Sunday, December 18, 2016

An Eye-Opening Post About Self-Care for Moms

I'm sharing #Clarifye in my life as part of a
LensCrafters sponsored series for Socialstars.#ad

As mothers, I think we can all agree on one thing. Motherhood is incredible. It's an incredibly enriching, painfully beautiful experience raising and shaping the future. The demanding, tantrum-throwing, back-talking cuddly, precious future. A future often wrought with excessive demands and little empathy for the fulfiller of said demands- but what a sweet, beautiful, amazing future it is, am I right?  

In turn, all of this constant excessive demand-meeting creates an almost one-sided relationship in which we, the mother givers, give so much of ourselves to those around us without so much as taking time for ourselves.

This is why self-care is so important. This is why we, as mothers, need to take time to consistently care for ourselves so that we can take better care of those around us. It took me almost one and a half kids to really appreciate what self-care meant but now I'd almost consider myself an expert in the arena.  

It's worth noting that self-care looks different for everyone. For some it might be a closed door, a hot cup of coffee and a good book while the kids play safely in another room. For others it might be group exercise, going on a long solo run or busting out a quick exercise DVD in the basement. Maybe it's a haircut, something you haven't been able to fit in for months on end. Or maybe it's a night out with girlfriends.

For me, it's often taking time by myself for myself. Whether this means heading out after bedtime for a manicure or just a quiet ride around the block and the nearest Starbucks drive-thru, it's essential, imperative really, that all mothers take time for themselves. 

Remember, too, that every day needs change. Yours, your kids', your spouse's, etc. So what self-care looks like today may not be what it looks like tomorrow, or two weeks from now.  

Sometimes, like this past weekend, for instance, self-care is disguised as taking a break from some last minute Christmas shopping for the family and popping into a local LensCrafters to experience the quick and comprehensive Clarifye eye exam. Knowing that I was overdue for my annual eye exam and in dire need of a new pair of glasses, I grabbed a coffee, set down my shopping bags and took a seat at my local LensCrafters for a quick visit. 

After all, busy moms are busy and with the rare amount of time we have to ourselves, the last thing we want to do is waste it waiting in doctors' offices. No other eye exam is more precise than Clarifye which means you'll receive the initial digital measurement in about 60 seconds. Yes, that quick!

LensCrafters provides the highest standards in eye care, eye wear and service. I would know, after all, I've been using them since I was a little girl. In fact, they fitted me for my very second pair of glasses, a large round red-rimmed pair very similar to Sally Jesse Rafael's. Talk about dating myself... 

Completely underestimating the mall scene during the last shopping weekend before Christmas, it literally took me longer to find a parking space than it did to have my eyes examined, see a doctor, browse the enormous selection of frames, select one and be fitted for a brand new pair of eye glasses. LensCrafters makes it easy to take time for myself and still make time for others in my day.  

As you can see, I've got a lot of years of reading bedtime stories ahead of me which means I've got to take care of the only set of eyes I'm going to have in this lifetime. If this means I'm able to see better, feel better and take better care of my family, it's worth every minute.

Tell me, how diligent are you about carving out time for yourself? Moreover, what does that time often look like? I'd love to know!

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Gift Ideas for the Gracious Host - A DIY Gift Basket

It's that time of year- holiday open houses, Christmas cocktail parties and progressive dinner parties begin dotting calendars left and right. If you're like me and refuse to show up empty handed to any little soiree then this post is for you. It's time to ditch that bottle of wine your girlfriend may never, ever drink and check out this easy DIY hostess gift basket that you can put together for as little as $25 and guarantee yourself a repeat invite into their home. 

When gathering trinkets to add to the basket, I try to think of things I would like to be on the receiving end of. That may sound selfish but the truth is, I tend to choose sweet, thoughtful accessories for my home and self that while I wouldn't necessarily splurge on them personally, I'd undoubtedly love to receive them from others. It's a creative way to say "thank you" to that gracious hostess and friend in your life. 

1. Start with your basket. Now, this doesn't need to be a basket in the literal sense, as there's many receptacles you could choose to fill. My girlfriend once gave me a beautiful little serving bowl filled with spa goodies that was just as appreciated had it been stuffed in a sock. Whatever you choose, aim for something that could be used time and time again. For this basket I chose a little wooden crate from TJMaxx that could easily be re-purposed as next year's Christmas decor.

2. Who doesn't love a pretty candle? Whenever I pull together a gift basket, I always try to include a seasonal candle in a decorative jar. This one comes in an ornate mercury glass jar and smells like a fir tree!

