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Last week we happily accepted an invitation to check out Driftwood Southern Kitchen for a date night in North Raleigh. Driftwood Southern is a restaurant featuring one of my favorite categories of food- rustic, southern, farmhouse cooking. It’s located in LaFayette Village, a quaint European-styled village located on Honeycutt Rd near I-540 and Falls of Neuse Road. We have always loved strolling around the paved walkways and checking out the gourmet shops, sitting out on the patios, having dinner or just drinks and desserts at one of the restaurants.

I’m always drawn to open kitchens, casual atmospheres and well trained, personable staff. Driftwood checked all of my boxes.

Our server, Fawn, made our evening delightful by sharing personal stories, her best recommendations and a love for the food that was contagious. She enthusiastically related menu items to us with an emphasis on how everything that comes out of the kitchen is scratch- made. She must have known that I’m a stickler for scratch- made when it comes to Southern food.

The menu was full of terrific options to cover a variety of comfort food cravings.

Starters included:

Fried Green Tomatoes with goat cheese, pepper jelly and basil

Brussel Sprouts with bacon and almonds and spicy balsamic honey

There are also Burgers and Sandwiches like:

Fancy Grilled Cheese with brie, bacon and apple butter

Fried Chicken, pickled green tomato and bacon jam

and Specialties include:

Crispy North Carolina Shrimp and local grits with andouille-tomato beurre blanc

Ancho and coffee braised shortribs, local grits and asparagus

The drink menu included red and white wines, beer, and cocktails like:

Lemon Laventini-Deep Eddy lemon vodka, lavender infused simple, hand squeezed lemon juice, and a vanilla lavender sugar rim

Blackberry Sour-Blackberry shine, Jim Beam rye, house made sour mix, fresh blackberries, basil, and lemon

There are drink specials every night including half-off cocktails on Mondays so be sure to ask your server about them on the day you visit Driftwood.

We had a great night catching up, making summer plans and celebrating the closing of the play I just finished directing. But, no celebration is complete without a decadent finale! Luckily for us, the dessert was on its way:

Bourbon chocolate pecan pie, and whipped cream

Butterscotch pudding, ganache, whipped cream, maldon salt, and evoo

I don’t remember ever seeing EVOO (extra Virgin Olive Oil) drizzled on my desserts. This butterscotch pudding knocked my socks off. We even had a bit of a spoon fight over the last bite. Light, creamy, sweet and salty all at once. The EVOO was the perfect end note to this dessert.

Lafayette Village hosts monthly events so you can always find a good excuse to head on over to this little piece of Europe and check out the shops and restaurants including Driftwood Southern Kitchen. As the weather warms, enjoy a date night in Raleigh on the outdoor patio and go ahead and fight over that butterscotch pudding! It’s worth it.

Thank you for hosting us, Driftwood !

Let’s chat in the comments! What’s your favorite southern, comfort food?

The post Date Night in Lafayette Village: Driftwood Southern Kitchen appeared first on lights, camera, family! .

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Two weeks ago I spent the entire weekend at The Art of Living Retreat in the breathtaking mountains of Boone, NC.

My girlfriend had invited me on a girls’ trip getaway to the mountains of North Carolina to “rejuvenate our tired ole mama souls”. I had been feeling exhausted, all consumed with family obligations and too many hours behind my computer screen. I gladly accepted her invitation and we set off on our mission to get a bit of ourselves back. We both felt lost in the maelstrom of day to day stressors that all moms can relate to.

The weekend included all vegetarian meals, meditation classes, yoga, pottery, hiking, and Ayurvedic teas galore. Oh, and a delicious spa treatment that had me feeling more relaxed than I had been in a very long time. It was the perfect fit for this mama who really needed to reconnect with herself and nurture her body and mind.

The best thing about the weekend was being able to do it all with a girlfriend. Our long talks and deep discussions were medicine for my soul. I highly recommend grabbing another stressed mama and getting away, even if it’s just for a couple of days. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get renewed vigor!


Read all about my great weekend at The Art of Living Retreat in my latest article for ABC 11.

PS. As a busy mom, do you ever feel the need to get away and reconnect with yourself? Let’s chat below in the comments!

The post A Girls’ Trip to the Art of Living Retreat appeared first on lights, camera, family! .

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“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” — Author Unknown

Today I’m gathering together all of the well loved Lonely Planet travel guide books from my bookcase to start planning our next family vacation. I’ll also be researching online and ordering new ones to explore destinations on our bucket list.

