Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bzzagent Review - Green Mountain Coffee Wellness Collection

A few weeks ago I was able to review the new Green Mountain Coffee Wellness Collection as part of a Bzzcampaign.  Below is a photo of the kit I received along with the review I completed.

Last week, I had the pleasure of receiving a 12 pack of K-cups from Green Mountain. I was surprised at how generous they were on the quantity of K-Cups as well as the amount of coupons. The day I received the cups, I decided to try the antioxidant blend. I am sort of picky about coffee. I don't really care for stronger roasts as they tend to taste bitter and almost ashtray-like to me, so I wasn't quite sure if I would like the coffee. I was surprised. The coffee was very smooth and not too strong. I added my favorite creamer and drank the cup in record time. It was very good. I couldn't taste any sort of additive, it just tasted like (really good) coffee. The next day, I had an important doctor's appointment which I knew I could receive some tough news. So, I decided to drink the Focus blend. I thought if there was anytime I needed to stay focused, this was it. Again, I really liked the coffee. It was also smooth, and not bitter. I did feel focused at the appointment. I was concerned that I would forget to tell the doctor one of the symptoms, but I didn't. I also left the appointment feeling like I remembered everything the doctor said. I'm scratching my head for something negative to say, but I just can't think of anything! I will be purchasing Green Mountain Coffee in the future. Thanks for a great product!

Bzzagent review - CoverGirl BlastFlipStick

As a Bzzagent, I had the opportunity to review CoverGirl BlastFlipSticks.  Below is my review along with a photo of the kit I received.

As part of this campaign, I received 3 Flipsticks. The Mink, which is a darker brown shade with a coppery shimmer. Stunner, which is a coral shade and a bronze shimmer. And finally, Vixen, which is a dark pink with a lighter pink shimmer. The bzzkit was generous - however, I wouldn't have picked any of the shades I received. Mink looked crazy on me - if I wiped some of the stick off, it may work. I didn't like how Stunner looked on me either, however, the colors reminded me of summer. Of all the sticks, I liked Vixen the best. I like the packaging of the Blastflipsticks. Their metallic looking in the middle, with two clear caps. I like that it makes it easy to see the colors. They were easy to open, and the caps 'snap' so that they won't come off in your purse. Also, the lids are designed so that if you turn the base of the lipstick, the sticks won't rise while the cap is on. This is a big plus as I've had many tips ruined by caps. The stick is easy to hold while applying. I like the feel of the lipstick. The non-shimmered end is very smooth and creamy. The shimmery ends aren't as smooth going on. It seems that the shimmer in each stick is different. For the stunner, it's almost glittery, but the others have a much more subtle shimmer. I also like that it is pigmented. Some of the colors didn't look quite right on me, but I could wipe some off my lips, and there would still be some sufficient stain. With the shimmered ends, if you wipe it off, it seems that the shimmery part comes off (if that makes any sense). The taste isn't bad either. I wore the lipstick all day, and didn't experience any feathering at all - this is another big plus for me. It's also long lasting if you're not eating/drinking. You definitely need to reapply after eating though. All in all I liked the Blastflipstick. I'll have to see what other shades they offer before I decide if I'd buy this - unfortunately, the price is kind of high, so that will influence my decision as well.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving - Homeschool Fun

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We had a great week.  On Monday, we decided that we would do our last day of regular school before Thanksgiving.  Afterwards, I had them watch a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving while I made their lunch.  What did they have for lunch you ask?  This:

Yes, we had the menu from Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  Except, they don't really like jellybeans, so I gave them Mike and Ikes instead.  I didn't tell them what they were having, and they were so cute when they made the connection.  I hope they remember this for a long time, it was fun (and delicious) for me.

Friday, August 31, 2012

More Free Stuff! Unreal Candy Review

As I mentioned on a previous post, I'm a Bzzagent.  Because of this, I get to try products for free.  My most recent campaign was for Unreal candy.

 My review is below:
I had the opportunity to try all five varieties of Unreal candy. It was difficult to find - the first Kroger I went to did not carry Unreal (I even went to customer service and they said they had never seen the product). The second Kroger I went to had them, but I had to ask customer service for help; they had to ask a manager to help me find the product. I had expected to find it in one of three places - 1) the candy row, 2) the natural foods section, or 3) the checkout. It was in none of those places, rather it was an end cap (which even as the manager was pointing to the product, I couldn't see it easily). I say all this to recommend that Unreal change how and where they display their product, I walked right past it and didn't notice it (while searching for it), I'm sure many other people have walked by without seeing the candy. I decided to try all five varieties since my store had all of them in stock. Below is my review on each product.

1 - Unreal 41 (candy coated chocolates). When I first picked up the package, I was surprised at how light it was compared to a bag of M&Ms. The serving size of Unreal is smaller than the serving size of M&Ms, so I feel that it would be very easy for someone to be misled by the nutritional content if they just compared the labels of the two candies without taking size into consideration. I do like the packaging, it's attractive. Upon opening the candy, I found that the colors of the actual candies were quite different from the colors on the wrapper. I was surprised by that. My kids (3 and 5) actually said they liked the colors of Unreal better than the colors of M&Ms (and I liked the source of the colors better!). The taste was very good. It was less sweet than M&Ms and tasted more like dark chocolate, which I really liked. My kids said they prefer Unreal to M&Ms.

2 - Unreal 8 - chocolate, nougat, peanuts, and caramel. This one was my favorite. It was so good. The salty and sweet were balanced very well. The nougat reminded me of a Mars bar, (which happens to be one of my favorites). The texture was fantastic. I have nothing negative whatsoever to say about this candy bar. All good!

