Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Harts - Month Three

Month three! It's all good y'all. It is ALL SO GOOD. Kyle and I both agree that marriage keeps getting exponentially better month after month after month.

This month was really marked for me personally with some internal struggle. I'm still trying to figure out how I can share some insight and what I've learned over a year without being inappropriate or needlessly dramatic, but I'd like to put it out there. I'll let you know if and when I find the balance that I'm looking for. Honestly, I may just need some time before I can write about the situation with a clear head. I've learned some BIG lessons and the way I treat and communicate with people from now on will be much different. I'm thankful for the lessons, but they've been hard and humbling things to learn.

Now on to some things I'd like to remember!

  • Our weekend at Greenbrier State Forest - We were lucky enough to join my family at the tail end of their summer trip! We arrived late on Friday evening with our bags packed for fun and me with a baking dish full of homemade marshmallows. We stayed in a cozy cabin, had a slow morning with coffee on the porch, hiked part of the Greenbrier River Trail, ate a breakfast burger with a fried egg on top and key lime pie ice cream, sat by a campfire, ate homemade s'mores, traveled to Summers County on a back road with the most beautiful views, stopped at the Bluestone River, and ate at Kirk's. It was slow, warm, relaxed, beautiful, and restful. Just what we needed.

  • 13-hour shooting day at Stonewall Resort - I was fortunate to be asked to provide images from an event at Stonewall to showcase all the renovations and new and exciting services and changes they have created. It was an absolute blast, I ate like a Queen, and I felt a little bit of pride because that property is so close to my heart. I did, however, make the worst shoe choice of my life and my ankles are STILL trying to recover.
  • Kyle's birthday weekend at Stonewall - We spent a non-working weekend at Stonewall for Kyle's birthday and it was such a delightful trip! I checked in on Friday evening since Kyle actually decided to go fishing with my dad that day. I knew I had some time to burn so I took a book out to the pool and began the decompressing activities. hahaha! I sat in the sun and just took in the beauty of the property. I know I'm biased, but dang it's beautiful there! Maybe it's so comforting to me because Stonewall still feels like home to me? I took a walk around the lake and then returned to our room where I promptly took a bubble bath and ordered dessert through room service. That whole evening felt so indulgent and wonderful! I ate an apple dessert and ice cream in bed while I watched a random movie on HBO. So good! Kyle ended up getting to the Resort around 10:30, and I was definitely asleep when he knocked on the door. We ate the breakfast buffet (HOLY COW WAFFLES) and watched the rainstorm through the restaurant windows. I felt my whole body relax. We ended up taking cups of coffee to go and sat out on the Terrace Patio where we got married. It was a quiet morning and we were the only two out there. We reminisced about our day and how the Lord provided a very special day that we were able to enjoy without debt. We've definitely marked that as a banner over our marriage. More on God's outrageous provision later.
  • Our trip to Wheeling - last weekend we decided to head to Wheeling for the day. I wanted to try a little cafe that I'd seen the last time I was there for a work trip - Avenue Eats! It was worth the trip. I had the best, most gooey grilled cheese I've ever had in my life. The building itself is tiny which is kinda crappy because it is a POPULAR PLACE. I watched everyone's food be delivered and everything looked so delicious. We'll definitely go back. We stopped at Whisk Bakery & Catering for cupcakes and then headed to Cabela's. 
  • Finally hitting publish on the Meredith Brooke Photography website! I've found so much joy and restoration and purpose in owning and running my own business! 
  • Being able to pay off debt - If you don't know, there was a period (from 2005 - 2014) that I dealt with crippling anxiety and depression to the point that there was a year or two that it affected my ability to even get out of bed in the morning. I was a single lady who was living on my own and not many people knew how bad things were. Financially, things were already very tight, but missing so much work really put me into a really tough situation. There were times I wasn't getting a paycheck, and I wasn't making enough money at that time to have the ability to put anything into savings. To put it lightly, I was in a financial bind and used credit cards to survive. Being completely transparent, that whole season of my life created some wrong thoughts about God and who He is as Provider. Last October on vacation the Lord spoke to me that he was going to heal my heart about money and my relationship and fear of lack and not having enough. I had no idea that our wedding and how he provided a way for that was just the beginning. He definitely used that to confront my fear. However, last week I received a check in the mail that has not only allowed me to pay my credit card off from that season, but there is money left over. With the exception of student loans and our vehicles, we are DEBT FREE. Just so you know, I'm crying writing that out. I anticipated years of having to pay that off. YEARS of that burden are now gone. 


Still the same things as always. Trusting God is going to be faithful to place us in the right place not only geographically, but in the right home, too! 

Community! It's so important for my heart to have a group of friends to walk through life with! 

My photography business. I've had so many wonderful opportunities open up in 8 months of actually pursuing this with intentionality. I am excited to see where this journey takes me, but I'm certainly praying that this becomes something I can pursue without having a day job. 


Soul Rest by Curtis Zackery I started reading this during my pool time at Stonewall for Kyle's birthday. It is SO DEEP that I've had to read it slowly taking breaks to think and work through what he's communicating. I'm loving it so far, and it's helping me to work through and shape what I think about Biblical Rest. I highly recommend it! 

Called to Create by Jordan Raynor I'm on page 10 and I'm loving it already! I love thinking about owning a business as worship and ministry. 


I finished Perfect Couple and loved it! I really enjoy reading books that I can't figure out. I was hooked and couldn't predict the ending! I highly recommend it! 


The Lord confronting my fear of money. It's been a very vulnerable process, but I am so grateful. 

