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Monday, April 25, 2016

Exploring the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum

For our three hour road trip to Orlando for the annual Traveling Mom retreat, I was given the chance to test-drive and review the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum.


I am by no means a car expert, but since having our boys we have gone through three SUVs in search for the right fit for us. So, from a parent's perspective here is my take.


Overall, we were blown away by the luxury of this vehicle and all of it's amazing features that made driving a pleasure, safer and easier for our family. It's definitely a great alternative and more stylish than a mini-van, yet still functional for large families too.


Ford Explorer Features We Loved:


  • Dual-panel moonroof allowed the boys to see out from their car seats in the second row for a change. They enjoyed the novelty of it and made for a fun road trip for them. 
  • Heating and Cooling leather seats. The former is great for traveling up north and the latter was heavenly here in Florida. If only my car had this for the summer months down here when I'm sticking to the seats. 
  • 2nd row heated seats. Not that we used this feature, but I still thought it was a cool feature to have and one I would have loved having in our vehicle growing up in New England. 
  • Massaging seats for both the passenger and driver side. I seriously had mine on the entire trip. Why every vehicle doesn't have this is beyond me. 
  • A foot-activated lift gate allows you to close the trunk by simply kicking the air under the rear bumper. I can't tell you how many times I'm unloading groceries, just to have to put the bags back down in order to hit the button up top to close the trunk after. 
  • AC power outlet, great for charging a laptop or other devices.
  • Multiple USB outlets, allowed us to forgo using the cigarette lighter piece.
  • Blind Spot Information System (BLIS® with cross-traffic alert). A light would appear in my side view mirrors, alerting me if someone was in my blind spot. Twice this saved me from changing lanes when I shouldn't have. 
  • A capless fuel tank made for easy fueling, eliminating the need to put the gas cap back on after fueling. After you remove the nozzle from the fuel tank, the seal shuts automatically. Standard on all models.
  • Easy bluetooth setup. 
  • Memory seating - since Raphael and I are often swapping cars and I am a foot shorter than he is, this feature makes switching drivers effortless. We are already missing this feature in our minivan.
  • Power folding with the push of a button for the 2nd and 3rd row seating. So amazing! I wish my minivan had this. However, my curious son hit the button and almost got folded up into the seat. Thus, be sure to have the child safety lock button on, but this doesn't help in regards to the 3rd row.
  • The cruise control was way more intuitive than I am used to. Although I had it set for a certain speed, it would sense when I was going to have to break due to an approaching car and would decrease speed before I even had to move my foot over to the break. It was like the car was driving itself! 
  • Stylish - loved the wood trim steering wheel and quilted leather accents. Plus, the cool looking grill on the exterior. 
  • Seats 7
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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Our Jamaica Video Shoot with Funjet Vacations

Last September, my family and I had the amazing experience of traveling to the all-inclusive Beaches Resorts in Ocho Rios Jamaica with Funjet Vacations.
Instagram @FunJetVacations 
For one day during our stay though we had the fun experience of having a camera crew follow us around to capture footage and ask us questions afterwards about our adventures for some YouTube videos. I wasn't sure how the boys would react to having such large cameras next to them, but they were more professional than us, as they simply ignored them altogether and simply had fun.


The cameras were even present while we ate lunch, which was awkward, but after their masterful editing I think it all came together well. We had no idea what they would use or not, but quite happy with it. What do you think?

 Instagram @FunJetVacations 

Funjet Vacations Videos




Apparently, there is also a clip of us that appears in an in-flight video from FunJet on United Airlines. While I haven't seen it yet a blogger friend and a neighbor spotted us, so be on the lookout the next time you fly United and let me know :)


Related articles from our vacation: 




Beaches Ocho Rios with toddlers
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 on Blu-ray!


With the Blu-ray release of the final installment of the franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (now available on Digital HD too), I now own the complete series. Personally, I love purchasing the combo packs, because I then have a copy for iTunes to watch when I'm traveling, a DVD to lend to my mom who still doesn't have a Blu-ray player, as well as a Blu-ray copy for us to watch at home in all its high-def glory.

With $647 million worldwide box office and counting, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 set the world on fire and enthralled millions of devoted fans across the globe. Me too!

