The Importance of Being Reese: January 2014

Saturday's On 7th Street

I've always believed that every city has a heart. On 15th and Kennedy in Philadelphia, people gather around the notorious love sign, exchanging kisses and snapping photos. Any native New Yorker will tell you The Ginger Man is the place to be on a Saturday night.  Here in Charlotte, we have the 7th Street Public Market. Where the hipsters and foodies gather to unwind and refuel.

With our departure date approaching more rapidly than I want to acknowledge, Little J and I have been spending more time uptown. Taking in the sights and enjoying our city one last time. This past Saturday was spent aimlessly wandering the streets and people watching. When that got too cold, we ducked into the Market to grab a quick bite to eat.

Now, I'm not sure if I've lived in Charlotte long enough to be deemed an official Charlottean, but I can say I've had my share of pizza, and nothing comes close to Pure Pizza. It's a pizza lovers dream.  I think we've had every pizza on the menu. Twice. Including the Smoked Salmon, which I assure you, is a lot tastier than it sounds.

This time around we decided to go for the pesto, which my amazingly wonderful sister introduced me to a while back. And since my eyes are always larger than my stomach, I figured me and Little J could handle a pepperoni supreme too.  We only managed to polish off four slices between the two of us. Those small pizzas are deceptively filling. (By the way, Pure Pizza people, if you're reading this, your customer services rocks and you should give Gina a raise!)

After we finished eating we wandered around a bit. And by wandered, I mean Little J darting in between people and me frantically chasing after her and trying to take photos at the same time. Not an easy feat. 

It's a bit ironic now, but when I first moved to Charlotte, I was determined not to like it here. I had no intention of settling down and planting roots. And now that we're moving on, I'm overcome with sadness knowing my daughter will never spend her weekends sipping coffee and wandering aimlessly on 7th street, listening to the heartbeat of the city.

Where is the "heartbeat" in your city? Where do the locals typically go to unwind?

Chocolate Chip Hot Cocoa

When it comes to hot cocoa, I've made every variation you can possibly imagine. And then some. I like to think of myself as a mad scientist in the kitchen. Some days I have a recipe that I follow to a tee, and other days I just toss things together and hope for the best. Some days it works out, and some days--well let's just say some days it's a good thing we live close to so many restaurants.

As you may have deduced from the picture above, I've once again found a new ingredient to add to my ever growing list of hot cocoa recipes. International Delight Cold Stone Creamery "Hot for Cookie" coffee creamer. (That's quite a mouthful). I stumbled upon this yummy "secret" ingredient by pure chance last week. While out running errands, I remembered we were dangerously low on coffee creamer. In our household, coffee is as essential as water, with creamer running a close second.

Since Little J was loudly voicing her displeasure at being dragged through the supermarket, I quickly grabbed the first creamer my hand came into contact with. I didn't realize until I was next in line that I had strayed from my typical brand, but I figured I'd give it a shot.  And wouldn't you know, it turned out to be pretty fantastic. And by pretty fantastic I mean downright delicious.

I soon found myself trying to eat it in and on just about everything. Enter my Chocolate Chip Hot Cocoa recipe. A kitchen experiment gone right in a very big way.

For this recipe, you will need:
1.5 cups whole milk
1/4 cup of International Delight "Hot for Cookie" coffee creamer
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Optional: Marshmellows

Combine ingredients in a medium saucepan and place on stove. Allow mixture to simmer over a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Once the cocoa is nice and hot, pour into mug of choice and pile on the marshmellows. Garnish with cinnamon if desired. Enjoy!

So now you'll have some delicious hot cocoa to help you and your kiddos to cope with yet another polar vortex. What the heck is a polar vortex anyway?

Have you ever tried using creamer in your hot cocoa?  Do you have any tasty hot cocoa recipes you'd like to share? Be sure to link them up in the comments below. 

Counting Sheep

In the several posts leading up to my two month hiatus, I briefly mentioned needing to be away to take care of some things. In addition to my household, which was falling apart, I needed to learn how to take care of myself again-- which probably sounds a bit strange coming from a woman who is rapidly approaching her thirties much soon that she would like to admit. However, I am notoriously terrible at taking care of myself. I will sooner allow my leg to fall off than go to a doctor to have it examined. Just ask Mr. A. We've had many a fight over my inability to slow down. Which brings me to the topic of this post...

