Thursday, January 23, 2014

Happy Half-Birthday to Her!

Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy-- *screech*


Sorry girl, that's all you get. Half a song for half a birthday. Which is fine by me because I don't feel like celebrating anyway. You broke the contract, darling. You were supposed to stay my baby forever, or at least stretch it out and now you go and do something like this! What is it about babies that makes life move forward on fast speed?



Half a year. Six months since one of the top five days of my life. Six months of learning and growing. You no longer sleep all day or nurse all night. You can be content when I'm not holding you, but you prefer to have me in your sight. You love to nurse, but only for food. When the milk runs out it seems you prefer you two fingers.  Perhaps six months isn't too bad after all...


Oh, and you have teeth! Of course, I didn't even notice until three had completely broken through (that's how I roll). But trust me, I'm well aware now. So you can stop biting me. We have quite a selection of chew toys. But your favorite is the vibrating strawberry. It's your gums drug. Get that thing rumbling and pop it in your mouth and you're off to utopia.  Your body goes limp, your eyes practically roll back in your head, saliva drips down your chin... And of course, I'm the one stuck holding you with one hand and maintaining just the right angle and pressure on the darn strawberry.



Good thing you're cute.  Like really cute.  And that thing you do where you think you're talking but you're really just flappin' your gums and grunting?  Well, keep that up and I'll have to let you keep growing, I suppose.  Those kisses are pretty great, too.  Or perhaps I should say "the way you fall on my cheek with your mouth open." And your giggles.  We all love your giggles.  In fact, we measure a moment's happiness by the extent it makes you laugh.



As it happens, making you laugh is one of big brother Jack's favorite pastimes.  I know he can be a little overwhelming.  And I know he hasn't quite caught on to the whole "be gentle" thing.  But that guy adores you.  Someday, when you're all grown up, he's going to have your back.  And something tells me that having Jack have your back is going to be a very good thing in the future.  In the meantime, he's making you tough.  I try not to let the two of you alone together, but in a family of six, that isn't always possible.  You take a lot, and you handle it with grace.  Although, I think we all agree, it won't be a bad thing when you finally figure out how to fight back.



You may have noticed your other brother, Jude, is quite the charmer.  I've heard he's taught all the girls in his preschool class to say he's "handsome."  And we all know he thinks you are just "so cute!"  Those melting eyes, smolder smile, and adorable lisp ... he's hard to resist.  In delicate situations, I've figured out the best way to handle these charms is to look just beyond him, somewhere over his right ear.  But most of the time, he keeps us all in his smooth-talking grasp.  It's a good thing he's so easygoing.

Oh look, Lia's signature photo eyes.


They're both in a stage where they often ask to get their pictures taken.
And finally, your big sister.  I know she hasn't slipped your notice.  You may think Julia is the loudest, sassiest creature you've ever come across.  You'd be right.  But please note this is something temporary we adults call "two."  You may have noticed that I give in to her loud noises and strange movements more often than necessary.  This is probably true as well.  But just in case you think you'll be able to borrow something out of her bag of tricks when you're two, think again.  Julia has one advantage you'll never have, and that's a baby in the house.  Girl, when all these older siblings are in school and it's just you and me at home, I'll be all over you like white on rice.  You won't even be able to think about whining without me knowing it.  Because, despite how much I'd love to "do" the baby thing again, I'd happily pass on another run of "the twos."  Thankfully, Lia will be out of this stage before you're in to it, and I know she's looking forward to having a playmate soon.  Someone she can "cook" with, an accomplice for emptying mommy's make-up bag, and a sister-princess that shares dress-up clothes.

She wanted her picture taken but couldn't take her eyes off the girl in the mirror.


And now all the inter webs have seen my fabulous shower cap.  Do they even make cute versions of these?

Another challenge being two: you can't turn doorknobs but your older brothers can.


