Ariana had a birthday on Sunday. We wanted to make her sweet 16 party special, so we started the celebration two days before her official birthday.
Friday was my day to celebrate with Ariana. She put on her new birthday dress, and Crystal curled her hair and put on her makeup. I dressed too, wearing slacks and a sport coat, and I took her to Christian Michael, one of the nicest restaurants in Chico. We enjoyed a lovely dinner, and then we decided to see a movie. We laughed our way through What Happens in Vegas while the rest of the theater occupants tried to figure out why we were at the movies wearing fancy dress clothes. We completed our evening by walking over to Ben & Jerry's for an ice cream dessert.
Saturday, the major festivities took place. Ariana invited three friends over: Aurora, Lauren, and Kylee. Aurora and Kylee came over early that morning, so Ariana treated them to a pedicure at a local salon while she had her nails done. Crystal spent most of the afternoon styling hair and applying makeup, and then all of the girls put on their fancy dresses. We dined at Olive Garden along with half of the people attending local school proms.
We rushed home, where Ariana opened her gifts from her friends and my family back in North Carolina. She got a new teddy bear, and one of the cards nearly gave her a heart attack when it started playing a song.
Next came the highlight of the evening for the girls. The rented Ford F350 limo pulled up in front of our house, and everyone climbed in for a night on the town. The girls immediately requested to be taken to Wal-Mart so they could buy sparkling cider. Wal-mart doesn't have sparkling cider, so we tried again at one of the local grocery stores. Have procured the beverage needed for a toast, the limo driver took us to a small, bumpy road that offered a stunning view down the hill to the city of Chico. We cruised around downtown, and the girls waved at the college students who lined the streets. We made a stop at Nana and Papa Flower's house so they could see the limo, and then we came back home so the exhausted and happy girls could collapse into bed for the night.
Sunday was Ariana's actual birthday. One by one, her friends filtered back to their families. Crystal's parents, brother, and nephew came over, and we had cake and ice cream. Ariana opened her gifts from Crystal's family, and we finished the night and the three day birthday celebration by watching a movie.
Ariana, you were a beautiful, glowing birthday girl. I'm deeply proud of all you've accomplished in the last year, and I can't wait to see what you do during the next one. I love you with all my heart. Thanks for being my little girl.
Of the numerous blessings that God has so graciously given to me, this family will always be at the top of the list. Almost 13 years ago I met two people who would be used to forever change me: Phil and Nancy.
These are but a few of the words that I would use to describe them. No language contains words profound enough to describe the depth of my love and indebted gratitude for all that they have blessed me with over the years. Watching their family grow to include 4 precious and marvelous children is simply sweet.
Phil, Nancy, Hannah, Caleb, Caitlyn, and Noah, we adore all of you! Thanks for allowing us to hang out with you for the day; we had a blast.
Crystal adopted Matt as her big brother when they attended college together in Kentucky. Matt married the lovely Catherine, and the Fish family moved to Colorado and had 4 children. Crystal and I have talked many times about visiting the Fishes, but we've never had the chance because the trip is so long. When we realized that Colorado is only a day's drive past the town where we would stay in Utah, we jumped at the chance to add a few days to our trip so we could visit Matt and Catherine and finally meet their kids.
We only spent two days with the Fish family, but we enjoyed ourselves ridiculously. We laughed more than we've laughed in a long time, we had a picnic on the lawn, and we drank coffee and had meals together. Mostly, though, we just enjoyed getting to know the new, enlarged Fish family a lot better. They are a great group of people to hang around and chat with.
Matt and Catherine, thanks again for letting our clan invade your house for a few days. You were gracious hosts, and we enjoyed our time in your home immensely.
Rachelle has been in her residential treatment program for a little over three months now. She's making progress and doing well, so she earned a visit with us. At the end of February, we started the long, long drive to Utah to see our beloved daughter. We barely made it over Donner Pass before snow closed the road, but we sped along the interstate after that. Well, we sped along until we got to Elko, Nevada. As we turned into the restaurant for dinner, the brake light in our new Suburban came on.
Normally, this wouldn't have been too much of a problem, but it happened on a Saturday night. We found a hotel room, and the next morning I called every brake shop in town. Every one of them were closed. We got breakfast at a local coffee shop and then wandered around looking for something — anything — to do. Elko is dead on Sunday. We took some goofy pictures, and lunch, and discovered that the movie theater was open. We spent the end of our day watching Fool's Gold.
The next morning, I found a shop to fix the car. While the work was being done, we had our little impromptu photo shoot with Kate. By the time the shoot was over, our car was ready.
Later that day, we made it to the town where we would be staying during the visit. The next morning, we joyfully hugged and kissed our daughter for the first time since we dropped her off in November. We spent that day and the next meeting Rachelle's friends, meeting the staff at the Ranch, bowling, shopping, eating "real food", and just hanging out. I'm thrilled to report that Rachelle is improving and is doing the hard work that she needs to do in order to come home.