My husband. He has a heart of gold. I am grateful for his support, his selflessness, and his intentionality. I can trust him to lead because I know he is just following Jesus. He is a good man. 

My impending career change.


More Lacroix. Seriously. It's so bad. We need help. HAHAHAHAHAHA!


The Up and Vanished podcast. The host of the show, Payne Lindsey, was on a different podcast I listen to. Since hearing him on the other show I've been binging all the episodes of the first season. I'm probably the last person in America to listen to this, but if you're farther behind in pop culture than me GO LISTEN! 

Chef's Table on Netflix. Stories of how people found their passion and purpose make me so happy. I LOVE seeing people be successful in a business. Plus, this show highlights chefs and stories internationally. Three of my favorites so far: Jeong Kwan - a female Buddhist Monk living in Korea; Corrado Assenza - a Sicilian pastry chef in Sicily; and Christina Tosi - she owns Milk Bar and her take on pastry is so whimsical and fun! 


Taking care of myself. I'm not good at this, and Kyle helps me so much! 


Holden Beach - we are headed there in October and we're counting down the days! 

Being my own boss and being able to pursue Meredith Brooke Photography full time. It's taken me years to be able to say that out loud, but it is truly what I want. Building this has been so fulfilling even in the frustrating moments. 


Sicily to eat gelato at Corrado Assenza's place! I'm so inspired by that part of the world! 


I am so happy to report that I've been so much more consistent with getting myself in the gym! 

I also made HUGE strides with work boundaries! I've created a shooting schedule that not only allows me time to actually get sessions edited but also allows me to get into the gym consistently! I'm a genius! hahaha ;-)

Thank you guys for reading! These posts have been the most popular on my site! 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Harts - Month Two

My goodness, this month has been PACKED with so much fun, work, and business growth! We have been two very busy people, and it caught up with me this week. Thankfully we have a little getaway planned that we leave for on Friday. This month has been a little bit better than month one as we've found our stride a little bit. I'm thankful for a husband who really is a partner in life. We truly help each other, and for that, I am incredibly grateful!

Some notable things that I want to remember this month!
  1. VBS - We helped with VBS this year at our home church. It was the first time in a few years that I was able to help and I loved it! We had a blast! 
  2. Eating at Muriale's for our anniversary - We had an epic meal out on the deck at Muriale's for our one-month anniversary. We've tried to make sure we're celebrating the little moments. I had the most giant salad of all time, and Kyle had a spicy shrimp and pasta dish. Both were excellent. 
  3. The symphony and fireworks - We decided to attend an outdoor concert featuring the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra on July 3rd and it was AWESOME! There were fireworks afterward, and it was such a gorgeous evening! I love Fourth of July out on the lake, but this was a fun experience, too! I'm so glad we went. 

  4. Blueberry picking/Talladega Nights - On the actual 4th we decided to go blueberry picking on Blueberry Ridge Farm. The day was so hot and humid, but the drive was gorgeous and the fields weren't busy at all. The quiet of the day was a nice break that we both leaned into. We picked several pounds of blueberries out in the field and then headed to the Poky Dot for lunch. I had epic plans for the berries, but we ended up just eating them straight from the container. It's an activity I'd like to do again. 

  5. The reception in Virginia - Kyle's home church in Virginia was so nice to want to host a reception for us to celebrate our marriage. I LOVE meeting the people who have known Kyle since he was a kid. Folks always have the nicest things to say about him, and it's clear to me that he's loved Jesus and wanted to please Him his entire life. It makes me so proud of him. 
  6. Saturday afternoon with my family by the pool and BBQ - That Saturday was full of parties! Our reception at the church was a brunch party, and then we all headed to my cousin April's house for more partying! We had a great time sitting outside by the pool while we all inhaled Steven's famous pork BBQ and chicken wings. They are epic and are also one of my favorite meals! The time spent with family in the summer by the pool eating BBQ is one of my favorite things. 
  7. Second shooting for Ashley in PA with the sunflowers - I had the coolest opportunity this month to second-shoot for Ashley (who also happened to be our photographer!). It was a BLAST! We showed up to the ceremony/reception venue and were surprised with a little field of sunflowers. The images were epic, and the experience was even more fun!
  8. Kyle fishing with dad at Bluestone - Kyle went on a small fishing trip with a few of my family members. I'd say it definitely came at a good time for all of them, and I was so happy he was able to go! 
  9. Color mini sessions and my giveaway session - I hosted my summer mini sessions this month! They happened to be "color sessions" with paint and they were an absolute BLAST! I'll probably do them again next summer, too! 
  10. We got in a small argument over cookies. Bahahahahaaaaa! 


A home of our own! We are excited to be in this stage of life and really have the opportunity to go anywhere and do anything. The possibilities are endless and I'm thankful that we made choices earlier in life that will allow us more opportunities now. We can't wait to see what the Lord has in store for us!

Community. This is something that has really been on my mind and heart lately. We would both love a group of people to live life with.

My photography business! Nothing in life has brought me more fulfillment and joy in work as photography and being a small business owner. I am working and praying for this business to become more full-time for me!


I honestly don't recall much TV watching this month. Life has been too busy, and if I did start watching a TV show I normally fell asleep almost immediately. HA! I would like to see the new Jurassic Park though! There's just something about those summer blockbusters! 


Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand Another work of fiction?! I guess summer has me craving a good beach read! I started this July 13th and I'm nearly finished. It's fast-paced and has me on the edge of my seat. The author gives you just enough information through each chapter to keep you guessing. I love when I read books (and watch movies) that I can't guess the plot from the first chapter. I can't figure this one out! 

