Leighton is Three!

Height + Weight: 37″ // 33.4 lbs

When the new year rolled around, we finally became tired of making Leighton a separate meal almost every night for dinner. Since the first night that we gave her a plate with the same food we had, she’s become a good bit more adventurous and will usually try at least a bite of everything on her plate. To our surprise, asparagus and green beans have become a couple of her favorite foods, and we’d never have known that if we hadn’t put them on her plate when we were eating them.

Some huge milestones she accomplished this spring/summer: moving to a toddler bed and potty training! Both were things that we admittedly held off on as long as we could, but she jumped in headfirst with each challenge and never looked back. She has had only recently started getting out of bed in the morning, but it’s only to grab some stuffed friends and then she gets back in bed and sings to herself until I get her. And potty training went so well that she practically trained herself. I’ve heard so many horror stories on both fronts, so to say we’re proud of these two accomplishments would be an understatement!

The most recent, huge milestone is that she started preschool at the end of August! I’ve been both excited for and dreading this time, because it marks a new chapter in her life as she starts her school journey and has something that is all her own without mommy and daddy. She’s in the 2 year old Bunny class (just missed the 3yr class cutoff by 9 days) and will be going twice a week for half days this year. I’m looking forward to having a little more time to myself for work, the gym, and other things while she’s at school… and then going to pick her up and hearing all about her day with her new friends and teachers. Her first day of school was amazing (no tears!), and when she got back in the car afterward, she said, “I had the best time!” I am so thankful we got into such a great program at our local Methodist church, and I can’t wait to see how much she learns and grows.

Disney princess movies, Trolls, Doc McStuffins, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (especially the “Count Mickula” episode) and Mickey and the Roadster Racers, and The Muppet Babies (or Muffin Babies, as she calls them). We’re going to Disney World for her first trip in October, so we’ve been a little heavy on the Disney movies and characters to get her excited. Snow White and “the funny guys” were her first favorites, but I think Frozen, The Little Mermaid, and Tangled are all top contenders now. I absolutely cannot wait to see her face when we walk into the Magic Kingdom and her Disney friends come to life right before her eyes.

She LOVES the pool and everything it entails. Practicing swimming, jumping off the side while singing silly versions of the songs we learned in swim class, playing on the steps and going underwater while holding her breath for a few seconds… I think she was born to be in the water. Needless to say, we’ve spent a lot of time in the pool this summer, which is fine by me.

Playing is one of her favorite things, whether it’s swinging, sliding, jumping on the trampoline, “walking the beam” on our neighborhood curbs, riding her trike or little Minnie Mouse four wheeler, making pretend food in her kitchen, doing puzzles, blowing bubbles, giving us and her animals check ups like Doc McStuffins does, or coloring and putting stickers on every surface possible. She is obsessed with the play set at my parents’ house and loves hanging upside down from the set of swinging bars. She just got a bunch of new play food for her birthday and has been busy serving us meals of hot dogs and ice cream, as well as full-on birthday parties, every day since her party.

Her current favorite foods are all fruits, PBJs and grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese dip and chips (she gets that honestly), asparagus, bacon, hot dogs, “fancy cheese” (pimiento cheese), pickles, popsicles and ice cream, PEZ candy, and cheese quesadillas with black beans and rice that she demands to add to them “alla by myself.”

She doesn’t really have many dislikes these days. Being told she has to go to bed is probably one of her least favorite things, and she’ll sometimes put up a fight or start acting like a lunatic when we go upstairs (especially for naps), but she does at least listen and calm down when she realizes there is no other option. Mama is clinging onto those naps like nobody’s business.

Other Fun Stuff:
This past year has turned our little toddler who mumble-jumbled lots of words that only we could really understand into a full-blown little kid who has a variety of thoughts, ideas, observations, and opinions all her own, and she tells us about them all day long. She counts numbers and sings her alphabet and various other songs she’s learned while she lies in her bed in the mornings before I come in to get her. As my mother in law has said, “she goes to bed talking and she wakes up talking!”

She has a great imagination and loves making picnic dinners and tea for us in her play kitchen. She’s learning what it means to share, take turns, and be kind to her friends, and we so enjoy watching her play and interact with them. Play dates have gotten really fun because she can do so many things, so we have spent a lot of time at the pool and splash pads, on slip n slides, and at our friends’ houses this past summer. We spent a lot of time at The Battery with friends, which has become one of our favorite local places to hang out.

We took our favorite family trip of the year to St. Augustine, FL back in June, and we had the most fun yet with our crazy, hilarious toddler. In addition to wanting to “swim like a fish” all over the Atlantic Ocean, her other favorite activities included sea shell hunting and drawing chalk rainbows on the front deck with my mom. She was so well-behaved at our numerous dinners out, and we had way too much ice cream, just as you should on a proper beach vacation. My dad introduced her to this thing called a “candy store,” and I’m pretty sure her life was changed forever. She is now a very big fan of gummy worms.

