Monday, March 30, 2015

Upping the Kale Game

This post is sponsored by Blue Apron.

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I saw a collegiate t-shirt the other day on a shopper at Whole Foods that at first glance said YALE but upon closer examination, I realized, said KALE. Oh, I get it. Ha ha, how Whole Foods of you. I see you with your health food magazine and your green shake and your punny, punny shirt. Truth is, we are late to the kale game, mostly because giant green leafy things intimidate me. We were doing really good with lettuce, and then everyone was all KALE! KALE! So we joined the club. I felt like a kitchen goddess the first time I made kale chips, and when I put some in a smoothie, you might as well have just given me my own food show. I got it: Kelle's Kale Kitchen. And if you're from the south, Kelle's Kountry Kale Kitchen. Because spelling Country with a "K" is almost as funny as Kale for Yale. Kale goddess, I was.

So we’ve made kale chips and dropped some kale in smoothies. But chips and smoothies does not a kale goddess make.

You know what makes a kale goddess?

Creamed kale.

You know how I know?

Because my entire family ate it and loved it.

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Our Blue Apron meal this month was one of my favorites so far--simple and easy to make but something I wouldn't have thought of on my own. And so savory and delicious: Seared Flank Steaks with Roasted Potatoes & Creamed Kale. You know what gets me excited about food? Reading menu descriptions. And who gets the job of writing those anyway? Best. Job. Ever. Tied, of course, with naming paint and nail polish colors. If I wrote the menu description for this meal, I would definitely use fancy words like succulent and pan-seared and...wait for it...delicately crispy.

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I've written about our Blue Apron love before and now have several friends hooked on it. We don't use it every week, but it's definitely a nice treat for us when we do--like getting a pedicure or renting a movie. Our family enjoys cooking together, and there's something very special and invitational about a refrigerated box arriving on your doorstep with farm-fresh ingredients, just the right proportions of everything you could possibly, and easy-to-follow instructions for creative, delicious meals.

But the creamed kale? It was a family WOW moment.

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The Blue Apron recipe called for wilting the kale (3- min) on medium heat in a little olive oil, water and salt and pepper and then removing it and finely chopping it. It's then returned to the pan after the steak is cooked so that it soaks up the steak juices. Add Parmesan cheese, garlic and butter, and then fall over because it smells so good.

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As for the potatoes, our menu description will include something like "trifecta of colors." I haven't settled on the exact wording, but look at these beauties! Red and yellow and purple--they look so pretty all cooked up on the plate.

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We roasted the potatoes in olive oil and Old Bay Seasoning--a total Eureka combination discovery. From here on out--potatoes and Old Bay.

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By making cooking easy, Blue Apron adds a huge fun factor to our meals. In other words, it's not always fun to take three kids to the grocery store, already hungry, right before dinner to scrounge around for something that looks good. In fact, that is the definition of hell. We love Blue Apron nights and have never been disappointed by their meals

You can browse their recipes here. Next on our list--Spice Thai Chicken Soup (cannot get my mind off this since I read the recipe) and Tom-Yum Style Shrimp & Noodles.

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The first 100 readers to sign up for Blue Apron will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order. You can sign up here.

We're thinking of taking this routine to the Kale Nationals.

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Thank you Blue Apron for sponsoring this post, and thank you readers for checking out some of the brands we love that help support this blog.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Friday Faves: Adult Swim

A day late but whatever. In keeping with last week's Friday Faves theme, kids move over. It's time for mom to find a suit.

I love the photo of the mama in the bikini that went viral last week and her words about her body. And then in the same week, a former sponsor and beautiful woman who I follow on IG posted this, and I wanted to grab some poms poms and march in her parade.

Shopping for swimsuits isn't every woman's favorite thing to do, but thankfully a lot of swimsuit makers know that, and they want you to feel good.

I tend to lean towards retro style suits but mostly want what every woman wants--support the girls, cover my butt, make me look cute.

