Backyard garden party baby shower

30 June 2021

Earlier this year (probably a few weeks after we realized we were having babies two weeks apart!) I floated the idea of hosting a joint garden party to Nancy. I wasn’t picturing a baby shower per se – certainly not in the traditional sense of a guest of honor, gifts, and games – but the opportunity just seemed ripe to celebrate spring, new babies, access to vaccines, and a new season of life with COVID on the wane here! Nancy was game, and we quickly roped in our friend Sam, too. She completed the pregnant hostess triumvirate: three summer babies in six weeks!

After much back-and-forth on dates, we eventually settled on a Wednesday in early June. We were aiming for a weekend night, but I’m actually happy we landed midweek – I think we got a lot more “yes” RSVPs that way, and it was something special to look forward to! Nancy agreed to host us in her backyard, and I happily took the lead on all things planning: after a year and a half with no group celebrations, I was thrilled to have an excuse to put together an inspiration board and pull together details.

Of course, John’s injury threatened to throw a wrench in the plans, but thanks to keeping things as simple as possible and lots of help from my parents on the home front, we pulled it off! We ended up having the sweetest evening, and I’d love to share a few photos and details, if you’d like to see.

After choosing a date, our first order of business was putting together a guest list. This was one of my very favorite parts of the whole celebration: with three hostesses, we invited three interlocking friend groups whose edges were blurred in the most delightful way. Even though I didn’t know all of the guests well before the party, I knew they’d all be lovely people if they were friends of my friends! It was neat to see gals who had never met mixing, mingling, and getting along famously.

We used Paperless Post for an evite (asking friends to wear their favorite floral dress or garden party attire!), and I kept track of details and to dos in a Google Doc so we could all access it easily. The evening itself was very simple: we gathered at 6:30pm, had a 45-minute or so “cocktail hour” of chatting with drinks and a charcuterie platter, and then sat down to dinner. We didn’t get up again until 9:45, when I looked at my phone and realized we should probably start packing it in! I had originally considered incorporating an activity, like planting pots to take home, but should have known simple conversation with friends who hadn’t gotten together in so long would be more than enough to fill our time.

To seat everyone, I used a folding table of mine and borrowed two from a friend. We did rent 16 chairs from a local company, which was totally worth it at $45. The tables were covered with these block print linens – I already had one, and purchased a second (which I plan to gift to a friend on some future occasion!). Since it was a garden party, I splurged and ordered two centerpieces from Wylde, then sprinkled in potted plants from our favorite nursery (they all got planted in our yard post-party!), lots of tea lights and candles, and a few piles of limes and clementines. My friend Katie (who just opened the SWEETEST citrus-themed Etsy shop!) contributed the orange garlands and place cards.

You may even be able to spot a brand-new product (THAT I LOVE) from Cultivate launching this fall – I got permission to test it out with this crew, and it was a big hit! EEP!

For the place settings, I went with plastic plates in aqua and green, pale pink plastic bowls, pastel flatware (also in green and blue), and patterned paper napkins. At $.50 each, the plates and bowls were almost cheaper than a paper or flimsier plastic version, and now our family has an outdoor dining set to enjoy! We avoided the need for cups by serving sparkling canned drinks like LaCroix.

Food-wise, we also kept things simple by ordering three family meals from Cava, a Mediterranean chain. Guests were able to mix their own greens or grains bowls, adding in things like hummus, tzatziki, cabbage slaw, tomatoes and cucumbers, and pickled red onion. On the side, we had plenty of pita (actually, a laughably large amount) and fresh fruit. We re-plated everything into our collection of serving bowls and stands, and it looked cute grouped together on the table! And tasted delicious, too.

For dessert, we passed around Tillamook ice cream sandwiches (YUM!) and also cut into a small cake and sang to Sam – it was her birthday the day before!

Though we kept things as simple as we could, the logistics still felt like a lot at times. There’s one thing I’m really grateful I did, though: I used vacation time to end work a few hours early on the day of the party. Instead of frantically running out the door, I was able to get to Nancy’s in plenty of time and enjoy a leisurely set up before our guests arrived. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I’ve realized the beauty of prioritizing this buffer time, even if I would have previously resisted using vacation time for it!

All in all, it was the sweetest evening. “My” guests included five of my dear girlfriends, some of whom knew each other and some who did not, but all who got along famously. What a treat to enjoy their company all together on a beautiful evening on the cusp of welcoming this new baby into our lives! I’m so glad we prioritized it and grateful we could pull it off.

I’d love to hear: have you had any memorable celebrations since the pandemic eased? Or the fun experience of hosting with friends, resulting in a mixed group of guests?

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All About Meal Trains

21 June 2021

I have unofficially officially declared myself the Queen of Meal Trains. This might sound grandiose, but here’s the good news: the number of people who can hold the title is limitless, and you need absolutely no skills to do so.

