We put all our decorations away this week. I am so deeply relieved to have more space in my house etc, etc, etc but I am really sad about taking the lights down. I LOVE Christmas lights (and sparklers) and am bereft when they go away in January. So since today is a snow day (see below. Brrrrr) I’m bringing the lights back for an encore.
(The bird feeder is the secret to how Nicole stays sane after the Christmas lights go away)
Louisville Parade of Lights:
Decorating the Christmas tree:
Denver Zoo Zoolights:
Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light:
And with that we can say goodbye to Christmas lights for another year (sob!)
It’s about time I shared the photos from Alba’s Arvada three year photos! You can see her at two, one and brand new.
I stand by three being the hardest age to parent (I mostly took pictures of my kids crying when they were three), but it’s become one of my favorite ages to photograph. At three kids know who they are and aren’t afraid to hide it. It’s hard to parent, but an absolute joy to watch! I love how these pictures are just ALBA without any effort from me. Yelling at the dogs to be quiet (above) or studying me to see if she can open up (below), the kid is just herself.
Someone isn’t supposed to be in the street. Someone did it anyway, because THAT, my friends is three.
Anyone who has kids….or knows kids or even was a kid once, go ahead and laugh at me. I thought I’d bring my off-camera flash and do some fun, artistic posed shots while I was there. Ha ha ha ha ha ha HA. I spent this session running my legs off, keeping up with Alba. It was AWESOME. But funnily enough, that flash never left my bag.
Alba has a great sense of humor. You can see it in the picture below:
She’s THREE! Can you tell!? Three is a very important age. Also, one that’s hard to make with your fingers.
Aw, I love this girl.
There is still time to schedule Christmas Card Photos! And I’m running a limited time special right now! Email me at Nicole@NicoleLeonard.com to book!
And if you’re reading this because you would like fun and sassy three-year-old photos, you should email me too!
Miss Arya turned one this summer. We met one Saturday morning to get some 1-year pictures before she grows up completely. One is such a fun age…still holding on to the chubbiness of babyhood while hints of the little people they’re becoming emerge.
Love her little upside down face! Arya is just starting to walk. She’s mellow and quiet, until she’s not. She loves her mama and her big sister. And sitting on things. She adores sitting on things. I’m guessing she’s fan of her toes too (I know I am…who can resist chubby baby toes!?)
She does not adore the feeling of grass on her knees. Thank goodness for blankets, right?
Love you, Ary! Can’t wait to watch you grow! (But not too fast, OK?)
Some of the businesses in our town (Louisville, CO) came together to coordinate a Pokemon GO event. The businesses put out lures and you could walk around, catch Pokemon, check into businesses on Facebook and win prizes.
Thanks to Facebook I understand that there are a lot of people irate about Pokemon GO. I get it. I’ve caught myself feeling irritated about it too.
Here’s what I know about Pokemon GO. This event got my generally ambivalent children up and dragging me out of bed this morning. It got me, who has been slipping deeper and deeper into a funk, to get dressed, leave the house and walk around. It got my kids eager to explore their community. It got us walking into businesses we’ve never patronized before. It got us buying from local merchants. It got us talking to neighbors we would have otherwise not seen. It had my kids cheek-to-cheek, laughing, giving each other things and cooperating. It took my phone, my frequent source for numbing and escape, out of my hand. It forced us to interact with the real world today.
I’m a fan of PokemonGO
We started off at Blue Box Donuts, which we’d been meaning to try since they opened. (Why not wash his face, you ask? I did. And then he ate more donuts and I gave up)
These statues used to be the gateway to Louisville and are somewhat iconic locally. Pokemon Go calls them “Superman Cave Structure” which delighted my kids. We stopped here to get more…Pokeballs (I think. I never actually see the game)
United in delight in front of Runner’s Roost, another participant in today’s event.
On to Sweet Cow, where the kids all pretended to look at my phone to mock themselves looking at the phone all the time:
I was set to go home but the kids begged to walk through the Farmer’s Market. I’d forgotten how much we LOVE the Farmer’s Market. I can’t believe we don’t go more often (thank you, Pokemon).
They caught a Pokemon on my knee and on Beckett’s butt, which made us all laugh, hard. Ah, laughing. I’d missed you!
We checked in at the Book Cellar and found a Pokemon amongst the books. We bought ourselves a few new reads since we were there anyway. Who can resist a new book!? Not us.
