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Archive for July, 2013

Last week, my good buddy Sara posted some photography tips for beginners (like me).  After FINALLY understanding some of the more basic things like what f/stop is and means, I was eager to get home and put my new knowledge to work.

I picked my favorite subject (my kid), went outside for the best possible lighting (my house is DARK) and started snapping. I took about 30 photos, kept about 15 and am showing you 4. And they’re not even fantastic but I’m learning so give me a break. All of these photos are straight outta the camera, unedited. Also I’m not loading these full size so when you read the caption comments, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

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Zoomed out shot of the deck. Ignore the cutoffs. His daddy thought it would be funny.

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Love the photo but the focus is off. Camera focused on the edge of the splash table and not that precious face. Fail.

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I wanted to get a shot of this boy’s eyelashes. Mission accomplished, though I wish I would’ve had a better backdrop or better angle. And maybe brushed his hair.

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Focus on the eyes? Check. Cute expression? Check.

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Nothing special about this one but I love the look on his face. I think I was playing music for him and he recognized one of the songs. BTW, when did my kid become a redhead?

So that’s it. I followed some of Sara’s simple tips and was able to get some nicely detailed shots that may eventually be suitable for a photo book. I’ll keep practicing but in the meantime, what’s your best photography tip? And can someone please come over to my house and show me how to back-button focus on my camera? And tell me which lens to buy next? (I have a Pentax K-r.) Ok thanks.

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Raise your hand if you love browsing home design blogs or Pinterest for inspiration? There’s just something about looking at pictures of  pretty interiors that makes me just a little bit more happy. Sometimes they give me inspiration for what I’d like to do in my current house, or better yet, our next house. Other times, I think they’re just pretty to look at even if I find them incredibly unpractical. Here are a few of those things.

Open shelves in the kitchen. Pretty right? But entirely unpractical unless you a) are a neat freak with ninja dusting powers and b) don’t ever plan to actually USE any of those dishes. I mean where does one even put all their neon, plastic dinosaur sippy cups?

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Removing ceiling fans. I love the look of pendant and chandelier lights, especially in bedrooms, but you guys, I could not survive the summer without our ceiling fans. I big puffy heart love them. We have five in our house. FIVE. And don’t say “well just get a box fan or a tower fan.” No, not the same. If I ever remove a ceiling fan, it will be in favor of a bigger, better ceiling fan. Like this one. It’s a ceiling fan IN a pendant light! Win/Win.

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Mixmatched chairs. I know that most interior designers tell you to resist the urge to make things too matchy-matchy. I struggle with this terribly. If I’m going to have end tables on either side of my couch, they must be the same. If I have two couches, they have to be the same fabric if they’re going to be in the same room. And when it comes to kitchen or dining tables, the chairs must be the same. The only exception is that the end chairs can vary slightly (say the end chairs have arm rests while the middle chairs do not). But they must still be of the same “family.”  This dining room is just too…jarring for my taste. But oh do I love that high ceiling and the wood beams.

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Animal Print. Holy smokes has animal print been making a comeback or what? Particularly in the clothing and accessories fashion world. And as much as I WANT to be that girl. The girl that can pull off wearing animal print without looking like she just walked off the set of RHONJ, I can’t. Same goes with my house. The only exception to this would be if I had some sort of movie-star quality walk-in closet with dressing room. Only then do I think I could take the plunge with an animal print piece of furniture.

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Gallery Wall. This one is hard because I WANT a gallery wall. But I can’t decide if I want a gallery wall because I love gallery walls or because it’s just the cool thing to do right now. All I do know is this: If and when I ever get around to creating a gallery wall, my frames MUST match. They don’t need to be the same size or texture but they must be the same color. This random frame assortment craze and then scattering them about on the wall is just too much for my OCD self. I look at an image like this and feel claustrophobic. Anyone else?

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What don’t you love that’s uber trendy right now? Perhaps the word “uber”? Not that it’s trendy, but my husband makes fun of me for using it.

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Five on Friday

I do these “Five on Friday” posts on my own sometimes, but then I realized other bloggers did it too and there’s even a place to link up, so I’m participating this week.

Here we go:

One: I started the Couch-to-5K running program last week. I go to a nearby park that has a lake and post a pic a day from my runs on Instagram so that hopefully by the end, I’ll have a nice little pic collage to look back on.

