Friday, January 1, 2016

The Ride that was 2015 and Forecasting 2016

I have loved reflecting on the past year ever since I was a kid. It feels like since becoming a mom and starting a business that it has been more difficult to look at my own personal growth and development because in the big picture so much is about the ones we care about. Right, mamas? Well, one of the premises of me starting this blog was to take back my identity as a person and I'm committed to continuing that. My husband will tell you that the person I am today is completely different from the person he married. We all change, hopefully for the better! If we're not growing, we're not living.

At the beginning of 2015 I was working part time as a teacher at a charter school and loved it! That school faced a legal battle and was subsequently closed. However, I think that job that serendipitously found me in 2014 affirmed my conviction that I am meant to teach. While it was frustrating to not begin the new school year with a new job I continued to be deliberate in my intentions to the Universe. There were only about 5 or 6 schools I had researched that would really be a match for what I offer. Through networking and amazing friends who wholeheartedly believe in what I do I have found myself fortunate to be at another amazing school and begin right after winter break! The power of our thoughts is pretty amazing. Innovations Academy was the school I was most drawn to when I first sought out to seek another ASL teaching position. The philosophy that the school is founded on is aligned with what I believe is key to successful learning and growth. Of course none of the other charter schools had this position - it was a matter of putting the possibility out there and creating a position specifically to use my skill and talent. This is proof to me that what I want can manifest itself in 2016 and beyond. Hooray for a new job!

Just as I've been setting the intention of wanting to be back in the classroom the Universe aka my network has been presenting opportunities in the last couple of weeks for my Sign4Baby classes. Funny how that works. I really didn't market my classes over the past year and a half because I was teaching and then summer and being home with the kids and then blogging and then being out of the routine of marketing.... so it was really like starting over to get the word out on my private classes again. Again, this is such a passion for me that I accepted that despite my practically non existent marketing my classes would be found by the right type of new moms.... and I have continued to meet moms who find me organically - which is really amazing. With the conversations I've had over the past month I may be adding as many as 3 new class locations in 2016 which would be a great balance to the new part time teaching position.  I'm so eager to be touching the lives of new moms and their babies in the coming year.

While away at a conference I colored my hair red. It was something I'd been thinking about doing for over a year and had the box sitting in my bathroom but didn't feel compelled to make the change. I learned my hair doesn't hold color as well as I'd like and it fades, quickly. Even a professional coloring I did a couple weeks later faded too quickly. I'm not sure what I'll do about my hair just yet. I'm in limbo on whether I want to dedicate the time to the constant visit to the stylist. And I'm a bit concerned about the harsh chemicals drying out my scalp. It made me wonder what I was after with the color change.... I just wanted something different in part. But, I also wanted to draw attention away from the other outward appearances I've been struggling with. Namely my weight. I remember that when I was think I had zero desire to change my hair color. Totally happy with how I looked. Well, what I have come to realize is I've got to pee or get off the potty. Either be accepting and happy with how I look or do something to change it. Both are fine choices and I'm happy for anyone who has the ability to love the body they're in.... but I haven't been able to. So for me, the choice is to change it. As luck would have it our neighbor was looking to give away their eliptical and we picked it up yesterday! Actions speak louder than words so if you're friends with me on facebook get ready for some posts on my progress towards the healthy me. Your likes and comments will be signs of encouragement. It is not lost on me that this realization comes right before my 20th high school reunion.

Earlier this year I planned on becoming a surrogate. I applied with an agency. The agency and I did not see eye to eye on how the communication was supposed to work and I decided this was a signal that it was not the right time to pursue surrogacy. But I still think this is on the horizon for me. Perhaps right after my high school reunion? Even before I had kids I thought this was something I would do for another couple. There was a fear I had that I wouldn't have an easy time conceiving myself since I had been on birth control for so long. Well, that turned out to be a completely unfounded fear as I have yet to meet someone else as fertile. I have this deep seated feeling that I am to connect with another hopeful mama to help her fulfill that strong desire to nurture and raise a child. Being that the clock is ticking on my age I know that it has to be sooner, not later. I'm also of the mindset that it is probably through someone I know that I will be connected to the right couple.  Just another reason why I'm focused on my health in the coming year.

