Category: Product Reviews

An Out of This World Birthday Party

I try not to be the type of parent that tries to ‘keep up with the Jones’ but Mike’s first ‘non-family’ birthday party gave me a stomachache. I wanted it to be fun for the kids (most of whom I only knew by sight) and not a horrible experience for the parents. Turns out I had nothing to worry about! Mike and his friends had an awesome time at his astronaut birthday party.

Anyone who knows me knows I love a good theme. Thanks to Amazon, Etsy and Pinterest we were able to dive into Mike’s chosen theme – Astronauts. Our menu was simple:

  • Asteroids: Chick-Fil-A nuggets
  • Rockets: Fruit Kabobs
  • Energy Packs: Single serving chips
  • Sunbeams: Mini-Corn dogs
  • Space Salad: Macaroni Salad with space pasta
  • Space Ice Cream
  • Rocket Fuel – Water bottle/Lemonade

We decided to jump on the ‘no present’ bandwagon. Of course that doesn’t mean no gifts from family, but there is no need to ask his friends to bring a gift. Instead, we asked them to bring diapers for the 12 For 1 Diaper Drive. I wasn’t sure how this would go over with Mike, but we didn’t hear a peep about it. He was plenty spoiled by his family and that’s okay!

For activities we had a craft table with space themed stickers and paper plates to decorate. I also discovered an awesome Etsy seller, Unusuaisle, who makes personalized coloring pages. She made one for Mike that was space and birthday themed. It was a great way to make a regular craft table a little special. 

We also had an idea ‘fail’ that turned out okay in the long run. We wanted to make one of the small closets a ‘planetarium‘ with a constellation nightlight and glow in the dark beach balls. The nightlight wasn’t as vivid as we hoped (but I HIGHLY recommend it for a bedroom), but the kids liked kicking the beach balls to each other (or playing a very intense game of dodge ball).

The biggest hit, I think, was the two boxes of moon sand. Even the parents liked feeling the soft ‘sand’ and using the space figures to move it around. It was worth the mess and the last minute hunt the night before for baby oil.

Another Etsy win was printable photo booth props from PaperBuiltShop- space themed of course! I just printed, cut and then taped them to thin dowels. We bought a cheap (and very LONG) roll of galaxy background and we instantly had a photo booth!

In keeping with theme, I had to make sure we were dressed appropriately. Which is easy for the boys, both Mike and S. got t-shirts from Amazon. I hemmed and hawed because finding a plus sized themed shirt (that was truly plus sized) is a struggle. BUT, TwoStringJane pulled a miracle shipped me a shirt just in time (despite the typical timeline). We are pretty fabulous space people, right?

There you have it folks, an out of this world 4th birthday party!

New Parent Advice

A family friend is having a baby soon and her mom is compiling a book with advice from other moms. Well, I have more advice than I know what to do with. WAY more than a note card will hold. Does that make me an expert? Oh hell no. Just another Momma trying to figure it out.

{Find your tribe} Don’t over think this one. It doesn’t need to be women in real life who subscribe to your parenting beliefs 100%. Find a blogger who you like, explore a local FB group or even an older mom from your place of worship. I have a few tribes: one of Facebook with a group of friends in real life and strangers I joined when I was pregnant, one on Facebook with local moms and then from that group a smaller group of moms who meet monthly and chat weekly. I also read a few blogs and half read some parenting books. These ‘relationships’ take time to find, but they are so worth it. To have a second opinion, to learn about their past experiences as a mom, to have an ADULT conversation – those are invaluable.

{No one has the answers} You will most likely find your tribe by asking questions about their experience. What a cry means, how to wean, when to sleep train … but that’s they have – EXPERIENCE. They don’t have the answers. Which leads me to the next tip.

{While you are learning to be a parent, your baby is learning how to be baby} Each baby is different and no one knows that baby like you do. And while you are trying to figure out how to be a mom, that baby is learning how to be a baby. Sometimes they will cry just because they are crying. Not because they need a bottle or a diaper change. Trust your gut and understand no one has the answers. Not you, not your partner, not your tribe and certainly not your baby!

