Summer DIY Craft Project: Painted Canvas Shoes

My kids, especially Annie, love to do arts and crafts projects. While hanging out with some friends last week we had a wild streak and decided to break out the paint. Led by the very crafty and talented Kelly with Life In The Middle  (love her!) we took some plain canvas shoes (we got ours from Five Below for just $5.00) and turned them into wearable works of art.

This is a pretty easy project that you can do with kids of all ages; however, you can’t be a perfectionist. Embrace the imperfections that make them your own creations. As my son said – “You don’t want them to be perfect or they won’t look like you made them.”

Preach.

DIY Canvas Painted Shoes 1

1. We started with solid color canvas shoes and used a pencil to sketch out our designs. Kelly is all kinds of awesome and helped several of us get started! We were also inspired by designs we found online. Google “fish” or “dolphins” and you’ll get all kinds of inspiration for a summer/beach pair of shoes!

DIY painted shoes 2

2. Next we filled in the designs with fabric paint markers and acrylic paint mixed with a bit of Textile Medium. This allows the paint to become washable fabric paint. Although we won’t wash these, they may get wet from normal wear and we wanted them to be protected.

DIY shoes 3

3. After the paint dried, we painted over the entire shoes with Mod Podge.

There you go. Easy peasy and inexpensive !

Summer boredom = 0, Family and Friend Fun=1

 

 

Share

Staying Cool In Houston During The Summer #reliantsummer (Schlitterbahn giveaway)

There’s no doubt about it. It’s about to get hot in Houston. Summer solstice was last weekend and even though it’s been warm here for quite awhile, it really is true – summer has just gotten started. July and August bring the worst of the summer heat and we often break up the days with some indoor activities. We like to visit the library, our neighborhood bowling alley where kids bowl free all summer, the movie theatre and museums.

Keeping it cool inside can be costly this time of year. I cringe when I see our electricity bill in July and August. Do you?

To help us manage our electricity bill, Reliant has provided the following top ten energy usage tips:

  1. Install a programmable thermostat to save an estimated 10% a year on heating and cooling costs.
  2. Set your TV to the “home” or “standard” screen setting. The “vivid” or “retail” settings are unnecessarily bright and burn 20% more power.
  3. Lower the temperature settings on your water heater from 140 degrees to 120 degrees. It saves money and still feels nice and hot.
  4. Switch your ceiling fan to turn in a counter-clockwise direction in the summer.
  5. Change your AC filters at least once a month.
  6. Use microwave and toaster ovens to cook or warm leftovers. You’ll use less energy than cooking with conventional oven.
  7. Wash full loads of clothes when possible. When smaller loads are necessary, use less water.
  8. Grill out more often during the summer. Using the oven in the heat of summer forces your AC to work harder, which raises your energy bill.
  9. Set your thermostat 4 degrees higher when you’re away for more than 4 hours to help reduce electricity usage.
  10. Turn off your computer before bed each night and before leaving for the day. Set the computer’s sleep mode.

I’m pretty good about setting the thermostat higher when we aren’t home, using the grill instead of the oven and washing a full load of laundry each time (folding it right away is another story!) but I’m embarrassed about how long it’s been since I changed our AC filters and didn’t even think about lower the settings on my water heater.

What about you? Have you had any luck with any of these tips? Do you have any different ones to share?

Jackson Galveston

When we do play outside, we spend a lot of time in the water. We just got back from a trip to SeaWorld and Aquatica in San Antonio. We go every year and the kids had a blast. We are so excited about planning a day-trip to Schlitterbahn in Galveston soon. Reliant asked if we wanted to be their guests to cool off at the water park. Um, yes – please!!!

reliant-logo2

Reliant just launched a new plan, Predictable 12, where they predict your electricity bill for 12 months. With this plan electricity costs stay the same every month, for 12 months, with no surprises no extra fees and no spiked bills due to the summer season!  

In addition to the energy savings tips and the chance to save money on your electric bill, Reliant is also providing one, lucky Still Living The Dream reader the chance to cool off at Schlitterbahn with their family for free, too! Sound good?

schlitterbahn logo

Giveaway!

Do you want four free tickets worth $300.00 to Schlitterbahn in Galveston?

From now until Sunday, June 30, 2014, leave a comment with how many 100+ degree days you predict there will be in Houston during the month of July. On August 1, the number of days it was 100+ degrees in Houston during July will be determined according to Hobby airport. The person who guesses it right (or comes the closest) will get a four-pack of tickets! In the event that more than one person has the correct or closest answer, a winner will be selected at random.

I was given tickets to Schlitterbahn to keep cool during the summer with my family. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own. 

Share

2014 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration – #DisneySMMoms

DisneySMMoms2014

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably noticed a tremendous increase in tweets April 10-13.  I was lucky enough to be able to attend the 5th Annual Disney Social Media Moms Celebration and I couldn’t stop sharing about all I was learning and the fun I was having during the event. My family and I went last year to the celebration at Disney World and it was an incredible experience. This year it was held in California at Disneyland and it was just as amazing.

