Maple Bacon Stuffed Waffles

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Thanks to Krusteaz for sponsoring this post.

One of our favorite themed dinner nights is breakfast for dinner. When I first started this tradition in our home it was because I needed something quick and easy to make, but the boys love it so much that we’ve made it a regular thing we do at least a few times a month. Some days we make egg dishes, sometimes pancakes or crepes, and sometimes it’s waffles.

In honor of February being National Hot Breakfast Month I thought I’d share a new recipe we tried recently- maple bacon stuffed waffles. I was thinking about different waffle add-ins or toppings and I thought it would be fun to put my favorite breakfast side dish into the main dish. I was originally just going to crumble up bacon and make a savory waffle but I thought adding the syrup right into the waffle mix before it cooked would make it sweet as well (and to be honest, I love dipping my bacon in syrup so that is a winning combo in my mind!)

This recipe is so simple that it doesn’t even require step-by-step photos. Just make the waffle mix (we used our favorite Krusteaz Belgian Waffle Mix) according to the package while your waffle maker preheats. Once the waffle maker is ready, spray it with PAM cooking spray, and add half the waffle mix you’d normally add for one waffle. Next, sprinkle cooked bacon pieces and drizzle some syrup on top before adding the rest of the waffle mix into the waffle maker and closing it. Once fully cooked you can top with even more syrup and bacon before serving. The sweet syrup pairs perfectly with the salty crunch of the bacon inside the waffle.

We also make apple pie waffles by adding in apple pie filling instead of bacon and syrup. It’s fun to try out different combinations of fillings and toppings! What kind of waffle would you make? Or do you prefer pancakes like my youngest? Whichever you enjoy, Krusteaz makes breakfast for dinner easy with their delicious brand of convenient, high quality baking mixes!

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Helping Children Who Have Developmental Disabilities Learn How To Play

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Thanks to Hasbro for sponsoring this post and creating this amazing resource for families.

The importance of play is something I feel passionately about, and something I’ve written about numerous times before here on the blog. Play helps children develop a number of skills such as learning to cope with their emotions, learning to share, and developing their communication skills. As important as play is though, and as simple as it might seem to some, play is not something that comes naturally to all children. Some children, especially those with developmental disabilities and specifically those on the Autism Spectrum, may find play challenging.

I remember when Lucas was younger his “play” time consisted of gathering toys or lining them up. There was no playing, and that was one of the red flags that the developmental pediatrician noticed when evaluating him before diagnosing him with Autism at the age of two and a half. Still to this day, even though his social skills have developed and he no longer spends his time lining things up, he doesn’t really “play”.  He still loves to gather toys and sometimes he participates in what looks like imaginative play but, in reality, the majority of his “play” is just acting out things he has seen other kids do or things he has seen on television or YouTube.

While some children may always have trouble with this skill, many just need a bit of help learning how to play. For children with developmental disabilities, play isn’t always accessible out of the box. More often, countless toys are relegated to the back of the closet or the donation bin. Even more importantly, the joy and benefits that play can bring — the connection to peers, siblings and other generations — may be lost. Hasbro saw this happening and wanted to help so they created ToyBox Tools in collaboration with The Autism Project, to help make play more accessible to children with developmental disabilities. ToyBox Tools is a collection of resources for parents, teachers, and caregivers to help them engage children in the joy of play using some beloved Hasbro brands, including My Little Pony, Transformers, Playskool, Baby Alive, and Hasbro Gaming.

Through the ToyBox Tools website, visitors can browse the tools online, and then download and print them for use at home or in the classroom. The tools help with three different levels of play, from basic play to expanding play to social play. The tools encourage positive behavior during (or through) playtime. Resources include:

  • Playbooks with step-by-step instructions on how to play with select Hasbro toys and games
  • Wait cards to teach children the skill of waiting while others are taking a turn
  • Countdown timers to help support the passage of time and number of turns
  • Playmats that serve as a fun and useful backdrops for play
  • First/then boards and sequencing cards that help children with multi-step tasks
  • Break cards children can use to indicate that they need a break during playtime

I really love this resource that Hasbro and The Autism Project have created and it’s one that I wish had existed when Lucas was younger. These supportive play tools provide a kind of structure that is critical to the way certain children manipulate concepts to understand play and the instructional videos, printable materials and play-mats are designed to help families, caregivers and teachers unlock the power of play, and to make play more fun and enjoyable at a child’s own pace.

Hasbro toys can be purchased at HasbroToyShop.com, but the ToyBox Tools resources found at Hasbro ToyBox Tools are free for parents to download and use.

(PIN IT)

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Teaching Teens To Make Smart Money Choices

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This article was sponsored by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001. www.MassMutual.com. All opinions are those of the author.

Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending Chicago’s FutureSmart event. This event, part of a series of events in cities across the country, was hosted by MassMutual in partnership with local NBA teams and actor/author Hill Harper to help bring financial education to middle school and high school students. Chicago’s event was held at the iconic United Center and, as I stood in the middle of the court waiting for students to fill the seats, I thought about my own money journey.

I had been raised in an upper middle class family in the Chicago suburbs and, for the most part, had a great childhood. But, while I had a good childhood, there was one thing that wasn’t really discussed as I was growing up and that was money.Yes, I was taught basic concepts like saving money, but it didn’t go beyond that. We could afford to attend sporting events, take vacations, and had all our needs and most of our wants taken care of. I saw my dad making the money and my mom spending it and it often seemed like money was unlimited. There was never a time when I heard “we can’t afford that” and, though as a kid that seemed great, I’d learn years later that things weren’t always as financially easy on my parents as it looked.

But before that giant money secret was learned I continued the patterns of spending I had seen modeled growing up and ruined my credit before I even turned 25. I was left with an empty bank account and nothing to show for it but a wardrobe filled with the latest fashions that would soon be out of date. My mindset about money had to change and I had to learn how to handle the little I had in a more mature way. It has taken almost a decade to shift my mindset and become a better steward of the money I make and I feel like talking about money growing up may have saved me from making some of these mistakes and given me the skills to handle money as a young adult. (Not to say my parents were to blame because they aren’t- I was an adult. However I think having more knowledge about financial issues may have been beneficial.)

Because of my history with money, I am an advocate of financial education for kids so when MassMutual asked me to partner with them it was an enthusiastic “yes!”. Though I believe financial education has to start in the home, just 43 percent of parents describe themselves as ‘well prepared’ for money conversations (and some might be struggling to make smart money choices themselves). That is why it is vital that schools and the community take a role in this teaching as well. By the time adolescents reach middle school, they have already developed the capacity to understand complex economic concepts, make financial judgments, and assign value to purchases and brands. Yet the majority of today’s schoolchildren are not receiving the personal finance education they need to navigate the modern financial world. According to MassMutual, only 1 in 4 millennials in the US can correctly answer basic financial wellness questions. This is a problem.

I love the FutureSmart program because it gets kids excited to learn financial concepts. Hill Harper (most well-known for his roles in CSI: NY and The Good Doctor) spent about an hour talking with students from Chicago Public Schools. I could immediately tell that he was passionate about teaching financial literacy to these kids. Along with sharing his story, teens were also given five money smart challenges which were: to learn about financial concepts, create a blueprint and plan their life, talk with their family about money, think before they spend, and to open a student savings account.

In addition to Harper, kids heard from Bill Wennington, a retired Bulls basketball player. The two talked about saving money and the importance of education. They also spoke about the many dreams of teens wanting to be ball players when they grow up and the realities of professional sports. To encourage continued education, they pointed out that most basketball players are bankrupt within five years of retiring and that the top CEOs in our country make a lot more than basketball players do.

Teens also enjoyed the antics of Benny the Bull, a DJ playing the hottest tracks, and performances from the IncrediBulls and the Bulls Flippers Trampoline Team. Learning about money was never this fun when I was younger!

What I love most of all about this FutureSmart program though, is that this wasn’t just a one time thing for these students. The FutureSmart program is continued in the classrooms for the rest of the year so the teens that attended the event can continue to learn money smart skills.

The program is bigger than just these live events, too. MassMutual has a goal to reach 2 million students and their families by 2020. Along with these live events they host, they offer FutureSmart classroom and digital curriculums along with the FutureSmart app for today’s busy student.The digital course is available for FREE to teachers and school staff and makes learning about money fun for youth.

You can learn more about the FutureSmart program here. If you have a middle school student I encourage you to talk to your child’s school about this program. Financial literacy is so important and this program makes it easy to teach kids money smart concepts!

Do you discuss money topics in your home?

 

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Why You Should Visit Medieval Times This Winter (Even If You’ve Been There Before)

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Thanks to Medieval Times for hosting my family for an evening of fun.

Whether you’ve been to Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament before or not, you are definitely going to want to visit this winter. For the folks that have visited the castle previously, you’ll discover some fun new changes in regards to the storyline. And, for those that have never visited, it’s just as magical and exciting an experience for a newbie as it’s always been! I took my family to the Medieval dinner tournament and we all had a great time so I wanted to share some reasons why I think you should visit soon (other than to escape the cold, of course).

First, let’s start with the most exciting news…the Queen is now in charge and sole ruler of the land. Medieval Times made a major break from its 34-year tradition of casting a king in the show’s lead role when they put the Queen in charge. Girl power!

Since a Queen is now in charge it only makes sense that the storyline changed as well, making it the first time the storyline has changed since 2012. Guests of the castle will enjoy a 2 hour medieval jousting tournament where six knights compete using real weapons. This is the most exciting part of the show and it’s fun to cheer on the knight for the section you are sitting in.

While watching the show unfold in the arena before you, you get to enjoy a meal fit for a King (or Queen!). A 4 course meal is served consisting of soup, bread, chicken, potato, corn on the cob, and a pastry. The meal is served with a bevarage and enjoyed without utensils to keep with the authentic feel of life in medieval Spain. The food is amazing and we always end up bringing leftovers home.

Like I said, whether you’ve visited half a dozen times like I have or are going for the first time (like Sinisa was) it’s a great experience for everyone. So if you want to escape the cold, and enjoy an evening of fun, you can purchase tickets for Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament here.

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An Easy Way To Send Love To A Child In The Hospital

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Today I wanted to share a simple, quick, and free way to help brighten Valentine’s Day for a child in the hospital. Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago has created four specially designed cards for people to add a personalized note of encouragement in. The cards will then be given to children at the hospital and their goal is to hand deliver 15,000 cards to kids this Valentine’s Day! It’s easy, quick, and free to do online but will mean so much to a child that can’t be home for Valentine’s Day ❤️

 

Click here to be taken to the Handfuls of Love website to send a free card and put a smile on a child’s face!

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Our Experience At Big Blue Swim School

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This post is sponsored by Big Blue Swim School and The Motherhood.

One thing that is really important to me is that my boys learn how to swim, so they’ve taken years of swim lessons. I’ve tried out at least a dozen different places, from park districts to swim schools to gym pools to highschools that hire student teachers, so I feel we have kind of tried it all and have discovered what works, and what doesn’t work, when it comes to swim lessons for my family. Recently we tried swim lessons at Big Blue Swim School and I was really happy with our experience there so I wanted to share about it because it checks so many of my boxes when it comes to what I want a swim school to have.

Big Blue Swim School operates four year-round swim schools in the Chicago suburbs: Niles, Hoffman Estates, Wilmette, and Buffalo Grove. We visited the Hoffman Estates location for our swim lesson and a tour of the facility. There are three main things that set Big Blue apart from other swim schools- their teachers, the flexibility they offer, and the quality of their facilities.

Big Blue Swim School is the only swim-lesson provider that exclusively hires and trains full-time teachers. They also have weekly training which I thought was a great idea because a more consistent and better-trained teacher will always give a better experience. What I liked most about their staff was how they all interacted with the students. It wasn’t just the swim teacher in the water with the child but I felt like the staff worked as a team to teach the children. Throughout the lesson the pool supervisor would come and offer tips to the child based on what he was seeing from the pool deck because it’s a different angle than their swim instructor sees. They also all seemed to encourage the kids and they would call out with words of encouragement when a child was doing a great job which I loved. Overall, the whole team seemed to enjoy their job and it showed through their interactions with each other and with the children.

As a mom, I think my favorite thing about Big Blue is how convenient scheduling is for busy families. They offer more lesson times than any other swim school and they have built their own proprietary software platform that allows families to choose a lesson time that works for all their kids with one click. This means families don’t have to make multiple trips to the pool just because siblings were unable to find a time where they could both swim. The software also allows families to log into their account from any device and track their kid’s progress, move their lesson times, schedule FREE make-up lessons, add additional lessons, and update personal information in just a few easy clicks.

Best of all, you aren’t locked in to a certain day and time which is great when children’s sports and activity schedules change with the seasons. This has been the biggest problem I’ve had with other swim lessons because it was so hard to move to a different schedule when baseball season turned to basketball season and what worked for the previous schedule did not for our new one. Big Blue Swim School really goes above and beyond to make things as convenient as possible for parents!

In addition to a great staff and convenient scheduling, Big Blue Swim School has nice facilities that are clean and family-friendly. They have spacious individual changing rooms which parents of multiple little children will appreciate. The floors are carpeted with a special fall-proof, anti-microbial carpet to keep kids from slipping on wet floors. They also have a viewing area where parents can sit in a comortable atmosphere and watch the lesson. Big Blue provides free WIFI for parents, plus toys and activities for siblings waiting with their parents.

The swimming pool area is nice as well. The pools are shallow and have an open design, allowing swimmers to get in and out with ease. Kids will enjoy the warm, 90-degree water that is gentle on their skin. Big Blue pools also have saline systems and ultra-violet filtration which provide a state-of-the-art defense against waterborne illnesses and harsh chemicals.

Overall, my kids and I loved our experience at Big Blue Swim School. If you are near one of their locations I encourage you to go in for a free trial lesson and check it out. There is no registration fee for swim lessons and, if you sign up now, Big Blue is offering six swim lessons for $60 when you sign up for weekly lessons – a discount of more than 50% on standard prices. You can learn more and sign up for your free trial lesson here.

Do your children take swim lessons?

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Sick Day Essentials And The Best Baked Macaroni & Cheese Recipe

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc., Campbell’s® , Lipton, Premium Crackers, Theraflu and TYLENOL®. All opinions are mine alone. #SickDaySolutions #CollectiveBias

Raise your hand if you’ve been sick already this year ✋ I’ve been sick a handful of times myself and winter isn’t even halfway over yet! As a mom, being sick is the worst because we don’t really get sick days between caring for our kids, working, running errands and taking care of our homes. Today I wanted to share some sick day essentials as well as a family recipe for baked macaroni and cheese that is absolutely fabulous (especially if you love cheese as much as I do).

Whether you are just shopping for sick day essentials to keep at home or creating a super thoughtful gift basket for a sick friend, these are things I always keep stocked up on:

OTC Medicines

Theraflu ExpressMax Severe Cold & Flu Caplets and TYLENOL® Cold + Flu Severe Warming Honey Lemon are two medicines I count on when I’m feeling under the weather. The Theraflu provides powerful relief without a prescription and helps defeat 7 cold & flu symptoms fast. Tylenol, the #1 doctor recommended pain relief brand, helps stop my painful coughing, congestion and sore throat.

Campbell’s® Chicken Noodle Soup

Campbell’s® soups warm me up when I need it most. These soups have been a staple in my family’s pantry since I was little and I love that they have no artificial colors or flavors. From their chicken noodle soup to their tomato soup (paired with grilled cheese of course!) we love them all. The soup now comes in a value 4-pack so it’s easy to stock up on it!

Original Premium Saltine Crackers*

When I have a stomach flu saltine crackers are a must and Nabisco PREMIUM is the #1 saltine cracker. They are often one of the few things that I can hold down when I’m feeling nauseous. I also love to have them anytime I’m eating soup!

Lipton Bedtime Bliss Herbal Supplement

Lipton’s new wellness range of herbal supplements are boosted with botanicals and carefully blended with essential oils that are known for their wellness benefits. The Bedtime Bliss one, with chamomile, mint and orange peels, contains no caffeine so it’s the perfect thing to have in the evenings before bed.

Tissues

A box of soft tissues are always next to me when I have a runny nose or a cough.

Hand Sanitizer

When I’m sick the last thing I want to do is spread my germs so I use hand sanitizer to keep the germs at bay.

Baked macaroni and cheese

Another thing I must have when I’m sick? Easy meals that don’t take much prep! Though soup is my typical go-to meal when I’m sick, because I always feel better after a bowl of it, there is just something about making a recipe that reminds me of my childhood that cheers me up and brightens up my day when I’m not feeling well. One of my favorite family recipes is baked macaroni and cheese made with cheese curds and stewed tomatoes. It’s a recipe my grandma made when I was younger and that my mom still makes. I follow the recipe they use but we’ve changed it up a bit with the addition of ricotta cheese to go along with the cheese curds. This macaroni and cheese is the cheesiest mac and cheese you’ll ever eat!

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 Cups Of Elbow Macaroni
  • 18 oz. White Cheese Curds
  • 14 oz. Can of Stewed Tomatoes
  • 4 oz. Ricotta Cheese
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)

Directions:

Cook elbow macaroni according to the box’s instructions and then let cool. In a large greased casserole dish combine all ingredients and bake (uncovered) at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

And when it comes out of the oven…. so much gooey cheese!

When you are combating winter colds and the dreaded flu you can count on Kroger to have everything you need for the perfect sick kit that will have your family feeling better in no time. Get money saving coupons here to save on essentials at your favorite Kroger banner store.

What do you consider sick day essentials?

*Check Premium crackers box for serving suggestion. Premium Crackers enlarged for detail.

Campbell’s® -  © 2018 CSC LP  Lipton - © 2018 Unilever Theraflu - Read and follow label directions. Theraflu is for use in adults 12 years and older. Use products only as directed. TYLENOL® - ®Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. 2017. Use products only as directed. The makers of TYLENOL® remind you to use only one medicine with acetaminophen at a time.

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Romantic Scavenger Hunt And A Game Night Date Basket

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SendingYourLove #CollectiveBias

When Sinisa and I first started dating he went all out with the romantic gestures, from roses covering my car to mushy Hallmark cards on the regular. Now that we have kids (and have been together for over 10 years), the daily romance has changed from gifts of flowers, cards and candy to acts of love like doing the dishes and bringing me coffee. I still get cards and flowers and things like that, just more sporadically than I used to.

For Valentine’s Day this year I wanted to surprise him with a romantic gesture worthy of those I received during the early stages of our relationship and decided upon a romantic scavenger hunt to find a date night gift basket. I went to Walmart to get the cards for the scavenger hunt and some special date night gift basket goodies, including some games for us to play on our date-night-in since game nights are such a fun way to spend time together. Walmart has the newest collection of Hallmark Signature Cards for Valentine’s Day, so I picked out a variety of cards to write scavenger hunt hints in.

Hallmark Signature Cards are premium, hand-crafted cards and I fell in love with the beautiful embellishments on them. One of my favorites had a lovely message embossed on wood which reminded me of the game pieces to one of my favorite board games. Since I love to get crafty, this inspired me to make a little gift to go along with the board game that I was putting in the gift basket.

I love cards because you can write special messages in them and another favorite thing to give is personalized gifts, like this letter tile craft. The craft itself is pretty easy to put together but does require some planning when it comes to tile placement (which I learned the hard way lol). I was originally going to just put “Alicia”, “Sinisa” and “Love” but that seemed too empty so I decided to add the word “Family” and add my boy’s names in as well. Everything looked like it fit but then I went to put the frame on and discovered some of the pieces were too close to the edge so I had to use their nicknames so that everything would fit.

Here’s what you need to make this letter craft:

  • Shadow box (mine was 8×8 size)
  • Scrapbook paper for the background
  • Letter tiles
  • Adhesive (I used a photo adhesive to adhere the letter tiles to the paper)

To make the craft:

Cut the piece of scrapbook paper to fit inside the frame and adhere it to the inside cardboard backing of the frame


Arrange letter tiles how you would like them and add adhesive to the back of the tiles, one tile at a time, sticking each tile in place where you’d like it to be. Once all the tiles are on, put the frame back together.

When you are done crafting, it’s time to put the basket together. Along with the frame, I added a snack, something to drink, a board game, a deck of cards and a cute Valentine’s decoration.

With the date night basket ready you are all set to put together the scavenger hunt for them to find the basket. You can choose to do the scavenger hunt around your home or at places that are special to the two of you (like maybe where you had your first date, a place your family likes to go, etc.) Since it’s winter, and I live in Chicago, I decided to do the scavenger hunt around the house.

