My sweet niece turned four over the weekend. I love being an aunt and it just gets better and better.  My sister has been planning a big Frozen birthday party for months now. She’s been cutting snowflakes out of doilies, gathering huge marshmallows for a snowball fight, and coming up with all kinds of cute ideas for her girl – who has had her little heart set on a Frozen party since she first saw the movie. An unexpected surgery meant the rest of us kind of forced Lesley to try to rest and let us take over the party. We moved it to my house and tried to make it worthy of all the planning she had been doing.
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The birthday girl got a handmade Elsa dress from my mom. Her little sister was Anna. Braids were requested by all the girls.7.14frozen-0027.14frozen-004My youngest niece has started calling me “Washy” – if I can figure out a way to keep her calling me that forever I will.7.14frozen-0057.14frozen-007We basically covered things in white and sparkles. Lots of fake snow and cotton balls all over the place. Lesley made ‘snowball’ cupcakes – cute and delicious, of course.7.14frozen-0087.14frozen-0107.14frozen-011My mom and the boys cut out a TON of snowflakes.7.14frozen-013She’s especially sweet on her great grandpa. He’s pretty sweet on her too.7.14frozen-015Guess which little girl is a little version of her momma?7.14frozen-016

Olaf (my eight year old) surprised the birthday girl with a special appearance. He tried passing out lots of warm hugs.7.14frozen-0177.14frozen-0187.14frozen-019

Our girls are now 2, 3, 4, & 5. It is pretty wonderful to get to see them grow up together. I don’t take it for granted and I am looking forward to many years watching our girls together. Happy birthday Sweet P – you are dearly loved and incredibly cherished!

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  • dana - what a blessing to have cousins close in age! Mine each have a cousin their same age…even as young adults they remain close ??

  • Amy Espinosa - Yep, I’m officially jealous! I am an only child making for no nieces or nephews, but I fixed that problem for the next generation I had FOUR. That way, my littles WILL be able to enjoy all that family! What a perfect party that was!

  • Amanda Madl - Happy birthday Sweet P! They are all absolutely adorable :)

  • Mek - Happy Birthday Sweet P :) Very beautiful girls, all of them, and look at how tall Little One is now… compared to the days when she just reached home!

  • Debbie C - This is so sweet! Your studio is so perfect for kid parties! My daughter would swoon over a Frozen party (well I guess almost every little girl would). :)

  • Lisa - Oh my goodness!! This is by far the best Frozen party I’ve seen. Absolutely precious.

  • Taylor - I’ve seen a lot of little ones doing the Frozen theme for their birthday this year. You ladies did a fantastic job! Olaf was a nice touch. ;)

    xoxo
    Taylor

  • Jamie - Seriously adorable, especially Olaf!

  • kimberly oyler - hey washy, that picture of the 4 girls at the top is beautiful. like woah, beautiful. also, if you want your niece to continue calling you washy, enlist the entire family to start calling you that. one of my nieces gave us all nicknames and all the babies born after her have started calling us by those names. now she is going into 5th grade and she still calls me hima. there is hope!

  • Angela - Olaf. I cannot handle this. He is precious and hilarious for dressing up for those girls!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - I have no idea why – but I am bawling at this post :) The dresses, the braids, healing, sweetness, and Olaf.

    It just doesn’t get any better than this. Love you all!

  • Sherry - I think your family probably has so many beautiful, memorable moments, but this one will easily scoot to the top.

  • Kristin S - You can totally get Washy to stick.

    My best friend’s kids call me Aunt Kriddie because the oldest couldn’t say Aunt Kristin. They still correct people who call me Aunt Kristin.

  • krystal - Hilarious! As I think my 5 year old son would be jealous! Along with my 13 year old students (boys and girls). The movie sure has made an impact.

