the one about dreaming smaller

I had the rare and special opportunity to be one of my oldest daughter's preschool teachers this year. A few weeks ago, as we were preparing Mother's Day gifts in class, I asked each child about a favorite activity he or she likes to do with his or her mom. The kids were drawing and coloring their renditions of each memory on the packaging for the handmade gifts we created.

While coloring away, my daughter told her friend, "I love it when my mom picks flowers with me." She said it so matter-of-factly, like she didn't have to think about it. She didn't lift her eyes from her paper as she swirled her crayon intentionally. Stick figures with huge smiles. Bright flowers. Hearts.

My heart swelled for a little bit until I realized that I don't think I have ever picked flowers with my daughter. Sure, I have watched her pick a dandelion or two out of our yard while I waited impatiently with our van door open, ready to head out to the next errand or play date.

Several times, I have explained to her through gritted teeth that the neighbors' flowers are not ours for the taking.

I have begrudgingly paid for a bouqet or two of flowers at the grocery store because she simply had to have them, displaying them in a vase on the counter for an additional two weeks after they all died-- half because she couldn't bear to throw them out and half because I couldn't remember to do it.

But have I ever really picked flowers with her? Like get a basket and hold hands and skip through a field of daisies while we sing Mary Poppins songs and pull the prettiest blooms?

No. I haven't.

So my heart went from swelling with love and warm fuzzies to feeling dark and withered and cold. My poor girl was making up memories of things we've "done together," rather than drawing pictures of what we actually spend our time doing.

Now, don't misunderstand-- I spend plenty of time with my girls. We do lots of fun activities. We go to the farmer's market. We have treats at Starbucks. We visit the zoo and the children's museum. They go with me to stores and we go on walks. We go to parks and the library. I watch them squeal in the baby pool and beg for harder pushes on the swing set. We do things. Fun things.

But so often I get wrapped up in the going and doing that I forget about the simplest joys. Here I am, checking my Disney Rewards points every month, looking forward to the next time we can take them to the Happiest Place on Earth. Meanwhile, my daughter is fantasizing about picking flowers with me.

She didn't draw us walking through Disney World on that package. She didn't draw the time we ate Dippin' Dots at the zoo. She didn't draw the cake pops from Starbucks. She didn't draw anything that cost any money or required any amount of planning or Pinning or traveling to do.

I am sharing this with you now because Summer Break has started. Kids are out of school, and if you're anything like me, you've been scouring Pinterest and Facebook and blogs in search of The Best Things To Do With Your Kids This Summer and The Top 10 Places To Visit With Kids and How To Beat Summer Boredom. You might be disappointed that you don't have a big vacation planned or that Disney isn't in the budget this year. You might be thinking that you're dropping the ball if you don't have entertainment on the schedule each day or if your child isn't going to a camp every other week or if you aren't making your own popsicles from scratch.

Kids just don't really need all of that to be happy. I don't think I ever really believed that before the "flower memory" incident with my daughter, but now I know it's true.

We love to dream big, don't we? We love to make elaborate plans and purchase expensive gifts, imagining the looks of pure bliss on the faces of our children. We say to ourselves, "She is going to FLIP when she sees this!" or "She will go NUTS when we tell her where we're going!" Bringing joy to our children is one of the best parts of parenting.

But we shouldn't be afraid to dream smaller. To find the magic in the little moments.

All the small adds up to something really big.

This Summer, there will be zoo trips and a beach vacation and a cake pop (or 2 or 12). But there will be  books on the couch. And listening to birds. And watching the clouds. And napping in the sun. And counting freckles.

And picking flowers.

the one about rubbing oil on my face

I'm bringing you something different today.

I've never wanted to provide "tips and tricks" for anything because

1. I am not an expert at all. On anything.
2. I am not a professional at all. At anything.
3. I am sure none of you care what I think. About anything.

HOWever, this is my space to write about what I feel like writing about, and today, I want to write about my skin.

I have always struggled with problematic skin. I have frequent breakouts, even at almost 31 years old. The tone is very uneven-- ruddy in some spots, pale in others. The texture is unpredictable, too…soft, then rough, then oily, then dry and flaky. It's a mess.

Having three babies in 5 years will make your body go nuts, and all those hormones have really screwed up my skin.

I have tried a lot of different products…from the very expensive regimes to the stuff you can find at the grocery store. I have never felt like anything touched my weird skin problems.

