The Cruise
The Cruise

So, this post began sometime back in 2013.  At our house, we do a little thing called “Spending Day.”  Every other month, our kids are allowed to spend their allowance.  They plan ahead and get to go purchase what they have been saving towards.  Sara was great at saving, but never could quite find anything she wanted to spend her money on.  She started saving towards some larger American Girl purchases, but once she got to 30 or 70 bucks she would then say…. “Wait a minute… I don’t want to spend 28 bucks on a Beach Chair, much less 85 dollars on a Sunset Sleepover Tent.”
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So we suggested for her to save up for an experience or a trip of some kind.  One thing led to another and she found out she could go on a 5 night cruise for 300 dollars.  The girl was locked in.  She was on a savings mission.  Every other month, she would go on the spending trips with the family and watch her brothers purchase something.  She would bank her money and move on with life.  Some Spending Days were harder than others.  But overall, she was super determined.  We made a little chart to fill in for every dollar she saved, and after about a year and a half of extra jobs, birthdays, savings, and chocolate chip cookie sales, she had reached her goal!

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Danielle was not interested in getting on a boat, so I was awarded the honor of being cruise parent. (Try not to feel to sad for me.) From the beginning, Danielle and I knew she would love it. It would be a trip she would remember and cherish forever: that one time she got to go one a week long cruise with her dad.  I could already envision her coming home from college one Christmas as we sat around the fireplace and talked about it.
This was the first cruise for Sara and I so every little thing was a treat.

Examples:
Made Beds
Lounge Chairs
Bath Robes

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One of the things we both were looking forward to the most was free food.  Anytime.  All the time.

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Boats are long.

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Out favorite parts of the trip, were waking up each day and watching the sunrise on the ocean.

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Sara very quickly realized, this was the life she was born to live.

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Danielle was a little nervous that our diet over the course of the week might not be the healthiest.  She may have been right to worry.

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The boys were so sweet and surprised Sara with a lego set to build and play with while on the cruise.  She was super giddy.

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Mine. Mine. Mine.

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Our stop in Progreso was a blast.  Sara had her first experience with the fine art of haggling.  She could not believe that the bracelet that she liked went from 35 dollars down to 11 in about 18 seconds.

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Also in Progreso,  Officially Licensed Disney products.

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The ship had a spa where you could get a pedicure, manicure, eat ice cream, and look out on the ocean all at once.  Sara would have been content to stay there the rest of the trip.

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Wait… you can pick up the phone and they bring you free dessert 24 hours a day?  Done and done.

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I mentioned that Danielle was nervous about our meals.  We decided to document everything we put into our mouths.  We ate like kings and queens.

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Remember that time that we went snorkeling in Cozumel and I found a super nice girl that braided Sara’s hair for me?  Thank you sure nice girl from Dallas.

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These are fish we never saw while snorkeling, but were given a photo of.

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#islandlife

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Seriously?

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Our favorite times were really in the morning while most of the boat was sleeping.  So quiet and peaceful.

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Our best friend on the boat.

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Of course Sara loved all the little towel animals. (I didn’t take a shower all week because she would not let me undo any of them.)

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As we pulled back into Galveston Sara got her sad face on.  He dream week was coming to an end.

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Over the course of the week I realized something: I thought I was taking my little girl on the cruise.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that I don’t have a little girl; I have a young lady. Sometime between 2005 and 2014, Sara has grown up. She was more mature than I realized. I was prepared to make dad jokes all week to make her laugh, but her wit and humor kept me in stitches. I was ready for her to miss being home, but her sense of adventure is what helped get me through the week. She didn’t really grow up over the course of the cruise; she has been growing up all along.  But something about getting her away and alone, made me realize just how much of a young lady she is. Everyone who I spoke with before the trip just keep gushing over and over about how special it will be for her. Just how much she’ll remember it forever. How lucky it is that she’ll have these memories.

What I have since realized is that I’m the lucky one.

I’m the one who is treasuring that week.

I’m the one that will remember it forever.

I’m the one who will one day hold a grandkid in my lap and talk about that one time their mother took me on a cruise.

And, if I’m too old to remember the stories… I’ll turn on my vintage iPhone and show them this little movie.

The Cruise from Alex Maldonado on Vimeo.

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Belize 2014 | The Photos
Belize 2014 | The Photos

Warning: If you don’t like Belize, my kid, or lots of photos, this post is not for you.  If you only want to see things that might be on Etsy, Pinterest, or Style Me Pretty, then just scroll for a while and you’ll get there. :)

Our trip kicked off with Eli trying to convince me on the way to the airport that he could get small enough to fit into my suitcase.