Let’s face it, planning the perfect trip for everyone can be stressful. Guide books are my go-to for the most valuable and researched information at the tip of my fingers. I love using them to plan and especially to have on hand while we travel. The thumbed through, stained and dog-eared books I’ve found on the shelf are bringing back a flood of the warm fuzzies from vacation memories.

I’m excited to explore with the kids this summer and continue to create memories that will last a lifetime. It’s time to delve in and do some planning!

Have you started planning your family summer vacation yet? Where are you going? Let me know in the comments below.

*This post contains affiliate links

The post Monday Musings appeared first on lights, camera, family! .

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We usually save date nights for the weekend but we decided to change it up a bit this week and have dinner and drinks out at a local favorite, The Cowfish, on a Monday. Located on Six Forks Rd. in Raleigh, The Cowfish is the first sushi burger restaurant or Burgushi® spot! Yep, it’s “sandwiches made with sushi stuff and burgers made with sushi stuff”. I was excited by the concept and we jumped at the chance to attend a hosted influencer dinner for a night out on the town.

We always like to kick off date night with great cocktails. I opted for the Cucumber Mint-ini, (Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber, mint, freshly squeezed lime) and he chose the Skinny Gonzales, a handcrafted cocktail that’s a skinny twist on a margarita. (Espolon Tequila Blanco, Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach, freshly squeezed lime,  & POM juice). It was a great way to unwind after a long Manic Monday.

Our rockstar servers started us off with some customer favorites for appetizers, Crab Rangoon Dip, Edamame with Sea Salt, and Blackened Tuna Nachos (Wonton chips with Crab Rangoon Dip, avocado salsa, tomatoes, seared rare blackened yellowfin tuna and microgreens).

Everything was delicious but the Crab Rangoon Dip? Goodness, me oh my. It’s a good thing there were people around or I might have eaten it with a spoon. The creamy crab rangoon dip had a parmesan panko crust, wonton crisps, Thai sweet chili sauce and chives. SO good! It might have been life changing.

We filled up on appetizers and then ordered our entrees-a Fusion Specialty Bento Box for me, which included the featured mini-burger of the week, sweet potato fries, Thai cucumbers, edamame and a Mark’s Roll. (Fresh tuna, jalapeño, cream cheese, kani, scallions inside, coated with panko and flash fried…..then topped with Japanese mayo and sriracha.)

My hubby was in a burger mood so he opted for the super fun All American Bacon Double Cheeseburgooshi- Seasoned all natural beef, yellow cheddar cheese, white cheddar cheese, applewood bacon, and red onion, wrapped in soy paper and potato strings, then flash fried. Oh, and topped with ketchup, mustard, dill pickle and Roma tomato.

Needless to say, we had leftovers for lunch the next day. We really loved the casual atmosphere, the fantastic service (I mean when your server says “shazam” as he puts down each plate, how can you have a bad time?) and the unique options on the menu.

Check out The Cowfish in North Raleigh for your next casual date night or gathering with friends. Oh, and as for Monday night date nights? I can’t think of a better way to start the week. We might just have to make this a habit.

Thanks for hosting us, Cowfish Raleigh!

Find The Cowfish Raleigh on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.

#ncsocial

The post A Monday Night Date Night at The Cowfish Raleigh appeared first on lights, camera, family! .

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As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s time to reflect on all things love! As a stepmom (or bonus mom), being a new addition to your stepchild’s life can bring on some insecurities. Do they love me? Am I as special to them as they are to me? Are they happy to have me in their lives?

I’ve always told the kids that it is more important to show love than to say “love”. I try my best to show our children in small ways every single day how much they mean to me and how grateful I am to have them in my life. My stepdaughter tells me she loves me often but, more importantly, I’ve also started to pay attention to how much she shows me.

