In Memory of Tay

When I first met Heath in 2004, he had an indoor/outdoor cat named Taylor. He was a tough old cat, but he’d gotten into some sort of field fight with an animal whose tooth got lodged into his side and caused an infection that just wouldn’t heal. About a year into our relationship, Taylor showed up one night for a visit, looking worse for wear, with a kitten in tow. She was younger than a kitten should be separated from their momma, which led us to believe she’d been the only survivor or maybe the outcast. It seemed weird for a male cat to take a kitten under his wing and while we couldn’t be positive of their relation, she shared too many of his features to just be a stranger kitten. He taught her to come to the window well, like he did (we lived in the basement of his parents’ house at the time) and they’d come hang out every other day or so until she was brave enough to come to the window alone and then we never saw Taylor again. We suspect the infection had finally gotten the best of him and it seemed like he wanted to make sure his baby had a safe home before he wandered off to die. We named her Tay, since she looked so much like her father and for the first few months of her life with us, we let her be an indoor/outdoor cat like Taylor.

 

DSCN3618-cr

 

Then, one night, as I lay asleep in bed below the window well, I was jarred awake by an obvious scuffle outside the window and the screeching of a cats cry. Tiny little Tay was being harassed by the other field cats and was so terrified by the time she’d reached the window well, she literally pooped herself in fear. I refused to let her outside again after that. I couldn’t stand the idea of her being bullied.

 

Before that day, I was strictly a dog person, with zero interest in owning a cat. Even in the first few years of having Tay around, while I obviously had started to love her, I would joke about how she was Heath’s cat and one day I’d have a Great Dane that would be mine. But time passes and Tay became just as much my cat as she was Heath’s. She was such a sweet and gentle cat, with a purr that just exuded comfort. She became my reading buddy, my cookie-thon companion, my fur-baby. And she showed me that cats were just as easy to love as dogs were, to the point that this once dog-person is rightfully considered a Cat Lady by most now. The love I had for Tay encouraged me to care for strays and even rescue another cat. Still, none of them are even close to as perfect a cat as Tay.

 

In the fall of 2017, we noticed two little nodules on her belly. We wrote them off as fatty tumors since they were tiny and didn’t seem to bother her. But by the time Christmas rolled around, the nodules had double in size and branched off into new nodules. We took her to the doctor in January and they diagnosed her with Breast Cancer. That wasn’t even something I would have considered a potential cause. They told us that as long as it hadn’t spread, they could remove the whole right side’s mammary glands and we’d likely get at least another 3 to 5 years out of her. But when we went for surgery, an x-ray revealed that the cancer had already spread to her lungs. They were honestly surprised she wasn’t in worse shape already. Because that was the first hardest part. She was more playful than ever. She’d finally started chasing Callie around playfully, and she was still eating and using the bathroom like normal. None of the typical red flags for her impending death were present. They told us to just keep an eye on her. Make her comfortable as her body broke down. And to bring her back when we thought it was time.

 

IMG_20150508_202315

 

Deciding when it’s time was the second hardest part. No one wants to make that decision for their loved one, especially when their eyes tell you they’re not ready to give up the fight. Up until her last day, she fought the cancer – still trying to be her usual self even as her lungs made it increasingly harder for her to breathe. She’d try to use her scratching post only to be winded by the effort and look at us with so much confusion, as if to say, “Why can’t I do this anymore? What’s happening to me?” It was heartbreaking.

 

Her decline seemed to happen all at once, those few weeks that followed her diagnosis passing slow and fast all at the same time. On the morning of February 26th, she wouldn’t get out of bed. And when she was forced to, she took 2 steps before collapsing for air. Finally, she seemed to say, “It’s time.” She didn’t fight us when going into her crate. She didn’t meow in protest on the ride to the vet. If anything, it was like she was trying to tell us it’d be okay.

 

Her lungs were so weak, she probably could have completely passed away with the first dose of sedative. It didn’t take long for them to lose their fight. The ache in our hearts leaked from our nose and eyes and I don’t know how long it will take for us to stop crying over this. Every time we think we’re doing better, we accidentally call Callie Tay or say “the girls” when really it’s just one girl now. As someone who works from home, Heath, especially, has struggled really hard with the fact that he’s spent nearly ever minute of every day for the last 13 years with her, which is more time than he’s spent with practically anyone else in his life. The loneliness her absence has brought is hard to swallow.

