Back to School Buying Guide: 3 Tips for Seamless Shopping

We’re well into August and let’s face it, you’re practically being hit in the face by back to school ads; in fact they started about a week after your kids got out of school if you live in the North East. As a former teacher, I loved this time of year; it signaled a new beginning, but as a parent I’ve come to find it to be among my most stressful times of the year.

I’ve been around the back to school block quite a few times and although I have not mastered the balance of enjoying this final month of freedom, I know a lot about how to make the leg work for the first day relatively seamless. If it’s your first go-round with the back to school shopping extravaganza or you could use a few tips to keep sane read on.

1. Stick to the list your teacher sends home

Seriously, buy what’s asked for and nothing more; you’re teachers know what your kids need and there’s no extra credit for extra stuff; in fact it may be prohibitive to your child’s organization as  more stuff = more mess and more mess means more chances of important items falling by the wayside.

So, put that cute package of Hello Kitty crayons back on the shelf, along with the really cool erasers for the pencils your kid does not need and move on.

2. Think practically & long term

Do not purchase expensive items covered in your kid’s favorite character. Today, my kindergarten age son loves Star Wars before that Super Heroes . Today, one of his best friend balked at taking his Ninja Turtles back pack to camp while my son insist the sports back pack that’s in perfectly good shape only be used for sports. Notice a trend, they are fickle little beings who commit to trends for short periods before moving on to the next super cool “it” thing.

Instead stay neutral, let your child choose a color, skip the flashy prints and buy a quality product with a great warranty. This way you won’t have to replace what they refuse to use because it is no longer cool come December; maybe it will even last more than one year.

And speaking of the following year… I’m a big fan of LL Bean: free shipping, fast product delivery and they offer hassle free returns if need be. Avoid the junior or x-small backpacks- nothing fits inside especially if you’ll need room for snow pants and boots.

3. Hold off on replenishing the wardrobe

Back to school is the worst time to buy clothes for your kids. You’ll find stores packed with fall attire that’s pretty much a month or more ahead of what your kids will need to wear. Wait until post Labor Day (or if you can Columbus Day) when prices fall before stocking up on cool weather wear. You’ll save and your kids will be wearing their new clothes when the weather is in line with the styles. My kids are still in summer clothes through most of September, so if you need something new and cute for the first day choose something summery that’s on sale because you can get it super cheap and they can still show off their new school clothes.

Then mix yourself a cocktail because you’ve mastered back to school shopping with 3 simple tips.

-Mastering the back to school mayhem, Jess

Share your back to school shopping tips with us via Facebook: Amazing Matriarch, Instagram: amazingamtriarch or Twitter: @AMatriarch;  Tag us on social using#amazingmatriarch

Whole Foods Kids’ Club Brings Sanity to Parents Shopping with Kids

A devout Whole Foods shopper, I thought I knew all their secrets. On May 18, 2015  the fishmonger at my local shop rocked my world with news I’ll not soon forget- Whole Foods has a kids’ club.

Walk into any Whole Foods location with your kids and head directly to the customer service desk; tell them you’re there for the kids’ club and they’ll supply you with the treats needed to make it through the store fuss-free. With a bag of animal cookies in hand, my two year old stopped requesting to eat all the snap peas we had bagged for purchase and focused instead on her goodies.

Shopping done; kid content; mission complete. Thank you Whole Foods!

-One mom on a mission to make grocery shopping glorious, Jess

Share your Whole Food Kids’ Club experiences with us via Facebook: Amazing Matriarch, Instagram: amazingamtriarch or Twitter: @AMatriarch;  Tag us using#amazingmatriarch. 


Kidgits is Calling All Young Foodies for 1st Annual Lil Chefs Event


The Simon Malls Kidgits Club is whipping up some creative cuisine and loads of fun with this first annual event for Lil Chefs. On Saturday, May 16th, 2015 from 12pm – 2pm, children will experience, hands-on, the endless possibilities of food pairing. At the end of the day you can expect a new generation foodies to emerge. Hosted in the Macy’s Center Court at the South Shore Plaza (250 Granite Street, Braintree, MA), there will be a variety of food focused activities including:

Never too young to learn to cook
Never too young to learn to cook
  • Healthy Snack Ideas
  • Decorating Desserts
  • Food Samples
  • Disney and Lego Activities
  • Design your own Chefs Hat Craft
  • Kidgits Club Members will receive a Free Chefs Hat & Apron

All Kidgits are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to the event to be donated to The Braintree Food Pantry to help those in need.

