Planting Trees In The Dominican Republic – #traveldeep (Part 2)

Still Living The Dream - waterslide

My family and I went to the Dominican Republic this summer. Typical tourist-type activities like relaxing by the pool on the cruise ship, racing down water slides in Amber Cove, riding the Teleferico Puerto Plata cable cars to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres, jumping off the side of waterfalls at 27 Charcos (Waterfalls of Rio Damajagua) were all on our to do list. But we were really going to Puerto Plata to accomplish something much more meaningful. 

We flew to Miami and boarded the Fathom Adonia, a small, 700-passenger cruise ship, to begin our journey. You can read more about Fathom Impact Travel and how to #traveldeep in my previous post.

Travelers with Fathom can pick up to three of the following impact activities. Because my daughter is 10 years old (you must be at least eight years old to go on this cruise) and there are age requirements for some of the more intense and physical activities like putting concrete floors in community homes, we selected Reforestation, Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative, and Community English.

Fathom reforestation

Newly planted Mangroves along a man-made canal by a natural lake in Cabarete – Puerto Plata.

Here’s what we experienced as part of the Reforestation Impact Activity.

 

Still Living The Dream

We left the ship at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning and boarded buses in Amber Cove. After about a 45 minute bus ride with Carlos from the NGO IDDI, and Becca, our Fathom Impact Guide, we arrived at our work site in Cabarete (Fathom takes travelers to different sites including those in the mountains and near the beach.)  After a short debriefing from IDDI staff, we planted Mangrove trees along the water that bordered a village.

Fathom impact travel - reforestation

As we planted the trees and marked them with sticks, those who live in the community walked over to watch us and some kids started to help.

StillLivingTheDream.com

Annie and Jackson were very focused on doing as much work at they could. Annie seemed to sense the impact immediately. After planting one small tree, she paused and told me…

“This will be here forever and will give air and shade to the people who live here.”

Nailed it.

We later learned from Fathom that our efforts help create more nutrient-rich soil, a reduction in soil loss, improved localized air and local water, an increase in localized biodiversity and higher agricultural yields.

StillLivingTheDream.com

As the morning carried on, we continued to make our way along the water bank that backed up to the village with what seemed like an endless supply of trees to be planted. It was hot and we were sweaty and for some reason, we got a lot dirtier then the rest of our group of about 40 travelers, but we felt great.

StillLivingTheDream.com reforestation with IDDI

We visited with IDDI team members as we worked and got to know one beautiful lady who at one point, sweetly stopped to tie Annie’s sneaker. She’s a mom with a two-year old daughter. I love that not only does IDDI help the community through partnering with Fathom with projects like this, they provide jobs for those who live there.

StillLivingTheDream.com

So how did we do? Our group planted 320 trees, but together along with those from the first five Fathom sailings – we planted a combined total of 8,656 seedlings and trees.

Not too shabby.

What did it mean to us as a family?

Fathom Impact Travel

There’s something to be said for working hard outside under the sun. Getting our hands dirty – touching the soil while enjoying breathtaking views. Well – I’m sorry to sound all touchy-feely, but it makes you feel alive. As I got caught up in my own experience and the work at hand, I’d occasionally steal a glance of one of my kids and watch them work. Jackson and Annie both took their job seriously. They wanted to do well and make a difference.

I had been looking forward to taking this trip with both my kids – but especially with Jackson. He is starting high school in the fall and it’s bittersweet. He is growing up at a rate I’m not comfortable with and I know that sooner than I will like – he will move away from our home to start his own life. I remember at one point saying to myself…

“Soak this moment in, Jennifer. It doesn’t really get any better than this.”

Fathom Impact Travel

Working together as a family to help someone else is so important. You don’t have to travel far to do this. We have participated in many worthwhile volunteer activities close to home. But going to another country and working together made us really feel like we were a part of the community there. For many hours I worked side-by-side with my family, new friends from the ship and those that lived in the Dominican Republic. We didn’t all speak the same language, but we communicated in a way that was meaningful and real.

On the bus ride home, we all sat quietly looking out the window….each lost within our own thoughts. Jackson caught me staring at him.

“Mom, you’re staring at me. What’s up?”

“Oh – nothing,” I said…(trying to be cool).

I’m a big, fat liar.

Because the most opposite of “nothing” had happened. For a few hours that morning, I spent quality time with my teenager…away from schedules, drivers ed, friends, sports, homework. I had found a way to pause time…if only for a little while.

I know he’ll never understand, but for a mom – it was so not “nothing”. It was something huge.

