Jul 032015
 

Kick back in the summer sun and read with us! We love to read and we love to share it with you through our virtual book club! Open to anyone--and we love it if you show up in your pajamas. Get comfy, get cozy, and read along with some great finds with us! This month's pick is especially blowing us away!I had heard so much hype about The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, I’ll admit, I was skeptical. Could it REALLY be that good? But when Carrie of Normal Level of Crazy suggested we read it for this month’s book club, it seemed as good a time as any to finally get on board. So I put the book on hold at the library and waited…

And waited…and waited…what was going on with this book?! It was such a hot commodity I couldn’t even get my hands on it! It must be one epic story…

And it was. I finally caved and bought the e-version. While my old-school fingers mourned the lack of pages to turn, I got it. I got why The Nightingale is blowing so many people away with a fervor that doesn’t allow it to rest on library shelves.

The Nightingale is such an incredible story because it’s a story. It’s a story of two sisters living in occupied France during WWII and the incredible way they lived the lives they were given. It’s a story of bravery, loss, and joys. Of heartbreak, family, and passions. Flawlessly shifting between voices and points in time, it poignantly develops the characters while touching on the too-real parts of what make us human. Spanning from the atrocities of what history wreaked to the beauty of pure love, the depth of this novel astounds.

Hannah didn’t write a trendy tale, flirt with a new genre or tease her audience with a fanciful style, she simply wrote a classically excellent story. One that captivates and holds readers in the way an incredible read should.

This book was epic. At first, I blew off the hype. then I read it and discovered a story that was all the things a classically excellent book should be. Read it now, because this one is going to be talked about for years to come!

In short, I loved it. Haven’t read it? Do. Have read it? What did you think??

My three favorite questions from the discussion guide:

1. The Nightingale opens with an intriguing statement that lays out one of the major themes of the book: “If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” What do you think the narrator means by this? On a personal level, has love affected your life choices? Have those choices affected who and how you love?

This was my favorite quote from the book. It’s so very true. I think we most clearly see ourselves and understand who we are when we are in the depths. When we are tested, the truth of our limits and capabilities are defined.

2. Take a moment to talk about the narrative structure of The Nightingale. Why do you think Kristin Hannah chose to keep the narrator’s identity a secret in the beginning and end of the novel? Were you surprised by who it turned out to be? Were you satisfied when you discovered who was narrating the novel?

This annoyed me for the sole reason that I wanted to know who it was! But I did not allow myself to peek at the ending, and thought the gentle way in which Hannah revealed the narrator, thus the end of the tale, was a brilliant way to conclude.

3. The sisters Isabelle and Vianne respond to the war in very different ways. Isabelle reacts with anger and defiance, risking her life to join the resistance against Nazi occupation. Vianne proceeds with caution and fear, avoiding conflicts for the sake of her children. Who do you admire—or relate to, or sympathize with—more, Vianne or Isabelle? Discuss your reasons.

Absolutely Vianne. I could attribute this mostly to the fact that I too have children, but truth told, my personality is more Vianne’s hesitancy through and through, regardless of my children.

Please chime in and tell us what you thought of The  Nightingale! We love chatting books and want to hear from YOU!

This book was epic. At first, I blew off the hype. then I read it and discovered a story that was all the things a classically excellent book should be. Read it now, because this one is going to be talked about for years to come!

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After a read this epic, the only way we could properly follow up is with a solid throw-back to an author who herself is epic. Welcome back, Judy Blume! How many of us spent our growing up years cozying up with her books, while mantra-ing “We must, we must, we must increase our bust”?

Judy Blume is our gal and we couldn’t be more thrilled that she’s back with a new novel, In the Unlikely Event.

As described on Amazon:

In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.

In the Unlikely Event is vintage Judy Blume, with all the hallmarks of Judy Blume’s unparalleled storytelling, and full of memorable characters who cope with loss, remember the good times and, finally, wonder at the joy that keeps them going.

As always, we are giving away a copy to one reader! As long as you live in the continental United States and are 18 or older, you are eligible. Leave a comment on this blog post telling us you want to read In the Unlikely Event before 7/10/15 at 5:30am ET and you will be entered in the random drawing!

