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?

The Best Meal Delivery Service In The Chicago Area

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Thanks to Chef Inside the Box for sponsoring this post.

As a busy mom, dinner is one of my least favorite tasks. I am lucky because Sinisa enjoys cooking and is really good at it so he often used to make dinner when he’d come home from work. It was perfect because it was one last thing I had to do but, nowadays, that arrival home time has become later and later and I just can’t justify having the boys eat at 9pm every day so it’s back on my to-do list.

When I think about it, I really dislike having to make dinner mainly because it comes right during one of the craziest times of day for us. I often find myself trying to finish up my work day and trying to help the kids get ready to leave for sports while trying to get dinner on the table. Sure I can make meals in the slow cooker but that requires that I think about dinner in the morning and that doesn’t really happen. I don’t usually think about what’s for dinner until it’s actually time to eat and by then using the slow cooker is no longer an option.

Another thing I need? Something easy. As much as I love the thought of making a fancy meal for my family, complicated meals with a lot of steps to follow just aren’t for me. This is sadly why I’m not a huge fan of traditional meal delivery services. Yes, the ingredients are portioned out and ready to go but I still have to spend thirty minutes or so in the kitchen following a recipe.

Then I discovered Chef Inside the Box, a Chicagoland meal delivery service that not only takes the hassle out of planning and grocery shopping, but also handles the tough prep and cook so you can just heat and enjoy! Most Chef Inside meals contain a few extra servings you can eat for lunch the next day so you are saving time there as well. Even better though? All this extra prep they do doesn’t mean it costs extra. In fact, from what I’ve seen, their cost per serving ($6.95) is less than the other services and shipping is free!

Let’s talk meal options. They currently have a small selection but they just started less than a month ago so I’m sure more will be available soon. Right now they only have seven meal options but they don’t require a subscription or commitment so you could just use them during your busiest weeks until the menu grows. They have 10-minute express meals which you only have to heat up in the microwave and then combine (no fresh meal could be simpler!) or regular meals which are ready in about 20 minutes.

Each time you order you are required to pick four meals so I chose two regular meals (Braised Beef Fettuccini & Slow Cooked Turkey Risotto) and two express meals (Seared Bourbon and Sweet Onion Chicken & Seared Prime Rib Stroganoff). All of the meals were delicious! The risotto dish was my favorite and the boys loved the stroganoff the best. I felt the portions were large and each meal fed two adults and two kids along with providing at least three or four more servings for lunches or leftover night.

Overall, I love this service because it’s cheap and makes meal time so easy. With Chef Inside the Box, I no longer dread making dinner! You can learn more about this Chicagoland meal delivery service here.

Best meal delivery service

 

10 Things To Do With Kids In Fort Wayne

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Thanks to Visit Fort Wayne for hosting my family on this press trip.

Last month we took a short trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Despite being just a few hours away from the Chicago area (where I have lived most of my life), I had never visited Fort Wayne before. I discovered that there is so much for families to do in Fort Wayne and wanted to share some of my family’s favorite activities from our trip!

Go on a safari at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

Out of the dozen or so zoos that I have visited around the US, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is by far my favorite. I loved how this zoo was more of an immersive experience than just looking at animals on display like we typically do at zoos. The zoo is split into regions like the African Journey Safari Trail, the Australian Adventure and the Indonesian Rain Forest. They also have rides you can go on like the Sky Safari (where you can get a bird’s eye view of the animals in the African Journey exhibit), the Crocodile Creek adventure ride canoe boats, and the Z.O.&O. RAILROAD train that takes you around the zoo. Learn more about the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo here.

 

Run around at the Bob Arnold Northside Park playground

We love discovering new playgrounds in the towns we visit and my boys were very impressed with the children’s playground at the Bob Arnold Northside Park. The playground has an area for little ones as well as a larger structure for 5-12 year olds.

Learn through hands-on play at Science Central

Science was never my favorite subject in school but Science Central has over 130 hands-on exhibits that teach science concepts in an engaging way. From learning about the world in the 3-D Science on a Sphere exhibit to exploring water flow at the large water table, children will have a lot of fun playing at Science Central.

Enjoy a treat at The Yummi Bunni 

The Yummi Bunni is THE place to get ice cream in Fort Wayne. They offer ice cream in cups or their signature Yummi Bun (which is basically a donut). They have new flavors weekly and also offer gluten free and vegan options. (I had soy ice cream for the first time and it was delicious!) Make sure to snap a pic of your kids in front of the selfie wall for a cute vacation memento.

Discover nature at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory

I wasn’t sure if my boys were going to enjoy a botanical conservatory or if this was more geared towards adults but my kids ended up having tons of fun here. I felt like the entire conservatory was developed with families in mind and that bringing young children was not only welcome but encouraged there. They have a discovery corner located right outside the lobby that has stories and activities related to a monthly theme. The area is geared towards grades pre-k through K but my 3rd and 4th graders enjoyed it as well! While walking between the three indoor gardens the boys discovered activities along the way including an “underground” slide, a little pretend market and some building activities. We also enjoyed looking at the hundreds of plants as we walked around the indoor and outdoor gardens. Learn more about the Botanical Conservatory here.

Swim in a pool 

Fort Wayne has a number of pools and splash pads around town that are open during the warmer months but we enjoyed swimming at our hotel’s pool. We stayed at the Hilton Fort Wayne located at the Grand Wayne convention center and it had an indoor pool (which is a must-have when traveling with kids in my opinion). The pool area had lots of windows with views of the city and the hotel was close to everything which was convenient.

Enjoy a TinCaps Minor League Baseball Game

If you are traveling to Fort Wayne with a little baseball fan you’ll want to see if the TinCaps are playing a home game while you are in town. (They play during the spring and summer months.) Besides baseball, visitors will enjoy Parkview Field- where the TinCaps play- because it is a beautiful stadium with a great variety of foods at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stay for a whole game because it started raining an hour in but it was fun while we were there.

Go on a hike or family walk

Fort Wayne is home to over 90 miles of trails. We climbed the set of steps near the Old Fort which gave us a great view of the river from above and was the perfect spot to snap a photo. Here’s a trail map so you can find the trail for your family to explore.

Take a ride down one of the rivers

Did you know that Fort Wayne has three rivers? I was surprised to learn this! The best way to experience the riverfront area is via boat. There are a number of tours but we went on Sweet Breeze, Fort Wayne’s authentic 1840s canal boat replica, where we learned about Fort Wayne’s history and future plans for the riverbank area. Learn about all the riverboat rides here.

Walk around downtown Fort Wayne

There’s lots more to explore in Fort Wayne and we enjoyed walking around the downtown area. You can visit the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, stop in for a truffle at DeBrand Fine Chocolates, or catch a show at The Embassy Theatre.

Overall, we had a great trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana! If you live there, or have visited in the past, I’d love to hear what other things you think we should add to our list to do next time. If you’ve never visited what things do you think your family would enjoy doing in Fort Wayne?

Celebrating National Teddy Bear Day {And A Giveaway}

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Thanks to Build-A-Bear Workshop for sponsoring this post and giveaway.

When I was little there was always one thing I carried with me everywhere- my teddy bear named Beary Alice. My Grandma had made it for me before I was born and I still have it in my bedroom even as an adult in my 30s. As silly as I feel admitting that I still have my teddy bear, I know I’m not the only adult who still has one. A survey of 2,000 adults, completed by Atomik Research and commissioned by Build-A- Bear, revealed that across generations, more than half of all respondents surveyed mentioned they still own a stuffed animal. 40% of respondents said they sleep with their stuffed animal by their side and 72% of those who have stuffed animals said they plan to keep their stuffed animal forever (yep, that would be me). Do you still have a teddy bear from when you were little?

My youngest, Lucas, loves stuffed animals. He has quite the collection of his own that takes up almost his entire bed. Occasionally I even let him cuddle with my Beary Alice after promising to take really good care of her. (The picture below is of Lucas with my favorite teddy bear a couple years ago.)

With National Teddy Bear Day today, September 9th, we are headed to Build-A-Bear Workshop to add to his collection of stuffed animals. To celebrate this holiday, guests of Build-A- Bear Workshop stores can make their own limited-edition National Teddy Bear Day Bear for just $5.50 (plus applicable taxes, while supplies last). We can’t pass this deal up!

This teddy bear sure is a lot cuter than mine! What I love most of all about Build-A-Bear though, isn’t the selection of bears and other stuffed friends, but that we can make the bear together. For me it’s about the experience and time spent making memories as we stuff the bear, name him and everything else we have to do before we can take him home. I don’t love Beary Alice because of how she looks but because of the memories she brings back. Regardless of the hole in her arm and the matted fur, she reminds me of my Grandma and my childhood and I hope that the bears I build with my boys at Build-A-Bear will bring back similar memories for them in the years to come.

Want to make memories with your kids at Build-A-Bear Workshop? I’m giving away a $100 gift card to one lucky winner! To enter, fill out the form below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Why You Need To Visit The Shedd Aquarium This Fall

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Thanks to the Shedd Aquarium for sponsoring this post.

I know it’s not officially fall yet but Labor Day has just passed, the kids are back in school, and the weather is getting cooler so I consider this time the unofficial fall season :) If you are looking for something to do indoors and are in the Chicago area you’ll want to visit the Shedd Aquarium before life gets too busy with school events, sports and the holidays.

The Shedd is encouraging families to clear their “Sheddule” and find some time to unwind with family and friends at the aquarium. To make this even easier for cash strapped families they are offering 24 consecutive FREE days for Illinois residents starting tomorrow September 6th and going through September 30th. Illinoisans can enjoy free general admission with full access to the aquarium’s permanent and special exhibits, including Waters of the WorldCaribbean ReefAmazon RisingWild ReefAbbott OceanariumAmphibians special exhibit, the aquatic show and Stingray Touch experience. Admission can be upgraded to include 4-D Experience for $4.95 per guest- which is well worth it in my opinion.

In addition to free days for all Illinois residents, the Shedd will honor all senior guests with free admission Tuesdays and Wednesdays (from 9am to 2pm) in September. (Seniors will receive complementary admission for themselves plus one accompanying adult partner.)

When you visit the Shedd Aquarium this fall make sure these things are on your to-do list:

1) Touch the Stingrays. This outdoor exhibit, open until October, was the highlight of my trip to the Shedd. It was fascinating watching them glide through the water and I loved being able to touch them to see what they felt like.

2) View the whales, dolphins and sea otters underwater. Get a unique view of them in the underwater viewing galleries.

3) Enjoy a 4-D experience. The Shedd’s new experience- Splash and Bubbles is filled with music, fun, and everyone’s favorite citizens of the sea! The 4-D Experience combines the visual drama of a 3-D film with a variety of sensory effects built into the seats and the theater environment. Families with children will love this! (Note to sensory families: If your child is a sensory avoider or easily overwhelmed you may want to skip this experience. Mine are seekers so they loved it! Make sure to check out the Shedd’s Sensory Friendly App, too!)

4) Visit the Polar Play Zone. Let kids play in the polar playscape and explore a child sized submarine.

5) Find Nemo. Have your children look for a percula clownfish. Children will love seeing a real life version of one of their favorite Disney characters.

6) Touch a sea star. They may be called starfish but did you know that sea stars are not fish? In the sea star touch exhibit you can dip your hand into the water and touch their strong skin and examine the hundreds of tiny tube feet that help these extraordinary animals feel, feed and move around their environment.

7) Check out an aquatic presentation. The Shedd Aquarium’s show is unlike others you may find. Not only do you see animals like beluga whales, sea lions and dolphins performing but you’ll learn how they are cared for every day by their trainers and how the Shedd way of training highlights their incredible natural behaviors. It was interesting to watch!

8) Go to a shark animal chat. Learn about sharks during a daily shark animal chat in the Wild Reef exhibit. One question they’ll answer is why sharks don’t eat the fish they swim with.

Also, the Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea exhibit is opening September 23rd. This traveling exhibit will feature massive, colorful sculptures of familiar ocean animals including reef fishes, sharks, octopus, penguins, sea lions and more made entirely of plastic marine debris removed from West Coast beaches. It sounds really interesting and looks like a beautiful exhibit from the photos I’ve seen!

What will you discover when you #ClearYourSheddule and visit the Shedd Aquarium this fall? 

 

Tips On Taking Your Child For Their First Eye Exam

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Thanks to Visionworks for sponsoring this post.

Did you know that 1 in 4 children have vision problems? Poor vision interferes with a child’s ability to learn so, with school starting for many this coming week (and already started for some), now is the perfect time to take your child for an eye exam.

The whole process of eye exams might seem scary to some kids but I’ve found some simple ways to make the process run smoothly. The first step is deciding where to go and finding a place that is child friendly. We headed to our local Visionworks and I could not be happier with the decision. From kind staff to a great selection of kid’s frames to a partnership with PAW Patrol, Visionworks welcomed my active boys and made Luke’s first eye exam experience great.

The next thing you’ll want to do is talk to your child about what to expect and show them some pictures of eye doctor’s offices. The large machines in the office can be intimidating but once they know what they are for and what they do they aren’t so scary anymore!

Once the eye exam is done you can browse the kid’s frames and see which ones your child likes. Visionworks carries the largest selection of  kids’ frames at every day low prices. Kids’ eyewear has improved so much since we were children and become much more durable with the development of polycarbonate impact-resistant lenses and flexible frames. There are a lot more cute designs now as well! Letting your child pick out a pair of glasses that they love is important because you want them to feel confident wearing their glasses.

Visionworks is passionate about offering its youngest customers a positive and fun experience at the eye doctor and their partnership with PAW Patrol shows kids that coming in for a back-to- school eye exam isn’t scary at all. Not only do they carry an exclusive line of PAW Patrol frames designed just for this back to school season but, for a limited time, children who have completed their annual eye exam will receive a goodie bag, which will include a themed activity sheet, a box of crayons, a sticker sheet and a PAW Patrol character mask.

(Don’t you just love the little paw print on the side of the frames?!)

In the end, we discovered that Lucas did not need glasses but I’m still so glad that we went so we could rule out vision as a cause of some of his learning struggles. Need to take your child for their annual back to school eye exam still? Find your local Visionworks here and schedule your appointment online to make things easy.

I’d love to hear how you prepare your child for new experiences, like heading to the eye doctor, so please leave me a comment below and let me know!

How We Can Make Sports Fun Again For Our Children

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Thanks to The Genius of Play for encouraging this discussion and sponsoring this post.

My boys have been playing sports for years and I’ve written, in the past, about how important sports are to our family. There are many benefits to playing sports like learning the importance of teamwork, learning to be responsible, realizing the importance of practice, getting exercise, learning to lose graciously, and developing friendships. Recently though, I was asked if I considered sports as playtime for kids and I definitely think that sports can count as play, but not always.

When children kick around a soccer ball at recess, sports is play. When kids shoot baskets on the basketball hoop at the end of their driveway, sports is play. When a group of neighborhood kids head to the baseball diamond to play an unorganized game of ball, sports is play. When kids join a recreational sports league that stresses fun over winning, sports is play.

Play is fun so if a child is having fun while playing sports then yes, sports can count as playtime for kids. The problem comes though when sports stop being fun. There recently was a survey done by the National Alliance of Youth Sports that showed that 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13 because “it’s just not fun anymore.” To be honest, I don’t think it’s that sports stopped being fun but the expectations that adults put on children and teens that turn sports from play to work. Though Jacob still enjoys playing numerous sports year-round, I sometimes feel like this competition and pressure to perform perfectly has started to show even at his level. Jacob just turned nine and has already been in situations where coaches got angry when they didn’t get a hit, didn’t make a goal or weren’t running fast enough on the field.

This breaks my heart. The pressure young kids are facing to compete, perform perfectly and specialize in one sport are, among other things, causing our children to stop playing sports at a time in their young lives when they really could benefit from the things that sports teach them. The good news is that we, as parents and coaches, can remind our older children of how much fun sports can be and make sports an enjoyable activity like it once was for them.

