Category: Cool Stuff for Military Families

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!

“He Named Me Malala”: Global Broadcast TV Premiere

If you’re home tomorrow night (Monday, February 29, 2016), be sure to tune in to the National Geographic Channel at 8 pm EST/PST or 7 pm CST. The channel, in partnership with Fox Searchlight Pictures, will present the exclusive global broadcast television premiere of Academy Award-winner Davis Guggenheim’s feature documentary “He Named Me Malala,” an intimate portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai. Malala was shot and severely wounded by the Taliban while returning home on her school bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley in October 2012.

hnmm_poster

He Named Me Malala” will air commercial free on National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo MUNDO in the U.S., with a global rollout planned within a week in 171 countries and 45 languages.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance screener of “He Named Me Malala.” Keith and I were left speechless by the film, which offers an intimate look into Malala’s life before and after the attack. Malala was only 15 at the time of the shooting, when she and her father were singled out for advocating for girls’ education. Malala miraculously survived and is now a leading campaigner for girls’ education globally as co-founder of the Malala Fund, a nonprofit organization that invests in and advocates for girls’ secondary education.

The film explores both the extraordinary aspects of Malala’s life, such as giving speeches at the United Nations and hobnobbing with politicians, to her typical teenage activities of joking around at home with her parents and brothers and blushing over cute boys. I was so inspired by the strength, bravery, and passion of this otherwise normal teenage girl, who proudly woke up each morning and went to school despite constant threats against her life. The film also explores Malala’s close relationship with her father, who instilled the importance of education and advocacy in her from a young age.

I was particularly struck by the video clips of Malala when she was little—probably around the same age as my daughter, Lily. Seeing those videos of a young Malala laughing and playing with her dad reminded me that Lily is no different than the 60 million girls worldwide who cannot go to school. Lily is simply fortunate to grow up in a place where education for women is valued and encouraged. She is fortunate to grow up in a family who will have the means to send her to college when she is older. But so many girls around the world who are just like her—girls who love to play and tease their brothers and hug their daddies—don’t have access to education.

But you can help Malala make education accessible to girls worldwide. The National Geographic Channel and 21st Century Fox, in partnership with the Malala Fund, have launched a social initiative to raise awareness for girls’ right to education. Facebook fans can show their support and stand #withMalala by transforming their profile picture into a yearbook photo that includes animation that dissolves female users’ photos from the page. Facebook users can visit supportmalala.com to get started. For every person who participates, $1 will be donated to the Malala Fund.

A $1 donation will also be made to the Malala Fund for every tweet using the hashtag #withMalala through March 10, for a total donation of up to $50,000.

So if you stand #withMalala, watch the powerful documentary and show your support on Facebook and Twitter! Teachers can also access free education resources, discussion and curriculum guides, and more at education.nationalgeographic.org/malala.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Review Wire Media for 20th Century Fox. I received information to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

 

Send A Cup of Home to U.S. Troops Stationed Overseas

If I could hook myself up to an IV that would pump caffeine through my veins, I would. That’s how much I rely on coffee to get me through my hectic, busy days with three kids ages 4 and under. The holiday season has made things even crazier for me, which explains why I have been all but MIA from this blog.

Even though I make almost-daily trips through the drive-through of my favorite coffee shop, I do brew lots of coffee myself at home. I like to make a giant pot every few days and turn the leftovers into iced coffee. So I was very excited to learn about the Community Coffee Company, which supports the military through its generous online Military Match program. As a military spouse, supporting the troops is very important to me.

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I recently had the opportunity to try out some premium ground coffee from the Community Coffee Company in three flavors—pumpkin praline, golden caramel, and cafe special. They were all delicious! The pumpkin praline was perfect for the fall season, the golden caramel felt like an indulgence, and the cafe special had a rich and full flavor. The company also makes lots of other blends and flavors, including my favorite, hazelnut. Plus, they make whole-bean coffee, single-serve coffee, and tea.

CC_12oz_Red_Bag_Cafe_Special_FV

But the best part about this family-owned company is its generous support of our troops. Through the Military Match program, the company has shipped over 55,000 pounds of coffee —about 2.2 million cups—to active-duty military personnel!

