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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

 

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Show Your #DisneySide – A Magical @Home Celebration!

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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

 

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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

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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

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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

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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 

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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!

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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.

 

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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. 

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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?

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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

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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!

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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. 

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Tears of Joy at Walt Disney World

family in front of castle

For the last week my family and I have been in Florida. I was invited to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Conference and then we extended our stay after the conference so we could play at all the Disney parks.

I have a lot to share with you including news about fun things on the horizon from Disney, tips for bloggers and social media professionals, advice about how to make the most of a fabulous Disney family vacation, restaurant and resort reviews and much more.

We got back last night…so bittersweet. There’s no place like home but the magic of Disney is so incredible you just don’t want it all to end.

But we are back to reality today and I have thousands of pictures to sort through and so many notes to organize from our trip plus work to catch up on while I was away. The kids went back to school this morning and there will be missed school work to catch up with for them as well, swim practice to attend and a meet tomorrow morning plus many other end of year activities and events.

Life is going to get crazy busy.

But before I dive in head first…I want to share this with you. The biggest take-away from our trip.

Tears of joy.

Admittedly, I’m an emotional gal. I laugh and cry openly as I experience emotions and events that touch me in my life. I laughed a lot on our trip to Disney. As a family, we shared so many special moments of pure silliness and abandoned the illusion of “cool” (matching family t-shirts rock!) and just soaked in the moments of joy and happiness as they came. Truly living life in the moment is really living the dream and it doesn’t happen a lot for me.

And I cried.

chris and ali

First during the conference when I heard Chris Powell, trainer and transformation specialist on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, speak about making the choice to make your health a priority. He is helping transform so many people’s lives and is so inspirational.

Then I cried again when I met Ali Vincent, winner of the show The Biggest Loser whose mantra “Believe it. Be it.” helped her lose 112 pounds and she is now inspiring people all over the world that they can achieve their weight loss goals as well on the Live Well Network.

To attend the conference at this time of my life when health has become a focus for me and then to have Disney focus so much of the conference on good health was incredibly special and very emotional. My life has changed drastically since last July. Losing almost 60 pounds and making exercise a daily habit has allowed me to change my perspective and live my life in such a different, more positive way.

Much more about these two incredible people and my experiences with RunDisney later. I promise.

But first….

When the conference ended and my family played at Magic Kingdom, I cried again. Twice.

 jack with belle

The first time was when we experienced Enchanted Tales of Belle, the attraction at the new Fantasyland. During this experience kids are selected from the group to act out certain parts of the story with Belle herself. Annie was Maurice and she shivered with “cold” while holding on to a prop that looked like she was in the Beast’s dungeon. Jackson was the Beast himself. With a red cape he growled (a bit reluctantly) at different parts of the show and then at the end he danced with Belle.

Jackson is 11 and while he enjoyed it he is also at that age when he is starting to get self-conscience and a bit shy. But watching my little boy dance with Belle brought back memories of when he was a toddler and would dance around the room with me while we watched Sleeping Beauty. He was my prince then and he is today. I’m so proud of the young man he growing up to be. I cried with happiness at the memory but also the knowledge that I am so blessed to be his mom. I love this boy with all my heart and soul.

And Annie.

annie with cindy collage

My 7-year-old daughter who loves Cinderella more than anything in the world. When we met Cindy at the Magic Kingdom and got her autograph it was so magical.

step sisters

Then she met the evil step-sisters and step-mom as well – which was SO fun (Disney characters REALLY get into character at the parks…they do it so well!) But the Celebrate A Dream Come True parade at 3:00 p.m. when all the characters, dancers and floats go down Main Street was incredible.

Maybe it was because it was the last day of our trip and we left the park right after the parade, but I was overcome with emotion. Annie and Jackson sat on the curb, ice cream from their Mickey bars dribbling down their chins…laughing and joking around while waiting for the parade to start. All the characters were fun to see; Stitch, Mary Poppins, Ariel – we love them all.

cropped cindy parade

But half-way through I saw Annie starting to waving wildly as Cinderella’s float came in to view. The evil step-sisters and mom danced around…interacting with the crowd and then the fairy godmother, perched at the top of the float looked right at Annie and blew her a kiss. Annie “caught” it and sent it right back and then she gasped as Cindy and her Prince floated by. Annie looked up with wide eyes and smiled and then looked back at me. For just a moment, we didn’t say a word among the thousands of other park visitors screaming and jumping and waving. But a conversation was taking place in the silence between us. I could literally hear her thoughts – that she was in total disbelief at all that was taking place…and then she hugged me.

