A promise to spend more time in the quiet stillness.

Last year for Christmas, Adrian gifted me the best gift ever. He redid our tiny guest room to turn it into a guest room/office combo. He painted two of the walls bright pink, bought me a beautiful white desks and hung white shelves. I love this room. It has these custom pencils I ordered, remnants of past projects and this gallery wall that is a mix of printables I've created and art I love. It is this little space that feels like me.

But truthfully, I haven't spent much time in there.

When Adrian transformed this space, I had envisioned spending evenings in there, typing away happily and creating content for this blog. I imagined feeling inspired and creative and having endless ideas. Truthfully, I think I was looking for something on the outside to spark something on the inside. I thought if I had the right environment, inspiration would strike and the ideas would flow easily.  I thought that just by walking into the room, ideas would come. Clearly, that did not happen.

I'm sitting in my guest room/office now and I still don't have tons of ideas, but I am here. I think we all have these stories to tell and sometimes they come quickly and sometimes they form slowly over time. But they never come if I don't take the time to actually sit still and write them. No amount of pink paint is going to change that writing and creativity take time. And peace and quiet.

As winter approaches, I'm making a promise to myself to spend more time in this room, knowing that stories don't come from the right frame on the wall or the perfect rug, but from a quiet, stillness within me.  And that if I take that time to sit and think and wonder and reflect and stare off into the distance, ideas and stories and projects will come. 

Though notepads and notebooks that match my wall decor certainly can't hurt, right?

P.S. One day when I find some decent lighting, I'll include some photos of my little office because I absolutely love it. If you lived here and you came over, it's the first room I'd want you to see.

And also, the notebook and notepad were gifts from my sister along with the most perfect "Paris is always a good idea" print for my gallery wall. She gets me.

We have these photos to remind us.

In the past year, one of the joys of having Alexia (my niece) in our lives has been seeing my parents as grandparents. Though my dad can be somewhat intimidating, he is an absolute teddy bear with my niece. Alexia adores her grandfather and I have loved seeing them together. 

This past summer, we took a trip to Vermont for my dad's family reunion. Alexia was almost a year old and had a difficult weekend. The traveling and sleeping in a hotel had messed with her schedule and she was unhappy. The second morning, we took an overly tired baby from her overly tired mom's arms and played with Alexia awhile so Erin could sleep a bit longer. In that perfect morning light on those perfectly white sheets, I grabbed these images of my dad and his first grandchild. And they are absolute magic.

Long after Alexia heads off to kindergarten and high school and college, I know my dad will hold on to these images. I love that, through photography, these small moments of love that we might have forgotten remain with us. When she is older and it is hard to remember just how little she was, we have these photos to remind us. And I love that.

Maine Photography: Baby Petra

It's been a while since I've written here but it's fall which is the start of a new school year and fall always feels like the right time to get back to routines and to come back to blogging. I feel a bit rusty so I am going to lead off with some photo posts from the summer.

My sister has a lovely coworker named Emily whom I've gotten to know a bit over the few years they've worked together. She's seen many of the photos I've taken of my niece Alexia. When she found out she was pregnant with her first child, she asked Erin if I might be willing to take some pictures of her baby. As luck would have it, beautiful baby Petra was born just days before I came into town. I was thrilled to meet her and so honored to be invited into Emily and Tom's home to snap pictures of this then just days old family of three.

I adore these photos and am so thankful to have met Petra in her first days. I am hoping to be able to catch up with her and her wonderful parents when I am home once again in December.

It's good to be back in this space, friends. More photos to come.

Awe, persistence, and delight.

I am quite fortunate to come from a family of lengthy marriages. My paternal grandparents were very much in love until the very end when my grandfather passed away from cancer. A few summers ago, I spent some time with my grandmother and she showed me a picture of my grandfather. He had passed years before and she told me how she missed him and how she would never understand why he had chosen her. But she felt lucky that he had.

My maternal grandparents have been married for sixty years now. Between countries and cultures and languages, they remain together. When I'm home, I can spend hours with them, just listening to stories of their early years together. Luckily for me, my grandfather is not one to spare any detail. This past visit, we had only made it to the early 1950s by the end of the afternoon so I brought him lunch the next day to hear more. I don't believe we made it out of the 1960s. I adore my grandparents and their never-ending arguments. They simply cannot agree on who my uncle's doctor was in the 1950s and will most likely argue it out for years to come. But it's astounding to realize that they have all those years of details and history that no one else knows or remembers. And I cannot imagine one of them without the other.