 3 - Unreal 54 - candy covered chocolate with peanuts. These were very good too. Again, the colors on the packaging were much different than the actual colors. There was a good salty/sweet balance and the chocolate again was less sweet than what we've come to expect in candy. I actually prefer this level of sweetness. I did feel that the serving size was small. My children devoured them, so it could just be that they ate so quickly that I only got a couple.

4 - Unreal 5 - chocolate, nougat, and caramel. This one was also very good. The caramel is milky and soft, almost buttery. Very good. The nougat is a little denser than what I would have expected, but still delicious. This candy also tasted more like dark chocolate (again, as I would prefer).

5 - Unreal 77 - chocolate covered peanut butter cups. When I first opened them, I was surprised that there was no liner on the peanut butter cups (as I was expecting Reese). Now that I think about it, it's smart to not have the liners - less packaging = less waste. I also noticed the logo on the bottom of the peanut butter cup, I thought that was a nice touch. The actual cup was thinner than a Reese cup, and at first (before tasting), I was disappointed in this. Once I tasted the peanut butter cup, there was absolutely no disappointment! The candy tastes rich, almost like a buckeye. The peanut butter was smooth and tasted more like peanuts than Reese cups. The texture and balance of sweet and salt was perfect. I am now a fan of Unreal. I was shocked at how delicious the products are. This has (to date) been my favorite BzzCampaign! Before trying the candy, I thought, "why would they pick the name 'Unreal'? Since there's no artificial ingredients, shouldn't the name be 'Real'?". Then I tasted it, and one word came to mind: Unreal.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Much Needed Change - Science Curriculum

Today was the smoothest day so far.  It went so well that we actually finished our school work before lunch (we normally have an hour or two to do after lunch). 

Yesterday went pretty well too - except, we started at 10:00 instead of 9:00.  Oh well.  My friend Emily brought us a ton of vegetables from her parents garden, so we ended yesterday with making zucchini bread (used this fantastic recipe but left out the walnuts since Lou isn't a fan).  That counts for math, right?!  The bread is almost gone - even my hubby ate some (and asked if I would make some more).  If you know how picky he is, that's saying a lot.

Today I was not looking forward to Science at all.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Science - it's been my favorite subject for as long as I can remember (except Chemistry.  I HATE Chemistry).  But, our first day of Science was rough.  We purchased Apologia's Astronomy book and the issue is that the book is for K-6th grade.  In order to make it though the book in one year, there's four or five pages of textbook reading per lesson.  Plus there's a journal and experiments.  I could tell on the first day that the book wasn't going to work for us.  At least not this year. 

I consulted with another homeschooling mom, and decided that I'm coming up with my own Science curriculum. We're going to study space, but in an easier, kindergarten appropriate way.  I want him to LOVE Science, not dread it.  So, I have a ton of small books about space, and we have a very extensive public library. We'll read two books about space per week.  My parents also gave me some of my favorite books from when I was a kid (Just Ask books by Weekly Reader).  So, today, we read "What is A Star?".   The kids LOVED it!  They know the order of heat intensity (blue is hottest, red is coolest), size classification (dwarf up to supergiant).  And learned so much more than they did using the textbook last week. 

We also made our own stars.  We each decided how hot we wanted our star to be (X-Man wanted the hottest - blue, and Little Lou wanted a star with mid-range heat - yellow).  Then, they decided which size (both wanted supergiant).  I helped them trace a circle on construction paper, they cut them out on their own (more fine motor work!).  Then on one side, X-Man wrote the name of his star, how hot it was, and the size.  On the front we swirled glitter glue to signify the gasses that swirl on each star.  It was amazing to me how much information they retained.

We're also going to spend time each week observing nature (Mason method) and using a notebook to sketch an observation.  I feel so much better about science now.  And less stressed.  So far, we pretty much love homeschool!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Homeschool - Two Days In

Thursday was our first day of homeschool; it went pretty well!  The day started with some french toast casserole that baked in our slow-cooker overnight.  School began with a prayer, pledge of allegiance, and calendar time.  Then we did a short history lesson - it came with a family tree that they filled out (I wrote Little Lou's for her) and colored.   As they were coloring, I did a short interview about their favorite things - I'm interested to see which items change at the end of the school year.

We also read a few pages in our science book.  It was obvious that I can't do science right after history again, too much reading for two little ones. We've changed the order of subjects - they'll also only do science two times a week (they'll do art some days instead).

Then we worked on a rhyme about the animals and which continents they live on (they got to run and jump so they were very excited about that!).  Next we had a short devotion and practiced our first memory verse (Matthew 19:14) - we have a CD which plays the verse in a song which has made it easy for me to memorize the verse (even Little Lou almost has it memorized!).

Next we had our first lesson.  At the beginning of each lesson (one new lesson per week), there is a DVD with a teacher explaining the new material - I LOVE this!  We did some practice with our cuisenaire rods and he did a worksheet  (he got every problem right - woohoo!).  I use a composition book as a math journal for Little Lou.  She practiced writing numbers 1-5 and then put that amount of stickers on each number.

Then, it was lunch time!  We also took a break before heading back to our classroom.

After lunch I had X-Man read a book on his own (he'll read a short book or one chapter out of a novel) while I worked on a phonics lesson with Little Lou.  After that, we did some handwriting - that was difficult.  X-Man has always had delays in fine and gross motor skills, so some things were very difficult for him.  He is also a perfectionist, so if his work doesn't look exactly as he would like it, he scribbles all over the page or cries (Mom, Dad, does this sound familiar?!).  He had a few meltdowns, so we cut the lesson short.  Day two was much better for handwriting - we actually were able to extend our lesson!  X-Man writes the letter 'F' like a champ now.

