A Merry Minted Christmas by Brooke Courtney

You guys. I did it. I sent out Christmas cards this year. ( Fist pumps like Nick Miller. ) I'm pretttty sure the last time T.J. and I sent a Christmas card was in 2010, when we posed with all FOUR cats in our Smilebooth. 😹 Which, don't get me wrong, was totally amazing, but now that we've got sweet little Junie to take pictures with, pshhhh - our cats simply won't do.

I literally squealed at my desk when Minted ask to partner with us on our Christmas cards. I have ogled over their cards for years - all beautiful and letter-pressed and metallic, and did I say beautiful - and was thrilled to order ours through them this year.

The entire process was incredibly easy and user friendly. They even have this awesome "Find It Fast" feature that you can toggle on, where it'll insert the photo you uploaded into every design. This was a life. saver. Because, I had a whole folder full of "favorites", but when I saw my actual photo in the designs it was super easy to pick the perfect one! 

Everything arrived - invites and return address printed envelopes - in a beautiful box, lined with the names of some of their designers. Being a small business owner who frequently hires other designers to do work for us, this made me smile.

I quickly pulled out our cards and got to work addressing them cause I was so excited! I could have had Minted address both the front and back for me, but I actually like addressing envelopes, so I opted out of that feature.

I've even made you a little guide to addressing your own envelopes, and I'm going to share that with you all tomorrow. (So, come back!) It's really fun to be able to do it yourself and then love the way they turn out. Give it a try this year! (And of course remember, grace not perfection.)

Once I had everything addressed, I used the cutest Charlie Brown Christmas stamps and a piece of colored washi tape to top it all off. 😍 Seriously, washi tape is easily one of the best things to hit the U.S. in the last 5 years. If you don't have some, get some. (Preferably the brand MT, cause they're the best.)

I chose one of my favorite family photos for the front of the card, and a few extras for the back, from a session my friend Liz did for us back in October. You can see all of those photos in the post just before this one -- right HERE

So there you have it. Our 2016 Christmas cards. I am so thrilled with how they turned out. And I can't wait for many of you to receive them in your mailbox this week!

Also, I totally believe in YOU to address your own like I did. Just practice each letter a few times on scrap paper and then take your time. Not only is it fun, but I try to take a little moment and think about who I'm addressing it to, how they impacted our 2016 year, and say a little prayer for them.

Merry Christmas ya'll!

This post was sponsored by Minted, but all opinions are my own. There's still time for you to get a baller Christmas card for yourself - shop Minted today! 

Our Family Photos | 2016 by Brooke Courtney

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I am well aware how silly it is that I spent over half the last decade photographing families, weddings and seniors, all preaching to them about how important "real" photos are, but then when it comes to our family, I'm the worst at it. Ha ha! I'm definitely getting better at bringing my real camera along to certain things, or getting it out here and there at home, but there's still something so magical about having someone else photograph your family. To see them the way they see you.

My dear friend Liz, who used to work for me and my photo team 💕, captured our family on one abnormally warm evening this past October.

June was being SO shy, and at times, incredibly uncooperative. (Trust me, she was, I just didn't include those photos, cause the faces of T.J. and I are like.. 😬🙄.) So, now I can totally relate to those parents in front of my camera being like "Seriously, she's never like this. I'm so sorry!"

How's this one for the baby book? 😂 

June and I both wore dresses from Old Navy that I'd picked out long ago, hoping to get family photos in them! And I love the way all of the colors came out. I also wore my favorite necklace from Elle Lane Designs with June's name on it. #sappymommoment

About half way through our session we switched locations, because Liz and I, like the photographers we are, were chasing after the sun in our cars. Note: me being realllll pumped up about the sunlight in the image below.. and then posing for a much prettier photograph.

June was very excited about all of the rocks in the field and kept going around picking up them and handing them to us, saying "Thank you, please." It was so cute.