2015 was the year I gave up coffee. But that was for a little over 6 months. The road trip to the Grand Canyon and the cold weather of late has me sipping warm beverages every other day. I don't have the same craving for it that I once did so that's an improvement. It was twice a day I was filling the sugar/caffeine void. Giving it up didn't affect my waistline so that was discouraging, but now I'm ready to let the sweet holiday indulgence be behind me. I'm still debating if I could tolerate a sugar detox. I keep reading about it. My mom has type 2 diabetes and my aunt recently shared with me that she has it too. That might be the thing that pushes me over the edge! If you've recently given up sugar and have kids, I'd love to know how you did it. I think if I were making meals just for me it would be less of a challenge because I could simply not have any of the processed foods in the house that have the extra sugar. We've been changing our eating habits slowly over the last 5 years - but to get the whole family to do a sugar detox is a bigger challenge than I can face right now. One of the other things holding me back is the cost of a very specific diet. Cost being both time and money. I've already got 2 things in the works for next year to help and will be sharing the success and pitfalls so stay tuned.

A few years ago date nights became a top priority for us and this year we fell way behind! I'm thinking we maybe had 5 or 6 this year. We don't have babies anymore so that number should be much higher! I can see how it affects our relationship when we don't take time to go out and enjoy ourselves as adults. We are not immune to the struggles of any marriage. When you don't make the time to enjoy life together as a unit it makes the daily burdens of life bigger.... totally a fail this year and I own it. We don't even have an excuse to speak of. We haven't been completely broke the whole year. We have at least 3 baby sitters to call on. We even have friends that we could do date night swaps with but we just fail to plan! UGH. Along with health, dating my husband is a top priority in 2016.

In addition to alone time with my husband that was lacking, so was alone time with each of the kids. They are totally at an age where we need to carve out more individual attention. As much as they have going on with sports it just becomes difficult at times. Again, though, a total lack of planning! There's plenty that we can do that doesn't cost a bunch. We'll spend some time brainstorming ideas tomorrow to set the stage for the new year - I'm sure they will love creating their intentions for a year of dates with either mom or dad. Each of our kids has amazing qualities that I love and I struggle with those feelings of guilt like any mother in not creating moments to let those qualities shine through. Despite my intention at the beginning of this post to honor the reclaiming of my personal identity, let's face it, the relationship I have with each of my kids is a big piece of my identity and these years are fleeting.... FAST! More fun in the coming year through GEMs = Genuine Encounter Moments. Something I learned from Redirecting Children's Behavior. I'll be totally honest, part of this is my selfish attempt at self improvement and cut down on yelling at my kids. Secretly I always think I'm screwing up and not being the parent I set out to be. It's way fucking harder than I thought and no matter how many times I try to be forgiving of myself I waiver on the border of does that mean I'm giving myself a pass to not be the kindest most gentle parent I could be? It sucks feeling like this and the problem isn't my kids. It's me. Whew. Writing that kinda hurts. But now it is written in black and white and I can own it. I have said out loud more than once that I was practically the perfect mom up until they hit age 3. No, maybe age 2. Maybe age 1? Never mind, I was never the perfect parent! Surrendering the idea of perfect mom halo that is still hanging over me from a conversation I had in my college days and all my judgement against my own mother will need to be things I reconcile to manifest the thing I truly desire.

Gratitude is a muscle. In our house it is clearly a muscle that needs some work. We almost threw Christmas down the toilet because of some incessant whining about plenty of things, but namely the new/used van we got just before Christmas.  Our 2006 Nissan Quest's transmission wasn't shifting into 3rd gear and it couldn't have come at a worse time, less than 2 weeks before Christmas! Managing how to save Christmas and replace our car (which was economically a better choice than replacing the transmission) was tricky. There was the potential to surrender the big Christmas gift we had intended to do and it would break my heart. Because Cory's parents are awesome we didn't have to forfeit the big gift. The kids didn't know any of this yet. The 2nd day we had the new car there was one of those family moments that you want to erase from your kids' memories. It started with the kids complaining about leg room in the car, about the seat not being comfortable because it reclined back too far.... just nitpicking in general. The boys had been with us at Carmax and seen some of the other car options that were a few thousand dollars more meaning a bigger monthly payment. My husband and I had already agreed to choose something within our means regardless of what we were approved for so it would not be a stretch to make the payment. Just taking on a new car payment is a stretch when we haven't had one for so many years! So the exposure to higher end vehicles with all the bells and whistles was probably a bad idea.  Looking back at the ugly mess that was that night with the threat of becoming a one car family (no idea how we would pull that off BTW) and returning all the Christmas presents - I think will be a mix of both yuck and remorse and even enlightenment. I've still been hearing the kids complain about they don't have. I simply remind them of that ugly night and they instantly recall what was almost lost. It's hard to show kids how fortunate they are when they have friends who have things they want. Heck, I have friends who have kitchens I am envious of and more.... so I get it. We will be looking for ways to get the kids doing things in the community that can help flex that muscle of gratitude and giving. I will be carefully cultivating this intention with them so it comes from their heart and is something they can stick with and be joyful about instead of it turning into a chore. If you've been down this road and have suggestions I am open to hearing them!