And my own parents' marriage I admire to the utmost. There's this mutual agreement that they are just fine the way they are. Well aware of each others' faults and limits, they not only accept those faults, but they find them endearing. When I read a description of my personality following an exam for work, I quickly phoned my dad to share it with him. The extent to which it described my mother was uncanny. He laughed as I read and tossed in his own examples. While the profile was actually a bit harsh in its description of anxiety, my father's tone was anything but. With a laugh and an "Oh yes, that is most certainly you, your mother and your grandfather," he affirmed the results without the slightest tone of judgment. 

Adrian and I have been married just over three and a half years. One of the joys of marriage is if we don't have it all figured out quite yet, that's perfectly fine because there are many more years ahead to continue working at it. In the years to come, I'd like to take a bit of all of these marriages I admire and integrate them into my own. That awe that Adrian could have picked me. That persistence of togetherness across countries and cultures and languages. That utter acceptance and, better, delight in each other's limits.

Yes. Awe, persistence, and delight. I'd like my marriage to be marked by awe, persistence, and delight.

A Backyard Picnic Party

A couple months ago, my good friend Meredith asked if I'd be up for helping plan her birthday party again this year, since we had such a good time planning her party last year! So of course I said yes. Meredith was hoping for a backyard picnic party and I was so excited to get planning.

It would appear our landlord was equally excited for this party because a few weeks before, he put up that lovely fence and repainted the back of the garage to match. I am so excited to have a backyard with a bit of privacy and it looks amazing! Points for a great landlord. 

I also have to mention that orange striped blanket. My mum picked it up for me as an Easter gift because she knew we were having this picnic party. And it just happened to be the exact colors we had chosen for the party. So thanks, Lydiebell!

I love how it came together. Meredith's mum, Edie, came into town for the weekend and she is absolutely wonderful. She and Meredith came to the house the afternoon of the party and worked alongside Adrian and myself as we got everything ready for the party. I love when I get to spend time with Edie. She is such a joy and so talented. She has a great eye for design and helped us make a bunch of gametime decisions.

In the second photo below, I printed out some glassine bags and filled each with a napkin, straw and utensils. I decided the bags in Photoshop and printed them at home on my printer. For further instructions on how to print your own, check out this post on DIY printed bags.

Meredith wanted to show a movie during the party so she thought to include a popcorn bar for movie-snacking! Such a great idea, right? We had planned to use our projector once the sun set, but we forgot about the motion-sensor lights that can't be turned off. Yelling "nobody move for the next two hours!" didn't work out so we ended up bringing out the TV at the last minute. As much as I think I have every detail covered, something always comes up and I learn to just roll with it. We made it work in the end and everyone enjoyed it so let's chalk that up as a win, no?

Lastly, we got the idea from Pinterest to offer pre-mixed drinks in jars. I love this idea and plan to do this all throughout the summer. Generally, Adrian ends up playing bartender at parties and while he enjoys mixing drinks, it's nice to not have duties during a party. With drinks set out in jars, anyone can grab one when they'd like and Adrian gets to just sit back and enjoy the company. Win-win. 

All-in-all, I loved this party. It was such a relaxing night of hanging out with friends and enjoying the beginnings of summer in the city. I loved seeing the picnic blankets fill up with friends, laughing and celebrating Meredith's birthday. Best moment? When the sun started to set and the strings of lights set that quintessential backyard summertime mood. 

This backyard picnic party just might have to become an annual event.

The 2014 Free Printable Bachelorette Bracket

I love a good reality TV show as much as the next girl. It's a kind escape from a stressful workday. But mostly, I love watching reality TV shows with friends. It's the commentary and the yelling at the TV and the live-tweeting and the getting together just because. I will take any excuse to spend time with friends during the week. 

And because I also happen to enjoy competitions that involve little-to-no skill, I've created a free printable Bachelorette Bracket! My friends and I are pretty excited to get together this Monday for the start of this ridiculous show and I thought what better way to watch than by making it a competition. And since our male friends also enjoy competition, there's a slight chance we might even get them to come out and watch.

