Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How to Make Red, White and Blue Patriotic Cupcakes DIY

If you're in charge of bringing the dessert to a Memorial Day picnic or a 4th of July bash, then check out these patriotic cupcakes, which are actually super easy to make!


And if you happen to be near Hershey, PA, be sure to pick up some of these specialized Hershey's Kisses to round out your theme.  So cute, right?  I found these at Hershey's Chocolate World!



The little white papers inside the Kisses actually say "thank you" in honor of our service men and women.  So sweet.

Okay, so in celebration of the holidays, here's a quick and fun dessert you can make to bring to the barbecue.  Patriotic cupcakes!


Red, white and blue cupcakes are so easy to make, you won't believe it.  Here's what you need:

Ingredients:

-a box of white cake mix (yellow won't work- you'll wind up with red, yellow and blue instead)
-cupcake liners
-food coloring
-frosting

That's it!  Follow the box instructions to mix up the batter for your cupcakes.

Then divide the batter into three equal bowls.



 Keep one bowl white, but dye one bowl red (use 18 drops to make the perfect shade, trust me on this one).  Dye the other batter bowl blue (use exactly 12 drops, I assure you!!).  Now you'll have three different colors of batter.


Put your cupcake liners in a cupcake pan.  Start by putting blue batter at the bottom of each cupcake liner (I used a cookie scoop to make it go faster), then add white on top of each blue.



VERY IMPORTANT:  try to spread each area of white out with a spoon so it covers the blue entirely (or as best you can).  If you leave too much blue showing, it will eventually leak up the sides of the cupcake when baking.  It will still look cool, but the end effect looks much better if it's just layered red, white and blue.  Then add your red on top of the white (make sure the red covers the white the same way you did with the blue).


Now bake according to the box instructions.  Frost with whatever vanilla frosting you have.  Ta da!



Have a great holiday, everyone!  Eat, swim and be merry, and remember that our country is an awesome place to live, and we should be thankful every day for those who fought (and are still fighting) to keep us free.
Yum

Monday, June 29, 2015

What to Send Besides Flowers: Reviewing Gardenia's Fire

What do you send someone as a gift besides flowers these days?  Have you noticed that choices are limited?  It's either flowers, fruit, gift baskets or cookies.  Sigh.  If only there was something unique out there to send someone as a birthday gift, a thank you present, a Valentine's Day surprise...hmmm....

Well if you've seen my Local Links section on this website, then you know I'm always on the look-out for great local businesses to support.  I'm just one gal, you know. This blog isn't run by a team of Moms or a panel of experts.  If I like something, or I visit somewhere great, I'm going to share the truth with you.  That's just how I roll.  So check out what I experienced from this amazing local New Jersey business called Gardenia's Fire.


I was so excited when Bridget and Susie from Gardenia's Fire contacted me and asked if I'd be interested in trying one of their arrangements (uh, of course!  Do you know who I am?  Desserts are my thing!!).  But these aren't your ordinary edible arrangements.  Oh no, this falls into a category all by itself.  How do I describe the arrangements from Gardenia's Fire?  Let's see, they are elegant like a flower arrangement, but they are edible.  Composed of fine pastries like cupcakes, macarons, brownies and more.  Each delicious dessert actually looks like a flower arrangement.  See?


This arrangement was from their Red, White and You line.  It contained swiss buttercream cupcakes, macarons, and Gardenia's Berries (like chocolate brownie bites).  Their arrangements range in size and price, but just to give you an idea, this was a regular sized arrangement, contained 10 cupcakes, 5 macaron sticks, and 5 brownie berries and cost around $99.00 as of the publication date of this entry (but don't sweat, there are plenty of other arrangements to choose from that range in price from $65-$169 (for delivery items), and their shippable line starts at $34.99.  They come in different colors, shapes, and varieties (check out some of their selection here). But I can tell you, the presentation was nothing short of awesome and caused some jaw dropping upon delivery.

The arrangement from Gardenia's Fire came packaged like this.  It makes quite a statement!

The arrangement I chose was delivered to my husband's office.  He said everyone was in awe of the creation and it really made quite an impression when it arrived.  I am a dessert fanatic, you know.  I have been to hundreds of bakeries in the Garden State and beyond.  I was a proud ambassador of the NJ Dessert Tasting Expo, and I can honestly tell you that I've never seen anything quite like these arrangements.


