Archives for January 2014

Good morning, joy!

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I’m often taken aback by my kids’ infallible sense of anticipation and adventure. Adults wake up at 6:43 AM and know “It’s Thursday, it’s Friday…” Days equal weeks, and weeks equal months. We’re so linear. Kids? Not so much. Not at all, really. And I love that about them.

My kids wake up full of nothing but anticipation of the day. Some days our girls wake up, put on knitted cat hats, and meow all morning. Why not? Today, a zebra and a frog where dancing in our bathroom. More than once, Hudson has ripped open the fridge and wrangled the whipped cream for “breakfast” while I eat my bowl of organic oatmeal. Fun? Yep, I tried it! (Before anyone gasps, that’s followed up by his favorite, bananas, and other whole foods.) My point is, I just never know what they’ll surprise me with. It’s random bits of fun, imagination and magic combined. They are all emotion, no logic. Kids really do balance out the adult world.

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We make our lives as predicable as possible by necessity, and that fact tends to blot out that zest, that arms-wide-open “come at me day!” attitude that my pumpkins demonstrate every day. I revel in the wonder that I see in my babies’ eyes each morning as they peek out at the world when I pull up their shades, and eat it up when Gwenyth stands on her toes to see as far as she can and whispers, “What a beautiful day.”  I’m loving the questions and snippets of kid wisdom that Teagan, my “little poet,” comes up with: “Mommy, why’s the moon chasing us?” “Mommy, do dinosaurs have belly buttons?” “Do chickens lay bunnies?”


Every day they wake up with open eyes, hearts and minds – and they are thrilled, really just so excited to be part of the world. That’s goodness. That’s really living. It’s the feeling of a permanent Saturday, the thrill of that first day of summer vacation or Christmas morning, it’s your birthday, it’s a trip to the beach, your first time on an airplane….at the core of things, it’s joy at the dawn of each day, just for the day’s sake.

Before you pull your shades up tomorrow, promise to keep your eyes open for chickens laying bunnies, down some whipped cream from the can, wonder why the moon is chasing you, and remember the things that make you grateful to be taking a trip around the sun. Let yourself be open to the wonder around you, and in that, I hope you’ll find joy!

Love comes in platinum: Hudson’s Valentine’s Day photo shoot!

Taking photos of my 22 month old mini-man is like taking a photo of a hummingbird. Constant motion! Unlike big sisters Gwenyth and Teagan, both glamour hams, Hudson Thomas has his own agenda. Really, mommy? Really? It’s all good. I bribe him with candy. Yep. No shame. If I’ve taken pictures of your darling, I’m sure some sugar-coated treat was busted out to encourage adorable eye-batting or head tilting just this way or that. In the case of a toddler like mine who would rather play with his trains, (or run back and forth behind your back-drop set up, thrilled and laughing, obviously knowing that you’re panicking, thinking he’s going to charge through it like a bull) – that candy was a legit bribe just to be still for a single shot. My platinum pumpkin did well, he did. He learned quickly that if he stood in the spot on the studio floor mommy pointed to long enough and looked at “the circle” (my lens), he’d be rewarded with a conversation heart. Smarty pants. Mommy’s baby! And his favorite flavor? All of them. 

Hudson's PicMonkey Collage

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First up on my inspirational people list: Leah B. Mazzola


Photo courtesy of Leah B. Mazzola

Ever meet someone and just marvel at his or her accomplishments? I sure have, and I’ll be showcasing some of the amazing people that I encounter –individuals who are an inspiration, those who make a difference and give back using their unique set of gifts and talents.

The first person on my “inspirational people” list is Leah B. Mazzola. In her LinkedIn summary, Leah writes: “I’m passionate about using my powers for good.” She’s living up to her words. Owner of the Snug Agency: The Coaching Boutique for Her, based in the Dallas/Fort Worth Texas area, Leah is committed to coaching teens and young women in the areas of social and emotional intelligence, academic, career, recovery, negotiation/mediation, and conflict resolution.

Oh, did I mention that Leah and her husband are raising 4 children? How about that Leah overcame huge obstacles early in her life, and is earning her Ph.D in juvenile forensic psychology while successfully balancing life as an entrepreneur, student, wife and mother? To get to know Leah better and understand what motivates her, I asked a few questions:

What are your top 3 goals, personal or professional?

First, three is hard. I have a lot of goals! These are my top.