Still Living The Dream - Dominican Republic

Tips:

  1. Currently Fathom takes travelers to the nursery to plant seedlings on Tuesday afternoons and Friday mornings. If you want to plant trees in the mountains or along the beaches – be sure to select this activity on a Wednesday or Thursday. We were so happy to be able to plant the trees and spend time in Cabarete, an area of the country we might not have gotten to see. I highly recommend this option.
  2. Wear long pants, long sleeve shirts and use Deet to protect yourself from mosquitoes, the sun and plants or obstacles along the route. I recommend a hat and/or sunglasses as well. They provide work gloves. This was a great impact activity to do in the morning. While it was hot, the afternoon sun is a lot hotter.
  3. Drink a lot of water! IDDI and Fathom provide bottled water for you on the bus ride and during the activity. Stop and rehydrate during the day.

Fathom Impact Travel

Do you have any questions about the Fathom impact travel/travel deep experience? Be sure to let me know by commenting below and check back in at StillLivingTheDream.com to hear about what it was like to teach Community English in the Dominican Republic soon.

Fathom Impact Travel

I was invited by Fathom to sail on the Adonia to the Dominican Republic and experience impact activities with my family. While the main cruise (food, travel, room and impact activities) were provided to me at no cost, as always – all opinions expressed are my own. I gladly paid for air travel to the port, gratuities, on our own activities, taxis, souvenirs that supported some of the groups we helped while in the Dominican Republic, some food and beverages as well as other expenses on my own. 

 

 

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What is Fathom Impact Travel and #TravelDeep? (Part 1)

family sunset aboard Fathom Adonia

Beautiful sunset at sea aboard the Fathom Adonia.

I just got home from a vacation unlike any other I’ve taken. My family and I travel as much as we can and we’ve been on a lot of adventures over the last several years. But last week we flew to Miami and boarded a ship that took us on a journey we won’t soon forget.

Fathom Impact Travel invited several travel writers to join the other passengers and crew aboard the Adonia, a 700-passenger ship that sails every other week to the Dominican Republic. My husband, daughter and son joined me to experience a family vacation with a twist. While we would definitely see a beautiful country and do some typical tourist-type activities on our own, the main reason we were going to the Dominican Republic was to make a positive difference for those who live there.

child in Puerto Plata

There’s a lot I want to share with you and I’m going to break it down into a series of posts, but just to let you know (spoiler alert) we had an extraordinary time. I’m still trying to process everything. It was fun, rewarding, hard work, exhausting, uplifting, sobering, emotional and beautiful. We grew together as family, we changed a bit individually and we experienced the country in a way we never would have on any other vacation. We were able to relax and be tourists, too…so really – it was a combination of a regular vacation (hello – we were on a cruise ship!) and cultural immersion/mission work.

Before I dive in with some of the nuts and bolts of what this trip is all about and what it includes, I’d like to thank Fathom for the experience. While we paid for our air travel to Miami and many activities on the ground and extras on the ship, Fathom covered our stateroom, food and impact activities so that we could see first-hand what the new Fathom #traveldeep experience was like.

Fathom, the newest brand under the Carnival Corporation and plc umbrellais a new kind of cruise that combines the love of travel with the desire to make a difference. We were on the sixth sailing to the Dominican Republic (the also sail to Cuba every other week) so the concept and experience are still quite new for staff and travelers alike.

reforestation with IDDI

Planting trees as part of the Reforestation Impact Activity with Fathom. Made a new friend with IDDI.

Fathom calls the concept travel with a purpose – the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Dominican culture while working alongside its people to create enduring social impact. To achieve that, they have set up several impact activities, led by impact guides that you meet on the ship as well as community partners from NGO’s including IDDI and Entrena on the ground. You select three you want to experience while the ship is docked at Puerto Plata’s port for two full days and 2 half days including:

  • Reforestation
  • Community English
  • Repapel – Recycled paper and crafts entrepeneurship
  • Cacao & Women’s Chocolate Cooperative
  • Water filters
  • Concrete Floors in Community Homes
  • CAMS – Creative Art, Music and Sports (offered during the summer), Student English (offered during the school year)
Fathom Spanish phrases class

Taking a Spanish Phrases class on board to prepare for teaching Community English in the Dominican Republic.

Impact guides offer training through classes offered on the ship while you sail to the Dominican Republic. We took hour-long sessions on topics such as Spanish Phrases, Empowering English Tutoring, Visual Storytelling, Getting to Know the Dominican Republic, and Raising the Next Generation of Changemakers so we could prepare for our on-ground experiences.

Fathom Adonia pool

While sailing to Amber Cove, the port in Puerto Plata, we also enjoyed the Adonia’s many amenities including a swimming pool, fitness center, spa (that offered massages, hair, nails, facials and even acupuncture), multiple lounges and a wine bar, gift shops and dining areas. She also has a full library that was always a buzz with activity. Lots of games, puzzles, computers, comfortable chairs and couches were available as well as great books for all ages including many copies of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind – the ship’s book club pick that many travelers read and discussed in groups during the cruise! We checked out a set of dominoes (a popular Dominican past time) to play many times on the ship until we purchased a set of our while sight seeing in Puerto Plata.