Gardenia's Fire is not part of a chain or franchise.  It's a unique creation from its owners, who have backgrounds in the floral industry.  You can read all about them here.  The arrangement was hand-delivered in this incredibly secure package.  It made it home in my husband's pick-up truck without a scratch.


As of now, Gardenia's Fire delivers to four counties:  Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic.  They are a fairly new business, and hope to expand their delivery areas once they become a little more established.  If you are not in one of counties mentioned, you can still order from Gardenia's Fire.  Their macarons and Gardenia's Berries (like little brownie bites) are available for shipment throughout all of New Jersey and the East coast. I highly recommend the chocolate Gardenia's Berries!  They were heavenly.  You can find a direct link to them here.  If you are a fan of macarons, they were delicious, too. Here's a close-up of the ones that came in my arrangement, but you can order them boxed.

Isn't it cute how the macarons ranged in size, too?

I do not live in one of the mentioned counties but I found a way to make it work by having the arrangement delivered to my husband's office.  See, there's always a way if you really want something!  Especially when it involves delicious cupcakes.  


You can order from Gardenia's Fire through their website or by calling 1-844-273-3642.  You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.  

Look how beautiful this cupcake is!  The swiss buttercream was amazing- I thought it was whipped cream at first.
*Disclaimer:  I was provided with a complimentary arrangement from Gardenia's Fire in exchange for an honest review.  But I wouldn't steer you wrong on this one, folks, I assure you!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Hotel Hershey vs. The Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose? (part 2)

If you're planning a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania and you're not sure which hotel to stay at, The Jersey Momma is here to help!

Part 1 of my blog series was a review on The Hershey Lodge.  If you haven't read that yet, be sure to check it out here:  The Hotel Hershey vs. The Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose? (part 1)  And just a reminder, I was NOT compensated in any way to write this review.  It's just from me, to you. Got it?  Now, on to the Hotel Hershey!


Whenever I mention the Hotel Hershey to someone, the first thing they say is, "Oh, it's so expensive!" And it is.  But it's also awesome.  And beautiful.  I've been there Spring, Winter and Summer, and I haven't been disappointed yet.  They do offer deals on their website, especially some money saving packages, and rates vary based on which nights you stay (weekends are more expensive), so do your research for your best price!  If you have AAA, they do offer a small discount when booking your reservation.

Check-in has always been fast, easy and friendly for us.  They give you a choice of a free Hershey's milk or dark chocolate bar (which I allow myself to eat immediately).  At the Lodge they gave us a free bar, too, but not a choice of milk or dark (just milk!).

The Hotel Hershey

The Hotel Hershey is located on top of a hill overlooking Hershey Gardens and pretty much all of Hershey itself.



If you walk down the hill to the Gardens, you can view all of Hershey Park.  During the winter time, you can see parts of Hershey Sweet Lights from different parts of the hotel (you can read my review of Hershey Sweet Lights here).  The Hotel Hershey is a gorgeous, old hotel, rich in history and beauty.

The Grounds and Activities

I didn't write too much about the grounds of the Hershey Lodge because there wasn't much to see.  But here, you can spend some time walking around and see some beautiful sights.  As I mentioned before, Hershey Gardens sit at the foot of its entrance (but you can take a shuttle or drive if you don't want to walk).  If you walk behind the hotel you'll find beautifully manicured decorative gardens and lawns, as well as giant koi ponds FULL of fish (and I mean FULL, they practically flop all over each other).

Can you spot the duck in there?

Head down the stone staircase and you'll find the year-round "ice" rink (not really ice but synthetic), which is available to guests year round.  It's equally pretty at night, especially at Christmas.  *Note:  As of the publication date of this entry, the skating rink is no longer in service at the Hotel.  It has been taken down. Sorry, folks! 


This is what the ice rink area looks like now.  It's basically just a giant patio now where they have evening activities and Chocolate Bingo.

Bean bag toss, hula hoops, etc. are set up for the kids (Harvest restaurant in background)

They have a kids' club (with playground that is ONLY accessible to kids using their club option.  The Hershey Lodge has a playground area for free near their pool) and an amazingly awesome outdoor pool (but more on that later).  The grounds are just beautiful.  But I said that already, didn't I?


