Sometimes when there is too much around me and I am just not sure where to start or what to do in my life, I head to the vault. It’s a collection of pictures, a group of moments I keep buried in my files waiting to be held, processed, finished somehow…At times the vault tortures me as I can never seem to get to the task and at other moments I think of it as the vessel where little bits of treasure rest, where stories wait to be told or the reminder of how sweet things were resides.

lyra grace-52

I often wonder how many small moments of our lives are still there waiting for us, hanging out in the back of the vaults of our hearts…places for us to escape back to with a more gentle and kind view of our lives…maybe this is the best part of leaving things undone, unfinished, and not exactly having it organized the way we think we should.

As I looked through the pictures of Lyra’s birthday last September, all I could see was what it looks like to be loved and adored.

The love started by Jen offering her back yard for the party and I was reminded that no mother should ever do birthday parties alone… and how love doesn’t always look like a Pinterest page and is often more of a modge podge of simple kind offerings.

Things like…
One princess tent already infused with joy from a birthday of another dear girl earlier that year was lent for fort goodness.

lyra grace-16

One old slip n’ slide that gave many a never-ending slide was shared to double the awesomeness of the new mega slide.

lyra grace-29

A last minute decorating job to a store bought cake made mermaid cake dreams come true.

lyra grace-43

…and each person shared what they love about Lyra on magic rocks that she will keep in her own heart vault to pull out when times are rough, or she loses her way, or just to know what it feels like to be loved and adored…again and again.

lyra grace-42

And it isn’t so much about perfect parties and picture moments but how each little part, each little offering adds up to something bigger …and that when we love each other and share whatever we have, the circle of love and adoration grows wider and wider, including us all.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of my dreams is to be an old lady one day that slinks around in the night leaving notes of graffiti love…today I was grateful for a winter walk after being inside just one moment, one hour, one day too long and for these words. The words were left down the corridor of stairs that lead to the river…we are bound to others.

profound graffiti collage

Came home to find out  the words are from Cloud Atlas. (i guess now i must see the movie)

The full text from Cloud Atlas is:

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future. ” – Robert Frobisher

christmas bliss

I called months ago… “Mom, when are you coming to my house during your Christmas visit?” I asked.

My parents always divide the time between the kids over just a few days.

“I don’t know, when do you want me to come?” she said.

Lyra shouted from the back seat, “For CHRISTMAS!”

“Sounds great!” my mom shouted back…and  that was that.

Because we found each other again this fall and before I even knew it, I invited the whole family to our house for Christmas Eve. I think I re-wrote the e-mail 5 times…wanting it to be right. Still cautious and hopeful as we build our family back together again. I knew it would be crazy and A LOT…a lot of all kinds of things.

…goodness, intensity, magic…but mostly it was a lot of FUN! We needed fun and it was everything New York was but with more people to love.

You know it’s a good Christmas…

…when the new boyfriend in the family insists you go out to dinner alone with your man the night before all the madness, and you come home to balloons, kids holding homemade signs and lots of intention to love you.

…when you have to navigate dynamics before anyone even gets there that would have sunk you before but now is a sister triumph of sorts…and you love each other and yourselves even more at the end.

…when you wake up so early before everyone is up to get your craft on, make a beautiful table with sweet pictures and create something new you are SURE is Pinterest worthy, even if it’s not, just the idea alone thrills you.

crafty christmas collage

…the kids sit at the wrong end of the 2o foot table where all the space is and bring a new card game to play during dinner…and the adults sit huddled together bumping in to each other, close and real.

very hammond christmas collage

…the introverts are huddled in the kitchen pouring another glass of wine or jack and coke to make it through, they love it, they love us but liquid courage helps.

…when everyone willingly decides to take a giant ass family picture because it means a lot to your mother…and in the end, you fall in love with all the funny pictures.

christmas family love2-30small

…and you pour through the out-takes realizing those shoes are never tied no matter how many times you tie them and sweet moments of family love you missed.

christmas portrait out take

…when one foodie sister is whipping up the best peppermint hot chocolate of your life, the other is breaking out the flying wish paper…and everyone makes a wish, watches it fly and catches it as it floats to the ground.

wish paper collage

…and you watch the generations of soul love and ritual wisdom being passed down to your kids right before your eyes.

wish paper collage magic

…you remember you still have some sparklers stashed away that you have been holding on to for just a moment like this.

mason sparkler love

…and you can’t remember a more beautiful night.

christmas family love2-65

…and just when you think it can’t get any sweeter, your sister performs her Christmas pageant number from the 6th grade while your mother is beaming like a Toddlers and Tiara episode. …and then you dance together.

melekeliki collage

…it was magical and messy.