THIS is the face of a little boy who desperately wants his picture taken in the leaves….but can’t stand the leaves TOUCHING HIM. Ah, the tragedy. The conflict. Poor kid!
We had a delightful morning (thank you, Pokemon Go, and local businesses with a sense of adventure!). I felt so good after our excursion that I started a load of laundry. Much to the delight of the kid who had to wear pajama pants to hunt Pokemon.
Memphis. My husband trained there last week and I tagged along, as I love to do, to learn a new city.
I’m not sure what I expected from Memphis. I try to arrive at each destination without plans or preconceptions. But the human mind insists on attaching ideas to things. I think I was expecting to arrive east of Savannah: a big city but with Southern charm. Whatever my preconceived notions were, they were wrong.
My travel experiences are always influenced by my mental state or current events. This trip was different in that my experience of Memphis caused me to see current events in a new light. We arrived in Memphis on July 5th. My first impressions of Memphis:
- Memphis is not pretty. I mean, it is beautiful, but in an austere, no-frills way. In the way where no one decorated or planted flowers or preserved buildings. Because Memphis is poor. The fact that Memphis is poor greeted me as I stepped off the plane and shook hands with me every step of my trip. I doubt the guidebooks trumpet this aspect to attract tourists…but I’m still surprised at how oblivious I was to just how economically disadvantaged downtown Memphis is.
- Memphis is broken. Once I got acclimated to the new sights, sounds and smells it became clear that the Southern sights I had unconsciously expected to see were there after all. They were just crumbling and decaying. Windows covered with old boards, entrances blocked off with chain-link fences (after a few days there we began to quip that Chain-Link must be the city tree because it grew everywhere). When we were in Savannah we wandered the city for days, seeing what treasure each new street brought us. We immediately set off to do the same in Memphis. We’d see a church, prance off to check it out only to be brought up short by more chain-link fence and sights of rotting boards in broken windows. There are signs that Memphis tried to revitalize and failed thus far. Because revitalization takes money. See above.
- Memphis is a ghost town. At least where we were, when we were there. At any given time there were few cars or pedestrians out. We jaywalked freely because streets were empty. I’d walk into stores and restaurants and find myself the only customer there. Even Beale Street, world renowned and much touted, was quiet. Maybe it was just hot and that kept people in? Maybe July is the off season? It’s hard to tell when you’re only in a city for four days. This ghost town aspect went beyond people in the street, though. You’d walk down Main street to find every other storefront boarded up and abandoned and then enter the basement of a shopping center to find a priceless collection of art in a museum. Or walk up a stinky alley to find the best food I’ve ever eaten. Memphis has good things, but they’re hidden in unassuming places.
- The economic and racial divide in our country is obvious in Memphis. We stayed at the Peabody Hotel, known for its opulence and wealth. (As an aside, it’s opulent in the way of old-fashioned hotels, not in the way of modern hotels. As in, the rooms were small and the amenities few but the decor was glorious). Inside, everything was beautiful and the people were mostly white. You need only to step outside of its air-conditioned excess to find evidence of poverty and racial segregation. Downtown Memphis is predominately poor and black. Signs of poverty are everywhere – and always represented by black faces. Remember how I mentioned above that Memphis is broken? There has been some revitalization. There’s a beautiful riverfront park from Beale St West, lined with new apartments and condos all running in the million dollar range. It was jarring to walk two blocks and go from broken down, poor, black and struggling to beautiful park and million dollar homes – and understand that this is somehow supposed to be a solution.
- Memphis was hot. When we were there temps were in the upper 90’s with dew points in the 70’s, leading to a heat index of 105 (I’m a Colorado girl. I’m just kidding that I know what any of those terms mean). I’ve never felt heat like it! Everywhere we went was air conditioned to the point where I felt chilly but when a door opened it felt like a steam room had leaked in. It was hot through my shoes and hot surrounding me in a hug wherever we walked outside. When we went to Florida I sweated in embarrassing trails and patches and puddles. I didn’t feel that sweaty in Memphis. Part of it was that there was a near-constant breeze which, with the humidity (I guess? I don’t understand humidity) felt almost chilly on my skin. I think I need more time to understand this Memphis heat but I can tell you I liked it. I know, I’m a freak. I love being hot.
I feel like my trip to Memphis had two parts. Both were awesome but disparate:
In one part I ate food that seriously, no exaggeration, changed my life. Meal after meal was scrumptious. Memphis has ruined me for regular food.
