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Camping In Our Own Backyard

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Another big CHECK! off the Summer To Do List:  “sleep in a tent our whole family.” This one Owen had put on the list. He didn’t care where, or when, or how we did it. He just wanted it to be all five of us, all night, in a tent. Early in the summer Braydon and I made the executive decision that the first free weekend night we had, when the right weather hit (i.e., not pouring rain or sweltering hot), we would sleep in our yard in our tent. We were all excited about this idea, but none of us realized just how fabulously great this would become. Saturday night was the night. And after all is said and done, this one particular CHECK! off our Summer To Do List turned out to be — absolutely — a major highlight of our summer.

after a campy dinner of hot dogs and hamburgers on the deck, we made our way our campsite. we had already set it up earlier in the day.

as soon as we got the fire started, it felt like we were a world away.

Meera claimed her spot and quickly settled right in with all of her earthly bare necessities: bunny, cocoa, kitty, little kitty, blanket, baby, and cow. she acted as if she'd been camping her whole life and knew just what to do: get comfortable for a long night of doing "nothing" (i.e., everything).

the boys did what the boys do: they played and played and played in constant twinny motion. there is not much more exciting to a six year old boy than fire and smoke.

red wine by the fire. seriously, it felt like we were a world away from our day-to-day life. it felt like the opposite of mundane: magical.

Meera warmed up to the fire magic, and became even more enchanting than usual (which is about as enchanting as you can get).

and then the s'more-making commenced.

9pm is "very late" for our bambinos. and that is when the flashlights-in-the-tent playing began. with all three having the time-of-their-lives in there, Braydon and I finished our wine and drank in the sheer fabulousness of that night. eventually we all found our way back into our house to quickly change into p.j.s and get ready for bed. major perk of backyard camping = brushing your teeth in your own comfortable bathroom. another perk = falling asleep in the tent knowing that if a worst-case-scenario materializes, it is only a few steps to your own back door.

but the night went off without a hitch. it was perfect, actually. and Meera woke up completely amazed by the idea that she was still in the tent. she saw the "pink!!!" (i.e., sunrise) from our little netted window. her first time sleeping in a tent. and it was a huge success.

the morning brought hot coffee and warm milk in the tent (after just a quick jaunt to the kitchen by Mama). we lazed our way through a whole hour of early-morning-tent-chatter...

...before leaving our campsite...

...and making the trip back home...

It was magical.

Atlanta 2010

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Atlanta, Georgia. Papi’s hometown. A big southern city with the world’s busiest airport. We got back a week ago from a great family trip to Atlanta.

Every time we travel we are reminded of just how much our bambinos love to travel. K & O have been travel-lovers from the start. And now their sister is catching on too. These three love every single aspect of it. The airport (even when the flight departure time is 6:30 a.m.)~~

The flight~~

The cab rides~~

Every single bit of it is revered and enjoyed. Would they have been travelers entirely on their own? Or have they caught the travel bug from us? (the age old question: nature? or nurture?) We might be fascinated by these questions, but at the end of the day, the bambinos don’t know, and they don’t care. All they know is that they LOVE (love love) to TRAVEL.

And sometimes, when I look back on the photos from a trip, one stands out for some reason or another. It isn’t always the best photo (it usually isn’t), and it doesn’t necessarily have any sentimentality attached to it (often it doesn’t), but it just folds itself into my memory as a little token from the adventure. This one, for whatever reason, is a new favorite of mine:

We stayed in a big center city hotel. Despite all the hotels we’ve stayed in as a family over the years, K & O had never stayed in one quite like this. The lobby, alone, was an adventure. With big glass elevators overlooking a huge atrium, just riding the elevators (a hundred times a day — or as often as we’d let them get away with) made it worth the trip.

The hotel also had a roof-top swimming pool (a first for the bambinos: swimming in a roof-top pool)~

And the room service was pretty terrific too (Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse was the hotel’s room service! we had never eaten at a Ruth’s Chris, so we were in for a treat! and now we’ll never be the same again because K & O discovered Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse cheesecake and their lives were from that moment onward forever changed)~~

But, honestly, to us, even our good old standby, Subway sandwiches, taste a whole lot better when eaten in a hotel suite (watching Curious George on the travel-DVD-player to boot!)… so, who really knows?~

Our Atlanta trip coincided with Braydon’s 39th birthday. We were happy to be able to have lunch with Grandpa Robert that day. K & O could not have been happier with the birthday lunch at Hard Rock Cafe. They were pleased as punch when they succeeded at getting our server to wrangle the whole restaurant into screaming “Happy Birthday” to Papi.

