Thursday, May 28, 2015

Yellowstone National Park with kids #familytravel

Are you trying to decide where to go for an unforgettable family vacation? What about a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park, one of the most inspiring and fascinating natural wonders in existence?

My family (then just the three of us) ventured to Yellowstone National Park several years ago.We visited Yellowstone with a preschooler; I believe she was around two years old at the time. She had a few moments of meltdown, but she also really enjoyed seeing some sights that could not be found at home. Visiting Yellowstone with children is absolutely worthwhile. There is so much to see and do with a variety of family-friendly lodging.

GETTING TO Yellowstone:

Unless you live within driving distance, you will need to investigate various airports and airfares that suit your needs. Jackson, WY is probably your best bet for flying into, as it is slightly under a 2-hour drive to Yellowstone National Park. You can also see the Grand Tetons on your way, and Jackson Hole is a great little town! We flew into Jackson and stayed a night in Jackson Hole before venturing through the Grand Tetons (with a morning hike where we saw a moose) on our way to Yellowstone. Cody, WY is another option to investigate when searching for airports near Yellowstone National Park.

LODGING IN Yellowstone:

There are many varieties of lodging to choose from in Yellowstone - but make sure to book very far in advance, as some of the most popular ones book almost a year out. Summer lodges include the well-loved Old Faithful Inn, Old Faithful Cabins, Roosevelt Lodge and Cabins, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Cabins, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Lake Lodge Cabins, Grant Village, and a couple more. Yellowstone is so large, you may want to consider booking two different lodges/cabins on opposite sides of the park. That will allow you to really experience one area before immersing yourself in another area. It's amazing how different various features can be, all within one park! While the smaller cabins are not generally fancy, we tend to select them for the separation from other guests (kids can be noisy, you know) and quaint, outdoorsy feel (cabins with bathrooms are my "camping"). Yellowstone lodges and other accommodations are managed by Xanterra; you can browse Yellowstone accommodations and make reservations here: Yellowstone Park Lodging

EATING IN Yellowstone:

Dining in Yellowstone is as varied as the lodging. Fine dining, casual restaurants, and snack shops are scattered throughout the very large park. A couple times, we stopped in a little market and bought picnic supplies to eat outdoors. It is important for families to understand drive times within the very large park and where food is located, as kids get hungry. Often. Dining facilities in Yellowstone National Park

FAMILY FUN in Yellowstone: 
Yellowstone spans an area of over 3,000 square miles! Yes... it is huge. Yellowstone National Park visitors enjoy wildlife sightings, canyons, scenic drives, jaw-dropping hikes, views of geysers and other geothermal features, and even more.  Most paths are paved or boardwalks, so it is surprisingly stroller-friendly. For children, these are some of the top must-see sights and must-do activities:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ford Motor Company partnerships: Helping to support breast cancer warriors #MoreGoodDays

Ford Motor Company has been part of the Warriors in Pink fight for 21 years, and they are not standing still. This year, Ford Motor Company via is helping families and loved ones to ensure "more good days" for breast cancer warriors.

The Ford Cares site offers several resources and partnerships that really empower people to find ways to support those they love battling cancer. One of those resources, Meal Train, is an online platform that allows friends and families to organize meal deliveries and more. Ford Motor Company is offering the enhanced Meal Train service FREE to those who enter via

And now, Lyft is getting involved with transportation services to cancer centers throughout the country! The folks at Ford are constantly working to create new partnerships to provide more good days for those battling breast cancer.

What can you do at home? 
  • Visit to give someone with breast cancer a good day
  • Start a free Meal Train
  • Get ideas to help
  • Set up a Lyft
  • Even enter to win a Ford Mustang! 

It is all about easy access to tools and ideas for giving the people we love #MoreGoodDays - thanks to Ford Motor Company and their generous sponsors.

 Note: This post is not sponsored. I occasionally receive loaner vehicles to review on behalf of Ford Southeast. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Summer reading plan: Kid-Friendly Non-Fiction #GASummerRead

My daughter is a natural-born reader. She learned early and has always found true enjoyment in words. She reads brochures from travel stops, age-appropriate magazines, picture books, fiction chapter books, and non-fiction books. She reads to her baby brother and to us. She reads a lot on vacation too!

For some children, reading is more of a chore than a preferred leisure activity. Summer may mean prodding and pushing and steering the kids away from the TV or video game system. While some down time is important over the summer (we certainly watch our share of TV), it is also important for them to continue honing their reading skills, both for reading ability and comprehension of story structure and facts. 