Here are some ideas we can all do (myself included):

  • We can encourage them to play sports they enjoy regardless of whether they are the best on the field or not.
  • We can encourage them to keep trying when they get frustrated.
  • We can remind them that it’s just a game and if they don’t win that is okay.
  • We can encourage them to get off their screens and go outside to play ball with their friends.
  • We can cheer them on with encouraging words even if they don’t get that hit or make that basket.
  • We can join them outside and play catch or kick around a ball with them.
  • We can enroll them in sports leagues that prioritize fun over winning.
  • We can remind them that the only competition there needs to be is the competition with their past self to try to be better than they were yesterday.
  • We can support the friendships they make through sports.
  • We can remind them that their sports performance does not determine their worth.
  • We can encourage them to develop other non-athletic talents alongside playing sports.
  • We can help children learn to accept their mistakes and help them discover what can be learned through the losses they experience.
  • We can ensure our children have time to play outside of sports.

I believe that if we make sports fun again for our kids, sports will once again become play. So what do you think? Do you consider sports play?

The Genius of Play, a not-for-profit organization that encourages play, recently asked this question (and others) as part of their new Genius of Play video campaign. Here are what some other parents think about the topic:

I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below and I hope you’ll join me in making sports fun again for our kids. Check out the Genius Of Play site for more play related ideas!

DIY Glow In The Dark Pumpkins {And How I’m Learning To Embrace The Messes}

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

As a mom of two boys I’ve accepted that my life is full of messes. From muddy cleats to painted masterpieces to milk dribbles down their chins, it’s just became a part of my life. (I often joke that my kids, especially Lucas, can make a mess out of anything.)

If you are a regular reader here you probably already know that I have a type-a personality so it should come as no surprise that messes drive me crazy. With that said, I’ve really been working to accept that messes come with being a mom and allow my boys to make more messes (which is so much easier for me to do now that they can help clean them up lol). I’ll be honest though, it took a long time for me to embrace the messes. I didn’t just birth kids and immediately appreciate the messes they brought with.

As much as I typically have avoided messes though, for some reason, when it comes to kid activities I typically tend to pick the messiest crafts and activities I can. (It’s probably due to all the years I spent as a preschool teacher!) There’s something about messy play that gets kids excited and I just love seeing their faces light up when they realize that the adult in their life is not only going to allow them to make a mess but they are encouraging them to do so. This weekend’s activity? Making glow in the dark pumpkins! I had been wanting to do this with my boys since I painted a pretty galaxy pumpkin last fall. While I designed a neat polka dotted pumpkin, my boys couldn’t resist squeezing as much paint as possible on to their pumpkins in an effort to make “slime” pumpkins.

It was hard to resist showing them how to gently squeeze the paint tube in order to make a Pinterest perfect pumpkin but I took a deep breath and I let them decorate the pumpkins their way. And they used a LOT of paint. A lot. I’m pretty sure they are going to take days to dry but they had fun creating something with their mom so that is all that matters. Every year, when we pull out these pumpkins in the fall, they will remember that time their mom spent with them and I will remember their giggles as the almost empty paint tube made sounds when they squeezed it. This is what is important. If I had been worried about the mess the whole time I would have completely missed these moments of joy.

Of course I still went into the activity prepared and was ready for the mess since I know my boys. We had bought a large box of Huggies® One and Done® Wipes from Sam’s Club and kept them nearby during the whole activity. I like these wipes because they come in smaller soft packs with an  EZ Pull® Dispenser that makes getting wipes out of the package easy, even when I’m trying to do so one handed. The wipes themselves are thick, have a pleasant scent and feature Huggies’ Triple Clean Layers that clean up messes without a lot of scrubbing.

(Hover over the photo above to click through to Samsclub.com where you can buy these wipes to make sure you are prepared for your next messy activity!)

My boys may be 8 and 9 years old but I still find many uses for wipes and always have packs around my home and in my car. Sure enough, they came in handy for this messy activity. From wiping off “mistakes” on my pumpkin to wiping drips off the ground to cleaning messy hands (and legs and wherever else the paint ended up), I was happy we had them (and so was Lucas as you can see below lol).

Anyways, enough talk about the messes…let’s get to the fun I promised :) This DIY is so easy and really doesn’t require much. You’ll need glow in the dark paints (I used fabric paints) and a pumpkin to paint. I chose ceramic pumpkins but you can use fake foam pumpkins or even real pumpkins for this activity.

In addition, you can use paintbrushes to nicely spread the paint on but I discovered my kids just preferred to glob it on the pumpkins. (Slime is the big thing nowadays isn’t it?)

How you paint the pumpkin will depend on your design.

Lucas created chunks of colors on his pumpkin while Jacob was (I think) trying to create rings of color around his.

For my polka dot pumpkin, I made dots in one section at a time, making a few dots in one color before switching to another color to make three more dots, and so on before I moved to the next section.

I was going to leave the stem unpainted but decided to paint stripes on it. I just started at the base of the stem and painted around the stem with one color and then added more colors above that, making a rainbow like design.

Once you are happy with your design let it dry and then expose it to sunlight for a few hours so that it will glow! Just a note- if it doesn’t glow very brightly it just needs more sunlight. Expose it to direct sunlight for a few more hours.

The boys and I had so much fun painting our pumpkins (and even more fun seeing them glow in a dark room)!

Want to recreate these? Don’t forget to head to your local Sam’s Club to buy the giant box of Huggies One & Done wipes for the messes that are guaranteed to happen when you combine kids and paint :) (Also, FYI- get $8 off the purchase of any 2 Huggies products, valid 8/23 – 9/17 or while supplies last, at Sam’s Club.)

I love shopping at my local club because I can buy in bulk which means less trips to the store. They also have club pickup which means you can shop online and everything is ready for pickup when you arrive. This is an awesome service for busy moms who don’t want to wander the aisles with kids in tow.

If you make this Halloween craft I’d love to see your glow in the dark pumpkins so please tag me on Twitter (@aliciamarie112) or share with me on Facebook! Remember- have fun and embrace the mess!

The Importance Of Regular Veterinary Care For Cats

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This post is sponsored by Royal Canin® and the BlogPaws® Pet Influencer Network™. I am being compensated to help share information about National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day, but Making Time For Mommy only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. Royal Canin is not responsible for the content of this article.

Two years ago I became a cat mom when we brought two tabby kittens home. Peaches and Boomer have added a lot of love to our home over the past couple years (along with plenty of fun and mischief). We do our best to take care of them, from feeding them quality food to playing with them so they stay active. Our cats get plenty of cuddles and have numerous soft spots to settle into for long naps in the warm sunlight streaming through the windows.

I thought I was being the perfect cat mom, and doing everything I needed to do, but recently I learned of one important thing I hadn’t been doing- taking them for regular check-ups at the vet. As dumb as it may sound, I honestly never realized this was something that had to be done. Since cats are so low maintenance most of the time I assumed that a vet visit was only necessary if they seemed sick but it turns out that making time for the annual well-pet visit is as important for cats as it is for our kids. Since cats can hide illnesses easily, preventive health care is vital in making sure our cats are healthy.

Apparently I’m not alone in this lack of knowledge because, in the United States, less than half of cats see the veterinarian on a regular basis. Because of this, I’m proud to be partnering with Royal Canin to share about “National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day“, which is August 22, 2017. This day was created to build awareness among cat owners for the need of regular veterinary care for our fur babies.

If you are a cat parent, I encourage you to make a vet appointment for your cats right now (before your forget or get sidetracked). When you go, share a photo on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram of your cat at the vet -or tips on taking your cat to the vet- with the campaign hashtag, #Cat2VetDay. For each social media share on one of those channels during the month of August, Royal Canin will donate $5 to Frankie’s Friends, which provides grants to help with the cost of life-saving or life-enhancing emergency or specialty care for pets whose families cannot afford the full cost of treatment.

If you are a pet parent, do you take your pet to the veterinarian for regular check-ups?

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Royal Canin. The opinions and text are all mine.

Back To School Hacks To Make Life Easier

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Thanks to Stick 2 Me for sponsoring this post.

The boys start school in a little over a week so today I wanted to share some of my favorite back to school hacks to make life easier.

Label everything

Often time when kids are younger the school tells you to label everything but I think it’s just as important to do so as they get older. Last year I was at a school event and happened to look in the lost and found to find four of our jackets that Lucas had left at school. He had worn them on chilly mornings and then either taken them off at recess leaving them on the blacktop or left them sitting in his classroom when he came home for the day. If I had put labels on them they would have found their way back home instead of ending up in the lost and found.

Stick 2 Me creates fun, durable, and waterproof kids identification labels that can be customized with your child’s name. They are great for snack containers, clothes, school supplies, sports gear and more. Parents will love that the labels come in multiple convenient sizes and that they are waterproof, washable, and UV resistant so they can go into the dishwasher and the microwave. Kids will love that the labels have fun designs, from beautifully illustrated designs like unicorns and monsters for the younger children to cool graffiti designs for tweens to more neutral designs for teens. Overall there are 24 different collections to choose from (see them all here).

Have a place for school papers that come home

School paperwork can be overwhelming and pile up quickly if not dealt with. From PTA fliers to art projects to field trip forms, I think that I get at least a couple dozen papers a week and even more so during the first weeks of school. Having a place to keep all of the papers together is helpful so this year I’m using a basket for all the papers that come home. When the boys empty their backpacks they can put the papers directly into the basket and then I can go through them when I get a chance. No more papers piling up on my table!

Send extra clothes to school (even if kids are older)

When my children were in preschool, sending extra clothes was a no brainer because they would have the occasional bathroom accident. Last year though I discovered that even grade schoolers could benefit from an extra set of clothes when I found myself running to school midday to drop off pants for my then 8 year old. He had fallen into a mud pit while playing outside at recess and was covered in mud. If he’d had an extra outfit stashed in his locker or backpack he would have been set so lesson learned!

Start the day off on a good note

Mornings can be stressful but they don’t have to be! I’ve found that starting our morning routine earlier than we need to leads to calmer mornings and us getting out the door early every day. Figure out how much time it takes your family to get ready and then add 20 to 30 minutes to that time because you know things are bound to happen- like your child not being able to find their school library book or being ready to walk out the door and discovering that your child still doesn’t have their shoes on even though you’ve asked them to do so at least 10 times. (We’ve all been there, right??) Having outfits picked out the night before and backpacks ready to go helps make mornings easier as well.

Designate a homework area

It’s important that children have a designated area to do homework. You’ll want to find a well-lit area with few distractions and stock it with all of the supplies they need to get their schoolwork done. Last year my boys usually did their homework at a small table that didn’t make it easy for us to help if they needed it so this year we’ve moved them to a larger table that we’ve designated for homework and projects. The table has a homework caddy filled with essential supplies to make homework time easier.

Find 15 more back to school hacks here. Which tip is your favorite?

Beyond The Backpack Event In Chicago This Weekend {Gift Card Giveaway}

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Thanks to Kmart for sponsoring this post.

Hey Chicago parents! Looking for a fun back to school event to get your kids excited for the first day of school? If so, you’ll want to head to the Nick Jr. Beyond the Backpack event at the Addison Kmart location this Saturday!

This free, kid-friendly back-to-school event will be filled with awesome activities, games, crafts and even a dance party for everyone to enjoy. Plus, big news for the littlest shoppers, there will be surprise appearances from Shimmer and Shine as well as Dora the Explorer. There will also be kindergarten readiness resources from Nick Jr. Beyond the Backpack, a nationwide initiative to promote overall kindergarten readiness for preschoolers.

  • Event Date: Saturday, August 19 from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
  • Event Location: Kmart Addison – 3443 W. Addison Street, Chicago, IL 60618

While you are at the event, make sure to check out Kmart’s great selection of back to school necessities and get everything else you need to make the first day of school a success. From a cute outfit for picture day to stylish shoes to a cool backpack, they have everything your family needs for the school year.

To make shopping for back to school gear a little easier, Making Time For Mommy is partnering with Kmart to offer a $50 Kmart gift card to one lucky winner. Just enter via the form below and the winner will be chosen Saturday and receive their gift card via email.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

8 Diaper Bags That Don’t Look Like Diaper Bags

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. (And also, I’m not pregnant….didn’t want anyone thinking this was an announcement post.)

When my boys were little, my diaper bag couldn’t pass for anything but a diaper bag. It was baby blue and brown and had the name of a well-known children’s store embossed on it. At the time I loved how roomy it was but I’m really liking the new trend of having a diaper bag that doesn’t look like a diaper bag. If I have another child I’d want something that can pass for a purse when I’m sans kids. (Not that I’m sans kids often but a girl can dream of an evening out, right?)

Here are some of my favorite diaper bags from Baby Cubby, a chic store that carries the top items for mom and baby. All of these can pass for a purse or tote while after the kids are out of diapers.

Oemi Baby Leather Diaper Bag

Hands-down this is my favorite diaper bag I’ve come across. The Oemi leather bag is cut from the finest and softest distressed aniline leather available and is not only stylish but functional, too. It boasts five interior and three exterior pockets giving you more than enough room to stay prepared for everything you’ll need for your little one. Buy it here.

Skip Hop Greenwich Simply Chic Diaper Bag 

The Skip Hop Greenwich diaper backpack in smoke is chic and convenient. Made of wipeable vegan leather, it’s the perfect bag for busy parents! It has multiple pockets for ultimate organization and includes a changing pad and stroller straps. Buy it here.

Timi & Leslie Convertible Collection Rachel Satchel

The Timi & Leslie Rachel Satchel is made for the modern mom. Easy-to-clean faux leather, several interior and exterior pockets, included accessories and custom hardware make this a classic bag that won’t look like a diaper bag. Buy it here.

Coco and Kiwi Sydney 5 – Piece Diaper Bag

This sleek and simple design will make a big impact!  The Sydney 5-Piece Diaper Bag is sure to fulfill all your needs with its functional design and special included accessories! Buy it here.

Petunia Pickle Bottom Glazed Pathway Pack

The Pathway Pack is a super classy bag for modern parenting that even dads will want to use. It has great features like a laptop pocket and can be worn as a backpack or cross-body.  The sleek glazed canvas is easy to clean, and the fantastic colors offered will fit either parent’s style. Buy it here.

Little Unicorn Rambler Satchel Diaper Bag

If you need a bag that is both functional and stylish, this is it! The Little Unicorn Olive Rambler Satchel is the ultimate organizer bag with its 12 pockets. The durable cotton canvas is sure to hold up, and the vegan leather adds the perfect trendy touch. Buy it here.

Little Unicorn Rotunda Diaper Bag

The Rotunda diaper bag offers a sophisticated combination of style and thoughtful function while you’re on the go with or without your little one. Its sleek design makes it easy to incorporate the Rotunda into your wardrobe long after your babies are out of diapers. I love that it has a tech pocket to protect electronics. Buy it here.

Timi & Leslie Convertible Collection Charlie Tote

The Charlie tote is made from faux leather and features custom hardware in an antique brass finish. The tote is fashionable but has great accessories so it functions well as both a diaper bag and a purse. It has a zippered sac for soiled clothes, a changing bag with front mesh pocket to hold diaper changing necessities, and a stylish clutch with interior credit card slots and an inside zippered pocket for all of mom’s must-haves. Buy it here.

Baby Cubby carries more than just diaper bags, too. They have a large variety of everything parents need for babies and toddlers. I really love that they take the time to make videos about most of the items they carry so you can get an idea of what the products are like in person. They make the online ordering process easy for those of us that are not close by to their Lindon, Utah storefront.

Which diaper bag is your favorite?

 

Waterpark Fun To End The Summer

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Thanks to Raging Waves Waterpark for sponsoring this post.

School starts in a couple weeks here so we are trying to squeeze the last bit of fun out of it as we can. One thing we did this past weekend was head to the waterpark. Surprisingly, it was the first time we’d made it to a waterpark all summer but it’s one of our favorite seasonal activities.

