Summer 2017 Visit to SC!

Like many parents and stay-at-home moms, I was both eager for this year’s summer break and also kind of dreading it. Last summer was my first summer in the US and my first summer with two kids. We were still new to Virginia and didn’t know many people. Michael was traveling a lot for work. Finn was napping twice a day. I was nursing him and feeding him solids. Colt was turning 3. It was hot. It was hard. Each day seemed like the one before it. I couldn’t figure out what to DO. I kept asking other moms, “What do you DO every day?” A lot of it was just me taking time to adjust to our new life here, getting to know people, getting settled in our house and neighborhood, caring for two young kids, etc. Things changed dramatically when Colt started school for the first time in September. It was only 3 mornings / week so not a ton of time per se, but it provided us with a structure, a rhythm and it expanded our community.

When springtime rolled around and we started thinking about this upcoming summer, I remembered the lessons from the previous year’s struggles and knew we needed a better plan. As we looked at our calendars we started planning visits to family, classes, activities, etc. Most camps and classes for kids here are kind of expensive and having two young kids – one of whom still naps every afternoon – makes it a little trickier too. But, when Colt’s preschool sent out the notice about their church running a Vacation Bible School (VBS) program, 1 week, every morning Mon-Fri for $25, I knew we were on to something! I mean, they’re singing songs, doing crafts, and learning about God with other young friends, for the steal of the century! I immediately signed him up and then started searching for other VBS camps when Michael had the brilliant idea of looking into my parents’ church in South Carolina. They go to a great church in Columbia – Eastminster Presbyterian – and sure enough they had a VBS running the last week of June (with a different curriculum than what Colt’s VBS in Arlington will be). The timing worked great for us so we signed him up.

We flew my mom up the Saturday prior (just in time to babysit for us as we went to see The Sound of Music!) and that Sunday, after church, Gigi and I loaded the boys and did the drive together.


We start the drive with lunch followed by naps.


Finn always wakes up after 1 hour on the dot.


And eventually Colt follows.


And I get moved to the backseat.


But I don’t hate hanging with these two.

On Colt’s first day of VBS, we arrived at the church and found his group – the Purple Knights! His little class was all rising 4K and he is on the younger end, and since it’s not our home-church, the place and people were all unfamiliar to him. I was nervous about how it would go but I was SO proud of how well Colt did. There were a few tears on the second day’s drop-off but he pushed through and had a great time. And I think things like that are such good confidence builders, where kids learn that they can do it, they can have fun, they can make new friends, etc. all on their own (in a safe, wonderful environment of course). I was really proud of him.


First day of VBS wearing the new, perfectly fitted T-shirt.

4K Purple Knights -- EPC VBS 2017.jpg

Colt with his fellow Purple Knights.

And when Colt wasn’t at VBS, we were having other fun adventures in Columbia.


“This is Noah’s arc. It landed on the mountain top and the water is already dried up and the animals are leaving the boat.”


Ready for pool-time!


Gigi introduced Colt to milkshakes…

We spent over 3 hours one afternoon at the Ft. Jackson water park. It is AMAZING and we can’t wait to go back.


Getting our toes wet.


Colt getting brave, running in and out of the mushroom.


The Gigers.


I’m obsessed with this picture of Finn. He is hilarious. #shades #tummy


Our third time around the lazy river.


More splash areas.






Just can’t beat it!


Playing in the shallow end.


My boys!

More fun around Columbia:


Finn driving the cart at the Home Depot. He’s the man.


Heathwood Park had their sprayers turned on!


Mud pies.


Harper bros.


Obsessed with this face.


A beach. Water with a boat, fish, bubbles and a bridge. Sand and a starfish. Grass and trees. Sun in the sky.


After the VBS closing program. Finn looks so big to me here!

Swimming, playing and dinner at our cousins’ house, the Longs!


Jack on swing duty.


Colt loved the diving board!