Soul Rest by Curtis Zackery I haven't started this one just yet, but I plan to dive into it this weekend. The Lord has been dealing with my heart about boundaries, rest, and Sabbath for a few months. It's a topic that is so deep and important for this season of life. 


I finished The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and hated every second of the book. IT WAS SO SLOW. I think this is one of the most popular books of the summer (??) and I just do not get it. 

How to Win Friends and Influence People was excellent. It's one I'll go back to, and I highly recommend reading it if you haven't. 


An upcoming career change. I've debated writing about my current situation and what I've experienced, but I'm not sure I can without getting too emotional. It's something I need to process through (maybe in writing) before I can articulate the depth of the emotions I feel. I've never experienced bias or prejudice in the way I've experienced it the last few months based purely on where my desk is located. People talk to me and about me in a very derogatory, condescending, patronizing way because they assume my level of position and education based on where I sit. It's been a lesson in humility and has magnified issues in my own heart that need to be dealt with. 

My husband. He has a servant's heart and is very tender toward me. I am so thankful that he is a true partner in this life. 



My crisp recipe with fresh cherries and chocolate ice cream. 

All the lacroix. We have a problem. HA!


My Chill Jams station on Spotify which is just basically a whole playlist of acoustic Disney songs. 

The series "Summer for the Soul" from the Church of the City. 


I looked at last month's list and need to continue to be more intentional about getting into my Bible. 

Creating boundaries for work. I'm so grateful that my business is getting busier, but I've noticed that I need to set boundaries for myself so I don't focus so much on my business that everything else gets neglected. 

Working out. My goal has been three times per week and I've met that goal every week but this one. I've been feeling under the weather this week (see also: not having healthy boundaries and ignoring my physical well-being). 


Vacation! We'll be going to Holden Beach this fall and I cannot wait! 

Homemade marshmallows for s'mores this weekend!


The Farmer's Market. I need fresh peaches to make THIS pie

Greenbrier State Forest

A weekend at home to be lazy! hahahaha!


Finish our back "deck". It's really more of a concrete slab, but my heart wants to at least make one room beautiful in our home. This one makes the most sense since where we are is temporary. No back deck progress has been made. HA! And it probably won't be. It's just not high on my priorities list. 

More pool days. Weekends and evenings have been busy around here, and I'd like to keep my honeymoon tan. Not only did I not make it to the pool at all in the last month, but my honeymoon tan is almost completely non-existent. BOO!

Finish my business website. My business website isn't finished, but it's still on my list. We will get there!

Figure out a better food routine for the two of us. Actually, just get a little more comfortable with our life routine in general. DONE! 

See a movie. 

Read more books. 

Dates that include chocolate covered strawberries. We're going tonight actually! HOORAY! 


Be better about getting to the gym, girl! It's important!
Finish my wedding galleries and my family session galleries.
Read more books! 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Sweet Potato Noodle Bowls with Spicy Salmon

I have another delicious, healthy recipe for you today! Much like the blueberry crisp, this one also feels like a decadent cheat meal. I guess that's the secret to get me to eat things that are good for my body - make them taste like the good stuff! 

I think the secret to the "cheat meal" feel of this dish is the creamy sauce. That's right, friends. I said creamy sauce! I creamy sauce made with full-fat coconut milk that you soften all those yummy sweet potato noodles in. It's so, so good. 

The sweet potato noodles are topped with a spicy salmon and the combination of sweet, salty, creamy, and spicy is amazingggg. Plus, this dinner comes together in 30 minutes so there really is no excuse for you to not make this. You basically HAVE to! Oh also, this is Whole30 compliant if you're into that. 

One last thing before I get to the recipe. The original recipe from Real Simple Good calls for bacon. Somehow in the meal planning every time we've made this I've forgotten to pick up bacon. How I don't know, but I have. We really love this recipe, but I think we'd love it even more with the addition of bacon. I didn't want you to miss out like we have so if you're interested in the baconized recipe check out the original post here

On to the delicious!

Sweet Potato Noodle Bowls with Spicy Salmon

recipe adapted from Real Simple Good

2 salmon fillets
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
2 sweet potatoes, spiralized 
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 cups spinach

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

While the oven is preheating, place salmon on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle salmon with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika, garlic powder, and salt & pepper. Bake at 400 for 15 - 20 minutes. 

While salmon is cooking, prepare your sauce by heating olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute shallots until softened. Add in coconut milk, garlic, and salt and pepper to the coconut milk and combine. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer until the salmon has about 5 minutes left. 

Increase to medium heat, add in sweet potato noodles, and cover while the salmon finishes. 

Remove salmon from oven. 

Add spinach to noodles and sauce, and stir until just wilted. Remove from heat.

Serve noodles topped with salmon and ENJOY!


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Blueberry Crisp

I've got good news and bad news, which would you like first? 

The bad news?

Ok, good. I thought so. 

The bad news is that this blueberry crisp is dairy-free and refined sugar-free and that normally means that it is also bland, boring, and generally fun-free for your taste buds. 

The good news, though? It actually tastes DELICIOUS! You'd never guess that this has no refined sugar or butter, and it's wholesome enough that you could consider it for breakfast, probably sans ice cream (or maybe you're living that #SummerVacationLife and you're considering ice cream for breakfast, do your thang...aka YOLO (is YOLO still a thing?).