As I was applying a full face of makeup a couple weeks ago (primer, concealer, foundation, powder, bronzer), I was feeling really frustrated that I felt the need to coat my face in all of these products just to cover up all my skin problems. It is nearly summer, and I want to be able to just go out without makeup and not worry about caking my face with creams and powders, only to sweat it all off and look and feel disgusting by the end of the day.

So, I decided that since none of the products I have been using were working for me, I should go about it another way. I started researching natural skin cleansers and became really interested in an article I read about using coconut oil as a face cleanser and apple cider vinegar as a skin toner/astringent.

Click here for the article I found at Overthrow Martha.

I am pretty obsessed with vinegar. I love to clean with it, rinse my hair with it (try it…it's amazing), and I LUH me some salt and vinegar chips. Wowee. I was pretty excited to try another use for it on my face.

The coconut oil was what threw me for a loop. For reals? You want me to slather OIL on top of my skin and hope (AND PRAY) that my skin doesn't just erupt into one, solid, grease-filled zit? It took me two days after reading the article to muster the courage to try it.

I purchased organic, unrefined coconut oil at Target (in the cooking aisle) for about $7.00 for a large jar. I also purchased raw apple cider vinegar. The article I read stressed the importance of getting the raw vinegar (it has some sediment at the bottom and has a murky appearance) and the unrefined coconut oil. The apple cider vinegar was $4.00 for a bottle that will probably last forever.

P.S., I later went to Aldi and found organic, unrefined coconut oil for $5.00 a jar. 

So what compelled me to rub sweet-smelling, greasy oil all over my face and let it sit there for a minute before wiping it off with a warm wash cloth? Well, the article states that the coconut oil has a number of properties that help with clearing the skin.

1. Antibacterial and antifungal properties (which zits are caused mostly by bacteria)
2. Antioxidants for fine line & wrinkle reduction (not saying I have any, but…)
3. Moisturizing
4. The oil tricks the skin into thinking that it has enough oil already, so it slows the body's oil production.

I followed up with a swipe of raw apple cider vinegar all over my skin with a cotton ball. This helped to clean up any extra coconut oil that the wash cloth didn't remove, and it made my skin feel clean and fresh. My skin does turn just slightly red immediately following the vinegar, but it is only temporary and quickly fades.

I only do this routine once per day, typically at the end of the day when I am getting ready for bed. I also found that the coconut oil is excellent for taking off waterproof eye makeup. Just be careful about rubbing the oil in your eye-- gives you that awesome vaseline-on-the-eyeball effect.

I noticed a change in the way my skin felt within the first day. It was soft, smooth, and moisturized, but it wasn't greasy or shiny.

By the second day, the large blemishes I had started to develop around my hairline were drying up and barely visible.

By the end of the first week, my skin has truly started to look different. The texture and tone are more even, my blemishes are clearing up, and I believe my pores look smaller.

I truly could not be more happy with the results. I have never felt this way about any other kind of skincare I have used.

I have also added an oral probiotic to my daily routine. I purchased hyperbiotics Pro-15 from Amazon because they were the highest rated and best quality. I had never taken probiotics before, but I figured it couldn't hurt. I had been reading all kinds of great information about the benefits of probiotics, and one of those benefits is clearing up your skin! Probiotics keep good bacteria in your system, and the good bacteria helps to counteract the bad bacteria. Too much bad bacteria can cause inflammation in your skin.

Quick Recap

1. Scoop out about a quarter size amount of coconut oil with a spoon and put it in your hand.
2. Rub hands gently together to warm it up.
3. Apply to your face (face does not have to be clean first) -- rub all over!
4. Use caution around the eye area, but it can be a great mascara remover.
5. Feel disgusting because you have oil all over your face.
6. Let sit for about 30-60 seconds.
7. Wet a washcloth with warm water.
8. Place washcloth on top of face and let sit for a few seconds-- allowing heat to open pores.
9. Use washcloth to remove oil.
10. Rinse washcloth and repeat steps 8-9 if necessary until all oil is removed.
11. Follow up with a swipe raw apple cider vinegar all over the face.
12. Take a probiotic for added benefit!

If you're like me and struggling with post-pregnancy, hormonal skin nightmares, you might consider giving the natural route a try. I would recommend that you test a small part of your skin first with the oil and the vinegar before applying to your whole face so that you can keep an eye on any kind of adverse reaction. If you find that this combo doesn't work for you, there is a whole slew (scientific word) of blogs dedicated to cleansing with other types of oils.

And in case any of you try to sue me if this doesn't work for you --

1. I have no money.
2. I told you to test a small part of your skin first.
3. I have no money.

Good luck!

the one about my disappointing stitch fix

Well, it was bound to happen.

