Friday, 27 November 2015

Ladies' Weekend at the Inn Boonsoboro (or The Weekend We Lived Inside a Book)

Does it make me officially an 80s housewife if I'm in love with Nora Roberts books? I remember my mother reading them when I was growing up. Earlier this year one of the women in my book club asked us, almost in a hushed tone, if any of us had ever read one. We hadn't, and so she proceeded to tell us about the trilogy she was reading called The Inn Boonsboro Trilogy. Reading a romance novel was on my 2015 Read Harder list, so I picked it up.

From the first page I knew I was totally going to love this book. It's a guilty pleasure at its finest. The first book in the trilogy is about Beckett Montgomery. He owns his own construction company. He's in love with the young, widowed mother who runs the local bookstore. He's rebuilding the inn across the street with his brothers. I think you get the idea.

My co-worker, Dani, and I devoured this trilogy and many other Nora Roberts books over the summer. Move aside 50 Shades of Grey. There's a new romance trend in town, even if we have to bring it back all by ourselves. Lovely, sweet, romance stories with healthy relationships and happy endings. That's what I want to read about before bed. (Plus, Rob really can't complain about my newest favourite book genre. I think he's reaping a few extra benefits from it all.)

In August, I get a text from Dani and the conversation went something like this:
Dani - Did you know the Inn Boonsboro is a real place?
Me - What?! No way! We have to go there.   (...not even knowing where on Earth it is.)
Dani - Yes!

I checked online and yes, it actually was a real inn. Better still, the inn was owned by Nora Roberts herself! And the bookstore from the trilogy was real - Turn the Page. As was the pizzeria from the trilogy, Vesta. As was the gym from the trilogy, Fit in Boonsboro. As was the gift store. These were all real places. It was like seeing a book coming to life.

Dani and I booked a room at the Inn Boonsboro and officially declared a road trip planned. To say we completely loved it would be a massive understatement. It was only 2 nights, but has gone down as one of my all-time favourite vacations. Here's a bit of a photo essay from our trip, and you'll see why. Even if you're not a Nora Roberts fan, this inn is absolutely a worthwhile trip for a weekend away. (Travel tip - book well in advance! We booked in August for a November trip and got one of the last 2 rooms available.)

To Do: Drive 430 miles, spend the weekend reading books and drinking wine

The drive from Toronto to Boonsboro, Maryland was just over 8 hours and really a beautiful drive in the fall. I wouldn't make the drive in the winter though. We saw quite a few "watch out for icy roads" signs.



The drive was so lovely. Most of our drive looked like this. Just keep your eyes above the shoulders of the roads. I've never seen so much roadkill in my entire life than during this drive in Pennsylvania and Maryland. An insane amount. Both ways. Consider yourself warned.


So what do you do when you have an 8 hour drive ahead of you to the inn from a Nora Roberts book? Listen to Nora Roberts audiobooks of course! #soawkward #stillamazing

The Inn Boonsboro



This is the front porch of the inn. The front door is actually the front door used on the cover of the first book in the Inn Boonsboro Trilogy - The Next Always.




The Inn Boonsboro has 8 unique guest rooms, each named after a famous literary couple. We stayed in Nick & Nora (from The Thin Man). Photos do not do these rooms justice. We had seen pictures online and were so blown away by how beautiful everything was throughout the whole inn. As an aside, the inn has a number of themed packages you can add onto your stay. They also do in house massages. We didn't book a package only because our single goal for the weekend was to sit in the library and read books all day.


The bathroom in our bedroom was incredible. It was a bathroom that bathroom dreams are made of. There were heated floors, heated towel racks, a massive bathtub, and an enormous shower that had 7 different shower heads.


Each room has its own signature scent and signature tea. Ours was green tea and ginger. All of the tea and products are available for purchase at the gift store across the street (or online).


Every night from 6-7pm there is wine and cheese in the lounge. We took our wine to sit beside one of the two beautiful gas fireplaces in the common areas (Two of the guest rooms also have guest fireplaces).