This crisp comes from one of my favorite books of all time, Bread & Wine by Shauna Neiquest. I'm going to go ahead and suggest that you make this crisp and then sit down to read the book with a big bowl of the crisp. That sounds like the perfect evening (or morning) to me. 

There are a few things that make this recipe phenomenal. 
  1. A short ingredient list - the only thing you may have to run out for is almond flour/almond meal, which you can find pretty easily these days in larger grocery stores or online. My Big Lots frequently gets shipments of Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal for cheap so I always buy it if I'm close to running out. 
  2. Including baking time this recipe comes together in just under an hour - you essentially pour 4 cups of any fruit you want (either fresh or frozen) into a baking dish, make the crisp topping that takes about 5 minutes (as long as you know where your measuring cups are), pour the crisp topping over the fruit, and bake for about 40 - 50 minutes. 
  3. It works with any fruit (fresh and/or frozen) - I've tried this with fresh and frozen fruits and it comes out perfectly every single time. I've used frozen strawberries, cherries, peaches, and blueberries as well as fresh blueberries and blackberries in this recipe. All of them have been my favorite. 
  4. Because this recipe is so simple you can swap out ingredients to your preference. The recipe calls for pecans, but almonds would be so good in this to add extra crunch. You can also use whatever oil you have on hand, as well as using a flavored maple-syrup if you want. I found a bourbon barrel aged syrup and it added a little extra kick. There are no spices written into the recipe so you can use whatever you like. We've used cinnamon, ginger, vanilla bean, cardamom, nutmeg all to great success. Because this is so easy, you have the ability to experiment with flavors until you get it just right!

Blueberry Crisp

recipe from Bread & Wine by Shauna Neiquest

4 cups fresh or frozen fruit, (this specific time I used frozen wild blueberries)
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup almond flour/meal
1/4 cup maple syrup (This is the one I used. I'm not a maple fan, but I do love this!)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

While oven heats pour fruit into an 8x8 pan. 

Combine remaining ingredients in a medium bowl, then pour crisp topping over top of the fruit. 

Bake for 35-40 minutes (longer if fruit is frozen) or until crisp is golden brown and fruit is bubbling. 

We enjoy ours topped with a scoop or two of vanilla bean Halo Top ice cream.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Harts - Month One

Well, we made it one whole month, and what a month it was. I can say with confidence that this month was not at all what either of us anticipated our first weeks of marriage would look like, but through God's Grace, we are sticking together. I know we are both looking forward to what Month #2 will bring as we get used to all these changes and adjustments.

Some notable things about this month:
  1. Getting sideswiped by Enterprise - Yep. On my very first day back to work after our wedding and honeymoon, I left for the day and discovered someone had hit my car in the parking lot at some point during the day. I got in to put my purse in the passenger's seat and found a note attached to my windshield that said, "Call Enterprise". I thought it was someone being a smart alec and I almost didn't call. I'm glad I did even though my car still isn't repaired. 
  2. Hot water heater breaking - I got home one day after work to discover a puddle of water in our laundry room. It ended up being overflow from our hot water heater going out so I hung out at home the next day as the repair person replaced the whole unit. 
  3. Father's Day - I think this day came at a good time for both Kyle and me. We'd spent several weeks getting up early, working a full day, then coming home to unpack and organize my stuff into his place. We were both experiencing burnout, and Father's Day gave us an excuse to get out of the tiring cycle we were in. Kyle and my dad decided to go to Cranberry fishing, and Elyse and I went to the pool and relaxed all day. It was a moment of much-needed rest in a very busy season of life. We were both thankful. 
  4. Shooting my first wedding after my own wedding - I knew shooting a wedding so soon after my own would make me 100% more sappy. It definitely did. I cried during the bride's first moments with her dad. I cried during the first dance. I cried during their portrait time. It was a beautiful day. I'm so happy to be gaining more clients (especially weddings). I think the experience of being a bride myself and knowing what I wanted/expected from our photographer gave me so much more confidence. I was so calm and excited to document Chelsea & Alex's Day. 
  5. I think I killed my houseplant, Randall. - Randall, who is a Fiddle Leaf Fig, and I have been together for a few years. He was the only other living thing in my single-lady apartment other than me. He had a cozy place in front of the one-and-only window in my place and thrived. I put him outside over Father's Day Weekend and he got scorched. I'm hoping I can save him. I keep joking that Randall is the only person handling all these changes worse than me. haha 
  6. VBS - We decided to volunteer as Crew Leaders at our church, and we are so excited. VBS starts tonight and I'm looking forward to doing ministry together. 


A home of our own. We are renting a townhouse until we decide what we want life to look like. It doesn't feel like home, and my heart is aching to be settled, in our own space. 

Friendships. I have found myself in a season where a group of girls who have been where I am would be very convenient to have. Sometimes change feels lonely. 

My photography business to build. I've fallen in love with wedding days. 

The Lord's guidance as I try to navigate being a wife.


The Office (duh)
The Next Food Network Star (it's so bad and so annoying...I don't know why I keep watching it)
The Bachelorette (PSA - Kyle is not watching this.) 


This is my first fiction work of the year that I've read. I'm not sure if I like it yet or not. 

I've been reading this S L O W L Y. I bought it to try to gain some skills for dealing with weird circumstances at work, and it's so helpful! 


Little moments of peace. 
Plants. Specifically, the giant potted lavender I bought yesterday. 
The pool day I had with my sister. 


I've been so busy trying to get our space somewhat organized that I've neglected food this month. There's been a lot of boring food. A lot of quick meals. A lot of popcorn for dinner. 