3. Include something for the hostess herself. For this particular basket, I threw in a pair of tech-savvy buffalo plaid gloves and a knit pom hat (because what woman couldn't use an extra winter hat or gloves?) Other great ideas include a pair of costume earrings, nail polish or a lip gloss set. 

4 and 7, The kitchen is the heart of a home. Therefore, I always like to include something for the kitchen when I'm putting together a gift basket. This basket includes an oven mitt and Kate Spade dish towel set. 

5. Sneak in some sweets. While a homemade snack would undoubtedly go the extra mile, chocolate is chocolate no matter how it gets in the basket. In past years I've whipped up a generously sized batch of Moose Munch and divvied it up among hostess gifts- this year, however, these dark chocolate covered mint patties will have to suffice. 

6. Don't forget the bubbly. Ever.

Read on below for some more great gift basket ideas from some of my favorite blogging gals. Whether you're shopping for the coffee lover, beer drinker, spa frequenter or mom to many in your life, there's some excellent ideas for everyone!

Craft Beer Gift Basket - Ellie & Addie

Coffee Lovers Gift Basket - Chasin' Mason

DIY Money Tree - Seeing All Sides

Homemade Hot Chocolate Gift Basket - Running From The Law 

Champagne Gift Basket - East Coast Chic

Spa Day Gift Basket - Secrets of a Stay At Home Mom

Kid Craft Gift Basket - The Adventure Starts Here

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

From Ponte Knit to Fringe to A Cotton Target Tee, How This Mom Does Holiday Style - A $250 Nordstrom Giveaway!

Today, I'm really excited to be teaming up with the fabulous and fashionable girls over at Take Time For Style to share my take on how "Moms Do Holiday Style." 

I had grand plans to talk a bit more about what I wore for our family pictures but then thought maybe I'd write about my favorite new style item, the frindged-capelet, but as I was uploading some photos, it got me thinking- not only will there be plenty of glitz and glam shared by some fantastic ladies during the next few weeks (many whom are much more fashionable than I), but since I spend the majority of my day in jeans and t-shirts, why not share a holiday twist on my every day look? 

At first is was ponte knit pants and a dolman-sleeve sweater for family photos, paired with my all-time favorite pair of booties...

And then it was almost a fringed capelet (which totally feels like you're wearing a warm blanket) paired once again with my favorite favorite ankle boots... 

And yes, this is what it's really like taking pictures with our family. 

But ultimately, it's function over fashion that always wins out, so jeans and a santa silhouette t-shirt is what I decided to go with for today's post.

What prompted this fun and festive purchase, you might be wondering? The answer is simple. As room mom for my oldest's Kindergarten class, I wanted something merry and whimsical to wear for his upcoming class party. I first wanted to buy this shirt when it rolled out in early November but couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger before Thanksgiving. Thankfully there was a whole entire rack left when I went back to Target this week for, you guessed it, bread and laundry detergent. 

Because when does one EVER walk into Target to buy just what's on their list, especially during a holiday season? As soon as Carter saw me in this shirt, he immediately exclaimed, "Mom, you could TOTALLY be one of Santa's elves wearing that!" 

Nailed it. This year? This is how I'll be doing Mom's Holiday Style. (Just don't tell my Cyber Monday JCrew Factory purchase that...) 

T-shirt: Target
Jeans: JCrew Factory
Wellie Boots: Hunter (from $79!)

Be sure to tune in all month long to Take Time For Style's Mom's Do Holiday Fashion collaboration and check out all the many different styles shared. 

Before you go, click here to enter to 
win $250 to Nordstrom!

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Gift Guide: What To Buy For The Toddler Boy (Ages 2-4)

A Real Dustbuster \ Plasma Car and Helmet \ Sprout Channel Tablet

Step2 Flip and Doodle Desk \ T-Ball Set \ Thomas the Tank Engine Ride-on Coaster

Table and Chair Set \ Superhero Dress Up Set

1. Laugh if you must but there will absolutely be a real dustbuster beneath the tree for our 2yo this year. Honestly? I should probably wrap a second one for my 4yo as it's been a beloved toy when we visit both my parents and our friends who have one- the best part? It actually works and costs about the same (if not less) than a "working" toy vacuum. 

2. This isn't the first time I raved about our plasma cars. Four years running, these are the MOST-PLAYED with toy in our entire house. All three of my boys have one and they spend hours racing them up and down our sidewalk. Don't forget your helmet!

