Motherhood Monday – Erika Z.

This Monday’s MM Mama is Erika Z! I’m excited to share her story and words of wisdom today.

Meet Erika

Erika is the mom of 2 boys and a girl, like she will tell you. I got to know her because one of her sons had my mom as his teacher several years ago. Since then, we have kept up on Facebook and through other events in my hometown. The think about Erika is that she is supermom, seriously. She does so much for not only her own kids, but the community that she lives in! She has an incredible servant heart and lots of love to give to the people around her.

The Interview

1. Explain your “motherhood journey.” Including your kid(s) and their age(s)

My husband (Michael) and I had been married for almost three years when we decided to have a child (we had always talked about having three children). Our family around us was also pregnant, and we thought it would be good to have cousins around the same age. In May of 2003, I ended up needing an emergency C-section at 32 weeks due to pre-eclampsia and Noah (now 13 YO) spent the first three weeks of his life in the Shelby BMC NICU. Postpartum was the most difficult time for me as I was a new mom. This was our first child, and he entered the world not how I had planned or imagined.  Flash forward to 2005, we were expecting Sam (now 11 YO) and Noah was being evaluated for delayed speech and developmental delays with Early Intervention. Normally, premies show some signs of delay but Noah never seemed to “grow out of them”. I vividly remembered being big and pregnant with Sam and sitting through a speech evaluation with Noah and just praying for Noah to answer the speech therapists questions. Noah’s qualification for early intervention with developmental delays came prior to Sam’s birth. Sam (who is now 11 years old) was my only typical birth. At the time, I was working at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama and I had just gotten in to work. I was 37 weeks along and my water broke (luckily I made it to the ladies room). I was not having any contractions and had no fear of delivering quickly so I logged off my computer and went to my car. I remember calling my OB/GYN and then stopping off at the house to pick up my “go bag”. My MD was going to let me try a VBAC, and I had hoped to be able to do so but once at the hospital, I was only dilated 2CM and never progressed past there. So around dinner time, I asked for a C-section and sweet Sam came home with us a few days later.  Life with two boys was fun and chaotic, and with Noah’s added “official” autism diagnosis that followed, we held off on having the 3rd child we had always wanted. Later on, we came to a mutual decision that if we had not had any other children because of autism, we would have missed out on the miracle of Sam. Fast forward to October 2009, I was working as a RN at Shelby BMC Hospital and after having a typical birth, there was no reason to worry about our third baby, Addi Rose (now 7 YO). I was 32 weeks and started having severe pain (thought to be gall bladder pain) only to be admitted to the hospital and the next day, I had a seizure (preeclamplsia/eclampisa/hypertensive crisis). We had not even come up with a name for our sweet girl at that time. Addi Rose stayed in the NICU for 3 weeks just like Noah. This time, I knew what to expect and being an RN I felt more relaxed and prepared. Life with three feels complete – it is chaotic, silly, fun and a blessing for sure!

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The ZZzzz family! Picture provided by C. Hut Photography (with permission from Erika)

2.What is the biggest lesson (or 2 or 3) that you’ve learned from being a mom?

  • Don’t worry about the critics (there will be plenty) – you have to do what is right for YOUR child/family and no one else.
  • The saying about “blinking and then your children are off to college” is so true. I wish I had more time at home with my boys, but I appreciate the time I got to work a flexible job (RN) and be home with my girl. They really do grow right in front of your eyes, so soak up every minute of their lives (good and not so good).
  • Don’t beat yourself up when you mess up – it’s a lesson learned, move on!

3. Share one (or 2 or 3) funny or sweet stories that make it all worth it.

  • The first time Noah used appropriate language/phrases to express certain emotions instead of his autism behaviors. Also, the times he used inappropriate words in the right context and when discussing it, he just smiles knowing he was wrong but trying to win me over with his smiles and giggles.
  • Seeing Sam become a Peer Helper to help struggling and special needs students.
  • When Sam and I can “nerd out” and laugh our heads off at the silliest things
  • Seeing Addi Rose share my love of arts (and crafts) and being able to share that joy with her.
  • When Addi Rose volunteered to help out our religious education director at church instead of just playing in the nursery.
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This cute picture is a few years old now, but it was taken where Erika and her husband, Michael met! Picture provided by C. Hut Photography (with permission from Erika)

4.What do you think the biggest challenge of being a mom is?

