Leighton is TWO

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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!

1 year::
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13 months::
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14 months::
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15 months::
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19 months::
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2 years::
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Happy 2nd birthday to our girl!

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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.

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A Puppy PAWty for Leighton

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Leighton is and has been obsessed with puppies for probably a year now. We have a 6yr old Rottweiler named Coco who is Leighton’s best buddy, so it’s easy to see why she has such a strong love for dogs.  She also loves to jump, and she’s constantly got cake on the brain (you know who her mom is, right?)… so when it came time to start planning her 2nd birthday party, a puppy PAWty with cupcakes and a bounce house was a no-brainer. She wore a black polka-dotted dress as a nod to Dalmatians, and by the end of the night, it was completely covered in sprinkles, icing, and Doritos. Just as it should be, right?

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I spent many nights perusing Pinterest for puppy party ideas, and I found so much cute and clever inspiration. I took some of my favorite ideas and gave them our own little spin, and I’m so thrilled with how everything turned out. Party planning is such a labor of love for me, and it makes me so happy to get to do these fun things for Leighton and share them with our loved ones.
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We decided to host her party one evening over Labor Day weekend. Dinner consisted of a hot dog bar and the yummiest BBQ smoked by Craig, fruit salad, veggies, pasta salad, baked beans, PAWtato chips, and Graham cracker bones. We got our favorite cupcakes from Smallcakes and added little sugar bones as toppers. One of my friends has a “cookie lady” she uses for all her events, so I had her make a variety of dog-inspired iced cookies… including dog bones with #llcoolhayes written on them! My mom also tried her hand at making cake “pups” for the first time, and they were a huge hit — every single one was eaten!
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We set up a puppy adoption station for her little friends to each pick out a stuffed puppy to take home (complete with an adoption certificate). Leighton appropriately named her puppy “Cake.”
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The clear favorite of the party, though, was the giant puppy bounce house in our front yard. The weather was perfect and beautiful, so most of our guests stayed outside during the party to enjoy the cooler temps and watch the kids (and some adults) jump to their hearts’ content. Leighton was just a little sad when she woke up today to see that her bounce house was no longer here.
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We had the absolute best time celebrating our favorite almost two year old with our families and so many of our friends. Life is so much better with our loved ones in it, and we are thankful to everyone, both near and far, who has helped us with raising and loving Leighton over the past two years!
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Leighton is obsessed with cake, so she was pretty thrilled when it was time for the birthday song and her own personal cupcake. She even “blew a whooshing breeze” (a line from a favorite book that has taught her how to blow) to blow out her two birthday candles. 🙂
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After all the party guests were gone, we hopped in the bounce house for a little family jumping before it had to go away. I think this photo pretty perfectly sums up Leighton during her party — a total blur because all she did was jump and play. It was the pawfect pawty!
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***For anyone who may be planning a puppy birthday party soon, here are the source links for some of our favorite party things!

Party sources::
Invitations: Pretty Parties and More on Etsy
Cupcakes: Smallcakes in Smyrna, GA
Dog bone cupcake toppers: Cranky Cake Toppers on Etsy
Custom cookies: contact for info if local to Atlanta
Hot dog menu: Pretty Parties and More on Etsy
Plush puppies: Oriental Trading
Adoption certificates: Whitetail Designs on Etsy
Puppy party blowers: Party City
Chalkboard easel: IKEA (painted mint green)
Wreath: DevinsDecor on Etsy
Birthday dress: Vivie and Ash
Headband: Zozu Baby

Celebrating the 4th in TN + GA

I hope you all had a fun, safe, and happy 4th of July weekend! It seemed to stretch on forever for us because we left last Thursday to spend several days in Franklin, TN with Craig’s family, and then we continued celebrating once we got home.

