1. I DID LOTS OF RESEARCH.
I am not a history buff like my husband. I had to dig around and learn about historic heroes and monuments, and educate myself on historic documents and speeches.
2. BRAVEN'S OUTFIT.
We had about 30+ revisions of our main character, Braven Young's "look." Everything from his hair, to his tie, to his untied shoe, to his tight skinny jeans, to the design of his long-sleeve shirt. We must have gone through forty different revisions until we found the perfect embodiment of our protagonist!
3. THE CHARACTER OF "DAD."
... is truly based on Ryan’s job! While he is not a congressman, he has worked for the United States his entire career. We had fun and embellished the nature of his job, along with the performative speech he gives at the end. Ryan often writes on behalf of the United States, so it was fun to include him in the writing process.
4. THE SETTING IS BASED IN DC!
The only thing I knew about Washington, DC before we moved here in 2014 was that it is our nation's capital and home to the White House and some very notable monuments. Upon moving here at the age of 25 and to follow Ryan and his work, we learned so much more. Not only did we both fell in love with DC, it became home. We have been inspired ever since, and it only felt natural to write about the city.
5. THE STATUES COME ALIVE.
The biggest plot twist was added at the last minute when a few historic heroes make their debut to help Braven understand what freedom means. And *gasp* the monuments come alive! Many of my favorite parts of the book were added at the last second, including the next point...
6. MY FAVORITE ILLUSTRATION.
The image on this page was slightly different, but the moment in the book is pretty pivotal; when Braven walks up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to find the Gettysburg Address written on the wall. I wanted the reader to feel the impact this had on the character, and also the weight of the words that might have been felt when Lincoln was actually giving this speech. For that reason, I love this image most!
7. NO ADULTS AND TOTAL FREEDOM?
There is a part in the book when Braven wakes up in his dream smack dab in Washington, DC. The catch? There are no adults to be found! This theme was inspired by the “Home Alone” plot line, my boys’ favorite movie.
8. COMIC BOOK-ESQUE.
My boys love Dog Man and action heroes, so we incorporated a bit of comic book theme stylistically throughout.
9. BRAVEN'S HAIR.
...was inspired by professional soccer player, Cristiano Ronaldo’s haircut. Fun fact: did you know that Ryan played professional soccer too? Before he went to law school, he played for Kansas City and internationally too.
10. BRAVEN’S NAME.
Braven Young, our protagonist's name, is a combo of all my boys' names (minus Quade because he wasn’t born yet!). Beauden, Rhett, Vance = Braven. The publisher disliked it at first, but I convinced him otherwise.
We tacked on "Young" as the last name because the name said together sounds like "brave" and "young", which was fitting for obvious reasons!
What inspired you to write this children's book?
My husband, Ryan. He has worked for the United States his entire career, and his love of country has inspired our family in the best way possible. Our kids look up to him and what he does, and I wanted to capture that in a story.
How did you get the idea for the book?
Over the last few years, I have become somewhat disheartened by the lack of modern day American stories available to kids. I want my kids grow up with a positive message about our country, and great way to expose them to that is through reading. The books I found were either historical non-fiction books that were too serious or books that consisted of certain topics that seemed off-base. This fueled my determination to write a book that I wanted to read, but couldn't find.
What is the theme of the story? The book is about freedom. And how a child might comprehend the meaning of the word initially. But I developed the story so the child would learn experientially that freedom is so much more. The story then takes a little boy on a journey of self-discovery, so that he can learn the meaning... and save the day, of course!
How did you get the opportunity to write a book? Did you have the idea and pitch it to a publisher? Or did a publisher approach you? Coincidentally, around the same time that I was searching for a patriotic story to share with my kids, I recieved a DM from a book publisher. He asked if I'd be interested in writing a children's book and if we could setup a time to talk on the phone. The opportunity felt surreal and in perfect timing.
I was in the car with my husband when Brian, the lead publisher of Good and True Media, called. We immediately hit it off! I was drawn to the vision he had for Good and True Media, and also his interest in my book concept. I pitched him my concept right then and there. I didn't know what the story would be about, but I knew the message I wanted to share. He matched my enthusiasm, so I knew it was the right fit!