I wrote notes in a few Hallmark cards and hid them around the house, with each card giving a hint of where he could find the next card. The first place I left a hint was on the front door so Sinisa would see it right when he came home from work.

Inside I left a message about the scavenger hunt and then led him to his next card with this hint: “your love makes my heart make music”. You could also say “your love makes my heart beat faster” or something else cute like that. This clue could lead to a stereo or musical instrument. Our son plays guitar so I put the next clue on the guitar.

The card led to a map (hint: “I’m happiest wherever I am, as long as I’m with you”) which led to a pillow (hint: “I dream about you”) which led to the candy basket (hint: “your love is sweeter than chocolate”) which led to the car where the basket was hidden (hint: “you drive me wild”). This was such a fun thing to do and a cute way to start a date night!

The scavenger hunt was really simple to put together and a lot of fun, especially when it ends with a gift basket and a romantic date-night-in!

Don’t forget your loved ones this Valentine’s Day. If you are short on time just head to Walmart where it’s easy to get everything for your Valentine’s Day celebration – including the perfect Hallmark Cards. And, 1/29 through 2/14 (or while supplies last), earn $1 back on Ibotta at Walmart on any Hallmark Valentine’s Cards priced $2.97 and above! You can also keep your eyes peeled for an in-aisle coupon at Walmart – get $2 off when you buy 3 Hallmark Valentine’s Day Cards!

Visit the Hallmark Valentine’s Day Hub for more inspiration and to find a store near you!

How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year?

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Easy Make-Ahead Breakfast Muffins

Make Ahead Breakfast Muffins

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and Conagra Brands. All opinions are mine alone. #YouPAMDoIt #PAMInControl #CollectiveBias

One of my goals for this year is to take better care of myself and that includes starting each day with breakfast. As a busy mom I tend to skip breakfast because I’m trying to get the kids out the door in the mornings so I need things that are quick and simple. I love hot breakfasts but they just aren’t realistic for me to make on school days so I thought I’d make some breakfast muffins that are easy to grab and go. You can make a batch of these egg muffins over the weekend and freeze them so when it’s breakfast time during the week you just take a few out, heat them up in the microwave and then you have a hot breakfast to enjoy as you are getting things done or in the car.

Make Ahead Breakfast Muffins

There are many variations that you can make of these breakfast muffins by omitting or adding ingredients. You can add veggies for a healthier muffin or substitute bacon for the sausage crumbles (because who can say no to bacon?). One way to get these in the oven even quicker is to use liquid eggs and pre-cooked sausage crumbles, which is what I did, to save a few steps. In less than 5 minutes of prep time, hot breakfast is made!

 

Another tip of mine? Don’t forget the cooking spray in the muffin tin! We used the NEW PAM® Spray Pump Olive Oil. This new product, from a brand I’ve used in my kitchen for years, provides the superior non-stick cooking experience I’m used to without adding a ton of extra calories and has no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It’s my secret to getting the muffins to slide out of the muffin tin – even when there’s cheese in them!

Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make a dozen:

  • 6 eggs (I used liquid ones to save time)
  • 1/2 pound pre-cooked sausage crumbles
  •  1 cup shredded cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups thawed shredded hashbrown potatoes
  • Seasoning to taste (we used a dash of salt, pepper, oregano and onion powder)

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2) Mix hashbrowns, sausage crumbles, cheese, and seasonings.

3) Add in liquid eggs and gently stir, coating all ingredients with the eggs.

4) Spray muffin tin with PAM Spray Pump Olive Oil to keep the muffins from sticking to the pan. (The non-aerosol PAM Spray Pumps let you control how much you use to manage added fat and calories!)

5) Spoon mixture into muffin tin, filling each spot 2/3 of the way full.

6) Put the muffin tin into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the muffins have reached an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Once cooked thoroughly allow to cool fully before putting them in a freezer bag or airtight container. They can be stored in the fridge for a couple days or put in the freezer for longer.

So easy and quick to make but so filling! These breakfast muffins are a great way to start your day!

You can find PAM Spray Pump Olive Oil at your local Walmart and, while supplies last, use Ibotta and earn $1 when you buy one (1) PAM Spray Pump Olive Oil or Canola Oil.

What is your go-to breakfast on busy days?

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15 Throwback Movies To Watch With Your Kids

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Thanks to Tampico for sponsoring this post.

Tampico is planning an exciting refresh to its brand later this spring, so in honor of its near 30-year history, we’re taking a look back with them on the past few decades and reliving our favorite moments. Join in with the nostalgia and fun and let us know what games, tv shows, foods and more you loved from your childhood in the comments!

One of my favorite things to do during the winter is cuddle on the couch with my family. I love introducing them to the movies and television shows of my childhood (80s/90s) and winter is the perfect time to do this! We try to have movie nights every weekend, or every other weekend, so we have our list of movie night necessities ready to go before we press play.

Warm blankets? ✅

Freshly popped buttery popcorn? ✅

Something tasty to drink, like our favorite juice drink- Tampico  ✅

Then it’s just time to pick the movie. While there are so many great classics, I have a list of ones that I think are fun to watch with kids. Here are 15 throwback movies that are perfect to watch on a cold winter afternoon:

Back to the Future (1985, Rated PG)

I was not even two years old when this movie came out, so I didn’t see it until years later, but it’s one of the best movies from the decade in my opinion (and one of the few sci-fi movies I’m a fan of). The movie is all about time travel, which is an exciting concept at any age. The boys have not seen this one yet, but it will be one of the next classic movies they watch!

The Sandlot (1993, Rated PG)

Having two boys that play baseball, this movie was a must-watch for our family. It’s about a group of friends who play pick-up games of baseball together and fear “the beast” on the other side of the fence.

Home Alone (1990, Rated PG)

This one is a holiday classic that we watch at least a couple times a year at Christmas time. Kevin comes up with some pretty epic ways to keep his home from being robbed as he outsmarts the “wet bandits.” My kids can’t believe Kevin’s parents would forget him, while I sit and wonder how Kevin’s dad afforded the home his family lived in and a vacation to Paris for the whole extended family lol.

Richie Rich (1994, Rated PG)

Richie Rich looks like the luckiest kid in the world because he has all the toys he could want. What he doesn’t have though? Friends. That must be so lonely to live like that. Though my boys wished they had all the money to buy anything they wanted, I think they realized, by the end of the movie, that all the material goods in the world can’t make a person happy if they don’t have friends to share it with!

The Secret Garden (1993, Rated G)

This movie is based on the book and completely different than anything my boys would usually watch. It’s a touching story about an orphan girl who discovers a secret garden and a sick cousin, and, throughout the movie, she finds a way to bring the garden back to life and heal a family.

The Neverending Story (1984, Rated PG)

This is another movie that came out around the time I was born, but this is one of the few movies I remember watching as a child in the 80′s. This movie is complete fantasy but it stirs imaginations and kids will get a kick out of it.

The Princess Bride (1987, Rated PG)

The Princess Bride is my favorite movie on this list. Although my boys don’t like the kissing part (just like the little boy listening to his grandpa tell the story in the movie) they like the action part of it! Personally I love this movie for it’s fairytale romance and comedy.

Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989, Rated PG)

Though this movie is extremely far-fetched, I love that it shows a different perspective on life (literally!) These kids, now shrunk down to a size smaller than ants, must survive the dangerous trek back to their home and get the attention of their parents. This is just a fun movie to watch!

The Karate Kid (1984, Rated PG)

I haven’t watched the original with my boys yet, but recently, we watched a newer version of this movie (the 2010 one) when my little sister was in town. I knew my boys would like it, especially because my oldest is in karate himself. They thought all the moves were pretty cool and I caught them trying them out afterwards. The original is on our list to watch this winter.

The Mighty Ducks (1992, Rated PG)

I love movies about the underdogs overcoming obstacles so it’s no surprise that this movie made my list of favorites. I also like that it shows my sports playing boys the value of hard work!

Hook (1991, Rated PG)

I love this version of Peter Pan much more than I enjoyed the cartoon version of the movie. I’m not sure if it’s because the cast includes Robin Williams and Julia Roberts, I like the idea of a grown man discovering the magic of his childhood, or the Lost Boys’ reactions upon Peter’s return, but this movie is one of my favorite Disney stories brought to life.

E.T. (1982, Rated PG)

So technically E.T. is not from my childhood, since it came out the year before I was born, but I could not leave this classic off the list! This story about a sweet alien befriending a boy was one of the first throwback movies I showed my kids. Watching it as an adult I couldn’t help but wonder how the mom didn’t realize an alien was living in her home, but as a child I didn’t think much about it.

Ghostbusters (1984, Rated PG)

As a kid, the movie Ghostbusters was a bit scary but was still a fun movie to watch. With all the new remakes of the movie since the original one came out, this is probably the most well-known movie on the list and one we’ve watched at least half a dozen times.

The Land Before Time (1988, Rated G)

My boys are a bit old for this animated movie now, but it’s perfect for little ones, especially those that are into dinosaurs. It’s about an orphaned dinosaur who makes new dinosaur friends on his journey to find the land his mother told him about.

The Santa Clause (1994, Rated PG)

This movie is my favorite holiday movie that I look forward to watching with the boys each Christmas. The sequel and third movie in the series are good as well, but the first one is definitely our favorite. It just gets us in the holiday spirit during the most magical time of the year.

If you have tweens or teens I’d also suggest Mrs. Doubtfire and Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. A Little Princess (the 1995 version) is also a favorite of mine! There are so many great movies to choose from, so I’m wondering what you’d add to my list? Sinisa insists that Goonies should have made my list as well since he thinks it’s an iconic film, but I’m not a huge fan of it (<gasp>).

Whichever movie you choose to watch with your kids, don’t forget the snacks! We can’t have movie night at home without them! Popcorn is a favorite snack and Tampico juice always tops the list of drink options.

We tried the Blue Raspberry flavor this past movie night because it’s a favorite flavor from my childhood, so I thought it would be the perfect juice to go with our throwback movie night. I put it in cups with fun polka dot straws. Tampico tends to be our go-to for family fun nights, whether we are crafting, playing games, or watching movies.

I’d love to hear what your favorite “Splash From the Past” movie is so let me know, either in the comments below or on social (find me on Twitter at @aliciamarie112)!

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Charming Personalized Cat Food Bowl

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of The J.M. Smucker Company. The opinions and text are all mine.

Yay for winter break! Those couple weeks are my favorite time of the year because, after our holiday celebrations, we have very little to do until mid-January. We spend lots of time cuddling on the couch, playing our new board games, working on DIY projects, and watching movies. Around here, everyone gets in on the fun- including our two fur babies, Peaches and Boomer, who plop down anywhere they feel like resting (whether that’s on our laps or on top of the game we are playing). They even like to hide under blankets like we all do when it’s chilly outside!

So cute, right? This is the look Boomer gives me when she wants attention. She’ll stare right at you until you say her name and then she happily climbs on top of you, rubbing into your hand to indicate she’d like to be petted. Peaches on the other hand makes it clear what he wants by rolling over onto his back and stretching so that his belly is right side up. He will wiggle himself around next to you until he gets the belly rubs he is looking for. I love cuddling with them and showing them love, just like I do my two little human babies (well, I guess my boys aren’t really babies anymore though…).

In between cat and child cuddling sessions I thought it would be fun to do some crafting and came up with the idea to add some sparkly personalization to Peaches’ and Boomer’s cat food bowl. I regularly do fun cat crafting projects and have made things like a ribbon wand for playtime and a no-sew cat bed to add some cushiony comfort to their cat tower. Though I can probably buy most of what I make, I enjoy these simple DIY projects. With all the crafting I have done in the past, I’ve never decorated their cat food bowls before so I thought it would be fun to do. I thought about sponge painting a white bowl and painting on their names, but my hand isn’t very steady so I decided to use letter charms instead, and I love how it turned out.

This charming (get it?) personalized cat bowl project was pretty easy. I started with a white bowl decorated with black cat silhouettes (though in hindsight I probably would have preferred a solid white colored bowl). I added some charms (that spelled out their names) onto a braided string and, in between the letters, I added little dangling crystals. Then I hung the string around the top of the bowl, tying it in the back. I love how it takes the bowl from plain to fancy.

My cats are just a little spoiled :)

One other way I like to treat them well is by filling their bowl with great cat food, like the fresh taste of Meow Mix® Original Choice Dry Cat Food. Meow Mix cat food has the perfect mix of real poultry and seafood flavors that cats love. And, with all the varieties of Meow Mix products, I know my cats won’t get bored!

We found our favorite Meow Mix varieties at our local Meijer and, from now through January 27, 2018, you can use this mPerks digital coupon to get 30% off any 2 Meow Mix products at Meijer. Whether you get their dry food, their treats (like the Meow Mix Brushing Bites Treats my cats enjoy), or their wet food, you’ll be the purrfect pet parent when you mix things up with Meow Mix from Meijer!

How do you like to show your cats love?

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An Awesome Program For Special Needs Families

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Thanks to ABLEnow for sponsoring this post.

In December of 2011, my youngest son, Lucas, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It came as no surprise to me since there were numerous red flags that had caused me to seek an Autism diagnosis in the first place, the most alarming of which was the loss of language he had acquired his first couple years of life. Those preschool years were filled with hours of research and therapies, all aimed at helping Lucas develop basic self-help, language and social skills. Now that he is in elementary school (3rd grade!!) the focus is on helping him catch up academically, develop more complex social skills and caring for his emotional and mental well-being.

I’ve also started thinking more about the future and what that will look like for him. I get asked if he will ever go to college, live on his own, and have a family and the truth is I don’t know. I hope he is able to and that is what we are working towards but, even though he is considered ‘high-functioning’, there are still many daily tasks that he needs assistance with and many other skills he has yet to master. He’s come so far in the past several years so I’m hopeful for his future but, in other ways, we’ve had new challenges and new diagnoses this past year that have made things even more difficult in some aspects. (While he struggles in so many ways though, I’m proud to share that his peers voted him on student council this year which was a huge win and really meant a lot to him because it showed him that he can achieve anything he wants to!)

Even though I can’t control the unknown future, there are some things I can do in the meantime to ensure financial-peace-of-mind. One of them is setting up an ABLEnow account for him. An ABLEnow account is a tax-advantaged savings account for eligible individuals with disabilities that we can use to pay for a variety of qualified disability expenses related to maintaining Lucas’ health, independence and quality of life. It provides a greater sense of financial independence and a reliable tool to build the best life possible.

These accounts are now possible thanks to the ABLE Act that was signed into law in December of 2014. Before the Act was passed, people with disabilities could not save for the future out of fear of losing their public benefits which is sad because people were basically being forced to stay in poverty and could never get ahead. Thanks to the ABLE Act and the new ABLEnow program (a national ABLE savings program offered by the Commonwealth of Virginia), eligible individuals can save and invest in a simple, affordable and tax-advantaged ABLEnow account without jeopardizing their eligibility for certain benefits that are critical to their health and well-being, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). ABLEnow empowers people with disabilities to achieve more independence, greater financial security and a better quality of life.

Learn more about ABLEnow in the video below. (It’s important to note that ABLEnow, one of the country’s premier ABLE programs, is administered by the Commonwealth of Virginia, but available to eligible individuals in any U.S. state – whether your home state has an ABLE program or not.)

The ABLE National Resource Center offers a helpful comparison tool for state ABLE programs here so you can compare the programs for yourself but I feel like ABLEnow has such good advantages, like low fees and the ABLEnow debit card at no additional cost, that it’s worth looking into regardless of where you live. I also like that anyone can contribute to a loved one’s ABLEnow account. Contributions make an excellent gift for birthdays or holidays and won’t jeopardize much-needed disability benefits.

Have questions about the program that I haven’t answered? Check out ABLEnow’s FAQ section. If you want to open an account you can do so here (and good news busy moms and dads, it’s easy and quick to open and can all be managed online!)

Have you heard about the ABLE Act before? How would an ABLEnow account benefit your family member who has a disability?

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of ABLEnow.

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12 Things I Want To Do More Of With My Kids In 2018

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of On-Cor. The opinions and text are all mine.

You may have noticed that I didn’t make a New Year’s Resolution post this year. Usually I have a long list of goals that I want to work on throughout the year but this year I decided to keep it simple and really focus on what was important. In years past I had a laundry list of things like “read 10 books” and “save money” and that was great and all (and still things I’d love to do) but this year I have only two things I’m going to focus on- self-care and more family time. For the later, I brainstormed things I wanted to do more of with my kids in 2018 so I thought I’d share them. Obviously, “more family time” is really broad but I figured I’d come up with 12 ideas- one for each month of the year- of what I want to do more of with my boys.

I want to eat dinner together more often. 

We used to eat dinner together every night but it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like it to anymore between sports schedules and work schedules. I’ve found that making easy meals, like On-Cor Frozen meals, is the best way to make this happen because they are ready in just minutes. I’ve stocked up on some of our microwave favorites and hearty entrées, like the Macaroni & Cheese, Penne Pasta & Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and the “Selects” Lasagna with Meat Sauce, so I’m always ready for “one of those” nights I’m too busy to cook.

I want to travel more as a family.

This past year we didn’t go nearly as many places as I would have liked to so I hope to travel more in 2018. Traveling with my family and introducing them to new places is one of my favorite things to do! Hopefully we will visit a handful of places here in the Midwest and take at least one or two longer vacations.

I want to have more family game nights.

We used to have game night pretty much every Friday so I’d love to get back to that now that the holidays are over. We got a number of new games as well so there are plenty to play. Whether we sit in front of the cozy fireplace or play on our back porch in the warmer months, game time is a great way to start the weekend off right.

I want to bake more with my kids.

Lucas baked cookies with Daddy on New Year’s Eve and it made him so happy! Though baking can be very messy I think that it’s something that is worth the mess. (Plus warm cookies out of the oven are one of the best things ever.) I have a new cookbook with kid-friendly recipes that I can’t wait to make with my kids.

I want to spend time together exploring local towns.

When the boys were younger we’d visit a new local place weekly and it was so fun to discover all the things there were to do that were just a short drive away. From going on paddleboats to visiting the zoo to hiking to a hidden waterfall, spending the day together exploring local towns is a fun way to spend the day together (and it’s much more enjoyable than spending the day cleaning!)

I want to spend more time doing puzzles together.

I love puzzles and the boys do as well. We have a big table in our tv room now that’s perfect for puzzles so I hope to always have a puzzle out that we can work on here and there.

I want to go on more family walks.

Walking around with no destination in mind is a nice way to spend an afternoon. Whether we are walking slowly down a bike path on a warm, sunny afternoon or exploring the streets of a little Michigan town on a cold, snowy day, it’s nice to just spend time together walking around and seeing what we find.

I want to spend more time crafting together.

In 2018 I hope to make a lot more crafts together. From decorations to gifts, there is so much that we can make ourselves and I think it would be fun to create things with them.

I want to spend more time playing with my boys, especially when they are playing outside.

Whether it’s playing tag or tossing around a football, I hope to participate in whatever my boys are playing instead of just sitting and watching them play.

I want to spend more time camping.

I’ve camped since I was a little girl and last summer I really came to realize all the amazing benefits of camping. There’s just something about being in nature, away from most of our technology, that creates the perfect atmosphere for quality family time making great memories together.

I want to read more books together.

When the boys were little we read books every day but now that they are older we don’t read together as much. I want to find some good chapter books and read them together, a chapter at a time.

I want to spend more time together talking (and truly listening).

My boys are getting older and I’m realizing that soon enough they are going to prefer talking to friends over their mom. I really want to practice being a better listener, even when they are telling me hour long stories about stuff they’ve watched on YouTube.

There are so many ways to connect as a family and I’m looking forward to a year of rediscovering all of the fun things we have done in the past. What is your favorite thing to do with your family?

If you are busy, but still want to make meal time together a priority this year like I do, you’ll want to check out On-Cor’s line of entrées. On-Cor is just a freezer away for an always easy, always satisfying and always ready solution for “one of those nights.” Their frozen, fully-cooked meals are conveniently packaged and ready to heat and serve so you can spend more time making memories and less time in the kitchen. The multi-serve entrée products feature popular flavors and varieties including Macaroni & Cheese, made with 100% real cheese, which is one of our favorites.

