the sparkly life

Monday, June 24, 2019

How I've Read 50 Books In Six Months (And How You Can, Too!)

how to read faster

A few weeks back, in early June, I shared on my Instagram Stories that I had just finished my 40th book of the year. I got a ton of DMs asking me how I managed to do that, and the truth is, it hasn't been an accident. I've made a major, concerted effort to read more this year, and it has definitely paid off. I'm now already at 48 books read so far this year (and almost done with two more!), which is a huge uptick for me, considering I read 22 books total last year. (And I was pretty proud of that at the time as 22 was already more than I'd read the previous year.)

I'll also add that I'm not a particularly fast reader. In fact, I'm probably an average-to-slow reader! I'm also just like you: I work, I'm a mom, I hang out with friends, I watch my favorite shows on TV, and for years, I considered myself "too busy" to read. Turns out, that wasn't true. I still do all of the things I did before (still have those kids--lol!), but I've just come up with some very specific--and, I realize now, very effective--strategies that have allowed me to supercharge the amount of books I read in the limited time that I have. 

None of it is rocket science, but it works. And I promise you can do everything on this list, too. If you want to know how to read more books, how to read faster, and how to find more time in your day to read, scroll down. Here's exactly how I taught myself to read more books--and how you can do it, too.

best books 2019

Read 20 minutes every day. Most of the tips on this list are stuff I figured out on my own, but not this one. I got this tip from Laura Tremaine, and it is a good one. Sounds simple, but it makes a big difference, and it's what really jumpstarted me to become a such an avid reader this year. Here it is: Pick up a book, set a timer on your phone for 20 minutes, and read straight for that whole time. (No stopping to check email or social--just focus for 20 freaking minutes and read.) Do this every single day (schedule it in your calendar if that helps), and even if you do nothing else on this list, you'll already be increasing your reading, big time. Everyone is busy, but no one is too busy to do something for 20 minutes. If you want to read for more than that, great! If you don't, that's fine, too. But do the 20 minutes every day without fail, and I promise, it will be a gamechanger in the number of books you read.

ABR. (Always Be Reading.) This has basically become my motto. (Consider it my GTL--Gym, Tan, Laundry--if you will.) The idea is that I want to always have a book with me, so that I can easily carve out pockets of time (even a few minutes here and there) to read. Now, ABR is a lot easier if you read electronically. I do most of my reading on my Kindle app on my phone, and since my iPhone is essentially one of my limbs at this point, it's always with me. But if you're super anti-e-reader, make sure you always have a physical book close at hand, in your purse or a tote bag, etc. Always having a book at the ready means I can easily read for a few minutes if I'm standing in line, waiting for a train, etc, instead of scrolling through social media. You'll be surprised how quickly a few spare minutes here or there adds up. But ABR goes even further. If you are walking down the street or driving in your car listening to Taylor Swift or a podcast, cool. But could be reading! Because I strive to ABR, the minute I step outside to walk to the train or to an appointment, I put in my earbuds and switch on an audiobook (more on those below). I also listen to audiobooks when I'm putting on my makeup in the morning, making dinner, putting away laundry, etc. I mean it: Always. Be. Reading.

best audiobooks

Learn to love audiobooks. Wait! I know what you're thinking right now; I was you just a few months ago. But go with me here: Audiobooks can seem intimidating or weird--I know--but they are actually awesome (often better than the regular book version--seriously), and can massively up the amount of books you are able to read. Now, I'll be honest: I don't love to listen to fiction. Some people don't have a problem with it, but I still find it challenging to follow a complicated narrative. But I love--love!--listening to non-fiction books and memoirs (especially celeb memoirs!). Non-fiction books (think self-help, parenting, history, etc) literally just feel like listening to a podcast. Memoirs--and particularly, celeb memoirs--are my favorite though. I honestly don't think I'll ever read a celeb memoir again, because it infinitely changes the experience to hear it read in the author's voice. You hear the author laugh, use funny voices, even cry--it totally alters the experience for the better. Two other tips: 1) Always increase the speed of your audiobook. Authors talk verrrrrry slooowwww when recording audiobooks, and I promise, you can listen faster. I listen to everything sped up to 1.25 to 1.5 times. It sounds superfast for about five seconds when you first increase it, but then you get used to it. 2) If you want to try out audiobooks, I highly recommend joining Audible. They have every possible audiobook that's available (you just order them through Amazon), and their app is great for listening. (If you use this affiliate link and do a 30-day trial, you can get two free audiobooks!) And to get you started, a few of my very favorite audiobooks are: This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps, Troublemaker by Leah Remini, Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, Becoming by Michelle Obama, and From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home.

