Friday, June 05, 2015

Our Top 4 Helpful, Family-Friendly Products for Summer! #summer #familyfun #2015

Summer is nearly upon us and it's the perfect time to share with you a few items that are on my "must-haves for summer" list! I know that there are lots of other "must-haves" that you probably think should be on this list, but I wanted to cover a few items that aren't always on every list. Enjoy!

Real Kids Shades

These sunglasses are the only ones we use regularly with our kids.  They provide amazing protection from harmful rays and they are extremely durable.  I mean, the only time we have had a pair break is when we accidentally ran them over with our car. The are virtually unbreakable otherwise! In the picture below, you can see how much our kids love them! Here are some fun facts about these sunglasses:
- Bend ‘em, Flex ‘em, You can’t break ‘em
- 100% UVA/UVB Protection
- Shatterproof Lenses
- Cool and Cute Styles for Kids 0+ and a variety of activities

Cave Tools 3 Piece Stainless Steel BBQ Tool Set

This set is really a nice addition to your grilling experience. These tools are heavy-duty, dishwasher-safe and backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee. In reviewing these tools, we really like how durable and multi-functional they are. Some of our favorite features include:
-Extra long handles to protect your hands from the heat.
-Heavy-duty hanging loops on each one
-Oversize clamps on tongs allow you to grip and flip large and heavy pieces of meat with ease.
-Spatula features a knife edge that allows you to cut into and check meat while cooking.
-All tools are dishwasher-safe and extra durable to resist wear and tear.
-Meat carving fork is very sturdy and allows you to easily hold the meat in place while cutting.
-Spatula includes a built-in bottle opener!
Overall, we really love these tools and they will be replacing our current tools this spring and summer. They also make a great gift for Father's Day!

Ecotonix Green Cycler

This is a counter-top pre-composter that allows you to take a lot of your food waste and turn it into compost for your yard and garden.  The convenience of this item is really nice as it has a small footprint, allowing it to sit on your counter-top and provide you with a quick and easy way to start the composting process.  We tested it out late last year and here are some of our favorite features:
-Ease of Use - this composter is so easy to use! You just put in the food, turn the handle and then just wait for your compost to be created in the bin on the bottom.
-Sturdiness - It comes with giant suction cups on the bottom to secure it to your countertop and it's made from a very durable plastic.
-Effectiveness - The metal grinding part is extremely effective at grinding almost anything you can compost.  I was hesitant at first, but it's not hard to turn through apple cores, raw potatoes and much more!
-Instructions - There are tons of clear and concise instructions, including a graph of what you can compost and what you can't. It's very helpful!
-Odorless - Yep, you heard me right! It is completely odorless! We actually left compost in it over the winter months and it didn't smell one bit!
I highly recommend you check this out for all of your composting needs as it's great for creating starter and small batches of compost without having to haul out to the pile outside after every meal.

Rescue Traps

In our backyard every summer, we have issues with wasps attacking our children. We have gone through measures of destroying nests as soon as we see them, hiring pest control services, and removing any shrubbery they could reside in.  All of this worked to alleviate some of the problem, but in the end, it wasn't effective enough.  Last summer, we implemented Rescue traps and the problem nearly disappeared! We tried out two of their traps: W·H·Y Trap for Wasps, Hornets & YellowjacketsTrapStik for Wasps. We really think they both are very effective. They are both very easy to use and hang up. We like the ease of use of the TrapStik trap especially because all you do is open it up and hang it. However, we also like the W·H·Y trap because other animals (like birds) won't get stuck on it and it's reusable! I highly recommend these for your backyard this year!

Comment below and tell me what your must-haves are for summer!

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Elgin (IL) Local (Free) Splash Parks - 2015 #Illinois #summerfun #chicago

Looking for a free and easy way to keep your little ones cool and having fun during the summer? Here is a list of all of the free splash pads and parks in the Elgin, Illinois area for 2015. Enjoy!

Festival Park: Elgin, IL

Both a neighborhood park and an entertainment venue, Festival Park provides a beautiful riverside setting with unique playground and spray park – if it’s summer, wear your swim suit.
The Spray Park fountain hours are from 9 am - 8 pm most days, depending on the weather. The restrooms will only be open while the fountain is in operation. (source:

Sunset Park Splash Pad: Lake in the Hills, IL

Beat the heat this summer at the Sunset Park Splash Pad! Located at Sunset Park, 5200 Miller Road, the Splash Pad has a shelter, 2 picnic tables, pop machine, and porta-john. Hours of operation are 11am - 7pm Memorial Day through Labor Day. Perfect for birthday parties, the Splash Pad is available for private rentals during the summer months from 9:30-11am, and includes exclusive use of the Splash Pad and shelter. For more information on renting the Splash Pad, contact Parks & Rec at 847. 960. 7460. (source:

Sunny Hill Park: Streamwood, IL

Located at 30 W 416 Irving Park Rd., the Sunny Hill Splash Pad is open daily from May 8 through September 11. Monday - Sunday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m. (source:

Leiseberg Park: Bartlett, IL

Located at 325 E. Devon Avenue and managed by the Bartlett Park District.  This spray playground is open Memorial Day through Labor Day 11am-7pm daily.

