Fall Bucket List

Happy fall, y’all.

I know I’m a few weeks late to the party, but you know the drill. I’ve been busy, guys! I’m always busy. I don’t love that my calendar is never empty, but busy is just a way of life sometimes when you’ve got four little ones and stuff. But, it’s fall, it’s my favorite time of year, and it’s literally the best of the best of the best right now. Try arguing with me about why this is not the most fabulous time of the year, I dare you.

In honor of the fact that it’s not only fall but also October, which is the official start of the holiday season (my three favorites right in a row), I thought we’d talk about fall a bit. A few of my fall favorites, if you will. A sort of fall bucket list you can use to help you get into the fall spirit now that the weekend is here (we are choosing to ignore the 90-degree temps, the incessant love bugs, and the lack of anything that feels like fall around here, mmmkay?).

Weekend is officially here, so here’s a list of things to try this fall that will help put you in the holiday spirit. They’re simple, they’re fun, and they’re going to make it worth your while to enjoy a few of them.

  • Light a fall candle (my favorites are from Bath and Body Works)
  • Bake fall cookies (not everyday cookies. Fall cookies).
  • Sit around a fire and roast some marshmallows (Floridians, hold marshmallows on a stick outside your car door…same effect).

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  • Watch Hocus Pocus
  • Carve a pumpkin
  • Find a pumpkin patch
  • Take fall photos
  • Go fall wardrobe shopping
  • Book a trip somewhere the leaves are changing and the weather is beautiful
  • Open the doors and windows (if you can do that and not die of heat)
  • Decorate your home for Halloween and/or fall
  • Take an evening walk
  • Make cinnamon rolls
  • Bake a pie
  • Plan a friendsgiving
  • Go find pinecones and let the kids paint them and make some crazy outdoor art with them
  • Watch Gator Football
  • Make chili
  • Bake pumpkin pumpkin bread
  • Drink a holiday-ish beverage

Try one, try them all, mark them off as you go. Whatever works for you is what works for me, but these are some of our favorite things to do in the fall around our house. We have to stretch a bit in the Sunshine State since it’s 90+ degrees, humid, and the lovebugs are insane, but we make it work (i.e. we crank down the AC until it’s cool enough in the house to pretend like it’s fall outside the house).

What do you love to do this time of year that makes it feel like fall where you are?

Celebrating Mother’s Day with The Bouqs Co.

Happy Thursday, loves!

Mother’s Day is a little bittersweet for me. On one hand, I feel so fortunate and blessed to celebrate this day each year. So many women don’t have that opportunity. My heart is full knowing that I have four beautiful babies to love not just Sunday, but every day.

On the other hand, it’s such a sad day for me. On Mother’s Day 2010, I was pregnant with our second baby. Our sweet Addison was a year and-a-half old, and we were so excited to have another baby to love. I was still in the first trimester, but I wasn’t early into it. I was happy, excited, feeling good, and just ready to make our baby girl a big sister.

The day was sweet. My husband and my daughter spoiled me – as they do every day – and we were having a relaxed family day. It was exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, our relaxed family day would quickly end when I realized that there was something wrong. I began bleeding heavily.

Eight hours later, our doctor told us that she was so sorry. We lost our baby.

I spent Mother’s Day in the hospital with my husband, our doctor, and Ultrasound technician, and a myriad of other people, and my sweet baby girl spent the day with her aunt. At the end of the day, we were not pregnant, but we were heartbroken.

Sadly, it happened again immediately after our doctor cleared us to try again.

So, while I love Mother’s Day, there’s always that small part of me that remembers one of the very worst days of my life spent in the hospital, away from my sweet baby, saying see you later to a baby we never got to know. One day, we will meet that baby and the baby we lost soon after in Heaven.

Our sweet Ava, who was born a year and many prayers later, once told us that maybe God needed our babies more than we needed them, but that he knew we needed them back and sent us the twins four years later.

Is that not the sweetest thought?

Nine years ago I spent Mother’s Day crying and wishing I was home with our sweet baby girl. Nine years later, I’ll wake up on Mother’s Day to four sweet babies and the amazing man who gave those babies to me. Nothing beats those sweet cuddles and the homemade cards and gifts they make at school…even that little blue box that always shows up this weekend (sorry, babe…but I’m always happy to have it!). 

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To me, Mother’s Day is about more than a fancy gift or a spa day (but those are amazing, so keep ‘em coming, guys!). It’s about being blessed. It’s about being honored for being the biggest love of someone’s life. It’s about being the person who is so fortunate to have the job of raising little people and teaching them to be kind, honest, and determined. It’s about thanking the women who raised us into the strong, determined, capable, amazing people we are.

It’s about thanking the woman who taught you everything you know whether you turned out just like her or not because she was your first, most important, and most loving role model. If you have a mom you love, be grateful. Not everyone is so fortunate to have a mother they love. Not everyone is fortunate to have a mother with them.

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Mother’s Day is about celebrating the women who raised the men we love. It’s about celebrating the women who are currently raising the person who will one day become part of your family, who will one day be half of your own grandchild’s DNA. It’s about celebrating those who know what it’s like to have a piece of their heart holding their hand.

Flowers never hurt.

And, because I love moms – I’m proud to be one, I’m proud to have been raised by a strong one, and I’m proud to know so many wonderful ones – I’ve teamed up with The Bouqs Co. to offer my readers and followers a 20% discount on a bouquet of farm-fresh flowers sent anywhere in the country. All you need to do is visit The Bouqs Co. and enter code ‘TIFFANYRAIFORD20’ at checkout.

Celebrate the mom in your life, and thank her for the kickass job she’s doing.

Last-Minute Valentine Gift Ideas For Your Sweet Littles

Happy Wednesday, loves!

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, but doesn’t it feel like it snuck right up on us? I can’t even believe it’s here already, yet here it is in all its glory. I mean, we have a whole year’s notice, and here I am the day before scrambling to put together class gifts and cheer sister gifts for 100 kids – and kicking myself for waiting until the last minute.

