What a Year!

Trigger Warning: The following post will discuss health issues such as infertility and weight gain.

Every December I set one lofty goal for the next year and one realistic. When I think of my goals I always say a silent prayer for gratitude for my health.

Born a little over 2 months early with a heart murmur I know how very lucky I am to have always been fairly healthy. The only other long term complications I have from being so premature are crooked fingers and lungs that take longer to heal after a cold etc.

Baby Tara

When you’re 29 years old you begin to think you’re in a good spot health wise. Too old for develop anything hereditary, too young for chronic health issues to develop.

Or so I thought.

My Nana had endometriosis, my mom had undiagnosed fertility issues, when it took a long time to conceive my daughter I wasn’t surprised. But the majority of the pregnancy went well. I had some issues in the last month and right after she was born that led us to close the door on having more children. But otherwise things were good.

Early this year I developed debilitating cramps, cystic acne, unexplained weight gain, and a tiredness all the time. For around 6 months I didn’t tell anyone. I’d always heard PMS is worse after childbirth.

In August I finally told Chase and made a doctors appointment. My doctors in Lexington did some minor blood work and sent me away with a diagnosis of painful periods and of course a prescription for birth control.

Instagram is definitely a highlight reel

I knew it was more than that. So the minute we moved I made a follow up appointment at a new GYN and primary. Fortunately doctors in Florida were more through. After tons of visits to the doctor I have endometriosis and high cholesterol. (They aren’t related, but I have both lol)

I feel like a stranger in my own body. I’m in pain almost all the time. Earlier this month Chase and I had to make the decision to lock the door on having more kids. I had an IUD implant put in. Supposedly this will lessen the symptoms. So far I still feel horrible, but it’s early.

Aside from the pain this has been a confidence destroyer. Gaining weight has been super hard. I don’t know how to dress anymore and my clothes don’t fit. It’s superficial, but it’s so frustrating. The cystic acne is no fun either.

The internet is a great place to highlight our successes and the goodness in our lives. So much so that we start to think no one struggles but us.

Every person you meet is going through their own battle. Be kind.

And stick up for yourself. Doctors may be experts but they don’t know you better than you know yourself.

I hope that 2022 is your year. I hope it finds you happy and healthy.

Happy New Year!

Make Elf Season Easier

If your the parent of a young child chances are you’re moving an elf on a shelf nightly this month.

Our Elf Lilly flies in with mouse ears because what else…

Just take a quick look around Pinterest and you’ll see tons of elaborate scenes of constructed mischief these guys are getting into.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m gonna give you three methods of elf magic that take less than 10 mins a night.

On 12/1 Lilly always brings the advent calendar

1) Hanging Garland Method: our elf is pretty well behaved. I’m pretty anti mess, so Lilly doesn’t create messes. (Know what you can and can’t live with mamas) I can’t live with leaving a mess out all day.

So when I want Lilly to be a little mischievous I use a cheap $1 garland from Dollar Tree. I just get one and reuse it. We hang here from windows or light fixtures and secure with tape.

2) One Spot Toys: This easy peasy method takes up 1/4 of my elf days. Lilly brings a Christmas themed toy or item from Bullseye’s Playground with a quick little note. Definitely save these for when you’re busy or sleepy.

These play packs are $1 at Target and I always have some laying around.
Rubber Duckies are always a fun toy and also $1 at Target.
Target also had these $1 costumes this year!

3) Have your elf bring something you were already gonna do for your kid.

We make cookies every year, but letting Lilly take the credit for it helps me out.
Have your Elf bring gingerbread houses! http://liketk.it/3tSIo

Doing the elf doesn’t mean you have to drive yourself crazy this season! There are super simple ways to make it fun for your little and easy on yourself.

Cotton Balls make it easy to set up a bath time or a snowball scene.
Have your elf bring a new book and set up a quick toy story time
This is my favorite to do each year

Hello Again!

Happy 50th WDW!

It’s been a long time since I had time to write. We’ve officially be Florida residents 3 months and it feel like a lifetime. Everything with our house was the absolute cluster we expected it to be. The dust has settled and we’re enjoying our house more. Being close to Disney is a dream. There is so much to do in Orlando. I can’t wait to share it with you all!

