Family-Friendly Halloween Movies To Stream

Thanks to Best Buy for sponsoring this post.

Halloween time is always a favorite holiday for my kids because it means lots and lots of candy. It also means evenings curled up under blankets while we have spooktacular family movie nights at home. Here are 20 family-friendly movies to enjoy during the Halloween season:

1) Hocus Pocus

2) Toy Story of Terror

3) Coraline

4) Casper (there’s lots of versions but the 1995 one is my favorite!)

5) The Addams Family

6) Spookley the Square Pumpkin

7) It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

8) The Nightmare Before Christmas

9) Monster’s Inc.

10) Halloweentown

11) Goosebumps

12) Scared Shrekless

13) Hotel Transylvania

14) Ghostbusters

15) E.T.

16) Scooby-Doo

17) Monster House

18) Frankenweenie

19) Monsters vs Aliens

20) The Corpse Bride

With the Google Chromecast Streaming Media Player you don’t have to have cable to have access to the best Halloween movies because you can stream your favorite entertainment (movies, shows, live TV, YouTube, and more) from over 2,000 apps directly from your phone or other devices.

Using the Chromecast is easy, just plug it into the HDMI port on your existing HDTV to power and stream your favorite entertainment right from your phone with just a tap. With it’s high-speed wireless connectivity you can watch shows, listen to playlists, and more. And while streaming, you can still use your phone as you normally do.

If you have other smart home features, like a Google Home, you can even control your TV hands-free- no need to get out from under your cozy blankets! With Chromecast and Google Home working seamlessly together you can start streaming with just your voice by saying what you want to watch from compatible apps.

I love discovering new tech that makes movie night better! Don’t you? You can find the Google Chromecast at Best Buy here.

For even more fun on your Halloween movie night, pop some popcorn, order a pizza (and top it with fake spiders!), and serve a ghoulish treat (like these fun, strawberry swirl eyeball cupcakes). What else do you like to do on family movie night? Come chat with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Tailgating Essentials For Families

This post is sponsored by BabbleBoxx.com.

For sports loving families there is no better way to spend the weekend than watching sports together. While most games are spent home around the television it’s fun to get out and actually go to a game to enjoy the fun in person. Today I wanted to share some essentials for parents who want to take their kids tailgating with them.

Weather-appropriate gear

Living in Chicago means we never know what to expect during football season. It can be a warm day or it can be downright frigid like the last Bears game I went to. Because of this it’s important to check the weather and make sure you pack whatever weather appropriate gear you need from blankets and hand-warmers to ponchos to sun screen and hand-held fans. I’ve learned that anytime we have outdoor activities, if the children are either too hot or too cold, they won’t enjoy the day no matter what we are doing.

Simple football decor

I tend to go all out when I decorate for football season but when you are tailgating you’ll want to keep it simple. A disposable football themed tablecloth and tableware are perfect. You can even add a banner if you want to decorate your tailgate.

Grab and go meals

When you watch football games at home you can grill or slow cook your meal but when you are tailgating you want meals that are easy to grab on the way to the game. One of my favorite sandwich shops, Jersey Mike’s, makes it easy to order online and then pick up a catering box full of sandwiches everyone in the family will love. Even my little picky eater, Lucas, loves Jersey Mike’s sandwiches!

Jersey Mike’s sandwiches

We ordered a catering box with four different sandwiches. We got my favorite sandwich, the Original Italian – a Jersey-style Italian sub full of provolone, ham, prosciuttini, cappacuolo, salami, and pepperoni- on their amazing Rosemary Parmesan Bread. We kept it simple for the kids with a Stickball Special sub, made with provolone, ham, and salami. And then of course we also got the Club Sub and Club Supreme because… BACON. We ordered all the subs with lettuce and then had them put all of the other ingredients on the side so that the sandwiches didn’t get soggy in transit. Plus, with the toppings on the side, everyone can customize the sandwiches how they want to which is perfect for groups. Add cookies and single bags of chips to your order and you have a simple tailgating meal you didn’t have to make… can’t get easier than that! (Learn more about Jersey Mike’s Catering here.)

Games and things to keep the kids busy

Football Sundays can be long and if the kids aren’t into football they may become bored pretty quick. Fun games like bean bags or even bringing a football to toss around can keep them occupied while everyone else is chatting and enjoying their pre-game rituals.

Cooler with cold drinks or a thermos with something hot on cold days

Don’t forget to bring the drinks to go along with those delicious sandwiches! There’s nothing better than a cold drink on a hot day (stock up on that water!) but on chilly days something warm in a thermos may be preferred.

Spiritwear and FanHeads Football Helmets

I’m in my Chicago Bears gear often, whether it’s football season or not, but for live games you’ll want to go over the top and I discovered a new must-have for fans to show their team spirit- FanHeads football helmets! Specially made from a strong and foldable laminate material, these helmets are perfect for wearing and display. They are also weather resistant, lightweight, and comfortable. My favorite feature of these helmets though is that they can be adjusted to four sizes so both kids and adults can wear them. (Learn more and order your FanHeads fan gear here.)

Folding chairs and tables

You’ll want a place to sit while you tailgate so don’t forget to put folding chairs (or camping chairs) in your trunk before you leave home. A folding table is also a nice addition so you’ll have a place to serve food from.

Portable phone charger

Whether you are playing music from your phone or checking your fantasy football player’s stats you’ll likely be draining your phone battery so you’ll want to bring a portable phone charger. This is especially important if your game tickets are on your phone because the last thing you want to do is miss the game because you can’t access your mobile tickets.

What would you add to this list? Chat with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

How To Help Your Child With Special Needs Develop Play Skills

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

Did you know that play doesn’t come naturally for all children? Some children, especially those with developmental disabilities and specifically those on the Autism Spectrum, may find play challenging (especially pretend play). In fact, one of the early Autism signs that Lucas showed at the age of 2 was his lack of play skills. When he was younger, he typically just gathered toys in piles or lined them up. His skills have developed some but still his play time often consists of him acting out stories he has heard or seen other kids (or his favorite video creators) play. Not much of his playtime is filled with creative play ideas that he has thought of and developed himself but his ability to play using different play patterns has greatly improved over the years.

Lucas went through years of developmental therapy where he would sit with a trained therapist and play while he worked on his other skills like motor skills, language skills, and social-emotional skills. Even though he worked on play skills at therapy, I still feel like as a parent, a large part of my job in those early years was modeling play and showing Lucas how to play, both with toys and with other children. I wanted to share some tips from my experiences over the years for any other parents that might have children who need to be taught how to play.

 

(Hover over the image above to get more information about the PLAYMOBIL toys shown and to purchase at Walmart!)

First, providing skill level-appropriate toys is a must and just as important (if not more important) than making sure toys are age appropriate because many children on the Autism Spectrum have younger interests. I love toys that kids can practice a variety of play skills with, from functional play to imaginative play and cognitive play to emotional-social play. Toys like PLAYMOBIL that feature iconic, realistic characters children have seen before (like the sets that feature community helpers) are wonderful because they can “drive” the vehicles around, mimic things they’ve seen firefighters and school bus drivers do before, portray a character’s emotions while playing, and (hopefully eventually) make up all kinds of stories with the character toys and their props and playsets. My kids love their PLAYMOBIL Take Along Police Station, Rescue Ambulance, and Rescue Ladder Unit. These toys are made to last and I love all of the details that go into each set!

PLAYMOBIL toys are classics but they are new on Walmart’s shelves so I was happy to find a great assortment of sets there and you are sure to find something that will interest your child. We ended up purchasing three different sets but there are a lot more on our wish list. Personally, I thought the fantastical dinosaur ones were pretty cool while Jacob had his eye on the Police Cruiser and Lucas wants to add the school bus to their collection.

Second, show your child how to play with their toys in the most basic ways. If your child typically just gathers or lines toys up, they most likely do not know what to do with the toys. Pick up a play phone and pretend to talk on it or roll a play vehicle back and forth and make sounds the vehicle makes (or press buttons on toys like these to start siren noises).

Third, play with your child! I would often role play different situations with the toy characters and talk out loud about what I was doing as I “played” so not only was Lucas seeing the toys being played with in different ways but he also heard my train of thought while playing.

Fourth, try out different environments during playtime. I love taking toys outdoors on nice days (and I’ve been thankful for these last couple of 80 degree October days here in Chicago!). You can also head to a local park or playground or even play in your sandbox if your child doesn’t have an aversion to the mess. This will help them transfer their play skills to different environments easier so they can take skills from their home to the classroom or a friend’s house.

Fifth, schedule a short playdate with another child who they know and stay nearby to help your child navigate through difficulties that may arise. While children may not play with the other child, having another child there provides the opportunity for social play should your child choose to engage in it. Even just one or two social interactions at the playdate, like practice sharing or taking turns, is beneficial when learning cooperative play skills.

Lastly, don’t give up! Teaching our kids to play can be challenging sometimes because they may not show interest or it may be difficult to break their repetetive actions as you try to teach them something new but keep at it. I know it can seem like there is a list of skills a mile long you are working on and it can be overwhelming but learning play skills is an important part of childhood and something many children with developmental delays or who are on the Autism Spectrum can learn with practice.

I hope these ideas have helped! What other tips do you have for helping children with special needs learn how to play? I’d love for you to share them with me on social so I can pass them on to my readers! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You can also find more fun play inspiration here!

(PIN IT)

Chicago Toy & Game Fair 2018 (Giveaway)

Thanks to ChiTAG for sponsoring this post and hosting my family for the past several years.

It’s hard to believe that the Chicago Toy & Game Fair (lovingly referred to as ChiTAG) is only about a month and a half away! The 2-day toy and game extravaganza will be held at Navy Pier, Festival Hall A, on November 17th-18th. This is one of my family’s favorite events to go to and it really starts our holidays off right. My kids love checking out all the new games and toys that are on the market before they make their Christmas wish lists. (See our favorites from last year here.) Plus, the Saturday of the fair is the same day as the Festival of Lights Parade on Michigan Avenue so you can make a day of it in the city!

The 16th annual Fair is the largest non-hobby toy and game fair open to the public in North America and we love that it happens in one of the best cities in the U.S.- Chicago! There is something for everyone at the fair but here are some special events that will be happening during the 2018 fair:

  • NERF Laser Ops Course
  • Enter the Young Inventor Challenge
  • Beer Garden with Popular Adult and Party Games
  • Baby and Toddler PlaySpace
  • Meet Santa and Meet Princess-Etch-A-Sketch
  • Stratego National Trounament
  • Interactive Exhibits, Test out Products Before They Hit Retail Shelves
  • Photo Ops: Snap a photo with some of your favorite characters from Star Wars!
  • Meet Toy & Game Inventors from Around the World
  • Shop for the Hottest New and Classic Toys for the Holidays
  • Yo-Yo Championship – Contestants from Coast to Coast
  • Be entertained by Ben’s Giant Bubble Show
  • Giveaways, Stage Events, Magic Shows, Contests
  • Sensory Power Hour for special needs families (Details coming soon!!)

You can purchase your tickets to the fair here. Also, educators, librarians, and scouts in uniform get in free.

This year I’m also giving away a free weekend family pass to the fair (2 adults + 4 kids max – value $128). Enter below.

Good luck!

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tips For Hosting A Simple Last-Minute Football Party

This post is sponsored by Tyson Foods, Inc, but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Football season is a great excuse to get together with friends and family. When it comes to party time I like to pick simple foods and decor that will let me enjoy the company and the football game instead of being stuck in the kitchen for hours. I thought I’d share some of my tips for hosting simple football watch parties that can be put together at the last-minute.

First, and most importantly, let’s chat food because no party is complete without it. I am all about quick snack and meal options and this is especially necessary when trying to put together a last-minute gathering. Plus, easy food choices mean I can spend more time watching the football game and cheering on my favorite teams!

Simple snacks, like popcorn, chips, and pretzels, can easily be placed in bowls nearby where everyone will be watching the game. Another favorite of football fans everywhere- chicken wings- are an easy option when you choose “heat and serve” ones like Tyson® Any’tizers® Buffalo Style Bone-In Chicken Wings and serve them with celery sticks, ranch, and blue cheese dressing. Not only is this a simple option for the host, but finger foods like chicken wings are easy to eat while watching the game (just don’t forget the napkins!) For dessert, I love serving cookies or brownies in the shape of footballs. A little white icing for laces and it’s a quick themed treat!

When it comes to decorations I keep things simple by buying football themed tableware that I pair with my large variety of football themed decor I keep out from August through February. I also love decorating with my team colors (Chicago blue and orange all the way!!) Having football themed party supplies on hand means that you will be ready to entertain guests whenever the opportunity arises.

Another tip I have for hosting a simple football get-together is to have something for the non-fans to do. Personally, I can’t imagine anyone NOT liking football but I know those people exist lol. Adults who aren’t interested in the game will probably just enjoy chatting with each other but setting out some simple games and crafts for the kiddos is always appreciated. The simplest football craft that can be made with materials on hand are stuffed paper bag footballs. Children can draw two large football shapes on paper bags and then staple the edges together, leaving a small opening to stuff the inside of the football with crumpled newspaper before stapling it closed.

What tips do you have for hosting a last-minute football party? I’d love to hear so chat with me on social media- Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

No-Carve Pumpkin Decorating Ideas

It’s October which means it’s pumpkin time! I love taking my kids to the pumpkin patch and we always come home with a pumpkin for each kid. When they were younger we used to carve pumpkins but they weren’t huge fans of the texture and mess. Nowadays we don’t really have the time, nor the interest, to spend a whole afternoon carving pumpkins anyways so we stick to no-carve decorating options. I wanted to share some of my favorite ideas in case you are looking for pumpkin decorating options that don’t include ooey-gooey pumpkin guts. You can also use faux pumpkins instead of real ones if you want to make some pumpkins that you can use to decorate year after year.

Glow-in-the-Dark Pumpkins

***

Melted Crayon Pumpkin from Mom Spark 

***

Galaxy Pumpkin


***

Felt Pumpkin from See Vanessa Craft

***

Pokemon Pumpkins from Happiness is Homemade

***

Disney Princess Pumpkins from As The Bunny Hops

***

Emoji Pumpkins from Cutefetti

***

Creepy Crawly Spider Pumpkin from The Kim Six Fix

***

Monogram Glitter Pumpkin from Third Stop On The Right

***

Pumpkin Mummies from That’s What Che Said

***

Washi Tape Pumpkin From Made With Happy

What ideas do you have to decorate pumpkins without carving them? Let me know by chatting with me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

*PIN THIS POST*

Keeping Little Ones Safe In Vehicles

Thanks to Chicco for sponsoring this post during Child Passenger Safety Week.

Do you know when it’s time to turn your child’s car seat from rear to forward-facing? According to a recent study by baby gear brand Chicco, 1 in 4 parents around the country are still unaware of the appropriate time to turn their child’s car seat forward-facing. Being pregnant again, 9 years after my last child was born, means that I need a refresher on all the rules of car seat safety myself!

Some states, like my home state of Illinois, have passed laws requiring children to remain rear-facing until at least the age of two but the AAP recently released an updated recommendation around rear-facing guidelines, removing age two as the benchmark and emphasizing that children should remain rear-facing until they’ve maxed out the height and weight limits for rear-facing use as determined by the car seat manufacturer. According to the AAP, this “will include virtually all children under 2 years of age and most children up to age 4.” It is so important to keep little ones rear-facing for as long as possible because it’s the safest option for growing children whose skeletal systems are still developing.

There are many more car seat options on the market now than when my boys were younger that allow for extended rear-facing placement and Chicco makes some great convertible car seats for this purpose. I was particularly drawn to the NextFit iX Zip Convertible Car Seat that was designed to be used from birth through the preschool years. Not only was it designed to comfortably accommodate growing children from 5 to 65 pounds but it also features a zip-off seat pad for machine washing (which every parent of young kids knows will come in handy for everything from milk spills to potty training accidents!)

I also liked how easy installation was thanks to the 9-position ReclineSure® leveling system and dual RideRight® bubble level-indicators that help achieve and verify proper angle in the vehicle seat, the SuperCinch® tightener that helps achieve a secure fit with a fraction of the effort, and a LockSure™ belt-tightening system that makes it easy to position, tighten and lock the belt into place. Parents can also feel comfortable knowing that the car seat features a steel-reinforced frame with EPS energy-absorbing foam that is side-impact tested for superior protection.

Overall, Chicco’s line of convertible car seats makes it easier to keep children rear-facing for longer!

*****

Still have questions about rear-facing car seats? You can learn more about car seat safety here. National Seat Check Saturday is this coming Saturday, September 29, 2018, so make sure to find a car seat checkup event in your area this weekend! (Get a list of car seat check locations here.) I encourage you to share this post with any parents of young children you know!

PIN THIS POST:

 

 

5 Pregnancy Subscription Boxes That Make Great Gifts

This post contains affiliate links.

Getting surprise packages in the mail is so fun! I love finding new products through subscription boxes so now that I’m pregnant I started looking into subscription boxes made exclusively for those expecting babies. Here are five fun ones to check out:

Bump Boxes

Bump Boxes is a monthly subscription service that curates fun, healthy products for pregnancy and beyond. Their subscription can be started at anytime during pregnancy and continue all the way until the baby’s first birthday! Products are specific to pregnancy and once mom hits her due date the subscription transitions to both mom & baby products. The subscription is a discovery service tailored to Mom’s due date/baby’s birthday and includes a variety of different products. There are also “trimester” boxes available for ordering with specific items in each box that help with that specific trimester. Each subscription Bump Box contains 4-8 full size products, with a few fun extras sprinkled in.

You can learn more and subscribe at http://bumpboxes.com.

Mama Bird Box

Mama Bird Box is a fun, modern monthly subscription box for pregnant and new moms. Mama Bird boxes come with a mix of 4-6 pampering items. Each box has products that give attention to a pregnant or new mom’s specific needs for health, encouragement, and wellbeing.

You can learn more and subscribe at https://mamabirdbox.com/.

The Stork Bag

The Stork Bag® was created by a Mompreneur and comes each trimester of pregnancy. There is also a post-partum box available. Each subscription is sent in a reusable gift bag and filled with 8-12 useful products, ranging from full-sized to sample-sized. The Stork Bag even has their own line of branded products, including a Bellie Casting Kit and Stretch Mark butter, offered in the bags and individually on the website.

You can learn more and subscribe at https://www.thestorkbag.com.