Harvest restaurant sits in its own building near the pool, and beyond that, even more!  The Hershey Hotel cottages (I have always wanted to stay in one of these!  Can you imagine the fun with family members?), tennis courts and volleyball courts lie beyond that.  All peaceful, quiet, well-manicured.  The fire pits for s'mores roasting sit behind Harvest, with cozy rocking chairs to chill out in.  I was a little bummed that the Hotel Hershey charges you for s'mores packets.  It's $5.00 to make 4 s'mores.  We thought it would've been nice if the Hotel included a voucher with your stay, good for one free s'mores roast kit.  But, alas, this is not the case!

If you look above Mr. Jersey Momma's head, you'll see Jersey Grammy's marshmallow completely on fire!

You'll also find a newly added putting green behind Harvest (kind of like miniature golf or a small golf course).  Once again, there is an added fee to play (which is NOT true of Hershey Lodge- miniature golf there is free if you are a guest of the hotel).

The mini putting course for kids at The Hotel Hershey
The Hotel Hershey also offers plenty of activities for purchase.  You can try out their Falconry experience (the falcon master himself will sometimes visit the fountain area of the hotel with his Golden Eagle if you want to meet it in person), Segway Tours, Golf, or their Outfitters experience.  Check out their full list of recreation activities here.  There are also nature and hiking trails (thankfully, those are free) and their beautiful new fitness center.

The Golden Eagle visits from the Falconry Experience

There is a small arcade/game room located in the side of the Harvest Restaurant (accessible from outside the restaurant).  There were only a few games in here, though, and not much to keep the kids occupied for long. There was an adult game room across from it with pool tables, too.  Or you could always explore the hotel.  Look how cool this fountain area is!

It's fun to explore the Hotel Hershey itself.  Tours are available through concierge, too.

ACTIVITIES NOTE:  I know some guests have complained about the activities at the Hotel Hershey, and I can certainly see their points.  In the many years that we've been coming to the Hotel Hershey, their summer activities have not changed (Chocolate Bingo, s'mores, etc.).  If it rains, these outdoor activities are obviously cancelled, so there's not much else for bored kiddos to do.  You could take the shuttle to Chocolate World (if it's open) or head down to the outlets or stores along the strip leading into Hershey, too.

The Rooms at The Hotel Hershey

Every time we have stayed at The Hotel Hershey, we've stayed in their west wing.  The rooms are beautiful. Newly updated, sparkling clean, spacious.  I love the personal touches from the cleaning staff.

Hershey Hotel bathroom

They leave Hershey Kisses by your bed and little fact cards about Milton Hershey or quotes from the man himself.


(Look at how they folded the Jersey Momma's Boy's blankies!)
A room in the west wing of the Hotel Hershey, two queen beds

I even love the amenities, which come from the Hershey Spa (the Hershey Lodge also has "chocolate" amenities, like cocoa scrub soaps and shampoos, but they are slightly different at The Hotel Hershey).

They also leave this amazingly soft robe for you to use (which you can also purchase).


Pools at The Hotel Hershey

There is an indoor pool and an outdoor pool at The Hotel Hershey.  The indoor pool was recently remodeled and looks similar to the old pool, but much brighter! Before the refurbishment, the indoor pool looked like this:

(Notice I'm wearing that awesome robe I mentioned?)

Now it looks like this...
Pretty, right?
The outdoor pool is incredible.  It boasts a GIANT waterslide for kids Reeses height and up (Hershey Park bases their rides on a height system- kids 42" and taller are considered Reeses).

It has zero entry, fountains, and a mushroom water umbrella.  Towards the deep end there are water "cannons" for the kids to play with (like water guns mounted on the side of the pool)
Beside the pool you'll find a sprayground with fountains to play in for the little ones:


You can rent a cabana here for a sum, and poolside bar service is always available for all patrons. 

Beyond the main pool there is an adults only pool, as well (you can guess that I didn't get to use that one, being the Jersey Momma and everything).

There is a large locker room with attendants to help you as needed (towels and shower area provided).  There is also a locker room at The Hershey Lodge but it is smaller.

In my humble opinion, this incredible pool is one of the main draws of The Hotel Hershey.  This is a 5-star pool and is part of what you pay for with your room rate.  You can spend all day in this pool and then some. Relaxing, comfortable, fun- I can't say enough good things about it!