The biggest challenge is trying to form the best balance between doing too much or too little for your child/children and the balance between being a wife/mother/woman.

5. If you could write a “job description” of being a mom, what would it say?

Seeking individual with excellent project management skills. Skills include (but not limited to): Orienting, training, and coaching family members on a minute to minute basis. Candidate must be able to continuously monitor expenses and implement cost-saving actions with little to no warning. Maintains household supplies inventory, anticipating needed supplies. Establishes a compassionate environment by providing emotional, psychological, and spiritual support to family members. Maintains professional and technical knowledge daily.  Candidate must be able to establish personal networks of support (other moms) and participate in professional societies (such as a MOMS group at church). Maintains a cooperative relationship among family members by communicating information. Must be able to respond to requests repeatedly with patience. Must be able to participate in family problem-solving methods (lead by adults or children).

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Sweet siblings! Picture provided by C. Hut Photography (with permission from Erika)

6. What’s something from your family growing up that you think affects your parenting or the way you raise your child(ren)?

My mom taught us the importance of volunteering and helping others. I was a teen-age volunteer back in high school and it taught me the importance of giving and always being grateful for what I have. That is something very important to me that I want my children to know that we are grateful for the blessings we have and that gratitude can be shown by giving back.

7. If you knew someone who just found out they were pregnant with their first baby, what would be your two pieces of advice for them? A practical tip and a piece of wisdom.

Enjoy the crazy, laugh a lot, and you are not perfect but you will always be perfect in your child’s eyes!

8. Anything else you want to include?

I love my job being a mom and would not trade it for the world!

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A cute holiday photo! Picture provided by Erika

Wrap-Up

I loved reading Erika’s answers, and I love watching her juggle her crew from afar mostly. One of my favorite things that she said was her job description of a mom. Her answer is pretty all-encompassing and reminds that even though moms have countless things to do, they are all to be done in love for the ones around us. She also talks about how important it is to give back to your community and show how grateful you are, and Erika and her family truly live that out. It is such an honor to be a small part of their lives!

Thank you so much, Erika!! The way you love your family and your community shine, and I am so thankful to get to see your story play out.

What was your favorite thing that Erika said? Do you have a question you want the Motherhood Monday moms to answer? Comment on this post or e-mail me at openhandsopenhome@gmail.com. Know a mom that needs some encouragement or can relate toErika’s story? Send them a link to this post! The goal of these posts is to reach out, encourage, and empathize with moms all around.

 

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Goodbye November

At the beginning of this month, I talked about how we were keeping up with what we are thankful for each day. We put them on a cork board, so that they would be on display. You can read more about that here. After displaying them, we decided to keep them in our Family Memory Catalog, so we could look back on them year after year. I am a sucker for traditions, so starting this one with Sam has been a lot of fun. I look forward to continuing it with Henry and our other future kiddos in the future. img_3134

In the post, I mentioned that I would do a wrap-up of this project/tradition at the end of the month with my favorite cards that we made. For the sake of vulnerability, there were a lot of days that we had to play catch-up. When we traveled or were running around like crazy, our cards slipped by the wayside and didn’t get done, but now, we have thankful cards for every single day, and even a few extras that my mom made.

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There are 61 cards here. We haven’t done the ones from November 30th yet, since today’s not over.

As you can see our cards added up, and it was so much fun for me to look back on them today. Even though a month doesn’t seem like a long time, I realized that I had forgotten some of the things that I had said I was thankful for. Looking back on the things that we’ve been blessed with is so good for us in remembering the Lord’s faithfulness.

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Sam really put me to shame the first day. He said he was thankful for me, and I said I was thankful for…coffee. Whoops.

I decided I would break up some of my favorite cards into categories in order to share them here. It was interesting to see themes that ran through our cards as things we were thankful for. When looking at all of our cards there were themes of family, friendship, our new church and area, and…football. And just a sidenote here, Sam was such a good sport about this. He never once complained about making a card, and he always tried to be creative with his drawings and decorating of his cards. I can’t wait for our kids to see the way he loves his family and participates in fun traditions.

