All The Small Things

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Living overseas 9-ish years out of the past 13 years, every single day was a constant opportunity to see and experience something new. Seeing a new place or trying a new local dish was an addiction, a rush. Travel is one of the reasons I ever invested in my first DSLR camera about 10+ years ago. I wanted to remember every single thing and photography forced me to look at the same thing/experience from every different angle. Photography has always challenged me to not just look, but really dig in and see.

I knew that moving back to the states a year ago (can’t believe it’s already been that long) would potentially pose a challenge of feeling stagnant and underwhelmed. I’m thankful for our home and our neighborhood. But I live in, what some might call a “cookie cutter” neighborhood. Without the risk of sounding like a diva, I struggled to find the beauty that was photograph-worthy in my every day scene.

Not long after we moved from Spain, our girl Lou’s struggles came tumbling down like a ton of bricks. My life became isolated to try and protect her from anything and everything. I went from exploring and adventuring to walking on egg shells daily to make sure her routine stayed the same every single day. She became fearful of leaving the house and for a while, even going outside. She went weeks without leaving the house, which for me as her primary caregiver, meant that I went weeks without leaving the house, too.

In those circumstances, we did everything we could to get her to want to get out and about. We started with simply putting in effort to just go outside in the backyard. We created a butterfly garden and even built raised herb gardens for her. She liked the idea of her own gardens and creating a place for butterflies. We required her to be a part of the entire process from researching which type of plants to use for butterfly gardening, to going with us to purchase the plants, all the way to digging the holes and planting. She’s also required to water and prune each of her plants. The responsibility and care was all her own; I just followed her lead.

Since she’s been involved with gardening, we’ve seen her confidence boosted and thankfully, she is no longer so afraid to go outside. She stands by the windows to await a butterfly and will bolt out the door to go and take a peek of it fluttering on her plants. She’s taken a delight in every living thing that wiggles, slithers and flies in our backyard. She has a thirst for identifying and experiencing new animals and critters. Seeing her face light up when there’s a new bloom or bird is absolutely heaven.

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We built the gardens to help her, but she’s taught me to see the beauty in the every day, even in the small things.

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Yes, even the lizards.

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And snakes.

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And the moths, too.

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I’ve never thought that I would be a bug-loving lady, but here I am.

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I went from photographing ancient castles in foreign countries to insects.

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And I love it.

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There’s been a whole heap of beauty around here all along.

I just had to open my heart to see it.

Thanks, Lou for being you and showing me there’s beauty in all the small things.

#shineleilashine

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Snaking Past Anxiety

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As I mentioned before, Lou is a lover of all animals, no matter how big or small. Her big sister has been enjoying camp at a nearby nature center this week and has told us such cool stories of the animals she’s been getting to interact with and learn about each day. In a perfect world, I would have sent both my older girls to this amazing camp but Lou just isn’t ready. She’s surely eager, just not ready. Yet.
The nature center only has a couple days a week open to the public in the summer. So, today I took Lou and Bean for a visit to see what all the fuss was about. They have some amazing classes with a lot of their animals throughout the day. This proved to be difficult (just like most of our public outings) for Lou because of the volume of the other excited children.
The tortoise and snake class was so packed and so loud and so full of children with no boundaries on personal space (I realize this sentence makes all other kids not my own sound like wild banshees. I’m sure that, like, only 70% of other kids are like wild banshees; the rest are just wild #mykidsareperfect #noseup). Lou tried her hardest to tough it out. Most of our outings with her are short-lived and almost always end in tears, screaming or full-on meltdowns. 
 
