A Weekend of Abundance {Megaphone Summit}

Megaphone Summit

When I sat down to write out some thoughts on my experience at Megaphone Summit, I noticed that there was a theme to what was coming out on paper. The theme was one of abundance. Usually, I leave these kind of conferences feeling overwhelmed, even more unsure of myself and doubting that I have what it takes to be on the same playing field with the other attendees. This time I didn’t feel that way at all. Instead, I feel like I have been filled up all the way to the brim, and then some.

Dinner out at Taste of Thai

My heart is filled up with the many new connections friendships I made, not to mention the opportunity to see, chat with and hug on many of my “blogger” friends. I think that it’s time to drop the qualifier. These folks are my friends, plain and simple, and I love them! The community I feel when I am around these women (and a few good men) is the reason that I decided I couldn’t miss out on the conference this year. Pictured above are two of those new friends I met at the conference, Lacie from Easy Peasy Pleasy, and Renee from If Spoons Could Talk (if I were a food blogger I would be kicking myself for not coming up with that first!). On night two of the conference we had a chance to go out and dine around downtown Fayetteville and we made pigs of ourselves at Taste of Thai! Buddha clearly enjoyed our entertaining conversation (You might be a blogger if you pick your table based on where you’ll get the best photos).

The Unexpected mural in Fayetteville
The Unexpected mural in Fayetteville

I am filled up with knowledge. Knowledge that is technical and has useful application to my blog, and knowledge that will help me tell my story even better than before. I am filled up with ideas for posts, organizing my blog schedule, social media, collaborations, SEO, and ideas for stepping away from all of the screens to cultivate my own real happy (thanks for that, Jacqueline Wolven)….so many ideas. However, like I said before, I don’t feel overwhelmed by this knowledge. I feel empowered and ready to get to work making my blog the best it can be, and the best reflection of who I truly am. Who wouldn’t want to read that??

Soapbox Insights Lounge
The *teal* Soapbox Lounge!

My home is also filled now (sorry, not sorry, hubby). Filled with a ton of great products from the amazing sponsors without whom Megaphone Summit would have looked quite a bit different. Riceland Foods is in the business of filling bellies, and they filled our bags with enough rice to feed the 5,000! Okay, not that much, but it’s a lot of rice, y’all! In my kitchen there’s also AriZona Energy Shots and some smoothie mixes, all from our presenting sponsor Soapbox Insights + Influence. Other swag I picked up from the conference include Ferrero Rocher chocolates (my favorite!), a bag of Pop Pop Shop popcorn, a Keep Fayetteville Funky mug, a jar of homemade jam, and a nail file, reusable shopping bag and ribbon hair tie all in First Security Bank TEAL! I almost forgot about the Remington hairbands and clips that I picked up in their Thermaluxe Blow Out Bar (yes, they had a complimentary blow out bar at the conference!!). I’m probably still forgetting something, but needless to say, I didn’t leave empty handed.

Thermaluxe had me #remready for the conference
Thermaluxe had me #remready for the conference

I am grateful to all of the organizers, sponsors, speakers and fellow attendees for making Megaphone Summit an amazing weekend! I am so glad that I was able to go this year, and I’m already looking forward to next year!

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Ready to Run

Running for Ovarian Cancer Awareness

Ready to run. If you’re like me you probably cannot read that without a certain Dixie Chicks song coming to mind. All of the false starts I’ve had in trying to get back in a running groove also come to mind. It has been a long time now since running was second nature to me. I played soccer from the time I was in 6th grade until high school, and there was a lot of running. So much running. I could run forever back then. The cross country coach was always trying to recruit me, but…soccer.

I didn’t play soccer my senior year of high school, and I didn’t pursue it in college either. However, I was still active in college. My friends and I would run, bike, and workout together. During the spring semester of my junior year, I started to get sick after working out. I distinctly remember the first time it happened. We were trying out a new Denise Austin workout video (I still cannot bring myself to do any of her workouts to this day). At first I thought it was a fluke, or a bug. I was puking, weak and faint for a day or two afterwards. A sweet lady from church came by to drop off soup, crackers and Sprite, and she stayed outside lest she catch what I had. It turned out that I was sick. Only I wouldn’t even know it for another three months, and it definitely wasn’t anything that you could pass on to a church ladies.