Helping moms navigate the new motherhood journey has always been part of my Sign4Baby programs. But in the past few months I've been able to go one step beyond that by becoming a MomCo Ambassador. My friend Jillian had a vision to create an app to help moms connect, share great resources, share their must haves, seek advice and find amazing giveaways PLUS fun events. It is something we will be continuing to grow in 2016 and I'm grateful for being one of the moms that helps put together the play dates and other surprises coming! Every mom needs a few nearby friends she can rely on and getting women out in their community to form those friendships is rewarding. I was lucky to live in a neighborhood where there were lots of new moms and we easily found one another by virtue of living in a condo community and forming a playgroup. When I moved I never quite got the feeling that I belonged to any circle of moms in my community and being that my kids were in school it was a little more difficult for me to connect. Shopping for mom friends shouldn't be so hard. Every year when it's my birthday I think about what I want to do and who I'd invite - but I feel like I haven't invested enough time in my friendships since moving 5 years ago to even know who my core friends would be. It makes me kinda sad.  I don't know exactly how it is that I let the ball drop on prioritizing time with friends but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I'm more of an introvert and most of what I do professionally forces me to be an extrovert.... it just means something had to give. Well, I'm not going to have a pity party. I'm just getting committed to having time to connecting with women in my life. My husband has a weekly lunch date with his friends and I think to myself "why don't I do that?" And I so miss having Mom's Night Out! So, to remedy this I am soliciting my friends to have lunch with me. Or grab a drink. Or walk. Or get our nails done. Communicating with people online is no longer enough. Seeing people in passing at events no longer suffices.

Family experiences. Generally speaking we have felt either strapped for cash or strapped for time when it comes to family trips. After going to visit my husband's grandma in Arizona for Thanksgiving we are realizing we need more of these mini family adventures, getting away, exploring nature, making memories. It won't be easy to pull off but anything worth doing is usually not easy, right? We've already decided another trip to the Grand Canyon is in order, but this time in the spring. I see Big Bear on the horizon. We're going to figure out what other national parks are within driving distance that we can make into 1 to 3 day trips. You gotta start small and go from there, right?

The best laid plans are those that are committed to a calendar. So I'll be spending the better part of this first week calendaring the year I want. 2016 is the year I take the reigns. How about you?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Happy Holidays! Our 2015 Christmas Letter

This was my favorite photo from our Thanksgiving trip to the Grand Canyon. We went to the snow in January but that did not prepare us for the cold that is the Arizona desert! 2015 was the year we took our first road trip. The kids saw their first snow falling.  They learned how to play Chicken Foot. We started a practice of family game night but then slacked off. We'll  have to get back into that in the new year with some novel games, send ideas our way! Our family movie night practice is still going strong as Cory always likes to get the newest release on dvd and pop the best popcorn and force me to close the laptop and enjoy this simple yet delightful family togetherness. Knott's Berry Farm passes were the big Christmas present last year and we made several trips to enjoy quality family time and spend time with friends.

Cory continued to dedicate himself to sports but it is clear that his new favorite teams are whichever ones his kids are playing on as he helped coach Amberly's  softball and took on the role of team manager for Kyle's soccer team and coached Owen in baseball. He is so dedicated that he volunteered to coach Kyle's basketball team this winter! Oh and I almost forgot, he is also on the board for PQ rec softball as Special Events coordinator. He plays softball one night a week, goes to school one night a week and still takes on all those other roles. It's pretty amazing to see how he finds that family / work life balance, always putting the kids and me first.  He is the one always keeping us busy and striving for us to create those family experiences.

