Vacation days are here! Autumn in Texas has proved to be the absolute best time of year to enjoy day trips around Central Texas. The Waco Zoo, just a quick hour from Fort Hood, is a wonderful, condensed, well organized zoo, perfect for toddlers and strollers. The animals are plentiful and their enclosures are just the right size for keeping even the shy and sleepy close up for viewing. On this particular Monday, we were one of about 5 families touring the loop. The Gibbons' monkeys were mocking a five alarm firehouse at full tilt. Though covered with algae, the otters were back in their watery enclosure and the slide that goes through their habitat remained our favorite stop for play and pictures. The rare photo of me with our youngest son was masterfully composed by my husband who is loving my new digital technology.

Everything in Texas is BIG, so why should Halloween be any different? I was advised to prepare for 2,000 trick-or-treaters, and yes, at least that many were in the neighborhood. Perhaps it was the lure of our neighborhood being closed to traffic. Or maybe it was the fact that all of the houses are close together, everyone decorates as though it were Christmas, and EVERYONE participates. It was very "Pleasantville-esque", and beyond charming! I thought that I would lose my toddler in the masses, or lose him in the dark, or he would run too fast and trip on his costume, or freak out when he had to wait to eat the candy, or get scared by the crazy high school kids dressed in goth attire ("were they really in costume?" I wondered. Alas, none of that occurred. We headed out right at 6pm while the dusky evening sunset still lit our way. We met large groups of ghouls and goblins, but nothing overwhelming. My little trick-or-treater was loud and clear at every house, said please and thank-you like a champ, and smiled at all the sites all the while proclaiming "Oh, I got chocolate! That's my favorite! Oh look, those are gummies! Those are my favorite! Look at the M&M's! I LOVE M&M's..." The little Fire Fighter became a lazy "carry me" kiddo after only a couple houses but once bribed with a lollipop he was back on his feet and happy as a clam to circumnavigate the whole neighborhood. The evening was picture perfect!

Photos By Karyn is undergoing some major web renovations, and the two year old in the house is no help when it comes to devoting time to the computer. Please pardon the mess as a variety of new logo ideas and web layouts change the appearance of my website from time to time over the coming weeks. The camera, I know how to use, the web design software, not so much! Bare with me and hopefully in the end I will find the polished and professional look I am after. All critiques welcome by the way, feel free to let me know if something looks terrible on your browser! Thanks!

Sometimes, when working with toddlers and small babies, there is a need for second chances. I experience this all the time with my own children who are 19 months apart in age. To date I have only three really good photos of my boys together, with neither child blinking, two smiles, and looking in the same general direction. My secret? Patience, and fruit snacks and other edible joys; a big brother will do quite a bit for the pleasure of one solitary fruit snack...

And so it was that this charming young man, on our first encounter, truly wanted nothing to do with his baby sister. It happens. Mama had expressed that her dream pictures were of the kiddos together and I tried my best to fulfill the request. We tried just about every way we could think of to coax him into the same frame or even in the background of the photo. No dice. A forced toddler will only turn ugly, quickly. Fortunately we had the opportunity to meet up once more and by the grace of the photography gods, our little man was more than obliging! A different day = a different child! He sat and cuddled like a champ and we were handsomely rewarded- pun intended! Enjoy Mama, I hope we got what you were after!

We have been blessed this past year with the gift of local Grandparents. My husband's parents live just 20 minutes away. Now, for some families, the idea of in laws living 20 minutes away is maybe a thorn in the side or an awkward inconvenience. However, for our family, their close proximity is an absolute gift. My heart lights up when my mother-in-law calls and asks if they can come over with Thai food, or even better, her own home cooked Japanese wonders! Pop visits frequently for brown bag lunches and a quiet swing on the back porch. A babysitter is just a phone call away. We frequently escape our routine for a drive over to the homestead, and evening spent in "the garden", countless hours exploring the many tiny wonderful treasures that embellish Bachi's (Japanese for Grandmother) counters and cupboards. Recently the family home survived a few weeks worth of construction and the end result is a lovely tiled patio with French doors. We spent the whole evening with the doors wide open, soaking up the warm sunshine and the cooler night air blowing in. The Baby showed off his new crawling skills and The Boy picked through a box of old trains and matchbox cars from his father's boyhood. When it was time to pack up for home The Boy announced "No thank you, I'll stay here." This from a boy who 10 months ago had severe separation anxiety! My favorite part of time shared is when my boys crawl up into someones arms for a cuddle, a story, a tickle, or a love and I get to witness the bonding between Grandparent and babe. It's even better when I actually have the forethought to have camera in hand.

