Twelve Dancing Unicorns

Disclaimer: I was asked to review the item or service below in exchange for compensation and/or free items. All opinions, however, are 100% my own.

When I was growing up, I remember having a fairy tale book and reading Twelve Dancing PrincessesTo be honest, I loved the story, but the fact that the sisters were locked up at night and not allowed to go out made ‘lil me mad. When I received a copy of Twelve Dancing Unicornsthe same love and madness washed over me.

Twelve Dancing Unicorns

In this gorgeously illustrated take on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, author Alissa Heyman had my kids and I in awe. Her words, along with Justin Gerard’s illustrations, tell the story in the light of the princesses being unicorns and the soldier as a brave little girl who sneaks to the magical gardens the unicorns inhabit at night. In the end, the unicorns are freed from the kings chains and “watchful” guards thanks to the little girl’s bravery and problem solving.

Twelve Dancing Unicorns is one of the few “long” picture books my children have sat through and truly listened to. And at the end? They both understood the moral – have a good heart and don’t do things selfishly (as the king did). At five and three, they got that. It made them sad that the unicorns were chained up, but I watched their eyes light up as the ‘lil girl accompanied the unicorns to a land where jeweled fruits (their favorite, the golden apple) and fairies and lush gardens abound, and knew they were getting the meaning of letting others live true happiness.

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You can find this gorgeous book (put it on your holiday shopping list!) at sterlingpublishing.com for $14.95.

I’ve posted this review as part of a month-long blog tour about the book. Follow the Twelve Dancing Unicorns blog tour tomorrow on Jumpin Beans: http://jumpin-beans.blogspot.com/.

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This story came at a great time for our family. Last week, we lost my grandma after a few years of suffering from various ailments. She was ready to let it go and be in Heaven, but was holding on for all of us. Once we finally told her it was okay, that we’d see her again, you could tell she felt released, just like the unicorns and princesses. What a beautiful coincidence.

Got it from My Momma

There are so many things that I am glad to say I “Got it from my Momma” to. One of those things is writing. And sadly, today, I was reminded of that oh so much.

As I tried to work, I kept refreshing the page, waiting to see what I know my mom had been so lovingly working on with her siblings…the listing of the things my amazing Grandma did in her life. When the page finally refreshed and my Grandma’s, my babies’ “Grammie the Great” or “Great Great”, life story was in front of my eyes, all I could do was cry. I cried tears I didn’t think would come. I cried tears that I’ve had several years to cry, tears that have come on rides home after other times we thought “this was it”. Tears that were filled with the love that this woman showed all of us as a family. Tears because I knew the words were written with so much love and thought behind them – words written by my mom.

When I called my mom a little later, we talked about the words. How there were so many words. So many beautiful things about a woman who had two amazing husbands, seven children, 34 grandchildren, and 22 (so far) great grandchildren. So many memories that we shared with her – church, bingo, the beach. Blurs still come to my eyes when I think of the things this woman did in her 89 years.

God called my Grandma home to be with her Daves and her son yesterday. She passed peacefully, having heard many of us say “I love you” and share our best memories with her over the past few days. After sitting with her for hours, just holding her hand, on Saturday, I know it was all part of the plan and that she’s in no pain anymore.

I didn’t write much about my Grandma here on this blog, but my family sure has cherished a lot of time with her over the past five years since moving back home. We’ve been really lucky to have her in our lives. While the memories may be few here on this page (like this one, this one, and this one), there are a lot in my mind. Grandma was traditional, and a few years ago, I stopped taking pictures at her place because she wasn’t all about our internet lives. But today, Grandma, I hope you are okay that I am sharing your story.

Because I got my love of writing from my mom, who got it from you. And I know that Arianna will have it too. Just like so many other things – our smiles, our eyes, our desire for everyone to be together and to be happy, to do for others, to love Jesus, to be a good mom and wife, to really and truly enjoy life, to remember the little things. We got this from you, and I am so glad we did.

4 Generations of Steelers fans

Buy Yourself Flowers

Disclaimer: I was asked to review the item or service below in exchange for compensation and/or free items. All opinions, however, are 100% my own.

Just over two weeks ago, I was sent the most gorgeous roses from TheBouqs.com, and I am compelled to tell you to stop what you’re doing and buy yourself some flowers right now. Well, after you read this post and check out what The Bouqs have to offer and look at the Hot Lava bouquet I fell in love with.

TheBouqs

Five Reasons to Buy Yourself Flowers (from TheBouqs.com) Now

Or at the least, “Five Reasons I was glad to have flowers in my life the last two weeks”. 

