Guest Post: 8 Photography Tips for Travelers

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Whether you want to fill your Instagram account with vacation photos or you’re going to create professional-looking prints once you get home, here are eight photography tips every traveler should know.

1. Ask permission before shooting. This is especially important if you’re photographing an individual or group of people, but also if you’re shooting indoors at an event or attraction. Some attractions don’t allow photography.

Also, some people don’t want their photo taken or they don’t want photos of their children taken. Check out other Orlando travel tips from Hipmunk.

2. Once you’ve received permission to take someone’s photo, offer to send the image to them if they give you their e-mail address. This is a great way to get on their good side, either before or after you shoot the image.

3. Before quickly snapping the shot, think for a second about what exactly you want to capture. By taking an extra moment to focus, you can make an amateur image look much more professional. Think about what you want to include in the photo, what exactly it is you want to convey and the best way to take the shot.

4. Apply the rule of thirds, which says to position the subject of the photo so it’s offset by one-third, either to the left or right. You can apply this rule vertically, too. Centered subjects are the mark of an amateur photographer; to make your image more interesting, use the rule of thirds.

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5. When capturing human or animal subjects, make sure to capture their eyes in at least one frame. This is the best way to capture their spark. Ideally, you’ll shoot while looking at the subject head-on. If you can’t get close to the subject, like if you’re shooting an animal from far away, use your zoom setting.

6. Use a flash even when you’re outside. You don’t only have to use the flash when you’re inside. For example, if bright sunlight is creating harsh light, the flash may get rid of some shadows. Just pay attention to the shutter settings so that you don’t overexposure your subject or the background.

7. Don’t distract from the subject of your photo with a bunch of stuff in the background. Make sure the background is free of signs, objects, other people and cars.

8. Fill the frame, whether while you’re taking the shot or by cropping during processing. If you’re shooting with your smartphone, it’s better to take the shot and then crop it later. If you use your iPhone or other smartphone to zoom, you’ll lose a lot of quality.

Not sure what images you should take during your trip? Check out what other travelers photographed while in the same area. This will help you start a shot list or at least get a good idea of what people find intriguing and worthy of a photo.

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This article was contributed by Fiona Moriarty of Hipmunk, a complete travel platform that allows you to do everything from comparing charter flights and train rides, to finding the best resort hotels and Airbnb rentals.

Maximizing Mom and Dad’s Sleep Tally for Those Opening Few Months

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For any prospective mom or dad out there we’ve got some (even more) daunting news; the anecdotes you hear about sleepless nights are not urban myths. Like it or not, during those first few months, tiredness will gain a new definition.

Unfortunately, there just aren’t any quick-fire tips that are going to make life much easier and less tiring for you. Life with a new-born will exhaust you and while you can adopt certain approaches, such as sharing the wake-ups in shifts if your feeding method allows, it’s still not going to make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things.

Therefore, it’s all about doing the best you can to maximize the amount of good, quality sleep that your body receives. In the few hours where your little one does take forty winks, it’s important to ensure you do the same. As scientists have proven on countless occasions, one definite way to achieve this is by enclosing your room in complete darkness.

First and foremost, this isn’t a tip that is just going to benefit you. After all, most babies will sleep in their parents’ room for the first few months at least – meaning that the optimum sleeping environment is absolutely essential for everyone involved.

One of the best ways to promote this is via a window treatment. The blackout blind is arguably the new parents’ best friend and while it is never going to buy you 12-hours of undisturbed sleep, it will minimize the chances of unexpected disturbances and should allow both you and your little one to gain as much sleep as a feeding schedule will dictate. As the name suggests, it shuns out all natural light and creates that magic sleep haven that we all dream about.

While keeping out the light is probably the best tip that you can follow, there are further suggestions.

Already, you’ve probably been told the importance of regulating temperature in your little one’s room – to help guard against SIDS. It’s certainly a scary topic and if your little one is born in an extreme of temperature, where the natural heat or overdressing could occur, the issue is even more significant.

This is where pleated blinds can enter the picture. In short, these are designed to insulate rooms – from both a hot and cold perspective – depending on the type of environment you reside in. In other words, if it’s winter, you can lock the heat into the room and if it’s summer, you can prevent it entering. It just makes temperature control that little bit easier and helps remove another worry from your mind.

In summary, creating the perfect sleeping environment for you and your little one doesn’t have to be as hard as the experts may tell you. They are certainly right when it comes to the minimal sleep that your body will have to get used to, but you can manage the situation somewhat if you tailor the light and room temperature accordingly.

#Sponsored: Check Out DCKids & Warner Bros’ Youtube Channels (& Win!)

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Have you seen the amazing new videos from DCKids and Warner Bros’ new Youtube channels? There are lots of favorites like Batman Unlimited, DC Super Friends, and even Scooby-Doo! In our house, we are Superhero obsessed, so these are great for my boys! I may not get them off of Youtube this summer!

Here’s a video playlist from Batman Unlimited – just to wet your appetite:


And, remember! There will be many more updates over the next year, so be sure to subscribe to their channels!

DCKids Channel

WBKids Channel

Want the chance to win while you’re here? Use the rafflecopter gadget below and enter for your chance to win one of FIVE mystery toy gift baskets! Each basket is worth a minimum of $50 and will be picked by the staff of Warner Bros. & DC Kids. I wanna win! :) Good luck to all who enter!

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This post and the giveaway are sponsored by Warner Bros.

Guest Post: Practical Advice for Self-Employed Stay at Home Mums

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Many mums choose to stay at home to work whilst the kids are little and that is a lovely parenting choice. Children benefit from the love only a mother can give but when trying to balance working with children vying for your attention, it can drive you mad in a heartbeat. Actually, you are not alone as there are increasing numbers of women who made the choice to work from home and there are ways to solve most of the issues you are facing. Here is some practical advice for self-employed stay at home mums.

