Friday, April 24, 2015

I Won a Cruise (Again!) and It's in 30 Days!

Have you ever said, "I need a vacation!" when returning from vacation? That's exactly how I've been feeling this week. Our trip was unreal but now I'm paying for it catching up on everything and feeling exhausted in the process. It was totally worth it because while on our 7 night cruise I won another 7 night cruise!

If you've been following my blog for a while you know our very first cruise in 2013 was also one that I won courtesy of Scotch (you can see all the details here). Since that cruise Mr. Lovebird has jokingly said off and on, "How about you win another cruise?" 

My current ticker on my Galaxy S6 Edge
Well that's exactly what happened this past Friday night! There were nightly cruise trip drawings on our ship, but you had to be present to win. I'd watch each night as the prize winner would come claim it imagining how cool (yet unlikely!) it'd be that I'd win one too. Finally towards the end our cruise I was losing hope but when they kept drawing names Friday and no one came forward I began to think I just might have a chance. 

I turned to the woman next to me and pointed to myself and said, "Pick me pick me!" when they asked, "Who wants to win?"

Well after 3 or 4 names being drawn I heard, "Congrats Quiana Agbai!" I looked at Uka and smiled so big and ran to claim my prize (they were drawing names pretty rapidly, and I didn't want to delay). 

I spoke to the associate and got more details - I'm always skeptical on things like this, and it turned out there was a hitch: I could only go May 17 or May 24...THIS YEAR!

Ughhhh. So soon given the fact that we're just fresh off our cruise, but there was no way around it. 

Mr. Lovebird absolutely could not go. The cruise is on the Carnival Dream out of New Orleans and with a trip already booked May 17 and Nia's last day of school the following week - and adorable step-up ceremony - one of us has to be there. 

So . . . 

I decided I'd ask my mom to be my guest. A bonus is that I have to connect through Dallas anyway where she and my dad recently relocated to so I can literally connect with her and keep going!* I had to officially call the booking number with my prize code and when I did upon docking Sunday I was informed the cruise ship was sold out, specifically the cabin class that was my prize. 

WHAT?! I'm Miss Squeaky Wheel so I pressed on and tried a few different avenues to get a room. I thought it was a reasonable request to be upgraded but they pressed me to pay for the upgrade which would've been $800 total for me and my mom. No way! This was a prize not a bait and switch, I hoped. 

They advised me to email customer service and keep calling for a room. Well lo and behold after multiple calls a room suddenly opened and my mom and I are all set. 

Here are our ports:

Embarking out of New Orleans I wish we had more time to explore but with Uka's work schedule there is no way I can add more days. 

From there it's on to Montego Bay, Jamaica (I spent a month in Jamaica during Wintersession at Wellesley, but never visited Montego Bay so I'm super excited about this port) 

Next, it's Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands; I've never been but just seeing this is making me giddy: 

Image credit
Lastly we'll be in Cozumel, Mexico a port I visited during mine and Uka's first cruise, but it was cold and stormy (plus we had the moped debacle), so I'm hoping for better weather this time.

Now about the Carnival Dream . . .

Image Credit
Built in 2009, it's 7 years younger than the Carnival Pride, the ship we were just on, and it's jam packed with amenities. Also, it's HUGE - the largest of Carnival's ships until the Vista is completed next spring. It holds 3,646 passengers compared to the Pride's 2,124. I was a bit nervous about this especially as the cruise is nearly full, but reviews say it's spacious enough that it doesn't feel crowded. We'll see...

Ultimately, I'm so excited to have an extra-special mother/daughter trip with my mom and to escape the cold again. Take a look at this morning's temperature comparison: 

Yes, this is from today, April 25, 2015 and YES, this completely justifies taking 2 cruises close together!
It'll be fun to have girls' time in the 2-level spa, the 21+ Serenity Adult Only Retreat  (unfortunately, I didn't get to go on the Pride, but I saw it from afar) and to eat my meals without being interrupted by little peoples' requests. Now, since Grayson still nurses I will be pumping on the trip, but I did on the recent cruise too and it was a cinch!

I still can't believe this is actually happening...in 30 days! It's crazy, but I'll take it. Now the tricky part is to continue to go hard on my fitness. Thankfully, I only gained 3 lbs during the cruise which given how much I ate wasn't bad. I took the stairs a lot, ate lean meals (sometimes), nursed Grayson and got in two hard cardio sessions during the week. I'm hoping I can walk off the cruise the same weight I got on. We'll see . . . 

Anyway, thank you Carnival for giving this mama a much needed vacation after a vacation!

