Monday, December 29, 2014

An All-In-One High Chair with Modern Flair, the Joovy HiLo

It's uncanny how much stuff seems to accumulate in your house when you have a baby. When I was pregnant with my first, Pinterest was nonexistent as were the highly detail-oriented "Must-Have's For Baby" that nearly every mommy blog on the planet boasts of. I fell victim to registering via the nondescript booklets provided for you in the welcome bags of big box baby stores and in doing so, ended up with products that were neither tried nor tested let alone reviewed honestly by my peers. 

Much of what I registered for with my first baby, such as our cushy, fabric covered high chair, was only good up until a certain age before it became yet another cast off in our garage or as my husband likes to call it "where baby crap goes to die." Did I mention that it was FABRIC? I was such a rookie, as if I didn't have enough laundry to do already. 

It's mind blowing how much of that stuff then appears to multiply right before your eyes when you go on to have three babies in four years, laundry included. Before I knew it we became the proud owners of two convertible car seats, an infant carrier, a high back booster seat and three, yes three, of those booster/infant feeding seats for the kitchen. Why? Because when my oldest outgrew the high chair, he needed a booster. When his younger brother became the proud owner of the hand me down high chair and saw his older brother's new level of culinary freedom, he too insisted he sit in a booster as well. 

Sure they're called "Space Saver" seats because they can be attached to pre-existing chairs but I find that title a bit misleading as we were suddenly down two kitchen chairs. Although the space-saver seats were space-saver-ish, I couldn't push the existing kitchen chairs into the table while they were attached which meant those two chairs stuck out a good twelve inches from the table causing our already cramped kitchen even less room to move about. 

Not so much space-saving any more, eh!

While I no longer missed the daily shuffle of moving a stand-alone high chair around my kitchen, I certainly wasn't a fan of the new developments. I found myself longing for the ease of the high chair days but I wanted a chair that could grow with my child. A chair that wouldn't need replacing in just a few short months. A chair that kept them confined as a baby but grew with them into a booster seat that also had amenities such as a safety harness and removable tray. 

And thus was born the Joovy HiLo, an answer to my convertible baby and child product prayers. One baby product that accommodates baby from six months to six years. That features all of the bells and whistles I longed for in both a high chair and booster seat, but in one. single. seat. Talk about transition-friendly. 

Let's quickly review why this high chair has become one of my favorite all-time baby products: 

Kids and babies are messy. MY boys are the messiest. Whether it's meal time, play time or even bath time, the size of the messes they make can only be compared to letting, say, the Tazmanian Devil loose in a china shop after a romp through a muddy field. 

There are two things I love most about this high chair. One is that it transitions with my youngest baby from first foods to finger foods and pretty much all the way up until he could make his own food and two is that I could take this entire chair out on my deck and hose it down when need be. 

Just like that, two of my biggest meal time conundrums solved. 

This high chair wins mega bonus points for the added 5-pt safety harness as well as the removable tray insert that is also dishwasher safe. Even though my 2 year old isn't the biggest fan of  being tethered to a seat during meal times, it's imperative that his sticky hands stay where I can see them, as opposed to leaving their mark on my walls and furniture. 

The Joovy HiLo fits perfectly in the corner of my kitchen and as needed, glides easily along my wood floors. Finally, not only can we eat dinners at the table as a family but we can invite friends and family over to dine as well, without having to play musical chairs. When my 8 month old isn't occupying it, I easily convert it to the booster option for my wiggly, messy 2 year old. 

Now, I know what you're thinking. With a $399.99 price point, it's a rather extravagant piece of baby equipment, especially for it being "just a high chair" (although I don't necessarily agree with that last statement). I do believe that it is on-par with other similar luxury products such as the Stokke Tripp Trapp ($299), bloom Fresco ($550) as well as the Boon Flair ($229) and thus, priced accordingly. I also believe it is worth the money because not only are you paying for two seats in one but you're paying for a quality that will last through multiple children and even multiple generations of children. 