At the end of each day, all three of us read a book together.  Then we do a mini-book report.  I write the name of the book and author - then there's a place for both of them to note if they liked the book or not (X-Man has to write 'yes' or 'no' and Little Lou circles a happy or sad face).  We keep these on note cards attached to a binder ring.  This can help me keep track of which books we've already borrowed from the library and help me to determine which type of books they'll like going forward.

Then they get free time - I have a play kitchen and a few toys in our classroom they can play with.  They can also read books, or work on a maze/dot-to-dot book I made (printed free worksheets then put them in page protectors so they can use dry-erase markers on them over and over again).  They can also play with some sensory bottles I made, do tangrams, work on geoboards, flashcards, or artsy stuff.  We also listen to orchestral music (they can already recognize some of the parts from 'The Carnival of Animals') and I prepare our lessons for the next day.

After school, we got some frozen custard and then went to the pool - that's homeschool P.E., right?!  We ordered pizza for dinner - pretty much, the perfect day.

All in all, I think (two days in) that homeschooling is going to be a great fit for our family.  It's so nice to be able to customize each lesson to meet their needs.  It's also wonderful to get hugs and kisses all day from my sweethearts.  Yep, I'm a fan of homeschooling!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our classroom!

It's pretty late, but I just finished installing curtains in our homeschool classroom so I thought I'd (quickly) post some photos.

 I love these lights!  I got them on clearance from Target.

 The table and chairs we already had.  There's a reading corner by the beanbag chairs.

 Our crib was recalled, so we turned it into a desk.  The top was painted with chalkboard paint.

 We hung all their school supplies on the converted-crib desk.

 One of our two bookshelves from Ikea.

 Another bookshelf.  You'll also notice there's a curtain rod near the ceiling - this is to display their artwork.  There's also a schedule, calendar, and whiteboard.

 The files on the wall hold their workbooks.  I also made a valence since I couldn't find any that I liked.

Close up of the valence.

We're starting school on Thursday and the kids are SO excited!  I'll update the blog with a first day post later this week.  

As always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Homeschool Curriculum and Life

Hi Friends,

So let me tell you, I am LOVING life right now.  I've been unemployed for a little over a month, and so far it has been wonderful.  I've been able to spend the days doing whatever the kids want (pool, zoo, museum, etc) and, I'm sleeping during normal-people sleep hours!  It's great.  I feel refreshed and energized, which has provided me with time to focus on our next adventure: homeschooling.  We've received all of our curriculum selections and almost have our classroom in order (photos will be on my next post).  For now, I wanted to share with you what our curriculum choices are for this year.

The core of our curriculum is from Heart of Dakota (Little Hearts for His Glory).  It includes:
  • History For Little Pilgrims
  • History Stories For Children
  • The Reading Lesson (I have a feeling we'll get through this in no time as X-Man has been reading since before his fourth birthday)
  • Thinking Skills - Grade 1
  • Family Time Bible
  • Devotions for the Children's Hour
  • Hide 'Em In Your HeartU Vol 1 CD
  • Several Burgess reading books
For Science, we chose Apologia Exploring Creation with Astronomy (this was his choice).
For Math we chose Math-U-See - Alpha.
For Writing we'll be using Handwriting Without Tears Kindergarten.
Art - Art with a Purpose (this was given to us by a homeschooling friend) - also may be supplementing with some additional books including Drawing with Children.
Music - we'll be learning how to play the recorder and also will be borrowing classical music CDs from our library.
For Spelling, I found a couple of grade 1 workbooks for him to do - he LOVES workbooks!
I will also be using several poetry books, fairy tales, and novels to supplement reading.

We're getting pretty excited - here's a picture of him on our first 'box-day' - he can't wait for school to start!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Free stuff! And, Kroger Family Night Review

I've been telling lots of friends and family members about  A few months ago (April or May), my friends told me about Bzzagent - they said it was a way to try new products for free.  Well, free is most-definitely for me, so I signed up immediately.  At first I had to fill out maybe 30 surveys (these surveys help vendors to determine if you are the right demographic for their campaigns).  After the first week, I would get maybe one or two surveys a week.  Some of these surveys have only one question, some have fifteen.  Regardless, they don't take more than ten minutes to complete.

Last month I was selected to try Dr. Scholl's inserts for high heels.  This month (I was SUPER excited about this one) I was selected for Kroger's Family Night.  In my kit, I received some new tortilla CUPZ, and a mango melon vitamin drink.  I also received a coupon for a free Kroger frozen pizza and free frozen fruit bars.  There were also a bunch of 20% off coupons for me to share with friends (so, let me know if you want one!).  I'll post a photo of my kit once my memory card is found.  My review on the items can be found HERE.

I do think that I should mention (again) how good the pizza was.  I really am not a huge fan of frozen pizza, but it was REALLY good!

Let me know if you have any questions - I really do love being a Bzzagent!

Monday, June 25, 2012

June Blessings

I can't believe it's almost July.  June has been a whirlwind.  We spent 10 days on vacation in North Carolina - I'm very blessed to have a very generous family that finances the entire trip, every year.  As some of you know, I am two hours away from my family (excluding the ones that live with me of course!).  It is so wonderful that once a year, I get to spend an entire week with my parents, siblings, cousins, aunt, uncle, grandpa, and grandma.  We make so many memories, and the kids get to enjoy their family and get lots of love, and sun, and sand, and ice cream. 

