Archive for the ‘ Time for Fun ’ Category

Teach Kids About Veterans

Friday, November 7th, 2014

By Brooke Schuldt

When the Penguins of Madagascar tell you to do something, you do it!

At least that is what your kids probably think.

First Lady Michelle Obama knows how influential those four show-stealing penguins are, and that is why she enlists their help with a top-secret mission in the video Operation Got Your 6. In the video, the penguins let everyone know how veterans better our communities. They also explain the military lingo Got Your Six, which means standing behind someone.

The campaign works to inform civilians about the importance of our service members, both those who have served and those who currently serve.

The video also promotes the “Take a Vet to School” program, which allows schools to welcome veterans into the classroom to share their stories with students.

Operation Got Your 6 is a cute, quirky way to teach your kids about the significance of our veterans and is a great way to observe Veterans Day. Click on the penguins to watch the video.

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This Month’s Screen-Time Finds

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Here are some of our favorite new movies, games, and more!

Movies and Television

Get high-tech with Disney’s Big Hero 6. The film follows robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada and his gang of friends as they try to save San Fransokyo from catastrophe. PG; opens November 7

Everyone knows the Penguins of Madagascar are the real stars of the show. Join Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private as they embark on another zany spy mission. PG; opens November 26

Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is getting the Diamond Edition treatment. The Blu-ray release features in-depth behind-the-scenes footage, a sing-along to “Once Upon a Dream,” and deleted scenes—including one with a dropped character called The Vulture. G, $37

It’s going to be even easier for your karaoke star to belt out her favorite Frozen tunes with the special Sing-Along Edition. A bouncing snowflake helps her follow the lyrics as Anna journeys to rescue her sister Elsa. The DVD release also features the original theatrical version. PG, $30

A variety of popular Nickelodeon characters—including Dora the Explorer and Team Umizoomi—make Let’s Learn: Patterns and Shapes both entertaining and educational for preschoolers. The DVD release features five episodes focused on circles, squares, triangles, and more. Plus, early releases of the DVD come with a shapes worksheet to continue the learning once screen-time is over. 3 years+, $15

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is turning 50! The beloved Christmas television special shows what happens when the adorable reindeer teams up with Hermey, an elf who wants to be a dentist. Now on Blu-ray, the anniversary edition offers behind-the-scenes features, sing-alongs, and more. 3 years+, $18

Apps

Make like George Lucas and create your own animated movie moments with Star Wars Scene Maker. Choreograph a fight between Darth Vader and an ewok, or introduce Han Solo to the infamous “I Am Your Father” scene. Then, add music, dialog, and more. And don’t forget to share with friends afterward! 6 years+, Free for iPad and iPhone

PBS Kids and Sesame Workshop have teamed up for Cookie Monster’s Challenge, an app that teaches self-control, focus, and following directions to prepare young children for school. Nine different levels of mini games keep your preschooler busy—and as he progresses, he’ll earn more pieces of a cookie-making machine. 3 years+, $3 for iPad and Android

Your little one can explore her imagination with Toca Town. The open-ended, interactive app lets kids make up their own stories with 21 characters and six different locations to play in, including a park, a store, and a house. Players can engage with almost anything on the screen—including the toilet! 3 years+, $3 for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Android

Bedtime just got a lot less painful, thanks to Disney Story Central. The large selection of e-books starring Disney characters—such as Mickey Mouse, the princesses, and Doc McStuffins—offer read-along narration and personalized book recommendations. Plus, your bookworm will earn trophies and awards as she progresses. 2 years+, free for iPad for first 4 books, with additional purchase packages starting at $4

Video Games

New figurines called amiibo can now interact with compatible Nintendo games. Players touch the toy to the GamePad to release the character into the game. 6 years+, $13 for one figurine

Most motion-sensing, TV-based game systems are for older kids, but LeapTV is made for little ones who can, for instance, do karate moves that help them recognize shapes. 3 years+, $150

