Category: Cool Stuff

Back to School, Plus a Chance to Win a $1,000 College Scholarship from Groza Learning Center!

Many children across the U.S. are getting ready to head back to school. But here in Northern Virginia, public school doesn’t start again for another four weeks.

Still, the summer has seemed to fly by for us. For one thing, it’s a week shorter this year: Our district shifted the school calendar so that school will end a week a week earlier in June and start a week earlier (the week before Labor Day). But because the 2016-17 school year still followed last year’s calendar, our kids still got out at the same time. That means this summer break is only 9 1/2 weeks for us, instead of 10 1/2.

Then, Matt had a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy only three days after school ended. Due to a complication, the recovery took two weeks. Add to that a 10-day trip to New York and lots of pool time, movies, ice cream, and other fun in between, and more than half of summer break sailed by.

In some ways, the thought of the kids starting school again makes me sad. I’ve been loving our more relaxed schedule: staying up too late to roast s’mores and play catch, sleeping in, lounging around in our pajamas all morning instead of rushing out to catch the school bus.

Ice cream cones
Nothing says “summer” like ice cream before dinner!

But at the same time, I know that in four weeks we’ll all be ready to get back to our regular routine. Our bodies will crave a more consistent sleep schedule and healthier meals instead of frozen yogurt for lunch. Our brains will need to be challenged again (I’ve cut back on work for the summer). The kids will be excited to see all of their school friends again.

Sleeping toddler
Summer has us sleepy like…

Still, the first few weeks of school will be an adjustment. Lily will start preschool a week after the boys go back and will only go to school 12 hours a week, so I know she’ll be asking for her brothers at first. And when all three are at school, I’m pretty sure it will be a bit unnerving! Yesterday, Lily told Keith, “Daddy, soon my brothers will go on the school bus and Mommy will drive me to school and then she will be ALL ALONE!” Keith replied, “Yeah, and then Mommy will have a party!” If you call writing stories, working out, and showering without interruptions a party, then he’s right!

But as big of an adjustment as I and all of my fellow parents will have once school starts, it can’t compare to the big changes parents with kids heading off to college will go through! I’m sure they’ll be feeling a mixture of excitement, sadness, nostalgia, and pride as they drop their kids off at their new schools. And with the average cost of tuition and fees being $33,480 at private colleges (according to the College Board), many of them will also be feeling some sticker shock.

Groza Learning Center in Pacific Palisades, CA—which specializes in tutoring, test prep, reading, and homeschooling—understands the high costs of college tuition. So, the center wants to help students reach their goal of attending college or university by offering a $1,000 scholarship to 2017 high school graduates or currently enrolled college or university students. The deadline for submissions is November 30, 2017. Click here for more information about the scholarship and to apply. Good luck!

I wish all of the students heading back to school—and all of their parents—a healthy and happy school year! In the meantime, we’ll be enjoying the rest of our summer at the beach, the pool, a theme park, and baseball games!

Disclosure: This a sponsored post on behalf of Groza Learning Center. 

Keep Lice Away This Summer!

With the school year winding down for some kids and already over for others, this may seem like an odd time for me to be writing a post about head lice. But unlike schoolchildren, head lice don’t take the summer off. And without all the back-to-school warnings and media coverage that August and September bring, many parents are probably letting their guard down when it comes to lice.

But I’m not. While it’s true that head lice is more prevalent during the school year, the little buggers can still spread at day camps, indoor play gyms, rec centers, and other places at which kids congregate during summer break. And though lice isn’t the end of the world (despite its reputation), who wants to waste precious pool time combing nits out of their kid’s hair?

So I’m going to continue using my lice-prevention arsenal on the kids this summer: Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Hair Care products. Fairy Tales makes shampoo, conditioner, conditioning spray, hair spray, and styling gel that contain organic rosemary, citronella, tea tree, and geranium oils. These ingredients are clinically proven to repel lice. The products are free of sulfates, harsh chemicals and toxins, gluten, soy, dairy, and nuts, so they’re safe for daily use for all kids. They also contain jojoba and chamomile to moisturize, hydrate, and soothe the scalp.

Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel hair care products

I received these products complimentary last summer to try out. I’d already been planning to buy them before the twins started kindergarten and Lily started preschool, because several of my friends were using them on their kids and swore by them. One even mentioned that her daughter had never gotten lice until she ran out of her bottle of Fairy Tales Rosemary Repel Shampoo. After a couple of weeks of not using the shampoo, her daughter got lice.

So, I’ve been using the products religiously on all three kids for the entire school year, and so far (knock on wood) none of them have gotten lice. I’m not saying that’s fully because of the products, but using them definitely hasn’t hurt! The shampoo and conditioner do a great job of cleaning and moisturizing the kids’ hair. The conditioning spray helps get the knots out of Lily’s hair. The styling gel does not hold as well as some heavy-duty gels on the market, but it provides light hold without leaving residue behind. And I’ve only used the hair spray a few times on the boys’ hair for special occasions like school pictures, but it seemed to do the job just fine.

