• jilliankwells

What We Found Out West featuring Mandi Thompson Photography

Hi again, neighbors!

It's official. It's November. Baseball is over. Football is in full swing. We're all drinking several pumpkin spice lattes a day (oh, sorry -- is it just me?). The holidays are JUST around the corner. And in true Texas fashion, the weather has officially gotten so out of hand that we probably experience at least three of the four seasons between sunrise and sunset and all look like goofs in our riding boots that worked in the morning when it was 50 degrees but are a bummer at 2pm when its 83. Ugh!

But in general, I always feel like once we get past the hurdle of Halloween, it quickly becomes a free for all with regards to the rest of the year and TIME. Time, time, time. November and December are often the busiest times of the year for most families as we're all trying to cram in family dinners, holiday parties, planning off time at work, obligations at school for the kids, present shopping, grocery shopping, watching every single Hallmark movie they show (and DVRing them too!) family pictures, sending out cards, decorating the house, ALL THE THINGS. I'm getting stressed already thinking about it, yet it all seems to go so FAST. Before you know it, it's over and life returns to its regular rhythm just minus all the holiday ambiance and cheesy Christmas Romance movies about marrying a prince. And then we miss it, right? At least, I know I do. There's something so special about this time of year, especially when you have little ones -- there is a magic in the air!

November especially is also a time to be thinking about all those things that you're thankful and grateful for and so I wanted to take this first blog of the month to really do just that. I realized recently that a whole year had come and gone in our "new" home in Jordan Ranch and we didn't even stop to take a minute to acknowledge that! We moved in right in the middle of August 2018 after a whirlwind two years of flooding, moving to our in-laws while we remodeled (also in Jordan Ranch, which is why we say we've been here for a good while), moving back to our home and then quickly turning around and selling it and then moving back into our in-laws while we built our new house just down the way. We hadn't been in one spot for too long in over two years. We have to celebrate these roots and think about how far we've come and where we are now!

I'll be honest when I say that when we made the decision to move and ultimately build in Jordan Ranch, the idea that we'd have made life-long friends or even met these hypothetical "people" hadn't even crossed our minds. We had hoped to be closer to our family who lived a few streets over, we hoped for higher ground and a fresh start, a chance to truly rebuild what we'd lost in the hurricane -- and what we found was even better. We found community.

When we moved in, we were one of three homes on our little street that were on the same progress for completion as we were; there were two others shortly behind but it was a wide open field of just us three over on Petunia Valley/Blue Aster Court. See the picture below I've included to show, not only how cutie and little my baby WAS, but just how empty the street was at the time.

It's crazy to think that now, within a year, all the homes on our street are nearing completion and are almost all full. But at this time, we could see look out the window or our front door and see the only two other homes that were also completed and closed on as the lots everywhere else were still just empty lots. Philip and Kim were down the way on Blue Aster Court and Michael and Tricia were just across the street around the curve on Petunia Valley. Both families were young married couples like us, and both had baby sets of twins (how crazy is that?) and our babies were all born within six months of each other -- it was kismet (as my sweet Tricia would say).

We became fast friends, all three of us, we all just clicked. We organized random "street parties" where the kids would all play in the Cul de Sac in front of Kim's house and we'd all hang out talking, wrangling kids, and laughing about anything and everything. We'd see what everyone was doing on a Friday and see if we all wanted to have dinner (we just did this recently with six adults and five kids at a restaurant and it was super fun!), the girls would get together often to "watch the Bachelor" but in truth - we'd end up talking the whole night about what's going on in our worlds, about our pasts, about how we met our husbands, about work, about mom life, about our kids, about our plans, about our frustrations and our triumphs. Tricia and I both stay at home with our kids and we spent time during the long days (but short years as I always try to remind myself) letting our kids get to know each other getting to know each others kids just as well. And we help each other. We're all always there for each other -- do you need sugar? Paper towels? Do you have extra Children's Tylenol? Can you be with the kids while I go to the gym for a bit?

