Review: 5 Things You Need To Know Before You Buy The Willow Breast Pump

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Well, that's a wrap people! I am officially finished breastfeeding. 

What a bittersweet moment looking back. When I started nursing my 2nd son Jaxson 8 months ago, I had no idea how long my breastfeeding journey would last. Things didn't go great with my first son Cashton. I barely made it 3 months and that was with supplementing. I was killing myself over every ounce I could squeeze out, but they say a fed baby is a happy baby. 

Going into feeding Jaxson this time around, my goal was to breastfeed for 6 months. However, around 4.5 months my baby shark (who had 2 teeth at the time) bit me so hard it drew blood so I moved to exclusive pumping. I probably would have quit right then and there but my doctor reiterated to me that because of COVID we are not taking the kids out in public. Thus, my baby was building his immunities through my breastmilk. So I hung in there. 

When I decided to exclusively pump I was glad I had invested in a hands-free / cord-free breast pump. Pumping on the fly, 8 times a day is no easy task if you have to stop down every 3-4 hours to pump. I felt like I wasn't getting anything done attached to a traditional pump. After all, I had 2 kids to chase after now. 

Although hands-free pumps can be expensive, in my case, I felt like my sanity was worth the price tag. However, there are ways to navigate the large price tag and even possibly get your pump for free. I share those tips in my video review below.

I suffered from the baby blues with my first son and I truly believe it was from feeling like I was banished to pump constantly. I am someone who thrives on being busy and having to sit still killed me. With my Willow pump, I was able to walk around, do laundry, drive, work on the radio, chase after my kids, and even work out on my Peloton! Other pumps (even other hands-free pumps) couldn't give me that flexibility. 

The leakproof bags were key for me, but I address all of that in the video below. If you have any questions about my experience or the pump I used please feel free to Dm or Email me

LauRen's Family Valentine's Day Gift Guide

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I recently put a poll up on my Instagram stories to find out if and how people are celebrating Valentine's Day this year. With so many people staying home and/or being laid off because of the pandemic, I wasn't sure what I would find. However, for the most part, people are still celebrating. So I thought I would put together a cupid's day gift guide for him, her, and the kids! 

On my podcast this week, Mommyhood2Menopause, we discussed the importance of including the kids in our celebration of love. Sure, Valentine's Day was designed for lovers and you should still have a private date night with your significate other to show your appreciation, but teaching the kids about how to love and care for others will prove invaluable later in life. I am a big proponent of teaching my boys how to be proper gentlemen and respecting whoever they love.  

This is about showing your children how to love and treat people and leading by example. Talk the talk AND walk the walk. Now, this doesn't have to be a huge show or production, just something to show you care.

Last week, Cashton wanted to bake cupcakes. So, I told him we could turn it into his Valentine's Day project. We made Funfetti cupcakes, topped them with heart decorations and sprinkles, and delivered them anonymously along with a valentine's day card to the people we care about. 

He had so much fun and it was a great opportunity to teach him about the holiday. Of course, some will say you should love and appreciate your partner every day... and I hope you do, but life happens and Valentine's Day is a nice way to press pause and be reminded of the love you have. 

Which brings me to my Valentine's Day gift guide. 


These are just some ideas (at all price points) to show someone in your life that you are thinking of them, even the kids! 

Intern Lauren and I put together the ultimate gift guide for those of you who need a little inspiration. Remember you can always click on the images below to shop. Most of them are available on Amazon Prime or for pick up at brick and mortar locations if the holiday just snuck up on you. 

Any guy, gal, or kid would love to receive any of these sweet gifts! 

My New Body

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It was hard at first to look in the mirror at the new contours of my body. Hips where there used to be none, bulges claiming new real estate where my abs used to be. Motherhood was unchartered territory for me in more ways than just caring for a new life. My body also seemed to have a new landscape of its own too. After years of dieting and striving to be the thinnest and the fittest me I could be, I am learning to love my body in a different way now. 

Instead of squeezing in one more workout to fit into my NBA or NFL cheerleader uniform, now my days consist of squeezing in a nap and praying my jeans will someday fit again. Sure, I'm getting my cardio in by running around after two little boys, and I have lost most of the baby weight from baby Jaxson, but my body is just different now. Stretched to its limit and back again, after an 8lb 3oz baby boy and an 9lb 3oz baby boy. 

If I'm being honest, yes,  I maybe close to being back to my pre Jax weight but I am not back to pre Cashton weight, and I am not sure that will ever be my reality again. It took me a long time to say, but I think I'm okay with that. 

Of course there is a beauty to child birth but feeling like a stranger in your own skin is an alienating feeling too. I've learned that it's okay to give yourself some grace because it takes time to feel like you again. I am still working toward feeling like me, but I'm closer than I was 2 months ago when these photos were taken.  

Thats a big step for me because I spent months looking around at my girlfriends who were also having babies. It was hard for me not to compare myself to them and how quickly they bounced back. It was really difficult for me to quiet the voices in my head that said "Maybe you're too old". "You'll probably never look like that again". "Better throw out all those 2 piece bikinis." 

