hellodesignlove » Where design and family connect

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I am offering Fall Mini Sessions this year in Old Town, Alexandria. This is the time to get your family photo for your Christmas Cards done. Call or email me to get your session booked. Each session is 45 minutes long and you will receive 10 edited digital images to print them where you want for $150. Turn around time will be 1 to 2 weeks from your session date.

A $75 deposit is required to hold your spot, it’s non-refundable, and will be used towards your session. The remainder ($75) is due at the time of the session in the form of cash, paypal or a check made out to Heather Raetz.

In case of bad weather the day of the session, there will be a make-up day on November 18th at Fort Hunt Park. I will do my best to work with everyone if a make-up day is needed.

Please email me with any questions you may have. My cell is 703.888.8569 if you need to call/text me.


My daughter’s birthday came and went and I am embarrassed to be posting about it so late. Sorry Mom!

My daughter is a wonderful little girl with a good head on her shoulders. I am not eloquent enough to share all her remarkable qualities however the one I can say with certainty is that she knows what she likes. This year, planning her party was her main focus. She decided on her theme. “Cowgirl in the West,” she said. She got out the box of crayons to show me the colors she wanted to use. She selected 5 colors and I decided to use 4. No need to go crazy! 😉 I came up with a design that she tweaked (3 revisions) until she was happy. She planned the food and what activities she wanted to do. She helped decorate and set things up. This is the first year where I felt like the helper and she was the designer. It was a lot of fun to work with her and let her take ownership in the effort we put in. I could tell she was super proud of the party.

The colors she chose.

The invitation. 

The cake was a four layer chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. The hat was made out of fondant which I used rice crispies to form the hat.

Piñata and painting was their activities. 

Of course the big brother was the one to crack open the piñata. 

I placed the candy from the piñata into party favor bags with a cute tag that said Thank ye’ kindly. They also got to take their painted masterpiece home. 

The thank you cards. 

Are you interested in using this for your next birthday party? It is available on etsy. Check out the party package here.

I have said this countless times, “my son gets gypped on his birthday parties.” We are always in limbo during the summer either moving to a new country or traveling. I typically don’t have the time or access to plan a well designed birthday party. I typically hodgepodge it and this year was no different. Despite the limited design and make-shift activities, I would say that this birthday totally rocked!

Why is that?! Because this year, his party was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Kansas. It has been over 2 years since we’ve seen them and my sister’s family which includes his super cool, computer-techie, older cousins. He got to learn new tricks with computer games, hang with old friends from Okinawa, and eat his favorite cake – angel food. It was a total success.

As always, I start planning the party by determining a color scheme. Not only do these colors compliment a Nerf party but my mom had left over birthday supplies from a few years back. Win/Win.






I dressed up an angel food cake with grey whipped frosting and nerf bullets. Simple, easy with minimal effort. dsc_6854dsc_6857dsc_6867

They played with nerf guns for most of the day and then towards the end we pulled out some water balloons for them to cool off.dsc_6888dsc_6895dsc_6916

Below are a sequence of photos that I took while the dads snuck up on the kiddos to surprise attack them with large water balloons. It’s funny how the kids remained posing until they realized what was going on and scattered in defense.


  • heather - awesome invite! where was that from?ReplyCancel

    • Heather - Thanks Heather, I designed the invitation. I started selling electronic files on etsy. If you are interested in having this design let me know.ReplyCancel

      • Ashley - Hi there! I love the invite. can you email me a link so I can purchase these invites?ReplyCancel

        • Heather - Hi Ashley! Thanks for reaching out. I am happy that you like my design. I am sending you a email now.ReplyCancel

          • Kristian - Can you please email me link to invite! Thank you!

          • Heather - Kristian, Unfortunately I can’t send you an email of the invitation since I designed it specifically for my son’s birthday with his information on it. But I would be willing to create something for your son. I am sending you an email explaining. Thanks, Heather

  • Kelsie - I love the goodie bags!! Where did you find those!!ReplyCancel

    • Heather - Kelsie, Thank you for the nice compliment. I found the blue and orange bags from a local dollar store. I loved that they were not huge but big enough to put a small nerf gun and candy in it. I then designed a coordinating gift favor tag to tie on the bags. If you would like to buy a digital pdf of the gift tags for you to use, let me know. I can add it to my etsy store hellodesignlove.ReplyCancel

      • Kristian - Can you please tell me Name of dollar store you bought those bags? They’re perfect!ReplyCancel

        • Heather - Kristian, I picked up the bags from the store called Daiso. We lived in Japan at the time. However, depending on what city you live in there are several Daiso stores here in the US too. Happy shopping.

