~ Lauren & Alex ~

I had so much fun with Lauren and Alex at their engagement session.   Not only did I get to know them better, but I also got a sneak peek at the ceremony location for later this year.   

Alex is a country boy,  they are getting married on his property.   They  currently live in Daniel Boones grandsons house!   Talk about a history lesson,  I totally went home and googled Daniel Boone to give myself a refresher course, because Lord knows that information went in one ear and out the other in high school.  

They met in the cutest way.  Alex was managing a bar when he spotted Lauren across the street at different bar.   She intrigued him. He wanted to talk to her so badly that he shut down his whole bar to walk over an introduce himself.  Isn't that romantic?   It turned out in his favor,  he may have lost alot in bar sales that night but he met the love of his life. 

~ Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice ~

That's what little girls are made of :)
Last week there was no shortage of adorable little girls twirling in and out of the Kelly Manno Studio,  in fact every session I shot last week was nothing but sweet little girls.   
I want to remind everyone that my Spring/Early Summer schedule is currently full.    I am now taking inquiries for late summer and fall.   If you'd like a date or to be added to my future email list just send me at note - Kellymanno@yahoo.com

~ Sweet and Sour Chicken ~

 Grab a 6 pack and a lawn chair honey,  there's a ternado coming - Toby Keith

So, if you're my friend on Facebook, or my friend in real life, you know we were hit by a tornado last Wednesday.  And if you're not, well...we were hit by a tornado last Wednesday.

To be specific, an F2 tornado.  500 yards wide with estimated wind speeds of 125mph, and its path length was 7 miles.  Below is the Storm Survey released by the National Weather Service.  The path of the Tornado is in red, and that black and white arrow is pointing to the roof of my house.
Now, I'm not going to get all dramatic on you, and retell gripping life-flash-before-your-eyes moments.    There were some really freaking scary moments...being in a tornado is terrifying and reliving those moments would be exhausting.  But there were some funny moments, so I will focus on those.  And of course I will answer the key questions that everyone wants to know like "Where were you?  What did it sound like?" etc…

Watching the 5pm news, there was some talk of severe weather coming in and like clockwork, I took our weather radio, flashlights and the kids' bike helmets downstairs.  Like I've done several times before.  Most of the time we never even have to go down there, but I like to be prepared just in case.

I was bringing Luci home from dance class at 7:45.  The city tornado sirens starting going off, the sky turned pitch black and it started raining sideways.  I never, ever, mess around with tornados, and I had a long 10 minute drive home.

I called my husband and told him I was stopping at our friend Cathy's house to wait out the storm there.  He told me that was silly... no tornados had been spotted and it was all south of us.  I guess in his defense, that is exactly what the weatherman was saying.  He encouraged me to just to come straight home.

I continued to plead with him because I didn't feel safe… Additionally, I really, really wanted to order my favorite chinese food and didn't want to deal with getting out of the car with Luci in this weather.  Maybe if I stayed at Cathy's for 20 minutes this would all pass, and I could get my Chinese and come home. 

He said "Just come home,  I will go get your Chinese Food."

I called in my order- to the China Wok on Howdershell Rd- and made the rest of the drive home.  As soon as I walked in the door he walked out to go get the food. 

Somewhere in the middle of all this we had gotten a phone call that my niece, Josie, broke her arm.   Luci really wanted to make a "Get Well" video for her and send it to her in the emergency room.   She talked about it the whole way home.

Once I set down my purse, keys, dance bag, etc… I looked out the back window.   The sirens had stopped about 5 minutes ago and it looked like things were calming down.

We went in Luci's room to make her video for Josie, and during this video the power goes out.   Please excuse Luci's ridiculous rapping.  Just know that about 4 minutes after the power goes out in this video, my house was hit my a tornado. 