Let your aspiring artist develop his skills with Pokémon Art Academy. The game features unlockable lessons and teaches everything from the basics of coloring and shapes to the more complex shading and blending. Print out his masterpieces after! 6 years+, $30 for 3DS and 2DS

Music lovers can’t miss Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved. The motion-controlled game lets you remix and transform 30 different songs—by artists such as The Who, Lady Gaga, and Mozart—by conducting with your hands. Perfect for family game night! 10 years+, $60 for Xbox 360 and Xbox One

Gamers young and old will have a blast getting lost in the world of Hohokum. The artwork looks hand-drawn rather than pixelated, creating a vibrant and imaginative world to fly around in. There are goals to work towards, but ultimately, the game exists as a colorful playground to explore. 10 years+, $15 for PS3, PS4, and PS Vita

Image courtesy of Dreamworks Animation

The Best Games of 2014!
The Best Games of 2014!
The Best Games of 2014!

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Safe and Warm on Halloween

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Halloween is shaping up to be a chilly one in much of the country! Here are some tips for keeping your costumed kids warm and safe as they go trick-or-treating.
Layer them up. The year’s most popular costumes, Elsa and Anna of Frozen, lend themselves to this. The girls are from Norway, after all! Put some leggings under a dress and add gloves. If your daughter balks at wearing her regular winter mittens, stores like Party City have Frozen gloves that work perfectly.
   Boys can benefit from long underwear (or, in a pinch, long pajamas) under their costumes. Ninjas are a popular boy outfit this year and have the added bonus of a warm headwrap; you might be able to convince him, too, that real ninjas wear gloves (to avoid leaving fingerprints!).
Insist on sensible footwear. There is a risk of blisters or twisted ankles if kids are crossing lawns, racing down sidewalks, and climbing steps in heels, boots, or other impractical shoes. But no one looks at their feet! It’s the neck up that people notice when they open their door to hand out treats. Be sure kids are in sneakers or other comfy footwear.
Pin things up. Be sure that Elsa’s gown isn’t going to trip her; same with your ninja’s belt. Make sure your child can move around without worrying about headgear, too. If your child is wearing a pirate or witch’s hat, considering pinning it on.

Be the bodyguard. As the parent, it’s your job to wield a flashlight and keep your child visible. Checking to be sure the way is clear, and forbid kids from crossing the street without you (even if they’re handing out fullsize candy bars over there!).

Watch as we detail more Halloween safety tips with Al Roker on The Weather Channel!

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Recipe: Easy Halloween Spider Cookies

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Smart Cookie: Transform Store-Bought Cookies Into Amazing TreatsI confess that while I love to cook and bake I’m not the craftiest of moms. But somehow when Halloween rolls around I’m inspired to create spooky creatures out of cookies, marshmallows, candy, and chocolate. I still want it to be easy, though, since my crafting skills (and patience) leave a lot to be desired.

I suspect Christi Farr Johnstone had moms like me in mind when she wrote her new book Smart Cookie: Transform Store-Bought Cookies Into Amazing Treats. All of her goodies look amazing, but seem completely doable thanks to the fact that we’re starting with store-bought components. And, while I’m a bake-from-scratch kind of girl most of the year, on holidays I can get into the store-bought fun of it all especially when the result will be something that delights my daughter.

Smart Cookie Christi Farr Johnstone
Christi kindly shared the recipe for one of Smart Cookie’s signature Halloween goodies. With only four ingredients and an active time of mere minutes these are my kind of treat.


 

 

Along Came a Spider

Ingredients

Black licorice laces (about 16 feet long)
12 chocolate sandwich cookies
1 cup white candy coating
24 candy eyeballs

Directions

  1. Smart Cookie Christi Farr JohnstoneCut the licorice into 48 strips, each approximately 4 inches in length.
  2. Gently twist open the chocolate sandwich cookies.
  3. Place four licorice strips onto the side of the sandwich cookie with the filling, and press gently into the filling.
  4. Prepare the candy coating according to package directions. Working one cookie at a time, spoon approximately 1 to 2 teaspoons of the candy coating on top of the licorice strips and cookie filling. Place the top back on the sandwich cookie.
  5. With a spoon, place a small amount of candy coating on top of the sandwich cookies where the spider eyes will be placed. Immediately place two candy eyeballs onto the candy coating. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Allow to dry for at least 2 hours.

