Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017: Looking Back

For the past couple of years, I've been doing a sort of reflective post/round-up on New Year's Eve for this blog.  (See 2016 and 2015 here!)  Looking back, 2017 was light on blogging compared to past years, mainly because I spent 19 weeks battling pregnancy nausea and didn't have an ounce of energy or spare time to write.  That made me a bit sad, because I really love this space, but sometimes something's gotta give, right?

Here are my personal Top 10 favorite blog posts from this year, in chrono order:

  1. Fire Crackers Recipe:  The only recipe on this year's Top 10 list, it was one I came back to again and again!  I don't know how many batches I've made this year.  Typically I make them in the fall/winter during holiday timing, so we have a snack to munch on.  They're spicy and flavorful and easy to make.  Our favorite combo to date is the White Cheddar Cheez-its and Townhouse Pretzel Flipsides.  These days I mix them in a Ziploc then dump them into a plastic container for sharing and munching.
  2. Big Guide to Meal Kit Delivery Services:  After trying six different meal kit services, I finally compiled a list of my favorites and thoughts.  I feel like they're great for getting you to make something outside your comfort zone, eliminating another night of takeout, and just getting back into using your kitchen.  If I try any new ones, I'll definitely have to update this post!
  3. San Antonio, Revisited:  Travel posts are often my favorite during any given year, because they remind me of the things I saw, did, and ate while away!  In this post, I had an amazing work trip to San Antonio that turned into a foodie extravaganza of sorts, because my coworkers are amazing.
  4. Tucson.  Lucky me, another work trip yielded a travel post!  Tucson isn't easy to get to (not compared to Phoenix, anyways) but I was surprised by what a food city it has become.
  5. Phoenix.  I actually went to Phoenix three times in 2017, but this post from my trip in March was the only one I ended up writing.  Food, shopping, sightseeing, this post is a typical recap but makes me smile because it was quality time with my sister.
  6. National Cornbread Festival.  I love Lodge cast iron, so convincing Dan to take me to South Pittsburg to tour the foundry was a must.  Since it's only open during this festival, we had to check it out!
  7. Pacific Northwest Vacation: Washington and Oregon.  Okay, I'm cheating here a little bit, because I actually wrote a bunch of posts about this vacation this year.  NINE to be exact.  But that's the best part about our annual vacation... there's so much to share and tell!  So check it out if you've ever wanted to visit the area, as we took a pretty cool road trip through some great cities.  This is the vacation that knocked me up LOL.  (TMI?)
  8. Sometimes, trying to get pregnant sucks.   This post was much loved for being honest.  I got a lot of feedback from folks that it made them teary-eyed or that they could relate to it.  I think that every year I have a post that is more confessional than editorial, and this was the one.
  9. Disney World for Adults.  I've lost track of the number of times I've been to Disney World, both as a child and as an adult.  Somehow, I end up there just about every year or every other year, before ever adding a kid to the mix.  Because I know that Disney isn't just for kids, I wanted to capture a trip there aimed solely at adults.  It's a great place to spend time with your friends (yes, there's booze!) and feel forever young.
  10. Pregnancy: Things I've Learned in My First 7 Months.  Written this month, I boiled down my first two trimesters of pregnancy into a single blog post.  I know I haven't posted a ton about pregnancy (two posts and a baby shower post) but it's inevitable I was going to write something.  Hopefully it's fun to read!

My most popular posts this year, according to Google Analytics, have been...
  • Review: LuLaRoe Clothing (also last year's #1)
  • Review: THINX Underwear for Periods (also last year's #2)
  • Grey Gardens Viewing Party: This little post from 2015 popped up a bunch this year in popular posts, probably because the Grey Gardens house went up for sale and interest in the cult film had a resurgence.  I can't take credit for hosting the party, only getting into the spirit by dressing as Little Edie and enjoying myself.
Of course, none of these were written in 2017, but sometimes traffic driving posts lead to readers finding the new stuff.  If you're one of those, yay!  Welcome!

