When People Show Up for You

A few days ago I held my First Fridays photography exhibition to benefit refugees, with all proceeds donated to Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center in Greece and here at home via the incredible group KC for Refugees. This show has been in the works for months. Last October, when I visited Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center, I felt the little sparks of an idea. But first I had to process the images. Then the election of 2016 happened. The world changed. Sort of…I mean, to these refugees, the world was basically the same. And as I’m learning (slowly) the world had already been in tatters for so many people, but being a midwestern, white, woman of privilege, I was a bit tone deaf to it all. I had endless hope and idealism. I still do, but it’s different now. Now I recognize the need to re-engage in a world that I’d largely left behind in the past few years. I knew I needed to step back into advocacy.

After the first travel ban (in February) that was instituted by the executive branch of the federal government, which halted all refugee admissions to the country and temporarily barred people from seven Muslim-majority countries to the United States, I volunteered to photograph a local, multi-faith prayer vigil for all refugees. This was led by the group KC for Refugees, and working with them on this project meant the world to me. In the past few months I’ve also spoken at events with Dr. Sofia Kahn, the founder of KC for Refugees, and photographed the one-year anniversary celebration for Syrian refugees who have been resettled in the Kansas City area. Through this work, I realized I wanted to do more. I wanted to be able to raise money for these organizations that have done so much good in the world.

I reached out to the volunteers at Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center, and asked for them to go through the hundreds of images I’d shot at the camp, and see if there were any that the camp residents would be okay with me sharing publicly. They approved a handful of them, and then I began reaching out to people in the area to see if I could find a venue. I knew hosting a photo exhibition of the images at First Fridays in the Crossroads District was the goal. This is one of the most well-attended events in Kansas City, with all sorts of galleries and makers opening their spaces to artists to share their work. I reached out to a client of mine, Kate Hulsen from Helix Architecture, and asked if they would have any interest in renting out their space for me to host this event. She not only said yes, but informed me that they would donate the space for free. What a huge gift! We picked a date and the planning began.

I pulled out every favor and every marketing/PR trick in the book to make this show a success, including media coverage that spanned from the Kansas City Star, Ink Magazine, Fox 4 Kansas City and a very special segment on Afentra’s Big Fat Morning Buzz on 96.5 The Buzz. But even with all of that, I wasn’t sure if anyone would show up. Free events can be tricky, and this one was happening on a holiday weekend, when there were a ton of other entertainment options happening in the city. We spent Friday setting up, and as the clock ticked closer to 6 p.m., I held my breath a bit.

We were expecting maybe around 60 people total, but as we locked the doors at the end of the night, around 200 people had come through, more than triple what we were hoping! My goodness…it was really incredible. To see people start trickling in, and then realize there were more behind them and even more behind them. It was amazing! At one point I said to a friend, “People came. They came!” And do you know what she said to me?

“Megan, you show up for a lot of people. Of course they would show up for you.”

And then I cried for three hours. Okay, not in the moment, but there were a lot of tears afterward, because it’s true. I do try and show up for people I love and causes that are important to me, and it felt so wonderful to know that people would do the same for something like this. We raised a ton of money, which will be split between Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center and KC for Refugees, and hopefully a lot of people learned a little something about what life like a refugee is ACTUALLY like and what they can do to help.

There are so many people to thank…it’s hard to know where to start. But it’s worth a try because these people renewed my faith in the goodness of the world, and they deserve to be recognized.

I must share my deepest thanks and gratitude to the residents of Camp Sinatex in Greece and the wonderful volunteers, especially Alex and Andrea, at Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center. I am so incredibly humbled to have been invited into their world and been able to document all the good that is happening there. These people changed my life in such a significant way, I will be forever grateful.

Of course, there is Kate and the whole crew at Helix Architecture + Design. I am so grateful to have had such a gorgeous space to host this event, and I know that the location and space itself is part of why many people came.

Jenna from J.Lynn Designery created beautiful posters for the event, which garnered so much interest and attention! She is so talented and if you’re looking for a website or logo designer, I can’t recommend her more!

Brooklynn Mieczkowski of Yellow Daisies Kitchen created amazing and delicious sugar cookies for our event, plus some extra treats as well. She also imagined up a cupcake bar, where the kids could decorate their own cupcakes with frosting and sprinkles, for the kids room! She is incredibly creative, and if you ever have any baking needs (she did Lucy’s incredible Harry Potter cake and Tate’s Pac Man cake a few years back), reach out to her!

My friend Gretchen and Brooklynn saved me by working the donation and print sales table all night long! They were the life of the party and I know they are a big part of why we made so much money. I’m so grateful to have friends like them who step up so selflessly to help!

