Thursday, March 26, 2015

Family Yearbook Tips

I wasn't going to blog today because I have lots of work to do around the house.

But then our mail man left this on our doorstep and I wanted to share my excitement.

We're expecting lots of deliveries this week, but I was most excited about this one.

It's our 2014 family yearbook!

I got the idea to make a family yearbook months ago from a list on Buzzfeed of meaningful gifts to give your kids.  I thought it was a better gift/keepsake for the family, and I was determined to make one for 2014 early this year.  I finally finished it last week and now here she is!

This one is mostly about Max because he was the greatest, most exciting thing that happened to us in 2014.  I love how it turned out.

It's hard to believe Max was ever that small.  And its' really hard to remember him without teeth!

I encourage you all to start making family yearbooks.  It was super easy to do and it's such a fun way to document your years together. 

I chose to use Shutterfly to make our book because I've used their products before and have been very pleased with them.  Plus I can typically find a 40% off coupon somewhere to bring the price down a bit.  I got lucky and was able to finish our book in time to take advantage of their free photo book deal!

Shutterfly has lots of template options for photo books, or you can design your own.  When you upload your photos, it puts them into chronological order based on date taken, making it easy to put your book together.  You can even choose to have Shutterfly insert the photos for you.  They even suggest different comments or text to include on some pages, or you can edit it to say what you wish.  Since I've only used Shutterfly for this project, I can't speak to the ease of use of other photo project companies, but I do know that there are other options out there if you'd like to use another company.

I will admit, it was a little overwhelming at first, mostly because my photos weren't really organized to make this project easy.  I've started my 2015 photo files a little differently, though, so hopefully when it comes time to make this year's book, it won't be so daunting.  I used a combination of iPhone photos and real camera photos in this book, and while you can notice a difference in the quality of the two types of pictures, the cell phone photos still look great (I was worried they wouldn't).

Being the reflective person that I am--perhaps it's the teacher in me--I have already thought about how to make this easier the next time.  It would be rude of me not to share these tips with you, so here you go:

How to Make a Family Yearbook (or any photobook, really)
  1. Gather and organize your photos.  If you're going to make a book now for 2014, get your photos all organized on your computer before you even begin to put the book together.  If you want to use some cell phone pics but haven't saved them to your computer yet, do that, too (in my experience, it takes some time, depending on how many photos you need to review).  If you want to start the family yearbook tradition for 2015, begin to mindfully organize your photos for the year NOW so you won't have to in early 2016.  I've decided to organize mine by event and month.  The "Max" folder is also organized by month.  My plan is to get my photos off my cell phone monthly and add those pictures to the monthly folders, as well (last year I just had a folder labeled "iPhone pics" and it was bananas!)
  2. Look at the different template, size, and page number options on whichever site you will use.  This will give you an idea of how to choose the photos you want to include and how to organize your book.  You can always add more pages if you need more space for an additional fee.
  3. Upload as many photos as you think you might want to use to the website.  You don't have to use all of them, but it will be good to have them all there at your disposal.
  4. Begin creating your photobook to your liking.  Take your time.  And make use of the "undo" button!  I sure did! 
  5. When you're ready to purchase, Google "[insert company name] promo codes" to hopefully help you save some dough!  I got our book for free, plus shipping!  Saved myself 30 big ones!

Have you ever created a family yearbook?  If not, do you think you might try one this year?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Destination Weddings are NOT tacky

I've decided to jump on the Wedding Wednesday bandwagon and share with you our path to choosing a destination wedding for our big day.  I've heard some people say that destination weddings are tacky.  First of all, um, NO.  And secondly, last time I checked, a wedding was about the two people on the altar, and if they want to get married in paradise, that's their prerogative.

Victor and I got engaged after dating for 3.5 years.  I was so excited to plan our wedding after we got engaged.  I bought all the bridal magazines, prepared a wedding-planning binder, and set up my Pinterest boards with my vision for the day.  It wasn't until I carefully looked at one of those wedding-planning timelines that I started to freak out.

Now, I love a good list as much as the next organization-obsessed gal, but this thing gave me heart palpitations. I had NO IDEA weddings required this much forethought.  I am also a life-long procrastinator; doing anything 12 months out from an event is unfathomable to me (I know people do it all the time, but not me).