 

And while all of this is miserable, we are grateful to have Callie. Lord only knows how much more this might have destroyed our spirit if we didn’t have another fur-baby to love on and care for. Still, I wish we’d been more proactive, that we’d taken those nodules more seriously when they first showed up. Maybe we would have gotten more time with her that way or maybe she wouldn’t have had to suffer as bad in her last days.

 

Nothing prepares you for the loss of someone you love, whether they’re human or animal. People who have kids, don’t seem to quite understand the impact of this for us, but the longer we fail to have children of our own, the more and more our cats feel like our kids. They may be the only kind we ever have after all, and losing one at only 13 years old, when they could have at least lived into their 20’s, hurts tremendously.

 

thumbnail

 

2017: The Year of Cats

Just before Christmas 2016, longtime porch queen QT Pie brought me her 2nd litter of kittens for the year (the previous bunch had shown up in late June). While I had let the 1st gang live the outdoor porch life and grow up together, when this 2nd group showed up, I started to panic. My little porch gang had grown from 6 cats to 11 overnight and 5 of those cats were teeny tiny fur babies, who definitely wouldn’t survive winter out in the cold with their little baby coats. So I reached out to a local TNR group, in hopes that they could find homes for the kittens and also help stop the growth of the existing porch gang. We started trapping over Christmas break and 3 weeks, a lot of tears, and close to $600 later, we’d trapped, neutered/spayed, and returned all the adult cats to my porch and found homes for 3 of 5 kittens, with the remaining 2 going into foster care. This is when Callie came into our world.

 

In a litter full of female orange tabbies (which is an oddity in itself as something like 90% of orange tabbies are boys), Callie was the only calico and her markings were so striking we just had to keep her. She was a sickly little baby, super underweight compared to her siblings, and took a lot more work than I anticipated to socialize and train into being a house cat. Tay, our then 12 year old cat, was virtually no help. In fact, she was so bothered by her new sister at first, she made it hard to even have Callie in the same room with her. They’re still not besties, because Callie has endless energy and always wants to play and Tay’s an old grumpy pants, but they’re growing on each other in our new house. And Callie is HUGE now, taller and longer than her big sister even.

 

Cats became a theme for 2017 after the first round of TNR and adoption, though. As spring neared, and the porch gang’s presence was more prominent, I’d notice my neighbor across the street filming us whenever we’d go out to feed. She’d complained once before to me that cats were pissing in her yard. I doubted it very much, but offered to buy deterrent and treat her yard for her. She never took me up on the offer. But she did proceed to agitate our other neighbors about the cats and file enough complaints to the apartment complex that they finally started threatening eviction to people who wouldn’t speak up about who’s cats they were. When they finally landed on us and I admitted I was the one feeding them, they told me I needed to stop immediately or face eviction myself. I explained how I’d just spent all this money having them fixed so that they were healthy. I tried to explain how much of a benefit a stable colony is to an apartment complex and that I’d already tried to find them homes, but there weren’t any. They didn’t want to hear any of it. So, after 9 years of apartment life, finding a house became more than just a desire, it became a necessity – so that we weren’t evicted and so that no one hurt the cats.

 

It was another couple months before we finally found the house that would become our home and the moving process was long and tiresome because we were relocating to another state. We got in the habit of packing the truck every time we went to the new house and even with that many single car trips it still took another 2 rounds with a moving truck to get all of our stuff to the new house. For the whole month we spent moving, I had to go to the apartment every night and starve the cats, in hopes that they’d fall for the traps so I could start the relocation process. When I tell you it’s an emotionally difficult thing for all parties involved, I’m not joking. There’s nothing worse than a cat who’s come to trust you as their food source, screaming at you, begging for food, but too afraid to walk into a cage they’ve been trapped in before. And then, once you’ve successfully trapped one, take it to a new location, completely foreign to them, and watch them hide in absolute fear.