Even though I became sick each time, I kept on running and working out. I was a junior who had managed to keep the “freshman fifteen” at bay, but all of a sudden I had developed a belly. No weight gain anywhere else, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I just figured I was gaining weight and needed to keep exercising to keep it off. So I threw up afterwards? All the better to help me lose the weight, I thought. I know that sounds flippant, but it is what I really (secretly) thought at the time. I have never had an eating disorder, and I am not promoting this as a healthy way to lose weight. Even then I knew that it was an unhealthy way to look at things, but it was my way of finding a “bright side” to the situation.

It didn’t make a difference though. My belly grew rounder until I couldn’t even bend down to tie my own shoelaces. I looked and even felt like I was pregnant. Finally, I began to listen to my body and my friends who kept telling me it wasn’t normal to only gain weight in your belly, especially not so quickly. I had been experiencing some very uncomfortable back pain throughout this same time and I decided to give in and go to the doctor about it. NOT because of my belly. Uh uh. I still didn’t think it was related to the pain or the nausea, etc. My doctor disagreed. After she looked at me there was really not much talk about back pain at all. The conversation went like this:

Doctor: Are you pregnant?

Me: [Flushing] No.

Doctor: You are sure there is NO way you can be pregnant?

Me: I’m sure.

Doctor: You look like you’re three months pregnant.

Me: [Nervous laughter] Unless it’s by immaculate conception, there is no way that’s possible.

Doctor: Well, there is something in there.

The ultrasound that followed showed that the “something” was a basketball sized mass on my ovary. A basketball sized mass. On my ovary. Just for some perspective, the ovary of a woman in her childbearing years is about the size of a walnut. I was referred to a gynecologist oncologist and surgery was scheduled for summer break. My CA-125 (the tumor marker for ovarian cancer) came back within the normal range so I put the thought of cancer out of my mind. I would later learn that the CA-125 is not always a reliable test. False negatives and even false positives are not uncommon. I did not find out until after the surgery that it was indeed mucinous adenocarcinoma of the ovary. Cancer. Stage 1. Thankfully, it was all removed during surgery, along with my right ovary, my appendix, part of my intestines, and the now watermelon-sized 8 lb tumor. My doctor did offer chemotherapy, but he was confident that I would be okay without it so I declined. I felt like I got off so easy.

My recovery from the surgery was long and anything but easy. Nonetheless, I did get up and start walking again the very next day. Not far, just up and down the hallway outside of my hospital room. With the aid of a nurse. Slowly, I was able to start doing regular things. I never did get back to running though. However irrational, I always had a fear in the back of my mind that said I would throw up again if I tried to run. During the 13 years since my surgery, I have started and stopped running so many times. I never could stick with it. This month I hope to change that. I have set a goal of running at least one mile three times a week during the month of September, which also happens to be Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. I hope to cap off my goal and the month by running the Whisper 5K Walk & Run in Kansas City. Why Kansas City? First of all, I couldn’t find any runs benefiting ovarian cancer research in Arkansas (is it crazy that I’m considering starting one myself??). Second, I was going to college in Missouri when I was diagnosed and Kansas City was where I had my surgery. I would love it if any of my Warrensburg/Kansas City friends would like to join me on September 25!

I have put in two one mile plus runs this week already, so I’m right on track to reach my weekly goal. Tomorrow, I will be running in teal–the color of ovarian cancer awareness–for National Wear Teal Day! Will you be wearing teal tomorrow?

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7 Socially Conscious Backpacks

The weather is cooling off (68 degrees for my run this morning!), my Facebook feed is filling up with pictures of freshly bathed and smartly dressed children holding “First Day of School” signs, and the parents behind the cameras (er, phones) are collectively exhaling, both in relief and anxiousness, on this Monday morning. In short–it’s Back to School time in Arkansas. It’s the time of year that makes me think of bouquets of newly sharpened pencils, composition books, trapper keepers (yeah, I know I’m dating myself), and school supplies in general.

Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. -Joe Fox, You’ve Got Mail

Last month, I volunteered with the United Way of Northwest Arkansas for their Fill The Bus initiative. We collected school supplies at Walmart locations in Benton, Madison and Washington counties to help children in NWA start their school year off on the right foot. After my 2-hour stint in the Arkansas heat, I wanted more. Well, maybe not more of the Arkansas heat, but I wanted to know what else I could do to help send children to school armed with both confidence and the tools for their success. I was secretly hoping this would not include more standing in the hot July sun, but I was ready to roll up my sleeves regardless.

In my search, I stumbled upon Backpacks with a Purpose, or B-WaP. By now, we’re all familiar with socially conscious companies with a one for one business model (think Toms, Warby Parker, Tacos4Life, etc.), but B-WaP takes it one step further by giving TWO backpacks for every one purchased. I was so excited to see that this company is based in a state that is a close neighbor to those of us here in Northwest Arkansas, Oklahoma. So cool! I think the bags from B-WaP are great, but I also know that kids like to have a bag that shows a little of their personality and individuality, so I decided to dig around for other companies selling backpacks with similar missions. I think I rounded up the best–there are some seriously awesome companies with equally awesome missions and products out there. I hope you agree!

  1. Backpacks With a Purpose/B-WaP
Purchase a B-WaP bag and they will donate 2 bags to children in need.
Purchase a B-WaP bag and they will donate 2 bags to children in need.

As if giving two backpacks for every one backpack purchased wasn’t awesome enough, B-WaP allows you, the consumer, to have a say in where the backpacks are given. During checkout you can select “Domestic” or “International” to have 2 bags sent to either the Regional Foodbank of Oklahoma’s Food for Kids Backpack Program, or to The Maisha Project in Kenya, Africa. Read more about BWaP’s partners here.

2. STATE Backpacks

For each backpack sold, a STATE bag packed with essential tools for success is delivered to an American child in need.
For each backpack sold, a STATE bag packed with essential tools for success is delivered to an American child in need.

STATE bags are incredibly stylish (check out this sweet swan backpack), durable, and full of functional storage. On top of that, for each backpack you purchase, STATE hand-delivers a STATE backpack packed with the tools for success to an American child in need. This socially conscious company doesn’t stop there though. Their bag drop events are motivational rallies intended to leave the kids receiving backpacks with a renewed spirit and belief in themselves. Side note: How appropriate is it that this week is Gray Week in their Colors of Summer Instagram series?

3. Bixby

For each backpack purchase, Bixby will donate a schoolbag with supplies to a kid in need around the world.
For each backpack purchase, Bixby will donate a schoolbag with supplies to a kid in need around the world.

Bixby backpacks have a kid-friendly, whimsical style. Whether your kid is into sparkle, animals, things that fly, or even emoticons, they will find a bag that will suit them, while also sending one full of supplies to a kid in need with Bixby’s “One Here. One There.” donation model. Read more about Bixby’s mission to donate bags around the world here.

4. Esperos

Every Esperos product sold helps fund one year of education for a child in the developing world.
Every Esperos product sold helps fund one year of education for a child in the developing world.

Esperos bags are plain Jane, and they’re okay with that. When you open the website you are met with the tagline, “No frills. No Gimmicks. Just really good bags.” Instead of focusing on frills, they focus on functionality and funding education around the world. They accomplish their mission through giving 10% of their profits to The Nobelity Project, an Austin, TX nonprofit that works to bridge gaps in information and infrastructure to ensure education for all.

5. Stone & Cloth

Each Stone & Cloth purchase helps provide scholarships for students in need.
Each Stone & Cloth purchase helps provide scholarships for students in need.

The sophisticated style of the Stone & Cloth backpacks will likely appeal more to older students, or even adults.  Through a partnership with the Knock Foundation to ensure scholarship opportunities for children in Tanzania, a Stone & Cloth backpack purchase provides 25 hours of classroom learning to a child in need.

6. Krochet Kids

The Ridgeview is a bag that does more. The Krochet Kids program empowers women with the resources to rise above poverty. Forever.
The Ridgeview is a bag that does more. The Krochet Kids program empowers women with the resources to rise above poverty. Forever.

Can a backpack be a tool for lifting women out of poverty? It can when it’s a backpack like the Ridgeview, made by women in Peru as a part of the Krochet Kids Cut & Sew empowerment project. “The production of each of our items offers jobs, education, and mentorship to impoverished individuals. Your purchase connects you with the maker through a hand-signed label.” Learn more about the project here.