1. Life is Good. Even when I was fighting my first migraine, it really helped to step into the kitchen and see lovely flowers. The “Hot Lava” Bouquet I selected had bright pink and yellow roses that reminded me of brighter days.

2. When’s the last time your partner bought you flowers? Yup, mine is a pretty good guy, but I (sadly for me) can’t think of the last time he brought me a bouquet home. You matter, and so what if you have to buy yourself flowers from time to time. You’re worth it.

3. You never know what you might be celebrating when the flowers arrive. The day I picked out my Bouq, our ‘lil family had something big to celebrate, but by the time they came, even bigger news – our house went under contract. It was the perfect cap on my day to see the text from Greg that a box of fresh, gorgeous roses (from myself) arrived on the doorstep and were waiting for me to get home. Perfect timing.

4. You never know what you might be needing cheered up from while the flowers are gracing your home. In the span of two weeks  that my Bouq lasted to it’s fullest (it’s now a shade of brown and purple, I hate throwing flowers away), we got some difficult news. My best friend’s dad had an emergency quadruple bypass. A family friend (who was at our wedding) passed away. Sometimes, having flowers just might cheer you up when you are struggling.

5. The Fine Print – Free shipping and an offer code. Okay, I couldn’t get away with doing a sponsored post without giving you something in return for reading about my need for pretty in my life lately. The Bouqs offers Free Shipping and there’s even a coupon code to save 15% off through 9/30 (use code TEACHER15). Go for the upgrade with this code – you’ll be glad you did. Double the flowers for less than $10 more (with the code). You’re welcome.


The Bouqs - Premium Farm Direct Flowers

Finding Happiness in Community

Disclaimer: I am part of the blogging team behind The Mom Con – they are sponsoring this post/giveaway, but all opinions remain my own.

Let’s face it. I haven’t been happy lately, and thanks frankly sucked for my ‘lil family. It’s time I find my happiness, and I’m planning on doing that in a community of moms who rock, moms who are inspired and want to grow.

Let’s be fair – there’ve been some really good things in our lives lately, but that doesn’t mean I am totally happy or that we are having problems as a family - not at allBut, I am ready to become an expert on my own happiness as part of this whole Mom Con movement happening here in Pittsburgh.

Luckily, there are many awesome moms behind the force that is The Mom Con (“a conference devoted to the woman “behind the mom” – inspiring her, developing her talents, and helping her achieve her goals by offering a community with the resources she needs”, explains the website for this November 14-15 conference in Pittsburgh, PA). Not only is there a spectacular duo behind the scenes making this event possible, but there are sponsors, bloggers marketing the event, and speakers ready to fill our mom brains cups with the good stuff.

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One of the awesome women who you’ll be able to listen to (and meet) at The Mom Con is Britt Reints. She’s a nationally known speaker, an expert on her own happiness (and helping people become the experts of their own), and the author of An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness, a book about “maps” to find happiness in our busy lives. (You can read more / grab her book / follow her on social media through her website, inpursuitofhappiness.net. Britt was so kind to help me de-mask some of my fears and things holding me back from being happy by talking to me last week, right at the onset of my first ever migraine (and 6 solid days of bitter unhappiness, sadly).

Britt Reints Source: TheMomCon.com

Although I just met Britt, I’ve been stalking following her on Twitter for most of the past two years since she came to Pittsburgh. If you read her book, you’ll learn more about how she stopped living a lush life, packed her family into an RV, and traveled the country, and “injected [her family] back into real life” here in Pittsburgh. Just thirty minutes on the phone with Britt, and I can tell you know that you’ll all be enlightened by her keynote speech at the Mom Con and walk away with a plan to start really finding your own happiness. Why do I know that? Britt shared with me some great tips that got me thinking, and I’d like to share some tidbits with you.

Five Ways I’ll be Finding Happiness in Community (thanks to Britt Reints’ inspiraton!)

1. Falling Deeper in Love with My City. Britt is not a native Pittsburgher. She visited here during her RV adventure during the perfect Pittsburgh time, September/October and got to see our city during what I feel is its finest time. Her family participated in RAD Days, which led to them falling in love with lots of the things I love about this city. Her friend gave her a spreadsheet of Pittsburgh must-dos. Please, I need to find this and share it with all my friends who promise to visit but never made it!

