One Year in Our Home

2017, Family, Home, Lifestyle

Today marks one year of being home owners. That’s crazy. I think about this time last year and we were so excited for so many things. I remember sitting in the car with Dan at Howard Hanna’s office after we “signed our life away” and holding this ring of keys and thinking about what was in store for us. Our families thought we were crazy – buying a home and having a baby, within 10 days of each other, and then 6 days later moving. Nah, it’ll be a piece of cake.

I was watering the plants out front last night and Dan was cutting the grass in the back yard. Luke was eating a popsicle on the front porch. I looked around thinking I don’t think I’ll ever leave here. Sure, when people purchase a house for the first time I’m sure they think “it’s just a starter.” But this house holds so many things in just the 365 days of it being ours. This is the only place Toby ever called home. This is a neighborhood that we were strangers to, but neighbors opened their arms and hearts to us at the most devastating moment in our life. These are strangers, that became friends and say to us “we know there’s an angel just for Kelvington Drive.”

You know how people say things happen for a reason? I believe it. I believe before we could even imagine it, this is where we were supposed to be. I believe over the two years (our agent Linda Weithorn is probably nodding her head somewhere while all of you are gasping) of looking and thinking “is it the right time?” the deals that fell through and the details that didn’t align with what we wanted for our family, it was all for a reason.

I have this piece of artwork downstairs in our house that says “May our home always be too small to hold all our friends.” The last year has proven that it is that and beyond – and for that, I’m so grateful.

Thank you to everyone that has visited us in our first year here. We look forward to opening our door (and porch) to many more friends throughout the summer and beyond.

There’s a lot of things that are questionable to me anymore, but this purchase we made a year ago is not one of them.

When I come home at night, it feels right. It feels like home.

Here are a few photos from our first days in our home. ❤

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On This Journey – A perspective on paths, purpose, and worth

2017, Family, grief, Home, Lifestyle, loss, Parenting, Toby

Let me tell you a story.

I’ve been very lucky in my professional career. I have worked for some great companies that opened doors to even greater opportunities to advance my career in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. I’ve had ups and downs over the past decade, but there was one constant – my network through the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).

Starting out in the AEC industry, SMPS became my anchor. It provided a place for continual education, an avenue to learn how to connect with technical staff, how to think beyond the proverbial “marketing” box and take chances by way of volunteer positions and committee involvement. Most of the time, I didn’t know what I was volunteering for, but I knew that if I could help anyone at the dawn of their careers in the AEC industry, by connecting companies, brands, people, mentors with mentees, then it made it all worth it.

When I think about my career plan, it, like the rest of my life, has thrown me some of the biggest curve balls. Some good, some bad. From my very first years of working in the “real world” I’ve had goals that I wanted to achieve. Many of those are still “in progress” and for me that’s ok. Some of my goals may not seem like achievements for others. And that’s okay too. We all have different perceptions. Different dreams. Which leads me to this.

I think it’s good to have a bucket list – for both your personal and professional life. Most of us don’t have an opportunity to check things off those lists every year. For those of you that do, that’s amazing and you’re my hero. I like to keep my bucket list in places where I can see them, especially my professional list. It’s just for me, in a sense. And I’m a firm believer that you’re more likely to get something done if it’s written down. It’s like you’re being held accountable. (Post-it notes are great for this – or even the notepad in your phone so it’s on all your devices).

I want to share one of my bucket list items with you, because I think the outcome of it is a good lesson about life.

SMPS offers regional conferences across the country where you can have the benefits of a national conference on a regional level. After attending a few of these it was something I wanted to be a part of, by way of the planning committee. So I added it to my bucket list.

In early 2015 I was offered the opportunity to help bring the Heartland Regional Conference to Pittsburgh. SMPS Pittsburgh had never hosted a regional conference and the team I had the joy of working with, compiled our city’s nomination, and it was an amazing collaborative effort.

Pittsburgh was named the host city for the Heartland Region’s 2017 Conference.

In the fall of 2015, another offer by two amazing and seasoned Marketing and Business Development professionals within our industry offered me the seat to be the Chair of the Programs Committee for the conference. This is one of those opportunities that makes your stomach turn with excitement and nervousness. But it’s what I wanted and what an opportunity it was. And the clock was ticking. We had under 18 months to plan a 3-day educational program for 200+ individuals.

At that time, my husband and I had found out that we were expecting our second child and my delivery was on the doorstep of the summer of 2016. As usual, things fell into place and with a rock-star co-chair and the support of an amazing committee and lots of planning, the schedule was coming together and milestones were being met.

Our second son, Toby was born May 27, 2016. I was very lucky to enjoy the summer home with my entire family and was anticipating getting back into work mid-August and jumping back into Program planning in the thick of everything coming together.

I was back to work for 14 days when my family’s world was brought to a stop. Toby died in his sleep, the afternoon of Wednesday, August 24.