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We planned our trip for this weekend to attend Craig’s grandparents’ 60th (!!) wedding anniversary party, and we also celebrated his Papaw’s 80th birthday. His aunts, uncles, and cousins hosted a really nice gathering, including a barbershop quartet serenading us with love songs. And that caramel cake…  YUM. Leighton had been saying “cake” every time we mentioned the party that week, so she was pretty excited to try two kinds of cake and banana pudding.
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We were able to catch some of Craig’s sister Cassie’s softball games on Saturday, and they won both of them! Leighton enjoyed eating all.the.snacks while we cheered on her aunt. 🙂
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4th of July attire on point, thanks to Mee (L’s nickname for my mom)::
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Our friends Amy and Brian hosted several of us for a cookout later that evening so the kids could run wild while we visited, and that they did. Popsicles, trampoline jumping, sliding, sandbox playing, cookie eating, and couch wrestling were some of the preferred activities. Leighton had the best time with her new friends Jack, Luke, and Holland! We love our Nashville friends, and it was such a fun night hanging out with them. Leighton also added quite a few items to her wish list after playing with all of their fun toys!
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Leighton’s parting gift from our friends very quickly became her new best buddy, and she is officially drinking the Mickey kool-aid! We spent the rest of our weekend being pretty lazy — doing Leighton’s puzzles and reading books, playing in her blow-up pool, napping, and eating several home-cooked dinners with family. It was a pretty nice little break, to be honest.
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We got back home in time to celebrate the 4th with our neighbors, and we had a great day spent at the pool. After dinner, we made our way back to their house for sparklers and some fireworks in the street. The girls loved them! And we love having such neighbors who have turned into such wonderful friends. Our girls are two peas in a pod, and it’s so much fun watching them grow up together.
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Leighton @ 21 Months

Leighton is 21 months today, and this is the last update before she turns two. How is that possible? I feel like I ask myself this question every time she hits a new milestone, but I really cannot believe we’re on the brink of having a two year old. No more baby… a full-on toddler. With toddler attitude and sass, to boot. 🙂 But above all else, I’m just thankful we have a healthy, happy daughter who brings more joy and laughter to our world than I ever imagined possible. Without further ado, here’s a little (actually, a long) update on LL at 21 months.

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Height + Weight: approx 32 1/4″ // 27 lbs

Milestones: She’s adding more words to her vocabulary by the week. Her current favorites: love you (“la la”), bowl (“boooow”), car (“caaah”), truck (“cuck”), cake, cookie, bubble, ball (“baaaah”), more (“mooooe”), puppy, and night night. She can say “Pop” for Craig’s dad and is working on “Na Na” (pronounced Nay Nay) for Craig’s mom. She can sign a few words as well, like “more” and “yes.” One of the funniest things she likes to say is “NAAAAW” for “no” in response to silly questions. She’s such a goofball. My favorite word, though, is MAMA!! I waited 19 whole months to hear that sweet word, and now she says it constantly every day.

She has finally started to name my parents, too, which is adorable. She calls my dad “BaBa” and says his name any time she sees ice cream (ha!) or Easter eggs (he helped her hunt them this year). She accidentally named my mom “Me” after my mom tried to get Leighton to refer to herself as “me” when she was looking at a photo that she was in. 🙂 Hehe — I kinda hope it sticks because it’s so cute. She’s OBSESSED with Me and asks multiple times a day if Me is here or in our car.

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She’s getting her last 4 teeth in, other than her 2 year molars. She’s been the best teether ever — you’d never even know she’s getting new teeth until you catch a glimpse of them in her mouth. What a blessing that has been!

We’ve hit the shy phase with strangers (probably a very good thing) and even with people she knows but just doesn’t see every day. It’ll take a good 10-15 minutes for her to warm up to them, and then she’s acting a fool as normal.

Likes: She LOVES to jump! It started with holding onto the handle of our freezer for leverage, then she added a big bouncy ball into the mix, and now she just hops like a bunny all over the place. She got to jump in a bounce house at a friend’s birthday party a few months ago, and I’m pretty sure she’d still be in there if I’d have let her stay.

Leighton is the best little helper and loves to assist us with unloading the dishwasher and dryer. She also insists on handing me the decorative pillows that go on our bed each morning when I make it up (then climbs onto the bed to jump on it).