2. Stop Shoulding. You know what that word really sounds like. And you know what? I’ve already stopped doing the things that I should do because it’s what other moms, my friends/family, my c0-workers, other bloggers think I should do. Should I have gone to my daughter’s school’s fall welcome night instead of a night with the mavens of the Mom Con? Nope. Because my happiness is important, too. That, and this is kindergarten and she won’t be in that school for much more than another month (more on that soon). Should I have given more to my job when I was sick? Nope, because one must rest to bloom. It’s a true story. And when I stop shoulding, my community is going to be weeded of the people who only want me for what I can do for them and be full of people who love me for the quiet sweetheart I am. That’s quality, my friends.   I really can’t wait to hear what Britt has to say on shoulding in November!

3. Finding time to do all the things to fit happiness into our lives. Britt just might be talking about this at the Mom Con (but, another reason I heart her, she’s not solid on her topic yet because, well, that’s in November). Any mom, especially working moms, can find it hard to find the balance to “do it all” (and no, I don’t “do it all”). Her insights will help us wittle down those shoulds and spend time in the happy.

4. Recognizing the line between what I have to accept and what I can change. One of the maps in Britt’s book is about acceptance, and this is one she struggles with the most. I get it. Like Britt, I’ve been a “fixer” most of my life, magnetizing to people and things I thought I could fix (did I ever tell you about my ex’s dog, Daisy?). We’re not able to fix everyone around ourselves or ourselves, and that’s something that having a truly supportive community will help with. 

5. Taking Personal Responsibility. Another of Britt’s Happiness Maps, this is her favorite. Have you ever thought about what relationships fill you up and which ones drain you? Well, as Britt told me, “it’s a lot harder to do [live, find happiness] when you are drained” by these relationships. We need to “learn to trust others that they will figure it all out” for themselves, and we do the same for us. That’s why I have started to take personal responsibility for myself and the relationships in my life. Stopping marching down one-way street relationships, and start reaching to more to the two-ways. My community cup already fills fuller, and I’m not even two weeks in.

Okay, so I learned a lot from a few moments with Britt (including that her theme song would be Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”, because it reminds her not to “let anything hold [her] down”). If you want more from Britt, you must join us at the Mom Con, or enter my giveaway for a chance to win tickets to the event. You’ll be happy you listened.

Info on the Mom Con: Tickets start at $59 for the November 14-15 event at Pittsburgh Marriot North. You can buy tickets here and use the promo code momcon5off to get $5 off your registration. Follow on social media via Facebook and Twitter (@themomcon) as well as our hashtags, #themomcon and #momswhorock. In return, you’ll get to listen to motivating speakers, connect with other moms (hello, community!), and be pampered by local businesses (swag!).

Lucky you, I’m giving away two tickets (one each to two lucky winners) for the event. This giveaway runs through Friday, September 12 at 11:59 PM. Good luck!

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BabyPalooza Coming to Pittsburgh

Disclaimer: I was asked to review the item or service below in exchange for compensation and/or free items. All opinions, however, are 100% my own.

My ‘lil ones aren’t so much babies anymore (both of them started school in the past two weeks!), but that doesn’t mean their dad and I won’t be heading out to Babypalooza at the Monroeville Convention Center (South Hall) next Sunday (September 14).

This event, presented by Baby Clickers, is going to be full of resources for parents of kids ages 0-preschool.  It runs from noon to 4 PM. Here’s what I was told about the event:

Bring Your Whole Family to the 2nd Annual Babypalooza!

Whether you’re expecting your first child, or already an experienced parent or caretaker, you don’t want to miss our “Pre-Natal to Pre-School” Showcase! Learn from baby professionals and businesses as they showcase their baby products and family services to Western Pennsylvania parents and parents to be. Enjoy free product samples, exciting contests, numerous prizes, fun activities and informative seminars.

Do you have the cutest baby in the burgh? Enter your child in the Cutest Baby Photo contest! Other contests include the Daddy Obstacle Course and the adorable Diaper Derby! Pamper your daughter at the Cutie Patootie Salon featuring students from the Paul Mitchell Beauty School. Enjoy inflatables, face painting, and mini soccer classes. Princesses will be walking around- meet Snow White, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty and more. Dress your child fashionably for the Crawlway Parade. There will be seminars by Babies R Us and Magee-Womens Hospital and plenty of vendors for shopping! You won’t want to miss this fun filled day!

You can check out the 2013 Show’s highlights video here – you better believe my SAHD is going to have to participate in a stroller / diaper change race if there’s one to be had this year!

Tickets are $12 for one adult or 2 for $20 (and I’ve got a code for 50% off here). Kids ages 10 and under join in the fun for free. For more information, like Baby Clickers on Facebook.