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Two: Speaking of the Couch-to-5K program, the free app is AHMAZING. I can play my music and instead of watching the clock to know when to run/walk, the app will lower the music, play a little beep, and say “start running” or “start walking.” I LOVE IT. The only part I don’t love is that it has built in 5 min. warm ups and cool downs, so if you hit “end workout” before the cool down has officially ended, it doesn’t register that you’ve actually completed the workout. So a little tip from me if you use this app, let it run completely through the cool down phase before quitting the app.

Three: After much deliberation, we’ve finally planned our first big vacation since baby D was born. In December, we’ll be heading to….

(drumroll please)

……….

……….

COSTA RICA!!

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This is an actual picture from one of the hotels we’ll be staying in. Breathtaking no? And for the first time since I was about 18 yrs old, my parents will be going with us. I’ll have to report back on whether or not this is a good thing. :)

Four: We’re finally addressing our finances a bit more lately. We have a long way to go, but after realizing I’ve had the same credit card for 14 years, figured it was time I called to see if I could get a better APR. Turns out, I can! Not that we usually like to carry a credit card bill balance, but sometimes it’s unavoidable so it’s nice to know we’ve got a low percentage rate now, should we need it.

Five: I hope to have some DIY house updates to share soon. Namely, some updates to our bathroom and eventually (hopefully) some updates to our downstairs spare bedroom, which I’d like to convert to a half bedroom/half office space. I’ve been looking at Pinterest for inspiration and I love the idea of removing our sliding mirror closet doors and turning the closet into an office, like this:

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(Not sure whose photo this is, but here’s the pin on Pinterest)

What’s going on in your world lately?

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13 Month Update

IMGP8026Thought I’d give up the monthly updates after baby D turned one? HA! Nope. I’ve decided to keep them going and instead of doing weekly AND monthly photos, I’m just going to do monthly photos, in one of my favorite outfits, on the same rocking chair as all his previous monthly photos.

Weight/Length: After his 12 month appointment, where we found out he’s only about 35% percentile for weight, I’ve been trying to feed him more. But the hubs still thinks he’s a tiny baby that couldn’t possibly need to eat THAT much so it took a little nagging encouragement on my part to get him to realize that YES, he does need to eat more than a bottle of milk for breakfast. Even if he’s not crying that he’s hungry. So hopefully he’s at least 22 lbs now. His belly definitely looks bigger these days.

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Sleep: We’re still (reluctantly) a co-sleeping family. He takes naps in his crib and usually goes to bed fairly easily in his crib, but around 1am, he’s screaming his fool head off to come to our bed. We’re trying to work on it but with my parents in town, we didn’t want to do the CIO method so we’ve continued the bad habit and I’m actually starting to get used to sleeping on a tiny sliver of mattress.

Feeding: The two things that stress me out most about this stage are food and sleep. I analyze every piece of food and wonder if it’s too big for him, too salty, too spicy, etc. Sometimes I’ll cut pieces of fruit too small and then he can’t pick them up. And for someone like me who is terrible at meal planning, meal time is a very stressful situation. I want to make sure he’s eating healthy, gaining weight (in a healthy way), and eating foods that won’t make him constipated or too gassy, while also trying to keep some variety going so he’s not eating the same 3 meals day in and day out. But little by little, we’re figuring it out and moving away from purees more and more, though he still probably eats one or two a day.

He’s officially drinking from a straw now. Since he doesn’t tip his sippy cups, I was tired of doing it for him so a fellow mom recommended the honey bear straw training cup. It’s basically an empty plastic honey bear bottle with a piece of clear plastic tubing (sort of like breast pump tubes) that doesn’t close when he bites down on it. The idea is you squeeze the bear a little to get the liquid to come out of the top, and with very little sucking action, the baby learns to sip on the straw. It took all of maybe a minute for D to figure it out so even though I feel like I got a little ripped off by the bear cup ($13 are you kidding me?), it worked, so I guess I can’t complain. Now he can drink out of ANY straw cup. Even the kids cups from restaurants. This is awesome because it means we’re not SOL if we forget his bottle or sippy cup at home. And apparently drinking from a straw is better for oral hygiene so win/win. Although I wonder if I could’ve taught him the same thing with a juice box or Capri Sun for a fraction of the cost.
Now that he knows how to drink from a straw, we’re on the down slope of bottles. He has a morning bottle and a bedtime bottle but only uses sippies during the day. Hooray for less bottle washing!
Developments: No walking yet, but still pulling up and cruising everywhere. Part of me thinks that because our living room is so small, he has no reason to walk. He can’t even push his walker very far before running into a piece of furniture and getting stuck, so he doesn’t use it.
He’s FINALLY waving now. Right after his 1 year check up, in the doctor’s office, he started. I don’t think he quite understands the point in it, so he doesn’t do it often, but every now and then we can get him to do it on command. And speaking of doing things on command, he typically…doesn’t. He’ll blow raspberries or say “lalalala” if we do them first, but that’s about it.
Still has just 4 teeth (two top, two bottom) and the top ones are taking forever to drop all the way down. But it’s so cute seeing him grin with these 4 tiny teeth.
But perhaps the cutest development of all was when the hubs came home from visiting his family and brought back a big stuffed teddy bear with Cardinals gear on it. Apparently his grandma had saved it back in 2006 when we won the World Series and kept it in a sealed plastic bag. (She died in 2009.) He showed it to D and he immediately wrapped both arms around it, pulled it close, and smiled a huge smile. Heart. Melted.

