Back to School Lunch Packing Hacks – For Mom’s Who Care, but Don’t

Disclosure: I am part of the Yo-Getter blogger group with Stonyfield. I have been provided with free products and compensated for my time. All opinions are my own.  

I love my kids, I do – but one thing you wont see me doing this year is standing in my kitchen for hours creating lunch box masterpieces. In my opinion, it’s not so much about what shape the food is in, but that I’ve sent my kids to school with food that is going to help fuel their brains. So join me today as we discuss a few lunch packing hacks that will make putting together healthy school lunches at home on a daily basis a breeze. 

Back to School Lunch Packing Hacks #ad

Combine the early mornings of back-to-school with two kids to don’t want to wake up nor get dressed and the gag reflex that comes with making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at 6 a.m. and what do you get? Hot lunch money being handed out and a coffee full of tears as I later see all of the adorable lunch pictures on Pinterest and Facebook that my friends somehow had the time to create – you know the ones with perfectly prepped sandwiches designed to look like monsters with celery arms and grape hands holding a handwritten note that says “Have a WILD day!”. Yeah, THOSE ones. I spent many days last year feeling like I was failing as a mother because I was not making them themed lunches in the form of a pop up book every day. Then I remembered that when I was a kid I packed my own lunches – and they usually consisted of marshmallow fluff and chocolate chip sandwiches. So, uh – case closed!

I do however want to learn to streamline our back to school morning routine so it is easy for me to pack my kids something healthy to eat every day before school – which is very important to me. So today I decided to brainstorm a few lunch hacks that hopefully will help us all stay prepared and on top of getting those lunches packed at home everyday!

Back to School Lunch Hacks

1. Make PB&J sandwiches ahead of time and freeze them. 

I think this idea alone might revolutionize my whole school year! Make a whole loaf of sandwiches, bag them up and place them in the freezer. By the time lunch rolls around the sandwiches will be thawed and ready to eat. Plus, I no longer have to gag through making sandwiches at 6 am.

2. Quickly cut off crusts and score points with fun sandwich shapes at the same time by using cookie cutters. 

Yes, I do still feel guilty about not sending my kids to school with fun shaped food – because all the cool moms are doing it right? This helps to ease that pain without creating more. And, no crusts!

Lunch Packing Hacks #ad

3. Make a snack tote for quick and easy choice making. 

I have learned that the choice of what to take for snack is probably the most important choice to make in the morning according to my kids. This choice alone takes them longer than figuring out what to wear, brushing their teeth and doing their hair combined! I am hoping that having a snack tote to choose from will streamline this process, plus having less boxes cluttering up my cupboards is a win/win!

I also made one of these totes for the fridge with individually bagged fruits and veggies. If they are ready easy to grab – the more likely they are to do so.

Easy Tricks for packing School Lunches #ad

4. Freeze juices and yogurt sticks for ice pack duty. 

This hack I have been doing for years! All I do is freeze their juice boxes and favorite Stonyfield yogurt sticks – then use these as ice packs in their lunches. We used to have real ice packs, but for some reason they never made it back home – they must have run away with the silverware.

Stonyfield Yogurt #ad

5. Let the kids pack their own lunches the night before. 

It’s an idea.  đź™‚

Do you have any tips or tricks for packing school lunches? We’d love to hear them! Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Pecan Pie – Whoopie Pies Recipe

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #BakeInTheFun #CollectiveBias

Are you ready to fall in love? Check out my new recipe for Pecan Pie Whoopie Pies! They’re sweet, salty and covered in caramel. What’s not to love? Plus, this recipe is so easy to make – with boxed cake mix! 

Pecan Pie Whoopie Pies #BakeInTheFun #CollectiveBias #ad
#BakeInTheFunContest


The fall weather has already hit the Midwest – with temperatures this week in the low 60’s. Personally I’ve made sure to take full advantage of the drop in degrees by pulling out my fluffy blanket from the closet, opening up the windows to enjoy the wonderful cool breeze and heating back up my oven to do a little bit of fall baking. And if the drop in temperature wasn’t enough notice to us that fall is quickly on it’s way – the news of M&M’s® Pecan Pie already hitting the shelves at Walmart is sure to cue you in.

Last week we used these M&M’s® Pecan Pie to create a gourmet cinnamon roll, but today we are using what’s left in our bag to create something else pecan pie inspired: Pecan Pie Whoopie Pies! Even the name sounds fun! So if you like desserts that are inspired by memories with a surprising new twist – then you will definitely want to check out today’s creation.

Whoopie Pies made using cake mix #BakeInTheFun #CollectiveBias #ad
While this decadent dessert may look time consuming or difficult to prepare, it’s just an illusion. This dessert is actually very easy and quick to make. The first thing, however, is to gather the ingredients. 