Read multiple books at a time. I was always someone who reads only one book at a time, but that's the old 20-Books-In-a-Year me. I am now always reading two books, and often reading three. I always have a book that I'm reading on my Kindle app, and then I also always have an audiobook going. If I do a third book, it will be a physical book. Audiobooks are always non-fiction for me, and then I try to make the Kindle and physical books very different, which means that one is fiction and the other is usually a memoir or some other type of non-fiction book. Reading two to three books at once in this way keeps you from getting bored, and also gives you a psychological boost because you end up finishing multiple books one after another--boom, boom, boom! And of course, it helps ensure that you ABR.
how to read faster

Don't be afraid to dump a bad book. I can't tell you how many boring books I used to suffer through because I had that mentality that you had to finish a book. Like it was a law. Well, I'm here to tell you: It's not illegal or rude or wrong to stop reading a book you're just not feeling. You can take a permanent or temporary break from it and the world is not going to end. If you're not enjoying it, you're going to read it slowly, and just think about all of the reading time you're wasting by doing that! Let it go, and pick up something else. And that dud will always be there waiting for you, if you decide to give it another go down the line. (I've done that before, by the way, and often find it way more enjoyable the second time around!)

Follow fellow readers. I probably get 99 percent of my book recommendations from people I follow on social media. And when someone you trust and admire is raving about a book, you'll find that you won't be able to wait to dive into it, too. Some of the accounts I follow are just "regular" people who love to read, and some are dedicated #bookstagrams. A few of my favorite accounts to follow for book recs: @ashleyspivey, @laura.tremaine, @graceatwood, @hithapalepu, @carlysbookclub, @reesesbookclubxhellosunshine, @nycbookgirl, @sarahsbookshelves@shelfbyshelf, and @purewowbookclub. (Shameless plug: I give lots of book recs on my Insta Stories at @alyssahertzig, and I *just* started my own Bookstagram! It's @alyssaisbooked and I would be forever grateful for a follow!) I also get a ton of recs from #Spiveys Club on Facebook (search for it! It's the one with the book stack emoji), and the Bad on Paper podcast.

Join Book of the Month. After debating for a long time, I joined Book of the Month Club a few months back, and I'm so happy I did. If you're not familiar with it: Each month they pick five books that are basically guaranteed to be awesome and guaranteed to be some of the biggest, most popular releases. (I also love that they often get books early, so BOTM members are often able to get their hands on books a month or so before they are officially released.) I've found it's a great way to a) learn about "guaranteed" page-turners, b) build excitement (it feels like Christmas morning when your blue box of books arrives, and even that pales in comparison to the excitement of finding out which books are going to be offered each month, and c) it's a great deal. You get one hardcover new release each month at $14.99, and you can also add on any others for just $9.99. (You also get a free add-on book during your birthday month!) Now is a great time to join because they're running a promo where you get your first book for $9.99 instead of $14.99, so if you've been mulling it over, don't wait! (And if you do join, use my link here, because then we'll both get a free book! Yay!)

book of the month deals

Alternate heavy and light books. I like reading sweeping historical fiction, but I also like a fun beach read. When possible, I try to alternate heavier, denser books with shorter or lighter reads. This helps keep my momentum up, and will help you feel like you're reading more books. (Because you will be reading more books this way!)

