Family

The school year is winding down — and in some cases already over — the weather is heating up, and the kids are eager for some much-needed time outdoors. Every parent can relate to this sense of excitement that builds during May. Lucky for us, Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner. One of the most popular travel weekends of the year, these festive days offer the perfect opportunity for a family camping trip.

Many travel writers and experts have found that family travel has spiked in recent years, with more parents planning getaways together. In fact, about 70% of family travelers were planning to take one or two vacations in 2017, according to a recent AAA survey. Camping is a great mini vacation for the adventurous family, offering healthy bonding experiences and activities for all ages.

Considering packing up your tent and heading to the great outdoors with the kids? Follow these simple tips for a happier, smoother camping experience.

  1. Involve your kids in the planning. Make your children feel important by asking for their help during the planning process. Let them tell you about any food they want to make, games they want to try, or places they want to go. Not only will your trip benefit from all the input, but you will also be able to bond before the family camping trip even starts.
  2. Practice in the backyard. Sleeping in a tent for the first time can be scary, especially for little kids. Try sleeping in your tent in the backyard for the night to let your kids learn what to expect. Don’t have a backyard? Ask a friend if you can use theirs, or mimic the outdoors by pitching your tent in the living room.
  3. Teach your little ones basic camping safety. Be sure to tell your kids how to behave around the campfire, what to do if they see an animal, and other aspects of camping safety. Plan a meeting spot if anyone gets separated, and consider carrying walkie-talkies with you at all times.
  4. Plan activities ahead of time. Nothing is worse than running out of ideas to entertain a bored and cranky child. To avoid this mini crisis, come prepared with crafts, sports equipment, and instructions for outdoor games. There are plenty of creative camping activity ideas around the internet, so be sure to do research beforehand.
  5. Connect with other families. If you have family friends with kids, consider inviting them to come along on your camping trip. Your own children will be thrilled to have friends to play with, and you will have adults to spend time with as well. Even if you choose to camp without other families, you will likely meet other families camping nearby when your kids meet friends while running around the campground.

Childhood camping is one of the most memorable experiences, often turning a child into a lifelong camper and outdoor enthusiast. Studies show that of current campers, 85% took their first trip between birth and age 15. Not only that, but 57% of campers were avid outdoor activity participants as children, while only a quarter of non-campers spent time outdoors as kids.

By exposing your children to the outdoors now, you will teach them to love nature. This enthusiasm will lead to healthy recreational habits in the future, for both your child and the entire family. So pack your tent and have a blast this Memorial Day weekend. Your little ones will thank you!

Disclosure: I received product to facilitate this review and compensation for my time and effort in creating this post. As usual, all opinions below are completely my own.

When I was pregnant with my now 3-year-old, I already knew that I would be very careful about the personal care products I use for her. This meant that for everything from baby soap and lotion to hair products, I would be choosing organic and natural alternatives that minimized her contact with toxic chemicals as much as possible. Even when washing her clothes, I knew I needed to choose laundry products carefully.

With my older daughter who is now 11, I used Dreft laundry detergent. I received several bottles at my baby shower and I loved it so much that I kept buying it. So I admit that I was a bit disappointed when I had Juliza that Dreft wouldn’t be an option, as I was trying to avoid traditional products.

The great news? Dreft finally has a product for parents like me who want more natural alternatives to the products we otherwise love.

Dreft purtouch is a new baby detergent that is 65% plant-based, hypoallergenic and made
with naturally-derived ingredients, designed specifically to be gentle on your baby’s delicate skin. It is free of dyes, chlorine, phosphates, ethanolamine and optical brighteners, and still designed to effectively remove up to 99% of baby stains. Even better, it is safe in septic tanks and the recyclable bottle is also made from 25% or more post-consumer recycled plastic.

I was excited when I was asked me to try Dreft purtouch, as I remember my great experience with the original product and couldn’t wait to see if this would compare.

The simple answer is that I love it.

I have to admit that I like my laundry detergent to smell good. I know it’s not necessarily for my clothes to get clean, but it is a psychological boost that makes using the product that much more enjoyable. Fragrance can literally make or break a product for me. Dreft purtouch has a fragrance that feels light and gentle — nothing too heavy or overpowering for you or your baby. And though the scent lingers after washing and drying, it is really subtle.

There’s also the matter of whether it did a good job of washing my daughter’s clothes. At 3 years old, she’s in the mess stage of toddlerhood. Eating a cup of yogurt means it will end up trailed down the front of her shirt, and learning to drink from a cup without a cover leads to sticky messes that force us to separate “play” clothes from the rest of her wardrobe. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a couple of stains that had been very visible were considerably lighter after washing with Dreft purtouch.

