These two beauties have been BFFs since they were less than a year old.

They are from the same city in China, and they are from the same city now.  As far as we can determine, the girls didn’t cross paths until Forever Family Day when they were bussed in together (along with several other babies) from their home city to the provincial capital. And then Claire was placed in my and Paul’s arms, and Ava into Beth and James’.

Upon returning home from China, Claire and Ava became a constant in each other’s lives. Our photo albums and blogs are full of pictures of these two together. I could share so many sweet and hilarious pictures but I’ll save that for another time! For now, I’ll focus on the girls in matching dresses. Because that became a thing very early on.

In July of 2007, our first summer with the babies, we realized we had unintentionally purchased the same dress for the girls. It was a funny coincidence, and so we decided to document it with photos when we got together for a summer BBQ.

As far as getting a good photo went, it was a gong show. But it was still pretty cute just because they are cute.

Fast forward to November of 2008, when we deliberately bought matching dresses. This time, things went marginally better.

In February of 2010, to mark three years as BFFs, we went for it again. Not the greatest pictures ever, but so cute for the personalities you see shining through.

And then in May of 2011, Beth and I took some of our favourite pictures of the girls …

Beth and I both think something just magical happened that night, because the girls were so easy to photograph.  Click here and here for the full blog posts.

By the way, the photo directly above really shows the height difference between the girls for most of their lives until recently. Claire had always followed her own curve on (or slightly below!) the growth chart until about a year and a half ago when she suddenly made a huge jump. Now, she and Ava are pretty much the same height.

Somehow we neglected to do any matching dress photo shoots from 2011 until now. I’m not sure why … time just got away on us.  I’m so glad that Beth thought of it again this summer, so that we could mark the passage of time in our traditional way. It’s especially poignant  because now the girls look like young women instead of little children.

Without further adieu, here are Claire and Ava, at nearly 11 1/2 years old.

Our girls weren’t so comfortable being all huggy and lovey-dovey anymore! They kept laughing when we asked them to put their arms around each other’s waist, or to hold hands. No matter, I love the photos of them laughing too. And I do think we were able to capture some sweet, close moments too, without too much obvious awkwardness!

Thank you, Claire and Ava, for a sweet night of awkward hugs and hysterical giggles! I’m signing off now to online shop for your next photo shoot (wink!).

Since I’m so behind on blogging, I’m using this post to document the original renovation to this room (back in late 2014) as well as the refresh that we just completed! Here goes!

How it looked on possession day

As with Ren’s room, Claire’s new room didn’t need a lot of work. We planned to simply change out the trim and hardwoods (to match the rest of the upper level), paint, and replace the light fixture.

In these photos you can also spy the old stair railing which we quickly had removed!There’s Claire’s hoodie in the closet 🙂

The room wasn’t bad at all. It’s a really good size but the purple paint (which was actually quite pretty) made the room feel very dark.

As for the light fixture, we planned to re-use the chandelier from the dining room. I had a new one planned for that room, and I love re-purposing things instead of sending them to the dump. Here’s the “before” of the chandelier:

I ended up adapting the chandelier  by removing that bulbous thing at the bottom, painting it and then blinging it out with crystals I purchased online. You’ll see “after” pictures below.

Time for a decor refresh

When we first moved Claire’s things into this house, her room looked a lot different than it does now. I wish I took pictures of it then, so that I could show you the before and after of the “refresh”. However, I do have pictures of Claire’s room in our old house, which I’ve shared below to give you an idea of her colour scheme and furnishings when we first moved in:

It was cute – and we were both sentimentally attached to the “Sunbonnet Sue Through the Seasons” quilt my mom made – but last year, Claire decided she was ready for a change.

Planning and preparation

When we decided to refresh Claire’s room, we scoured the web for inspiration. Ultimately, we found our inspiration in cute bedding from Pottery Barn kids. The adorable eye-lashes on the yellow rose pillowcases cinched it for us, but we also fell in love with the sophisticated grey quilt that would see Claire through her teen years. Claire wanted to also incorporate teal which is one of her favourite colours, so we spray-painted her chandelier and various accessories / wall frames with some spray paint we bought at Michaels.