Rachelle, we miss you and love you, and we can't wait until you're able to come back home again!
About two months ago, Rachelle called me at work. An interesting conversation ensued:
"Dad, we got a new dog!"
"Is it stuffed?"
"No, it's a black lab puppy."
"Very funny. You're joking, right?"
"No, Ariana's horseback riding teacher was giving away puppies. Mom said we could have one!"
Once I recovered from my shock over the idea that Crystal would ever agree to get a second dog, I realized that Rachelle was serious. A few minutes later, Crystal and the girls picked me up from work, and I observed that Rachelle was, indeed, holding a tiny black lab puppy. He was beautiful, the blackest black dog I've ever seen.
Now lets fast forward to today. Zeus, as we finally named him, is almost twice the size of our beagle Gracie. He's been a wonderful addition to our family, contributing to our healing when we needed it the very most. It's about time he showed up on the blog, so Crystal took some pictures of him today. Here are a few of our favorites.
We could not pass up this opportunity to send out a short tribute to the most amazing man in our lives. Happy 31st Birthday! For those of you who read our blog that may not personally know Greg, know that he is simply one of the most amazing men you could have the pleasure of knowing in this life. He is an amazing husband, loving dad, and wonderful friend. Honey, thank you for doing all that you do to make our life as wonderful as it is. I love you! Ariana and Emily love you bunches too! (Two faces have been purposely distorted to protect the children's identity.)
If you are fortunate enough in this life you meet a person that not only inspires you to continually be a better person but is willing to stick with you and love you through the good times and the bad. Early in my college career I met the man who would continue to remind me of God's grace in my life on a regular basis; then a mere 2 years later I convinced him to marry me. :) Since then so much has happened, and we both have changed a whole lot. Somehow, though, one of us has grown more dashingly handsome with time -- my soulmate Gregory. Isn't he marvelous? His smile never ceases to make me stand in awe, and his eyes will always captivate me. The other day he graciously allowed me to grab a few shots. "Wow, Doggie!" is all I can say. I love you, honey.
I gave Ariana a gift certificate for a photo shoot with up to 3 of her friends for Christmas this year. She was so excited that she immediately started calling her friends. She had them rounded up in time for a New Year's Eve photo shoot.
For most of the day, I was surrounded by even more females than usual as the girls started showing up the night before the shoot. Crystal did everyone's hair, we dropped the toddlers and baby off at Nana's house, and then we headed out for the shoot.
We had an absolute blast. We laughed -- mostly at Kiara, we ran off a bum who wanted to give me photography pointers, and we enjoyed Crystal's antics as she tried to keep the girls loosened up throughout the afternoon.
Aurora, Kiara, and Leti, thanks for helping me make my daughter's Christmas special. Ariana, I hope you enjoy your gift. I love you!
It's that time of year again! We took a new family picture to use for our Christmas cards this year. You'll notice that we included our two dogs this year. You'll also notice that Rachelle is not in the picture. She's away at a residential treatment program for a while. If you're interested in more thoughts about how that has impacted our lives, you might want to check out The Coates Place, our personal website.
If you're on our Christmas list, you can look for your cards and our annual Christmas letter in the mail in the next couple of weeks.
Some families get together and enjoy blissful, tender, warm moments that they cherish forever; that is most definitely not how I would describe my family. They are loud, rowdy, busy, and a bit chaotic. It would not be a Flower family get together without a few arguments, lots of food, card games, and several hard to contain children that often get misplaced.
However, if you look carefully you will notice that in the midst of all those rough edges there emerge a few tender moments. Laughter erupting from a few people during a card game. Children squealing in delight over the discovery that sand works far better then shampoo. Seeing the "tough" teen snuggled up closely with the baby asleep after the great feast. Gentle kisses. Funny faces. Those are the moments I cherish during the holidays with my family.
This Thanksgiving my brother Richard and his wife Tricia graciously agreed to host the holiday festivities at their home in Napa. The drive was clear and pretty, and the day was simply beautiful. After gorging ourselves sinfully during the meal we lounged and socialized before saying our goodbyes. Emily and my niece have the hardest time with these departures. They get so excited about seeing each other that their time together never seems just long enough. Cheyenne dutifully helped buckle Emily into her car seat and gave her hugs and kisses before we went on our way. It was so sweet. Thanks, Richard and Trish, for being such gracious hosts. The meal was awesome!
On a final note, my wonderful parents graciously agreed to pose for a "toothless grin" picture. For as long as I can remember, my father has entertained little children with his ability to pull out his "teeth". So, I thought it would make a great picture if both of my parents posed "toothless". I had the hardest time getting the shot through my laughter. Mom and Dad, you both are such great sports!