{Buy a nightgown for the baby} This is a very small thing that makes a huge difference. Before you go to the hospital, buy (and pack) as many of these nightgowns as you can. They save time and energy, especially in the middle of the night when they wake up every 4 minutes with a wet diaper.  And while you are at it –

{Buy a swaddles} I was not the master swaddler in the family, so these pre-swaddled swaddles (is that at thing?) saved me. Pack those too!

{Baby blues is real} My parting advice might be the most important. The ‘baby blues’ are real. You just carried a baby in your belly for 9 months and then delivered a tiny human only to be sent home at 2 days (if you are lucky) to raise said human being into a functioning member of society. You are super woman! But that doesn’t mean you have to be super woman all the time. If you are feeling out of sorts or sad, talk to your doctor. I did and my little antidepressant makes me (yes, 4 years later) and better mom.

What advice do you have for parents-to-be?

The One Thing You Need in Your Kitchen


 

I will be honest, I don’t make money off my blog. It would be nice, but I am too tired to figure it out. However, some companies reach out to me (or vice versa) for product reviews and if I feel like my ‘audience’ (all 4 of you, hi mom) would find value in it, I green light it.

When Brieftons wanted to send me a chopper/grater/slicer/mixer do-hickey my initial reaction was a eye roll. I have a very expensive, heavy and large blender/mixer/chopper thing we got as a wedding gift that I use once a year at best and is too expensive to get rid of. Our kitchen space is limited and I bet it’s a pain in the ass to clean. BUT. I am currently obsessed with chopped salads and they are pretty labor intensive. So what the hell. Send me your magic machine! 

Guys? Buy this. I am all in. It basically has three core pieces – the bowl (with a divider), the top with the rip cord and another top with a slot to put the right ‘slicer’ in. This makes it super easy to clean and store.  But … this is only about $25. It can’t do everything it claims that easily. So for the sake of my blog, I decided to try. I needed to clean out the pantry and had a box of key lime bars (oh DARN) so I made them. The mixer part of this thing is worth the money alone. It totally gives in to how lazy I am. I put all the ingredients (4 eggs, 1/4 water and the mix) into the bowl, put the mixer attachments in, secure to top, pull the ripcord a few times and voila! Perfectly mixed.

Next was veggie prep and it totally exceeded my expectations! It was SO easy to switch out the slicer plates, clean the bowl and get my chopped salad pieces done quickly. I was spending $3 on pre-chopped onions to save time, but I bought a $0.67 onion this week and chopped it in 2 minutes.

The only negative I can come up with is the ‘safety food holder’ which you stick on your veggies (or whatever) to protect your hand while slicing. It didn’t stay in the veggies well enough to be efficient. But otherwise it fits my criteria for being awesome – cheap, efficient, space saving and money saving.

Here are some before and after pictures if you don’t believe me. And forgive the carrot picture. All I had handy was baby carrots. It looks so sad!

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, the legal stuff. Yes, I got this product for free to try. No they didn’t pay me for a positive review, they can’t afford that. No, if you buy it off Amazon I don’t get paid. But I should. 

 

How to Help in Times of Illness

I’ve talked about it before, but about a year ago, S. was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) and after dozens of doctor’s appointments, hours spent online reading and discussing his options, he had open heart surgery and a pacemaker implanted mid-September at Johns Hopkins. I could go on and on about that experience, but the real memory is how our family and friends from near and far rallied to do whatever (and I do mean whatever) we needed while we were in the hospital (just over a week) and beyond.

If someone you know is dealing with an illness or might be spending time in the hospital you want to help right? Of course you do. But what CAN you do to help that requires little of the family but makes a big impact? Here are some suggestions from someone who has been there.

{Notes} Quite possibly the easiest (and cheapest of all). It’s important that the patient and their support team knows people are thinking about them and praying for them. As a caregiver I received countless Facebook and text messages from friends and even acquaintances. My favorite messages included funny memes. It showed that someone was thinking about us at a time that felt very lonely (I am 100% I was the youngest spouse on the cardiac ICU) and someone was taking time to find something they thought would make me laugh.

{Care Packages} Before S’s surgery we got two care packages, one from a long time friend with a bunch of fun goodies like headphones, slinkies and disguise glasses. The other package came from a friend who I met through my Momma and have yet to meet in person. She sent things to keep S and I entertained in the hospital and some fun stuff for Mike while we were away. This is just another great reminder that people were thinking about us and taking care of some of the things we might have forgotten (like pens and Post-It notes for the hospital).