After keeping all 5 of my items in my last Stitch Fix, it was only a matter of time before I had a disappointing "fix."

I have had four Stitch Fix deliveries. I only kept one item from my first shipment, then kept three items from my second, and all five from my third. I ended up keeping two items from my fourth and most recent fix, but the three rejected items were so bad that it has almost made me give up Stitch Fix altogether.


So what was so bad? Well…everything from the pricing to the styling to the fits…most everything just seemed a bit off.

I was really excited for this shipment because I had another $75 in referral credit (thank you to all who have used my link to sign up!) and a gift certificate I had received from my husband for Mother's Day (did ya'll see that cute post he wrote about me?). I was hoping to receive another "keeping it all" fix and end up not having to pay a cent out of my own pocket!

I had asked my stylist to pick some pieces that would be bright, floral, fun, and perfect for Summer. I am going on vacation to South Carolina in June, so something to add to my suitcase for that trip would be lovely. I follow Stitch Fix on Pinterest and Instagram, and I have seen some great trends popping up, so I made sure to fill my own Pinterest style board with colors and patterns and styles I had my eye on. I was hoping my stylist would check out my board while picking items for me.

I will admit that I was a little bummed from the get-go because the box my fix came in was very small. I  immediately assumed there wouldn't be room for a great dress or pair of pants simply because it didn't look like they could fit inside the small box. I was worried they included jewelry, which I specifically asked them not to because I simply have no use for costume jewelry at this stage in my life.

When I opened the box, I was thrilled to see that a new pair of jeans were folded inside. My hopes were lifted as I unwrapped the package and began to pull out the items. I was liking the colors-- pinks, yellows, teals, florals.

Fist pump!

The note my stylist wrote referenced my Pinterest board and some of the items I had been pinning, so I was excited she at least visited my board once or twice.

I went for the jeans first. They are Just Black Nickola Distressed Ankle Skinny Jeans. I have been obsessed with my Just Black jeans I received two fixes ago.  They are literally the only jeans I wear now, and I have absolutely loved them. They were worth every penny in my opinion. So, I was happy to receive another pair in a different style. My very first fix sent me heavily distressed jeans that were far too young looking for me, so I was concerned that these distressed skinnies would be a no-go. However, they have very minimal distressing and just have kind of a "lived-in" look. No weird fading across the butt or anything like that. Just Black jeans are SOOOO comfortable. I just couldn't turn them down.

The next item I tried on was the Fun2Fun Charles Embroidered Trim Blouse. I really liked the pink color as well as the detailing on the bottom. It fit pretty well, and I thought it would be an easy top to dress up or dress down. I don't own anything like this, and the price was very fair -- $38. I decided to keep it.

Next was the Laila Jayde Patricia Racerback Knit Tank. I loved the color and relaxed nature of this tank top, but it was truly just a cotton tank top. Nothing special about it. I didn't lose 25 pounds when I put it on. It wasn't made of gold or ostrich feathers. That's why I was perplexed when I saw it was priced at $54 dollars. Seriously? Was that typo? Because I saw this exact thing at Old Navy for $14.50. I wasn't pleased about this. The price was borderline offensive. Into the return bag it went.

I was surprised that a dress was included in this fix (given the small box everything came in)-- the Pixley Ohara Faux Wrap Tie-Waist Dress. The color was pretty enough, and the fabric was a stretchy jersey knit. I wasn't crazy about the pattern on the fabric, and I absolutely hated the style. I do not look good in wrap dresses. At all. I have no natural waist (even when I'm thinner), and these always   look so terrible on me. I think the stylist picked it because of the deep V-neck and the ease of breastfeeding, but still. Blech. 

I tried the dress on anyway, because I believe in the idea that the stylist might have better taste than I do, but I was not surprised to see that the dress was hideous on me. 

As I was looking at myself in the mirror, I noticed that there was supposed to be a tie to string through the loops on the side, but yet there was no tie included with the dress. I looked in the box, on the floor, in the tissue paper, inside the other clothing items, but no tie was to be found. I was irritated by this because what if I would have loved that dress? I still wouldn't have purchased it because it looks silly without the tie in the loops. Clearly, this was a mistake on Stitch Fix's part, but it only added to my disappointment and annoyance with this fix. 

Lastly, I tried on the Skies are Blue Page Flutter Sleeve Blouse. Initially, I was kind of excited about this top. I liked the colors in the floral print, and I really enjoy the airy, flowy fabrics these days. However. HOWever. This top was so bad. Just, so bad.

