Monday, February 26, 2018

Becoming a More Mindful Mama... Impossible or No?

I'm about to share with you something I really suck at. (I like how that sentence makes it sound like I only suck at one thing... wouldn't that be nice?) But really though, I'm about to let you in on a secret. 

I suck at being present. Whether it's when I'm with my kids or while I'm in the grocery store or even while I'm at the gym, I'm constantly running through various To-Do lists in my head thinking about what needs to be done or what I've already failed to do. It's a constant battle trying to remain present in the moments of Motherhood without getting overwhelmed by busyness. 

This is where the practice of mindfulness comes in. We all have the capacity to be present. It doesn't require any fancy tools or apparatus. All we really have to do is look within ourselves to cultivate innate qualities of peace and presence. Sounds easy, right?

The practice of being mindful encourages moms to let go to of the notion of perfect parenting and all of the areas of motherhood that this spills over into. Mindfulness as a mom means learning to stay patient in the presence of meltdowns, finding ways to better manage stress, choosing ways to stay present with your family so you don't miss every day moments and prioritizing play over productivity. 

At the start of the new year, I decided that "mindful" was going to be my word of 2018 and I wanted to share with you today a few ways that I've been incorporating the practice of mindfulness into my day to day life. 

On my best days, I'm up before the sun and most importantly, I'm up before my three boys. Some days this looks like the 4am hour and others I can squeak by until 6am. On the mornings I'm fumbling around in the dark for my exercise clothes, I'm mindful that these quiet hours are a gift and to choose wisely how I spend them. It's been a little over one month now that I've been consistently going to the gym at 5am each week and in that time I have learned to love the dark and the quiet that comes with the early wake up. It's typically the only time of the day that I am not constantly needed or being pulled in numerous directions. The post-workout endorphin rush is another bonus to this newly adopted self-care practice.

Being mindful also means slowing down to enjoy the process of things. I wholly admit that I am not the best at this but I am trying each day to find peace in ordinary moments. For instance, when I return home to the gym and have to make school lunches, a task that I typically loathe with every fiber of my being, I try to stop and remind myself what a blessing it is to have three boys to pack lunch for and to belong to a school community that I truly love and appreciate. 

Recognizing what I'm putting into and on my body has also become a part of my own personal mindful practice. Adopting habits of clean eating and cleaner living have already benefited my family in so many ways. 

Last month I introduced you to prAna, a clothing company dedicated to inspiring healthy, active, living through the use of their sustainable fabrics. prAna is incredibly mindful of the way they source their materials and use them to create pieces that are designed to be worn in all aspects of life, from fitness activities to every day living. They recently sent me two pieces that have become comfortable reminders of my newly adopted practice of mindfulness. 

Getup Sweater // Shala Pant

I am a work in progress but I am also happy with the small changes I've made so far to become a more mindful mother. 
My friends at prAna asked that I share the following code with you. It's good for 15% off of all things regularly priced: MPAPS18. The discount code is active through March 20th. 

Happy Shopping!
#mindfulprAna #prAnaSpring18
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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Mom Hacks: In The Kitchen: 3 Tips to Appreciate The Dinner Witching Hour

This post is sponsored by Everywhere Agency on behalf of PERDUE®; however, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
Chances are, if you’re a parent, you can’t remember the last time you actually enjoyed cooking dinner for your family. If your house is anything like mine, the evening rush hour is a circle of Hell that Dante forgot to write about. Perhaps during this time dinner prep is taking longer than expected, maybe you forgot an ingredient and in between raiding the pantry for snacks and singing an acapella version of “I’m So Booooooored,” your kids are beating the veritable stuffing out of each other. In fact, if your house is anything like mine, by 5:00pm you’re one “I’m-so-bored/hungry-he-won’t-keep-his-hands-off-me,” away from an unexpected visit to the Emergency Room. Like you actually have time for that.
Ever since the first of the year I’ve become acutely aware of how much I loathe the evening rush hour, how much more I raise my voice during that time and how much less time is actually spent enjoying my family. I’m sure it has everything to do with the fact that my days are consumed with errands, gym sessions, pick-up’s, drop-off’s and orchestrating swim lessons and music lessons. That as soon as we’re home and our feet hit the floor, it’s a crazy, chaotic dance of homework, reading logs and balancing the attention-seeking needs of little boys clamoring for just a bit of their mama’s undivided attention.
Meanwhile, dinner ain’t gonna cook itself.
I’m learning that with a little forethought and some pretty awesome mom hacks, I can kick the chaos to the curb and focus on what really matters during those early evening hours- being present with my family. That’s why I’m sharing with you today just 3 simple hacks to be used in the kitchen to help you hate the dinner witching hour just a little bit less.

