day 1 – music mix

well, it is officially that time of year again. i guess we have become the type of family that only updates their blog once a year. but when we do it, we do it with style.

yes, i am talking about our annual tradition of updates affectionately known as the 12 days of Christmas. this has become a staple in our family, and each year we enjoy counting down the days to Christmas alongside our readers. just as we’ve done in years past, we have a ton of updates planned for you over the next several days. through photos, videos, and and a handful of stories, we will try to give you a glimpse of what this year has meant to our family.

and of course, you know we always get the party started with a music mix. if you are looking for the perfect blend of holiday musical goodness, look no further. straight from our heart to yours, we proudly present the Christmas 2012 music mix. just click on the image below, and it will automatically start downloading. once the folder is completely downloaded, simply import it into itunes, and start listening. we genuinely hope you like it, and as always, thank you so much for being a part of our little family tradition.

day 12 – merry Christmas

well here we are. the final day of our Christmas countdown. first of all, if you have stuck around to this point, thank you so much for reading and following along. your interest in our lives and family is humbling.

originally, we had some real big plans for this final post on Christmas day. such big plans, in fact, that you probably would have wet your pants. now what on earth could i be talking about?

well, you know how much we like to dance, right? i mean, if there is one thing we do regularly in this house, it is dance. we have dance-offs every week, and now that the boys are getting older, they like to join in as well.

so, as you may have guessed, we were going to create a video of a typical dance-off in our house. but unfortunately, with the hustle and bustle of Christmas, we just weren’t able to pull it off. believe me, we were just as bummed as you are.

but fear not faithful readers. that video shall one day become a reality. and when it does, i promise it will not disappoint. until then, we wish you the merriest of Christmases. thank you again for spending this season with us.

day 11 – kelly

So here it is… 2:35 pm on the day I’m supposed to write my post and in classic Kelly fashion I’m about 6 hours late. What can I say? I had writer’s block! Ha! No, that’s not true. I just had to work last night and tonight and oddly enough, I just haven’t had time to sit down and write until now. Excuses, excuses!

I’ll tell ya this much, no videos for this post! Sorry to disappoint. I like to leave my readers with their own vision of what my ridiculously non-glamourous life might look like. I’m still the mom who finds the time to each morning to throw her hair up in two randomly placed clips, all the while achieving that beautiful, natural messy look! I know, what can I say… some gals have it and some don’t. Sheesh… why do you think Dusty sticks around?

All in all, it’s been a pretty great year! The boys are getting more independent, and by that I mean they can now put holes in the wall without any help at all! And if you have read any of the previous posts, they can easily entertain themselves while I decorate, beautify myself, and make perfectly delicious and nutritious meals that are ready every night at 5:30. It’s really pretty stinkin’ easy this whole mothering thing! Ha!

Actually, um… NO! Still struggling with the same inadequacies as last year, only they seem to be a little easier to accept this year. I have come to understand that while some days, or rather most days, no one sees all the hard work I put into raising my children to be well rounded, happy, God loving gentlemen I know that God does and His approval is the ONLY one that I should be concerned with. This can be hard when others point out parenting weaknesses or missteps, however I know that the Lord sees my intentions and he sees my desires for my children. I pray each night for the Lord to give me the tools and the guidance to raise these precious boys. I really feel so privileged to be their mother and I do not take it for granted! Dusty and I are so blessed as he mentioned in his post. I too have been wonderfully impacted by his work this year!

The founder and director of the St. Gerard House is the beautiful Ms. Caroline Long. If I could wrap her up and stick her in my pocket to have at all times for parenting examples and advice I would. She is incredible and has inspired me all year long and she probably does not even know it. This woman is not only beautiful on the outside, but I’m not kidding when I say she is truly a beautiful person on the inside. She created a safe haven for children with autism to learn, grow, and become part of this world and her inspiration has been her own two precious children. Caroline is the definition of grace under fire and to see her in action is to see kindness and vision personified. She shared with me her own parenting struggles and while she has truly faced adversity she represents a common thread among any parent who desires greatness for their child. I love this gal, and if you are looking for a cause to get fired up about then please visit the St. Gerard House website to learn more about how Caroline is changing the face of autism.