As soon as the power went out we went straight downstairs.  It is the pitchest of pitch black down there, but somehow I managed to find my flashlights.  I let the kids sort of play around and do their thing.  I still had zero reason to think there was a tornado.  I turned on my weather radio and no one had even mentioned our city.  I really wasn't very worried.  I still thought we were just dealing with a thunderstorm, and the worst was south of us right?  ;)

What did it sound like?

The tornado sounded like 3 kids screaming and fighting at the top of their lungs over 2 flashlights.  Hand to heaven my kids and their fighting drowned out the tornado.   It sounded like it was getting bad upstairs, but I was preoccupied trying to pull apart a ball of children in the pitch black.  It's hard to play referee in the dark.  I was just swattin' and grabbing at anything I could, hoping to pull kids apart.

Then my cell phone rang and it was my brother.  I answered.

Me : Hello?
Brother :  Kelly, are you guys all in the basement?
Me: Yes, why?
Brother:  Because there is a tornado on Howdershell Rd.

Yes,  that's right.  The same Howdershell Rd that China Wok is located on...where I had just sent my husband.  I wanted to throw up, or cry, or both.  I'm not even going to tell you how terrifying that was…I just knew I had to keep my cool in front of the kids.  They had no idea there was a tornado or that their Dad was driving in it.

I scooped them up and shoved them all into the basement bathroom and then called my husband.  My mind was racing and I was pleading with him telepathically -  "please pick up, please pick up, please pick up" He picked up the phone and yelled:

"I swear to God I was just in a tornado!!!" 

I was so damn happy to hear his voice. 

"You were!" I yelled back.  "Where are you?  Are you safe?  Get home!  Be careful!"  Thank you, Jesus - he had made it inside of the China Wok just in time.  Another car on the road with him flipped 3 times.  

About 7 minutes later, and some serious Dukes of Hazard driving, and he was home. 

Our front door was jammed shut and there he came,  climbing in the window with my sweet and sour chicken in hand.  

Just like in the movies, all the neighbors stumble out of their homes in disbelief.  It was still pitch black and pouring rain.  I looked down our street and it looked like an apocalypse movie.

I called my mom from our porch and then turned around to see these 3 little faces hanging out our window.  They looked so cute,  it stopped me in my tracks.   I instantly knew I wanted to take their picture with my cell phone so I could always remember how I felt seeing those babies safe.   All the beautiful photos I have of my children and this blurry crappy cell phone photo will probably always mean the most to me. 

I told Jimmy I wanted to check our house for structural damange and needed a flashlight and without a blink Luci whipped off her Minnie Mouse high heel with a flashing light on it and said, "Here mom use this!"  She was so dead serious and so happy she could help.  Of course she had high heels on in a tornado.

We were so fortunate.  So, so fortunate.  I think the torando was actually in the air and not on the ground when it passed over our specific house.   Our damage was just cosmetic.  Gutters, siding, fence damage, etc…  Our neighbors weren't so lucky.   And the houses about 2 streets over were just demolished. 

Of course, we lost power.   In the very last photo you will see our power pole snapped in half.  The news trucks hung out on the street corner 24/7.  The Hazelwood police department were amazing.  They never left our side,  guarding our neighborhood all day and all evening, and were a strong and assuring presence in our comminuty. 

As soon as the storm hit I tried getting the hell out of there and head to my moms with the kids, but there was no going anywhere.  Huge 50 year old oak trees blocked almost every road.  We couldn't even leave our street.  We were completely trapped.  We couldn't get out and nobody could get in.  I had no choice but to ride it out at home,  so I laid down in bed with the girls to a cadence of chainsaws and ambulance sirens.  They went on late into the night. 

The first night was cold and scary.  But I was so emotionally drained by everything that happened, once my adrenaline settled down I crashed hard and slept really well. 