Scheduling Is a Must

This bit of advice comes from stay at home working mums from around the globe. One thing you can do right away is work out a schedule where you’ll be able to maximize your time whilst the kids are asleep. No, you don’t need to stay up all night working but rather schedule the most labor intensive work during nap times and perhaps early evenings when the kids have just gone to bed for the night.

Try to Work Days When Dad Is Home

Many working mums make it a priority to work the hardest on days when dad is home to mind the kids. Most dads really enjoy time spent alone with the children as they are off at work the rest of the week. He will need quiet time as well, so perhaps his time away can be during an evening when you are at home and a night when there is nothing pressing which you need to get done.

Hire an Au Pair

Another great resource is to hire an au pair, even if only to work part time on those hours that need your attention. Some are live-in girls who can be more flexible in terms of the hours you need them to be available. You can find au pair in London with aufini.com quite easily and by listing any special needs you have, you can often be matched with the perfect au pair within just a few short days.

Trade Days with Other Mums

You may know other stay at home mums who would be more than happy to trade days with you. One or two days a week she minds your children and then you reciprocate. It doesn’t necessarily need to be another work from home mum and sometimes this is even better for you! She just might want to trade off on an evening to spend time with her husband which is ideal if you work during the day! She watches your kids on a day when you’re working and you mind hers when you don’t need to be working. In trendy circles it’s called a ‘babysitting co-op.’

These are just a few bits of practical advice but just know that it really is possible to balance work (at home) and raising a family. It might take a little more planning in the beginning but once you’ve got it down you’ll feel so lucky to be one of the mums who can say they were a stay at home mum during those early, formative years. Just keep at it mum, keeping your sanity is a process but one you can manage.

Guest Post: How to Instantly Update Your Home with New Curtains

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The home is precious; it’s where we feel safe, secure and happy. It’s where we can truly be free to relax, be ourselves and lock ourselves away from outside distractions.

Why curtains?
Curtains are much more than just pieces of material that keep the light out in the morning and retain the heat at night; curtains are a tried-and-tested method of home decoration.

As well as being functional, they also make the room seem softer. This may sound like an odd thing to say, but the truth is that a window without curtains or blinds can really make a room look harsh and the angles of the window frame are sometimes at odds with the peaceful and calming feel that many people want their homes to exude.

Simply put, curtains are a simple and instant way to update any room in the home.

Pick a great fabric
When it comes to new curtains, the fabric is a chance to go wild! Do you want bright colors, or soft pastel shades? Do you want to try out a new, bold contemporary style or something more understated and traditional?

The choice is yours, but if you pick a fabric that you want, a material that you adore and simply cannot live without, then use that to form the starting point of your home’s beautiful new look.

Find a new texture
Your curtains don’t just have to be an accessory; they can be the focal point of the entire room. So, if you’re looking at getting a new pair of curtains, it’s also a chance to look at injecting the room with new colors and textures.

Textures, such as flocked cotton, silk, wool, velvet and sheer materials can breathe new life into an old room, adding lots of different layers and movements to the room.

Make your room a success
Before you start looking at curtain fabric, make a floor plan, and look at where the light comes in, where large pieces of furniture will sit and how many windows there are.

If you have lots of windows in one room, think carefully about the type and color of fabric you want, as dark, pattered curtains will make the room look too busy and dominate the room, which you don’t want.

There are many ways to update your living space, but buying a new pair of curtains is a good way to get started, and you can find more at Tesco.

Image by: love Maegan, used under Creative Commons license

#Sponsored: Create a Burlap Print without Printing on Burlap @MyPrintly #CMYK #HPSmartMom

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Disclaimer: This post is part of a sponsored campaign with MyPrintly and MomSelect. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Mother’s Day is just around the corner. It’s that one special day to celebrate Mom and let her know just how much you love her.

So, what do you get the mom who has everything?

I started by browsing MyPrintly.com. There are so many great craft ideas on there. If you’ve never stopped by the site, you simply must do so. It’s the first place I go when I need to come up with an idea for gifts and my mind goes blank. It always gets my creative juices flowing again, and I’ve found some really great stuff to make because of the site.

While out and about in my daily endeavors recently, I came across some unique burlap prints. They were beautiful, but they were hand painted. Unfortunately, my artistic ability when it comes to freehand drawing is non-existent. I can’t even draw a stick figure without crooked lines.

But, I can design almost anything on the computer!

I had even found some laminated burlap at my local craft store. It said you could put it in the printer, but I noticed that the burlap sheds. I didn’t want to risk ruining my beautiful HP Envy printer by having it pull through a piece of burlap.

I wanted a way to make a burlap print without actually printing on the burlap.

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You won’t believe how easy it is to make a burlap print without actually printing on burlap!

Here, take a minute and watch my video:

See how easy that was?

Let’s go over everything once again, and get you on your way to creating your own masterpiece.

burlap print

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • The design you want to print. (See my *Free* Printables below, create your own, find one on etsy…. the possibilities are endless!)
  • Transparency Film (Made for inkjet printers)
  • A printer
  • Burlap (either laminated burlap or a piece of burlap cut to size)
  • Picture frame

Next, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Using your printer, print out your design onto transparency paper. (If you use my printables below, they are all set to print as an 8″x10″. I include a black border so you know exactly where to cut your design out to fit in the frame. Just make sure your document is set to print at 100%.
  2. Cut out your design around the black lines. (If using my printable. If not, cut your design out to fit in the frame.)
  3. Place the design next to the glass, place the burlap (cut to size) behind it, and put on the back of the frame.
  4. Viola! That’s it! You now have a beautiful burlap frame, and there’s no chance of any burlap shedding and clogging up your printer.

burlap print

I absolutely love the way these prints look! I foresee lots and lots of these in my future. :)

Now, let’s get on to the fun part. The free printables! I’ve got several designs for you to choose from. Just click on the image to be taken to the full size image. Right click on the large image (not the small one!), save it to your computer, and then print it out using the instructions above:

mothers day free printable

blessed free printable

mothers day free printableIf you have any trouble with these, just shoot me a message.