{Services} Dealing with an illness for such a long time puts a lot of other things on the backburner like keeping the house clean. S’s Aunt offered to book a housecleaning service right before his surgery and it was amazing. We found a great company ThinkMaids who did an amazing job top to bottom. But services don’t always have to be done by someone else. My Aunt graciously went to Harris Teeter and picked up and delivered the groceries I ordered online. Helping out comes in many sizes and price ranges – find out what the family needs and jump in!

{Food} Food is probably the easiest thing to do to help families who are dealing with an illness. S.’s grandparents and coworkers sent a beautiful fruit basket which was SO nice, especially after eating cafeteria food for a week. His cousin reached out before and after about us ordering dinner from our favorite take-out place and letting them pay for it. If it’s one thing we have learned the past year it is to take people up on their offer to help, so we sent Debi our order and happily answered the door when our food came. Grubhub recently started selling e-gift cards making it easier for people to send takeout food without asking for the details. Just remember if you are helping out with food – it should be pre-made or easily made without much clean up. And keep it basic. Now is not the time to try a new Yugoslavian dish that was handed down for generations.

{Self care} While it was easy for me not to make S’s surgery ‘all about me’, it definitely was a challenge at time to remember to take care of myself. My dear friend Miranda was kind enough to send me a giftcard to my favorite spa, Swan Cove. I waited until we got home and settled for a few weeks then happily skipped to the spa for a much needed massage. Sometimes the family needs gentle reminders that they need to be taken care of too. Thankfully I have friends (and one of S’s nurses I will forever be grateful for) who reminded me.

We are so thankful for all our friends and family who made it a priority to think about us and reach out during the surgery and recovery.

What Was Under Our Tree?

Was it just me or did the holiday season go by SUPER fast this year? I think because Mike is at the age where he ‘gets’ Santa Claus and the Christmas experience, we really had to pack in experiences. And I think we did a really great job of that with going to see the lights at Watkin’s Park and visiting Santa at Homestead Gardens.

Speaking of Santa, he heard that Mike was a VERY good boy this year! Here are the goodies he left (with some of my feedback because, well, this is my blog).

{Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar} I was really excited about this gift because I think coding is such a cool skill to have and it is even cooler that they are incorporating it into kid’s education at such a young age. First of all, this was WAY louder than I anticipated. And it is a little confusing. I know it ended up under a lot of other trees this year and we are all wondering the same thing – how can you create an obstacle course when you aren’t sure how long each component lasts? Like how long does the Code-a-Pillar go straight? Mike really likes connecting the pieces and jumping in front of it mid-path to make it stop and he called it his ‘skeleton worm’. I think this was a semi-win with a full on win in about six months when he ‘gets it’. 

{KidKraft Table} Poor kid was sitting on his comfy chair pulled up to a wicker trunk we use as a toy box/coffee table to play with his stickers and Playdoh. We are a fan of the KidKraft brand and this was one of the more reasonably priced, not tacky tables for kids. I thought for sure S. would be up all night on Christmas Eve putting it together, but he was done before Mike was even asleep. I am a HUGE fan of the ‘hidden’ storage in the middle which now is where the bad superheroes are jailed. It is a nice finish, seems sturdy and blends in well with our hodge podge furniture.

{Super Hero Books} What is a holiday without books? We love board books because they are sturdy, small and usually pretty short so bedtime doesn’t last longer than it already does. These are a good size and Mike is already reading along with us. The super heroes aren’t of the ‘scary’ variety either, which is hard to find.

{Playskool Friends Mr. Potato Head Marvel} These are clearly Mike’s favorite gift this year. He plays with them all the time and is adamant that they are put together correctly. He throws all the pieces in a mixing bowl, puts them together and starts the process again.

{Superhero Dress Up Costumes} Bubbe got Mike a Batman cape and mask a few months ago and he loves it, so it made sense to get the rest of set so we could all join in! I was really surprised at how sturdy these are, clearly ready to withstand villains … and toddlers.