 

Our new house has a 1 car garage and since we only have 1 car, we had no intention of using it for the car, so it seemed like a perfect place to house the strays for a few weeks while they got acclimated to the new environments smells before releasing them in the wild again. The garage is connected to the house via breezeway, so it makes for easy feeding without fear of them escaping. In those first couple of weeks as we’d catch a cat and bring it home, we almost never saw them. They were so scared, they lived in the garage’s rafters. And we knew that our only hopes of ever seeing the cats again was in catching their leader: Lion-O. Where I could successfully trap one of the others in a couple days, it took more than a week of starving Lion-O and some bigger, fancier trap to finally catch him. And it was down to the last few days of us even being allowed on the property anymore. The night before I actually caught him, I cried the entire ride home over the possibility of having to leave him behind and what that’d mean for both him and his siblings future. He was so mouthy in his protest of the cage and how unbelievably hungry he was. It was the absolute worst sort of torture for the both of us. There’s just no way to make a cat understand that if he just gets in the cage, he can be with his family again. Or is there?

 

0930170755_HDR

 

I sound like a genuine crazy cat lady here, but I cried again when I caught him. Out of sheer joy. Even my mom, who doesn’t even care about cats, but was there to keep me company, couldn’t contain her own relief after witnessing the intensity of trapping for just one day. Once he was caged, he wasn’t nearly as mouthy as he’d been. In fact, when you trap cats you have to immediately cover them with blankets to keep them settled down, but for the whole ride home, I lifted his cover so he could watch the open road ahead of us and I told him all about how much happier he was going to be at our new house, with his brothers and sisters and he was completely calm. And again, I know I’m reaching crazy cat lady town when I say this, but when we released him into the garage, he casually walked out, unlike the other cats who darted for hiding and let out this long meow, deeper and louder than I’d ever heard him make. It sounded like he was saying, “Guys?” as if to see if I was really telling the truth. And the chorus of replies that erupted in that garage was enough to have me crying again. They literally meowed at each other from the rafters for an hour, like they were filling each other in on all that they’d missed. After weeks of them not making a peep, it was the greatest sound. The TNR program I worked with says this was some of the greatest evidence they’ve seen on how essential it is to relocate a colony as a whole and not separate them. I have a tiny clip of their joyous meows HERE if you’d like to listen. That night when we went to check on them again, the cats were everywhere, walking above us without a care in the world – no longer afraid of us even seeing them, now that Lion-O was there. And the progress that followed that night convinced us that there was no way we could release them into the wild again.

 

You might be doing the math about why only 4 of the 6 remaining cats came with us, so I’ll clear that up before closing. There was a large orange cat, no relation to the rest of the cats, that went completely MIA after the TNR program. He was a spotty visitor to begin with and perhaps it’s because he was someone’s inside/outside cat and they never let him out again after they saw his clipped ear. The last cat was QT Pie herself and there is a large part of me that still regrets leaving her behind. But she was even harder to catch than Lion-O the first time and her visits became less frequent and not consistent times once she was fixed. I suspect she was being fed elsewhere because she always looked well fed, but she just didn’t hang with her kids once they were separated and trying to force them into a colony in the new location could have been bad for all cats involved. I still send wet and dry food to my friendly old neighbor, who sees QT Pie on occasion and makes sure to feed her. I worry about her, especially now that winter has set in, but my old neighbor keeps me updated. And if QT Pie’s safety ever seems at risk, I know the TNR program would help us find a solution for her too.

 

I can’t rave enough about TNR and how much more important it is that I could have even imagined until I got involved. The group I worked with TNR’d over 1000 cats in 2016, probably even more than that in 2017 – all within the same county and they’re not the only group providing this service. Cats reproduce at such a rapid rate, multiple times throughout the year, that you can quickly find yourself with a hoard of them if you’re not careful. The organization I worked with is called Best Friends of Harford County and they’re always in need of volunteers and/or donations, so if that sounds like something you’d be into check them out!

 

1108170654a_HDR

(From Left to Right: Gandalf, Torri, Lion-O, and 2Face)

2018 Resolutions

I failed to set any resolutions at the start of 2017 and while I doubt I would have met any of them anyway, given the unexpected turn my life took this year, I still feel like it is important to set them and this year, there are definitely tangible goals I have in mind.

 

Here are some things I’d like to accomplish in 2018:

 

  • Study & Sit for my CST 1 in April. I’ve put this off for too long. I’ve got to take it seriously this year if I plan to have a future in this career.

 

  • Finalize my degree. My company was bought out by a mega corporation in 2017 and let’s just say that the status of my career has been scary these days. In an effort to make myself more valuable I started looking into what I’d need to do to at least have an associate’s degree to make my resume a little more worthwhile and it turns out, I already have all the courses necessary to have an associates, I just have to apply for graduation. I mean, it’s nothing fancy. It’s not a bachelors or anything. But it will put a bit of the guilt I’ve carried since college over wasting my parents money and having nothing to show for it aside. And definitely gives me more power to find a new job if this one fails me.