Why the title? I believe meal trains are magic. Before having June, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted one: would it feel awkward to ask people for help? Would we really need it? What if they arrived right when I was feeding her or she was crying? What if they stayed to talk for way too long? (Introvert problems, am I right?)

But then she arrived, and the meals arrived, and it was magic. Not having to think about dinner at the end of the day? Magic. Yummy food made just for you? Magic. The feeling of being thought of and cared for by friends? Magic.

And so now, because I know how much it meant to have meals brought to us as new parents, I basically chase pregnant people down on the street to ask if I can set up a meal train for them, or at the very least bring them a meal. (This is only a slight exaggeration.) I don’t want anyone I’m even mildly acquainted with to miss out on having a meal train, either because they didn’t understand the value or because no one thought to ask them. It’s such a small thing, but I’m making it my thing!

Want it to be your thing, too? Here are my best tips:

1. Use It’s free! It’s easy to set-up! Absolutely no skill is needed! Just ask your recipient for a few pieces of basic information (address, desired delivery time, meal preferences, number of people eating, allergies, etc.), fill out the online form, and voila! It’s ready to go. I usually recommend running the train on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (to give working meal-bringers a weekend option!) for 2-3 months.

Once you’ve activated the Meal Train, a link will be sent to the recipient so they can block dates, add a photo, or make changes as needed, too.

2. Ask everyone. Like seriously, everyone. I used to worry that people might think I was weird or overly-forward for asking. Maybe a closer friend had already set one up? But who the heck cares?! If they already have one, then you have the perfect opening to ask for the link so you can sign up to take a meal – and they’ll be tickled you thought of them. And if they don’t, you’re giving them a huge gift that literally takes ten minutes of your time.

3. Offer to send an email. I know it can be awkward to ask for help, which is why I always request a list of email addresses to send the meal train to on behalf of the recipient. I strongly believe people want to help, and when you give them an easy way to do so, they’ll gladly jump on board! I’ve found there is a huge difference between the number of sign-ups when an email is sent and when one is not; this is almost always due to the direct ask, not the size of the friend network. (And if someone sets up a meal train up for you and doesn’t think of this, do not hesitate to ask if they’d mind sending one! I’m sure they’d be thrilled to!)

On a related note, if you’re passionate about bringing meals, this post has 10 great dinner ideas for new parents, and a few of my favorite tips. The only thing I’d add a few years out: it is 100% okay to bring a store-bought meal or takeout favorite. In fact, I did just that this weekend – our life is a little too crazy right now to make an extra home-cooked meal, but I happily picked up a few favorites from Donovan’s Dish and delivered them on Saturday afternoon to a new mama friend. If you’re self-conscious about your cooking or worried about getting the delivery timing right, this is a great option!

I would love to hear: do you have an acts of service “thing”? Do you always remember to write condolence notes? Do you watch friends’ kids so they can go on a date night? Do you send a Starbucks gift card for big days or hard weeks? (I have a friend who is consistent with doing this the week friends go back to work after maternity leave – so sweet!) And if you don’t yet have a thing, I hope this post (or the comments!) might inspire you to choose one! :)

Our maternity family photos with Ally & Bobby

18 June 2021

The gallery of photos from our family session with Ally & Bobby arrived in my inbox a few days after John tore his Achilles’ tendon – the day before his surgery. What a slice of sunshine in a week when we really needed it! Of course, no matter when they arrived I knew they’d be a treasure, but the timing did feel like a gentle nod from God. These were my first maternity photos in three pregnancies, and I’m so happy I got to capture them surrounded by my family (at 28 weeks). Here are a few, if you’d like to see!

Our session lasted about 45 minutes, and for the last ten, the kids were pretty loopy. It helped that they could wander in the tall grass of the NC Museum of Art to their hearts’ content in between shots!

I ended up wearing the pink striped Hill House Nap Dress borrowed from Kristin, and am so happy with the choice. Thank you, K!! I can heartily endorse it as a maternity option – the smocking makes it very comfy! June’s sweet dress is from Amazon, John is wearing his favorite All Day shorts, and both kids are wearing Saltwater sandals (here and here).

We already knew Ally socially, but had never shot with her personally before this session. As we were driving home, John was like, “Are all photographers that encouraging? She was so excited about everything,” ha! While I do think all photographers work hard to put their subjects at ease and make them feel good, Ally does have the sweetest spirit and just the most delightful, bubbly personality. We LOVED being photographed by her!

My only hesitation before booking Ally was whether she’d capture the energy and motion of a young family, because I was much more familiar with her (serene, gorgeous!) wedding photography. As you can see, I needn’t have worried :)

My heart. We are so very lucky to have him as the Daddy in our family.

