Rebecca Clair Photography
 intimate winter lifestyle engagement photos at Burr Oak woods in Blue Springs, MO near Kansas City

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Fall Traditions to Start (or Continue) This Year {Kansas City Lifestyle Photographer}
 Rebecca Clair Photography, Kansas City lifestyle photographer, apple picking photo session, apple orchard photos, Kansas City family photographer, apples on the ground

The cold yesterday caught me by surprise, but even as I pulled another jacket over my sweater and dug my hands deep into the warmth of my pockets, I couldn’t help smiling, because it finally felt a bit like fall! And I knew that the cool, wet weather meant that soon the trees will be kissed with the reds and yellows I’ve been waiting for.

I’ve been ready for fall since the day I flipped my calendar to September, but this cooler weather has really started me dreaming about all things fall and cozy. We’ve already gone apple picking and picked up some mini pumpkins to decorate our dining room table, but I’ve been dreaming about autumn picnics, hikes through paths of golden trees, and sweet, spicy pumpkin pie.

And so I thought it would be fun to compile a list of fun fall traditions to start or continue this year (there’s still time!):

Go Apple Picking

This is at the top of the list because it’s one of my favorite fall traditions! I love wandering the rows of trees, plucking the best apples to put in my basket (and usually munching on one as I go). And it’s even better if you can snag some fresh apple cider donuts to enjoy at the end of it! We started this tradition with friends years ago, but it was fun to bring Ethan for the first time this year and watch him experience the wonder of it. There are several great orchards in the Kansas City area, but Cider Hill Family Orchard and Alldredge Orchard are two that we’ve personally visited and loved.

Visit a Pumpkin Patch

We haven’t taken Ethan to a pumpkin patch yet, but maybe this will be the year that we start that tradition! I’ve heard that Kansas City has some great ones, many with fun family activities besides just the pumpkins (check out the handy guide that KC Parent put together, listing a lot of the popular patches in the Kansas City Area)

Take a Nature Walk

Every season has its own unique beauty and I’m a fan of getting outside all year round, but there’s still something especially inviting about driving out of the city in the fall, as the leaves start to change from green to gold and red and the fields soften to rich browns, to get just a bit closer to nature to witness its autumn transformation. The Kansas City area has a lot of great places to hike, including Weston Bend State Park and Shawnee Mission Park. Even if you don’t want to drive too far out of the city, Lakeside Nature Center and the Anita Gorman Conservation Center are both great places to explore nature right in the city.

Bake a Yummy Fall Treat

In the summer, I sometimes sweat when I just think about turning on the oven, but when the weather gets cooler, I suddenly feel the urge to mix up something sweet and spicy (preferably to enjoy with a hot mug of tea or coffee!) Sometimes I’ll bake during naptime or in the evenings, to surprise Ethan when he wakes up, but more often I’ll invite him to climb up on a chair to help me pour and mix. Apple crisp, pumpkin muffins, and gingersnaps are some of my favorite fall treats to bake!

Visit a New Coffee Shop

Starbucks may be the first thing you think about when you think of a fall cup of coffee, but while I appreciate pumpkin spice now and then, there are so many sweet local coffee shops to explore in our city! Thou Mayest and Crows Coffee are two of our favorites, but I also just had a delicious pumpkin pie latte at Parkville Coffee this weekend (and it’s just a short walk from there to English Landing Park for a autumn stroll along the river).

Rake Leaves and then Jump in the Pile

Sure, kids love this tradition, but don’t let that stop you from trying it, too! I don’t think there’s much that could bring out your inner child quite like jumping in a pile of leaves! And crisp fall leaves are the quintessential fall smell!

Make a Big Pot of Soup and Invite Some Friends Over To Share It

You may have noticed that a lot of my fall traditions revolve around food, but really, all around the world we use food to celebrate the significant seasons and moments in our lives (hello, birthday cake!) While I love the sweet fall treats, I think sitting down to savor something warm and comforting, like a good, hearty soup is such an appropriate way to celebrate this cooler season. And it’s even better when you gather around a table with some friends and loved ones to share it. You can make it homemade (I love to throw soup in my slow cooker!) but even soup from a can counts if your short on time!

Schedule a Fall Photo Session!

I know, I know….but I had to end with this one, because if you’re like me and you love to celebrate fall with all these traditions, don’t you want a tangible reminder of those sweet memories with your loved ones to look back on year after year? Maybe it’s your child’s first experience apple picking or that hike you took with your fiancé the fall you got engaged or that coffee date alone with your husband while your mother in law watched the kids for a morning. These traditions aren’t even as much about the fall season as they are about celebrating it with the ones you love. So while you can schedule a photo session all year round (and I hope you do!), fall is full of these sweet traditions and moments that are perfect for capturing in a photo session! Message me to chat more about how I can help capture those fall moments for you, whether it’s with your family, your spouse, or even just you and your dog!