Community Coffee Military Match

Here’s how it works: For every set of four 12-oz., 16-oz., or single-serve 18-count coffees you buy, the company will match your purchase with an additional four items and send all eight items to the APO/FPO or military base address you provide. The company will also include a Signature Military Mug in the shipment. It’s a wonderful and affordable way to support troops stationed overseas and/or away from their families by sending them a cup of home. I know Keith and his buddies would have really appreciated receiving this delicious coffee when they were in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Visit communitycoffee.com/militarymatch to learn more about the Community Coffee Company’s Military Match program and to send some coffee to a servicemember. And if you’re a coffee lover like I am, buy some for yourself, too!

Disclosure: I received complimentary packages of Community Coffee Company premium ground coffee to facilitate this review. All opinions are my own!

My Amazing Experience at Blogger Bash 2015

Several months ago, an invitation to Blogger Bash landed in my inbox. Blogger Bash is an annual event that connects hundreds of bloggers, vloggers, and social media professionals to more than 100 lifestyle brands.

I spent weeks going back and forth about whether I should purchase a ticket. After all, this blog makes up just a small portion of my part-time freelance writing career. But I finally decided to take the plunge. After all, Blogger Bash was set to take place in New York City—my city—on July 16 and 17. My sister-in-law, Pat, came to watch the kids, and my cousin Kim let me stay at her apartment (which just so happens to be within walking distance of Pier Sixty, the gorgeous venue at which the event took place). And I was excited for the opportunity to make connections and meet other bloggers.

So on Wednesday afternoon, July 15, I hopped on  an Amtrak train to New York. The next few days were a whirlwind of parties, information sessions, and meet-and-greets. And now that I’m back home and have had some time to gather my thoughts, I cannot describe how thrilled I am that I decided to go. I met so many wonderful people, made valuable connections with amazing brands (some of which I am already working with), learned so much about the blogging world, ate delicious food, and had a great time! Here is a recap:

DAY ONE:

Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch

Day one began with the Care Bears Share Your Care Brunch, where I took the #ShareYourCare Oath and became an official #ShareYourCare ambassador. (Puffing my chest out with pride!)

Care Bears #ShareYourCare ambassador badgeI learned all about the new series “Care Bears & Cousins,” coming to Netflix November 6, as well as a new line of adorable plush toys. The highlight for me, though, was meeting 10-year-old Zach Kaplan, who was honored with Care Bears’ first #ShareYourCare Ambassador Award for his commitment to helping others through philanthropy. Last year he raised over $1,200 for Typhoon Haiyan relief, and this year he is collecting stuffed animals to hand out to homeless kids in New York City. Of all the young philanthropists I have met through my writing for Scholastic, Zach is one of the greatest. Learn more about him here!

Blue Man Group performance

Having lived in New York City for nearly 30 years of my life, I’m lucky to have seen many Broadway and off-Broadway musicals and plays. But one show I never had the pleasure of seeing was Blue Man Group. So I was thrilled to learn that Blue Man Group would be doing a special performance just for Blogger Bash attendees at the intimate Astor Place Theatre.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group blends music, comedy, and technology into a dynamic, fun, and wacky performance. There wasn’t a single dull moment during the show. Afterward, we were treated to a Q&A with Creative Director (and longtime Blue Man) Randall Jaynes. I even got to take a photo with one of the Blue Men! Don’t we look cute together?

A woman poses with a member of the Blue Man Group

Stay tuned for a more in-depth review of Blue Man Group. I will also be giving away a 4-pack of tickets to any Blue Man Group performance in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando, or any national tour stop!

Sweet Suite 2015

After Blue Man Group, we returned to Pier Sixty for Sweet Suite 2015, also known as the Biggest Night of Play. And boy, did I play! Nearly 100 toy companies were there displaying their hot holiday toys for 2015, many of which have not even hit shelves yet. Here are just a few photo highlights:

My new friend Katrina of Tots Network and I grabbed some yummy cocktails on the way in!

Two ladies hold cocktails in front of a #BBNYC backdrop

This lovely lady and a few of her friends greeted us!

A costume woman on stilts holds a giant lollipop at Blogger Bash

And now for my favorite holiday toy, hitting stores later this year: Playmobil is releasing a new NHL line! The initial line will include a hockey arena, zambonis, referees, the Stanley Cup, and players from the original six NHL teams. We all know which players Matt and Nate will want. (Let’s Go Rangers!!!)

Playmobil hockey rink and players

Another favorite of mine was Wicked Cool Toys‘ Girl Scouts Cookie oven, set to arrive this fall. Kids can make popular Girl Scout Cookie flavors including Thin Mints, Trefoils, and more!

