A portrait of my boys, once a week, every week in 2014
Van: Those scratches on your face and neck are from your brother; he likes to choke you out these days.
Hooper: You want to cuddle all. the. time. If only you were as sweet with your brother as you are with me.

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Side note: I wrote a guest post for Jordan, from Berlin by the Bay, on kids and technology. She posted it yesterday and you can read my thoughts on the topic here.

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To anyone who looks at these photos with any amount of jealousy, allow me to be frank: traveling with young children sucks. That’s not to say the water wasn’t warm, the sunsets beautiful, or the pineapples ripe because the water was glorious, the sunsets long and lingering, and the pineapple so ripe and sweet you’d wake up with mouth sores the next morning. Damn those mouth sores.  
But getting there required two long hours on a six hour plane ride with both kids screaming. And when the flight attendant offered Willy two bottles of Jack Daniels for free (because, hey, any parent dealing with two screaming toddlers damn well deserves a drink on the house), I swear the joke was on us when Van proceeded to spill it all over Willy’s lap. It was one of those plane rides. You know, the one where your child insists on bringing his beloved tennis ball on the plane only to have it rolling out of reach from one end of the plane to the other so then you turn to your grab bag of tricks and pull out a bag full of trail mix that you’re certain will entertain them for at least five minutes only the next thing you know the ground below you is sprinkled with trail mix like the steps outside a church are sprinkled with rice after a wedding. Needless to say, we got off the plane with our clothes smelling like liquor only to learn that Willy’s luggage was somehow lost. It was “found” hours later, because – you know – everyone there is on “Maui – aka lets all get stoned – time”.  
In any event, we spent the windy days exploring, the hot days on the beach, and every evening on the patio – drinks in hand – watching the sun go down with a mix of locals and vacationers alike doing the same.
Motherhood will always be a beautiful disaster. I’ll refrain from using the word vacation until the kids are grown and instead refer to trips like this as an adventure.  
What has your experience with traveling with kids been like? Do you consider it worth it?

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Ladida Kids

Rebecca, from La-di-da, was kind enough to send us these matching trunks and rash guards just in time for our trip to Hawaii. They are fantastically made and super cute. I had not heard of Ladida prior to Rebecca contacting me, but was so pleasantly surprised with all of their cute inventory. Here’s some of my top picks: these cut-off shorts, these adorable sandals, and this screw-little-girls-I-wish-it-were-in-my-size embroidered chambray dress. I asked Rebecca if she’d be kind enough to offer a discount for anyone interested in making a purchase. She was kind enough to oblige. Use promo code STORK30 to receive 30% off plus free shipping when you spend over $49.  
Many thanks to Rebecca and to Ladida Kids.

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Land of the Free

As I went walking that ribbon of highway
And saw above me that endless skyway,
And saw below me, the golden valley, I said:
This land was made for you and me.
Remembering all those who have served, and who continue to serve, this beautiful country. Happy Memorial Day, folks.

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A portrait of my boys, once a week, every week in 2014
It’s been unusually quiet over here. Not over here in the literal sense because it’s actually quite noisy and chaotic in the house; but here – on the blog – crickets have taken over. Life has finally caught up with me. It’s been a whirlwind as of late. The house is a complete disaster; part construction zone, part unpacking disaster. We have lawn chairs that are still in the living room and a garage full of trash, furniture we don’t have room for, clean and dirty laundry, and boxes that have yet to make their way to their proper rooms to be unpacked. There’s full suitcases that still have some Maui sand in them, I’m sure of, and other suitcases with mementos from our latest trip to Puerto Rico. Oh ya, and my sister is getting married today. So ya, life is crazy. In any event, this blog will carry on. I have loads of half-written posts begging for my attention and I have full intentions to give them such just as soon as I can. Here’s a glimpse at life this week:
Van: Has gone pee in the potty several times. Not sure he’s ready for official potty training just yet, but he sure likes the tic-tac he gets for pushing a little stream of urine out.
Hooper: Has to sit on his little suitcase because the table we had made was accidentally made too tall. I swear life is playing a joke on us. If you could see our makeshift tables over the past month, you’d know why having the perfect kitchen table delivered abnormally high is more than hilarious. And by hilarious, I mean ridiculous.
Click here

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19/52 & 20/52

A portrait of my boys, once a week, every week in 2014
Van: Spent much of his time in Maui looking like sand paper.
Hooper: Spent much of his time in Maui looking like sand paper, too.
A portrait of my boys, once a week, every week in 2014
Van: Got his first two year molar and has been a grump.
Hooper: Is into fort building. He refers to them as his “home”.
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Support Local: Merchant Square

