Motherhood

Words Of Advice From My Experienced Mom Friends

January 7, 2019

Happy 2019! One of my New Year’s goals is to start writing more in my blog. I took all of the fall off to catch up on other projects that I was behind with (i.e. scrapbooks, Family Year In Review book, some home renovations, and lots of traveling with my family for my husband’s work while dealing with morning sickness…fun fun!). Since I’m expecting baby #3 soon, I figured a great post to start off the New Year is advice from my mom friends with older children. I love learning from my friends who have ‘been there, done that’ and who have raised some pretty remarkable young adults. A year ago, I sent an email to these amazing mama’s asking them three questions, never intending this to be part of a public blog. However, after reading some great insight, ideas, and advice, I thought it would be beneficial and fun for others to read as well. (I will refrain from using names, of course.) The questions I asked these awesome mamas include:

  1. What things do you wish you would have done differently raising your kids?
  2. What things are you glad you did with your kids?
  3. What are your favorite family traditions (holidays, birthdays, etc.) that your children still love as young adults or enjoy reminiscing about?

Here are their answers…

What things do you wish you would have done differently raising your kids?

  • I think mostly what I think I would have done differently is spend more time with them just playing either outside or inside. It is easy to have my endless to do list interfere with that. And I wish I had been more consistent speaking Dutch (her native language) to them!
  • I wish I would have listened more without giving my opinion unless I was asked. As the kids have gotten older, this is something I work hard at. We have great conversations, and I love hearing their thought process. They are smart and can make good decisions. We don’t have to tell them what to do all the time.  
  • One thing as our kids have hit the teenage years that we didn’t do well and are trying to do better is get to know their friends. It means a lot to them when we love their friends, take special notice of them, call them by name, treat them like our own. For a while, because our lives were so busy, I felt like I was doing all I could do to pay attention to my crew, but now after talking to our kids who are past the teenage years, they have told us that this (getting to know their friends more) really matters. We are working to do better now with the teens that are still at home. It seems like a little thing, but I think it tells them that they matter because we care about who they care about. Also, it’s a good way to keep them out of trouble if their friends love you too and always want to be at your house!  
  • I can’t overstate the importance of being watchful and careful with cell phones, social media, and the internet. The pressure is really strong because “everybody is doing it” to allow free reign on cell phones, video games, etc. There are so many good things about technology today, but also so many dangerous things. I feel like as a mom with boys, especially, you have to also be a tech expert, which is not really my thing, but I’m learning! In today’s world with access to the entire world in their hands, it can be really dangerous and not all kids can maneuver it well. We’ve done our best to shield them and still we’ve dealt with some bad things because of the internet and social media. I would be even more proactive and diligent with restrictions on phones and access to the internet.  
  • I wish I had taken care of me sooner. I learned that I can’t do gluten and had an autoimmune disease, and as a result, I was a very tired mom. I wasn’t as available to my boys and dreaded the park as the thought of it exhausted me. I had no idea I had an autoimmune disease and it just felt like I was walking through molasses. I was depressed and sad and didn’t know why. When I had my girls, I had it under control and felt wonderful. It was much easier. 
  • I wish I wouldn’t have taken things so seriously while in elementary and junior high. We don’t care if we take them out of school for two weeks now. Being at school isn’t worth missing out on a family vacation. I wish we wouldn’t have stressed about it earlier.
  • When my oldest was born, I had never even changed a diaper (is that nuts or what?!), so when she was born I was clueless. I was a very stressed out mom and sooooo wish I would have not worried about the small stuff. For example, every time she got a spot on an outfit, I would change her. What the heck was I thinking?? That just gave me more laundry. When I had my second baby 20 months later, I was totally more chill. I really enjoyed her as a baby. I wasn’t so stressed out. 
  • I wish I knew how to cook so they would have had special memories of meals I made.
  • I think I would have made reading a more important part of my kids lives at a younger age. My oldest HATES to read and I have to force her to do the minimum for school. My youngest used to read a book every 3 days but now her phone is way too important to her.
  • I’m glad we never had to put pressure on our kids for sports or activities as we left the decision up to them, but I regret we didn’t put more pressure on the boys. We let them give up too easily and now, neither are into sports. The hard thing about parenting is you just don’t know what’s the lesser of the two evils.

What things are you glad you did with your kids?

