I Heart Faces: In the Orchard.

I've been tied up the past couple of weeks not only with work, but also with getting ready for Kelly and Mondo's wedding day! More on that later- it was an amazing weekend and I was so honored to stand up for one of my dearest friends as she married the love of her life!

I got really excited when I saw that this week's challenge for I Heart Faces is called "In the Orchard." On Saturday we did the wedding photos with none other than Jason of Session Nine with Chris Ward at this gorgeous Pecan orchard. I've seen the products of some photo shoots done there and thought it made a stunning backdrop, but I hadn't been there before. I took LJ back there today for a little mini-shoot and here's my entry- I love this sweet little angel!

 

LJ pecan orchard

The dirt and the boots are growing on her. The ants… not so much.

Be sure to check out the other fun entries here. If I can settle into more of a routine, I hope I will get to head out for shoots more often- ESPECIALLY now that fall seems to have officially made its debut here in Arizona!

First trip to the ocean.

This post is waaaaaaaaay overdue, but too cute not to share, nonetheless. Linnea's first time seeing the ocean. Thanks Jess for taking these for me!

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She was only five months old at the time- it's hard to believe how tiny she was, and how fast she's been growing! Also, I'm not gonna lie: I think she hated the ocean. It was a little too loud and a little too cold for her tastes, but with time I'm sure it'll grow on her! That, or she'll be a mountain lake kinda girl, just like her mama.

An update and Trumpettes.

First thing's first, people: DAD CAME HOME ON SATURDAY! I am so happy to share with you that the surgery on his aneurysm was a huge success and didn't require that they open him up again- the surgeon was able to go through the femoral artery to take care of it, so his recovery has been amazing. I've seen him twice since then, and while he definitely has to travel the road toward full recovery, he is up and about and none of us can wait until he's at the mall again, covering every square foot of Fashion Square- four times. So thanks again for your prayers- you made a huge difference in the life of our family! The fact that we have more time to cherish with Dad means the world to all of us!

***

Before Linnea was born, I had this idea that we would buy her a pair of tiny newborn Chuck Taylors
and we would all wear our Converse for the newborn shoot with Session Nine. But, alas, Linnea arrived, and her feet were so tiny that newborn socks looked like a cast! Case in point:

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Never mind the fact that her feet look like skis. That has nothing to do with me or my feet… really. Moving on.

My friend told me that once she saw a little one wearing the cutest little socks that looked like Chucks, so naturally I had to have them! I Googled and Googled, but nothing came up. Then, when I was on a jaunt with my nephew in Tucson, we went into the cutest little baby boutique and I discovered Trumpettes. A pair of Mary Jane Trumpettes were given to us by some friends, and I adore them! I mean, seriously, does it get any cuter??!!?

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Jennys
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Tea.drops.with.box 

So, needless to say, these are a must for teeny tiny little feet! Even though she's growing up a storm (12 lbs. 8 oz. at her appointment this morning! Yay!) these will fit her for the first year of her life. I've gotta get some of those Summer Mary Janes… and believe it or not, one of these has inspired me for a possible theme for her first birthday/my husband's 31st!

Project Nursery: Real Rooms feature.

I am so excited to have Linnea's room featured on Project Nursery today! Kim, my client at the TomKat Studio, was kind enough to offer to feature my little girl's nursery and baby shower on their site. She is a contributing blogger for them and I was so flattered that she loved Linnea's room enough to want to feature it! Jessica of Session Nine came in last Tuesday and took photos for the post and did such a fabulous job, as always. We then had a Mommy Work Day and hung out with our kiddos and worked on each of our businesses with some HGTV in the background… it was perfect. Be sure to check out the feature and leave some love… in the meantime, here are some amazing shots Jessica took of Linnea on a bright, beautiful quilt made by her great aunt Mary!

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And one shot of Mum Mum's mirror and tray set and her Bluebirds of Happiness:

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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:

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Thanksgiving weekend we did our maternity shoot:

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

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

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And finally… the newborn photos, taken by Jason:

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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.

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.

Settling in…

…to this whole pregnancy thing. The nausea has passed for the most part, I have lots of energy and have gone on a cleaning spree (downstairs at least), and my appetite has returned to normal, although I don't feel like I'm eating all that much more than I usually did pre-pregnancy. However, there are some things that I enjoy eating IMMENSELY, much more than I usually did.