Merchant Square is the largest boutique for antiques, memorabilia, handmade goodies, vintage items, records, jewelry, clothing, collectibles, and all sorts of other treasures. I have been here a handful of times during our many trips to the Phoenix area and I never leave empty handed. The staff is warm and friendly and eager to take something out of your hands so you can browse with your hands free. There is an outdoor area that has so much good stuff you’ll forget all about the 110+ roasting temp in the summer. With over 250 vendors, you’re sure to find something that sets your heart aflutter. If you’re in the AZ area, you ought to check them out. Bring your dough though, some of the booths are a bit overpriced and to my dismay, there is no longer an eatery (there used to be the cutest little hot dog / snack place you could grab a bite to eat).  
And be sure to check out the Savor’s down the street. I snagged two killer rugs the last time I stopped in there. 
Who’s from the AZ area? Have you been to either?

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Butcher Jones

I knew as we crossed the road and Hooper happily obliged to holding Van’s hand with a jolly, “Come on Boots, old my and” (we gave Van the nickname “Boots”) that it would be a good day. And it was. 
There are certain days in motherhood where things just seem to click; days where you think you’re out of milk after you’ve poured your bowl of cereal only to remember that you had bought another gallon – cuz’ you’re on it like that – and stored it in the fridge in the garage.
It was one of those days.
It was a day that, despite having the boys on my own (which is a feat all it’s own since my back surgery), I too had a good and – dare I say – relaxing time. I rested on the blanket and if I closed my eyes, I could be fooled into believing the dirt between my toes was indeed sand.
Buther Jones is located in the Tonto National Forest. The lake is set in the Sonoran Desert, a mix of beach and desert that’s sure to please beach bums and desert wanderers alike.
I watched as the boys played. My two little humans coming into their own, exploring together; getting along.
On the way home I cranked up the tunes and watched through the rear view mirror as both boys bobbed their heads back and forth with me, Van trying to keep the beat with his not-so-coordinated claps and Hoop eventually drifting off to sleep.
It was a day for the books. And I won’t even talk about banana mouth, cuz’ that’s just too much for the mama of that monkey.
*Hooper’s swim trunks are c/o Ladida kids. You can find them here.

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The Apache Trail

Sometimes we don’t know our own strength. Days fall on top of one another and are stitched together in quilt-like fashion so that by journeys end we’re covered in the warmest blanket just when the sun sets.
I think about all that my boys and our family have been through over the past six months; from my back surgery (which grows bigger in my mind in magnitude the further I get away from it), to selling most of what filled our home, to being hospitalized with a mean stomach virus, to then selling our home, losing Sarah, buying a new home and subsequently being displaced for over a month.
In the past month, the boys and I have spent somewhere in the ballpark of 28 hours in the car with the longest stretch being 6 hours without stopping. We’ve flip flopped between my parent’s home and Willy’s parent’s home, stayed in hotels, and spent one glorious night in our new home, together as a family, prior to packing up and filling the gas tank once again when the construction workers showed up the next morning. The boys and I had been without Willy for much of the month, which left me to field the “I want to see Sarah” requests and the “Where’s Papa” inquiries and the “I wanna go to our new home” proclamations.
Each morning, for the time we were in Arizona, Hooper had been getting up earlier than usual and crawling into bed to sleep some more or to simply allow me to hold him in my arms. This is a new thing; we don’t encourage the boys to find comfort in our bed. But there in Arizona, I think we both needed it; a routine and some added comfort to remind us that home is wherever we are together.
I spend a lot of time observing my boys; watching the way they interact with the world, with the dirt, with one another. I notice them take notice of the sun setting. I watch them squat gnats away. I watch them fight and I watch them entertain one another. And if there’s anything I’ve learned over these past few weeks it’s that they’re strong and adaptable and happy.
And on this particular evening on the Apache Trail, I couldn’t help but take notice of the way the mountains are layered, one in front of the other. A reminder that life does not read from left to right, but instead is comprised of peaks and valleys that are beautiful because they exist together – side by side – and are more breathtaking than any one peak or valley could ever be on it’s own.

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Sebastian + Taylor

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Interested in booking a session? I’d love nothing more. Please email me, ashley {at} thestorkandthebeanstalk {dot} com.

