Monday, July 27, 2015

September 11th Museum

Last weekend I took a trip to NYC for a photography workshop with Ana Brandt. I'll do a separate post with images and information from the workshop, but I wanted to share some iPhone photos from my visit to the 9/11 Museum.
The workshop was located in the Financial District, so the memorial and museum were within walking distance from my hotel. Thank goodness because the cab rides made me so incredibly sick! 

Admission was $24 per person and Chris decided to accompany me for the trip at the last minute. We left the kids with my parents. The price was a drawback at first, but the chances we would visit NYC again without the kids was pretty slim. 

First, we walked over to the memorial and my first reaction was that it was so much larger than it looked in pictures. The size of it was a sad shock. The concept of making the fountain an endless pit was fitting. I saw several names that had "unborn child" listed after it. 
The tickets are timed. We waited outside in a line to enter and it started raining. At first it was okay, but then it started to pour and we got soaked! Finally, we went inside. You descend into the basement of the building. 
This is the original staircase that led from the building out to the street.

There was a good deal of artifacts, but not as many as you would expect given the amount that was lost. The other thing that struck me was how dated everything looked already. There was a camcorder and a phone recovered and they looked ancient. 

There was voice mail recordings playing in several rooms and they were very emotional to listen to. Some that sounded hopeful like an everyday call that they would be fine and others that knew it was their last moments. One message was from a guy in the South Tower who calls his wife after seeing someone jump from the North Tower and fall to the ground. The guy sounded really shaken, but goes on to say that he's safe in the South Tower on the 101st floor. Lives were lost because people in the South Tower were told to stay there where they were safe. 

Lots of photographs I had not seen before. Two fire trucks and an ambulance recovered from the scene, but badly damaged. Only the door of the medical examiner's car was left. I believe they said everyone from this Ladder 3 was lost.
full bike rack of crushed bikes, trauma bags, shoes and clothing that were either covered in ash or blood. They didn't permit photos in most areas, so I was only able to sneak in a few here and there. 
A few steel beams, the shaft of an elevator and piece of one of the tops of the tower. 

There was a room with a photo of each person that was lost. That was shocking too because the room was huge and had photos from floor to ceiling. It was the quieted museum I've ever visited. The surrounding areas around the museum were still under construction. 
I liked that each artifact contained lengthy explanations and personal stories. They used a leaf after names to designate that the person had passed. Several artifacts that were recovered and returned to the families were donated back to the museum.

There were pieces of plane debris, handwritten notes from communication between ground control and those onboard the hijacked planes, video footage of the hijackers entering the airport terminals, and hundreds of "Missing" posters.

I wish we had more time to explore. It is definitely worth the stop if you are planning a trip to NYC.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Family Portraits 2015

This post is a little early this year! We took a trip to Disney World in June and I was reading blog posts, tips and tricks, and a few planning guides on how to make the most of our trip. Days before our road trip, I saw a post on Team Whitaker about how they had professional photos taken at a Disney Resort

I loved how her photos came out, so I contacted Portrayable Photography (the photographer she used) for information on booking. I ended up booking the session at 3am in our car the night we left for Florida!

I selected Disney's Boardwalk Resort for the photos because I loved the architecture, summer feel and how bright and clean it looked. Because it was short notice, I had the kids wear their Easter outfits for the photos.
We had a jammed packed week in Disney which I plan to blog all about, so we fit the session in mid-week at 7:30am. It was best to do a super early session to avoid some of the bright sun and heat.
Still, I should have been more aware that the humidity would cause my hair to get frizzy and opted to curl my hair rather than straighten it for the session.

It is uncharacteristic of me to do a themed photo session with props, but I figured when would we ever be in Disney again? Even if we did visit again, the kids would be too old for balloons and Mickey ears. 
I'm glad we included the balloons in the photos because they cost $34!