Kymberly Janelle Photography came out with a baby on her back and took beautiful photos for me (most of the ones in this post are by her) so I wouldn’t have to worry about having my camera in tow all night. What a gift! And the images are beautiful!

Afentra and the team at 96.5 The Buzz donated concert tickets that we were able to auction off to raise even more money…it was an unexpected gift and I’m so thankful!

Special thanks to Mandy McKinney from KC for Refugees, Leslie Scott and the team from ONE, and the ladies from Catholic Charities for coming out to share how their work helps refugees in our community.

My mother-in-law did so much, I can’t even fit it all in a blog post! From coming out this summer and putting together concepts for me (the banner overhead was her idea!) to coordinating all the food and drinks, to setting up and tearing down afterward, she was a godsend. Thank you as well to Aunt Connie who helped set up, tear down at the end of the night. Extra special thanks to my husband’s amazing family for driving up a couple of hours to show support!

Of course, so much love to my husband and my kids who have been endlessly supportive (the cupcake bar helped). My goal in all of this is to show my kids that we can do good things in the world regardless of what anyone else may be doing, and I hope they are learning that lesson.

To everyone who showed up this past Friday…friends, family, co-workers, fellow-advocates, politicians, people who just showed up for the cookies…THANK YOU! I am so grateful that so many of you showed up for refugees and opened your hearts and your wallets. I am incredibly thankful!

Finally, to Theresa, who was there in spirit, thank you for inviting me on this journey so many months ago. Thank you for trusting me to do good work in the world. Thank you for all of it.

Travel Diary : Our Western Kansas Road Trip

If you’ve been following my online adventures for the past few years, you’ve heard of our annual trips to Western Kansas for dance camp. They are magic, you guys. I’ve written about them quite a bit, but this time around I wanted to share what it’s really like. I decided to attempt to capture some of our trip on film, and put together a little Travel Diary with some of our adventures. We are so grateful to kick off our summer every year spending time with old friends and indulging in the slower pace of life in the country.

But most of all, this video is a little love letter to my in-laws, who invite us in to their quiet home every year for a week and let us take over their lives! The last part of the video is my favorite, because it truly shows how lucky we are to be a part of this family. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins…this kind of closeness and joy is exactly what I always wished for my children, and I could not be more thankful that it is their reality.

Song Credit: Found A Heart by Emily Hearn (used with permission)

Farm Sunset October 2016

October at the Farm

Autumn is like an extended marathon around here. As the leaves start to change and the weather cools off a bit, our schedules and lives go into overdrive. Work and school and deadlines and sports and events and choir practice and class parties and all of the things start to meld together into one giant pile of “things to do.” Don’t get me wrong, I love fall. It’s by far my favorite season, but sometimes the pace can be a little much.

Farm October 2016

Farm October 2016

So when we had an unexpected open weekend, a part of me wanted to stay in my PJs all day and never leave my house. But the other side (the louder side) was craving clean air and open skies…so I packed up the kids and we headed to the family farm for the weekend. My mother-in-law, who doesn’t usually get visits from us to the farm this time of year, was so excited to have the kids there a few days before Halloween. She organized the cutest activities, from a Halloween scavenger hunt to bobbing for apples and an egg toss.

Farm October 2016

Farm October 2016

The grandparents had evening plans, so the kids and I ended up hanging out together and picking veggies from the garden they helped plant earlier this year. At dusk I somehow convinced them to go on a long walk around the property, and we were rewarded with the most gorgeous sunset! Kansas, I think I like you.

Farm October 2016

Greece 2016

Greece 2016 : Part 1

Greece 2016

How do I even begin…I’ve gone over the details again and again in my mind, and yet I still can’t remember how my friend Theresa and I decided to try and go to Greece together. We know there must have been a conversation at some point where we talked about it, but neither of us can really recall. So instead, I’ve made it up.

Theresa: I’m going to Greece for work, and am planning on visiting a Syrian refugee camp while I’m there to continue my research on education opportunities for refugee children. Wanna come with me?

Me: Sure, why not!

In all truth, we had discussed her trip several times in many conversations before it seemed like it could actually happen. But once the decision was made, things moved VERY quickly. I am so grateful to my family, especially my sweet husband, who not only supported me in this effort, but held down the fort at home while I was gone. I know it wasn’t easy for him to send his wife off to a foreign country on a mission like this one, but he was behind me the whole way, and that made a huge difference.

While I can’t wait to share stories and photos from the refugee camp, those must be approved in order to protect the safety of all the children and adults living there. Until then, you can follow the Bê Sînor – Sinatex Cultural Center on Facebook to learn more about the camp and all the magic that is happening there. The people truly touched my heart in ways I can’t describe, so I’m actually pretty lucky I have a bit more time to ruminate and get that experience put down into words.