Our baby has turned three! It's hard to believe that the tiny, fragile child that came into our home just over two years ago could have turned into the beautiful, happy child that we see today, but that's exactly what happened.
Emily's birthday celebration actually started a few days early. Rather than try to hide the birthday bike that we bought her, we just gave it to her. Crystal assembled it, and then we showed her how to push the pedals and ride around the driveway. She's not quite a pro yet, but she's learning quickly.
We made the day of her birthday all about her. She got to pick the activities and foods for the day. After breakfast and some playtime, she asked for a bath in mommy's oversize tub with Mommy. Once everyone was clean, it was time for lunch. Emily announced that she wanted "chit-ten nuddets" (chicken nuggets). Off we went to Wendy's.
After the day's errand and dinner were finished, Crystal's family started to arrive. It was party time! The princess cake was cut, and ice cream was served. Emily and our foster son blew out the candles, and then it was time to open presents. Emily discovered a movie, a sticker book, and some clothes. What excitement!
Two weekends ago, we continued a family tradition: taking a fall trip to the pumpkin patch. We loaded the kids into Bessie the Bus, our new Suburban, and headed to the Book Family Farm for a visit to their harvest festival.
As we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed a running helicopter sitting in the field next to us. It was fire safety week at the farm, and we watched a demonstration of a rescue by a fire crew as well as a water dump by the helicopter. We fed the sheep and goats, played on playground equipment, took a ride in a horse-drawn wagon, and ate snow cones. Then we walked through the pumpkin patch, and each child picked a pumpkin to take home.
Once we got the pumpkins home, we tried something a little different. Instead of carving the pumpkins, we painted them. We gave the kids brushes and paint on palettes made of brown paper bags. They each created their abstract art, and then Crystal helped them to give each pumpkin a face.
Rachelle, Ariana, and I had never attended a live performance of a play before, so Crystal graciously agreed to hang out with Emily while we saw Tartuffe. We experienced something that I will never forget. Professional actors, great writing, and fabulous comedy made for an excellent production.
The Old Church in Portland contains a Hook & Hastings pipe organ that was originally installed in 1883 and restored in 1997. I was given an opportunity to play this beautiful, historic instrument.
The venue for the Pepe and the Bottle Blondes concert included a dance floor that was largely ignored by the spectators. Rachelle walked around asking all of the kids in the front of the crowd if they'd like to dance. She and the children filled the floor for three or four songs.
The Portland Children's Museum offered face painting as an activity for its visitors. First, Rachelle painted Emily's face. She like that and decided that she wanted to paint the faces of her sisters. They are great sports, so they let her. Several minutes later, I had three paint-covered daughters. They spent the rest of the day walking around Portland as highly decorated siblings, drawing looks from most passers-by.
Portland gets the award for nicest big city that I've visited. In fact, it is the only big city that I've visited so far where I feel I could actually live if I was forced to move to a city. It was clean, it was beautiful, and they have great parks and a great public transportation system. The police officers that I spoke too talked about the low crime rate in the downtown area. And it's close to an absurd number of beautiful natural settings.
The ranger talk that we attended at the visitor center was highly informative. I was amazed at the amount of regeneration that has occurred in the park since the eruption. Also, I found the land surprisingly beautiful in spite of the past destruction.
We never did get to see Mount St. Helens because of the clouds and fog.
This was our last campground of the trip. We all immediately started suffering from camping withdrawal.
Shopped at mall in Seattle so we would miss the rush hour traffic through downtown
Drove to Paradise twice
Hiked the Nisqually Vista trail
Saw the Box Canyon of the Cowlitz
Attended a worship service at the campground
Walked to the overlook of Narada Falls
Ate lunch at the National Park Inn
We grilled beef and vegetable kabobs over the campfire one night. We had learned from past mistakes and had proper tools so we didn't burn them this time. I think this was the best camp meal of the entire trip.
Beauty abounded on the Nisqually Vista hike. The wildflowers were blooming profusely, and the greenery was abundant. Whoever named Paradise did so appropriately.
We focused on family time on this trip, including a lot of time playing games. In our campground here, we played Scrabble. Other games we had with us included cards and Yahtzee. Lots of family bonding occurred as a result of our focused time together.
Worship in the natural cathedral of the forest seemed fitting. The experience was special.
I didn't pay enough attention to the National Park Service website when I planned this part of our trip. We arrived at Mount Ranier pretty late because we wanted to miss the traffic through Seattle. We got to the road that we were planning to take through the park only to find it still closed because of severe flood damage. The detour took over two hours, and we didn't get to camp until after midnight that night. But at least we had reservations and didn't have to sleep in the van!
We had clear views of the mountain most of the time we were in Seattle and the San Juan Islands. We only got fleeting glimpses of the mountain while we were in the park, and we never were able to see it up close from Paradise.