          ~ HeatherReplyCancel

Kids were outside playing, I was inside getting dinner ready and I happened to glance out the window to see my kids and their friends getting really dirty. I immediately grabbed my camera and went out to snap some pics. The camera took a bit to warm up and defog due to the humidity but I am glad I got to snap a few pics of my daughter having fun being a kid. These photos are making me feel a little nostalgic today. Good times are had when you mix a little dirt and water with friends in the backyard.




As our time here on island is getting closer to the end we have made it a quest to enjoy all the things we will miss. Torii station beach and pool is definitely on the top of our list. The torii pool just reopened after a remodel facelift and we have been there every weekend. It is a great pool for the kids to practice their swimming skills and it is great for mommy because there is plenty of shade. Not too mention that it is really close to daddy’s work so we can meet for a little swim and then dinner.


Torii beach is one of the best beaches on island. It is a sandy beach with minimal coral in the water so no little hurt feet while playing. The sand is more crushed coral so it doesn’t make sandcastles but you can build moats and tide pools really well. Torii beach also has a wonderful water slide that my kids love to use over and over. Did I mention that there is shade for me too! You can rent chairs and a umbrella for a nominal fee for the entire day.


We had to fly in and out of Osaka for our Kyoto vacation. Might as well use our time wisely and spend a day or two in Osaka to see the sites and go to Universal Studios. The kids thought Universal was the highlight of the vacation. Harry Potter World and Snoopy’s Great Race were the kids favorite areas of the park. We rode the JAWS ride (in Japanese!) and I got to remember and see the fear first-hand when BeeGee hid her face in my lap and would not look up till it was over. We also got to see the 50th anniversary parade and dance in the streets with all the characters. It was a blast! Matter of fact, BeeGee said on the way back to the hotel after we spent the entire day at Universal, “Wow, that was a blast! Thank you Mom.” I am so happy that we took the opportunity to let the kids be kids away from site-seeing temples and foreign foods. Unfortunately, I have no pictures to show because I just couldn’t fathom lugging my big DSLR through universal.

We stayed at another airbnb apartment. This one was a little older but more spacious inside. Our view was a little less desirable. It turned out, we were right next to a highway. But thankfully due to solid construction, you couldn’t hear the traffic from inside the apartment.DSC_4385DSC_4387

The first night we headed to Dotonburi Canal for yummy thai food. The night life down on the canal got busier and busier as the night went on.DSC_4367DSC_4376DSC_4379

The next day we headed to Osaka Castle. The walls and moat around the castle were impressive. This is the guard house at the corner of the castle grounds.DSC_4388DSC_4392DSC_4393

On the walk to the castle the kids stopped for a quick photo opportunity with the pretty flowering bushes. Bee Gee enjoyed getting pics of all the flowers through out our vacation.DSC_4395


My handsome men taking a quick break at the base of the castle. The breeze was nice and cooler.DSC_4410

View from the top of the castle.DSC_4418DSC_4427DSC_4430

Playground break.DSC_4447DSC_4448

This is what I had for lunch – taco rice with a soft runny egg on top. It was delicious and I enjoyed the fresh salad greens.DSC_4453

BeeGee had a sweet lunch with pancakes, ice cream and strawberries. Sometimes it is fun to let them indulge.DSC_4454

Dudeo had a healthier, sweet lunch of fresh fruit, pancakes and ice cream.DSC_4456

Osaka’s Museum of Modern Art DSC_4459DSC_4460DSC_4465

Parkour enthusiasts. Of course Dad started and the kids followed. DSC_4478

Another little neighborhood of Osaka called Shinsekai. It used to be a not-so-safe or clean area of Osaka. But the past decades it has become a tourist spot where you can eat the local cuisine and play. It is supposedly designed after New York Times Square and Paris. I didn’t see the connection.DSC_4485DSC_4487

This old fashioned subway train was the last photo of our trip. We had a great time in Kyoto and Osaka. The kids got along great and were extra kind to each other. These are the times I hope my children will remember and remember them fondly. We are truly blessed. Not many can say they traveled the world at age 6 and 8.  DSC_4491

Our Kyoto vacation continues with visiting the monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park on Mt. Arashiyama. With a short walk from the train station, a small fee and a little hike up the mountain you can be surrounded by wild macaque monkeys. The kids had fun feeding them. What was very interesting is the people that want to feed the monkeys would enter a building and buy banana pieces and then feed the monkeys through the wire fencing. I am assuming it keeps the monkeys from attacking or stealing the food from the tourists.DSC_3983DSC_3988DSC_3994DSC_3996DSC_4004DSC_4007DSC_4019DSC_4029DSC_4038DSC_4074DSC_4081DSC_4090

After our time with the monkeys we walked a scenic path to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This is a very popular, well photographed area. A short distance in a bamboo forest that feels more architectural and zen like. The bamboo provided a shady and cooler place that I welcomed.