The days following the storm were very trying.   All of our food spoiled.  We had no heat and it was freezing.  It would seem easy to just  drive down the street and get fast food 3 times a day, but not only is that expensive (and gross) but getting in and out of our neighborhood was like getting in and out of a maximum security prison.  We were stopped by police on every corner and asked to see our license.  They wanted to make sure the traffic in and out of our neigherhood was the residents and not "looky lou's" or storm chasers.   Plus, we got 2 flat tires driving in and out over all the debris.   Big SUV tires are about $200 each, and that was money we hadn't planned on spending.

Hey honey, when did we get a boat? 
This tree took the sidewalk up with it.  

I want to thank all of our friends and family who offered to help.  Who offered to let us sleep on their floor,  offered us food, volunteered their home for Rocky's first communion that was Saturday, offered to wash his baseball uniform.

Because even though your world has been flipped upside down, the world keeps spinning.   Luci and Libby Lu still had gymnastics on Thursday and Rocky had doubleheader baseball games on Friday.  I had wedding images to deliver to clients, and life just kept moving.  To be honest, it was refreshing to get out, get moving, and be out of the war zone for a while. 

A couple of years ago, I planted these little Bradford Pears in my backyard.  I thought for sure they were goners.  I was amazed the next morning to see they didn't even lose their flowers.  What an incredible little ray of hope on a street that looked like a bomb had exploded. 
I'm so happy we are alive.  And our house is still standing.  To be honest, we are lucky it was an F2.   Anything stronger and this story would be very different.  And I am so glad my husband is okay, because his sisters would have never forgiven me if he was sucked up in a tornado for my sweet and sour chicken.

~ Filling the Bucket ~

Bloom where you are planted.  Seize the day.  You only live once.  Right?

Well, it's harder than it sounds.  Life gets busy, schedules get full, kids get crabby, parents get exhausted.  

Sometimes the days just fly by, sometimes they crawl.  But they always seem packed full.   We’re often too busy to stop and smell the roses, or in this case, the infield dirt. 

I’ve had this idea for my son, Rocky, for about 2 years now and every time I put the wheels in motion to make it happen, something else seemed to take priority and my idea kept getting swept under the rug.

Until last Friday. 

Rocky is 8-  he loves baseball.  All day, every day...7 days a week.  

I see a passion in his big brown eyes for baseball that makes my heart stretch.  

He plays it in the backyard, googles it on the computer, studies his baseball cards, and doodles pictures of Busch Stadium and Cardinal players in his school notebooks. 

He spends most days thinking about baseball as well.  He’s a worrier by nature, so he genuinely worries about things like:

What If I get traded from the Cardinals, will I have to live far away from you guys?  Would you move with me?  

Do they give me some extra tickets so my buddies can come to some games?

Do you get a pee break if you play outfield?   

All questions he’s asked out loud. 

In his 8 year old mind, he is going to grow up and play for the Cardinals.  End of story.

Sometimes I day dream about my kids as adults.  What will they look like, where will they live, how many kids will they have.  What will Rocky- the husband, the Dad, the adult- look like and sound like in 20 years.    

Will he make good choices?  Will he get along with his wife?  Will he have a job he hates?  Will he have any regrets?  Will he still love baseball?  Does he know he could have done anything he wanted with his life?  Did I put enough water in his bucket?

Ah, the bucket.  I heard this great analogy once,  it’s not my own.  But I try to picture my children's minds as buckets.   A bucket that I fill with water…as he gets older people will poke holes in that bucket.  But I gotta keep pouring in the good stuff so he has plenty in reserve for when that happens.   As parents, we can pour in anything we want.  Love, kindess, faith, confidence, self-discipline, all the other things they will need to move them forward in life. 

So last week I surprised him.

I told him to put on his Cardinals outfit because we were going to do some pictures, but I didn’t tell him where.  He is so used to me sticking a camera in his face he didn’t think twice.    Although I should have had my camera out to capture his face when we pulled up to Busch Stadium, home of the 2011 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

It was a perfect surprise because he fell asleep in the car on the way there and woke up to that gorgeous towering brick building in front of him. 