I took advantage of having my mom available to go with me to take the boys for haircuts. I was fully prepared for Finn to melt down like last time but it was a kid salon so they had plenty of toys and ultimately the combo of the lollipop + Gigi holding Mickey Mouse on the Kindle was the winning solution.


A much calmer haircut experience.


End product.


Colt got his part buzzed in! He’s very cool.

The grand finale to our time in South Carolina was a day spent at my grandparents’ house on Lake Murray with my parents, my aunt and my brother’s family. My grandparents moved to the lake when I was 6 and, growing up, my brother and I spent all of our summers here so it is the home and place that has been most consistent in my life. Very special place + very special people = great times had by all! Thank you Nannie and Papa!


Boys hunting for turtles upon arrival.


Colt & Dad!


Finn napping while we’re all playing!


May, Augusta Clare and Brad heading out!


Michael stole the Zaises new puppy!


Jumping off the same little trampoline that we used there as kids!


Augusta Clare!






Michael looks a little scared.


Very subtle Papa!


Hammock time! Coordinating outfits compliments of my mom.


They’re so cute.




Out for a boat ride!


Colt at the wheel!


Finn, very relaxed.


AC driving!

What a great week we had!


Easter 2017 in SC!

Our family spent Easter (week) in South Carolina for the second year in a row. Michael had a bachelor party in Vegas the weekend prior to Easter


Michael with some of his best buddies in Vegas.

so we decided to fly my mom up to VA to drive to South Carolina with the boys and me.


This is what you want to see on a road trip.


This is what you do not want to see.


Burger King pit-stop.



While in South Carolina, we were out and about, playing at parks, visiting the zoo, spending time with family and getting ready to celebrate the risen Jesus!


Park date!


Slide bros.


Finn and Gigi feeding the giraffes at the zoo!


Gigi with her boys.




All ready for Church!


At the Eastminster Easter Egg hunt.


Pretty pumped up about his egg treasures.


Visiting my sweet grandparents.


Finn absolutely adored Papa!


We didn’t totally obey the signs…


The perfect student/teacher combo. They spent HOURS talking about astronomy (and other sciencey things). Pasha gave Colt an Astronomy magazine that he slept with for days.

**Related to the photo above – my dad successfully taught Colt all of the planets, in order, plus all of the dwarf planets in our solar system. He loves to talk about solar systems, galaxies and the universe. He’s constantly telling me new facts about black holes (“in black holes there isn’t time or space!”). He draws pictures, every day, of the planets, of black holes sucking things into themselves, of asteroids, of “The Big Red Spot” on Jupiter… And while we were in South Carolina, Colt swapped out his daily cartoon viewing (his current favorite right now being Wild Kratts) for my dad’s recorded series on “The Secrets of Outer Space” or something like that and another series on America’s National Parks. Anyway, I’m starting to think that Colt might be more like my dad than I was prepared for. 😉


Visiting my brother’s family in Charleston.


With the babies, May and Finn.


Cousins! May (2), Finn (1.5), Colt (3.5), and Augusta Clare (5.5).


Pure joy!


Nothing better than cruising around with his big cousin!


Back in Columbia, scooting around the neighborhood.


Dying Easter eggs! 


Zoo visit #2. Colt likes all of his sunglasses to give off the impression that he’s just had some type of major eye surgery.


Zoo train with Fincher.


Finn loved feeding the lamas.


Carousel kisses!


My little heartbreaker.


The tiger came out!


Park picnic after the zoo!

The Saturday before Easter, Michael flew down to join us in South Carolina. We headed straight for Chapin to visit my grandmother at the Lowman Home Rehab Center.


Group pic!


The boys with Nannie. 


Finn sporting his new John Deer hat from Papa.

That afternoon, my brother’s family joined us in Columbia and spent the night.


Scooting around the neighborhood. Everything about this picture is amazing.


Whole family – Easter Sunday.


Our little crew.


Our best attempts at family photos…

Following church, we headed to my great aunt & uncle’s house for a big family lunch and they are always so sweet to do an Easter egg hunt for the kids.


Colt and AC on a mission.


