Products Toddler Products

Ju-Ju-Be: Best Diaper Bag Ever

March 12, 2019

Being a mom and stepmom for the past seven years, I have lots of opinions about diaper bags. I’ve been through ALOT of them! I started with a shoulder bag and quickly changed to backpacks after realizing that although shoulder bags are cute and fashionable, they are soooooo inconvenient. As a mom, you need as many hands as you possibly can so a hands-free diaper bag is a MUST! Once I came to the realization that backpacks are the ONLY way to go, I soon became obsessed with Ju-Ju-Be’s line. These are hands-down my all-time favorite diaper bags. Some of my favorite features of their bags include:

  • Stain Resistant
  • Machine Washable
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Comfortable Straps
  • Insulated Bottle Pockets
  • Spacious
  • Easy to Stay Organized                

Below are my favorites and why…

Forever BackPack – Noir Rose Gold

This is my brand spanking new bag for my baby girl (due this spring), and I LOVE this bag. The main compartment has three open pockets, four gusseted pockets and one changing pad pocket. It also has a quick-each cell phone pocket, zipper side pockets and two insulated bottle pockets. Aside from the functionality, it’s gorgeous!!

Hatch – Gray Matter

My husband recently chose this as his ‘manly’ diaper bag. Personally, I’m not a huge hatch person, but my husband is and hence, why he chose the Hatch. Like all of their bags, it’s very organized with six mesh pockets and one zippered pocket in the main compartment. It also contains two insulated bottle pockets, microfiber glasses pocket, and a meshed diaper pad changing pocket. It’s definitely a clean, masculine-looking diaper bag with lots of organization and durability.

Be Right Back – The Monarch


This has been my go-to bag for the last three years. (We have two of them…one for me and one for my husband.) We have literally taken these everywhere and love the lightweight, number of pockets, and comfort with the padded straps. I can fit so much into this bag in an organized fashion, as this bag has the BEST pocket positioning and pocket sizes. In addition, this is an easily transitional adult travel bag when the kids are grown, as it doesn’t necessarily look like or scream “diaper bag.” I cannot recommend this one enough! LOVE IT!! I also have this one in the Black Ruby color which I enjoy just as much, (pictured below).

BFF Diaper Bag – Newport

I know I previously mentioned I am not a fan of shoulder diaper bags, but the BFF has the ability to transform from a messenger bag, backpack or tote bag with detachable, adjustable straps. Personally, I prefer the Be Right Back backpacks, but I do really enjoy this bag as well as I’ve gotten plenty of use out of it. It’s spacious, functional, and I love the pattern of this one.

No matter the bag, you can’t go wrong with Ju-Ju-Be. Their diaper bags, aside from the fabulous prints, are simply the most organized, high-quality, and functional I’ve found. I love the fact that they’re effortless to keep clean since they are easy to wipe down or machine wash. When mama life can get stressful and crazy, it’s nice to have products like a stress-free, organized diaper bag to help make diaper-changing and lugging around all of your little ones’ necessities on your back a little easier.

Pregnancy Recipes

Pregnancy Avoid/Remove Stretch Marks Salve Recipe

February 12, 2019


Statistically speaking, 90% of pregnant American women will get stretch marks (to some degree) during the third trimester. I admit, I was among the lucky 10% during my first two pregnancies. I managed to escape my 9 months without a single stretch mark. I used TONS of Shea Butter during my first pregnancy, while I barely used anything during my second. (However, I did hydrate far more during my second pregnancy.) Now pregnant with my third, I’m not assuming I will be as lucky this time around. Since Week 20, I’ve been using a DIY salve that I have been LOVING! It feels incredibly soothing and has helped tremendously with my itchy belly. The below recipe is from http://WellnessMama.com (which, if you haven’t checked out her blog, it’s a must!), but with a few modifications. Here’s an amazing salve recipe to avoid and remove stretch marks:

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup Organic, Unrefined Shea Butter 
  • 1/4 cup Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons Almond Oil (or Apricot Kernel)
  • 1 Tablespoon Calendula Flowers (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger

How to Make Stretch Marks Salve:

  1. If using the calendula and ginger, add to Almond Oil (or Apricot Kernel Oil) and place in a double boiler or bowl over a small pan of water.
  2. Bring to a simmer and heat for 30 minutes on medium low heat to incorporate the properties of the herbs.
  3. Strain through a metal strainer to remove herbs. (Be sure you still have at least 2 tablespoons of liquid oil left.)
  4. Return the oil to the double boiler. Add the Shea Butter and Coconut Oil.
  5. Heat until melted. Stir to incorporate.
  6. Remove from heat and store in small glass jar.
  7. Use as needed on skin before, during or after pregnancy to alleviate stretch marks and itchy belly.

Recipes

Healthy & Delicious, Better-Than-PB-&-Banana-Shake Recipe

February 3, 2019

Who doesn’t love a great, refreshing shake? I’ve always been a huge banana and peanut butter fan. No matter the variation, if a shake contains these two ingredients, you can guarantee I will love it. Over the past year, I’ve dabbled with a healthier and lower-in-sugar version that I now make at least a few times a week. It’s literally sipping a cup of candy…it’s DELISH! Let me know what you think!

  • 1/2 or 3/4 banana (I usually do 1/2 due to sugar)
  • 2 Pitted dried dates, such as Medjool Dates
  • 1 & 1/2Tbs Sunflower Butter (or Almond Butter)
  • 1/3 Cup Kefir (Unsweetened)
  • 1 Tbs Hemp Seeds
  • 1 Tbs Ground Flax Seeds
  • 3/4 Cup Unsweetened Coconut Milk (or Almond Milk)
  • Optional (1 Tsp Raw Honey)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Enjoy!

Products

Mattress Review Update

January 30, 2019

Last year, I went on a mission to find a quality, non-toxic mattress with a strict criteria. It took me six months to research online, speak to mattress companies, and actually test mattresses. It was a long and exhausting process, but I was able to narrow our options down to a clear ‘winner.’ Nest Bedding came out on top for us with flying colors. (You can read about how we chose Nest Bedding for our mattress needs at the link below.)

After using the mattresses for over a year now, I wanted to provide a review update as I’ve had several inquiries asking whether we still like our Nest Bedding mattresses.

First, I’m proud to say that the Q3 we have in our master bedroom (although now it’s called the Hybrid Organic Latex), is still allowing us to get our best sleep ever! When my husband hurt his back and temporarily needed the mattress more firm, we simply took off our foam topper and it did the trick. Now that he’s better, we have the topper back on, and we couldn’t be happier. It’s honestly, hands down, the best mattress we’ve ever owned. (And a fraction of the cost to what we paid for our previous fancy, electric mattress.)

Hybrid Organic Latex

As for the kids room, they both have the BKB mattresses, and I’m equally as in love with these. When my husband and I lay down with the kids at bed time, even though it’s a different type of mattress, it’s so insanely comfortable. The kids sleep so well and we’ve never had any complaints from them. For the price of $299, it’s seriously the best deal for a non-toxic, comfortable, and GOLS and GOTS certified mattress.

BKB Kids Mattress

After ‘schooling’ myself about how important it is to have GOLS and GOTS certified, non-toxic mattresses, we decided to gift a couple of family members (suffering from sleep problems) new mattresses for Christmas. We bought the Signature Alexander Series mattress for them, with is more of a foam mattress but without the sink-into-the-bed feeling. When we tested it in their showroom, we had no idea it was a foam bed. Typically, I’m not a foam fan, but this bed has amazing support and a similar bounce to that of a traditional innerspring mattress. (Note: If you read my previous blog about how we chose Nest Bedding mattresses, you’ll see why we don’t use mattress with coil springs.) Needless to say, our family members said they’ve never had more comfortable mattresses and have been “sleeping their best sleep.” We also gifted them the Easy Breather Natural Pillows (made from Oeko Tex Certified Shredded Latex) from Nest Bedding. We have these as well, and they are unlike any pillow we’ve ever owned. They are adjustable as well, meaning you can make them more soft or firm to meet your preference.

Easy Breather Natural Pillow

In addition to the mattress and pillows, we also purchased our lucky family members with the Brushed Microfiber Luxury Sheet Sets for Christmas. We have the Organic Cotton Sheet Set, but after feeling the microfiber in their store, I honestly was just as impressed. Better yet, they are only $34.99. Don’t get me wrong, their Egyptian Cotton and Luxury Bamboo Sheet sets feel UNBELIEVABLE, but I would be more than happy sleeping on the Microfiber Luxury Set.

I recently bought my husband a couple of Nest Bedding’s new Easy Breather Side Sleeper Pillows. These are are truly the best design and provide great functionality for side sleepers! My husband LOVES them! And I’m using one in place of my pregnancy side sleeper pillow because these are that much more comfortable. (And, like the regular Easy Breather, it’s adjustable to fit your comfort level.) They run at $119 each.

Easy Breather Side Sleeper

It’s amazing when you spend the time to do your own research and invest in your sleep, how much of a game-changer it can be. We spend more of our lifetime in our beds than anywhere else. It makes sense to make our sleeping environment as comfortable and healthy as possible for our own well-being. We can’t thank Nest Bedding enough for finally helping us achieve the best sleep of our lives. I still HIGHLY recommend them for your mattress or bedding needs.

Travel

Things To Do In Orlando Besides Disney World

January 24, 2019

Since my husband’s work and golf tournaments bring us to Orlando quite often, my kids have enjoyed the perk of being able to take advantage of the many kid-thrilling adventures in the area. They have their favorite spots that we visit each time, but I also like to switch things up and try new places. We always do Disney, but typically, that’s at the end of the trip after my husband’s obligations or work is finished so he can join us. Until then, it’s just me and the kids taking our own adventures. Below are some of our favorite things to do in Orlando besides Disney:

Meet-A-Gator at Gatorland

Gatorland. This is truly the “Alligator Capital of the World.” We finally visited Gatorland on our most recent trip and were blown away! They have over 2,000 alligators on their impressive 110-acre theme park and wildlife preservation, including a collection of extremely rare leucistic white and albino alligators. There’s plenty to do here including gator-feeding, the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line, entertaining animal shows, a petting zoo, the Stompin’ Gator Off Road Adventure, train ride around the park, Meet-A-Gator (where your kids can sit on one while their mouth is taped shut and the trainer on hand), and a water fun wet park. (Note: Be sure to bring a change of clothes for the wet park!) My kids absolutely LOVED it, as we will most definitely be back next time!

Lego Store at Disney Springs

Disney Springs. We try to make at least one visit to Disney Springs each time we’re in Orlando. My kids have a blast in the Lego store, as they have impressive lego character displays, fun tables for the kids, and a build-your-own lego race car for car races. For my train-lover, we always visit the little train ride, which all the kids enjoy riding before checking out the nearby toy store. Even though the hot air balloon was down the day we visited, it looks mighty impressive. (It hovers 400-ft over Disney Springs.) They have an Erin McKenna Bakery which made my kids day considering my kids are gluten-free. (Erin McKenna is a DELICIOUS gluten-free, vegan bakery that the Ribeiro family all know and love.) They also have a luxury bowling alley, Cirque du Soleil shows, movie theater, popular restaurants, and plenty of souvenir shops. You can never be short of things to do at Disney Springs!

WonderWorks

WonderWorks. This is a chain, as I know of a few others around the country, but if you have kids 5 and older, they will LOVE it! From a glow-in-the-dark ropes course, laser tag, the Wonderzones, a dinner magic show, and a 4D XD motion theater, this is an awesome place!

Monkey Joe’s

Monkey Joe’s. If you’re looking for 2-3 hours for kids to burn some energy, this is the place. It’s wall-to-wall fun…a great arcade, bouncy houses, inflatable slides, obstacle courses, and an impressive playground for ages 3-12. They also have their Mini Monkey Zone for toddlers under 3. (Note: Another great feature is the fact it’s located in the same shopping area as a Maggiano’s, where we always eat afterwards.)

Pirate’s Cove

Mini Golf. There are TONS of awesome places to take your kids to play mini golf in the Orlando area. Pirate’s Cove and Congo River Golf are our favorites. My oldest son is obsessed with mini golf so it’s no surprise that we play over ten rounds of mini golf per visit.:)

Turtle Trek at SeaWorld

SeaWorld. Despite the kids-ride area being down, they are opening a new Sesame Street area in the Spring that will have daily parades, Abby Cadabby’s Garden where you can meet all of the characters, Sesame Street-themed rides, and wet and dry play areas. (We will be looking forward to this next time!) Our current favorite rides and experiences are: Turtle Trek, Manitee Rehabilitation area, Antarctica Empire of the Penguin ride and Penguin Habitat, Dolphin Cove, Shark Encounter, Dolphin Days Show, and the Sky Tower.

Other options that we have enjoyed in the past include:

  • Renting a paddleboat at Lake Eola Park
  • Day trip to Tampa to enjoy the beaches, aquarium or children’s museum
  • Day trip to the Kennedy Space Center
  • Old Town Orlando
  • iFly Orlando Indoor Skydiving
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 in raising your kids?
  2. What things are you glad you did in raising 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 in 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 in raising 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