Midi Madness – The Perfect Midi Dress for Under $22

{ Dress from Amazon, Michael Kors Wedges (sold out) similar here and here, Sunglasses by Givenchy }

Happy Tuesday, Loves!

It’s such a beautiful day in the Sunshine State today! It’s also the second day of school, and the mood in the Raiford house is a good one.

There is nothing like the feeling of taking happy, excited, enthusiastic kids to school on a Tuesday morning. Fostering a love of education is one of the most important things imaginable in mine and my husband’s opinion. So far, so good. Our kids were brimming with excitement when I picked them up from their first day yesterday, and nothing makes my heart smile bigger.

They love their teachers, their classrooms, their friends, their syllabus…Addison loves her Safety Patrol job of holding the front doors of the school opening every morning and afternoon. Ava loved that she got to hold those same doors open herself for a few moments in the morning while I was outside directing parents to the front office for visitor tags, tagging their kids with stickers stating how they’re getting home, and my husband was upstairs in the library handing out Safety Patrol belts to the new class of Safeties. She couldn’t yet go to class because it was too early, so she and some of the other PTA kids got to hold the doors. It was, in Ava’s words, the coolest day ever.

The twins were full of excitement (after they cried when I picked them up) about writing their names and their new seats and their new classmates in VPK. It was a good day. Addison’s excitement is boiling over because she’s headed to the Taylor Swift concert tonight with her best friend and her family, and Ava’s excited that she’s the ‘big kid’ for the night at home.

Meanwhile, I’m finally feeling better. Today, I’d say 80%. My sinuses are still crazy, and I’m exhausted, but I’m SO excited my husband and I finally have a quiet house, no one is in our office all day asking for snacks, and we’re actually productive. Well, I am. He never loses productivity or his work, but I do all summer, and I’m glad to have my scheduled time in my office again. I love spending summer with the kids, but I don’t love an unstructured work schedule each day. it’s not who I am.

We get our lunch dates, our gym dates, and our lives back for six solid hours a day again. It’s good. And….I get to go to yoga today. I haven’t worked out in five days now because I haven’t felt well, and I hate that feeling. But, I also know that overdoing it doesn’t allow me to heal properly. Today, I’m back, and my yoga class is an intense heartrate, fast-paced, crazy class. I cannot wait.

In the meantime, however, I’m sharing today’s look with you. It’s probably my new favorite for several reasons. For one, I’m beyond in love with my new Givenchy sunglasses. Get used to them, because you’re about to see a lot of them! Second, this dress is my new favorite. And, are you ready for this? It was $21 on Amazon! Yes, Amazon! I saw a similar one over the summer at Nordstrom, but they were out of my size. I waited. And waited. And waited, and I could never get the color I wanted in my size. So, I googled it, found this one, and figured for $21, it doesn’t matter if it’s awful. What’s amazing is that it’s not! It’s not thin or cheap looking at all! And, it comes in like a million colors and patterns, so you can probably expect to see this dress on repeat in other patterns and colors.

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Transitioning Back to A School Routine and Schedule for the Whole Family

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Happy Monday, loves!

It’s the first day of school, and we have the most excited kids you’ve ever met! Addison begins her first day of 5th grade, Ava begins her first year as a 2nd grader, and the twins begin VPK. We are all so excited about today, and we can’t hide it! Addy can’t wait to get her Safety Patrol Belt and find out where she’s positioned – and it’s been really hard keeping that a secret from her the past few days!

Ava can’t wait to see if her teacher is wearing the special necklace she made her, which is another secret I’ve been keeping for a few days! The twins are so excited to be ‘big kids’ and carry their new lunch boxes (by the way, if I haven’t raved about Pottery Barn Kids products before, can I take a moment to do so right now? We’ve been ordering the kids their lunch boxes and backpacks from PBK since they began school, and every year their items last all year, they stay clean, and they don’t break. They look as good at the end of the year they do at the beginning. The only reason we buy new ones is because it’s so ‘boring’ to carry the same back pack and lunch box for more than a year).

Unfortunately, I’ve been battling what I think is a severe sinus infection since Wednesday. It’s either that or a cold, but I can’t catch a break. I have intense pressure in my sinuses, and that results in a terrible headache. My throat hurt for the first three days – just a little, though – and didn’t really hurt over the weekend, so I’m not sure where I stand. Addison began to feel poorly on Friday, and she was ready to go home from the school and rest. Carter has been pretty lethargic, and Ava’s had some sore throat issues off and on since Thursday.

