Thursday, June 27, 2013

You Do You.

You don't need to have been blogging for years to understand that it's a vulnerable work. 

Putting yourself out there day after day allowing complete strangers a peek into your daily life is no easy feat. Blogging on a public platform is making a choice to allow yourself to be judged be it positively or negatively and it is a choice that I can assume the lot of us don't take lightly. 

For some, writing their blog is a hobby. Something they choose to do so after a long day at work, something that helps them unwind or connect with others around them in the same season of life. For others, they've successfully managed to make the time they invest in their space pay off, literally. Whether you monetize your space or not, it doesn't make you more or less of a blogger than the next. 

That's the great thing about blogging. You get to just do you

Some people choose to speak through pictures, often posting less words and more photographs of their days. Be it their children, their latest shopping haul or their dogs, they choose to fill their space with pretty pictures rather than pretty words. 

Others may choose to share no pictures at all, letting their words paint the images they want to convey. Some bloggers may share a bit of both. Maybe their photographs aren't perfectly edited. Maybe their angle isn't the same you would choose but regardless, they're real moments captured in time. More importantly, they're their real moments that help tell their story that they've chosen to share with you.

Years ago when I first started blogging, I didn't think twice about what I wrote or the pictures I shared. I didn't own any editing software let alone a fancy camera. I often divulged the mundane details of my day to day raising a 100lbs. sheepdog with a husband who was hardly home because he traveled for business. Looking back on those days reminds me how much I hated being alone. How much I missed having my husband home each night. I'm so glad I wrote about those days as I find it particularly helpful to look back on when it's 7:30pm, my husband just walked through the door, and I'm two tickets shy of sending the boys off to the circus. 

I wrote without caring what people thought of me. I just did me. 

And the truth is, I still do. I come to this space, some weeks more than others, sharing a piece of my life. Sometimes it's funny and other times it's more of an internal struggle but I continue to show up here because for the most part, I enjoy the community of blogging. 

Writing has always been cathartic for me but for the last year or so it hasn't been easy. 

I started worrying too much about what others would think. I didn't post pictures because I was afraid that people would judge them, I didn't share stories because I was afraid I would be judged for being too proud or mocked for being too vain. And I was all of these things. Judged, mocked, shamed.  

I've seen how easy it is for others to tear apart words and pictures that aren't their own. To judge them. I've been there. I've judged! 

I will never understand, however, the people who feel it is their personal responsibility to the blogging community, bestowed upon themselves by themselves, to outline what others should and should not write about. To publicly shame them. I've read posts designed to be funny but laced with jabs and "constructive criticism." They allow themselves the freedom to share whatever they desire but don't allow the same freedoms to those around them. 

What I've come to realize is someone, somewhere, is always going to hate you. Someone will always disagree with you. They will find fault with your words and your pictures and they will find others who feel the same way. You know why? Because misery loves company. 

Perhaps I will never understand why people feel so strongly about the words and pictures of strangers. Perhaps it's because deep down they're unhappy with their own story. Maybe their a little green with envy or maybe they're making up for a lifetime of being on the receiving end of judgment. Maybe they're just bored.

Let them judge. And shame. And mock. You have nothing to prove and it's evident that they don't care to know you. To read your story. 

Don't let others dictate your voice. At the end of the day, being true to yourself is all that matters. 

Just do you.  

This is something I remind myself of daily.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Revenge, Monday-Haters, eBay Addicts And More...

I used to love Mondays. I used to love the promise of a new week- it was like being granted a Do Over day that allowed you to determine the kind of turn your week would take. And then I would step out of bed and remember how much Mondays suck. Especially if the Sunday before was particularly wonderful and summery.

Do any of you watch Revenge? I understand I’m way late to jump on this scandalous bandwagon but good lord, I cannot stop watching. I finished season 1 in a little over one week which says a lot about how much I neglected my children in exchange for a little extra free time to stream.
I’m kidding, mostly, but I will say that in this last week those M boys sure learned to settle disputes between themselves.

Back to Revenge, OHMYGOD I AM OBSESSED. The kind of obsessed that stays awake until 1 and 2 in the morning just to squeeze in an extra episode or three. I can’t hang anymore. My children have sucked any ounce of cool “let’s stay up until 2am and hang”-ness out of me so the sole fact that I stayed up this last for multiple nights on end says a lot. As does the four cups of coffee that I am averaging per day.