While this is not a seat I would have picked up voluntarily for my third and final baby, it's most definitely a product I would have strongly considered as a first-time mother and one I will undoubtedly recommend, especially for it's convertible nature, modern appearance and ease of cleaning.  

This post is brought to you by Joovy. 
All opinions expressed are my own. 
I received product for free in exchange for my review- 
no additional compensation was received. 

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Friday, December 19, 2014

2014, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Our Year In Review!

I've always loved the end of the year. 

Something about its finality and the closure of a year's worth of adventure (both its successes and its failures) while simultaneously standing on the brink of a brand new beginning- entire blank calendar pages awaiting, empty planners with shiny new plans just waiting to be hatched. I just love the unknown of it all- a clean slate. 

As much as I love looking forward to a new year, there's just as much a part of me that loves looking back. On thing is for certain this year and that is the numbers don't lie. For the first time in the 8 years that I've been writing here in this space, this is the year where I haven't written nearly as much each month but that's not to say that I didn't have some pretty important (to me) things to say.   

In January, with less than 100 days to go until we would become a family of five, for the first time out loud I began to freak out at how we would survive the shift from man-on-man defense to zone defense. Looking back, I can laugh now but for the first twelve weeks, it was a blurred nightmare of mutiny and chaos, much more the angst-filled Party of Five than, say, the Brady Brunch. It was also during this month that we chose a name for our sweet boy and I discovered that in allowing myself permission to fail as a mother, I was actually succeeding after all. I closed out the month by writing one of my most widely-read pieces for What To Expect, landing myself a contract writing for them. It was the piece titled "The Wrong Reason To Try For A Fourth Baby."

I started off February by debunking several myths of motherhood, my most favorite being "a good mother never yells." I often wonder if Collins will grow up thinking that yelling is an acceptable pitch with which to hold a conversation. I'm always yelling and it's something I want to focus on doing less of in 2015. One of my most favorite pieces that I wrote this year was also written this month, as I questioned whether or not my husband would still have asked me to marry him had he known what our life would look like 7 years down the road, more specifically what I would look like 7 years down the road- exhausted, squishier, a touch more harried than the fresh-faced college co-ed he fell in love with. 

March rolled in I didn't have a whole lot to say this month. This post was sweet as it gave me a glimpse back into those final weeks of pregnancy that, often times, we are so quick to forget once baby is here. It also makes me miss pregnancy hair like whoa, as I sit here with baby bangs sprouting at my temples and bald spots that rival my 8 month old's. This month also reminded me of the first of two unexpected hospital stays I would experience for preterm labor thanks to kidney stones. How quickly I'm now reminded of how painful those suckers were- how uncomfortable I was and how badly I wished the team of doctors at the hospital would just get on the same damn page. 

In April we welcomed Collins Mason, our third beautiful boy. I opted for the extra bonus day in the hospital this time and I will be forever grateful I did. My hospital stay with him is the one I remember most clearly of the three and I'm so grateful for the extra one-on-one time it afforded me. Once we returned home to the Zoo life became a blurry mess of life and parenthood and those five days with Collins were ones I knew I would never, ever get back. I do love, however, just how much my thoughts have changed on the transition from two to three. 

By the first week of May, I climbed out of the newborn fog long enough to write down Collins' birth story. It was the most difficult of my three c-sections but reading through it brought me right back to the day. What a mix of emotions- knowing it would be our last baby but so excited to meet the precious soul who spent nine months growing beneath my heart. Life since then has only grown more chaotic but since then I've certainly learned how to manage the chaos, most days. The day that Maclane made out with a dead squirrel was not one of those days. 

I'm not sure if you know this but having three kids has made me quite the expert on the kind of crap you need to be a parent. I'm kidding, mostly, but these posts, ones in which I talk about things like "29 Diaper Bag Must-Haves" can be kind of important and life-changing all at the same time. I wrote that one in June but it wasn't nearly as interesting at the time that Carter said the F-word while riding around in the car with my husband. What can I say? He clearly takes after his mother. If you've ever wondered why my blog is called I Love You More Than Carrots, you can check that out here as well.

