I first met Christina back in high school. You know how most people are a little embarrassed about their high school selves? Like, we’ve all improved since then, right? Well, what I remember about Christina is how funny, caring, and selfless she was. Her smile was magnetic and her personality was all-inclusive and warm. She needed no improvement; she was a rare find in a sea of typical high schoolers. Fast forward all these years later and I am feeling so honored to get to photograph her in this season of her life, where all those beautiful, sweet, funny, warm traits are meshed so perfectly with Cam’s that they are just pure joy to be around. Witnessing and documenting their love makes me smile so big. You’ll see why when you keep scrolling down. Fossil_Gorge_Winter_Engagement_EmilyCrall_Photo_0980.jpg

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After having met online and spending a few weeks in contact email and texting conversations, they met for sushi. “I just thought it so sweet that we both arrived early and he waited at the front door to greet me with a ginormous smile and a friendly hug,” she says. After a little mishap with the appetizer order, they spent the evening hanging out, talking the whole time. “I had a blast with [him] and wasn’t sure if it was too good to be true.”

Cam recalls knowing very early on, “like within the first couple of dates”, that she was the one, but she was still a little hesitant. “He waited patiently and it sure paid off for both of us! He’s my love and life long partner!” Even during the dating stage, things moved so naturally and effortlessly between them and just a couple of months into their relationship, Christina also realized this was the one she’d spend her life loving.

When asked what he admires most about her, he says, “She is a lady of faith, integrity, and honor. I can always count on her and she is everything I look for in a lady. She has the biggest heart. She is extremely intelligent and gifted, yet humble and empathetic towards others. She is lovely.”
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She had been suspicious of a pending proposal a few times, but knew it would happen at the right time. So when she planned a birthday trip for Cam to La Crosse, Wisconsin for their Rotary Lights show (because she loves Christmas lights!), she wasn’t initially suspecting anything, even though he kept dropping hints throughout the week leading up to it. But she was finally clued in when she asked him if she should get her nails done and he simply said, “Yep, thank you for figuring it out.”

“Friday morning December 15, I was antsy to just get engaged so we could relax and enjoy the day! God is so good though, right? I was reminded that in due time it would happen and sitting back, patiently, waiting and enjoying the moments would be far better than anything else,” Christina says.

“We stopped in Decorah, Iowa and just enjoyed the beautiful scenery along the drive. The Rotary Lights are apparently a huge deal, so we were lucky to arrive before traffic thickened up. Cam was hoping to drive over to Grandad Bluff and stop at this dive bar, Apine Inn, before the light show. We would have been stuck in traffic, so we sipped a drink at the hotel bar instead. Alpine Inn got bumped to possibly before or after dinner.

“Fast forward to the horse-drawn carriage through the Rotary Lights. I wondered if he’d propose then knowing the ring box had to be burning a hole in his pocket (likely, although I never did a pocket check).

“Cam requested we go to Alpine Inn before dinner. At this point, I realized we were about to get engaged. Being a go-with-the-flo guy, Cam doesn’t usually request much. We drove right by the Aline Inn and up to the top of Grandad Bluff. We were all alone up there, overlooking the city. It had started to flurry, the beautiful kind of snowflakes that keep their unique shape on your eyelashes and coat. Cam talked about our mutual love for God and creation/nature. He said a few more nice things of which I can’t quite remember. It’s crazy, even knowing the proposal was coming, it’s hard to remember alllll the details! The ring was so sparkly and huge! Holy smokes, he outdid himself! Cam even worked with the jeweler to design the ring. It seriously seemed to glow in the dark! Surreal– the ring, on my finger, my finger?! I was officially getting engaged to marry my love and best friend, Cam! What a lovely night!

“We stopped at Alpine Inn for fried pickles and sips of champagne (the bartender couldn’t believe we just got engaged!) and we called our parents and siblings.

