12.24.2014

Thank You!

For what will most likely be my last post of 2014, I wanted to say thank you. Thank you to all of my clients, new and old, who have trusted me with their most precious of memories, announcements and greetings this year. For the clients that have challenged me to think outside the box, for the clients who are gracious when a package goes missing or when a printing error means that their invitations are delayed. For the clients who come back, year after year, and recommend Bella Carta to their friends... thank you.

Thank you to all of our friends – both in real life, and our 'internet' friends – who have cheered me on, shared their ideas and opened up doors that I didn’t know existed. Thank you for giving me honest feedback, allowing me to bounce ideas off of you, and for the occasional vent sessions. Thank you to my sweet husband, who has never doubted this dream, who always supports my decisions, as crazy as they may be, and has always been my number one fan. None of this would be possible without you.

And a special thank you to all of you that ordered in November, and helped me make a donation to St. Jude Children's Hospital in my brother's memory. Today would have been his 32nd birthday, and while nothing will ever take his place, knowing that there is a family out there who, in some small way, can benefit from our donation brings me so much joy.

I have big dreams and plans for 2015, and I've vowed to myself that I will take the next two weeks to make a plan of how to execute those dreams, instead of always feeling one step behind. I've learned so much this year, and am so thankful everything - good and bad - that has brought me to this place.

And while I wish I could send you all a card by mail, this one will have to do. This sentiment perfectly sums up this season of my life: rarely calm, but always bright. From my little family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, New Year!



Cheers!

(calligraphy by the talented West Sheridan, design by me!)

12.23.2014

Favorite Holiday Cards from 2014

Oh, Christmas week, how I love you. I hope all of you (or most of you) are reading this from the couch, in your jammies, getting ready to enjoy the holidays with your families! Today was my last day of work, and now I’m off for a week to celebrate the holidays and love on my babies!

This season has been so incredible for my business – we’ve grown so much since September, and have gotten to work with the sweetest clients. I’m so excited for new things to come in 2015, but I’m having a hard time looking forward to the new year. In many ways, I’m just not ready to bring 2014 to a close. We just wrapped up one of our last Holiday Cards for the season, and in doing so, realized how so many of this year’s cards have been special to me. Here are some of my favorite cards from 2014!



This card, for some reason, sticks out as my favorite. Maybe I’m feeling nostalgic for my little babies (that are about to turn one in February!), or the idea of having a sweet little newborn as the best Christmas gift a couple could ever imagine. Either way, I just love that someone chose this design to announce their daughter’s arrival.




Lots of friends & family members in this group! I adore all of these, and the Insta-Christmas card on the bottom left was by far and away our most popular design this year. It makes me want to come up with new and more creative ways to use Instagram pictures next year, since so many clients saw this as an opportunity to showcase their ‘real life’.


And 4 more that I also love – two baby announcements, and two sets of adorable little girls! I’ve mentioned it before, but I really do love the challenge of new designs, and you our very first Thankful card definitely made a mark this year. I’m already dreaming up some new designs to offer for next Thanksgiving!

Be sure to check back tomorrow for one last post before I sign off for the holidays!

12.15.2014

Journey to Rebranding: Part One

Last week I mentioned I was planning to share more of the business, and today I’m kicking off a 3-part series of how I tackled rebranding Bella Carta over the summer, and how we ended up with the brand we currently have. I do feel that building a brand is always evolving, and I’ve even made a few minor changes after I landed on my brand board, but I am still thrilled with the final result.




Prior to tackling my own rebranding, I did some research on what, exactly, needed to be included, and looked to several designers I admire for guidance on how to proceed. Small Business Rebranding is such a fascinating world, and there are so many designers who not only offer this service, but who also produce stunning results. While I would have loved for one of them to tackle this for me, that wasn’t in the budget, so I decided to try it on my own.

My very first step was to create an inspiration board on Pinterest of images that really resonated with me – not just graphic design images, but anything from outfits, to home d├ęcor and typography. I had read that this was a crucial first step in a rebrand, and that you should focus on imagery that you love, and that you feel resonates with the core of your business. Narrowing down the images was difficult – I pretty much “love” anything that I’ve pinned, so I tried to really find images that spoke to the direction I wanted my business to take.