It’s an honor to be invited and there were so many wonderful opportunities this year. Some of the highlights for me included the chance to:

 photo 3-11

Network with incredibly talented bloggers -This year I was thrilled to spend time with old friends and colleagues like Sara, Courtney, Debra, Amy, Jessica, Mitch, and meet new friends like Sami, Joey and TerriAnn. Being surrounded by the talent and enthusiasm of these (and many other) extraordinary bloggers/social media experts inspires me. The support I get from them is such a gift. Their friendship…priceless.

photo 2-16

Experience Disney Magic with my family – Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure are not to be missed. We loved some of our favorite attractions we first experienced at Disney World like Space Mountain and Tower of Terror as well as fun things unique to the parks in California like CarsLand and the California Screamin roller coaster. I’m putting the final touches on a separate post about life changing experiences at these two parks including delicious treats to eat – so be sure to check back soon to get the scoop!

Find out about what’s on the horizon from Disney – Speakers including Tom Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Leanne Jakubowski, Director of Social Media/Public Relations, and Kathy Mangum, Executive Producer and Vice President of Walt Disney Imagineering were awesome and gave us insight into what’s new and exciting at Disney including new cruise line itineraries and park attractions. Gary Buchanan, Social Media Manager of Disney Parks is an absolute hoot and along with keeping the event running at an exciting pace and taking care of “mousekeeping” issues he shared many insights about how to grow creatively by challenging yourself and the way you do things.

Learn from the Pros – I was completely in awe after hearing Doug Bowman, Creative Director at Twitter. He had a lot of great insight into the power of social media and I left the session inspired and empowered. Donald Driver, Former NFL player and author gave a truly motivational presentation and Maxine Clark, Founder of Build A Bear Workshop, impressed me with her message. I loved when she said “if you live your imagination , your ‘like’ will be a dream come true”. Did you know she started Build A Bear in her late 40′s? It’s never too to build something fabulous!

photo 1-17

Get to know more about exceptional brands – I enjoyed the chance to learn more about some of the event sponsors including American Tourister, Hanes, Taylor Morrison, Alamo, H20+ and Kohl’s as well as Disney programs, products and services; especially their Wild About Safety DVD series and The Magic of Healthy Living.

 photo 1-18

A Run in The Park

Thanks to RunDisney and New Balance, I also had the incredible experience to run through the parks before they opened Sunday morning during the 2-mile fun run. Starting in Downtown Disney, we ran through Disneyland Park (and hello – through the castle!) then Disney California Adventure…with the finish line on Route 66 in CarsLand. More about this thrilling experience later!

photo 3-12

We also were treated to some special surprises including visits from Maleficent (I can’t wait for the movie to open May 30) and Elsa and Anna from Frozen. This was really cool because the line to see these two in the park runs more than  about 2 hours long!

 photo 3-13

A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps

My friend, Sara Wellensiek with Mom Endeavors, won a Walk in Walt’s Footsteps VIP tour for 10 people and she invited me to join the group. What an unbelievable treat and experience. In addition to hearing more about Disney’s history and Walt’s vision – I was able to actually go in his apartment above the fire station on Main Street! Did you know that when Walt was in his apartment, he would light the lamp in the window so cast members would know he was there? After he passed away, they decided to keep the light on 24/7 in his memory. I was moved to tears being that close to where the magic started and hearing about the details of how Walt made his dream a reality. I’m so grateful to Sara for giving me this once in a lifetime experience. They offer this tour at Disneyland Park for an additional fee and if you have the time and money, I HIGHLY recommend it.

Winner!

1556293_10101405839204015_3172194590604465989_o

Bonus: I won a Nikon camera! I was so excited and then Gary Buchanan almost didn’t let it go when I RAN up to the stage to claim it. Gary, I promise I’m taking good care of it!

Be watching for more posts to follow with more Disney details soon!

I paid a con­fer­ence fee  to attend the 2014 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. My family and I received some complimentary and discounted items, but I did not receive compensation to attend and  was not required to write about my experience. As always, all opin­ions and expe­ri­ences are my own

Share

Getting Ready for Disney Social Media Moms with Magic At Play Clothing from Kohl’s (Giveaway!)

DisneySMMoms2014

I’m so excited to be attending the Disney Social Media Moms Conference again this year! It’s an unbelievable opportunity to learn from industry experts while having fun at the happiest place on earth! This year the conference is at Disneyland and there have been hints that some of the speakers will include Maxine Clark; Build A Bear, Doug Bowman; Twitter and Donald Driver; Super Bowl Champion. An awesome speaker line-up, the opportunity to network with incredibly talented bloggers and social media experts AND the chance to play at the park with my family? Dream. Come. True.

Needless to say, my family and I can’t wait to go next week…but we need to start packing. Preparing for a family vacation to Disney combined with a conference can be tricky. We don’t want to forget any park essentials (water bottles, back pack, sunscreen) along with conference must-haves (laptop, camera, mobile chargers). Check out some preparation and packing tips I posted about our Disney World trip last year.

And then there’s the most important part…what to wear!