To celebrate Leighton’s 3rd birthday, we knew we had to have it at The Little Gym where she takes her weekly gymnastics classes. She’s been a little rockstar from the start, and it’s been so fun watching how strong and fearless she is. We hosted her party over Labor Day weekend and invited our families and all of her little friends. Since she still love Trolls so much, we chose that as her party theme, with big Poppy balloons, fun iced cookies, rainbow cupcakes, and Trolls rock candy favors. It was the best party!

This year has flown by even faster than the first two did, and I’m sure they’ll only continue to go by more quickly. I’m so very thankful that I have the opportunity to stay home with Leighton during this sweet, exhausting, fun phase of life. I say it with every phase, but this is truly the most fun age so far. It’s bittersweet to watch her getting so big… but it’s even more amazing to watch her grow into her own person. One of my favorite things is when she comes up to give one of us a huge hug and says, “I just love you so much! The whole wide world and the fish in the sea!” Heart. Melted. More than anything, we’re just thankful to have a healthy, happy daughter. Leighton is the greatest blessing and joy of our lives, and I hope you’ve enjoyed following along on our adventures!

2 years/September::














3 years/September::

Our Family Beach Trip


We recently spent a full week on vacation in our favorite place, St. Augustine, Florida. This was the longest we’ve ever been able to stay there, and it was the absolute perfect amount of time to get in several beach days, have lots of downtime, visit our Jax family, and do so many of our favorite things in downtown St. Aug. We came back relaxed and refreshed, but also a little bit sad knowing we’d have to wait another year to get back! 🙂

For the first time ever, I scheduled family photos to take place during our vacation, which coincided with our 9r anniversary. We had our photographer, Megan of Upon Waves, come right to the beach house, because that’s the most special place to us — and it’s just up the beach from where we got married. It started out as a bright and sunny afternoon, but the sky turned dark with rain clouds as we approached sunset, and we got the most beautiful images in return. She let us just be ourselves, so with an almost 3yr old, that meant running, playing, splashing, and collecting sea shells. I am absolutely in love with the images she gave us, and as I told her, I wish I could wallpaper our house with them. These photos will always hold a very special place in my heart. I’ll share a few favorites here, but you can see more over on my MHP blog — or check out Megan’s site for the full post, including a cool story about the beach house!


As usual, my mom accompanied us for the week, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s such a fun, easy-going travel partner, and Leighton had so much fun playing with her Mee every day of our trip. She also makes this trip seem a lot more like an actual vacation (because we know that “vacations” with kids are usually not in any way relaxing), and we’re so very grateful for her constant help. My dad joined us for a couple days, and Craig’s brother even flew down from Nashville for a good portion of the trip. It was so much fun sharing our week with family!

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We had the most beautiful week of weather, so most of our days were spent playing and relaxing on the beach. We did take one day to go to Jax for lunch and visiting with my grandmother, Nana, and some of my mom’s family. Leighton had a blast playing with her older “cousins” (my cousin Alli’s kids), and I just wish we’d had more time to spend together. Next year, we need a big play day at the beach while we’re there.


Other than beach time, we got in so many delicious meals, including lots of fresh Florida seafood. If you’re looking for places to eat and drink in the St. Augustine area, I recommend Cap’s on the Water, Aunt Kate’s, Prohibition Kitchen, A1A Ale House, The Columbia, and Tini Martini Bar. Lots of great food, great water views at several of these spots, and just a fun vacation atmosphere all around. There was ice cream had after dinner many nights, and Leighton discovered the greatness that is gummy worms after a trip to the candy store with BaBa. We waited all week to ride the vintage carousel at the park near downtown, and we finally got lucky on our last night. It was the perfect ending to our trip — great dinner, fancy ice cream sammies, a walk through historic downtown, and a couple rounds on the carousel before heading home.

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This trip is hands down one of the things I most look forward to all year long, and this year was one for the record books. Leighton is at such a funny age where almost everything she does elicits laughter from us, and we had such a great time playing with her on the beach. She’s still a little young to sit for any length of time and just dig in the sand, so we practiced swimming in the ocean, we looked for shells, we watched birds, we built castles, we blew bubbles, we ate popsicles… you get the idea. We did manage to get some relaxing time in when she went up to the house with my mom, though. 🙂 The memories we have from this trip will be some lifetime favorites.











Leighton @ 2.5 Years


Where has the time gone? Leighton is growing and changing every day, and we are just in awe of the little person she is becoming. She is bursting with personality, and I was just thinking to myself the other day that it’s amazing how much joy is bottled up inside that tiny body of hers. I can only hope that it never fades. I never want to forget the funny and sweet aspects of this age… mispronouncing so many words that I kind of wish she’d never get right, her inquisitiveness, her need for Mommy, her big love and big tantrums, and her innocent little belly laugh.


