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.