The Ecocentric Mom Box

Expecting moms who are searching for eco-friendly products will be in love with this subscription box! Each box is guaranteed to contain 4-5 organic, natural and eco-lifestyle products with a minimum of $45 in retail value. The products- including beauty, bath, pregnancy, baby, home and snack- are all thoughtfully chosen for pregnant moms (and their little one) based on the mom’s due date or child’s birth date (up through age four).

You can learn more and subscribe at https://ecocentricmom.com.

9 to Nest

9 to Nest is a creative monthly gift subscription for expectant mothers-to-be that helps moms countdown the months until the baby arrives. The beautiful gifts are carefully selected and many are handmade exclusively for 9 to Nest. Each box comes with a special poem for the mom-to-be as well. Products are BPA free, PVC free and Phthalate free for your baby’s health and safety and all fabric items are machine washable for easy care.

Learn more and subscribe at https://www.9tonest.com.

***

BONUS! Pregnant mamas will also love these FREE pregnancy gift boxes from Amazon Baby Registry and Noobie Box (just pay s&h).

*PIN THIS POST*

Why I Love Football And A Simple T-Shirt DIY

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

I love the warm summer months but there is one thing I love more….football! (I’m sure you all could have guessed that since I talk about my obsession with football all year long!!) The cool, crisp air of fall means that football season is back and it makes me so happy. I basically spend every fall weekend cheering for my favorite teams (Dr Pepper® in hand of course!), from college ball on Saturday to my son’s football games on Sunday mornings to football all.day.long. on Sundays.

I didn’t grow up as a football fan and actually started watching the games when I was older because it was a chance to spend time with people I cared about. I think what I like so much about football is the comradery between fans of the team. There is just something special about being on the sidelines at the football stadium, or around the tv, cheering on our favorite team together.

Now I enjoy the actual game, and all the technical aspects, just as much as I enjoy the party side of it so it really has become about the total experience for me. Plus, since my son is older, it’s also fun to have someone to talk about football with. I still remember the days of watching football with him years ago when he didn’t really pay attention to it. Now he knows the players and makes sure we don’t miss a single game (not that that would happen since they are all on my calendar…) He also sits there and cheers right alongside me (but typically for the team I’m rooting against, the little stinker!)

Along with never missing a game, I love showing my team spirit and I do so by decorating my house for football season (check out this cute rag wreath I made) and wearing my team’s colors wherever I go (or don’t go seeing that I’m typing this right now wearing head to toe team gear as I sit on my couch). I thought it would be fun to make my own football shirt too so that I could wear it to both my son’s games (when I’m not wearing my cheerleading “coach” t-shirt) and while watching my favorite football teams play. I went with the “football is life” theme that basically describes the months of August through February for me.

The shirt was easy to make and I loved being able to personalize it. To make your own you’ll need a plain t-shirt, iron-on letters and decal, an iron, and a piece of cardboard.

To make the shirt, put the piece of cardboard inside and then cut out your letters and arrange them on your shirt. Making sure they are lined up straight will be the hardest part! Then iron-on the letters and decals according to the directions on the packages. I covered mine with the bottom of the t-shirt and ironed over them, then turned the shirt inside out and ironed the back of the shirt where the letters were. You then will peel the plastic backing off. (Funny story…I was so frustrated with the process because I thought my letters weren’t sticking -since I was seeing the outline peeling off- until I had a friend stop by and point out the obvious…part of the outline would come off and the inner part would stay on. Can I just blame this on pregnancy brain?! I felt so silly that I had spent an hour thinking I had ruined my shirt and was going to have to make a new one.) In the end though it all worked out and I love how it turned out.

Besides decorating my home and showing my spirit with the clothes I wear, I love watching the game with themed foods and parties. We’ve had a number of family football themed get-togethers but one thing remains the same at each of them…I keep things simple! I want to actually be able to watch the game and not be stuck in the kitchen cooking and that’s why grilling is perfect for football parties.

We love our little charcoal grill because, not only is it portable for tailgating, but it sits perfectly on our patio table so we can grill while watching the game. Plus, once we fill the grill with Kingsford® Original Charcoal made from 100% natural ingredients, it gives all the food that authentic grilled flavor you can only get when cooking over a charcoal grill. We make everything from burgers to hot dogs to sausages on the grill, serve them up with a few sides, add in some party appetizers, and that’s it! Paired with the rich, indulgent, one of a kind flavor of Dr Pepper (in the super festive seasonal football cans) it’s the perfect quick, easy, and inexpensive entertaining idea that lets us spend less time preparing food and more time cheering for our team.

Speaking of things that save time on game day…have you tried Walmart’s Online Grocery Pickup service yet? I’ve heard great things about it but have yet to try it myself. I’m definitely going to be utilizing it in the future as the cold weather comes because I love the idea of ordering when it’s convenient for me and then being able to pull up and my order is all ready for me. I get the convenience of Walmart’s amazing selection of products (like everything I got for this game day grilling party) and their low prices without having to leave my vehicle! You should see if it’s available near you and take advantage of it if so!

How do you like to celebrate on game day? Come chat with me and let me know! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Get Fired Up for Game Day with ideas here.

 

3 Ways To Encourage Your Child’s Artistic Passions

This post is sponsored by The Brand Connection/Pentel. All ideas and opinions are my own.

artistic children

Jacob has always been interested in playing sports but, over the past couple of years, he has really gotten into the arts as well. From music to the visual arts, he’s taken an interest in all things artistic. As parents we want to encourage our children as best we can so I wanted to share a few ways I’ve found to encourage him in his artistic pursuits.

The first way is to provide children with materials that let them be creative, from a microphone for singers to an instrument kids can learn to art supplies they can use to make fabulous creations. Since my boys were young we’ve always had a variety of open ended craft supplies (like craft sticks, tissue paper, and beads) available for them so that creating something could be done at anytime. If you don’t have a large budget there are plenty of everyday objects and recycled materials (like newspapers, cartons, and shampoo bottles) that children can craft with. I share 100 recycled craft ideas here to give you an idea of materials you will want to keep on hand.

I also provide my boys with a number of different types of writing utensils, paintbushes, and the like for painting, drawing, and coloring. Last school year Jacob was in art club and, this past spring, had a piece featured in the school district’s art showcase at a local gallery. He was so excited about this honor of having a creation on display and was proud of the piece he had created- a military themed, all black ink design on a white background.

He did such a nice job on his gallery piece but, while I loved the black and white design, I thought it would be fun to gift him a set of colorful pens from Pentel to add a little *pop* of color to his future art work. These pens were a flashback to my 90’s childhood and I was so excited to share the virbrant colored pens with him. From the “milky” pastel colors to the “solar” neon colors to the “sparkle” iridescent colors, I knew he would love these smooth gel ink pens as much as I did. He was especially drawn to the neon colors which didn’t suprise me!

He wanted to create a comic book with his new pens. A few years ago he had started a comic book collection with his dad and thought it would be cool to create one of his own. I agreed with him that these pens would be perfect for the job. This is where tip #2 for encouraging your little artist comes in- join in on their artistic hobby with them!

I’ll admit I’m not very talented when it comes to drawing, painting, and things like that (though I do really enjoy a good, therapuatic coloring session in an adult coloring book!) but one thing I am good at is organizing my creative thoughts (I am a writer, after all!) So I helped Jacob figure out a process for preparing his comic, much like he would do in school for an essay or I do for more in-depth, researched blog posts. He brainstormed ideas for the characters, came up with a storyline, figured out what images he would draw in each box, and then started sketching out the comic strip with his Pentel Mechanical Pencil. Once he’d drawn everything out he added pops of color with the Pentel Gel Pens. It was a fun project for a rainy afternoon!

Another way to encourage your child’s artistic abilities is to put them in lessons or activities to help them grow their skill. Jacob takes guitar lessons at a local music school and this year is joining his school band. Communities and schools often have art classes where children can learn how to draw or how to take beautiful photographs with their camera (my love of photography started in my high school’s dark room). Those on a budget may be able to barter for services, choose low-cost options like school clubs, or have their child take private or group lessons from college students who often charge less than professionals.

No matter what type of artistic endeavor your child is interested in, I think one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to support your child and their passions! How do you encourage your child’s artistic pursuits? I’d love to hear about it so chat with me on twitter, instagram, or facebook!

Freebies For Kids

Freebies kids will love

Everyone loves getting things in the mail, especially children who get really excited because they don’t yet equate the mailbox with bills. I thought it would be fun to share a list of FREE things that kids can get, either through the mail or in person at stores. Here are some of our favorites we discovered:

1) LEGO offers a LEGO magazine and it’s free to subscribe to. My boys love it! Learn more about how to subscribe here.

2) Many sports teams have special kid’s clubs to celebrate their littlest fans! Perks may include free tickets and special goodies when they attend games. Check your local team’s website to see if they offer a kid’s club. If you live in Chicago here are some of our local team’s kids clubs.

3) Kids who are members of the Albertsons Kid’s Club enjoy lots of perks just for accompanying their parents to the grocery store. This club offers free snack sized apple, banana or orange every shopping trip, a free adventure fruit to encourage kids to explore new tastes every month, a free cake square or giant cupcake on their birthday, and a birthday card with treat and coupons for full-size birthday cakes for their party.. Learn more and sign up here.

4) During the summer kids are encouraged to read thanks to a number of places that offer summer reading programs. Check out my list of places that typically participate and offer perks for kids that read over the summer.

Home Depot Kid's Workshop

5) Budding builders will love the hands-on, DIY workshops at Home Depot. Children who attend these monthly workshops receive a building kit, apron, and special pin (while supplies last). Learn about upcoming workshops here. To give you an idea of projects, my local store’s next workshop is a celebration of National Fire Safety Month where children (with an adults help if needed) will build a model fireboat to put out shoreline or shipboard fires and transport emergency personnel and rescue workers. Once the firefighting vessel construction is complete, children can decorate it with paint and stickers and give it a name like the historically famous fireboats.

6) Those who shop at Whole Foods will want to join their kid’s club where kids can get a complimentary organic apple, 100% Organic fruit leather, or natural animal crackers each visit. They also host in-store events for kids club members that range from healthy learning to cooking classes to art activities. Learn more here.

7. Birthday celebrations are always more fun with a special treat so members of the Barnes & Noble kid’s club receive a free cupcake on their birthday each year. There are also a couple other perks as well. Learn more and sign up here.

8) Bass Pro Shops offers activities and take-home crafts for kids throughout the year to encourage children’s love of the outdoors. They also offer kid’s camps in the summer-time. Contact your local store to find out what upcoming events are happening near you.

9) Kids love playing at Chuck E Cheese so why not sign up for their ‘More Cheese’ Rewards program to earn even more fun bonuses? The program offers rewards for the child’s birthday and half-birthday as well as a number of other benefits like free pizza! Sign up here.

10) Looking for something fun to do on the weekends? Lakeshore Learning stores offer frree crafts every Saturday from 11am to 3pm. Upcoming crafts include back-to-school photo frames, personalized bookmarks, and a number of holiday and seasonal crafts. Learn more here.

What other kid’s clubs and freebies for kids have you discovered? Let me know so I can add them to this list! You can chat with me on social here: twitter, instagram, facebook.

Freebies for kids - from classes to food to tickets

3 Travel-Friendly Finds For New Parents

Thanks to Momtrends for sponsoring this post. This post contains affiliate links.

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Chicago Baby Show at Navy Pier with my family (including the two soon-to-be big brothers you see above). Since my oldest was born over 10 years ago and my youngest over 9 years ago I knew a lot had changed in the baby gear world but I was amazed at all of the new items that had come to market since my boys were babies. I added so many things to my registry list for baby #3 and will be sharing about many of the items over the coming months but today I wanted to share three of my favorite items for busy moms who are on the go with their little ones.

First, is the Doona Infant Car Seat Stroller. This amazing carseat is also a stroller! Unlike typical car seats that attach to stroller bases, this car seat is the only car seat in the world with integrated wheels that fold down to turn the car seat into a stroller in seconds. I’d never seen anything like it before! I’ve always said that one stroller must-have for me is a large basket underneath but I’ll make an exception for this one because I can see so many uses for it! It would be perfect for those quick trips to return something at the store or when I have to run into the boy’s school to drop something off. Basically any time in the past where I didn’t need to unload my bulky stroller and I’d just grab the infant carseat and carry it in the crook of my arm I could have used this instead. The company that sells this carseat/stroller product also has additional accessories available to make it function more like a typical stroller but I’d probably still want a larger stroller for those trips to the zoo or anytime we are out for long periods of time.

Another must-have for parents of littles is this Pop ‘N Play™ Deluxe Ultimate Playard by Summer Infant. This product is perfect for parents who spend a lot of time outdoors during the warmer months whether it’s at the beach, camping, or at youth sports games and competitions. I think my family would get a lot of use out of this on summer weekends when we are at baseball games and practices because it’s a safe space for baby to crawl around while I watch my son play ball. I love that it is portable and easy to setup and also that if features a full canopy for sun protection and a padded floor for added comfort.

When it comes to older babies who need to eat on the go, the line of b.box baby feeding products is perfect. I especially love the travel bib and spoon set that keeps the mess contained because, after baby has finished eating, you just pop the spoon inside, fold the bib into the catcher and zip it closed. Then when you get home, you just wash and dry it and fold it back up until it’s ready for your next adventure. There are other items from the brand that would be helpful for travel, too, like the travel drying rack and the diaper wallet.

As a mom of two older kids I’ll be out and about with baby daily so I’m so happy I found some products that make life easier. What items have you discovered are helpful when you are on-the-go with baby? I’d love to hear about them! Chat with me on social here: twitter, instagram, facebook.

Tips For Smoother School Day Mornings

I’m far from perfect as a mom… I can’t keep my van clean, stay on top of laundry, or get my youngest to love veggies. One thing I can do though? Get my kids to school early every day. I have had some moms in my mom’s groups ask for help and tips when it comes to this so I wanted to share some things that work for us. Keep in mind my boys are older (9 and 10) but many of these tips also worked when my boys were both in preschool. Plus, my 9 year old still needs a lot of assistance when it comes to getting ready in the morning so hopefully these tips are helpful to those with younger kids and for those who are raising little ones with special needs as well.

My biggest tip is to give yourself more time than you need in the mornings. Yes, you all can probably rush and get ready in just half an hour but wouldn’t it be better to give yourself an hour and have a calmer morning? I always think about the time it should take two kids and an adult to get ready and double that because I know things will always come up. Whether it’s a missing shoe, a child who takes *forever* to eat breakfast, an unexpected meltdown, or a last-minute reminder (as you are about to walk out the door) that they needed to wear the school colors for a spirit day, extra time is always helpful. I also make it my goal to be out of the house earlier in the mornings so I have enough time to get coffee. Most of the time I am at school dropoff with coffee in hand but even on mornings we are running a few minutes behind we still end up arriving to school early. It’s such a more relaxing way to start the day and even Luke’s teachers have commented that he seems calmer when he is one of the first kids at school (versus when their dad drops them off closer to the bell time and they have to rush to their lockers and class).

Another big help in getting out of the door easier in the morning is to do as much the night before as possible. Kids can pick out their outfits and set them out along with their shoes and socks. Homework should be done and in backpacks which can be put by the front door so they are ready to go. Lunches can be partially packed with non-perishable snacks so in the morning you (or the kids!) just have to grab the other items from the fridge to add to it. Don’t forget to do a quick check of your calendar and to-do list as well which can hopefully help you remember anything important you need to get together, like something your child needs to bring to school or the special aforementioned thing they need for spirit week!

Breakfast muffins that can be made ahead of time and reheated are ideal for busy school mornings!

When it comes to breakfast I’ve found easy options are best. My kids love when daddy makes pancakes but those are just not realistic for busy school mornings. For weekdays stick to easy breakfasts like cold cereal, fresh fruit, frozen waffles, healthy smoothies (I like to add oats in mine for a more filling breakfast), and eggs. Warm breakfast options that can be made ahead, frozen, and then reheated, like these easy breakfast muffins pictured above, are great as well. And we always have those mornings where we are walking out the door and one of the kids realizes that they never ate breakfast so it’s always a good idea to have some fresh cut fruit and cereal in containers that they can grab and eat in the car.

Once kids start getting older they can help more in the mornings. Whether it’s dressing themselves, brushing their own teeth, or combing their hair, the more kids are able to get themselves ready the less you have to do! If your kids are able to you can also have kids make their own lunches and get their own school snacks which is really helpful. Having all of the lunch making items together so they are accessible to kids helps the process go smoother. To make lunch-making easier for children I’d suggest making sure all snacks and other items are on low shelves and stored together. We have plastic containers in the fridge which house yogurt, string cheese, fruit, and sliced up veggies they can take for lunches. All other snacks, like chips and individual containers of applesauce, are in a small cart with drawers.

Once I have baby #3 I’ll probably have more tips to share on how I learned to get ready with a baby added in the mix, too, but in the meantime I’d love ideas on how to do that since it’s going to be an adjustment! Please come and chat with me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook and share all your knowledge with me!

Hope your kids all have a fabulous school year!!

Baby Bath Time Gift Basket

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

Now that I’m in my second trimester I have a bit more energy than I’ve had over the past few months and I’m getting everything ready for baby before we are deep into our back-to-school routine and then before we know it the holidays are here and baby #3 arrives. We’ve set up the crib in our little baby nook and I’ve started buying baby things here and there. I’ll admit I have gotten a few I-don’t-really-need-this-but-baby-must-have-it items from the baby aisles of Target but I’m mostly stocking up on essentials.

 

(Interested in shopping for essentials online? Hover over the photo above to click through to shop JOHNSON’S® products at Target.com!)

When it comes to shopping I’m sticking to many brands I know and have relied on for years. One of those brands is JOHNSON’S® and their baby care line. I used the products with my boys, who are 9 and 10 years old, when they were babies and will use them for our new little one, too.

(Sidenote…) I thought it was hilarious when I went back to look for this photo shared above of my oldest and saw this message from my college roommate…

Little did we both know I’d be sharing it with them all these years later!

Anyways….

Like I said, I loved JOHNSON’S® then and I love it now but I feel even more confident using JOHNSON’S® on baby now because they have reformulated their products, inside and out, to set a new standard for gentle. Their products now have 50% fewer ingredients and contain no parabens, no phthalates, and are hypoallergenic.

I made sure to stock up on all my favorite bath time essentials and put together a little bath time kit that would make a super cute, practical gift for a new mom. It also is something you can put together for your own baby, like I did, if you want all of the bath items in one easy-to-carry container that can be moved from one bathroom to the other.