NOTES ABOUT THE OUTDOOR POOL:  If you happen to visit the Hotel Hershey during a busy month, the outdoor pool can get quite crowded.  It might be difficult to secure a lounge chair or umbrella when this happens.  There are plenty of chairs but you'll wind up in the smaller ones (like those pictured above).  During the last, busiest visit in June, we also had trouble getting poolside service.  We were also a little disappointed that the lifeguards allowed guests to use balls and toys in the pool.  With over fifty people swimming around, it's not much fun when a bunch of teenagers are whipping a tennis ball back and forth over your little kid's head in the water.  

Dining at The Hotel Hershey

The Hotel Hershey has five restaurants:

-The Cocoa Beanery (a small coffee shop serving coffee, light breakfasts, sandwiches and beverages)

-Trevi 5 (an italian restaurant with outstanding thin crust pizza)

-The Iberian Lounge (not quite as kid-friendly, a bar atmosphere serving food and drinks)

-Harvest (the restaurant outside the hotel serving local fare and farm fresh food)

-The Circular (which boasts an outstanding breakfast buffet, or try their Hershey Kiss shaped waffles with chocolate butter-YUM!).

I've eaten at all of these restaurants.  Trevi is actually my favorite, followed by the breakfast at The Circular. If you don't want their expensive buffet, know that you can order from a menu if you just ask.

(outside view of The Circular- see it?  It's circular!  lol)


Shopping at The Hotel Hershey

There are six shops at The Hotel Hershey.  You can find them all listed here.  I'm a souvenir shopper, so I LOVE this about the hotel.  If you have some leisure time, it's nice to sneak down to the lobby and check out the shops.  It's one of my favorite things to do if I get a moment to myself.  The Lodge has one souvenir shop, which suited my husband and son just fine.  My only gripe is that they do tend to close a little on the early side. Only on of the shops, Signatures, stays open till 9pm daily.  On Fridays and Saturdays the other shops close at 8pm (7pm during the week).

The Spa at The Hotel Hershey

Would you believe in all of my visits to the hotel, I have never been to their world famous chocolate spa?  Yes, -insert tiny violin playing here- I have walked past it, peeked in, read all about it, watched documentaries about it, but never set foot in there myself!  I have friends who have gone and they say it's amazing.  I'll have to take their word for it.


Shuttles and Transportation at The Hotel Hershey


As I've said before, one of the best things about staying at the Hershey hotels is their transportation system. Shuttles run constantly throughout the day and into the night.  They literally take you right up to the entrance of Hershey Park/Chocolate World.  The shuttles are air-conditioned and comfortable.  You can bring your strollers and they will pack them inside the bus for you.  Talk about easy on, easy off!  You can read a little bit about my trip to Chocolate World at Christmas time by clicking here.

The shuttle ride to the park from the Hotel Hershey (and back) is significantly shorter than the ride from the Lodge to the park.  The Hershey Hotel sits right above the park and is a quick drive up the hill, whereas the drive to the Lodge can take more than ten-fifteen minutes, depending upon traffic and season.  This might not seem like a big deal, but when you are tired and hot, or toting little ones around, sometimes you just want to get back to that hotel ASAP!  It's also nice if you want to take a "quick" trip down to Chocolate World to do some last minute shopping at night, like my mom did.  She was there and back in less than an hour.

You can also take the shuttle to the gardens at Hershey, right from the hotel.  Check with the front desk about which shuttles to take and when.  There are cars available through concierge to take you other places in Hershey, as well.

Off-season the shuttle schedules vary, so always ask ahead about when to catch your ride.


Other Jersey Momma Tips


*Guests of the Hershey hotels receive perks at Hershey Park.  Check with concierge at check-in, but some guests are able to have early access to the park or can select a free preview of the park after a certain hour.  On our last visit we were able to preview the park for free after 6:30pm, then use our regular ticket the next day.  It was almost like being able to visit the park twice for one price!

*I once visited the Hershey Hotel off-season, in April.  Hershey Park was not yet open for the season, but lucky me, a private group had rented the park out for the weekend, thereby entitling hotel guests to visit the park as well.  I will never forget the sheer excitement of this, and how empty the park was, and how amazing it felt to ride the roller coasters practically all alone!