We like to show our #DisneySide at home with Disney-themed clothes featuring Princesses, our favorite movie characters and (of course) classic Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Wearing Disney-inspired clothes at Disneyland is a must, so we were thrilled to learn about Magic at Play, a clothing collaboration between Disney and Kohl’s that came out April 3, 2014. I was given a gift card to Kohl’s so I could check out the apparel line by Jumping Beans for infants, toddlers, boys sizes 4-7 and girls sizes 4-6x and share what I thought with you.

kohls disney clothes

Annie had so much fun, but admittedly had a hard time deciding which pieces to choose from because there were so many options available at Kohl’s in stores and online. In the end she selected three tops, a pair of shorts, leggings and a dress. We loved the blinged out Mickey shirt and the subtle hints of Minnie on the sundress. A major plus….many of the pieces go together, giving you more outfit options. Also, Kohl’s often offers many sales and coupons so you can maximize your dollars. When we went, the entire Magic at Play Jumping Beans clothing line was 30 percent off. We also had an addition 20 percent off coupon AND a $10.00 off coupon that you can use if you spend $30 in apparel for children. Saving money on cute clothes makes me so happy.

kohls annie

What do you think…pretty cool, right? Want to make your dollar stretch even further so you can get more from the collection? How about a giveaway for a $50.00 Kohl’s giftcard?!

A GIVEAWAY!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you Kohl’s for giving us a gift card to purchase Disney Jumping Bean apparel in order to review. No other compensation was received and as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Share

How to Make the Best of a Rainy Vacation (Review of The Woodlands Resort)

The Woodlands community is just a short drive from where we live in Houston, but with the beautiful scenery…. it feels like a million miles away. When my family and I were recently invited by The Woodlands Resort for a visit over Spring Break, we were thrilled. We all really needed a break and we were curious to check out what new things will be unveiled at the resort this summer.  We were especially excited about the chance to play on the water slides and relax pool side with good food, live music and other entertainment they had planned for Spring Breakers of all ages.

 umbrella

Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. Mother nature – you can be cruel sometimes. It was cold and rainy during our entire two-day, one-night stay. Not ideal for outdoor fun…but we still got to enjoy the resort, find out about their renovations and we learned a couple of tricks about how to make the best of dreary weekend weather.

The Woodlands Resort is in the middle of a $60 million dollar expansion including the addition of a new building with 184 guest rooms …plus they are renovating their existing rooms. Check out the new look coming soon!

 woodlands resort rooms

They are adding a 900-foot lazy river that will wind around the property’s existing Waterscape pools and play area. We can’t wait for this new addition which will be ready in time for summer fun!

In addition to many other renovations and additions, a new steak house is being built to overlook the 18th green of Panther Trail Golf Course as well.

Even with all the new and exciting changes on the horizon, The Woodlands Resort is already a great place to relax with your family and friends. One of the things we enjoyed the most was the excellent customer service and even with the less then ideal weather conditions, we still had fun.

Tips for Making The Best of a Rainy Vacation

1. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em 

Swimming in rain

It’s hard for kids to be so close to beautiful pools and water slides and not dive in. While it was a chilly 60 degrees (that’s cold for Houston!) the  Woodlands Resort heated their smaller pool in the back. When the heavy rain slowed down (and there was no sign of thunder or lightening) we let the kids enjoy some time in the water. The nice staff members even let our kids go down the water slide in the front pool (which wasn’t heated – brrr!) once or twice so they could experience it!

2. Enjoy the Rhythm of the Rain

Our room had a balcony overlooking the Forest Oaks Waterscape. While we couldn’t enjoy lounging by the pool, we loved sitting on the balcony with a good book. Protected from the raindrops, we were able to enjoy the outdoors without getting wet.

3. Fun Indoors

photo 1-9

The Woodlands Resort moved some of the Spring Break activities they had planned by the pool inside one of their ballrooms including clowns, balloons, live music, games and a movie in the evening. We also played a family game of pool and shuffle board and enjoyed some live jazz music in the lobby. For moms and dads, there’s also a fitness facility and spa. (I definitely intend to take advantage of a massage the next time we visit the resort!) When we had enough of the indoors, the Woodlands Resort shuttle took us to nearby Market Street to enjoy some shopping and dinner at Tommy Bahamas restaurant.

4. Good Food and Conversation

 lunch

We had a late and lazy lunch in the resort’s dining room. With great views of the property…we enjoyed yummy chicken lettuce wraps. We laughed, acted silly and took our time enjoying our meal. This is a rare treat in our world of rushing from band practice to cheer leading and lacrosse in the evenings. It was really relaxing. Next time we might not even leave our room…we might just put on a good movie and order room service!

What are your tips for making the best of bad weather on vacation?

Many thanks to the Woodlands Resort for treating us to a nice stay at their resort. While some of our expenses were covered in order for us to review the property, all of the thoughts and opinions (and lazy Saturday afternoon) are all my own!

 

Share

Show Your #DisneySide – A Magical @Home Celebration!

 how to throw

Some of our most treasured and fabulous family moments together have been associated with Disney. In 2012 we went on a cruise aboard the Disney Magic out of Galveston and in 2013 we took our first trip to DisneyWorld in Florida. Both experiences were out of this world spectacular. Disney brings out the child (and fun) in all of us. Even Ed and I let go of the worries and self-conscienceness that often come along with growing up through the magic Disney creates.