  1. Simplify the Meal Plan
I used to think that I had to cook up these grand meals with fancy ingredients because that’s what stay-at-home moms did. After all, they were home all day! They have all the time in world! Very quickly I learned that’s incredibly untrue and when those fancy meals were made, someone always complained, refused to eat them and spent most of dinner time kicking and screaming on the kitchen floor. Stick with what you know and what your family loves. If that means you have the same 12 meals on rotation for the month, so be it. K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Superstar!)

  1. Less is More
Less time spent prepping means more time spent with your family. PERDUE® understands this with their new line of PERDUE® FRESH CUTSTM boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Available in diced, strips or thin sliced, PERDUE® FRESH CUTSTM  chicken helps busy parents skip the hassle of cleaning and cutting up chicken and later having to scrub cutting boards, counter tops and their hands over and over again. It might not seem like much but eliminating just those activities alone has saved me up to 30 minutes in the kitchen of prep and cleanup time per meal! Not to mention, I don’t have to touch any gross, slimy chicken parts.

  1. Stop What You’re Doing and Dance
You probably rolled your eyes just now but a good kitchen dance party has saved my sanity on more than one occasion and now that I’ve shaved up to 30 minutes from my normal dinner routine by using PERDUE® FRESH CUTSTM chicken, I have more time for family fun! Stop what you’re doing, turn on Alexa, your phone, the music station on TV and get your kids into the kitchen and dance. You’ll be giving them the undivided attention they so badly crave while letting loose and being silly. Two songs and ten minutes later, you won’t believe how much less your kids will resent you when you tell them you have to get back to cooking. Trust me on this!

One of the most popular (and easy) dishes in our house to whip up are these Buffalo Chicken Flatbreads. I put this together in less than thirty minutes on Super Bowl Sunday. Served with fresh veggies and a side salad, it made for the perfect pre-game meal. With the extra time I saved by not having to handle or prep the chicken, I was able to spend more time getting my fame face on with my boys!
Serves a family of 5

We all know that busy moms need real, simple meal ideas that work. Creativity and quickness included, PERDUE®  FRESH CUTSTM chicken  allows busy parents less time to prepare a meal and more time to enjoy it. Just look at how much more relaxed this Mom looks once she ditches her regular chicken routine for PERDUE®  FRESH CUTSTM chicken!
For additional PPERDUE®  FRESH CUTSTM chicken recipes, head here. The best part is that PERDUE® chicken comes with a “No Antiobiotics Ever” promise, so you can feel confident that you are feeding you family responsibly, and saving time doing so.
Be sure to enter the PERDUE® #30MinuteMeTime social media contest for a chance to win a $100 gift card to SpaFinder, Fandango or Amazon. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited and outside US. Must be legal US resident 18+ (19+ in AL and NE; 21+ in MS). For full rules, see here.
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Monday, January 29, 2018

Our 10th Anniversary Trip Recap - Grand Cayman

I'm pretty sure we started looking forward to our 10th anniversary trip back around year 7. We all know how difficult it is to get away once you have kids, much less 3 kids in 4 years and this adults-only vacation was long overdue and so very much anticipated. While it took an impressive amount of planning to take this 5 day, 4 night trip, it was worth every stressful, worry-filled moment. 

Make no mistake, that stress and worry melted right away with the first glass of champagne handed over to me on the airplane.  

Our boys survived the long weekend without us without a single issue, (that anyone informed us about), which made it much easier to immediately start planning our next kid-free tip! It truly takes a village and we are so thankful for ours who stepped in and made this trip possible. 