The boys enjoyed the day with their cousins at Raging Waves, the largest waterpark in Illinois. Sitting on 45 acres in Yorkville, the park hosts a huge wave pool, lazy river, 20 waterslides, a kiddie play structure, zero-depth pool, and a sandy beach area.

Their favorite activity of the day was going on the various waterslides. I was proud of all four of them because they were brave and went on everything they could, from PJ’s Plummet (the 72 foot high body slide) to the Cyclone (a super fast raft ride).

Jacob and Camden’s favorite ride was the Wonambi -the newest ride at the park that sends guests into near-vertical, zero gravity moments.

Lucas and Maddie loved the Boomerang, a raft ride which starts off in a chute before dropping you quickly into a funnel, the most.

All the kids also enjoyed going around in the lazy river, though there was nothing “lazy” about this experience. The kids liked running around the river instead of relaxing on it!

For those with younger kids, they’ll enjoy the Kangaroo Falls play area. This four-story water fort is full of super-soaking fun. Kids can splash down the slides, race across the bridges, and play in the squirting fountains.

Overall, we had a great day and look forward to going back there before they close on Labor Day.

If you haven’t had a day of splashtastic fun at the waterpark, what are you waiting for!?

Attention Football Parents – Riddell Smarter Football Grant Info

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This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Riddell.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that I love football. I look forward to football season every year and count down the days until it starts. I love watching my favorite Chicago team play it, cheering for the Buckeyes in college football games, and, of course, watching my own son play it.

I’ll never forget the very first year that Jacob played football. When we picked up his gear I remember thinking how tiny he looked in it but I knew that this gear was essential in keeping him safe on the football field which is the most important thing to me as a sports parent.

It’s clear that the game of football is no longer about being the fastest or strongest on the field; but about being the smartest, so I’m thrilled to be partnering with Riddell, a brand that believes in the importance of safety and smarter football. Smarter football means safe tackling, proper nutrition, excellent sportsmanship and maintaining good grades.

Riddell is calling on players, coaches, parents, and fans to take an active role in advancing the game through the Smarter Football Commitment. This initiative invites members of the football community at all levels to join in a movement to create a safer, better sport through the use of “smarter” tactics on and off the field. Riddell believes in this cause so much that they’ve pledged up to $100,000 in equipment grants to select football programs in need of upgraded gear. Multiple grants will be awarded to several deserving programs that best demonstrate how the new product will strengthen their team’s commitment to smarter football. Entries will be accepted through August 31, 2017 with the winners announced during the 2017 football season.

HOW TO APPLY FOR A GRANT: Fans, administrators, coaches, parents, and players can submit their teams via the website at Riddell.com/SmarterFootball through August 31, 2017. To apply, fill out the form to share the details of the football program you are applying for, including the state of their equipment, and how your program practices Smarter Football.

Watch how winning a grant changed things for one team and helped them practice smarter football!

How would your child’s team use this grant if they won?

Delicious Chinese From The Freezer

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This post was sponsored by Tai Pei and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

I am always on the lookout for ways to make my life easier so I was really excited to go to Chicago last week for a fun blogger event with Tai Pei. The invite said we’d learn some life hacks along with getting the chance to try some of the meal options from their new line of Asian inspired frozen entrees.

Before the event started we had a chance to chat with other bloggers. It was nice to catch up with those who I hadn’t seen in a while and to meet some new people. Every time I think I know all of the Chicago area bloggers I go to events like this and discover I don’t.

We also had a chance to play a homemade game with ping pong balls and empty Tai Pei containers. I love finding new uses for things and thought this was a great game that my boys probably would have enjoyed as well (and I’m sure they could probably have done a better job at getting those balls into the containers, too!)

After a while it was time to eat and I learned we would be sampling three flavors- General Tso’s Spicy Chicken, Beef & Broccoli and Chicken Chow Mein. I like Chinese food but don’t eat it often since takeout tends to be expensive so I was very interested in trying these because I hoped they would be a great replacement. I was pleasantly surprised that they tasted just as good as delivery!

All entrees are made with real, quality ingredients and tasted freshly made. The rice is also flavor-infused so each bite is full of flavor. Speaking of flavor, I liked that the General Tso’s Spicy Chicken had a bit of a kick to it but wasn’t too spicy that my kids wouldn’t be able to eat it. Nothing worse than serving dinner and hearing “it’s too spicy” and having the kiddos refuse to it. I don’t think that will happen with these meals!

Thankfully I left the event with a couple coupons because I headed right to the store and bought a bunch of them. These are perfect for the days I’m busy working (from home in my pajamas- let’s keep it real here lol) and look up to realize that it’s 2pm and I haven’t had lunch yet. I’ve actually made Tai Pei meals the past couple days and am loving how easy they are. I just heat them up for 4-5 minutes and then eat them right out of the container, which means no dirty dishes to wash.

Want to try Tei Pei single serve Asian inspired frozen entrees for yourself? Get a coupon here!

Flashlight Hidden Message Letter Hunt

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Thanks to Energizer® for sponsoring this post.

The other night we were going to make s’mores and I thought it would be fun to have the boys hunt for the chocolate. I got the idea from the candy hunt that we’d been to a few weeks before while we were camping. The campground had hosted a flashlight candy hunt where they dumped a bunch of candy all around an open field and then had the dozens of kids find the candy using flashlights. The boys had so much fun during it but I thought I’d add my own educational spin on it to keep their minds sharp during the summer slump. Instead of finding the candy in the field I hid the candy in the house and had them hunt for rocks that would spell out the secret location of the candy.

I wrote one letter on each rock and used different colors for each word’s letters so that the kids could figure out which letters went together to help them figure out each word. For example, my hint was “in the kitchen where food is kept cold” (aka the fridge) so each word was written one letter per rock but all letters in each word were written in the same color.

While the boys were inside we hid the rocks throughout the grass in the backyard. Once it got dark they headed outside, flashlight in hand, to find them.

You’ll want a good flashlight for this activity. We love the new Energizer® Light Fusion Technology 3-in-1 flashlight because it features a spotlight and area light in one versatile handheld light. It also has sturdy fold-out legs for hands-free use and a pivoting head to direct light where you need it. Energizer® flashlights and batteries help power up the fun for all of our summer nighttime adventures.

After they’d found all the rocks they brought them over to the patio table and began to figure out the words. I was proud that they figured almost all of the words out by themselves. For the word “kitchen” I told them what it started with and then had them look at the other words to try and figure it out. Once they connected the “k” word with “food” they were able to guess that the word was kitchen.

When they figured out the secret message they were so excited and ran inside to the fridge to find the chocolate for the s’mores. This was a great activity and one I can see us repeating for many different things. We can have flashlight letter hunts for messages like where we are headed on vacation or what fun thing we will be doing over the weekend.

What fun message would you share through a flashlight letter hunt?

Get A Haircut To Share A Haircut

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Thanks to Hair Cuttery for sponsoring this post.

There are a few things our family typically does in preparation for the first day of school each year. The first thing we do is buy all of the supplies on the school supply list along with a backpack of each child’s choosing, I also shop for the perfect new outfits for the boys to wear on the first day of school. One of the last things we do to get ready for school is head to the salon to get much-needed haircuts for each child. My boys get their haircuts in May and typically then go the whole summer without a haircut so by Mid-August they are long overdue for a trim.

If your kids are going to need haircuts before school like mine do, I’d encourage you to visit your local Hair Cuttery in the next couple weeks to participate in their Share-A-Haircut program. I love companies that give back so I’m proud to support Hair Cuttery and this program that gives free haircuts to underprivileged community members, specifically kids in need as they head back-to-school. To date, the Share-A-Haircut program has reached more than 2.16M people with haircut certificate donations, valued at $35 million. Isn’t that amazing!?

This year Hair Cuttery is offering this program for the 18th year in a row and hoping to donate tens of thousands of free haircut certificates. To do so, they need YOUR help! From August 1st-15th, take your child or teenager to get a haircut at one of Hair Cuttery’s almost 900 salons. For each child that gets their haircut during this timeframe, one free haircut certificate will be donated to a local government or non-profit organization who will then offer it to an underprivileged child in that same community. It’s such an easy way to do something good and it will help a child feel more confident as they head back to school.

Not sure where your closest Hair Cuttery location is? You can use their salon locator here. Have your children gotten their BTS haircuts yet?

Summer Boredom Busters

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Disclosure: Items were received for inclusion but all thoughts are my own.

It’s nearly August which means if you haven’t heard “I’m bored” from your children yet, it’s coming…. Today I wanted to share some of my favorite summer boredom busters to keep your kids occupied at home as you all enjoy the rest of the summer season.

Enjoy water fun in the backyard

The best way to cool off on a hot day? Playing in water. We are loving the H2OGo! Slide-n-Splash Bowling. This isn’t just any slip n’ slide- your kids will become human bowling balls as they slide and try to knock down all the inflatable pins before they land in a shallow pool of water.

Another awesome thing kids will love is the new H20Go! Fun Blobz which is a cool, cushioned surface for kids to slide across and jump on. They’ll enjoy an afternoon of squishy, slippery fun in the backyard!

Craft with recycled materials

No need to go out and buy materials for these crafts because all 100 ideas use materials you probably already have around your house. Find the craft list here.

Learn to code with a fun project

MakeCrate offers carefully curated and tested electronics kits that include all the parts older kids need (along with step-by-step instructions and video tutorials) to build fun projects.

Build papercraft scenes

Have a Star Wars fan? They’ll love the Build-A-Scene Star Wars kit that provides everything they need to make iconic papercraft scenese from the Star Wars universe. Kids and teens can recreate the drama of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader’s duel on Mustafar from Revenge of the Sith; the nail-biting trench battle on the Death Star from A New Hope, and the Kylo Ren and Rey lightsaber fight in the snowy forest of the Starkiller Base from The Force Awakens.

Make your own obstacle course

Have your children work together to create an obstacle course using cones, hula hoops, chalk or whatever else you may have sitting in the garage. I encourage my boys to plan it on paper first and then set it up using the blueprint they made. They can take turns going through it and you can even challenge them to make a fun obstacle course for you to go through as well!

Get some hands-on science fun with a Geology experiment

Science during the summer? YES! Kids will enjoy doing the experiments in Geology Lab For Kids. The book features 52 simple, inexpensive, and fun experiments that explore the Earth’s surface, structure, and processes.

 

Go on a flashlight hidden message letter hunt

Looking to keep kids busy in the evening? Send them on a flashlight hidden message letter hunt. Hide rocks with letters on them in the backyard and then send them out with flashlights to find them all. Kids then use the rocks to figure out your secret message. When we did this we hid chocolate in our house and then the boys had to figure out the secret message that would lead them to where exactly the chocolate was hidden in our home. After they found the chocolate “in the kitchen where the food is kept cold” we used the chocolate to make s’mores and ended the night together around the firepit.

Learn to draw animals

Do you have an artistic child? They will love Stick Sketch School: Animal Safari Artventure, a book that helps children learn to draw stick figure animals in 3 easy steps. I love that this book offers creative prompts throughout and encourages kids to pretend that they are on an animal safari, documenting all that they see.

Make mud creations

Summer is the perfect time for kids to be messy because kids can keep most of the mess outdoors. Mud pies and other muddy creations are fun to make and setting up a mud pie kitchen is a great way to let children be creative.

Build your own pinball machine

Both budding scientists and game lovers will enjoy this fun book and kit. Pinball Science is a hands-on opportunity for children to build their very own pinball machine and then learn about basic science from its workings. This cool handbook is packed with engaging graphics helps young scientists come to grips with fundamental concepts like gravity, force, and acceleration.

Play a new video game

Stuck inside on a rainy day? Surprise kids with a new video game like the brand new CARS 3 game! Cars 3: Driven to Win picks up after the final race in Disney-Pixar’s Cars 3 film, bringing together players of all ages and skill levels to battle it out on the racetrack. The competition heats up with 20 customizable characters like Jackson Storm and Cruz Ramirez, along with the beloved Lightning McQueen, putting pedal to the metal on 20 tracks set in iconic locations from the film. (Cars 3: Driven to Win is available on the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii U.)

Learn a new interesting fact every day and share it with your family

Did you know that NASA is developing a 3-D printer designed to make hot, edible pizza for astronauts to enjoy in space? Or that a flying dragon lizard can glide through the air for 30 feet? Your child can learn all sorts of interesting facts like this in the National Geographic Kids Almanac 2018. The book is packed with more than 300 pages of news, facts, features, photos, games and learning fun!

Create a nature journal

Follow these easy instructions to make a nature journal and then explore your backyard and neighborhood while your kids journal what they see around them. Nature walks are a great way to get some fresh air while kids learn about the world around them.

Build and learn with LEGOs

Kids love building with LEGO bricks but did you know there’s plenty of ways to learn with them? I’ve rounded up 30 of my favorite learning activities that cover everything from math to science to reading & writing here. Whether they make a magnet maze or a wind turbine, they will have so much fun they won’t even realize they are learning!

How are your kids keeping busy this summer?

5 Tips For Clearer Skin

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

I shared back in May how I’ve been self-conscious for years because of my acne prone skin. It’s kept me from introducing myself to new people, getting in pictures with my children, and starting to use video as a tool for blogging. I never realized how much my bad skin kept me from doing things, but recently it’s become more apparent. For example, I’m in the process of planning my wedding. I found the most beautiful dress, but I wouldn’t let my mom take a photo of me in it at the bridal dress store. I wasn’t wearing makeup and I didn’t want any pictures of my bare face. The photo below is the image she ended up with and what I shared on social media. As you can see, my face is nowhere to be found.

Knowing that on my wedding day I’ll be in numerous photos, I decided that it was really important to focus on improving my skin. I want to look back on my wedding photos and see my smiling face next to my husband. I also want to be in more pictures with my children instead of hiding behind the camera all the time. My bad skin has greatly affected every area of my life, and I decided that I’m not going to let it do so any longer. There are five things I’ve been doing to work on clearing up my skin, so I wanted to share them with you all in the hopes that they can help someone else.

The first, and most important thing that I did, was add Differin® Gel to my skincare regimen. It’s the only prescription-strength retinoid available over-the-counter for clearing and preventing acne. It’s the newest advancement and ingredient in the OTC acne category in over 30 years! It clears breakouts where they start (deep in the pores) and prevents breakouts before they begin and as a result, restores skin’s texture and tone. I’ve noticed clearer skin after using this product for a couple months. I went from always having one or two large pimples and a number of smaller ones to only having a pimple or two around the time my period comes. I also noticed that the breakouts that I do get are less severe and go away quicker than before.

I took photos before I started using Differin® Gel and about two months later. In both images I have a light layer of moisturizing cream on my face and that’s it. I normally add some concealer over my breakouts, but for these pictures I didn’t put any on. (Both images are not retouched or edited in any way, I’m just a bit tanner in the “after” image since the warmer weather is here and I’m outside more.)

You can see in the images above how much better my skin looks in just a couple months. My chin and cheeks, the areas that used to break out the most, are clear of new breakouts now except for one small pimple. After living with numerous breakouts all over my face, I can deal with a tiny one, especially knowing that it won’t get as bad as my pimples used to get. If you look at the “before” picture you’ll see that I have a large dark spot on my right cheek which was a pimple that seemed to be there for months. That doesn’t happen anymore!

Along with using Differin® Gel, I wanted to share some other things I’m doing in my quest for healthier looking skin.

 

  • Using a moisturizer daily- I used to avoid moisturizer because I thought it made my skin worse; however,  I discovered that a lightweight moisturizer made for acne prone skin, like Differin® Balancing Moisturizer, is actually good for my skin.

  • Drinking more water- Again, skin needs to be moisturized! Drinking plenty of water helps the skin look fabulous from the inside out. I am still not reaching my daily water intake goal, but I’m drinking more water than I used to.

  • Touching my face less- Whether it’s picking at a breakout, rubbing my forehead when I’m stressed, or resting my chin in my hands, I realized that I touched my face on a frequent basis. This habit not only spreads germs but was probably making my acne worse, so I’m trying to be more conscious of this habit and working on keeping my hands away from my face.

