Waterfall Hiking Fun {And Family Hike Essentials}

20170514_113225(2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Busy Families Can Make Dinner Time Count

20170510_084355(2)

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

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

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

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

Kidfresh at Kroger

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you make your family dinners count?

Our Family Christmas Pictures

PicMonkey Image (60)

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

Holiday photos of my family, both of me as a child growing up with my siblings and now of my own children, are some of my most cherished possessions. Looking at holiday photos makes me happy and I love being able to look back at how my family has changed and grown over the years.

While I get the kids pictures taken a couple times a year, we haven’t had a family portrait taken since Lucas was a baby. This year we decided it was time for another family photo so we headed to our local Portrait Innovations to get Christmas pictures taken. I wanted some of our family, some of Sinisa and I as a couple, some of the boys together and some of each of the kids individually. I loved that our photographer took into consideration what I wanted and made sure to get shots in different poses, and on a number of different backgrounds, so I’d have many choices to choose from. (As you can tell, I really loved their holiday background.)

Portrait Innovations specializes in giving customers a customized portrait studio experience with creative options for beautiful, professional portraits. Our photographer ended up taking close to 100 images during our photo shoot and I got to go through all of the images and pick my favorites. I loved that I didn’t feel rushed to go through the images and make my selections in a hurry as I have in the past at other studios. Another great thing about Portrait Innovations is that the packages are completely customizable so you aren’t stuck with a bunch of prints in random sizes that you’ll never use. You can also request edits, like cropping, on images to make sure all your images are perfect.

Want personalized gifts and keepsakes? Portrait Innovations makes it easy to create them while you are looking over your images in store or from the photo CD if you choose to purchase one. Photo gifts are perfect for holiday gift giving. I chose to create some ornaments and a canvas. I also got some photo Christmas cards to give out to my family.

Best of all, the prints were ready within 15 minutes of the order being placed. I like that I didn’t have to wait weeks for my prints. I am excited to get frames for our portraits and put all of our beautiful pictures up in our home! I also got the picture CD so I could share the images online and make more prints in the future if I want.

Do you still need to get your family’s holiday photos taken? This holiday season, preserve memorable moments in the best way with Portrait Innovations! They currently have a great deal going on now through December 11th. You can get a package with 42 holiday portraits for only $19.99 (Regularly $24.99), plus a free gift of your choice- either a mug or holiday ornament- (Regularly $25).  The Portrait Package includes 1-10×13 Wall Portrait, 2-8x10s, 4-5x7s, 4- 3x5s, 16-2x3s, plus, 5-5×7 Greeting Cards and 10 Gift Tags. There are never any sitting fees so this is a great deal! Find your closest Portrait Innovations here.

Do you get holiday photos taken every year?

Making Memories At Brookfield Zoo

edited_1469976815929 (1)

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

One of the great things about the Chicago area is that there are so many fun family-friendly things to do. One of the places we enjoy going as a family is the Brookfield Zoo. Some of my favorite zoo memories are pictured below, from the hot summer days to the cooler days at their ‘Boo at the Zoo’.

This summer, Brookfield Zoo is encouraging families to make even more memories inside their gates. On Friday and Saturday evenings, through August 13th, they are hosting Summer Nights.

The zoo stays open until 9pm these nights so people can enjoy Brookfield Zoo in a new light with cooler evening weather, enhanced dining, a beer and wine garden, live music, roaming performers, kid’s entertainment, and a new laser light show, all surrounded by wildlife and nature.

The summer fun isn’t limited to night time though. During the days families can find all the great exhibits they’ve grown to love, along with other exciting attractions like Dolphins in Action, Festival of Flight, Hamill Family Wild Encounters and Hamill Family Play Zoo. This summer the boys went to their first dolphin show and to Hamill Family Wild Encounters for the first time.

In the “Wild Encounters” area, visitors get a number of hands-on experiences including opportunities to touch and feed animals, including parakeets and goats. Lucas enjoyed brushing the goats and sitting with them in the goat area. We also got to see reindeer up close which is any Santa loving child’s dream!

Visiting the zoo with young children? Then you’ll want to visit the Hamill Family Play Zoo. Children will have fun touching, exploring, building, and playing while connecting with nature. They can pretend to be a zoo keeper, dress up like a lemur, or make some crafts.

Imaginative fun isn’t limited to the Hamill Family Play Zoo. My boys found it all over the park!

We loved checking out all the animals, too. The dolphins and penguins were my favorite. Lions and tigers and bears were a must-see on Luke’s list and Jake wanted to checkout the reptiles. I loved this guy (pictured below) who slowly came over and stood as still as could be just looking at me, letting me snap his photo.

Love birds? Now through Labor Day the zoo has ‘Festival of Flight’ which is a 20-minute presentation offered a few times through the day, that features more than 20 species of birds.

Have you visited Brookfield Zoo yet this summer? It’s not too late to make some more wonderful family memories!

Free To Play Without Worries

Screenshot 2016-04-19 at 8.43.28 AM

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

With two boys I always have tons of laundry but during Spring and Summer they seem to make double or even triple the normal amount of dirty clothes. Last week started baseball and soccer season which means we are outdoors almost every day of the week now and I’m noticing the pile start to grow already. Between sweaty clothes and sports uniforms they go through multiple outfits a day. On days they have swim lessons add some wet clothes, bathing suits and more towels. Muddy practice fields? More dirty clothes. I already feel behind on laundry constantly (that’s motherhood right?) so if this pile gets much larger I may not be able to find my kids anymore lol.

With lots of laundry I’m sure you all can imagine that the last thing I want is to have to wash the laundry a few times just to get the mud and grass stains out. Honestly, I used to stress out every time it was muddy because I didn’t want to worry about having to get tough stains out of their pants. As much as I wanted to be the carefree mom encouraging the boys to slide to home base, go after the soccer ball with all their might, or make that tackle in football, I couldn’t stop thinking about how dirty they would be after practice or a game. Their baseball pant stains are the worst because they are light gray and hard to keep clean. (Obviously a mom did not make that selection!)

Not only did I worry about their clothes on the field but I learned I needed to relax a bit when they were crawling around in the grass, too. There is not a day Lucas comes home from school with clean jeans. His pants always have dirt or grass stains on the knees.

It’s okay though because I discovered a secret product that fights tough stains for me- all® free clear detergent! I know that my laundry detergent delivers a powerful clean and will make their clothes look as good as new once washed. So I let my boys wrestle in the grass and play in the muddy fields because they are only young once. These times of mom letting them enjoy messy play will be special memories they will carry with them to adulthood and hopefully a tradition they will carry on with their own kids.

Is it time for you to let your kids be kids? If you still have reservations I understand but let me help ease your worries…. First, head to the store and stock up on some good detergent. I like all® free clear detergent because it is the #1 recommended brand by dermatologists, allergists, and pediatricians for sensitive skin. It’s hypoallergenic and clinically proven to be gentle on skin which is important to me because Lucas especially develops skin rashes really easily. I’d suggest going to Sam’s Club and getting the bulk container of all® free clear Mighty Pacs® because you are going to want enough to last all season long! I follow the directions on the label and use one pack for normal washes and two packs for heavily soiled washes (you’ll want to make sure you don’t use too much in a load).

Once you have your detergent give it a try and take your kids outside for an afternoon. Every time you want to yell “watch that puddle!” or “stay out of the mud!” just take a deep breathe and take a photo of the fun your kids are having. Better yet? Join them! You’ll be so busy having fun that the laundry will be the last thing on your mind!

So will you join me in letting go of the stress and embracing the freedom to be the mother you always dreamed of becoming? The one that lets kids get messy and have fun without worrying about the dirty clothes pile? I hope so! To further inspire you I encourage you to read stories from other parents here.

Our Favorite Games For Family Game Night

PicMonkey Collage

Life gets busy so our family makes sure to put time on the calendar for family fun. Every Friday is game and/or movie night. Whether we choose to find a kid-friendly flick or take turns choosing a game to play, family fun Fridays is something our whole family looks forward to. I wanted to share ten of our favorite games that both the kids (ages six and seven) and mom & dad enjoy. To make things easier I’ve added links to purchase the items on Amazon. They are affiliate links so if you choose to buy from the link our family gets a bit of the profit to buy more games :)

Trivial Pursuit Family Edition Game

This is a new game the boys got for Christmas that has been played on most of our game nights. This game has two decks of cards, one for children and one for adults. We play this in teams with one adult paired with a child against the other two and we usually use the deck for kids. I think the deck for children is for kids a couple years older than my two but there are numerous questions that are perfect for their age.

Spin Master Games Disney Hedbanz Board Game

This is a fun game where everyone tries to guess what character they are wearing on their headband. This is perfect for those Disney loving families!

Hasbro Pie Face! Game

This was the hot game to find during the holidays and we were lucky to snag one. The boys love playing this with whipped cream and it’s one game that the whole family laughs through. It’s also the perfect game to pull out when you don’t have much time to play since it’s a pretty short game.

Uno Card Game

This is one of our favorite card games. It’s pretty easy for kids to learn and play. It’s also very portable which is great for family trips like campouts.

Chutes and Ladders

This game is easy enough that the kids can play by themselves but fun enough for the whole family to enjoy. Just a heads up that this may be difficult at points for some children to handle since they may have to go backwards while playing. Lucas really struggles with this because he doesn’t understand that part completely but it’s a good lesson because things don’t always go perfectly in life. Regardless, he likes playing the game still.