While we were there we toured Graceland. I went along because it’s a cultural icon, but not one I particularly cared about. I thoroughly enjoyed Graceland. It was something else (people keep asking me to elaborate on that statement. I’m sorry, I can’t. I was just something else). Also, having been born in October 1977, Elvis for me was always this creepy fat old guy I never liked. After touring Graceland I now get it. Elvis was HOT. Oh my god, how did I miss out on Elvis my whole life?! I’m not sure I would have even married if I’d known about Elvis (just kidding. Kind of). And, in case you were wondering, I subscribe to the head injury theory of Elvis’s death. It’s also the only explanation of how Hot Elvis became Creepy Elvis.
The other part was harder. It started the day we arrived with the shooting of Alton Sterling. I discovered Memphis with the 24/7 news cycle playing footage of Sterling’s shooting in a constant loop in the background. The morning of July 7th I woke up to see the video of Philando Castile dying. These shootings always bother me because I can see that they are so wrong. Some of the people I love best are in law enforcement. It’s always a struggle for me to know that there are good police officers out there and that shootings like these don’t have to happen. Being in Memphis broke me open so when I watched the Philando Castile video it felt more real than any before it.
We walked to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel with the image of Philando Castile in our heads. The Lorraine Motel is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It is, in part a museum dedicated to the end of King’s life (ie, not light material). It’s also a thorough accounting of Black history in America. This is not easy stuff. I knew most of the history but I was completely clueless. I’d never heard black history told in the first person. I’d never understood how many people were hurt or killed for simple things like…boycotting. Or for wanting the same things that other American citizens (ME) take for granted. It was intense. Both of us had to take breaks and process before we could take in any more information. We left feeling heavy. If you ever have a chance to go to the National Civil Rights Museum, GO. It’s only $15 to get in and this is a part of history every American needs to see.
We fell into bed that night exhausted from a day of touring museums, eating great food and walking in the heat. My husband obsessively watches 24/7 news channels so I fell asleep to the news that shots had been fired in Dallas. I awoke to the words, “It’s confirmed. Four officers dead. Four officers have died.” Completely vulnerable from my day, I couldn’t shield myself from the horror of a human being dying. I spent the next few hours calming myself down from the panic attack that started before I was even awake.
That just begins to describe the complicated relationship I’ve developed with Memphis. One of the reasons I love travel so much is that it changes me. I learn something new and add a new aspect to myself in every place I get to know. Memphis definitely made it’s mark, and that mark is uncomfortable.
My take homes from Memphis:
- So many of the things I’ve learned to think of as normal things that good people do to prove they’re good (see: recycling and planting flowers) are actually vestiges of privilege. Yes, recycling, for example, is great for the earth. But rather than being a sign of moral superiority it’s a sign that you have enough resources to care. When you’re poor things like recycling are so far up the totem pole of privilege that you can’t even see them. I arrived in Memphis with this affluent white world view and the city knocked perspective into me so fast and so often my head is still spinning. It is flooring to realize what a privileged life I lead.
- This Black Lives Matter stuff we keep seeing? That’s segregation. That’s Civil Rights. I’d always thought about Civil Rights as something that happened in history, before I was born. I thought it was all settled when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated and we all saw the light and declared a holiday. I was so wrong. Segregation never ended and we’re watching the consequences playing out before our eyes. Black Lives Matter means that when the Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” it means ALL MEN. African Americans are United States Citizens just as much as I am, but they don’t have the same rights I do. You only need to watch videos of black men getting shot by police to see that it’s true. You only have to see what poverty in America looks like to see that it’s true. What’s happening in the United States right now is history. I plan to be on the right side of history.
- Elvis was SEXY.
- I like being hot. And humid. And yes, this bullet sounds really bad after the last one.
So…Memphis was beautiful and wonderful. And hard.
A few sights from Memphis:
Graceland, including me and Elvis and my creeper husband, the crowds (oh! the crowds) and Elvis’s love of mirrors:
Absolutely exquisite carving and the Belz Museum:
The riverfront, featuring tire tracks in the grass, trash, the original cobblestones and the only flowers we saw in Memphis:
Sunset from atop the Peabody (including me, the huz and the ducks):
The Civil Rights Museum:
The Peabody Ducks ceremony:
Memphis from the 8th floor:
Fun restaurants we enjoyed featuring toothpicks in the ceiling at Huey’s Downtown (I shot one up!), Itta Bena, Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous whose ribs changed my life (Peyton Manning agrees) and biscuits and gravy at the Blue Plate:
So Memphis. Chain link fences. The sign says coming soon, but I think it may be a wish rather than a promise:
And the Bass Pro Pyramid, which has a hotel inside. It was cool, but maaaaaybe not worth the 2 mile walk in the heat to get there:
Sometimes….some times my husband just gets it right.