Height + Weight: approx 35″ // 31 lbs

Milestones: The most noticeable change in the past 6 months is just how much Leighton has been learning every single day. She begs me to say the ABC’s and numbers 1-10 in Spanish allll the time. She knows her shapes and colors and is learning to count the teen numbers. She repeats literally everything we say to her, and it’s both adorable and amazing… and also a little scary. We really have to start watching what we say around her now!

One of my favorite (silly) milestones she’s hit is finally having enough hair for a pony tail! She prefers it in water spout form on top of her head so that her bangs stay out of her eyes, and I’d be ok with her wearing it like that forever if she could get away with it. We now call it her “poppy tail” because she has tall hair like Poppy from the “Trolls” movie, which is also a big time favorite right now.

In late January, we started a weekly Parent & Me swim class in preparation for the summer. She absolutely hated it the first time, but after about 5 minutes in the pool the second week, she was asking for “moe-er” after every activity and exercise we did. She told us she’s going to swim like a fish! We are so proud of her for overcoming that fear of something new and learning to love it so quickly.


Some of the biggest news of this season — we registered our baby for preschool! It was a much more involved process than I’d have ever thought, considering she’ll still only be in a 2 year old class next fall (she just misses the cut-off by 9 days). She will be going 2 half days each week to a wonderful program at the church we’re starting to go, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’ll certainly be a big, exciting, and also kind of sad day dropping her off for the first time, but I have no doubt she’s going to absolutely thrive during her time at school.

Likes: Leighton still LOVES her Little Gym classes, and she seems to learn new tricks every week. Her favorite is the rings, and she stays on them most of the class when they’re out. She has mastered her forward rolls and has learned how to do an assisted backward roll as well. As you can see below, she’s a pro at pulling her legs/feet all the way up to the rings (and the bar) and she’s learned how to do wall handstands, which she loves doing all over the place now. She is such a strong little thing!



She’s just slightly obsessed with “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.” We currently have almost 40 episodes saved on our tv, and she knows what each episode is just by the preview image that comes up. She’s very opinionated on which ones she wants to watch and will ask to see the same one 10x on repeat. Her “hot dog dance” is so animated and could make even the most unhappy person smile.

Dislikes: There isn’t much she doesn’t like these days other than when she thinks she’s going to be left somewhere without Mommy. She’s usually ok after a few minutes, though, so hopefully she will start learning that we always come back to get her just like we say we will.

Other fun stuff:  Given her love of gym class, we dressed her up as an Olympic Gymnast for Halloween, and it was the most perfect costume for her. She had a blast during the Halloween season picking out pumpkins, looking at neighbors’ decorations, and trick-or-treating.





The Christmas season was more magical than I could have imagined this year. We saw some awesome decorations around the city, baked and decorated cookies, visited with 3 different Santas, and took a train ride with Christmas characters in Blue Ridge. One of the books we read every night before bed was called “Christmas in the Manger,” and she learned to recognize the Wise Men, Mary, Joseph, and “Bobby Geezus.” We laughed every single time she said Baby Jesus’ name. She also sadly caught her first real stomach bug the day after Christmas, which resulted in us turning around on our drive up to Nashville because she got sick in the car not once, but three times. Oh my gosh, so much YUCK. We both ended up catching it from her and delayed our trip to do Christmas with Craig’s family until after the New Year when we knew we’d all be well. 🙂








At the start of the new year, we finally decided to start “Operation Leighton Eats What We Eat” at home. She’s always been great about eating breakfast and lunch, but dinners have been hit or miss. I was also tired of feeling like a short order cook, always trying to figure out something else for her to eat if we didn’t think she’d like what we’d made for dinner. We still have our nights where she’s not really interested in what’s on her plate, but she knows that’s all she gets. It’s been going surprisingly well for the most part, and she even devoured 4 whole asparagus stalks the other night! Just goes to show that you never know what you like until you try it.


We took a long overdue drive down to Florida in late February to see some family in Tallahassee and visit my hometown (which Leighton had never been to!). A total of 18 hours in the car roundtrip made us all a little stir crazy, but Leighton did amazingly well, thanks to my mom hanging with her in the backseat and giving her ALL the snacks. We finally met my cousin Travis’ little guy, James, who is about a year younger than L. She called him “dat boy” and “Miss Games,” and they had the best time playing together. My sweet aunt and uncle were the best hosts, and we even got to see my cousin Jake play with his band, Taller Trees, on a parents night out with my cousins.


Leighton’s first visit to Arcadia was nothing short of perfect. By some miracle, all of our dearest friends were free to visit with us, including several who had still not met L. We spent a lot of time with two of my childhood best friends and their families, and my faux brother, affectionately called Bubba, even made a last minute trek across the state so we could see him and meet his son. Leighton was showered with fun gifts, we saw a dozen deer in my parents’ yard one night, we shared delicious meals with our family and friends, and L was introduced to the magic of hover boards and running around in the sprinkler with no clothes on. It was pretty much her Heaven, and she definitely did not want to leave. 🙂 It’s so special to have lifelong friends who are like family and who welcome you home with open arms after a long-awaited visit.