Yes, darling, you fit in well as one of the Fantastic Four.  We love watching you grow and fill your place in our family.  But just don't do it too fast.  There's plenty of time for that.  Let's make the second half of your first year one to savor!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Coastie Kitchen (How I Meal Plan)

Sometimes, as a mama, I really miss "the girl I used to be."  It's easy to mourn those irretrievable days, particularly when I come across old clothes in the closer: the shirt I paid a fortune for in Oxford because I was sick of my limited wardrobe, the coat that kept me warm during my first Coast Guard football game (in which I fell in love with a handsome running back), and the heels that are absolutely mangled from tramping the brick sidewalks at my alma mater and last job. Wait, where am I going with this?

Oh yeah, but there are some things about that old girl I don't plan in ever revisiting. Namely: Food. 
I grew up with a much different style of cooking than what we eat now, although I still revisit the old favorites. But at least my mom tried to keep me healthy. Left to my own devices, I was a wreck. We can partly, PARTLY blame that on cafeteria food. I can still hear the clatter of those pastel plates (what WAS that material they were made out of??) hitting the stainless steel track and sliding it's way to the cashier. A sweet older woman we all called "Muffin" or "Cupcake"... something like that. 
My tray usually had a ham and cheese hoagie with lettuce and mayo and a bottle if water. Unless it was Friday, in which I'd treat myself to a Coke. And when I wasn't feeling the hoagie, I'd get a pack of NipChee. You know- creamy cheese, whole grain cracker, super healthy. Just enough to sustain me through the afternoon until field hockey when I'd pull out my favorite TastyCake fudge brownies with nuts to enjoy right before two grueling hours of hockey practice. Energy food, I tell ya!

When I went away to college I thought I'd be all grown up and visit the salad bar. So I'd grab a bowl, fill it up with cauliflower, and then dump a pile of salt on my plate to dip it in (learned that one from my dad).  My beverages consisted of cranberry juice for breakfast, iced tea for lunch, and a Coke for dinner.  One day this boy I had a crush on sent me a Coast Guard Academy water bottle.  So I started filling it up, carrying it around to all my classes, and maybe drinking four sips throughout the day.

Chef Lia sautéing some vegetables to go with her Lemon Parsley Salmon.
While in England I basically lived off tea and digestives, lots of tea and digestives.  And bread from the co-op around the corner that always went on clearance on Tuesday nights around 11:00pm.  My Welsh roommate taught me how to take a piece of toast and dump a can of beans on top for a really well-rounded meal.

Fast forward to my married days and Jon likes to tell the story about how the first meal I made for him was hot dogs.  I sincerely do not recall.  But it was probably true.  I had never even heard of meal planning.  My idea of grocery shopping was to buy what sounded good and what was on sale, bring it home, and then try to figure out what to make.  Not to mention my new husband wasn't even home the majority of our first year.  And when it comes to cooking for one ... well, let's just say I brought the beans over toast tradition to American soil.

By our second year of marriage Jon was "home" more but often working night shifts.  So dinner was typically a solo affair.  We did start to improve and some of my most vivid memories of the Beach House were grilling up loads and loads of chicken on Sunday afternoons, and then eating grilled chicken salads for dinner the rest of the week.  Whoever lived in the house before us had a subscription to Kraft Foods magazine (where just about every recipe featured a bottle of Kraft dressing), and that's when I really started to think about recipes and planning.  It may have also had to do with the fact that I had a massive one-year-old on my hands who could out-eat me any meal!

I started to get more serious about grocery shopping on a budget and noticed that actually thinking ahead about what we were going to eat saved us a bunch of money!  By the time we left Virginia Beach I had started filling a notebook with weekly menu plans.  After a year of living in Southern Maryland I was on my second notebook.  Not only did it make grocery shopping easier, but now that I had a complete written history of our families eating habits, planning ahead wasn't so difficult.  I think the most frustrating part of menu planning for me is the inspiration (keep in mind the number of months these past 6 years that I've dealt with morning sickness!).  Sometimes when I just don't feel like thinking about what we're going to eat this week, I recycle a plan from the year before.