Okay, so I remembered on Sunday, ordered a quick Hershey Bar Valentine’s Wrapper for $4 on Etsy to personalize, and thought I was winning at life. Until yesterday, when I remembered that PDF has to have all the kids’ names added to the wrappers so I can send them to Office Max to have them printed. And then I promptly forgot to have them cut for me. So I’m looking forward to a late night of all that with my husband tonight – because hot dates and who has time for that stuff?

We get to cut 100 wrappers, and then we get to affix them to 100 Hershey bars.

Wrapper PDF from Etsy – $4

Printing 100 Wrappers at Office Max – $25

100 full-size Hershey Bars – $60

Mom-failing until the last minute – priceless. Or maybe like $6,000 in therapy costs that I’ll eventually need one day. It could go either way.

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In the Raiford household, we don’t really celebrate Valentine’s a romantic holiday. My husband and I use any excuse to be romantic – which means celebrating our romance on Tuesday, or Friday, or Sunday afternoon. Whatever – we really like each other, so we are all about romance on the daily, and we have been the past 17 years.

Now that we have kids, it seems like Valentine’s is all about them and their lives. Their class parties and something sweet for them, and we kind of love that. We love celebrating our love for them on a day that’s special to them, and that’s what it’s all about for us. And that brings me to the point of this post – a couple of cute, last-minute Valentine gift ideas for your littlest loves if you didn’t think to celebrate them or you simply didn’t realize tomorrow is the big day.

Valentine’s Shirts

Our kids love a cute Valentine’s shirt, and we always make sure we have one for them when they wake up. It’s a fun idea for them to wear to school for the day – not that they will all wear them in the morning. Some will wait until Friday. Or never. Or Christmas. But, the point is that they love them.

Valentine Pajamas

Our kids also love some cute Valentine Pajamas, which always make them happy. They are weirdly obsessed with pajamas, and I dig it. It’s a total bonus if you can find coordinating jammies for all the kids. They especially love that in our house.

Hersheys and M&Ms

What’s sweet about being someone’s Valentine is getting something sweet to eat. Our kids love Hershey kisses and M&Ms, so we always make sure they have some in their Valentine bag. It might just be their favorite treat.

Donuts for Breakfast

Who doesn’t love to go out and get heart-shaped donuts on Valentine’s? My husband runs out and grabs those in the morning so the kids can have them for breakfast. It’s another favorite tradition from us to them.

Flowers

No matter what we say or do – my sweet husband always sends me flowers on Valentine’s Day, and he always sends the girls their own flowers, too. It’s a sweet treat for them to get their own bouquet of flowers, and he always sends them from both himself and our son.

He’s the absolute sweetest, and that’s why everyday is Valentine’s Day in our house.

Valentine Cocktails With Icelandic Glacial

Happy Friday, loves!

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I love more than the weekend. We love laidback weekends at home, hosting friends and family the most. My husband loves to cook, and I love to come up with fun new drink ideas on occasion to mix it up a bit. When the awesome team at Icelandic Glacial asked if I’d like to try their sparkling water, I was instantly intrigued. I love sparkling water in my favorite cocktails, and they were kind enough to send me some amazing recipes to share with you.

Since Valentine’s Day is next week, I’m sharing with you a few of my favorite pretty pink drinks that are perfect for your upcoming Valentine or Galentine celebrations. They’re fun, fabulous, and they are delicious. The best part is that you now have three new sparkling water flavors to choose from when you’re mixing your favorite cocktails. Icelandic Glacial now includes Elderflower, Sicilian Lemon, and Tahitian Lime – and if those don’t sound like the perfect segue flavors for summer, what does?

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Midnight Sun

1.5 oz. brennivin

1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice

2 dashes aromatic bitters

1 sprig rosemary

1 slice grapefruit

Icelandic Glacial Sparkling Water

Put your ingredients into a shaker, shake, pour into your favorite highball glass, top it off with your Icelandic Glacial Sparkling Water, and garnish with your sprig of rosemary. Taste, and enjoy.

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The Perfect Aperol Spritz

3 oz. prosecco

2 oz. aperol

1 oz. Icelandic Glacial Sparkling Water

1 orange slice

Pour all your ingredients in a wine glass with a bit of ice, stir, and add your orange.

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Garden Party

2 oz. gin

2 tbs. fresh lemon juice

half ounce crème de violette

half ounce elderflower liqueur

3 cucumber slices

Icelandic Glacial Sparkling Elderflower

Edible flowers

Start by muddling cucumber with lemon juice in a shaker, and add your gin, crème, and elderflower liqueur to the mix. Shake it up with some ice, and then pour it into a glass. Use your edible flowers to garnish this gorgeous cocktail.

What’s your favorite go-to cocktail this time of year?

Pre-Holiday Stress? Try These 7 Things

Happy Monday, loves!

Can you believe there are only 8 more days until Christmas? This is the single best week of the year, and I cannot believe it’s here already! But, let’s be a little bit honest. This time of year can be a little overwhelming if you’re not careful. Parties, events, travel, hosting, and more can make it seem like you have more to do than you have time to do it, and you are not alone in that feeling.

December is halfway over, and we haven’t had a moment to breathe in our house. The kids have an activity every single time we turn around. Christmas parties and events at school on top of their regularly scheduled sports, teams, and events. My husband’s company hosts a beautiful Christmas party every year that we cannot say no to (he works from home only, and he only goes to the office two or three times a year because we live so far away). It’s a weekend-long event for us since we have to travel, and it’s one of the most fun weekends of the year. Add that to our other regularly scheduled travel plans and hosting, and we are just exhausted.

Last week, for example, my husband and I were in Tampa for the weekend at his company Christmas party. It was such a beautiful, elegant evening in the Le Meridien ballroom. A sit-down dinner and casino night, and all the excuses to wear a floor-length sequin gown – it was all my favorite things wrapped up into one amazing night. And, I’ll never pass up an opportunity to spend the weekend away with my love shopping and spending quality time together. I swear, I think that’s what makes our marriage so much fun. We have the best time together, and we definitely make the most of it!