 

  • Reacquaint myself with my piano and perfect at least 1 song. Now that I have my piano again, after being without it for nearly 15 years, I’ve just gotta get a key fixed and the piano tuned to start playing again. I’ve been listening to Ludovico Einaudi a lot, dreaming of making such beautiful sounds myself. I’m gonna start with that and we’ll see what else I can do by the years end!

 

  • Read & Redline Dreamsters. It’s truly been too long since I’ve written something new. And anytime I pick this story up to read, I still love it as much as I did when I wrote it. It’s time I finally tried to do something real with it.

 

  • Read at least 12 books. I miss reading almost as much as I miss playing the piano. I’ve got to make it a priority again. To escape. To learn. To refill my creative well.

 

  • Have more Sex. It’s a weird resolution, I know. Believe me, it was even weirder for me to actually type it out. But I really want to be a mother and the only way that’s going to happen is if I try harder. I’m a super busy person and it doesn’t help that for the most part, sex is something that almost never crosses my mind. These sorts of things really get in the way of making babies. I don’t want to make it to 40, still childless, and the reason be that I just didn’t make more time to try.

 

  • Save for Disney World. I can’t tell you how many times a week Heath asks me, “What if we made [some obscene amount of money] a year?” or “What if we won a 100 million dollar lottery?” What’s the first thing we’d do, he always wonders. And always, ALWAYS, my answer is: Go to Disney World. Or some variation of going to the Disney’s across the world depending on how much money we’re talking about. Since those questions are a dream and not our reality, it’s time to just start being smart and saving because (insert dramatic LOST quote) WE HAVE TO GO BACK! Also, my sister wants to take the kids soon and I want to be prepared to join them!

 

  • Customize a doll into Star Butterfly. My love for Star Vs. the Forces of Evil is still as big as the day I fell in-love and the same could be said about my frustration for the lack of merch on the series, too. I’ve been feeling compelled to customize a doll for a few years now and Star seems like a good one to start with. In my head, it starts with a Sailor Moon Pullip doll as the base. 😉

 

  • Give my hair a break. I LOVE having fun hair. In fact, it’s been so long since I’ve had normal hair, I’m not even sure I remember how to. But I bleached my hair more than usual this past year in the name of having “fun” hair and I’ve experienced a ton of breakage as a result. It was bound to happen and I’m lucky it took this long to, but in order to keep enjoying “fun” hair, I’ve gotta give my hair a break. No bleaching for a year will help it grow (because it’s far too short now) and let it remember how to be strong again for when I try to shift out of red. I’ll hate being stuck in this color for a year, but I’ve gotta do it before I ruin my hair for good.

 

  • Lose Weight. This one’s so typical and on most everyone’s list, but it’s serious for me. I gained back everything I worked off over the past few years and then some. And I want to be healthier, to have more energy, to have a body worthy of housing a baby if/when the time comes. I almost don’t even care how much I lose, just that I start to lose. That I create habits of eating clean and working out again like I had in the past. We have an entire gym in our new house’s basement. There is NO reason I can’t make this happen.

 

  • Spend more time with God. This year I failed to find a devotional and with moving to another state, church became a thing of the distant past for me. I tuned in to YouTube to their services when they’d post them, but they’re not consistent and neither was I. When packing for the big move started, I set my prayer journal aside and haven’t picked it up since. It’s not to say I didn’t do a lot of talking out loud to God, because boy did I ever, but I want to get back into developing a deeper understanding and connection with Him. Not solely calling out to him when I’m desperate or afraid or overwhelmed with emotion (good and bad). I’m not quite sure how I plan to do this yet, but it’s been heavily on my mind and I’m open to suggestions.

 

  • Commit to volunteering at the animal shelter on a regular basis. Best Friends of Harford County helped me immensely not once, but twice this year with my stray cat colony and I want to give back. I want to spread some love or service to some other unloved cats as a show of gratitude and also just to humble myself. Volunteering, no matter what for, teaches us to live for someone more than ourselves, and we could all use that reminder these days.

 

That should be more than enough to keep me busy in 2018, especially since it doesn’t even include the side job of being a photographer or all the house projects we have on our to-do list for the year ahead of us, but I’m pretty amped about checking off these things on my goals list.