July was a pretty fun month, unless you happened to be my husband who certainly wasn't sharing a similar sentiment between the sheets. We're both happy to say things have definitely changed since then, just as I had written, "it's just a season," although it's often difficult to see and understand that when you're living in the moment. Carter turned four this month, we took a trip to Dutch Wonderland and I talked a little bit about how my hometown, a place I haven't lived in for over 12 years, will always be home to  me.

August. Well, even though I have a camera roll that begs to differ, August was a quiet month here on the blog. Of note, the most exciting thing I did was write about my Whole30 experience but my favorite memory of August was celebrating Carter and Maclane's birthdays with a backyard crab bash. 

I turned thirty-one in September and started watching a lot of TV. So much, in fact, that I'm sad to see all of my favorite shows coming to an end. We won't even talk about the end of Parenthood, for like ever. We celebrated my birthday at the beach house, the last trip that we would take there until next summer. I can't wait to return to the beach with our three wild and crazy boys. Speaking of lasts, I wrote a little bit about my feelings on our last little baby, something that has been tugging at my heart with every milestone we check off. It's bittersweet, for sure.

October came and went. Collins turned six months old and it was kind of like a sucker punch to the kidneys. At nearly 8 months old currently, I cannot believe how quickly these months fly by. We'll have a one year old on our hands before I know it, a thought that quickly takes my breath away. It was this month that I realized that having three kids was pretty damn cool for a number of reasons. In other words, it was the magic number of children that I needed in order to stop giving a shit as to what everyone else thinks about how I should mother.

We spent the better half of November at home with my parents in New Jersey- it's where Collins witnessed his first snowfall and we celebrated Thanksgiving this year. The month started out a little more stressful than I would care to remember as we geared up for our first professional family photo session since our wedding, nearly seven years ago. We managed to clean up nicely and pull off "The Family That Really Has Their Shit Together" look fairly well. I will forever be grateful for hard copy memories of this season in our life, even the ones where the baby is missing his shoes and our middle child is a complete blur. 

December. How quickly we've arrived here. We've been so busy this month that I plan to take the next few weeks to decompress and be present with our band of crazy. I've been pretty good at doing just that these last few weeks which explains why things have been a bit quiet around here. I'm realizing more and more that we're only given this life once- my kids will only be 4 and 2 and a baby before I blink and they're getting ready for Kindergarten, first years of preschool and gaining enough momentum to run, let alone walk their first steps. We've been decking the halls, baking the cookies and making even more memories to sustain us through what is bound to be a very, very long winter. 

What a year it's been. Full of new beginnings, embracing the status quo, growing, laughing, learning and looking forward to another year of adventure! 2014, you've been more than good to me but I'm ready to see what 2015 has in store for us! 

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Making Family Memories. Or Something Like That.

We all have those things we do for posterity's sake, especially around the holidays. Whether it's wrapping twenty-five books in preparation for the days leading up to Christmas, delivering cookies to neighbors because your Advent calendar told you to or traipsing through the freezing cold to cut down a Christmas tree, there are some things we do for the sake of family, friends and memory-making. 

For us, it's imperative that we cut down a Christmas tree. Neither my husband nor myself grew up with a fake tree but apparently in the Book of Being Married To Someone Else that alone means that for the rest of your lives together, you too, must also always have a real tree. (Unless by the grace of God you somehow convince him, with an Excel spreadsheet mind you, that you need a second tree and that one must be fake. Not like I would know anything about that). But the fact still remains that there must be one live Christmas tree in your house during the Christmas season and it must be cut down with your own two hands. Because, duh, memories.

And so, every year, whether we're a family of two, three or five, we meet up with my brother-in-law and his family and head out to a relatively nearby tree farm and seek out the perfect M Family Tree. Lest you continue to think this is an easy process, let me be the first to tell you that it is not. Especially if you're me and your married to my husband and you both have very differing ideas as to what your tree should look like. Soft needles versus prickly, tall and skinny versus short and fat. Blue Spruce versus a Douglas Fir. The list could go on. And if you happen to be married to a husband like mine, it's imperative that you inspect nearly every tree on the farm (and every needle on the tree) to be sure it's the perfect tree for your home.

