Thankful.

Today, I am thankful for…

Amazing friends. The real ones… the ones who forgive me for my shortcomings. The ones who I don't connect with for months- years, even- and our friendship doesn't skip a beat. The ones who love me enough to let me be me and who cherish me because of who I am. The ones who encourage. The ones who have been around forever. The ones who just walked into my life. The ones who will never walk away. The ones who show me who they truly are and let me love them. Those who are near and those who are far. I am SO THANKFUL for you.

My family. The time I had with Mum Mum before she died. The new time I get with Amma. The fact that my dad is still here and better than ever. My brother and sister and their endless love and generosity. My mom and her support and her unconditional love. My husband's family. The way that they all love my daughter to the moon and back.

My husband. His patience. His love for the Lord. His encouragement and support to help me follow my dreams. His new role as the most amazing dad I've ever seen. The way he looks at me. The way he looks at our tiny little girl. The joy that's written all over his face when he's with her. That he loves me sacrificially and stands by me through thick and thin. That I love him just as much.

My daughter. The light that dances in her eyes. The way she grasps my index fingers like mini vice-grips signaling that she wants to go walking. Her opinions. That she knows how to sign for "more" and it's so dang cute. The way she dances to music or when I sing… when I sing anything to her. Snuggling her in the mornings. Her excitement over our pups. Putting bows in her long, blonde hair. Making her giggle uncontrollably. The sheer joy and privilege of being her mama. Wondering every day why God decided to bless me with this amazing little creation. Watching her grow… and learning what it is to experience a love so big and vast and wide that I would give up my life and my world to keep her safe.

Photography. Seeing the world in snapshots. Capturing moments in my own life and those that I love that can be cherished long past our expiration dates.

My fur-kids. Those sweet little white fluffs that demonstrate forgiveness and unconditional love in a way that only dogs can. Their wet kisses and black noses. When they cuddle up next to me when I cry because they know that sometimes I just need a hug and a quiet reminder that I am loved.

My job. I work with two amazing women who have become like big sisters to me. They understand, support and give me advice on how to balance my life as a mom and a professional because they've been there. I get to travel and connect and be creative and just be me. A year ago I didn't know what we were going to do to support our soon-to-be family of three… and here I sit, in a better place than I could have ever dreamed up at the time.

The beauty that is there if we just take the time to look for it.

The contentment that can be found in nothing but Jesus and given to us by the Spirit.

This life that I have been given… the moments that have been entrusted to me… the responsibilities that are mine alone and the joy it is to have them. My health, my home, my love, my life. That I am not without knowing Who these things came from.

I am thankful for so much today, and I pray that you are too. May you be given the eyes to see that your blessings do indeed outweigh the hardships in your life. Our God has made it so, for He is good, all the time.

"I thank my God every time I remember you."
-Phillipians 1:3

Happy Thanksgiving, dear ones. You are loved.

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Why I am SO EXCITED: The TomKat Studio.

As you may know, when I found out I was expecting Linnea, I set out on a mission to start a home-based business as a Virtual Assistant and developed No Strings Virtual Solutions. As is the case with most business ventures, it took some time to develop and get off the ground, and before I knew it, Linnea was nearly here and my world was taken over by all things baby. That's the beauty of owning your own biz- you can prioritize your life appropriately and focus on what's most important! I had a couple of project-based clients that I helped with the launch of their Web sites and blogs, but I put anything beyond that on hold as I prepared to become a mom. 

The TomKat Studio

My hubby went back to work on Wednesday, and I was finally settling into somewhat of a rhythm with the little one to where I would be able to start building my business and taking on clients again. That's when I saw a post on Twitter from the TomKat Studio (whose blog I've been following since I saw her on the cover of our local magazine, Go Gilbert! back in May) saying that she was seeking a virtual assistant for her paper and party business. Kim has THE CUTEST blog I've ever seen and it's clear that her business has taken off in recent months, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. I even had friends who saw the post and sent it to me knowing I would love it. Imagine my excitement when she e-mailed me to let me know that I was her top choice! I mean, LOOK at her adorable creations!