I wish I had gotten a “before” shot, but just know that the barely visible stain shown below was much more pronounced before washing — and it wasn’t a new stain either.

I also appreciated that my daughter’s clothes came out of the wash process noticeably softer than they did with our previous natural detergent. We never use liquid laundry detergent, and even with dryer sheets, her clothes would still feel a bit “rougher” than I would like. Dreft purtouch delivered touchable softness, especially helpful now that my little one is (finally) potty trained and wearing underwear that needs to be comfortable.

I am really pleased with this product, and I have every intention of continuing to use it throughout Juliza’s toddlerhood. I can feel confident that when she’s spinning and twirling in her beautiful clothes, that there is no residue that is harmful for her and her skin.

And I now know what to get for anyone I know who is having a baby.

I also wanted to share a video that had an impact on how I think about baby clothes. Dreft recently completed a survey that revealed 9 out of 10 dermatologists recommend washing baby clothes before the first wear, as excess dyes and chemicals from the manufacturing process, along with dirt from storage, transport and handling, can stay on the clothes. Need a visual? Check out this video that drives it home:

Yeah. I promise I won’t forget the thought of some kid kicking around a sweet little onesie that a baby will wear. Just something to think about.

Giveaway Time!

Would you like to try it for yourself? I thought you might. Enter below to win a bottle of Dreft purtouch.

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Preparing for a family vacation with the kids can feel like a real job, what with all the planning you have to do to make it happen, and all the excitement in the household in anticipation of your get-away from work and school. It can be a stressful period, and many decisions must be made to make sure everybody is happy during the trip. That includes making travel plans, reserving accommodations, and most importantly, choosing a destination everyone will agree on (and yes, that can even include your cat or dog!). Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your family vacation.

Pre-Planning

This may seem obvious, but it is important to take care of your finances and pay any due bills before the trip. You don’t want to miss a due date while you’re having fun, only to come home and find an important service has been turned off.  Also, decide on a fixed (or flexible) budget for your vacation so that you won’t have to max out your credit cards, and do your best to stick to it. Finally, make sure that there are plenty of activities for you and your kids to enjoy at your chosen destination. This is where a good calendar and to-do-list come in handy.

Location, Location, Location!

The first step is deciding how far from home you want to travel. If you want to visit a new country, airline ticket prices become a primary consideration and may affect your overall travel/holiday budget, especially depending on the season. Check online for any current travel deals and packages or family discounts well before your expected departure date so you can save big and make room to enjoy some extra luxuries. Search for airline discount codes, as a good one can save you a big chunk of money. There are also great deals that include flight/hotel discounts for families or groups.

Planning at least a month ahead of your trip is always a good idea so that any money you save on flights can benefit you and the whole family in countries where the cost of living is lower. For example, in Italy, you can rent an apartment or vacation home directly from the locals at budget-friendly prices rather than staying in an expensive, touristy hotel.

If you choose to travel closer to home, the planning is a bit easier. You can choose your destination based on the length of your vacation, how much you want to spend on gas and the cost of accomodations.

Finding the Right Attractions

If you stay in the U.S., traveling cross-country is one of the coolest experiences, and there are plenty of open spaces to visit. From the Grand Canyon to the Red Woods of the San Francisco Bay Area and the many nature and adventure parks, you will find there is plenty to do for both parents and kids. Once you have chosen your destination, the next step is figuring out which places you want to visit and what activities there are to do. This is where some great online resources like Musement come in. They will help you discover the best spots, including hidden gems not frequented by the usual tourist crowds, as well as provide you with a great choice of local attractions and tours. Their filters will also help you find activities suitable for the whole family, so that mom and dad can have fun too. There are also many free activities available, so you really don’t need to break the bank to have a good time.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

Now that you know where you’re going, the next question is what to pack for your vacation. If you’re a parent, you already know what to do: Start with the kids. Figure out how many pairs of underwear, swimsuits, and clothes they’ll need. And while packing their favorite toy is a must, the entire toy box can stay at home. Making a list first will help avoid panic packing. You can find plenty of tips and ideas on packing online. Check if there are laundry services available at the hotel, or a washer and dryer if you’re staying in a home or apartment, and take a look at the weather forecast so you can be sure to dress comfortably.

