Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lessons Learned in 2014


It’s my favorite week of the year! All the preparations done, there’s finally time to enjoy the baked goods and pretty lights. It’s also time to reflect on the past year, and start writing my “Best of 2014” letter. My besties and I have been trading end-of-year letters for more than 15 years, and “lessons learned” is my favorite category.

Thanks to Emily Freeman’s What We Learned series, I’ve been noting some of the lessons throughout the year.

Some silly, some profound, here’s what I learned this year:


1. Photos + Words are my love language.

When I shared this discovery with Brian, his response was “Um, yeah. Of course.” But for me, it was a revelation. Have you read Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages? I read it years ago, and while the edition I read was dated, it still helped me understand why we give what we most want to our loved ones, and are surprised when they offer what they most wish to receive. I give books and photos more than any other gift---so, yeah, Brian’s right, it should have been obvious.

This realization also helped me stop apologizing for my photography passion, my need for words, my Instagram love. It’s who I am, and a way I express  love for my life and the people in it.


2. The best system is the one you create yourself.

I’m still learning this, and it relates to so many areas, but the magic of customization came to me via my old-school planner. I love technology and apps, but give me some paper and a pen, and I’ll get things done. I’ve always loved planners, but I’ve never used one as fully as this year’s. Because I designed it and set it up the way I actually use planners. A big hat tip to Lara, the Bullet Journal, and Michelle of Raisin’ Cajuns.

Whether it be the way to raise your kids, or how to organize your kitchen, or the best diet, I’ve learned fashioning it to fit the way you live is SO MUCH better than trying to fit into someone else’s best way.


3. Stop using that eyelash curler.

Maybe you can still use it, but I can’t. At Thanksgiving last year, I commented on my niece’s long lashes, and she shared her favorite mascara and her secret---she stopped curling her lashes. In retrospect, it was obvious that the torture instrument (as my sons were convinced it must be) was taking more than it was giving. I still don’t have the thick, long lashes of my niece---I never did. But I’m happy to have retired the curler and gained a few more lashes.

4. “Tell me more” is magic.

I learned this from Julie Ross’ How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years, and she got it from Brenda Euland in Utne Reader. It applies not just to tweens, but anyone you love. Euland wrote: “When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.”

  duke in the snow walk

5. The cure for just about any worry is time outside with a dog.

Duke’s joy in life, his easy acceptance of people, his unbounded enthusiasm all teach me. But his greatest gift to me is the way the word “walk” makes him light up.


6. Welcome people into your home before it’s ready.

For one, it will never be ready. For another, hospitality isn’t about impressing; it’s about connecting. Our house still isn’t fully unpacked, but we haven’t let that stop us. Old friends came through our 2nd day in the house, and we laughed among all the boxes. Sean had a friend over, and when his mom asked to see the new digs, I held the door wide and welcomed her into our crazy. We’ve been here two months, and we’ve had three visitors from Moab, Brian’s mom, my cousins, Brian’s brother and family, and at no time has our house been “ready’' or “done.” I’ll clean the bathroom and sweep the floor, heat the kettle, and call it good. Life is short---come on in!

I’m so grateful for Myquillyn Smith, her book and her blog, and the way she articulates this lesson so well.


7. The lessons you learned planning a wedding are lessons that apply to everything: things will go wrong---embrace it; choose your priorities; and remember, it’s not all about you.


8. Less is more, and my need for white space is insatiable.

If you’ve read Anna Quindlan’s One True Thing, you can understand why I’m grateful to be married to a “more is more” kind of guy. Brian is naturally organized, and perhaps that is why more---of everything---doesn’t bother him. I am more easily distracted, and white space helps me focus. Moving helped us get rid of so much, and I want to continue on that path.

mother teresa

9. “You are not who I would have you be” is too common a refrain in families.

Have you ever said this to someone? Probably not. Have you ever sent that message though, in your tone, facial expression, the questions you ask?

