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family

Posted on December 23, 2016

10 Adorable Christmas Eve Traditions to Start with Your Family

Christmas Eve Traditions

Traditions are a wonderful way to spend time together with your family.  They are the stuff that memories are made of and many times these traditions are handed down from generation to generation.  Christmas time is the perfect time of year to start traditions!  Check out this list of some of our family’s favorite things that we look forward to every year on or right around Christmas Eve.

1.  Make a Christmas Eve box

Christmas Eve Box

2. Make reindeer food to sprinkle on the lawn for Santa’s reindeer.

Magical Reindeer Food

3. Make some extra room in the play room before Santa arrives.  Have your kids take the Christmas Toy Challenge – no elf required!

A Christmas Toy Challenge

4. Take a car ride around the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights!  We call this “Griswolding.”  We put the kids in their pajamas and serve up popcorn and hot chocolate in the car.  We crank up the Christmas tunes on the radio and drive around for an hour or so looking at the lights!

This local light display is in Harleysville, PA.

harleysville lights

5. After Santa has visited your house, set the crock pot up with this Slow Cooker Candy Cane French Toast recipe and wake up to a breakfast that has cooked itself!  (Note: You’ll want to start it later at night and on the lowest temperature so it doesn’t overcook.)

Candy Cane French Toast

6.  Take pictures of the kids silhouetted against the Christmas tree lights.  I have ALWAYS wanted to learn how to do this!!  I finally took some time this year to practice and then practice some more.

Here are the settings I used while shooting on manual mode:

ISO – 1600
F – 3.5
SS – 1/10

A tripod is handy, though I didn’t break mine out for this picture.  The kids will have to hold still, so if all else fails, I suggest a little bribery.  ;)

Kids in Front of Tree

7. Set up a hot cocoa bar.  You can make it as simple or as extravagant as you want, as long as you have the hot cocoa, you’re in business!  We love throwing together some marshmallow snowmen for our hot cocoa bar!

Marshmallow Snowmen

8.  Have an indoor snowball fight!  Our kids (okay, the adults too) can’t get enough of these!

snowball bucket

9.  Capture the moment with a chalkboard sign.  Big or small, handmade or store-bought, chalk or markers – it doesn’t matter what you choose.  Write the date on your signage of choice and snap a pic!

Kids on Christmas Chalkboard Sign

10.  Make a gingerbread house (or village)!  Okay, you can seriously pick these kits up for just a few dollars at stores like ALDI, AC Moore, Michael’s, Walmart, Amazon, etc.  Landon and I made this gingerbread house together at his preschool.  His teachers had already assembled the houses by simply hot glue gunning some graham crackers onto the top half of a cardboard milk/juice container.  So smart!!

Preschool Gingerbread houses

Remember!  It doesn’t matter how many traditions you pick or to what extent you do them – the only thing that matters is that you spend some quality time with those who are the most important to you!

Merry Christmas!

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Christmas Traditions with Kids

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Posted on December 5, 2016

Holiday Tradition: Christmas Eve Box

Christmas Eve Box

If I had to pick my very very (very) favorite holiday, it would actually be Christmas Eve.  Maybe it’s not even technically a holiday, but to me, it’s my favorite day of the year.  There are many reasons why, the reasons either falling into happy memories of days gone by or anticipation of things to come.

When we were little, Christmas Eve was always a special night around here.  We usually went to church, some years my sister and I were even in the children’s choir and got to sing all of those beautiful Christmas songs to the congregation.  Some years we had family friends over, other years we spent the night simply as our family of five.  Dinner was always fun fare – appetizers and finger foods including shrimp cocktail, mozzarella sticks, spinach dip, etc.  We would almost always get a new pair of pajamas.  We would also get to open one (and only one) present – something from our parents since Santa brought all of the gifts on Christmas morning.  Before we turned in for the night, we would watch a movie together and some years we would read either The Night Before Christmas or The Polar Express.

Now that I am grown and have my own kiddos, I find my family doing many of the same things on Christmas Eve that I loved as a kid.  We host a big dinner for 20ish of our closest family and friends and it’s a wonderful night of holiday-themed happy celebrating.  I look forward to it every single year!

I think that my absolute most favorite part of Christmas Eve is the excited air of anticipation!  Christmas is so close yet not over.  No need to be sad, just happy, grateful and excited.

A few years ago we started a really fun tradition with our kids and I wanted to share it with you!  Every year on Christmas Eve, our kids are gifted a Christmas Eve Box.  The contents of this box can be anything you’d like!

