Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cape Cod, Newport and New Jersey, Oh My! - Our 2014 Vacation

Hello everyone!  As a lot of you who follow me on social media know, Melissa and I recently took a trip up to the New England area.  We had a great time, and it was so amazing to take a break from the "real world" for a little bit and enjoy a relaxing vacation.  In keeping with some of the goals I chatted about during my Blogiversary, I thought I'd share a little recap of our vacation.

The Drive

We started our trip the day after the Fourth of July, so we could (fingers crossed) miss all of the holiday traffic that was guaranteed to be going on.  Before we could really begin our drive though, we had to make a pit stop to drop off our little munchkin.

My parents were generous enough to watch Dakota while we were out of town.  My parents also have a pom, Rufio (or Uncle Rufio, Captain Pufflepants, The Pants, Fluffles and other very masculine nicknames).  Dakota loves Uncle Rufio... unfortunately the feeling is not so mutual.  So while Rufio was less than thrilled about the house guest, Dakota was able to enjoy a little vacation of her own while her mommies were away.

After dropping Dakota and her luggage (she's not a light packer) off, Melissa and I stopped to get some bagels, and then we were on our way!

Our first destination was Springfield, Massachusettes, which is about a 5 hour drive.  To keep things interesting, we decided to take pictures each hour we were in the car.

Luckily we hit absolutely no traffic except maybe 20 minutes going through New York.

With the addition of two half hour stops for lunch and coffee, we made the entire trip in 6 hours, arriving around 4:30pm in Springfield.  We were thrilled with the time we made, and so thankful we didn't hit any holiday traffic.


We stayed in Springfield, Massachusettes from Saturday through Monday morning at Melissa's aunt and uncle's house.  We spent most of Sunday walking around and window shopping in Northampton.  Northampton is a very LGBT friendly place, and I loved that they had a rainbow pride crosswalk.

Later that night Melissa and I took a walk around her aunt and uncle's neighborhood, including a lovely park that was about 2 minutes from the house.

There was a beautiful lake in the park, with ducks and geese.  The entire park was just stunning, and we had such a nice, relaxing evening walking around and enjoying nature.

Cape Cod

Monday morning, we packed up our stuff and headed out for the quick 2 hour drive over to Cape Cod.  On the way there, we decided it was time for a caffeine break.  Apparently things are all about Dunkin Donuts up there, so we did as the New Englanders do and, gave Dunkin Donuts a shot.  But boy let me tell you, it was sweet.  Way to sweet for me... and I like my coffee sweet.


It was my first time up to Cape Code, so it was really exciting getting to experience and explore everything it had to offer up there.  While we were there, Melissa and I stayed with her aunt and uncle in one of their guest houses.  They were so generous letting us come stay with them, and I am so thankful we got to enjoy this beautiful place for our vacation.

Cape Cod was absolutely stunning.  There were just so many beaches!  And I don't know if we were just lucky, or if there were so many beaches that people could really spread out, but there was never more than maybe 10 other groups of people on the beach with us at any time.

Above was the view from one of Melissa's aunt and uncle's houses, nicknamed 'The Loveshack'.  It stood on top of a huge vertical dune, so the view from the balcony was just breathtaking.  The picture does absolutely no justice to how high up we were, or how beautiful the view was.

Here is the view from our guest house.  The guest house and the main house were tucked back from the road in a beautiful wooded area, so we were surrounded by wildlife.  We were in Truro, and I loved that the houses weren't packed in as-close-as-possible like many other resort  destinations.  It really felt like we were in our own private paradise, completely separate from the world.

One of the many beautiful sunsets we enjoyed while in Cape Cod.

One of the many beautiful beaches we enjoyed while in Cape Cod.  It was crazy how much each of the beaches varied.  Some were rocky, some had sand as smooth as silk.  Some had freezing water, and some were the perfect temperature to walk right in.

We definitely took full advantage of the beaches while we were up there.  We even saw a bunch of seals one day!  I had no idea exactly how huge these animals were, and it was just so cool seeing them bob their head up, then dive back underwater.

We also went to Provincetown quite frequently throughout the week.  Let me tell you, there is no place like P-town.  It was amazing.  There were people everywhere, walking up and down the streets, going in and out of the many shops that lined the road, walking out to the pier.  It had such great energy.

