already had our "spreadsheet" and they had theirs...however, it was somehow orchestrated...all these "happenstance meetings"...

Sure enough, AS WE GET ON BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN on the LAST CAR of the train, WHO HAPPENS TO BE GETTING INTO THE FRONT CAR OF THE VERY SAME TRAIN??  
Yep...there they were again...we ended up on the same ride at the same time...and WE had had a FAST PASS and they were in the stand by line...

Friday finally came and we planned our meet up and basically spent the day together at Animal Kingdom...we went on Mt. Everest 3 times in a row with them in a span of 25 minutes...we saw shows, ate icecream, and ended up making lifelong friends...

they are from SEATTLE, WASHINGTON for heavens sake!!!

I chalk this all up to UNbelievable things #1 and 3-5 because it was just plain awesome and made our trip just THAT much more enjoyable and memorable and so, so cool!

Now come the pictures, but first take a look at our two families as we "officially" had to say goodbye Friday afternoon (you'll see more of them in our coaster pictures as you scroll through too


Now, that you know my fun story from our trip...here are pictures that show it more clearly...



I'm all about getting pictures on roller coasters..I love the action and expressions and movement!  



Something they've added to Magic Kingdom that they've already had at Epcot are the maps that you can follow and "magically" make things happen by following the clues throughout the park.  We chose a Pirate Adventure during a time when lines were a little longer and had a lot of fun doing so.

The running joke we have with regards to Magic Kingdom was the girls were chosen to receive WANDS and it was MAGICAL...
I however, was chosen to be a HORSE...ummm, not as magical...

That evening we watched a beautiful fireworks display and JUST HAPPENED to sit next to a Cast Member that was "off duty" and had come to the park for dinner with his wife...we spent our 15 minute in between wait time hearing all the ins and outs of the Disney underground, and the fireworks production, as he was an engineer that put together each evening's display!

the next two days were Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure and you can read about that HERE

Wednesday found us at Epcot in the morning and Hollywood studios in the evening...


and yes, for the 2nd time in a row, my husband got himself an "acting gig" for the Indiana Jones show...he's ridiculous and MUCH more of a ham than he let's on...

We had a special treat at Hollywood Studios because our middle daughter begged to see the Walt Disney walk through History museum...As much as I'd love to brag and say that my family is SOOO into history and LEARNING things...ummm, no...the only reason middle daughter dragged the others in there was because she had done a HUGE report about Walt Disney and wanted to double check all her facts...By the end we were so glad she did though because we got an EXCLUSIVE 11 minute preview of the new Beauty & Beast movie with Emma Watson...swoon...



Thursday found us back at the Magic Kingdom and then dinner at Epcot (where the girls and I represented Lake Ann Camp with our sweatshirts)



here's that roller coaster amazement I told you about: (this was our 2nd or 3rd time through)


Friday got us to Animal Kingdom until about dinner and then we headed back to Magic Kingdom to close out the day...



The baby giraffe and roaring lion were probably the highlights of our safari ride! 







This picture cracks me up...and it's the last I'll share...we had NEVER been on Splash Mountain because it had been closed everytime we've ever been to Disney. However, we REALLY wanted to say that we had ridden it...It was FREEZING the last night we were there and we didn't want to get wet...Dad came to the rescue and we became THAT family...




TIPS THAT WORKED FOR US FOR DISNEY PARKS WITH OLDER KIDS:

1. Park hoppers were great this time around...we couldn't have spent an entire day at Hollywood studios or Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom gets a little crowded from time to time.  The park hopper option was wonderful and the longest it took for us to get from one park to the other (getting to our car, driving, parking and to the entrance of another park) was 30 minutes!

2. We stayed off premises, but only 5 minutes from the entrances to the parks...We ate breakfast at the hotel, packed our lunches and ate dinner in the parks.

3. GET THOSE FAST PASSES as early as you are allowed...(30 days prior to your visit) Then AS SOON AS YOU REDEEM YOUR THIRD FAST PASS during the day, get on your app to reserve the next fast pass!  It saves SOOO much time and you hardly ever wait longer than 20 minutes for any particular ride.

4. Get the Touring Guides app to check crowd level projections AND wait times for the lines.

5. TALK TO PEOPLE...engage in conversations, because you may make friends for a lifetime!!!

6. The 7 dwarves ride is similar to Big Thunder just smoother and not as long. 

7. If you lose a fast pass due to a ride being closed during your time, don't worry, they will still honor it when it's up and running again.