However you get your hands on In the Unlikely Event, friends, snatch it up and read with us! We can’t wait to spend the month with Judy Blume! And make sure to tune in next month, on 8/7/15 to chat it up AND HEAR OUR BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. We have something really fun (and BIG!) planned for our August book club and can’t wait to share it with you!

Jul 012015
 

Moms! Finally a shoe that is TRULY comfy AND stylish. They amaze me, and did I mention they are machine-washable?? You have to check these out!Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.

Oh don’t mind me, friends, that’s just the noise of my feet waving their white flag of surrender to all the insanity I’ve already put them through this summer–and it’s only the first day of July. Truth told, the rest of me might be waving that flag right along with my feet, as these intense days are indeed rather intense and Mommy may be feeling a tad cranky-tired from all the fun together time, but another story for another time…

My feet. You see, as far as seasons go, summer is pretty demanding on the peds. There is the whole no-shoes bit, with bumpy driveway gravel, hot sand and roughed up grass. The constant battle against cracked heels and the endless attempts to pedicure-up toes with a pretty polish. Add up lots of park runs, swing pushing, pool swimming, and the unified commitment my children and the dog make to jumping on my baby toes at least 16 times each hour and you have yourself a summer in the life of feet.

It’s a wonder they haven’t up and walked out on me, really. I feel horrible for them, I do.

So when Bzees introduced their shoes to me, they had me at their tagline, “light feels right.” Something light and refreshing for my tired soles? Yes, please.

And then Bzees explained more, “Filled with magical unicorn down, Bzees Cloud Technology is designed to feel, well, like a cloud…weightless, energized and free.” I laughed at their fun humor, my feet cried in relief, and together, we were completely sold.

Moms! Finally a shoe that is TRULY comfy AND stylish. They amaze me, and did I mention they are machine-washable?? You have to check these out!

What does Cloud Technology actually mean?

The Mom of the Year answer: My Bzees arrived, I put them on and wore them for five minutes. I was so amazed, I took them off and made my 13 yr. old Mother’s Helper put them on. She is the coolest 13 yr. old in the history of the world, so she didn’t bat an eye and fully agreed that they were blissful. Bzees are so incredible they demand to be shared.

The official answer: there is an air-infused outsole (micro-cellular air bubbles trapped within that enables them to be lightweight, extremely soft and bouncy), dynamic stretch uppers (a dynamic fitting stretch upper material over/across the top of your foot that enables your foot to move freely with support),  free-foamTM footbeds (specially blended micro-cellular polymer foam that delivers high resiliency without compacting and creating a low pressure walking experience that’s like walking on a cloud), and THEY ARE MACHINE WASHABLE.

Really. I know. I’ll let that last point sink in. Kids’ dripping ice cream or those horrid melty red ice pops? No match for Bzees. You can wash them, mom!

Moms! Finally a shoe that is TRULY comfy AND stylish. They amaze me, and did I mention they are machine-washable?? You have to check these out!

 

As Bzees explains, their shoes are “the simple and stylish footwear choice to add a spring in your step through your day’s highs and lows. Easy-to-wear and easy-to-wash, they’re your ideal companion for everyday reality: all that’s unexpected, whimsical, and downright messy in life.”

Let me break this down: we moms are horridly rough on our feet. Bzees has created stylish, fun options that feel like a dream and are okay to throw in the wash after our kids work their worst on them. In short, they are a miracle.

Even cooler? One pair is up for grabs to one of YOU, readers. Any in-stock pair of your choice! Enter through the Rafflecopter widget below. As long as you are 18 or older and live in the continental United States, you are eligible! Giveaway will close on 7/8/15 at 5:30am ET.

In the meantime, shop Bzees, friends. Your feet will cease sending you daggers while you press on through the summer frenzy of toddler butterfly-chasing, I promise.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Moms! Finally a shoe that is TRULY comfy AND stylish. They amaze me, and did I mention they are machine-washable?? You have to check these out!
****Thanks to Bzees for sponsoring this post and introducing me to a brand that my feet will love for years to come!****
Jun 012015
 

Need a belt that doesn't give out after a couple weeks? THIS is it! The most perfect belt you'll ever own--fantastic quality that will last for years. And the most perfect Father's Day gift you could give!Let me share a secret: I sort-of hate Father’s Day. My husband is truly The Worst Person in the World to Shop for, and my father is a close second. My Father-in-Law? Not much better. I have no idea what to get these men and when I ask, they tend to look at me like I’m crazy. Not helpful.