Firsts This Month: First trip to Nashville (and to Tennessee in general). First time (of many) climbing up the stairs. First trip to Grant’s Farm. First time in his baby pool. First time drinking from a straw. 20130715-091456.jpg

Brunchin’ it in Nashville with all the hipsters

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Hitchin’ a ride from Daddy at the Dukes of Hazzard Festival in Nashville

Likes: Still obsessed with dogs, and lately, balls. Particularly basketballs. He got a basket ball hoop for his birthday and while he’s still too little for it, he knew exactly what to do when we gave him a ball and lifted him above the hoop. Future all star. This kid just loves being outside too. He’s been spending a little time with his splash table on the deck but most of the time he just plays with his toys on the concrete or on an old exercise-step-turned-play-table that I keep outside for him. He also really loves climbing up the stairs, which has proven to be a bit of a headache lately since we can’t find any baby gates that will work with our stairs (banister plus unusually high baseboards = baby gate conundrum). So right now a giant cardboard box is doing the trick until we can find a better solution.

Favorite Songs: Still lights up when any of his bath time songs comes on. He also enjoys Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker, On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons, Cruise by Florida Georgia Line and Nelly, Seven Nation Army by White Stripes, and One Love by Bob Marley. He smiles within the first few seconds whenever any of these songs start playing.

Favorite Toys: Balls, blocks, books – still the same. His baby pool. And his musical monkey which he uses for a pillow sometimes during naps.

Dislikes: Sleeping in his crib at night. Being told no. Sitting in his high chair for any length of time if there isn’t food on his tray.

He also apparently doesn’t like grocery shopping. Maybe we just time our grocery runs when he’s tired and cranky but if we’re not in and out in 5 minutes, he throws an all out fit and screams at the top of his lungs, occasionally even head butting the cart handle, until one of us picks him up and distracts him with something. This means that shopping is a two-adult activity so that one person can grab the stuff and the other can baby wrangle. So much for my leisurely walks perusing the aisles at Target.

What I’m Thankful For: I used to worry that as each month passed, I would miss his infancy too much. That he couldn’t possibly get better than this moment RIGHT NOW. I especially felt like that when he turned a year old. No longer an infant, but not quite a toddler. Still a baby, but for how much longer? Time felt like it was moving at warped speed, and I worried that I wouldn’t love the next stage as much as I did the last one.

But that hasn’t happened yet and I’m thankful.

What I’m Looking Forward To: We’re heading to Chicago for BlogHer at the end of the month. (Holler at me, fellow BlogHer goers!) It’ll be his second trip to Chicago and I’ll be working (again) most of the time, but I’m still looking forward to doing a few touristy things with him while we’re there.

How Mommy’s Doing: I know I complain about my weight/diet/lack of exercise every month so even I’m getting annoyed by the broken record. So let’s just assume that unless I say “Hey look at me! I lost 40lbs and feel great!” that I probably still dislike how my body looks, but damn if that smores frozen hot chocolate from Dairy Queen didn’t taste good the other night. Whoever said nothing tastes as good as skinny feels has clearly never had one of those.
But body issues aside, things are pretty great. We had a crazy week at the end of the month with my MIL going into the hospital and my husband rushing off to be with her so I asked my mom to come in town to babysit while I went to work.
I don’t have much time for hobbies and have a difficult time keeping up on laundry, but I spend as much time as possible with D so I feel like things are well balanced, even if they’re not perfect. And as long as we’re all happy, what’s one day of wearing the same pants again?