Our Christmas Eve Box always contains:

  • New pair of pajamas for each kid
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Reindeer Food to sprinkle on the lawn before bed
  • New Christmas movie that we can watch together

how-to-make-a-christmas-eve-box

I would love to hear about your Christmas Eve traditions!  Do you do anything special year after year?

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Posted on November 21, 2016

Mama Cheaps 2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Fun Tech Products for the Entire Fam

holiday-gift-guide-tech-gifts-2016It’s hard to believe that we are on the cusp of yet another holiday season, isn’t it?  This year all but FLEW by for us and I am trying to understand how 2016 is almost over.  As I tried to narrow my focus for gift guide themes this year, one major theme kept bubbling to the surface:  TECH.  And not just any tech.  FUN TECH.  I set out to find some of the super fun new tech-y gadgets out there and have compiled a list of suggestions.  There are ideas for both kids and adults at a variety of different price points.

Featured brands this year include nabi, Ninja Kitchen, HP and Pakpod.

American Girl Tablet powered by nabi

If you have a kid who absolutely loves the doll world of American Girl, this new tablet powered by nabi will bring her hours of entertainment.  This exclusive branded tablet comes pre-loaded with over 70 American Girl videos, apps, games and more featuring favorite AG characters.  It comes with a custom American Girl berry colored bumper, sounds effects and wallpaper.

Aside from the AG branding, this is a full-featured Android tablet that comes with Google Play and a bunch of kid-focused features.  It offers a kid-safe mobile app store, lots of parental controls, animate Time Controls and more.  This tablet runs on nabi’s Blue Morpho OS.  Retail price is $79.99.

American Girl Nabi tablet

Hot Wheels Tablet powered by nabi

Now let’s talk about our car-obsessed little ones!  I have one of those!  Landon is the most vehicle-obsessed preschooler I have ever been around.  He hasn’t met a vehicle that he hasn’t loved – and he knows them all by name!  This exclusive branded tablet comes pre-loaded with over 25 Hot Wheels themed apps and games that are sure to bring hours of fun.  Fans can discover and explore the world of Hot Wheels with videos featuring the coolest Hot Wheels experiments, track wars and hacks.  It comes with a custom Hot Wheels orange bumper, sound effects and wallpaper.

This is a full-featured Android tablet  that comes with Google Play and a bunch of kid-focused features.  It offers a kid-safe mobile app store, lots of parental controls, animate Time Controls and more.  This tablet runs on nabi’s Blue Morpho OS.  Retail price is $79.99.

Hot Wheels Nabi Tablet

HP Sprocket Photo Printer

Say goodbye to the days of waiting until you got home to your big ‘ol printer until you could print out the pictures you just took. I am a little too excited about the brand new HP Sprocket. This pocket-sized printer prints 2×3 inch stickable snapshots straight from your smartphone or tablet. My mind is racing with the fun possibilities for this on-demand printer! From kids printing their photo booth style pictures at a party to parents printing everything from scrapbook images to grad school project accents – the possibilities are so vast and wonderful!

The Sprocket works via app, which can snap a photo, or allows you to select a photo from Facebook, Instagram, Flickr or your camera roll. Print your photo or have fun adding frames, stickers, filters and/or text.

The HP Sprocket Photo Printer uses HP ZINK Sticky-backed Photo Paper. Both products can be purchased HP.com, Amazon and Best Buy.  Retail price is $129.99 for the printer and $9.99 for a 20-sheet pack of paper.

hp-sprocket-photo-printer-in-white

HP 15 Notebook PC

If you’re shopping for a powerful laptop computer at a great price, you’ll be able to score an incredible deal on a powered-up HP laptop during QVC’s* Best Black Friday™ Sale weekend! The HP 15 Notebook comes with Windows 10 Home, 2TB hard drive, high-definition display, AMD Radeon R5 graphics, HP TrueVision HD Camera, DTS Studio sound and much more. Best of all, HP has partnered with QVC to offer two exclusive colors; minty green and soft lilac, and will feature this laptop at the lowest price of the season on Saturday, November 26th.  You can preview the HP 15 Notebook PC here.

*QVC is a service mark of ER Marks, Inc. The QVC.com domain name is registered to QVC, Inc.

hp-15-laptop-pc

Ninja Coffee Bar System with Glass Carafe

It has seriously never been easier to play DIY Barista in your own home when you have a Ninja Coffee Bar System.  This machine is the perfect gift for the coffee lover in your life.  Brew a great tasting cup of coffee or froth up some milk using the built-in frother and enjoy a latte.  I have written a detailed review of this brewer HERE.

ninja-coffee-bar-glass-carafe-system-cf092-with-cookbook-and-tumbler

Pakpod – the Ultimate Adventure Tripod!