With big wide eyes. 

Rocky :  Mom, what are we doing here?

Okay, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is the part where I tell you I rented out Busch Stadium for my kid.

Hold up, wait a minute.  That last sentence made me sound like a BALLER.   In the interest of full disclosure I should tell you that anyone can rent Busch Stadium for 30 minutes for $175,  so I’m not quite as cool as I sound.   You get a little tour of the stadium as well, and our tour guide was the sweetest lady ever. 

Judging by the look on her face when we arrived, I don’t know if anyone has ever rented the whole place for an 8 year old.  

It’s usually reserved for things like bridal parties and corporate events.  But whatever, I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic.  My kid likes baseball, I’m trying to fill his bucket, so here we are- open those doors and start pouring, lady. 

The whole experience was so freaking cool.  We got to enter through a secret VIP door and go through hallways and underground pathways that most of the public never get to see.

“Does David Freese walk this way to the field?” he asked our tour guide.  “Of course,” she said and smiled.  He stretched his little arm out and smoothed his hand down the length of the hallway with a big smile.

We stepped onto the field.  To have that majestic building, usually filled with roaring crowds, completely silent was breathtaking.   

I wanted him to take it all in. 

I wanted him to smell the grass, crush the dirt beneath his cleats, sit in the dugout and feel the wood of the benches,  play catch with his dad in the outfield, and for a moment really think about what it would be like to play baseball on this field. 

They call it Baseball Heaven for a reason. 
Rocky is a hell of a ball player.  Has been his whole life.  He was born with natural talent for the sport.  So what are the chances Rocky is going to grow up and play in the Big Leagues? 

Um yeah...slim to none. 

But don’t you dare tell him that.

Right now he is 8 years and the world is his oyster.  There’s a great big world to explore. 

He doesn’t know yet that talent isn’t enough, that talent has to meet opportunity, and opportunity has to open the door and meet the right people.  He doesn’t know there are thousands of other 8 year old boys who play baseball every bit as good as him. 

One day he’s going to be an adult and realize the oyster sucks and tastes like crap, and I hope I’ve equipped him with enough confidence and water in his bucket to do anything with his life.

Nobody said he had to be a professional baseball player when he grows up.  If he does that’s awesome, because he promised to buy me a house with a pool on the inside.

But he has alot of options.  We all do.  Maybe he won’t be a big league slugger, but maybe he’ll be an umpire or a coach.  Maybe he will broadcast the games from the booth, or be in charge of keeping the grass pristine.  Hell, maybe he will put on a 30 pound hot costume in 100 degree weather and be Fredbird. 

Wherever he goes and whatever he does with his life, I hope it brings him as much joy as baseball did when he was an 8 year old little boy. 

Filling the bucket folks, as much as I can.  Because if any of my kids grow up and work in a 4 ft cubicle, 9 hours a day with beige walls pushing around papers on their desk for a boss that’s a jerk,  then I didn’t do my job.  I don't just want to tell them they can do anything with their life, I want to show them. 

Of course, I can’t do cool photos like this and not offer them to my clients.  Father's Day is right around the corner.  I'm excited to set up an evening to devote to family session in Busch Stadium. 

 It gets tricky with the Cardinals schedule starting up, but if you’re interested in a mini -session for the boys (or tomgirls) in your life, send me an email...   Kellymanno@yahoo.com 

Now if you’ll excuse me,  Luci wants to be a pop star when she grows up, so I have a phone call to make to Taylor Swift's “people”...kidding…or am I ;)

~ New Squishy Babies - GRANT ~

I'm very lucky to have a job that allows me to hang out with little, squishy 8 pound beauties.   
I love this adorable family and I was excited to meet their new addition, Grant .
Daddy played football for Mizzou, these photos are so fitting.  
With 2 boys already, I think Dad is 
secretly trying to form his own little football team. 

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