The Kidgits Club, which recently launced at the South Shore Plaza, is a fun and interactive program that focuses on health, wellness, education, safety and entertainment for children ages 3-8. For more information on how to become a member, visit

Beautify, Buy & Grab a Bite at Chestnut Hill Square

When style means more than shopping (but that’s a must too) head on over to Chestnut Hill Square where you can style yourself from head to toe. One of Boston’s best lifestyle Centers, Chestnut Hill Square has a little something for everyone in a town square environment that offers plenty of parking.

Start with your body by booking yourself a class at Soul Cycle where you’ll be bouncing to the beats and getting a high spirit, full body workout without hopping off your bicycle. Take advantage of the on-site showers, complete with soap, shampoo, toiletries, hair dryers and towels, then dress yourself in something other than sweats to move on with your day.

Pop on over to Drybar where their cocktail inspired hair styles will have you looking fresh and fabulous. Their expert hair styling mavens will wash and blow your locks to perfection. They’ll even straighten or curl for no additional fee. Freshly coifed, head out for a bit of shopping at the high demand retailers who call Chestnut Hill Square home.

Courtesy of Chestnut Hill Square
Courtesy of Chestnut Hill Square

Favorites like White House Black MarketFrancesca’s and Anthropologie have stores set up to provide you with an experience you won’t find just anywhere. Home to one of the few Anthropologie retail stores offering their bridal line, you can find the dress to make your special day perfect (or score one of their bridesmaid dresses to wear to a cocktail party, this line really can do double duty) as well as enjoy the eclectic housewares and everyday fashion inside.

Once you’ve filled you shopping bags to the brim, it’s time for some sustenance and maybe even a cocktail or two. Check out Season 52 for a sit down experience with their  fresh seasonal cuisine. The menu is calorie conscious ensuring you won’t toss your weight loss plan out the window with one meal. If your doing your day solo, have a relaxing drink and bite at their spacious bar. If you prefer to grab something quick and light then check out Sweet Green where the salads are simply superb.

Courtesy of Chestnut Hill Square
Courtesy of Chestnut Hill Square

If you find yourself in need of filling your own fridge before heading home, Wegman’s makes it easy. With a location right in Chestnut Hill Square, you can stay within this one property, fill your cart, then head home ready to face reality with a fresh outlook.

-Busy mom 1, setbacks 0; a way to sneak a treat mid-week,  Jess

Want more Boston shopping?

Check out Jessica’s picks for Boston’s best Shopping Malls and Centers on USA TODAY’s 10best


Treat Yourself to a Winter Refresh at Pyara Aveda Salon & Spa

The face of serenity

Once upon a time I took really good care of myself. I got regular massages, exercised  each day, got highlights every 8 weeks and even kept my attire up to date.

Enter children, a lack of free time,  and a budget to adhere to (kids are really expensive) and self-care became secondary. Although my days of relaxation and of beautification have decreased, I occasionally  shell out some serious cash to a sitter to sneak in a few solo moments at a really great spa.

The hip vibe of the salon area at one of my faves (and a 2015 10best Boston Spa winner), is Pyara Aveda Salon and Spa, makes me feel young again, while the serene lower level spa helps  me look it. With a mere three hours to escape it all, I stepped back in time to the world of a younger me and let myself relax while I enjoyed a refresh.

I took three hours away from it all

In just three hours, I went from drab to fab with a customized facial, blow out, hand treatment and make-up touch up. Allowing me to walk out beautified and energized.

Cold winter days in Massachusetts create dry winter skin, making a facial a must. Targeting your specific needs, your specialist begins with a short list of questions to ensure you get the facial that’s right for you. Using Aveda products and their trademark Chakra balancing methods, Pyara creates a whole body experience in a relaxing environment.

I truly let go for the first time in months and let myself enjoy every minute of this treatment. From the essential oil that was applied to my third eye (I chose tangerine because it made me feel happy) to the neck, shoulder and foot massage while my masks were setting, I thought about absolutely nothing. I could have stayed in that room, on that table all day, but alas the treatment ended and it was time to get prettied up.

Upstairs, in the salon of Pyara, I met with a Master Stylist, who, after a brief consultation, got to work on my extra thick hair (it takes a solid hour to go from shower to somewhat acceptable on a regular day so for me a blow out is a real treat).

After  a complimentary head and neck massage I made my way to an adjustable  wash table- a real score for the 5’1″ me who’s often craning my neck in discomfort, with feet dangling when getting a pro wash.  At Pyara, I  was able to kick back (the seats have foot rests), relax and let someone else wash my hair for a change.