I’ll admit that the smell of the products takes a little getting used to. They do smell a bit like the herbs they contain, and the scent of citronella doesn’t exactly evoke thoughts of the best parts of summer. But the smell dissipates pretty quickly, and you don’t even notice it after a bit. Plus, it’s a small price to pay to protect your kiddos from lice!

If you want to give Fairy Tales hair care products a try, visit fairytaleshaircare.com to order them or to find a store near you that carries them. I hope you have as much success with them as I’ve had. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and lice-free summer!

Disclosure: I received complimentary hair care products to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

Upcycling with Chick-fil-A

As a member of the 2016-2017 Chick-fil-A Mom Panel, I get to try menu items for free in exchange for my opinions about food, kids’ meal prizes, and more. Sometimes, I am also asked to participate in fun challenges.

Recently, Mom Panel members received coupons for free bowls of chicken tortilla soup or chicken noodle soup and were challenged to upcycle the empty containers. According to Merriam-Webster, upcycle means “to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value).”

It wasn’t long before the Panel’s Facebook page was flooded with posts showcasing all of the amazing things my craftier comrades were creating with their plastic containers—bird feeders, turtle crafts, toy boats, etc. But if you know me, you know I I am not the crafty type—at all. I’m the mom who buys her kids’ “homemade” classroom Valentines on Etsy.

So when thinking about how to make use of my soup containers, I thought about it from a more practical standpoint. As a busy mom with three kids ages 5 and under, I have a lot of STUFF all over my house. So the soup bowls, with their tight-fitting lids, offer endless possibilities for helping to control the clutter. Here are some items that can be stored in the containers:

TOYS/KIDS’ ITEMS:

  1. LEGO bricks — You can even glue mini base plates to the lid to make a travel building kit!
  2. Crayons — Throw a small notepad inside, too, and you’ve got an on-the-go coloring kit.
  3. Pokémon or other trading cards
  4. Barbie shoes and accessories
  5. Shopkins, Army men, and other small toys
  6. Beads, pom-poms, and other craft items
  7. Tiny hair clips, rubber bands, and other hair accessories
  8. Stickers
  9. Kids’ jewelry
  10. Rocks, marbles, and other collectible treasures

HOUSEHOLD ITEMS:

  1. Office supplies like paper clips and rubber bands
  2. Receipts
  3. Box Tops, if you collect them for your kids’ school (which I do)
  4. Business cards
  5. Band-Aids, gauze, and other First-Aid items — You can keep a mini First Aid kit in your car or diaper bag!
  6. Q-tips, cotton balls, and other small bathroom items
  7. Cosmetics
  8. Travel-size toiletries — You can just toss the whole container in your bag when it’s time to travel!
  9. Snacks such as pretzels, goldfish, and nuts
  10. Batteries

As for my soup container, here’s what I am using it for:

Chick-fil-A soup container holding perfume samples

Chick-fil-A soup container holding perfume samples

Yes, that would be my collection of mini and sample perfumes, which previously were scattered all over my bathroom vanity. I am thrilled that they are now all in one place. Why didn’t I think of corralling them sooner?

As for Keith’s soup container, I was going to let Lily decorate it and use it to store her beloved stickers. But, she went a little paint happy on it and ended up making a big mess out of it, which gave me another idea for the soup containers—you can use them as paint cups during art projects!

Chick-fil-A soup container used as a paint cup

I’m glad this challenge got me thinking about ways to reuse items that pass through my home every day rather than tossing them into the recycling bin or the trash. It’s a great way to help protect the Earth and save some money.

Also, this challenge inspired Keith and me to try Chick-fil-A soups for the first time—we had always been loyal to our salads and chicken sandwiches. We thought both the chicken tortilla soup and the chicken noodle soup were delicious, and perfect for days when you want a lighter lunch option. Thank you for the fun challenge, Chick-fil-A!

Mudpuppy Puzzles Are Perfect for Travel!

Military life comes with frequent moves. That often means being far away from family and friends—and driving or flying long distances to visit them. So, military kids often do a lot of traveling.

My children are the perfect example. My twin boys logged at least five cross-country airplane flights by the time they were 2. My daughter took a 3,000-mile road trip with us at 5 weeks old when we moved from California to Virginia. Over the past two years, we’ve driven to New York to visit family more often than I can count. Add to that our various vacations, and you’re looking at some very well-traveled kiddos.