  • I am glad we have traveled with the kids a lot, snuggle a ton, our family traditions, talk to them a lot and have always tried to have one- on-one time with each one. When they were little, I would do 10-15 minutes with each child every day which we called “special” time where we would do whatever he/she wanted (except electronics/ tv) and nobody could interrupt. It was super helpful with them not fighting and misbehaving, because so much of that is really just wanting your attention, even if it is negative. Now we will take turns taking one child to the book store, a movie, the park, ice cream etc.
  • When I was young, my mom and I did so much volunteer work together, especially at nursing homes. I started going to nursing homes with my kids when they were 2 and 3. We continue to volunteer at hospitals and nursing homes. I feel that service work is so important to show our kids. We have so much love to give!!
  • We’ve always been really open with our kids. We talk about everything and I think they know they can talk to us about everything.  We always let them know that there is nothing they can ever do to separate them from our love. It is unconditional and never-ending.  I think sometimes kids need to hear that even though it seems obvious to you. With boys, I’ve found, it can be harder to get them to talk and the only thing I can say to help that is truly just time. The best way is to be with them, sit on their bed at night, drive them to practice or to get ice cream and eventually they will talk on their own time.  Patience 🙂
  • Something I think we have done well is encourage our kids to do things that are hard, things that make them nervous, things that scare them. I think kids need to get out of their comfort zone to realize they can do things they may not believe they can. We let them know it’s okay to fail. I love the quote, “If you try and don’t succeed, you’re not a failure, you’re a risk-taker.” We want our kids to be risk-takers!
  • I am grateful I let my kids be curious about things like astrology, various religions, different ways of thinking so they can have their own mind, and politics so they understand why their parents believe the things we do. I love that they see me working but yet available to them…they see what I do and that I’m contributing.
  • I’m glad that with my oldest, I never gave him food like chicken nuggets or french fries. At age three, he was eating artichoke, salmon, chips and salsa, etc. He has a very versatile palette, and I’d like to think it’s mostly due to what I fed him when he was young. Now when he travels, he tries and loves all different foods. However, with my youngest, I didn’t have time to be as vigilant with her food intake and all she wants is chocolate and red meat.
  • I love that I make them earn their trips to Disneyworld. We have a Disney Chart thirty days before we leave which involves chores, acts of kindness, getting an “A” in school, etc. However, if you get six black dots on your chart (i.e. misbehaving, doing poorly in school, etc.), the family has to vote and decide if you can redeem yourself or if you don’t go.
  • Sunday school and church is important, no matter your religion. As they get older, they may not go to church as much, but they want to go when they are home for holidays or just weekends. You will want that for your kids especially as they become adults. They say if you go as a child, you will go back once your an adult. God is Love and Hope. Teenagers often feel hopeless and it’s a bad thing if they don’t have some type of relationship with Jesus. 
  • I am glad I did not let them do sleepovers. It’s our job to protect our kids and putting them in other homes in vulnerable situations is not something I felt comfortable with. As they got older, I just didn’t like other parents ideas like, “I don’t mind if they drink under age as long as they don’t drive.” I disagree; it’s the law. If they really want it, they will get it, but we don’t need to make it easy for them.  
  • I think it is important for your kiddos to see mom and dad love each other and spend quality time together. I’m glad my kids know what a healthy, happy marriage looks like.
  • My kids are very fortunate that they make their own money, however, I give them a small allowance and teach them about the value of a dollar. I think kids need to learn responsibility at a young age. I tell them that I made $3.35 an hour at my first job to show them how things have changed. I have been teaching them how to balance a check book and manage their money. It’s actually really helped my youngest to not blow her money. They now sell their old clothes on Poshmark and really love to see the money they are making. Some of my kids friends come over and I see how they don’t clean up after themselves. I sometimes feel that parents do too much for their kids. I make my kids make their beds, clean their rooms and help with dishes. My mom never taught me how to cook, clean or do laundry. I didn’t even know how to make a baked potato when I was 21! I want my kids to be strong independent women!

What are your favorite family traditions (holidays, birthdays, etc.) that your children still love as young adults or enjoy reminiscing about?

  • One of my favorite traditions is our living wall. It’s a wall that changes with each holiday. Art projects go up at the end of the school year. In September, up comes 20 frames and Halloween-decorated pictures from past Halloweens…then the next day after Halloween, we make a giant tree out of paper and color it. We put a stack of cut-out leaves next to the tree and the kids or anyone who comes to the house, writes thankful notes on the leaves and sticks them onto the tree. After Thanksgiving, Christmas cards and past family photos go up, plus gigantic advent homemade calendars made out of felt with pockets for gift cards, t-shirts, etc. They all arrive December 1st from Santa’s elves.
  • I’m so glad that I created traditions. Every week, we would gather in a room and say “I love you because…” with everyone. You have to go around to each other and when everyone is done, we all would hug each other. It’s something they always remember.
  • We have a “Friendsgiving” every year at our house the day after Thanksgiving. We all wear jammies, play games, eat until we burst, watch old dance recitals. It’s one of our favorite days of the year!! At Christmas, my kids haven’t given me a Christmas list for years. They say they would rather give to kids that don’t have presents. We gather coupons and look at all the sale flyers. We take a day and shop until we drop. This year we shopped for the foster care kids in LA.
  • I love our bedtime traditions. When they were little, we sang “I’m a Child of God.” If you sing the same song every night, it cues the brain that it’s time for bed. When they got older, we sang other songs. I would also always read books about women heroes to my daughters. Every night we would read one story of a woman hero or a strong woman in history.
  • We have family meetings a lot which are very productive. We also do blessings on the kids before each school year, and my husband always says a prayer before every trip for our safety. Our kids never let us forget to do it.
  • Our favorite tradition is Halloween. We have their friends come over, cook different batches of chili at 5:30pm, and then we all go trick-or-treating. They come back and look at their candy, and when their friends leave, we offer 25 cents for each candy or $1 for big ones, until they have a little or no candy at all. They have to decide if giving up the candy is worth whatever it is they’re saving their money up for.
  • Every holiday we get together with their cousins. They do not want to miss it as they have become adults with spouses and boyfriends. It’s so great and as tired as we get hosting, we love having everyone together. It’s so special, but it has to be done every year the same time for it to be a tradition. I have Thanksgiving (both sides) and Greek Easter, my sister has Christmas Eve. Sometimes one or two can’t make it but they all know when it is. My brothers girls never miss. I keep the invite list the same every year with a few guests if friends or relatives are in town. 
  • Decorating for Christmas has become one of our favorite traditions!  We do it the Friday after Thanksgiving. We bring everything down from the attic, blast the Christmas music, make cookies, popcorn and hot chocolate, and dance around the house and all decorate together.    We have a big family and have lots of traditions with our extended family that are fun and that we love, but this one is special because it is just us, and we always have a blast.
  • One thing we have done since the kids were little is a family beach trip every year as soon as the kids get out of school. This is with our entire extended family so all of the cousins are there. We go to the same place every year and there have been years when I’ve suggested we go somewhere a little nicer, but I always get vetoed, ha! They love the tradition of going to the same place, getting Dippin’ Dots at the same place, same water park, etc. Each family takes turns cooking one of the nights so we all eat together. The cousins play and put on skits and performances. We’ve made this time a priority even when our schedules have been busy. It’s amazing how much kids need traditions. I think it gives them stability in their life, things they know they can count on.  I don’t think you need a ton of them, but a few special traditions can really bond you as a family and gives them memories unique to your family.
  • Some of our family traditions: breakfast in bed on your birthday (they pick the breakfast) followed by opening presents and no chores. On birthdays and random days we will go around the table during dinner and say something we love about each person. We also have dinner together as a family every night everyone is home with the tv off. 
  • When I am out of town for work for more than 7 days, I wrap a present for each day and number them. It gives them something visual for how soon I am home.