Amberly continues to surpass all expectations academically. She is in her 3rd year of chorus and asks to change the radio station in the car to find a song suitable to sing along to. She plays the flute in 5th grade band and is playing so well after working to overcome the beginning challenges, which will be a great life lesson on not giving up and taking challenges as opportunities for growth. This year she has participated in GATE activities after school and has discovered coding. Her love of helping and being a leader is demonstrated by being part of Safety Patrol, a job she takes very seriously. Her love of arts and crafts has only grown, which is proven by the fact that it at times can take over her room. We had her 10th birthday party at Color Me Mine and started a new tradition of having a birthday breakfast with friends. She has an adventurous spirit as she discovered more roller coasters to push her limits at Knott's Berry Farm. This year she has had a few bumps and bruises with a Sever's Disease diagnosis and a sprained left arm, but she is a trooper and strives to rest when needed so she can be an asset to whatever team needs her. Sometimes it's okay to slow down and it has been a lesson in listening to what her body is telling her. We were so thrilled to support Amberly in her campaign for Student Council President. Her ability to follow through on commitment, convey her qualifications and share her vision with her peers had Cory and I beaming from ear to ear.  I love that she thinks of others and can see the bigger picture.

Kyle has found his love for reading! We joke that we can't really be mad at him when he is up late sitting by the hall light to read his book. We are so glad to see him turn a corner with this area. I'm so grateful for the Magic Tree House Series as this seemed to be the thing that flipped a switch. Math however is his jam. We hear him all the time quizzing Owen with math problems. I'm thinking it might be the LEGOS he plays with all the time. He questions things to try to figure them out, not taking anything at face value, a true thinker. Kyle went to his very first Charger game this year! He really wants to play football. This year Kyle decided he wanted to try out for club soccer and he made the team. His skills and circle of friends grew as a result.  It has been a test of commitment and understanding that we don't always play to win but rather to grow and have fun, which it is clear he did. This year Kyle was able to join chorus and it will be the one year he and his sister get to do performances together. He's very into video games, especially Minecraft and Star Wars. He has been making sure that we watch all 6 episodes before we go to see episode 7 on Friday when it opens. Kyle is a loyal friend and watching his friendships develop and stay true from Kindergarten warms my heart. He would prefer to be behind the camera instead of in front of it. He's always wanting to negotiate about taking pictures with one of our phones. Like his dad, Kyle loves to eat out, one of his favorite places is Wings N Things and the other is Souplantation which makes me a happy camper! He does love a good salad and prefer broccoli over several other vegetables, a testament to the idea of repetition and serving up foods in different ways. He's not nearly the picky eater that he once was so I'm happy to see him expand his taste buds often by his own choice. Because Boy Scouts changed their policy I finally said "Okay" when Kyle asked if he could join Cub Scouts. He loves getting to go and do "boy" things. Kyle is forever teaching me about pushing limits and being an independent thinker, I think it is no coincidence that he came along right when he did.

Owen has been loving first grade! He's already reading chapter books and always wants to make sure his homework is done. He cares very much whether he turns in his best work and cheerfully comes home to share what he has learned. He is at that precious stage where he just loves to learn for the sake of learning. This year Owen showed us that he can hit the ball, quite well, no more hitting off the tee for this guy. When Kyle went out for Club Soccer of course Owen wanted to as well. He went from the little field to the big field and managed to do great in this huge leap. He seems to always have energy to spare, both on and off the field. His coach would have him fall back to play defense and push up to play offense to help wherever it was needed. I don't know where he gets this boundless energy from! His smile and infectious laugh have earned him many friends, his circle is always expanding. Like Kyle, this is his first year in Cub Scouts and he's getting to try new things and build more skills. I think so far this school year Owen has won the title for most trips to the Nurse's office. Just proof that he plays hard as most of these trips have come during recess and it's not from being clumsy, it's from a play hard or go home mentality. Owen has adopted a "Go BLUE" mentality too. Any chance he gets to mention Michigan he will drop that line in. He's not afraid of the spotlight and likes to make sure we don't forget our dinner ritual of "Favorite Part of the Day" where he always has more than one thing to share. His tendency to be positive and eagerness to help will continue to serve him.

There's much on the horizon for 2016! The Woolley family is looking forward to more travel, more adventure, learning life lessons, time together and time apart, focusing on gratitude and helping others. Happiness is a Habit and we are sure going to cultivate it!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Great Swapoween Box

A few weeks ago I saw Chaotic Goddess was doing a fun blogger box swap with a Halloween theme and I instantly wanted in! A couple of years ago when we moved into this house my husband and I decided that we needed to slowly add to our collection of Halloween decor to make Halloween more festive. Now we haven't been super great at this but we haven't been slackers either. As a kid I didn't get into Halloween that much, but my kids just love it and I have grown to love it too. I think our kids are supposed to teach us and change us and that they have certainly done.

