Friday, January 23, 2015

20 Easy and Fun After School Activities That Don't Require a Screen

Author: Amber Brubaker

When it’s cold and snowy outside, your kids probably think it’s okay to plop down in front of the television, computer, and phone screens and enjoy a lazy afternoon. However, this shouldn’t be a common occurrence, since those activities usually discourage physical and mental activity, which your kids need for a healthy lifestyle. The next time they come home from school, hide the technology and pull out one of these fun activities instead.

1. Crafts

Allow your children an opportunity to practice some creativity with an assortment of crafts. They can color, paint, or draw, or make stained glass ornaments, paper chains, or origami animals.

2. Puzzles

Offer your kids puzzles of all types to broaden the mind. You can help them do jigsaw, word, number, and shape puzzles.

3. Winter Recipes

Cooking with your kids has been proven to be an extremely memorable teaching experience. They learn valuable skills and make memories to last a lifetime. Look for some fun and easy winter-themed recipes like cornflake wreaths and snowman soup.

4. Science Experiments

These activities are both fun and educational. Show them how to make frost in a can, ways to make ice melt, and how to make snowflakes from Borax.

5. Ice Skating

If you have a local pond or rink nearby, take the kids there for some good fun. If you don’t have one of those or your kids are too young to participate, do indoor ice skating. Secure a large sheet of wax paper to each child’s foot with a rubber band around the ankle, and let them skate on the carpet.

6. Paper Snowflakes

For perfectly sized paper snowflakes, use coffee filters. Let your kids cut out their very own versions of snowflakes and hang them around the house.

7. Snow Bunny Tag

For a fun way to get kids to do the chores, turn it into a game. Call them snow bunnies instead of dust bunnies and have a race to see who can get the most snow bunnies on their cleaning rag.

8. Field Trip Around the World

Take this opportunity to teach about countries around the world. Set up booths showing different aspects of each country’s culture, with examples of clothing, food, and money for the kids to see, touch, and taste. You can get various foreign currencies here.

9. Salt Dough Creations

Make some homemade salt dough for the kids to sculpt. For a more lasting memory, bake the sculptures in a low temperature oven.

10. Sledding

Find a hill and a sled, and go for a ride! If you don’t have any sleds, use a large piece of cardboard.

11. Indoor Swimming

Chances are you’ll have an indoor swimming pool or rec center nearby where you can take the kids for a little exercise and fun.

12. Home Circus

Set up an area in your home for an amazing circus. Use stuffed animals and a hula hoop for the lion taming ring, pillows for the acrobats station, and dress up clothes for the clown shows.

13. Treasure Hunt

Hide various clues around the house to lead to a fun treasure. If the weather cooperates and your treasure is waterproof, do the treasure hunt outside where you can encourage running between clues for exercise.

14. Host the Winter Olympics

Invite the neighborhood kids over for the big winter games! You’ll need a hill and sled for the luge, pieces of cardboard to strap to feet for cross country skiing, and a pile of snowballs for a snowball toss.

15. Homemade Bird Feeder

Though many birds fly to warmer climates in the winter, many stick around, and they could use some extra food. Work with your kids to make a creative bird feeder for the creatures who stayed.

16. Frozen Bubbles

If you live where it gets really cold, try freezing bubbles. Some bubbles will freeze instantly in sub zero temperatures. Just wait for an extra cold day!

17. Paint Snow

Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring and let your kids paint murals on the snow. It’s completely safe for the environment, and it’ll disappear the next time it snows.

18. Snowy Ice Cream

You can actually make ice cream out of snow! On a day when it’s supposed to snow, leave out a large bowl where it won’t be disturbed or contaminated and let it fill up with five cups of unpacked snow. Mix in sweetened condensed milk, and voila!

19. Write Stories

Make blank books by binding notebook paper with yarn, and let your kids write and illustrate their own stories.

20. Footprint Tag

This is perfect for the days when there’s a fresh dusting of snow on the ground. Play tag as usual, but with one exception: The tagger is only allowed to step in other people’s footprints.