While it wasn't our first choice, I'm so glad we ended up choosing Grand Cayman, the largest of the Cayman islands, as our celebratory destination for our 10th wedding anniversary. I should say, the only reason Grand Cayman wasn't among our top choices was because I'd already been to the island in the late 90's on a family vacation. Typically we like to vacation to places neither of us had ever visited before but due to last year's hurricane devastation, we had a change of plans. Needless to say, my experience of Grand Cayman this time around was vastly different as an adult traveling with my husband. 

Grand Cayman is a true gem of an island. First and foremost it is very safe and can be traversed on foot. There is no worry leaving your resort property and trust me, it is encouraged you do so as the island has so much to offer! Pristine powdery beaches, crystal clear water, tantamount snorkeling and scuba diving as well as local culture and history worth experiencing. Oh and the local cuisine is beyond worthy. Grand Cayman is truly something special. 
You'll notice we did a lot of walking to and from our hotel. That's one of the best things about Grand Cayman. The island itself is very safe to walk around, even at night. If you aren't up for walking, the bus is an excellent option and at just $2/person, it's affordable and convenient. To catch a bus, you basically just need to waive your hand out and one will stop. When we weren't walking the island, we took a taxi to and from the further restaurant destinations as well as to the marina for our chartered boat excursion.  

It should also be noted that nothing is open on Sundays, outside of your resort. To account for this, naturally we picked up some local rum and snacks from the market and hunkered down on our lounge chairs for the day. It made for an absolutely perfect Sunday. 

The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort - With this being our anniversary trip, we struggled with where to stay. Initially were set on staying at the Ritz property, however after hearing some less than savory things about the property layout and sky-high room rates, I'm so glad we ultimately chose the Marriott. The Marriott resort is located less than 2 miles from the town of George town making it an easy walk to and from the town when desired (something we took advantage of almost nightly!).  

The property is located right along the famous Seven Mile Beach and boasts tons of amenities. With a large outdoor pool, full-service spa and 2 on-site dining destinations, there's plenty to do right from the comforts of the hotel. The resort also offers activities such as beach yoga, jet ski rentals, SUP rentals, snorkeling along a man-made reef, sailing and more. 

Unfortunately, due to recent hurricane erosion, there wasn't much beach to be had. This certainly did not make or break our stay, in fact, we never experienced any issues reserving lounge chairs. Of course if you're going to wait until 11am to wander out onto the beach, you may run into more of an issue!

Several years ago, the hotel underwent major renovations. The decor is nicely updated, the lobby is beautiful (and a little hipster-y) and the courtyard boasts a relaxing atmosphere with string lights and water features. Overall, the property is clean, well-maintained and the staff is supremely helpful and friendly. 

Would we go back?
Absolutely. While we would have no problem returning to the Marriott, when we do return, we plan to book our own private condo at a property just several miles down the beach for a different, more intimate island experience.

Where we ate:
Cimboco ($): Hands down, the BEST brunch on the island. It's within walking distance from the Marriott and everything on the menu is worthy of trying. 

The Wharf ($$$): Excellent outdoor seating, most famous for it's Feeding of the Tarpon which are large 50lb. fish that swim right up to the dock where your dining table is located. Reservations are ideal and the menu is on the pricier side. Our meal was delicious and it was a fun experience. A short taxi ride from the hotel.

Agua ($$): Voted one of the best restaurants on the island, we decided to try it out. It wasn't my most favorite meal, however the ceviche starters we ordered were some of the best we'd had on the island. Also located in a strip mall down towards the Ritz, it can be easy to miss. We also walked to this restaurant from the Marriott. 

Calypso Grill ($$$): The best dinner we had on the island, hands down. We both agreed we would recommend anything off of the menu and you wouldn't be disappointed, especially the Sticky Toffee Pudding. While it was suggested that we book a table right on the water, it rained on and off this evening and we went with a table just inside the deck (but all doors are open to the outside, so it's definitely a fun, quirky, island-y vibe). The cocktails were also on point!