Fathom Adonia scavenger hunt

Late night scavenger hunt aboard the Adonia. Our team won!

They also offered fun, fitness activities like yoga, meditation and dance classes (we learned the Merengue and Bachata). You could take a wine and paint class, cocktail class, watch late night movies on the top deck and listen to the Adonia’s band – The Craze, as well as several Dominican Republic bands who came aboard while we were at port. Scheduled activities like scavenger hunts (not to brag or anything – but our team won the first one!), fitness seminars and bandioke (karioke with a live band) were also popular.

fuseball on Fathom Adonia

Annie playing Fuseball with new friends aboard The Adonia.

Because of the requirements of the work experienced on-ground, you have to be eight years old or older to go on this cruise. Some of the impact activities require you to be even older because of the type of work being performed. On our sailing we had a lot of kids, pre-teens and teenagers on board, which I think is great. There isn’t a kids game room or any children’s programming per say, but my kids participated in many of the age-appropriate activities offered and had a great time. I do feel like there could be more offered for the younger cruisers, though. This may be something they look at adding on future sailings.

What do you think about Fathom Impact Travel so far? Do you have any questions? Be sure to leave them in the comments section…I’d love to feature answers to them in an upcoming post. Visit Still Living The Dream to learn more about our Fathom experience coming soon!

I was invited by Fathom to sail on the Adonia to the Dominican Republic and experience impact activities with my family. While the main cruise (food, travel, room and impact activities) were provided to me at no cost, as always – all opinions expressed are my own. I gladly paid for air travel to the port, gratuities, on our own activities, taxis, souvenirs that supported some of the groups we helped while in the Dominican Republic, some food and beverages as well as other expenses on my own. 

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Hydrating with BODYARMOR SuperDrink

still living the dream - BODYARMOR

My kids participate in a lot of sports. Lacrosse, soccer and swim team are a few outdoor sports they are involved with right now. Living in Houston, where it stays hot and humid most of the year, we have to be mindful about keeping hydrated during these activities. It’s an ongoing challenge for all of us.

I have a hard time keeping down fluids when I run, so I struggle with finding a balance between staying hydrated and keeping cramps and nausea at bay. My kids…well – they are just lazy! They get pretty warm at lacrosse games, especially my son who wears chest pads and a helmet, but “forget” to drink fluids. I’m usually on the sidelines screaming “Hydrate!” as much as I’m yelling “Go team!”

still living the dream - lacrosse

We usually stick to water because I’m not a big fan of all the artificial ingredients in some sports drinks and my kids really don’t like the way they taste. I mean, if I’m going to the trouble of working out to keep healthy – I’d rather not load up on a bunch of chemicals while I’m actually doing it! Sometimes water just isn’t enough though. During one a sprint triathlon last summer when it hit record high temps in H-Town….heat was a real issue. I realized during that race that I needed electrolytes in a big way so I alternated between drinking water and the sports drink they gave out at all the water stations.

I was recently given the opportunity to try out a new sports drink line by BODYARMOR. SuperDrink by BODYARMOR has natural flavoring (no artificial sweeteners or color) and provides hydration with a combo of potassium blended electrolytes, 10% coconut water and B vitamins. Sounded good to me, but would the kids like it?

At last weekend’s swim meet, my son and daughter both gave them a try. BODYARMOR SuperDrink comes in 8 flavors. We tested 6 of them: Strawberry Banana, Mixed Berry, Orange Mango, Fruit Punch, Blackout Berry and Tropical Punch. The verdict? They loved the taste (and I did, too!)

They are light and refreshing. Sweet…but not too sweet. After I drank one I felt – well…hydrated! My daughter’s favorite was Strawberry Banana. Jackson liked all the berry flavors. I’m partial to the Orange Mango.

still living the dream - swim

I don’t always say this after trying out a new fitness related product, but BODYARMOR SuperDrink is going to become a staple in our house. The 16 oz bottles are perfect for throwing in the gym bag and I think it’s cool that they are also gluten free and don’t contain caffeine. I did a search online at DrinkBODYARMOR.com and they carry these sport drinks at Kroger, Target and HEB, all places close to my house. Check out the site to see where to get them by where you live. And while you’re online, be sure to print this BODYARMOR coupon (I did!) so you can save some cash while keeping cool this summer.

Be well. Be safe. Be fierce.

I was given samples of BODYARMOR SuperDrink for free in order to review. I received no compensation for this post and all opinions stated are my own. 

 

 

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Mind, Body, Spirit…Be Determined

Be determined

I’m driving to Galveston tomorrow morning to attend the 2016 Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce 9th Annual Celebrating Women: Mind, Body, Spirit Conference. Initially I was motivated to attend because of the keynote speaker, author – Gretchen Rubin. I met her several years ago and am a big fan of her books, especially The Happiness Project.