My Swapoween buddy was Penny and she blogs at Penny's Passion. Getting to expand our blogging horizons by getting to know other bloggers is one of the reasons I like doing these swaps. We emailed back and forth about a couple of blogging matters and then before I knew it the date was upon us to ship off the goodies!

My package arrived probably 10 days before Halloween and we got to incorporate some of the items on our mantel. This was the first time we bothered to do a Halloween mantel by the way. Amberly put it together which was fine by me because there's always plenty of other things for mom to do, like the dishes or helping the boys with homework. She took great care in how everything could fit and be seen and be a little bit spooky but not too much.

Amberly and I were running around to find things to put into our Halloween Boo Baskets when we stopped in at Hallmark and Michael's. We found a few awesome items deeply discounted like the Halloween snow globe and the eerie dark tree that would be perfect finishing touches to our Halloween mantel.

Here are a few other fun things Penny included in our box....

Halloween candy dish
Halloween napkins
Halloween straws
Halloween tissue

We had a lot of fun participating in this Great Swapoween Box Swap!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Two Fresh Ideas for an Honest Pick Me Up

I received product to sample in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own and I only share products and services I feel will be of value to my readers.

Fall is the season for change, and I have definitely been embracing that idea this year. I'm not sure if its the brisk air or the beautiful fall leaves,but there's something about fall that wakes up our senses. And for me that meant I no longer wanted dull and boring. A couple of weeks ago I decided to be bold and dye my hair. I ended up with a mahogany color which was a drastic change from my somewhat dirty golden blonde hair. And let me tell you the response I've been getting from people is makes me think the change was good!

Here's my before and after:


I love the sense of renewal and I definitely don't feel dull and boring now!

For a drastic fall pick me up you might consider dying your hair... but if you're not ready to commit to that, I've got something that is fresh and tasty too. Not too long ago I gave up my daily coffee addiction. It wasn't just the caffeine that had me, it was the sugar rush that held m captive. and I have been trying to find other satisfying drinks that will satisfy the craving for a pick me up in the afternoon. One that is not sugar ridden. I've discovered some of Honest Tea's new fall flavors to be just the thing to fill the gap. 

 Ginger Oasis Herbal Tea

Oops! I was caught chillin' in the hammock while the kids worked on homework.

Cinnamon Sunrise Herbal Tea

Snap! I drank up all the Cinnamon Sunrise Herbal Tea before I snapped a picture - hope Honest Tea is cool with this borrowed image from their Instagram.

Here's what I love about these teas:
  • brewed with real ginger or cinnamon (respectively)
  • have zero calories, 
  • unsweetened and have zero grams of sugar, 
  • caffeine free 
  • fair trade
  • USDA organic so you know it is as clean as it is refreshing. 
The zing from the Ginger Oasis Herbal Tea does more than wake up your taste buds! It's easy to drink and adds a refreshing charge to your afternoon. The Cinnamon Sunrise Herbal Tea may be just the thing you need to wake up first thing in the morning if you're trying to quit coffee. These flavors are spot on with their names and are the perfect thing to celebrate fall.  I know from time to time I'm going to want to grab something besides water but I don't want to drink my calories so this is a perfect find! 

Honest Tea cares about how they brew their tea from start to finish, starting with organic. The next time you want to put a little pep in your step, look for these fun fall flavors in the grocer's cold beverage section. 

Lucky for you I've got a giveaway for 5 readers to try these new Honest Tea fall flavors. Five winners will receive a week's supply of Honest Tea's fall flavors so enter below and get ready to celebrate the season of change! 

Honest Tea Fall Flavors

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What to Eat When Mommy's Out of Town

I received product for review in order to facilitate this post and giveaway. All opinions are my own and I only share products and services I know will be useful for my readers.

A few weeks ago I attended ShiftCon, a health and wellness blogger conference..  While I didn't have too travel far, it was just an hour and a half up the freeway in Los Angeles, I wasn't planning to drive back and forth and needed to think ahead on what my family would be eating for dinner while I was away. Any mom who goes away for a few days has probably had the same thought as I did... "I hope they don't eat out for dinner every night." My husband is pretty good with cooking dinner, but it is definitely a tall order to be charged with caring for the kids all day, taking them to all their soccer games and softball practice and finding the energy to put a balanced meal on the table. I mean, it's hard enough when it's both of us here. Well, lucky for me an opportunity to try out Charlie's Classic Cooking came at the right time!