I included a rolled up hooded bath towel, baby washclothes, a rubber ducky bath water thermometer, JOHNSON’S® Safety Swabs, and a variety of other JOHNSON’S® baby products. I included JOHNSON’S® Head-to-Toe Wash & Shampoo and JOHNSON’S® Baby Lotion which are perfect for daytime baths along with my favorite trio for sleepy nighttime baths- JOHNSON’S® Bedtime Bath, JOHNSON’S® Calming Shampoo, and JOHNSON’S® bedtime lotion. The redesigned bottles are awesome with their easy-to-use pumps that are perfect for moms who are often trying to do everything one-handed as they hold their little one.

Everything went in to a durable container that I decorated with a little sweet, colorful garland. New moms will love getting the essentials their baby needs for a happy bath time routine and they will also appreciate how easy it is to carry baby’s bath essentials wherever they need them in their homes!

Target (my favorite store ever!) has all the items you need for this baby bathtime basket and there’s nothing better than strolling the aisles, coffee in hand, while you do your shopping. Plus, Target currently has a great offer going on for JOHNSON’S® baby products- buy 3, get a $5 gift card – which lasts through September 1st, 2018. And, if you are currently pregnant, don’t forget about Target’s baby registry because once you register you can get their amazing welcome kit (a $100 value) for free! It’s a great way to sample products from great brands like JOHNSON’S®.

Speaking of sampling products, be on the lookout for a Target in-store sampling on 8/26 where you can test out the Cotton Touch and the Bedtime lotions and also get a special coupon for the products.

What essentials do you stock up on for baby gifts or for your own baby? I’d love to hear so let me know on social by tweeting me (@aliciamarie112), PMing me on Instagram (aliciamarie112cb), or sharing on Facebook (/MakingTimeForMommy).

PIN IT!

Math Made Fun With Online Classes From Revolution Math

Thanks to Revolution Math for sponsoring this post and offering this amazing offer to my readers.

Math was never my strong subject in school so when it comes to homework time I’m not much help. Luckily, thanks to amazing teachers, my two boys have found math much easier than I did but they still struggle with some of the more difficult concepts sometimes, especially Lucas. I was excited to learn about Revolution Math, interactive learning classes that combine live tutoring with an immersive, story-based curriculum.

Revolution Math is an innovative program designed to help 2nd-5th graders develop their math skills and an overall love of learning. The live, online interface integrates an interactive learning experience with a story-based curriculum and Common Core aligned math games. Students enjoy a small class size of up to 4 students, allowing them to build confidence under the instruction of a dedicated teacher.

Jacob’s Revolution Math teacher starts the class by reminding kids of her two rules: “it’s okay to make mistakes” and “have fun”. I love that Revolution Math makes math fun. I believe that kids are more likely to pick up concepts this way! They read a fun story together and then complete math tasks to help the story characters. Hearing kids laugh while learning math is an amazing sound.

Also, with the small class sizes (Jake is the solo student in his class and Luke has one other student in his), children really get personalized help. Both boys have teachers that are patient when the kids make mistakes and help them through things they are having difficulties with. Children can spend time walking through concepts with the teacher to make sure they don’t just come up with the right answer but they understand and can share how they came to the answer they did. I loved hearing Lucas explain how he figured something out and it really showed me that he understood the concept because he could explain it to the teacher and the other student.

I also like that Revolution Math typically introduces concepts to kids before they will learn it in school so that when it’s introduced in school they are familiar with the concepts already. With as limited as math time is each school day, children will benefit from having this extra weekly time with the concepts so when the homework comes home it’s much easier for them to work through because they’ve already learned the lesson and had review time!

Want this year to be the best yet for your child in regards to math?! I’m excited to be able to offer a great deal to my readers so that you all can try out Revolution Math in your own homes as school is starting this back-to-school season. Revolution Math is offering Making Time For Mommy readers a one month trial for only $1!

This $1 trial includes 4 weeks of Revolution Math’s live online classes and a complimentary learning kit sent directly to your home (a $199 package value!). Use the code MAKINGTIME1 to get the $1 trial. It’s a great way to try the program out, with no obligation to continue if it’s not a good fit (though I think you’ll discover it’s amazing and want to keep going after the month is up)!

Have questions about Revolution Math? You can learn more (and sign up for the $1 trial) here. Also, feel free to contact me if you have questions or want to hear more about our experience so far!

 

15 Family Friendly Things To Do In Chicago And The Suburbs This Summer

Disclosure: While this is not a sponsored post, I have partnered with most of these attractions over the years or have ongoing relationships with them. Thanks to all of the Chicago and suburban attractions that support this blog and provide my family with amazing experiences! Regardless of relationship though, all thoughts are my own honest opinions.

Visiting Chicago soon? I’ve put together a list of family-friendly things to do in the city and the nearby suburbs during the warm summer months. Many of these are even fun to do during the other seasons as well if you are visiting Chicago at another time of the year.

1. Enjoy a White Sox baseball game on one of their Family Sundays.

I’ll admit that I’m not a huge baseball fan (football is my true love) but there is just something special about sitting at a baseball game with my family and a crowd of people cheering for the same team that makes for a fun afternoon. We enjoy going to Chicago White Sox baseball games, especially on their kid-friendly Family Sundays where they have many special kid-focused activities and the opportunity to run the bases after games. Some games they even have special autograph sessions the kids can go to if they arrive early enough! Learn more about Chicago White Sox Family Sundays here.

2. Spend a day of hands-on learning fun at the Museum of Science & Industry.

Chicago is home to many amazing museums but the Museum of Science and Industry is one of our family’s favorites. I really like that it provides so many hands-on learning activities and I feel like it’s one of those places you can go every few months and there are always new things to discover. This summer there is a new exhibit we are looking forward to checking out called The Science Behind Pixar (at MSI until 1/6/19).  This 13,000-square foot, interactive exhibit showcases how Pixar artists and computer scientists use science, technology, engineering, and math to bring Pixar’s award-winning films to life.

3. Enjoy a sunny day at the beach.

Chicago might not be near the ocean but it’s off of Lake Michigan which means there are plenty of sandy beaches along the lakefront…26 free beaches to be exact! If you are headed to Adler Planetarium or the Shedd Aquarium you might want to add 12th Street Beach onto your agenda as well since it’s right there. It’s not a huge beach but we enjoyed going and dipping our toes in the water a bit.

4. Check out one of the many fairs and festivals going on.

There is no shortage of fairs and festivals in the city. From music to art to literature there are typically at least a couple fairs or festivals going on each weekend. Here’s a guide to some of the best festivals and fairs happening in Chicago this summer.

5. See Chicago from all different viewpoints. 

Chicago is typically explored by foot but there are so many other ways to see the city and I share 7 unique ways to see Chicago here. You can view Chicago from above by taking an elevator up to the top of the Sears (Willis) Tower, you can go on a carriage ride or take a trolley around the city, and you can take a boat ride along the river or out on the lake.

6. Go bowling at King’s Dining and Entertainment Center.

Spend a rainy afternoon at King’s Dining and Entertainment Center (or go on a nice day and take advantage of their “sunny day” special passes). They have bowling of course but there are other fun games to do as well like billiards, shuffleboards, foosball, and air hockey. And make sure to eat while you are there. I was extremely impressed with all the food offerings they have. All their food is made in-house and whenever possible they source hormone-free, GMO-free, fresh, local ingredients. They also offer a number of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-friendly items. My favorite appetizers were the Southwestern Spring Rolls and Buffalo Chicken Wontons but they offer dinner options along with dessert (trust me, you don’t want to skip dessert).

7. Enjoy all the fun that Millenium Park has to offer.

You can’t visit the city of Chicago without a visit to Millennium Park (and Maggie Daley Park which is connected to it). During the summer you’ll find kids splashing around Crown Fountain or playing at the 3-acre play garden at Maggie Daley Park. There is plenty of architecture to check out (including “the bean” which is a tourist photo spot) and a garden full of beauty to admire. On summer evenings you’ll even find live music and movies at Jay Pritzker Pavillion’s open-air venue.

8. Visit Navy Pier, Chicago’s #1 tourist destination.

Many know this 3,300-foot-long pier on the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan as home to the Chicago Children’s Museum and the iconic giant ferris wheel but there is so much more to do there. Visitors can catch a show at the AMC Navy Pier IMAX Theatre, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater or just outside Navy Pier on the Polk Bros Performance Lawns. Those who love art would be interested in the art exhibits that Navy Pier hosts and those who prefer water to land will want to experience one of the cruises that departs Navy Pier. Cap off the day with dinner at one of the restaurants at Navy Pier and an evening display of fireworks on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

9. Eat your way through the city.

Chicago is known for their deep dish pizza but did you know about all the other Chicago staples? Make sure to also taste all of my Chicago’s favorites like Portillo’s hot dogs, Garrett’s popcorn, Fannie May’s chocolates, and Shake Shack’s burgers. Choose Chicago offers 20 iconic eats here if you want even more ideas of restaurants to eat at.

10. Explore life underwater at the Shedd Aquarium or check out one of their new outdoor aquatic experiences.

Two of my favorite activities to do at the Shedd Aquarium are to pet the stingrays and watch the dolphin show. There is a new exhibit called Underwater Beauty that explores the unique beauty that can be found underwater and features over a thousand animals representing 100 species from across the globe, including eels that ribbon, shrimp that can break glass, sea jellies that pulse and fish that swim backwards. In addition to everything at the Shedd, this summer they are offering new outdoor aquatic experiences. designed to spark curiosity for local waters and wildlife by bringing people closer to them. From a traveling aquarium exhibiting animals in some of Chicago’s neighborhood streets and parks, to a new floating island conservation program for Chicago River kayakers, to hands-on science experiences in a boat on Lake Michigan I saw a special about this on our local news and I hope to be able to experience Chicago’s waters in this unique way this summer! Find all the details about these new outdoor aquatic experiences here.

Living just outside of the city I know how much fun can be found in some of Chicago’s nearby suburbs so, if you are up for a visit to the suburbs, check out these fun activities….

11. Take your LEGO loving children for a trip to LEGOLAND.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center is the ultimate indoor LEGO playground with 2 rides, 10 LEGO build & play zones, a 4D cinema & much more! Kids will love seeing everything that the master builders built, including a mini Chicago (built from over 1.5 million bricks!) and some of their favorite characters and scenes from Star Wars. There is also a Pirates Adventure Island playground inside which seems to draw my boys in each time! There are always fun events going on at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago, too. Last time we went there was a “kids vs. grownups” challenge (which the kids pretty much won…surprise. surprise…) and coming soon they will have lots of additional fun for their 10th Anniversary Celebration. I also love that they host sensory-friendly “Play Well Days”the first Saturday of each month for those with Autism, SPD, and other special needs, so if you are looking for something sensory-friendly put that on your calendar :)

12. Take the train to Naperville, a local suburb that has a great downtown area that is accessible right off the Metra tracks.

Naperville is by far my favorite Chicago suburb. There is so much to do there and it’s all easy to get to from the train station. I love just walking around the Downtown area and along the riverwalk while my boys play Pokemon Go and try to catch the many Pokemon available. There’s DuPage Children’s Museum, a popular place for children to play and explore, which my boys loved to play at when they were little. On hot days you’ll want to spend time at Centennial Beach, the “swimming hole” created in an old abandoned quarry. There’s also a Paddleboat Quarry where you can rent paddleboats and kayaks. We loved spending time on the water in our little paddleboat! Make sure to check to see if there are any special events going on as well. Ribfest is early in July so it’s over for this summer but I recommend it if you are out in the area during that time!

13. Have a splashtastic time at Raging Waves in Yorkville.

Raging Waves, the largest waterpark in Illinois, is full of summer fun for all ages. Adults and kids will both love the wave pool, body slides, and tube slides. There’s also a 1/4 mile long lazy river for relaxing as you float along. Young kids will have a blast playing at Kangaroo Falls which has slides, water cannons, rope bridges, water hoses and a dumping bucket. There’s also Koala Kove, a zero depth entry pool with four slides for the littlest of waterpark visitors. Learn more and get tickets here.

14. Spend the afternoon at Brookfield Zoo.

Brookfield Zoo has been the zoo I’ve visited since I was a young girl and I love taking my kids there now. This 216 acre zoo is home to around 450 species of animals so there are lots of animals to see. Kids will especially love the Hamill Family Play Zoo and Hamill Family Wild Encounters where they can get up close and interact with the animals. If your kids love playing in water make sure to bring a change of clothes because there is a splash pad they will want to play at along with two playgrounds. My favorite thing to do at the zoo in the summer though is enjoy live music at their Summer Nights on Fridays and Saturdays (through August 18th this summer).

15. Have a thrilling time at Great America.

If you have thrill-seekers in your family you’ll want to add Six Flags Great America, located in Gurnee, to your summer bucket list. With over 100 attractions and rides along with an attached waterpark, Great America is a place your whole family will enjoy. My boys love the roller coasters, including American Eagle, the world’s tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster, which Jacob braved as soon as he was tall enough to ride. My favorite on a hot day is Logger’s Run because it’s a great way to cool off when it’s hot out. Young kids will love that there are 3 areas in the park that are just for them!

For even more ideas check out my Chicago Bucket List and this list of free things to do in Chicago! Also, if you are heading to Chicago with someone who has sensory sensitivities, this Sensory-Friendly Chicago list (that I’m in the process of compiling) may help your family have a successful visit to Chicago.

What do you love to do in Chicago with your family? I’d love to hear about it! Comments on the blog are closed because I’d rather chat with you on social media! :) 

Find me here:

A Fun Game To Play When You Need Some “Me” Time

This post is sponsored by Zynga, but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

When I started this blog in 2008 I did so to carve a little time out of my day for myself. I had just given birth to my first child and was looking for a hobby. I loved to write so I thought starting a blog would be the perfect way to make time for myself. Little did I know that, after my second child was born just a little over a year later, my blog would turn into a business and no longer be just for fun. Though I still love writing on the blog, it quickly became a job full of deadlines, social media rules to follow, and financials to organize.

Then there are the daily “mom” tasks that fill up my time….

Like taking care of my kids whom I LOVE

and WASHing laundry.

Now ten years after becoming a mom, and pregnant with baby #3, “me” time is pretty much non-existent. I have to be intentional about making time for myself. I squeeze in self-care time and enoyable activities when I can, whether I’m waiting for the boys to get out of school, sitting in a Doctor’s office, or taking a work break. During these small pockets of time, I often check to see what’s new with my friends and family and play games on my phone. One fun mobile game I like to play is Words With Friends where I can compete against friends, loved ones, and strangers, and I’ve been playing since 2011.

I’m really excited about this new version, Words With Friends 2, that brings even more fun. There are lightening rounds, themed badges you can earn in weekly challenges, solo challenges, and more. So take a break from the busyness of your day, download the game, and play against me (aliciamarie112) today!

I even started playing with my oldest son and it’s fun to play together. Check out how well my 10 year old does!

 

Comments on the blog are closed because I’d rather chat with you on social media! :) 

50 Summer Boredom Busters Tweens Can Do At Home

Now that the novelty of summer has worn off I’m sure you’ve probably heard the words “I’m bored” come out of your tween’s mouth (or you will soon enough). I know Lucas has already said it a few times! I decided to put together a list of 50 things tweens can do at home when they say they are bored this summer!

1. Clean. (Okay, not a fun one….)

2. Write a letter to a friend or family member.

3. Paint some artwork for your room.

4. Learn a new hobby.

5. Make a no bake dessert. (These haystacks are my favorite to make year-round!)

6. Make a game and teach a family member the rules before you play it.

7. Have a dance-off.

8. Have open-ended craft time and see what you can create with various craft supplies.

9. Make a nature journal and go outside to enjoy and observe nature.

10. Plan next week’s menu plan with your favorite foods.

11. Set up a fort in the living room.

12. Go outside in the backyard and practice a sport you enjoy.

13. Redecorate your room (with a parent’s permission of course).

14. Try a new hairstyle.

15. Set your goals for the school year ahead and make a dream board.

16. Learn about a new culture and share with your family what you learned through a craft, food, or game.

17. Setup an obstacle course for family or friends to go through.

18. Go through your closet to see what clothes fit and which don’t before you head shopping for back-to-school season.

19. Plan a short roadtrip for your family to go on. Don’t forget the packing list, activities to do along the way, and must-see spots once you arrive at your destination.

20. Make some decorations for an upcoming event or holiday.

21. Find a comfortable spot and read a book.

22. Send someone a thank you card and tell them why you appreciate them.

23. Create a scavenger hunt. (My kids loved this flashlight hidden message hunt that ended with s’mores.)

24. Have a lemonade stand.

25. Start a daily journal or blog.

26. Learn to code.

27. Put together a care package to give someone in a nursing home or the military.

28. Pop some popcorn and have a movie night.

29. Write a story.

30. Have a water balloon fight or play water balloon baseball.

31. Make homemade pizza.

32. Put a puzzle together.

33. Make an awesome STEAM inspired LEGO creation like a solar powered LEGO vehicle or code a LEGO maze

34. Use tie dye or puffy paint to decorate a shirt.

35. Camp in the backyard.

36. Do a random act of kindness for each family member.

37. Make a bird feeder.

38. Play a board game.

39. Make a toy for your pet or a friend’s pet (like this easy cat wand toy).

40. Write a script for a play or lyrics for a song and perform the play or song for your family.

41. Have a picnic in the backyard.

42. Ask an elderly neighbor how you can help them.

43. Learn a new language.

44. Run through a sprinkler on a hot day.

45. Upcycle household garbage by making one of these recycled crafts.

46. Organize your room.

47. Make your own music video.

48. Make friendship bracelets.

49. Paint rocks.

50. Be bored! It will be back-to-school time before you know it so enjoy the time off!

What ideas do you have to keep tweens busy this summer?

The Best Universal Gift Registry For Those Engaged Or Expecting

Thanks to MyRegistry for sponsoring this post.

Out of all the things there are to do when you are engaged or expecting, one of the more exciting tasks on the to-do list is setting up a registry. Whether you are having a bridal or baby shower, or just have family and friends wanting to buy gifts for you, having a registry is one of the easiest ways to ensure you get things that you (and/or baby) can enjoy for years to come.

There are a variety of stores that offer registries and, often times, couples set up numerous registries to give their friends and loved ones an option when it comes to gift shopping. As a newly pregnant mama with 6 months to go still, and this being my third child, I mostly wanted to create a registry so I could easily keep track of what I wanted to purchase before the baby comes (because many registries give discounts on items when you get closer to the due date) and to have ideas if family asks for them. I had just planned on setting up one registry to have everything in one place and figured an Amazon registry would be great so I could get their free welcome box filled with baby goodies. Then I saw a few adorable things at Target and, before I knew it, I had started one at Target as well. I was recently introduced to MyRegistry.com and am so excited to now be able to combine all of my registries in one place!