Several of my colleagues are attending and I’m excited to see them, too. The energy and support I receive simply by being around them always helps me along my journey towards personal and professional development.

But after diving into the rest of the agenda for tomorrow, I think what I am really looking forward to learning about … is finding out what I need to learn more about.

Does that make sense?

I’m intrigued by sessions like Caring – Let’s Get to the Heart of It, The Food and Mood Connection and Living From the Heart. I feel like these topics are speaking to me right now. I don’t know exactly where each of these sessions will lead me – but I know I want to go there.  I suspect I might just scratch the surface of some topics that I’ll want to dive deeper in to. I’m determined to learn more.

And that’s pretty exciting.

There are also a couple break out sessions for physical fitness (hello hip, hop cardio – I’m coming atcha!) and a session lead by Jentry Kelley, owner of Jentry Kelley cosmetics where I’ll learn her quick, eight-step makeup process. I need this in my life! I’m 45 years old and I still don’t know how to put on eye make up. It’s embarrassing, ya’ll.

I hope you’ll follow me tomorrow on my social media channels: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn along the journey.

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Katy Home & Garden Show January 30 & 31 plus FREE Tickets

katy home and garden pic

I am so excited to attend the 2016 Katy Home & Garden Show this weekend. I have several home improvement ideas planned beginning with some DIY kitchen projects and I can’t wait to get some ideas from some of the 300 + vendors on site at the Expo as well as advice from the experts including Matt Muenster from the DIY Network and HGTV show, Bath Crashers and Ellen’s Design Challenge.matt pic

Matt will be talking about some incredible bathroom transformations during his presentation at the show on Saturday, January 30 at 11:30 a.m. and again at 2:00 p.m.. but I’ll also have the opportunity to interview him! I have some specific project questions ready for him….I can’t wait to get his advice!

This is the 10th Annual Katy Home & Garden Show held at the Merrell Center & Robinson Pavilion. In addition to Matt’s presentation and 300 plus vendors, there will also be a home improvement stage, food sampling, a kid’s activity zone and mini-gift market. Frank Bielec, of Trading Spaces fame, will be speaking about how to retirement proof your home.

Also. Food trucks. Hello Cousins Maine Lobster – I’m coming to see you so get those lobster rolls cooking!

SHOW DETAILS:

  1. January 30 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and January 31 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas
  2. Tickets are $9.00 (kids under 12 are free)

FREE TICKETS:

Want to join me at the show this weekend? How about 2 free tickets?! I’ll pick a winner at random on Friday, January 29th at 11:00 a.m. CST.  Easy Peasy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow me on Saturday on Periscope @jpatrickcomm where I’ll be coming at ya live from the show along with my friend and interior decorator, Melissa!

I was invited to attend the show for free but have not received any other compensation. All opinions and DIY project successes (and fails) are my own!

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What The Hell Were You Thinking? Three months with #bluehair

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photo courtesy of Sheri Marie Salon

A couple days before Halloween last year I dyed my hair blue. Brilliant, bright, big as day, sassy pants…blue. I was going as Joy from the movie Inside Out to a Halloween party and the store bought color spray wasn’t cutting it. I wanted to be authentic. Also – I always wanted to dye my hair.

inside out blue hair

Someone asked me later (after Halloween was over and I was clearly keeping my hair color), “What the hell were you thinking?”

And I wanted to say:

I was thinking it’s just hair. And that I’m lucky to be working from home in this season of my life. And that I’m not getting any younger. And that dying my hair bright blue seems plain ridiculous for a 80-year-old, so I should get it done at the sensible age of 44. Because regretting never dying my hair blue seems like a silly regret to have.  And also – it’s just hair.

What I said was:

I know, I’m crazy.

And maybe I am. Just a little. But here’s the funny thing. Life for three months with blue hair was pretty amazing. Because every day. Every. Day. Someone, somewhere stopped to tell me they liked it. At the dry cleaners. At the grocery store. At the doctor’s office. At my kid’s school.

People with piercings and tattoos and people in business casual clothes. People with law and medical degrees. Young and old people. People who act and sing, groom dogs, teach school, crunch numbers, work on cars, own companies….

People who I would never had had a conversation with before would stop and say, “you go – girl.” One lady at a convention came over to me after the speaker had wrapped up and said “I couldn’t stop looking at your hair – I had to come and tell you how awesome it is.”  And someone else hugged me.  A stranger. Which was a little weird. But oddly, ok.

And also – people stared. And little kids pointed. And some people clearly did not like it. At all.

Which is ok, too. Because putting yourself out there means you accept both good and bad reactions.

Admittedly, during the first week I was a little timid. I thought – what the hell WAS I thinking? Because brown hair goes with everything and blue hair clashes with some outfits. Blue hair isn’t an accessory you can take off when you have an important business meeting or have a serious matter to discuss with someone and put on when you are going out for dinner with friends.

