Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Humanity of Motherhood.

Later this summer, I will enter my 6th year of being a mom. My sixth year! If you think about it, I really should have my shit together by now but considering how we've added three boys to our family in four short years, the truth of the matter is, I'm far from having a modicum of shit together. Just when I think I have my shit together, somebody pulls the rug out from under me and there goes my feet, right up over my head, scattering my shit all over the freaking place. So if you, too, are a mom of however many and you don't have your shit together either, I'm fist-bumping you. You're not alone.

Of note, it's probably about time I stop saying "shit" out loud around my children. The last thing I need is a call home from the principal- although I can't say I'd be surprised if my phone rang tomorrow and it was Mrs. Murphy. I was surprised, however, to receive a call home from the school nurse last week, filling me in on a special little visit she had with Carter. It wasn't emergent by any means (and I love how those are always the first four words out of her mouth as soon as I answer the phone, adrenaline pumping, one foot out the door on my way to the ER). 

She was phoning to let me know how much she always appreciates her visits with Carter- even those quick passingsby in the hallways at school, when he always addresses her by name and greets her with a eager "Hello!" and the most perfect eye contact. It's amazing how these simple little gestures can make people feel so special and loved and by God, she was calling to tell me how my little almost-six-year old makes her, a grown adult, feel loved and special every time he sees her. She couldn't stop telling me how proud she is of him and how she made sure to tell him that over and over again. 

I had to awkwardly laugh to hide the tears that were pricking my eyes. I had taken the phone call while at the park with some of my girlfriends and their kids and as I was walking along the railroad ties that lined the playground space, I had to do everything I could to not break down and cry and wonder how I'd missed these moments. How, when I think of my first-born, that it isn't his perfect eye contact or genuine concern for others that comes to mind right away but rather how he really kind of sucked at listening that particular morning and melted down over having to wear one pair of sneakers over the other whose lost mate was no where to be found when we needed to be out the door five minutes ago. 

And it made me realize how thankful I am for The Village that it takes to raise our children. I've always heard people speak of this Village but it wasn't until the last couple of years that I've actually felt it. For the longest time, even, I worried that I'd somehow missed out on a Village and that I was somehow broken or unwanted by these Villages that I've heard so many speak of but that wasn't the case at all. I just had to find the right Village. 

Since having our third baby almost two years ago, I forget more things than I remember. I scramble more times than calmly meander and I've become downright terrible at remaining consistent in most facets of my life: texting, blogging and cooking dinner just to name a few. I capture and memorialize my children's childhood in approximately six-thousand tiny squares because I want to remember every second of it (well, most every second of it) and right now I can only do so by smelling their sweaty heads 542 times a day and taking lots of pictures. 

Motherhood is so hard and while I feel so incredibly blessed and these blessed feelings take up every conceivable empty space in my heart and in my bones, just because it's a blessing don't mean its easy. What I'm realizing more and more is that the only person who expects you to accomplish the 472 things on your To Do List is you. Okay, and maybe my husband but otherwise, Mother, you shouldn't be so hard on yourself.

While these days can be so hard, so soul-drainingly difficult even, the truth is, the hardness should not take away from the beauty. Because although often disguised as some of the messiest work, Mothering truly is the most beautiful work even when we're in the trenches of young Motherhood. 

I may not have gotten really good at a lot of things these last six years but I've certainly gotten much better at realizing the humanity of mothering. Meaning that we as Mothers are only human. 

We will fail and we will falter. We will fall and fall again but we will also learn. And we will rise and we will overcome and it is in these moments of humanness that we see the raw and unfaltering beauty of what it means to be a mother. 

To going without. To being strong when weakness is much easier. To loving unconditionally and I mean really without condition. To being selfless in those moments when you wish to be anything but. To stand up for your children when you'd rather run and hide. To make decisions that are in their best interests and not your own. To loving them more than you love yourself and so much that it physically hurts when you have let go and let others guide them.

To using Dreft baby wash on your bath towels, long after the baby laundry is outgrown, just so you can trigger those deliciously sweet memories of the newborn days, when your children were small and quiet and didn't talk back so much. 
Continue to find beauty in the hard parts of Motherhood and will somebody please let me know when I can expect to have my shit together again?