Here are 10 of the small ways she lets me know I’m loved:
  • She compliments my cooking.There is no one in the family who gets more excited about my cooking. She has a particular knack for complimenting my food even when it didn’t turn out  as expected. She tells me my scrambled eggs are as good as Gordon Ramsay’s and that my baked chicken dish is “Master Chef” worthy. They’re not.  I love that she tells me that anyway.
  • She does her chores. Yes, I know, all kids should. But she has it tough since she was thrown into the frenzy of a home with three other kids while being an only child at her mom’s. She could complain when she gets to our house and sees the extensive chore chart giving her  “dish duty” (the kids’ least favorite) but she doesn’t. She does chores because I ask her to. And because she loves being a part of our blended family, chores and all.
  • She craves alone time with me. She loves when we get a chance to hang out and do something special together. Whether it’s visiting a donut shop or seeing a show or just taking a long walk. Spending individual time with each of the kids is very important to me and I love that she loves when it’s her turn for one on one time.
  • She doesn’t like referring to me as “step”. In fact, she avoids it all together if she can help it. It’s been tricky to navigate since she hasn’t wanted to be disrespectful to her bio mom. She’s run through an extensive list of nicknames but I think her favorite this week is “S’Mama”.
  • She confides in me. She likes talking through her feelings about things, no matter how difficult the topic. When you feel stuck between your bio parents’ differing opinions, it’s nice to have a safe person to talk to. I’m glad she can trust me with her feelings.
  • She fights to sit next to me on the couch. The girls take turns being on either side of me when we watch TV together on family nights.  With three of them, there’s always bickering about who gets to sit by me and who will be left out. She’s ready to row just as much as the other girls when it’s time to claim one of the two coveted spots.
  • She asks me to attend her special events. I’ll never forget the day she asked me to attend a special school presentation. I had tickets to a show with a friend and told her I was sorry that I couldn’t attend. I tried to placate her by telling her that both her mom and dad would be there for her. To which she replied, “But you’re important too. I want you there too.” Yeah, I cancelled my plans.
  • She loves when I do her hair. Whether it’s a new braid she wants to try or the new wand tool or a bun, she loves the “girl” time we spend together while styling her hair. I love it, too.
  • She seeks my fashion advice. She asks me what I think of the outfits she puts together. We love chatting in her walk in closet about which pieces coordinate with which pieces of jewelry and with which hairstyles. I love that my opinion matters to her.
  • She tells me- often. Whether it’s along with a hug in the morning before school, or a “goodnight” before bed, or whether via text when she’s away from the house (or even while in our house), she tells me. She writes me special notes and cards about what I mean to her. I save every one of them with gratitude for the special relationship we have.

As moms and stepmoms, we don’t need Valentine’s Day to come around to feel loved by our children with cards and gifts and big proclamations. We can feel loved every day if we just pay attention and stop taking the small ways they show us for granted.

For stepmoms who struggle to find their place in stepmomhood, who have challenging relationships with their bonus kids or wonder if they will ever feel loved by them- Keep loving. Stay a steady, patient and positive force. Stop to notice the small steps, the tiniest of gestures. Appreciate those along the way to a healthy, loving, and trusting relationship with your bonus child.

What are some of the ways your stepchild shows you love? I’d love to hear!

The post 10 Ways I Feel Loved- A Stepmom’s Thoughts appeared first on lights, camera, family! .

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The 91st Academy Awards will be airing live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on February 24th, 2019 and in our acting family, it’s as much a highlight for us as the Superbowl might be for NFL fans. We try to catch all of the Oscar nominated performances and films before the awards show and we watch the Academy Awards together as a family, with popcorn in hand. The kids get to stay up extra late and we have them write acceptance speeches as practice for recognitions they will hopefully receive later in life. It’s always an incredibly fun night at our house as we watch the Red Carpet and root for our favorites.

Unfortunately, I always insist on reading the original books that movies are based on before I see the movies. Is that weird? Since it’s Oscars month, I thought I would do a roundup of my favorite nominees in audiobook format. You probably know by now that I sit in traffic or carpool for a total of 2.5 hours per day so I’ve become addicted to “hearing” stories while I’m driving or patiently (ha!) parked. I don’t want to give up devouring books when my schedule gets too crazy, so for me, it’s the perfect solution to “reading” all the books on my list and making the most of my time during the day.

If you’ve never tried audiobooks, it may take some getting used to. I was hesitant at first because I LOVE the way a book feels in my hand, and the new paper smell…oh my. But the truth is, although I always have the best intentions, I never seem to find the time to finish reading the books I start. Two pages in at bedtime and I’m usually out for the count.

I started off with bite sized podcast listening and was hooked. I now use podcasts for business insights and coaching while I’m in the office and fictional audiobooks have become my entertainment and “down time” listening. I listen while driving, at the gym, and as I fold the mountainous piles of laundry that seem to live in my hallway.

It’s easy to find out if audiobooks fit into your lifestyle by making use of 30 day free trials, like the one audiobooks.com offers. Audiobooks.com is one of my favorite resources because I can start a book on my smartphone, pick up where I left off on my laptop and even fall asleep while listening on my tablet – and I’ll never lose my place. They have over 125,000 titles to choose from and here’s the key for me : it’s so EASY. The trial lets you choose any book in your first 30 days for free. I love free.