  • Having makeup free days- Now that my skin is clearing up, I feel better not wearing makeup every second. If I have a day I’m not doing much, I’ll skip makeup and give my skin a day to breathe.

I hope these five tips for clearer skin help you if you are suffering from acne. If you want to try Differin® Gel you can find it in the facial skincare aisle at Walmart by the other acne-fighting products. Go to Differin.com to get $2 off Differin® Gel and use it on your next shopping trip to Walmart!

When using the product, keep in mind that Differin® Gel is not used in the same way as a spot treatment. In order to get the best results, you should apply a thin layer all over the face, once a day, every day, after your skin is washed and before moisturizer. Please use caution when using Differin® Gel with more than one acne treatment or glycolic acid product because this could lead to irritation. Also, it’s important to continue using Differin® Gel as part of your skincare routine, even after your skin looks clear, to help prevent future breakouts.

Do you struggle with acne or have you in the past? If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! Let me know if you have any great tips to share on how to reduce acne other than the ones I’ve listed here.

Disclosure: This product is dermatologist developed and tested. Please call 1-866-735-4137 for any questions you may have concerning the product. However, should you experience any problems while using the product, please discontinue use and consult your healthcare provider.

One Thing Boy Moms Should Stock Up On

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Thanks to Febreze for sponsoring this post.

When I found out I was pregnant for the first time I knew my life was going to be changed forever and, when we discovered it was a boy, I prepared myself for all things “boy”. I realized rough housing was going to be a daily occurrence, messes were something I was going to have to get used to, and that I better keep a lot of food in my pantry at all times. I’ve learned though, that there are many things that I did not prepare myself for because I didn’t even know to do so- things like having to check the toilet seat before I sit down to go to the bathroom, how to choose the right cup for my little athletes, the fact that everything would be turned into a competition, and that sitting around in underwear would be a daily thing.

Something else I learned? Boys are stinky. I had heard this but my nose was unprepared for the amount of stink that my son (and his brother born after him) would produce. Whether they’ve just come from the basketball court, have been playing outside all afternoon, or just arrived home from school, boys have an aroma all of their own. I was not ready at all.

Thankfully, since I’ve discovered this, I’ve stocked up on air freshener. Lots of air freshener. So next time my oldest challenges my youngest to a fart contest I’m ready.

Febreze One is a new product that just came out in Meijer stores. It’s designed for both air and fabrics, so it can act as your go-to all in one air freshener– with the added benefit of no aerosols, dyes or heavy perfumes. I love the scents and keep one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen so I can keep my house smelling fresh (or fresher at least).

Being a boy mom wasn’t necessarily what I expected it was going to be but, honestly, I love every messy (and stinky) moment of it. Are you a boy mom? What was one thing you didn’t expect? (If you are a girl mom I would love to hear one unexpected thing you’ve discovered, too!)

Simplify Meal Preparation With Cooking Kits From Revolution Foods

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Thanks to Revolution Foods for sponsoring this post.

When it comes to simplifying life, one of the biggest areas I try to simplify is meal time. I look for recipes that don’t need a lot of ingredients and things that are easy and quick to make. I’ve discovered that if I try to get fancy with mealtime I typically end up running out of time to make the meal and then claiming it’s “breakfast for dinner night” or going through the drive-thru because that’s all we have time for.

A lot of time, simple and easy to prepare also means “not the healthiest” but Revolution Foods challenges that with their line of convenient, healthy solutions for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dinner meals contain over 40g of whole grains and have no artificial colors or flavors. The culinary flavors help expand kid’s palates and the flavors are a hit among parents and kids alike.

Best of all, these meals are a great solution for busy families because they’ll help you serve a hot, healthy meal in 30 minutes. The speed-scratch cooking kits come in four flavors (Sesame Garlic, Coconut Curry, Smoky Tomato and Fiesta Taco) and contain everything you’ll need to make the meal- just add a protein! The cookbook style cooking instructions are inside the box flap and are easy to follow. Three steps and you’re a dinner hero. First, cook the grain blend. Second, sauté your protein. Once thoroughly cooked, add a punch of flavor with the Hero sauce packet and chef crafted spice blend, Third, spoon into four bowls and serve with a side of your favorite veggies.

The first kit we tried was the Smoky Tomato flavor that we added sausage to. I’m going to be honest- my boys aren’t huge fans of quinoa so I wasn’t sure what they would think of the brown rice and red quinoa blend that was a big part of this meal. Surprisingly though, they liked it. (At one point Lucas was even scooping it into his mouth!) The flavor was great as well. It wasn’t too spicy for the kids but it was flavorful enough that the adults didn’t have to add any seasonings to it. These meals are definitely a hit and something I’m going to keep in my pantry for busy days.

Find Revolution Foods’ Dinner Hero speed-scratch cooking kits near the boxed mac and cheese at your local Jewel-Osco store. Which flavor would you try first?

 

7 Unique Ways To See Chicago

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

Whether you are visiting Chicago for the first time, rediscovering “the windy city” you fell in love with years ago, or call Chicago home, you’ll discover new and exciting things every time you explore it. Since I live in the suburbs I’ve been to Chicago dozens of times and each time I visit I have a different experience. There are some ways to get unique views of the city that will help you see it in a new way that both Chicago tourists and locals would enjoy.

Take a trolley ride.

While you could drive around the city on your own, taking a trolley is such a better way to explore the city because the tour guide shares interesting facts along the way. Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. offers four distinct tours this summer that highlight the best sites Chicago has to offer: Chicago Trolley’s iconic Downtown Tour, the Wrigley Field/Lincoln Park Zoo Route, the Museum of Science & Industry/Chinatown Route and the Night Tour. For those wanting to experience Chicago by water, Chicago Trolley also offers the Land, Lake and River Package combining the best of the Downtown Tour together with Mercury Skyline Cruises boat tour. 

The Downtown Tour stops at 13 distinct locations around the city. Beginning at the Sheraton Hotel, tours will venture south over the Michigan Avenue Bridge to Skydeck at the Willis Tower, then over to Millennium Park, stopping by the Art Institute, Hilton Chicago, Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Maggie Daley Park. Looping north, the tour continues to Navy Pier, Magnificent Mile, Water Tower Place, the Hancock Tower featuring 360 Chicago and ending at the Hard Rock Café. The full Downtown Tour departs from downtown Chicago Trolley kiosks with all day access to hop-on and hop-off. Tours operate daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., and are approximately two hours in duration.

The Wrigley Field/Lincoln Park Zoo Route (approx. 90 minutes) departs from the Sheraton Hotel and heads to the Chicago History Museum, Chicago’s oldest cultural institution. Passengers then visit Lincoln Park Zoo before the tour ends with a trip to Wrigley Field.

The Museum of Science & Industry/Chinatown Route (approx. 90 minutes) departs from Sheraton Hotel and travels south directly to the Museum of Science & Industry. The tour then explores one of the richest cultural communities in the Midwest, Chicago’s Chinatown.

The Night Tour showcases Chicago’s dazzling skyline and illuminated landmarks after the sun goes down. Beginning at Sheraton Hotel the Night Tour makes stops at the Skydeck, Hilton Chicago, Navy Pier and the Hancock Tower featuring 360 Chicago, allowing passengers to hop-on or hop-off throughout the evening. The Night Tour operates daily from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and is approximately 90 minutes in duration.

Take a tour by boat. 

There are a number of companies that offer architecture river cruises because Chicago’s rich history can be told through the beautiful buildings in our city. The breeze as you travel down the river feels nice on a hot, sticky day, too!

Get a birds eye view of the city from Skydeck Chicago’s Ledge. 

The Ledge is located at the top of the Sears Tower (yes, I called it the Sears tower because Chicagoans don’t call it by it’s new name of “Willis Tower”….) Skydeck Chicago’s Ledge offers spectacular views of up to 50 miles and four states from the 103rd floor. Their glass boxes with glass floors extend out the side of the building and let you stand 1,353 feet up in the air looking down.

Go on a carriage ride.

There’s no more relaxing way to explore the city than from the comforts of a horse-drawn carriage. The carriage ride is a memorable way to explore the city at a slower pace.

Get a beautiful view of the skyline from the lake.

Whether you go out on a friend’s boat or a chartered ride, there’s nothing like seeing Chicago’s skyline from the lake. I’d recommend going later in the day on a Wednesday or Saturday so you can watch the sunset and then stay for the firework show over Navy Pier.

Go out in a kayak on the river.

Want to explore Chicago at your own pace on the water? Rent a kayak and travel down the river for a unique view of the city while you get some exercise.

Take a ride on the new ferris wheel at Navy Pier. 

Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel is an iconic part of the Chicago skyline. At nearly 200 feet tall, the wheel offers visitors unparalleled, 360-degree views of Chicago and Lake Michigan. The Centennial Wheel’s enclosed gondolas provide a comfortable experience year-round.

Have you ever been to Chicago? If so, I’d love to hear about your visit, and if not, what are you waiting for!?

Fun Ways To Teach Kids Good Oral Hygiene Habits

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This post and party were sponsored by ACT Kids Toothpaste but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

As parents, there are a lot of life skills that we have to teach our children- from helping them learn to feed and dress themselves to organizational skills that help them succeed in school. My past eight and a half years of parenting have been spent teaching (and re-teaching) my children these various skills. Some skills have taken my boys just days to learn and others have taken years for them to master.

One skill that is very important for kids to learn is good oral hygiene habits, from proper brushing to flossing to rinsing. There are also other things they need to learn when it comes to oral hygiene, like what foods they should avoid and the importance of visiting the dentist. The best way to teach children all of these skills is to make learning them fun and what better way to do that then to have a little party with friends?

Here are some fun, easy ways to teach kids good oral hygiene habits at a TOOTHtastic party.

Help children develop an oral hygiene routine.

Getting Lucas to brush his teeth is a daily struggle and I know I’m not alone in this. According to a recent survey, nearly 4 in 10 moms say getting their kids to brush their teeth is one of their most frustrating daily battles.* I have discovered that my boys are more likely to follow an oral hygiene routine if it’s enjoyable so we’ve tried many things to make brushing a more fun experience, from picking out a cool toothbrush to choosing pleasant tasting toothpaste. Other things you can do are to use a timer for kids to make sure they are brushing long enough and a tooth brushing chart to let them track their progress and make sure they brush at least twice a day.

Help your children learn about foods that are good for their teeth and foods that are bad for their teeth.

For younger children you can do a “happy tooth, sad tooth” activity. Draw and cut out two large teeth on paper and then draw a smile on one and a sad face on the other. Use clipart from the computer or cut out foods from grocery ads and then let your child sort the different foods and decide which ones make teeth “happy” and which ones make teeth “sad”. When they are done with the sorting activity they can color the teeth “happy” and “sad” colors as well.

Teach children how to care for their teeth.

  • Brush twice a day for two minutes each time

  • Add rinse (when they turn 6)

  • Floss daily (as soon as they have two teeth that touch)

ACT has a number of oral care products that are perfect for children. ACT Kids Toothpaste, available for kids ages 2 years and older in bubble gum and fruit punch flavors, strengthens and protects developing teeth and helps prevent cavities. The new ACT Kids Toothpaste is available at a variety of retail locations, including select Walmart, Walgreens, and Target locations. ACT Kids Anticavity Fluoride Rinse is also a good option for kids 6 and older because swishing with it for just 60 seconds a day reduces children’s cavities by up to 40% versus brushing alone. Get a coupon for ACT products here.

How do you help your children learn good oral hygiene habits?

* This survey was sponsored by Sanofi Consumer Healthcare and conducted online using Toluna’s QuickSurveys methodology between February 13, 2017 and February 14, 2017 among 1,150 moms with children between the ages of two and 12 in the USA. Respondents for Toluna QuickSurveys are selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Toluna surveys.

Toluna’s SmartSelectTM methodology was used to promote sample representativeness. SmartSelect relies on statistical matching rather than probability sampling to select survey respondents, based on demographic, attitudinal and behavioral characteristics that match those of the target population. Figures for age, gender, region, race/ethnicity, education and income are also weighted to bring them into line with their actual proportions within the population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in Toluna surveys, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

Why Camping Trips Make Some Of The Best Family Vacations

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I love taking mini-vacations with my family and I’ve shared before about how much we enjoy 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 wanted to share why I believe that camping trips make some of the best family vacations, whether you visit a campsite across the country or just camp overnight in the next town over.

Camping creates the most uninterrupted family time together. When we are at home we are all going different directions, between work, school, sports and activities. When we are camping though, we spend most of our time together. Camping trips mean your family is with each other from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep (and even then you stay together sleeping in the same tent or cabin!)

Everyone pitches in and gets the work done on the campsite. Whether it’s pitching the tent, building the campfire, or making dinner, everyone’s help is needed to get the job done. Often at home we don’t spend time doing all of the daily chores together but it’s nice to work as a team to make things run smoothly.

Camping trips are made for relaxing. For the most part, camping is a pretty unscheduled vacation. There are no places you need to be early in the morning and no dinner reservations to keep. Most of the time camping is spent just sitting around the campfire- what could be more relaxing than that?

Families get a break from electronics while camping. Nowadays most families, including our’s, are addicted to their technology. Camping is a pretty unplugged vacation with no tv, no video games and limited cell reception and wi-fi. We bring our phones along but try to limit use to the early mornings (when the boys wake up before the sun!) and then a little bit in the evenings while the kids are waiting for dinner to cook on the campfire or grill. It’s a change for the boys but they don’t seem to mind that much because they are too busy playing or roasting marshmallows for s’mores.

Kids can have more independence at a campground than they might get otherwise. Since many campgrounds are fairly small, kids can get a sense of independence while still being under the watchful eyes of their parents. I was able to let my boys go to the playground and walk around with other kids while watching them from my chair at our campsite. This made my boys feel like “big kids” but still gave me comfort knowing where they were and what they were doing.

Campgrounds are a great way for kids to meet different types of people, practice their social skills and make new friends. Since families tend to stay at campgrounds for at least a couple days (and sometimes even a week or more) children can develop friendships with kids that come from different states and backgrounds than they do. This last time we went camping, Lucas- who typically has a harder time making new friends- quickly became friends with a girl about his age and he spent a lot of time playing with her. They got along so well that the second he woke up in the morning he was standing at our cabin door waiting to see when she woke up so he could go play with her. It was the cutest thing to watch and I loved seeing the friendship they had formed in less than a day.

Camping gets kids outside. I’ll be honest- my kids don’t spend nearly as much time outside as they should (and most of the time they are outside is spent dong structured activities like sports). Camping is a great way to get kids outside playing and leads to a lot of spontaneous fun. We love bringing balls, toy rockets, and other things that they can play with.

Campgrounds often offer a lot of free fun. Once you pay for the campsite rental most everything else is free. We’ve enjoyed hayrides, flashlight candy hunts, face painting, swimming in the pool, a jumpy, mini-golf, a playground and more! It’s nice not having to pay for every little thing we want to do and it ends up being a fairly cheap vacation.

Have you ever gone camping with your family? I’d love to hear about your favorite camping memories in the comments below! (P.S.- Don’t love the idea of tent camping? I’ve discovered camping cabins and I’m in love!)

KIDZ BOP “Best Time Ever” Tour Coming To Chicago {Giveaway}

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

I am happy to be working with Live Nation again this year to share about their KIDZ BOP “Best Time Ever” tour coming to Chicago. KIDZ BOP records kid-friendly versions of today’s biggest pop music hits sung by kids, for kids. They have created the #1 music brand for kids, selling more than 17 million albums.

Both my boys love KIDZ BOP and look forward to each new album that comes out. My youngest, Lucas, constantly plays their music while dancing and singing along and he can tell you every song on each of their most recent albums. We didn’t make last year’s concert but when I told Lucas that we were going to the concert this year he literally ran around screaming with excitement for about 10 minutes.

The fun happens next Sunday, July 30th, at 3pm! The concert is at Huntington Bank Pavilion (located at Northerly Island which is by the museum campuses in Chicago). It will be a great music-filled afternoon for the whole family.