But while my kids’ extensive travel experience has made them a bit more flexible than other kids in many ways—they can easily sleep anywhere, they can handle schedule changes pretty well, etc.—at the end of the day, they are still kids. And just like any kid, they need to be entertained on long flights and car rides. They need things to do in the hotel room or at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. And because Keith and I don’t want their travel entertainment to consist solely of TV and iPad time, we’re often forced to devote way too much suitcase space to toys and books.

So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to have the chance to try out some of Mudpuppy’s portable puzzles. They are light and compact, making them easy to toss into my carry-on bag or diaper bag. And they are adorable and lots of fun! Here’s what we tried:

Pouch Puzzle: Mudpuppy’s 12-piece Pouch Puzzles (for ages 2 and up) come in zippered pouches, not boxes, making them flat and super easy to tote around. We received the Princess Castle puzzle, perfect for my little girly girl. We took the puzzle with us to Hawaii and on several trips to New York, and even when we’re not traveling Lily loves to put it together. The thick pieces are perfect for her little hands, and the puzzle is just hard enough that she feels challenged, but can still put it together on her own. Pouch Puzzles come in 16 themes and retail for $10.99.

Mudpuppy Princess Castle Pouch Puzzle
Our completed Pouch Puzzle

Puzzle To Go: The 36-piece Puzzles to Go, geared to ages 3 and up, are 12″ by 9″ when put together. That means they fit perfectly into an airplane or train tray table! We received the Outer Space puzzle and the Airplane puzzle, which was perfect because Nate loves space and Matt loves transportation. We first whipped these puzzles out on our long flight to Hawaii, and they entertained the boys for about an hour each! They were so excited to be able to do puzzles on the plane. And because they come in a drawstring pouch, the puzzles took up hardly any space in my carry-on bag. Mudpuppy makes 10 Puzzles To Go that retail for $9.99 each.

Mudpuppy Puzzle To Go
Look how small the pouch is!
Mudpuppy Airplane Puzzle To Go
Our completed Airplane Puzzle To Go

 

My First Touch & Feel Puzzle: Each of the six My First Touch & Feel Puzzle sets come with four three-piece puzzles for ages 1 and up. The pieces are chunky, and each puzzle has one textured piece for little hands to feel. We received the “In The Garden” set, and even at 2 1/2 Lily absolutely loves these puzzles. I’d say this set is the least portable of the puzzles we tried because it comes in a box, but a bonus is that the puzzles are small enough to fit on a tray table. My First Touch & Feel Puzzles retail for $12.99.

Mudpuppy My First Touch & Feel Puzzles
Our completed My First Touch & Feel Puzzles

 

In addition to these awesome puzzles, Mudpuppy makes lots of other fun travel toys and games for all ages, including Magnetic Build-It sets, felt Play Scenes, Ring Flash Cards, and more. So with spring break travel coming up and summer vacations just around the corner, now is the perfect time to visit galison.com/MUDPUPPY and get some for yourself!

 Disclosure: I received complimentary items to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

Share Your Hero With Mrs. Fields

Merriam-Webster defines the word “hero” as follows: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities. I can’t think of anyone who fits that description more completely than my husband, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Walters. Keith has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, during which he received three Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained in combat. He is well respected by so many soldiers and officers who have served with him. Those are the reasons he is considered a hero to many.

army-officer-holding-baby
This was at 6 am on July 4, 2011. Keith was holding one of our 2-week-old twins before leaving for Afghanistan … and he was still smiling. If that’s not heroic, I don’t know what is!

But to me, Keith is a hero because of the way he lives his life each day—because of the type of husband, father, family member, and friend he is. He is a hero every time he pushes through a run despite having been shot in the leg in Afghanistan. He was a hero when he happily looked after our three kids and my friend’s three kids—all age 6 and under—in our basement on a Friday evening so I could have the girls over for wine. He was a hero when he moved a morning work meeting to take care of the kids so I could sleep off a stomach bug. He was a hero when he practically carried my father, who’s over 6 feet tall, up the stairs during an illness earlier this year. He’s a hero every time he shovels a neighbor’s driveway in the bitter cold.

mrs-fields-shareyourhero-cookie

But enough about my hero. I want to hear about your hero—and so does Mrs. Fields! The cookie company has launched the Share Your Hero campaign to help embrace local heroes who serve their communities all across the country. Through October 31, 2016, you can go to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com to nominate a hero. Mrs. Fields will choose one nominee to be America’s Hometown Hero, and will donate $5,000 to a charity of his or her choosing. And as if that weren’t sweet enough, everyone who nominates a hero on the site will receive a coupon for $1 off a box of Mrs. Fields cookies. (Trust me, they’re delicious!)

mrs-fields-shareyourhero-box

So, what are you waiting for? Head on over to www.mrsfieldsmoments.com and #ShareYourHero. And while you’re at it, leave a comment below and let me know who you nominated. Can’t wait to hear all about your heroes!