Hello house!

I can’t wait to start blogging again for y’all. In the meantime please enjoy these scavenger hunts I created for Sharkie. Each park has golden statues for the 50th anniversary.

You can save them images and print off at 88% for a full page. We use star stickers Favorites

Hope your littles love as much as mine does!

Dealing with the Death of a Pet: Toddlers

Sharkie and Jacque: Christmas 2019

Last month we lost our Guinea pig Jacque. He was five years old. I knew he would probably be Sharkie’s first heartbreak, but I thought we had a couple more years with him.

They’ve been the best of friends her whole life.

It’s hard because she’s old enough to know he is gone, but not old enough to really understand death. She’s had a hard time time with it, but here are some things that worked for us.

1) If you can let your child say goodbye. I took Jacque to the emergency vet right after Sharkie’s bedtime. I had a feeling he wouldn’t be coming back home from the emergency vet, so I made sure she said goodbye and snuggled him before I put her to bed.

2) Don’t hide the truth. I didn’t get back from the vet until after 1 am. Sharkie had been restless so she was up when I got home and asked about him. It would have been easier to say let’s talk about it in the morning, but I couldn’t lie to her. So I told her the truth.

3) Decide what you want to tell your child before talking with them. Try to deal with your own emotions first if you can. This way you’re calm when talking with your child. We decided to tell Sharkie that Jacque was very very sick and the doctors couldn’t help him, so he went to Heaven to be with his brother Gus Gus (our other Guinea pig who died in 2018). That he loved her and he’s watching over her. No matter how many times she asks to talk about Jacque we tell her the same things.

4) Be prepared to have the same conversation over and over. Try to be patient. Even though they’re asking the same questions over and over, they’re just trying to deal with their grief.

5) Help them heal. We sent Sharkie flowers from Jacque. We got a couple books on dealing with the loss of pets. Now a month later we’ve worked up to going to look at Guinea pigs at Petsmart. She wants another one, but I’ve been explaining just because it’s a red and white pig it’s not him. For now she just enjoys going to see them.

These are the books we read.
Looking at pigs at Petsmart

Losing a beloved pet is hard for anyone. Really the only thing that helps is time. But these tips helped Sharkie. If you’re in this unfortunate position. I hope they help you too.

Until we meet again sweet pig boys.

What We Loved About Our Trip to Charleston, WV

Downtown is so carefree and fun

Is West Virginia on your travel list?

To be honest it was only on mine in a “see all 50 states way”, but surprisingly we had a great time in Charleston, WV over the 4th.

5 reasons to put the Mountain State on your travel list.

1) The people are so incredibly nice. I mean nicer than Disney Cast Members. Everyone we met from people in the service sector to random folks on the street was so nice. Honestly, dealing with pleasant people is the best. Everyone was so friendly and so very kind to Sharkie.

2) The Weather! It’s been hot as hades in Lexington. It felt like summer, but enjoyable in WV. Warm, but not hot and no humidity. When I got out of the car back in Lexington I wanted to melt.

We enjoyed such nice weather.

3) Cute and Walkable downtown, we stayed at @embassysuitescwv which was beautiful and super clean. We were in walking distance of pretty much everything we wanted to do. We never got back on the interstate once we checked in. We walked to @charlestontowncenter, we were in walking distance of several amazing restaurants, and some cute stores. The whole vibe I got walking through downtown was very 70s. Which my vintage soul enjoyed.

So many murals!

4) Speaking of food, we were pleasantly surprised to find so many dog friendly restaurants. We traveled with Tia and sometimes it’s hard to find places, but @blacksheepwv and @piesandpints both are. Several others are as well, but these are the ones I called. We are ate Black Sheep and the food was really good! I recommend the Nashville Hot Chicken Burrito.

I really enjoyed Black Sheep. Would totally go back.

5) The Capitol is beautiful. I love historic and state buildings and the WV state Capitol is one of the prettiest I’ve seen. It’s definitely worth the walk around and across from the river which is beautiful as well! I harbored my own prejudices about WV being a backwater. But I was glad to be wrong.