The good news is you don’t have to travel far and wide or spend a lot of money to show your #Disney Side. Recently I received a celebration kit from Disney Parks and Mom Select in order to host a magical DisneySide @Home Celebration for several of Annie’s friends and their moms right at our house. We had a wonderful time sharing our love for Disney, getting creative with arts and crafts, enjoying good food, singing, dancing and just acting silly.

How to Throw A #DisneySide Party

Photo Booth

 

photo booth collage

Our friends were immediately swept up in the fun the minute they walked through the door. We set up a photo booth in the living room complete with fun costumes and props, a backdrop and face painting. The kids (and moms) felt like celebrities dressed in boas and hats as one of our fabulous moms took pictures and another painted faces. Soon, the kids wanted a turn behind the scenes and got in on the picture taking and face painting as well!

How to create a photo booth at your party:

  1. Find a fun sheet like ours with pink and white polka dots to hang from the wall
  2. Gather fun props from around the house like hats, boas and jewelry. We also went to our local craft store to buy inexpensive wooden props on sticks and a wooden picture frame that we painted like Mickey Mouse on one side and Minnie on the other!
  3. Designate a face painter – designs don’t have to be fancy.
  4. Pick someone to play photographer

 photo-773

Print photos right away to send home with your guests….a great souvenir! We used our HP Envy printer with 5×7 HP photo paper and the DisneySide templates on HP Photo Creations. So easy and very cute!

Cookie Decorating Contest

 cookie collage

I pre-made sugar cookies with Mickey Mouse cookie cutters so the girls could get creative with decorations. We awarded prizes for the most original and fun cookies! Annie and I put Disney stickers on to-go containers so they could take home their personalized treats to enjoy long after the party ended.

Karaoke

DSC_0589_2014-02-23-04_25_

Annie loves to sing and a Karaoke machine was the #1 item on her Christmas wish list this year. Luckily Santa delivered and the girls at the party could have spent the entire time singing and dancing. The Frozen sound track was a favorite and even though the weather was warm in Houston, they sang “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and “Let It Go” like it was below freezing! We added a disco ball light to make the room even more festive!

 

T-Shirt Decorating Contest 

tshirts

Plain white Hanes t-shirts were transformed into Disney works of art after our guests went to work with some fabric markers.  I printed some Disney character silhouttes from the computer and cut patterns out of card stock so they could trace them and then decorate any way they wanted. Then they all signed the back of each other’s shirts…a perfect keepsake from a fabulous day with friends!

BINGO, Disney style!

BINGO collage

The girls loved playing #DisneySide BINGO. They showed their Disney knowledge by identifying Disney Parks, Attractions, Characters and Resorts. At one point, several girls needed Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom to get five in a row. You could hear the cheering from down the street!

How do you show your #DisneySide? Do you have party tips and tricks to share? Let me know in the comments section! For more ideas about how to throw your own @Home Celebration, check out my #DisneySide Pinterest board!

As a hostess for Disney Parks and Mom Select, I received an awesome American Tourister Disney Suitcase packed with a celebration kit with some of the products mentioned in this post for free in order to hold a magical Disney Side @Home Celebration event for my guests. As always, the opinions expressed here are my own.

 

Share

A Tea Party in the Country with Cadbury Blue Bunny Ice Cream Bars

Have you been Living The Dream this summer?

For me, it’s been one of the most activity-filled summers in a long time. We started before school even let out with a dream trip to Disney World. As soon as summer break started, we hit the road for a weekend trip to San Antonio for fun at Sea World and Aquatica. Then I went to Paris with my mom and sisters….an incredible adventure. Barely through customs back in the states, my family and I went to Galveston for a week to visit with Ed’s side of the family and Annie and I just returned from a girl’s weekend trip to Austin.

Plus, I’ve been training for a sprint triathlon in September with my friend Tanya and I joined a runner’s group to start training for a half-marathon in the fall! I have so much swirling around in my head to share with you and now that summer is winding down…sigh….I can finally sit down and gather my thoughts!

Starting with….Tea Time at the Lake Made Sweeter with Cadbury and Blue Bunny!

photo-727

What better way to spend a lazy July weekend in the hot summer sun than with girl friends, big floppy hats, ice-cold sweet peach tea and Cadbury Blue Bunny ice cream bars? Cadbury sent us some free sweet treats to try and so Annie and I brought them with us when we joined her four friends and their moms at a friend’s country house in Austin for the weekend.

cadbury getting ready

After an afternoon of kid-led yoga and swimming in the pool with a beautiful hill country view behind us we had high tea 7-year-old style! Moms and kids got gussied up in big, colorful floppy hats and we sipped on sweet, peach tea properly… with pinkies up! We took some fun photos on the lawn….then things got a little less proper and a lot more fun…with Cadbury ice-cream bars!