During the class, she was eagerly listening to the presentation when I could see her hands starting to rub the side of her shorts, her face looking stressed. She pressed on and eventually sat, tears rolling down her precious little cheeks trying so hard to just hang in there and fight past the noise that is so painful to her little ears.
I gave her her headphones and asked if she wanted to step outside. Her fingers and hands started to snap and rub, a behavior she has yet to control. She quickly took the headphones and eventually decided she couldn’t take the noise anymore and started to bolt towards the door. 
We ended up waiting in a separate area so Bean could play and Lou could slip into another world with the comfort of her favorite music overpowering the undesired noises surrounding her. I have a love-hate relationship with those dang headphones. I love them because they have allowed us to go out in public when we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. And I hate them because she’s tethered to an electronic device to keep her calm. But, hey, aren’t so many of us these days? I believe that with the therapies she’s involved in that this strategy will slowly drift away and we eventually won’t count on it so much. But, for now, they’re priority if we want any time out of the house.
After some time had passed and the wild banshees had fled, we returned to see the tortoises and snakes in hope that she’d get an opportunity to interact with one. We sat in a corner and waited until an animal didn’t have a crowd of children anymore. We witnessed a toddler picking up a stray turtle and then throwing it on the ground. I wished that if my (ever so deserving) child would just have a turn and if people would just quiet down and if she’d just have her space and if she could just get up there and touch a freaking turtle. Then I glanced at her, sitting patiently next to me, swinging her legs, fidgeting in her chair, listening to her music and humming.  She was really trying. So many times the noise has just been too much, the noise that’s not that big of a deal to me is a big deal to her. Sometimes we make it to peace and quiet in time to avoid the meltdowns, the screaming, other times we don’t.
But, for now, through her love of animals, she was really trying. Her patience was even outlasting mine. And I’m really proud of her for that.
And guess what?
Just when I thought the anxiety and Autism thought they were going to claim another day…
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Leila won.
The above picture is a picture of my girl holding a 3 year old corn snake and chatting it up with a precious volunteer filled with the same animal-loving energy as my girl Lou. Even if that woman doesn’t know it, she shared a very important connection with my girl today. I really wish I could hug her. She was patient, she was kind, she answered our questions.
BIOPHILIA2(SHARPER)
Lou is learning. We’re learning. It’s a process and one I’ll never forget. We’re in this together.
Today was a good day. Today Lou showed me perseverance.
#shineleilashine

Opting Outside With Kids

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It’s been 3.5 months since we became full-time campers (and we only have a couple of months left, eek). We’ve had our ups and downs learning the way of RV life, but so far, I’d have to say I highly recommend it. One of the many reasons that we chose this out-of-the-box lifestyle is to encourage our kids to appreciate the outdoors and learn more about nature. We didn’t choose this lifestyle to simply live in a camper; we chose to sleep in a camper and live outdoors. I strongly feel like this experience has been a gift to our kids and hope that they cherish these memories as they grow into adults.

There are several research-based studies that show the benefits of simply spending time outdoors. It’s relaxing, reduces stress, and not to mention, it’s free. Which means zero dollars spent so if things go south, at the very least, you’ve got nothing to lose.

I know that most of you busy parents reading this can’t just drop everything willy nilly and move into a camper full-time, but I would like to challenge you to at least carve out time, unplug from the world and connect with your kids by opting outside.

Here are six simple ways to get your kids off the couch and into the great outdoors.

Junior Ranger Program – Most State and National parks offer some type of Junior Ranger or Junior Explorer program. This is an excellent opportunity to not only have fun outside with the different activities included but to expand a childs’ education about the world around them. The kids even get a badge/pin at the end! Contact your local park about their programs and get involved.

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And, oh, they get sworn in upon completion which is pretty official if you ask me.

Pick a Park – Even if your kids don’t partake in the Junior Ranger program, your nearest State or National park can give you details on events that are coming up in their park. These events are mostly free (or cheap), always fun and packed with educational information.

Picnic – Who doesn’t love a picnic? Grab a blanket, make some sammies and grab a jug of sweet lemonade for a relaxing picnic outside. During the season of homeschooling we are in right now, we will pack up and spend the morning at a local state park while the girls do their work and finish up with a picnic lunch. It’s a simple kind of life and I like it that way.

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How cute is my barefoot Bean learning how to walk at one of our local state parks?

Nature Walks & Observations – One of the easiest ways to get your kids outside is to take them on a simple nature walk. Find your nearest nature trail or take a safe trek in the woods. Observing your local birds and wildlife first hand is a fun way to spend time outdoors. One of my favorite resources for getting ideas of activities that encourage my kids to get into nature is ‘The Nature Connection: An Outdoor Workbook for Kids, Families, and Classrooms. The Nature Connection suggests activities pertaining to the seasons, has wonderful illustrations and is extremely educational. The book also provides journal space and online links to access free printables that go along with the book.

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Fly a Kite – Most of us have kites at home, but if you don’t, kites are fairly inexpensive and a good way to spend time outdoors. We’ve flown plenty of kites while living near breezy coastlines. Often times you can find a kite tucked in the trunk of my car for spontaneous kite flying afternoons.

Camping – Yes, go camping. You can do it! It’s good for ya. Tent camping is such an adventure but if it’s a camper you’re looking for, you can find RV’s for rent by owner on rvshare.com (if you’re interested in a camp-cation on the Emerald Coast, contact me to rent our very own “Bunkhouse Bessy”). If you’re looking for ideas and activities to amp up your camping experience for your kids, check out one of my favorite camping books, ‘Camp Out!: The Ultimate Kids’ Guide‘ for endless activities, games and even campfire recipes that your whole family will enjoy.

