a military war hero returns home

i feel so incredibly honored to have been able to photograph a military hero's homecoming yesterday... twenty-two year old marine CPL nicholson returned home yesterday, for the first time, after being wounded last july.  CPL nicholson lost both his legs and his left arm in a hidden improvised explosive device [IED] blast, while on foot patrol in afghanistan. through his ongoing recovery over the past eight months, CPL nicholson has endured 23 surgeries.  in october, he walked for the first time with prosthetic legs. CPL nicholson will be home on leave, for the next month and then return back to bethesda, MD for continued rehabilitation. his family is hopeful that he will be home for good by the end of the year.

the community support for CPL nicholson was nothing short of beautiful, inspiring and very emotional.  hundreds greeted CPL nicholson at the airport...

friends, family and strangers lined the streets of tampa as the patriot guard riders and patrol cars escorted CPL nicholson from the airport to the welcome home ceremony location...

hundreds more attended the ceremony...

being relatively new to tampa last year, i had not heard of CPL nicholson's injuries.  it was driving by this sign [the nicholson family lives almost directly behind us] a few months ago, that i first learned of CPL nicholson. i immediately emailed the family, sharing that i'd love to help in absolutely any way that i could. i'm hopeful that i will be able to photograph the nicholson family more over the year or two, while stationed here in tampa.

a special thanks to carmen for second shooting with me and making sure i got to each location on time.  and to cliff of the patriot guard riders, for asking me if i'd like to ride on the back of his motorcycle to the church [so i didn't have to keep running there].

and here's a tampa bay times' video of CPL nicholson's return...

so thankful

being military and living wherever the military sends us, we rarely are surrounded by family during the thanksgiving holiday. i actually can't remember the last time i saw family at thanksgiving [probably in my 20s]. but we almost always have invitations from friends [often our military family] on thanksgiving day. this year was no different -- loving friends opening their hearts and homes to us, for thanksgiving dinner. BUT we declined those invitations because we thought we were going to spend the day at disney world.  UNTIL we learned that even thanksgiving day itself is one of the busiest days of the year at disney. so very last minute, we decided to do a simple thanksgiving late-lunch [turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, stuffing, strawberry jello salad and pumpkin pie] at home, followed by a movie [hugo to be exact]. we are so blessed and fortunate. and i am so thankful...

for every little bit i've been blessed with.

wishing you all a very happy thanksgiving -- surrounded by and doing whatever you love and choose to do on this day of celebration and gratitude.

thank YOU! xo

honoring those who served

as a former active duty air force nurse and now being married to a naval explosive ordnance disposal officer, i couldn't be more proud to celebrate veterans day and honor those who have served our nation in war...and peace.

do you know how and when veterans day was first declared?

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as "the Great War." Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars. [history.com]


the other day, i drove around the corner, to look at the monster house they're building right behind my house.  a couple doors down, i noticed a large sign with an american flag and a marine corp flag on each corner of the sign.  i said to my mother-in-law,

that's interesting. i've never seen flags of support like that on a home depot work sign before.

and then we got closer and i read the sign...

Tampa Bay Community Supporting

Cpl Michael Nicholson USMC

Giving our best for the best our Nation has to give!

Send Donations to: Michael Nicholson Road to Recovery c/o Alley, Clark and Greivwe, PA PO Box 3127 Tampa, FL 33601

as soon as i got back home, i began to investigate and learned that on july 6th, cpl nicholson [22-years-old] was on foot patrol in afghanistan and was attacked by a hidden improvised explosive device [IED], tragically losing both his legs and one of his arms.  i continued to his michael nicholson fund facebook page and found this article about the endless search for IEDs in afghanistan.  i also learned that the young man in the 11th photo down, cpl justin crabbe, who is from the same unit, also lost both of his legs due to an IED explosion in afghanistan.

on october 13th, corporal nicholson walked for the first time since july...

corporal nicholson is an american hero. a wounded warrior. a brave, young man, who has sacrificed beyond words. i can't imagine his pain. his suffering. i honor him -- his determination, strength, dedication...his courage.  corporal nicholson is a true inspiration for us all.

if you would like to donate to corporal nicholson's road to recovery fund, here is the info:

The “Michael Nicholson Road to Recovery Fund” is set up and administered by Alley, Clark and Greiwe, PA in Tampa. 100% of the donations will go toward Nicholson's care, specifically on items not covered by the Veterans Administration. The fund is set up at the Bank of Tampa. Donations can be sent c/o Alley, Clark and Greiwe, PA P.O. Box 3127 Tampa FL 33601. Please only donate directly to them or Bank of Tampa and please make sure checks are made out to "Michael Nicholson Road to Recovery Fund"


being a military spouse, i loved reading this article -- 10 things you may not know about military wives, recently shared on facebook by one of my best friends, gwenn, who i was a nurse with at davis-monthan AFB.


lastly, i share photos of some of the veterans [and their families] that i have photographed over the past few years...

i thank you. i celebrate you. i honor you. today... and every day. so grateful to be part of the military family. HAPPY VETERANS DAY!

IEPs suck

there, i publicly said it.  and having to do them in five different states and nine different schools sucks that much more. sorry for my frankness here but i think most parents, who have gone through the process, would agree that individual education plans (IEPs) just plain 'ole suck. if you don't know what an IEP is, consider yourself lucky!! i wonder...do educators understand the anxiety that an IEP produces for parents? i mean REALLY understand? maybe only those few, who happen to have a child, with a disability, themselves. i get teary just thinking about the IEP, let alone sitting at the table...as, what's suppose to be, an equal team member.

i have made myself about crazy as i prepare for kiele's IEP tomorrow morning.  i sit here...cautiously optimistic and then that other side creeps in and says, they're going to fuck with you. be prepared -- and then i begin to freak out. yes, i've done a great job thus far. i know that. but i have three years left. and i can't let anything get screwed up. kiele's come too far. and she's doing too amazing. i've simply done what i was supposed to do and must continue to do so until she is ready to advocate for herself (and hopefully by that time, i will have taught her well).

it's just so HARD.

my advice to mommas of children with disabilities or needs, who are dealing with the special education system... know your stuff. and the laws. research. research. and more research. find other parents with children with a similar disability... kiele absolutely would not be where she is today without the knowledge and insight i gained from other parents. there can be a wealth of information in organizations and forums (check them out). stay strong. know that only YOU will truly advocate for your child... and that you know your child best. fight for what's appropriate (and know the buzz words). find that one person within the educational system who is on your side... who is willing to fight the system and risk their career if it's the right (or shall i say appropriate) thing to do. listen to others but know that your child's situation is absolutely unique.

years ago, i thought that i would pursue a career in special ed advocacy. who knows...i still might. along with photography, it's something that i'm deeply passionate about.

thank you maura and diane.  the two of you taught me everything i know and created the advocacy monster that i am today.  love you both dearly!!

as i go into my 11th IEP meeting, i can't help but reminisce...

shortly after kiele was diagnosed with a progressive hearing impairment (age 3 | may 2000)

kiele's cochlear implant surgery, post-op day two (age 6 | sep 2003)

her treasures. an image from when i first started photography (age 9 | 2006)

on her birthday (age 14 | couple weeks ago)

being grateful

i love this womani am grateful for this woman and all she shares with us she reminds me what it means to be good and grateful and not-so-serious in this crazy, mixed up world of ours

while in kansas, i started a grateful 365 project. to be completely honest, something went off course and i never finished. and then we moved. and then i was sent really off course. but seeing hailey's video has me longing to start another one. although i'm taking the daily pressure off and simply calling it my 'grateful project'. can't wait to see what comes of it.

how can anyone ever go wrong with a project that reminds them of all they have to be grateful for...each and every day.

hope you enjoy the video...

please don't forget to check out their 365 grateful site -- 365grateful.com

last but not least, here's a few photos from my 2010 (iphone) grateful project...

the beaty family | coming home

i had already blogged about lifetime's new show, coming home, which features military homecoming stories, here.  but last night's episode (episode 2  | daddy's little girl) featured the beaty family's homecoming. if you missed it, no worries, you can watch the full episode here.  the beaty family is on episode 2 (daddy's little girl) and starts about a third of the way in.

love them so!!

some of my favorite photos from the beaty family's homecoming...