Products

Choosing a Safe, Non-Toxic Surface for Backyard Swingset

August 15, 2018

One of the biggest and most exciting days for our kids this summer was the day we built our new swing set. Since they’re older (almost five and three), we wanted a swing set that could grow with them for the next several years. Choosing a new swing set was relatively easy considering we knew what we wanted. The hard part? Choosing a surface to go under the new swing set.

There are several playgrounds in our area with a wide range of surfaces. My least favorites include: sand (mostly because they serve as raccoons, cats and other animals litter box…I will take a pass on the parasitic germs!), pea gravel (as my youngest likes to throw it and they both constantly complain about getting the pebbles in their shoes), and wood chips (for no other reason than I simply don’t prefer wood chips as a play surface). My favorite used to be rubber-based surfaces. However, after learning about the increasing concerns of the toxic chemicals emitted from both recycled tire rubber surfaces and new rubber/synthetic material surfaces, I knew I needed another option.

Thankfully, I came across Jelly Bean Rubber Mulch. It is the only 100% non-tire rubber mulch on the market made from non-toxic, latex-free rubber tiles. Thus, there are zero toxic chemicals or VOCs my children are inhaling during playtime. Moreover, there is no color leaching as it contains the natural color of the rubber, and it has the best test data in the industry to show it’s the safest playground rubber mulch for falls. In addition, the durability and warranty is better than any other surface option.

As for installation, we simply dug 4-inches down and leveled. We applied a mesh fabric on top of the dirt, and poured the rubber mulch via wheel barrel to fill the space with a 3-4 inch depth. It was fairly simple. The jelly bean mulch pieces are slightly smaller than I expected, but so far, we are incredibly happy with it.

Pre-installation

 

Though it may not be the most esthetically-pleasing option (although I much prefer the look of this over wood chips or sand), the most important thing to me is ensuring a safe and non-toxic play environment for my kids. My wish is that more schools, churches, and parks remove their toxic rubber surfaces and replace with non-toxic options!

 

          

 

 

 

Travel

Monaco Grand Prix & Italian Getaway Recap

June 8, 2018

When your Formula One racing-fanatic husband gets invited to check-off one of his bucket list items by attending the Monaco Grand Prix, you try to do everything in your power to make it happen. It was a rather last-minute trip, but considering it was perhaps the most prestigious Formula One race of the year and the first time in 15+ years my hubby would be able to attend a race, we tweaked our schedule to make it work.

Since Monaco happens to be next door to one of my all-time favorite countries (Italy), we figured it would be convenient to make this trip into a Monaco/Italian Getaway. I had been to both places numerous times in the past for work, however, no matter how often you’ve visited Italy and Monaco, every time is like the first. Since my husband, Alfonso, had only been skiing in Italy and never toured around, I figured showing him Venice and Rome before heading down to the Amalfi Coast were on the ‘must-see list’ for him. And since it was such a last-minute trip, we ended up booking our hotels two days before leaving. (I don’t recommend this method.):)

Below are some of our favorite highlights and places from each city.

VENICE: The last time I visited Venice, it was mid-July and was smelly, hot, VERY crowded, and I honestly didn’t have the best experience. Since we went in May this time around, the weather was perfect, the crowds were low, and the smell I had remembered from last time was nonexistent. (I’ve heard from locals that visiting in April/May or September/October is best.)

My husband LOVED Venice and the only thing he was upset about was not being able to stay longer. We stayed at the most amazing hotel, The Gritti Palace. The hotel restaurant they have out front was one of our favorite experiences…to be able to enjoy amazing Italian food and relax watching all the boats and gondolas pass by was almost fairytale-like.

Must-See: St. Marks Square, Doges Palace, Basilica di San Marco, any of the glass-making factories on the island of Murano, and the Bridge of Sighs. (My first time to Venice, I merely took a photo of the Bridge of Sighs from afar. This time, I wanted to walk on it to see the same views the prisoners. It’s called the Bridge of Sighs as the prisoners believed to take a sigh as their last view of the city before going underground to their cells.)

The view from the Bridge of Sighs.

