Stella | FOUR

Stella Sky’s 4th birthday photographs.

4 1/2 months late. Mom fail.

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Her initials and age.

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I told her to sit on the rock. She did and then purposely gave me this pose. Natural.

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Her footprints.

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Always in the water. Forever our little beach baby.

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Her little smirks get us every time.

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Still can’t believe she’s FOUR.

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Her silly personality (and road rash) captured perfectly.

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Carefree. Parental win.

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And then she rubbed her eyes and I saw her as a bitty baby again.

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It didn’t last long. After our photoshoot I looked in the rearview mirror feeling more than sentimental and she gave me this look. I swear I seen her heading off to college. Tears. Like Niagara Falls.

Grandma

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If I shared every memory and great thing about my Grandma we would no doubt be here for hours, days, and possibly weeks. She was without a doubt a one of a kind lady that I know inspired us all in one way or another. She made her presence known in a room and not because she was flashy, she never liked the spotlight, but her genuine attitude about life made you want her company even more. One of my earliest memories I can recall is of her. I can still see her seated at the head of the table while friends gathered round and they all laughed contagiously at her snappy comebacks. It was a moment for me that I realized my Grandma was well-loved and attracted those who wanted to hear the honest truth, because whether we liked it or not she was going to give it to you.

I have the honored privilege to say that I am her first grandchild. Something she wouldn’t want me to brag about, but I think it’s important to share this pivotal moment in her life. She took her role very seriously. So serious in fact that when she would introduce herself to new people she would often refer to herself as Grandma. She loved her grandkids so deeply that she would do anything for us. Well, anything as long as it involved a lesson. She was a great teacher and much like a great teacher, she knew our weaknesses and our strengths. She knew how to encourage those strengths and gave us tools to help in areas that we were weak. At a very early age I was a worrier. I still am if I’m being truthful. She knew this. She knew early on that this would be my biggest struggle. And even then, in my single digit age she provided me tools to help. In this case it was a worry box. A place where I could write all my worries, place in them in the box, close the box and not worry about them anymore. She was insanely heartfelt like that, but not for too long because in her eyes she need not be too serious for very long. The last time we saw her walking around on her own, she made sure to do a crazy little dance to ensure that we need not worry about her health. I know this was all for my daughters’ benefit as they laughed their butts off but I know this silly little antic was for my benefit too. “Don’t worry, be happy, Ash!” she’d say and then continue to sing “Don’t worry, be happy!” with her own beat box version of the melody.

Trying to pin down one particular story or special memory of my Grandma would be hard, but I at least wanted to elaborate on one. I struggled on which story to choose. Do I share about the time she put me up on the kitchen counter and taught me the importance of criss-cross fork marks on peanut butter cookies? Or the multiple times she would do donuts in an abandoned parking lot. I promised we had our seatbelts on. Or the time when I realized my Grandma was fearless when she picked up a snake while we were on a hike. It wasn’t poisonous. Or so she says. Maybe I should share about all the times us kids travelled with her in the RV and would play the Yakety-Yak Don’t Talk Back song by The Coasters on repeat until we reached our final camping destination. She never tired of us screaming all the lyrics. Perhaps I should share more about the times I would stay the weekend at her house and she would have the pantry stocked with popcorn and chocolate chip cookie ingredients. As well as, a very LONG list of things she wanted to achieve while I was there. I’ll never forget the time that I returned from a camping trip and told her the news that I out fished the Cooper boys. The high-fives were endless. She loved to fish and she was all about that girl power. (For the record it was 21 fish!) She loved a good competition. Especially when it came to the game called Spoons. I know some of you have played with her and lived to tell about it. I’ve got a tiny little scar on my right index finger from a viscous game of spoons where she drew blood. Like I said, she likes a good competition. And she obviously never held back. She never held back from pulling pranks either. She was the QUEEN of pranks! I got her back once though. I got the clever idea to sew her luggage zippers together while she was visiting. As you know most pieces of luggage have two zippers to an opening. Well, I sewed both of them together so as one zipper was opening the other was closing. I’d like to think she was proud of me, but I have never heard so much cursing in my life and I didn’t dare ask if I did a good job. When we moved out of state and then again out of the country she was nothing short of supportive. Well, that was until I started having babies. Her role of Grandma was promoted to great-grandma, or “Gigi.” She never missed a Skype call to us in Japan and always put on the best puppet shows for Stella. When we moved back to the states with Stella and newborn Ruby we were stationed only a two-hour drive away. Grandma didn’t hesitate to make it part of her schedule to visit us once a week. She made sure she was never a burden and pushed David and I out of the house so we could have a date night while she soaked up every bit of our girls while cleaning house. She said it was a blessing to be around them and to help around the house. I never questioned it because, well, have you ever questioned my Grandma? When she was diagnosed with lung cancer she still made her rounds to visit us. I didn’t dare stop her. I knew visiting us was what she wanted most. She was royally upset the time she visited after her first chemo treatment. I made sure the house was spic-and span and there wasn’t one drop of clothing for her to wash. She was MAD. I didn’t make that mistake again. I knew deep down keeping busy is what made her feel most alive and I wouldn’t do anything to make her feel anything but that. Even if that meant me reluctantly keeping enough dirty laundry on hand to keep her satisfied.