Favorite things Leighton says:
-“scawbees” = strawberries
-“gelly and buttah” = peanut butter and jelly sandwich
-has occasionally started calling Craig “Dad” instead of “Daddy” and thinks she’s hilarious
-“shau shau” = when she wants to take a shower
-“hanitizer” = hand sanitizer
-calls Coco her “puppy sisser”
-“gammies” = jammies/pajamas
-calls Chick-fil-a “Kit-ah-lay-House”
-“poke-tee-pine” = porcupine
-says “ill-uh-skay-tuh” for the illustrator of a book (we’re working on author, illustrator, etc.)
-asks “What’s DAT mean?!” when she doesn’t know something
-she’s started telling us “I love you, Mommy (or Daddy)” and it’s heart melting

By far the sweetest and most endearing thing she has said to date is this: She had a sleepover with my mom in February and they were lying on her bed before bedtime. My mom put her hand over Leighton’s chest so she could feel her heart beating. Without prompting, she said “Baby Geezus lives in my heart!” Oh, out of the mouths of babes…




























Tips for preparing your home for your newborn session | Atlanta Newborn Photographer

Most of you know that I own a photography business (Melissa Hayes Photography) here in Atlanta, but I don’t share a lot of my work stuff here on my personal blog. I plan to start incorporating some of my tutorial/tip posts and maybe some session sneaks to give you guys a peek into my business and passion. My work is a reflection of my heart and soul, so I want to share some of that with all of you here!

First up — tips for preparing your home for your newborn photo session.

So you have a baby on the way (yay!) and have booked a photographer for newborn portraits…. how do you prepare for your session once baby is here? I sometimes get questions or concerns from parents about not having the perfect nursery, or their house is a mess, or they don’t have much space for newborn portraits… but I’m here to assure you that I’ve worked with a variety of spaces and lighting situations, and I can always find a spot to work with. My goal is to capture this special, awe-inspiring time in your lives — so while the backdrop is a component of your photos, it’s certainly not the focus. I’ve compiled my top tips for parents to help make your in-home newborn session as easy and seamless as possible.

  1. Before the session, walk around your house to determine which rooms have the best natural lighting during the day. Sunlight provides a beautiful, natural-looking light for photographs. So turn off the overhead lights and lamps (I know you think that’s crazy, but I promise it’s the way to go!) and open up those blinds and curtains. When I arrive, I’ll do a walk-through to find a couple spots that work best for lighting. Even if it’s just a hallway or a guest bedroom, we can set up shop and you’ll never know the difference in your final images. I do have a special love for shooting in the nursery to capture some shots of baby in his or her own space, even if it’s just using the crib or glider for some solo shots. If you don’t have a lot of natural light streaming into your home, don’t worry — I can bring along some extra lights in case they’re needed.
  2. How should you dress your family? For parents and siblings, there’s no need to match — coordinating colors/patterns are best for photos. Neutral colors are great because they are pleasing to the eye and don’t compete with the focus of the photos, which is your family! The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and look like yourself. If you can have the baby in just a diaper (swaddled up is fine), then we can easily start photos without having to disturb them by removing clothing. I also love a baby in a plain white or light-colored onesie, so having one on-hand is great.
  3. I will provide a few neutral-colored blankets for backdrops, various colored wraps/swaddle blankets, headbands, hats, and a large basket for photos. You are more than welcome to provide anything else you like — a family quilt, a special stuffed animal or outfit, swaddle blankets, headbands, etc. I also have a white noise app that I can play from my phone, but if you have a noise machine or soft music, we can play that to keep the baby calm.
  4. An hour prior to the session start time, turn your thermostat up to about 85 degrees. It’ll be quite toasty for the adults, but baby will love it and be nice and cozy, especially when partially or fully unclothed.
  5. Plan to feed your baby just before the session starts in order to help induce sleep. A full baby is a happy, sleepy baby. It’s also a good idea to have an extra bottle on hand or be prepared to nurse in case they get hungry mid-way through.
  6. It may be easier said than done, but try to relax and just enjoy your session celebrating the newest member of your family! You’re here to soak in the newborn smell, the baby snuggles, and the love that created this new life. I’m here to take care of the details and create beautiful images for you to cherish forever.

Follow Melissa Hayes Photography on Instagram or Facebook — or sign up for my enews via my website to be the first to get inside info and other fun stuff!

Christmas 2017


This Christmas season was a magical one, indeed. It was so easy to get wrapped up in the festiveness of the season with a two-year-old, even if she did try to sabotage a few of my fun plans, because #toddler. To help guide us through this busy, busy time of the year a little more intentionally (and not miss out on a lot of fun ideas), we did Leighton’s first advent calendar. She didn’t quite understand the idea of it, but she definitely enjoyed the end result. We included a variety of activities, some new and old traditions, some acts of kindness and ways to give to others, and some ways to teach Leighton the true, great reason for this season.

