In January, we ‘started’ homeschooling – ever since being introduced to the Montessori method during my Catechesis of the Good Shepherd training last summer, I became hooked on creating homemade materials to help the kids learn in a hands-on way. Also inspired by the training was a desire to live the year according to the liturgical calendar.
In February, we celebrated Cecilia’s first heavenly birthday, and I completed my training for Level I CGS. The kids play so well together, and we were all excitedly preparing for baby brother’s arrival. I can’t tell you how many times the baby dolls’ diapers were changed!!
March brought baby Francis a month earlier than expected, which was all in God’s perfect timing. He didn’t have to spend any time in the NICU, and when we got home, state offices were shut down, so Lance got to spend extra time with us. (Read: extra time with the ‘big kids’ so I could soak up all those tiny baby snuggles.)
April, we snuggled some more. And I taught myself how to make homemade marshmallows.
May, we snuggled again, and got to start our garden a few days early! We are back at mass, in every other pew.
June, more snuggles, and almost all our time was spent outside watching for seeds to sprout and perennials to bloom.
July, we enjoyed fresh lettuce and peas from the garden, wild raspberries, some homeschool activities here and there, watching our new bishop’s ordination online, and … more snuggles. ;-)
August, our garden was in full bloom and the watermelon, butternut squash and papayadew were taking over. Baby sleeps on his own now, and I miss holding him while he sleeps, but the kids enjoy my attention. I prepare materials for our new CGS atrium at our parish in Hermosa, and I fall in love with the works and presentations even more!
September, we had to say an early good-bye to our garden, but we had more time for family and we now leave the house for atrium. Elodie would like you to know she has lost two baby teeth.
October, Francis is smiling and giggling (mostly for his sister) and teething and napping on a more consistent schedule, and so the kids are doing more homeschool as I have time/hands available. I had my one and only wedding for the year, and it was the most beautiful evening on the lake.
November was more of the same, but baby is on the move. He wants to be everywhere his big brother and sister are. He loves to crawl up and over everything.
December was a beautiful time of preparation, and despite the unseasonably warm weather, the kids got to enjoy a bit of snow. Milo got a set of walkie-talkies for his birthday, and I fear his daily nap will be forever replaced by the constant ‘bloop bloop’ sound of him radio-ing back and forth with his sister.
We hope you had a beautiful, slow, home-centered year, and that your good moments far outweighed the bad ones!
A year ago, when I was in labor at 33 weeks, I thought, “This can’t be it! It’s too early! I’m not ready!” But she was. Cecilia was ready to change our lives.
There’s a quote that a fellow Trisomy 18 mama shared, and it has resonated with me so much this past year. “People ask, “Why do children or young people die, when they have lived so little?” How do you know that they have lived so little? This crude measure of yours is time, but life is not measured in time. How do you know what inner growth this soul accomplished in its short span, and what influence it had upon others? Each life is meaningful, significant, and valuable… no matter how short.” -Leo Tolstoy
I only had a few hours to hold my second baby girl. I tried to soak up so much of her before I had to give her away. Touching her baby-soft skin, staring at her dark hair, and memorizing the visible signs of her Trisomy 18 diagnosis – clenched fists, cleft lip and tiny ears that stuck straight out. But the time still came, and I still had to go home without her. Back to the home that remained the same, and also somehow changed forever.
The word ‘seasons’ stuck with me. I knew this would be a long, hard season of grief. Just like the seasons of the year, I knew it would eventually transition into something else, but I would always circle back to it.
Somehow, day by day, things got easier. Talking helped, but prayer gave me strength. Between our 22-week ultrasound when we were given her Trisomy 18 diagnosis, and when she was born, there was a gospel reading that spoke right to me.
“On that day, as evening drew on, Jesus said to his disciples: “Let us cross to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” They were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this whom even wind and the sea obey?” -Mark 4:35-41
Every time I felt the choppy waters of life threaten to drown me, I told myself, “I’ve got Jesus in my boat. He will keep me safe.”
I was beyond thankful for having two healthy children at home, finally realizing what a gift they are, and I didn’t want to take them for granted any more. I ignored most ‘outlets’ that I used to distract myself with (online shopping, social media scrolling, etc.) and I searched for ways to become a better mom and wife.
As a family, we started a garden, filling up almost every square inch of what I thought should just be put to lawn two years ago. We enjoyed the Black Hills like tourists do. I joined the women’s book club through our church, and was introduced to Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. This is where things really took a turn! I had been considering homeschooling our kids for a while, and had come across some Montessori things here and there, but didn’t really know where to start. When it was suggested that I check out this training for CGS, I thought it would just be for my personal growth.