Our summer reading plan focuses on kid-friendly non-fiction. Here is a sample plan if you are looking for ideas for your kids: 

2 Science + 2 Biography + 1 big book of fun facts

Science non-fiction books
Some of our favorite science non-fiction books are from Usborne Books. They have a "beginner" and a "discovery" selection of books like Cats, Dogs, Snakes, Bugs, Ocean Animals, Night Animals, Weather, and Trains. We will make sure we read at least two of these selections this summer. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Summer at home: Scheduled or Free?

Today was my daughter's final full day of school! She has two more early release days until she is officially a second grader. I am thrilled for her and sharing in her excitement for the summer break. 

Do you like your summer to be scheduled or free? 

I am shooting for a little bit of both this season. Here are a few ways I am balancing a schedule (for my sanity) and freedom (for the fun of it): 

Find the right summer camp -
I found a gymnastics camp close to home that allows single-day attendance, so I booked my daughter for Tuesdays in June and July. This gives her an opportunity to be with children her age for more than just a single week and gives us something dedicated on the schedule. Most camps are M-F, and that just did not fit our style. Everyone has different preferences, so search for various camp schedules to find what works for you and your kid(s). 

Monday, May 18, 2015

No-bake dessert: Oreo Nilla Cookie Bars

Just a quick post for today...

I am sharing a recipe that you will absolutely love because it is extremely easy, requires no baking, and everyone loves it.

Oreo Nilla Cookie Bars!
Think Rice Krispie treats but with cookies instead of cereal. Cookies are way better than cereal, am I right?! I found the inital recipe on Pinterest here: Cookies and Cream No-Bake Bars but I actually made a mistake the first time around and had to improvise. My creation has two kinds of cookies instead of one. The more cookies the better, I say.


1 bag of large marshmallows
(16 oz size if you want them more marshmallow-y chewy)

4 tbsp stick butter cut into 4-5 chunks

1 bag of regular Oreo cookies

1 box of Nilla Wafers


Place entire bag of Oreo cookies and about 1/3 box of Nilla Wafers into a gallon-sized zip plastic bag. Crush up the cookies leaving some chunks.

Place entire bag of marshmallows in a very large microwave-safe bowl with 4 tbsp of stick butter. Microwave in 30-second increments while stirring in between until marshmallows are entirely melted and butter is incorporated throughout.

Immediately stir in the crushed cookies. Use some muscle as the mixture gets sticky and thick quickly.

Line a rectangular pan (9x13 or similar) with plastic wrap - this is a huge help later.

Dump entire marshmallow cookie mixture into the pan and spread the best you can. If it's totally messy and not spreading well, leave it alone and place the pan in the fridge. After about 5-6 minutes in the fridge, you will be able to press it into the sides and smooth it on top.

Refrigerate for at least one hour. When ready to serve, carefully turn the pan upside down and pull out the bars with the plastic wrap. remove the plastic wrap and use a large knife to cut the edges smooth, then cut into bars.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ripley's attractions in #GatlinburgTN - summer fun! #coupon

Here is a fantastic summer fun discount if you are in the southeast.

Take a trip over to Gatlinburg, Tennessee and experience eight fun Ripley's attractions including Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium, the 85,000 sq ft Aquarium of the Smokies, a 5D Moving Theater, a bone-chilling Haunted Adventure, the mind-bending Marvelous Mirror Maze, and two fully themed mini-golf courses.

I grew up in Tennessee, so Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge were often on our summer and fall must-visit lists. I still enjoy visiting the area as an adult, renting a little cabin for our family, and walking through the town and browsing the shops. With kids along for the trip these days, it is a lot of fun to visit the attractions, and Ripley's has some of the best entertainment in the Gatlinburg area.

And here's a bit of savings for you...

BalancingMama readers Save $3 Off Adult and $2 Off Child Admission to all of Ripley's Attractions in Tennessee. Use Online Promo Code: USFAMILYGUIDE  *Must purchase online*

Enjoy your summer and get out there to play with the kids!

- - -
I will receive free admission to Ripley's attractions as compensation for this post and social media shares of the coupon code. However, as always, all opinions are 100% mine.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

National Water Safety Month: SAFE tips for families

It is almost time to get out the swimsuits and head to the pools, lakes, and oceans in your area! Water can be a ton of fun for kids and adults alike, but we need to remember to play it safe while having a splashing good time.

In recognition of the popularity of swimming and other water-related recreational activities in the United States, and the resulting need for ongoing public education on safer water practices, the month of May 2015 is National Water Safety Month!