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CiCi’s cards

My parents stayed with us, and we stayed with them at different times throughout the month. My mom decided to play along with our new tradition and added a few cards of her own. If you can’t tell, she really loves Henry 🙂

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We have lots of family things to be thankful for.

November was a month that allowed us to spend time with almost all of our family. This led to several of our cards revolving around the family that visited, hosted us, and hung out with us at some point throughout the month. We are so thankful for the grandparents that we have had the honor of loving and being loved by, and we are so thankful that Henry gets to have the same experience.

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Our friends from college and before gave us reason to be thankful in this season.

Along with seeing our family, we also got to see and spend time with some friends from college and before throughout the month. Weddings, trips home, and work gave us opportunities to connect with people that we have missed. Seeing them and having them love on Henry was such a sweet treat.

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In this season, we have made a lot of new friends through our church.

This month, we have really begun forming deep friendships with people that we have met through our church. We are so thankful for the community that is forming around us and with us. We know that we are not meant to do life alone, and we’ve been grateful that after spending a few months searching for people to do life with here after moving, we are finally seeing people that are coming alongside us.

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We couldn’t leave football out of the things we are thankful for.

And finally, after all the sweet things we are thankful for, we can’t get away from football. As you can see, a lot of our lives on Saturdays in the fall revolve around football, SEC and most importantly, Alabama football. Like they say about Alabama football, we live it. Roll tide!

So, November has come and gone, and we have realized just how much we have to be thankful for. I will be sad about not seeing Sam’s drawings every day now that December is here. Maybe I can get him to do some Christmas drawings for the cork board this month. We’ll see!

A Picture of the Gospel

Adoption is such a picture of the gospel. I cannot separate the two in my mind, honestly. Jesus chose the cross and crucifixion, so that we could be adopted into the family of God, the family that our sin had separated us from. Jesus became sin, so that our sin could no longer keep us from having a place at the table and a place in the family. And when He defeated death by rising again, He sealed our place there forever into eternity, so that one day, we can all sit around said table at a family dinner and praise the Lord for the plan He always knew He would carry out to rescue and rebuild His family.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” – Galatians 4:4-7, emphasis mine

This is the good news. This is what we can celebrate. This is what we can be thankful for, but more than anything, this is something that we have to share and carry out in our own lives. Now, I know that not everyone is called to adopt. There are people that carry this out in the most incredible ways that I could never even imagine, but I know that the Lord has called me to share this good news by modeling it in my home, in my family.

Sam and I have always wanted to adopt. Even before we were engaged, we talked about it and knew it was something we both wanted and felt called to do. We have since talked about the family that we want someday. Maybe 4 kids total, definitely one adopted, maybe two, maybe the third one, or the last one, but as Sam says, “we’re free-spirited”.

I always thought having kids was a long way away, but then about a year ago, I found out that I was pregnant with Henry. “A long way away” came much faster than I ever thought, but like I said, we’re free-spirited, right??

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Since moving to Georgia and starting to attend our church, we have seen many families that foster children and have adopted children, and it makes my heart so, so happy. Every time the subject of adoption comes up, my heart does a little flutter. I know it is something that I am passionate about and called to. The Lord has deepened this passion over time, but it, too, has always felt a long way away.

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Henry’s dedication at church!

Now, I’m not saying that it’s not still a long way away, but the Lord has been stirring my heart more than ever before. A couple weeks ago, Sam and I sat in a presentation about a ministry that a couple in our church heads up that sponsors orphanages in another country among other things. During the prayer time after the presentation, I started tearing up thinking about the children without parents, without a family, without a true home. Then as I was scrolling through Facebook today, I came across an article about a family that ended up adopting twins. While reading the article and watching the video included, I found myself crying before I even realized what the premise of it all was. Adoption has gripped me. The Lord has softened my heart to a place of wondering and questioning if maybe its closer than “a long way away.”

So, this is what is on my heart today and in this season. Will we be adopting in the near future? I have no idea, but I do know that the Lord will carry out His plan however He sees fit and in whatever timing He sees fit, and I am so excited about seeing it unfold.