I can't say enough good things about our photographer Kimberly. She was so organized and professional and was able to accommodate us at the last minute. 
I'm so glad we decided to have a professional handle our photos because it took some of the pressure off of me to capture all the photos on our trip. I was able to relax a little more knowing that our photos were going to be taken at a specific time.
The temperature was near 99 degrees the whole week in Florida which greatly impacted my ability to photograph everything on our trip. Heat, crowds, long lines, a hectic schedule and tired/cranky kids isn't the perfect recipe for capturing good photos in the theme parks and resorts, so I'm thankful we had a formal session.
There are quite a few more photos that you can check out on my personal Facebook account. The album is public, so find me! 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Summer Favorites 2015

Bath and Body Works Coconut Vanilla Candle | This was a gift I received for Mother's Day and it has a great light scent for summer. The blue ombre glass gives it a beautiful tropical look!

Essie Topless and Barefoot Polish | I wanted a pink nude shade for my nails. This color is exactly that, but coats to a thick opaque. If you are looking for a sheer pink nude, I would recommend their Mademoiselle polish.

Stella & Dot Bianca Lariat Necklace | I'm really into delicate gold jewelry for the summer. I find I don't like to wear heavy/chunky pieces in the heat. This is a vintage inspired necklace that can be worn two different ways!

Jessica Simpson Ballet Flats | I saw my neighbor wearing these and had to get a pair! They are more than I've ever spent on a pair of shoes, but I had a coupon and a gift card to cover the whole cost. They are the MOST comfortable pair of flats I've owned. It feels like you're walking on gel.

Old Navy Palm Leaf Shorts | I believe I saw these on the blog Putting Me Together and wanted to check them out at the store. They have a side zipper, modest length and best of all a great stretch! I liked that they were a dressier option to jean shorts for summer outings.

Mary Kay Exotic Orchid Lip Gloss | This was actually a limited edition spring gloss. I wanted to branch out from my normal nude/pink lip shades. You definitely need a good lip pencil and more time to apply this shade correctly.

Huffy Nel Lusso Bike | My best Walmart purchase to date! Bike riding was one of my favorite activities growing up. My kids enjoy riding and I wanted to keep up. I'm not used to a cruiser style bike yet, but the seat is extremely comfortable and the large tires make it a smooth and effortless ride.  I prefer getting out of the house/gym to exercise and this seemed like a perfect way to get exercise in this summer.

What products are you enjoying now that the warm weather is here? 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Beauty Blender vs. Sigma Flat Kabuki Brush

How do you apply foundation? Hint: You should never use your hands! Using your hands spreads bacteria and also applies foundation unevenly. The past year, I was using the Beauty Blender to apply liquid foundation which you can read all about here. It just wasn't "it" for me. The high price, low durability, staining, leaky dye and difficulty cleaning left me searching for a new method to apply foundation. 

I decided to purchase the Sigma Flat Kabuki on the recommendation of nearly every YouTube makeup artist. It was $24 which is a steal in comparison to the Beauty Blenders which are $19 every few months. My first impression was surprise at how soft it was for a brush! The density of the bristles is excellent too, very thick. 

The biggest difference is that the Kabuki applies foundation with thicker coverage. I felt the Beauty Blender always applied liquid foundation too sheer. If I'm taking the time to apply liquid foundation, I want meduim to full coverage. The Kabuki can also be used to apply mineral foundation, the Beauty Blender can not. Like the Beauty Blender, I find the Kabuki brush works best when you slightly moisten it with water before using.  

Cleaning the Kabuki brush is a breeze! I use a little coconut oil and mild soap. No staining, no wondering if it's fully clean, and it doesn't lose bristles. I've used MAC brushes and while they are constructed wonderfully, they do shed. I've never had one bristle shed from my Sigma brushes.

My only regret was that I waited so long to purchase the Kabuki brush. I should have tried something new after the first Beauty Blender quit on me. I would have saved money and spared myself breakouts.

What's the current way you apply foundation? Has anyone tried BOTH the Beauty Blender and Sigma Kabuki brush? What did you prefer and why? 

Naturopathic Doctor

It's been too long since I've updated how my appointments went! As I mentioned in my previous health update, I decided to try a naturopathic doctor. What's that? It's a doctor that uses natural medicine.

I'm feeling very good with thyriod treatment, but I don't want to just "treat" this disease. I want to find the cause of it and combat it with natural treatments too and hopefully go into remission. 