I was SO excited after this shoot that I actually plugged into the laptop and was downloading the images off my camera on the drive home! The only problem with this idea is that I crested the back road coming back towards Fort Hood, driving into a gorgeous tangerine and cotton candy sunset, and a blackhawk helicopter rose up out of the trees in silhouette right in front of me and I had no camera to get the shot! What does Homer Simpson say? "Dope!"

This incredibly laid back family had not one, but two major hams competing for the lens. I mentioned to their mother that I've been wanting to do a shoot out at Belton Lake and she was quick to accept. The day was perfect. There was a cool breeze off the lake, evening sunshine, comfortable warm weather for bare toes and shoulders. The little man was VERY gracious for the camera, oodles of smiles and easy to please. Sweet baby girl was in love with the grass, the quilt, the tiny pebbles on the playground, and chocked full of gummy toothless grins. Thank you for inviting me to share in the joys that have been bestowed upon your family! Enjoy your sneak peek!

You are now looking at two reasons why haven't been blogging... The Baby has had many firsts this week. Among them: his first swing in the park, which made him cackle with laughter; his first successful effort to sit up by himself, which he has since mastered; his first time pulling up to standing completely alone, which came at the lake today, pulling himself up onto the soft top cooler, and then proceeding to open the top of the cooler to serve himself; his first bottle feeding with Mommy at the helm; and last but certainly not least- two new teeth! The teeth have caused many a sleepless night which in turn has caused "Mommy stupidity". "Mommy stupidity can be characterized by putting 2 1/2 year old little boys to bed without a diaper, taking children to the lake without a single towel, and completely forgetting an hourly care appointment made a week ago for this afternoon so Mommy could go swim laps. To The Boy's credit, he stayed dry the entire night without the diaper! To my credit, I did pack extra clothes for the lake and improvised the drying and cleaning of little ones with a burp cloth. But I cannot believe that I missed that appointment, a weekly appointment that I typically LIVE for- 2 whole hours child free for exercise and sanity. A blessing in disguise I guess as the lake was breezy, no more than 82 degrees, and my boys were on their best behavior. The Baby even napped for 40 minutes in the stroller by the beach allowing me to build an impressive sand castle with The Boy. Funny thing I can't seem to get over: even in the southern states, where the temperatures soar well into October and November, the beaches and outdoor pools still close on Labor Day!