The Pottery Barn picture of her bedding also provided inspiration in the form of paint colour for Claire’s cherry-coloured bed frame. We had been wanting to paint it for years but didn’t have a clear vision for it. When we saw the Pottery Barn picture of her bedding on a black bed frame, voila! Being the middle of winter at the time, however, we had to hold off painting it until warmer weather. Fast forward to this summer, and the children’s absence (they are with their grandparents in Saskatoon) afforded Paul and I the opportunity to finally paint it.

We chose to spray-paint the bed instead of brushing / rolling it to avoid brush marks. Plus, it’s just super-easy and quick, as long as you have a space to work in. Here’s the bed in the garage before spray-painting it:

As with past furniture-painting projects, we used our trusty little Critter siphon spray gun. It’s very simple to use and provides great results.

Paul ended up doing the painting this time. He did several (4 – 5) very light coats. Doesn’t it look amazing?

Since the kids are away, we didn’t have to rush to get the bed back up in Claire’s room. We let it cure for a week in the garage before moving it back in, despite my excitement about setting up her room again.

The reveal

Okay, so I should admit that before photographing Claire’s room for these pictures, I took out soooo much “stuff” it isn’t funny. And now when I look at these pictures, I see that I should have taken out even MORE stuff because it still looks cluttered. But hey, at least it’s somewhat realistic, right?

One thing I should have removed is the piece of paper on Claire’s hamper. She made a cute little name sign and put it there quite a while ago; I didn’t have the heart to remove it, even just for photos.

When we changed out Claire’s bedding last winter, we also created this little gallery wall for her above her bed.

If you look really closely at the picture on the top right of the gallery, you’ll see a print of a seal wearing a clown wig. Claire and I had searched Etsy for seal paintings or prints. This one makes her laugh hysterically, so it was the natural winner.

Gigglestuff made the cute little unicorn eye-glass holder sitting on Claire’s night table.

A close family friend, Alma, made the adorable afghan in the photo below. Can you see the kitties in the pattern? She gave it to Claire for Christmas when Claire was about a year and a half old, and we’ve all treasured it ever since.

This is the side of the room that still looks horribly cluttered …

It’s crazy because I seriously removed a ton of stuff before doing these pictures.

Claire still likes her American Girl and Maple Lea (the Canadian version) dolls. Last summer we set up this little “apartment” for her dolls which Claire then promptly decorated. Only one doll is pictured below because Claire took one with her to Saskatoon.

This little “room” is one of my favourites because of the cute pillows on the bed (couch?). Claire’s Auntie Marlene made the little donut (a tea party “treat” that Claire re-purposed as a doll pillow) and Claire herself made the other pillows.

Back to Claire’s room and some other angles …

It feels so good to have finally painted Claire’s bed AND photographed the entire room. Plus, I spent quite a bit of time re-organizing her dresser drawers and closet. I’m missing my kiddos like crazy but I’ve gotta say that it is a relief to tackle these long-standing items on my to-do list. A big thank you to Baba and Dido for giving the children a July to remember while at the same time affording me the chance to do these labour-intensive tasks. And now we finally have a room fit for our tween!

 

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My kiddos are still having a heyday in Saskatoon with their grandparents so I’m trying to fit in a ton of work while they are away. One item on my to-do list was to document the renovation of their bathroom – 2 1/2 years after the fact!

When we bought the house in mid-2014, this was the only full bathroom in the entire house. Back on possession day, their bathroom looked like this:

This plaque was on the bathroom door. Seriously.

Believe me, it wasn’t there long.

As you can see, the bathroom was dated with old wallpaper, tired linoleum, not-great fixtures and a bulky glass door on the tub / shower.

We decided to keep the same footprint for the tub/ shower, vanity and toilet, but knew we had to update virtually everything. The two things we decided to keep were the tub – it is a good-quality jet tub in a size that would be hard to replace – and the entry and closet doors.

My vision for the bathroom was to keep it clean and simple, with bright pops of colour added through accessories; we knew that the main pop of colour would be provided by our custom shower curtain from our old house. Overall, we would go with an “updated traditional” look.

It didn’t take long for me to choose all the components, especially since some (the light fixtures, mirrors, and faucets) would be same as in the master bathroom.