There are so many moments I want to remember from this season, this year, with this incredible little toddler of ours. Seeing the look on Leighton’s face when she saw our new Santa and puppy blow up in the front yard. Spending our first REAL, amazing snow day together and decorating our first gingerbread house to pass our time indoors. Listening to her recite the animals and names of everyone in “Christmas in the Manger” as she learned them — our favorite being “Bobby Geezus” for Baby Jesus. Showing Leighton how to roll out cookie dough and laughing about the 1,000 sprinkles she decided to use on one cookie during our annual baking/decorating day with Mee. Teaching Leighton about the importance of giving to others when we make a special outing to fill our shopping cart full of toys to donate to other little boys and girls “to make happy,” as she said. Watching her excitement on Christmas morning when she realized that the Minnie Mouse 4-wheeler (“roller coaster” as she calls it) and helmet under the tree were just for her. Enjoying the madness that is Christmas morning with my parents, beaming with happiness at spending this special day with their children, children-in-law, and two grand babies. Finally making it up to Nashville to extend our holiday celebrations with Craig’s family and sharing so many laughs, meals, and wonderful moments together.

This season was one for the books, and I’m so very thankful for the countless memories made over the past month. Here are a few of my favorites…


My Top 10 Favorite Memories of 2017

This year was one for the books. We traveled, we spent loads of quality time with our family and friends, we saw some great concerts, we tried new restaurants, we cheered our football teams on to have great seasons, and we watched our baby girl turn into a full-blown toddler.

There were of course some hard times, particularly the loss of my beloved grandmother, Nannie, whom we all miss dearly. She was the tiniest woman, but she gave the biggest and best bear hugs. Our entire lives, she told us she loved us “a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck” — and every time I hear that phrase, it will always make me think of her.  And I have no doubt that she was smiling down from Heaven when Leighton had her first taste of powdered sugar while we were baking recently. 🙂

Mostly, though, this year was pretty wonderful, so I’m going to take a little walk down memory lane and share my top 10 favorite memories from 2017. I think it’s a great way to end the year on a positive note, and doing this has made me even more excited to see what 2018 brings! Here are my favorites, in no particular order:

1. Becoming an aunt! This was far and away the best moment of the year for me! And I think it was pretty cool for the rest of our family, too. 😉 My sister-in-law Lauren gave birth to the sweetest little boy, Jack Bryan, on April 18th, and it was easily one of the best days of all of our lives. Being an aunt is second only to being a mom, and I am so thrilled that we live near them to watch Jack grow and also to give Leighton the opportunity to grow up with her cousin. It’s hard to believe he is already over 8 months old, but it’s been pure joy snuggling on him and loving him this year. I have a feeling we’re in for a lot of fun in 2018 with these two!

2. Our couples trip to Napa. This trip was long overdue and something that we had been planning and talking about and eagerly awaiting since the idea was first thrown around the summer before. I’d been to Napa a few years ago with two of my best girlfriends, and we could not wait to go back with our husbands. We went with 4 couples, and it was absolutely one of mine and Craig’s favorite vacations we’ve ever been on together. It was 4 days filled with laughter, good chats, amazing food and incredible wineries, beautiful California scenery, and so many memories made. If only life (and our wallets) would allow for trips like this every year.

3. Celebrating Leighton turning 2! Our baby girl went from a little one year old to a full-blown toddler this fall, and we couldn’t be more proud of the person she’s becoming. Leighton is smart as a whip, so loving and caring, kind to her friends, the best sharer, a total comedian, and she spreads joy wherever she goes. She has also had many fun moments acting out the terrible twos, so we won’t pretend it’s all good all the time, but that’s to be expected. 🙂 We had the BEST time celebrating her 2nd birthday, and it went on for a couple weeks, which is just my style. Her Puppy PAWty was a labor of love and my favorite party I’ve ever thrown, and it was the first time she was really old enough to get excited about the things we planned, knowing she’d love them. What a fun life to be two and have a bounce house, hot dog bar, pupcakes, and all of your favorite friends in attendance for your special day!

4. Our first “just because” girls trip. This was another trip that was seriously overdue and highly anticipated. I’ve gotten to go on a number of girls trips over the years, but they have almost always been for a friend’s bachelorette party. Don’t get me wrong — I totally love those trips, but it was fun and refreshing to plan a trip with 3 of my very best friends just for the sake of doing it. We chose Rosemary Beach, FL, which is one of the most pristine and serene beach spots there is. I’ve vacationed there a few times and have fallen in love with the area, so it was pretty amazing to spend a few days of uninterrupted girl time there this summer. We spent our days on the white sand beach, leisurely went to happy hours and dinners,  and laughed until the wee hours of the night. Oh, it was amazing, and I cannot wait until we get to do it again. It was truly good for this mama’s soul.