BeeGee wanted me to get a photo of her throwing sakura petals up in the air. As I was preparing the camera she threw the petals in disgust. She claimed there was a bug crawling in the pile of petals which freaked her out. Needless to say she didn’t pick them up again. DSC_4157DSC_4158DSC_4159

On our walk back to the train station, we stopped to have Sakura (cherry blossom) ice cream. My eldest did not like the flavor, a cross between floral and green tea. Not my favorite but I sacrificed for him and ate it. DSC_4160DSC_4165

Here are the kiddos playing at the park near the apartment. We went home to take a little siesta before heading out and searching out more pretty cherry blossoms.



This photo is specifically for my mom. Mom would you believe these adorable bird fence posts line the entrance to parks! This one was propped up against a stump. Super cute and I thought of you.DSC_4260DSC_4263

The family walked the serene and peaceful Philosopher’s Walk. A long path lined with flowers and cherry blossoms. DSC_4270DSC_4273DSC_4288DSC_4314

On our last morning in Kyoto, we walked to the kaleidoscope museum which we were not allowed to take photos of and then headed to the Nishiki Market.


BeeGee wanted to get a snack while we were walking through the Nishiki Market. I was surprised when she chose to buy the “Candied Octopus with Stuffed Quail Egg on a Stick.” And she ate it too! I took a small nibble of a tentacle and can safely say that it was not a snack I would choose!DSC_4337DSC_4340DSC_4343DSC_4345DSC_4349DSC_4350DSC_4354DSC_4363


Our family took a little trip to Kyoto during spring break. It was a perfect time to go and see the cherry blossoms. Truthfully, I was not expecting to be impressed. I have seen cherry blossoms at the tidal basin in D.C. I have seen cherry blossoms here on Okinawa. So I expected to be underwhelmed but boy was I wrong. Kyoto is beautiful. The cherry blossoms were everywhere. We were catching the tail end of them so it was hit or miss whether you would see them in the trees or on the ground. I enjoyed them all ways.

We rented a airbnb apartment close to a subway station. It was great to walk through the streets of Kyoto and see how they live. My husband and I were so surprised at how exceptionally quiet Kyoto is for a city.

The view from our apartment. We were on the 5th floor. DSC_3723DSC_3724

Walking through the neighborhood headed to the metro station we would pass a park. Their parks are dirt yards with some play equipment. The kids welcomed the playtime in the morning and late afternoon.DSC_3729

I love the character of the streets. Every house would have a bicycle out front. Biking is the way to go here. DSC_3732DSC_3736

Nice classic VW in place of a bicycle. I wonder if they even drive it.DSC_3829


Our first site-seeing destination was the Kinkaku-ji Temple (a.k.a “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”). The gold Zen Buddhist Temple is very pretty especially when it reflects off the water and is one of the most popular temples in Kyoto. What you don’t see in my pics is the million other people there trying to photograph this beautiful temple. The crowds were a little overwhelming. DSC_3749DSC_3759DSC_3769DSC_3770

The kids waiting on a platform for the train to come.DSC_3842DSC_3845

Kyoto Station is one of the busiest places in Kyoto. It is known as one of the largest buildings in the country. It is a 15-story building filled with tons of shopping, a movie theater, a hotel and many eating establishments. We ate a ramen lunch set on the 11th floor.DSC_3783DSC_3795

We went to the top of the station to see the skyline. DSC_3809DSC_3821DSC_3826DSC_3828 DSC_3853

Our next site-seeing adventure was going to see the 10,000 Torii Gates called Fushimi Inari-Taisha. Each Torii Gate was donated by a Japanese business because Inari has been seen as the patron of business.  Everywhere you turn a torii gate is present. It takes a total of 2 hours to hike up the mountain.DSC_3854DSC_3855DSC_3924DSC_3916DSC_3919

Thanks to the hordes of people, my family and I took a little side path to explore. On our path we were able to see how some of the farmers have made lean-to structures to house some of their tools. DSC_3863DSC_3866DSC_3873DSC_3879DSC_3885DSC_3902