When Smathers and Branson asked if I’d be interested in sharing their products, one quick peek at their website left me giddy. A one-stop shop for gifts for men? Yes! Yes, please!

A few products in my hands later, I’m completely sold. The artistry and design Smathers and Branson offers is stunning, but I’m most taken with the quality. Each item sold is crafted to last. The older I get, the more important this becomes. I can’t tell you how many wallets, belts, polos and flip flops my husband and I have cycled through in our years. I’d far rather invest my money in items that can hold up to wear and tear and don’t need to be rapidly replaced.

This commitment to quality is integral to Smathers and Branson‘s company mission, “to offer the finest products with customer service to match.” After speaking with their delightful staff, I can tell you they nailed the customer service component of their mission. There was a genuine interest in my wishes as a customer and they worked hard to help me place a unique order for the products I wanted. (Smathers and Branson is willing to customize products; check this out. Know a man who has everything? You can now breathe a sigh a relief!)

Need a belt that doesn't give out after a couple weeks? THIS is it! The most perfect belt you'll ever own--fantastic quality that will last for years. And the most perfect Father's Day gift you could give!

The variety of products offered is tremendous. With everything from polos to flasks to iPhone cases, you’ll find something that’s perfect for the guy in your life. And with the gorgeous ladies’ wallets, hats and belts available, go ahead and shop for the women on your list too. In fact, with their new dog collars and children’s belts available, Smathers and Branson is truly the go-to shop for the entire family–canine and human alike.

Ever struggle with what to get the man in your life? If you have a National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Lover amongst your lot, scratch your head no more! Gifting is DONE with this gem!

I know it’s not Christmas, but really, throw this one in your cart–come holiday season, you’ll love yourself. And P.S. Please don’t let my hubs know–I’m too excited to toss this gem in his stocking!

Each product is available in many patterns and themes, so whether you are shopping for the patriot, the fly-fisher, or the elephant martini-lover (no really, this is a design option!) in your life, you are set. Each item is hand-crafted and skillfully produced, and with your ability to select the color and design of the products you order, they are all truly thoughtfully-made and purchased gifts.

Need a belt that doesn't give out after a couple weeks? THIS is it! The most perfect belt you'll ever own--fantastic quality that will last for years. And the most perfect Father's Day gift you could give!

No seriously, I went with the elephant martini design. I KNOW.

Who is Smathers in Branson and why should you make the choice to shop with them? They are two college roommates who decided to follow through with their interest in creating timeless items. They did this by working directly with Vietnamese artisans in a commitment to fair trade standards. Completely boss.

Our dog is a miserable old sole. Finding something that tickles his spirit is a challenge, but when we gifted him this boss new collar, you could tell he felt cool! Total win!

As a very cool treat for my readers, they are offering a giveaway for one of their signature belts, their most popular item! This hand-stitched traditional belt is 1.25” in width and is finished with full grain, chestnut colored leather and a solid brass buckle, elegantly packaged in a handmade wooden gift box.

Enter below to win a belt of your choice (you pick one of either the Old Glory, Parsons Stripe, or Sailboats design in the size of your specification). As long as you are 18 or older and a resident of the continental United States, you are eligible to enter. Giveaway will close on Monday, 6/8/15 at 5:30amET.

And while you are crossing-fingers to score one of these famous belts, go ahead and cross off your Father’s Day list by placing a quick order to Smathers and Branson. I’m thrilled to have met this brand and thrilled to share them with you. With their quality products and huge selection, you can’t go wrong. Stressing over finding gifts for the guys in your life? Gone! Go place and order and then relax and let the summer chilling get underway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

****Thank you to Smathers and Branson for sending me product for review purposes; my love for this brand is 100% genuine!****

May 132015
 

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Turkey Hill Dairy. All opinions are my own.

Turkey Hill Dairy's All Natural Gelato is DELICIOUS! You've gotta check this out--a healthy win for the whole family. Trust me!I remember a day, a day long ago in the magical land of Before Kids. A day during a business trip to the far-off land of angelic California with my husband. I spent a gorgeous afternoon bargain shopping, then treated myself to a gelato at a little local cafe. The gelato was perfectly smooth, and my bohemian no-care-in-the-world mood was blissful as I indulgently sat and people-watched. I know, the stuff of dreams.