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Monday, March 28, 2016

Out With The Old, In With The New! Home Updates: Before And After

It's been six years since we purchased our first home, the home we currently live in. When we bought this home back in 2010, not only was I six months pregnant with our first child but also both consumed and overwhelmed with the idea of purchasing a home that would "need a little work."

Looking back, it could have been much, much worse. 

Thankfully 85% of the home's issues were purely cosmetic- things that we could fix with a heavy duty sander, some paint and a whole lot of elbow grease. Things like neon-peach kitchen cabinets and crumbling laminate counter tops. Or hideous gray/green carpet and turquoise walls. To this day my husband still wonders how he ever got me to agree to purchase the home we live in- I blame it on pregnancy hormones.  

In the eight years that I have been blogging, I have never once shared Before and After photos of our house and after some recent updates, such as replacing the original stock lighting in our dining room, I've decided to slowly start sharing some of the incredible transformations our home has undergone. 

Here's a picture of what the dining room looked like when we first purchased our home:

There was nothing spectacular about this space at all and in a way, I'm grateful for the "blank canvas" that allowed us to really put our own unique fingerprint on the house. This space has come a long way in just six years and the very first thing to go was the carpet, as we didn't think twice about laying down distressed 4" plank hardwoods.

Initially I chose a rich mustard yellow paint for this space and lived with it as such for a mere two years before I got the itch to change things up once more and I'm SO glad I did. Here are a few of the "Before" pictures of the space. You'll notice the drab stock chandelier and dark wood trimmed mirror hanging above the server. While my original goal for this small space was to create something a bit more light and airy, I believe that each of these pieces was doing nothing for the space but dragging it down. 

This post is brought to you by a partnership between ILYMTC the blog and eFaucets.com
It's difficult for me to say with any degree of certainty that any room in our home is ever 100% complete. I'm always wanting to rearrange furniture, repaint a room a new color, add trim or replace art work, but after repainting this room, swapping out a mirror, adding trim and replacing the old, outdated lighting in our dining room with a beautiful chandelier from eFaucets, it has quickly become my favorite room in our home as well as feeling the most complete.

With so many unique lighting options, I honestly spent hours perusing eFaucets.com. I found myself pouring over pendant lights and chandeliers, outdoor lighting and even bathroom vanities. With a major master bathroom remodel in the near future,  I couldn't help but draw inspiration for both lighting and furniture pieces. With so many beautiful options, I couldn't help but get carried away!

But back to the room at hand...

What a difference lighting makes. I guess I never really gave it that much credit but the perfect lighting fixture is like the icing on the cake of a finished room. Not only does it pull together a room's details but it also creates a focal point and helps set the tone for the space. I now want to replace roughly 85% of the lighting fixtures throughout our home. 

If pressed to choose once specific decor style for our home, I'd have to say it's farmhouse glam. It's a mix of natural materials and neutral colors with pops of modern flair and our dining room is the perfect example of this marriage. 

While I could have chosen a more simple chandelier for this space, the Crystorama Solaris Mini Chandelier with its mix of metal and hanging crystals really pulls together the style of the space. Not to mention that when lit, it casts such beautiful designs on both the ceiling and walls of the dining room. 

The chandelier arrived within days after placing my request online and while I worried whether or not it would arrive all in one piece, it wasn't until un-boxing that I realized how nice and neatly packaged the light was. Not only that but it also arrived completely assembled! A definite bonus in my book. 

Installation was a breeze after my husband watched a couple videos on YouTube (isn't that how it always goes?). Having little to no experience when it came to installing lighting, we were both a bit clueless as to how this would unfold. From un-boxing to a successful first-time installation, this project was about two hours start to finish. It was honestly so simple that we both  now feel 100% comfortable and eager to replace two more fixtures in our home!