Our campsite bumped against the edge of Cascade Lake. It was peaceful and beautiful. Our stay there coincided with the full moon, and the light shining on the lake's surface at night was particularly nice.
On the hike around Mountain Lake, I carried Emily in a toddler backpack. She fell asleep and awoke several times on the hike. Each time she awoke, she asked me to give her kisses. I contorted myself to bring our faces together but ended up kissing her on the hand instead.
The view from the observation tower on the top of Mount Constitution was mind-boggling. We could see several other islands in the San Juan archipelago, mountains in Canada, and the Washington mainland. Our visited coincided with sunset, so the light was beautiful as well. Being on top of the world is amazing.
The ferry rides to and from Orcas Island win the transportation coolness award for this trip. What other mode of transportation allows you to drive your car onto a boat and then walk around and look at the scenery while being moved across a huge body of salt water and then be dropped off on an island?
Safeway Parking Lot, Port Angeles, Washington (July 27)
Sunny during the day and cloudy at night.
Spent an absurd amount of time in traffic trying to get out of Seattle
We were going to take a ferry from just north of Seattle over to the Olympic Peninsula. When we arrived, the wait for the ferry was over two hours long, so we decided to drive around instead. That was a huge mistake. The traffic through Seattle, and it took us over three hours to make the drive. By the time we got to Olympic National Park, the campground we had planned to use was full. We drove back to Port Angeles only to find that every hotel that wasn't horrifically frightening was also full. We ended up sleeping in our van in the Safeway parking lot.
Mora Campground, Olympic National Park, Washington (July 28-29)
Ruby Beach was beautiful. It featured huge rocks, driftwood, and a tidal creek. Emily, Ariana, and Rachelle met a little girl who promptly attached herself to them. The little girl followed them everywhere they went for the entire afternoon.
We found a small log sticking out of the ground next to the Hoh River. It screamed, "Ride me!" So, we rode it. We took turns sitting on the log while someone else yanked the loose end up and down. Yeeeee haw!
Hurricane Ridge inspired awe. The flower-filled meadow next to the parking lot and the snow-capped mountain range in the background made for the best mountain view of my life. It brought tears to Crystal's eyes.
We discovered Red Robin. Even though it's a chain restaurant, we enjoyed the burgers and chicken sandwiches so much that we ate there twice.
The Experience Music Project has an area called the Sound Lab where visitors can play their own music. We drummed, sang, strummed guitars, and generally enjoyed making music. We didn't even scare any other visitors away.
The Pike's Place Market was amazing. Filled with fresh flowers, vegetables, meat, and fish; it was a feast for the eyes and the camera lens. It was also filled with street musicians, including the first street musician I've ever seen playing a piano! Pike's Place is also the home of the nation's first Starbucks. No, lattes were not on the menu that day, although Rachelle ordered of the best cheesecakes I've ever tasted from a cheesecake specialty shop.
The fish ladder at the locks was fascinating. The engineers kindly installed glass windows instead of concrete sides along part of the ladder. Plenty of the fish had grown to several feet in length, and the fish swam up the ladders in abundance.
We searched and searched for a souvenir to purchase for Emily. She picked a beautiful flower necklace in a shop on the Seattle waterfront. Her excitement was so cute and sweet!
Crystal and Rachelle were playing in the surf at Harris Beach. Crystal was wearing regular shorts because her husband forgot to pack her bathing suit. (Oops.) At one point, a rather large wave took her shorts down to her ankles. The wave receded, and all of the people looking in her general direction got mooned. They all thought it was hysterically funny, but I was bummed because I missed the whole episode!
I woke up in the tent and looked over to see a giant smile on Emily's face. This melted my heart almost every day on this trip. This particular morning I watched my wife jump between Ariana and Rachelle's air mattresses and then proceed to tickle and kiss them until they were awake and begging for mercy.
Emily kept asking to "Take walk!" (To hear this in your mind correctly, you have to pronounce the k's like you are speaking German.)
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California (July 17)
Raining cats and dogs.
Ate at a small cafe to keep from drowning
Drove the Avenue of the Giants
Our campsite was beautiful. It was secluded and huge. Also, it stopped raining long enough for us to pack without getting drenched.
We followed our plans to camp here in spite of scattered rain showers in the forecast. After all, it was California in July. How bad could it be? Unfortunately, we had overlooked a major factor in the weather: the Coates Camping Curse. This curse has followed my family since I was a small child. You see, it is nearly impossible for any Coates family member to go on a camping trip without getting rained on or having some other natural problem. For example, not too long after Crystal and I were married, we went camping with my parents in Tennessee. It was nice until the day we packed up to go home. We woke up to a torrential downpour. We hurriedly loaded the car. After about five minutes, we didn't care about the rain so much because it would have been impossible for us to get any wetter. We learned later that the entire campground had washed away when the nearby creek flooded. On another occasion, we took my parents to Crescent City to camp in the Redwoods. A tsunami warning was issued while we were there. Are you starting to get the idea?