With these fun activities, your kids won’t even complain that you took away all of their technology for the day!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Midway Utah Ice Castles This Weekend!

Utah friends!

Have you been to the Ice Castles in Midway? You've probably seen them on famous Youtube videos done by Lindsey Stirling and the Piano Guys. They look pretty epic right? I can just imagine my kids climbing on these ice sculptures and running all around in their own little Elsa castles.

I'm sure that's what they'll call them. They can pretend to be Elsa with "frozen fractals all around." :-) It had to be said. :-) Or sung really. You're singing "Let it Go" now aren't you? SORRY!

This winter has been pretty warm this year (this Southern California girl is not complaining one bit!), but it does mean that the Ice Castles in Midway, UT are only open for 4 days this year! After Monday the admission will depend on weather, but the forcast is saying 50 degrees, so it's not looking good. 

So if you want to see them, you have to go this weekend!

Here are the details.

Friday January 23rd: 6pm – midnight
Saturday January 24th: 6pm – midnight
Sunday – Closed
Monday January 26th: 6pm – 10pm
Jan 27th forward: TBD, weather depending

2002 Soldier Hollow Rd Midway, UT 84049

-- Amazing ice features including archways, tunnels, slot canyons, ice slide, caverns, glacial waterfalls and a frozen throne. 
-- Kids and families squeezing, squishing, sliding, stomping and crawling through parts of the stunning, Narnia-like display. 
-- Natural frozen ice tones during the day; colorful LED-lit ice set to music at night.

Tickets are only available online this year which you can buy here!
Use code: "awesomeice" for $2 off a ticket!

Friday, January 16, 2015

5 Healthy New Year's Resolutions

Written by Victoria Candland

Just as fast as they came, the holidays are finished and 2015 here! And you know what that means: it’s time to think about New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions can seem so daunting and hard to maintain, and we find ourselves breaking the habit by mid-February, or sometimes the first week of January. But New Year’s resolutions need not be arduous, and we should always be striving toward improvement in our lives, especially in our health.

If you haven't thought of New Year's resolutions yet, it's not too late!  It's still January, so they still count right?  I think so!  We have a whole year ahead of us so let's make some healthy changes!

If you’re like most of America, during the holidays you eat way too many calories, sit on your rear way too much and exercise way too little. So, this new year, let’s think of ways to be healthy, and ultimately happy. Here are five simple, doable New Year’s resolutions that will lead to a healthier you.

1. Avoid the scale.

What did you say? In all seriousness, avoid the scale. Nothing is more fickle than a scale—your weight can fluctuate based on what you eat, drink, what time of day it is, even how much you sweat or don’t sweat at the gym. And women’s weight tends to fluctuate slightly based on menstrual cycle and hormones throughout the month. For many, the number on the scale can become an obsession if we’re not careful.

Instead, to mark your weight goals, you can use a measuring tape to measure your waist, thighs, etc. Oftentimes, if we are eating healthy and doing cardio and lifting weights, we actually gain weight rather than lose weight. We lose a lot of fat, and we gain muscle, which weighs more than fat. So the measuring tape can help you to see how you’ve toned and how your muscles have grown and see the fat you’ve lost. You’ll actually be much trimmer than before. You can also focus on the way your clothes fit you, or just the way you feel in general. If you don’t feel bloated or achy, if you feel healthy and strong, then you’re doing it right.

2. Get some sunshine.

In our ever-increasing technological world, we spend most of our time indoors in an office or other environment. Unlike the hunter-gatherers of old who couldn’t avoid it, we have to make a deliberate choice to spend time outside. Decide to take a walk during your lunch break at work or go for a trip to the park with your kids.

Studies have suggested that those who spend more time in the sun live longer. And if you've ever spent time in a Polynesian country, where the sun shines year round, you’ll find that they are some of the happiest people in the world. The sun gives us necessary vitamins and nutrients, including 
vitamin D.

Spending time outside is harder in the winter months, especially if you live in a part of the country where it snows. But, you can always bundle up and go for a brisk walk or make a snowman with your family or go skiing. Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing; our bodies crave the sun and we can grow wary of the long nights and short days. So make the most of the sunny hours!