We parked the car at the hotel and walked in the freshly falling snow to dinner 7 blocks from our hotel. The hostess seated us in a love seat (how perfect!!!). I wasn’t even hungry, just so excited! We shared a delicious dinner, seared tuna on cous cous with raisins and roasted veggies. In all the excitement Cam shared about our engagement, and they served us a delicious piece of chocolate cake with a candle. My cheeks hurts so much from smiling and laughing! What could honestly be better?!”

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They are just a little over 2 months away from their wedding day and I am so excitedly looking forward to spending the day celebrating their love and commitment to each other! Christina & Cam, you guys are a true joy to be around!
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Hi my sweet girl,

It’s been a whole month, 31 days, since you were first placed in my arms, screaming like your world was ending. In a way, I guess it was. Everything that you knew, all the warm, cozy, whooshing sound of my womb, was instantly replaced with cold, naked, bright, and foreign. You were born in a whirlwind, one moment I was resting in the hospital bed and 5 minutes later, you were in my arms. You’ve been taking us for a roller coaster ride ever since.

I’d be lying if I said this past month has been easy. In some ways, I was more prepared for this stage than I ever was with Henry (because there’s nothing that can prepare you for that first time newborn experience), but in other ways, I realize I had blocked a lot of my memories of the first weeks with him because they were just so hard. So while I rest assured that I know it gets easier this time (I truly thought at one point with your brother that the rest of my life would be like that; I felt hopeless), I am also making it through one day at a time thinking, “Wait, you’re only 4 weeks old? How can we speed this up?” I know we will make it, but, girl, the making it is really hard sometimes.

I hear others saying they just want to slow time down and bottle up this newborn-ness and I’m over here like, “No thanks. Let’s move along, please.” And I’ve realized that it’s okay for me to feel that way. I felt so much guilt with Henry about the newborn stage and truly thought I wasn’t cut out to be a mother because of it. But then he got bigger and it got better and better and better and I realized that it’s okay for me to have a stage of my children’s lives that I’m not good at. I know I’m not good at having a newborn, but I also know that I am good at having a 4 month old. So I keep pushing on, doing the very best I can with you (rocking, bouncing, feeding, shushing, singing, burping, #allthenewbornthings) because I know my thriving days are coming. They are just up ahead.

One of the biggest struggles that I didn’t know how to prepare for is the balancing of two kids. Your brother is 3, very independent by your standards, but also very much needing me still for daily life. And you are 1 month so absolutely dependent for everything. Being so needed is both an honor and a weighted load. Some days I want to just crawl into bed and hide under the covers and hope that no one will find me. And then other days, I’m up and ready to tackle whatever hits us. I am constantly looking around at other parents with 2+ kids and saying, “Look at them. They’re doing it. If they can do it, we can too.” Because that comparison is my only encouragement on the hardest days. Seeing others thriving (or, at the very least, surviving) makes me feel like I can too.

Now, all of this talk is so heavy. I wish I could just talk about unicorns and rainbows and cuddles. But I feel the responsibility to be honest and so this is my honesty.

Amidst all of the difficulties of taking care of a baby, you must know, my darling, that you’re so loved. My struggles as a mother during this stage of your life are no reflection of you. I realized with Henry that I’m not that great during the first few months, but I hit my stride later on and then there’s no stopping me. And while I am so desperately looking forward to hitting that stride with you too, I am in the meantime, loving you with all that I have.

You are perfect. You are a miracle. And the fact that you are ours astonishes me. How did I get so lucky to not only get one child, but two? Not just Henry, but you too?

In this first month, we’ve started establishing a routine. You eat every 2.5-3 hours during the day and, at night, you will go as long as 4.5 hours between eating. It seems like you’re sort of all in or all out as far as good nights go. Either you’ll eat and go right back to sleep at every feeding or you’ll eat and then struggle for an hour to fall back asleep. There’s no mediocre with you. And while I don’t try to compare you with your brother, I’m just here to tell you, he was a 12-hour sleeper by 12 weeks so, you know, if you’d like to be competitive about it, I’m on board.