This weekend, we packed up and left again to spend the weekend at the Gaylord with the kids and our oldest daughter’s best friend and her family. We love the Gaylord, and we try to spend a few weekends there every year because the kids love it so much. ICE was amazing – as usual – this year, and the kids have never had more fun.

Honestly, I cannot even begin to explain with words how amazing they were this weekend. They travel often, and they know how to behave when we are in a hotel or a restaurant or plane or whatever, but this weekend was even more spectacular than we imagined. They were having too much fun with our friends’ daughters to even bother bickering with one another – and it was glorious! What a fun weekend. We rushed home Sunday so that my sweet Charlotte and I could enjoy a ladies’ brunch with our favorite friends (Miss Ava has a sore throat and stayed home because she has a performance at school today and she cannot be sick and miss it) and Addison opted to stay in Orlando with our friends.

It was such a good weekend.

But, we are tired. And we still have to prep for the week ahead, and it occurred to me today that I have no free time this week between Ava’s class performance, my annual shopping day with my best friend, our usual evening activities, the kids’ half-day on Friday followed immediately by a birthday party followed immediately by about a million other things – and we are hosting a brunch for 25 on Saturday. I’m not even done shopping for Christmas yet, wrapping still has to be done, I’m still waiting on packages to arrive, and we have no time.

This is also the busiest time of year for me in terms of work. I’ve found myself running late almost every morning and afternoon heading to school, working after the kids go to bed, and I even found myself responding to emails from clients the other day while sitting on my yoga mat waiting for class to start.

When the actual hell will I not be so busy?

It’s easy to become overwhelmed this time of year.

If you’re in the same boat, here are a few pre-holiday stress tips that I use to help me calm down, reduce my anxiety about getting it all done, and remembering to enjoy this season.

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Delegate

The single best thing I do in life – delegate. Get someone else to mow your lawn and water your flowers. Hire someone to do the non-everyday cleaning at home (think bathrooms and ceiling fans and blinds and baseboards and dusting and stuff you don’t do every single day when you’re straightening up as you go). Order your groceries and have them delivered. Order your gifts and let someone else wrap them (I do not let someone else wrap my gifts – I won’t lie to you. I do it myself because I have specific wrapping paper I use to organize and match gifts every year. I can’t haphazardly wrap gifts in mismatched paper. It throws the main tree all off).

My husband and I delegate a lot of stuff because we simply don’t have time for it, and that is the single best decision we ever made. It’s even better this busy season.

Workout

At the risk of sounding judgmental, I just don’t get people who don’t workout. Like, how do you not love to feel so good about yourself when you’re done? I don’t know if my body just releases some kind of abnormal amount of endorphins, but I feel so freaking good after a workout. Nothing that was on my mind before a workout seems to matter after. It’s so good. Try it – because you can eat more Christmas goodies when you’re done. Best thing ever.

Be Mindful of What You’re Putting Into Your Body

This is a big one. l love sweets as much as the next girl, mostly during a certain week of the month. However, most days you’ll find me eating nothing but good, healthy, delicious food. I don’t indulge much, and I really don’t have many cravings for ‘bad’ foods. When I do, I absolutely eat them. However, I’m very mindful what I put into my body.

For example, the last thing I do when I’m feel overwhelmed or stressed is eat junk. I know it makes me feel heavy and disgusting, and I don’t eat it. I also don’t drink anything but coffee or water, and I don’t take anything. I don’t do well with medication or supplements, so I just don’t take them. I find that you just feel better when you eat good-for-you foods and enjoy those. Your body needs the right stuff, and your job is to make sure it’s getting it. I promise you, it definitely makes you feel better (lighter, more energized, non-moody).

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Bake Something

Is that hypocritical after saying you shouldn’t put a bunch of crap in your body if you’re not feeling well already? You don’t have to eat it to bake it. I don’t eat a lot of what I bake, but I love to bake this time of year. There is something so good about being in the kitchen with the smells of amazing things baking. It’s just so Christmasy, and it makes me so happy! I just give away whatever I bake – and people love that!

Set Aside Time For What You Really Enjoy

For me, it’s spending quality time with my husband and my kids. We love to schedule an early night where we take early baths and showers, get into our matching Christmas pajamas, make some popcorn and hot chocolate (wine) and watch a Christmas movie together. Our kids LOVE when we watch Home Alone, and it’s our favorite holiday tradition.

Give Back

If there is one thing we want our kids to know and do and see us doing, it’s to give back. There are so many families who have so little, and we have so much. Giving back is what we’re meant to do, and nothing feels as good as knowing that a little generosity – even if it doesn’t take any time our effort in our lives – can change someone else’s life forever. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, forget what’s on the schedule, go out, and make someone’s holiday dreams come true. I can assure you that you will forget what had you so stressed in the first place.

Remember to be Thankful

When life gets a little overwhelming, I just sit back, take a few deep breaths (try five-count breathing….one of the very best things I ever learned at yoga), and remember that while I may be overwhelmed or annoyed at how much I have to do and how little time I have to do it, I’m beyond fortunate. I have a wonderful family, an active and exciting social life with friends who are absolutely family, a beautiful home, the freedom to enjoy life, and everything I ever prayed for and dreamed of growing up. I might be annoyed or overwhelmed, but I’m also living a life that’s beautiful – and I’m very blessed. Sometimes it takes a quick reminder that life is good to calm me down immediately. I have no complaints, and I’m not in the business of creating them.

Hostess Gifts to Keep On Hand

Happy Wednesday, loves! 

There is nothing I love more this time of year than the feeling I get when the holidays are here. I can’t explain it, but you know what I mean. It’s a feeling of contentment. Happiness and joy and love and excitement. It’s everywhere, and I’m in love.
One thing I always make sure I have around the holidays is a stash of gifts – just in case. Hostess gifts, last minute gifts, you know the type. When the amazing team at Crabtree & Evelyn reached out and asked if I’d like to try out the Hands Delight Hand Therapy Trio, I was obviously on board with that. Ever since, it’s become one of my very favorite items to have and to give.
Since my husband and I always seem to need a gift quickly, we keep a cabinet in our office filled with perfect hostess gifts we can grab and take with us even when we haven’t any time. That includes our favorite Crabtree & Evelyn gift set.

