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Easy Ways to Save While You Are Away

piggy bank

If I am going to be spending money while I am away on vacation, why not be able to save some as well.   Even better, how about being able to save enough money for a fun little souvenir or maybe a meal. I know that in today’s economy I am always looking for ways to save money, so I wanted to pass along these great tips for you and your family to use on your next vacation:

1. Put these guys on HOLD

Before you start you will want to make sure there will not be an additional fee if you are putting your services on hold. Also, find out how long your suspension can last.

Phone Service
You can ask your provider for a voluntary suspension. You will still have access to 611 or 911. Also, make sure to turn off your smartphone’s data-roaming and auto-check functions when you are traveling internationally. If your phone is constantly checking for emails or getting Facebook updates you will be getting charged.

Cable Service
It will depend on your provider, but check to see if you can put your service on hold. If not, see if you can switch to a lower-cost plan during your vacation.

DirectTV
You are allowed to suspend your service at no cost as long as you do not have a balance on your bill and are not ending service for more than 6 months.

2. You Can CUT These Off Yourself

Electrical Appliances
Did you know that even though an appliance or electronic might be turned on it is still drawing electricity? Those appliances can count for up to 10% of your monthly electric bill. So unplug anything that does not need to stay on during your vacation.

Air Conditioner and Heaters
If you do not have pets at home you can turn off your AC or turn up the thermostat. Also, you can save up to 25% on your energy bill by turning your water heater to vacation mode.

Blinds and Curtains
Close all your blinds and curtains, this will keep the house temperature more stable.

Lights
Turn off all your lights and set automatic timers.

These are some great ways to save money while you are away.  I have a great list in my Busy Mom’s Vacation Planning Kit that has even more actions to take when you are preparing to leave home on vacation.

Hey Moms!  Are you ready to get away, relax, reconnect and create family vacation memories to last a lifetime? Adventures By Kim would love to you help take the hassle and stress out of planning your next family vacation. It is our passion to make sure you get the VIP service, special amenities and vacation you deserve. Mention you found us on JC Families and get a $25.00 gift card when you book your next vacation. 

Discover The Art of The Brick

A few weeks ago the boys and I headed in to New York City to see The Art of the Brick at Discovery Time Square.   It is a great show that combines art, design and of course Legos.   The artist Nathan Sawaya known as the Brick Artist, has taken his love of Legos and created some amazing original pieces of art and sculpture.  As well, he has re-created masterpieces like Van Gogh’s Starry Night in Legos.
art of the brick - discovery times square     stairs - discovery time square

The Discovery Times Square is located on 44th, between 7th and 8th,  in the heart of Times Square. We drove in and it was not too bad. I always get a parking coupon when I am driving in to the city.  Icon Parking has coupons for most all their locations in the city.  As well, if you don’t want to deal with NYC traffic, you can take the NY Waterway Ferry over from NJ and then the free bus in to Times Square.
Art of the Brick - Cooper

We headed in around mid morning to miss rush hour traffic and to have lunch in the city.  Since we were in Times Square we had to head to John’s Pizza.  It is a favorite.  Also, it is great since it is right down the block from the Discovery Times Square.

Before heading in to the city to see the show I would suggest that you buy your tickets in advance. They will ask you for an entry time.   Prices for show are $22.50 for Adults and $17.50 for kids (4-12).   I did not see any coupons available when we went, but I suggest doing a google search before you buy just to see if you can save a few dollars.  I think for the size of the show the ticket price is a bit high, but it is Times Square.    Also, there are 2 other shows at the center you can check out as well: Shipwrek: Pirates & Treasure and Body Worlds: Pulse.  You can purchase combo tickets.

They did not let us take photos of the exhibition, but we actually saw an exhibit of some of these pieces at the Morristown Museum last year.  Along with some amazing new pieces, were many of the same ones we saw, like these:

Chest bursting Lego     Lego Pencil
Lego heads

The boys really enjoyed the exhibit, their favorite was the Dinosaur sculpture.  I enjoyed all the re-creations of the masterpieces.  I think the boys are still a little too young to understand why the masterpiece re-creations are so great.  But, it was nice to have a discussion about art and being creative.  Being creative it why I love Legos,  I like to see what the boys create on their own more than the actual Lego you are supposed to create from the box.
dinosuar - art of the brick

As well if your kids like to be creative with Legos, there is a contest.  At the end of the exhibit, there is a display of Lego projects created by folks just like you.   You just need to submit a photo of your creation by August, 19th.  They winning creations will be on display fromSeptember 16th thru January 5th, 2014 Just click here for more details. 