Watch less TV. Okay, this is the one you didn't want to hear, I know. Sorry, but it's true. I'm no math genius, but it turns out less watching-TV time equals more reading time. I used to watch a lot of TV because it was how I would wind down at night or on a lazy weekend afternoon. Now, I wind down with a book. I still watch my very favorite shows, but really, only those favorites. If I get the urge to switch on the TV just "because," I read instead. 

Build a kick-ass TBR (to be read) pile. Ultimately, it all boils down to this simple truth: If you have great books to read, you'll read more. Here's a few of my all-time favorites and some of the very best books I've read this year. Grab a few of these amazing page-turners, and you're on your way to an awesome book year. Try 11/22/63, Lilac Girls, The Nightingale, Magic Hour, Tender At The Bone, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Mrs. Everything, City of Girls, The Great Alone (yes, I'm clearly obsessed with Kristin Hannah!), Station Eleven, Kitchens of The Great Midwest, When Breath Becomes Air, The Age of Miracles, The Heart's Invisible Furies, and EducatedHappy reading! 

Do you have any tips to add? If so, please let me know! And if you try any of these and see a difference, please let me know either here or on Instagram. Can't wait to hear how many books you guys read this year now!

Monday, June 3, 2019

My Summer Bucket List

ice cream and kids in the summertime

After what seemed like forever, summer is finally here! I did a summer bucket list last year, and it turned out to be a nice way to remind myself of a few of the little things I wanted to make sure to carve out time for in a season that's always so much busier than we expect it to be. So, this year I'm doing it again! Here's a few little--and not so little--things I want to be sure to cram in before Labor Day this year...

Get some fancy ice cream. I've been wanting to visit Dominique Ansel Kitchen for their famous summer-only soft serve forever, and I just...haven't yet. This year I'm doing it, dammit! Right now they don't have the one I've really been wanting to try (burrata!), but they do have their watermelon soft serve, which sounds amazing, and looks even better. I want to try it...and 'gram it (of course).

Do a ton of reading. I'm on a roll this year with reading (as of this writing, I've read 38 books so far in 2019!). I want to keep up that pace--or even amp it up!--this summer. I'm going to give myself the goal of reading 12 books between now and the end of August, which should be doable if I keep up the pace I've been going at. To help me out, I recently joined Book of the Month and am excited to get my first book any day now. (If you've been thinking of joining BOTM, too, use this link and get your first book for just $9.99!) And the virtual To Be Read pile on my Kindle app is stacked high right now. A few books I've already bought and plan to dig into soon: Ask Again Yes, A Nearly Normal Family (my first Book of the Month pick!), and Lost Roses. (And a few more that I got early sneak peeks at and recently finished that I highly recommend you grab/preorder for summer beach reads: Mrs. Everything, Fleishman Is In Trouble, Things You Save in a Fire, and City of Girls. All were amazing!)

Enjoy our (new-ish) backyard. As you may remember, we did a major backyard renovation last year complete with treehouse, fire pit, outdoor kitchen, and more. The only problem was that it wasn't completed until the end of the summer, so we didn't have a ton of time to enjoy it. This year I want to do many more meals outside and just hang out there more. And speaking of that...

Cook our own pizza. We love making pizzas from scratch in our Big Green Egg, but it takes awhile to cook them, so it's a little frustrating. (But they taste amazing!) To remedy that, I've had my eye on the Ooni pizza oven ever since Helena from Brooklyn Blonde mentioned hers. I'm planning to get this one (the Ooni Koda) which is super small, gas-operated, and cranks out amazing-looking pizzas in just 60 seconds! 

See a movie during the day. This has been on my all-seasons to-do list for that past three years. When I went freelance, I actually said to myself: "Working from home will be so great! Every once in awhile, I can catch a movie during the day!" And I've done that exactly zero times. So this summer, at least once, I'm going to take advantage of my flexible day, and steal away to our local theater for a two-hour escape.

