Well THAT was a really long 7 days. Painfully long. Painful in a million ways that I never could have predicted. Not because I am in the business of predicting presidential elections but because I couldn’t have guessed how personal the loss would feel.

On Wednesday morning I woke after a few hours of sleep and spent the day grieving and raging and texting WTF WTF WTF over and over again. I huddled up with my tightest group of friends and we shared our anger and fears—for the basic respect and fundamental rights of dear friends and distant strangers. We watched as pundits and peers gleefully mocked that fear and called us fucking crybabies. “Get over it. Move on! Fair is fair is fair.”

On Friday morning, after yet another sleepless night, I stood at the elementary school Veterans Day celebration and barely held back tears. The flag raising, the singing, the honorable guests, the hundreds of kids taking so much pride in their young voices. I wish it had felt therapeutic and hopeful, but I was awash in despair. One nation indivisible…yeah right. Our principal asked everyone to join in singing This Land is Your Land, and I found secret pleasure in knowing we were sharing beautiful words originally written as a protest anthem. “As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking / Is this land made for you and me?”

On Sunday as the news rolled in of the incoming cabinet appointments I couldn’t bear to even make eye contact with people who weren’t openly horrified by the hourly developments. I tried the phone–I can do the phone! I tried to talk about benign things like Thanksgiving menus and travel schedules, but I found myself melting down in front of my teenager and needing her support for a change. “I cannot put on a fucking happy face. I cannot fake this, for anyone!”

On Monday I remembered something that my 12-year old said late last week. The whole family had been talking about the election, and my husband and I were trying to balance our outrage with reassuring, parental perspective. My son thought for a moment and said, “Maybe this is like a vaccine. Maybe the country needs a dose of this specific kind of evil to build up really powerful antibodies.”  My God. Maybe so.

And now here is Tuesday. Today I woke up, not necessarily rested, but renewed in a surprising and palpable way. The fog has lifted enough that I called my senators. I made donations. I mapped out a plan for ways our family can not only make a bigger impact on our community but gain new insight and stretch our comfort zone. It’s been a long week, but I know the road ahead is even longer. Today, finally, I’m feeling focused and relentless. It’s time to work.

 

The sibling dynamic has always fascinated me…I’ve talked about it, read about it, written about it, photographed about it, hashtagged about it, you name it.

As long as I can remember it’s been a topic that resonated on a very deep level with me. (Typical Middle Child/Only Girl behavior? Hello observant, empathetic negotiator.)

When my husband and I started a family back in 2002, I hoped a sibling would soon follow. My dream, as I wrote years later, went something like this…

“I never wanted a child. I always wanted children.

Siblings, confidantes, compadres, chums. Tattlers, teachers, accomplices, antagonists. Rivals, secret-keepers, scapegoats and partners-in-crime. Mentors and tormentors.

I wanted wagon pullers, swing pushers, fort builders and sand-castle destroyers. I wanted a full table, too many backpacks, and commas on our Christmas card.

I wanted a firstborn, a middle, a baby. I wanted to marvel at both the reliable and the shattered stereotypes. I wanted shifting alliances and third wheels. Teamwork and the circling of wagons.

For better or worse, I wanted individual players in the ultimate team sport. Sharing the same space, fighting for the same oxygen. Believe it or not, I wanted splash fights, inane arguments, thrown elbows in the hallway, imaginary Do Not Cross or Else! lines…”

So here I am. Living and breathing and observing siblinghood every day. I’m fully immersed in the battles over time, energy and oxygen. It’s not always pretty, but it’s usually entertaining and sometimes enlightening.

To celebrate these lifelong relationships, I’m launching a new project that aims to capture the heart and humor of siblinghood. The Sibling Revelry Project is starting on Instagram and I hope you’ll follow along and see where we go. (@siblingrevelryproject).

I’m planning to photograph a wide range of siblings young and not-so young, so send me ideas and please spread the news …
I swear it’s not tattling!

2016-siblingrevelryproject

 

 

 

Happy Father’s Day to our hunter, our gatherer, our sunscreen slatherer. We love you!

IMG_7679

 

 

 

 

2016.05.leslie

So, this awesome photo-op happened the other day. If you don’t live in Austin you might be wondering what I’m doing cozying up with a statuesque guy in a bra and thong undies. Hell, if you DO live in Austin you might be wondering the same thing. Or you might be wondering…why does Liz get to do ALL OF THE COOL THINGS?

Well, in this case it boils down to being in the right place at the right time and being an aggressively friendly neighbor. (I can’t help it—and by the way would you like to help me organize the next block party?) It started a few nights ago when my husband and I were out walking the dog. We took our usual loop and passed a white-haired neighbor as he was climbing out of his truck. He flagged us down and asked, “Hey, do y’all remember Leslie?” Because we’ve lived in Austin for nearly 20 years, we didn’t return his question with a blank stare.