One particular memory that keeps popping out at me is one that took place when I was a teenager. There’s nothing razzle-dazzle about it. It was a cloudy day. I think it even rained. We were visiting my Uncle Roy. Everyone was riding quads out front on a dirt track. I knew before long my grandma would ask if I wanted to ride and I already knew I was going to say no. You see, apart from being a worrier I was also an observer. I liked to observe and learn. That was me and I was proud of that trait. I wanted to figure out how exactly the quads worked and how everyone was riding them. I had never ridden a quad before so I was giving myself my very own lesson by observation. Sure enough she approached me and asked. I told her I just wanted to watch for now. Deep down I didn’t want to make a mistake. I was worrying again. It didn’t take her long before she approached me again. This time she was stern and looked me dead in the eye and said, “You’re never going to learn if you don’t make mistakes.” She already knew how my brain was operating. “Watching doesn’t give you experience. Are you just going to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone have fun?” She was starting to get pushy. Like some of us have experienced. I replied with a big fat “No!” The kind of “no” that only know-it-all teenagers know how to muster up. I sat there sulking knowing all too well she was in fact right and that I needed to do it. So I did. And I had a blast. It was far more fun than watching everyone else. Like she said. Her words that day changed my attitude about life. From then on I wasn’t as scared to try new things. Experiencing was part of learning. I tried out for Drama. Got a part. I ran for Student Government. Got the position. I even held positions in the Christian Club as well as Yearbook. My high school years would have looked a bit grim for not having stepped out and put fear of the unknown aside. I’ve of course carried this same attitude with me since. And it’s all because she pushed me out of my comfort zone that day. Her initials were: PP. Pamela Payne. I think we can agree that that can also stands for Persistent and Pushy. Two traits she never denied. She pushed to get you out of your comfort zone. She saw our potential. What’s life if you stay in your cozy spot? How are you supposed to grow? You see Grandma was never about herself. She was about everyone else. She wouldn’t stay cozy for her sake. She knew others could use her God-given gifts and out she went to share them despite the possibility of being a little uncomfortable. She was like a walking inspirational billboard. You know the ones. One big photo, one huge word, and a cheesy saying underneath that really did make you think.

One of the last deep conversations I had with her was about heaven. She knew she was going there and loves God so very much, but was still troubled with one thought. She said “God created me so he must know that I like to stay busy, right? He better have a job for me.” I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. I asked if she wanted to travel around heaven. You know, scope it out. Adventure. Meet Moses. She said, “No, I’d like to have a job.” The more I thought about it and how silly it sounded. She was right. AGAIN. God created her this way and I’m sure He’s got her doing something right up her alley and I have a sneaking suspicion it involves all of us. I know there are rough roads ahead for all of us and when we lean on Him and ask for guidance Grandma is going to be up there all persistent and pushy making sure we get the help we need. I’m sure she’ll have made the best of angel friends and will ask favors on more than one occasion to send us messages of love and encouragement.

