the one about project 365, days 1-7

My passion for photography began when my first daughter was born. I wanted to photograph her every move, and I pretty much did. I have tons and tons and tons of photos of Noelle.

Until she turned 2 1/2 and we welcomed our second daughter. The photos steadily decreased as it became more and more difficult to photograph our lives.

Now that we have three daughters, I realize how easy it is to let my camera collect dust on the table where it sits. I can go weeks without turning it on, and then when the moment presents itself for that perfect photograph, the battery is dead. 

I have spent the better part of five years photographing everyone else's children, but I have neglected to capture the beauty of my own. 

The photography I most believe in is the photography that reflects real life. So many people come to me with photos on Pinterest they hope to recreate, and most of those photos are of "candid" moments that "happened" to be caught behind the lens. What we don't know is how real these moments were in the first place, but we certainly know that staging what should be candid and spontaneous memories is about the furthest thing from real. It always gives me a little pit in my stomach when I have to give directions like, "Act like you're laughing!" "Say something funny!" "Look at each other and smile." I want the real laughter. The real smiles. The real love in real life.

So, I decided to embark on my own personal mission of photographing life as it comes. One photo of my life, each day, for an entire year. I will do my very best not to give any direction to my subjects (which will most likely be my children and husband). If I miss a "photographable" moment, I will not ask them to recreate it. I will simply wait for the next one. I will have my camera within arm's reach, charged up, and ready to document this crazy, messy, beautiful life. 

I have been posting my photos in real time to my photography Facebook page, Ashley Ernstberger Photography. I plan to provide a weekly recap of the photos right here.

Here's the first week…without any words.  Because a picture is worth…well, you know.









the one about my first stitch fix

Sometime between child 0 and child 3, I lost my desire to shop for clothing for myself. Sure, I will randomly pick up an $8 v-neck tee from Target or a flowy top on clearance, but in general, shopping for clothing for myself leaves me extremely frustrated and, honestly, exhausted.

For me to actually take the time to shop for something that fits me correctly, flatters my ever-changing pre/post-pregnancy figure, and is of any kind of quality to speak of, I would have to either arrange a time to shop while my husband is home (either on the weekends or at night), hire a babysitter and go during the day, or just buy online and return what doesn't work. Online shopping has become a new favorite thing of mine due to the hassle it is to take 3 children out to a store that most likely doesn't (gasp) have carts. However, I have been in a bit of a style rut for, well, probably all of my life, and I find myself gravitating to the same styles and stores over and over again. There's no one there to push me outside of my comfort zone or suggest something I might not have normally tried. 

I have been hearing of this service for a few years now, but it has recently become quite mainstream. Stitch Fix is basically a cross between an online clothing store, a personal stylist, and a daring best friend. I decided to give it a try because I think I'm going to be on a decent non-pregnant stretch for a little bit, and I'm ready to buy some clothes that make me feel* at least like I somewhat have my stuff together. I always feel so much better about myself if I can manage to wear something that doesn't involve a yoga pant of any kind (because we all know I don't do yoga) or a shirt I slept in the night before. 

*I don't really have anything together. It's about feeling like it.

Stitch Fix assigns a personal stylist to you, and that person uses your profile, preferences, and feedback to pull 5 items for you to try on in the privacy of your own home. They are mailed to you in a pretty box, which makes you feel quite special* when you open it. 

*I'm not really special. It's about feeling like it.

Enclosed with the items is a styling card that shows you how to wear each item and gives you two different ways to accessorize or change up the look. There's a personal note from the stylist with some other helpful tips, too. Also enclosed is a return mailer for all of the items you do not wish to keep. The postage is prepaid, so all you have to do is put the items in the mailer and drop it at a USPS mailbox. 

The cost is $20 for the "styling fee." The $20 is credited to you if you choose to purchase any of the items. If you don't purchase any, you are just out the $20. If you purchase all of your items, you receive a 25% discount, which is pretty awesome.

