A Very Kenya Christmas Video

I know we have said it a million times, but we are SO insanely grateful for all our generous friends and followers.  We raised enough money to provide all 100 abandoned children at Happy Life a Christmas present this year.  AND had people go above and beyond to get some extra goodies for the house moms and teachers.  These kids were so excited, and it has been so much fun watching them play with all their new toys over the past week.

We put together some of our highlights from this Christmas.  And because it was such an awesome day, it is about 10 minutes long.. real sorry.  It’s so hard to cut video of these beautiful faces!  Enjoy.

Gearing up for a very Kenyan Christmas

I seriously can not believe we have just a week ’til Christmas!!!  To be honest, being in Kenya has lacked a lot of Christmas spirit.  There aren’t any decorations at the Children’s home.. No picking out a tree, hanging countless strings of lights, or driving to see all the decorations.  It’s not cold here.. So there is no bundling up and drinking hot chocolate, ice skating, or making snowmen.  We don’t have an oven, so there has been none of the normal Christmas treats, or decorating cookies.  We don’t have a radio, so there is no 24 hours of Christmas music, and without Netflix, no endless stream of holiday movies.  Yeah.. In a lot of ways it hasn’t felt much like Christmas here, which is a bummer because it is my favorite time of year!  But there has been one thing that has held us from being too upset we won’t be spending Christmas with our families under sparkly lights.  In fact, we are SO excited.  Maybe more excited than I have been since I was a little kid.  It’s because of the gifts.  No, Michael and I haven’t bought awesome gifts for each other, in fact, we aren’t exchanging gifts at all.   It’s the gifts for the kids.  A few weeks ago we thought how awesome it would be if these children could have a true, big Christmas celebration.  How much fun it would be to see them all be able to open a gift and see their faces light up.  To give them something that may let them know how very loved they are.  The problem is, Happy Life Nairobi has 45 children living here.  And another 52 at their location in Juja.  There was no way Michael and I would be able to get gifts for 97 children.  So we thought maybe we would narrow it down to just the children we spend every day with here at the Nairobi location.

But still 45 gifts would be way more than we would be able to pull together.  So we decided to reach out and ask for help getting a small gift for each child.  And we have been blown away.  The amount of generous donations we have receive has brought me to tears.  We have had so many sweet people share our registry, donate, or write us really encouraging notes.  So many generous hearts that our registry for the 45 children here was completely filled.  And then even more people who contacted us saying they wish they had been able to contribute.  So we added to it.  There are a couple things here that the house moms could use to help provide for all these children.  And then those things were filled.  So we added again.  We thought of a few things that could make their play areas so much more fun.  And then those things were filled.  And we were shocked. And overwhelmed. And overjoyed.  So we thought of the 52 beautiful faces at Juja and how exciting it would be for them to have a little something too.  That having a few recess and after school play things would be so exciting for them, or even a few things to have a school to make the day a little more fun.  So we added so that these faces may have a beautiful Christmas too.

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Even though we are missing out on some of the things that make this season so much fun, we couldn’t be more excited for Christmas to get here.   An old friend of ours, and one of our biggest contributors (who decided instead of giving gifts this season, she’d donate to kids here in people’s names) posted this video she helped create this Christmas season.  And we are really feeling it.  Watch, enjoy, and get excited for this time of giving.  And if you feel inspired, consider giving $5, $10, $20, or whatever feel like to those beautiful faces above.

Caitlin & Ray – Part I

Over 8 years ago (whoa I can’t BELIEVE it has been that long!) I was at freshman orientation at CNU.  A friend of mine and I went to a “dance party” in a residence hall lounge.. one of the many exciting things planned for that weekend.  Problem was, when we got there, though there was loud music, not a soul was dancing.  My friend and I decided to start dance anyways.. and the first person to join us, a total stranger then, is now my best friend in the world.  Caitlin has one of the most incredible hearts of anyone I know and I am so honored to call her a friend. Living this far away from her is killing me, and I am SO thankful her and her future hubby are planning to visit us here in Kenya.  Thankfully, I can call her and it’s like I’m sitting right next to her, or Facebook her my ridiculous thoughts from the day, just like normal.

ANYWAYS.. I love her, you get the point.. well a few months ago when she called me to ask about how someone goes about booking an engagement session with us, I started to freak.  All I could do was keep asking her “why do you need to know that?  Why, what’s happening? Why?!”.  She finally let me know that Ray had finally proposed!  And I of course, started hysterically crying.  I could not be more excited for these two.  I love Ray so much and I am so excited that my best friend, with a heart of gold, has found the man that deserves her.

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Such good model faces!

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GAH!

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Check back for part II.. just as soon as this Kenyan internet uploads it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Michael and I are dreaming of turkey and cranberry sauce, but samosas and Fanta will have to do.  It’s days like these we get a little home sick thinking of things we are missing out on, but we are so thrilled for the opportunity to be in Kenya, that a few missed holidays are worth it.  So while we aren’t celebrating in the usual way with tons of family and good food, we are celebrating by thinking of the many, many blessing we have and giving thanks for the amazing things in our life.

