Along the Suisun Waterfront...Turning 16!

Just a few weeks ago the weather decided to take a break from all this rain, and the long-awaited sun came out. I, of course, could not wait to get outside and take some photos. Luckily for me I had a session already lined up I just needed the weather to cooperate which it did. I have a dear friend whose daughter wanted photos taken for the first part of her birthday celebration.

We met up in Suisun and walked along the waterfront finding spaces that would accommodate 5 happy, beautiful teenagers. We giggled…a lot and saw some great opportunities to enjoy the location and the comradery. Here are just a few of the shots from that day. Happy Birthday, Amaree! Thanks, Shenay for including me on this milestone celebration!
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Cornhole for Cole

I spent Sunday, April 29th, at The Coleman Christensen Memorial Cornhole Tournament and Fundraiser in Winters. The proceeds of which will go to benefit a scholarship in Cole’s name and projects at Vacaville High School. Coleman, a Vaca High graduate, avid sportsman and hunter, son, brother and Daddy...died unexpectedly in February of 2016. He was dearly loved by all who knew him and was always full of life and energy. I had so much fun and it was so nice to see young and old alike come out to support The Christensen’s, Haylie and Colebie.

The tournament started with 64 teams who then competed in single elimination rounds until the final winner was announced. This event really showed so much of Cole's spirit...love of family, laughter, and community...oh, yes and competition. lol... 

 It looks like this will be an annual event so watch for more details. You can follow CornHoleforCole on Instagram to keep up to date on this fun event. Enjoy a glimpse of the event in this photo gallery!!

An April Wedding...Becoming the Botkins.

In about two weeks some dear friends of ours and the best friend of our son Evan will be getting married.  This has been something we have waited for a very long time and the wait is almost over. We believe it will be the wedding of the year and we are excited to celebrate with you both.

I know that if Evan were here this would be the party he would be right in the middle of...I know he would've had great words to speak and you would be able to hear his voice singing loudest of all. So although it is bittersweet I know that Evan's presence and spirit will be with his dear friends as they say, "I Do". 

In preparation for this great day, I wanted to share a few snapshots from Brinton's shower that I've not shared. 

Enjoy!! and we'll see you in April!

Reaching Back

As I come to the conclusion of this last week of celebrating my entrance on to the planet I was asked a question that strangely I've been pondering over the last several months, even before these questions were asked. The question was...as you start a new birthday year what were the highs and lows of last year? and what are your goals for this year?  Now as you read this and if you know me you can almost guess the low was/is the death of my son, Evan. This was the lowest time of my life not just of this year. I miss Evan every day but maybe it was the anticipation of the fact that this would be my first birthday without him which made me reflective and heart sick. I honestly don't get why I have to be without him on my birthday...I should be happy I got 26 birthdays. Kinda the glass half full but alas I miss Evan and feel cheated to not have him here. Reflectively as I look back I can say that one of the highs is my last birthday spent together as a family in Napa. I felt pampered and lucky to have such great people who love me....by celebrating and honoring me. In this same way this year Alex gathered many of the people he knew would be a blessing as I celebrate this first birthday without Evan. It was one of my greatest moments as I begin this birthday year. Although Evan's absence is always so real for me the gathering of friends to celebrate help me to feel his presecence in a way that brought great comfort....and just a few tears.

Preserves for my birthday.

Preserves for my birthday.

Love you.

Love you.

More of my tribe...Love you.

More of my tribe...Love you.

My kite flyers and the people that put them together.

My kite flyers and the people that put them together.

Another kite flyers

Another kite flyers

As I mentioned above some of the highs from last year and this year for me was the collective group of community that surrounded our family during and through this last year of loss. I can say that many have stayed connected to us and have walked beside us. I have forged new friendship with others who have lost their children and that has been a welcomed refuge for me. To have others who have walked this road a head of me and are reaching back to me and encouraging me forward has been truly a blessing that I wouldn't want to overlook. They have helped this journey to not be so lonely as many who grieve do so alone as grief is very personal and most just can't go there.  Many of Evan's friends have reached out and have stayed connected to us and have been a source of such connection and hope for me. I know that on some level many of them still feel such sadness and grief related to Evan and I want them to know that I can and will go there if they need to have a space for their grief.