5. Watching Leighton learn and thrive in her gym classes. We enrolled her in Little Gym classes this summer because she’s, well… crazy and active and rambunctious and in need of a way to release some energy! It was the best decision, and she has been thriving and learning so much every week. It’s absolutely amazing to see what her tiny little body is capable of, and I’m so happy to see how much she loves going to the gym each week. Her gym teacher jokes that she’ll be so proud to have known her “way back when” when she’s in the Olympics one day. I don’t know if it’ll ever come to that, but it’s pretty cool watching her find something she really loves to do at this age. Hopefully it’ll be something she sticks with as she grows!

6. Celebrating 8 years! We’ve actually been together for 12 years (!!), and I’m not sure how that much time has passed, but it’s been one amazing ride together so far. We have created the most incredible little life for ourselves, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have Craig by my side every day. We spent our 8th wedding anniversary celebrating with a most delicious dinner at St. Cecilia in Buckhead, and I’ve pretty much been dreaming about that meal ever since. To make our meal even more special, we brought a bottle of wine from one of our favorite wineries (Italics) from our Napa trip. We both really enjoy trying new restaurants and treating ourselves to an extra nice meal once in a while, and this outing checked all the boxes in every way.

7. Our annual trip to the beach house. My favorite place in the world is actually not even that far away from home, all things considering. St. Augustine has had my heart since I was a little girl, and I’m still elated every year when our annual trip rolls around. Bless my grandmother for holding onto her beach house for all these years, even though she rarely visits it these days. I can only hope that it will stay in the family for decades to come, because it’s given all of us some of the best memories of our childhoods into adulthood. This was our 2nd trip down with Leighton, and this year, we invited Craig’s parents to come along with us and my mom. I am so very glad we did, because spending a week together allowed Leighton to really get to know her NaNa and Pop (who live in TN) and has changed her relationship with them for the better ever since. We soaked up the sun on the basically deserted beach, we ate and drank and laughed to our heart’s content, we relaxed and enjoyed being together, spent some time with my precious grandmother Nana, and we went out for ice cream after dinner more than once, because #vacation.

8. Lazy summer days. And we had plenty of ’em. In particular, I will remember watching Leighton and her neighborhood best friend, Emmy, running through the  sprinkler in their diapers, eating ice pops, and chasing bubbles without a care in the world. Almost every afternoon after her nap, she’d request to go out to our front lawn to “pay” (play). We’d set up the baby pool or bubble machine, strip off her clothes (also at her request), play music, and just sit and watch as she ran, laughed, and played. Emmy and her her mom and baby sis would often be out for an afternoon walk and would of course stop to hang out, usually until dinner time. Little moments like this are so simple, but they really are some of the best.

9. A banner year for Melissa Hayes Photography. After four years in business, this has by far been the best one in so many ways. My client base has continued to grow — I was fortunate to serve 65 different families and organizations in a total of 89 sessions. I was accepted into NAPCP and have taken in priceless training and guidance from some industry professionals who I really admire. I’ve begun forming relationships with some pretty amazing fellow photographers, and most importantly, I’ve had the honor of capturing important and special moments for a number of amazing families who I love and adore. This business of mine is so much more than just a job — it’s my passion and something that brings an immense joy and fulfillment to my life. There’s not a day that goes by that I am not thanking God for this opportunity to do what I love while still having the blessing of raising my daughter and being with her every day. (The photos below are my Instagram #top9 based on likes.)

10. Experiencing the holidays with a 2-year-old. Oh, how every holiday has become more magical this year — especially Christmas! It’s taking time for Leighton to warm up to Santa Claus, but she’s getting a little more comfortable with the idea of him each time we see him. She has loved reading her collection of Christmas books every night before bed, and we’ve particularly loved teaching her to help read “Christmas in the Manger.” She can name every person and animal in the book and calls Baby Jesus “Bobby Geezus”… it makes us smile every.single.time. It’s been so fun doing all these activities, teaching her about the meaning of Christmas, and experiencing the magic of the season together as a family, and I wouldn’t trade these memories for the world. I have no doubt that seeing the look on her face this Christmas morning is going to be one of my favorite holiday memories to date.

BOO! Halloween treats — no tricks!


I think it’s safe to say that after this year, Leighton is officially a big fan of Halloween. She still didn’t quite get the whole trick-or-treat concept, but she loved wearing her Olympic Gymnast costume and walking the beam (the curb around the neighborhood) and doing somersaults all over the grass. We dressed as her proud parents in our USA t-shirts, and even Coco participated with an American flag bandana. We decorated her wagon to look like the podium for the medal ceremony, where she of course took home the gold. Team LL all the way!