So pretty! I loved it.
Beautiful water across from the Capitol.

We did a ton in our 36 hour trip to Charleston, but the atmosphere still made it so laid back and relaxing. We had a great time. It’s a very affordable city to visit, perfect for a long weekend.

Dollywood with Toddlers

Here’s what you need to know

*Disclaimer* This was a hosted experience, but all opinions and experiences expressed here are my own.

Here we go!

I grew up semi local to Dollywood. Being from Asheville I knew tons of people who had been. From what they said I was under the impression the majority of the park was thrill rides.

I’m thrilled to report that nothing could be further from the truth. Dollywood is so much more than rides and there was no shortage of activities for Sharkie.

Ride measuring station

The ride measuring station is the most genius thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve only seen it at Dollywood. Once inside the park head to your left. Just past the Emporium gift shop you will see this area.

An attendant will measure your child and provide them with a color coding wristband. This completely eliminates measuring at the beginning of each ride. Saving so much time and toddler sanity.

Sharkie’s wristband

The bands are color coordinated so you know exactly which rides to look for. The attendant also gave us a chart to carry around with us so we knew where everything was.

I kept this with me all day. Helped me make sure we didn’t miss anything.
Did you know Dollywood has an app?

I didn’t! We downloaded the app when we got there and from ride times to food options it was super helpful! Don’t worry about battery drainage. There are tons of recharging stations throughout the park!

Black Bear Trail

Let’s talk about rides. There were so many options for Sharkie, but her favorite area was Wildwood Grove so that’s where we stayed.

Themed to nature and the mountains the entire area was geared toward younger children. Sharkie who measured in the lowest (grey) height category could do almost all the rides in this section.

  • Treetop Tower
  • Great Tree Swing
  • Black Bear Trail
  • Frogs and Fireflies
  • The Mad Mockingbird

Sharkie’s top 5 recommended rides. The wait times are very toddler friendly as well. We didn’t wait longer than 10 minutes for anything.

Don’t worry if your little isn’t ride ready yet. There is plenty of other stuff to do. There are a couple of options to get wet throughout the park like the Wildwood Creek area so I recommend bringing a swimsuit or a change of clothes.

Have an animal lover?

Sharkie loves birds, so Eagle Mountain was right up her alley. She’s enjoyed looking at all the beautiful birds.

I’m pretty sure “Tuck” posed for us.
So many fun photo opportunities!

While not ever toddler can enjoy a museum, Sharkie who is a fashion lover, loved the Chasing Rainbows exhibit.

I’m pretty sure she loved all of Dolly’s Costumes.
50’s themed yes please!

We chose to eat at Red’s for dinner and this was the one experience we had that was lacking. The service was average. 3/4 of the soda fountains were broken. The condiment bar was empty. We were pretty disappointed by our dinner, although the food was decent I can’t recommend this restaurant.

We did enjoy the classic cars though!

You can’t take a toddler to a theme park without getting a little treat and a souvenir or two. We finished our day with a visit to the candy shop and it didn’t disappoint. I came home with a bag of taffy.

Chocolate covered Oreos: beautiful and generous with the chocolate. We gave them a 9/10!
When we didn’t find a plush Dolly doll, Sharkie went with the obvious second choice: a pop gun. She was thrilled.

I was pleasantly surprised with the gift shop prices! Very affordable for a theme park!

I hear the cinnamon bread is out of this world. We didn’t try because of my GF diet, but I can vouch that it smelled amazing.
For my nursing mamas: the nursing station is at the front of the park.
Sharkie had a great time! She’s been talking about it for days.

I’m so glad we got the chance to experience Dollywood. It’s not just for the thrill rider. It’s for anyone in your family and it truly is a blast! We recommend going if you get the chance.

Paying Down Debt: You can be financially responsible and still be extra.

Disclaimer: This is what worked for our family, every situation is different.

Chase and I both come from poorer backgrounds. Money management wasn’t a strength for us in the beginning, because we had never had money to manage. We were also very young when we got together.