1. He could.
2. I still didn’t try to.  I think the TSA frowns on that.

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We landed in Belize and got to do those cool stairs off the plane thing.  I always feel like I’m important when I get to do that.  The truth is, it just means I’m in a janky airport.

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This was the church/school we stayed at for the week.

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This was the gecko that greeted me when I went to the bathroom to wash my hands.

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We spent the first night going over our plans for the week and inflating 20+ basketballs.

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Bright and early the next morning, we started mixing concrete and doing construction work.  This is Cameron.  Cameron is a sophomore in high school.  He is a haas.  He is my hero.

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Meet Crystal & Zach.  They have been married about 2 months and instead of spending their money on a honeymoon, they came to Belize to build a basketball court and teach kids about Jesus.  They are my heroes.

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Once we arrived in Belize, we found out there is a concrete shortage in the city, so we would not be able to finish the court.  We went ahead and put up a goal anyway in the back just to have something to use for the week.  It was heavy.  Rather than try and lift it, I stood off to the side and took photos of those men lifting it.

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At nights, our team would play a charades game of sorts where they told Jo the movie and he would act it out.  I’m not sure what movie this is.  His hands are up in the air… My guess would be Leap of Faith but that’s probably not it.

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These next two photos/moments might be my favorites from the trip.

It was our first full work/VBS/basketball camp day.  We had already finished the work portion and were having lunch around 1:00, when Cassi & Colton received the news that their great-grandmother had passed away.  They were super close to her and it really shook them up.  They spent about an hour or so crying / talking / grieving together.  When it came time for us to head to do the VBS/basketball part of the day, they joined back up with our team.  No one forced them or made them join in.  They just did.  I looked over and saw Colton leading a group of about 15 boys in the story of when Jesus calmed the storm.  I broke down crying at how perfect this image was.  Colton might have been the only person those boys would have sat and listened to that day, and he could have easily stayed back in the room.  Yet here he was.  Teaching them about a man who did something so many years ago and also just minutes ago in his life.  Those boys had no idea the pain Colton had just been dealt, they just know he was there loving them.

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This is Cassi (right). she played college basketball and was in charge of setting up all our drills, stations, and groups for the week.  She also had every right to be in her room grieving about her great-grandmother.  She could have chosen to be alone.  She could have chosen to hide.  Instead she chose to do what she came to do.  She came to love kids and teach kids.  So here she is; two hours after learning of her loss, full of life and joy and being re-energized by serving others.

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If there is one thing that made those little kids from Belize happy, it’s crushing us in soccer.

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On one of our outings, we passed through an Old Order Mennonite community.  It was like traveling through time.

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Mennonite Home Depot

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Once you hit the pink, yellow, and orange laundry, it means you are out of the Mennonite community.
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Almost everywhere we went, Jo felt like he should be in front of the group.  Which is interesting, because he is the youngest and typically had zero idea where we were going.
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Sometimes I see signs that make me laugh and I take of a photo of them like a 7th grade boy would.

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We climbed this Mayan ruin.  It was steep.
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This one was less steep.  I was still tired at the top.

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It does not matter if you are in Haiti, Belize, or America, kids are super cute.  Take a look.

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Once we realized the court was not going to get finished, we headed to a hardware store in town to get supplies to build some soccer goals.  The owner of the store got excited about the project and offered to donate these super sturdy goals when the court is complete.  That was a huge deal.

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I also met this girl who is getting married next year.  She wants me to be her wedding photographer.  I did not have a business card to give her.

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This is my friend Beckie.  Her thing is going around the world holding tiny humans.  She is good at her thing.  She is my hero.

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This toe belongs to Abby.  She probably broke it playing soccer the second day on our trip.  She still loved on kids and never complained all week long.  Abby is my hero.

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Our last day was a beach/play day.  We headed out to a little island.

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Remember my friend Beckie who likes to hold tiny humans?  She apparently also likes to sit in the back of the boat and get pelted by the waves. :)

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This is Jo’s victory cheer when he had a hamburger after a week of less than his favorite food.

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Our trip leader Irv.  He spends his days holding hands with his wife while walking along the coast and… being held in Spongebob’s arms.
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Our group went snorkeling… more details to come….
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Hashtag island life.

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So Beckie, the tiny human holding one, did not want to snorkel, but wanted to conquer her fear of it.  So she tried it anyway.  She jumped in and swam around for about 45 minutes.  All the while clutching her father’s hand with a death grip.