Makes 12 cookies

Reprinted with permission from Smart Cookie © 2014 Christi Farr Johnstone, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group

Get more recipes for fun Halloween treats.

Mini Monster Cupcakes
Mini Monster Cupcakes
Mini Monster Cupcakes

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Our Favorite Halloween Treats

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Roll up your little ones’ sleeves because we’ve rounded up some of our favorite make-at-home treats that are spooky and scrumptious.

Brand Castle Crispy Rice Pumpkin Kit 

Brand Castle Crispy Rice Pumpkin Kit Brand Castle Crispy Rice Pumpkin Kit

Make your pumpkin and eat it too! It only took us 35 minutes from set up to clean up to create six individual treats, and kids will love decorating their pumpkins with the green and black icing provided in the kit.

Available for purchase in-store only at Walmart and select Christmas Tree Shops.

 

 

Crypt Keeper Crescents

Crypt Keeper Crescents

This delicious recipe is no longer under wraps. All you need is Nutella, bananas and Pillsbury Crescent dough to make this sweet twist on pigs in a blanket.

Get the recipe via Our Best Bites.

Photo courtesy of Pillsbury.com.

 

 

 

Harry & David Caramel Apple Kit

Harry & David Halloween Caramel Apple KitA splurge item at $34.95, this is a DIY-kit that’s just as much fun to look at as it is to make. Locked inside magical-looking spellbook box are fresh, in-season apples from the Pacific Northwest, ready-to-melt caramels and also cashews and mini chocolate candies that your little ones can use to make their treat one of a kind.

Order your kit online here.

 

 

Chex Mix Recipes: Deviled Chex Mix and Iced Pumpkin Chex Mix

Halloween Produce Roundup - Deviled Chex Party MixHalloween Produce Roundup - Iced Pumpkin Chex Mix RecipeOne is sweet and the other is salty. Offer kids the Deviled mix – just in case they get tired of devouring all of that sugary candy. And satisfy sweet teeth even more with the Iced Pumpkin, which includes real pumpkin to get an authentic flavor.

Get the Deviled recipe here and the Iced Pumpkin one here, via Chex.com.

 

Haunted Cookie Cups

Haunted Cookie Cups

When you use Nestlé’s premade cookie dough this treat is a snap to make – just bake and decorate. Warning: These little ghosts may just fly off your countertops!  

Try out this recipe below:

Ingredients

  • 1 package (16.5 oz.) Nestlé Toll House Refrigerated Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar Dough
  • 1 container (8 oz.) frozen light whipped topping
  • 1 gallon-size plastic food storage bag
  • 48 (about 1 teaspoon) Nestlé Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Morsels
  • 24 (about 1 tablespoon) Nestlé Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 24 mini-muffin cups. Place one square of cookie dough into each cup.
  2. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. With tip of butter knife, remove cookie cups from muffin pan. Arrange on serving platter.
  3. Fill plastic bag with whipped topping; seal. Cut ½-inch from corner of bag. Squeeze bag lightly to pipe whipped topping on top of cookie cup to form ghost shape. Position two mini morsels as eyes and one regular size morsel as a mouth on each ghost. Serve immediately or store refrigerated for up to 2 hours.

Make Ahead Tip: Cookie bases can be made ahead and stored covered at room temperature.

(Recipe courtesy of Nestlé’s VeryBestBaking.com)

Can’t get enough? Try out some of our Wicked Good Halloween Treats here. 