Of course we know Leslie! Well, knew him. Or rather, knew of him. Everyone did.

Leslie Cochran was a local legend—a cross-dressing homeless man who was especially fond of barely-there thongs, sparkly tiaras and feathered boas. He ran for mayor three times and claimed to have coined the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan. He certainly embraced the motto and was adored all over town. Leslie spent a lot of time on 6th Street, flashing skin and entertaining the party-going masses with his stories and his charm. For a tip, he would pose for photos and usually give unsolicited advice. When he died in 2012 a large crowd gathered at Auditorium Shores—many wearing thongs and boas—to celebrate his very large life.

Now the party lives on. It turns out that our neighbor Bob was collecting signatures to “Put Leslie back on the streets” with a sculpture that would reside on a downtown bench near Leslie’s old stomping grounds. Bob is a retired architect and current sculptor. He told us that the Leslie project was not just a petition, but a reality in the works. And by in the works, I mean Leslie was in his backyard right at that moment. I didn’t hesitate: Can we see him??

Bob was happy to oblige, and we got an impromptu tour of the lush garden that his wife maintains. We spotted Leslie’s arms and legs lounging on the covered porch, and we learned that at this stage of a project, Bob stores most of his larger sculptures as disassembled pieces. Looming nearby was another half-built masterpiece: an imposing depiction of Stephen F. Austin. From the waist down, The Father of Texas stood with one leg bent powerfully in front of him, the tail of his frontiersman coat blowing behind him with bold authority. And in a perfect moment of too-awesome-to-be-true, there was Leslie’s armless body…propped up against Austin’s thigh, wearing a bra and smiling as big as Texas.

Bob assembled Leslie with care so that my husband and I could take turns posing with him. As you can see, I was downright giddy by this point. There’s just something magnetic about Leslie, even in statue form. Bob captured it all, right down to his stilettos.

If the project gets approved and funded, Austinites and tourists will always be able to hang out with Leslie and grab a photo with the legend. I can’t think of anything weirder or greater.

 

Need I say more?

IMG_4167

IMG_6221.JPG

IMG_4909

IMG_2911 (3)

2014.06.20.SiblingRevelry-6

My friends and I are all riffing on the same theme today…
Go visit their blogs and see what kind of brilliance and hilarity they found in hindsight.

Two Cannoli

Genie in a Blog

Smacksy

Good Day Regular People

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

The Mama Bird Diaries

Midlife Mixtape

When Did I Get Like This?

Arnebya

Up Popped A Fox

The Flying Chalupa

Suburban Scrawl

IMG_6135

In a few weeks I have the honor of speaking about my experiences as a freelance writer/photographer. The audience? A couple dozen 5th graders, including my son. I’m excited about the opportunity, and can only assume that the professional athletes, filmmakers and zookeeper parents were unavailable for this particular day.

The teacher gave me a few basic Career Day guidelines. My son, however, had more specific suggestions.

“Make a Power Point!” he said. “But only if it’s awesome with great music and epic graphics.”

“Show lots of photos!” he said. “But only if I get to approve any shot with me in it.”

“Tell us cool stories!” he said. “But only if they aren’t, you know, boring and adult-like.”

“Be funny!” he said. “But…well, never mind.”

Never mind WHAT, son?

IrisAwards-winner-nominee-FINAL-2016

 

In other news…I’m thrilled to share that I was recently nominated for an Iris Award in the Best Photography category. The Iris Awards honor individuals and organizations creating content online, and they will be presented in a few weeks at the Mom 2.0 Summit in beautiful Laguna Niguel, California. I am incredibly flattered to be listed among such talented industry giants.

Awards aside, I am counting down the days until the conference, when I get to hang with dear friends from all over the country and fill up on the words of inspiring speakers.  I predict a lot of laughing, even more dancing and not a single boring Power Point.

 

2015.12.24

 

This is Judith and her beautiful friend Prima.

For years Judith and I have crossed paths during Saturday runs along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We wave, exchange a few friendly words, and sometimes stop to pet her aging greyhounds, who always trail behind as she darts swiftly over roots and rocks.

Judith is perpetually bright and smiling. She applauds my running group for making time for friendship and fitness, and we beam at her praise. Everything about Judith radiates joy and light. In the summer she wears tiny bun-hugger shorts that are smaller than anything my fit, 40-something-year-old friends and I sport in public. She rocks these shorts. My friends and I all agree on two things: Every run where we see Judith is a good run, and we all want to be her when we grow up.