Here are several photos from the initial process:

You will notice in the final pictures of our dining room that we decided to forego using the chain to hang the light. Since we unfortunately do not have 9' ceilings, we felt that the size of the space warranted the chandelier to hang much more of the traditional space between table and light which is roughly 2'-3' and to achieve that height we had to use only the metal "pole" to hang. I actually much prefer this look but have saved the chain for future use if we ever end up in a space with higher ceilings (heck yes, I'm taking this gorgeous light with me!).

I am so enamored with the final look and feel of this room. What an incredible difference swapping out a simple lighting fixture could make. For the first time in six years, I am so thrilled and elated with how this room came to be. It has quickly rocketed to the top spot on my favorite room in our house. I think this means I'll definitely be using this space to entertain more often! 

 And now for the Before and After's!

I cannot wait to invite our family and friends over to share in this new and "grown-up" space of ours. I am now an absolute lighting fixture addict and cannot wait to elevate the look and feel of our home by swapping out old, outdated stock lighting with refreshing, bright, "farmhouse glam" pieces. Thanks to eFaucets for making this project both easy and exciting!

It's a good thing both my husband and I are now comfortable installing new lighting fixtures- I foresee a lot of "updating" going on around these parts in the coming months! Here are just a few more pieces from their website that I've fallen in love with: 

You can keep up to date with eFaucets 
and the release of new products on Facebook and Twitter

I received product for free in exchange for my honest thoughts and options regarding this product. All thoughts and opinions expressed are honest and my own. I did not receive additional compensation for this review!

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Peeps: Hate 'Em or You Love 'Em (You Could Also Win Some...)

Rarely, if ever, am I ahead of the holiday gifts and treats game. While I always set out with good intentions, it's usually the follow through that falls flat. For example, despite spending weeks perusing Pinterest for ideas, I'm totally that mother who is scrambling at the very last minute to throw together everything from class gift bags and teacher appreciation gifts to birthday goodie bags and even my own children's stockings at Christmastime.

I don't know what came over me this past weekend when I decided to take an hour and throw together several Easter basket gift ideas for the sweet teachers in our life but thanks to an abundance of PEEPS® Company treats that arrived on our doorstep and some adorable findings in the dollar spot at Target, I was able to whip up 3 easy Easter basket gift ideas in no time. 

I get it. There are two distinct people in this world: those who love Peeps and those who don't. I personally prefer my Peeps stale and a bit on the crunchy side. My kids love to watch theirs blow up in the microwave. My husband likes to skewer his and roast it as a Peep S'more. If Peeps aren't your thing, I feel sorry for you. (Kidding). But seriously? How can you not love adorably sweet and puffy chicks and bunnies?

What I love most about each of these baskets is that not only were they put together for less than $15 but they're filled with both fun and useful items as well as irresistibly sweet treats that are sure to bring a smile to anyone's face. You also can't go wrong by putting them in a basket or other container that can be recycled and reused. Bonus points for dual purpose! 

Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post 
for a great giveaway and discount code on all PEEPS® brand purchases! 

Notepad, Pencils and Stationery from Target Dollar Spot
Similar: Small Galvanized Bucket / Shredded Paper / Stationery Pad

PEEPS® Rainbow Pop
Four chicks in colors yellow, green, pink and blue marshmallow on a stick- 
it’s like a colorful PEEPS® lollipop.
 MIKE AND IKE® Easter Treats
Filled with grape, pineapple-banana, strawberry, lemon-lime, and cherry-flavored MIKE AND IKE® candies – and all made with real fruit juice – this gift will put a spring in anybody's step!
PEEPS® Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Chicks
Individually wrapped marshmallow chicks covered in either milk or dark chocolate.

Ceramic Coffee Tumbler, Candle and Crate from Target Dollar Spot
Similar: Tumbler / Candle 

5-inch PEEPS® Plush
Spread the joy of PEEPS® when you give this plush PEEPS® chick as a gift!
 PEEPS® Marshmallow Bunnies
The 4ct bunnies come in classic yellow, pink and blue colors. The 12ct bunnies come in classic colors as well as lavender, white, green and orange. The 16ct are packaged in classic colors plus lavender and green.
 MIKE AND IKE® Easter Treats
Filled with grape, pineapple-banana, strawberry, lemon-lime, and cherry-flavored MIKE AND IKE® candies – and all made with real fruit juice – this gift will put a spring in anybody's step!
PEEPS® Party Cake Flavored Marshmallow Chicks
Delicious vanilla cake flavored marshmallow chicks sprinkled with fun rainbow confetti.