Blue Heron Park: Bartlett, IL

Located at 350 Blue Heron Way and managed by the Bartlett Park District.  This spray playground is open Memorial Day through Labor Day 11am-7pm daily.

Woodscreek Park: Crystal Lake, IL

Located at 1420 Willow Tree, Woodscreek Park was renovated in 2015. The new park includes: 60% more parking spaces, permanent baggo and bocce courts, a picnic shelter improved sand volleyball court Expanded tennis courts, Castle themed playground and splash pad, Bioswales, rain gardens and a water feature Soccer practice areas and a bike path which connects Fetzner Park, Woodscreek Park near Woodscreek Elementary School and eventually Winding Creek Park is available. A multi-purpose building houses restrooms, Park District programs and public rentals at the park. (source:

Veteran Acres Park: Crystal Lake, IL

Located at 431 Walkup Rd., Acorn Alley Splashpad at Veteran Acres Park is open Monday-Friday 11 am-7 pm and Saturday-Sunday 10 am-7 pm, when air temperature exceeds 72 degrees. (source:

Moore Park: Geneva, IL

Located at 877 Geneva Dr, this water sprayground is run by the Geneva Park District. The 2015 Sprayground season is May 30 – September 7. The sprayground hours are: Mon - Thurs: 10am - 7pm
Fri, Sat, Sun: 10am - 6pm (source:
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Monday, June 01, 2015

Slide Your Way into Cool Summer Fun with H2OGO! #giveaway #H2OGO! #ad

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Bestway for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.
We live in a neighborhood that doesn't allow pools and our local pool membership is outside our budget. With this in mind, I am often looking for fun ways for our kids to cool down in the summer.  Along with being fun, I need something that is easy to setup and take down and will keep the kids (and their friends) happy, cool and safe in the summer sun: a backyard water slide!
Backyard water slides have come quite a ways since the 90s.  Gone are those dry and slow slides and in come a new and revolutionary set of slides from H2OGO! The H2OGO! slides feature a patent-pending Speed RampTM that gives your kids a smooth landing onto the slide and a super fast boost down it! The slide features a built-in sprinkler system that reduces friction and keeps the slide fast as it fills up the super cool drench pool at the end. 
The slides are super easy to set-up and just take a few minutes and the fun is ready to begin.  Every kid in your neighborhood will be dying to come and try out these slides. The slide comes in a single, double and triple model so that the kids can safely ride down side by side. It's a budget-friendly, fun and enjoyable way to keep kids active and cool during summer break.
I'm thinking that this will be perfect for our upcoming summer celebrations.  I prefer it to a swimming pool as it's easy to setup and cleanup and a fun active way for the kids at the party to stay cool.
Ready to get one for your kids? 
H2OGO! Water Slides are available at Toys R’Us,, and

Giveaway Time!

Leave a comment below sharing your summertime party/ideas/tips featuring the H2OGO! Slide and you will be entered to win one for your family! Please leave a valid e-mail address.undefined

Giveaway ends 6/6/15 at 11:59pm CST. Your e-mail address will only be used to contact you if you are the winner.  UPDATED: Winner is Tracy Cotton Pickin Cute! Congrats! 

The image above does not represent the actual slide the winner may receive.
Important Safety Information:
  • H2OGO! is not for adult use, and is not for children over 12 or under 5 years of age.
  • This product is not for use by anyone over 5 feet tall or weighing more than 110 pounds.
Visit Sponsors Site
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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Beech-Nut Organic: Baby's 1st Foods & Beyond! #RealFoodforBabies #IC #ad #FPIES