Trains, Planes & Automobiles

If you’re planning to rent a car, think about what type of vehicle will best suit your trip. If you’re flying to another state and you’ll only need a car for occasional trips from point A to point B, any vehicle with enough seating for the whole family will do. If you’re taking a road trip or need to do a lot of driving when you reach your destination, comfort is essential. A good, sturdy but comfy SUV or minivan would be a better choice. Remember that kids — especially young children — need to be entertained while traveling, and a great way is to fill their time with books, toys, gadgets and game apps. This is true whether you are traveling by car, plane, or train. Everyone will have more fun if you don’t have to constantly listen to the kids complaining about being bored.

The Most Important Tip

Have fun! This is supposed to be a vacation — not a problem that causes more stress. Don’t panic if plans don’t go exactly as you’d hoped. Just enjoy the time with your family and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Boys & Girls Clubs of America as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

My daughter wants to be the next Simone Biles. Yes, that Simone Biles. The one who brought home four gold medals in gymnastics after the 2016 Olympics and thrilled the world in the process. Suffice it to say my baby girl is driven, and I want her to achieve her wildest dreams. Of course, if this is going to happen my family has to prioritize being healthy. I admit that while the rest of my family does a good job of staying active, mama needs to do better so that I can be supportive and encouraging — but also lead by example. And like many families, we could definitely use some help making healthy food choices at home, so that our girls are prepared to make healthy food choices of their own.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America understands challenging it can be to do all of this, and they want to help families do better. Their Triple Play initiative is a comprehensive health and wellness program designed to give young people and their families not just awareness, but also the tools necessary to make healthier decisions.

Triple Play, which is sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company and Amerigroup Foundation, is a program that focuses on three key areas: Mind, body and soul. The overall goal is to encourage participants to increase the amount of physical activity they engage in and help build a support network of positive relationships — all designed to help create a healthy lifestyle. Triple Play is currently available to 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs that serve more than 4.2 million youth in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Personally, I know that I need to increase physical activity. I feel better when I get up and move my body, even if just for 20 minutes a day, and even if I don’t admit to my husband that he’s right when he says it will help. Triple Play aims to help us all focus on the “I feel better when” mantra, so that we can make decisions that make us feel our best.

During the winter, my family doesn’t get outside often, save for the stray 70-degree day that reminds us Mother Nature has no respect for date or season. The rest of the time, we have to find ways to stay active indoors. My 3-year-old has this particular mission on lock. There is no piece of furniture she will not climb, bounce on, or jump off. She also spends a lot of pretend playtime as various animals and a ballerina — sometimes at the same time.

My older daughter has gymnastics. Even though she’s not enrolled in classes right now, she still uses the equipment we have at home to keep her skills on point. The rest of us have to get a bit more creative about it. My older daughter dances with me because she knows that’s my favorite way to move, and my husband uses the every room and every surface to exercise — from the counters in the bathroom to the door frame of the laundry room.

When it comes to meals, we have to be even more thoughtful. Old habits die hard, and one of mine is eating convenience food. We are constantly working to include fresher foods and more vegetables and fruit in our routine.

In addition to providing support for kids, Triple Play also provides a guide for parents, with step by step details for making good choices all the time.

So what about you? What do you do to keep yourself and your family active?

When the new year rolls around, many of us take that opportunity to make changes to ourselves and our lives. We make plans to exercise more, eat healthier, stop smoking, change bad habits and start good ones. But how many of us extend those resolutions to our homes?

If you’re looking to make changes to your home that can in turn make your life better, here are some great ways to start:

Declutter

Have you ever looked around your home and wondered how in the world you accumulated so much “stuff”? I do this weekly — particularly when I consider how many toys and random items my daughter has acquired in her 3 short years of life. The problem with all this extra stuff? Instead of enjoying your home, you spend entirely too much time managing it.

At least once or twice a year, it is a good idea to purge. Go through each room in your home, and take honest stock of what you have, and whether you really need it. I consider whether an item is useful, beautiful or sentimental. If it is useful or I find it to be beautiful, chances are, I will keep it. If it is sentimental, I consider whether there’s another way to preserve the sentiment — with a photo, for example — then decide whether to keep it. I sell, donate or toss anything else. And I promise you, in addition to whatever money you make, the feeling of paring down your possessions to a more manageable level is a reward in itself.

Organize

Most of us can think of a problem area in our home off the top of our head. For example, a few years ago, one of our biggest problem areas was shoe clutter. Because we have carpets, we take our shoes off when we walk in the front door, and we ask our guests to do the same. The result, of course, is a ton of shoes constantly sitting by the front door. It was a thorn in my side. So we tackled that specific problem. We purchased a shelf and storage baskets so we have a place to put our shoes when we take them off.