Any inspirational themes or books found in this story? Yes! My boys are big into superheroes and Dog Man comics, so there is certainly a superhero and comic book element. In addition to that, one of my boys' favorite movies is Home Alone, and as I was envisioning the story, I kept imagining a little boy venturing into the city, but being able to experience a similar kind of ultimate freedom. Kind of like in Home Alone when Kevin McAllister gets to experience freedom being left at home without his parents. My boys LOVED the idea of being able to do whatever they wanted with no adults around, so I wanted to mimic that theme, while also teaching a valuable lesson (in true mom form).
Tell us about the book writing process! Did it come naturally? I LOVED the book writing process. I am a creative person and LOVE to write, as many people see by following my Instagram account. Writing a children's book was an ideal start to my book writing journey because I could be as imaginative as I wanted, while also ingraining strong values into the words and creating an uplifting message.
That said, the beginning of the writing process didn’t come as naturally as I thought it would. As mentioned, I knew what I wanted to write about - because it was similar to our family's story, but I had a hard time starting it. This is where my publisher came in and we were able to brainstorm the bones of the story. Once we got the bones, I couldn't stop writing. The story was a constant formatting of the messages I wanted to share, and I'm very happy with how it turned out.
What were your inspirations for the illustrations? I wanted a patriotic vibe, but I didn't want it to be too cheesy and certainly didn't want it to be sterile. I wanted it to be colorful and fun, but also classic. My inspirations came from books that my kids have loved: Creepy Carrots, Naughty Mable, Dog Man. Not only with illustration styles, but also with the layout of the pages. To hold readers' interest, we kept a sporadic cadence to how the pictures were presented. Some pages have one big illustration and others have several illustrations per page.
How did you find the illustrator? Oh, gosh. I scoured through soooooooo many illustrators’ work on a website called MB Artists until I came across Juan Manuel Moreno. He is a true talent and has worked with Disney, Warner and Scholastic. He was a dream to work with. Any time I had an idea, he made it come to life tenfold. Any time I had small revisions, even the slightest adjustment to a facial expression, he made the change.
Who was the book written for? Honestly? I wrote the book for myself, as weird as that sounds! There is a quote by Carol Shields that goes, "Write the book you want to read, the one you cannot find." As a mom to four boys, I wrote the book I wanted to find for my kids, but couldn't. Once I knew what kind of book I wanted to write, I wrote it for my boys. My boys love superheroes, so I knew the protagonist had to embody a modern-day hero; someone my boys could see in themselves. My boys also love adventure and conflict, where the hero ultimately ends up on top, but, boy, did he have to fight to get there. Our main character, Braven Young, is exactly that. And finally, I wrote it for the moms that follow me in hopes that they, too, would find this message meaningful.
What is the ideal audience? The ideal audience is four to ten year olds, however, my two year old loves the story, and I could also see kids older than ten enjoying it!
How did you come up with the main character's name, Braven Young? Braven is a combination of all of my boys' names combined: Rhett, Vance and Beauden. Unfortunately, our newest son, Quade, wasn't born, so he was left out of the mix (guess I'll just have to write another book for him!). We loved the last name Young because when said together it sounds like "brave" and "young,” which fits our protagonist perfectly.
Where is the setting of the book? Washington, DC. I was born and raised in Orange County, California. I never really left until I met Ryan on a random trip I decided to take to visit Dallas, Texas. My plan was always to move to Texas and get my masters in business there, but lo and behold I met Ryan on that trip. The catch? He had committed to a job in Washington, DC. He was accepted into the Attorney General Honor's Program, which meant he would start working in the Justice Department as a federal prosector. Of course, I encouraged it. Instead of going to Dallas, I detoured and followed him to DC. I ended up getting into Georgetown University, and we fell in love with the city. We started our lives in DC together, had our first son here, and have so much history here. There seemed to be no better place to write about.
Anything else you want to share? For more about The American Dream of Braven Young, check out 10 Things About the American Dream of Braven Young.
Gearing up for baby to arrive, and I am finally in prep mode! So. I wanted to share what a fourth-time mama brings to the hospital. Many of the items below are time-tested items. Items that I use to make the hospital feel more home-like and cozier. Things that will keep me comfortable. Things that will keep baby comfortable.
I try my best not to overpack. After all, babies are pretty simple! That said, I do like to make the experience special and cozy. Sure! I love bringing my special blanket from home. Yes! I love bringing a custom swaddle for baby. Labor should be something that is memorable, and sometimes being prepared helps you achieve that even more.
Below is a list of items I bring. Please comment and share what you can't live without!
