Monday, June 29, 2015

Video: Keeping My Summer Guests Comfy with Charmin

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



This summer is already off to a whirlwind start, and if we're not in town here in Portsmouth, NH then it means we have guests staying with us. Our family calendar literally looks like a bed and breakfast schedule! I love playing tour guide and still being a tourist here in our new town cause there is just so much to see and do, plus we have much more space up here than we did in NYC-metro to host guests.

Whether having houseguests or lots of friends over for play dates, one thing I make sure to have on hand is plenty of toilet paper and Charmin, a brand I've grown up with, was generous enough to supply me with several soft, fluffy yet strong rolls to kick-off the summer. Check out this quick video I made about my new stash:



I've always had a bit of a fear of getting stuck on the toilet without toilet paper and admit it's happened to me before, requiring me to humbly yell for more (c'mon, it's happened to you too!). I definitely don't want that happening to my guests though! I've taught Nia how to refill the toilet paper stand in her bathroom which doubles as the guest bathroom; it's a great little chore for her, but we have to keep an eye out for Grayson who's latest joy is unrolling the toilet paper! What's awesome about Charmin is that a little goes a long way plus it's the only toilet paper to have the Roto-Rooter stamp of approval. We've dealt with clogs in the past due to certain over-zealous toilet paper users, but with Charmin there is a clog-free guarantee and it's septic-safe making it less likely you'll have to call your plumber.

With the July 4th holiday coming up, we'll be taking in the local historic sites here in Portsmouth and will be out and about for other festivities, but we're already looking forward to having more family come up in the next few weeks from NYC.  Of course the Charmin will be stocked and ready for them when they arrive, but I just might have to steal a few rolls for my master bathroom. My guests can't have all the comfort!


To learn more about Charmin be sure to visit their website and follow on Facebook and Twitter for the latest product news!


Are you entertaining house guests this summer? Any tips to share for keeping them comfy?


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's a BIG Week for the Lovebirds!

We have so many amazing things going on over here (I'm bursting at the seams to share but I can't yet!) and I looked up and saw I haven't blogged in a week. Oops! I think this means that summer is off to a strong start so far, agreed?

The most challenging part is coming off of Nia's previous school's academic calendar in Jersey City, she's now been out of school a full month before she was in Pre-K 3. I was away on my cruise during her end of the year program, but Mr. Lovebird was on picture duty and captured a few special moments including this one:



I went through a brief moment of panic, then mostly thanks to my local mom friends and our library's resources, I've found a good summer schedule for Nia. She's doing a bit of everything just like we did last summer: swimming, circus camp, vacation Bible school and piano lessons for now then hopefully adding some horseback riding and soccer towards the end of the summer. She's such an active girl already and has a lot of energy to burn! 


At our local library's summer reading kickoff party
Over the weekend we celebrated Grayson's 1st birthday (at the time of me writing this it's 2a.m. and I just ordered his thank you postcards!). His official birthday is actually this Saturday, but we're heading out of town tomorrow for a long weekend so we enjoyed early festivities. We had been singing "Happy Birthday" to Grayson for a few weeks so he'd be ready when it happened for real - it turned out SO cute, and I can't wait to share the video soon!



Friday will be mine and Uka's 6th wedding anniversary (as of this fall we've known each other 17 years!). We're officially closer to 10 years than not! We don't have anything special planned and will actually be happy to hang in nature this weekend with our kids up in Maine. Speaking of Maine, remember when I wrote about these cute cottages? I'd still like to stay there someday. . . 

For our anniversary Mr. Lovebird asked what I most needed then answered his own question: "I need help." I really truly do. Not only from him, but from outsourcing a few things around the home, mostly domestic duties, so I can focus on the kids, my business and this blog. I'm juggling so many balls at once and if a few domestic responsibilities can be outsourced that would be great! He's not always physically here due to his work schedule and when he is here he crashes really hard - he hustles hard to provide for our family and in this post-Father's Day week I feel so blessed that we're not only best friends but in this family journey together. I made this collage over on Instagram as a tribute:



Going back to our trip to Maine, it's a "camp" of sorts that's mostly business, but since the families get to come too there is some pleasure. The kids will be in "camp" and while I'll attend a few activities be catching up on work, I'm looking forward to exploring a bit especially since we'll be by Acadia National Park. There's even a formal night and I posted a teaser on Instagram as I'm super excited for another chance to dress up. Hooray for Rent the Runway, and if I could just wrangle my hair!