So, by the time we celebrated our fifth anniversary, I had discovered the art of meal planning.  But it wasn't until after Julia was born that I figured out the science.  It was then that I subscribed to The Fresh 20, a company committed to budget-friendly, 20-ingredient recipes.  As a subscriber, I received a weekly meal plan complete with grocery list and cooking instructions.  I love to learn by doing, and after a few months I started to catch on.

First of all, it was all seasonal cooking.  I learned to save money by only purchasing products that were in season.  Second, recipes with like ingredients were used in the same week.  So instead of having one recipe call for 2 cups of broccoli and having the rest of the head rot in the back of the fridge,  you'd include two broccoli recipes in the same week.  Or, you'd buy one onion and stretch it across two or three meals.  In addition, the plans would often have you cook up a large quantity of meat (although when I first started it didn't seem like a very large quantity) early in the week for one meal, and then use about half of that meat later in the week for another meal.  And I don't mean having tacos twice.  For instance, pot roast on Monday, and then using that beef for a spicy noodle bake on Thursday.  Despite having the same protein cooked the exact same way, the recipes were entirely different.

I realize that this is intuitive for many of you but for me, it was pure genius.  I didn't renew our subscription though, simply because I wanted to incorporate more of our family favorite recipes in my meal planning.  I still have the plans from my first year as well as The Fresh 20 cookbook , and I highly recommend it for anyone who is just starting out or who doesn't have much time.  But for me, I wanted to take what I had learned and make it my own.

After several years of planning on paper, I figured it was time to enter the new millennium.  After my job ended in 2012, I found I really missed concrete activities, i.e. spreadsheets.  Try as I may, kids don't translate well to spreadsheets.  But meal planning, now that should work.

The actual planning page.
But there's more to the spreadsheet than just the meal planning page.

The basic meal rotation I try to use, but often don't.
 But I wanted to take it even further.  Several years before, back in my couponing days, I started compiling a list of "rock-bottom prices."  This is, the lowest amount I've paid for something (where, when and how).  That way I know whether or not a current price is a "good deal."  I don't use this so much anymore, but it's still handy for those few items that we are incredibly loyal to -- like my husband's super-expensive, hard-to-find razors.  Or my favorite yogurt that nothing I've ever made can compare to.  Or that ridiculous toothpaste that kids like (and only like).  You get the drift.


In addition, I also have a page that lists local (Annapolis area) produce by season.  That way I can plan meals around what will (most likely) be the least expensive fresh produce at that time.  


The last page is my budget.  I purposely left out numbers here.  But I do most of my shopping at Aldi (cheap, but limited selection) and Safeway (expensive, but better selection).  I do some bulk shopping at Sam's Club (which I don't like but Costco isn't close enough) and, of course, my beloved Target.  (I also do some bulk shopping through Amazon but not enough to include it here).  This way I can track my weekly grocery expenses and see how I'm doing in staying under budget for the month.


But let's get back to the real purpose of this spreadsheet, the meal planning.  Page two is a list of every recipe we eat and want to eat.  The arrows at the top of each column allow me to filter for what I'm specifically looking for.  The first column is the name of the recipe.  The second column is the source.  If it's online, I use the link.  If it's from a recipe book, I Google it and use that link instead.  If it's an old family recipe from my personal collection, I just put "Recipe Box" under source.  The third column is the category.  For me, this is chicken, beef, meatless, fish, breakfast, snacks, etc.  This way I can sort by category and make sure we're having a good variety in our menu.  


The next column is the season.  I had big plans for this but never got around to actually assigning a season to each and every recipe.  Ideally, if it contained brussel sprouts it would be a "winter" recipe.  Fresh salsa would be "summer."  Acorn squash would be "fall."  You get the idea. The next column is the cooking method.  Stovetop, oven, slow-cooker, grill, no-cooking ...  This is helpful if I'm trying to avoid oven recipes in July.  Or if I know it's going to be a busy day and I only want a slow-cooker recipe.



