Ace and Charlotte

From this morning... 

Rescuing Ace, Stacey Woods Photography

I walked into the kitchen to find Charlotte stooped down over Ace, giving him another hug. My office is just off the kitchen, so I doubled back and grabbed my camera. He was perfectly happy to lie there and let his littlest girl love on him. 

Rescuing Ace the Labradane, Stacey Woods Photo
Stacey Woods Photography, #rescuingAce the labradane

For those who have asked, Ace is a labradane. I didn't even know there was such a mix, but he has the friendliness and coat of a labrador, and the size and temperament of a great dane. We rescued him back in December from the Pinellas County Animal Shelter, and he had just turned four years old the week prior. I don't know his history, but I can't imagine why his previous owners would have given him up. He's a gentle, amazing friend to the kids and makes us laugh all day long. He doesn't really love to fetch; instead he'd much rather run down the street to chase squirrels. We have to watch the screened porch door (the kids are forever leaving it open!) because he slips out behind them and sprints down the street at lightning speed. (Have you ever tried to chase a 140-pound dog on a squirrel mission? Forget it.) His sheer size absolutely terrifies the small dogs in our neighborhood, and they all go to pieces yapping when they see him coming... but in all reality, he's the gentlest giant you could imagine and he only wants to sniff them. Not eat them. :)

If you want to keep up with our adventures with Ace, I'd love it if you followed me on Instagram. You can also click on the hashtag #rescuingAce to read our rescue story from the beginning!

Love Languages: A New Blog Series

I'm starting a new series on the blog, entitled Love Languages. I've always been intrigued with how people give and receive love, and it is one of my favorite things to witness when I'm photographing people: how they show love to one another. 

I've you've never read the book, The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, then I highly suggest you click over right this minute and grab a copy. It's not just for couples; there is a wonderful version for children that is so insightful. I think about love languages every time I'm with my own kids, when I'm planning sessions with clients, and when I'm actively shooting and talking to them from behind my camera. 

The five love languages are: 
Quality Time
Physical Touch
Words of Affirmation
Receiving Gifts
Acts of Service

According to the author, we all have one primary love language that we cannot do without. In addition, we may have secondary love languages that we enjoy as well.

My own three kids each have different love languages, and it's a joy to be keyed in on their individual brands of heart-speak and to be able to love them how they each need to be loved. When I'm loving them in their love language, that's when they feel it most... why would I want to love them in any other way?! So during this forever-ongoing blog series, I'm going to show you what love looks like between myself and my own sweet babies, for me as a mama/wife/sister/daughter/woman, and for my clients and their families. I hope you'll join me... I cannot wait to share this insight with you!

To start us out, I thought I'd share one of the love languages of my daughter: quality time. She's an amazing little girl with a heart of pure gold, and it is my pleasure and great honor to love on her! Lila sweetly says that she wants to stay home with me every single day, even though she loves school. To make her feel loved, all I have to do is simply spend one-on-one time with her. Doesn't matter what we do, as long as it's together. We braid hair, we take a walk, we bake gluten-free goodies together, we ride bikes, skip down the sidewalk, read together, snuggle in bed, I have lunch with her at school, we hold hands or play games or go shopping together. Just the two of us.

I also find that when I love her the way she needs it most, I fill her little love tank to its brim. And with that, she is more open with me in return, more patient, more well-behaved, more helpful and cooperative. (And in our house, friends, we high-five and call that a win-win.)

Stacey Woods, lifestyle photographer
Stacey Woods, black and white family photographer
Stacey Woods, Tampa Bay family photographer

Interestingly enough, Lila's love language to me is often acts of service or giving me gifts. She writes me letters (check out the hashtag #lilawrites on Instagram), leaves me little notes, she does extra chores to help me out, even tells me I'm beautiful when I don't wear any makeup... she is just a delight. She is so kind to her brother and sister, and loves her daddy like no other.

My Lila

So tell me, dear friends... how do you find yourself giving love? What does your spouse do that makes you feel adored, noticed, beautiful, appreciated, loved? What do your children do for you that makes your heart light on fire? Let's find your love language. Then find that of your significant other and your children. Spend this next week consciously showing love in the ways that your family receives love best, and see what it does for their hearts... and yours!

Love to you,
Stacey

The Good Stuff | Tampa Bay Lifestyle Photography

I just delivered prints to this family, and then I realized that I hadn't shared them here on the blog. :)

I absolutely LOVE this type of session... in a client's home, relaxed, with plenty of time for snacks and snuggles. Cuddled up in bed with blankies for soothing, thumbs for sucking, and goldfish for nibbling. A newborn baby in Mama's arms, and toddler tickles and funny faces with Daddy.  These are the days, aren't they?