To sign up, you fill out a pretty extensive style profile. You tell your height, weight, clothing sizes, and style/color preferences. You are shown a number of various outfit ideas, and you can indicate whether you like, love, or hate each style genre. You can identify what types of clothes you would like to receive more or less of. For me, I wanted more casual looks because I have a pretty casual life style, but I wanted just a little bit of dressy clothes thrown in every now and then. You can tell the stylist whether you want accessories pulled for you and how much (in a general sense) you want to pay for each type of clothing item. I said "the cheaper the better" for everything except jeans. I'm willing to pay more for those because I basically wear jeans down to the threads. 

You answer a lot of questions so that your stylist can get an idea of what you may like or absolutely hate. You can also attach a link to your style board on Pinterest, which is very helpful as your stylist "gets to know you."

There is even a place to leave a personal note to the stylist, and I provided more information about what I was looking for. I wanted tops that were easy to breastfeed in, and I also was looking for a dress to wear to Cancun next month. 

Lastly, you schedule "your fix." When I signed up, I scheduled mine to arrive in about 4-5 weeks. You can also schedule them to come automatically, or you can just schedule them on your own time frame. I didn't set up any automatic shipments because I wanted to see how I liked the experience first. They insist you can cancel any time. 

I scheduled mine to arrive at the end of January, so I was so excited when I saw that my fix had shipped and would arrive about a week earlier than I anticipated. When I heard the mailman place it on my doorstep, I couldn't wait to open it up and try everything on.

I had been warned by friends who use this service that it takes a couple of fixes for the stylist to get it right. I knew that there was a strong chance that I would be sending everything back after the first shipment, so I didn't want to get my hopes up. 

^Note to stylist: I am not taking my kids with me to Mexico. Praise Jesus.

When I pulled out the  Brixon Ivy Kahlia Lace Sheath Dress, I knew that this would be a "return." It was much too structured and had a formal feel. To be fair, I did say I would allow some of these types of clothes, but this wasn't the type of dress I was wanting to take to Mexico. It would be a great fancy party dress or wedding reception outfit, but it wasn't screaming "90 degrees in Mexico!" I loved the color, though.

I was excited to see I received a pair of jeans. I desperately need new jeans, and the Target jeans I have been wearing (basically since birth) are nearly falling apart. They are stretched out, faded, and are ready to be tossed. The jeans my stylist sent me were Mavi Gold Ruxi Distressed Boyfriend jeans. When I tried them on, I realized that I really couldn't keep them because they were far too distressed. I don't care to buy jeans with holes already in them, and the "distressing" on the pockets and rear looked too young on me. I am going to be 31, and I don't want to look like I'm trying to be 19. 

Next, I tried on the Papermoon Jamie Knit Top. I loved the softness, but I didn't care for the horizontal stripes (clearly my stylist has never been fat), and the metallic threads in the stripes looked too juvenile again. The top was a little too big and didn't flatter me. 

I was sent a pretty gold necklace that my stylist thought I could take to Mexico with me. It was a great idea in theory, but I don't pay more than $5 for my costume jewelry because, well, I have 3 kids. They pull, yank, and destroy any jewelry they can grab. 

The item I did decide to keep was the burgundy Market & Spruce Aleah Heathered V-Neck Dolman top. In general, I don't like dolman tops (the ones that kind of look like you have bat wings when you spread your arms out). I honestly wasn't going to even try this shirt on because I never really care for these tops on the hanger, but Stitch Fix is about getting you to try new things, so I put it on. I was glad I did, as this top was super soft and stretchy, and it flattered my figure. I loved the color, as it reminded me of Pantone's color of the year, Marsala. The v-neck will make it easy to nurse in, and I felt it was very versatile for my lifestyle. 

So, 1 out of the 5 items was a keeper, and I was just fine with that. 

What's next? Well, I logged on to my account, and went through the checking out process. It was very, very easy. You simply click "Keeping" or "Returning" next to each item, and you give feedback on each piece. You can rate the fit, style, price, and size in addition to leave further comments. I was pretty honest, which you need to be in order to help the stylist know your style.

The top I purchased was a $48 top, but the $20 styling fee was credited to me, so technically I paid $28 plus tax. The other items are already back in the return mailer, and I will drop those off later today. I made my choices quickly, but you have 3 days to decide.