All the rest of the columns are ingredients, or at least the main ones (I didn't include pantry staples like salt, vinegar, flour, etc.).  This is the crux of the spreadsheet.  In theory, I can type in an ingredient in the top right corner of Excel and bring up all the recipes that contain that ingredient.  So for instance, I'm making a recipe that calls for half a head of cabbage.  Rather than waste the other half, I'm going to intentionally plan a second recipe that week that utilizes cabbage.

As you can tell, this is a lot of work.  It took a lot of time to set up initially and it continues to be a work in progress.  So over Christmas break I decided to revisit a website/app I had tried previously - PepperPlate.  You have to input all your recipes into your account, but it automatically recognizes "big name" websites like food.com, allrecipes.com, food52.com, etc.  If it doesn't recognize it, you can open a window right on your desktop to copy and paste the ingredients and instructions.  And if it's not a recipe from the internet you can manually enter the information.  I like that I can create my own categories (like seasons or what kind of meal) and then can filter my search results by those categories when I'm ready to plan.  And of course, I can easily search by recipe name or ingredient.

Can you tell we're having guests on Saturday??
And the planner is built right in. I find a recipe I like, and I can send it to my calendar and choose whether it's for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Or I can already have my planner up and just start typing the name of a recipe directly in a specific day.  Once I get my week's meals planned out, I can add each day to my shopping list and it automatically creates a grocery list of the ingredients I need to make all those recipes.

Finally, and quite possibly my favorite aspect, it's also an app for my iPhone.  So I can do all this while sitting and nursing the baby.

I think that's enough chatter for now.  Time to get to meal planning!  If you need some inspiration (I always do), below are some recipes that we enjoyed at the beginning of this year.

Blackberry Oatmeal and Flaxseed Muffin with Green Monster Smoothie.
Breakfast
Blueberry Oatmeal and Flaxseed Muffins
I love muffins and these were so hearty.  Crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside!  We used blackberries instead because they've been on sale at Aldi.  And also because the blueberries I bought were gone within a few minutes of returning from the grocery store.  I'm big on oatmeal right now.  I took a hit from the stomach flu and, while I've regained my milk supply and have been able to keep up with Joci's demand, I'm always looking for ways to keep up with my growing girl!  Oatmeal is a galactogogue.  In other words, it promotes lactation.  (And now all the non-breastfeeding folks who read this blog are going to think of that when they eat oatmeal.)

Cinnamon Date and Walnut Baked Oatmeal
More oatmeal, of course!  We love baked oatmeal in this house!  I decided to switch things up from our usual recipe.  This was okay, but judging from the fact that there's still leftovers in my freezer two weeks later, not as good as our normal dish so I doubt I'll be making it again.

Lunch
We don't usually eat such "involved" lunches, but Jon has been home a lot between his two surgeries and holiday vacation.  When he's home I try to make a decent midday meal.

Fried Couscous
This is a favorite.  It freezes well which makes it even more convenient for a quick lunch.  I made a huge batch of this before going into labor with Joci and just seeing it brings up memories of that exciting evening!

Raw Kale Salad with Lentils and Sweet Apricot Vinaigrette
I had a random jar of apricot preserves in my pantry that I had bought to use for Christmas cookies, um, last year.  I decided it needed a new purpose.  You guys, this was so good.  Jon packed the leftovers for work the next day and got a lot of inquisitive looks from his Coastie co-workers.

I've mastered homemade Peanut Butter in the blender.  Only one ingredient: peanuts.
Lighter Thai Inspired Chicken Wraps
New family favorite, we've had this twice this month.  Every few months I cook down a chicken, shred the meat and use the bones and scraps to make chicken stock for the freezer.  We used the leftover chicken for these amazing wraps.

White Bean Tuna Salad
A great source of protein for a breastfeeding mama and a weight-lifting daddy.  The kids, on the other hand, were not feeling it!

Green Monster Smoothie
A regular in our rotation.  This isn't the exact recipe I use, because it really depends on what I have in the fridge.  Either way, it's how I get my kids to eat green veggies!