…and then you lay in bed for literally 2 days after everyone leaves because you are completely exhausted and because you haven’t done such a thing in like 3 years…and you are happy…and exhausted.

You know it was 7 hours together, and who knows if it was so magical because you know how hard it was before…and you know how hard it still is…but you don’t think about it too much because there was a pretty table, too much ham, wishes and fireworks, small children blissed out with cousins, old people filled with joy, and dancing…and messy, messy love.

all photos by Tisha McCuiston

“I know there are no pictures with you and the kids, are there? I want to do this for you…”

I was instantly so melted. Tisha McCuiston is a one of the best photographers I know and so well loved by her clients and her friends. She reached out to me early in my photography days and extended a warmth and invited me into the community. Mostly I loved her because she never made me feel like a photography poser, and I STILL feel like one most days.

If you can believe it, we have never had any professional pictures taken. I was so excited to have her view/shoot our family love, because she holds a certain joy and steady happiness herself…I knew she would see it in a way I couldn’t.


“You know, I was thinking we should have a silly string fight for our family picture.” I wrote.

“Sounds perfect!” she replied.

I am sure most families do not request a silly string fight for their Christmas portrait but it felt completely logical to me.




She was so patient with and reveled in very wound up children.  We laughed hard and went through 30 cans of the good stuff.



She took time with us, after all the rush and goodness…after it was all over, we chatted about the laundry “situation” covering my dining room table and how we hustle to make ends meet. This woman works hard and happily. I really respect that.


Less than a week later, I went to check her website and found this. Tisha’s husband Daryl had been laid off…my stomach sank into my knees. This woman who had just shown me so much kindness, the woman who lives a life of giving was now facing all this 3 weeks before Christmas. *sigh*

I was trying to think of something, anything I could do to help. Even if it was small, just so she would know there were people behind her, to offer her the same goodness she has given to others so many times before.

I thought of our community…we have something here on Kindnessgirl to share- our voice! Tisha is offering Holiday mini-sessions for $300 ( this includes 20-25 digital copies AND session fee). I can’t believe she is offering this and hope it spreads far and wide- that her books are filled. For any mom that knows the juggle to keep things going and carrying the weight of trying to keep your family afloat, please pass on this post and Tisha’s info. It would be so wonderful to me if she knew in this moment how much she is loved and how far community can travel and rally.

There are so many more good pics to share…and Christmas cards full of silly love and goodness! Hope your holiday is sweet!

You can also read Tisha’s re-cap of the day here– she articulated it all much better and has more pics! So grateful for her!

the holiday of…

November 25, 2012


it was the holiday of…

a new made-up zombie game

chasing the taco food truck


another really lovely introvert’s dream thanksgiving

a feeling of contentment

but really, this holiday was all about the river…we live just blocks from the James River and everyday, we some how found ourselves by the water, rock hoppin’ or exploring Belle Isle. I figured out I may just be my happiest when I am with my family in nature…the kids were so blissed out.



I don’t know how it happened exactly, it just did….maybe we couldn’t  really see each other’s heart or pain, maybe it was just too hard, maybe we needed time, maybe we were angry, maybe too much built up without the words,  maybe we loved each other too much, maybe we were just tired.

Some where along the way, my family of origin sort of fell apart. The bones were there, some little pockets of connection held tight quietly, others grew…my parents still loved us deeply. It was painful and sad…because under it all, my family loved each other fiercely.

I pulled away, I said hurtful things, I showed up when I shouldn’t have and didn’t come when it mattered…I couldn’t find my voice or way. So  I left, we all sort of did in our own way…and at moments that felt okay and required but after awhile you forget that you can go back or you don’t know how…and there are parts of you that are still wounded and you don’t know how that will work.  …and you wonder if anyone else has changed like you have. Maybe we are more fragile than we know.