All of this occurs while your eyeballs are freezing, you have a baby strapped to your chest and you're trying to keep tabs on two other children who are just the right height to take a tree saw to the face and/or get viciously lost among rows (and rows) of 8-9 foot trees. Again, not like I would know anything about that last part. On a positive note, much of Mt. Airy Maryland now knows my kids by their entire full names. 


"Mom, we need a big, BIG one like this!"

Even though it's freezing cold and muddy and the boys are drawn to the mud like moths to a flame, I look forward to this adventure every year. When we first started doing this, Carter was barely toddling around. Now, nearly five years later, he's running between the rows of trees without a care in the world, encouraging his much less coordinated brother to do the same. Last year, my sister-in-law and I were so pregnant that we hitched a ride in a golf cart in order to make it back to our cars in one piece. This year was extra special, not only because we're celebrating our last first Christmas with baby Collins (don't even get me started on last first's) but also because it's Talia's, my niece's, First Christmas, too.

Could he look any sweeter?
If nothing else, it gives us all an excuse to throw on our cold weather boots and make some good ol' fashioned memories. What began with two sets of carefree feet has morphed over the years into to five sets of feet, some exhausted, some just learning to walk, some darting between trees and others bounding over leftover stumps. To think, next year the babies will be toddling along and perhaps our families will be growing once again. (Don't get any ideas, this baby maker is closed for business).   

from left to right
Columbia Women's Boots, Kids Feet UGG Lookalike, Boy's Tamarac SimilarTamarac Weather Boots
Our noses may have given Rudolph's a run for his money, our ears and fingertips stinging with cold but our feet were toasty warm thanks to Rack Room Shoes. Our entire family was outfitted with the perfect cold weather boots for this year's Tree Cutting Adventure. From toddler styles to little boys' styles, women's trendy boots with the fur to men's work boots, Rack Room Shoes has styles that are not only on trend but also made to fit the whole family. Even Collins found a pair of baby boots for himself but was much more comfortable in the thirty-four degree winds with a cozy baby bunting. Whether we were hiking up and down the fields of Christmas trees or back home playing in the snow flurries that started to fall, Rack Room Shoes had us doing so both in style and in comfort. 

The Rack Room Rewards program allows customers instant savings while other perks include discounts, coupons as well as $15 in rewards for every $200 spent. If you're looking to save big on today's popular styles in footwear, be sure to check out Rack Room Shoes. Their everyday BOGO 50% promotion on ALL styles always keeps me coming back for me. 

I did not receive financial compensation for this post. All opinions expressed above are honest and my own. I did receive free product in exchange for my opinions. 

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bloggers Holiday $1000 Giveaway!

I am teaming up with some of my favorite blogging friends to bring you a fantastic holiday giveaway! Whether you've finished your shopping or you've only just begun- I think it's safe to say that any one of us could use an extra $1000 dollars in their pocket this Christmas season!  
Holiday Giveaway Graphic
Your hosts for the giveaway are:

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter!
No purchase necessary to enter. 
This giveaway is in no way endorsed or sponsored by anyone other
than the individuals who are hosting. Good luck to all those who enter!

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Friday, December 5, 2014

12 Days of Toys Giveaway with The Chirping Moms

I'm so thrilled to be participating with The Chirping Moms in their 12 Days of Toys giveaway. They've had some great giveaways the last several days (including some from Land of Nod and Micro Kickboard) and I know they have some even greater surprises tucked up their stylish sleeves for later this week. All week long you can stay on top of their daily giveaways here

When I was asked to come up with a favorite toy to give away, I didn't think twice about the Original PlasmaCar. Each of my boys were gifted with their own PlasmaCar early last year and they have quickly become one of the top THREE toys played with in our household. What initially started as vehicles to race around the playroom quickly morphed into kid-powered cars that race up and down the driveway, sidewalks and even down to the neighborhood park. We love our PlasmaCars so much, in fact, that we often travel with them to and from the beach! 