As for Emily Thorne and Victoria Greyson’s wardrobe? I would like it all. Tomorrow.

I am addicted to eBay. I tend to go through these spurts when I’m all, “ew, I would never buy something on eBay” and then I come across a fantastic deal on overpriced children’s shoes, a handbag or perhaps even a pair of vintage women’s shorts and I’m all “eBay me all the things!”

Speaking of shopping, I swear I unsubscribe from at least 8-10 email listings per day and I still manage to wake up to sale emails tempting me. This would explain the packages that tend to arrive on our porch as I’m left scratching my head as to how they got here. Sleep-shopping is a real thing, friends. A real and dangerous thing.

I need to write a post filled with all of the hilarious things Carter is saying. He leaves me in stitches multiple times throughout the day whether it’s a funny way of pronouncing a word or one of his true “Carter-isms” and I know by next week he will correct his pronunciation and the words will never sound like that again so I need to write them down now because he’s growing up too fast and before I know it he’ll be off to college and too cool to say things on command like, “I want to wide my moco-cicle all the lib long day.”

I’ve been in New Jersey these past few days and I swear it gets harder and harder to leave the longer I stay. Thankfully my boss doesn’t mind my temporary leave of absence from Maryland but I’m thinking of starting a petition to grant us a move back to Pennsylvania. Something about the four and a half hour ride home that makes me want to gauge my eyes out with Lego and if we just moved back to Pennsylvania we’d be half of the way closer. And let’s face it, Pennsylvania is > than Maryland any day.  

Did you have a good weekend? Are you already counting down the minutes until Friday like I am? If you need me, I’ll be drowning myself in my third mug of coffee and duct taping the boys to the floor so that I can begin season 2 of Revenge. Points for honesty?

Happy Sucky Day After Sunday, friends.  

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Sit N' Stand Ultra, A Baby Trend Stroller Review

I have a confession to make: even though I only have two kids I have more than five strollers and until a product company out there manufactures a stroller that Does It All, I will continue to amass strollers that fit the needs of our growing family. And by "Does It All" I mean change, feed and watch the baby, too. Is that too much to ask? After all, with some of the price tags out there, those strollers should be doing those things!

When we first found out we were expecting another baby, I knew we would need a double stroller. As a fairly active family who was very happy with her single BOB jogging stroller, a double BOB jogging stroller seemed only the natural route to go. After speaking with a few fellow moms and even turning to social media a time or two, my suspicions were confirmed and we went with the double BOB. 

As a side-by-side stroller, that sucker is a beast. It has served me and the boys very well on more than one occasion especially when out walking the neighborhood and local walking trails. Lugging that sucker on errands to and from the mall, however, proved to be a different story. 

I never had any problems fitting through doorways which most assume would be the issue but rather maneuvering between racks of clothing and down tight aisles always proved to be much more trouble than it was worth. 

I needed a stroller that would allow me to quickly move in and out of department stores, the mall and our local farmer's market with my two boys safely in tow and unbeknownst to me at the time, I would need the same stroller to help maneuver our family throughout the airport and furthermore on our family vacation to New Orleans. 

I received the BabyTrend Sit N' Stand Ultra double stroller to review back in early April. For those of you counting on your fingers, that's a little more than two months ago. I wanted to make sure that not only did I learn the in's and out's of this stroller but also that it got a real good workout with our family before I gave it my honest review. 

After multiple errands through department stores, trips through two large airports, plenty of zoo excursions and wine festivals trips not to mention a family vacation in New Orleans (think: The French Quarter), I can honestly say without a single doubt that I absolutely love the Baby Trend Sit N' Stand Ultra stroller

As a mom, I love the safety features of the 5-point harness and foot-activated safety brake, as well as the convenience of the large sun shade, one-handed fold and five (FIVE!) cup holders! This last feature comes in handy especially during long trips with the whole family. Not only are there two parent-height cup holders for my husband and myself but three additional cup holders (one removable set for the older passenger and one in the tray on the front seat) that the boys can fill with drinks, snacks and even a toy or two. 

I truly believe that this is an ideal stroller for moms with an older infant and toddler and/or even a pre-schooler and toddler.   