I shot this photo on the morning of Christmas Eve when I was running with two friends. We had not seen Judith in a while and immediately noticed that she had only one dog with her. We stopped to talk and she shared the story of her other dog’s final days and the beautiful, loving send-off she gave him. The conversation shifted toward the heaviness of grief and how every new pain can revive buried ones from the past. She was philosophical and open, and clearly at peace even amidst the heartache. We stood there under a canopy of oak and juniper, soaking up this beautiful human as she poured out her heart to three women she has only known at a distance.

It was a powerful, intimate moment that lasted maybe 10 minutes.

After gathering ourselves and wiping our eyes, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t shake what I was feeling, though. Judith had stirred something in me on this sacred day. I wanted to bottle it somehow, and I immediately regretted not asking to take her photo.

We ran on for several minutes until I convinced my friends to turn around early and try to track down Judith. At a minimum, I needed to tell her something. If I were lucky, she would let me take her photo as well.

We caught up with her eventually, and if she was surprised to see us she didn’t show it. Swallowing a lump of emotion, I told her that today, along with being Christmas Eve, was also my Mom’s birthday. “In honor of her memory, I always look for beautiful moments on my Mom’s day. And you are that moment, Judith.”

We hugged. I tried not to cry. It was both awkward and completely natural. It felt like everything vulnerability should be: uncomfortable but affirming. It was the perfect start to a day in which I always reserve time for contemplation and memories.

For as long as I can remember I have sought out the Judiths in my life. I learned this from my mother. In fact, everything I know about seeking beauty and joy came from my mom. These were her greatest gifts to me.

When my mom was 38 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of multiple sclerosis. A year later she was confined to a wheelchair. Her future held decades of emergency room scares, ICU visits, near-misses, and too many physical losses to catalog. She spent the last 10 years of her life in bed, relying on a ventilator for every breath.

And yet. Even with her limitations and losses, my mom radiated serenity. She found pleasure in every bird that visited the feeders hanging outside her window, or in the backyard wind chimes singing with the breeze. She exhausted libraries of their audiobook collection. Long after she lost her ability to speak, she could tell you with her eyes that she loved you.

Throughout her life, doctors, nurses and therapists marveled at my mom’s attitude. Over and over we heard, “There is just something so resilient and positive about her.” She saw beauty in most everything. I have no doubt she would have seen it in Judith.

It’s been 5 years since my mom died, and the sharp edges of grief have softened. I think I’m finally accepting that even if I can’t walk with her in my daily life, I can carry the lessons she left me. I can seek out beauty and joy and light. I can embrace–and if necessary, chase down–the Judiths in my life and tell them how they make my world brighter. What a gift indeed.

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 7.38.01 PM

So, last week I got braces. These are not to be confused with the braces I had at age 8 to fix a few wily teeth growing in odd places, or the braces I had at age 15 to straighten my entire mouth. No, these grown-up braces are to correct everything that my teeth have been doing over the last 29 years. (Hint: they have been very busy!)

I will spare you the details, but in a nutshell I’m now correcting problems like alignment and migration issues, which honestly sounds like my teeth are ready to retire to Boca Raton. I opted for lingual braces, which are metal brackets that attach behind the teeth because I was swayed by the promise of “hidden braces.” Nobody needs to know!

On the plus side, the lingual braces will work magic on my teeth and I don’t have to look like a teenager when I smile. On the downside, there is a major adjustment period while my tongue learns to speak properly with sharp metal objects infringing on its personal space. Supposedly it takes a week or so to adjust but I must be a slow learner because I’m not there yet. It’s been a very long week, my friends. Or as I like to say, my frienths.

My observations so far:

1. The “nobody has to know” is exactly true as long as I don’t talk. Otherwise I sound like I have a lisp AND a mouth full of marbles.

2. Some orthodontists call these braces incognito braces, which sounds very cool and James Bond-like. But I can’t even say the words CIA or spy without spraying myself in the face. So…not very cool at all.

3. I would like to temporarily change my name to Kate because hard letters are much easier to say. “Hi, my name is Lith” is getting so annoying.

4. Also annoying: My kids, who keep asking, “Can I call you Brace Face? What about Metal Mouth? Is it funny yet? What about now?” No and no and no and no.

5. The braces might be the best diet ever because it’s such a hassle to eat that I would almost rather starve to death. A 5-minute snack requires 45 minutes of brushing/flossing/waterpikking nonsense. Math has never been my strong suit, but even I know that’s a raw deal.

6. Having a work-from-home job is a big perk when you are self conscious about every word you say. Until… you have an outside meeting and must explain the new speech impediment. My boss was super supportive and said, “Oh thank God! I thought you had been drinking!”