Our Atlanta trip also coincided with a work conference for Mama. Some good work got done. And some good fun got done there too… Braydon brought the bambinos to the conference one late afternoon so that we could all meet up with old friends for drinks.

K & O got to re-connect with, and M got to meet for the first time, our dear dear friend from Boston/Grad School, Patricia (sadly, Meera screwed up that photo shoot by refusing to take part in it), and my two star graduate students of all time — Maggie and Xochitl — both of whom babysat for K & O at different phases of their baby-/toddler-hood, and both of whom have gone on in Sociology (and make me so very proud of them)!

Major highlights of the trip included:

  • A day trip to Grandpa Robert and Carol’s house. We rented a car to make the hour+ drive out to Gainesville and their beautiful home on Lake Lanier. We had so much fun and the bambinos were spoiled like they’ve never been spoiled before! In addition to a day of golf-cart and pontoon-boat riding, Lake Lanier swimming, and the swimming pool, there was a new doll for Meera (a doll who was quickly named “Gainesville”), the boys’ first water guns (!), more pool toys than K-O-M knew what to do with (!!!), and a day-long spread of a huge assortment of many of the bambinos’ favorite foods. While there we got to spend time with Sabrina and Katie and Charlie too. It was really, truly a good good day. A major memory maker with Grandpa Robert and Carol was lots of time spent jumping off the pontoon boat into VERY WARM (warmest lake we ever have swam in!) Lake Lanier… especially spectacular was watching Meera jump off the boat, climb up the boat ladder, and jump off the boat again over and over and over and over. It was awesome to see her — at age 2 — doing this!–and keeping right up with her brothers!
  • Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park was right next to our hotel, and we spent quite a bit of time there during our stay.
  • A day at the Georgia Aquarium, which really has to be the best aquarium ever. Thank you Grandpa Robert for this treat-of-a-day! And thank you Carol and Sabrina for joining and making it so fun.
  • Perhaps the highest high of a highlight of our trip–   a very, very special morning for our family spent at The King Center. Really, this deserves a whole post unto itself, and hopefully we’ll find the time to devote a post to trying to articulate all that it was for us, but in the meantime I can sum it up with one word: profound. We had seriously considered whether or not to go, thinking it might be gauged too old for K & O (and obviously it is way over Meera’s head). But we decided that we would go for it, and we were so glad we did. It was a truly marvelous experience for all five of us. A precious time to store in our family treasure box and rely on as a foundation for lots of conversations in years to come. K & O were reverent, interested, and into it (and Meera was her typical up-for-anything self). Kyle, especially, was incredibly moved by the experience. And all of us were able to expand upon already established conversations, and begin new ones, related to subjects that are– and will forever be– near and dear to our family: discrimination, racism, tolerance, non-violence, social change, justice… just to name a few. To be there, and to come fully to face with the reality that before MLK, and the many other great ones united with him, our family would, literally, not have been able to exist… it was just completely so real that it felt surreal in the most powerful way. It was really something. Something we are still reflecting upon, and something that will not soon be forgotten. And something that is at the heart of many of the conversations that we’ve had daily in the days that have followed. Our presence there together as a unit of five was truly special, and our experience of that place was a trip to remember.

Photos of some of the highlights in separate posts below here, here, here, and here. Atlanta 2010. Another great trip for the J-Ms.

Food Friday: New England Lobster Dinner!

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For us, it is a once-a-year tradition. We have lobster one of the nights we’re in New Hampshire at the cottage with my parents. This year, “LOBSTER!” was #1 on Owen’s “Most-Want-To-Do-At-The-Cottage-This-Summer”- List. My parents are practically pro’s at putting on the perfect lobster dinner. And there is nothing like eating lobster and steamers dunked in melted butter while sitting at a picnic table on a New England summer night. Lobster, steamers, corn-on-the-cob, and white wine = Perfect!