My boys are currently 3 and 1 years old and this stroller meets their unique needs perfectly. As a 3 year old who doesn't so much love riding in strollers any more but isn't quite mature enough to walk alongside for entire trips throughout malls, the zoo, museums, etc., the Sit N' Stand Ultra gives him the option of sitting when he wants, walking alongside when he wants and even stand-riding like the big boy he wants to be. All while doing so safely and comfortably. 

He hasn't quite gotten comfortable with the idea of standing while riding but I have a feeling he'll get the hang of it within the next several months. I love that this stroller will continue to grow with our family.

My 1 year old rides comfortably and safely in the front seat and he loves the view! With the 5-point harness and reclining seat, he's even taken many a nap in there while we're out and about. 

One of the most important attributes (for me) when shopping for strollers is storage. Now although this stroller does have a large storage basket beneath the seats, it is a bit difficult to reach when both children are seated in the stroller. In order to access the storage basket, I typically have to do so when my older son is not seated on the rear bench. That said, it does hold quite a bit and while we were traveling on vacation it was often stuffed to the gills with an Ergo carrier, lunch bag full of snacks, a beach towel as well as an extra set of clothes for each of the boys. Not too shabby!

Another important attribute, as I mentioned earlier, is maneuverability. Can I easily move between aisles and racks of clothes and other products while out and about with the boys? Can I move easily among large crowds of people while at the zoo and other large public events? The answer is yes. 

While I don't recommend using this stroller on uneven pavement or off-road while jogging or running, the Sit N' Stand Ultra rode very well in the mall, on the streets, sidewalks and walking paths of our neighborhood and local zoo as well as the streets and sidewalks of the French Quarter in New Orleans. 

My husband and I were quite shocked at how well the stroller carried itself while we were on vacation. We admitted that there would have been no way we could have traveled nearly as easily had we brought with us our bulkier double stroller. 

Not once on any of our outings over the last two and a half months did we have any issues with the stroller that compromised the safety of either of our boys. 

What's more is that if we ever decide to expand our family, the front seat accepts all Baby Trend and most brands of popular infant car seats (Graco Snugride and Snugride 32, Britax Chaperone and Evenflo Discovery, just to name a few). 

Click to view large image
The recommended use of the front/back seat: Sit upright or unassisted up to ~50lbs or 40". The recommended use of the jump seat: 2 1/2 years ~50lbs. 
The dimensions of this stroller are: 21.5"W x 49"L x 43"H

If you're looking for an every day stroller that handles well and accommodates the unique needs of both a newborn and toddler, older infant and toddler or even a toddler and a pre-schooler, I would absolutely recommend you look at the Baby Trend Sit N' Stand Ultra. I am very impressed with the quality as well as the features and convenience of this stroller! 

Brand Disclaimer: I did not receive any financial compensation for this post. I did, however, receive one Sit N' Stand stroller for review in exchange for my honest opinions which I have expressed above. 
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Flying With Toddlers. (Or Other Small Children).

There’s a saying, “plan for the worst but hope for the best,” and I have no doubts about me that it was coined by someone who has flown with their kids. Toddlers, even, because if you’ve ever flown, or thought about flying or plan to fly with toddlers, that phrase may as well be your mantra.

My thoughts on flying with toddlers is this: have no expectations. None. Zero. Don’t expect it to be terrible. Don’t expect it to be peaches and cream either. Just don’t expect anything. This way, regardless of what happens, you will always be surprised.

Well, that and find reassurance in the fact that anything short of the plane falling from the sky in a fiery tailspin of death and dismemberment is a win.

I’ve flown four times with the boys, first when they were 5 months and 2.5 years old and again when they were nearly 1 year and 3 years old. Each time we were met with some unforeseen delays, most recently a relatively important computer hard drive malfunction which resulted in a one hour ground delay which left us captive on a full flight.

Thankfully, we were under the charge of a flight attendant who had her wits about her when it came to dealing with a toddler on a plane that is stuck on the ground. She included the toddler in each of her duties allowing him to sweep the “hokie” up and down the long aisle, collect trash and even pass out headphones. From what we could observe from the rear of the plane, the passengers seemed to enjoy it too.

You want to know why? Nobody wants to be stuck on a plane with an unhappy toddler. Not even the toddler’s parents. We’ll do anything and everything short of hopping their little brains up on sugar to ensure they remain their oft pleasant, bubbly selves.

But do you want to know something else? Toddlers are only human and despite the copious amounts of snacks and treats and a carryon entirely stuffed to the gills with new toys, they may cry. And scream. And kick the back of the person’s chair in front of them.