1 box Pillsbury™ Moist Supreme® Cake Mix – Golden Butter Recipe

3 eggs
1/2 cup Mott’s® Apple Juice (or water)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Pillsbury™ Creamy Supreme® Cream Cheese Icing
M&M’s® Pecan Pie 9.9oz
12 unwrapped caramels
1 tbs milk
M&M's® Pecan Pie #BakeInTheFun #CollectiveBias #ad

The first thing I did was preheat my oven to 350 degrees. Next I placed a handful of M&M’s® Pecan Pie into a plastic bag to break them into smaller pieces – I broke them down using a rolling pin. {Bang Bang}

Next, I combined the cake mix, apple juice, oil and eggs in a large bowl – whisking for 2-5 minutes.

After covering a cookie sheet with parchment paper, I scooped small 1 inch circles onto the paper.

Finally, I sprinkled the cake batter circles (only half of them!) with crushed M&M’s® Pecan Pie and baked them for 6 minutes.

Homemade Whoopie Pies #BakeInTheFun #ad #cbias

After removing the whoopie pie sides from the oven and pan, I placed them on a parchment paper covered wire rack to cool completely. Notice that you will have top halves and bottom halves.

Pecan Pie Whoopie Pies #BakeInTheFun #ad #cbias

After the whoopie pie’s had cooled, I filled a bag with Pillsbury™ Creamy Supreme® Cream Cheese Icing – cut the tip off one corner and piped the frosting onto the bottom of one whoopie pie sides. 

Easy Whoopie Pie Filling #BakeInTheFun #ad #cbias

I then created a sandwich with another whoppie pie (top) side and set them aside.

In a microwave safe dish, I combined 12 unwrapped caramels with 1 Tbs milk and microwaved them on high for 1 minute. After the 1 minute, I stirred and continued to microwave the caramels at 10 second intervals (stirring between each interval) until the caramel was liquid.

Then, using a spoon, I carefully drizzled the warm caramel over the tops of the whoopie pies.

Fall Inspired Whoopie Pies #BakeInTheFun #ad #cbias
Now the Pecan Pie inspired whoopie pies were ready to eat and share. They were sweet, salty and covered in caramel. 
Well don’t just keep this recipe all to yourself! Be sure to share it with friends! 
Pecan Pie Whoopie Pie Recipe #BakeInTheFun #ad #cbias

Need a printable version of this recipe?

Pecan Pie Whoopie Pie Recipe #ad #cbias #BakeInTheFun

Fall Baking #BakeInTheFun #ad #cbias
I found all of the ingredients needed for this recipe at Walmart, plus a Snapple® Apple drink to top drink along with our fall themed treat! See exactly where I found each of these items below – plus use this coupon to get a great deal. 
Walmart Fall Baking #BakeInTheFun #ad #cbias

 Go Ahead! PIN IT!

Pecan Pie Whoopie Pie Recipe #BakeInTheFun #ad #cbias

What are your favorite things about fall? The weather, the clothes, the food? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section below. I love hearing from you! 

Combating Mom Guilt While Traveling – Four Tips for Staying Connected

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CloudPetsForever #CollectiveBias

Do you travel for work? Finding ways to stay connected with young kids while on the road can be difficult – especially when they aren’t old enough for cell phones or internet access. However, there’s a new technology on the market that has made it easy for me to stay in touch with my kids even when I travel for work – plus, it come with free hugs! Do you know what new tech I am talking about? 

Combating Mom Guilt while Traveling - Four Tips for Staying Connected While on the Road #ad #CloudPetsForever

When I first started traveling for work it was almost immediately that the mom guilt set in. And it wasn’t just the internal mom guilt – strangers somehow felt the need to dish it out to me as well. Do you miss them? How does that work with your kids at home while you’re not? While frankly it is none of their business, but I usually still respond with something like – I am very lucky to have a supportive family that keeps things running smoothly while I’m gone – and walk away smiling. However, inside I am not smiling – I am a moment away from tears. Mom guilt is real ya’ll and it hurts. Mom guilt is that sneaky little voice inside my head telling me that maybe I am being selfish by traveling away from home without my family. Guilt that if something happens to me while I am away that maybe it could have been avoided had I just stayed home and baked cookies. Guilt that maybe I wasn’t there for them and they might had needed me. But in all reality folks – my kids are usually just fine while I am away and if something does come up my husband and my family are very capable of handling it. I truly am very lucky to have a wonderful support system surrounding my family and my kids are never without ton’s of people with them – ready to dote on them at any given moment. Truthfully, after I’ve spent days agonizing over leaving them and ruining my own time away, I will return home to find them playing with their toys and I am lucky if I get a glance up while they say “Hey Mom” and go back to playing with their toys as if I had been home all day.

Either way, no matter who feels it the most, the truth is that being away from anyone we love is tough. That’s why when I travel I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make the time pass and let my family know I am still thinking about them even though I am away.

Staying Connected to Kids While Traveling for Work

Since my kids are way to young to have their own cell phones or computer access, keeping in touch with them on a personal level while I travel for work takes a bit of finesse. Here is what I do to let them know I am always thinking about them.

I Mail Them a Postcard

Being the retro loving mom that I am – I adore mailing postcards. It’s fun for me to browse little shops for the best picture on a postcard that captures what I am experiencing, write out a little note of “I miss you’s” and drop it in the mailbox. I think that it is also fun for my kids to get them and something that we can keep long after I’m home. The only problem with mailing postcards is that it takes a few days for it to arrive in the mail and I miss them NOW.