This year, our organizational issue is paper. We have too much of it and do a terrible job of keeping track of it all. So my goal is to find a way not just to sort and store paper, but a plan to get rid of any paper that is unnecessary, and do it quickly.

What is one everyday problem in your home that gets on your nerves? Does it bug you when you can’t find what you’re looking for in your closet? Do you have to scramble through all the items in your bathroom cabinets to find your favorite hair products? Start with that specific issue, and find a way to organize it. You’ll be surprised at how much easier life feels when you remove a single point of friction.

Reinvent

The one thing that sucks about renting is the inability to do any kind of major renovations. As much as we’d like to replace our laminate kitchen counters with a beautiful granite worktop and replace the cheap vinyl flooring with beautiful cork or bamboo, that’s just not practical when we don’t own our home. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to make our home more beautiful and custom.

My favorite way to reinvent a space for little money and commitment is with paint. Even as renters, we are generally able to paint any room, as long as we return it to the original eggshell finish before we move out. And since we already have an accent wall in our living room thanks to a little extra effort from our landlord, we can actually repaint that without consequence. If you’re not ready to start with a wall, start with an old piece of furniture that needs a new life, or cover that ugly ceramic figurine with bright, glossy spray paint in a color that makes you happy.

Another easy way to reinvent, courtesy of my husband and his habits: Move the furniture. Seriously. If your furniture has been in the same configuration since you moved into your home, move it around. If your sofa is in the middle of the room, try moving it closer to the wall, or vice versa. Mount your TV on the wall to clear up some surface space. Move a side table from the bedroom to the foyer. Redecorate with what you already have, used in a new place.

What about you? Do you make plans for your home for the new year? Feel free to share your simple tips in the comments below.

Keeping young children entertained can be difficult even on the best of days, but one surefire way to keep their minds — and their hands — occupied is with crafts. This style of play is a wonderful way to encourage a child’s creativity and imagination, offers a learning experience, and of course keeps them busy and happy. Crafts are perfect for those rainy days you’re stuck indoors, but can also work well on during nice weather, as some can be done outdoors.

Here’s a look at a variety of fun craft ideas that are sure to be a big hit with young children.

Make Your Own Shirt

There is nothing more exciting and rewarding to a young child then getting to display their hard work for all to see. There are few better ways to do this than wearing their artwork in the form of a t-shirt. Pick up an inexpensive white t-shirt, along with supplies to decorate it. You can choose anything from fabric markers that allow kids to draw right on the shirt itself, purchase fabric paint and let them use brushes or stamps to create shapes and designs, or perhaps use iron-on appliques, screenprinting kits or printable t-shirt kits.

Include your kids in the creative process by bringing them with you to shop for the supplies. Your local craft store likely offers a whole wealth of fun options. This same project can be used on a canvas tote bag, hat, shorts, and other items.

Make Your Own Bingo Game

While traditional games of bingo are ideal for adults, kids can have fun with their own twist on bingo. You can make your very own cards, then pick up bingo markers or make your own markers out of craft items. When you make your own version of bingo you can skip using letters and numbers and instead use alternatives like animals, colors, shapes, etc.

Make Your Own Book

This is a wonderful activity that requires focus, creativity, and planning. You can provide the book topic for them to make it a little easier and have them make a book all about themselves. You’ll need a few pieces of construction or colored paper, a hole punch, yarn, markers and pencil crayons. Fold the pieces of paper in half and then use your hole punch to make two holes on the folded side. You can then use the string to tie the pages together, creating a spine for the book. Kids are then free to draw, write, and create whatever they like.

You can take this activity to the next level by providing glue, craft items, sparkles, and anything else that might appeal to them.

Paint…with Anything but Paint

Want to really engage kids? Give them a challenge. Ask them to create a painting with one caveat: They can’t use paint. They can choose other media like chocolate, makeup, or even “watercolors” made from Kool-Aid. This engages their creativity in two different ways.

Make Your Own Dough

Sure, you could go to the store to purchase modeling clay or dough for kids to play with, but why not allow them to make their very own and take part in the process. The recipe is quite simple and uses common ingredients in your home.

You’ll need eight cups of white flour, one cup of baby oil, food coloring, and an air-tight plastic container to store it in. Allow kids to mix the ingredients together and then they can start using the dough. You may want to pick up cookie cutters and scoops for them to use in their creative play.

When it comes to crafts that keep young children happy and entertained, the key is offering variety. Allowing them to experiment with various craft items, ingredients, and textures will help to encourage their creativity and offer them a great learning experience.