You are a good eater now that I gave up breastfeeding and instead pump and give you bottles. The first few weeks we struggled with a lot of things. Sometimes you’d eat like a champion and then sometimes you’d fight the entire time. It was exhausting and draining in a way I can’t even describe, made even more so with another child to also take care of. Somehow you gained a lot of weight though and you were already a pound over your birth weight by 2 weeks. You are now 8 pounds, 7 ounces!

Your cheeks are getting chunkier (oh, the sweetest little cheeks to kiss!) and you’re slowly starting to fill out those twiggy little legs and arms. I hope you get little rolls soon. You’re still in newborn clothes, but I know in the next month, you’ll be advancing to a new wardrobe.

Just like you have good and bad nights, you also have good and bad days. The good days are so wonderful. They are the breath of fresh air that I need. The bad days are no fun, but I am constantly reminding myself that you are so new to this world and it’s totally normal for you to be overwhelmed so I’m trying to give myself the same grace that I give you. We will conquer this vast world together, my child.

You’re growing and changing and I’m checking off the dates on the calendar just as quickly as they come, but I’m also trying to lock away some of the little memories that I love, like the way you stretch your arms overhead and arch your back when I unwrap your swaddle. Your little eyes squeeze shut and you scrunch your forehead into little wrinkles and squeak as you reach. I love how you tuck your knees up into your chest and snuggle your head under my chin when you’re falling asleep. I love how peaceful you are when you’re sleeping. I’m convinced that sleeping babies are God’s way of saying, “You’ve got this.”

My darling girl, I am so grateful I get to be your mama. I am excitedly looking forward to all of our adventures together, especially knowing ours will be so different than the ones I have with your brother. Knowing I have gotten two unique gifts makes me want to cry with gratitude. I longed for you my whole life. And now to have you…it’s the most overwhelming challenge and wonderful adventure that I’ll ever face.

I love you, baby girl. I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Mama

Weighs: 8 pounds, 7 ounces
Loves: not a whole lot right now except eating and being bounced
Wears: Newborn in clothes, size newborn diapers
Sleeping: Just starting sleeping 4 (occasionally 4.5) hour stretches at night; we’re all happy about it

Taking pictures is not for the faint of heart; there was a lot of this going on the whole time, with Henry also insisting on taking his own photos. 

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With a little baby on the way, we needed to get Henry moved out of his nursery and the transition has been strangely easy; far easier than we ever expected! His new room was our old guest room and we decided to get rid of the full size mattress and get him a twin size bed instead. Since I’m always trying to organize and create more space, I was on the hunt for a bed with some storage. Thankfully, I found the perfect solution at IKEA! (I linked everything at the bottom of this post!)

I moved some stuff over from his nursery, like the rug, but I’m keeping the nursery mostly the same with a few girly updates (more coming on that room soon) so Henry got some fun new surprises and he was so excited to move to his “big boy room”.

My mom helped me repaint the room. It was a beautiful turquoise color before, but I wanted something light and neutral for Henry. I went with the same light gray color that I had used in the nursery a few years ago so that was easy. As with the rest of our entire house, we used Valspar paint. I linked the exact shade at the bottom. It’s the perfect neutral gray; not too green and not too blue. Little_Boy_Room_EmilyCrall_Photo_0961.jpg

