4 Holiday Packing Tips For Families

Four Holiday Packing Tips You Won’t Want to Miss!

Traveling over the holidays can be stressful and super exciting all at the same time. Here are some of my long-learned travel lessons for families traveling this holiday season.

  1. Start as soon as you can! Holidays are a busy time and will fly by faster than you know, so if you have travel planned pack as soon as you can! Obviously, this is hard if you need some of the stuff but if you live up north and are having a beach vacation get to packing!
  2. Make a list and check it twice: Just like the big man in the red, fur-trimmed suit, you need to make a list and check it twice! This will make packing so much easier for you and will ensure you do not forget anything super important.
  3. Packing CUBES for everyone: These are travel game changers and make it so easy to pack for a family. Read more about why I love packing Cubes here: Packing Cubes- The best invention for traveling with kids
  4. Delay Kit: Winter weather can sometimes delay or even cancel some air travel plans so be prepared! Set aside a “Delay Kit” to put in your carry on. In this kit should be an entire change of clothes, two pairs of underwear and small airline approved size toiletries and deodorant.

Doing these four things have significantly helped me out when traveling around the holiday season. We hope you and your family have a wonderful 2018 holiday season and a safe, joyful family vacation!

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Why We Decided NO More TOYS!

It is customary for most families to do a little bit of clearing out the old stuff to make room for all the new toys, clothing and other holiday gifts headed our way. I try to do this more than once a year but the holiday season is always a great time and reminder to get this done.

Our kids have so much these days! To be honest, this topic has weighed heavy on my heart lately. Kids (with means) have SO MUCH! Parents of my generation are so concerned with giving gifts to their kids that they no longer “earn” that new Game Boy or LOL Surprise Doll. We just buy it for them when we find a great deal or we are browsing through Target and they ask for it over and over.

Okay, not all parents of my generation are like this but more and more I am seeing this happen and I, myself, am guilty of this of parenting behavior. I love my daughters and want them to have it all and want for nothing.

I think my answer to this question has changed over time, and now I want my kids to have it all BUT to appreciate what they have and work for what they want. It was after my daughters 4thbirthday that I made the choice of no more toys for the foreseeable future (yup, no more toys). She was playing with friends and the playroom was a mess! New toys and old were all over the floor, and some of the new ones in pieces just one day into having them. When I asked her to clean up we encountered an “issue.” She told me that I could just toss her brand-new Chelsea Barbie house! We had just gotten this for her the day before as a birthday present and she couldn’t care less. It wasn’t her fault she had never really wanted anything. It was in that moment I made myself a promise to change her attitude toward things like toys and other privileges that being an middle to upper-income class family allows her to enjoy.

Learning new behaviors must start somewhere, so we decided to start with toys and other “things” she thinks she “needs” and wants so badly. Going cold turkey is never easy but here are some tips on how to manage the toy clutter and start to shift their appreciation for all the wonderful “things” they have in this life.

  1. Provide your kids with more experiences: Try gifting your children more than just toys! Santa will be bringing a family trip this year and a few small toys for in-flight entertainment. We even convinced our oldest daughter to ask Santa for this and now she has no toys on her Christmas list this year! Read more here: Gift Ideas For Your Kids that are NOT Toys.
  2. Clean out the playroom: Make sure while you are doing the holiday purge you are discussing with them why we should appreciate and respect everything we have.
  3. Donate their toys and clothes: Once we no longer appreciate things we should find someone to give them to who will love and appreciate them. This is a great lesson for kids and an easy way to teach them selflessness and giving back.
  4. Toss Don’t Donate: If there are things broken, toss them and talk to your children about treating toys and belongings with respect. Don’t donate them because if your kids don’t want to play with them why would another kid? Only donate gently used or easily repaired toys and clothes, or better yet take your children shopping to buy new toys for other children in need. Let them take a name off the many “giving” trees around this time of year and help them pick out something for a child they don’t know.
  5. Clean out with them: Discuss why we are doing this and how there are others in need. Most importantly be present in the process. Make it fun and remind them how special they are for being responsible and helping others with their kindness and generosity. Preschool-aged children have a hard time with these concepts but with affirmation and repetition this will catch on quicker than you might expect. Making sure we are always talking about respecting what we have is super important.
  6. Set Boundaries and start saving: No more toys … okay, not everyone has to go this extreme, but make sure they know that things cost money and that you can’t just have anything and everything when you ask for it. If there is a toy that is a big-ticket item talk to them about saving up money for it. My daughter wanted a Cinderella car that was $398! Yikes! We talked about saving up her money so she could buy it herself and she soon stopped talking about it and moved on. This happened all on her own, she could have saved up for it. She easily will have $400 after her birthday and Christmas.
  7. Make them earn rewards: This can be done a few ways. One way is with chores and allowance. Another great way could be through a reward system for their efforts on school work.

