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.


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!


21 Tips for Visiting Universal Orlando & The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We just got home from a first-time visit to Universal Orlando and had a great time. We’ve been wanting to go on this #FamilyForward adventure organized by Mom It Forward for several years and we finally made it happen! Every year Mom It Forward offers a vacation package for purchase to social media savvy families. In addition to a great stay at Loews Royal Pacific Resort and a visit to both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, we were able to meet other families from across the country to learn more about how we can become superhero families by spending quality time together learning and playing and giving back to others in need.

I’ll be posting more about this unique #FamilyForward trip later, but first – I couldn’t wait to share with you some tips to how you can take advantage of the time you spend at both parks in Orlando as well as some insider information about cool things about the parks!

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1. Avoid the extreme heat and huge lines by skipping the summer months and planning your vacation in the fall. I know school’s back in session, but we took the kids out over Labor Day weekend for an additional couple of days off and found the parks to be a lot less crowded so lines weren’t bad. On Labor Day itself, most rides were only 20-30 minutes long in the main lines. But because we stayed on property…we were able to ride in the Express Pass lines which cut our wait time down to almost nothing! This benefit, in my mind, makes staying at one of the Universal Orlando resorts a no-brainer.

2. They touch up the paint in Seuss Landing and Marvel Super Hero Island every night in Universal’s Islands of Adventure! There’s a lot of cool super hero art on the walls lining the street of Marvel Super Hero Island. Word on the “street” is the artist wasn’t allowed to claim his work, so he hid his signature in each painting. Look for the “Adam” signature hidden somewhere on each one…a fun game to play while you walk to the next ride or show!


2. Get the big as yo’ face donut in Lard Lad in Springfield for $5.99. You can cut it up and share it for a sweet snack for the entire family. Come on, they are “World Famous” how can you pass them up?!


3.Check out the phone booth at Universal Studios by King’s Crossing Station in London…right outside of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. Dial MAGIC (it’s an old fashioned dial phone without letters on the numbers so that’s 62442 – we had to look on our cell phones to figure that out!) You’ll reach the Ministry of Magic. So cool!


4. If you buy a Pygmy Puff like Ginny’s at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes joke shop in Diagon Alley, they’ll ring a big bell and announce to the whole store that you are adopting one and you get to tell everyone his/her name. Very cute! (Annie got a pink one!)


5. Buy a postcard. We got ours at Scribbles in Diagon Alley along with a sheet of Harry Potter postage stamps. (They told us  they only sell the Harry Potter stamps at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!) Address it to yourself and list all your favorite trip memories then take it to the Owl Post in Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure. They’ll give it an owl post postmark and an owl will “fly” it into the mailbox. Very cool – especially for the younger kids. Then we you get home, you’ll have something fun in the mail to remember your trip.


6. Visit Gringott’s bank in Diagon Alley. You can exchange your muggle money for a bank note in $10 and $20 amounts while you talk to the animatronics goblin who will actually answer your questions! You can spend the bank note anywhere at the park (or return it for cash later). The bank note is so cute, we almost didn’t want to spend it!


7. You’ve got to try the Butterbeer (available cold, frozen or warm) and the Pumpkin Juice while at one of the Harry Potter areas. Just do it. Also pictured: chocolate milk, Dragon’s Skin beer and cider beer from The Leaky Cauldron.


8. And while you’re at it…enjoy the same sweets that Harry did in the movie. We stopped to get chocolate frogs at Honeydukes in Hogsmeade to take on the train just like Harry and Ron did during their first Hogswart Express train ride! You can also get Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans, exploding bonbons and treacle fudge. Good times.


9. The mirror at Madam Malkin’s in Diagon Alley will give you fashion advice if you stand in front of it. Sometimes it’s nice, “you look brilliant”! other times, not so much “that color doesn’t look good on you.” Ouch.