I have always been a planner. Life does not stop for the unimaginable. Even though, in the midst of shock and grief, it seems to.

I stepped down from my role as Co-Chair in October. I needed to focus on being with my family. I needed to learn to walk again, with a very empty heart.

Fast forward to the beginning of April. The Heartland Regional Conference (HRC) commenced and brought nearly 230 AEC professionals into Pittsburgh. Feedback from attendees over the 3-day event was nothing but positive and the speakers were amazing. Sitting in the audience, watching veteran SMPS members welcome first-time HRC attendees was amazing. I’m sure you can ask any fellow SMPS’er and they will tell you, these conferences, whether regional or national, can put the fire back in your career and give a creative boost, just when it’s needed.

It was an honor to be involved in the beginning steps of bringing HRC to Pittsburgh. I was given a ‘thank you’ from the co-chairs and when I opened it, it had a lot of connection, pulled at a lot of strings that hadn’t been touched for a few months.

Pittsburgh Picture

Artwork by: Nevin Robinson

We spend a lot of our life thinking we constantly need to achieve things. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to move forward in your career. It challenges us. Makes us think differently. Brings new friends into our path. Teaches us things. But I also think we can lose sight of a lot.

My husband and I love Pittsburgh. Sure, we love the beach and the mountains too, but Pittsburgh will always be home. We love raising our family here. We love working here. Our two-year old, Lucas, loves the sports teams. This is the only city Toby ever knew. I can’t imagine not being here.

This ‘thank you’ holds much more for me. The rivers of Pittsburgh. The Point. The view.

My journey changed dramatically eight months ago. I stepped to the bank and let a boat go by that I really wanted to be on. One surrounded with people that I admired and that supported me. I feel like I was placed back in the water in a kayak, alone. Life said “Here. Figure it out.”

My first thought when I looked at this picture was, “This is Toby’s view of Pittsburgh.”

I am not the person I was eight months ago, but that does not mean my life is any less. It does not mean my achievements aren’t worth as much as anyone else’s. It just means they are different. For someone that is a “doer” this is something I am working on learning to accept. And it is hard.

Sometimes we don’t achieve what’s on our bucket list. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we achieve things that have far greater meaning to our lives, right at that moment or much later in life. Sometimes people judge, say we failed, and it hurts. Sometimes doors open at the wrong times and we have to close them and move on. These are things that we don’t have control of. This is life. It’s hard to navigate and sometimes even harder to accept.

I have added one thing to my bucket list since August 24, 2016 – to live my life in honor of our son, Toby. To make a difference in his name. Maybe that will happen with the help of my professional career, maybe it won’t.

Take it easy on your journey, professional or personal. Be ready for curveballs. Be ready for the unimaginable. If you need to stop somewhere and take a break, it’s okay.

But, one tip. Be ready to ask life to leave you a paddle.

Healthy Eating with Your Toddler

Family, Food, Lifestyle, Lucas, Parenting

I’m over on the Pittsburgh Moms Blog talking about easy and fun ways to tie your toddler into healthy eating habits in your home (without bribing! 😉 )

Check out the post here: Easy (and fun) Ways to Tie You Toddler into Healthy Eating Habits

Do you have recipes or ways that you tie fruits and veggies into your kids meals that they will eat? We’d love to hear them so that others can try them out if they’re struggling with a picky eater!

Week 1: Blue Apron Meal Delivery Service Review

Cooking, Family, Food, Home, Lifestyle

This is our first time trying Blue Apron and a chance to see how well it works for our family versus the normal weekly grocery shopping and (very last minute) dinner choice. For those of you that share in our curiosity of “is it worth it?” here’s your chance to read about our experience and see if you’d like to give it a go.

Blue Apron Week One Meal Box

We had the 3 meals per week for two people, which is priced at $59.99. I was able to preview my menu, switch out meals, and pick the day for our delivery. I received an email the day before our delivery telling me our box was on the way and it arrived on time. I also downloaded the app to my phone (I highly recommend).

Week 1 Blue Apron Box Produce

First up: Beef Tacos & Radish Salsa

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The meal card for each meal that came in the box was helpful for pulling all the ingredients out, but after opening the app and reading some of the tips/reviews – I found that the steps and directions within the app were much easier to follow and didn’t have you doing “unneeded” prep. The Prep Time was 15 mins and the Cook Time said 25-35. I set my stopwatch on my phone to see how evenly this matched. (we’ll come back to that later)

I like that the portion sizes were perfect for two (Luke ate something else for dinner); we didn’t have leftovers or a lot of waste after preparing the meal. The beef was already sliced and ready to be seasoned, which was extremely helpful.

There was a lot of prep involved in making these and each step took a good bit of time. The sweet potato wedges were really good and we’ll definitely be making those again – also, portion size with just using one potato – perfect.