Four Tips for Staying Connected While Traveling #ad #CloudPetsForever

I Leave Them a Secret Note

Provided I have the time or remember to do this before leaving on a trip, sometimes I like to leave little notes for my kids to find under their pillows at night. In return, my children usually slip a secret note for me in my suitcase. Usually its a picture they drew of themselves crying but it’s our little thing – it’s sweet. However, as much fun as getting a handwritten note from one other is, it doesn’t allow for an immediate response – which I crave.

#ad #CloudPetsForever Combating Mom Guilt while Traveling for Work

I Call or Video Chat Them

After finding my handwritten note stuffed into my suitcase and I have a little cry to myself, I usually call my kids to let them know that I found it and tell them how beautiful their artwork is. This is a wonderful way for me to hear their voice and chat with them about their days. However, hearing their voices really does make me miss their hugs and they miss mine.

#ad #CloudPetsForever #Cbias

I Connect with Them Using CloudPets™

Before heading out on my next trip, I decided to buy my kids a CloudPet™ – have you seen these? This hug-able little puppy is incredibly soft, but also has the capabilities to receive and send messages via the free app. Our CloudPet™ allows me to record a message of love via my smartphone – which quickly sends that message over to my kids puppy allowing them to press its hand to listen to my voice (they can do this over and over again if they want to). Plus, they can press his other paw and record a message to send back to me. The best part about this is that I can leave them a new message whenever I want to and the messages are protected by parental controls.

Here’s how it works.


Not being around those you love every day is difficult and it doesn’t take just one way to stay in touch – so if you can, do them all!

We found our CloudPet™ Puppy at Walmart – they also have other types of animals available too! Insider tip: Look for them near the registers (not in the toy section) and don’t forget the 3 AA batteries!

#ad #CloudPetsForever Found at Walmart

How do you stay in touch with loved ones while you are away? Share your ideas in the comments! 

Go ahead, PIN IT! 

4 Tips for Staying in Touch with Kids While Traveling For Work #ad #CloudPetsForever

What Makes DOWT at Crossroads Village Fun for the Whole Family – Flint, Michigan

Maybe your child is obsessed with Thomas the Train or maybe your just looking for something fun to do as a family on the weekend – find out what makes Day Out with Thomas at Crossroads Village a day that the whole family will enjoy (not just the kiddo’s). Plus, find out what you need to know before heading out. 
This event was hosted by Genesee County Parks. All opinions are our own.  
Day Out with Thomas at Crossroads Village #DOWTCrossRoads #GeneseeCountyParks #hosted

Who’s excited about seeing Thomas the Train? My children broke out into an outroar – MMeeee!!! It’s not very often that we get a chance to go somewhere that both the kids and adults are excited about and by the look of my kids barely being able to control their jumps and leaps as we walked towards to entrance, I could tell that they were really looking forward to today.

Day out With Thomas #hosted

Day Out with Thomas is an interactive adventure that creates a home at Crossroads Village for only two weekends a year – so getting your tickets early is key (however, sometimes tickets can still be found at the last minute). This adventure includes a walk through historic Crossroads Village – a dirt road village built to emulate the day to day living of the past, meet and greet stations along the village path, crafts, bounce houses, a map for kids to fill out as they visit each exhibit and a ride on the Huckleberry Railroad pulled by none other than Thomas the Train.

Crossroads Village #DOWTCrossroads #hosted

We decided to leave our train ride for last because frankly, my kids always fall asleep on train rides and I didn’t want them to be cranky or miss the rest of the park. So instead we arrived three hours before our train was scheduled to depart – this way we could first enjoy all of the other park offerings first. As soon as we walked in to the park we found ourselves in a historic downtown – complete with a bank, dentist, store and more. Like any other visiting day, these were all open so we could browse around inside.

Crossroads Village #hosted
Crossroads Village #GeneseeCountyParks #hosted

This main downtown area is also where you will find shopping, ice-cream and things you may want to save for the end of your trip (without having to carry around all day). However, if you go left instead of straight after crossing over the railroad tracks you can follow the streets around in a circle to visit some of the houses and architecture that the parent’s might enjoy more first. This park is full of not only real life learning opportunities in the blacksmith shop, but also amazing sights of vintage America.

Blacksmith Shop at Crossroads Village #hosted
Vintage America - Crossroads Village #hosted

Along the path we also found a spot to sit down and rest while we listened to old fashioned kids folk songs played. Again, DOWT and Crossroads Village made this interactive by providing instruments for the children to play along with.

Folk Music at Crossroads Village #hosted

At the back of the park we were all delighted to find a beautiful 1912 fully operational carousel, ferris wheel and temporary tattoo station. While the tattoo’s were included in the price – taking a ride one one of the vintage amusement park rides does cost extra, but totally worth it because it was the fastest spinning carousel I’ve ever been on.

Crossroads Village Carousel #hosted
Day Out with Thomas at Crossroads Village #hosted

If you find yourself lost at any point – just look for the signs! They are throughout the park to help you find your way to what you want to do. Also, a helpful tip for parent’s with young children – there are signs to point you to baby changing stations too! These are houses or areas within houses that are set up entirely for baby changing needs. How awesome is that?