With that said, here are a few of my favorite swimsuits and accessories for moms right now:
ADULT SWIM

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1. Seafolly Coastline Boyleg Suit, Anthropologie. Vertical stripes plus boy short plus support for the ladies equals total win.
2. Paisley Twist One Piece, Anthropologie. I love the 2-piece/high waist look of this.
3. Vintage "Grace" Polkadot Suit, Popina Swimwear. I have this suit in three different patterns, and it's my go-to suit for everything. Fun and retro, love the polka dot, and it doesn't leave your butt hanging out like so many other suits do. There's really no other way to say that.
4. Nanette Lepore. Tried this suit on the other day. Love the pattern, love the support, love piping and bustier detail.
5. Miraclesuit Crisscross Halter. I'm obsessed with this suit after seeing a woman on the beach with it and walking up to ask her where she got it. Have you ever tried on a Miraclesuit? It sucks in, supports and holds everything like, well, a miracle. Size up at least one size though. They aren't kidding when they say it sucks you in. This style is super flattering on any body type.
6. Gottex Swimdress (comes with adjustable strap). A little Betty Boop, good contrast, flattering ruching.

SWIM ACCESSORIES

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1. Vintage Swim Sundress. Drapey, beachy, easy cover-up. And super affordable.
2. Crochet Beach Dress, ASOS This baby's on major sale right now. I love white on a beach.
3. Tumbleweed Maple Sunglasses, Fab. Cute unexpected maple wood frames and a nice round-meets-cat-eye edge.
4. Mexican Embroidered Cover-up. This cover-up is my go-to style for the beach.
5. Floral Rash Vest, Boden I've never worn a rash guard, but after seeing this suit, I totally would. LOVE the 70's floral print.
6. Kenneth Cole Stripe Tunic Cover-up. Stripes always win. And this cover-up is super comfortable.

Happy Weekending!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Woman Crush Wednesday: Carin Cryderman (pssst...that's my sister)

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Alright, time for something new. It is spring after all. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while. With a growing list of women I admire both on and offline, it seems only natural in sharing bits of my life—things that inspire me, things I’m curious about—that that would include one of the greatest influences for women…other women.

As I parent my kids, I often think about my mom’s journey of motherhood and womanhood. I love to hear stories about when we were little—not so much for information about us but for stories about her. Were you happy, Mom? Did you feel overwhelmed? What were you passionate about? Her answers are gold nuggets, pieces of her story that I cherish and from which I learn. The greatest difference between my own journey in my thirties and hers is that—while, yes, she had friends and books—I have access to so many more women. The Internet allows us to connect and expand our perspective and ultimately feel less alone by presenting more women’s stories to which we can relate, more ideas, more encouragement, more sisterhood.

Jumping on the #wcw hashtag—Woman Crush Wednesday—I’m going to be sharing some interviews with women whom I admire--women I both know and wish I knew who inspire me with their story, their words, their style, their ideas, their art, their talents, their kindness and their example. Some have blogs, some don’t; some are writers, artists, moms, friends, well known, lesser known but all well-loved for their unique story. And everyone has a story. Women interviews are usually the first thing I turn to when I buy a magazine, and whether I “know” the person or not, I love and learn something from a good interview, especially when another woman is asking unique questions.

So there you have it—Woman Crush Wednesday, a new interview series I’ll be occasionally sharing here.

To kick this off, it was clear who’d be my first interview, the woman I look up to the most for her strength and resilience—my sister.

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I always imagined we’d live in the same town and raise kids together, trading strollers and dropping off cousins for sleepovers, but we took different paths. Carin got married when she was 18 and had three girls before I graduated college which means they were my first loves, my prerequisite courses for motherhood. It also means that with my introduction to parenthood came an invaluable handbook, an experienced “phone a friend” for every hurdle I'd cross. But right when my life dreams started to take off--getting married, settling in a home, having babies--hers starting crumbling. After losing herself to many years in a marriage that wasn't allowing her to be her best possible self, she chose to do what's right for some--leave. And she had nothing but a job paying little more than minimum wage, a new lease on a small apartment, and a hope in a new future.

It took years and so many tearful phone conversations to get where she is today. I've never seen anyone work so hard to make their life better. I've never known any woman to read as many books as she did--anything she could get her hands on to inspire her to be more. Rock bottom was a dark pit for her, but she was never afraid of it. She simply climbed, little bit by little bit to get out.

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Today Carin is the mother of three amazing girls who are strong and confident and funny and loving--one who's off to college next year. A little over a year ago, my sister bought her first house. Her unwavering "You Can Do This" approach to life is fierce--so full of spirit, so backed by passion that you can't even call it advice. Advice is just words. "You Can Do This" is her life mantra, and when I need strength and a reminder of my capabilities as a woman, I am so lucky to have my sister to call. And lucky to have her in this space today, so carry on, shall we?