Back at my stylist’s table  my locks went from drab to fab in the skilled hands of my blow dryer wielding wizard, in what seemed like no time at all.

Ready for the final touch, their on-staff make-up artist began working her magic on my hands with a  moisturizing treatment before  getting to work on on my make-up. The revelation was amazing; I was aglow from my facial with my features defined in a natural way. I looked like a woman who spent time caring for herself on a regular basis.

The best part, Pyara has a retail store within its walls allowing me to update my beauty supplies without an extra stop. Armed with a list of Aveda products recommended just for me, I worked my way along the shelves choosing the products I wanted.

One last gratuitous self-check and I was ready to step back into real life where this me time made a the most difference.

-A gal getting a little glam on a regular weekday, Jess

Winter Attire Tip: Layer Up & Embrace the Cold

Bundled up to brave the elements

I was once winter phobic, self diagnosing myself with “seasonal affective disorder” the second I heard it was a thing, and hibernating until the last bit of snow had melted. I was mostly miserable from November until April, and really unsure of why I lived in Boston (in truth, I like to be able to see my family, and that’s the reason I never left). Fast-forward to my mid-thirties, 2 kids and a job that has me traveling to check out winter activities, and my outlook has totally changed; I’ve learned to embrace winter and it’s made me a better person.

Bundled up, in every warm layer I own, with a value pack of hand and foot warmers in my bag for “just in case”, I have fun, outdoors, all winter long.

My new found love affair with winter started when my son began ice skating and my husband built him an ice rink in our back yard (a city kid myself, I still think this is the most amazing thing I’d ever seen). I wanted to be out there so badly that I’d toss my figure skates and ski pants with a cute little hat and fashionable wool coat to take a few twirls before finding myself frozen and begging my then two year old to come in.

Mommy & Marcus hockey in our yard
Mommy & Marcus hockey in our yard

I was so disappointed, I turned to my winter expert, my husband (who has not bought himself an article of clothing since before we met, and has me choose his suit daily)  for winter fashion tips. And although I really did not like what I heard, I slowly succumbed to his suggestions, and as much as I hate to admit it; his tips are 100% responsible for making me a winter warrior.

He taught me how to dress for warmth (rather than style), and layer myself into a nice cocoon of warmth that can get me through a few slope-side hours in the (sunny, windless) single digits. I replaced my Ugg boots with REI recommended warm, waterproof  Vasque  boots, traded my dress socks for Smartwool socks (snag for less at Nordstrom Rack where they’re often only $10/pair) and layered the crap out of my clothes. I’ve been known to pile 5 (thin) layers beneath my coat and three beneath my snow pants (Under Armour & The North Face are my favorite layering brands). I bought thick, insulated, waterproof, $70 winter gloves (because I lost one of mine enroute to Stowe last weekend) and a hat I hate being seen in, but love on my head on a cold winter day. And when the cold takes my breath away I turn to Turtle Fur to protect my neck and face.

And I’m warm.

Skiing at Stowe this past weekend, the weather was frigid, the staff of locals at the Stoweflake Mountain Resort and Spa, where I was staying, made it clear they would not be visiting the mountain that day, the room on the shuttle, short lift lines, and crowd in the lodge confirmed it was a crazy cold day. But we were determined to brave it.

Snow Shoeing home from Thia's
Snow Shoeing home from Thia’s

Truth is, dressed for the weather, we hardly noticed the sub-zero temps, making my first time on skis in five years, the best ski day skiing I’ve ever had.

Not only was I toasty warm, but I got to enjoy my daughter’s first day skiing, my son’s first time on the chairlift and my husband’s ability to make even the coldest outing fun.

So, I’ll keep the layers on, forget how silly I look, skate, ski, snowshoe, build snowmen all winter long, and enjoy every moment of fun that winter has to offer- with or without my kids by my side.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.Anton Chekhov

Skip the Chocolates, Toss the Flowers and Head to Boston for Some XO this Valentine’s Day

 Treat your someone special to a Valentine they’ll never forget; book a vacation or staycation in Boston. Too much work? Not at all;  we have your itinerary set, you just have to make the reservations, buy the tickets and get yourself into the city.

Stay at the Ames Hotel where their XO special is just oozing romance. Your room,  a corner or deluxe king , is modern in decor, with elegant touches. Enjoy the  “Sexy Shower” with your someone special (these large scale glass showers give you full view of the room). Pack light as The Ames has everything you need to get intimate in their  “Intimacy Kit”.  After  you’ve made use of your room, refuel with your complimentary box of artisanal chocolates from EH Chocolatier.  