I’m thankful for that persistent attitude. I’m thankful she pushed me to be the best me. I’m thankful my husband got to be one of her grandkids and got to experience all that goes with that grand title. I’m thankful to see the same thrill seeking always ride rides with your arms up craziness in Stella. I’m thankful that every time we sing Jesus Loves Me, Ruby lights up and says, “Gigi” over and over. I’m thankful I see traces of her everyday. Either it be from the bible verses she’s hidden around my house that I stumble upon or from the hummingbirds that make visits to my bedroom window even though there are no flowers or nectar present. Overall I’m thankful for her legacy. The legacy of living life for others and not caring one bit how messy it gets. So please, go out and keep her legacy alive. Send a hand-written letter to someone you love or buy dinner for a homeless person. Remind someone that they’re special. Step out of your comfort zone for something greater than you. It doesn’t have to necessarily be big. The little things will do enough justice to keep my beloved Grandma’s legacy alive.

Family Camping Trip | Summer 2015

We’ve been talking about doing a big family camping trip since we returned to the states a year ago and this past weekend it HAPPENED! It was a fun-filled weekend that was planned on a whim. Magically two campsites were available and Jane Wayne Day (aka Marine Wive’s Day) was switched to a Family Day midweek. The planning couldn’t have been more perfect! I think it’s safe to say that all SEVENTEEN of us had an amazing time.

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The family that stays together, camps together.

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Early birds catch the Family Day worm. It tasted like dirt, sweat, and tasty BBQ.

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It was a bumpy ride but we had fresh air (YES!) so we didn’t puke. High five.

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First weapon I’ve EVER fired. Not a bad choice to start off with if I say so myself.

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Ruby and her “Bertney” cooling off after our full day in the heat playing Marines.

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A little chub. A little sass. Perfection.

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Stella and her Emma. Cousins are the greatest and our girls are so blessed to have the best.

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The need to explore is strong in this one.

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Catching waves brings out his million dollar smile hardly anyone ever sees.

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Meet my boyfriend.

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Volleyball catch with Braelyn.image15 (1)

They look more and more alike every single day.

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Drawn to the sunset as if her middle name was Sky or something.

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We’re all sorts of happy when we sleep outdoors and wake up here. I mean, look! Everyone is smiling.

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Waking up to the dolphins makes it all the more magical.

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Had to save the best for the last. I couldn’t pick just one, so you get my favorite three of our favorite seven. The last one may take the cake though. Brett and Ruby are over it. Outtakes are always winners in my opinion.

Yosemite | Mother’s Day Weekend | Part 4

DAY 4 CONTINUED | Yosemite Valley picnic and Glacier Point.

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Kite flying in front of El Capitan.

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Relaxing on the log and watching a real cliffhanger. It was punnier at the moment. This photo gives zero justice to how majestic El Capitan looks in person.

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This is as close as I could get with my 200mm.

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“Ruby flies in Yosemite” number FOUR.

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A fort for two (and maybe a third) made of iris’. Totally unstaged.

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There’s no where I’d rather be on Mother’s Day than watching the kiddos run circles in this meadow. Photo credit: Lindsey Kettenton.

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Our littlest adventurer.

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Not sure what her fascination was with this very tree, but she was smitten. We joked that she’s a tree hugger.

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And then she hugged it. I’m not making this up.

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My thrill seeker. My wearer of emotions on her sleeve. Forever my little wildflower. She’s a hard one to tame when she’s in her element. The wildness within comes out and despite its disadvantages, I love it all the same.

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These people. We love them.

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“This is the boy I was telling you about, Dad.” It looks like she’s tattling, but I promise she just excited to see him.

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Flying propeller planes with the birds. Or “bird” I should say.

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Yosemite Valley essentials. Pocket kite not pictured.

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Climbing trees is awesome! Until your fearlessness falls by the wayside and you realize falling could hurt really, really bad.

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Glacier Point! I have too many, but this may be my most favorite view in Yosemite. Having him in the photo makes it even better. Bow chicka wow wow. P.s. It was freezing, but we were headed home. Rainbows forever.

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The only thing to soothe a toddler from waking too early from a nap (oh the tears!) is letting her tickle her little sister. After, it was non-stop adventure from these two. The stories, the lizard, the squirrel, and then tears again.

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I know some may be wondering, “Why Yosemite again?” We want to explore all over, but Yosemite is like an enthralling book that you can’t put down. We may have finished two chapters now, but the book is still unfinished. We can’t wait to create even more memories here by exploring new areas and visiting the same nostalgic places that make our nature loving souls come alive. I’m not entirely sure we’ll ever be able to finish reading this gorgeous book, but that’s not going to stop us from trying. “Let’s face it, the desire to explore and see new places is something that burns inside of just about everyone of us. We’re nothing short of blessed to live in a world so big and abundant in beauty.” Until next time, Yosemite.