I went to a highly rated NP doctor in PA. It was a very small, crowded place and I waited an hour to be seen! I was really nervous and considered leaving during the wait. Finally, I was taken back and right away I knew this doctor would be good. She suggested all the tests I was looking for, but my GP refused to provide: allergy testing and vitamin level testing. Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease. Allergies or reactivity to foods can trigger an immune response, so knowing those foods you react to and eliminating them helps. 

I had blood allergy testing done at this visit. My results all came back negative. My levels were at zero for all allergies. Zero means completely undetectable levels of immune response. I was especially curious about common autoimmune triggering foods I read about like corn, eggs, and cheese, but no allergies. I know many people follow the autoimmune protcol diet when they get diagnosed with autoimmune dieseases, but it's better to only eliminate foods if they show up through allergy testing. You aren't getting a balanced diet, if you are cutting out most of the foods in the food pyramid.

While I wasn't surprised to see the results (I just had a gut feeling I wasn't allergic to anything), I was disappointed that food allergies weren't the cause of this disease for me. It is for some people and once they eliminate those foods, they go into remission. I've had nearly every test done to find the root cause of this disease and take every recommended supplement.

I'm left with what I originally believed triggered it. Pregnancy. I think in my case, there is a genetic link and that got triggered in the post-partum period after I had Evangeline. I've heard countless stories that are the same to mine. The immune system shuts down during pregnancy and tries to restart after birth. Something went wrong in that process for me. Researchers need to stop looking at food causes so much (particularly gluten) and pay more attention to the genetic component and the connection between Hashimoto's and pregnancy.

In the meantime, I'm feeling pretty good and everything has checked out normal! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Target's Signature Soy Candles

I recently earned a $10 Target gift card using the Shopkick app. I heard about Target's Signature Soy Candles from Marlena and wanted to give them a try.

They come in two sizes: small which is a really cute accent size and large which is a standard jar candle size. The large is $10 and the small is $5. The large candle is the better buy, when you compare the price per ounce.

I liked the Marshmallow Pop and Sea Salt & Caramel Corn scents best. I purchased the Sea Salt & Caramel Corn large candle. It smells like caramel popcorn on the boardwalk. Instant summer memories! The wax is made of soy and looks similar to Bath & Body Works Candles. I don't eat foods containing soy, so I was a little hesitant burning a soy based candle.

The Signature Soy candles give off a great throw, just like B&BW's candles. The large Signature Soy candle has two wicks, but B&BW has three. It burned a little less evenly than B&BW candles, but better than Yankee Candles which only have one wick. Target's are a steal compared to Yankee Candles! The scent is much more powerful, you're getting two wicks, much more even burn, no soot build up and half the price. 

Bath & Body Works and Yankee Candle have a larger selection of scents than Target's, but if I ever need a candle and don't have time for a trip to the mall, Target's Signature Soy will be my go-to.

Has anyone tried the Signature Soy candles? What is your favorite scent?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Indoor Snow

Snow days! There have been a few already this year. I found this super easy snow activity on Pinterest called "Painting Snow."
Just fill up cookie sheets with snow and let kids paint the snow. It's the best of both worlds! Kids get to play in snow and parents can stay warm. 
Clean up is a breeze. Simply rinse the cookie sheets in the sink. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Anastasia of Beverly Hills Contour Kit Review

After hearing and seeing so many reviews on Instagram and YouTube, I took the $40 plunge and purchased the Anastasia of Beverly Hills Contour Kit at Sephora. I was also considering the Kat Von D Shade + Light Contour Palette.

What sold me on Anastasia's kit was that it is refillable. I can purchase refills of the shades I use the most, making it a better long term investment. Anastasia also carries two versions of the kit: light to medium and medium to tan. I went with the light kit. 

I don't even know where to begin with this review because I'm so excited! It is that good. This kit is a makeup staple. It's not just for contouring. You have your contour shades, banana powder to set under eye concealer, eyeshadow highlight and cheek highlight shades all in one kit. 

This kit is extremely pigmented. Go easy with picking up color on a contour brush. A tiny bit goes a long way. The light kit runs fairly dark too, so I would only recommend the medium to tan kit for those with colored skin.