The only consistent thing I've been making this month is the blueberry crisp (recipe coming later this week). It's dairy-free and refined sugar-free. It sounds like it's no fun, but it's actually DELICIOUS and works with every fruit (both fresh and frozen) that I've made it with. 


A LOT of worship playlists on Spotify - "Best of Live Worship", "Worship for Fierce Faith", "Worship Wednesdays", and "Worship at Work"

The That Sounds Fun Podcast with Annie F. Downs. I feel like Annie is a real-life BFF. She's funny, deep, and has the best guests on her podcast. I send her episodes to the top of my queue as soon as they're released. 

The Popcast. Another podcast. 

Dan + Shay's new album 


Sabbath. My soul needs rest, and I'm trying to be more mindful of what things I say yes to, and doing more things that bring rest and fulfillment to my soul. 

Reading my Bible. Things got busy and I got lazy. Get it together, Mere. 


My own Home. 
A garden. 
This macro lens for the ultimate ring shots. I've rented this twice and love it SO MUCH. 


Phipps Conservatory 
The local Farmer's Market
Trader Joe's/Fresh Market (just take me to a grocery store and let me walk around)
Deep Creek for a weekend


Finish our back "deck". It's really more of a concrete slab, but my heart wants to at least make one room beautiful in our home. This one makes the most sense since where we are is temporary. 

More pool days. Weekends and evenings have been busy around here, and I'd like to keep my honeymoon tan.

Finish my business website. 

Figure out a better food routine for the two of us. Actually, just get a little more comfortable with our life routine in general. 

See a movie. 

Read more books. 

Dates that include chocolate covered strawberries. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Things to Remember About Our Honeymoon

The view from our balcony in Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos Islands

We were incredibly fortunate to have been able to take a wonderful honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas! We left early on Sunday, May 27th and drove to meet our ship in Baltimore, MD after a quick pit stop at home to drop off a few items and pick up our suitcases. The drive down was peaceful and we were able to talk about the day and enjoy the drive.

We arrived around 1pm to the cruise terminal and quickly passed through the initial gate. We sat in line for about 20 minutes while the very experienced staff guided us through all the necessary steps, got our suitcases unloaded, and got us parked. We watched the bustle of activity around the ship as food was loaded, balconies were cleaned, and the lines of people were guided to the right spots. As someone who loves a good process, this entire situation was fascinating to me! When we finally made it into the terminal and got checked in, it was about 5 minutes until we'd boarded the ship! I'd anticipated longer lines, a more frustrating process, and grumpy people, but we didn't experience any of that! 

Once we boarded the ship we quickly went to find LUNCH! And lunch we found. We decided on the fancy taco place on the Lido Deck right beside the pool called the Blue Iguana. We found out they deep fried their own tortillas for taco bowls and that basically stopped us in our tracks! We each got a taco bowl and then made our way over to the toppings bar where they had homemade salsas and delicious other toppings. We decided to sit in comfy chairs by the pool and open all the windows. It was the first moment of rest for the two of us after all the excitement of wedding week. 

Once we finished lunch, it had started to rain a little so we decided to check if our room was ready....and it was, and our luggage had already been delivered. We unpacked everything and then sat on our balcony to watch the bustle of the parking lot. We watched the guys loading so many suitcases on to the ship. SO MANY SUITCASES! Our balcony was on the port side of the ship so we also had a nice view of I-95. The rain really picked at one point and we watched the hustle and bustle of the emergency crews helping redirect traffic from an accident. Once the accident was cleared up, we watched one cop car drive up I-95, turn into the cruise terminal lot, turn around, drive backwards for a while, pull into a parking space, then move again. It was so weird, and we thought it was so hilarious. We talked for a long time trying to guess what he was up to. We got called to the Muster Station Drill just as things were getting good, and by the time we got back to our room the car was gone. 

After that, we walked the entire ship just to figure out where everything was. I'm still amazed at how efficiently they utilize space on a cruise ship, and still things don't seem cramped. 

The rest of our trip was filled with sunshine, good food, entertainment, spa trips, sleeping in, and the best book I've read in quite a while. Below, a random list of things I hope I never forget about our honeymoon.

PS - if you're hoping you'll find images above is the ONLY one I took. Soak it in, people! :) 