The TomKat Studio

There are so many reasons I am so thrilled to work with her, besides the fact that she is one of the sweetest people I've ever talked to. She is immensely talented, creative and is genuinely living out her passion, and I love that kind of energy! Back when I started No Strings, my husband asked me what kind of clients I wanted to serve. I told him that I could work with almost anyone, but in a perfect world I would love to work with creative entrepreneurs- just like Kim! Her Web site was one I frequented when I needed inspiration and it also got me excited that I was having a little girl- bring on the pretty parties please! And lastly, that issue of Go Gilbert! is the only one I kept around the house because it was that article that inspired me to venture out on my own. It was only a few days after I read it that I found out I was expecting- and you can bet it gave me the confidence I needed that I could handle being an entrepreneur AND a good mom too!

The TomKat Studio

So who would have thunk that a couple of months after our little one was born that I would be working with the very person who inspired me to start my own business? It will never cease to amaze me the way that God orchestrates things in our lives. We NEVER know just how good His plan can be until we find ourselves in the midst of it! And I am sure there is so much more amazingness to come! For now, I am looking forward to helping this successful, creative business owner and fellow mom build her company and realize its full potential. Cheers to Kim and the TomKat Studio!

The TomKat Studio

A thank-you note for a priceless gift.

Cody and I have some fantastic friends- I could write blog after blog about all the wonderful people we have in our lives. But this post is about one couple in particular- Jason and Jessica Williams- who have been so thoughtful, supportive and generous to us as we have prepared for and entered into this new season of our lives.

I found out that I was pregnant on May 13, 2009. Before I even knew I was pregnant, somehow Jessica knew right away- so in a sense, she was the first to know! I woke up that morning feeling very fatigued and kind of shaky, and because when I was in college I was borderline anemic, I thought that maybe that was the issue. Since we had moved to the same part of town as the Williams, I sent Jessica a message asking if they had a good family doctor she could recommend. Her response? "ARE YOU PREGNANT?!!!!" Ha! Furthest thing from my mind, and by the way, ARE YOU TRYING TO GIVE ME A HEART ATTACK?!!!! I assured her that the idea was absurd and she was entirely crazy, but when I recalled all of the bread pudding I had consumed in recent weeks at work, and I realized that the idea may, in fact, have some merit. That afternoon, two pregnancy tests indeed confirmed my status as a mom-to-be, and I sent Jessica a message telling her that she was right. And we were so freaked out and PLEASE PRAY FOR US. Hard.

I was immediately met with the most amazing support from this dear friend who had recently ventured into new mommyhood herself. She came along side me and promised me that not only would everything be absolutely amazing when our little one arrives, but that if we needed anything, she and her hubby were there for us. Our lives had followed parallel paths in so many ways and it was exciting- and reassuring- to have someone to share the journey with.

As Cody and I were getting ready to start a new chapter of our lives, the Williams were starting a new venture of their own as photographers. Because they were just starting out, they offered to do a shoot with us to build their portfolio, and also offered to do my maternity photos and, if I wanted, birth photos as well. Little did any of us know that their business would literally skyrocket within weeks- I also had no idea the precious treasure they were so generously giving us: our new baby's life in pictures. So here are a few of my favorites from start to finish.

Exactly one month after learning we were expecting, we had our first photo shoot:

Alley 54
Alley 17
Alley 26
Alley 34
Alley 43
Alley 50
Alley 58
Alley 11

Thanksgiving weekend we did our maternity shoot:

Alleys Maternity 1
Alleys Maternity 10
Alleys Maternity 21
Alleys Maternity 28
Alleys Maternity 34
Alleys Maternity 41
Alleys Maternity 58
Alleys Maternity 67

Jessica surprised me by taking pictures at my baby shower as well! Thoughtfully planned by my BFF Amber and Kelly:

Alley Baby Shower 1 
Alley Baby Shower 6 
Alley Baby Shower 10
Alley Baby Shower 15
Alley Baby Shower 30
Alley Baby Shower 20