People who already knew me, knew the kind of person I was – that I love Jesus and being a mom. That I don’t sell drugs or steal and rarely lie (well – there was that time I couldn’t go to jury duty). But sometimes I would see someone who didn’t know me look at me and pass judgement.  And sometimes, sadly, people who knew me did the same thing.

The second week I decided that I needed to own it…embrace it 100 percent or dye it back.  Because you can’t walk around with bright blue hair and be all second-guessy. I needed to walk confidently and not apologize and probably stop calling myself crazy all the time.

I decided to embrace Joy for more than just a day.

Blue hair gave me permission to take risks. Not absurd risks. But get out of your rut kinda risks. After you dye your hair blue, ordering something different at a restaurant you always get the same thing at because you know you like it hardly seemed like a big deal at all.

And a funny thing happened after awhile. I forgot about it. And life kind of went on. I still struggled with helping my son with 8th grade Algebra and I worried about my weight and I dealt with anxiety. I worked and packed school lunches and went to book club.

Someone was staring at me in a doctor’s office last week and I thought maybe I had a booger on my face. It didn’t even occur to me that it might be my hair.

Here is my challenge to you.

  1. When you’re out and about – compliment someone. Tell a stranger you like their hair, or their dress or their boots…especially if you can tell they took a risk and put themselves out there.  Receiving a compliment from a stranger is a pretty amazing thing.
  2. If a friend takes a risk – acknowledge it. You don’t have to like it, but tell them you admire their courage. Not saying anything…says something.
  3. If you want to try something new, do it. Don’t let fear of what other people think stop you from living your dream.

Disclaimer: Before I dyed my hair blue I asked my immediate family members (my kids and husband) if they were ok with it. I wanted them to be comfortable with me and any questions or ridicule they might get from friends (and they did). My daughter said, “Go for it – you only live once” and my teenage son shrugged his shoulders and said, “Do what makes you happy” and my husband told me…..

It’s just hair.

Truth.

P.S. Yesterday I dyed my hair silver.

silver hair

Thank you to all the professionals (especially Shannon, Hiliary and Carolyn) at Sheri Marie Salon who take good care of my hair and make me feel pretty.

 

 

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My #StickaPic Craft Party – HP Social Media Snapshots Photo Paper @Staples with Special Discount

sticka pic party main photo

I love to make things, especially during the holiday season. It’s fun to give homemade gifts and when I use photos in my DIY projects, it makes them extra special.

As an HP Smart Mom Panel member, I have been able to give HP insight into what a small business owner, blogger, mom and DIY/crafter likes about products such as printers and photo paper.  I’ve also been able to try out new HP products first hand. Recently I travelled to San Diego for the HP Print and Pamper Retreat where I was able to visit HP headquarters and meet with executives to give my input about product development.

During the trip, we also were treated to a craft night. I was in DIY heaven when I walked into the conference room at the Rancho Bernardo Inn and saw tables and tables of make and takes. I was inspired by the projects and couldn’t wait to get home to share what I learned with my friends! These projects and more can be found online at MyPrintly.com.

Taking an hour or two during the day to get creative with good friends is such a gift. Even though we haven’t even celebrated Thanksgiving, I put on some Christmas music and lit some cinnamon candles as we visited and snacked on some pumpkin goat cheese and scones. As my friends arrived, they printed photo “name tags” on HP Social Media Snapshots sticky photo paper with their favorite hashtag. It was fun to see what word they each picked to describe themselves.

stickapic party collage

Other friends picked love and awesome. I chose brave.

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My friends loved using the free HP Snapshots app to access and print photos straight from their social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook as well as their smartphone’s photo stream. HP Social Media Snapshots 4×5 sticky back photo paper is perfect for creating projects. We made three easy and fun photo projects perfect for gift giving.

craft projects

1. Tile Coasters

How to make yourself: Get some stone tiles in the bathroom section of Home Depot. You can also use ceramic tiles for a more polished look. Print a photo onto HP Social Media Snapshots photo paper from Instagram using the free, HP Snapshots app. You can pick a white or black frame for your photo, or trim the border off completely, like I did. Peel off the protective backing from the back of the photo and adhere it to your coaster. Cover the top of photo and coaster with Mod Podge. After it dries, put four, small felt pad dots on the back of the coaster, one in each corner, to protect your coffee table.

2. Photo blocks

How to make yourself: You can buy wooden blocks from a craft store like Michaels, but I had my husband cut them from wood. The HP Social Media Snapshots photo paper is 4 x 5 but the image will be smaller when you trim off the bottom portion that contains the message below the photo from Instagram. I left a border on my photo and trimmed it down to a perfect square – 4 1/8 x 4 1/8. You’ll need 9 equally sized square blocks to fit together to make a 4 1/4 x 4 1/4 square.

