A few months ago my friend Lena sent me a link to the BarkBox website. I had heard of Birchbox, but that’s not really my thing. A Birchbox for dogs…aka Barkbox…way more my thing! Lena gave it a shot for a few months and her dog Carlos (you can see that cute little nugget here and here) loved it. He’s a vicious serial toy destroyer so he goes through toys pretty quickly and Lena really likes trying new treats and stuff with him, too. After her subscription was up, BarkBox so nicely gave her a few BarkBoxes to give away, and Riley and Lexi were super grateful she chose them as one of the freebies! I knew I’d wanted to try it, but we’re pretty frugal around these parts (that happens when you have a farm, a kid, and a new house to build) so I wasn’t sure when I’d bite the bullet and sign up for myself. It was really neat to be able to try it out for a month to see what it’s all about.

Our BarkBox arrived at our door yesterday, and Riley and Lexi immediately knew something was up. As soon as I opened it, their heads were sniffing all over the box trying to figure out what all the goodies were. This month’s box was water themed, so the shark toy is waterproof (perfect for them to dive into the pool after), and of course they are all about the treats…they aren’t picky eaters. The shark immediately became a tug-of-war toy but he held up pretty good (Carlos has already destroyed his but don’t worry, he destroys the indestructible…he’s the rare 1% lol), and overall I really loved our box! The ice treats look especially neat and I really like that it includes something really unique that I’ve never heard of before.

BarkBox has different plans for different sized dogs, and you can choose between a 1 time, 3 month, or 6 month BarkBox subscription, and of course they are cheaper each month the longer the subscription. BarkBox also donates at least 10% of it’s profits to rescues, shelters, and other animal organizations, which helps you feel like your investment is more than just “for fun” since you are helping pets in need. And, BarkBox makes a great gift for your favorite pet lover, too! Pretty neat and my two furry kiddos loved everything 🙂

Backyard Greenville Wedding: Irina & Mike

This past Saturday I made the trip to Fountain Inn, a cute little town just south of Greenville, South Carolina, for Irina and Mike’s wedding. I’d really been looking forward to their fun backyard wedding that Irina’s parents were hosting at their home, but as I got further north, I drove through more and more showers. Once I got to Fountain Inn, I realized it’d been raining pretty steady all morning so things were not looking good for their outdoor ceremony in the front yard. Despite spotty showers in the early afternoon, the rain held off at just the right times. We were able to do wedding party pictures outside, the sun actually came out RIGHT as Irina was coming down the aisle, and then following portraits downtown it sprinkled on and off again for the rest of the evening. The timing was just perfectly orchestrated, as I think everyone else would agree.

I quickly learned that Irina and Mike complement one another in the best of ways. While it’s obvious both are incredibly smart, talented, and driven, Irina maintained such a calm presence about her all morning, while Mike is clearly the goofball of the duo…he kept me on my toes and fired back to my jokes with hardly any effort. I love grooms that can let loose and laugh a lot 🙂 I really enjoyed getting to spend the day with them and their families and hope that these images convey how incredible their wedding day was from beginning to end, and how beautiful of a couple they are together. Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Phillips!
Even though this group shot is missing a few girls, it’s one of my favorites because of how happy everyone looks 🙂

And okay, I was OBSESSED with how amazing all of the different grey dresses looked, especially with those bright springy florals. So pretty!

The rain wasn’t going to stop us from getting some beautiful bridal portraits at Irina’s church in town. I love the red umbrella so much, and Irina is literally a radiant bride.

After grabbing a few shots at the house, we headed to downtown Fountain Inn for the rest of Irina and Mike’s portraits. Irina is all about including things that are sentimental and meaningful so I love that she had picked out some really special spots, especially since her family has such a long history in Fountain Inn (hence Gault’s Dry Cleaners!). So fun!

I love them and how genuinely happy they make one another. Such a perfect pair.

Irina and Mike are both doctors, so how cool is this guest book?

Mike has the best sense of humor…definitely my kind of groom!

Venue: Bride’s parent’s home | Bride’s Dress: Monique Lhuillier purchased from The Bride Room | Bride’s Shoes: Lulu Townsend | Paper Goods: Reaves Engraving | Florals: Greg Foster | Hair & Makeup: Cotton Rouge | Cake: Kathy & Company | Catering: Good Life Catering | Reception Entertainment: FlashBack

An Update on the “Project House”

If you use and follow me on Instagram, you may have seen images like these below, hashtagged #projectcroftfarmhouse.