Showing off his stash.

After the family brunch, Michael and I loaded the kids in the car and drove the 10 hours back to Virginia. (Without kids it could be done in 7.5 or so but…) It’s our tradition to stop at Cracker Barrel for dinner. The kids love to run around and play with the toys while we wait for our table — this is our way of letting them play during the drive but not going to a McDonald’s Play Place.


Testing out the hats and toys.

As always, a wonderful visit in South Carolina. Thank you Gigi & Pasha! We are already plotting our return!

Sharon’s 70th Birthday Celebration

March 20, 2017 was a special day that marked my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday. To celebrate, we all gathered together over Presidents’ Day weekend in February at the family property in Cornville, AZ (near Sedona). All of the kids contributed different aspects to the planning and execution of the weekend (designing and printing beautiful itineraries, hiring a photographer, buying groceries and cooking all of the meals, decorating the tables for each meal around special themes, organizing a huge card tournament…!) and it all turned out great!


On our way to Arizona!

The Harpers left a car for us at the airport so after we landed we loaded right up in the car and drove straight to Hidden Valley. It was so great to wake up there the next morning and feed the ducks!


Colt and Papa feeding the ducks.


Nana and Finn.


Running free.


Cruising around on their new John Deer.


Little boy heaven.


Program: Front.


More of the program.

The events kicked off with a welcome lunch on Saturday afternoon. Later that evening, there was a surprise string trio who serenaded us over cocktails before we headed out to a Western themed dinner in Page Springs.


String trio in the barn.


Boys all decked out for our Western dinner.


3 Generations of handsome Harper boys.


Colt & Finn at the restaurant.


With my little love bug.

Sunday was full of fun family time, delicious meals and hanging out on the property. Colt and Finn were particularly fond of the tire swing.

IMG_2013IMG_2015IMG_2020IMG_2030We also did some group photos.


Whole group.


Sharon & Ollie + kids, spouses and grandkids in front of the barn.




Sharon & Ollie with their 5 kids.


3 Grandboys.


Our little family.


The beautiful creek.

On Monday afternoon, Michael organized a huge Pfeffer tournament which included our whole group PLUS 4 of Sharon’s siblings, their spouses and some of their kids as well. So, our group basically doubled. Pfeffer is a card game that is SOMEwhat like Spades but is also very unique. I have never heard of Pfeffer apart from Michael’s family, and I have never met anyone else who has ever heard of it, but Sharon and her siblings grew up playing it all the time in Mankato, Minnesota so anytime the Culhanes get together, they PLAY. The tournament lasted about 4 hours and was hilarious and awesome.


The barn was the perfect location for the tourney.


Tournament in action.


Family fun!


Colt was so excited he fell asleep.


Sharon with 4 of her siblings and a niece!


The winners! Sheila and Lily!

After a great weekend at Hidden Valley, we headed back to Phoenix for a few beautiful days.


Snacks in the orchard.


Playing in the backyard.


Picking our lunch.


Cousins playing with the bubble machine!


Heading back home!


They don’t sleep on the plane but as SOON as we get in the car, lights out.

It was an awesome week celebrating an awesome woman. Thankful to have such a wonderful mother-in-law! Happy Birthday Sharon!

February 2017 NoVa


Someone got into the Rummikub game during his quiet time and made a little display for me!


Superhero capes!


Michael taking Colt to school – Colt’s favorite!!


Finn needing some extra snuggles. I’ve never been a big baby-wearer but every now and then, we love it.


The best way to start a Saturday!


Family time at Sugar Shack Donuts!


Precious Finn.


“School” with Mom.


He could use a little work in the handwriting department…




And more jammies!


Park time! Finn loves the slides.


Feeding and riding the dino.



February 10-12 was the Women’s Retreat at our church so Michael had the boys solo for the weekend. He was a total overachiever and did things like make them Mickey Mouse pancakes, take them out to the park, go to a friends’ house for a playdate, take them to church and EVEN to Chuck-E-Cheese (which, in retrospect, Michael says was mildly traumatic to do with both kids and only one parent).