Garden like crazy. If you follow me on Instagram Stories, you may know that I started a vegetable garden for the first time earlier this spring. I don't even own any houseplants, so this was a big step for me. But, much to my surprise, I'm loving it! What I originally planned to be merely a small, raised container bed, has turned into two raised beds and tons of individual containers. I'm growing zucchini, eggplant, cucumber, beets, tons of herbs, kale, romaine, butter lettuce, spinach, mesclun, and three types of tomatoes. Whew! This summer, I want to work hard to maintain it and produce/eat loads of veggies! (And then make alllll the salads! I have a Salads Pinterest board, if you want to follow along. I'll be relying on it heavily!)

Make a cobbler. This was on my list last year. I didn't do it. I have no idea why. This year, THE. COBBLER. IS. HAPPENING.

Eat lunch outside. By myself. With a book. I'm in awe of people who eat alone in restaurants. I never do it! It's not so much that I'm nervous about it; it just never occurs to me! But I love the idea of taking the time to eat lunch by yourself with nothing but a great book to keep you company. And the thought of doing it at an outdoor table on a beautiful day sounds even better! Think I'm going to do it at Elysian Cafe here in Hoboken. It's a delicious restaurant with an incredible outdoor patio, and oh yeah, my husband and I happen to be part owners! ;)

Visit Philadelphia. It's super close to NYC, but I haven't been since my husband and I went as one of our first trips together probably 13 years ago! Both of my kids learned a lot about Ben Franklin this year and they're really interested in him. So what better place to go? If you have any Philly suggestions (particularly kid-friendly ones!), please let me know!


What's on your summer bucket list?

Friday, May 24, 2019

14 Cool Things You Need to Click On Today

Photo by Danielle Tullo

It has been a week, let me tell you. And because of that, I don't think I've ever been so excited for a long weekend. Not that we have huge plans! We're not doing anything beyond saying goodbye to the city and relaxing at our lakehouse, but I am definitely here for that right now. I'm basically planning to read, Whatever you're up to this weekend, I hope you make it a great one. Here's a few fun links to check out in the meantime. 

• Within the last few years, my "good" t-shirts have started developing little holes around the tummy area--sometimes after a single wear! It's so frustrating and I've been stumped as to why. Do I have moths? Are the tees made of crappy material? What the heck is happening? This article gives answers. I was fascinated by it--and thrilled to know it's not just me with the holey-tee problem!

• I've been reading a ton lately and wanted to share some of my recent favorites: 1) Save Me the Plums is a memoir that details Ruth Reichl's years spent as the editor in chief of Gourmet magazine. It's got lots of dishy Conde Nast moments and it's just so beautifully written. I love Reichl's books and this most recent one is yet another treasure. 2) Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive was great. It's a memoir of the author's time spent struggling as a single mother and cleaning houses to stay afloat. It was fascinating to read about what goes on behind closed doors. I listened to the audiobook version of this and it was a nice, relatively quick listen. 3) From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home. This was a Reese Witherspoon pick, and I don't think she has ever let me down with her book recs. I did the audio version of this one, too, and really loved it. It's a memoir of the American author's life after her Sicilian husband dies. I loved the retelling of when they first met, as well as the many descriptions of Italian food and Sicilian culture sprinkled throughout. It's beautifully written and makes me want to visit Sicily--and learn Italian! 

• The best non-fiction audiobooks.

• Speaking of books, I recently discovered a service that seemed too good to be true, but is, in fact, awesome. Scribd is a service that allows you to read/listen to unlimited books and audiobooks for just $8.99 a month. (It's basically an all-you-can-eat buffet of books.) The catch is that it's a limited selection (so not like you get all of Amazon for free!), but they have a surprising number of options including many "big" titles like Where the Crawdads Sing, Becoming by Michelle Obama, Brene Brown, etc. And at $8.99, if you read or listen to even one book in a month, it pays for itself. If you do two or more (which I almost certainly always will), it's a major deal. I'm really excited about it! If you want to check it out, use this link. You'll get 30 days free to try it out (and I'll get a month free, too!). I'm listening to my first Scribd audiobook (Pete Buttigieg's Shortest Way Home) right now.