With the vanity, there were a few choices for the counter-tops. I did consider a quartz counter-top that coordinated perfectly with the tile flooring I chose, but in the end, I decided it was almost too perfect a match; it was so perfect that it was actually kind of boring, if you know what I mean. In the end, I chose the same Carerra marble counter-top that we used in the master, not only for continuity throughout the house but because it offered more visual interest in combination with the flooring than the other options did.

Here’s the mood-board I created before reno started:

  1. Kent sconce, 10″, in polished chrome from Restoration Hardware (note: we used the smaller size of sconce here in the kids’ bathroom; in the master, we used the 15″)
  2. Classic Wall Mirror in polished chrome, 24 x 30″, from Restoration Hardware (note: we used the shorter mirror in the kids’ bathroom, versus the taller version we used in the master to accommodate my hubby’s 6’3″ height)
  3. Framingham 60″ Vanity – Double Bowl – in Polar White with Carrera marble top from Fairmont Designs
  4. 12 x 24″porcelain tile called Travertini – Grigio, in Natural. Grout colour is Delorian Gray. Tile to be applied in a one-third offset pattern. We used this on the floor, the tub skirt AND the shower surround. At the time, I wanted to minimize my choices and keep things super-simple. In retrospect, I think it would have been fun to choose another tile for the shower surround.
  5. Benjamin Moore White Dove for the walls
  6. Shower curtain, custom made by Tonic Living in Nathalie Teal fabric
  7. I had planned to make a faux roman shade for the window using Handcut Shapes in Rain, fabric from Tonic Living. I still haven’t made the roman shade because I love seeing the pretty window trim, but maybe this winter I’ll finally go for it.

In the end, the kids’ new bathroom looked just as I’d hoped: bright and happy like my kiddos themselves.

We deliberately hung the mirrors quite low for the kids. It’ll be easy to hang them higher as they get taller. We made sure to leave room under the light sconces for that, while ensuring that the current gap between the mirrors and sconces still looks good.

Huh. As I’m working on this post, I’m noticing the weird pinkish tinge to the hallway walls in the photo above. They aren’t really pink! I think they may have taken on a strange colour cast from the maple floors in this small area. The walls in the hallway are Benjamin Moore White Dove just like in the bathroom.

We love this tall bar on which the shower head can slide. It’s perfect because this bathroom, in addition to being the kids’ bathroom, is also the guest bath. Guests can easily adjust the shower height from this low position set for my kids.

My kids love having their own sinks. In our old house, our family of four shared one bathroom (although there was a small bathroom in the basement too), so it’s a luxury for them to have a bathroom to themselves. Another small luxury is the heated floor. It feels sooo good in the winter!

I forgot to include our faucets on the mood-board. They are by Riobel, and I love them.

I love how you can see this rubber ducky in the reflection of the mirrors in some pics. A colleague of mine gave this to me when we were waiting to adopt Claire. It always makes me smile.

I obviously didn’t decorate this small space very heavily, but the pieces we do have in here, I love. The photograph above the toilet is from Cuba when Claire just under two years old.

The bright teal towels are all from IKEA, by the way.

So that’s it: that’s our kids’ bright and happy little bathroom. I love how simple it is, and how we can easily change the look of it by switching out the accessories. I have to say, though, I still love the colour palette and the shower curtain fabric so much that I haven’t changed a thing since we moved in!

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Okay, this is a little embarrassing. We’ve lived in this house now for 2 1/2 years and it’s taken me this long to do the “after” photos of our renovation to most of the rooms, including our son Ren’s room. Honestly, I think that after all the renos and moving, I was just over it already and had no energy left to actually come in and do another tidy-up specifically for photos. But now that I’ve done it for Ren’s room, I’m excited and motivated to do more!

I think it helps that my kiddos are away right now. They are in Saskatchewan with Paul’s parents having an incredible time doing whatever strikes their fancy! Meanwhile, I’m doing my best to make good use of my time alone. I’ve been gardening, staining a new fence, painting various small things here and there, and as of today, organizing, cleaning and tidying up rooms for after photos.

So, I should back up a bit to what Ren’s room looked like “before”. This is the photo of the room from the real estate listing:

They pinky-beige walls were pretty hideous. No, that’s not right: they were full-on hideous.