Leighton wasn’t even the slightest bit scared of the spooky decorations at our neighbors’ homes, and she had the time of her life running around at our neighborhood potluck with her best friend Emmy. The only house she wanted to get candy from was our next door neighbors, who are so sweet and just adore her and Coco — they even brought over a Halloween treat bag for them earlier in the day. She’s still sleeping with her stuffed ghost. 🙂 She ran between their house and ours no less than 20 times, grabbing a handful of fun sized candies and bringing them back to stash in her “putt dot” (pumpkin) treat bag. I think she would have stayed out there all night had we let her. We also ended up with more candy than we started out with, thanks to her shenanigans. 😉


Leading up to the big day, we had lots of fun outings and activities. One of my fall faves is “Scarecrows in the Garden” at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Leighton would have preferred to play on the slide and rope bridge the entire night, but we did make it around to see the various scarecrow creations with Mee and some of my old puppet coworkers.


We got a little more ambitious with our pumpkin carving this year, and it was a family collaboration… Minnie Mouse! Leighton chose the design, I drew it on the pumpkin and cleaned out the guts, and Craig spent over an hour carving the little detailed lines. Leighton was not at all interested in the carving process, but she loved stopping on our stoop to say hi to “MeeMee Mouse” every day.


One of Leighton’s favorites was the Halloween party at her Little Gym. The gym was filled to the brim with costumed children, but she managed to get some practice time on the beam and bars in her gymnast costume, and it was so cute! She amazes us at how well she’s doing in her gym class, and she just loves it to no end. Leighton is totally fearless and has so much strength for her tiny body. Who knows… maybe we really will see her in the 2032 Olympics! (A mom can dream, right?)


Each holiday we’ve celebrated this year has been so magical with Leighton, and Halloween is no exception. I can’t wait to see her eyes light up for Christmas!


Leighton is TWO


Height + Weight: approx 34” // approx 27 lbs

Milestones: She’s taken it upon herself to start potty training! A couple times a day, she’ll run to her portable potty that stays in our bathroom and ask to “pee!” — and she always does. We’re not in any rush to go full speed ahead, but it’s pretty impressive to see things connect for her and hear her vocalize what she needs. I’m hoping it’ll be a smooth transition when we do finally take the plunge. 🙂

We also had our first visit to the dentist recently. She was all about it until the actual exam. She turned into a wild animal when the dentist tried to examine her mouth, but I can’t really blame her. He told us that her teeth were beautiful, but because they’re so close together, we have to floss and brush twice a day. I was preparing for it to be an absolute nightmare because she had recently decided she hated having her teeth brushed, but it’s been the exact opposite. She actually asks to “va” (floss) her teeth and will run to her bathroom at the mention of doing it. Guess the dentist scared her straight!

Likes: Cake. And ice cream, popsicles, donuts, chocolate… she’s gotten her mama’s sweet tooth, to say the least. 🙂 She typically asks for a “pop” every single night when we’re eating dinner. We do our best to limit when we indulge her in her requests, but man, she sure does enjoy them when we give in.

PLAYING. Anywhere and on anything. She loves play grounds, splash pads, parks, and just running up and down the street. Oh, and the Little Gym class that we started this summer has been the biggest hit. She probably wishes she could go every day, but once a week will have to suffice for now. We’re prepping for the 2032 Summer Olympics with our active, fearless little girl.

She loves her books and will sit in the glider in her room sometimes and just “read” to herself, calling out “baby, Coco, puppy” on every page of her “Good Dog, Carl” book series. It’s adorable and brings tears to my eyes every time I see her doing it because it’s just a reminder of how big she’s getting.

She has a newfound love for Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Sesame Street. Her favorite characters are most definitely Cookie Monster (I wonder why?!) and Elmo, who she calls “baby.” She’s learning the names of all the characters and is also learning her letters and numbers by playing games and videos on the Sesame Street app we got.

Leighton has also really taken to her sweet baby cousin, Jack. I was a little worried about how she’d react to seeing me or my mom holding him once he arrived, but she’s totally fall in love with him, just like the rest of us. She calls him “Bobby Gack” for Baby Jack, and it is the cutest thing ever to see her try to hold and hug on him.

Dislikes: She loves playing in the car when we pull into the driveway at home, and she seriously hates it when she’s told that she has to come inside. As she’s gotten a little older and is able to understand most of what we say to her, it’s made it a lot easier to explain situations she might not like (like Mommy leaving to go to work) – so she’s able to process what is going on instead of being upset.

Fun stuff & firsts: She refers to herself as “Tay-Tee” and can also say her last name, which sounds like “Yayes.” She’s become so independent and wants to do everything on her own, which can be both good and bad. 🙂

One of my favorite things this past year has been watching her friendship grow with our neighbor Emmy. They have become the best of friends and are truly two peas in a pod. We are so thankful to have such amazing neighbors who have become great friends to both us and our daughter. I can only hope that Leighton and Emmy stay friends for life. She’s also obsessed with one of my best friend’s little boys, Nolan — or as she calls him, NoNo. They’re 4 months apart and just the cutest when they’re together.