After printing a photo onto the HP Social Media Snapshots photo paper using the HP Snapshots app, trim your photo. Apply a thin layer of Mod Podge to the blocks, then adhere your photo to the blocks. Let dry then use an exacto knife to cut the photo along the lines of the blocks so they can be separated. Sand the sides of the blocks for an even finish. Repeat on all or any of the remaining 5 sides. You can also paint some of the sides with acrylic paint.

3. Christmas Ornaments

How to make yourself: Purchase a glass ornament at a craft supply store like Michaels. You can get a round glass ornament with a flat front and back surface which works well for adhering a photo. Print a photo onto the HP Social Media Snapshots photo paper using the HP Snapshots app. A smaller image works best for this craft. Punch out the image you want with a circle punch. Peel back the protective backing and adhere to the ornament. Using Mod Podge, cover the entire photo as well as a small border around the photo. Sprinkle glitter on the exposed Mod Podge (you can cover photo or just the border like I did). Tie ribbon around the top to match the colors in the photo and/or the glitter.

While in San Diego, I met the creator of the PicCollege app. You can make the coolest photo collages on your phone with their grids and templates that include themes for holidays and events. They even have templates for phone cases and greeting cards.

This is a PicCollage I made of my guests working on their projects. So cute! If you haven’t used this free app, be sure to give it a try.

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Deal Alert!

Now through November 30th, HP Social Media Snapshots are Buy One Get One Free at Staples when you use this link bit.ly/snapshotsbogo and click “redeem now”.

What are you making for the holidays?

As an HP Smart Mom Panel member, I received free products in order to host the HP #StickaPic Party. All opinions expressed are my own.

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Goosebumps Movie Review & The Inside Scoop from Lead Actors Jack Black, Odeya Rush, Dylan Minnette and Ryan Lee

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As a huge* Jack Black fan, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to screen Goosebumps as well as interview Black and the other lead actors from the movie, which will be released nationwide in 3D on October 16, 2015….just in time for Halloween.

Goosebumps (rated PG) stars Jack Black as author R.L. Stine, Dylan Minnette as Zach (who also appeared in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), Odeya Rush as Hannah (The Giver and The Odd Life of Timothy Green) and Ryan Lee as Champ (This is Forty and Super 8).

The movie is about teenager Zach Cooper who is upset about moving from NYC to a small town in Delaware. Shortly after moving in, Zach meets his beautiful neighbor, Hannah and her father who he later finds out is Goosebumps series writer, R.L. Stine. Stine is a prisoner of his own imagination because the monsters from his books come to life if not kept locked within their pages. When Zach unintentionally unleashes the monsters from their manuscripts and they begin to terrorize the town, it’s up to Stine, Zach, and Hannah along with Champ (Zach’s likable but easily frightened new friend) to get all of them back in the books.

Since 1992, author R.L. Stine has written nearly 200 Goosebumps books featuring monsters of all shapes, sizes and varying degrees of scariness. I read books from the Goosebumps series to my son when he was younger and we’d both liked the stories that struck a balance between fear and funny that made the books enjoyable for both kids and adults.

According to Black, that was the main thing R.L. Stine wanted to come across in the movie as well. “R.L. told me to be conscientious of his audience,” said Black. “There are a lot of kids that will come to the movie so don’t go too terrifying. You can scare, but don’t traumatize. Keep the laughs and the scares coming and make it more like a thrill ride then a nightmare inducing horror fest,” said Black. “Like there’s no blood in the movie….we rode that line.”

It’s this balance that director Rob Letterman (who also produced and worked with Black on Gulliver’s Travels) and the actors worked to create in the movie and they definitely nailed it.

“I sat next to him (Stine) when we watched it (the movie) in New York and he was super stoked,” said Black. “That was the most important audience member to me, more than any of the critics, it was ‘What does R.L. think?’ – the fact that he loved it was gold to me.”

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One example when humor breaks up the intensity of a scary scene is when they are in the middle of a car chase and Lee (whose character, Champ, is a big fan of the author Stine) tries to take a selfie with him to post on Instagram. Black (as Stine) throws his smartphone out the car window and Lee is crushed.

The struggle is real, Lee! I tried to control any possible Black fangirling in an effort to act professional during our meeting, but couldn’t resist getting a selfie with him and the rest of the gang which immediately (obviously) went up on Instagram!

Goosebumps the movie is based on the books written by R.L. Stine but not adapted from any one story. In fact, you’ll be happy to see dozens of the monsters you loved to hate from the series including the infamous Slappy the Dummy who leads the monster’s revolt against Stine. “He’s like the Hannibel Lecter or Darth Vador of all the characters because he’s the mastermind, he’s the smartest and the most sinister, he represents the darkest part of R.L.’s psyche,” said Black.

Black is the voice of Slappy and Avery Lee Jones was the puppeteer.

slappy

In the beginning of the movie, Jack Black is downright mean…but after the monsters are released and he begins to work with Minnette, Rush and Lee to save the world, he’s very funny and extremely likable.