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Our weekend was spent in bed. Literally, we were all asleep before 7 Friday night. We all slept late (well, late for us) Saturday, and we spent the day on the couch relaxing. Sunday was a repeat of Saturday, and we are all feeling much better this morning.  Except for this awful sinus pressure (recommendations? I can’t take allergy meds. I feel so loopy, sick, and terrible when I take them, so if anyone has any suggestions, that would be amazing!). I slept for 15 hours Saturday night and into Sunday, we skipped church, and we spent two solid days in our pajamas reading, watching movies, napping, and just being the laziest and germiest family you’ve ever met.

I knew this would happen, though. We had the roughest (it was so much fun, but it was tiring) weekend last weekend. Two midnight or later nights in a row, no time at home at all during the days, two parties, a date night, and a family gathering. We slept and showered at home, and definitely not enough of the sleep part. This week meant I needed to be up earlier to get more work done since I was gone from the house almost every day and evening for PTA duties, school functions, cheer practices, and appointments in between meeting deadlines. I overdid it, the kids overdid it, and we needed a weekend off.

Now it’s Monday, it’s back to school day, and the excitement is palpable!

With that, I wanted to share a few quick ways to make the start of the school year a little more manageable and easier. The transition is always a little difficult. No schedule all summer to a normal schedule takes a little time to grow accustomed to.

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It’s All Right to Struggle

You are not alone. If the first week or two with the new schedules and routines kind of throws you off after a summer of sleeping in, lounging around, doing what you want to do, and not being accountable for anything or anyone, it’s all right. Don’t add to the stress by being hard on yourself. Give yourself grace, and understand you will get through this. And, know you are not alone. We all feel the struggle. It’s real.

Prep Ahead of Time

I always make my kids pick out their outfit the night before school. This week, I’ve made them choose their outfits, accessories, and shoes for the entire week, and line them up in their closets so each morning is easier than the one before. We like to get as much done the night before as possible, and that includes packing all the non-perishable lunch items, organizing back packs, and loading what we can load ahead of time into the car.

Organize Lunches

Our kids won’t eat school lunch. I’m okay with that because I never ate it, either. But we have four of them, and that means packing lunches is a thing. The twins are in VPK, and that means they have to have a morning snack, an afternoon snack, and lunch. And everything must be labeled with their first and last names, and it must be separated into the correct area every morning before school begins.

And all four kids like different things. What we did is buy several bins, and we designated the fourth shelf in the pantry as the school lunches shelf. Their water bottles and Gatorades for the week are lined up. Their snacks are in one bin. Their chips in another bin. Their non-cold fruit in another bin. Their main food is in another (i.e. Addison likes a deli sandwich every day, so the bread we like from the deli is in this bin, and so are the English Muffins that Charlotte likes for lunch, and so are the miniature club crackers Carter likes as the “main” dish to his fruit).

The rest of the fruit is in the fridge, but we cut it up and put it in the correct containers the evening before to keep it as fresh as possible. Everything is clearly labeled in the bins and on the containers, and Craig just has to throw it in their lunch boxes along with their ice packs every morning.

This also helps us realize when we are running low on one thing or another so we can put it on the grocery list and make sure we don’t have any early morning panic attacks if so and so is out of their favorite whatever.

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Create A Morning Schedule

Our kids know they get out of bed, sit down at the bar while Craig makes their breakfast, and then they get dressed once they put their plates in the sink and clean up after themselves. They brush their teeth, put their shoes on, and they wait for me to call them for hair time when I’m doing working for the morning. Once hair is done, they give Craig hugs and kisses and head straight for the car. They load themselves into the car, and we go. They know the routine.

Consider A Reward

We also make sure each morning runs smoothly by bribing them with a Friday morning donut date. The stipulation is that all four of them must follow every morning instruction in a timely manner without being asked repeatedly, and they must do it with a positive attitude. If just one of them falls apart and can’t handle it, none of them get to go on a pre-school donut date on Fridays. Trust me when I say this encourages teamwork and a lot fewer hectic, crazy, upsetting situations in the mornings for all six of us.

Have Fun

Our kids love to pick their favorite songs or their favorite movie to watch in the car. We let everyone have a turn, and it keeps them excited to get into the car. We might choose a new movie they’ve never seen to put in the DVD player for the first week or so of school, and then they go back to wanting to listen to their favorite music. We all sing, dance, and make the ride to school fun. It really does help.

Take A Deep Breath

New schedules and routines are a little difficult, so give yourself some time to grow accustomed to it. Our schedule is all off this year, and we won’t even really start our new one until next week, and I know I’m a little stressed about it.

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But we will get through it. Our nephew’s mother is building her new house by the girls’ school – which is an amazing school – and he’ll be zoned to go there once it’s done in a few months. However, she is the guidance counselor at another school, which starts two hours earlier than the kids’ school. Her son is going into kindergarten this year. She will be dropping him off at our house every morning to have breakfast and get ready for school. I’ll now take him, too.

