Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Thomas that Wasn't

The beauty of this blog is that it captures both our successes and failures. I feel comfortable admitting this, because I feel our victories greatly outweigh our defeats. And I believe it takes a great amount of courage to admit when one is beaten, when it is time to fold your hand and concede defeat. In fact, I strongly believe that one cannot appreciate the joys of life and the wonders of parenthood without experiencing the trials of life and the tribulations of parenthood.

Unfortunately, Halloween beat us this year.

Those who know Elise and I know that we don't like to do anything half-assed. When asked what he wanted to be for Halloween, Sam gave us what should have been an obvious response, "Thomas the Train". Did we then run down to Toys 'R' Us to buy him a latex and foam Thomas the Train costume? No, that would have been the easy way out. That's not how the Hanna's roll. We went directly to Michael's and Home Depot, buying metal pipe and paint. We were going to build Thomas the Train.

We had done it before. Reference last Halloween. When asked what he wanted to be for Halloween last year, Sam answered, "Bus". (brief aside, "bus" was the only word Sam knew at the time). So we built a bus. But then, we were a lot less busy last Halloween than we were this Halloween.

After immunizations (including a yellow fever shot on Monday that staggered us all, sore-armed, into Wednesday), a wedding to edit, swim lessons, a romantic evening spent listening to the melodious plinking of Jim Brickman playing piano in a barn and the Rally to Restore Sanity, Saturday had arrived and nary a bolt, screw, lugnut or whistle had been fashioned.

We woke early on Saturday (we wake early everyday), and feverishly started construction. Elise hot-glue-gunned cotton balls to a onesie. Pete was going to be a lamb. (This got done and he was a hit, so at least one of them had a costume. Unfortunately, neither of us had the prescience then to realize the obvious...that Pete was going to pick every single cotton ball off the onesie throughout the course of the evening. Our passage was marked by a trail of fraying cotton balls.) I got started on Thomas.

It didn't take long for me to realize I had bitten off more than I could masticate in a single day. I felt like a contestant on Project Runway, painting and cutting and gluing feverishly right up until we had to rush off to the runway. Though there were points in the afternoon when I legitimately thought we were going to finish, when 4:15 rolled around and we were supposed to meet our friends to go "trunk-or-treating" at 4:45 and, though Thomas had a face and wheels, none of the train had been actually put together, we threw in the towel.

Thankfully, our friends had a back-up costume for Sam. He, appropriately enough, was a train engineer. I don't know if the fact that they had a back-up costume at the ready spoke to a lack of faith in our industriousness. I'm guessing there was some behind the scenes texting I was intentionally not made aware of so as not to let it be known that not finishing the costume was an option. It doesn't matter. I'm just grateful they bailed us out...and brought chicken fingers, to boot.

In the mayhem, we never got photos of Sam or Pete. But I did stop to take a photo of the half-constructed Thomas...

Sadly, Sam didn't get to be Thomas the Train, but, more importantly, at least he didn't look like this dork...

As always, expect great things in the future.


Pete and I lined up to watch the Marine Corps Marathon march through Arlington with Elise and Sam. The real pictures are of the participants dressed up for Halloween. How one can run 26.2 miles dressed as Batman is beyond me.


In the event that you thought that our having 'just' two curious little boys didn't provide a constant enough challenge to our daily James!

Today we had to wait for James to shop in both CVS and the Grocery Store. Which meant patiently waiting for him to 'chuff' down the aisles looking for things a train might need, including oral hygiene products, paper-goods and diapers. We also waited (and deflected strange glances from onlookers in the city) as he 'chuffed' out of the automatic doors at the pharmacy and down the sidewalks and past the bus station toward the grocery store and while he used the always tricky self checkout line. This outing to purchase formula for Peter took no less than 2 hours.

(to view the full sized video press here, sound a must!)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Change, not easily transfomed at Coinstar.