The first night of our trip, we got some pizza from Vesta and brought it back to eat in the open kitchen. We had our pizza, some wine, and played a Pride and Prejudice board game that we found in the lounge. Then we went back to our room and watched a Nora Roberts DVD. The inn has a lot of romantic comedies or classic romance DVDs available to watch at anytime.


Across the street from the inn there are a few cute gift shops and Turn the Page bookstore (where Nora Roberts books reign high, but there are also a number of other great books to buy and a small children's section, so you can pick up a gift for your little one to bring back after mama's weekend away).


There are balconies around the inn and a large terrace out back that would be beautiful in the summer, but mostly for the weekend we lived here, the library.


We got up each morning, made some tea and read here until it was time for the gourmet breakfast that is prepared for inn guests each morning. After breakfast, we came back here and basically read all day long.

In the afternoon we switched from tea to wine and enjoyed some of the fresh baked goods that are available each day.


And then continued to read...


If you prefer whiskey, there is a crystal whiskey decanter of Jameson in the library available for guests whenever they'd like to enjoy a glass or two. And make sure you add a pin to the map on the wall of where you've traveled from!


Eventually we did pull ourselves away from the inn later in the afternoon because we had booked a wine tour and tasting at a new winery just outside of Boonsboro called Big Cork Vineyards.




Big Cork Vineyards also has a restaurant and terrace for dinner. Plus, on our tour they also told us we could bring blankets and food and just set up a picnic near the vineyards in the summer if we'd like as well. I'd absolutely go back and either have dinner there or bring a picnic. (One more dinner tip - we had booked reservations at Dan's Restaurant and Taphouse and were a bit disappointed. It's really just a pub, so if you're looking for a pub, Dan's is fine, but if you want a nicer place for dinner, go try the winery.)

One more library shot in the morning before we headed back home....

This weekend was like a mini fantasy. We felt like we were living inside a book the entire time. It was so incredibly relaxing and lovely. I feel like my new bucket list in life is to stay in each room at some point. Even if it takes me the next 30 years. I know my mother would love it here, so I foresee a mother-daughter trip in our future. I also really really want to re-read The Boonsboro Inn Trilogy because now that I've been to the inn, I can read the stories and picture them actually happening in these rooms.

The Inn Boonsboro is highly recommended! Thank you so much to everyone at the inn who made our stay so wonderful. (Seriously, the innkeeper went out at 7 in the morning to get me milk for my tea because they were out).

I really hope you get a chance to visit this beautiful place.
xo
Jenn

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Koala Crate Box Review

You may have heard of Kiwi Crate which is a subscription box of hands-on art and science activities. Koala Crate is the same subscription, and is tailored for children aged 3-4.

I signed us up for a 6 month subscription because I thought this would be a great thing to do throughout the winter. Each month the box is themed and comes with a number of different items designed for a minimum of 3 separate activities or crafts. This month's theme was Numbers. Here's a look at what we got and the activities we did together!
(It was a cloudy day when we opened our Koala Crate, so my apologies for the darker photos. But Koala Crate really is perfect for the days you feel stuck indoors.)



This months kit came with all of the supplies necessary for making play-doh, including Kool-Aid to colour it blue :) There was also play-doh rolling pin and cutting wheel. The remaining items were a plastic mat and 4 reusable play-doh activity sheets, 2 dice, and a set of special Koala Crate cards for a couple of different number games. Finally, and this is one of Seb's favourite parts, each box comes with an Imagine magazine. Each Imagine magazine is connected to the topic of the month and includes little stories, games, and activities. Imagine is published in partnership with Highlights so you know it's awesome.

Activity 1 - Make the play-doh




Activity 2 - Play-doh number and measurement games






Activity 3 - Dice and card games (matching and dominoes)



Overall, I think the value of this subscription is pretty great because everything you need for your craft or activity is included each time, and the supplies are always excellent quality.