If you’re like me and want to experience the books before seeing the movies, I’ve put together a list to check out this month:

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK-James Baldwin

“In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad.

Tish and Fonny have pledged to get married, but Fonny is falsely accused of a terrible crime and is imprisoned. Their families set out to clear his name, and as they face an uncertain future, the young lovers experience a kaleidoscope of emotions-affection, despair, and hope.

In a love story that evokes the blues, where passion and sadness are inevitably intertwined, Baldwin has created two characters so alive and profoundly realized that they are unforgettably ingrained in the American psyche.”

THE WIFEMeg Wolitzer

“Meg Wolitzer brings her characteristic wit and intelligence to a provocative story about the evolution of a marriage, the nature of partnership, the question of a male or female sensibility, and the place for an ambitious woman in a man’s world.The moment Joan Castleman decides to leave her husband, they are thirty-five thousand feet above the ocean on a flight to Helsinki. Joan’s husband Joseph is one of America’s preeminent novelists, about to receive a prestigious international award, and Joan, who has spent forty years subjugating her own literary talents to fan the flames of his career, has finally decided to stop.

From this gripping opening, Meg Wolitzer flashes back to Smith College and Greenwich Village in the 1950s and follows the course of the marriage that has brought the couple to this breaking point-one that results in a shocking revelation.With her skillful storytelling and pitch-perfect observations, Wolitzer has crafted a wise and candid look at the choices all men and women make-in marriage, work, and life. An Oprah Pick of Books behind the Summer’s Biggest Movies.”

FIRST MAN: THE LIFE OF NEIL A. ARMSTRONGJames R. Hansen

“This is the first—and only—definitive authorized account of Neil Armstrong, the man whose “one small step” changed history.

When Apollo 11 touched down on the Moon’s surface in 1969, the first man on the Moon became a legend. In First Man, author James R. Hansen explores the life of Neil Armstrong. Based on over fifty hours of interviews with the intensely private Armstrong, who also gave Hansen exclusive access to private documents and family sources, this “magnificent panorama of the second half of the American twentieth century” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) is an unparalleled biography of an American icon.”

CHRISTOPHER ROBINElizabeth Rudnick, Disney Press

“Once upon a time, there was a boy named Christopher Robin, who had many friends in the Hundred-Acre Wood. As time passed, the boy grew up, and he lost track of his friends. Then one day, a silly old bear with a love for honey decided to leave the wood and go looking for his friend Christopher Robin.

From the streets of London to the grassy banks of the Hundred-Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin will journey to find each other and remember the magical elements of friendship and play. With Tigger, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl, Rabbit, and of course, the ever-sullen Eeyore, the story of Christopher Robin’s return to the Hundred-Acre Wood is an amazing adventure for listeners of all ages!”

BLACK KLANSMAN-Ron Stallworth

“The extraordinary true story and basis for the major motion picture BlacKkKlansman, written and directed by Spike Lee, produced by Jordan Peele, and starring John David Washington and Adam Driver.

When detective Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, comes across a classified ad in the local paper asking for all those interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan to contact a P.O. box, Detective Stallworth does his job and responds with interest, using his real name while posing as a white man. He figures he’ll receive a few brochures in the mail, maybe even a magazine, and learn more about a growing terrorist threat in his community.


A few weeks later the office phone rings, and the caller asks Ron a question he thought he’d never have to answer, “Would you like to join our cause?” This is 1978, and the KKK is on the rise in the United States. Its Grand Wizard, David Duke, has made a name for himself, appearing on talk shows, and major magazine interviews preaching a “kinder” Klan that wants nothing more than to preserve a heritage, and to restore a nation to its former glory.


Ron answers the caller’s question that night with a yes, launching what is surely one of the most audacious, and incredible undercover investigations in history. Ron recruits his partner Chuck to play the ‘white’ Ron Stallworth, while Stallworth himself conducts all subsequent phone conversations. During the months-long investigation, Stallworth sabotages cross burnings, exposes white supremacists in the military, and even befriends David Duke himself.
Black Klansman is an amazing true story that unfolds like a crime thriller, and a searing portrait of a divided America and the extraordinary heroes who dare to fight back.”

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS: THE TRUE LIFE OF MARY STUART-John Guy

“In the first full-scale biography of Mary Stuart in more than thirty years, John Guy creates an intimate and absorbing portrait of one of history’s most famous women, depicting her world and her place in the sweep of history with stunning immediacy. Bringing together all surviving documents and uncovering a trove of new sources for the first time, Guy dispels the popular image of Mary Queen of Scots as a romantic leading lady-achieving her ends through feminine wiles-and establishes her as the intellectual and political equal of Elizabeth I.