The boys and I recently returned from another little getaway. More of a getaway for them than me this time, but seems I have come away, once again, the one more relaxed. This time however, it was from a heavy workload, a wedding a series of style portrait sessions and family shoots. I wondered from beneath all the weight I have been pressed, "Is a trip to Florida, 10 days of single parenting, a second round of goodbyes to friends and family, a gaggle of meetings and a return to DC with hours and hours of editing what I really need right now." Perhaps not, but when one makes a date to document the beginning of someones lives, or has an opportunity to say one last"'goodbye" one must follow through.

So we left vapor trails as we flew high above the cloudline and landed in West Palm Beach one last time before our move to Brazil.

With the boys in the best of hands with Nanny, I traveled to and from my meetings and sessions like I'd never left the hustle and bustle that had become Elise Hanna Photography. Like I'd never left. I illustrated sets, I hired my first second shooter, and stylist and together we created a few of the most inspired portrait sessions I've ever shot. To view sneak previews and full features of these please visit my blog here.

The boys and I visited every family member and friend that we possibly could, with time creeping quickly by.

Jidou & Petey watching football.

Sam, Pete and their Aunt Zanne, Aunt Cameron and Uncle Mark

Back at Casa Nanny, under Sam's watchful eye, Nanny perfected her Mickey Mouse pancakes each morning

The trio explored and swam each day and Sam slumbered on a 'special guest' bed in Nanny's room each night, as I remember doing at Gram's house many years ago.

At night, equally exhausted with the boys asleep in neighboring rooms, Celeste and I ate dinner, sipped wine and chatted. Sharing thanks for all of this

I spent girls night out with my best friend, took photos of her family and had a simple and splendid breakfast at her home in our pj's the following morning. Kids playing by our sides, we said one last tearful goodbye.

But, is it ever "goodbye,"... I'm learning, no. It is only ever "see you soon."

You see I've been feeling that I needed to mourn the 'change' of my business, my life, the loss of my friends, the shift in direction that I have been undergoing, anticipating and internalizing. And much like I had been fighting having to say a second round of goodbyes, I was fighting having to return to FL and be reminded of all I'd left behind by shooting 'one last wedding' feeling the weight of my camera heavy in my hand, on my heart.

Like a campfire slowly fizzling out, campers moved on, I went back, like an idiot, for something that I thought I'd forgotten. I'd stoke the embers just to have enough light to survey the area, expecting to be saddened by one last dimly lit look at the way things used to be. But instead of being reminded of all I had lost, I was reminded of why I keep taking photos, keep cultivating and growing my business, keep cultivating and encouraging my friendships wherever they may be...because taking pictures is the one thing (besides the obv. Paul & munchkins & cherished friends) that has ever truly awakened my soul. Ever.

You see I've always been good at moving on, or so it seems. Burying the memories so deep that they aren't easily dredged up. So deep that nostalgia never oozes up and stings my eyes masquerading as fresh tears. Though, as change always does, it makes us appreciate the past as we never could otherwise. And with a heavy dose of change as of late, I have instead grown to appreciate revisiting memories, friends, and times gone by, enduring the nostalgia and high fiving the tears as they roll down my face.

Here is to a new and improved Elise Hanna Photography. A new and improved Hanna/ville family, more diverse, more tight knit and wowza! more global than ever.

Kisses on all your faces.


Monday, October 25, 2010

My Fam

If I had to choose only one photo of Sam to keep forever and be reminded of him as a tiny boy, this might be the one.

What people do all day...

While reading Richard Scarry's, "What People do all Day" this evening, it prompted me to ask Sam:

Me: "What does your dad do for work?"

Sam: "Daddy work at work building"

Me: "What does your mom do for work?"