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Crabtree & Evelyn Lotion Set
This is more than just a little amazing as a gift. First, who doesn’t love Crabtree & Evelyn products? Second, who doesn’t love a gift set with more than one gift in it?! It’s the perfect gift because people actually need it when the weather is cold and their hands are dry – and it smells amazing. Right now, all my readers can use promo code “MASHUP20” for 20% off your entire order – plus free shipping!
Wine/Champagne
Most everyone loves a bottle of something wonderful, so we keep a few of our personal favorites on hand all the time. We love a mixture of price points, too. Everything from a super affordable $25 bottle of red to a bottle of Chandon and Moët that’s pricier, but oftentimes more appropriate.
Candles
During the holidays, I love to keep an array of Bath & Body Works holiday scented candles on hand, but I also love Diptyque candles throughout the year. Why? People love candles! What’s not to love?!
Flowers
The only problem with fresh flowers is that they can’t be kept on hand. If we have time, roses or peonies – depending on the season  – are my favorite go to. If you have time to stop, always go for flowers!
What’s your favorite hostess gift to give or receive? Let me know in the comments!

Subscription Boxes: The Christmas Gift that Keeps On Giving

Happy Monday, loves!

It is officially December, and that is officially exciting! We’ve been living our best lives over here the past few weeks, and I’ve been a little MIA. Last week was a crazy one. Thanksgiving was the week before last, and it was a beautiful week. Family, friends, food, and so much love. We have so much to be thankful for, and we certainly don’t take that for granted.

Last week was back to normal except not normal. Carter developed a viral infection that turned into a double ear infection that he shared with his twin sister. He was out of school 4.5 days (he left early Monday) and she was out the last two days of the week. It was a hectic week in general, but we made it work.

This week is just as crazy. I’m up even earlier than 5 am all week to get a few hours of work in before I have to be at the girls’ school to do my PTA board member duties with my PTA sister wives at the Gingerbread Shoppe all day, every day, and into the night Friday because of the Winter Festival with Santa. It’s the mom life, and I love it. It totally helps that my PTA sister wives are the most inappropriate, hilarious, completely insane, questionable, fabulous women imaginable – as am I – and we work very, very well together.

Because of that, I worked my behind off last week and over the weekend to get ahead on my deadlines so I don’t stress myself out this week, and I basically killed it. I also killed my second ever 5k this weekend – if you remember that I only began running the last week of April this year. I ran all 3.1 (except it was really 3.33) miles without stopping – in the pouring rain. I did 3 miles in 28:47 and finished overall in 30:58.14 – 99th place out of 206 runners. And I’m really, really proud of myself.

And then I shopped online for things. All the things. Because I love to shop, and I love to give gifts to the people I love, so Christmas is my jam. And while I was shopping online for all the things and my husband was going through his yearly tradition of wondering what kinds of gifts to get me since we buy what we want when we want it, I had a thought.

Subscriptions.

Subscription services are the best thing ever right now. Who doesn’t love to get new things all the time while paying a small fee for it? Boxes that show up on your doorstep filled with things that you love? It’s a win-win for everyone since these are typically the one gift that no one ever has.

That said, I’m going to share a few of the lesser-known subscription boxes that I think will become huge before much longer – and they’re not all boxes; some are just subscriptions – because I love them and have them at home. It literally is the gift that keeps on giving.

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photo from sephora.com

Play! By Sephora

It’s not like it’s a big secret that I’m totally obsessed with Sephora. It’s where I’ve done all my beauty and haircare shopping for the past 15 years of my life, and I was not about to pas sup this box when I saw it a few months ago. The box comes monthly, it’s small, and it has a few fun-size samples and larger sizes in the boxes. Every month is totally different, but you also get to fill out a questionnaire when you sign up for it that allows you to customize your personal needs (is your skin oily or dry? Do you prefer bright colors or muted colors?) so they always send you something you can use.

This box costs a grand total of $10.60 per month, and it’s so much fun. It always comes with 4-5 items all in the trial-size portions. Perfume, lip stick, mascara, moisturizer, and so much more. You even get a gift card that gives you 50 free Beauty Insider points to add to your next purchase if you enter it at check out. This box is my favorite because it allows me to try new things I might not otherwise try, and I can decide for 10 bucks if I love them, hate them, or have no feelings for them whatsoever.

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photo from art of organics 

Art of Organics

This box has become one of my favorites ever since the company reached out to me and asked me if I’d like to try it out. It’s all about clean beauty delivered monthly to your door. This box comes with two to four products every month, and they are beyond amazing. What’s even better – they are full-size products. No sample or trial sizes here, thank you very much.

Every box has a theme. It might be a hair care month. It might be a winter box. It might be a skin care box. It might anything, but it’s always amazing. You can choose to order one box at a time for $41.95 monthly, buy six boxes at a time for $39.95 a box ($239.70 one time payment) or buy a full year of boxes for $455.40 ($37.95 per box).

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photo from cosmobox

CosmoBox

Thank you, Cosmo, for sending this to our lives. It is the best. It’s a box with all of the latest and greatest in beauty, fashion, and lifestyle items. You get to try them out every months for a grand total of $29.99 per month. This box always contains more than $60 in goodies, so it’s a great deal. It is another on that lets you try new things for a great price – which is always a win!

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photo from the bouqs company 

The Bouqs Company

If you’re anything like me, you love fresh flowers. I cannot go without them in my home, and you will never find us without fresh flowers in most rooms. This is a perfect subscription for anyone who loves beautiful flowers. For $32 per month, you get to have a fresh floral arrangement delivered to your front door. It’s always different, always seasonal, and always makes you feel so much happier when you see it arrive. It’s your personal best, and you will love it.