We are ALWAYS on the go and we almost ALWAYS bring the camera bag with us.  The DSLR and GoPro come with us on many of our adventures and I cannot tell you how many times we wished that we had a more versatile tripod.  The Pakpod is the ultimate adventure tripod.  It weighs less than a pound and can collapse and fold about to just about a foot long.

The Pakpod is not only super lightweight, but it’s also waterproof!  This will help you grab footage on the lake, in the pool, even in a rain storm.  It can hold your smartphone or action cam or DSLR which makes it a great go-to tripod when you’re out exploring.

You also have the option to purchase a set of rounded tip Safe Stakes which would come in handy when mounting Pakpod on the body or when pointed stakes could be dangerous.  Retail price is $99.99.

pakpod-tripod

pakpod-tripod-details

using-the-pakpod

nabi Compete – Activity Tracker for Kids

If your kids constantly ask for a FitBit or similar tracking device but you’re just not quite ready to hand over a pricey tracker, you will absolutely want to check out the nabi Compete. The Compete is a set of competitive bands for kids. This 2-pack offers bands that sync to the Compete app.  Kids can perform head to head contests and collaborative tasks, letting kids stay active and learn about the benefits of staying in shape, while they are having fun. nabi Compete measures food burn and challenges children to walk, jump, or run distances equivalent to real landmarks all over U.S., such as the distance of the Brooklyn Bridge! Kids can learn the concept of calories as their food burn challenges are displayed with relatable, kid-friendly foods.

Download the nabi Compete app via Google Play Store or the Apple Store.  Retail price is $39.99.

nabi compete activity bands

nabi-compete

What tech-y must-haves would YOU recommend to others this holiday gifting season?

Disclosure:  We received samples of some of the products featured in this guide for promotional consideration.  All opinions are 100% our own.

Posted on August 29, 2016

Inspiring the Next Generation of Beatles Fans: BeatBugs from Netflix #StreamTeam

I am a member of the Netflix StreamTeam. As such, Netflix has provided me with a subscription to Netflix streaming services and a streaming device on which to watch the content. In exchange, I have agreed to share monthly posts with my readers about topics relevant to various streaming content. All opinions are 100% my own.

Netflix

Fact: In my house, we grew up to “Breakfast with the Beatles” playing on the radio every Sunday morning as my dad cooked eggs and bacon.

Fact: In 7th grade my parents took me to a Paul McCartney concert and I thought it was just about the best thing ever.

Fact: In high school I watched “A Hard Day’s Night” more times than I can count.

Being raised by 2 parents who absolutely LOVE the Beatles gave me a pretty good chance at digging the music myself.

I was thrilled to learn about the brand new Netflix Original show for kids called BeatBugs.  Inspired by the music of the Beatles, this adorable show features five sweet and energetic bug-like creatures (Jay, Kumi, Crick, Buzz and Walter) who go on kid-friendly adventures set to the tune of the Fab Four. Songs like “All You Need is Love” (the show theme!), “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Come Together” can now become a family sing-along.

I’m honestly not sure who loved the show more – me or the kids. They were only too happy to have their own BeatBugs concert with some instruments that Netflix send us. :)  Give the show a watch (er, stream) and let us know what you think!

Posted on July 9, 2016

Rocking Horse Ranch All-Inclusive Family Resort Review (Highland, NY)

Rocking Horse Ranch Sign

This travel review is a bit different than most of my others, and that is because it will be comprised of a compilation of two different visits to Rocking Horse Ranch.  Located in Highland, NY, this all-inclusive resort has now been a Spring weekend getaway two years in a row for us.  Both times we traveled with a very large group of people from the farm where Lily rides.  The main attraction for all of us to Rocking Horse Ranch is the fact that they offer trail rides on horseback for all guests ages 7 and older.

Rocking Horse Ranch Logo

The location:  RHR is located in the Catskills in New York and is approx a 2.5-3 hour drive from our house in the Philadelphia suburbs.  The ranch is not far from the Walkway Over the Hudson River.  Sprawling across 500 acres, the mountainous woods are filled with many trails for hiking and trail riding.

The cost: We found RHR’s rates to be on the high side, but pretty comparable to similar family resorts.  Along with the pricetag, here are a few things to keep in mind.  First, your food is included.  Alcohol is not included but all of your meals are.  Second, I would imagine (I don’t know for a fact) that the horseback riding aspect results in a high insurance premium to cover.  I’m guessing this is included in the rate.  Does Rocking Horse Ranch ever offer discounts?  Actually, YES!  In fact, we enjoyed some big savings during our stay thanks to a couple of discounts.  We traveled in early May which was off-peak season.  We got a group discount (last year our group had over 50 people, this year we had more than 100!).  We also traveled mid-week AND took advantage of a Kids Stay Free Promo.  All of that saved us hundreds of dollars.  2 nights still ran us around $850.