  • To finish my dissertation in under a year, six months preferably. That means ringing in Dr. Leah in 2015!
  • To build our dream home in the next year and focus on family travels while the kids are still young enough to want to spend time with us.
  • To grow my coaching practice and coach training program to the go-to places for restorative, science-based high-risk youth/young adult interventions.
  • To grow my non-profit into a low-key scholarship/grant giving program for high-risk youth and young adults demonstrating persistent progress toward positive transformation.
  • To be a leading expert in juvenile forensic psychology.

What drives you? 

Meaning and purpose. I draw happiness from tailoring my pursuits to make a positive difference. I need my children to understand that we are not here to live a life unto ourselves. Whether we know it or not, our lives affect those around us. It’s up to us to decide if that impact is positive or negative, empowering or defeating.

I also need them to know they are only limited by their own doubt. They can accomplish anything they want to if they’re willing to suffer for it. We’re here to learn and grow. Growth means greater capacity to help. Growth requires always pushing beyond our current limits. It requires adaptability, flexibility, and humility; willingness to accept the things we can’t control and accountability for what we can. Growth and pain are synonymous. It will get hard. It will hurt. You will fall short. You will fail. You will question yourself. You will need to pick yourself up, apply the lessons, and keep moving forward. It will often be lonely, lonely isn’t so bad, it will be worth it.

Recently, my son came in to talk to me while I was wrapping up a day full of writing papers. He said, “Mom, I think you’re the reason I’m so smart, because you motivate me to get all my work done. Since I always see you sitting at your computer doing all of your work before anything else, you motivate me to get all my homework done at school before anything else, even when other kids are doing other things.” That’s what drives me. Knowing they’re always watching and my example carries weight.

What are you most proud of? 

  • That I made a decision at 17 to stop using my past as an excuse to screw up my life.
  • That I refused to allow my son to grow up in a detrimental environment and did what I had to protect him and raise him happy and healthy. Even when that meant working three jobs while pursuing a degree full-time as a single mom to push us through to a comfortable living.
  • That my children live every day in a safe, healthy home environment with two parents who love and support them.
  • That the possibility of going to college never entered my mind as a teen and I’m now a PhD student. I’ll hold four degrees upon completion in 2015 (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD). I’ll take a break for a bit to focus on family and go back for a J.D. when the older kids are off to college.
  • That I found a way to do what I love for a living.
  • That I get to apply my experience, strengths, and passion to helping other young people and women understand that no past must define your future, to challenge them to be more and do more.
  • That I get to train other professionals to do the same.

What do you want people to know about you?

I’m a worker bee and a happy extreme introvert. I actually don’t talk much without someone coming to me to initiate a conversation. I listen and analyze. I’m a complex thinker. That’s kind of why I make a pretty awesome coach! I was born to listen and offer deep insights. I thrive on productivity. I rarely come up to breathe, but I function best that way. I’m also a helper. I will help anyone in any way I can. I’m wired for helping professions.

Who or what inspires you?

    • My family.
    • My children.
    • People who defy the odds and thrive regardless of suffering.
    • People who consistently push themselves to the next level.
    • People who are grateful for what they have.
    • People who are not afraid of hard work.
    • People who remain humble despite ridiculous success.

What “ah-ha” moments or life lessons do you want to share?

We live by the stories we tell ourselves. My greatest ah-ha moment was checking what I believed about myself, and then challenging it; stripping the helpful from the unhelpful and leaving the unhelpful behind. We define self. We are either our greatest support or our own worst enemy. I propelled forward when I chose to rethink my self-concept and build a healthy, helpful view of me for me, no one else. I live to evolve, to learn, and grow. It’s the only way to be. Approaching life from that vantage point means no good or bad experience is ever just good or bad. Both are a learning and growth opportunity. Both make me wiser than I was yesterday. “Experience is the teacher of all things.” – Julius Caesar

Despite her own “ridiculous success,” Leah remains humble, and an inspiration!

Gwen and Tea-Tea’s Valentine’s Day pics!

Thanks to Phil, my studio is ready! My ladies and I had a lots of fun in our Valentine’s Day photo shoot this weekend. Gwen’s middle name is Rose, and Teagan’s is Love, so our props were oh-so-fitting! And for the record, Gwen likes the taste of the green conversation heart candies, and Teagan likes the pink and purple ONLY. Hudson’s “studmuffin” pics are coming soon; hang on, toddler girls!