Jo, also did not want to snorkel, but we decided to try it anyway… after about 10 minutes, he still didn’t want to and it was clear that the situation was not going to improve.  This is us swimming back to the boat.

These two photos are what parenting is about.  It’s about knowing your kid and knowing when to push them and holding on to them and encouraging them to keep pushing through.  It’s also about knowing when to bail on an idea.  Knowing when something is just “not for us” and being willing to back out.

This will look different for every family and each kid during various stages of life. But the sooner we figure it out, the easier our job becomes.

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A little while later the boat drove us to this spot and they said… “We are gonna toss out food and sharks and sting rays are going to come.  You can swim with them if you want.”

Yes, please.
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Remember Cassi?  Last year she gave Jo the nickname J-Money.  It’s how he introduces himself to people on mission trips.  All I can do is shake my head.  Thank you for that Cassi.  Thank you.

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My favorite part of heading home is counting down the minutes till we are greeted at the airport by my people.  I always miss my people.

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Part of the reasons I love taking Jo on these trips is to show him how much bigger the world is.

That the world is not just Playstations, Lego sets, and Tolkin books.
That the world is full of beauty and hurt.
That there is sadness and joy in unexpected places.
That the world is bigger than the next Marvel movie.

The thing is… every trip Jo has been on, he has turned around and shown me how much bigger he is.

That he has a heart that can love a stranger.
That he can do work I assumed he was too small for.
That he is bigger than Playstations, Lego sets, and Tolkin books.

Every time we’ve gone somewhere together, I leave thinking I’ll be so proud of what we do, but I always return more proud of who he is becoming than anything else.

I can’t wait to go back.

I can’t wait to take him with me.  He is my hero.

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Belize 2014 (The Video)
Belize 2014 (The Video)

Jo & I had the privilege of taking a trip to Belize last week with some friends of ours and their church group.  Our goal was to love on some kids by doing a little Vacation Bible School, building part of a basketball court, and teaching them some basketball skills.  I took 3.8 million photos and made a little movie.  The photos will be ready later this week, but the video is ready now.  Enjoy.

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What We’ve Been Up To
What We’ve Been Up To

Hey hey hey!!!  Long time no personal updates.  Sorry.  I know you all have been dying to know what’s going on with my little herd of people.  Well, here is the rundown since the beginning of 2014.  (Many of these have been pulled from Instagram.  You should follow me there.)

The boys all enjoyed playing a bit of basketball.  Jo was given the nickname J-Money and Luke & Eli loved being teammates.

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That one time it almost snowed the kids tried to make snow angles.

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2014 is really shaping up to be Eli’s year.  He turned 5 and finally was able to sign Eli Maldonado and thus was granted his very first library card.

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One of our favorite parts about homeschooling is all the random field trips.  Our kids love museums and zoos, so we visit them often. :)

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Eli thinks he could take on anything.

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Jo turned 11 which means birthday parties have transitioned from cake and silly games to going and getting pizza while dad sits at another table.  (This is me crying on the inside.)

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Other cool things that happened were Sara’s first dance and Jo getting his baptism on.

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Basketball is our favorite sport.  We like the way they dribble up and down the court.  Jo & I made our annual trip to the Texas high school state tournament as well as a Rockets game with young Luke.

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Eli is now building Lego sets and trying to sell them to other people.
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When the school year came to an end, everyone received their diploma.  Boring diplomas are for public school. ;)

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On to some of our Summer Adventures.  1st up was Box Day.  The kids had a blast with this one.  The massive box fort actually stayed up about 5-6 days, too.  Crawling through and in there, totally made me feel like a little kid again.

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Danielle left for 2 days and I managed to chip Luke’s tooth and get a new high score on Flappy Bird.  All in all, a good weekend.

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We were lucky enough to spend a couple of days out at Lake Tyler Petroleum Club.  It’s super fun out there.  You can also get married out there. (Give them a call ladies.)

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May the Fourth.  Big day at our place.

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Danielle and I surprised Jo with this double feature.  She took him to see Captain America. Then when they pulled in, I got in and took him to see Spider-man.  By far the hardest part about having this many kids is making sure we carve out time for each of them on their own.  Our kids love hanging out as a family, but when we give them one on one time, it’s like this other side of them shows up and it’s great to just soak it all in.

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Sara turned 9 and busted out this new t-shirt.  “My brother has the best sister. (Me!)”  She then made all of them take a photo with her.  Because you know… she’s totally in charge.

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Another Summer Adventure.  Beach!!!!

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We took this first photo back when Jo was 2; right after Sara had been born.  Anytime we are in Galveston, we try and recreate it. (Photo credit: Sara)  I hope that one day he can wheel Danielle & I up there and sit between our chairs.