“I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Beech-Nut. I received a free coupon to facilitate my review as well as a promotional item to thank me for my participation.”
I am really excited to introduce you to the new Beech-Nut organic baby food line! Beech-Nut prides itself on providing baby food that doesn't include anything that you wouldn't feed yourself. Their slogan is "This is not baby food.  This is real food for babies™." and I couldn't agree more.  As you know, our youngest has FPIES and when she was starting solids, it was a real struggle to find an affordable pure baby food on the shelves for her.  Yes, I do believe in making baby food for your little ones, but I also like to find a baby food brand that I can rely on to supplement the food I make at home. Also for her FPIES, we have to trial each food separately and it was so much affordable and efficient to buy a small jar of just that food off the shelves rather than buy and make it at home. Beech-Nut was the ONLY widely available and affordable brand that I found where the ingredients were just what it said on the front, no fillers or additives. So, I'm really excited that they have boosted this up a notch by making an organic line of their baby food!
Not only does Beech-Nut have pure ingredients, but they also use a process very similar to the process moms, like me, use at home to make baby food.  They don't add in any extra water or artificial additives to make sure all those very important nutrients stay right where they belong, in the food. Also, just like their naturals line, their organic baby-food line comes packages in clear glass jars.  The organic line is also USDA certified which assures you that the food inside is free of GMOs. 

I visited our local Babies "R" Us store to checkout the selection of Beech-Nut organics.  There was a really great assortment of "just" and combination foods, including organic apple, raspberry & avocado, organic banana, cinnamon & granola and organic butternut squash, black bean & cumin. Also, they were on sales for a great price! They also had two type of variety packs available for purchase that were filled with fun combinations and packages nicely for gift-giving. We decided to try out the Pear, Pumpkin and Pineapple organic food.  This is a perfect combination for Savy Baby as she is FPIES to many foods and these are three of her safe favorites! Now, you may be thinking that baby food is only for little babies, but that's just not the case at all.   Savy Baby recently turned 18 months old and loves to feed herself.  Sometimes, we like to give her a jar of baby food, like this one, instead of applesauce in a bowl and let her practice using her spoon to eat it.  It's a fun way for her to learn to use a spoon as well as a delicious combination that's better than boring old applesauce! She really loved the taste and smooth texture of it and even asked for more. Other ways that we also use the Beech-Nut organic baby food is baking it into recipes for added nutrients in place of oils/fats and freezing it in popsicle molds for a fun frozen treat!

I highly recommend if you have a little one on the way or in your life, you check out the new Beech-Nut organic baby food line. If you still aren't convinced, you should be by knowing that Beech-Nut was awarded Product of the Year in the baby category for its 100% naturals and organic lines, as selected by more than 40,000 consumers in a national; representative survey by Taylor Nelson Sofres.  
Get out there and buy some today! It is widely available at retailers across the country including Kroger, Babies “R” Us, Wegmans, Price Chopper, Wakefern,,  Winn-Dixie, BI-LO, Stop & Shop, Giant Carlisle, A&P, Pathmark, Albertsons, Hannaford, Raley’s, Meijer, Nugget Market,, Harris Teeter, Shaw's, ACME, Shoppers Food and Cub Foods. Click here to locate a store nearest to you!

GIVEAWAY! Visit the Beech-Nut site and leave a comment (be sure to leave a valid e-mail address) below telling me which organic food combination excites you! You will win a coupon for a free Beech-Nut product!

Giveaway ends 5/22/2015 at 3 pm CST. Contest entrants are only eligible to win once per sweepstakes, per household as part of a campaign sponsored by Influence Central and must reside in the United States.

Follow Beech-Nut on Social Media!
Beech-Nut Facebook:
Beech-Nut Twitter: @BeechNutFoods

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Show and Tell: A to Z #preschool #elementaryschool #teacherresource

Every Friday, our oldest (5) has to bring in something from home for show-and-tell.  We are lucky enough that his school allows him to choose between two different letters. Still, I find myself struggling to find something that fits for many of the letters. So, in an effort to help parents and/or children easily locate an item for show-and-tell, I have put together a cumulative list by letter.
-Digger Truck (construction truck)
-Dump Truck
-Fortune Cookie
-Firetruck (Engine)
-Golf club
-Hula Hoop
-Ice Cream
-Jigsaw Puzzle
-Jelly Bean
-Killer Whale
-Magnify Glass
-Mickey/Minnie Mouse
-Nutcracker (unused in case of nut allergies)
-Nose (fake clown nose)
-Nine (of something)
-Phone (technically telephone)
-Snow-globe (plastic)
-Teddy Bear
-Tarantula (fake of course!)
-Violet (color or flower)

Feel free to comment below any additional items you would like to see on this list!
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Make a Quick and Easy Family Dinner Tonight with Hamburger Helper! Free Ground Beef! #helper #freebeef #ad