10. The vanishing cabinet is at Borgin and Burkes in Knockturn Alley. You can hear a bird chirping inside!


11. If you are staying at a Universal Orlando Resort property (we stayed at Loews Royal Pacific – Aloha!) you also get in to Islands of Adventure one hour earlier then everyone else to visit Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. Bonus! Go straight to the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride as this is one of the only rides that doesn’t have an Express Pass. If you have time, you can enjoy some of the other rides at Hogsmeade, but 15 minutes before the park officially opens…take Hogswart Express to Universal Studio’s Diagon Alley. Then you’ll be first in line for the other cool Harry Potter ride that doesn’t have a Express Pass either – Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. These two rides have the longest queues all day, so you’ll be happy to get them both in first thing in the morning!


12. If you want to get a wand, go to Ollivanders (they have one in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley) and attend the short show first – it’s cool. They pick someone from the group to find the perfect wand (much like when Harry got his). Even if you’re not picked, it’s fun to watch. Then you can get your own. Remember, the wand chooses you – so try different ones in your hand to see which “speaks” to you! If you get it at the beginning of your stay, you’ll have more time to cast spells throughout Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley!


13. The Leaky Cauldron. Period. We loved eating lunch one day and breakfast another at this Diagon Alley restaurant. Lines can be long, but the move quickly…or wait for a time later in the day to go. We had the best Fish and Chips and Fisherman’s Pie in addition to a sticky toffee pudding that was magical! When you leave the restaurant, look up to your right. You’ll see balconies to the rooms for “rent” at The Leaky Cauldron. Word on the street is one of them is room 11 where Harry stayed while he was there.


14. When you take the train FROM Diagon Alley TO Hogsmeade, you can jump through the wall at platform 9 3/4. Awesome! Be sure to get your video camera ready!

15. We were one of the last people to get to see the Disaster show. They officially shut it down after Labor Day as well as The BeetleJuice Show. Plans are to put the highly anticipated new Fast and Furious ride there.  A good reason for us to come back in the near future!


16. The Hulk is taking a smash break. We were also one of the last ones to ride The Incredible Hulk roller coaster. They closed this ride for renovations on Labor Day as well, but will reopen it next spring. (photo courtesy of Jeff Bogle)

17. ET Adventure is one of the last remaining original park rides, but it never gets old. It has the same “It’s a Small World” ride feeling and my kid’s were amazed to see photos of Drew Berrymoore as a kid at the ride’s entrance. I must remember rent ET to watch with the kids! A fun fact about another long-time ride that is no longer there: Remember the Jaws attraction that was once were Diagon Alley is? They have many nods to this ride in the area including shark teeth in some of the Diagon Alley shop windows!

18. You’ll need at least one person to wear a lanyard to keep your Express Passes handy. They scan them at each ride so keeping them in your purse or backpack is a pain-plus they could get wet. You can get cool lanyards in the Universal gift store at CityWalk outside of the park entrance for only $8.95.

19. Outside of most of the rides with Express Pass they have lockers for your backpacks/purses. They are free to rent for the duration of the ride use a thumb print scan system to check them out and to check back in. This means 1. the same person who checks the locker out has to go to claim your stuff. 2. you are assigned a locker number that you have to enter to get back in – so if you think you might forget it….write it down!

20. A lot of the rides are multi-dimensional, like Transformers and Spider-Man, so it’s worth it to wait for a spot in the first row. You’ll be able to see without anyone’s head in the way and feel more a part of the experience. Plus – they use heat and water in many of them….so you’ll get to experience that better in the front row!


21. Florida weather can change on a dime and it rained every day we were there. But don’t worry….it doesn’t typically last long. Most of the time we would enjoy an inside ride like The Mummy roller coaster and when we got out, the rain had stopped. Bring rain ponchos (we’re wearing our Universal ponchos – we liked to call them our “Invisibility Cloaks!”). If it does rain, take time to refuel at CityWalk’s Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. This place is great…try the Filet and Lobster rolls or the High Class Hillbilly. You won’t regret it.

Do you have any Universal Orlando Tips?

I attended the FamilyForward Universal Orlando trip with my family. While we had some fantastic trip perks as part of this group, the trip was paid for by my family and all opinions expressed in this post are my own.



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.

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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 .