And an added bonus, one of the gayest places in the world.  I swear, it seemed as if Melissa and I were part of the majority rather than the minority up there.  There were queens all over the place , gay men handing out gay fliers to gay shows, Pride flags everywhere you looked, gay and lesbian couples everywhere... it was so cool.  Maryland is a very accepting state, but I still had never seen anything like this place outside of Pride weekend.

Ok dialing back the gay pride now.  Provincetown also had a ton of other cool features, like a freaking boat in their library.  Yea I'll say that again.  There was a boat.  In their library.  Like a huge, actually used to sail on water, sailboat.  Probably one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

And since Melissa loves sailing and boats, we also walked out to the pier to check in this really cool boat.  I couldn't tell you as much about it as she could, but I know it was pretty neat looking.

While we were up in Cape Cod, we also toured the Truro Vineyard and enjoyed a wine tasting.  Lots of fun, lots of wine.  We even bought an awesome lighthouse-shaped bottle of wine to bring home with us.

It was really cool walking around this little vineyard and learning about their process for making all their different wines.


What is a good vacation without some pictures of the food you enjoyed?  Lobster is huge up there, and so, so delicious, so we ate our fair share a ton of lobster.  I even tried my first (and then second) lobster roll!  It was delicious, but I have to say I preferred the hot lobster roll with butter (not pictured) over the cold lobster-salad version (below).  But I would definitely eat either again in a heart beat!

I also got to indulge and drink a morning coffee each morning.  It's probably out of laziness, but before this trip I never really drank coffee at home, I'd only buy it when I was out and about.  I may have brought this morning coffee habit back home tho, because I've been enjoying a cup each day since we got home!

We spent a  fun evening with Melissa's aunt and ate lobsters one night.  This was the second time I've eaten lobster, and it was as good as I remembered!  What's not to love about a food that you just straight dip in butter??

The next night we had a huge feast with Melissa's aunt and uncle.  We ended up making enough food to feed a small army, and it was all delicious!!  We ended up eating, drinking and hanging out for hours that night.

Throughout the time we were there, Melissa and I had an ongoing Scrabble game.  Although we both thought for sure that Melissa had it in the bag (especially after a 32 point 'Qi' was played), I ended up winning.  It was really fun to unwind each night after a long, hard day of vacationing by playing a nice game of Scrabble.  We even decided we wanted to get a nice Scrabble board for the apartment.  Because apparently we're 80.

We left Cape Cod Friday evening to start making our way back down to Maryland.  We had a few places we wanted to hit on the way home, so we gave ourselves a couple of days to slowly get back home.

Newport, RI

Our first stop was Newport, Rhode Island for one reason.  The Newport mansions.  I am a huge, huge fan of historic mansions, and so I couldn't live with myself driving by RI and not touring The Breakers.

For those of you who don't know, The Breakers was the Vanderbilt's summer home.  Yea, not even their real house, this was their modest, used 2 months a year, summer home.  This thing is huge.  And beautiful.  And has walls of platinum.  Walls.  Of.  Platinum.

We spent about two hours touring the entire thing.  Unfortunately you weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but we got more than enough pictures of the exterior.

Above is the side of the mansion.

Above is Melissa and I at the back entrance.  This is the side of the house you can access from the road.  The front actually faces out into the bay, and the home was given it's name because of the waves breaking over the shore that surrounds their front lawn.

And here is me being all "Welcome to my home, dah-ling".  But for real, I would pretty much die to live here.  Touring this house has been on my life's to-do list forever, and I was so happy to cross that off my bucket list.  I can now die a happy, happy girl.

Jersey Shore

After leaving Newport Saturday night, we drove down to New Jersey, where a bunch of the rest of Melissa's extended family lives.  We arrived around 10pm, so pretty much went straight to bed, but we were able to spend all of Sunday hanging out with her family.

We even made it to the beach one last time, although it was pretty windy and chilly, so we weren't able to get in the water.  It was still nice hanging out on the sand with her aunts, eating seriously the best subs I've ever tasted (apparently its the water that goes in the bread??) and catching up.

Before we left New Jersey that night, we apparently had to stop at an Italian Ice place called Lighthouse.  Every time we went to Rita's over the past year, Melissa has brought up Lighthouse and how it's so much better, and we really need to go there.  So we did.  And it was good.  Highly recommend.

After eating dinner in New Jersey, we made our final trip home.  Somehow we went this entire trip without hitting any sort of traffic.  We did get blasted with a huge downpour of rain about 20 minutes from home, followed by an emergency trip to a Dunkin Donuts for their facilities.  But other than that it was smooth sailing.