Still need more crafty ideas for gifts to make this year? Check out MyPrintly.com for tons more ideas!

I also want to make sure you know about an exciting giveaway with the chance to win one of three (3) HP Envy Printers. All you have to do is follow @MyPrintly on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, and then complete this brief entry form: http://bit.ly/MyPrintlyGiveaway. (Please note: The contest ends Friday, May 15th and winners will be randomly selected and notified the following week. Giveaway is for U.S. only.)

If you use these printables, I’d love to see how your project turns out! Or, let me know which craft on MyPrintly.com you end up using.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Guest Post: Home with the Kids? Try These Fun Activities!

Let’s face it, we have all been there. It’s the weekend or the summer holidays and you find yourself at home with the kids looking for something fun to do together. There are only so many times that you can go out on day trips and spend money on your whole family, so it is good to have some home-based back up plans that will lower the cost of the day whilst still being just as fun as a visit out somewhere. Here are a handful of suggestions for turning normal ‘in house’ days in to hours of fun activity.

1. DIY Projects

One fun thing that you can do with your kids at home is to do and complete a satisfying DIY project together. Whether it’s something small like painting an old table or chair or something slightly bigger like putting together a bookcase of chest of drawers, working as a team can bring out the best in all of you. Being able to remember the day every time you look at the piece of furniture in your home will be a really satisfying feeling.
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2. Work On The Garden

Working outside in the garden, especially on a beautiful warm day can be a really fulfilling and relaxing way to spend the day at home with the kids. When you make it a little more playful in the sun, even the most mundane of gardening tasks can seem way more fun. For example, teaching your little ones how to safely use garden appliances like Garden Vacs leaf blowers can serve the dual purpose of cleaning your lawn and paved areas whilst letting the kids have some air blowing fun!

3. Cook Together

Teaming up to do some simple but satisfying cooking can make for a really memorable day with your children. Whether it is a spot of tasty baking or being a little more adventurous and going for a full dinnertime meal, not only will you have fun (no doubt messy fun!) along the way, but the experience can actually be something educational and the kids will learn skills that they might not previously have had. And hey, there is nothing more rewarding than working up an appetite and being able to eat something that you made from scratch.
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4. Play Board Games

Kids at home locked away in their rooms playing video games by themselves – does that sound familiar to you? If it does then spend a day with them introducing them to all of the group-based board games that you loved as a child. This way, they are still playing games and doing what they love, but by playing board games instead of video games, the experience has become much more social and group oriented.

You might struggle to initially get the kids on board with playtime activities that don’t involve the television, computer or games console but they’ll soon come round when they realize how much fun it is.

#Sponsored: When Calls the Heart Returns for Season 2! #FaithTV #Hearties #Giveaway @WCTH_tv

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Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

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What will you be doing this Saturday night at 8/7c?

I will be on the couch, tuning into the new season of When Calls the Heart on the Hallmark Channel with my oldest daughter.

This is one premiere that has had me giddy with anticipation.

In order to create this post, I did receive the opportunity to view the Season Premier before it airs thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC.

I can’t give away any details, but OH.MY.GOODNESS. You cannot miss this premier! My daughter has been anxiously awaiting the return of When Calls the Heart, and it has been SO difficult to keep the details from her. But, I must. If for no other reason than I can’t wait to see her reaction as she watches it.

I love When Calls the Heart, because it is good, clean, family friendly, and fun. In my opinion, this is one of the best shows on television, and it’s something I don’t have to worry about my children watching. It’s perfect for the whole family!

In case you don’t know what When Calls the Heart is about, here’s a brief summary of the series:

The series is inspired by Janette Oke’s bestselling book series about the Canadian West. “When Calls the Heart” tells the captivating story of Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), a young teacher accustomed to her high society life, who receives her first classroom assignment in Coal Valley, a small coalmining town where life is simple, but often fraught with challenges. Lori Loughlin plays Abigail Stanton, a wife and mother whose husband, the foreman of the mine, along with a dozen other miners, has just been killed in an explosion. The newly widowed women find their faith is tested when they must go to work in the mines to keep a roof over their heads. Elizabeth charms most everyone in Coal Valley, except Constable Jack Thornton (Daniel Lissing) who believes Thatcher’s wealthy father has doomed the lawman’s career by insisting he be assigned in town to protect the shipping magnate’s daughter. Living in a turn of the century coal town, Elizabeth will have to learn the ways of the frontier if she wishes to thrive in the rural west on her own.

Remember, the new season starts this Saturday, April 25th at 8/7c.

To get you excited about this week’s premier, World Films has offered up a set of When Calls The Heart Season 1 on DVD ($60 value!!).

Win a copy of Season one of When Calls the Heart!

To enter, use the Rafflecopter gadget below:

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Contest ends May 1st.

I also want to encourage you to get social with other #Hearties in the following way:

Guest Post: Family Attractions on a San Francisco Vacation

family vacation in san francisco

San Francisco’s popularity as a tourist destination has never diminished, and in fact more people than ever are choosing to visit this Californian city. The sheer number of attractions and scenic highlights makes SF a firm family favorite for either a weekend city-break or a longer vacation.