For more than a year I've been battling a serious case of insomnia. To be honest, it started when Jasmine was first born.  Unbeknownst to Mr. A, I would sneak out of the room, and creep into her room to check on her. I suppose that's normal for first time moms. But then my insomnia was quickly spiraling out of control-- to the point where Mr. A was getting pretty concerned. It was so bad that I was averaging 2 hours of sleep per night- IF I was lucky.

And then there was the stress. I was so stressed that my mind was always on the grind. I would try to shutdown at night, but the second I closed my eyes I would get these flashes of things I still needed to do. My life was starting to bleed into my dreams. Suddenly the 2 hours per night I was getting was turning more into an hour or 30 minutes at best. And it was always broken. I would just suddenly jolt awake, thinking I had been asleep for hours- only to find that I had only been asleep for 15 minutes. This went on for months, more than a year, in fact.

Most nights/mornings were spent on the couch in a half-sleep-half-working zombie-like state. I would stay up all night trying to juggle everything. But, as we all know, juggling only works until it doesn't.

And then one day Mr. A came home and found me on the floor- sobbing. That pressure that had been building finally just gave way. I cried so hard, I cried myself to sleep. Which was really the best thing that could have happened because sleep is truly what my body needed.

We both decided that this had gone on for far too long. I started taking melatonin at night to help my body slow down. I also stopped drinking the 4 cups of coffee a day my body had become accustomed to. Especially in the evening. And that was hard. I had come to rely on that 6:00 o'clock cup of coffee to perk me up for my all-nighters. I started sleeping in the bedroom again. Even if I wasn't tired, I would turn off my phone and just stare at the ceiling until I was.

Those first few weeks of trying to normalize my sleeping habits were the hardest. My body was so worn out from nearly a year of no rest that for the first week or two, getting 6-8 hours a sleep every night actually made me more tired. My body soaked up those extra hours of sleep like a sponge in the desert, and left me in a groggy state.

Looking back at the past year I wondered how I was even able to function. But then I realize I actually wasn't. Physically I was there, but mentally, I was in a perpetual state of exhaustion, unable to focus or hold a decent conversation without spacing out.

I'm not going to say that my sleeping habits are completely back on track. Occasionally, I still wake up at 2:00 a.m. on the couch. But now, once I realize what I'm doing, I shuffle straight to the bedroom, pop a few melatonin and try to shut it off for the night.

I guess we can all get caught up in life. The important thing is that we don't allow it to consume everything. Life is stressful, no doubt, but trying to tackle it while your running on E is akin to taking on a martial arts expert when you yourself have no training at all. It's just asking for trouble.

So if any of this sounds familiar, you may want to rethink some things. In the grand scheme, sleep doesn't seem all that important, but in order to keep up with the fast pace of our world, it's a necessity.

If you are going through this, I pray that you find resolution for whatever demons you may be battling during those long sleepless nights.  I pray that you find a way to turn it off long enough to save up the strength that you'll need to slay those dragons. But most of all, I wish you many nights filled with beautiful dreams and fluffy sheep.

Sassy Steals $50 Gift Card Giveaway

Two 50.00 dollar Sassy Steals gift cards up for grabs

This is a sponsored giveaway 

About a year ago I stumbled onto daily deals sites. I was a bit old fashion and had never heard of them, but it wasn't long until I was spending hours browsing these sites. From fashion, to cookware and even to pet treats. There is basically something for everyone. But then I found Sassy Steals. It was love at first click.

Though there are other daily deals sites, Sassy Steals is in a league of their own. In addition to offering only the best boutique and handmade deals, Sassy Steals offers weekly giveaways. And speaking of giveaways, Sassy Steals has offered up not only one, but two $50.00 gift cards to their site. And believe me $50.00 at Sassy Steals can go a looooonnnnggg way.

Check out some of their most recent steals

Inexpensive high quality clothing and accessories

This is a sponsored giveaway.

They even have freebies on their site every once and a while. Like this adorable Free In My Heart Printable! Sassy Steals is a shop-a-holics dream come true. (Hint: They currently have some cute and affordable Valentine's gifts for the sweetie in your life)

This giveaway will end Friday, January 31st at 12:00 p.m. The winners will be verified and notified via email and will have 48 hrs to respond before we draw again. Be sure to keep an eye on your email.

To keep up with the latest from Sassy Steals, be sure to check out their blog.

Good luck to you all!

eden and zoe $50 Gift Card Giveaway

This is a sponsored giveaway.