Grayson's birthday was in such an idyllic setting not far from us and the locale reiterated the feeling I get that we're on perpetual vacation up here. It is such a beautiful city and is making up for the awful winter we experienced. Here's one of my favorite pictures from the weekend - I'm so blessed my sisters were able to come up to visit us!:



Here's what I'm excited for the rest of the summer:
  • An historic July 4th - it's so quaint and typically New England lately as everyone is sprucing up for the holiday; I need to hurry and get outfits for the kids!
  • Catching up with my blogger buddies at BlogHer
  • Taking both kids for the first time to the Jazz Age Lawn Party - this year is the 10th anniversary and unlike last year I already have my ticket! (Check out the recent pictorial coverage in Newseek)
  • Grayson's first visit to my hometown of Columbus, Ohio and going to the Ohio State Fair (hooray for the butter cow!)
  • Keeping up with my fitness - I've supplemented my regular workouts at the Y with PiYo class thanks to my fab, fit, mommy friend Courtney, and it's kicking my butt in a good way!
  • Catching up on tons of blog posts: awesome reviews (including Disney SMMC On-The-Road in NYC), giveaways and updates (including Grayson's 1 year recap which I'll have ready next week!)
What are you looking forward to next summer? Can you believe it's already July 4th...NEXT WEEKEND?! We're just hanging out here in Portsmouth taking in all the historic festivities. What will you be up to?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Picking the Right School With Private School Innovator

Disclosure: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Private School Innovator. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation. *UPDATE: This company is no longer in business effective June 24, 2015*


Ahhhh! Talk about throwback!
Counting preschool through college, I attended private school for 18 years - more than half of my life thus far. Growing up in Columbus, OH I started out at a Christian school then transferred to an all-girls school followed by an all-women's college. My parents sacrificed a lot for me to have a top-notch education and now that I'm a parent Mr. Lovebird and I have discussed schooling for both our children, Virginia who will be 5 years old in August and Grayson, who will be 1 year old next week. 

Moving up to New Hampshire from New York City-metro has been quite an adjustment and while we were thankful for the subsidized preschool program Virginia attended when she was 3 years old and started at for Pre-K 4, we were thrown for a loop when we had to scramble to find her a school after the year had already started. I went about the process long distance and it was quite daunting. In the end we selected a private school for her, but have kept our options open for future schooling especially as New England has a wealth of outstanding private schools.

Making this process easier for parents, Private School Innovator is a free, private school matchmaker tool that assesses each family's needs, the child's learning style and traits to match you to the ideal school. I've started this process for Virginia and look forward to sharing more about the outcome but here's how the process works:

Prospective families simply visit the Private School Innovator website, create a profile and answer a detailed questionnaire. It was a very straightforward process and it's not just an app - there are real people behind it! I really like how clean the website is from the outset. It's easy to read and simple to follow the steps:



Once you answer the questions a representative follows-up with a phone call to discuss your specific needs including confirmation of some of the answers you provide (ex. geography, religious affiliation, single sex, tuition limits etc.). While New Hampshire isn't yet included in their database, we're close enough to Massachusetts that we're using it for our selection criteria for now. So far it's been a very warm experience and I'm excited to see the selections for Virginia!

I especially like how the steps are laid out visually - it really is a 1-2-3 step process allowing you to customize a thorough profile for your child, receive matches then connect directly to the schools you choose:



Having attended private school as well, Mr. Lovebird and I understand the nuances of the experience as students but now as parents we feel thankful to have an ally like Private School Innovator on our side. We want to be sure to make the right choices for our children and similar to how I grew up, Mr. Lovebird and his siblings didn't all go to the same school. Every school isn't for every child and having the ability to make a choice in schools for our children is something we're very thankful for. 