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The Salt River

As I watch my boys grow before me, I’ve adopted – in my mind, anyway – a more hands-off approach to parenting. Not to be mistaken for lack of care or concern, but instead intentional space made available for my boys to interact with the world on their own terms.
More and more, we’ve been spending our afternoons at a creek, river, beach, open field, or desert. It’s important, for me, that my boys build a relationship with nature, use their imagination, and play – more or less – independently.
Time carved out of our busy everyday lives, intentionally, to let them be kids; to encourage dirty clothes and soggy shoes. Because sometimes saying “no, don’t throw that rock” or “no, don’t get your clothes wet” gets tiresome and feels wrong as it rolls off my tongue. There’s a time and a place and I want them to know that.
And when they fall in the water or scrape their knees on the rocks, I don’t come running. I watch. And if I need to, I encourage them to work through it. More than that, I trust that they will get back up and when they do, I remind myself that a little coin just got added to their confidence jar.
We spent a few days at the Salt River during our stay in Arizona. The boys embraced the water, played with another couple’s dogs, threw rocks, looked at dead fish on the shore, fished with a stick and some string found on the bank, watched a wild horse graze in the field, and splashed around until the water practically turned to glass and the sun set over the cactus sprinkled mountains.
Where are some of your favorite places to take your kids exploring?
Votes over on Top Baby reset today. I would love if you would show me some love by clicking on the link below and then, again, on the owl on the left. It’s super easy, takes a few seconds, and means a lot to have all of your support. If you feel so inclined, you can vote daily. Thanks much. 
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A Guest Post: Thoughts of the soon-to-be-married

I’m getting married at the end of May. And, as I’ve told my sister and my mom, what I want most for my wedding is an ongoing gift of advice for how to be a good, loving, respectful wife. I know, that sounds boring. It sounds like I’m asking for casserole recipes and blow job tutorials. But, no. Mostly, I want to know how to start thinking as a duo, instead of just thinking for and of myself (as I have for the previous three decades of my life). I want to know how to be less selfish, more compassionate; less stubborn, more patient.
Here are my mental notes so far:
Divvy up duties: Tackle life as a team. Apply the “you make dinner, I do the dishes” philosophy to as many aspects of life as possible. Because life is complicated and it helps to high-five someone at the end of the day.
Touch: In the midst of “the grind,” give each other a quick hug, a kiss, a hand-hold, whatever. It makes all the difference—at least for me.
Admit your weaknesses: I think about this as being similar to claiming a fart when you’ve smelled up the room. Everyone knows it was you, so just own it. My soon-to-be-husband knows my weaknesses (I can be really rigid, I don’t like disruptions to “the plan,” I’m impatient, I’m almost too organized), so when I’m being particularly annoying, I can at least say, “Sorry, I’m being inflexible, huh?” (or whatever).
Praise your spouse’s strengths: I don’t really believe that one person “completes” another, but I do appreciate how someone can fill in gaps. My fiancé is much more easygoing than me (usually) and he is a quintessential good sport. He never complains. He’s very clean and does almost all the chores (I know, I’m lucky). It’s important for me to verbalize my gratitude for that to him so he knows—all the time—why I love him.
Make plans together: My fiancé and I bond over plan-making. We are calendar nerds. It not only gets us excited for whatever event is upcoming, but it gets us excited for doing that event together. I don’t want to slack off with this. I hope we still have full calendars twenty years from now.
Be nice: I know that sounds simple, but I can be guilty of taking love for granted and bypassing politeness and respect when I’m tired or hungry or cranky. It’s like I think, “he loves me, he’ll forgive my attitude,” but that’s not fair. I should treat him better than anyone else. I should always try to impress him as much as I did in the early days of dating. 
Treat each other better than you treat your pets. I heard this advice given by the Reverend at a friend’s wedding. I laughed at the time, but then realized how wise those words are. My fiancé and I have 3 cats and a dog. We talk to them with so much gooey, ridiculous, unconditional love. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to share that kind of love with each other too. Not like we’re going to give each other treats and wrestle on the floor with a tennis ball, but you know what I mean.
If he’s quiet, leave him alone. My fiancé, like most men, is not the most verbal when he’s upset. Out of my own insecurities (I tend to think his mood is related to me, which is really self-absorbed as I type this), I ask him if he’s okay, what’s on his mind, etc. This just bothers him more. I have to trust that if he’s bothered with me, he’ll tell me. Otherwise, he’s just sorting through something and he’ll get over it in his own way.
See beyond “your way.” This has been one of the most difficult relationship lessons for me. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to comprehend how someone could feel or act different than me in relation to a particular issue. But, my fiancé and I have known each other for 3 years; we didn’t know each other for 30 years before that. Obviously, we have our own ways of doing things, our own reactions, our own opinions. Instead of getting defensive when we don’t see eye to eye, I can ask more questions about his point of view. It should be more exploration, less argument.
Laugh. Almost anything is funny, especially with a little perspective. Usually within 24-hours of an argument, my fiancé and I will laugh about the dramatic thing one of us said. For example, on a now infamous hiking trip, I yelled, “This is way beyond my interest or ability!” We joke about that statement all the time now.
Go to bed angry. I mean, come on? We’re supposed to stay up until 2 a.m. hashing out things? That will just make things worse, as my fiancé and I are at our worst when tired. We don’t do well without proper sleep (and by “proper,” I mean 9 hours). It’s best for us to just go to bed perturbed. More often than not, we’re over it by the next day, or at least rested enough to discuss the issue calmly and resolve it.
Support each other. My fiancé is not a reader. At all. But when I finished writing my latest novel, he sat down and read the thing in, like, 3 days. Since then, he has helped me talk through edits. He refers to it as “our book.” My mission is his. I hope we always do our best to encourage each other’s passions and hobbies—from writing novels to hiking mountains to watching NFL on Sunday.
What advice would you give to the about-to-be-married?
Kim Hooper | Copywriter & Novelist | Also, my sister