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photo from target

Cat & Jack Outfit Box from Target

So…new moms. Here you go. You’re welcome, and you’re going to love this. If you know a new mom, this will cost you $40 per month. It’s all kinds of adorable Cat & Jack (you know the brand from Target) clothing that is delivered monthly – and they even send the next size up as your baby grows. They keep track of all of it for you, and it might be the best idea since, well, anything else.

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Rent the Runway Update

If you have someone in your life who loves designer clothing and accessories, you want to spend the $80 per month on this shipment. It’s four items that come to your door. You get to keep them for one month. You get to choose what you want so you always have four gorgeous news items in your closet to wear for one month. If they don’t fit, send them back and they will ship you new ones. Hate something? Send it back and you’ll get a new one. You get to choose what you want, how you want it, and you get to have it all sent to your door. It’s hundreds to thousands of dollars worth of designer clothes shipped to you every month.

The best part is that you can customize the shipment every month to meet your needs. Going on vacation? Get all the Lilly Pulitzer. Is it the holiday season? Order all the beautiful red dresses. You can update your wardrobe monthly without any commitment, and that’s what makes this the best box on the market.

Black Friday Shopping Tips

Happy Friday, loves!

I hope you all had the most beautiful and amazing Thanksgiving! Our home was filled with people we love, more food that we could possibly eat, too much fun and laughter, and probably a few too many cocktails. It was everything.

Now that you’re properly stuffed, adequately hating yourself for eating that 3rd helping of dinner, and feeling a little like you cannot do much more than roll out of bed – and we do mean roll – it’s time to talk shop. And by shop, I obviously mean shopping. I love Black Friday – though I don’t go shopping on Black Friday outside of my robe (and on my couch and with my coffee). One, because there is no sale worth the road rage I know I’m going to have today, and two, because today is DÉCOR DAY! Or, as we call it in the Raiford house, the best day ever.

We go buy our beautiful, amazing, insane tree. Every year I try to get one taller than the year before, but it’s really, really hard in Florida to find anything taller than 16-17 feet. My Christmas tree room, however, has 23-foot ceilings and huge windows, so finding the biggest tree ever is always my goal.

Anyway, we go buy the big tree. Then we come home and decorate it and the smaller tree in the family room and the master bedroom. The kids all get 3-4 foot trees for their bedrooms, and we do let them choose new decorations for their trees every year.

Then….we decorate. The Christmas music comes on for the first time all year. The hot chocolate is flowing. There are cookies baking (because the kids love that) and we are all having the best day ever. I cannot even – it’s my favorite.

Because I want you to also have the best day ever, I want to share with you my favorite Black Friday shopping tips.

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Stay Home

No, really. There is nothing better than sleeping in, drinking your coffee in your robe, and doing not a darn thing until you are ready.

Shop the Right Sales

Honestly, I never know where I want to shop the most. It all depends on the year, but I will share with you some of my no-fail Black Friday orders.

  • Nordstrom: You will always find great sales online on Black Friday on anything and everything
  • Bath and Body Works: Would you judge me if I told you I burn a 3-wick candle out in two days? Well, that’s what happens when you work from home. So, this day is a major candle sale day, and I load up since you can stack all those coupons they mail you.
  • Crew: I always find something majorly on sale here.
  • Dillards: I love Dillards on Black Friday because they have the lowest and most ridiculous prices on kid’s Under Armour apparel, and that’s all my son and my nephew wear, so I fill that cart!
  • Old Navy: When you have a 7-year-old who is as hard on her clothes as mine, you buy her stuff here, today.
  • Sephora: Honestly, they just had their 20% off sale twice in the past few weeks, so don’t be surprised if they throw something else out today. They always do well.

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Those are my favorites, but sometimes I find things elsewhere. It just depends on what catches my eye as I peruse my inbox that morning and see all the listed sales.

Don’t Stress

Listen, ladies, there are going to be a million and one more sales this holiday season, and some of them will be better than the last one. You will not miss out if you don’t buy something today. I guarantee you will find it still on sale in a week.

Skip the Hot New Items

You can’t find it, so stop stressing yourself out about it. It’ll be back in full stock at the beginning of January, and you will get it for less. Trust me.

Bake Something

Cinnamon rolls or French toast or something like that. It’s such a nice way to start the day, and you feel so good about life. Just do it. It’s how I like my Black Fridays.

Giving Thanks on Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, loves!

Before the turkey goes in the oven, before the formal dining room table is set, before our guests arrive, I like to wake early and sit outside with a hot cup of coffee and my thoughts. I love the back deck this time of day (or the front porch or lanai if it rains) when the sun is rising behind our home. The sky is pink, and everything is quiet. The kids are still asleep, my husband may or may not rise to join me depending on whether I can get out of bed without waking him – which he doesn’t mind, but it always makes me feel bad.

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. Nothing is a problem on this day. All the things that bother me leading up to it are gone. The fact that there is an additional guest coming that no one bothered to mention to us, or the fact that everyone loves to gather in the kitchen and basically get in our way nonstop, or the fact that everyone wants to help us and all we want is for them to get out of the kitchen and leave things alone…they disappear. They aren’t a big deal (I mean, I’m fully aware they aren’t a big deal – ever – but I’m a petty kind of Type-A, so give me a little slack, mmmkay?). Everything is right in my world.

Growing up, all I ever wanted was a big, beautiful house in which my husband and I could host holidays, and the realization that the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world is my reality is my favorite feeling.

I also love today because our kids like to wake up and cuddle us before we prep our big breakfast and then dinner. They like to sit down and ask us what we are grateful and thankful for this year. Of course, we are always thankful for their sweet faces and for one another, but hearing them tell us that they are thankful for God or for us or for playing outside or for cookies or something else equally sweet and adorable makes us feel so good. We’ve raised four beautiful babes into polite, kind, loving little people – with enough sarcasm and dry humor to make them awesome. Pat on the back to us, please.

I always feel that I have so much to be thankful for, and this year is no exception. This year, my gratitude is just overwhelming (I know I say that every year). However, I really feel it so much more this year. So many beautiful things have happened this year that remind me of that and make me feel thankful every single day.