To keep it straight, I'm in bold from here on out, and she's in light.

Okay, if this was a real stage interview like James Lipton, I'd need an opening song for this series. What should it be? 

Am I allowed to request Ira Glass?

I'd have to lose a little weight and the beard, but okay. Oh, wait. We're celebrating women. I'll be Terry Gross. What song is playing? And, what are you wearing in my imaginary WCW stage chair – your usual You've Got Mail inspired classics? 

Ugh, these song questions are killing me – so tough to narrow down. I think Irene Cara's Flashdance – I'd enter the stage in dance wearing a leotard and off-the-shoulder shirt. Then at some point, I'd change into a crisp white button down and navy.

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Touche'. 

I think when anyone in our family thinks about you, we immediately think of resilience, strength and hard work because those have characterized your journey these past several years. In the last five years, what was your lowest low and how did you rise above it?

There were different lows as I struggled to get back on my feet - money woes, car woes, lonely woes. But, I think the lowest lows were those early days of adjusting to 50/50 custody. I had been a stay-at-home mom and had never been away from any of my kids for very long. Not to mention, so much of my identity was exclusive to motherhood. So, watching my girls pack bags like gypsies each week was painful in so many ways – almost like I was losing them along with a part of my self. How did I rise above it? I took care of myself. I distracted myself with healthy things--I signed up for classes, I ran races, I went out with friends, I read books, I wrote. I also knew they'd be okay no matter what. I knew that as long as I was okay, they would be too. So I set out to be the best version of myself because it was one part of their outcome that I could control.

And your highest high?

Before I answer this, I want to go back to the last question if that's OK, Terry. As painful as that was (50/50 custody arrangement), it, in time, became our new normal. While it may not have been my ideal custody situation, my girls are incredibly well-adjusted today. Plus, it has allowed me time to recharge and explore my identity outside mothering – something I believe is so important for women. I didn't want to end that on such a morose note for someone who might feel the need to leave, but hindered by the fear of such a custody agreement.

My highest high in the last five years was undoubtedly buying my house – specifically, walking in the front door just after the closing. It was late afternoon – the house was empty, immaculate, and bright – visible sunbeams beat through the windows and onto the hardwood floors.

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I was alone and mindful of every step it took to get to that point. I walked through every room and opened every closet. I walked out to the backyard and picked tomatoes from the garden. It was honestly like a movie moment.

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Every good movie moment has a song playing in the background. What was the soundtrack for that moment?

The Weepies "Comfort".

What's the hardest part of raising older kids?

They need you less.

What's the best part of raising older kids?

They need you less.

What's the hardest part of raising kids as a single mom and a split home?

There’s always so much in my head – like changing the furnace filter and getting my central air fixed before summer. And then finding money for stuff like summer camps. I get tired from all the stuff in my head.

What's the best part of raising kids as a single mom and a split home?
I set the tone of our home. I set the mood. I can do projects whenever I want – like paint a couch and not have any nay-saying. I have time alone to recharge.

What mantra/quote do you hang on to right now?
For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else. (Emerson) What I’ve gained is so palpable that I honestly think little of anything I’ve lost. Sure, there are moments that trigger sadness sometimes, but the good outweighs the bad. It also helps to remember no one is doing this thing right - whether you're a single mom or a happily married mom - we're all fumbling along, figuring it out as we go.

There's a woman who thinks she's hit rock bottom. She feels she isn't enough, can't do it, will never make it out of the mess she's in. What do you have to say to her?

You can and you will make it out. J.K. Rowling said rock bottom became the solid foundation on which she rebuilt her life. Take 24 hours to cry and feel sorry for yourself. Then get to work making things better. One thing will lead to another which will lead to another. You’ll figure it out. Keep dreaming.

I love that. It reminds me of a quote I recently saw in the blog world: “Nothing will make you feel better except doing the work.”  (Paul Ferney, I believe--I think I saw it on Oh Happy Day

Okay, tell me about these things and their role in your life and survival through the hard stuff: Creativity, friendship, books and music.

Creativity
I wrote more during my hardest days than I ever did on good days. It cost nothing and was therapeutic. I have always felt like I could create my own joy - if I didn't have the money to go on vacation or if I was feeling lonely, I knew I could sit down and write something or paint something or even move the furniture around and feel better. I've always felt that improving my life was within my control - even if was just creating beauty in one way or another.