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What’s your favorite outdoor activity with your kids?

Zahara + Grazalema Pit Stop

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Ahhh, an Andalusian summer has begun. It’s time to get up and get out to experience our beloved España. One of my favorite places to venture off to is Zahara de la Sierra. It’s just a little over an hour from Rota and the scenery contrasts greatly from the usual beach scene but is equivacantly beautiful.

So, brace yourselves, because these photos I’m about to show you will make you want to gather your friends and family and head for a hike straight away.

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White villages are like no other; quaint, quiet and charming.

The pathway to the top is very steep and not shaded which made for a difficult hike in the sun, but the views are so very worth it.

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Not bad, Zahara. Not bad at all.

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This is the reward once you finally reach the top of the very steep pathway. This little hike ends with a castle, as many good hikes do.

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Exploring the nooks and crannies of the castle is half the fun.

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My very handsome and smart brother visited for a weekend as he’s studying abroad in Rome. We visited him the weekend prior and it had been a whopping TWO years since I’ve seen him. Spain definitely has its’ perks but being away from family has got to be the worst downside. We were so happy to get to spend time with him and catch up.

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The next part I’m about to tell you is going to knock your socks off…

There is a restaurant in Zahara called Al Lago that ranks on my top 3 places I’ve eaten in Spain in the last five years. Yes, it’s that good.

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Make sure to start your meal with a selection of local cheeses (always a good choice) paired with quince and onion marmalade.

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My husband had the delicious sea bass.

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My smart little bro made the wise choice of salmon. Twas excellent.

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And I devoured this Moroccan chicken in about 10 seconds flat in the most un-lady like way. Al Lago’s moroccan chicken makes me kiss my manners goodbye, y’all.

On the way home, we wanted to bring my brother rock-climing so we took a 30 minute detour through the gorgeous mountains and went to Grazalema.

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We just love it out here.

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The views around here are just phenomenal.

To help you get on your way, check out these links:
Zahara de la Sierra via Andalucia.com
Book your stay at Hotel Al Lago via Booking.com
More information about Hotel Al Lago & Restaurant
Read about Grazalema hikes via Andalucia.com

Happy travels, y’all!

Feria de Cordoba

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On our way to the Alpaca Farm, we decided to pop in to Cordoba for lunch. We had no idea that Cordoba’s feria was taking place and stumbled upon it. Lucky us!

Cordoba is famous for its’ horses, their yearly patio festival and mosque. Here’s Feria de Cordoba through my lens:

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This horse was trying to run for its’ life after it discovered it was free from the reigns somehow. I initially was a lot closer to take pictures of these horses when I high tailed it outta there just like everyone else around me. I love horses but I prefer to steer clear of the feisty ones.

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Ole!

In Spain Today [June 10, 2016]

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I know we’ve gone over this but, isn’t Spain beauty-ful?

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If you were to visit Southern Spain today, you’d get an eyeful of miles and miles of sunflowers.

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Tall, golden and standing proud. They are a sight to see and we look forward to them each June.

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Like most Americans around here, I took a whole heap of photos of my very own beauties in the sunflower fields (if you’re on my Facebook, you’re privy to these photos). If you’re looking for a photographer, look no further than Erika Michelle Photgraphy. She has my stamp of approval and that’s pretty hard to come by.

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This little bumblebee might be the only thing that appreciates all these sunflowers more than me.

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Aw, heck. It sure is a great day to live in Spain.

I like long walks on the beach

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Small town folks like me can remember the first time they saw a body of water other than our best friends creek-front property, a man-made lake or the pool at the country club. I remember, clear as day, the first time I saw a body of water that had waves not created by a motorized boat or my older brother doing a belly flop. When I was 14, my family and I took a vacation to Gulf Shores, Alabama to see the gulf. From the moment I stepped foot on that beach, I was goo goo, gah gah, head over heels in love with the beach.

Once I high-tailed it out of my small hometown a few years later, I’ve been lucky enough to be living near the beach ever since. That’s what happens when you marry a handsome sailor, y’all. Since the weather has been so nice lately, the beach is where you can find me taking a nice evening stroll when I get the chance.

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In nearby Rota, there’s these really great boardwalks that were built in the pine forest. This is a heavenly walk for us stroller-toting Mamas who like the shade.

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The boardwalk lasts for miles.

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And, oh lucky me, there are paths that lead to the beach.

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And so far, I’ve found that…

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… living by the beach does not suck.

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I know a couple of beach bums that like long walks on the beach, too.

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That’s right, a couple of sea-glass findin’, sea shell pluckin’, frolicking little beach bums.

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Just like their Mama.