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Another gorgeous night in the luxury suites at the Cardinals game. 

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Grant’s Farm!

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Riding the tram at Grant’s Farm

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Petting the goats. Loved it.

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Petted the horse. Loved it.

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A little morning stroll to the park to get our swingin’ on.

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Still one of my favorite photos from this month. 

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I was reading this post over on DesignMom which links to another article on a study that was done that basically says money doesn’t buy happiness, only temporary satisfaction and excitement, UNLESS you use that money to give to someone else. Then it technically buys happiness.

It’s an interesting thing to ponder really. I mean, how many of us dream about a new house, a new car, or a new fancy wardrobe? How often have you told yourself that you’d be so much happier if you just had that spacious ranch with the open floor plan and walk-in pantry?  (Ok, so maybe that’s just specific to me.)

The comments on the post I link to above were pretty interesting and I tend to agree with the (nicer) ones that argue that money can help relieve the stress of bills and living paycheck to paycheck so therefore, by eliminating that stress, you must be happier. I can agree with that. But I also think that what is just merely comfortable for one person is another person’s destitute and yet another person’s overwhelming wealth. For example, we own a house in the suburbs and two cars. That alone is enough for a couple that’s barely making ends meet in an apartment with a shared bus pass to think I’m living in the lap of luxury. While another couple might look at our neighborhood with a few foreclosures down the street and two eight-year-old Hyundais in the driveway and think, “Man, if we had to give up our 5,000 sq ft house and two Infinitis and downgrade to that, we’d be slumming it.”

So I guess what I’m saying here is it’s all about perspective and how much money (or lack of) already dictates your happiness.

But let’s talk about the the giving it away part.

One of my neighbors has brain cancer. She has a husband, a college-aged son, and two young daughters (youngest is 7, I believe). I wouldn’t say there’s no hope, but last I heard, doctors had told her husband that the type of cancer she had would come back. It always has in every case they’ve seen. Life expectancy: A year. Maybe 18 months. That’s pretty fucking devastating news. It hurts my heart every time I see them in the driveway, or see the girls riding their bikes up the street. Hell, just even looking at their house makes me feel awful for what they’re going through.

So a couple of weeks ago I told her I had some Cardinals tickets that we couldn’t use and since I know they’re big Cardinals fans, I asked if they would please take them off our hands. I also said,”The seats are decent so you won’t be in the nosebleeds, so please, enjoy a night out on us since we can’t use them.”

She was so excited. Neither of her girls had ever been to a Cardinals game. It was a very fast “YES!”

Then I went online and purchased the tickets. Decent ones. Not in the nosebleeds.

And even though it cost me more than what I pay for gas for a month, and even though we’ve got a credit card bill that will take a few more months to pay off, it made me so very happy to see her family’s smiling faces as their girls enjoyed their very first Cardinals game last night. It’s something I won’t forget, and neither will they.

 

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(Image Source. Click the link for more awesome money quotes.)

 

 

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Dear baby D,

It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid-July. We’ve been having so much fun with you. Every evening is an adventure. Sometimes we’ll take walks around the lake, put you in the baby swing at the park and push you for what seems like forever. You’re never ready to stop! Other nights we’ll just play at home, maybe on the deck, or take Champ to the park across the street to throw a ball and let you watch him run. You love that dog.

Dinner time is usually pretty interesting too. Some nights we’ll give you some of our dinner – a plate full of pasta or pieces of flaky fish and grilled squash. Other nights we’ll fix you your baby raviolis and some fresh fruits. I try to keep things interesting and healthy for you. And even though I was raised that we don’t sing or play music at the table, your daddy insists on dinner music, and all three of us will sit there and bop to the beat. You definitely have your favorite songs and you smile and laugh when one of them starts playing.

And then there’s bath time. Oh how you love bath time. Some nights you’re pretty tired and will just sit and relax. Other nights you’re content to play with your toys, though you don’t splash much and for that, mommy is thankful. You let me wash your face, even though you hate it. And if it’s hair washing night, you no longer scurry to the other side of the tub to escape me, but instead tilt your head back so I don’t get so much water in your eyes. We play your bath music and I’ll squirt your belly with water from your toys. You especially love it when I make your toys come to life and make noises. Oh how you giggle and I would do anything to hear that little baby laugh of yours.

You spend your days with daddy doing Lord only knows. Sometimes I’ll get photos or short videos of your antics throughout the day, but one thing is for sure, you two have a blast together. Not many little boys can say they get so much one-on-one time with their dad. You’re a lucky little dude.