7. For years my kids and I have been making fun of the way Ed Sheeran pronounces sixth when he sings “Under the lamppost back on 6th Street…” but now I’m convinced he has incognito braces too. Nobody needs to know, Ed! (But now we all do!)

8. My entire vocabulary has suffered. I’m avoiding all kinds of difficult “S” words and resorting to simple, toddler-like conversation. When trying to explain how I thought a recent event in the news could be a “slippery slope for the Supreme Court”…I instead opted for “Ugh. Bad.” Insufficient is now lame. Unconscionable is now mean. Luckily, all my favorite cuss words have hard sounds and have been unaffected.

9. To help buffer the pain, my orthodontist gave me all kinds of wax and goo to put on the brackets. These work pretty well, but I also found that a square of Dove chocolate gets stuck on the brackets just as easily, so I might as well leave it there to enjoy for hours and hours.

10. The Dove chocolate (#9) is sort of ruining my new diet plan (#5) but like I said…it’s been that kind of week, my frienths.

2016.02.LeoLiz
Can you tell who has the braces (brathes)?

I hope this time of year brings you many words of joy. Words like…

No assembly required
Dishwasher safe
Batteries included
One size fits all

And also,

I love you
Please
Thank you
Hooray
I love it
Yes
No thank you
See you soon
It’s perfect
You’re welcome
Come over
I remember
I love you, too

Thank you for reading my words here this year.
I hope to bring you even more in 2016!
xoxo

2015.ewm.holiday

Photo credit: Bonnie Berry Photography

Like a lot of families, we try to incorporate volunteering into our lives–to support our community and to teach our kids by example. As a family we have done countless school fundraisers and charity races. We’ve collected blankets for animals and coats for kids. We’ve hosted bake sales for needy families and planted trees for needy parks.

Every one of those projects was worthwhile and engaging, but this year we decided to switch things up. Instead of one-time projects we wanted to offer a steady stream of goodwill. We wanted an ongoing commitment that our family could do together and feel a real sense of investment.

It sounded simple enough because of course a city the size of Austin has plenty of needs. Then we factored in our kids’ age range and our busy family life and it wasn’t so easy after all.

So we started researching and began with this wish list:

1. Something meaningful to us.

2. Something that works with our family schedule.

3. Something that lets us work with friends.

Y’all, I’m happy to say we found a match!

It’s only been a couple months, but it already feels so great. Once a month we meet some friends (another family of 5) at Mobile Loaves & Fishes. We make sandwiches for the homeless and load up one of the trucks that goes out for delivery 365 days a year. When our schedules allow, we hope to make some of the delivery runs, too. A few incredible stats: Mobile Loaves & Fishes has 16 trucks and more than 18,000 volunteers in 5 cities and 4 states. They have served nearly 3.9 million meals to the homeless. That’s too many sandwiches to count!

File Nov 13, 2 09 03 PM

The organization has also created a 27-acre master-planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive environment for the chronically homeless. We have worked out at the Community First Village and, like the truck ministry, it is full of family-friendly volunteer opportunities. In fact, one of MLF’s greatest strengths as an organization is how systematic and accessible they are. It’s so easy to volunteer that it takes away any obstacles or excuses.

Working with friends has been a huge perk. Our kids love seeing their friends in this type of setting. Sure, they joke around some, but they also take their jobs very seriously and try to out-awesome each other with their volunteer skills. As a bonus, with two families we have more flexibility if a kid gets sick or someone has a conflict.

And is the project meaningful for our family? Yes. Unfortunately, homelessness is a part of our daily landscape. We live in the middle of the city, a few blocks from an intersection that has at least one guy standing on the corner at all times of the day.

We use this intersection several times a day and for the past couple of years, a man named Eddie has been there almost every day. Eddie is there when we drive to ballet, to soccer, to art class. He’s there when we go to the grocery store, when we go for a run, when we go eat at a restaurant. Our kids see him when he’s cheerfully waving to all the drivers, when he’s yelling at a bystander’s dog, and when he’s stumbling up and down the curb with a bottle in his hand.

Countless times the kids have asked why nobody is helping Eddie. I’m usually at a loss for words. “Maybe people are trying…maybe he has a hard time accepting help…maybe he’s fighting some demons we don’t know about.”

Since we started helping Mobile Loaves & Fishes, the kids have a new question: “Do you think Eddie will get this sandwich tonight?” Maybe. I hope so. And if not this Eddie, then it will certainly help another Eddie we haven’t met.

File Nov 13, 2 05 32 PM

*   *   *  *  *

The holiday season is a great time of year to support your community, but it’s also a great time to commit to supporting it year-round. I hope you find something valuable that works for you and your family!

Other Austin organizations we love and support:

The Trail Foundation
Austin Parks Foundation
Little Helping Hands
Austin Pets Alive