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There’s Beauty in Simplicity

Ask my husband or anyone who knows me well, and they’ll tell you I’m anything but simple. And they’ll tell you my taste is as far from simple as it gets. However, it’s the simplicity we’ve worked so hard to find this year that has brought me so much joy, and for that I’m thankful. Getting #backtobasics has been everything. While I’d like to say our calendar isn’t full all the time, that’s not true. We have for kids, careers, and a life that don’t allow for us to go unscheduled, but we have made it a point to avoid putting too much on the calendar. If we don’t really want to do it, we don’t do it.

The lack of planning every single weekend with events months in advance has been the most valuable experience. Even though none of our free weekends have been free at all, the ability to get up and say, “Let’s go to the Omni and take the kids to Disney for the evening,” or “Let’s book that weekend to go to Texas and see my grandmother,” or “What? Date night? We’d love to!” has been everything. We are more relaxed, we are happier, and we are enjoying the quality of our lives. If the past two weekends have been an example, it’s the simplest, most basic things that have the most profound impact and make for the most amazing memories. We are just so fortunate.

Laugher is the Best Medicine

I don’t care who you are, if you aren’t laughing as much as we’ve been laughing this year, you aren’t doing life right. There have been a lot of date nights and Wednesday night dinners and dinner parties this year that have been so much fun, so hilarious, and filled with so much laughter that every single one of us has forgotten we have a phone. No pictures. No tags. Nothing. Best nights ever. We’re doing life with some super fantastic people, and that’s what it’s about.

There’s No Time For Negativity

We all have bad days, annoyances, and stuff. Like, for example, I spent a few hours on Friday on the phone with Under Armour asking why the gifts I ordered on October 20th hadn’t arrived yet on November 16, only to find out that what I ordered was out of stock – no notification, but they did charge me. Then I hung up, called UPS and asked them why the Nordstrom package I was expecting that day went from being on the truck for delivery to being in Miami only for them to tell me someone messed up (um, obviously?) to then being on the phone with FedEx to ask if I can possibly reschedule the delivery of 51 boxes of fundraiser items because even though I told the fundraiser lady that this week is Thanksgiving and there is no one at my daughter’s school to accept the shipment, she shipped it for delivery this week anyway.

We all have our stuff. And it’s okay to complain about it. But it’s not okay to blame everyone else for your life problems. Most of the time, it’s your own fault you’re not enjoying life. You put yourself into situations that are just stupid, pointless, and take away from your life. It’s not anyone’s fault but your own, but many people don’t see that. They are always right, their opinion is always the correct one, and they know everything about everything all the time.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

This year has been so good for me minimizing that kind of interaction, and it’s been good for me to learn to put that kind of negativity away when I’m feeling it, too. That’s made me so much happier. When you just realize your own issues, work on them, and move on, your life is much happier. Listen, you can take a sandwich bag filled with pennies from a 6-year-old and count out $4 for them to buy a book at a book fair all while inhaling the overwhelming scent of marijuana straight from that baggie and complain about the fact that you’re just a volunteer and this is not your job, or you can laugh about it, pass it around for everyone to smell and then laugh harder when they realize what you just gave them. #lifechoices #truestory

You Do You, Boo

You know what? Do you, sister. Be yourself. Do what you love, what makes you happy, what brings joy to your heart. And love everyone else who does the same. What makes life so much sweeter is worrying about you. Don’t worry about anyone else, who they are, what they are, or that their preferences are different than yours. Worry about you, boo. If you’re like me and you won’t leave the house without some form of bold red lipstick just to drop off your kids, that’s amazing.

If you’re like two of my favorite ladies in the world who roll out of bed in the morning and have all the natural beauty and need none, that’s amazing. Don’t worry about what everyone else thinks about you. And, hey, try to find some good people in your life who love you and your weird stuff. Remember this – people focus on things about you that bother them because they are insecure about themselves in the same manner. But, the truth is that most of us don’t care how you live, what you look like, or what’s up in your life – unless it’s funny. I love the funny stuff.

If this year has taught me anything, it’s that my own approval is all I need. And the fact that my people get that and embrace that is like finding an extra cookie in the bakery box when you thought they were all gone. #delicious

Focus on Quality Over Quantity

My husband and I have spent a great deal of time this year focusing on quality over quantity with our time and with our kids. We want our time with them to be present, focused, and engaging. And that’s what we love the most. It’s been good.

Early Bedtimes Are Everything

The kids. Us. Me. Listen, if you can be asleep before 8:30 p.m., do it. You won’t ever regret any of that. That’s my life goal nightly. And that’s why our kids have always had early bedtimes. Because I like to sleep. I like to wake up early, and that means I have to go to sleep early so I can get a full night of great sleep and be my best self. It’s how I live my best life.

Get Away Every Month

We’ve always been frequent travelers, but this year we made a deal that we would get away for at least a weekend every month, with or without the kids depending on the situation – and so far we’ve managed to exceed that goal. We’ve had 14 weekends away or trips this year, everywhere from the Bahamas to New York City to two trips to Texas to West Palm Beach to Tampa and Orlando. We’ve taken the kids, we’ve not taken the kids. And we still have a few more trips in the books before the year is over.

That time away has been priceless for both us and our kids, and we’ve loved it. There is nothing like knowing that at least once a month, someone else is going to uncork your bottle of champs and deliver coffee to you in bed in the morning. I consider that living my best life.

Get to Church and Spend Time With God

Do I need to add anything to that?

Smile

There might be a long list of annoyances in the everyday, but life is too good to complain about. So, stop complaining, look for the good in every day, and smile. You have a good life, you just have to stop focusing on the negative, make changes where you’re unhappy, and make everyday a good one. Trust me, you can do it. It’s a hell of a lot easier than you think.