When we arrived at the state park, it was cloudy, but the clouds didn't look too bad. We dug the tent out of the van and erected it. No sooner had we installed the rain fly when the rain started. By the time we had our sleeping bags and mattresses in the tent, the sky had opened up completely.
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California (July 18-20)
We had burgers cooked over an open campfire one night. They were extremely good, but if you want to try this yourself I suggest that you use something more sturdy and less likely to melt than a plastic fork to turn them. You'll be less likely to catch them on fire like we did.
We got to pet starfish, anenomes, and sharks at Ocean World. There was also a great sea lion show.
Redwoods are big. Really big. They are so big that I told Emily we were going to see "honkin' trees." She kept asking about honkin' trees for days after we left.
We saw four giant bull elk right next to the road when we drove in to the Fern Canyon trailhead.
I woke up sick the first day in this campground. It was not fun, but at least I recovered quickly
We narrowly missed a pretty nasty car accident on the drive to the trailhead. The car behind us got hit by a tire and axle that came off a semi truck in the lane going the opposite direction. We stopped to help and everyone was okay.
A lot of photographers are playing a game of tag on the internet these days. We've been tagged by Dan Watkins. That means that we have to tell 8 things about ourselves that our readers might not know and then tag some other photographers.
Here's our list of 8 things:
Crystal and I have been foster parents for almost 3 years. We have 2 foster kids right now, and we've had a total of 13 children in our home.
I grew up in Weaverville, North Carolina. Crystal grew up in Chico, California. We met in Wilmore, Kentucky, when we were introduced by my brother. I was attending college in Cedarville, Ohio, at the time.
Our first adopted child was a co-dependent beagle named Gracie. We rescued her from the Humane Society in Kentucky.
Two of our favorite summer activities are swimming and grilling.
I like bragging on my wife. So I'm going to brag a bit. Crystal is a full-time Mom, a photographer, and a homeschool teacher to two of our five children. If I tried to do everything that she does on a daily basis, it would probably kill me. She's my hero!
Crystal and I have a dream to bicycle across Europe some day, and Greg really wants to hike the Appalachian Trail.
We both like to read. A lot. Our current favorite author is Ted Dekker, who writes great thrillers. The twist is that his thrillers have incredibly powerful morals.
I rode the Road Runner Express, a small roller coaster, with Emily. She kept saying "Whee!" as we flew up and down the hills. When we disembarked, Emily wanted to keep riding. She said, "More whee! More wheee!"
The animal shows proved how talented dolphins and whales can be. The dolphins can leap several feet in the air. Both can be trained to perform a mind-boggling range of behaviors on command. One of these behaviors is swimming along the edge of the pool and splashing the audience. Rachelle was splashed thoroughly during the whale show.
Rachelle volunteered to pull the ripcord that released the swing when she, Ariana, and Crystal road the Skycoaster. She was instructed to pull the cord when the operator counted to three. He counted to three, and nothing happened. She inquired, "What?" Everyone yelled at her to pull the cord, and finally she got the idea and released the swing.
Rachelle and Ariana rode a ride called Cargo Queen with Emily and Cheyenne. The teenagers taught the younger kids to raise their arms and scream just like the teenagers would scream while riding a roller coaster. How adorable!
All of the older riders loved the Velocity roller coaster. It shoots riders to a speed of about 70 miles per hour in a fraction of a second.
We're home from our big trip! It was truly the vacation of a lifetime. Here are some highlights from the trip.
Itinerary: Napa and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (CA), Humboldt Redwoods State Park (CA), Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park (CA), Harris Beach (OR), Beverly Beach (OR), Seattle (WA), Olympic National Park (WA), Orcas Island (WA), Mount Ranier National Park (WA), Mount St Helens (WA), Portland (OR), Columbia River Gorge (OR), Ashland (OR)
Miles driven: 2782
Nights spent camping: 16
Nights it rained while camping: 8
Number of photos taken: about 1800
A few favorites memories: View of Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, performance of Tartuffe at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, riding the Washington Ferry, view of Mount Ranier, street concert in Portland (Rachelle got a bunch of kids to dance with her)
We have tons of photos to edit, and I'll post details of the trip along with photos as we process them. Stay tuned!
We're going to be out of town for the next month. In celebration of our new daughters, we're going to take a family trip up the California coast and through Western Oregon and Washington. Some of the highlights of our trip are going to include playing at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, seeing the sights in Seattle, camping in the San Juan Islands, and visiting Mount St Helens. We're very excited about our month together!