Have you ever cruised? If you haven't, where would you want to go?
 


*P.S. My initial response upon winning and finding out Uka couldn't join me was to gift it to my parents, but the cruise is non-transferable.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Extra Gentle Eczema Relief with Weleda White Mallow

Disclosure: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Weleda. I received product samples to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation. All opinions and reviews are my own.

We're a family of sensitive skin and Grayson has suffered from eczema since birth (remember his super peely skin?). For those of you who have followed my monthly updates, you've either seen it directly in his pictures or when I ask about remedies. We've tried so many topical products and right before we left on our cruise I reached out to Grayson's pediatrician for an allergy referral as I was beginning to suspect my breastfeeding diet could be causing his flare-ups.


Thankfully we received a few answers yesterday, but this past month we've also found relief with Weleda's White Mallow line. I was first introduced to Weleda 3 years ago using the product line on myself and Nia, and I was so impressed by the brand's heritage reaching back to its inception in 1921, as well as its commitment to safe, plant-based products for all ages. While I've used other Weleda products, the White Mallow line especially formulated for sensitive skin and awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance made me confident in using it on Grayson. 

My baby has sensitive skin
We received three products from the White Mallow line to review: Body Lotion, Face Cream and Diaper Rash Cream. I have to be honest: thoughts of marshmallows popped into my head when I learned the name of the product line and ultimately, it was worth it because after continual usage that's how Grayson's skin started to feel! Made with extract of white mallow, it's soothed and calmed Grayson's flare-ups and I appreciate the light scent and how easily it smoothed onto his skin, but wasn't too watery. It also contains coconut oil. While Grayson used to have heavy eczema on his cheeks and neck, he's since outgrown it so I didn't have to use much of the face cream. His diaper area however is typically super patchy, as are chest and arms. I've used certain products in the past that irritated his skin despite being touted for use on sensitive skin, but seeing how he jumps when irritating products touch his skin let me know it's his reaction that I should trust best. With the White Mallow line Grayson had a pleasant response and after continual usage his skin has shown improvement. 

You can even see it in his month to month photos:

A few extra ounces doesn't hurt either!
While we still have to sort out his diet restrictions around his 1 year old birthday (for now I can continue eating as I normally do while I nurse), I'm relieved that we didn't have to resort to harsh topical steroid creams which are often the case with eczema. A baby with calm skin is a happy baby!

To find Weleda near you and learn more be sure to visit their website and be sure to ulitlize their 20% off code WELEDABABY when shopping online (expires June 15, 2015) and can also be found at Whole Foods Market, buybuyBaby.com and select natural health food stores.
 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lovebirds' First Family Cruise: Look Who Joined Us!

Re-entry from vacation is always hard especially when leaving 80 degree weather and returning home to this. Thankfully we had a buffer day in Baltimore yesterday coupled with a late afternoon flight so it wasn't too bad getting back. The kids went to bed only an hour past bedtime so I count that a win!  As I'm tying up loose ends and work on recapping our trip, here's a quick sneak peak of a few brands which joined us on our cruise:


Coolibar - They kept me sun safe last year in Puerto Rico and this year the kids were sun safe in an adorable Coolibar rash guard for Grayson and hoodie skirt dress for Nia!  


eShakti - Known for their dresses, eShakti also carries a variety of skirts, pants and suits. They are unique in that they can be tailored to your specific measurements in a jiffy


Nomad Clip - Its kickstarter campaign has successfully bought this charging carbiner to fruition. It connects right from your phone to a power source such as a laptop keeping you from being hunched up by an outlet or in my case, came through in a pinch when my Jackery USB cord stopped working

A huge thank you to eShakti, Coolibar and Nomad Clip for helping out during our vacation and look forward to sharing more details about each coming up!
 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Lovebird's First Family Cruise/Disney World Edition

Friday, April 10, 2015

Lovebirds' First Family Cruise: Beauty Prep with Belli & CapriClear

Disclosure: I received samples to facilitate this review; all opinions expressed are my own.


Post-partum skin and a tropical vacation emerging from the dead of one of the most awful New England winters ever is a tricky mix! It's incredibly dry here in New Hampshire and thanks to Belli Skin Care and CapriClear Moisturizing Spray I've been using the product lines the past few weeks as I prepare my skin for warmer temperatures.  My skin has lost its glow that I had during pregnancy, but I still very much feel postpartum due to hormonal adjustments I'm going through - I have a few breakouts popping up lately.