Ames Hotel Room
Ames Hotel Room

 Please your lady outside of your room with a little shopping utilizing the included “Because I Love You” gift card for $75 to Alex and Ani. Top it off with a little refresh when you take advantage of the professional make-up application that comes with your stay at the Katrina Hess Studio

While she gets pretty, he heads off for a  luxurious hot towel shave at Ball and Buck.  This barber shop is housed within men’s wear store making it the ideal place to buy something to wear when you’re not in your room.

Make your way back to the Ames Hotel for a late lunch, or light snack and the two complimentary cocktails that await at King St. Tavern. Spend a little more time in your room before heading off for a romantic dinner at the  Hungry Eye where a cozy spot is standard. The $200 per couple price is a steal for the menu they have planned.

Chef Jody Adams at Boston Wine Expo 2014
Chef Jody Adams at Boston Wine Expo 2014


When Valentine’s Day comes to an end, hold off on heading home. Instead spend a the afternoon at  the Seaport World Trade Center  where the Boston Wine Expo will be making a splash on the wine world. Enjoy the two stages of chef demonstrations and  sample great wines from around the world, just be sure to add a seminar to your itinerary because these “classes” are informative and fun.
Need more ideas, check out my Boston articles and lists on 10best.
-Hint, hint hubby. XO, Jess

I Survived Soul Cycle…


Being a former Division 1 college athlete, people assume I can handle any form of physical activity but that is just not the case anymore.  I was a D1 hockey player- in a previous life.  Now, I am a mom that has an enduring back injury and let’s be honest, the only physical activity I’ve gotten in the last 18 months is running after my kids.

A few weeks back when Jess asked if I wanted to accompany her for a day at Chestnut Hill Square, I assumed our day would involve shopping and eating, so I happily accepted.  It wasn’t until the night before that she told me the logistics of our day and what was first on our agenda:  SOUL CYCLE.  I had never done a spinning class before, let alone made use of my $200/month gym membership in the past 18 months, but I didn’t want to wuss out, especially since the rest of the day was right up my lazy alley.   I motivated myself, by repeating this mantra, “it’s only 45 minutes of a kid-free day of fun”.

While we were waiting for the class before ours to finish, I was sizing up all the women that were waiting for the doors to open (something I used to do in my competitive days to see what I was up against).  OMG!  They were in amazing shape.  These women looked like they were Cross Fit fanatics who compete regularly in muscle man competitions. The definition of every muscle clearly visible all over their bodies.  I was intimidated, and that’s when my nerves set in.

Upon entering the room, I saw bike on top of bike on top of bike, which I guess is standard for any spinning class (again, first timer).  All I could imagine was, falling off the bike and landing right on the woman next to me. Then began to imagine being carried out in a stretcher if my back goes out. The class at a standstill. The hard bodied women surrounding me staring, annoyed that I was ruining their triathlon training. The instructor announcing my incompetence over the mic. I was anticipating failure and humiliation as the lights went off, the music began and the door closed.  Too late to turn back now.

The instructor began the class by saying the only thing that is going to keep you from challenging yourself is your mind.  And there it was, I had talked myself out of this class before I even got on the bike.  I decided to turn it around, instead of I can’t, I started telling myself I CAN DO THIS.  My worries started to fade away and I began having fun.  The instructor was energetic, the music was exciting, my adrenaline was rushing and I felt great!

It wasn’t until late in the class when I started getting tired. And once my body started getting tired, my mind started doubting I could tackle Soul Cycle.  Then the instructor jumped off her bike and broke into a sequence of karate kicks and punches in front of the class. This woman was a ninja!  Instead of giving up, her inspiration brought the competitive Division 1 hockey player me to the forefront,  my imaginary cape went on, I got my second wind, and I knew I was going to rock Soul Cycle just like all those fit bitches ( I say that out of envy and admiration) surrounding me.

As the class was coming to an end, I felt disappointed rather than relieved.  I felt amazing, I was covered in sweat and loving every moment of it.  Not only did I get a full body workout, but I challenged my mind and realized I am still capable of tackling a physical challenge.  It was the best fitness class that I had ever done.  Mind, body and soul, this matriarch was on top of the world.

I survived Soul Cycle, loved it and can’t wait to go back. That gym membership however, remains unused…

-Just one chick cycling her soul out, Thia

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