While she has gotten pretty picky with food, she does love a number of things: cheese, cheerios, blackberries/blueberries/strawberries, watermelon, grapes, grilled turkey/cheese sammies, Chick-fil-A nuggets, grape tomatoes, cheese dip, black beans, yogurt, spaghetti, and pretty much any dessert. Girl cannot say no to some ice cream.
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She still really enjoys Music Class and has started participating more by clapping along to the songs, playing with the instruments, and doing “bum-bums” with our teacher, Mrs. Anna.

She loves bubbles, her plush puppies, puzzles, books, balls, and doing buckles. I got her a turtle buckle toy for our trip down to the beach, and it’s been the best $25 I’ve spent in a long time. It occupies her on car rides and when we’re out to dinner, and she’s gotten so fast at buckling different types of buckles. Craig is the resident book reader before bedtime each night, and she’s quickly learned that by sweetly saying “mooooe,” she can delay bedtime with more books. Smart girl. She also recently took to sleeping with one of her baby dolls and requests to hold her while she’s being rocked to sleep.

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Dislikes: Being told “no.” She’s gotten quite independent and wants to do most things on her own, so she does not appreciate being told that she can’t always do what she wants when she wants. She is also not a fan of getting in trouble and doesn’t care for her new time out spot, her high chair — because it’s the only place we can make her sit for more than one second.

Other fun stuff:  Leighton got to have her first sleepover at Grandma’s (“Me”) house back in March while we hosted a wedding shower at our house. They had the best time, and she’s since gone back to spend the night a couple more times. I think it’s as awesome for my mom as it is for Leighton — maybe even more so! 🙂

The most exciting news of the past 3 months is that Leighton got a cousin!! My brother and sister-in-law had their first baby, Jack Bryan, on April 18th and we could not be more smitten with him. He is perfect and snuggly, and Leighton is enamored with him. Every time she sees a video or photo of him, she shouts “Bobby!” (baby) and loves to point and look at him when she sees him in person.

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We went on our annual trip to the beach house in St. Augustine in April, and we brought my mom and Craig’s parents with us this time. We stayed for almost a week, and we had the best time together. Leighton loved playing on the beach, walking in the sand, picking up shells, and looking at birds. She did not like the ocean in the least bit.

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Ever on the go, Leighton has now decided that she wants to actually walk on our walks with Coco instead of being pushed in her trike. It takes about a billion times longer to make the loop in our neighborhood, but it’s fun to see her running and exploring. She also demands to go up and down the stairs all by herself now (we of course stand right by her anyway), and when she comes down them, she makes the most hilarious face and sound with every step she conquers.

It’s finally pool season, and she is getting used to the water and learning how to behave at the pool. I think it’ll be a fun (and exhausting) summer in the water this year!
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She does the absolute cutest princess wave, and she is such a little flirt with strangers once she warms up to them. Her hair is really starting to grow in, and it’s the prettiest shade of strawberry blonde. We can rarely go out in public without someone commenting on it or her big blue eyes.

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I’m sure it’s quite obvious, but I just love this little girl more and more with every passing month (or day??). She’s the light of our lives and continues to bring joy to everyone around her. It’s life’s biggest blessing and honor to have a front row seat to watch her grow and take in the world around her. Here’s to the last 3 months with a one year old!

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Little Slice of Heaven 

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We just returned from almost a week down in St. Augustine, FL, which is my personal little slice of Heaven on Earth. My mom’s parents have had a beach house in South Ponte Vedra since before I was born, and we’ve made a lifetime of memories there.

Craig and I love the area so much that we got married there and had our rehearsal dinner at the beach house. I love that the city itself is quaint and steeped in history. And the beach, while not quite as picturesque as the Gulf (in my opinion), is wide and filled with pretty shells. The house sits right on the beach, which is my absolute favorite, especially now that we have a kid in the mix. It’s usually completely empty, so it seems like we’re on a totally private beach, except for the occasional passerby. Not to mention that it’s so easy to run back into the house to grab things when needed or put her down for a nap and go back to the beach with the monitor while she sleeps. 🙂

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We try to make a trip down once a year, so this was Leighton’s 2nd time there. We brought my mom again and also invited Craig’s parents to join us because they’ve not yet gotten to experience the beach with Leighton. This was our longest stay yet, at almost a week, and it was the perfect amount of time… long enough to make the 6 hour drive worth it, but not so long that we were tired of being there. I already wish we could go back.