No batteries, no gears, no pedals. Just kid-powered fun! This toy is intended for ages 3+ and is not suitable for use on wood floors. I do recommend that a helmet is worn while riding! 

Entry is simple. Please follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget below. Must be a US resident with a valid US mailing address to receive prize. No purchase necessary to enter although if you simply cannot wait to purchase your own PlasmaCar, you can do so here. Purchases do not increase your chance of winning. Good luck to all those who enter! 

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Holiday Gift Guides for Baby, Toddler and Beyond! {Or What My Boys Are Getting From Santa...}

Babies can be difficult to buy for, especially if you don't have much experience with the age of the baby in question or if it's been a few years since you've stumbled into a toy store. Or, perhaps you're like me, a mom of three and you just can't remember which baby liked what toy and at which age. 

All babies grow and mature differently but listed below is just a handful of gift ideas for the 6-12 month old. This age is all about encouraging mobility, interacting and communicating as well as engaging both those fine and gross motor skills. Babies at this age are very busy- both in mind and action. Some may be learning to crawl, some may be in the throes of teething or learning to sit unassisted and some might even be taking their first steps. 

Here are a few toys that have always been fan favorites in our household. We already own many of these toys but there are a couple listed below that just might find their way beneath our tree for a certain baby brother Collins. 

1. Winkel Rattle and Teether - Easy to grasp with one or both hands and made from brightly colored BPA-free plastic, this toy is visually appealing and safe to teethe on with it's continuous tube construction. We've been through many a Winkel (mostly because we take them everywhere with us and proceed to lose them) and this is one toy I never think twice about replacing immediately.  

2. Mozart Magic Cube  - An interactive toy made with soft round corners introduces babies to music and sounds at an early age. On the plus side, sounds mimic the noise made by real instruments and they aren't as annoying as some other musical children's toys on the market. 

3. Classic Baby Beads Wood Rattle - Another Manhattan Toy fan favorite, all three of my boys loved these teething beads made from renewable rubber wood. Made with non-toxic paint these are safe for mouthing as well as banging against any object within arm's reach.   

4. Musical Lion Walker - Designed to help develop support and coordination, this toy is suitable for sitters, standers and walkers. With bright lights, sounds and engaging hands-on activities, this toy helps teach baby cause and effect all the while encouraging them to move. 

5. Bumkins Waterproof Sleeved Bib - BPA-free, easy to adjust, wipe clean and machine washable, I just love these bibs so much, specifically their Junior Bib. It has these handy dandy "sleeves" that slip over your baby's arms which helps keep the bib in place even with the sneakiest of eaters. This might be a totally lame gift idea but needless to say, my baby is getting three new Bumkins bibs in his stocking this year! 

6. Musical Farmyard Cube - With 3D fabrics that crinkle, knot and mirror as well as four fun melodies, this toy is great for encouraging baby's senses, both fine and gross motor skills, as well as promoting movement and communication. Not only do we love this toy for when baby is learning to sit but it's also been great for encouraging mobility. 

7. B. One Two Squeeze Blocks - Hands down my favorite stacking blocks in the history of stacking blocks. They are textured, stack-able, squeeze-able and float-able. We have sets for home, the car, the bath as well as the beach!

8. Jellycat Puppy - The sweetest stocking stuffer, Jellycats are some of the softest stuffed animals on the planet. Each of my boys has a monogrammed Jellycat Bunny from Peekawhoo and it has quickly become their most-loved lovie. This puppy will be given a new, loving home inside of Collins' stocking this year. 

9. Converse Chuck Taylors - I don't know about you, but baby and toddler Chucks get me every time. There are few things cuter than a baby in Chucks and this year Collins will be getting his very first pair from Rack Room Shoes. Made from lightweight canvas, these shoes are perfect for tiny, growing feet!  