My high school graduation day
Looking back on my years in private school, they were a truly special experience. I appreciate the community feel of the small schools I attended and still go back to them and have such fond memories (remember when I took Virginia to my middle school/high school?). I look forward to my children having a similar feeling when they think back on their school experience. 

To learn more about Private School Innovator be sure to visit their website and Facebook page and Twitter for the latest news!

What was your school experience like? Did you or your children attend private school? 

Monday, June 15, 2015

General Mills/Star Wars Giveaway Winner!


Happy (laaaate) Monday friends! I was in NYC for the day for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration "On-The-Road" and although my 2a.m. wake-up was painful and super rainy, I was thankful to make the drive with my friend Alwina who was up from NYC for the weekend! I'm working on a full recap, but for now you can see a few teasers on my Instagram feed

Anyway, on to announcing the the winner of my General Mills/Star Wars giveaway before I crash in bed:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congrats Austin! I'll be in touch via email so you can receive your prize. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why I Took My Husband's Last Name (And No, It's Not Heroic)


Growing up I loved my last name, Sloan. I was given the name Quiana Rachelle Sloan at birth, and being the nerd that I am, growing up I geeked over the fact that my initials were alphabetical. I remember getting my LL Bean backpack in middle school and wearing my initials proudly throughout my school's hallways. I hadn't given much thought to marriage and what I'd do about my last name when I got married until I attended Wellesley College. I took an anthropology class, Marriage, Women and Family, and it really opened my eyes to issues I had never considered growing up in Ohio. Sure, I went to an all girls school but as an adult at an all women's college I really felt convicted about the importance of feminism. 

Speaking of feminism . . .

I cringe when people, especially women, staunchly proclaim they are not feminists. A feminist believes that men and women are equal. I cannot fathom why anyone wouldn't want to believe this. Men and women are different, yes, but we are equal. 

Now back to my love story:

When I met my husband Uka in college and he shared his full name I was especially curious about his last name, Agbai. I didn't know where it was from so I asked. It's Nigerian, Igbo, to be exact and when we started dating in 1999 and then married in 2009 it wasn't even a discussion to be had: I knew I would become Quiana Rachelle Agbai.

Here's why:

Sloan, my maiden name, is derived from Ireland. I am of African descent and perhaps some day I'll do one of those cotton swab tests to determine exactly where (I'm obsessed with Finding Your Roots). Like most African-Americans, my ancestors in this country were slaves and Sloan came from an Irish slaveholder. While I do have ancestors of European descent who were not slaveholders, the surname Sloan in my family is from slaveholders. 

My husband's family can pinpoint exactly where in Africa they are from: Nkporo and Ohafia, Nigeria. We took our daughter there when she was 16 months, and it made me very emotional to be there and stand on the soil, breathe the air and meet my family. Even now I cry easily at the thought that my grandparents never stepped foot on African soil. It is life changing to go to Africa, regardless of your heritage.

When I got married I knew I'd want to exchange my slave name for an African name especially for my children. I knew that I'd want them to know where they are from, to appreciate their Nigerian heritage. I also knew that if I kept my surname or did a hyphenated name that the surname Sloan is ultimately from a man. For me it was never an issue of being empowered by keeping "my name" because it's still a man's name. What's more important to me is where a name comes from vs. whether it belongs to a man or woman. 

Lately, while our society is quick to describe certain celebrities as "heroes," I think it's more important to be strong in your own convictions for living the life you believe in instead of trying to be "on trend."  I applaud Zoe Saldana's husband for taking his wife's name if that's what works best for their family; it definitely opens up a conversation for people to explore marriage traditions and why we do what we do. Also, I hope never to follow something blindly without examining the underlying foundation behind it (if you're interested in learning more about marriage history I highly recommend Marriage, a History).

Here's to six years (and counting!) as Quiana Rachelle Agbai.

If you're married did you discuss your surname decision with your spouse? If you're not married yet have you considered what to do about your surname?