Here are a few things we have realized we are SUPER thankful for in our normal lives..

Long, hot showers with good water pressure

2014-11-27_0008 An oven, a big fridge and ice machine, and a dish washer.

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A washing machine and dryer

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No mosquitos in our house and our big king sized super cozy bed (really thankful for our two pillows we brought with us though!)

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Our quiet little neighborhood

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Wonderful parents who love and support our crazy ideas

Things we are thankful for here in Kenya…

 Malaria free mosquitos

 Chapati and samosas

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Joyful children who have a home here at Happy Life

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Our fruit lady

Beautiful, warm weather

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 We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving day.. Eat some extra turkey for us!

In Kenya

Michael and I are ecstatic to announce our big news.  Well, if you follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or know us at all, this won’t be much of news.  Regardless, we are excited and feel like we can’t pass up an opportunity to blog about it!.. Michael and I have moved to Kenya!  We are now in our third week Volunteering at Happy Life Children’s Home in Nairobi, Kenya.  We have had to make a lot of huge decisions to get here, for our business, for our life, for our finances, but we feel like this is where we are supposed to be, and we are HERE!  It has been so tough turning down weddings and portrait sessions as our little business is really starting to grow, but we know this is the time to do something a little crazy with our lives and follow a calling we have both had for a long time.  AND we are so excited that we have already started to accept bookings for the fall of 2015! We have quite a few little projects that we are working on while we are here, and I am SO excited to be able to share them with you all.   In the meantime, we have a few really fun sessions to post from before we left, some adorable baby faces to share, and updates from our little Kenyan adventure. We are so honored that you all continue to follow us..   Week1&2-04 Week1&2-05 Week1&2-08Week3&4-13

Audra & Michael

When Michael and I are photographing a wedding I get in a zone. I am ultra focused on finding a good shot and getting everything covered that I don’t really get caught up in the little moments. It’s after the fact, while sorting through all the images from the day where I reflect at what an amazing day it was. Well, that was NOT the case for this wedding. I was caught up in so many moments, the father-daughter first look, Audra coming down the aisle with her mom and dad who adore her, seeing Michael look at his gorgeous bride for the first time (his reaction was the best I’ve ever seen.. you could completely see how overwhelmed he was that he was marrying Audra), Audra Audra immediately hugging Michael because she just couldn’t help herself, their amazingly heartfelt vows and ceremony, the father-daughter first dance (yep, I was weeping.. so happy we got some good images even through the tears).. the whole day was filled with emotional moments, so incredibly filled with love. These two make such an amazing couple with such beautiful hearts. It didn’t matter that we had only met them the say before, we felt like old friends the whole day. They put so much trust in us and we were so honored to be a part of this perfect day.
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Their written vows were great! They threw in fun everyday commitments like finding each other’s phone!
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We absolutely love this shot! Chokes us up every time.
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They were gracious enough to let us take them away from their reception for a few minutes to the barn. Beautiful!
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Congratulations Audra & Michael! We know you will be so happy together!

Our Honeymoon – Part III

This is the last one, I promise. If you didn’t catch part I or part II of our amazing month long honeymoon, go check it out!
To finish our month abroad, my sister, Lindsay, who was backpacking Europe at the time met up with us for our quick visit to Barcelona.
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The amazing Sagrada Familia is enough of a reason to visit this awesome city. 2014-08-27_0066.jpg
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And Guell Park.. 2014-08-27_0072.jpg
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…and of course La Rambla for some sangria and tapas
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We ended our wonderful night at the magic fountain.. so much fun!
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We absolutely LOVED planning our honeymoon.. everything turned out remarkably well.. 3 rental cars (returned without a scratch), 2 ferries (get to those EARLY.. we missed one of ours and had to catch a later trip.. it was no trouble though), 1 overnight train, numerous taxi rides, hotels, airbnbs.. it took a lot of planning, but it was well worth it! Enjoy planning your honeymoon! Let me know if you have any questions!

Andrew & Olivia

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This summer one of Michael’s best friends growing up got married in the beautiful Yosemite National Park.  We were so thrilled when Andrew asked Michael to be a groomsmen.. it’s such an honor to be a part of someone’s wedding day!  Anddddd we figured it would be an awesome excuse to take a trip to California #calivaca.  We’ll have to post some pictures from our awesome lil PCH road trip, but for now we wanted to share some of Andrew & Olivia’s big day.

I have a nasty habit of not being able to put a camera down.. even when we aren’t actually working an event.. and while I’m definitely NOT a videographer, that is one thing Michael and I really wish we had at our wedding.. so I though I might throw something together for the happy (and amazingly beautiful) couple.  We love you both, and hope you enjoy being able to relieve a little of your pretty perfect day! Thanks for letting us be a part of it.