*You can also read my review of Hershey at Christmas: Candy Lane (part one)  and my review of Hershey at Christmas:  Hershey Sweet Lights (part two).


Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Review of A Day Out with Thomas the Tank Engine: Is it Worth the Trip?

Have you heard of A Day Out with Thomas?  Every summer, Hit Entertainment takes Thomas the Tank Engine on the road, and eager kiddos of all ages can head out to visit him at their participating train stations.  But is it worth the trip?

Take a train ride on a real Thomas the Tank Engine!


A Day Out with Thomas - Buying Tickets

We visited "A Day Out with Thomas" in Phillipsburg, NJ.  I know there is an even bigger Thomas event held in Strasburg, PA, but Phillipsburg was the closest to us.  We attended on a Friday in July (you know how I avoid crowds and weekend events whenever I can).  Tickets were pricey, but nothing completely unreasonable (it is a train ride with Thomas, after all).  Ticket prices vary based on the experience you choose (you can pick the basic Thomas ride or choose a longer ride to the gem mine), but start at about $21 per person (as of the publication date of this entry).  You can purchase tickets online or at the ticket office, but I highly recommend purchasing in advance.  Check out their website for full details, dates, and ticket costs here.  I find their website a little bit difficult to navigate, and I also had trouble finding the website at all through Google, so keep my link handy!


Where is the Delaware River Railroad?

Finding the Delaware River Railroad was easy enough (it seems like we're always on Rt 78!).  We had to park off-site and take a shuttle bus to the event site, which I usually dread.  But it wasn't too bad. And it was free! The shuttle was cute and looked like a trolley car (although some were school buses), and it also arrived quickly.  The driver was friendly and my son enjoyed the ride.

Plenty of signs point you in the right direction.  Literally!


What Will I See at A Day out with Thomas?

A short walk brought us to what almost looked like a mini street fair.  There were vendors set up with food choices, crafts and other goodies.  Two bounce houses and hay mazes were also set up for visitors.  There was a tent of Thomas souvenirs you could purchase.  The whole event was sponsored by MegaBlocks, so there were a few neat displays to see, too.

A Megablocks Thomas!


What About the Trains?

You'll also say to yourself right away, "Where are the real trains?" because you certainly can't see them here. You have to follow the signs down the hill and around the corner (another short walk), but once you come down the hill, behold!  It's really Thomas!!


It's Thomas the Train!  I see him!

The gasp from my son at the sight of the real, live Thomas, was worth the trip at that point!  Of course, for a small fee, professional photographers will take your picture in front of Thomas for you.  We were not allowed to stand in front of Thomas and take our own picture beside his face, though (see the ropes keeping you out?).


Activities at a Day Out with Thomas

In this area there were plenty of things for kids to do while waiting for their train ride (most of which my son wanted nothing to do with, but that's just how he is).  There was a small petting zoo, crafts with spin art and stamps, a video viewing area (inside a small tent), shows by jugglers and puppeteers, and picture taking opportunities with Sir Topham Hatt (my son wanted absolutely nothing to do with that!). There is also a place to eat here, but as usual, we skipped that, so I can't tell you much about the food.

It's really Thomas!  But who are those guys?

Inside the Thomas Train 

But the thrill of everything is really Thomas himself.  My son couldn't wait to take the ride.  I must admit it wasn't exactly what I expected.  Here's basically what we got:  conductors dressed in full fashion helped us board.  There are no assigned seats so you just choose your own.  We tried to get one near the fans posted on the ceiling (there is no air conditioning and it was very humid when we went, so keep that in mind!). Pretty much every seat has a window and you can even open them, but the train itself was still pretty hot. The train was fairly old inside, but clean, and there were Thomas decorations, signs and balloons hung inside to make it a little cheerier for the little ones (none of which you can see in my photo for some reason).  At some point the official conductor comes around to stamp the tickets.

Inside the Thomas the Train ride.  There's the conductor!


What About the Train Ride Itself?

Then the adventure begins.  When the train started moving, I actually chuckled.  The kids were all so excited and loud, you couldn't really hear Thomas talking to you over the loudspeaker.  There were Thomas tunes playing, too, but we couldn't hear much of those, either, due to the excited squeals of the kids.  Keep in mind that you're not actually in Thomas, you're in a passenger car and Thomas is pulling you.  Can you see any of that?  No, but I guess the kids get it.  Thomas is pulling your train car!  The ride was pretty short- I can't remember exactly how long (maybe 15 minutes?).  It drove us forward, past trees and river, and then it stopped and pulled us backwards to the same spot.  A little weird, right?