{Solar System Night Light} We turned Mike’s nursery into a big boy room a few months ago and the theme is space galaxy so when S. saw this, he knew Mike needed to have it. I have to admit, it’s pretty cool! It took some work for S. to mount it on the ceiling, but once it was there Mike loved it. Now he clicks the clicker so the ‘sun’ will come on and then again for the planets to rotate.

Well Mommas, were you a good girl this year? What did Santa bring you?

The Art of Self Care


It’s been a hectic few months around the W household. If you don’t follow me on Facebook, the latest hurdle is that S. was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, or in layman’s terms – an enlarged heart. I won’t bore you with details, but it looks like he is going in for open heart surgery in a few months. It’s been a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, medication changes and muddling through scary, annoying symptoms.

When I shared the news on Facebook I had a lot of supportive comments about my own ‘self-care’. Then a few weeks later the term came up again on an Facebook group for women I am active with (I do leave the house, I promise). One person said, as a mom of multiples, as part of her ‘self-care’ she goes on a solo vacation for a week. A WEEK! At that point I had to figure out what ‘self-care’ is all about, because apparently I am doing it wrong. And for the record, going away for a week wouldn’t make me feel good – I would miss my family! And where is the line between self-care and selfishness?

selfcare

I asked some friends what ‘self-care’ meant to them and found some helpful sites online (this is my favorite, it makes self-care seem realistic). My favorite ‘definition’ is this from a fellow Mom: “Being able to take time to still be me, without husband, cats, or child. To not be defined by others but be challenged to define myself. To have time to better myself, and therefore have more to give to the beings that depend on me.” Here’s what some others said:

“Letting the my kids watch TV while I have my first cup of coffee

“Basically it just means putting my mental well being first when I need it. I hope this will make me a more refreshed, happy, mommy and will also teach my kids the importance of self care in their own lives. My hubby’s self-care involves playing baseball with his buddies two nights a week. It’s a huge release for him and he’s a much happier person when he gets that time.”

“For me, that means eating when I’m hungry, so I can make food for the kids too. Taking a nap at rest time, so I can play later. Chatting with mommy friends during play dates and ignoring the kids for a while, so I can interact with them again.”

Yoga gives me peace of mind to tackle whatever the week can bring. And wine…wine helps.”

“I make it a point to workout at least 30 minutes a day, 7 days a week. Often times, Matt and I will be in our home “gym” after B goes to bed.”

Monthly massages! I also started doing some simple pen and ink watercolors to help relax and de-stress. I’m also planning to take a day off work to be at home by myself.”

 

I loved all these ideas.I like the idea of having things that keep me Jackie and rejuvenate me to be a better wife, mom, employee and person.  It made me think about what my own self-care routines are currently and what they could be.

{Daily stretching routine} A yoga mat at work and an office with a door helps.

{An uninterrupted nightly bath with a book} Just remember, just because you start it doesn’t mean you have to finish it. Life is too short for crappy books.

{Color} Lately it’s been coloring as a time to quiet my mind and be creative. I’ve been using Colourifique Gel Pens and working my way through an Inspirational Coloring Book. I love the practice of picking a color scheme and the repetition of coloring.

{Magazine Subscriptions} I love celebrity gossip and getting my Us Weekly each week is a treat. Sometimes it’s hard to justify the expensive subscription, but Zulily and Groupon usually have a good deal a few times a year.

{Getting it Out} – When I need a creative outlet, or feel strongly about something, my blog is the first place I turn. It lets me focus on me and perhaps inspire someone in the process.

What does self-care mean to you?

 

Oh, if you didn’t notice, this is a review of some products. Don’t worry – it’s my honest opinion and I wouldn’t recommend anything I didn’t believe in. And no one can afford to buy my positive review. 

Daily Movement, Minimal Sweating

This might come as a surprise to you, but I am super busy these days. Working full time, chasing a three year old, keeping the house in order and making time for self care even WITH a supportive, helpful husband is exhausting. And when my life gets crazy (so 90% of the time) exercise takes a backseat.

Also? I hate to sweat. So there’s that too.