(Are you hoping to catch one of my fall mini sessions? I still have a couple open! Click over here for more details!)

So how about you? What are your favorite fall traditions?
Comment below and share some of your favorite things to do in the fall!

He Makes All Things Beautiful; a Glimpse of the Precious Life of Benjamin Levi {Kansas City Newborn Photographer}
 Rebecca Clair Photography lifestyle NICU newborn photography Children's Mercy Hospital mother and father holding baby through the curtains

I have this phrase I sometimes repeat to myself during sessions: “find the light”.

That little phrase reminds me of the basic principles of photography, but more than that, it’s an invitation (perhaps even a challenge) to find the light and beauty in every season, every person, every story. 

There are days when that feels like an easy task. When a perfectly dressed family cuddles together in a field at sunset or when a young couple laughs in each other’s arms as they look towards a sweet future together or when a family finally brings their newborn home to the nursery they’ve lovingly prepared for her, it feels easy to see and celebrate the light and beauty in those moments.

But what about in the hospital room where a couple holds their newborn son, born alive but unresponsive? What about those hours when they hold him close, knowing it could be their last day with him? What about the day when they have to choose to let him go? Can we – can I – find beauty in that place, too?

At the end of June, I had the profound privilege of spending a couple hours in the NICU with my friends and their newborn son Benjamin. Benjamin was born alive but unresponsive after suffering a severe brain injury in utero. He held on to life for eight miraculous days, amazing us all by the ways he defied the odds and by the ways that his little life stirred and united so many people in prayer. The day that they planned to remove Benjamin’s breathing tube, my friends asked me to come and take some photos of them as they snuggled him skin to skin (their skin to skin times with Benjamin are some of the precious memories they hold onto from his time in the NICU). I was a little nervous to enter this space with them, because I had never photographed anything like this before and it would be an understatement to say that the moment felt weighty, but at the same time, I had never felt the value of photography as deeply as I did in that room. 

Near the end of my time with them, they played a song that a friend had written and dedicated to Benjamin. I couldn’t hear most of the lyrics, but the one phrase that resounded in my ears as I snapped those last photos was, “You make all things beautiful.” Later, when I re-listened to the song, I found out that the lyrics actually said, “You make all things new,” but I think perhaps the word “beautiful” was what I needed to hear in that moment. That phrase, “You make all things beautiful,” defined those hours (and all of Benjamin’s life) for me. 

Because even in the midst of the heartbreak, those two hours in that NICU room were full of more beauty and peace than I could have ever imagined. And I saw so much beauty in Benjamin’s short life:

Beauty in his mother’s greeting as she gently touched his head. 
Beauty in his tiny, perfect fingers and toes.
Beauty in the way his arms snuggled around his mother’s chest.
Beauty in the way she tenderly cupped his feet in her hands.
Beauty in the sound of her laughter billowing into that hospital room. 
Beauty in the gaze his parents shared as they held him close and the way they closed their eyes as they touched their foreheads together.  
Beauty in the way he nestled under his father’s chin.
Beauty in his father’s soft kiss on his forehead.
Beauty in the way his fingers (so tiny, so strong) curled around his father’s finger.  
Beauty in the light on his mother’s face as she closed her eyes and entered into the prayer of the music. 
Beauty in each rhythmic breath he drew, skin to skin on their chests. 
Beauty in the warmth of his body alive in their arms for those eight days.

And even after those moments of beauty were gone and Benjamin was “swallowed up by life”, held only in memory and photographs, still I saw beauty in Benjamin’s story.

Beauty in the rawness and vulnerability with which his parents have shared this story.
Beauty in their posture of humility and faith each step of the way.  
Beauty in the words that flowed in from all over the world in response to his life.
Beauty in the voices lifted in prayer and worship, day and night. 
Beauty in the hearts that rallied in hope.
Beauty in the hearts that broke in grief.
Beauty in the emotions of wonder and grief, celebration and sadness, that unite us all.

There is grief here, to be sure, and a depth of pain that can’t be put into words. But through it all, so much beauty. And finding the beauty here, even in these hard spaces of Benjamin’s story, renews my hope that He can make all things and all stories (including my own) beautiful.

And so each click of the shutter as I witnessed these moments of beauty became a thank you. A thank you for the preciousness and purpose of Benjamin’s little life, even in such a short amount of time. And a thank you for the privilege of witnessing this little bit of his story.  