Fast-forward a few years into suburbian parenting fantastic, and there is little to no hope of sweet solo afternoons–EVER. But hey, no sweat, right? Because we parents rock our superhero endless energy (read: crash into bed at 8pm after stashing the kids in their beds) and sneakily treat ourselves on the side when we can.

How can we treat ourselves? Enter Turkey Hill Dairy’s All Natural Gelato made with simple ingredients. You see, we love our ice cream around these parts, and last summer, we fell for All Natural products. Despite not being a family with specific food allergies or dietary concerns, the natural products captivated our taste buds. They were, simply, good.

When Turkey Hill introduced their new All Natural Gelato product this summer, we were stoked! Gelato and all-natural goodness in one product? Count us in!

Since my husband and I don’t ever actually leave the house, I decided to make the most out of one of our deck nights and stage a sweet simple taste-testing. The needed ingredients? Kids tucked in for the night, a deliciously breezy summer night, some yummy All Natural Gelato and a couple of spoons.

We went for it.

Turkey Hill Dairy's All Natural Gelato is DELICIOUS! You've gotta check this out--a healthy win for the whole family. Trust me!

Turkey Hill Dairy's All Natural Gelato is DELICIOUS! You've gotta check this out--a healthy win for the whole family. Trust me!

And we enjoyed it.

Turkey Hill Dairy's All Natural Gelato is DELICIOUS! You've gotta check this out--a healthy win for the whole family. Trust me!

We tried the Sea Salted Caramel, Purely Vanilla, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. All were delicious, but the Sea Salted Caramel was especially tricky for me to stop spooning up–yum! My husband loved the Purely Vanilla for its sweet simplicity.

I love that our local brand was the first major ice cream brand to offer an all natural gelato. Made with simple ingredients like milk, cream, sugar and vanilla, All Natural Gelato, with its denser, richer texture than ice cream (less air) is available in eight flavors:

Chocolate Chocolate Chip

Hazelnut

Purely Vanilla

Chocolate Peanut Butter

Mint Chocolate Chip

Sea Salted Caramel

Coffee Chip

Peach Mango

Available at select retailers wherever Turkey Hill products are sold, you can hop in on the goodness too. Snatch up a spoon and the flavor that most tempts you and dig in!

Make sure to follow along with Turkey Hill on Facebook and Twitter for brand updates. And then serve up a summer of simple sweetness to your family. Hey, taste-testing some yummy gelato as a date night is always a win of an idea!

Apr 172015
 

Creating a space of calm and serenity in your yard is easier than it sounds! Check out this easy help to make the soothing happen in your yard!So, a bit ago my husband began this crazy beekeeping hobby. Yeah, that’s still happening.

While largely the bees do their thing and I do mine, they started hanging out a bit too much around our pool last summer.  Somehow the concerns I voiced regarding this translated into my husband’s pressing need to build a pond in our front yard. The logic is beyond me; just go with it.

I did all the things, friends. I made the sideways glares, passive-aggressively tisked disapproval over diagrams of his plans and remained certain that such an endeavor was way too far out of our grasping-at-straws-to-maintain-sanity-with-young-kids existence.

Still, as Dr. J tends to do, he persevered.

He was determined for this pond–for the bees, for our yard, for the sheer value of creating something beautiful at our home. Whatever his motivation, it was happening. And God bless Practical Garden Ponds because they allowed it to be a feasible task that did not slay us with its enormity.

What is Practical Garden Ponds?

If you are local, this company can create a one-of-a-kind pond feature at your home and then take care of servicing it as needed. If you live a bit further away, Practical Garden Ponds is still something you want to check out. They not only sell pond equipment and accessories at incredibly reasonable prices, but they offer individualized, dedicated recommendations and inspiration.

It was a delight to work with Nate, the proprietor, in creating our pond. Practical Garden Ponds will happily do all of the work for you, or help you do it yourself, as preferred (my ambitious husband wanted to tackle a lot of it by himself). Personally, I preferred to cheer the process on from the front porch 😉 

Why is a pond a good thing?

Aside from all the ecological benefits, which my husband would love to hash out in detail if you’re interested, I’ll speak to the beauty and serenity of our pond. We chose a pondless water feature, which in our case, basically means a pretty pile of rocks water repeatedly circulates over (without a pool of water at the bottom).