So, that’s what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for life lessons, for laughter, for the people in my life, for my faith, for the good fortune we work so hard for, and for our sweet family and the abundance of love that we have in our lives. We are overflowing with love and with people who make our hearts feel so full – and that’s what’s so important to us.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Remember, your irritating in-laws (or your own family) will be gone at the end of the day. So, if you’re currently struggling to find something to be thankful for as your mother tells you that you’re not doing this right or your in-laws make comments about this, go ahead and just be thankful that you don’t have to have these dinners every night, give them a hug, and tell them you love them even if they make you crazier than you want to be. The good news is that they probably already know they make you crazy, and they’re never going to stop. It’s called family, and they’re the best.

35 Things On My 35th Birthday

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Happy Friday, loves!

I am SO excited about this weekend!

It’s my BIRTHDAY!

Well, Sunday is my birthday, but you get the point. I’m turning 35, and I’m so excited. I’m excited about all of my birthdays. It’s my favorite day of the year because it’s all about me and myself. With four kids, a husband, a business, all the boards on which I sit…I just don’t have a lot of me time. I’m fine with that since I prefer to be around my family.

Ironically, I’m a little bit of an introvert, but I have extrovert tendencies from time to time. I prefer to spend the bulk of my time at home with the people I love the most, but sometimes I love to be social. Too much socializing, however, turns me into a monster.

I’m complicated. And I’m okay with that.

Back to this weekend. We are Disney annual passholders (is it possible not to be one when you live an hour and 15 minutes from the park and have four kids 10 and under?!) and we always take my birthday weekend to leave the kids home and head to the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. They detest Epcot, but we love it. So, they’re not invited.

All I know is that we are doing that this weekend. I have no other idea what is going on, what the plan is, or anything. My husband has been super secretive, but I can say with certainty that I definitely suspect something since I’ve caught him having more than one secretive conversation with the people we love. Very hush, hush. And I am so on to him.

I’m excited (and it better be fancy, Raiford. I’m a fancy girl, and there’s not enough fanciness where we live)!

I love my birthday because I love reflecting on the past year. I love to see how I’ve grown and changed over the year. I love to get older and wiser, and I really love to see how I’ve progressed and bettered myself. I’m always looking to be a better person than the one I was yesterday. I’m in constant competition with myself to be better and stronger.

Thirty-four has been such a fun year! We took the big girls to NYC with us for the first time to see the city for three days. They ask every time we go to join us, and we decided they were ready – and they had the best time! We spent my 34th birthday in the city enjoying date night at our favorite restaurant (Il Tinello) after brunch at our favorite place (The Boathouse) after spending the day before at Epcot for the Food and Wine Fest.

We spent a long weekend in SoCal visiting all of our favorite places (The Montage and the Surf and Sand, the Ritz-Carlton, Javiers in Crystal Cove, The Balboa Bay Club…). We cruised to the Bahamas with our four favorite couples. I did yoga in the beach in the Bahamas. We flew with the kids to Texas to spend a long weekend at my grandmother’s farm. We rented a vacation house in Orlando with family and had the best time just hanging out and having all the fun.

We took the kids to Palm Beach for a long weekend with friends. We saw Kenny Chesney and Thomas Rhett in concert. We let our 10-year-old spend her birthday at the Taylor Swift concert with her bestie. We spent most of our Sundays after church at our best friend’s River House kayaking and paddleboarding and grilling and having all the laid-back fun. We had fun. So. Much. Fun.

We spent more weekends than we can count watching Gator Football and going to Disney and enjoying date nights. We got back to basics and we’ve been enjoying all the simplicity of life as a result.

That brings me to the point of this blog post. I’m sharing 35 things about me as I turn 35. That’s right, friends. I’m officially turning the corner in which 50 is closer than 20. And I’ve literally never felt better.

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  1. I’m a bad ass motherfucker. I’m just saying. I am. And I’m not ashamed of that. I’ve spent the past year challenging myself to do things that are just beyond my comfort zone (becoming a runner, for instance), and I’m killing it. And to quote the bestie – and nearly every conversation we have this year – I’m a bad ass motherfucker. And I’m not even sorry for the language.
  2. I’m really organized. Like, super-duper, crazy organized. It’s how I get so much done.
  3. I go through one to two laptops every year because I type so much. I type anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 words per day for my clients five days a week (and sometimes on the weekends depending on the project). That’s something like 3.9 to 5.2 million words per year on my laptop – and that doesn’t count things like my blog posts, my emails, and any correspondence or other items I type. That’s literally just for my clients. The letters start to disappear off my keys within a few months of having my computers.
  4. I love to bake. I really love to bake, but only during the holiday season. Fall and Christmas – let me bake all the things. It makes me feel at ‘home’ and like the holidays.
  5. I have become really good at saying no over the past few years. If it doesn’t interest me, I don’t have time, or I’m tired, I’ll say no. Sometimes I just don’t want to do something, but other times I’m just saying no because I know my body and how it responds to stress, and when I’m too busy for too long, I know it’s time to pass.

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  1. I don’t care what people think of me. I know I come across as a little bit much. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of coffee or whatever, and I’m okay with that. I like me (a lot) and therefore, I don’t care what anyone else thinks of me. So long as this girl is happy, I’m good.
  2. Getting back to basics was one of the very best things we ever did in our house. No longer planning every weekend months in advance, and just learning to enjoy the simple things has been the best. It all came about over a long and hilariously fab dinner date that lasted almost 5 hours one night (December 22, 2017 anyone?) when we realized that we just all missed the way things used to be. The simplicity of an impromptu Sunday afternoon get-together. The enjoyment of spur-of-the-moment plans. Regularly scheduled date nights and bang bang shrimp…it’s been really, really good.
  3. My faith is so important to me. I begin and end each day in prayer. I spend my first few minutes with my daily devotional. I am a firm believer, and I’ve personally witnessed the grace and the beauty of God in every success, in every failure, and in every challenge.
  4. I wonder why we had kids like 8 times a day. Honestly. I do. Then I remember. It’s a cycle.
  5. I am so focused on my health and the health of my family. I love food, but I love good, healthy food. I can take any recipe and definitely not cook it because I suck at that, but I can take it and make it healthy. I want my kids to see my husband and I as a good example that a healthy lifestyle is all it takes. I don’t want them to be uncomfortable in their own skin, and I never want them to be come a statistic or obsessed with fad diets and unhealthy ways of life. You only get one life, and I want theirs to be long and healthy. Thanks, Grandma, for that lesson.