The Game of Life Game

I loved playing this game when I was younger and am glad that my children like it as well. This game requires a bit more help from parents since there is a lot of reading. There is also a version for kids that may be better for younger children.

Mancala – Real Wood Folding Set

I recently introduced the boys to this game on a mini-vacation and they really liked playing it. It’s a very simple game to learn and the marbles can be used to make their own games, something Lucas really loved doing.

Three more games we recently played and enjoyed (but I don’t have pictures of) include: Engineering Ants (a STEM game!), Scrambled States (great for learning the states) and Gravity Maze (perfect for working as a family to solve a problem).

Which game does your family like to play on family game night?

 

Giveaway: Customizable Radio Flyer Wagon

Screenshot 2016-03-29 at 3.29.24 PM

Happy National Little Red Wagon Day! I’ve been a fan of Radio Flyer’s little red wagon for years and am excited to be working with them on this sponsored post to celebrate this special day.

For over 99 years, Radio Flyer has been helping make happy memories. Whether it carried loved ones on a trip to the zoo, goodies for a picnic at the park, or sport equipment for a day of little league games, the little red wagon held it all. For many kids it became much more than something used to transport people or things, it became a pirate ship, an ice cream truck and anything else children could dream of using their imaginations. Take a look at the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

I recently learned about Radio Flyer’s Build-A-Wagon platform that lets people customize and personalize wagons. There are over 150 combinations you could create, with everything from umbrellas to an mp3 player to padded seats. The hardest decision for me is deciding which wagon I want, the classic wooden one or the modern one with seats. Here are two I customized. Which one is your favorite?

Want to win a Radio Flyer wagon of your own to celebrate #LittleRedWagonDay? Enter my giveaway below! One winner will get to customize their own wagon on the Build-A-Wagon platform. Good luck :)

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

15 Activities To Keep Kids Busy When They Are Sick

Untitled

Nobody likes to be sick so I wanted to share some ways to make a sick day fun for kids. All of these can be done from the couch! A big thank you to Pfizer for sponsoring today’s post and providing a product bundle as a giveaway. I’m not a doctor and this post should not be taken as medical advice. I’m just a mom sharing what works for our family :)

SICK DAY ACTIVITIES

  • Have a movie marathon
  • Eat treats like popsicles that make a sore throat feel better
  • Play some board games together
  • Cut out paper strips and make a paper chain to decorate the house
  • Let your child play with special toys from the rainy day box
  • Color in a coloring book
  • Let your child help plan your next family vacation
  • Read books from the library
  • Make playdough creations
  • Make thank you cards for members of the military (here’s where to send them)
  • Make sock puppets and put on a puppet show for the family
  • Paint nails
  • Play a game on a tablet
  • Look through photo albums together
  • Put together a puzzle

Make sure to head to Target and stock up on over the counter medicines that will make your little one feel better when they are sick! Our must-have list includes Children’s Robitussin®, Children’s Advil® and Children’s Dimetapp®.

  • Infants’ and Children’s Advil® provide unsurpassed fever and pain relief, and contain ibuprofen, the medicine pediatricians use most for their own kids’ fevers (for ages 6 months -11 years)
  • Children’s Robitussin® provides soothing action and cough control with some formulations lasting up to 8 hours (for ages 6-12 years)
  • Children’s Dimetapp® provides great-tasting cold-fighting power and is the #1 pharmacist recommended brand for children’s cough & cold symptoms (for ages 6+)

GIVEAWAY

One reader will win a Pfizer product gift bundle

HOW TO ENTER

1) Leave a comment telling me one fun thing your child does on a sick day

2) Share this post on social media

 Giveaway ends April 15, 2016 at 11:59pm CST. Must be 21 or older and a US resident to enter.

Make Money Selling Your Kid’s Used Items {Giveaway}

vinted-kids-logo

(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.)

Kids need a lot of stuff. When they are babies it’s bassinets and pacifiers and onesies. As a toddler it’s shatterproof plates and sippy cups and ride on toys. As they get older they don’t need those “baby” things anymore. Their things become smaller and then you have little pieces all over the place and cabinets full of video games. Sound familiar?

What do you do with all the stuff that they grow out of? Do you keep it? Do you give it away? Do you sell it? What I do is keep my favorite items or things with sentimental value and then I sell the rest so other kids can enjoy them (and so that I can afford the newest “must have” item on their birthday wish list).

I recently learned about a site called Vinted Kids that makes it easy to sell your child’s gently used items. First, you open an account on the site and list the items you want to sell with descriptions, pictures and prices. Once you find a buyer, Vinted Kids provides a prepaid shipping label and you ship it. Meanwhile, Vinted Kids can track the package to make sure it gets to the buyer safely. Payments are done online and you get paid within three days of the items arriving to the buyer. Vinted Kids takes a small portion of that payment for their services.

The only thing I love more than selling and making money on my kids’ old clothes, toys and gear is shopping for them. Vinted Kids is a great place to purchase items for your children because the items are a lot cheaper than you will find in the stores. They also offer a guarantee on the items and will issue a refund if the item is never shipped, damaged or not as described.

Here are a couple of my favorite things I found while shopping on the site!

This name brand shirt for FOUR dollars!

 ***

How cute is this BRAND NEW Diesel jacket? I wish I had a girl!

Want to have some fun shopping for your own kids or grandkids? Vinted Kids gave me two $50 vouchers to give away! Here’s how you can enter:

MANDATORY:

Share this post on social media and leave a comment below with the link

ONE OPTIONAL ENTRY:

Create an account on Vinted Kids and leave a comment below telling me you’ve done so

SECOND OPTIONAL ENTRY:

Upload an item to sell and leave a comment below letting me know you’ve done so

Giveaway ends April 1, 2016 at 11:59pm CST. Must be a US resident and 21 or over to enter. Good luck! :)

Need A Sitter? Try Chime By Sittercity

chime2
(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post but all thoughts are my own.)
What is the one thing that keeps you from going out on a date with your significant other? For me, it’s childcare. Gone are the days that we can just decide to go out on a date and leave. Further complicating things for my family is the fact that we need someone who is qualified and has experience with children who have special needs. We can’t just call up the neighbor girl down the street when we want to go out. That’s why I’m thankful for services like Chime which was created by the same people who brought us Sittercity.
Chime sitters are hand-picked by the experts at Sittercity and each goes through a vetting process. Before being considered for the service, each sitter has to fill out an application, have an in-person evaluation, go through an enhanced background check, have their identity verified and go through a social media screening. Not every sitter makes the cut. In fact, out of every five that apply, only one gets in! I love knowing that there is a strict vetting process.
When it comes to finding the right sitter for your family, parents can view each sitter’s experience, reviews and ratings, video profiles and interviews prior to choosing right on the app or hellochime.com website. Sitters typically contact families beforehand (via phone or email) to get more information about the kid(s) and learn more about the family prior to the anticipated babysitting date. The family can ask the sitter any extra questions they have and can feel completely comfortable knowing they’ve chosen the right match for their family.
When it comes to date night, you can go out and enjoy the evening. When you come home payment is a breeze and no cash is needed (am I the only one who never seems to have cash when I need it?!) Payment is processed automatically via credit card through the app or website. Hourly fees vary per city with Chicago being just $14/hour and NYC being $17/hour. Have more than one kid? Each additional child is just $1/hour. That is a reasonable fee to pay when you live in the city and considering how easy the process is and how much vetting the sitters go through it’s little to pay for peace of mind. I should mention that there are no subscription fees and Chime is completely commitment-free.
Want to enjoy a date night of your own? Use coupon code MOMMYTIME at their website HelloChime.comThe code is for a $100 credit and will expire on 7/31/16. (Please note: Chime is currently in Boston, Chicago, New York City and Washington D.C)

What I Learned About My Kids While Away From My Kids

image2

The summer of 2015 flew by too quickly for me. Most people say the older one gets, the faster the time goes by. I find that to be true now that I am a parent more than ever before. The summer of 2015 was going to be a great summer for me and my boys. Jurassic World was going to be in the  movie theaters, Six Flags created a special deal that featured 6 dollar season passes. And Bikes would be ridden and pools visited and lots of trips taken. My 2 boys could hardly wait until school was out and fun began.

Life however had different plans and we actually spent most of the summer apart. My daytime job is a restaurant manager. In every way I can I always try to sharpen my skills to improve my management style and be the best I can be. Most importantly long term goal is to always be relevant and be the face of the company. An opportunity came up rather quickly and urgently for me to help another restaurant out and show what an asset I am. Alas this meant I will be in Omaha, Nebraska away from my kids and all the fun we were supposed to have.

The biggest take away for me was the opportunity to see my kids in a different light. I learned so much, and most importantly I know not to take my kids for granted and time with them is most important. My boys taught me they are very resilient and strong. I felt really guilty about being away at first but on my first visit home my heart was happy to find an absence of tears and sad kids. The boys focused on learning at camp and having fun with their friends more than they did on me not being home.

Another thing I learned about my kids is that their personalities are emerging more so than ever. They are becoming men. They are becoming their own unique persons. And it seems they are big fans of popular pop hits thanks to the park district pool. The boys taught me how much they value me being home and the chance to regale me with stories of their adventures.