Could it get more peaceful??

For me, no. Our pond is set on a timer, so from when I get up in the morning to when we settle in for the evening, the water soothingly runs in the background of our days. I work from our dining room table, with the windows open in the warmer months. I can’t say how calming it is to hear the water flow; even when the events and endless emails of our lives rage on, at least this one peaceful thing is a gentle constant.

Creating a space of calm and serenity in your yard is easier than it sounds! Check out this easy help to make the soothing happen in your yard!

I love our pond, and in short: my husband was right. This was the right choice for us. While too many times I roll my eyes over Dr. J’s tenacity, in this case, I’m thankful for it. Thankful for it in the way that leaves me feeling gorgeously serene listening to the sound of the water repeatedly rolling over itself–in this crazed Mom of the Year‘s lifestyle, this is a blessing of no small proportion.

So take a leap with your own home–let Practical Garden Ponds use their gift on your yard for a fraction of the cost you’d pay elsewhere. Your sanity will thank you, I promise.

Now you’ll excuse me–I’ve got a pond to go bliss out over.

****Thank you to Practical Garden Ponds for their help in creating our pond feature! Our appreciation of their services remains 100% genuine!****

Mar 062015
 

***Click HERE to check out Depend’s newest, the kind products which are allowing me to keep it real for another day at The Mom of the Year!****

We all need help! Bladder leakage? Incontinence? You aren't alone, REALLY! Find out while it's so common--and how you can find an easy-peasy protection solution that will keep you running through your busy days with no sweat! Trust me, this will work!After a week like this week, it seems pretty perfect to acknowledge that in the low points of life, you’ve got company. Whether it’s the really hard stuff of life or the fact that your daughter crapped her pants in the middle of your doctor’s appointment, you aren’t alone, REALLY.

Even in those rough post-baby moments when your bladder isn’t cooperating? You aren’t alone. We’ve all been there, really. And on those days when Jillian Michaels is being especially cruel and demanding more repetitive impossible jumps, I’m still there.

And I know that as I continue to do through life, future ages and stages will only bring new challenges, challenges that make things like staying dry tricky. The truth of it? Whatever comes your way, you really aren’t the only one.

Go Depend for normalizing the whole bladder leakage experience. Through their uber-popular #underwareness movement, people are recognizing that needing a little help with incontinence is a pretty common thing. REALLY.

Depend encourages people hop in with the #dropyourpants campaign, joining the millions who use leakage protection. Their products help people regain their freedom and get their lives back, including:

Depend Real Fit for Men and Silhouette for Women briefs: Look, fit and feel like real underwear and feature a cloth-like fabric for a sleek, ultra-smooth fit.

Depend Underwear with Fit-Flex protection: Features more Lycra stands for a smooth and comfortable close-to-the-body fit.

Bladder leakage? Incontinence? You aren't alone, REALLY! Find out while it's so common--and how you can find an easy-peasy protection solution that will keep you running through your busy days with no sweat! Trust me, this will work!

Want to give them a try? Claim your free samples today by visiting the Depend landing page and clicking on the “Get a Sample” button located at the top right-hand side of the screen. Then, select which sample you would like to receive and wait for them to arrive. Easy-peasy, and gives you a chance to see if this is the right product to help you.

I totally get it; your life is busy, it’s full, and dealing with struggles like this in life is not fun, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Grab onto some #Underwareness and make it easy, knowing you are in good company. You aren’t alone!

*****Many thanks to Depend for sponsoring today’s story and encouraging people to #dropyourpants for #underwareness.*****

First image credit: depositphotos.com, image ID:22990434, copyright:AntonioGuillemF

Feb 182015
 

This brilliant no-pedal bike solution to teaching your kids to ride a bicycle comes in 7 different colors. Find the one that is the right match for your family and get to the fun part--riding your way into Spring! Score a free one here!Every now and again, I look out the window at the endless, tedious landscape of frozen tundra and fantasize about things like flowers. And grass. And anything green versus endless sluggish grayish-white.  Surely in some world, this must exist??

But it’s coming, really. I know Spring is on it’s way. I see prompts of it’s arrival on my calendar and in the pile of sweet pretty dresses hanging in my daughter’s closet. We will get there.