Overall, being a parent is not easy and there is no wrong or right way to do things. ALL children learn by example so don’t forget to exercise gratefulness in your own life.

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12 Milwaukee Events to Kick Off The Holiday Season

Deck the Streets of Old Milwaukee Nov. 17th  – Jan 22ndMilwaukee Public Museum

Now through Christmas, join the staff at the Milwaukee Public Museum to see how European Immigrants and turn-of-the-century Milwaukeeans rang in the Holiday season. The unique exhibits on the museum’s first floor are turned into a winter wonderland, with special tours offered for just $4 extra on Saturdays featuring actors that bring the scenes to life. Learn more at http://www.mpm.org/holidays

Milwaukee Christkindlmarket – Daily through Dec. 31st, Vel Phillips Drive Milwaukee

Old World Germany meets modern Milwaukee as dozens of artisan vendors fill the Live Block outside of Milwaukee’s brand new Fiserv Forum. Browse unique holiday decorations and gifts, sip some cocoa (or spiced wine for the grown-ups), and take in a new Christmas tradition in Cream City. The market is open now through December 31st. Read more about it at http://www.christkindlmarket.com/milwaukee/

Candy Cane Lane West Allis – Nov 23rd– Dec. 27th92ndto 95thStreets, West Allis

One of the Milwaukee area’s best-loved holiday traditions, Candy Cane Lane lights up West Allis the day after Thanksgiving until the day after Christmas. This year, more than 300 homes across ten blocks will put on their best light displays for people to drive by or walk through. The lights begin at 6 PM on Weekdays and 5 PM on Weekends, and a donation to the MACC Fund to fight Childhood Cancer is encouraged. Find a map and more information at http://candycanelanewi.com/

125thPfister Hotel Tree lighting – Nov. 25thPfister Hotel, Downtown Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s official tree lighting happened in early November, but the historic hotel’s tree lighting is an event unto itself. The lobby’s 18-foot tree lights up at 5:30, and the event will also include photo-ops with Santa and a festive fire truck from the Milwaukee Fire Department. Find out more about this free event at http://www.thepfisterhotel.com/pfister-holidays/milwaukee-christmas

MillerCoors Holiday Lites Tour – Fridays and Saturdays Nov. 30 – Dec. 22

 For nearly 70 years, the Miller Brewery in Milwaukee has wowed people young and old with an over-the-top taste for Christmas decorating. In 2018, the tradition continues as the Holiday Lites provide a unique, all-ages experience in the historic brewery. The indoor-outdoor tour teaches about the legendary brewing giant, and gives a music-synched Christmas light show like nothing in the country. Dress warm and leave the wallet at home (except your ID if you’re over 21), as the Holiday Lites are free for anyone willing to brave the cold. Read more about the tour at https://www.millercoors.com/breweries/miller-brewing-company/tours/tour-information

Canadian Pacific Holiday Train – Dec. 6th, Downtown Tosa Village, Wauwatosa

Take a trip to the charming downtown Tosa Village in Wauwatosa on December 6th to welcome the Holiday Train. Canadian Pacific railroad takes this special locomotive across the country to entertain kids and kids at heart with a fun and festive holiday experience. The train is covered in Christmas lights, features a stop from Santa, and a few rock-n-roll versions of your favorite carols. Local businesses will be on hand to offer up hot cocoa and Christmas cocktails for people waiting to see the train. Read more about it at https://www.cpr.ca/holiday-train/schedule-united-states

Breakfast and Lunch with Santa – Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23rd, Milwaukee County Zoo

 Even the animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo are on Santa’s list, and he and Mrs. Claus stop by to check on them every weekend in December leading up to Christmas. You can bring the kids to see them for either breakfast at 9 AM or lunch at noon Saturday or Sunday. Read more about it at http://www.milwaukeezoo.org/events/blsanta.php

Ice Skating at Red Arrow Park Dec 1st– Feb. 28thDowntown Milwaukee  

Starting in December, take a skate around Milwaukee’s iconic downtown ice rink. The rink opens at 11 AM every day, and rentals are $9 for adults, $7 for children 17 and under. Milwaukee County Parks also offer extra equipment for little ones learning to skate or people with mobility issues who still want to enjoy the Slice of Ice. Read all about it at https://county.milwaukee.gov/EN/Parks/Explore/Slice-of-Ice