Tips: If you don’t have the time to linger and get lost (as you most certainly will without a guide considering your GPS will have issues working well here), be sure to hire a tour guide as it saves much time and is an incredibly efficient way to see a lot in a short period of time. Don’t shy away from the hole-in-the-wall restaurants…we found some that were absolutely phenomenal!

ROME: We intentionally didn’t stay long in Rome as I’ve been there numerous times in the past and knew I could pack into a couple of days what my husband would find most interesting. We took a private tour of the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which in my opinion, are the most historically fascinating and impressive places in Rome, in addition to the Vatican. We also visited the St. Sebastian Catacombs. We stayed at the beautiful hotel, Hassler Roma, which is situated at the top of the Spanish steps in Rome’s historic downtown. The hotel is beautifully decorated and the service is exceptional. The view from the sixth floor offers an amazing panoramic view of Rome. Our favorite was the outdoor patio bar with the awesome seashell bar! On the back end of our trip, we spent a night at the Baglioni Hotel Regina which also has a prime location. It was a very different vibe from the Hassler, but we had an equally awesome experience. Our recently-renovated suite was stunning with beautiful views. The spa and bar/restaurant downstairs were also fabulous with a unique decor and great service.

Colosseum

Must-See: Vatican City, Colosseum (the largest amphitheater in the world and over 2,000 years old), Roman Forum & Palatine Hill (which is next door to the Colosseum…also, your ticket from the Colosseum is good for entry here as long as you go on the same day), Trevi Fountain (the largest Baroque fountain in the world), Spanish Steps (made popular in the 1953 film Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn), and I personally love the history of the St. Sebastian Catacombs.

MONACO. I have so many wonderful memories from Monaco during my 20s when I used to visit there for work. To experience Monte Carlo at anytime is amazing, but to experience it when the Grand Prix is in town is unlike anything else. It’s true to it’s reputation…loads of celebrities, sports stars, and wealthy Europeans (predominately) dressed to the nine watching the impressive Formula cars race past on the streets of Monte Carlo in front of the sensational yacht-lined harbor.  Simply, it’s spectacular.

Harbor at Monte Carlo, Monaco.

We were fortunate to be hosted by one of the race teams, Force India, who gave us a tour of their garage and cars, and wined and dined us in their paddock (hospitality suite). They treated us to some of the best seats in the house as we were able to spectate the race from a balcony lounge above their garage. This enabled us to not only have great views of the race, but to be blown away by watching from directly overhead as the cars came in for their crazy three-second tire changes. My husband was like a little kid in a candy store. His main highlights were meeting his favorite F1 driver, Lewis Hamilton, and being able to walk through the grid before the race began. It was an incredible experience and we are so appreciative to both Force India and Will Buxton.

On the grid at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Must-See: Since Monte Carlo is so small, an afternoon walk around the Monte Carlo Casino, Hotel de Paris, and down by the harbor lined with the most gorgeous yachts is a must! I’ve taken the tour of the Prince’s Palace in the past, and the changing of the guards in front of the palace is always enjoyable. My favorite spot, however, is a waking path just a short walk from the Marriott on the harbor (technically, it’s in Cap’dAil, France). It’s the most beautiful stone path with breathtaking views. If you’re a jogger, do not miss the opportunity to go for a jog (or walk) in the morning. It sounds silly that a simple stone walking path can be so fabulous and magical, but this one is! Here’s a video link: IMG_5891

Positano (Amalfi Coast). We had asked friends who had visited Positano for their hotel recommendations beforehand. Everyone raved about Le Sirenuse. It was only available two of the days we would be in the Amalfi Coast. Thus, I turned to Tripadvisor to assist me with an additional option. Fortunately, I found a great hotel called Il San Pietro de Positano. It is a true gem on the edge of Positano just outside of town. The restaurant, service, rooms, and views are the BEST, hands down! If you want to be in town and in the middle of everything, Le Sirenuse is a good option. That hotel is also lovely with a great restaurant and killer views. However, we wanted to be away from the crowds, so for us, Il San Pietro di Positano was our preferred spot, and a place we will for sure be visiting again. (We are seriously obsessed with this place.) Aside from our hotel, our favorite experience was renting a boat and cruising along the coast and to Capri. We visited the Blue Lagoon, a restaurant where you can only reach by boat, and went up to Anacapri, where we took the chairlift up to some amazing panoramic views. As for food, other than the hotel restaurant at San Pietro, Donna Rosa was truly awesome! We went there with some friends we made at our hotel and had an absolute blast!

Donna Rosa Restaurant

Must-See: A minimum three-hour visit to Pompeii, an afternoon to Ravello for lunch to enjoy the amazing views, downtown Positano and their fabulous shops, Capri and Anacapri, boat ride along the coast (be sure to check out where they hold the Red Bull High Diving Championships), and walk around to find one of the many homemade sandal shops to have your custom sandals made.

The nice thing about Italy is that no matter where you are what you do, you can never go wrong. I must say, however, that the Amalfi Coast is the most charming and romantic place I’ve ever before experienced. The views, the food, the atmosphere, the wine, the people…it’s all incredible. A true romantic paradise.

Il San Pietro di Positano

The food never disappoints.

Pompeii

Views from Anacapri.

Capri

On our balcony at Le Sirenuse overlooking the town of Positano.

From our balcony at Il San Pietro di Positano.

The almost 500 stairs to go down to the beach at Il San Pietro di Positano. (Don’t worry, they have an elevator that goes thru the cliff to bypass these.)

Roman Forum in Rome

Doges Palace in Venice.

The canals of Venice.

 

Travel

Greenville, South Carolina: Family Trip Recap

May 21, 2018

Traveling with kids can at times be a major ‘production’. Since my husband’s work requires a lot of travel, I always try to do my due diligence beforehand and make sure I have a sense of kid activities and excursions in the particular city we are visiting. This past week, we visited Greenville, South Carolina, where my husband participated in the BMW Charity Pro Am Golf Tournament. We’ve been to this charming, beautiful city a couple of times in the past for the same event, but since my kids are older, I wanted to explore some more age-appropriate activities in the area. If you’ve never been to Greenville, I HIGHLY recommend adding it to your list of possible family vacations. It’s such a unique, quaint town with so much character, amazing food, great boutique shops, and takes great pride in their involvement and presence of the arts.

Below are some of our favorite places and sights in and around Greenville:

  • The Children’s Museum of the Upstate. This is by far one of the best children’s museums, hands down! We LOVE this place. It has multiple hands-on galleries, water tables, elaborate indoor play apparatus, outdoor playground, amazing exhibits and classes catering to all ages. If you have kids and visiting Greenville, this is a must-do! Conveniently, it’s walking distance from downtown Greenville, as well.

  • The Greenville Zoo. Maybe it’s because the always-crowded Los Angeles Zoo is so massive, but I absolutely adore this tiny but awesome and charming zoo. The zoo can be navigated in under an hour, especially if you have kids like mine who sprint from one exhibit to the next. There’s also a great playground next to the parking lot.
  • Gravitopia. We have a few trampoline centers like Sky High in Los Angeles, but Gravitopia tops all of the ones I have visited, hands down! They have the best trampoline set ups, along with a Ninja Warrior area and a great trapeze area for adults and kids. My kids loved this place so much we went there twice.
  • Falls Park on the Reedy River. In my opinion, this is the gem of Greenville. My kids love walking on the expansion bridge and watching the falls…it’s a stunning view. Last year we went for a walk here on a Sunday and partook in some great family activities geared towards kids. 
  • Main Street. You can spend an entire afternoon just enjoying Main Street. From their awesome General Store, the toy store next door, Tupelo Honey (our favorite restaurant…their Fried Green Tomatoes are a must!), an impressive selection of ice cream shops and boutique stands, and their Saturday Farmers Market is top-notch. You can also catch some amazing sidewalk art.
  • The Park at the Greenville Downtown Airport. This is an awesome playground next to the tiny airport where the kids can watch small planes take off and land while playing. It offers a nice shaded area with tables for eating and it never seems to be very crowded. We have friends who live nearby and they always recommend meeting up here as it’s definitely the coolest playground for kids, especially those who love planes.
  • Soby’s and Larkin’s on the River. These are our favorite dinner restaurants that won’t disappoint. We’ve even had brunch on Mother’s Day one year at Larkin’s and their buffet spread was like a dream.

This town is full of Southern charm and has quickly become one of my favorite towns in the South. Though it’s great to be home, I’m sure going to missed those Cheese Grits and Fried Chicken! Until next year…

Birthdays

Train-Themed Birthday Party

May 2, 2018

When your child is obsessed with trains as much as mine, it doesn’t take much thought to decide the theme for his third birthday party. My little guy LOVES trains. He could watch Thomas The Train, videos of trains, and play with his toy trains all day, everyday. Thus, you can imagine how excited my son, Anders,  was when we threw him a train-themed birthday party.

As per usual, I used our beloved Polkatots to make his cupcake cake. (I prefer cupcake cakes for kid parties as they are soooooooo much easier for kids who have little patience in waiting for a cake to be sliced. Likewise, they make it more convenient for the adults.) Polkatots created a gorgeous train cupcake cake consisting of red velvet, vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry-flavored cupcakes. I use Polkatots for every party not only because they do a great job with the decorating, but because they are the best-tasting and most addictive cupcakes EVER! The only downside? I always eat way too many!


Other highlights from the party included a train piñata, a bouncy house combo blow up in the shape of a train station, and mini train rides. Since we only invited his 6 classmates, we found some great (and inexpensive) train sets to give to each child as a party favor.

Overall, it was a fantastic party and my newly-turned three-year old was over the moon! Let the “Terrific Three’s” begin!

 

 

 

 

 

Photos by Chasing Pleasures

Family

Interviewing Grandparents: Creating Ways To Remember Our Loved Ones & Preserve Our Family History

January 24, 2018


Today marks 19 years since my amazing grandfather passed away. He had a heart of gold, the warmest smile and a special twinkle in his eye. I have countless memories of helping him do farm chores, sneaking me lemon drops during church, and him and my grandma taking us camping in the summers. Lucky for me, my grandpa played a large role in my childhood thanks to being raised on a family farm in which my grandpa and dad farmed together. Because of this, I saw him nearly everyday for my first 18 years. My other grandpa, with whom I also shared a special bond, passed away last February. Neither passing was a shock, as both were sick in the months prior to their passings; nonetheless, it was still incredibly difficult. After all, your grandpa is such a special role in your life…often like a second dad.

One regret I have with my grandpa who passed away 19 years ago today is that I never interviewed him on camera nor made a video to be able to reflect back on and remember him by. (I’m sure if I hounded my relatives hard enough, I could track down the many VHS tapes they have with him and create my own video.) However, I only wish I could have asked him questions that I didn’t think to ask as an 18-year old, like “What were you like as a boy?” “What did you dream of becoming one day?” “Who were your heroes?” “If you could give your 20-year old self advice now looking back on your life, what would it be?”

Thankfully, six months before my second grandfather passed, I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to interview him on camera. It was a last-minute trip we had planned so the interview was very informal and casual. I used my iPhone with my kids noises in the background, my grandpa in his farm overalls (how I wanted him to look as that’s how I saw him 90% of the time), and sitting in his favorite chair. What I had anticipated taking under an hour with my 30 or so questions turned into a fascinating, two-day, beautiful, story-telling event. He shared so many stories (most of which I had never before heard), and went into great detail with his responses to my questions. It was truly a wonderful experience and a great final visit with him before his passing. I learned so much about him, his history, and our family history. The fact that I have all of it on camera is such a blessing.

After his death, my tech-savvy friend compiled and edited all of the questions and stories into a DVD. At the end of the video, we made a montage of photos of my grandfather through the years while his favorite song played in the background. I made 25 copies, bought some nice DVD cases, labeled them each with front covers of “An Interview With My Grandpa” and presented them to my grandmother, mother, brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles as Christmas gifts. It’s a great way to remember our grandfather and to show our children (when they’re older) not only what their great-grandfather was like, but also to educate them about their family history.

Here are some of the questions I used:

  1. Have you been told the story of the day you were born? What was your mom doing when she went into labor? Where were you born?
  2. Were you named after a family member or does your name have a special meaning?
  3. What were your grandparents like? Parents?
  4. What is the earliest memory you have?
  5. Was there a nickname that your siblings or friends called you growing up?
  6. What was your house like as a child?
  7. Did you have any pets? What were their names?
  8. What was your favorite subject in school? Favorite teacher?
  9. Who was the U.S. President you first remember being in office when you were growing up?
  10. What did you and your friends do for fun?
  11. What are some of your favorite family traditions you remember? How did you celebrate birthdays? What are your favorite Christmas memories?
  12. How would you describe yourself as a teenager? What were your hobbies? Favorite food? Games?
  13. Who were your heroes as a child?
  14. When did you learn how to drive? Who taught you?
  15. How did you meet grandma?
  16. How did you propose to grandma?
  17. What are some of your favorite memories from your wedding day? Who was your Best Man?
  18. What was your first car?
  19. Where have you traveled? Do you have a favorite family vacation memory?
  20. What are some of your favorite memories with your children?
  21. What could you tell me that I would be surprised to learn about you?
  22. What have been some of your greatest successes in life? Has your life unfolded in the way you thought it would?
  23. What advice would you give to your grandkids today in their 20s and 30s?
  24. What was the best advice you ever received and from who?
  25. What makes you happy?

These are just some of the questions I asked my grandfather, as many of the other questions were geared to him specifically. I highly advise to prepare beforehand as a little research goes a long way. Making a timeline of their life including important historical or news events, for instance, can be interesting additional insights. Try to include known family events on the timeline as well, (i.e. weddings, births, deaths, moves, etc.). Whether you choose to have it fancy and professionally done or more casual and homemade, either way it creates a priceless document for your family now and your children and their children in the future to know about where they came from. After all, it’s because of them we even exist today. In a world that seems to be focusing less about preserving one’s heritage and more about focusing on the “me” culture, it’s a nice and subtle way to teach our children about our own family history while honoring and remembering some very special grandpas and loved ones that we will never forget.

Recipes

Best Guilt-Free Kid & Adult Sandwich EVER

January 18, 2018

About ten years ago, I was on a work trip in Orlando for one of my former clients, Steve Jobs, and his family. Steve’s diet was very healthy and vegan, so I always tried to find the best vegan restaurants on the road for him. This particular trip, I found a restaurant with a great healthy kids menu, as well. (This was never the case in my experineces at the vegan restaurants I frequented.) One of the items on the menu was their Banana, Almond Butter, Marshmallow Cream Sandwich. I ordered it, tasted it, and my life would never again be the same. It was simply UNREAL! I was truly blown away…something so simple, healthy, and a combination I would have never thought up!

Since then, I have occasionally made the sandwich for both myself and my family. My youngest and my husband go CRAZY over it. (My hubby asks for it constantly.) It’s truly an awesome, fun weekend lunch item or snack for the whole family to enjoy. I’ve tweaked the way I’ve made it over the years, as I learned, for instance, it’s much better grilled than plain, and since I never had any marshmallow cream, I simply slightly melt the marshmallows to provide the same taste.

Here’s my version:

Angela’s Banana, Almond Butter & Marshmallow Grilled Sandwich

  • 1/2 of a Banana
  • Creamy Almond Butter
  • 1/4 cup of marshmallows
  • Earth Balance Coconut Spread (or Butter)
  • bread (I use gluten-free white bread from Trader Joe’s)

Spread the coconut spread (or butter) on one side of each slice of bread. Spread almond butter on the opposite sides. Place one slice down on a non-stick frying pan (coconut spread or butter side down). Place slices of banana on top of the almond butter. Next, sprinkle marshmallows on top of the sliced banana. (Optional: Drizzle a very small amount of honey on top.) Place the other slice of bread with the coconut spread facing upwards on top. Cover and cook on low to medium heat for a few minutes until the bottom slice of bread is darkened to your liking and flip. The marshmallows should slightly melt. It’s most tasty while warm! Enjoy!

Products

Swapping Out My Toxic Cosmetics

January 4, 2018


As I stated in my previous post, my main New Year’s Resolution from last year consisted of making our home as non-toxic and eco-friendly as possible. I swapped mattresses, cleaning products, personal care products, and most recently, I tackled my cosmetics. Yes, it was incredibly sad to say goodbye to my beloved mascara that added a whole new dimension to my lashes, and to my favorite lipstick that made my lips pop like no other. However, I’m happy to say that the transition has been better than I anticipated, as I’ve found some wonderful non-toxic alternatives.

On average, our bodies absorb seven pounds of makeup each year. This combined with the fact that the United States only bans 11 harmful and toxic ingredients in cosmetics, while Europe bans over 1,300, is very alarming! (A big thumbs up to you, Europe!) Clearly, if you’re an American, those seven pounds are most likely incredibly toxic. Sadly, the FDA, under current law, does NOT require cosmetics companies to perform safety assessments on their products. (Thank goodness for the EWG.org, an environmental organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of toxic chemicals, that conducts product toxicity-level testing and shares results with the general public.)

U.S. researchers report that a majority of the ingredients used in cosmetics and personal care products are mainly comprised of synthetic chemicals that are skin irritants, skin penetrators, endocrine disrupters and carcinogenic. I won’t go into detail about the specifics of these, but there are several websites that break down the toxic ingredients and how they are harmful to our health, like  safecosmetics.org.

Over the past six months, I have swapped most of my regular makeup products for natural versions. I’ve used the EWG.org website to check the toxicity levels of each product. (The EWG rates products from 0-10, with “0” being not toxic to “10” being highly toxic.) It’s been a bit of trial and error, but overall, I’m very happy with my current makeup products, especially knowing I’m not smearing harmful chemicals on my skin and into my bloodstream. Below are some of my favorite nontoxic makeup products…

 

  • W3LL People Bio Brightener Invisible Powder – I LOVE this stuff! You can find it on target.com or detoxmarket.com, (among other places). It has the best possible rating from the EWG with ZERO toxic or harmful ingredients. 
  • RMS “Un” Cover-up – This is my daily concealer/foundation. I apply it where needed and use the Bio Brightener directly after. It’s light-weight and effective, and RMS has a “1” rating at EWG. This can be found at The Detox Market, (although I’ve seen it at sephora.com and lots of other websites).
  • W3LL People Bio Bronzer Stick – I just purchased this and have only used it a couple of times, but so far, I am a fan. Like the Bio Brightener Powder, the bronzer also received the best rating at the EWG. I purchased mine at pharmaca.com. They also have this at detoxmarket.com.
  • Lily Lolo Mascara and Laid Bare Eye Palette – Even though they are not found on the EWG website (as they have yet to be tested), they seem to be wonderful products without any toxic ingredients. I buy mine at petitevour.com. (They also have these at several other websites…Petite Four is the cheapest I’ve come across.) 
  • bareMinerals Blush – The bareMinerals Blush and Primer both tested well at EWG with a “1” rating. (However, my former bareMinerals powder and brightener both scored poorly with a “7” and “4”-rating.) I’ve been using this blush for years and was pleasantly surprised that I could continue using it with the good EWG rating.
  • Josh Rosebrook Nutrient Day Cream – This cream is incredibly light-weight and works as a great primer. I use the tinted option and absolutely LOVE the way it looks and feels. I buy this at petitevour.com.
  • Kjaer Weis – I’ve tried their eye shadow and mascara and love them. Kjaer Weis is truly one of the more luxurious organic makeup lines out there. They are a bit pricey, but well worth the extra $. Sadly, they have not been tested by the EWG, but I’m hoping they do soon! I buy mine at integritybotanicals.com.
  • Skin Owl Eye+ – This is another product of which I am a huge fan (and sadly, it too isn’t on the EWG but hopefully soon). It’s a nourishing and youth stimulating eye concentrate that I apply every morning and evening under my eyes. I buy mine at The Detox Market (detoxmarket.com) or biggiestore.com.

Please let me know if you have found a healthy makeup line that you love. I’m always game for trying out new products, particularly those rated on the EWG or highly recommended by a place like the Detox Market who takes great pride in ONLY promoting and selling completely non-toxic, safe products. It’s impossible to avoid every single synthetic chemical, but you can do your part in limiting the amount of toxins your body is exposed to. I highly recommend checking out the https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/#.Wk5xrCOZNE4 to research toxic chemicals that could be in your cosmetic and personal care products. And if you happen to live in Europe, lucky you!

 

 

Products

Our Search For A Non Toxic, Organic Mattress

November 29, 2017

One of my New Year’s Resolutions at the beginning of the year was to make our home as non toxic and eco-friendly as possible. I admit it. I’m a sucker for those articles that pop up on your Yahoo! homepage that scare the living daylights out of you by discussing the typical toxicity levels of homes and the impact of this on our health. Though I am a big believer of everything in moderation, I wanted to start this non-toxic reboot mission in an area that we would perhaps benefit from the most. For me, a good night of sleep is one of my top priorities. Thus, first on my plan of attack? New mattresses.

Let me preface this by saying, I do not claim to be an expert in the mattress field. Nor do I intend to make this seem like a research paper. The information below is merely brief summaries of what I’ve learned in the last six months of reading online and talking to countless mattress companies.

First off, I found it to be down right scary learning about conventional mattresses (including ALL of the mattresses we had in our home). Most conventional mattresses are made of toxic materials and chemicals like petroleum-based polyester, formaldehyde, polyurethane, flame retardant chemicals like boric acid, and typically covered in PVC vinyl. Essentially, this means your mattress is releasing toxic fumes over time that not only you breathe in to cause allergies, long-term diseases, and respiratory problems, but they can also get into our body tissues. (They’ve even been known to show up in pregnant women’s placental tissue!) No bueno!

I literally spent six months researching and testing mattresses before narrowing our option down to the one we eventually chose. I educated myself about the many different kinds of mattresses, what to look for in finding an organic and non-toxic option, which materials and chemicals to steer away from, which certifications are best and what they mean, and like with any big purchase, we read TONS of reviews. After all, we spend a third of our lives on our bed…why not take your time and ensure you’re making the best decision, right?

In terms of our needs and wants, we decided the following were most important to us:

  • Organic, eco-friendly
  • Comfort level
  • Natural latex (as it is much better for your body long-term compared to a coil mattress)
  • Meets certifications (i.e. GOLS, GOTS, GreenGuard, certiPUR, etc.)

The below mattress companies are those that met our ‘green’ and healthy criteria. All are awesome companies that offer mattresses made of natural latex, organic wool, and/or organic cotton, AND they’re all made in the USA.:) It’s important to know that the reason these beds do not need to use fire retardant chemicals is because of their organic wool material. Wool acts as a natural fire retardant. (The second great thing about wool is that it also works as a heat regulator. It helps keep you cool when it’s warm and warm when it’s cold.)

  • Nest Bedding
  • Plushbeds
  • Zenhaven
  • Sleep On Latex
  • White Lotus
  • Brentwood – (Note: The Ojai Mattress is their only coil-free mattress option.)

Runner Up: Avocado Mattress. I LOVE this company, however, the only reason we did not test out their mattress was simply because they do not offer coil-free mattresses. They have pocketed support coils rather than open coils, which is good, but nonetheless, we wanted coil-free. If coils aren’t an issue for you, this is a great company!

OUR WINNER:  Nest Bedding!


We ended up going with their Q3 Mattress and the BKB mattresses for our children. Here are some of the main reasons why we chose Nest and what makes their mattresses so amazing:

  • CERTIFICATIONS. The Q3 Latex is both GOLS and GOTS certified. (Nest only uses materials that have a third party certification whether it’s foam or latex.)
  • COMFORT. Both the Q3 Latex and BKB mattresses are incredibly comfortable! Upon our first time lying on a Q3 in the showroom, my hubby and I looked at each and simultaneously said, “This is the one.”
  • AFFORDABILITY. Both mattresses were very affordable for organic, non toxic mattresses with proper certifications. The BKB mattress starts at $299 and Q3 starts at $999. (Note: We did choose the Alexander Signature Cooling Topper to go on top of our Q3 which runs at $159.)
  • SHOWROOMS. They have a showroom here in Los Angeles (along with ten other cities around the country) which made testing out the mattress easy and convenient.
  • ALLERGY OPTIONS. Nest provides the option to have an Oeko Tex certified blended latex mattress for those with latex allergies.
  • FAMILY OWNED. Being factory direct and family owned, you can get higher quality for less than major brands with better warranties and better service.

I’m happy to report that after a month of use, we are still in love with our Nest Q3 Mattress. We’ve been getting some of our best sleep ever! It has met and surpassed all of our expectations, and we highly recommend it as a fantastic option for a high quality, affordable, non toxic, organic mattress.

Birthdays

Mini Golf Birthday Party: Look Who Turned Fooooooore!

November 3, 2017

I knew it was bound to happen. I knew a golf-themed birthday party would be in my future, I just didn’t know it would be this soon. My husband, who is a scratch golfer, has a love for golf that I knew eventually would be passed down to at least one of our kids. (I play golf as well, and I enjoy it…however, I don’t watch the Golf Channel around the clock and spend my time at the gas pump practicing my golf swing with an imaginary golf club. Yes, my hubby does this and yes, he gets a lot of strange looks.) Our son AJ LOVES golf, especially mini golf. When asked what he wanted to do for his 4th birthday party, without an ounce of hesitation, he shouted, “a mini golf party!” 

We rented a 9-hole portable mini golf course which was set up at our golf club. It was the heavy-duty wood-framed holes with lots of different colorful obstacles on each (i.e. windmills, mazes, etc.). There aren’t too many companies that have portable mini golf courses like these in the Los Angeles area so it took me a while to locate one. Most companies have the flimsy, thin boards that have poor reviews or the kind that use your own grass and simply provide a border for a hole. I found this one from Party Pals. It looked adorable, especially with a sea of preschool-age kids in their little polo shirts and khaki shorts with colorful golf balls and clubs.

The kids had a blast! There were many kids that had never before played mini golf, but soon became hooked. They were incredibly excited to be able to go home and continue practicing as the party favors consisted of their own personalized putters from Noochie Golf and Mabel’s Labels. They also received two kid golf balls and a Stephen Joseph pencil box to keep their pencils and score cards.

We used Polkatots Cupcakes again for the cupcake cake which turned out AMAZING! Not only are they the most delicious cupcakes on the planet, but they did a remarkable job with the golf theme. 
Overall, it was an incredible par-tee with lots of fun had by all. Our little golfer was super-excited to share his love for golf with his family and close friends on his special day. His 4th birthday was one foooore the books!