Nearly 17 million people arrive in the ‘City by the Bay’ each year and if your family are first time visitors then there are more than a few not to be missed highlights.

Fun at the bay
You could spend an entire day on bustling Pier 39 and still not see all of the attractions of this highly recommended family-friendly location. Children will be enthralled by the sea lion shows and street performers or they might just want to try out the bungee trampolines before taking a ride on the vintage carousel. The famous Aquarium by the Bay is also located right by the water’s edge and this venue is home to 20,000 sea creatures that can be viewed via underwater clear tunnels. You don’t need to leave pier if you fancy a bite to eat as there are plenty of restaurants and cafes where you can dine while admiring the bay views.

A children’s favorite
There’s no better way to explore this city’s neighborhoods than by taking a Duck Tour San Francisco in a remarkable boat on wheels. These specially designed vehicles allow visitors to travel the city streets before splashing into the bay waters to view the skyline and the Bay Bridge. You’ll pass many iconic landmarks along the way including Fisherman’s Wharf, North Beach and Chinatown. Kids will love this tour as they’re actually given the opportunity to drive the duck boat once in the water.

Not to be missed
If you’re looking for more sightseeing attractions then the SF Zoo is well worth a visit, and this 100 acre park is home to over 1,000 rescued and endangered animals. The Golden Gate Park is another family favorite, which stretches over 1,000 acres and contains two museums, botanical gardens, a kid’s playground and carousel as well as a relaxing Japanese Tea Garden. This park is worth a day out alone, and many families come here for picnics in the sun and to spend some time boating on the lake. Of course the bay itself is the place to take boat trips to visit Alcatraz, sail underneath the iconic bridge and take in a whale-watching trip to the Farallon Islands.

This is definitely a city of fun attractions and some unforgettable sightseeing, and you’ll never be short of things to do in San Fran. Buy a ticket, hop on a cable-car and start exploring this unique destination.

Image by kaddisudhi used under the Creative Commons license

#Sponsored: 5 Ways to #StressLess2BMyBest with RESCUE

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I know stress. With 8 kids, a husband, a dog, a business, and life in general, stress and I go way back. So, when Social Moms and RESCUE asked me to share a sponsored post about how I handle stress and a new product that’s available to help me stress less, I jumped at the chance.

5 ways to relieve stress

Before I get too far into this post, I want to share my top 5 ways to relieve stress:

    • Call My Best Friend – While she may not have 8 kids, she *knows* my 8 kids almost as well as I do, and therefore understands why I’m stressed. One quick phone call to her to vent about how the dog chewed up my favorite shoe or how Sawyer won’t sleep all night, and I instantly feel better. She always knows just what to say to get me out of my funk and back in the game.
    • Put on Some Music – It might be a fast-paced Casting Crowns song, or the latest tear-jerker from Karen Peck, but either way, listening to music always helps me feel better. It lifts me up and reminds me that I have Someone who cares about my well being.
    • Go to Bed – Now, I’ll be honest. I wish this were an option more often than it is. Sleep is my absolute favorite way to relieve stress, but with a baby who refuses to sleep through the night, I don’t get near as much sleep as I should. On days when I’m feeling completely overwhelmed, I do hit the sack as soon as the baby closes his eyes, to help guarantee as much sleep as possible.
    • Exercise – Even if it’s just a little bit, or only for a few minutes, exercise always makes me feel better. Sometimes I load up the kids in the stroller and the baby carrier and take a walk, sometimes I leave all the kids with my oldest daughter and take a walk, and sometimes I just run around the house, hands in the air, screaming like a lunatic. 😉 My point is, getting up and moving is a great way to relieve stress.
    • Snuggle with my Husband – No one on earth can make me feel better faster than my husband. Sometimes, I get so overwhelmed, I just need him to hold me. And he always does. He’s also such a good man, he has learned to whisper, “Everything is going to be OK,” in my ear. I can always feel the stress melt away whenever he’s near.

I also want to make sure you know about RESCUE products. RESCUE products are completely natural, and are a great way to help you calm down – naturally – and relieve that stress you feel inside.

I can’t wait to give their products a try! They have something for everyone in my family – even my dog!

Right now, you can download a coupon and get a free product when you purchase one. Also, when you download the coupon, you’ll be entered to win fantastic products from Bose and GoPro in the RESCUE #StressLess2BeMyBest Sweepstakes. We all want less stress in our lives, so why not take a minute to learn more, try these products for yourself, AND have the chance to win some awesome prizes! Click on the image below to download your coupon and enter to win today!

rescueremedy bloggerI can’t wait to try out RESCUE products with my family. How about you?

What tips do you have for others to help relieve stress? I’d love to hear them. Leave your comment below!

Disclaimer: This blog post is part of a paid SocialMoms and RESCUE blogging program. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own.

Top 5 Mattresses to Look at when Buying your Child’s Crib

What is the safest and healthiest possible crib mattress for your baby? When your child is asleep, you need to be sure he or she is away with the angels, secure and breathing softly.

It is especially worth knowing that common buzzwords such as “eco”, “green”, “healthy”, or “non-toxic” are in fact unregulated, meaning that there are no real standards to define what is actually healthy. There have been some pretty high profile companies sued for materials used in their baby products.

Today’s crib mattresses are generally well designed to provide a safe and supportive surface for your baby to sleep on. However, because every mother wants the best for her little one, the market has become very competitive and many claims are made that are not strictly true. The safety and comfort of the mattress depends mostly on the material inside, but there are huge variations even within these.