If you'd like to sign up and try out Koala Crate (or any of the others for older kids - Kiwi Crate, Doodle Crate or Tinker Crate), using my link will save you $10 off your order. 

xo
Jenn

Monday, 23 November 2015

Interview with Quinn from Rustic Daisy Designs

Please welcome Quinn Graungaard from Rustic Daisy Designs! She has the most adorable Etsy store with beautiful burlap banners for any occasion. I had a chance to meet her in person this weekend and see all of these beauties in person. Enjoy!

Tell me a bit about yourself.  
I married my best friend, Caley, in May of 2013, am a new mom with a 17 month old baby girl (Annabelle), and we have a gigantic 5 year old golden doodle (Charlie).
I studied Kinesiology and Health Science and dabbled in business courses for my electives (marketing, new business ventures, accounting, etc).  I continued my education with a Bachelor of Education (primary/junior) and graduated in 2012. Worked part time as a bartender to pay for my education. I still work a few nights a week when my husband is home.
Prior to going to university I had a career as an Event Planner for a non-profit organization where I discovered some of my creative passions.
I come from a big family of 9 kids total with all of the step siblings, half siblings and one adopted sibling from China!
I spend much of my spare time with my siblings many of whom are musically talented. There are many jam sessions and now playdates with the kids. Our last family get together included about 15 siblings with their partners, 3 little babies, 6 dogs and 7 puppies. My sister fosters dogs, owns a few of her own and of course we all bring our doggies too! 

Merry Everything Banner

How did you begin your journey in the world of selling handmade goods?
When I got married in 2012, I made all of the banners and decorations for my wedding. I received many compliments on the décor, many saying it was the best and most beautiful wedding they had attended. When I became pregnant a few months later (and not employed as a teacher), I found myself thinking about what am I going to do?!  When I was about 4 months pregnant a cousin of mine who had attended the wedding asked me to make a banner for a baby shower that she was organizing. I spent $300 on a machine to help me make the $50 banner perfect, and Rustic Daisy Designs was born. I dove in head first! Knowing that my time and focus would be limited once the baby was born, I raced to get the business going; developed marketing materials, set up my Etsy shop, took product photos, created product descriptions, and so on. I worked right up until the morning my baby girl was born! Of course I had to take two weeks off after she was born, but then I quickly jumped back in.  I did not want to lose momentum. One of the joys of owning your own business is that you are never left without something to do!

I will be celebrating my 2 year anniversary on February 26th, 2016! 

Where do you find your inspiration for your products? 
Literally everywhere! Party invitations, bakery packaging, trending party themes, nature, and now my little girl inspires many of the items I create! We recently celebrated Annabelle’s first birthday, and I created a sunshine and lemonade theme. I made all of the decorations for her birthday and my goal for the future is to become a premier custom boutique party supplier for many moms like me who want their celebrations to be sweet and unique. For example in the photos below, I made the cake topper, birthday hat, hand-painted wooden sign, bunting hanging across the table, tissue poms, party hats for guests, wands for the little ones, and custom name confetti. 



Birthday Banners

What is the process of getting one of your banners created from start to finish?
I am a one lady shop. I source and purchase all of my fabrics locally. I cut the flags. I cut the various fabrics that I need for images and lettering. Some banners I paint the lettering and images while others I cut the letters and images out of fabric. I sew the banners together, package them up, and ship them.
So far I have shipped to: Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Germany, Singapore, Ireland, England, Scotland, United States, and of course to my fellow Canadians. 



In your opinion, what is the value and appeal of the handmade/maker movement?
There is so much value in handmade.
You can customize items – usually you can communicate directly with the maker and tweak colours, design, fonts, etc so that your piece is truly one of a kind. The possibilities are endless!
Handmade items aren’t typically made in waste-producing factories. You can reduce your carbon footprint, particularly when you buy locally handcrafted items.
You get to connect directly with the artisan.
You can buy quality goods that have been made to last.
You can support local businesses and have a direct effect on the artisans financial well being without paying all of the various levels within a large corporation. 