3. Drink more water.

Goodness gracious, ditch this fad of Diet Coke! It’s actually terrible for you. Ditch your bad drinking habits and drink more water. Sweetened drinks can actually heighten your chance of getting kidney stones if consumed in excess, but water adversely reduces your risk of kidney stones. For more information on how water helps keep your kidneys healthy, click here.

Drinking enough water can rejuvenate your skin and prevent signs of aging as well as help prevent headaches and other health issues. The eight 8-ounce cups a day is a good rule to live by.

4. Use positive self-talk.

We should stop ragging on ourselves all the time. Be confident in your own skin, love yourself, and don’t compare yourself with others and their places in life. Theodore Roosevelt said it well, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When you feed yourself positive thoughts like “I’m smart,” “I’m capable,” “I look beautiful in this dress,” your mind changes and you begin to look at yourself and the world differently. When you love yourself, you are more motivated to complete your goals and you actually believe you can do them.

Try this on for size: before you leave the house every morning, look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself three things you love about yourself. You will have a much better day from that simple action.

5. Stay in touch.

The state of our relationships can have a big effect on our health. And, like sunshine, studies have suggested that those who have stronger social ties live longer. If you haven’t talked to some friends in a while, schedule a lunch date. Or if some loved ones live far away, there’s always social media platforms or your phone to stay in touch.

A great and personal hobby that has been lost is letter writing. Make the New Year’s resolution to be pen pals with a friend from high school or with your sister who is 10 years younger than you and you’d like to know better. There’s something very intimate and sweet about communicating through hand-written letters.

The idea of New Year’s Resolutions doesn’t need to immobilize you. Choose one of the ideas above, and take it a day at a time. Once you feel like you’ve mastered that, choose another. Before you know it, you’ll be seeing results as a happier, healthier you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

5 Tips to Manage the Financial Aftershock of the Holidays

This is a sponsored post by Utah Credit First and Today's Mama.  I was compensated for the post, but I have a strong belief in having good financial goals and habits that give you financial peace of mind which is why I'm sharing this post with you.

This year was the first time we actually planned out savings for the holidays.  We divided it into 3 months instead of having huge credit card payments all in December.  And this year we are actually putting away money every month starting now to prepare for next December (Tip #4).

Of course we haven't always done it this way.

If you have credit card debt from the holidays don’t procrastinate when it comes to ridding yourself of the burden it brings. Here are five tips to get started on paying off debt as well as some good financial advice for everyone!  

1. Review Credit Card Statements
You may be tempted to slide those unopened credit card bills and bank statements right into the shredder—but don’t act too quickly.

Take the time to carefully study your credit card charges for any suspicious spending. Identity thieves are particularly active during November and December, when consumers are less likely to notice unauthorized purchases. If you do find questionable credit card charges, be sure to contact your financial institution immediately.

2. Create a Financial Action Plan
Paying off debt always makes it near the top of Americans’ New Year’s resolutions lists. Financial overindulgence during the holiday season may compound the challenge of digging out of debt.

Making an action plan is the first step. Make a detailed inventory of all credit accounts including balance, minimum payments and interest rate information. Paying extra towards the smallest balances, while still making the minimum payments on all others, is said to be the fastest way to eliminate debt according to personal finance experts. But design a realistic plan that will work for your household—and stick with it.

3. Consolidate and Eliminate Debt
If you are currently carrying balances on high-rate cards, it may be time to consolidate your debt with a low-rate balance transfer. This is especially true if you opened store cards for discount offers; these cards often carry rates up to twice that of other credit accounts.

Consolidating your credit card debt to one low-rate card can make it easier to manage your payments while your cash goes towards the outstanding balance, not towards finance charges. For example, Utah First now has a 4.95% APR for twelve months when you open a new Utah First Visa® Platinum Credit Card—that could mean serious savings on interest fees. (And, remember, you have to cut up the old cards or risk driving the balances up again!)