cadbury hat photos

Blue Bunny ice cream (a brand I love for their reduced fat but still yummy products!) partnered with Cadbury (hello – chocolate, I love you!) to create two, new premium ice cream bars; Royal Dark and English Toffee, which joined the already delicious Caramello and vanilla chocolate bars. These mini bars are the perfect size for a sweet snack and are unbelievably delicious (and a better choice with reduced fat ice cream.) For those of you, like me, who count Weight Watchers points…the Points Plus values of these bars are 4, with the exception of the English Toffee was is 5 PP.

cadbury tea party2

The kids loved them! All four flavors were a hit, but the classic Vanilla Chocolate stood out with the younger crew. The moms loved the English Toffee, Royal Dark and Caramello (vanilla ice cream mixed with carmel sauce and covered in mil chocolate). My favorite was the Royal Dark but I gladly enjoyed an English Toffee for seconds and snuck in a Caramello later when no one was looking…sshhhh!

If you want to take it up a notch, Blue Bunny has some great ideas and recipes about how to turn your Cadbury ice cream bars into an even more decadent treat on their website. Check out this one for the Caramello Raspberry Mousse bars. Um – hello? Yes, please!

Our tea party was the perfect mix of proper and pretty and good old-fashioned messy summer fun. You don’t need much to make summer-time memories with your little ones that will last a lifetime. Grab your daughter’s dress up clothes and tea set, mix up some tea and pass out the ice cream bars to friends and family. The rest just sort of happens on it’s own. It’s the kind of fun I remember as a child. Laughing away the afternoon with your little girl…it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Have a SWEET Summer! Love, Jenn and Annie

Have a SWEET Summer! Love, Jenn and Annie

I received a tea party kit from Cadbury and MomSelect. No other compensation was received and all thoughts, opinions and chocolatey kid smiles are my own!

Share

Summer Road Trips with Savings From Shell Fuel Rewards Network

Are  you taking a family vacation this summer?

StillLivingTheDream DisneyWorldTangled

Since we just took a big one in May to Disney World and I’m going on a once in a lifetime trip abroad to Paris with my mom and sisters this summer, we plan on taking several short getaways within driving distance while the kids are out of school.

Call us old school, but we like to pack up the ol’ family truckster (mini van) and hit the road Griswold style. In addition to saving money on plane tickets, you can create a lot of memories when traveling in the car. Spending time together on the road can be a great family bonding experience as you navigate road maps, plan on road side stops for food and quickie sight seeing (gotta see the world’s largest ball of string if you’re passing by, right?!) and play travel games like “I Spy” and the oldie but goodie license plate game.

We now even laugh about those constant and annoying backseat cries of  “are we there yet?” or “Annie’s touching me!” from the kids on our trip to Colorado and South Dakota last summer.

It’s a rite of passage for kids to complain about long stretches of time spent confined to a small space with just one’s siblings and parents….the very thing you’ll remember with fondness later in life.

StillLivingTheDream Aquatica

Luckily our home base of Houston is also close to many places that are great for a weekend getaway…especially the Hill Country. We take a trip to San Antonio several times a year and especially love the River Walk and SeaWorld and Aquatica. In fact, we just got back from attending a mini blogging conference called AdventureCon hosted by SeaWorld. While I learned more about mobile apps and photography, Ed and the kids enjoyed time in the parks. When I was finished I joined them for time in the sun and water and to enjoy the new SeaWorld show, Pet’s Ahoy. We just love Aquatica and SeaWorld and going to these parks is always on our Summer Family Bucket List.

StillLivingTheDream fuel rewards network logo

While traveling by car is less expensive then plane, gas is certainly an expense. I’m always looking for ways to save money and I recently heard about The Shell Fuel Rewards Network program that helps people pay less for gas. I received a loaded Fuel Rewards Network Card so I could experience the savings and how the program works.

Here’s the skinny about the Fuel Rewards Network Program:

  1. To earn up to 75 cents a gallon (for up to 20 gallons of gas per vehicle/per visit) at Shell stations, you start by signing up at fuelrewards.com.
  2. You can get your card online (they mail it you) or you can get it at a participating Shell station.
  3. You must activate the card online before using

You save money per gallon by presenting the card when you:

  1. make purchases for convenience store products, car washes and auto services at Shell stations
  2. dine at more than 10,000 participating restaurants (you earn 10 cents a gallon for every $50 you spend!) We were excited to find out that one of our favorite restaurants close to home participates. You can view the entire list and search by zipcode online at fuelrewards.com.
  3. shop online at 700+ stores including Best Buy and Gap (earn 5 cents a gallon for every $50 you spend plus some merchants offer two to time times rewards to save you even more!)

We signed up and are earning rewards with purchases and almost to a rewards savings of $2.50 off a gallon. Last time I filled the minivan up when almost on empty, I put in 18.2 gallons and gas was $3.28 a gallon.

With the fuel rewards network savings, I will only pay 78 cents a gallon; a total of $14.20 for a FULL tank of gas. This would normally cost $59.70 – a savings of $45.50!

Since your card resets back to zero after you fill up (whether it’s 1 or 20 gallons) it’s best that you go with a low tank.  Some people even bring a gas can to fill up as well if they can’t  hit 20 gallons by filling up their tank. Smart!