Our Disney World trip is coming up, and our family is beyond excited. Over the past few months, I have been planning like crazy. As such, I have had many requests from people asking to share how I planned, where we are staying, what parks we are attending, our itineraries... and all of the details. So! I figured a blog post would be most helpful.
I will start with basic information, then get into a Q+A and finally, share our itineraries and schedules for our trip! Oh, and of course a link to our cute, matching Disney tees at the end.
Disney World Planning
Do I need to plan?
A very popular question and I'd certainly say that this depends on your personality. Are you go with the flow? Don't care that you go on many rides? Simply, want to savor the experience? Or... does not getting the most out of your Disney vacation stress you out? Do you want to maximize every, single moment and have a go-to schedule so that you know what to do and when to do it?
Here is my answer based on experience. A few years back, I took the boys (when Rhett was 4 and Vance was 2) to Disneyland. We went at the last minute and was actually gifted the tickets by friends. I grew up going to Disneyland and was pretty familiar, so we just entered the park and kind of went for it. The day was great! We did a park hopper and truth be told, didn't get on many rides because of the crowds. All in all, it was fun... but if I knew then what I know now (having researched Disney World like crazy), I would have planned our day entirely differently and would have gotten much different results.
So, if you want your Disney experience to be maximized, I say 100% YES, you need to plan. Plan in advance and plan quite a bit. Disney is full of wonderful experiences for those who put in the effort, and to make the cost of admission worth it, I say... PLAN.
Where do I start with planning?
I'm going to keep this simple and offer three avenues of planning....
Where to Stay?
Clearly, there are MANY accommodation options when it comes to Disney World. The key is to understand the types of accommodations. Meaning, are the hotels Disney Resorts or not? Are they on-site or off-site? My personal recommendation is to stay on-site. There are certainly perks to doing so, including early access and close proximity, among other things.
What our family wanted to consider was all of the aforementioned, plus we also wanted a resort that was a little more balanced. Something that would be fun for the adults AND for the kids. Something that was totally Disney, but not in your face 24/7 Disney. Thus, we landed on Four Seasons Orlando.
Why? While Four Seasons Orlando is not a Disney World resort, it is an affiliated resort and is also on-site Disney World, which means that it is in close proximity to the parks. Again, totally fit the balance we were trying to strike! Four Seasons Orlando would give our kids the full Disney World experience, but would also allow the adults to partake in a more relaxing adult-type vacation. Quite honestly, I had heard that Disney World can be a bit of an overload, so to come back to a resort that was more Disney World in my face, wasn't something I necessarily wanted to do. Four Seasons offers that nice balance. You still feel like you are amongst the Disney theme, but adults can also feel like they are on a vacation oasis.
Because Four Seasons is technically on-site, it is in close proximity the parks. You can get to the parks in about 10-20 minutes max and they provide complimentary shuttle service. On top of it, Four Seasons is a renowned resort and top notch. The room quality is incredible, they have a Disney concierge to help with any Disney planning and questions, and the resort restaurants are incredible with high quality food.
Additionally, Four Seasons offers a character breakfast. We are doing this with the kids and are able to skip the character dining at the parks. This makes for a more controlled environment, much better food, and we don't have to stress about missing rides in order for the kids to see Goofy. Again, we wanted Disney, but not too too much Disney, and this was the perfect balance.
Other perks? Four Seasons also offers a kids club (for free!), which is great for our older boys. This means that mom and dad can have a little private time, while the kids go hang with their friends. In addition to the Disney perks, Four Seasons has many other events for kids such as movie nights at the pool and princess/pirate salon experiences.
The resort itself is both an oasis and basically a full-on waterpark. You get the best of both worlds. So while we will have an amazing time at the Disney Parks on the three days we are going, we can come back and still look forward to an amazing time at the resort. Massive pools, splash areas and waterslides. Heck! I'm looking forward to the resort as much as I am looking forward to the parks!! This was a huge win for us because I didn't want the trip to be so solely focused on the parks, as fun as they are.
Other great perks for the adults? The Four Seasons ambiance and food! Did I say the rooms are amazing? Yay! We got two adjoining rooms. The restaurants are top-rated. Because they are so nice, we are not going out of our way to places like Disney Springs. Instead, we are staying at the resort and maximizing our ability to walk to the dining Four Seasons has to offer, such as Ravello (amazing Italian), PB&G (poolside dining) and CAPA Steakhouse (ranked amongst the 100 best in the US by Wine Enthusiast).