I hope these two darling brothers will always know how much they are adored. 

Clearwater Lifestyle Photographer Stacey Woods
Tampa Bay Lifestyle Photography
Lifestyle Photographer Stacey Woods
Lifestyle Photography Tampa
Lifestyle Photography details
Stacey Woods Photography Clearwater
Stacey Woods, Photographer for Tampa Bay
Lifestyle Family Photos
Stacey Woods Photo
Woods Photography Tampa
Lifestyle Baby Photography Tampa
Stacey Woods Newborn Photography
Lifestyle Photography Clearwater area

Rescuing Ace

If you follow me on social media, then you already know.... we got a dog. :) But not just any dog. We rescued a sweet boy from the Pinellas County Animal Shelter on Friday morning. He'd been there for a little over a month, and I know in my heart that he was just waiting for us to come get him and take him home. We visited him Thursday morning and Thursday evening, and the kids cried when we had to leave him there. So I went back first thing Friday morning and stood outside the doors for 30 minutes until the shelter opened. 

Ace the Labradane, #rescuingAce

And I brought Ace home. 

He is our Clearance Puppy. He was $12 on sale during a promotion the Pinellas County Animal Shelter is having all month long. Twelve dollars... that is all it took to change his life. I've bought candles that cost more than that.

Rescuing Ace

And he couldn't be more perfect for our family. He's about four years old, and seems to be a Labradane, a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Great Dane. He's massive, but he is a love. He wants to ride everywhere with us, and he lets the kids hug him a thousand times a day. Lila fell asleep in the floor with him, his first night home. He woke up but refused to move because he'd have to disturb Lila. He sleeps quietly by Parker's bed at night, knows basic manners and commands, and he walks really well on a leash. It amazes me that anyone ever let him go. 

But we are glad they did.

Rescuing Ace
Rescuing Ace
Rescuing Ace, Rescuing Us
Rescuing Ace, Rescuing Us

Prepare for an influx of dog photos here on the blog, and on Instagram and Facebook. And maybe even a hashtag. ;)

Holiday Mini Sessions 2014

Procrastinators rejoice! Friends, I have ONE last-minute spot open tomorrow evening 10/11 at 5:30pm if time passed you by and you forgot to sign up for holiday mini-sessions. I also have a sunset time slot that just opened up for next Saturday 10/18 if you'd like to jump on it!

Stacey Woods Holiday Mini Sessions Clearwater Beach Photos

We'll be at Honeymoon Island for these special sessions, and I'm so excited I can barely stand it. Hope to see you there!!  

xoxo,
Stacey

So Much to Miss

Oh how we cried the day you left us. We gathered 'round your grave to grieve. I wish I could see the angels' faces when they hear your sweet voice sing. Go rest high on that mountain. Your work on earth is done. Go to Heaven a shoutin', love for the Father and the Son. -Vince Gill

Two of my cousins posted that song in tribute to our Momaw on the day she passed away. And since Monday, I cannot get it out of my head, no matter how I try. I wake up singing it. I go to sleep humming it. I work and it runs in constant loops in my mind. 

Clearwater Beach photographer

My Momaw was 78. Everyone called her Bertie, but that wasn't her real name. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I brought her mail in to her and actually asked my mom who "Roberta" was. :) I'd had no idea up until that moment! She never had a middle name. She was one of 8 children herself, was the mother of 7, grandmother to 20 and great-grandmother to 24. She left behind quite a lineage. 

Momaw Bertie was blessed and she was a blessing. She had the softest cheeks you'd ever kiss. It's funny the things that you remember through the years, isn't it? For instance, I remember that she always had the tallest beds and the puffiest pillows, and there were china dolls in just about every room. She could sew and embroider beautifully, and she always had a dedicated sewing room or craft room that I used to look at in amazement. Her bathroom always had a crocheted toilet-paper-roll-disguise with a plastic doll inside (I think that was a 70s trend), and little soaps, in various shapes, that we weren't supposed to actually use. ;) Her home smelled slightly of Pledge, baby powder, sawdust and black coffee. An odd mix, maybe, but these were signs that life was busy and always-improving there, and it was so comforting to my heart.

She had all of our pictures framed on the walls, propped up on tables, sitting on the piano (but not the pump organ that was burned in the house fire... that's another story). My uncles' Army portraits, my mom's cross-stitch pieces... they were all on display. She collected dishes and teacups, and I'll remember her little white coffee cups with green flowers for the rest of my life. When I left home in 1996, my mom sent me off with small glass salt and pepper shakers that used to belong to Momaw and Popaw. Momaw said she'd gotten them out of a box of oats years ago! We still use them on our table to this day. 