Here are five types of crib mattress you might want to consider:

  • Foam
    •  A foam mattress is the lightest of all, and thus a good choice if you have a portable crib which folds up when not in use, or suffer from back problems or other physical limitations. It is also the cheapest option, but all foams are not created equally – some are made of Polyurethane, some bamboo fiber and some latex. Polyurethane is the cheapest of all, but “sinks” easily while latex is longer lasting but more expensive.
    •  Foam also comes in different densities and varying levels of firmness, with higher density materials considered safer because a soft sleeping surface could be a suffocation hazard and raise the risk of SIDS. Generally speaking, the firmer a foam mattress is, the safer it is for your baby. The way to test this is to push your hand into the middle of the mattress and check how quickly it regains its shape. The quicker the better, because sleeping babies make an impression on the foam, and it will be harder for them to change position if the mattress stays flattened.
  • Coiled Spring Mattress
    • This design has a steel construction making them quite heavy, which could present difficulties if you have to move the mattress frequently. And while marketers may boast of the coil count, it does not actually mean it is firmer or more comfortable. Instead, check the gauge (thickness) of the steel – it should be 15.5 or lower.
    • Avoid cheaper models however, because they can squeak with the baby’s every movement and both you and your child need your rest.
  • Pocket Spring Crib Mattress
    • The pocket spring mattresses is similar to the coiled spring, but with each spring sewn into an individual material pocket which allows each spring to move independently of the others and compress according to the weight it has to support. Many mothers find this mattress ideal because your baby’s back will be supported better that his or her legs.
    • The downside, however, is that this is one of the most expensive mattresses as well as the heaviest.
  • Memory Foam
    • This type of mattress has temperature sensitive foam that molds to your baby’s body, and when you lift the child you will see that it slowly springs back to its original shape.
    • Since memory foam hugs your baby’s body, air circulation is reduced and can make the mattress feel warmer, so is an option if you don’t have central heating or live in a colder climate. The problem, however, is that it is difficult to flip and may be too warm for the baby in summer.
  • Natural and Organic Crib Mattress
    • Health conscious parents today are all too well aware that conventional mattresses are often made from petroleum by-products and treated with flame retardant chemicals like boric acid, and will prefer a mattress made from natural materials and fibers. These can include untreated wool, which is a natural flame retardant and also dust mite resistant, or organic cotton. Beware, though, that due to lax advertising standards a mattress that claims to be organic may only contain a small amount of natural material.
    • Organic mattresses are usually chemical free and ideal if you think your child may have allergies. The downside, however, is that you need to carefully investigate the maker before trusting the organic or hypoallergenic label. One organic cotton mattress pad product that has received good reviews is Greenbuds Baby line, but there are lots of good companies offering great products. Just make sure you are discerning in your choice!

Taking Proper Care of your Luxury Kitchen Cabinets: Important Tips to Keep in Mind

When you invest a pretty penny in luxury kitchen cabinets, as found in kitchens designed by miketaylorbespokekitchens.co.uk, and similar bespoke design experts, it is only natural to make sure you are taking care of them correctly. The finish on the majority of these luxury cabinets are protected against the rigors of everyday home use, but cleanliness and general upkeep is vital to maintain the look and appeal of the cabinets for the years to come. In this piece we take a look at some of the things you need to do.

kitchen cabinets

Image from Flickr.com

Regular dusting

Dusting your cabinets regularly with a soft lint-free material is a great idea. Where possible, always dampen the cloth with water, or use spray type dust remover.

Clean spills quickly

Your cabinet will lose its color if you allow prolonged exposure to spills. The spills cover food, water and any liquid really. Oil and grease can bring about permanent discoloration and damage to the finish of your cabinet. Again you need soft cloth to clean spills and the spill needs to be dampened with mild soap. After the initial clean, you need to dry off the surface instantly with another clean soft cloth.

General cleaning

You don’t have to wait until a spill occurs to clean your cabinets. You need to clean them regularly with a soft cloth dampened with mild soap. Dry with another clean soft cloth after the cleaning process. There are also several wood cleaning products available for use on cabinets that you can consider using in place of mild soap.

Wax and polish

Waxing your luxurious cabinets is not a great idea. Over a period of time, the wax will build up on the surface of the cabinet resulting in a hazy, streaky or yellowed appearance. Waxing also attracts heavy dust particles that may become difficult to remove. It is recommended that you clean and polish your cabinets twice times a year. A light coat of quality furniture polish is all you need to get the job done.

Cleaning glass doors

If there are glass panels installed in your cabinet doors, it is important to clean them once in a while. To effectively clean the glass, you need is a commercial glass cleaner. Avoid applying the glass cleaner directly to the glass. Simply spray a small amount of the cleaning agent on a soft cloth, or appropriate paper towel, and wipe the glass with it. Be mindful to avoid damaging the cabinet finish, or its parts during the cleaning process. Avoid cleaning with anything abrasive.

Cleaning the cabinets

You will want to occasionally clean knobs, pulls or handles that are installed on your cabinet doors and drawers, and the interior. You can, again, get it done using a clean, soft cloth, dampened with mild soap. Be sure to dry all the joints in the cabinet with another clean soft cloth. Don’t leave any moisture inside, and leave the doors open for a few hours to let the air get to the inside.

Avoid using harsh chemicals, ammonia, bleach or any abrasive cleaning products. Solvent or petroleum based products, like nail-polish removers, mineral spirits, paint thinners, and so forth, should all be kept away from your cabinet at all costs.

Guest Post: Thinking Beyond the Sleepless Nights with Window Treatments

Any prospective parent out there will have undoubtedly stumbled on the “must have” checklists ahead of their new arrival. Most of the time, somewhere on this list (below the cot and other essentials) will be a blackout blind.