Needless to say, Four Seasons Orlando hit ALL of the marks.
A Deeper Dive into Planning for Disney World
After you purchase the Unofficial Guide to Disney World, start reading it.. ASAP. I recommend purchasing the book six months (4 months at the latest) before your trip. This will give you ample time to start perusing and planning. The book will give you a glimpse into resorts, what to bring, budgeting, etc. Simultaneously, cross reference what you learn with what the blogs say. While I'm not going to get into everything in this post, I did want to talk about how I started and where I got my info from!
What parks to attend?
This is totally personal preference. But I will say that you will gather the information you need to make this decision best in the book, Unofficial Guide to Disney. Here, you will read about all of the parks, get to know the rides and understand what each has to offer.
You'll need to take into consideration the ages of your kids and also their preferences. We are going with another family, who was dying to attend Animal Kingdom. This gave us good insight, but on the flip side, I knew my boys were dying to ride all things Star Wars (which is located in the Hollywood Studios Park). My friend had originally mentioned they may skip that park all together. What I'm trying to point out is that the more familiar you are with the rides in each park, the vibes and what each park has to offer, the better you will be at deciding which ones to attend.
What parks are we attending?
Based on the research I did and the information I gathered, attending three parks was plenty for us. Again, we were equally as excited to spend time at Four Seasons Orlando and didn't want to overdo it at the parks.
We decided not to do park-hoppers since our kids are so young. The effort and time it takes to go between parks can be exhausting. Better for us to stick to one park per day and get the most out of each one than to be moving around.
What days to attend which parks?
This information can best be found in the book I recommended! You can check "crowd levels" to determine when crowd levels will be lowest at each of the parks. We determined we wanted to see our most desired park first being Hollywood Studios, do it big with Magic Kingdom and then end on a lighter note with Animal Kingdom. We have a day-off break in between Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, and then scheduled Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on back-to-back days since we wanted our last day to be a pool day at Four Seasons and that is what our vacation time permitted.
Counter service dining verses table service dining.
Counter service dining is more casual dining where you order at a counter and find a table (first come, first serve) to eat at. Table service is the type of dining where you are served. You usually have a reservation ahead of time, or can sometimes (luckily) walk up and wait for a table to open up. Table service will either have characters or not - this is restaurant specific.
You'll want to decide how you are going to dine ahead of attending the parks. Some families MUST eat at table service. The perks? Getting out of the heat into an air conditioned building, being served, getting a moment to rest away from the parks, a fun experience, decent food. The cons? Expensive, takes away from ride time, if you have a toddler, will the toddler sit still? Is the cost worth the food and experience?
Counter service pros and cons. Pros: quick and easy, relatively less expensive than table service, less time eating and more time riding, great for active kids who won't sit long at tables. Cons: still expensive. May have trouble finding a table due to crowds. Food quality. Eating in the heat.
After considering ALL of this and the fact that we are staying at the Four Seasons (where the food is incredible), our family decided on counter service. Ryan and I would rather spend our time and energy on rides and shows rather than table service food and experiences. Because we get our character dining fix at the Four Seasons, this also helps. Our actual strategy is to bring the kids' lunches since our boys tend to be rather simple when it comes to food. We will pack PB+J's, snacks and plenty of water bottles for the kids. If it happens that counter service looks easy and appetizing, Ryan and I will order our food there (I have selected my top counter service restaurants based on my research and have built them into the schedule). Again, the boys could case less about "good food", so PB+J's will be just fine to get us through the day! If they demand something else, there are plenty of quick options.
All of this said, we chose ONE table service dining experience that simply looked super cool online. It is located at Disney's Hollywood Studios and it's called the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. We chose for an earlier dinner. I went to book it ahead of time (which you have to do) and it was already booked. If this opens up, we will try out the table service on our first day at the parks (we are going to Hollywood Studios park first before any of the others). If we like the table service experience and think it is worth it, we will consider it at the other parks (if reservations should open up).
How to create a 1-Day Park schedule for the family?
After you choose the parks you will attend, you'll want to familiarize yourself with all of the rides. It sounds like a lot of work, but once you narrow down your kids' heights and preferences, it's actually not as much as it seems. Again, the boys and I would gather together nightly and read about each of the rides in the Unofficial Guide to Disney World, then we would watch some YouTube videos that would show us the rides. Some may think this could spoil the rides, but I felt it better to know that my kids would actually like certain rides than to weight 45 minutes only to approach boarding and one of the kids to have a meltdown about not wanting to ride.