Right now, Bella Carta offers a wide range of products – invitations, announcements, stationery & address stamps, for really any occasion. In doing this exercise, I also knew that a big next step for us would be to include wedding invitations and stationery, so I wanted my brand aesthetic to appeal to a wide range of clients. When I started to put into words what I want Bella Carta to embody, I realized at our core, I wanted the business to feel familiar and approachable. I want my clients to come back every year for their children’s birthday parties, holiday cards, personal stationery, baptisms, graduations and baby announcements. I want the busy mom who pushed off a party to the last minute, to know that she can email me and have something the following week. I don’t want customers to feel restricted by their budget or the size of the party. I want all of my designs, regardless of the event, to feel clean, classic and timeless. I want every design to always include something slightly unexpected – a little touch of whimsy, or a small detail that makes it feel personal. I think this inspiration board is a really great illustration of all of those things, and helped me make take the next step in the redesign process.


Once I had my board together, I started to pull colors that were reoccurring, and that would work well together both online and in print. Slate Blue & Grey were the perfect neutral pairing, and coral and green seemed to be a natural accent to those. Sophisticated but still playful. Classic with a little whimsy. A strong foundation to build the rest of our business on.

12.10.2014

Creative at Heart

In four short weeks, I’ll be packing my bags and kissing my boys goodbye, as I head down to Virginia for the Creative at Heart conference, the brainchild of Kat Schmoyer & Taylor Schumann, for two jam-packed days of learning, sharing and laughing.  When I began to reevaluate my business, I made a short list of conferences that I’d like to attend as soon as next year. One of those was Stationery Academy, which admittedly, is still very high on my list. This year, Stationery Academy is in New Orleans and Phoenix, so I’m crossing my fingers they’re a tad bit closer for their conferences in 2016. 

When Kat & Taylor announced the Creative at Heart conference back in October, I was so thrilled. The conference is designed with creative entrepreneurs in mind, to cultivate lasting relationships and community, and to inspire woman to live their dream.  “It’s about combining practical business knowledge, inspiring content & purposeful community” – sounds pretty perfect, to me!


Kat and Taylor are women I admire in this industry, both for their talent and tenacity, and for the grit to see their dreams through. The line up of speakers is AH-mazing, with so many inspiring and creative women, willing to share their journey, knowledge and failures with our group. I’m so excited to soak up the whole experience, learn from these deeply passionate woman, and walk away inspired and energized to follow my dreams in the new year.

One of the things I’m most excited about, is meeting some of my “virtual” friends in person! I’ve met so many other wonderful women through social media, and my business, who are also attending this conference, and I can’t wait to hug them, share stories, and learn in this encouraging environment, together. And while I’m so excited for all of this to unfold in a few weeks, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m also a tad nervous. For one, this is the first time I’ll be leaving the twins overnight, and only the second time I’ll be leaving A. As a working mom, my night-time routines with all 3 of them are sacred, so my momma heart breaks a little that I won’t be the one putting them down at night. The rest of my emotions are a mix of anxiousness and excitement: about spending 3 days with a group of 75 woman I’ve never met in person, travelling 5 hours alone, and feeling a little bit insecure about my business and my dreams. I know what I’m feeling is normal, and that when I’m driving back on January 5th, I will be so thankful that I made this decision. That I invested in myself and my dreams, and that I took a giant leap of faith.






12.05.2014

The State of Things

It's been 6 months since the last time I wrote a blog post. Blogging was always on my to-do list, but never seemed to make it to the top. At some point this last year I decided that it would become a priority again when I had the time, and that I would give myself permission to not feel guilty about it until that time came. 

The last 6 months have quite literally flown by. 6 months ago, my littlest boys were just 3 months old, and I had just returned to my full-time job. 6 months ago, my oldest had just turned 3, and was adjusting to his role as a big brother. 6 months ago, I made a commitment to myself to truly reevaluate my business, and to think really hard about how, and why, I wanted it to grow. I made a silent vow to myself when I opened Bella Carta, that whenever I stopped feeling that pull to design - to be creative - that I would stop.  After the twins were born, I was so excited to get back into designing, to bring to life new ideas I had written down over the last few years… to truly challenge myself. If in the end, if it didn’t pan out the way I thought it would, I didn’t want to look back and say I could have tried harder.