Daddy Longlegs Cupcake
Daddy Longlegs Cupcake
Daddy Longlegs Cupcake

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Parents Goody Giveaway: Win $500 Toward a Neighborhood Party from Nextdoor

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

INextdoor Treat Map on the iPhonen case you haven’t been counting down, there are officially 10 days until Halloween. Halloween was one of my favorite holidays as a child because I loved dressing up and the mild weather in California (usually) made for a nice night. However, my friends and I usually didn’t do the typical door-to-door trick-or-treating. We found we had better luck going to the stores at the mall instead, and our parents took us out to dinner afterwards, which was probably the highlight of the whole night. After all, it was kind of strange to be asking for candy at Banana Republic.

Even though our ‘hood wasn’t up to par, some, if not most, blocks are definitely worth taking a walk around for sweets. And Nextdoor is making the traditional trick-or-treating experience easier than ever with its new digital Treat Map, which we think is so cool that we featured it in our October issue. Here’s how it works: If your neighborhood is participating this year, your family will be able to see which neighbors are planning on giving out candy and map out your path accordingly. The screenshot on the right shows what it looks like on an iPhone. You can also send a private message to your block to organize other fun festivities such a a costume contest or a haunted house crawl. It’s networking just for your neighbors. I like how it fosters a sense of community and encourages people to stick around for Halloween instead of, say, venturing to the mall.

To celebrate this amazing feature, Nextdoor is giving away a $500 gift card towards a neighborhood party. To enter, leave a comment below, up to one a day between today and the end of the day October 27. View the official rules here. Be sure to check back on October 28 and scroll to the bottom of the post to see who won. We reach out to winners via Facebook message (it goes into your “other” message folder on Facebook), so if you win, look for us there as well. Goody luck and happy trick-or-treating to everyone!

Update: Congrats to our winner, Tina McGee. Please check your “other” message folder on Facebook to claim your prize!

Plus: Decorate your home with this cute Halloween spider craft.

Halloween Kid Craft Spider
Halloween Kid Craft Spider
Halloween Kid Craft Spider

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The Five Most Popular Halloween Looks For Kids This Season

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

For every obscure Halloween costume that you spot, there will be dozens of witches and pumpkins—and this year, Elsas—ringing your doorbell. We asked Chasing Fireflies for the most popular costume trends this season, and here are their top five:

1. Frozen Can’t let go (ha!) of the popular movie? Dress your little Elsa, Anna, or Olaf in one of these costumes! Oh, and here’s more Elsa. And more Elsa. And, not kidding, even adult Elsa.
2. Ninjas and warriors, for girls and boys Both genders will get a kick out of these elaborate getups–whether they’re scary, glittery, silky, or studded.
3. Glamour and movie stars She’ll be ready for a walk down the red carpet when she dons a glam dress. Her toughest decision will be choosing between silver and pink!
4. Food Trick-or-treat! These candy-themed fairy and princess looks are certainly appropriate for the occasion. And this all reminds us of our own Parents candy rapper costumes!
5. Baby animals These pig and chick costumes are too cute. Plus, check out our ideas for homemade costumes!

Get in the spirit! Your child will enjoy this paper pumpkin craft:

Halloween Kid Craft Paper Pumpkins
Halloween Kid Craft Paper Pumpkins
Halloween Kid Craft Paper Pumpkins

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High to Low Orlando: Staying From $55 to $479 a Night

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

We split our recent Orlando vacation between bargain and pricey options. Here’s a breakdown of what we got (and didn’t get) at each price point.

Whippoorwill KOA from $55

The kids and I stayed here because it’s close to the airport and we needed to pick my husband up from a flight. But also, we love a KOA (short for Kampground of America), and this one has a pool, playground, pretty lake, and friendly geese. 

What’s to love A KOA cabin has a ship-like compactness. Though tiny, it fits a fullsize bed, bunk bed, desk and chair, television, and A/C. There are deluxe cabins with bathrooms, but we’re cheap and fine with sharing campground bathrooms. Whippoorwill is primarily a base for RVs, so we seemed to be the only customers in the bathrooms anyway. This particular KOA offers clean linens so we didn’t need to bring our own. We had a pizza delivered to our cabin for dinner and drove three miles to a Panera for breakfast. Our short stay felt like a taste of “real Florida” as opposed to “tourist Florida.”