I take to the blog annually to remind as many people as I can that water safety includes more than just drowning. When out in the water, everyone needs to remember these SAFE tips:

S - Sunscreen. Water reflects light and can give anyone a nasty burn. Also remember that sunscreen needs to be reapplied often when in the water. Use at least SPF 30 and a waterproof variety. 

A - Always abide by the signs/flags. Pay attention to Coast Guard flags and do not enter ocean water if warnings are present. Even the best of swimmers can get pulled by an undertow. Also, NO DIVING if the water is shallow. Diving is one of the leading causes of spinal cord injury in the summer and unfortunately, I see kids diving into 5-foot deep pools way too often. One wrong move and it could mean major paralysis. Please do not let them dive unless it is an approved diving depth of around 12 feet. 

F - Friends or family. Do not let children swim alone. Even adults should not swim alone in case something unexpected happens. Keep a friend or family member close. 

E - Eyes and ears. The pool and beach are great places to catch up on some relaxing waterside reading, but parents cannot forget to keep their eyes and ears open and on the kids very, very often. A drowning child is often very quiet, and many parents think their child will yell or scream if drowning. Do not stop watching when they are in the water. 

Enjoy the summer, get wet, have a great time, and stay safe! 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why I didn't write a sappy Mother's Day post

There are a few hours remaining in my Mother's Day tonight. Two children are in bed, one sprawled out in his crib with his face to the ceiling and the other still "too awake to sleep", even though it is a school night. I have glanced at headlines and Facebook shares of numerous Mother's Day posts this weekend, and it never occurred to me (until now) that I did not have one of my own.

Sorry, no sappy Mother's Day post here.

I was too busy living in the moments.

I was distracted from computers and thoughts of writing, instead happily fulfilling my roles as the birthday girl (May 9), the wife on date night (hooray for a meal with no baby!), and at-home Mom today. I had a lot more down time than I usually do and it has been nice. I did not cook a meal for two days and that has been awesome. We had no set plans other than our date night dinner, and that was probably the best treat of them all. Our weekends are usually scheduled and very busy. We played at home, broke in the inflatable kiddie pool in the yard, and had the TV on more than we "should". No rules, just us being a family.

Happy Mother's Day to my mom and all the moms out there. I send my hugs and good thoughts to those who are missing their mother, and I send extra special heartfelt prayers to those who long to be called "Mommy" but it just isn't meant to be - yet.

I am grateful for all of the people who have shaped my life into what it is today, and I hope I am properly guiding my two amazing babies towards their own happy futures.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finally warming up to the idea of American Girl

I always considered American Girl dolls to be a huge waste of money. I mean, it's a doll. You know, plastic with fake hair, just like other dolls in other stores. But because of their name and label, American Girl dolls are expensive! A basic American Girl doll comes with a price tag of $115, and that doesn't count any extra clothing, pets, shoes, furniture, hairstyles... you get the idea.  

I have always considered myself lucky that we could browse the American Girl store and depart without a question, a request, or a tantrum because my daughter, now seven years old, has never been much of a "doll person". Her menagerie of stuffed animals have been the ones to attend school, watch movies, play games, and get fed just like dolls might at another little girl's house.

Until this past weekend, I have never heard a peep from her about American Girl. Even when the catalogs arrived at our house, my daughter would browse the photos and learn the dolls' names, but she never asked for one. Now it looks as if we may have an American Girl Christmas. Santa had better get ready! (She knows better than to ask Mom and Dad for a $115 toy.)

I am warming up to the idea. I am glad that we did not fall into the American Girl doll craze earlier, when she would have been too young to take proper care of an expensive doll or even understand what "expensive" really means. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Is 37 still "mid" thirties?

I have another birthday coming up this weekend. Hooray for my annual weekend of birthday and Mother's Day love. My only requirement for the double holiday of ME is absolutely no cooking. Planning meals, grocery shopping, and cooking are some of my least favorite activities. So I look forward to a weekend of excessive calories from restaurant food and dessert. I cannot decide whether my birthday request will be a cookie cake or peanut butter pie. Maybe I can negotiate both (it will be my very special double-holiday weekend, you know).

I am having total writer's block this week, so forgive my ramblings. Perhaps it's my age.

Is 37 still "mid" thirties?

I fear that I have to use the dreaded "late" word... late thirties. My husband turns thirty-nine in about two weeks, so at least I can still pick on him for being older than me. Two years (minus 17 days) older than me, in fact. I win.

Happy early Mother's Day to all the moms out there. And happy birthday to anyone sharing a birthday week with me, whatever your number may be.

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