For your next family meal, head to the freezer aisle of Jewel (or check out the store locator at www.on-cor.com) to pick up one of On-Cor’s entrées. You’ll also want to enter the giveaway because it includes a coupon for a free On-Cor entrée!

I’d love to hear what things you love to do with your family and what New Year’s Resolutions you have in the comments below.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of On-Cor. The opinions and text are all mine.

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The Gift Of Sight

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Thanks to Visionworks for sponsoring this post and giving me the gift of sight.

Back in August I worked with Visionworks to promote back to school eye exams and took Lucas for an annual eye exam there. He didn’t need any glasses but I confirmed my suspicions about my own vision problems when I couldn’t read the letters that he was being asked to read aloud during the vision test. Not only did I have difficulty seeing things far away but I had started to get headaches while working on my computer or reading. I knew it was time that I did something about my sight so, as I left, I promised them that I would “see them soon”.

But I didn’t “see them soon”.

Though I’d had plans to call that following week to set an appointment up for myself I didn’t because I’d gotten busy. I was busy with back-to-school prep and then busy with the chaos that those first few weeks of school brought. Then I was busy juggling fall sports practices and games and before I knew it, it was Halloween time, and there were school activities and community activities and I was too busy. I’m sure you can guess what happened next as November came….the holiday prep was starting and I surely didn’t have time over the holidays to go! I had gifts to buy and menus to plan and holiday events to prepare for. I was TOO BUSY. Too busy to find the time to get an eye exam so I could see properly. Can you all believe that?

This is the problem for many of us moms, I think. We tell ourselves that we don’t have time when it comes to our needs and wants. Had it been my child who was saying he couldn’t see you all know that kid would have had an appointment that very next day because being able to see is important! Why was I putting off this important task just because it was for myself? Moms, we have to stop doing this. We need to prioritize ourselves, especially when it comes to our health and well-being!

I am so embarrased to say that I probably would have waited until the new year to make an appointment had I not received a note from the Visionworks folks wishing me a happy holidays. That was the reminder I needed to make myself an appointment. Yes, it is the busy holiday season but I was tired of the headaches and tired of not being able to see very well. I was going to do something for myself. (And another reason to schedule that appointment asap? You want to use those vision benefits before the end of the year! Visit your local Visionworks for an annual eye exam and pair of glasses before your FSA dollars or vision benefits go to waste.)

So I made myself an appointment for later that week and headed in. I told the eye doctor that driving at night was difficult because the headlights of the uncoming traffic bothered me and I told her that I had difficulty seeing things far away. She did all her testing and, sure enough, I neeeded glasses. Though my left eye had pretty perfect vision, my right eye did not and she found that I had Astigmatism. She said this was probably the cause of why night driving was hard for me and said that basically the astigmatism made light “burst”.

After the eye doctor figured out what prescription lenses I need it was time for me to pick out the frames. There was such a great selection at Visionworks but I chose a large pair of blueish-purple colored frames that were the complete opposite of something my typical plain, neutral colored loving self would choose. A few days later my glasses were ready and I headed back in to pick them up. When I put them on my face it was amazing the difference I saw. Everything went from blurry to clear. I knew I had difficulty seeing far away but I had no idea that I’d been walking around with a view of the world like this. How had I not realized that I wasn’t seeing clearly? All of a sudden my headaches made sense. I was trying to read slightly blurry text for hours a day and, while I was able to read it all, it must have been putting a lot of stress on my eyes without me realizing it.

If you haven’t had an eye exam in a while I encourage you to make an appointment right now. Yes, I know it’s Christmas Eve tomorrow and you are busy with all the holiday preparation, but make an appointment to go to your local Visionworks next week when things have calmed down and you need to get out of the house to escape the winter break craziness (trust me…you’ll thank me later….) Plus, remember that most vision plan and HSA benefits will expire December 31st so you want to use the benefits before you lose them.

The gift of sight is such a blessing and I really hope that you’ll give that gift to yourself this holiday season!

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Brighten Up Your New Year’s Eve Celebration With Strawberry Lemonade Champagne

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Thanks to Mike’s Hard Lemonade for sponsoring this post. Please drink responsibly.

I can’t believe Christmas is around the corner… and before we know it, it’ll be time to ring in the New Year! For the past ten years or so, we’ve done our New Year’s Eve celebrations at home; keeping things low key with pizza and the New Year’s countdown on TV. This year, though, I wanted to change things up a bit.

Instead of toasting with regular champagne I added a fruity twist and brightened things up with Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Truth be told, I do not like champagne at all, so the midnight toast never really appealed to me because it was followed by a sip of something I didn’t enjoy the taste of. This year, though, I’ll be sipping strawberry lemonade champagne so I’ll happily be toasting with my glass of pink bubbly in hand. What I love most about this drink is that it’s super simple but adds a lot of happiness (and deliciousness) to the occasion. So, if champagne isn’t your drink of choice… I’ve got a simple fix and easy recipe you can use to ring in the New Year just right!

To make strawberry lemonade champagne, just fill your flute two thirds full with Mike’s Hard Strawberry Lemonade and top your glass off with the champagne. You can even add some lemon zest or muddled strawberry at the bottom of your glass if you’d like to. The strawberry lemonade flavor is my favorite Mike’s Hard Lemonade, but you can use the other flavors if you prefer.

Mike’s Hard Lemonade can brighten any occasion this holiday season, from holiday parties to that late-night wrapping session you are bound to have on Christmas Eve. However you celebrate, I hope you all have a festive rest of your holiday season and a fantastic start to your New Year!

 

* MIKE’S IS HARD. SO IS PRISON. DON’T DRIVE DRUNK® PREMIUM MALT BEVERAGE ©2017 MIKE’S HARD LEMONADE CO. CHICAGO, IL

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Awesome Monthly Craft Subscription Box For Adults

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Thanks to Adults & Crafts for sponsoring this post and inspiring me to get crafty!

Raise your hand if you have ever pinned crafts and DIY projects on Pinterest that you hope to do *someday* ✋ Guilty! I love crafting and projects but I tend to pin way more than I’ll ever be able to make. Sometimes it’s because I don’t think I have the time to craft or I don’t have the materials needed, but other times it’s because the projects I want to create seem way too advanced for a beginning crafter like myself.

Crafting, though I enjoy it, can be intimidating and that’s why I am so excited to have discovered the Adults & Crafts Crate and I’m sharing it with you all because it’s amazing. Having this crate delivered right to your home every month eliminates the tedious prepping – like picking a project, figuring out how to make it, gathering all the materials, and finding the right tools- and lets you skip straight to the fun part! Each kit features a different craft technique with a trendy project to make and is curated with the exact materials and tools you need to create the project, along with step-by-step instructions to help you do so.

I received November’s Adults & Crafts Crate which was the Homemade Embossing Card Making Kit. I’ve never done embossing before! I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a very adventureous crafter and in the past I probably would have never tried making my own homemade cards like this, no matter how many DIY tutorials about it I’d pinned. That’s why I love this kit! It makes it easy to try a new craft technique and I love that it includes instructions to help even a newbie like me feel confident enough to try my hand at embossing. The box included everything I’d need to complete the project, including a heat tool. I was impressed by the quality of the materials provided and am excited to have my very first crafting tool. It makes me feel like a real crafter!

This Adults & Crafts Crate would make a great gift for a friend, give you a reason to make time for yourself, or be the perfect activity for a date night in! It’s up to you but, whatever you choose, I know this is going to make you as excited to craft as it made me because it makes everything so easy! I’ll be sharing my project on Instagram after I make it over Christmas break but I wanted to make sure that I shared about this as soon as possible because the Christmas shipping deadline is quickly approaching. You can order a subscription to the Adults & Crafts Crate here and use code MAKINGTIME to get FREE shipping on your first box!

What craft would you love to try if you had a kit that provided all the materials and instructions? I’d love to try woodburning! How cute is this little cutting board that was made with a previous month’s Adults & Crafts Crate?

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Gift Ideas For All The Adults On Your Shopping List

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Disclosure: Items were received for consideration and this post contains affiliate links.

Over the past few weeks I’ve shared gift ideas for kids, gift ideas for tweens and games that make great gifts. With the holidays about a week and a half away I’m sharing the last of my gift ideas today- gifts for adults. Whether you are looking for a unique gift for the person who has everything or you have someone on your list who you struggle to buy for every year, check out the ideas below for some “gift”spiration :) You just might find that *perfect* gift!

Nelle and Lizzy Personalized Jewelry

I love personalized jewelry and Nelle and Lizzy makes beautiful pieces including birthstone jewelry, initial charms and more. Their jewelry is the perfect gift for a mom or grandma and would make a sweet gift for a new mom celebrating her first holiday with baby. It can also be given as a special piece of remembrance jewelry for a woman who has lost a loved one. Nelle and Lizzy made me a beautiful custom piece that honored Avery, Jacob’s twin that I had lost during pregnancy, along with celebrating my two boys, Jacob and Lucas. (Stay tuned to Instagram- I’ll be sharing a picture soon!)

Create your personalized jewelry gift here.

Vellabox

Vellabox is a curated candle subscription box that makes a great gift that can be enjoyed year-round. They source the highest quality candles hand-poured by American artisans and combine them with a bonus lifestyle gift and a unique packaging style to create a memorable unboxing experience each and every month. I’ve received a couple boxes and they both included excellent candles that were beautifully packaged in fabric and wrapped with colorful twine.

Order your Vellabox subscription here.

Custom photo blanket

I love getting personalized gifts and the best ones are ones that have my kids pictures on them. If you are looking for the perfect gift for a proud grandma, mom or aunt, how about a custom photo blanket from Collage.com? They have a variety to choose from but my favorite is the custom sherpa blanket. Made out of long-pile sherpa fleece with rounded corners and decorative stitching, the photos of your choice are in sharp detail on one side and cream-colored sherpa fleece is on the other.

Learn more and order them here. (Please note: shipping deadline has passed for Christmas Day but you can always send this as an e-gift for them to design themselves!)

BodyGuardz Smartphone Accessories

Looking for a great gift or stocking stuffer for that tech savvy person in your life? Help them protect their smartphone with a screen protector or case from BodyGuardz. BodyGuardz products are designed to be durable but they also offer a one year warranty on cases and lifetime replacements of screen protectors and skins so you can be confident your gift will last the receiver for years to come.

Learn more and order here with free shipping.

Cookbooks

 

Have a cook in your life? Gift them cookbooks full of delicious new recipes to try! Great new titles include:

Pixie

Have a forgetful friend or family member? Pixie might be the perfect gift for them! Pixie is the item finder that uses augmented reality and an iOS device to show the location of missing keys, wallets, remotes and other valuables down to inches. With Pixie your family will no longer have to waste their mornings hunting for keys or blaming each other over who lost the remote.

Order Pixie here.

Video Games

If you are shopping for a gamer they will always appreciate a new game to play. Sinisa loves playing old-school Zelda at night after the kids are in bed but there are plenty of other new games on the market that the video game loving person in your life might not have yet. Some new ones adults might like include:

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Ancient Egypt & dash : home of colossal pyramids, gilded tombs, tyrannical god-kings, and the origin story of the Assassins. As Cleopatra empire crumbles, the birth of the Assassin’s Brotherhood will lead to an extraordinary shift of the world order. Along your journey, the mysteries of Ancient Egypt will be revealed. Assassin Creed Origins uncovers the beginning of the Brotherhood. Fight in epic battles, master a completely reinvented combat system, and explore the entirety of Egypt. With the all-new quest system, complete missions in any order you choose, and follow your own path to greatness.

Steep Winter Games

Steep Winter Games Edition includes Steep, the massive open world of the Alps and Alaska, where you master the world’s most epic mountains with a snowboard, wingsuit, paraglider, and skis, and now Steep Road to the Olympics takes you on the journey to become an Olympic Winter Games champion. With Steep Road to the Olympics expansion, freely explore a massive open world, including iconic Japanese mountains, and train to qualify for Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Steep Road to the Olympics is a licensed product of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Includes Steep and Steep Road to the Olympics expansion.

Gear.Club Unlimited

Gear.Club Unlimited offers players the opportunity to test their racing skills on over 400 races in 3 exciting modes! Each championship won will unlock new vehicles, new car improvements, and new races. Thanks to the modularity of the Nintendo Switch, players can engage in high-speed competitions on the go, alone or with friends! Take the wheel of over 30 famous cars from sport coupes to powerful rally racers. Access the Performance Shop, where you can customize your vehicles in fully stocked workshops, upgrading them with a complete range of options for the engine, suspension, gearbox and more.

America’s Greatest Game Shows: Wheel of Fortune & Jeopardy

Bring your family and friends together with America’s game, wheel of Fortune, the most-watched program on TV, and America’s favorite quiz show, Jeopardy! now, for the first time in full HD, you can test your reflexes, show off your smarts, and experience the thrill of these classic shows with friends and family at home or with thousands of active players online.

Balsam Hill Ornaments

You know those people who absolutely love the holidays? Ornaments and other holiday decorations would be festive gifts they’d love to receive. Balsam Hill makes beautiful ornaments that would look fabulous on their Christmas trees. I love gifting ornaments because they are something that will be pulled out year after year and hold great memories.

Discover the variety of holiday items that Balsam Hill offers here.

Crated With Love Subscription Box

Crated with Love is a date night subscription box that allows couples to save time, money, and stress while creating a moment each month to add some romance! Each Crated with Love box includes four games or activities that focus on inspiring fun while creating quality time with your significant other and all the items you will need for your date night at home are included in the box!

Order the Crated With Love subscription box here.

PhotoSpring Digital Frame

I have the perfect gift to give those who love to take photos or who love to look at photos of their loved ones -PhotoSpring Digital Frame! Nowadays people are taking more photos than ever but they are unable to enjoy them because the images are buried in their devices. (I am guilty of this!) PhotoSpring is great because it allows families and friends to upload and share photos from any location to any digital frame. This high-resolution digital frame makes photo and video display and sharing easy with automatic selection & optimization of high-res photos and video slideshows, shared images with family and friends through mobile apps and a portable touchscreen interface to browse and interact with images. This would be the perfect gift for grandparents because parents can take pictures of their kids and send it directly to the grandparent’s PhotoSpring Digital Frame where they can view and display the photos.

Learn more about all the amazing features of PhotoSpring and how to purchase it here.

Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide

What the heck is a dot journal? It’s a planner, to-do list, and diary for every aspect of your life: work, home, relationships, hobbies, everything. Early adopter Rachel Wilkerson Miller explains how to make a dot journal work for you—whether you find the picture-perfect examples on Pinterest inspiring or, well, intimidating. You decide how simple or elaborate your journal will be, and what goes in there. This guide is the perfect gift for the planner obsessed like myself!

Order the book here.

Edible Arrangements

Headed to a party and need a hostess gift or looking to send something sweet to someone? Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like a hand-crafted festive fruit basket or chocolate dipped fruit box. With tons of options at a range of affordable prices, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect fit and wow everyone on your list. Not only do they make a great gift, but if you’re still unsure of what to bring to your next holiday gathering, surprise the host with an Edible Arrangement to spruce up any dessert table.

Discover everything Edible Arrangements offers here.

Pink Zebra Home Fragrances

Candles and home fragrances are my go-to gifts and I think your friends and family would love Pink Zebra and their line of unique wax fragrances! Custom glimmer candles, simmering lights, and Sprinkles scented beads are just some of the enticing wax products that are shining a modern light on the traditional, boring candle. Pink Zebra can be purchased online through a consultant and you can even earn extra income selling Pink Zebra’s products directly by hosting parties, social media, fundraising etc.

See all the products Pink Zebra offers and learn more here.

Berkey Water Filter

I have the perfect gift for the health-conscious person on your holiday gift list- a water filter! But not just any water filter… the Berkey Water Filter is the world’s most effective and most cost effective personal water purification system available. It uses gravity water filtration technology to remove toxic elements, parasites, bacteria and hundreds of other contaminants from water without removing the beneficial minerals, and without the use of any electricity.

Learn more about Berkey Water Filters here.

Sock Fancy Subscription Box

Socks were the go-to gift for my dad for many years but Sock Fancy takes it up a notch. Sock Fancy is a monthly subscription service that sends awesomely random socks (for men and/or women) every single month. The socks received are high-quality and the hand-picked designs run the gamut from subtle patterns to bizarrely cool graphics and colors. Subscriptions start at just $11 per month.

Get a Sock Fancy subscription here.

Breathe, Mama, Breathe Book

Moms can feel as if they are sprinting through life, crashing at day’s end only to start again the next morning. In Breathe, Mama, Breathe, psychotherapist Shonda Moralis outlines the benefits of daily meditation and shows moms how to do it—in just five minutes! Mindful breaks can be easy, for example, The Three Breath HugThe Sibling Strife Mindful Break, or, with your beverage of choice, choose The Coffee Mindful Break or The Wine Mindful Break.

Get the book here.

Which of these gifts would you or your loved ones like to receive?

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Gift Ideas For Tweens

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Disclosure: Samples were received for consideration and this post confains affiliate links.

Little kids are so easy to buy for (gift ideas here) but, as they get older and turn into tweens and teens, I feel it gets harder and harder to find things they want. To help you finish your shopping I’ve put together a list of awesome gifts for tweens and younger teens. Grab some of these at the store or on Amazon and cross that hard-to-shop for tween or teen off your list!

Lightseekers (Ages 8-14)

Lightseekers by PlayFusion brings together a family-friendly adventure game, with smart action figures and accessories, and augmented reality trading cards on your tablet or mobile device (no game console required, just an internet connection). No longer just a game or just a toy, Lightseekers has high-tech components that allow for advanced interactive and connected play, and the classic elements of a video game.

Using Bluetooth, the fully-articulated 7” smart action figures connect in real time to your smart device, and give you options and controls we used to dream about. Never before has a toy been the controller for your video game, but now you can fly through the air and fire your weapons without touching a traditional controller (or the screen).

That’s not all – for the kids who are interested in more than mobile gaming, there’s also the Lightseekers trading card game. Augmented reality cards are included in every hero starter pack, and can also be used to unlock special abilities and goods in the mobile game just by scanning with your device’s camera.

Fun With Fidget Spinners: 50 Super Cool Tricks & Activities

Children who are obsessed with fidget spinners will love the book, Fun with Fidget Spinners: 50 Super Cool Tricks & Activities. This book is a new one-of-a-kind guide where spinners can take their hobby to a whole new epic level. Spinners can learn how to master tricks such as spinning on a hat or stacking spinners on top of each other to create mesmerizing whirling towers of color! Spinners can also track their progress and tricks with a handy workbook. Plus, the book provides backstory into the health benefits of spinning.

T-Rex Dinosaur DNA (Ages 8+)

This kit lets kids excavate and build their very own glow-in-the-dark T-Rex model and collect buried DNA. This innovative kit even brings dinosaurs to life through Augmented Reality using the free Dino Codes app (Google Play or iTunes)! Tweens can take photos and videos of themselves interacting with T-Rex and instantly share via email, text, or social media.

Just Dance 2018 (Rated E 10+)

 

Whether you’re a party starter, a dancer in the making, or a seasoned pro, get ready to turn up the volume and unleash your inner dancer with Just Dance® 2018! Dance to 40 of the hottest tracks of the year, including “24K Magic,” by Bruno Mars, “Side to Side,” by Ariana Grande Ft. Nicki Minaj, “Chantaje,” by Shakira Ft. Maluma, and many more! Great for family gatherings, parties, and holidays, Just Dance 2018 brings family and friends together like no other game.

The Official DC Super Hero Joke Book (Ages 8+)

Knock, knock. Who’s there? DC super heroes telling a slew of hilarious jokes, puns, riddles, and more. Packed with more than 600 puns, knock-knocks, one-liners, riddles, gags, and tongue twisters, this book is sure to make kids smile, laugh, and read jokes aloud to their friends. Illustrated with beloved classic DC comic book art, this first-of-its-kind, kid-friendly treasury is a great gift and a super-fun read.

Play Impossible Gameball™ (Ages 9+)

The Play Impossible Gameball™ brings the digital action both indoors and outdoors with seven connected ball games. Manufactured in partnership with Baden Sports, the Gameball has the durability of a small volleyball and is loaded with innovative sensor technology to enhance the play experience. Players can connect, compete and challenge their ball skills with the popular new game ‘Impossible’ and also see how long it takes to reach their vertical limit in ‘Skyscraper.’ There are a host of single- and multi-player games to choose from for endless hours of entertainment. One such game is ‘Sport Labs,’ which empowers players with a new tool to measure speed, distance, spin and airtime so that they can achieve new personal records and create friendly competition. The app prompts gameplay, tracks scores and reports progress. When the Gameball runs low on juice, players can refuel in just 20 seconds with the remarkable Rapid Charger, which will provide another complete hour of fun.