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Most of our days were spent soaking up the sun, sand and waves, hunting for seashells, taking walks, and keeping L occupied with a variety of toys and a baby pool on the beach. She did surprisingly well with the sand, but she was not a fan of the ocean… usually running from it saying “nooooo!” as the tide came in each time.

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My grandmother and several other family members live nearby in Jacksonville, so we made a day trip over to visit with them. She took us to her beautiful country club for lunch; the food was delicious and Leighton enjoyed playing with my cousin’s daughter Addy who got to join us. It’s always a treasure to spend time with Nana — I just wish we had a chance to get down there more than once a year.

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Our favorite dinner out was at Cap’s on the Water. It’s just down A1A from the house, and it sits right on the water, which always provides a pretty sunset view. They just reopened after damage from Hurricane Matthew last fall, so our timing was pretty lucky. Most of their seating is outside underneath giant oak trees, and their seafood is fresh and so good.

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We also spent a couple evenings walking around downtown, peeking in shops, eating dinner, pointing out horses to Leighton, and, of course, getting ice cream. All good beach trips need to include lots of ice cream, right?

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A family beach trip was just what we needed to relax, recharge (especially after a very busy month or so prior), and enjoy each other’s company. Leighton was on her best behavior, and she absolutely loved spending day in and day out with her grandparents (just missing my dad, but she did see him a bunch the weekend before we left). This past week was filled with laughter and so many sweet memories that I will cherish forever. I’m so thankful to have this special place that continues to be the backdrop for some of my very favorite moments.

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travel:: Napa, Sonoma, SF (part 3)

For our final day of our California vacation, we drove down to San Francisco. After two days of visiting wineries and vineyards on a pretty packed schedule, it was a nice change of scenery and pace — although I’m already itching to go back to Napa… 🙂

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SAN FRANCISCO:

We stayed at Hotel Adagio in Union Square, which aside from the delay with check-in, I really liked. Cool vibe, modern rooms, and they randomly upgraded two of our friends to a suite with a huge rooftop patio overlooking the city… just wish we’d had more than one afternoon to take advantage of it!

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Upon arrival, my first request was stopping by the instagram famous Mr. Holmes Bakehouse for some baked goods. Churro and chocolate croissants and a tasty apple pie pastry that didn’t make it more than about two blocks past the bakery. I do love a baked good.
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After a couple miles of HILLY walking, we landed in Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch. The area mostly seems to be filled with tourist traps, I’m sure The Franciscan Crab Restaurant was one of them, but we wanted seafood, and it seemed much less offensive than Joe’s Crabshack. The bubbly was refreshing, the seafood was good, and we had views of the sailboat-filled bay while we ate.
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After lunch, we went on a search for a cable car station and got a pretty view of the Golden Gate Bridge while we waited to board (along with 50,000 girl scouts who were in town that weekend). You really couldn’t beat the weather in SF that day!
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Seriously, how lucky did we get with this room upgrade?! Incredible city views, mini bar happy hour, and the best friends… not much more you can ask for on the last night of vacation.
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Trip took the job of being our fabulous bus driver to and from Napa, so when he requested drinks at Tonga Room, we happily obliged. It’s a very similar vibe to Trader Vic’s (we have one in Atlanta that my old coworkers and I have fond memories of) — except this place has a pool in the middle of the room and it rains from the ceiling!
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We’d originally had plans to head over to Sausalito for dinner at a fun place called Bar Bocce on the bay, but we ended up just wandering into a fancy little Mexican place called Colibri in Union Square. Although the eight of us were crammed at two tiny high top tables because we walked in without a reservation on a Saturday night (oops!), the food was some of the best we had the entire trip. It’s always a nice surprise when the random places you find end up being a win.
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We got up waaaaay too early the next morning to make the long flight back to Atlanta, but I couldn’t get on that plane fast enough. We had the most amazing time and it was a much-needed and welcomed vacation…. but nothing beats coming home to my baby girl! It’s amazing how much you can miss someone after just 5 days. My mom was so incredibly gracious to keep Leighton for us at our house, and I’ll be forever grateful to know she’s always in the best care when we’re away.