 

What do you hope to achieve in 2018? Whatever it is, You’ve got this, GOOD LUCK!

 

 

Best of 2017 Photography

While a lot of 2017 was largely occupied by buying a house and making it a home, I was still SUPER busy as a photographer. With 22 regular shoots, 3 birthday parties, and a wedding this year, my plate was pretty full considering I have a full time job doing something completely different. Every year, as my workload exceeds the year before, I am more and more grateful and humbled that even strangers come to me to for photoshoots now. Who would have ever thought? Certainly not me. I never thought I’d have the confidence to call myself an actual photographer, but I do now and it’s only because friends and family and even strangers continue to have faith in me and my work. Busy season might wipe me out, but I can’t explain the joy it brings me to look back at a years worth of shoots – at all the memories I’ve captured for people – at the Christmas cards clients sent me with my pictures on them; it’s a blessing I never really imagined for my life.

 

Thank you to all of my clients, new and old, for trusting me with your memories. I hope to shoot you all again in 2018!

 

Click the preview image below to see more of my favorites from the shoots I did in 2017!

 

Best of 2017 Photos

 

 

2017: A Life Update

Hey, Internet. Been a while, right?

 

For me, it feels like it has been even longer than it’s actually been. The last couple of months of 2016 I made posts in a zombie sort of fashion – posts because I felt like I needed to, not because I wanted to. Posts that made things look better than they actually felt. By mid-February, I couldn’t keep up the act anymore and so I just quit. I even removed the social media apps completely from my phone. Life got too busy for me anyway by the time March kicked off.

 

2017 has been…. Interesting. Some of the happiest moments of my life have occurred this past year, but I’ve also struggled immensely with anxiety and depression more than I have in over a decade. It’s weird to feel such extremes.

 

I lost some friends I loved (their choice, not mine); I hated myself for things that were out of my control; I questioned my heart and whether it was worth loving; I worried relentlessly over cats and put myself through weeks of trapping and rescuing a colony not once, but twice; I gained weight and hated myself some more; I failed to do a single creative thing outside of photography; and experienced anxiety attacks that felt like heart attacks over everything from possibly needing to use the bathroom when there wasn’t one around to being able to afford a suddenly more expensive life and whether that was a good decision or not.

 

Still, I’m walking away from 2017 feeling more blessed than not. The biggest blessing being: I’m a homeowner now! And I love, love, love my house. It’s a brick cape cod w/ a covered porch that sits up on a hill on a half acre of land, with a breezeway connecting the house to the garage, built-in bookcases surrounding the fireplace, hardwood floors throughout, 3 full bathrooms, an open floor plan between the kitchen and living room, and Heath and I even have our own giant office/toy rooms, with a spare room for any future child God might bless us with too. It still needs work – there’s still an entire, partially finished basement to tackle, and relocating from Maryland to Pennsylvania was a pain, but I finally feel proud of where I live and I’m excited for all the memories Heath and I will make here. While buying a house was a blessing in itself, there were blessings happening all around me, too, like a family who puts their creative abilities to use the second you have the keys in your hand and friends who gather together to celebrate your milestones. Twice since last December, my office has collected money to help with the burden of these changes in my life and I’ve cried every time over their unexpected kindness.

 

My Living Room, Christmas 2017

Our living room, Christmas 2017

 

We also have a new fur-baby! She’s just turned a year old (we rescued her from outside at just 10 weeks old in late January), and is as wild as ever. Tay’s still not sure she really wanted a sister, but the new house has at least given her plenty of opportunities to get away from hyper Callie when she just can’t be bothered with her. And I suppose you could say we have several new fur-babies if I’m honest, but that’s a story for a different post. 😉

 

Callie Girl, Year 1

Callie, Year 1

 

I’m leaving 2017 with a far better perspective than I left 2016 – I feel hopeful and excited for all the plans and work I have in mind. I’m sure there will be hiccups along the way, because that’s how life works, but I hope that starting the year with a better outlook puts me on a better path for happiness than last year. I can’t promise I’ll be online much, nearly a year away from it has definitely served as a lesson on just how toxic the internet can be and how easily it can affect you without you even realizing it, but I do hope to chime in more frequently than I did this year (which was not at all – lol). I have maintained activity on instagram (swhisted), so if you’re interested in seeing what I’m up to on a more regular basis, that’s the place to look.