Find it at Target here.

Creation Crate (Ages 12+)

Creation Crate is a subscription box service that improves tech literacy with both children and adults, without the intimidating technical lingo. Beginner friendly, each project is designed to increase in difficulty each month so that users can be fluent in the language of technology by the end of the 24-month curriculum. Projects range from building a mood lamp to a memory game focused on programming, to learning how to input a distance reading from an ultrasonic sensor. Unlike other technology subscription boxes, Creation Crate uses raw electronic components, offering users real-world skills. Subscriptions start at $30 a month with 3, 6, or 12-month subscription packages to choose from.

Learn more and order the subscription box here.

Crayola Fashion Superstar (Ages 8+)

With the 62-page design book, 24 colored pencils, and 18 SuperTip Markers, young designers have all the colorful tools they need to create their own unique designs by hand with Crayola Fashion Superstar Designer. Kids can use their style and creativity to design prints, patterns, and combinations that best express their personal taste. There is also an app to download so Tweens can show off their designs to their friends and put together a virtual closet so they can find their unique style.

Duct Tape Engineer (Ages 12+)

From a working cannon to a bridge, this powerful everyday adhesive is perfect for creating incredible things! InDuct Tape Engineer, master tinkerer Lance Akiyama shows readers how to design and build fourteen mega projects ranging from backpacks to queen-size beds from nothing but duct tape. Every project is specially designed by Akiyama to be a blast to build, and last a good long time. Packed with full-color illustrations and easy to follow instructions, Duct Tape Engineer is perfect for crafters of any age.

Rayman Legends (Rated E 10+)

Following Rayman® Origins, our heroes take a 100-year nap, allowing nightmares to infest the Glade of Dreams. Once Rayman awakes from this mysterious sleep, he must set off on a new adventure with his friends to restore order in the universe. While traveling between five different worlds, players must defeat legendary enemies to save the Teenies from these evil villains. Rayman Legends features a wide range of gameplay, including traditional Rayman platforming action and new music rhythm-based stages.

The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in LEGO

This book is a perfect holiday gift for LEGO fans young and old. LEGO bricks have been used for decades by children and adults to create dazzling and playful buildings, vehicles, and unique works of art. In The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in LEGO (11/1/2017; ISBN: 978-1684121663; Hardcover $19.99; 112 pages), these jaw-dropping creations are presented in full color, with close-up photos, scale representations, historical commentary on the structures, and details on how each model was constructed using LEGO bricks. Included in this collection are the Golden Gate, the USS Missouri, and the Great Sphinx of Giza, as well as other iconic structures created by LEGO crafters from around the world.

Crystal Growing Experiment Kit (Ages 10+)

Perfect for young scientists, the Crystal Growing Experiment Kit offers hands-on experience that grow and challenge their imagination while introducing them to geology. This science kit contains all the materials needed to perform seven different crystal growth experiments and a special display case is included to admire the crystals once they are fully grown.

Merge Cube (Ages 10+)

The Merge Cube merges the physical and digital worlds using augmented reality technology and the powerful camera and sensors in your mobile device. It’s the first object of its kind, and it’s fundamentally changing the way people interact with technology. Now you can hold a galaxy in the palm of your hand, examine fossils and ancient artifacts like a real archaeologist, watch as a volcano erupts before your eyes, and play games in ways never possible before!

Learn more and buy it here.

Just Joking Jumbo (Ages 7-10)

What do you get when you have 1,000 giant jokes and 1,000 funny photos?  A stocking stuffer that adds up to some seriously big laughs! If you have a budding stand up comedian on your list this year – this is the perfect book for them.  Knock-knocks, puns, riddles, tongue-twisters, photos of silly situations and even the craziest info about the history of funny business – it’s all here!

Monopoly for Nintendo Switch

America’s favorite family board game, Monopoly, makes its debut on Nintendo Switch system with new ways to play! experience three unique 3D boards at home or on-the-go with up to six players in total, or take your game online and challenge players in quick matches. Customize your game by selecting from six official House rules chosen by monopoly fans around the world. Don’t have time for a full game? speed it up with special goals that shorten play sessions, and actions cards to move you around the board and personalize your opponents. Build your empire and trade your way to victory!

Arckit (Ages 12+)

Arckit is a free-form architectural modelling system that allows you to physically explore designs and bring your imagination to life. Unlike traditional ‘cut and glue’ models, Arckit is designed for easy set up and take down with their unique and patented modular system. With multiple models available in varying complexities (prices starting from $39.99) Arckit is the perfect gift for budding architects as well as seasoned builders and experienced designers. Build the city of your dreams with Cityscape and Masterplan, or a beautiful modern home with the GO line.

Learn more and buy it here.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (Rated E 10+)

Two worlds collide in Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle! The Mushroom Kingdom has been torn apart by a mysterious vortex, transporting the chaotic Rabbids into this once-peaceful land. To restore order, Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Yoshi must team up with a whole new crew: four Rabbids heroes! Together, they will battle with weapons through four worlds filled with combat, puzzles, and unpredictable enemies.

What gift would your tween love to get this year?

 

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Great Gifts For Kids

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(Disclosure: Samples were received for consideration and this post includes affiliate links.)

Raise your hand if you are still looking for gift ideas! ✋ Christmas will be here before we know it so I thought it would be helpful to share some gift ideas with you all that are perfect for kids. I’m also including links to purchase most of the items on Amazon so you can finish shopping easily from your computer and cross that task off your holiday task list! (Stay tuned for my tweens gift guide which will be live in a few days as well!)

CAT Construction R/C Dump Truck

These full-function remote control Cat machines are designed to bring the construction site to your backyard! Scoop up and load gravel, sand or loose dirt with motorized dump bed and shovel.

Disney Princesses Pley Subscription Box (Ages 4-9)

Children get 4-6 official Disney Princess toys, activities and fashion accessories every two months with this subscription box. Learn more and order it here.

Wild Things Animal Blankets

Fin Fun’s Wild Things soft plush hooded animal blankets feature a comfortable design with hand pockets that easily wrap/cascade around the body. Special touches like animal ears, eyes, paws or flippers make these perfect for imaginative play. Styles are available in youth size only, and include: Snowcap Polar Bear, Snapper Turtle, Timber Brown Bear, Cinder Black Bear, and Roary Lion.

A Little House Picture Book Treasury written by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Ages 4-8)

Laura Ingalls lives in a snug little log cabin with her ma, her pa, her sisters, Mary and Carrie, and their dog Jack. Almanzo Wilder lives on a farm with his family and lots of animals. These pioneer children have all sorts of frontier adventures, including trips to town, county fairs, spring snowfalls, finding new friends on the prairie, cozy winter days, and holidays with family. This collection includes the following picture books: A LITTLE PRAIRIE HOUSE, GOING TO TOWN, COUNTY FAIR, SUGAR SNOW, WINTER DAYS IN THE BIG WOODS, and CHRISTMAS IN THE BIG WOODS.

Crayola Magic Scene Creator (Ages 3+)

Turn still pictures into fun animations with Magic Scene Creator. To use, simply place any of the 70 included Motion Cards on the tablet screen and watch the cartoon drawings come to life. You can also make your own drawings and animate them using the Motion Cards .The Magic Scene Creator comes with six Gel FX Markers so you can draw directly on the screen or enhance the Motion Cards with your own embelishments–create your own car with wheels that appear to spin or draw a cool bird with wings that appear to flap! When it’s time for something new, simply wipe the screen and cards clean with a damp cloth. This fun coloring gift set is a wonderful way to experience the magic of animation.

Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3 is now available on Digital, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand December 5, 2017. The characters beloved by everyone – Gru, his wife Lucy, their three adorable daughters—Margo, Edith and Agnes—and the Minions provide hours of family fun in this heartwarming comedy. After he is fired from the Anti-Villain League for failing to take down Balthazar Bratt, the latest evil mastermind to threaten humanity, Gru finds himself in the midst of a major identity crisis. But when a mysterious stranger shows up to inform Gru that he has a long-lost twin brother — a brother who desperately wishes to follow in his twin’s despicable footsteps — the former super-villain rediscovers just how good it feels to be bad. Despicable Me 3 is the ultimate holiday gift, with almost an entire hour of exclusive bonus features including an all-new mini-movie, a never-before-released deleted scene, and much more!

National Geographic Kids Ultimate Dinopedia (Ages 7-10)

Attention dinosaur fanatics! This is a big, gift-worthy hardcover that is also the most complete and comprehensive dinosaur reference ever. Although these amazing creatures roamed the Earth ages ago, new dinosaur discoveries are still being made today.  The new edition includes favorites, like the fierce T-rex and the gentle Brontosaurus, plus audacious new finds, like the Anzu, Kosmoceratops, and Yi. Every dino profile is colorfully illustrated and features descriptions of when they roamed the Earth, how they lived, what they ate, and more. There are more than 600 dinos featured in all, including 10 profiles of recently discovered dinosaurs and new entries in the Dino Dictionary. Reports from paleontologists present the latest news and insights from the field.

GET QURIOUS Explorer Box (Ages 4-8)

With GET QURIOUS, children engage in creative play with story cards, sticker books, puzzles, masks, and more.  Their play experiences can then be enhanced by playing with the Augmented Reality apps.  Once downloaded, the apps bring endless game and activity variations to the children’s play experiences while fostering their curiosity, discovery, and passion for STREAM – Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art, and Math.  Kids can enjoy these activities by themselves, or with others. Different boxes are available. The GET QURIOUS EXPLORER BOX and Augmented Reality app bring the adventures of Manu & his friends – Leo and Emma – to life as they blast off into space together. The fun experience of combining physical game pieces with an interactive world encourages curiosity and imaginative play. The EXPLORER BOX helps you create your own stories, build different spaceships and maneuver them within 3D space animations, record stories with four masks of your GET QURIOUS friends, and discover hidden artifacts in four brilliant 3D animated space worlds.

Hot Wheels Extreme Action

Unique Hot Wheels vehicle styles with cool, characterized actions. Buttons unlock motorized drive action with ‘jaw chomping’, ‘spider crawling’ or ‘tail striking’ fun! Features exciting light effects, fun sounds and character themed music.

Erupting Cross-section Volcano Model (Ages 6+)

There’s nothing like an erupting volcanic eruption to get your child fired up about science! Create your very own erupting volcano with this unique no assembly required model. Includes an easy-to-prepare lava recipe, a 13″ clear plastic tray and a removable tube that allows for quick clean up. Detailed cross-section shows the inside of the volcano. Includes a fact-filled Activity Guide, with all the information kids want to know about volcanoes.

Disney Princess Felt

Stitch together 10 of the most popular princesses from the world of Disney animation! The 48-page instruction book has step-by-step instructions and color photos to help you bring these characters to life. Die-cut templates, felt, stuffing, embroidery floss, and a needle are all included so you can make Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, and six other adorable felt princesses. These fun, collectible characters make great gifts for Disney fans of all ages!

Rocketbook Color - Reusable, Cloud-Connected Notebook

Rocketbook Color makes it easy to create, save and share our childrens’ masterpieces without wasting a single leaf of paper. Here’s how it works: kids draw in the Rocketbook Color notebook with Crayola Dry Erase, Washable or Silly Scents crayons and markers, parents tag finished drawings using icons at the bottom of the page, parents scan each page using the Rocketbook app, blasting drawings to each icon’s corresponding destination and then pages erase like magic with a damp cloth after drawings are sent to the cloud.

Street Beats Road Rippers (Ages 3+)

Custom-designed vehicles with high-impact speaker-pulsing action! Features great music, realistic vehicle sounds and flashing lights.

National Geographic Kids Pleybox (Ages 5-11)

This subscription box offers surprises each month with a mission to rescue an endangered animal in a new part of the world. Box includes curated activities and accessories to complete the adventure. Each box provides 5-10 hours of learning, creativity and pure fun! Learn more and get it here.

The King Of Too Many Things Book

King Jasper loves being king. Ruling over his small kingdom, he spends his days reading, coloring, and playing with his dog, Greg. Life in the castle couldn’t get any better! Or could it? With a wizard who can conjure anything Jasper wants—dragons, robots, superheroes, even rainbow-colored kittens—the young king creates a magical mess only he can clean up. A hilarious, modern fairy tale about the dangers of overconsumption, The King of Too Many Things will keep kids guessing with the turn of every page, while showing how always wanting MORE can ultimately lead to LESS happiness.

And, if you are already looking to get ideas for spring and summer birthdays….you’ll want to check out Rocking Monsters!

Rocking Monsters launched on Kickstarter recently with planned production in January and delivery starting in March (for early backers). Rocking Monsters are a unique series of outstanding wooden rocking toys for little kids to get endless fun. Created by professional graphic designer every Rocking Monster is ergonomic, safe, and extremely entertaining. Learn more and back their Kickstarter campaign here.

What gifts would the kids in your life love to receive?

Find more gift ideas for kids below!

Fun gift ideas for kids

Gift ideas for creative kids

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The Best Place To See Santa This Season

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This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

Seeing Santa is a yearly holiday tradition that many families partake in. The first couple years of my boys’ lives I enjoyed taking them to see the jolly man in the red suit but then, as the years went on, it was one holiday task I started to dread. Seeing Santa meant standing in a long line, especially if you went on a weekend, and by the time you got to the front of the line the kids were always cranky. The folks at HGTV and Macerich saw this problem and came up with a better experience for families. This year I took my boys to Santa HQ and I can honestly say that I enjoyed the experience and now will actually look forward to this little ritual every holiday season.

Located inside Macerich Shopping Centers in California, Arizona, Chicago, Metro New York, and the Washington, D.C. corridor, Santa HQ is different than other places where you can see Santa. The biggest difference was that there was no line to wait in even though we went mid-day on a Saturday. They offer reservation times but also accept walkups (which is what we did). Guests can register online and select and pre-pay for their photo package which gives them the opportunity to upgrade their package by making their family photo session days or even weeks in advance. The online reservation systems even has an opt-in text functionality to provide reminders about their Santa photo session reservation.

The other big difference is that HGTV’s Santa HQ adds a whole new dimension to the traditional family Santa Claus visit by guiding visitors through an immersive, interactive holiday extravaganza that uses state-of-the-art digital technology. Each Santa HQ location is set with a dazzling array of holiday experiences, including:

  • The traditional photo-op with Santa Claus
  • Elfie Selfie: Where visitors take a selfie and star in their own holiday video
  • Elf-Ray Vision: Guests can explore Santa’s Observatory through the use of special goggles that trigger a series of augmented reality experiences at multiple locations throughout Santa HQ
  • Naughty or Nice Meters: Where visitors can stand next to an interactive board to find out which list of Santa’s they made
  • Light Show: With more than 10,000 individual holiday lights synchronized to the tune of “Carol of the Bells” to create an illuminated orchestra

My boys loved the Naughty or Nice O’Meter the most I think. It was funny to watch their faces as they waited to see if they were on the “naughty” or “nice” list. Luckily both of them made the nice list this year ;)

Once we enjoyed all of the interactive experiences we got to see Santa. The boys took a picture with him and then told him what they wanted for Christmas. Jacob asked for a video game and Lucas asked for LOL surprise balls.

At the end of their visit, Santa let them each pick out a coloring book and crayons. Overall we had an awesome experience at HGTV’s Santa HQ. It really is the best place to see Santa this holiday season!

Have your kids visited Santa yet this year?

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Christmas Crafting Fun And Homemade Ornaments

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Thanks to Tampico for sponsoring this post.

I love the holidays and one of the main reasons why is all of the extra family fun Christmastime brings. From cuddling on the couch while we watch Christmas movies to decorating our home for the holidays and having special drinks and treats. Tampico is a staple in our fridge, and during the winter months we love the Apple Punch flavor. It’s so festive!  Many of my most cherished memories are made during the month of December. Another tradition we have each year is making holiday crafts. Ornaments are my favorite craft to make with my boys because I love pulling them out of the box each year when we decorate our Christmas tree.

Our tree is loaded with ornaments, from apple ornaments gifted to me when I was a teacher to our yearly family personalized dough ornaments to ornaments I was given as a child. The homemade ornaments stand out most of all though. There are colorful painted ornaments, jingle bells formed into candy cane shapes, and pictures of my children’s faces surrounded by carefully placed sequins. It’s fun to look back on the ornaments my boys have made in past years.

This past weekend I gathered everything we’d need to make ornaments. I found some tree shapes and round ornament shapes to decorate along with sparkly pompoms, sequins, red and green colored letters and holiday glitter glue. To get us in the holiday mood I also found some holiday cups with red straws and Christmas napkins and set out a snack of holiday cookies and of course our favorite Tampico Apple Punch! The perfect set-up to keep any family fueled for the crafting session.

Once I got everything set up, the boys got to work making their ornaments. Lucas went with the “a lot is good but more is better” approach and piled on the pom poms and glitter glue while Jacob was very particular and put each sequin on carefully. Years from now I’ll still remember whose ornament is whose because they decorated them according to their personalities as always.

The boys had a lot of fun making the ornaments. I really love this yearly tradition!

Does your family like to craft together during the holidays? If so, I’d love to hear what you make together in the comments below.

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3 Benefits Of Some Spa Time

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Thanks to Groupon for sponsoring this post.

As moms I think many of us tend to put others before ourselves. Whether it’s our kids, our spouses or other commitments, it’s hard to prioritize time for ourselves and our needs- especially during this busy holiday season. I recently got out of the house for a couple hours and enjoyed a mani/pedi and that two hours completely changed my week and revitalized me. I want to encourage you all to get out and enjoy a bit of pampering, even if it’s just for an hour or two! Whether it’s a manicure, a massage or even just getting a haircut, I wanted to share three benefits a spa day (or hour) can do for you. (I’m sharing a giveaway below for a $600 Groupon gift card that should be enough to pay for spa services for a year so no excuses ladies! Plus use promo code MTFM10 to receive $10 off your first booked appointment.)

3 benefits of a little me time at the spa or salon:

Time to relax

Finding time to relax in a houseful of people is tough. Many times as moms we can’t even get some time alone in the bathroom without little fingers poking under the door or knocking. Each morning, without fail, when I’m going to the bathroom one of my boys always has a question they need answered (and of course it’s nothing ever important or time-sensitive that can’t wait a minute). Spa or salon time gives you time to relax.

Increased confidence

Whether it’s a new do or a fresh coat of nail polish on my finger nails, I’ve found that my confidence goes up. Though it’s just a small change in my look I always feel much better with freshly painted nails!

Leave in a good mood

I’ve found that whenever I leave the nail salon I’m always in a good mood. No matter what happened previously in the day or how stressed I am, I always feel refreshed and in a good mood when I leave.

Do you get spa or salon time often? Admittedly, I don’t go as often as I’d like to. When I went to get my nails done the other day I realized it had been almost five months since my last pedicure. (Yikes!) I found this new salon on Groupon called Elite Nail Care and easily was able to book my appointment and had a great experience there, too.

I wrote in depth about how Groupon’s beauty salon and spa booking works here but basically I used the app to find a salon I wanted to try, picked a time convenient for me, and then Groupon scheduled it and sent me a text letting me know I was all set. It was so easy. What I found most convenient of all though was that at my appointment I didn’t have to dig through my purse with my freshly painted nails looking for my wallet to pay. Payments are done through the app and set up ahead of time (even the tip) so I could just leave when my nails were done and then Groupon sent my payment for me and emailed me my receipt.

If you want to try out Groupon’s new service, and live in the Chicago area, you can use the code “MTFM10″ to receive $10 off your first booked service. Just download the Groupon app or, if you already have it on your phone, go here to book your appointment! And, as mentioned before, I’m sharing an awesome giveaway below for a $600 Groupon gift card so make sure to enter! Good luck :)

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Mommy To “Bee” Gift Basket

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Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #NatureMadePrenatalDHA #CollectiveBias

I think that one of life’s greatest blessings is children so it’s no wonder that pregnancy is celebrated like it is in our culture. From baby showers to gifts, moms to be are often overwhelmed with love from their friends and family. I created a cute little “Mommy to Bee” gift basket that is perfect to give as a gift to someone who is expecting. What you include can depend on the mom that’s receiving the gift basket but I included some necessities that I used when I was pregnant with my own boys.