Sam: "Picks up my railroad tracks"

So there you have it folks! The photography is just a bonus money maker in addition to my real job of cleaning up Sam's wooden railroad tracks from the living room floor.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ships and Cars

The Photographer in Action

photography by Hannah Mayo (find Elise's work at

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Little buddy

Resiliency in Children

Last night, I dutifully attended a seminar offered by my work on fostering resiliency in children. The seminar was, obviously focused on children of a more nomadic persuasion, but I believe most, if not all, of the lessons would apply to any child, regardless of lifestyle or upbringing.

The most interesting part of the seminar was when two 17-year olds took a half hour talking about their childhoods and answering questions from us, the parents. To say they were mature and articulate beyond their years would be an understatement. And they went to great lengths to dispel a lot of the group's fears and paranoias about what effects frequent and sometimes jarring moves would have on a child.

They had both spent time in the Middle East and they had both been evacuated from their home at one time. I found it particularly interesting how nonchalant they were about something that most of us would seem to think would be fraught with so much fear and anxiety. Their world view was already more global, more empathetic, more nuanced.

One of the group's biggest fears was that our children would miss out on a 'traditional' American upbringing with activities like trick-or-treating, prom, high school football ('American' football, the kind with pads) and Easter egg hunts. I think what the group began to realize toward the end of the evening is that they might also miss bullying, school cliques and growing up with less of a sense of tolerance. Much was made of the fact that the typical family in our line of work is far from typical, and that when our children grow up, they will actively seek this diversity. If anything, homogeneity will be what disquiets them.

That, and lack of motion.

I believe one of our greatest challenges (as it is, unsurprisingly, today) is to teach them that it is okay to stop moving, that it is okay to marinate in a place.

When asked if their parents ever sheltered them from the world, not surprisingly they both responded they were the most insulated when they returned to the U.S.

I also believe that it is easy to forget that just because something was seminal or intrinsic to our development doesn't necessarily have to be seminal and intrinsic to our children's development.We want for our kids what we had and more. Much more. But it is easy to forget that you can't miss something that you never knew existed. One of the members of the audience asked the teenagers if they ever missed having a 'traditional' Halloween. They both answered, "No." Because what was or is 'traditional'? When they were overseas one of them trick-or-treated at all the houses in the embassy community and the other described how they set up a haunted house in the embassy and trick-or-treated there. Some may argue this might even be safer than taking candy from strangers or walking around in the dark in Arlington. The point being: Yes, there is trick-or-treating in Syria.

Seldom did people ask me if I minded that my parents were divorced. I honestly don't remember a time when my parents lived together, so did I mind? No, because I didn't know anything else. To me and my brothers this was normal. I don't mean to be flippant or disrespectful or hurtful. That's just reality. And I know very well that the main reason I emerged from this potentially damaging event so unscarred is because my parents did an amazing job of making sure my brothers and I always felt unconditional love. Though I might have said or thought it in a moment of passing anger, never did I--then or know--truly believe that I or either of my brothers was ever at fault.

I know the main--if not only--thing Elise and I struggled with when deciding on whether or not to take this job was how it would effect Sam and Pete. Were we certain that this was the childhood we wanted to choose for them? Did we even have the right to choose? The last question is an easy one. Of course we have the right. We're their parents and it is our job to make these kind of decisions for least for now.

I walked home from the seminar feeling good about our decision. Do I think it will always be easy? Certainly not. I am not looking forward to it, but I know the day may come in twelve years or so when Sam will hate my guts for moving him halfway across the world from all his friends, but behind and beyond that resentment I imagine there will also an appreciation for all the world has to offer.

I'm secretly hoping we have teleporters in twelve years; It will make our job a heck of a lot easier.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Picnic in the Park!

Growing Up

It might seem ridiculous to write a blog about growing up when your sons are only going on 1 and 3. Early on, when Sam first came into our lives, many imparted (more often than not unsolicited) parenting advice. Most of this advice came in the form of a warning that usually started something like, "Oh just wait until he..." Inevitably, the forewarned event would come and go without the accompanying doom we had been alerted to. By way of example, "Oh just wait until he (fill in the blank) starts crawling." Well, Sam started crawling and the world did not end nor did our days become nightmares. Likewise, "Oh wait until you have two..." Well, we have two now and while, admittedly, it is not always easy, it doesn't always send is screaming down the hall, tugging at our hair either (only sometimes).