What I absolutely love about this service is that you can try on the items in your home, in real lighting, in front of real mirrors. You can do it at your own pace. You can get feedback from friends or a spouse, or you can do it completely alone. Your kids can be sleeping in the next room. You can use your own accessories and other clothing items to dress up or dress down each piece, and this gives you a realistic idea of whether or not you will actually wear the item. Sure, I could just buy clothes in the store and try them on at home (which is what I do IF I actually buy anything for myself at a store) and then return what I don't like, but that then requires another trip out to the store. Stitch Fix has nailed the convenience factor, which is a dream for busy women (not just moms). 

Are the clothes more expensive than I would normally buy? Yes. I don't normally pay $48 for a shirt. However, I will not be using Stitch Fix to completely fill my closet. I am using it to add some higher-quality items to my wardrobe as well as help me discover styles, colors, and designs that are flattering and work with my existing clothing items. Now that I know how flattering the dolman top is, I can look for those at less expensive stores and it saves me the trouble of knowing whether or not it is going to work for me. 

I plan to receive fixes every couple of months as the seasons change. I did schedule another fix for 2 weeks from now, as I am interested to see how they use my feedback to change their selections for me, and I am still on the hunt for great jeans. My Target Meronas are going to bite the dust any minute now, so the sooner I get new jeans, the better!

Overall, it was a great experience. I enjoyed receiving this type of fun mail, and I loved how seamless and easy the whole process was from start to finish. I have heard from other friends that if you receive something in the wrong size but still like the style, they will exchange it with the right size so long as they have it in stock. 

If you are interested in trying Stitch Fix, you can use my referral link (which does earn me $25 if you schedule a fix). 

You don't really have anything to lose but $20 (and that is if you sent everything back), but you have a whole new, fun experience to gain! 

I feel I should let it be known that Stitch Fix did not pay me to write a review. I mean…duh. No one would pay me to write a review. 

the one about valentine's day

This one's for the men.
Don't worry. I don't say cervix at all.

Yesterday morning, I took my girls to Chick-Fil-A for nearly two hours so they could play in the tunnels and slide. Two hours.

While I watched them play, I noticed a sign on the door with information about making Valentine's Day reservations at Chick-Fil-A for $20 per couple. At first, I scoffed. Who would want to spend Valentine's Day here? I thought.

Then, the more I looked at it (for two hours), the more I started to think that it might not be such a bad idea. I do love a good chicken sandwich, and perhaps I would actually enjoy eating it without worrying about opening ketchup packets for Noelle or cutting Charlotte's nuggets into unchokable bites. I could probably just wear my stretch leggings instead of trying to look "nice" (whatever that is anymore).

And then it hit me. My thoughts on Valentine's Day (and many other things) have drastically changed since becoming a mom.

First, let me make all the disclaimers.
1. I know Valentine's Day is only one day a year and we should show love the other 364. 
2. I know that it is a marketing scheme to get people to spend lots of money.
3. I know my husband loves me, regardless of what he does for me on Valentine's Day.

Now, let me say that I actually enjoy Valentine's Day. I like dressing my girls in pink and red and hearts. I like finding sweet things to remind them they are loved. I enjoy planning something fun and special to do with or for my husband. And...I don't turn down gifts on Valentine's Day, either.

But let's talk about those gifts. Traditionally, flowers, chocolates, and stuffed teddy bears are given to women by their well-intentioned significant others. There is practically a fool-proof setup in every store. Walk in 20 feet and boom. Flowers and fluffy bears and pink shit galore.

Those things are nice and all…but that's not what I nor probably millions of other women want this year. Those things just sound like a lot of work to a mama of three.

Flowers? Just something else I have to keep alive. I can barely remember to drink enough water myself, let alone give some to a vase of flowers. And most flowers come with "plant food." Really? That's just pushing it.

Chocolate. Chocolate? CHOCOLATE? Don't you know that I am trying to lose this baby (and baby before that baby, and baby before that baby) weight? Giving me chocolate only gives me an intense moral dilemma. To eat the chocolate all at once and pretend it never happened, or to eat the chocolate all at once, log it into My Fitness Pal, and be told I can't eat for the next 3 days. My mind simply cannot handle it.

Teddy bears? I almost can't say it with a straight face. Do you see how many teddy bears we already own? Not only teddy bears, but stuffed cats, ducks, frogs, monkeys, ladybugs, puppies, etcetera upon etcetera upon etcetera. Not happening.