My only complaint is not really even a complaint considering how much I secretly love it. You’re insistent on sleeping with us and it’s like you have some sort of super sense that tells you when we’ve gone to bed because that’s right when you wake up and want to join us. We fight you on it most nights because it’s harder for us to get a good night’s rest when we’re so worried about rolling over on your or having you wake up and jump over us and fall off the bed. But I love waking up and seeing your sweet face snoozing right beside me. And when you wake up a few minutes later, the look of joy on your face knowing that you once again won the bedtime battle is just too much.

But my favorite moments, by far, are when you come barreling toward me and want me to hold you. Sometimes that’s first thing in the morning as you climb over daddy to get to me while I’m getting ready for work. Sometimes it’s as soon as I get home, as your face lights up and you squeal with delight while crawling at hyper-speed to my feet. And when I do pick you up, you lay your head on my shoulder and even though it’s happened a hundred times already, I still make your daddy look our way because I can’t get over how sweet you are. I wish I could bottle those moments for years from now when cuddling with mommy isn’t so cool anymore.

And I wish I could bottle all of these moments, because even though life is pretty great right now, you won’t remember any of it. You won’t remember these special little moments, bopping to the beat with your dad and me, taking trips to different cities, reading Baby Woof Woof again and again and again. That’s why I write these posts. That’s why I take so many photos. That’s why I should take more video. You are so happy and have so much fun every day, and not to toot our own horns but, we’re kind of awesome parents. We may not be so awesome 10 years from now when we’re in our 40’s and you possibly have a sibling or two that’s clamoring for our attention too. So I wish you could remember us now, as we are with our happy little family of 3.

But since you won’t, we’ll just keep having fun, and I’ll keep writing, photographing and documenting as much as I can so that one day, years from now, we at least have some proof that we were awesome parents once. Because I know you’ll get mad at us and disagree, and that’s only because you won’t remember. But I will.

Love you, cuddle bug.

 

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In Another Life…

When it comes to TV, there aren’t a lot of shows for adults that are also baby friendly. Most of the shows we want to watch have a lot of sex, violence, bad language, etc. Our options are usually The Ellen Show or House Hunters International. And since Ellen is on summer hiatus, we’ve been watching a lot more HHI. Sometimes we make a game of it to see who can guess which house the couple will buy. We almost always agree on which one we would buy, but we never guess right.

The thing about watching HHI is how much it makes us daydream – from anything to future homes, different places to vacation, different places to live, even different careers.

Just some of the recent thoughts and conversations we’ve had lately include:

  • I’ll change jobs and do PR & Marketing for a resort in the Caribbean.
  • I wonder if my company would let me open an office in Hawaii?
  • We should go to St. Kitts for our next vacation. Or maybe Ecuador.
  • Let’s buy a vacation house on the beach and rent it out for extra income.
  • I wonder if my job would let me work remotely for a month (or three) so we can live some place tropical for the winter?
  • We need jobs where we can work remotely 100% of the time. Then we’ll just buy a house in Costa Rica and spend our days on a balcony overlooking the ocean with our laptops.
  • And the most random: We should go open a Trader Joe’s in my hubby’s hometown. We could totally run a small grocery store. Note: I have zero desire to live anywhere near where my husband grew up, yet I’M the one who said this! HHI makes me say silly things.

Had any crazy daydreams lately? Do tell!

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No matter how much you probably love your current home, do you ever just find yourself daydreaming about living in the perfect house?

We bought our house in April of 2006, a month before we got married. It’s our first house and we expected to live here for only about five years. (Side note: why is it that young people can only think ahead about 5 years? Saying you’re going to live somewhere for 10 years or more is basically saying you’re going to be there forever. So five years is the max for everyone.) We didn’t buy for the area (mistake #1) or even pay attention to the school district (mistake #2). We just wanted the best house for our budget. Seven years later and I now have a love/hate relationship with our house. I love that we have 4 bedrooms and 2 full bathrooms. I love that we have a basement. I love that we have a huge driveway that can fit about 7 cars, plus street parking. I love that we have a spacious side yard, plus a deck and a patio. I love that we have TWO parks within walking distance. I love how easy my commute is most days. I love that we have a basement, and plenty of storage space. And I love that we have mostly pergo/wood/tile floors rather than carpet.