Tears are running down my face right now as I write this….as much as they were when it all happened.

It is the magic of Disney that just cannot be duplicated and really can’t be explained. But I’m so thankful that I have this feeling in my heart I know I will never forget.

walking away

My kids asked me if I was ok as we left the park hand-in-hand after the parade ended for the last time (tears were still streaming down my face and I’m not a pretty crier!) I told them I was more than ok. I was happier than I could imagine or remember being in a long time.

Thank you Belle for dancing with my son.

Thank you Cinderella, Fairy Godmother, Lady Tremaine, Drizella and Anastasia; for making us believe we stepped right into your story.

And Thank you Walt Disney, for having a dream and sharing your world with us.

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; however, my family and I stayed later at our own expense. I was not asked nor expected to write a post about  my experiences. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

 

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Preparing For DisneyWorld – #PackMoreFun for #DisneySMMoms

disney badge

This is happening! We are going to DisneyWorld the day after tomorrow… just “two more sleeps” in kid countdown talk. My family and I are thrilled to be invited to the Disney Social Media Moms Conference this year. It will be an unbelievable experience; especially for my children who have never been to Disney. When we went on a Disney Cruise last year they were amazed about the Disney magic and that is just a touch of pixie dust compared to what they are going to experience later this week.

But first, we must pack. And I have to admit, the task is overwhelming. Disney and American Tourister have made it a little more manageable and colorful by giving each of the attendees a Colora Spinner 20 inch bag; the official luggage of DisneyWorld Resort and Disneyland. They come in hot orange, pink and green and they are so fun!

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We got an orange one and besides being able to spot our bag from across the room at baggage claim, it’s easy to roll and packs a lot. We are going to need it. Most of my fellow blogger attendees have already packed. I’m still in pre-loading mode! Here is a glimpse of a few items I’m taking:

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Running Clothes – I always pack work-out clothes whenever I travel but while at the conference we will be running as a group at the ESPN track with the folks from Run Disney and Ali Vincent – winner from the TV Show The Biggest Loser! I’m giddy about this opportunity as you know running is my passion right now. I’ve got my copy of The Runner’s Guide to Walt DisneyWorld by Krista Albrecht and Megan Biller. A great resource for running official races held by Disney. I’m preparing for the Princess Half-Marathon in February right now!

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Gear to battle the elements – We’ve got a big hat for Ed (his bald head gets a little red when he’s out in the sun!) and plastic rain ponchos just in case it rains. (These were only $1.00 at Academy and will be great for spotting each other as they are bright yellow…we are hoping we won’t need them, though.) Plenty of sunscreen and bug repellant are also going in our bag (we have many travel size products so we can pack a new one in our day pack at the park to save room!)

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Matching Family Shirts – I know, I know. I just had to do it, though. Even my 11-year-old said we needed them! I had them made up at our local t-shirt shop and can’t wait to wear them.

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Cinderella outfit for Annie – Every princess needs a dress and Annie’s favorite is Cindy. We don’t know too much about the conference agenda yet, but we did find out we will be attending the regal celebration to officially welcome Merida into the Disney Princess royal court. We are so excited about the chance to see all 11 princesses together and Annie can’t wait to channel her inner-Cinderella in full costume!

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Pins for trading – We got the pin trading bug on the Disney Cruise and the kids are so excited to carry on the tradition of trading pins with staff and other guests at the park.

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Magical Express luggage tagsDisney is amazing. When you stay at the resort (we are staying at the Contemporary and then transferring to Pop Century after the conference) they transport you from the airport to the hotel and you don’t even have to stop at baggage claim to get your checked luggage! They do it for you and have them delivered to your room. Talk about a stress-free way to travel with kids!

What are you favorite things to pack for a family DisneyWorld vacation? Any tips for a newbie like good places at the parks to eat or must see attractions or rides? I want to hear your tips!

I purchased a ticket to the Disney Social Media Moms Conference which includes tickets to parks and other activities. No compensation was received and no expectation of a post is required. I just want to share some tips I learn along the way and the fun things I do while on vacation with my family after the conference ends!