3. My older boys already have Kindles and while they're great and perfectly age-appropriate for 6.5 and 4.5, I love that the Sprout Channel tablet comes pre-loaded with over 40 of your  toddler's favorite Sprout TV shows. There's games, crafts, coloring pages and more! The price point and rubber casing sweeten its appeal.

4. I love the idea of a little art station tucked away in the corner of a playroom. For years I've allowed the boys to use their kid-sized table and chairs set for arts & crafts and truth be told, they've ruined it with paint, markers and stickers. This is a great alternative to creating a safe space for little artists.

5. Another one of my 2.5yo's favorites- the T-ball set! Sure, we've probably been watching too much of The Sandlot but he loves playing baseball and running the bases in the backyard with his brothers!

6. This is a total splurge-worthy gift but at least it doesn't come with a million small pieces, am I right? I've wanted to get the boys one of these ride on roller coasters for years and after both our 2 and 4 year old spent the majority of a recent playdate playing with it? We'll be surprising the boys with one of these next month. If nothing else, it will undoubtedly break up some of the hum-drum winter doldrums in our house!

7. Speaking of a kid-sized table and chairs set, this is one of my favorites and will be set up in Collins' bedroom of our new house- giving him his own little space to sit down, read a book and play with his toys (free from the disturbance of older brothers).

8. All three of the boys received these as birthday party favors and our littlest asks to wear his "supah-hero dress" every day. Any dress-up costume would do but my boys love this set in particular. 

What's on your toddler and/or pre-schooler's list this year?
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Monday, November 28, 2016

Toys to Buy for your Science-Loving Child: A Geeky Gift Guide

The older my first born gets, the more of myself I see in him. Always curious as to how things began, how they work, move and grow, he's very much interested in the mechanics of things and errs toward a love of science more than anything else. As a loud and proud science nerd myself, I'm so excited to encourage this love and show him how cool science can be. 

It's no secret that for Christmas we're paring down on toys as gifts this year-  after packing up our entire house and realizing how inundated we were with all things T-O-Y, it's nothing but educational learning stuff and experiences for the boys this year. (Okay, I'm not entirely horrible- they will each receive one of the toys they included on their Christmas wishlist). 

If you have a science-loving child on your list to buy for, I've rounded up some of the best and most amazing science-minded toys on the market today! I'll be honest, it's going to take a lot for me to not buy my Carter every single thing on this list! (Diggin' Up Dinosaurs, Moon in my Room and Snap Circuits have already been ordered and the Grow & Glow Terrarium is in my cart!) The best part? Everything on this list is under $25! 

1. Kidnoculars / 2. Science Lab Kit / 3. Diggin' Up Dinosaurs

4. Grow & Glow Terrarium / 5. Volcano Set / 6. Snap Circuits
7. Meet Einstein Book / 8. Moon in My Room

1. We go through kid binocular sets like they're going out of style. We've left one behind at a nature center, I accidentally drove over a pair in our driveway and one of our most recent pairs met an unlucky demise at the hands of younger brother. This is one toy that my boys, at various ages, will pick up and play with at least once a day. We take them with us on neighborhood walks, on nature hikes and even road trips.

2. I'm pretty sure in order to be a certified mad scientist, you're going to need your very own lab kit. For the affordable price point, this is one of the best sets I've come across! All that's missing? Your child's very first microscope

3. Ever since our family trip to the Smithsonian last year, my older two boys have been obsessed with any and all things dinosaur bones. Not only will your child be able to chisel away and excavate the bones from the earth but they'll also be able to put together the fossils as they build their very own T-rex!

4. I was torn between getting my oldest a build-your-own weather center and this Grow & Glow terrarium. After reading countless reviews on both, this seemed like the more age-appropriate gift for his 6 years of age. Since he loves planting things and watching them grow, I love that this is something he could do right inside his bedroom during the cold winter months!

5. Because who doesn't want to make their very own volcano erupt? I feel like every parent should get to do this with their kids at least once. It just seems like a rite of passage.

6. I was first introduced to these in my son's STEM lab at school. He really loves the intricacies of how things work and I love that these Snap Circuits will allow him to build his own electronics such as a working radio and doorbell!

7. This is a great introductory book for children to learn all about how science is all around them. Not only is it wonderfully illustrated but it helps them begin to form connections between their environment and science!
8. Last but not least, the Moon in my Room is a great addition to any child's bedroom. My oldest has always had a fascintion with the moon and how it "follows" him around wherever he goes at night. He'll be thrilled to have his very own moon hanging on the wall in his bedroom and I love that it doubles as a nightlight!