It happens and as much as it sucks, sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it other than offer to buy the passengers around you a drink, be it a stiff one or even just a gourmet coffee. In my experience, more times than not they will often offer to hold the screaming child in question, especially if it is a baby. Or they may decide to play peekaboo with them between the seats.

Although there were only a few times when I wanted to crawl under my seat and hide until the plane touched down in our destination city, I had to stop and laugh to myself because the situation was in fact comical. You have to laugh. Why? Because if you can’t find the humor in the situation, you’ll end up screaming “BOMB” in the rear of the plane causing the on-board Air Marshal to tackle you to the ground in an act of anti-terrorist chivalry.

Readers have been asking me “what are your tips for flying with kids?” And in summation, here they are:

1. Fly with zero expectations. The worst that can happy is you’ll crash and burn. Anything above that is a success.

2. Peruse the dollar bins at Target in the weeks prior to your flight. Pick up some new toys that you know your toddler will love playing with even if for only 15 minutes. That’s 15 minutes that they aren’t asking the person behind them 1,579 questions. Buy 5 of them. That’s an hour right ther

3.  If you have an iPad, download a new app or two and a new movie the night before your flight. This is guaranteed to hold their attention for at least thirty-forty minutes. That’s as good as gold

4.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one on that plane wants to listen to your kids scream.

5. Let your kids do an activity that you wouldn’t typically let them do at home. For me this is letting the toddler color with markers. At home I’m all “Crayons! Crayons! Crayons!” But as a special treat on our flights, I allowed him to color with markers and he pretty much thought I was the bees knees

6.  Give your toddler something to drink or suck during landing and take-off. That part where I mentioned about not hopping their little brains up on sugar? I lied a little. Lollipops and fruit snacks are great ear-poppers.

And last but not least, if your toddler whines, cries or screams? Take a deep breath, count to ten, order a jack and coke and think to yourself, “well, it could always be worse.” Trust me, you aren’t the first mom whose toddler decided to lose their shit at 40,000 feet. Your toddler will eventually stop crying, the plane will eventually land and chances are you’ll never see those people whom you shared a plane with ever again.

And if you're anything like me, after four flights with two kids under the age of 3, chances are you'll vow never to fly with your kids again, no matter how "great" it goes. Sometimes I think I must have a little sadist in me to think that taking my kids on a vacation that requires a plane ride, especially one that takes over 4 hours, would be a good time. 

Flight attendant, three jack and cokes for row 26 please. 

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Baby Shower Gift That Keeps On Giving.

I have to admit, prior to having babies, I'd never once given a second thought to diaper cakes. In fact, the baby shower thrown for me by my friends and family when I was pregnant with Carter was the first baby shower I had ever attended. Since then, however, the diaper cake has quickly become one of my favorite gifts given to the expecting mother. 

Why? Because let's face it. You can never, ever have enough diapers! Whether you're a brand new mom or celebrating the impending arrival of your fourth baby, diapers are a welcome gift that never go out of style! 

If you've been to a baby shower recently, you know that we're not just talking about your run of the mill tiers of rolled up diapers, either. Custom diaper cakes today include some of the most adorable baby products and accessories on the market! Some are even built to resemble actual cakes! 

When Laura, the mom-preneur and owner of contacted me about reviewing one her unique custom diaper cakes, her email couldn't have come at a more perfect time. I was knee deep in the throes of planning my sister-in-law's baby shower and one of the items that hadn't yet been crossed from the list was the diaper cake. 

Immediately I jumped online to peruse Laura's website and within minutes I knew that whatever Laura created for the shower would be no less than perfect. After the exchange of a few emails, including a picture of the shower invitation, Laura was off and running. With the date of the shower less than one week away, I worried about our timeline but within minutes of emailing each other, Laura was already procuring products and accessories for the perfect diaper cake. I truly believe she went above and beyond to create the perfect custom diaper cake in time for my sister-in-law's shower.

With some of the trendiest, high-end brands to offer, Laura puts together some of the most incredible diaper cakes I have ever seen. When the diaper cake for my sister-in-law's shower arrived bearing Honest Co. organic diapers, a Swaddle Designs blanket, Wubbanub pacifier, Noodle & Boo bath products and hands down the most adorable organic lion onesie from Morado Designs that I have ever seen, I would be lying if I said it didn't make me quickly reconsider my goal of not getting pregnant this year.