PEEPS® Orange Delight Flavored Marshmallow Dipped in Orange Fudge
These three Chicks are orange delight flavored and dipped in orange fudge to enhance the flavor. Share them with your friends or keep them for yourself!
PEEPS® Marshmallow Chicks
The 5 and 15 count packages of the iconic PEEPS® Chicks are available in classic Easter colors including yellow, pink, blue, lavender, green, and orange Chicks! The 10 count package of Chicks is available in all of the classic Easter colors as well as white.
PEEPS® Marshmallow Bunnies
The four count bunnies come in classic yellow, pink and blue colors. The 12 count bunnies come in classic colors as well as lavender, white, green and orange. The 16 count are packaged in classic colors plus lavender and green.
PEEPS® Decorated Eggs
Nine white eggs iced with pastel colors in 3 unique designs, these eggs are great for recipes, crafts and immediate consumption.
PEEPS® Party Cake Flavored Marshmallow Chicks
Ten delicious vanilla cake flavored marshmallow chicks sprinkled with fun rainbow confetti.
PEEPS® Sour Watermelon Flavored Marshmallow Chicks
Sweet and sour flavors collide to create a burst of watermelon in these ten green chicks with a blush pink center.
  HOT TAMALES® Jellybeans
Celebrate Easter with our cinnamon-flavored jelly beans! 

WebsiteFacebookTwitterPinterest / Instagram
Use code "EASTERTREATS" for 20% off your next purchase, 
no minimum required, through April 15, 2016.
To win your own assortment of Peeps brand products, 
leave a comment below answering the following question:*

"Would you gift one of the above baskets to someone? Who!?"
*Must have a valid US mailing address and active email address to enter.
Giveaway ends Friday, March 18th, 2016

This post is brought to you by Peeps Brand and Company. I received product for free in exchange for an honest post as expressed above. No additional compensation was received. 
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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Best Family Vacation Ever.

When your kids are as little as mine, family vacations don't exactly stir up feelings of excitement and eagerness to let loose and relax and while traveling with little kids is always an adventure, sometimes the stress and chaos of doing so puts a damper on the get-up-and-go making it more of a hurry-up-and-come-home. 

After all, vacations with small children are nothing more than taking trips to places they're unaccustomed to being while still having to carry on the normal routines of your day with less resources and amenities than you're accustomed to having. Don't even get me started if they all have to sleep in the same room as you. 

Not a whole lot to get excited about, am I right?

That all changed for us when we spent a long weekend in the Poconos at Woodloch Resort, a premier all-inclusive family resort featuring FUN all year round. When I say that we had the times of our lives that weekend, I'm not exaggerating one bit. Nearly four weeks after our stay there, everyone in our family continues to talk about the incredible time we had there. Nestled in a pristine mountain lake vacation setting, it reminded me so much of the resort from the movie "Dirty Dancing." 

Woodloch caters to families. In fact, it's what they do best and every single day they went above and beyond to make our stay with them a great one. As a mom, there's nothing that warms my heart more than hearing the excitement in my sons' voices as they relive memories and moments long after we've experienced them. In fact, at the end of our third and final day there, none of us wanted to leave. I can't tell you how often by the end of day 2 I'm ready to high tail it home, yearning for convenience and comfort but Woodloch had us craving more. More fun, more laughs, more memories. 

There's so much that I want to say about our time there that I've broken our visit down into two posts (activities and experiences in one, accommodations and a must-see's recap in another) so please, please be sure to come back and learn more about why I think all families should spend a weekend at Woodloch. 