The blackout blind is said to be one of the absolutely necessary fittings for any new-born baby. It’s the blind which blocks out all sources of natural light and ultimately, provides baby, mom and dad with that elusive sleep. It might not (in fact, it WON’T) be a full night’s sleep – but some suggest that the blackout blind can provide several hours’ extra sleep every night just because of its basic properties.

blackout blind

Bearing the above in mind, it’s easy to become embroiled in this fitting and forget about all of your other requirements. Yes, a blackout blind will give you those extra hours initially, but you must remember about all of your other eventual requirements as your little one gets older.

For example, let’s take a look at safety. In the midst of all of the negative publicity surrounding blinds and their safety, a lot of people have turned towards cordless options. Fortunately, these can be purchased in a blackout solution – meaning that you can get a best of both worlds approach. However, with a lot of prospective parents having so little time and probably money considering all of the other necessary purchases, it can be easy to simply opt for the cheapest blackout on the market. Try and avoid this, by looking to the future and finding that cordless blackout shade which isn’t going to pose a safety threat to your little one as they begin exploring.

There are other considerations as well though. This next one also focuses on when your little one becomes something of an explorer, and substances seem to stick to their fingers and anything else that gets in their way. Unfortunately, blinds and curtains are usually on the receiving end of such mess – leaving you with a room that looks artistic for all of the wrong reasons.

It’s in these cases where you need to be looking towards the actual material of the blind. While it might be a little more difficult to find one that’s cordless, blackout and maintenance-free, some companies do offer such products. You’ll need to find a blind that can easily be wiped, to get rid of all of those sticky substances and leave your child’s room looking completely accident-free.

Unfortunately, it’s also easy to forget about a different type of factor – the character. While safety and practicality is always going to be of parallel importance, don’t forget that blinds and shades now come in all sort of colors and designs. Even as a new-born, your little one will require stimulation and this is exactly what a good children’s room blind can provide. If you can combine this with all of the practical factors we’ve mulled over, you’ve just found the perfect fitting for your nursery for years to come.

#IC #Sponsored: #SpectrumTestPrep with @CDPub – Our #Review

sampleDisclaimer: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Carson-Dellosa. I received product samples and a promotional item to thank me for my participation.

carson dellosa test prep

In our state, standardized tests are a really big deal. When my eldest daughter was younger, I don’t remember so much pressure being put on kids to succeed on their standardized tests. I was talking with a friend about it the other day, and she said it seems like the first half of the year, the schools spend reviewing everything the kids learned last year. Then, come January, it’s time to start preparing them for the standardized tests. My older boys, {4th and 6th grade}, both start to panic a little bit anytime anyone mentions standardized tests. As their mom, I want to encourage them to do well and find tools that will help prepare them for their upcoming tests.

What is Carson-Dellosa?

The Carson-Dellosa Publishing Group was founded by teachers. They have been the leading supplemental education provider for parents, students, and teachers for over 35 years. Their Spectrum Test Practice and Test Prep workbook series is grade-specific, and is centered around helping students to become successful test takers while preparing them for their standardized tests.

The Test Practice books offer custom-designed practice aligned with the Common Core standards your students are dealing with in the classroom. Their proven testing strategies and materials are designed to help alleviate anxiety for parents, students, and teachers. It helps students learn how to follow directions, budget their time wisely, understand different test formats, and includes helpful tips and tricks to avoid common test taking mistakes.

How the Spectrum Test Prep & Practice Workbooks Worked for Us

For this review, I opted to get the Test Prep & Practice Workbooks for my 6th grader. Middle school is tough enough, and since Zander moved up this year, he’s had a hard time focusing on taking his tests. He makes silly mistakes, and his grades have fallen lower than they should have. Not only that, but if you just mention the “CRCTs”, {Criterion Referenced Competency Test – our state’s end of the year tests}, and the poor boy about becomes hysterical. Needless to say, I’m a little worried about how he’ll do on the tests.

In the past, Zander has always excelled on every standardized test he has taken. I know he can do it this year as well, he just needs a little encouragement. That’s why I love these practice workbooks so much. They have been a godsend!

In the month of February, my kids ended up being out of school more than they were in school. That gave Zander and I lots and lots of time to spend in the workbooks. While he wasn’t thrilled to work while all his friends were sleeping in and playing video games, I was thrilled we could take the time to really dig into the workbooks and see which areas we need to focus on a little bit more.

I love the way the workbooks are laid out. It was so easy for me to go over with Zander what each section required, and have him take the practice tests on his own. Everything was explained thoroughly, but still very easy to follow.

I was so impressed with the workbooks that I did a little more digging around on the Carson-Dellosa website. WOW. Please take a minute and check out their site! If you are at all concerned about your child’s ability to take their standardized tests, you need Carson-Dellosa in your life. They have SO many different options available. I couldn’t believe the number of books they have available for 6th grade. I counted almost 20 books in addition to the two I already have. It’s amazing. The same is true for other grades as well, and I will most likely be ordering at least a few books for my 4th grader.

How Can You Learn More?

There are several ways you can learn more about the Carson-Dellosa Spectrum Test Prep and Test Practice Workbooks:

If you do try out Carson-Dellosa for your children, I would love to hear how it works for you!

#IC #Sponsored: @Reebok #Zig Tech Big N’ Fast EX from @Finishline #Review

sampleDisclaimer: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Reebok and Finish Line. I received product samples and a promotional item to thank me for participating.
Reebok ZigTech Big N’ Fast EX
In a home with 8 very active kids, shoes are a hot topic. I need shoes that will be able to stand up against everything my kids put them through. And, believe me, my kids are tough on their shoes.

When we lived in Ohio, shopping for school shoes for my daughter was easy. We’d hop in the car, drive a few minutes to the mall, visit our local Finish Line store, and grab the perfect pair of shoes to last her until she was ready for the next size. They always lasted the entire school year. It was fantastic.

