virginia

FAN // linked hearts

I recently had the pleasure of volunteering for an incredible program here in DC, called FAN. FAN's mission (I quote) is to cultivate a focus on youth well-being and positive development in an environment infused with safety, security, and love. The woman in charge of the program is beyond words. Nia (which means Purpose), not only gives her life to these kids, but also her heart. She's one of those people that would probably adopt all of the children in the world that need a home, if she could. Not just the babies, but the teenagers too. She actually has adopted, on top of having her own. {She's the third person down in the color series blog post below}

FAN stands for (I quote) Fihankra Akoma Ntoaso. In the Akan culture of West Africa, the Fihankra is a communal housing compound which symbolizes a "safe enclosure" or "safe house." Akoma Ntoaso means "linked hearts," and is a symbol of understanding and agreement. Many young people do not have access to such safe environments, which are critical to their development.

So I came in and volunteered as a photographer teacher, and taught foster children, ages 6-18 the basics of photography. We made pin-hole cameras out of Quaker Oat's containers, learned about the difference between film and digital. We spent a TON of time playing with a polaroid camera (instant gratification). Really, I was there to show them love, guidance and creativity. And we had a lot of fun in the meantime! I showed them that they could count on my arrival every Friday throughout the summer. My mission was to break them out of their shells. To get them to smile, laugh, and be free.

You can see in some of these photos the difference between a closed heart, and an open heart. These kids just need love, guidance and someone they can count on. This program gives them that and much, much more.

The most rewarding part of my time with them was when one of the teenage girls–who was usually pretty quiet and closed-off (and didn't smile very often)– opened up her heart in front of my camera and started BEAMING, dancing, jumping and laughing. It was so incredibly gratifying. I saw her true spirit, and I captured it. When two hearts touch, there is no greater reward.

You just have to spill your light onto others, so they know that they too, can shine their own.

Follow FAN on Facebook!

firecracker ford + bump

I am sooo excited to do this post. I was lucky enough to get out of town a couple weeks ago to attend my dear friend, Keri's baby shower in Atlanta. She is pregnant with her first baby (a boy!), and I couldn't be more excited! t hadn't seen her since MY baby shower nearly two years prior! She helped my sister and Mom do an AMAZING job decorating my shower. It seriously was out of a magazine. And these were the days before Pinterest! Anyways, it was my turn to help her Mom and sister with the shower. It was such a blast, and turned out as perfectly as we hoped. Keri's family took me in as one of their own that weekend, never making me feel out of place. I couldn't stop laughing all weekend with this high-energy New Jersey, super-Italian family. 

Keri is one of those people that lights up a room as soon as she walks in. I love that she was born with these amazingly bright, blue eyes.. but her parents both have brown eyes. Apparently they came from her Great Grandfather (I think?). It's as if her spirit was so bright– that when she was born, her eyes had no choice but to be sparkling blue. She came into my life like a beam of light, when I was surrounded by darkness. Isn't it funny how some people walk into your life when you need them most? We are two crazy wackadoos when we get together, talking a mile a minute and making the most ridiculous expressions to support our dramatic stories (usually about our husbands). We always felt like we knew each other from another lifetime. Kindred spirits you could say. 

Mrs. Keri Lynn Ford inspires me in so many ways, aside from her infectious energy. She has MADE things happen in her life through her determination, passion and hard work. She started her very own company, IgniteGirls® Fitness, which is a fitness program that offers KICKass workouts, nutrition plans and guided support towards your goals (and the support of a community of women in the same boat). Go see for yourself. She is SO INCREDIBLY photogenic. Did I tell you she also does fitness modeling? So getting in front of the camera was like 10 cups of coffee for her. And how ADORABLE is she?? She was doing planks and push-ups in no time– showing off her crazy-pregnant-strength. Keri is a prime example of a doer, a go-getter, a make-it-happen-because-there-is-no-plan b. She has always been one of my biggest supporters, and for that and a million other things, I am forever grateful. She is SO thoughtful, caring and hilarious. She is extremely nurturing to everyone. She is the Momma dukes of her company! She takes all of these women under her wing and guides them to a better lifestyle. But she also doesn't. take. shit. So, dear sweet little Peyton Michael Ford, look out. You have one tough Momma that won't let you get away with sh&t. She will however, make you giggle your socks off. 

She is going to be one. amazing. Momma. 

Keri's husband, Dave is the perfect man behind this incredible woman's story. He is her rock. A total goofball without trying. A true gentleman with a huge heart. And he is pretty obsessed with Jeeps. Peyton is going to have such a blast with these two!!! 