What is Charlie's Classic Cooking you ask? It's a meal plan delivery service prepared by an honest to goodness chef. But, wait. There's more! Cooking classes (for kids and adults), cooking club, catering, fundraising and much more. When Charlie came to deliver our 4 family sized meals and told us a little more about his services my daughter's ears perked up about the kids cooking classes. She is eager to get in the kitchen, but just needs a little more direction than what I can give her to let her budding culinary aspirations take flight.

A Little More About Charlie:

With over 25 years of experience of teaching and providing healthy nutritious meals, Chef Charlie has made it his mission to teach everyone the importance of healthy living. Throughout his career, Chef Charlie has prided himself on creating meals from all natural ingredients with no preservatives or additives and 100% trans-fat free. Every delicious dish, whether it’s from our economical and healthy meal plan or customized cooking classes, is always fresh, using locally grown produce and the finest sustainable ingredients seasonally available.

Our meals were delivered cold and in 4 easy to store containers. I had to move a few things around in the fridge to get everything to fit but really what mom hasn't dealt with rearranging things? There was a sheet with our meals listed and instruction to prepare them. I was excited about not just the ease of having dinners ready to go in our fridge for when I was gone, but that these meals had no preservatives or additives like you would find in most foods in the freezer section of the grocery store. 

Because I didn't want to miss out on the entire experience I actually served up one of the meals before I left for my conference. We had the Fettuccine Alfredo with carrots, broccoli and red peppers.

Side note: I couldn't find the sheet of paper with the cooking instructions! So I tossed together all of the ingredients - which all of the items are already cooked - popped it in the oven and warmed it up for about 25 minutes. It came out great! When I found the instructions it had something quite different detailed but either way it turned out great!

This was restaurant quality but with that home cooked feel, you know where it doesn't taste weighed down by fat in order to add flavor? My kids ate it up and wished I had not added all of the sauce. The sauce came in a ziploc baggie and I should have followed my own advice "start with a little, you can always add more." The good thing is that for those who LOVE alfredo sauce, you know there is plenty! I loved that this was a dish that had veggies already mixed in, of course for the health benefits but it also just made the dish that much more appealing to eat. How often do you get 3 veggies on your kid's dinner plate? Nice work Charlie! 

I was excited to try the Lime and Cumin Grilled Chicken with tomato Corn Relish and fresh green beans when I returned from my conference. No hassle dinner after a full weekend of hustle and bustle... BONUS! 

It was so nice to have not just the main course but a full meal with side dishes easy to prepare and tasty to eat. We ended up eating this meal outdoors on the patio which was perfect for this end of summer meal. 

The menu changes weekly and everything is made with natural and local ingredients. And you save a ton of time in meal planning and grocery shopping and most of the food preparation has been done for you. This is a great resource for San Diego families to give themselves a break from the rigor of fixing dinner every night or to save time during the busy holiday season. 

Charlie's Classic Cooking wants one of my readers (that's YOU!) to experience what it's like to have the night off from worrying about dinner. Enter below to win a delivered meal for a family of 4 valued at $75. 

Charlies Classic Cooking

The food just needed to be reheated and dinner was served! I so appreciate the opportunity to give Charlie's Classic Cooking a try and will remember them for the future.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Eat Your Greens Or Drink Your Greens!

I was provided product as part of a Moms Meet sampling campaign in order to facilitate a review of the product. All opinions are my own. 

Try as I might to keep a variety of fresh produce in the house, it seems that the greens are either never as plentiful or just not the thing that I reach for to make a meal. That means I have thrown away more than my fair share of green vegetables. Isn't that awful? And I know the importance of eating green leafy vegetables! I used to be really good about throwing a cup or two of organic spinach into our smoothies at home but then my kids got hooked on Jamba Juice and the green smoothies at home no longer appealed to them. Damn those finicky taste buds! Lately I've taken to drinking my greens because it is just easier.

So, when I was asked to participate in the Amazing Grass Green Superfood Sample, Sip, Share campaign I thought "why not?" I was delighted to find my shipment included a handy burlap tote bag (that I can totally use as a Signing Story Time book bag!) and  a nifty to go cup stocked with several samples of their wide array of flavors of powdered green drink mix.