So the other question that was asked of me was about my goals for the coming year...my goals as I move into a new birthday year is I want to continue to move in a healthy direction with my grief. I feel confident that this journey is one that can be hard to figure out. Once you think your moving forward something comes along to shake your very foundation and it takes you two steps back.  I will continue to read books, participate in groups, and continue to connect with those in my influence who need to see Hope in the sadness of grief. Because with Jesus nothing is wasted and this life that He has given to me is valuable.

I've set some goals about my photography that I can only hope will be positive for me. I want to give more time to the building of that area of my career life so that means change is on the horizon. I'm also wanting to look at more way to come along side those who are having difficult circumstances to capture moments that for them might otherwise go un-captured with those precious memories lost. I'm trying some new things and seeing what fits for me. I want to also spend time exploring Evan's writings. I really wanted to collaborate with him on a project that combines my art/photography with his writing but he is not here to work beside me. So in his absence I hope to bring life to his words that always seemed to have such depth and insight. 

It has been a good birthday week. I miss Evan and there is never, ever a moment that he isn't on my mind. My heart is broken but I'm not broken. Evan gives me the courage to forge ahead. #11

Road Noise

As I continue down the road of grief I am struck by the things that take me from such great joy to weepy tears. I'm not even sure how to quantify it or give it a number on a scale. I spend a lot of time reading and listening to books. As I've shared in other posts I am listening to a book on Heaven and a book on waiting. Both of these areas in my life have been a struggle. Kinda like that kid that wants to be president at the place that they work even before they learn how to count back change at the register.  As I've said in previous blogs Heaven has always been abstract to me and because my faith points me to Jesus and the bible I don't really want to speculate about it. I want to know what the bible says as that is foundational...my center. On top of reading/listening to many books I am attending a faith-based small group on grief called Grief Share.  All these things keep me a float...keep me moving...processing. They keep me reaching out to grasp what is really not something you can grasp. So what it does is give me strength. It gives me Faith to look beyond what I can see and it gives me Hope that what I think and believe are Truth and that at some point it will bring peace and understanding. 

Roads are a funny thing. I've spent most of the summer on the road either on the east coast or west coast but always on the road. I went on a road trip this last weekend and we had times on this trip where the highway was smoothly paved. The road noise was minimal. You could hear the stereo in the car without having to crank it up and the skies were clear....smooth sailing so to speak. We then had places where the road was so rough from years of weather and chains from vehicles that you could not even hear yourself think. You couldn't hear the radio. You couldn't even have a conversation as the noise in the car was so loud and storms that nearly blinded you as you drove down country roads in the dark. Sometimes you turn down a road that you think is the right one and all of a sudden you are at a dead end. You make a plan that you are going to leave at a certain time. You stop just to get food and go to the bathroom no extra stops just to realize it took you about the same amount of time as it did when you enjoyed the journey. Stopped and looked at the sights. Made memories and took your time.

I share all of this because grief is very similar to the road trips I've been on and to be perfectly honest life is this way as well. It takes me to places I didn't want to go. Sometimes I enjoy where I'm going and the effects of it leave me refreshed and my burden is lightened. Sometimes the noise is so loud I can't hear what is being said to me and I zone out. Sometimes I just want to get home...to do it my way. I forget about all the beauty that is around me and if I had just stopped...walked around...and practiced pondering I would have gotten home in just the right amount of time and enjoyed the journey.

