Thursday, April 24, 2014

Laughter is Such Good Medicine: Family Night

Our family keeps one evening each week as Family Night. On Family Night we put aside all other distractions and simply have fun together, playing a game, watching a movie or, as was the case this week, going to a park. (Although this week not everyone in family was available. John, Zhenya and Kirsten were out of town.)

As soon as we set foot in the grass, which was just beginning to green up, the foot ball was in the air.

However, it wasn't long before a TAKE DOWN happened. Matt is 3-1/2 years older, but our two youngest sons are now almost identical in size. Matt may have the benefit of experience, but Nathaniel is slightly taller and still growing.

While the boys were playing football (and enjoying the tackling), Sarah was helping Hope find her balance.

When Dad came over to the playground, he gave Hope quite a spin.

Then it was Sarah's turn.

I'm not sure who was laughing harder...

Sarah has always been good-natured; she kept laughing even after being 'launched' from the seat.

Next it was Christina's turn.

Once Christina got over being dizzy, she took up dancing. The music? It was all in her head.

The whole evening was filled with laughter and joy.

... and creativity. Here she was our little gymnast.

... Here she was our little ice skater.

... and here, a ballerina.

... and here, Daddy's girl.

I love family night!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Miss Vibrant Turns Twelve!

(Starting with this post, we will be using all of our family's real names, rather than blog nicknames. We are the Reynolds family, not the Beaver family. The nicknames for my husband and me, "Mr. and Mrs. Beaver" came from the characters in the movie "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.")


For our family, late April holds three milestones: Hope's birthday, followed by the 'famiversary" of Hope and her biological sisters, Christina and Faith on the same day as Eliana's birthday. This year Hope's birthday also coincided with Easter. So many grand reasons to thank the Lord for His overwhelming goodness to our family!

Late Sunday afternoon, we sat the birthday girl in the closest thing to a throne in our great room for gift opening.

When we open gifts, we always go from youngest to oldest. Even at her young age, Eliana has truly embraced the biblical sentiment that it is better to give than to receive. She is a thoughtful gift giver, picking out just the right present for the recipient. She then takes great joy in presenting the gift.

Hope received a wide array of gifts from her family, some toys and some which were more "gown up" and fitting for a girl on the cusp of her teens.

After donning the jewelry she received, she immediately dove into relishing a new set of Legos. She had help from two of her siblings. Nathaniel and Eliana who are on the opposite ends of that long-and-somewhat-strange season ~ now called the tweens by marketers ~ in which you are maturing toward adulthood while there is still much about you that is resonates with that which is of childhood.

While they collaborated on building the Lego set, some serious grilling was going on. John was the appointed grill master for Hope's birthday dinner.

I'm not sure what seasoning secret the chef was sharing here, but he had a captivated audience in his sisters, Sarah (left) and Kirsten (right). We thank God for the close friendships our adult children share!

The girls went back inside, and the men turned to technology.  

We finished off the celebration of Hope's twelfth with a beautiful cake make by Faith. 

In the build-up to Hope's birthday, we informed her that we had a plan to make a "surprise" cake. The reason for the secrecy was that a couple of months earlier, we stumbled across a recipe that we knew would fit Hope's personality perfectly. Until the first slice, the birthday girl didn't know that the white icing hid layers of vibrant color.

For our family the cake was virtually symbolic of how Hope Alina entered our family nine years ago. When Mr. R. and I went on our "first trip" as part of the adoption procedure, we were permitted to spend 45 minutes with the toddler we were considering adopting (Hope's sisters, Christiana and Faith were in another orphanage for older children.) Our first encounter with the diminutive orphan was in the office of her orphanage's director. Hope was like the cake baked for her this year. Her true colors were completely hidden.

The 2-1/2 year old sat in our laps in a silent orphanage in a small industrial city in far western Russia and didn't make move or utter a sound. Despite how passive and silent Hope was, the two of us were smitten in three-quarters of an hour. Right there on the spot we signed a legal document committing to return and make her our child. However, even as we made the promise, we didn't have the slightest inkling what she would add to our family. This little orphan was still all "white frosting," so to speak. Little did we know that hidden behind her then frozen exterior was a vivacious child brimming with curiosity and individuality. With love and a sense of security, boy, did she  blossom! We soon discovered that when the Lord added Hope Alina to our family, He added a veritable rainbow! This month, as we celebrate both her birthday and her famiversary, we again thank God for His good gift of Hope!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Weddings: Sophia & Joseph

In February our family was honored to be invited to a wedding in Ohio. Along with the invitation came a request by the bride and groom, Sophia and Joseph, for our photography-crazed family to bring along our cameras. 

Photo credit ~ Natasha
When we arrived mid-morning at the church, I was ushered into the bride's dressing room. With me, were seven of our daughters. The girls and I quickly realized that we had been entrusted with the critical role of recording the ceremony preparations, including the dressing of the bride. We pulled out our cameras and set to work.