Now, we no longer have that luxury – but we sure have a whole lot more kids that need school shoes! What I mean is, we can’t just drive to the mall. Our nearest mall is over 2 hours away. It’s crazy. And when gas prices were high, like they were at the beginning of the school year, we just couldn’t afford to load up the van and drive that far to go shoe shopping.

So, I came up with the brilliant plan to just buy the kids cheap shoes to get them through the school year.

Oh my goodness. Dumbest idea ever. The boys are so tough on their shoes, that I was buying them new shoes every 3 – 4 weeks. So much for going the “cheap” route! If I had just invested in one good pair of Reeboks for each of them, I could have saved a whole lot more money, because Reebok shoes are made to last.

For this review, I was asked to either go to my local Finish Line store or head to the Finish Line website and do some shopping. I needed to grab a pair of Reebok ZigTech Big N’ Fast EX shoes for at least one of the kids. I wanted to really put this review to the test, so I opted to purchase a pair of Reebok shoes for Jace – my 10 year old. He is the hardest on his shoes, and I wanted to see how these would last with his active lifestyle.

I also opted to use the website instead of heading to the store. Oh my goodness. What an easy process! I just typed Reebok ZigTech Big N Fast EX into the search bar and it pulled up all of the available colors, styles, and sizes. I had Jace pick the color he wanted, we made sure we ordered the right size, and added it to my cart. The checkout process couldn’t have been more simple, and the shoes were on our doorstep in just a couple of days! Awesome!

Jace was thrilled when they arrived, and he begged me to let him wear them everywhere. I’ll admit, I was a little hesitant. I didn’t want him ruining them the first day he had them. (He has done that with other shoes in the past. He’s that hard on his shoes.) I gave in, though, and he immediately ran outside to test out his shoes.

Here are a few of my favorite pictures of him being active in his new Reebok ZigTech Big N’ Fast EX shoes:

reebok

reebok

reebok

reebok

As you can see, there’s nothing Jace won’t try! And with his new Reebok ZigTech Big N’ Fast EX shoes, he feels like he can do anything! He couldn’t wait to get back to school and show his friends his new shoes. I haven’t seen him this excited in a long time. I love it! If it takes a little pair of shoes to make him feel like he can conquer the world, then let’s get those shoes!

With the craziness of life that having 8 kids entails, I just can’t spend all day and all night worrying about how soon I’m going to have to buy another pair of shoes for any of the kids. These shoes are made to last. I don’t know yet if Jace’s pair will last long enough to be passed down, but I do know they’ll last through the rest of the school year. And, to me, that is a *huge* blessing.

If you feel like you are always buying shoes for your kids and want a pair that’s going to last, I encourage you to check out the Reebok ZigTech Big N’ Fast EX line of shoes at your local Finish Line store or on their website. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

While you’re at it, I hope you’ll also take a few minutes to connect with Reebok and Finish Line in the following ways:

If you want to read other moms’ experiences with these fantastic shoes, be sure to check out the #Zig hashtag on your different social media channels.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to order more Reebok ZigTech Big N’ Fast EX shoes for the rest of my kids, and then we can enjoy the rest of our school year!

#FreePrintable: If You Think My Hands are Full…

As a mom of many, I hear the phrase, “Wow! You’ve got your hands full!” ALL.THE.TIME. So, when I heard the phrase, “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart,” I immediately fell in love. It’s my go-to answer whenever I’m out.

I wanted to find something that had the phrase on it, but everywhere I looked, it just wasn’t what I wanted.

So, I decided to design something myself. :)

Because I love my readers so much, I decided to share it with you as well. Click on the image below to save the full resolution file to your computer. (Do not right click and save to print. I can’t guarantee the quality will be enough to print well.)

full hands full heart

I originally made my design in an 11″x14″ print because I already had the perfect frame for it. The one I’m sharing here is sized to an 8″x10″. Don’t try to print it in another size, because it won’t crop right. I recommend either printing it out yourself on a good photo printer or sending the image off to a photo printing service.

Here’s how my entryway looks with my new print all framed and on display:
entryway

I hope you love this print as much as I do!

UNICEF: More than Six Decades of Service

unicef

Shortly after the end of World War II, the United Nations established the United Nations Children’s Fund as a vehicle to deal with the needs of children in war-torn countries around the world. The mission of UNICEF was established as providing long-term assistance for humanitarian and developmental needs for children and mothers. Initially, it provided emergency food and healthcare to children in countries without the ability to assist them due to damages from the war. However, the organization now serves children and mothers in developing countries around the world. Many people choose to donate to UNICEF because it funds so many programs globally, and is known for its effective work.

Currently, UNICEF has offices in more than 180 countries and is managed out of New York. The organization is funded by contributions from governments and private individuals, and has an annual budget of nearly $4 billion. It is estimated that more than 6 million people donate to the organization each year, and many of them are regular monthly donors. The agency reports that more than 92 percent of the funds received are put to work in the field for services and assistance.

One of the most popular and effective fund-raising programs for UNICEF is the Trick-or-Treat concept. Starting in 1950, children have donated funds they collect while out on Halloween. The well-known orange boxes are credited with keeping the work of UNICEF in the public’s eyes, while raising an estimated $200 million dollars over the years. Many adults who contribute today started off with the orange boxes and have continued to support the organization as a result.

A more modern way of communicating the UNICEF message utilizes individual animated spots as part of the Cartoons for Children’s Rights project. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been the source of inspiration for this project. The goals of this Convention are a major part of today’s focus for UNICEF.