Want to surprise your child with tickets to this year’s KIDZ BOP Chicago concert? Buy tickets here. I’m also giving away a 4-pack of tickets! It’s easy to enter to win, just complete one or more of the entry options in the form below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tips For Putting Together A Homework Caddy

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Raise your hand if you are ready for back to school season. No? I’m not ready either but I figured I better start because, as I shared a few days ago, my boys’ first day of school is just about a month away. There is so much to do but at least I’ve gotten one thing crossed off my list- I’ve made a homework caddy that will make homework time easier for my kids! I wanted to share some tips on how to put one together and what elements you’ll want to include.

Make it portable

We have a small child sized table where the boys normally do homework but sometimes they need to do homework somewhere else. When mom or dad needs to help with an assignment or they are working on an art or building project that can’t be disturbed homework ends up being done on the kitchen table. Because of this, having a portable homework caddy is essential because they can carry it wherever they are working on homework that day.

Keep it organized

Keeping school supplies organized is the best part about making a homework caddy. I recommend using something with dividers already in it so kids can see where things go. The supplies will hopefully stay sorted a little longer that way!

Include all the supplies your children need to complete their homework

Including all of the necessary supplies is important. For children in elementary school this usually just means pencils, coloring tools of some kind, glue and scissors. As children get older they may need rulers, graphing calculators, highlighters and more. Having all of the supplies in the caddy means that your children can easily complete their homework assignments.

Make it easy to find a sharpened pencil

I’d say about half of homework time last year seemed to be the boys going through all of the pencils to find a sharpened one. Make it simple by pre-sharpening all of the pencils, or better yet just buy them pre-sharpened and save yourself some time! I also like buying all of the same kind of pencil so the boys aren’t fighting over that one favorite character pencil ;)

Keep a snack handy

My children start on homework while having a snack so it only made sense to stock their homework caddy with one of their favorites- Goldfish® crackers. I love these individual serving sized packages because it limits how much the boys can eat for snack. (I also love being able to grab a package for myself so I can enjoy a quick snack while I sit at the table with them!)

We found a variety of flavors at our local store. Lucas loves the traditional Goldfish® Cheddar flavor while Jacob’s favorite is the Extra Cheddar flavor. Be sure to check out the Goldfish® Pinterest Page for more back to school and snack ideas!

How are you getting ready for back to school season? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Enjoy A Family Staycation At Pheasant Run Resort

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Thanks to Pheasant Run Resort for hosting our family for a staycation.

Summer is in full swing and, if you have been longing to take a vacation but can’t afford to or haven’t been able to get away for a week long trip, I have the perfect option for you. Take a staycation! If you are in the Chicago area you’ll find family fun in the burbs at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles.

Pheasant Run Resort has an awesome Summer Splash package available Sundays through Thursdays, through September 4th. The package includes one night’s accommodations in a deluxe room, one 16” pizza and a two-liter soda, plus $10 worth of tokens for the Swamp Arcade all for just $149 per night for a family of four. The newly refreshed tower rooms have great views of the golf course and some, like our room, even have views of the local airport for those kids who love watching airplanes take off and land.

No need to leave the resort to find things to do on your staycation because Pheasant Run Resort has a variety of things that the whole family will enjoy doing. From swimming in their indoor/outdoor pool to playing air hockey in the arcade to getting ice cream from their ice cream shop, families will truly feel like they are on vacation. In addition, there is always something going on during the days and evenings, like arts & crafts, a scavenger hunt around the resort, and s’mores around the firepit. Families that enjoy golf can even play on Pheasant Run’s popular 18-hole course for just $10 after 5:30!

Looking for a bit of entertainment? You can find live music in some of their restaurants and bars in the evenings along with entertainment on their indoor “Bourbon Street”. Pheasant Run Resort also offers Zanie’s Comedy shows and a brand new iPanic Escape Room.

Hoping for more of a relaxing stay? For moms that can get away for a bit, there’s even a spa! With over 200 treatments, the resort’s spa was recently voted #1 by the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Overall, Pheasant Run Resort is just a fabulous place to get away from the daily responsibilities for a few days. Learn more about their Summer Splash Package and make reservations here.

Protect Your Memories With Picture Keeper {And A $300 BTS Shopping Spree Giveaway}

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Thanks to Picture Keeper for sponsoring this post and giveaway.

I know it’s only July but my mind is starting to think back-to-school already! It might be the school supplies in stores or it could be the realization, after looking at my calendar, that the first day of school is only about a month away. (Which means I better get busy preparing for the school year…)

One of my favorite things to do on the first day of school is to take a picture of my boys so I can compare it to the previous year (and share it with friends and family obviously lol). The school year brings tons of other photo opps as well, like holiday concerts and PTA events, so if you like taking pictures of your loved ones like I do, give yourself peace-of-mind with backup security from Picture Keeper. With so many memories stored on computers, don’t risk photos of your children getting lost or deleted without a backup plan.

Picture Keeper Connect is a simple all-in-one USB device with embedded software that makes it easy to transfer photos, contacts, and videos directly from your Phone or Tablet (iOS and Android) to your Mac or PC with the simple click of a button, freeing up space on your device and securing your memories. This device is simple and convenient to use with no software to install, no wires to connect, no complicated setup, and no passwords to remember. The files can be accessed and backed up without WiFi or data connection and are always within reach. Best of all, there are no monthly fees associated with using Picture Keeper.

Protecting your memories shouldn’t be difficult. Whether you’re switching to a new phone, running out of storage on your smartphone, or wanting to safeguard those important first day of school photos, Picture Keeper Connect offers simple photo backup solutions for all devices – smartphones, tablets, and computers.

To celebrate the back-to-school season, Picture Keeper is hosting a great giveaway for a $300 shopping spree and a Picture Keeper Connect. Enter below for a chance to win!

Back to School Giveaway!

Live Music And More At Brookfield Zoo’s Summer Nights

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Thanks to Brookfield Zoo for sponsoring this post.

Brookfield Zoo has always been a place I’ve enjoyed taking my family to but now there are even more reasons to visit with the return of their Summer Nights outdoor concert series. From 4:00 to 9:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays through August 12, guests of all ages can enjoy a variety of live music acts. From popular local acts to national bands, all genres are represented throughout the summer so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Zoogoers can bring lawn chairs or blankets and relax on the East Mall while taking in the sounds. After a fun day walking around looking at all of the animals it’s nice to sit and relax while enjoying the music.

Future acts include:

  • Friday, July 21 – American English (Beatles tribute band)
  • Saturday, July 22 – The Main Squeeze (Rock n Roll Funky Soul)
  • Friday, July 28 – Brass Buckle Band is (Country-rock band)
  • Saturday, July 29 – One Moment From Glory (Top 40 cover band)
  • Friday, August 4 – Hello Weekend (Pop cover band)
  • Saturday, August 5 – House Party (DJs)
  • Friday, August 11 – Hi Infidelity (Hits from ’80s and today)
  • Saturday, August 12 – Dishwalla (Alternative Rock)

Along with live music on the main stage, there is also a kid’s stage with family-friendly acts including music, juggling and acrobatics, magic shows, and puppet and clown performances. There are roaming kids’ entertainers like jugglers and costumed animal characters, too. Best of all (according to my kids at least), is the fact that the playground is right next to the concert area. This is great because parents can let kids play and still be able to enjoy the music while they watch them.

Those who didn’t get a chance to see all the animals during the day can enjoy extended hours at some of their favorite exhibits. Several animal exhibits and other in-park attractions (some require separate admission) are open until 8:30 pm during Summer Nights. These include Butterflies!, The Carousel, Clouded Leopard Rain Forest, Dolphin Underwater Viewing, The Fragile Desert, Hamill Family Wild Encounters, Pinniped Point, The Swamp, and the zoo’s summer exhibit, Dinos & Dragons.

During Summer Nights, there are enhanced dining experiences along with a beer and wine garden. I enjoyed a Mai Tai and some fried pickles- both of which were delicious! Those who want to bring their own food and non-alcoholic drinks can do that as well.

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If you go to Brookfield Zoo’s Summer Nights make sure to stay until the very end because you will not want to miss the spectacular laser light show closing out each evening. Hands-down this is the best light show that I’ve ever seen!

Summer Nights is free with zoo admission. Get more details about Brookfield Zoo’s Summer Nights here.

 

Parents, Now You Can Say Yes To The Drums

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Thanks to Yamaha Drums for sponsoring this post.

Last year we were looking into starting music lessons when Jacob announced that he wanted to learn to play the drums. The idea of drums sounded fun but when I thought about all of the loud practice time I’d have to endure I quickly steered him to a less headache-inducing instrument, and he settled on the acoustic guitar. Though he loves the guitar, when Yamaha Drums contacted me recently about a drum set that he could practice on without disrupting the whole neighborhood while using, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to review it.

The video below gives a great overview of all the wonderful features that the Yamaha DTX400K drum kit offers.

The Yamaha DTX400K electronic drum kit is a quieter and more versatile option than traditional drum sets so it’s the perfect choice for parents who may otherwise resist exploring drums for their music-enthusiast children. This kit comes with a set of headphones that can be plugged in to keep the noise down so the family will be undisturbed while the drum set is being played. This is by far my favorite feature because our home is already loud enough with two young boys and all of their toys and electronics that make noise. Playing these drums is one of the few things they do that’s actually quiet- all I hear is a subdued tapping sound when they play!

This electronic drum kit has other great features. For one, it’s a great set for small spaces. We live in a condo and wouldn’t have room for a larger drum set but this one fits perfectly in the corner of our living room.

Another feature that parents will love is that this drum kit is built to last. The Yamaha DTX400K offers quality and durability which means that this kit can take a lot of punishment and still maintain a solid performance level for years.

This drum kit has a number of great apps as well that make it an even better value. The kit can be expanded with the DTX400 Touch app (free in the App Stores) to create new kit configurations, select preset kits, access tempo and metronome settings, and much more. Parents will also love being able to save money on beginner drum lessons with the DTX400 Drum Lessons app (available for iPad/iPhone). Your child can use this app to learn the basics before they start lessons with an instructor.

Listen below to all the sounds the DTX400K can create- with just one drum kit!

I’d love to hear about your favorite features in the comments below. Aren’t you just loving the fact that this drum kit comes with headphones? Now you can say yes when your child begs to play the drums!

Backyard Updates To Brighten Summer Days

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Thanks to Kmart for sponsoring this post!

The boy’s baseball season is over which means our family is spending a lot more time relaxing at home instead of sitting at the baseball field. I love spending time in the backyard but our space was less than ideal for family time so we stocked up on goodies at Kmart to make it a place we want to spend all of our lazy afternoons. From a new patio table to a hammock to bright floral tableware, our space looks totally transformed and we spent all day Saturday just enjoying it.

Even better? The Summer Blowout is going on right now in stores and online with 10-40% off in all departments (excluding grocery), with some items up to 50% off! All your favorites, including apparel, footwear, electronics, home decor and toys are on sale to make your summer – and your backyard- ridiculously awesome.

The first thing I wanted to get was a new patio table because our old one had a broken top from an umbrella that had gotten loose a few weeks ago. I knew I wanted a table that seated 4-6 and wasn’t tempered glass so I did some searching and found this tile top table. It is perfect! It looks classy and is very spacious which is great for entertaining.

To brighten up the brown table I went with floral tableware in cheerful colors. This is probably the first time I have a complete set of tableware since having kids! (Any other parents have a cabinet full of mismatched pieces due to plates and bowls getting broken by little hands that were not yet ready for big boy plates?)

I also got floral placemats and serving trays in a matching design which added even more color to the table.

One other thing I had been wanting to get was an indoor/outdoor serving cart. I found this affordable one and it folds up so it’s perfect for our small space. I chose to get the serving cart in brown but it comes in a number of colors like red, teal and green to match any decor. I hung little solar powered lanterns on it so it will light up at night time for the evenings we will spend on our patio.

Having a serving cart is helpful when you are entertaining because it gives guests more room at the table. (It’s also a great place to keep dessert away from little ones that want to taste test the icing :) lol)

Kmart has aisles full of outdoor decor so even if you can’t update your whole patio, you can still get a few pieces to brighten up your space. I found some beautiful ceramic lanterns, outdoor pillows (like this butterfly one below), colorful door mats and so much more.

I really love all of the updates that we made to our patio. My favorite addition to our backyard though? A hammock! This hammock is perfect for taking an afternoon nap, reading a book or relaxing as you watch your kids play. Best of all it folds upright for easy storage during the winter!

Speaking of kids playing… I used this party tub to store water balloons for my kids water balloon fight but it will also be great for holding drinks at summer parties!

Do you need to spruce up your outdoor living space or want to stock up on a few more essentials before the end of the season? Hurry to Kmart for great deals during their Summer Blowout, now through July 30th!

My OREO Creation? Nutty Caramel Apple Golden OREO Cookies!

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Though I wish summer would last all year long, I can’t deny that school and the fall season are just around the corner. Stores have their back-to-school displays up already and I just registered Jake for football, my favorite fall pastime. Though I’m not looking forward to the colder weather, I am looking forward to all of the delicious flavors that fall brings, from pumpkin spice to caramel apple to maple.

One treat I enjoy eating in the fall is caramel apples so when I heard about the My OREO Creation contest, where people can submit ideas for new OREO flavors, I knew that my creation would incorporate the flavors of a caramel apple into a cookie. Think about a Golden OREO with a filling of sweet apple, smooth caramel and salty nuts. It would be the perfect flavor for the upcoming months!

What would your OREO creation taste like? With the My OREO Creation contest, OREO is inviting people to submit their own ideas for the next OREO flavor!

Head to Walmart to try the many flavors available (like Cinnamon Bun, Peanut Butter, and Mint) and then submit your own unheard-of flavor, for a chance to see your submission come to life and win a trip to New York City! Learn more about the My OREO Creation contest here. (NO PURCH NEC. 50 US/D.C./PR 18+. Enter by: 7/14/17. Rules)

I was surprised to see that OREO has a number of new items too, like their MILKA OREO Big Crunch Chocolate Candy Bar and the MILKA OREO Choco-Mix Snack Mix. Yum!

What would your OREO creation taste like? I’d love to hear about your idea for a new cookie flavor in the comments below.

White Sox Family Sundays

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Thanks to the Chicago White Sox for hosting my family at a game.

Looking for something family-friendly to do in the Chicago area? White Sox fans can spend a Sunday afternoon at the Sox field enjoying the baseball game and many fun kid-friendly activities.

Family Sundays, presented by Coca-Cola, cover all Sunday home games in 2017 and feature tickets as low as $5 in the upper level and $15 in the lower level. Plus, parking is available for only $10. The White Sox ballpark experience for kids on Sundays in 2017 also features special kid-focused activities throughout the concourse and the opportunity to run the bases after games (weather permitting).

If your child knows every Sox player’s name then an autograph session is a must-attend! Prior to select games listed here, the first 100 kids (age 13 and under) to enter the ballpark through the Chicago Sports Depot entrance (located near Parking Lot B and Gate 5) at 11:15 a.m. will be given a wristband and directed to the special area where four Chicago White Sox players will sign one item per child. (A regular game ticket is required for entrance but the autograph session is free with purchase of a ticket.) 

Don’t forget to sign your child up for the kid’s club, if they aren’t already a member, for special perks like ball park tours, tickets and more! (There is a paid membership with extra perks but the basic Slugger membership is FREE!)

We had such a fun time at the game last Sunday! It was hot and sunny but the boys enjoyed eating snacks from the concession stand while watching the game and hoping for a foul ball to come their way. They also loved getting some of the players to sign their autograph ball. At the end of the game they even got their own Sox ball and bat which was a special giveaway for the game. (Other theme nights are coming up which you can find on the schedule here.)

Have you ever been to a Chicago White Sox game? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

 

Summer Fun At Cedar Point

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Thanks to Cedar Fair for sponsoring this post and providing this great mini-vacation to Cedar Point for our family.