I found this adorable “scenic route” fabric online and once I was finally able to track it down on an Etsy shop (lucky, because now I can’t find it anywhere!), I made some wall art simply by wrapping it around a large piece of foam board and hot gluing it in place. Since it was just fabric + foam board, I could use 4 straight pins to attach it to the wall, making minimal holes! I had gotten enough fabric so that my mom could make a new pillow cover for that large, oblong pillow to match (that pillow was originally in a cute black embroidered case on the bed here). When Henry goes to bed, we put that pillow along the wall so that he has a sort of bumper pad and doesn’t hit the wall while he’s sleeping. He loves cozying up to it as well as hunting for objects in the pattern, like the little squirrels, birds, bikes on trailers, campers, and beavers. He pilfered that yellow pillow from the couch in the living room.
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This custom calligraphy print has the verse we chose for Henry’s baby dedication at church. And that gray wheel cart is from Target. It currently houses some miscellaneous things, like his sound machine, diffuser, some toys, and an array of pull-ups and overnight diapers for this potty training phase of life.  Little_Boy_Room_EmilyCrall_Photo_0963.jpg

I loved the bookcase that we got for his nursery several years ago so much that I got another one for this room too. It’s the perfect size for smaller rooms, tall, but also narrow.
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While I was taking pictures of his room, he kept popping in to check up on me and then he decided he needed to read some books on his bed. I wish I could say I posed him like this, but anyone with a 3-year-old knows how impossible that would be. Since he was just minding his own business and looking all adorable, I decided I didn’t mind him being there so I didn’t kick him out. 🙂

The curtains are blackout curtains I grabbed on Amazon. I didn’t think they’d actually work; blackout curtains tend to never truly “black out”, but I was really surprised at how great they are! I highly recommend them. This kind of curved rod helps too as well as hanging them much higher than the window itself.
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I wanted a way to hang up some of Henry’s art so I grabbed this curtain rod. I debated between this one and these, but ultimately went with this one for no reason other than it was cheap and I can cram lots of paper onto it.

That backpack was a gift when he was a baby and that shadow box has one of his newborn onesies, his hospital tag, and his newborn footprints.
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The bedding is all from Target. I grabbed the plus sign sheets specifically for his room, but the gray blanket on top of his bed was sheer luck, as it was one I had on hand to use for lounging. I got the idea of buying twin size blankets from a past bride, who said the length of the twin size blankets (as opposed to normal throws) was so much cozier and I realized she was totally right! So I had grabbed this gray blanket and a few others over the years. It ended up working perfectly for Henry’s room!
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Lastly, I got those fan knob pulls several years ago at Lowe’s and they are the most genius pulls ever, mostly because the chains are the same length so it was always impossible to remember which one was for the fan and which one was for the light. These are cute, but also fully functional!
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Bedframe & storage drawers: IKEA
Armoire: Craiglist, but originally from IKEA
Cloud wall lamp: IKEA
Beanbag chair: Target
Picture Frame: Target
Verse Calligraphy: Custom by Kayla Schlabach
Wall art fabric: “Scenic Route” fabric by Riley Blake Designs from ParkTextiles
Plus Sign sheets: Target
Gray blanket: Target (no longer available, but similar style here
Gray rolling cart: Target
Bookshelf: IKEA 
Rug: West Elm 
Art hanger: IKEA from Amazon
Wall hook peg rail: Amazon
Blackout curtains: Nicetown from Amazon
Wraparound curtain rods: Urbanest from Amazon
Fan pull chain: Lowe’s (also available on Amazon
Paint: Valspar Signature from Lowe’s, Sandstone Gray, #7004-18

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Last year was the first year I offered mini sessions, mostly because I had a lot of past bridal couples who were begging for family photos now that they had gotten married and were starting families of their own. Fall snuck up on me this year and the weather was slightly trickier; it went from summer-hot to winter-cold without much of a mild autumn in between. We had to reschedule some sessions due to the weather, but I was so glad to be able to photograph these lovely families!

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My sweet son,

This past year has brought so many new milestones for you and this next year will bring your biggest one yet, your new role of big brother. You love to feel my belly to see if your little sister is kicking and when I asked you a few weeks ago what you want for your birthday, you said, “My baby sister.” I know getting a sibling will bring many new responsibilities and challenges, but I am so excited to watch you love her and teach her and guide her. She will be the luckiest little girl to have you in her corner.