But the good news is that she will pick up the twins from school every afternoon so I don’t have to go to two schools in two different towns every afternoon. She’ll come to our house and drop them off, pick up our nephew, and it will all be fine. Addy does have to be at school early and stay late for her Safety duties, but we will definitely manage. We can do this.

See, I’m already stressed! But in a few weeks, I’ll be fine. Now, say a prayer for me as I’m headed to school to drop my babies off on their first day of VPK and then handle all the parents as they want to walk their kids to class for the first day at the girl’s school. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing yet, but I know that it’s going to involve something like 850 kids and their parents – and it’ll be stressful, but it’s what I love. Being present in the kids’ lives and in their schools makes me happy because it makes them happy. I wouldn’t trade it.

Self-Care Tips to Get You Through the Last Few Days of Summer Vacation

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Happy Monday, loves!

Or, as I like to call it, Happy Last Week of Summer Vacation!

There aren’t any back to school blues around here, if it’s not already evident. I know so many families struggle with that feeling, and I do empathize. It’s hard to send the kids back to school in this day and age. You worry about their safety. You worry about their well-being. You worry. That’s all that matters. I get it. I worry. I do. We both worry, but we also both work from home, and having the kids back in school is such a stress-reliever in our household.

But I digress. We’re excited about school starting next week. Addy is so excited to start the fifth grade. She’s a Safety Patrol, and she cannot wait to start her new duties. She’s also a competitive cheerleader, which means her season officially begins (this week, actually). Ava is excited about going into the second grade and finally feeling like one of the bigger kids at school.

The twins go into VPK. They’ll have the same teacher Ava had, who is the MOST amazing VPK teacher you can imagine. We love her, and they are beyond excited to be in her class this year. So, in our house, it’s exciting to go back to school. Combine that with the fact that September 1 is the first official day of the best part of the year – the “ber” months. I turn 35 in September, and all things pumpkin happen in Casa Raiford on September 1. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Now…back to the back to school blues, or the lack thereof in our case. Our kids love school, so they aren’t sad to go back. I love school, too, because no one is asking me for a snack every 7 seconds (at best). My husband and I both work from home, and while we do love the time we get with the kids during summer, there comes a point around mid-July when we (to borrow a famous, pointless, meaningless line from every teenager) literally cannot even.

That eight-week summer vacation mark is like the turning point. I find my patience is worn thinner than Nicole Richie after her sudden weight loss. The sound of quiet is not something I’ve heard in months, and I miss it desperately. The kids are no longer interested in doing anything fun during the day because they’re just tired of me (and vice versa). It’s hot, and it’s humid, or it’s always raining. They’re tired of going to the movies. They’re tired of swimming. They’re tired of movie nights, and card games, and trips, and being on the go.

They are tired of us. We are tired of them. We all want school to start.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The first two months of summer are magical. We have fun. And we’re still having more fun than we should probably be allowed to have, but we’re all tired. We are all ready for routine and normalcy. Those first few months are filled with vacations and travel and fun and the sun and friends.

To put that into perspective, out of the last 9 weeks, we’ve had only 1 weekend where we were home. And that probably doesn’t count because we had 7 extra kids for a sleepover. Every other weekend has been spent traveling or we’ve been home long enough to sleep and shower before the next activity. And it’s been amazing.

Which leads me to what I’m thinking could be my point (it could change…I don’t know where I’m going with this). My point is that the last two or three weeks of summer take a toll on me, and I don’t really like who I am and the control of my emotions and mood I lose. I wouldn’t trade this life we live, but I won’t pretend the last few weeks of summer vacation don’t make me cranky. In fact, I put that in my gratitude journal this morning. I’m grateful that’s my life problem.

I found myself in a situation recently where I felt very ugly. I found myself reacting to something out loud that is none of my business – at all – but it bothered me. Rather than doing what I normally do, which is talk to my husband about it and remind myself that the way other people behave is none of my business, I let it fester. I reacted to it, spoke of it, and instantly regretted it. It’s not who I am. I’m a live and let live kind of gal, but it upset me. I can’t control other people – nor do I want to – but I certainly didn’t intend to stoop to a level beneath me. I did. I’m disappointed in myself, but I’m reminding myself to have grace, forget it, and move on. It’s not who I am, and I know one moment of anger doesn’t define me.

My point is that I don’t love my mood all the time this time of year, and it takes a lot of effort to be my normally sarcastic, happy self. And that’s why I’m sharing a few of my tried and true patience-finders, mood-boosters, and self-care tips.

Or, as I like to call it, “do this before no one ever speaks to you again,” advice.