Winner: $75 Zutano Gift Card

Morning! This is how we're spending most of this week:



Before we head out to enjoy the weather for the day I wanted to share the winner of the Zutano $75 giveaway:


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congrats Bianca - I'll email you shortly so you can get your prize! You were a tweeting powerhouse too - so enthusiastic!

If you didn't win this one don't forget I have two other giveaways running too: General Mills cereal/Star Wars poster giveaway and State Farm's $25 Visa gift card giveaway

Good luck and enjoy the sunshine today friends!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Get in the Groove with State Farm® for a Chance to Win a Trip to the Essence Festival 2015!

Disclosure: The following giveaway promotion & content has been sponsored by State Farm®.

Photographer: Julie McGee
I have a strong Type A heritage in my family, so when I reached 41 weeks and 5 days pregnant, I thought I knew all there was to know about becoming a mom for the first time. From feeding, sleeping and diaper care, I had researched well before becoming pregnant. As my husband endured the endless forwarding of parenting articles I came across (often time-stamped at 2a.m.), little did I know what lie ahead on my journey as a mom. 

Meeting Virginia that Thursday afternoon on August 12, 2010 was the most thrilling experience of my life. As my husband and I held her together and cried, all that I could continuously get out of my mouth was, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" I was truly grateful for that moment. As I helped her breastfeed for the first time, the bond was instant. All that book knowledge made way for a heaping dose of heart knowledge, and in those first few weeks I felt something growing: my confidence.

I've since given birth to a son, Grayson, who is rapidly approaching his 1st birthday. While there are so many familiar stages, it's definitely a new experience in some ways. It's a new kind of confidence I have and although I can say, "Oh yeah, I got this!" there are moments that completely throw me for a loop - he's added a completely different dimension to baby-proofing!

If you're feeling confident and want a chance to show it off for a chance to win a trip to Essence Festival 2015 in New Orleans courtesy of the State Farm contest “Get in the Groove”, then check this out:

Now through June 15th you can head to the State Farm “Get in the Groove” contest page HERE and simply upload an Instagram photo or video showing off your dance skills. You don't have to be a dance star to win - all you need is confidence The winner will receive an awesome prize package including round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations and VIP tickets for two to Essence Festival as well as bragging rights!

As a bonus, I’m giving one lucky Harlem Lovebirds' reader a chance to win a $25 Visa gift card by entering your Instagram handle on the comment widget below!

*This giveaway is closed as of June 15, 2015 and the winner has been chosen and contact privately. Thank you!*

Good luck!


Disclosure: I received compensation for this sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of State Farm. The opinions and text are all mine.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Star Wars Rainbow Pancakes (and a General Mills Giveaway!)

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of General Mills. All opinions expressed are my own. 

I'm an 80s baby through and through with an obsession with nostalgia so when I learned General Mills was partnering up with December's release of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens I was excited to learn all the details!



For a limited time this season Star Wars fans can collect 6 movie posters found in specially marked boxes of these General Mills cereals: Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios, Trix, Cookie Crisp and Reese’s Puffs. There's also more fan fun on the #CerealWars Tumblr!

To get into the Star Wars spirit Nia and I made pancakes but jazzed them up using Trix to create Star Wars Rainbow Pancakes. Nia requests pancakes all.the.time, and it was easy enough to use our favorite batter and create stars patterns in the batter before giving them a quick flip. As she dropped her pancakes into the batter Nia deemed it, "So fun!" With her starting Kindergarten I'm getting her more involved in the kitchen and she did really well over the griddle. It was a good lesson in cooking safely!




Ingredients:
  • Your favorite pancake batter recipe 
  • Trix

Directions:

After scooping your pancake batter onto a heated griddle, allow the bottom to puff up a bit before dropping your Trix into the batter top so they don't sink to the bottom. Give a flip and check so that the Trix don't burn! They're already sweetened so all they need is a bit of butter on top (unless you're my daughter and are suddenly obsessed with pure maple syrup since moving to New Hampshire!).