4. Set Budget for Next Year
Another good reason to review your holiday spending is to begin preparing for next year. Take a little time to compare what you planned to spend versus your actual spending. This information will help you budget more accurately for the next holiday season.

Be sure to look at other added expenses, not just gifts. The holidays often increase expenses like groceries, gas, entertaining, and travel. Add these costs into your 2015 holiday budget and start setting cash aside each month.

5. Rethink Holiday Spending
If the stress of holiday debt is overshadowing the cheer, it may be time to rethink how you and your family celebrate the season. Take a moment to evaluate which parts of the season you enjoy most. Is it the food? Walks to enjoy outdoor lights? Or watching old family movies?

Talk to your family about how to make celebrations more meaningful, not more expensive. Homemade gifts, community volunteering, potluck dinners and drawing names for gift exchange can simplify holiday spending and may even make the holidays more meaningful.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

5 Tips for Setting Financial Goals for the New Year

Author: Amber Brubaker

Finances are a headache, whether you have a lot or a little, but you can make it a lot easier on yourself if you plan ahead. Use the New Year as an opportunity to make some new financial resolutions. If you want to experience a little more financial freedom this year, pull out your financial reports from last year, grab a notepad and calculator, and start making some realistic financial resolutions for the upcoming year.

1. Be SMART about Setting Goals

When discussing monetary resolutions, many financial gurus turn to the pneumonic device SMART as an aid for setting and keeping goals.

Specific: Setting a general goal is the beginning of failure. It leaves you too much room to procrastinate and relax on your goal until you give up on it altogether. As you make your financial goals for the new year, try to be as specific as possible by writing down specifically what you want and why you want it.

Measurable: Record the specific numbers and time frames for each resolution. These numbers will allow you to compare your original goal to what happens in reality, which will help you stay on track and measure your success.

Action-Oriented: Include small, action-oriented steps to go along with the goals you've planned. Going through these steps will help you reach your goal in the long run, but also allow you to feel the satisfaction of keeping your goal along the way.

Realistic: Large, complicated goals are very difficult to reach. Go for small, simple goals that you know you will actually be able to carry out, taking into account the skills and resources you have.

Timing: Though your goal should last the whole year, that doesn't need to be the only date you consider as you set goals. Lay out a series of deadlines to help you keep each part of your goal, remembering to keep it realistic.

2. Analyze Trends from Last Year

Pull out banking statements, old budgets, or any other documents and reports than can help you track your spending from last year. This will be a really important step in helping you to set goals for this year.

As you analyze these documents, look for certain trends in spending. Take an average of how much you spent on eating out, groceries, monthly subscriptions, fuel, utilities, clothing, and other common expenses to help you estimate how much you need for this year. Also look at your overall reliance on credit cards and which credit cards have the highest interest rates.

These trends will help you know exactly what spending habits you need to cut back on, thus helping you make solid goals. For example, make a goal to limit eating out to a certain dollar amount per month, or resolve to conserve energy to trim utility bills.

3. Make Short-term Savings Goals

Consider any surprise expenses that could come up during the year, like medical bills, car repairs, and vacations. You’ll want a considerable amount in your savings account so that you can take care of emergencies as they arise. Make a serious goal to save a specific amount each month that will go toward those unexpected costs, and don’t touch it for anything short of an emergency!

4. Consider Long-term Savings Goals

Once you have your short-term goals underway, you can start planning for your longer-term savings goals. Face these goals toward any large expenses in the future. Perhaps you need to save for a down payment on a house or a new car. Or maybe you need to save for your children’s tuition costs. How is your retirement fund looking, and do you have life insurance?

Planning for these expenses should not wait until necessity forces them upon you. Start planning today! You might want to start a special savings fund for those things or look into insurances and finance plans.

5. Set Your Budget and Keep It!

Make setting and keeping a budget one of your resolutions, since it’s the only way you can expect to keep any of your financial resolutions. Budgets are not always fun to keep up with, but if you can find one that works for you, it becomes easier. You just need to find a reliable method with which to track your spending.