During the first 3 years of our relationship we racked up debt. Chase was relocated to Minnesota and we spent a lot of money traveling back and forth to see each other. In 2015 we got married, another expensive endeavor, and we still didn’t make a lot of money.

Best. Day. Ever.

In 2016 Chase was relocated to Kentucky and we were thrilled. Not only would we be closer to family, the cost of living was so much cheaper than Minneapolis. We knew our debt had to go before we could have a baby or buy a house. So we set out to pay off our debt.

The first thing you need to do is get a clear idea of how much debt you have. Including separate accounts your partner may not know about. This can be a difficult conversation, but it’s important to be honest and open.

Make a list. For us we had a credit card with a small amount, two with larger amounts, two car payments, one medical bill, and two student loans.

It can be so overwhelming.

We used the snowball method. Paying the minimum amount on all debts until paying off the smallest one, then applying that money to the next smallest one. Any extra money we received, like for selling something or as a gift was also applied to the first debt.

Everyone has different situations.

Not everyone gets a Christmas bonus. But Chase gets them with his company. We always picked a debt to pay with them. Once bonus money goes into the account it’s easy to spend it. We discussed before it came exactly what we wanted to do with it. Once it was deposited it immediately went to debt.

Paying off debt is a long process it doesn’t happen overnight. We started doing this in 2016. We paid off our last debt: one of Chase’s student loans in 2020. Keep chipping away and don’t get discouraged.

No groundbreaking secrets there, but that’s how we paid off our debt. We cut back on shopping and dining, but mostly lived our life as normal.

Now for my tips that are more unique to my family. I’m an “extra” person and I love to shop. I spend money on gifts, themed play dates, and other extras. But that all adds up and we didn’t want to fall right back into debt. I also didn’t want to give those habits up. They bring joy to myself and others.

So I sought out ways to be extra on the cheap side and here’s what I do.

1) I started a side hustle. This isn’t going to be something everyone can do, but it’s more accessible than you think. I started a blog and a reselling business on Poshmark. But it can be something as simple as selling old items on Facebook marketplace and saving that cash for fun stuff.

2) Speaking of Facebook Marketplace. I make our items work for us. If we’re done with something I always sell it. Whether on marketplace, eBay, Poshmark, consignment , the local mom page, or at a yard sale I always sell the items we’re done with.

3) Shop Used. Not only is this more economical. It’s so much better for the environment. We recently redid Sharkie’s room. I shopped on Facebook marketplace and Goodwill and was able to re-do the room for 1/3 of new.

  • Goodwill
  • Ebay
  • Poshmark
  • Mercari
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Yard Sale Pages
  • Local Consignment

These are all great places to start looking for great items.

4) Shop Off The Wall Places. I know some people are off put by places like TJ Maxx. They can be disorganized, but I find the best stuff for the best prices.

  • TJ Maxx
  • Marshall’s
  • Ross
  • Home Goods
  • Burlington
  • Ollie’s Bargain Outlet
  • Big Lots

5) Shop Ahead. This one requires a little extra room and money but if you have both this one will save you a lot money in the long run. When I see sales or find something great but maybe seasonal I go ahead and get it and hang onto it.

I snagged these items recently, but plan to save them for Fall. I got them at Ollie’s so they were cheaper than buying craft kits this Fall.
I also snag items for major holidays like Christmas and birthdays. Saving these Sharkie’s stocking.

Every family is unique, but this is what helped us pay off our debt. The other tips help me maintain my “extra-ness” without breaking the bank.

Currently the only debt we have is our mortgage. Hopefully we can keep to our plan and remain debt free. It’s so easy to get into debt; but getting out is 100% worth it.

Celebrating Father’s Day When You Don’t Have A Father

It’s the month of Dads and Grads

June is a busy month. Most are getting out of school, it’s a popular wedding month, summer has started, graduations galore, and of course Father’s Day!

Of course we’re partial. But we think he’s the best dad in the world.