Through Guy’s pioneering research and superbly readable prose, we come to see Mary as a skillful diplomat, maneuvering ingeniously among a dizzying array of factions that sought to control or dethrone her. Mary Queen of Scots is an enthralling, myth-shattering look at a complex woman and ruler and her time.”

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?: MEMOIRS OF A LITERARY FORGER-Lee Israel

“Lee Israel’s hilarious and shocking memoir of the astonishing caper she carried on for almost two years when she forged and sold more than three hundred letters by such literary notables as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Noel Coward, and many others.

Before turning to her life of crime—running a one-woman forgery business out of a phone booth in a Greenwich Village bar and even dodging the FBI—Lee Israel had a legitimate career as an author of biographies. Her first book on Tallulah Bankhead was a New York Times bestseller, and her second, on the late journalist and reporter Dorothy Kilgallen, made a splash in the headlines.

But by 1990, almost broke and desperate to hang onto her Upper West Side studio, Lee made a bold and irreversible career change: inspired by a letter she’d received once from Katharine Hepburn, and armed with her considerable skills as a researcher and celebrity biographer, she began to forge letters in the voices of literary greats. Between 1990 and 1991, she wrote more than three hundred letters in the voices of, among others, Dorothy Parker, Louise Brooks, Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, and Noel Coward—and sold the forgeries to memorabilia and autograph dealers.

“Lee Israel is deft, funny, and eminently entertaining…[in her] gentle parable about the modern culture of fame, about those who worship it, those who strive for it, and those who trade in its relics” (The Associated Press). Exquisitely written, with reproductions of her marvelous forgeries, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is “a slender, sordid, and pretty damned fabulous book about her misadventures” (The New York Times Book Review).”

MARY POPPINS– P.L. Travers

“The timeless story of Mary Poppins, the world’s favorite nanny, and her magical adventures with the Banks family

Mary Poppins is like no other nanny the Banks children have ever seen. It all starts when their new nanny is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house, carrying a parrot-headed umbrella and a magic carpetbag. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

“When Mary Poppins is about, her young charges can never tell where the real world merges into make-believe. Neither can the reader, and that is one of the hallmarks of good fantasy.”—New York Times”

Happy listening, everyone!

PS- If you haven’t subscribed to the blog you can do it here.  I’d love to have you join my tribe!

The post Academy Award Nominees 2019: An Audiobook Roundup appeared first on lights.camera.family..

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“Co-Parenting is NOT a competition. It’s a collaboration of two homes working together in the best interest of the child at heart.”

-unknown

The post Monday Musings appeared first on lights.camera.family..

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It seems Marie Kondo is everywhere these days. Every social media account and online magazine is referencing her Netflix show, “Tidying Up”, in which she enters cluttered families’ homes and teaches them the Konmari method of organizing. After seeing all of my friends’ social feeds filled with proud before and afters, I decided to check out the series for myself and find out what everyone was going on about.

The Konmari method of organizing begins with clothes, then moves on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. A big part of this method includes keeping things that “spark joy” and thanking and discarding things that don’t. I was happy to discover that In our home, we’ve been following a lot of this prescribed organizational style without even knowing it. Although at first glance you might not think we live a minimalist lifestyle, if you take into account that we have 6 people in our home plus a very indulged dog, we are doing pretty darned well in keeping clutter at bay.

Here are some of my own “Mama” Kondo tips that have helped keep our modest home functional and organized.

1. Clothing– Keeping clothing to a minimum can be difficult with 4 children (aged 8 through 15) but we do our best by doing two deep cleans a year. The first is always in August before school, and the other is in the spring as the weather warms. Since we have three girls, this is the time when the two youngest girls are allowed to “shop” the others’ closets for pre-owned clothing. We never use the term “hand me downs” since it instinctively connotes a negative feeling. The girls are allowed to keep what they like and give away what they don’t. Every girl has their own individual style at this age, so they only pick up things they like and know they will wear. The oldest gets to shop for new clothes but her younger sister frequently helps her pick things out at the store knowing she will inherit the clothing in a year. The younger girls are never unhappy about the “hand me downs” because they are the ones who picked out clothing they wanted. I always make sure that aside from their “borrowed” clothing, they also get a few brand new stylish pieces in their wardrobe.