coming home | debut

last december, i had the most amazing opportunity to photograph the beaty family homecoming. mike was deployed for seven months and their daughter, scout, was born while mike was gone (two months before his return).  they also have two boys -- four and two years old.  yes, steph is a super woman!! and lifetime television was there too... to record the beaty family reunion, for their new series Coming Home, debuting this sunday at 10 PM EST.

here's the series trailer:

being a military family, i can't wait to watch this series. brings tears to my eyes just watching the trailer!!

i hope you'll watch!

steph isn't sure which week her family will be on the show. i'll be sure to keep you posted on any updates i receive.

here's some of my favorite photos from their homecoming...

this new place

...a different place. i remember when i left san diego...i wondered where my photography would go in kansas. i thought,

how can i shoot without my beloved PB pier. without my beach.

yet kansas was probably the best thing to ever happen to me (as a photographer). i could play without pressure. a year where i didn't worry about  shooting clients.  i just allowed myself to be. and shoot. and grow.

and now i find myself in this place called tampa. a place where i long for my business to resume. a place i long to connect with. i'm getting there. i am...

when i look at this photo, i can't wait to get back out there and explore these incredible tampa beaches with my camera. this journey has only just begun. and that in itself is something magical to embrace.

and this photo will forever remind me that things will be okay here in tampa.

just as this photo will forever hold a special place in my heart, from our time in kansas.

different, yet the same. i am truly blessed to be able to move around and experience these awesome, different places with my family.  each is unique. each is special.

all american

i had been longing...dreaming... about doing photographs with my kids and an american flag for a really really long time.

it was important to me, as a former military member and now a military spouse. i'm proud to be a military family. very proud.  very blessed.  i wouldn't change our military life for a second.

so a couple of weeks ago, while having a family day at the beach, i decided to bring along our american flag.

and this is a bit of what happened...

note: flag was handled with extreme care and respect, in the making of these photographs. i promise, opa marty.

photography journey

i was just going through my website, checking how everything looked and flowed, after making some recent changes and updates. and as i went through my portfolio images, tears filled my eyes. i just feel so blessed to have met all the people i've met, while on this photography journey. the clients, who have trusted me to photograph their families and/or their children -- some of them, over and over again.  many of my friends, who i so cherish and would most likely have never met if i hadn't pursued photography. and to be a military family, which has given me so many opportunities to meet new people and explore new areas. i really hope that my photography journey has only just begun...but no matter what, i am grateful for all that i have experienced, which has truly filled my heart and soul. and to think, i may never have started down this photography path without going through those three months of hell in 2005, living in the rat, maggot and fly infested house, in san diego. some things are just meant to happen...even though we may not realize the gift they will one day bring us, at the time.

from san diego, where i first started learning photography, to kansas, which i never imagined i would enjoy as much as i did, to tampa, where i hope, dream and wish my journey to continue and paths to expand.

our role in history

a couple weeks ago, steph shared this amazing photograph with me (beyond the obvious capture of the moment, there's such awesome timing and composition). the photo was taken mid-february 1975, when mike (steph's husband) was about 10 weeks old. mike's dad, bill, was coming back from a six-month deployment on the USS independence, where bill was an A7 corsair II jet pilot, doing his department head tour.

and then there's this photo, taken december 18th 2010 of mike's homecoming, from being deployed six months.  he, too, met his baby for the first time, at 10 weeks old.  and mike, too, is a fighter pilot, who was doing his department head tour.

i feel so incredibly blessed to have captured this image for the beaty family.  hopefully it will be a photograph that will be treasured and passed down for generations, just as above photo from 1975 has.


my friends and i have talked a lot about photographs and their role in history, especially those coming from professional, editorial, etc. photographers. what's real? what's not? what has been altered? what's been added? the thought of photographers altering the photographic documentation of history is upsetting.  are they documenting history at all? or creating their own history, in a sense.

although i have to admit...sadly, i am guilty.  i'm not sure my kids have many photos that haven't been altered in some way (contrast added, a pimple removed, etc.). and yes, that makes me sad. damn it.

hmmm...maybe that's an idea to start this year.  in my family's annual book, i will include at least one completely unaltered photo of each of my kids.  i like the idea of the photo being of them non-smiling.  just them being them. kind of like this...

found via pinterest.  amazing, huh?!! quite a brilliant idea. i couldn't find the exact source for the above photo collage, but when i clicked it from my pinterest, it took me to this blog.

yes, i will definitely do that. at least one photo. it's a start. and i think i'll make that one photo film.