  1. We left Baltimore around 5pm on May 27th, 2018. It was raining the good kind of rain that makes you feel SUPER relaxed and cozy. 
  2. We had two full days at sea and it was fun to watch the color of the water change as we headed further south. At one point, I looked out the window and the color of the water looked like Cookie Monster. hahahaha! Our side of the ship housed the emergency boats which were orange and white. I know the color of the boats are for safety reasons, but those rafts against the color of the ocean were so beautiful. 
  3. Speaking of emergency boats - I had to drag Kyle to the emergency meeting they have before you leave. I'm a rule-follower for sure. 
  4. We ate brunch every morning we were at sea. The first morning we decided to do brunch we ended our meal with the best cheesecake I've ever eaten. It was SO LIGHT and FLUFFY!! I could eat a million more pieces right now!
  5. Our first full day was a little overcast so we were a little lax with the sunscreen. Bad idea. We ended up being two crispy critters on day one. hahahahaaa!
  6. Our waiters for dinner always commented that we kept getting more and more lobster-like each evening.
  7. Our second day at sea was full on SUN all day! We sat by the pool, watched a hairy-chest contest WHICH WAS HILARIOUS! We read and just enjoyed the weather. 
  8. Our first stop was Grand Turk and the weather was PERFECT. We got off the boat, found a secluded place on the beach under a palm tree, and relaxed the remainder of the day. We walked down the beach and I found so many HUGE abandoned conch shells. My park-superintendents-daughter came out in me and I thought it was probably illegal to take any shells from the beach, but I don't think it was. HA! 
  9. We ended up heading into the water a few hours later, and we were surprised to find that once you get into the water it is SO ROCKY! We probably looked like a comedy show holding on to each other trying to walk deeper into the water. It was even worse trying to get out because I kept falling. hahahahahahahaha!
  10. We ended up getting 2 massages, each on the trip. I never want to have a vacation without massages now! 
  11. Our waiters kept calling Kyle, Mr. Mike. He is actually Michael Kyle Hart and filled out all the paperwork for the cruise under that name. I obviously thought that was hilarious and still haven't let it go. I'm a delight. 
  12. Our second port was Half Moon Cay, an island that is owned by Carnival. It is gorgeous with white sand, and clear water. It was absolutely beautiful. This was our longest port day and Kyle scheduled an excursion for us! We sat out stuff down on two chairs and headed to the building to go kayaking! It was a BLAST! The guide took us across a giant, clear lake and we ended up in a shallow area to explore for a while. Our guide pulled jellyfish out of the water, which we were able to hold without getting stung. We saw ENORMOUS starfish, a sea cucumber, a conch in it's shell, and a giant hermit crab. 
  13. We made our way back to the shore and something happened that I know I will never forget. Kyle lost both of his crocs in quick sand trying to pull the kayak up to the shore. 
  14. We ended up having to walk a very hot path when we got back to shore to find him other shoes. I will gladly tell anyone this story in person because it is hilarious. :) 
  15. I tried to drink a Jamaican Coffee drink which was 2% coffee, 98% hard liquor and it tasted like cough syrup to me. 
  16. I read an autobiography about the food critic at The New York Times called Garlic & Sapphires. I literally couldn't put it down. She had to make reservations at restaurants she reviewed under a false name and in disguise. It was quirky and adorable. I highly recommend it! 
  17. We tried alligator fritters. 
  18. I drank coconut iced coffee several times. It now reminds me of that week! :) 
  19. We ate about 900 ice cream cones. 
  20. We were selected to take a tour of the kitchens and do a food tasting with the head chef. It was an amazing experience! 
  21. We watched hours of the boat's channel that logged where we were, how fast we were going, wind speed, etc. We were so intrigued! LOL! 
  22. We met a couple from WV that lived about 3 minutes from us in Half Moon Cay. 
  23. We ate chocolate at a chocolate party. PRAISE! 
  24. This was probably the most relaxing vacation I've been on. It was such a blessing to get to go!
  25. The food every night was phenomenal! We ate adventurous things...and normal things. 
  26. Two desserts every evening at dinner! 
  27. We met the sweetest ladies who were mother and daughter over breakfast one day. The mother told us about her life and family. She gave us good advice, and they both guessed we were honeymooners. :) We saw them almost every evening heading to their table at dinner and they greeted us every time!
  28. I ate sushi for the first time and I'm craving a spicy tuna roll right this very minute! 
  29. It was so nice to just be the two of us. Yes there were so many people on the boat, but no one knew us!
  30. Our massage therapists were named Jenni and Sue #nottheirrealnames and they were AMAZING! We had our first massages on Tuesday right after dinner, and I left the room feeling blissfully relaxed. It was so nice! 
  31. We met a guy in the spa named Rein from South Africa. This was his last cruise before he retired, and he was headed home to train for the Olympic Weight Lifting Team. SO COOL! He was incredibly nice and talked to us for a long time about South Africa. 
  32. Our second massages were Friday before dinner. I was so sunburned, and I showed up to dinner with all the massage oils in my hair. I didn't care at all! 
  33. Freeport was a little disappointing, but it is a REALLY busy port. I think 3 other cruise ships showed up during our time there. It's crazy how you can fit so many ships into one tiny area. 
  34. That day we hopped off the boat to grab a souvenir and then got right back on to enjoy more relaxing by the pool. 
  35. Our Cruise Director was a guy named Leigh, and I want to know everything about his day-to-day life. 
  36. We had about 1 million questions for the captain. I want to know how they run a ship like that on a day-to-day basis. It's pretty impressive. 
  37. Our waiters knew it was our honeymoon and they sand a song to us and brought out a special chocolate mousse cake. The catch? They sang a song to us, but we had to kiss the whole time. If we stopped kissing, they stopped singing and would start over from the beginning. hahahahaha! 
  38. Iced coconut coffees! Somehow they tasted even more exotic and beach-like in the Bahamas.
  39. The Lord's provision and favor were SO evident to us even on our honeymoon. ! It's truly a wonderful season of life. 

Thanks for reading! :) 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Things to Remember About Our Wedding Day

Image by Ashley at Paige Photography 

We survived a wedding and a honeymoon, and we've been back to reality for 4 days. Hardest 4 days, ever! Hahaha! 

I'm excited to transition this space into more of a journal of our life together. A space to remember the recipes we love, the adventures we take, the life we build together. I'm sure this space will evolve over time, and I'm excited to work on it. 

Our wedding was held at Stonewall Resort on May 26th at 6pm. The day was beautiful, and I'll be sharing images from that day with you once we get them back. The sneak peeks that our photographer sent us were absolute perfection and I'm so excited to see more! 