In other news at the Stepp house we have had a small pest problem revealed for the first time on the day of Jackson’s 3rd birthday party. As I walked out onto the porch in preparation for the party, I noticed a nest of spiderlings had hatched out. In disgust I ran down stairs and grabbed what would prove to be my new best friend for the year, the Ortho hornet and wasp spray. I came back up and sprayed (or hosed) the front porch area with the spray. In doing so, I must have killed the mother spider. Wanna know what kind of spider it was? None other than the black widow! EEEK! Relieved and impressed with my killing ability I quietly patted myself on the back and gave thanks I killed those dang things for good. Or so I thought… as it would turn out, the blood bath would have to continue. My total for the last six month is now up to 43! You read that correctly folks, forty three black widow spiders have been murdered at the Stepp home. I go out at night with Dusty’s head lamp and the Ortho hornet and wasp spray in hand and I am relentless. Dusty absolutely hates critters and I apparently don’t seem to mind them or mind killing them, so I do. In true show-n-tell fashion I even brought some in to show the gals at work. Is it time for a documentary? Maybe? Or, maybe it is time I freaking call the Orkin man.

Another highlight of the year has been the birth of my nephew Preston Lane. Emily asked me to be there for his birth and it worked out that I was able to make it. She was amazing! Emily labored completely natural and did not even know it. She requested her epidural and then only needed it for the pushing part. Which was for about 12 seconds. She pushed little Preston out in two pushes! AMAZING! So honored to be there for her!

Still working night shift on Labor and Delivery and in January I will move to days for a month while some transitioning occurs on our unit and I am looking forward to the experience. Thanks to Kendra and Lindsay for encouraging me to take the plunge and try the light of day. I will go back to nights, at least for a period of time, and then possibly make the switch for good at some point in the near future. I just pray I can keep up!

Once again, thank you for following the Stepps and from our family to yours Merry Christmas!

day 10 – dusty

we are getting down to the final posts of our 12 days of Christmas. this is the part where we get to talk a little about how this year has affected us individually. i am writing from my perspective today, and kelly will be giving her thoughts tomorrow. as i reflect on this year, i have decided to take my words in a slightly different direction.

this has truly been a fantastic year. my business has taken on more work than ever before, and i have had some of the most amazing opportunities imaginable. i could tell you stories about shooting videos all across the country in breath-taking locations. i could tell you stories about producing videos that helped raise money and awareness for several non-profit organizations. i could tell you stories about creating large-scale advertisements that were seen across the web, movie theaters, and television screens.

but none of that is what i want to talk about. instead, i want to talk about how these opportunities and this work has affected me on a much deeper level. a very real and personal level. a family level.

i don’t know if you have gathered this or not, but being a dad is a really big deal to me. i have a soft spot for children, and in some harmonious way, i feel like that part of my personality aligned perfectly with a lot of the work i produced this year.

i worked with multiple schools for children with autism. i worked with resource centers that provide services to teenage mothers and children in need. i worked with organizations that aid in the continued healing of children and adults that have survived cancer.

and while each of these experiences were eye-opening in their own way, i must say that what moved me the most was being exposed to autism. it is staggering how many children are faced with this disorder, and the numbers continue to grow each year. even worse, there are limited resources for help, and ultimately, there is no real cure.

as a parent of two healthy children, it is easy to take their health for granted. hearing the stories and challenges from parents of children with autism really puts life into perspective. it is inspirational, and it teaches me to be a better parent. i appreciate even the smallest things so much more. i hug a little tighter. i kiss a little longer. and i thank God for the often-overlooked blessing of healthy children.

there are only a handful of organizations properly equipped to give families facing autism the help that is necessary. one of these such places is the St Gerard House. they contacted me earlier this year about creating a video to promote what they do. this video was a game-changer for me, and it is one of the most special pieces that i have ever produced. so, if you would like to see some of my professional work outside of all the family videos, this is a good place to start. i really urge you to take the time to watch this and learn not only about the wonderful services provided by the St Gerard House, but also about autism in general. it will most likely change your outlook.

so yes, i was blessed beyond belief with so many great opportunities this year. but for me personally, never before has it been less about the work and more about the experience.

day 9 – mother’s day

if you have kept up with our family in the past, then you already know that the boys and i love doing something special for kelly on mother’s day each year. this year was no different.