• J.Crew is having  huge sale this weekend: 50 percent off sale and 40 percent off everything else with code WEEKEND. I have my eye on this dress-it-up/dress-it-down sundress, and I want to stock up on this split-neck t-shirt in multiple colors.

• I'm super picky about jeans, so I tend to wear my favorites over and over until they basically fall apart. After two did fall apart earlier this year, I took a chance and bought these Madewell 8" skinny jeans. And they turned out to be so good!! Very flattering, the perfect height (just-right to hold in the tummy, but not aggressive enough that the highness becomes a full-on look), and I love the Ames wash. I've been meaning to buy another pair, and am totally going to pull the trigger this weekend, since Madewell is having a 20 percent off sale. (Use code PERFECTMATCH.)

• This summer reading chart is so cool! Totally printing it out (it's free!) and using it with my kids this summer.

• I donate a ton of clothes, and always choose to give to Salvation Army since they make it so easy. But this post on where to donate clothes gave me so many good ideas for next time!

• How amazing do these spinach and artichoke melts look?

• Rach Parcell's pantry gives me serious pantry envy. (I didn't even know pantry envy was a thing, but click the link and you'll see. It's a thing.)

• So, apparently, Danielle Steele is a badass. (And a major workaholic...) She has written 179 books (!), writes for 22 hours each day, and oh yeah, has nine kids. This profile is fascinating.

• If you hate-watch the Bachelorette, you'll love this comedic take on the cast. I was crying-laughing at parts.

And in case you missed it, I...

• Threw an epic Harry Potter birthday party.

• Shared a deal for some amazing spring home products.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

I'm Pretty Darn Proud of This Harry Potter Birthday Party

harry potter party ideas
harry potter party ideas
harry potter party ideas
Last year--for the first time ever--my daughter decided she didn't want to have her party at home. Instead, she wanted to have it at an indoor trampoline park--the kind of place where you just show up with a cake and the venue handles the rest. Initially, I was kind of sad not to be able to decorate, but it ended up being fun and so much easier, since I usually go ALL OUT for their parties. It was so enjoyable, in fact, that I tried to talk her into having another easy-peasy party this year. But she wasn't having that. 

She wanted a Harry Potter party. And she had IDEAS. 

She wanted to "turn our house into Hogwarts." She wanted us to hold actual "Hogwarts classes" during the party. She wanted "lots of decorations." So I got to work--and I'm pretty darn pleased with what we came up with. Scroll down to check out what I'm humbly dubbing "the most magical Harry Potter party ever."
harry potter party ideas
harry potter party ideas
harry potter party ideas
harry potter party ideas
The party started with an Herbology Class. As the guests arrived, they each chose a mini owl planter and filled it with potting soil. (I was inspired by the project here.) Then, they each planted a "mandrake" (I had put a spell on them so they wouldn't screech, of course---wink, wink--and oh yeah, also they were actually succulents). 

It was a quick, fun, easy activity, and would also serve as part of their favor to take home.

harry potter party ideas
harry potter party ideas
harry potter party food
harry potter party floating candles
And can we talk about the decorations? Our home is over 100 years old, so we started out with a decent Hogwarts vibe, thanks to that. I then hung battery-operated faux candles from the ceiling with fishing wire so they appeared to float. I also went nuts with printables from Etsy. I printed out large pieces of Harry Potter quotes and Hermione girl-power art (best part: It can be repurposed as art for her room later), a funny sign for the powder room door, a personalized happy birthday banner, and the piece de resistance: Diagon Alley signs that we hung down our main hallway, to suggest an alley.) Also, how cool is that Harry Potter stained glass piece that my dad made?)

I also printed out Harry Potter-themed water-bottle wraps that said things like Giggle Water or Butter Beer. (BTW, water bottle wraps are one of my favorite party tips. Cheap, easy, and looks so cute!)

