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Give Thanks: 15 Volunteer activities your child can do

While Thanksgiving is a season for giving, for children it ends up being a season for receiving only as many lose sight of the fact that the Holidays is also a time for appreciating what you have and about the priceless gifts of family and togetherness that have no price tag.  
Thanksgiving can also be a wonderful opportunity to  nurture a spirit of giving to others as well.
A recent Nanny Classifieds post explains the benefits of volunteering, and notes how lending “a hand to someone in need can heighten your child’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth while also providing an opportunity to possibly discover new career options on which to build aspirations.”
In it, there are 15 examples of volunteer activities that children can engage in this Holiday season and beyond to help them appreciate all they have and receive in their lives. 
  1. Collect children’s books from family and friends and donate them to a local hospital or library
  2. Sign up for a charity walk to benefit an organization or disease awareness
  3. Donate food to a food pantry by having your child pick out an item each time you shop for groceries
  4. Volunteer to serve meals to the homeless at a local shelter or food pantry
  5. Compile activity boxes, complete with puzzles, coloring books and games, to donate to a children’s center or children’s hospital
  6. Donate a few hours to picking up litter at local parks or roadways
  7. Visit a nursing home and offer to share your talents through musical entertainment or story time
  8. Deliver meals to the homebound (many food pantries offer these services)
  9. Take the kids along as you volunteer to drive an elderly neighbor to the doctor or grocery store
  10. Volunteer to feed, walk and care for abandoned animals at the local animal shelter
  11. Gather several classmates and friends to raise awareness and money to help refugee kids in schools around the world
  12. Recruit the entire family to tutor, mentor or read with younger children
  13. Work with the local Red Cross agency to give blood or organize a community blood drive
  14. Make cards, blankets and stuffed animals for sick children and donate to a local organization who provides care items to hospitals and children’s centers
  15. There are unlimited options for volunteering, both locally and nationally, that you can take advantage of to show children how acts of kindness can significantly impact someone else’s life. Find even more opportunities and learn how to brainstorm and plan family volunteer trips with the PBS Family Guide to Volunteering.
It is recommended to designate a specific day each week for volunteer activities.
“Having children volunteer helps them to get out of themselves,” New Hampshire clinical psychologist Carl Hindy says. “It teaches them social interest, empathy and awareness of others.”

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10 ways to save money at Disney parks

Nearly every kid dreams of going to one of the Disney theme parks during their childhood years, but parents are usually a little more hesitant to book the trip because of the hefty price tag that accompanies it. If you are thinking about taking a trip to a Disney park and are looking to save money, check out the following ways to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on your trip.  Keep in mind that Disney would like you to think that buying their packages is the best way to save money, but often you can save more by buying things separately.
  1.     Stay off the Disney campus.  Surrounding hotels have lower pricing to entice travelers away from staying at Disney.  Keep in mind that you will need to have a way to travel back and forth from Disney if you stay off campus.
  2.     Book your trip during the off season.  Disney has many seasons ranging from “Value” to “Peak”.  Unfortunately there isn’t a 3 month period that is considered to be the off season.  Weekdays during the fall months are cheaper, and the period after Thanksgiving and before December 21st, when “Holiday Season” starts, is cheaper to book as well.
  3.     Book a hotel that includes breakfast.  While breakfast is one of the least expensive meals to eat out, it can save you a surprising amount of money by eating at the hotel.  Before heading back to your room, grab some extra fruit for a snack later in the day.
  4.     Bring along a soft sided cooler.  You are allowed to bring in soft sided coolers to the park, and the ones that will fit in a backpack or are a backpack are ideal.  This allows you to bring in both snacks and lunch.  Plan to stop at a discount store or a grocery store to stock up on some food to take in for when family members start to get hungry.
  5.     Plan to eat your evening meal outside of the park.  By dinner time you’ve spent the majority of the day at Disney and everyone is probably ready for a break.  Take this opportunity to head back to your hotel and let everyone rest a bit and freshen up.  Then, before going back to the park, stop and eat something.
  6.     Bring a refillable water bottle and flavored packets.  There are water sources around the park that you can fill up a water bottle with, but it’s well water and doesn’t taste very good, so plan on bringing some flavored packets to sweeten up the water.  Staying hydrated at the park is very important since you will be outside much of the time.
  7.     Check out local ticket hubs for discounted tickets.  Disney wants you to think that you can’t buy tickets anywhere except through Disney and their affiliates, but this isn’t true.  Keep your eyes open for ongoing deals.  Sometimes you can make a donation to an Orlando hospital and the hospital will give you tickets to Disney for your family.  Different programs like this pop up all year long so keep your eyes open for deals.  Local ticket hubs can save you 5 to 10%, which may not seem like much, but once you do the math it starts to add up.
  8.     Join the Cirque club to receive 35% off of tickets.  Joining the club is free and you must buy your tickets 30 days in advance to receive the discount.  The discount is only offered for the Cirque de Soleil performances that are during the Tuesday through Saturday shows.  Check the online club for applicable dates.
  9.     Go to Disney Quest for half price.  If you’d like to check out Disney Quest (a virtual-reality theme park in downtown Disney) you can check for a manager’s special.  Often if you go within 2 hours or less of closing you can save half off the ticket price.  It would be something different to do and if you can go for half price it might be worth it.  This discount isn’t always offered so check while you are there.
  10.     When renting a car don’t get stuck on size.  If you plan on renting a car once you reach Disney make sure to check rental sites often, because specials do change.  Rebooking your reservation could save you a bundle.  Compact cars tend to rent out first so check the next size up; you can still end up saving because the rental companies may have a bunch of bigger cars they need to rent out and as such will give you a free upgrade.
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Bump Watch: Actress Alexis Fields counts down to baby number 2