THE END.

Yosemite | Mother’s Day Weekend | Part 3

DAY 3 CONTINUED | Tunnel View and other views.

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Obligatory Tunnel View photo because that view never gets old. Half Dome is hiding behind the clouds and pretty please don’t judge my messy mop. It had been a long exciting day.

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“Ruby flies in Yosemite!” number three!

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Met in Virginia, lived in Okinawa together, and now living it up as long distance neighbors in the Golden State. She’s beautiful, kind, and absolutely hilarious. So thankful the Lord crossed our paths.

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My wildflower running free. Photo credit: Lindsey Kettenton

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Photobombing pro.

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My bae. Man braces are HAWT. Photo credit: Josh Kettenton

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Bridalveil Fall at sunset. I mean, WOW. God, you are seriously amazing.

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I love driving through Yosemite Valley in the evening. There’s practically no one there. Serious perfection. Another photobombing win.

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Like I shared, the valley is oh so quiet and tranquil in the evenings. I didn’t want to leave.

DAY 4 | Wildflower picking, Yosemite Valley picnic, and Glacier Point.

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Breakfast alfresco never looked more delicious. Those cheeks.

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The eldest kiddos and mommas picked wildflowers. Happy Mother’s Day to us!

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On the hunt for those precious petals.

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Al fine! The flowers are already pressed (as of today) and ready to be put in a frame. I think I will make this a fun tradition for all of our big camping trips. I’ll be hanging it in the girls’ room.

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Too busy to smile, but she did hold it up like a champ.

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Packing up is hard work. Poor babe was exhausted. Sweet dreams, Ruberry

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Packed and ready for home, but not until we complete another day’s worth of adventure. Special thanks to our Jeep Compass for getting us places safely. No, I didn’t get paid for that.

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A look at our Mother’s Day picnic. No greater place, than one of God’s greatest playgrounds.

Yosemite | Mother’s Day Weekend | Part 4 coming tomorrow! 

Yosemite | Mother’s Day Weekend | Part 2

DAY 3 | Yosemite Falls and Mariposa Grove

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They’re very proud of their Christmas tree. They decorated this Charlie Brown-esque tree with leaves, pine cones, pine needles and even topped it with a yellow shovel for the star.

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Taking mobile to a whole new level.

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Follow the little ones to the Falls!

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One, two, and the third is off and running.

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Happy dancing on rocks is better than doing the happy dance on the level ground.

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Us and Lower Yosemite Falls. Not pictured: Hundreds of other tourists.

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People and squirrel watching.

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Massive and stunning. The guy in the red shirt helps with perspective.

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“Bye-bye waterfall! Goodbye!”

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The tree and Stella have a lot in common. Willpower.

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Sometimes we hug it out if I see a tantrum on the horizon.

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Forever exploring.

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Our little bear cub grabbed the jelly jar in a blink. I didn’t stop her. I needed this photo. Look at her grin!

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Adding another “Ruby flies in Yosemite” to the books.

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A look at Upper Yosemite Falls before heading south.

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Mariposa Grove. If these sequoias could talk…

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There’s something breathtaking about natural destruction.

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Especially when new life rises.

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The Grizzly Giant! I spy my family and friends.

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These two ham faces have too much fun.

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Us.

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The littlest one and I among the gorgeously giant sequoias.

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A train of deer bid us farewell.

Yosemite | Mother’s Day Weekend | Part 3 coming tomorrow!

Yosemite | Mother’s Day Weekend | Part 1

DAY 1 | Our second Yosemite adventure started in the afternoon on a Thursday. As we started nearing our campsite just outside the west gate of Yosemite the weather made a turn for the worse. What started out as sprinkling, turned to heavy downpour, and then snow. We had been on the road for seven hours at this point, the girls needed out, David’s face turned to worry, and I began to pray out loud. I was freaking out! We’re tent campers. Sure David and I would camp in the snow, but we would NEVER do so with our babes. Thankfully our campsite had available cabins with heat. Did you catch that last part? Heat. YES! Prayers answered. We made our cabin a home while the girls ran amuck inside. It was symphony of chaos and thankfulness. Despite the intense day, we found ourselves in the middle of an empty Yosemite Valley that evening. Not sure where we got the energy to do so, but it was glorious. It was meant to be. God knew we needed to be fully surrounded by His awesome creation. It lifted our spirits and we felt rejuvenated. I only captured a few photos from the day, one of which I shared on Instagram that night. The picture says it all. The emotional roller coaster of a day was wiped from our faces and we couldn’t wait to explore. We watched three young coyotes play in the neighboring fields before driving back to our campsite. It snowed beautifully all the way home.