The Art of the Brick exhibit is worth the trek in to the city.  The exhibit itself is not too big, so really you can do it in an afternoon.  As well, it can be a stop on your day in the city.  Get some lunch at John’s Pizza, as well if you are brave you can head over to Toys R Us and ride the ferris wheel.
Toys R Us NYC Ferris Wheel

Make a Fine Art Monster!

This is a fun variation on the monster project I taught my private art students this week. It’s easy to elevate a simple craft into a work of fine art after adding a wooden pedestal to the bottom!

For your fine art monster you will need:
empty toilet tubes
acrylic paint in light green
googly eyes
office stickers
pipe cleaners
felt scraps or cotton rounds
wood cube *optional
glue, scissors, markers, hole puncher

Step 1 Make two holes towards the top of your empty tube and towards the bottom of your tube. These will be where the arms and legs go through. This step adults need to help with!

Step 2 Paint the outside of the tube light green and let dry completely. This should take less than 5 minutes 😉

Step 3 Add office stickers for facial features and googly eyes using some small dots of glue.

Step 4 After your paint is completely dry, it should be easy to add features to your monster like dots or stripes.

Step 5 Pull two pipe cleaners through the ‘arm’ and ‘leg’ holes of your monster.

Step 6 Using craft glue to the interior top of your tube, add some ‘hair’ to the top of your monster. I used wool felt for this which is nice and thick… but you could use any plush fabric or even cotton rounds from the pharmacy!

Step 7 {optional} Elevate your monster to a piece of fine art by gluing a wooden cube to the bottom of a piece of stiff felt or cardboard. Display in your child’s room!

Hey moms! Are you seeking fun and creative private art lessons for your child? Ashley offers them weekly to families in Newport, Jersey City.  Click here to find out more and be sure to mention JCFamilies for a free tote of art goodies on the first day of classes! Ashley Lucas is a professional illustrator and crafts designer and creates murals for kids rooms in Jersey City. She offers artwork, books and gifts to kids in the Jersey City community through her business ‘Lady Lucas’.

Picture Book Review: Who Is Melvin Bubble? by Nick Bruel for Ages 3-9

Who is Melvin Bubble?

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By Nick Bruel

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2006

Nick Bruel is the creator of the enormously popular Bad Kitty series, which features a feisty and mischievous cat. His writing is funny and clever, his exaggerated characters have vast appeal and his art is brightly colored and engaging.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? opens with a letter from a boy named Jimmy, imploring the author to write a book about his best friend Melvin Bubble. What follows is both an excellent lesson in perspective and a well-crafted picture book.

The author asks several people the same question, who is Melvin Bubble? Each response generates a different perspective on this young boy, and gives a bit of insight on the responder as well. The caricature-like characters are vibrantly colored and their responses are encapsulated in giant word bubbles and coupled with visualizations.

Melvin Bubble’s dad calls Melvin a chip off the old block; his mom says he may be the messiest boy in the world.

Melvin Bubble’s teddy bear tells readers how much Melvin likes hugs.

His best friend says “Melvin’s the coolest kid I know! He can whistle “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider through his nose!”

Santa Claus has only good things to say about the boy who always makes his nice list, but the Tooth Fairy had an unfortunate experience having to do with the boy’s very large head.

Taking some hilarious turns and building comic momentum, the author also solicits responses from a big, ugly monster with three eyes, a beautiful princess and a magic rock (a wonderful homage to Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig). The rock turns out not to magic after all so the author turns to a talking zebra instead. The zebra’s response, a nod to the humor of Looney Tunes, is my favorite.

Finally, the author asks Melvin Bubble himself to describe who he is, and all the pieces fall neatly into place.

Through its layered perspectives, Who is Melvin Bubble? offers children an opportunity to recognize alternate points of view. It may also prompt them to think more about the concept of identity and how one person can be different things to many people. This hilarious and energetic picture book is sure to be a read-aloud favorite.

Jennifer Lavonier has worked in the children’s book world for nearly twenty years. You can find more of her children’s book reviews on her website, TurtleAndRobot.com.

 

Book Review: Courage by Bernard Waber for ages 2-8

Courage

Picture Book

Ages 2-8

By Bernard Waber

32 pages

Houghton Mifflin

2002

Bernard Waber (1921-2013) wrote and illustrated over thirty books for children and is best known for his series of books featuring Lyle the Crocodile. The first book to introduce the world to the lovable and talented crocodile was The House on East 88th Street (1962). It tells the story of the Primm family who has just moved into their new home when they discover Lyle living in their bathtub. In no time at all, the talented and helpful Lyle is a loved and cherished member of the family. Several more books featuring Lyle followed.