Growing up getting any cereal other than Kix was a special treat in my household (remember this commercial?), and I was a bit giddy that General Mills not only sent Trix but also Cookie Crisp to me. Can you believe I had never tried Cookie Crisp? It has no high fructose corn syrup, is made with whole grains and has only 9 grams of sugar per serving. To celebrate I did a mini-taste test with my Lil Lovebirds:


Here's the fun part for my readers: General Mills is sending one Harlem Lovebirds reader 2 boxes of cereal and a vintage Star Wars poster! The giveaway starts today June 9 and ends this Friday, June 12 with the winner announced Monday, June 15 (open to U.S. residents only)Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Good luck!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Keeping My Family Sun Safe with The Vision Council

Disclosure: I was provided promotional items from The Vision Council to facilitate this post; all opinions expressed are my own.



Right before I left for my Caribbean cruise I was invited to participate in The Vision Council's webinar sharing their annual report on the importance of sun safety for your eyes. If you've been a reader for a while you know my health history with discoid lupus and the role that sun safety plays in my family. Last year I also participated in the Vision Council's webinar and the Nicole Miller sunglasses I received are still going strong and even came along with me on my cruise (a milestone achievement since I'm historically *the* worst at keeping sunglasses!)



This sunny season now that we're in New England somehow the sun seems stronger up here. Sure, we've had plenty of gloomy days, but when the sun is finally out, boy is it blinding! During the webinar with Dora Adamopolous, OD I was surprised to learn that 1 in 4 people don't wear sunglasses...at all. I have a pair in the diaper bag ready to put on at all times and despite gloomy days, I've learned that the UV rays can be even more damaging in the winter than the summer especially due to snow blindness, something we were definitely at risk of this past harsh winter. 



While sunglasses are mostly viewed as a fashion accessory - I'm loving the pair of BCBG Daring in Nude I received for this post - they're a necessity just like a seatbelt even for your children. One issue I've struggled with is keeping them on my little ones. While Nia at almost 5 years old doesn't have a problem keeping on the Polaroid sunglasses she received from The Vision Council, little Grayson at 11 months old just wants to rip his sunglasses off. He has a pair with a velcro strap, but he just wants to suck them! Instead I put him in a sun-safe hat which he also tries to yank off, but I keep his shade extended on his stroller as well as his car seat plus I have an extra sun-guard on his window in the car. 



Check out this handy infographic from the Vision Council's findings (click to enlarge):



If you're interested in learning more about the Vision Council please visit their website where you can view the full annual report and don't forget that National Sunglasses Day is June 27 (also Grayson's 1st birthday!).

Does your little ones keep sunglasses on? Any tips or tricks to share?  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Summer Tot Style with Zutano (and a $75 Giveaway!)

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



And just like that the sun is finally coming out here in New Hampshire and those awful snowy days feel far behind us! We're celebrating warmer weather with Zutano this season and while their Fury Baby Zipper Suit was too adorable on Grayson, we've now packed it away and are breaking out these toddler-worthy outfits they recently sent over:




We still get a chill in the air from time to time up here so I especially like the graphic tees and fun prints for layering. An extra bonus? They're reversible! We've been wearing Zutano since Nia was a toddler, and the pieces keep so well over the years and wash up nicely without fading. Zutano's commitment to style and quality is the best and they're definitely hand-me-down worthy. 





Who says boy clothes aren't exciting? With Zutano's quirky Mighty Dog print offset with the Periwinkle Multistripe Pants and Baby Booties your little one will be the most stylish tot on the playground. Every time I step out with Grayson dressed head to toe in Zutano I get asked where his outfit is from - it's definitely a conversation starter! 





I've also shared the importance of sun safety before on the blog and Zutano makes it easy and stylish for little ones to stay sun-safe with their Baby Sun Hat which comes in a variety of playful colors and patterns. Grayson tries to pull it off from time to time, but I think it's because he just doesn't realize how cute he looks in it!