 

I hope anyone reading this leaves 2017 behind with peace and hope in their hearts and minds. Life is what YOU make it, so choose to make it the best it can be!

 

Happy New Year!

2016 In Review: Photography

I had all of these goals where photography was concerned for 2016, like making it a more legit part of my site, getting a logo to watermark my work, and switching over to photoshop for editing. I didn’t accomplish any of those things so we can just call this resolution a huge failure. Still, despite that, I don’t really feel like I failed at photography in 2016 because my camera and I certainly were insanely busy.

 

In 2016, I did seventeen standard shoots, shot five Birthday Parties, one Relay for Life Event for charity, and one 1st Communion and once again I had to turn people away during the busiest time of the year because there was no way I could take on more clients that late in the year and promise them edited pictures back in time to ship out Christmas cards while still working a full time job. Turning people away is the WORST feeling. I’ve gotta be proactive about this next year and advertise my availability further in advance so people don’t wait until it’s too late to ask if they actually are interested.

 

In addition to that, I do really need to work on the resolutions I set last year for photography. I think what happens is that I don’t technically start shooting much until Spring and it doesn’t last long and then I get unbelievably swamped again in the fall through the end of the year and I guess my goals are sort of out of sight/out of mind until I’m living and breathing photography like that and then I find myself regretting not having taken the time in between to handle these matters. I even had people ask me for gift cards this year, but there was no time in the heat of the season to work on it and once it slowed down, it’d completely slipped my mind. That’s business I’m losing because I’m not utilizing my downtime to prepare for the busy times better. I’ve definitely got to work on this in 2017.

 

I’d also really like to expand my portfolio a bit in 2017. I would love to get into stylized shoots, like with elaborate sets and costumes – perhaps with a cosplayer or something. I did a semi-stylized pregnancy shoot this year and I loved having free reign to ‘create’ in the wild like that. I’d also really love to do some more charity based shooting, specifically for special needs kids and/or rescue animals. And I’ve had several people interested in the idea of offering photoshoot parties, like for boudoir photography – a sort of mini session where ladies can sip wine and socialize while being glamourized for a shot or two.

 

Hopefully with better planning on my part, I can make my resolutions for this year and last more of a reality by the time 2018 is here.

 

As always, I’m incredibly grateful for my clients, new and old, who push me out of my comfort zone and trust me to capture their most important moments in life. To receive my work on a Christmas card or be tagged in someone’s new wall art arrangement featuring family pictures I took is the highest form of flattery a photographer can receive and because so many of them did this in 2016, I’ve felt more like a legit photographer in this past year than all the years before it!

 

I’ve posted all of these shoots individually here throughout the year, but if you haven’t checked them out, you can view a few of my personal favorites from each by clicking the image below.

 

2076e

 

2016 In Review: Books

If I broke down the stuff I read in weeks, I would have met my goal of reading 1/2 a book a week, but the truth is, there were times I went weeks and even months without reading a single thing at all, so technically I failed. To further that failure, I read even less in 2016 than the shameful number of books I read in 2015.

 

I’m not sure that any amount of wanting and hoping I can read more in a year is enough to actually make it happen anymore. However, my husband has decided that truly smart people can read a book a week and that we are smart people so there’s no reason we can’t make it happen. I’m still unconvinced that’s all it takes, especially since I have far less free time than him and so I’m not putting the pressure of a book a week on my plate for 2017. I’m not even putting the pressure of 1/2 a book a week like I did in 2016. But what I will agree to, and what I hope helps get reading back into being a regular habit for me, is to read something everyday. Whether that be a few pages or a whole chapter, in 2017 I want to make an effort to finish everyday with reading. For a little while there in 2016, I’d gotten in the habit of working out, showering, and reading a chapter before bedtime. It was a really peaceful way to finish my day and a great way to feed my brain right before dream creativity kicks in.

 

Despite not technically meeting my reading resolution for 2016, I did read some really great books, like The Penderwicks – Book 1, The Isle of the Lost, Black Widow – Forever Red, and Paper Girls Vol. 1, just to name a few. I read some just okay books too, and finally finished a few books I’d been lingering on for too long. As usual, I wrote mini reviews for each on GoodReads (which you can check out HERE!)  or you can check out the spines of my 2016 reads below. There are a few missing, either because I lent them out or donated them, but they’ll be listed below!