Alley Baby Shower 22
Alley Baby Shower 33
Alley Baby Shower 40
Alley Baby Shower 51
Alley Baby Shower 56
Alley Baby Shower 57
Alley Baby Shower 58
Alley Baby Shower 8

Then, when Linnea decided to arrive early, Jessica was there to shoot the first pictures ever taken of her:

Alley Delivery-2
Alley Delivery-10
Alley Delivery-17
Alley Delivery-38
Alley Delivery-42
Alley Delivery-56
Alley Delivery-57
Alley Delivery-58
Alley Delivery-71
Alley Delivery-74
Alley Delivery-80
Alley Delivery-88
Alley Delivery-93
Alley Delivery-94

And finally… the newborn photos, taken by Jason:

Linnea Alley-4
Linnea Alley-16
Linnea Alley-18
Linnea Alley-24
Linnea Alley-27
Linnea Alley-30
Linnea Alley-32
Linnea Alley-42
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Linnea Alley-51
Linnea Alley-56
Linnea Alley-58
 
Linnea Alley-69

Linnea Alley-68

Jay and Jess-

You are an amazing, inspirational team as photographers, parents, and husband and wife. Thank you so much for these precious moments you captured for us. We will cherish them- and your friendship, wherever God leads you- always.

With love,

The Alley Family.

Wardrobe.

I love shopping… well, most of the time. I'm not a fan of shoe shopping because shoes never fit my outrageously narrow feet, and I tend to wear sneakers and flip flops most of the time anyway, so my trusty old stand-bys do the job just fine. I also prefer to shop alone because I tend to take way longer to shop than normal people, and I don't like to torture others with hours-long browsing through the mall. My poor husband can't take ten minutes in a store so I leave him out of the process altogether, something I'm sure he appreciates immensely.

Lately, however, shopping has become a different experience- more of a treasure hunt than anything else. I've avoided the malls and have lapsed into some sort of reverse snobbery when I see people carrying around shopping bags from Nordstrom or Barneys or some other fancy store. I scoff at them and think, if only they knew the DEALS that are out there! I don't buy anything anymore unless it's on sale, and I've started to explore the art of thrift shopping, coupons and extreme sales. It's actually quite a bit of fun- more fun than running up a huge credit card bill that I'll still be paying off ten years down the line with nothing to show for it! Been there, done that.

I pop into Goodwill every now and then and rarely leave without a good find- and I have yet to spend more than $11 there. It takes time to fish through the racks for the deals, but it's worth it, and they're there. The best part is when you go to check out, and they ring up the total, and it ends up being less than you expected to spend. That's happened to me every time I've gone- it's such a nice surprise!

For instance, Cody and I went there last weekend, and picked up a brand new, unopened game of Scene It (which he's been wanting FOREVER) for $8, a genuine Funshine Carebear for $0.69, and the cutest little denim dress and floral onesie for $4. Then we had a coupon for 20% off so it came out to a little more than $10!

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A couple days later, I went to the Scottsdale location hoping to find a dresser that we could refurbish, but no luck there. I did find an adorable Gymboree dress and two onesies and spent less than $5- my lunch that day cost more than that! My friend and I happened to be at Gymboree earlier that day, and single dresses for babies start at $20 or more. I got this little dress for $3:

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I found the little flowery shoes (brand new with tags still intact) and the white Converse along with a pair of pink fuzzy newborn slippers at the cutest little children's consignment shop called Once Upon A Child. Paid $9 for all three. Our friends Cassie and Matt recommended this place to us, and when we found out that we were having a girl, they bought her first outfit from there- a brown polka dot dress and matching bloomers. I was amazed by their selection and definitely will be heading there first to find clothes for our little one once she starts growing.

Because for now, it's safe to say she has PLENTY of newborn/0-3 mo. clothes. Goodness.