Rules: So the way it works is for each round you get a certain number of points for your correct picks. In the first round, you get one point. In the second round, you get two points. In the third round, three points and continuing until the last round where you get ten points for having correctly chosen who Andi gives her final rose to. The winner of the bracket is the person with the highest number of points.

Since picking the first round during the first few minutes of the show may be too difficult, I will re-post this bracket for download with the top 19 already filled in. That way, you'll have a few days to fill in the rest of your bracket before next week's show. In that case, you'd start with each correct pick in round two receiving two points and continue on from there.

So grab some friends, some drinks and a bracket and start making your picks! You can find bios of the 25 contestants here.

Don't forget to check back here in the next couple days for the revised bracket with the top 19 filled in. 

Download your free printable Bachelorette Bracket here!

Update: The printable Bachelorette Bracket has been updated to include Andi's top 19! You can download the updated bracket here!

The month of Adrian.

Adrian's birthday was a few days ago. I love when his birthday rolls around because it gives me an excuse to call everyone up and say, "Hey, let's celebrate Adrian!" because I don't think he is celebrated nearly enough.

Adrian has a heart of gold. He is certainly the kindest, most considerate person I know. And quietly kind. He never seeks anything in return and there never seems to be that inner battle of "I don't want to do this, but I should." If that thought occurs, he doesn't show it in his actions. He is the first to stand and offer his seat. When we have guests, which is often, he scans the room and anticipates needs. I have learned so much about hospitality from watching him.

A few nights ago, I told him that lately he's been stealing my blankets at night. I told him mostly joking with no real hope of change because who can change their half-asleep behaviors, right? Adrian can. The next night, at one point, I woke up to find his arm reaching across me to make sure that I still had enough blanket on the other side of me. Honestly, this guy half-asleep is more considerate than me fully-awake. 

In just a couple of months we will be celebrating four years of marriage, which I can't believe. It's been four years of waking up next to him, eating quiet dinners with him, adventuring with him and laughing with him. 

I know most everyone says this, but I'm fairly certain I am getting the better end of this deal.

So if you see him around, celebrate him, won't you? Tell him how much you appreciate his cooking and his bartending skills. Or ask him about the things he likes to talk about and watch him come to life as he tells you about Mexican politics and soccer and American rock from the 70s and 80s. Then give him a big hug. Because he's adorable. 

(I should note: This post was not approved by Adrian. I'm throwing caution to the wind and I'm 100% sure I'll soon receive a text that this post is super embarrassing. But it's the month of Adrian so it's happening anyways! Also, feel free to use the comments section as your space to share what you'd like to celebrate most about him!)

A little apartment in Portland, Maine.

While I was home, I rode into downtown Portland with my sister one morning. She had to work and I had a camera so I figured she could go to work and I could walk around with my camera. So she did and I did. 

I don't often spend much time alone when I'm in Maine. Generally I hop from my sister's house to my mum's to my grandmother's with some shopping and baby snuggles in between. While I love spending time with family, I always appreciate a couple of hours to myself. 

So I walked up and down the streets of downtown Portland and remembered why I love this little city. All the brick buildings. The cobblestone streets. The ocean! The independent shops and restaurants. This city is so full of charm. 

Adrian and I are hoping to move to Maine one day to be closer to my family. I'd love to live in an apartment in the Old Port, close to my favorite coffee shop and donut shop and little bar. But I think most likely at that point we'll have a family of our own and a little apartment downtown just won't be practical. So in another life, maybe. Or maybe when we're old.

Yes, I think perhaps when we're old we'll have a little apartment in downtown Portland and we'll remember the first time Adrian came to Portland and the time when I walked and snapped pictures while my sister worked. 

And Portland will look mostly as she does today because that is her charm. 

I think I've just found a new dream.

(Side note: If you're ever in Portland, do yourself a favor and stop by The Holy Donut. I'm in love!)

Oh Hello Family Photos: Portland, Maine Photography

I have been so tired this week. Each night around 9pm, I struggle to keep my eyes open. I think it's that transition from vacation to work. Sigh. Here's to hoping for more energy next week!

So I spent all of last week back home in Maine with my family and it was wonderful. It had been four months since I had seen my niece, who is only eight months old. It is heartbreaking to realize I've missed half her life. But we got in as many snuggles as we could while we were together! When she woke up crying in the night, my sister and I were both thrilled that I got up and held Alexia until she fell back asleep. 