After writing these posts and reliving our trip, it’s hard to not already start dreaming of where we’ll go next time with our travel buddies!
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travel:: Napa, Sonoma, SF (part 2)

SONOMA::

For our second full day of wine tastings, we chose to head to Sonoma to see what that area had to offer. Sonoma County is about twice as large as Napa County, but it has less wineries, so we found that we spent a good bit more time traveling between each location. The scenery was beautiful and we found ourselves up in the hills and off the beaten path for most of the day.

B Wise Vineyards was another incredible way to start the day, and for me, nothing else topped it. We had another private tasting set up, and our host Josh was, just like our other hosts, very knowledgeable, welcoming, and passionate about what he does. Our tasting took place inside a cave that actually once served as the owners’ home until they built their permanent home on the property. It’s still set up like a working home and was so neat to spend our morning in.

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We enjoyed cheese, meat, and olives (which are grown on the property) while we tasted six different red varietals… and I wanted them all. We ended up taking home more wine from here than anywhere else, and I cannot wait to open up a bottle when they arrive. The Cabs and Pinots were outstanding, and we also picked up a great table wine for the low low price of $30 (which seems like a steal in comparison to most of the wines we’d been tasting on this trip).IMG_1246

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Did you know that winemakers often plant rose bushes at the ends of the rows in their vineyards? They do this because a rose bush will show signs of sickness more quickly than the grape vines will, and it’s easier/faster to diagnose the problem. Genius and so pretty, too!
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We stopped for lunch in downtown Sonoma and had another meal that did not disappoint. OSO is located right on the main square area, and Denise came through once again by suggesting we call ahead with our order to save time. We were always on a strict time schedule, which she thankfully kept us on to make sure we hit all of the spots we wanted to visit. I ordered the Achiote Chicken Sandwich (avocado, red onion, lettuce, pepper jack cheese, jalepeno aioli) and a Blood Orange Margarita, which was a nice respite from wine tasting. The sandwich had such an interesting combo of flavors, and I ate every single bit of it. I just wish we’d had more time to hang out and enjoy more of the menu! IMG_1273

After lunch, we drove waaay up in the hills to Stone Edge Farm. The setting was so serene and quiet that I think we all really would have preferred to take a nap instead. Our visit started off a little slow with a slide show and a tour of the property, but our sweet French host more than made up for it with a gorgeously set table that looked like something out of a magazine, olives and olive oil made by them, meats and cheeses, the most amazing butter crackers, and of course, fantastic wines to taste. They’re currently in the process of building a beautiful outdoor kitchen for events and dinners, which would be pretty neat to come back for. Any foodie would love this place and their mission.
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To round out our day in Sonoma, Denise scored us a reservation at Scribe, which is apparently hard to do because it’s become so popular with the “millennials.” I’d say she was spot on with that opinion… the place was quite busy, and I think we were some of the oldest people there. BUT — we were set up at a big table on the patio overlooking the palm tree-lined driveway and vineyards, the weather was perfection, and they served us several small plates of beautiful and delicious food to snack on with our wines. I don’t feel like we learned much at all about the wines or Scribe itself, but it was a nice way to cap off our day and just relax with our friends for a bit. 
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For our final Napa dinner, we headed over to the Oxbow Public Market downtown, thinking we’d just pick up some pizza or something simple (and cheap) at one of the food stalls. Instead, we ended up at Kitchen Door, which is one of the restaurants at the market and came recommended by our server at Scribe. Most of us did end up with pizza after all, and it was just what we needed. Thin and crispy, cheesy, and full of pepperoni — yum! We couldn’t help but get some ice cream cones from Three Twins Ice Cream afterward, too. The peanut butter cup was a unanimous favorite.