Dinner
My husband calls me the "breastfeeding browser." I spent a lot of Christmas break in a dark room with a hungry/sleepy baby.  So I used this time to seek out new recipes online to try in the new year.  (Unfortunately, the result of which was reaching my phone's data limit less than halfway through the month, oops!)  Below are some of the new dishes I sacrificed my precious data time to find.

Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells with Lemon Sage Brown Butter
Jon LOVED these.  I thought they were good but a little dry.  Typically baked shells have a sauce and these didn't, except for the brown butter sage that you drizzle on at the end (that I had to make twice because "browning" butter is a bit more of a challenge with four kids in the house!).  I'd make it again, but only on a day when I don't have a lot going on.  It was a tad labor intensive!

Taco Chicken Bowls
I haven't been making much Mexican food in the lsat year because Chipotle was one of our favorite post-church lunch stops.  But about halfway through the year we switched churches and Chipotle is no longer on the way home, nor is it even open since we get out of church earlier.  In addition, my goal is to cut back on eating-out this year (so hard for this girl who appreciates ANY opportunity to take a break from cooking and cleaning dishes!).  So I have to find a new way to satisfy my Mexican cravings.  We have an awesome collection of copycat Chipotle recipes that we like to use when we have company, but it's a lot of work for just a regular dinner.  This one hit the spot for less money and effort.  In addition, I find my kids eat better when we have a "make your own" meal.

Greek Marinated Chicken
This was soooo delicious.  I was skeptical of the yogurt, but mmmm, just mmmm.  Oddly, I have no idea what we ate with it.  I'm sure that was good too.

Slow Cooker Sesame Chicken
I found out Uncle Jared, Aunt Kylee, and Miss Mary were coming for dinner and football less than 24 hours before they arrived.  I wasn't up to taking 4 kids to the grocery store in the snow so I planned around what we had on hand.  And this is what came of it.  This was really delicious and I loved that it used honey instead of sugar.  For our special dessert we had ...

Snow Day Cake
Garbanzo Bean Chocolate Cake
AKA Snow Day Cake, because it was snowing outside.  I love this cake, I've made it several times before.  Not because we're gluten free or anything, but simply because I like to serve it and THEN tell people the secret ingredient.  I make the entire thing in my blender, so easy clean-up.  And a dessert that's high in protein?  Need I say more.

Making pasta.

She's so cute I didn't have the heart to tell her she was cranking the wrong direction ...
Italian Wonderpot
This has been all over Pinterest for a while now.  I got a pasta maker for Christmas and was just dying to try it out.  So this is what I planned for later in the week.  This is also the dish I was in the middle of making when the stomach flu HIT.  So I don't have good memories of this meal.  Also, my husband doesn't like cooked tomatoes.  Neither do I really, unless they're pulverized into sauce.  The kids ate the noodles (they helped make them by the way!) and my main objective was to feed my recovering family the homemade chicken stock in the base.  I probably won't make this again, though, simply because it's hard to enjoy a meal you once threw up.

Spinach, Mushroom, Feta Crustless Quiche
My favorite part of eating quiche is the crust.  My least favorite part of making quiche is the crust.  It's just too much work.  So I thought this would be a good alternative for a weeknight meal.  Jon really liked it.  He said it was his favorite quiche to date.  I wasn't as big a fan.  I missed the crust.  The kids did just fine, eggs are usually a safe bet.  And well, protein.

In case you're wondering why I make a big deal about the whole protein thing.  I tell my kids its brain food.  That's how I get them to eat pretty much anything.  And amazingly, Jack typically informs me he feels smarter after dinner.  It's all in how you sell it folks!