We all know what it's like to be a busy on-the-go family! You know the story. Mom and dad get home from work, the kids have practice and/or a game in an hour and you need to get dinner served and done in less than an hour! On those nights when I just need something quick, easy and delicious to feed my family, that's where Hamburger Helper comes in! All you need is a box of your favorite Hamburger Helper, ground beef and a few pantry essentials you are all set to have dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.
Right now, Hamburger Helper is offering a free ground beef rebate (up to $8.06)! Just take a trip to your local grocery store and pick out your three favorite Helper products and a pound of ground beef, then visit this link and claim your rebate!
Our store had a huge selection of Hamburger Helper products.  I chose three flavors that I thought our family would enjoy: Tuna Creamy Pasta, Whole Grain Stroganoff and Whole Grain Cheeseburger.  I also purchased a one pound package of ground beef.  Total cost (with the Hamburger Helper Rebate) is less than $6! That's dinner on the table for under $2.  Budget and family-friendly!
We decided to make their Whole Grain Cheeseburger Macaroni for dinner on a Friday night.  Friday nights are pretty crazy for us as everyone is tired from the week and our oldest has T-ball practice just an hour after he gets home from preschool.  So, this was the perfect quick and easy family dinner to make. I just browned the ground beef, then added in the rest of the ingredients (sauce mix, water, milk, noodles) and let it simmer until the noodles were tender. I steamed some broccoli as the perfect compliment and dinner was done! The kids absolutely loved it and gobbled it up in a matter of minutes! Absolute success!
About Hamburger Helper:
Helper has always been a value brand—we launched in the 1970’s to help consumers, like you, stretch their dollars while also enjoying a delicious and hearty meal. We are demonstrating our value again, in a new way, with free ground beef!
Not only does Helper help you stretch your dollar, but all of the hamburger varieties, use one pan.  It’s that simple, one pan prep!
I recommend you take advantage of the Hamburger Helper Rebate and make your family a quick & easy value meal tonight!
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Planning a Family Vacation (or Not) #FPIES #FoodAllergies #Disney

Before our youngest was diagnosed with FPIES, planning a family vacation just involved the usual stuff. Plane tickets, car rental, hotel, and spending money. Now that she's no longer a baby and eats a combination of specific solid foods (no corn, soy, dairy, rice, wheat, rye, oats, etc.) and special formula, even thinking about planning a vacation freaks me out. My initial thoughts are:
1. Where can we go? It can't be too rural in case she has a reaction.  It can't be somewhere that doesn't have adequate healthcare. It must be somewhere that a hospital is close by and we can easily reach by car just in case.
2. How do we get there? If we have to take a plane, then I have to figure out how to pack her food that will keep through airports (security, yikes!), plane rides, etc. Then, I have to think about EXTRA food just in case, and even more EXTRA food, just in case again. Not to mention that she requires formula and bottles and her formula has to be refrigerated once opened.
If we take a car, I have the same worries. She can't eat a restaurants, so add on the additional issue of worrying about restaurants having a "no outside food" rule and refusing to serve the rest of our family (yes, this happens).
With both options, I have limited space (or carry-ons allowed), so that's another dilemma.
Best bet? Rent an RV...time consuming and expensive....not to mention, our middle child tends to get carsick.
3. Where do we stay? It has to be somewhere with a decent kitchen. Since we have to prepare her meals ourselves, we need at a minimum a mini-fridge and microwave.  That's basically like the "roughing it" version for us! Ideally, we would have a full size fridge and stove so that we could buy stuff when we get there and not have to ship and/or carry tons of frozen/perishable food with us. Basic hotel rooms are out. Again, added expense.
4.What do I need? Well, besides obvious stuff, I need plenty of her special formula (and then some) as well as the note from her doctor explaining her condition and information on the closest hospital.
5. Fears! What if she has an acute reaction mid-air or in the middle of nowhere and needs medical attention? What if we can't find a restaurant that will allow us to bring in her food? How will my other kids feel about her and the impact she has on our family vacations, despite our best efforts to blend her in with the rest of us? What if she has a reaction and the hospital we take her to doesn't know anything about FPIES and questions it and refuses to give her what she needs immediately?
After a good bit of research, we have come across a few options.
1. Walt Disney World: This is the number one vacation destination in the United States that caters to food allergies.  This is the ONLY place I have found that is known to be able to serve FPIES kids safe food without cross-contamination issues. It's also one of the most expensive places in this country we could go on vacation....
2. Rent an RV: In this scenario, the good thing is that RVs have kitchens and we could easily prepare and travel with everything she needs. It saves us the hassle of having to find accommodations with kitchens.  However, it's still expensive to rent one, and so is the gas.  And there is that whole "What if it breaks down in the middle of nowhere?" fear.
3. Vacationing Close to Home: This would involve renting a cabin (in a not so rural area), or hotel suite somewhat close to home (under 2 hours). Honestly, this would be fun but for me, it seems a bit pointless to pay to sleep somewhere else close to home. Definitely more budget friendly and feasible for us.
4. Stay-cations: Right now, this is the ideal situation for us.  It requires only a little bit of daily prep of meals to bring with us and by night time we are all nestled back into our home. It's also the most cost-effective.
So, there ya have it.  When it comes to have a child with a rare food intolerance syndrome (FPIES), planning a family vacation is extremely complex and stressful.  Hopefully she will start to outgrow it by the time she is 3-4 and we can start planning vacations more easily.  Until then, it's likely Disney or home. 
Read more about our FPIES adventures here.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Sometimes Blood Is Nothing More than a Biological Link. #divorce #reallife

