Friday, July 3, 2015

Website Spotlight: FotoJet

FotoJet is a free online collage maker that enables users to quickly create amazing photo cards, collages and posters without the hassles of downloading or installing anything. It’s as easy as 1,2,3 to use it:

• Choose from 190+ templates for collage, photo card and poster to get started.
• Add photos and freely customize the collage as you wish.
• Freely save collage as JPG/PNG or directly share it via Facebook.

 The only complaint about the site is that since it's based in China, sometimes the grammar is a little off. That's pretty nitpicky, though, considering that it's incredibly easy to use, everything loads quickly, and the sharing process is simple and fast. There are a lot of beautiful templates, making it easy to create a unique personalized card that you can then share online, or save and print. I'm definitely bookmarking this site!

Enriching Education: Tips for Keeping Kids Learning this Summer on a Budget

With summer break in full swing, many parents are seeing just how much time their children have on their hands. And the last thing that many of them want is for that time to be spent in front of some sort of electronic screen. In fact, the University of Michigan reports that television viewing among children is at an eight-year high, with kids ages 6-11 watching around 28 hours per week. Add to that video games, computers, tablets, and other devices, and there’s very little of anything else going on. The good news is that parents can keep their kids learning this summer, and off the screens, with a little effort.
“It’s always easier to just let the kids do whatever they want, and they may moan at first if you don’t, but keeping them doing other things will be well worth the effort,” says Nicole Montgomery, director of operations at WonderWorks Destiny. “Beating the summer brain drain is always a good thing, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Many teachers find that students tend to forget some of the things they have been taught over the summer break. Parents who make the effort to keep them learning over summer will send them back to school far ahead of the game. Here are some tips for keeping kids learning over the summer and doing so on a budget:
  • Opt for new experiences. WonderWorks, for example, offers many new concepts and topics that kids are not usually all that familiar with. Kids can engage in everything from laser tag to climbing adventures that will challenge them, as well as provide them with a fun time.
  • Get outdoors. This is the time to get outside and take a nature hike, explore the trails, and visit new state parks. See what types of classes are being offered by the state parks, so the kids can learn about a variety of topics.
  • Visit the library. Most people today do not take advantage of their library enough. The library system offers hours upon hours of entertainment and education, all virtually free. Take the kids to get their own library card and visit once a week for new items. Check out to see what free educational classes they offer each week for kids.
  • Set limits. Kids will almost always want to go on the computer, television, or play video games. But parents can easily balance that with other things, such as setting a designated amount of time they need to read each day, journal, or work on something new.
  • Bake up a storm. Whether cooking or baking, kids love to get into the mix in the kitchen. When they do this it’s a great learning experience that involves following directions, math, and even chemistry. Check out kids cookbooks at the library, or find online recipes that they can do.
  • Pick a place. This summer, have the kids grab a few board games and escort them to a local senior citizen center, where they can spend an hour or two playing games with the people there.
“These ideas for keeping kids busy and learning are all budget-friendly,” added Montgomery. “There are plenty of ways to make this a summer that combats summer brain drain, and to do it in a way that won’t break the bank. We’ve even lowered our prices for the summer so more families can take advantage of bringing their kids here.”
WonderWorks Syracuse is currently offer a summer special on admission prices, which are as follows:
                                          Full Price           Summer Price
General Admission            $25                     $15
Laser Tag                          $15                     $12
Ropes Course                   $18                     $10
VIP Combo                       $38                      $25  
At WonderWorks kids will find a variety of fun family friendly interactive activities to engage in, including:
  • Laser tag arena – Friends and family compete in a game of laser tag.
  • 4D XD Motion Theater – showing family fun movies the family will never forget.
  • Canyon Climb Adventure – featuring 70 feet, 3 stories, and 81 obstacles to challenge everyone.
  • WonderZones – offering a variety of areas to explore, such as natural disasters, physical challenges, light and sound zones, imagination lab, and space discovery.
  • Sky Tykes ropes course – an activity for kids under 48”.
WonderWorks also offers birthday parties, as well as a birthday club. Sign up at their site for the birthday club, where the birthday person gets in free, and others in the party get in for $2 off each admission. Opens daily at 10 a.m. 

About WonderWorks
WonderWorks, a science focused indoor amusement park located in Destiny USA, combines education and entertainment with over 100 hands-on exhibits. There is something unique and challenging for all ages. Adventures include: The Hurricane Shack, feel the power of 71 mph hurricane–force winds, The Bubble Lab, make huge, life–sized bubbles, The Astronaut Training Gyro get the NASA treatment and experience zero gravity, Nail it by lying on the death–defying Bed of Nails. WonderWorks is also home to two indoor ropes courses, Canyon Climb which is the world’s largest suspended indoor ropes course and Sky Tykes, which is a confidence booster climb for small children. WonderWorks also hosts birthday parties and special events seasonally.