Things from the wedding weekend that I hope I never forget: 

  1. GOD'S FAVOR. Throughout the entire engagement, wedding planning, moving, wedding, and honeymoon I've experienced favor in a way I never have before. God's provision was so evident over us during this season and it's built faith in me in a new way. I never want to forget the financial provision, the extra bonuses that just showed up, the stress-free wedding planning, the JOY and PEACE that just flowed into my life. 
  2. Moving out of my apartment. Man, this hit me like a ton of bricks and I didn't really expect it. As a single gal, I've lived by myself for 6-7 years. Leaving my home and putting all my stuff in someone else's house was WEIRD, and I felt a little sadness that the season of being on my own was coming to an end. I had a lot of pride that I took care of myself for so long, and I was afraid of what was coming next. I'm happy to report that all is well. HA! I never want to forget that there was an 80% chance of thunderstorms that day, and it didn't rain at all until around 6pm for 15 minutes. I also never want to forget eating a giant burger with Kyle and my parents at Pufferbelly's that had mac and cheese on the burger after our first load was taken to Kyle's. And then the ice cream floats afterward. 
  3. Our "fight" the day we got our marriage license. I think Kyle and I were both experiencing nerves, fighting through change, and just trying to deal with the anxiousness we were feeling leading up to the wedding. I picked up Kyle from work the Wednesday before the wedding to head to the courthouse to get our marriage license. I don't think we said 10 words to each other the entire drive to the courthouse, while we navigated downtown, and as we made our way to the second floor. The records department was empty and quiet, and a cute older lady led us down to one of stations while she asked us questions to complete our application. While we waited in silence, I noticed an entire window sill filled with rows and rows of little solar-powered toys that would dance or move according to the level of sunlight they were receiving. They all clicked in unison and I found the whole display amusing and hilarious. I mentioned it to Kyle but he wasn't as amused or entertained as I was. The woman who helped us asked Kyle some identifying information, and then it was my turn.....I ended up spelling my mother's middle name incorrectly twice and didn't notice until the completed application was printed and handed to me to sign. The lady even asked me and spelled the name back to me and I still confirmed the incorrect spelling. I blamed "bride brain". We left the courthouse in silence, and I drove Kyle back to work. We sat in my car for a few minutes without saying anything and then he left to go back inside. I was so upset that I ended up driving to my parents' house even though I was supposed to stay at our new house to get things unpacked and organized. 
  4. Our rehearsal and rehearsal dinner - what a great day! My dad and I were able to spend most of the day together. We ate breakfast at Apple Annies in Morgantown and picked up a few last minute flowers, our wedding cakes, and the candlesticks we used to decorate our tables at the reception. That day was relaxed, and it was wonderful just to spend quality time with my dad right before walking into this new season. It was one of my favorite memories of the weekend! We ended up meeting my mom, sister, and brother-in-law at our venue to unload all the decorative stuff. Our planner, Kelli, took care of all the decorating for us which was such a relief! We got back to the house just in time to shower and get ready to leave for our rehearsal...which went seamlessly! Truly! So quick and easy! We all left the rehearsal and drove to my old church for dinner. Kyle's mom had put together a Bahama's theme dinner complete with leis, coconut decorations, and Caribbean music. It was a lovely party, and even MORE lovely because our families meshed together so seamlessly. It was such a relaxed evening and made me so excited for the next day.
  5. The Wedding. Literally went off without issue, stress, or anxiety. I had such a peace and an excitement in my spirit that I was able to relax and be present the entire day. That was one of my only prayers for the day as I didn't want to rush through and be too busy going from task to task to actually enjoy. My sisters, mom, and I got ready for the day at my parents' house while my dad and brother-in-law went on a Segway tour of the resort that my dad literally built. Hahaha! We headed to the resort around 2, and Kyle and I accidentally arrived at the same time. I gave him instructions to stay in the room and close the curtains ASAP so he didn't accidentally see me before the wedding. I walked into our holding room and my bouquet had already arrived. It was so gorgeous and perfect that I thought it was fake at first. It was the most beautiful arrangement of flowers I'd ever seen! So pretty! Before long, our photographer showed up, pictures were taken, people stopped in to see me, we ate snacks, talked and laughed! I thought I'd left a bag with all my details in it somewhere, but one of my sisters ran out to the car and thankfully found it! Everything that afternoon went by so fast that we went from taking my portraits to literally running up the steps to get ourselves together to walk down the aisle. My grandmothers and my dad saw me and we all hugged and cried a little. It was such a sweet moment to be in the holding room with my dad, just the two of us, as we prepared to walk down the aisle. We looked at each other and I said, "are you ready"...and my dad said, "let's go get you married". He had to remind me to slow down as we rounded the corner...and had to remind me to stop when we reached the end of the aisle. Our ceremony also went by in a flash. I don't remember anything that was said because I literally thought Kyle was going to pass out. He was holding on to my hands so tightly. We exchanged vows and he immediately relaxed. 
  6. The reception. Our reception was everything I dreamed of. Literally. A few weeks after we got engaged, I had a dream about the reception location set up with long tables filled with our closest family and friends, so that's what we did. Stonewall set the space up and it was more beautiful than I could've done myself. Truly. We showed up to the reception after our photos ate dinner, danced, cut our cakes, talked, laughed! My mom's boss sent us a s'mores bar to enjoy with our families at the fire they made for us. It was the best night and it went by so fast. I took a moment to pause and just observe the party. We had the reception under a covered patio strung with twinkle lights. The tables were covered with white linens and decorated with greenery and gold candlesticks. We tried to keep the decor simple and it was beautiful. My sister Elyse DJ'd for us via a Spotify playlist. We added our family and friends songs so they could dance to their song when it played. Dad and I danced to "My Girl" and Kyle and his mom danced to a song that I can't remember! Ah! The evening was beautiful, and everyone lingered until around 10:30. 
The day was a dream. Filled with joy and peace. We had 60 of our closest friends and family, and I wouldn't have done anything differently. I'll be sharing more soon! 

xoxo, The Harts

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Iced Lavender Latte

Today I'm sharing the most spring-like coffee beverage to ever exist - The Iced Lavender Latte from Jessica at How Sweet Eat's new cookbook The Pretty Dish. This is the second recipe I've made from the book, and I plan on making much more! It's such a great cookbook filled with a variety of recipes to suit all kinds of occasions! 