Is it Worth the Trip?

In any of these situations you have to remind yourself that the ride is not for you.  It's for your child.  Maybe I wasn't thrilled with the humidity and the short ride, but my son loved it, and I think it's something he'll always remember.  He was three at the time.  If we waited much longer to do this excursion, I think he might've sadly been "too old."  But again, it depends on your child.  There are some huge Thomas fans out there who are over age 4, and there were plenty of kids at the event of varying ages.  So you have to just know what your child likes.

If you think your child is too old for Thomas but still likes trains, check out some of the other excursions offered by the Delaware Railroad.  There are gem mining trips, holiday themed rides, and wine trains for adults.  There is even a "Dinosaur Train" ride (based on the TV show) if your child is a fan of that.  Check out their  website for full details, and let me know how it goes!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Finding 'Me Time': Visiting TRU Salon + Spa in Branchburg

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a simple gal.  I consider myself 'hair challenged' and so it's sometimes always in a ponytail (this is my signature look).  I never even blow dry my hair.  I just let it air dry and then I use a flat iron on it.  I wait until the last possible minute to book my hair appointments (which means my roots look like a dark highway through my head), and I have not had a manicure since my wedding day in 2005.  So when Debbie, a general manager at TRU Salon and Spa, contacted me about their business, I was excited (and scared- I am so not a salon regular!).  She asked if I'd like to visit them and share my experiences with my readers (that's you!).  So I'm going to tell you what it was like for me to give the salon experience a chance, and to visit a local New Jersey business that I truly enjoyed.  I'm also going to tell you why I think 'Me Time' is so important, and how you can find some of your own.



Find Some Time for Yourself

I think, as moms, we give so much of ourselves to others- be it our children, our husbands, our families, our schools, our jobs- that there is so little time left for ourselves.  And gosh, maybe we've even lost ourselves somewhere in there along the way.  I will be honest in telling you that I am the worst offender.  I never leave a moment for myself and I don't think taking care of myself at the salon is any true priority.   I know a lot of moms agree with me. Many don't want to spend the money on themselves or take time away from their families to take care of themselves. Joanne from RealityMomBlog made me chuckle when she said, 'I feel bad spending so much money on my hair and my nails.  When it gets to the point where I look really rag-a-muffinish, I go to the salon for the sake of all those who actually have to look at me.'  Ha ha! So true in my case, too.

But why do we do this to ourselves?  My friend Jennifer had some wise words of wisdom as a mom:  'As soon as I had my first child I gave up all of my favorite things- hair, nails, clothes, makeup.  I wanted to spend every dime on making my kids look cute...But looking back now I have some regret.  My kids have everything.  They are fine.  I have to keep living as well.  Moms need to not forget that.  We need to find a way to keep our true identity throughout motherhood.  Lately now that my kids are older, I'm starting to feel like Jennifer again, not just Mom.  And it literally feels good!  And the kids love seeing me happy.  So to those new moms out there, keep making your appointments!'  So maybe the salon isn't the first place all moms will run to when they want a moment of peace, but it is actually a good place to start, because looking good outside does really help you feel good on the inside, too.

Finding TRU Salon and Spa

TRU Salon and Spa has two locations- one in Warren and one in Branchburg. I visited the Branchburg location, which is right on Rt. 28, across from Raritan Valley College.  It has been there for almost eleven years (the Warren location has been there since 2012).  Many of my mom friends don't like taking time away from their families to get a manicure or have their hair done. Jasmine from HappiestMama says she likes to schedule her pedicures at a shopping center so her husband can go off with the kids for a little while.  TRU in Branchburg is in a great location because it is sandwiched between a Starbucks and Frozen Falls (one of our favorite self-serve frozen yogurt places).  If you feel guilty about leaving your kids to visit the salon, you could actually bring the whole family along on this one.  Daddy can take the kids over to Frozen Falls while you get your manicure. OR take it a step further and visit the planetarium at RVCC afterwards for a kid show and some full family time.  It's a win-win!