Color Fun Fest 5K – November 1st in Houston (Discount tickets!)

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I love attending local fun runs and have participated in many over the last several years. I can’t believe I haven’t had the opportunity to experience a color run yet. I was going to go to the Color Fun Fest last spring, but the event date conflicted with the kid’s swim team meet, so I couldn’t go.

I am so excited that the Color Fun Fest 5K is coming back to Houston this Fall for a Halloween Edition on November 1st and that they invited me to be their guest to join in on the fun.

My kids participated in two triathlons this summer and Jackson is on his school’s cross country team, so you could say that races are starting to “run” in the family. (I know, I’m terrible. I just couldn’t help it!) So we are all going to do the Color Fun Fest together. The best part is, kids 12 and under participate for FREE!

Since the event is the day after Halloween, costumes are encouraged. They have two runs; a day run at 5:00 p.m. and an evening run at 7:00 p.m.

This is a fun run so it’s not timed. The 3.1 mile course includes:

  1. 5 color stations along the run with thousands of pounds of color to shower runners (made of vibrant food-grade cornstarch that is safe and natural)
  2. High energy music along the course to keep families pumped up
  3. Night run features industrial strength blacklights and visual effects
  4. 2 water stations on the course
  5. A course with enough lighting to safely run at night
  6. Post run celebration with vendors, food and live entertainment


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Event Details:

November 1, 2014 : 2:00 pm – 10:00 pm. Day Run starts at 5:00 PM / Night Run starts at 7:00 PM. Event concludes at 10:00 p.m.

Sam Houston Race Park – 7575 North Sam Houston Pkwy W, Houston TX 77064

Discounted Tickets:

Join the fun and get your tickets now. Still Living The Dream readers can score tickets for an epic discount….just $20!

Use discount code: LIVINGTHEDREAM when you register here. 

Not in Houston? Color Fun Fest events are happening all over the country. Check them out online for a city and date near you!

I am receiving complimentary tickets to the race on November 1st in return for promotion of the event; however, I’m not receiving any other compensation and all thoughts and opinions are my own.


Free Fire Safety App: Sparky and the Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms

Did you know that it’s National Fire Prevention Week?

When I was little, my mother’s friend’s apartment caught on fire. I remember how devestating it was to her. All of her belongings were destroyed but thankfully, her injuries were treatable.

My family used the opportunity to talk about fire safety and we figured out a spot to meet outside if our house ever caught on fire. But we didn’t talk much about fire safety after that. As a parent, I’ve made it a point to talk to my kids about what to do in case of a fire and we’ve revisited the topic from time to time to make sure we are all on the same page and remember our plan.

National Fire Prevention Week is a great time to get together with your family and devise a plan (if you don’t already have one) or revisit safety tips if you already have a plan in place.

Yesterday Annie and I talked about the topic when she got home from school. I asked her what she remembered from when we last chatted (it’s been awhile!). We’ve talked about not hiding if she’s or smells smoke, about the quickest way to get out of our house and where to meet outside.

I’m so thankful that there are resources available that make having these discussions easier with our kids.

I recently discovered a free app that makes learning about fire prevention and safety fun; Sparky and the Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms. I was very happy when they asked if Annie and I would give it a try and share our thoughts with you!

The NFPA and Fire Prevention Week app has both an interactive story and music video…plus many other resources for parents and teachers.

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Annie started with the story and she read along with the narrator (although the words are pretty small) as Sparky and the kids investigate why an intruder stole Aunt Dottie’s smoke alarms. She loved clicking on the different pictures to see lights come on, wind chimes ring, instruments play and characters (even those in paintings) talk.

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TIP: Be sure to check out the Magic 8 Ball on the stairs on one of the pages, it was her favorite….so cute!

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She could also learn about safety tips throughout the story by clicking on white “sparkles” on different pages such as facts about smoke alarms, evacuation information, etc.

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At the conclusion of the story when Annie found all 9 fire safety tips, she received a superstar certificate she personalized with her photo!