So what do mamas like me want for Valentine's Day? Look no further, as I have created some handy coupons for you to print off and present to your special lady.

Thank me later. And really, I was just kidding about the chocolate. 

the one about her future friends

It's coming. 

A big, huge, decision is coming. 

This Spring, Luke and I will walk into a school building and sign our oldest up for Kindergarten. I can hardly believe it myself, but it's true. Our "baby" is growing up, and she is so ready.

I'm not ready, but she is. 

As for which school building that is…we still do not know. We talk a lot about it. We weigh the pros and cons of each prospective elementary. We wish we could take a little of this one and a little of that one and just make our own perfect school.

But then that would be called homeschooling. 

And I won't be homeschooling.
No offense to those who do. In fact…I bow down to you.

Really, to me, the school we choose is pretty irrelevant. Noelle is already a smart girl. Yes, the school she attends will help her to reach or perhaps go beyond her potential, but we know that she is smart and going to do fine academically.

What I worry about the most are her future friends. 

Who will they be?
Who will their parents be?

What will be their values?

What about their morals?
Will they have morals?

What will they consider "fun"?

Will they use appropriate language and talk about age-appropriate things?

Will they keep my daughter young and innocent, or will they influence her to grow up a little faster?
I can't handle even the tiniest bit faster, OK?

Whenever we are on the subject of school for Noelle, I stop and say a little prayer for her future friends. I have been blessed by tremendous friendships over the years, and I pray she experiences the same. 

But if I could? I would write a letter to her future friends. 

And it would go a little sumthin' like this.

Dear Future Friends,

Yo wassup homies? <-- That's me trying to be hip. If that's not hip anymore…I will just start with a Hi!

I'm Noelle's Mama. Someday soon, you all will find each other sitting at the same lunch table or in the same reading group or playing hopscotch at recess, and you will become friends. You'll look around and realize that you like spending time together…you like laughing and being silly together…and so it will begin.

Few things in life are more awesome than strong friendships. Friends are your family, outside of family. Friends are the family you get to actually choose. Friends are the family when family can't be there. When I can't be there for her, you will. Eventually, she will probably even choose you to be there for her over me…which simultaneously breaks my heart and soothes my soul at the same time. 

Because friends are so special, it hurts extra bad when a friend is unkind. It stings. It throbs. It aches. So try to avoid being unkind to each other. Invite all the friends to the birthday parties. Invite the girls who you think aren't your friends, too. Just invite everyone. Because being left out and hearing about all the fun after the fact is one of those stinging, throbbing, aching hurts that is really hard to heal. There's nothing to be gained by leaving others out, but you have everything to gain by allowing others in. Like more friends. More laughs. More fun. Just more.

Build each other up. Think of each other like sand castles. Beautiful. Unique. Artfully made. Yet fragile and delicate. Be the hands that lovingly shape each other into bigger, better, more awesome sand castles. Don't be the tide that gradually… and sneakily… wears away little bits of the sand castle until it's a pile of goo on the shore. Be the hands. Not the tide. 

There's strength in numbers. Help each other to make the right decisions. Hold each other accountable. Follow the laws. Refuse to drive until everyone in the car has their seat belts on. Wait until you're 21 to drink alcohol. You know those moms who say "If you're going to drink, do it under my roof?" Yeah, I'm not one of those. So if you're going to drink, I'm going to tell your parents. Don't smoke anything, ever.

Tell her if she has food in her teeth or if her skirt is tucked into her tights. Be gentle about it, but tell her. You'll want to know that, too. Defend her if someone talks bad about her. Tell her if you think she's out of line. 

Be ridiculously silly. Laugh so hard that you pee yourself. Make inside jokes and secret handshakes. Play in the rain. Eat too many Oreos. Call me at 2 am and ask me if my refrigerator is running. I'd rather you do that than call me at 2 am to tell me there's been an accident. But if any of you are in trouble, even if it is 2 am, call me.

And then I'll call your parents.

Cheer for each other. Cry for each other. Be loyal to each other. Whether you're the "cool" girls or the "silly" girls or the "popular" girls or the "quiet" girls…I don't care.

Just be kind, loyal, strong girls.

With love, 
Noelle's Mama