Kooky Cooky House at the Domes – Through Jan 18th, Mitchell Park Domes Milwaukee

Generations of Milwaukeeans have visited the wonderfully weird Kooky Cooky house back at the long-closed Capitol Court Mall. But the tradition lives on today at the Mitchell Park Domes – a must-see for anyone coming to Milwaukee. The Cooky house features the same fun animatronic cookie factory, with cookies given away free to every guest on weekends. Milwaukee County Residents can always visit The Domes for free from 9AM-noon on Mondays. Learn more at https://milwaukeedomes.org/

Send a Letter to Santa – Through December 9th, Cathedral Square Downtown Milwaukee

Now through December 9th, you can give your kiddos a chance to send their wish list off to Santa himself. Head to Cathedral Square downtown and drop your letter into the special mailbox. Include a return address, and Santa will send a personalized letter back in time for the holidays!

Holiday Lights Festival – Through Dec. 27thPere Marquette Park, Cathedral Square Park, Zeidler Union Square, Milwaukee

Milwaukee is known as the City of Festivals, and that name doesn’t stick just in the winter. Tour some of Milwaukee’s crown jewels – the downtown city parks – as they fill up with festive lights for the entire holiday season. Your family will see brilliant light shows set up by local organizations just steps from family-friendly restaurants and excellent shopping. Milwaukee Downtown also offers cheap bus tours of the lights that include coffee and cocoa for the family. Read more about it at https://www.milwaukeedowntown.com/bid-events/milwaukee-holiday-lights-festival

Milwaukee Ballet Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker Performance – Dec. 19th, 6 PM Marcus Center for the Performing Arts

Families with children with Autism and other sensory sensitive conditions can face unique challenges during the holidays, but for the third year in a row Milwaukee Ballet is offering those families a chance to experience their own Holiday tradition. For one night, Milwaukee Ballet is taking their storied production of The Nutcracker and re-vamping it to be sensory-friendly – meaning lights will remain on, break rooms will be provided, and sound and lighting effects are controlled for a more relaxed experience. The performance is put on with help from Autism Speaks Wisconsin and tickets are only $20. Find more info at https://www.milwaukeeballet.org/community-engagement/ballet-without-boundaries/sensory-friendly/

Contributing writer: Colin Bennett, father of two boys and writer over at Holy Sh*T I’m A Dad. Follow along with his journey in fatherhood here: Blog Link

 

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7 Black Friday Shopping​ Tips

Black Friday is here, but are you ready for it? Here are seven shopping tips to help you get the most out of Black Friday 2018.

  1. Use Ebates: This is a no-brainer, but I know many people shopping online without it. Make sure to create an Ebates account, if you do not already have one. This will save you even more on top of the regular Black Friday sales. Last year, I saved over $100 on my holiday shopping by using Ebates and continue to use it all year-round.
  2. Shop online: Skip the busy stores and shop online this Friday, as most of the deals will be online and with Ebates you can save even more. You will also skip the hassle of the crowds and most retailers offer free shipping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
  3. Do your research! If you must go out, make sure you know what you are looking for. Do your research so you can get in and out without wandering around. The best deals will be gone first so hustle, hustle, hustle!
  4. Use a rewards card: This goes for all shopping but consider using your credit card with the best rewards so you can rack up the points and get even more bang for your buck!
  5. Amazon Prime: Shopping on Amazon is so easy and they categorize their black Friday deals so you can sift through it all easily. Being a Prime member is awesome year-round so don’t forget about Amazon this week when shopping.
  6. Window shop beforehand: If you have time or even on the day of you can window shop and make lists of what you want and what sizes etc. Then just go home and order them online using coupons and Ebates to save more.
  7. Arrive caffeinated: Okay, so this should be #1 but DO NOT LEAVE HOME WITHOUT YOUR COFFEE or you will get stuck in 30+ min long line for Starbucks.

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Gift Ideas For Your Kids that are NOT Toys.

As Mom, I try to instill a sense of appreciation and great fullness into my daughters. When they are preschool aged that can be hard. They don’t grasp the concept of their fortune and at times struggle to show appreciation for what they have.  My husband and I have given this lots of thought over the past few months and decided no more “toys” in-between birthdays and holidays and when we do gift them toys we are going to put more thought behind what we select and start providing them with more experiences, but more on that later.