I love Santa Banner

What handmade possession do you own that you must cherish?
I have two:   
1)   A wooden shelf that my dad made many years ago that I now have hanging in my living room adorned with Christmas stockings of course!
2)   A small ceramic dish that I purchased while studying to become a teacher. We all made and painted clay bowls that had a social or eco justice theme. After many student teachers made their bowls, we held a fundraising event and the entrance fee included lunch and a handmade clay bowl.
It’s a nice feeling to support a greater cause just by purchasing handmade. \


How do you balance motherhood, working, and finding time just for yourself?
Ha – I don’t!  Honestly this is something that I struggle with all of the time. Some of the moments that I find for myself are just that – moments! Going for a run with my dog in the local park, having a hot shower, heading to the gym for an hour are a few of my favorite moments! 

What’s your favourite thing to do as a family in Toronto? 
Right now it is simply walking down the street with our little girl. (I think that this will change as Annabelle’s interests develop). There is nothing more enjoyable than getting down and playing with rocks, sticks, ladybugs and grass. Taking joy in walking on new materials and taking delight in the sound the leaves make when you walk through them. Taking a seat wherever your heart desires. Walking around a tree 20 times. Stopping to smell the flowers. Dancing in the rain and anywhere our little girls reaches up and says “dance”. 

Be sure to visit Quinn's Etsy shop - Rustic Daisy Designs to order a banner or see more! 
You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

xo
Jenn

Friday, 20 November 2015

Hilarious Book Alert!! The Science of Parenthood by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel & Jessica Ziegler {Weekends are for Reading}

Have I got a treat for you today! For this week's Weekends Are For Reading feature, I have a Q&A with the authors of a brand-new book, Science of Parenthood, by Norine Dworkin-McDaniel and Jessica Ziegler. I love parenting books and blogs that help us find the humour in parenting. Norine and Jessica have both! (Plus a sweet giveaway at the end of this post, so keep reading!)

This is not another book just about the crazy baby-stage of parenting. Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time around children will enjoy reading this book. I found myself laughing out loud often and reading parts of the book aloud to my husband as well. There are lots of times when I look at my son and just think, "What the heck is going on here?" And since none of us really have a clue, we might as well make up some science for it.

Using "very scientific" flow charts, colourful graphs, along with hilarious anecdotes and observations, Norine and Jessica have come up with a number tried and true laws of parenting. Important, real, science that they just don't teach in school. Get ready for some laughs and a big dose of reassurance that it's not just you.




What’s Science of Parenthood all about?

Science of Parenthood started nearly three years ago as an illustrated humor blog. We use fake math and science to “explain” the stuff that puzzles parents every day. Things like ...
Why are broken cookies “ruined?”
Why does it matter what color the sippy cup is?
Why can’t you put the straw in the juice box without your kid having a melt down?
Why will a kid whine-whine-whine for a toy, then lose all interest in that toy once they have it? 
Where the eff is my phone?  

We’ve come up with some pretty hilarious theories.

Our book, Science of Parenthood: Thoroughly Unscientific Explanations for Utterly Baffling Parenting Situations, is like our blog … but like our blog on STEROIDS! We utilized the blog to road test--perhaps we should say “field test”--material, and now the book contains the kinds of cartoons and writing that fans love to find at Science of Parenthood, along with all new cartoons, infographics, flowcharts pie charts and quizzes that we created just for the book. About 90 percent of the book is brand new material.

Divided into four sections--biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics--the book lives in the chasm that exists between our collective hopes and dreams and expectations of what parenting will be like … and the brutal, slap-you-upside-the-head reality of what parenting actually is. We cover all aspects of pregnancy, birth and the hilarious frustrations that come with early childhood (tantrums, picky eating, diaper blowouts, illness, sleep issues, play dates, toy creep, homework battles and encounters with crazy parents (not you, of course, we mean other parents). And you know what? You don’t even need to be a scientist to “get” it.