Two happy faces.


Make that three.


Park picnics.



I was thankful to have some sweet time away but am always eager to get back home to these faces!


Heart eyes.


Times two.


Finn’s favorite food might be raisins.


His little expressions just kill me!


Love them!

Upon my return, we got ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Colt and I made PINK rice crispy treats with sprinkles to send to school for all of his classmates.


Happy Valentine’s Day from this little heartbreaker.

A true romantic, Michael made sure that Valentine’s Day was special for me too. He got up early that morning and when I came downstairs he had breakfast waiting, flowers all about, cards from him and the boys AND he had reserved me a mani/pedi for that evening before then meeting him out for a dinner date. So thankful for how kind, thoughtful and fun Michael is – he’s always putting in the extra effort to make me feel loved and to make things that much more fun and celebratory.


Cheers! Amazing dinner at Kapnos Taverna.

We were excited to have a dear Phoenix friend, Eric, stay with us while he was in town.


“Chambo” bonding with Finn and Colt.

Mid-February we spent almost a week in Arizona doing a little early celebrating of Sharon’s 70th, but I’ll post separately on that trip next.  Upon our return we enjoyed some unseasonably warm weather!


My Target buddy!


Back yard bros. **Side note: THIS is why we are re-doing our backyard…


Little dirt face.


Penrose Park fun.


Telling stories over lunch.


Finn & grapes.


Meeting Dad at the park after work.


Precious brothers.



At the end of February I flew to SC for a quick weekend visit to spend some time with my grandparents as my grandmother was in the midst of a long recovery/rehabilitation from a broken leg. Michael was a champ-Dad and watched the kids solo for the second time that month!


Morning on the porch.


Sunday morning, ready for church!


But stopping first for donuts!


Little front yard picnic.


And park time.

Meanwhile I was getting special, quality time with these fine people!


Papa and Nannie at the Lowman Home Rehab Center.


My pretty mama with her parents.


Wheeling around the property with my grandparents!


The girls.


Flying home to my boys.

My dad randomly had some business in the area so he had stayed with Michael and the kids the night before I came back home. When I arrived back in Virginia on Monday morning this is the cute little sight that I was greeted with.


Pasha with his grandsons. Starting the morning with milk, coffee and cartoons.

Christmas Season 2016 in Arizona!

On December 23, our family headed to the airport to spend the holidays with our Arizona family. IMG_9818It started off great: Michael dropped me off with the kids and the luggage as he went to park the car. After running around a little, Colt decided he URGENTLY NEEDED to go potty. We had SO much stuff and were nowhere near a bathroom. Also, just at that moment Finn tripped over his feet and face-planted into the floor, only to come up screaming. I really had no choice but to strap Finn into the stroller and slip Colt into a pull-up. I didn’t even fully take his pants or undies off, I just attached the pull-up on via the side openings and had him stand and just go pee in the pull-up! I felt terrible to do that to him, especially in a crowded airport! but desperate times call for desperate measures. Soon Michael came and rescued us. IMG_9821We made it through security and the TSA team handed the boys their very own stickers! IMG_9824We didn’t buy a seat for Finn on the plane so the flight was…not great. IMG_3318Michael described it as trying to capture Finn’s attention and keep him happy for a series of 5 second intervals that went on for 5 hours. And anytime that we came up short and failed to keep him occupied/satisfied, he just screamed. 🙂  But, eventually we made it and we were all so happy to be there!