Whether you use complex budgeting software or a simple notepad, keeping track of your spending in the way you prefer is the best way to keep with your budget. If you aren't sure how to get started on a budget, check out this article, which gives step by step instructions for budgeting as well as tips for keeping with it.

This year may be the first of many financially prosperous years to come, all because you were able to make some sound financial goals and keep them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

8 Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

This post is sponsored by The Bouq's Company.  I was compensated with my own Bouq's bouquet.  There are also affiliate links because I love fresh flowers!

I don't like winter.  I don't like snow.  So much that I get a little bit of the Winter Blues.  I crave the warmth from the sun and the days just seem so melancholy.  My kids were watching Curious George the other day and I heard one of my favorite lines, "Winter is a roller coaster of blah."  I wholeheartedly agreed!  Can you tell I'm a mom to young kids? :-)  

When the spring comes I can feel a tangible change in my mood.  I feel happier and lighter and excited!  I'm ready to get outside with the kids and feel the hot sun on my face!  I've lived in Utah now for almost 10 years and every winter is still a challenge.

But there are some things to help!  Now remember, I am not a physician nor have I been trained as one, but I do have mild winter blues and these help me!  So I hope they help you too.  If nothing seems to work, make sure you visit your doctor for some additional help!

Here are 8 ways to beat the Winter Blues

1. Fresh Flowers
Bright colors and flowers remind me of summer.  I love having fresh flowers in my home!  Just looking at them and smelling them makes me happy.  I buy flowers a lot during the winter to cheer up our living room and myself!  A great company that has beautiful fresh flowers is
The Bouq's Company.
The Bouq's Company has a great collection of beautiful flowers and doesn't cut them until after you purchase them!  They come completely preserved as buds and the stems are frozen so they stay fresh.  When you receive them you get to watch them open and beautify your home!  They also have a mobile app so it's easy to order and a concierge service to automatically send flowers on special occasions!  They have free shipping too!  And their customer service is amazing which is always so refreshing.

 Here are the orange lilies I ordered for my anniversary!  They do come as buds so you may want to have them delivered 2-3 days before the special day if you want the flowers to bloom by then.  I love flowers!  Don't you?  That's the only thing I ever want for my wedding anniversary.  Just some bright beautiful flowers.

2. Vitamin D Supplements
A recent NYU study showed that taking Vitamin D supplements may help with your mood during the winter. The sun provides Vitamin D in the summer, so helping your body produce the Vitamin D seems logical right?  I'm actually taking some right now.  The first week of some wintery weather - snow, cold, you know... I was pretty down.  Then I started taking Vitamin D and I haven't felt like that since!  It's been a few weeks so I'm hoping it keeps working through the rest of the winter.
As always, make sure to check with your physician before taking these!

3. Get Outside
Again, exposure to the sun allows your body to create Vitamin D which helps with your mood.  Although the sun isn't super intense in the winter, it's good to get outside and get as much natural sunlight as you can.  Take a quick walk or play with your kids in the snow for a bit.

4. Work on a Hobby
I love cooking and crafting and the winter is a great time to get some projects done!  You might have a little more time as you stay in more.  And there aren't really any huge holidays after New Years to prepare for.  So take the break and get working on a hobby!  It could be cooking or baking, decorating your home, photography, or even outdoor sports like skiing or snowboarding.

If you're looking for a good cookie recipe, this one is amazing!

5. Exercise
Winter makes you feel sluggish.  Or at least it makes me feel sluggish!  All I want to do is stay home and eat bread and chocolate.  Exercising will help get your blood pumping and give you some extra energy!  Try joining a gym or buy some awesome workout DVDs.  I personally love Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred DVD and Zumba.  My kids love to do them with me too!

6. Service
If you need a way to stop thinking about yourself and how lame winter is, think about others!  It really does lift your spirits when you help someone in need.  You can take a treat to a neighbor, take a meal to a family who just had a baby, shovel someone's sidewalk, or watch someone's kids for a few hours to let them run some errands,   

7. Embrace the Winter
There are some good things about winter...I guess. :-) Hot chocolate is probably my favorite thing!  You can also do fun things with your kids like build snowmen, go sledding, cut out snowflakes, bake cookies, and watch movies together.  Take your kids to museums, indoor swimming pools, or exercise at an open gym.  There are lots of indoor activities you can do!