So I signed up for an intense 8-day training (which was both overwhelming and SO exciting) and I learned all kinds of ways to teach scripture + liturgy to 3-6 year olds. I learned so much about my faith, and was amazed at how much young kids can soak up if only we present it to them! On the last day of training, we visited another church who had this system in place. It was the church that Lance and I got married in seven years ago. And the classroom used for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd had a sign with a name above the door: St. Cecilia.
I had already thanked God for giving me this opportunity to learn something so wonderful, but that sign was everything I needed to know that this is exactly where I was called to be. The rest of the summer and fall was a blur. I was so grateful to have found something that God clearly wanted me to pursue. He gifted us with another new life (yes – we are expecting a baby boy in April!!!) which has been a journey in and of itself. And this winter I was able to finish up my training for CGS – which brings me to Cecilia’s first birthday.
It was the first day of our last 3-day training session. Before I got out of bed, I pulled up the day’s readings on my phone. The gospel was Mark 4:35-41. “Quiet! Be Still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Thank you, God, for giving me exactly what I needed that day.
I traveled to the church where Lance and I got married (where the last of the training took place) and cherished the image of Mary and baby Jesus above the front door.
I studied hard and answered the awkward small-talk questions at lunch, “When are you due?” and “How many kids do you have?” Deep breath… “Two at home, one in heaven.” And then someone asked how long ago that happened. Another deep breath. “A year ago today.”
I busied myself all afternoon with more learning and note-taking, and when it was time to go home for the day, I walked out of the church to see the sky filled with PINK!
Thank you God. Thank you Cecilia. I love you so much. Thank you for this year of immense growth. My family and I wouldn’t be who we are without you.
Kathy Criss We love and miss you all so much. Congratulations on the baby boy. My bday is the 10th of April.
Love you Kathy and Randy Criss
Cindi Hower Laura...thank you for your beautifully written words. The journey you have been on has been very hard, but your strength to follow God's leading through it all is inspirational. Let me echo the heavenly birthday greeting to your beautiful Cecilia. Congratulations on the upcoming arrival of your son! I'm so happy for your family. Blessings to you all sweet one.
studio lb I love hearing Cecilia stories!! Thank you for sharing! Strong, brave and funny is an admirable combination of traits. :-) We are excited for a spring baby and all the warm weather and sunshine that comes along with it. Hope you guys have a great April this year!!
studio lb Thanks, Lisa - hugs to you and your family! :-)
2019 was the hardest year for me personally. After weeks of agonizing over what our life might look like with a Trisomy 18 baby, our sweet Cecilia made her entrance early, and her time with us was very, very short. I vowed to cherish each and every day that I’m given, and 2019 ended up being a year of so much growth and focus. My life revolved around the things that were important to me, and the things that were not so important were easy to brush off (hence my lack of online presence this past year).
Before we knew Cecilia had Trisomy 18, I had limited the amount of work I would take on, knowing that I would want to cherish the summer with my family. I just didn’t know how *much* I would treasure that time.
When I was working, I was gifted the most wonderful people to be around. People who were also living their days intentionally, and making the time to celebrate each other. This filled my heart just as much as those days at home with my family.
In 2019 I spent time gardening, adventuring, celebrating all seasons of life – from small moments to big ones – and I know that each person I had the honor of spending time with this year was for a reason.
I spent time with ‘new’ couples, and with couples who I’ve known for a while, and are so close to my heart – time with them was like going back in time, when everything was ‘normal,’ and eventually when a tear would slip out of my eye, I was wrapped in a most sincere hug.
In 2019, I was able to document big, new beginnings, but also in-between, just as important memories: a birthday, a family vacation, a military spouse reunion, a man’s last ‘good’ day with his whole family before cancer took over. One thing I’ve realized this year is that each day is worth celebrating, no matter the circumstances. I am so honored to have witnessed all kinds of memories for the people in front of my camera.
In February, a new ‘season’ of our lives began – grieving the loss of our daughter. I also carved out a pocket of time that month to do something to make my mind switch gears. One afternoon, I met Dustin + Cahri for some beautifully cold engagement photos. Cahri and I grew up in the same town, and seeing her so happy and comfortable (despite the wind blowing flurries of snowflakes into her face) with Dustin (who has also suffered the loss of someone very close to him) was just what my heart needed that month – to see an example of the beauty of life after loss. I will forever be grateful for this sweet couple.
Then, later in the summer, I was reunited with a client-turned-best-friend who helped me through some of the hardest days of my grief. Over ten years ago, Marcy lost her baby girl, and all this time later, she still had the insight to know what I was feeling and when, and to have just the right words to make me feel better. Being able to see her and hug her in person was so uplifting. Being able to wander and have fun with her and David in the Badlands was the icing on the cake.