NH Summer 2010

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This trip is one of the deep anchors of our yearly rhythm. It is a gift. It is a gift passed down to us. A gift we are receiving. And a gift we pass down to ours. And we don’t know what the future holds. Will our beautiful little ones, who love this place so — who love it just as much as many of those in a long line before them have — will they have the joy of passing it down too? We can’t possibly know. And so, for this moment in time — for these moments of sheer bliss and crisp air and crystal clear lake water — for these moments of laughter springing and taste buds singing — for these moments of thrill and pride and gratefulness — for this moment in time we just soak it up. Because that is the very best we can do. That is how we can honor this gift that we have been given.

We go each year, thinking it can’t possibly get any more fun than the year prior. And somehow, someway, it gets better and better. We say it every year, but this year it is really true: this time was the best ever. The drive is a killer (9-12 hours depending on all the complicating variables), but our bambinos are such good travelers that even that part is relatively painless. And then we arrive to the family cottage. And there it is, waiting for us, in all it’s little red clapboarded glory. My great-grandfather built it with his own two hands, and the five generations that have come up behind him have known it’s treasures. Growing up I thought it was a joy. But now — oh now! — the joy is multiplied three-fold. Because watching our three splash there with eyes wide with wonder… it makes the joy almost indescribably uncontainable. Everyone should be this lucky.

The photos don’t do it justice. But it is the best we can do. So, here is the story, in photos, of the J-M’s 2010 NH Summer trip.

This is the look of pure, highest-quality-of-the-best-ingredients, joy. Kyle. Happy. Content. Proud. With good reason– you’d probably look this way too if you, at age just-barely-six, had mastered the art of… WATERSKIING!!!…

Kyle, The Six-Year-Old-Waterskiing-Wonder-of-Winnipesaukee. Seriously, when MorMor suggested that the boys try waterskiing I had all I could do to keep my mouth shut. I truly thought it was crazy– that they’d never be able to do it so young, and that it would just be a huge confidence-downer, and it would amount to nothing less than a huge pile of frustrated tears shed. Boy, oh boy, was I wrong. MorMor is always right. MorMor is always right. And don’t you forget it. By the second day trying, my boys had it mastered. Much to their mother’s shock, their grandmother’s delight, and everyone’s complete amazement. Yes, it is true: they are ridiculously-incredibly-wildly-athletically gifted. Their natural athleticism is a wonder to behold. But really—?!— waterskiing?!!–at age 6.2??? It was incredible to watch. And, from the back of MorFar’s boat, as the Official Spotter, I watched it. Over and over and over again. As my boys zipped around the cove, calm and strong, without falling, numerous times. And even the few times that they did fall, they just got right back up again. And I took about 2,000 photos of it all. Because even I could barely believe my own two eyes to see my own two boys doing this.

Here’s Owen, the other half of the Winnipesaukee-Waterskiing-Wonder-Twins.

And then there was the fishing. Another first: 2010 = The Boys’ First Year Real Fishing. Kyle had been talking about fishing since last summer’s trip to the cottage. He had wanted a fishing pole for Christmas, and then for his birthday. Finally, as he had been promised, he got a fishing pole for our big trip. And that fishing pole did not disappoint. He spent hours with it.

Hours fishing that ultimately paid off! Kyle got what he had been waiting for: his first caught fish! A little few-inch sunfish. But a fish nonetheless.

This is the look of pride. A special pride that comes with catching your first fish, with your beloved (and I do mean BELOVED) grandfather’s hands on your shoulders, with your family gathered around you cheering you on, and with your Mama snapping photos like a mad-woman! It is a good, good kind of pride.

And all along Kyle’s goal had always been to catch a fish for supper. He wanted to feed his family. And feed his family he did, with that little tiny fish!…

…there wasn’t a chance in heck that I was going to let him think that fish didn’t feed his family. And so… later that night… while Kyle watched Tinkerbelle with his cousin, brother, and sister, that little sunfish got to secretively swim away while I forced MorMor to chop a few small bits of haddock off a frozen pound-from-the-grocery-store that she had stored in the freezer. And pan-fried with lots of butter and a whole bunch of spices, that fish of Kyle’s (or so the kids all thought) was — according to Kyle — “the best fish he’d ever had!” And so it was. And then they rounded out their meal with heaping bowls full of good ‘ole macaroni and cheese. And life could not have been any richer.