It was hard to decide which one to sample first! There were flavors like Pineapple Lemongrass, Orange Dream and Berry... it makes it kind of hard to pick when they all sound so good. The one I ended up sampling first was Pineapple Lemongrass and it surprised me how smooth and easy it was to drink. Because I had tried Amazing Grass (original flavor) in the past I took a closer look at the packets and saw that it had been newly formulated with a finer powder so it didn't have a gritty feel that I remembered from before. This didn't even leave any residue in my cup when I drank it! Plus, it was super easy to shake, no special blender or blender ball needed to ensure all of it was mixed in. Sweet!

I had a chance to sample 7 different flavors and thought it was super fun to share my opinion with the fun hashtags. For the most part I thought they were #AHHmazng. Except for the original. I'm just not keen on the taste of grass. I'm so glad that there are all these other flavors to choose from so I can drink my greens and get all the benefits of the Superfoods and not feel like spitting it out. In fact YOU can sample their products too! Let me know what you think of them. I know I'll be buying more Amazing Grass in the future to keep my family healthy.

When I was browsing their website, I discovered they have awesome holiday flavors and I will be ordering the Pumpkin Spice next in order to make this recipe. Since I quit coffee back in May I am finding it a little difficult at times to stay strong in part because I miss all the amazing flavors that you can add to your cup of joe. So I love it when I find something like the Pumpkin Spice Latte Smoothie to keep me on the right track and keep working towards a healthy body.

Remember, if you can't eat your greens, you can drink your greens!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

11 Favorite Food & Beverage Items from ShiftCon

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This disclosure is in accordance with FTC guidelines.

If you follow me on instagram, you probably know I attended ShiftCon a few weeks ago because I flooded my instagram with pics from the 3 days I was there learning, connecting and eating! This year we had about 12 bloggers from San Diego make the trip to ShiftCon which was awesome to have more than double the presence we had from last year!

The green and organic movement is in full force and I'm so glad to be apart of it. It was from my baby sign language classes that I became connected to some moms who educated me about organic food and why it is so important (especially for our littlest ones) and I am doing my part to pay it forward and share it here on my blog and in my programs.

In case you don't know what ShiftCon is, here's a short video that sums it up pretty well....

This year I saw many of my favorite brands that I've known and used for years and sampled some new to me items that will become staples in our home for sure.

1. Annie's Homegrown

Before the conference I reached out to Annie's to share the discovery that I had made that there were many products of theirs on the store shelf that no longer had the USDA organic label. Not only did Annie's promptly reply right away, they shared that they have always had some products that are organic and some products that are made with some organic ingredients. This allows them to provide various price points for all consumers and still create a better product. My kids are fans of their bunny crackers and mac & cheese. My personal favorite item (but it's hard to choose) is probably their Organic Peace Pasta & Parmesan macaroni & cheese and it's available at Thrive Market.

Look at all the varieties of mac & cheese I came home with!

2. Stonyfield 

When I was a new mom a friend of mine recommended to buy only the Yo Baby yogurt products for Amberly. So I did. I fell in love with this brand. They've been so kind in supporting some of the events I put on for moms and babies too. But I love them even more after meeting them in person. They are a super creative yogurt brand that is on a mission to educate about organic foods. My kids request this brand specifically when I go to the store.

3. Love Child Organics

I talked with Leah, the co-founder of this child centered brand at great length while at the Expo and I'm glad I did because I learned something valuable. Not all organic food is 100% organic. To meet the USDA organic seal guidelines a product has to be 95% organic. Well, Love Child is 100% organic and they are unwavering in their values. I was sent home with some sample pouches which are designed for kids primarily between 6 months and 6 years old and got the 2 thumbs up at home.

Love Child Organics has me falling in love with their no synthetic ingredients promise.

4. Bitsy's Brainfood

A brand that wants to make eating healthy fun for kids? Absolutely! And they're not trying to trick kids into it either. The goal is to educate kids about eating healthy. And from my experience, this approach really works. Amberly spouts off stuff all the time and it's things I've taught her over the past few years that we've been on this green health journey. So I have proof it is sinking in! I loved the activity ideas that they showcased in their suite at ShiftCon and even won a Target giftcard when I completed my passport and spun the prize wheel. I will be borrowing some ideas from their hospitality suite when I help organize classroom parties for my son's 1st grade class.

Bitsy's Brainfood makes learning to eat healthy fun! Eat, Play. Learn.