As a Christmas surprise, the Harpers had gotten their home totally ready for the kids. They had just put up a swing-set/playground in their back yard and they turned their garage into a big play space, complete with a train set and drums!
(Uncle TJ taking Finn down the slide!)IMG_3342IMG_3357.JPG IMG_3352

On Christmas Eve, we participated in the long running tradition of dinner and festivities with the Griego family. Bob and Lenni hosted an amazing evening complete with a visit from the Big Man himself! IMG_4994When Santa walked in, Colt was SO excited. Colt ran directly to him and led him into the room and promptly sat on his lap. Colt told Santa that we had left some cookies and milk out for him back at the house and reminded him that we were in fact in Arizona, not Virginia. IMG_5000Finn required a little more time to get comfortable but eventually he got there.IMG_5135IMG_9838There was stiff competition for best-dressed between Dr. Bob and Dr. Ollie but Santa cast the deciding vote in favor of Papa Harper!IMG_5214IMG_5270

Christmas day was very fun and special. We started off by running to the living room with Colt to see if Santa had in fact eaten the cookies and drank the milk and he was thrilled to see that it was almost all cleared! Santa is “starting small” with our family but he did leave a few little surprises for the boys. One of which was a set of capes and masks which was instant fun for Colt and Finn. IMG_3336IMG_3378FullSizeRenderNext we headed to mass with the family at Brophy Chapel. IMG_9905After mass, we spent the afternoon opening gifts and playing together. Both Colt and Finn received personalized sleeping bags from their grandparents and they just loved them! IMG_3327IMG_3329After the little boys were asleep, the big boys headed out together!IMG_3349The day after Christmas, we gathered in the Harper orange grove for some casual family photos taken by dear Lenni Greigo. H 1IMG_9967After Christmas, Michael headed back to VA for work while I remained in Arizona with the boys a bit longer. One highlight during my time there was that one of my precious girlfriends from my time in Brazil, Paula, came to visit. Paula’s family ended up in Phoenix after Brazil and (although they’re moving now!) we always enjoyed connecting with them when we were in town. Paula’s two boys are just a few months younger than mine so we had a great time catching up on life and watching our boys play together. The big boys – Colt and Gabe – were instant buds! So thankful for those special friendships formed abroad as we now have treasured friends all over the country / world.IMG_0053IMG_0005IMG_0019IMG_0036Another fun activity was Lise being brave enough to invite Colt to participate with her in a little cooking extravaganza. Although we may have gone a little too heavy on the powdered sugar 😉  it was so much fun to watch Colt cooking with Aunt Lise. He adores her to pieces and had a blast – especially taste testing along the way. IMG_0130IMG_0134IMG_0137IMG_0144IMG_0181Papa Harper also took the boys to the local firestation and on another adventure to the zoo! IMG_0105IMG_0204IMG_0787IMG_0769IMG_0206IMG_0216And nothing beats just hanging out with family. Especially loved our many play-dates with cousin Julian, just 3 months younger than Colt.IMG_3321IMG_0230IMG_3422IMG_3412And I always love my boys in matching PJams! IMG_0083The saddest event of the holidays happened in between Christmas and New Years. Sweet Sharon had a little fall in the house which resulted in a seriously fractured shoulder. She was such a great sport and super tough through it but it was heartbreaking to see her going through that. Even still, the boys got lots of quality time with her. I just love this magical shot of Colt snuggled up with his Nana, telling stories by the light of the Christmas tree. IMG_9912After a week of work, Michael returned to Arizona to celebrate New Years with us. We hadn’t really made and NYE plans, but then Lise’s awesome boyfriend (also named Michael) hooked us up with some tickets to the Clemson vs. Ohio St. playoff game! We were SO PUMPED and had an awesome time – especially given the Big W for the Tigers!!! IMG_0248IMG_3400IMG_3401IMG_3402IMG_0252

More fun in the new year: IMG_0283IMG_0281couB2GrEaJqAnd on the flight home… Colt is an angel and Finn is a NUT! IMG_0314IMG_0330IMG_0333

Thank you, Harpers, for hosting an amazing visit!

NoVa December 2016

Part 1 of December (before heading to Arizona for Christmas).

We kicked off December with the kids’ first visit with Santa for the season, hosted by our realtor (shout out – Pam Campbell with Century 21 out of Alexandria!). We may have stumbled a little as we explained to Colt why Santa was hanging out at a Century 21 office on a Saturday morning and why Santa was telling me about his previous military career 😉  but overall Colt blindly accepted our lies and went with it. His big ask from Santa this year was to go to Arizona for Christmas! (Spoiler: he got his wish.)