7. Jatalo

For every bag Jatalo sells, they donate one year’s worth of textbooks to a child in need.
For every bag Jatalo sells, they donate one year’s worth of textbooks to a child in need.

Not only does Jatalo draw inspiration from global design trends, they also give back in a global way. When you buy a backpack from Jatalo, they give a year’s worth of textbooks to a child in need.

Since today is the first day of school that means that school supplies have already been purchased round these parts. However, is it really ever too late to snag a backpack that will spread some good to others? Which one is your favorite? Leave a comment and let me know!

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To Coen on Your Third Birthday

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Three years old. I can’t believe that you are three years old today. We celebrate with fun, fireworks, friends and family. You are so bright, funny and affectionate. The day is never done without you giving a million kisses, and then some more. “Kiss, mama, kiss!” you say to me over and over again throughout the day. If I give you one kiss and it’s not sufficient, you say, “No, lot of kisses.” I hope that you always want to share your affection with me, but I know there will be a day when you won’t so for now, I cherish each one of your sweet kisses. I am so incredibly lucky to have you. If it weren’t cliché to say so, I would declare you a firecracker—you are full of life, brilliant, and let’s just be honest, at this stage in your life, a little volatile. Three is this brave new adventure we’re embarking on together, and I hope you’re as excited as I am about it. While most focus on the trials this age brings, I know that it will be so wonderful too. You can tell me what you want and need (sometimes very emphatically), you have been potty trained for nearly a year, and you sing your ABCs almost perfectly (who needs e, f, and g anyway?). You love cars and trucks, playing with blocks and trains, digging and building in the sand, your friends and teachers at the “Baby House,” bubble baths, in fact, anything that has to do with water (except for the hotel pool), and always, always playing outside. Some of your favorite books are “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site,” “Llama Llama Red Pajama” and “The Going to Bed Book.”

Again, it’s beyond cliché, but the day you were born my life changed completely. Being your mama is the absolute best thing that has happened to me. Ten years before you were born, I was told that I may never have a child of my own, and I never let myself even dream of you. I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect child than you anyway. You are my angel baby, my sweet, sweet, sweet, my baby boy, my sweet pea, my silly goose, my bug, my big boy, my Young Master Gray, my heart, my darling dear, my Coco, my Coen Gray. I love you so much. Happy birthday, my love.

#NWARKCares Link Up

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It’s the first-ever #NWARKCares link up, plus the first one I’ve ever done here on the blog. Even though I’ve never done a link up before, I found myself saying I would when our leader Jacqueline Wolven asked for someone to step in and do one. I am not usually one to offer to do something I have never done before, especially not something that I could do “wrong” or “mess up.” I admit that is one of the reasons I have put off doing this link up all month long. It’s still April though, and our focus on the environment is still relevant even with Earth Day having come and gone last week.

Not familiar with #NWARKCares? Started by the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers, #NWARKCares is an initiative to share social issues and raise awareness for local causes. As a group we focus on a cause each month by sharing about the issue and highlighting the regional nonprofits that serve those causes. As I said above, this month our focus is on the environment, and there are some great posts out there from members of the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers. I hope they’ll link them up here so you can read them! Until then, I’d love for you to read my post on how volunteering for Heifer International helped spur my commitment to caring for the Earth.

Have a post about the environment that you’d like to share? Here’s how:

Click the blue button to submit your blog post. Be sure to link the URL of an actual post and not just your general blog URL.

Do I have to be a member of the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers to participate?

While this link up is specifically for gathering all of the #NWARKCares April posts in one place, we would love to read your post about the environment even if you are not a member of Northwest Arkansas Bloggers or #NWARKCares. Please just make sure your post is focused on the topic of the environment before linking up.

I linked up….now what?

Read, comment and share the other posts you see linked up! It’s not a requirement of this link up, but the Northwest Arkansas Bloggers are all about community building! Link back to this post so that others can join in as well (again, not a requirement). In that vein, I may share your post and images on future blog posts and on social media, with credit to you always. Thanks for joining in!