 

Setting up an account is really easy and the best part is you can import all of the registries that you already have set up.

 

 

You can also add new registries or items from any website at any time, including the partner sites shown above. MyRegistry makes it easy with a “add to MyRegistry” desktop internet bookmark button, a smartphone app that lets you scan barcodes of items you find in stores, and inspiration boards on their site you can look at to find unique items you want to add to your list. You can also choose to include gift cards and cash funds (like a diaper fund or honeymoon fund) to your registry if you don’t need a lot of “things”. I was surprised that it was so easy to make a registry on MyRegistry.com and how easy it is to add items.

 

Since I just started my registry I only have some essentials and a few adorable outfits I want to get as soon as we find out if we are having a boy or girl. I still want to make an Ikea registry since we are purchasing some nursery furniture from there and they also have a “completion discount” so we can save some money making the purchase through our registry.

When you first set up your registry make sure to check out the offers page, too. They have a great giveaway going on right now through August 31st. Every weekday, MyRegistry will randomly select one winner from its list of new baby registry signups (who have activated their account, confirmed they wish to be entered on their Offers page, and added at least one gift to their baby registry). Winners will receive a Noobie pregnancy gift box containing the newest and best baby products!

The current Noobie Box includes:

  • LansinohⓇ Breastfeeding Set
  • Aquaphor Baby Healing Ointment
  • MAM Anti-Colic Bottle
  • MAM Newborn Pacifier
  • WaterWipes
  • PurellⓇ Multi Surface Disinfectant
  • Dr Kids Natural Nasal Drops
  • And a Surprise Sample!

Such a great giveaway for those who create a baby registry! Head on over to MyRegistry.com to create your wedding registry or baby registry! Not engaged or expecting? You can make a wish list for your (or your child’s) birthday or Christmas!

It Is Okay If This Summer Is Not The Best Summer Ever

I’m sure you have all seen the meme that has been going around Facebook reminding us that we only have 18 summers with our kids. It reminds us of how fleeting our time is and how our children will only be little for a short period of time so we should make this summer count. With my oldest being 10, and already over halfway to adulthood, I appreciate the author’s message now more than ever. At the same time though, that meme made me feel guilty and like a failure.

See, in past years I made summer bucket lists with the goal of trying to cram as much fun into our summers as I could and make every second of summer perfect for my boys. I even wrote a post with tips on how to maximize the summer months together where I declared our summer starting May 1st one year so we had more time for summer fun. We would go on monthly trips, head to all these fun places, and do all sorts of exciting things I thought would make the kids remember their childhood for years to come.

This summer is unlike all the rest though. This summer I feel like I have been failing. I don’t have a bucket list written down nor exciting vacations planned. In fact, up until now, I wouldn’t even say we’ve done any typical summer activity other than going to the pool a couple times. Being pregnant, and in my first trimester, means I’ve spent more time with my head over a toilet and napping on the couch than I’ve spent doing anything even remotely exciting with my boys. To add to that, the month started with excessive cleaning as we prepared to host a few dozen people for a party in our home and ended with me having a horrendous toothache (complete with root canal) and basically hibernating for a whole weekend (per my doctor’s orders) due to an extreme heatwave aggravating my asthma.

Now that it’s July, and I’m feeling a little better, I hope to finally start our summer but it won’t be as exciting and eventful as years past. Nothing about it will be extraordinary that they can look back on with fond memories. I’m learning to accept that though because I have to keep this in perspective. This is one summer of my children’s lives. 3 months. And I don’t just have 18 summers with my kids, I have 18 whole years with them at home. Plus, when they get older I’ll still see them as much as I can so it’s not as limited a time frame as it seems.

In the meantime, I’m hoping they will remember the sweet times we’ve had together during this slow season of life before things get hectic with school, the holidays, and the arrival of baby #3. They will remember the time spent cuddling on the couch, the times I stood standing over the stove making grilled cheese sandwiches even when I was feeling nauseous, and the one-on-one time we had together.

Maybe you are pregnant like me and finding fatigue has overwhelmed your body. Maybe you are struggling with post-partum depression and struggling to just get through each day. Maybe you are taking care of a sick child. Maybe you are mourning the death of a parent. Maybe your chronic illness keeps you from doing everything you wish you could. Whatever the reason, I encourage you to find joy in the little moments with your children and to remember that if this summer is not one for the memory books it’s okay because there are plenty more seasons left that you can enjoy with your kids.

10 Birthday Traditions To Make Birthdays Special For Your Child

birthday traditions to celebrate child's birthday

With both my boys’ birthdays in June we’ve been busy celebrating here in my house this past month. We have some special traditions that their dad and I have kept going from our childhoods but we’ve also created some new traditions for our little family. I thought it would be fun to share some of those ideas along with a couple I hope to start with baby #3. If you have birthday traditions in your family I’d love to hear about them on social or in the comments below!

Write the birthday child a letter every year to help them remember what they did that year, things they did that made you proud, and what you love about them.

This is something I hope to start doing because I love the idea of them being able to look back on them when they are older. I also think it’s important to remind our kids, as often as we can, that we are proud of them and we love them.

birthday balloons

 

Take a picture of them holding a bunch of balloons – one balloon for each year they’ve been alive.

This is something we started doing a few years back and I love their faces each morning they come out of their room and see the big bunch of balloons. (Mom tip: Save some money by checking your local dollar store for cheap balloons. We get them for a dollar each and they last over a month so they have some birthday decor in their rooms for weeks to come!)

Give them the day off from chores.

So maybe this isn’t exactly a tradition but older kids will love having the day off from cleaning and doing other chores they are responsible for. You can either let them skip the chore for the day or do it for them if it’s a necessity. What a nice perk of being the birthday kid!

birthday cake with sprinkles

 

Have cake for breakfast!

Start the day off with a special cake that you’ve baked them (or bought from the store). This was a tradition that their dad’s family started and is probably one of my kid’s favorite parts of the day because cake for breakfast is typically a no-no in our home. Each year we ask the boys what kind of cake they’d like and for Lucas it’s changed each year. One year he wanted a pink frosted cake with sprinkles, then the next it was carrot, followed by oreo cookie cake the next year.

Pick an experience over stuff.

Whether parent’s decide a young child has too many toys or a tween or teen has their heart set on doing something a little pricy, sometimes an experience gift is preferred over a bunch of “stuff”. Experiences for kids might be a trip to an amusement park with a few friends, a roadtrip with family to a local waterpark for the weekend, or concert tickets to see their favorite musician perform live.

special birthday meal

 

Let them choose their birthday dinner.

One of my favorite birthday traditions as a kid was getting to choose where we went to dinner on my birthday. It’s also a tradition I carry on with my own kids (though thankfully they tend to choose cheaper places than the expensive seafood restaurant I chose as a teen). If you are on a budget you can let them pick a special dinner you can make yourself at home instead of going out to eat.

Decorate their room or doorway.

Many of my friends decorate their kid’s doorways with streamers and balloons they have to walk through when they wake up in the morning. I love the idea! When my boys were little (and I had a bit more energy) I loved to go crazy with streamers and other birthday decorations but nowadays we keep it a little simpler. Now that they are a bit older though, I think we will restart the tradition and they can help decorate for their younger sibling.

Do a service project together.

This is a tradition that I’ve been wanting to start for a couple years now and hopefully we will start it next year. While we do service projects year round, I love the idea of being intentional and doing a service project specifically during their birthday week to help them appreciate all their blessings and give back to others who aren’t as fortunate. I want to let the kids pick a charity that they want to support and find a way to help that cause. Whether we put toiletry kits together for a homeless shelter, bring toys to a children’s hospital, or visit a nursing home, I think this is a meaningful birthday tradition.

day at the pool for birthday celebration

 

Let the birthday child choose something fun to do on their birthday.

Spending time as a family is the best so let the birthday child choose what your family will do for their birthday. In past years we have went to the movies and went to the pool. This year they chose to spend a morning copying their favorite YouTubers by going hunting for “Funko Pops”. If your child’s birthday falls on a school day you can always pick a weekend day to celebrate on.

Celebrate as long as possible by staying up late.

Their birthday only comes around once a year so why not let them celebrate for as long as possible? This was a tradition my youngest wanted to start and I thought, “why not?”. My boy’s birthdays are in the summer so this tradition is a little easier when there is no school in the morning but you can always let them do this tradition on the Friday or Saturday of their birthday week. I think it’s just a fun way to end their special day.

What birthday traditions do you have in your home? I’d love to hear how you celebrate with your kids!

birthday traditions for kids

Want more ideas for special birthdays? Throw a birthday party for your child! My favorite kid’s parties have been my boy’s Disney Cars Birthday Party and their Firetruck Themed Birthday Party!

 

Our Big News! (And Chicago Baby Show Tickets Giveaway)

Thanks to MomTrends and the Chicago Baby Show for sponsoring this post.

New baby coming soon

Those that follow me on social media already heard the news but, in case you missed it, we announced a couple weeks ago that we are expecting a baby in January 2019! I figured I should officially announce it here :) We are so excited and I’m lucky I’m going to have two extra sets of hands to help with this baby (which will be a change from the challenge of having raised these two “almost” Irish twins who always seemed to be going in opposite directions when they were little!)

Since my boys are older I have nothing for babies anymore and, because we live in a tiny, two bedroom place, I’m on the hunt for baby products that do double duty and space saving items that really maximize what little space we do have. I’m also interested in learning about all the newest trends and tech that’s been developed since I was raising babies 10 years ago.

I am really looking forward to heading to the Chicago Baby Show later this summer to get ideas before I complete my baby registry and start shopping for my little one. I’m also excited to connect with other local, expectant parents!

The 2018 Chicago Baby Show, held on August 25 & 26, 2018, will once again be the largest show for new and expectant parents in the country. Now in its 2nd year, no other event provides a better experience for thousands of expectant and new families from the Chicago area seeking a family-friendly jamboree of top brands, great speakers and seminars, big giveaways, and lots of learning, support, bonding, and fun as you make your way into parenthood. 

2018 Chicago Baby Show

I am partnering with the Chicago Baby Show to give 10 tickets away! You can head here to claim the free tickets. If you go to that link and receive a message saying that “the promotional code you entered is not valid” then all FREE tickets have been used and you can go here to get 50% off tickets instead. (The normal ticket price is $30 per family (for 2 adults and up to 4 children) and $20 per individual.)

If you can’t make the show, or do not live nearby, don’t worry because I will be sharing my top finds from the show here on the blog! In the meantime make sure to grab your tickets while they last and leave a comment letting me know what baby items you consider necessities! I need to know what I should be adding to my wish list :)

 

 

Does Your Child Dream Of Becoming An Olympian? Free Recruitment Clinics With USA Luge

Team USA Slider Search

While we were watching the Winter Olympics this year, Lucas said he wanted to try Luge. Finding sports that are a good fit for my little guy has been difficult so I had briefly looked into Luge since he’d shown interest and was dissapointed that I hadn’t found any place nearby for him to try out the sport. That’s why I am so excited to share about a National recruiting initiative by Team USA Luge and White Castle that is bringing free clinics to youth around the country that let them try out this winter sport.

The Slider Search is an annual grass-roots recruitment program to introduce youth to the sport of luge and identify the next generation of USA Luge team members and Olympians. The series of clinics is open to boys and girls ages nine through 13, and will provide an introduction to luge using wheeled sleds and coaching from National and Olympic team athletes. Top participants from the nationwide tour will be considered for the USA Luge Junior Development team.

The summer and fall tour will travel around the nation to introduce youth to luge in Chicago, Columbus, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Burlington, San Francisco, Long Island and Salt Lake City. The tour will also make its way to Lake Placid, hometown of USA Luge. At each series stop, participants are taught the basics of riding a luge sled at controlled speeds, including positioning, steering and stopping. Once these skills are developed, athletes take several runs down a paved luge course on wheel-equipped luge sleds and test skills through a battery of fitness tests.

Those who show promise in the summer program are invited to Lake Placid, NY; Park City, UT; or Muskegon, MI, to try luge on ice at a USA Luge sanctioned training site. The top young athletes from this group are selected for the next year’s development team.

Registration is required and can be completed online at http://www.teamusa.org/usa-luge/slider-search. Participants only need to attend one of the many free clinics and everyone in attendance will receive an exclusive White Castle USA Luge Slider Search T-Shirt.

“The White Castle Slider Search is critical to finding luge athletes to represent the United States who will someday go for the gold,” said Gordy Sheer, director of marketing and sponsorships for USA Luge, and 1998 Olympic silver medalist. “A morning or afternoon of trying something fun and new could be the first step down a path to glory.” Over the years, the White Castle USA Luge Slider Search has traveled over 220,000 miles and introduced the sport of luge to more than 20,000 eager young athletes.

For details about USA Luge, the Slider Search program, or to register for a clinic, visit http://www.teamusa.org/usa-luge/slider-search.

 

Burger Bar Party Ideas

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

One of the best things about summer is all the grilled food, from burgers to kabobs to corn on the cob. I love celebrating special events with barbeques so I thought it would be fun to put together a burger bar with all my family’s favorite burger toppings. It was a great way to spend a summer evening!

Putting the burger bar together was easy. I headed to Kroger and got pre-shaped burger patties from the meat department, buns, and all the burger toppings that I needed and we didn’t already have. I also bought New Kleenex® Wet Wipes Gentle Clean and VIVA® Vantage® Big Roll Paper Towels for all the messes that were sure to happen (because can anyone eat a burger with all the fixings and NOT have everything fall out the bottom of their bun and drip all over their hand?!)


Burger Bar Toppings

The fixings I included were:

  • Cheeses (Cheddar, Provolone, and Colby jack)
  • Bacon
  • Onion
  • Tomato
  • Lettuce
  • Pickles
  • Pineapple
  • Coleslaw
  • Creamy Mushroom Sauce
  • Guacamole
  • Dressing (I used Caesar but Blue Cheese & Ranch Dressings would be perfect as well)
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Steak Sauce
  • Fresh Tomato Salsa
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise

Other toppings you could add include onion straws, chipotle mayo, hot sauce, fried green tomatoes, hummus, and more. Maybe even take a poll to see what your guests love on their burgers. That way you can have all their favorites out.

Personally, one of my favorite things is creamy mushroom sauce that a restaurant near me serves on their burgers. It is SO GOOD! I tried to recreate it for my burger bar and, while it’s not exactly the same as the restaurant’s, I thought it was pretty delicious! I love sauteed mushrooms on my steaks and burgers but this sauce is much creamier and more flavorful.

To make the creamy mushroom sauce you need the following:

  • 1/4 cup of Heavy Cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of Worcestershire
  • 1 tablespoon of Garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of Butter
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 pound of Mushrooms

To make:

  • Heat butter and garlic on medium heat until garlic is translucent
  • Add mushrooms, Worcestershire and cream (in a pinch, if you don’t have cream because SOMEBODY forgot to buy it at the store {wink-wink}, you can use milk with a little flour to thicken it)
  • Stir everything together and cover for about five minutes, stirring occasionally

This creamy mushroom sauce is best served warm which is why it’s the last thing I added to the table before everyone ate.

And remember when I suggested you buy wet wipes from the store? This is why. I always end up with this deliciousness smothered all over my hand after I’ve eaten (and picked up the stray pieces of mushrooms that fell from my burger!)

Thankfully I had grabbed everything I needed at Kroger. I found the Kleenex Wet Wipes in the facial tissues aisle next to boxes of Kleenex tissues and the VIVA® Vantage Paper Towels on the top shelf in the paper towel aisle.

Setting up the burger bar is almost as fun as watching everyone try to eat the messy burgers lol. The Kleenex Wet Wipes are perfect for the messy hands and faces of adults. I like that they don’t contain any harsh chemicals and they come in small packs so I can easily keep them in my kitchen drawer and purse.

I love burger bars because they are a pretty easy party idea that requires minimal fuss once the party has started so you can enjoy more time with family and friends. Plus, clean up is a breeze when you have the right tools!

Once I picked everything up from the table I just used the VIVA® paper towels to wipe up the drips and spills from the cute checkered picnic tablecloth I had used. One swipe was all it took for the paper towel to pick up drips of sauce, salsa and more! BBQ messes are no match for VIVA®.

Do you love to have barbeques in the summer? If so, have you ever put together a burger bar?

Burger Bar Party IdeasVisit the Social Hub for more unique grilling inspiration and also to enter the #MakeYourSummer Sweepstakes for a chance to win a Kroger gift card or a NASCAR experience!

No Purchase Necessary. The #MakeYourSummer #Sweepstakes begins on June 11, 2018 at 12:00:00 AM ET and ends on July 23, 2018 at 11:59:59 PM ET. There are multiple Entry Periods during the Sweepstakes. Legal residents of the 50 US/DC only, 18+. Void where prohibited. By participating, you agree to the Official Rules at https://makeyoursummerrules.pgtb.me/MRsDsl. All shared entries should include: #MakeYourSummer #Sweepstakes. Ends 7/23/18. See rules at https://makeyoursummerrules.pgtb.me/MRsDsl.

Our Responsibility To Children Who Play Youth Sports

I’ve shared before how involved my kids are in youth sports and how many benefits to being involved in team sports that I think there are. Sports have helped my boys work on their social skills, learn the importance of teamwork, given them a chance to learn about responsibility, provided a fun means of exercise and produced friendships they still cherish today. All of these skills are vital for kids as they move through elementary school and into junior and senior high. I still believe all the positive things that I’ve written about youth sports before but, after an incident recently happened to my son, I feel compelled to share about the other side of youth sports and also what I believe to be our biggest responsibility as parents, coaches, leagues, and fans.

One day a couple weeks ago, my son and his teammates had just played a soccer game and experienced a lot of dirty play from the other team- pushing, yanking jerseys, tripping, etc- which is really not all that uncommon in youth sports nowadays. My kids have played sports since they were in preschool so I’m aware that there are just some teams that do that more so than others and it’s sadly become pretty commonplace and ignored (at least in the handful of leagues we’ve been involved in).

My concern is how that “dirty play” and “win at all costs” culture leads to further negative physical and verbal interactions. Even in this recreational team my son is on that says they are all about “fun”. When my kid, or any kid, no longer feels safe (whether emotionally or physically) playing youth sports we have a problem.