Peanut Butter Granola Bars
Snacks
Peanut Butter Granola Bars
These were so stinkin' good.  A lot of work.  I've never worked with dates before this week.  I had a few leftover from the baked oatmeal, but not enough for these.  So I substituted golden raisins for the rest.  We were also low on peanut butter as well as almond butter, so I combined all I could find in the pantry and there was just enough to make the granola bars.  But the chocolate.  That's the clincher.  Currently, my "secret chocolate stash" consists of a container of peanut butter cups in the back of the fridge.  This is a much healthier and heartier combination of my two favorites.  And the oatmeal, galactogogues baby!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie
My husband keeps making comments about how I'm wasting away to nothing.  This is the part of my baby-raising where I struggle to maintain my own health while also being the sole provider of my 6 month old's nutrition.  Enter, the weight-gain smoothie.  This bad boy consists of over 500 calories!  So it could be a meal replacement, or a mid-meal snack.  Which is what I like to do.  My new naptime routine is to chug a bottle of water ...

This ...
Follow it up with one of these smoothies...

... plus this ...
And chase it down with a cup of Mother's Milk Tea.

... plus this ...
Joci appreciates the results so much she dreams about it, and then wakes me up at 3am for seconds.

... equals this!
And since this blog post is entirely too long, and  I'm anticipating meeting up with "Smiles" here in a few short hours, I really should call it a night.  Happy meal planning!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tying the JKnot

So within a few minutes of publishing that last blog post a text from "one who shall remain nameless" hit my phone alerting me that, in my recap of highlights from 2013, I failed to mention one EXTREMELY important event--Uncle Jared and Aunt Kylee's wedding.

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
In my defense, I overlooked this occasion because it didn't come up in my quick review of the previous year's blog. Okay, maybe not a good defense. I admit, an absolute failure on my part. It's just that, in the month following Joci's birth, blogging about someone else's nuptials fell slightly below teeth brushing and showering on Mama's List of Priorities. But that's not to say it wasn't important. In fact, this was my second favorite wedding EVER. So I'll do my best to offer my perspective, 3 weeks post-partum, zombie mom brained perspective, mind you, as best as I can remember.

Bride-designed invitations, the only thing missing was a trumpeting herald upon delivery.
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
 They say you can really get to know a person by looking at their Pinterest. If that's the case for Kylee, I was anticipating a New Year's Eve wedding with snow and fur and lots of sparkles. I was also anticipating plenty of time to get back to my small, slender self after my July-baby. So when April rolled around and there were discussions of late-summer, I got a little nervous. (Kylee is a teacher so getting married before school started made a lot of sense!) And when the date got narrowed down to August 3rd or August 10th I got really nervous.

I should mention here that I would never, ever expect someone to plan around a pregnant sister-of-the-groom. I'm a firm believer in short engagements and giving the couple complete freedom to do whatever they want without fear of family angst. It is YOUR day after all. I was just really hoping to be there.  I've been known to give birth a week before the due date, I've also been known to give birth a week after my due date.  After going back and forth with myself over the course of the summer I decided I would be at the wedding with newborn, or I'd be at the wedding pregnant.  The only case in which I would not be at the wedding was if I was in the throes, and I mean throes (I've got no qualms against "not making it" to the hospital, you know) of labor.  Or within hours of having given birth.  Nevertheless, I prayed.

"The Cellars" at Brookpark Farm, Lewisburg.  PA friends, this is a gorgeous venue!
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
The wedding was set for August 10 and, as you know, Omega Baby made her appearance on July 21. That gave me 2.5 weeks to prepare for the event.  Once it was clear that we'd both be there, I realized there were other things to consider.  Like how often I'd have to nurse this tiny, new babe, and whether or not I'd be emotionally able to handle the entire weekend.  Kylee was sweet enough to ask me to be in the wedding anyway with complete flexibility.  And I can honestly say it could not have gone better.  Obviously, I had to disappear several times throughout the day to nurse the baby (in my bridesmaid garb to boot!) but I never felt that I missed out on anything important, including the pictures.  And Joci was a complete angel the entire day.  I also only cried at appropriate intervals and only because it was all just so beautiful.  Hormones in check.