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Venture Book Club {Anne of Green Gables}

 

Picked up some fresh flowers and an old favorite this morning.

A photo posted by Julianne Thompson (@jnjthomp) on


Going back to Green Gables over the last few weeks has been like visiting an old friend. I was so delighted when Sarah Shott’s kicked off her Venture Book Club with such a favorite. I didn’t see her post until close to the “deadline,” but I knew I could finish it quickly so I ran out to the library and picked up a copy. Not that I felt pressured to read it all to join in on the fun.

The list of books I have re-read is a short one, but one that includes The Anne series. I think my last re-read before this was in 2005. Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, plus a number of other works by Jane Austen, the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Awakening, and The Hobbit complete the list (I don’t think I’m forgetting any, although I’m not counting poetry or short stories).

Check out Sarah’s recap post and then see what she has in store for the next “Venture” here. I know she would love to have you join in!

Sarah was kind enough to throw out some discussion starters so I’ll jump right into those:

1. What kind of everyday adventures do you see in Anne’s life?
Anne takes pleasure in pretty much everything or, at the very least, tries to imagine some pleasure into ordinary, mundane things. Making a playhouse out in the woods with chipped tea cups and other things that would normally be thrown out is one example. Another instance that comes to mind is how she finds a friend in her reflection in a pane of glass on a bookcase, proof that nothing is too ordinary for our Anne.

2. How can we use Anne’s outlook to bring extra excitement and meaning to our everyday lives?
I, for one, could do with taking a page from Anne’s book when it comes to mornings. “‘I’m so glad my window looks east into the sunrising,’ said Anne, going over to Diana. ‘It’s so splendid to see the morning coming up over those long hills and glowing through those sharp fir tops. It’s new every morning, and I feel as if I washed my very soul in that bath of earliest sunshine.'”

Can you imagine being that excited about waking up in the same room every day? I do love to see the sunrise, but it is always the furthest thing from my mind upon being roused early in the morning by a toddler.

3. What was your favorite part?

It is truly a difficult thing to choose just one favorite part, but I think Anne & Diana’s tea party (although not the disastrous result) or the Lady of Shallot bit would take top billing in my opinion.

I think if it weren’t for a new book on the horizon for the Venture Book Club (and the rest of the Anne Series to be read and watched), I would be in the “depths of despair” over leaving Green Gables!

I am linking up to Sarah’s post for the Venture Book Club. Be sure to check it out and enter her giveaway for a super cute Anne of Green Gables quote print from Carrot Top Paper Shop.

Small Changes Make all the Difference {Earth Day}

 

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When I heard that this month’s #NWARKCares focus would be on the environment, I immediately thought of Heifer International’s mission to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. I told my fellow Northwest Arkansas bloggers that even though they are based in Central Arkansas, I didn’t feel I could write about the environment without talking about Heifer. And here’s the reason–through volunteering for Heifer I learned so much more about how what we do in our everyday lives impacts the environment.

Yes, I grew up with the mantra recycle, reduce, reuse, and I was raised by parents who put that into action and taught us to recycle. That was pretty much the extent of it though. I continued to recycle throughout college and I even began a recycling program at a business I worked at in Northeast Arkansas, but it wasn’t until I began volunteering with Heifer Village in 2009 that my idea of caring for the Earth expanded. The exhibit that really brought it all home was the “Make a Difference Lab.” This was an interactive exhibit where visitors could declare their intention to make changes in their life that would impact the Earth and the world at large for the better. By typing their commitment to recycle, volunteer, compost, save energy or reduce pollution, visitors were able to connect all of what they learned in the learning center’s exhibits to their very own lives. It also impacted me as a volunteer. Seeing all of the commitments visitors made every day created in me a desire to do those things as well…all of them! Right NOW!

I got it into my head that I wanted to start an organic farm, raise chickens, some goats, maybe llamas or alpaca, and grow our own food, simplify our life. I still hope that we can realize that dream in some way in the future, but I realize that I have little if any experience with any of those things so I need to start small. Like, with a garden. It’s not that I have never planted something in the soil myself, but I haven’t ever had a garden of my own. This spring and summer I hope to help out in my friend’s garden to get my feet wet, plus I am going to start out with a small herb garden of my own. I am also looking into growing some lettuce and possibly tomatoes hydroponically in our sun room. I recently visited Ozark Hydroponics and it sounds like something that I could easily manage and use as a tool to teach Young Master Gray about growing your own food.