On the day of our arrival we enjoyed a scenic four and a half hour ride up to the resort from our home in Maryland. As we inched closer and closer to the resort, the roads became windier and windier. Thankfully I popped a Dramamine midway through our travels or else I'm not sure how I would have made it without losing my Sheetz! The boys enjoyed the trip up immensely, mostly because of the in-car movies and bottomless supply of snacks and if I have any advice for road-tripping with your kids, it's precisely that: you can never, ever pack enough movies or snacks. 

While check-in could be anytime between 11am and 5pm, we arrived on the later end with three very restless little boys in tow, thanks to several unanticipated pit stops. Once we had our room keys and resort map in hand, we immediately headed to our lakefront suite to change into bathing suits and check out the indoor pool and splash pad. Of note, I've now decided that in my next house I want a personal indoor splash pad installed in the basement because oh my god, if that isn't the best way to burn off some energy before bedtime, I don't know what is! This became our nightly routine and one that we all looked forward to at the end of our day. 

It was around the time that the baby started waterboarding himself that we decided to towel off, change and head to dinner. 

Meals at Woodloch are the bomb. Remember when I say that Woodloch caters to families? Well, meal times are an excellent representation of their dedication and passion for the family unit. With leisurely mealtimes and a large dining room atmosphere, we never felt rushed or like a burden during meals, nor did we ever have to wait for a table or to be seated. When our oldest couldn't decide whether he wanted chocolate milk or regular milk with lunch, he got both. When our middle child's excitement over salmon waned the moment the dish was placed in front of him, our server returned with his ultra favorite, mac and cheese. 

The views of the lake from our table were incredible, making meal times quite the opposite experience from our typical rushed meals at home where we always seem to be down a member of the family around the table. It's during these meal times when we'd talk about our favorite parts of the day or what we were looking most forward to.  

When we asked the boys what their favorite parts of meal time were, in unison they quickly replied "the characters!" followed by  an emphatic "bread!" from my middle child. The meal time entertainment was always a fantastic bonus and the boys especially loved meeting some of their favorite costumed characters!

Day two at Woodloch brought us the full family resort experience. From sun up to sun down we partook in one super awesome activity after another and never once did we feel any stress or anxiety about sticking to schedules or fear of missing out. We returned to the room when we needed a break and forged ahead finding fun around every corner when we were ready. It was during breakfast each morning when we received our itinerary for the day that our oldest loved picking out the activities for the day. 

When we weren't working up a sweat at the indoor playground, climbing wall and obstacle courses, we were engaging in full on Parent vs. Kid Wars on the bumper cars and Go-Karts. When it wasn't an adrenaline rush we were seeking, we enjoyed more low key activities like family scavenger hunts, bowling, pony rides and petting zoos on the front grounds. Even leisurely walking around the lake was fun. The Kids Club and Arts & Crafts room was also a popular stop on our resort tour.

Perhaps the greatest of the great, however, was the snow tubing. Watching your kids crush their fears and leap head first onto a snow tube and barrel down an icy slope is nothing short of breathtaking (and heart stopping). Even with little kids so diverse in age, there wasn't one activity (less the go-karts) that the littlest of them all couldn't partake in. Yes, you read that right, even the one year old took on the snow tubes accompanied by yours truly.   

Escaping to Woodloch did wonders for our family. It forced us to step away from the monotony of our daily schedules. From our emails, our work calls, from basketball practices and tumbling classes. From the incessant drop off's and pick up's and spending, what seemed like, hours on end in the car. It granted me a necessary break from preparing meals, packing lunches and keeping house so as to keep our family dynamic running as seamlessly as possible and just E N J O Y my family in the moment. 

At Woodloch I was able to remove all of those other hats I wear that don't hold a candle to the most important one, my mom hat. It allowed me to step back and see our boys and my husband in a different light. An unencumbered light. Our Woodloch getaway allowed me to focus solely on enjoying my family, being fully present and a part of the memories we were making. For that, this simple weekend away and that little slice of heaven in the Poconos will always hold a very special place in my heart. 

The belly laughs, the shrieks of laughter, watching our boys overcome their fears and ride head first down the snow tube slope or swim underwater- running up to hug their favorite characters, stopping to wait for each other during walks and including each other (and new friends) in their made up games- listening to them pick and choose their favorite parts of the day and getting a little misty-eyed when they'd say, unprompted, "thanks, mom, for bringing us here. We've had the best time."