I love Father’s Day. I love any excuse to celebrate. I love celebrating Chase and the wonderful father he is to Sharkie and our fur kids. I love watching others celebrate their amazing dads, granddads, uncles, or other amazing men in their life. But it always makes me a little sad, I don’t have a dad to celebrate.

Maybe you don’t either, if you don’t this post is for you.

Me and my Dad. Mid 90s

Growing up I knew my Dad loved me. Problem was he could only love me and my brother in a way that was convenient for him. Unfortunately my dad was a 3rd generation alcoholic.

As a kid I knew my dad would be there for the important stuff. When you’re little that means holidays and birthdays. I only realized as an adult my mom had probably both begged and threatened to make that happen.

As I got older he was less and less reliable for even those occasions. Eventually my mom gave him a shape up or ship out ultimatum. Like so many addicts he left when I was 8ish. I saw him a few times a year until I was 16, I haven’t seen him since. My parents divorced after I graduated high school.

I have never admitted to a single non familial soul in my life that my dad was an alcoholic who choose booze over his family. But I think it’s important to break stigmas. In 2021 we still don’t discuss alcoholism as much as we should. It still carries a stigma. Just as being a fatherless child does.

My amazing mom

Everyone thinks they have the best mom on the planet but I actually do. My mom is the most amazing parent. She never taught me to hate my dad, never once vented to me how he treated her, she shielded me from a childhood of pain. All while teaching me to love, remember the good times, but to stand up for myself and know you don’t have to put up with things that aren’t right. My mom was patient and taught me that while alcohol isn’t evil, it’s addictive. Alcoholism can hereditary. Whenever I think about booze I thank Heaven for a mama who taught me that it was okay to enjoy in moderation, but like any drug it was warrants caution. My brother and I have broken 3 generations of alcoholism and her thoughtful parenting is 100% responsible.

When you grow up in a bad situation it can be so easy to blame yourself for what happened. As you grow up it can also be easy to blame your shortcomings on things you feel like you missed in childhood. For me I missed out on a normal Dad. Neither is the case.

It took me a while to get here. But I’m in a place now where I’m at peace being estranged from my dad. After Sharkie was born he wanted to communicate again. I was okay with doing so via social media because I didn’t want any regrets on my heart. I gave him a chance and he blew it.

That’s okay. When people, even family, show their true colors, believe them.

Sometimes I remember the good things about my dad. If he was home he usually wasn’t too busy to play board games. He made me pancakes on the weekends. Sometimes we played catch in the yard. It can be healthy to remember good in a person. No situation is 100% black or white. Not yours, or mine.

Still, a few happy memories aren’t enough to erase the hurt and the pain he caused. I don’t want a relationship with my dad, but Father’s Day is still hard.

The good news: Father’s Day isn’t exclusively for Dads. When I was little I had 3 amazing men to celebrate.

Sharkie and I have the same frowny smile.

My amazing Grandaddy. He was always there for us. He took me for rides on the four wheeler. Came to my elementary school for birthday parties. He and my Nana took me on $100 shopping spree at Walmart every birthday. He gave me my first car, and nobody adjusted my side view mirrors better.

My brother.

We’re as different as night and day. Eight years older than me, most people don’t even know I have a sibling. We fought like cats and dogs. But I could always count on him. Fixed my car, helped me with chores, always there for advice.

My Uncle Michael

Lastly, my moms brother. The most amazing uncle ever. He sent me a card on every occasion. He always slipped me a little money, and bought all my favorite snacks.

Father’s Day can be hard. Growing up fatherless is hardly Having an alcoholic family member is hard. Both can come with such stigma. But you’re not alone. Others can relate. If sharing my story can help one of you reading, then it was worth sharing.

You are still worthy and chances are you have other remarkable men to celebrate. Whether it’s your husband, uncle, grandfather, brother, or step father.

I understand and I’m here for you.

Road Tripping with Kids

If you’re like so many Americans you’ve got the travel bug. Being home all last year has us all itching to go somewhere.

Some may not be ready to fly yet, or maybe you’re just partial to road trip, our family is. My husband is tall and planes are uncomfortable. Plane tickets for three are expensive, so we road trips 95% off the time.