DAY 2 | Snow fun and Bridalveil Fall.

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Our darling girls had only seen snow once. And that was on the drive up! We knew we needed to carve a small part of the day to let them experience it firsthand.

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“Momma, I just LOVE the snow!”

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Following our fearless leader. On more than one occasion she requested she go by the name, “Pocahontas.”

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These boots were made for walking. And exploring. And adventuring. And any other word that means awesome outdoor trekking.

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Her cuteness melted the snow. And our hearts.

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And then she flew! Be prepared for a series called “Ruby flies in Yosemite!”

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Hunting for deer with their eyes at the beginning of our small hike to Bridalveil Fall.

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Spotted! Actually, no more spots. Hello, young buck.

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Bridalveil Fall. The people hiking through rock towards it doesn’t give it enough justice. Large, in-charge, and oh so glorious.

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Speechless.

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My tribe.

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My girls.

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Nature’s see-saw.

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Her first real hike since she can walk and already looking like a pro.

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We ate lunch with a very respectful raven. It didn’t have three eyes in case you wondering. Stella, Ruby, and the raven, Edgar, became immediate friends. And not just because they randomly dropped remnants of their pb&j’s. We were all kind of sad to say goodbye.

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After lunch exploring. Look at the smiles! Swoon. Edgar was in the nearby tree.

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Talk about planting firmly on a rock. Trees located on tippy-tops of mountains make my heart happy.

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We’ve got neighbors back at camp!

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Reunited and it feels so good!

Yosemite | Mother’s Day Weekend | Part 2 coming tomorrow!

Adventures | The Flower Fields in Carlsbad

Once you’ve lived in Okinawa and attended too many flower festivals to count you can’t help but crave another petal filled experience. Japan and dear friend, Amanda, no doubt influenced and helped grow my love of flowers during the three years we lived overseas. Our home is constantly filled with real flowers. We have a flower budget. Not even kidding! Sadly, there aren’t many flower festivals here, but we’re fortunate enough to live near a huge flower field that opens for two months out of the year. I’m talking 50 acres of blooming goodness!

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Our flower loving gal was smitten.

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Seriously. It was love at first sight!

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Ridiculously beautiful ranunculus blooms.

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Give me all the pretties!

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Our baby isn’t looking much like a baby these days.

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Ranunculus fields forever.

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I wanted to snuggled up right here with a pen and paper and start writing a book.

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There were hundreds to choose from, but this was my favorite rose in the rose garden.

Birthday | Ruby Turns ONE

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A look at Ruby Rose’s intimate garden party.

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Menu: fresh fruit, sandwich bar, panzanella salad, zuppa toscana (hearty soup on the stove), homemade blueberry and apple galettes (previous picture), and lemon blueberry cake. Can you tell blueberries are her favorite?

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Ruby Rose’s first birthday cake.

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Everyone was able to take home a flower planting kit. Kit included: tin pot, beach rocks, soil, and a flower packet.

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My whole world.

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Thanks to my sweet niece, she captured this beauty and I am forever thankful. (She also captured the previous photo on my big camera too!) “Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear Ruby…”

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Just a little taste.

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Filled with blueberries. Obviously.

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In her own little cake devouring world.

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I could kiss that messy face all day everyday.

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These girls are my girls’ favorites. Minus one cousin.

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She was spoiled to say the least.

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She was all about it. The joyful squeals were endless.

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Her beloved ball that big sister is hijacking. That $2 ball was the present winner for sure.

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Large gift bags keep kiddos occupied just as much as boxes.

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While the one-year-old napped the big girls acted out their teenage years. Heaven help us.

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Awake, happy, and ready to ride her new tricycle!

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Radio Flyer twinning. How cute is this?

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And after all the guests left they rode bikes together, shared an ice cream cone together, and loved on each other. These two are the sweetest sisters. It was a perfect ending to Ruby’s birthday festivities.