Things to do at Day Out with Thomas - Crossroads Village #hosted

After following the village around and enjoying everything it had to offer we found ourselves at an opening filled with kids crafts and entertainment opportunities – this was a great way to allow them to let loose for a few before we headed back into downtown to finish our day.

Saw Mill #DOWTCrossroads #hosted

My kids had a great time coloring their own hats to wear while riding on the train and it helped them to get excited about meeting Thomas all over again.

Crafts at #DOWTCrossroads #hosted
Kids Activities at #DOWTCrossroads #hosted

Before heading to board the train, we first stopped to meet Sir Topham Hat. It is important to note the times of the meet and greets at the beginning of your day – as these are only at scheduled times and locations. There are also professional photographers on site to snap a picture of the whole family and have these photos available for purchase before you go home.

Sir Topham Hat at Crossroads Village Flint Michigan #hosted

After visiting every spot on our map, we headed into the gift shop to claim our prize and then wore our hats, blew our “whistles” and “patiently” waited for Thomas the Train to meet us at the station.

Thomas the Train at Crossroads Village Flint #hosted

If you need to bring a stroller with you to the park, no worries – there are stroller parking stations everywhere, even right by the train.

#DOWTCrossroads #hosted

The ride on the train was about 45 minutes long and bumped and rattled along the most beautiful natural scenic locations.  While my kids fell asleep (told you so) I relaxed, enjoyed the fresh breeze and watched the lovely sights pass me by. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day.

Thomas the Train at Crossroads Village #hosted

Tickets to visit Thomas the Train at Crossroad may be purchased on their website. But hurry, this event only runs August 21-23 & August 28-30th.

Thomas the Train #DOWTCrossroads #hosted

But don’t forget – Crossroad Village also has other fun family outing opportunities throughout the year, like trick or treating in the park for Halloween! Keep your eyes open for that one coming up soon!

Halloween at Crossroads Village Flint Michigan #hosted

Our adventure is now on YouTube!

Have you experienced Day Out with Thomas at Crossroads Village? What was your favorite part or what advice do you have to give to a newbie? Tell us in the comments! 

I Drove a 2015 Hybrid SE and I Loved It

So you might already know that we are a car family – we love cars, especially vintage cars. But what about the new cars hitting the market? How do they compare to the classics that first nurtured the bond between car and car owner – does this bond still exist? Do cars being built today still cause drivers to fall in love? What do you think – in fifty years will we see people still driving the 2015 models to car shows, cherishing the design, space and layout that went into them or will they be forgotten? This week we took a closer look at the new 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE to see if it is swoon worthy. Read on to find out our results. 

We received a free car loan to facilitate our review. All opinions are our own.  
#DriveToyota #review 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE Sedan


Color
The first thing I noticed about the Toyota Camry Hybrid SE when it pulled into my driveway was the color! This gorgeous blue was almost the exact same color as our vintage Sedan! Although the color on the Toyota Camry Hybrid SE – Blue Crush Metallic – had a bit more of a purple sheen to it that the hot rod did not. This color was amazing! Definitely a good start – we couldn’t wait to see what else this brand new car would surprise us with. 
Toyota Camry Hybrid SE 2015 Blue Crush Metallic #review #drivetoyota

Design
After taking a walk around the exterior of the car, I quickly noticed that the car had quite a powerful looking stance – not at all what I was expecting for a hybrid. The design was sleek and had a little bit of a sports car appeal to it. This car definitely looked powerful – but again I remembered that one word: hybrid. I just wasn’t sure what type of performance I was going to get out of something battery powered – this was yet to be determined.

Things we loved about the exterior design of the car:

– 17 ” Allow Wheels with Graphite Finish
– Projector-Beam Headlights with Black Sport Trim
– Daytime Running Lights
– Color-Keyed Rear Spoiler

Interior of the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE #review #drivetoyota

Interior
After working our way around the exterior of the car, my kids could not wait to jump inside – so we did a quick brush down of their clothes to remove all of the chalk dust and let them climb inside. The Ooh and Ahh’s were contagious as I joined them inside the Camry. My first thought was how clean and organized everything was – while their were a lot of buttons and controls, nothing looked overwhelming or cluttered.

Toyota 2015 Camry Hybrid SE #drivetoyota #review

The steering column had easy access controls for the radio volume and to adjust the multi-information display in the dashboard. There was the normal speedometer on the right, but on the left was a display to tells me the level of power being demanded from my driving. When the car is first started, the car will be in CHG mode (we’ll talk more about this later), as I started to accelerate the dial moved to ECO and was running on the electric motor – however if the battery no longer had enough charge or needed to add power to go up a hill, the dial would move into the PWR section. In a nutshell, this display helps me to get the best gas mileage possible out of the hybrid design by telling me what the car is doing and when it is using power vs. the electric motor.