Waber’s straightforward and, often, humorous text coupled with his approachable and cheerful art results in entertaining stories with enormous appeal. Though his characters are rarely human, their troubles are familiar and are gratifyingly resolved in an encouraging manner.

Waber departs from his customary animal characters in Courage; his quivery-lined, active art depicts human children carrying out every day acts of courage. It’s easy to spot courage in a firefighter or a police office or an ordinary citizen performing a brave act, but sometimes very small endeavors also require boldness.

The opening illustration features a female ice-skater executing a mid-air split.

 

“There are many kinds of courage.”

In the following pages, Waber expounds on the many varieties of courage; some are awesome, like performing in a trapeze act or climbing a mountainothers are small, such as having two candy bars and saving one for tomorrow.

 

Courage is riding your bicycle for the first time, going to bed without a nightlight, jumping off the high dive, or getting a haircut. Courage can also be checking out the noises in the dark or keeping the secret you promised not to tell. Courage is telling the truth, exploring new places or holding onto your dream.

 

“Still, courage is couragewhatever kind.”

More a guide than a story, Courage offers parents an opportunity to teach their children an invaluable life lesson: experiencing fear is a universal trait and overcoming that fear, large or small, is an act of bravery. Furthermore, once we find that bravery within ourselves it can be shared with and fostered in those around us.

 

“Courage is what we give to each other.”

Jennifer Lavonier has worked in the children’s book world for nearly twenty years. You can find more of her children’s book reviews on her website, TurtleAndRobot.com.

A Few Of My Favorite Things – 10 of My Favorite Travel Gadgets


When traveling with kids there is all the “stuff” you have to bring. I think some of that “stuff” should at least make the vacation less stressful and more enjoyable.  Here are some of my FAVORITE travel gadgets:

1. Wireless Mobile Hot Spot – I recently purchased a hot spot and don’t know how I have survived so long with out it.   When traveling it really can save a lot of money if you need to be connected. Some well reviewed choices are:  Novatel MiFi 4620L Jetpack 4G Mobile Hotspot (Verizon Wireless) or we have the  AT&T Mobile Hotspot Elevate 4G

att wireless hotspot

2. e-Reader –  Who doesn’t like to read a book while lounging on the beach or by the pool? But, what I love about an e-reader is that it is not just for books alone.  You can download apps or even movies for you and the kids.  That is if you want to share.  But of course, I think the best choices are either The Nook and The Kindle.  It is nice because they each have so many choices and also prices to fit just about any budget.

nook hd kindle fire 2

3. Trunki BoostApak – I think this is awesome!  It can be such a hassle to have to lug your booster seat with you for the plane or to have when renting a car while you are away.  The  Trunki BoostApak is easy to use and easy to take with you. I just wish I had found this sooner.

Trunki_BoostApak

4. The Ride On Carry On – I first saw this on Shark Tank. I love that show.  When I saw this I thought what a GREAT idea and so simple. I also like that it is easy to use and compact.  I have a friend whose sister is a flight attendant, and she swears by it.

ride on carry on

5. Travel-Tot Childproofing Kit I think for a lot of Mom’s a big worry when traveling with their small children is safety.  Well, this kit will make your hotel room or condo safe and let Mom and Dad relax a bit. A great idea would be to have this shipped directly to your destination. It would be one less item to pack.

travel tot childrproofing kit

6. Waterproof Cases –  When I am at the beach or pool I am always worried that my iphone, computer or tablet is going to get wet.  Well, I found these very cute waterproof cases on Etsy.  The are created by Seen and made from recycled banners. They also have bags as well.  It can’t hurt to be cute and practical at the same time.

seen 1 waterproof bag

7. Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity iPad and iphone Case – I have mentioned these before but I really think they are great for the little ones. If you are going to let them use your iphone or ipad, at least they have a better chance to survive when they inevitably get dropped.

fisher price apptivity ipad case fisher_price_iphone_case 2

8. Gorillapod Flexible Tripod – This tripod is great in that it is small, easy to use and of course flexible.  They have choices that will fit just about every point & shoot and video cameras.  I like that it allows you to really set your camera up anywhere. They even have a magnetic tripod. Say goodbye to out of focus and shaky pictures.

gorillapod flexible tripod

9. Travel Bingo Game – I remember playing this game on many a road trip growing up. I think it is a great way to get the kids to actually look out the window instead of the ipad or the video screen.  Also check out my blog on the Flip to Win and other great travel games by Melissa and Doug.

travel bingo
Travel Bingo Game

10. PowerTrip – This is a GREAT charger. My husband recently received this for his birthday and loves it. It charges mobile devices such as Blackberry’s, cell phones, smart phones, iPhones, iPods, IPads, digital cameras, GPS and MP3 Players.  It even has a solar panel on one side so you can set it on top of the stroller while you are out to charge it.

powertrip-product

I would love to hear what you think of any of these products. Also, please let me know if you have any travel products that you love and have helped you on your journeys.