And just when I thought it was difficult shopping for the baby, I'm quickly reminded that it's a bit more difficult shopping for two and four year old little boys. There isn't a whole lot that my boys need this year and truth be told, I'm not sure how many more 100-pc toy sets I can pick up from my living room at the end of every day. Santa's mission this year is to keep the pieces to a minimum and although one of the items on their list is piece-heavy, you'll quickly notice that everything else is not. Not to mention that 3/4's of EVERYTHING on this list is KID-POWERED. How awesome is that? Here's what the boys will find tagged with their names and sent from Santa, with love: 

1. Razor Jr. Kiddie Kick Scooter - I've read excellent reviews on this scooter for introductory riders and this is something that each of the boys actually asked Santa for this Christmas. They already love to spend their days outside tooling around on their bikes and after falling head over heels for our neighbor's Razor Jr. I knew this was something that they would love to have! I might also throw in some knee and elbow pads...  

2. VTech Go! Go! Smart Wheels - Train Station Playset - The VTech Smart Wheels sets were a HUGE hit in our house last Christmas. Not only do we own the Construction and Airport sets, but we also have the deluxe track and no joke, my boys will spend anywhere from 1-2 hours playing with them. This year we will be adding to our collection with the train station as well as a handful of new cars (namely the police car, tractor, fire engine and helicopter). I love that these cars and trucks are kid-powered and don't move electronically around the tracks.

3. Waba Fun Kinetic Sand  - We have experience with two other brands of kinetic sand, neither of which promises to not spread all over- a characteristic that I'm looking forward to seeing hold up in the hands of my two heathens! However, since we already have the Tupperware boxes to play in and hoards of cookie cutters, rolling pins and other toys to help mold and create with, I figured we'd give this new brand a try. After all, we really did have so much fun playing with the other brands and it'll be nice to "bring the beach indoors" during the cold winter months!   

4. Pete the Cat's Sing-Along Story Collection - In our house, we absolutely love Pete the Cat and I'm so excited I stumbled across this mash up of our favorite songs and our favorite cat.   

5. Magformers - Sure there might be anywhere from 30-60 pieces in any given Magformers set but this toy came highly recommended for my two busy builders. With wheels that move and two very active imaginations, I cannot wait to introduce this creative and inspiring toy. It will be a nice change from all the Legos, that's for sure!

6. Wooden Engines & Train Cars  and Mountain Over Pass Set - My boys started playing with their beloved Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Multi-Activity Table shortly after each of their first birthdays. Each year, I try to update their set with at least once new piece of "equipment" whether it's a new set of passenger cars, a drawbridge or in this case, a mountain overpass and addition engines. I love watching their imaginations at work at the train table and it's a gift that keeps on giving year round.  

7. Converse Chuck Taylors - I don't know about your family but growing up, I always ended up with a pair of shoes underneath the Christmas tree. Sometimes it was out of necessity, but more times than not, it was that one pair of (insert that year's trendy shoe to be had) that I lusted over ever since seeing the other girls at school wearing them. Subconsciously, I've continued the tradition with my own children and each year they find their own new pair of kicks beneath the tree. A sucker for Chucks, the big boys will also find their very own pair of Converse beneath the tree from Rack Room Shoes* I just love the deep pop of purple these casual kid's sneakers will provide with any play clothes ensemble!

8. LeapFrog Learning Games  - We are always on the go and when the boys were gifted with their LeapPad2 Learning Tablet last Christmas, they became instant companions in the car and on the move. While I do love being able to hop on the computer and download new games for them, it's been a while since I've done that and I know the boys will be super excited to see a new learning game (or two) stuffed into their stockings. Whether we're heading home to New Jersey or waiting to see the doctor (which, let's face it, we do every month during cold and flu season) our LeapPads are constant companions.

*Rack Room Shoes offers on-trend footwear for the entire family! It's a website that I visit constantly, mostly because I love their every day "BOGO 50% off" promotion on ALL styles. It's a great one-stop shopping tool that allows me to buy footwear for the entire family without having to search various websites for the popular styles from baby to adult. The Rack Room Rewards Program allows customers instant savings while other perks include discounts, coupons as well as $15 in rewards for every $200 spent. I did not receive financial compensation for this post but did receive product in exchange for my honest thoughts as provided above. 

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