For Owen, the highlight was MorFar’s boat. And driving it is, especially for Owen, an especially high high.

Owen’s other high: Kayaking. Our boys love it. Especially Owen.

And to see our Owen, so strong and confident, independent and capable, solo kayaking on a still lake in early morning. Nothing much could be more soul-satisfying. To see him — and to know his whole story — to see him so peaceful, so still, so fully living — out there in the middle of the lake — it makes you ponder the most profound parts of life. And it also makes you wonder what he’s thinking about out there so happily on his own. Those are moments to be remembered. To watch your child do that, to see his confidence bursting through the seams, to know that he is happy — so happy — and, fortunate — so fortunate — those are things to cherish deeply. And cherish them deeply I do. And I know that he does too.

As for Little Miss. She spent much of her time loving her life — as usual — and being the precious little thing that she is. Giving hugs and kisses to her people. Doddling and toddling around occupying herself with all sorts of things. Being busy as can be with her own type of chill-and-calm-and-centered-energy. She’s amazing. She found an old doll in the cottage closet, and it became her baby, and she fed it a bottle all week long. She had some mega-tantrums too, and continues to suffer from her travel-sleeping challenges… but… why focus on the yuck when there is so much yum?

And as we are coming to learn about Meera Grace, she’s a true-blue thrill-seeker just like her brothers. The faster the boat is moving, the wider the smile. And the bigger the boat bumps over the wilder the waves, the louder our girl’s laugh. And her favorite spot on the baot is in the back, watching the wake… just exactly like her brothers have always done.

Other favorite passtimes for Missy-Moo included bonding with her favorite peeps in the whole wide world. Her bro’s are definitely her favorite, but excluding them, #3 on her list is, for-sure, MorMor.

#2 = Papi. And nobody is more fun in the water than him.

And numero uno: Mama. She’s my girl. No doubt about it. It is me who gets the best (oh the sweetness!!!) and the worst (oh the tantrums!!!) of her. And I take it all, every little bit of it, happily, thank you.

It was an 8 day trip. 1 day of which was dedicated to our annual pilgrimage to StoryLand.

Can you imagine riding rollercoasters with your grandmother? I can’t. But it is pretty cool to see my kids do it. And they pretty much love every single solitary second of it too.

Can you imagine riding the “Bamboo Chutes” with your grandfather? I can’t. But it is pretty cool to see my kids do it. And they pretty much love every single solitary second of it too. Oh, and as the photos prove, MorMor and MorFar pretty much love it too!

My mom and I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time as we did watching Braydon and my dad ride on the “Turtle Twirl” with Meera. Seriously hysterical. Meera was loving every minute of it. Braydon and MorFar had all they could do to not toss their cookies. I laughed so hard I thought my sides would split. I don’t want to forget those few minutes any time soon. My mom and I, in the middle of StoryLand, laughing our bedoojooles off at the sight of it. People must have thought we had lost it. Papi and MorFar did almost lose it (their lunch that is).

Speaking of lunch… the food… the food is always memorable when with the Johnsons, but especially when at the lake. Is it the food? Is it the view? It is the food and the view. And it is good. For our first full day at the cottage we were joined by Auntie Stina, Sadie, and the newly minted “Uncle” Mark. It involved ribs and chicken and corn-on-the-cob. Something about the cottage grill makes everything thrown on it come out awesome — I swear. And something about Beans & Greens Farm Stand makes all the veggies taste better.

As the week got rolling the food got rolling too. And there were several food outings. There was ice cream. At Sawyers, at Johnsons, at Bailey’s Bubble (that’s three days of homemade ice cream folks!). There were fried clams and onion rings on the roof at Pop’s Clam Shell.

There was a date night for Mommy and Papi at our favorite cottage-date-night-place, Ellacoya.

And there was a boat trip to Meredith for lunch at Town Docks… a new place for the J-Ms, a place MorMor and MorFar had been wanting to take us for a long time, a place which is now…

…without a doubt our favorite family lunch spot.

And there was lotsa lotsa tubing. The wild ones cannot get enough of it.

It was all ‘thumb’s up!’ and ‘around again!’ and ‘FASTER!!!!!!!’