Inside every young girl is a young ballerina. Behind every ballerina, is a mother eager to help her dress the part. Enter eden & zoe, an online boutique that specializes in cashmere knitwear for children that is both classic and sophisticated.

The current eden & zoe collection showcases what it is to be a ballerina- grace, class and elegance with a contemporary twist. From the gorgeous cashmere sweaters right down to the playful headbands, everything is handcrafted and made with 100% cashmere. And unlike the typically online retailer, eden & zoe gets it right. Quality over quality. Each collection is produced in small amounts to ensure exquisite quality and exclusivity.

eden & zoe clothing is made with some of the finest cashmere in the world and is sourced from the Mongolian highlands. During molting season, hair is carefully combed from native goats and then washed and spun into yarn. Though the process can be painstaking, the result is quality cashmere like no other.

Then there is the story behind the store. eden & zoe was founded by a mother who, like most mothers, wanted the very best for her two daughters. So she set out on a mission to create cozy and stylish clothing that both of her daughters would enjoy wearing. As you can see, she's done a magnificent job.

Clothing and accessories for children
                                              //Source//                                                                            //Source//
And just when you think you've had enough...
                                        //Source//                                                                                   //Source//

To help me celebrate two wonderful years in my cozy little space, eden & zoe has graciously agreed to offer a $50.00 gift certificate to on of my loyal readers. As always, there are rules, please be sure to follow all the steps on the rafflecopter widget carefully. This little giveaway will end Wednesday, January 30th at 12:00 p.m. The winner will be verified and notified via email and will have 48 hrs to respond before we draw again. Be sure to keep an eye on your email.

Good luck to you all!

* Although I was given a gift certificate to give away to my readers, all thoughts in opinion are my own.

Celebrate Good Times with A Wilton Giveaway

Prizes valued at up to 50.00 dollars

This is a sponsored giveaway.

Calling all bakers, cooks, and mother's who enjoy putting together lavish celebrations for your children's special moments. Your job just got easier. As you may recall, this week is the celebration of my two year blogoversary. So as a special present to you guys, I've teamed up with three wonderful companies to help celebrate these past two years. And here to help kick this shindig off is Wilton.

As a special gift to you all, Wilton has graciously offered up two very wonderful prizes for my loyal readers. (One of which I actually own--and love!) A Dessert Decorator Plus, including 5 starter tips  and a Dimensions Giant Cupcake Pan. With Valentine's day right around the corner, these prizes are right on time.

In need of some Valentine's Day inspiration? Check out these yummy treats from the Wilton's idea page.

 //1//                                                      //2//                                                                    //3//

Now the fun part. This giveaway is open from Monday, January 20th until Monday, January 27th. Winner will be verified and contacted, and will have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. This contest is only open to US residents. Please be sure to follow all the options on the Rafflecopter widget.
Thanks guys, and good luck!

Two Years: Recap and Giveaways

Two years ago I started this blog on a whim after some advice from one of my professors. At the time I was working on my B.A. in communication studies/public relations, and my professor was trying to tell us how important it is for PR practitioners to understand social media. Of course, at the time I thought I already knew how to handle social media. After all, I had a Facebook page and a Twitter account, how hard could it possibly be to start and maintain a blog? Two years later I look back at my young naive self and laugh.

Tuesday will mark my second year in this space, sharing my life, advice, wacky tales and adventures and I've been spending the last few day remembering some of my "finer" moments here. Like the one time my daughter decided to show off her artistic side with a permanent marker, and the time I found some hilarious pictures that Mr. A took without my knowledge. Or the one time I overheard a man try to help a seemingly pregnant woman, who as it turned out, wasn't pregnant. It hasn't been all fun and games though. There was backlash I received for writing about Trayvon Martin. And the tears I spilled opening up about how September 11th changed my life.

In the past two years, my blog has grown more than I could have ever anticipated. My greatest surprise was the day my post about science projects for children went viral on pinterest. Then there was the time I was actually able to impart some blogger wisdom about this cool new site for bloggers to advertise on.

And then, one of my absolute favorite moments here in the past two years--the time I went to Bloggy Boot Camp . The bloggers I met quickly became my friends, allies and sisters and I even got to meet one of my longtime idols.