So while the last 6 months have been busy with life, they’ve also been very full. Raising 3 little boys, working full-time, and devoting all of my extra time to the business. My train commute to and from work, nap-time, bed-time, car-rides – anytime I’m home, and not being “mom”, I’m in work mode. I’m totally guilty of trying to also do work while they’re awake, but it never, ever, works out, and just leaves all of us frustrated. The balance is totally elusive, but I work really hard to be present, and to do all my jobs, well.

As you can probably tell (maybe not, if you read this blog in BlogLovin), the blog is now a part of the website. And while that is slightly confusing and maybe not the best business decision, there was too much history in my blog to abandon it, or change the name, all-together. Maybe one day, just not right now.  So while a lot of this blog has been very personal in nature, I’m not exactly sure if it will continue to look like that in the future. I’m sure I’ll continue to share pictures of the kids once in a while, but I’m not sure that every post will be about them. Originally, Earning Our Stripes was intended to be mostly about our home renovation projects, which most likely will continue to live on here. Most of our projects have ceased – both for a lack of time, and for a lack of updates that need to be done. We’ve completely outgrown our home, and are planning to move in the next year or so, so any updates made from now on are with resale in mind (read: maybe not my style!). I do love looking back at my old posts, so for now, they’re not going anywhere!





I will be sharing a lot more about the business in this space – about the brand, my goals, our milestones and our struggles. I hope to share a bit more about some other small business owners that I’ve met this last year, who have helped shape me, or my business, in some way. I hope to be sharing some new products, inspiration boards, parties and gift ideas. I hope that this place becomes a spot for others to reference when looking for vendors, color palettes, inspiration or advice. And if you originally came here to read about my home, or my kids, I hope you’ll continue to read and be inspired. I’ve made some wonderful – no, amazing – friendships from blogging the last few years, and I’m so thankful for this community of inspiring, creative woman who continue to support and encourage each other. I’m excited to be “back”!

pictures courtesy of Tandem Studios

5.15.2014

Twin Talk Blog Feature

I'm honored to have been featured over at Twin Talk Blog yesterday!

Amber & Meredith have created a wonderful resource for other twin moms, and asked that I share our story of how we prepared A for the twins' arrival. I know that this new site will be an invaluable resource for other mom's of multiples - I certainly wish it had existed when I found out we were expecting twins!

I'd love if you went to check it out! You can also follow Amber & Meredith on Instagram (@twintalkblog)


4.25.2014

Twins Nursery Reveal

So thrilled to be sharing J&L's nursery! I'm so in love with this room. It's tiny & cozy, and everything I imagined it could be. 







I'll be adding a source list soon, but if you have any questions, please send me an email!

4.09.2014

The Twins Are Here (and other musings)

Well, well, well...
Where do I start?

Lots has happened in the last 3 months.

First and foremost, we welcomed our two little loves into the world.
Luca Charles & James Sullivan were born on February 3rd, at 38wks.
Luca weighed 7lbs 4oz, and was 21" long.
James arrived 11 minutes after his brother, weighing 6lbs 7oz and 20.25" long.





I won't be sharing their birth story, not because I don't love you all, but instead because I just think it's something I want to keep private. I will tell you that they were born naturally, and came much quicker than their older brother. I did end up going into labor all on my own (hooray!) and made it to the hospital just before one of February's biggest snowstorms.

These two little boys have filled my heart with so much love. It's true what they say - your love is not lessened for your first, it just doubles (or triples!) when you meet your newest family members. Luca & James have completed our family in a way I didn't know was possible, and I am forever grateful that they were big & healthy and were able to come home with us after a 2-day stay in the hospital.



A is doing great with them. I'm truly in awe of how much a two-and-a-half year old can comprehend, and process, about his growing family. Anthony didn't bat an eye when we left for the hospital bright and early one morning. And when my parents showed him a picture of his new brothers after they were born, he quietly asked "Babies came out of momma's belly?", and continued sledding. I did not believe that he understood that there would be TWO babies coming home (even though he would tell everyone there were two babies in Momma's belly), but as soon as he met them, he loved them, and hasn't stopped. He is a wonderful age to really "help" me - getting a diaper, or pacifier, or finding the sock I managed to drop from the nursery to the living room. Every morning he greets them with smiles and kisses, sings them songs when they're sad, and more recently, tries to get them to smile. Nothing makes me tear-up more than seeing the 3 of them interact...

