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!
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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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Monday, November 21, 2016

Dressing Your Family For Holiday Photos: 5 Simple Tips from a Momtographer

This post is brought to you in partnership with Nations Photo Lab. 
For additional style tips, be sure to check out the bottom of this post!

There are few things more daunting than having to choose outfits for your family in anticipation of holiday photos. As our family has grown over the past several years, so has the stress of choosing what we'll wear for our annual family Christmas card picture. Who do you start with first? What colors do you choose? What will the backdrop of your location setting be? Most importantly, what will you do with these photos once you have them taken?

Figuring out the answers to the above questions is the first step to nailing your family photos. Since I've become somewhat of a self-proclaimed expert when it comes to dressing a large family for pictures, I'd love to share with you a few tips to make the task seem less overwhelming. It all comes down to the three C's: Coordination, Comfort and Confidence. If you can master theses three, the perfect family photo is in the bag!
all images credit: Megapixels Media Photography
1. Color coordination is key

Do not be afraid of color! Avoid matchy-matchy and choose a color scheme that consists of no more than 3-4 colors. Keep in mind who will be wearing what and aim to strike a balance between colors worn on top and bottom. As a family photographer myself, I've seen it all. Families who show up in the traditional (antiquated) white shirts and khakis of yore and the families who absolutely rock a session with perfectly color-coordinated outfits boasting rich jewel tones paired with basic neutrals, getting it just right, down to their patterned socks and carefully selected accessories. 

2. Choose comfort over trends.

When choosing outfits for family members, especially children, comfort is key. As if posing for family photos isn't stressful enough, wearing something too stiff, too bulky or too fitted can also make for additional discomfort. If you and your family don't feel comfortable in what you're wearing, you certainly won't look comfortable in your photos. I always tell my clients that they should be able to walk, sit, stand and crouch in whatever they choose to wear. In fact, I almost broke my own rule and wore a dress with heels for our most recent family session with Maryland-based photographers, Megapixels Media. It was during the 11th hour that I completely overhauled my chosen ensemble and looking back, I'm so thankful I opted for pants with a slight stretch to them and a loose-fitting, light sweater. This allowed me to focus less on "are my legs crossed enough," or "am I sucking it in enough?" and more on just being in the moment with my family. If you're confident in your clothing, it will shine through in your photos!

3. Textures and patterns are your friends (in small doses).

When it comes to textures and patterns, the age old saying "less is more" is undoubtedly your best friend. That being said, texture in the form of layers, patterns and accessories is a great and simple way to add richness and dimension to any photo. Furthermore, layers can easily be added or removed for a different look during the same session. If you're looking for simple ways to style texture and layers into your family photos, try adding a vest, scarf or cardigan to anyone's ensemble.  

4. Let kids be kids.

The outfit options available to little ones today are off the charts adorable and it's so easy to get caught up in dressing them years ahead of their time. That said, they're only little for so long and there's only so many years you have where you can get away with putting your youngest son in a reindeer sweater complete with puffy pom-pom nose. I will admit, this was not my first choice for him. In fact, the original plan included suspenders and flannel with elbow patches but as soon as I stumbled on this sweater and it fit within the original color scheme, I knew he had to wear it. Once again, I'm so glad I changed my mind at the last minute. Let them be little, as they say!   

5. Consider your backdrop.

Finally, and this goes for both the location of your session as well as the backdrop of your home, choose classic clothing styles that aren't too trendy that they'll be out of style before you can get the pictures hung on the wall, while also choosing a location setting that's both comfortable and inviting. Whether you're having your picture taken on a farm full of evergreens or beneath brightly colored Fall foliage, you'll want to choose a color scheme that complements the backdrop rather than clashes with it. 

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Holiday Cards

Once you've survived your session, choosing a holiday photo card, especially from Nations Photo Lab, will be cake compared to the hassle of coordinating clothing for family photos! With numerous options, including the popular foil stamped holiday line, it's guaranteed you'll find one that's perfect for your perfect holiday photo.

Be sure to follow me on Instagram as I share sneak peeks of our awesome Christmas cards in the coming days- you won't want to miss them! 