For years I’ve tried to understand how it can be that we put so much energy into creating close families, while at the same time so many people can’t stand being with their family of origin. People love their family, but often get stressed out about being around them. Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Maybe, but I think this message is a common cause of the unhappiness that exists---even in happy families. Never directly stated, but subtly sent. “Be a little less you.” “I love you, but…” “I wish you were more…”

I think it is natural for children to go through a stage when they feel this way about their parents (and pretty much everyone in their life), i.e.: being a teen. Growing up, though, means accepting your parents and others for who they are.

I’m excited about this discovery. It’s made me more aware. I’ll always be an imperfect parent. I’ll always wish my boys loved baseball as much as I do (there’s still some hope!), and there are times when the world demands we adapt to a time and place. But I want to hold this lesson in my heart and be sure that my children know in their bones that I delight in who they are and the way they are.

I’d love to hear what you learned in 2014, big and small, if you’d like to share below---or more privately, in an email.

Here’s to all that awaits us in 2015!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Favorite of 2014: Photos

I’ve been participating in Suzanne Conway’s December Reflections photo challenge. One prompt was Favorite Photo of 2014, which reminded me of this post from last year.

web 2014 DOK First Day of School

Confession: Above is the last photo I took on my DSLR…in August. It’s been a much needed break, courtesy of my iPhone and our big move.

I’m going to limit myself to 4 in each category below.

Four of my favorite client photos of 2014:

web 2014 06 28_Relph_0101_edited-1

2013 11 13_Heffron_010BW_1200

Cael laughing with his mama

2014 05 17_Heather_124_edited-1

That little hand on his mama’s neck just kills me.

Four of my favorite iPhone photos from 2014 (first two are iPad):



drumm4 golden


Four of my favorite “SLR” personal photos:

web2014 03 27_fiery_furnance_1431_edited-1

2014 04 20_3075_edited-1

web 2014 03 campfire

web brothers heading to school on the first day

Finally, four of my favorite photos that someone else took of us in 2014:

vanphoto of ma angie and doki

Photo by Paige Green

I love how it captures all that has changed and all that has remained the same from this photo taken 20 years earlier:

us at Coronado_edited-1

From that same weekend, our sweet friend James took this photo of our family on the way to Mary Alice’s wedding:

ourfamily in Inverness

And some kind strangers took this one for us:


Last night, our neighbor Mercedes took this photo of our littles on Santa’s lap. Sean is at that difficult age when you want to be little and want to be grown up all at the same time.


I’m grateful to have a decent camera on my phone, which is almost always with me. I’m even more grateful that I finally want to pick up my Canon 5D again. I haven’t decided whether DOK Photography will re-launch in the Golden area, but looking at 2013’s post, I realize I really miss those newborns.

Here’s to all that 2015 will bring!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Favorite Gift Ideas

Hi, it’s been a while. We moved into our new home in November and this site is undergoing a lot of changes behind the scenes as well. But for now, I’ve learned sometimes it’s best to just jump back in with a list.

I usually struggle when I get a call or email asking for gift ideas for my boys. It’s so nice for anyone to think of them, and to ask, but it still ain’t easy. Do I give away the few ideas I have? And how do you know if someone actually uses that idea? Can I still give it out when someone else asks or use it myself? Gift recommendations should have a “ping back” feature so you know if it’s been used.

So here is my No Ping Necessary list of gift ideas because they are all things we already have and appreciate. Random goodies from my list of favorite things.

1. Stadium Chairs

Mine is orange, but you can get one in your team’s colors. If you have boys who play baseball, these chairs will save your back in those stands! A gift from Brian a few years ago that I still love.


PhotoBox Frames | PBteen

2. Photobox Frames 

Here’s my favorite thing about online wish lists on Pinterest or Amazon: you can see if you consistently keep pinning the same thing, year after year. I’d been wanting one of these for years, and splurged on one this summer. I honestly haven’t hung it up yet in our house. But I know exactly where it is going (hallway to our kitchen), and I plan to fill it with the boys’ artwork. I LOVE that it is easy to open and update. If you are anything like me, if a frame requires you to take it off the wall to update, whatever goes in there stays in there forever!