In the meantime, as we await daffodils and warm rain showers, we’re hanging out with another fun reminder of warmer days with our shiny new Strider Bike.

When Strider first contacted me, I asked my husband what he thought of these bikes. He said, “If we don’t get a Strider bike this year, I’m cutting the pedals off one of our bikes so the kids can learn properly.”

Okay then…

He knew that Strider is onto an important concept: their 12 Sport’s simple, no-pedal design builds confidence and eliminates fear by allowing kids to have their feet on the ground and progress at their own pace. This unique design teaches young children balance on two wheels right from the start, avoiding developmental delays typical with tricycles and training-wheel bikes.

The age range? Perfect for toddler up to age 5.

This brilliant no-pedal bike solution to teaching your kids to ride a bicycle comes in 7 different colors. Find the one that is the right match for your family and get to the fun part--riding your way into Spring!

Huh. Apparently Strider’s no-pedal design was a super idea for my 3 and 5 year old, who are still learning to ride, especially as my son’s leg break issues have made this trickier for us. Strider’s 12 Sport model offers a bunch of features that make getting the hang of bike-riding easy and fun: there are custom grips, a padded saddle, handlebar pads, and quick release clamps (no-tool adjustment). A perfect balance of performance, options, and value.

This brilliant no-pedal bike solution to teaching your kids to ride a bicycle comes in 7 different colors. Find the one that is the right match for your family and get to the fun part--riding your way into Spring!

So we snatched up the green model (it comes in a choice of seven colors) and gave it lots of test runs in our basement--we’ll tackle the driveway when it’s a tad less snow-covered.

The thing is, my kids love it. They love the challenge it presents, but more they love that they feel capable in navigating this bike. I love that is growing their skills and improving their balance.

We’re all delighted with this bike. Also, we’re insanely ready for Spring. The good news for you? YOU can get hyped up for the warmer temps with us as I’m giving away one Strider Bike here, in the color of your choice! As long as you are 18 or above and live in the Continental United States, you are eligible to enter. Giveaway will close on 2/26/15 at 5am ET.

This is only open to my readers, so hop in on this giveaway and get ready to win! I can’t wait to share this genius, Spring-ready bike with one of you!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This brilliant no-pedal bike solution to teaching your kids to ride a bicycle comes in 7 different colors. Find the one that is the right match for your family and get to the fun part--riding your way into Spring! Score a free one here!****Strider provided bikes for review and giveaway purposes for this post, but my family’s delight in our new bike is 100% genuine!*****

2/27/15 UPDATE: Congrats to winner Diane B.!

Feb 172015
 

Dude, no one loved that Jimmy Fallon Saved by the Bell throw-back more than me–go Zack Morris! But this trip down Memory Lane sparked a few reflections–most notably, how dramatically technology has changed and become such a significant part of our kids’ lives.

How is a parent to responsibly handle this shift? Check the savvy new OurPact app–helpful, smart, and a teensy more modern than what Zack was rocking. I’ll let OurPact introduce themselves below; I’m thrilled to have a company committed to helping us parenting navigate the challenge of this modern, sadly Zack Morris-lest world…

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Zack Morris and the gang recently made an appearance on the Jimmy Fallon Show, a throwback meant to transport us to the early 1990’s, when Saved by the Bell was a favorite for all of us Gen Y’ers. You know what else made an appearance in that all-too-brief 8-minute clip? Zack’s old school cell phone; the one that included no screen and was bigger (and probably ten times heavier) than the Kindles most people read their books off of today.

It was a stark reminder of how much technology has changed in just the last 20 years. While most of us grew up with an ancient computer shared by the family in the living room, kids today are equipped with iPads and devices of their own from a young age. And often, they take full advantage of the unlimited freedom they are afforded with those devices.

In so many ways, that technology has been extremely beneficial to the way we manage our lives. Staying connected is no longer a burden or chore anymore; it is a simple part of day-to-day life. Your kids can Skype with Grandma and Grandpa from thousands of miles away, and you can work from home whenever one of your little ones gets sick with the flu. Plus, our phones are now good for so much more than just making calls.