In our exchange of emails I simply stated that my sister-in-law's shower was based around a bright primary color scheme and the zoo animals that adorned the invitation. That was it and the diaper cake that appeared on my doorstep less than 5 business days later was amazing. Laura was so incredible to work with- prompt, dedicated and creative. It was easy to tell that she goes above and beyond what is "standard" for her customers! She is truly one of a kind! 

And that's not all you can find at! Laura also offers unique baby gifts in addition to the every day essentials. Take a look at this ultimate monogrammed layette gift set! Is that not one of the cutest things you've ever seen? You know me, when it comes to babies I can't turn down anything white or monogrammed!

Laura is generously offering one lucky reader a $50 gift card to her shop! Be sure to use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter and good luck! Giveaway open to US residents only.  

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Happy First Year, Maclane. Here's Your Letter.

Dear Maclane, 

Happy first birthday, sweet boy of ours! I find it hard to believe that we're already here at this day, that you are already a year old. They say time moves faster with the second baby, that it's because you're less focused on every single minute of every single day and I have to admit that to some extent, it's true. The days have passed much quicker with you and your brother together but I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, waking up the morning of your birthday so excited to meet you and see your sweet face. 

I remember feeling so nervous in the moments before you were born. Tears filled my eyes as your Daddy and I waited to hear you cry. Once you were born, the nurse showed me your head of dark hair and I couldn't help but laugh. I would finally have my mini and it's no secret that you are, in fact, your mama's boy. 

You have the most beautiful large brown eyes and I swear you speak more with them than your voice. You are so fiercely independent with a strong temper that you are not afraid to share when you grow impatient. You've quickly learned to stand your ground when it comes to sharing your things with your older brother and I know for certain that this trait will stick with you as your grow. 

Be kind to your brother, Maclane. He is sweet and sensitive and he loves you so much. He will be your best friend as you grow older.  He will also be responsible for getting you into trouble but that's all just a part of brotherhood. 

Although your brother broke us in as new parents, you reassured us that we are, after all, capable of loving and raising another sweet boy. That said, you did make it pretty easy for us and for that I am thankful. You may have even spoiled us a little with your mellow demeanor and go-with-the-flow personality. 

Most days I find myself chasing you down only to pick you up and squeeze your guts. You are so deliciously squishy Maclane and I am so lucky to have been given the chance to mother not one but two sweet little boys. Every day is a gift and when I find myself losing sight of that truth, that's when I pick you up, sit you on my hip and just squeeze. Squeeze you and find that sweet spot on your neck between your chin and you shoulder that I have loved since the first moment you were placed in my arms.

Sometimes I think about how I've had to divide my time between you and your brother and in those moments where I feel sad that you've had to cry a little longer and learn patience at a much younger ago, I am beyond grateful for the twelve months that we've shared nursing. I'm so grateful to have had that extra one-on-one time with you and although it wasn't always easy, I was sure to soak in every minute. Every rise and fall of your chest against mine, every single eyelash that rested on your cheek as you closed your eyes. Every chuckle that escaped my lips as you would prop your foot up on my shoulder. I even managed to soak in those moments that stung a little, from our early weeks learning the in's and out's together to what I can only hope are love pinches and those quick bites that often signal a fully belly. 

Here we are at your twelve month birthday and although we've dropped a nursing session or two, you don't appear to be ready to wean and for that I am also grateful. In a way you're protecting my heart because selfishly I know I'm not ready for that time together to end.

After we had your brother, I didn't think life could get any better but then we had you and our lives became immeasurably greater. You have brought so much more love and laughter into our lives and it has been nothing short of just awesome watching you grow up this past year. 

Mackie, not only did you make us parents again but you made Carter a brother, a gift that I can only hope the two of you will cherish for a lifetime. As much as we have loved watching you grow this past year, we have comparably loved watching Carter transition into his role as your older brother, your best friend and your guardian. It is with such a tender heart that he loves you and from the first day we brought you home he has been so sweet on you.

Your first year has been so full. Full of adventure and excitement. Of first words and first steps, of love and late nights. Of new places and things and just so much new. But most of all, so much love

MacAttack, you are sweet and kind. Inquisitive and adventurous. You are fearless and loving, lovable and mischievous. The look you flash us the minute you're getting into something you shouldn't is priceless. Your Daddy and I can only hope to continue to cultivate these traits in you as you grow, with maybe just a little bit less fearlessness and mischievousness. A mama's heart can only take so much!