Essentials I added into my gift basket:

  • Nature Made Prenatal Multi + 200 mg DHA Vitamins from Sam’s Club- because a healthy mom equals a healthy baby
  • Peppermints – relieve dry mouth and freshen breath (especially needed during the 1st trimester)
  • Decorated journal – to document the pregnancy
  • Mom mug – for tea or coffee
  • Nail polish – to brighten those toes before she can’t see them anymore
  • Stretch mark lotion – to help prevent stretch marks
  • Chocolate – does this need an explanation?
  • Tin with lip balm in it – for dry, chapped lips

Other ideas include:

  • Gingerale and crackers – for queasy stomachs
  • Pickles – a commonly craved food during pregnancy
  • A coupon for a month’s worth of maid service – mom will be busy with the baby and will need help around the home
  • Pregnancy book – to refer to when she has questions in the middle of the night
  • “Mom to be” holiday ornament – a cute item to add if you are giving this around the holidays

Before I added the things to my gift basket I decorated the outside of it with letters that say “mommy to” and then I added a large bee shape to make it “mommy to bee”. I added bows to the sides of the container to make it even cuter (I just can’t resist big bows and if the baby is a girl they can be used as hair ties when she gets older). Once you’re done decorating the outside you can add some crinkle paper and tissue paper inside the basket as a base for all the goodies if you’d like.

I tried my best to keep this gift for mom and not add any baby items in it. It was a hard thing to do because there is tons of adorable baby stuff out there! Keep in mind that as the months go by and the mom has the baby she probably won’t get much for herself (#MomLife) so you want to make this about her as much as possible.

What you add will depend on the mom you are giving it to, but I think the prenatal vitamins are must-haves in the basket because a healthy mom equals a healthy baby. Nature Made Prenatal Multi + 200 mg DHA Vitamins provides essential vitamins and minerals (before and during pregnancy) including Folic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Iodine, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D3†. It also provides 200 mg DHA which may help support fetal brain and eye development † and Folic Acid which is an important B Vitamin for Women of Childbearing Age and Pregnant Women because it plays a critical role in the proper development of the baby’s nervous system.†

Nature Made Prenatal Multi + 200 mg DHA Vitamins, made from carefully selected ingredients under strict manufacturing processes, are available in an easy-to-swallow softgel and can be purchased from Sam’s Club. They contain No Synthetic Dyes, No Yeast or Starch, No Artificial Flavors, are Gluten Free and have clinically proven absorption of Folic Acid and Iron.

What would you include in your “mom to bee” gift basket? I’d love to hear what you think are the essentials for newly pregnant mamas!

†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Kinzie Hotel Brings The Holidays To Their Guests With The Holiday North Pole Express Package

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Disclosure: My family enjoyed a complimentary stay at the Kinzie Hotel but all thoughts are my own.

The holidays are here! It’s a magical time of year and Kinzie Hotel, located in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, wants to help their guests celebrate the holidays when they are away from home. To embrace the spirit of the season, the boutique hotel is offering the new Holiday North Pole Express Package featuring the North Pole Sweet Express delivering treats to guest rooms, passes to ice skating at Millennium Park, festive activities and more.

Guests who order the Holiday North Pole Express Package will enjoy the North Pole Sweet Express, a festively decorated vintage bar cart with treats galore! The cart includes a hot cocoa station featuring marshmallows, peppermint, and other toppings, boozy hot apple cider and hot cocoa, holiday-themed cookies, and Christmas candies. (For those traveling with fur-family members, dog-friendly holiday cookies are also available upon request.)

After a long day, including an auto accident on our way to the city, the North Pole Sweet Express was just what we needed to get our weekend back on track! Though there are so many things to do in the city during the holidays, I was content to just curl up in the comfy bed and spend an evening relaxing with my mug of hot apple cider while I watched my favorite college football team play on tv….

Along with treats and drinks, the North Pole Sweet Express also had ornaments we could take and decorate in our room. Once done we could hang them on the community Christmas tree in the lobby of the hotel or take them home to hang on our own tree.

For guests who want to get out and explore Chicago’s festive atmosphere, Kinzie Hotel offers guests maps of the city’s top holiday activities and attractions along with skating passes to Millennium Park. (Hopefully you all would have a less comical experience on the ice than we did this past weekend, with my boys trying out ice skates for the first time lol).

Kinzie Hotel’s Holiday North Pole Express Package is truly a holiday experience guests will not forget and such a great option for those who are away from home over the holidays. In addition to all the great offerings of this special package, Kinzie Hotel guests enjoy the many other perks that guests do year-round including deluxe continental breakfast served on every floor, a nightly manager’s reception with complimentary drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and a staff that is there to make sure their guests enjoy nothing but the best their entire stay.

Best of all, prices for this fabulous boutique hotel are really affordable which makes it the perfect holiday getaway your family will talk about for years to come! Ready to book your stay? Make reservations here.

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How To Easily Book Spa & Salon Services In The Chicago Area With The Groupon App

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Thanks to Groupon for sponsoring this post.

In the past when I’ve wanted to get my nails done I’ve had two options. I could call during business hours and try to book the appointment or I could walk in and hope the wait wasn’t too long. Neither of these options is very convenient for me because when I’m thinking about doing something for myself it’s either early in the morning or late at night (when salons or spas are closed) or when I have a bit of downtime and want to head out right away (which generally results in waiting around for an open chair).

Luckily I’ve discovered that I can book salon and spa appointments right in the Groupon app which means I can request my appointment any time that’s convenient for me and Groupon will do all the work of scheduling it. (Available only in Chicago and the Chicago suburbs at the moment.)

It was super easy to set up my appointment. I went into the Groupon app (available for both Android and iPhone) and clicked “salon and spa booking”.

Then I chose the service I wanted and searched all locations near me using my current location.

I found a nail place that looked nice and had reasonable prices and chose my service and picked the appointment time that worked for me.

All the terms of service are clear in the Groupon app before you book the service, like the cancellation policy if you need to cancel ahead of time if you can’t make it.

When you book your service you provide your credit card number but payment is not collected until after your service is complete. It’s nice to arrange everything, including the tip, ahead of time! My favorite part of using Groupon to book my spa and salon services though, other than the convenience factor, is that I know exactly how much I’m going to spend before I get there. In the past I’ve been surprised at the upcharges for nail services after my nails are done, so I really like that.

Once you click “request appointment” Groupon goes to work scheduling your appointment for you. The other day I requested an appointment for myself before the salon opened at 11am and half an hour later I had a text confirmation that my appointment was set.

Do you like to get your nails or hair done? Or maybe you need to relax with a massage or a facial. Whatever salon or spa service you need, if you are located in the Chicago area, book it on Groupon to save time! If you have the Groupon app on your phone, click here to go straight to the experience. Use code “MTFM10″ and receive $10 off your first booked service.

Enter to win a $600 Groupon gift card below!
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Easy Ways To Help New Moms This Holiday Season

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. This post is sponsored by Huggies. All opinions are mine alone. #DiaperNeed #Hugs4Huggies #Sweepstakes #CollectiveBias

The holidays are the busiest time of the year for most people but, new parents especially, may find themselves easily overwhelmed as they try to take care of a newborn while preparing for the holidays. Since I’ve been talking a lot here on the blog about ways to give back, I wanted to suggest some ideas that would specifically help new parents. From bringing a meal to gifting Huggies diapers they can use for months to come, all of these ideas will brighten a new parent’s day.

Make them a meal.

One of the most tedious things to do every day, in my opinion, is cook dinner. After a day full of diaper changes and feedings, the last thing a new parent wants to be doing is trying to figure out what’s for dinner and how to get it on the table. Dropping off a meal that you’ve made them is such a nice gesture that will be appreciated! (One extra tip- deliver the meal in a container that they can keep so they aren’t worrying about having to get the dish back to you.)

Have them over for some adult conversation.

Parenting can be lonely so one thing you can do is invite your new friend over for some adult conversation. My mom friends saved my sanity during my early parenting years. Bonus points for providing coffee- the essential drink of parents everywhere!

Offer to watch their baby while they take a shower or a nap. 

Having a newborn is like being on call constantly. I remember when my children were young, I felt like as soon as I started to doze off, they would wake up. Watching the baby while mom or dad takes a long shower or a nap can rejuvenate her. Making time for parent’s health and happiness is important!

Show up and ask what you can help with.

Offers of help are nice but it’s the friends that show up without us having to ask that are the most cherished. Whether it’s folding laundry, washing the dishes, or running some errands, new parents probably have tons on their to-do lists they haven’t gotten around to doing yet. Helping with these tasks will give mom and dad more time to spend with baby and reduce her stress.

Gift them items they can use.

There are so many new things out there that make life with a newborn easier but I love sticking to gifts that I know will get used often- including essentials like diapers. I like to give a couple packs of diapers in different sizes and varieties to new parents. For the littlest ones, Huggies Snug & Dry are perfect because they feature four layers to absorb moisture quickly and offer up to 12 hours of protection. For older babies, there’s Huggies Little Movers that have a contoured shape and double grip strips that are designed for active babies.

Along with a soft blanket and diapers for the baby, I also love including a little something for mom or dad when I drop off a gift- whether it’s a gift card to their favorite coffee shop, a pretty smelling lotion or a mug celebrating their new title. (I can’t help it…. I’m a sucker for anything that has the word “mom” on it!)

When picking up Huggies diapers for the new mom or dad in your life you’ll want to go to Meijer because for every pack of Huggies purchased at Meijer through December 23rd, Huggies and Meijer will donate a day’s worth of diapers and Meijer will donate $1 to the National Diaper Bank Network. I love that these two companies are partnering together to give back and helping families thrive. This cause is important to me because when my boys were younger, we had very little money and there were times when I wasn’t sure how we were going to pay for our next pack of diapers or our weekly groceries. My family wasn’t alone in this need….currently one-in-three families (36%) in the U.S. struggle to provide enough diapers needed to keep their baby or toddler clean, dry, and healthy. As the founding sponsor of the National Diaper Bank Network since 2011, Huggies through its No Baby Unhugged program has provided ongoing support for the organization and has donated more than 200 million diapers and baby wipes, including critical donations during times of crisis, to those in diaper need.

You can also enter to win a year’s worth of diapers in the #Hugs4Huggies #sweepstakes! For four weeks, 2 winners will receive a year’s worth of diapers (in the form of $1,000 gift cards) and 2 winners (chosen by grand prize winners) will receive $500 gift cards. (Total 8 grand prize winners of $1000 gift cards and 8 secondary prize winners of $500 gift card.) Get more details on how to enter here.

What ideas do you have for helping new parents this holiday season? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts with me on social media!

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30 Things You Can Do With 30 Minutes Of “Me” Time

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This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.

When I started this blog back in 2008, one of it’s main purposes was to give me a creative outlet and a way to make time for myself. I had just become a mom and spent my days alone with my baby so I needed someone to talk to and my blog connected me with other moms, something I so desperately was looking for. Over the years my blog has turned into something more so I started looking for other ways to make time for myself.

Since I’m now a busy mom with two school-aged boys and a business that keeps me busy, my time is limited. Usually my “me” time is confined to 15 minute or half hour time frames. Because of this, I’ve had to come up with a list of things I can do in short periods of time and I wanted to share a month’s worth of those ideas with you all because I know all moms can use a break right about now.

30 things you can do with 30 minutes of “me” time

1) Take a nap

2) Read a magazine

3) Watch your favorite TV show

4) Take a bath

5) Go for a bike ride

6) Paint your nails

7) Write in a journal

8) Walk the aisles of your favorite store

9) Take an uninterrupted shower

10) Call a friend and talk

11) Plan your goals for next year

12) Start a new hobby

13) Dance around to your favorite music

14) Give yourself a facial

15) Color in an adult coloring book

16) Do absolutely nothing….

17) Go for a walk outside

18) Watch the sunrise or sunset

19) Look at pictures and make a photo book

20) Do a quick DIY project (like this one)

21) Work on a puzzle

22) Meditate

23) Read a couple chapters of a book

24) Write a letter or email to a loved one

25) Plant an herb garden or pot of indoor flowers

26) Start planning your next vacation

27) Exercise

28) Watch cute cat videos on YouTube

29) Listen to music

30) Enjoy a delicious snack

Speaking of delicious snacks… Greek Gods Seriously Indulgent yogurt will make you feel like you are enjoying dessert! Made with whole milk and cream, this thick and creamy treat is the best Greek yogurt I’ve ever had. It comes in flavors like tart cherry, lemon and raspberry ginger.

You can find Greek Gods Seriously Indulgent yogurt, in the new 5.3 oz. single serving size, at Walmart. For a limited time save some money with Ibotta! Get $1.50 back on your purchase of 1 Seriously Indulgent Yogurt cup, essentially making this product free. You can redeem up to 2x on the same receipt. There’s also a VUDU movie offer. When you buy 2 yogurt cups you get a $3 movie credit. Just validate your Walmart receipt by uploading it here or texting it to ggvudu@uploadreceipt.com. With these two great offers you can try two Seriously Indulgent Yogurt cups for $3, get your $3 back, and then get an addition $3 VUDU credit.

Want more awesomeness? Enter below for a chance to win a $250 Spafinder.com gift card or $150 Walmart gift card.

Greek Gods – Seriously Indulgent Giveaway

What’s your favorite thing to do during your “me” time?

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Games For Everyone On Your Gift List

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Disclosure: Games were received for consideration and this post contains some affiliate links.

 

Our family loves playing board games and we try to have game night at least a few times a month. I think games make great gifts for the holidays and the boys always get a few new ones on Christmas morning. I’ve shared about our favorite games and games that make great gifts in past gift guides so this year I’m sharing more new games from the Chicago Toy & Game Fair along with other games I’ve been sent to check out!

Utter Nonsense! (Family Edition) – Ages 8+

With Utter Nonsense! The Hilarious Accent Game-Family Edition gather the family around the table and get ready to laugh. You don’t have to be good at accents and the combinations don’t need to make sense, that’s where the fun comes in! Players combine silly accents with even sillier phrases to create sayings and actions that are just plain ridiculous. Players are encouraged to improvise too. Chock full of family fun, you and your family will be rolling on the floor laughing in no time.

Buy it here.

Break Free – Ages 6+

You are locked up in handcuffs, how fast can you Break Free? Use your lock-picking tool to escape and collect most points if you Break Free the fastest. Break Free is a super secret spy mission with challenging action skills. The objective of this fast-action game is to find the exit of the maze to open the handcuff the fastest.

Break Free is a table-top game full of urgency, suspense and tons of fun for one to four players and it includes four handcuffs with twelve unique mazes with three difficulty levels. Each color represents a different level of difficulty, making each round unpredictable. Players must handcuff themselves together and insert an equal difficulty level into each handcuff. Using the lock pick, moving up and down, twist left and right and Break Free first to win!
The fastest to break free from their handcuff receives a token that corresponds with the maze color. There are points on the back of each token, the player with the most points after playing all three rounds, wins the game.

Buy it here.

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Card Game – Ages 8+

In the Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Card Game, you will be on a top-secret mission to recover the greatest treasures known to mankind – The Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty’s Torch, and more. Get ready to jet set across the globe. Your assignment is to apprehend CarmenSandiego, track the location of her hideout, and determine which loot she stole. Can you catch Carmen?

Buy it here.

You Gotta Know Chicago – Sports Trivia Game

You Gotta Know Chicago is the addictive sports trivia game made just for Chicago sports fans. Teams. Players. Coaches. Buildings. Moments. Traditions. Numbers and records. It’s all in here. With 125 cards and 500 questions, it’s good for hours and hours of play. Each card has a point value (based on difficulty) for easy “race to 21″ game play… or just ask the questions to your buddies.

Buy it here.

Ice Cool – Ages 6+

Penguins are running through the school in the first flicking game ever to have pieces which curve and jump!

The fun run begins – the rascals are running everywhere and trying to snatch up the fish on the way, but the Hall Monitor is trying to catch each one of them to have some order in the school. Who will be more successful?

It’s not just cool, it’s Ice Cool!

Buy it here.

Top Trumps – 5+

Everybody loves Top Trumps. They’re fast-paced, super competitive, and easy for anyone to pick up and enjoy. They’re also a great tool for teaching and learning; whether it’s teaching kids the size of jungle predators or introducing them to the history of the USA through the US Presidents pack. Whether your friends and family are into Volcanoes or Star Wars, US History or Harry Potter, there’s a pack for everyone on your list!

Discover all of the themed packs and buy them here.

Simon: Star Wars Darth Vader Edition – Ages 8+

Introducing a sinister twist on the Simon game! The Simon: Star Wars Darth Vader Edition game features a game unit designed like the legendary Star Wars character, Darth Vader. Players need to watch, remember, and repeat the patterns, but they will have to follow along with the sounds and colors, and repeat in the correct order by pressing the pads on Darth Vader’s mask.

Buy it here.

Ultra Dash – Ages 6+

Move fast when the colors flash! Set out the targets to design your own course however you want! Use the tagger to choose from 3 game modes: beat the clock, target tally and relay race! Whatever color your tagger flashes, race to that color target and “tag” it; tagger detects targets and scores on accuracy!

Buy it here.

Safe Breaker – Ages 6+

Use your memory and spy skills to crack the code on the exciting game of safe breaker. Electronic safe has diamonds and gold inside; use the fingerprint scanner and spy gear ear piece to listen to clues. To play, pick a card from the pack and turn the safe combination to the corresponding number. Next, use the fingerprint scanner to test the number. If the light is green you have cracked the code and the safe will burst open to release some coins. No luck? use your spy gear to hear the clue and help you deduce the correct number. Is the correct code higher or lower than the number already tried? make sure you keep a straight face and don’t give anything away to the other players. The player who collects five golden coins is the winner. But beware of the “alarm bell” coins – they will alert the police and the player must return all their coins to the safe!

Buy it here.

Soggy Doggy- Ages 4+

Soggy Doggy is the action-packed, suspense-filled board game of bath time fun! Race around the board and take turns giving Soggy Doggy a bath. But watch out! He loves to shake himself dry! Get soaked and you’re sent back to start. Make it around the bathtub and you win!

Buy it here.

What games are on the top of your wish list this year?

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Our Classic Christmas Decorations

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Thanks to At Home Stores for sponsoring this post.

I love decorating for the holidays. From putting up our Christmas tree with all of it’s special ornaments to hanging our personalized stockings above the fireplace, it’s one of my favorite things to do. I love it so much in fact, that I’ve been known to decorate on November 1st sometimes! (I can hear all of you “not before Thanksgiving” folks gasp at that statement! lol)

This year I headed to my local At Home store to buy some new decorations to brighten up my home and front porch. At Home Stores have thousands of holiday items, available at everyday low prices. I really loved the variety of decorations and how they were organized by holiday themes. There is something for everyone, from the beach lover looking for “Sea & Greetings” decor to trendy pink and rose gold decorations.

Personally, when it comes to holiday decorations, I tend to stick to the traditional reds and greens. Over the past couple of years I’d fallen in love with the decor that had an old red pickup truck carrying a Christmas tree and I was pleasantly surprised to find some items to start my classic Christmas collection with (like this beautiful tray pictured above). I also picked up a number of items to add some Christmas to every room- from the kitchen to the living room to the bathroom.

The main space I was hoping to decorate though was my outdoor space. Last year you wouldn’t have known how much I love Christmas just by looking at the outside of our home. We had just wrapped some lights around the columns by our entrance and added a wreath to the front door. This year I wanted a more festive look but still wanted it to be easy.

In just twenty minutes our front porch went from “blah” to festive all thanks to the amazing finds from At Home Stores. We added two strands of berry and pinecone lighted garland, a welcome sign, a festive wreath and a bright red door mat.

Our decorated front porch puts a smile on my face every time I come home now. Do you have a space you’d like to makeover? Check out At Home Stores for finds to give any room or outdoor area a personal touch!

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Chicago Staycation With The Family At Radisson Blu Aqua

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Thanks to Radisson Blu Aqua for hosting my family for a complimentary stay at their hotel.

I’m always on the lookout for getaways close to where we live in the Chicago suburbs and our recent stay at the Radisson Blu Aqua did not dissapoint. I was happy to find so much to do inside the hotel which makes it perfect for winter staycations. Best of all, it’s located right in the heart of Chicago, close to Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park and other popular tourist attractions.

