~ The Santa Claus Session ~

“The stories my kids will tell one day depends on me. I am writing their book” 
 - Kellee Hampton

This is the best day of my LIFE! - Luci shouted from the backseat on the way home, she was right.  This was the best day ever.  But let me back up a bit.  Let me back up about 2 weeks.

2 weeks ago: 
We counted down the days, we practiced our manners, the kids were pumped.  We were going to see SANTA!  They could hardly contain their squeals on our way to the mall. They fidgeted in line, peeked around corners, prying for a glance of him, and waiting patiently for their moment with the big man.  
It was their turn.  As they timidly approached Santa, I could see both of them try to simmer their enthusiasm...waiting patiently for him to make the first move.  But he didn’t.  Santa really didn't do much of anything.  
He didn’t "Ho Ho Ho."
His belly didn’t shake like a bowl full of jelly.
And the worst part?  He didn’t even ask my kids what they wanted for Christmas. 
Santa politely smiled and nodded at them, then pointed at his knees for them to climb on and then pointed at the Camera.  Some lady jingled a loud bell shouting "look here kids!"  One click of the lens later it was over.  Santa handed them a Candy Cane, barely making eye contact and politely wished them a “Merry Christmas.”  Rocky looked like he wanted to say something, but just then Santa turned his body and waved the next kid in line over. 

I was left with a really crappy photo and 2 children who had just had the spirit of Christmas sucked out of them.  It was uncomfortable, it was awkward, and it was sad. 
Sure, we knew Libby Lu was going to lose her marbles on his lap, she’s 1.  But Rocky and Luci are not.  They are 4 and 7 and perfectly aware of the magic and beauty this time of year brings. 
Dare I say Santa was almost crabby?   And look, I don't completely blame the guy.  That suit has to be awful- hot and itchy.  And he’s probably been kicked in the crotch more than he’d like to count.  But we still left the mall feeling like crap.  We were deflated, someone let the air out of our Christmas spirit and I read it all across the faces of my kids.
My husband and I second guessed everything on the ride home.  “We shouldn’t have gone so late, he’s probably been there all day...Maybe he wasn’t feeling well.”
I just couldn’t settle with this, I felt so yucky about the whole thing.  I tossed and turned.  I felt like I had let my kids down.  I had hyped up this Santa visit for days and it was a big flop.

And it's not that I'm trying to shelter my kids from all of life's disappointments.  When Luci gets a boy toy instead of a girl toy in her happy meal we don't turn around and go back, and when Rocky waited in line for an hour to meet his favorite Hockey player and the line was cut off before him, I think it was an important lesson.  Life is full of disappointments, but not now- not Christmas, and not Santa. 
So, I did what any other completely insane totally normal mother would do.
I rented my own damn Santa.  
And you know what else?  If you flip through the yellow pages long enough and call a few petting zoos you can find a Reindeer too.  Turns out ol' Prancer had the afternoon free. 

And then, last Monday, I woke them up in a hurry and exclaimed:

 “Paw Paw was driving his bus at work and he thinks he saw Santa walking one of his Reindeer in the park.  Hurry, hurry put on your clothes let’s go, let’s go!”
Pulling up to the park, they craned their necks and pressed their noses to the car window, straining for a glimpse. They spilled out of the car nearly on top of each other and hauled it across that grass, and just behind a tree their little feet came to a screeching halt.  Heads dropped, mouths open. Paw Paw was right, because there stood Santa and his Reindeer.  
Santa was waving wildly at them- “Ho! Ho! Ho!” he shouted.  "Hello Rocky and Luci!  Merry Christmas!"  He bent down, arms wide open -  Come give Santa a hug!  I want you to meet my Reindeer, Prancer.
Not only did Santa know their names, he also knew exactly what they wanted for Christmas and he knew if they’d been naughty or nice.  Rocky’s eyes grew wider and wider with each detail Santa knew.
They had their own playdate with Santa. They talked about the North Pole and how many elves he had.  They talked about what cookies he likes, they took Prancer for a walk, and Santa awnsered all 783 questions Rocky had about exactly how Reindeer can fly without wings.  Luci showed Santa her best dance routine, he tossed around a football with Rocky, and they talked about baseball (Santa is a Cubs fan! Booooo!)
Be still my Christmas be-dazzled heart, this is amazing.  I think I had red and green glitter pumping through my veins.  It was more magical and beautiful than I even imagined.