Pepper's Bar and Grill: Located right along Seven Mile Beach, this bar and grill was essentially located right across the street from our hotel. Having noticed how packed it was the night we arrived, we knew we had to try it out. The jerk chicken and ribs were AMAZING and the atmosphere is loud, local and fun. We were treated to a live band and it was just. so. fun. Definitely recommend for lunch or dinner.

Chicken Chicken: Located in a nearby strip mall, it's easy to miss however it's a definitely MUST HAVE while visiting the island. It serves the best island chicken and was a nice break from all the seafood we'd been eating at nearly every other meal.  Also within walking distance from the Marriott.

Yara: Yara is a bar and restaurant located inside of the Margaritaville resort. We ended up here after dinner one evening for drinks and dessert and it was awesome! The handcrafted cocktails were absolutely divine. While the Sticky Toffee Pudding wasn't AS good here as it was at the Calypso Grill, it's definitely worth checking out.  

If I could suggest one thing to do while visiting Grand Cayman, it would be to privately charter a boat to take you through the most popular island destinations. It doesn't cost too much more than booking an excursion through your hotel but being able to do it without tons of strangers aboard your boat is worth every penny. We chartered our boat through FatFishAdventures and it was the most fun. We packed a cooler and enjoyed four and a half hours out on the water with two local guides. 

Why a private charter? First, you aren't stuck aboard a boat with tons of strangers. Second, you aren't at all rushed through these attractions. While boats would come and go at each of the excursion destinations, we could leisurely take our time at each one without having to make room for the next tourist boat. It was essentially getting a private tour of the best parts of the island and totally worth it.

If you visit Grand Cayman, one of the most popular attractions is Stingray City and sandbar. It's essentially several sandbars along the Northern sound of Grand Cayman where hundreds of stingrays flock to interact with tourists. If I haven't already mentioned it, the water here is crystal clear. Some of the most beautiful turquoise waters I have ever seen. Not only was it fun to swim with the stingrays but snorkeling along the reef here was incredible.

After visiting Stingray City and Starfish Point, we enjoyed cocktails and appetizers at Kaibo, a super trendy, super fun beach bar and restaurant that is best visited by boat. It's located on a different part of the island that is much quieter than where most of the hotels are located.

While we didn't visit the Turtle Farm, the town of Hell of take a cruise on the Pirate Ship this trip, these were a few island activities I took part in during my first trip to the island in the late 90's. I would definitely recommend these excursions, however this was just not something we wanted to incorporate during our short anniversary getaway!

Worth noting, Caymana Bay is a mall and residential area that offers unique dining options and boutique shopping experiences. There is also a movie theater here which is ideal for families if the weather is ever subpar. It also offers a small beach front area and tons of fountains popular for splashing in (kids, naturally). We ventured here to do a little tax-free shopping as well as grab lunch at a tasty Indian restaurant, Pani. It was nice and it gave us something to do in between lounging on the rafts at the hotel and happily indulging away our vacation savings with fine food and crafty cocktails. 

I've been asked several times if 5 days is a sufficient stay on the island and while we would have loved to stay an additional day or two just to soak up the sun and quiet solitude away from our noisy bunch back home, I do think 5 days is just enough time to get a real feel for what the island has to offer. 

Will we return? YES! As I mentioned earlier, we will absolutely return to Grand Cayman. Friends of ours who vacation here yearly graciously offered us insider tips on where to eat and what to do and while there were several recommendations on their list that we didn't get to (Guy Harvey's Restaurant, Luca, Eden Rock) we are already planning our return trip with friends to cross more of Caymanian culture and cuisine off our bucket list. 

I know I've said this before and I can't say it enough. If you have the ability to take some time away from your kids, do it. Looking back, I wish we hadn't waited so long but that was our reality. We had three kids in four years and it took me a long time to feel comfortable leaving our boys for that much time (but that's a whole other post in and of itself). We will forever be indebted to our friends and family who assumed the immense responsibility of caring for and loving our boys in our absence. 

This trip was the perfect reminder that everything we have acheived these last 10 years started with the two of us and it's so important to continue to cultivate that foundation. Crystal clear water and bottomless rum drinks served as the perfect backdrop to celebrate Us! 

Cheers to 10 years! 
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