Andrew & Olivia from Laura Downing on Vimeo.

Our Honeymoon – Part II

If you missed part I

After going to Ireland we took a ferry to England to visit Michael’s family.  We rented another car and drove south to stay a couple of days.

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After spending some quality time with Michael’s family, we drove to another ferry from England to France.  We picked up a car and took a short drive to Brugge, which is an AMAZING little city.

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We got there in time for dinner, went to the city center after stopping quickly in our adorable hotel ^, and sat at the first restaurant we saw.  We asked our waiter what we should eat while we are in Belgium.. he said, ” Four things.. Mussels, Beer, Waffles, and Chocolate”, so we got all four. 2014-08-11_0071
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2014-08-11_0072 2014-08-11_0074After Belgium, we drove to Paris.

2014-08-27_0003.jpg 2014-08-27_0004.jpg2014-08-11_0075The Louvre was INSANELY packed.. I guess a Saturday afternoon in the summer is an ideal time to visit.  I think this was the most empty room in the place.

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The Arc De Triomphe was our favorite.
2014-08-27_0009.jpg 2014-08-27_0010.jpg 2014-08-27_0011.jpg 2014-08-27_0012.jpgThe Lock Bridge

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This is what happens when you ask someone to take a picture of you with a DLSR… we have lots of blurry pictures.. but I love ‘em anyways..
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Our lock.. the key is at the bottom of the river.
2014-08-27_0015.jpg 2014-08-27_0016.jpgTold ya we had lots of picnics..
2014-08-27_0017.jpgI thought this was really high.. uhh no.. This is the first level.. The third is wayyy higher.. and scary during a storm.
2014-08-27_0018.jpg2014-08-27_0019.jpgscary and windy..
2014-08-27_0020.jpgEclairs and Crepes.. yum.
2014-08-27_0021.jpgAfter Paris, we took a train to the Barcelona and got on the cruise!

Now cruises are SERIOUSLY the way to go people.  Everything is planned for you, daily activities, shows in the evening, meals, you can even buy excursions planned by the ship to do in ports.  It’s pretty much the perfect holiday for indecisive people like us.
2014-08-27_0022.jpgFirst stop.. bike ride in Cannes
2014-08-27_0023.jpg 2014-08-27_0024.jpg 2014-08-27_0025.jpgI wish I had some pictures of the set ups we use to take selfies.. they were dangerous.. I can’t believe our camera survived it.  This one is on a rock IN the water..
2014-08-27_0026.jpg 2014-08-27_0027.jpgSecond stop, Livorno.  We took an excursion with the ship to Pisa.
2014-08-27_0028.jpg 2014-08-27_0029.jpg 2014-08-27_0030.jpgThird stop, Civitavecchia.. we took another excursion to Rome.  If you ever visit Rome, use a tour guide!  It saved us so much time, and we wouldn’t have known how to get anywhere/what anything was without a guide.
2014-08-27_0031.jpg 2014-08-27_0032.jpg 2014-08-27_0033.jpgThen we went to the Vatican.. Ladies, make sure you bring something to cover yourself up when your there or they won’t let you in.
2014-08-27_0034.jpg 2014-08-27_0035.jpg 2014-08-27_0036.jpgThis church is seriously AMAZING..St. Peter’s Basilica.2014-08-27_0037.jpg 2014-08-27_0038.jpg 2014-08-27_0039.jpgWe became slightly obsessed with gelato..
2014-08-27_0040.jpgOK, so on our cruise, we decided to choose to sit at a table with other people, and we are so happy we did!  They sat us at a big table with three other honeymoon couples, who were SO much fun.  We had a blast eating with them everyday and even traveling with them in ports.
2014-08-27_0041.jpgForth stop, Athens.. Parthenon is easy train ride from the port.
2014-08-27_0042.jpg 2014-08-27_0043.jpg 2014-08-27_0044.jpg 2014-08-27_0045.jpg 2014-08-27_0046.jpgFifth stop..Santorini to hike a volcano2014-08-27_0047.jpg 2014-08-27_0048.jpg 2014-08-27_0049.jpgThese donkeys were IMPRESSIVE.. I couldn’t even walk down this steep hill without slipping ever three feet..

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2014-08-27_0054.jpg 2014-08-27_0052.jpg 2014-08-27_0055.jpgSixth stop.. Positano.. absolute favorite.  We took a water taxi along the Amalfi Coast to get there, most beautiful day ever..
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2014-08-27_0057.jpgThe lemons that grow there humongous.. and delicious
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2014-08-27_0062.jpgThe honeymooners.. miss you all.. anniversary cruise has gotta be soon, right?
2014-08-27_0063.jpgMy parents went on a cruise for their honeymoon too.  I have always loved this picture of my parents from their honeymoon, so we decided to recreate it on ours.
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There is still a part III.. coming soon.  Long honeymoons are the way to go!