Would you like to dress your little one in Zutano this season? Well they've generously offered to give one Harlem Lovebirds' reader the chance to win a $75 gift card! The giveaway starts today Thursday, June 4 and ends on Wednesday, June 10 with the winner announced on Thursday, June 11 (open to U.S. residents only). 

Just enter below via Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Good luck!


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How I Did New Orleans in a Day (Even in the Rain!)


Earlier this week I had the chance to spend some time in New Orleans for the first time. It's a city that I've always wanted to visit, but with my ship docking early Sunday at 8a.m. I finally had the chance spend some time there before flying back home early Monday morning. While I didn't have as much time as I wanted (a long weekend would be ideal), here are a few things I got to experience while there. I took a taxi with a few other people from the port to Harrah's Hotel, checked my bag with the valet then started walking!

Mr. Lovebird makes fun of me for doing touristy-type things at times, and if he had been with me he definitely would've poked fun at me going here, but guess what? It was totally worth it! I had already drank way too much coffee that morning on the ship so I only got one order of beignets (and it's officially pronounced "beh-nays" not "been-yays" as I often hear). I made a video showing the crazy line then shot the one below just before I finished my last beignet and was sure to give fair warning to my last minute table mate so she didn't think I was talking to myself (the waiter did and was so confused!):




St. Louis Cathedral/Jackson Square



There was the annual Oyster Festival taking place that day (it seems like there's always some type of festival on the Riverwalk!) but before I planned to head there I couldn't help but notice the St. Louis Cathedral. It is a beauty! I read the book Pillars of the Earth so anytime I see a cathedral I can't help but think of it. As I walked through the park at Jackson Square and took a few pictures I  noticed a procession (quick video here), and it dawned on me that mass was starting. I was able to join just on time, and it was a beautiful experience - the property is undergoing renovation too. 

French Quarter



While the general area I was at was within the French Quarter, I included this as its own experience because simply walking the streets was an event!


From the art galleries, quaint shoes, experiencing the architecture and the live music, strolling through the French Quarter is definitely recommended. It started raining while I was walking, but it stopped briefly before an onslaught came which brings me to...

Stanley


I started with homemade boudin
The last meal I ate before disembarking was French toast, eggs and bacon so when it was raining after mass I chose this restaurant which is adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral (plus it was highly rated on Yelp!). My waiter Bill was very helpful with all of my questions and when I told him I had a hard time making up my mind, he made a special combo order for me! 



Once the rain started pouring down again he let me know I was welcome to stay (I stayed for over an hour, but finally gave up!) and added some extra pineapple on my Chunky Chatres sundae (a special Stanley flavor like Rocky Road). When I had to be rolled ventured back outside I ducked under awnings until I was back across from Cafe Du Monde trying to hail a taxi back to Harrah's. Several others had the same idea so after 20 minutes of waiting in the pouring rain I was thankful for a slowdown so I could walk back. I considered Uber, but it's relatively new to New Orleans and ridiculously overpriced - my .7mi walk which took me 15 minutes was $22 and that wasn't even surge pricing. 

Riverwalk

Along this waterfront area I finally made my way to what remained of the Oyster Festival, but it appeared to be rained out so I kept walking. That's when I noticed my ship was still there! It was scheduled for a 4p.m. departure (it's amazing how quickly they turn a ship around), but it was delayed by 30 minutes due to the rain. The Mississippi River is so curvy, and I watched in amazement as the ship made the first curve tilting dramatically. While I didn't get that part on video, I did capture the ship as it passed by - and yes, I waved to the cruisers!:



From here I noticed the Audubon Aquarium, but it was closing time so I made a mental note to check it out in the future especially if I'm back in town with the kids. I continued walking praying I wouldn't get rained on and remembered my umbrella was in my suitcase back at Harrah's. 



A few more street scene pics, and I was back at Harrah's and in a taxi to my hotel by the airport. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza, which had free wifi and a free shuttle starting at 4a.m. just in time for my flight, so I was happy to decompress for the evening.

It was a fun quick visit, but New Orleans, I'll definitely be back!

Have you been to New Orleans? Any must-dos for my next visit?

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