As I think about 2018, I know that this blog is going to transition with me into motherhood.  I'm not saying it's going to be a "Mommy blog" (because goodness knows there are enough of those) but I am hoping to bring a glimpse into that life to this space, as the only common theme and thread I've ever had here is whatever is going on in my life.  I'm hoping that I'll still be able to travel, eat, shop, and do the things I've always loved writing about, but with a new twist... a little dude to make it more complicated, messy, and hopefully sweet.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Christmas (Stocking) Story

Back in the 80s, my Mom made stockings for our family from a kit/pattern. My parents had this Papa and Mama Bear stockings, I had a wreath with teddy bears, and my sister had a rocking horse.  (Note: This now makes so much sense, because my sister is definitely unique among the four of us! LOL)

But when Dan and my now brother-in-law joined the family, we weren't sure what to do about stockings.  At first, we added individual mis-matched stockings, but this resulted in Dan's candy melting last year as his was a longer length than the others over the fireplace.  We considered replacing all the stockings, but after 30 years with our old ones, my sister was heartbroken at the thought of retiring them.

After Christmas she texted me, "What if you make us some, Aubrey?  You could find more like these."

Motivated as a big sister could be after a plea from the baby of the family, I scoured the internet using random search terms like “80s stocking fabric rocking horse” and similar ilk.  To my surprise, I found two lots of the original stockings for sale on eBay, in the same prints as my stocking and Sissy's.  I bought them all!  They must have been sitting in someone's fabric stash for all this time, and I never would have found them if not for the power of the internet.

Adding fusible felt interfacing

I found enough to make four stockings in each design, meaning as our families grew, we would all have matching stockings.  I received the fabric, and it sat on my to-do list for a while.  But then I got pregnant, and I realized that it just wasn't moving up the priority list fast enough.  I wanted them to be finished in time for my sister to come home for Christmas from Arizona, her first Christmas as a married woman!

So I called my Mom via FaceTime in November and showed her the fabric.  You should have seen her face when she saw those old prints!  We decided we would make them over Thanksgiving, as I would be home in Indiana this year.  It worked well since we were sort of an assembly line together.

I pinned, Mom sewed

We went to the fabric store together for notions, which was kind of a funny experience.  When she made our stockings in the 80s, she lined them with felt as batting, but that seemed like a lot of work to me.  I suggested a fusible felt interfacing to stabilize the fabric, which we could iron directly onto the pieces and then sew.  She was skeptical, but in the end it was soooo much easier than the old days when she sewed in loose felt!  The new stockings are actually more sturdy than the old ones as a result, and we were more efficient in pinning and sewing them together.  We used bias tape for the top trim and loop for hanging.  It's a little different in color from the originals, but that's just fine.

Now, Mom has all the stockings up by the fireplace, in the order that we each joined the family.  I love that she hangs them up for me and Dan, even when we aren't spending Christmas in Indiana that year.  And she already has one ready to go, with bears just like mine, for my little one's first Christmas in 2018!

The 80's stockings live on!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Review: Three Bears Company

You guys, I quit buying Lularoe clothing, because the whole process was stressing me out.  I couldn't find the prints or solids in the size or item I wanted without patrolling tons of groups, and I just got exhausted by it.  Then a friend referred me to a seamstress on Facebook who focuses on custom-made (as in, you pick the fabric and the customizations!) super-soft knit items, and I've become absolutely addicted.  It's called Three Bears Company, and seamstress Nicole has served me beautifully both before my pregnancy and during!

Goldie dresses with 3/4 sleeve and knee length

Disclosure: I am reviewing Three Bears Company on my blog 100% because I love what Nicole makes, not because she has asked me to... in fact, she won't know about this post until it's published, and I'm possibly a little worried she'll get too popular.  I might even get some hate from fellow TBC groupies who don't like that I'm telling you about this amazing Facebook seamstress, but I can't help myself when it comes to giving a shoutout to a kick@ss small business owner.  I've paid for all of my own items from Nicole at full price, minus friend referral discounts or specials she is running for everyone.

Three Bears Company is a single seamstress named Nicole, churning out an insane amount of clothing on weekly basis.  I have no idea how long she'll be able to sustain the level of sewing she does, because it's absolutely incredible.  I currently have five dresses, two tops, and a pair of leggings from her, and I LOVE THEM.  They don't wrinkle, they hold up well with regular washing, they're super soft, and I felt like I had a hand in designing them because they're all custom-made for me.