So thank you for an amazing two years of friendship, encouragement and laughter. You guys have been amazing. Here's to two years here and many more to come. By the way, be sure to come by all next week for some great prizes from some really awesome companies. Trust me, it will be worth it ;)

The Art of Fort Building

Fridged winter days call for indoor activities. Unfortunately, when you're crammed into an apartment that's no larger than your childhood bedroom, indoor activities require a bit of creativity. Case in point: the infamous indoor fort. Equipped with a laptop for watching movies.

I know to some of you, this may seem silly, but when you've got a restless 2.5 year old literally bouncing off the walls, you'll do just about anything to keep them entertained. Including revisiting your childhood. And so, this post was born.

The secret to building an awesome fort, lies in the stability. To begin building your fort, find 2-3 sturdy object--tall chairs, couches, ect, and use that build your fort roof. Spread the sheets across two objects to build the roof. Secure ends by tying them down. Note: If you want a darker, more cavelike fort, add an additional layer of sheets on the roof.

Next, create a makeshift door by adding another sheet to front of the fort and secure the top two ends. Add a floor to your fort by placing a comfy comforter under the fort. Fortify your fort with fluffy pillows for added comfort.

Once all the hard work is done, add some flair. Use leftover Christmas lights and fluffy pillows. Be sure bring plenty of snack, toys, flashlights, and books inside to keep your little ones entertained.

Basically this is your chance to revisit your childhood and entertain your kiddos at the same time. Two birds. One stone. Enjoy.

When was the last time you built an indoor fort? What type of rainy day activities do you do with your kiddos to keep them busy?

One of the Best Adjustable Beds

One of the best adjustable beds

This is a sponsored post

I don’t know about you guys but I tend to have major trouble falling asleep at night. Most of this due to the fact that my bed is insanely uncomfortable. I often lay awake at night imagining how nice it would be to have a bed I actually enjoy sleeping in. Of course Mr A, who spent 8 years in the Army, has no qualms about sleeping on what basically feels like the floor. I on the other hand am admittedly spoiled. I like comfort and I’m not ashamed to admit it. So when I was contacted by Reverie a few days ago, I finally discovered I had found my dream bed.

Unlike most mattresses that claim to support your back, Reverie actually get the job done. Each sleep systems includes a mattress with DreamCell support technology with an adjustable foundation giving YOU the opportunity to choose the sleeping and resting position that works best for you. Which is a pretty nice feature for a momma like myself who has suffered from back pains since those oh so “joyous” last few weeks of pregnancy.

 Reverie currently has three sleep systems available for you to choose from.

  •   Dream Supreme Sleep System
  •   Dream Sleep System
  •   Dream Lite Sleep System

They also have a section of linens, pillows, and mattresses that will make sleeping though the night a breeze. Since we'll be moving into our new place shortly, this is definitely at the very top of my wish list. Some girls like diamonds. Some girls like pearls. I, on the other hand, am more interested in getting a bed comfortable enough to help me wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.

If you're interested in more news and updates from Reveire, be sure to follow them on twitter,  facebook and check out their blog.

*Note: I received compensation in exchange for writing this review. Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.

Free Redbox Rental Codes for 2014

Updated list of Redbox Rental Codes

With snowy winter weather still in the forecast for most of the country, now is the perfect time to snuggle up with loved ones, hot coco in hand, binge watching every Redbox movie ever.  Now it's going to be even cheaper with this updated list of free rental codes from Redbox. Before heading out to Redbox, be sure to check out this list.

As mentioned in my previous post, you can only use these once per credit card. You may want to keep a list of codes that you've previously used to avoid using the same codes. Also, please note, all DVD's have to be returned by 9pm the following day to avoid additional charges. Now, go enjoy your free rentals!

DVD Codes

Specific Location Codes
REDBOX4ME5 (only at Safeway)
WALGREENS (only at Walgreens)
BREAKDOWN (only at Walgreens)
DVDATWAG (only at Walgreens)
DVDKROG (only at Kroger)
DVDATKROGER (only at Kroger)
DVDATWEG (only at Wegmans)
DVDATSONI (only at Sonic)
DRIVEIN (only at Sonic)

Game Code

Bonus: be sure to join the Redbox Text Club for free Redbox rental codes the first Monday of every month!

So now that you've got a ton of free rentals from Redbox, what are you planning on watching?

What to Expect Here in 2014

I've asked myself this question more than a few dozen times in the past week. What do I expect out of this blog in the upcoming year? What is my end game?

After giving quite a bit of thought- probably too much though in fact, here's what I came up with:.