We stopped by my parents to pickup the munchkin, then headed home and passed out.  The next morning, all three of us had a pretty severe vacation hangover, and took the day to relax and recover.  Vacationing is hard work!

So there you go.  Our family vacation of summer 2014 up and down the east coast.  I still can't believe how many places we visited in 9 days time.  I'm so thankful to Melissa's family for making this vacation possible, and I can't wait to hopefully visit each of these places again in the future!

Have you taken a summer vacation yet?  Where did you go?  Or if you don't have vacation plans set, where is the one place you've always dreamed of traveling to?  I'd love to hear all about it in the comments!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Project Life: 2014 Week 4

Hello, hello!  I have another Project Life spread to share with you all today.  I am so relieved to finally have this layout up.  After sharing week 4, I will officially be caught up blogging about my completed layouts.  Now I just have to actually catch up with creating the layouts for the rest of 2014.  Yea that's right, I'm about 25 weeks behind.  But I am not letting myself give up, it will never get finished if I do, and these albums are something I really want to be able to look back on.  So I'm slowly playing catch-up, and will try to keep up with posting my layouts on the blog as I finish them, wish me luck!

So back to week 4.  It was a pretty busy week, and so I ended up with a lot of pictures.  Instead of not including certain pictures, or trying to squeeze them all into two layouts, I decided to spread out with a three page layout.  Yea, I'm crazy like that.  Most of the excess pictures came from Tuesday of that week, since it snowed and we got to leave work early.  So I dedicated the whole first page to pictures from Tuesday.

I had a lot of fun with this title card, as I always do.  I started with a plain 4x6 card, and hand lettered in the title "this is a story about".  Even though I measured it out, the spacing of the words somehow got a little wonky, so the last two lines are closer together than the others.  This type of thing really bugs me, but it would bug me even more to have erased and redrawn every word, so I just left it.  Always working on embracing the imperfect!  I then finished up by using a couple square scraps of paper to add in my week number and dates, then embellished with some enamel dots.

For the second 4x6 slot, I decided to include a week in review card.  Since this card ran Sunday through Saturday, and I do my weeks Monday through Sunday, I had to get a little creative.  I wrote in the dates next to each day, and just slipped Sunday the 26th in at the top of the card, even though it actually happened at the end of my week.  Not ideal, but you work with what you got.  I then added some flair to the top using a strip of white (looks clear to me too...) washi tape and a couple buttons from my stash.

For each picture in my 2x2 slots, I simply cut out a card from white cardstock, and back the photo with different colored polka-dot washi tapes going different directions across the card.  This way all my photos coordinated, but weren't too matchy.  I alternated top and bottom as I went across my page, so my pictures make sort of a zig-zag pattern.

I filled in all the empty slots with journaling and a few decorative cards.  For journaling cards that related to a specific photo, instead of the day in general, I simply indicated that with an arrow pointing to the picture.

I love catching pictures of Melissa doing something absolutely sweet (which she does often) so of course I snapped a pic when she went out to clear off our cars.  Capturing and recording these small acts of love really help me to appreciate how lucky I am.

We also enjoyed some yummy treats on our snow day.  For this card, I backed my two pictures with white card stock to frame them.  This also helped to unify two pictures that otherwise don't really go together.  I added some thickers, and hand labeled each of our indulgences.  Still working on my cursive, so I've been trying to include it at much as I can, practice makes perfect!

This next card is another favorite of mine.  As it was snowing, I took a picture of the same spot each hour.  I love seeing the progression of the ground being covered.  I backed each picture with the same square scraps of paper I used on my title card, then I added a time stamp label below.  Add in some journaling on a shipping tag and some enamel dots and boom, done.

That completes the first page of my week 4 spread.  The next two pages are a full two page layout, which I'll show you at the end of this post.  But for now, I'm still going to take it one page at a time.  Here is the left hand side.

Since these pages are a new full two page layout, I couldn't resist adding in another title card.  Again, this is probably my favorite card of this page.  I used some simple alphas to add my week number.  I then added a printable label and a chipboard arrow to include my dates for the week.  And what card is complete without some enamel dots thrown in for good measure?

I honestly was at kind of a loss for what to include in this next pocket.  I had no idea, so I just threw in a monthly calendar card, used some washi tape to mark the week and called it good.  I still feel like it needs more, but honestly I'm stumped.  It may just have to stay like this, even if it is a little plain.

Most of the tiny 2x2 slots on this page ended up being filler or journaling cards, since I only had two pictures I needed to fit in here.  It was pretty easy getting something on each card though, since they're so tiny.