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The music video, What’s that Sound by Recess Monkey, was also fun and Annie got up and danced. It’s the next day and I’m still humming it which is good… and bad!!! :)

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The app also included questions for Annie and I to discuss what we learned:

1. Why was it dangerous for Jerome Jinx to borrow the smoke alarms?

Annie – “Even though Jerome meant to do a good thing and felt bad about his mistake, you never know when there will be a fire so they always need to be there and be working.”

2. What would you teach Jerome about fire safety? What does he need to learn?

Annie – “Teach Jerome that there has to be a fire safety plan…like how we would meet out front at our big Oak tree.”

I’m proud of what Annie learned and how fun the app made the process! For more information about the app and additional resources for parents and teachers including free fire-safety materials, check out the Sparky Schoolhouse site.

  1. What do you do to help teach fire safety to your kids?
  2. Do you have smoke alarms and change out batteries regularly?
  3. Do you have a designated outside meeting place for your family to gather in case of a fire?

While I received compensation to share information about the National Fire Protection Agency’s Fire Prevention Week app, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I believe in teaching fire prevention safety tips to my children and applaud organizations like and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)’s resource for kids, who help me do it in such an entertaining way!


VTech InnoTab 3 Plus Learning Tablet Review and Giveaway!

Still Living The Dream contributing writer, Tanya, and her son, Michael, are here today with a review of the new VTech InnoTab 3 Plus Learning Tablet. Check out what they thought and then be sure to enter to win one in our giveaway just in time for the holidays! Many thanks to VTech for providing Michael a complimentary product sample to review and for providing another Learning Tablet for one lucky Still Living the Dream reader to win!

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A few years ago, I bought my youngest boy, Michael, the VTech InnoTab for Christmas. The InnoTab was the “in” toy that year and to purchase the kid-friendly tablet, I had to resort to stalking the employees at Target as they restocked merchandise.

The gift was a hit! Michael loved the InnoTab- it was simple for him to use (he was 4 at the time) and intuitive. We purchased several games to go with it like Disney’s Cars and Toy Story 3. The big problem with the original InnoTab was that it required AA batteries. Michael played on the InnoTab so much that he went through the batteries faster than we had a chance to take out a small business loan and purchase them. 

Then Michael’s older brother, Henry, got a Kindle for his birthday. Michael wasn’t quite ready for a tablet of his own, but he REALLY, REALLY wanted to play with his brother’s ALL-THE-TIME. After the 1,000th fight over the darn Kindle I whispered a prayer to the toy gods- “if only there was something Michael could use that was more his age-level, that was durable, and rechargeable.” The wind floated the message down to me- the VTech InnoTab 3! Michael has had a blast using the InnoTab 3.

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Setting up the InnoTab was easy and straightforward. Michael took to it right away, he even created his user name “Mike”. Some of the best features are that it is rechargeable (available in the bundle option) and it is compatible with the cartridges we purchased with the original InnoTab. There are also games and apps that you can download when you connect the tablet to the computer.

This tablet offers access to more than 800 educator-endorsed, age and stage appropriate cartridges, software and apps that can be purchased and downloaded from VTech’s Learning Lodge app store, but Michael seemed to be perfectly content taking selfies!

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Michael’s favorite aspect of the InnoTab is the camera and video feature. It has an 180° rotating camera with over 55 special effects and video recorder to make movies. Kids can even import and listen to their own MP3s with the music player.

As for durability, it has been dropped multiple times and run over by a bicycle at least once and that was just day one! It seems to be durable enough to handle the abuse of young boys. 

The InnoTab 3 is a great gift for Christmas for the kid that really, really, wants a tablet but will crack a screen faster than you can shout- “Nooooooooo-“.  Although it is recommended for ages 3-9, because of  its contents, I think it is more suitable for kids aged 4-6. InnoTab 3 Plus comes with 12 apps and retails for $59.99.

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VTech InnoTab 3 Plus artwork by Michael! 

There is now a little more peace in the house with two boys having their own personal and age-appropriate tablets. And, Michael, well, he has ridden his bicycle off into the sunset yelling: “This is the best day ever!!!”  