But there are drawbacks to that technology as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time a day for kids. But most American kids are extending far beyond that limit, averaging 50 hours a week, which doesn’t count the screen time they are getting in school. You might be wondering what the problem with that is. After all, we want our kids to be proficient with technology so that they can grow to be successful in this ever-changing landscape, right? Well, of course we do. But we also know that moderation is key with screen time, and that too much exposure has actually been linked to a slew of negative consequences; including increases in obesity, as well as behavioral and sleep problems.

Which means that as parents, our job duties have extended to now also helping our children navigate the use of this technology responsibly. The problem is that up to this point, there haven’t been a lot of great tools for helping you to do that. Most parents have been flying blind in the management of their children’s tech time.

Not anymore, though.

Recently released by ParentsWare, OurPact is a new app that provides the tools you need to safely and effectively manage your child’s tech use. It provides you the tools you need to regain control over the technology in your home.

Download the app, and you will be able to schedule internet and app use for your kids directly from your own iPhone. Want them to focus on schoolwork between the hours of 5 and 7? You make their screens completely inaccessible – which is great, because while previous apps have only allowed you to control internet usage, this gives you control over everything.

You can set a daily time limit on the screen time they do have, block internet and apps with just at a touch, and start a dialogue with your kids about the importance of managing their own screen time responsibly.

Everything about this new app is intuitive and built with the average parent in mind. Best of all? It’s free.

So why not take control back in your own home? OurPact is here to help!

****Thanks to OurPact for sponsoring this post about their helpful app!

My opinion of it’s benefit is 100% my own.****

Oct 232014
 

Looking for a fun family fall treat? Dutch Wonderland in Lancaster has it all, or check out a similar amusement in your area--this truly was the perfect fall outing for our young family!

Remember that sweet place in Lancaster County where we love to hang out, Dutch Wonderland?

We are kind of totally in love with it.

So when they invited my family back to check out their Halloween Happy Hauntings, there wasn’t a whole lot of arm-twisting that had to happen to get us there. In fact, there was none.

We excitedly packed our daypack and costumes (yes, the park encourages guests to delight in the season and dress-up!), and headed off. Factor in a few temper tantrums and about 10 trips back to the house for things we forgot, and you’ll get the accurate picture of what goes down when my so-together family decides on a day out.

I like visiting Dutch Wonderland in the fall because all of the rides and attractions, excepting those with water, are still open.  Granted, my kids love the water park, but there is still loads to do on the drier side of the fun. This also allows for a cheaper admission price and a slightly less packed agenda–more time to simply explore and play always works for us!

Dutch Wonderland’s Happy Hauntings is perfect fit for young ones. The rides are still smaller-kid friendly as they always are, and the park does an excellent job of embracing the season–without being too scary. Pumpkins, costumes, and cobwebs galore adorn the park, but there are no horrifying super-spooky ghosts or goblins. This works for us–my children battle fears of the dark without any extra reasons for nightmares.

The smaller-kid friendly rides and attractions at Dutch Wonderland are a young family's dream come true! Visit next time you're in Lancaster County, PA, or check out a kid-friendly amusement park in your area!

The highlight of our visit was the Trick or Treat trail.  Crossing over the bridge into the back of the park, we found Exploration Island transformed into a Halloween wonderland! At each dinosaur exhibit, the kids were treated to some yummy candy by the very creatively costumed-employees. I won’t spoil all the fun in case you are planning to visit (Happy Hauntings is open both this weekend, 10/25-26, and next, 11/2-3), but my favorite dinosaur exhibit themes were the Dr. Seuss and the Crayola crayon box–you haven’t really lived until you’ve seen a dinosaur dressed as a pink crayon…

The Trick or Treat Trail was the perfect way for some safe trick-or-treating fun with a lot at some of the coolest costumes themes around!

 

I can’t say how fun it was to let the kids run around in their costumes and have a blast in a family-friendly environment. I even felt sort of vindicated when the hood of my son’s knight costume started to tear a bit after some very active sliding board fun. “See!”, I plead to my husband, “They DO get enough wear out of their costumes!” I may have slight obsession with gearing my children up in adorable coordinated costume themes each year.

The coordinated costume at mention, our little knight and princess combo couldn’t have been more perfect for the royalty theme that Dutch Wonderland is known for year round.  Now if they just start letting us bring in our dog dressed as the dragon, we’ll be all set…

Dutch Wonderland Happy Hauntings @meredithspidel

Head out to Dutch Wonderland, friends.  In a season when there are so many options for fall fun, this is the one that truly brings it all together and creates a whole autumn-full of special memories!