How do I use it? Sand (top left) is perfect for an under eyebrow highlight. Vanilla (center top) works like a banana powder. You apply it under the eyes to set concealer and foundation. Banana (top right) is a light pinkish cheek highlighter. Java (bottom left) and Havana (bottom right) are too dark for me currently. They might work for summer contouring. Fawn (bottom middle) is probably my favorite shade in the whole kit. I use it to contour and it's gorgeous! It's not a typical bronzer type of color. More like a deep ash that gives you this rich contour and dimension.

Would I buy it again? Absolutely! In fact, I have no idea how I have been applying makeup without it. Rather than carrying single pots and makeup palettes around to get shades for under brow/cheek highlight, contouring and banana powder, I have it all in one small kit. The quality and coloring of each shade is exactly what I was looking for.

Have you tried the Anastasia of Beverly Hills Contour Kit or the Kat Von D Shade + Light Contour Palette? I'd love to hear your opinion! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Great Wolf Lodge

We went to Great Wolf Lodge over Valentine's weekend. It's a ski/waterpark resort in the Pocono Mountains. Many friends, neighbors and family members have visited, so we were interested in trying it out.
We arrived right around 1pm which is the earliest we could access the indoor water area. We packed plenty of snacks, water, drinks, breakfast/lunch foods to save on the cost of eating out. There is a fairly large fridge and microwave (we don't use microwaves) in the rooms.
They provide two sizes of lifejackets in the waterpark area, but we had already brought our own. There is a wide age range of water slides for young children, teens, adults and groups. The waterpark is very warm at 84 degrees. It does have a strong chlorine smell when you first enter.
There's several restaurants and stores about six minutes away, if you want to eat outside of the resort or need to pick something up. We ate at the resort's buffet one night on Valentine's Day. I heard tons of complaints about the price of the buffet beforehand. My opinion is that the food is very good, there's a well rounded selection (especially for kids) and it's very good quality. It is costly. That is to be expected with any buffet, particularly one inside of a resort. Can you eat every meal there? I wouldn't recommend that considering the cost, but it is worth trying at least once.
Bingo (free), glow in the dark mini-golf ($6), mini-bowling ($5), puppet show (free) and story-time (free) were a few of the activities we tried and enjoyed.
They give free wolf ears when you check-in which was a nice touch. 
Has anyone tried Great Wolf Lodge? What was your experience like? Any tips for future trips?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Health Update

It's been one year since my diagnosis with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, so I wanted to give an update. I was feeling great with treatment through the spring, summer and fall of last year. However, right before the start of winter, I began getting symptoms back again (dry hands, night sweats, heart palpitations). I called my endocrinologist and he ordered blood work and sure enough my TSH was elevated again. Thankfully, my T4 was doing well at a high normal level. I've read online that the cold of winter can cause symptom flare ups. I'm feeling good now on a slightly increased dose of medication and I'm hoping my dose will be decreased once it warms up.

The good news is that my yearly routine blood work (which I hope everyone reading has done), came back great! My cholesterol went down significantly. It was on the high normal range last year before I was diagnosed which really concerned me. I eat very healthy, I'm not obese and get a fair amount exercise. I knew it was the disease that elevated it. It seems the medication had a positive effect on bringing it back to the low normal range. I wanted to mention this because many thyroid forums scare people into thinking that medication causes tons of negative side effects. That has not been the case for me. 

I'm using many natural remedies alongside of medication too. I had my Vitamin D levels tested since research indicates that people with HT have low levels. Sure enough, mine was low. I'm now taking this supplement and hoping my levels increase with it, along with more sun exposure. I have noticed much more energy since I began supplementing. I shared additional supplements/natural remedies in this post.

I found two great resource pages on Facebook that post up-to-date research articles: Hypothyroid Mom and The National Academy of Hypothyroidism. Just a word of caution that when checking out these thyroid pages you will find the majority of people commenting are negative. They constantly complain about their symptoms, complain about their doctors and insist medication doesn't work. I don't read the comments. Having this disease and taking medication has not ruined my life! Don't let them ruin your's or make you paranoid.

I visit the endocrinologist next week and I'm hoping to find a naturopathic doctor for an evaluation/food allergy testing. I'll update this post next week after my visit!