So back to the soccer incident… My 9-year old son was at the soccer game and it had come to the end of the game where the “losing” team and the “winning” team meet to exchange handshakes and give a quick “good game” to the other side. My son happened to be on the losing team this day and they were bummed (like most kids are when they lose) and the other team was excited (which is completely understandable). One child in particular chose to tease the losing team reminding them they lost instead of saying “good game”. My son responded that it “didn’t matter” who won and this child responded with “you don’t matter” and when my son said “be quiet” this kid purposefully hit my son in the face (hard enough to make my tough, sports playing kid cry).

So of course all the adults in the situation responded to let the child know that was not okay, right? NOPE. When my son’s coach saw him crying and his teammates told the coach what had happened my son’s coach marched him across the field and let the other team’s coaches know that a child on his team had hit my son. The coach did not show any empathy at all and made the boy shake my son’s hand but no apology was given. The other coach then laughed about the situation with a parent on their team and later verbally attacked our coach who had just been bringing the situation to his attention.

Talking to our league’s team mom representative that next morning she’d told me that she’d received a number of complaints about this team’s dirty playing and that the coach of the other team was a league rep who should know better and be held to a higher standard and that the child would be suspended. I also contacted our league commissioner and president of the organization and thought for sure that contacting them would result in a resolution. At first, the league commisioner seemed to be as appalled as everyone else was. Weeks later though they brushed it off and the president even responded to my son’s coach saying he “was more concerned” with the verbal altercation that the two coaches got in after the game, after all the children had left, than my son being hit in the face.

The league’s “code of conduct” states punishment for “physical violence” is one year suspension from all league events but we weren’t even asking for that. All my son and I wanted was an apology and the league to acknowledge that physical violence is not acceptable and to know it will not be tolerated and they will take action when it happens. The league’s actions lead me to believe that a kid who scores goals and a coach who wins games don’t need to apologize for their behavior or receive any punishment at all.

And it’s not limited to this one incident being “swept under the rug” so to speak. Last season a parent on an opposing team was screaming at the umpire during a baseball game because he didn’t like some of the calls he made. The umpire was a teenager. Another season, my son struck out during a baseball game and his coach cussed him out. The worst part is that this kind of thing runs rampant at youth sports games across the country so much so that some leagues had to start putting signs up reminding spectators that it’s “just a game” and these are kids playing.

Our biggest responsibility to our young children who play youth sports is to provide a safe environment for them to learn and play. We cannot allow bullying, violence, or other unsportsmanlike conduct on our field because “it’s just part of youth sports”. It shouldn’t be and it doesn’t have to be something everyone just accepts. This means that we all need to acknowledge that the players are still learning and developing their skills. We need to all realize that umpires and referees are human and make mistakes. We also need to remember that we all have a responsibility to model good sportsmanship and treating each other with respect. Providing a safe environment also means standing up for those who are experiencing unsafe or mentally unhealthy conditions.

From coaches cussing at kids for striking out to parents screaming at umps to leagues defending the actions of their top performers to kids physically harming other kids with rough play and physically hurting others without fear of consequence, the “win at all costs” mentatlity is harming our communities and our children. It’s okay to want to win but it’s not okay to create and foster environments where winning trumps everything else, including the safety of our children.

What do you think? I’d love to hear about your experience with youth sports in the comments below.

How To Save On Prescription Medications

Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #LifeInCheck #CollectiveBias (LifeInCheck™ is brought to you by Inmar, a data and technology analytics company. Over the past 15 years, Inmar has created relationships with brands and retailers to provide consumers with the lowest price on prescribed medications.)

Groceries or medicine? Lights & heat or medicine? That’s the predicament I was faced with for a six month period of time when our insurance company refused to pay for my youngest’s medicine. This was medicine he needed so I had to pay for it out-of-pocket while I dealt with insurance. One of the medicines wasn’t that expensive, just $20/month but the other wasn’t cheap- the generic version of the second medication cost $250 each month meaning I had to find an extra $1500 to pay for it.

I know my situation is not unique. Many families who are underinsured, uninsured or have a high deductible insurance plan, have to pay for medications out-of-pocket. For families who have chronically ill loved ones or children who have special needs, this can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each month.

The stress of having to figure out how these prescriptions will be paid for can completely overwhelm someone. I know when I was dealing with this it was stressful figuring out where I could cut corners in our already tight budget. If we were in that situation now, having additional allergy and asthma medicines to purchase for myself and my son on top of the medications he was already taking, there is no way we’d be able to afford it all.

Recently though, I learned about the LifeInCheck™ Prescription Drug Plan that seems like a lifesaver for families. The LifeInCheck™ plan is not A Medicare Prescription Drug Plan or insurance but this plan gives individuals with High Deductible Health Plans or who are underinsured or uninsured, access to affordable prescriptions! The plan has 175+ prescriptions that are available at no cost & up to a 90% discount on other prescriptions. Their no cost prescriptions include 40 of the 100 most common prescriptions in the US, including certain medications for high blood pressure, antibiotics, mental health and more. (The one medication my son and I take for breathing problems is free with LifeInCheck™!)

There are two subscription options: $14.95/mo to cover all members of the household OR $149.95/yr to cover all members of a household. Since LifeInCheck™ members save an average of $64 per prescription, their monthly savings more than covers the subscription cost making this a really smart deal! Checking out the prescriptions my family needs on a monthly basis we would save way more than that. That $250 I was paying out-of-pocket for the one medicine each month would have cost only $63.91 with LifeInCheck™. One month savings alone on that one medication would pay for a year membership and some extra groceries for my growing boys. The total saved over that 6-month period on the one prescription alone would have paid my monthly mortgage!

The LifeInCheck™ website has more information about the plan, including an easy to use search function that lets you search and compare prices to help you find the lowest price at a pharmacy near you. There is also a feature that allows you to search your drug and see if there are any less expensive alternatives to your prescribed drug. You can then take this to your doctor to ask if you could use the alternate instead (for example, sometimes Doctors prescribe brand-name drugs when a generic could be taken instead which allows the patient to save money).

LifeInCheck™ offers a free 30-day trial so it’s worth it to check it out and see how much your family could save on prescriptions each month. Once you sign up you just print the card and bring it to the pharmacy (or you can show the card on your phone if you prefer). There are over 54,000 pharmacies that accept the LifeInCheck™ card and I was pleased to see the Walgreens down the street from me is one of them.

I hope that this information has helped you find a way to save on medications your family needs! Click the button below to access your free trial and please share this post with your loved ones and friends who would appreciate saving money on their monthly prescriptions.

 

Peter Rabbit Family Movie Night With A Mr. McGregor’s Garden Themed Popcorn Bar

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

Our family loves having family movie nights. It’s a nice break from our busy sports and work schedules and the perfect way to spend time together as a family. There’s nothing better than cuddling up together on the couch! Typically we take turns picking the movie but this week I bought the Peter Rabbit Blu-Ray + DVD Combo from Walmart for us to watch. I don’t typically get into “kid” movies but I’d seen commercials for this movie and it looked hilarious. Movies that the whole family can enjoy are the best because they keep mom, dad, AND the kids entertained!

I put together a cute little gift basket to surprise my boys with my movie selection for the week. Along with the Peter Rabbit movie, I added in a couple of their favorite frozen meals from Kid Cuisine, including Luke’s favorite- the Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Breast Nugget Meal, for the boys to enjoy before movie night (because who wants to be doing the dinner dishes when they could be enjoying time with their family?!). Kid Cuisine serves up kids’ all-time favorites, many with full servings of vegetables. With these easy meals, you know you’re choosing dishes that will satisfy your kids. Plus, they usually have a fun dessert that kids love!

I also added in a box of Orville Redenbacher’s Movie Theater Butter Flavored Popcorn because popcorn is a must-have on movie night (and the more butter the better in my opinion)! I like Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn because they have a lot of flavor varieties and they are the only leading brand of microwave popcorn with no Artificial Preservatives, Flavors, or Dyes in any of its products. The Kettle Corn flavor is delicious as well when you are craving something a bit sweeter.

Everything fit into a basket that looked like a white picket fence.I thought it was perfect for this because it reminded me of the gate to Mr. McGregor’s garden. The movie night gift basket was a fun surprise for them after a long day at school!

I also set up a simple “garden” themed popcorn bar since, in the movie, Peter Rabbit and his three sisters love spending their days in Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden trying to eat all his veggies. I put the popcorn in a bushel basket with an unused garden trowel as the scoop and put some napkins in a watering can. The popcorn was served in small garden pots (that were lined with napkins).

For the mix-ins I set out chocolate cookie pieces (to represent dirt but just not as messy as crushed cookies), gummy worms (like you’d find in the soil), mini marshmallows (aka bunny tails), and candy pieces (with orange ones to represent carrots). The boys favorite part of the evening was creating their own special popcorn mix!

For your own popcorn bar you can do any mix-ins your family would like. I just stuck with our movie night theme. Other mixins we enjoy are raisins, sunflower seeds, dried apple pieces, and chocolate chips. Just make sure you have some of everyone’s favorites!

The kids loved our fun family night with their special dinner and treats. We all thought the movie was great and I’m glad that we have it in our collection now. Whether it’s a family movie night during the week, or celebrating a special event, Peter Rabbit is a fun movie for the whole family. Plus, the DVD/Blu-Ray combo came with a digital copy which will be great for rewatching it on our travels this summer!

You can pick up everything you need for your next family movie night at Walmart. 

Have you seen the new Peter Rabbit movie yet? Find more fun Peter Rabbit themed ideas here.

Guide To Visiting Put-In-Bay With Kids

Last summer we went to Cedar Point and decided to spend an extra day exploring Put-In-Bay, Ohio, before we headed home to the Chicago suburbs. I am so glad we decided to extend our stay because that has been one of my favorite vacations to date. Put-In-Bay provides an atmosphere much like one you’d find in the Caribbean and it was just a nice family getaway spent relaxing and enjoying “island time”. If you need a break from busy sports schedules and the hectic daily grind, this is the place for you!

To get to Put-In-Bay you need to take a ferry. We took a Miller Ferry from Sandusky, Ohio where we were staying. You can take a car along on the ferry but I’d suggest leaving it behind and just renting a golf cart to get around. It was pretty affordable and not only is it convenient, it’s fun to drive around in.

Here are the things you’ll want to do with your family when you visit:

Aquatic Visitor’s Center (Historic Fish Hatchery and Education Center)

We loved this FREE activity! Families can learn more about Lake Erie by exploring its rich history and experiencing science up close at the Aquatic Visitors Center. Afterwards, borrow some fishing poles and bait and go fishing off the pier! Learn more here.

DeRivera Park

Any place with a playground is a “must visit” in my kids’ minds! DeRivera Park is a large shaded park right in the heart of the little downtown area. Children will love the large playground while parents will love the water views. There are also some historic landmarks in the area that are interesting to learn about.

 Eat at The Keys Restaurants

It’s no secret that sitting near the water, eating on an outdoor patio, is one of my favorite things to do so when I saw this adorable, colorful patio area I just knew we had to stop for lunch. Waterfront views, delicious food, and music that makes you feel like you are vacationing in the Florida Keys makes this place top of my list for mealtime.

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center has enough activities to keep a family busy for almost a whole day. From exploring a cave to gemstone mining to playing mini-golf to visiting a butterfly house to checking out antique cars, the whole family will find something they love! My boys favorite activity there was Fort aMAZE’n, a giant maze they enjoyed racing the clock to find their way out of. Learn more about all Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center has to offer here.

Walking around town

Walking along the lakefront was a relaxing way to spend the morning and I enjoyed going into shops that were around the middle of the town as well. If it’s hot out make sure to stop by Dairy Isle for a cool treat to enjoy while you walk around town!

Chocolate Museum & Cafe

Those with a sweet tooth will want to visit the Chocolate Museum and enjoy a treat from their cafe which they can enjoy outside in the picnic area. I thought it was interesting to walk around the museum area but the boys just wanted to hurry through to check out the array of chocolatey goodness that they offered in their cafe.

I loved every minute we spent in Put-In-Bay, Ohio and am so glad we made the trip over to the island. Have you ever visited? I’d love to hear what other things your family enjoyed doing if so!

Tips For Dealing With Seasonal Grass Allergies

This post is sponsored by Stallergenes Greer. Disclaimer: I am not a Doctor and this should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your Doctor before starting this, or any other, medication or treatment plan. I am not on ORALAIR® (Sweet Vernal, Orchard, Perennial Rye, Timothy, and Kentucky Blue Grass Mixed Pollens Allergen Extract) Tablet for Sublingual Use; however, I am sharing because I thought it may help one of you.

The cooler weather here in Chicago seems never ending so I’m already dreaming of the warmer months that are coming in the (seemingly not-so-near) future. I love when the warmer weather comes because nicer days mean vacations, outdoor sports, time by the pool, concerts in the park, and camping. I like everything about the warmer months, except for the allergies they bring. It’s frustrating when being outside doing fun things with my family means itchy eyes, sneezing, a runny nose, and general congestion for me.

As an allergy sufferer I wanted to share some of the things that have worked for me when it comes to dealing with seasonal allergies.

First, I recommend staying inside (with the windows closed) as much as possible on days that allergens are bad. When you check the weather forecast each day you can also look at an allergy tracker that lets you know what pollen levels are like outside. I get an alert on my phone (you can easily set one up using IFTTT) when pollen is high, too, so I’m aware of the pollen count without having to look at the allergy tracker every day.

When you have to go outside on high pollen days, avoid activities that will stir up the allergens- like mowing the lawn. I’d also suggest taking off your shoes and changing your clothes when you come inside so you don’t spread the allergens around your home. (If you have time for a shower that’s great to do as well but I know it’s not always possible to shower mid-day -especially when you have little ones!)

Also, if you have an allergy to grass pollen, you should visit your doctor to talk about sublingual immunotherapy, like ORALAIR. ORALAIR is an FDA approved medicine prescribed to treat sneezing, runny nose or itchy eyes for patients 10-65 years old, who have been diagnosed with an allergy to any of the five grass pollens. The therapy works by providing the patient a small amount of allergen in a pill under the tongue daily and it can be taken at home after the first dose is administered in the doctor’s office. This sublingual immunotherapy may be considered for children 10 and over and adults who can’t or won’t consider allergy shots. In children and adults, the most commonly reported side effects were itching of the mouth, lips, tongue or throat. These side effects, by themselves, are not dangerous or life-threatening. ORALAIR can cause severe allergic reactions that may be life-threatening. Symptoms of allergic reactions to ORALAIR include: trouble breathing, throat tightness or swelling, trouble swallowing or speaking, dizziness or fainting, rapid or weak heartbeat, severe stomach cramps or pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, severe flushing or itching of the skin. For more information, check out: http://www.oralair.com/assets/pdf/ORALAIR%20Med%20Guide.pdf

While I am not on ORALAIR, the reason I’m sharing about seasonal grass allergies so early in the year is because sublingual immunotherapy requires patients to begin treatment as early as winter before the start of grass allergy season so I wanted to give everyone plenty of time to look into this option in case it may help one of you.

The good news though, is that ORALAIR can reduce grass allergy symptoms within the first allergy season it is taken. It can also help patients take less of other allergy medicine during the grass allergy season. Over time, ORALAIR is effective in relieving grass allergy symptoms—not only in the first pollen season after you begin treatment, but also year after year for up to three years of treatment. ORALAIR can help you reduce your grass allergy symptoms like runny or itchy nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing and nasal congestion.

Here are some topics and questions that you may want to discuss with your doctor to learn more about your grass allergies and treatment options, including ORALAIR:

– What is allergy immunotherapy?
– How can I find out if I’m allergic to grass pollen?
– Could ORALAIR be an appropriate treatment option to help relieve my symptoms?
– How does the treatment routine for ORALAIR differ from my current one?
– How should I take ORALAIR?
– Are there support resources available for patients taking ORALAIR?
– How much does ORALAIR cost? Is it covered by my insurance?

What would you enjoy doing outside if your seasonal allergies were under control?

Disclaimer: I am not a Doctor and this should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your Doctor before starting this, or any other, medication or treatment plan.

 

************

Indications and Usage

ORALAIR (Sweet Vernal, Orchard, Perennial Rye, Timothy, and Kentucky Blue Grass Mixed Pollens Allergen Extract) is a prescription medicine used for sublingual (under the tongue) immunotherapy prescribed to treat sneezing, runny or itchy nose, nasal congestion or itchy and watery eyes due to allergy to these grass pollens. ORALAIR may be prescribed for persons 10 to 65 years old whose doctor has confirmed are allergic to at least one of these five grass pollens.

ORALAIR is taken about four months before the expected start of the grass pollen season and is continued throughout the grass pollen season.

ORALAIR is NOT a medication that gives immediate relief of allergy symptoms.

Important Safety Information

ORALAIR can cause severe allergic reactions that may be life-threatening. Symptoms of allergic reactions to ORALAIR include:

– Trouble breathing
– Throat tightness or swelling
– Trouble swallowing or speaking
– Dizziness or fainting
– Rapid or weak heartbeat
– Severe stomach cramps or pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
– Severe flushing or itching of the skin

If any of these symptoms occur, stop taking ORALAIR and immediately seek medical care. For home administration of ORALAIR, your doctor should prescribe auto-injectable epinephrine for you to keep at home for treating a severe reaction, should one occur. Your doctor will train and instruct you on the proper use of auto-injectable epinephrine.

Do not take ORALAIR if you or your child:

– Has severe, unstable, or uncontrolled asthma;
– Had a severe allergic reaction in the past that included trouble breathing, dizziness or fainting, or rapid or weak heartbeat;
– Has ever had difficulty with breathing due to swelling of the throat or upper airway after using any sublingual immunotherapy before;
– Has ever been diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis; or
– Is allergic to any of the inactive ingredients contained in ORALAIR.

Stop taking ORALAIR and contact your doctor if you or your child has any mouth surgery procedures (such as tooth removal), develops any mouth infections, ulcers or cuts in the mouth or throat, or has heartburn, difficulty swallowing, pain with swallowing, or chest pain that does not go away or worsens.

In children and adults, the most commonly reported side effects were itching of the mouth, lips, tongue or throat. These side effects, by themselves, are not dangerous or life-threatening.

You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800- FDA-1088 or www.fda.gov/medwatch. Talk to your doctor before using ORALAIR while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Please see full Prescribing Information, including Boxed Warning and Medication Guide.