If given the chance I would still go because seeing them grow and change was priceless. Their faces and minds expanded. Their smiles and ways they talk and think changed for the better. And even we were apart we grew closer together forever.

This Weekend I Broke Lots Of My “Mom Rules”

ABB_SIM_BloggerBadge_500x301

I’m proud to announce that I am partnering with Similac in their “Sisterhood of Motherhood” #UniteMonday campaign. I love that this campaign aims to unite moms and am happy to share my stories in hopes that you all will share yours, too because we are all alike more than we are different!

So this weekend Sinisa came home after being out of town for work since June 22nd with only a two day visit in that whole time (while I was attending a conference). I was literally counting down the minutes until his arrival because I was ready to have him home. Not only did I miss him but this parenting thing is hard solo!

When the kids woke up Saturday morning they ran right to daddy. They had missed him so much. I was so happy and thankful he was home that I broke a lot of self-imposed “mom rules” this weekend. Here are five things that I should feel guilty about this Monday morning but don’t:

1) My kids stayed up late this weekend. We had nothing scheduled for the mornings like we normally do so Saturday night we stayed out late at the Amusement Park and last night we stayed up late watching a movie together.

2) My kids ate a lot of junk. Saturday morning started with doughnuts, then after lunch it was a funnel cake sundae and dinner was found in the drive-thru. Sunday wasn’t much better but at least we got some veggies and fruit in them.

3) My kids spent most of Sunday watching tv and playing video games. Normally I try to limit this a bit but since this is how they bond with daddy I let it go.

4) My kids didn’t bathe Saturday. Or Friday. Or since they’d been at the pool on Thursday afternoon with camp. At least they got a nice long one yesterday though!

5) I didn’t follow through with punishments. Normally I try to not give consequences for bad behaviors unless I’m prepared to follow through on them but this weekend I just didn’t feel like doing that. After over a month of having to be in charge of correcting behavior I just wanted to be the “good” guy this weekend.

I may have had a lot of “fails” this weekend but I am proud of myself because I got out from behind the camera and took a family portrait. Sadly it’s been a while since our last one. I’m choosing to focus on that accomplishment and the fun times my family enjoyed this weekend instead of the things I think I should have done differently.

How was your weekend? Any “mom rules” you bent? No judgement here! Let the guilt go… :)

We Love Family Time Around The Campfire

camping shirts

Thanks to CustomInk for sponsoring our camping trip and providing us fun shirts to wear as we made great memories!

 

One of the best parts about summer is all of the quality family time that it brings. Every time we have a day or two without anything scheduled I try to schedule a road trip to somewhere within two to three hours. A few weekends ago we spent a couple days camping as a family.

Camping, to me, is the ultimate family trip because there are no tvs and lots of time spent telling stories around the campfire, talking in sleeping bags as we fall asleep and playing games at the picnic table.

We ended up picking a rainy weekend to enjoy nature but we were in a cabin so we just relaxed on the porch and under our tent as we talked and enjoyed an early lunch.

Thankfully the rain tapered off and there was some sunshine for us to get out and enjoy the day. The boys clamored to get in the pool and had fun jumping in and playing games in the water.

After the pool they wanted to check out the playground. They immediately found other kids to play with and started playing tag, one of their favorite games. There was also a tetherball pole so Sinisa and I took turns playing with the kids. It was a fun game I remembered from my childhood but neither of the kids had played before.

After exploring the campgrounds we headed back to our cabin for dinner. While the burgers were on the grill we played a game of Uno and some of the fun toys we had brought.

After dinner it was time for a camping favorite- smores! The boys laughed as daddy accidentally caught the marshmallows on fire. When they were nice and crisp we’d squish them between graham crackers and chocolate to make the best dessert!

***

I’ll have the memories of our amazing camping trip for years to come. I’d like to thank CustomInk for sponsoring our family trip and also sending us some fun shirts to wear. I created them myself online in less than 5 minutes and each was personalized with our name on the back of them.

CustomInk is the leading online provider of custom apparel and accessories for groups and occasions. CustomInk believes that t-shirts and other custom products have the power to bring people together and strengthen their sense of community. CustomInk combines an easy online Design Lab with personal customer care to help its customers create the perfect design for any club, school, business, team, or charity.

Let CustomInk help you make your next family reunion or family outing even more special! What would you create shirts for?

Build A Minion

minions5

(Disclosure: My family received free products but all thoughts are my own.)

Minions have arrived at Build-A-Bear Workshop! In anticipation of the upcoming Minions movie, my family and I headed to our local Build-A-Bear workshop to make our own little yellow friends. We love the Minions here at my home so the boys were so excited.

The exclusive, customizable collection features three of our favorite Minions characters- Kevin, Stuart and Bob. The Minions character collection, available now online and in stores, lets kids customize their Minion with a variety of signature Minions clothing items and sounds.

We discovered that our local workshop had a unique computer that let the boys add personality to their stuffed friends. The boys put the Minion’s heart on the screen and chose the personality that they wanted to add. Choices ranged from playful to brave to cute.

The next step was to add sound to their Minion. They had the option to add a variety of sounds, including the voice of the Minion or a sound they created themselves.

 The next step was to stuff the Minions with the fluff. The boys got to decide how squishy their little friends would be.

After their Minions were created they got to pick outfits, bathe them (in pretend water) and dress them. The last step was to name them.

Jake chose to stick with the real names of the Minions but Lucas enjoyed pushing every single button to create his own names for his two.

The boys loved hugging their new Minions. At the very end, each stuffed friend was given their own little box that they could be taken home in.

If you have a Minions fan, this will be something fun that you can do with them on the next rainy day. They can even bring their Minion with to watch the movie when it comes out in July!

Baby’s First Easter (Babies”R”Us Events Nationwide)

baby's first easter

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

The biggest joy a parent gets is seeing their child’s firsts. No matter if it is their favorite holiday or baby’s first steps. those are the most precious memories. With spring underway all thoughts turn to Easter and a Baby’s first Easter is a most wonderful time that will turn into a great tradition for years to come.

Easter is a special time for me on a personal level and as a parent. Since we had kids it has become even more so. Lots of great memories and smiles and lots more candy and toys and Easter egg hunts and happiness.

 

My kids favorite part about Easter by far are the Easter baskets because to them it’s treasure. Every year they are filled with something different. As they grow older they try to guess what the Easter bunny will bring them. Most recently we made ‘baskets’ with super hero stuff, Legos and cars. We also included some fun outdoor things like shovels for their sandbox and water guns. All of the things were in big planters so that the fun could continue after Easter when the kids helped plant flowers in them.

When they were younger their baskets were simpler. I remember when we made Jacob’s first Easter basket. We included things like board books, bubbles, crayons and small toys. The little guy was thrilled.

To make things easier for parents, Babies“R”Us is helping celebrate Baby’s First Easter in a big way at stores across the country.  Babies“R”Us stores are stocked with everything parents and gift-givers need to make this Easter special, such as Easter-themed apparel, My First Easter products, gift basket ideas and more.

This Saturday, March 28th from 10-11am, parents can bring their little bunnies – dressed in their Easter best – to Babies“R”Us stores nationwide for festive, interactive activities for the family. Attendees can experience a Bunny Hop around the store, photo opportunities and craft and story time, as well as receive Pampers giveaways (while supplies last), participate in raffles and meet other local families and babies.

What is your favorite memory with your little ones at Easter time?

Worry Free Outdoor Fun

baseball

This is a product-sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ Wound & Skin Cleanser. The opinions and text are all mine.

Today the temperature outside reached 64 in our Chicago suburb. This is very exciting for everyone, especially for active families that will be thrilled to go hiking and biking and play sports outside in the fresh air. For my family this means it is time for baseball, soccer and the playground. This also means it will be a time full of scrapes, cuts and bug bites. As a parent I know this is unavoidable and I hate to see my boys suffer.

To be truly prepared we always have a bag of a few essentials in our vehicles that can help in an emergency. Some of the best things to have in an emergency kit are an instant ice compress, bandages and band aids, extra mouth guards (for football), snacks and Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™

To keep your team from getting sidelined new Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ Wound and Skin Cleanser, the easy first step in first aid that gently and effectively cleans and hydrates minor wounds, wants you to enter the Play to Win with #TeamPuracynPlus Giveaway for the chance to win a  Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ Emergency Kit, including a $50 gift card to a sporting goods store of your choice and  Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ product. One winner announced each Friday on March 13, 20, and 27. #TeamPuarcynPlus (3 winners total).  It will be the best way to kick start the outdoors activities season.

My kids both play soccer and baseball during which they both get scrapes and usually the scrapes are messy from the field. The easy to use, hands free spray application of  Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ thoroughly cleans minor cuts and wounds, eliminating the need for running water in the critical first moments of cleaning a wound.

I also like Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ because it is doctor tested and recommended for quick wound treatments and is free of alcohol and steroids. It is so safe that it will not bother them even if it accidentally gets in their eyes or ears. A 4oz bottle can be purchased at Rite Aid and Walgreens for $14.00. It is convenient to carry in your car kit so you will always have  Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ in stock for when you really need it.

To learn more about the brand visit www.puracynplus.com and follow the brand on facebook (facebook.com/puracyn) and Pinterest. Another product they have is the Puracyn Plus Foot Wash and Skin Cleanser, a highly effective cleansing solution for healthier feet and wound care. If you or a loved one have diabetes Puracyn Plus Foot wash is essential to help make foot care part of your daily health routine and self care.