Once we’ve discarded the items that will no longer be used, we make three piles. One that will head to the consignment store (our best brand clothing), one that we will offer to friends and neighbors (great condition clothing), and one that will go to Goodwill or other charity (good condition clothing). With our consignment store credit, we shop for new brand name clothes (with tags mostly) at the store where we can snag the items at over half the original ticketed cost. Neighbors and friends always appreciate play clothing and we get a receipt of our donated items from Goodwill for tax purposes. It’s a win-win all around.

2. Books- There was an uproar from book enthusiasts when rumors started flying that Marie Kondo said 30 books was the most a home should have at one time. As a book lover myself, I just had to say “bless her heart” and kept on keepin’ on with my large library collection. I think what she meant was that we need to just get rid of books that no longer provide us joy and that won’t ever get re-read. Personally, I find that my oldest teen borrows from my bookcase at least a couple of times a month. For the younger girls who inherited their older brother’s collection, there is always a “new” great book to read. The only books that get discarded are the baby books that the youngest outgrows and any books that the kids weren’t crazy about to begin with. We make a trip to the used book store about once a year and the kids love getting cash for their offerings. Sometimes they choose to purchase more books, and sometimes the cash goes straight into their piggy banks. Either way, they are always happy to give up the books in exchange. Once every few years,  I “Mama” Kondo my older books and do the same. We all use the “spark joy” test when deciding which books to keep. There is no one that will ever get me to discard my copy of John Steinbeck’s, East of Eden. Ah, JOY!

3. Papers- This is the toughest one for us. It’s amazing how quickly we accumulate piles of school projects, artwork, school tests, junk mail, bills, statements and more. I became a bit more adept at throwing out spelling tests and art work, etc. as the kids got older and we outgrew space.

I’ve developed methods for deciding what to  “thank” and throw away when it comes to the kids’ paper piles. If someone has scored a top grade on a test or report, it goes up on the fridge to be proudly displayed to all for 2 weeks (give or take). At that point, we reflect on said paper, and either discard it or put it into their school “box” for the year. I try to never discard papers without the children’s blessing. I’ve learned over the years that papers that might seem unimportant may hold a beloved doodle, or a special memory for the child. Allowing them to decide whether to throw it out gives the kids control and the ability to move past that accomplishment and gets them excited about their next one. I encourage the kids to keep things throughout the year that they are especially proud of and at the end of the school year, the kids go through their boxes and usually decide to throw most  of the contents out. Their best art work gets displayed permanently on our staircase wall. We usually pick out one piece per child a year for this privilege and our wall has made for a great conversation piece for guests.

4. Komono (Miscellaneous Items)– As a blended family of six, boy do we have lots of miscellaneous items!  Let’s just say our two car garage only has room for one car. I like keeping our living space pretty clear of clutter so when there’s not time to “Kondo” items, they end up there, much to my husband’s chagrin. We consign all we can every quarter and donate a ton of items to one of our favorite haunts, the Habitat for Humanity Restores.

Our kitchen is already pretty streamlined. We keep our spices organized in a drawer, kitchen utensils are kept at a minimum  and we only keep appliances on the counter that we use on a daily or weekly basis.

Older stuffed animals and toys get donated and for years now, we have had the tradition of saying “I love you, thank you and goodbye” to these treasures. Who knew I could have written a book about our family’s “tidying up” rules?

5. Sentimental Items-This is another tough one with so many special moments in our lives. We do keep items that are special to us in boxes in the attic. For items that are too big to store, or don’t make sense to store, I take a few pictures, print them out and store those instead.

For the special moments we have together as a family, we have a JOY JAR in the kitchen that gets filled up every year with concert tickets, playbills, parking stubs, restaurant receipts for special nights out, etc. After an event or as I’m cleaning our pockets in the laundry, I throw these items into our JOY JAR and we have fun looking through it and reminiscing at the end of the year.

Another special thing I do is make a video of the year’s journey in photos, set it to music and save it to share with the kids and extended family members. The kids love watching their memories on the big screen and it’s a great way to insure they appreciate all that we experienced that year, the places we traveled and the adventures we had.

My biggest takeaway from Marie Kondo’s Netflix show is thinking of the house as more than just 4 walls and a roof. Showing the house respect, thanking it for the love it houses and taking a minute to reflect on what your home means to you are all things I’ve vowed to do more of. Having respect for this inanimate object makes it easier to remove the things that don’t “spark joy” and  keep our home free of piles that cause stress.