Do you have a pint-sized science-lover in your home? What are some of their favorite science-centered toys and games?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

More From Our Family Session with Megapixels Media

I never win anything (seriously, not a thing!) so you can imagine my surprise when my girlfriend texted me a screenshot of Maryland-based Megapixels Media announcing that I had won a social media giveaway for a free family photo session! I had been following their work on Instagram prior to the contest, as I had come across their business through a sponsored ad on Facebook several weeks earlier and this session couldn't have come at a better time as it had been nearly two years since we'd had family pictures taken professionally. 

Megan and Garret are the husband and wife team behind the creative talent that is Megapixels Media. While they identify mainly as wedding photographers, clearly their ability to capture real life moments and the emotions surrounding them has no boundaries.

From the minute we began brainstorming locations over email, I couldn't wait to meet up with Megan and Garret for our session together. Not only did they help me decide what location would be best for the kinds of versatile backdrops I was seeking but they also threw out several additional options, each with explicit detail as to what we'd find there and whether or not it would be a fit for the kinds of photos I was envisioning. 

Upon meeting Megan and Garret, their passion and dedication to their craft is palpable and they have such a fun energy about them that truly made my entire family feel relaxed and comfortable in front of their cameras. Photographing little kids is never easy (much less three of them at the same time!) but Megan and Garret didn't waste a minute getting down on their level and into their world. 

We had such a blast at the Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore, Maryland and just as they assured me, it was exactly what I was looking for in terms of location. Not only did it have bright, colorful trees and ample outdoorsy space but it also had breathtaking hardscape as well as the stunning Cylburn mansion. 

Ever since my gallery arrived in my email, I can't stop scrolling through the images. They did such an incredible job capturing my family as we are- the mischievous spirit of my middle little, the charm of the baby and the sweet, sensitive side of our oldest. I love and cherish these images so much and am so grateful to have had them captured by Megapixels Media. 

As we wrapped up our session, we chatted a bit about scheduling a relaxed in-home session once we're settled in the new house and I absolutely cannot wait to welcome Megan and Garret into our home to capture us in our element- all beauty, chaos and crazy mixed together. In the mean time, I'll be over here ordering prints and choosing my most favorites from our recent session together to hang on the walls! 

Thank you, Megapixels Media!
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Blog / Pinterest 

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

All Aboard The Polar Express (More Like Hot Mess Express)

Before I get started, let me make it very clear that this is not a sponsored post. After failing to procure tickets to this event last year in not one or two but three states, you can imagine my elation when I managed to score tickets for our family of five the day they went on sale during the first week of September. 

Let this be the first takeaway of this post: Set a calendar reminder (or seven) for yourself around the time these tickets go on sale next year, this way you won't feel like a total mom-fail when yet another year goes by without crossing "The Polar Express" off of your family holiday bucket list. 

I spent the following three months counting down the days to when I could surprise the boys with their new matching pajamas and tickets to board their beloved Christmas train.  Truth be told, I wasn't sure who would be more excited, my husband and I or the boys. 

Finally, the day had arrived! Unsure of what boarding time I should purchase our tickets for, I sprung for the 12:45pm departure, assuming by that time the boys would be fed, nappers napped and ready for the excitement that lay ahead. 

It was highly recommended that we arrive one hour prior to our scheduled boarding time (we're talking bold, italics and emphasized in numerous email updates) and so we set out to arrive at the station at 11:45am.

For what it's worth, kids ages 2-12 require full price children's tickets. Personally I find it hard to believe that a 2 year old should cost the same as a 12 year old but since it's all for the memory-making, we purchased three $38 children's coach seats.  This was in addition to two $48 adult coach seats bringing the total cost of our ticket sales to a little more than $230 with taxes and other fees. 

One of the things I found most frustrating was that a lot of the "upgrades" catered to families of four or less. For instance, there were "table" seats you could purchase but they only came with 4 seats. Even though we had to pay full price for our 2 year old's ticket, he didn't even get a full seat to himself! Thankfully the boys were small enough to share a 2-seater bench, otherwise one of us would have had to sit in a separate row!  

Due to my anxious early-bird nature, we arrived at 11:30am and were already diverted to an overflow parking lot where we were notified that we wouldn't be lining up to enter the station until closer to 12pm. Thankfully there was an entire parking lot filled with old train cars that we could explore and in conjunction with the warmer-than-usual 75* November weather, the boys had no problem walking around outside. 