What a project this house has been. I don’t think I’ve shared an update on the blog for almost a year, because the last year has been so many ups and downs and the progress has definitely been slow. If you want to learn more about the back story of our farm and the main house, I suggest you hope over here and take a quick read to get caught up. I think you’ll notice something seems wrong though…just a year ago we thought we’d be tearing the house down and starting over. Right before we were about to move ahead with that decision, we got a few more professional opinions and the general consensus was that there was too much house left to let go. Yes, it was kind of the cheapest part of the house and it would still be expensive to re-build back to a decent, livable state, but it would be more cost efficient to do that than build new. Close, but still a bit more feasible. So with more thought and consideration, we decided to re-build it as is.

Unfortunately it’s a BIG house…bigger than we really want, but at the same time, the house has SO much history, and for re-sale down the road we knew that it would be really special to have the original house still on the property. It’s a bit more traditional than our taste but we’ve really grown to love it and find a lot of joy in this insane process. Below are some pictures from how it looked from when we bought it in 2011 until early 2013.

So last year, knowing that we’d be starting the first big step of this multiple year project (doing bit by bit as we could afford), we met with a local roofer and moved forward to replace the roof, which was the first logical step toward re-building since all of the trusses were scorched and there was a giant hole in the roof. That hole and all of the moisture from our crazy rain-filled 2013 was doing more and more damage the longer it was there. Below are a few pictures of the initial new roof process, which started in May 2013.

Well, May came and went. And June. And July. And so did a LOT of rain. And a LOT of excuses from our “roofer.” To make a long story short, we got broken into this process real good right from the get-go. I’ll just say this: if you’re doing major home improvements or renovations, check with your state to make sure your contractor is licensed and in good standing. Check to see if they have any outstanding issues from past work. Ask for referrals. Go see their work in person and talk to the homeowners. Ask to see proof of insurance. And make sure you sign a really tight contract. A signed proposal is not a contract. Google one…there’s lots of information online about what a contract should include. Word of mouth is a great thing, but if you don’t do some work on your end, even working with someone who friends or family recommend can burn you. Just because they hadn’t been burnt doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you.

So our house sat open for weeks and weeks with absolutely no roof on it. And last spring we had the wettest spring on record in years. So that means that all of that pretty oak hardwood floor you saw in those pictures? Buckled. Moldy. Ruined. Done. Had to be ripped up. My poor husband spent a handful of weekends pulling up and cutting out hardwood floor while I was away shooting weddings (one of the pictures above, in the first handful of pictures with the blue tarp, is actually during that process). And guess what, even the sub-floor under neath needed to go too! And the walls that were built on top of the sub-floor! And then when the metal finally did go on the roof, it wasn’t right. In fact it was ALL wrong and would never pass code. To make it even better, it had to be taken off and completely re-built. Wow. What an experience we had as first-time home renovators.

Finally at the end of 2013 we hooked up with a REAL, legit contractor and home builder and signed a contract to have the roof removed and correctly re-built, and to have all of the walls and flooring removed. Having the flooring removed is probably what stung the most…since we believed we could have saved so much of what was already there had it never gotten wet and exposed to the elements for so long. But you just have to find a silver lining somewhere, so we told ourselves that even though it hurt and was expensive, we could rest easy always knowing the floor we stood on was brand new, properly laid, and we’d never have to worry. Turns out, even though we knew we’d need to replace the joists where the hole in the roof had been, we had no idea that even more joists were also rotten in another place in the house. Underneath where two bathrooms met back to back, a longtime leak had rotted those joists too. We could have re-built the house and eventually that area would have fallen apart anyways, putting a lot of money down the drain. So at least the silver lining of that extra work was knowing for 100% sure that ALL of the flooring and joists were either new or in great condition.

In February the roof and flooring was done, and look at the difference! It was probably one of the most exciting times for us seeing these changes come to life and seeing how new and awesome the house looks inside. We still have a good year plus of work ahead of us, but soon we hope to be replacing windows and doors, finishing a few more things on the exterior, and putting up walls. Working with an architect on the floor plan was both stressful and fun, but it will be so incredible seeing walls go up. It will finally look like a real house again! This photo below is taken in nearly the same spot 2.5 years later (Lexi looks so enthused lol).

I’m so glad that we have pictures to document this whole journey…both good and bad. The Instagram hashtag is one of my favorite things to look at…to see how far the house has come already…I can’t imagine what it will be like in a year. We’ve definitely learned a lot and there’s already some things I wish we’d done differently, like the metal color. I really miss a darker roof and wish we’d considered shingles more seriously or a darker metal (but we all know black metal in the South is probably not going to make the most energy efficient home, which is why we went lighter), but at the end of the day it’s such a learning experience and something we feel really grateful to be doing together. I’m hoping it won’t be as long until I get to share another update 🙂

An Odd Obsession: Notebooks

Wow this week has gone by in a blur! I can’t believe it’s Friday already and the weekend is just about here. Things are exciting around here today because tomorrow officially starts “wedding season.” Even though it’s not my wedding and I’m just second shooting, I really love the excitement of things picking back up and getting to be a part of another amazing wedding day, especially alongside a photographer who I really enjoy working with. Once tomorrow comes, slow season will officially be over. I’m happy and sad at the same time. I’ve been really looking forward to all that this year has in store and there are so many exciting things just around the corner…things like Making Things Happen next week! I’m so pumped.