Happy 4th of July! Summer is in full swing which means our days are spent trying to get in as much outdoor fun as possible. We love going to theme parks and recently visited Cedar Point for the first time. We had such a great day at the park and I wanted to share about it before I headed out to enjoy some music and fireworks with my family.

Located in Sandusky, Ohio, Cedar Point is a 364-acre park with over 150 attractions, including 70 amazing rides. The park is home to 17 world-class roller coasters which is why many call it the “rollercoaster capital of the world”.

My boys loved riding the rollercoasters, especially Lucas my little dare devil! He is the kid on the rides with his hands in the air and a smile upon his face who was so thrilled he was finally tall enough to ride the bigger rollercoasters and was able to ride his very first “upside down” rollercoaster (the Corkscrew). I just loved hearing the excitement in his voice as he shared about the rollercoaster we went on.

My favorite coaster was the Magnum XL-200, a coaster that gave us beautiful views of the park and the lake as we went up to the top of this 205 foot tall coaster. With speeds up to 72 MPH this coaster is one of the extreme thrill rides in the park!

There were a lot of other fun rides the boys enjoyed like “Joe Cool’s Dodgem Driving School” bumper cars, “Ocean Motion” the rocking ship, and the “Tiki Twirl” spinning ride.

As a family we enjoyed going on the “Giant Wheel” Ferris wheel, “Sky Ride” cable cars and the Cedar Point train, all of which gave us fabulous views of the whole park.

Cedar Point has much more than rides though! Check out the Dinosaurs Alive exhibit, meet Snoopy and his friends, or catch a show. We really enjoyed the All Wheels Extreme show featuring stunts performed by talented bikers, skaters and gymnasts from all over the country.

We also liked checking out all the animals in the Cedar Point Barnyard. This year they are even offering pony rides which Lucas was so excited to do because he loves horses. 

On hot summer days you won’t want to miss a visit to Cedar Point Shores Water Park! New for 2017, guests of the park can enjoy 18 acres of splish-splashin’ fun, featuring four new water attractions- Point Plummet, Portside Plunge, Lemmy’s Lagoon, and Lakeslide Landing.

Beach lover? Yeah, Cedar Point has that, too! Take a dip in the lake or just relax on Cedar Point Beach and watch as the kids build some sand castles. It was the perfect way to spend some time before we went to dinner.

The fun doesn’t end when the sun goes down! When it gets dark the park lights up. End your day at the park with Luminosity, a show featuring high-energy dancers, live music, aerial artists, pyrotechnics and so much more. Then, stay a little longer as the DJ spins your favorite songs. This all-ages celebration is the only way to end your day!

Overall we had a great time. There’s plenty to do at the main park and the water park that you could easily spend a few days exploring the park. If you aren’t local make sure to stay in a Cedar Point hotel to get access to the park an hour before everyone else! (We stayed off property at the Cedar Point Express which I’ll be sharing about soon!) As far as lines go, I was surprised to find that the lines for rides and food weren’t long which was nice because we were able to do more than I thought we would.

(Disability Information: For those families who are coming to the park with someone who has a disability, the park does offer accommodations. With Lucas on the Autism Spectrum, he often has a hard time and becomes overwhelmed at theme parks because of the crowds and waiting. Cedar Point has an Alternate Access pass which lets guests with disabilities or special needs get a boarding pass that allows them to rest in a comfortable spot, away from the crowds, until the boarding time and then enter the ride via the Alternate Access Entrance. Depending on how Lucas is doing there are days when passes like this are the only way we can spend a day at a theme park. Thankfully though, since Lucas was having a good day and the park wasn’t too crowded, we only had to use this pass a couple times throughout our day.)

Have you ever been to Cedar Point? What is your favorite thing to do there?

The Zap Zap Math App Makes Learning Fun

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

When I was growing up, practicing math was done using flashcards and worksheets. It was boring and something I dreaded doing which led to math becoming my least favorite subject in school. Nowadays, math is more interactive which makes it fun for kids who are learning and practicing math concepts. They also get to play cool apps like Zap Zap Math which turns math into a game. This app is perfect to keep kids learning at home and on-the-go and will help keep your child from experiencing the dreaded “summer slide” we all hear so much about.

Zap Zap Math is a game-based learning ecosystem that makes learning math fun and engaging, with a series of games covering math topics from Kindergarten to 6th grade. Inhabited by Mathlings, the Zap Zap Math ecosystem brings fun into the equation with a whole universe of math games that are designed based on Bloom’s Taxonomy to encourage children’s critical thinking skills.

Zap Zap Math has over 150 Mathematical topics, with a fully developed comprehensive curriculum that has been designed to mirror common core standards. I like that the app is split up by grade level and it’s easy to switch between the grades so it’s a great app that both my boys can use without having to log out and back in to switch between their two grades. While the kids enjoy playing, I love the web dashboard that lets parents and teachers check each child’s progress by topic and see which areas they might need help in.

Zap Zap Math is available for download on both iOS and Android devices. The app is free to download but you can upgrade to the premium version for only $9.99 a year (that’s less than a dollar a month!)

What’s your favorite way to keep your kids from experiencing the “summer slide”?

No Kid Hungry This Summer

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Summer can be the hungriest time of year for many low-income families. When schools close, students no longer get school meals, and families struggle to put food on the table. Families struggling to make ends meet are forced to make unthinkable decisions between whether to buy a bag of groceries or pay rent, whether to pay the electric bill or buy enough food. This places a huge burden on children who deserve to be carefree and healthy in order to succeed and revel in their recess.

Luckily, No Kid Hungry has set out to bring some peace of mind to those kids. They have implemented a texting hotline that provides information about when and where free summer meals will be served in any given area. By texting “FOOD” to 877877, families in need will receive a message with the locations closest to them, serving free summer meals by providing their zip code. Spanish speakers are also able to text “COMIDA” to the same number. This information is also accessible by dialing the hunger hotline: 866-348-6479.

Last year, No Kid Hungry’s efforts served 177 million free meals at 47,816 sites across the U.S. through the Summer Food Service Program and they hope to reach many more this year. If your family does not need this service please consider sharing this with your friends and those in your community who may be struggling to put food on the table this summer. 

Last Minute Gift Ideas For Dad {Giveaway}

Father's Day Gift Guide

Thanks to Sears for sponsoring this post and giveaway.

Father’s Day is this Sunday! Anyone still need to buy a gift for dad? My boys have reached the age where they like to help pick out gifts to give for occasions like this so we are headed to the store tomorrow for some last minute shopping. While they try to convince me we should go to a toy store and get him toys because “daddy really likes toys”, I know better and will be taking them to Sears where there are plenty of things that their dad actually would want.

From tools to small appliances to trendy clothes, Sears has the perfect gift for every dad. I checked out Sears.com to get an idea of what we’d find and am sharing some of my favorites here so you can make sure to visit Sears online or in-store for all your Father’s Day gifting needs! I also have a $50 Sears e- gift card I’ll be giving away for those last minute shoppers.

Gift idea #1: A new grill and/or grilling accessories for the dad who loves to grill

Several years back I shared here on the blog how we got a new grill from Sears. I think it is one of the best gifts I’ve given and something that gets used on a frequent basis. They have a number of grilling accessories too so dad can grill everything from fish to shish kabobs.

One of my favorites is the Kenmore 4 Burner LP Mocha Gas Grill with Searing Side Burner. I love the fact that it has the side burner plus the storage space on the bottom is perfect for all of the grilling accessories and seasonings dad might want to keep in it.

Gift idea #2: Craftsman Tools for the handyman

As a girl growing up I remember being amazed by how many tools my dad had. I never knew what all of them did but he always seemed to know which tool was perfect for the job. I think tools are the perfect gift for the handyman dad.

Sears carries an assortment of Craftsman tools and toolboxes. This Craftsman 254 PC Mechanics Tool Set with 75Tooth Ratchet is the only tool set dad will need to complete any and every mechanical job and it’s nice because all of the tools come in a well constructed tool box. Sears is offering up to 50% off Craftsman tools for Father’s Day (sale runs through 6/18).

Gift idea #3: Home theater system for the movie buff

Some dads are all about movies. They come up with a movie quote for every occasion and always know what movies are playing at the theater and what new movies are coming out every week.

Those dads would love a home theater so that every movie watched at home would make them feel like they were at the movie theater. The Samsung HT-J5500W 5.1 Channel Home Theater System w/ Bluetooth and Smart Blu-ray Player brings a cinema atmosphere to your living room. This package includes immersive speakers, a subwoofer and a smart Blu-ray player to enjoy all types of content in vivid color and robust audio. With 5.1 channels and wireless rear speakers, dad can create an immersive experience when watching sports or the latest blockbusters.

Gift idea #4: Rding lawn mower for the dad who prides himself on how his yard looks

Recently I saw a photo online of a dad mowing his lawn with a tornado in the distance. While I thought he was crazy because you should always take shelter in bad weather, it just goes to show that some dads will not let anything stop them from making their yards picture perfect. If you have a dad in your life who spends hours outside every weekend, a gift that would help make yard work easier would probably be appreciated.

For those with a large area to mow every week, a riding mower would make the perfect gift. The Craftsman Pro Series 42″ 20 HP V-Twin Kohler Hydrostatic Riding Mower w/ Smart Lawn Bluetooth Technologymakes me want to type all the heart eye emojis because this thing is amazing. Dad can get the job done quickly with this mower and it has Consistent-Cut™ technology so he’ll get the perfect cut even if your yard includes uneven terrain or areas of tall grass. Caring for the riding lawn mower is easy too with the Smart Lawn app for iPhone and Android smartphones that includes a run time tracker, service reminders and everything he will need to maintain the riding lawn mower.

Gift idea #5: New tent for dads who love to camp

Growing up we went camping often and I loved it so I think that camping equipment is a great gift that can help make memories for years to come. This would make a great gift for a new dad accompanied by a note sharing some of your favorite camping tips and tricks. Even seasoned campers could use some new equipment and I found this out the hard way! I had borrowed my dad’s tent that was probably more than 25 years old and woke up in a puddle of rain water in the middle of the night. So if dad enjoys camping, maybe surprise him with a new tent before he discovers he needs a new one while in the middle of nowhere.

Sears has tents, sleeping bags and everything else a camper needs. For smaller families, this Coleman Sundome® 4-Person Dome Tent would be ideal. Easy setup means less time setting up the tent and more time roasting marshmallows! This tent is compact, yet spacious and has a ground vent and two windows to help your family stay cool and comfortable. If it rains, the WeatherTec™ system with its patented welded floors and inverted seams will help you stay dry and the compact dome shape stands up to wind.

Gift idea #6: Mini-fridge for the beer drinker

I find that we always need extra fridge storage so mini-fridges are great. If your hubby enjoys a cold drink while watching a baseball game or enjoys entertaining, this might be a great gift for dad.

The Whynter Mini Stainless Steel Refrigerator is sleek and will fit in dad’s garage workshop, office or his man cave. This fridge holds an amazing 117 12-ounce can beverages or up to 27 wine bottles.

Gift idea #7: Mountain bike for the explorer

One of the things Sinisa wants this year is a bike so he can go bike riding with the boys. It’s a great way for dads to spend time with their families- whether they are just going on a ride down the street or exploring a wooded trail.

There are a number of bikes to choose from at Sears from well known brands like Schwinn, Mongoose and Iron Horse. The IRON HORSE 29″ Men’s Warrior 3.2 Mountain Bike is the perfect set of wheels for dad. This mountain bike is built to take all the bumps, dips and holes in stride and is designed to make even rough roads feel freshly paved.

As you can see, Sears is definitely a one stop shop for your Father’s Day shopping because they offer a wide range of home merchandise, apparel, automotive products and more! Sears provides shopping convenience – letting members shop wherever, whenever and however they choose, both in stores and online. They even have an awesome rewards program called ‘Shop Your Way’ that is a free social shopping destination and rewards program offering millions of products, personalized services, and advice. The program rewards members for buying the products and services they want every day. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you will want to sign up!

Enter below to win a $50 e-gift card to Sears! The winner will receive it before Father’s Day so they can pick out some last minute gifts for dad!
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The Assistant That Every Busy Family Needs

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Thanks to Picniic for sponsoring this post.

As a busy working mom of two boys I often dream that I have an assistant to help me with my everyday tasks. Since I’m not made of money though, I don’t see that happening any time soon. That’s okay because I’ve discovered Picniic, the app that acts as an assistant that helps families become more organized, productive, and connected than ever before.

Picniic simplifies family life so you can spend more time doing what you love, and less time organizing it. All family members (mom, dad, kids, caregivers, etc.) can easily access Picniic via web, phone, and tablet to keep everyone organized and on the same page. Best of all, sign up is free!

Picniic has many features that families need including:

  • Shared family calendar
  • Grocery list
  • To-dos & lists
  • Premade lists
  • Family news feed
  • Store custom recipes
  • Search online recipes
  • Meal planner
  • Group event planner
  • Family locator
  • Secure family info locker
  • Birthdays & anniversaries
  • Work calendar import
  • Subscribe to your family calendar
  • Sync with TeamSnap sports

The shared calendar is one of my favorite things about the app because it gives me a snapshot of every family member’s daily activity in one screen. This makes it easier to visualize all my family commitments, and to see where there are available openings.

While other apps let you share your calendar, Picniic is unique in that it combines all the key areas of your family life, providing a system for running your home. In reality, most calendars only help with the scheduling aspect of family life, but there are many other critical elements. From planning meals, to centralizing important family information, to knowing where your kids are located at any one moment — Picniic’s goal is to bring all your family activities and data into one place. This allows everyone to stay more connected and in sync as a family unit.

For those that use and love Picniic already or those that start using the app and discover how amazing it is, I’m excited to share about the new Picniic Ambassador program that just launched today! If you share about it with friends and family and get 5 families to sign up using your unique link you can qualify to become a Picniic Ambassador!

Picniic Ambassadors get Picniic Premium free for one year plus a lot of extra perks like being entered into ambassador weekly giftcard giveaways, Picniic swag, the opportunity to provide feedback and input on Picniic product development and exclusive looks at Picniic updates before they go live. The best perk of all though? Money. Picniic Ambassadors receive 20% cash-back for all premium purchases made on an account referred from your personal tracking link. If someone you refer refers another family to Picniic, and they make a purchase, you will receive 5% of this purchase and for every referral from a referral from a referral, you will receive 3% cash back.

Learn more and sign up for Picniic here!

DIY Cat Wand Toy

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

It’s hard to believe that our fur babies, Peaches and Boomer, have been in our lives for two years this month. When we got them they were playful little ones who had been abandoned in a park by their owner. Though they’ve gotten older, they are still just as playful as the day they came home (though now they actually sleep at night instead of chasing each other around!)

To keep them active I feed them quality cat food like Rachael Ray™ Nutrish® Indoor Complete Chicken with Lentils & Salmon Recipe. Nutrish Indoor Complete contains a real superfood blend to meet the complete needs of indoor cats, addressing concerns such as weight, digestion and immunity. I like knowing that this cat food contains real U.S. farm-raised chicken as the #1 ingredient, plus real salmon, without any ground corn, wheat, soy, poultry by-product meal, artificial preservatives, or artificial flavors.

(Click the image below to save $2 on Nutrish Indoor Complete!)

Another way that I keep my cats active is by playing with them. They have a number of toys they like to play with, from balls to catnip filled faux mice. We had a fun wand toy that they loved as well but the handle broke so I thought I’d make a new one myself. I wanted to share this fun DIY with you all so you could see how easy it was to make one!

Materials needed:

  • Dowel (with a cap on the end)
  • Washi tape
  • Ribbon
  • Cardboard pieces
  • Felt
  • Glue
  • Scissors
  • Bells
  • Hole punch (or crafting knife)

Directions:

Stack ribbons on top of each other and place the top of the dowel in the middle of the ribbons. Take all the ribbons at once and tie a knot right under the dowel cap.

String a few bells on to the ribbons and push all the way to the top so that the wand will make noise when shaken but the cats won’t play with them.