Evan, we love and miss you so very much. Every memory is bittersweet and filled with the what if's and why not's. As I travel this road I hope to have less of those questions but for now...It is September and that means that you have been gone 10 months....but really it is for eternity.    e·ter·ni·ty  əˈtərnədē/ ~  noun ~ infinite or unending time. 

http://www.visitcalifornia.com/attraction/sundial-bridge

https://www.amazon.com/Real-Heaven-What-Bible-Actually/dp/0801016134 

https://www.amazon.com/Wait-See-Finding-Peace-Pauses/dp/0781413559

http://albanycarousel.com

Thank you for your service. Celebrating Captain Nicole Speakman.

Just before I left for vacation I got a email from a lovely military nurse who was retiring from the Air Force. She wanted me to do the photography for her retirement ceremony. I have had the opportunity to photograph many different events but this was my first military ceremony. Nicole came to me through a friend who I go to church with and had taken photos for her son's first birthday. Thanks, Sarah for the referral. I was grateful that I had the day and time of her ceremony open....also that she would trust me with such an important life event for her and her family. When I met with Nicole we took some time to walk through the space where the ceremony would happen. The venue actually is a museum on base that also is used for this type of ceremony. I was glad to help Nicole think through some of the logistics and I put her mind at ease that it would be a wonderful and honoring ceremony. 

What I learned that day is what a distinguished military career she had and what value she brought to world of nursing. She has traveled extensively with the Air Force and has worked tirelessly as a nurse. Nicole was joined by her husband, John and son, Wesley along with her Father, Mother, her Sister and family. Many friends, extended family and co-workers came from far and wide to celebrate with her. She was overwhelmed with gratitude to all who came and celebrated with her.

Thank you, Nicole for your service and for trusting me. I wish you God Speed as you pursue nursing in the private sector. 

We Back the Blue.

Earlier in June we had the great honor to celebrate as a dear friend graduated from the police academy. His hard work and determination paid off as he walked across the stage and was presented his badge. It had been a long 6 months and one that was marked by great accomplishment but also great sadness. Christopher had been accepted into the program about the time our son, his dear friend, was in an auto accident that left him brain dead. It was a difficult time for all of us and yet in it a great thing emerged. Christoper started the program and 6 months later he is starting his job as a police officer. 

I'm grateful to be included in such a time of celebration and I look forward to the great things he will accomplish in the months and years ahead. Best Wishes, Christopher! We love you! 

Giving Comfort

The month of June has zipped by and I am finally able to stop and catch my breath. In the process of me catching my breath I have also found that the busyness has kept me from the full extent of my sadness. I've learned to navigate this part of my life as the spaces that I inhabit don't always allow me the opportunity to go there. I will hear a song, see a photo or just be reminiscing of moments I've experienced that bring me to the brick wall that is my grief. It stops me and as I'm shaking off the fact that I've run full force into it...it looks at me unshaken and with not a blemish that I have hit it and all the while I'm left beaten and battered trying desperately to get my balance and footing. Some times it is much more subtle...not as much of an assault but more sly...in the midst of great laughter and fun it sneaks in and crumbles me to a sentence I use often..."a bucket of tears". 

This month I've felt like I was being taking on a ride that I thought would be fun. It had all the makings of good times and loads of happy moments but for me, in this season I can't help but think of the missed moments I will not have. I know...bummer but this is my journey and it is at times very much a bummer. I miss seeing my son with a group of his friends as they celebrate a great accomplishment of one of their own. I reminisce about what his response would be....and think about just how happy he would be for this dear friend. I think often of those who miss him but are really not sure what to do or what to say and I wonder...What does a 20-something do with their grief? I think of some of the dearest people I know that as they look at me from across a room and wonder about this journey they are on with me as they can't fathom the depth of my sorrow but are walking with me. I think of the many near and far who reach out almost daily with texts, Facebook messages, hugs and love. 