When we first arrived at the Radisson Blu Aqua I was thrilled to be able to see bits of the lake from my room. A water view is always top of my list anytime I travel! I also had a nice view of the hotel’s rooftop courtyard along with Millennium Park’s concert shelter.

While a water view is at the top of my list, so is a nice room. When we travel we often have to take breaks in our room in between activities to give Lucas downtime, so we spend a lot more time in our room than the typical family might. The rooms at the hotel were nicely furnished with comfortable beds and a fabulous rain shower in the bathroom.

Once we relax a bit in the room the boys typically want to go to the pool. We discovered the Radisson Blu Aqua has two pools, a large outdoor pool and a smaller indoor lap pool. Since it was too cold for an outoor swim, the boys played in the indoor one. There is also a hot tub which is nice for relaxing after a long day.

After swimming we went to explore the other ammeneties the hotel offered. My sports playing boy immediately fell in love with the indoor basketball court and probably could have spent all evening practicing for the upcoming basketball season. The hotel also had a large workout room and a game room. We didn’t use the workout room but the boys did enjoy playing a game of pool in the game room.

After a busy weekend of enjoying the hotel amenities and exploring all that Chicago has to offer we ended the weekend with brunch at Filini, the hotel’s restaurant. There was such a great variety and all of our favorite foods, from made-to-order omelets to delicious pastries, all beautifully displayed.

If you are looking for a winter getaway, look no further than the “wavy hotel” as my kids like to call it. The Radisson Blu Aqua is a wonderful place to stay no matter the season! You can learn more and make reservations online here.

Does your family enjoy staycations?

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Sensory-Friendly Gift Ideas

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and includes affiliate links.

When my boys were first diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder I spent hours searching for the best items that would help them regulate their little bodies. Now years later, we’ve tried a number of things- some we’ve loved and some they didn’t really use. Today I’m sharing my favorite sensory gifts for sensory seekers.

ZURU’s Tangle

The ZURU Tangle is a fidget toy that provides sensory and motor stimulation that has been found to help stimulate and maintain attention. It’s also a great tool as a means to relieve stress and anxiety. The shape, color, texture and visual impact of Tangle stimulates the brain and makes Tangle a fun and functional toy for children and adults alike. Tangle come in a variety of colors including Classic, Crazy, Metallic, and Sparkle. You can get multiple Tangles and connect them to create longer and more colorful Tangles! For under $5, it’s an affordable and collectable toy for everyone. ZURU’s Tangle is available at Walmart and Toys “R” Us.

Doorway Gym

In our old home we had a doorway “gym” hanging in the doorway of the boy’s room. The most used piece was a hammock but our set also had a swing, rings, pull up bar and rope to climb. The set was perfect for days we were stuck inside and the hammock swing was good for restoring balance to the vestibular system and providing deep pressure (both of which help kids on the spectrum feel more in balance). I can’t recall the name of the set we had but it was similar to the one linked below on Amazon. Whichever set you choose I recommend finding one that doesn’t need to be screwed in and has multiple ways it can be used.

Lycra Tunnel

If you are looking for a sensory toy that doesn’t take up much space you’ll want to consider a lycra tunnel. These soft, resistant fabric tunnels encourages heavy work and is the perfect activity for coordination, gross motor skill development, low tone and sensory-seeking.

Mini Trampoline

If you have a child who constantly has to be moving you will want a trampoline to let them burn off energy- especially during the colder months. We had a small square one with a handle that my sister-in-law had bought but I really like this one because it’s enclosed.

Theraputty

Theraputty is great for strengthening hand muscles and improving fine motor skills. It is sold in a set of various colors, each one having a different firmness. Children can start with the softest one and switch to different colors as their hand muscles strengthen and they find the putty easier to manipulate.

HOOT for Kids Subscription Box

Children on the spectrum can have a limited range of interests and play materials, which can make it difficult to engage in purposeful play. HOOT for Kids encourages the use of sensory materials that can help children reach developmental milestones in a unique way by tailoring each toy and activity to their specific needs. HOOT for Kids’ Treasure Boxes are tailored for your child by the in-house Pediatric Occupational Therapist. Starting at just $34.99, each Treasure Box includes a personalized activity card with suggested tips for play, including instructional tips for parents on how to play with their kids utilizing each of the hand-selected toys. This subscription box is well thought out and I love that it comes with the activity card to help parents navigate playtime with their child.

Weighted Blanket or Lap Pad

Weighted products, including lap pads, have proven useful as a calming tool for individuals with sensory issues, ADD, ADHD, autism and hyperactivity. I’m linking to one that has good reviews and is affordable but you’ll want to ask your child’s therapist what weight they’d recommend since each child’s needs will vary. You can also look online for tutorials to make your own weighted blanket or lap pad.

Playfoam

We didn’t have playfoam when the boys were younger however we just recently got some of this last weekend at the Chicago Toy & Game fair and it’s great for creative tactile play! Kids can squish, squash, roll, and sculpt while molding the muscles they need to write, draw, and manipulate objects with their little hands. Best of all, playfoam has a great no-stick formula and never dries out.

What would you add to this sensory-friendly gift list?

You might also like the following posts:

 Tips for navigating the holidays with a child who has special needs

15 Christmas Themed Sensory Activities

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New Christmas Books For 2017

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Disclosure: Samples were received for consideration and this post contains affiliate links.

Every November we get in the holiday mood by watching Christmas themed shows and movies and reading Christmas themed books. We have our old favorites that we pull out each holiday season, but each year new ones come out that we like to check out as well. Today I wanted to share some of the new book titles out for Christmas 2017. Some are for adults, some are for children and some books are something that both children and adults can enjoy together.

Picture Books

 

The Nutcracker in Harlem written by, T. E. McMorrow, illustrated by James Ransome

Ages 4 to 8

The whimsy and beauty of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic story THE NUCRACKER AND THE MOUSE KING has fascinated readers and audiences for more than two hundred years. The music of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet is forever linked to the story in our minds—but another kind of music sets the beat for this imaginative retelling. Set in New York City during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, this jazz-inspired reinvention of THE NUTCRACKER is a worthy tribute to the dreamlike wonder and magic of the Christmas season.

Danny and the Dinosaur: A Very Dino Christmas written and illustrated by Syd Hoff

Ages 4 to 8

Danny’s friend the dinosaur has never experienced Christmas before, so he and Danny decide to celebrate—dino-style! But what will happen when the museum director isn’t so happy with the new museum decorations? Find out in this Danny and the Dinosaur 8×8 adventure, complete with holiday cards, a poster, and stickers! This brand-new story is based on Syd Hoff’s beloved classic.

 

Jingle Bells written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers

Ages 4 to 8 

Ride along through a magical winter wonderland with a girl, a boy, their horse, and a spirited dog! It’s a joyous adventure that could only end in one place: The North Pole. NEW YORK TIMES bestselling artist Susan Jeffers’s dazzling illustrations put a lively spin on the classic Christmas song: Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way . . .


Santa’s Moose written and illustrated by Syd Hoff

Ages 4 to 8 

“Soon Christmas will be here,” said Milton the moose. “I will help Santa pull his sleigh.” But Santa already has eight little reindeer. Will Santa let Milton help? Originally published in 1979, this reissued edition has full-color art.

Chapter Books For Kids & Tweens

Christmas Stories (Reillustrated Edition) written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Ji-Hyuk Kim

Ages 6 to 10 

For Laura Ingalls, Christmas means good things to eat, visits from friends and family, and special gifts to give and receive. And as Laura grows up, every Christmas is better than the one before!

The 12 Dares of Christa by Marissa Burt

Ages 8 to 12 

Christa is a holiday junkie. But thanks to her parent’s recent separation, Christa’s favorite time of year is now filled with heartache. And when her mom announces that she is taking her on a trip to Europe over winter vacation, Christa knows she should be excited. She just can’t imagine spending the yuletide season away from home-and without her dad. However, waiting at her hotel in Italy is a special package from her father: the first of twelve dares that take Christa to landmarks in three beautiful countries, and introduce her to people who will show her that hope is still alive in the strangest of places.


Adult Books 

Hope at Christmas: A Novel by Nancy Naigle

A heartwarming Christmas story that proves you can always go home again.

Sydney Ragsdale is looking for a fresh start far away from her controlling ex-husband and the self-doubt that has plagued her since the divorce. Returning to her childhood home in Hopewell, North Carolina is just what her soul needs. Praying some Christmas magic will follow her she moves with her daughter to a farmhouse that once belonged to her grandparents. While there Sydney finds solace working at The Book Bea, her favorite bookstore.

Single dad Kevin MacAlea, Mac to his friends, is the local high school history teacher and baseball coach. He is also the towns best kept secret—he has been playing Santa since his son was born twelve years ago. Mac loves the enchantment of the season and wants his son to share in his joy.

When a catastrophe forces The Book Bea to close before the end of the year, everyone in the small town is feeling the loss. While Sydney is already off-balance by the bad news, her ex-husband breaks a promise to their daughter that sends her running away and threatens the relationship that she has begun with Mac.

As Sydney and Mac try to figure out what their next steps are together they will soon discover that there’s always hope at Christmas.


 

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe written by Melissa de la Cruz

Darcy Fitzwilliam is 29, beautiful, successful, and brilliant. She dates hedge funders and basketball stars and is never without her three cellphones—one for work, one for play, and one to throw at her assistant (just kidding). Darcy’s never fallen in love, never has time for anyone else’s drama, and never goes home for Christmas if she can help it. But when her mother falls ill, she comes home to Pemberley, Ohio, to spend the season with her family.

Her parents throw their annual Christmas bash, where she meets one Luke Bennet, the smart, sardonic slacker son of their neighbor. Luke is 32-years-old and has never left home. He’s a carpenter and makes beautiful furniture, and is content with his simple life. He comes from a family of five brothers, each one less ambitious than the other. When Darcy and Luke fall into bed after too many eggnogs, Darcy thinks it’s just another one night stand. But why can’t she stop thinking of Luke? What is it about him? And can she fall in love, or will her pride and his prejudice against big-city girls stand in their way?

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe is a sweet, sexy and hilarious gender-swapping, genre-satisfying re-telling, set in contemporary America and featuring one snooty Miss Darcy.

Miscellaneous Books

Mary Engelbreit’s Color Me Christmas Book of Postcards written and illustrated by Mary Engelbreit

With Mary Engelbreit’s COLOR ME CHRISTMAS BOOK OF POSTCARDS, fans can deck the halls, the tree, and their gifts with 10 postcards, 15 cut-out gift tags, and 10 cut-out ornaments—each printed in black and white and waiting for a personal touch of color! The NEW YORK TIMES bestselling queen of Christmas once again helps fans put a festive, original, and heartfelt touch on the holiday season.

 

Bear’s Merry Book of Hidden Things written and illustrated by Gergely Dudas

Bear has many secret treasures to find before his holiday party tonight, and he is only one very little bear! Can YOU help him get ready for the party? Bear loves Christmas, and this year he’s throwing the perfect holiday party for all his friends—a gang of woodland and winter animals almost as cute as he is. But there’s so much to do to get ready! From picking out gifts at the market, to finding the most magical tree decorations, to selecting delicious treats at the candy factory-every page turn reveals a new and utterly delightful sensory challenge. Readers of all ages will find this lush, charming illustrated wonderland irresistible—and irresistibly challenging! A perfect read for parents and children alike this holiday season.

The New York Times Home for the Holidays Crosswords: 200 Easy to Hard Puzzles by The New York Times, Will Shortz

Enjoy the holiday spirit with 200 easy to hard New York Times crossword puzzles in a cheerful Christmas-inspired package. The only thing better than being home for the holidays is relaxing with this merry compilation of New York Times crossword puzzles, which packs hours of solving into a large-size paperback with a fun, flashy cover.

What’s your favorite holiday book?

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Finding Quality Early Childhood Education

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Before becoming a mom I spent a few years teaching 4 year-olds. I will always cherish those years that taught me as many valuable lessons as the children learned. I loved watching each day as a child learned something new or mastered a skill for the first time.

When it comes to learning, the early childhood years are the prime time to set the foundation for a love of learning. Along with learning academic skills like the alphabet, colors, and numbers, it’s also the perfect time to start learning essential life skills such as cooperation, social skills and independent thinking. Preschool can help children learn all these things, and more!

When deciding on preschool or child care for the preschool aged child, there are two things that I think are important to consider. You’ll want to find a program that allows for plenty of free play time (since kids learn a lot through play) and also offers a quality early childhood curriculum. Researching different offerings, I really fell in love with the Bright Horizons® curriculum.

What I like about Bright Horizons is that their developmentally appropriate Emergent Curriculum can be adapted to serve each child’s strengths and needs, so curriculum is tailored to the child and not the other way around. Their World at Their Fingertips® curriculum creates developmentally appropriate learning opportunities that empower children to be confident, successful, lifelong learners, helping them achieve school readiness in all areas of academic and social learning, making it a great option for preschool.

Parents can feel confident their child will be prepared for elementary school because Bright Horizons makes sure their curriculum syncs with local elementary schools and aligns with national academic standards to ensure the curriculum is preparing children to succeed when they graduate from the program and go in to elementary school.

It’s clear that whether you are looking for the ideal curriculum and environment to prepare your child for future schooling years or are a working parent needing a quality child care center, Bright Horizons is a great option for early childhood education.

And just because I’m reminiscing now….I’ll leave you with a picture of when my boys were little ❤️

Have you put your children in early education classes or child care? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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Christmas Morning Traditions And An Easy Breakfast Casserole Recipe

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This post is written by me on behalf of Tyson Foods, Inc.. All opinions are entirely my own.

My favorite day of the year is Christmas Day. When I was a kid it was probably (mostly) because of the gifts but now, as an adult, it’s my favorite because of all of the uninterrupted time we have together as a family. The days leading up to Christmas may be chaotic with last minute wrapping, grocery shopping, holiday parties and everything else, but on Christmas Eve we start to slow down and then Christmas Day we really slow down.

Our day starts early with our boys, clad in matching Christmas jammies, coming in to wake us up. Daddy normally wants to snooze a bit but I sense their excitement so I hop out of bed to make sure everything, including my camera, is ready for the moment they come running out to see what special holiday surprises there are.

The boys head to the fireplace to see what Santa has brought them. They each get a gift or two from Santa and then a stocking full of candy, little trinkets and toiletries. After that they check to see if Santa ate his cookies and drank his milk and check our cat’s stockings to see what little toys Santa left for our fur babies.

After stockings, it’s time for breakfast. This is a tradition that my parents started when I was younger and I continue with my own kids. While my dad cooked a big family breakfast we’d get dressed for the day (and I’m pretty sure this was the one day a year that my three siblings and I got ready without having to be prodded to “hurry up”). Nowadays, we stay in our holiday pajamas all day but we do go and make ourselves a bit presentable for pictures while breakfast is cooking.

This tradition of breakfast before gifts is one of the most enjoyable parts of the day since we generally don’t get to sit down for family breakfasts. We have a variety of breakfast foods but the best part is the breakfast casserole that Sinisa makes. He usually prepares it the night before so it’s simple to pop in the oven Christmas morning. We are all about keeping it easy over here!

This year he is making a casserole with eggs, cheese, sausage, hash browns, peppers and onions. We made it for a quick dinner this past week, to test the recipe out, and the kids ate it, peppers and all. I’m sharing the recipe because if you are looking for an easy casserole idea for Christmas morning (or really any busy day this holiday season) this will be perfect!

Ingredients for the breakfast casserole:

  • 7 eggs whisked together
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese
  • One package of Jimmy Dean® Refrigerated Sausage
  • 1 1/2 cups of chopped peppers and onions
  • 10 ounces of hash browns

Directions:

1) Cook the sausage according to the package. We like using the Jimmy Dean® Refrigerated Sausage because the fresh, high quality pork sausage is made with a unique savory blend of Jimmy Dean® signature seasonings which really gives the casserole a great flavor and keeps the ingredient list low. NOTE: You can cook the peppers and onions with the sausage if you’d like to or you can add them to the recipe raw.

2) Add ingredients into a large casserole dish, layering them. We put uncooked hash browns on the bottom, added a layer of sausage and vegetables next, then poured the eggs evenly over the casserole before sprinkling the top with a generous layer of shredded cheese.

3) At this point you can either put it in the fridge if you are making it the night before or you can stick it in the oven. We cooked our casserole (in a covered dish) for 35 minutes at 400 degrees. Keep in mind that oven times vary so you’ll want to temp it and make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

That’s it. So easy but so delicious! We had “breakfast for dinner” the other night and served this casserole with a side of fresh fruit and doughnuts for dessert.

On Christmas morning, after we enjoy our breakfast as a family, we open gifts. The boys play with their new toys while we sit in front of the fire together. We play some of their new games they received and just relax in the glow of the twinkling lights on our Christmas tree. It’s the perfect day.

Want to recreate this recipe? Find all the ingredients you need for this breakfast casserole at Meijer. Tyson® products, like the Jimmy Dean® Refrigerated Sausage, are perfect for all cooking occasions and all holiday season long. Remember that the holidays mean many moments and many meals to share so make sure to stock up on things that will help you create easy meals so you are spending less time in the kitchen and more time with your family.

How do you spend Christmas morning? I’d love to hear about your family’s holiday traditions and any delicious meals you make!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Double Date Idea And A Paint Night Gift Basket

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #FronteraExperience #CollectiveBias

For a while now I’ve been wanting to go to one of those places where you can hang out and paint. It sounds like it would be such a great time but I really don’t get out that much for girl’s night or date night since becoming a parent. Because of this I thought it would be fun to put together a paint night gift basket to bring the painting fun home! The basket is perfect for a girl’s night in or a double date night with another couple. (Personally I love the double date in idea because you get time with a friend and your man – just get a sitter to share and enjoy some adult couple time.)

Along with the painting there’d have to be food because a fun evening isn’t complete without it! When I thought about the bright colors of paint I had bought, I immediately knew they would pair perfectly with the vibrant flavors of one of my favorite cuisines- Mexican! I also knew I wanted something simple because nothing kills the fun of an evening for the hostess like being stuck in the kitchen while everyone else enjoys time together. Luckily I knew just the right ones that would work- Frontera® Frozen Skillets, inspired by Chef Rick Bayless. They only take about 15 minutes to cook so they can be made before guests arrive or while everyone’s artwork dries.

The paint night gift basket makes a great gift for a friend or your significant other. To make it for a double date night just put enough of everything for four people in the gift basket!

Here’s what I put in my gift basket:

  • 4 Canvases to paint
  • Acrylic paint in various colors
  • 4 Paint palettes
  • Paintbrushes (fine and wide tip)
  • Colorful plates and napkins

The gift basket is easy to put together. I used a black tin and decorated it with some paper flowers on the outside and added some crumpled paper inside the bottom of the tin. I added in canvases to paint (two 5X7 and two 8×10 sizes), paintbrushes, tubes of acrylic paint, paint palettes, and colorful napkins and plates for our dinner.

Speaking of dinner….if you love Mexican food you have to try these skillets. Frontera® Foods brings premium ingredients and flavors into the kitchen so they make the perfect dish to bring friends together. I bought two flavor varieties, the Frontera® Chicken Fajita Skillet (made with tender cuts of seared chicken simmered together with fire-roasted poblanos and chipotle chiles) and the Frontera® Carnitas Taco Skillet (made with slow-cooked pork with tangy tomatillos and roasted poblano chiles).

I loved that the meal’s ingredients and directions read in plain English and were simple to follow. They are so easy to cook that it took less than fifteen minutes to go from freezer to table.

I bought the Frontera® Frozen Skillets, along with two jars of their salsa (Frontera® Jalapeño Cilantro Salsa and Frontera® Tomatillo Salsa), at Target. We found the meals in the freezer aisle and they had a variety of flavors to choose from.

And, if you are into saving money (who isn’t!?), from now through November 25th use the Cartwheel coupon below to get 25% off Frontera® Skillets at Target!

Have you ever had a double date night in? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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Random Acts Of Kindness That Families Can Do Together {Gift Card Giveaway}

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Many thanks to Picture Keeper for sponsoring today’s story and encouraging me to give back this holiday season!

We are in full holiday mode over here! I know it’s early for some (#sorrynotsorry lol) but I love the holidays. Our Christmas tree is going up tomorrow and I’ve already done a few holiday posts here on the blog. I love everything about the holidays from the extra time with family to the holiday decorations to all of the delicious food. I also love how much happier most people seem and how much more giving people tend to be during these next couple months. The season of giving is already here and I believe that doing small random acts of kindness can have a ripple effect. One time I had someone in front of me in the drive-thru pay for my coffee and it put a smile on my face for the rest of the day. Our kindness has a big impact and that’s something I want to show my kids! So today I wanted to share 10 random acts of kindness that families can do together this holiday season (and beyond).