Friendship
After I told my husband at the time I was leaving, I sat in limbo for a while; I was so overwhelmed by what it was going to take to really get out. Not to mention, I didn’t know how I was going to financially retain an attorney. Then during a girls’ night at a friend’s house, one of them got up in the middle of a conversation and wrote me a check. Then another and another until I sat there with the retainer fee in my hands. I’ll never forget it. Throughout those five years, I also met new friends who were single, in particular – almost as though they were placed in my life just when I needed them.

Books and music
Books and music became my lifeblood. There are times when you’ve already called your friend in tears ten times and your family is in a good place. Even though I knew I could always call, I also wanted to respect the fact that my friends and family had their own problems. And, if they were at a good place in life, I didn’t want to bring them down. So, books and music became like friends and family to me.

Compare these two things: Your view of yourself ten years ago and your view of yourself now.

When I look back at my 28 year old self, I see naivete and codependency. I know I was strong, but it was dormant – along with a lot of other stuff. At 28, I thought that life and identity were more fixed than they really are. It wasn’t necessarily a conscious thought, but more understood. I was who I was and what I felt – “Oh, I’m not driven” or “Oh, I’m not athletic”. I’d look at people I admired and think they were just naturally that way when really, they were likely the person they were because they pushed themselves out of their comfort zone and became who they wanted to be.

My view of myself now?

When I look at myself now, I see strength and independence. Little by little, I’ve rebuilt my life and I’m incredibly proud of that. I know what I can do and have a pretty good idea of who I am. At 38, I realize life and identity is much less fixed than I used to think. It’s not likely that I’ll be Christiane Amanpour, but it’s completely likely that I can be a runner, I can be driven – actually, I am a runner; I am driven. I also see a great mom. I am deeply proud of who my girls are becoming and I know that my choices have played a big part in that.

This was right after I separated I think. Those orange Patagonia boots symbolized a lot. I loved them. I think they were the first thing I bought when I started handling my own money.
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Worst thing someone said to you when you were rock bottom and needed support.

God still loves you. The "still" added just the right amount of condescension to make me feel horrible. I hadn't even considered the idea that he might not. It was pretty revealing about how people view divorce.

Best thing someone said to you when you were rock bottom and needed support.

They listened. Simple as that. They showed up and listened and they didn't go away.

I so believe in signs, kisses from the Universe, that tell us--especially when we desperately need to be told--that everything's going to be okay, that we're on the right path. I know we've both had so many of them in our lives, but one of my favorites is your June. Can you tell us about June in one paragraph? Hard to do, I know.

Yes...tough to limit the June Jacobson story in a paragraph. I thought I had found the perfect first house for me a couple of years ago, but the deal didn't go through. I was so disappointed. Then I found this house. A woman by the name of June had owned it--she was the only other woman who ever lived in this house and had recently died, so her sons were selling it. I knew I was buying her estate, but that was about it. I googled her one day in between faxing paperwork over to my realtor. She had raised three sons in the house after divorcing a traditional husband who preferred his wife subservient. She went on to practice social work - counseling women in a home office (now my bedroom!) and helping them heal from domestic abuse. I had quit believing in "more", but couldn't help be comforted by what seemed to be such a sign.

So...back to walking through my front door just after closing--cue Deb Talan, the soft guitar, sun beams on the hardwood floor--it was like June led me there.

Random, but fun. Finish the following. I hate when...

I hate when I pull paper towel from the dispenser at work and it comes out in tiny pieces.

I hate when I'm out of half & half.

I hate when people interpret kindness as warm and fluffy weakness.

And, I love when...

I love when my neighbor Jen across the street puts the bat call out for wine and conversation.

I love when I make my dad laugh.

I love when I get a package or letter in the mail.

I love when the house is clean and the theme from House of Cards begins to play.

I love when my girls are all home for a slow Sunday breakfast with Bach on the speakers.

Three of your favorite woman crushes...

Kristin Wiig
J.K. Rowling
June Jacobson

Favorite easy meal you make for your girls?

Pork carnitas if I prepare. I throw boneless port shoulder or enough chops in the crockpot with onions, chicken broth, vinegar, cumin, salt and pepper. At the end of the day, pull apart with fork and serve with corn tortillas, lime and cilantro.

If I don't prepare, pasta pomodoro with goat cheese on top. Saute a few garlic cloves in olive oil, add a few cans of blended diced tomatoes, basil and salt.