The Fuel Rewards Network is also offered at Shell in ADDITION to the Kroger rewards program which is awesome and will save you even more cash! You can use the mobile app to check your reward balance so you can see how far you are to reaching maximum savings!

With the Fuel Rewards Network program, I can afford more weekend road trips to SeaWorld and other fun places! Since it started in 2012, customers have saved about $68 million in savings at Shell. Are you one of them? How else do you save money for road trips with your family?

I was given a pre-loaded Fuel Rewards Network card in order to review for this post but received no other compensation. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Share

How To Prepare For A Magical Disney World Adventure

StillLivingTheDream MickeyMouse

I recently visited Disney World with my two kids and husband. As a Disney Social Media Moms Conference attendee, I was invited to some special event experiences during the official event but we extended our stay so we could experience Disney together as a family afterwards as well. Because I hadn’t been to Disney in 20 years and my 7 year-old daughter and 11 year-old son had never been, we had a lot of questions when packing for our trip. We wanted to get the most out of every magical second at the parks! I think we did a pretty good job but like any vacation…we learned a couple things along the way as well.

I plan to cover a lot of what I learned including some behind the scenes fun and giveaways in upcoming posts but I just received the following note from Still Living The Dream reader, Jennifer Evans. Jennifer saw my first follow-up post about my trip to Disney and since she is planning a trip with her husband, Mark, and 10-year-old son, Cole, soon (see their cute photo below), she had some questions. I thought it would be fun to answer them here so anyone else planning a trip and wondering about the same things could hear how I responded.

 StillLivingTheDream Evans family

Dear Still Living the Dream,

I’m headed to Disneyworld with my husband and our fearless, active 10 year old son. I haven’t been to Disney in 20 years, and our son has never been. So, consider us rookies. We’re staying in a condo 3 minutes away (so off site), and we’ve purchased Magic your Way Park Hopper + Water Park combo passes for 5 days. I’ve been reading the Unofficial Guide and taken notes from friends, checked out the Disney site for traffic info to try and select the best days for the various parks. I think we’re fairly prepared for that. But, I have some questions for you:

Question: What do you carry with you? I like to travel light. Do I bring a small wristlet? A backpack? Do we put everything in a locker every day and just cram wallet necessities in pockets? What about your phones?

Answer: I am the same way! I didn’t want to be slowed down with a lot of “stuff” while walking around in the parks BUT I also wanted to save money on things like bottled water. Since we don’t have stroller age children whatever we wanted to bring with us we needed to carry ourselves….all day. We ended up bringing a backpack which my husband usually carried and I had a small, cross-body purse. I just had my cell phone, lip gloss, cash/credit cards, park tickets and fast passes…very light. Ed carried our camera, water bottles, snacks, etc. We never got a locker. The park is very backpack friendly. I can’t think of a ride where we couldn’t bring it on with us. Some people like to put their cell phone in a plastic ziplock in case the bag gets wet like on Splash Mountain, but we didn’t and we were fine.

Question: Did you find it was helpful or annoying to bring your own snacks and waters with you? I’m a bit of a princess, so I don’t want to gauge myself on prices but I also don’t want me or my husband to feel like a packhorse. 

DSCN05582013-05-13-07_19_

Answer: The first thing you need to know is that EVERYONE is a princess at Disney World so get ready to be treated like one while you are there! Disney allows you to bring in water/food just know that whatever you bring, you have to keep up with. I have to admit, I was envious of some of the folks with strollers because they could cart around a little more. We packed pretty light, but since we didn’t want to pay for  bottled water (which left us more money to spend on Dole Whip and Mickey ice cream bars), we brought one or two water bottles with us and filled them up all day long for free! Many of the kiosk or quick dining restaurants were kind enough to fill them up for us but we also used drinking fountains as well. We also brought along snacks like goldfish, pretzels, granola bars, trail mix, fruit snacks, etc. We’d munch on those throughout the day in addition to getting a couple park snacks and/or meals from kiosks. (Hint: you have to try the fish and chips at the UK at Epcot!)

Question: We have our 3 credit card like passes – Do we get lanyards for them when we arrive? Should I buy some now?

Answer: I saw many people with lanyards and it’s not a bad idea; however, we kept our park passes in my small cross-body sling purse. If you think you might be into pin trading (and it’s SO fun you need to read about pin trading from my Disney Cruise post) then you can get an attachment for the bottom to hold your cards. I was just afraid of carrying them around and maybe losing them because once you are in the park, you don’t really need them again.

Question: We arrive in the middle of the day on day #1, so our plan is to head over to a park for the afternoon and evening. Do we just show up at the gate, or is there something I should do ahead of time?

DSC_00212013-05-09-11_40_

Answer: We arrived in the middle of the day, too and headed straight over to Epcot after checking into the hotel. We had 7-day park hopper tickets and we just went straight to the gate. If there’s any problem at any park entrance (Jackson had a problem with getting in one day – the ticket scanner wasn’t reading it right) then there’s a ton of people that will help you right then and there. Hint: Be ready to go through bag check prior to the ticket gate at each park. It goes by pretty quickly, but it’s an additional stop for those carrying in any kind of bag.