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  1. I am terrified of snakes. I can’t even leave my garage door open longer than the time it takes to drive out. I’m terrified of them getting into the garage and then getting into the house.
  2. I love red lipstick. It makes me feel powerful and put together when I’m not feeling it.
  3. I have a black thumb. Brown one? Whatever color that kills things immediately. Someone once told me to purchase succulents because they cannot be killed. I killed them.
  4. If you come to my house unannounced, you will find two things. It’s spotless, and there are fresh flowers on the kitchen island, the dining room table, the breakfast nook table, the fireplace, the sitting room coffee table, and on the entryway table (well, most of the year on the entryway table. I have some fabulous fake flowers for fall that go on the entryway table from September through November.
  5. I don’t like to sweat. I take something like three to four showers per day. As soon as I wake up, after I go to the gym, before bed, and at least one other time per day if I sweat outside or go shopping or something.

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  1. I think my body looks better at (almost) 35 than it ever has. I think I’ve been skinny fat for a long time, but the past year I’ve been really serious about my workouts. I have abs, muscles, and I’m pretty toned, and I really love it.
  2. I like good people. Plain and simple. I like people who are confident in themselves, who don’t live to please others, who don’t care what anyone thinks of them. I love people who don’t care what other people are doing in their lives. Those are my people. I like good people, and I’m so fulfilled with the goodness we have in the people we surround ourselves with. Which leads me to number 18.
  3. Our Wednesday night dinner tradition is one of my favorite things in life. It’s been 10 and a half years and counting, and it’s so much fun. We began having dinner ever Wednesday with our best friends before kids by going out. By baby number two or three, we were eating at home, switching homes every other week. Seven kids later, it’s hectic and crazy, but it’s my favorite tradition. We have the best time, the most inappropriate conversations, and entirely too much laughter.
  4. We have a friend who tells the best stories sometimes. You always know when it’s going to be a good one when he’s laughing before he even starts talking, and he cannot get it out. I have no idea how half his stories begin or end because he cannot stop laughing, but I’m sure they must be hilarious. And that is hands down my favorite thing about him. Other than his spectacular head of hair.
  5. Yoga and running have become two of my favorite things to do in the world.
  1. I’m a little obsessed with Bath & Body Works candles. Maybe a lot. Especially this time of year. Since September began, I’ve noticed I’ve had 7 packages filled with candles delivered. I cannot stop. It’s a sickness. And I’m fine with it.
  2. Ask me for A-1. I promise you I have a bottle in my handbag. Just ask me. There have been too many near disasters, and we must be prepared.
  3. Giving is what makes me happy.
  4. If there’s a committee, I’m on it. Well, kind of. I’m on the PTA board at my girls’ school and the twins’ school, and I’m co-running Safety Patrol for our fifth grader. I like to be present in their lives, so sign me up. But, really, don’t sign me up. There’s nothing left to go around!
  5. I tend to overreact a bit, but give me a day to calm down.

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  1. I’m paranoid. About everything. I worry incessantly about things happening to us and our kids. I worry about the worst case all the time. I’m perpetually paranoid, and I’m not ashamed of that.
  2. I am the most routine-oriented person on the planet. I have to be. It’s called organized chaos, and I need it in my life. I need my routine. It’s how I get anything done.
  3. I hate wearing flats. Hate them. I love high heels. I wish I could wear them all day every single day, but that mom life doesn’t always allow it.
  4. I put a lot of value and importance on date night and time away from the kids. We try hard to have a date night at least every other week. We are so busy and we have four kids – and our nephew for two hours before school in the mornings and at least an hour after school in the afternoons – and we need that time. It’s good for our souls and our marriage.
  5. I’m not the girls trip type. I did it once, and I prefer to spend the time with my husband. I love my girlfriends, but I’m looking to be sharing my bed with my husband at the end of the day. That’s all.

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  1. I hate the beach. HATE the beach. I hate sand. I hate salt water. I love to look at the beach. But I prefer to look at it from a gorgeous restaurant or hotel bar.
  2. I’ve grown so much in the past year, and I’m really proud of that. I’ve opened myself up to a lot of new experiences, new people, new things, new places – and I’ve learned from all of it.
  3. I give up trying to explain to people what I do. They think when I say, “I’m a writer,” that I’m J.K. Rowling and have a New York Times Bestseller. They don’t understand what a web content creator is. They don’t understand what I write or why I don’t use my name often in what I write. They don’t get how my business works. If I’m not an author of books, I must be a blogger. And while I do blog right here, this is just for me. This is not my job. This is for me to have a creative outlet for some of the very fun and creative things my job perks allow.
  4. I think raising a little boy is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. We have three girls and a boy, and our boy is our ‘youngest’. He’s one of the twins, but he’s our baby B. He was born five minutes after his twin sister. He’s difficult. Boys are loud, rambunctious, dirty. He wants to be outside all the time, but I’m not a big nature fan. He cannot spend time playing on his own. He needs someone to play with him all the time. The girls are the exact opposite. They are quiet. They all play well independently (and together when they want), and they’re so clean and tidy. Carter? He’s a hot mess. Boys are hard. Our sweet best friends were ‘boy parents’ until a year and a half ago when they had their third child (and first girl) and they told us a million times that boys are, well, boys. We didn’t listen to them.
  5. I’ve really come to appreciate grace in the past year. I’ve learned to give myself grace. I’m not perfect, though I try so hard to be the very best at anything I accomplish.

So, there you go. Thirty-five very random facts about me and who I am to kickstart my 35th birthday. It’s been a beautiful year with all kinds of great moments and not-so-great moments, and I cannot wait to see what 35 has to bring my way! Cheers to the freakin’ weekend, loves!