ETA: my sweet friend, erin, just posted a comment about the 'perfect shot' and i can't tell you how guilty i am of that so i wanted to add here.  i long to let go. to be free. it was actually one of my monthly resolution topics -- LET GO (being less perfect) -- to capture the everything just the way it is. stepping back and capturing more of the scene is something i am going to really try and work on this year. thanks for sharing erin. love you friend.

friendship & inspiration

we met the C family when we lived on whidbey island, WA.  our husbands worked in the same EOD unit.  we lived on the same circle and our houses were separated by a playground.  and we fell in love with the C family the moment we met them.  our families were stationed together for two years and they helped us get through our own deployment (steve left when i was three months pregnant and he returned a couple weeks before ryder was born). and it just so happens that the C family now lives  only about 10 minutes from my friend, steph.  it had been six years since i last saw them and it was so, so awesome to see them again!!  they haven't changed a bit...except the girls are now 16 and 14 instead of 10 and 8.  oh my!!

also, i have to share that lou was my inspiration for starting crossfit.  we're friends on facebook and i had been reading her posts about how much she loves crossfit and how it was life-changing for her.  here's a before and after photo of lou.  the after photo is about one year later and 35 pounds lighter.  her strength, focus, passion and determination inspires me daily.

and here's some photos i took, while i was there this past weekend.  they sure did an amazing job at not looking cold.  it was 34 degrees when we were doing these.  i had on a parka; they kept running into the heated car to warm up for short bits.

and then lou's beloved dog, Pnut, joined us for a few photos...

i'm so looking forward to going back to virginia beach this april, when i'll be doing rachel's senior pictures.  woot woot!!  and of course, i'll get to hang out with this awesome family again.

home sweet home | part I

today, i returned from the most amazing weekend in virginia, where i had the opportunity to photograph a military homecoming. mike beaty returned this past saturday after being deployed on the USS truman for seven months. saturday was the first time that mike got to meet his daughter, scout (now 10 weeks old). as with almost every homecoming, there was lots of anticipation and waiting. it was a magical morning full of excitement, love, support, friendship and strength.

it was so awesome to see all the friends, who came to welcome mike home -- the same friends that helped, supported and encouraged steph throughout the prior seven months.

and meet the paparazzi, from lifetime network.  they, along with the producers of extreme makeover home edition, are producing a new reality show that will celebrate the emotional reunions of military family members.  the beaty family is going to be one of the families featured on the show, which is tentatively scheduled to air this spring.  so exciting!!

and i have to say, it was very interesting (and challenging at times) to photograph, when there's a few film cameras, boom microphones, producers, newspaper photographers, military photographers...all wanting to occupy the same little space.  :-)

i'm hoping to share some of the photos from the actual reunion moment in the next day or two. such an incredible, emotional moment to witness and be a part of.

coming home

tomorrow morning, i head to virginia beach, to see one of my best friends and her family.  but what makes this visit even more magical is that i'll be photographing mike's return, from his 7-month deployment.  AND he will be seeing his 10-week old daughter for the first time.  i love this family like my own family and cannot wait to see them and capture this most amazing time in their lives. the below image is sky -- april 2009, as we prepared for steve's homecoming.

and i know i posted the photo below a few posts ago but...this is steph, mike and their first child, liam, who is now 4-years-old.  steph and i met, when she was one of my first clients four years ago.  and now, i'm so grateful that we're the best of friends. :-)

along with the homecoming photos, i'm hoping to get a new family photo for them -- celebrating their family of five and being together again.

and now back to packing.  i have to not only pack my stuff, but also get the kids all packed.  i return monday night and then our family heads to nevada tuesday morning, for the holidays.

so very excited. about everything!!