As you may remember, June is also my last month of week of work.  Today I sent emails to all of my clients letting them know that I am leaving.  My clients sent really nice, encouraging notes - and I'm so thankful for that!  I can't believe that I have less than a week until I am a full-time stay-at-home mom!  I know this week I'm going to have to spend a lot of time on follow-up work and trying to resolve some issues, but the end result will be so worth it (and, I really like my co-workers, so I want the transition to be as easy as possible).

On my first weekday unemployed, I have to get a root canal. Unfortunately, the nerve structure in my tooth is complex (I'm sure that's not the correct terminology), so I have to go to a specialist.  I was told by our new dentist that insurance will cover 80%; we researched the average price and determined that I'd have to pay several hundred dollars (in addition to the $300-$500 that we will have to pay for the crown that goes on the tooth).  Today I got a call that we will have to pay $0 for the root canal - thank you Lord!

It's amazing that even after we made the decision to quit my job, I was still doubting that we made the right decision.  However, God has taken care of us so much that it is evident to us that this is what our family needs to do at this time.  I really am so blessed and I am so thankful for all that God has done for us.  I look forward to seeing what else he has in store for us.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Curriculum Selection Time!

Hi friends,

We are in the process of choosing home school curriculum.  I wish I would have gone to a home school convention back in April; unfortunately, I was so busy with work stuff and thought I knew what I wanted to do (HA!), so I stayed home.  So, with the help of X-Man, we are beginning to choose what we would like to study next year.  I originally thought I would go with one company's curriculum so that I could do less work (all the school days would already be mapped out for us).  But, as I'm finding the time to do more research, I'm finding that we have SO much flexibility, so why not use that to our advantage?

X-Man LOVED learning about the planets in preschool this year (he knows the planets in order and loves looking for planets in the sky at night) so, we've decided that we're going to study Astronomy with Apologia this year.  Their elementary Science curricula are based on creation.  There are six topics to study for K-6 (which don't have to be studied in any particular order), so this year we'll do Astronomy - if we like it, we'll do it again when X-Man is in 6th grade and Little Lou is in 5th.  Next year, we'll let Little Lou select the science curriculum since whatever we do next year will be studied when she is in kindergarten and again when she's in 6th grade.  We also have some great friends who gave us a membership to one of the best Science Institutes in the country, so we'll be spending lots of time there.

For math, we've decided to use Math U See.  What I like about this is that there are DVDs that correspond with the lessons.  This means they'll be learning math from someone who knows what they're doing, and I'll be learning right along with them!  We'll likely supplement with some extra workbooks (X-Man LOVES workbooks!).

For reading, history/social studies, and Bible, I'm still doing some research.  This is where you come in!  If you are a homeschooling parent, please let me know if there's certain curricula that you've really liked (or didn't care for).  For social studies, I'm finding that most curricula begin with a study of your home state or home country.  To be honest, I'd rather that my children have a world view than a local view and would prefer to begin studying the world and over time focusing on our local history.  I've been feeling stronger and stronger urges to do some mission work and would love for us to do that as a family someday.

Also, X-Man is reading at an advanced level, so I'm having a tough time finding accelerated readers with kindergarten level English/writing lessons.  I'm thinking we'll do Handwriting Without Tears since he could use quite a bit of help with handwriting - then maybe doing a 1st or 2nd grade reading program (this is where our library comes in!).  I think I may also have him start a blog of his own as he gets better at spelling and writing (of course we will be VERY closely monitoring his blog).

We're getting very excited about home school, in fact, X-Man asked me today if we could start school tomorrow.  I told him we still have to order our books and will begin school in August.  His response: "Why don't we start in July, that's one month sooner."  This kid is SO excited to start school - hope this sentiment lasts all year! 

Anyways, any tips are greatly appreciated.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

New chapter and big changes

This week has been pretty emotional for me.  Those of you that know me personally know that the hubby and I have been married for over eight years; it will be nine years in November (married in 2003).  Once we got married, I relocated from my hometown to a city two hours away.  Within a month, I had interviewed, accepted, and began working for a consulting firm.  The thing I really loved about the company is that the owner was a Christian with views similar to mine.  That felt safe to me.  And, I knew that business would be conducted with integrity.

Fast forward to 2006.  I was finishing my clinical hours to become a surgical technologist - I was so excited to be in the operating room.  I absolutely LOVED school - everything about the OR was exciting to me.  During this time, I also became pregnant with my sweet little boy, and continued to work for the same company (they were great about working around my school hours).  When I became pregnant, I couldn't imagine leaving my son every day to work outside of the home.  I knew that although I loved surgical technology, it wasn't part of the plan for my life at that moment. So, my boss developed a plan to allow me to work from home once my son was born.  How amazing is that?!

For the past five years, I've been working from home while caring for my children.  It hasn't always been easy, but it's been wonderful to be with my children every day.  It's been wonderful to be there for each and every milestone.  I've loved the opportunities that this position provided for my family.  Now, my sweet boy is five and will begin elementary school this fall.  As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, we've decided that homeschooling will be the best way to educate him.  I'm very excited for this fall, however, it has become increasingly apparent that I won't be able to work (even from home) and homeschool.  I feel like both my son and my work would suffer from less than adequate attention. 

So, I talked to my boss and decided that it was best for me to quit.  It has been one of the most difficult decisions.  I cried while talking to him (and talking to my coworkers) since this isn't something that I'm particularly excited about.  Don't get me wrong, I'm ECSTATIC that I get to homeschool my child, I'm just not thrilled that I'm leaving a great company and wonderful coworkers.  And my boss was great.  He totally understands why I'm leaving and was so kind to me, which made it even harder.  I've been working there for over eight years, so in a way, it feels like a break up.  On good terms, but still, it's a huge change.  He even asked how he could help me with this transition and offered to get in touch with one of his old neighbors who homeschools so that I can learn more about their co-op group!   