And who can forget this super fun kayak adventure with Matt + Ashley?! I mostly spent the afternoon in ‘video’ mode, but I love this photo because it perfectly encapsulates their genuine happiness and love, plus the peace and simplicity of their favorite place to kayak in the Black Hills.
I got to spend time with Fabian + Alysse and his daughter before their September wedding, and I’m now a fan of Wyoming and the color yellow.
Cody + Justine’s anniversary adventure was a little less adventurous than we planned, because we got two feet of slushy snow at the end of May which prevented us from hiking the trail we wanted. But it was still adventurous in the way that every day is what you make of it, and we had a pretty great time.
I realize this is probably a ‘standard Pinterest pose,’ but what I loved about this moment was that Cody was trying to remember the words to their first dance song, and all he could come up with was the title, so he kept repeating it over and over. :-D
Weddings are so full of different kinds of emotions and memories. I love how the mood can change from serious to hilarious so quickly! Here, Alysse’s mom and sister are helping her into her dress – there were lots of people in this room watching, but the connection between these three was so beautiful.
And then this beautiful staged moment, where Cahri’s mom pretended to fasten her dress, then joked to the other girls, “How’d I do?”
Again, another beautiful moment followed by a good laugh – Cahri’s phone didn’t recognize her wedding-day face, so she had to type in her passcode.
p.s. I still love the intimacy of a first look – no one else around, just a soon-to-be husband and wife sharing how excited they are!
Let’s focus on the kids a bit, shall we? They’re easily the most entertaining part of a wedding. Here, the bride’s nephew shares a single Goldfish cracker with the groom just before the ceremony (in case he was hungry).
…and this gaggle of a miniature wedding party to start the ceremony. Check the next photo for the little boy who ‘got one’ with his fishing rod mid-processional. ;-)
Then, the bride’s reaction as she followed all that cuteness.
Some first looks aren’t as secluded as the one I showed earlier, but even with all their guests between them, this groom had quite the beautiful, intimate moment with his bride as he saw her for the very first time in her wedding dress.
There’s nothing more intimate than an elopement, and I loved all the uninhibited emotions showing up this day!
Danny gave a tearful speech for his vows, and then we all shared a little chuckle as Mary, their officiant, was prepared with tissues for the couple.
Another laughable moment was when Tane forgot Elle’s ring and had to use his sister-in-law’s ring during the ceremony – this was the moment he had to explain what happened to the pastor, while Elle looks over at the ring’s owner! I love how this little detail (which could be a huge detail to some) was so funny in the moment because it didn’t *really* matter (he could have used a ring pop, just how he proposed) and they still joined their lives together as one that day.
These kids had the best seats in the house for this wedding!!
And this pastor made the.most.amazing painting for this wonderful couple (see the original blog post for more of that story).
I like to focus on the couple during the majority of the day, but I’m also always looking for little moments that make their day so unique, like parents holding hands, or grandparents comforting tired babies.
That moment when you’re all ready for the family photo, but then realize the bride’s brother wandered off, so we’re *all* waiting for him to make his way back! Again, notice the joy in this moment!
These next few photos are from a wedding I never shared on the blog. The groom’s job doesn’t allow him to share his face online, and he doesn’t really enjoy photos to begin with, so when this day arrived, I was so excited about how in-the-moment and accommodating he was to any and all photos, I was more focused on getting them a whole bunch of moments for them to treasure forever. The blog was the least of my concerns that day. I did get these few without his face showing, and it was a beautiful day, so here’s a few for me to remember what a blessing this day and this year was. (Because let’s be honest, most days I didn’t want to show my face anywhere, but it still ended up being a beautiful, memorable year.)
Aside from ‘new’ weddings, I had the pleasure of working with past wedding clients in new phases of life. This is Beth and Kasen, who wanted some professional head shots, but we spent most of our time together goofing around and catching up.
Eric and BMae had their first baby! Another evening spent being goofy and chatting about life. When I sent these photos off to them, Eric said, “wow, we look way cooler than we are in real life!” Hahaha! So, if you’re ever worried about being too dorky for pictures, just know that I see you and I love you, and it is possible to have fun *and* make beautiful photos. ;-)
Danny + Chanda originally wanted their elopement to be at sunrise, but when I heard they had a little girl, I was glad they changed their ceremony time to when she would be happiest. Wedding days should be as relaxing as possible – there’s no reason to add stress to the day just because of what the light might be doing!
