Christmas Letter 2017

Merry Christmas_The Plagemanns

With Love, Geoffrey, Emma, Hans, and Perry

In true midwest fashion, my father-in-law has inspired me to write up our year-in-review in the form of a (digital) holiday card. Whoohooo!

Now in full swing as a family of four, 2017 has proved to be a nice mix of exhausted-reality and so-much-joy.

To kick the year off, we celebrated a belated-Christmas with our extended families in Wisconsin and West Virginia. Our boys are seasoned air travelers and managed to keep big smiles on for Opa, Oma, Gram and Grandad, despite having a terrible bug that got the best of our New Year’s Eve. I cannot lie; living far away from grandparents is incredibly hard. We miss them, we cry, we FaceTime, we love them from afar, but then we VISIT! And oh are these visits sweet! 5 straight days of snuggles, chocolate milk, fireplaces, snow, mashed potatoes, playing pretend, and love that only grandparents can give. After sweet goodbyes and promises to “See you soon!”, we jumped on a teeny-tiny-commuter plane that was supposed to connect us back to San Diego, but instead, had technical difficulties and allowed us to spend an unexpected 5 hours in WV.

Back in San Diego, we squeezed in an off-season (residents-only, discounted) trip to DISNEY LAND. There was so much to see, but Hans and Perry only had eyes for Radiator Springs (Cars Land). We spent 3 days meeting Tow-Mater, spinning on tractors (in the rain), riding carousels, taking turns at the ‘single-rider-lines’ while the boys napped in the double stroller, eating carry-out, and crashing in our King-size suite on LaQuinta Returns Points. Taking our kids to Disney was better than we ever imagined. Hans figured out that he liked to plan his day ahead of time by drawing pictures of everything he wanted to do and Perry just loved sleeping between mom and dad in the hotel bed!

Spring was kicked off celebrating Hans’ 3rd (airplane themed) birthday where we took full advantage of him turning 3 on 3/3, his GOLDEN birthday!! Oh yeah, and Geoff turned 34 + Hans, again…

Birthday fun was followed up by a visit from Oma and Opa over Easter where we met the Easter Bunny, walked to church and participated in so many egg hunts. Our neighborhood even offered a free petting zoo to neighborhood kids where the boys were able to hold chickens, bunnies and ride a pony — although they were both more terrified of the pink-painted pony than they were of the Easter Bunny.

To follow up on our “See you soon!” promise, we hit the Friendly Skies again in May with a trip back to WV to visit family and shoot a wedding in the Appalachian Mountains. While our small business, checkerboardSTUDIOS, is indeed, small – it has afforded us so many opportunities to create, work for ourselves, and travel back to a place that is so near and dear to our hearts. Checkerboard for the WIN!

Because of all of that travel — This was the first year that we ever completely missed celebrating the 4th of July in Wisconsin (big mistake!).  And while good friends, and eating and drinking along the San Diego Bay is, no doubt, an amazing way to spend the 4th, we really missed our annual kayak and cabin trip with all of our Wisconsinites. Bummer!  So… we will be saving up to never let that happen again!

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August 3, 2017 was Perry’s FIRST Birthday! We threw a super fun pool party where Perry enjoyed (yet another) Daniel Tiger cake and celebrated with our beloved PLTC family. We just love Dan-Dan. Perry has such a sweet spirit. Even at ONE, he is thoughtful and kind. His moves are calculated and careful. He can already walk, talk, and hold his own with the big kids in the neighborhood. Perry is awesome!! But on to something you didn’t know…

To accompany Geoffrey going back to an office job this fall, both Hans and Perry started attending pre-school. Let’s just say the boys have adapted to the new schedule better than their dad! Geoffrey now takes an early train up to the City of Encinitas (about a 45 minute commute) every day where he is working as a City Planner, focused on housing requirements, walk-ability, and much, much more.


Paperwork and City Council meetings are the new (well…old, for those of you that knew him in WV and FL) normal. And while Geoff is back to the 7-5 routine, the boys are enjoying their sunny days, at their new pre-school where they get to take swim and soccer lessons, learn their ABCs, take items in for “share day,” and develop into amazing little humans!

We have all been blown away by how much they have learned from school. Hans has a new best friend (Vivian) and Perry – well, Perry likes to fall asleep on bean-bag-chairs.