We’re Thankful For…

It’s been November for 2 weeks now (already?!), and Thanksgiving is only 10 days away (whaaaat?!). I know that I am not the first person to come up with the idea of saying something you’re thankful for each day of November, but we’re having a lot of fun with the way we are keeping up with ours.

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We got this chalkboard/corkboard combo as a wedding gift, and it’s one of my favorite things that we got! We use it to hang our keys up and do a little bit of decorating. It had the same things on both the chalkboard and the corkboard for a while, but last month I decided to dress it up seasonally with some October/Fall notecards and “Happy October!” written on the chalkboard. I liked seeing it in its festive glory, so I decided to continue that into November. This month the “Gobble Gobble!” has been displayed as well as our “We’re thankful for…” cards.

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Sam hadn’t gotten home from work to do his card when I took this picture.

Each day, Sam and I both have a card with the date pinned onto the board that we fill out before bed. The “We’re thankful for…” card stays on the board throughout the month. My only specifications for Sam were that he had to write big in a marker and draw a small picture to go with it! It has been so much fun drawing, writing, and thinking about the things we are thankful for each day. It has also been a lot of fun seeing Sam’s drawings 🙂

My mom has even done a few cards when we have been with her during this month as well. When it is time for the cards to come down the next morning, they go in our Family Memory Catalog behind the date for each day. That way we can look back years to come to see the things we were thankful for.

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This would be so much fun for a big family with kids as well. I hope we have a corkboard full of notecards one day!

At the end of the month, I will write a post about how this cultivated a spirit of thankfulness in our home as well as some of my favorite notecards Sam and I made. Check back for that later!

How do you keep up with the things you’re thankful for? Comment on this post or e-mail me at openhandsopenhome@gmail.com to tell me what works for your family and how you incorporate thankfulness into your day! I would love to hear your ideas.

ATL to Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA in 60 Hours

Before Henry was born, Sam traveled a pretty good amount for his job. When we got close to Henry’s due date and for the first 6 or so weeks of Henry’s life, Sam slowed that down. Things were a little hectic, to say the least. Now that we’ve got more of a routine, Sam has started to go out of town a little bit more often again. When he told me at the end of last week that he had to go to Charleston and Savannah for work, I immediately jumped at the possibility of joining him. We contemplated how difficult it might be with Henry, but we decided to take the risk and turn his business trip into a little family getaway.

We left Monday around noon (after Henry pitched a major fit…) and got to Charleston around 5:30. Unfortunately it was already getting dark because of the time change, but we didn’t let that deter us from seeing at least a little bit of Charleston before we hit the hay for the night.

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Henry’s first time in a hotel!

We put Waterfront Park into our Google Maps and started driving. (We were staying in North Charleston for Sam’s job.) After driving for about 25 minutes, we parked on the side of the road, got Henry’s stroller out, and set off for dinner. We decided on sushi for dinner and got out our Yelp! app. We found Sushi Blue, which was about a half-mile walk away from where we parked. (Yes, we realize we could have parked near the restaurant, but what fun is that?)

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I snapped this picture when we went back by during the day.

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Henry was a hit at the restaurant, and a kind stranger even offered to take a family picture after seeing us with our camera.

We got the Yum Yum roll, the Buddha Belly roll, and the crunchy shrimp roll. They were all pretty good, and since we were there during their happy hour two of the rolls were just $6 each. I got a southern mule, which had sweet tea vodka in it. It was also part of happy hour and only cost us $5. Overall, we had great service, good food and drinks, and didn’t pay an outrageous amount, so we were satisfied with our meal!

After leaving the restaurant, we wandered around Charleston. Since it was a Monday night, it was a calm, quiet night. It was also in the low 60s, so we got to wear our sweaters and hoodies.

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We didn’t really have any destination, so we just walked around. We found some cool alleys and historic sites, but we decided we would have to come back for lunch the next day to see more of the city in its glory.

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Had to snap a picture of Henry’s!

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Part of the City Market. There weren’t any vendors there since it was a Monday night.

We ended the night at Waterfront Park. I snapped a few pictures, and we sat on a bench for a few minutes and talked to Henry. After a pleasant night out, we decided to head back with a plan to return the next day!