Without fail, everyone warned us of how fast they would grow up. So much so that perhaps it made me hyper-aware of the passage of time and made me want to bottle and preserve every moment, even the ones where Peter was spitting up on my shoulder.

This is never easy. Especially now with so much momentum in our lives. I feel ourselves hurtling toward our future. We anticipate everything that is to come and plan for each eventuality. My classmates, many who haven't even arrived at their first post yet, are already speculating on their second post. Just get me to Brazil first. I don't have, nor particularly care, for this luxury. I am keenly aware that Sam and Pete know no other moment than the immediate present. The past is forgotten and the future is hypothetical, an imaginary construct Sam, at almost three, is only beginning to grasp, much less master. For them, I, too, have to stay rooted to the present. If, for no other reason, than because that is all they know.

Sam's behavior chart is going strong. Two weeks ago, as just reward, we went to Barnes & Noble and he picked out a new Richard Scarry book, What Do People Do All Day? I love this title, because it is something I've wondered to myself on more than one occasion. Either later that same day or later in the weekend, I found myself bored and Sam lying on the floor in his room, reading his new book. "Do you want me to read that book to you?" I remember asking him. Sam, who usually never, ever would turn down such an offer, responded, "No 'anks."


Visibly dejected, I slumped off. When we do read books together, oftentimes, he will snuggle into the crook of my arm. More recently, when we were reading books together one night before bed, I put my arm around him so he could assume his usual snuggle position. Sam demured, saying, "No 'anks, Daddy." :( slow as though not even to be perceptible, yet irrevocably...Sam is growing up.

And yet, in this same Richard Scarry book, there are detailed drawings that he likes me to explain to him. For instance, there is a detailed, cross-section of a house being built, with all the plumbing, air ducts and electrical wiring and another detailed, cross-section of (of all things) a paper mill. When we first read the book, I described to Sam how the water came into the house and the cold water went into the hot water heater and came out as hot water that went into the bathtub and sink and went down the drain and back out of the house through the sewer. Same thing for the paper mill and the detailed, cross-section of the ocean liner (one of Sam's 'new' words). Now, everytime we read this book, he says, "Say this one, Daddy." He likes my descriptions of the inner workings of things I wouldn't even understand if it not were for this book better than the book itself.

I don't really know that much about stuff. For instance, does our massive apartment building have one giant hot water heater or lots of small hot water heaters? We never seem to run out of hot water here like we did at home. I try to teach Sam things, like that the American flag that we see flying everyone is "Sam's country's flag". (This might come in handy when most flags he sees might not be the American flag).

But, some day, I'll run out of things to teach him. He'll ask me why the sky is blue or how a nuclear submarine runs and I'll either have to admit I don't know or make something up. Maybe we will go to the library and figure it out together. Bittersweet will be the day he knows more than I do.

I think we'll have to get a set of encyclopedias so I can always stay one step ahead of him....and he doesn't grow up too fast.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Why don't any of these onesies have tags in them?!?! ....Oh yeah....

Every few months, we have to pull all of Pete's onesies out of his drawer and swap them out for a bigger size from the giant plastic bin of Sam's old clothes we keep in the closet. (Yes, we buy him his own clothes, too....on occasion) It's, perhaps, one of the most jarring--and bittersweet--indicators of how fast he is growing.

When he was born, I had trouble grasping how tiny he was. I don't remember Sam being that bitsy at first. Of course, Pete would probably grow up to be a linebacker if his mother let him play football.

I usually swap the clothes out when the boys are out of town. In actuality, it's the only way it can get done without having clothes flung all around the house. (For much the same reason, I only attempt to fold laundry after everyone is in bed, fast asleep.) But last night, when I started putting away all the 6 - 9 month onesies and pulling out the 12 month onesies, none of the onesies in the bin had tags on them! How was I supposed to know what size they were?!?