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Homemade yeast roll "knots" at every place setting.
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
Now let's talk logistics.  I was a bridesmaid, therefore I needed a bridesmaid dress.  The good news is the bride let us choose anything we wanted, as long as it was on the beige spectrum, short, and would work with a belt.  The bad news is I had no idea what kind of shape my body would be in that day.  Plus I needed something in which I could easily nurse a baby.  I found a dress online that appeared to fit the bill, had it sent all the way from China, and then hung it in the closet until I could try it on ... the week of the wedding.

Note to self: Don't sit on knees on cement moments before walking down the aisle. 


The kids were in the wedding too.  The boys were khaki shorts and white button down shirts from the Children's Place (on sale, of course).  I also got them fedoras.  We had a friend make coordinating bow ties and bands for the hats.  We also found brown leather sandals on clearance at Kohls.  Unfortunately, it wasn't until the day before we left for the wedding that we went to try them on and realized Jude's were two right feet.  Amazingly, I stopped at another Kohls that day and they just so happened to have one pair left in his size, even cheaper than the first.


Julia was a flower girl along with Kylee's niece Raegan.  I started working on her wedding garb months in advance.  It was an ivory tulle skirt with a detachable matching train.  We're talking hundreds of yards of tulle here, people.  (I have a lot leftover if anyone is looking!!)  It actually ended up being easier than I thought (I made it twice because the first one wasn't quite "right"), and cost less than $10.  The shirt was much more difficult, and I waited a little too long to figure it out.  It was a satin front, with an open back and elastic lace straps.  The problem with the open back was getting the bottom front to stay down.  In the end, it didn't matter so much.  When the flower girl is crying and rolling around in the grass moments before walking down the aisle, the shirt becomes less noticeable.  Her hair clip was my favorite.  A kiddie-style fascinator with satin flower, tulle, and feathers.  The feathers were actually leftover from a bag of neon ones we used at my parents surprise birthday party, since they were bright white, and the rest of the outfit was cream, I just soaked them in tea for a few days.  Wa-la.  She still wears the clip and just got complimented on it at church on Sunday.
An overwhelmed Flower Girl.

Only shot I have of the back.

Lost in tulle!


Uncle Micah was dangling swedish fish above her head ...
Finally, there was Joci.  She wasn't in the wedding, obviously, but still needed to look good.  In my head, I was picturing a lace petti-romper.  I almost ordered one off Etsy.  I should have.  But in my cheap mind I decided to do it myself.  I did everything I could ahead of time, based on the measurements I saw in an Etsy listing.  I just created a satin-lined, lace rectangle.  The plan was to have it all made up except for the back seam so I could just fit it to her the week of the wedding.  Well, I sized it to a newborn and she ended up being two weeks old when I fitted her.  It was too short so I added an apron top and did the same strap/lace-up the back thing I did with Julia.  But you know newborns, always packing on the pounds. I sewed it up three days before the wedding and by the actual day she could barely squeeze in to it.  Which is why she's showing so much skin in all the pictures.





Oh, I can't forget the shoes.  While the wedding was mostly biege/ivory tones, there were also some hints of gold and coral.  So, to match her mama, Joci got her own coral barefoot sandals.  Like any great shoe, she wore them once.  I don't know what to do with them now, but whenever I see them in the drawer they make me smile.  Moving on ...

The drapery and chandelier, two of my favorites!
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
One of the things I love about my new sister-in-law is her her DIY attitude.  And with such flair.  In an age where it seems that people are spending a fortune on their weddings while starving the actual marriage, Kylee and Co. pulled off an amazing wedding on a realistic budget.  I mean, was there any doubt after that shower her sister threw?  And as for the mother-of-the-bride, I'm just waiting for her to announce an internship program so I can sign right up.  I have never seen someone pull off so many things in such a short amount of time.  Not only did she work with Kylee for all the decorations, but she also managed the entire meal as well.  And it was phenomenal.

