Our plan for baby girl’s nursery

28 April 2021

File this under classic third child situation: baby girl will not have a dedicated nursery.

BUT – we still have some special plans up our sleeves, and since where our newest addition will sleep has been one of our most commonly asked questions, I thought we could chat about our plans today!

In our home, the master bedroom is downstairs, and we are grateful to have three bedrooms upstairs. June is in one, Shep is in another, and the third is our guest room. The guest room was the very first room we painted in this house (Benjamin Moore Healing Aloe – the prettiest soft green, which I still love!), and after we hung a pair of magnolia art prints on the wall, we dubbed it the Magnolia Room. It’s perfect for welcoming our mostly northern guests to our Southern home! Here is what it looks like today:

Since we live far from loved ones and my sister and her family visit for weekend trips often, it’s important to us to keep a queen bed upstairs. Because of this, this room will largely stay intact, but we will be making a few adjustments to accommodate baby girl! (On that note, I am very glad that baby is, indeed, a girl and not a boy, because the existing decor definitely skews feminine! We could have made it work if we were welcoming a boy, but it’s a much lighter lift this way, ha!)

Here’s a look at the plan, and then a few more details:

Yellow painting, floral fabric, yellow quilt, crib, bee knob pull, magnolia crib sheet, dresser, stuffed bunny (we will buy from our favorite local store that carries Jellycats!), gray lamp. The artwork is from Etsy but super old and sadly I can’t find the seller anymore!

First, of course, we’ll add a crib. We’ll use Shep’s same white Jenny Lind crib, even though he’s currently occupying it. We figure we have at least until the end of the year without overlap (if we need it!), since our babies usually sleep in the bassinet in our room for the first few months. Once we move the crib into her room, we’ll add this beautiful magnolia crib sheet (with this floral design as a back-up) and eventually this muslin quilt.

We’ll also switch out the curtains. While I love the current curtains, they’re not black-out and don’t even exactly cover the entire window when closed. (Oops – one of my earliest commissioned projects :)) I’m planning to find a seamstress to make black-out roman shades with the gorgeous Poppy fabric by Lulie Wallace, which I think will tie together lots of the colors in the room and be a fun, feminine touch for baby girl.

Finally, we’ll hopefully switch out the dresser. There is currently a dresser in the room, which was a free hand-me-down from one of our cottages in Maine. It is lovely, but smells AGGRESSIVELY like mothballs. We have tried various things to air it out over the years, but none have made much difference and we don’t have much hope of further progress. We’re currently storing a few things in there that don’t really absorb smells or we don’t care if they do, but ideally we would like some storage for baby girl things. So, we may opt to replace this dresser with another one – maybe this one. If I could get an exact dupe of the dresser in June’s room, I would in a second – I still think it is the most gorgeous honey wood color!! Alas, it was a one-of-a-kind flea market find.

We’ll also likely take the opportunity to switch out the lamps for a matching pair, add some happy yellow artwork over the bed, and frame a few family photos for the dresser!

For those who are curious, we figure the room in this configuration should be just fine for at least the first 2-3 years of baby girl’s life. Our kids don’t keep too many toys in their room until they start quiet time, so it shouldn’t be an issue to preserve the guest room feel. After that, we might consider having two of the kids share a room, or shifting the guest room to be more custom for baby girl (but still keep a queen bed). Or, we might be in a new house entirely! We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it :)

Sharing these posts is always good motivation to nail down the details – now I just need to execute! T-10 weeks to go…

P.S. June’s buffalo check nursery and Shep’s New England nursery.

Affiliate links are used in this post!

Our spring break trip to Jekyll Island

22 April 2021

After scouring the lower half of the Eastern Seaboard, we landed on Jekyll Island, Georgia for our spring break this year. Another blogger’s post was actually what made me look at it in the first place, so I’m happy to return the favor today! Though the island was largely what we were expecting, there were some things that I didn’t fully understand until arriving, so I hope this post is helpful for anyone considering a trip to Jekyll. The short version: it was delightful!