Beautiful Butterflies Wall Decor

I have wanted to try this craft for some time now, and I must say, these colorful butterflies look super cute on my studio wall! Moms, I hope you try it yourself for a fun and easy summer decor idea!

You will need:

– Plasti-Tak or Wall Putty

– A Butterfly Template {such as the one I’ve designed on my Facebook Page}

– Markers & Scissors

Step One Print a sheet of blank butterfly shapes. You can use the template I’ve designed above, or seek out butterfly images online {this website has lots of awesome free options!}. If you have Photoshop, you can simply use the ‘butterfly shape’ tool or in Microsoft Word there are plenty of clip art images that would be great for this project!

Step Two If your butterfly shapes are a solid color such as the ones above, use a black marker to add dots, lines and other shapes to the wings.

Step Three Carefully cut your butterflies out and cut as close to the wings as you can.

Step Four Gently fold the wings of your butterflies and stick the middle ‘body’ to your wall using a wall putty adhesive such as ‘Plasti-Tak’. You can generally find this in any office supply store or Target.

Bonus Idea For a super easy way to complete this craft, simply adhere wall putty to the back of artificial butterflies from the flower store, and attach to the wall.

Hey moms! Are you seeking fun and creative private art lessons for your child? Ashley offers them weekly to families in Newport, Jersey City.  Click here to find out more and be sure to mention JCFamilies for a free tote of art goodies on the first day of classes! Ashley Lucas is a professional illustrator and crafts designer and creates murals for kids rooms in Jersey City. She offers artwork, books and gifts to kids in the Jersey City community through her business ‘Lady Lucas’.

Book Review: Uncle Bigfoot by George O’Connor for Ages 3-8

Uncle Bigfoot

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By George O’Connor

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2008

Uncle Bigfoot was George O’Connor’s fourth picture book. He has since gone on to create several graphic novels, including the New York Times best selling Olympians Series about the Greek gods and goddesses of Olympus. The sixth book in the series, Aphrodite: Goddess of Love, is due out later this year. O’Connor’s fifth picture book, If I Had a Raptor, will be published in 2014 followed shortly thereafter by If I Had a Triceratops. O’Connor’s picture books have an irrepressible humor and immense appeal to both kids and adults, which is very important to parents who find themselves coaxed by little ones to read a book again and again.

In Uncle Bigfoot, our spirited narrator, a nameless young boy, is intrigued when he learns his Uncle Bernie is coming to visit. He doesn’t recall ever hearing about this uncle before so he asks his father if there are any photos of this mysterious person. The only picture they find is of Bernie, back to the camera, running away.

‘“Uncle Bernie’s a little shy around cameras,” said Dad.’

The young boy imagines a multitude of scenarios as to why his uncle would not want to be photographed and when his uncle finally arrives, the answer is obvious.

Stupefied, the boy runs to consult his book on Bigfoot. He’s quickly able to confirm all the telltale signs, but each time he tries to convince his parents of his findings they have perfectly reasonable responses, which negate the boy’s pronouncement.

Uncle Bernie is hairy, really hairy, just like Bigfoot.  When the determined boy points this out to his father, the response is no comfort, “Just wait until you get older, you’ll be hairier too.”

Uncle Bernie has big feet, just like Bigfoot, but Mom tells the persistent boy that lots of people have big feet.

However, the guidebook also says that Bigfoots are mean and scary and Uncle Bernie is neither of those things. He just seems different from the other people our inquisitive narrator knows. Maybe Uncle Bernie is just a little more different than most.

Relieved of his suspicions, the boy and his family enjoy a wonderful visit with Uncle Bigfoot. The newly won-over boy confesses that he misses his uncle (he left last Tuesday) but he’s excited about a pending visit from his Aunt Nessie!

O’Connor’s sardonic humor is coupled with cartoon-y illustrations, further highlighting the absurdity of the boy’s suspicions. Visual nods to various mythical creatures and unsolved mysteries—UFO’s, Mothman, aliens, and Atlantis, to name a few—will amuse older readers. O’Connor’s knack for depicting expressions adds yet another level of amusement and charm to the art.