Okay, and also a Hot & Ready from Little Caesars.

If you had to get a tattoo right now, what would it be?

Two words, one on each wrist: More & Enough because life is always a balance between the two. There're times in life when you need to remind yourself that you are enough and there are times when you need to push yourself to be more.

We speak in music, so let's end this interview with an important question. 
It's been a sucky day. You decide to take a run by yourself. What five songs are on your playlist while you run?

"Stronger" – Kelly Clarkson
"Help Me Lose My Mind" – Disclosure
"Dreams" – Cranberries
"Lose Yourself" – Eminem
"Sweet Disposition" – The Temper Trap

Ah, Sweet Disposition does something to me every time.

Thank you. Love you.

You can see more of Carin at @carcryder on Instagram. You'll probably be seeing more of her on this blog too. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Best Possible Start

This post is sponsored by Fisher-Price who shares our goal and thousands of other parents' of giving their child the best possible start. 

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Nesting was an instantaneous reaction for me the moment I found out I was going to be a mom. Two lines on a pregnancy stick meant one thing: You Better Get Ready. A trip to the store and $57 later (I still have the faded receipt, taped to a page in my pregnancy journal), I had a nice start on preparation—a journal, a pregnancy book, a baby magazine and a bottle of prenatal vitamins. That was just the beginning. For nine months, we prepared for Lainey’s arrival—put a crib together (a miraculous feat, let me tell you), bought a stroller, picked out car seats and baby carriers and folded tiny clothes. Every night as it got closer, I went into her room, straightened picture frames, smoothed wrinkles out of blankets and repositioned teddy bears so that not a hair was out of place. And then I’d sit in the rocking chair, hands on my belly, and quietly take in the scene—a different kind of readying, but one that still couldn’t possibly prepare me for what having a baby is really like.

It’s like watching your heart beat outside your body—a euphoric experience, yes, but one that comes with the gut-wrenching realization that if that heart gets broken, you’ll surely break too. And so the journey begins—keep that heart beating. Find what makes it happy, what stretches it to grow, learn its patterns, follow its rhythm.

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Of course I soon realized that the crib and the books and the top-rated car seat were all very low on the list of things that I needed to prepare me for motherhood compared to more important things like patience and calm and the ability to go with the flow. Two years later, Nella was born, and I learned an even more important parenting lesson—that those wild little hearts that beat outside our bodies hold surprises and that the rhythm you think you know—that bum-pum, bum-pum, bum-pum beat you’ve memorized while you breathe and push and wait—can take a different rhythm at any given time.

You can’t control its rhythm; your only job is to follow it, support it, guide it.

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I’m three times in now, this third little heart beating fast and furious and up for a game and a chase every day. Prenatal vitamins got nothin’ on Dash’s energy level. But his crooked grin! His humor! His hugs! His cute little feet in your face!

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When Fisher-Price asked me to be a part of their “Be a Fisher-Price” Baby sweepstakes and write a contribution for Best Possible Start, I knew immediately what it would be. It’s the most valuable nugget I hang on to in parenting, shaped by the circumstances I’ve experienced thus far and applicable to everything in life, and that is…

Expect Nothing.

To give your child the best possible start, go into the arena of motherhood with a clear mind and an open heart. Do not expect parenting to look like the perfect pictures in magazines or mirror the social media feeds of other moms. Don’t rely on the books on your nightstand but rather on the pen in your hand—write your own unique story of motherhood as you go. Write it together, pen your stories, be open for edits and rewrites, twisting plots, heartache, character flaws and love because every good story, above all, has love.

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Fisher-Price is dedicated to helping parents give children the best possible start and celebrating every playful, joyful learning moment in their story. To support this, they are launching a sweepstakes called “Be a Fisher-Price Baby.” One grand prize winner will receive $10,000 toward a 529 college savings plan, a trip for three to Los Angeles and a professional family photo shoot to celebrate the all-important early years. Six additional winners will receive $1,000 savings bonds and three Fisher-Price products that best fit their child’s age. Share your best possible start, your unique story moments and enter the "Be a Fisher-Price Baby" sweepstakes here.

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You already have everything you need to give your child the best possible start, but it definitely helps to have a village of support and a community of resources. As you're writing your own unique story, if your ink is running dry, reach out for an extra pen. You're not alone.

Thank you Fisher-Price for your support to moms and kids everywhere and for sponsoring this post.