Finn is not quite as comfortable with Santa.


Our family with Pam’s daughter with her husband and two girls. They are long-time family friends and the girls all clown (is that a verb?) and had come from an event that morning!


Colt helping Dad pick out a tree!


Colt and his ever-growing stick collection.


Finn taking after his big brother!


Sneaking by Colt’s classroom after a morning coffee with some parents and caught Colt at the snack table with some of his pals! Adore!!


Boys busy creating.


Jumping in puddles and finding MORE STICKS!

Michael and I wanted to go to New York Dec. 9-11 so to make it possible, Sharon and Lise Harper were so generous with their time and energy and flew across the country to watch our boys for the weekend so that we could get away! They had a great time together and the boys could not have missed us less. 😉


Nana with her two boys.


Colt and Finn giving Lise a neighborhood tour.

In New York, Michael and I stayed with Joe at his cool apartment in NoHo.


We made it!

For dinner Friday night, we met up with Michael’s good friend and law school roommate, Josh. We spent Saturday touring around, seeing the lights, the windows and the tree – so fun to be a tourist in NYC during Christmas.


Christmas in NY.

That night we went to, what was supposed to be a surprise birthday party for one of Michael’s best BC buddies, Jon, which was being thrown by his girlfriend, Katie. It started off with the big surprise at Jon and Katie’s apartment and just when Katie was presenting him with this amazing book that she put together, Jon totally turned it around and PROPOSED to Katie on the spot! He confessed that he had figured out the surprise and decided to take the opportunity to ask her in front of so many dear friends and family. It was such a blast to then get to celebrate his birthday AND their engagement.


The happy couple surrounded by some friends.


Partying with Joe + Vinnay & Thu.

Sunday afternoon we drove back home and when we pulled up to our house…it was THIS DELIGHTFUL SIGHT that greeted us!


Nana, Lise, Colt and Finn had a little Clark Griswold surprise for us!

The crew had lots of little giggles while we were gone, secretly decorating our house with some pretty serious projectors, netted bush lights and a plethora of other festive, GLITTERY creatures to welcome us upon our return. As much as we loved it all, we felt that the numerous, bright orange extension cords and wide open power strips throughout the yard may not be the safest thing for the projected rain the next day BUT it definitely made us laugh and Colt had a blast with it all.


Getting cozy for Christmas!


Painting time in the kitchen.


Festive rice crispy treats! And a great fake-smile to go with them!


I mean…!?


Here is a random comparison shot. Colt is a few months older in his pic but pretty close. They are definitely unique but I do think they favor each other.


Colt in the full-blown madness of the Faith Lutheran Preschool Christmas program.


Faith Lutheran decked out for Christmas.


Caterpillar classroom after-party getting wild. And Finn really just settling himself in for a great rice crispy chomp session.


Colt loves his brother!


Proud of his “bridge” creations.


Swing bros!

Nov 2016: SC Family Pics

While we were visiting my family for Thanksgiving, my mom took the opportunity of having everyone together to get some family photos taken. We were thankful that my grandparents and mom’s sister, Sheryl, were also able to join so that we could get the whole group! These photos are already very special treasures…

Whole group together! My grandparents + their kids + grandkids + great grandkids! img_2481


Grandkids & great grandkids with Nannie & Papa.img_2543

My parents with their kids & grandkids.img_9524

My family with my grandparents.img_2687

Beautiful photo of Nannie & Papa. What a blessing and example they are for us! img_2724

Love this one of my brother’s family. Lucky guy with those pretty girls!img_2958


Colt and Augusta Clare are THE cutest things together!! I think she’s his favorite person on earth. So cute!img_3545img_3552img_3529img_3584img_2907

Little Harper boys.img_9523img_9517img_9515img_9514


Thank you to Paula Williamson for capturing these moments & memories!