But there are also a lot of things I don’t love. I don’t love not having a two-car garage (we have a carport). I don’t love not having a ranch, or a suitable pantry in the kitchen. I don’t love not having an on-suite master bathroom. I don’t love having a backyard that overlooks our neighbors’ backyard (even though they’re nice, quiet people). I don’t love having neighbors in general. No matter how nice they all are (well, most of them anyway). I don’t love having low ceilings. I don’t love not having a spacious bedroom or open floor plan. I don’t love not having an eat-in kitchen.

While we haven’t started the hunt for our second house quite yet, I’ve been stockpiling a list of qualities I want in my future home. For all of those house-hunting shows on HGTV that say first-time home buyers are the worst because of their high and unreasonable expectations, I almost think second and third time buyers are even worse because we have an even greater idea of what we want/don’t want in a home based on our previous experiences.

Anyway, enough talking. On with the inspiration photos.

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Isn’t this pantry just perfect? The wicker baskets, the wire baskets, the drawers, the open shelves… I could store ALL THE THINGS in here!

LaundryRoom

I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to laundry rooms. While this one is by far one of the least extravagant, I love it for its simplicity. I can almost smell the fresh towels in the dryer. The only thing I might add would be a closet on the other side of those drawers (the not pictured area) for a dirty clothes hamper. With our washer and dryer in the basement, we are notorious for just dumping the dirty clothes on the floor and leaving them there until we wash them. It’s a bad habit but I know myself and I’d need a place to dispose of dirty clothes until I could get around to washing them.

cozybackyard

I love having a backyard. I’d love it even more if I couldn’t see my neighbors. My parents have an awesome covered deck on the back of their house.  It’s by no means this luxurious, but doesn’t this look cozy? I also have a Pinterest board for backyards, most of which also have outdoor kitchens in them but when I thought about it, would I really use an outdoor kitchen that much? Probably not. They just look so cool! I mean, look at this!

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Fancy, no?

In my mind, I’ve convinced myself that I would be in much better shape if I had enough space at home to work out. Having a kid plus working full time outside the home means the last thing I want to do is leave again to go to the gym. If I could do at-home workouts while he plays, I’d be so much better at working out. Maybe.

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So how cute is this exercise room/playroom combo? I’d maybe change up the colors a bit but it’s just so darn functional. I even see a large flatscreen mounted on the wall, opposite the mirror. Just add a treadmill or elliptical and I’d be all set.

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I really don’t know how this shower works without getting water all over the floor but I love the multiple shower heads.

 

On a slightly more practical scale, this is much more my jam when it comes to a bathroom.

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Or maybe this one:

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Ok so a fireplace in the bathroom really isn’t practical but my goodness it’s pretty. My only requirement for a future bathroom is dual sinks.

When it comes to kitchens, my style preference is all over the place. I would kill to have something like this:

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Though the practical girl in me would even be over-the-moon for something like this:

benchCouldn’t you just envision lovely breakfasts here every morning before the kids go off to school? I just love it so much.

And since we’re dreaming here, I’d love to have a movie room. Maybe when I no longer have a need for a playroom, I could turn it into a movie room. Most movie rooms I’ve seen are super cheesy looking though. They’ve tried too hard to make them feel like the real movie theater, but I’d much rather have something stylish and comfortable with just a giant flatscreen instead of a projector screen.

This was about the least cheesy image I could find for the seating.

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So tell me, what would you want in your dream home?

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Nashville

Apologies for the tardiness with this post. It’s been sitting in my drafts folder for weeks and I just realized it!

Just a week after D’s birthday celebrations, we packed up the car yet again for another road trip. This time to Nashville to see my cousin get married. We’ve never been to Nashville before, but we’re huge country music fans and I’ve never been to a part of Tennessee I didn’t like so expectations were a bit high for the land of the Grand Ole Opry.

That is, until we realized our little family event coincided with the city’s most jam-packed time of year – The Country Music Festival. Our hotel was about 15 miles north of the city, which ended up being a fine location, but our actual hotel? A dump. My step-dad is a die-hard Holiday Inn patron, mostly because of his points cards, but this place was the worst Holiday Inn we’ve ever seen. Our room smelled like an old gym sock or the inside of a sweaty gym bag. The carpets were disgusting, we killed more than one spider in our room, and even though it was only 3 floor building, the elevator took so long that it was just easier and faster to take the stairs (though you had to hold your breath in the stairwell too because the stench was so bad). Had it not been the damn Country Music Festival weekend, we’d have found another hotel. But everything was booked.