We lined up her Harry Potter paperbacks on the living room mantle, and scattered flickering, flameless pillar candles everywhere.

harry potter party ideas
harry potter party ideas
harry potter party ideas
Next came a Hogwarts "assembly"--also known as a Harry Potter-themed magic show. We used New York City's Arnie Magic, and he was fantastic. He dressed up like Dumbledore and Snape, performed lots of cool tricks like floating tables and books catching on fire, and even made my daughter levitate. He also has a VERY elaborate set, which really made the decor look ten times better!

harry potter potion
harry potter party potion 
harry potter party ideas

harry potter party activities
After a quick pizza lunch, it was time for Potions class! My daughter decided she wanted us to make Felix Felicis, a "liquid luck" potion from the books. And though I'm sure the "real" concoction calls for some pretty exotic ingredients, this is my Felix Felicis recipe: ginger ale (a.k.a Belladonna), lemon juice (Dragon Oil), powdered sugar (Powdered Bicorn Horn), and gold edible glitter (Dragonfly Wings). 

Each guest got a mini glass bottle with stopper (I had printed out these labels and glued them on the night before), a plastic pipette dropper, plastic funnel, and tiny mini scoop (all to make the whole thing seem more science-y). The kids got SUCH a kick out of it and couldn't stop talking about when they were going to drink their good luck potions. (Tip: Learn from me and either drink your Felix Felicis right away or keep it in the fridge. We didn't and it got moldy after a few days, so I had to quietly pour that luck down the drain..)

harry potter cupcakes

harry potter party ideas

Finally, it was time for cupcakes and candles. And those cupcakes...! They were so awesome, so impressive, and so freaking easy. (Because I didn't make them--ha!) I ordered yellow and red frosted cupcakes (Griffindor colors) from the grocery store (!), and jazzed them up big time with the most amazing fondant Harry Potter cupcake toppers that I found on Etsy. They were beyond cool: #9s, glasses, a 3-D quidditch broom, a sorting hat, a Golden Snitch, lightning bolts, and so on. They weren't cheap, but they were reasonably priced considering how much work must have gone into them. 

And then at my daughter's request, I performed a "sorting hat" ceremony for the cupcakes, giving them out individually to each guest based on some made-up reason ("You are the star Quiddich player here at Hogwarts, so you earn the Golden Snitch..." and so on.) Also at my daughter's request, I then put out bowls of candy and they decorated their cupcakes (and plates and mouths) with extra chocolate. (I apologize to all the parents for the inevitable sugar rushes that surely ensued.)

harry potter party favors

harry potter party favors
harry potter party costumes
And once the school day--er, party--had ended, the girls got their favors: a cute Harry Potter favor bag holding homemade frosted sugar cookies (thanks grandma!), a broomstick pen, a Harry Potter emoji pictionary game (printed from Etsy), their potted mandrake, and a Harry Potter bookmark (also printed from Etsy).

It was a ton of work, I was super stressed, but she loved it--and secretly, I did, too.

But soon after the party ended, my son announced he wanted his party--which would be taking place only a month later--to be at a movie theater. Not going to lie: I was thrilled.

Because Mama needs a nap now. And maybe even a sleeping potion. ;)


Photographer: Teresa Mansbach Photography
Harry Potter cupcake toppers (these will MAKE your party!!): SugarSweetTops (Etsy)
Harry Potter cupcake wrapper printable: Pearl Co Printables (Etsy)
Owl planters: Amazon
Diagon Alley signs: Paper BonBon (Etsy)
Harry Potter bathroom sign printable: Printyca (Etsy)
"Have You Seen This Wizard" poster printable: Photos By AKP (Etsy)
Mandrake signs and labels: Printyca (Etsy)
Flameless floating candles: Amazon
Flameless pillar candles: Amazon
Mini glass bottles for potions: Amazon
Harry potter favor bags: Amazon
Harry Potter cookie cutters: Amazon
Harry Potter birthday banner printable: Sweet Props Store (Etsy)
Harry Potter water bottle wrapper printable: Sherbet Lime (Etsy)
Harry Potter bookmark printable: Chicks and Charmers (Etsy)
Bookmark tassels: Amazon
Broomstick pens: Amazon
Harry Potter favor tag printables: The Paper Giraffe Shop (Etsy)
Harry Potter Emoji Pictionary printable: Paper Passion Designs (Etsy)
Harry Potter paper plates: Amazon
Harry Potter potion label printables: Random Fandom Emporium (Etsy)
Wilton cupcake tower (best purchase EVER!): Amazon
Harry Potter children's t shirt (on my son!): Amazon