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  And I needed my kids to have this experience. 
I’m never going to stop pushing the bar, thinking outside the box, and wanting more for my children- taking great measures to expose them to as much happiness into their little lives as I can.  Not through gifts or material things, but through life experiences.  Stretching their hearts as far as I can.  It’s the littlest things that can make the biggest impact. 
I ended my day in a heap of tears.  Thankful for my kids, warped from exhaustion, and just overall ecstatic for the real and true Christmas Spirit I saw in the faces of my kids. 
“The stories my kids will tell one day depends on me, I am writing their book.”
...and one day when Rocky and Luci are older, I hope they will laugh at many stories of their childhood including the time their crazy mother hired her own Santa and Reindeer. 
This experience was so amazing to us and our family that I will be offering it to you and yours next year.   If you would like your child to have their own personal playdate and photo session with Santa in 2012 just buzz me a quick email  (KellyManno@yahoo.com) and I will put you on my contact list.  I’ll start making arrangements in fall of next year and you will hear from me then.  Until then have a beautiful Christmas with your family. 
P.S.  For those of you who have noticed, I am missing a child in these photos.  Libby Lu still isn't quite ready to hang out with Santa.  I didn't expect her to.  We gave it a shot, but sister was not having it.  So we let her spend the rest of the day with Paw Paw.  There is always next year. 
P.P.S.  My husband is a Saint and everyone should know this.   I know he starts to cringe every time a phone call begins with me saying "Oh my gosh, I have this awesome idea!"  Pulling this off was an insane team effort which included getting up at some God-awful hour and hauling a heavy couch halfway through a park, tying snowflakes to trees, getting city permission for the shoot,  and he was just as much a part of this as I was.  I am so lucky to have a partner in my life who wants the same things for our kids that I do. I love you honey, I know I go overboard sometimes, but it's all for them.  Thank you for loving me in good times and crazy times.

~ Manno Family Christmas Cards 2011 ~ Enjoy!

~ Emily and Steve ~ Engaged!

Open the Webster Dictionary to "Ridiculously Good-Looking" and you'll find Emily & Steve's photo.  Aren't they adorable?  The weather didn't quite hold up with our shooting plan, normally I would just re-schedule but Steve was only in town for a limited time and you know what they say "The show must go on"  - so we had to get creative.

I'm going to do things a bit backwards today and post the last photos of our session first, because they are my favorite.    These first 4 photos (with the red background) were taken in a parking garage.  I told you we had to get creative :)
Don't let a few outside shots fool you.  It poured all day, we had a break long enough to sneak out for 5 minutes but is was freezing, I mean FREEZING! 

Thank you Emily and Steve!  You were so patient with the weather, and not-so-conventional location, you absolutely rocked it and I am so excited to shoot your wedding next year.  Merry Christmas!

~ Dear St Louis, It's not you. It's me. Love, Albert ~

Dear St. Louis,

It’s not you.  It’s me.

Love, Albert

We just got dumped.  By the crappiest of all crappy break up lines.  And you know what?  He’s right.  It’s wasn’t us.  Because we were awesome.  We were there for you man, in good times and bad.  We took you under our wing, we adopted you as one of our own.  We got used to your thick accent and weird last name.  Through hitting slumps and the DL, 10 games out and wild card races.  

Our butts were in those seats.

And when you spent the last 3 years blowing smoke up our butt and promising us it was not about the money.  We believed you.  Then you hopped a ride on the first train out of town. 

What, like that extra couple million a year is going to be the difference between whether or not your family goes without food or necessities?    Hell, when most of us get a raise it means we can get expanded cable from Charter.   We made you an unbelievable offer, and you rejected us.  For the exact reason you said you never would. 

And now...it’s like you broke up with us, but didn’t tell us why, and it stings. 

It’s your own words coming back to haunt you.  Not ours.  

"Do I want to be in St. Louis forever? Of course. People from other teams want to play in St. Louis, and they're jealous that we're in St. Louis because the fans are unbelievable. So why would you want to leave a place like St. Louis to go somewhere else and make $3 million or $4 more million a year? It's not about the money. I already got my money. It's about winning, and that's it." - Albert Pujols 2009

This breakup is bittersweet.  I guess it’s true what they say:  It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.    I am happy you were a Cardinal.  I’m glad my son will grow up and tell his kids he got to see the best baseball player of all-time step up to the plate.

I’m not going to pretend like I know everything that went into this decision.  There are a couple things that I do know.  I think you are a man of God, and a gentleman who always gave back to the community.  I think you have a heart of gold with your family and with your charities and I expect none of that to change. 

You did everything that was asked of you as a Cardinal.  You were and are a role model on and off the field,

That doesn’t mean were not allowed to be pissed at you.    That doesn't mean I don't want to draw horns on you and black out your teeth in our prom picture.  

I’m sure you have some decent seasons left in you, but I hope we got your best years.  

Let us remind you that being a St. Louis Cardinal is not just a job.  It’s being a part of the best baseball nation in the world.  It’s a legacy and an honor.  It’s a privilege, not a right. 

Seeing you in another jersey is like seeing some chick skinnier and prettier than me wearing your letterman jacket.   But when the Angels hit a slump, and your bat is silent, and those seats are empty, you’ll think of us. 

And if we ever see you in a dark alley at the World Series I hope Carp makes you look stupid.

Cardinal Nation, keep your chin up, hate is just as ugly as greed.  

Thanks for the memories Albert.  I mean that from the bottom of my heart.  God Bless you and your family, may He keep you safe in your travels out west and I hope you have a sucky first season with the Angels,



The Albert Pujols Remembrance Melodrama from JoeSportsFan.com on Vimeo.

(Funny video courtesy of JoeSportsFan on youtube)

~ Carolyn and Jeff ~ Engaged!

The turquoise scarf she picked out matched her eyes perfectly, and his.  Her gorgeous brown hair whipped in the wind like spun silk.  She is from Canada and didn't roll her eyes when I felt the need to instantly ask her about Hockey, and oh yeah, they have a dog named Rocky :)   They love each other with heart and soul and it took very little direction from me to bring out their personalities in front of the camera.   Just a few of the things I absolutely fell in love with at this Engagement session.   

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