Iced Tea Gift Basket For Mom

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

Mother’s Day is coming up and I have the perfect gift for you to give to your mom….time with you! My mom always says she wants time to spend with her daughter and it makes sense. Imagine you spend years with your child relying on you and then all of a sudden they are grown up and out on their own- working, raising kids, and just busy with life in general… you don’t see them as much and when you do it’s typically with the grandkids in tow. We know grandma loves the littles but she probably really misses spending time with you.

So, in brainstorming some ideas for mother-daughter time, I thought about a creative gift idea that is super simple and will show mom just how TEA-rific you think she is. With the weather getting warmer, and my mom liking iced tea, I created an iced tea gift basket. This thoughtful gift, complete with two cups (one for you and one for mom!), shows her that you want to spend an afternoon on the patio listening to her tell stories while the two of you sip iced tea.

 

(Hover over the image above to shop for Bigelow Tea at Walmart.com!)

I decided to make the gift basket colorful because iced tea reminds me of summer and I wanted my gift basket to reflect that. I added a handtowel, two tumblers, coasters, a fun-shaped ice cube tray and a cute carafe. I also put Bigelow tea packets inside the tumblers. I chose Bigelow Tea (manufactured right here in the U.S.) because it’s my family’s favorite brand of tea. Known for their quality ingredients and foil packaging that keeps the tea fresh, it’s the perfect addition to a gift basket for mom.

When it came to flavors, I picked out fruity flavors of tea since I thought they would fit in well with the sunny day themed basket. Great choices include: Red Raspberry Herbal Tea, I Love Lemon with Vitamin C Herbal Tea, and Green Tea with Pomegranate.

Along with the gift basket you can also brew some iced tea for mom. I made iced tea using the Red Raspberry Herbal Tea and then put it in a “mom” tumbler before we headed outside to enjoy the sunny day.

Making the iced tea was a lot easier than I realized! Here’s the process to make 3 cups of iced tea:

  • Steep 6 tea bags in 8 ounces of hot water for 10 minutes
  • Pour concentrate into pitcher
  • Add 24 ounces of cold water on top of the tea concentrate and stir
  • Pour into glasses and serve.

So give mom the gift she wants most of all and bond over cups of delicious iced tea. Before you leave make sure to remind her that she’s hosting your next mother-daughter get-together and she has all the tools to do so thanks to the sweet gift you gave her!

*****

Find all your favorite Bigelow Tea flavors at your local Walmart!

PIN THIS POST!

Illinois Residents: You Could Be Driving With Suspended License Plates And Not Even Know It

I know what you might be thinking after you read the title of this blog post. You can only have suspended plates if you did something wrong, right? NOPE. Today I wanted to share about how we learned that our plates were suspended on one of our vehicles because of an insurance issue (even though we’ve never had a lapse in insurance). It’s happened to other Illinois residents as well so read on to learn more, including how you can make sure this doesn’t happen to you!

Here’s our story…

Sinisa went to a local currency exchange to renew the plates for the vehicle he drives and was told that the plates were suspended and he had to go to the DMV. He went to our local DMV office where they told him that our plates were suspended because we hadn’t proved that we had insurance on a random day in 2017. Apparently they had sent a letter to our old address (where our car was registered to) requesting proof of insurance for a single day in October of 2017. So since we did not receive the reporting form, we did not send it in, and the plates on our vehicle were suspended.

There’s no way for us to know how long we had suspended plates and if one of us would have gotten pulled over for unknowingly driving with a suspended vehicle registration there could have been penalties. According to the Driver’s Defense Team: “If the state can prove that you were operating a vehicle with invalid registration, the penalties can be quite severe. In most cases, it is treated as a Class A misdemeanor, the most serious offense in Illinois before a felony. This means the judge can impose a sentence of up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $2,500, or both.” Would this happen if you can prove you had insurance and didn’t deserve to have your registration suspended? I don’t know.

Luckily, we discovered this issue on our own and not after getting pulled over or our story may have been very different! In our case, our local DMV office told us we could pay a fine of $100 to “make it go away” or we could drive to another DMV (that offers more services) and show proof of insurance from last October to get our license plate registration unsuspended. Thankfully, we have two vehicles and Sinisa had vacation time to deal with this so we didn’t have to pay an additional $100.

So how can you make sure this doesn’t happen to you?

First, just to be safe, I’d suggest checking your vehicle’s registration on the Illinois Secretary of State’s website just to make sure it’s not suspended. (You can do so here.)

Next, if you have moved since purchasing your vehicle, make sure the address on your vehicle registration is up to date. We mistakenly believed that our registration address was updated automatically when we changed the address on our license but it was not. You have to do this separately.

Lastly, if you get a form requesting proof of insurance send it in immediately so you don’t misplace it or forget about it. According to the IL DMV website: “Enforcement of the mandatory insurance law is accomplished through a random questionnaire sampling process and the issuance of traffic tickets. If the computer randomly selects your vehicle, you will receive a questionnaire asking for the name of your insurance company and policy number. Your answers will be verified with the company you name. If you do not have insurance or fail to return the questionnaire with the requested information, your license plates will be suspended.”

I hope this information is helpful and keeps you from ending up in a similar situation. Please share this post with anyone you know who lives in Illinois! 

Summer Tech Camps For Tweens And Teens

Thanks to iD Tech for sponsoring this post.

Looking for a unique summer camp option for your tweens or teens? Make screen time learning time at iD Tech Camps! Students ages 7-17 learn to code, design video games, mod Minecraft, create with Roblox, engineer robots, print 3D characters, work with AI, build laptops, design Fortnite-inspired games, learn about cybersecurity, and more! Read about iD Tech Camps below and make sure to grab the exclusive discount code at the end of this post!

iD Tech is the #1 tech camp and they’ve been around for over 20 years, paving the way in STEM education, with over 350,000 alumni passing through their programs. There are 150+ locations nationwide at prestigious colleges and universities including Northwestern, Loyola University, Lake Forest, Stanford, MIT, and others.

With world-class instructors, customized learning, and partnerships with the biggest names in tech (like Adobe, Android, and Microsoft!) their programs provide tools that empower students to create and innovate like the pros and instill in-demand skills that embolden students to shape the future. They are a passion driven company encouraging all kids to pursue STEM activities and they are helping bridge the digital divide by reserving 10% of camp spots for underpriveledged studens and they created a special all-girls program that is now the country’s largest tech camp for girls. Awesome, right?!

Students can choose from 50 cutting-edge summer courses from RoboCoder: LEGO Robotics and Visual Programming (for ages 7-9) to Build, Invent, and Code Your Take-Home Laptop (for ages 10-12) to Coding and Development 101 (for ages 13-17). I think my boys would be most interested in the video game creation classes. There’s even one for all those teens obsessed with Fortnight!

Have a social savvy teen? They’d probably love to take social media classes like Photo Booth: Pro Photography for Instagram (for ages 10-15) and Video Production and Special Effects for YouTube (for ages 13-17). I wish I would have been able to take social media classes before social media became part of my full-time job!

Not only will your child master new tech skills but they will also have FUN! Camps include things like dress-up days, raffles, outdoor activities, gaming tournaments, music video parodies, pie-your-instructor Fridays, and more. The fun camp culture takes the pressure off so students can build a lifelong passion for tech alongside new friends.

I am pleased to be able to offer Making Time For Mommy readers an exclusive discount code to recieve $75 off when you register your child with code CHIMOMS18 before 5/31/18! Courses sell-out quickly, so get started today at www.idtech.com or call (888) 709-8324 for personalized course recommendations. I’d love to hear which camp your child would enjoy and feel free to tweet with me (@aliciamarie112) to tell me all about your child’s experience this summer. I can’t wait to hear all about the fun and learning!

Things To Donate To Your Local Animal Shelter

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

With Earth Day this past weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about giving old things new life. I had a massive pile of old blankets and towels to donate and our local animal shelter just seemed like the best place to donate them (because let’s be honest here- nobody wants to buy your old towels and you feel guilty just tossing them, right?) This got me thinking about other things animal shelters may need so I wanted to create a list of things you can donate to an animal shelter, from things you might have around your home to pet supplies you can get at PetSmart (the one-stop shop for all your pet’s needs!) to the thing that nobody has enough of- time.

I recommend calling your local shelter to see what items they need before you donate, but here are the top 5 things I’d suggest donating:

Blankets & Towels

If your family is anything like mine you probably have amassed a large number of towels, blankets, and other linens that you aren’t using. We have a whole laundry basket full of King size bed linens that don’t fit our new Queen-sized bed! Instead of storing these things you may need “some day”, consider giving them to your local animal shelter where they will actually use them now. The towels will help dry freshly bathed cats and dogs and the blankets will provide soft bedding for them. (Just look at how comfy my two look, in the photo above, all curled up on Jacob’s blanket!)

Grooming Supplies

Pet shampoo, fur brushes, nail clippers and other grooming supplies help shelters make animals look more presentable, and therefore, more adoptable. Every shelter’s goal is to find good homes for their animals so this is really important! Grooming tools are very useful and things that I don’t think are donated very often.

Hover over the image above to shop this product at PetSmart!

Pet Food

Probably the one thing animal shelters run out of the quickest is the one thing that is a necessity for all- food. Next time you are at the store getting food for your pet, consider grabbing an extra bag or two for your local animal shelter. I found a great selection of Purina products at PetSmart so when I got a bag for my cats, Peaches and Boomer, I also got an extra bag for the shelter. Some of the pets in the shelter may have been taken from the streets or might not come from the best homes so quality food is so important for their health. For cats, I think the Purina® ONE Smartblend Sensitive dry cat food is a good choice for the shelters because it’s Veterinarian recommended formula is made with no fillers―only ingredients that have purpose―like essential vitamins, minerals and taurine for immune system health and omega-6 fatty acids which helps prevent skin irritations and supports their immune and digestive systems. Another dry cat food that provides outstanding nutrition is the Purina® Pro Plan Savor Shredded Blend that is a mix of crunchy kibble and tender meaty pieces that provide cats with plenty of protein and live probiotics to support digestive health.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are perfect to donate because the animal shelter can purchase whatever they need with them when it’s needed. Purina and PetSmart are making it easy to give gift cards because, now through 5/18/18, if you spend $20 on Purina products you get a $5 PetSmart gift card! So why not buy food for your pets and then donate the gift card you are sent? To get the rebate: 1) Shop for participating products to reach a cart total of $20 or more. 2) Upload your receipt on PurinaFortunes.com (before 5/31/18) to get a $5 PetSmart gift card which will be mailed to you in 8-10 weeks. 3) Repeat steps 1-2 as often as you’d like (subsequent receipts can be of any value and when $20 in Purina products have been accumulated, you will receive another gift card. Also, this is considered “gift with purchase,” so users don’t redeem for their gift cards).

Your Time

Many shelters count on volunteers to run. Donating your time, even if it’s just an hour or two a month, is so appreciated. Volunteers are needed to cuddle with animals, take dogs for walks, clean, foster pets, take photos of adoptable animals, play with cats, and more. Contact your local shelter to see what the greatest needs are and how you can help!

Other items you can donate include: cat litter, toys, cat carriers, cleaning supplies, old newspapers, leashes, pet beds, water/food bowls, and treats. I hope this list has given you ideas of things that your local animal shelter would really appreciate!

Don’t forget about the Purina gift card rebate! Find all your pet necessities at PetSmart (including Purina cat and dog food) and, while you are uploading your receipt, play the Paws of Fate game! Register with your contact information so you can receive an entry into the Grand Prize Sweepstakes to win a custom cat or dog bed. (Just a heads up- sharing the promotion via Twitter will also earn you an additional entry into the grand prize sweepstakes.) Also, play the instant win game (no purchase necessary to win) at PurinaFortunes.com to instantly win prizes such as PetSmart gift cards, as well as Save a Fortune tarot cards (Purina sent me a pack and they are pretty amusing!)

2 GRAND PRIZES:

-1 Dreams of Fortune Cat Bed (ARV: $2,145)
-1 Dreams of Fortune Dog Bed (ARV: $2,145)

INSTANT WIN GAME PRIZES:

-Purina Branded Tarot Cards (50 total) – ARV: $25/ea
-$50 PetSmart Gift Card (15 total) – ARV: $50.00/ea
-$25 PetSmart Gift Card (15 total) – ARV: $25.00/ea
-$10 PetSmart Gift Card (25 total) – ARV: $10.00/ea

 How will you help your local animal shelter? Get more pet-friendly ideas here.

Things To Do In Chicago On A Rainy Day

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

There are so many outdoor things to do in Chicago during the warm spring and summer months (that are coming eventually…I promise!) but I wanted to share some things you can do on a rainy day in Chicago. Whether you live in the city or are traveling to Chicago when rainy weather is expected, keep this list handy in case of bad weather in Chicago.

Challenge yourself in an escape room.

For a fun activity off the beaten path, grab some friends and try an escape room at Chicago’s Escape Reality (located at 158 W Erie St. 60654). Choose from six games, with different themes and levels of difficulty. Teams of 2-6 only have 60 minutes to solve the puzzles and escape the room! Time’s ticking! (Cost: $32/player – fun for all ages but over reading age recommended.)

Visit a museum.

Chicago has a number of amazing museums, from well-known ones like the Museum of Science & Industry and the Field Museum to lesser known ones like the Money Museum and the Fire Museum of Greater Chicago. Whatever your family is interested in you can probably find a museum that will capture their attention!

Try out a new pizza place.

One can’t visit Chicago without trying the pizza that our city is famous for! A rainy afternoon is the perfect time to taste test the many deep-dish pizzas that Chicago offers in order to pick your favorite.

Go shopping at Water Tower Place.

Chicago has plenty of stores on Michigan Avenue but our favorite place to shop in downtown Chicago is Water Tower Place. This eight-story mall has plenty to explore including kid favorites, the LEGO store and the American Girl doll store.

Go to a bookstore or coffee shop and read.

There’s nothing like curling up with a good book on a dreary day. Check out the assortment of books and magazines at a bookstore, buy one and then take it to a nearby coffee shop and read while you enjoy a cup of coffee.

Explore the underwater world.

The Shedd Aquarium is one of our favorite places to go downtown. Make sure to catch a dolphin show and pet the stingrays while you are there. Here are some of my other favorite things to do at the aquarium.

See a play at the theater.

Chicago may not have as many shows as Broadway in New York does but don’t count us out! Chicago has a hopping theater scene and a little culture might just be the cure to rainy day blues. And speaking of blue….try to catch a Blue Man Group performance while you are here, too!

Take a tour of the city.

Take a bus, trolley or boat tour of the city- just make sure you sit in the indoor section or wear a poncho to keep you dry. It’s always interesting to hear about the city from the tour guide and you learn a lot of history you never knew before.

Knock down some pins at the bowling alley.

A game or two of bowling is a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon and it’s something a whole family can do together. You may even be able to find a bowling alley with glow-in-the-dark bowling!

Enjoy your hotel’s indoor amenities.

If you are visiting, make sure to stay at a hotel with plenty of fun indoor amenities. We love this one that has an indoor basketball court!

What do you like. to do on rainy days in Chicago?

Fun Soccer Camp For Kids

Thanks to British Soccer Camps for sponsoring this post.

I sent Jacob off to school in shorts today so I guess it’s time to start thinking about our summer plans. Normally I am so on top of things but this year, not so much. One thing I know for sure though is that soccer camp is on the list because it’s already blocked out on the calendar. Jacob plays league soccer every winter and spring and, for the past few summers, has also participated in a week long soccer camp called British Soccer Camp. This camp week is always one of his favorite weeks of the summer and something he is looking forward to participating in again this year. He has enjoyed making new friends and playing this sport that he loves while I’ve noticed his skills develop a lot these last three years and I attribute much of that growth to these week long, half-day intensive camps.

British Soccer Camps are the most popular soccer camp in the US. With an innovative curriculum that develops skills, speed and confidence in players ages 3-18, The British Soccer Camp provide boys and girls with the rare opportunity to receive high-level soccer coaching from a team of international expert’s right in the heart of their own community. In addition to teaching new skills and improving game performance, each British Soccer Camp provides lessons in character development, cultural education and is the most fun your child can have learning the sport they love!

REGISTER FOR CAMP & GET A JERSEY, BALL, T SHIRT & NEW SKILLS APP AND 20 FREE VIDEOS!

British Soccer Camps have programs for all ages and abilities and feature an innovative curriculum full of skills, drills, and thrills! Register now and you will not only get your free British Soccer game jersey (value $34.95) shipped to you for free immediately, but you will also get their brand new skill development App and 20 videos to help your child practice at home. Your soccer ball, T-shirt & poster will be given out at camp. USE CODE BSC18 at check out to get free shipping.

To Enroll: https://www.challengersports.com/british-soccer/

Has your child participated in a sports camp before? If so, what was their favorite part?

School Car Line Etiquette 101

Other titles I considered for this post were “how not to be a jerk in the school car line” and “school pickup etiquette for dummies”. I truly can’t believe this needs to be written but it does. I think I am pretty patient but there is one thing that drives me crazy and that is parents that can’t follow the simple rules of drop-off and pickup. And we aren’t talking about new parents who are doing this thing for the first time….it’s April you guys. We started school in August so if someone is still acting foolish in the school car line then it is not because of lack of knowledge. So here are basic etiquette rules for the car line. Feel free to share this post with anyone you think could use the refresher…

General car line guidelines

 

Don’t cut in line.

This should be obvious because even kindergarteners can line up and wait their turn but this is the biggest problem at our school and what prompted me to write this post. We had one vehicle in particular cut in line almost EVERY WEEK FOR A YEAR AND A HALF.  There would be a line of cars and she would literally go up along the side of the line (or enter into the exit of the parking lot), pull up and BACK INTO THE FRONT OF THE LINE. Seriously. Who sees a line and thinks that reversing their car and backing into the front of it is the correct thing to do!? Now I do not like confrontation so I never talked to the parent but I would definitely sit there extremely annoyed every time she did it. Finally the staff talked to her but only after she almost backed into a staff member who was crossing to get to the parking lot. Same with the parents who try to squeeze their vehicles into the small gaps between cars. Just find the end of the line. Please. Anyway, moving on….

Pull forward.

There is no reason to leave a car’s length of empty space in between your car and the vehicle in front of you. Dozens of parents are trying to get their children to or from school every day and it takes much longer when parents don’t pull forward.

Don’t park in the line and get out of your vehicle.

The pickup and drop off lines are supposed to be moving lines. If you have to park and help your child out of the vehicle or run something inside (or for any other reason), then find a designated parking spot and park your vehicle there. Otherwise STAY IN YOUR VEHICLE during drop off and pick up times when the car line is full of parents trying to drop off or pickup their children.