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
In fact, the whole day was just perfect.  The weather was supremely beautiful.  We're talking August in Pennsylvania here, for an outside wedding.  Which usually means hot and sticky but on this particular day it was warm and breezy.  The kind of breeze that just tossed the limbs of the mighty sycamore and made the leaves sing.

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Did I mention the mother-of-the-bride also made the bouquets and boutonnieres?
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
I wish I could say my kids were as well-behaved as the weather but alas, that was not to be had.  Despite spending weeks talking about the wedding, and wedding clothes, and being still and quiet, the ideal eluded us.  Apparently, Julia was not given a nap that afternoon.  While waiting to walk down the aisle, she just wanted to be held.  And when that didn't go her way she threw a fit.  Screaming, tears rolling down her face, laying flat on the ground fit.  And then it was time to send her down the aisle.  So Poppa grabbed her hand and helped me walk her crying self all the way to the ceremony.

The lovely Marmie being escorted by Uncle Micah.
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

A little help from Poppa.
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

It was all just too much for little princess.
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
The boys, they just wanted to have fun.  Which meant running laps around an old, extremely dirty porch moments before the wedding.  And then sitting down on said dirty porch.  And so I'm trying to manage them, and Julia, while keeping myself clean and all while wearing the most uncomfortable heels that have ever graced my toes.  They were a little more excited to walk down the aisle.  And that excitement carried through the entire ceremony where they sat in the front row with Marmie and Poppa and I heard Jack say, over and over again, "Is she Aunt Kylee yet?  Is she Aunt Kylee yet?  Is she Aunt Kylee yet?"

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Her demeanor drastically changed once she reached the end of the aisle.
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Our growing family!
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Aunt Bride and Uncle Groom
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Marmie and Poppa, celebrating marrying another kid off!
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
Thankfully, after surveying a handful of guests, I don't think too many other people noticed.  They were too taken with the beautiful ceremony and that stunning bride.

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
 We all sang "Come Thy Fount" together.  Kylee's sister played the cello.  Jared and Kylee exchanged vows that they wrote themselves and that brought us ALL to tears.  They tied an actual knot.  And then there was the kiss and cheers, followed by lots of hugs, celebration, and a chance to finally take my shoes off.

Now that's a close wedding party!
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Making sure that knot is secure.
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur for this mama.  There were more pictures, catching up with friends and family we haven't seen much, chasing ducks ...




... a few trips to the coffee bar, some fabulous speeches by my brother Micah and Kylee's sisters Abi and Haylynn, and dancing.  The highlight of which was this number which included flash-mob-esque participation by the wedding party and some key guests.  This is a poor video, but the only thing we have.  And I don't mind because I chose to go to bed instead of attend the dance rehearsal so it's a good thing you can't see too much of me anyway.

Best Man Speech = embarrassingly hilarious.
Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com


It was a fun day.  Certainly the "best day ever" for our favorite couple who left the next morning for their honeymoon in Saint Lucia.  As things usually happen for my little brother, Kylee got called for an interview the day she got back from her honeymoon and started teaching that very week.  They're both settled in their adorable Charm City row house.  I couldn't be happier to finally have a sister in the family and one so close by!  And while I would say that I can now look forward to hopefully being an Aunt someday (and a good excuse to hold on to some of those baby clothes that make me get a little teary-eyed) we're glad they're enjoying the newlywed life for now.

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com

Photo Credit: Achor & Eden, www.achorandeden.com
Okay, so maybe we're willing to hold off on nieces and nephews a little bit longer if it means a few more nights of free babysitting.

Uncle Jared and Aunt Kylee, we loved you both before you found each other, we love you even more as a couple.  It was a beautiful wedding, but even more importantly, we're so proud of your beautiful marriage!


Sooo, turns out I couldn't hide my Nikon behind the bouquet.  Not that it mattered because no picture I could take would compare with the talent of Achor and Eden.  You can check out their post on the wedding (as well as some other great pictures that I didn't include here) at http://achorandeden.com/kylee-jared-the-cellars-in-lewisburg-pa.  

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