First off, tomatoes. I want them ALL THE TIME. In every form. I went to Costco the other day and left with a gallon of salsa and a giant bag of sun-dried tomatoes, and was thisclose to leaving with three enormous jars of pasta sauce. I held myself back from that purchase because I'm getting back into cooking and love making my own sauce concoctions on-the-fly. The next day, I went to Fry's and got a bag full of roma tomatoes because my favorite snack is cottage cheese with paprika and sliced tomatoes with sea salt. I also occasionally munch on a handful of sun-dried tomatoes, and I add them to pretty much every recipe I possibly can.

Second craving: pickles. Could that possibly be any more cliche? (While I do crave a lot of dairy, ice cream isn't high on that list. Anymore.) On the previously mentioned trip to Costco, I seriously considered buying a gallon jar of Famous Dave's Signature Spicy Pickles. A gallon. I picked them up and put them down twice, stared at them longingly, and then asked myself, What excuse could I possibly come up with when Cody comes home to a jar of pickles so big it doesn't even fit in our pantry? I had nothing, so I reluctantly walked away from that impulse buy. I purchased a much more reasonably sized jar of sweet and spicy pickles at the grocery store the next day, and let me just say that these are the best pickles I've ever had in my liiiiiiife.

Third: Lay on the spice; I will roundhouse kick heartburn in the face if it tries to come between me and my Sriracha! I'm a big fan of all things spicy now, but it's even better when it's the hot/sweet combo (funny… I like my men that way too). I have a recipe for spicy sweet popcorn that involves chile powder and brown sugar that I am anxious to try, most likely when we wrap up our Flight of the Conchords season two marathon, and I'll probably keep eating it through the Big Love season three marathon that will start if we ever get the DVD.

The last notable craving consists of things I used to eat during my childhood. I've had hankerings for Instant Breakfast, Nestle's Quik, and spaghetti with ranch dressing, to name a few. Totally loving the memories these things bring back- the simpler times of my life that I've all but forgotten about.

Yesterday, Cody and I went walking at the mall and ventured into a maternity store for the first time. In the span of a week, my tummy has popped, and Baby Alley has finally started to make his or her appearance, at the sure cost of pants that fit. While I'm not a huge fan of the elastic waistband jean look, I do believe that it's time to seek out and invest in a couple of Bella Bands. If it allows me to wear the jeans I already have, bring it on! Plus, my dear friend in California said she would send out some maternity wear that she doesn't plan to use again. I love me some hand-me-downs from my fashionista friends.

In the meantime, here are a few favorites from our shoot with Session Nine Photography:

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Alley 54 GOOD LORD! There's a WHAT in there?!?!

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Oh, my. How I adore my husband.

Recipe on-the-fly.

Last night after returning from a fantastic weekend in Sedona with some of our dearest friends, I began flipping through one of our cookbooks and came across a recipe for bow tie pasta with red pepper sauce and peas that looked pretty tasty. But because we simply didn't feel like getting back into the car to go get the necessary ingredients after a long trip home, I decided to see if I could improvise with what we had on hand. What I came up with was actually quite tasty! There's nothing better than making a great meal with little notice using what's already sitting in the pantry.

I started by chopping five cloves of garlic into eighths (I didn't finely chop them because they are too easy to burn for a novice like me) and sautéing them in olive oil for a few minutes. I then added a can of diced stewed tomatoes that were lightly seasoned with herbs, some julienne cut sun-dried tomatoes, Italian seasoning, basil, coarse sea salt, and fresh-ground pepper, and let it simmer on low for an hour or so before I began preparing the rest of the meal.

The rest of the meal consisted of whole wheat fusilli pasta and cooked frozen peas. I thought we had regular frozen peas and was worried that the sweet peas with butter sauce wouldn't work with the recipe, but I decided to chance it and it was delicious! The butter sauce was light enough that we couldn't taste it- only the sweetness of the peas came through. 

Cody made chicken breasts marinated with garlic and herb sauce, and we sliced that up and put it on top. I preferred mine without a lot of chicken but it added a good bit of protein to the meal, something that my pregnant body needs much of these days. 

Tonight, I'm going to make salmon cakes with French cut green beans, yet more ingredients we already have on hand to make a great meal. 