Each day that I stay at my sister's house, I tell my brother-in-law that it will be like I'm not even there. Which is never true because I follow them around snapping pictures at every moment. Luckily, he usually likes the pictures  so it makes me so happy to be able to pay him back a bit for his hospitality.

This vacation, Danilo agreed to go out into downtown Portland to take some family pictures. I am in love with how they turned out and I think Erin, Danilo and Alexia are all pretty pleased with them, too. Alexia doesn't say much, but I know she's loving these photos.

I love this little family and am so glad to be a part of them. It has been so exciting to see Alexia growing and changing and to see my sister and brother-in-law as parents.

Annnnnnd I might be biased but my niece is hands-down the cutest. Ever.

Practicing Hospitality: Easy ways to welcome guests into your home

I heard a few years ago that some families are creating mottos or values which they prioritize. For example, a family might practice generosity and their family motto might simply be "The _____ family is generous." They remind themselves of this and teach their children to similarly value that trait or characteristic.

I think what others notice about Adrian and me is that we are hospitable. I don't think we initially set out to be hospitable but with my love of party planning and his cooking talents, we found it best to shower our friends and family with love through opening our home to them at every chance we get. 

I wanted to write a bit about what we do to make guests feel at home when they come to visit. This is by no means an exhaustive list of must-dos, but rather a compilation of a few ideas that have worked for us over the years.

Before your guest arrives:
  • Check in with your guest before they arrive to find out about food allergies and/or preferences. Adrian is an excellent cook and many of our guests have favorites dishes he's made in the past and we aim to please.
  • Have a few ideas of places to visit. Lots of cities have passes available to different museums. Chicago offers these through the libraries. I usually try to get passes before my guest arrives. I also do some research beforehand, searching for attractions, neighborhoods, stores or restaurants that might be interesting for my guest. In the end, the guest has the final say. Sometimes we do none of what I've thought of and that is totally fine. The idea is to avoid the "I don't know. What do you want to do?" conversation. 
  • Set out a welcome basket. I love to include favorite snacks/drinks/souvenirs/trinkets, anything to let them know that we are excited to have them with us. If they lived in Chicago or visited before, I try to find snacks or foods I know they love that they can't find in other places.
  • Have fresh flowers just because. I love fresh flowers and they don't have to cost a lot. Grocery store flowers are fine. (The flowers in this post came from Whole Foods for just $10.) They brighten up a space and add some cheer.
  • Set out towels, face cloths, toiletries. I generally fold them and place them on the desk in our guest room where they will be seen. If our guest wants to shower at 5am, they have everything they need to be able to do so without searching.
  • Place extra blankets at the foot of the bed or in a basket nearby. Who hasn't shivered through a night and wished for extra blankets? It's awful so extra blankets within reach are a godsend. You never know how a guest prefers to sleep, but best safe than sorry.
  • Have extra toiletries on hand. I usually try to keep a small stock of new toothbrushes, deodorant, etc on hand in case a guest forgets something.

Once your guest has arrived:
  • Pick up guests at the airport. It can be difficult at times and yes cabs are easy, but nothing says "I can't wait to see you!" like picking someone up at the airport. Even better if you can meet them inside the airport!
  • Help without offering. Adrian is wonderful at anticipating needs. You almost never hear him say, "Would you like me to __________?" He just does whatever needs to be done. The question "Would you like me to help you with ________?" can leave a guest feeling like they need to refuse in order to be polite. How often have you said, "Oh no, I'm okay" just to be polite? Carry luggage, open doors, anticipate needs. Guests always appreciate it.
  • Give your guest space. While it's super exciting to see them, they may be exhausted and might just want some down time alone so offer that to them. They may also need a couple minutes alone to let their loved ones know they arrived safely. 

After your guest has left:
  • Make sure your guest arrived home safely. I always ask our guests to text me to let me know they got in okay. If they don't text me, I call them just to double check. It's also a good chance to let our guest know how much we loved having them. 
While I'm sure none of these are particularly life-altering, the idea is to make others feel at home and welcomed. We think about how we feel when we're not home and strive to meet those needs for our guests to cut down on the discomfort of being away. I find it's small preparations that make people feel comfortable.

I hope these ideas help you out the next time you have a guest in town! Tell me, what are some things you do to make guests feel welcome? I'd love to hear some fresh ideas!

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