Meera’s First Tubing. My mother thought I was crazy for putting my two-year-old on the tube (which is kind of funny since she’s the one who put the six year olds on waterskiis).

And there were summer traditions. Traditions that have been passed down for generations at the cottage. Traditions like swimming and playing at ‘First’-‘Second’-and-‘Third’ Rock.

And traditions like riding out to wave to the Mount Washington boat (or, as K & O call it, “The Mount Washington D.C.”!). And blinking the cottage deck lights at the Mount in the dark of night, and getting the blinking light back from the Mount in return. These are things that I did when I was six, and my mom did when she was six. These are the traditions that make this trip such a deep, deep anchor in the otherwise sometimes slightly overwhelming life that we live.

And there are quiet moments, when nobody is talking, but the world is listening. And it seems like the universe is telling us that everything is going to be o.k. There can be quiet on a motorboat when it is MorFar’s boat and the wind is in your hair.

And there is a quieting — the good kind of quieting — of the spirit when you’re playing heartily with your siblings in the shallows of the lake. Discovering water and sand and all that is good.

So, life is not perfect. But when moments come along that are as close-to-perfect-as-can-be, then right then and there we need to throw open our hearts with gratefulness for all that we have been given.

For mornings with the whole day ahead of you.

For evenings at the end of wonder-filled days.

And for everything that is good and right in the world. We give thanks.

A Day at the Beach in Maine

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We spent the first day of our trip at the beach, on the Maine coast, with my sister Stina and her family. We spent the day together at the same beach we used to go to as kids — Moody Beach, right in/near Wells/Ogunquit Maine. It was a gorgeous day, and the first full summer-day-at-the-beach on the New England coast that K, O, and M have ever spent. Stina packed up a great picnic lunch for us all, we built a huge sand castle, and had tons of fun in the sand and surf.

Haiti Reunion 2010

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This past weekend was our annual Haiti Reunion. This, seriously, feels like a family reunion. But like a very, very, very special family’s reunion. I cannot describe how much this annual gathering means to us. This was our fourth year going, and we would not miss this weekend for the world. There is no “highlight” to speak of because the whole entire thing is one big highlight. There is just nothing like seeing what happens when a bunch of Haitian adoptive families get together. This year we had 17 families, 74 people, — our biggest yet. There were a few new families, in large part because of kids who have come home since the earthquake. This reunion was more meaningful than ever. Kyle and Owen love this reunion weekend. I mean, they really, really, really love it. It is almost like they just savor every single second of it. What was really striking to me this year, though, was the importance of this reunion for Meera. While in the past I had always thought of it as something we did for Kyle and Owen and Braydon and I, now I am more fully realizing how truly important this is for Meera too. It was an incredible, incredible weekend. As it always is. But it always, somehow, feels even better than the year before.

We arrived at our hotel on Friday evening in time for a swim. Here they are ready to head to the pool:

We got a good night’s sleep and were very excited the next morning!~~

Arrival at the reunion is like arriving to sink into a group of your oldest, bestest, most favorite friends in the whole world. People you share deep connections with — connections that go way beyond what any words could ever describe. Just look at Owen’s face:

And for Kyle and Owen, not a minute is spared before it is straight into sports, sports, and more sports. There is absolutely nothing like watching a bunch of Haitian-American boys play soccer together. No kidding: I would not get in the middle of it if you paid me a million dollars. These boys are hard-core. K & O love every single solitary second of it. They are all drenched in sweat by 5 minutes in, but they go and go and go and go all day long.

And you just know that these boys — while fiercely competitive with each other on the grass or field or court — love each other too, with just as much passion.

And while some girls do partake in the athletic endeavors (and I give those girls a ton of credit for jumping into that fray!), many of them just play and play and play and play all day long. Their energy is no lesser, just different. And they love each other so. There is a lot of hand-holding and baby-carrying and chit-chatting that goes on. And it is all good.

Meal times bring us all together. The parents linger and chat (and there is much to chat about). The kids eat and run. Everybody enjoys every bit (and bite) of it.

After lunch it is pool time. This is not your everyday pool experience! These kids love the water. Every one of them!

Here’s my favorite picture from the reunion~~  TWINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Good friends’ 4-year-old boys came home this year. It was a joy to meet them.