Thursday, March 14, 2019

These *FREE* Products Totally Make Your Home Smell Like Spring

grove collaborative deal
mrs meyer's spring scents

grove collaborative deal
It's still freezing here in New York, but in many ways, I've already got spring on my mind. I've stopped buying sweaters when I'm shopping online, for one. (I seem to be laser focused on breezy dresses and sunglasses instead!) And I'm actually getting that almost-never-happens-to-me itch to clean! For the past few days, I've been bagging up old toys and the kids' too-small clothes that I'll pass on to charity, going through piles (and piles and piles) of paper, organizing the pantry and cabinets, and just trying to generally declutter and clean up my life any way I can. And luckily, I've found a way to make the task considerably more pleasant. ;)

Many of you guys have heard me talk about Grove Collaborative before, but if you're new here: Grove Collaborative is a site that carries natural products for home and body, and somehow, 
manages to offer these high-end, normally-pricy brands at very competitive, very affordable prices. (They carry lines like Mrs. Meyer's, Method, Caldrea, Seventh Generation, Acure Organics, Burt's Bees, and many more.)

The other very cool thing about Grove is that, from time to time, they offer these amazing, limited-time free gifts just for trying out the site. And I have a good one for you today where you can get the limited-edition Mrs. Meyer's spring scents for FREE!

The three Mrs. Meyer's limited-edition spring scents (Lilac, Peony, and Mint) are so good, and make washing dishes or wiping down countertops way less grueling. I ordered one of each to try them out, and I really like them all, but my favorite--hands down--is Lilac. It smells exactly like a fresh-picked bunch of real lilacs, and that just always, totally smells like spring to me.

If you'd like to try them out for free, I've partnered with Grove once again to bring you this deal: 
With your first order of $20 from Grove Collaborative using this affiliate link, you will get the following (full-size!) items for FREE in your choice of scent:

• Free Mrs. Meyer’s Spring hand soap

• Free Mrs. Meyer’s Spring dish soap

• Free Mrs. Meyer’s Spring multi-surface spray

• Free Grove Bubble Up brush (in a cute floral design!)

• Free Grove walnut scrubber sponges

• Free shipping and VIP trial

The products are worth over $30, so it's a great way to check out some really nice home products that you might otherwise never have tried.

*FYI, if you're already a Grove Collaborative customer, you aren't eligble for the deal above (sorry!). BUT *if you use this link,* you'll get a FREE set of Grove's awesome walnut scrubber sponges.

You can cancel anytime, so honestly, it's worth at least placing one $20 order and getting all the free stuff! Then you can decide later whether or not you want to continue ordering through them. (That's what I planned to do when I got my own deal way back when, but I've totally stayed on and I order all of my cleaning products through Grove now. Since I live in a city, it's way easier to have my heavy cleaning products delivered!)

I'll also be going live later this week talking more about this deal, these products, and Grove, so make sure you've liked me on Facebook and followed me on Instagram, so that you get a notification. It should be fun!

Don't forget: This offer is only available while supplies last, so grab your free products now!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Our Weekend Getaway To Stratton, Vermont

stratton mountain with kids
stratton mountain with kids
stratton mountain with kids
skiing with kidsstratton with kidsskiing with kids
fire tower restaurant
stratton vermont airbnb

As you may have noticed from Instagram, we spent a long weekend in Stratton, Vermont last month. I had honestly been dreading the trip for two reasons. 1) It was going to be freezing. (Actually, way below freezing. And 2) I'm not a skiier and was worried I would be bored. But we had a great time! Here's a little recap.