We'll try to make a few blog updates along the way. It depends on how much time we have to edit pictures and what kind of internet connections we can find, though. We can promise that we'll have lots of pictures to share when we return in mid-August.
If you're on the website to place an order for fine art prints or images from your portrait session or event, feel free to go ahead and place your order. We'll get back to processing those as soon as we return.
The first day was spent finishing up the packing that had been delayed because we were so busy with our party. Then we drove to Yosemite and set up our campsite at the Hodgdon Meadows campground. We found a level spot (sort of) for our tent and propped up the stove so the pans didn't slide onto the dirt below.
The next day we started seeing the sights. We started off by driving into Yosemite Valley and having a picnic lunch in the Bridalveil Fall parking lot. Then we joined a bunch of other tourists in taking the short walk to Bridalveil Fall.
By this point, the little kids needed a nap, so we decided to take a drive to Glacier Point so they could sleep in the car. Glacier Point is an overlook on the edge of the rim of Yosemite Valley. From there, we had awe-inspiring views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, and Vernal Falls. It was truly beautiful. The overlook is on the edge of a vertical cliff that is over 2800 feet tall. That's almost two miles! It made my legs shaky even though I was protected by a sturdy guardrail.
The next day, we decided to stay in the valley itself. We found a picnic area that was right next to the Merced River. It had a great view of Yosemite Falls as well. We ate our sandwiches and then turned the kids loose to play in the creek.
Our next stop was the trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. We walked the easy trail to the bridge across the creek below the falls. Normally at this time of year, we would have gotten soaked from the spray off of the falls. This year, though, there wasn't a lot of snow over the winter, so the waterfall was at a much lower flow level than usual. Not only did we not get drenched from walking across the bridge, the rocks at the base of the waterfall were dry. So, we climbed as high as we could.
The next day was our travel day from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe. We started by driving the Tioga Road through the Yosemite high country. We drove through Tuolomne Meadows, through the Tioga Pass, and past Mono Lake. We then took a winding road through Markleeville and the Sierra Nevada mountains. The scenery along the way was breathtakingly beautiful. At the end of our journey was Sugar Pine State Park on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. This campground had large, level sites with lots of room for the kids to run and play. We set up camp for our two night stay.
Thursday was spent relaxing on the beach at Lake Tahoe. We drove the few miles to D.L. Blick State Park, where we were told there was a nice beach. We were correctly informed. The beach was flat and sandy, and the water was blue and very cold. We -- actually the kids and Crystal -- swam, we played ball, and we cooked dinner at the picnic tables across the parking lot from the beach. The kids even made friends with Bob the goose. Ariana even tried her hand with the camera. She got a great picture of Bob the Goose and some excellent photos of our foster son.
The next morning we had to pack up our camping gear so we could head home at the end of the day. Once we had the car loaded, we went on a hike. There is a small lake very close to Lake Tahoe called Cascade Lake. It is so named because a 200 foot waterfall drops just at the edge of the lake. We all hiked about half a mile or so until we saw the picturesque waterfall. At that point Crystal, Mom, and Rachelle hung out with the little kids because the trail got quite steep. Dad, Ariana, and I kept following the trail until we got to the top of the falls. Again, I couldn't get too close because of my hate-hate relationship with heights, but I did get close enough for a couple of pictures. After we took in the scenery, we walked back to the car and made the drive back to Chico.
Several months ago, we promised our girls that we would throw a blowout party when their adoptions were finalized. The weekend after school ended for the year was party time! Nearly sixty people came to our home for a Mexican-American Luau. Crystal made tostadas, and I grilled a ton of hamburgers and hot dogs.
We had two pinatas -- one for the smaller kids and one for the older kids. Neither one survived very long. The first or second hitter broke both pinatas!
Recently, Ariana passed a big milestone in her life. She was promoted to the ninth grade! Yes, we have two high school students now. She has really worked hard on her grades, and her work has really paid off.
Ariana, your Mom and I are incredibly proud of you! Here are a couple of pictures from your special day.
It seems like just yesterday that I was changing her
diapers! Now she is a high school graduate. My, how
time flies. A couple weeks ago we went to my niece
Lauren's graduation, and I snapped a few pictures of
the occasion. Congratulations Lauren on you
accomplishments! Go out and change the world; be
awesome. We love you!
One of the best features of Chico is Bidwell Park. One of the park attractions is the Sycamore Pool, which was built to turn the creek into a public swimming area. Last weekend, we took the kids out for some fun in the sun. We swam, we had snacks, and we had a great time. Ariana ran into one of her friends from school, and she joined us for a while. Crystal even took the camera into the middle of the pool to take a couple of pictures of the girls in the water and jumping into the pool. Here are a few of the pictures from our little excursion.