Gwen V Day collage 1




Gwen V Day collage 2

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Tea V Day Collage 2



Baby’s First Valentine’s Day

The Boniface Family

Looks like this mommy has two valentines this year! I was so, so happy when my good friends, Jenessa and LJ, asked me to take Valentine’s photos for their beautiful family. Lennox, 8 months, was a ham in his special “Be Mine” bib, and he sure does love his mama! We started by finding just the right spot outside their home, and decorated a tree for a festive background and to add to the love!

PicMonkey Collage


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PicMonkey Collage 2

Lennox had a rose for his mama. What a charmer!


How to Raise a Gentleman

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Hudson, rollin’ with his gentleman cousin, Eli

I wrote a version of this post a while back, and it was published on Daily Mom. I’m glad to share a beefed up version of it here on Ruffles and Trains! My mini-man, Hudson, is just shy of two years old, and like all moms, I have high hopes for my little man. While I don’t know what he’ll end up doing for a living, what types of hobbies he’ll have, what friends he’ll make, and places his little toddler feet will take him once they grow to fill shoes much bigger than mine, I’m working hard now to lay the groundwork for him to grow into a gentleman.

Who’s that guy?

He’s the guy opening the door for you, the one helping a stranger change a flat tire on the side of the road in the rain. He knew to give your mom flowers on Mother’s Day without you dropping the hint. He plays fair in relationships because he knows the value in honesty. He respects your opinions even if he disagrees with you. Before becoming prince charming, he was the boy who stood up for the underdog in gym class, the kid who had the courage to lead, not follow – the one who said “please” and “thank you” at the right times without an adult reminding him. Odds are, he had a mom who knew how to raise a gentleman.

Teach him to lead, not follow

No one raises a child to be one of “the sheep,” following the crowd without a thought. This becomes especially touchy when older preteens and teens flex their independent muscles. Start your son with strong roots. Give him safe opportunities to make decisions and learn from their outcome. Allow him the room within the arms of your family to become an independent, confident thinker. “Juice or milk today?” Give him small choices while he’s little, and as he grows, he’ll develop the backbone to make the big ones.

Be a good sport

Although we’d all like to, we don’t win every game. Teach your little man to be a gracious winner, and (as difficult as it may be,) to view a loss as a learning experience. Encourage him to express and channel his disappointment appropriately. Help him to learn from mistakes, and urge him to use them to improve and win the next game, both life lessons useful on and off the field. As he matures, he will have the groundwork to know how to learn from situations that didn’t go his way.

Teach him respect

As he grows, your little gentleman will learn that the world is full of opinions, and those opinions won’t necessarily jive with the family values that you have instilled in him. His beliefs will be challenged; his opinions will be tried. Let him know that it is OK to respectfully disagree with someone’s viewpoint and at the same time, have the fortitude and finesse to stand up for his own.

Demonstrate social graces

Your little guy’s social graces will grow with him. Start small, but aim high! Teach simple but relevant phrases such as “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” “how are you,” and “good morning” when appropriate. Graduate to more mature social situations: look others in the eye when speaking, shake hands when the situation calls for it, be present when interacting with others.  Social graces are small and simple ways to convey a big meaning – your son has impeccable manners, as every gentleman must.

Give him an outlet for his energy

We all need a way to channel our stress and so do our children – girls or boys. Give your little man an outlet to blow off steam based on his age and interests. As he matures, your son will likely continue to find healthy ways to channel his stress and clear his mind. Good habits form early!

Be honest

Let your mini-man know the importance of telling the truth and respecting confidences. Teach him the difference between keeping a dangerous secret (a friend is being physically abused) versus small confidences that mean a BIG deal to another (keeping quiet when his best friend tells him not to tell anyone about his crush on Abigail in their fifth grade class).

Be generous

Show him that generosity doesn’t have to be monetary. Maybe his little sister could use some help with soccer drills, or grandpa would love a hand cleaning out the garage. Get creative but keep it simple – have your two and a half year old “help” you carry the mail. Give your little gentleman chances to feel pride in a good deed, and teach him how his time can mean more to someone than any dollar amount.

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Eli, not Hudson!


To the new moms: hold on


I feel infinitely smarter since having my children. Not only smarter, but more confident. I guess that comes with the territory of being responsible for the lives of three growing babies, 24/7, for over 5 years now.