The rooms: RHR offers several different room types in the main building (where we stayed) and the Oklahoma Building (right next to main building).  Both years we had a bunk bed room.  We found the rooms to be incredibly spacious.  We had a bathroom with an extra sink right outside of it.  There was a foyer-type area just inside the door that featured a long clothing rack and a deep shelf on top.  This was very convenient for hanging clothes and storing food/snacks and riding gear.

Inside the room were 2 double beds, a small sitting area, bunk beds, a tv and a small refrigerator.  (The kids LOVED the bunk beds.  We requested a bunk bed and there was a small upcharge – $10?/night for a bunk bed room.)

Rocking Horse Ranch Bunk Bed Room

Rocking Horse Ranch Bunk Bed Rooms

Rocking Horse Ranch Bathroom

The food:  We found the food at Rocking Horse Ranch to be very tasty!  Remember all meals (starting with DINNER on the day you check in and ending with LUNCH the day you check out) are INCLUDED in your stay.  Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style.  There was a nice variety of food and there is a waitstaff to fill egg orders and pour coffee in the morning at breakfast.

Rocking Horse Ranch Lunch Buffet

Rocking Horse Ranch Sandwich Request

Rocking Horse Ranch Billy Horse

Dinner is a sit-down, order-from-menu meal.  There are several dishes to choose from and the menu changes daily.  A member of the waitstaff will take your table’s order and another server will come around for bar drink orders (not included in your stay and you will receive a receipt to sign after your meal to charge the drinks to your room).  We thought the dinners were good and the staff was very attentive and genuinely seemed to care that we were happy with our food.

Rocking Horse Ranch Dinner Menu

Rocking Horse Ranch Steak Dinner

Rocking Horse Ranch Salmon Dinner

Rocking Horse Ranch Dessert

The indoor activities: Since we were at RHR in early May, the outdoor pool had not yet opened for the season.  Last year our stay had picture perfect weather and warm temps.  The same exact weekend this year was chillier and RAINED (sometimes poured) during the majority of our stay.

No matter that it rained, because there are so many things to do indoors – we were NEVER bored.  First of all, there is a daily schedule every day.  Similar to other resorts or cruise ships you might have experienced, activities like Bingo, Karaoke, Scavenger Hunts, Game Shows and more happen all day long.  Our group participated in many of these activities and had a lot of fun.  There was even a WINE AND CHEESE PARTY during one afternoon.  THAT was a lot of fun and the wine served at that time is complimentary.  (Though I will warn you, the bar staff was a tad inflexible regarding the end of the free wine.  Our morning trail ride was canceled due to thunderstorms so we got bumped to the afternoon ride which overlapped times with the wine party.  We got down to the Saloon immediately after our ride and the party was halfway over.  We got one glass of wine and sat with friends enjoying the good conversation.  At exactly 4:03 pm we glanced at the time and realized the event ended officially at 4 pm so we figured we’d get a second (and final) glass.  NOPE.  Bartender would not budge.  Party ended at 4, free wine bottles closed up at 4.  (And look, I get it, rules are necessary.  But from a customer service standpoint, we were payng a lot of money to stay there, had only had 1 glass prior, and missed half the party due to a trail ride time change that was beyond our control.)

ANYWAY.  LOL!

Rocking Horse Ranch Wine and Cheese Party

Another huge draw, especially for the kids, was the indoor water park.   A big pool, a water slide and a splash area for toddlers kept our kids happy for HOURS.

Rocking Horse Ranch Indoor Pool

Rocking Horse Ranch Indoor Splash Park

Another indoor (but you have to walk outside to get there) option is the Fun Barn.  The Fun Barn was yet another place that occupied our kiddos for aWHILE.  There was a huge bounce house, NERF-like air guns inside a large climbing structure, badminton, ping pong tables and more.

Rocking Horse Ranch Fun Barn

Rocking Horse Ranch Inside Fun Barn

The arcade has a lot of games and also bowling.

Rocking Horse Ranch Arcade

Rocking Horse Ranch Bowling

The outdoor activities: Now keep in mind, we were visiting in early Spring.  Activities change seasonally at the ranch so some of the things we enjoyed may or may not be available during your stay.  For example, the mountain tubing had just opened a week or so before our stay and the zipline had just ended.

The mountain tubing was so fun!  Open for a few hours each day, you grab a tube, ride to the top of the hill via magic carpet, and away you go!