I find comfort now in knowing that I wasn't alone in those thoughts. When I posted on my instagram that I was having a hard time finding the words to start this blog, lots of women chimed in and what I realized is that we are all in different phases of our journey. From encouragement to lip service and just saying that we love our bodies to truly liking what we see when we look in the mirror. 

I sometimes think that I give numbers too much power, so in an effort to weaken it's brawn against me, I'm just going to put this out there. Throughout my pregnancy I knew this feeling would be a problem. When I went to my weekly and monthly doctors appointments and it was time to step on the scale, I would ask my nurse politely not to tell me the number. In an effort to protect my unborn child and my mind, I knew I needed to bury whatever deep rooted issues I had with my body. 

However once I gave birth to Jaxson, curiosity got the best of me and I knew I had to make amends with that part of my life. When I went back in my virtual medical files I learned that I had gained 65 pounds during my first pregnancy and tipped the scales at 190lb. When I first became pregnant with Cashton I weighed a mer 125lbs at 5'7". and I haven't been back there since. 

When I got pregnant with Jaxson I weighed in at 138lbs, and delivered at 180lbs. After almost 6 months postpartum I am hovering at 145lbs. 

I hope that as women we can continue to lift each other up as we find our way back to appreciating the skin we are in. This process is not an easy or a quick venture, which is why I'd like to dedicate sometime to this topic on my podcast, Mommyhood to Menopause. I want to hear from real women on how they overcame this personal milestone as well as hear from professionals like Brook Marie Eneas, who is a motivational & fitness coach. 

If you have a personal story please email me at LauRenMerolaBookings@icloud.com.

Cashton's Spook-tacular Birthday

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With trick or treating just days away, our family is still not sure if we will be partaking in this year's festivities. We have been extremely careful with Covid 19 since we have a new baby and we typically only do things that are outside with low numbers of people. 

Sure, Halloween is an outside holiday but the droves of people are more my problem because we live in a BIG community that is very social and active (which we LOVE on a normal basis). However, to be honest, I'm not sure my 4-year-old would even know the difference if we didn't go. 

Of course, I still wanted him to have the Halloween experience just in case we decide to forgo trick or treating this year. So, since his birthday is Oct 12, I thought, "Let's do a Halloween costume party birthday" and it was a hit among the kids and adults. 

This was probably the smallest get-together I have planned in years, so I had to tone it down from my usual over the top food spread and set up. We only invited family and close friends this year for Cashton's birthday (for obvious reasons) but that didn't make the day any less special. 





This was an EASY party to throw as my family LOVES Halloween so we pretty much had all the decorations already. I borrowed blow-up yard characters from my mom, recruited Dallas to get me a pallet for our makeshift "pumpkin patch" and put together my annual balloon arch. Our Aupair Elena helped me make this balloon arch a little more special, adding a huge balloon spider to the mix!
 
She also helped me create a food spread that would give Pinterest a run for their money! Full disclosure, I did NOT make the "pumpkin puke" from scratch like I would normally. This year I just bought a spinach dip from Costco and carved the puke face on to the pumpkin. 

Elena made our "Witches Hair" pasta out of Pasta and Provisions squid ink pasta and covered our Scare-Cuterie board with creepy skulls laced with prosciutto.  

My "cake angel" Angel, came through again with an amazing two-tiered cake which we designed together. Her cakes are the MOST delicious and she delivers which is a plus, plus, plus on party day. It's just one more thing I can cross off my to-do list. 






Now, no Halloween party is complete without costumes, and since Cashton's new obsession is Toy Story we decided to dress as the cast for the celebration. Cash of course was Woody, Dallas was Buz Lightyear, Elena and her friend Ally was Slinky Dog. My Brother Vinny was Rex, Oma and Opa were Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and I was Little Bo Peep with Jaxson as my little lamb. 

Everyone got into the theme! We had Mini Mouse, Top Gun, Super Heros, and more! 

Although 2020 has been a crazy year and kids have missed out on so much social interaction and development, I hope Cash will look back on his 4th birthday and only remember the fun and love he was surrounded by on this day. 

Outdoor Table Top Entertaining

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As I drag my feet and enjoy the last few days of Summer, I am already thinking about my fall patio decor.  We spend a lot of time outside during the hotter months but we LIVE outside during the fall. Morning coffee on the weekends, garden lunches, and of course family dinners fill our time as we watch the leaves change colors.

This year we are planning a complete patio renovation. We are tearing out our existing slab, which is almost 20 years old and replacing it with a modern California style sanctuary. Think outdoor kitchen and a long low gas fireplace with Italian strung lights gleaming overhead.  However, that is a whole other blog. 

In any event, I can't wait to break ground and get started on this project, because the sooner we finish the sooner I will be able to enjoy my new tabletop place settings from Crate & Barrel. Knowing that we were going to reconstruct the exterior of our home, this summer I invested in Melamine place settings so that we don't have to drag our heavy (breakable) dining plates outside. 