Jekyll Island is a small barrier island in very far south Georgia. It’s actually a state park, which surprised me (I guess I didn’t expect that, since there are hotels, shops, and homes on the island!). This means you have to pay a daily fee before crossing over the bridge (when we visited, it was $8/day), but it surely helps maintain its vibe, which is natural, relaxed, and un-crowded. There was abundant natural beauty and enough activities to keep our young family busy for a 5-day trip, but no traffic and very few lines. A win all around in our book!

From the Triangle, Jekyll is about a six-hour drive, which we decided to break up with an overnight stop in Beaufort, SC (one of our favorite small Southern towns!). We stayed once again at City Loft Hotel, which is perfectly COVID-friendly – it’s a restored roadside motel, so every room opens to the breezeway. The affordable suite we booked allowed our kids to have a separate room with a shared queen bed, which was a little wild settling in the first night, but actually totally fine after that.

Our brief Beaufort stay included a horse-drawn carriage ride, a pizza dinner at Hearth (we ate outside but the interior looks very cool!), ice cream on the riverfront swings, breakfast at Lowcountry Produce (right across the road from City Loft!), a leisurely stroll around the Point historic district (right behind City Loft, and my favorite part), and time at the riverfront playground. I will always advocate for a stop in Beaufort if it’s on your way!

On to Jekyll Island! We booked it for the beach immediately after arriving. Freedooooooom!

We stayed at the Jekyll Ocean Club, a sister property with the Jekyll Island Club. We considered both, but decided on the Ocean Club because we wanted to be close to the beach and the Ocean Club is made up entirely of suites. I think I drove John nuts in the lead-up to our trip because I could NOT for the life of me remember which one we were staying at, but in reality, they are very different properties.

The Ocean Club is modern and casual in feel (it opened in 2017). Like I mentioned, it’s all suites (great for traveling families!), and every room looks out at the ocean. The view we had is above!

The bottom floor is made up of a large lounge area and the resort restaurant, Eighty Ocean. Windowed, garage-style doors roll up to walk out to the pool, and then the beach is just a short walk over the boardwalk from there. The Ocean Club is set in the “hotel district,” so it shares a parking lot and is in close proximity to several other large hotels, like the Westin and a Home2 Suites by Hilton.

The Island Club, on the other hand, is a historic property. It was built in 1888, and reopened as a hotel in 1987. It looks like an elegant yellow castle (complete with turret!) set on sprawling grounds and surrounded by azaleas, historic homes, and huge live oaks draped with Spanish moss. The hotel is bordered on one side by the river and horse-drawn carriages roll by regularly :)

Though it’s elegant and historic (there’s a legit croquet course on the front lawn!), it also felt family-friendly to us – there were lots of multigenerational groups enjoying the pool and restaurants, and kids riding their balance bikes along the fern-lined porches. (Sea Island, another barrier island right above Jekyll, felt a bit more stuffy to us when we visited a few years ago.)

Dotted around the Island Club are a number of historic “cottages,” some of which are available to stay in, as well. I could be wrong, but I don’t *believe* there are any suites in the Island Club.

The nice thing is that because they’re sister properties, as a guest at either, you can access the amenities of both. This was especially helpful during our visit, because during COVID most of the property restaurants were only open to hotel guests. But, even if you visit Jekyll Island and don’t stay at either property, you can still walk the lovely grounds, which I would highly recommend doing! The Ocean Club and the Island Club are less than a five-minute drive apart.

We visited in late March, and the weather ranged from a high of 55 one day (!) to a high of 80. We lucked out with sunshine and blue skies most days, but because it’s on the coast, definitely remember to pack your sweatshirt no matter what time of year you visit!