I know what an amazing opportunity it has been for me to work from home, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.  My last day of work will be June 30; this will give me some time to enjoy summer with the little ones, volunteer at summer camp, spend some time with the youth at church, and just relax.  I'm looking forward to it.  I'm looking forward to having time that's 100% devoted to my hubby and children.  We'll be (obviously) bringing in less money after June, but I know God will provide for us regardless.  I'm excited to see what God has in store for us.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Thank you!

Hey friends! 

I wanted to thank you all for reading my blog posts.  In less than a month, I've had over 350 views!  This is more than double my previous record for any 30 day period!  I really do appreciate you taking a moment out of your day to hear about mine.  Please, keep reading.  And if you don't mind, leave me a comment - I want to know what you would like my next post to be about.

Thanks for reading :)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fools!

It's April 1st, which just so happens to be one of my favorite days of the year.  People sometimes talk about their love languages, for some it's gifts, or affection, or acts of service.  My love language is pulling pranks on those I love.  I love that there is an entire day devoted to one of my favorite past times.

In the past, I've put change in my hubby's shoes, or 'short-sheeted' the bed, or made a drink that looked like sweet tea but wasn't.  I also (at least once a week) like to hide somewhere in the house and jump out at him when he's not expecting it. This year, rather than focus on pranking my husband (besides the scary leprechaun that was anxiously waiting for him in the bathroom this morning), I decided to focus my efforts on the little ones.

They're still pretty young, so I didn't want to do anything too mean; I decided to mess with their food.  For breakfast, they had gummy worms in their cereal.  I thought I was so clever.  That is, until church this morning when they were VERY loud and hyper.  Note to self: gummy worms are NOT an ideal breakfast food.

For lunch, I made them peanut butter and jelly and placed gummy worms in their sandwiches (I obviously learned my lesson from breakfast).  It was so funny to watch their faces as they unexpectedly bit into something rubbery in their sandwich.  We also finely chopped some cookies to make 'dirt' for their yogurt.  X-Man thought this was so cool!  Little Lou, on the other hand, threw a complete tantrum and cried under the table while yelling "We don't eat dirt!  Dirt is NOT yummy!".  She eventually came around.  I also gave them an apple with a gummy worm inside, and grape jell-o that looked like grape juice.  It was hilarious watching them try to drink out of their straws!

I've also enjoyed reading my friend's pranks on Facebook.  And several businesses (Google, Coffee-Mate, International Delight, Old Navy) have also had fantastic jokes today.  I sure would hate to have big news to share on April 1st.  I think you'd have to wait a day or else no one would believe you.

Anyways, I'm hoping to get a few more gags in today - especially for my sweet, unsuspecting hubby.  (Or, I could just be saying this so that he worries all day about my evil schemes...)  I hope you have a great April Fool's Day filled with great memories!

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Disney Post - Now, easier to follow!

Hi friends,

I wanted to let you know that I updated the titles of the Disney Post.  They are now listed as part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.  I thought it would be easier to figure out the order if  I included this in the titles.  Again, please let me know if you would like to share some of your own tips!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Smartphone readers - please read!

Hey friends,

I was recently checking my stats and found that one of the referring sites is  I don't know if this means that someone at is trying to hack into my account (which would be a total waste being that I only have three followers) or if it means that one of my readers has service from this company downloaded on their smartphone.  The service (I did some homework on this!) tracks every move you make on your cell phone - mostly used by jealous spouses/partners, etc.  They can listen to your calls, see every text message, track your location via GPS, and view every website you access.  I just wanted to let you know that if you've read my blog in the past month via your cellular device, there is a chance that you may (unknowingly) have this service. 

Just a friendly heads up!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Disney Post Part 4 - Tips for the Trip

Well, this is the final installment of The Disney Post series. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it!

Today's post is all about the trip.

1 - What you need for the park
As I mentioned on the last post, I had a bag for the park (in addition to the hubby's bag of cameras) - as a reminder, this bag had:
  • A wristlet with money, debit card, ID, cash, room keys, park passes
  • A folder to contain itineraries, and park maps
  • A note book with notes about things we wanted to do, restaurants we wanted to try (for counter service restaurants), and a list of which rides we wanted to ride first at each park
  • My favorite planning book about Disney World.
  • A gallon size plastic bag with park essentials: hand sanitizer, sunblock, bandaids, triple-antibiotic ointment, stain remover wipes, hair brush, ponchos, tissues, pain medication, a small deodorant stick, wet wipes, a small flashlight, moleskin and blister bandages
  • I also left some room for jackets since we were there in January
  • If your child is frightened easily by the automatic toilets in the parks, you could also pack self adhesive notes to cover the sensor on the toilet
We also packed the kids small totes (we would just hang this on the stroller) - we took out the coloring pages so that there was only park-essential items in there:
  • Autograph book and pen
  • Sunglasses
  • Spillproof water bottle
Also, don't forget your strollers, snacks, and water bottles.

If it's first thing in the morning, bring a bag of cereal for breakfast. That way the kids can eat at the bus stop or in the park.

2 - Transportation
Since we stayed on-site, we had no use for a rental car. We took the Disney bus line to the parks each day (the drivers do not accept tips). We could also take a ferry to downtown Disney. I would arrive at your bus stop expecting to wait twenty minutes for arrival. Often it doesn't take that long, but sometimes it does.

