30th Birthday Trip to NoLa!

As my 30th birthday got closer, I started thinking back on the past decade. I actually turned 20 while I was in LA competing for Miss USA. All of the contestants were in LA for about 2 weeks leading up to the competition and my birthday fell on one of those days. (Side note: During those two weeks I also met our now President Trump… Very briefly but all of us had to meet him.)

But thinking through the whole decade:
20: Competed for Miss USA. Graduated from Wofford.
21: Moved to Washington DC. Started working at the McCain Campaign. Met Michael. Started dating.
22: Worked at DAC. Got engaged.
23: Got married. Moved to San Francisco. Worked at FM.
24: Finished time in San Francisco. Moved to São Paulo.
25: Worked at WINGS. Got pregnant with Colt.
26: Had Colt. Stopped working outside the home.
27: Got pregnant with Finn.
28: Had Finn. Moved back to the US. Bought a house!
29: Our first year in the US. Michael worked at Jones Day DC then started for the DOJ.
30: Just getting started…!

It’s been a busy decade full of love, learning, adventures, babies, working, travels and moves. The greatest blessing has been marrying Michael and being beside him on this journey so I was thrilled to get a weekend away with him, celebrating together.

My birthday is March 12 so that weekend, Michael and I headed off to New Orleans. Michael had been to New Orleans once (in college…for Mardi Gras…so…totally different experience) and I had never been at all. A few years ago we watched the Top Chef season that was filmed in New Orleans and that peaked my interest so it was on my list. And from Virginia it was accessible for a weekend trip. My parents drove up to babysit the kids while we were away so Colt and Finn felt like they received a huge present as well. 🙂

On our flight to New Orleans, someone sitting beside us said that, “If Las Vegas and Charleston had a baby, it would be New Orleans.” I found this to be a great summary. The city has lots of charm, character and a thriving food scene but at the same time it has a healthy amount of grit, grime and all the bachelor/bachelorette parties your heart could ever hope for. I swear that I saw no fewer than 100 girls walking the streets in cutoff jeans, halter tops, veils and sashes. And beads.

At any rate, it was the perfect place to ring in 30. The food (Commanders Palace, Mother’s, ALL THE BEIGNETS!!) and the music were the highlights for me. And did I mention a weekend away with just my husband? Yes, that too. We had a blast.


Friday evening in NoLa.


Intro drinks at the very interesting, very cool Carousel Bar.


There is definitely a charm to New Orleans.


But also…hurricanes at Pat O’ Briens, dueling piano bar!


Bourbon St.


After dinner drinks and music at The Maison.


Nursing slight headaches via Saturday brunch at Mother’s. The perfect cure.


Saturday touring.




Art. Trees. Beads.

Saturday night we did a birthday dinner at Commander’s Palace. Cannot say enough about how great everything was! The turtle soup and strawberry shortcake were my very favs.


Birthday dinner!


So great!


Birthday beignets at Café Du Monde whilst being serenaded by a very talented street saxophone player. Also, beignets are my new favorite food.


My birthday gift — this NoLa painting that I fell in love with at the outdoor art fair. Looks awesome in our room now.


We did a walking tour through the garden district and stopped to admire the Manning household.


Shopping and drinks before heading back to VA!

Thank you to my parents for watching the kids and to Michael for planning the perfect weekend to celebrate 30. So happy to be doing it with you by my side.

March 2017 NoVa

March held a couple of special occasions which will get their own posts (my birthday trip to New Orleans and Paige’s visit from South Africa!) but before those, here is a look at our everyday fun!


Colt showing off his muscles during dinner.


Finn showing off his new (not so great) haircut (buzzcut) given by his mom. Yikes.


“We’re on a boat! There’s a big storm!”

I’ve come to realize that life is hard and there are a lot of things to be truly sad about. But Jesus came into this world and has given us who follow Him hope, joy and full life through all circumstances. In this spirit, I’ve decided to start CELEBRATING the little things more, and holidays are a perfect way to do that.

To be honest, I totally forgot that it was St. Patrick’s Day until Michael pinched me on his way out the door that morning but once I realized, I decided to have fun with it. I hadn’t bought anything for the kids (nor do I think it necessary or even necessarily beneficial) but I greeted them with a big, happy, excited “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!” when they woke up and had green milk ready and waiting.


Kicking off St. Patrick’s Day!

Later that afternoon, one of Colt’s best friends from school came over with his mom and little brother to play, color shamrocks and make green rice crispy treats! It was super fun but NOTE: when multiple little hands are helping with EVERY STEP of the food coloring – marshmallow melting – rice crispy stirring process, the rice crispy treats end up being hard as a rock at the end. But no matter. 🙂  It was fun.


We brought the play table into the kitchen for a little party!

That afternoon Colt and Finn had a very green lunch.


Green bean starter.


And green pasta!


Finn is a big St. Paddy’s Day fan.

And when Dad got home that night, it was only appropriate that we kicked off the evening with green beer!



We didn’t do anything elaborate but we made it fun and talked about the day’s special details all day, and that night Colt was proclaiming that it had been the “best day ever!”

That night I snuck this picture via our monitor of Michael tucking Colt in bed (although admittedly it looks more like Colt is tucking Michael in here). If work allows, Michael tries to get home for dinner and if not dinner then he strives to make it home in time to do the boy’s bath-time and bedtime routine. They so look forward to his arrival each night and I know they cherish their time with their dad. We’re so blessed to have him.