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I am so proud of Sara.  For just about a year now, she has been saving and earning as much money as she can.  She wants to go on a cruise and has a chart she has been filling in along the way.  Every other month, we have “spending day”  where the kids can spend their salary on what they have been saving for.  Every other month, Sara watches them all come home with new toys/books/games, and she sticks her money in a jar, colors in some squares and inches that much closer to her 5 day dream vacation.

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Eli lost his first tooth just last week.  It was kinda of a HUGE deal.

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This shot is one of my favorites.  It’s Eli being a little bit sad because it hurt when he pulled his tooth, but it’s Danielle being a lot of bit sad when she realized we’ll never have another kid lose their first tooth.

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This is where this post gets kinda creepy but good.  So get ready. :)

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When your kid loses their first tooth, you keep it.  Because that’s what you are supposed to do.  Because…. it’s what you do.  Then they lose another one and you keep it to.  Why not.  We have a little baggie.  Just toss it in.  Then one day you look up and you’ve had 4 kids and 3 of them have been losing teeth and you have 3 bags full of teeth.  So Danielle and I looked at each other and thought.  This is strange.  Why would they ever want these?  We should chunk them.  But then in a stroke of creepy brilliance, I decided to wait ’til Eli lost his first tooth.  I had this image in my mind of Eli’s tooth next to all the others he’s had to endure.

You see, Eli has been around to see all these other teeth pop out.  And, as the youngest, he’s always wanted to lose a tooth.  Not for the dollar under the pillow, but more for the status symbol.  I, too, am one of you guys.  I can lose a tooth.  I’m just as big as you.

So month after month, year after year, teeth would come out and Eli would continue to long for his day.  His day when he would also be a “big boy”.

Well, last week, that day finally came.  He ripped that bad boy out just as he’d seen his brothers and sister do 42 other times.

He was now just like them.  He could lose a tooth.

He was excited.  Jo, Sara, and Luke were excited.  Danielle and I were excited.

But then it started to set in.

He’s growing up.

As parents we are always aware of it.  But every now and then moments happen where you can’t avoid seeing it.

That first time they don’t laugh at your dumb joke.

The first time they don’t want to hold your hand when walking into the store.

The first time they are not interested in your fashion advice.

The first time they lose a tooth.

As much as it’s tempting to feel your heart sink just a little, this is when we most need to take heart.

This is our job.

This is what we have been called to do.

Raising these tiny humans is our greatest challenge and doing that job well, means little milestones along the way.

Our family loves to play together.  We are around each other so much, and Danielle and I can’t imagine any other life.  At the same time, part of this life is growing and teaching these kids.

Teaching Jo to understand that being the biggest does not mean he can’t also be the most tender.

Teaching Sara that boys who don’t open doors are not worth opening your heart for.

Teaching Luke that being a good listener is more valuable than being a good dribbler.

Teaching Eli that patience is important.

That there is a time and season for everything.  Even losing your first tooth.

 

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Jo & I are going to Belize. Wanna Help?
Jo & I are going to Belize.  Wanna Help?

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UPDATE: ALL THE MINI SESSION SPOTS ARE SOLD.
THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO SPREAD THE WORD.

Last year my 11 year old Jo and I were able to take a mission trip to Haiti.  By the end of the 1st day Jo was hooked and could not wait to go back.  I loved seeing him connect with kids from the other side of the world and I love how he came home understanding that there is a bit more to life than video games and new Lego sets.  This year we are planning a trip to Belize.  We will be helping build a basketball court in a village as well as teaching vacation bible school during the week.  Jo loves basketball and playing with smaller kids so this will be right in his wheel house.

(This is the part where you come in.)

We are funding the trip ourselves and are still a bit short of the full amount. So I thought, why not see if anyone out there is interested in contributing?!? As a little thank you for your gift, I’ll come out and shoot a mini-session of your choice. Family, baby, maternity, senior, kittens? You pick it and I’ll shoot it. (These will take place in the East Texas area.) I’m only offering 10 of these so get em’ while they last.

10 mini-sessions, $150 bucks each. All proceeds go to getting Jo & I to Belize.

Two more things…

1. If you don’t need photos, but still want to donate. That’s allowed. (Email me here: alexmphotography@gmail.com)

2. If you don’t need photos, and don’t want to donate. That’s also allowed, passing this post along to others would be a HUGE help.

Ready… Go!

(Email me here: alexmphotography@gmail.com if you want to book a session.)

Here is a little video I put together from our trip last year.

 

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