Get off your phone and pay attention.

You are outside a school which means that there are kids all around you. Get off your phone and pay attention when you are driving because the kid’s lives matter more than whatever you are doing on your phone. Just put it down until you are at home or at work.

School drop off 

 

Your kid doesn’t need to be let out right in front of the door.

A few car lengths walk will not kill them. I tell my boys that every time they want to whine about having to exit the car when we are not right in front of the door to the school. I mean, I can see if it’s pouring rain or something but even then your kids won’t melt. Promise.

Make sure your child is ready to get out of the vehicle when they need to be.

School pickup time is not the time to do a long goodbye ritual, get the cold weather gear on, or fill out forms. When it’s time for them to get out of the car make sure that they are fully dressed and ready to go so you don’t hold up the line.

Let your child out in a designated area only.

The school has designated drop off and pickup areas for a reason. Letting your kid out in the middle of the parking lot may seem like a great way to avoid the car line when you are in a hurry but having them run through cars in the car line is dangerous!

School pickup

 

Get your kid and go.

You don’t need to get everything organized, have a conversation about their day, or whatever the heck else is taking you ten minutes to pull away from the curb once your child is insidee your vehicle. Just have them buckle and then pull away from the line when it’s safe to do so so other parents can pull up and get their children.

And if you choose to park…

 

If you choose to park your car so you don’t hold up the car line, first of all- thank you, but please remember the simple rules of parking lots that exist. First, the parking lot is not a race track so drive slowly and find an actual space to park in. Remember that two vertical white lines indicate a parking space and park in between them. Parking your car anywhere you please is not okay, especially if it blocks other cars from moving through the parking lot. And remember to check for cars and people when you back out of the spot! Also? Parking in a handicap space (without a placard or sticker) or in the lines between handicap spots that are designated for wheelchair ramps is not only inconsiderate of those who need to park there, it’s illegal.

Lastly, BE PATIENT.

 

I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that no parent likes the school car line. (Personally, I’d put my kids on the bus to avoid it if I could but we are about a mile away so the school district considers us too close to be bussed. Instead, I just get there really early to try to avoid all the other crazies.) Remember that none of us want to be there so just try to stay patient. Honking at other parents or kids or displaying any other form of road range is not necessary and will probably not make them move any faster.

What to do when your child needs extra assistance.

 

This post is not geared towards the parent who is dealing with that occasional meltdown that they can’t predict or who has a child with special needs, but more for the parents who just constantly feel like the rules don’t apply to them. I understand that some kids may need extra help at drop off or pickup because they may be differently-abled in some way because I have been in that position as a mom with a child on the Autism Spectrum. I know how difficult these transition times can be so if your child needs a little extra help getting in or out of the vehicle because they are still working on self-help skills or if getting in or out of school is a struggle in other ways, here are a couple of tips that might help during drop off and pick up times: 1) Consider finding a parking spot and walking your child into school. 2) Talk with the school about having a staff member outside to help your child in or out of the vehicle if you want to use the car line or see if you can pull forward more to let other vehicles exit behind you if your child needs extra time. 3) Call the office and ask if there is another place you can arrange to drop-off/pickup your child that has less traffic and will allow for a slower exit/entrance. 4) Consider picking up or dropping off a little earlier or later if the school allows it. Every school and child is different but it’s in everyone’s best interest to find a drop off and pickup solution that works so hopefully they can assist you in this situation so you and your child can have a smooth start and end to the school day.

Thanks to the moms in my mom group who helped complete this list by sharing some of their stories. What would you add to this school car line etiquette list?

Helping Children Develop Healthy Sleep Habits

Thanks to SleepBuddy for sponsoring this post.

A good night’s sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for both adults and children but, while adults typically look forward to bedtime (especially those of us who are parents!), many kids don’t see their bed as such a wonderful place. Whether you are transitioning a young child from their crib to a bed, trying to keep a child in bed through the night, needing to convince your child not to wake up at the crack of dawn, or struggling to sleep-train a child of any age who is on the Autism Spectrum, sometimes a parent just needs a little help teaching healthy sleep habits. Luckily for those parents, I have discovered a little secret tool that may help called SleepBuddy.

SleepBuddy is the complete sleep system that uses a programmable sleep light, a children’s book and a reward chart with stickers to create reasonable boundaries and put healthy sleep habits in place. The sleep light makes it easier for your child to relax and fall asleep and the timed light turns off when your child can get out of bed.

The sleep light came with directions that made it easy to program. You simply set SleepBuddy’s start times and durations for nap (if needed) and nighttime, then the light (either a calming blue or amber color) goes on and off at the times you choose. The times you set are stored in memory until you change them, and can easily be changed when needed. There is also an option to override the system for just a day when you need your child to nap or go to sleep at an earlier time.

While getting out of bed after mommy or daddy left the room was a struggle throughout the boy’s younger years and falling asleep has been a struggle for Lucas over the years, the biggest ongoing sleep problem we’ve struggled with in our household is keeping the kids in bed until a decent hour. The boys have been early risers ever since they transitioned from their cribs and it’s led to a lot of zombie-like mornings for this mom. 4am wake-up calls when I didn’t go to sleep until 1am and then having to deal with toddlers? Not sure how many cups of coffee I needed to help me through each day for all those years!

Nowadays they “sleep in” until 6am or so most mornings. Sometimes though, they wake up as early as 5am so now that we started using SleepBuddy they know to stay in bed until the light goes off. Currently it’s set to go off at 6am but we plan to lengthen the time in 15 minute intervals until 7am which is the time they need to get up and get ready for school. I’m hoping it gets them sleeping later. Lucas ended up sleeping until 7:30 this morning (which is very rare) so I am thinking maybe he woke up, realized he couldn’t get up and then fell back asleep. Jacob, my oldest, and a strict rule-follower, proudly told me that he waited until the light went off before he got out of bed, even though he’d woken up earlier.

So whether you are transitioning your little one to a “big” boy or girl bed, trying to keep your child in bed later (like I am!), or need to add some more structure to the bedtime routine for your child who has Autism, I’d suggest incorporating SleepBuddy to help your child develop good sleeping habits. You can learn more about SleepBuddy here and purchase it on Amazon here.

Which Sport Will Be Best For Your Child?

To say that my family is involved in youth sports is an understatement. Between my two boys, they currently participate in football, baseball, soccer, basketball, karate, gymnastics, dance, and bowling (which I guess could be considered a sport since I heard it will be in the Olympics soon!). Life is crazy at times but I let the boys participate in what they want to and have seen the many benefits that sports have brought to our family.

While my oldest is the “play everything” type, my youngest has been a lot pickier about what he wanted to do and it took a lot of trial and error to find what he loves and what he can have a successful experience participating in. Lucas struggled with the concepts of football (in his eyes intercepting the ball was cheating), thought the hour long karate class was boring and had too many rules, and didn’t really enjoy the running back and forth involved in a soccer game (which meant he spent the whole hour just wandering around the field). He does however, love the creativity he can express through dance, enjoy showing off his cartwheels at gymnastics and playing all positions on a baseball field (simultaneously lol). Thankfully we found places that can accomodate his special needs and he is thriving (mom brag alert…. he’s headed to the state competion for gymnastics through the Special Olympics!!)

I thought I’d share some of the things we learned while trying to find the perfect fit for him in hopes that it could help another parent find what works for their child without the years or trial and error we went through. Though he’s on the Autism Spectrum which probably led to some of the issues we’ve had, I think most of these things to think about can be considered for kids of all abilities. Here are some things to consider before choosing a sport for your young child to try:

What do they gravitate to during play?

Next time you head outside pay attention to what your child tends to gravitate to. Do they love playing catch? Are they kicking things around? When indoors, what active things are they doing at playtime? Do they like to wrestle with their siblings? Do they love to dance around the house? Do they pretend to be ninjas? These natural tendencies during play can give you a clue to what sport they might enjoy!

Is there anything they are naturally good at?

Sometimes children show talent at a young age for something and I think that’s definitely a sport to consider if they seem to also enjoy it. For example, my nephew and neice’s brother, who is three, was playing a carnival like hockey game this past weekend and he was hitting the ball into the goal more often than most of the children that played the game even though he was the youngest of the group by about four years. One of the adults joked that he might be a future hockey star, and though he was joking, it did seem that he might have some natural talent when it comes to hockey that may be worth exploring.

What sport is a good fit for their personality?

Sometimes a child’s personality or temperament will help guide what would be (and would not be) a good fit for them. Here are some things to ask yourself:

  • Team sport or individual sport? Does the child play well with others or prefer to play on their own? For example, a child who plays well with others might enjoy a team sport like football but someone who prefers to play on their own may like a solo sport like ice skating or golf.
  • In the spotlight or out of it? For example, a child who likes being in the spotlight may love a sport that is performed in front of an active audience like a ball game, but a child who is shy may prefer a sport that is done without a large crowd like swimming where they are in water and tuning out the people in the stands.
  • Follow the rules or create their own? For example, kids who love rules would like karate where their every step is coordinated while kids who want to be creative would probably enjoy dance more.
  • Competitive or not? For example, a child who loves competition may enjoy a team sport that keeps score like lacrosse and a child who gets anxious during competition may enjoy a sport that doesn’t keep score, like gymnastics or karate.

Have you found a sport your child enjoys? I’d love to hear about your children’s favorite sports in the comments below!

New Products From Ecovacs Robotics {Giveaway}

Thanks to Ecovacs for sponsoring this post.

I had the privilege of going to the International Home & Housewares Show on Monday and checking out the line of cleaning products from Ecovacs Robotics. Let me just say, if you don’t have a robot helping you clean then you need to get one because they are a lifesaver for busy parents! {And make sure to enter the giveaway at the bottom of this post for a chance to win one!}

Ecovacs debuted three new floor cleaning products at the Housewares show: the Deebot Ozmo 930, Deebot Ozmo 610, and Deebot 900. They also had their WINBOT on display which cleans windows which I thought was pretty awesome!

Here’s a video of some of the new products in action:

I wanted to share more about their new DEEBOT OZMO 930 that is coming out in April because it has so many great features and I believe it will be the most impressive robotic cleaner on the market when it comes out!

First, lets talk about the biggest feature…. the fact that the DEEBOT OZMO 930 both vacuums and mops the floor for you! No need to buy two separate products!

Also, the OZMO 930 is the first robotic vacuum that can change cleaning modes based on its current function. This is great for those who have multiple floor types in your home because, with the revolutionary Adaptive Floor Sensing, this DEEBOT can alter its cleaning pattern on the fly based on whether it is in vacuuming or mopping mode. When it’s on carpet the vacuum will increase suction power automatically for a deeper cleaning.

And let’s talk about the mopping feature! The DEEBOT OZMO 930 has the latest mopping technology. OZMO is a complete system with an electronically-controlled water pump, sensors that monitor water flow, and controls to stop the flow to ensure a consistent cleaning result. It also learns to avoid carpeted areas when mopping so you don’t have sopping wet carpets and rugs!

Another feature that makes this vacuum unique is it’s laser-based navigation that scans and maps cleaning areas so the DEEBOT learns and constantly adapts to your home, enabling efficient cleaning. Precision technology allows you to draw virtual boundaries or pinpoint specific areas to clean or avoid. This is a great feature for parents because you can tell it to avoid the kid’s bedroom (that most likely has tiny shopkins or legos strewn about!) and tell it to spot clean around the kitchen table area after dinner time.

Ecovacs also has an app that lets you effortlessly schedule cleaning times and set cleaning modes, monitor the cleaning status, and enjoy all the convenience of automated housework. My favorite part about the app is that it has a map of your home’s floorplan and lets you see what areas have been cleaned and which ones still need to be vacuumed or mopped.

And guess what? There are even MORE great features to learn about. You can visit the Ecovacs site to see all the other features that make this robotic cleaner a must-have item for busy parents. Before you head over there though, make sure to enter to win one of the not-yet released DEEBOT OZMO 930 Robotic Floor Cleaners! Good luck!!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

New Kitten Gift Basket

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

Getting our two cats, and becoming a fur mommy, was one of the most memorable moments of the past five years for me. I remember heading to the store before we went to pick up Peaches and Boomer, and being so overwhelmed by all the options and leaving the store with a trunk full of things. I thought it would be fun to put together a little gift basket that would be perfect for someone adopting a kitten so they can focus on the excitement adoption brings, and not all of the “stuff” they need to buy.

Here are the items I put in the gift basket:

Cat Bed

The base of the basket holds a small, soft cat bed. Kittens may be active but they still enjoy napping in a warm, sunny spot and a cat bed is perfect for this purpose.

Toys

I filled a little plastic jar with small toys because I know from experience that cat toys tend to go missing quite easily (though I’m guessing the majority of them lost in our home could probably be found under the couch!)  Kittens have a lot of energy so little balls and other toys will get a lot of use and putting them in a small container makes it easy to give them and then gives the new pet parent something to hold them in.

Grooming Items

I included a pair of nail clippers and a brush in this gift basket. Since both items are small I hung them on the outside of the basket with decorative ribbon. Other grooming items could include cat cleansing wipes or even a lint brush for the new pet parent who will soon discover that black pants and pets don’t mix :)

Litter

Every cat parent knows that litter is a must-have item and while shopping for litter I look for two main features- that it has odor control and it’s clumping litter which makes cleaning the cat box easier. One great brand I discovered recently that has both of these features is LitterMaid® Premium Walnut which is made with natural walnut shells. Not only does it help neutralize tough litter box odors and have powerful clumping that makes clean-up quick and easy, but it’s 99% dust free which I love.

(Boomer just had to get in a photo. I think some of the toys had catnip so he jumped up and was sniffing around. Sorry Boomer, this gift basket is NOT for you!)

Picture Frame

A picture frame is a sweet idea to include because then the recepient of the basket can display a photo of themselves with their fur baby. When I got my first pet, a kitten named Boots, in 1989 we took a picture of our family all together with him and it’s still one of my favorite pictures to date.

Odor Eliminator Spray

Odor eliminating spray is great for the cat bed, the couch, or anywhere else the cats sleep on a regular basis. Coupled with the LitterMaid® Premium Walnut that neutralizes odors in the cat box, their house will stay smelling fresh and welcoming to guests.

LitterMaid® Premium Walnut is now exclusively available at Walmart and can be found in the cat litter aisle.

You can also add cat food and/or treats, a collar, a cat box, pet food dishes and more to your basket! What would you put in a gift basket to give a friend who was adopting a new cat?

Tips To Make Cleaning With Kids Easier

Thanks to On-Cor for sponsoring this post and offering quality, multi-serve entrées that everyone loves.

Whether your family has set chores daily or has a cleaning day once a week, it’s important to get the whole family involved in keeping the house tidy. Sometimes I feel like getting kids to help with the housework may seem more like a chore than the actual cleaning task does. Because of this, I wanted to share some of our favorite ways to make cleaning with kids easier, including ending the day of cleaning with a special family night featuring one of our favorite On-Cor entrées.

Make it fun

Doing anything with kids is immediately easier when you find a way to make it fun. We love to turn on some music that everyone likes and dance arround as we clean (especially Lucas who always seems to be dancing whether there is music on or not!) The kids also like when we make cleaning into a game. Since my boys can make anything into a competition – as many siblings do- a lot of times just making cleaning up a race gets them excited. Whether they are racing to see who can pick up an area first or who can be the first to put away 10 toys- competitions and games make cleaning time a lot more fun!

Let them help make a cleaning list

One of my secret (or not-so secret now….) goals as a mom is to help my sons grow up to be men who help with the housework. Whether it’s helping with dinner (like heating up convenient, quality dinner solutions from On-Cor that are perfect for busy nights) or cleaning, I want them to be able to identify things that need to be done and do them which is why I love the idea of having kids help create a cleaning list. On a weekend morning when everyone is pitching in to clean, or right before having company, kids can walk around and make a list of what things they see that need to be done. I’m proud to say that Jacob is really great at identifying what things need to be picked up and cleaned and doesn’t need me to constantly tell him what to do next. Plus, I feel like having a list is a good way for kids to visually see what things still need to be done and cross the tasks off as they get completed (and who doesn’t love the satisfaction of crossing something off a to-do list!?)

Provide kid-friendly cleaning tools

If kids are going to help with the chores they need tools they can easily use. Wet wipes are aweome for every day cleaning. They also make child-sized cleaning tools that are fun for young children to use (like these ones pictured…aren’t they adorable?!) Rags with non-toxic cleaning products can be used by older children for more heavy duty cleaning.

Give children specific tasks to do

Sometimes kids can complete a larger task (like cleaning their room) on their own but often times, children need larger, overwhelming tasks broken down into smaller steps. I have one of each type of child and it’s something I try to keep in mind on cleaning day. For example, I can tell Jacob to clean his room and he completes the task while Lucas needs to be told what to do next (ie. pick up the superheroes, put your laundry in the hamper, etc.) A checklist with the steps to larger tasks broken down can be helpful and your child’s age and maturity can determine whether this is done with text or photos and how many steps that tasks need to be broken down into.

Have them work towards a reward

Nothing is more motivating than knowing there’s a reward at the end for a job well done. After a long afternoon of cleaning, reward kids with a special family night. We love to have dinner and then let the kids pick out a movie to watch or game to play. Spending time with family is the best thing and it’s even more fun when we can enjoy it in a room that’s spotless!

Since I don’t want to have to clean up the kitchen (again) after I’ve been cleaning all day, I like to make meals that are quick and easy and don’t make a lot of dirty dishes. We can have at least one night of no pots and pans in the sink, right?! That’s why I love On-Cor meals- they are just a freezer away for an always easy, always satisfying and always ready solution because life’s demanding enough. Dinner shouldn’t be! On-Cor does the prep work, so you can take care of other to-do’s and spend more time with your family!

From hearty entrées to microwave favorites, convenience has never tasted so delicious. No frills, no fancy. Just really, really good food. The boys love the Penne Pasta & Meatballs with Tomato Sauce entrée and I love that it makes pasta night easy. Plus, it now has 25 percent more meat so there’s more meatballs for everyone to fight over lol.

For your next family meal, head to the freezer aisle of Jewel-Osco or check out the store locator at www.on-cor.com to pick up one of On-Cor’s entrées. What tips do you have for making chore time with kids easier? Let me know in the comments below and make sure to enter to win a fun On-Cor prize pack!