And some other fav’s:

They played basketball until they couldn’t see any more.

And then they went nuts in the dark with glow sticks!

We didn’t leave until 10:30. It was the three bambinos’ longest day ever. Like, ever, in their entire lives. Meera — who thoroughly enjoyed every second of the reunion (but did not nap, and was going going going all day and night) — let us have it that night. From 2:30am on, she was up all night, inconsolably exhausted and miserable (although I’m sure she’d do the whole reunion all again in a heartbeat if given the chance). And the next day the three were more tired than we’ve ever seen them. They lazed in the hotel room watching cartoons. We have never seen them quite like this.

A quick visit in the hotel lobby with some new favorite friends (hi Lancers! long time blog readers and first time meet-in-real-life-ers!!!)…

photo credit: the Lancers

…and then we were off, heading home. Meera looked like this for almost the entire drive:

And the boys vegged out with the iPhones, delirious with deep happiness and deep exhaustion.

We arrived home to a lazy late afternoon and early bedtimes for all. The reunion will surely be a highlight of our whole year. We are already counting the day’s till Haiti Reunion 2011.

4th of July 2010

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I’ve written before about our feelings around the 4th of July. I consider us J-M’s to be —  non-traditionally defined — an immigrant family. Since two of the five of us immigrated here after birth, and are first-generation Haitian immigrants; and since two of the five of us went through the (intense) process of immigrating two Haitian infants into this country of ours; and since we are truly, genuinely, unabashedly proud to be living in a time and a place that allowed us [despite making it quite difficult for us, still– it did allow for us] to adopt cross-nationally/cross-culturally/cross-racially… ever since all of that… the 4th of July has taken on whole new meaning for us. It isn’t something we poke fun at anymore, it isn’t satirical for us any longer, it isn’t something for which we just go through the motions. We actually embrace it and have all sorts of defensible warm and fuzzy feelings for it. And, so, the 4th of July is big for our little family of five. And for my side of our extended family… we have further reason to dive deep into the 4th of July festivities. For the first 30+ years of my life and my sister’s, my parents ran a camp. Summer was a very intense time — work-wise — for my parents, and the 4th of July was never something we could really be together for, or make a family holiday of, or ‘do’ the way other families seemed to. We missed out on a lot of summer — the 4th of July, at least for me, being sort of symbolic of that. And, so, now that we can do it up big, we do do it up big. I have no problem spear-heading that project. We host it at our house, and I go all out for this summer holiday. I love every minute of it. The fireworks and sparklers and glow-sticks, and the quick ‘pop’ of the snaps as they hit the driveway. The cousins in matching red-white-and-blue outfits (I don’t even care how ridiculous it is, I love the 4th of July matching outfits!). The flags, the food, the fanfare, the fun, the fan humming away in the kitchen. Catching fireflies in the darkened yard, swimming all day long in the pool. I soak it all in like you wouldn’t believe. We had an awesome 4th of July this year. The best ever. And I seriously don’t know what I’d do without this blog~~ a way to at least feel like I’m capturing a little bit of it to hold onto forever. At least this way I feel like we’ve got some semblance of a way to hold on to these moments. It is like how our boys want to make sure that the lid is on tight so that their jar full of buzzing little lit-up bugs can act like a night light next to their bed in their room at night.

And while every family has, of course, its long hard history of “issues” to cope with in the here-and-now, and while all 6- and 7-year-old kids fight and all toddlers have fits, and while heat waves hit and while some sparklers are duds that just don’t work…  while all of that is very real for us just like any other family in the United States or anywhere… I am proud to say that we have a great capacity for dwelling on the positive. I choose, in my mind’s eye, to try to capture forever Meera’s first sparkler. I, and my camera, focus on that. I choose to not spend too much time focusing on that one sparkler of Kyle’s that just wouldn’t light up. We purposefully and conscientiously make each moment as good as it can be. And, man!oh!man!, do we have a good time. And by the time everyone had cleared out of here yesterday… well… we were exhausted and all 4th-of-July-tuckered- out. (until next year that is.)

“You only get one chance. You have one journey through life; you cannot repeat even one moment or retrace one footstep. It seems that we are meant to inhabit and live everything that comes toward us.” ~John O’Donohue

4th of July 2010: