Thursday, August 14, 2014

Back to School Favorites and a Giveaway You Won't Want to Miss!

I can't believe that some little kiddies I've seen via social media are ALREADY headed back to school! Seems so, so early this year for some reason. And then we got our preschool calendar and activities list in the mail and it hit me that their open house is in less than a month! As much as I want to think this summer flew by, I actually think it's been a pretty good, steady pace. Their birthday seems like it was years ago and I pretty much thought it was August already half-way through July so I think we've been really soaking up and enjoying our summer as best as we could.

With that said, SINCE everyone has Back to School on the brain, I thought I'd share some of our favorite Back to School favorites. I know its early, but you and I both know us Mamas like to plan ahead (hey.. I'm already boot shopping).. not to mention, last year I didn't plan ahead because I didn't realize Ky needed to pack a lunch for school and ended up spending more than I care to admit to rush ship a lunchbox and all the essentials to our doorstep in four days. But that is neither here nor there.

But don't worry, that isn't happening ever again. With two kiddies off to preschool this year (GAH!), I am well-prepared and armed for anything that could come our way.. and here are a few things that help with that! Also - I was not compensated in the least to review or mention ANY of these products, I just really truly love them!

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7 

You probably knew this was going to be on here when you read the title of this blog post. They changed the design of the "Preschool Backpack" from when Ky got his for Christmas a few years ago. Now it has a double-zip and seems a tad bigger which I think is great. It's durable, made well, great fabric, and currently on sale! There are several designs or patterns to choose from, the adjustable straps are perfect for tiny kiddos and the personalization aspect is always a win. Sidenote: I actually got his initials personalized on there because I read a scary story once about how strangers see kid's names on their backpacks and then call their names out and the kid thinks they know them and gets in a car with them or something. I'm sure it would never happen, but still... creepy!

These are the only cups I will send to school with the kids because they are 100% LEAK PROOF. I mean, you have to screw the top on right (made that mistake before), but once its on, that drink is staying put. Which is perfect when it's being sloshed around in a lunchbox! 

3. Oliver's Labels
As someone who designs and prints labels on the reg, I was determined to create cute little labels for all the kid's things since labeling their possessions is required by the school. Well that lasted all of three minutes when I realized the quality of my labels were for paper products... NOT lunch box containers that go in the dishwasher. Enter Oliver's Labels. I finally sucked it up and ordered personalized labels for both kids, plus an additional set with just our last name on it for shared things and I am SO glad I did. They are a little pricier than what I would normally spend on something like this but the quality and durability makes it so worth it. I put them on everything - their sippies, utensils, tupperware containers, etc. since they are waterproof!! They make all sorts of sizes and styles and have so many cute designs to choose from! I highly recommend. AND - As an extra treat, the lovely people at Oliver's Labels are going to give away a whole Preschool Package of labels (a $34 value!) to one lucky reader! Simply enter the Rafflecopter giveaway below! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
4. The Night Before Preschool
Not knowing how Ky would adjust to preschool last year, I got this book and a couple others to read to him in the coming weeks before. I can't wait to pull it out soon and read it to Ariana! I think it's great to prepare kids for what new endeavors they are about to take on so that they can understand what is going on and don't feel lost or confused by a new routine/schedule.

5. My First Lunchbox
Another PBK favorite is their preschool lunchbox. With personalization options, zippers, pockets, etc. it's the perfect size and shape for my little ones to carry around. It's also wipeable on the inside to clean up sticky toddler messes.

6. Lunch Containers with Ice Packs
These little containers are fantastic for kiddo lunches, especially since they come with built-in ice packs! I also love these and we also use these steels ones in the warmer months since the stainless steel keeps cut up fruit and stuff cooler.

7. Reusable Ice Packs
Not going to lie... I totally bought the Batman freezer packs from PBKids last year. Ridiculous, but I couldn't resist. These are a much more affordable (and sensible) option! I always throw an extra ice pack in their lunch box, especially when I have cheese or some other snack that I'm worried about getting warm.

Is your kiddo heading off to school this year? What are some of your favorite essentials?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Recipe: Cajun Alfredo Pasta

I first had "Cajun Pasta" at The Cheesecake Factory a few years ago and I fell in love with the spicy, creamy sauce. They served theirs with chicken cutlets over linguine and tri-colored peppers. I've made a similar version and it was good, but I wasn't a huge fan of the peppers in the pasta. They just didn't do it for me. So one time I omitted the peppers and added broccoli instead. And also mushrooms because I had them on hand and I put mushrooms in everything. And it was SO GOOD.

The next time I made the dish, I was super lazy and didn't feel like breading/frying chicken so I sauteed up some spicy sausage I had on hand and threw that in. WINNER. It's become a favorite in our house and the kids love it, too! I thought I'd share the recipe on how I make it because it's a great, yummy, easy (!) dish.


• 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• one cup of fresh broccoli, cut up in bite sized pieces
• one pint of chopped cremini mushrooms
• one package of spicy (or mild, if you prefer) COOKED sausage (I use Wegman's brand chicken sausage)
• 3/4ths of a box of short pasta (ie: penne, rotini, etc. I prefer cavatappi)
• 3 tablespoons of butter
• one pint of heavy cream
• 3/4ths of a cup of chicken stock
• 2 - 3 tablespoons (depending on your preference) of Cajun Seasoning
• half a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese, more to taste

Let me preface by saying, I am using the term Alfredo pretty lightly here. My husband, much to my dismay, doesn't like heavy cream sauces on his pasta. And he calls himself Italian. I LOVE cream sauce. But when I make this dish, I do a compromise and go pretty light on the butter/cream/cheese and I add the chicken stock to thin it out a bit so it isn't overly creamy. It's a nice balance - I get a little bit of creamy flavor and he prefers the light sauce texture. Win-win. If you prefer heavy cream, by all means, make a regular alfredo sauce OR you could also take a super short cut and purchase jarred Alfredo sauce and fancy it up with the Cajun seasoning. I've done that before in a pinch!

So, I start by adding olive oil to a hot skillet and sauteeing the vegetables and the sausage. This is why I used cooked sausage in this recipe so you can just chop it up, throw it in, and let it brown and warm through. I also heat up a big pot of water for the pasta.

While the veggies and sausage is browning, I start the Alfredo sauce by melting the butter in another small pan, or you could also use a saucepan if you're making a lot. Once it starts melting, I pour in the cream. Throw in your pasta at this time, too because the sauce only takes about 8 minutes.

Then I bring it to a bubble and lower the heat a bit so it simmers, thickens and reduces.

After it thickens, whisk in the cheese, the chicken stock and the Cajun seasoning. 

Then, I drain the pasta, and put it back into the same pot, throw in the veggies/sausage mixture and pour that sweet sauce allllllllllll over errrryythang.

This is criminal and I love it.

Then, just toss everything together in the sauce and serve hot! I top my bowl with a leeeeettle extra Cajun seasoning and a few more grates of cheese. Because, obvi. 

Now I'm hungry.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Moms. Can We Really Have It All?

It's about to get real deep on the blog here. I've had a rough few weeks and a lot of time to think about a variety of different things going on in our life right now. My main focus on a day-to-day basis is, obviously, the kids. How they are feeling, what they are eating, what we are doing, their well-being, etc. But, as we all know, there's much more to that. There is a house to maintain, groceries to buy, laundry to wash/dry/fold/put away, rugs to be vacuumed, boo-boos to be kissed, songs to be sung and stories to be read. Being a mom is a selfless act, most of the time. Or is it? I think each day is a toss up. I love my kids immensely and would do anything and everything to the ends of the earth for them. But there are times when I find myself trying to desperately hold on to the small bits of ME that are left, so as not to get lost completely in what being a mom is. Does that make sense?

For instance. If my child draws all over our entertainment center in Sharpie, and I throw out all the markers/crayons, is that being selfless? If my child wants to stay at the park but I have to go to the store, does that make me a terrible mother? Or what about if I just cleaned the entire sitting area and I would like it to remain pristine, without a couch cushion askew, FOR JUST THREE MINUTES and I banish my children to the deck so they won't climb and jump all over it. Am I taking something wonderful away from them just because I'm trying to hold on to my sanity? Or am I just a control freak. Probably both.

And the guilt. The guilt that comes with making these everyday decisions. The guilt that comes the day I chose to stay at the park and we had hot dogs for dinner. Or the guilt that comes the day we left the park and my kid cried the whole drive to the store. Or the guilt that comes when my daughter comes up to me and asks for a crayon in her saddlest little voice. I work from home part time and have a mother's helper/nanny come two days a week to help watch the kids so I can be in my office without a disturbance. And even with that, there is guilt. Even when I am one floor below them and I can hear the pitter patter of their feet and I can hear their laughter and hear her making them lunch. Lunch that I should be feeding them.

And coming up in a few weeks, I was hired for a job I'd been pining for. It is temporary (3 months), and I will have the opportunity to work from home a couple days a week which will be great. However, I feel waves of guilt crashing down on me already because - get this - I AM SO DAMN EXCITED FOR IT. I cannot WAIT. Is that awful? Is it terrible that I am giddy over the thought of getting dressed in something that isn't covered in playground-dirt and going into an office to have adult conversations and finish an entire lunch in one sitting and do actual WORK that I LOVE and that makes me happy? I've longed for this. I've dreamt for it. Prayed for it. Wanted it. And now its here and I'm excited and beyond guilty. Because it means I'll have to leave my children under the care of someone else. Yes, I am taking this job partly for them because of the money aspect. But truthfully, I'm taking it mostly for me. Because I haven't really worked outside the home in 3 years, and frankly, I miss it. Not just the paycheck, but the interaction, the work itself, the dedication, the structure. I miss it, and that makes me feel like a terrible mother.

I keep telling myself that I want my kids to be happy AND I want to do what makes me happy so that I am the best, happiest mother to them. But honestly - it that just a load of bullshit? I mean, really, is that just what I'm telling myself to make myself feel better? And that I should really be telling myself "Do what makes the kids happy and you should be happy in return." Am I awful if I don't think it really, always, necessarily works like that?!

So this begs the question... Can moms really ever have it all? Can I have the life I want with my children and the life I want that creates the best version of me? I enjoy working - whether in an office or from home. I'm a creative person and I love what I do. I love my children. I love my husband. I love our home. But do you have it all if you always want more? More work or a better job, more from your children, more time with your husband, a bigger house, more money, etc. Can working moms work without the guilt? Can SAHMs stay home without the guilt of wanting to work? And if you're a SAHM and you don't want to work, at all, and you're happy - what do you want? If you have a great life, and you want more, are you a bad mom?

I know this blog post is really just my brain spewing questions that probably don't have answers. I just needed to vent all the thoughts that are all jumbled in my head right now. I feel very Carrie Bradshaw with all the "I can't help but wonder..." but it's true. Can we really have it all?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trendy Tot Tuesday!

I am linking up with Megan and Kelly for Trendy Tot Tuesday this week because I just HAD to share these pictures of Ariana. In fact, after snapping these pics and seeing her all dolled up, I was sort of bitter because I would wear every piece of this outfit in my size and I kinda wish I could.

 I meaaaaaaaannnnnn.... 

 She has been obsessed with purses lately. She has a couple fluffy or plastic pink ones that are more like toys but I wanted to get her a cute "grown-up" looking ones so that she stops carrying mine around!

I ended up getting her a small, juniors cross body bag and taking it to my shoe guy to have the strap cut and shortened! It's still a little big/long but I figure within the next couple years she'll grow into it and hopefully it will last until she really wants to carry a purse around everyday... which I expect to be right around the corner ;)


Monday, July 28, 2014

A Sweet Summer Treat! And, Um... FREE SORBET!

This is one of those genius ideas where you look back and think "why didn't they think of this sooner?!" You know, like spray olive oil and pre-cut sheets of aluminum foil.

As a kid, my brother and I always loved STARBURST™. It was one of our favorite candies. And we would always, without fail, fight over the pink and the yellow ones - the best flavors, obviously. Specifically the pink. The sweet, tangy, juicy, strawberry flavor that we all know and love.

Well, the fine people at STARBURST™ decided to channel that unique flavor and come up with STARBURST™ Brand Frozen Sorbet Bars. Yup, that tangy strawberry flavor you knew as a child is now a refreshing summer treat!

Available in 2.6-ounce 4-Packs for $3.99 and 2.6-ounce singles for $1.49 each, STARBURST™ Brand Sorbet Bars are a crowd-pleasing favorite. At 70 calories each, it's a guilt-free snack that can be enjoyed poolside, post-BBQ or just as a way to cool down during these hot summer months! We are always having "picnics" in our front yard and what better way to end a picnic than with an ice cold version of your favorite childhood candy??

So if your mouth is already salivating, you should definitely pick up some STARBURST™ Frozen Sorbet Bars before your next BBQ or pool date! And don't forget to follow Starburst on Twitter and "like" them on Facebook to receive the latest updates on their candies, treats and other frozen concoctions like DOVEBAR®, TWIX® and SNICKERS® Ice Cream Bars! Multi-packs of the STARBURST™ Brand Sorbet Bars are available in the refrigerated ice cream case at Wal-Mart and select grocery stores nationwide. The singles are available in many convenience stores nationwide. And, thanks to STARBURST™, I am giving one lucky reader TWO free boxes of the Sorbet Bars! Just enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter below. It ends at the end of the week and I'll have your free coupons in the mail to you by the weekend! Yummm! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Trendy Tot Tuesday!

Happy Tuesday, Friends!

I thought I'd pop in and talk some toddler jammies today! I posted this picture of Ariana last week...

And someone asked me where I get her bedtime nighties. I have recently become obsessed with baby nighties and have been hoarding all the ones I can find. Two of my favorites are from GAP but unfortunately, they don't have any toddler ones in stock at the moment. However, here are some of my favorite summer-time jams - short sleeved and such - for the warmer months!

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7  |  8  |  9

If I had to choose a favorite place to get pajamas, it would be Old Navy, hands down. I love their selection, they are really affordable (sometimes as low as $7 or $8 a pair!), they have cute designs and they wear/wash really well. You can't ask for more than that! Ariana is actually in need of some more pajamas with shorts and I think she will love those cute whale ones! The second one isn't even a nightgown at all, but a light summer dress that I think would be better served as a nightgown seeing as how it seems pretty light/short!

For boys, I also almost always turn to Old Navy. Ky owns both those dinosaur prints (shocker, I know), and I've never heard of that "Jumping Beans" brand, but I love that it comes with two different short options to mix and match! And, of course - every now and then, he just sleeps in an undershirt or tank and jersey shorts. Because they are comfortable and he's a boy, and well, that's what Daddy sleeps in and we are very much in an "I DRESS MYSELF!" phase ;)

Don't forget to link up with Megan and Kelly today!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Five on Friday..?

Its been a while since I've participated in this link up and I'm not sure if it's even still around but I figured, why not!

1. Game of Thrones

As usual, we are behind on the uptake and catching on a little too late to a great, great drama based TV series. After many, MANY late nights (some as late as 3AM... yea, we're stupid), we finished all four seasons in 2 weeks and I'm literally sitting on the edge of my seat awaiting season 5 which has barely begun filming and doesn't start until.... APRIL! Shoot me. We should have started watching it in February or at least spaced it out more but the end of each episode is a cliffhanger and you can't just stop at one. It's intense. More violence and sexuality than I've ever seen in one place but extremely compelling. If you can stomach watching 12 people's throats get slit open and full frontal nudity in every episode, then I highly recommend. Aside from the incredibly amazing character development and intricate story lines, I am obsessed with the costuming and the hairstyles! Also, I have a MAJAH crush on all the characters - good and bad. Most specifically Kit Harington. I normally don't quite go for dirty, smelly, hairy men... but something about Jon Snow makes me swoon. And look at how nice he cleans up. Damn.

 2. Best Maxi Dress Discovery!

Norstroms "Lush" line in their BP section has the best maxi dress I've ever worn. I have a few of them that I have basically just kept in a rotation all month and they've been all I wear. They come in a variety of patterns/colors, are SO comfy and soft, the straps are adjustable, and then have a faux empire waist which makes them super flattering. Scoop one up while they are on sale (25% off!)

3. Troubles in Toddlerhood

This week was a tough one. Probably one of the top 5 worst weeks in parenthood ever. Ky and I are butting heads more and more everyday and there were several times this week where I just collapsed with my head in my hands, tears burning my eyeballs, wondering if I'm doing anything right as a mother. I am still working on that whole patience thing, because I have none and I can't seem to gain any. If patience was something you could buy at the store, I swear it, I'd stock up for winter. Having a stubborn, fiesty 3-year old is definitely the worst form of punishment for such an impatient person like myself. And I say that because he's basically my mini-me. He lacks patience just as much as I do, he's as hard-headed as me, stubborn as me, etc. In other words (as my mother likes to remind me almost daily), this is karma.

4. All my idols in one place
Our 6-year (WHAT?!) wedding anniversary is coming up in a few months and it just so happens that it coincides with the New York City Wine & Food Festival which is hosted every year by The Food Network and Food&Wine Magazine. Since New York is a short drive from us, we decided to go up for the weekend, stay with some friends, and attend one of the festival events which is hosted by some of my all time favorite Food Network chefs. I might just pass out from excitement if I actually get to shake hands with Geoffrey Zakarian. Like, I seriously don't know what I would do besides stutter ridiculously. Can. Not. Wait! 
5. The Pioneer Woman
Speaking of Food Network Celebrity Chefs I Love... I have been making a lot more new recipes in the kitchen lately and several have been from The Pioneer Woman. I drool watching her show and I love how everything she cooks looks fresh, simple and effortless. I particularly love this pasta salad dish that my friend Sarah made for me a few weeks ago and I made it myself for a BBQ last weekend and have been eating the leftovers all week. It's SO fresh and yummy and has no mayo so it's perfect for a light summer lunch! Definitely try it soon. 

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trendy Tot Tuesday: Toddler Girl Sandals!

I was so excited when Megan reached out to let me know that Trendy Tot Tuesday was back in action! I loved this link up for so long because it's so fun to look around and see other adorable babies in adorable clothes which usually ends in a bit of online shopping and who doesn't love that?! ;)

I am guest hosting today and we are talking about toddler girl SHOES! Specifically, sandals. Because I bought these straight up gorgeous sandals for Ariana last week and couldn't get over how beautiful they were. I seriously had shoe envy and I wanted them in my size.

So I thought I'd share some of my favorite places to buy baby shoes and some of the ones we have and love.

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1. First up, those gorgeous Greek-inspired thong sandals. My mom said they looked like baby Tory Burch and I had to laugh because they are from TARGET!!! Yep, you read correctly. Target. And, um... like $16. And they are SO soft and comfortable! I can tell they will last a while and they don't slip off her feet when she is wearing them. Pictures don't even really do them justice, they are stunning in person and look way more expensive than they were!

2. Also really loving these Aztec-style design thongs... also from Target. They are killing it with their shoes this season! These come in a few different colors and would look adorable with mint or pink or yellow or any combination of the three. So cute.

3. SmartFit is one of my favorite brand of sandals and you can find these gold beauties at Payless. They also come in silver! I got them along with another pair (the ones below) several months ago during a BOGO event, and I also had a coupon and they each came out to $10 a piece! That my friends, is known as a "style steal" ;) - I love these sandals, they are soft and comfortable and also look like they cost much more than they were.

4. Also from Payless, Ariana has been LIVING in these sandals all summer. They are cute and versatile and go with almost everything. They don't slip, they fit her little ankles and she never complains about them. Super easy to take on/off with the velcro strap.

5. It's no secret that Baby Gap basically owns my house with how much I shop there. However, I have never been a huge fan of their shoes for kids. Don't get me wrong, they are CUTE, but as far as comfort and durability goes, I have never found them to be the best. Ariana and Ky have both owned a couple pairs of shoes from there and they slip off easily or aren't the kind of shoe you would want them to be running around in at the park. HOWEVER, these espadrilles are so cute, I might make an exception. I mean, with little white shorts and a chambray tee? I can't. I don't know if I would even care if she only wore them for 20 minutes, haha! :)

Don't forget to link up below with Megan and Kelly to show off pics of your cutest little tot!

  • Trendy Tot Tuesday is a chance to talk about kid's style, and pretty much anything goes.  Pictures of your cutie, talking about their style, a Polyvore board, linking to the new kid's line at the Gap - anything!  All ages welcome, from you sweet pregnant mamas stocking up a closet to the teenagers that probably pick all their own stuff out now  
  • This is a hop-style link up - please follow your hosts (MeganKelly)- we are in spots 1 & 2.  Also, jump around to meet other bloggers!  We hope everyone gains some new followers from this link up and finds some fabulous new blogs!
  • Please link back to (at least!) one of us, and feel free to steal our Trendy Tot Tuesday badge if you'd like.  If you're a tweeter or instagram-er, use #trendytot

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Dog Days of Summer

Since I never got around to really blogging about our vacation, I thought I'd just share some of my favorite pictures so far from our summer.

I am always so envious of these kids and how many cousins they have around them, all so close in age! They are going to have so much fun growing up and we are already witnessing their little groups and conversations and games they play together.

We don't have any getaways planned in the near future, but lots of birthday parties, BBQs, pool play dates and everything else that signifies summer. We spend most of our day at the park or drawing with sidewalk chalk and I feel like the kids get bored with that so quickly! Would love to know your favorite summer activities with your kiddos so we could change up our routine a bit. Hope you are enjoying your summer as much as we are!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Mish Mash

It's been a while since I've done one of these "Brain Dump" type posts... and we have a lot to catch up on!

• I need to blog and post our vacation pictures. I'm sure I'll get around to it as soon as I'm not lazy enough to take the photos off my camera. We had an amazing time with Hubs' entire family and we miss the lake so much already!

• After the winter we had this year (which I've tried very hard to forget about), we have spent almost every waking minute outside. Sidewalk chalk, splash pad, strawberry picking, the pool, the sprinkler, park playdates, bubbles, popsicles and watermelon, carnivals, dining al fresco... you name it, we've been doing it. And it's not even July! We have really been soaking up this summer to the fullest and the kids are loving every last bit of it. Well.. the kids and I.

• Yesterday, we ran out of diapers. I decided I just wasn't going to buy more. I put both the kids in underwear, and we left the house for 2 hours worth of errands with two potty breaks in between and they BOTH came back totally dry. I don't know if it was a miracle or a coincidence, but I'll take it! They both pee and poop on the potty if/when we tell them to go but if we don't say anything, neither of them (well, Ariana sometimes does) will come to us letting us know they have to go which has been EXTREMELY frustrating. Ky especially knows what to do but just refuses to tell us when he has to go. Hoping the constant asking will get him to come around. Continuing with this for the next few days to see how they do... SO ready to be done with diapers!

• I made these spicy chicken enchiladas last week and they were a huge hit. So delish and easy. Will definitely be making them again soon!

• The newest fad in our house is How to Train Your Dragon. Ky is obsessed. He loved the movie so much that we took him to the theatre for the first time to see the sequel. He was much better than I had anticipated and made me proud by devouring half a medium sized bag of popcorn.

• If you're still trying to snag something stars-y and stripe-y before this holiday weekend, GAP is doing 40% off and Old Navy is doing 30% off, both with free 2-Day shipping tonight until 5PM! I may or may not have just pointed and clicked to get Ariana her first bikini... don't tell Hubs! :D

Happy Monday!!