kelly loves wildflowers. so we decided to create a custom notebook filled with polaroid photos of some of the prettiest wildflowers in this area. the boys took all of the photographs themselves, scribbled bright colored drawings throughout the notebook, and then used individual letters to typeset their own title. it is truly something special.

and of course, i made a video documenting the entire process of creating this surprise gift. when we gave the notebook to kelly, we all sat down and watched this video together. the music used is a song called “daisies, roses, dandelions” by a group named wind and willow. enjoy.

day 8 – Christmas cards

we put a lot of thought and effort into Christmas cards each year. we love starting with a blank canvas and forcing our creative minds to get outside of the box. our goal is always to create something memorable. something that we are proud to mail out to friends and family. something that we can look back on years from now and smile about.

we went with a retro theme for this year’s Christmas cards. it all started with kelly mentioning that she would love to take an older-looking photo this year. as soon as those words came out of her mouth, my mind started running. we went straight to the drawing board and began sketching out ideas. it didn’t take long for us to come up with the final concept.

in order to be authentically retro, i new that i wanted to shoot with an actual polaroid camera. and it just so happens that the brand new polaroid Z340 was recently released. it was a no-brainer.

no photoshop. no silly filters. no iphone apps. just the raw image straight from the camera. printed in a way that only polaroid can achieve. it is a thing of beauty.

so, the first step was to shoot the individual polaroids of our family. the direction was to keep it fun and light-hearted. we also wanted to try and connect the photos with our poses and body language. and just for the record, i don’t actually wear glasses. they were just a prop to add that extra bit of retro spice.

once the polaroids were shot and printed, i then set each of them up on a white freezer door with lettered buttons that were made to look like magnets. we wanted it to resemble a group of polaroids stuck on an old refrigerator door. i blasted the scene with some studio lights, and basically shot a photo of the photos.

the final step was to add the “Merry Christmas” text. as a typography nerd, i was so stoked to use this beautiful retro script with just the right blend of pink and red. and just like that, it all came together.

so, hot off the press, i give you our 2011 Christmas cards.

day 7 – potty training

if there is one thing that we have worked diligently on this year, it is potty training.

all in all, i would say that it has gone pretty smoothly. i mean, there was the time that jackson pooped on my office floor right as a client was pulling in the driveway. or the time that we were moving furniture and discovered a little surprise inside the ottoman. and i can’t tell you how many times puddles of pee have been covered with books.

but we stayed on top of it, and we drilled the idea of using the potty into jackson’s mind. so much so, that he started inadvertently singing about it in his songs. i bet you’ve never heard this verse before.

we quickly learned that a little incentive can go a long way. in other words, treats. if jackson went to the potty, he received some candy. and while we tried several different types of treats, the favorite was easily jelly beans. as you may have figured, seeing jackson receive jelly beans for using the potty made emerson want to join in on the action. that little dude can muster up a trip to the bathroom if there is candy involved. and since they earned jelly beans for going to pee, emerson cleverly renamed them “go-pees”. and it stuck. even now, both of the boys still call jelly beans “go-pees”.

jackson’s biggest tactic is playing the poop card. he likes to save it until just the right time, which is usually when we are trying to get him in bed. in an effort to stay up even later, he waits until he is completely tucked in and says, “hey dust, i think i need to go poo-poo.” every single night. without fail.

so we head to the bathroom, he picks out a magazine, and i wait patiently. when he finishes, i usually hear something like this, “i pooped a big time”, followed by, “let’s take a picture and show kell.” and yes, at any given time, you could probably pick up my phone and find some photos of my child’s poop. now before you jump to any conclusions, i will say that we do this so that kelly can share in his celebration on the nights that she is working. he gets so excited and wants to call her and show her his big accomplishment.

sure, some of these tactics may be a little strange, but they have worked, and we can proudly say that jackson is now fully potty trained. and with emerson just around the corner, hopefully we can use what we have learned. one word: “go-pees”.

day 6 – brothers

since you have already seen both of our boys individually, we wanted to give you a glimpse of them as brothers.

they are a tight-knit pair. they certainly fight, but overall, they play pretty well together. when they wake up each morning, the first thing they do is look for the other one. and before they go to bed each night, the last thing they do is hug one another. it is a bond that only brothers can share, and it is so fun to watch.