We are ready for the warm weather and the outdoors and especially the fun that comes with it. Thanks to Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™  we will be ready for anything that comes our way. So join in the fun and discover fearless life with Puracyn.

To learn more about the Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ , LIKE the brand on Facebook and follow the brand on Pinterest.

This is a product-sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Puracyn® Plus Duo-Care™ Wound & Skin Cleanser. The opinions and text are all mine.


Making Breakfast A Habit

change-to-habit

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Today I jumped out of bed at 4:30am. Most of my mornings don’t start that early but even on the days I get an hour or two more of sleep, mornings are too hectic to sit down and eat breakfast. Luckily I have discovered belVita Bites. A delicious healthy and fulfilling breakfast for someone on the go like me.

A study by NPD Group Inc. found that Americans have an average of just 12 minutes a day for consuming breakfast. That is about half the time we spend on lunch (28 minutes) or dinner (24 minutes). This is the most important meal of the day and so many people don’t eat a quality breakfast like they should.

Eating breakfast sets the tone for the day because it gets our blood sugar up which makes our brain function better the rest of the day. It gets our metabolism going. It reduces cravings later in the day. And it puts us in a better mood.

belVita Bites, paired with fresh fruit and yogurt, are a great way to enjoy a quick breakfast on the go. Each pouch provides: 230 calories, 4g of fiber* and 20g of whole grain. Did you know that dietary fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease? That is a great reason to try them.

To encourage breakfast fans to trade in their spoons in favor of a balanced breakfast, belVita is taking over National Cereal Day (March 7). They have teamed up with Registered Dietitian Keri Gans, Life Coach Christine Hassler, and author of Eat It to Beat It David Zinczenko to provide a few tips for a healthy breakfast and a smooth morning routine. Last Wednesday belVita Breakfast Influencers had a breakfast panel to discuss the changing American breakfast and how nutritious, convenient solutions like belVita can help on-the-go families stay energized all morning long.

For someone like me who is always on the go at early hours of the day this is the obvious better choice of breakfast. It was simpler and tastier and healthier. Here are some of the great tips that they shared:

“Being that people today have no time to cook, they are looking for options with nutrition’s latest buzzwords – protein and fiber. belVita paired with a serving of non-fat yogurt and fruit hits on protein, fiber AND whole grains.”-David Zinczenko, New York Times best-selling author of Eat It to Beat It! and the Nutrition and Wellness Editor at ABC News

“Doing something 40 days in a row moves it from a change to a habit. Making a complete breakfast a habit starts today.” -Christine Hassler, life coach and Author

So lets make better choices and form great habits. Let Belvita be a start to a balanced breakfast and join me tomorrow as I trade in my spoon.

10 Things New Parents Learn

THINGS-NEW-DADS-LEARN

I always knew I would be a dad someday. The plan was I would amass a great amount of wisdom and coolness first in order to be ready. Honestly nothing really prepares anyone for parenthood completely. I personally read books and asked around and truth be told when my first son was born I had tons of questions. I found myself living the dream and somewhere along the lines I learned great things about being a Dad.

So here is my list of 10 things new parents (specifically dads) learn:

1. Children change your life (for the better): All of a sudden staying in is way more important than hanging out with the guys at a bar on Friday night.
2. You learn the importance of sleep: Napping while they nap is awesome and sleeping in while the grandparents take the kids is a must.
3. Changing diapers like a pro: This is repetition meets survival because no one wants pee in their face or a big mess.
4. Your newborn knows who you are: Nothing is sweeter than when you realize your kid knows you and recognizes you and they are excited to be held by you.
5. 3 am feedings are the best bonding time: I worked 2 jobs as a restaurant manger and the hours were crazy but spending time with my kids in the middle of the night to feed them and comfort them was priceless
6. It is never too soon to start a 529 (college savings plan): This one is important. The economy is not what it used to be and no matter your income, college savings plans are best started early.
7. Men get baby fever too: My second son is the result of this but also in seriousness I do have moments when I think our family should be bigger and I wish to have a daughter.
8. It gets easier after the first year: Trust me, things fall into place and routines happen, kids get bigger and life gets easier.
9. Kids are resilient and they truly just need your love : All kids get scrapes and cuts but in the end they heal. Your love and attention is what helps them the most.
10. Kids absorb your every word: Kid’s little brains are like thirsty sponges and they are very aware of everything being said around them and to them.

What did you learn as a new parent?

Trying A New Bedtime Routine

toms1

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

One of the toughest struggles a parent has is getting their kids to brush their teeth before bed. It takes time and discipline and yes tears are shed. My two boys are the most stubborn kids and I am always looking for ways to get them to develop better brushing habits. Luckily it is National Children’s Dental Health month and Tom’s of Maine teamed up with Oral Health America (OHA) to share healthy brushing habits and oral care prevention information. They have created an amazing way to get kids interested in brushing and bedtime routines. Tom’s of Maine is inviting kids and parents to get creative for a good cause and learn about natural oral care with an engaging coloring book called “Brushing Fun” for kids of all ages. Each free download of the book will donate 10 tubes of Wicked Cool! natural toothpaste in addition to a one-time donation of $50,000 to Oral Health America to OHA in support of its Smiles Across America program.

As a dad I was thrilled because it is a great motivational tool for my boys and all the kids out there. They could not wait to get started on their coloring books and learn more about better oral care.

The overall purpose of the program is to establish good bedtime routines. Brushing is key but other things are also a part of it, like relaxation exercises and journaling.

When I got this yoga book, I wondered about the level of interest my boys would have for yoga. As it turns out they are very much aware of what yoga is. “We learned it in summer camp”, they said. Then they decided to show off their moves. Yoga is great for kids to stretch but also to calm their bodies before bed.

The most exciting part was the coloring book. As the boys both love coloring and storytelling this part was their favorite. They also love their devotionals and daily journal.

Downloading the coloring book is easy. Just visit http://bit.ly/dentalhealthforall to access and download the coloring book. Your child will have so much fun and it will improve the bedtime routine with calming activities.

Menu Planning With The MyMixx App

food2

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

These days life is too hectic. Making time for family dinners is very important, and making great tasting healthy meals is simplified with Jewel’s MyMixx. During Lent I want my boys age 6 and 5 to eat fish and seafood meals often, and the key to them sticking with it in the future is variety and exciting recipes. MyMixx helps with that tremendously. There are easy to make recipes for  appetizers, breakfast, lunch and dinner. and even more. Everything is searchable and the best part is MyMixx creates a shopping list for each recipe selected.

Since Lent season started my personal search of recipes and ideas is more focused on fish and seafood entrees. The biggest benefit to my family is that seafood is healthy if prepared right. MyMixx basically does all the work and then it saves me money by creating coupons I can use the next time at the store. As this is 2015 my kids are very visual and they love seeing their food as we talk about what will be for dinner. They enjoy scrolling through the pictures of the recipes and especially the desserts.

As parents we encourage our boys to at least try new foods that are introduced to them. So in continuing with that spirit I asked both boys to help me choose a recipe for this post in the MyMixx app.

Jake is the older one. He is almost 7. His tastes are developing more and he does understand healthy eating so he chose a recipe that looks and sounds familiar and safe (and therefore edible to a child). Jake chose Fish tacos, a very tasty recipe he saw on the MyMixx app.

My  younger child is the pickiest child ever, and would choose to eat sweets more than anything. With some bribing and guidance he found a recipe that he liked and also insisted on a dessert recipe. He actually just wanted dessert. One exciting part of all this is that he likes cooking and wants to help prepare the recipe so he is excited.

I truly love the MyMixx app. It saves me time and money. It helps me and my family eat better and with great variety. Most importantly though, the MyMixx app helps me to bond with my kids over technology and with cooking. MyMixx is a powerful app to use to create a life of ease in relation to cooking and grocery shopping. We will be making the two recipes above for a special dinner next week.

 

 

Dads Love Minivans Too

car2

A big part of becoming a Dad for me was accepting ideas that were not my own to be successful at raising kids and leading a great family. One big rule I always stuck to though was “happy wife, happy life”. A big challenge to that rule came with a decision to buy a minivan. As a guy I felt like minivans were fine vehicles but my car should be macho all the way. I had a collision earlier in the year and at some point I was in need of a new vehicle and I looked at trucks and sport cars, but everything in my heart kept saying happy wife, happy life, so I got a minivan. Alicia’s dream car has been a Chrysler Town and Country ever since she was in junior high school so while she was out of town I set out to get one and surprise her.

Obviously she was thrilled when she came home and the boys were psyched but my opinions on minivans started to change for the better. Soon I was in love with her minivan, but do not tell her that. Driving it home from the lot I noticed the driver sits pretty high up but also it sort of drove like a truck a little bit. I drive an  SUV so I was used to having room but there was extra room between the seats and in the back and there were magical storage spaces under the seats. This just made life easier when shopping and traveling.

My favorite thing about our minivan quickly became the side auto-sliding doors. One day I was leaving Sam’s Club with our youngest child and it started to rain. I carried him, but the real hero of the story were the doors. A simple touch of the button and they were opened and he was inside. The doors make a world of difference when picking up kids from school and dropping them off and at all their other activities.