2010 | family

thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite photos of my kids from this past year.  it's crazy how much things have changed for our family in the past 12 months. also sharing the layout of my family book this year.  for those who are new to my blog, i do a family book every year (since 2006, my first year in photography).  each and every book is such a treasure -- proudly displayed front and center on the credenza in our living room.  i truly cherish these books!!

the only thing missing in the book is a photo of kiele, with her short hair.  must capture in the next few days.  thirteen is not the easiest to photograph...you know.  you can view a larger version here.

happy you are home

being especially thankful is obviously on everyone's mind this week.  but this family has something momentous to be thankful for; they will never forget thanksgiving 2010. daddy is coming home from iraq this afternoon.  he was gone six months -- left when their baby was three months old.  and steve just happens to be best of friends with B (they met in EOD school), so my whole family will be there to welcome B home.  and i get the honor of photographing the homecoming.

so can't wait.

just a few more hours now.  and we're getting our signs ready :-)

hoping to share some homecoming photos in the next few days.

wishing everyone a most wonderful thanksgiving tomorrow -- filled with love, laughter, friendship and joy.  we have so much to be grateful for!

i never thought i'd say this...

i miss kansas. i miss... the seasons. the weedy fields. the trees. the corn fields. the hay bails. the changing leaves. the broken down barns. the cows. the cold. the snow. the slow. the peace. the quiet. yep, i'm missing kansas.

i want to get back to that place -- maybe not physically but mentally, as a photographer. i want to get back to exploring and shooting for me.  what's stopping me?  

not. a. damn. thing.

but me.

kansas was definitely a place and time in my life that i will never forget...for so very many reasons.  i am so, so grateful for the time.  kansas was simply meant to be...even if for only a year.

how things work(ed)

meet my dear friend, heather, and her two boys (ages 3 years and 8 months). her husband isn't in the photographs because he's currently deployed in iraq and has been for the past six months. yes, he deployed when the baby was only a couple months old and the baby hasn't been the easiest baby in the sleeping department. we're hoping heather's husband is home in time for christmas. fingers crossed!! heather absolutely amazes me -- her strength, kindness, patience and generosity -- to mention just a few of the amazing qualities this woman possesses. i've known heather as long as i've known steve. you see...heather was actually the mastermind behind steve and i meeting one another in destin, florida, at AJ's. heather reminded me of the story yesterday, which goes something like this...

some guy spilling his beer on me. me getting mad, having had a beer or two myself. guy's friend, heather, intercepting by sending a cute guy over to create a distraction. enters cute guy...steve!!

steve and i saw one another every day from that day forward (until he had to move to WA and i had to stay as an air force nurse in FL). that was back in fall 2001.

and heather just happens to be married to one of steve's best friends, brian (he and steve went to EOD school together). so after not seeing one another for almost nine years, our families now live 40 minutes apart. how lucky are we?!! funny how things work sometimes. actually, it's amazing how things work sometimes. and it all brings me back to how very blessed i am!!

thank you heather for being you -- for your friendship and for your never ending support, encouragement and inspiration (oh...and for introducing me to my husband :-) ). adore you and your family and am so excited to share our next three years together! soon, we will celebrate and do photos of your complete family. can't wait!! xoxo.

to stress or not to stress

i received an email this morning from my dear friend, crystalyn, with the below attached. she and i have been talking a lot about stress and ways to deal with stress lately. and i absolutely  love what she shared...

A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, "How heavy is this glass of water?"

Answers called out ranged from 20g to 500g.

The lecturer replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case, it's the same weight...but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

He continued, "And that's the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, the burdens will become increasingly heavy, to the point when we won't be able to carry on."

"As with the glass of water, you have to put your burdens down for a while and rest before holding them again. When you're rested and refreshed, you can then carry on with your burden(s)."

"So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work down. Don't carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow."

And here are some additional great ways of dealing with any burdens in your life --

Accept that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue.

Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

If you can't be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.

If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to be kind to others.

Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live.

You may be only one person in the world, but you may also be the world to one person.

We could learn a lot from crayons... Some are sharp, some are pretty and some are dull. Some have weird names, and all are different colors, but they all have to live in the same box.

A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

- author | source unknown

in closing, i wanted to share a few more photos of my cherished friend, steph, who always handles life and stress with such beauty and grace.  her third baby is due in two weeks, while her husband is deployed (home mid-december).  and i'm so very, very excited to have been invited to photograph her family upon his return.