8. MK: Our favorite rides are Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean,

9. EPCOT:You can't get a fast pass for Frozen ever After and Soarin at EPCOT at the same time, so if you have the legs for it, get the fast pass for Soarin and then when the park opens, race for Frozen...we were first on and it was fun (but no need to go again, as the lines went up to almost 135 minutes at one point during the day) Soarin does go down throughout the day, but it's our favorite and we like to ride it multiple times...

10. EPCOT:The taste testing Coke place at Epcot is cool and a nice break from wandering all around and it's FREE :)

11. AK: Lion King, Nemo and Flights of Wonder are must-see shows...if you can only go to 2, I'd do Nemo and Flights of Wonder and make sure you do the safari :)

12. HS: we love Toy Story and there are lots of other rides, especially for boys...Star Tours got us sick, but I think that simulation stuff does that to us old folks now.

13. AK: Mt. Everest is a fantastic ride...all of us rode it MULTIPLE times...I thought it'd be scary going backwards for my youngest, but it was super fun! Get there first thing and you should be able to ride 2-3 times before the lines get really long (we rode 3 times in 25 minutes)

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We're Back Part 1

We "may" have needed a vacation from our vacation after the roller coaster ride of the year in our trip to Florida.

A and I thought long and hard how to utilize our vacation savings this year. Our oldest having only a little over 3 more years at home with us, and our youngest still in elementary school...the age gaps and "appreciation" level for trips is differing...

Our ultimate goal, although it would fill my ever loving TRAVEL heart to see every corner of this world with my own eyes, is to BE together and have the most fun interacting, relating, and spending time together as a family...Every other year, our vacation is "set" with a trip to Fort Myers with A's entire family, so the in between years are the ones that we plan for ourselves...

We've mostly engaged in vacations that interest the girls at different times...we've done Williamsburg & DC when they were into Felicity & Elizabeth American Girl stories...we've done short jaunts to the big city of Chicago and wandered around in the upper parts of the Michigan mitten...we've hiked a bit in the Tennessee mountains and had family reunions near Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania and West Virginia...

All of our vacations, again, having a purpose of having fun together, and also a interest stringing from whatever they are "into" at the moment...

Therefore, this year, we settled on a last hurrah to Disney and also included Universal Studios for our massive Harry Potter fans (myself included).

I'm going to highlight our Universal Trip first because that is where the "magic" truly happened and then it continued the remainder of the week...(you'll see what I mean in a moment) AND I'll have some TIPS at the end of the post that will be helpful if you are planning a trip in the near future!
We had UNbelievable things happen nearly everyday and it just affirmed in our hearts that we had made a good choice this year...I'll tell you about UNbelievable #1 in tomorrow's blog post! Read on for UNbelievable #2...




The entrance into Diagon Alley in Universal Studios isn't plain to see, you have to sort of "sneak" behind walls to find the entryway and you are NOT disappointed once you step through...


We ran for Gringotts first because the lines tend to be long...it was a REALLY cool ride...a mix of 3D movie and "real life" so that you felt like you were IN the movies!  It was definitely a favorite!




Next, we headed to Ollivanders...this is where I basically cried my eyes out as I watched sweet little "dreams come true" for our younger girls...It's about a 7 minute presentation where "Ollivander" chooses one person from the tiny crowd of about 15 persons in the special wand room.  Our E got chosen first thing and Ollivander went through the process JUST like in the books & movies...She said spells and tried out different wands until "the Wand chose the Wizard/Witch"...

You need to know that our youngest daughter was super happy for E, but soooo wanted to be chosen too...THIS is where UNbelievable thing #2 happened...Let me sum it up the best that I can...A knew a person from work, who has a cousin that works at Universal, in Diagon Alley...he actually contacted A about 2 weeks prior, got us free tickets into the park as an extra AND told us to find him. We didn't tell the girls any of this and we had no idea what he looked like, we just knew the sound of his voice from the phone call.  After our 2nd time through the wand ceremony presentation, and our youngest was not chosen, they were leading everyone out and A stopped at the exit and asked him if he was the cousin.  At that moment, he said, "SHUT THE DOORS!"...everyone left but our family and he went through a private wand ceremony just for our C!!!  Talk about MAGICAL!!!

The wands are cool because they make "magical" things happen all through the Harry Potter Worlds at the parks...




In order to go from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade you must take the Hogwarts Express Train...This was an event in and of itself!!! 