Thank you for reminding us to let go and live a little. To slow down ad appreciate the little moments. To take neither life nor each other very seriously. Thank you for reminding me that it's OK to spend half of the day in our jammies, to leave the house with strawberry juice on our shirts and to stay up past our bed time. That it's okay to bend the rules sometimes and break free from our daily routine. We will survive and sometimes even be a bit better for it in the end.

We are so lucky to be your parents and we will always thank God for blessing our family with you, beautiful boy. 

Happy First Birthday, Maclane. 
We love you more than carrots! 
Love Forever,

Mommy, Daddy, Carter and Sheepie too.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

$500 Tory Burch Gift Card Giveaway. Seriously.

A Complete Waste of Makeup, The Vintage Modern Wife, and friends are giving away $500 to Tory Burch! Fashion lovers unite because you won't want to miss out on this chance to win! Giveaway ends Friday, June 28!

I can't remember the exact moment I fell head over heels in love with Tory Burch. Oh wait, I can. It would be Valentine's Day of 2011 when The Husband and Carter gifted me with my very first pair of Revas. It was love at first sight. Actually, first blister, if I'm being honest. Those suckers weren't all that comfortable but I would be damned if I didn't own a pair of shoes with that shiny gold emblem on it. 

Since then I've fallen even more in love with The Eddie, the Miller, the Abitha and the Thora. Although each of these pairs of shoes is an investment of sorts, it is well worth it. Whenever Tory sends out that Friends and Family email, I just can't help myself. Word to the wise? Be sure to sign up for the email list- you'll receive a coupon for 10% off your first order. And you can sign up multiple email addresses. Not like I would know anything about that at all... 

If you're a fashion lover, get even more EXCITED because today 22 bloggers have joined together to giveaway $500 to TORY BURCH! We know fashion can get expensive, so we want to help you out! 

And who doesn't love pretty shoes? Want to know what you could buy with $500? Oh just some of these...

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and these.. 

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or these... 

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and these...

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Tory Burch is one of our collective favorites, and we're sure that the winner will agree! Before (or after) you've entered the giveaway, please make sure you stop by the sponsor blogs. You'll love their blogs as much as we do, promise! Good luck and thanks for entering!

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Nola, Family Style: It Can Be Done.

Never in one million years did I think I would ever take my family on a family vacation to New Orleans. New Orleans was never a destination, in my mind, that screamed "bring your kids here!" After all, for most of us outsiders, New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. If you had asked me what I thought we were going to do there with two boys under the age of three, I would have laughed, shrugged my shoulders and said, "well, there's a zoo?" 

And then we did it. We traveled there as a family of four to spend four days exploring the city and taking part in all that New Orleans has to offer families. You'll have to excuse me while I remove my foot from my mouth because from my lips to god's ears, it was one of the greatest,  most fun family vacations we've ever taken. 

I may have even fallen in love with the city and cannot wait to return. 

Our days there were packed with fun and although we tried our hardest to squeeze in the best that New Orleans had to offer, there were still some things I wish we had more time to see and do! Not to mention eat. Oh, the food. That should be a whole post unto itself. 

It would be remiss to write a vacation recap post and not include our accommodations. My hat is off to the staff of the JW Marriott as they made our stay feel just like home but with a much better view. Everything was perfect from our larger than large suite that allowed the boys to sleep in their own "room," to the staff who were so warm, welcoming and hospitable. Within minutes Carter was famous and every where we turned a staff member would stop what they were doing to say hi and scoop him up to let him see out a nearby window. 

We were greeted with a wonderful welcome bag full of so many fun and exciting New Orleans treats. I especially loved my new t-shirt signed by Drew Brees (Who dat!) and the bags of Zapp's potato chips. Within minutes of settling into our room, we had already polished off an entire bag of the Crawtators and having blown through the one and only bag we brought back to Maryland with us, I'm already trying to figure out ways to satiate our craving for the spiciest, most delicious chips ever.

After a quick snack and change of clothes, we hit the ground running. We knew we wanted to stretch our legs and let the toddler blow off some steam after being cooped up on the plane for so long so we walked the few short blocks to Jackson Square. That's another great thing about the JW. Located in the Business District of the French Quarter and just a block from Bourbon Street, we were within walking distance of so much of what makes New Orleans well, New Orleans. 