As you can imagine, I heard, "Why do we need three different kinds of plates?" from my husband. We also have "good china" from our wedding registry that he hates but once I explained the importance of shatterproof plates with children he was quick to get on board. 

I found these Melamine plates from Crate & Barrel. They come in 4 different colorways and can be accompanied by the matching serving plates in 2 colors. I opted to mix and match colors for a little more dimension. We have a lot of blue accents in our house and I wanted to keep the same feel to seamlessly transition to the outside.  

I also purchased Crate & Barrel's Vaso plastic stemware glasses to complete our tabletop. I found our Sunbrella table runner (with umbrella hole) from Ballard Designs as well as our plastic water pitcher and placemats. I also rounded out this look with matching Sunbrella outdoor pillows from HomeGoods and a white Vinglace wine bottle chiller to keep our vino nice and cold!  

***Shop the look by clicking on the photos below***

Jump On It

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Who knew that trampolines would become such a hot commodity during a pandemic? If you're like me you spent the first month of quarantine trying to figure out how to entertain the kids while being stuck at home and social distancing. I think we have things under control now but it was touch and go there for a minute and I'm sure we will continue to have ups and downs. In the meantime, I try to find activities that exsert some energy and produce the "happy hormone" serotonin.


Right before baby Jax was born I started thinking about trampolines for Cashton. I always thought a trampoline would be a cool "big brother gift" for Jaxson to give to his big brother to help avoid jealousy. Never did it cross my mind that I might as well be looking for a unicorn when it came to purchasing one. That's right, apparently, I wasn't the only one with this bright idea. Everyone in America must have been trying to get their hands on them at the same time because they were sold out EVERYWHERE! I mean you couldn't even get one of these bad boys on Facebook Marketplace. 


Every time I would find one that someone was selling 2nd hand it would
 be gone in an instant! So, I finally gave up on social media to help me with my little project. I started searching the internet, scouring Amazon, Dicks Sporting Goods, Walmart, and even Costco trying to get my hands on one. No such luck! 

That is until recently. Walmart now has a 14'  in stock! Which is the size we ended up getting. It comes with an enclosure net for the kids and peace of mind for parents. We LOVE ours! Cash spends hours outside jumping and burning off his pent up energy from being stuck at home all day. I'm not gonna lie, I love taking my turn on it as well!  


There are also all kinds of fun accessories for the trampoline too! I think the sprinkler and water balloons always score big with the kids! 


If you're thinking about one for the kids you can get your trampoline here, or click on the photos below to shop

DIY Baby Shower Planning

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Sure we're still in a pandemic and some things can be rescheduled, but babies are coming no matter what! Pretty much all of my friends have had or are having babies this year, so we have MANY children to "shower" with love. This weekend it was my girlfriend Cara's turn. Myself, and 3 other women put together the most beautiful drive by baby shower for little baby Sutton! The thought that went into this party was detailed.

Carin was our ring leader, ordering and putting together the invitations as well as determining our "woodland" boho theme. She prepped "take away" lunchboxes with custom stickers she ordered off of Etsy and hulled decor from her stockpile in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Laken was in charge of ordering flowers and designing the backdrop for our celebration table. She hung linens on her PVC frame and added greenery and balloons that read our little man of honor's name.

Friday night I started baking the 4 layer "surprise" cake with blue edible confetti inside and finished icing it early Sunday morning before heading over to the pavilion to help set up. 

Saturday afternoon we prepped for Sunday's festivities. This included the foundation work for my balloon arch. I get so many questions every time I do a balloon arch and the truth is, it gets easier every time I put one together. 

I have mastered the art of simplifying the setup. I blow all the balloons up the day before and recruit someone to help me tie the balloons in twos while I blow then up and shape them. I then tie them into small clusters with fishing line instead of the balloon tape because I find it much faster. That way I can just string the clusters together when I get on site. The key is an electric blower and a balloon arch PVC frame that I found at Micheals. You can build the piping any way you wish. Short. Tall. One-sided. Skys the limit (well not really, it's not THAT tall).

This install was one of my favorites because I got to build it around Alpha Lit Charlotte's light up letter sign that read "baby".

Below is a video tutorial I found helpful on YouTube.









During one of our brainstorming sessions, we talked about a "She's about to POP" bar where we would bring in a popsicle stand but after pricing it out we decided to make our own. Instead of popsicles, we went with cake pops from SAS Cupcakes that were individually wrapped to be COVID 19 friendly. We also gave away gold mini Rondel champagne splits with "POP it when she POPS" labels as favors. 

We solicited the husbands to build a teepee for cheap by grabbing wood and a canvas drop cloth from a local hardware store,  saving us a TON of cash. Which we were then able to provide a "to go" boxed lunch for everyone. 

Carin got disposable paper lunch boxes and labels and we stuffed them with pimento cheese and chicken salad sandwiches, with a side of fruit salad and a Krispy Cream donut. 

All in all, everything came out super cute and our woodland themed shower was thrown on a budget, everyone was comfortable splitting. Be sure to scroll through the rest of our detail photos and feel free to shop the photos at the end of this blog by clicking on them! 






Shop by clicking the photos below.

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