#drivetoyota #review

There were also several other new upgrades to the 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid SE that we loved:

– Touch Screen!
– Backup Camera
– Smart Key System with Push Button Start
– Navigation, Weather and Predictive Traffic Apps
– Power Tilt/ Slide Moonroof
– Wireless Charging Station for Cell Phones

#drivetoyota #review Back Up Monitor

Plus, for me it is the small things – check out how cool these drink cup holders are – they adjust in size to securely fit different sized drinks. I can’t be the only one who has turned a corner before to have my drink tip over in my lap, am I?

2015 Toyota Camry SE Hybrid Review
Performance
We love to enjoy a car that looks pretty, for us it also needs to perform. I must say that this Toyota Camry Hybrid SE exceeded my expectations. Honestly, I didn’t think that it was going to have much get up and go power – but it did and it did it more smoothly than any other car I’ve ever driven! 
If you don’t know how a hybrid works, a hybrid is a car that still has an engine and gas tank but instead of wasting the extra energy produced by the vehicle it takes that energy and stores it to re-use by the vehicle to save gas. Really a cool idea actually! So when I first started this car up it was silent because it was running on the electric motor, however at times while driving I would hear the motor kick on and then off again as needed. 
I do have to say though – after a week of normal every day driving which consisted of around 300 miles, I didn’t even use a half of a tank of gas. This was definitely an amazing upgrade from the older style vehicles which can be gas guzzlers. In fact, with the gas prices today – this featured had me wanted to go out and buy a hybrid car of my own.  
#drivetoyota #review

When our week was up and they came to pick up the car, I realized the answer to my question is yes – you can still fall in love with the design and performance of a new 2015 vehicle. The color, the design and the performance were all perfectly designed and it’s probably mainly because of the moonroof but I think my kids experienced their first ever new car crush.

#drivetoyota #carreview

Check out the details:

Have you ever driven a hybrid car? What did you think about it? Do you now own a hybrid of your own? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below. 

Happiness vs. Detroit – Child Hunger Ends Here

When was the last time you had to worry about where your next meal was going to come from? How you were going to feed your children? If you should keep the electricity on or put food on the table? Learn how you can be part of the change and step up to fight child hunger in America and in your own community. Let’s not send any kids to school this year hungry. 

I was asked to participate in the #FacesBehindHunger campaign, sponsored by ConAgra Foods. Although I have been compensated, all opinions are my own.  
Detroit  ConAgra Foods Child Hunger Ends Here #FacesBehindHunger #ad

Welcome to Southeast Michigan – home of Detroit, MI.

Welcome to an area where 68% of families are living under the poverty level.

Welcome to an area where 83% of the population lives with food insecurity.

Welcome to an area where 93% of children rely on the school lunch program everyday to eat.

Welcome to an area where 51,300 people show up every week to receive free food. *

And it’s not just Southeast Michigan, food insecurity exists everywhere. So what can we do about it?

Gleaners Food Bank #FacesBehindHunger #ad

Gleaners Food Bank

I decided to take my kids to visit Gleaners Food Bank in downtown Detroit to learn more about their operation. While I was there I also set up an interview with a woman who just a few years ago found herself in a moment of need and instead of thinking of herself and letting it get her down, she pushed herself outward – giving more than ever to those around her by volunteering to set up a mobile food pantry at her sons high school, offering her time to build up the community spirit around her and outpouring of her own food to hungry children she noticed in her own neighborhood. As I listened to her personal story of struggle, my heart broke into several pieces and then became whole again as she offered to me her one piece of advice to the world:

Give. No matter what that looks like for you. No matter how small. Even if it’s just fixing a meal for that same person you see on the streets that’s hungry or somebody you know who’s not able. That would be the one small thing I think. It’s small, but it’s big. -Arlyssa Heard

This was coming from a woman who has had the rug pulled out from underneath her and her family. She, like many other’s in our area, found herself unexpectedly without a job when the economy fell a few years back. People everywhere were waking up to the unknown – staring into the blank face of navigating the bus systems, fumbling through how to buy food on a strict budget or no budget at all and struggling to find happiness in a world that was crashing down around them. When I asked Arlyssa what kept her motivated when it all seemed impossible she replied: 

“My children – I always tell my children, I want you to be a thousand times better than me and I find myself wanting better [for them] on every level – education, financial, better work opportunities, safer neighborhoods. [So for me ] it’s my kids, it’s gotta be. ” – Arlyssa Heard

Arlyssa Heard Hunger Hero #FacesBehindHunger #ad
Arlyssa Heard – My Hunger Hero

As we toured Gleaners Food Bank, I began to notice that what I thought was going to be a sad place was actually just the opposite. There were volunteers working hard to pack boxes, move crates, shuck corn – and each of them were doing it with the biggest smile on their face. Even Arlyssa, who stood here in front of me as part of the statistics, found joy in her situation because she lived a life she believed in.

“Losing my job was probably the best thing to happen to me. I can’t believe I am saying that. But I would have never discovered this other life of helping people and being [a part of a] community – if I hadn’t lost my job.” – Arlyssa Heard

#FacesBehindHunger #ad

Spread Happiness – How to Get Involved

You don’t need to throw your world upside down to find your place in the world of helping others – it is something any of us can do and right now ConAgra Foods has made it easy on us. As part of the Child Hunger Ends Here #FacesBehindHunger” campaign, ConAgra Foods is partnering with each of us to fight food insecurity and childhood hunger in America. You can participate simply by entering the 8 digit code found on the back of your specially push pin marked groceries that you may already be buying for your family into the website www.ChildHungerEndsHere.com. When you do this, ConAgra Foods will donate the monetary equivalent of one meal to Feeding America.