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It was beautiful at night, so we were excited to see it during the day!

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Even on vacation, we had to squeeze in a bath for Stinky Jr.

We got up Tuesday morning and ate the breakfast at our hotel. Sam went out and did the things he needed to do for work, while Henry and I hung out in our room and packed up our stuff. Sam came back and picked us up, and we headed to Charleston!

After asking a friend for a restaurant recommendation, we decided on Jestine’s Kitchen for lunch. We were going to meet one of Sam’s co-workers there, so we walked around for a little while before we went to lunch. The first things we discovered included going back through the City Market and St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church.

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We walked through the market and were amazed that vendors come back everyday to set up their booths after seeing it empty the night before.

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The view of St. Phillip’s from an intersection of the City Market

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St. Phillip’s is beautiful, and it has a large cemetery across the street with some very old tombstones.

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Sam was such a good sport letting me take pictures while he pushed Henry on some very bumpy sidewalks and cobblestone streets.

After wandering around a little bit, we headed back to Jestine’s Kitchen. Before we even got back, we decided that we were going to get an appetizer. We got a basket of cornbread, which was served with honey and butter. I got the pecan fried chicken breast sandwich with fries and a sweet tea, and Sam had the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and mac’n’cheese. Needless to say, it was Southern food, and it was delicious. We had a great experience with an awesome waitress.

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Notice the turkey salt shaker. I can get on board with a restaurant that makes sure to celebrate Thanksgiving before Christmas.

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Henry was enamored with the turkey salt shaker.

After lunch, we headed over to Peace Pie for some ice cream sandwiches with pie filling. Y’all. So good. I had a pecan pie, Sam had a new classic, and Eli, Sam’s co-worker, had a coconut cream pie. We got to interact with the owner, and he was really nice and answered all of our (many) questions.

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Peace Pie is in this stretch of buildings.

After getting our ice cream sandwiches, we wandered around some more with the intent at seeing Waterfront Park and Rainbow Row before we left for the day. We found some alleys and walked some extremely bumpy cobblestone streets (that Henry slept through).

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Sam had to take a business call, especially considering this was a business trip.

We made our way to Waterfront Park, and it was just as beautiful as the night before. The fountain was pretty, and there were lots of families around having picnics and throwing their coins into the fountain making wishes.

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We wrapped up our Charleston wandering by heading to Rainbow Row. This was one of my favorite things we saw in Charleston. The houses are so brightly colored, and it just puts you in a good mood. We saw several people with cameras snapping pictures of the houses and window flower boxes.

After a somewhat lengthy walk back to our car and a fussy Henry, we hit the road for Savannah. We left around 2:30 and got to Savannah around 5:00. We checked into our hotel and took a few minutes to chill out. Henry was very appreciative of the time.

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We got on Yelp! and found Treylor Park for dinner. It was only a 3-minute walk from our hotel and had good reviews. We walked into a cool atmosphere with friendly staff. I ordered a “Peach Pit,” which had peach cider and bourbon, along with a few other things, in it. Sam got the Biscuits Benedict, which was right up his alley. I had the patty melt with chips. We got the banana pudding creme brûlée for dessert, which was served in a mini-cast iron skillet with vanilla wafers. All of our food was awesome, our waiter was great and offered us recommendations when we needed them, and the atmosphere was something we enjoyed.

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After dinner, we headed back to the hotel, so we could watch the results of the presidential election while resting up for a half-day of wandering through Savannah before heading home the next day.

We got up and packed our things after deciding that we would go eat breakfast somewhere, explore Savannah, go to Sam’s job, and then head home. We decided on eating at a breakfast place called Henry’s, pretty much on the name alone. Sam and I both got Henry’s combo, which is essentially their version of a Waffle House All-Star Special. The combo included 3 eggs, bacon and sausage, 2 pancakes, and grits. I substituted hash browns for my grits though. This may have been my favorite meal we had on the trip, but I am partial to breakfast food. Our waitress was also very sweet.

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His very own restaurant!