Monday, March 23, 2015

3/21 Thank You

Things I Learned this World Down Syndrome Awareness Day (Saturday, 3-21):
I'll cut to the chase--you all are amazing.

Two weeks ago, we told you the story of Zach and Ali and what Ruby's Rainbow is doing to help individuals with Down syndrome go to college.  We asked you to make the 3-21 pledge and donate $21 to Ruby's Rainbow and ask three friends to do the same.

People, you did it. Ready for the final total?  $118,000! And donations are still being made, not to mention several businesses have offered to donate proceeds from this month's sales to the cause.

What this means is that you believe in a better future, and that is the first step toward success. We hope schools, teachers, administrators, coaches and employers will believe in our kids' future like you have. We have success stories like Zach and Ali's leading the way, and even if the college path isn't for every child, their stories and your support of them provides such an incredible wave of forward movement that affects us all in wonderful ways.

So thank you. Thank you for rallying and demonstrating such a beautiful example of community. Liz and her husband are thrilled and are already receiving new applicants for scholarships.

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I was also so pleased to see World Down Syndrome Awareness Day recognized by so many this year. I saw several businesses posting their support of the celebration as well as many individuals adding their voice to the community. It means so much to so many moms, and I only hope every parent of every child with special needs has the opportunity to feel that their child is seen and that their unique journey is recognized.

Thank you for making this year's World Down Syndrome Awareness Day so special.  I can't tell you how many times I've been brought to tears, so thankful for the fact that Nella was born into this decade, her way paved by so many families before us and her journey supported by a loving community that fights for change and steps in to help us raise the ceiling of opportunity.

You all were part of something really beautiful these past two weeks. We couldn't have done it without you.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Faves: Kids' Swimwear

Behold, on the first day of spring, I bring you sunshine! Visions of pool frolicking and popsicles and flip-flops! As warmer temps creep up on us, swimsuits are hitting shops. Because we spend so much time in the pool and at the beach in Florida, my kids have a lot swimsuits--we wear them about as much as we wear pajamas. They're one of my favorite things to buy for my kids, and when I find my favorites, I'm all Hear ye! Hear ye! Look at this adorable suit! So, I traveled to the ends of the earth to bring you the cutest swim gear out there as you start planning those vacations, pool parties and lemonade stands. For those who are still buried in the cold, consider this post HOPE!

Happy First Day of Spring and Happy Friday! Make waves!

GIRLS' SWIM

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1. Best Print: Popupshop, JCrew.
2. Cutest Bikini: Floatimini  This suit. I die. Gingham gives me heart palpitations.
3. Best Stripe: Polarn O. Pyret  I love the rainbow stripes on this. It stands out from all the navy/red stripe suits out there.
4. Best Get-in-the-Mood-for-Summer Suit: Zara  This suit makes me want a pina colada.
5. Best Rash Guard: Carters
6. Best Retro-Inspired: Janie & Jack  I mean, come on. The swim cap? Adorable.
7. Most Likely to Garner Beach Oohs and Ahhs: Vindie Baby  Cutest baby on the beach, fo sho.
8. Best Tankini: Land's End  Our one Land's End kid swimsuit is of superior quality. It's been passed down from Lainey to Nella, has been through so many wears, and it's not pilled or stretched out at all.
9. Best Travel-Inspired: Mini Boden
10. Best Bow: Splendid
11. Best Value: Target  I love this classic suit, available in several colors--just like Mama's suit.


BOYS' SWIM

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1. Best Stripe: Zara  Olympic swimmer. 
2. Best Reusable Swim Diaper: Honest  We have this suit and love it--swim diaper built right in.
3. Best Rash Guard: Tucker & Tate, Nordstrom Great sun protection and still completely stylish.
4. Best Surf Style: Carters
5. Best Shorty Shorts: Mini Boden  I love how short these are.
6. Best Outdoorsy Swimwear: Patagonia, Zappos Plenty of room for a disposable swim diaper underneath.
7. Best Print: Hanna Andersson  So cute for a Fourth of July swim party.
8. Best Retro One-Piece: Mabel Retro
9. Best Lake Swimwear: Hatley Picture it now--on a dock, little fishing pole in hand.
10. Best Value: Target ($8)