It really was a year of BIG birthdays… Perry, 1; Hans, Golden 3 on 3/3; and Grandad, 60!! Gram decided to throw a big SURPRISE party for Grandad, so of course, we decided to be part of the SURPRISE! We are still not sure how we all pulled it off, but after a quick FaceTime call from our house on Grandad’s birthday, we took off up in the air, flying to Columbus, for a secret overnight stay and early morning drive into WV… just in time for the Party! It was so fun!

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Grandad was truly surprised, and we weren’t the only ones who had journeyed in from out of state. Uncle Charlie came up from Florida and a lot of our cousins, aunts and uncles drove over from DC. The stories that were shared about Grandad’s life, faith, and love were inspiring. It is no wonder he felt like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, Grandad really is “the richest man in town”.

Along with our travel this year, we have enjoyed so many casual evenings and weekends with our neighborhood friends. From movie nights, to dance parties, to pool days, to hikes in the slough, our little commune truly is our happy place. ❤


So.Cal also welcomed visits from Uncle Brandon and Jennifer, cousin Robert, Auntie Sarah, as well as Kent and Christine. With no shortage of fun in San Diego, we all enjoyed the Science Museum (video games through the years exhibit), the Zoo/Safari Park, the beach, downtown, and plenty of good food (mostly just Tajima Ramen and tacos, but… YUMMM TAJIMA RAMEN and TACOS!).

We are keeping it quiet and low key for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year… gearing up for another belated-Christmas in Wisconsin and West Virginia… and fingers crossed our first family ski-trip in the early spring! We have so much to look forward to, and so much to be thankful for. We are ending this year feeling blessed beyond belief.

Merriest Christmas to our dear, sweet family and friends! Y’all make every moment, every mile, every flight, every struggle, and every effort worth it!

So much LOVE,

The Plagemanns (Emma, Geoffrey, Hans, Perry and Joplin)


This past Thanksgiving weekend we took our first real road trip as a family of 4 (5 if you count the pup), and traveled to Willard, Utah  where we had a sweet 5-day reunion with my married in family. We rented a huge AirBnB house (toy room, trampoline and hot tub included) and spent our days eating delicious homemade meals and doing nothing more than enjoying each others’ company: working puzzles, sipping wine, and sneaking in a few fireside naps. And it is at this point in my weekend-description that I would expect my 2.5 year old to be bored to tears and begging for YouTube, but instead he surprised me… 

Day after day I would ask him what he wanted to play, how he wanted to fill our long hours together. And day after day he simply requested that ‘Mommy elephant’ come play with ‘Hansie-elephant’. 

Meet: ‘Mommy-elephant’ and ‘Hansie-elephant’…

FYI: ‘Elephants’ come to life when your hand is perched up on your finger tips in the shape of an elephant, trunk outstretched for effect. 

Each day we would steal away (typically underneath the over-sized kitchen table) and play, play, play! Sans toys. Sans iphones. Sans stuff. And each day, I witnessed my son chosing one-on-one time with me over a house full of toys. 

Our elephant-fingers provided hours of entertainment and laughter. They danced around like puppets. They blew their little elephant trunks. They buckled up in their seat belts and traveled around town. They explored the great outdoors. They visited pretend toy stores. They held hands to cross a pretend street. They practiced going potty. They even practiced ‘tooting’. Then, of course, they practiced flushing, washing, being ‘on their way’…(Thank you, Daniel Tiger). 

…But most incredibly, they turned precious little fingers into precious little memories. They reminded me (as this holiday season approaches) that all my children really want is TIME. Time with those they love. Time with ‘Mommy-elephant’. 🐘

2016 Mama’s Night Out, San Diego

This is my son, Hans: 

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Hansie-bear. Cute, right?

Hans is 2 1/2 years old and cannot (or will not) say the word “milk”.  He can repeat nearly every word in the English language, even the ones he should not, and quite a few in Spanish, but he still doesn’t say “milk”.  He does drink gallons of it, weekly. He drinks so much “milk” that we quit buying organic, because it just wasn’t in the budget…

So when Hans asks for his “milk” he still says “My Mmmmmm…” while giving us the sign for milk, fist squeezing good “Mmmmmm”!  This is adorable, and endearing, but has nothing to do with Pediatric Cancer, right?