There are some days where I feel a little bit older than usual. For example, when I hear from my Mother that someone has graduated from college and I know full well that I used to change their diapers. Today was one of those days.
Today was The Boy's first day of "preschool". I suppose we used to call it "the first day of school" when one started Kindergarten. In Germany you only celebrate the first day of "school" once, but in a high style that rivals Christmas. But as I have learned through casual observation, "school" is now a term used loosely to define any sort of regular daycare that one attends. I have a friend whose son has attended "school" since he was an infant. So by now he must be enrolling in AP classes... The Boy has started a two day program, but it's the same two days every week with the same schedule and it follows a "wee-learn" curriculum (no, they don't teach potty training), so by golly, we're calling it "school"!
I've dropped off and collected plenty of other people's children in my nanny days, but this is the first day that I dropped off my own son. To my surprise, there were no tears welling up in my eyes; ah shucks, I had to stifle the urge to sailor skip and click my heels as I departed down the corridor from the classroom- and boy would I have gotten some air if I had as I was pushing The Baby in the stroller! It's not that I don't love The Boy with all my heart and soul. It's not that we didn't have a fantastic summer filled with exciting outtings, picnics, and adventures. It's not that I don't still believe in the importance of my role as "stay at home mother". The little man has grown exponentially in his abilities to actually be helpful from time to time. But over the summer, as his daring/reckless/curious nature began to show itself, climbing to the top of the sofa for a better bounce, playing derby cars with the laundry basket and baby brother as the "driver", it became more and more clear that maybe it was time for The Boy to learn how to hold hands, how to walk in a line, how to eat lunch with his peers, and most importantly: how to appreciate his Mommy. Being ever so sensitive to the "big day" I spent the whole evening prior cutting his most favorite fruits into bite sized pieces, locking the cheese and turkey bites into little reusable, eco friendly, snap-and-go containers that he loves so much (the opening and closing of them more than what is inside). I packed two extra sets of undies and shorts, just in case. I stuffed it all, security blanket included, into his new construction truck backpack, and set it by the door. To my delight he emerged from the kitchen this morning announcing "The Boy's going hiking! Yeah!"
The Baby didn't follow the plan so well however (he was supposed to go to daycare too, giving me an entire morning alone), waking in the night with a green snotty nose, evident in his portrait, and a cough that would have made me look like a total jerk for leaving him in daycare. So The Baby tagged along for the adventure and thankfully, was a doll.
At first we were all systems go, arriving just a moment early to oggle at the playground and talk about our cool backpack. When someone else's child began crying we did waiver for a moment, The Boy's eyes brimmed with tears as I gave him a quick smooch and excused myself from the classroom. A good friend, also dropping her daughter for the first time, confirmed that those tears were just for show as two minutes later, when executing her own drop off, The Boy was happily playing and tearless!
When all was said and done, I got my wish; a quick and painless goodbye, an hour of girl talk and breakfast out. I lingered for an hour of peace and quiet in the city's new Barnes & Noble with The Baby slumbering in the stroller. I ate lunch in total silence at my kitchen table, I chewed and TASTED every bite. I posted this blog well before midnight. Perfection!

We all know the saying "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." My first born, The Boy, is a carbon copy of his handsome father. He has sandy brown hair and big brown eyes, the exact same head shape and he tans before summer has even begun. So when I found out I was pregnant with another little boy I admit to a brief moment of disappointment that there would be no "mini me". However, genetics are such a funny thing! From the moment The Baby was born he has lived up to his "Burton" characteristics (Burton is a family name on my side); with every passing day I smile a little wider as his hair becomes blonder, his eyes become greener, and his height continues to exceed the length of his pants. It's not just his looks either, the similarities are everywhere and especially pronounced in his love for "lovey" and left thumb sucking. I had "sunshine", a baby blanket quilted by my mother, that I took everywhere and fingered unconsciously until I drifted off to sleep. Hand The Baby "lovey", a small fleece square with a giraffe head, and he quickly finds the petal soft ears, plunks the thumb happily into his tender gums and away he goes to la la land. I've made the comment to enough people to feel obligated to share photos of each of us at approximately the same age. If you don't see a resemblance, please don't burst my bubble...

"It's date night tonight and you're taking Mommy to a show!" I told my 2 1/2 year old son. He had no idea what any of that meant but he was more than obliging to follow Mommy out of the house, quickly realizing that the baby was staying with Grand Bob and he would now have my undivided attention for the next two hours or more. Sesame Street recently visited Ft Hood with a song and dance performance that I am happy to report had an outstanding turnout. So often our family has ventured out to USO shows and free events for military families to find the attendance almost embarrassing to the performers. The number of toddlers and babies in attendance was staggering but we were able to meet up with bosom buddy Sydney for what would be the twosome's first auditorium style, lights out, live performance. We arrived slightly early, 5:30 for a 6pm show, to ensure good seating. The staff from the USO was delighted to present us with spinning Elmo toys, or as Julie and I quickly dubbed them "spinning nipple whippers!" The next 25 minutes were spent battling the battery operated weapons of the evening, trading children who wanted to be held by the mother that was NOT theirs, and bribing good behavior with M&M's and the world's longest game of Simon Says. FINALLY Elmo appeared! Natural light photography, in the dark, with a toddler on your lap, and a "spinning nipple whipper" doing what "spinning nipple whippers" do best, is not conducive to good photography. However, I did manage to catch a little twinkle in the eyes of our little ones as they gazed out across the stage and got their first glimpse of a seven foot tall puppet. I can't say that it was glee, but it WAS special. Elmo has tighter security than visiting diplomats; sadly, there was no meet and greet or photo op with any of the characters...