Here are a few of the activities we enjoyed during our stay:

The beach! The beach at Jekyll is expansive in all directions, and never felt even a bit crowded. We didn’t go in the water much, but our kids had a great time building sandcastles and just generally digging :) Hotel guests can request beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas be set up without an extra fee, and between not having to pile everything into the car or lug heavy equipment to and fro, beach trips were SO easy. We could pop down for even just a half hour without it feeling like a burden!

My maternity swimsuit is from Kindred Bravely – I love it!

One cool thing: we were able to walk out to a crazy sandbar one afternoon! John and June are at least a football field away from the shore in this photo.

My favorite hat from Tuckernuck!

The pool! This was most definitely the highlight of the trip for June. We stuck to the pool at the Ocean Club, which was family-centric but not wild. She took a dip almost every day, even the 55 degree one :) There are fire pits at both pools, too, where we had s’mores one night. Pro tip: though they have s’mores supplies for purchase, it would be easy and MUCH less cost-prohibitive to bring your own if you knew you’d want to make them on multiple nights.

One morning we visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which is basically on the property of the Island Club. We waited about 45 minutes to get inside, likely because of a triple-threat combo of gray weather, it being spring break, and limited capacity due to COVID. This would not have been a huge issue, but the no-see-ums were out in FORCE, which was a bit challenging – though the only time we were bothered by bugs!

Once inside, our kids enjoyed peeking into the treatment room, where you can watch vets and volunteers care for injured and sick turtles; looking at the kid-friendly info displays; and visiting the hospital pavilion behind the center, where you can stand on an elevated platform and see into tanks holding rehabilitating turtles (volunteers share stories and infos with you there, too!).

We were conflicted on how many days we should rent bikes, but in the end, we went with just one day, which ended up being perfect for our family (currently, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old). We opted to bring June’s bike with us, because it was easier to pack and already perfectly sized for her, and rented bikes for both John and me. Shep rode in a bike seat on John’s bike, which we also rented. (All from Jekyll Wheels, also on the Island Club property.)

We ended up taking a mammoth 10.5 mile bike ride on the day we rented, in a big loop from the Island Club out to Driftwood Beach and back. This was June’s first time ever riding a bike alongside us, as opposed to us on foot, and I’m as surprised as you she made it that far! This was only possible because Jekyll Island appears to be 100% flat, so it makes for very easy riding. Driftwood Beach was totally worth visiting – and easy to park at if you don’t want to bike there! :)

Our other big adventure was an afternoon trip to Cumberland Island. It’s another barrier island about 45 minutes south of Jekyll, and verrrrrrrrrry longtime readers might remember that John and I took a spring break trip there in college! It was fun to return after 12 years with our two (and counting) kiddos, and both enjoyed the ferry ride and the abundant wild horses. (We saw around 30 in just a quick loop, so if you’re going for the horses, you probably won’t be disappointed!)

We opted to go out on the 11:45 ferry and come back on the 2:45. We were worried it would be too short, but it ended up being great for the short legs we were traveling with :)

A quick rundown of the dining options we tried:

Eighty Ocean: This is the on-site restaurant of the Ocean Club. We had breakfast here about half of our days, and it was delicious! Very yummy pancakes :) We also ate dinner here three nights, and while it is upscale, there were always lots of kids. It’s also easy to burn off a little energy on the pool patio or rooftop deck nearby (above) while waiting for your meal, if needed :) For COVID-consciousness, we were able to be seated on the screened porch area for all of our meals.

The Pantry: This is a grab-and-go market with a menu of sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, and salads on the property of the Island Club. We had breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert here during our stay. The expansive covered porch just outside, above, is a lovely place to eat your meal!

The Wharf: This is a pier stretching into the river, also on the Island Club property. They have indoor and outdoor options, though we only experienced the outdoor. Live music some nights!

The Pool House: As the name suggests, this is an open-air restaurant at the Island Club pool. We ate lunch here twice and it’s a lovely spot!