One code = one meal to Feeding America!!!

This year, ConAgra Foods’ Child Hunger Ends Here program wants to fight child hunger by reaching their 2015 goal of donating 3 million meals to their partner, Feeding America. Will you help them?

ConAgra Foods #FacesBehindHunger Child Hunger Ends Here #ad
Wonder what food insecurity looks like in your own neighborhood? Visit this interactive map to find out! 
Are you helping to fight food insecurity and child hunger in your community? Tell us about in the comments – we’d love to hear your story. 


* Stats in this article were found at GCFB.com

Pecan Pie Inspired Cinnamon Rolls

  This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #BakeInTheFun #CollectiveBias

Fall weather is right around the corner and you know what that brings – comfy clothes, cooler days and the desire to heat that oven back up! In honor of the change of season, today I am sharing my pecan pie cinnamon roll recipe – inspired by the new M&M’s® Pecan Pie flavor that recently hit the shelves at Walmart. Who’s ready to curl up the couch with a good book a pecan pie cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee? This girl! 

Pecan Pie Cinnamon Rolls Recipe #BakeInTheFun #Ad #Cbias

Confession time – I think I might be a bit of an M&M’s® snob. I mean, I don’t know what it is about M&M’s® but every time a new flavor comes on the market from this timeless candy company I just can’t wait to taste test it. They are so much fun! Naturally, when I tasted the new M&M’s® Pecan Pie, all of my favorite fall memories started filling up my head. Apple orchards, cinnamon donuts, pecan pie, apple cider, and warm fresh baked goods. Mmm, yep – there is a reason I like the fall season.

After getting a taste of fall with the all new M&M’s® Pecan Pie, I was ready to heat back up my oven after the long summer of doing everything possible NOT to use it and bake something warm and gooey. One of my favorite things to bake in the fall is homemade cinnamon rolls – and after visiting a gourmet bakery the other day and seeing cinnamon rolls topped in chocolate, cookie and candy pieces I decided to create m own gourmet inspired recipe. So I give you Pecan Pie Cinnamon Rolls – straight from the oven.

Pecan Pie Inspired Cinnamon Rolls #BakeInTheFun #Ad

Pecan Pie Cinnamon Rolls

Ingredients:

Rolls
2 and 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3 TBS sugar
1 packet of quick rise yeast
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. milk
2 and 1/2 TBS unsalted butter
1 egg

Filling
2 TBS unsalted butter – softened
1/4 c. sugar
1 and 1/2 TBS ground cinnamon
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Frosting
Pillsbury™ Creamy Supreme® Cream Cheese Icing

Topping
1/4 c. chopped pecans
1 c. M&M’s® Pecan Pie

#BakeInTheFun #Ad

Directions: 

Begin by combining the dry roll ingredients together in a large bowl – flour, sugar, yeast, salt and egg. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the wet roll ingredients – water, milk and butter. Heat over med-low until the butter has melted. Be sure to remove the mixture from the heat as soon as the butter has melted to avoid overheating – this can cause your yeast not to rise. Mixture should be lukewarm – warm.

Pecan Pie Cinnamon Roll Recipe #BakeInTheFun #Ad

While still warm, combine the stove top mixture with the dry ingredients and knead with your hands (another reason you don’t want to overheat your liquids). Continue to knead the dough for 3-4 minutes. Notice the dough will start to form a ball and remove from the sides of the bowl. Texture should be firm but stretchy.

Cover the dough with a clean towel and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

Tip: At this time you may want to heat your oven to 200 degrees. You’ll see why later.

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls #BakeInTheFun #Ad

While the dough is resting, this is a good time to make the filling. To do this simply combine all of the ingredients (except the butter) in a small bowl.

After the dough has rested, place it on a lightly floured surface and roll the dough out to create a 12 x 8 in. rectangle.

Spread the butter out first across the top of the dough and then sprinkle on the cinnamon mixture.

Homemade Cinnamon Roll How To #BakeInTheFun #Ad

Begin to roll the cinnamon rolls up into a long roll. It should end up being 12 x 2 in.

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Next, cut the cinnamon rolls into 1 inch slices – I usually get about 10 out of my roll. Place the rolls into a greased pan with room to rise. I used two 8 x 8 in. glass pans.

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Cover the rolls and allow them to rise in a warm draft free place for 60 minutes.

Tip: This is where I use the oven at 200 degrees. Simply turn off the oven, cover the rolls with loose aluminum foil and place them in the oven to rise. Works wonders. 

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When the rolls have risen, turn the oven up to 375 degrees and bake for 15 minutes or until browned.
I remove the aluminum foil after 10 minutes to allow the tops to brown.