To keep up with Nations Photo Lab follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest where they share photo gift ideas, print work, wall decor and more- not to mention incredible holiday savings codes codes!  

Good luck! I'd love to see what you chose for your family photos. Feel free to hop on over to my Facebook page and share how you styled your family for pictures in the comment section beneath the post highlighting how to dress your family for holiday photos! 


For additional styling tips, check out these posts:

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Monday, November 14, 2016

On Saying Goodbye to Our First House.

In 2010 I arrived here, six months pregnant with our first baby, practically having kicked and screamed the entire ride from our comfortable, familiar duplex in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. I never once hid what I had sacrificed for this house (my husband would prefer to say "compromised") and to this day, there isn't a week that passes that I don't think about the distance we are from my parents, my very first (and only) nursing job I left that I loved so much, and the incredible patients, friends and patients' families-turned-friends I had the pleasure of meeting, all of those many years ago.

We moved in on a blustery, ice cold morning in late February and I spent the first three years desperately trying to move back "home" to PA knowing full well somewhere in my heart of hearts that Maryland would become my permanent home whether I liked it or not. 

After having walked through this house several times during the initial home-buying process, I hesitated putting an offer on it until finally, I called my Dad, right there from the front yard. I needed him to tell me that it would be okay, that I would grow to love it, that I would see the potential that this tired little colonial had, tucked in a quaint, quiet slice of Suburbia.

Here we are, six years later and the house I once swore I couldn't love, because of it's distance from my parents, because of its unknown and its tired bones, feels more like home to me than any of the previous apartments, townhouses and duplexes I lived in as an adult.

I swore I wouldn't be emotional about this move. After all, "it's just a house," I would tell myself, knowing full well that it's the people, not the house, that make it a home. But what a home we've made. 

I started off strong, packing boxes left and right, never once giving thought to the many shades of paint that have graced the living room walls thanks to my incredibly indecisive nature or to the entryway hall where little feet took big steps for the very first time and I fell to my knees in the kitchen, arms outstretched with unimaginable joy.

As more and more pictures came down from the walls, I began thinking about how many times I've stood on the front porch, first as two, then three, then five, smiling for a camera. Or how many times I've begged and pleaded with sweet little boys to stop fidgeting, to sit on the stoop nicely and to "give mama one good and decent cheese face."

The same stoop where we've sat and waved to countless garbage trucks, filled the baskets of trick-or-treaters and blown endless bottles of bubbles. It's where we stand each morning and yell to Daddy to "beep and wave" as we send him off to work, sometimes still in our pajamas, other times wrapped up in blankets, our breath catching from the crisp, cold biting winter air, tiny fingers busy squiggling designs in the frost on the front door.


Between loading box after box into the POD that sat ominously in our driveway, I glanced over at the rough drywall patch in the den that I gave my husband hell about for years. The tiny uneven square of Spackle and drywall  that drove me absolutely batty since it was never "picture perfect." The spot he attempted to blend seamlessly with the wall after a YouTube tutorial and DIY attempt at hidden wiring.

Today that spot looked and felt like home, in all of it's imperfect glory, undoubtedly because after years of guarding my heart and my emotions, I learned to let go and live here.

That's when it hit me. In this house, we learned how to be a family. Through sleepless nights, lots of Google and days of trial and error, my husband and I learned how to be parents to not one, or two but three beautiful baby boys. Similarly as the years progressed, our sons learned how to be brothers and friends.

We learned how to love hard and deep and well in this house and that's not something I will easily forget.

Our boys, however, will probably never remember this house. To them, it will be nothing more than "The Old House," and one they learn about through pictures and stories and in those sudden moments when we're blindsided by a memory of a first birthday, a first Christmas or that time I went into pre-term labor and didn't even know it save for my girlfriend who was standing there in the kitchen with me and had the wherewithal to phone my doctor and let them know she was driving me into the office. 

So it's in these final moments here, even though the walls are bare, the rooms too echo-y, this space feeling no more like our own, that I'll sit here on the floor of the family room and be forever grateful to have taken a chance on this tired little colonial, the place where "We" became "Us."

It's time for one last porch picture and to move onto the Next Best Thing...

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