Something else that I have recently committed to is reducing the amount of non-recyclable or reusable items that we bring into our home. I was feeling really good about all of the things that I was recycling through the city’s recycling program and TerraCycle. Then, a friend recently pointed out that a lot of packaging we had been saving to send in to TerraCycle’s mail-in recycling program was not actually recyclable. Not even by TerraCycle’s standards. This brought me back down to Earth and made me start to rethink the way we conduct ourselves as consumers. Taking a reusable bag to the grocery store is great (if you actually remember to take it inside), but have you ever thought about the packaging around the items you purchase? Is it recyclable? Is there an alternative product with recyclable packaging or, better yet, no packaging? Can you make that product at home? Can you take in your own jars and fill them up in the bulk section at Whole Foods or, locally, Ozark Natural Foods?

It will require some planning and some re-evaluating, and I realize that we won’t be able to eliminate all non-recyclable packaging at once. (Note: This is me telling myself that it’s a process and it is okay to not do it all right away.) I remember reading about a family that had taken on a no-waste challenge and they even took in their own glass containers to the butcher to carry their meat home. I admit, I draw the line at recycling the packaging around raw meat. It always goes in the trash because of the gross factor. I never even considered taking in my own container to the butcher.

So, if I were standing in the “Make A Difference Lab” right now (unfortunately, I recently discovered it is no longer there), my commitments would be:

  • Start growing our own food,
  • Be a more conscious consumer including shopping more from the bulk section and farmer’s markets, and
  • Get my clothesline put up so I can start drying all of our laundry on the line, not just what will fit on the drying racks, makeshift clothesline, and backs of chairs.

Baby steps. Lllamas will just have to wait. What about you? Treat the comment section as our virtual “Make a Difference Lab” and share your own commitments!

Easter Egg Shakers & Sensory Play for Toddlers

Repurpose your plastic Easter Eggs for toddler sensory play by making egg shakers! Let toddlers fill the eggs with rice, beans or both and then shake, shake, shake! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #healthytoddlersnacks juliannegray.com

I was hired by The Women Bloggers to participate in this campaign led by Kendal King Group on behalf of Nestle. All words and opinions are my own.

Now that Easter is over, you may be looking for something to do with all of those eggs, both the hard boiled variety and the plastic. I am sure there are plenty of recipes to enjoy with the former (avocado egg salad, anyone?), but I am here to talk about what to do with the plastic ones. We are all about reusing and repurposing around here so I put together a fun, sensory activity that also involves making a little music. And, even if you don’t allow many sweets, you may have let your little one indulge in some sugary treats over the weekend as well. I am thinking you may be looking for a healthy snack to balance things out after the sugar rush (hey, same here). I have just the thing for that too!

Repurpose your plastic Easter Eggs for toddler sensory play by making egg shakers! Let toddlers fill the eggs with rice, beans or both and then shake, shake, shake! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #healthytoddlersnacks juliannegray.com

While Young Master Gray was napping, I set out an invitation to play with dried rice, dried white beans and empty plastic Easter eggs. The object was for him to fill the eggs with the rice and beans to make shakers, but also to touch and experience all of the different textures. I also set out a snack for him to munch on as we played.

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a great new toddler snack made from navy beans and rice flour. Free of GMOs, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. #healthysnack #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack juliannegray.com

Gerber Lil’ Beanies are a brand new snack for toddlers made from navy beans and rice flour, so there was an added element of talking about what our snack was made of as we played with the main ingredients! There are only seven ingredients listed on the can of the original flavor with sea salt which makes thislabel-reading mama happy! If you or your kids have food allergies like we do (or if you are just health conscious), you know that what is left out is just as important as what is in the food you give your kids. I was thrilled to learn that Lil’ Beanies are not made with GMOs, and do not contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

A fun toddler sensory experience using items from your pantry and leftover Easter eggs! #gerberlilbeanies #sensoryplay #toddlerplay #toddler snacks juliannegray.com

Because Young Master Gray cannot have dairy, I left the White Cheddar and Broccoli flavored Lil’ Beanies in the can. Just out of curiosity, I had a taste of them for myself. They were really good! I may or may not have finished off a whole can (hey, he can’t eat them anyway). They reminded me of cheese puffs, but they didn’t leave a whole lot of messy cheese and powder on my fingers, a big plus for a toddler snack!