DSC_3939DSC_3943Another little park to stop and play at for a few moments. Nice break from the walking.DSC_3949DSC_3951

Headed to the Gion district. The oldest district where the authentic Geisha’s live and work. I tried to snap a few pictures of the Geisha’s but was unsuccessful. They were too fast for me and my camera. You will see the streets lined with women in their kimonos. I am not sure why many women dress so formal to site-see but it is clear that they are tourists. DSC_3959DSC_3973DSC_3964DSC_3969



It’s spring break here and we just returned from a trip to Kyoto (post to come). The first day at home and the kids found boredom. So quickly, really?! But to my surprise it didn’t last long. They actually found their own entertainment that did not involve the iPad or TV. The oldest walked in from outside and said, “Mom, can we pick mulberries and make it into mulberry juice?” Our backyard (a.k.a butterfly park) is scattered with mulberry trees. It didn’t take them long to gather the things they needed to start picking once I said yes. After the picking, we moved to the kitchen to wash the mulberries, squeeze them into liquid, cook the liquid on the stove (just in case!) and then mix it with water and a little bit of sugar. The kids and I agreed that it needed something more. So we squeezed lime into the juice which made it taste really good. Almost similar to lemonade. Next both kids decided to sell it at a lemonade stand. The mulberry juice did not make enough so we turned it into mulberry lemonade by mixing it with lemonade. Almost a 1 to 1 ratio. Onto the economics aspect of this spring break activity. What a great teaching moment which I happily referred to my lovely husband. He is such a wonderful teacher. As he helped them plan out their venture, I found scrap wood (which I’ve needed to get rid of) for them to make the signs. By the time they headed down to the street corner the weather turned windy and cloudy. No way would that stop the kids. They were so excited and ready to market their fresh drinks. Wowzers! Was I surprised when they came home less than 2 hours later. After expenses which was $4.72, they made a whopping $37.73. Amazing.


One happy customer that happens to be a friend of my son. DSC_4542

We are many many miles from home. On a daily basis I think of our family back in the states and miss them incredibly. Although we are so far away, we got to feel HOME this weekend with our friends. Matt is one of my husband’s childhood buddies. They grew up in the same town and went to the same high school. They joined different branches of the military after college. Coincidentally, we were stationed in D.C. at the same time as Matt. We met Katie when they started dating there. I remember vividly Matt saying he “met the ONE.” Years later we reunited while we both were stationed in Tampa. A year after that, about the same time, we both announced we were moving to Okinawa, Japan. The saying “It’s a small world” is so true especially between these home town friends in different branches of service.

Hanging out and grilling in the backyard of Matt and Katie’s was a very nice break from reality. It felt like we were home. Our kids played in the run-off drain while the grown-ups talked. The fire pit that Matt built was put to good use as the sun went down. The kids were super excited when Katie broke out the skewers and marshmallows. It was a nice relaxing evening with our longtime friends far from HOME.


The boys got super excited when the marshmallows came out.

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This beautiful, sunny morning the family packed up the car and headed to a nearby beach to play. The big kid wanted to play on his paddle board and the little kids just wanted to play in the sand. When we arrived, I settled myself under an umbrella while the kids played in the sand. Daddy got out the paddle board and allowed the kids to play on it by the shore to get comfortable. Once they were ready, he took each child out on the board with him. I stayed behind, snapped some photos and enjoyed the ocean breeze. Torii beach is a great quiet beach located on, the army base, Torii Station. It is rarely busy and with the umbrella and beach chair rental, it is one of my favorites for a daytime activity. The ocean water is still a little cold to get fully immersed, so when my son came back very wet and freezing, I immediately dug out the towels to cover him up.



Buddy created a fort which he was able then to attack innocent bystanders like myself when he wanted to. DSC_3551DSC_3552DSC_3572DSC_3499

As BeeGee and I were walking home from dropping off big brother at school, she stopped to pick a flower. Picking flowers has become a morning ritual for her. Thankfully, since we live on a military base, the flowers do not belong to anyone. However, once we get back to the states I will have to remind her that the flowers in people’s yards are theirs and are not for our picking! Anyway, as she picked the flower and put it behind her ear. She asked if I would take pictures of her when we get home. Of course!! Little did I know she would spend 20 minutes asking for this pose and that pose. Asking for location changes and so forth. It turned out to be a mini photoshoot that she dictated entirely. I did not complain one bit. I enjoy taking pictures of my little girl. She won’t be little for very much longer. *Sniff *SniffDSC_2765DSC_2764DSC_2779DSC_2788DSC_2795