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Place the cinnamon rolls on a wire rack to cool. While still warm, spread on the Pillsbury™ Creamy Supreme® Cream Cheese Icing and sprinkle with pecans and M&M’s® Pecan Pie.

Pillsbury™ Creamy Supreme® Cream Cheese Icing #BakeInTheFun #Ad

The rolls are now ready to enjoy or share with fall loving friends.

Pecan Pie Inspired Cinnamon Rolls with M&M's® Pecan Pie  #BakeInTheFun #Ad

We decided to enjoy our Pecan Pie Cinnamon Rolls on the back porch with a glass of Mott’s® Apple Juice and Snapple® Apple. Tastes like fall!

Fall Recipes #BakeInTheFun #Ad

Be sure to look for the fall favorites M&M’s® Pecan Pie, M&M’s® Milk Chocolate Harvest and M&M’s® Peanut Harvest now available at Walmart. Plus – here’s a coupon to get you started on your shopping!!
#BakeInTheFun #Ad Walmart

What is your favorite thing about fall? Share your memories with us in the comments below. 

Go ahead, Pin it! 

Get Your Tickets Now for Day Out with Thomas at Crossroads Village

Choo Choo! Your opportunity to meet Thomas the Train will soon be arriving at the station. Get the details below about where and when to find him, plus how to get tickets. 

We are helping to spread the word about this amazing event and in return have received free tickets to attend and cover the event.  
Day Out with Thomas at Crossroads Village #hosted

Have you ever taken a ride on a train as a form of transportation for a long trip? I experienced my very first pubic train transportation ride during my last trip to Chicago. I can still remember the sway of the train as it chugged along the track, the different sounds that rang out as the whistle blew and the awkward smell that hit me as I stepped off the train after arriving at my destination. It was an experience that I will not soon forget and an experience that I think everyone should have at least once in their lifetime. Trains have been a huge part of our history and a form of interest for both children and adults alike for many years.

One thing that I am thankful for is that my kids are also interested in learning more about trains, their history and their workings – and I owe a lot of that to the friendly face of Thomas the Train. Thomas has been the face of the railroad system in our house since my children were old enough to show interest. There have been many days that we’ve set up tracks throughout our house and allowed the kids to experience with different rail combinations, different styles of trains and learn about transportation in a form that was interesting and fun to them.

Day Out with Thomas at Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad Flint Michigan #hosted
Photo provided by Genesee County Parks and DOWT 

We are so excited to find out that Thomas the Train will be coming to Crossroads Village August 21-23 and 28-30th! What an awesome opportunity to introduce my kids to a full size Thomas the Train – that they can actually take a ride on! Not only will they be able to experience the feeling of riding on a train, but they will be able to do it in a fun and non-threatening way. Who knows, maybe this will encourage my kids to enjoy travel just as much as their mommy does!

Day out with Thomas Flint #hosted
You can purchase your tickets to see Thomas the Train by visiting GeneseeCountyParks.org. Maybe we’ll see you there!! 
Genesee County Parks #hosted

Have you ever visited the Day out With Thomas event at Crossroads? What advice do you have for us or any other family visiting for the first time? Tell us in the comments. 

Back to School with Carter’s New Larger Sizes #8isGreat

Ready to jump for joy? Carter’s now carries a size 8! Go ahead, It’s perfectly normal to get excited for the new larger size. However, wait until you hear what else: I also have a money saving coupon from Carter’s to share with you! One more year of shopping at Carter’s with my daughter AND a saving money – Oh yeah! It’s a good day. 

 I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Carter’s. I received a complimentary gift card to facilitate my review and thank me for my participation.
Carters Now Carries Size 8 #8isGreat #IC #ad

I have been shopping with my children at Carters since they were brand new babies and every year since. Their clothes are colorful and happy. But last year when we were trying on clothes at Carters for back to school, the realization came to me that we were coming to an end of our relationship. The size 7 fit perfectly.

Devastation.

Carter's Back to School Fashion #8isGreat #IC #ad

I don’t even want to get started on how bitter sweet it is to watch your children grow older. Because it’s a feeling that is hard to explain – like sour cotton candy. But as we approached the back to school schedule again this year, and I braced myself for the new types of stores and clothing options we might encounter, I got the most amazing email ever : Go Back to School with Carters – Now With Size 8! 

New size eight at Carter's #8isGreat #IC #ad

Oh my gosh! I know that I may be too old to giggle like a school girl, but that’s exactly what I did! Because now I get at least one more year to hold on to this tradition – this memory – this joy.

I mean seriously, just look how cute these back to school clothes are!

Carter's Fashion #8isGreat #IC #ad

After a full day of back to school shopping these kids might not WANT to go back to school, but at least they are ready – and looking oh so adorable too might I add. <– go mom!

Shopping at Carter's #8isGreat #IC #ad

Don’t think for a moment that I forgot about your money saving coupon. No way – I know how expensive back to school shopping can be. However, with this coupon and the already amazing prices and discounts at Carters, back to school shopping can be enjoyable. Plus, my store has a play table in the center – does yours?

Carter's Coupon #8isGreat #IC #ad

Leave a comment below telling me what your favorite thing about back to school is – or if you don’t like back to school time, what is your favorite thing about summer break? 