Greece 2016

Until then, I am pumped to be able to share my images from the rest of our time in Greece. In reality, we weren’t in the country very long. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and I left at 6 a.m. the following Friday morning. We spent Sunday through Tuesday in Thessaloniki, in the Macedonia region of Greece. Thessaloniki is a huge tourist destination, especially for other Europeans and Greeks. We didn’t see many Americans or others from English-speaking countries, but it didn’t matter, since every Greek in Thessaloniki spoke English. It always shocks me to travel to another country and see how hard they work to learn several languages and accommodate tourists of different backgrounds. Americans could learn something from this! I certainly thought a lot about how I can get quickly frustrated when I can’t understand someone’s accent or broken English…this is something I am committed to working on, and I hope I can have as much compassion as those who nodded and smiled at me when I attempted to speak Greek!

Greece 2016

On Wednesday we took a train from Thessaloniki to Athens, and during the five hour trip, we got to see the incredible Greek countryside. To say that it was breathtaking is a complete understatement. This was also the day after we visited the refugee camp, so the train ride provided a perfect time to rest, reflect and process some of what we’d seen.

Greece 2016

I was only in Athens for one day, but we made the most of it! We stayed in Air BNB’s in both cities, and our spot in Athens was right near the Acropolis. I visited the Acropolis Museum, got very lost, drank too many frappes, ate my weight in Greek cuisine and bought some trinkets for family. I tried to travel fairly light, with my camera gear on my back and a small duffle bag to carry on the airplane, so finding souvenirs that fit was a bit of a challenge! After Theresa got off work, we hiked up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and visited the original Olympic Temple as well.

Greece 2016

Greece 2016

The best part of this whole trip was getting to share it with one of my best friends. So many of my favorite moments were the quiet ones…long dinners out late at night, quiet coffee breaks, long conversations before we turned out the lights for bed…those were the times that made this hectic, busy, exhausting trip feel refreshing and fulfilling. I’m so grateful that Theresa asked me to come on this adventure with her. What a gift to have friends that are committed to doing big things to change the world…and it’s even better when they invite you along for the ride!

Greece 2016

Greece 2016

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I’ve shared before on the blog how much I love Snapchat, and I have to say, traveling and being able to share via Snapchat was one of my favorite things to do during this trip. For those of you who don’t follow me on Snapchat, I put together this compilation video of my snaps from the trip. This will give you a little more of a behind the scenes look at our trip, including our lodging, and shows a bit more of the friendship between Theresa and I. Man, that girl has put up with a LOT the past 25 years! Also, her yogurt spoon trick is AMAZING.

Our Family Photo Session with Allison Corrin Photography

Family Photos with Allison Corrin

I talk quite a bit around here (and lately, on TV as well!) about the importance of getting family photos taken with your kids. I really and truly believe there is not a better gift to give to your children than photos of your entire family together. Some of my most treasured possessions are prints of images of myself, my siblings and my parents together when we were younger. I love looking at the clothes we were wearing, seeing the grins on our faces and remembering what life felt like. I feel equally as giddy seeing photos of my parents and grandparents when they were young…think of how incredible it would be to watch your own grandchildren look through images of you as a young mom and their own parents as kids! I get excited just imagining those moments.

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

So each year I do my very best to practice what I preach to all of you, and find time to get our OWN family photos taken. Now, mind you, this idea totally horrifies my family. They have me following them around with a camera all the time, not to mention the random commercial shoots our family has been lucky enough to participate in together, but for me, a family session with a pro photographer is different. It’s not for anyone else, it’s for us. We don’t have a director or a client telling us what to wear or how to act, instead we get to decide. And for me, as a photographer, I want to be included in the photos. We have hundreds of images of our family together…minus one very important component…ME! Because I spend so much time behind the camera, often our memories look like I wasn’t there at all. So even though my family may feel like doing a family photo session is overkill, for me, it’s just right. And I’m always so grateful when I get the images back and see my children, husband and I interacting, playing and having fun TOGETHER. All of us.

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

This year I asked Allison French of Allison Corrin Photography to not only take our photos, but create a short video as well. I love making Video Keepsakes for my own clients, so I really wanted something similar for my own family. We decided to do the shoot at Prospero’s Bookstore in order to focus on my children’s love of reading, and then followed that up with some portraits in the West Plaza neighborhood where we lived during our first years in Kansas City many (many) moons ago. The video is everything to me and I’m so grateful to have such a beautiful keepsake to remember this time in our lives!

Huge thanks to Allison to working with our crazy crew and for giving us such gorgeous memories! I love them all so much, I couldn’t choose just a few to share, so here’s about a million of them!

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

Our Family Photos with Allison Corrin

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