She loved a good purse, a comfy pair of walking shoes, and soft pink nail polish. And of all the cars she and Popaw had owned over the years, she would always go back to driving a Lincoln again eventually. "I do like a Lincoln," she told me this summer.

Her biscuits were the stuff of legend in the Watts family. She made them from scratch (of course) and always flipped the dough with two fingers because that's how her mom, who had a broken finger, taught her to do it when she was just a girl. She said that lifting those "broken" fingers out of the way was her secret to making them taste so good. I love that story.  She never rolled the dough out; instead she pinched a little piece off with her thumb and index finger, shaped it and then placed it in the pan. She always worked fast, too. My sister Trish said this week, "I asked her how she made her biscuits a few years ago. I'd watched her do it for years but never had a recipe. She replied in all seriousness with no mention of measurements, 'Ahhhh, mix it till it looks good and bake it till it's done.'" :) I don't think she ever measured an ingredient at all. And that's probably why those biscuits were so legendary and wonderful and mysterious to all of us.

She helped my Popaw remodel their (many) homes over the years, and she could do just about anything he could do: hang doors, put up sheetrock, knock down walls. She was strong and capable and she was Popaw's right hand. They always had a vision for their homes, and they spent their lives improving them... making them more spacious, more inviting, comfortable, and always welcoming. Christmases and Thanksgivings were a big deal and I loved the times when our whole family could get together. Popaw would play his fiddle, mom (and later Tony) would play the piano, one of my uncles and my dad would grab guitars and they'd all sing Christmas carols and church hymns in harmony. She loved those old hymns.

The last time I saw her was this summer. My kids played in their backyard, picked blackberries, chased each other in circles on their back porch. I held Momaw's hand, and was encouraged by her strength, even though she tired so easily that we couldn't stay long. I took her picture with Popaw. They were smiling real smiles, his arm was around her and her hand was on his cheek. She giggled as she watched my kids run in the grass, and as my mom lifted Charlotte up to ring the windchimes. Popaw showed me their flowers and plants and asked Momaw what a few of them were. She loved working in those flowers and of course she knew the names of all of them.

When we were leaving, I kept stammering, "Bye, Momaw" over and over on the front porch, tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat that would not move or let any more words out. I was trying to get it to sink in, to myself and to her too, that this was it. The last time I'd kiss her sweet face this side of Heaven. She didn't seem to understand, and just asked me when I'd be back. Like it was normal and she wasn't dying. I remember saying, "I can't come back, Momaw." She looked a little sad but hopeful. And I cried the whole way back to my mom's house.

She had amazing determination and strength for all the years I knew her, and she fought this uphill battle against cancer for over seven years. Finally, this past June, she found out that her cancer had come back.

And this time, she'd finally had enough. She knew that further treatments would only prolong her life instead of curing her.

She said she was ready to go. And so she lived life to the full in the time she had left.

Monday morning, with her family surrounding her, my sweet Momaw Bertie bravely and quietly slipped away to be with Jesus. She went home. She'd lived her whole life just waiting to go there, after all.

Momaw's flowers

My heart breaks for my mom, who has just lost her own mom. For my Popaw, who has lost his partner in life for over 60 years. For her sister. For my aunts and uncles, her daughters and sons who are hurting. My heart breaks for my cousins whom I wish I could hug in person and grieve with tonight and tomorrow during her services. Grieving alone is so hard. And I will miss Momaw like no other. I'll miss hearing her voice on the phone saying "Hi Stace. How's those youngins?" I'll miss her biscuits and her sweet-smelling linens and her laugh that wheezed a little when she got really tickled. The laugh that I loved and sometimes hear coming out of my own mouth. Part of my heritage is missing now. Part of my heart. She left so much for us to miss.

But then again, she left so much for us to miss. I'm so grateful for her legacy, her example, her faith in God and the hope of Heaven that will never, ever leave me. I'm grateful that she gave me such a wonderful mommy: her middle daughter. I'm grateful that she was courageous and strong and capable and hardworking and willing and able and committed and always there.

And that she left me so very much to miss.

I love you Momaw, to the ends of the earth and back. 