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We Are Doing The 2013 Summer Bucket List Challenge! (Happy Family Movement)

summer bucket list challenge main photo

Last year when I heard about the Summer Family Bucket List Challenge by The Happy Family Movement, I immediately signed up. We sat down together as a family and brainstormed things we wanted to do during summer vacation. (You can see my list here)

The challenge is back this summer and you can sign up here. We did! It officially begins on May 20, 2013 and you can enter to win prizes, get inspired by other family’s bucket lists, view adventure guides as well as have access to other travel resources. There’s even a facebook community you can join!

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Colorado Summer Road Trip

Last year I made a garland with each activity listed on a separate index card attached with a mini clothespin. After we did the activity, we’d put up something from the activity by the card (like a program, ticket stub, photo or brochure) and by the end of the summer we had a very fun, visual way to remember our summer vacation! I decided to do something similar this year as well.

The year before last, without a plan in place, the summer ended in a blink of an eye and all those things we had in our brains that we wanted to do, never got done. While we didn’t accomplish EVERYTHING on our bucket list last summer, we did most of them and I really have the Summer Bucket List Challenge to thank.

We are so excited about this year and my kids (my 7-year-old daughter, Annie, and 11-year-old son, Jackson), my husband and I are already thinking about fun things to do with the extra time off. We are crossing a BIG bucket list item off our list before summer even starts. We have a trip to DisneyWorld planned in May! We’ve never been and we are so excited! I also have a bucket list trip  to Paris in June planned with my mom and two sisters. It’s always been my mom’s dream to go. She is retiring this year and we are taking her abroad to celebrate the beginning of the new journey in her life!

But the bucket list challenge isn’t just about big vacations and high-dollar trips. In fact, it’s more about the little things that we feel we’ll always have time to do so we never really do them…like taking a picnic in the park, a bike ride on the beach… or a neighborhood walk to feed the ducks! You can in this post see we crossed this one off our list right as summer started (and you can get a glimpse of the my index card garland)!

Some of the items we didn’t get to like fishing and visiting the observatory have made it on this year’s list. Annie  has been bugging me since last summer to learn to sew and I keep telling her “when we have more time”. So, you guessed it, it’s on our  2013 summer bucket list and we plan to take a class together in July.

Since I work from home full-time and my husband works from home part-time, we have more flexibility to do things like take a family bike ride or a short swim at the neighborhood pool. Our lives have changed a bit since last summer, too. I lost 55 pounds and embarked on a healthier lifestyle which we have all embraced. We ran our first fun run together last weekend and we have many items on our list this year that are more physically challenging then ever before (like participating in a mud run, going water skiing and trying to parasail).

Really though, the items on the list aren’t the most important things about the summer bucket list. Whether or not we go fishing this year (although we hope to!) isn’t what it’s really about (at least to us). What it means to us is to make time to do things together as a family. So many times during the school year we get going in a million directions with homework and after-school activities like scouts and sports… we don’t have time to really visit. Carving out time to do things together during the summer months when time is more on our side is a great way to re-connect. Even planning the outing or trip together can be a fun time in itself!

(If a visit to Aquatica or SeaWorld is on your Summer Bucket List, visit about our trip last year here when we crossed it off our list. We included tips that might help you plan your visit!)

The Patrick Family’s 2013 Summer Bucket List

summer bucket list challenge collage

Ice Cream Cone free printable tag artwork by Amy Moss
  1. Go to the beach
  2. Go fishing
  3. Visit the observatory to see the stars
  4. Go water skiing
  5. Go bird watching
  6. Do a mud run
  7. Go parasailing
  8. Participate in 2 family fun runs
  9. Learn to sew
  10. Sculpt with clay
  11. Keep a journal
  12. Have “date nights” both time for mom and dad to go out alone, plus time for each parent to spend time with each child doing something fun
  13. See a concert with lawn seats at The Woodlands Pavilion
  14. Invite a different family over for dinner every couple of weeks
  15. Have a talent show
  16. Pitch a tent in the backyard and “go camping” Make smores and tell ghost stories.
  17. Face our Fears – pick a thing we  each have always wanted to do but were afraid to … and try it
  18. Go snorkeling
  19. Go to Aquatica and try out some new adventures in San Antonio while we are in town
  20. Go to the Drive-In Movies
I was not compensated for this post. I’m just sharing  great summer resources available because I love the program and want you to have the best summer ever!
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