The other day my husband and I re-watched the film together for a date night in and today while blogging and working, I had the film playing in the background with the audio commentary on by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. I learned lots of fun facts like that a visual effects company was used to make Peeta more gaunt and skinny in the beginning when he's in the hospital bed. Also, interesting hearing about the nuance ways they tried to stay true to the author's version of the characters like Katniss not responding the way other women would when it comes to expressing her emotions. Cool and surreal to hear which scenes were filmed in Berlin or France too. One of the craziest parts to hear is that Jena Malone (Tribute Johanna Mason) had a scalp double instead of wearing a bald cap or shaving her head. Those are just a few of the insightful nuggets, so I'd highly recommend listening to the audio commentary while cooking, doing social media or something else, because while interesting to hear, its not necessary to watch uninterrupted.

While I'm sad the series has come to an end, but with over 5 Hours of Special Features from Lionsgate included on the Blu-ray edition, fans can keep the saga living a little longer.

“Pawns No More: Making The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2” is an 8-part documentary providing an in-depth look at the making of the film from production design, costumes, hair, make-up, stunts, special effects and post production. The documentary also includes a touching piece – from the last day of shooting – in which the cast reflects on their experience shooting the four films. Also included is a detailed look at Cinna’s sketchbook and a walk through the on-set photography.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Blu-ray and DVD will be available for the suggested retail price of $39.99 and $29.95, respectively. Amazon meanwhile has the combo pack for only $19.99 --great for Mother's Day and Father's Day!


Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary copy of the Blu-ray for review, I am not a capital mutt, so all opinions are my own, just like Katniss!  
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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Periscope 101 for Bloggers

After 11 years of blogging, I’m comfortable with typing up a post. I LOVE twitter. Obsessed with Instagram, even though I wish I was a more skilled photographer. I kinda hate Facebook now that I have to boost my posts in order to have them be seen. I find Pinterest addictive and depressing at the same time (my twin’s birthday party will never look like that!). And now there’s Periscope…

What is Periscope? 
Periscope is a free live streaming mobile app available for Android and iOS that broadcasts user-generated video content in real time right from your phone or tablet. Rather than general pre-recorded video content, this app is live, which makes it a lot more captivating and honest.

Why Periscope? 
According to Cisco, by 2019 video will account for 80% of all internet traffic. Periscope is a great way to develop your video technique and connect with your readers in a more interactive and visual way. Unlike with YouTube videos you don’t have to worry about editing these either, it’s live and raw.

Ugh, ain’t nobody got time for that!  
Don’t worry, setting up and maintaining a Periscope account isn’t as time consuming as the many other social networks you’re already managing on top of your blog. In fact, I like to think of Periscope as an enhancement to what you’re already doing. You can use Periscope to tease or promote a post that you’re already working on or to bring your readers into events that you’re already attending. Thankfully, Periscope works seamlessly with Twitter, which purchased Periscope for a cool $100 Million. Also, while it’s nice to have a large following, it’s not as important since people from all over can and will tune in once you hit broadcast. Thus, you don’t have to stress as much about your follower count.

I am by no means an expert, but after 46 broadcasts and 5k hearts I have discovered and observed some helpful tricks & tips…