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fluffy face

A year ago I experienced one of the greatest losses of my lifetime. My 12 year old "Fluffy Face" went to Kitty Heaven. Any other pet owner can sympathize with this loss. ANYone who has experienced a loss can of course sympathize. When anyone or anything passes away, it is incredibly difficult. Fortunately, I had only experienced such a great loss as my Grandfather and Grandmother passing away. The passing of my Grandpa was pretty hard at the age of 19. It was confusing and shocking. He was my idol. I still am overcome with emotion over him 13 years later. But to lose such a dear companion like a pet is heart wrenching in an entirely different way. And simply because, I miss her.

I miss the way she would jump up on my bed early in the morning and wake me up with her squirrel call (brrrrrrrrp!!!). I miss how she would snuggle inside my chest and arms, and wrap her paws around my arm. I miss her purr. I even miss when her bratty fuzzy butt would jump up on the dresser and start slowly pushing an object to the edge until…. CRASH! I miss how she would push the door of the bathroom open and barge in, as if she owned the house (and she did). I miss how she would jump up on the edge of the bathtub to get her "steam bath/meditation" session in while I showered. I oddly now miss how she demanded fresh water every morning and evening, but would still jump up on the bathroom sink to drink the water. I miss how she started snoring and getting a white patch on her chin in her later years. I miss that oh-so-fluffy fur that I could burrow my face into. I miss how she played hide-and-seek with my husband and I (no joke), and her tail would always give her away. She would get so worked up and hyper, zipping around the apartment, sliding on the floor. Lol. I miss how on beautiful days I'd find her asleep in a lush, green bush outside. I miss seeing her climb a tree like a monkey and anxiously make her way down backwards. I miss the days that we would sit peacefully together on the stoop watching the sunset. I just. Miss. Her.

How could I forget all of these things? I'm terrified that I will. But recalling them all is also painful. I was told it would get easier with time, and it has. But when I recall those feelings it is just as hard as the moment she left. Sometimes I feel like time crept into my world and stole my Fuzzy Butt like a thief in the night. She was my first child and forever companion. When something becomes your little trusted shadow, and loves you unconditionally, unequivocally–bearing that loss is more than words. Yes, she was old-ish. Yes she lived an amazing life. But she could have lived a few more years. She could have been Finn's buddy. They could have snuggled, and he could have pulled her tail. But what can I do now but cherish those years that I had with her.

I'm sorry if this is hard to read, but it has been cathartic for me. I have bottled up a lot of these feelings over the last year, and it was time to release them. It is time to release her. I want her to be as happy as can be in kitty heaven, and wait for me at "The Rainbow Bridge". What is this bridge of magical colors, you ask? It is one of the three main things that has given me comfort in this grieving process. Our animal hospital was so sweet and sent a card with this poem enclosed.

"Just this side of Heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together…."

-Author Unknown

The other thing that gave me peace was a dream I had about her. I've only had one, and it occurred fairly soon after she passed. She looked like her younger self, but she wasn't a kitten. She was sooo full of energy, you could even see it in her eyes. They were bright with life. Her tail was twitching with excitement. We were outdoors and she was running everywhere and zipped up a tree. I woke up KNOWING she was at peace, waiting for me in this crazy place with rainbows and bunny rabbits. She didn't get along too well with other cats though, so I hope there weren't too many in her little spread of grass. 

The third thing that has already given me peace is the process of letting go. Letting her go. Experiencing the emotion and grief. I came across this awesome blogger over at High On Health, and she went through this herself and suggests a few things. I haven't done them all, YET.. but I have started a few. 

Thank you for reading this, if you did. On with some photos! Here are some of my favorite Instagram photos of the Fuzzy Butt. Follow me! It's all about Finnstagram these days.

You are forever in my heart, Macy. I will never forget the first moment I saw your tiny, squished, grey, fluffy face...

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The sweetest

I had the pleasure of photographing one of the sweetest families I know. Big brother Evan and his little sister, Ellie are just two peas in a pod! They both are seriously mini-me versions of their parents. I love it! Evan is such a smart little guy, who says the funniest things (Hey, Mr. Photographer Man, can we try that big light on your camera for the next photo?). He was a pure natural at tree-climbing, and oh-so-fearless! Ellie is an old soul with twinkly blue (greenish) eyes and a big, beautiful smile (but shares it selectively, which I love). She loves to play chase and tickle her big brother too! I can't believe how much bigger these two sweeties have gotten since last year...

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