Taking Ellie’s Christmas Picture

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Sunday was my birthday and Andrew, Ellie and I had planned to spend the day at Stan Hywet Hall, a 1915 Tudor revival mansion in Akron, OH similar to Meadow Brook Hall, but when Ellie came down with a cold on Friday we decided to forgo the outing and spend the weekend at home. Thankfully, Andrew got me some studio photography equipment for my birthday and we spent the weekend trying it out. We decided Ellie’s Christmas picture would be the perfect first photo op. Although she didn’t feel well, she was still our smiley, happy baby and had a great time trying to eat the ornament she’s holding. I’m excited to keep practicing and improving my skills. Our next photo shoot will be Ellie’s first birthday pictures. I can’t believe my baby is turning one on the 25th!

TBT: Seeing America’s Castles

I didn’t realize until last week that historic mansions like Meadow Brook Hall are considered to be “America’s castles” and there is an entire list of them to see within the U.S. I also didn’t realize that Andrew and I have already been to a few of them, so I started looking back at the ones we’ve visited.

Our first American castle was the Biltmore House in March 2009. There was a period of time when Andrew and I dated long-distance and were always looking for interesting towns to meet up in–Asheville, North Carolina was one of them. The Biltmore is the largest house in America at 135,000 square feet. We spent two days touring the house, the conservatory, the grounds, and did some wine tasting at the on-site winery. They must not allow pictures inside the house because all of these were taken outside or at the winery.


Our second American castle was Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California in May 2012. Andrew and I used to take a big trip every year for our anniversary in May, and that year we road-tripped the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles over eight days. Hearst Castle was one of our many stops along the way.

It was built by William Randolph Hearst and ranks #11 on the list of largest historic homes. I remember the drive up to the house being very beautiful with lots of hills and horses roaming around. Pictures were allowed inside this house and I remember being enamored with the tile work on indoor pool and the view of the ocean from the house was spectacular.


Our third American castle is an honorable mention because it’s technically not a real castle. Belvedere Castle in New York City was designed as a decorative structure in Central Park that is now used as an observation deck and weather station. Still, I would include it on my list of top sites to see in NYC.


Our fourth castle was Meadow Brook Hall last weekend, and I talked about it in this blog. This weekend, we’re planning to see our fifth castle right here in Ohio. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog about it.

Click here for Wikipedia’s complete list of castles in the United States.


24 Hours in Rochester Hills, Michigan


Last weekend Andrew, Ellie and I decided to visit our friend, Laura, in Rochester Hills, Michigan, a suburb about 30 minutes north of Detroit. Laura is from that area, but we met years ago in Montgomery during grad school and have been friends ever since. It’s so nice having one of my friends from the South so close!

We met up at Meadow Brook Hall and spent the day touring the house and its beautiful grounds. Meadow Brook Hall is a Tudor-style mansion built in 1929, and the sixth-largest historic home in America. The Biltmore House ranks first.

We took a tour of the interior of the house, but no photos were allowed so all the pictures we have of the estate were taken outside. It was a great tour, and the house is incredible–I’ve never seen that level of detail in another house before. Definitely see it if you have the chance.

I thought by now all the fall colors would be faded, but I’m glad I was wrong. The grounds were BEAUTIFUL, it was a perfect Autumn day, and it was great catching up with Laura while walking around the estate. She hadn’t seen Ellie since May, so they got to spend some quality time together.


Laura and Ellie getting reacquainted. 

The estate is actually huge at 1,400 acres and we stayed pretty close to the house, so we only saw a portion of the grounds. There weren’t a lot of flowers blooming in the gardens but I imagine they’re beautiful any time of year.

We made our way to the children’s “playhouses” and were stunned. This cottage was for a little girl and there was a separate boy’s cabin that I didn’t get a picture of.


We walked one of the trails and took in the crisp fall air.

Afterward we visited Laura’s apartment, then had dinner at a cool Mexican restaurant in downtown Rochester Hills called Rojo. Ellie let the grown ups catch up while she had fun people-watching.


After a great day, we checked into our hotel, which happened to be Ellie’s first ever hotel stay. She was pooped by the time we got there, so we thought she was out for the night. Here she is asleep in the elevator on the way up to our room.


But she rallied once we got inside and became wild with excitement over her new surroundings. I love these looks of mischief–she couldn’t figure out what she wanted to get into first. She was all over the place and we spent the evening watching her like little mommy and daddy hawks.

Baby’s First School Pictures

Ellie’s daycare had their school pictures a couple months ago and we finally got them this week. Andrew was there when she had them taken and said there were a lot of people around so she was pretty distracted. We bought this fall outfit the weekend before–perfect for fall pictures.

TBT: Our First House

3709 Dresden Court in Brentwood Estates, Montgomery, AL 36111

Photo credit: Sherry Watkins, go2reassistant.com

Andrew and I moved to Northeast Ohio from Montgomery, Alabama just over 2.5 years ago. Since then we’ve bought a house, settled into a community and started a family. We love living here and experiencing all that the Midwest has to offer, but sometimes I do get homesick for the South. It’s where we met, where we got married, and where we bought our first house.

Our first house was a project. It needed quite a bit of work when we bought it, so we figured if we were going to have to make changes anyway, we should make the house our own. I’ll admit we made some changes to this house that we both agree we wouldn’t do in future homes.

The floors in the living/dining room areas were vinyl when we moved in, so we replaced them with wood floors, repainted and did an accent wall on the far wall in the dining room.

The house also had a den that we mostly used as a sitting room when we had company. I loved opening the french doors on both sides to let fresh air in.

The kitchen was definitely the room that needed the most work. I remember calling it the McDonald’s kitchen because of the red and yellow colors it was painted when we moved in.

The kitchen had a breakfast area with a huge window that looked into the backyard and let in so much light. It was one of my favorite things about the house.

My absolute favorite thing about the house was the back yard. This picture was taken in February, so the trees are bare and no flowers are blooming, but in the spring and summer it was like a garden, with roses, magnolias, irises, daisies, and so many other flowers. The back yard was very private and perfect for enjoying time out on the patio.

3709 Dresden Court in Brentwood Estates, Montgomery, AL 36111

Back Yard

This link has additional pictures of the house. There are few pictures sprinkled in of the house before we bought it, but most of them are from when we sold it.

Baby’s First Halloween


Ellie’s first Halloween is in the books and it was a huge success! She was the most adorable helper to Andrew while he gave out candy to our trick-or-treaters. Her baby sunflower costume was a big hit and she was happy to hang out in the terra cotta pot while we were outside. She had so much fun and didn’t get too overwhelmed by all the people. She loves other kids, so we figured she would enjoy this new experience. Andrew had a space heater set up behind the flower pot so she didn’t get too cold and we only ended up being out about an hour before everyone cleared out of our neighborhood. Now I have to figure out how to top her costume next year!


Baby sunflowers need to stay hydrated

Last year was our first Halloween in our neighborhood and we were completely unprepared for how popular it is at Halloween. We ran out of candy in less than 30 minutes. This year we were prepared.


We probably went through 4/5ths of this and were happy to keep the rest. We still have a little time before we have to start sharing with Ellie so we’ll enjoy it while we can. We’ll just let her chew on the package for now.


Notice how she only has pumpkins near her in some of these pictures. That’s because she kept trying to eat the mums in the flower pots. We had to move the flowers to the other side of the porch!