No matter the hour of day, the Square was a flurry of activity. From tarot card readers and fortune tellers to street artists selling their wares or making beautiful music, there was much to see and do. Our suggestions? Grab a couple beignets and frozen Cafe au Lait from Cafe Du Monde or, if it's after noon, a hurricane from any nearby street corner and head on over to relax in the park. 

Speaking of beignets,  they are an absolute must-have. I vowed to eat Maclane's weight in them prior to our arrival and I'm almost certain I did just that. Whether they are from Cafe Du Monde or Cafe Beignet, they are a New Orleans must-eat. Carter absolutely loved the sole fact that he was allowed "cake" for breakfast! Only in New Orleans, sir! 

While we're on the subject of must-eats, after many recommendations, we decided to indulge in the char-grilled oysters from Acme Oyster House as well as the same plate from Drago's. They are literally to die for. Lemon-y and parmesean-cheesy and just all around incredible. While at Drago's, we also enjoyed alligator "fingers" with a spicy creole aioli and spicy Cajun boiled shrimp. The shrimp poboys and seafood muffaletta from Johnny's were just as good as everyone said they would be and the dogs from Dat Dog on Magazine Street were the icing on the cake. Sriracha, sour cream and onions on a spicy sausage? I'm drooling once again just thinking about it. The boys loved the atmosphere of Dat Dog and even more, the pomme frites! 

My thoughts on dining in Nola with kids? You can do anything if you start early enough. If that means booking dinner reservations at 4:30pm to avoid meltdowns and crowded restaurants? So be it. We may have eaten early nearly every night but it was worth it. 

Our second day in Nola brought us to the Aquarium of the Americas as well as the Insectarium. Each of these adventures is a short walk from where we were staying and what's better is that it's a beautiful walk down along the banks of the Mississippi. The boys loved watching the steamboats sail by and we even caught the Steam Calliope playing atop the Natchez! 

The aquarium was nothing short of a blast! Both of the boys were absolutely enamored with the giant fish tank tunnel you can walk through immediately upon entering the aquarium doors. We must've spent twenty minutes watching the fish (and the divers!) swim around the tank. The divers were so much fun and really interacted with the kids! 

I loved seeing the infamous albino alligator and Carter was especially fond of the sharks! One of the must-do's at the aquarium is the Parakeet House where for a small fee you can purchase little feed sticks and enter into a sanctuary where hundreds of parakeets fly freely around, often landing on your bag, shoulders or even your head while you walk around offering them tasty birdie treats. 

Despite being a building that housed millions of creepy crawlies, our next stop was the Insectarium. A short walk down from the aquarium, I couldn't wait to take the boys here. By now you must know that this trip involved a lot of walking. Imagine the most walking you've ever done in four days and multiple it by a hundred thousand. 

If I had one word of advice for you, it's bring comfortable shoes. I walked the city in flip flops and TOMS and my feet still ache. 

The Insectarium was so neat. Word to the wise, shortly after entering the building there is an interactive exhibit that revolves around the world under the ground. Sounds great, right? Well, it's dark, for starters. So if your kids don't like the dark? Steer clear. If that doesn't scare them but a larger than life animatronic spider coming at them from a hole in the wall will? You'd best skip this exhibit. We didn't know any better and I've never seen my toddler run faster than the minute he saw that spider. 

Unfortunately, this kind of put a damper on his experience as he proceeded to run through nearly every exhibit afterwards. It did, however, provide hours of laughter for both the husband and myself. By the time we reached the zen Butterfly Garden our toddler was ready (and willing!) to see some bugs. 

There's even a big cafe on-site where they serve tasty critter treats! Cinnamon and sugar roundworms, anyone?

The following morning, after a delicious breakfast at the Camellia Grill, we boarded the St. Charles street car line for the Audubon Zoo. The Camellia Grill was such a wonderful experience. Old-fashioned diner-type setting with comparably delicious food and sweet company. Carter loved saddling up to the counter and ordering pancakes which were made  extra special with Mickey ears. Get there early though- it fills up quick! 

The street car was an attraction unto itself. Carter loved climbing the stairs, buying his day pass, choosing his seat and riding "the big red train" as he preferred to call it. Ridden through the Garden District proved to be chock full of beautiful sights including pristinely manicured gardens and beautiful mansions. 