While volunteering checkerboardSTUDIOS’ photography services to the 2016 Mama’s Night Out, San Diego, I had the privilege of hearing Parker’s Grandma speak on behalf of his parents.  Parker Landis is a spunky six year old kid living with DIPG, a rare and lethal childhood brain cancer with no cure.

This is Parker: 

parker landis.jpg

Parker is a kid that I have never met, a kid that I’m positive is a super-star, but also a kid that I previously had no connection with… But then his grandma said in the midst of her speech that Parker, for the longest time, could not say “helicopter”…

And that’s when it hit me. That’s when I lost it. That’s when I knew this could be MY kid. My kid living with brain cancer.  My Hansie-bear, who can’t say “milk”…That could be me up front giving a speech, begging fellow moms to support this cause that does not affect them and their children.  That could be me talking about Hans and his “Mmmmmm”, praying that he can live long enough to learn to pronounce it correctly, “milk“.

This is Mama’s Night Out: 


In preparation for the 2nd annual Mama’s Night Out in San Diego, I spoke with several fellow mama’s (really, really great mamas I might add) that admitted that they “just couldn’t attend”.  Emotionally, it was just too tough.  And first, let me say, I GET IT. I really do get it. This stuff is hard.


Really, really hard.  


There were moments that I had to hide behind my camera lens because I felt guilty.


I was near sobbing.  Crying so hard, when there were Warrior Mama’s right in front of me, pictures scrolling on the slideshow of their kids that are dying, or have already died.

It is so, so hard.


But then again…


…Our support…


…this community…


…and these moms…


…are so…


…so important.


After spending hours, laughing, talking, drinking, crying, and then laugh-crying with these women, I learned that these beautiful, strong, incredible women are just moms.


They are just moms that have been thrown into their worst nightmare.


They are just moms that look forward to waking up with their babies.


And they are just moms that look forward to those sweet moments when everyone’s head has hit the pillow and they can sip on a glass of wine, alone.


They are just moms.


They are just moms that need a hug.


They are just moms that need support.


And they are just moms that understand that sometimes this stuff is “just too hard” …


…but unfortunately, for them, there is no way out.


What was one evening of ‘tough’ for me, is a lifetime of tough for them.


And that makes me want to do all that I can to give back to these women, their families, and research for a cure for DIPG.


If only I had unlimited funds to throw at this horrible disease.


If only I could do more.


For now, I have a camera…and a blog. Please join me in spreading the word and helping stand up and fight the reality that is pediatric cancer any way you can.

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View all photos here. 



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My husband and I are partners. Partners in life. Partners in business. Partners in parenting. Partners in all the crazy. And while I typically use this blog to share our family, our work and our life’s passions, this weekend Geoffrey blew me away with his patience and talent, and I feel compelled to share one of the many blessings I have in my PARTNER! A blog post to say I love you. A blog post to say THANK YOU GEOFFREY.
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If I were writing a post about photography (or even about parenting), I would advise each of you that 38+ weeks is NEVER the time to squeeze in a maternity shoot. In fact, the only thing a mother-to-be should be doing at 38+ weeks is laying in bed and deciding if she should go pee before telling Netflix that she would like to ‘continue’…
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Sketch Relief – Panda Express 

With the adult coloring book trend circulating in full force, I figured why not try a little Sketch Relief. Took 20 minutes this afternoon to reflect on my time spent with my sweet son at the San Diego Zoo last Friday.

Super affordable season passes to both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park make it really easy for us to pop in for a 2-3 hour excursion rather then exhausting a whole day with my rambunctious two year old. Hans and I flew solo, (Daddy had to work) and spent the majority of our time with the giraffes “g-affs!”, shared a packed lunch with a statue of an extinct wolf, shared an ice cream cone in near empty (weekday) patio, watched a camel ‘poooooo!’ and were able to spend a few precious hours to bonding over funny birds and fuzzy pandas.

Life is crazy with a two year old (and one on the way), but spending a few priceless hours with out any agenda really provided some much needed R&R, even more so then the Panda Sketch Relief (above).

Here is to uninterrupted moments with those we love.      ❤️🐼

The Ah-HA Moment

San Diego Here We Come

This was one of my biggest Ah-HA-moments-to-date…

I was browsing the AIA San Diego Job Board, and I was turned off again and again by Entry and Mid-level Architect/Designer positions.  One of them was even titled ‘Minion’.