Thankfully Belli has a few amazing products in their arsenal that are helping and are also gentle, free of harmful parabens, sulfates, dyes and artificial fragrances. Lately, the Revitalize Eye Brightening Cream (MSRP $39 for 0.5oz) is what I need the most as Grayson has been in a wakeful period going on nearly two months. I'm also a contact lens wearer and am especially cautious about what goes around my eye area. The cream is light going on and while my bags and circles haven't completely dissipated, it works even as a moisturizer, soothing and refreshing this delicate area.

The Pure & Pampered Body Wash (SRP $13 for 6.5oz) is turning my two-minute showers into a mini-spa experience during this cherished and very brief time. Made with cucumber, green tea, lavender and chamomile, it has a gentle scent that I find calming. Having kids has also made me read labels carefully, and when I saw Ammonium Laureth Sulfate in the ingredients list, knowing that it's a low risk sulfate, I appreciated Belli's response when I asked if they'd ever consider removing it: 

The Cosmetic ingredient Review (CIR) has fully assessed this ingredient and found it to be safe.  And, it passes our teratology and LactMed screening processes which means it does not have a known link to birth defect or miscarriage and is not harmful if passed through breastmilk.

The ingredient serves a couple of purposes. It is an anionic surfactant and thus lowers the surface tension of water, making the water spread more easily.  It also serves as a detergent.

We have two main requirements for an ingredient at Belli.  1) That it’s safe and 2) That it adds to the effectiveness of the product. We believe ammonium laureth sulfate meets those requirements.

My skin is parched this winter and while regular lotion doesn't quite cut it, Belli's All Day Moisture Body Lotion (SRP $17) is a keeper! How do I know this? At the end of the day if my legs are ashy under my pants I know the lotion was too thin. The All Day Mositure Body Lotion feels rich and indeed keeps me moisturized all day. The citrus scent is stronger than the Body Wash, but I like it as the final "wake-up" step before heading out for the day. 

I keep it simple when I wash my face, but I am careful to moisturize daily. Part of this is sun-safe practice and part of it is because my foundation is blended into my moisturizer giving me and SPF protection. While the Healthy Glow Facial Hydrator lacks SPF, the impressive ingredient list helps me feel like I'm nourishing my skin: grapeseed oil and vitamin C. It's good stuff that's not too heavy, but feels so lush! 

In addition to my face and body, I hone in on the most prominent challenging area that I have postpartum: my belly. In the first few weeks of pregnancy I wrapped my belly to help the puffiness go down, but am amazed by how slowly it's taking the second time around despite me being active. My body is really holding onto extra calories for baby!

Enter CapriClear Spray-On Moisturizer (SRP $19.99 for 5.2 fl oz; $10.99 for 1.9 oz ). It's 100% fractionated coconut oil meaning that it's extra pure, free of preservatives, additives, fragrances, parabens sulfates, PABA and other items. I'm stickler for a good spray bottle that mists evenly and CapriClear does so perfectly. As it's touted for stretch marks I find myself spraying all over right out of the shower as well as in my hair on wash day. I even use it before I wear my waist trainer and it helps with the tone of my tummy. 

You can find Belli products at your local buybuyBaby as well as online at www.BelliSkincare.com while CapriClear is available at Ulta, Harmons, Bed Bath & Beyond.

What's your troublesome post-partum skin concern? I'm so glad to be getting back on track!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Lovebirds' First Family Cruise: A Walt Disney World Surprise!

College sweethearts in 2002 at Universal Studios; sadly, we took no pictures at Walt Disney World
Mr. Lovebird and I met when we were 18 and as college-sweethearts when I graduated in 2002 he joined me and my parents and siblings for a grand trip to Walt Disney World. It was extra special because none of us had been before. We not only went to Disney World but Mr. Lovebird and I also booked Universal Studios, MGM Studios (which I've since learned is Disney's Hollywood Studios). It was a mind-blowing, fun trip planned with the help of The Unofficial Guide, which worked to a T. We also vowed during this trip to do the following:

Only return to Disney World when we had kids AND when all of our kids were old enough to remember it. 

Well, we're now eating our words x2 (all of my ill-formed thoughts on cruising with kids are here).

Our cruise was booked out of desperation just a couple months ago in the depths of snow and freezing temperatures, and I guess it kinda counts as last minute especially as we've been seeing most folks on our roll call booked a year ago. A few weeks ago Mr. Lovebird was talking to an associate about our cruise and he suggested we hop on over to Disney World. He shared his kids' experience going to Disney at a young age and how it was magical for that dad to see his kids' reaction. I guess it was "priceless." Mr. Lovebird was sold . . . then he went to work convincing me! His original plan was to surprise both me and Nia by taking us there when we first dock in Florida en route to the Bahamas, but knowing how Type A I am he knew that wouldn't fly, so he went ahead and spilled the beans to just me. I cautiously got on board.