Unedited video directed and produced by Michael on his VTech InnoTab 3 Plus!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We were provided a InnoTab 3 Plus Learning Tablet from VTech for review purposes. As always, all thoughts and opinions are our own.


#FitMadeFun – Healthy Lifestyle for Kids with CLIF Kid and LeapFrog LeapBands!

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School is back in session and while it’s still hot (really, really hot!) in Houston, the Fall season is really just around the corner.

For the love of pumpkin bread, I heart the Fall! As the holiday season approaches, the temperatures will finally begin to drop which makes for much better outdoor running weather!

The kids and I stayed pretty active over the summer despite the heat. Now that they are getting back into a routine with school, organized sports keeps them busy – but we also try to have fun and keep moving around the house.

Which is why we were really excited to be invited by MomSelect to host a Fit Made Fun party sponsored by LeapFrog and Clif Kid. We received a party kit with free product in order to host the party. To inspire kids to get up and active, LeapFrog coordinated an event in Santa Monica, California, on September 6, 2014, where hundreds of kids and parents joined together to break several Guinness World Records with fitness activities.

We participated at home in Houston and while we probably didn’t break any world records, we had a blast!

Annie showed her friends her new LeapBand – a cool wearable activity tracker that encourages kids to move around throughout the day. Like my FitBit, the LeapBand tracks movement – but it also has several fun games, up to 50 fitness challenges you can take and even virtual pets you can create and rewards you can earn.


Instead of logging steps, you earn jewels which unlock even more fun activities. I really like that you are rewarded for your movement and also that parents can lock the device during certain hours during the school day and/or night so games won’t be a distraction during class or while sleeping  (but it can still be used as a watch and continues to track activity!)

For our Fit Made Fun party, we used the CLIF Kid 60 Minutes of Motion cards, a combination of 25 motion, activity, adventure and game cards, to inspire relay races and other fun activities. My friend Kelly and her kids came dressed for the occasion!

photo (3)


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends kids have 60 minutes of daily physical activity. This card deck, available to download for free starting September 15, 2014 here, is a fun way for busy families to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.  Star jumps, crab walks, nutrition tips and choose-your-own adventure prompts are just a few of what you’ll find in the deck.

After our activities, we took a break for a healthy snack including fruit, cheese and crackers, hummus and Clif Kid Zbar Protein Parfaits. We crumbled up the Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Chocolate and Chocolate Mint flavored bars and the kids used them as toppings on vanilla yogurt. It was a huge hit!


We are already fans of Clif Bars for grown-ups. My older son, Jackson, eats one before races and early morning cross-country practice. I always have one before a long run or triathlon. They are easy on my stomach and provide the nutrients I need to keep going.

Clif Kid Zbar Protein are great for kid’s growing bodies with calcium, vitamin D, iron, Zinc and 5g of protein. I also like what they DON’T  have – no partially-hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, synthetic preservatives and artificial flavors.

My kids just like that they taste good!

After we played (even the moms got into some of the hula hooping fun!) we gave away a LeapBand to one of our friends! Annie was so excited to draw the winning ticket and her buddy Michael was even more thrilled to win a LeapBand of his own!


The LeapBand can be found at stores like Target, Walmart and Toys R Us for just $39.99.

What do you do to help keep your kids active?

How do you track your progress throughout the day/week and what helps keep you motivated to stay active?

I received free products in order to host the LeapFrog and Clif Kid sponsored MommyParty but did not receive any other compensation. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


Weekend Getaways Close to Home – Our #Staycation at Woodlands Resort

Sometimes you just need to get away!

Taking a break from the worries of work, schedules and your normal routine can be such a great way to gain a new perspective and relax, but it can also be hard to carve out time to go on a long vacation. Plus, organizing and financing a trip far from home can be time consuming and pricey when you take into consideration flights, activities, hotels and meals.

We’ve taken several “staycation” mini breaks at home over the years, both over  the summer but also when school is in session when I find that schedules are beginning to run our life. Blocking out a weekend or even one day to spend together as a family can help us get reconnected and we’ve gone on picnics and museum trips and even just stayed home for games or movie marathons.