Then it dawned on me. 12 months was right about the time Sam made us cut all the tags out of his shirts because they were 'itchy'. Wonderful....

"Me Have Idea!"

One of my favorite things in the world is when Sam says a complete sentence using one or two words I didn't even knew he knew. For example, on the way to BWI to drop everyone off for their S. Fla. vacay, we got stuck in the morning commute on 395. Sam pointed out the window and said, "Look at the smoke coming out of those smoke stacks." This is but one example. It is happening with astonishing frequency. At least once a day.

Another one of my favorite things that Sam does is have ideas. I know this because he puts his index finger in the air and declares, "Me have idea!" By way of illustration, Elise was agonizing (my word, not her's :) over what pair of shoes to wear with the outfit she had on. From somewhere buried deep within our closet, we hear, "Me have idea!" Sam emerges pulling behind him a pair of Elise's knee-high boots. Great. Now he's a fashionista!

Elise and the boys left Wednesday. Thursday evening, I met some of my classmates (including one who had flown halfway around the world, from New Zealand, for a meeting and several who had passed their Spanish tests) to celebrate. It occurred to me about halfway through the evening that tonight was supposed to be Sam's swim lesson and I became legitimately bummed, because, arguably, it is the most fun thing Sam and I do together all week. We've had three lessons now and I don't exactly know when the instructor actually plans to teach Sam how to swim. I'm not complaining too much. We sing songs. Play the hokey-pokey. I get to throw Sam in the air and when he is wearing his swim trunks that are a tad too big, he gets to show all the parents watching, the lifeguards and the lap swimmers his bare tizu. We even make a train out of pool noodles.

The instructor--this crazed fifty-year old woman who acts like she might have sniffed too much glue in a previous life--does this one activity that makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Right in the middle of the lesson, she'll freeze, then begin to look around, her eyes rolling maniacally in their sockets, and then act like she is hearing voices or spirits. "Uh oh...," she'll say in a murmur, still feigning as though divining an approaching typhoon. "I think I hear a storm warning!" She will then proceed to make a ginourmous splash in front of each child as though a depth charge went off.

She did the same thing in Pete's lesson, too, and, without fail, every single kid was crying by the end of the passing 'storm'. I fail to see the logic in an exercise that has as its sole output, the result of making every kid in the class bawl and claw at their parents. Needless to say, when she torpedoed Petey, he was done for the night, despite my best efforts to distract him by singing along with the disco music coming from the water aerobics class.

The only thing Sam and I have done that remotely seems as though it might lead to him actually learning to swim is 'Ring Around the Rosey'. When we "all fall down", I dunk 'em. At first, she wanted me to blow in Sam's face, then dunk him. To this I thought, "This kid is almost 3. I'm not going to fool him into holding his breath by blowing in his face. He's way too smart for that. More likely, he would look at me and go, 'Daddy, you have stinky breath.'"

(Yes, I have a beer after work and before swim lessons. Is that bad??)

Sam has gotten into the unfortunate habit of climbing into our bed most mornings somewhere between the hours of 3:30 and 5. Most times, he seems legitimately frightened, so it's hard to turn him away. Elise said one morning he even breathed the word, "Snakes". Which if I had heard that I might have been looking for someone's bed to crawl into, too.

It's really only a problem when he decides to sleep perpendicular which is more often than not. Sometimes, he strokes my arm. I don't know if he does this consciously or if he does it in some sort of half-sleep trance. Sometimes, it tickles, sometimes, it's just annoying and sometimes, it's endearing...comforting almost. Every time I try to put myself in his place. It's comforting to me to think that maybe he derives comfort from it. I wonder, then, if he will remember doing this. If he will have memories of his dad's arm in bed.