Periscope 101 Tips for Bloggers

  • * Before you begin your broadcast, put your phone on Do Not Disturb or airplane mode (and turn on the WIFI). This way your scope won’t stop as soon as you receive a phone call or a notification.
  • 😻 Go emoji crazy! – Adding emoticons to your Periscope titles will help your scope to stand out
  • * Use hashtags in your title! While you can’t search hashtags on Periscope, if posting to Twitter this helps gain more viewers. Same with tagging appropriate accounts or brands.
  • * Speaking of hashtags, there are special ones you can use to replace the hearts that appear with other animations like baseballs for the #WorldSeries, etc. 2016 list here
  • * Before you click “Start Broadcast” aim the camera at the most important graphic you want shown since that’s what will be seen in the thumbnail.
  • * In your Periscope settings, be sure and toggle the option to Autosave Broadcasts to your camera roll. After all, you never know what you’ll end up capturing and this way you’ll have a physical copy of your video just in case. Also, this version doesn’t have all the hearts and comments, so you can also use it for YouTube or for other projects.
  • * No worries if you mess up or trip over your words. This is all live, people understand that. While you should try and prepare for your scope, it shouldn’t sound rehearsed either.
  • * Engage your viewers. If you can, say hello as people join your scope. Ask for their feedback during and try to answer their questions.
  • * If you should get a troll who is commenting with mean or sexual messages. Don’t worry, it happens. You can either ignore them, talk back to them or simply block them. Just tap on the offending comment and block the user from being able to continue to comment.
  • * If you are broadcasting from your home, DO turn off the location option! Otherwise your home address will be shown. If you’re in a public place, DO enable the location feature though so more random people can join and discover you.
  • * Set Tune In Reminders: Post ahead of time on your social channels that you plan to broadcast at a certain time or during a particular event.
  • * Remember, people can still give you hearts during a replay within the next 24 hours, so not just during live broadcasts. Thus, post to your social channels a ‘Last Chance to View’ and a ‘Replay’ reminder’ before the link expires. That way you can hopefully gain some more followers and add to your heart total.  
  • * Grab a Periscope user badge code for your blog at https://www.periscope.tv/embed  The special thing about this widget is that it comes to life when you're LIVE! You can see mine on the top right hand corner of my blog.
  • * Have your friends share your broadcast while you’re still live, so that your scope will appear to all their followers as well. All they have to do is swipe right and select the option to share with all followers.
  • * Don’t just scope, but watch scopes too! Follow friends, bloggers and brands that you enjoy and learn from them.
  • * If you want to be a big deal on Periscope try scoping at the same time or day regularly, so fans can plan to watch and come to expect it. The more successful scopers like YoPickles does this. Personally, I’m just not that organized or dependable like that. 
Do you have any additional tips? I’d love to hear them. 
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Thursday, March 24, 2016

#DisneyKids Preschool Playdate & Mom Mingle

Being new to Florida, I haven't made too many mom friends yet. To be honest though, even before we moved, I didn't have many friends with children. To make more of an effort though, I joined a local moms group on MeetUp and have been meeting new acquaintances with kids around the same age.

So, when I was selected to host a Disney Kids Preschool Playdate and was sent plates, favors and decorations, I gladly took the opportunity to host several families over for some fun. It was the perfect excuse to get to know one another better and the boys LOVED having so many friends over.



Although rain clouds were looming, we lucked out and were able to hold the party outside with music, our Little Tikes bounce house, slide, sea saw, ride-on cars, trampoline and sand box for the kids to play with and tire themselves out on before nap time.

Disney Kids Mickey Mouse Party Snacks

For snacks, we cut up watermelon, mini cupcakes, and the new gluten-free Frozen-themed Chicken Nuggets from Costco. Not gonna lie, I was planning on making the cupcakes myself, but when I saw that all the St. Patrick's Day cupcakes were still fresh, but marked down 50% off at Publix, I simply bought those instead. I bought a cute cardboard cupcake from Party City. 
  
Raphael helped decorate too and used sidewalk chalk to sketch a large Mickey Mouse on our driveway. I was pretty impressed! It's hard to see in the photo, but it showed up really well in-person.

Mickey Mouse Sidewalk Chalk Art
Mickey Mouse Chalk Art 
The boys were thrilled to find Disney Junior's The Lion Guard tattoos and posters were among the party favors in the kit that we received as that and PJ Masks are their favorite new shows to watch.


Disclaimer: I received free products in order to host a Disney Kids Preschool Playdate, but the opinions expressed here are my own and no monetary value was provided.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Crockpot BBQ Chicken Cherry Cola Recipe

This week I was welcomed back to FOX 4's The Morning Blend studio here in Southwest Florida to film two more Mom Squad segments. Among the spots, I did another easy slow cooker recipe with just 3 ingredients.

Slow Cooker Cherry Cola Barbecue Chicken Recipe



Slow Cooker Cherry Cola BBQ Chicken

Ingredients: 

8 Chicken Drumsticks or 4 Chicken Breasts
18oz bottle of Barbecue Sauce
1 6oz can of cherry cola (I used Pepsi Wild Cherry with real sugar)

Directions:

Place chicken in Crockpot. In a separate bowl whisk half of the BBQ sauce and a quarter of the cherry cola together. It should foam at first, but then mix easily. Pour over the chicken.