Cut a few felt shapes out of cardboard and felt, making sure that they are the same size.  (I chose to make flower shapes but fish shapes would be cute, too!) Then glue felt to cardboard shapes. Make a hole a few inches from one of the edges using your hole punch or crafting knife so that a piece of ribbon can go through. Then stick one ribbon through each and tie a knot in the back.

To finish you can use your washi tape to decorate the wand. I added a little green at the bottom. I love how colorful this cat wand is!

You can find Nutrish Indoor Complete, for adult cats 1 year or older, at retailers both in stores and online. I bought mine at my local Walmart. Make sure to use the coupon I shared above to save $2 on Nutrish Indoor Complete (you can print it two times). The coupon is good through the end of 2017 and you have 30 days from the time you print it to redeem it.

How do you keep your cats playful and active?

Diet Food That Actually Tastes Good {And Is Delivered Right To You!}

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

Years ago a friend was giving away some diet food she didn’t like and I excitedly took it off her hands. I remember taking a couple bites of the first meal and thinking that it was literally one of the worst things I had ever tasted. It was dry and bland and I wondered why anyone would torture themselves with food like that. If that was “diet food” then I wanted nothing to do with it.

Then, this year, I tried Personal Trainer Food and was surprised to find that diet food could actually taste great. Personal Trainer Food is a diet delivery service providing pre-portioned, nutrient-packed frozen meals straight to your door! The food is protein-packed, filled with good carbs, healthy fats and no fillers! You can choose the delivery plan that fits your goals and lifestyle best. From REV! for rapid weight loss to the 14-day 2 meals/day program that gives you the flexibility to make your own breakfasts and some lunches and dinners.

I love that Personal Trainer Food makes life easier. Since the meals are delivered right to my home it saves me time and money at the grocery store. Also, because everything is pre-portioned and stored in the freezer, meal time is simple. It’s as easy as picking out a protein and a veggie, heating them in the microwave according to the time on the packages and dumping them on to a plate.

Best of all though? The food tastes good so you’ll actually want to eat it! There are over 75 restaurant quality menu items which means you have an almost endless variety of meal options. For breakfast I enjoyed the frittata and omelets with maple sausage. My favorite protein items were the meatballs, bacon & cheese chicken sticks and all of the chicken options. Personal Trainer Food even makes vegetables delicious with their line of sauces you can add to them like my favorite, garlic butter sauce.

If you are looking for an easy way to eat healthier, I highly recommend Personal Trainer Food. Now through Friday, 6/9, save 20% Off Any Meal Program + 28 Free Snacks using the code ’20SNACKS’. Learn more about Personal Trainer Food and order here.

Father’s Day Gift Guide

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Disclosure: I received samples of all products featured but all thoughts are my own.

Father’s Day is in a few weeks and, if you are like me, you probably still need to find the perfect gift. Let’s skip the tie and socks this year, okay? Today I’m sharing 8 gift ideas that might be just what the man in your life wants. I’ve got something for the grill master to the tech geek and everyone in between.

For the well-groomed man – The Good Stuff

The folks over at The Good Stuff have created the recipe for a flawless barbershop shave. Founded by real barbers with over 140 years of combined experience, they’ve perfected the art of shaving with their premium line of products. The Good Stuff Shave Lather is infused with pre-shave oil to reduce friction and nourish the skin. Their Aftershave has a light, clean fresh scent that protects with SPF15 with no greasy, shiny residue. Does your dad have sensitive skin? Their One of a Kind original formula can be used in replace of after shave or in combination and is recommended twice a week to create healthier skin and softer facial hair.

The Good Stuff monthly subscription lets the dad in your life experience the smoothest shave at home, each and every morning. They are so confident in the quality of their Shave Lather that they are letting everyone try it for just 5 bucks when they sign up! Learn more and subscribe here.

For the tech geek – Navdy

Navdy is the first Augmented Driving device that leverages augmented reality to project information directly in the driver’s line of sight, for an all new driving experience. Navdy enables simple, gesture-based access to the phone functions drivers need most and projects everything directly in their line of sight on the road ahead. A comprehensive eyes-forward solution, drivers can manage all their phone necessities like maps, calls, and messages, while keeping their eyes on the road. Read my full review of Navdy here.

For the man who loves to grill – Zach’s Wing Sauce

Designed with the griller in mind, Zach’s Wing Sauce is the first ever sprayable wing sauce. Crafted like great beers with premium ingredients and even packaged in a beer bottle with a sprayer on top, Zach’s aims to make grilling wings an experience that wing lovers will want to repeat…often. This sprayable sauce means less cleanup and allows grillers to use just the right amount of sauce. It’s made with quality ingredients and are Vegetarian, Dairy Free and Gluten Free.

They offer a $20 Mix Pack online that lets you mix and match your dad’s favorite flavors, like Chocolate Chipotle, Sriracha Lime and Better Buffalo. They can also be find in stores like Jewel Osco here in Chicago.

For the traveler – ModernMapArt

Have a dad who loves to travel? ModernMapArt takes his favorite cities, mountains, and places and turns them into beautiful works of art. If you’re looking for the perfect way to help him remember that trip to Europe, honeymoon, place you got engaged, his alma mater, hometown, or anything else, their maps are a great way to display that nostalgia. ModernMapArt creates museum-quality posters made on thick, durable, acid-free paper. The prints are created using UltraChrome ink so they are fingerprint resistant. Order one here and get free shipping on all US orders.

For the gift basket lover – BroBasket

The BroBasket offers the coolest choices of custom baskets that include all his favorites like craft beer, fine wines and spirits along with his favorite brand name gear and goodies. All baskets are 100% customizable and come in non-alcoholic versions too! The Craft Beer Tasting Kit is designed for those men who scoff at typical domestic beer and want something you can’t find at your local corner store. This basket offers a sampling of the top 4 beers from the 8 California breweries that BroBasket carries. Have a golfer in your life? The Golfers Delight basket above may be the perfect choice! Check out all the baskets available here.

 

For the outdoorsy guy – Family Camping Trip

What better gift to get the outdoorsy dad in your life than a camping trip with his loved ones? In my opinion, the gift of time together is the best gift you can give! Find a camping location here (kids camp free Father’s Day weekend!) and then enjoy it! For added fun, you can customize special shirts for dad and his lads. See how I made our camping shirts (pictured above) here.

For the musician – Yamaha Electronic Drum Set

Whether the dad in your life is a drummer looking for a space saving set to practice on or a beginner hoping to start a garage band, the DTX400K electronic drum kit from Yamaha would make an amazing gift! It’s really like having ten professional drum sets in one compact electronic drum kit because they can freely mix any of the 169 organic drum sounds to create customized kits that suit their style. They can try a heavy metal double bass kit one day then change into a dance kit the next, or keep their ten favorite kits of all time. They get a world of choices in this electronic drum kit: 23 snares, 21 kicks, 36 toms, 31 cymbals, and 42 percussion instruments. Learn more about the Yamaha DTX400K here.

For the coffee adventurer – Atlas Coffee Club

Trying to find a great gift for someone who loves trying new coffee flavors? Atlas Coffee Club is a travel-themed coffee of the month club that explores the world’s best coffee; Tanzania, Burundi, Congo, and beyond. Atlas Coffee Club curates only the finest coffee, paying above market prices to ensure that farms can produce high quality coffee year over year, and roasts each batch to accentuate flavor profiles distinctive to the each coffee region. Made to order to guarantee freshness, a subscription is the ultimate opportunity for organic flavor discovery and global variety. Each month Atlas Coffee Club highlights a new coffee growing country and shows the unique differences in both taste and culture.. To go a step further, they’ve designed their coffee bags as a celebration of culture for each country as each design was inspired by local textiles and landscapes. Order a gift subscription here.

What gift would the dad in your life love to receive?

Family Fun In Lake Geneva

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We spent Memorial Day weekend in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and there was a lot more to do with kids than I thought there was going to be. It’s definitely a town I’d recommend if you are looking for a quick vacation this summer! I wanted to share some of our favorite activities that we did while we were there along with suggesting a great place to stay and a couple places you may want to eat at.

Paradise Miniature Golf

This 18-hole miniature golf course is fairly inexpensive fun in a touristy town. The course was nice and well-maintained though the waterfall seemed to be under construction or not turned on yet for the season (which didn’t impact play in any way).  The course only had a few other families using it while we were there so it was quiet. We enjoyed playing and had a lot of laughs when a couple of our balls ended up in the water and we had to try to fish them out.

Moose Mountain Falls Indoor Waterpark (Located Inside Timber Ridge Lodge)

Guests staying at Timber Ridge Lodge can enjoy full access to Moose Mountain Falls indoor waterpark and the outdoor pool areas. The indoor waterpark is perfect for rainy day fun and easily won the “favorite thing to do” title from the boys. I like that the indoor waterpark was split in to two pools- one that was great for babies and toddlers and one for everyone else. The deeper one had basketball hoops on one end and Jacob ended up spending most his time there. There are two large water slides- a tube slide and a raft slide- that the boys loved going down along with two smaller slides. There was also an “adults only” hot tub (though I didn’t have a chance to try it out) and a lazy river. The outdoor pool areas are a little small in my opinion but if it’s nice out you probably don’t want to be sitting around the hotel anyway! Parents of young children will appreciate that the little kids have a separate pool area to play in.

Geneva Lake Museum of History

I’m going to be honest- visiting the history museum wasn’t on my list of things to-do when I headed to Lake Geneva. We had arrived at our lunch restaurant an hour before it opened so we had some free time and the museum happened to be across the street so we decided to go. I’m so glad we did! The boys, especially Lucas, really liked exploring it and I enjoyed checking it out as well. The first part was a “Main Street” that had replica homes you could go in to see how people lived during certain time periods. There are also a number of exhibits including a shoe exhibit, military exhibit, and train exhibit. Kids get in free to this museum and to make it even more fun for them, make sure to ask for a BINGO game they can play while walking through the museum!

Downtown Lake Geneva

One of my favorite things to do is walk around towns that have cute little downtown areas and Lake Geneva’s did not disappoint. Downtown Lake Geneva is fairly large with lots of great stores to check out and plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating areas. The boys enjoyed playing Pokemon Go as we explored the area. They also discovered a comic book store and a children’s book store which they thought were awesome. I enjoyed shopping at all of the stores with “lake life” decor as I imagined furnishing my dream lake home. Another great thing about the downtown area was that parking was so cheap! It was only $1 an hour to park downtown which will shock those from nearby cities like Chicago or Milwaukee.

Riviera Beach

Located right in the heart of downtown Lake Geneva, Riviera Beach provides the perfect way to cool off when it’s hot outside. Though the city was packed last weekend, the beach itself wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be. The beach area was clean and had lifeguards watching the water. There was a charge to get in the beach area but, if you are looking to save money and don’t care about getting in the water, there is a large grassy area right behind the beach that’s great for picnics and doesn’t cost anything to enjoy. Make sure to stop in the adjacent Riviera Pavilion for some ice cream, too!

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS:

If you are traveling via car make sure to stop by the nearby Jelly Belly Factory for a free tour and candy. The Mars Cheese Castle is a great place to stop for lunch and some snacks on your way to Lake Geneva as well!

Families will love staying in a suite at Timber Ridge Lodge for waterpark access. (They also have giant jet tubs for a little end of the day relaxing….)

We ate at a handful of restaurants but a couple I’d suggest are Carvetti’s Bar & Grill and Popeye’s. Carvetti’s has a nice patio area and, best of all, kids eat free with the purchase of an adult meal! Popeye’s is right across from the beach and has nice lake views. I loved sitting in their outdoor table area and their food was really good.

Have you visited Lake Geneva before? If so, I’d love to hear about your favorite family-friendly activities!

 

Sensory-Friendly Fun For Families At LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago

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As a parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum, I am so excited to share about the newest sensory-friendly event in the Chicago area for families affected by autism and other sensory sensitive disorders! LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago is teaming up with Autism Speaks, a non-profit dedicated to autism advocacy, to host Play Well Days – a series of sensory-friendly mornings of fun for all children.

Beginning this June, Chicagoland’s ultimate indoor LEGO playground will open early at 8:30 a.m. on the first Saturday of every month with activities and attractions specially-designed for children, families and groups with disabilities. Staff specially trained by Autism Speaks, as well as LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago’s Master Model Builder, will help facilitate fun throughout the Center’s 12 attractions until the center opens to the greater public at 10 a.m.

Special accommodations will be made during Play Well Days including:

  • Reduction of sound and light levels
  • Designated quiet areas
  • A reduced center capacity
  • Staff training by Autism Speaks
  • Special $5 Ticket price
  • Earplugs will be provided at request
Here’s a great video you can watch with your child to help prepare them for the event:

Admission for Play Well Days is $5 per person, and tickets are available online or at the door. You can register online for the sensory-friendly mornings here.

Afterschoolz: An Activity Finder For Chicago Area Families

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Thanks to Afterschoolz for sponsoring this post.

At the beginning of this year I shared about a helpful resource called Afterschoolz, a website that helped caregivers find activities for their kids in the Chicago area. The site was pretty new at the time but had such a great variety of activities listed and new ones being added frequently. I really liked the variety of activities provided, from sports to STEM classes to unique things like anime club. There seemed to be something for everyone.

Since the site was fairly new, they were looking for feedback and asked Making Time For Mommy readers what else you’d love to see available on the site. I know many of you asked for better search functions and I’m happy to say that the folks at Afterschoolz heard your request and made updates to make the search options even better.

This is great news for those of us still looking for summer activities! Personally, I have been wanting to find a gymnastics class for Lucas because the one he goes to at our local park district was cancelled this session and he was really disappointed. When I searched Afterschoolz I was excited to see many options, including gymnastics studios nearby that I never knew existed.

Searching the site to find local activities your children would enjoy is so easy using their new search feature with adjustable filters. You can pick the kind of activities you’d like by main category (academics, arts, athletics, camps or preschool) or search by specific activity keyword like “crafts” or “hockey”. You can look at all activities in your area or narrow the activities to only show ones within 5 miles of you. You can narrow the search even more by adding in more specifics about your child like age and gender and price limits if you are on a budget.

My favorite feature though, is the date and time filter. With a busy schedule I like being able to put in the hours that we have open and be able to see classes and lessons that are during those time periods. It’s great not having to search through dozens of activities looking for ones that work for our family’s schedule because this filter does all that work for us.

So whether you are looking for a summer camp for your tween, an art class for your preschooler or a dance class for your budding ballerina, Afterschoolz is the website Chicago area parents will want to check out. In addition to the great search function, the site shows detailed descriptions along with ratings and parent feedback on activities. There is even the option to sign up for the activities right on the site making this an easy to use resource parents will refer to for years to come!

What summer activities will you be searching the site for?

The Busy Mom’s Guide To Relaxation

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This post is sponsored by BabbleBoxx.com on behalf of Single Edition Media.

As a busy mom it can be hard to find time to relax. Between my kids, home responsibilities, work and everything else, sometimes doing something for myself seems like just another task on my ever growing to-do list. Usually I just sit in front of the television in the evening because I’m so exhausted but I’ve really been trying to spend a bit of time relaxing each day (my blog is called Making Time For Mommy after all…)

Today I want to share tips to help you relax. If you can carve out 30 minutes to an hour (or more) of time, I promise you won’t regret it! These tips are inspired by the fun ‘Busy Gal’s Bliss’ box I was sent by BabbleBoxx!

First thing you need to do? Turn off the electronics. I know it’s hard. I’m not judging anyone because I’d be embarrassed to share how much time I spend using electronics every day. It’s too much! I do know though, that as many great benefits as technology brings it also brings some not so great things, like stress. Disconnecting is important.

If your eyes hurt from staring at a screen all day or because of seasonal irritants, you may also want to use some eye drops, like Clear Eyes Pure Relief® Multi-Symptom. The unique formula of these preservative free eye drops is designed to relieve red, burning, itchy, dry, irritated, gritty or watery eyes and deliver up to 12 hours of soothing comfort. (Download a $3 coupon here.)