3. An inspirational book.

I think Christmas is the perfect time to give a book that has meant a lot to you and that you think others might enjoy. I’ll be sharing my favorites from 2014 next week. Spoiler: Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden was my favorite and would be a great gift, as would Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes and The Nester’s The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful. Basically an inspirational book with a long title!

The best gifts are those that show reflection, and I love when a book makes you think of a specific person and how much he or she would enjoy this book.

Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints is written by a Jesuit priest and would be a great gift for your devout Catholic cousin as well as your atheist friend who likes to discuss the essential things.

4. An Amazon Gift Card

I love receiving a special book with a personal inscription inside. But I also have fond memories of receiving gift cards for Bloomsbury Books and Back of Beyond. Talk about a kid in a candy store! I received a big Amazon gift card one year and spent months debating how I would use it (I ended up buying a lot of gifts with it, but not until I also got this book for myself). Pretty much my go-to teacher gift every year.

5. Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker, Black

Yes, this is another pricey one. They are usually just under $100. And you really have to consider which will be the best for you. Above is the one I got, because I wanted to see numbers on demand (and didn’t have a smart phone at the time). Now I kinda wish I had gotten the bracelet kind, because I’ve had some close calls on losing this or tossing it in the wash. So far, so good. And I like the privacy of wearing this without announcing it. So it is a toss up.

I’m leaving this on the list, but it really is more of a wish list recommendation---because you should only buy this for yourself or someone who specifically has it on her or his wish list. You don’t wanna be that gifter.

6. Norpro Triple Blade Herb Scissors

A gift from my mother-in-law last year that I have used all year in my kitchen. Mince or chop herbs right over the pot. And under $10 as well!

7. Washi Tape

Gift-giving can be tricky. Home d├ęcor is a such a personal thing---unless you know the recipient loves that artist or has that item on her wish list, you are taking a big risk.

I love gifts that can be used up, rather than another thing to dust. Washi Tape has 100 uses and doesn’t require any dusting. A fun little gift that can also make a nice hostess gift. My favorite is pictured above, but is sold out, though the same site has this one. Really you can find it at any craft store or Target, though if you want something really specific that reflects your friend, go to Etsy!


Boys' Snowman Build Long Sleeve Tee|Life is good

8. LIFE IS GOOD t-shirt

Aidan’s godmother gave him the above shirt last year, and I have one Brian gave me years ago that remains a favorite. Super soft, cozy shirts, and they’re such a good company, you feel good buying any of their products.

9.Camelbak Eddy Insulated Water Bottle w/ Bite Valve & Straw - BPA FREE

These usually run around $15. I haven’t lost one yet this year (knock on wood), which is a very good thing because I get very grumpy when I can’t find my water bottle. I try to keep one in my car and one on my desk, but those things move on their own.

An easy way to fill your teen’s stocking—ha!

10. Canon PowerShot ELPH135 Digital Camera

This one is currently $79, but don’t you have one sitting in a cabinet somewhere? Seems like most of us use our phones, and if we really care, a big honking DSLR. So dust off your point and shoot and wrap it up in a box and give it to your 10 year old. Seeing the world through their eyes will be an even greater gift.

and one more…


Years ago my friend Mary Alice gave me a Trapp candle. I still have it, even though I rarely light it. I keep it in my closet and the whole room smells pretty. I have a heightened sense of smell, which is a blessing and a curse (especially as my sons get older). I haven’t been able to find Summer Flowers, which is the scent I have, but Bob's Flower Shoppe sounds like it. I think Orange/Vanilla sounds like a good holiday scent and these would also make a nice gift to a host this Christmas. No wrapping necessary as their box is delightful.

You can find an equally random list of my favorite things, as well as favorite baby gifts and books, in the side bar on my blog.  Happy Gifting!

*All Amazon links are affiliate links.

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