Overall, I’d give it a 6 out of 10 for ease of cooking – the time frame was definitely off. It took me an hour and 10 minutes from start to plating the meal. I’d much prefer something that was a little closer to 30 minutes to prepare and was glad that we had something else for Luke because he’d never last that long waiting for dinner on a weeknight. The other negative was the amount of dishes I had after making this – it was a bit over the top.

Next up, West African Peanut Chicken with Sautéed Kale and Rice. For this recipe I went right for the app directions and had read the tips earlier in the day, prior to dinner prep. We’ve never made sautéed kale before. It cooked fairly easily, but it wasn’t our favorite. I also combined some steps, which I think helped minimize the cook time. I’ve found that a staple of Blue Apron meals is to use the fond left in the pan in the following steps, which does help with the taste and spice. This was in every recipe this week. Also, the sauce for this – there’s a lot leftover, so we used it for our rice but ended up throwing a good bit of it away.

Blue Apron West African Peanut Chicken

Prep and cook time were about 50 minutes for this one – Blue Apron estimated 60mins+. The chicken cuts were a very good size and portion was actually a little more than I wanted for the rice and kale.

Lastly, we had Orange & Mirni-Glazed Cod with Warm Barley and Broccoli Salad. This dish was our favorite of the week. The cod was frozen when it arrived, but stayed fresh all week and were both decent size portions. Again, I used the app immediately and this meal was probably the most quickly prepared in comparison to the other two from the week.

Blue Apron Meal 3 Orange and Mirin-Glazed Cod

The use of the Cara Cara Orange in this recipe was great and to our surprise the barley and broccoli salad was super easy to make and had great flavor. I did think the portion size on this one was a little large because the barley was very filling, so we did have some leftovers.

This meal was also very colorful when it was done, with everything that was mixed in. There were not as many dishes to clean up as the other two and cooking time was around 40 minutes – Blue Apron estimated 50mins on the card, so fairly close.

All in all, we enjoyed our first week of meals. The convenience of not having to go to the grocery store or worry if we had every ingredient in the house to make the meal was a time-saver. The recipes this first week seem pretty accessible for beginner cooks or those looking to shake up their weeknight meals for themselves for their family. I also feel like Blue Apron is good for the winter because local produce isn’t as abundant and the produce in these meals were very fresh. One thing that I did find surprising was that the carb intake on each of these meals was super high. As a diabetic and someone that counts carbs at each meal for insulin dosage through my insulin pump, I was a little disappointed that there were so many carbs per serving. Each meal was over 50g of carbs per serving.

From the kids perspective, I think if you had children that were older – maybe 5 and up – they would enjoy helping cook. There’s a lot of prep work with each meal, mixing, washing, cutting, etc. For Luke, who’s only 2, it just wasn’t feasible. Also, I went onto the app mid-way through the week and switched up our pre-packed box for this next week, looking for some recipes that maybe Luke would like to try and also some with side dishes that were a little more what we like to eat. Very convenient to be able to do that each week.

Those that know me know that I’m not a chef. The new recipes we do try are often suggestions from friends or family (and a lot of time prepared by my husband). But I did find this to be therapeutic for me throughout the week. It gave me a chance to unwind a bit, reflect on my week, brainstorm on blog topics, listen to some music and make a good meal.

There were quite a few tips on the app that were helpful and I ended up following versus what was written on the recipe card, so if you’re cooking with Blue Apron – definitely download this app (Hint: preparing the corn tortillas in meal one).

Also, something I learned through the app – there’s no commitment. If you are booked for the weeknights or out of town, you can simply go into the app (or sign in online) and skip your Blue Apron delivery to another week. No problem, no penalties.

We have 3 more weeks of deliveries and have to say, for someone that isn’t an enthusiastic cooker, I’m looking forward to trying next week’s meals and seeing how they are and if the cook time minimizes.

This could be a great housewarming gift or birthday gift for someone who likes to cook, or even a great at-home-date idea. And like I said before, trying this in the winter time is great because of the fresh produce they send in the boxes and is not likely to find around here without paying an arm and a leg.

That being said, I’ve been given “2 free meals” to give away to a friend. If you’re interested in trying Blue Apron, comment below and I’ll be picking two individuals early next week to receive these meals. Please place your email in the comments as well so I can send the invite over to you.

If you’ve tried Blue Apron (or any other packaged meal service), I’d love to hear what you think and why you are or aren’t a fan! And, if you’re a parent and have found meals through Blue Apron that your kids like to eat and/or help cook – please let me know those too. Would love to try a few of those for Luke while we’re giving this service a shot.

Be on the look-out for my review of Week 2. Happy Cooking!

*This post is not sponsored in any way.