****Thanks to Dutch Wonderland for hosting my family for the day. All opinions expressed remain 100% my own.****

Oct 222014
 

Call it the cooler fall temps and the fewer sit-outdoors-and-do-nothing kind of nights, but I got busy with my books recently.  And I fell in love with them.

I read A LOT, no question, but the recent crop of books that have come my way have been so fun to cozy up with. Check out my favorites below, and then enter the Rafflecopter at the end of the post to win your very own copy of some of these books!

And remember, I always love people to read along with me on Goodreads and Pinterest (I have a specific board there for the books I’m crushing on!).

 

Curling up with these cozy good books is the perfect way to spend this fall! Go beef up your reading list!

People I Want to Punch in the Throat’s Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scrouges by Jen Mann. In short, by reading this book of essays about motherhood in suburbia, I felt more normal and laughed harder than I had in ages.  Each time I picked it up, my world seemed less crazy and I fell more head over heels for Mann.

I Heart My Little A-Holes: A bunch of holy-crap moments no one ever told you about parenting by Karen Alpert. There is a reason this book keeps hitting the New York Times bestseller list.  The accounting of a mom’s day-to-day is so real, it’s funny.  Alpert is so hysterical, you will cry.  It’s the kind of book I am gifting with abandon to all the new mothers I know–the perfect way to magically make the 3am feedings funny.

Mom of the Year by Denise Pischinger. Not a bad title, huh? 😉 This book was so fun. The setting was too relatable, and it was a delight to see I read a lot @meredithspidel #booksthe worst of what “being an involved mom” can spiral into. I eagerly snuck in a few pages in the pick-up line or after kids were in bed, and found myself delighting in all the perfect chaos Pischinger offered. She’s got talent!

The Seduction of Miriam Cross (A Delilah Percy Powers Mystery) by W.A. Tyson. This book was truly a thriller! I had no idea how the mystery of Miriam Cross’ murder would resolve. Tyson kept the pages flying by, allowing the reader to escape into a wild, unfamiliar world.  Looking forward to reading more of her work ASAP!

My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. Wow. This is something most of us have experienced, but so rarely discuss. The courage these gifted authors have in openly sharing their stories is an encouragement that helps bite away the sting that the hurt of losing a friend often leaves. I applaud their bravery and honesty!

Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness: Funny Stories by Sleepy Moms edited by Lisa Nolan. I have often wondered if I should see a doctor about the fact that I am perpetually exhausted. Then I read this book and remembered I’m a mom. I love the way these ladies made the reality of motherhood laugh-worthy while also clearly showing how deeply they love their kids. I also love that the next morning while I was falling asleep over my cup of coffee, I didn’t feel like a spaaz.  Thanks, ladies!

My Gentle Barn by Ellie Laks. I had never heard of The Gentle Barn before, but am now understanding what a tremendous movement Laks has started.  Through her endless compassion towards animals, the hope packed into every page of this book is inspiring.

The Realm of Possibility by Dan Dalmonte. I had the pleasure of meeting Dan in person and was delighted with his enthusiasm for the art of writing. His dedication to his work is so evident in the detail and creativity in this novel, the story of a man who meets a world wildly open with possibilities–and all the complications they bring. An incredibly captivating and engaging read.

Totlandia by Josie Brown. I love escaping with a good frothy fun novel, and the Totlandia series fits this bill so well! The world Brown created with The Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club, and uber-exclusive children’s playgroup in San Francisco is indeed packed full of “Friendship. Lies. Seduction. Betrayal.” Too much fun and so full of the drama of motherhood!  I can’t wait to read all four of these soapy treats.

Georgetown Academy by Jessica Koosed Etting and Alyssa Embree Schwartz. It’s fascinating how these two authors spin the intrigue of high school with high stakes political drama by sharing the stories of the students at Georgetown Academy, Washington D.C.’s most elite prep school.  These books were entirely entertaining and keep you eagerly reaching for the next. Unique and very cool look into a different world!

And don’t forget to follow along with our very own virtual book club!  Dig into Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and get ready to discuss on 11/7/14! We are so excited about this book.

Enter below to win these books!

Fall Book Giveaway--win and cozy-up with some reading this fall! @meredithspidel

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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