Other sources of funding include corporate sponsorships and the Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. For example, the Education and Literacy Programs of UNICEF are supported by a number of companies worldwide, and involve a range of participants. From small companies to large corporations, the organization also works on specific projects for targeted needs. In 2013 Merck & Co. helped create the Merck for Mothers campaign, which involves a commitment of $500 million for programs seeking to improve the healthcare for expectant mothers and their newborn children.

February 13th is “#ValentinesForDogs” Day. Celebrate with @Milkbone

sampleDisclaimer: This post is brought to you by Milkbone. I received samples of their products in return for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

zander and scout

My readers may or may not know that we recently adopted a new four-legged friend from our local animal shelter. Scout has quickly become one of the family, and we can’t imagine not having him here. He is so good with all of the kids, and he is always so well behaved.

A good dog like that deserves a special reward! So, I’m excited that Milkbone wants to give dogs their own Valentine’s Day, and they have declared February 13th “Valentine’s for Dogs” Day! It’s a special day where we can show our four legged favorites how much we love them.

The good folks at Milk-Bone, Pup-Peroni, Milo’s Kitchen, and Canine Carry Outs have made it easy for you this year with a doggie Valentine’s Day card. Get yours today. Just click here: [https://www.bigheartpetvalentines.com/]

I also want you to take a moment and check out this infographic. It’s  special Valentine’s Day survey of U.S. Dog Parents:

doggylove_infographic_15_national_640

So, tell me. How will YOU show your dog you love him/her this February 13th? For us, it’s easy. The kids are off school on Friday, so there will be someone here to show him extra love and attention all day long. If the weather’s nice, we’re also hoping to take a family hike and bring Scout along. He *loves* to be outside, so this will be perfect for him!

We’ll be celebrating our furry friend Scout this Valentine’s for Dogs Day with extra love and special treats courtesy of Milk-Bone, Pup-Peroni, Milo’s Kitchen, and Canine Carry Outs. And I’ll be sure to tag all of our pictures of the fun we have with #ValentinesforDogs. I hope you’ll head on over to [https://www.bigheartpetvalentines.com/], print out your cards, then tag YOUR pictures of fun with #ValentinesforDogs as well! Can’t wait to see what fun, creative ideas you come up with!

Learned a New Craft…

Yesterday was an absolutely terrible day. Like, totally the worst. It started Saturday night at bedtime. One ended up with a stomach bug. Then another. Then another. By morning, I had 4 with the stomach bug and one complaining his tummy hurt. It was a very long night, and an even longer day. I’m pretty sure I got 10 minutes of sleep total.

BUT, there is a silver lining to this very dark cloud….

My Christmas present was finally delivered!

chalk paint dresser

Isn’t it pretty? I just love it. It’s beautifully displayed in my dining room.

As I was looking around the room, though, I noticed nothing else in there looked half as pretty. One thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was the picture frame I got for my wedding. (You can see it in the reflection of the mirror.) It’s been through several moves, and it was beat to snot. So, I shot my friend that painted my dresser a message and asked her how difficult it would be for me to paint the frame to match the dresser.

There was paint left over from the dresser, so she gave me that and walked me through the steps of making the frame beautiful.

Here’s the before and after:

frame before and after

I just LOVE it. And it was SO, SO easy to do! Now, I want to paint ALL the things. :)

I may quickly become obsessed with this. And I may drive my husband insane. But once he sees how pretty everything can be, he might not be too mad at me.

I think I’ve found my new go-to craft. And this definitely made my horrible, awful, terrible, no-good day soooooo much better.

Have you tried your hand at painting furniture? What do you think?

Are Fitness Trackers a Cure for the Obesity Epidemic?

Obesity is a modern phenomenon. Take a look around you in any public place and a large percentage of the people in the immediate vicinity, young and old, will be overweight. The good news is that there are loads of great gadgets to help us lose weight if we want to do something about our weight problem. We can download fitness apps on to our mobile phones or dance away the excess calories using a games console. So are fitness trackers useful for weight loss and can they cure the obesity epidemic?

Just How Fat Are We?

Obesity is officially an epidemic. More than a third of American adults are considered to be obese and just over 6% are morbidly obese. This costs the US economy approximately $3 billion per year, money that could be far better spent on education, healthcare and welfare for poorer members of the community.

Prehistoric men and women weren’t obese. For one thing the only fast food they ate had four legs and was pretty good at running away at speed, and for another a fat Neanderthal man would have been a sitting target for every predator within fifty kilometres. No, obesity is the result of too much food and too little exercise. Modern life has become way too easy and with so many adults and children spending the majority of their day sitting in a chair, it’s no wonder a lot of us are fat!

How do Fitness Trackers Work?

The thing about fat people is that aside from the fact they have a tendency to eat too much, they also don’t move enough. Consuming too many calories and not doing enough exercise is a sure fire way to pile on the pounds.

A fitness tracker is worn somewhere on the body. Designs vary but bracelets are common. Fitness bands measure how much you move and at what intensity. The device converts the data it collects into useful measurements to help you work out how much useful exercise you are doing. They can also be synced to smartphones.

Accuracy across the spectrum of fitness gadgets varies. Some devices flatter the user by overestimating how many steps they take whereas others underestimate, so you are doing more than you give yourself credit for. There are many tracker options available today with some most popular included here.

The Trouble with Gadgets…

Fitness gadgets are always popular, especially in the post Christmas period when you know you ate too many mince pies and nothing fits you anymore. But like all gadgets, fitness trackers are often a five minute wonder, worn for a couple of weeks and then tossed into a drawer to gather dust.

Gadgets can help with weight loss, but if you want to keep the weight off, you need to give your lifestyle a complete overhaul. Eat healthily and incorporate regular exercise into your schedule, without or without a fitness tracker. Join forces with some like-minded friends or join a slimming group for moral support. It won’t be easy, but the rewards will be worth it.