I think if I had to pick favorites, I love the Napa area more than Sonoma, but B Wise (in Sonoma) was my favorite winery and tasting. Italics was a close second. I was highly impressed with all of Denise’s recommendations, because all but one of them provided a private tasting with very personal service, and we saw almost no one else on any of our tours. It pays to have someone with knowledge and connections to the industry helping you plan your trip. This is by no means an inexpensive vacation, especially if you plan to buy wines along the way, but we had such an elevated experience that I think it was worth every penny. Next up, a day in San Francisco!

travel:: Napa, Sonoma, SF (part 1)

As you probably gathered from my instagram feed, Craig and I just returned from the most incredible trip to wine country with three other couples, some of our most favorite people. This was our first real non wedding-related vacation together since Leighton was born, and it was much-needed! I’ve been dying to go back to wine country since my girls trip almost 3 years ago, and I’m so happy we decided to make this trip with several friends. We spent 2.5 days in Napa/Sonoma and then headed to San Francisco for a full day of touristy stuff before flying home Sunday. I took way too many photos (surprise!) and have so many things to say about everywhere we went, so I’ll do ya a favor and break this up into a few posts. Hopefully anyone who might be planning a trip to wine country will find these recommendations helpful!

NAPA::
We flew into SFO and immediately hit up In-N-Out Burger before what ended up being a very long drive up to Napa, thanks to a lot of traffic and some strange connections between interstates in the city. Just a side note — the burger hit the spot, but their fries are pretty lackluster.
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After driving for what seemed like forever (thanks to Trip for piloting #datbus for us!), we made it to Napa and went straight to Mumm for a champagne tasting. It did not disappoint! Gorgeous farmhouse setting, our own private patio, tasty bubbles, and a relaxing hour or so after traveling all day. We were surprised to find out that they make a Pinot Noir as well as a Sparkling Red, which we all decided would be perfect for the holidays. 
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We had dinner downtown at Oenotri — good pizzas, pastas, and wine (including several $750 bottles that we definitely did not order), and a busy, festive atmosphere. It was the perfect way to end our first day of vacation.

Thursday’s full day of tastings and tours started bright and early with our amazing driver/wine country concierge, Denise. We used her services last time upon recommendation from a friend, and they are so very worth it. She chose several of the wineries for us and booked our tastings/tours at each venue, gave us recommendations for meals, and then drove us around Napa and Sonoma in our rental van. She’s super knowledgeable about the area and vineyards, and I’d highly recommend using a service like hers if you’re ever taking a trip there.