But wait! There’s more! I’m giving away two tickets in a flash giveaway. This one will end on Tuesday, September 9 at 11:59 PM.

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Spartan Race

Disclaimer: I was asked to review the item or service below in exchange for compensation and/or free items. All opinions, however, are 100% my own.

In just about 2 weeks, the obstacle-running enthusiasts of the world will likely have their eyes turned to the 2014 Spartan Race Triple Crown and the World Championship Race in Killington Vermont on September 20th. Or maybe you’re one of the people tuned into NBC’s series on the Spartan Race and dream about wanting to do one of these races yourself.

Good news! Because I’ve got a passion for running and love to participate in not-so-girly events like mud runs and obstacle races, I’ve been asked to share some info with you about the Spartan Race. From their website, you’ll find that:

Spartan Race is on a mission to get you active, healthy, excited about change, and return to our ancient roots where running through woods, getting dirty, and facing adversity was part of everyday life. Our events are all about challenging today’s perception of normal.

Our events challenge the familiar, today’s perception of normal living and getting you out of your comfort zone! At Spartan Race, we do this everyday and it shapes everything we do.

This I  love. I truly believe that every body is capable of pushing their own limits and challenging themselves mentally and physically. I don’t love obstacle races for the medals or beers at the end. I love them for the teamwork, the mental challenge (I cried more in the races I’ve done than I did in childbirth), and the glory of finishing even if it takes hours.

And because Reebok and the Spartan Race embrace a challenge, they have “a level for everyone beginning with the entry level Spartan Sprint, intermediate level Super Spartan, the advanced Spartan Beast, and the ‘99.9% need not apply’ extreme level Death Race”…and a series for kids ages 4-14!

What’s even better? You can participate in any remaining 2014 Spartan Race (open heat) for 15% off the registration fee by using my special code, SPARTANBLOGGER. Or, you can enter to win a free entry right here through September 13. Check out locations near you and enter today!

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Stunt Hunt with Fruit Shoot

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Fruit Shoot. All opinions are 100% my own.

It’s not been the normal summer here in Pittsburgh – lots of cool weather and rainy weekends. That means my kids have been inside, responsible for being imaginative and play less with balls and bikes and more with games and stuffed animals.

This weekend, we took a break and let the kids have some outdoor play inside, removing the breakables and giving them a ball. Okay, we had a campaign to work on – the Fruit Shoot Have a Ball Stunt Hunt — but the kids were quite happy. With a six-pack of Fruit Shoot (a kids’ drink that has a new no-spill cap, perfect for children of all ages, and contains no fructose corn syrup) and a ball, I asked them to come up with something to play.

Quickly, my ‘lil leader, Ari, came up with Kick Bowling – she set up 4 Fruit Shoot bottles as though they were bowling pins and then kicked the ball toward them. It clicked, and the kids spent a good amount of time playing the game. We filmed the fun to enter in the Stunt Hunt (a video competition where you capture and share the exciting imagination of your child by filming a short video of your child’s tricks and stunts with a Fruit Shoot bottle and a ball of your choice), check it out:

Note – our official entry is still uploading. It’s taking longer than I expected, but I’ll update this when it’s done! 

There’s still a day to enter your own video – the entries are due tomorrow, and the judging ends Tuesday. All you need is your kids, a ball, some Fruit Shoot, and imaginations. There are instructions in this video to help get your juices going (and tasting the Fruit Shoot will help, too!).

Entered already? Comment here so we can check out your entry! Winning entries will be featured on the Fruit Shoot Stunt Hunt Have a Ball Winner’s page.

The First Days of Kindergarten

For Arianna, the “First Day of Kindergarten” spans this week as “The First Days of Kindergarten”.

Highlands has their kindergarteners start the first day with a “Get Acquainted Day” where half of the class attends an hour in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Arianna was excited to meet her teacher, see her classroom, and have her Daddy escort her to school. She picked out a full price outfit from The Children’s Place (I only ever shop with coupons, this is a big deal people) and took her annual first day photo.

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Admission time – Greg and I didn’t even know where her school was. Of course, we knew the name, just not the physical location. So, out came the GPS and off they went. (The school is 5 miles from our house in the opposite direction of my work – hopefully she’ll be cool with riding the bus.)

My first loves spent some time in the classroom, getting to know the teacher and the rules, filling out paperwork, and doing all the first day things moms are usually doing. Greg and Arianna don’t really look alike, and it’s rare for a dad to do these things, so I almost wish I’d been a fly on the wall to watch the interactions.