This lavender latte is made with cold brew, half and half, and a lavender simple syrup. As the name implies, the syrup is indeed simple, and add a fresh, springy flavor. It really is delicious!

I hope you enjoy this easy drink as much as I have! Happy Spring, friends! 

The Lavender Latte

recipe from The Pretty Dish by Jessica Merchant of How Sweet Eats

Lavender Syrup 

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons dried culinary lavender 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Iced Coffee
Half and Half 
2 tablespoons lavender syrup

In a saucepan over medium-low heat combine sugar, water, and lavender. Whisk until sugar is fully dissolved. Simmer and cook for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and set saucepan aside to allow the mixture to cool completely. Strain mixture into a glass jar to remove the lavender. Stir in the vanilla. Store glass jar in the fridge. 

To make the latte. Add ice, iced coffee, syrup, and half and half to your liking. Stir and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Chocolate Crinkle Sprinkle Cookies

Today, I have the cutest cookies to share with you from Jessica at How Sweet Eat's new cookbook The Pretty Dish.

Jessica's blog was the first that I started following. I loved her writing style, and I really related to her experience working a job that wasn't a good fit. At that point it gave me hope for myself that I would find something more suited to what I wanted my future life to look like. 

Fast forward a few years, and I'm still working in an industry that I'm not a huge fan of, but I am thankful for the experiences and lessons it has afforded me. I graduated with a business degree, and I'm thankful that I've learned how business works. More specifically how the politics of business work. The theory of business, and human resources, is pretty-cut-and-dry in the classroom. You graduate with all kinds of big plans and ideas, and it doesn't take you long to realize that the whole system is flawed because it's all run by human beings each with their own motivations. 

What does this have to do with sprinkle cookies? Nothing! Not a thing at all, but I like to use this space as a way to remember what my life was like during a certain period of time. I'd most like to remember that over the weekend I experienced a breakthrough (that sounds dramatic). Mainly I came to the conclusion that I really do not like the industry I'm in, and it's totally OK. I have a degree in business and almost ten years of experience that will serve me well in whatever comes next, but it's OK to finally admit I do not fit in this environment. I do not want to move up the ladder here. I don't want to pursue this. I'm not good at it, but that doesn't mean I'm a failure. It just means my talents lie elsewhere. It's OK to finally admit that I haven't been happy here since I started, and I don't have to feel guilty about that! 

What comes next? Hopefully a creative career and a small business that's all mine. I love photography. Food, people, landscapes, all of it. I hope that one day I get to have income that is generated by creativity and loving people well. Using photography as a way to help people remember the faithfulness of God in both good and bad circumstances. Until then, I'll be eating these DELICIOUS cookies.

Chocolate Crinkle Sprinkle Cookies

recipe from The Pretty Dish by Jessica Merchant of How Sweet Eats
makes about 2 dozen of the cutest cookies ever

1 cup ap flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cocoa powder, sugar, and oil on medium speed until combined. 

Add in the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated. Add in the vanilla extract. 

Add in the flour mixture. The mixture will be quite runny. 

Remove the bowl from your mixture, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. 

After refrigerating, cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Add sprinkles to a small bowl. 

While the oven pre-heats, remove dough from the fridge. 

Using a medium-sized cookie scoop, scoop dough (they will be quite thick and sticky!) and roll into balls with your hands. 

Completely immerse the dough ball in sprinkles and roll until covered. 

Place on cookie sheet. Continue with all of the cookie dough, spacing the dough balls about 1 1/2 inches apart. 

Bake for 10 - 12 minutes until cookies have spread and have set. Make sure the cookies have cooled completely before removing from the cookie sheet. 


** There are SO many types of sprinkles that these cookies would be perfect for any and all occasions. Use red, white, and blue for July 4th; green and red for Christmas parties; super bright and colorful for birthdays, etc. 

I love the sprinkle medleys from Sweetapolita

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Lucky Charms Bars

This post/recipe was intended to go up for St. Patrick's Day, but it didn't happen. So, guys! Here's a very late, but yummy and easy recipe to brighten up your days! Lucky Charms Bars!

These bars are basically rice krispie treats made with lucky charms cereal. They are so simple to make but are an absolute showstopper when served with all those colorful marshmallows. 

I hope you have a blast in the kitchen when you make these! Enjoy!

Lucky Charms Bars

recipe from Simply Scratch 

1 box Lucky Charms cereal
1 stick salted butter
1 (16 oz) package mini marshmallows
1 tablespoon whole milk, I used half and half
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper.

Separate the cereal from the marshmallows.

In a large pot over low heat melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, add in the melted marshmallows and stir until completely melted and creamy.

Stir in vanilla and milk. Add in the cereal and stir quickly to combine. Remove from heat.

Add in the marshmallows and stir until combined. Transfer to a prepared pan.

Press gently, and allow to cool completely before cutting.