So, after we had all of the information about rides and shows of preference, I would then go to the WDW Lines app and organize my schedule. The beauty of this app is that it is based on algorithms and wait times. It will allow you to select all of the rides you want to go on and then it organizes your schedule FOR YOU based on shortest wait times and proximity of rides to one another. I used this schedule and cross-referenced it with the blog, Disney Tourist Blog, I recommended.
Our Disney World Itineraries
For the fun part! Below are our actual 1-day park itineraries for Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Again, these will be different for everyone because not everyone prioritizes and prefers the same rides. My best advice is to arrive at the parks 45 minutes prior to opening time and choose the highest priority rides and most highly demanded rides first-thing in the morning. Another good time to ride those in-demand rides is closer to park closing. Enjoy!
DISNEY WORLD TRIP SCHEDULE
*I will post the more detailed itinerary after we arrive home, just for safety purposes!
Just for fun, this is where I purchased our matching Disney shirts HERE.
And, our Mandolorian matching tees can be found HERE.
While I've been fortunate enough to nurse my sons collectively for almost three years of my life, I've always had a hard time when it comes to stopping. Whether it's the emotion or physical changes, stopping breastfeeding and transitioning to this more independent step for my child hasn't always been easy. With my first son, I experienced the emotion of stopping. With my second son, I experienced engorgement and pain. With my third son, I experienced hormonal shifts so intense with a heavy onset of anxiety and overwhelm. But in the midst of it all, it is necessary to carry on to this next step, when mother and child are ready. After all, we all stop breastfeeding at some point in time, and as I've said in my posts, this doesn't make you any more or any less of a mother whenever that time comes.
Not only is the transition from breast to bottle hard for a mom, but it can also be quite difficult to find a product that baby is able to transition to. The American Pediatric Association recommends that babies switch to whole milk at the age of one. But still, this may leave some mothers questioning. Is my baby getting the nutrients he or she needs? And for some who have babies with milk allergies, they wonder, are there any other milk alternatives?
Sensitivities and nutrition play a key role as babies grow and development. So much that mothers began to demand a product the filled the gap in the market. This is why I wanted to share a product that our family has come to love called Else Nutrition.
What is Else Nutrition?
Else is a clean label, plant-based alternative for complete nutrition beyond baby's first year. Else was founded by infant nutrition veterans with a mission is to create real, plant-based alternatives for parents who desired a clean-label option for their families. Again, their first product filled that much-needed gap in the market, which gave parents a real choice. A choice that met the gold standard for nutrition and parents' standards for a clean label.
Else is endorsed by leading global pediatricians and nutritionists, globally-patented Complete Nutrition Drink for Toddlers (12 months+), and is FDA compliant. The product is made using the cleanest possible production process, derived primarily from three essential ingredients: almonds, buckwheat and tapioca. A clean production process means these minimally-processed whole food ingredients do not require the chemical altering necessary with traditional dairy and soy-based formulas.
Available in a 36-serving canister, the creamy consistency tastes great, contains zero dairy or soy, and is free of the hormones, antibiotics, palm oil, and corn syrups traditionally found in infant and toddler formulas and milks.
Again, Else is part of a growing movement of parents who are demanding more from the formula industry, in the baby and toddler nutrition aisle and beyond. It’s a real alternative for those looking for a clean label option, for families with a plant-based lifestyle or sensitivities
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Our Family + Else Nutrition
Else has been a great way to transition Beauden away from breastmilk and to fit those nutrient gaps in his diet. Usually, I mix four scoops of Else with warm water - as the instructions provide. However, sometimes I love to add Else into one of my favorite smoothie recipes for all of the boys, including my three and five year old! Because Else offers such clean and nutrient packed precision, I feel confident that my boys are getting the kind of clean nutrition they need to develop and grow.
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Many of my followers have asked what I put into my "green smoothies" that I serve my boys. Here is my recipe, featuring Else Nutrition. Not only a clean and nutrient dense products, but also one that tastes great!
Simply, add all ingredients to a blender and blend! Beauden drinks this like crazy, as do my older boys. Heck, I even enjoy a few sips here and there.
In closing, a mother's job can be hard at times, but I believe it doesn't have to be! When it comes to feeding your baby, feel confident in your decision to provide them with the very best. For us, that is a healthy dose of Else Nutrition!