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

(If you'd like to hear more of Benjamin's story firsthand from his parents, I encourage you to listen to the message, "Swallowed Up By Life", that they shared recently at our church)

Great Expectations: A Tale of Two Donuts (and a Few Tips for Happier Toddler Sessions) {Kansas City Family Photography}
 Kansas City family photographer toddler eating a donut Cider Hill Family Orchard

Let me tell you a little story about expectations vs. reality with a toddler.

Last week, on one of those gloomy, rainy days we’ve had lately, I ran out to the grocery store with Ethan to grab one quick thing that I had forgotten during our normal grocery trip (because now that we have a second car, we can do that!) While we were there, I decided to pick up a donut for us to share, a special rainy day treat.

Here’s how I imagined we would enjoy it:

We would come home from our errand, snuggle up together while the rain fell softly against the window, and share a sweet blueberry donut treat together.

Here’s how it actually went down:

Ethan cried and yelled “Dono! Dono! Donooo!” the entire car ride home. He ate his portion of the donut at the table in about 30 seconds. And then proceeded to cry, “Dono! Dono!” again, until naptime.  Not exactly the sweet moment together that I’d imagined!

Why do I share this with you? Because I get it. I get the frustration of planning something fun, only to have your toddler melt down. And I get the disappointment of booking a photo session and having your toddler frown and refuse to sit down or look at the camera. Toddlers are hard to predict and often have strong opinions of what they do or don’t want to do. It can make picture day a little stressful for you and them.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are a few tips for setting up a session that’s fun for your toddler (and therefore fun for you, too!)

1) Loosen your expectations. I know Pinterest is full of cute poses and ideas and we can try a few of them, but don’t push too hard if your toddler isn’t into it! I find that we get happier, more genuine photos when we follow your toddlers lead. If they just want to cuddle in your lap, go with it! These moments won’t last forever and you’ll be glad you captured them. If they don’t want to let go of their favorite toy, let them keep it. You’ll look back at these photos and remember the season when they were inseparable from it. Do they just want to run around with sticks? Jump into the game and chase them! We can totally capture that, too!

2) Bring a favorite toy or book. Does your child have a favorite stuffed animal or car? Do they ask you to read Brown Bear, Brown Bear every single night? Bring those along! They can help your child feel more comfortable in a new place, with a stranger, and we can catch some photos that capture these beloved pieces of their childhood.

3) Bring a snack or treat. I’m not necessarily advocating for bribing your child (but maybe just a little?), but it’s no secret that a fun treat can often quickly turn around a toddler’s mood! My only suggestion is to bring something that you don’t mind being in the photos since I won’t be photoshopping those out (you may find that cookies are cuter than cereal bars and fresh fruit is cuter than an applesauce pouch!) and don’t bring something messy unless you’re willing to embrace the mess of the moment!

4) Play together. I know that sometimes you want just one good picture where you’re looking at the camera and smiling (the kind that the grandparents will hang on their fridge) and I always try to get at least one of those. But most of the session I want to focus on you enjoying being together. Snuggle your child. Tickle them. Toss them in the air. Spin them around. Explore with them. As you focus on spending quality time with them and having fun together, I’ll focus on catching the sweetest, authentic photos, too.

Despite my rainy day treat backfiring, we had a little bit of donut redemption at Cider Hill Family Orchard’s Apple Blossom Festival this weekend. After we took a wagon ride through the orchard, we sat together on a bench, a warm bag of donuts crinkling in our hands and cinnamon sugar coating our fingers, watching a fire and munching on the BEST apple cider donuts (and then we wandered around the orchard, fed ducks, splashed sticks in the pond, and swung on a swing!). It wasn’t the same rainy day snuggles that I’d imagined last week, but it was a sweet family moment I’ll cherish.

Community Over Competition: A Photographers Play Date {Kansas City Couples Photography}
 Couples session in Kansas City west bottoms couples photography hair blowing

“Community over competition.”

I first heard this slogan (which originates from the Rising Tide Society) at the Inspired Story Conference in Dallas last summer, when I gathered with women photographers from around the country for a weekend of learning, creating, and listening to one another’s stories. Every photographer who spoke at the conference shared their knowledge and stories candidly and generously. I was blessed and challenged as much by their humble attitude as their words. My experience that weekend at the conference pushed the value of “community over competition” deep into my heart.

As my own knowledge and experience slowly grows, I try to remember the gift that that those photographers were (and still are) to me as I learn this business of photography. And like them, I strive to share what I know just as generously, whether it’s sharing a particularly lovely location I’ve found or passing on client questionnaires I’ve created. Although this can be a competitive business, with dozens of photographers clamoring for the same clients, I believe that the competition doesn’t need to define my interactions with other local photographers and that forming positive relationships with other area photographers can only help all of us grow stronger in our art and business.