Sometimes I think the kids love the minivan more than their mom. They have the DVD player and between their seats they have books and car friendly toys. Strangely enough their favorite part is the 3rd row where they can just jump around and pretend they are hiding.

My wife truly loves the car and was happy that was her gift. She was very happy that we had it for our family vacation last April. We drove all the way to Florida from the Midwest. It was a blast for the whole family. The car was comfortable and it completely made every mile wonderful.

It is funny to think a car has such a huge impact on our family but it did wonders to bring us closer together and make life easier for our family. This is one time I am happy I followed the old “Happy Wife, Happy Life” rule and bought her a minivan as a surprise.

7 Tips For Introducing Kids To The Joys Of Cooking

introduce-kids-joys-of-cooking

Between school, sports, and other extracurricular activities, it can be hard for parents to find quality time to spend with their kids. One of Sinisa’s favorite ways to bond with the boys is by inviting them to help out in the kitchen. It can be a fun and educational experience.

Having grown up in the age of television food programming, many of today’s kids have a strong appreciation for how food is made and a desire to try some of the recipes and techniques they’ve seen on TV. Jacob’s favorite food show is Cake Boss and both boys enjoy helping bake (especially when they get to help make crepes and smother them in Nutella).

Here are seven tips for introducing kids to the joys of cooking, provided courtesy of the team at Chef Works, a leading provider of culinary apparel for professionals and home cooks alike.

Start Them Young

Like most things you want to teach your kids, the earlier you can get them started, the better. While obviously you’re not going to let a toddler handle a knife or cook at the stove, there are plenty of tasks that aren’t dangerous that will get them excited about food. Give your kindergartener a bowl of green beans to snap, or let your kids dump flour into the mixing bowl when making bread. Kids from almost any age can help measure, rinse, stir, or clean.

Start Simple

When you first teach your kids to cook, you can overwhelm them with complicated recipes and techniques. Instead, try easy snacks and recipes that require very little, but turn out impressive. Simple dips, fruit salads, or easy pizzas are all things that won’t burn out your kids, and that they’ll love to eat when the time comes.   The younger your kids are, the shorter their attention span, so you need to make sure that whatever you’re doing is hands on, and produces results fast. It will make them extra excited to get in the kitchen next time, especially if they end up getting a treat at the end.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make a Mess

Kids love messes, and while you may not like cleaning up, it can make cooking all the more fun. Let kids roll out pie dough, stir batters, and smash tomatoes with their hands. Just make sure you teach them how to clean up after each session as well.

Get Kids Their Own Gear

Little hands require little things so consider purchasing a set of kitchen tools that are child sized. Chef Works also sells a variety of gear for kids, so you can get your kids their own aprons or jackets. It will teach them about cleanliness, and maybe even encourage them to be a professional chef someday.

Let Them Be in Charge

After a few lessons in the kitchen, let kids that are old enough take over the planning, prep, and even some of the cooking. Kids will be excited to know that a meal that they came up with on their own is eaten and enjoyed by the family. Of course, you can help them if they request it, or aren’t old enough to do everything on their own, but it’s an amazing sense of accomplishment when they do as much as they can on their own. 

Take Them Shopping

Instead of dreading taking your kids shopping, embrace it. Walk them through the produce department, and talk about different fruits and vegetables and their nutritional benefits. Let them touch, smell, and feel the difference between different types of fruits, and teach them about different meats and cheeses. Skip the junk food aisles to limit begging, but instead teach your kids the value of real, wholesome food.

Farmer’s markets are another great way to get kids excited about different foods, and you’ll have a blast watching your kids’ excitement as they learn how different foods are grown and produced. It can teach them to appreciate good quality food that fuels their bodies instead of just satiating them.

Make it a Family Thing

Parenting experts will tell you that eating a meal around the dinner table is important, and it is. You can make it even more special by making the cooking process a family affair as well. Assign each family member a task based on age and ability, and get in the habit of coming together each night to make a meal that is worthy of the best restaurants. You’ll accomplish two things by doing this: First, you’ll be building good habits and spending quality time with your family, and second, you’ll take the pressure off of one person to do all of the work of meal planning and prep. It’s truly a win-win for everyone involved.

This last tip is so true. Some of the best childhood memories I have are those made in the kitchen and around the dinner table! What other tips would you suggest?

 

What Matters Most During The Holidays

IMG_3490

I have received information about the TYLENOL® For What Matters Most™ campaign from McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division of McNEIL-PPC, Inc., the makers of TYLENOL®. The opinions stated are my own. This is a sponsored post.

The best part about the holidays is all the quality family time and traditions it brings. I can still remember Christmas mornings growing up. As a kid I loved the gifts but I loved our family Christmas morning ritual even more.

We’d start by waiting at the top of the steps for everyone to wake. Once we woke our parents up we’d race downstairs (in our pajamas) to dump out our stockings to see what Santa brought. This was followed by a big homemade breakfast that my dad made. We’d get dressed while he cooked and then enjoy eating together while we talked.

After breakfast we’d sort the presents into piles by the number written on them, since my mom never labeled them by name, all the while guessing which number we were and which numbers our siblings were. When all presents were sorted we’d open our cards that revealed what number we were that year and those are the presents we’d open. After everything was unwrapped we’d spend the rest of the morning opening packages, eating popcorn, listening to Christmas music and spending time together.

Since my {step}mom has passed away, keeping those traditions are even more important to me now and I try to keep my favorite ones going with my boys. When it comes to Christmas morning I want to give them those same magical memories my parents gave me. This means special Christmas pajamas, no opening presents until after breakfast and a tin of popcorn to share. I’ve also started incorporating new traditions such as the Christmas Pickle, the one gift from Santa being unwrapped, and appetizers to snack on the whole day (or two!) we spend at home with nowhere to go.

I hope my children will look back on Christmas mornings with joy and happiness. I like to think how they will continue our traditions when they get older and have their own kids. While I enjoy our traditions, and plan to continue them, the best part is really just spending time together.

I think no matter the dynamic or makeup of a person’s family we can all agree that family matters most. To celebrate the holidays this year, the makers of TYLENOL® created the ‘For What Matters Most™’ campaign and decided to put a modern spin on Norman Rockwell’s classic holiday painting Freedom From Want, to help illustrate how modern families come together to celebrate what matters most during the holidays.

I encourage you to visit the TYLENOL® website and also to pin the below picture or another picture that depicts your family spending time together during the holidays.

My family values time together, traditions and Faith. What special things does your family value?

Having Faith In Tough Times

toughis

(Disclosure: I am proud to be working with Brawny® on a series of sponsored posts as they inspire people to be “Tough to the Core.”)

The summer before I headed into my Senior year of High School my life completely changed. My {step}mom had been complaining she didn’t feel well and within a couple days she was in the hospital fighting for her life. She had Viral Encephalitis and was in a coma and the cause was thought to be West Nile virus. After weeks she came out of the hospital but the swelling in her brain had caused brain damage and she was never the same. She developed a seizure disorder, suffered from memory loss, battled depression and had noticeable personality changes.

For nine years my mom battled Epilepsy until it took her life in June of 2009. She truly taught me a lot about life and was tough to the very end, never letting her illness dictate her life. My mom spent hours a day fighting back against memory loss by writing down everything, doing memory boosting activities and trying to strengthen her memory retention skills. She also tried different medicines and procedures to get her seizures under control. She strived to keep her life, and her children’s lives, as normal as possible and she was sure that by trying as hard as she could, she’d succeed.

Every day was spent reading the Bible, listening to encouraging speakers and immersed in Bible studies. Her Faith never wavered. She believed that she would get better. Having Epilepsy she was not allowed to drive and this was probably one of the hardest things for her to accept. Her Doctor had told her that once she went at least 6 months without a seizure she would be allowed to drive again. Every time I talked to her she told me that she would be driving soon and then every seizure she had she started the countdown clock again. For over 9 years she kept a positive attitude and believed that she would be able to drive in her near future. I really think she’s up in Heaven cruising around in her sports car!

I try to teach this same strength to my kids. I want them to remain positive in the face of struggles and have faith even when it’s hard to. I think these two things can get my children through any tough situation they encounter.

Thanks to Brawny® for encouraging these conversations. Want more information on how to be tough to the core? Check out the inspiration video series featuring Everyday Heroes from Brawny® and connect with them on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

Build An Adventure With The Boy Scouts Of America

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 9.16.01 PM

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

When I was growing up, my mom was a boy scout leader for my brother’s den and I helped with child care and watched the siblings of the scouts. Scouting was always something I wanted to put Jacob and Lucas in so, sure enough, as soon as Jacob was ending his Kindergarten year I signed him up for Cub Scouts. He looks so cute in his scouting uniform!

What I love about the Boy Scouts of America is that they have such a positive impact on the youth that participate in their programs. They provide kids with activities that allow them to try new things, from fishing to woodworking to archery, that build self-confidence. Scouting builds character, encouraging children to serve others. Children also have a chance to connect with other kids outside of school and provides a new place for them to make new friends.

Even better than all the other benefits is that scouting can be a great family bonding time. Recognizing the difficult daily balance parents strive to achieve between spending time with their children and fulfilling their other responsibilities including work, the Boy Scouts of America shows parents how they can “Build an Adventure” with their children today with unique, life-changing experiences their kids can’t get anywhere else. The possibilities for adventure are endless and entirely attainable—even for families who have a lot of demands on their time.