emerson always wants to be right in the middle of whatever jackson is doing. many times, this works out just fine. but other times, jackson is not so welcoming, and he tries to send that message loud and clear. sometimes using words. sometimes using screams. and yes, sometimes using a plastic baseball bat.

and even though they can sometimes be so mean to one another, they always seem to come back to a happy place. in fact, one of the sweetest things they do each night is read books together. usually jackson will read a book that emerson chooses, and then emerson will read a book that jackson chooses. it is precious. in this video, jackson is reading one of their favorite books to emerson.

they both have a love for construction equipment, and emerson is particularly drawn to big trucks. every week, they sit and wait for the garbage truck to come and pick up our trash. coincidentally, that has led them to start their own garbage service. their cozy coupe car has now been converted to a garbage truck, and emerson is the man that hangs on to the back of the truck while jackson drives. jackson even uses the names of our actual neighbors along their garbage route.

we are a family that craves music. we also love to dance. and while we hardly ever watch television, we make exceptions for music awards. in this video, the boys are dancing to a musical performance. they are laughing and having a ton of fun. so much, in fact, that emerson forgets to stop spinning.

and finally, we will leave you with one of the funniest things we have seen them do yet. one evening, kelly walked into our room only to find that they had gotten into her bathroom cabinet. and while they had thrown stuff everywhere, their focus seemed to be on the floor vent. as we looked a little closer, it became apparent that they were grilling. what were they grilling? hot dogs, of course.

boy do we ever have our hands full.

day 5 – digger

most of you probably already know that i produce videos for a living. i work from home, which allows me to spend a ton of time with my family.

but this year i have traveled more than usual. a lot of my work has taken me to some pretty spectacular locations in extremely remote areas. i have literally been off the grid for weeks at a time. no cell phone. no power. no communication. and whenever you are accustomed to putting your kids to bed every night, that can be a pretty radical change.

there is one bedtime story in particular that jackson really loves. it is a story that we made up about his favorite construction equipment. so, knowing that i wouldn’t be able to talk to the boys while traveling, i had to come up with a different way of tucking them in each night. and that is why i made this video.

each night that i was gone, kelly could let them watch this, and they could hear their favorite bedtime story directly from me. it was just a simple way for us to stay connected even though i was so far away.

i will never forget stepping off of an airplane and having cell phone service for the first time in days. when i turned my phone on, this was the first thing i saw. kelly had sent a picture of the boys watching the video at my desk. priceless.

day 4 – jackson

and then there is jackson, or as we affectionately call him, “jax”.

he is extremely bright. the thinker. and yes, the entertainer. he has such a likable personality and demeanor. always the life of the party, he thrives on being in the spotlight.

jackson has been a talker from day one. he carries on conversations like an adult. seriously, we sometimes forget that we are talking to a three-year-old. some of the things that he says and comprehends are absolutely mind-blowing.

one of his biggest loves has always been cooking. he is fascinated with steam and smoke and fire. to cultivate this interest, kelly often lets him cook with her in the kitchen. he has his own stool and apron, and he loves “dabbing” the food with his “boom boom”. in this video, he is only two-years-old and completely aware of what he is doing on the stove. before watching this, you should also know that he likes to call us by our first names. don’t ask.

there are so many things jackson does to make us laugh, but throughout the course of this year, one of our favorites has been his time-telling. anytime you ask him what time it is, or what time something happened, he quickly responds with “bout 48”. it cracks us up. in this video, he even takes it a step further and adds a “6” to the end of it.

not only does jackson love to talk, but he also enjoys singing. he knows several different songs, but recently, he has been singing a lot of the tunes from his favorite show, Bob the Builder. here is a little number that is guaranteed to stay in your head for a while.

but above everything else, jackson’s favorite thing right now is construction, or as he calls it, “struction”. he is obsessed with construction equipment, and he can name every piece of machinery found on any given site. not a day goes by that he isn’t moving dirt, loading gravel, or booming down trees. in fact, he even has a crew that works for him, which consists of reilly (my brother-in-law), cody (a neighborhood friend), hippie chris (a guy that works for my dad), and diggy dac (someone he completely made up). in this video, he is telling me a little bit about his his construction equipment and worksite.

so there you have it. a little sneak peak into the world of jackson. like i said before, never a dull moment.