Italics was our first stop of the day, and after seeing the tasting room, I wasn’t sure anything would top it the rest of the trip. The tasting room is set back in a cave, which is on top of a hill overlooking their property. As you can see, it’s not a bad view. 
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There are a number of hallways running through the caves, which house their barrels of wine. Once built out for their needs, caves are a lot more cost-effective for wine storage because they naturally stay at a low temperature (I think somewhere in the 50-60 degree range).
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This room was so stunning — I didn’t think there was any way we were special enough to do our tasting in there. Alas, we were. 🙂 The wines were excellent (all reds, other than the one white blend we tasted before going into the cave). We planned to collect bottles at each of the wineries we visited and ship back a case of 12, so it was hard to not just buy every option they had at Italics. (Well, let’s be honest — the price per bottle is really what kept us from buying them all.) Our host, John, was welcoming, knowledgeable, and totally not stuffy, which we all appreciated. Even after visiting 7 other wineries by the end of the trip, this was absolutely a highlight of the trip for us.
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Denise set up a really special tasting for us with the owner (Barry) of Tamber Bey Vineyards — at his home, set in the middle of one of his vineyards! Tamber Bey (named for two of Barry’s horses) does have a venue for regular tastings/tours, which is amid an amazing-looking equestrian facility, but you can’t beat being invited into someone’s home to learn about and taste the wine they make. Barry set up our tasting at a table on his back patio overlooking the most dreamy backyard gardens. I’m pretty sure we would have missed our next appointment if Denise hadn’t pulled us out of there, because I could have stayed all day. The wine was so good that Craig even requested we buy the Chardonnay, and he has always been adamant that he does not like white wine.
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We ordered lunch from Yountville Deli, which we ate in the van on the way to our next stop. I have been dreaming about my turkey/brie/avocado/bacon sandwich on ciabatta bread for almost a week now. Our third stop of the day was Aonair, or as I like to call it, the “dudes winery.” All four of the guys on our trip loved this place, and I can’t really blame them. Our host was really laid back and took us on an informal tour of the winery and caves, then let us hang out on the huge back deck of the cabin to enjoy our wine (while sitting in chairs made from wine barrels). We all agreed it would be the perfect spot to watch football in the fall. Also, his dog, Pedals, was seriously adorable.
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Rounding out our first day was Charter Oak Winery. The winemaker’s wife is a very talented artist and was actually the one to give us a tour of the property and lead our wine tasting. Her larger-than-life paintings of cityscapes are really colorful and full of life. She paints 3 cities on top of each other, and, as she told us, her style is unlike anyone else’s in the world. I’d love to have one of these in our home, but one that we saw was going for a quarter mil, so I don’t think that’ll happen anytime soon. I liked the cottage feel to the property and really liked her Zins, which we didn’t have a lot of on this trip. 
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When we came to Napa the first time, our favorite meal was lunch at a place called Farmstead in St. Helena. It was pretty much a requirement that we go back for dinner this time. I guess I was too busy eating and talking to snap any photos, but I can assure you it was as delicious as the first time we went a few years ago. 🙂 I could have eaten a dozen of their beignets with bourbon caramel sauce!
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Meanwhile, back in Atlanta…. Leighton was busy doing this:
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 Napa truly is a must-visit if you enjoy wine. Even though we were on the go the whole day with multiple venues to visit, it’s hard not to feel relaxed and happy while sipping incredible wines and taking in scenery that is absolutely stunning at every turn. Add in some of our favorite travel buddies, and it makes for a trip of a lifetime. Next up, Sonoma!

a weekend of celebrations

What a weekend! We co-hosted a couples wedding shower on Saturday for one of my dearest college friends, Karen, and her fiance, Matthew. They are getting married in April, so several of the other bridesmaids and I planned a co-ed gathering to celebrate them one last time before the big weekend. We hired The Blaxican food truck to cater the party, and it was such a big hit! I could eat that jalapeno mac n cheese every day, I think.
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Because we were hosting the shower at our house and we knew there would be a lot going on till late in the evening, Leighton got to spend the night with Grandma for the first time ever! My parents just recently renovated part of their basement and moved some things around so that they would have a proper nursery for L and her soon-to-be cousin. It sounds like both L and my mom had the absolute best time, and I can’t wait for them to get to do it again. I know we have the fondest memories of getting to spend the night with our grandparents, and I’m excited that Leighton will get to have these memories, too.
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The partying continued throughout Sunday with both a birthday party and a baby shower. We celebrated our friends’ little boy turning two with a construction-themed party at their local rec center. Leighton could have stayed on that playground ALL DAY if we would have let her. It was so fun to see several of our friends and their little ones, but man… chasing after a toddler on a playground is not the best way to try to get in some quality conversation with other adults. 🙂
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I did get some lovely adult time later in the afternoon, though! One of my first friends at UGA and a fellow Springbluff dorm resident, Anna, is having her first baby next month. Some of her girlfriends and her sisters hosted the most lovely shower at St. Cecilia in Buckhead. The food was to die for (you have to try their braised short rib agnolotti!), and Anna was showered with the most adorable little boy clothes and new-mom essentials. I wrote in her card that it was hard to believe that we’ve been friends for almost 16 years now. We met as “babies” our freshman year of college, and now we’re having (or have) babies of our own. I’m so thankful for these long-lasting friendships!
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It was a whirlwind weekend, but one of the most fun because it was filled with friends, great food, and happy celebrations. So many great things to come in the next month!