Want to learn more about how you can build an adventure with your son? Visit beascout.org.

The Picture Of Me

me and grandpa

So excited to be working with Ancestry.com this month because I want to share what I found with you all! I was poking around on Ancestry.com trying to fill out my family tree and I found my late Grandfather’s information and noticed someone had posted some pictures of him. As I was looking at them I realized one of the pictures had me in it! True story! This picture was over 30 years old and I’d never seen it before!

My Grandfather passed away in 1992 and I only got to see him a handful of times in my young life so this picture means a lot to me. I loved seeing the pictures of him when he was younger as well.

Ancestry.com is great for connecting with distant relatives as well. These pictures were posted by someone I didn’t recognize so I messaged her and she replied back and said “I got the picture From Alice (last names removed). She is soooooo nice. She is a cute little old lady and remembers a lot. And very helpful.” So my older relative wasn’t using it but I was able to get a message to her through this person. Have I mentioned lately how much I love the internet?

I found out a lot of information about other members of my family, too. They even have copies of the report of who was on the boat when my other Grandpa came over to Ellis Island in the 50s. It was pretty cool to look at those records.

Another thing I noticed? Seems as though my last name somehow gained a letter in the early 1900′s. It was interesting to see and made me realize that I should be searching for my last name with a letter taken out to find relatives in the 1800′s. I wonder what other surprises I’ll discover?

Want to explore your own family tree? Maybe learn more about your last name? Get a free trial of Ancestry.com! 

2013: My Year In Review

2013

This past year has been amazing and (in typical blogger fashion) I wanted to write a blog post to share the highlights:

FAMILY

2013 was a year of growth for my family. We went on our very first family vacation to Wisconsin Dells and had a few other mini-vacations after that. The boys spent the summer at summer school and camp and enjoyed weekly field trips with friends. They kept us busy from Spring to Fall with sports and activities including football, basketball, soccer, tball, swimming lessons and Awana. Jacob started Kindergarten and amazes me every day with his knowledge. He is starting to read and that is so exciting! Lucas started his second year of preschool and has changed so much since last school year. He started school this August in a classroom specifically for children with Autism and now, mid-way through the year, is spending half of his day in that classroom and the other half of his day in an inclusive classroom with the help of an aide. I am so proud of how far he has come!

Sinisa has had a hard year with the loss of his mom this summer. He recently started a new job and is enjoying it so far. Along with working and blogging, I started teaching Sunday School again which I love.

We had a wonderful {and simple} Christmas season and enjoyed hosting a Christmas day family get-together. Sinisa traded in one of our cars and surprised me with my dream vehicle- a minivan! It is used but I’m excited about having a vehicle with so much space. Christmas break has been spent at home, cuddling together and playing board games. The perfect way to spend our days off!

WORK

In 2013, I went full-time at work {meaning I was an “official” employee and no longer contract} and became the manager of my department. I love being able to do what I do and am blessed to be able to work from home with amazing people. In the Spring we held our first blog conference which brought me to Arkansas to visit and I got to check out our headquarters. I’m really looking forward to SoFabCon 2014!

BLOG

This year I celebrated my 5 year blogiversary! What started as me blogging about my goals with no intention of anyone ever reading what I wrote turned into a business. In 2013, my blog took me to Wisconsin Dells, Branson, and even to Jamaica! I’ve been blessed to work with some great brands on some amazing projects, review some amazing products, check out some great local events, start new Ambassadorships, and have my first spokesperson gig. I’ve also enjoyed writing about things that interest me and sharing my heart with you all.

I thought it would be fun to share my top posts of the year. I had some roundups and giveaway posts that did really well but other than those my top posts this year were:

I found it interesting that most of my popular posts were older posts. Many were children’s activities which I love doing and (having taught preschool in the past) have many more ideas for, so I will try to add more of those in every month. I hope you all have enjoyed reading my blog this past year and I look forward to 2014 with you all!

My Favorite Christmas Traditions At Home

popcorn 5

(Disclosure: This post was inspired by a special moment I had with Lucas while eating free popcorn from The Popcorn Factory.)

I am a big fan of traditions. As a mom, there are some traditions that I insist on keeping from my childhood and then others that I have started since having children. I wanted to share some of my favorite ways we celebrate Christmas and the whole holiday season in our home.

Decorating the tree with special ornaments – The tree we use may change but one thing that will always stay the same is the type of ornaments that are on it. I love handmade ornaments made with love by my kids and proudly display them. These ornaments mean the most to me and I love seeing how my children have grown from year to year. I also love dough ornaments that feature our names on them. We had a new one of these every year I was growing up and I think they are so special to have.

Baking cookies - Some years we bake a lot and some we only back a couple types of cookies but this is always a fun time. My favorite cookies to bake during the season are peanut butter balls (which are basically crunchy peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate), peanut butter “kiss” cookies, and sugar cookies. The sugar cookies my mom used to make are my favorite. The dough is rolled into a log, the log rolled in sprinkles, and then the cookies sliced and baked. They were soft and buttery with just the perfect amount of sprinkles.

Eating popcorn in front of the fire - Lucas and I were doing this last night and that’s what inspired this whole post! The Popcorn Factory sent us a big tub of popcorn and as Lucas and I were eating the delicious treat I thought back on how this was a tradition I loved as a kid. We’d always get a popcorn tin (sometimes more than one of them!) filled with 3 or 4 types of popcorn. My favorites are the cheese and caramel. Yum! We don’t have a fireplace in our current home but I’ve found that the “fireplace” app on my computer works perfectly. Turn some holiday music on and you have the perfect way to relax with your family! (BTW- If you want to order from The Popcorn Factory make sure to select ”overnight shipping” if you order Sunday or Monday in order for it to arrive on Tuesday in time for Christmas.)

Christmas Eve - Before we go to bed Christmas Eve we get in our Christmas pajamas, sprinkle “Reindeer Food” outside, leave cookies and milk for Santa, and read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. We then tell the kids they need to go right to sleep so Santa can come ;)

Christmas morning – This is the silliest thing but I am very particular about the order of Christmas morning festivities. We come down (still in our pajamas!) to see what Santa left us in our stockings and the one gift he left us, we eat a special Christmas breakfast and then we can open gifts. Not sure how that tradition will work in the future but as of now the kids are still okay with doing it that way :)

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?

 

How To Make The Most Of Family Game Night

game night

I love spending time with my family but as a work-at-home-mom I find it hard to stay fully engaged. I find myself checking emails more often than I’d like to. A study recently done showed that 76% of families aren’t satisfied with the amount of quality time they’re spending together and 61% admit to having a hard time disconnecting from tech devices so it looks like I’m not alone in my feelings!

Hasbro Game Night Infographic

Here are some great tips for making family game night a reality from Dr. Christine Carter, a happiness expert, sociologist and parent educator based out of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center:

• Extend dinner by 20 minutes to include a family game – Sixty-three percent of respondents said that the easiest time of day for them to schedule family time is between 5pm-7pm. Knowing this, try to extend family dinner time by 20 minutes so that you can fit in some face-to-face game play around the table. This game time will boost family mood and teach kids numerous life lessons. Then clean up as a family, too – the losing team does the dishes!• Schedule it – Decide in advance which day of the week will be your weekly family game night. Use stickers or a colored marker to help make the chosen night stand out on the calendar and then be consistent, so that family game night becomes a ritual that is anticipated by the whole family.

• Don’t keep score or automatically let kids win – Although rivalries can be really fun (47 percent of those polled said the fiercest rivalries were between parents and kids during family game play) they can obscure the benefits of family game night. Once everyone is enjoying the process and fun of playing games together—without obsessing over who is winning or losing—then go back to keeping score to teach the important skill of winning and losing gracefully.

• Have something for everyone – Make sure your home has a selection of games that work for everyone in your family, no matter their age—and don’t feel compelled to play games that bore you. Family game night can be fun for everyone. There are games that are engaging for adults that even little kids can play, like Operation, Monopoly and Scrabble, which are perfect for kids 8 and up, and can also be fun for the whole family.

• Be the fun family in your neighborhood – As kids get older, time with their peers becomes more important to them than time with their family. Don’t let these priorities conflict! Instead, encourage kids to invite a friend or two to come to your family game night. Let the teens choose the food and the music (but check their smart phones and devices at the door!). On weekends, plan for game night extensions, allowing teens to continue play without parents and younger siblings.

For more information on Hasbro games please visit: http://www.hasbro.com/gamenight. Be sure to “Like” the Hasbro Game Night Facebook page for all the latest Hasbro Game Night news: http://www.facebook.com/hasbrogamenight and follow @hasbrogamenight on Twitter. To share photos of game nights use #HasbroGameNight on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

(Disclosure: This post is not compensated however I have worked with Hasbro in the past. Thoughts are my own.)

 

Amusement Park Fun {Wordless Wednesday}

Lucas loves roller coasters!

These pictures are a couple months old but I was going through my online albums and realized I never shared the fun we had at the amusement park so I’m sharing a couple pictures today :)

Lucas loves roller coasters!

***

Jacob and Daddy

Jacob and Daddy

Family Fun At The Pumpkin Farm

pumpkin 8

(Disclosure: We received free tickets into Pumpkin Fest but all thoughts are my own.)