Some mornings, I feel less compassionate and crane him back into his own bed, resting my head on the bean bag chair and spreading out in the floor next to him. I don't do a lot of reading of parenting how-to's, but I distinctly remember reading once (perhaps, before Sam was even born, not imagining I could even have this problem or that this problem seemed so far off in the distant future) that it was better to sleep next to their bed or in their bed than to allow them to sleep in their parents' bed. The person who wrote this little piece of advice didn't factor in an immensely curious 9-month old peering over the top rail of the crib down at you at 4 in the morning wondering what the heck was going on.

Yesterday, I ran in the Baltimore Marathon. I joined up with some classmates to run the relay. It was only the second time I had been back to Baltimore after I graduated from college. Though similar, I had forgotten how much older the city's architecture was than D.C.'s. It was cool. Cold for me. Worse when the wind picked up around 9. I ran the anchor for one team, a 7.3 mile leg that started somewhere on the east side of the city that looked straight out of Cops. Mike who is going to Brasilia, as well ran the anchor for the other team, and the TWO AND A HALF HOURS we had to wait before we ran gave us the opportunity to discuss life, language learning and Brazilian politics.

I was pathetically out-of-shape, but had a blast. The crowds were, in many places, just as good as NYC. At the start of the race, a skydiver leading a trail of red smoke, flew the American flag to the starting line.

The only thing I wished was that Sam had been there to see it. Though, I wouldn't want to give him anymore ideas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I was not the least bit surprised that Smarty Pants Paul passed his Portuguese final exam today with flying colors, but it was cause for celebration no less. With success (and sweet faces) like these, I dare you to argue that the Hanna boys aren't destined to make this world a better place. Congratulations Paul, we are lucky to have you at the helm of this ship.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Yes. He's asleep. Part II

Sam-o (as he likes to refer to himself) has recently taken to napping on our bed. Because the boys are not on the same nap schedule yet, because our temporary digs are the size of a small squirrel's nest and because we value our sanity.....Oh and because we are growing quite the collection of hilarious "Yes. He's asleep" photos to amuse you with.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Yes. He's asleep.

Believe it or not...he is asleep...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Aisle 24 Bin 35

A day at Ikea is always an adventure. From imagining living in 580 s.f. to navigating the labyrinth in search of a downed pacifier. We've started running errands to stock our home in Brazil. We found this treasure in Aisle 24 Bin 35. His Swedish name is Piotrig (I tried to throw an umlat or two in) and comes with or without tongue sticking out.

Flirting with Disaster

Sam's (and, in reality, mine, too) first model. We had to paint it on the floor in our bedroom on a paper towel and risk getting paint on the carpet of our corporate housing, lest we wake Petey from his morning nap.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"You need love?"

A moment I have waited for for two years, 10 months and some odd days finally arrived this afternoon. As Peter napped, Sam sat on my lap while we played "one gaaayyme!"on my computer. As we waited for Mickey Mouse to load his choo choo train game, Sam pressed his cheek to mine and said "Yuv you".

Just a few minutes later I scrawled desperately in his baby book, grasping to keep him little forever by capturing memories like fireflies in a mason jar. He pulled out a paper heart that had been tucked carefully between its pages. It was a homemade Valentine that he and I had made for Paul when he was just two months old. As he held it smeared with his tiny newborn hand prints in red paint, he looked at me and asked. "This yuv?" I responded, "Yes, that is love Puppy". He held it out to me and offered, "You need yuv?"

Oh God, do I ever.

They should prescribe this stuff, it is too good to be over-the-c0unter.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

In search of suitcases.

When our suitcase purchasing adventure failed this evening, we turned to the hat department. Much more fun anyway. Whilst we did not buy these treasures, we have this little gem of iphone camera goodness to treasure forever.

Friday, October 1, 2010


The Thomas the Train stickers that adorned our coffee table for the past 3 days had an enormous pile-up. Few survived.

Lunch-time in Peteville