 

books-read-in-2016

 

Not pictured: A Frozen Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick, Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith, The Ghoul Next Door (Monster High, Book 2) by Lisi Harrison, Where there’s a Wolf, There’s a Way (Monster High, Book 3) by Lisi Harrison, The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Amulet, 2) by Kazu Kibuishi

 

-AND- Multiple, Single Comic Issues of Jem & the Holograms & New Archie

 

What was the best thing you read in 2016? What are you most looking forward to reading in 2017?

 

Christmas 2016

Christmas had a rocky start this year, with dad being in the hospital for a diverticulitis attack and Mom & I trying to figure out how to make the Christmas Eve dinner without him. Thankfully, we didn’t ruin it and even more thankfully, Dad broke himself out of the hospital in time to celebrate. He wrote on his exit board, “Santa had a bellyache, but the little children need him.” Which is completely accurate b/c my dad is Santa. He suffered through the next two days of celebration like a champ and we found ourselves all the more grateful for his presence. The kids, especially, love their Poppy. Christmas wouldn’t have been the same without him.

 

As usual, Christmas at my parents for Christmas Eve and Morning is crowded and chaotic and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

We ended our Christmas festivities at my Mother-in-laws for another round of good food and fun, feeling so very blessed to be able to spend that sort of quality time with our loved ones.

 

I hope all of your Christmases were just as satisfying as ours, even if they too had their rocky moments. :)

 

To see more pictures of our Christmas, click the image below!

 

img_20161227_162747_857

 

 

Cookie-Thon 2016

Can you believe this is the 7th year I’ve done Cookie-Thon? I guess it didn’t technically become a “Cookie-Thon” until about 5 years ago, but still… I was shooting for a number less insane than last year’s 3,454 cookies, but apparently less for me, was only by 10 cookies, bringing this year’s total to 3,444. Despite that, this year went a lot smoother thanks to a few things: taking Friday and Monday off to give me 4 full days, my friend Shawn lending me his mixer so I could run 4 bowls at the same time in equally powered machines, having my friends Aubrie and Ari helping on Saturday and my Maw Maw on Monday, cookie sheets as big as my oven that held 30-35 cookies, a giant spatula, and just overall better planning.

 

I filled over 60 packages this year and 6 platters, mostly to the usual friends and family members that receive them every year. But the most fulfilling part of Cookie-Thon continues to be the ability to give cookies to strangers. The surprise of the pizza delivery guy, touched by the offer to come inside and have a warm cookie before he takes the road again. The comfort in the face of a neighbor I don’t really know, but who lost her daughter 2 months ago and is understandably struggling to feel Christmas joy. This is what Cookie-Thon is really about, this token of love, to whoever is willing to receive it. Spreading Christmas cheer is my absolute favorite thing to do and I implore all of you to find a way to spread some too.

 

This year I had the opportunity to do something really worthwhile with the excess cookies and I am excited about being able to do it every year from here on out too. With about a bins worth of leftovers, I asked around for a good place to donate them, or for people who would like a small package themselves, and my old childhood friend Sasha suggested The Sharing Table. You remember, that humbling experience I had last year when I volunteered? She says they get well over 100 people for the Christmas dinner and now some of them will get to go home (or wherever they find shelter at night) with some of my cookies! I know it’s hardly enough to make their lives any better, but I hope it at least serves as a sweet treat in the name of Christmas that they would have otherwise not had.

 

I’ve got this idea about making Cookie-Thon a sort of movement, where I release my recipes online and people all over participate in the same event, same weekend, and then we all set out to get them into the hands of people who don’t expect it – who need it most. Be that homeless people, cops, delivery people, someone who’s been down on their luck, etc… If we could create a movement to spread Christmas Cheer…. gah! it’d be an amazing thing to be a part of. Anybody interested in possibly being a part of this next year?

 

For the most part I posted the progress of Cookie-Thon live on Instagram Stories and Snapchat this year, but I did manage to capture a few pictures with my good camera, too. If you’d like to see the process, click the image below! :)

 

img_3052

 

 

 

Neff Kids Christmas Card 2016

Since I started shooting this family, we’ve always done funny Christmas cards, but as the kids get older and the parents want themselves a part of it less and less, we shot some more mature pictures for this year’s card. Still, we did manage to get a pretty funny one of their dog, Rocky, too, though. For old times sake. Doesn’t he look thrilled? LOL! 😉

 

Click the image below to see a few other favorites from this shoot!

 

1123e