5. Leaf & Love Organics

A lemonade box with zero sugar and only 5 calories, sweetened with organic stevia. I know parents are torn between giving their kids juice because of the sugar content and I was pleased to find that a couple of moms paired up and created something to conquer that problem. I sampled their delicious lemonade twice, cuz I have a thing for lemonade and so do my kids! My understanding is they plan to expand to more than lemonade and I look forward to seeing what they have on the horizon.

Follow Leaf and Love to support the work of these awesome moms!

6. Nature's Path Organic

Last year I fell in love with their Love Crunch and started buying their Envirokids Crispy Rice Bars for the kids as special snacks when we're on the road. My kids love them and ask for them whenever they see them on the store shelves. My favorite item currently is their Pumpkin Flax Granola. It's especially good to top off a healthy parfait snack. I just saw that they have  Pumpkin 'n Spice Granola Bars which I can't believe I haven't tried yet! Don't worry, I'll fix that straight away with my next Thrive Market order!

Nature's Path Organic is perfect for on the go healthy snacking.

7. Made in Nature

One of our snack breaks was sponsored by Made in Nature and I discovered a new favorite snack... Figgy Pops! I'm really head over heals for these things and think I made it a point to go by and sample them 5 or 6 times. The Figgy Pops are their latest development but their other popular products are the varied flavors of toasted coconut chips. I have yet to try all the flavors to pick a favorite but I'll have to remedy that really soon!

When you try the Made in Nature Figgy Pops, tell me you don't feel the same way.

8. Chosen Foods

Last year they sent these delightful surprise boxes to our homes post conference and I immediately fell in love with their avocado oil. This year they had a booth and I got to meet the people behind the twitter account!  They've just come out with a delicious new avocado oil mayo and I'm hooked. When I get their newsletter email it reminds me to check out their vast archive of healthy recipes. I'm just starting to experiment with Quinoa so this one is on my breakfast bucket list. I'm really hoping their product line will be available via Thrive Market soon since that's where I will be buying a lot of my pantry items now.

If you have yet to try Chosen Foods, it is a MUST!

9.  Nutiva

They did it again with their amazing popcorn snack.... lured me over to their table. We are already big fans of their coconut oil and all the amazing health benefits that accompany it. Since their coconut oil is not found on the shelves of my local Costco anymore I am glad I can find it via Thrive Market and still get a great price! We used their organic shelled hempseed in our smoothies all the time. One of my favorite smoothies of all time has a secret ingredient - coconut oil! Nutiva is another brand that has amazing recipes highlighted on their website for inspiration, I get so hungry just looking at it.

Nutiva has a Real Food Manifesto to help us all lead healthier lives.

10. Dave's Killer Bread

At the conference check in table we got to select a loaf of bread.... which seemed a little bit odd to me, I'll be honest. But, I went with it. I grabbed the variety that looked familiar from Costco and didn't have a chance to try it until I got home. We were out of cereal one morning and I crossed my fingers that Dave's Killer Bread in the toaster would disguise the "healthy" taste my kids have complained about with other breads. Well, the kids were eating their toast before I was and told me it was the best bread ever and that we have to buy it again. It turns out that they are not just about making killer bread. They're about giving people second chances. That's a whole lot of goodness to take in and I think we'll be "lifers" to support their cause and because it's just that good.

Organic and made with a cause - Dave's Killer Bread totally rocks!

11. Fork in the Road

Another one of our snacks was provided by Fork in the Road. I got to sample 3 different types of sausage and boy were they good! So of course I went back for more. Their products have no antibiotics or added hormones which is really important to me when feeding my kids. They have this cool tool on their website that allows you to trace your food back to the community of farmers who raised it. Talk about transparency and accountability in our food system! I'm looking forward to trying their breakfast sausage next.

Fork in the Road practices sustainable farming and supports family farms.

Here are a few of my key take aways from this year's conference:

We all have a voice and we can share little nuggets of information with our neighbor, with our facebook community, with our co-workers and our blogging friends and make a difference in cleaning up the food system. But perhaps our biggest voice comes directly from the purchases we make each and every day. Every time we put down the big brand and instead select the NON-GMO and organic products we are promoting health by shifting profits in the right direction. I still have a long way to go, but celebrate each of the changes our family has made so far. I may not be the greenest, but at this conference it doesn't matter, all shades of green are welcome and embraced.

I am excited to continue on our green journey or what I might be calling our SHIFT journey as it is really about making one small change or shift at a time.