After breakfast, we went wandering around Savannah. We went by the Savannah Cotton Exchange building, River Street, and several of the squares around town. We even made our way to Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump was filmed, but unfortunately, the bench is no longer there.

We didn’t have much time on this trip in particular, but if/when we go back, I would love to do a carriage tour of both cities and be able to spend more time seeking out historical sites. There is so much to do, we definitely didn’t have ample time to cover it all.

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On our way home, we stopped in Macon, Georgia on the Mercer University campus and ate a late lunch. We had Francar’s Buffalo Wings, and anyone who knows me knows I love buffalo wings. We got 15 wings and a large fry to share, which was plenty for us. Our food was good, and we had great service!

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We sat outside and enjoyed the weather to give Henry a good break from the car.

Overall, we had a great trip and ate lots of yummy food! What are some of your favorite things to do, see, and eat in Charleston and Savannah? Comment on this post or e-mail me, so I can begin making my list for next time!

Family Memory Catalog

I LOVE taking pictures. I love that we have phones that can take quality pictures any time, anywhere. I love that my mom passed down her camera that she started her photography business with to me. I love that pictures allow you to capture memories. And I really love taking pictures of Henry because I am already forgetting how small he was, and he’s only three months old!

The thing about today’s society and having our phones to take pictures on is that we have gotten away from actually printing pictures out. I do not love that. In order to avoid taking pictures but never having them in my hands, I sought out a way to hold myself accountable to printing the pictures I took out.

Enter the “Family Memory Catalog,” or at least, that’s what I am calling it.

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I cannot and will not try to take credit for this idea though. I got this idea from something I pinned on Pinterest when I first got it, and I have wanted to use this idea ever since then. Design Sponge had posted about the project I got this idea from six years ago. (You can see the post here.)  The idea is that you have a note card with a date on it for every day of the year, and each year you write something you did that day. Over time it will create a sort of Timehop-esque memory catalog because you will have multiple years to look back on. She uses it as a gift you could give someone else, which I love and may do at some point as well.

When I was getting to the end of my pregnancy and needed something to do to distract myself, I started the project because I knew we would have so many pictures and memories we wanted to remember. I got 366 notecards and wrote the date for each day of the year (including Leap Day!), and then I put mini-sticky notes at the top dividing out each month. I’m sure you could find cuter dividers to use, but the sticky notes work just fine! (In the original post from Design Sponge, she uses vintage post cards to separate her months which is a great idea for something more fun.)

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I put the cards into a drawer from an antique sewing machine painted in Annie Sloan chalk paint. That’s not something you probably have lying around, but my aunt who runs Elizabeth Ann’s had one and gave it to me as a housewarming gift when we moved over to Atlanta. I didn’t intend for it to be used for this, but it ended up being the perfect size. You could use a shoebox if you have one handy!

I know you’re probably thinking, “Okay, so how does this hold you accountable to printing pictures, Erin?” I know, I know, I’m getting there.

 

After each day, I put any pictures taken that day behind it. I think that will make looking back on these days even better years from now when I am writing a new memory down.

Every two weeks or so, I do a picture dump from my phone or memory card in my camera, edit them the way I want them (making sure they are cropped to a 4 x 6 format!), and order them from Costco.

When I pick them up, I write “2016” on the back of them and put them behind the right date by using my phone or the memories I have written down to make sure they go in the right place.

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Right now, I am just laying the framework for a family project that I’m sure will be so much fun to look back on over the years. There’s nothing to look back on yet, since this is the first year I am doing this.

*Sometimes, we don’t really do anything, so I haven’t been writing things down on those days to be honest with you, but I think I may start writing even the small things because they’re important too.

I keep this out on the end table in our living room because I know that if I had to go somewhere to write down what happened during the day, I wouldn’t keep up with it. It’s also fun for others to look at our family memories too!

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Probably should’ve cleaned my table first… Whoops, real life, people.

So, I took Design Sponge’s awesome idea that I have wanted to do for years and combined it with my love of pictures into something that I’m already looking forward to using years from now.

Do you like to take pictures? Where and how do you keep up with the pictures you take? How do you keep up with family memories? I would love to hear things that work for your family as well!! Comment or e-mail me at openhandsopenhome@gmail.com.