SWIM ACCESSORIES

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1. Stripe Cover-up, Target
2. Turkish Hooded Poncho Towel, Of One Sea
3. Mexican Peasant Dress Cover-up
4. Saltwater Sandals Our summer staple. You can wear them in the water, and the leather stays just as good as new.
5. Beach Flip-flops  At $2.50 a pop, we have several of these in our garage and in the beach bag. My kids go without shoes to the beach sometimes, and it's nice to have a pair of these on hand for walking on hot pavement)
6. Classic Aviators, Children's Place
7. Panama Hat, Gap
8. Tortoise Jackie-O Sunglasses, Janie & Jack


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spring Break Tampa or Bust

In true Hampton last minute fashion, I decided last week that maybe we'd take a little road trip for spring break. It is smart and responsible to book Florida spring break trips only a week before they occur, and I am smart and responsible. Using completely random specifications for our location of choice--"Places that Rhyme with Grandpa"--I ended up finding hotel availability in Tampa which, thankfully for us, turns out to be a really fun place to visit. It's a big enough city to feel very different from where we live. "Is this New York?" Lainey asked. "No, New York is a lot bigger than this. This is Tampa," I explained. "I'm going to call it New York Tampa," she decided.

Heidi and her kids joined us (husbands stayed home to work) for a 2-day, full-speed adventure that we'll remember for a long time. Knowing we'd only be gone for two days, we decided we'd fill it to the brim, leaving early Tuesday morning and coming home late last night. My van smells like ketchup and my kids smell like sunscreen because we skipped baths last night and slipped right from car seats to bed sheets, but we are full and happy and thankful.

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Adorable fun and easy-to-play car scavenger hunt 


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My Spontaneous Kid Trip Saviors:

* Packing Light. I'm an overpacker by nature, but I'm slowly learning how easy trips go when you pack only what you need. I wanted to be able to slip in and out of the hotel with all three of my kids without a hotel luggage rack or six trips to the car, so I brought only one small suitcase for all of us.
* Backpack. We've been using a backpack for everything these days--traveling, day trips, beach excursions, etc. I put everything we need for the day in a backpack, skip bringing a purse and clip it to my stroller with a Mommy Hook.
* Double Stroller. Nella and Dash both nap in it when we're out and about, and it works great for hauling stuff in and out of places. We didn't get one until last summer (for Michigan road trip), and now I can't imagine not having one when traveling.
* Hotel Baby Crib. Skip lugging your own Pack 'n Play around and call ahead to the hotel to have a baby crib set up in your room--saves so much work.
* Spontaneity and a Go-with-the-Flow Travel Mate. If you're laid back and messy and you're taking a road trip with a Type A planner, you better sign a friendship contract and have it notarized. Road trips with Heidi have always been a breeze because we share the same travel philosophy and are in it to have fun and make memories.

We are also sentimental, and as our kids get older, these trips become more special. So many times this week, in the midst of both the chaos and the sweet moments of travel calm, we said to each other, "This is it, man. We're in it. Living the dream. We're going to look back on this and miss it."

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After all our exploration--the aquarium, the downtown roaming, the skipped naps, the pool party, the late night hotel dance fest, the pizza, the giggling, the aching calves from pushing heavy strollers, the museum, the park, the never-ending quest for adventure--we finally made our last stop last night at an ice cream shop in Ybor City before making the drive home. We finished our ice cream and then wandered a bit outside, hesitant to end our trip. We walked along railroad tracks, following a flock of lost chickens and finally reconvened in a parking lot where we made the kids huddle for a made-up thrown-together cheer where we all put our fists in the middle and jumped up with some ridiculous "Spring Break Tampa, WHOO!" chant that the kids mumbled through while Heidi and I gave our embarrassingly enthusiastic all. Moms be crazy. We'll do the same thing at fifth grade spelling bees and middle school sleepovers, high school homecoming games and college Meet the Parents weekends, hiding it from the kids but never failing to play it out in our heads. We'll be proud and forever thankful for the adventures we shared, the road trips we endured, the short time we had with them before they flew out of the nest to explore more of the world without us.

I watched the video below this morning and smiled at a line I hadn't noticed, fitting for this sweet adventure we call raising kids: "We'll hate what we've lost but we'll love what we find."

A little video of our road trip adventure:

ETST on Vimeo, Song: Featherstone by The Paper Kites

Thank you all who gave Tampa recommendations on Instagram. We definitely want to return to explore more, but loved the following:

Florida Aquarium: The kids loved it so much, they're already asking to return. Bring the kids' bathing suits as when you're finished with the exhibits, there's a fantastic outside water play area. 