Despite my panic attack from seeing all there was to do, we forged ahead.  We discussed which church we'd like to be married in and also went on a couple of venue tours.  I actually found my dress a little over a month after we got engaged.  I wasn't planning to find "THE dress" on that outing, just went to look and narrow down options, but when it's "the dress," it's "THE DRESS."  A gal just knows, right ladies?

Unfortunately, nothing else came as easily for us in the planning process.  Victor's family and extended network of friends and acquaintances is HUGE.  I have a big-ish extended family, as well, plus all of our friends.  We were looking at a guest list of over 200 people, and a good majority of them would be able to attend if we did a local wedding.  Neither Victor nor I are huge fans of the spotlight, and we didn't want a huge wedding.  Plus, we're both frugal to a fault and couldn't justify the enormous price tag that would accompany such a large wedding in the DC metro area.

So we began entertaining the idea of a destination wedding.  Never in my wildest dreams did I EVER think I would have a destination wedding, and I didn't come around to the idea easily.  I knew that not all of my "key players" would be able to make the trip abroad, which was the main reason for my hesitation.  I also figured that I wouldn't have as much control over what I wanted with a destination wedding; what options do you have for photography, the cake, flowers, etc?  How would I organize it all from hundreds of miles away???  My hair doesn't always like to cooperate in hot, humid weather.  And we'd likely be getting married outside and I don't count on Mother Nature for nothin'.  Girlfriend can't be trusted.

I kept the idea of a destination wedding in the back of my mind as I attempted to tackle the overwhelming checklist.  And the more I thought about all the little details and the pressure to impress everyone in attendance, I came to agree with Victor that a destination wedding was what we needed to do.  I didn't want to spend the next year stressing about all of those details and lose focus on what was the most important thing: Victor and I celebrating our lifelong commitment to one another.

You can imagine how therapeutic it was for me to do this to my Real Simple Wedding Timeline (yes, I actually still have this.  No, I don't know why).

The squiggles are tasks that didn't apply to us for our destination wedding.
 In the end, I couldn't imagine getting married any other way.  I've been to some lovely stateside, conventional weddings and have had a wonderful time at all of them, but this was the best choice for us.  All of our guests had a fabulous time, and everything turned out even better than we could have dreamed.  The on-site wedding coordinator was beyond amazing, and all of the outside vendors were just as spectacular.  It was perfect.

Here are some perks to having a destination wedding:

  1. You can get married on vacation.  If you choose a tropical destination, it's even better.  We got married in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.  It was pretty hot and humid, but it was wonderful regardless.  It was like we were on vacation with our closest family and friends.  It was such a great time.
  2. You should do a site visit prior to your wedding, which means you basically get two vacations out of it all.  Victor and I went to visit our resort the summer prior to our wedding to make sure it was what we were looking for.  I was most concerned about having a great photographer, so Victor and I strolled to the photographer's shop to check out their our bathing suits...with a tropical libation in hand.  Where else can you do THAT while you're doing wedding research?
  3. You can save a TON of money.  We paid a fraction of what we would have if we had gotten married in the States, and we still got to have everything we wanted.  We were able to invite all 200+ people on our guest list and we weren't worried about the price tag if a bunch of the invitees came.
  4. You will have fewer vendor options.  This might sound like a bad thing, but for an easily-confused, indecisive gal like myself, this was a huge benefit.  The resort had about 10 options each for things like the bridal party bouquets, cakes, reception centerpieces/decor, and chair decorations, to name a few.  I looked at the photos they sent, chose my favorites, and that was that.  I was able to customize a few things (such as cake flavor and fillings, flower colors, etc.), but I was so grateful for the condensed options.  Made things much less overwhelming for me. I was also able to bring a few things to add some personal touches to the event.
    Our decor for the ceremony

    I provided the ribbon and the cake topper

    I also brought the chair signs and the paper confetti
  5. You can celebrate your big day with an intimate group of people.  This was right up our alley.  We got to have a small wedding without excluding anyone.  There were some pretty special people who weren't able to attend, but there were no hard feelings on their part or ours.  We ended up with 48 guests at our wedding.  It was a great sized group.
    Our fabulous wedding guests
  6. Your photos will be uh-mazing.  Victor's biggest hang-up when we were considering a local wedding was where we would go to take our photos.  He was pretty convinced that the only way we were going to get great pictures was if we got married at the beach.  Of course, you can get fabulous photos anywhere with a great photographer, but I have to say, our photos rock.  Plus we got to do a "trash the dress" shoot a few days after the wedding, which was an added bonus and so much fun! 
    Love that gazebo

    My favorite photo of our wedding party

    That's a mosquito bite on my right arm.  They were vicious at night!