The next few photos are from the day we got possession of the house. You’ll be able to spy Ren’s orange hoodie in the closet. Both kids immediately hung up their hoodies in their closets, which I thought was super-cute.

Be sure to notice the lovely light fixture in the photo above.

The hardwood floors were in decent shape but the hardwoods upstairs were somewhat disjointed (ie. running in various directions from room to room) and we decided to replace them all with new maple to coordinate with existing maple hardwoods on the main level. All doors and windows were also slated for new trim, and the baseboards would be replaced as well.

One thing we decided to keep very early on were the doors themselves. They are solid core, and I think they have a charming look to them.

So, fast forward now to today – 2 1/2 years later – and this is what Ren’s room looks like now …

We painted most of the walls in the house White Dove by Benjamin Moore. I craved white walls! They are a warm, creamy type of white.

I was quite specific as to how I wanted our window trim to look. Our carpenter was awesome – and very patient with me and my detailed plans! I’ve been meaning to make curtains for Ren’s room but he actually likes the light flooding in, and I enjoy seeing the pretty trim.

I love all of Ren’s Disneyland souvenirs almost as much as he does. This pirate hat from when he was three brings back great memories!

We bought Ren’s bed frame and dresser right around the time we adopted him (8 years ago), and we’ve been really happy with them. The dark navy does show dust but it’s a good reminder for me to get to work and dust it already!

These wall shelves hold more of Ren’s treasures.

These horses were hand-carved and painted by the late father of a close friend, and were specially gifted to Ren by our friend.

More Disneyland memories …

The picture below shows Ren with his godparents and their dog, Kino. Kino was born in the same year as the kids – the year of the dog by the Chinese zodiac. That’s Kino in the artwork above Ren’s bed, by the way.

Oh, and wouldn’t you know it: more Disneyland memories! But not Ren’s memories … Paul, Claire and I visited Hong Kong Disneyland on our way to Ren’s home province to adopt him. We saw this sweet clock and thought it would be a cute decor item for his room.

My mom made Ren’s quilt and pillowcases using a pattern and fabric I found. He’s had it since we brought him home from China. I have always loved the bright pops of colours it adds to his room but I realize he’s getting a little old for the cute car bedding now. Maybe I’ll surprise him upon his return with a new look for his bedroom! He’s pretty sentimental so I’ll have to be very careful to say up front (and repeat it as necessary!) that his quilt from Grandma is just around the corner in the linen closet.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention Ren’s light fixture! It’s an inexpensive piece from Home Depot and I knew it was the one the moment I saw it. Even Ren was enthusiastic about it; he thought it looked like a jail cage, LOL.

Some of you may have noticed all the lego in disarray on the table near the foot of his bed. That’s where he spends hours playing. I was going to try to tidy it up but honestly, I think he has something going on there and I’m sure that even the smallest movement would disturb his set-up. So, I reluctantly left all the table-top area as is; the many bins of lego, though, are hiding out of sight in the hall! Normally we store them under his lego table.

Well, that’s it for the tour of Ren’s room! Now, I should get back to Claire’s room …

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Ever since we adopted our children, I’ve made a point of making sure they had something cute and patriotic to wear on Canada Day. This year was no exception!

This year, I took the extra step of decorating the front porch for the occasion! I love the bright pops of red and small hints of crisp white.

We already had this small loveseat, chair, large black planters and black lanterns. I just added the outdoor rug, the coffee table, some red and white petunias and the accessories. What a difference it made to liven the space up!

Every now and then, I use a chalk marker to write a message on our front door’s window. Sometimes it’s a simple “Hello”, or “Hello Spring”. This time, I wrote “O Canada” as a nod to our national anthem.

Now that I’ve freshened this space up, I have a feeling we’ll be spending a lot more time out here. It’s a wonderfully-shaded spot, especially compared to our very sunny backyard. We already spent a good part of the afternoon out there today playing Kaiser, a card game that is apparently unique to the Canadian prairies.

This little glass wheelbarrow always makes me smile whenever I see it.  Sometimes I use it to hold the kids’ favourite rocks but other times it holds candy. I really should have filled it with red Smarties today!