Although the house invariably gets messy every day, the laundry and dishes overwhelming, keeping our spaces as clutter free as we possibly can helps make cleaning and organizing manageable. For now, I’m happy to report, my “Mama” Kondo’ing skills are keeping our home feeling comfortable and inviting. I’ll just keep ignoring that secret junk drawer that never manages to get organized or the closet where all things get thrown when unexpected guests stop over. I mean, c’mon people. Perfect is boring, right?

Do YOU have an organizational tip? I’d love to hear it! Drop me a line at contact@lightscamerafamily.com or comment below.

The post Mama Kondo: My Take on the “Tidying Up” Craze appeared first on lights.camera.family..

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This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through any of my affiliate links, I receive some spare change for my tea fund. The fund allows me to indulge in an Almond Milk Honey Chai Tea Latte during afternoon carpools (at no extra cost to you!). Thank you for your kind support.

This year for the holidays, we decided to eschew big gifts and take a big family trip to New York City instead. At our monthly family meeting before the holidays, we had talked about our expectations. We asked the kids what they remembered from last year, what their favorite presents had been, etc. Pretty quickly, we realized that their memories had more to do with the Christmas stories we read by the fire than the gifts they had received. We took a family vote and decided that taking a trip would be much preferred to a bevy of forgettable gifts under the tree. New York City won the popular vote as the destination for our holiday vacation!

The kids were tasked with researching places or experiences they wanted to have and we set off to NYC with a loose itinerary. After years of blended family travel, we have learned that flexibility and spontaneity are always key to any of our vacation experiences. There are bound to be unexpected hurdles (low blood sugars at exactly the wrong time), and we wanted to make sure we left plenty of time on the itinerary to follow the kids’ interests.

Museums, a show, restaurants, shopping, landmarks, and tourist attractions were just a few of the things we were able pack into our 5 day NYC trip.

I’ve compiled a list of our favorite New York City experiences along with some helpful links to help you plan your New York City family vacation!

1. Take a train in the city. Some say it isn’t really a New York experience if you don’t take the subway. I agree! Take advantage of the 472 stations serving 27 subway lines the the city offers to get to your destinations. Free subway maps are available at the subway stations. The kids had so much fun people watching and running through the stations to catch our trains.

2. Take in a Broadway or Off-Broadway show. Don’t miss a chance to see first rate theatre in the Big Apple. There are so many options for family-friendly shows and the experiences are unforgettable. We have a group of Harry Potter fans in the bunch, so we took in Puffs, a Potter-inspired comedy, from the front row at the New World Stages. For discount tickets to NYC shows, visit one of the TKTS  booth locations at Times Square, South Street Seaport or Lincoln Center.

3. Visit Times Square. For kids to truly understand why NYC is called the City That Never Sleeps, take a walk through magical Times Square in the evening. The kids were enthralled by all of the screens, the lights and the activity surrounding the area. They were even able to see themselves displayed on one of the giant screens thanks to a street camera. Since we visited during the holidays, they wrote wishes on strips of confetti that were released on New Year’s Eve as the ball dropped.

4. Tour the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Sitting within the footprints of the Twin Towers are the 911 Memorial’s twin reflecting pools which are nearly an acre in size.  They feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America and the names of every person who died are inscribed around the perimeter. To say that this memorial invokes powerful emotions is an understatement. Don’t miss the “Survivor Tree” which endured the terror attacks.

The 9/11 Museum hosts some of the most powerful images and stories of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The stories of loss and recovery and the impact of this event on the country and the world are told within the walls of the museum. The material may be difficult to experience for younger eyes, but the older kids named this experience one of the best highlights of our trip.

5. Have a Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity 3-This legendary NYC restaurant is the perfect place for a mid-afternoon break while you’re sightseeing. Decadent sundaes and frozen hot chocolates have a way of helping the kids power through a long day of walking. I loved knowing that Grace Kelly and Cary Grant had enjoyed time at Serendipity. The kids were more impressed that Beyoncé had been a patron. Be sure to make reservations if you can- the lines can get very long.

6. Enjoy Central Park-America’s first major landscaped public park offers an abundance of tours and activities for all. From playgrounds, to boat rides, to a carousel, to theatre and a zoo, kids will be entertained for days. Just strolling through the beautiful paths and resting on park benches on a fair weathered day offered great memories.

7. Take advantage of discounts with CityPass– The city has so much to offer in terms of attractions that we were a bit overwhelmed by the choices. Make it easy on yourself and purchase a CityPass which offers discounted admissions to New York City’s top attractions. Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the 9/11 Museum and others for less. For our blended family, the CityPass was not only a money saver, but a  time saver as well. Some of the venues let you skip the lines if you are a CityPass holder!