(Only 7 more days)

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Give Myself Grace

I’m imperfect, but I own it. I am nothing if not unapologetically myself. I prefer to give myself grace and allow myself to be okay with mistakes, with a bad attitude, and with my imperfections. I try to give grace to others by reminding myself that their behavior, words, and actions are a reflection of where they are in their lives, how they feel in their hearts, and their own unhappiness. And I try to do the same to myself when I’m less than graceful. I have all the respect for people who don’t make excuses or place blame when they make mistakes. I have all the respect for people who simply say, “That’s my bad, and I apologize,” and own it. I live by that rule.

Take All the Deep Breaths

It’s cliché, I know, but taking all the deep breaths is the most helpful thing imaginable. I’ve learned equal five-count breathing works best. Inhale deeply for a count of five. Hold your breath for a count of five. Exhale with an audible sigh for a count of five. While doing this, imagine all the happy thoughts you’re inhaling in the form of the color white. When you exhale, change that imagery to a red or black color to represent all the negativity. It’s silly, I know, but oh my goodness does it work. I find myself frustrated with so many things these last

Check On Myself

One thing I like to do is check in with myself. What’s bothering me? Is someone in my life bringing too much negativity to the table, and am I responding poorly to it? Have I taken on too much? Am I taking care of myself? Finding the answers to these questions often leads me to where I’m failing by either reminding me my monthly visitor is on her way and I’m a raging bitch because I’m hormonal or because I haven’t been eating well thanks to a busy schedule and not being home or because I haven’t been to the gym yet, or whatever. Checking in on myself allows me to see where I’m in need of some self-care, and it helps.

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Take A Time Out

I’m a firm believer in time-outs for myself. When I start to feel myself become snippy or short with my kids or my husband, I know it’s time for me to walk away and take a time out. I find it happens more this time of year than any other, but it’s easily cured with a run, a trip to Starbucks, sitting on the front porch to work, or sitting on the back deck with a book and strict instructions not to talk to me for a half hour. I’m better for it.

A time out can come in many forms. It can be a total social media blackout. Not answering your phone or texts for a few days. Removing toxic people from your life to the best of your ability. Removing yourself from situations that make you feel uncomfortable. It’s whatever you need it to be.

Recognize Stress and Tackle It

I think if I delved deeper into it, I’d notice that it’s the added stress of back to school stuff that makes me crazier than ever this time of year. My work schedule is interrupted 2-3 days a week with additional school-related activities for all four kids, their needs take over, we lose our easy nights and our flexibility in the evenings, and it takes a toll.

I’ve worked hard over the past 10 years cultivating my client relationships and creating a work schedule that allows me to be productive enough to run a successful business while still being a mom and wife, and this time of year it’s like taking a perfect schedule and piling 100 things for other people on top of it. It gets overwhelming, and it requires me to stop back and recognize where the stress is coming from so I can tackle it before it gets to me.

Delegate

I’m extra fortunate to be married to a man who doesn’t believe it’s the job of the wife and mom to take care of the kids. He’s hands-on all the time. He packs lunches, makes a homemade breakfast every morning, and gets the kids dressed and ready for school so I can have a few uninterrupted hours of work every morning to get my day off on a good note. He gives baths, helps with homework, cleans up after himself, and he’s a master laundry-doer.

He’s the best life partner, parent, and husband. I couldn’t do half of it without him. Even then, however, sometimes I just have to delegate. He’s just as busy as I am with his career, but we both know we just have to say, “Babe, I’m drowning, and I feel like I’m everyone’s bitch, and I’m a little crazy right now,” and the other steps up to do what needs doing to make life easier on the other. Delegating tasks is a life saver at home, at work, and anywhere else. Do it. It helps. What also helps is delegating other tasks – hire someone to clean your house, mow your lawn, detail your car, shop for you, and take back control of your life. Trust me when I say it changes your life.

Make No Excuses

If there is one thing in life that drives me nuts, it’s when people talk and talk and talk and never do. They are going to, they will, they should, they want to, they whatever. I’m a fan of conversations that sound more like I did, I accomplished, I managed, I handled, I mastered. I find it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when I make myself a lot of promises and need to back them up, and that’s my no excuses platform. I feel it’s easier to feel less stressed and better when I just do it and say, “I did it,” to myself. It’s really simple. Don’t talk about it, just do it. Like, tell me your story, not your plan. Use that motto on yourself.

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Just Choose to Be Happy

I promise it’s not nearly as hard as it sounds, but you must make the effort. I find that waking up in prayer and listening to my favorite Christian music when I work in the morning helps me set the tone for a happy day. If I find myself thinking about a problem or a situation, I give it to God and move on. I replace negative thoughts (I have so much to do today, but I have to do this and that and be there and here and I won’t get anything done) with positive thoughts (You are a badass mother and you’ve got this) and move forward.

I say it all the time – happiness is homemade, and I’m so abundantly grateful for all the blessings we have in our lives. I always feel guilty when I’m in a bad mood because I don’t feel I have a reason for it – but, I’m imperfect, and that’s okay.