To celebrate Canada Day this year, we decided to camp in our backyard. We used to have a tradition where we would go camping on the Father’s Day weekend in June. However, when Claire moved to a new dance studio a couple of years ago, that no longer worked because of a conflict with their year-end recital. Instead, the July long weekend will now serve as our our annual camping weekend. I’m so glad the “trip” part is just a few steps out the back door!

We had an amazing night last night in our yard and a fun and somewhat restful sleep in the tent last night. The best part, though, was sleeping in and then having homemade poutine – a Canadian favourite –  for lunch. Yum!

There are so many amazing things happening in Edmonton this weekend to celebrate Canada’s 150th, but it feels great to just be celebrating together quietly in our backyard. After a very busy spring, I think we all needed this quality time together to make new memories.

Whether you are celebrating quietly like us or taking part in some of the great activities around our beautiful country today, enjoy your Canada Day! Happy 150th, Canada!

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Here in Alberta, we have a very short growing season for flowers. Typically, we all wait until the May long weekend or after to plant our annuals because of the risk of frost.We get pretty antsy waiting, especially when we see photos of all the beautiful blooms in our warmer areas like Vancouver and Victoria, and down south in the States.

This year, I was even later than usual with my annuals because my daughter had an out-of-town dance competition on the May long weekend. And then I promptly got sick and stayed that way the entire week. But at long last, in late May I was finally able to get out to the greenhouses, pick up my blooms and then start planting!

One benefit of my delayed planting this year is that the dreamy scent of lilacs was in the air the whole time I puttered in the yard! That, combined with working at my cute little potting bench, made my day.

This year, I decided to go with a palette of hot pinks and chartreuse / lime greens. I have blue pots that I purchased many years ago, and I thought that colour combination would look pretty.

I know that the planter recipe is “thriller, filler, spiller” so I kept that in mind while choosing my plants. For the “thriller”, I chose to use love lies bleeding (amaranthus). It features those gorgeous long rope-y tassels that look lovely in bouquets. I started some from seed indoors earlier this year because they are often hard to find in the greenhouses. They just barely just begun blooming; I’ll point them out in some photos later in this post. For some of my smaller pots, I opted to go with celosia (seen below) as the “thriller”.  I do think, though, that they may not grow as tall as I would like. I also added some dianthus to some of the pots to add more height and colour.

For colour interest and as a spiller, I picked up a bunch of green sweet potato vine. This is a staple for me. I love the bright green colour of it. I happened to spy some pink coleus at the greenhouse so that ended up in my cart too.

For more bright green colour and interesting texture, I added licorice plant (the rounded yellow-green leaves, below) and asparagus fern (spikey, yellow-green leaves).For both filler and spiller, I added pink petunias, and white and pink bacopa. I’m actually not a huge fan of petunias and have rarely used them in my pots despite my how colourful and showy they are. But this year, I’m giving it a shot.

While at my favourite greenhouse, I saw love lies bleeding – the very plant I had started from seed. I picked up one plant of it in case none of mine bloomed or lived (a serious possibility with me!). I didn’t want to risk being without those lovely tassels. You can see it below in the back centre of the pot. It’s the draping rose-pink tassel.

In the pot below, I planted one of my own love lies bleeding plants. I purchased seed for both the pink and the green varieties. You can see just the start of the green tassel on this one.

The pots don’t look very lush at the moment but they should fill in nicely over the next month or so.

I almost forgot: I added a bit of alyssum to the pot below. This pot is along a path, and I thought the pretty scent of alyssum would be nice to catch as we walk past.

The photo below shows another last-minute addition.  I tucked in a couple of dark pink snapdragons when I realized I had a few more than I needed for my yard. As the love lies bleeding grows taller, I’m hoping that the snapdragons help fill in the height gap.

I think the pots are off to a nice start. I can’t wait to see how they look once they fill out a bit. I’ll be sure to post more pics!

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What makes a photo shoot “stylized”?

To me, it means there is something elevating it beyond a pretty picture of a pretty person. Usually, it means having a theme – complete with a colour palette –  and then incorporating a bunch of props to reflect that theme and palette. I do find that props help a child to stay interested in the shoot; it gives them something to hold onto and something to focus on other than me behind the camera!