I know, you think you are being funny and clever, but in reality the lack of respect for experience, motivation, and education was just OOZING from this joke of a title…  ‘Minion’, is that really all the regard my profession holds for someone who has just spent the last 5-8 years of their life preparing, day and night, to enter the ‘profession of their dreams’?  Come on, ‘a’rchitects.
A little respect, please.
:::End Rant::

Anyway, I was browsing the AIA San Diego Job Board, and came across a posting with the title ‘Senior Marketing Coordinator’, and as I read the description all I could think was OH-MY-GOD-THIS-IS-MY-JOB.  It was the exact description of the work I have been LOVING for the past 6 years, it was in San Diego, and it was not titled ‘Minion’.  So, I dropped everything I was doing, stayed up until 3am [what’s new?] whipped out my resume, portfolio, and cover letter just hours after seeing the ad, and BAM, landed an interview.

After going through a seemingly endless process, that I will not bore you with, I GOT THE JOB… but after all — OH-MY-GOD-THIS-WAS-MY-JOB to begin with…  So why was I so shocked? >>> Probably because they offered me a job that I love, are going to ‘let’ me live in San Diego, and are even going to pay me to do so… WHAT?!?! Amazing.

So, I started working for JCJ Architecture, from my home in WV, a little over one month ago, and now the time has officially come for us to pack it up and move to the West Coast.  Geoff and I are so totally stoked to move to San Diego, start our new life in Ocean Beach, and make a life-change that is precisely what we want.

Geoff is going to take on the role of ‘Stay-at-Home-Dad’ [guhhh, I know, I know…we are soooo trendy 😛 ] and begin taking on checkerboardSTUDIOS full time.  And I am going to take on ‘The Office’ once more! [channeling Peggy Olsen…]

Of course, I am feeling sad to leave my WV home, family and friends.  But gosh, I am also feeling so, SO GOOD, about life’s next big Ah-HA!

Stay tuned, next up: blogging the move!

Snuggles Instead of Pies

If I were being completely honest, the last time I felt pure, unexplainable joy during the Holidays was probably a year that I still believed in Santa and purchased my family’s gifts from my Elementary School’s make-shift Dollar Store.

As enjoyable as Christmas with my ever-growing family can be, pure joy has not been on the menu for some time.

Presents, yes.
Warm hugs, yes.
Fireside chats, yes.
Food that warms your soul, yes.
Great friends, yes…

But PURE JOY, not so easy to come by.

But this year was different:

This year I finished my shopping on Christmas Eve at 3pm. This year I only sent 25% of our Christmas Cards. This year I invited my family into a dirty house. This year I ‘bagged’ 90% of the gifts. This year I doubled the flour in TWO apple pies… Oops. This year the apple pies were disgusting. This year I wore my hair in a pony-tail. But this year…. was full of pure, pure JOY.

My husband asked me if I had smoked pot before this year’s family gatherings…

My mom joked that I had consumed a cup of Christmas ‘cheer’…

No, I didn’t smoke anything. And Yes, I was completely sober…

So what was different?


I experienced the joy of Christmas through the eyes of another. My younger, wiser, 9 month old son.

This year his laughter filled all the voids.

He cackled as he saw his reflection wearing an elf outfit. He cooed as he tried new foods for the first time. He babbled while his Grandad prayed. He sang aloud during the Candlelight Service. He found hilarity in cardboard boxes, wooden spoons, and ceiling fans. He clapped when he was happy. He slept when I was tired… He made me realize that everything I was doing for the holidays, and even for others, paled in comparison to the pure joy that laughter, relationships, and love can bring.

His joy set an example of peace and simplicity, and for that, I am so very thankful.

I enjoyed snuggles instead of pies, hugs instead of presents, and laughter instead of stress. And what a magical Christmas it was.

Merry Christmas friends and family. I hope you have a wonderful New Year full of laughter, love, and PURE JOY.



I am The Poof


I’m not sure when I became so comfy.

Maybe it’s my softer than usual post-baby-belly? Or maybe it’s because I constantly smell like food — smashed baby food and dried breast milk have become my constant aroma… But you can go ahead and call me the ‘Poof’, the Poof chair that is. You know, the GIANT BEANBAG chairs that don’t fit through doorways and swallow you whole until you’ve digested your Thanksgiving dinner? Yes, the ‘Poof’, the worlds most comfortable human being.