Let's take another little walk down memory lane. Last month, we took our girls to Lassen National Park for a picnic and to play in the snow. We ate sandwiches, apples, and brownies. Then we decided to build a snowman! We rolled the snowballs, smoothed them out with Rachelle's flip flops, and then stacked them up. We added some facial features, and the girls welcomed Mr. Snow into the world with a kiss. All in all, this was a great way to spend an afternoon!
Now that we can post pictures of our kids, I'm going to periodically go back in time and show some of the pictures that we have taken of our girls over the last few months. So, let's take a step back to Easter Sunday.
As we like to dress up a little more than usual on Easter, we bought our girls new spring dresses. It was a good excuse to take them out and create a few portraits. Here are our favorites from the day. Aren't the girls just beautiful?
Fort Bragg was beautiful and cool -- a stark contrast to the heat wave in Chico. For our anniversary dinner we treated ourselves to a REALLY nice dinner. We ate at a place called the Mendo Bistro and had quite possibly the best food of our lives! It was amazingly good.
We also spent some time exploring the coastline and the beach. It was awe inspiring. And for the very first time ever we found sand dollars; they kept popping up as the surf rolled back out to the ocean. It was peaceful fun. Greg took the time to take some pictures, and, alas, I was the target of some. :)
We decided to cut the trip a little short and come back a day early. We were missing the kids, and I was still in some pain from the accident I was recently in. All in all it was a peaceful and wonderful time at the beach. Thanks honey, for such a sweet and wonderful surprise. I love you, and I thank God for our six years together!
The day after I returned from my trip to North Carolina in the fall of 2005, I got a phone call that would forever change my life. My wife was calling me at work to inform me that she had agreed to a short-term foster placement of two teenage girls. I was in shock; I couldn't believe it. We had just accepted the placement of Emily and her two-year old sister a couple of days before. We also had another teenage foster child that had been living with us for eight months. And to top it all off, we had just been forced to request that our foster agency move a twelve year old girl that was incredibly difficult to handle.
We were very wary of having teenagers, so Crystal made the social worker promise that the girls would absolutely, positively, under no circumstances, be left in our home for more than a week. They assured us that they would be able to find them a more permanent place in that time, and that we wouldn't have to worry about having them in our home long term.
Given that promise, Crystal went to the agency to pick them up. She took one look at them and fell in love. About three days later, we knew we wanted to adopt these girls. So much for only having them for a week!
The last year and a half have had more than their fair share of ups and downs. But I'm thrilled to report that we finalized our adoptions of Rachelle and Ariana this morning. We now have three children that are legally ours!
Girls, I love you so much. You brighten my life every day that you are a part of it. Both of you are bright, extremely funny, and a blast to be around. Thanks for letting me be your Dad! And no, the week isn't over yet, and it never will be.
Here are some of my favorite pictures of Rachelle:
And here are some of my favorite pictures of Ariana:
And, finally, here are a couple of pictures of the girls together:
Recently we had the pleasure of attending the 4th birthday of one of our favorite little people. We had a blast and just had to shoot a few shots of the party's events. We still aren't sure which was a bigger hit, the yummy food or the bouncy balls! Either way the kids had a really great time. And before leaving our Emily insisted on kissing her little friend Karis bye-bye. :) Happy 4th Birthday Ethan! We love you!
I was sitting at my desk at work when Crystal called me with the news. I couldn't believe it; all I wanted to do was cry as a flood of emotion washed over me. These were happy tears though -- tears of joy and relief. You see, Crystal and I were on a journey that had begun nearly five years before when we were living in Kentucky, a journey that had been filled with pain and roadblocks. It was our journey to parenthood.
About a year after we got married, we decided to throw away Crystal's birth control pills and have a baby. So, we threw away the pills, but no baby came. Month after month passed, and Crystal still wasn't pregnant. So we started going through test after test to see what might be the problem. Finally, we discovered that the problem was with me. None of our doctors could explain exactly what caused my problem, but they told me that there was no way that I could father a child.
At this news, our world fell apart. We found ourselves broken, spending the next several years asking why. It is one of the most difficult things we've ever had to go through.
In the meantime, we started to look into adoption as a way to have the children we so desperately desired. We called the California state adoption agency, and they told us that the best way to adopt through them was through the foster care system. We had told ourselves that we would never become foster parents because of all of the horror stories we had heard about people in the system. Nevertheless, we found a foster agency in Chico and started the long approval process. A few months later, we met our first foster child.
In the year that followed, six other children came into our home and then left for one reason or another. At the beginning of October 2005, I took a week-long trip to North Carolina to spend some time taking landscape photos. In the middle of that trip, Crystal called me to tell me she had accepted a foster care placement of two girls: a ten month old and a two and a half year old. One of those girls was Emily, and she has now been living with us for a year and a half. In that time, we've fallen madly in love with this sweet, intelligent, little girl.