Today, I had to admit to myself that my “baby,” Hudson, isn’t a baby at all anymore. Mini-man rarely lets me hold him still so I can kiss his cheeks over and over as he drifts off to sleep. His arms encircle my neck these days, and his legs are so long they dangle down the rocker’s sides. He’ll be two in March, and just like the first time I held his five year old and three year old big sisters, the day he was born is as clear in my mind as this morning.

Where did the time go? I know where it went, and it has been well spent pushing my children on swings, teaching them how to color, count, walk up and down stairs, blow bubbles, swim, slide, ride a bike, use a spoon, make a bed, build a fort….New moms, my hope for you is that you don’t wonder where the time went either, so hold on:

Hold on to tiny hands; admire teeny fingers and toes. Kiss squishy baby cheeks all you want, listen to the coos, giggle and squeals of this new life learning how to be a part of the world. Don’t wonder if it’s a waste of your time to gaze at your newborn’s face hour after hour while he or she sleeps. It’s not.

Hold on to your baby as long and as often as you want. The only thing you’ll “spoil” is your own experience by not doing so. Sooner than you know, your little one will be wiggling out of your arms – then crawling, toddling – and letting go of your hand, whether you’re ready or not – and walking toward his or her own adventure. When this happens, don’t be sad. You are witnessing your child growing.

Hold on to yourself. You transformed from the former you to a mother the minute you conceived this life, but don’t forget what makes you tick, or you will get lost. When you find a nano-second to spend on and with yourself, don’t feel guilty. A mother with charged batteries is a better mother.

Hold on to your spouse, and remind one another that you’re on the same team as you grow as parents, even when you’re both drained of energy and haven’t slept more than 2 hours straight in months.

Hold on to your confidence as you feel like you’re clueless, exhausted, and foreign in your own body as you heal from pregnancy, birth and the wrath of postpartum hormones, all while you navigate through this new role of motherhood. You are amazing.

Hold on to the knowledge that your little one loves you for you, no matter how you dress, cook, if you never exercise, get any laundry done, if you perform well at work, or how fantastic or awful your hair looks today. And you should too.



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We always think of a new year as a fresh start, and it’s a fantastic feeling that gives us a kick and reminds us to get in the driver’s seat of our own lives. It’s easy to forget that every day gives us the opportunity to make positive changes. In my experience, nothing worth having and holding on to comes easily – from relationships to jobs to healthy habits; it all takes work and drive, so I’m all for resolutions!

Goals differ from resolutions in my mind. Resolutions are changes I’ll make in attitudes and habits to help me reach my end goal, and my goals themselves are more quantifiable, such as “have 10 photo sessions booked by March 1st.” My dad was a “realist” as he put it, was always prepared boy-scout style, and insisted I have a physical road map in my car as a teenager. The point is, I learned from him that you have to know where you’re going, or at least plan the best way you can. If you don’t have goals, you’ll never achieve any either. Here are some resolutions of mine for 2014. Goals? Still working on that list!

Find something about yourself you love (physical or not) and focus on that quality at least once a day.

Yes, you’re your own harshest critic. Try being your loudest cheerleader. How often to you look in the mirror and seek out something you DON’T like about yourself ? Try the opposite! Replace the negative thought with a positive one. Positive thinking is under-rated. I get it! Everyone has been in a rut at one point or another, and the last thing you want to hear in a moment of self loathing or pity is a happy go lucky mantra. But seriously, try it.

Don’t eat something you wouldn’t feed your kids or pet.

“Here ya go, sweetheart, have some soda in your sippy cup.” Add that to the list of things you’ll probably never say. Substitute any unhealthy food or drink. So why should you eat it? Treat yourself with the same care as you give to those you love.

Banish clutter

This is my favorite. I love to blast through my house and remove anything that isn’t serving a purpose that can be given away, up-cycled or thrown out. I fantasize about having a full day in my house totally alone – not even the cat home – with a box of contractor bags, and empty storage bins of all sizes to organize from the attic to the basement. (I’m fun, I swear.) This goes for the intangible negative garbage in your life as well! Toxic relationship dragging you down? Repair it, or end it. 

Be present

Sometimes, 3 words more important than “I love you” are “I’ll be there.” Be present in your life for your loved ones and for yourself, and stop using each precious minute of right now to plan for the next. Remain an active participant in each moment of your day.

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 Here’s to a happy, healthy, clutter and drama free 2014!