We stayed in a private Airbnb home that we "won" as part of our kids' school auction. It wasn't super fancy, but it was comfy and warm (thank god) and cabin-y (so it felt very "Vermont"), and the location was great.

After a four-hour drive, we got there late on a Thursday night. It was about five degrees by the time we got there and the kids were exhausted and soon passed out in their bunk beds. The next morning, we woke up, and drove to the mountain for 9am ski lessons for the kids. It was freezing. I mean, really, really freezing. Negative three when we got out of the car. I was wearing regular knit gloves and after just a couple of minutes outside, I thought some of my fingers were going to fall off. 

It was way colder than my kids were expecting--and, really, way colder than they had ever felt in their lives--and they were not having it. There was a lot of tears and my son was refusing to go skiing. (My daughter had been many times before and loved skiing, but this was going to be my son's second time. And even though both of them were wearing about a million layers, they were very rattled by the temperature.) 

Finally, after some convincing from his instructor (thank you, Branco!), we got my son out there. So with my kids and husband in three hour lessons (!), I headed to the Stratton Village Day Spa for a deep tissue massage. And it was so good. Honestly, one of the best massages I've had in years! My therapist was Dani and she was amazing. I basically floated out of there. I then headed to the lodge to read and watch my iPad until everyone was done skiing. 

At noon, we picked up the kids, grabbed lunch, and then headed back to our cabin to relax. Then, we basically repeated this exact routine for the next two days (when it warmed up to a balmy 10 and 20 degrees, respectively). All in all, it was a great, quick trip! My kids and husband loved the skiing; I loved the relaxing and the precious alone time. We all wish it would have been a little warmer, but after that intial shock--and with plenty of layers--it wasn't that bad.

Here's a little more Stratton, Vermont info if you're interested:

Where it is: Stratton is a four-hour drive from New York City; just under three from Boston.

Where to stay: There are tons of condos on Stratton mountain, and that definitely makes it convenient, but I wouldn't say it's a must to stay there. We stayed in the town of Jamaica, which was at the base of the mountain. (There are lots of Airbnb options there.) It took just ten minutes to drive to the lodge each morning. 

The basics: The smartest thing we did was make it a three-day weekend-trip, because Friday was so much calmer there. Saturday was packed--with ridiculous lines for the lifts--so if you can make it there on a weekday, do it. (Sunday happened to be much less busy for us, too, but that might have been because it was Superbowl Sunday!)

Kids: Stratton is a great place for kids. They can do group lessons or privates (we did privates and the instructors were amazing. I mean, the guy who managed to get my stubborn five-year-old to love skiing almost immediately is pretty much a saint in my book.). There is also a childcare facility right in the village where your non-skiing kids can spend the day. (We never used the childcare, but we heard from others that it was really good. Apparently it does book up though, so look into early!) I also loved that every restaurant was very kid-friendly, had a good children's menu, etc. 

Where to eat:

Mulligan's: We ate lunch here our first day. It's a huge pub/restaurant right in the village with a gigantic menu and plenty of options for kids. I had the Vermont apple grilled cheese, which was so yummy (Cabot cheddar, Granny Smith apples, bacon, and maple syrup!). They even had delicious soft-serve for dessert. 

The Fire Tower Restaurant and Tavern: Ate lunch here on our last day. It came highly recommended and it was good though I thought the menu was a little too limited. I had one of the "small plates" for my lunch and it was really yummy: the "Local Bowl," which consisted of spaetzle, sausage, parmesan, greens, and a garlic white wine sauce. Located in the village.

Honeypie: Adorable restaurant serving burgers, sandwiches, sausages, and milkshakes and located in an old, refurbished gas station. We ordered takeout one night from here for dinner. 

Coyote: I got a delicious latte from this tiny espresso bar in the village every morning. They also have a couple of homemade treats and baked goods like cinnamon rolls (yum), energy bites, and more. 

Have you guys ever been to Stratton? Anything you love there that I missed? And if you haven't been to Stratton, where is your favorite place to go on a ski vacation with kids?