10 random acts of kindness that families can do together:

  • Shovel a neighbor’s driveway
  • Bake a treat for a new mom
  • Make no-sew blankets to donate to a homeless shelter
  • Offer to help an elderly person load their groceries into their car or take their cart back into the store for them
  • Drop some pet food off at an animal shelter
  • Make cards and send them to those serving our country in the military
  • Donate canned goods to a food bank
  • Hold the door for someone while you smile and say hello
  • Make thank you cards and cookies and drop them off at a police station or fire station
  • Visit a nursing home to chat with the residents and sing carols

Picture Keeper wants to encourage people to give back this season and they are doing so by offering a great #PKSeasonofGiving giveaway where one person will WIN (2) $250 Visa Gift Cards & Picture Keeper Connect 16GB! Their hope is that the winner will keep one gift card for themselves and use the other to do nice things for others. I love the thought behind this giveaway and am so happy to be partnering with Picture Keeper again because I love supporting companies who do good things.

Wondering what Picture Keeper is? Picture Keeper Connect offers a simple backup solution for the irreplaceable pictures, videos, and contacts stored on your iPhone and iPad, Android smartphone and tablet, and Mac and PC computer. Whether you’re switching to a new phone, running out of storage on your smartphone, or wanting to safeguard important photos, Picture Keeper Connect offers simple photo backup solutions for all devices. It’s easy to use, too! Simply plug Picture Keeper Connect into your device’s charging port to free up space (no more “out of storage” message), transfer files from old devices to new ones, move photos to a computer or from an iPhone to an Android, or store memories directly on Picture Keeper Connect.

Picture Keeper Connect makes a great gift if you are on the hunt for that perfect holiday gift. Whether it’s for someone who is not tech-savvy, to make life easier for people constantly on the go, or as a creative stocking stuffer idea- those who like to take photos will love this! For more information, visit the Picture Keeper website or follow Picture Keeper on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

You can purchase the Picture Keeper Connect for $119.99, or right now, my friends over at Picture Keeper are giving my readers 40% off their own device by simply using the promo code ‘MakingTime40′ at checkout. Enter the #PKSeasonofGiving giveaway below for a chance to win the great prizes I mentioned earlier. I’d also love to hear about how your family gives back around the holidays so please consider leaving a comment to let me know :)

Picture Keeper Season of Giving Giveaway

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Tips To Help You Remember To Take Your Vitamins

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #AGummyYouCanTrust #CollectiveBias

As a mom I often put myself last but I’ve been making a conscious effort to make my health a priority. It’s important that I stay healthy and I’m trying to do so by making better food choices, drinking more water, going to sleep earlier in the evenings, and getting more exercise. It’s also important to take vitamins.

I currently take two different vitamins. I’ve been taking Nature Made® Vitamin C Adult Gummies for a while because Vitamin C helps support the immune system† and aids with the absorption of iron.† I also started taking Nature Made® Energy†† B12 Adult Gummies recently. Nature Made® Energy†† B12 Adult Gummies contain 1000 mcg vitamin B12 per serving. What is great about the Nature Made® brand (besides the fact that they have really good tasting gummy vitamins!) is that they have partnered with the USP, an independent 3rd party, nonprofit organization that tests its gummies for purity and potency so I get the added assurance that these vitamins have the nutrients I’m seeking.

While it’s important to me that I take vitamins on a daily basis, I have a confession to make. Over the years I have not been very good at remembering to take my vitamins. Anyone else struggle with this? I would buy them with good intentions and then get so busy that I didn’t actually take them. I have good news though! Knowing that taking vitamins is essential to a healthier me, I’ve come up with a couple no-fail ways to remember to take them. I hope these tips help some of you, too!

Set electronic reminders for yourself.

Whether you put “take vitamins” as a daily appointment on your calendar or set a daily “vitamin alarm” for yourself, tech is an awesome tool to use to help remember to take your vitamins. I’ve found that setting alarm reminders for myself on my phone helps me remember important tasks I need to do, especially during my busy mornings.

Make a “vitamin reminder” board and keep it somewhere you will see it daily.

Life happens so sometimes I ignore my calendar and mute my alarms because I can’t stop what I’m doing at the moment. On these days I need a backup reminder system and that’s one of the reasons I created a vitamin reminder board. I have it hanging inside my kitchen cabinet so every day when I open the cabinet for a cup I see it. I love the reminder to take my vitamins but I also love that I can mark down when I’ve taken them so I can keep track of it. On busy mornings I’m running around trying to get everyone out the door and sometimes I can’t remember what tasks I’ve done and which ones I haven’t.

Creating the board is easy. All you need is a small chalkboard, washi tape, a chalk marker and something to hang the board or attach it to your cabinet.

Use washi tape to make seven squares, one for each day of the week. The size of the squares you make depend on your board but make sure there is enough room inside the washi tape square for a checkmark or “x” and enough room on top of the squares to write the day of the week (or the initial of the day).

Once the board is done just hang it in your bathroom or in a cabinet and use a chalk marker to mark down when you’ve taken your vitamins!

Finding quality vitamins was important to me and I like that Nature Made® has the 1st Gummies to receive USP verification. The U.S. Pharmacopeia Convention (USP) is a third party nonprofit organization that verifies products for purity, potency, and quality. With verification from USP for purity and potency, you get the added assurance the vitamins have the nutrients you are seeking making Nature Made® Adult Gummies “a gummy you can trust”. The Nature Made® Adult Gummies line also includes Nature Made® Hair Skin & Nails Adult Gummies and Nature Made® Vitamin D3 Adult Gummies. Learn more about Nature Made® and USP here.

Do you take vitamins on a daily basis? I’d love to hear your tips for making sure they are included as part of your daily routine!

 

† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure prevent any diseases.

††Vitamin B12 supports cellular energy production in the body.†

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3 Simple Ways To Do Good This Holiday Season

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Thanks to Salvation Army Chicago for sponsoring this post.

As a parent there are many important lessons to teach my children but one of my main priorities is making sure I raise caring, loving individuals. Though this is always my focus, there are so many additional chances to do this during the holiday season so I wanted to share three simple ways we like to do good around the holidays.

Donate goods.

Many count on thrift stores, like the Salvation Army, year-round but I feel that there is an extra need for gently used items in the winter. With cold weather coming, people will be looking for warm coats, hats and gloves, along with extra blankets for their home. Parents will also be looking for gently used toys to gift to their children. I remember when my boys were younger we didn’t have much money and most of their holiday gifts were from the thrift store. It was the only way I was able to provide gifts for my children those first couple years. While you are prepping your home for holiday guests and other festivities, why not go through and declutter to give your items new homes this holiday season.

Along with donating used items we no longer need, our family loves to shop for Christmas gifts for specific children from the Angel Tree. We typically choose two or three kids each holiday season and spend an afternoon picking out the perfect gifts for these children we’ve never met. When we shop for their Christmas wishes, and my kids see things like “pajamas” and “a football” at the top of their holiday wish lists, I think they see just how blessed they are and how important it is that we give to others from those blessings we now have.

Give kindness.

Sadly, kindness is not so commonplace anymore. Though I strive to be kind all the time, I try to go above and beyond during the holidays when everyone is extremely busy and stressed. Kindness doesn’t have to be a large or costly gesture, something as simple as a smile, kind word, adding some change into the Salvation Army bucket outside the grocery store, or even holding the door open for the person behind you could brighten someone’s day. If you want more ideas, I share 35 random acts of kindness your family can do this holiday season here.

Donate time.

I believe that time is the most valuable gift that we can give. Whether we are volunteering at a homeless shelter or helping out an elderly neighbor, our time is best spent when we are giving to others. The Salvation Army has a number of ways you can use your talents to help as a volunteer during the holiday season and beyond. Looking at some community centers here in the Chicago area I see a need for a Zumba instructor, food pantry worker, and youth recreation program planner among other things. If you are looking to volunteer with your family how about hosting a canned food drive or making easy, no-sew fleece blankets to donate? Finding something your family is passionate about and volunteering together will create lasting memories and encourage kindness in your kids.

Live in the Chicago area?

If you live in the Chicago area one great place you can support (with donations or by volunteering) this holiday season is the Salvation Army Chicago. Did you know that the Salvation Army is the largest direct provider of social services to people in need in the Greater Chicago area? Salvation Army Chicago serves communities in Chicago, Northern Illinois and Lake County, Indiana by providing emergency financial assistance, grocery assistance through food pantries; educational and recreational programs for children, adults and seniors; and leadership training and character development for youth.

How does your family “do good” during the holiday season? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or on social media!

 

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Holiday Coffee Bar With DIY Chocolate Stir Spoons

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #HolidayFlavorsAreHere #CollectiveBias

It’s no secret that Starbucks® is my go-to coffee brand. Ever since my boys were tiny (when I was lucky to get a few hours of sleep each night) I needed a good (strong) coffee to get me through my day. Nowadays, I get a lot more sleep since my boys are in elementary school, but I still enjoy my daily cup of Starbucks® Coffee.

With the holidays quickly approaching I thought it would be fun to put together a coffee bar. I kept the decorations simple, going with a plaid tablecloth and red and wood accents. I love the “baby it’s cold outside” theme as well so I included a cute sign to encourage my guests to enjoy a warm cup of coffee.

Along with the Starbucks® Holiday Blend 60ct K-Cup® pods, I added a jar full of Lindt Chocolate Assorted Lindor Truffles and some little glass jars of add-ins including nutmeg, sugar and crushed peppermint pieces. I also made stir spoons out of the truffles because what is better than coffee and chocolate? The sweet, rich taste of Lindt Chocolate Lindor Truffles brings out the sweet maple flavor of Starbucks®  Holiday Blend Coffee.

(Hover over the image above to shop directly from it!)

The spoons were simple to make. I used 12 Lindt Chocolate Lindor Truffles (dark and milk chocolate varieties) and melted them over low heat until they were a liquid. I then poured the melted chocolate into a silicone mold and refrigerated them for 2 hours. After the chocolate hardened I gently released the chocolate spoons from the silicone mold and placed them in a wooden tray. (The 12 truffles made about 8 chocolate stir spoons.)

The last things you’ll want to add to your coffee bar are holiday mugs. I love big mugs and this one with the words “choose joy” is one of my favorites! Once your coffee bar is all set up you will *have* to test it out. Let the scent of coffee brewing fill your room as you sneak a truffle!

If you entertain often, I’m sure you know how fabulous buying in bulk is so you’ll be happy to know you can find both the Starbucks® Holiday Blend 60ct K-Cup® pods and the Lindt Chocolate Assorted Lindor Truffle Bag at your local Sam’s Club in the coffee and candy aisles. You can enjoy 50 bonus stars with purchase of any one qualifying Starbucks® packaged coffee or K-Cup® pods at Sam’s Club through 11/1/17-12/26/17.

How are you preparing for the holidays? Will you be discovering a new holiday combination as you set up a coffee bar for your guests to enjoy?

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10 Things I’d Rather Do Than Cook Dinner And Wash The Dishes (Giveaway)

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Disclosure: This post is sponsored by On-Cor but all thoughts are my own. #CountOnCor #OvenTimeTips

Something you all have probably figured out about me by now is that I’m a fan of easy dinners. I do not like to spend hours in the kitchen and I would literally rather be doing almost anything else than cooking and washing dishes. Because of this, our menu stays pretty simple unless Sinisa is in charge of dinner (so blessed to find a man who actually enjoys cooking). He makes a lot of great meals but they are generally meat & potatoes and I’m more of a pasta girl.

One thing I love that we don’t have often is lasagna. It’s one of my favorite meals but it’s also one of the most time consuming meals that I know how to make. From cooking the noodles to layering the pan full of yumminess, it’s a lot of work! Unfortunately, my busy schedule (and avoidance of cooking complex meals) keeps me from making lasagna as often as I’d like to enjoy it. Thankfully though, there’s a solution and it’s easy - On-Cor’s Lasagna with Meat Sauce. On-Cor does the prep work, so I don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen making dinner! This frozen, fully-cooked multi-serve entrée is conveniently packaged and ready to heat and serve which makes it possible for me to enjoy my favorite meal. I just heat it up in the oven, add a side of fresh salad and breadsticks and dinner is on the table with little fuss. It doesn’t get any easier than that. (Plus, as a bonus, you don’t end up spending your evening scrubbing a pan full of baked on cheese!)

Less time in the kitchen means more time doing other things I enjoy. Here are some of the things I’d rather do than cook complicated dinners and wash dishes…

Cuddle with my kids on the couch – Let’s face it…eventually my boys are going to be “too cool” for mom cuddles and, at 8 and 9, I fear that time will be here sooner rather than later. So if they want to cuddle I am going to drop what I’m doing and cuddle with them. It’s one of my very favorite things to do!

Work on a DIY project or craft – I enjoy working on crafty projects (like this football themed wreath I made) but they can be really time consuming. Making something while dinner cooks in the oven lets me easily multi-task!

Help my boys study for their spelling test – Notice I didn’t say “homework” because I’m helpless when it comes to math…. but I actually enjoy quizzing them to prepare for their spelling tests.

Take some “me time” to read a book - I love to read and have a stack of books just waiting to be read. I’d much rather lose myself in a good romance novel or get some good tips from a parenting book than stand around in my kitchen.

Catch up on that tv series I’ve been watching – I’m a bit of a tv junkie and my DVR is full of shows to watch. I’d love to catch up on the family friendly shows in my queue- like the super hero show my boys and I are enjoying together.

Work on a puzzle together - The boys and I love putting puzzles together. We usually have one out that we work on throughout the week whenever we have a spare minute or two. We could get a lot done while waiting for dinner to cook!

Beat the next level on my smartphone game – I’m not a huge gamer but I do enjoy a good strategy game. When I find one I like, I tend to want to play it often, especially when I am trying to beat a tough level. Spending a few minutes extra doing this in between folding towels is a fun way to spend time.

Read a book to my kids – Since I don’t get much time to read any books for myself, children’s books will have to do! I like to read to my boys and listen to them read to me. They also have to read for 20 minutes each evening as part of their homework so we can do so while dinner is cooking.

Play a game – My family enjoys playing games together and we try to do so every weekend but sometimes life gets in the way and we have to skip a game night. Having 30 or so extra minutes to play a game mid-week is a great stress reliever for me and fun family bonding time for all of us!

Catch up on work so I can go to bed at a decent hour - I love working from home but the downside is that my work seems never-ending. There is always something else I could be doing- whether it’s a post that needs to be written or an email that I need to respond to. Catching up on work while there’s still daylight means that I can go to bed before the clock is telling me it’s the next day already.

What would you do with the time you saved in the kitchen? Would you enjoy a bit of “me” time or spend some extra time with your kids? 

For your next family meal, head to the freezer aisle of Jewel-Osco or check out the store locator at www.on-cor.com to pick up one of On-Cor’s entrées. There are a number of popular flavors and varieties available, like Macaroni & Cheese, Gravy & 6 Salisbury Steaks, and Penne Pasta & Meatballs with Tomato Sauce - all reasonably priced and made with no added MSG- so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time doing other things!

GIVEAWAY! On-Cor is giving away a fun prize package for one lucky winner that includes a coupon for the On-Cor product of your choice along with a bunch of other goodies. Enter to win in the form below. a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Easy Halloween Family Movie Night

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Thanks to Movies Anywhere for sponsoring our family movie night and this post.

Halloween is just days away so we are enjoying as much spooky fun as we can before the calendar turns over to a new month. This weekend we kept the Halloween fun going as we escaped the cold and cuddled on the couch for a movie night. The best part is that everything was easy- from finding the movie to decorating the snack table to getting dinner ready- so I wanted to share this easy movie night idea with you all!

We chose to watch Hotel Transylvania since it’s a family-friendly option that’s not too scary. This movie, and many other Halloween movies, are available on Movies Anywhere. Movies Anywhere is a free app and website that simplifies and streamlines the digital movie watching experience by allowing people to discover, access and watch their eligible movies in one place. It offers unprecedented access and next-level compatibility to the digital movie experience, syncing users libraries across their connected accounts to make it easy to see all the movies you own without having to switch from app to app. You can watch your purchased and redeemed digital movies through Movies Anywhere and across connected digital retail accounts so whether you are sitting on the couch watching a movie in your living room or huddled around your laptop enjoying some downtime on vacation, you can bring your movie collection with you.

Once the movie was picked out it was time to decorate. I used a black tablecloth and white spider webbing to cover the table and wall and I added some spiders because you can’t have a web without some eight-legged creepy crawlies in it. On the table I put a bat centerpiece, a vial of “bat’s blood” (aka fruit punch) and a jar of “eyeballs” (aka bubble gum).

I added bat stickers on to white paper cups and used plain black plates for our dinner. I picked up a cheap pizza and topped it with some fake spiders. Of course you can always make your own pizza but I was keeping it easy.

For dessert we had strawberry shortcake cupcakes. They had strawberry filling and white frosting on top with a swirl of red strawberry flavored icing. I added candy eyeballs on the top for some fun.

And what movie night is complete without popcorn? I bought a Halloween themed tin of popcorn and then split it up in treat bags with some bat shaped candies.

I love having movie nights with my family and it’s especially fun when we can have themed movie nights. This was the perfect way to end the weekend and get ourselves ready for trick-or-treating on Tuesday night!

Do you love having movie nights with your family? Make it easy with Movies Anywhere! Sign up for a free account at MoviesAnywhere.com and connect your digital movie accounts to see all your digital movies in one place. You can also redeem digital copies of movies you already own and find new movies to buy and add to your digital movie collection.

For a limited time you can get a special Movies Anywhere launch offer! Get up to 5 free movies when you connect participating digital retailer accounts. With one Digital Retailer receive Sony’s “Ghostbusters” (2016) and Twentieth Century Fox’s “Ice Age”. With a second Digital Retailer required to receive Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” Universal’s “Jason Bourne” and Warner Bros. “The LEGO Movie”. (Offers available for a limited time only. Movies subject to change. Void where prohibited. Movies Anywhere is open to U.S. residents age 13+. Visit MoviesAnywhere.com for complete details & terms and conditions.)

Which movie would you watch first?

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Bach To Rock Makes Learning Music Fun

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Thanks to Bach to Rock for sponsoring this post.

Make learning fun and kids will want to learn. That’s what led my teaching decisions when it came to academics and that’s the philosophy of music school, Bach to Rock.

Located in Northbrook, IL, Bach to Rock (B2R) provides Music Lessons, Birthday Parties, Toddler and Preschool Music Classes and Summer Camps for all ages and skill levels. They base their method of instruction on the fact that students learn best when they play the music they enjoy most. Students develop their skills by working alongside a highly qualified instructor through B2R’s finely developed curriculum which includes special arrangements of today’s popular music. (As a parent, I’ve seen that this method of learning popular music works better than learning one note at a time because Jacob has tried both in his efforts to learn guitar. He has learned more playing songs he enjoys than he ever did going through a music book and mastering one chord or note at a time while he tried to play pieces of songs he’d never heard of.)

Bach to Rock offers private and group lessons and classes for all ages and ability levels for those interested in learning guitar, piano, drums, voice, and more. Using B2R’s unique teaching method, kids and adults learn to play their favorite songs in no time! What I think is really unique about B2R though, is all of the extra things they offer in addition to music lessons.

At B2R, kids who love music can immerse themselves in it. There are Early Childhood programs that give young kids a head-start in music. Kids can keep busy over the summer by enrolling in B2R’s Summer Camp. They can even join Glee Club, become part of a band and perform at cool venues or learn how to become a DJ in the Beat Refinery DJ school!

Bach to Rock also offers multiple birthday party options for young musicians. Kids can play & learn music with their friends while celebrating their birthday! They can rock it out on instruments, spin jams like a DJ, or sing karaoke together. I love these unique birthday party ideas!

To learn more and sign your child up for any of the amazing things Bach to Rock offers, you can call 224-904-3190 or visit Northbrook.BachtoRock.com

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Chicago Toy & Game Fair (Giveaway)

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Thanks to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair for sponsoring this post.

