Sunday, August 28, 2011

Beach baby, beach baby, there on the sand...

Well, it’s been nearly two months since we went on our summer beach trip, but for the sake of timely blogging pretend we just got back - I’m all tanned up, we are still shaking sand out of our bags, I’m wishing for a crab cake every night, and Harper is still asking to go “fast fast” in the tide pools. My computer is being uber-slow with pics right now so I'll do a second post with more photos, but for now I'll just throw a few in this post here and there for your viewing enjoyment.

Seriously ya’ll, I’m a beach lover. L-O-V-E-R. Beach trips were par for the course for me as a kid, which I now realize is a huge privilege and is something I want very much for my own family. I love it all - the smell, the sound, the seafood, the water, the waves, and just the general sense that there is not much else to do but, well, be on the beach. I’ve been to a lot of different beaches, from Myrtle Beach, to Hilton Head, to Kiawah, to Fripp Island, the Outer Banks, to Sunset, Kure Beach, Florida beaches, Texas beaches, and a few dots on the map here and there and I have to say, I think we have finally landed on the beach the best suits us as the Leathers family, and Ocean Isle is it. Eric and I have spent a week at the beach for 3 summers in a row and they either felt too busy (aka Myrtle) or too fancy (aka Hilton Head), and Ocean Isle was somewhere in between. It’s simple enough that you are not distracted by arcades, lame sportsbars, or 25 stores all named some variation of Wings/Eagles that all sell overpriced pooka shells and airbrushed t-shirts, but it is not so swank that you felt obligated to wear seersucker in excess or capris covered in palm trees or dolphins (sorry Lily Pulitzer but I simply cannot stand behind you and your pastel nonsense).

Eric surprised me with this trip (holla to the hubby) so he did ALL the planning. Now Eric is learning to love the beach but it has traditionally been more my thing so the fact that he pulled it off SO WELL was impressive. My parents and mother-in-law joined us which was awesome because they are great company and it freed us up to play in the water and go to dinner. We went to the beach the exact same week when I was preggo with Harper so the feeling of balancing the boogie board under my belly and digging holes in the sand so I could lay on my stomach was all too familiar, but really doesn’t bother me in the least. It stormed a couple of evenings which made for rough waters the following morning which is JUST how I like it. When it comes to bathing suits while pregnant, there is the “cover your belly as if to deny you are pregnant ” camp, and the “rock that belly you sexy mama” camp and I am somewhere in between. I let that belly hang out via my black Target two-piece (I am so predictable) but it’s no string-bikinni ala Posh Beckham (who, by the way, named her daughter Harper! I mean, I know I do not corner the market on the name but Kelly Kapowski, Doogie Howser, and a Spice Girl now all have daughters named Harper. Cheapens it a little, no? No. You’re right. It doesn’t. )

Harper was a trip. Now, don’t force a girl in the water. She’s not having that. I should have named her Piper because she would scurry around that beach like a little sandpiper. She’s a pipsqueak (tall but tiny at the same time) so watching those little legs go go go was hysterical to me. But give her time and space and push her just a little each day and by day 3 she strolled right into the surf and let the waves break over. I was a proud mama. We really don’t want our kids to live in fear, even if it means they get hurt more often. What’s a broken bone if you foster a sense of adventure in your child, right? Well, at least we think so.

People have asked us a lot how we get such great beach pics of our girl (or just precious pics of her in general) and trust me, I am not even an ameteur photographer. Not even close. But a couple rules of thumb and you can go from ordinary pics to having so many that are what I like to call “frame-worthy” you won’t know what to do with yourself. I am hoping for a digital SLR camera one day, but we’re not there yet. In the meantime our camera is more than nice enough. So here goes tips from a girl who doesn’t know much about photography:

1) Snap Away. We probably took 200-300 pics that week. Of course we will trash a good portion of them, but we ended up with 30 or so total keepers. So click away and sift through them later.

2) Lighitng. I know enough about photography to know that lighting is everything. So make a point to take a lot of pics in the morning and in the evening. The way the sun dances on the surf at those times of day literally captivates me.

3) Close ups people. I’m not saying every shot needs to be of the face or even waist up, but what you don’t want is some wide shot with strangers and beach gear in the background. So create the moment by moving around and zooming in.

4) Styling. Okay, I know this is a little ridiculous to think of how to style your kiddos for a shoot but I do think it matters. For example, with Harper I put her in a ruffly yellow skirt with a yellow flower in her hair and didn’t care that she sat in the water in it b/c it is so worth a the pic. With the boy on the way I’m imagining a pair of tattered khaki shorts and nothing else or when they are teeny tiny just a solid onesie or striped trunks. The point is not to make the most stylish kid but to create a timeless moment and a shirt with a big Disney character on it doesn’t exactly do that.