And I'm choked up just typing that.



January was filled with a lot of waiting around, a few false alarms and subsequent trips to Labor & Delivery. I cleaned the house from top to bottom, willing labor to start on it's own, but these boys were on their own schedule. I spent a lot of quality time with A - loving on him, spoiling him and making sure he knew how much we loved him. I was angst-ridden at the thought of ruining his life by bringing his siblings home (I know - it was the pregnancy hormones - but I'm being honest here). All of my friends came to the rescue and told me that it would all go away the second I laid eyes on the twins. And it did.

taken the day before Luca & James were born

I never would have made it through my pregnancy, or the last 2 months, without my "village". I am forever grateful to my parents, my in-laws and my friends for constantly encouraging me, loving me and picking up the missing pieces when I needed it the most. And of course, Craig. He was eternally patient, loving and level-headed during the craziest of times. Now, watching him with his 3 boys makes me love him even more than I did before. I am blessed beyond words.






I have been home for almost 5 months now, and cannot believe my maternity leave is coming to an end. I'm sad to go back, but also know that it's the right decision for my family. Maybe one day it won't be, but today it is. I hope to be posting more than I have been, but to be perfectly honest, there's not a lot of time in the day. Our days are filled with giggles & tears (from the twins and from A... and sometimes from me), lots of eating and snuggles, and a desperate attempt to get these boys to sleep better than their older brother. Life is crazy right now, but it is also fleeting, and I'm trying to soak it all in.

Hope to be back soon with a few more pictures & updates!

Linking up with Twin Talk Blog for Multiples Awareness Month!

1.16.2014

Twins' Nursery Sneak Peek

I won't be sharing the full nursery until the twins' are here. First and foremost, there are zero in-progress shots. And second, one wall is not complete until it contains their initials - which we are keeping a secret until their "birth"day. This thrills my mother to no end (insert sarcasm here) - she doesn't understand why I won't just tell her. Some things need to be a surprise, right?!

Until then, here are two pictures - one is my view from our room, and the other is their dresser & view into our room. Their nursery is so calming and sweet to me - maybe because it's (most likely) the last nursery I'll ever design, but also because it's super cozy. 10'x9' is a small space, but we made it work!




The dresser was a Craigslist purchase, and originally looked like this (photo taken by seller).




It was purchased when she was pregnant with her daughter, 18 years ago, and also used as her changing table. She was thrilled when I told her it would be finding a home in another nursery.

A little sanding, rub'n'buff and some new $2 handles from Lowes, and we had exactly what I had been looking for!


Hopefully only a few more days until our boys are here...  fingers crossed!



1.14.2014

What I Read: 2013

Reading is one of the few things that I do only for me...
I love getting lost in a book, connecting with the characters, and thinking about the plot long after I've finished.

I tell my husband all the time that my dream job would be to read books and write reviews on them. I would love love LOVE to get paid to read books all day!

One of my 2013 resolutions had been to read 1 book a month. As someone who commutes by train daily to work, I read a lot. My reading happens to come in spurts, so while I do read at least 12 books in a year, sometimes I read 3 in a month and none in the next.

Here's a rundown of what I read last year, along with links to each book!



Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn



Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan


Divergent, by Veronica Roth


Insurgent, by Veronica Roth


Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand


The Silver Linings Playbook, by Matthew Quick




Where We Belong, by Emily Giffin


Defending Jacob, by William Landay


The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult


Bloom, by Kelle Hampton


Left Neglected, by Lisa Genova


Still Alice, by Lisa Genova 




The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins


The Husband's Secret, by Liane Moriarty


Allegiant, by Veronica Roth



Affiliate links were used in this post.

1.13.2014

Family Pictures - Fall 2013

Just wanted to share some of the family pictures we had taken this fall! A was a little ornery during this half hour session (he had a little cold, and had fallen asleep in the car = bad combo). But I still love looking at these, especially since our photographer was able to capture my belly, and some really great pictures of us as a family.