    Cute party and it made my heart melt seeing your son dressed as Olaf. :)

  • Candice - When I was little I couldn’t say my aunts name- Shelia- and I called her SheShe- To this day it is her name in our family. Aunts are a special gift! I am always encouraged when I read your blog. I love your transparency!

  • Denise L. - Little One’s great-grandpa looks a like a very sweet-natured guy. Wish my only grandfather was still around. This is one of the best ever posts. (And that is after bawling over the beautiful New Well post last week!)So much going on here; surgery, nick-name, sewing & hair-braiding grandmother, team work & snowflakes, planning, pitching in, loving support from family, beautifully real children, summertime fun, movie inspiration, great photography (as always) and celebration of Sweet P!

    And you know what? I would very much like to know what the fabric is that you used on the couch pillows grandpa is sitting against – so bright and cheery! Need to make some for my parents who both have been battling cancer for 7 months now and are getting pretty weary and need a note of cheer in their everyday lives.

    Blessings and you and yours!
    Denise L.

  • AshleyAnn - Denise – it is actually a Pottery Barn duvet cover from about 10 years ago…I cut it up to make pillows. Thank you for your kind words :)

  • Candace - Would you mind sharing where those adorable beverage dispensers came from?

  • AshleyAnn - Candace – they are both from Target

  • Carolyn - My oldest niece named me Dundee. We are still trying to figure that out. :-) But you will be happy to know she is now 29 and giving birth to her second child this coming Monday…and I’m still Dundee. My cup runneth over.

I have this little girl….full of spunk, adventure and life.

She’s rough and delicate.

Tender and sassy.

Like all my kids, she is constantly teaching me. Last week was my first full week at home this summer! We were able to spend some time at a friend’s pool and my girl taught me once again. Instead of just jumping off the diving board, she would close her eyes and jump as high as she could. Her eyes stayed closed until she went under the water. She told me it feels more fun to hit the water with her eyes closed. She likes the unexpected. She delights in the adventure and anticipation of not knowing what happens next (unless we are in the car…then she wants to know exactly when the trip will end).

Watching her jump off over and over again with her eyes closed, it was like a breath of fresh air. Too often I want to know what comes next. I plan my day. I have my lists. I have my ‘to-dos’. When the unexpected enters my day, too often I cringe instead of embracing it. I want to learn to embrace the unexpected – I’ll probably find so much fun and adventure there. And goodness knows…I like adventure!

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  • Jac - Such beautiful words!

  • Amy Espinosa - I know you must be soaking in all that’s home right now! Your spirit must be so very renewed after your adventure. Enjoy home! Beautiful images by the way!

  • Kathi - I love her arms raised….in surrender to what is next!

  • Sarah - I think the most surprising part about parenting has been how much I have to learn from my children. Love these pictures!

  • Kim - That second image! WOW!

  • Josie - Photo of your daughter – raising her arms high – just amazing …… truly truly amazing!!

  • danielle - I love the last shot! So amazing!

  • Renata - What a beautiful sentiment to start the week. Sometimes we do need to just jump in with our eyes closed and in order to see what is supposed to come our way.

  • Rachel G. - This reminds me of the song, Oceans ( Where Feet May Fail). How visual, and beautiful. Beautiful pictures!

  • Sarah - I love the freedom in the second picture. The arms extended. The droplets of water coming from her legs and feet.The bathing suit ruffles flapping like wings….. What beauty!!

    Thanks for the posts from Africa. Keep raising your voice to share the moments that you were blessed to experience. I have followed NURU – a company that brings clean water to Africa. Your words, stories, and raw emotions make the stories that much more powerful. All glory to God for allowing you the opportunity to go, for a husband like Chris who can be home with the kids, and for many new friends whose stories you are now able to tell.

    THANK YOU for allowing us to be a small part of your journey!

  • kimberly oyler - beautiful. and that bokeh.. wow.

  • Sprite - Wow… this is so inspiring!

  • Diana - Wonderful, precious reminder.