A couple nights ago I found an ad on Craigslist for a bag of newborn clothes for $20 that a mom-to-be needed to offload because she had stocked up WAY too much. She got tons of responses but chose to sell them to me. When I met her to pick up the bag, I couldn't believe it- it was a huge shopping bag overflowing with clothes! Onesies galore, dresses, pants, skirts, etc.- so many that I wasn't even sure little Elska would ever use them all. I was so excited when I got home that I went straight into crafty mode and made a little gold tutu to go with an adorable star onesie:

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Next project: embellishing a pink onesie with a little bird stencil or applique on the butt.

My mom and I are heading to Hissyfits Resale this weekend for the Hissyfits Hullabaloo. They will have 70 vendors selling handmade goods in their children's resale store, which I'm so stoked to check out. I love handmade.

This little one will have a better wardrobe than me- and I paid less than the cost of a pair of jeans for all of it! Not only that, we have friends with baby girls who offered to give us the clothes that no longer fit their little ones. It's safe to say that clothes are the LAST thing we'll need, for a while at least. I'm enjoying the process and can't wait to dress her up 🙂 Every day that brings me closer to meeting her is another day I become more excited. I can't wait to see what she looks like, what her little personality is going to blossom into, the things she will like and not like, the way her daddy will take care of and love her. That will probably be my favorite part- watching my husband with our daughter. There's nothing more precious than a daddy and his little girl, and the upcoming adventures we have ahead of us will certainly be no exception.

Now, whether or not he'll know how to put an outfit together…

🙂

No Strings Virtual Solutions

Ta Da!

I would like to officially announce the launch of my business, No Strings Virtual Solutions. For the record, I would like to say that I considered No Strings BUSINESS Solutions for a name, but NoStringsBS wasn't quite as flattering a nickname as what I chose. But I digress. Time to talk business!

I was so intimidated by the idea of venturing out on my own- I mean,
me? A business owner? Hmm… not so much. But after researching what
was necessary to start a business and learning just how simple it
actually is, I decided to go for it. I am also incredibly fortunate to
have people in my life who are inspirational to me because they went
out on their own- like these two– and are enjoying tremendous success and self-worth in
the process.

For those of you who are wondering what the heck it is that I do as a Virtual Assistant (a.k.a. VA), don't feel bad. The term "Virtual Assistant" is relatively new, but it is a profession that is gaining recognition and momentum, most notably during this economic downturn. Because my ultimate goal is to work from home, whatever is within my capabilities that a client needs- that can also be done from my home office- is available to save businesses both time and money in comparison to hiring an in-house part-timer to work for them. With so many people being laid off, and no less volume of work to be done, being a VA and hiring one is a win-win scenario for all parties involved.

So where am I at now? Currently, I am working on spreading the word and generating interest in my services, among a myriad of other things. I am happy to report that I have a couple of potential clients in the mix, and I am very much looking forward to seeing where those lead. For now, dear reader, anything you can do to send business my way would be appreciated! There is no minimum time requirement, so no job is too small- or too big. Maybe you know someone who needs assistance just a couple of hours a week to handle e-mail correspondence, or perhaps you know someone else who has a project they need to complete and an extra set of hands to get the job done. Either way, I want to hear from them!

All the details about my business are located at my Web page, http://www.nostringsvs.com, including an extensive (but not necessarily exhaustive) list of my services, my ethical commitment to clients, a contact form, and an "about me" page that briefly outlines my professional experience, among other things.

Baby Girl (nickname to be revealed tomorrow) is pretty darn excited about this as well. I can tell- every time I'm at the computer working, she's doing somersaults in my belly! Between my wonderful hubby and our little girl, I have the best cheerleading squad a mom could ever ask for.

p.s. HAPPY OCTOBER! We were greeted this morning by 68-degree weather- an absolute dream in comparison to the 106 degrees we had at the beginning of the week! I opened every window in the house, lit a fall candle, put on a long sleeve shirt, drank hot hazelnut decaf coffee, and plugged away at the biz 'til I had to leave for work. It was GLORIOUS.

Baby-friendly cars.