A Love Affair with Photography

Family, Joy, Lifestyle, Lucas, Toby

One of my passions is photography. I still have my Nikon 35mm camera that I used through high school and part of college. But, these days my phone is attached to my hip, along with my family, so my camera on my phone has become my number one source of life photos – and that’s OK! With technology these days, the major updates to phone versions usually entail enhancement of their cameras so by paying attention to a few key details, from angles you’re shooting to apps you’re using for editing, you can capture those unmissable moments. Below, I’ve compiled my top nine photography tips for professional-looking photos using your cell phone.

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One of my favorite pictures of our boys, Luke & Toby. Taken early July 2016.

  1. Clean your lens

If you’re like me, my phone goes everywhere with me. Take a second before snapping and wipe off the camera lens. Phones collect dirt (it’s gross) and are oily and smudgy from fingerprints.

  1. Just use your camera (not the in-app one)

Some apps compress your photos when taken in them, so don’t use them if you want to be able to print the photo one day. I’d also recommend sticking with the normal setting on your phone and editing or adding filters later. Another tip, the camera will expose more accurately when you use a full frame, and again, if you want to print photos, you won’t have issues with sizing.

  1. Don’t zoom in.

The digital zoom on any phone is far inferior to the optical zoom of a quality SLR lens that is designed to NOT diminish the quality of the photo when zooming is needed. My recommendation is taking with photo without zooming at all, get as close as you can to your subject, don’t worry about the atmosphere surrounding your subject – sometimes that gives an even deeper meaning to the photo. Like I said with the filters earlier, if you need to crop later, you can edit your original photo.

  1. Take as many shots as you need.

You’re not using film here, so take as many shots as you want/need to. Use the “favorites” button in your iPhone photos app to pull out the best photos, then delete the ones you don’t want. It takes a few more minutes, but it frees up space on your phone. (I’m completely guilty of NOT following this tip – but, it really will help in storage).

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Our niece, Addy, trying out Luke’s “dohn deere dractor” with Toby’s fox on Christmas morning

  1. Understand the settings on your camera.

Let’s be honest, if you’re relaying on your phone as you’re main source of photos, you should probably understand the settings and options. I keep my HDR on “auto” and turn “off” my live photos. If I want a video, I’ll use that feature. Again, helps a good bit with space.

  1. Angles

Play with your angles. Don’t just sit there and take photos of your subject from one point of view. Move around and take pictures from multiple angles. Doing this captures light and shadows in different ways and highlights your subject too.

Another tip – take photos of people without posing or staging. Some of the best photos I’ve taken of our family have been right in the moment of whatever was happening.

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Lucas and Evelyn (both almost 2) at Hayley’s baptism lunch. Loving the, freshly husked, Simmons Farm Corn.

  1. Follow the Light

Lighting is the most important thing to pay attention to when taking a photography, and with any phone camera that is even more the case. Find a window, go outside, and embrace the natural light. Artificial lights leave an orange tone on your photos, so turn them off. From this post, you know I love my iPhone’s camera but I HATE the flash. I never use it. It is just terrible. Most phone cameras now-a-days are built to do well in low-light, so I’d keep the “auto” flash off.

  1. Use an app (after)

My top picks are VSCO, Camera Awesome (made by SmugMug), PicStitch, these are some of my favorites. I also use boomerang – because I have a little one that’s into sports and doesn’t stay still. I do use the filters in Instagram, but I try to do that sparingly. Did you know the hashtag #nofilter attracts more likes on lifestyle photography than any other?

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Toby at two months old

  1. Print Your Photos + Buy the Storage

My parents have dozens of albums at their house that we love digging out and looking through. Up until a few years ago, I printed very few of the 100’s of photos I had taken, unless it was for a work project or client. I started using Chatbooks when Luke was born and I subscribed to their Photo Book Series (highly recommend) and I don’t even have to think about it. Once my next album fills from my Instagram posts I get an email and can add, edit or rearrange in the next book going to print. Also, I’ve had great luck using Walmart to print all types of photos and photobooks. I made this really nice picture collage for Dan’s 30 birthday and printed the photos in wallet size, which was perfect for any kind of photo. The size worked perfectly and allowed me to use more photos and not have to trim anything down to fit in the frame.

I can’t suggest this enough – invest. in. storage. We take photos everyday of our lives. They capture moments and are there to remind us of people and times that are so important to us. What would you do if you lost those? I know I’d be crushed. There are so many options to file storage in this day in age. Some are free, some are not. Do your research and backup your files. We recently started using Google Photos – it’s so easy, especially with the app. I’ve also found that they do some pretty cool things with your photos while storing them – create videos, add animation, make albums – and you can see all of that when you’re signed into Google.

Those are my top nine tips. Did I miss anything? Do you have suggestions on shooting with your phone cameras?

**The photos in this post are all my own. This post is not sponsored and am offering only my opinions on any brand featured here.