Our goal is just to make parents laugh. Because when you’re a parent, you NEED to laugh. Humor is a survival tool. After your tot has gotten the top off a jar of Vaseline and smeared every surface within reach--as happened to our friend Gail--or tried to “help” you paint a room and ended up covered in blue paint--as happened to Norine’s sister Shari--you have to laugh. Or you’ll end up sobbing. Or wearing one of those fancy white jackets that buckles up in the back.


Is any of the book autobiographical?

Pretty much all of the book reflects through our experiences as parents. Take the piece “Experimental Gastronomy: A Study in Potatoes” from the Chemistry section. It’s written like a scientific paper about an experiment in which a researcher tries to determine if a preschooler who likes French fries will eat mashed potatoes. Raise your hand if you can hypothesize the outcome (see what we did there?) The piece is completely based on Norine’s inability to get her five-year-old, who loves fries, to even taste mashed potatoes. Says Norine: “I tried everything! I even offered him extra chocolate for dessert, and he still refused to take even one tiny nibble.”

Why science? Are either of you scientists?

Not at all. We’re moms dealing with the same kind of crazy stuff everyone else is. Science just makes a great metaphor for the frustration, exasperation and humiliation that comes with everyday parenting. Think about Einstein and how he explained his theory of relativity: “Sit on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour; sit with a pretty girl with an hour and it feels like a minute. That’s relativity.” Well, that’s parenthood too. One minute you’ve got a newborn covered in goo and then next, you’re watching teary-eyed as they skip into kindergarten without even a backward glance or a kiss goodbye. And yet, when you’re into your third hour of Candy Land on a rainy day, time seems to stand still. (If you haven’t played Candy Land with your toddler yet, trust us on this. The scars never really heal.)



Where did you get the idea for Science of Parenthood?

Our “eureka” moment came when Norine’s son, Fletcher, came home from school talking about one of Newton’s laws of force and motion: An object at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an external force.

Says Norine: “That instantly reminded me of Fletcher with his video games. He’d sit on the couch and play games all day if I didn’t confiscate the iPad. I jotted down, Newton’s First Law of Parenting: A child at rest will remain at rest until you want your iPad back. Later, I posted that on Facebook. It got a good response, so I started posting other parenting observations and giving them a math or science twist, like Sleep Geometry Theorem: A child will always sleep perpendicular to any adult laying next to them. Both of these are fan favorites and two of the very few cartoons we pulled from the blog to include in the book.

“As a writer, I’m always looking for new ways to tell stories. And in that eureka moment, it struck me that math and science make fantastic metaphors for telling the universal stories of parenting. Like scientists, we parents are always fumbling in the dark, searching for answers, wondering if we’re on the right track and second-guessing our methods. And because a picture is still worth a thousand words, I knew that these science-y quips would be a lot more popular on social media if they were illustrated. So I called Jessica and asked if she wanted to illustrate a book of these funny observations.


“Jessica was the one who saw that Science of Parenthood could be much bigger than a single book. She saw the potential for a blog and a social media presence and ancillary products. She quickly secured a domain name for us and created a Facebook page and Twitter feed. She began illustrating the observations I had already banked. Two weeks later, we debuted on Facebook; a week after that we rolled out the blog. Now we’re three years in, and along with Science of Parenthood, the book, we have mugs and magnets and posters featuring our images. Earlier this year we published two collections of humorous parenting tweets—The Big Book of Parenting Tweets and The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets


How do you find time to read on your own with kids at home?

Hide in your bathroom with bourbon and chocolate :)

Where can readers find Science of Parenthood?

Science of Parenthood is available on Amazon, Chapters Indigo, and other bookstores near you.
And you can always find Science of Parenthood on Facebook, TwitterPinterest, and Instagram


About The Authors


Norine is the primary writer for Science of Parenthood, the blog, and Science of Parenthood, the book. A longtime freelance magazine writer, Norine’s articles have appeared in just about every women’s magazine you can buy at supermarket checkout as well as on The Huffington Post, Parenting.com, iVillage, Lifescript and Scary Mommy websites. Norine is the co-author of You Know He’s a Keeper…You Know He’s a Loser: Happy Endings and Horror Stories from Real Life Relationships (Perigee), Food Cures (Reader’s Digest) and a contributor to several humor anthologies, including Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding (Demeter Press). She lives with her husband and 9-year-old son in Orlando.