Black visited the real R.L. Stine while preparing for the role; however, the movie’s character does not depict the real R.L. Stein’s personality who is actually very funny and down to earth. “He’s an amazing guy,”  said Black. “He’s a brilliant writer so I kept that in mind while I was playing him. But the character in the movie is a lot darker…he has this sinister quality about him and is an antisocial guy who has locked out the outside world and that couldn’t be further from the case with the real R.L. Stine,” he said.

Stine didn’t mind the major departure. “He understood that’s the way we needed to play it,” said Black. “And he loved the movie.”  Black gave the character a bit of an Orson Wells type accent with a taste for the finer things and a bit of vanity and pride about his writing track record. There are several funny mentions of a rivalry between him and Stephen King.

Look for the real R.L. Stine who appears at the very end of the movie, albeit very briefly, as the new drama teacher named Mr. Black.

There are Easter Eggs throughout the movie including during the kitchen scene when the garden gnomes attack Black. They tie him up much like what was done to him in Gullivers Travels. There’s also a nod to the Cuckoo Clock of Doom in Stine’s basement. “Every monster that was ever in a Goosebumps book is in the movie somewhere,” said Black. “Sometimes they’re way in the back ground, so it’s fun to look for them – like a Where’s Waldo!”

You’ll see characters like The Ghouls from Attack of the Graveyard Ghouls, Snake Lady from Escape from the Carnival of Horrors, Bog Monster from You Can’t Scare Me! and others such as Cronby the cave troll, The Evil Clown, Vampires, The Witch Doctor, The Werewolf and The Abominable Snowman (who is the first to be accidentally released).

The Bug-Eyed Aliens, Praying Mantis and Blob were key monsters in the movie and the visual effects were cool. “The blob was entirely computer generated, so it was all imagination and the director painting the picture for us,” said Black. When it sucks Black into his body in the movie, Black was actually just standing on a table pretending like he was in jello.

Given the film’s rating and how comedy offsets the darker side, I do recommend the film to families with children. Yet, Slappy can be a little disturbing. Dolls that come to life and want to destroy the world can be a little creepy, so know your kids and what they can handle. I won’t have a problem taking my 9 year-old daughter and 14 year-old son. But I’ll probably cover my eyes when Slappy is on screen. He gives me (wait for it) goosebumps!

Check back on Still Living The Dream for a post about other fun things I learned during my visit with Jack Black and the other cast members!

*For clarification, when I say “huge” I’m referring to the amount of admiration I have for Jack Black not my actual size. I mean, I do have some weight to take off – but I’m only 4’10” which is actually quite small!

Disclosure: I was invited to a movie screening and given the opportunity to interview the actors as a member of the press for review purposes. I did not receive any compensation and all thoughts and opinions and fear of ventriloquist dummies are my own!

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PediaQ (Pediatric Urgent Care House Call) is coming to North Houston!

Thank you, PediaQ, for giving me the opportunity to share this wonderful service with my readers. While I was compensated for this post, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

 

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These two. They are my loves.
And when they don’t feel well, I will do anything I can to help them feel better.

Fast.

Have you heard about PediaQ? It’s a pediatric urgent care house call service that started in Dallas, but it is coming to North Houston next month!

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After contacting PediaQ through the free APP, a nurse practitioner comes to your house in the evening or on weekends to diagnose and treat your child for symptoms and illnesses including strep & the flu, vomiting & diarrhea, UTIs,  stomach ache, ears & sinus problems, eye infections, asthma & allergy related problems, Pneumonia & RSV, cuts, bites & burns, and sprains & strains.

I love this concept because of how convenient it is for parents. As a mother of two children, I understand how difficult it can be…especially for those who have younger kids, to have a child get sick in the evening or on the weekend when the doctor’s office is closed. This can be especially difficult if your spouse isn’t home.

Several months ago a friend of mine had a sick child. Her husband was out-of-town on business and it was after the pediatrician’s office had closed. She knew it was probably an ear infection as her son often gets them; however, he was in a lot of pain and she didn’t want to wait another 12 plus hours to get him in to the pediatrician’s office. She didn’t want to wake up her two younger children to take them with her and her son to the urgent care center because while the wait at an urgent care center is much shorter than an emergency room, you just don’t know how long you will be there. Plus – it’s not ideal to take healthy kids into doctor’s office/hospital to be exposed to germs.

Luckily, her mother was able to watch the younger kids while she took her older one to urgent care. But it was still a while before her mom could get there. Two hours later…she was back home with her son and she was right – it was an ear infection. With antibiotics in hand, her son slept well that night but it would have so much more easier (and quicker, too) if she could have kept her son at home, comfortable in his bed, and had a PediaQ nurse practitioner come to their house to diagnose him and prescribe antibiotics. They even pick up prescriptions for patients!