As I sat in church today and listened to our pastor lead worship and preach from the psalms. The message from Psalm 142 as David is hiding out from those who would want to capture and destroy him. I was brought to tears thinking of not only my own heartache but that of my husband and son too. As I am weeping in church as his message and worship are striking a cord I receive this text from a dear friend of Evan's~"Hi my sweet Dawn. I am thinking of you now and missing Evan so much. Crying out to God (while literally crying haha) and I just take this moment to honor him and wanted to tell you he is on my heart so much and so are you. I know God is showing us something so big right now, I hope to grasp it soon so I won't be so sad. Love you so much". As I watched as my own pastor can't proceed with his message as he too thinks of the things that his sheep are going through and like any shepherd his heart is turned towards them. As I get a hug from a friend who knows me and knows my story her hug is so close I can hear the beat of her heart...to a sweet new friend who only knows me on social media but comes over and holds me...no word are necessary...as I weep. Then I think of the beautiful sunset last night among my sunflower fields that I believe are God's gift to me...cause those faces are just the best thing in all the world. I know that all of this and more are part of my journey. Part of the steps I walk in my healing. That the tears that I cry don't go unseen. That God because of His great love for us sends these, that are giving comfort, as only the God of the universe can do. 

The Places You Will Go........

Last week was filled with much celebrating as many friends that I know had their children graduating. There was a variety of ages as we had the future Class of 2029 graduate from kindergarten and the next generation of young adults graduating from high school, the Class of 2017. In between these two graduations I also was a part of a 6th grade promotion ceremony.  It was a weekend filled with bittersweet memories and just a few tears as friends and family gathered to cheer their graduates on to the next chapter of their lives. To the families who I had the pleasure to capture these moments for you...Thank you! I've loved that you have included me in your journey. I wish you a summer full of new adventures and fabulous memories.

I love this quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt.....The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. 

Congratulations and Best Wishes!! Go live your dreams!!!

Snapshots and Memories.....

Today as I do every day I'm always looking...watching to see what the Lord has for me. Sometimes it's something very small. Sometimes it's more of a feeling or a calm that comes to me in the midst of a crazy day filled with busyness. The thing that I find so comforting is that there is always something. This last weekend has been filled with running. Graduations, proms, parades, celebrations and BBQ's. As I've moved through all of these "life" events I was amazed at how often you came to mind, Evan. It was as if you traveled with me to all of these events. If you had been here I know you probably would have had your own things that you would have done. You wouldn't have gone to all of the same things I did but the great thing about now is that you're ever present with me. Even in places that you wouldn't normally be. As I stepped on to the field to watch the graduation of a dear friend from Vacaville Christian Schools; I couldn't help but sense....the senior sunrise and all of the other things that I was so privileged as your mom to experience with you. How lucky I am that I was available to be in those moment with you and Alex. So thankful for your Dad who has always allowed me such freedom to be fully engaged with you guys as you were growing up. To walk along the pathway were your name is forever placed with your class. It was a bundle of emotions and tears but Jesus met me and carried me. He placed me in the path of those who knew you and had fond memories of you. It was a great comfort.

From there to kick off the Memorial Day holiday with the Fiesta Day Parade.....again not someplace you would have hung out with me but I saw and connected with so many people and in those moments of connection and friendship I saw you there. I can remember so many parades you would have been marching for band at VCS and I would walk along with the group screaming and yelling. Such great memories....I treasure them...holding them so tightly. I went from the parade to Prom to photograph some of the seniors as they embarked on their last formal gathering before graduation. It was filled with silly traditions and beautiful guys and gals and it brought about such feelings of nostalgia for me that I thought my breath would catch. So many great memories I have from your high school season....limo rides....gathering of friends...laughter that was heard through out. It was rather melancholy. I was glad that Dad took me out for dinner at Mikunis so I didn't spend too much time in my head. 

One thing that is always certain with you and Alex is that when it comes to family you always are present. This weekend was no different. On Sunday we celebrated your cousin's graduation from high school. Interestingly when I looked up to see people arriving I thought for a split second that I saw you....same hair color...same facial hair...even a shirt the same color as you had but to my great disappointment it was not you. It caught me for a moment and in the hope that others not deem me crazy....it was only my mind taking me to places that it often does only to slam me back to the world in which I am here and you are not. I like for just that brief time to believe....to be in that moment of thinking maybe....... After we got home I went out driving as that is always when I find the most beautiful things...just before sunrise or sunset. Earlier this month Alex took me out to see the sunflowers and although they hadn't bloomed they had sprouted. I was checking on them to see their progress. Just a few more weeks and they will be ready.