3 - Photo Pass tip
If you're like us, one of the very first things you'll do at the park is get your photo taken. We (as mentioned earlier) paid in advance so we already had a Photo Pass card. Unfortunately, we forgot it at the hotel. Luckily, you can link as many Photo Pass cards as you would like under one account. So, my recommendation is to snap a picture of your Photo Pass card. That way, if it gets lost, you'll still have the card numbers to access the photos.

4 - First Visit
If it's your first visit (or if you're celebrating a special occasion), stop by Town Hall. They'll give you a special button to wear. You may even get special treatment (one of the cast members saw us with our first time buttons and let us walk right onto a ride).

5 - Rides and Attractions
We let the kids decide what we were doing and when. The only exception was when we first arrived. We found out (from books and friends) which rides tend to have the longest waits. We would head to that ride first. If the wait was over 30 minutes, we got a fast pass. If it was under 30 minutes, we rode.

Also, if there's a parade or firework show that you don't want to watch, go to the popular attractions then. The wait will be significantly shorter.

If you have small children, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the rider swap option. Our daughter was too short for some rides, so I would take our son on a ride and tell the cast member at the ride entrance that we wanted to do a rider swap. They would give me a rider swap pass, which is like a fast pass, except that you can bring three people back with you. After they were done riding, my son and hubby got to ride by going through the fast pass line. It was awesome.

6 - Meals
Since we had a meal plan, we got a sit down meal and quick service meal each day. The kids ate cereal for breakfast on the way to the park each morning. We would eat lunch around 11:00 each day, this helped us to avoid to lunch crowd and ensured that the kids would be hungry for dinner. The meals are pretty big, normally a drink, entree, side, and dessert.
We ate dinner around 5:00 most nights. The longest we waited was five minutes for a table. One night we ate at 6:00 and had to wait for 30 minutes for our table to be ready. So I would definitely recommend eating earlier if you can.

I would never use a snack credit on a soft drink or bottled water. You can bring your own bottles of water or get free cups of ice water (or hot water) during the day. If you bring instant drink mixes with you - it's easy to make some lemonade or hot tea/coffee for free. Instead, use your snack credits on something mouse shaped, or really, whatever you want (my favorite was a Dole Whip at Magic Kingdom). We would often share our snacks which meant we had PLENTY of snack credits for each day. In fact, on our last day, we had seven snack credits left, so we bought the kids Mickey Mouse gummies and Mouse shaped rice krispie treats for later. I personally would only use snack credits on something that costs around $3 or more.

7 - Extra hours
As a Disney resort guest, you are able to spend time at the parks when they are closed to the general public. We found a television channel at the resort which listed all the extra hours for each night. They don't advertise the extra hours very well, and had we not checked the channel, we wouldn't have known that for us, Epcot closed at 12:00 am instead of 9:00 pm! There were literally no lines.

8 - Journal
Each night we would write all about our day. We talked about what we did, where we ate, etc. My favorite part was asking the kids what their favorite part of the day was. It amazed me that sometimes in such a huge, magical place; their favorite part was something as simple as 'riding next to Daddy in the race car'.

Disney World is wonderful and magical, (and expensive) - hopefully some of these tips will save you some money, or help to make your trip a little more magical. If you want specific restaurant or activity recommendations, please let me know. Thank you so much for reading my posts. And please, let me know what special tips you have!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Disney Post Part 3 - Packing

This is the third post in my Disney series. Today I'm going to focus on packing.

First, I would recommend finding a checklist online. This will help you remember all the basics, clothes, toiletries, etc. You can find that information anywhere, so I'm going to focus on tips given to me by friends and things that helped us save time when we arrived.

We chose to separate our luggage based on need. I'm a little neurotic about certain things, so some of this may be overkill, but it really did help me to know exactly where things were which saved us some time and stress.

1 - Bags for the flight
We had two bags that we took on our flight.
The hubby carried on a backpack (which we later used at the park). This had our camera and camcorder as well our chargers, and extra memory cards. We also packed swimsuits in case our room wasn't ready when we checked in at our resort.

I carried a shoulder bag which had several, smaller bags inside.
I had small totes, one for each child. Each of these totes had a cuddle buddy for the flight, coloring pages, stickers, crayons, fruit snacks (to help with 'popping' their ears during the ascent and descent), lollipops, an empty spill proof water bottle (for the park), autograph books with a pen, a glowstick for the first night, and sunglasses.

I had a park tote that would prove irreplaceable during our Disney trip. Inside this bag was my wristlet (you do not need a purse in Disney) with my ID, health insurance cards, debit card, and some cash for tips (you'll want to tip mousekeeping, tip at table restaurants, and also tip the driver of the shuttle to and from the airport). Having a wristlet was also very convenient to hold our park passes and room keys.
  • A folder to contain itineraries, boarding passes, park maps, and envelopes for the tips for mousekeeping.
  • A notebook with notes about things we wanted to do, restaurants we wanted to try (for counter service restaurants), places to use our snack credits, and a list of which rides we wanted to ride first at each park. We also used this as a journal.
  • My favorite planning book about Disney World.
  • A gallon size plastic bag with park essentials: hand sanitizer (make sure it's under three ounces for the flight), sunblock (again, under three ounces), bandages, triple-antibiotic ointment, stain remover wipes, hair brush, ponchos, tissues, pain medication, a small deodorant stick, wet wipes, a small flashlight, moleskin and blister bandages. For the liquid items: sanitizer, ointment, sunblock; you'll want to keep them in a quart sized baggie so that they're easily removable for x-ray when you're at the airport.
  • I also left some room for jackets since we were there in January.
  • If your child is frightened easily by the automatic toilets in the parks, you could also pack self adhesive notes to cover the sensor on the toilet (a family member gave us this great tip!).
2 - Checked luggage - toiletries
We used one bag for all our toiletries. Of course there was shampoo, body soap, deodorant, toothbrushes etc. - but some things that most people don't think about packing were also very helpful - hand soap (they do not provide it in your room), a small package of laundry detergent, a larger bottle of sunblock, and a larger bottle of hand sanitizer.