But, we weren’t there to sit around in our hotel room, so we tried to make the most of it by getting out and about around the city. Some of our favorite stops?

The Parthenon

A true-to-size replica of the original Parthenon in Rome, there’s a cool museum underneath that talks about the history of the building from its first appearance during the World’s Fair in the late 1800’s. There’s a really big, colorful, and creepy statue of Athena in there too that was a big hit with most visitors but really just freaked me out. (ed’s note: Thought I had a pic to share but it must be on the hubby’s phone and I’m too lazy to find it.)

Marche Artisan Foods – for brunch

Almost all of our vacations center around good food and Nashville was no exception. Even though our hotel provided complimentary hot breakfast, dining out is part of the whole traveling experience for us so I consulted with Yelp to find a decent brunch place and it did not disappoint. And with a latte as big as my head, I can’t say one negative thing about this place. Very urban cowboy chic, if that’s a thing.20130705-145117.jpg

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This latte was the size of my head. But much tastier. Unless you’re a cannibal.

Downtown Nashville

The benefit of family trips is the abundance of babysitting options. My parents graciously offered to watch D so we could have a date night out on the town. The weather was spotty and we didn’t have anything planned so we just opted to brave the crowds downtown during Country Music Fest and check things out. To our delightful surprise, the downtown area was pretty much dead at 8pm on a Thursday night. We guessed that everyone was across the river at the amphitheater watching Miranda Lambert. We took advantage of the no cover charges and did a little bar hopping. Our favorite place BY FAR was BB Kings. The performers were just outstanding. The rest of the bars we checked out reminded me too much of visiting an empty college frat house. You could smell the dried jungle juice on the floor and our shoes stuck to the concrete under our feet. Just gross and totally not our scene, even if the place had been packed.20130705-145321.jpg

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Inside BB Kings

The Dukes of Hazzard Museum

Though we never actually stepped inside the museum, there was a Dukes of Hazzard festival happening that weekend and we couldn’t resist pulling off the highway to look at all of the replica cars and characters.

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A glimpse in to my (hopefully distant) future

Antique Archaeology

Ever heard of the show American Pickers? The hosts of that show run two antique shops – one in Iowa and one in Nashville. We’ve heard there can be lines of a couple hundred people out the door and around the block to get into this place, but perhaps this was an instance where the Country Music Festival worked to our advantage because we were able to walk right in. It’s really more of a souvenir shop for die-hard fans of the show, but it was still cool to see and yes, we both bought t-shirts. There’s a little coffee shop a couple doors down that is also worth checking out and the owner is ridiculously nice. I recommend the spicy mocha.20130705-145155.jpg20130705-145502.jpg20130705-145517.jpg

As for the wedding, it was spectacular. Even though it had stormed all day, the rain stopped just before the wedding and held off the rest of the night making it a rather enjoyable evening. The bride was beautiful, the colors were neat, the food was delicious, the alcohol was flowing, and the dance floor was hopping. But most importantly, I want to share with you the chocolate fountain, which I was seated beside (smart move, family), and the cake.

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However, I can see why people don’t usually bring a 1 year old to weddings. D was exceptionally cranky that night, resulting in the hubs leaving for periods of time (and completely missing dinner) to drive him around in the car and get him to go to sleep. But that didn’t stop us from getting a couple of cute pics together, and as a family.

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And while this has nothing to do with Nashville, it happened to be National Donut Day that weekend, so I got my donut on at Dunkin Donuts. This here is a key lime pie donut.

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Delish

 

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Best 4th of July EVER!

Oh, you guys.

I just had the most wonderful 4th of July. Perhaps only so wonderful because it was NOTHING like last year’s no good, horrendous excuse for a holiday.

Last year, I was on maternity leave, pumping every few hours, and after having just buried my grandpa two days before – on my grandma’s birthday no less – I was in no mood to celebrate. BUT, my inlaws – all 12 of them or something – were in town to celebrate the holiday and my FIL’s birthday (he’s a 4th of July baby). They weren’t originally there to go to my grandpa’s funeral but they came anyway and while everything was so damn chaotic, it was kind of nice to have so many loved ones around with children to give us a break from the sadness.

So last year on the 4th of July my husband’s aunt had a pool party/birthday celebration at her house for my FIL. The hubs and I went, with the baby, and my parents.

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All of about 5 weeks old.