On a slightly unrelated note, I went to the grocery store to stock up for the weekend with my budget-friendly-and-delicious-too-cooking-sensation friend Jessica. This girl is a champ at coming up with delicious meals on a budget, and that's exactly the goal we had in mind for our weekend jaunt up north with our group of six. We purchased the ingredients for five meals for six people, including snacks, for less than $100! It came out to a little more than $30 per couple for three days' worth of food. The only meal we didn't make ourselves was lunch on Saturday because we were in Flagstaff. I take no credit for any of it- she came up with the meal plan and made the shopping list- but it was great to shop with her because I learned a lot about saving on food for a family. 

We had a fantastic time. The house where we stayed, which belonged to our friend Alex's parents, was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, but most of all Cody and I enjoyed bonding with these two amazing couples with no agenda except to rest and relax. Our pups, THOR! and Hanalei, were clearly in heaven, what with encountering a tiny human for the first time (which was a great run-through for us!) as well as access to floor-to-ceiling windows where they could watch every conceivable desert creature scurry by. Cody and I didn't take any pictures, but being the professional photographers they are, Jason and Jessica documented our time there, complete with a mini photo shoot in Flagstaff, so stay tuned. 

We can't wait for the next trip. But for now, it's dinner time!

Babysitting and photo fun

For those who know Cody and me, it is safe to say that when it comes to babies, we have absolutely no clue what we are doing. Although I have a brother and a sister and a nephew who is more like a brother than a nephew, I grew up an only child, and Cody grew up the oldest of three. I remember when I was eight years old I begged my mom for a little brother or sister because my friend who lived down the street just got a new baby sister, and she was so cute, I wanted one too. Needless to say I never got my wish, but I wouldn't change a thing. I liked my life growing up as an only child- it's not as lonely as people who grew up with siblings will try to make you believe, I promise. And while we all have our issues, I would like to think I'm not a total screw-up as a result. 

Yesterday, Cody and I spent the afternoon with our friend's little 7-month-old, Cruz, while his parents Jason and Jessica Williams were out doing a photo shoot for their new business, Session 9 Photography. Jay and Jess are two of the best people we have ever had the privilege of calling friend, and their little boy is so adorable you could just eat him up. So it was a no-brainer to embark on our first babysitting adventure as a couple with Cruz at the helm. 
What a day! We had fun rolling around on the floor with him, keeping him entertained with his toys and various ridiculous faces, watching Finding Nemo, taking him for a ride in his stroller through their neighborhood, marveling at the sheer volume of spit-up that a single child can produce, and learning that baby wipes aren't meant to be thrown by themselves into a Diaper Genie (definitely something I will NEVER FORGET AGAIN). Cruz is such a happy baby that even when he's fussy he's still a joy to be around. And I am so happy that we have this particular family alongside us through this totally unpredictable journey we find ourselves on, because their own experiences and uncertainties parallel ours in so many ways, and things have turned out more than fine for them. It's such an encouragement to both of us. 

On another note, Cody and I are going to start taking belly pictures in the very near future. I'm not showing yet, but it will be fun to document the progress over the next several months. If I were funnier and more creative and also 25 weeks further into my pregnancy, I would have thought of this first, but I digress. 

We have our first photo shoot with Session 9 next weekend and we are SO EXCITED. I say first shoot because they will be doing our maternity and hospital shots as well! The only experience I have had as a "model" was at our wedding- and funny story, I was so barfy at our wedding that I spent half the time that would have been spent taking pictures in the bathroom, and now I'm in my first trimester and am feeling barfy all the time… so I'm 0 for 2 at the moment. Good news is that I haven't actually "finished the job," if you know what I mean; I just constantly feel on the brink of it. It will be fun to get all decked out for this shoot since these days my favorite thing to do is not wear makeup so I don't have to make the effort to take it off at night, because that is A LOT OF EFFORT. I am anxiously awaiting my blood test results from the doctor so they can tell me that yes, I am indeed anemic, and then they will give me a magical pill that will take the edge off the simply unreal fatigue that is brought on by this building-a-human-being business, and I can finally wake up from this haze I have been living in for the past month and start to feel normal again. 

And yes, I am fully aware that "normal" as I once knew it has ceased to exist. This "new normal" will be quite a ride.