Monday was a day of remembering...Memorial Day. We went to see grandpa at the cemetery and I can't help that when I go see him that a piece of you is also with him. The services at the cemetery were lovely...moving...honoring and I'm grateful for all who gave their lives for our freedom. So many emotions as I thought of my dad and really thought a lot about you. I think of so many similarities between you and my dad. As I come to the end of this month I am really filled with a lot of emotion. I've cried so many tears and I don't really see an end to that anytime soon. I keep them in check more...the world is not ready for all this emotion...when tears are tied to sadness and grief there isn't much room for that in this world.  So for now I will continue to be looking...watching....and waiting for the God of comfort to give me purpose in my pain. 

Sharing her story from long ago.....

Just a few week ago I was invited to come to Napa to hear the parent of a dear friend give a talk about being a holocaust survivor. I've known this family for well over 20 years but I had never heard this story in its entirety. We joined them and for our first time heard her tell the story. These snapshots are what I captured during The Holocaust Remembrance Day, Beit Abba at The Father's House in Napa. Nadine Sacha http://artistsacha.com is an artist and was originally from Paris, France but now resides in San Francisco. Her story of survival was moving and I'm so glad to have been able to hear it. She has written a book that you can read more about her story.  http://artistsacha.com/my-book/

Tristan William Lee.....the smallest gifts bring such great joy.

I've been fortunate to have several dear friends who have had babies in the last month. Oh my goodness how I love watching new families move through the welcoming of an infant into their lives. So many new things to see and figure out not the least of which is feeding schedules and sleeping...oh precious sleep. 

I had the pleasure to go over to Blake and Chelsea's home to photography Tristan. He was just as sweet as when I saw him briefly in the hospital. He was already forming his own personality and was being watched over by his precious parents and grandparents. I'm grateful to Blake and Chelsea for allowing me to come over and be a part of such a major life event for their family. I've known Blake and his family for most of the 25+ years that I've lived in Vacaville and the fact that Blake and Evan have been friend through most of that time made this time of connection very special to me. 

Here are just a few of my favorites from the hospital and my home visit at about 10 days old with little Tristan William Lee Pullin....born three weeks early on January 25th, weighing 5 lbs. 11 ozs. and 18.5 inches long. 

First of many family photos. Much love to all of you. 

Figs, Flowers and Food...

Last night a couple of friends and I enjoyed a lovely meal alfresca in Napa. It was a perfect night  made more so by the celebratory tone as we were celebrating a friend's birthday. We enjoyed food, drink and very engaging patrons dining near us. We chatted with several other table about what they had ordered and gave our recommendations when asked. Our table was located near the open patio that overlooks the fountain, garden and vineyards. The sun was setting as we ate and pretty much this was darn near close to a perfect evening and one the I believe will look similar to one I shall enjoy when I am in Heaven. 

While we finished dinner I had the chance to grab my camera and walk through the garden and vineyard. The restaurant seems to use this garden for many of the dishes they prepare which made this a great example of garden to table. It was a plentiful garden full of fruits, vegetables and flowers. One of the trees in this garden was a fig tree. Figs are so beautiful, I know that they are fruit but they are just as lovely as a flower. Their skin is a lovely shade of green and when they are ripe the fruit is a warm shade of pale burgundy. They smell delicious and taste like the beginning and end of Fall. Crazy that I would be thinking about fall in the middle of summer but that is what the taste of figs does to me. I must have at least 3 perfumes that have fig as the primary notes. 

It was a lovely evening, enjoyed with great friends, loads of laughter and so much love.

Today I am thankful for the beauty that I have the pleasure of enjoying and the people that I get to share it with.....