Expect a lot more of me. The real me. The truth is that I'm pretty adept at revealing little bits of pieces of myself without ever showing who I am. And I suppose that makes me completely normal by blogger standards. If you're anything like me, you check to make sure that your laundry hamper isn't overflowing in the background before you start taking selfies.  (And if you don't then you probably should). It's what we do. We reveal what we are comfortable with revealing. This year, I'm going to toe that invisible line I've drawn in the sand and show you guys more of who I am.

Expect that I've spent the last few years experimenting and dabbling here and there trying to find my way. And I finally think I've figured out which direction I'm heading in. I have a whole new game plan for this year. A plan that includes a more refined focus and different topics.

And while we're on the topic of topics, expect more blog related tutorials. I've had such great responses from my blogging related tutorials. And truth is, I kind of like knowing that I can help someone. I remember what it was like just starting off. It was so overwhelming. People were talking in a lingo that I just didn't understand. It was all SEO this, and Meta Tags that. It's scary. So if I can help make it a little less scary for someone, then I'm all for it.

Expect more organization. I talk a great game about being organized on this ole blog here, but in reality, I'm like a city girl in the woods for the first time. Lost, confused, and a wee bit frightened. After two years and dozens of articles, I have finally reached the conclusion that the better organized I am, the easier and less stressful this will be. This year I've decided that an editorial calendar is a must.

Expect that I will be attending another blogging conference. This will happen. I've spent the last few months living vicariously through some of my favorite bloggers. Looking at their photos with their favorite blogging idols. Reading their post-conference recaps wishfully.

Expect that I will meet some amazing bloggers in Raleigh once we get there. That's right Raleigh bloggers, we're going to be the best of friends. You guys just don't know it yet. In fact (and I mean this in the least creepy way possible) I've already started searching for some of you guys.

Expect that I will start forming tighter bonds with you. Over the past few months, I've steadily been going through my blog roll and deleting some of you who haven't responded to my attempts to interact with you. Which is sad, but necessary. This will allow me more time to interact and work with my friends who have been loyal and kind. I want to know more about you guys. I want to help you.

So as you can see, I've got some pretty big plans for my cozy little corner. What are some of your blogging plans for 2014? Are you planning on revamping your style?

Adventures In Atlanta

Photos of greenery at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens

Once upon a time ago (before I went on hiatus) Mr. A's parents invited us on an impromptu vacation to Atlanta. Although I spent a significant amount of time in my teenage years in Georgia, I've only been to Atlanta a few times. And even then, I was taking in the city through the eyes of a child. I didn't want to understand the history of the city. I didn't care about museums. I certainly didn't care about the family related activities.

Flash forward ten years and Atlanta looks completely different in the eyes of an adult. It's a combination of urban sophistication with a dash of southern living. There are tons of things to do with your family. And don't even get me started on the food. If your taste buds are adventurous, you'll love it. There is something for everyone and then there's more. Farmers markets, Asian markets, Soul Food markets. The list goes on and on.

The Spotted Pig was one of my favorite places to eat. Not only was the food delicious, but the rustic decor made for a comforting atmosphere. I've got to say, it was the first restaurant I've been to that actually has a sink in the middle of the floor. Even Jasmine seemed quite taken with the menu.

Then there were the activities. To be honest, by the time we made it into town, we were so tired from the road that the first night was spent in the comfort of our hotel room. Drinking beer and watching college football while Jasmine systematically destroyed the rooms.

Once Jasmine was all tucked in for the night, Mr. A and I made our way downstairs for a late night game of pool. We finished off the night sitting outside next to the fire pit, taking in the twinkling lights of the city around us and catching up.

The next morning was spent trying to hash out plans for the day. We finally settled on the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which, if you've never been, is 30 acres of of pure undiluted beauty. In other words, it is a MUST SEE.

There were dozens of meticulous sculptures carved from bushes.  They were so elaborate they took my breath away.  The Earth Goddess sculpture at the top of this post was by far my favorite. Just simply amazing. The kind of amazing that makes you wish you were artistic so that you could recreate that sculpture in your own backyard.

On the way home the next day, we decided to be adventurous and take the scenic route. Stopping along the way to buy boiled peanuts and brownies from an older couple on the side of the road.

Unfortunately, the leaves hadn't quite changed colors, but the view was still magnificent. The rolling mountainside reminded me of just how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things. But, I suppose that's what makes us even more amazing.

Have you ever been to Atlanta? Where are your favorite places to hang out?