I love going to Fall festivals with my family. Last weekend we went to Pumpkin Fest at Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm in Crest Hill, IL. There was so much to do there and the kids were in awe as they ran from activity to activity. We only were able to stay a couple hours but they jumped on inflatables, rode a pony, went on a hayride, went through a haunted barn, went through an obstacle course, saw animals at the petting zoo, and played on giant climbing structures.

There were pumpkins for sale throughout the farm and a big pick-your-own pumpkin patch. Other activities we didn’t get a chance to do included paintball, stories told by the Pumpkin Princess, a big bouncy inflatable “cloud”, a giant corn maze, a rock climbing wall and a train ride.

Here are some pictures from our afternoon of Fall fun:

The boys posing on the pumpkins {the one must-take pumpkin patch photo!}

***

Wooden train play area

***

The cornfield maze

***

Jacob and Daddy

***

Big spider web climber

***

Luke on his pony ride

***

The haunted barn we went in (which wasn’t all that scary but good for kids)

***

The playland area the kids loved

***

The pick your own pumpkin patch we got to by hayride

What a fun afternoon! Visit Siegel’s Pumpkin Fest in the next couple weeks to make great memories with your family.

Fall Pictures {Taken By Mommy}

Fall Pics 1

While we were on our picnic the other day I wanted to take some pictures of the boys since I actually had my nice camera and not just my phone. I haven’t touched up the photos, just posting the raw images. I think they came out pretty good considering I don’t have much experience taking pictures.

***

***

***

***

***

***

Picnic In The Park With Maclaren Baby Accessories

maclaren 2

(Disclosure: I received pieces from Maclaren Baby, picnic essentials, and a gift card but all thoughts are my own.)

My family recently enjoyed a beautiful picnic in the park on a sunny Fall day. We used items from the Maclaren Baby line from the UK in honor of the Royal baby. This just goes to show that once you no longer have a baby you can still use their items.

 

Since we didn’t have a large blanket to put down, we used Maclaren’s Reversible Buggy Blanket. I love the vibrant colors of the blanket. On one side is this plaid print and the other is a soft, cozy fleece that is perfect for covering a child in a stroller or cuddling under the stars.

The other two Maclaren pieces we used for our day at the park were the Maclaren Magazine Tote and Maclaren’s Universal Insulated Pannier. The magazine tote (the blue/grey one) I put the blanket in and my camera. We used the Insulated bag (the red one) for our drinks so they would stay cold while we were at swim lessons and the grocery store.

Overall, we had a great afternoon. We ate some delicious food and then walked down by the stream. I’m going to keep these Maclaren pieces in my car for our next picnic or family outing.

We don’t use a stroller that often anymore but when we go places where we will be doing a lot of walking we do so I love that both the buggy blanket and the insulated pannier hang from the stroller because that leaves more room in the basket underneath for things like my purse, coats, and the bag of extra clothes. Lucas always used to carry his little blue polka dot blanket everywhere and it would drag on the ground when it was on his lap in the stroller. I can’t wait to go to the zoo this Fall and cover him up with this Maclaren buggy blanket. He will stay so warm!

What baby items do you still have that you use for other things?

 

 

My Little Love {Wordless Wednesday}

luke in sunglasses

Luke loves wearing these sunglasses and wanted me to take a picture :)

Cave Of The Mounds {Blue Mounds, WI}

cave 8

Last month we went on a mini-vacation to Wisconsin Dells. On our way there we made a slight detour off our route because I had arranged for my family to go on a press tour of Cave of the Mounds, a National Natural Landmark. I had never heard of this cave before July but it sounded really interesting so it was worth the 45 minutes or so of additional drive time.

Once we arrived at Cave of the Mounds we signed up for a cave tour time and then went into a little gift shop filled with beautiful rocks and gemstones.

In the gift shop were bags of sand for purchase. These weren’t just filled with sand but some had gemstones hidden inside and some had fossils in them. We chose to dig for gemstones. Once we got the bags we went to the “mining” area and dumped the bags out into sifters.

At first the boys just dug through the sand and then rinsed the rocks off in the water. Eventually though they immersed the whole sifter of sand in the running water and found the smaller rocks that way.

The boys thought this mining process was lots of fun. Each boy found about 15 rocks/gemstones in their bag of sand. After we did our mining it was time for our cave tour. The small group of people on the tour are first led into a small room where we watched a movie about the cave and it’s history.

I found the movie really interesting though it was kind of hard for the kids to sit through because they are used to animated shows. Once we watched the movies we were led into the cold, dark cave. I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

The inside of the cave was beautiful. All these rock formations had formed inside and our tour guide explained how this cave had been built over thousands of years.

The tour ended up lasting a lot longer than I thought it was going to. The boys behaved pretty well during it and only started getting antsy at the end.

I took so many pictures inside the cave but the pictures don’t really do it justice. It’s really something you just have to experience yourself :)

Once the tour was over Lucas wanted to dig for more gemstones. We went to a big sandbox full of gemstones where the kids could use shovels to dig for goodies they could take home.

Look at this pretty rock I found!

Also, on the grounds are a beautiful garden area and plenty of greenery. We wanted to finish our trip to the Dells so we didn’t get a chance to check out the garden area but it looked nice and serene.

Overall, we had a great afternoon at Cave of the Mounds. It was a fun way to enjoy nature and was definitely worth the drive. Learn more about Cave of the Mounds, National Natural Landmark, here.

(Disclosure: We received press tickets but all thoughts are my own.)

Basketball Trophy Day

basketball trophies

The boys played a short basketball session this summer through the park district. It was the first time either of them had played basketball. This past weekend they got little trophies since it was the last day.

Aren’t they the cutest little basketball players you’ve ever seen?

First Day Of School 2013

first day of school 2013 collage

Happy Memories Of Highchair Meals

baby food 3

When I was asked to write about feeding my children to promote the Happy Family’s “Stories from the Bright Side” campaign, I immediately thought of all the humorous pictures I had of my children in the highchair. You know the kind…the ones teenagers hide before their new girlfriend/boyfriend comes over and the photo albums are pulled out. It will be tough to limit them all to a post because I have many of them!

 

The messiest meal I have ever given my children is spaghetti. I think I spent days cleaning off that red sauce from the cream colored high chair tray and, even then, was left with a pinkish tint. I decided alfredo sauce was a great alternative after that!

All children are messy but I think Lucas is one of the messiest I have ever seen. I swear that child can make a mess of a cheerio. While on vacation this weekend we were at a really nice restaurant and Lucas took his french fries and was rubbing them between his hands until they crumbled into a pile on his plate. He’d then proceed to eat them by shoving them into his mouth. While not proper eating for a fancy restaurant, I was just happy he was sitting quietly. One of my favorite food related memories of Lucas is his first birthday cake. He really loved that because he had a whole little cake to himself and he happily squeezed it between his little fingers!

Happy Family partnered with 7 mommy and daddy bloggers to bring their “Funny Feeding” Stories from the Bright Side to life for other moms and dads to enjoy. These videos shine a humorous light on food and feeding challenges that parents have through sharing funny stories told by top bloggers that are then acted out by improv troupe the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. They are pretty funny to watch and remind me that many parents have gone through similar experiences that I have.

Have a funny feeding story of your own? You can submit your own Stories from the Bright Side on Happy Family’s Facebook page, by sharing your own video, written story and image around food and kids. All submissions will be judged by a panel from Happy Family for a chance to win $20,000 towards college.

You can “like” Happy Family on Facebook by clicking the “like” button above. Make sure to grab a $0.50 coupon to save on Happy Family organic snacks and meals. You can find a store locator here.

I’d love to hear about your favorite food-related memories from when your children were little if you would like to share in the comments below.

(Disclosure: This blog post is part of a paid SocialMoms and Happy Family blogging program. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own.)

 

My Soccer Stars

soccer 3

The Summer soccer season ended today. The boys were so excited to get their trophies.

***

***

***

It was a great season. Now onto Fall ball! :)

Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty {Wisconsin Dells, WI}

IMG_0498

One of my favorite Midwest vacation destinations is Wisconsin Dells. I remember going there when I was younger and we would always have breakfast at least one morning at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty.

Now that I have kids of my own I knew we had to stop by the restaurant when we went to the Dells for our very first family vacation.

Everything was just like I had remembered. Old fashioned tables and tableware and homemade food served family style. It was a great way to start off the day. My favorite are their sugar covered doughnuts! And just a heads up- if you want French Toast you need to get there early in the morning because that’s the only time they offer them.

Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty serves lunch and dinner as well but I’ve never tried anything but their breakfast selection. They also have a cute little touristy store that you can shop in while you wait for your table.

(Disclosure: This is not a compensated post. We paid for our meal and all thoughts are my own.)

How Do You Explain Death To Little Ones?

Sinisa’s mom passed away yesterday morning. Along with all of the other things that need to be figured out when a loved one is lost, parents of little children face a unique challenge…how do you explain what happened in a way that is age appropriate?

Our boys are 4 and 5. I don’t think Lucas will comprehend what is going on but we need to tell Jacob, our 5 year old, about his grandma. We believe in Heaven and so I want that theme to be included, however the last time that I tried to come from a “they are in Heaven” perspective (when he saw something about someone we didn’t know passing away) Jacob said he didn’t want to die. While Heaven reduces the scariness of death, I definitely don’t want him to be thinking that it is going to happen to him, too.