The Grand Dining Room: I reeeeeeeally wanted to have afternoon tea on the porch of the Island Club, but sadly it was not being offered due to COVID when we visited. Instead, we opted to have breakfast in the Grand Dining Room on our last morning, and though it was fun to see the elegant space, I honestly don’t think it was worth the money for the quality of food. And a little stressful with a wiggly two-year-old :) I would totally do tea if we go back in the future, though!

All in all, Jekyll Island was the perfect spring break respite for our family, and we are SO grateful to have gotten the chance to visit! I would highly recommend it for families of all ages, and particularly for multigenerational family trips. If you have any questions about our visit, I’d be happy to answer!

My blue tiered dress is from Old Navy and my pink cover-up is from Boden! Affiliate links are used in this post!

Marvelous Money: Investing 101

15 April 2021

Friends, I have wanted to (and promised to) write this post for years. While intimidation has kept it on the back burner (investing can be a complicated topic, and I wanted to get it right!), the desire to help and knowing I have something to share has kept it on the stove at all :)

Why? There have been a million articles written on investing, but sometimes you just need to hear it from a “normal person” – someone you trust. I hope I can be that person. Investing doesn’t have to be as intimidating and scary as it can sometimes seem!

So, here we are! My goal with this post is to begin to demystify the topic of investing for the beginner, to tell you a little bit about the difference it’s made in our life, and to give you the push you need to take the next step in your own investing adventure – whatever that might be!

Now is as good a time as any to issue my periodic reminder: I am not a financial planner, and nothing I say here should be construed as financial advice. I’m a gal who loves personal finance, has spent lots of time thinking about it, and wants to pass on what she knows!

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

What does investing even mean? Generally, you can understand investing as any tactic or vehicle to grow your money. It usually means assuming some amount of risk. You can invest in things like a CD (low risk), bonds (moderate risk), or an individual stock (high risk). And you can invest through vehicles like 401ks, IRAs, or brokerage accounts.

You can also invest in things like real estate, though for the purposes of this post, we’ll be sticking to financial assets (basically, money).

Why do people invest? Why might you want to invest? Investing allows you to harness the power of compound interest, which is putting your money to work for you – yes!! And when you reinvest your earnings, the pool of money you’re earning interest on grows, which begins a virtuous cycle.

Personally, investing my money is one tool in my financial independence toolkit. The more money I have (to a point), the more freedom I have throughout my life – to make decisions about how I live and give. This is motivating to me. And as a Christian, I believe it’s a part of stewarding what I’ve been given well.

Finally, on a very practical level, most of us need to save for our retirement. A common benchmark is that you should have 10x your ending salary saved if you retire at 67 (you’ll likely need more if you retire earlier). This is nearly impossible to do with the rate on a savings account (you’d have to save SO MUCH!), which is where investing helps you turn time into money (a.k.a. makes your money work for you).

The graphs below illustrate this clearly: the top one shows a growth rate of 1% over 30 years, and the bottom shows a growth rate of 8% over 30 years. The ending balance is wildly different ($216k vs. $740k), and all of that difference is due to interest earned. Both go up, but you’re doing almost all the work in the first scenario.

Do I have to know a lot about investing to be successful? Good news – the answer is no! HOORAH! And it’s a good thing, too, because most of us don’t have the will, the skill, or the time to be investing experts. If you’ve attempted it, you’ve probably realized it can take a LOT of time and brainpower to research and manage your own investing portfolio. (My hand is very much raised here! There are dozens of things I’d rather spend my time doing than researching investments and investment strategy!)

So, how to be successful? Here’s the key: you have to embrace the fact that you’re a novice, and make choices to safeguard against your weaknesses. You’re looking for something that will construct your portfolio for you, and manage it on an ongoing basis. Here are three options:

Option 1: A target date fund. If you have a 401k through your work, you’ve probably encountered this investment vehicle before. They’re an extremely common offering in plans because they’re simple and they prevent big mistakes, ha!