Glazer Children's Museum: We spent hours here, and it's great for all ages. The little ones found plenty of age appropriate things to play with, and the bigger kids had a blast as well--flying planes, exploring weather and their favorite--an hour in the theater creating their own plays with sound effects, lights and costumes. Bring bathing suits again as there are fountains for play in front.

Curtis Hixon Park: Riverfront park directly in front of the children's museum. There's a huge grassy area for the kids to run around. There were two additional museums here that we wanted to explore but didn't have time

Tampa Pizza Company: The best thin crust pizza ever and staff that were so kind and patient with the kids. Right downtown, walking distance from museums

The Sheraton Riverwalk: Loved the location--tucked right downtown so the kids got the city feel. Walking distance to park, children's museum, restaurants. Riverside view, great pool.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

All's Love in Fair and War

"This is a #@cking joke," were, I believe, the exact words that came out as we were loading the van to go to the fair yesterday. Brett said them, I thought them. It was 92 degrees, there were 200 driveway toys scattered across our lawn, Dash had fallen hard and hit his head on the driveway, no one could find the ice pack, everyone was crying, and we had planned on leaving an hour earlier. Normally, I spread optimism on these occasions like butter on toast, but I was all out of butter. It was the underbelly of our family, definitely not the shiny side we like people to see. We were edgy, and it seemed a game of "Pick a person whose fault this is and silently let them know it" had broken out, and the entire family was playing.

Brett pushed a heap of my crap aside as he climbed in the van, and in the mature spirit of giving him the benefit of the doubt, I read it as "Your car's a mess again; this is all your fault."

"We should have left an hour ago. We were all ready, you know," I replied, knowing he'd hear it as "Why are you always late? This is all your fault." Checkmate.

We forgot to pre-order wrist bands--somebody's fault, no doubt--so when we got to the fair, we stood in a long line to get them, dust sticking to our sweat and kids whining to get out of the stroller. We complained about the heat, about the fact that this year at the fair with Dash is a lot harder than last year at the fair with Dash, about how much everything costs, about the bathrooms being gross.

At some point, we got tired of complaining.

Going to the fair with three kids is supposed to be hard.
And raising a family together isn't supposed to be easy.

But for years, this little fair has been something special to us, a place where--amid grease-thick dust and carnies hollering "Everyone gets a prize!", between cotton candy stands and carousels and under the canopy of prize trinkets and ferris wheel glow--we find the pulse of our family. In the loudest, most distracting place, that pulse still shines brightest and sings above the competing sounds.

"Look at their faces," I pointed out. We laughed at Dash's amusement with the ride and both noticed Lainey's nurturing scooch-in towards Nella.

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We found the same taco shack we went to last year, ordered the same thing, sat at the same picnic table, took the same picture. Nella still loves the Fun Slide, Lainey still hates it. We drank cold beer, got the kids ice cream, finished half of our giant lemonade and threw the rest away because nobody wanted to hold it--all just like last year.

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We played the same game--the one where everybody wins--and the kids proudly marched with their little prizes until someone decided their prize wasn't as cool as the one next to them.

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It was all a bit of a family fair deja vu.
Except some things are different. We're in it deeper, the stakes are higher. Slowly, we're all changing, swimming further away from the edges of the pool toward deeper water where life is richer but harder and changes can feel more recognizable. Before I could even feel guilty about the way our fair date started, I instead basked in funnel cake intoxication and gratitude for this moment--this recognition of our family and who we are, underbelly and all.

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My two favorite moments captured from last night:

Lainey helping Nella off a ride...

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And this look of Brett's I've seen a hundred times--still kills me. When he's watching the kids. I fell in love with him on this look alone.

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We left the fair well past bedtime--dirty, tired, overfed and well-spent. Dash fell asleep five minutes into our ride home, his messy hair glued to the shiner on his forehead from his fall earlier in the day and his dirty feet crossed over the mess on the floor beneath them.

And just like last year, and the year before, I looked over at Brett, smiled and whispered, "That was fun"--which, in other languages, translates as "I'm sorry for earlier" and "It's worth it" and "I like us."

It's not supposed to be easy. But I love when I feel the pulse of my family beating loud and strong above the noise and color and flashing lights of the world.

And if you can find it at the fair, you can find it anywhere.

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