When Young Master Gray woke up, he dove right into the activity!

Fill empty Easter Eggs with rice, beans or both for a fun toddler sensory play activity! #toddleractivity #sensoryplay #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnacks juliannegray.com

Fill empty Easter Eggs with rice, beans or both for a fun toddler sensory play activity! #toddleractivity #sensoryplay #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnacks juliannegray.com

And he dove right into the Lil’ Beanies as well!

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a great new toddler snack made from navy beans and rice flour. Free of GMOs, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. #healthysnack #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack juliannegray.com

We experimented with filling the eggs with rice and then beans to see how different they sounded when we shook them. It didn’t take long for the beans and rice to get mixed together, so we filled some eggs with both rice and beans.

Rice & Bean Easter Egg Shakers

Overall, it was a really fun activity that kept him interested for quite a while (major win!). He is still talking about it today. I taped up some of the eggs afterwards so that we could continue using them as shakers in our everyday play. I am sure that I will still be finding rice in my rug for weeks to come, but all the fun we had outweighed the inconvenience of a little mess. Luckily the Lil’ Beanies didn’t add to the mess at all.

Gerber Lil' Beanies are a yummy, mess-free snack for toddlers. Just don't expect your toddler to share them with you! #gerberlilbeanies #toddlersnack #healthysnack juliannegray.com

Young Master Gray says, “Sorry! I didn’t save any Lil’ Beanies for you!” However, you should be able to find them in the baby and toddler snack section at Walmart!

Let me know if you try the activity or the snacks! I would love to hear how your toddlers like them!

6 Reasons Why My Birthday With the Flu Didn’t Suck

I will admit that when I started getting the first symptoms of the flu I was pretty grim about the whole thing. “How am I going to take care of a sick toddler when I’m sick myself?” “Great, now my birthday is going to suck.” And, of course, “Waahhhh, I’m sick.” Then, I joked with my sister that I was due for a birthday with the flu since my birthday last year was so epic. It’s really hard to top a birthday in Hawaii. After that I tried to change my whole perspective on the day and it really helped. So without further ado…

Reasons why my birthday didn’t suck even though I had the flu:

1. While my 2-year-old has more energy with the flu than I do on a normal day, we were still able to get a lot of extra snuggle time in. I hate that it’s because he is feeling bad, but I can’t be mad about snuggles!

So. Much. Energy.

2. My long-distance, we-met-on-the-internet-but-so-what-we-are-still-close friend had her baby boy yesterday and I was able to keep up to date on her labor and cheer her on via Facebook. Her oldest has the same birthday as Young Master Gray, so it’s pretty cool that this new sweet bundle shares my birthday now! Plus, what a way to put things in perspective. Having body aches and not being able to rest pales in comparison to trying to push a human baby out of you and not being able rest.

3. While refreshing and refreshing my browser to be sure and stay updated on the birth of that wee lil babe, I was inundated with sweet messages posted on my Facebook wall in real time. Each message, text, comment and call brought a smile to my face. They really and truly made my day.

4. I actually laid down during naptime. Now, I was not able to sleep because my brain wouldn’t stop going through to-do lists, but I also wasn’t running around trying to get everything done in that one small window of time as usual. I didn’t pick up the toys strewn across the floor. I didn’t clean. I didn’t cook. I didn’t work (okay, I did do some writing, but it didn’t feel like work). I didn’t worry about posting to any of my social media channels. I didn’t do much other than REST.

5. When Jeremy got home from work I was able to spend time with my little family. There wasn’t a big dinner or cake (I didn’t feel like eating anyway), but we had a quiet night in and we were together. I can’t really ask for more than that. As a bonus, Jeremy cleaned up while I took a hot epsom salt bath. He may or may not have suggested I go rest to get rid of the crazy lady who kept telling him he was putting everything away wrong.