All my life I have heard people say the phrase "Blood is thicker than water" in reference to the importance of respecting family ties and family coming before all others.  At 31 years old, I have learned that this simply isn't something which isn't always the case.
A little background about my life:
I am an only child.  When I was very young, my parents divorced and by the time I was 7, they remarried other people and lived 400 miles apart from one another. This meant, that I spent the school year living with my mother and stepfather and school holidays and summer vacation with my father and stepmother.
The man my mother married is an amazing, loving, patient and kind man who didn't think twice about loving me as his own child.  Honestly, I could fill a novel with the respect and love I have for this man.  He stepped into the role seamlessly and effortlessly and never looked back.  I have always felt like he loved me as though biologically I am his. He was the father figure that every little girl needs in her life.
On the other side, the woman my father married is not this way. For as long as I can remember (back to age 5 or 6), she treated me like something that was just a nuisance. It started with her saying things like "Why are you crying for your mommy?!" the first summer I spent away from my mom (again I was 7).  She would tell me lies. I'll never forget the moment they sat me down on the couch to tell me the "truth about my parents divorce". Every moment I can recall, she would force me to speak poorly about people I loved and cared about. During one of the first summers I spent with them, I refused to eat anything hoping they would just send me home to my mom.  This led to cold shower punishments and hurtful name calling.  It wasn't just me she was nasty with, it was anyone whom she felt threatened by.  It was the neighbors, especially if I wanted to spend time at their house instead, or my father's workers because ordering them around made her feel superior. Her behavior continued as I grew up.  I learned to "survive" my time there by just agreeing and pretending to be someone I wasn't.  I wasn't allowed to like country music or talk about my school. When I became a teenager, I decided I wanted to spend some of my summer like my friends and stay at my mom's house half of the time so that I could feel "normal". My stepmother's response? She called me a bitch on the phone (I was 14).
When I graduated high school, they drove the 400 miles to be there, but not without saying to me "You're brainwashed by your mother and that's why you are going to college in that state instead of ours." And to drill this point home more, they refused to help me financially with school. After college, I moved across the country and didn't tell them until afterwards because I knew they wouldn't have anything nice to say. I met my now husband and only took him there a few times, praying they wouldn't scare him away. On the night before my wedding, my father called me crying at 2 a.m. because she was angry and lashing out at him about something with my wedding.
A few months and "incidents" later, I made the decision to stop calling them. Why was I putting so much effort into being treated so awful? I hung up the phone early February 2009 and not once in the last six years has it rang (my # hasn't changed). Since then, I've made no effort to contact them. Why? Honestly, it isn't because of all the hurtful things this woman said and did to me over the course of my lifetime. It is the fact that while all of this was going on, my father, the man that I am half of, my originally designated protector in life, someone that I love so deeply, just stood there and watched and allowed it to happen and even participated. That asshole and coward, stood there like there was nothing he could do about it. He let her do all of it to his child, his ONLY child for over 20 years. Not once did he stand up to her on my behalf, not one single time and I'm not sure I'll ever forgive him.
It's been over 6 years.  And not a single year have I regretted this decision.  It wasn't a decision I only made for myself, it was for my new husband and our future children. Because never, ever in my lifetime will I allow my children to be exposed to this woman. I am their protector, just as my father should have been mine, and no one will hurt my children like that woman hurt me.
And this is how I have learned that sometimes blood is nothing more than a biological link
I believe this:
“Being genetically related doesn't make you family. Love, support, trust, sacrifice, honesty, protection, acceptance, security, compromise, gratitude, respect and loyalty is what makes you family.” ~Unknown

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