Who is tucking-in who?


Are you kidding me? He’s so cute!


Occasionally we go for donuts in the morning. 🙂  Colt never objects.


Meeting up with our buddies Will & Luke again!


Will and Colt being boys. 

In March, work took Michael to Charleston for a couple of nights.


Charleston is so beautiful!

While he was in town, he paid homage to our wedding memories by re-running the “Run with the Groom” event that he did the Friday morning of our wedding weekend. He originally mapped it out with 11 points of interest so we dug back through our old emails and found the route.


Stops 1-5




And of course, topped it off with an Old Fashioned from the Thoroughbred Bar at the Charleston Place Hotel.

Meanwhile, back at the home front…


Finn was being equally sophisticated. 


We LOVE going on walks down our street.


Basement twins.


In flight!


More walks through our neighborhood!

We also did something BIG this year. We canceled our lawn service, bought a lawn mower, and mowed our lawn for the first time ever! We happened to do it on a Friday night after the kids were down in bed and some of our neighbor friends came over, we opened up some drinks and had a little lawn-mowing party. We were pretty proud of ourselves…


Manual lawn mower. Gas powered was too intimidating this early in our lawn game.

Colt’s preschool also throws their Spring Fair in March so we had fun playing with Colt’s schoolmates and getting in on a little face-paint action.


Harper boys coordinating in spring-check.


Michael and Finn.


Pretty impressive face-paint! “ROAR!”

Both of my first-cousins currently live in Alexandria so we were lucky enough to pin them both down one afternoon and have them and their families over for a bit.


Colt adores his cousin Delaney.


Not an amazing picture but shows the rest of the group. 🙂 


More basement flying.




Park brothers!


My little grocery store buddy.

I love that Finn is getting old enough now to be able to do real activities and adventures. I recently took him to our local Nature Center to see snakes, turtles, fish and frogs and I thought he might spontaneously combust with excitement. He absolutely loved it.



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.

January 2017 NoVa

Even before we returned home from our Christmas and New Years visit in Arizona, Ollie beat us back to the East Coast as he actually had other, unrelated plans in the DC area. So, he stayed an extra day with us and was able to go to lunch with Colt at his school! Love this picture that one of the teachers snapped.


Papa and Colt at FLP lunch time!

We were super excited to get some snow on Colt’s 3.5 yr birthday, Jan 7.


Tennis court snow writing.


Colt! 3.5 yrs old.

Later in the day the snow picked up so we went out for round 2!


The best ride in town.


Following my boys!


Sledding down the hill.


Teaching snow angels.


Love it!

After the snow, we snuggled up by the fire with blankets and hot chocolate. I adore living in a place with 4 seasons.


A wildly impressive snowman the following day with the remaining snow.


Green eggs and turkey roll ups…close enough.


And gingerbread cookie creations!


My little dino.

Sharon & Ollie had a wedding in Virginia so we got another quick little visit from them as they passed through town!


Oliver Joseph with Fincher Oliver.


Colt thinks it’s totally normal to walk around like this…


Block tower creations.


Swing bros.


Slide bros.

During Sharon and Lise’s December visit / babysitting-venture, Lise started teaching Colt this “50, Nifty United States” song. He really picked up on it and, on top of memorizing the song, it sparked an interest in national geography (and international as well). SANTA brought Colt this cool, 51 piece puzzle of the US where most all of the states have their own pieces (sorry New England, some of you have to get lumped together!) and Colt can now do the puzzle solo in minutes (literally, 3 minutes), although admittedly it’s now only 49 pieces as we have permanently lost Oregon and Washington…oops!


Colt and his 50 nifty United States puzzle!

On January 18 (11 days late), we celebrated Colt’s half-birthday at school. His teachers said that they were both summer-birthdays and so they sympathized with kids who didn’t get to celebrate their birthdays at school, so for all of the summer birthdays in the class, they celebrate the half-birthdays.

For the celebration, we were asked us bring treats and prepare a short presentation about how Colt has grown in the past year. We had fun pulling pictures together for a little slideshow about Colt and even brought in a few props. Michael and I sang Happy Birthday in Portuguese but Colt finished it all off by getting up in front of the class and singing the 50 Nifty United States song! The song is adorable but Michael and I were mostly just impressed by his boldness – normally Colt gets very shy in situations like that and isn’t typically comfortable with all-eyes on him. But it was a great testament to how much he has grown in the past year, to the ways that school has helped build his social confidence, and also showed us how comfortable he really is at school with his teachers and classmates. It was a sweet moment.


Lighting the “fake cake” that they use for each birthday.


Blowing out the candles.


Blue rice crispy treats + sprinkles. Colt’s choice…

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 9.08.53 PM

Colt singing his song! 

That weekend we were so excited to see some of our dear friends from our time in Brazil, Brett & Brad. Brad’s twin brother and his wife were also in town so the whole crew stopped by for a few hours of hanging out and playing with the kids.


Hanging with the C0ppens crew!

More January:


Sweet Fincher Face.


Thankful for this park across the street!


Strolling and scooting through the park on the way to school.


Colt can hardly go by a stick without stopping to pick it up. 


Stick scooting.


Harper bros.

Another snowfall!


Finn stole Colt’s hat. 


Colt and Snowman.


Off to sled!


Not a ton of snow but enough for a fun morning of playing outside!


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!