We've recently returned from a much needed and very restful vacation to New York and I find our family is overwhelmed with the task of unpacking and settling back into a routine here at home. After nearly two months of having loving Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, and close friends graciously assist in the waking, feeding, changing, wiping, bathing, entertaining, kissing, hugging, ins and outs of life with my boys, reality has settled in. We are once again on our own, the house is oddly calm and relatively quiet, but only because those cute little bums are tucked soundly into bed. Tomorrow will certainly begin early, demand much more of me than I have stored, and I may just have to take The Girl's advice: good eye protection and a confident gaze can prepare you for any obstacle!

I love my parents. I love to visit the home where I grew up. I love being a mother. I love combining all of these marvelous gifts from God into one afternoon! Saturday afternoon we celebrated my father's much anticipated retirement. More anticipated by whom, my Dad, my Mom, my brother and I, or his Grandsons, is yet to be seen... On Sunday, we wasted no time in getting Dad up to the camp for a huge, juicy, grilled steak, fresh sweetcorn, and The Boy's first fishing lesson. The shocking truth: we filled the entire van with gear, clothes, pack-and-plays, bed-rails, toys, food, lovies, binkies, fishing poles, and an excersaucer for good measure, to travel 30 minutes for one afternoon of fun. Had it not started to downpour the moment the steak hit the grill we would still be at the camp for a slumber party...

Perhaps the most special part of the day for me was to watch my Dad teach my son how to fish. Now, I'm no sissy, I can hook a worm with the best of them. And as the fish continued to evade capture and steal worms from my Dad's eager line I surprised even myself and fought back the urge to show the boys how a fish is really caught. Instead, I hid behind my camera and let my son have his "dude time" with his GrandBob. I grew up in a very outdoorsman kind of family and to see our family traditions of fishing, hiking, cookouts, campfires, camping, all being passed onto my children with the loving and attentive help of my parents is truly a gift to my heart.

The Boy will no doubt be wanting to adorn every dish at every meal from now on with candles, since tonight we celebrated my Dad's birthday as well, and he will probably be asking if Santa uses a GPS system too since we hid Dad's birthday presents out in the woods and made him use his retirement gift, a GPS system, to go find them... I definitely see "geo-cache'ing" in the future with the boys. This is just a glimpse of the very special memories made this weekend as our family embarks on another chapter of our lives - "Dad's retired... Now we can go tent camping in the rain ANY day of the week!"

Our weekends don't get much sweeter than this! Yes, these children have the same parents. Yes, they came from the same gene pool. I am in awe of how God gave me two boys, two beautifully different individuals, and two times the trouble! I am also amazed that on this particular morning they were laying next to each other without needing a referee. New York was down in the 60's last night resulting in the appearance of brand new, matching, long sleeved Cowboy pj's, THANK YOU MEMOM for up-ing the cute factor! The pajama party in Mommy's bed started around 6am when the wee-one decided that his hobbit tummy was ready for First Breakfast. No, I have no plans to cut The Boy's hair, regardless of what Major Dad has to say. I have a new opinion on rearing boys these days. Having the second baby this year has significantly lowered my standards. But I'm growing quite fond of shaggy hair and retro shorts (The Boy's cargo shorts are usually long enough to cover his knees- but his Uncle's shorts from the 70's are mid-thigh perfection!) I also love being in New York, away from Texas fire ants, where The Boy can spend the month running barefoot in the grass. I also believe, and this is an important one, that there is a time and a place for every man to own a Speedo swimsuit - that time is now, from about age 2-4 only. It not only makes potty training a little easier, but it makes for many adorable "little bun" moments, which will serve as incredible blackmail material when he is about 16 or 17 years old...