Question: Our daily plan based on our family’s style is to get there early and plow through until early afternoon, go home & chill, then hit another park that aft/eve. Does this sound good to you?

Answer: That is EXACTLY what we did. Here’s the beauty of park hopper tickets and why I highly recommend them. You can get up and go to one park in the morning (perhaps one that is open earlier or that has something you want to do in the AM like a breakfast character dining experience) then take a break around 1 or 2 ish (we’d go back to the hotel and rest and/or take a dip in the pool) and go to another park in the evening ( to see the fireworks, an evening show or to a park that has a later closing time). One day we actually did THREE parks in one day (because we are crazy like that).

DSC_03912013-05-10-21_29_

One of the best days was when we decided to go to Magic Kingdom in the evening. We were staying at the Contemporary during that part of our trip which is right by Magic Kingdom (we stayed at the Pop Century during the second half of our vacation). We decided spur of the moment because we weren’t tired to go to Magic Kingdom at 9:00 p.m. We hadn’t yet been to that park and we walked in right as the fireworks started. Standing on Main Street with the stores all lit up and the fireworks above the castle  - it was UNBELIEVABLE. We all just held hands and smiled and just took it all in. After that a lot of people, especially those with small children, were leaving the park….so we went to ride Space Mountain. No lines! We rode several other rides in Tomorrowland, all very quickly because the park had thinned out. At 10:00 we went back to Main Street in time to see the Electric Parade, then we hit a store or two and left. It was such an incredible couple of hours…we experienced so much in such a short period of time at Magic Kingdom at night and could not have done it if we didn’t have park hopper tickets.

Question: What is 1 useful thing you learned that you don’t find in the books?

Answer: How about three?!

1. If you are on a budget, one good idea is to buy Disney gift cards. They are accepted everywhere at Disney and we used ours like it was a debit card. We kept track of what was left on each and knew that when it was gone, it was gone! It helped us keep souvenir and snack purchases to a minimum.

 DSCN05302013-05-12-17_17_

2. If you think you want to pin trade (and you have time before your trip) go to ebay to buy some trader pins in bulk. You can get them for about $1.00 or less a pin (they cost about $4.00-$5.00 each when bought at the park in sets and from $9.95 on up for single pins!) Bulk lots are random, you can’t choose what you get…but because you are trading them, it doesn’t matter if your 10-year old son starts off with a bunch of Princess pins! Just be sure to research the seller to make sure he/she has good feedback and is selling authentic pins.

3. I’m going to do a whole post on this but you have to try Dole Whip while you are there. If you are a beer drinker – try the grapefruit beer at Epcot. And the orange bird from when we were little? He’s back! You can score a Citrus Swirl (frozen orange juice and vanilla ice cream) treat and even buy an orange bird souvenir sipper cup to take back home. (We bought three!)

Question: Which Disney app do you like best?

Answer: We used the My Disney Experience App, a great way to Explore Walt Disney World Resort on an interactive, GPS-enabled map. Through this app you can:

  1. View FASTPASS return times for the park you’re in.
  2. Get wait times for attractions and showtimes for fireworks and parades.
  3. Know what’s close or starting soon with Here & Now.
  4. Find Character greeting locations and times.
  5. Add activities to your Wish List.
  6. Browse restaurant menus and make dining reservations.
  7. Share plans with others through Family & Friends.
  8. Keep reservations and activities organized in My Plans

But Disney JUST released their newest (and super cool) app called Story. We literally found out about it while at the conference. This free app isn’t about navigating the parks, it’s for anyone/anywhere. It allows you to pull images from your iPhone’s photo gallery and edit them within an album that you can make into a story with captions and different themes…one of which is Disney so you can totally share photos of your family at the park with friends back home on facebook or through email. I’m going to explain the app in full detail in a future post but you can read more about it and download the Story app here.

Question: Are there affordable taxis at the entrances, in case we don’t want to wait for our shuttle?

Answer: That is one thing I don’t know about because we stayed on Disney property. There are many benefits to staying at a Disney resort and the biggest one is transportation. We had so many options depending on where we were going. We loved the monorail when we stayed at the Contemporary Resort but found the buses to Pop Century and to other parks where so efficient. We never waited in line very long….it made getting around so easy.

DSCN07072013-05-13-19_21_

One last bit of advice:

Have fun and enjoy the time with your family…avoid trying to do and see everything! Have a plan but don’t be afraid to deviate from it when you are having fun and in the moment.  Some of the best moments were those we spent “off our itinerary”….watching the sunset on the lake at Epcot, running into Belle and having a quick impromptu visit, sharing a box of fish and chips at the UK sitting on the curb and people watching….

I’ll never forget my trip to Disney. I hope yours is just as magical!

Readers: Are you going to Disney this summer? What questions do you have? Have you been already? What is your biggest piece of advice for those who have never been?