So we hit the road

We always pack a tablet, but I try to keep Sharkie off it as much as I can. She doesn’t need 13 hours of screen time. So I always pack a road trip kit.

These boxes are less than $5 and reusable. Perfect for everything we need. I let Sharkie decorate them herself with stickers we had at home.

When we head to Disney next week we’re also traveling with my 7 year old nephew. So I made a boy box too! Honestly preparing these before a trip is super fun. Sharkie helped and we spent the better part of a day getting them together.

I try to keep what’s inside the box between $10-$15.

Dollar Tree, Five Below, and Target One Spot are great places to stock up. For Sharkie’s box I added this microfiber cleaning cloth (we’re gonna use it as a puppet) $1 at Dollar Tree, a bag of candy $1 at Dollar Tree. We also got the small Disney figure at Dollar Tree. They almost always have these in a ton of choices and they’re great for car play.

These magic ink color pads are a must for toddler travel.

We already had the tiny magna doodle, but it was $1 at One Spot. The coloring pads are $3.

Lastly I packed a fidget popper we already had and some glow sticks for nights in the park. Hopefully this saves mama money on glow toys.

For my nephew I packed a lot of similar things so we didn’t have any arguments, but age appropriate since they’re 4 years apart.

The only differences are he got crayons instead of a mess free pad and a puzzle instead of a puppet.
This seemed like something that would keep him occupied. $1 at One Spot.

Since for my nephew this is a once in a lifetime trip I tried to make it a little extra. Y’all know I love to be extra. So I got each kid a Disney Parks Wishable from Five Below for $5.

I was so stoked to find these. A friend shared this and we ran over. We normally don’t shop Five Below. Going to let the kids open on the drive.
Target has a great selection of summer items right now and this road trip game should pass a lot of time. Age appropriate for both kids too. You can get one here.
One last addition. Bugs are everywhere in Florida evenings. These will help.

Hope these kits help you plan an awesome summer road trip with your kiddos. Whether you’re going to Disney or somewhere else.

Getting a Puppy? Here’s what worked for us.

Meeting Tia

So you’re thinking about getting a puppy. Maybe you just got one.

Tia is 10 months old today, but since she’s as big as a horse, sometimes I feel like she’s not a puppy. But in reality she’s growing up, but still a baby.

I am by no means a dog expert, but I wanted to share what worked for us.

Growing up I had a plethora of animals so I thought I was prepared for a puppy. Although my family hadn’t had one since 1998.

Pretty pretty princess Tiana

Since Tia is my second child I prepared for her like I did for Sharkie. I read several puppy books. I highly recommend The Puppy Primer.

Be open to speaking with whoever you’re adopting from. We got Tia from a breeder because I wanted a golden for their reputation with children. After waiting a year for one to be available via rescue we picked a breeder.

Our breeder recommended @originalsnugglepuppy and this was game changing. Tia slept with her puppy and LOVED. It comforted her at night and she never cried.

These were invaluable.

Set your puppy up for success the way you would a child. I removed things from her access I didn’t want her to bother. I puppy-proofed our home by utilizing baby gates and hiding cords.

We crate train and we did graduated crate method. Dogs feel safer in a crate that is small, but gives them room to turn around and sit up. Tia went through 3 crates before we got the adult size. If we’re gone or sleeping she’s in the crate. The crate should always been open and become a safe space for your dog. Tia crates herself if we annoy her.

Sweet golden girl

As a puppy I watched her like a hawk so I could stop any behavior I didn’t want. If I couldn’t fully have my eyes on her she went in the crate.

This method has kept her from chewing cords, shoes and furniture because I nipped those urges in the bud. Be sure you have lots of chew toys, especially with a golden. When you scold for chewing something inappropriate immediately give an appropriate item.

While these are my top tips for a new puppy it’s not all inclusive. If you have any questions let me know. Don’t be afraid to call in experts. While I taught Tia “go crate”, “sit”, “fetch”, and “catch” we took her to school to learn more commands. If you’re local I recommend @petsmart Brannon Crossing.

Goldens live up to their reputation. This sweet girl is so amazing with Sharkie.

Happy Girls