It had ZERO shape. ZERO ability to flatter anything I was working with. And the pattern, the more I looked at it, reminded me of a really, really terrible, old bed sheet. You know, the kind that still smells like whatever 1932 smelled like. I couldn't get it off of me fast enough.

So, two keepers, and three that I will probably have nightmares about later. I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed and very frustrated with this fix. I gave everything very critical and specific feedback, and I can only hope my next one is a dramatic turn around. I am scheduled to receive another one just prior to my birthday in July.

I had to do some thinking about whether or not I wanted to continue this experience. Now that I have experienced what others have in a disappointing shipment, do I wish to continue? Or should I just go back to buying my own clothing items in an actual store?

Well, I decided to schedule another shipment for a few reasons. 

1) I truly enjoy the anticipation of my next fix. I have always loved that part of Christmas-- even better than actually receiving a gift is just the anticipation of it. 

2) I absolutely do not have the time nor the motivation to shop for clothes for myself. These items are higher quality items. It would be like going to a department store in a mall or a boutique versus going to Target or Wal-Mart. I don't even know the last time I went to a mall, and I certainly don't know the last time I went when I had the freedom to shop for myself. 

3) Some argue that Stitch Fix is too expensive. I agree that the $54 cotton tank top was absolutely ridiculous. However, most of the items I feel are fairly priced, albeit more expensive than the clothes at Target. What I have found is that when I am awaiting a shipment from Stitch Fix, I do not even really browse the clothes anywhere else because I know I have some coming. So instead of spending $20 here or $25 there on a random shirt that won't even look the same after I wash it, I am holding out for a higher priced, higher quality item. 

4) I am receiving advice from a person who probably knows more about looking stylish than I do. Even though she didn't hit a home run this time, I still came away learning more about what I like and don't like when it comes to what I wear. 

5) The items I have purchased have been my favorite items to wear. I am constantly reaching for these pieces, which must mean that I am feeling good about wearing them. And isn't that what we are all searching for? Clothing that makes us feel good when we wear it?

While I was bummed about this fix, I am hoping that my feedback will steer us back in the right direction. 

Til then, I am going to start making yellow cotton tank tops and selling them for $54 because CLEARLY I am in the wrong business.

If you'd like to give Stitch Fix a try, click my referral link and get started! I get $25 credit for each person who schedules a fix using this link

The one about THE mama

Good morning, blogosphere.  I've got a confession to make, so I'll just come right out and say it.

I am a hijacker.

No, no.  Not like what you're thinking.  I don't fly planes or drive buses.  And I'm not a religious radical.  And I love our country.  Go USA.  Go team.  Stay awesome.  Ok….you get the point.

This is Luke, Ashley's husband.  That guy -- the one she writes about sometimes on this blog.  And while I'm good at a few things, hijacking (cyberspace) and writing aren't two of them.  So bear with me here.

Now that I've gotten your attention…. the whole reason for this brief cyber-hijack.

This lady right here.

THE mama.

When our first daughter, Noelle, was born a little over 5 years ago, our lives changed instantly.  You've read the posts, I'm sure.   She writes it about it much better than I can -- the heartache of miscarriage with our first pregnancy and the overwhelming emotional high of bringing new life into this world.  We had some major swings in neurotransmitter levels, lemme tell ya.

I remember feeling so proud of Ashley, the new mama.  The pregnancy, the labor, everything.  She was awesome.  Just….Awesome.

And now -- FIVE years later.  Lord have mercy!  Where did the time go????  It's like when we were kids and VHS was still around -- remember, the fast forward button?  Everything's a blur and flying by the screen at 9000 mph.

So here she is now -- wife, mother, friend, educator, business woman, photographer, multi-tasker extraordinaire.  She's doing it all -- while I sit back and watch in awe.  She's the gorilla glue that keeps our family together.  I've told her this before and it couldn't be more true -- if it weren't for her, we'd be a family of unkempt bohemians rummaging around aimlessly.

So to you, Mama, on this special day -- thanks for everything you do.  For waking me up when I don't hear my pager.  Heck, for probably answering pages on your own (I'm sure you could hold your own by now -- "You're not in labor, sweetie….sometimes the bladder gets a leeeetle full in the last stages of pregnancy.").  For keeping our girls in line.  Feeding them, dressing them, bathing them, doing crafts with them, reading to them, swinging with them -- just being awesome with them.  We celebrate YOU on this day, today.  Don't change the poopy diapers.  Don't cook.  Don't clean.  Just sit back….relax, and enjoy your special day.  Seriously.  You've earned it.

Love, Pop