So what’s the skinny about PediaQ?
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How does it work? 
1. Download the free PediaQ app and request a nurse practitioner visit.
2. Receive a phone call from the nurse practitioner within 10 minutes to discuss your child’s symptoms.
3. Your nurse practitioner will arrive within one hour AND he/she will stay with you a minimum of 30 minutes to properly diagnose and treat your child!What does it cost?
Whatever your regular urgent care co-pay is! Your insurance is billed as if you drove to an urgent care center. Their is an additional convenience fee of $50 if you call before 10:00 p.m. and $100 after 10:00 p.m. BUT the convenience fee is waived for a limited time right now during their back-to-school special!If you don’t have insurance, or don’t want to use it, PediaQ’s cash pay pricing is very competitive compared to pediatric urgent care centers, and much less then the ER for common illnesses. Check them out online for more information about PediaQ’s insurance policy.
10369200_1674163772802869_8045093916687603366_nWhen is this service available?
Seven days a week – weekdays from 4:00 p.m. to midnight and weekends from 8:00 a.m. until midnight.You can check them out on Facebook to learn more and read some of the reviews left by people who have used the service.PediaQ is so excited to offer those in The Woodlands area this service starting next month (October 2015).  Personally, I can’t wait until it’s available every where!

I was compensated for this post; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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Five Ways Traveling Helps Connect My Family #TravelforReal #FamilyForward

I love to travel.

Over the couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to visit several different destinations …but the best experiences I’ve had by far have been the adventures I’ve taken with my family.

It’s funny because I’ve noticed recently that the further we get from home, the closer my family tends to get.

At home we all stay so busy and so focused with whatever is consuming us at the moment….school, work, scouts, soccer, running events, musical performances, housework. While we make it a point to  sit down together for dinner as frequently as possible and spend time as a family together on the weekends…it’s hard to coordinate schedules as the kids get older.

When we travel – it’s like we’re all in on the same page. We get closer on vacation by:

1. Navigating different roads – Whether we’re taking a full-on, Griswold family road trip across several states in the mini-van or we’re just trying to get our rental car from the airport to the hotel….finding our way together has a way of bringing us closer. Sometimes we give each other a hard time, but there’s a sense of adventure even in getting to your destination.

5 ways traveling helps connect

 

2. Experiencing something new  – Whether it’s paddle boarding or visiting the world’s largest ball of string …when we all try or see something that is new to all of us for the first time – we bond. I especially love it when do something different spur of the moment and all end up loving the experience….thrilled with conquering something new….together.

3. Trying different food – I don’t know what it is, but my kids will try new food/dishes when on a vacation that they’d never try at home. And I love to eat out…no dishes, no grocery shopping! When we are by the ocean, I crave seafood. When in New Orleans, I had to have a beignet from Cafe Du Monde…Paris – macarons! One of the things I always do before I leave on a trip is to ask friends and family where there favorite restaurant is.

4. Meeting new people  – It’s always fun to meet people while traveling. Some of the coolest conversations I’ve had have been with locals in a non-touristy spot. But we also love to talk to people who, like us, are vacationing. When in Destin, we bonded with some SUP enthusiasts when we rented paddle boards and ventured far from the shore. Others doing the same thing would give us tips on paddle boarding or a good spot to dive for sand dollars. There’s something about being on a similar adventure that brings you closer to those you’ve never met!

5. Staying at a nice hotel – Call us crazy – but we love staying in a nice hotel room all together. At home, we scatter after dinner for homework, chores and practice. Even when we sit down to watch a movie together – I get up frequently to put in a load of laundry, answer the phone or do something else “I just remembered I didn’t do but really need to”. When we are in a hotel room – there aren’t any distractions. I have no desire to clean. When we watch a movie – I pay attention. We even like to bring cards or small games to play before going to sleep.

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We are so excited about our next adventure! In less than two weeks, we’ll be joining families from across the country as part of the #FamilyForward Universal Orlando Adventure hosted by Mom It Forward along with Universal Orlando Resort, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, DohVinci, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Loews Royal Pacific Resort.

This trip is unique because in addition to going to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, watching the Blue Man Group, visiting Universal’s Wet n Wild Waterpark and staying at the beautiful Loews Royal Pacific Resort,  Mom It Forward has organized other activities and projects that are designed to bring families closer together. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for us!

We’ve been counting down the days and have loved getting a first-hand look about what it will be like to stay at Loews by seeing photos other families who are staying there are posting on Instagram on the #TravelforReal hashtag. We are so thankful they are doing this because it allows us to get a REAL look at what it’s like to stay and play there from the perspective of families like us. From what we’ve seen, we are in for a real treat! From the hotel room, to the pools and restaurants – the hotel looks amazing and we are so excited to get there.

We can’t wait to share our experience with you – so be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter .

 

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