It was fun to explore both Diagon Alley & Hogsmeade...we watched performances, toured the Hogwarts school, rode the Hippogriff, drank our Butterbeer and even ventured into the dark Knockturn Alley...




E had a special request to be there at Madam Puddifoots on the 14th of February because that's where Harry and Cho were in the book on that day...she bought a love potion to commemorate the event!

It was an absolutely WONDERFUL experience...and we have SOOOO many memories...I took over 1000 pictures (but knew you'd never make it through all of them so I just shared a few)

Read on if you'd like a few tips about Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure parks below and be sure to check back tomorrow because our UNbelievable #1 was pretty cool and kept on happening all week long...




Here are some TIPS first for those going specifically for the Harry Potter Worlds:

*Understand that Diagon Alley is in the Universal Studios park and Hogsmeade (along with the school of Hogwarts) is in the Islands of Adventure park. The Hogwarts Train connects the two partks.

1. Be sure to get the Park Hopper, as that is the only way you can ride the train between the two parks and it's a different "ride" going each way.

2. Be sure to get the Touring Guides app on your phone so that you can determine the amount of time each ride states for line waiting, before you actually get to the ride.

3. They will let you in early past the ticket process and then "hold" you at a point further up into the park.  Therefore it's worth it to get there 20-30 minutes early.

4. Gringotts (Diagon Alley) and Hippogriff (Hogsmeade) have the longest wait times as the day progresses.  Since we spent 2 days at the parks, We rushed to Gringotts on the first day and were able to ride twice before the line went up to a 70 minute wait. (we walked right on the first time and then waited about 10 minutes when we got in line again).  Same thing with Hippogriff the 2nd day.

5. Gilly water is JUST water...so unless you'd like to spend $6 on a bottle, I'd suggest skipping it. 

6. Butterbeer tastes best in the frozen/slushie state rather than straight up liquid..it's SUPER sweet, so be prepared.

7. Pumpkin juice is basically pureed pumpkin pie...so if you like that, go for it, it's a cute bottle, but WHOA we couldn't stomach it.

8. The Ollivander wand show is about 7 minutes long and runs continuously, although only one person is chosen for the wand ceremony.  IF you get chosen, it's magical, in that "Ollivander" goes through the whole thing like he did in the book & movie with Harry...However, if you DON'T get chosen, there are wizards in the shop that will direct you to all sorts of types of wands to choose from based on personality OR zodiac. Wands are $50 and will make things "magically" happen all throughout the HP areas of the parks. We went through the Ollivander line twice...and you can go as many times as you'd like to try to be chosen. 

9. Although you receive a map in your wand box that will show you the "spells" to do at just the right spots (there are markers on the ground) there are TWO SECRET places that are not marked but still make things happen and there aren't "lines" to wait for them because few know about them...
ONE is at the Scribbullus shop in the window to the RIGHT of the door. The spell is to make a W with your wand (make it only about the size of your hand). The SECOND one is across the street from Ollivanders at Diagon Alley in the window and the spell is to make a triangle while facing the window.

10. Most places in the Harry Potter worlds are super dark, so taking pictures is difficult unless you have an external flash. A pop up flash will just illuminate your person and everything else will be dark so then the setting gets lost.  I used my phone a lot to take pictures because of the ease and even though some pics were fuzzy/pixelated, I at least got the "emotion" of the event.

11. When you go on the train from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, be watching and have someone in your party wait behind as you get closer to the train (see little video clip) so that you can video your family magically go through the brick wall at 9 3/4 :)

12. You can't take ANYTHING on any rides in Universal or Islands...they make you use lockers which you then lose your place in line UNLESS you rent a locker early on OR you take turns, like we did, and either A or I would be a "walk through" person in the line as the rest of our party went on the ride and we waited (then we rode again and switched places).

13. You may not take any food or drink into the Ollivander wand ceremony so do NOT get your butterbeer or pumpkin juice before you head there...do it after.

14. Gringotts & Forbidden Journey (hogwarts ride) are really unique rides with 3D aspects to them and incredible technology.  Forbidden Journey, for some, can have some nausea effects because of the movement & screen (think Soarin from Epcot, but more intense and somewhat like the Star Tours at Hollywood Studios) Hippogriff is basically Magic Kingdom's Barnstormer but add on 10 seconds...it's quick, so get there when the lines aren't long.

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The best way to contact me is either through Facebook Messaging or emailing me at ctphotomemories@gmail.com

I can't wait to hear from you!
"Teach us to number our days, (savor the moments) so that we may gain a heart of wisdom" ~Psalm 90:12

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