Diapers.com Has Everything for Moms, Babies, and Kids!

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

When the twins were babies, I’d spend hours running around to different stores—often with the two of them in tow—to buy the endless list of items they needed. I’d pick up baby food at the grocery store; diapers, wipes, and formula at a baby store; tiny clothing at the mall. But by the time Lily came along and I started working more, I no longer had the time or energy to do that. I needed a one-stop shop where I could buy whatever it is was the kids needed at the time—even better if I didn’t have to leave my house.

That’s where Diapers.com came in. Diapers.com carries so many sizes and brands of diapers, of course. But it also sells way more than that. There are the basics, like bottles, diaper cream, and wipes. There’s all the baby gear you could need, from car seats and strollers to monitors and safety gates. There are items for mom, like maternity clothing, diaper bags, and groceries. There’s clothing, shoes, toys, and food for babies and kids. And there is tons of other stuff! And, all of the products sold on Diapers.com are handpicked by experts, meaning you can be sure anything you buy on the site is a top product.

I truly wish I had known about Diapers.com during those first few crazy months of motherhood. It would have taken a lot of the guesswork out of shopping, given me more time to spend enjoying the boys instead of toting them around town, and allowed me to shop from home in my spit-up-soaked pajamas.

Luckily, I do know about Diapers.com now, and I do a lot of shopping for Lily on the site. Consider my most recent purchase, which came in at a little under $100:

As you can see, the prices are also competitive on Diapers.com. I was quite happy to get all of that for less than $100! Shipping was free, too, since all orders above $49 qualify for free shipping. And because Diapers.com offers 1-2 day shipping, I got my items quickly!

If you’re new to Diapers.com, you can save even more money because the site offers the following promotion:

  • First order: 20% off your order* plus extra $5 off with a case of diapers
    • Enter code: TRYUSLOVEUS
  • Second order: Get 10% off your entire second order**
  • Expiration Date: 12/31/2016
    • *Excludes diapers, wipes and formula. Brand exclusions apply. Max. discount $35. To redeem enter code TRYUSLOVEUS. Offer subject to change and cancellation
    • **Discount will auto-apply in about 24 hours to use on second order. Brand exclusions apply. Max discount $50. Offer subject to change and cancellation.

To place your first order on Diapers.com and redeem your new buyer offer, visit diapers.com/tryusloveus. And if you’re a new mom, click here to find a page just for you that lists everything you might need for your new baby. Happy shopping!

A Chemical-Free Baby Wipe … Plus, Win a $100 Walgreens Gift Card!

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

Baby wipes are a necessity when you’ve got little ones in diapers. Unfortunately, many of the baby wipes on the market contain chemicals that can irritate babies’ sensitive skin. So the very thing that keeps babies clean can also cause awful diaper rashes. It’s just one of those unavoidable aspects of parenting, right?

Not necessarily. I recently discovered WaterWipes, the only baby wipe in the world that contains no chemicals. In fact, WaterWipes contain only two ingredients—99.9% pure Irish water and 0.1% grapefruit seed extract, a natural skin conditioner. That means WaterWipes are gentle on baby’s skin and help prevent diaper rash and other skin conditions. The National Eczema Association has even awarded WaterWipes the Seal of Acceptance.

When I first read these facts, I figured WaterWipes must be flimsy like other sensitive baby wipes I have tried. I was thrilled to find that that’s not the case at all. WaterWipes are actually quite durable! They also work very well, meaning I don’t need to use 10 of them to get Lily clean. And, they’re not inter folded in the package, a feature that’s supposed to help make them more sterile.

Sounds like a product that could only be available in health stores, right? Actually, they are fully stocked at many major stores, including Walgreens. That’s where we got our WaterWipes. They were very easy to find, smack in the middle of the top shelf of the baby aisle.

WaterWipes

WaterWipes

Even Lily was excited to buy them!

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We have been using WaterWipes for a few weeks now and have had a great experience with them. Though Lily has never had very sensitive skin, I still feel good knowing I am using such pure and natural wipes on her. I may not be able to protect her from everything, but why wouldn’t I avoid using harmful chemicals on her as much as I can?

Lily seems to love them, too. Have you ever seen a baby so happy to have her diaper changed?

Baby with WaterWipes

Click here to learn more about WaterWipes and get a coupon for $1.00 off.

Want to buy your own WaterWipes? Influence Central is giving away five (5) Walgreens gift cards. That’s enough to purchase WaterWipes and other necessities for your little one! Just click below by October 7, 2016 to enter:

WaterWipes Walgreens Giveaway

I-C will randomly select winners from all program entries and will facilitate fulfillment of the winning prizes (5 winners). Good luck!