Sweepstakes: Tony Roma's Summer Shorts/Kenyon Grill

Tony Roma’s Summer Shorts Promotion , in partnership with Kenyon, maker of specialty electric grills, will be giving away a FREE Revolution™ grill. This grill is both smokeless and flameless, making it safe for indoor and outdoor use, plus it’s portable.

To enter, post a photo/video of yourself grilling via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Share your best grilling tip or recipe, tag @TonyRomas and use the hashtag #TRSummerShorts. Contest ends July 30th. Get more details here.

Giveaway: Space Racers®

Disclosure: I received complimentary products to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own. 

SPACE RACERS® is an original animated TV series that provides young children with exposure to key aspects of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, curriculum. Produced in collaboration with NASA experts, the series follows a group of talented young spaceship cadets at the Stardust Bay Space Academy. Kids will travel with speedy Eagle, strong Hawk, smart Robyn, brave Starling and competitive Raven as they soar through the Solar System learning about the power of scientific investigation and observation, the wonders of space exploration and the importance of working as a team.
The Space Racers Parent & Educator’s Toolkit ($14.99), developed in cooperation with WNET Education, includes a DVD with 13 animated episodes, 4 live-action segments, and a CD-ROM filled with corresponding Lesson Plans and Family Activities. These resources are ideal for kids in grades Pre-K through 3rd grade.

As a homeschooling educator, this is a really fun resource. My girls are going into 1st and 3rd grade and love science. My older one especially loves space, so even though she already knew some of the concepts, she still found it engaging and interesting. You can learn more on Facebook and Twitter:

I have a chance to give away a copy of the toolkit. To enter, leave a comment with what most intrigues you or your kids about space exploration. Deadline is July 10th.You can also save 20% off at the Space Racers store July 4-6 with code MARS.

Consumer Critique: One Creepy Street - Spider on the Web

Disclosure: I received complimentary products to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own.

The internet can be a terrifying place, with online predators, cyberbullies, and identity thieves lurking in every corner—and it’s laced with lots of young prey. When children use the web without supervision, they are exposed to a wide range of frightening situations. One father is on a mission to keep our kids safe by using a language they can understand—a cautionary short story with a rhythm and a purpose.
In One Creepy Street: Spider on the Web, he dives into the dangers of online games, social networking, and other seemingly harmless communications. Spider on the Web is a whimsically illustrated story that not only appeals to children but also teaches valuable lessons such as:
  • The perils of social networking and communicating online with strangers.
  • Why sending pictures and other information over the internet is a recipe for disaster.
  • How children can use their parents as online mentors, asking questions if anything seems creepy or suspicious.
 The story has a cute monster theme, and a very realistic situation of a spider who unknowingly goes into a chat room and sets up a place to meet. Luckily this story has a happy ending, but it's a cautionary tale of what could happen and provides a good way to start a discussion about cybersafety.

Consumer Critique: Wild Garden Hummus Snack Boxes

Disclosure: I received complimentary products to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own.

Wild Garden Hummus Snack Boxes are all-natural, healthy snacks for families on the go that do not require any refrigeration. Great for car trips, plane trips, getting kids to and from activities or even for adults looking for healthy snacks at work or pre-portioned snacks at home.

They come in several varieties, with multi-seed crackers, pita chips, or veggie chips, each with either traditional or garlic hummus. The hummus has a great flavor and pairs perfectly with each of the types of crackers; they really do make a convenient snack.

Wild Garden products can be found in MN at Cub Foods stores; find them near you or order them online (right now you can get free shipping on the snack boxes online).

Consumer Critique: The More You Do, the Better You Feel

Disclosure: I received complimentary products to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own.

Do you tend to put of doing tasks that are boring, complicated, or unpleasant? Does your procrastination leave you anxious?The More You Do, The Better You Feel by David Parker teaches us how to identify and break the unhealthy habits that lead to chronic procrastination.

I liked this book. I think the title is a bit misleading - for many people, adding more to their plate isn't really the answer. But the point is that once you get the ball rolling, things really go better. I've found this to be true in my own life - once I start getting tasks accomplished, I get on a roll and am even more productive. This doesn't mean you should intentionally add more to your plate than you can handle, but it means that starting is sometimes the most important step in the process. This book is practical and immediately relevant to anyone who likes to put things off.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sweepstakes: Benzac

Benzac is helping to kick off the season right with clear skin and a prize pack valued at more than $400!
Galderma Laboratories (maker of Cetaphil and the #1 prescription topical acne brand globally) recently debuted its first-ever, over-the-counter (OTC) treatment: The Benzac Complete Acne Solution regimen. In a study, 91% of people saw an improvement in their acne after using the regimen for just two weeks.
To spread the word, we’ve just launched the Benzac 2-Week Challenge with a sweepstakes! Here’s how to enter:
·         Post one of the attached images and tag @BenzacAcne on Instagram
·         Include the hashtags #Benzac2WC and #sweepstakes