This year has flown by even faster than the first one did, and I’m sure they’ll only continue to go by more quickly. I’m so very thankful that I have the opportunity to stay home with Leighton during this blink of an eye time in her life as she’s growing so quickly and learning new things literally every single day. It’s bittersweet to watch her getting so big… I’m sad to see more of baby Leighton slip away, but I’m even more excited to watch her become a little person with thoughts and feelings and ideas all her own. More than anything, we’re just thankful to have a healthy, happy daughter, even if it does seem like she’s growing up right before our eyes. Leighton is the greatest joy of our lives, and I hope you’ve enjoyed following along during her 2nd year!

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2 years::

Happy 2nd birthday to our girl!


I can’t believe that I’m actually typing out Leighton’s 2nd birthday post, because it sort of seems like I was just doing this for her 1st birthday. In so many ways, this second year of her life has flown by infinitely faster than the first one did. We’re on the go most days, and she’s learning new things weekly, if not daily. Watching Leighton navigate the world around her and learning how things work, seeing her personality blossom, and getting to experience things with her as she does them for the first time… it’s awe-inspiring and sort of takes my breath away at times.

I spend the majority of my day with Leighton, and just like I said last year, she is truly my best little friend, my favorite little person to do both nothing and everything with, and the absolute love of mine and her daddy’s lives.

Over the past year, we have created so many incredible, fun memories together as a family and with Leighton’s little friends. There are far too many to name them all, but these were some of my favorite memories from year two with our girl…

Finally hearing the sweet, sweet words “mama” come out of her mouth! It only took her 19 months to call me by name, and it makes me so very happy. Of course she now says it on repeat about 12,745 times a day, but I’ll take it. 😉

We celebrated Leighton’s 2nd round of holidays this past year, and it was even more fun than the first time for each one. The whole holiday season, starting with Halloween, was full of exciting, funny, and sweet memories for us. We went pumpkin picking, saw scarecrows, and her hula girl costume was a huge hit. Christmas was such a joy to spend with our families as L toddled around, and she really got into opening her gifts this year. She absolutely hated meeting Santa, but we have funny photos… and on the bright side, she did love the famed Pink Pig ride we took afterward.

I had so much fun picking out little goodies to give her for Valentine’s and Easter, and we had even more fun watching her open them. I’m a sucker for holiday festivities, so these were no exception. It truly is so magical to experience things through the eyes of your child. My dad helped her hunt Easter eggs, and to this day, every time she sees an egg, she says “BaBa,” which is her nickname for him. The things she remembers never cease to amaze us and make us laugh.

Our family trip to the beach house in St. Augustine this past spring… it was Craig’s parents’ first time going on vacation with us, and my mom joined us for the week as well. We had the best time making memories together at our favorite place, and it was so fun to have his parents around for such a substantial amount of time since they live out of state. Leighton got in some great bonding time with them, and it was obvious when we saw them again a month later. She just adores all four of her grandparents, and she is so very, very loved by them!

Starting classes at The Little Gym in Smyrna. She’s such a little daredevil, she jumps everywhere like a kangaroo, and she is very clearly destined to be a gymnast in the Summer Olympics one day. So it was obvious that she needed to start some “gymnastics” classes asap, and she absolutely loves them. I love getting to take her there every week and watching her run around the room, bouncing from mat to mat, trying out new skills and just having a blast. She calls is “pay” (play) and probably wishes she could live there!

A not-so-surprising obsession with sweets has emerged… she’s just like her mama in that regard. She wakes up and asks for “caaake!” and begs for a popsicle after dinner every night. When we ask her what a new stuffed animal or baby doll’s name is, “Cake” is always the answer. We do try to balance those requests with healthy options, but it has at least proven to be a good bribery tool when needed. 🙂

I think I had even more fun planning her 2nd birthday party than I did with her 1st (which I started working on like 8 months in advance and loved every minute of). Her personality has blossomed immensely in the past year, and now that she actually has some favorite things, it’s been so much fun planning a party to cater to those things we knew she’d be so excited about. She’s been obsessed with puppy dogs for a long time now, she loves to jump, and she’s also obsessed with cake… so a puppy PAWty with cupcakes and a bounce house was a no-brainer. Every time I found something extra to do or make for the party, it brought me so much joy to think about how much she’d like it.

Watching Leighton learn and thrive in the environment we have created for her at home has been one of the most rewarding parts of being a mom. She loves animals and can identify tons of them by making their sounds, and it’s hilarious to hear her interpretation of each one. She is so good at puzzles and can master new ones with just a few tries. Her vocabulary has really exploded recently, and we’re working on all of her colors, letters, counting, and so many new words. It’s amazing to see things connect in her little brain and then hear her voice those new things she is learning!

Leighton Lane, we wish you the happiest of birthdays, sweet baby girl! Your birthday is my favorite day. We love you more than you will ever know… thank you for making us parents two years ago, and thank you for making every day a joy.