In my efforts to find more practical gifts for my girls this 2018 Christmas season, I have compiled a list of some fun gift ideas that I want to share with you all!

The Nugget: This is the perfect addition to a playroom, bedroom or family room! If you have young children who love to climb, build forts and can be a tad rough on your typical couch The Nugget should be on the top of Santa’s list!

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$229

https://nuggetcomfort.com/products/the-nugget

Family Vacation: This one can be hard to decide on last min but maybe this will encourage you to consider this next year. Give your entire family the gift of travel! This can be a small weekend trip to Disney or a big family trip to Hawaii. You can get creative with how you deliver the gift depending on where you are going. I plan on getting my daughter a pink suitcase and making “plane tickets” for the family so she has something to open on Christmas morning. We will also get some travel toys for the journey as her stocking stuffers.

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We even convinced our 4 year old to ask Santa for our trip this year, so she better be good!

Monthly Subscription Box: There are lots of fun options for subscriptions such as the Bluum Box, Kiwico Box, Little Passports and may more. Find on that fits your kids age and personality. Make sure to order it before the holiday so they can unwrap their first box that day. Kids love getting mail and depending on how long of a subscription you get they will have something fun to open every month! Disclaimer, there might be toys in the box but we still think this is a fun alternative to Barbie or Nurf Guns.

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Music or Language Lessons: My 4 year old is always asking for piano, guitar and violin lessons, don’t ask me why she picked those…I would love for her to start learning so what better idea then to gift her the lessons for Christmas. She also has curiosity for language so what better way to expand on that then getting her Spanish lessons. If having one on one classes seems to costly consider buying a program to learn music or language or betty get both!

Memberships: Depending on where you live this can be a great alternative to toys. Being in Atlanta we have tons of options and when we lived in Florida we got annual passes to theme parks. However, if Disney or Sea World are not nearby you can get a membership to your Local Zoo, Museum or Aquarium.

Movie Tickets: This is a great idea of kids 4 and up, they will love using “their tickets” to go see a movie or two of their choice. It also give you something for them to look forward to doing on a rainy day or random school teacher work day in the near future.

Bird Feeder of Garden: This one seems silly but how much do you want to bet if your kid unwraps a cool bird feeder they won’t be super excited to run out back and set it up. Just make sure you have a spot for it in the yard that they can observe it year-round from the window. You can also get an indoor garden for them to learn about growing plants. Warning if you are like me and kill everything stick with the bird feeder so there is less disappointment.

A fish: Okay, yes this will be some work like the garden but you can get a simple Goldfish or Beta fish that they can keep in their room. Make sure they are responsible enough for a pet before buying this one. We obviously do not want any fish harmed…

As you can see there are all kinds of great gift ideas out there that are not Toys. This list can go on and on, but these are some of our favorite non-toy gift ideas. It is important that we teach our children the value of toys and all the wonderful things they are gifted and blessed to have. It is also important they experience life away from technology every now and then so mixing up the Christmas list a bit this year might just help them do that a little more.

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5 Tips for Photographing Holiday Moments

With Thanksgiving tomorrow and the winter holidays around the corner we wanted to share some tips for capturing your holiday moments in order to preserve the memories for years to come.

1. Hire a professional:

If you are lucky enough to have the entire extended family under one roof why not hire a professional photographer to come take some family photos! This can be a simple group session or give each individual family the opportunity to have the entire group and then do separate photos of their household clan. This is a great time and money saving alternative for your yearly family photos.

2. Upload to the Cloud:

Almost everyone in the family these days has an iPhone or smartphone. While you are all together AirDrop your images, or save them to a share cloud so you can all access each other’s photos. This is fun for us Mom’s and photographers because we are offer the one behind the camera but having access to everyone’s photos you might end up with some special images of yourself interacting with family.

3. Don’t forget to take a Group shot:

This one is hard because children and adults alike can be hard to wrangle, but having a group shot at the Thanksgiving Table or around the Christmas tree is something you will admire for years to come.  Weather you set a timer and all cram on a couch or use a trip pod, make it happen!

4. Document throughout the day:

Make sure you are snapping photos all day long so you can tell the story of the day with your images. Cousins embracing upon arrival, mom or dad cooking in the kitchen and the waves goodbye at the end of Grandma and Grandpa’s stay.

5. Don’t forget the details:

Make sure to grab some close ups of the turkey and pie or the gifts piled up around the tree before the kids come down stairs to ravish them! It can be fun to use these as before and after comparison as the day progresses.