8. Take a Vacation
If you need a break from the cold, try heading south where it's a little warmer for a few days.  Or just take a few days off and do some fun local things.  Break up the day to day.  Also having something to look forward to really helps winter not seem as long.  Your vacation will be there before you know it!

I hope these tips help you because they sure help me!  Don't just get through winter this year with the winter blues, try to make the most of it and spring will be here in no time!  I hope.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gift Giving Obstacles & How to Hurdle Them

Author: Whitney Hollingshead

The gift giving season often presents some interesting challenges. Here are five common challenges and some great tips on how you can overcome each one.

1. For the Person Who Doesn't Want Anything

Every year you probably encounter someone who tells you “Oh, I don’t need anything this year.” The odds are you are going to get this person something no matter what they tell you, so what should you get? Here are a few gifting tips that should help:

Go Sentimental - pick a gift that connects to memories shared together such as a board game you both enjoyed as children or a mix CD of songs that relate to inside jokes.

Focus on Frequent Use - select an item that this person will use or already uses often. For example, if you notice a commonly used item is getting worn out, purchase a replacement.

Make it Fun - choose a “frivolous” gift that this person will love, but would never spend money on, simply because the gift is not a necessity.

2. For the Person Who Has Everything

Do you have someone on your list who buys everything they want before you can purchase it for them? Do you know someone who literally has every gift you've already considered? Check out the strategies listed below:

Focus on Favorites - if this person loves the Denver Broncos, they would most likely appreciate more Bronco gear. If this person loves dark chocolate, fill a basket with tasty treats.

Add a Personal Touch - pick a photo from the past year and put the picture in a nice frame.

Purchase Tickets - give this person a set of tickets to a cultural event, concert, sports game, etc. Focus on activities you know this person will enjoy and don’t expect them to take you with the extra ticket.

3. For the Person Who is Very Picky

Year after year you keeping giving gifts to someone who either complains loudly or asks for the receipt to return the gift. This person can easily drive you mad. The best solution may seem to be a gift card or cash; however, this person may complain that you didn't spend enough, you picked the wrong store, or that this type of gift is so impersonal.

The key with this person is to accept that you may never succeed in finding an acceptable gift. The receiver of the gift should be gracious, no matter what gift you give them. So do your best to choose a gift and do not take it personally when this person complains again.

4. For the Person Who Has Expensive Taste

You’re on a tight budget, but your boss and sister-in-law both have very expensive taste. While this person may want a luxury car like one of these, you can barely afford a scented air freshener for the car. You don’t want to feel inferior in your gift giving, but you also really want to stay on budget this year.

Focus on giving this person a gift that money cannot buy. This gift may be a personalized service you can offer to them, a special gift that you can make by hand, or maybe even the gift of your time. Remember that giving gifts really shouldn't be about spending a lot of money.

5. For the Person Who Lives Far Away

Perhaps you have family members and friends who live across the country that you won’t be able to see for Christmas, but you would still like to send a gift. Here are some tips to consider:

Buy Online - purchase the gift from a website that offers free shipping and gives you the option of including a gift message with the shipment. Some sites will also offer gift wrapping services.

Use Flat Rate Shipping Boxes - visit your local post office and examine the flat rate shipping boxes before you shop. Choose your box and then purchase gifts that you can fit into the box.

Personal Delivery Service - is another friend or family member traveling to visit this person for the holidays? Ask them if they are willing to put your gift in their suitcase.

Keep it Practical - if you are deciding between a few different gifts, choose the gift that is easier to get to the recipient. For example, a book is much easier to send than a handcrafted wall hanging.

Final Tips

Even in the face of gift giving challenges, do not allow yourself to get caught up in the stress of the process. Use the tips above, make your shopping experience fun, and enjoy the rest of the holiday season.