"Surely, two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent." -Donald A. Norberg

"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." - Jesus, from John 14:3

"Hurting with hope still hurts." - Levi Lusko

Expectation vs Experience

"Do not let what you expected keep you from what God wants you to experience." 
-Steven Furtick, Crash the Chatterbox

Stacey Woods Instagram

What did you imagine for your life, friends? Is that your reality today? I will be honest with you and say that I did not expect to still be where I am now. My life's plans and grand expectations for this point in my life included a bigger house with a pool, far more financial security, more alone time, actual family vacations, less stress, more clients, and maybe a beautiful natural light studio with a gallery and entertaining space. Oh, and a housekeeper. Just keeping it real. :)

But God had other ideas in mind for me first.

I have no way of knowing for sure if all of those dreams will ever become a reality for me, but I choose to believe that God wanted me to experience these warm naptime snuggles for a little while longer. To be home to greet the kids when they get off the bus. To lean on Him a little harder with less money, so I'll know how to rely on Him when we have more of it. He wanted me to stop and be grateful for this tiny (cozy!) house before He gives us a bigger one someday. He wanted to give me a blessing in my struggle. A light during the darkness. A third baby who will change the world right along with her older brother and sister.

Steven Furtick says that "God schedules every season in your life, but He doesn't post the schedule for you to see." Ahh. Isn't that both frustrating and comforting all at once?! It is for me. But then again, I'm still learning to let go.

So today, and every day, I will choose to enjoy these precious moments I've been given during this sweet season of life, while it lasts. I will snuggle them close, and I will breathe in this tiny little girl who wants to lie on my arm and twirl my cross necklace until she falls asleep. And I will be grateful, so very grateful.

Because the next season is coming soon enough. I can feel it. And I hope I be just as grateful in the next season of my life.

How about you? Are you enjoying the season you're in? Do your days look like what you imagined them to be? Would you change anything if you could?

Crack Up Cancer 8

Giving generously is something that I feel called to do. I quietly donate sessions to families that come into my life, when my heart leads me to do so. It happens quite frequently, to be honest. I am certain that I donate more of my work than is financially advisable for anyone running a small business, but I digress. My heart feels good for sharing when I can.

In addition to personal giving, there are a couple of favorite local charities that I love to support.

One of my favorite charitable organizations is Cure on Wheels, specifically the Crack Up Cancer annual fundraiser at the Tampa Improv in Ybor. My clients (and now friends), Jack and Brittany Bevilacqua, founded this annual event 8 years ago to honor Jack's parents who lost their fight with cancer, to celebrate life and greet obstacles with a light heart (as his mom did), and to raise money for local cancer research organizations. What's most impressive is that 100% of the profits from the event will directly benefit local cancer patients in Tampa Bay: specifically Moffitt Cancer Center and St. Petersburg YMCA Livestrong Program.

I'm proud to have donated my photography services to their raffle for three years in a row (congrats, Lesley!), but last night was the first year I was able to attend in person. What an experience!! So many wonderful local businesses and company freely gave their goods and services to be raffled off. And like Jack said, "that makes me want to do business with those people."

Besides the raffle, the event offered several hilarious comedy acts, great company, and a tribute slideshow of survivors, fighters and sadly many who have lost their lives to this horrific disease. I got choked up several times throughout the slideshow, just thinking about my Momaw Bertie and her current fight with breast cancer. About my last visit with her this summer, wondering if it might be my last. I thought about Momaw Grace, who lost her battle years ago, and about so many friends and family members who've been affected in large and small ways. 

Crack up Cancer 8 | Stacey Woods Photography

 

If you've never been to a Crack Up Cancer event, please reach out to Jack and Brittany and get on the list to be notified next year. Or watch my blog for updates next summer/fall. You won't want to miss this.

Cure on Wheels also holds two annual bike challenges to raise additional funds (this one and this one). You can join in or learn more about this amazing, all-volunteer group of survivors, fighters and supporters at www.cureonwheels.org. Makes me want to grab my kids and our bikes and join them!

Announcing... 2014 Holiday Mini Sessions!

They're back!

Holiday Mini Sessions are here, and I can't wait to see your beautiful faces in just a few weeks. I've chosen a new beach, something special and different and a little closer for the North County folks. It offers natural, largely un-fussed-with landscaping, soft Gulf waters, mossy rocks, lots of greenery, and the prettiest sunsets you ever did see.

Holiday Mini Sessions Clearwater Beach

Get in touch ASAP if you'd like to reserve your mini session. Reservations are extremely limited this year.

If you think you'd rather have a full 1-2 hour Signature Session instead, well then I'd love to see you that way too! I have a few open dates left in September and even fewer in October. (The holiday season tends to book up in reverse!) 

I hope to see you soon!

xo,
Stacey