The Chicago Toy & Game Fair (ChiTAG) is coming back to Chicago next month! This is, by far, one of my boys’ favorite events of the year. Imagine an expo hall full of fun games and toys to check out. As a parent, I love it because I can get some ideas for Christmas presents and buy them at wholesale prices while we are at the fair.

The 15th annual ChiTAG is being held November 18th – 19th, 2017. It’s the same weekend as the Festival of Lights Parade downtown so my family loves to make a day of it on Saturday! Here are some of the exciting things this year’s fair features:

  • Giant Soggy Doggy will be at the fair Saturday and Sunday! Come join and see if you get soaked!
  • U.S. National Rummikub Championship Tournament {Register here | must be 18 or older} Winner gets all expense paid for 2 to Israel for World Rummikub Tournament.
  • Young Inventor Challenge (deadline October 28th)! Amazing Prizes & Meet Toy and Game Executives and Inventors + Meet the Last Year’s Winners of Ship of Treasures!
  • Meet Inventors! Come say “hello”, take your photo and get inside knowledge on what it takes to invent a game or toy! You’ll be able to say you knew them before they were hot!
  • National Yo-Yo Championship: Over 50+ Professional YoYo Competitors from Coast to Coast Saturday, November 18th!
  • Play for Peace Art Sculpture by Chicago toy inventor turned sculptor Jeffrey Beslow
  • Photo Ops: Snap a photo with some of your favorite characters from Star Wars!
  • Demo Areas: Play and test the hottest toys and games with your family, friends, and other attendees like Legos playsets, Build or Boom, Shark Bite, Catch the Fox, Rummikub Twist, Fish Food, all new Doggie Doo, Greedy Granny, Ultra Dash, Marbleocity, Automoblox, Magformers, Tileblox, Clicformers, Ice Cool, King Frog, Reef Route, Woo-Hoo, Flower Fairies, Peter Rabbit Secret Garden, 8-Bit Art Mario and many more!
  • LIVE Unboxing: Check out live unboxings from our Play Influencer team!
  • Holiday Shopping: Shop for the Hottest New and Classic Toys for the Holidays and take advantage of the many “ChiTAG exclusive” discounts.
  • Local Entertainment: Interact with Chicago’s local play celebs – Ben’s Bubble Show, Mercy Magic, meet Princess Etch, and many more!
  • Stage Performances: Kids LIVE Brush-A-Thon, The Good Time Kids, Young Inventor Challenge, Élan Dance Company, Improv by Kevin Reader and Chicago Kids Media are live on stage Saturday and Sunday!
  • Interactive Exhibits: Experience a fun filled day with hands-on displays encouraging and promoting the world of play! There are fun crafts like Make your Own Fairy Garden, Ultra Dash Challenge, Marbleocity Marble Coaster and Automoblox Build and Race!
  • Giveaways! Many exhibitors will be giving away toys and games throughout the day.

I love how family-friendly this event is and that includes being inclusive of those who have special needs. Super Power Sensory Hour is a free event that allows families of children with special needs to navigate, acclimate and easily access the fun of the fair with less crowds and less wait time. (More details on Super Power Sensory Hour and tickets for special needs families can be found here.)

General admission tickets for children and adults can be purchased here. Use the code ChiTAGPLAY for 50% off the ticket price. (Teachers and Scouts in uniform get in free!)

TICKET GIVEAWAY!! I’m giving away 4 family weekend passes for ChiTAG. Each free family pass is good for 2 adults + 4 kids (max). Enter to win below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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DIY Football Rag Wreath

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I love football season. Whether I’m sitting on the sidelines at my son’s game, cheering on my favorite teams as I watch them on tv or simply have a game on in the background while I work, there is something about football that makes me happy and brings back good memories. In August I get my football decorations out and they stay out until Thanksgiving. Last year I made a rag wreath and I realized that I never featured it here on the blog so I wanted to share it. I made a wreath like this with crepe paper around the holidays back in grade school (1991!) and my mom had kept it for years. Though the crepe paper was a cheap option at the time, it didn’t keep that well, so I figured that fabric was the better choice for this. This wreath can be made using your team colors or embellished with your child’s name and uniform number if you want to make it even fancier but I kept it simple with what I consider “football colors” -brown (the ball) and green (the grass)- along with a white and gold colored fabric to lighten it up, wooden football decorations and a football themed ribbon to hang it.

The wreath is simple to make. You’ll need about six yards of fabric in the colors of your choice, a wire wreath base, a football or team themed ribbon and some football shaped wooden pieces. You can find all of these items at your local craft store.

Cut the fabric into strips that are approximately six inches long and an inch or two wide. Then tie it on to the wire with a knot in the middle of the ribbon.

Continue tying the fabric pieces on the wire, alternating colors.

Once you’ve fully covered one wire you can go around two or three of the others until the wreath looks full.

The next step is to add any embellishments and add a ribbon at the top so you can hang the wreath.

Want more football party ideas? Check out some of my most popular football posts below!

Football Party with Baked Potato Bar

“Concession Stand” Themed Football Party

Easy ways to update your bathroom for football season parties

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Minecraft City Champs Tournament Coming To Chicago And Other Cities

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Does your child love Minecraft as much as my boys do? If so, you’ll want to read on to learn more about Super League Gaming and their Minecraft City Champs tournament! Starting this weekend on Saturday morning, instead of just playing at home, they can enjoy the game while meeting new friends by being part of a local team representing Chicago in the Minecraft City Champs tournament. Run in partnership with Nickelodeon, City League Gaming is like little league for Minecraft players! Fun, positive and a special opportunity to get out and play with other kids their age.

And one skilled player will win a HUGE prize for their family – 4 tickets to Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards 2018, inclusive of round trip airfare to LA, 2 nights in a hotel and a $500 spending allowance. (I know my kids love watching the Kids Choice Awards so can you imagine their excitement if they actually got to go and be  there live to see all the slime-tastic fun?!) There will be other giveaways for all players, including an official Chicago Force team jersey.

While you may find it challenging to pull your little ones away from their iPad or Xbox, the truth is that playing Minecraft (and video games in general) can be beneficial for your kids on many levels, including problem solving, building self-confidence, enhancing creativity, understanding teamwork and improving academic performance.

Super League’s Minecraft City Champs tournament is in its 3rd season, so the company knows how to provide a well-organized experience for your Minecrafter. It’s ideal for kids 6-14, who will play alongside their peers and have the chance to compete against teams in cities across the country. The tournament takes place in a movie theater, which means they also get to see their favorite game on the big screen! Parents attend for free, although Super League provides full coverage if you need to drop off. Of course if you’re there, you can cheer on your Minecrafter to victory!

The Tournament comes to 12 different cities and, for those of us here in the Chicago area, the event is in the suburb of Woodridge. Day one is this Saturday, October 14th! On the first day players will meet their teammates and get a chance to practice the custom game modes designed by Super League. The tournament then begins on Sat. the 21st and continues on the following three Saturdays.

To learn more, and get tickets while spots are available, visit Super League’s Minecraft City Champs Chicago Event Details Page. (I’m pretty sure your Minecraft obsessed kids will think you are the best mom ever if you surprised them with tickets to this!)

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Ways To Make Reading Fun For Kids

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This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #MyLiteracyStory #DGMyStoryEntry #CollectiveBias

When I was younger I loved to read. Whether I was in the backseat of our van on a long family road trip, or curled up in bed begging my eyelids to stay open for “just one more chapter”, reading was something that I always enjoyed doing. So much so that at one point I even wanted to be an author and write books of my own! (A blog author is close right? I may not see my name on bookshelves everywhere but I still get to share my stories here!)

Anyways, I vowed that I’d help my kids develop a love of reading like I had when I was a kid but, nowadays, kids just don’t seem to get lost in books like my generation did. I think that part of this is because there are so many distractions vying for their time, whether it’s screens or just busier lives in general. While we can’t eliminate all the distractions that are getting in the way of reading time, we can show them how much fun reading can be to encourage them to become life long readers.

Here are some of my favorite ways to make reading fun for kids:

HAVE A SNACK WHILE YOU READ TOGETHER.

I was just talking to a mom yesterday about how our kid’s favorite part of their sports team seemed to be the snack at the end of the game and how they both looked forward to that every week. As silly as it sounds, snacks are important to kids- whether it’s their game day snack or their after school snack- so reading during snack time can make it more enjoyable (especially for reluctant readers). Our favorite snacks are ones that are easy and mess free- like bowls of colorful Kellogg’s® Froot Loops® Cereal.

(Hover over the image above to start shopping Kellogg’s® line of cereals at Dollar General)

PICK GOOD BOOKS.

This might seem obvious but kids are more likely to want to read if given books they enjoy. There are so many good books out there but here are ten of my favorite picture books:

  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
  • Happy Birthday, Moon by Frank Asch
  • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
  • Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
  • If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • What If The Zebras Lost Their Stripes? by John Reitano
  • There’s An Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Some of these books I enjoyed reading during my childhood and they are still favorites of mine! I also loved Shel Silverstein’s books like The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends. Books have such a lasting effect on people!

As children get older I think that letting them select the books they read becomes even more important (even if they are choosing to read books about superheroes in underwear or wimpy kids with diaries…. ) I’ve found that older kids are drawn to series and books with characters that they can relate to.

MAKE READING A GAME.

Lucas spent almost four hours reading and listening to audio books this past Saturday, all thanks to a smartphone app that turns reading into a game. and encourages them to read for badges with honors like “I read two days in a row” and “I read 50 books”. While nothing can replace the feel of a paper book, I was impressed that this app made him so excited to read and kept his attention for hours! Another way to turn reading into a game? Follow the likes of your child’s favorite YouTube stars and play the popular “try not to laugh challenge”. Challenge your kids not to laugh as you read the book out loud in as many silly voices as you can (I know you all can probably do a great impression of Tony the Tiger from those Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes® Cereal commercials!)

READ IN NEW PLACES.

Part of the fun of reading is that books transport the reader to new places, whether real or imaginary. Bring that adventure to life by reading together in different places in your home or community. Spend a rainy afternoon reading inside a pillow fort in your living room and enjoy a beautiful fall day outside on a blanket in your backyard or in the shade of a tree at a nearby park. Books don’t just have to be read while sitting on a couch!

BRING THE STORY TO LIFE.

When I was a preschool teacher I found that the best way to get my class excited to read was to get them involved in the story. Whether they acted the book out, did a craft that corresponded with the story, or yelled out the repetitive lines in books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, they loved participating. Being part of the story is so much more fun than just listening to someone read it. One of my fondest memories of story time was when I had created a giant caterpillar out of posterboard and let the kids take turns “feeding” him pretend play food as I read the story to them.

I hope that I have given you ideas to help make reading fun for your family. I encourage you to spend time reading with your children every day, whether it’s a short book in between errands, an afternoon of reading as you are cuddled together on the couch, or a chapter a night before bed. 

Early literacy has been a cause that’s been really important to me since my college days as an early childhood education major. From volunteering to read to children in schools, to hosting book fairs to collect book donations, to sharing about the importance of reading here on this blog, I try to do as much as I can to promote literacy. I really love when companies support causes that I’m passionate about so I was so happy to learn that Kellogg’s, a brand that makes some of my family’s favorite cereals, is promoting literacy as a sponsor of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is celebrating over 20 years of helping individuals learn to read, prepare for their high school equivalency, or learn English. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than $140 million (WOW!) to nonprofit organizations and schools that have helped more than 9 million individuals advance their literacy and basic education skills.

I encourage you to learn more about this literacy initiative and enter the #DGMyStory Sweepstakes for a chance to win a $50 Dollar General gift card. Entering is easy, just share your own personal literacy story with the hashtag #DGMyStoryEntry by 10/22/17. (Just think about all the cereal you could buy with that $50 to Dollar General! Yum! Just wandering down the cereal aisle you could grab all your family’s faves, like Kellogg’s Frosted Bite-Size Mini-Wheats® Cereal and Kellogg’s® Rice Krispies® Cereal, and you’d be set for easy breakfasts and snacks for months.)

How do you make reading fun for your kids? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below or join the conversation on social media.

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Hyundai Hope On Wheels: Helping Kids Fight Cancer

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Thanks to Hyundai for sponsoring this post.

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and I had the honor of attending a Celebration Dinner Gala for Hope on Wheels where they awarded hospital grant recipients and honored the resilient fight of cancer survivors and their families. Hope on Wheels is a nonprofit organization that increases the awareness of childhood cancers and funds discovery by awarding large grants to research centers actively investigating treatments and cures for pediatric cancer. At the dinner, I was surrounded by childhood cancer survivors and their families, doctors & cancer researchers and local Hyundai dealership owners.

During the event I learned facts like how 43 children are diagnosed with cancer every day in the United States and how pediatric cancer is the leading cause of death among children by disease each year. I also learned more about how it affects each family it touches as I listened to heartfelt stories from a 14 year old in remission and a woman who shared about cancer from her point of view as a mother who watched her young son go through it.

We also had the pleasure of listening to Luke Wade, a contestant from NBC’s The Voice, sing. He wrote a song for children who have received a cancer diagnosis and their families. You can hear the beautiful song he performed above.

The focus of the event though, was to talk about the research that has been done to eliminate cancer and to award grants to doctors and research centers. Since 1969, death rates have declined by two thirds but there is still much more work to be done because even one child lost to cancer is one child too many. I was amazed to hear how expensive research is and that’s why the grants that Hyundai Hope on Wheels offers is so important. During the month of September, Hope On Wheels is awarding 40 research grants to children’s hospitals across the country including a $250,000 Hope Scholar grant to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, adding $8.5 million in critical funds to the field of pediatric cancer research The highly-competitive grants are aimed at expanding the knowledge base of the disease and improving the standards of care. In 2017 they plan to award $15 million in grants. Since joining the fight against pediatric cancer in 1998, Hyundai has funded over 840 research projects totaling more than $130 million.

Events are happening across the country this month and the above video shares a bit about the Chicago event I attended.

So how can YOU help? One easy way to show your support and help raise money is to leave a message of hope to those affected by pediatric cancer. An encouraging word or story, a special shout-out or a simple thank you goes a long way to inspiring those fighting this disease. Plus, for every message posted, Hyundai Hope on Wheels will donate $1 (up to $10,000) to a 2017 grant winning hospital.

I’m honored to be partnering with Hyundai Hope on Wheels and I hope that you will join me in helping spread awareness of childhood cancer and raising funds to end it.

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Tips For Easy Snacking On The Go

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This post was sponsored by Nabisco as part of an Integrated Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

 

Our family seems to always be on the go. From guitar lessons to gymnastics to baseball games, I sometimes feel like I spend more time in my car than I do at my house. Because of this, we often end up grabbing snacks as we are running out the door. Over the years I’ve discovered ways to make snacking on the go easier for our busy family so I wanted to share those tips with you all!

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to have a variety of snacks for kids to pick from. Some of our favorites are cheddar crackers, grapes, string cheese, raisins, and sliced red peppers. Recently I discovered a new snack called TEDDY SOFT BAKED Filled Snacks that are a hit as well. Kids love them because of their cute teddy bear shape, cookie like taste and soft cake like texture and moms can feel good about giving their kids them because they contain no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial flavors and no artificial colors.

Another tip is to keep snacks in a place where kids can reach them. Having snacks within reach makes it easy for kids to help get ready to leave so it’s not all on mom or dad’s shoulders. While I’m grabbing my purse, phone and sunglasses, the kids are grabbing a snack and water bottle. It might seem like a small thing but it’s one less task I have to remember to do before I head out the door.

I also always keep a stash of shelf-stable snacks in the car or my purse. Having snacks with us means we are ready for a last minute trip to the park or sports practice. They are also great for days when running errands takes a bit longer than I planned. (Mom tip: keep soft snacks stored in a plastic container to avoid them becoming squished at the bottom of your purse.)

How do you make snacking on the go easier? I’d love to hear your tips!

You can find TEDDY SOFT BAKED Filled Snacks in the cracker/cookie aisle at your local Walmart. As a bonus, enter to win Walmart gift cards in the Nabisco Snacktime Sweepstakes below. (Please note: I-C will randomly select 14 winners from all program entries and will facilitate fulfillment of the winning prizes.) Good luck!

Nabisco Snacktime Sweepstakes

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Mom Groups Provide A Lifeline For New Mothers

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Thanks to Neighborhood Parents Network for sponsoring this post.

The best thing that I did when my boys were younger was join a mom’s group. Though my oldest was just a few months old at the time, I still made it a point to go to every playdate that I could. The reason wasn’t so that he could play with other babies but because I, as a mom, needed that connection with other moms. I discovered that motherhood, especially in the early years, can be an extremely lonely time if you try to go on the journey alone!

Over the years since starting this blog I’ve heard from dozens of other moms who have felt the same way. Motherhood is isolating and developing mom friendships is so important! One mom, Sarah Dyer (founder of Shine On) shares how the mom’s group she joined was a lifeline when she needed it most.

(Pictured above: Sarah and her children)

Here is Sarah’s story:

 

I found out about Neighborhood Parents Network’s New Moms Groups from a girlfriend just before the birth of my first son in 2007, and it became my lifeline in the early days of parenting. I underestimated the value of having friends who have babies who are at the same age and stage as your own. Even though everyone has unique experiences and babies who go through different things, you relate on a level that no one else around you is experiencing. My New Moms Group met once a week, sometimes more. Sometimes it was the whole group, sometimes not. It was always whoever could make it and we all understood that.

Being a new mom can feel overwhelming, and it was nice to know that this was a group that wouldn’t care if I had showered that day or if my baby was still wearing his pajamas. Just showing up was a huge accomplishment! We shared the fun stuff, we shared the hard stuff, we shared our frustrations and the things we loved, and we supported each other. We talked about what worked and what didn’t work with our babies and which pediatricians we recommended, what classes people were taking, who had read what, who was trying what. Everyone had different ideas and you could take or leave whatever information you wanted to without judgment. 

Soon we had first birthdays, we were going out at night as mom friends, our husbands met each other, people had second babies and third babies, and we all still kept on with our friendships. It has been 10 years since those early days, and in the last month alone I have gone to a dinner party with two of my NPN friends and our spouses, I have gone for lunch with third mom from the New Moms Group, and have run into another while out running errands and we’ve made plans to get the group together for drinks. These are people I truly enjoy seeing and with whom I am thrilled to be sharing life experiences.

Early parenting can be a rough go, or it can be super-easy—sometimes it just depends on the day. Having people along for the ride can help get you through your day, and sometimes you’ll be the one helping someone get through theirs.

(Pictured above: An NPN New Moms Group)

If you aren’t in a mom’s group yet I encourage you to join one. This parenting thing is hard but mom friends who can lend a listening ear, offer advice, and just be there during the hard times, are priceless. If you live in the Chicago area you should look into the new moms groups that Neighborhood Parents Network offers. Join NPN today to take advantage of all they offer new moms, including free playdates, childcare resources, online and in-person parenting workshops, and, of course, New Moms Groups. Now through Sept. 23, use promo code NPN15 to save $15 on a year-long NPN membership! Click here to learn more.

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Keeping Kids Safe Online With The CUJO Smart Firewall

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The reviewer has been compensated in the form of a Best Buy Gift Card and/or received the product/service at a reduced price or for free.

The internet can be an amazing tool for kids when it comes to learning, finding entertainment, and more. As a parent though, I’m well aware of all the safety issues that come with children exploring the world wide web. From what our children are watching online to cyber bullying, technology has created a whole host of issues that we want to protect our children from.

As much as I try to stay on top of my kids when it comes to online use, I appreciate anything that helps me provide a safe internet experience for them. CUJO, a smart firewall, does just that. Not only does it protect all our devices connected to the WiFi router with business-level internet security (blocking malicious sites, viruses, and hacks) but it lets us control what our kids access online and keeps them safe.

CUJO offers a number of parental control features including:

  • parental controls for all devices
  • internet filter
  • time limits
  • social media monitoring
  • pause internet
  • alerts and reporting
  • remote administration
  • user profiles and settings

My favorite feature is the ability to pause the internet by device. My boys love to watch YouTube videos in their free time and we’ve made it clear that using the internet is a privilege, not a right. If they talk back or otherwise misbehave, they lose electronics for the rest of the day (or week depending on the behavior) and we can simply “pause” their internet so they can’t access it. It can also be paused temporarily so if they are trying to use the phone or tablet before their chores are done we can cut internet on the one device until the chore is done and then give them access again afterwards.

 The CUJO Smart Firewall can be found at Best Buy. What are your favorite features of the CUJO?

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