I’m grateful that there are other local photographers that feel the same, including Jen Williams and Jordan Friend. A couple weeks ago, Jen and Jordan organized a play date for some local photographers in the West Bottoms and I had the privilege of joining them. They had recruited some couples and singles to model for us and we spent a couple hours that afternoon, wandering the area, taking photos and getting to know one another. I had never been to the West Bottoms before and the urban environment definitely pushed me outside of my comfort zone. The harsh mid-afternoon light was also a challenge, forcing me to embrace the contrast and find flattering light in the shadows. Several of the photographers there that day also showed me how they use some of their lighting equipment to offset the harsh light, inviting me to rethink the usefulness of flash.

In the end, I sweated a lot (it was HOT out that afternoon!), made some new connections, stretched myself beyond my comfort zone, and created some images I’m proud of.

Kolby and Shaffen

Rebecca and Trevor

Olivia

Spring Snow Day: A Saturday Morning in Photos {Kansas City Lifestyle Family Photography}
 Kansas City, MO lifestyle family photographer spring flowers in the snow winter family photography

Remember how I was gushing the other day about the early spring weather when I announced my spring mini sessions? Well, I may have spoken too soon because winter rushed back in full force this weekend! By March I’m usually over winter and ready for spring, so I may have grumbled a bit about the return to frigid temperatures and gray skies.

But then we woke up Saturday to soft snow flurries outside our windows. We took advantage of a leisurely morning to make blueberry pancakes together (I let Ethan “help”, which resulted in a floury mess but a happy toddler). And then we all took a walk outside in the snow. We didn’t walk far – just down the block and around to the alley that runs behind our house – but even that small distance was full of wonder and adventure for my toddler, who has seen very little snow yet in his life. It reminded me of why I was so excited for winter this year, because of the chance to watch him experience snow for the first time.  And the way the snow clung to every branch and leaf and early spring flower filled me with wonder and gratitude as well.

These were simple moments. Cooking together. A simple breakfast. A short walk around the block. But I love these images I caught that day, precisely because they capture those simple moments of this unique season in our family. Someday Ethan won’t make such a mess when we cook together. Someday he won’t need help climbing down the front steps. Someday he won’t fit that adorable yellow hat (seriously, it’s my favorite!) Someday  he’ll be too heavy to carry in my arms. And someday he will balk when I try to kiss his cheek. But for now, this is our life, both the sweet and the chaotic. And I’m determined to document it so when that day comes, I can remember and treasure this season.

How about you? Did you enjoy the spring snow this weekend?

A Perfect Fall Saturday: Apple Picking and Picnic {Platte City Family Photography}

I love family traditions. In the midst of changing seasons (both natural seasons and seasons of life), I appreciate the stability and sense of belonging that comes with those traditions, the sense of anticipation they bring as each season or holiday rolls around again.

Over the past several years we have established the tradition of picking apples each autumn, always with friends and ideally followed by a picnic. I thought we had missed our chance this year when the orchard we had been going to announced that their season was over. I found another orchard with one more weekend of apple picking, though, and so we went this weekend.

We arrived in the chilly morning, shortly after the orchard opened for the day. Armed with our baskets, we trooped out to back portion of the orchard (past roaming chickens), to the few remaining trees still laden with apples. There were a lot of kids in our group -- five between all of us -- and I enjoyed watching their delight as they plopped apples into their baskets and swung them around while the littlest ones (including our Ethan) bounced in carriers on their mother's fronts.

After we filled our baskets and paid for our apples, we spread blankets under a large tree in the corner of the property for a picnic. I had baked homemade bread and chocolate cookies to bring, along with cheese, olives, and an apple kale salad, and another friend brought chicken. We feasted on these and then visited for a while afterwards before we all went our separate ways. It combined some of my favorite things -- sunshine, autumn, picnics, friends, and fellowship around good food -- for a perfect fall Saturday.

Friends From Faraway: The Jones Family Visits {Kansas City Photography}

In the five plus years that Derek and I have lived in Kansas City, we have seen many of our friendships from back in Ohio slip away over the distance. But not our friendship with the Jones family. Through visits back home, skype dates, and joint photo projects we have stayed in touch and continued to share life together.

And this month, they finally made the trip to Kansas City to visit, now that their three boys are old enough to handle the long drive. We spent a few days showing them around the city, sharing some of our favorite places (including Joe's Kansas City Barbecue, Prospero's Books, and Thou Mayest Coffee Shop) and discovering a few new places as well.

Jeff has been a staunch supporter of my photography from the beginning (in fact, he sold me my camera), so it only seemed appropriate to document their visit.