·         Note, you must be 13 years or older to enter. Must be posted between 9am on July 1, 2015 and 9am on July 15, 2015.
One winner will receive:
·         The Benzac 3-step regimen kit
·         A memory keeping kit, including:
o   Fujifilm Instax MINI 25 Instant Film Camera
o   Box of Instax mini film
o   Mini photo album
·         Ray-Ban Aviator Flash Lenses
·         Frends Headphones
Total approximate retail value: $443.00

Caring Causes: Bentley Great Dane

The following is a story from my cousin, and I'm happy to help raise awareness of his efforts and this great story.

Five years ago our cousin, Chase, was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma (a rare bone cancer), one day after his ninth birthday. During the next few months Chase had chemotherapy treatments on a regular basis at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, NE. At the same time, Stacey (Malcom) Laib’s brother, Patrick, began training his Great Dane to be a therapy dog, with the intent to visit Chase at the hospital. Bentley, a harlequin Great Dane, was no ordinary dog that was in training. Bentley had grown so much over that year that he was in the running for the World’s Largest Dog. He missed out on the record by less than an inch, but he was awarded the record for the World’s Longest Dog Tail and is now the World’s Largest Therapy Dog. But while all this was going on Chase was able to complete his treatments before Bentley was ready to come visit him in Omaha.

So Patrick decided to put the training that Bentley had done to good use. He traveled around the country raising money and awareness for cancer research, with a focus on pediatric and canine cancers. He visited many hospitals and events around the country bringing smiles and a big surprise when Bentley would enter. 

From that experience of travelling and watching Bentley grow up, we have created an amazing children’s book. This illustrated book follows Bentley from a disappointing experience at the park with other dogs, to his owner having him volunteer at a hospital. In the end, Bentley realizes that being too big to fit in with the other dogs was an advantage when it came to entertaining the children.  Especially when he met a little boy named Chase that was very sad to be at the hospital. 

Bentley the Book, was created to bring a smile to all the children that read it, as well as give them the message that it’s okay to be different. As many pediatric cancer patients have trouble adjusting to life while being treated for their cancer. As they lose their hair, they are not able to attend school on a regular basis and must avoid many public events due to concerns of infection.

On Wednesday, July 1, 2015 we launched a campaign to raise the funds necessary for the production of the now completed, Bentley the Book. The intent is to produce and sell enough books over the next year to be able to donate one book to EVERY child that is diagnosed with cancer. Each year approximately 15,700 children hear the words you have cancer. We are working with a network of hospitals to have a book waiting for each child when they arrive for treatment.  

If you have a moment check out Bentley online, follow him on Facebook (Bentley GreatDane and Bentley's Children's Book) and BentleyTheBook.

Mealtime Magic: Sandwich Making Tips from Chef Viviani (and America's Better Sandwich Contest)

Whether you like your sandwiches stacked with just a few classic ingredients or over-stuffed with toppings galore, our favorite sandwiches are made with the good stuff, so why not make sure what’s holding that sandwich together is the best, too?

The “America’s Better Sandwich” Contest is teaming with Chef Fabio Viviani to show Americans that a guilt free sandwich, made with “better-for-you” ingredients like whole grains, can co-exist in a world filed with flavor and enjoyment.

From June 15 to August 23, 2015, sandwich lovers nationwide can visit to submit up to two recipes in five sandwich categories: Open Face Artistry; Breakfast in Bread; Love, Healthfully; Creative Classics and Fueling Good -- all for a Grand Prize of $25,000 (that’s a whole lot of dough!). Entries will be judged on nutritional quality, perceived ease of preparation, unique and creative flavor profile.
Winning sandwiches will be announced on National Sandwich Day, November 3. For every eligible recipe submitted, and every consumer vote received during the online voting phase (September 21-October 18), a loaf of bread (up to 100,000 loaves) will be donated to Feeding America.


About Chef Fabio - Chef/Restaurateur/Cookbook Author
Chef Fabio has owned and operated restaurants in his native Italy as well as restaurants across the U.S. Best known for his appearance on season 5 of Top Chef in 2008, earning “Fan Favorite” and returned in 2010 to compete in their Top Chef All Stars edition and a spinoff culinary reality show, Life After Top Chef. Chef Fabio is a recurring guest on shows such as GMA, The Talk, The Chew, Ellen, Good Day LA and Access Hollywood. He is also the host of the award winning web series, Chow Ciao! He has authored two successful cookbooks and his Ebooks appeared on multiple Amazon bestseller lists.