The daughter of famed New Yorker cartoonist Jack Ziegler, Jessica is Science of Parenthood’s co-creator, illustrator, web designer and contributing writer. In her “off hours,” Jessica is the director of social web design for VestorLogic and the writer/illustrator of StoryTots, a series of customizable children’s books. Her writing and illustration have been published on The Huffington Post, Vegas.com, InThePowderRoom.com and in Las Vegas Life and Las Vegas Weekly. Jessica was named a 2014 Humor Voice of the Year by BlogHer/SheKnows Media. She lives with her husband and 11-year-old son in Denver.

Together Jessica and Norine published The Big Book of Parenting Tweets and The Bigger Book of Parenting Tweets earlier in 2015.

 Giveaway time!
Because Jessica and Norine are such rockstars, they have put together a super fantastic prize package for one lucky winner. This giveaway is open to residents in Canada, the US, and the UK. Good luck!

The giveaway includes:
- a signed book
- a full goody bag
- a $100 Visa gift card

a Rafflecopter giveaway


xo
Jenn

Monday, 16 November 2015

Best Advent Calendars for Upping Your Advent Calendar Game

Advent calendars have seriously changed from the $1.99 chocolate windows I had growing up. I've put together a round up of some I love the most!

While I admit they do seem excessive, I find the best way to use these advent calendars is as gifts. For example, instead of giving your mom or BFF a gift right on Christmas, you gift her one of these fun calendars to enjoy the whole month long! I also think the toy advent calendars are a pretty special gift for any little one who has their birthday in December.

Edible/Sippable Advent Calendars


David's Tea - This is the advent calendar among many of my friends. Unfortunately they are sold out online, but you may be able to snag one in a store if you're lucky. Or even better, find someone who has one and offer to share it with them. Each tin makes 2-3 cups of tea. That's what I'm doing with one of my co-workers. They do still have available 12 Teas of Christmas though which will be just as fun!

Lindt - The next step for chocolate lovers. Plus more reasonably priced at $10-12.

Craft Beer - So, I've only just heard of these, and I'm not entirely certain where exactly they are being sold, but I think the ticket is to live in Western Canada. What an excellent idea!


Bath and Beauty Advent Calendars

L'occitane - I bought one of these "in the name of blog research". They are sold out online in Canada, but not in the US. I bet you could still check out local Canadian stores to see if they still have one. I loved this one so much a) because I love L'occitane products and b) at $49 I thought the price was really great compared to other beauty advent calendars I've seen before.


Ciaté London - If you have a friend that loves getting her nails done, this would be a super cute gift! ($59)


Benefit Party Poppers 12 Days of Gorgeous - Previously Benefit has done a full 24 piece advent calendar, but this year they've put together just the best of the best in this 12 Days of Gorgeous package. ($45)

Lush- Another 12 Days of Christmas wrapped calendar. I really do love this one, but it is more expensive at $99. However, many of the items are full-size, and I bet when you're relaxing in the bath with a glass of wine it feels worth it!


Advent Calendars for Kids


Lego and Playmobile - As I mentioned above, I think these toy advent calendars are the best if your little one has a birthday in November or December, or if you need to go to a Nov/Dec bday party. This would be a super fun gift!

Melissa and Doug - This calendar is the best because you can reuse it every year so it's a one-time investment. Plus not everyone thinks kids need 24 little gifts leading up to Christmas. This is the one I'd buy if we didn't already have a special button countdown advent calendar that my mom made us.


Our family advent calendar looks like this....



Every night we read the poem at the top, take a button out of the felt, and jingle the bells at the bottom as we countdown to December 24th. I've been using this advent calendar since as far back into my childhood as I can remember.

xo
Jenn

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