Rocking Horse Ranch Tubing

Rocking Horse Ranch Mountain Tubing Magic Carpet

Rocking Horse Ranch Mountain Tubing

Rocking Horse Ranch Lily Mountain Tube

Since Landon wasn’t old enough to participate in the trail rides, he was able to go on a wrangler-led horse ride during the posted hours.

Rocking Horse Ranch Landon Pony Ride

Mini golf, bungee jumping, fishing, canoe and paddle boats are all included in your stay.  It was SO nice to be able to hop from one activity to the next without pulling out a wallet.

Rocking Horse Ranch Bungee Jump

Rocking Horse Ranch Paddle Boats

Rocking Horse Ranch Boat House

Rocking Horse Ranch Paddle Boats on Lake

The kids loved the big playground!  There were teepees scattered around to explore, random animals to visit and more.

Rocking Horse Ranch teepees

Rocking Horse Ranch Playground

The weather cooperated with us both years to get in a great campfire.  Set against the backdrop of the beautiful lake at sunset, we toasted marshmallows and listed to live music.  It was perfect!

Rocking Horse Ranch Campfire

Rocking Horse Ranch Lake at Sunset

Family at Rocking Horse Ranch Lake

Kids at Rocking Horse Ranch

The horseback riding: Ah, the riding!  Chances are probably pretty good that if you’re heading to Rocking Horse Ranch, some or all of your family plans to get at least one trail ride under their belt.  RHR is a wonderful place for a ride!  The scenery is beautiful and their barn is full of even-tempered trail horses are are suitable for all riding ability types.

Here’s how the riding piece works:  when you check in, you must sign a waiver releasing the ranch from any responsibility should you get hurt while riding.  You MUST sign this waiver to be permitted to ride.  The ranch posts times each day when you can sign up for your ride time.  You need to fill out a form for every rider in your party and assign each person a riding level – BEGINNER (walk only), INTERMEDIATE (walk/trot), ADVANCED (walk/trot/canter).  If you choose the Advanced ride, you will be required to demonstrate that you can initiate and sit a canter on your horse.  If you fail to make your horse canter or grab the saddle horn, etc during that test, you will be bounced to the Intermediate ride.

Your stay guarantees you to ONE ride every day (not including your arrival day).  Show up with your ride card (given to you at sign up) during your time slot and get in the ride line you wish to take.

Every ride time (there are several every day) also offers a standby line.  If you want to ride more than once a day, head to the standby line.  We had great luck getting on as a standby rider the few times we tried.

Rocking Horse Ranch Trail Ride Lines

It was so much fun to ride horses together as a family!!  Last year was the first time I had ever ridden a horse with Lily and this year was the first time that Bob, Lily and I were ever on horses together.

Trail Rides at Rocking Horse Ranch

Rocking Horse Ranch Trail Ride

Lily Trail Riding at Rocking Horse Ranch

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Rocking Horse Ranch and would recommend it in a heartbeat!

Check out the videos below that I put together with clips from this year’s trip:

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Rocking Horse Ranch Review

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Posted on July 6, 2016

What I Learned from Netflix: Kids’ Edition

I am a member of the Netflix StreamTeam. As such, Netflix has provided me with a subscription to Netflix streaming services and a streaming device on which to watch the content. In exchange, I have agreed to share monthly posts with my readers about topics relevant to various streaming content. All opinions are 100% my own.

What I Learned from Netflix Kids Edition

I think all of us parents have been there: totally surprised at some of the things our kids say. Sometimes their musings are funny, other times they are impressive… while sometimes they are downright embarrassing! My kids are NEVER at a loss for words. Their Netflix watching gives them fodder for all sorts of statements.

Check out these 10 thoughts from my kids that have been provoked by watching a show or movie on Netflix:

“Science and technology are REALLY cool and I love learning about them!” (Project MC2)

“Fear is another reason to try harder.” (Liv and Maddie)

“Backhoe! Excavator! Garbage Truck! Roller! Crane!” (Landon learned construction vehicle lingo from Mighty Machines)

“Reading can take you on adventures.” (Super Why)

“Many jobs take just 3 simple steps!” (Special Agent Oso)

“You can NEVER be too SILLY.” (Peewee’s Playhouse)

“Time travel would be amazing! I’d love if it was real!” (Back to the Future)

“Many injuries can be overcome – never stop trying!” (An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars)

“Life is sweeter with a pot of honey.” (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh)

“It can be hard to do things you are afraid of, but when you try hard, you can achieve just about anything.” (An American Girl: Saige Paints the Sky)

What would YOUR kiddos add to our list?

What I Learned from Netflix

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