I'm so grateful for the time we spent at Woodloch and for the memories we made. I know they'll sustain us until our next visit,  because without a doubt, we'll be back! 

Stay tuned for more on our incredible trip just four hours north. In my next post I'll be re-capping a few more must-see's and do's as well as talking about our two-room suite and what I would have done differently. 

Interested in learning more about Woodloch or are you ready to book your next visit? If so, be sure to check out these amazing specials that are currently running for months March and April. Trust me, you will never, ever regret it! We're already planning our return for the summer months- I hear it's a completely different resort and we can't wait to check it out! 

Fun and games await kids with great parties during their all inclusive vacation to the Poconos

Things you don't want to miss that week: 

Traditional Easter egg hunts, a visit from the Easter Bunny!

Easter crafts & kid’s party, petting zoo
Themed Dessert Wars, our unique cooking class
Incredible outdoor adventures like Scavenger Hunt and Woodloch Olympics
Broadway-style theme show Woodloch Celebrates the Wonderful World of Television
Professional comedians, magicians, or jugglers
Indoor pool, Kids Splash Room, and our new Soak Zone & Slide

Disclosure: We graciously stayed at Woodloch on behalf of the resort (and would return again on our own dime in a heartbeat!) All thoughts expressed above are honest and my own. I did not receive additional compensation for writing this review. 

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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Crockpot Cake: Do or Don't?

I've always heard about this kind of sorcery- using one's slow cooker to make desserts and truth be told, I've always been a little leery. Sure, in the past I've used my slow cooker to make enough applesauce to feed a small village but I've never once attempted any sort of baking in it. Perhaps it's because I've never associated my crockpot with sweets- mostly dinner ideas in a pinch.  

That all changed when I stumbled across Real Simple's recipe for Slow Cooker Lemon Poppyseed Cake. I was sitting down at the kitchen table meal planning for the week (one of my 2016 goals that I got a late start on- March is totally going to be my month) when somehow I went from clicking through "quick and easy weeknight dinners" to "quick and easy dessert ideas."

With a coffee date planned for early in the week, the Lemon Poppyseed cake sounded like a divine idea. Something sweet and delicious that would pair well with coffee that I wouldn't have to wake up even earlier to bake ahead of time. I scribbled down the few ingredients I would need from the store and set my mind to testing out a little slow-cooker baking. 

The results were out of this world. In fact, I never would have guessed that the cake came from a crockpot. It was so sponge-like and moist that, had I not be the one to prepare it, I would be certain it took hours of meticulous preparation and baking. Needless to say, I'm a crockpot baking convert as I've already stashed away several new recipes for use in the coming weeks. 

Cockpot Cake is a definite DO! 

What You'll Need: 

- parchment paper

- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt

- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) at room temp
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar (plus 6 tablespoons for glaze at the end)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, plus 3 tablespoons lemon juice 
- 1 tsp poppyseeds 
- confectioners sugar for garnish, optional
- whipped cream for garnish, optional
- fresh strawberries and blueberries for garnish, optional

What You'll Do

  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  2. In another bowl, using either a stand or hand mixer, beat the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the granulated sugar on medium-high until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until fluffy, 2 minutes. Add the sour cream, vanilla, lemon zest, and poppy seeds and beat to combine. Reduce speed to low and slowly incorporate the flour mixture.
  3. Place a 15-inch piece of parchment paper in the bowl of a slow cooker, letting the excess come up the sides. Transfer the batter into the bowl of the slow cooker. Set the cooker to high and cook, covered, until set and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 2 1/2 hours. I ended up cooking mine for 2 hours, 15 minutes- be sure to be alert and attentive after the two hour mark.
  4. Holding the parchment paper, transfer the cake to a rack. Combine the lemon juice and the remaining granulated sugar in a bowl and drizzle evenly over the top of the cake. Let cool for at least 15 minutes. Dust with the confectioners' sugar and serve with the whipped cream and berries, if desired.



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