The Process:

  • Pick your fabrics from her albums.  You can even combine fabrics into a single item, like raglan sleeves in a solid and the rest of the shirt in a print!  Brushed poly yields that super-soft knit that you're used to from Lularoe.
  • Pick the item you want her to make, from her menu of choices including cross-front dresses, trapeze dresses, joggers, slouchy cardigans, leggings, and more.
  • Decide on customization.  She can make a short dress into a high-low hem or maxi dress.  She can make it sleeveless, short sleeved, 3/4 sleeve, you name it.  
  • Message Nicole a picture of the fabric along with your size (she provides a guide), specifications, and more.
  • Wait 3-4 weeks, because she literally makes these custom for you.
  • Wear your clothes and be prepared for an insane amount of compliments!
GoTo Top in dress length with 3/4 sleeves, one with high-low hem

  • Custom, custom, custom!  She even takes care to add maternity bands to leggings if you'd like, for no additional charge versus regular leggings.
  • You can order things en masse.  I could never get three pairs of black leggings from a Lularoe consultant all at once in my size; I had to fight for them.
  • Price.  Similar to Lularoe.  $25 for a pair of leggings, for example.  I don't consider $50-60 for a custom dress to be expensive, especially compared to what I spent on a dress via Stitch Fix.
  • Super. soft. knits.  Imagine dresses made out of buttery soft knits.  That's what Nicole makes.
  • Nicole's responsiveness.  If you're not sure about sizing, fabric types, etc., she is super responsive and answers all of your questions.  You basically are going through a design process with her for your pieces, and she's just the most pleasant person to deal with.

Cons:  The only cons I can think of is the wait time (3-4 weeks, not bad for custom!), and that you need to be very specific in planning out your pieces and think through all the details to make sure you get the custom fit and design you want.  It's more work than just picking a mass-produced item out of a lineup, but the payoff and satisfaction to me is way better.

Goldie dress and maternity-band leggings

I only ordered dresses at first, because I didn't know how things would turn out.  I hate my upper arms (#truthtelling) and so I loved being able to add ALL THE SLEEVES.  Now, I'm also hooked on her leggings, and the fact that she can make my favorite dress as a peplum top.  She also has seasonal fabrics that she brings in for different times of year; I got my skull floral fabric top around Halloween.  I can't even count the number of compliments I've received on my TBC clothes, to the point two of my coworkers have ordered their own items from her already.

Goldie dress as peplum tops (not as long when I'm wearing them, the mannequin is skinnier than me!)

If your weight fluctuates, or you're changing sizes due to pregnancy or whatever, these knits are perfect.  I've been wearing the same dresses (seriously!) from before I was pregnant now in my third trimester.  They stretch and forgive beautifully, perfect as you're growing or shrinking.  I feel comfortable too, like I'm wearing pajamas even dolled up for the office.

Pre-pregnancy, and then pregnant!

As I type, I'm waiting on a  knee-length dress, a maxi dress, and three pairs of leggings!  I wash my one pair of leggings at least once a week because it's all I want to wear in my 3rd trimester.  My friends have shared that the Goldie cross-front cut is great for nursing and pumping, so Three Bears is becoming my pre-, pregnancy, and post-partum wardrobe of choice!

Monday, December 11, 2017

A Star Wars Baby Shower

Last month, my mother and sister hosted a baby shower for our growing family in my parents' home in Indiana.  Given our nursery's space and sky theme, as well as our baby's unique middle name, my sister decided that a Star Wars theme was in order!

From the food to the Pinterest-inspired diaper cake to the favors, there were little elements of the movies everywhere.  It was definitely cute and fun.

Most of the photos I have are from my sister's instant film camera.  It was really nice to have friends and family together in one place (with lots of kids!) to celebrate.  We've been blessed with such generosity from everyone since they found out we were expecting.