A target date fund is an entire diversified portfolio (US stocks, international stocks, bonds, etc.) in one package. It knows when you’ll need to start using the money (your target date, or prospective retirement date) and automatically rebalances to become less risky in its investment mix as you approach that date. For example, it might start out with a 90/10 mix of stocks (higher risk) and bonds (lower risk) when you’re 25, and shift to a 50/50 mix in your 60’s. And you won’t have to take any action to make that happen!

If you choose a target date fund, that’s hypothetically the only thing you’d need to invest in! Experts consider them most appropriate for retirement accounts if your retirement is still pretty far away (20+ years?), because they are simple and not individualized to your unique needs. (After all, they only know one thing about you: when you want to retire. They know nothing, for example, about your comfort level with risk.)

This is what I used in my old 401k!

Option 2: A robo advisor. Welcome to the future! :) This is a digital investment service – just a computer algorithm, with no person behind the scenes – that constructs and manages your portfolio for you. To determine your investments, it will ask you a few questions about your situation, preferences, and goals, then split your money across investments. It will automatically rebalance your investments periodically, and may check in with you periodically, too, to see if your situation has changed.

The pros: it is more tailored to you than a target date fund, and it’s low cost since there’s no person involved. The cons: there’s no person involved :) There’s no advisor who’s taken a deep dive into your situation to help you develop a plan to meet your financial goals.

Though most people use a robo advisor in addition to their 401k for retirement savings, we experimented with using one for our mortgage payoff account. (We liked it, but are currently trying something else!) Most large investment firms, like Fidelity and Schwab, and small firms, like Betterment, have robo options to explore. Here’s a place to start!

Option 3: Wealth management. This option (the most personalized) gets you a trusty sidekick for every part of the investing journey! Your advisor will consult with you on the full breadth of your financial life (your goals, tax situation, upcoming life events, desires, preferences, etc.), and then they’ll use that to design and manage a tailored financial plan and investment strategy.

Unsurprisingly, this is the most expensive option because of its comprehensiveness and customization, and there will likely be a minimum amount of money outside of your 401k you need to have available to invest. (This amount varies, but is probably around $250k+, depending on the firm/advisor.) Often, the higher your balance, the lower the fee, so the higher your balance, the more appealing (and useful!) of an option it is.

If you’re ready to go this route, you might start by looking for an advisor wherever your 401k is housed, or ask for recommendations from trusted friends. And look for someone who is certified as a CFP, or Certified Financial Planner, the gold standard in this industry.

WOW THAT WAS A LOT! Just a few more things, friends.

What can I do to set myself up for success as an investor? A few final suggestions:

1. Honestly evaluate whether you have the will, the skill, and the time to manage your own investments. Remember that one of the biggest dangers to your investment success is you!
2. Remember that investing can feel stressful in the short term. Choose a wise strategy that accommodates your weaknesses and strengths and then check in only at designated intervals.
3. Invest consistently, even when the market goes down. That’s when you’ll get the best deals :)

What is the best way to get started with investing?

1. Start now! Start small, if needed! Remember the power of compound interest.
2. If you have a company match in your 401k, start by contributing enough to meet the match.
3. If you’re already meeting the match, consider increasing your contribution.
4. If you don’t have a 401k, consider opening an IRA. If you already contribute to an IRA, consider increasing your contribution.
5. If your retirement goals are on track, consider opening an investment account, an HSA, or a 529 plan and contributing toward another big goal.