I realized tonight that I am my family’s snoozing point, their ‘Poof’. If it’s not the baby, it’s the dog, and if it’s not the dog, it’s the husband… Sometimes I think if I just sprawled out on the floor, all by my lonesome, the beings would sniff me out and pile on.

I am the dumping ground for all Zzzzz’s, toots, slobbers, wet noses, dirty paws, and hairy beasts.

And tonight…I got frustrated.

So frustrated, in fact, that I passed off my crying baby to my hairy beast of a husband and plopped myself down on the hardwood floor, ALL BY MYSELF — for an entire 90 seconds. Then I was wallowed by the dog and succumbed to the fact that my boobs bring joy. So much joy that I got back up and nursed my little boy until he fell asleep in my arms. He cried and he nursed, but then… he fell asleep. And in my whirl-wind of frustration I realized that I am the ‘Poof’. One giant Poof, where all beings go to sleep.

Then I smiled. Because I am not just any Poof, I am the Momma Poof…

Yes. I get the slobbers, and the poots, and all those dirty paws, but I also get the love. All that love! The puppy love, the baby love, AND the hubby love. I get all the snuggles, all the kisses, all the laughter, and all the love. And tonight, I am the luckiest girl in the world.

Go ahead family…lay on me, breathe on me, fart on me, sleep on me. Do what you gotta do, because all I’m going to do is love on you, and cherish every stinky, slobbery moment.





The Moment


Is it even possible to be part of the moment if you are capturing the moment? Then, is it possible to see the moment if you are viewing the moment from the lens of another?

For a very short time, my memory of my own wedding day was of the way my husband’s eyes looked as he made a life long vow to me. That same memory felt the sunshine on my forehead and the way our fingers felt as they trembled in front of our friends and family.  And yes, I still hold a sliver of this memory.  But now, that moment, our vow sharing, has transformed into something completely different.   It is now a memory from the eyes of another (well, two others): Our Photographers.

Their view is breathtaking, it is beautiful, it is vivid, and it is symmetrical — but it has faded my own.  The more I look at the pictures, prints, and memory books, the more our photographers’ view becomes my own memory.  And to think, the photographers’ memories are not even close to mine… They consist of sweaty shoes, sore calves, and a cocktail that was never finished because it was time for my bouquet toss…

Photo credit:  The Oberports, West Virginia Wedding Photographers

Photo credit: The Oberports, West Virginia Wedding Photographers

I have conjured memories of my own wedding day from the lens of another; And now I am left wondering how many memories I myself, a life-long photographer enthusiast and now professional, have altered. Have I actually captured my clients/friends’ special days and personal memories?  Or have I given them a separate set of moments, captured by my lens, that neither I, nor they, ever truly experienced? Is it then possible for another, unassociated person, to have those same memories from the same detached viewpoint?

What happens when we see instead of capture? And what happens when we capture instead of see? And for that matter, what viewpoint do we develop when we only view the captured, without seeing? Is one way superior?

Interestingly enough, the strongest memory of my wedding day is not one that was caught on camera.  Our photographers’ 8 hours of paid shooting time was long past and the night was coming to an end when my brand new husband whispered in my ear, “look around”, “these people will never all be in the same room, ever again.” As I glanced from face to face, our friends and family all swayed back and forth, shoulders locked, singing an off pitch rendition of “Country Roads”.  I smelled my husband’s neck, a mix of sweaty cologne and aftershave, and tears filled my eyes because I knew I would never forget.  I also knew that no one else would ever feel, in that moment, what I felt and will remember for a lifetime.

Now you have some obscure, half-version of my memory, but I know, no matter my story telling abilities, or even if I had a picture that said 1000 words, you will never know the love that I have sealed in that one moment. It is a selfish moment and I am glad we don’t have a picture to distort it.  The memory is all mine, never skewed, never re-remembered. (except maybe now…as I re-read this passage.)

I would never, not even for a second, take back the stunning pictures that were captured on my wedding day.  They were worth every penny and tell a story that I could never fully recall.  I will cherish them always and I will share them with generations to come…But I will also hold dear the few precious moments that I was not in front of the lens.  Those moments that are so selfishly mine — Beautiful and irreplaceable.

If this post brings any conclusion: Put your cameras down, if only for a moment, and go make a few memories that can never be distorted.