But guess what! I figured out how to take time out of my work day to just move. Nothing too crazy like PX90 or Crossfit, but something to get me off my swivel chair and get the blood flowing without the sweat flowing. If you can relate, here are some ideas that have worked for me.

header

{Walk it out} Taking a walk during your lunch break is probably the easiest and most common option to get moving during the day. Thankfully I work in a nice, safe office park where a lot of people are walking around the parking lots at lunch time. A quick 20 minute walk with a podcast not only gets the endorphins pumping but the fresh air and sunlight helps me come back to my desk focused. On hot days I break it up by walking around the perimeter of our building every time I go to the bathroom (which is often).

walk it out

{Online Gym 4 Me} I am a card carrying donor to a popular gym in my area. I went every so often, but I just can’t get comfortable there. I prefer to sweat in private. Which is why Online Gym 4 Me is PERFECT! It is both on demand classes and live classes. Since it is a London based company so the live class times aren’t always conducive to my schedule, I love the on demand options. At work I like the easier, shorter classes like Gentle Flow Yoga and Morning Salutations (the shorter classes are 15 minutes – perfect!). I just keep a yoga mat under my desk, shut the door, take off my shoes and let the instructor tell me what to do.

online gym 4 me

{Booty Loops} A common tip I hear is to stand up and move while you are on the phone. WELL – I will do you one better. Booty Loops. I laughed out loud when the company sent me these simple fitness straps to try, but they are no joke. On conference calls, webinars and virtual training I just slide on a Booty Loop and do a few strengthening exercises.

booty loop

{Stretching} I mentioned how I keep a yoga mat under my desk, but I also keep a tennis ball in my drawer. Sometimes, when I feel my shoulders touching my ear lobes or my nose touch the desk because I am so hunched over – I stretch it out. I google some sort of variation of ‘office yoga’ and take a few minutes to relax. I use the tennis ball for trigger point massage and it is usually just the pick me up I need.

Stretch it out

There you have it! I am not going to drop dresses sizes in a few months by doing just this, but it makes a world of difference in my mood and productivity.

You guessed it, parts of this post are sponsored. But my use and review are real. Trust me, they can’t afford to buy a positive review from me. 

Suuchi Custom Clothes

I am not stranger to the idea of custom clothing. Growing up I remember going to Joanne Fabric and flipping through those huge books of patterns and then watching Mom sewing on our coffee table.

Matching Easter outfits, circa 1992
Matching Easter outfits, circa 1992

Then I was lucky enough to visit China 3 times and each time I was advised to get a custom suit. You couldn’t walk ten feet without someone handing you a business card for a dirt cheap piece of custom clothing.

I have to admit, as someone built like a soft refrigerator, the idea appealed to me. No more button down shirts that didn’t allow my arms to move and pants that didn’t require hemming. But it seemed getting clothing fit to my exact measurements seems pretty costly, something a Kardashian would do. I doubt Kim could fit that booty in Old Navy jeans off the rack.

Well friends, let me introduce you to Suuchi. Based in New Jersey, this is truly a ‘made in the USA’ company. And get this. Your affordable pieces are delivered to your door in about 5 days. They have everything from shirts to pants to scarves.

Once you pick your product, you take your measurements and chose your fabric. They have basic colors and then some unique, fun patterns as well.  I was so excited to be asked to work with Suuchi as a Style Advisor because they are truly a small business with small business values. I was given a scarf so I could go through the process and they responded to my questions quickly and personally. I really felt like I was their ONLY customer, which is so not true, but critical to win my over in the customer service category.

I really wanted a fun scarf to add some of my personality to my work unofficial work uniform (dress pants, tank and cardigan) so I picked the stretchy scarf with stars. I was so impressed with the quality of the fabric, it was thick and, duh, stretchy. It was the perfect length and there are quite a few ways to wear it.

Guess what! You can win a custom scarf! The winner will be announced on Friday, 1/15/2016 after 5PM EST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You guessed it, this is a sponsored post. Suuchi sent me the scarf in return for my honest review. My thoughts are my own – trust me, they can’t afford to buy a positive review. 

The Lunch Struggle

The lunch struggle is real ya’ll. How many days in a row can I eat yogurt, a banana, turkey and cheese (sans bread) and a random ‘healthy’ snack?