One afternoon I was sitting upstairs, editing pictures and falling deeper and deeper into my foul mood. My kids appeared at my elbow and told me to get my shoes on and go for a walk with them. I grumbled and they insisted. So I put my shoes on, thinking I was walking around the block.
We stepped outside to ominous skies and started off towards a nearby open space trail, so I grumbled some more. It was going to rain. Beckett had a cast that needed to stay dry. Grumble grumble grumble.
And it did rain. But it also did that Colorado thing where it was raining and sunning madly, simultaneously. No rainbows though. So…..more grumbling.
So my family broke it to me that we were walking to get ice cream – something I’ve always wanted to do but could never convince my family to agree to. And here I was grumbling about it. Thank you, patient family, for not punching me.
The kids walked without whining (ahem, Mom) and I eventually relaxed and enjoyed being a tourist in my own town. And ice cream. Ice cream always helps.
My darling third born son Kieran received Painted Lady caterpillars for his eighth birthday this spring. They arrived as teeny, spiky little bugs, grew exponentially every day and soon pupated. A few days later we had butterflies! And this, my friends, is when life became interesting. Because our cat Nova is, apparently, obsessed with butterflies. She kept attacking the butterfly enclosure and we kept moving it to foil her. At one point we had the butterflies in a bedroom with the door closed and Nova managed to open the door and find them (how she even knew they were there I’ll never know). The butterflies ended up in my bedroom, on top of the TV, near the ceiling. Safe for butterflies; hardly conducive to enjoying butterflies. So it was time to execute a butterfly release.
Kieran is so deeply my son that he took his camera out with him and photographed his experience as I photographed him experiencing it. Kieran never trusts me to capture events for him and I kind of adore that about him. He’s right. I can photograph what I see but I can never reproduce what he sees.
There were five butterflies in total. The first four hung out for a few minutes to pose for pictures and then flew away.
I think the fifth might have had some help from Nova making it so she didn’t feel as confident flying so she hung around (on Kieran’s nose) for quite awhile.
The most fabulous selfie, ever:
Kieran walked around the yard and then the house, proclaiming that he was the butterfly whisperer and his butterfly would never leave him. Eventually, she did spread her wings and take off and fly off to do live her butterfly life, leaving one delighted boy in her wake.
[As I type this the adorable boy featured here has done his best to annoy me into stopping work and entertaining him. I’m glad I have these pictures as a reminder not to murder him because I got up early to work. Alone. Also, wanting to murder your kid isn’t that conducive to creativity. Who knew? Ahem.]
Check out this beautiful family. I photographed them in their Louisville, CO home shortly before Christmas. We chose to meet at home because I feel like kids under the age of three do better at home and Mom agreed.
This family paid me the best compliment, ever. When I talked to Mom ahead of time she expressed that she does not like pictures of herself right away so it would take awhile for her to warm up to her pictures. She warned me that she’d gift pictures of the kids for Christmas but would not send out a Christmas card. I totally, totally dislike pictures of myself at first too (and love them later!) so I totally understood and agreed with her. So I photographed them, sent off their pictures…and a few weeks later I received a Christmas card in the mail with the above picture on it. I’m so glad we were able to get the whole beautiful gang together in a picture.
If you’re reading this you’re most likely a mom – or know one. So you know the struggle between knowing and loving your kids just the way they are and wanting to appear a certain way in the world. I was so impressed by this mom. I’d shown up, she was nervous (having your picture taken and worrying how your kids will come across is always nerve-wracking!) and she was trying to corral the kids into picture mode. Right then one of the girls said “wait! I want a barrette in my hair too!” Moms, we all know this moment. The one where you want to snap “NO! We’re taking pictures now!” but this mom just rolled with it. She kindly and enthusiastically asked her daughter to go get a barrette and put it in her hair for her and her daughter lined up with the family, smiling, having been heard and seen and acknowledged. That patience and grace says a lot about how this mom sees and love her kids unconditionally.
I adore how every one of these girls has gorgeous blue eyes, but everyone’s eyes are different.
This is my favorite of all the girls together: what an adorable pile of eyelashes and love!