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Back in March 2004, my husband and I had been married for less than a year. We were still figuring out how to do the married thing and how to live with each other when the unthinkable happened: He was in a near-fatal car accident. He was riding in the backseat of a friend’s car when they were hit by a drunk driver less than a mile from home. And in a wild turn of events, NOT wearing a seat belt actually saved his life, because he flew away from the impact.

The accident turned our world upside down. He was in and out of the hospital for months because of complications from the accident and his subsequent treatment. We did, fortunately, have health insurance at the time. But he was hospitalized more than an hour from home each time — which meant that I literally slept at the hospital — often in waiting rooms — so I could be close. And after using my two weeks of vacation, I had to go to work every day, and I drove back to the hospital at night when I got off. All of this proved to be expensive. And health insurance doesn’t cover meals, gas, toiletries and all the other things you need when you’re living in and out of hospital rooms.

My husband, in the months after the accident, still wearing a neck brace.

My husband, in the months after the accident, still wearing a neck brace.

Adding insult to injury, a few weeks after my husband’s accident, my employer started offering Aflac voluntary insurance. Voluntary insurance that would’ve paid cash directly to us to help with the immediate expenses that we were incurring as a result of the accident and helped with the deductibles. Admittedly, if we had not been in that specific situation, I may not have considered applying for Aflac at all. I probably would not have understood the importance or wanted to deal with the perceived “hassle” that would’ve come with the paperwork to enroll. But our situation made it really clear why having voluntary insurance before we needed it was a great idea. So even though it was too late to help with the accident expenses, I signed up anyway, because I never wanted to be in that position again.

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More than a decade later, we are long past the initial panic that comes with dealing with an accident. But we are still dealing with health issues related to it, and we are still in a precarious enough financial situation that voluntary insurance like Aflac is still worth it. And now we have kids to worry about too.

Right now, most employers have an open enrollment period, where workers can review benefits offered by their employers and enroll in insurance policies that are the best fit for their current situations. If you’re a millennial, like me, you probably have a million things to worry about at any given time. We’re all trying to keep roofs over our heads and keep the lights on, and most of us know how easy it would be for one emergency to cause irreparable damage to our families’ finances. Especially if you have a health insurance policy with high deductibles and copays, as so many employers are offering these days. And yet, according to the 2016 Aflac Open Enrollment Survey, 14% of millennials would rather walk across hot coals than complete their annual benefits enrollment.

Trust me. I completely understand the aversion. But it’s worth it to review your benefits, or even speak to your employer’s benefits expert, if it means you can save up to $750 this year by making informed choices (like avoiding plans with high deductibles, if you can help it), and protect your future financial interests at the same time.

Think of my story as a cautionary tale. None of us wants to end up in financial ruin, completely out of cash, because of an illness or accident. It is worth the peace of mind to know that you have a backup policy that can help you directly when you most need it.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Aflac herein means American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus and American Family Life Assurance Company of New York.
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Disclosure: This post was sponsored by WaterWipes as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

In my family, baby wipes are the Holy Grail. We use them for everything from cleaning up spills in the car to wiping down the stove and cleaning the screens of our devices. Of course, we also have a baby in the house, and we use them pretty regularly for her too. As such, I’m not a fan of most wipes, because we’re never really sure what’s in them. So when I got an opportunity to try WaterWipes, I was more than a little intrigued.

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As the name implies, WaterWipes contain mostly water. In fact, they are made using just two, chemical-free ingredients: 99.9% pure Irish water and 0.1% grapefruit seed extract. That’s it. Really.

I can get behind a product that contains just two ingredients, one of which is water — particularly if I’m going to be using it for my baby. The truth is that I’m always wary of using wipes to clean my daughter’s face, because her skin is super sensitive and we’ve had to deal with breakouts before. In this case, I felt confident that I could use them to wipe the yogurt and crumbs and milk and other random stuff that ends up all over her face without causing any irritation.

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Because in addition to being pure and chemical-free, they are also super, super soft. Like baby’s bottom soft. Which is helpful, since they’re intended to be used on my baby’s bottom.

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Let me share a quick fact about myself: I tend to be extremely brand loyal. Once I find something that I like, I buy it over and over and over again. My shopping lists tend to look the same every time. So it is no small matter to say that I am now a WaterWipes convert. I love the fact that they contain two simple ingredients, and we’ll be using them from now on.

This photo of Juliza pretty much sums up how we feel about them.

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You can find WaterWipes at your local Walgreens or at Walgreens.com. At our store, we found them in the baby aisle, and we got the last two packs on the shelf. We’ll definitely have to stock up next time we’re there.

WaterWipes Walgreens Giveaway

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