The other challenge is my new job. I’ve been here a month and so far I really really love it. And I am BUSY. Most of the time I am running around so much, so I am so focused, I forget lunch. Next thing I know I am in a meeting where I realize I am hangrey or someone brings their own lunch and eats it DURING the meeting (FYI – this is never okay).

What’s a girl to do? Progresso Soup Bistro Cups!

I’ll be honest, I am not a soup person, but when Progresso asked me to check out their new Soup Bistro Cups, I was game. I wasn’t expecting much, but I went in with an open mind. Guess what? I’m all in. They are convenient, easy to make and filling. Plus, you can make them in a mug and drink them during a meeting and no one has to know it is something other than coffee.

All you have to do is open the packet into a mug, drop the K-Cup into a Keurig brewer (even those annoying 2.0 ones take these Bistro Cups), stir it up and in mere minutes, your lunch is ready.

bistrocups

I tried the Tomato Parmesan, but they also have Broccoli & Cheese and Creamy Southwestern which are both ready for my lunchbox next week.

If you are in the Northeast USA and want to try them don’t forget to download a $2 off coupon.

Friday 5: Running Accessories


If you follow me in real life, or even on social media, you know I am starting to think about fitness and how to incorporate it in my life. I’ll be honest – it’s really, really hard. I am carrying a lot of extra weight and have a pretty messed up relationship with food. But as a Momma, I need to set a good example and I am embracing that idea. So guess what? I’m a runner!

It sounds really funny to say that since my inner mean girl disagrees – I rarely run more than a mile, I do walking/jogging intervals and I’ve slacked off the past month. But when I tell all my friends who are ‘real’ runners they disagree. It doesn’t matter how far or how fast – if I am move faster than a walk, I am a runner. Suck it inner mean girl!

The best part of being a runner is all the cool accessories, so for my Five on Friday I want to share my top 5 running accessories. Even if you don’t run and do some other activity, these apply to you too!

PicMonkey Collage

{Ape Tape} I won’t go into the science of Kinesiology Tape, but it works. I first used it when I was in physical therapy for a shoulder injury a few years ago, but now it seems to have gone mainstream and you can get it in a variety of colors and brands at the drug store. I have something weird going on with my ankle, so it helps to use K-Tape before a run to offer stability and help me not feel so achie afterwards. I’ve trade a lot of brands, but Ape Tape is by far my favorite. It is thicker and lasts much longer than other brands.

{Fitbit Flex with fastener} People either love or hate activity trackers and I am a lover. I picked the Fitbit Flex because it was affordable and has an easy interface. I love going for a run and getting into the groove and feeling my wrist buzzing because I hit my goal. The only complaint I had was my fear of it falling off. BUT – I solved that problem pretty quickly with Allbingo’s silicon fasteners. They keep the Fitbit strap secure and adds a pop of color.

{Thick to Thin Gear} Have you heard of Thick 2 Thin? They are an amazing body positive company out of Virginia who creates gear for athletes – and firmly believes we are ALL athletes. I love that their new line of shorts and shirts will come in much larger sizes because I love to wear looser clothes on runs. They sent me a tank to wear for my virtual 5K and I felt awesome having a trendy shirt that expressed how I felt – strong and athletic. Plus their company values are exactly what I need. Do you follow them on FB? They are a fun bunch!

{Brooks Shoes} Running doesn’t have to be expensive, but you MUST MUST MUST have a solid pair of running shoes. I bought a pair of name brand shoes in an outlet store and after one run I was in enough pain that I dug the receipt out of the trash and returned them. I headed down to my local running store, Pacers, and they watched me  run and found a few pairs of shoes that fit my running style. Brooks Ghost 7 ended up being the best pair for me and they have been worth every penny.

{YouTube Beats Per Mile Playlist} I admire people who can run without music because I am certainly not one of them. Since I have an old phone and don’t want to lug my iPod with me, I have been listening to YouTube’s Beats Per Mile playlist. It’s got some great songs with a beat that keeps me moving.

What are your ‘must have’ workout accessories?

 

Yep, you guessed it. Some or all of this post is sponsored. They might have offered the product, but I offered my honest opinion. This post also might have affiliate links. I might get a small kick back, nothing that will let me quit my day job and nothing that will raise the price for you. You’ve been warned.