6. While it wasn’t on my birthday (and thank goodness), I can’t leave out our little escape to Eureka Springs earlier this week. Jeremy surprised me with a plan to get away and camp for the night. He didn’t know it, but I had been hoping for a getaway. Of course, in my mind we were going to the beach, but I really love to camp so this was perfect. We talked about going to the Buffalo River, my favorite place to camp, but with limited time we decided to go somewhere close. After our anniversary trip to Eureka Springs in January, we were itching to get back and see some of the things that had been closed during that trip. There was a lot more to be seen, but unfortunately, a lot of places are still closed early in the week even during their travel season. I was so mad at myself for not remembering my camera, but Jeremy said that meant that I would just have to enjoy myself and not worry about my camera. Touche. However, I did take some photos with my phone. Here are a few highlights from our early birthday adventure.

Our lodgings for the night.
Our lodgings for the night.
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In our haste we forgot matches, but we still managed to get a fire going.
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The Overlook Trail at Lake Leatherwood
The Point at Lake Leatherwood
The Point at Lake Leatherwood
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It was a great place to rest and take in all that beauty.

That trip was so necessary. Before our hike Wednesday morning, I got a message saying that Young Master Gray was not feeling so well. He had a fever and I immediately felt guilty for taking that time away. I wondered, “Should we skip our hike and just head home?” We decided to go on our hike and then head home, and I’m really glad that we did. I needed that time to be out in nature and think about heavy things. Of course, when I got home Young Master Gray only wanted mama, but I knew he was taken care of and fine with his grandparents until we made it back. The next day I took him to the doctor and, well, you know the rest.

Staring down the unknown

This morning I keep staring at my to-do list. I have two days a week where Young Master Gray goes to school and those two days I try to do all the things. However, this morning I cannot seem to focus on any of the tasks I wrote out earlier this week. Two days ago I went in for an ultrasound on my remaining ovary. It was a follow up after a cyst was discovered in December. I have been feeling bloated and nauseated since December, off and on. That coupled with pelvic pain was enough to put me on high alert. My doctors did not seem to be as concerned so I tried to tamp down my anxiety as much as possible. This was easier on some days than on others. They had said that they wanted me to come back for a follow up in six weeks to make sure the cyst wasn’t growing and nothing abnormal was occurring. Right around the six week mark, I started making calls to put the follow up ultrasound in motion. It took three weeks of me constantly calling to get where we are today. Advocating for myself is not something that comes naturally. In fact, there were many days during that period that I wanted to give up and just “see what happens.” However, I am lucky enough to have people in my corner who know that I am not the squeaky wheel, and they lovingly pushed me to keep at it. These same people also saw how sick I was feeling and threatened to make calls for me if I didn’t do it for myself. Again, I am so grateful to them.

Once my ultrasound was done and the results were sent to my doctor, all of a sudden they were acting with urgency. An MRI is in the works and an appointment with an oncologist was made immediately. That appointment is today. I am grateful that I do not have to wait with the unknown for long, but the fact that now they are rushing and getting things done after dragging their feet for so long definitely makes me uneasy. Of course, I am holding on to the idea that all of this is being done “out of an abundance of caution” because of my history of ovarian cancer. No one has said that to me, but that is my life preserver at the moment.

Psalm 25

This verse also serves as a life preserver, as it has before. It is the verse that I was journaling when I got the call that my cancer was gone, nearly 13 years ago. I found this verse to be true and a comfort then, and in many other times in my life. The Lord was loving and faithful when my cancer was all contained in the tumor and completely removed with no need for treatment. He was loving and faithful when He gave me a son though I had thought I would never have children of my own. There are many, many more instances that I could list, and today I choose to dwell in them. Instead of letting my mind wander down the road of what ifs, I will think of all the ways that the Lord has shown Himself to be loving and faithful.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I am not sick to my stomach and still anxious as the time for my appointment approaches. I am still feeling both of those things.

I’m sharing all of this even though it is against my nature because I have really appreciated the transparency of others recently. I want to become better at being transparent in my troubles and anxiety as well as in my triumphs. So, I am not sharing this for your sympathy, but because I want to have you all along with me praying, sending good vibes and all of your positive thoughts. Forgive the dorkiness, but I can’t get the image of a virtual Care Bear stare out of my head!

Care Bear Stare