I'm thankful to our family for their support.  Not only were they in attendance, but gifts from as far as NY and PA also made their way to the shower, and our apartment office thinks we are crazy with the amount of packages coming in from family and friends near and far.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Pregnancy: Things I've Learned in My First 7 Months

I'm officially in my 3rd trimester of this first-ever pregnancy, and it has been an adventure.  I mean, first off, nobody tells you (or most don't) how gross it is in general, including much of that first trimester feeling like a hangover or flu hit you.  Or how much it sucks when you catch a cold and can't take much to help it.  Or how your body is gonna change beyond the iconic "I'm a goddess with a bump" ways.

Our pregnancy announcement

Some women just love being pregnant.  Some women are more forthcoming with info than others too.  I think you need to find some close friends who aren't going to sugarcoat things for you, otherwise you start Googling things about your boobs and pray that your browser history doesn't incriminate you in the future.  (P.S. As much as I dislike Jenny McCarthy's pseudoscience influence on the world, her old book Belly Laughs is probably one of the most honest, funny accounts I've read of pregnancy to date.)

Here are a few things I've learned along the way, from the perspective of a first-timer...
  • Surrender now, versus later.  This is something I've done somewhat unwillingly as I'm a "planner" at heart, but it's just the reality I've come to accept.  I have had to surrender to the idea that I have no idea what I'm in for as a first-time Mom.  Every person has a different pregnancy, birth, and parenting experience.
    • When people ask me about my birth plan, I tell them, "I want a healthy baby to exit my body.  I have my personal preferences as to how I'd like it to go, but I'm not married to them so long as I get that healthy baby to exit my body, which is childbirth no matter what happens."  I'm the same way about my breastfeeding/nursing plan.  I'm going to do my best to keep that baby healthy and fed and see how it all goes.  No set expectations.
    • Bad, scary things can happen at any time.  I held off posting photos or nursery prepping for a while, because we know people who've miscarried, had stillbirths, post-partum infant loss, etc.  But then I realized, I need to surrender these fears so I can feel a little joy about this baby!  This is only my second pregnancy blog post, believe it or not!
    • It was actually hard for me to surrender a little of my independence, like not being able to reach into the washer to get things anymore, or lift things and carry stuff, etc.  My old Army attitude of, "Let me carry my own weight!" really kicked in.  But now I see I have some physical limitations and need to just let people help me.  It's kind of nice, even though it makes me feel a bit helpless.

  • Keep the advice you want, release the advice you don't.  This is paraphrased advice that my grandmother gave to women in my family, and I think it's what she would tell me today too.  Certainly be a sponge and absorb as much as possible, but like I posted earlier in my "getting pregnant" post, you're going to get tons of conflicting, often unsolicited, advice.
    • One incident that stands out in my mind was when I posted a photo of Dan assembling our crib on my personal Facebook.  Many of the comments and texts/feedback I received were along the lines of:  Haha, he'll never sleep there, you know nothing.  My kid never used a crib.  What, you're not co-sleeping?  Here are the thousands of reasons why you're doing things wrong and you haven't even given birth yet.  Whether they realized it or not, even if I was just feeling particularly sensitive that day, they crushed my joy of just having this tangible "thing" in our nursery.  Or rather, I let them crush my joy.  I'll never forget that, and how I should learn to just let that stuff roll off my back.
    • Balance what people tell you with doing your own research and reading.  I'm a reader/researcher at heart, so I just kind of absorb it all right now.  It's kind of nice to sit quietly and read a book while I can and take or leave the advice in silence.
    • You don't have to answer everyone's questions.  There are so many hot-button topics in the world of babies these days, from vaccinations to circumcision to diapering to feeding... sometimes it's best to just say, "My husband and I are keeping that to ourselves; we'll make the decision together."