Giveaway prize package includes: (1) Coupon Valid for One Free On-Cor Entrée (1) Organizational Glass Containers, (1) Scrub Brush, (1) Kids Cleaning Set, (1) Set of 4 Kitchen Towels, (1) Sink Caddy (ARV: $150)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Active Rainy Day Activities For Kids

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

Spring is around the corner which means warmer days are coming and I can’t wait to spend more time outside with my boys. Since springtime also brings rain, I thought it would be fun to share some activities for rainy days, and I particularly wanted to share some activities that will keep kids active and off of electronics when they are stuck inside (but most of these can be done outdoors as well). Most of these activities can be done with items you have around your home already or that can easily be found at Walmart.

What does your family like to do on rainy days? Click the image above to shop online! 

You’ll also want to make sure you have plenty of snacks available because you are probably going to hear “mom, I’m hungry” about a dozen times (and maybe more so if you have growing boys like I do!). We always keep Pepperidge Farm® Goldfish® crackers on hand because everyone in our family enjoys them and they are an easy grab-and-go snack. We also like to utilize them in some of our favorite games like relay races and tabletop basketball.

Here are some fun active rainy day activities that families can do together:

MAKE AND PLAY YOUR OWN TABLETOP BASKETBALL GAME.

Basketball season may be coming to a close soon but tabletop basketball is fun year-round! You can make a little game with just a handful of items: a paper cup, a straw, a coffee pod, scissors, tape, and then grab some Goldfish crackers to use in place of the balls. To make this simple game just cut the bottom and top from a coffee pod, and tape one end of the straw inside the coffee pod and the other end inside the cup (to catch the Goldfish crackers). Let kids take turns throwing the crackers in to the “net” to get a basket. They can see how many they get in to the net without missing or compete to see who can be the first to 20 baskets.

SET UP A RELAY RACE.

Relay races always create some fun competition. This activity’s instructions can vary based on how many people are participating but it’s easy to set up and modify, based on how many participants there are. For two participants you’ll want to put two cups at each end of a hallway, one side’s cups will have Goldfish crackers in them and one side will not. Each child will get a spoon with the goal of getting all their crackers into the cup at the other side of the hall before the other person does. If there are four people or more, split into even teams, giving one child on each team a spoon, and have them pick up one cracker at a time, run to the other end to put it in the empty cup, run back and hand the spoon to the next person in line to do the same thing, and repeat -taking turns- until all the crackers are in the other cup.

MAKE A MASKING TAPE BALANCE BEAM.

Put a piece of tape on the floor in an open area and let kids pretend they are walking on a balance beam. They can try walking backwards, jumping over obstacles put down along the path, or (Luke’s favorite!) show off their best cartwheels.

PUT ON A PLAY.

Kids can choose to act out something they’ve seen before or create their own play. Let them write the script, cast characters, make backdrops and props and then act it out either in front of their family or (if the whole family is participating) in front of an audience of stuffed animals.

HAVE A ‘PIN’TASTIC TIME BOWLING AT HOME.

Who says you need to head to a bowling alley to knock down some pins?! Make a little bowling set with empty water bottles filled with Goldfish crackers and roll a small ball to try to knock down as many “pins” as you can. For some friendly competition, keep score of how many everyone knocks down on each turn.

PLAY A QUICK ‘MINUTE TO WIN IT’ GAME.

Give each child a wooden craft stick and a small cup of Goldfish crackers. With one end of the craft stick between their lips, see how many crackers they can stack on top of each other without the crackers falling off. The one who stacks the most crackers on their stick wins!

GO ON A SCAVENGER HUNT.

Make a list of 20-30 random items that can be found somewhere in your home. (Examples include: paper clip, colorful sock, pencil, spatula, etc.) Split up and see who can find all of the items on the list first.

PLAY BALLOON TENNIS.

One of the easiest games in the world could be the simple game of “don’t let the balloon touch the ground”. Make it even more exciting with “rackets”  you’ve made out of paper plates with craft stick handles. Let kids take turns hitting the balloon and see how long they can go without letting it touch the ground.

BLOW AWAY THE COMPETITION WITH THIS STRAW RACE GAME.

Using only straws, see who can blow their Goldfish cracker over the finish line first. Or you could make a bullseye target at one side of the table and see who can blow their cracker into the center of the bullseye first.

PLAY RING TOSS.

Cut the middle part out of three paper plates and grab a plastic cup or bottle. Toss the paper rings to see who can get them around the cup or water bottle. To really get the rainy day wiggles out, have each person skip or hop to pick up their rings they’ve thrown before they pass them on to the next person.

HAVE A DANCE OFF.

Turn on some music and dance! See who can last the longest or who has the best dance moves. Let everyone take turns picking the songs and burn some energy while you work up a sweat dancing.

DESIGN AN OBSTACLE COURSE.

Last Spring I shared how to help kids create an obstacle course oudoors (you can see that post here) and it is an activity that could definitely be recreated indoors with some of the same materials. Hula hoops, cones, tunnels or whatever you have on hand can turn into an obstacle course that will keep kids busy for hours. Join in on the fun and go through their obstacle course to see big smiles at the “finish” line!

Whatever you choose to do on a rainy day, you’ll want to make sure that you have snacks on hand. We love Goldfish crackers and always have at least a couple varieties available. On our recent trip to Walmart we bought the Pepperidge Farm® Goldfish® crackers Cheddar 30 oz. Carton and the Pepperidge Farm® Goldfish® crackers Xtra Cheddar 30 oz. Carton. You can find the 30 oz cartons of Goldfish crackers at Walmart stores on rollback for $6.46 in store only. I love being able to save money on our favorite snack! For even more game inspiration, click here!

(PIN IT)

Realistic Cleaning Tips For Busy Parents

Thanks to Unelko Corporation for sponsoring this post.

Out of all the things that I have to do as a mom, cleaning definitely tops the list of my least favorite tasks (with listening to my kids whine as a close second lol). Nevertheless, cleaning is something that must be done so today I’m sharing some of my top cleaning tips for busy parents. The best part? These are all realistic! I’m not giving you a list of 20 things you need to clean in a day or expecting you to make cleaning your house a full-time job. After all, we all have errands to run, kids to love on, and a few dozen shows we’d love to binge watch. Whether you are in the season of motherhood known as the toddler years, your kids are finally back in school after the flu ravaged your home, or you just can’t seem to keep your house tidy even on the best of days, read on for cleaning tips that will work for you!

The room-by-room cleaning method

We are going to start with one task that will work on even the messiest of homes- pick a room that is the easiest to clean up (or parents of littles may want to start with a room the kids don’t frequent often) and tackle that room at naptime, after the kids go to sleep, or (if you have older kids) on the weekend when they can help. (BTW- the entry of your home can totally count as a “room” here!) Personally, I have found this is the best way to clean because you can actually see the progress which creates momentum, unlike cleaning a little bit here and there throughout your home and then an hour later it looks exactly the same. This motivates me to not only keep it clean but makes it easier to tidy up.

When doing this room-by-room cleaning method I start by moving stuff that belongs elsewhere. I don’t put it away but instead just drop and run back to the room I was working on (because we all know that story about the mouse who wanted a cookie and ended up doing a million other things….) Those who have a large home may want to just gather up anything that doesn’t belong into a laundry basket so you aren’t running around and wasting time. I put away and tidy things up and then sweep or vacuum and clean surfaces. I don’t organize drawers. I don’t pull everything out of the closet and start an organizing project. I pick up and tidy what can be seen and save the projects for another time. After all, I just want my house to be presentable should someone stop by. Once I’ve gone through the above and done this for all rooms, I mop the floors. This may take a few days but then you can start my next steps with a semi-clean home.

Create a cleaning plan that works for your schedule

I found a daily/weekly/monthly schedule works best for me and suggest that you create a cleaning plan that works for your schedule. I have a short daily list that consists of two 15 minute pickup times (one in the morning after my kids have gone to school but before I start my work day and one in the evening) and some basic bare-minimum cleaning. I have a weekly list that are things I don’t need to do daily but at least want to do once during the week, along with larger deep cleaning tasks and organizing projects I have on a monthly list. Some days I’ll get one or two weekly or monthly tasks done, other days I just get the daily basic tasks completed and then there are the days when I’m trying to meet work deadlines or am too busy to even enjoy my coffee and nothing gets done. It happens to us all and honestly, if your kids are fed and happy, just call the day a win and realize that tomorrow is a new day to try again!

Use Invisible Shield® cleaning products because they work well and minimize future cleaning time

If you are spending time cleaning you want to use products that work well and make cleaning easy. I love the line of Invisible Shield® products that shield and protects glass and other surfaces because not only do they work, but they minimize cleaning time in the future by protecting against re-soiling and stains without all the harsh chemicals. When you go back to clean the second time, you’ll notice far less soiling, dust and spotting and how effortless it is to go over the surface. The Invisible Shield® Marble & Granite Cleaner and Protector even leaves a lustrous shine that will last longer than any other Marble or Granite cleaner! Their products also prevent corrosion around water areas such as faucets, sinks, shower doors, wall tile, and tubs, extending the life of hard surfaces & fixtures. Anything that protects our home investement and lets us spend less time cleaning the shower and more time cuddling on the couch with the kids is a must-have if you ask me!

While all the products are amazing, my favorites in the line are the Invisible Shield® Water Spot & Stain Remover and the Invisible Shield® Protective Glass & Surface Coating that let me tackle one of the most difficult and time consuming areas to clean- the bathroom- with ease. They specifically help with the shower, removing stains and protecting the build up from coming back. Just look at the difference below and it only took minutes to clean! Plus, the protective glass & surface coating saves valuable time because it reduces the need to squeegee and keeps glass cleaner longer.

I love the brighter appearance that cleaning with these products give all my surfaces because shiny glass, counters, and more make my house look cleaner, even when there are toys strewn about the floor as my kids play!

Keep a list of quick tasks you can do when you have a few minutes

When you are a busy parent you need to utilize every second of the day to the best of your ability. So often I’d find myself checking my phone or just standing around as I waited on hold or for the water to boil or any of the other times I’d find myself with a few minutes. I suggest making a list of quick tasks you can do in 3-5 minutes of time so when you find yourself with a few extra minutes you can complete something on the list. Things like cleaning a mirror, wiping down the baseboards in a room, or throwing a load of laundry in the washer can all be done in minutes. Five minutes may not seem like a lot of time to get something done but if you had just 10 minutes a day to do a quick task or two, you’d have about 60 hours of “extra” cleaning time each year!

Ask for help

As much as we think we can do it all, we can’t. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner or kids for help with cleaning. I know it often seems like there is so much to do around the house and we get frustrated when they can pass up that stuff on the step waiting to go upstairs or the overflowing trash can, but sometimes our family members just need us to be clear about what we need from them. They aren’t mind readers after all! Start by giving them specific tasks or asking them to do something on a daily or weekly basis to take some of the cleaning responsibilities off your to-do list.

You can purchase the Invisible Shield products on Amazon and they even have bundles like the Household Spray Cleaner Combo (which includes the Invisible Shield Glass & Surface Cleaner & Stainless Shine and Marble and Granite) and the Glass Essentials Combo (which includes the Invisible Shield Glass & Surface cleaner, Water Spot & Stain Remover, and Protective Glass & Surface Coating).

Do you have any cleaning tips to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below but before you go, enter the giveaway to win some of these amazing products yourself!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Books For Kids Who Struggle With Anxiety

This post contains affiliate links. Also, I’m not a doctor so, if your child struggles with anxiety, please consult your child’s doctor or therapist.

I read recently that anxiety disorders affect one in eight children so, while searching for some books for my own children, I thought it would be beneficial to share the list with other parents who may be looking for some good resources. I’ve linked them all below, with the ages they are recommended for, so you can check them out more and see if they would be something that may help your child. If you have any other book suggestions I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (Ages: 8-12)

“What to Do When You Worry Too Much” is an interactive self-help book designed to guide 6-12 year olds and their parents through the cognitive-behavioral techniques most often used in the treatment of generalized anxiety. Engaging, encouraging, and easy to follow, this book educates, motivates, and empowers children to work towards change. It includes a note to parents by psychologist and author Dawn Huebner, PhD.

Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress (Ages: 5-12)

Faster than a speeding spitball, more powerful than a playground bully, able to breeze through homework and finish nightly chores in a single bound, it’s Master of Mindfulness—here to conquer stress, worry, and any trouble that comes your child’s way! Master of Mindfulness is a unique and empowering book written for kids by kids, with cool illustrations and tips that show kids how to be confident, get focused, stay calm, and tap into their own inner strength so that they can be their own superhero—no matter what life throws their way!

But What If?: A Book About Feeling Worried (Our Emotions & Behaviors Series) (Ages: 4-8)

Daisy’s family is moving, and Daisy is very worried. What if she doesn’t like her new home? What if her cat runs away? What if her new teacher isn’t nice? A conversation with her grandpa helps Daisy learn that many worries don’t come true—and if one does, someone will be there to help her solve the problem. The Our Emotions and Behavior series uses cheerful brightly illustrated stories to help kids understand how their emotions and actions are related—and how they can learn to manage both. At the end of each book, a two-page series of pictures invites kids to tell a story in their own words. A special section for adults suggests discussion questions and ideas for guiding children to talk about their feelings.

Bubble Riding: A Relaxation Story (Ages: 4-11)

Bubble Riding is a story that teaches children how to use visualizations to relax, calm down, and lower stress. A sea child and turtle take children on a relaxing bubble ride through the ocean. Children visualize filling and relaxing their mind and body with the colors of the rainbow. Children learn a fun visualization technique as they imagine filling and relaxing their mind and body with the colors of the rainbow. A sea child and turtle take children on a bubble ride through the ocean and into the world of relaxation. Visualization, also known as creative imagery, can lower stress and anxiety levels. Visualizing is the ability to form a mental image of, or use your imagination. This technique can have a positive impact on your child’s overall health, creativity, and performance.

It Will be Okay: Trusting God Through Fear and Change (Little Seed & Little Fox) (Ages: 4-8)

Whether we like it or not, growing up brings change. For many children, this conjures fears that are sometimes real and sometimes imagined. How can kids learn that even when they face new and unfamiliar situations, they don’t have to be afraid? Little Seed and Little Fox are facing changes and brand new circumstances—and they don’t like it one bit! Through this unlikely friendship, children will discover that no matter how new or fearful their circumstances, God is always with them. The whimsical art by Natalia Moore will put a smile on kids’ faces and put their minds at ease. Just as Little Seed and Little Fox learn to trust that the Farmer is good and kind, children will also learn to trust God.

What to Do When You’re Scared and Worried: A Guide for Kids (Ages: 9-13)

From a dread of spiders to panic attacks, kids have worries and fears, just like adults. This is a book kids can turn to when they need advice, reassurance, and ideas. They’ll find out where fears and worries come from, practice Fear Chasers and Worry Erasers, and learn to seek help for hard-to-handle fears they can’t manage on their own. 

Wilma Jean the Worry Machine (Ages: 5-8)

Anxiety is a subjective sense of worry, apprehension, and/or fear. It is considered to be the number one health problem in America. Although quite common, anxiety disorders in children are often misdiagnosed and overlooked. Everyone feels fear, worry and apprehension from time to time, but when these feelings prevent a person from doing what he/she wants and/or needs to do, anxiety becomes a disability. This fun and humorous book addresses the problem of anxiety in a way that relates to children of all ages. It offers creative strategies for parents and teachers to use that can lessen the severity of anxiety. The goal of the book is to give children the tools needed to feel more in control of their anxiety. For those worries that are not in anyones control (i.e. the weather,) a worry hat is introduced. A fun read for Wilmas of all ages!

Please Explain Anxiety to Me! Simple Biology and Solutions for Children and Parents, 2nd Edition (Growing With Love) (Ages: 5-8)

This book translates anxiety from the jargon of psychology into concrete experiences that children can relate to. Children and their parents will understand the biological and emotional components of anxiety responsible for the upsetting symptoms they experience. Please Explain Anxiety to Me, 2nd Edition gives accurate physiological information in child friendly language. A colorful dinosaur story explains the link between brain and body functioning, followed by practical therapeutic techniques that children can use to help themselves.

Outsmarting Worry: An Older Kid’s Guide to Managing Anxiety (Ages: 9-13)

Worry has a way of growing, shifting from not-a-big-deal to a VERY BIG DEAL in the blink of an eye. This big-deal Worry is tricky, luring children into behaviours that keep the anxiety cycle going. Children often find it hard to fight back against Worry, but not anymore. Outsmarting Worry teaches 9-13 year olds and the adults who care about them a specific set of skills that makes it easier to face – and overcome – worries and fears. Smart, practical, proven techniques are presented in language immediately accessible to children with an emphasis on shifting from knowing to doing, from worried to happy and free.

*****

I’ll add to this list as I discover books that look like they would be helpful. If you know of any, please share about them in the comments.

Developmental Differences Resource Fair In Chicago

Thanks to the Neighborhood Parents Network for sponsoring this post.

As a special needs parent I feel like resources that are available for my child, or our family, are generally not promoted that well. I typically find out about things from other parents or after a lot of research. I always wished there was an easier way to learn about resources so I didn’t have to spend hours searching for them and, luckily for Chicago parents, there is! The Developmental Differences Resource Fair on March 11 will provide Chicago families with one-stop access to school programs, service providers and other resources that serve children with developmental differences.

The fair, hosted by the Neighborhood Parents Network (NPN), takes place Sunday, March 11, 2018, from 9am–1pm. Parents of children with a range of developmental differences—including, but not limited to, developmental delays, Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, ADHD, PDD-NOS, Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder, Down Syndrome, physical disabilities, and more—are welcome to attend this free event. They will have the opportunity to connect with other special needs parents as well as with more than 80 exhibitors located in the Chicago-area, from the neighborhoods in the city to the Chicago suburbs. The fair also offers free, expert-led workshops on subjects such as bullying, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and how developmental pediatricians and neuropsychologists can help your child.

This Developmental Differences Resource Fair, geared towards families with children up through 8th grade, is held at DePaul College Prep, 3633 N. California Ave., Chicago. The resource fair is free and open to the public, however NPN does request that those interested in coming RSVP for the event. Also, while children are welcome in the exhibit hall, workshops are for adults only.

You can view a list of exhibitors and workshops, along with RSVP for the resource fair here.

Maple Bacon Stuffed Waffles

Thanks to Krusteaz for sponsoring this post.

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

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

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

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

Helping Children Who Have Developmental Disabilities Learn How To Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(PIN IT)

Teaching Teens To Make Smart Money Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you discuss money topics in your home?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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