But it is this fragility and deep tenderness that holds the love, the misunderstood messy love that holds families together, even when it looks like they are in pieces.  After enough time, healing, and a quiet hope brewing, a sort of courage starts to emerge. My mom must have held it or seen it in all her wisdom, or perhaps she just refused to ever let it go…but she asked me and my 3 sisters to meet her in New York City to surprise my dad for his 70th birthday.

My mom never asks us to do anything…ever. It was so easy to say yes to her…but I was nervous. I didn’t know after 2 years of almost no contact with my sisters what it would be like. Actually, I was scared….and there was never any outright fighting, it  was always all the things unsaid, all the things we felt and held, and the tension of trying to love well. …and knowing we had failed each other.  …but the love was bigger, we could handle anything for 72 hours for my parents (with a little liquor help), we would be on our best behavior. I thought I was on a mission of survival.

I was completely unprepared for what happened next.

My sisters, one by one, came bounding into the hotel room with an open heart…I wasn’t prepared for their kindness. It was awkward and sweet…and so very familiar. There was more space to be who we were, there was careful and calculated respect, there were a few tense moments, there was still dysfunction and the family dance, there was great healing, there was humor, there was soul relief… there was so much joy.

My parents were delirious…we all found each other again.

Despite ourselves and after probably a million prayers by my mom.

We went to the opera at the Met. We listened to the life stories of taxi drivers because this is the family superpower- strangers and everything unexpected.

We walked Bellevue and saw the spot where my dad proposed. We heard the pain and joy of all that place held. It was the beginning place of our family.

We ate crazy amazing food. We saw a Broadway show. We went on a hunt for the best street gyro. We shopped. We started a Twitter account. We partied (well, some of us did) and helped with hangovers.

I have never seen my parents so happy…and then we said goodbye and left. Not everything was back to normal, because it can never be that way again but there was a building of something new. Each of us in a new place. …and it all feels like a sorted miracle.

You just never know…

how you can grow.

where your pain can take you.

how the other person might miss you.

how deep your love went.

how much you still need each other.

how important it is to hold on to hope, no matter how small it is.

what can happen next.

I don’t pretend to know how to fix anything or how to heal…I just know you can find each other again…even when it feels like that may never happen. It can. It does. It will.

It started with a duct tape obsession this summer. They made Minecraft figures, purses, hats, anything you could ever imagine with the new craze of colored tape. Josiah asked to be paid in rolls of green instead of money for his babysitting gig. So I asked them one day if they wanted to do a duct tape project together, they were way in. So we made a tree. Josiah covered the top with green, Jack made the cherry hearts…the girls held the scissors.

Shockingly, there was very little drama in the whole project…and you should know there is always a little in every bit of family togetherness. We wrote something we loved about each person in our family on the cherry hearts and put it in the corner. I never know what to do with such things when we are done. I only know they are important to do.  This makes for very un-grown up house decor, but I don’t mind so much.

The tree sat in the corner of our dining room that now has just turned into a revolving laundry station. When the kindness tree project was well over,  I was itching for something more.  Something I could see, something grand…but I wasn’t sure what and maybe it had to be grand and big because my soul was in a funk, it was holding all the wrong kind of reflection. Do you ever do that? Does your soul pick up things that don’t belong there? It was desperately needing some re-arranging. It is usually around this time, when you are funkified that the universe drops something in your lap.

I was looking into storytelling photography sessions (more on that soon!) and I came across Image Bearers Photography …oh such loveliness from Sarah. She had a session with the Kliewer family (Lindsey is also a birth photographer) The session was so dear, but my favorite part was a wall of gratitude that the Kliewer family made in their home. *sigh* It held so much.

This was just the thing. The girls and I got to work, the papers flowed…as fast as we could finish one, someone else was shouting out another to add. “Did you put Myle’s animal noises on there? Those are super funny, so grateful for that!” …what about the trampoline?! Did someone add that?”

We. could. not. stop. I thought it might be a work in progress…but we just kept going until the whole wall was filled. …and we ran out of tape. I ran into the night to 2 neighbors to borrow more.

and then each person, wandered in, mid-papering…smiled, and went to bed.  I was alone to finish the last squares.

…and I stood back, looking up and down each row…and started to cry. It’s hard to not be overwhelmed when you are staring at floor to 10ft ceiling holding everything good about your life. …and your soul can only see the beauty before you, literally. …and you can’t stop staring. It becomes all your soul can hold, nothing more. …because nothing more is needed.

…you have it, you hold it.