A woman holds a toy spatula in front of a Girl Scout Cookie Oven

There are so many more amazing toys coming out this year, but I don’t want to give them all away at once. I can’t wait to share them with you in the coming weeks, and I’ll also have some handy Holiday Gift Guides for you starting in October!

DAY TWO:

Disney Infinity Breakfast

Day two began with the Disney Infinity Breakfast, where we were among the first to play the new Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition, coming soon. Star Wars joins Disney, Pixar, and Marvel for this latest installment of the toy/video game hybrid. What a great way to start the day!

A still shit from the new Disney Infinity Star Wars game

All-Day Expo and Rite Aid Recharge Lounge

After the breakfast, Katrina and I headed over to the All-Day Expo to get to know more amazing brands. Some of my favorites—which I will write more about in later posts—were Alex’s Lemonade Stand, Kolibree, and Crunch Live.

By that point, our backs and legs were starting to hurt from all of the amazing swag we’d been receiving. Good thing for the Rite Aid Recharge Lounge, where we got to recharge both our and our phones’ batteries! At the lounge—which offered sweeping Hudson River views—we indulged in delicious chocolate, drank refreshing beverages, and received amazing beauty kits filled with top brands like Maybelline, Neutrogena, and Physicians Formula. Many bloggers also indulged in free massages!

Rite Aid Recharge Lounge at Blogger Bash

Baby Palooza

Next up was Baby Palooza, where we connected with top baby brands and learned about some amazing products for infants. Brands included Fisher-Price, Gund, TOMY, and more. Once again, I will be sharing some of those amazing products with you in future blog posts, so stay tuned!

For me, though, the highlight of Baby Palooza was meeting legendary baby photographer Anne Geddes. She even signed a board book full of her beautiful photos for me!

Photographer Anne Geddes

Peanuts Keynote Lunch

We then headed over to the Peanuts Keynote Lunch. This event was truly a blast! We got to meet the young stars of THE PEANUTS MOVIE, which hits theaters November 6. They were so cute and charming! I just can’t wait for the movie to come out.

We received amazing Peanuts swag bags filled with some awesome products, including all laundry detergent, Horizon Organic mac and cheese and other treats, a Hallmark Snoopy ornament, and more.

Oh, and I met Snoopy! Swoon!

A woman poses with a Snoopy character at Blogger Bash

After the lunch, I headed back over to the All-Day Expo to meet with some more brands. By that point, I was pretty exhausted. I spent some time at a health and wellness event hosted by Rene Syler of Good Enough Mother, checked out a fashion show, and popped into a closing carnival sponsored by Canadian Lentils. I was too tired to take photos at that point, but there were ladies hanging from chandeliers and serving drinks. Really!

Blogger Bash was such an amazing event, and I am so awed by all of the hard work and detail that went into it. Thank you to all of the sponsors, the staff, and the incredible hosts: Laurie Schacht of the Toy Insider, Joey Fortman of Real Mom Media, and Charlene DeLoach of Charlene Chronicles. I can’t wait for Blogger Bash 2016!

Unique Holiday Cards on Minted

The holiday season is upon us, bringing with it an endless to-do list of gift buying and wrapping, decorating, baking, and more. One of those to-do’s is sending holiday cards.

I am always looking for great ways to show off photos of my kids on our cards. That’s why I was excited to find Minted’s new collection of photo holiday cards. It includes some of the most fun and unique designs around, whether you’re going for elegant, funny, quirky, or anything in between. Just look at this luggage tag-shaped card:

Luggage tag

If you’ve got little mischief-makers like my twins, this hilarious design would be perfect:

Wreck the Halls

You can eliminate the need for a Christmas letter with this design (which also helps military families like my own announce where they are currently living):

MIN-WT4-HPC-001NEWYEAR_A_PD

Or if you had a Christmas baby, you can send a holiday card and birth announcement in one:

Birth announcement

And though it’s not part of the new collection, this Minted comic-book card is simply awesome for comic book fans or families with little superheroes in training:

Compics

Seriously, there are so many cool holiday-card options at various price points on Minted, but I don’t have time to show all of my favorites here on the blog. If you haven’t yet chosen and sent your holiday cards, check out Minted’s new Christmas card collection. Many of the designs have express service available, so you still have time to get them out before the new year.