Friends, I’d never be able to answer all of your individual questions about investing, but I hope this post has served to demystify the topic a bit. Accessing the power of the stock market has been incredibly impactful even in just our first decade or so of “adult life,” and I know that power will only grow as compound interest continues to work its magic – and I hope the same for you!! I’m most definitely cheering you on as you take your best next step, and would be happy to answer any follow-up questions below! :)

Maternity Family Photo Planning

8 April 2021

This is my third pregnancy, but will be my first time doing any sort of official maternity photos! Instead of something more traditional, we’re taking the opportunity to squeeze in photos as a family of four… where I just happen to have a bump :) I’ll likely be between 28 and 31 weeks for our shoot. This is what I’m hoping for:

Left to right and top to bottom: Kelli Seeley, Courtney Leigh Photo, Julia Berolzheimer, Blue Barn Photography, Julia Berolzheimer, Kelli Seeley, Julia Berolzheimer, Briana Wilbur, Liz Adams, Briana Wilbur

I can pull photo inspiration all day, but choosing outfits for the family is always a challenge for me. I do find it’s helpful to start with one person’s outfit, and then build out from there. This time around, that person gets to be me :) I’ve scoured the internet (with the help of a few friends!) and rounded up a few options that might work. Note that only two are actually maternity dresses! Most of the maternity options I found are either too flowy and fancy for my taste, or cute but too casual for what I’m picturing. The non-maternity dresses I’m eyeing have bump-friendly features, like a higher waist, smocking, or a loose silhouette. Once I narrow it down (with your help!), I’m assuming I’ll need to order several options to try on at home to make sure they fit as I’m picturing!

Here’s what I’ve got…

1. Cornflower Lolita Dress | This one is lovely and looks quite bump-friendly, but won’t be back in stock until after we expect to take our photos.

2. Liberty Mini Floral Dress | With a high tie waist, I think this one will work nicely with a bump. The floral pattern would be fun to pull colors from for everyone else’s outfits!

3. Ellie Nap Dress | My dream Hill House dress is this pattern in blue and white, which seems to have disappeared from their website (argh!!). I have a gift card and would have loved to use it for this occasion but I think I’m going to hold out until my blue and white dreaminess comes back in stock – fingers crossed. [I ended up wearing this dress in another pattern and can confidently say the nap dresses are a DREAM for pregnant people!! I wear a small, and I typically wear a XS or S!]

4. Yellow Gold Mini Dress | I think this color is so fun! I’ve been crushing on yellow in family photos after my friend Katie wore it for hers. The fact that it is a mini dress concerns me a bit, since the bump will bring up the hemline, but might work if I size up a bit? [Tried on and updated to add: length was too short and didn’t love the sleeves on me!]

5. Rainbow Gingham Dress | This is such a happy dress (with smocking!), but I’m not sure if it’s “me” enough for the occasion?

6. Embroidered Sundress | One of the maternity options! It might be too casual for what I’m shooting for?

7. Ruffle Tiered Dress | I’m not convinced I’d love the fabric on this one, and though I love the pink color online, it’s billed as “neon,” which again, is not exactly what I’m looking for.

8. Navy Polka Dot Dress | I LOVE THIS DRESS! It’s maternity, and it probably would have been my pick without all this discussion, but it’s currently sold out in every size (argh!).

9. Ruffle Stripe Dress | I own this dress! It’s very sweet and comfy and I look forward to having it in the rotation for the next few months and beyond, but I don’t think the quality/fit is good enough for lasting family photos.

10. White Sleeveless Dress | This dress has been on my wishlist for months! I think the style is so chic and classic, and other family members could wear fun patterns or colors to complement it. Will probably order to see if the fit works. [Tried on and updated to add: I LOVE THIS DRESS!! I actually don’t think it’s great for maternity photos, since it doesn’t really show off the bump, but I’m going to keep it to wear both during and after pregnancy. A reader also pointed out that it’s very breastfeeding friendly, which I love!]

11. Green Floral Dress | Gah, this one is fun, too. I think the waist is high enough that it would be bump-friendly.

12. Chambray Dress | I have also loved this dress for a long time, but alas, it is currently sold out in every size.

Let’s vote! Which one do you think I should wear, or at least order to try on at home? If it helps, the setting will likely be some sort of grassy field.

Affiliate links are used in this post!