Today I wanted to share a kind of strange habit I have. I think I officially realized how strange it was this morning. Since starting my business, I’ve always kept these notebooks. They are not special notebooks, just the cheap $.98 ones from Walmart or Target. You know, with the yellow, blue, green, or red covers. They are never fancy because when I’ve had the fancy ones, I never write in them. They are always “too pretty” for me to write in. My ideas and handwriting are never really pretty enough so those notebooks always lie around completely blank. But I just LOVE these simple ones. I keep two: a Big List notebook (inspired by Katelyn James…this one only gets added to and refreshed once every week or two), and a general ideas notebook, and I write down anything and everything in them. I’m not necessarily a journaler unless I just REALLY need to get something emotional off my chest and need a healthy place to put it, but I’m a huge list maker. Like lists for my lists kind of list maker. So these notebooks tend to be lots of  lists, tons of brainstorming, notes from webinars, ideas, where I go through the math for some of the financial parts of my business, etc.

Well in preparation for MTH next week, I wanted to run through my 2013 Goal Setting exercises one more time, but I realized I used up the last page in my notebook on Tuesday. Womp womp. An ordinary person might just grab a sheet of loose leaf notebook paper, printer paper, a composition book (cuz I’ve got two cute ones lying around), but that just doesn’t feel the same to me. These notebooks have become my official place to put ideas and I love having them all together in one place. I love that they are easy to flip through with the spiral bound, I love that I can easily tear pages out without leaving a big chunk of paper in the middle, I love that they are so not pretty which means I feel free to write whatever sloppy ideas I have at the time, and I love that they are hole punched, so that when I finish a notebook, I can tear out all of the “big ideas” or important pages, add them to my business binder, and toss the rest so that I’m not keeping the clutter.

Does anyone else have weird obsessions like this? Or is there anyone like me who WISHES they could write in pretty notebooks but just cant? I’m secretly jealous of everyone who keeps notebooks that are a lot prettier than this and freely write in them!

A Photo Book Obsession

I’m a photographer, so naturally I’m obsessed with remembering every little detail of our life. Modern technology has made this a million times easier for everyone. They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and I have to agree. Having a camera phone is amazing…it allows us to document things we never would have with a traditional, larger camera. So of course being such a big family person, I try to be really dedicated to documenting the big and little parts of our life as a family. I still try to take my bigger cameras out a few times a year for our family stuff; whether that’s my digital or my film, I like having more professional, technically correct images too. And of course, it’s always still important to get in front of a professional’s camera every few years or so, whether you are a professional yourself or not 🙂

Regardless of whether your day-to-day family images are professional quality or from your cell phone or tablet, letting them live in digital form doesn’t do you any good over the long term. The best way to celebrate these snippets of our life is through the printed form…prints in our home, or even better, collections of photo books. I’m a wee bit obsessed with creating a photo book for whatever occasion I can. Right now we have our engagement and wedding albums (through professional book companies), a yearly book from 2009 & 2010, 2011, 2012, and a book from our Topsail vacation and our California vacation. Our 2013 and 2014 books are on my big to-do list and I hope to get to them soon! I also gifted a few photo books for Christmas and they were a huge hit and something I know my family members will cherish for a long time. I also can’t wait until our house renovation is done and I can put together a book showing how extreme the journey has been.

There are so many options for where to have your books printed, but as long as you’ve having it printed, there is no right or wrong answer. Some of my favorites include Artifact Uprising, Shutterfly (for our yearly books because the pages are thicker and hard to bend…good for little’s one day), and MyPublisher (for our vacation books because their designs are so clean, the design interface is super easy and fast, and these books are very affordable). I’ve kind of played around with a few different companies and have landed on these working best for us for now. I also know people who love the Instagram book service Chatbooks, and those who swear by Blurb.

But at the end of the day, the most important thing is that you have your images printed in one way, shape, or form. You never know when technology might fail or your beloved images on your phone or computer could disappear. I know that in the future as our family continues to grow, that these books will become even more valuable and will be well viewed and loved. Can’t you just picture our grandkids flipping through these books one day? Or showing our kids’ girlfriends or boyfriends all of their embarrassing baby pictures? Or having a big ole collection of books in our home, spanning decades? There is truly nothing better than sitting down and flipping through these amazing memories and I’m so excited to have these treasures as the years go on 🙂