I’d love your thoughts and ideas on how you explained the loss of a family member to your child. We don’t want to wait too long to tell the kids but we want to make sure that we do it in the right way.

Dave & Busters Summer of Games

dave and busters11

I love spending time outside during the summer but sometimes it’s just too hot to do anything but stay inside in the air conditioning. On days like this, I am thankful for places like Dave & Buster’s. They invited my family for a complementary summer preview and we enjoyed spending the afternoon there.

We headed to one of the Dave & Buster’s locations in the Chicago area one afternoon for lunch and to play some games. Normally places that offer games for kids have kid-friendly foods but not many offerings for adults. Dave & Buster’s has a whole menu full of food that adults like and a great kid’s menu.

We got the boys a hamburger with fries, Sinisa had steak, chicken, and shrimp kabobs, and I had grown up mac and cheese. The servings were so large that I brought home enough leftovers from my meal that I had lunch the next day. I also had a delicious watermelon flavored drink with strawberry ice cubes. Yum!

 

Summer is just getting started, and already Dave & Buster’s is heating things up on the entertainment scene! As part of the “Summer of Games” promotion, Dave & Buster’s will give guests free play on five of the newest games when they purchase or re-charge a PowerCard, from now through August 25th. There were almost a couple hundred different games to play and there were a variety for all ages. I liked the card system at Dave & Buster’s. Points are loaded on cards and then all you have to do is swipe them at the game you want to play.

The kids loved playing the games!

Another great feature of Dave & Buster’s is their ticket and prize system. Each ticket is worth two typical tickets which makes walking around with tickets much easier. They also have amazing prizes. The manager at the store told me that a prize at one location is a motorcycle! Who wouldn’t love to play games to take one of those home?

and for the video game lovers….

The boys ended up each getting enough tickets for a stuffed animal and a water gun filled with candy. They were happy to take home their special prizes.

Have you ever been to Dave & Buster’s? What are your favorite games to play there?

(Disclosure: As stated above, Dave & Buster’s invited us for a free media preview. All thoughts are my own.)

Day Trip To Indiana Dunes

indiana dunes 2

Over 4th of July weekend we took a day trip to the Indiana Dunes. I thought the beach would be really crowded with everyone off work and the fireworks that evening but it never really got that busy. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the day:

***

***

***

Headed to the beach soon? My top 3 tips for families headed to the beach are: bring your own food, bring something that will shade you from the sun, and get there early for a spot by the water. 

Love, Sleep & Play With Pampers {Giveaway}

pampers

(Disclosure: I received a set of coupons for posting this but all thoughts are my own.)

Pampers’ new Love, Sleep & Play campaign pays tribute to the millions of ways babies uniquely experience love, sleep and play.  Starting today through August 6, parents across North America can visit the Pampers Facebook page to submit photos of their babies experiencing love, sleep or play for the opportunity to be part of a massive celebration event this August.

Here is the picture I’d submit of the boys:

This picture is full of brotherly love. Big brother is playing while little brother is trying to sleep which is funny because that is still the situation today at the ages of 5 and 4.

GIVEAWAY:

One reader will win 2 coupons. One good for a pack of Pampers diapers and the other good for a container of Pampers wipes ($18 value)

HOW TO ENTER:

{Do any or all of the following, leave a separate comment for each you do}

1) Leave a comment telling me what special moment you’d submit to Pampers

2) Share this giveaway on a social network

3) Comment on another one of my posts

4) Follow Pampers on Twitter

5) Follow me on Twitter

Giveaway ends August 1, 2013 at 11:59pm Central time. Must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older to enter.

Birthday Celebration 2013 {Pictures}

bday party 12

Both of my boys have birthdays in June and my brother has two kids with birthdays in May and July. This year, instead of two or three different parties, we decided to do one family celebration. We wanted to find somewhere that wasn’t too expensive, fun for the 3-6 age range, and that had room for the adults to sit and chat. We decided on Chuck E. Cheese’s. Here are some of my favorite pictures from their party.

***

***

***

***

***

***

***

***

***

***

***

***

***

(Disclosure: This is not a compensated post. My mom and dad ended up paying for the kid’s party this year. We are so blessed!)

4th of July 2013

2013 4th 1

We spent the morning at a McDonald’s play place so the boys could play while I caught up on some work.  After a nap {for everyone!}, the late afternoon was spent outside in our backyard. It was a little chilly but the boys had fun on the slip n’ slide. Once Sinisa got home he grilled some steak for fajitas and after a delicious dinner we headed over to our Church for their 4th of July event. They had music playing, food, and glow in the dark fun for the kids. At 9:30 we watched the fireworks set to music. It was a nice evening. Here are a few of my favorite pictures :)

***

***

How did your family celebrate the 4th of July? I’d love to hear from you :)

Wordless Wednesday: Jacob Turns 5

Jacob's birthday treats

Jacob’s birthday was June 4th. Can’t believe my little boy is 5 years old already! Here are a few pictures :)

Jacob’s birthday treats

***

Jacob with one of his gifts. These Imaginext toys are kind of expensive but I found a bunch of used ones cheap and Jacob doesn’t know the difference :)

***

Jake is really into cars lately. This was one of his gifts from his Nana. He’d been wanting this set for months.

Summer Is Here!

First day of Summer School & Camp 2013

First day of Summer School & Camp 2013

After a busy Spring it’s an even busier Summer here. The boys are in our school’s extended school year program and in summer camp in the afternoons which all just started yesterday. It was so weird to sit in silence for my entire workday. I missed the giggles of my boys and even their whiny “mommy he did….” moments but I know they are going to have a ton of fun. They would have spent much of the day inside while I worked and this way they can be at the pool, playing with friends at the playground, and going on field trips to exciting places. They are also playing some sports this Summer like they did during Spring.

I have committed to spending weekends completely with them and not working or blogging during that time. As a work at home mom it’s hard for me to pull away since my work is always sitting there and in the online world there is always more I could be doing but my kids come first. They need me and I want to spend this time with them while they still want to spend it with me.

To prepare for summer I made a list of all the free places we can go (including those we have memberships to), put fun community events in my calendar, and made a list of everything the boys and I thought would be fun to do together or places we want to visit. This way I can look at the list and decide what we want to do in the evenings and on the weekends. We also picked up the backyard and pulled out the summer items so we have the slip-n-slide, kiddie pool, sandbox, and sports gear all ready to go for lazy afternoons outside.

What are your plans for the summer? How will you be spending time with your kids? If you need some ideas I have a fun list from last summer of 100 things you can do to enjoy the time with your family :) Find the list here.

Comfort Foods {Recipe & Giveaway}

bolognese sauce

(Disclosure: I received products for review but all thoughts are my own.)

If it were up to me I’d probably eat pasta every day. It’s one of the foods that brings back the most food related memories from childhood. I loved when my mom made lasagna (cheese only, no meat!) and Beef Stroganoff. My dad used egg noodles to make his homemade chicken noodle soup in winter. My favorite food using Creamette® Pasta though is homemade mac & cheese. I remember my grandma making it when I went to visit her years ago and thought it was odd that she added tomatoes to this cheesy pasta dish. It’s my favorite way to eat macaroni & cheese now and I can’t imagine it without tomatoes.

Since having a family of my own, quick pasta dishes have become my new comfort food. I still have the memories of pasta without the time consuming task of making the dishes. One of our favorite ways to have noodles now is to add a red spaghetti sauce to them. I make mine with just veggies but Sinisa likes his with a meat sauce. Here is one of his favorite sauces to make called a Bolognese Sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground pork or ground beef
  • 1 can of mushrooms (pieces)
  • 1 white onion (diced)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • Italian seasonings

Directions:

  • Saute the ground meat and use a spatula to break it in tiny pieces
  • In a separate pan use a small amount of oil and saute your onion and mushrooms.
  • Add meat to the onions and mushrooms
  • Simmer for a few minutes over low heat
  • Add a can of diced tomatoes (don’t drain them)
  • Add seasonings to taste (Sinisa uses garlic, basil, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper)
  • Simmer for a few minutes over low heat
  • Put a generous spoonful over noodles
  • Sprinkle with shredded cheese (optional)

When it comes to sharing good food and good times with family and friends, nothing makes us feel more at home than comfort food. Creamette® Pasta is proud to have been a part of creating comforting family meals for 100 years and – to honor ten decades of warm memories and mealtime moments – the brand is launching its Comfort Food Recipe and Essay contest.

Through May 30th, Creamette Pasta invites families from the Midwest region to share their favorite comfort food recipe made with Creamette Pasta along with an original essay of 100 words or less explaining their family mealtime memory as it relates to the recipe and what makes it so comforting for a chance to win $10,000. In June 2013, ten semifinalists will be chosen to participate in a nationwide online vote.

You can submit your recipe here: Creamette.NewWorldPasta.Com/100thAnniversary

GIVEAWAY:

One winner will win a delicious prize pack including two boxes of Creamette® Pasta, two Creamette® Pasta recipe cards, one colander and one casserole baking dish.

HOW TO ENTER:

Tell me what your favorite comfort dish made with Creamette Pasta is

Additional Entry:

Share this giveaway on a social network

Giveaway ends June 3, 2013 at 11:59pm Central time. Must be a United States resident 18 years of age or older to enter.

Silly Glasses {Wordless Wednesday}

silly glasses