Hopefully these tips will help preserve the great memories you make with your family this year! I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and Happy holidays in the weeks and months to come.

More Photography Related Posts:

6 Tips for Making the Most of Your Holiday Family Photos in 2018

7 Ways to Ruin Your Family Photos in 2018

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5 Kid Friendly Things To Do Washington DC – Fall 2018

If you’re planning a weekend getaway with kids then Washington DC should be high on your bucket list. Home to some of the best museums in the country, historical parks and monuments and of course it’s a great place to teach kids about the political past of the United States. It becomes something else in Fall, the auburn colors are breathtaking, there are plenty of indoor activities if it’s wet and there are always loads of seasonal activities like pumpkin or apple picking to take part in. Here are my five favorite things to do in Washington DC this Fall with kids.

1. See All The Smithsonian Museums

With so many to choose from, you could easily spend your whole weekend museum hopping. The good news is that most of them are within walking distance to each other and they’re all absolutely free to visit. If you only have a couple of days, I would tick of the top few.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Home to so many recognizable exhibits and characters, this is where you’ll find the Hope Diamond, an awesome dinosaur exhibit (what kids don’t like dinosaurs?!), the popular Dum Dum (an Easter Island Head made famous by the Night at the Museum movies), and of course Henry the elephant, the first thing you’ll see when you arrive. The museum has lots of hands-on and interactive exhibits and staff members are happy to answer any questions you or the kids may have.

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The Smithsonian National Museum of Air and Space.

This Museum blew me away, I didn’t expect my daughter to find it so interesting but she threw herself into the interactive science experiments and Space exhibits. You will not want to miss the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia and an actual piece of moon rock. If you can spare the time, try to attend one of the child friendly physics lectures, your kids will learn more in half an hour than a whole week of science lessons at school.

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 Hirshhorn Modern Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden

I love this gallery, whilst probably not top of your list when visiting Washington with kids, it’s a great place to tone the excitement down a little and soak in some modern culture. The exhibits are colorful enough to keep most kids engaged and the Belief and Doubt installation by Barbara Kruger is worth it for the inspirational quotes alone.

2. The Washington DC’s Monuments

The National Mall is probably one of the best places to photograph the gorgeous Autumnal Colors of the city and is also home to some of the most important monuments in the Country. At one end you’ll find the instantly recognizable Washington Monument standing majestically over the reflecting pool, at the other is the humbling Lincoln Memorial, a fantastic place to teach kids about American History but also respect and kindness in general.  It’s Americas most visited National Park for a good reason.

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3. White House

Beautiful just to see from the outdoors but if you plan ahead you can take an organized tour of the White House, home to many political scandals and successes and somewhere all kids will find fascinating.

In order to secure your slot, you’ll need to contact your Member of Congress at least 21 days before your visit. If you’re not from the US, you’ll need to contact your embassy in Washington DC.

From the end of November, you’ll also be able to visit the National Christmas tree, there’s nothing better to get you in a festive mood.

4. Take a trip to Georgetown.

My favorite family-friendly district in Washington DC is Georgetown and the Washington Harbour right on the waterfront of the Potomac River.

From mid-November the dancing fountains are transformed into the biggest ice rink in DC with twinkling snowflake lights and regular skating lessons and cartoon Sundays for kids. There are also plenty of restaurants in the area for when your energy levels take a dip.

5. National Zoo

Finally, something all kids are bound to love (and another FREE activity to keep the parents happy) is a visit to see the animals at the Smithsonian Zoo. It’s slightly out of the city center but easy to get to by train, UBER or car.

In addition to a mind-blowing array of native and foreign creatures, think pandas, elephants and big cats, the Zoo holds loads of family friendly events such as Boo at the Zoo for Halloween, Zoolights from the end of November and sleepover nights for the brave amongst you.

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Where to stay in Washington DC with kids

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, I highly recommend the Watergate Hotel, not only is it full of intrigue and gossip, something the kids will love, it manages to look stunning with a real sense of humor.

There’s a gorgeous pool, to wind down after a long day of exploring and it’s within walking distance to Foggy Bottom metro station, making it the perfect home from which to explore Washington DC with kids.

Contributing Writer: Karen Quinn

IMG_1599Karen is a family travel blogger and shares her stories over at Are We There Yet Kids
about adventuring around the world with her seven year old daughter Piper. They love finding great value activities, places to stay and family-friendly restaurants all over the world and are always happiest either on or planning their next vacation.

You can also get social with Karen:

 

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