But of course You have to enjoy camping to stay at a campground. Whippoorwill KOA is very close to the airport but not particularly close to the theme parks; the Orlando/Kissimmee KOA is a little closer to that action. Though you’ll spend far less on lodging here, you won’t get any park perks such as early admission and you’ll need to drive everywhere, plus pay for parking, tolls, and gas.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando from $134

This is Universal Orlando’s first moderate resort. Our family of four stayed in a Tower Suite which runs closer to $200 a night since there’s a sitting area plus a kitchenette. My mom stayed in a poolside room for about $150 a night; standard rooms lose the view but are bargains starting at $134.

What’s to love Universal went all-out with the retro theme of this hotel, and the kitsch is cute. My kids loved the pools and sand areas. A free bus pulls up to sweep guests over to Universal’s parks pretty much constantly, especially in the morning hours. And because you’re on Universal property, you can get into the parks an hour early most days.

But of course A stay at Cabana Bay does not get you the Universal Express Pass, useful for cutting wait time at rides. Guests at the pricier Loews Portofino Bay and Hard Rock Hotel do get Express Passes, worth up to $60 a person, so if you’ll be riding a lot during high season, paying more for one of those hotels may make sense. We, however, were only interested in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Express Passes are fairly useless there: Most Potter rides don’t accept them. If, like us, you’re going to Universal Orlando for Potter mania, Cabana Bay Beach is a fantastic option.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge from $289

There’s no other resort like this one in the country, where you are immersed in another culture and also in a wildlife park. We stayed in a villa in the Kidani Village, where rooms are spacious. By this point it was me and my kids, my mom, plus my brother and sister-in-law and baby niece. Our two-bedroom, three-bath with a full kitchen plus laundry (and a living room that became a third bedroom at bedtime) runs for $767 a night, more affordable (about $256 per family) than three separate rooms.

What’s to love Staying on Disney property means Extra Magic Hours, free transportation to and from the airport, free bus service all through the resort, and Magic Bands. We were not low-maintenence, between my newly hip-replaced mom’s scooter and my niece’s stroller, and a ground-floor room at Kidani turned out to be ideal. We pre-ordered breakfast groceries through gardengrocer.com and ate morning meals in our pajamas. Every room has a balcony for animal-watching, and tracking the creatures was a highlight of the trip for every one of us. The pools and restaurants are among our favorites too!
But of course This is one of Disney’s Deluxe Resort Hotels and hanging out with the giraffes isn’t cheap. But though it’s deluxe-priced, you can’t walk to any of the parks like you can from the deluxe Contemporary or Yacht Club Resort. (Then again, Animal Kingdom is the only hotel with a nightly drum circle!) If you want a Disney hotel but need to really slash lodging to more like $100 a night, check out Disney Value Resort Hotels. The grounds are not as lush, but you still get all the park perks.
This resort invited us in during their opening month and we couldn’t say no. It was back to me, my husband, and our two kids, and we’ve never stayed together somewhere this luxe.
What’s to love Uh…everything. I woke up from my deepest sleep in years in one of their comfy beds and was inspired to hit the fitness room and walk around the lake while my kids actually slept in. It would be easy to spend an entire day among the pools, lazy river, and water slides, where staff rush to supply you with ice water, sunscreen, and frozen fruit (all free!), or pretty much anything else you want (mostly for a price). There’s an on-site Disney concierge to help with park logistics, a tropical paradise of a kids’ center, and a spa. And you can see the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from here.
But of course You don’t stay at a Four Seasons unless you can spend. There’s no parking lot, only a valet (and valet charge). Our dinner, with a bottle of wine, went over $200. And that $479 price is not really for a family; using the Web site to try and book a room for four people, rates seem more uniformly about $700 a night. You’re living in a beautiful dream here, but it is Top. Of. The. Line.

This video nails all the reasons to go beyond the rides.

Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides
Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides
Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides

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