Mini things make me happy, so I had to include the miniature Chinese takeout container that was included in our order.  Unfortunately, the picture I snapped didn't really do a good job of showing the scale, so I had to use some journaling and captions to illustrate why there is a random picture of two takeout containers.  It really was the cutest little container.

As well as an early dismissal from work on Tuesday, we got an entire snow day on Wednesday.  I used this time to do some serious purging and decluttering.  One of the major space-sucks in my apartment at the time was the entire shelf full of all my notebooks of all my classnotes from every. single. college class I had taken.  This was like... in the ballpark of 50 notebooks, just sitting there, untouched.  I had the idea in my head that I would like to have these notebooks to look back on in the future.  But who am I kidding, who wants to relive the thrill of a 2 hour lecture, or 50 page chapter notes?  So I threw all those suckers away!  It was a little hard for the hoarder in me at first, but once I started it was addicting.

There were also stacks and stack of index cards that I had taped magazine clippings onto back in high school.  I thought this would save space, as opposed to saving the entire magazine.  Which in theory it did, but I could have saved myself the time and effort and just thrown it all away, because not once in the 7 years since I created these little cards did I ever take them out.  So in the trash they went.

Ok, back on track Merrit.  The next card recorded a particularly cold winter we were having.  I believe this was during some sort of extreme cold front or something or other.  All I know is, it was freaking cold.

Now onto the next page spread.  I really enjoyed making this page, and am so smitten with how it turned out.  I love how clean and white the whole thing is, with pops of pastel pinks and greens.

I ended up sort of combining the top two 4x6 slots into one mini layout.  Each card shows one of the two things I did that day, one good and one bad.  So I sort of contrasted them using coordinating elements.  The first one records the early morning I had, since I had to wake up for work training.  I really, really enjoy my sleep, so having to wake up at 8am on a Saturday really wasn't my idea of a good time.

To really unite the two cards, I cut a label in half to stick onto each card.  This really gives the card the appearance of being one connected unit.  It was my first attempt at having an element straddle two cards, and I really like how it turned out.

The second card is all about the date night we enjoyed that evening.  We went out to an amazing Afghan restaurant we both love, and really just treated ourselves to a night out.

And what would a trip to a fancy restaraunt be without pictures of our food?  The lighting was really dim, so it was hard to get a great picture, but its the memory that truly counts.  I again backed these pictures with a small frame, and added a label with a made-up handle to show the name of the restaurant.

I honestly had nothing to include in this slot, so I just added a fun quote card.  I embellished very simply with some enamel dots and a chipboard sticker.  I'm still working on getting comfortable with filling up cards without any real picture or journaling dedicated to the slot.  I have a hard time when I have no direction or purpose for what goes on these cards.  I'm hoping that with more experience, I'll get more comfortable with these 'useless' slots.

This week I was also lucky enough to finally get an IKEA Alex!!  I had wanted one literally for years, and I finally allowed myself to buy one.  Unfortunately, when we got it home and started setting it up, we realized it was missing a piece.  Literally, the last screw I needed to finish assembling it.  So I had to wait to get it all put together until we could get back to IKEA to pickup the missing piece.  Boo.

Next I included an adorable picture of my two girls snuggling on the couch.  I believe (as many Project Lifers do) that it is just as important to include the simple, everyday occurences, as it is to record the huge, special events.  Melissa and Dakota are most often playing when they're together, so I loved capturing them calm and cuddly on the couch.  I was also thrilled to find out my wood veneer flag fit perfectly into the printed flag on the card so there was a slight border.  Meant to be!

The final card holds a QR code to a video of Dakota playing with her favorite toy, Raccoon.  She has had this toy forever, and just loves the thing.  It is all sorts of ragged and matted by now, but we just don't have the heart to get rid of it.  Raccoon is part of the family now.  Dakota also likes to get a little rough with her toys, so I thought the 'fierce' hashtag was pretty appropriate... #Napoleancomplex would probably have worked just as well too, #smalldogproblems...ok I'm done.

And now I promised you a full shot of the second two pages of my week 4 layouts.  Here they are all laid out together.

I hope you enjoyed taking a peak around my layouts for this week, and let me tell you, it feels good to be finished with the last full January week.  I cannot believe I'm this behind!  I'm almost finished with week 5 though, so I'll be sharing that with you guys next week if all goes as planned.  Let's hope I can get more caught up before the year is over!