On this cloudy day, a welcome change from high temperatures and humidity, I found myself with one child down for a nap and one child just up from a nap. I guess Mommy isn't napping today... The Baby, still a willing model for the camera, obliged me and played nude in the grass while I putzed with unfamiliar camera settings. The result? Images of my sweet angel that epitomize his sunny, infectious personality. Unlike my moody two year old, The Boy, whose adventurous and inquisitive brain often finds trouble where trouble never existed, The Baby is sweeter than a candy shop, mellower than Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb", and smiles more than the average beauty queen. If first borns were this lovely, EVERYONE would be trying for more! The Baby makes getting out of bed in the morning easy. For those of you who love my babies as much as I do, we've had many a milestone this week; 7 month old Baby is now sitting up on his own, he scooches forwards and backwards and is miliseconds away from crawling, tooth number two will probably push through the gumline by bedtime tonight. The Baby is definitly going to have hazel eyes and the hair is leaning toward strawberry blond. The Boy might be a carbon copy of his father but fair Baby is all mine! The Baby is my sunshine on this cloudy day!

One final milestone, I've always wondered when The Boy, the mockingbird, would mimic breastfeeding, afterall, he mimics everything else that I do, the good and the bad... I'm simultaneously embarrased and proud that he knows how to assemble a breastpump. Well, it happened. Monday night after dinner he climbed up into one of the porch chairs with my boppy pillow around his waist and says to his Grandmother: "Memom, help baby!" My mother obliged him and put The Baby in The Boy's lap. The Boy lifted his shirt for The Baby and says "Boy feed baby nipples, baby bite it off!" Who needs a show like Last Comic Standing when you could just move in with a talking toddler!

Here is a sneak peek at today's shoot with tiny little Cyrus John. He's a shy fellow, not one for the camera, not one for posing nude, and at just one week old he already prefers to be outside, in the middle of a construction project... That's no surprise when your Grandfather owns a lumber company and your father is in the middle of a major home renovation. Cyrus was literally having no part of our photo shoot until we wrapped him up and layed him out on the newly stripped wrap around porch. He is clearly at peace on a good firm hard wood floor!

This little man has a special place in my heart. Cyrus's Mommy, Caitlin, and I used to live just doors apart. We used to spend the summers in my family pool, or riding bikes up to the corner store to buy popsicles and loads of candy. She taught me how to do manicures. We caught lightning bugs and watched Kevin Costner's Robin Hood until the VHS tape broke apart from over use. Caitlin married another dear friend of mine and Cyrus is their first born. I am rarely in the upstate area until autumn. I flew into town the day before Cyrus was born. What a surprise and a blessing to share this special new addition in Caitlin's life; such a treasure to lend her my own experiences as a mother as she embarks on this marvelous journey of raising a son. Thank you for sharing your precious bundle! Enjoy!

They say that the third time is a charm, call now to induce your labor! Two pregnant mothers in one month, both hoping for one last set of maternity belly photos, schedule a session two weeks before their due date. I always call the night before to check on how everyone is feeling and to remind the expectant mother not to wear anything that will leave strap marks or waistband indentations, and wouldn't you know, I get the mother-in-law answering the phone: "Oh Karyn, you haven't heard? They are delivering right now!"
The second session happened to be a dear friend of mine with whom I attended grades K-12, one of the very few classmates I keep in touch with throughout my many moves across the world. I was blessed to have the oportunity to visit with this very proud new mother in the hospital the day after her first son was born. We may not have gotten maternity photos, but here is a sneak peek at Cyrus John's first moments in this fantastic world!