  • Monica - The last picture is beautiful and amazing! Her personality will do great things like you. She is a wonderful girl!

  • nikki - I am in love with the picture of her jumping! BEAUTIFUL! And I completely know what you mean. Thank her for the reminder :)

  • Rikki - The photo of her mid jump is hands down, my new favorite! What a gal!!

  • emily@everydaymom - I love this! Beautiful photos and beautiful thoughts!

  • Debbie H - ME TOOOO!! I LOVE that 2nd photo! I’d love a copy of that in my own house to just smile and embrace and remember daily what life should and can be! So terrific, Ashley! And she is really special. All of your kids emote their emotions so clearly in your photos. Thanks so much for sharing! Makes my day to see your posts and IG’s. :) (And Leslie’s too) Mine are older now — and I LOVE the photos of when they were younger / without so much attitude and visions of what they think they should be projecting. Enjoy the stages you have!!! Pure!

  • Cheryl - Your daughter is simply delightful. I love love love that second photo of her mid-air. It’s perfectly depicts what we should all do … jump into life with our eyes closed and a smile on our faces.

  • Lori - Ditto on that second photo! You take the most amazing pictures, but this is one of my very favorites. Complete joyful surrender and faith! I’m a chronic planner too, but love this reminder to embrace the adventure in spontaneous joy.

  • Rita - My daughter Ryan (The Blooming Thread) because of a testimony I shared at church on Sunday…and I’m glad she did. I’ll read and r-read this over and over again. Thanks for sharing!

  • Shelly Cunningham - Such an amazing lesson from such a little girl. Thank you for sharing.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Oh firecracker. You teach me new things!

  • Dana - Oh goodness, that second photo took my breath away and now I have tears streaming down my face. My daughter is the same age and she has a similar spirit. I am so moved and inspired. Thank you Ashley and Firecracker!!! xoxox

  • susie - I think having lists and to-do’s for us helps our kids be more adventurous… Then they don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming! So don’t be to hard on yourself!

Around ten years ago, I began learning about the lack of access to clean water in various parts of the globe. It doesn’t take much research to learn what clean water means for a community. It the most basic way, it means life. Drinking dirty and contaminated water leads to all kinds of sicknesses that end a tremendous amount of lives. Young children are especially vulnerable because their immunities aren’t built up to fight off disease like adults. A case of diarrhea can become chronic, leading to malnutrition, leading to death. For many parts in the world, unsafe water is the only option.  I began supporting different organizations that provided clean water many years ago. As a family it became something we learned about together. I advocated for water wells and water purification systems on this blog. I don’t think you have to see something like lack of clean water to be passionate about seeing communities receive this most basic need.

I never thought I would see a community get a water well.

Then I went to Ghana.

For several years I’ve been a part of The Christmas Gathering, a local event by my friend Denise and her team. Part of the proceeds from the event go towards things like providing water wells in Ghana. While on our trip we were able to visit a village as they dedicated their first water well.

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The Chief shared all that the water well would mean to the village. In the community there are Christians, Muslims and those that practice Voodoo. The well had been provided by Christians, but the Chief and Denise spoke of how the well is for all people and how it should be a place of coming together and not division. The water would bring life, but it would also bring unity to the village. The water is for all.8.14ghana4-78.14ghana4-8

Because of our involvement in The Christmas Gathering, Denise asked Cindy and I to join the Chief in the ribbon cutting. I fought her a little on that…such an honor, but not one I deserved. I love how you can see the building excitement on everyone’s faces. Water was coming!!!!8.14ghana4-9

8.14ghana4-108.14ghana4-258.14ghana4-268.14ghana4-11The joy on the faces of moms standing nearby as the kids drank freely is something I will never forget. I  never worry about the water my kids drink. Watching these moms gather around the well without worry stopped me in my tracks.8.14ghana4-168.14ghana4-17Together the women immediately began filling their bowls to take home. It would take three women to lift the heavy bowls onto the head of another. So heavy!8.14ghana4-18Bowl after bowl. They kept coming.8.14ghana4-198.14ghana4-208.14ghana4-218.14ghana4-22

This is one of my favorite pictures. I snapped it with my iPhone. You can see the delight on her little face. Clean water came to her home. New life came to her village.8.14ghana4-24

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  • Betsy - What an incredible experience– I have enjoyed the pictures of the children sooo much – children’s faces are my favorite. Just wish I could capture them like you. Thank you for sharing them with us all.