    Trashing the $15 H&M dress

    This was such a fun photo shoot!

Destination weddings have become more and more popular over the years, and there are lots of options at your disposal to truly customize your big day to be exactly what you want.  If you're in the process of planning your wedding and are finding yourself overwhelmed like I was, consider a destination wedding.  I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about planning a destination wedding or offer suggestions for how to get started!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Naptime--I love to loathe you

I have a love-hate relationship with Max's naptimes.

I think the reason for loving them is obvious: he's sleeping, which means I can do other things from start to finish in one shot.
Things like:
take the dog out
bring the groceries in from the car
spend some quality time with my breast pump
prepare meals (both baby and adult)
work out
enjoy an entire hot cup of coffee in one sitting
watch Parenthood, Law & Order: SVU, or some other amazing show

Of course, many of the items toward the bottom of the list (specifically the last 6), have been placed on the backburner since moving into our new house.  There is still LOTS of unpacking and organizing to do.

Once Max is asleep, it's all good.  He's been taking pretty decent-sized naps lately (at least 1.5 hours per nap).  But getting him to actually go down for a nap is another story.

Hence, the "hate" portion of the relationship.

I used to nurse Max to sleep for naptime and bedtime.  And I will NOT do that with future babes.  It became such a sleep-crutch for him that when he would wake up in the middle of the night for whatever reason (some nights as many as 7 times), he had no other strategies to put himself back to sleep other than latching on, which always required my involvement (duh).  So back in January, after we got back from the cruise, we put an end to that.  It wasn't too bad, just required lots of consistency and patience on my part.  Now he's able to put himself back to sleep most of the time when he wakes up throughout the night.

When it comes to him falling asleep at the beginning of naptime/bedtime, we have good days and bad days.  Right now, we're in the middle of a stretch of bad days, and naptimes are worse than bedtime, hence this post.

Today we tried crying it out for his morning nap.  First I let him cry for 5 minutes, then went in to help him lie down.  Then I let him cry for 10 minutes whilst I took a shower.  I went back in, gave him a hug and a kiss, had him lie down, then left for another 10 minutes.  The picture below shows you what was going on for that entire 10 minute stretch.

 See that colorful bar at the top of the monitor?  That shows his noise level.  He was screaming.  I checked the time after I was sure he had been screaming for 10 minutes, and only 3 minutes had passed.  I muted that darn monitor for the next 7 minutes and proceeded to organize our linen closet.  Then when it was time, I went back in and tried to lie him down again.  But he wasn't having it.  He reached for me and wouldn't calm down until I picked him up.  And then he immediately fell asleep on my shoulder.

Bested by a 10-month-old.  I gave him what he wanted, which was to have me help him fall asleep.

I will admit, though, that I enjoyed the quiet cuddle time without him trying to bite me (this is a new thing this week, where I rock him to start the wind-down routine and he proceeds to try to nibble at my shirt/chest.  And when I tell him "no!" and pull him away, he laughs.)

Better luck with the afternoon nap, mommy.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

We moved {finally!}

We were finally able to move into our new house last weekend and spent our first night here on Sunday.  We are so happy to be all moved in...but we're still nowhere near all unpacked.

We slowly packed up our things and moved stuff over the course of a month (give or take), so it's taking a bit to get it all organized.  I'm also being very mindful of what gets to stay here in this house with us.  You never realize how much stuff you have until you have to move it!  I say this every time I move, too!  I've already filled two moving boxes with clothes to donate.  In one of those boxes is my favorite pair of jeans from college that I've packed up and moved 5 times since I last wore them...5 times!  It's time to let them go.