  • Give in to maternity clothes before you are willing to admit you need them.  I've observed some bragging where women are like, "Oh, I was able to wear my normal clothes my whole pregnancy!" or "I'm 8 months pregnant, and this shirt isn't even maternity!"  And so I felt this sort of pressure for a while to squeeze into my regular clothes so that I didn't have to admit that I was already wearing maternity clothes at X weeks pregnant.  But then I realized I was going to Arizona and Disney in August/September and needed some shorts for the hot weather, and I don't really own shorts.  So I bought maternity jorts (LOL), my first foray into maternity clothes, and I was like OMG WHY DIDN'T YOU PEOPLE TELL ME THIS STUFF IS THE SH*T, I SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUYING MATERNITY WAY SOONER!
    • Maternity underwear is awesome sauce, y'all.  This is one place where I wish I'd gone sooner, because my regular undies were either constricting or rolling down as the belly grew.  I got these cotton undies from Amazon, in like XXXL because the sizing is for fairies or something, and I wear them EVERY DAY under the belly with glee.  Also, buy panty liners.  Just trust me, I'm not getting into it, just do it and surrender (see?  back to that number one bullet).
    • Dresses and shirts you can often stretch into later trimesters, but pants are where you'll have to give in first.  I always recommend that you sit down in your non-maternity pants before leaving the house, especially for office girls like me, to make sure you aren't starting to feel constricted.  Once you start to feel constricted, it's time to cave in to the pants.  I've found I like leggings and ponte knit pants the best, because the denim and trouser type pants I've picked up tend to sag and need to be pulled up all the time, like you're wearing a d*mn tube top.

My grandmother insisted that I needed a rest during my sister's wedding reception.

  • Invest in multi-tasking clothes and underwear to save money.  Maternity clothes, like everything related to weddings and babies, are relatively expensive.  So one thing I did was realize that I'd need some clothes that are work appropriate but also functional post-partum (i.e. breastfeeding and pumping).  When my bras started to feel uncomfortable/small, I bought nursing bras that would work for me post-partum and started wearing those.  Nobody knows (until you blog about it!) and you'll be able to use them beyond pregnancy.  (These nursing bras on Amazon are basically 3 for $20.)  I also only buy dresses and tops that friends confirm are going to work for nursing/pumping, i.e. cross-front tops.  I've been buying knit dresses and tops from a seamstress that have gone from pre-pregnancy to 3rd trimester, because her other customers have said they work for them.  The Pink Blush dresses I wore for my sister's wedding were designed to be worn pregnant or not, so those purchases definitely felt like investments versus a waste of money!

  • Graciously accept hand-me-downs, but say no when you need to!  If you're lucky, your friends will hand down some freebies to you that will be useful.  A maternity winter coat was a really great thing to get, and we even got a free bouncer.  Sometimes the baby clothes won't fit your "vision" for how you'd shop for the baby yourself, but when you think about how much the kid just gonna barf on things (or worse) you realize you'll be happy to have some clean clothes to change him into that don't cost you anything.  Even though I don't really watch sports, and so much for little boys seems to be sports-related, my "Future MVP" is gonna wear that hand-me-down football onesie.
    • I found that establishing my own personal rules for receiving used items was helpful.  For example, I don't accept hand-me-down "loans" where I have to keep track of who gave me what and get it back to them in shipshape.  You shouldn't have to waste precious Mommy brain cells figuring out which items are loaners and worry about them staining or breaking!  I also want the freedom to donate what I don't want to use or keep, without judgment.  I live in a two-bedroom apartment, so I just don't have space to keep it all.
    • If you've got your hopes up that you'll get something new as a gift, just be honest and tactful with your friend.  You deserve new things too!  Maybe you really have your heart set on adorable crib sheets to fit your safari nursery theme, so you don't want your friend's nautical themed ones, no matter how much she insists you need them.  Just let her know that you believe you have some coming as a gift, and that you're grateful she offered.  It's your baby, your nursery, your call.

Oh, and this doesn't have anything to do with the above pregnancy tips, but I finally found a body pillow that works for me!  I'm a back sleeper, so transitioning to my side for sleeping was not fun at all.  I used one of those giant body pillows, but as I tossed and turned I found I just didn't get a good night's sleep with it at all.  During a business trip, I was piling pillows around me at the hotel, and I realized that I like having a sort of "hug" from pillows wedged under both my back and belly.  I found this pillow on Amazon that connects two wedges with adjustable fabric, and it has been PERFECT for me.  It's also much more portable, so I've been able to take it with me while traveling.  My sleep is soooo much better, and it doesn't shift when I switch sides in the middle of the night.  I have seen individual wedges sold, but not another one that connects like this.

So yeah, that's what's up in preggo world for me lately.

I can't wait to read this again someday and laugh!
It's like Ygritte in Game of Thrones saying, "You know nothing, Aubrey."
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