I was invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Conference. I paid a fee to attend which included the opportunity to participate in conference activities, stay at a hotel and experience Disney World. I was not asked nor expected to write a post about my experiences. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Share

Memorial Day Weekend Fun With Friends (but no bugs…thanks to Cutter!)

photo-655

We were pretty busy last weekend and took full advantage of the three-day holiday by packing in lots of outdoor time with family and friends. Fun outside in Houston is great, but it can get hot and the spring/summer months also bring uninvited guests (bugs!) to events. Thank you to Cutter for sponsoring this compensated post and providing us with Cutter products to keep mosquitoes from ruining our plans!

StillLivingTheDream swim team collage with text

On Saturday Jackson and Annie participated in their second summer league swim meet. We love swim meets because in addition to the friendly competition and great exercise for the kids, we have the chance to set up tents and visit with friends. I’m not going to lie, Saturday morning meets start really EARLY and usually run about seven hours. In the outdoor Houston heat, it can be draining and since we are a volunteer organization, we all chip in to help with timing, running the concession stand, getting kids sorted at the ready bench, etc. BUT…it’s such a great time to gather with friends in the neighborhood and visit.

In between races, the kids toss around the football or frisbee, play on the playground and make bracelets. Adults get time to chat and catch up as life with young kids takes us in a million directions. In addition to plenty of sunscreen, we also made sure to spray everyone with Cutter Natural Personal Insect Repellent. It’s great for the entire family, especially young kids, because it contains all-natural ingredients including essential oil derived from geraniums proven to an effective alternative to DEET.

StillLivingTheDream mudrun adults

I ran the Original Mud Run 5k Saturday morning so I left the meet a little early. Nine parents decided it would be fun to give it a whirl and formed the “crazy mudders” team. I loved the idea because I’m always looking for ways to get more active and have fun doing it…especially if we can include the kids.

We worried that our plans were a bit over ambitious when we arrived and saw the course…but we jumped in head first (literally!) and ended up having so much fun. We helped each other up, around and over muddy obstacles that challenged us physically and mentally and although we got dirty, we had good, clean fun (except for a couple of bad words I may or may not have said trying to get over the 20 foot cargo net obstacle!)

StillLivingTheDream mudrun kids

The kids joined us later in the day for a shorter fun run just for them. Our lil’ crazy mudders were so cute…from our girls in first grade to the 5th and 6th grade boys…they all had a great time. We set up a couple of tents and hung out during and after the races. Thankfully it was overcast so the heat wasn’t too bad.

Since there was going to be a lot of standing water and obstacles in the woods, I made sure to bring along Cutter Unscented Backwoods Insect Repellant to keep mosquitoes at bay. Backwoods has DEET and works for up to 10 hours, which makes it good for prolonged activities. (After an outbreak of West Nile virus in Houston last year, we want to do whatever we can to protect ourselves.)

StillLivingTheDream BBQ party

After a full day of swim team and mud running, my kids (and me!) feel asleep early Saturday evening. Then on Sunday we went to a friend’s house for a pool party and BBQ. Debi had plenty of hot dogs and burgers and we all added to the buffet by bringing a side item. Cutter CitroGuard, EPA-registered citronella candles by the sitting areas and pool helped keep mosquitoes away so we could enjoy the night outside. Plus, they looked really pretty. I love the different decorative containers they come in and they make great hostess gifts for those outdoor events you attend this summer!

 StillLivingTheDream familypicnic

On Monday, we were all a bit tired and the kids weren’t feeling so well. I think the sun and water finally caught up with them. We let them hang out inside watching movies while Ed and I worked on the yard. We mowed, edged and trimmed and then followed up by covering Cutter Backyard Bug Control Spray Concentrate over the lawn.

Mosquitoes seem to be really bad in our backyard. I’m trying to make sure we don’t have any standing water and to pre-treat the lawn before we spend time out back. Cutter Backyard Spray attaches to the hose and treats up to 5,000 square feet for mosquitoes, fleas, ticks for up to eight weeks.

Plus – mosquitoes just love me. I can be standing outside and get tons of bites and someone else standing by me won’t get any. Some say that those with fairer skin (I’m very light skinned) are more attractive to mosquitoes as well as those who give off more lactic acid and carbon dioxide. I don’t know what it is with me, but I was only out back for just a minute and got three bites before I sprayed myself with Cutter Skinsations Personal Insect Repellant. After that, nothing! I think this one is my favorite repellant from the line because it smells good and contains vitamin E and aloe to moisturize the skin.

In the evening when things got a little cooler (and the lawn was dry from the Cutter Backyard Spray) we let Buddy (our miniature dachshund) back outside to play, cooked hot dogs on the grill, steamed some snow crab and had a little picnic in the back before turning in early for the night. Just one more week of school and we’ll be ready to tackle more outdoor fun activities on our 2013 Family Summer Bucket List Challenge!

Check out Cutter on Facebook for more information about how to enjoy the outdoors bug-free this summer and check back with Still Living The Dream soon (hint: I’ll be giving away a huge Cutter prize pack just like I got!)

What outdoor fun have you and your family been up to? What do you have planned for the summer and how do you keep mosquitoes from crashing the party?

This post was sponsored by Cutter and while I received compensation and product for review, all thoughts and opinions (and extreme dislike for mosquitoes!) are my own. 

Share