Cook on HIGH for 3 hours.

After cooking drain juice as needed, but I'll sometimes save the sauce and spoon it over a side of plain brown rice to accompany the chicken and give it some flavor.

Also, give each piece of cooked meat a squirt of the remaining BBQ sauce for added flavor.

You can also use this recipe for pork ribs too.

More: Easy Slow Cooker Chicken Tortillas

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Easy Easter Bouquet with Peeps and M&M'S

Happy Spring everyone!

I'm in love with this easy Easter spring time bouquet centerpiece! Just seeing it on my kitchen table makes me smile and the room more festive.

Here's how to do it:

First, I picked up a bouquet of purple tulips at the grocery store, a bag of pastel Easter M&M's and two boxes of Bunny Peeps in yellow and purple to match the flowers.

I then put the flowers in a small stem vase with water and placed it in a larger hurricane glass vase. Next, I filled the hurricane glass with the bag of M&M's, which quickly worked to hide the tulips' vase, but you might need two bags of M&Ms depending on the size of your vase. Then, I placed the bunny Peeps on top of the hard shell candies and around the bowl for a fun border. Don't separate the individual Peeps, instead keep them in the sets of four that they come in for easier placement. That's it!

TIP: You could also use Jelly Beans instead of M&M's if you wanted bolder colors in lieu of pastels. 



On my table!

Do you have any Easter decorating projects that you're working on? Feel free to share a link in the comments :)

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Tips for Taking Toddlers to Disney on Ice

Disney On Ice presents Frozen Presented by Stonyfield YoKids Organic Yogurt is performing at the Germain Arena in Estero/Ft. Myers March 17-20 and hopefully to a city near you soon. We took the boys last night and they had a lot of fun. Nana and Pop came too for a fun family night out.


Even though you might not think ice skating for boys or Frozen for that matter, my boys are fans of the movie and the show held their 3.5-year-old interest. They were captivated and kept getting up to dance in front of their seats. Besides characters from Frozen, the live show is hosted by Mickey and Minnie, with special appearances by beloved Disney Princesses and characters from favorites like Disney•Pixar’s Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Disney’s The Lion King.  The sets and special effects were also pretty impressive. Plus, hearing all the kids sing along to the songs they recognized was really cute.

Tickets aren't too expensive either, starting at $20, so just a little more than going to the movie theater.

Tips for Disney on Ice with Toddlers

  • Come dressed for the part! Lots of girls wore full-out princess costumes complete with wands. We even spotted a few Olaf's in the crowd, but even a simple Disney t-shirt would make the occasion more special and for more magical photos. 
  • Try and order aisle seats, so you can get up and out easily for potty breaks!
  • Bring a glow stick or be prepared to purchase a light-up toy from the different souvenir stalls. We bought two last year ($20+ each), so we just brought them again this time. However, the pretty Frozen themed ones this year still had my boys clamoring. 
  • Children two years of age and older require a ticket, but do expect them to be on your lap quite a bit too. In most arenas, children under 2 are admitted free provided they sit on a parent or guardian’s lap, so go ahead and bring littler ones too while you can for free. We took our duo when they were two as well.
  • There are some pyrotechnics, but it was pretty mild, so my boys weren't phased. However, this is something to keep in mind if your child might be sensitive to stimuli like this. 
  • Eat ahead of time, but buy a box of popcorn, cotton candy or treat for them to have at their seats. This kept my boys seated and their eyes on the show instead of looking around for something to eat. 
  • Clap and get excited too, this will keep your children more engaged as well. 
  • Since the show started at 7 p.m. and my boys' bedtime is usually between 7:30/8 p.m., we left during the intermission at 8:15. Right after "Let it Go." Thus, be prepared to extend bedtime and have a planned exit strategy. With leaving during intermission when the lights came up, our boys thought it was over and not simply a break.  
  • Ask your kids questions afterwards like "Who did you see?" "What was your favorite part?" stuff like that. It was funny hearing them name all the Disney characters they saw dancing on ice. 

Disclosure: We received complimentary media tickets to the Disney on Ice for review, however, we had planned on attending either way and all opinions are of course my own.
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