  • Trisha - In what can sometimes seem to be a world full of sad news, I always love coming to your blog to be reminded of joys big and small that come about due to acts of kindness. Thank you.

  • Erica - Those amazing women. Those sweet children. So grateful for their water and for you to share their story. So moving and encouraging. Thank you!

  • Noel - Thank you for being there, taking pictures and writing about this. I feel like I am seeing it first-handed.

  • Laura S. - We in America take alot for granted. Not because we are selfish beings, because most have really never had to want or wish for clean drinking water and other sanitary conditions. I am very moved by your pictures and telling us about your journey. Have a blessed weekend!

  • Jenny L. - What a beautiful post. You are such a precious soul, Ashley. Seeing that clean clear water coming out the faucet is just so cool. I can imagine how excited they are. I can’t believe they can carry such weight on their heads. I have a bad neck and it makes me hurt just looking at them.

  • Erin m - that’s wonderful.

    You forget and take the little things for granted when it comes so easy to us.

  • Diana - Wow! Incredible!

  • Allison K - Such a beautiful post! The tears are flowing. I actually have been to a foreign country and seen a village receive the incredible gift of fresh clean water in the form of a well. But this post just brought everything that I saw a year ago flooding back.

  • ranee - beautiful photos of a beautiful story. thank you for sharing and for your involvement in helping make that well a reality.

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - It’s on my heart to share this with you – “If the devil can’t attack you, he’ll distract you.” I truly think that the terrible comments earlier this week were trying to distract you. Thank you for going forward with posting. Thank you for educating us. Thank you for sharing their joy with us.

  • Laura - Absolutely stunning pictures. Thank you for sharing

  • Asbeh - Ashley, you’re simply one of the most amazing people to exist. I legit love you.

  • angie - so beautiful.

  • Hannah Ashley - Hey Ashley! I’ve been so blessed by your posts on Ghana! Thank you for sharing all that God has taught you through your experiences! Your pictures are very touching.

    I’m about to go to Africa for a few weeks myself and I was interested in knowing what camera equipment you took with you???

  • Taylor - What an incredible experience! How lovely for you to be there to witness it.

    xoxo
    Taylor

  • Nancy Farmer - Beautiful….absolutely beautiful.

  • Haley - So beautiful! 5 years ago, I traveled to Africa and got a stomach parasite from bad water. I was able to get help quickly, but I know many people aren’t so this is an important cause for me. Thank you for sharing these pictures.

  • Brady Wilhelm - Chills!! Love this!

  • Carrie - Tears of joy for people a world away receiving something so critical to health and so readily available in the US. Thanks for prompting so many of us to action with your stories.

  • Ashley - absolutely breathtaking! what an honor to be a part of something like that.

  • Kim - Wow, I am moved to tears! What a great story. I am friends with Denise. I have gone to school with her sister Donna since first grade.

  • Ice Bucket Challenge | I Take Care of the Funny Farm - […] On another note, there have also been the people trying to compare the dumping of water as a waste to the people in places like Ghana, where water is a scarce commodity. I don’t think it is fair to make a person feel guilty for dumping water over their head when we have it. Especially in my case when I was standing in the pouring rain! I will share with you a link to my very favorite blog, Ashley at Under the Sycamore. She really can relate to the water shortage in Ghana as it has been something very dear to her heart http://ashleyannphotography.com/blog/2014/07/25/life-came-to-her-village/ […]