It is a little bittersweet for me to see age two come to an end. This past year has been the most fun yet and my only hope is that three will be even better because, so far in your life, just when I thought it couldn’t get better, it always has. It’s hard to recap a whole year worth of childhood in one letter but I’ll do my best.

Before your second birthday, we ditched your pacifier during the daytime, limiting it only to the crib. This year, we got rid of it completely. You were very attached to it and we expected it to be a huge deal, but somehow, you completely surprised us. I think due to teething (molars?), you kept biting through the pacifiers and I was finally tired of buying new ones so when you bit through the last one, we tossed it out and told you that we didn’t have any more. You tried to negotiate a trip to Target to get another one, but I told you no and that was the end of it. You asked for it one more time later than night at bed, but never asked again and have been fine without it ever since.
Knowing your sister is coming at the end of this year, we had a few things we knew we needed/wanted to do: get rid of your pacifier (done), move you to a big boy bed/room to free up the nursery, and potty train you. A few months ago, I started working on your new room. The guest room got a makeover with new paint and a full clean out. We got rid of the full size bed in there and bought you a twin bed. I had so much fun taking some of the items you already had and adding to them to turn your new room into a more grown up room for you. When the room was done, you immediately asked to sleep in your “big boy bed” and, though I was nervous about it, I let you take a nap in there that day. You were given strict instructions to stay in the bed and, in the same manner as the pacifier situation, you breezed through the transition without any problem. You went to sleep on your own and stayed in bed even when you woke up early from your nap, just reading books until I came to get you. That night you wanted to sleep in there again so we tried it and, same! You’ve been in your new room ever since. You’re so proud of it.
Knowing we were 2 for 3 in successes for what we had thought would be challenges, we approached potty training just 2 weeks ago with some hesitation (as least, I did!). I can’t say that you’ve been 100% successful, but you’ve also done far better than I expected you to do and you’re so proud of yourself (as you should be). By the second day, you were telling us when you needed to go (some of the time; the rest of the time was by your “potty watch” timer going off) and by a week in, you started having dry diapers overnight. We continue to try to be consistent with it and are so proud of how great you’re doing!

When you turned two, you were hardly talking, saying only a few words (I think we counted maybe 4?). Our pediatrician, though not worried, advised that we meet with a speech therapist just to get some tips. So this past January, we had our first meeting with a speech therapist. It took a few weeks for you to get comfortable with her and then you just started bursting with words. Your perfectionist tendencies were in full view as I watched you become confident enough to try and, as soon as you knew you could do it, you didn’t stop talking. After just 6 months of twice monthly sessions, you were able to graduate, something we were told rarely happens that quickly. You are armed with a plethora words and are constantly surprising us with your funny phrases (like, “You got it, mama!” when asked to go pick up your toys and “Oh, dear me.” when you drop something). Just last week your friend came over and you were so excited you started jumping and shouting, “I am jumping for joy!” You like using big words like enormous and exhausted. It has been so fun to hear your brain in action and watch your imagination explode.

You still love books and I suspect and hope that you always will. We try to vary our lineup by going to the library a lot and I’m so looking forward to our second year of doing our Christmas book advent calendar. You have many of your books memorized so sometimes you will “read” to us and the way you get some complex pages correct word-for-word blows my mind.

 You are 100% boy when it comes to things with wheels. You are obsessed with vehicles: trains, construction trucks (bulldozers, dump trucks, excavators, cement mixers, etc.), garbage trucks, fire trucks, farming equipment (tractors, combines, 4-wheelers, skid-steer loaders), and semis (which you love to count on the interstate from your bedroom window). Your daddy took you on a train ride one Saturday while I had a wedding and we all got to ride the Hawkeye train a few weeks back. You think all trains are the Hawkeye train now and they are all “going to Iowa City!” Grandpa and Grandma’s farm continues to be your favorite place to hang out. You got to ride in the combine this fall and you always beg tractor rides out of Grandpa. If it’s too cold to be outside on the real equipment, you make yourself at home with all the toy tractors and wagons that are inside. It seems like you never have enough time there and you are always sad to leave, no matter how many hours you have spent playing.