Because really, who cares about the light when your son thinks that dandelions are for tasting, not blowing? It’s all about the memories. ;-)
I was so, so, so excited to see Jesse + Elizabeth again seven years after their wedding, and to meet their daughter! But the circumstances were less than ideal – Jesse’s dad had been diagnosed with cancer, and this would be their last time together as a family.
We only had a few minutes with Jesse’s dad before he needed to go back inside to rest, and my favorite family photo is this one, where he’s looking down, admiring his granddaughter.
Okay, wiping away my tears now, Andrew and Tremaine were back in the hills to celebrate their son’s first birthday (with a really yummy donut) and their sixth wedding anniversary!
Then there was the Robbins family, who spent a week enjoying the finer things in life at Custer State Park – playing with rocks, and throwing them in the water. :-)
And finally, the most beautiful, honest, romantic reunion I’ve ever witnessed. Andrew was overseas for a year, and from the moment he was back in Meghan’s arms, they were inseparable – even waiting for his luggage! (Also, notice the lady in the chair who also obviously felt the love in this moment.)
Seriously, is this not the most romantic baggage claim moment you’ve ever seen?
So, from my family to yours, thank you for making this year way more beautiful and memorable than I thought it could be. I heard recently that, “Grief is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.” (Jamie Anderson) So, thank you to all who have shown and shared love your love with me this past year, and allowed me to love you back in the way I knew how (with my camera, and spending quality time together).
Let’s keep sharing the love, and savoring those ‘everyday moments’ in 2020! :-)
Back when we thought we were going to have three kids at home this year, I purposefully chose not to schedule any weddings before June, or further than an hour away from our home – I wanted to cherish as much time as possible with our new baby. Turning down these weddings greatly reduced the number of work I took on for the year, but I trusted that God’s plan was greater.
Our sweet daughter arrived early, and she didn’t stay with us for long, giving us a lot more ‘free time’ than we had originally planned for. Lots of that time was spent grieving, but also cherishing the gift of our first two children even more. We viewed each day as an adventure, and we were very intentional with our evenings and weekends together.
Being immersed in this lifestyle and mindset, the ‘work’ that I did accept was simply more rewarding, and I savored the in-between moments even more than I have before.
I wasn’t focused on getting Instagram-worthy photos that would gain a lot of likes or comments, or even sharing any photos on the blog – my focus was on the people in front of my camera, and as soon as their images were handed over, my attention turned back to our family.
I simply witnessed the beautiful lives interacting in front of my camera. What I saw was so much love. I saw a grandfather snuggling his only grandchild while his cancer drained the life right out of him. I watched a wife welcome her husband back home after a year-long deployment, and wait for his belongings at baggage claim together (such a simple act filled with so much joy). I’ve gotten time to catch up with past brides and grooms, hearing where life has taken them, and for a couple of those couples, I also got to meet their growing babies. And for the people who were in front of my camera for the first time, instead of telling them how to pose, I let a lot more natural moments unfold, which were far better than anything I could have imagined for them.
Some of these stories might get some more attention in my yearly ‘best of MOMENTS’ blog post coming up, but for now, I just want to say a simple ‘thank you’ to everyone who has invited me to document their lives this year. You are such a gift.
If I could describe Fabian + Alysse’s wedding in three words, they would be: colorful, heartfelt, and dancy (like fancy, only full of dance). While it’s been one of the greenest Septembers around here, their details were full on fall – we basically had the whole rainbow represented in their decor, plus the Big Horn backdrop!
These two also wore their hearts on their sleeves. No poker faces here! Fabian beamed as Alysse walked up the aisle towards him, while Alysse tried to hold back some tears, and they both sneaked a few smiles at each other during the ceremony.
Still wondering about ‘dancy?’ Everyone danced in to the ceremony. The wedding party had their own song, Fabian had his own song, his daughter had his, and they all showed their best moves as they made their way up the aisle! So, so fun!
Check out those sweet moves!! Like father like daughter. ;-)
Fabian said he was most excited to have all his close friends and family in one room, Alysse wanted photos to go fast… so all the portraits of just the two of them were all taken within seven minutes!!!
Then, as soon as we got back to the reception, the dancing continued, and I’m not sure it ever stopped!
Ok I guess it did stop for a moment while everyone gave their speeches. The highlight of the night was Fabian’s daughter’s speech – talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve!! This girl is clearly so strong and loved, to give such a beautiful, honest speech straight from the heart!
And more dancing. This time a bit more romantic. I love how couples just melt into each other during their first dance – every movement is all natural, all them, and it’s such a beautiful thing to witness.
Fabian + Alysse, thank you so much for bringing me all the way to Montana for your beautiful wedding! I hope your first week of marriage has been wonderful!