Uncle Bigfoot is a lighthearted, joyous picture book and an enjoyable read for parents and children alike.

How to Paint a Wall Mural

I have been painting on walls since my college days, and have recently been working on murals for kids rooms and nurseries. This week, I had the great pleasure of adding another wall painting to my niece’s nursery, and thought it might be a nice time to share with parents this special way of enhancing the walls of your child’s room. Also, if your child is over 9 years of age, you might want to work with them on creating their very own mural that they can complete themselves!

To create your own wall mural, first draw a sketch on a piece of paper of how you wish the picture to come out. This is an important way to start your journey, and you will need to reference it throughout your painting process. You could also reference a page from a storybook or magazine if you wish.

I know it’s almost impossible to see… but the image above is of a pencil sketch on the wall… which is what you’ll need to do next to complete your mural. Draw your entire picture on the wall in pencil first, so you have the ability to erase any errors before you paint.

After your pencil sketch is complete, use a thick permanent marker to outline your wall image. ‘Regular or thin tipped’ permanent markers won’t work, you need a heavy duty thick tipped marker to complete the job!

Using acrylic paints, color in your mural using brushes that are thick and thin, depending on what details you are looking to fill in. Acrylic paints work well on wall paint and are generally non-toxic and easy to use.

Outline your painting once more with a permanent marker to really emphasize your work of art. Enjoy your wall mural for years to come!

Hey moms! Are you seeking fun and creative private art lessons for your child? Ashley offers them weekly to families in Newport, Jersey City.  Click here to find out more and be sure to mention JCFamilies for a free tote of art goodies on the first day of classes! Ashley Lucas is a professional illustrator and crafts designer and creates murals for kids rooms in Jersey City. She offers artwork, books and gifts to kids in the Jersey City community through her business ‘Lady Lucas’.

Why I Love All-Inclusive Vacations

family on the beach
When it comes to traveling as a family I think some of the biggest challenges are budget, making sure there are activities for the kids, as well Mom and Dad being able to get some adult/date time.  While I believe there are several vacation choices that will conquer these challenges, at the top of my list is the All-Inclusive resort vacation.

Here are some of the reasons I love all-inclusive vacations:

1. Cost –  There are all-inclusive resorts to meet any budget.

The best part of going to an all-inclusive resort is the “all-inclusive”.  When everything is included you really do save money over other vacations, and you will not be surprised with a big bill when you check out. The only additional charges should be if you choose a spa visit or additional babysitting. Though, there are some great resorts which include babysitting, hey even your own personal Vacation Nanny. However, not all resorts are created equal, so that is why I am always doing research and visiting destinations to make sure you get to the “right” resort.
azul beach Blue restaurant
2. Amazing Food and Drink –  Long gone is the boring buffet line. There are now many gourmet all-inclusive resorts. The Azul Resorts in Mexico and of course the Beaches Resorts in the Caribbean are amazing resorts that cater to families and offer gourmet food and luxury accommodations. Even better the Azul Resorts have access to a 100,000 sq. ft green house where they grow their own produce.  These resorts offer your choice of  lobster, steak, amazing international cuisine, brick oven pizza, gelato and bakeries for those yummy afternoon snacks.  Many resorts are also serving premium brands of liquor and wine.  No watered down no name drinks.
3. Activities and Entertainment –  These resorts offer activities for adults, kids and the whole family. You can learn to scuba, surf or just relax on the beach. They have night time parties and amazing entertainment for the whole family.  A nice added feature is that many of the resorts like Beaches and the Hard Rock Punta Cana also offer great character experiences for the kids.
franklyn D nanny

4. Child Care and Kids Clubs – This is one of the great added values of the all-inclusive when it comes to families. Many resorts offer child care and activities for kids 4 and up.  But what about the little ones? Well, there are several resorts which include certified nannies.  At Franklyn D Resort in Jamaica and Generations Maroma every family gets their own nanny for the length of their stay. The great thing is that you can use the child care as much or as little as it suits your family. It is just nice to have it as an option. I think Mom and Dad deserve a little vacation too. Even if it is just to be able to have a nice dinner date.

5. There is an all-inclusive resort to match any family.  There are many all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean, with the best deals being Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Mexico.  But, if you are looking for something closer there are actually some great resorts right here in the US, like the Club Med Sandpiper right in Port St. Lucie, Florida.


Overall,  I really do believe that for families an all-inclusive vacation is a great choice.  They offer great food, activities and fun for all.  Even better I like that you don’t have that big surprise bill at the end.  Also you can choose from so many great destinations.    Are you ready to start planning?