5) Editing. If you don’t have a Mac, you should. Iphoto is so simple and so good. A boost of color here, an antique finish there, and voila - ordinary pictures become extra special. Now granted, an actual photographer with actual skills would know how to just take extra special pics without the help of editing, but I am no such photographer so in the meantime I have no shame with getting by with a little help from my iphoto friends. I’m sure there are other good editing programs out there for you non-Mac folks (Photoshop, of course, but I’m sure there are less expensive, less involved programs, too).

Now I totally think there is also value to just capturing your kids as they are - playing with their favorite toys, wearing whatever, doing their everyday sort of stuff. But if you are making a point to do a little mini-shoot there’s a few things that can go a long way.

So goodbye warm sand, seasprays, and breaking surf. You called. We answered. And we shall return! And next time we’ll bring a beachgirl and a beachboy along with us.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Just as You Are.

Well I've had this blog post written for over two weeks but keep delaying posting it b/c I am waiting on pics of Harper from my friend Sharon over at smittenphotography. But I figured I better keep the blog momentum going and post without a pic and will be sure to upload every scrumptious image once they arrive. So if you can bear through a picture-less post (i know, who likes those?), then read on!

Our dear friends Nancy and Jonathan got married at the end of May and everything surrounding that wedding was so special for Eric and I. From walking though premarital counseling with them, to Eric performing the wedding, to the amazing stay at the AMAZING Primalnd, it was full of so much of what we love - the privilege of walking through life with dear friends in hopes of knowing Jesus more because of it, and the inevitably sweet memories that accompany this kind of journey. And speaking of walking, it’s a good thing Harper started to just a couple months before their big day because she had her first go at being at flower girl in their wedding. Nancy has fabulous taste so together we landed on a style of dress we found online at J.Crew (which, btw I just learned there’s such thing called J-Boat, so the crew of a J-boat would be called the J.Crew. Oh wait, everyone knew that but me? Typical.). Anyways, Nancy’s tailor-friend was able to whip together an exact replica of the dress for UNBELIEVABLY cheap and we ended up with the most delicate, ivory, satin, shift dress, with subtle pleats and a navy ribbon around the waist. The first time she put it on I lost my breath. It was as if the dress enhanced her innocence.

We didn’t stress too much about practicing for her trek down the aisle (which was a long one at First Baptist Church). Eric taught her her to walk while saying “hi” to friends, holding her basket, and to high-five her daddy at the end of the aisle (since he would be standing there with the groom already). We arrived to the church in time to take pictures beforehand and when I took Harper back to the room where the bridesmaids were getting ready, she took one look at the room full of people and lost it. I mean melted down, crying “no dress, no, no, no.” As much as I knew I needed to get her in her dress and ready to go, my heart hurt for her. She was overwhelmed, overstimulated, and I couldn’t help but think she felt pressure. I was compelled to do whatever I could do to convince her that she did not need to perform. With the help of my wonderful mother we managed to get her dressed and then it was my job to pull her away to a safe place, a place where she knew she could just be a little girl and play. We spent nearly two hours before the ceremony wandering around the church, smelling flowers, throwing rocks, playing with water fountains, blowing candles, just she and I. And I realized in that time that part of my job as her mother is to create safe spaces for her. To recognize when she is collapsing into her surroundings and to carve out space for her to feel safe and to feel joy.

I remember when we were going through the security check at the San Antonio airport a few months and it was absolute chaos. I mean like herding cattle chaos. I could see my little girl on the brink of a breakdown. So she and I spent the next 30 minutes (the time it took to make it through the line) talking softly to each other as I made a game out of picking out all the employees in blue shirts, or finding all the backpacks, etc. It was our own little world. She needed a space within a space. A concentric circle of peace within a bigger circle of chaos.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is not the same as sheltering. I do not feel compelled to protect her from the reality of a tough, noisy, and often overwhelming world. I just want her to know she does not have to fall prey to it and be a product of it. The cross of Jesus has afforded all things good, namely abundant life lived forever with Him, and a thousand blessings in the meantime. One of those blessings is the opportunity to find quiet places, if not in our surroudnings, in ourselves, where we stay grounded and unburdened. Carving out these kind of spaces is what I can do for her until she can do that for herself.

The moment arrived when all the birdesmaids and the lovely bride herself were ready to walk down the aisle. I casually walked Harper into the church and showed her how all the other girls were walking towards her daddy. She smiled (her coy smile which is my favorite of all). I asked her if she might want to walk down to daddy too. She said “sure.” Do you want to carry your basket sweet girl? “Sure,” she said, confidently. And she did. She launched down the aisle with joy and light, stopping to say hi to our friend, saying “cheese” to the photographer and doing a little dance once she got down to where Eric was. I wept. Despite myself, I wept. Not because she was the cutest flower girl that has ever strolled an aisle (which she was). It was so much more than that. She was free. Free from the pressure to perform. Free from the confines of expectations. Free to walk to her daddy, just as she is, not as she should be.

Abba, Daddy, will you carve out quiet spaces for me in the midst of a very noisy world, so that I too can be free. Free to come to you just as I am, not as I should be. And in that freedom, make me as I should be. Make me more like Jesus. Amen.