It really hit me when I looked at these photos – how crazy and wonderful it is that there will be a third little face squeezed into the frame the next time around! We feel so very lucky to have had this season captured for our family, and excited for what’s next!

Wishing a very happy Father’s Day to all this weekend, in whatever way you’re celebrating, and a happy Juneteenth!

How to Make the Introduction of a New Sibling More Joyful

11 June 2021

Though I wouldn’t say I hold particularly tightly to plans, I am also most definitely a planner.

For moments and events I know might have resonance for our family, I feel much more prepared if I start musing on them far in advance (this could mean days or weeks or months – the time horizon is relative to the importance!). This gives me time to work through my own thoughts and needs, and it also gives me time to think through the emotional needs of the people around me, research or crowdsource how others have marked the occasion, and brainstorm how we might be able to make the moment special or edifying or something that adds to the story of our family. In the end, whether or not everything goes off without a hitch, I can rest assured that I’ve put forward my best effort. And when the unexpected does happen, I find I’m better able to roll with it :)

So obviously, each time we’ve added a new baby to our family, I’ve given a lot of thought to how we might manage the variables within our control, and make such an important moment a joyful and seamless one. As we prepare for baby number three’s arrival, here are a few things that worked for us last time, and a few things we’re trying this time!

1. Choose a few books to read together. Books are a classic, low-key way to introduce new ideas and open conversation with kids. June’s absolute favorite is this one, by the inimitable Sally Lloyd-Jones, and she also liked I’m a Big Sister and Maple. At two and a half, they gave her words for what was ahead and got her excited about, well, being a big sister :) I’m thinking we’ll snag this brother version for Shep in the next few days.

2. Let them help choose a few items. June loved weighing in on baby sister’s muslin blanket (probably because she loves hers so much!) and giving her opinion on the curtain fabric. To keep things simple and pleasing for everyone involved (ha), I like to take screenshots of 3-4 choices to narrow down the options before consulting her. I think this helps her feel she has a role in the transition, and that preparing for baby sister is a family project.

3. Exchange gifts. This is not an original tip – I heard it from many seasoned parents when we were expecting Shep – but it has proved to be a memorable one. In the run-up to Shep’s birth, June and I went shopping for a stuffed animal for him, then wrapped it together. She got to bring it to the hospital and help him unwrap it when she visited for the first time, and was delighted when we presented her with a gift (also a stuffed animal) “from him” in return.

This exchange still comes up regularly in conversation, and we’re planning to recreate it for baby number three. Looking forward to a stuffie shopping date with my buddies in the next few weeks! (In case you’re curious, baby sister will be giving June a replacement camera, since hers broke a few months ago, and Shep a recycling truck. She’s already got a bead on them.)

4. Have your arms ready. Unfortunately, the kids will not be able to visit us in the hospital this time around, but when June visited after Shep’s birth, we made a point to have him snuggled in the bassinet so that she could climb up on the bed with me and I could give her a big hug right away (after being greeted in the lobby by Daddy). We chatted about what she had been up to in the last 24 hours, and only then did John hand Shep into the bed so that we could look at him together. The sequence is subtle, but I think it helped ward off an immediate visual of being “replaced” and the feeling of being unsure where she fit in.

5. Give them something to look forward to. Since the older kids won’t be able to visit us in the hospital (my parents will be staying with them), I’m planning to prep a few things to add some delight to our time apart. For day one (delivery day!), I’ll buy a little cake in advance and leave out candles so they can celebrate her birthday that night. For day two, I’m thinking my parents will reveal a bath bomb (always a hit). And for day three, a new box of sidewalk chalk. No need to go overboard – kids delight in the smallest things! – but I think this will help them feel remembered and connected to us when we’re apart.

6. Let them in on the secret. As you know, my parents have been and will be staying with us right up to and through baby sister’s birth. This is wonderful and needed, and though the kids loooooove having their grandparents around, it’s also a change from their normal – and that can be a lot in a season of transition. I wanted to plan one final moment of bonding for our immediate family of four before baby sister’s arrival, and landed on a picnic the night before delivery day. We’ll go to a favorite playground, bring one of their favorite takeout meals, and…. we’ll tell them baby sister’s name.

That’s right, they do not know her name (they would FOR SURE let the cat out of the bag if we told them further in advance than this!). June, especially, has been asking me more frequently what it is, and I think it will make them feel very important and special to know the secret before anyone else.

So there you have it – what we have planned for the next few weeks to make the addition of a new sibling more seamless and joyful! If you’re anticipating welcoming a new baby to your family, I hope you might find a few ideas to try. And, if you’ve already added a sibling to your family, I’d love to hear in the comments what worked for you!

P.S. Transitioning from one to two kids (lots of tips and thoughts on preparing in here, too!), the cost of our first year with a baby, and notes from the first six weeks.

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