Thursday, August 18, 2011

Celebrating Laiken: Senior {Allen, TX Senior Photography}

I alluded briefly to the grand adventure we had during Laiken's senior session a few weeks back. It's just too good of a story not to share in detail. So, fasten your seat belts, everyone. You're in for a good ride - a wonderfully long road trip down memory lane!

Don't worry. You'll also find some beautiful images of Laiken in this post as well.

We had good reason to celebrate Laiken this night! Not only is she a recent Allen High School graduate (and now freshman at The University of Arkansas), but she has also survived two heart surgeries this past year.

Before I tell you about her session, I wanted to take the time to share Laiken's story with you.

In the Spring of 2010 Laiken was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and needed to have immediate corrective heart surgery. Her diagnosis was very similar to a condition that took the life of a young football player in our area around that time, so they were warned that this was very serious.

Laiken's first surgery to correct her Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome was successful, but it also uncovered a second underlying condition - Right Ventricular Tachycardia - and the need for a second surgery. Unfortunately, the surgeons were unsuccessful in their attempt to correct this condition and a third surgery at another hospital was looming in their future.

Amazingly, this surgery has not been necessary. Unexplainably, Laiken's heart settled into somewhat of a "hold pattern" and she was able to start her senior year of High School as planned - stabilized by various medications and wearing a 24/7 portable heart monitor.

Laiken's mom Cindy later shared with me that Laiken is the youngest patient ever to have heart surgery at The Heart Hospital Baylor in Plano. Not surprisingly, she was quite the popular patient among the physicians and nurse staff during her hospital stays.

Their family and friends also rallied around them in support - which was a tremendous gift of encouragement to both Laiken and her family. Undoubtedly, their prayers hold the key to Laiken's unexpected recovery.

Through it all, Laiken has handled her situation with extreme grace and maturity beyond her years. As you can see, she is a gorgeous young lady! Her inner character makes her even more so.

You might recall that Laiken won my Senior Pictures Contest at the end of 2010. We have been waiting to schedule her session until the doctors okayed the removal of her heart monitor. By the time that happened and the rash from the tape had healed, we found ourselves in the middle of summer - and a sweltering one at that. But, it was now or never. Laiken was scheduled to leave for college in less than a month.

Yes, it was HOT! But, what a FUN session it was!

The adventure started while I was out location scouting in preparation for Laiken's session. I had been eying this little run-down historical house in town for quite some time now. I've been itching to take pictures there, but the right client just hadn't come along.

Until now. Laiken was my girl! I just knew it!

After taking a closer look at the location, my brain was spinning with so many fantastic ideas. I was really looking forward to creating something out of the ordinary at that site and knew Laiken was perfect for what I had in mind.

Imagine my disappointment at the discovery of a (recently used) sleeping bag in the upstairs loft of that very same abandoned jewel of a location. It turns out I wasn't the only one trespassing.

Someone had made a temporary home out of my prized location!

I wasn't exactly excited about bringing a client into a situation where it was highly likely an unexpected visitor might decide to join us. I'm all for an adventure - just not of that sort.

My friend Debra Klawetter (who came along on the session to assist) agreed. It wasn't safe. Instantly, my hopes and dreams came crashing down.

Scratch Plan A!

Location B was a lush, beautifully back-lit, tree-lined, green pasture I had stumbled across (i.e. scouted out). It promised to be the perfect backdrop for the recently borrowed, green velvet, antique settee I had planned for Laiken's session.

Thank you, Chantel!

Just as we were about to position the settee, Debra made another unwelcome discovery.

Poison Ivy - and quite a bit of it.

Thank Goodness for the baby wipes Cindy keeps stowed away in her car. Debra and I quickly wiped off our ankles and said a quick prayer of thanks that my highly allergic client hadn't yet made contact with the lush patch of ivy.

So much for Plan B!

Did I mention it was well over 100 degrees?

That reminds me...

Before Laiken's session I had arranged for some portable, outdoor, on-location cooling. The plan was to plug in a box fan to my husband's portable battery pack. Hopefully, it would provide a little relief for Laiken during her session.

