Christmas Morning Traditions And An Easy Breakfast Casserole Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients for the breakfast casserole:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Date Idea And A Paint Night Gift Basket

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I put in my gift basket:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 random acts of kindness that families can do together:

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

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

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

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

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

Picture Keeper Season of Giving Giveaway

Tips To Help You Remember To Take Your Vitamins

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

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

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

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

Set electronic reminders for yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

3 Simple Ways To Do Good This Holiday Season

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Thanks to Salvation Army Chicago for sponsoring this post.

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

Donate goods.

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

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

Give kindness.

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

Donate time.

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

Live in the Chicago area?

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

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

 

Holiday Coffee Bar With DIY Chocolate Stir Spoons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy Halloween Family Movie Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which movie would you watch first?

Bach To Rock Makes Learning Music Fun

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Thanks to Bach to Rock for sponsoring this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Toy & Game Fair (Giveaway)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Football Party with Baked Potato Bar

“Concession Stand” Themed Football Party

Easy ways to update your bathroom for football season parties

Minecraft City Champs Tournament Coming To Chicago And Other Cities

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Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways To Make Reading Fun For Kids

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

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

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

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

HAVE A SNACK WHILE YOU READ TOGETHER.

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

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

PICK GOOD BOOKS.

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

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

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

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

MAKE READING A GAME.

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

READ IN NEW PLACES.

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

BRING THE STORY TO LIFE.

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

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

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

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

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

Hyundai Hope On Wheels: Helping Kids Fight Cancer

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Thanks to Hyundai for sponsoring this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips For Easy Snacking On The Go

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nabisco Snacktime Sweepstakes

Mom Groups Provide A Lifeline For New Mothers

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Thanks to Neighborhood Parents Network for sponsoring this post.

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

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

(Pictured above: Sarah and her children)

Here is Sarah’s story:

 

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

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

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

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

(Pictured above: An NPN New Moms Group)

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

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 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.

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

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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!

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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)

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?