Now the fun part is surprising Nia!

Originally we were going to get a rental car but just realized a few days ago that it's also a cruise excursion and for the extra money it's worth it as we can get more time in the park and not worry about the transportation hassle if something goes wrong (remember the moped mishap on our last cruise???). Going in a rental car would've made it easier to surprise Nia as I just planned to dress her in an Ariel shirt for the day (her favorite Disney princess) and just show up there allowing her to figure it out once she beholds Disney in all its glory. Since we're now going on an official cruise ship excursion I'm thinking she'll probably figure it out just from the surrounding passengers, but I was thinking of putting a sign around her neck that says, "I don't know I'm going to Disney World. Please don't spill the beans!" Is that unreasonable? Mr. Lovebird thinks it's a pointless pursuit since during the 1 hour ride other kids (some who may not be able to read either) will be talking incessantly about Disney. I can try, right?

Oh and for this trip I did get the digital version The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids for a quick read. I plan to babywear Grayson in our Boba, also rent a double stroller, focus on princess-centric rides and switch off with Uka for riding with Nia. Pretty much every special restaurant experience is sold out which is fine as we'll definitely be back another time, but I'm interested in finding some of the best fast grab and go places - any suggestions?

Have you ever surprised your kids in a big way? How do you think we should do it? (Here's a hilarious Disney World surprise fail!)



P.S. This is totally me right now O_o

Monday, April 6, 2015

Grayson's First Easter

Guys.

I could not stand the cuteness. 

Not. At. All.


I'm sure I'm not the only mom to look at larger sized clothing for her child and not be able to imagine her child ever being that big. That was so me when we received Grayson's Easter outfit when he was born. I remember looking at the tag for the little shoes and being baffled to see "6-12 months." When would my little baby ever be that big?

It happened faster than I thought.

Oh and he's not a fan of shoes!


So what else happened besides me stopping to squeeze Baby Grayson every few minutes hours?

We started the day with brunch at our local diner. It was running an Easter buffet 9a.m.-2p.m. and we opted for a 9a.m. reservation since we had church service at 10:30a.m. and wanted to have have first dibs. At first I was unsure if I'd be up for eating lamb, fish and mac & cheese so early in the morning. I'm happy to report that I had no problem doing so after first consuming an omelette! Everything was so good and the service was excellent. Grayson ate more than I've ever seen him eat before!

Church service at C3 was so impactful and is definitely one of the most memorable Easter sermons I've ever experienced. The use of storytelling, beautiful worship, and involved church community makes us feel so blessed and welcome. It really makes a difference getting plugged into a good church when moving to a new city, and I'm thankful God led us to C3. 

I snapped this pic of my two favorite guys after church then we headed home and tried to get the kids to nap. Grayson slept for the most part, but Nia laid down for a little bit before popping up. She practiced her piano and is constantly impressing us. I recorded this video of her playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star - it was my first time hearing her play it, and she taught herself on her own working ahead in her lesson book. That's my Nia!

After we surprised her by taking her to Chunky's to see Home, but it sold out right in front of us despite us being there 15 minutes prior to the start. They were having a free admission with canned food donation drive, and I guess I underestimated the turn out. Chunky's is a unique theater with refurbished Lincoln Town Car seats around dining tables with a full service menu. Because it's 30 minutes driving each way we decided to just stick around for the next showing of Cinderella which was only a 40 minute wait, but with ordering food and getting situated it flew by. We enjoyed Cinderella, and the Frozen short too, and it only made me more excited for another special surprise we have for Nia next week (more on that later . . .). One thing I was confused about was Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother dressed like a character from the 1940s. If someone can explain that to me please!

Anyway, I was feeling a bit nostalgic and decided to make a lemon pound cake using America's Test Kitchen's recipe. It makes me think of my Grandma Emma and her sister, my Aunt Thelma. Easter was always such an important holiday for them and I remember feeling so proud when my Grandma would see me in my Easter dress. I know she would've loved seeing Grayson dressed up like a little man for Easter. I miss her.

Feelings of nostalgia also got to me during Cinderella, and the fact that it was ultimately, a story about forgiveness made me think about the true meaning of Easter: redemption and resurrection - the hope of seeing my loved ones again, and I started welling up in the theater. This really is a beautiful holiday. My favorite holiday. 


How was your Easter? Did you make any fun family memories?



P.S. We leave on Saturday for our cruise Lord, help me I'm not ready, and I have some prep posts coming this week so stay tuned!

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