Our time in New York City was magical. Creating new memories together is so important for blended families and we are grateful to have had this special trip together. They may have forgotten about the Fingerlings two weeks after Christmas last year, but I’m pretty sure the impact of this trip will last a lifetime.

For pictures from our trip and our many other life adventures, be sure to follow us on Instagram.

The post A New York City Family Vacation appeared first on lights.camera.family..

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Holidays can offer a big emotional challenge for blended families. This time of year is tough for every party involved, whether schedules have been decided by a judge or both bio-parents have managed to figure out a plan they agree on. In our family, we have both of these situations. Although there are benefits to having custody clearly spelled out, it is infinitely easier to enjoy flexibility and a great co-parenting relationship that benefits the children whenever possible.

In our home, all of the siblings stay together from the start of holiday break through either Christmas Eve at 5pm or Christmas Day at 12pm on alternating years. After that, all of the kids jet off to visit their other parent’s relatives for the remainder of the holiday break. It can be pretty heartbreaking to see their goodbye hugs to each other and their “I wish we could stay togethers” but we know that as soon as they leave, they have amazing trips and fun experiences that they will share with each other when they meet again.

The challenge for parents is always trying to squeeze in “enough” of the holiday traditions, to feel that we’ve gotten “our share” of the holiday and above all, to not stress the kids with the busy schedules at both homes or co-parent disagreements.

The first years as a blended family seemed to hold more of the need to get as much time with the kids as we could. There were heated discussions about schedules, exact drop-off times, presents and who had more quality time with the kids. As time has gone by and everyone has settled into their roles as co-parents, things have gotten much easier and infinitely more manageable.

Here are some things we’ve learned along the way:

1. Holiday traditions. After the break up of a family, some holiday traditions that were important to the kids may be lost. While we have kept some of our old traditions, we’ve also created our own unique, blended family ones. New traditions help to define and bond our blended family and give the kids a sense of belonging in their new world. The reading of Christmas stories by the fire, counting down Christmas with chocolates, setting up twinkling lights in their bedrooms while playing Christmas carols, all help to make their time together as siblings and as a family, special.

2. Gifts. Before birthdays and at the beginning of the holiday season, I conference with the kids’ dad and we usually help each other by discussing gift hints the kids have dropped in the other’s home. Any bigger ticket items we are thinking about purchasing (phones, gaming systems, etc.) we make sure to talk through and agree on set rules (ie no gaming during the week at either home). My rule of thumb is, if I would have had a discussion before buying it during our marriage, I need to discuss it now. After all, he is no less a parent now than he was then.

Oh, and there is absolutely no need to compete for gifts. In their new lives, the kids are already so spoiled by presents from twice as many people! For birthdays and at Christmas time, they receive gifts from us, from their dad, from my family, their dad’s family, and their stepdad’s family. Our kids tend to get overwhelmed by all of the presents and usually can’t even remember who got them what. Focus on your time with them instead.

3. Schedules. I am blessed with a co-parent who is extremely flexible. We try to always work together to find a compromise. If at all possible, give your co-parent some flexibility around the holidays. Is there a family Christmas party during their custodial weekend? Are cousins coming into town unexpectedly? Offer to trade the day or the weekend. Holding your child’s interest in your mind’s eye will help you do what’s best for their sake. Kids see everything and allowing them to see how well you are able to co-parent will help them feel less anxious, more secure and loved.

4. Don’t exclude. I always make sure to take lots of pictures during important experiences and send them to the bio-parents. It’s hard not to feel like you are “missing out” when the kids are having grand experiences without you. Pictures help keep the other parent involved and connected. There’s absolutely no reason to be selfish about your time with the kids. Remember, you CHOSE their mom or dad. If you allow your heightened emotions to rule, the only “losers” will be the children.

5. Take time to reconnect. It’s easy to get down when the kids are away but we have learned to “let go” and enjoy our alone time. When the kids are away, we work on home projects, have lots of date nights or plan a special trip ourselves. It’s important to focus not only on the health and security of your children after divorce but yours as well. Prioritizing your marriage and developing deeper connections in your one-on-one relationship is crucial. The kids thrive in a happy, loving home so make sure it stays one!

Do you have tips for managing the holidays as a stepfamily? Leave them below or drop me a line  at contact@lightscamerafamily.com.

The post 5 Tips for Happy (Blended Family) Holidays appeared first on lights.camera.family..

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