Sooner than I expected, she bounded back through the door and started telling me how happy she was to be in kindergarten, but that “it’s awkward not being six” – little does she know that most of her friends are five and will be for most of the year.

There was homework the first day, but my ‘lil artist breezed through it. She needed to draw a picture of how she felt about going to school – happy – and how her family felt – Dad and Mom overjoyed, ‘lil brother bawling. Evan is really struggling with this having to be a big boy thing – say a ‘lil prayer for Bubby that he’ll adjust easier than he has been this week.

Before bed (we’re now on a much earlier bedtime schedule), she set out clothes (no new ones because Mom just bought fall clothes and summer decided to return, oops) and kissed us goodnight. If I know my ‘lil nerd like I think I do, she dreamt of books and numbers, making friends, and arts and crafts.

Thursday morning, the whole family got up to celebrate her first “real” day – a half day – but the first time riding the bus and seeing all her new friends. Evan supported her by wearing her RAMS shirt and pausing for a photo by the door.

The #lilburghers on Arianna's first bus day

We walked to the bus stop – I was amazed at how many kids there are in our neighborhood and at the number of dads who brought their kids to the stop (go dads!!!). I wasn’t surprised that Arianna quickly went away from us and to a neighbor girl who is also starting kindergarten – taking her hand and being all up in her business about how excited she was to be going to school. The ‘lil girl is shy, I just pray Arianna doesn’t get the reputation for being too much and too friendly!

As her bus pulled up, there were no tears from her, dad, mom, or even ‘lil brother. I’ve known since this ‘lil girl was in my belly that she was a fighter, an independent girl on fire who is going to move mountains. I’m proud of her, and know that school is just the beginning of how she’s going to rock this world pink.

Experience Columbus: Zoombezi Bay

Disclaimer: In June, Experience Columbus sent my family and four other Pittsburgh Mom Blogger families on a weekend getaway to check out their city. We were compensated in the way of attraction passes and gift cards; however, this does not impact the views expressed in my recap posts (including this one). All opinions are my own (or my kids’ / husband’s). This post is from our personal follow – up trip to redeem our passes for the water park.

Back in June, we spent so much time enjoying the Columbus Zoo that we didn’t have enough time to take in the attached waterpark, Zoombezi Bay. Our family decided to make our own trip back to Columbus to check it out today.

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After we paid $8 for parking and another $8 for a locker (we got the regular size and were SHOVING our four towels, flip flops, and tees/shorts in), the rest of our day was spent enjoying the sun and water.

3 things I would have changed about today?
1. We would have brought the kids’ puddle jumpers. Not thinking, we left home without them. Zoombezi has life vests for infants to adults, but the selection was scarce. We actually took the last two toddler ones I saw hanging and it was barely noon.
2. We would have got there earlier. The Zoo opens at 9. We should have walked around in the cooler part of the day and saw the monkeys like Evan wanted. We didn’t, and he was sad. This is because Zoombezi opens at 10:30 and I let us be lazy with breakfast and getting there. Once we arrived at 11:30, it was almost 90 and I got heat exhausted quickly.  Arianna and I both had to break the news to our boys, we had to go head for the highway around 2:30.
3. I would have brought my underwater camera for some pictures…and could have hung the locker wristband on that. Sweet moments with the kids left uncaptured…and we lost our locker wristband twice. Luckily, we found them…but I don’t (want to) know what happens if you don’t find them. If you do not have it on when going to locker attendant, they do ask you to identify some things in your locker…keep something unique up front!

3 things I wouldn’t have changed about today?
1. Spending time with Evan in Baboon Lagoon.  This area, designed for 2-10 year olds, is full of fun splash zones, smaller slides, and a 2 foot deep pool area. Evan loved playing in the water that was just his size and speed. 
2. Circling the Roaring Rapids (lazy river) with the whole family. Shy of the fact that it has few soak zones, it was the best lazy river I’ve been on.  Evan loved the wave area!
3. Letting Greg take Arianna on water slides.  There were less “big kid” slides than I expected, and few accommodated her height, but those two had some good fun. I never would have rode the mat slide, but my ‘lil girl took that thing on all by herself (with daddy in the lane next to her). Evan says when he is five we all will ride it. Huh.

All in all, it was great to take another “tank trip” to Columbus. Our family loves the city and throughly enjoyed everything we did and everyone we met along the way. Thanks once again to experiencecolumbus.com for the memories!

Pausing Time

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Evan isn’t ready to grow up to be a bug boy just quite yet. He thinks if he hides his eyes, he will stop getting taller, that he will be pausing time. 

Bubby, we feel it too.

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