Next, write your to-do list for the next day. Don’t skip this step or you’ll be spending the whole evening thinking about everything you need to do. Writing everything down on paper will let you put it out of your mind for a bit so you can really relax.

The thing I find most relaxing is a warm bubble bath. If you don’t have a tub then a hot shower works, too. Taking your bath or shower in the evening, after the kids are sleeping, means you can enjoy it without little hands knocking on the door or feeling you need to rush through it.

Once you have taken a bath or shower, spend a little time on your beauty routine. First, use a kit like this one from Bloom Mineral Beauty (save with code ‘skin25′). I love the Shielding Eye Cream in the kit. It’s a natural and unique formula made with vitamin E fruit extracts and Dead Sea minerals that helps to control visible signs of aging, as well as tired signs around the eyes. As I’m getting older this is needed!

Also, warm weather means shorts so if you want smooth legs without the pain of waxing or the hassle of shaving, you’ll want to spend a bit of time using Nad’s new product- Nad’s Sensitive Hair Removal Cream. It’s designed for painless hair removal in as little as 4 minutes. Formulated with natural extracts of Melon, Aloe Vera, Avocado Oil and Honey to help soothe and protect sensitive skin, it has a pleasant smell while targeting the hair shaft for effective removal of unwanted hair.

The next thing you’ll want to do is put on something comfortable. Personally I can’t relax if I’m not wearing comfy clothes. I used to always think that I couldn’t be comfortable until I’d taken my bra off before bed but then I discovered the Coobie bralette. Made of soft, stretchy lace with adjustable straps, these bralettes are ultra comfortable and perfect for the warmer weather! The cups are lined with a soft, thin nylon blend that provides comfortable coverage without the bulk and no pads or wires. It’s perfect for every day wear or when you want to put on a little something pretty in the evenings. (I also love that they come in 3 sizes, Small (28A-32D), Medium (32A-34D), Large (36A-38D) so they fit most women.)

Lastly, you’ll want to spend some time doing something quiet, whether that’s journaling, reading, meditating, yoga, coloring or something else you find enjoyable and calming.

What tips do you have for fitting relaxation time in to your busy schedule?

 

Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Family’s Summer

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This is the first summer that my boys are not going to be in summer camp and I’m not going to be tied to my computer working so I’m excited to have a little freedom in our schedule now. Today I wanted to share tips about how we get the most out of our summer and how your family can as well. Whether you have the whole day free or your schedule is a bit busier, I think these tips can benefit all families!

My first tip? Extend your summer! Who says your “summer” needs to start in June and end in August or whenever the kids go back to school? I declared May 1st as the start of our summer one year and we are going to enjoy fun times as long as the weather will let us (which will hopefully be into September!)

Write down all of the fun things you want to do. I love creating bucket lists for every season and summer is no exception. When writing our summer bucket list I think of all the fun things I’ve enjoyed in the past, either as a child or with my own kids. I also make sure to add in a variety of ideas so we have ones for rainy days, places we can visit when we have a couple days of freedom, and a list of skills we have to practice or master over summer (like riding a bike). Keep your summer bucket list on your phone or in a notebook kept in your purse so that you can refer to it easily. I like having mine with me so, for example, if bad weather cancels Jake’s baseball game I can come up with an indoor activity to do instead of just going home and sitting on the couch in front of the television.

I also think it’s important to make sure to plan the fun occasionally. While I long for lazy summer days, that’s not always our reality between sports practices, therapy appointments, summer school and everything else we have to do. We’ve had many Saturdays that were filled with errands and, before we knew it, we’d wasted a gorgeous day with things that could have been done in little chunks of time elsewhere throughout the week. Schedule the fun in to ensure it happens!

I’ve also found it beneficial to put community events (like open gyms, library story times, farmer’s markets and anything else that has set hours) in my calendar so I don’t forget about them. If you are on a budget there are so many free and cheap activities available at stores (like lego building at Toys “R” Us and building projects at hardware stores), museums & aquariums (check for free days), and bowling alleys (we love the Kids Bowl Free program).

Enjoy some days of doing nothing. The school year will be back again before you know it so take some time to just sit around the house or the backyard and relax together. Dive into that book you’ve been meaning to read, stay in your pajamas all day or just go kick around a ball in the backyard. 

Lastly, don’t forget to record it! Take lots of pictures of your family’s summer fun (and mom, make sure to get in those pictures). Another thing we are doing this summer is having the kids write in journals daily. They’ll practice their writing skills but also record all the fun times they had which will be great to look back on.

How do you make the most of your family’s summer? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

Find more ideas in my ultimate summer guide as well!

 

Attention All Puzzle Loving Families

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

I have a hard time sitting still and doing nothing so years ago I’d relax in the evenings by doing a puzzle while watching tv. Once I had children though, aka beings with tiny hands that like to get into everything, my relaxing puzzle evenings happened less and less because I couldn’t leave my puzzles out on the table. I’d given up on this hobby until I discovered Magic Jigsaw Puzzles, an app available in all major app stores and on Facebook. With more than 20,000 family-friendly puzzles that are perfect for all ages and skill levels, there are plenty of puzzles to choose from. Now I can still put together puzzles without my children (or my cats) messing with the pieces.

Lucas, my youngest, loves puzzles as well so this app is great for him, too. He’ll be even more excited to see some of his favorite movies have come to the app because ZiMAD, the game developer, has partnered with Sony Pictures to launch its first film-based puzzle collections within the Magic Jigsaw Puzzles mobile game. Now he can put together puzzles featuring scenes from The Smurfs, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Hotel Transylvania. Other current and new release films will be included in the game at a later date.

This app is fun for the whole family, whether you are sitting in the waiting room or your kids need something to keep them busy on a long road trip. I really like that it’s easy to switch from “beginner” to “advanced” so that both my boys and I can enjoy playing the app together. Sometimes I’ll even put together a beginner puzzle just to take a break during my work day. {Confession…I may have stopped writing this post for five minutes or so to put together a puzzle of a river I wish I was sitting by….}

If you love puzzles, or have just been looking for a new app to occupy your time, download Magic Jigsaw Puzzles today and see for yourself how much fun it is!

DIY Decorative Mirror And Clear Skin Dreams

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

This July, I will be turning 34. Now that I’m well into my 30s and have bought a home, have two kids and drive a minivan, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m fully grown. Can someone please inform my skin that I’m an adult? I don’t think it got the memo! Those dreaded teenage years are behind me (long behind me….) and yet I still find myself looking in the mirror at a face full of acne.

To be honest though, I don’t remember having a lot of breakouts in junior high or high school. I had some annoying pimples but nothing out of the ordinary during that hormonal time when acne tends to be at its worst. I feel like my skin played a trick on me and, as soon as I became an adult, decided to go haywire. I don’t know if it’s the stress of “adulting” or what, but my skin has never been this bad. I feel like I’m always dealing with breakouts and as soon as some start to fade, new ones appear.

My acne keeps me from enjoying life to its fullest because I am so self-conscious about how my skin looks. In college I was the Student Council Social Chair of my class and so outgoing that I would pull people walking by me into conversations (even if I didn’t know them!) Nowadays, I avoid conversations with people mainly because I feel like people are staring at the breakouts on my face.

I also find myself avoiding cameras and video for the same reason. As a blogger, I’d love to start a video series. I used to be on the speech team and have no problem performing in front of crowds, but I hate how I look so much that the thought of doing so now gives me anxiety – not because I have to talk in front of people, but because I don’t want people to see me.

And mirrors? I avoid them because they show every imperfection. I’d rather not look at myself that much because I don’t want to see how bad my breakouts are.

I’ve decided that it’s time to change my mindset about my skin and not let it hold me back from being the best version of myself. I need to be able to look in the mirror and love the face I see looking back at me. It’s going to be a process but I’m ready.

The first thing I’m doing is trying a new acne product that I hope will clear up my skin. I have tried a number of products and none of them have worked but I’m excited to try this new Differin® Gel because I have heard good things about it. It’s the first and only prescription strength retinoid that’s now available over the counter for clearing and preventing acne. It actually clears breakouts where they start (deep in the pores), prevents breakouts before they begin, and as a result, restores skin’s texture and tone.

The second thing I did for myself was make myself a decorative mirror to look into every day. I do not want to avoid mirrors anymore. This was such an easy craft that I wanted to share the DIY tutorial so you could make one for yourself. It will look so pretty hanging over your table with some fresh flowers next to it!

Materials needed:

  • Mirror
  • Mosaic tiles (colors of your choice)
  • Adhesive created for mosaic tiles

Instructions:

Decide on how you want to arrange your mosaic tiles. Lay them out on your mirror so you can see how they fit. Depending on the size of your mirror and the size of your tiles, you may discover you need to cut some of the tiles or have some hang off the edge of the mirror a bit.

Use the adhesive to stick the tiles to the mirror. The adhesive dries quickly, so only do a small portion at a time. You can put glue on the mirror or on the back of the tiles. (I started putting it on the mirror but halfway through switched to putting the adhesive glue on the back of the tiles. Both methods worked, but putting it on the back of the tiles seemed to be less messier.)

Continue adding the tiles all the way around the mirror, straightening the pieces as you go so that the tiles dry in a straight line and aren’t crooked. Once the tiles are glued on, you will want to let the mirror sit overnight to dry before using it.

So now I have a new product I am confident will clear my skin and a beautifully decorated mirror to look into. I will be sharing my journey, along with a skin update, here on the blog in a couple months.

You can find Differin® Gel, along with Differin® Balancing Cleanser and Differin® Balancing Moisturizer, in the complexion care aisle at Walmart. Differin® Gel contains the dermatologist recommended retinoid, Adapalene. It’s the newest advancement and ingredient in the OTC acne category in over 30 years so if you feel like nothing has worked yet you should try this! Make sure that when you use it, you apply a thin layer all over your face once daily. Please use caution when using Differin® Gel with more than one acne treatment or glycolic acid product because this could lead to irritation.

If you are in a similar situation with the way you feel about your skin, I’d love to hear from you and perhaps even go on this journey {virtually} together! You deserve clear skin and to feel beautiful!

This product is dermatologist developed and tested. Please call 1-866-735-4137 for any questions you may have concerning the product. However, should you experience any problems while using the product, please discontinue use and consult your healthcare provider.

Waterfall Hiking Fun {And Family Hike Essentials}

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

I love finding new places to explore with my family. Whether it’s sitting by the ocean, walking around a small town or going out on the lake in a paddleboat, spending time with my family brings me joy. This Mother’s Day I wanted to go somewhere we’d never been before so I chose to take my family on a hike to check out a waterfall in a local forest preserve. It was a short drive there and once we arrived we applied sunscreen and grabbed our bag of hiking essentials before we headed out into the sun.

We found the main trail to the waterfall easily but it wasn’t long before we spied water and followed a small trail that led us to it. We had discovered the end of the creek.

For a while the boys enjoyed throwing rocks into the water and even tried skipping rocks with their Nana. Since it was a beautiful day out Jake took off his shoes and socks so he could wade around in the water.

He was having lots of fun until he accidentally fell down and got soaking wet!

Luke meanwhile, stayed nice and dry, sitting in the sand collecting little shells.

After an hour or so of playing we headed back to the main trail and continued on towards the waterfall. The beautiful weather had brought out dozens of people who had the same idea as I’d had but we still enjoyed checking out the waterfall and walking along the rock paths in the water.

The waterfall was smaller than I imagined it would be but I was still excited to show my boys their first waterfall. If you live in Illinois you will want to check out this place called “Waterfall Glen”. If you live out of state, check online to see if there are any waterfalls near you. You may be surprised to learn about a hidden gem nearby!

Before you go hiking though, you’ll want to gather some hiking essentials.

The first thing you’ll want to pack is sunscreen. Blue Lizard® Australian Sunscreen has been dermatologist recommended for over 15 years and provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection (SPF30+) to keep you and your family safe from the sun while you are outside enjoying the day together. Blue Lizard® should be applied to dry skin at least 15 minutes before sun exposure and/or water activities and reapplied at least every two hours to ensure SPF protection is maintained. The products have a unique zinc oxide formulation and the Sensitive variety we used is paraben-free, chemical-free and fragrance-free. I love their patented Smart Bottle™ technology, too! The bottle changes color when exposed to harmful UV sunlight which can be a great reminder for busy parents that it’s time to re-apply sunscreen.

We found Blue Lizard® at Walmart on a fun summer sunscreen display they had towards the front of the store near the gardening entrance. It’s easy to find because it has a giant umbrella on top! Save some money by joining iBotta and earn $4.00 when you purchase Blue Lizard® Australian Sunscreen – Sensitive, 5 oz. bottle only.

Another important thing to bring along on your family hike is water to drink. It’s important to stay hydrated while you are exercising, especially when it’s hot outside.

We also packed a trail mix of nuts, raisins and candies to snack on when we took rest breaks (which was pretty often since we were hiking with kids….)

Other things you’ll want to pack include a first-aid kit, ponchos (if rain is in the forecast), and a trail map if you need one.

Family hikes are a lot of fun and lead to some nice photo opps along the way!

Does your family like to hike? If so, I’d love to hear your stories! Also, let me know what other things you consider hiking essentials so I can add them to my bag for our next family hike.

How Busy Families Can Make Dinner Time Count

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

One of my favorite traditions from my childhood was sitting down to a family dinner every evening. We’d talk about our day as we ate a meal together. This was always a tradition that I knew I wanted to continue when I grew up but I’ve discovered as a parent that it’s a hard tradition to keep. Between sports, school commitments, work schedules and everything else, finding the time to make dinner and sit down as a family every evening is tough!

The best way I’ve discovered to make this tradition happen for our busy family is to stick to simple meals. With easy meals I spend less time in the kitchen and more time with my kids. My favorite meals are ones that I can just heat up and that’s why I love Kidfresh frozen meals for the boys. They are so convenient and perfect for our busy evenings because they are ready in just minutes! It’s a relief to know that I can still provide my family with quality meals, even when I’m short on time.

Not only are they quick to make, but they are meals that I feel good about giving my boys because they are from a credible brand I trust. Created with the help of a top chef and a pediatric nutritionist, Kidfresh meals are consistent with USDA dietary guidelines for all children and they offer the best in kids nutrition. Kidfresh meals contain no artificial flavors or ingredients and are full of nutrients that growing kids need. They also are full of veggies. Each Kidfresh meal is made with up to ½ cup of hidden vegetables so even the pickiest of kids (like my youngest!) will eat their veggies.

Kidfresh at Kroger

We found our Kidfresh meals and sides at Kroger in the freezer cases near the other single serve dinners. For a limited time at Kroger and Kroger family of stores you can save at least 15% off the everyday retail price at Kroger!

There were a variety of Kidfresh choices available including: Wagon Wheels Mac + Cheese, Spaghetti Loops + Meat Sauce, Muy Cheesy Quesadillas, Super Duper Chicken Nuggets, Mighty Meaty Chicken Meatballs, Fun-Tastic Fish Sticks, Totally Rockin’ Tots and SuperBlastin’ Bites. My boys love all of the Kidfresh meals they’ve tasted so far, especially the Wagon Wheels Mac + Cheese and Mighty Meaty Chicken Meatballs.

To keep the conversation going while the boys are enjoying their Kidfresh meals, and to avoid the typical answers of “fine” and “okay” when asked about their day, I created a conversation starters bucket to keep on the kitchen table. I wrote down about 50 questions on craft sticks that would require more than a “yes” or “no” answer and would hopefully start a conversation.

The questions ranged from silly (“if you could stay up all night, what would you do?) to personal (“what is something you like about yourself?”) and from simple (“what is your favorite book?”) to complicated (“describe your dream home”). The best part is that, as the boys get older, the questions can be changed and new questions can be added so they remain relevant to our family.

I then put them all in a small bucket that I decorated with washi tape and letter stickers that spelled out “family”.

I love how it turned out and am excited to use it for years to come.

How do you make your family dinners count?