However, a stylized shoot doesn’t always need to be heavy on the props. Sometimes all it takes is a pretty dress, some ribbons and gorgeous evening light …

This photo shoot was inspired by a dress I found at Home Sense in two sizes that would fit my friend’s daughters. It’s a gorgeous blush colour with a lace-covered bodice and a flowy knee-length skirt. There’s nothing super-fancy about it, but I could just picture the pretty colour on the girls, and I knew that if I timed the photo shoot right, golden evening light would make the skirts glow.

Speaking of golden light glowing through fabric, once I had these dresses, I knew the shoot needeed something else: something equally flowy and sheer. Then it came to me: ribbons!I set off for Fabricland with the dress in hand to find ribbons that would coordinate with the dress. I wanted to echo the dress colour but also find a mixture of ribbon materials – some sheer, some more satiny, others more lacy, etc. It may be a subtle thing, but I think the mix of materials adds more dimension and interest to the photos than if the ribbons were all the same sheer fabric.

I tied the ribbons to a drapery ring for each girl to easily hold, making sure that the ribbons were of varying lengths (again, for visual interest).

Then all we had to do was wait for a beautiful night when the girls were free!

The girls were so much fun to photograph. They are always so enthusiastic and this night was no exception. All I had to do was give them simple instructions about where to run, walk or stand (depending on the position of the sun and the background), and away they went.

I did most of the shoot in a large field with newly-leafed out trees in the background. I love the bright green of the new leaves. For some variation, we also went to the nearby riverbank where I did more close-up shots of the girls together and separately.

I love these goofy sisters!

As the sun got lower, we headed back to the field for a bit more fun and then called it a night.

This was one of the easiest photo shoots to execute. It was simple to prepare, and so pretty. Really, it was just all about capturing these beautiful and fun-loving girls in the gorgeous golden light.

What do you think … would you consider this a “stylized photo shoot”? Or do you think a stylized shoot means a more elaborate set-up?

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While I puttered away at my potting bench this spring, I was reminded of a photo shoot I did a couple of years ago that I never blogged. And it’s one of my favourites, too, because it incorporates so many things I love: flowers, photography and my sweet girl!

I spied an old potting bench at a local thrift shop one day and immediately knew I had to have it: not just for gardening but for photography too. I love it when a spontaneous purchase is justified by not one but two hobbies!

I set to work making it pretty, with a quick and easy coat of white paint (partly rubbed off) to give it a shabby chic look. I knew it would look great that way in my yard but would also look beautiful in photo shoots.I wish I had a “before” picture. I’m often a little too eager to transform things to remember to take pictures. I’m sure I’m not the only one!

I already had an idea of what my first shoot would look like, based on an old dress of Claire’s. Being the great housewife I am (not!), I had recently ruined a cute summer dress of Claire’s by burning the back of the bodice with my iron. I loved the fabric so much, though, that I held on to it for a future sewing project. I salvaged the bottom of the dress by turning it into a skirt, and used the remainder of the bodice to make a cute little kerchief for Claire. While I had my sewing machine out, I also made a little gardening apron she could wear, with small pockets for plant labels and tools.

That fabric anchored drove my colour scheme and overall shabby chic feel. I already had a patio chair in a french blue colour, and it really helped to carry the colour through the shots.  The other key accessory I needed was a lettered sign: I was pretty sure I wanted to use the word “grow” or “bloom” – it just depended whether I could find all the letters I needed!

Obviously, “grow” was the winner! I found these letters at Michaels. The zinc finish on them drove some of my other choices for props; I ended up incoprorating a few other small zinc / silver accessories to help pull together a cohesive look.

At Michaels, I also found the colourful clothes pins seen above, the small white flower pitcher, a zinc planting pot and some keys that I hung from twine off of some hooks on the side of the bench. I know the keys might seem like an usual choice, but for me they evoke a sort of “secret garden” feel.

The other acccssories for the shoot came together pretty quickly: old seed packets and plant labels from my shed, dried lavender hung on a frame, a few pretty plants from a nearby greenhouse, and some small gardening tools, gloves and twine from the dollar store.

Thankfully, Claire was completely game for the photo shoot and was happy to play along. I love how goofy she can be!

Such emotional range: from goofy to serious!

I love all things pretty, and I was really happy with how this turned out. What do you think? Did I miss any “must-haves” for styling this little photo shoot?

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