When Liz was shooting photos of just June and T.J., she swiped the sunglasses off his face and put them on herself. 😂😎

I am so grateful we had our family captured at this moment in time. It's already fun to "look back" at these and remember what she was doing only two months ago and how much she's changed already. Love, love, love it.

Also, let this serve as your yearly reminder to get photos taken of your family. JUST DO IT. #memories

My dress: Old Navy | My Boots: Target | June's Dress + Boots: Old Navy | June's Beanie: CottonOn | T.J.'s Flannel: PacSun | T.J.'s Jeans: Gap | T.J.'s Boots: F21 Men | T.J.'s Sunglasses: RayBan

Dark Chocolate Banana Bread Recipe by Brooke Courtney

If you have followed me for any amount of time, you already know that I could start off any food post I do with "dark chocolate <insert food of choice here>" recipe. Let's be real though. If you can't add dark chocolate to something, what's the point? I kid, I kid........ kind of.

I have loved my Grandma's banana bread recipe for years because it's moist and delicious and is loaded with walnuts. Last year though, I tried out a chocolate banana bread recipe I'd found online and it was reallllly good, just too sweet. So, like most thinks I cook or bake, I've now modified it to make it my own by combining the best parts of both recipes.

This bread is perfect for a baby shower, holiday breakfast or just a casual brunch at home over the weekend. And while it's loaded with chocolate, it's not overly sweet, so you don't have to feel too bad about eating several pieces. 😉

DARK CHOCOLATE BANANA BREAD

  • 3 very ripe bananas (thaw if frozen)
  • 1/2 c. butter, melted
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 1 c. flour (all purpose, or bread)
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder (dark or regular)
  • 1 c. semisweet or dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with non stick baking spray and coat with a little flour/cocoa if you'd like.

Mash bananas in large bowl or mixer. Add in melted butter, brown sugar, egg and vanilla. Mix well, but not on a high speed.

In a separate bowl mix together your dry ingredients - flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda.

Add your dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and stir until just combined. Gently stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Transfer batter into the prepared pan. (My batter was the consistency of chocolate pudding.) Sprinkle the top with chocolate chips and walnuts, because it's prettier that way. 

Bake 40-60 minutes - or until a cake tester comes out clean. I know that's a big range of time, but it's alway best to watch your loaf specifically and know how your oven works. I set my timer for 40 minutes, clean up and go do something else, and then monitor it more closely after the first 40 minutes are up until it's just right!

Cool in pan, on a wire rack.

Finally, slice into that bad boy and enjoy while it's still a touch warm. It's delicious!!! If you don't consume the entire thing immediately, wrap bread tightly with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for up to a few days.

Enjoy!

Balance | with Amazfit by Brooke Courtney

Balance has meant many different things to me over the years. When T.J. and I were fist married, it looked a lot like trying to live within our smaller budget, working hard at our wedding photography business so T.J. could quit his day job in a warehouse, and spending time with friends/family.

Fast forward 7+ years and over time we had to learn how to balance two full time businesses, friendships, employees, family, church, quality time together, having a BABY, staying fit, and a million other things. Like vacuuming all. the. time. because we have four cats.

But honestly, it's only in the last year and a half that I can say I've actually found some sort of balance in my life. T.J. has written about this season of our lives quite a bit on his blog, with my two favorite posts being Throw Away All The Things (when we found balance by, well, like he said.. throwing out all of the things) and, Balance Is A Moving Target (where he talks about balancing less things as a whole, and not always in a 24 hour mindset.) 

For me, my days all look a little different. I work at our walk in love. studio twice a week when my parents watch June.  Sometimes I have extra photoshoots for friends and family throughout my week. Or playdates with Junie and her friends. But most of the time there are always several categories I work hard to keep balanced in my daily life - food, family time and fitness. The latter certainly being the hardest for me. 😬 I mean, c'mon... running? It's the worst!

Balancing family time often looks like reading books to June in her room and choosing to stay off of my phone. June loves to read. Her current favorite book is this silly little book with all black and white drawings of animals and things. She makes all the sounds they do and sniffs the page with flowers on it every time. (See photo below 😂.) Not that the page actually smells good or anything... she just thinks it's what you're supposed to do.