But it's so much more than that. We are a big family and we all support each other in the ways that we individually need. I remember a particularly hard week I'd had where I was sick, Bella was sick and we were tired and worn out and Kim had left me some flowers and a sweet note on my door telling me I was a super mom and to hang in there. When Kim's husband had to be out of town for several months over the summer for work, Tricia and I tried hard to make sure Kim had dinner covered for her and the kids as often as possible. We check on each other and talk and talk and talk; we hold each other up, we pray for each other, we mom together -- I can truly say we love one another and would do anything for any of us (they better anyway! ha!) I get excited thinking about our children growing up together, going to school together and being friends each step of the way. We laugh about which one of our kids is going to be the mischief maker and what we're going to do when we each catch our kids sneaking out together and getting into trouble. And as weird as it may sound, I cannot wait for all of it.

Does this not look like a future line-up shot? Mary Claire, James, Bella, Cameron and Melanie. I have every intention of seeing this picture in their Senior Yearbook as a sweet flashback picture!

As I think more on it, I can sit here and say sure -- we each bought these great homes on the lake, we decorated them to the nines, we have play sets and bounce houses and golf carts and motorized cars and bikes and toys for the kids. We have each built this new life here for our families that is "better"; life is "better" out west as Jordan Ranch likes to say, right? But my favorite part? The thing that makes our lives out west truly better is what we found when we were least expecting it -- community. We found our people, and I couldn't be more grateful for them.


I hope by now you've noticed these amazing shots of Kim, Tricia and I and our beautiful kiddos and I wanted to take a minute to thank Mandi Thompson of Mandi Thompson Photography (@mandithompsonphoto on Instagram) for capturing our friendship and our mom lives with all these children so candidly and wonderfully! Here's some more from our shoot below:

Mandi is an amazing Katy Area photographer who was recently featured in the Katy Moms Network fall roundup of local photographers (I'll include a link to that here) and y'all -- she is amazing! Mandi worked so hard for us to get these shots with FIVE CHILDREN! We were all sweating bullets before the end of it and she just took it all in stride. I can honestly say that Bella is hard enough to take a picture of; I legitimately cannot comprehend how she made it work with all of us but she just DID! Mandi's composure and ease during the shoot makes everything a breeze, she's great with kiddos and brought treats to bribe them with and toys for them to play with and keep them engaged. You honestly just feel confident that she's getting the shot you're looking for and I left without that nagging feeling like "did I just spend all this time and effort picking outfits, getting ready, etc. and I'm 95% sure we didn't get one single good picture?" Truly, that feeling is worth every penny!

I also want to mention Mandi's process before your actual shoot is so amazing too; maybe I'm behind the boat on this but I've never had a photographer put in so much effort to make sure their subject is prepped before ever shooting. When I booked with Mandi, she sent over a detailed (and y'all I mean detailed) style guide that broke down outfits for every member of the family. Tricia made several comments too about how cool the style guid was, cause who doesn't stress about that? What colors to wear, what color to paint your nails, what color to NOT wear, what looks good on camera, what doesn't. These are things I've been told by photographers to Pinterest myself -- never have I had a professional packet sent over with ideas, it was all so professional and I was so impressed! She also sends over a questionnaire about what you are individually looking for that will help give her ideas on various locations, on what style of pictures you're looking for (candid, fun, serious, etc.). The whole experience is catered to you individually and I truly truly truly couldn't recommend her enough. And her pictures speak for themselves right?

Please make sure you check her out on Instagram and send her a message or an email if you're looking for Christmas / Holiday family pictures -- I think she just opened up two more Santa sessions this weekend November 9th for last-minute shoots (other than these last openings she is booked up until 2020, and for good reason! I've included some of her favorite shots from previous Santa Sessions below -- Y'all this Santa! He's so so SO cute!) Let her know I sent you!

Until next time, neighbors!



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