TRU Salon and Spa in Branchburg
Frozen Falls in Branchburg=YUM

What to Expect at TRU Salon and Spa

I received a friendly greeting as soon as I walked into TRU.  I don't usually care too much about what the salons have on display to buy (I told you I'm hair challenged), but they had a lot of unique products on the shelves (I picked up a bottle of Surf Infusion by Bumble and Bumble that actually looked like sea waves inside). There were jewelry items and scarves and lots of other things to look at while you waited.  I didn't wait long- not even five minutes, I don't think, so that was a relief.  But that also meant I didn't get to shop much.  Ha!


Here's another honest mom moment for you.  Sometimes I avoid going to the salon because I feel like a slob when I go in there.  Seriously!  The people who work there always look so put together and I come in wearing my ponytail and jean shorts.  I know I'm not alone in this.  Heather, a mom friend of mine, said, "I have to say I don't feel all that comfortable in a salon in general.  All these women are so pretty and dolled up and I feel rather plain and frumpy in comparison.  I'm definitely not a fashionista and just don't fit in well in that sort of environment."  We are our own worst critics.  I think Heather is beautiful (and certainly not frumpy!), but I totally know what she's saying.  But honestly, TRU was a comfortable place. Some salons are over the top fancy and you do feel like a hot mess going in there, but I didn't feel that way here.



My Experience at TRU 

Debbie, the general manager, offered me a basic manicure and a blowout (wash and blow dry), so my first stop was visiting with Sam, a colorist at TRU who sat with me first and asked what I wanted ('Something nicer than this!' I joked to her).  I also really liked that she asked me a lot about my hair and how I take care of it.  What shampoo I used, if I ever blow it dry myself, how I like it to be styled.  She had suggestions when I asked her about different shampoos I could use, and she didn't try to push any products on me. Everything was super clean and inviting.  It wasn't overly crowded or loud and each stylist seemed to be taking time with each client.


And this is going to sound totally silly, but TRU had really comfortable sinks.  Sometimes it's awkward to sit with your head tipped backwards into a sink, but I felt really comfortable in theirs.  The girl who washed my hair was super nice (and I forget her name but I think it was Kate?) and I was grateful that she talked to me and didn't spill water down my back or anything like that.  I am horrible because I totally forgot to tip her, even though I had the money in my pocket.  I am so sorry! 

The center of the salon area was their coloring station, and I thought it was neat that they had a flat screen TV there for you to watch if you were waiting for your hair to be done. I did not take any pictures of this section, though, because there were women getting their color done there and if you've ever had your hair colored then you know you wouldn't want anyone taking your photo and putting it on the internet while your head was full of foils or color.


Before and After Hair

I don't have a before picture of myself, and I wish I had taken one.  But you can get the general idea of me from Exhibit A here:

Isn't that a fab outfit and great hair?  Can you see the scrunchie?  This is me at Field Day.  Thanks, Jen R. for the pic!

And here's the after.  Goodbye, scrunchie!  I love how Sam did my hair and she even asked if she could part it differently.

Hi there, Jersey Momma!

Manicures

As I've said before, I have not had a manicure since 2005.  I am fortunate to have very healthy nails and I don't do much to them.  They tend to grown very long and then I just file them poorly, like this:


And again, here's one of those moments where I thought 'Manicures are never worth it for me.' But as Melissa was doing my nails they looked so awesome!  I loved how nice they were coming out and I didn't feel awkward at all (which I thought I would, kind of like a 'hurry up' feeling).  My friend Leigh Ann summed it up pretty well when she said, 'Time for yourself is important.  The kids and your husband should see you feeling your best so if that means a good haircut, nails, the gym, etc., you can take a little time.  Do it during nap time or preschool.  Swapping free time with a friend is a great way to squeeze it in if you don't want to be away from the peeps too long.  If Mom feels good, then everyone wins.'

The After shot!  I chose pink.

I worried a little about how I was going to get home with wet nails (how do women do this?) but they had dryers to put my hands under that worked really well.  At this point I should mention that I splurged to buy the hand scrub they used on me.  All I had to do was wipe it around my hands and rinse it off and my hands felt so soft!  So I gladly purchased it at $15, which I thought was a bargain because it's a fairly large jar, you only needed a tiny bit for your hands, and you can also use it on your feet and body, too.