3 - Checked luggage - clothes/toys/food

We packed our food in a large, plastic shoebox. Before we left our house, I measured a cup of cereal into sandwich sized baggies so that each morning, we could just grab a baggie and go. Having the food in the shoebox kept everything from getting smashed in the suitcase. We also packed some plastic grocery bags to put our water bottles and snacks in each day.

We brought a couple things that our kids sleep with every night (favorite stuffed animal or blanket), but they really didn't need any toys while we were there. We woke up, went to the park, explored our resort or swam, then went to bed. If you pack glowsticks, you want to put them in a zipper bag just in case they break.

Probably my favorite tip of all was an easy and space saving way to organize clothes for the kids. I used a bunch of gallon sized zipper bags to store their outfits. For each day, I put a pair of shorts/pants, shirt, underwear, and socks (and hairbow for the girl). I also labeled each bag (taking into account the weather forecast) with their name and a day of the week. This was a great time saver as each morning, we just grabbed their bags then got them dressed. We could also put their dirty clothes/pajamas in the empty bag when we were done.

You also want to make sure to have comfy shoes for everyone - you'll be walking. A lot.

We used cable ties to secure each bag. We placed a heavy-duty nail clipper in the front pocket of each bag so that we could easily open the bags when we arrived. We also packed extra ties in the front pocket of each bag for the flight home. We used big, obnoxious bows to mark our luggage. This made it a breeze to pick out our luggage (that looked like everybody's luggage) when we came home.

4 - Strollers
We chose to bring an umbrella stroller for each child. This saved space in our hotel room. One thing that I'm really glad we did was mark each stroller with a big (glittery) bow. There were several strollers there that looked just like ours, and the cast members at Disney often rearrange the strollers when you're visiting an attraction. Having the bow made it very easy to find ours in a sea of hundreds. At night, you could also use glowsticks to mark your stroller.

I hope you are finding these tips helpful. Again, I am not a Disney-expert, so please, if you have any tips to add, I'd certainly appreciate it!

Check back for the last post in this series - all about tips for when you're in the park.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Disney Post Part 2 - Tips for before the Trip

Thanks for coming back for my second day of tips. Today I'm going to focus on some tips for after booking, but before arriving.

1 - Restaurant Reservations
One of the best tips I got from a friend was to book restaurant reservations as soon as possible. Once you are within 180 days of arriving, you can begin making reservations. We read online reviews, checked out the Disney website for menus, and read a few books about the restaurants. We then decided to pick restaurants based on which days we would visit each resort. We chose to only use our table service credits for dinner (with the exception of a character breakfast). Our travel agent made the reservations for us and got us confirmation numbers for each meal. We also decided not to use a table credit on our last day. We wanted to be able to go to whichever park the kids liked the best and not have to worry about being at a restaurant at a specific time on our last night there.

2 - Photo pass
At Disney World, there are lots of photographers who will gladly take photos of your family. You're given a card to 'load' the photos on so that you can access them online. If you choose to order photos once you return, they cost around $12-14 per photo. Or, you can purchase all the rights to your photos for around $150 (as of March, 2012). However, if you pay for the rights before your trip, you save $50 ($100 for all the photos). We opted to do this. All in all, I'm happy with the purchase.

3 - Busy items for traveling
Before we left, I purchased Disney stickers and activity books from the dollar section at my favorite retailer. I also made a free activity book for the kids. If you do an online search for "free Disney Coloring Pages" you can print pictures of your child's favorite characters to color. There were also some fun activity pages (dot-to-dots, word searches, counting pages, etc.) that I printed for the kids. These were life-savers during our flight.

4 - Shopping before the trip
We decided to buy a Disney shirt for each of our children for each day. We were able to get clothes on clearance on Disney's website and at different department stores. We saved quite a bit compared to buying clothes there.

We also bought some sort of light up toy or glowstick for each night. Your kids are going to want some light up toy while you're there, so why not buy them in advance for MUCH less? We bought glowsticks from the dollar store/craft store, and bought light up toys at our party store.

5 - Snacks and drinks
I recommend packing many snacks for your trip. One thing I would mention is not to pack dense items like chocolate or peanut butter - if these items are in your checked luggage, TSA may have to search your luggage as these items can look like explosives on the x-ray image. We packed baggies of cereal and pop-tarts for breakfast, bags of crackers, cookies, and chips, and single drink mix packets to add into water.

A few days before our trip, we also had bottled water delivered to our resort (via Costco). This was nice to have at the parks each day.

The next blog will be about packing for your trip. Thanks again for reading!

The Disney Post Part 1 - Before and During Booking

So in late January we took our first trip to THE Disney World. It was awesome. We had such a good time that we are already talking about going back. So, I thought I would create a post about money saving ideas, time saving ideas, and just helpful information. It will hopefully help some of our friends who are planning trips. And, whenever we go back, I can also look back at this post to refresh my memory. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am in NO WAY an expert on Disney travel. Like I said, this was only my first trip, but I did pick up a few tips (please, feel free to add some of your own!)

Before and During Booking:

1 - Picking a date
The very first thing we did was contact a travel agent that specializes in Disney vacations. We chose Build a Better Mouse Trip. We asked if there were any free dining promotions, then decided to travel during those dates (free dining saves you over $600 for a family of four compared to purchasing a dining plan). We also checked out Disney's website and made sure that we didn't book a trip during any other events (dance competitions, marathons, etc). This gave us a list of certain dates that we would prefer to visit.