After a crazy cash-for-clunkers weekend, Cody and I are now the proud owners of two very child-friendly, four-door sedans. Up to this point I was driving an Explorer with 150,000+ miles on it, a car in which I felt relatively unsafe because of the potential of the engine overheating, or the wheels flying off or tires popping and rolling me straight to my demise, and Cody was rocking the two-door Civic with a manual transmission and about 108,000 miles on it. Needless to say, with a bun in the oven, we were overdue for an overhaul in the auto department.

I found out that I was pregnant on May 13, a day that will live in infamy on the timeline of our lives, no doubt. Already financially frustrated because we just dropped more than $1600 on my car to repair the ball joints and get the radiator replaced, among other things, we also found out that the heads on the engine were warped, which in a nutshell means that if the engine overheats again, the car would be considered totaled. With summer fast approaching and a bleak prediction from our mechanic, this spazztastic news sent us into a bit of a panic. The last thing we wanted was a car payment, but on the flip side, we weren't going to get much out of my car in that condition, and we didn't have a few thousand extra dollars sitting around to spare.

Then the news came. Come January, we are going to have another mouth to feed, another body to clothe, and a two-door Civic to cart it around in. Well then.

Fast forward two days to May 15. While trying to decide how we were going to break the news to family and friends, we were processing through the shock and discouragement we faced as we started crunching numbers. As with most things related to our bank account, nothing was adding up. I was a hormonal mess, and then I got a phone call from my mom with some news about her mom, my Amma. I had decided not to tell my parents until we could tell them in person, so it took a lot for me to hold my tongue during this particular phone call. It was full of wonderful news, and a blessing so timely I could do nothing but thank God for providing the way only He can: perfectly. My Amma was planning to move here in the spring, and when she moved here, she was going to give me her car. I cried at the news, no doubt leaving my mom wondering, but all I could say is that she had no idea how timely this whole situation was. NO IDEA.

Well, plans changed a little and Amma moved here last weekend. She is in an independent living center with a great one-bedroom apartment, all the bells and whistles, surrounded by a sea of potential new friends, and only a few miles from my parents. With no plans to drive in her new city, she immediately passed down the keys to her car to me: a 2003 Buick Regal, with amazing upgrades, and less than 17,000 miles on it. It's gorgeous. I couldn't believe it.

At that point, we became the proud owners of three cars. We had no idea what to do with the Explorer- I mean, sell it, sure, but where would we keep it? Who's gonna want it? Does this mean I have to wash it?

Enter testament number two to just how amazing my family is. Seriously, I can only hope and pray that I have the means to be as supportive and generous as they have been with me when I needed it most. The cash-for-clunkers program was going on, and my dad, knowing that I was sitting on this SUV for who knew how long, started musing about his interest in a few different cars. He made several phone calls to several dealerships to find out who would be willing to work out the best deal with him, and we ended up at one in particular with a plan to not only turn in my Explorer for the C4C program, but also trade in Cody's Civic for a new car for my mom. The total of the trade-in value of our two cars would have equalled the trade-in value of my mom's car alone, so it was a win-win for all of us. Then, at the last minute, my brother came by to test drive Cody's car, and being the car junky that he is, he couldn't resist the zippy little stick-shift with the phenomenal gas mileage. In the end, my mom got a beautiful new car, Cody inherited her 2004 Altima with only 51,000 miles on it, and we kept the Civic in the family, in very good hands.

We are SO BLESSED. Thank you, Amma, Mom, Dad, and Greg. There are so many reasons we are where we are today, and you have played an enormous role in all of it.

I must admit, however, that I was very sad to see my Explorer go. When you've had a car for 11 years, and it's treated you well during that time, and it really is an otherwise good ride, it's hard when you have to let it go to anything other than a good owner who would take care of it. I had a lot of memories and good times with it and I will miss driving an SUV- even if the gas mileage sucked! When we left the dealership, they had written "C4C" all over the windows, and it was on its way to be sent to the crusher- literally. They had no use for it. RIP, Explorer!

All in all… I will never doubt God's provision, ever again. We have some scary times ahead of us, no doubt, but somehow, I think He'll carry us through just fine.