Ohio Has a Secret and It’s Spelled I-S-L-A-N-D

We just got back from an amazing, end of summer trip to a beautiful island complete with crashing blue waves, a boardwalk, an underground cave and themed restaurants. What tropical oasis did we vacation to? What do you mean – we went to Ohio!

Put-in-Bay Island, Ohio #hosted #LoveLakeErie


Yes, you totally heard me right – Ohio has an island in it! Put-In-Bay is a gorgeous tropical-esk island situated in the waters of Lake Erie off the coast of Port Clinton. I recently took a trip here with the kids and we loved it so much that I just had to share it with you.

Put-in-Bay Island

Miller Ferry to Put-in-Bay #LoveLakeErie #hosted
Our trip to Put-in-Bay Island surprised me – in more ways than one! As we boarded the Miller Ferry Line in Port Clinton and hopped across the waves – we were within about 5 to 6 minutes docked again and unloading into an area that didn’t look at all like I had imagined. Where were all the people? The shops? The bustle? Looking around me there was just a boarding dock, trees and picturesque rocks. Hmm. . 
We followed the crowd up the walkway where a group of golf cart “taxi’s” were lined up and waiting patiently for the island visitors to arrive. This made me chuckle, but luckily I had call ahead reservations with the Erie Island Carts company so they had someone waiting at the docks to pick us up. After looking for the extended golf cart with a red canopy, we hoped on (and held on) as we were whisked away just down the road to the rental area to pick up our very own golf cart to drive around for the day. Sa-weet! 
Erie Island Carts #LoveLakeErie #hosted
Now, how do I make this thing work? I’ve driven a ton of cars from all different era’s, but ironically never a golf cart. Would you believe me if I told you my very observant four year old showed me how to drive it? Well, he did. 
Erie Island Carts in Put-in-Bay Ohio #LoveLakeErie #hosted
After just a little bit of trial and error we were on our way. . we just didn’t know where. We pulled out of the parking lot and turned right because that’s what it seemed like the other people were doing – I know I am not one to normally follow the crowds, but this time we did (because I secretly had no idea where I was going).  Driving on the roads in a golf cart was amazing fun and after just a few short miles we could see tons of boats and docks ahead of us. This must be it! A few more minutes of driving and the path opened up into the most beautiful, happening area – there were people everywhere! I giggled as I saw the rows and rows of golf carts parked along the curbs, the roads filled with other golf cart drivers, people walking along the sidewalks and resting on the grass. This was so cool!!!

Fun Places We Visited on Put-in-Bay Island

Lunch at Pasquales Cafe’ – The first thing we wanted to do after arriving on the island was to get something to eat and this place definitely hit the mark. It was a cute little diner with tasty Italian plates. I had a sandwich which I wish I would have written the name down to tell you, but I was just so darn famished that I forgot. Anyways, it had cheese, pesto and some other vegetarian items on it. Look for that one! Yum! 
Perry’s Cave – The last time I was in Ohio I was told to visit Perry’s Cave, but never made it over to the island.  Well, now that I was here I didn’t want to miss it! Perry’s cave was a few miles off of the main strip, but easy to find. When we pulled off the main road we followed the signs down through a wooded path with buildings lining the lane. There was a butterfly house, a vintage car museum, a spot to mine for “gold”, a maze and Perry’s cave – a real cave which you can walk down into under ground! 
Perry's Cave in Put-in-Bay #LoveLakeErie
We decided that we wanted to go down into the cave first, so we bought our tickets and waited for our tour time – which luckily was just a few minutes later. As we walked down into the cave you could feel the exact moment when the temperature changed and the damp air hit your skin. Inside the cave was dark and wet. Water droplets kept tapping me on the shoulder as I hunched over trying not to hit my head. I didn’t like it. I wanted out of there, but for the sake of my kids I kept going in deeper. I’ll be honest – the cave was beautiful and something I am glad that I got to see, but for someone like me who doesn’t like dark, damp and tight spaces this just wasn’t a good idea. Eek! 
Shopping – After we came back up to ground level (and I took a few deep breaths) we headed back into the downtown area for some ice cream and shopping! All along the downtown area of Put-in-Bay there are cute little shops selling t-shirts, souvenirs and sweets – along with the peppered mix of restaurants and bars. 
Put-in-Bay Island #LoveLakeErie

Before leaving the island we made it a point to visit Perry’s Peach Memorial – which is a giant architectural statue that can is noticeable from most of the island. This National Monument reaches 352 feet tall and was created in honor of Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry and one of his biggest victories in the War of 1812. Definitely a must see before leaving on the ferry back to Port Clinton. 


There were so many more things to see and do on this island (they even have a winery!), but we were headed back on the last ferry out to Port Clinton where we were staying the night at the Holiday Inn Express. We had an entire day of fun ahead of us as we toured the Port Clinton area. Be sure to check back soon for the second half of our story. 


Have you ever been to Put-in-Bay, Ohio? What was your favorite thing about the island? I vote for the golf carts!! 🙂 


Spoiler alert – see the entire trip on YouTube now!