Shortly after this photo was taken, my MIL started having seizures and it was the fastest way to ruin a party and make the already shitty holiday even shittier. It scared the kids, it terrified me, and it pretty much ruined my FIL’s big 60th birthday.

That night, I fell ill with some sort of crazy stomach flu or food poisoning or something, and ended up just going home and going to bed. I remember laying in the darkness, listening to our neighbors set off firecrackers and just wanting to curl up into a ball and die. My husband left, with the baby, to visit his family at the nearby hotel. Given the events of the afternoon, they weren’t in the mood for watching fireworks either and instead spent the evening packing up to head back home at 06:00 in the morning.

So last year’s 4th of July goes down as the WORST 4th of July in the history of my life.

But this year! Oh you guys, this year was PERFECT. Perhaps the BEST 4th of July in the history of my life. Here. Let me tell you about it.

We woke up around 8am, usual time. I fed the baby his bottle while the hubs made pancakes, including little baby pancakes (or, silver dollar pancakes as they’re apparently called) for D. He loved them. I loved them. My parents who were still staying with us loved them. It was grand.

Around 9:30, our little family of 3 loaded up to check out our first ever 4th of July parade as a family. We don’t normally do parades, but our town was having one and the weather was perfect (high in the low 80s) so we figured if we were gonna give it a shot, this would be the year to do it. We found a shady area, spread out a blanket, and just sat and played and people watched. And took selfies.

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Since our town is just a suburb of St. Louis, we didn’t expect to be there long. WRONG. The parade lasted almost 2 hours. But we didn’t mind. D ended up passing out in his stroller about halfway through so we just sat in the shade and enjoyed the festivities. We battled a little traffic on the way back, but not much. Then we went home to fire up the grill.

On the menu: Various types of brats, baked beans, corn on the cob, zucchini and yellow squash, pasta salad, chips and flag cake. For drinks we had beer and sparkling pink moscato. A simple yet tasty menu, and I’m all about simple and tasty. I didn’t take any photos of the food since it’s all pretty standard stuff but I was so proud of my easy peasy flag cake and sunflowers with flags that I snapped this pic for you.

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A few words about the cake.

First, I got the idea for it from Pinterest. Second, I used regular yellow cake, and a can of real whipped cream for the frosting. I could’ve used more strawberries and blueberries but I’m pretty lazy and was running out of strawberries as it was. The verdict? AHMAZING. And far fewer calories than a traditional cake with frosting, so I didn’t feel so guilty eating a second piece. This will definitely be making a repeat appearance in future years.

Considering we only decided to host a cookout the day before, we didn’t really invite anyone aside from a couple of friends who already had plans with family, and my cousin who was babysitting her sister’s 4 year old son. So my cousin and her nephew came over to play in the baby pool and splash table. There were only 7 people at my house, but it still felt like a party. We sat outside and sipped our drinks and watched the kiddos play and lathered ’em up with so much sunscreen they were like greased pigs, with grass sticking to them and getting in the pool. But they loved it and D would squeal with joy anytime SJ would splash him. It was fantastic.

After the food was put away, the baby went down for a VERY long nap and my cousin and SJ went home. So it was just the four of us sitting around outside, playing horseshoes, drinking drinks, and listening to me comment about 500 times on how great the weather was that day. I mean really, when was the last time anyone in the Midwest can remember a 4th of July that WASN’T 105 degrees and/or raining? I could not get over it. Still can’t.

After a little hemming and hawing about which fireworks display to check out, we decided to return to a spot we’d been to about 3 or 4 years ago and watch our own little town’s display. I wanted a spot where we could spread out on a blanket on some grass and not battle crazy amounts of traffic afterward. So we packed a small cooler, a sippy cup, some bug spray and blanket and picked the perfect little spot to settle in and watch the show. And to my surprise, baby D even watched nearly half of the display without even so much as flinching at the pops going off around him. But I think most of all he just like the fact that all his favorite people were sitting on a blanket, surrounding him.20130705-111352.jpg

Watching the fireworks

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Cuddling with grandpa

We fought almost zero traffic getting out of there and was home just before 10pm. A bottle and bath for the baby and he was down for the count before 11. And just as I had hoped, the day’s events WORE HIM OUT. Despite about 3 months of shitty sleep, he ended up sleeping for 6 hours straight with barely a peep. At 5:15 am, he finally woke up and wanted to be in our bed, which he does every night but MUCH earlier, say at around 1am.

This post is getting far longer than I intended so I’ll just wrap it up and say it was a spectacular 4th of July.

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