When Amazfit, an incredibly stylish fitness tracker, reached out to me about partnering for a post, I felt incredibly comfortable saying yes. And I have loved having a way to track my steps, calories and sleep over the last several weeks, all while stacking it like a bracelet next to my other cute accessories.

It has been fascinating to track my light sleep and deep sleep, and how they correlate with how I feel the next morning. My goal, of course, is to always feel as happy when I wake up as June does while reading her books. #goals

One of my favorite ways to find balance in food is our snack trays. No joke, we eat them all the time. (You can see my recent Thanksgiving one here.) It's just a simplified, fast way to eat things that we love, coupled with the things we "should eat more of" on a daily basis. Aka: it's how we justify eating a lot of cheese.

A close second to our love for snack trays though, is quesadillas. I did not grow up making them at home, but with T.J.'s family being part Mexican, they certainly did. Back when I was 22 and all the things were smaller, I'd load it up my quesadillas with cheese and bacon and chicken and eat every single slice. Nowadays, I seek to find balance by first loading it up with tomatoes, peppers, onions, avocado, black beans and corn... and then add the cheese. And honestly, it's so much better than the ones I used to make.

Note to self: do a recipe post on the different quesadillas we make, cause that sounds delish.

Lastly... fitness. Ugh. Working out is not my favorite thing to do. I have gotten better over the years, for sure, and have learned what I do and don't like to do, along with what does and doesn't work for me. But for the most part, it's the little things that all add up. Choosing to walk to work instead of drive, jogging with the stroller on sunny days, and continuing to remind myself that it's all a journey. Oh, and that being able to make humans is an incredible thing, and that I shouldn't be too hard on myself for weight gained in the process.

I'd like to tell you that I always look this put together while working out, but that's simply not the case. Just last week I started walking at 6am with my neighbor/friend Leah, because at some point in her "I haven't worked out since 1999" thinking, it seemed like a good idea. Trust me, when I meet Leah at the corner of our two streets, my sweatpants are all but duct tapped to my ankles to keep the wind out, and I've got four very unflattering layers of heather gray on. But hey! At least I'm walking 3 miles. #balance 😂 Leah, if you're reading this, please burn this well-lit, posed image of me in cute workout clothes into your mind, and think of it when I see you Wednesday morning in the dark. Thank you.

If you'd like to get an Amazfit for yourself, you can use the code MYAMAZFIT to save 40% on your purchase. In the first photos, I am wearing the Moonbeam tracker, which looks a lot like a super cute watch. In the last images, I am wearing the Rainbow wristband, with the blush colored metal details! You can also take out the ceramic tracker and wear it as a necklace. 😍 They also have loads of other styles and wristbands (for guys too!) on their site, so check them out. So really, there is no excuse to not track your activity anymore... cause you no longer have to compromise your personal style to stay healthy.

This post was sponsored by Amazfit. As always, all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting my blog and the awesome people who sponsor it.

Snack Tray / Thanksgiving! by Brooke Courtney

Thanksgiving is hands down one of my favorite holidays simply because of all the food. Being someone who loves to cook, I love the endless ways you can make the Thanksgiving staple items -- mashed, smashed, baked, fried, twice stuffed, broiled and toasted. Okay, I'm hungry already just reading those words.

This year, T.J. and I will not be hosting our own Friendsgiving, so instead, we've been chowing down on a Thanksgiving themed snack tray! It's super easy to make and would be the perfect little addition to game night or small group gathering in the next week! 

THANKSGIVING SNACK TRAY

  • Sweet potato chips
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Pecans
  • Craisins
  • Cubed cheese
  • Salted pumpkin seeds
  • Turkey roll ups with chive cream cheese, sprinkled with cracked pepper + oregano (like stuffing!)
  • Apples, sliced and sprinkled with cinnamon + sugar (like apple pie!)