Here's where I should've known it wouldn't be the last time we'd be waiting in line. 

Once we were allowed to enter the building, we waited in line only to be told where to find the next line we'd be waiting in. Sure there were some booths set up where the kids could play games, play with toy trains and even enjoy a hot dog from a concession stand but the entire area was incredibly congested and it was recommended that we immediately get in line, cattle-style, in accordance to seating class (first or coach). 

Do you know what little kids suck at? Waiting in line. 

Once we got in line in our designated coach class corral we waited and we waited some more. Fifteen minutes into waiting, a C-class magician appeared and performed several tricks to captivate the attention of the kids. If you happened to be standing in the front row, great. If you happened to be anywhere else and under five feet tall, fat chance you were going to be able to see (or hear) anything.

During this time, word trickled in that there would be an "exciting show," the whole reason we lined up here in the first place- but it wasn't until we sang several Christmas songs with some merry carolers that the "show" began. 

As the theme music began to play and the conductor called out "All Aboard!" I'll admit that a lump in my throat began to form. Seeing the boys' eyes light up big as saucers was nothing short of amazing but just like that the "show" was over and it was time to  board the train. This was approximately fifty-five minutes after we lined up inside the building. Fifty-five minutes of trying to keep little ones from licking the train station floor. Fifty minutes of trying to keep them from swinging from the velvet ropes, of trying to keep them contained within the family unit and not making a run for it through the congested station museum. 

I wish there was a way we could've bypassed this part entirely and arrived just in time to board the train.  

Once aboard the train, everyone was buzzing with excitement. We were about to depart for a 45 minute train ride during which we'd be treated to an audio recording of The Polar Express story as well as hot chocolate and cookies. This boys enjoyed themselves immensely. Not only was it the first time they'd ever ridden on a train but they truly felt like they were in the movie headed right for the North Pole. It was almost cute enough to take our minds off of how grossly hot and stuffy the train car was. (In some of the pictures you can see the boys' pink cheeks and sweaty heads). 

Halfway into the loop, the train stopped to pick up a special passenger. Spoiler alert, it's Santa himself! I will never forget seeing the boys' expressions when they laid eyes on the man in the big red suit. That alone made the money spent more than worth it and while I know we will never, ever do this again, in that moment I was so happy we splurged on the tickets and could give our boys the experience. 

Santa visited with each child on the train and presented them with their very own bell. It was as adorable and heartwarming as it sounds. Once Santa made his way through the entire train, we had arrived back at the station, err, the North Pole, and disembarked into a snowy winter wonderland. 

It was here in the North Pole that you could have your picture taken as a family against a scenic backdrop (for a small price) as well as walk through attractions such as model electric train exhibits, LEGO train exhibits and the rest of the regular railroad museum which included hands-on historic train cars you could walk through and a children's corner filled with train tables galore.

All in all I wish there was a way to avoid waiting in line for so long- that undoubtedly made the beginning of our adventure a little more stressful and chaotic than I would've liked. Perhaps they could've set up metal chairs so that we all had a place to sit to enjoy the "show" (magician, carolers, etc) and all of the kids, no matter where they were in line, had a view of the entertainment. Otherwise, that portion of the afternoon was a complete and total bust.

For the price we paid, I can't say that I'm not a little bit disappointed in the experience. Ultimately the boys had an awesome time and I know it will be something they talk about for months to come. That alone made it worth the trip but it's definitely not something we'd do again. After all, how many times can you really take your kids to the North Pole before they start catching on? Or before it loses its magic?

Overpriced? Yes. Too much waiting in line? Yes. Seeing your kids overcome with Christmas wonderment and the magic of The Polar Express? Worth it- but I have to ask myself, "don't they feel the same way when they sit on Santa's lap at the mall?" Pretty much, and it costs me about $200 less. 

If you're on the fence about buying your family tickets to this event, at least you can consider yourself forewarned. Perhaps, even a bit more prepared with snacks (and other accouterments) to keep your kids occupied during the down time. Bringing someone along under the age of 3? Bring a soft-structured carrier or something else that you could use to wear them for a bit during the waiting in line parts. Not only would this give them a better view of the "entertainment" but it would also keep them from licking floors and trying to make a run for it. 

But don't think about bringing your kids a drink because once you leave the parking lot, it'll be at least two hours before you have access to the potty... Check that off the Family Christmas Bucket List!

If you're wondering, we experienced The Polar Express out of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD and I ordered the boys' matching pajamas here: 
Matching Christmas Jammies by Petit Lem

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