But it’s hard to really “get away” and be present with your family when you are at home looking at the loads of laundry, dishes and bills that need to be dealt with. Then there’s the lawn that needs to be mowed and wait…what? Is that the roof leaking?!!!

The Woodlands Resort seemed to sense we were in panic mode recently and called to see if we would check out their new lazy river and be their guest for an overnight retreat. We were thrilled to be offered this opportunity. Just about 45 minutes away, The Woodlands Resort is close enough to make it an easy trip, but far enough so that we put some distance between us and the work that was at home.

We actually stayed at the Woodland Resort in the spring, but that was before the lazy river was built and it happened to rain the entire time we were there (check out my post “How To Make the Best of a Rainy Vacation“). We still had a great time, but we really missed being in the water.

This time we arrived early Saturday morning to take advantage of all the poolside activities. Even though check-in isn’t officially until 3:00 p.m., The Woodlands Resort allows their guests to come earlier on the day of arrival to enjoy the property. Just stop by the desk and they’ll give you your bracelets. You can start sipping cold lemon-aid and racing down the water slides and they’ll call you when your room is ready!


We picked a seat by the back pool and water fall, so relaxing! But all the kid’s activities were happening at the front pool by the Cool Water Cafe.


Annie was excited about the line-up of activities scheduled for the day. She definitely wanted to get her face painted, get a balloon creation and take part in the hula hoop contest.

Woodlands Resort

We had a great meal by the pool from The Cool Water Cafe. Then at 3:00 p.m., we got a call that our room was ready! Our door was right by the pool and the back patio overlooked the lazy river. What a perfect view! The kids took a small break while I got ready to head over to The Spa at the main building.


The Spa is very quaint, quiet and relaxing. The therapist I had was wonderful. She asked me if it was ok if she worked out some of the kinks in my shoulders during my Swedish Massage. Yes, please! The hour flew by and I left feeling more relaxed for sure, but also more alert and energized!

cool water cafe

We were going to take advantage of the kids eat free deal in the Woodlands Dining room, but we were having so much fun by the pool, we decided to eat dinner poolside at the Cool Water Cafe again. They have a nice menu, so we were all able to get something different then we had for lunch.

lazy river

After dinner, we made S’Mores at the Fire Pit and circled around the lazy river a couple times before the movie. Their new, 1,000 foot lazy river wraps around the Forest Oasis Pool and guest rooms. With music playing along the way, we relaxed as we floated (the current isn’t too strong, very easy going) and then had a blast sliding down the new two-story water slide.

cookies and milk

When we returned to our room after the movie later that night, we had a surprise waiting for us…a cookie cake and carafe of milk. The kids felt so fancy! What a perfect way to end the day.

After a great night’s rest, I got up early to run. The fitness center is open 24/7, but I wanted to check out the property and run outside. They have a bike and run trail that surrounds the resort, but I just ran throughout the property and saw the golf course and tennis courts.


There is a lot of construction going on at the resort right now, but once you are back by the pool area – you hardly notice anything is going on. The $60-million expansion and renovation began last year and includes a new 184 guest room wing, the new (and now open!) lazy river and a new steakhouse along with an update to the resort’s conference center. We stayed in one of the 200+ renovated guest rooms at Fairway Pines, and they are really nice! The beds were comfortable and the furnishings were pretty with a modern Texas vibe. (Just be sure to ask for a room with a refrigerator if you think you’ll need one during your stay. Not all rooms have one right now.)

We will definitely go back to the Woodlands Resort again soon. It was one of the most relaxing overnight stays I’ve ever had and because it was so close to home, getting there was stress-free! The Woodlands is such a great area and there are plenty of stores and restaurants located close by, but they have everything you need right at the resort so there’s really no need to ever leave the property once you arrive. We didn’t…and we can’t wait to do it again!


I was invited to stay at the Woodlands Resort with my family in order to review the property and resort amenities. I did not receive any other compensation and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 



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.”


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




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 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


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.