Now let's return to the phone call at the beginning of this story. Crystal called to let me know that we had received a date for the finalization hearing for our Emily's adoption. The hearing took place this morning. We finally have a daughter that we can officially say is ours!
Here are a few of my favorite pictures of my youngest baby. Emily, I love you with all my heart, and I can't wait to spend the rest of my life being the daddy you never had before you became my daughter.
In addition to the portraits of Mamaw that I created when I was at her house, I also created some images of her combing her hair and cooking lunch. (Lunch was absolutely delicious, by the way!) Here are some of the images:
One of my earliest memories of Mamaw, my grandmother, is watching her comb and then braid her long, gray hair. While in North Carolina over Christmas, Mamaw agreed to take her hair down for me so that I could create some portraits of her. Here are my two favorite images from the session:
I've been away from this weblog for quite a while due to a crazy turn in my life. In March, my wife and I found out that we were pregnant with twins. Everything was going well until the beginning of July when the water bag for one of the twins broke at 17 weeks gestation. My wife was immediately put on bed rest in order to try to prolong the pregnancy as long as possible. We were hoping that she would stay pregnant until at least 24 weeks, the mark at which babies are considered to be viable and have a chance at survival, and hopefully for much longer than that in order to give the babies the best chance possible.
Things went fine for almost 5 weeks. Then, at just short of 22 weeks gestation, she started having contractions. Our first twin, Ashley Faith Coates, was born a few hours later. Ashley was simply too small to survive. She lived about twenty minutes before her little heart stopped beating.
Surprisingly, as soon as Ashley was delivered, my wife's labor completely stopped. This is very uncommon, so she was kept in the hospital for a week while she was given antibiotics to try to wipe out the infection that had probably started her labor the first time.
My wife stayed pregnant for about a week and a half before she started bleeding profusely and got a fever. She was transferred to a hospital in Sacramento, where the doctor's determined that she was septic. They immediately started giving her antibiotics and induced labor. Our second twin, Bethany Grace Coates, was born not too long afterward at 23 weeks gestation. The doctors worked diligently to keep her alive, but she had an infection herself, and she was not responding to treatment. She breathed on her own for a few minutes before her little body succumbed to her illness. The lived for about half an hour before she passed away.
Our little daughters will forever be in our hearts. We love them with everything that we are, and we miss them terribly. This post is in memory of their short, brave lives.
I took some pictures of one of my nieces getting ready for the prom. I was experimenting with available light photography with a new film/developer combination: Delta 3200 in Ilford DD-X. (I rated the film at 1250.) Overall, I'm pretty happy with the results. The grain is much finer than I expected from a film of that speed. Here are a few of the images:
I was going through my black and white archives today, and I found a few images that I like that I haven't shared yet. My nephew Stewart played bass guitar for a band called New Method for quite a while. I took my camera to one of his practice sessions, and these images are what I came up with. They were taken on Kodak T-Max 3200 film.
I've spent the last week moving. God has blessed us with a step up from a small apartment to a house with more space for our businesses, children, and lives in general. We replaced flooring, painted, and carried all our stuff downstairs from our second floor apartment. (Don't ever move into a second story apartment, by the way. Carrying everything up and down the steps is brutal!) We're getting settled into our new place, and I hope to be able to start spending more time working on business tasks this week.
I just got back from my first trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park. What an incredible place! I expected a barren volcanic landscape, but much of the park is beautiful forest, snow, and streams. I didn't take a lot of pictures as this was another family vacation, but I did get a few images that I'm excited about. We'll see how they look when the slides come back. I'll write up a full trip report when I get the photos in hand.
In other news, it's time for me to get my taxes done. Our business return is due at the end of the week. I'll be holed up working on them until then.
Here are a couple more images from the Thursday Night Market roll. This street magician is also a psychology student at CSU, Chico. His tricks played on the mind as well as the eyes as the facial expressions of the assistants show.
I developed the second roll of film from the Silver Dollar Fair before we left for vacation, and I finished up the scans yesterday. There are also some photos of Gracie, our beagle, on that roll. Here are a couple of the best images:
These were taken with my Nikon F100, 75-150mm lens, and Kodak T-Max 100 film.
I was out of town for the better part of the last week; that's why you haven't heard anything from me for a while. I traveled with my family to Redwood National Park and the redwood state parks in Northern California. This trip was more a family vacation than a photo trip -- my parents came out from North Carolina, but I still managed to fit in some photography. I'll write a trip report later when I have the developed slides in hand and a scanner that can handle them.
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I have finally added a wide angle lens to my arsenal. I just purchased a used Nikkor 24mm AF-D lens from KEH. It's a beauty, and I can't wait to give it some action.
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I've been working on a business plan lately. I'll share some of the details later when I've fleshed them out a bit, but suffice it to say that I hope to be working more on generating paying clients in the very near future.