Just as we planned, Cindy and Laiken arrived with a trunk full of clothing and accessories - and the large box fan Cindy had borrowed from a friend.

There was just one problem.

Somehow, in the midst of loading Debra's gear into the back of my Tahoe, my husband's portable battery pack never made it into my car.


It was a brilliant plan in theory, though, don't you think?

Thank goodness for the cooler full of water Cindy and Debra packed - and for the many paper towels that absorbed all my sweat!

I consider it nothing short of a miracle that Laiken's makeup held up in that heat! She was a trooper, that's for sure! And a beautiful one at that.

That's where "Everything That Could Go Wrong That Did Go Wrong" ends, and all the fun begins.

Location C was perfect!

I have been in downtown McKinney many times, but for some reason I had never discovered this quaint little historical village before. Just the day before I had driven past and made a mental note to remember the location for future sessions. It simply wasn't on my radar for Laiken's session as I was already dead set on Location A.

That quickly changed after my sleeping bag discovery and after our close call with poison ivy. So, when Debra suggested the very same location, I didn't hesitate. On the plus side, it afforded us a very much needed air-conditioned escape from the heat while we made the 15 minute drive from Allen to McKinney.

It turned out to be a perfect spot! (Take a look at the first two images above.)

Though we enjoyed the secluded historical village, the true adventure was yet to come...

Right after sunset, we headed off to one of my favorite alleys in downtown McKinney for some off-camera flash photography. What a treat to have Debra on hand to assist with the flash. Even Cindy helped out. She was pretty much a pro with the video light by the end of the night.

Thank you so much, ladies!

Sound fun? It was. But it pales in comparison to what happens next.

Here's the scene:

Nestled half-way down the alley-way is one of my favorite little spots. There's this rustic green, European-looking, double door with a small stoop to sit on. I'm in the middle of posing Laiken when the door opens abruptly, and out pops the restaurant's bartender.

Even though it's dark out, it is still sweltering hot at this point.

The bartender (a young guy in his early twenties) takes one look at Laiken and wastes no time in inviting us to move our session indoors. He explains that other photographers use the bar all the time to photograph local bands and assures us we'll love the setting.

The three moms in our little group see right through it all. This guy has noticed Laiken and is flirting big time! But, hey. If his plan includes air-conditioning, we are all for it!

The bar is closed. Other than the bartender, we would have the place to ourselves. It was perfect! We take a peak inside and before we even head up to the bar, we see this charming chandelier.

The air conditioning could least for one more shot.

Impromptu shot completed, we head indoors. A "second wind" comes on in full force, and we spend the next hour or so laughing and having a truly great time celebrating Laiken - and our good furtune in being welcomed into this unexpected air-conditioned haven.

And, for the first time that evening, Laiken really let loose.

Who would have thought we'd get some of our favorite shots of the night - in a bar?

Don't Worry!

I don't plan on making a habit of bringing my underage clients to a bar. BUT, if it is over 100 degrees outside, your mom is tagging along, the bar is closed, empty, AND air conditioned...I might just reconsider.

Thank you to our new friend who opened up his bar and gave us a nice cool drink (of ice-water)!

You made our night!

And thank you to Cindy, Laiken, and Debra for making this one of my most memorable sessions ever! I'm glad we all decided to "go with the flow". What wonderful things came our way because of it! Our unexpected turn of events ended up being the perfect way to celebrate Laiken - and send her off to college.

I so admire Cindy and Laiken - for their courage, tenacity, grace, and beauty in facing (and conquering) this life trial. I can't wait to see what their futures hold.

I wish you the very best in your college endeavors, Laiken! Your mom will adjust to her empty nest just fine. I have no doubts!


  1. Tammy I can not begin to express our appreciation of your time, effort and generous spirit! This was a memory that will last a lifetime and the photos are priceless. It is with a sincere heart that I would recommend a photography session with you for anyone that is looking to capture a perfect moment. Many thanks! Cindy Gay (Laiken's Mom)

  2. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Cindy. The two of you are special people.


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