Since there were six of us working as a team, we were able to capture more of the details than any one or two of us would have been able to. This was especially important since this was our family's first "official" wedding shoot, and we so wanted to honor the bride and groom and their families! The photographers were Zhenya (20), Sarah (18), Tatiana (16), Natasha (14) and Amy (11) and me. Kirsten forgot her camera, but helped with the set up of pictures. Each contributed something to this post.

When we arrived Sophia was still in her street clothes, being dolled-up for her once-in-a-lifetime day by a family friend. The trusting eye contact between the two touched my heart.

While the bride's hair was being curled, her mom was a few feet away doing the same to hers.

Meanwhile, numerous friends were pulling together the last minute details. Could any wedding come together successfully without friends willing to serve sacrificially?

The room was filled with beautiful flowers.


While the work was being finished, there was also some fellowship taking place amongst the girls in the bride's dressing room.

While the morning preparations proceeded, the girls and I had the opportunity to take Sophia's stunning dress outside to photograph it.

We took along a critical accessory ~ Sophia's signature red shoes.

Photo credit ~ Tatiana

Photo credit ~ Amy
While we photographed the gown, the wedding cake was adorned with red- and cream-colored roses. 


We found upon our return that the bride's locks were curled, and she was ready to don her dress.

Her mother prepared the the gown and then helped Sophia into it.

My heart melted at the loving interaction between mom and bride. They both radiated joy as they shared the most important day in Sophia's life. Never was a cross word exchanged by them in a very stressful situation.

Joseph's mother joined the effort and helped make sure every detail was perfect by trimming threads.

At last, it was time to lace the back of the gown.

Photo credit ~ Natasha

Photo credit ~ Natasha

Then the bride was ready for her tiara and veil.

This photograph is special to me as an adoptive mom. When we met the young woman whose image is reflected in the mirror, we learned that she, too, was adopted from Russia, just like nine of our children!

Once the mother of the bride finished preparation of her daughter, she turned her attention to her youngest son.

The groom's sister, one of the bridesmaids, offered to make sure someone would see to it that the wedding cake made it to the reception hall. The cake was made by the bride and a friend.

A quick picture with dear friends...

...and then it was time for photos outdoors in a brisk February breeze.

As the girls lined up, laughter was exchanged. This is one of my favorite pictures of the day.

Okay...okay, I love the Lord's gift of this photo also!

The girls went inside without Joseph getting a glimpse of his bride. The groom then led the men out.

Jason seemed a bit tense at first but relaxed as he and his brother, Joseph, teased one another.

The final posed picture with the men was of Joseph with both fathers ~ his on the left and Sophia's on the right. Starting a marriage with this kind of genuine support from both families will greatly enhance the young couple's chances of making 50 or 60 years. What a blessing!

In-laws play such a critical role in whether a marriage flourishes or flops. Looks like Joseph is blessed to have the favor of his father-in-law!

While the men were outside, our girls took more photos of the ladies indoors. I love how Sophia's youngest brother wandered into the photo. Big families are such fun!

The stained glass brought color to the beautiful details of Sophia's gown in new ways.

Photo credit ~ Zhenya Reynolds
And, of course, we couldn't resist yet another shot of those wonderful shoes!

Photo credit ~ Sarah Reynolds
Here's our Sarah's artistic take on Sophia's endearing footwear statement.

Not only were the bridesmaids adorned in rich, sumptuous fabrics, but so were the flower girls.

But it wasn't just little girls that threatened to steal the limelight at this wedding, this ring-bearer was irresistible. The credit for the pictures of this young charmer goes to Zhenya.

The last of the formal photographs was taken in the sanctuary, and then everyone retired to their dressing rooms for a bit of rest before the ceremony.

Little Elise, age three, quickly snagged the seat right next to the bride.

Their sweet interaction arrested my attention. This photo was not posed!

Here Sophia is smiling at her sister, Christianna, the maid of honor.

The guests began to arrive...

...including our son, John.

Everyone was ready for the strains of music that would signal the start of the ceremony.

The next down the aisle were the groom's parents...

...followed by Sophia's father and mother.

Then came the trios of flower girls and ring-bearers

Finally the moment arrived for which Joseph had been waiting since he first felt led by the Lord to make Sophia his wife.

Sophia's mom eagerly awaited the first glimpse of her husband with their oldest daughter on his arm.

Sophia's dad placed her hand in Joseph's in a symbolic gesture of passing the leadership and nurture of Sophia to her husband.

For this couple, their commitment to purity kept them from kissing until they stood before the altar. This was their FIRST kiss!

Then followed those transforming words..."I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Manion!"

And we were all off to the reception hall.

Joseph and Sophia proved again and again that while they may have started out as novices in kissing, they're quick learners!

Of course, we all enjoyed watching what they would do as they fed wedding cake to one another.

Let's just say they were fairly kind, but each fed the other an enormous piece of cake.

As the ceremony wound down, we departed knowing that this couple had started their lives as one-flesh on their knees before their Savior and King, making Jesus their rock. Because of their commitment to Christ, we left with the hope that their marriage will go the distance in a culture where so few marriages last until death parts the spouses.

And all who attended were blessed to have witnessed the beginning of Joseph and Sophia's forever-union.