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Bits + Pieces, from Arizona (round II)

Our original plan was to drive to AZ, spend some time with Willy’s family while our house got worked on, and return and move in. Easy Peasy. What I’ve learned, and ultimately have come to accept, is that nothing – when moving – goes as planned. After ten days in AZ we received word that our contractor took off for Mexico. It sounds more dramatic than it ended up being, but at the time we had no clue what that meant for us. We decided to come back early from AZ so we could find out more. I’ll spare y’all the details and say that it all got figured out but things were far from done so we went to stay with my parents. We were there for another week and a half and, again, things were still not done with the new house so after returning from the weekend I spent with my sister in Ojai, the kids and I took of – again – for AZ. Hence the round II.
Janet reminded me that moving is rated number 3 on the list of most stressful events, right behind divorce and death. And now, I know why. I get it. It hasn’t always been fun and we have had our fair share of curve balls (both cars breaking down at separate inopportune times, the contractor taking off for Mexico, Sarah being hit by a car… to name a few).
I digress.
The kids and I had so much fun. We went on several day adventures and my mother-and-sister-in-laws took me around to the thrifts and they always seem to serve me better than the second-hand stores here in CA. I came away with a peacock chair for our enclosed patio, tons of planters, two kilim rugs that look as though they were made for our hallway, various knick-knacks, a huge macrame that I can’t wait to hang, an old antique chair whose price tag did not reflect it’s value, a blanket, a rug for the boys’ room, and some other odds and ends.
The boys will surely miss seeing family they so

clearly love and adore; as will they miss the cows, the goats, the garden, and riding in the back of the pick-up truck down the dusty dirt road.

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A portrait of my boys, once a week, every week in 2014
Van: A rare hands free moment on the beach. Lately, he won’t let go of my hand when he’s anywhere near the water. Hoping our time in Hawaii cures him of his parasite ways. Run free little man, run free.
Hooper: Straight scheming. He’s definitely got a mischievous side.
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Support Local: Summer Camp

I drove past Summer Camp a couple of times not knowing it was anything more than a custom framing shop situated in an old automobile service station. On our way out, we stopped and I’m so glad we did. This place plays to the senses with good tunes, the best smelling candles, the most tactile displays like hangers made out of tree branches, and enough treasures so beautifully displayed that your eyes will be popping out worse than Wile E. Coyote’s. I came away with that adorable “Hunker Down With Me” banner (which can also be found

Color from best

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here), a copy of The Collective Quarterly that I had intended on ordering online anyway, and the tobacco and teakwood combo soy candle (found here), which the nice girl behind the counter said happens to be their best-selling one. If for no other reason (and trust me, there are many other reasons), I’ll be returning to Ojai to stop in at Summer Camp once again.

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Childhood Unplugged

A lake, somewhere in Arizona, on an evening where the light danced and the moon – in the distance – eagerly waited it’s turn to shine.
We have been spending more and more time outdoors now that the weather is not only inviting, but practically begging for company. My back has been getting stronger as well; every so often I turn a corner and I turned a new one right around the 6 month mark.
I’ve also been making a greater effort to let the boys explore since so much of what they knew as routine and home has been otherwise flipped upside down. A bit of freedom of exploration and joy of discovering in the midst of otherwise hectic and chaotic times.
Please join me in supporting the other photographers participating in the Childhood Unplugged movement by clicking here to see all our submissions. You can also follow us on instagram (@childhoodunplugged, where we all take turns moderating) and be sure to use #childhoodunplugged for a chance to be featured on our feed.

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