Henry, I cannot imagine our lives without you. You have brought more joy and laughter to us than we ever dreamed. I think I imagined that parenting would just be this big challenge (and some days it is!), but I never imagined that parenting would be such a joy and a privilege. Your personality continues to shine and I’m so proud of who you are. We know that we are leaders by example and, though that weighted responsibility is terrifying, we hope to continue to guide you to love others, seek out the lonely, and be respectful, gentle, patient, and kind towards all of humanity. You will never fail if you love God and love others, that I promise you. Your life has purpose beyond our wildest dreams and I am so excited to watch you grow into the plans God has for you.

Being your mama has been my highest achievement of honor. I love so very, very much, my child.

Happy birthday, beautiful boy.

Love,

Mama

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Loves: dairy products, “toast” (french toast bites), Puppy (your stuffed best friend), reading books, playing outside, anything with wheels, technology of any kind, “typing emails” which consists of using a keyboard, singing songs and listening to music, and painting
Wears: 2T and 3T in clothes (you are skinny and tall so it’s a challenge with pants!)
Sleeping: 8:00PM-7:30AM plus 1 nap during the day

They first met in Ames while she was attending Iowa State University, though technically, she says, they met in Iowa City a few years prior, but never really talked at that time. He was visiting with mutual friends and they hung out briefly for the two days that he was in town and then continued texting until they went on their first date a few weeks later.

“I wouldn’t say I remember a specific date or time that I knew he was the one,” Anna says. “Over the first year, I could tell our relationship was real and completely different than any other that I had ever been in. After my first year of optometry school (we would have been together around 2 years at that point), I knew that if we could make it through that, we could make it through anything. [That] first year was so trying on our relationship because of my school schedule. We managed to see each other about twice a month and text/FaceTime when we could. He was (is) my biggest cheerleader and continually supported and motivated me throughout my schooling when I doubted myself. I’m sure he repeated the same speech multiple times a week and he did so without complaining. During my first year, we found our relationship getting stronger while most of my friends at school were breaking up with their long-distance significant others. I know many people would not have held on and made long distance work for five years.”

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Travis proposed last Christmas Eve. “She was getting close to graduation from optometry school. She was either going to come home to work or do a residency outside the state. I knew I wanted to propose but wasn’t exactly sure when or how. I went to look at rings for fun and little did I know I would spend 3 hours in the store deciding between rings. After picking a ring, I needed to decide how to do it. The first thing I did was ask permission from her parents and brother (they said yes, of course) and then I needed a plan. Annie was coming home 3 days after I bought the ring and I decided I would propose while she was home for the holidays. Her parents and I came up with the idea to ice skate at her family pond/cabin (she had wanted to ice skate together for some time now). I organized a photographer to be there, who was set up in an ice hut on the pond (with a heater). I also informed close family and friends to gather at a local bar to celebrate afterwards. The day came and I was able to convince her to ice skate and that we should try on the pond, and she somehow agreed despite the light sleet. We ice skated for a little bit and then I got on a knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes and we proceeded to have dinner with our families and then celebrate at the bar with everyone.”

We had to reschedule this session once due to nasty weather and, even though it ended up being cold for this too, the sun brought us the most magical light and we found some shelter from the wind. I’m so glad we were able to find some color left in the trees (look at that orange and red!) and this couple brought all the love in the world for me to photograph! I have way too many favorites from this session, but I consider that a wonderful problem to have!

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I always ask the couple a few questions before their session, including what they love most about themselves (e.g. eyes, hair, smile) so that I can make sure to highlight that in their images. Travis’ response to that question was simply, “Annie.” But with her eyes, cheekbones, and smile, you can see why he’d say that!
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