These are the jeans (that's me on the left).  Man I miss those girls (my college roommates), and that place (Miami University).

Anyway, here are some snapshots of some of my favorite parts of our new house.

Our dining area between the kitchen and family room

FINALLY have my china cabinet (which I bought in November 2013) in our house with our wedding china.

This view

Our master bedroom chandelier

The powder room vanity

I've spent all week unpacking and organizing.  Today I took a break from all that and made some baby food.  We're slowly introducing Max to table food, so I need a good stockpile of mushy pureed fruits and veggies for when he's not interested in what we're having for dinner.  This stuff should last him a bit.

Steamin' up some carrots.  Max LOVES carrots, just like his mama...and his dog.

Peaches and carrots

Blueberries and apples
 I made a disproportionate amount of fruit.  Because Max loves fruit.  Just like his mama again.

 I'd like to give a shout-out to my immersion blender.  She worked hard today.

Good work today, Blenda.

Hope you're having a lovely week!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Spring Training in Arizona

Last week, Victor, Max and I headed to Goodyear, Arizona to enjoy the gorgeous weather and take in some Cincinnati Reds spring training games.  My mom works for the Reds and spends the entire month of March in Arizona to work near the team during the preseason.  Not a bad gig, if you ask me, even though she works A LOT while she's out there, perhaps more than she works back home (which is still a lot).

Every year, my sister and I have gone out to visit our mom for a fun girls' long-weekend in the sun.  I missed the trip last year because I was hugely pregnant.  But this year began the (hopefully annual) Victor-Rachel-Max family trip to paradise!

We couldn't have skipped town at a better time.  Our flight out on Tuesday, March 3 was delayed 2 hours as we waited for delayed passengers from other flights to board the plane thanks to the sleet and freezing rain that was falling at the time.  We also had to be de-iced before we could take off.  Then on Thursday, 8 inches of snow was dumped in our area of Maryland.

Thank goodness we got out when we did!

If you've never been to the Phoenix area, I highly recommend that you check it out.  It's gorgeous and the weather is divine in the spring (I hear it's stupid hot in the summer, though).

Here are some photos from our trip.

Having fun at the Reds Development Complex

In my mom's office

The boys practicing

Some pictures of The Wigwam, our resort
(we always stay here and we LOVE it!)

I love the southwestern/adobe decor around the lobby

There are thousands of rosebushes around the resort.  These monster yellow roses were in full bloom and smelled divine

We always make a trip (or three) to the lobby each day to get some complimentary oranges.  They taste sweeter in Arizona

Fun at the pool
(nobody got sunburned...yay!)

Forget toys.  Max had a ball with straws, spoons, and cups

Too much pool fun

Taking in a few baseball games

Ready for game time!

Reds dugout

Brandon Phillips warming up

Max loved sitting with Glam-ma.  He really enjoyed watching the games!

Devin Mesoraco

Max did not enjoy this.

Jaaaaayyy Bruuuuuuuce!
Taking a cornhole break with Auntie

We took walks every morning while we waited for it to be warm enough to go to the pool (it got down in the 50s overnight).  Here are some of our discoveries.

Cacti everywhere

These criss-crossed palm trees were pretty cool

Sisters in an aisle of palms

We walked around the Litchfield Park Art and Culinary Festival and got some chocolate-dipped cheesecake on a stick

A teepee in the distance on the Wigwam golf course

We also took an overnight trip up north to Flagstaff Friday night and then visited the Grand Canyon before heading back down to Phoenix on Saturday.  It was breathtaking!

This isn't the canyon yet.  We stopped here to buy some goods sold by Navajo natives.  We bought ornaments, dream catchers, jewelry, and other decor.

So amazing

Grand Canyon selfie

Such a wonderful family trip!  Can't wait to go back!

And in case you're wondering how Max did on the 5-hour flights there and back...

The kid was a {drooly} rockstar.  We flew Southwest, which means no assigned seats.  Plus we lucked out and didn't have a full flight either time, so we got to have the empty middle seat as a buffer zone for Max.  He loved the safety pamphlets and seatbelts, and we even had some fun hiding his monkey Wubba-Nub in the airsick bag.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well he did on the flights.  Proud mama, right here!