Cuccio Naturale Milk and Honey Sea Salt Scrub

TRU will be remodeling the manicuring room over the next few months.  Their goal is to create a 'fresh new area with more retail space.' Even though I experienced my manicure before their planned renovation, I still found it to be clean and comfortable, with plenty of polish colors to choose from.

Incidentally, I had just seen a special on Dr. Oz about cleanliness in nail salons.  You'll be happy to know that TRU sterilizes all of their nail implements with a sterilizing solution and then again in ultrasonic and UV sterilizing units.  Dr. Oz would be proud!

The back area of TRU was a massage and spa treatment area.  They are a full-service salon so you can get everything from waxing, make-up and massage to hair color, cut, style, etc.

Pricing at TRU Salon

The cost of salon visits was a big concern for my mom friends.  Many of them don't want to spend the money on themselves.  And I am guilty of that, too.  I'd rather buy my son a toy than spend the money on a haircut for myself!  Isn't that sad?  I mean, happy and sad, I guess.  But here are a few things I really appreciated about TRU, and I'm not just saying this.  They gave me a little menu which contained the majority of their services and pricing.  I have been to salons where the prices seem kind of nebulous. They're not really posted or they have a 'varying' price or 'see your stylist,' since the price varies by hair length.  I liked that everything was mapped out for me in TRU's Menu.  That menu is also available online, so if you don't want to call for pricing or you're embarrassed to ask, you can check it out in advance.

Price and Service Menu from TRU Salon and Spa

Another cool option at TRU is their Guest Rewards Program.  Every time you visit their salon you earn points, and you can use those points towards product purchases in the store.  You also earn points for referring customers, pre-booking, and purchasing products.  It's nice to feel valued as a customer, and know that the business appreciates you and wants you to come back.

'Me Time' Tips and Suggestions

If you're like me and you struggle to find a moment for yourself (or you feel guilty about taking a moment for yourself at all), here are some tips and suggestions from other moms that might help.

-My mom friend Andi suggests (as do many moms) to schedule the appointment every four weeks, no matter what.  Do it while you're at the salon so you don't wind up forgetting or putting it off (or letting a dark highway form on your roots).  Andi says the salon time is a must for her.  She can even catch up on gossip magazines, her guilty pleasure (this is true, too, I never get to read some of these magazines except at the salon!).  Sitting in the salon gives us a chance to decompress and do that one thing that we might not allow ourselves time for, like just drinking an iced coffee or reading a book, or playing a game on your phone.

-My mom friends Christine and Cher love scheduling 'Mommy AND Me' time with their daughters, sitting side by side for manicures or pedicures so that they can take care of themselves and enjoy time with their girls at the same time.  My friend Justine even convinced her son to go with her for a pedicure once! Jody from Easy Peasy Mom said 'it's a good excuse for a girls' outing!'

-Courtney from Mom Upside Down (who is also a Jersey mom!) gives herself a 'vacation day.'  She said, 'As a SAHM, I deserve a vacation day, too.  I use this day to get my hair done, run personal errands, etc.  I hire a babysitter for the day and schedule it while the big kids are at school.  This way I really get a vacation/personal day!'

-Not everyone needs salon time for their Me Time, but I suggest it because I know moms sometimes tend to put their own appearance at the bottom of a priority list.  So do what makes you feel good!

-And finally, I got kicked out of a 'Mommy Blogger' group on Facebook for posting this question, asking for personal input about this me time subject.  I guess that group was not about sharing ideas and opinions, 'just links to ONE blog post.'  So I apologize if I was unable to quote or mention all of the people who offered opinions, since I could not return to the group to retrieve your answers!  But here are the fabulous ladies I recall who offered me their input:

Jasmine from Happiest Mama
Natalee from Natalee in the City
Stephanie from Sharing A to Z
Leah from My Crazy Ever After
Courtney from Mom Upside Down
Jody from Easy Peasy Mom
Jennifer from Reality Mom Blog

And many thanks to all of my friends on Facebook and elsewhere for the input they offered and allowing me to quote them!

Finding TRU Salon and Spa

If you would like to visit TRU Salon and Spa, you can check out their website or Facebook page for more information.  They have salons in Branchburg and Warren.  Sam did my hair and Melissa did my nails.  I highly recommend both of them!

Doesn't this Jersey Momma look happy?