I think that the zoo was by far one of my most favorite attractions. Although it was a bit hot and sticky this day, we had so much fun walking the grounds and checking out all of the animals. In addition to the animals one would typically see at the zoo, there was an entire exhibit full of dinosaurs that just blew Carter's little mind. 

Because it was so hot and sticky this day, we decided to take full advantage of "The Cool Zoo," a water park within the zoo that caters to children both young and old. Both Carter and Maclane had just the best time ever playing in the water. My mom-heart practically skipped a few beats as Carter climbed and slid with reckless abandon. I would recommend donning your own bathing suit so as to better chase your kids through the small water park or waiting until they're a little bit older than 3 to take advantage of it. At nearly 1, Maclane was the perfect age for the smaller activities but at nearly 3 and fearless, Carter wanted to run and jump and play with the "big kids" on the giant pirate ship and that about gave me a heart attack. 

After some shaved ice and a trip through the zoo gift shop, we were zoo'd out and ready for our next adventure. The following morning, Saturday, marked the first day of the Creole Tomato festival in the French Market, a festival that promised great food, even greater music and lot's of family fun. As we walked through the market, we were privy to brass band music, cooking demonstrations and free tomato samples! 

Once we had our fill of the festival, we piled into a taxi cab and headed out to Magazine Street where I knew I wanted to do a little shopping before we flew home the next day. After popping in and out of a few fantastic little boutiques, I found the perfect summer maxi dress at The Red Carpet boutique

One boutique that is certain not to be missed is OrientExpressed. I knew the minute we booked our trip that it wouldn't be complete without a visit to this one of a kind children's clothing and home goods boutique. I could have sworn I heard angels singing the minute I opened the door to the store and within minutes I had an arm's full of clothing for the boys. 
It was about the time that the toddler threw himself down to the ground in a napless fit that I knew it would be in our best interest to head back to the hotel. We had tickets to board the steamboat Natchez that afternoon and as much as I wanted to experience this, I didn't think spending two hours on a boat with two over-tired children was the best of ideas. 

After a restful nap back at the hotel, we decided to take another long stroll through the Quarter. Stopping in and out of the boutiques, sampling more local food and drink, picking up a couple of adorable appliqued t-shirts from Nola Kids and finally landing in the Little Toy Shop down by the river. I swear the boys' eyes were as wide as saucers the moment we stepped up into the store. We allowed them to pick out a few "treats" to remember their trip by. Maclane picked a puppy puppet and Carter, a taxi cab and fire truck. This shop was full of so many unique gifts- it's a must-stop for anyone with small children!

After three days of non-stop fun, I could tell the boys were exhausted. That's the thing about traveling with little kids. As much as you want to see and do it all, you have to keep in mind that it's such a shock to their systems- to be out of their element, away from their "normal," and trying their hardest to adapt to a new routine. I was so proud of how well the boys behaved. They were truly such troopers! Of course there were meltdowns here and there but nothing a beignet or virgin frozen daiquiri couldn't solve!

After a quick dip in the hotel pool followed by baths and fresh jammies, we settled in for a relaxing night of movie-watching and room service. It was fun to watch the city come alive from the beautiful view of our hotel room and after three very busy days, even more fun to watch it sitting comfortably with my feet up and with a Sazerac in hand. 

There's just something about New Orleans. I've been told either you love it or you hate it and I can say without a doubt that I absolutely loved it. I loved every minute of it- even the hottest, stickiest, sweatiest moments. The people are one of a kind and the energy throughout the city is like nothing I've ever felt in a city. 

Can you take your family to New Orleans and have a great time? Absolutely. Two weeks ago I wasn't a believer. I would have laughed at the thought but after spending four priceless days there with my husband and our two boys under the age of three, I am most definitely a believer. 

A believer who can't wait to return. If you're looking to take a family vacation, I strongly encourage you to #followyournola. I promise you'll thank me later. Visit Follow Your Nola to start planning.

Brand Disclosure: I am so grateful for the opportunity to take this vacation with my family, a vacation that likely wouldn't have happened otherwise. Priceless memories were made and for that, I will always be thankful for this sponsored opportunity. I received no financial compensation for this post but did received an all-expense paid trip to New Orleans through the New Orleans Travel and Tourism board.  

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