2-Choosing a flight
Next, we were ready to start planning our trip. My husband signed up for low-fare alerts from airlines. When the hubby got an alert saying that airfare would be $69 per person, we chose our travel dates. We decided to book our own flight online so that we could get the inexpensive tickets ASAP. We also opted to take the earliest flight to Orlando - this meant we almost spend the whole day at the park. We chose late afternoon for our departure - this way we could sleep in and just relax on our last day there.

3 - Booking the trip
Next, we contacted our travel agent to tell them during which dates we wanted to travel. As I mentioned above, we decided to travel during a free dining promotion. One thing to note is that you get different plans based on what type of resort you choose- for example, if you stay at a value resort during the free dining promotion, you get two quick service meals (think food court type meals) and a snack each day for each person. If you stay at a moderate resort (this is what we chose), you get one quick service, one table service (sit-down), and one snack per person. If I would have done my research, I would have discovered that we could have stayed at a value resort then paid a small fee to upgrade our plan to the one with the table service. This would have saved us money overall since the moderate resorts cost more per night.

4 - Choosing a resort
Our travel agent helped us pick a resort. We chose Port Orleans, Riverside. Like I said, we stayed in a moderate resort. Part of the reason we chose moderate is ignorance - as mentioned above, I didn't know that I could get the better dining plan while staying at a value resort. Some other reasons we chose the resort we did was that moderate hotels have refrigerators in their room, values don't (unless you pay extra). There is also some extra space in the moderate rooms compared to the value resorts. We specifically chose Port Orleans because they had very high traveler reviews compared to other Disney resorts. We also like that the grounds looked so beautiful, that there is a restaurant and food court (which, by the way, we didn't use), that there are multiple pools, and that there are many activities (outdoor movies, fishing, horse drawn carriage rides, ferry rides to downtown Disney). When you choose your resort, I would recommend talking to your travel agent, reading traveler reviews online, looking at amenities on the Disney website, and borrowing some Disney World planning books from the library. If you get an unofficial book, you can get unbiased reviews on your resort. We read the books after booking and were pleasantly surprised that we would have still picked our resort.

5 - Transportation from the hotel
When you book your hotel, your travel agent can also arrange for you to have transportation to your resort from the airport. They'll also deliver pick up your bags from MCO and deliver them to your room.

6 - Park tickets
When you book, you'll also want to decide how many days you want to visit the parks. We arrived on Monday morning and departed late afternoon on Saturday. Because of this, we chose to get park tickets for five days. We decided we could spend Saturday in downtown Disney.

We also opted to get park hoppers for all five days. Honestly, for our family, this was a waste of money. We only 'hopped' one day. For our next trip we'll either not do hoppers at all, or just get them for one or two days.

Please check back in the next couple days for some tips before the trip. Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 2, 2012


Well look at that. Two posts in two days. See, I promised :)

So last week I made the decision to join Pinterest. Can I just say that it is already a love-hate relationship? I love getting ideas on fun things to do with the kids and yummy food to make for my family. I like that there's so many creative people who have ideas on how to reuse everyday items in order to make something beautiful or useful. Plus, I've found so many ideas on how to use the space we have to make a stellar homeschool classroom. And lots of wonderful teachers and parents have posted creative lesson plans that have encouraged me to find fun ways to teach (I already have an idea on a Lego day - using Legos for math, science, and English). I like the inspiration to take things that I already have and use them for a greater purpose. I like that I can use it to help me better educate my children and feed them nutritional meals (don't look at my current pins, the ratio of chocolate to healthy is like, 3:1).

However, I have come to the realization that I cannot focus on 'dream whatever' or 'if I had a million dollars' or 'future this or that' ideas. I certainly don't think that it's wrong for anyone else to look at these and get ideas, so please don't think that I'm looking at other peoples pins in judgment - in fact, some of the pins I've seen have been AH-MAZING. I've just come to realize that for me, I cannot spend time focusing on things that I don't have. I refuse to let myself become unhappy by seeing all that I wish I could have. Rather, I need to focus on what I do have. In terms of non-material things, I have FAR more that I deserve. I have love from a great hubby, two fantastic kids (they pretty much adore me), and I have the greatest family and friends. I have freedom, I have life. Stuff is just stuff. Materials come and go, but love and the effects it has on you is forever. So, today I choose to focus on the good. I choose to focus on my blessings, and not compare them to other people's blessings. Bottom line: I am blessed. Period.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Almost a year?!

So I have not blogged since March 8, 2011. How ridiculous is that? I've decided I'm not going to wait this long anymore. That's my commitment to you and the two other people that still read this blog :)

So here's the past year in a nutshell:
  • The kids are good - I now have a three year old and five year old, how did that happen?! X goes to preschool fours days a week and absolutely LOVES it.
  • We took the kids to Disneyworld and they absolutely loved it. In the six days we were there, I fell in love and learned lots of tips on how to save time, money, and sanity there. Maybe I'll do a blog on it.
  • We went back to Iowa last month. X-Man had a great visit. Every time we go the doctor is surprised at how good his feet are looking. I credit it to Dr. M fully correcting his feet, nightly stretching, nightly bracing, and daily prayer by those who love us. Thank you so much if you're one of them!
  • We made a very exciting decision in the past two weeks. We're going to home school X-Man (kindergarten) next year! Over the next few months I envision this blog becoming a place that I can record and store lesson plans including the ones that are greatly successful and the ones that are less than perfect. I hope you stick around - I see many adventures in the next few months!
So for now I'll keep it short and sweet. More to follow. I promise.