We were stalking checking in on the ladies in our Bellyitch Bumpwatch list and discovered that actress Alexis Fields is really really close. (this time, we totally rushed it before). We know this because the former Nickelodeon star (Keenan and Kel,  The Secret World of Alex Mack) and mom-to-be has been tweeting how she’s on her last vile of patience pills while waiting for the arrival of her son. 
“It’s about 85% pregnancy hormones and 1000% how I always feel but just don’t say cause I’m classy, Lmbo” the former child star recently tweeted.  Right before that, she suggested:

Yikes! Too funny! Hang in there mama.

She’s also been sharing pics of the pregnancy and baby prep with her followers and fans on her Instagram account.

But look at this fabulousness of a maternity look. Face is beat! Posing near a friend whose project she participated in recently.

Already blessed with daughter Kaycie (born in 2008), with her husband of several years, Fields shared photos of her baby’s nursery space.


She went creative with the baby’s bedding writing in a caption to this Instagram share, “Buy Buy Baby for $10. Cribskirt- Pottery Barn Kids. Faux Fur blanket- World Market. #ChicBaby #DareToBeDifferent”

We are also Love Loving this photo of her husband, shared on Father’s Day, of him hooking up their daughter’s hair. Now that’s what’s up! Very nice. Go dads!
Fields, who comes from a Hollywood family that includes actress/producer sister Kim Fields (Facts of Life, Livin’ Single), Jere Fields (Friday the 13th, Gunsmoke, The Brady Brunch) and director, singer and actress mom Chip Fields (The Amazing Spider Man, The Lady in Red). announced her second pregnancy on Thanksgiving in 2013.
photos: Instagram

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Easy ways to use crafting with your kids as bonding time

 Guest Post
There is something about sitting around the table doing crafts with your children that is so great for bonding. Just having mom and dad sit down to play with them makes the children feel loved and special. Some adults like to do crafts too so it is no big deal, but there are many adults who are not fans and would rather avoid it. Even if you are not a fan, I believe you will find it enjoyable. It is important for them to explore their creativity when they are small and it really helps their imaginations and gives them encouragement to consider other areas of study.
There are many neat and easy arts and crafts projects you can do with your kids. The craft stores and dollar stores are full of craft supplies so it does not have to cost a fortune. 
1. Craft Sticks – You can buy a large package of craft sticks for basically pennies and make many neat projects from that one package. All you need is some glue, some magic markers or crayons, and imagination. You can create houses, cars, chairs, tables, jewelry boxes, etc, the possibilities are endless. You can decorate with beads, buttons, or jewels to design something to give as a gift or to keep. Craft sticks make nice picture frames for school pictures from your child to grandparents or even Christmas decorations for the tree. You can even create a bird feeder or bird house for the birds that come to visit your yard.
2. Nature – Some other items that are great to use for crafts are items from nature. Take a walk with your kids and pick up beautiful leaves, interesting sticks, or soft green moss. Then use those things to make a collage or use your craft sticks and make a fireplace with a crackling fire and moss on the mantle. Another great thing to do with leaves is to put them under your paper and use a crayon to cover them with color and bring out the imprint of the leaf. Most children love watching the imprint of the leaf appear right before their eyes like magic!
3. Paper Plates– Paper plates can be used to make cute vases for wild flowers or to draw faces on and cut out the eyes for masks. There are all kinds of things to be made out of inexpensive paper plates. You can make bunnies for Easter, banjos, turkeys for Thanksgiving, hats, or even birds. How about making teepees out of the plates and log cabins out of craft sticks and creating an entire village? Using construction paper or colored tissue paper you can add wings to your birds, make flowers for your hats, or grass around the teepees, the possibilities are practically endless.
4. Bead, Buttons and Bags– Beads and buttons are a lot of fun to make crafts out of. Your kids can string the beads or buttons on plain string or elastic for jewelry. Another great craft item that is mere pennies is small paper bags. They are perfect to use for making hand puppets. The faces can be made with markers or use the buttons for the eyes and the nose and beads for the mouth. You can add hair with yarn or strips of construction paper and even ears if you would like. 
5. Baking Fun – Kids also love baking cookies, cupcakes, or cakes and this can be a wonderful family activity. Sugar cookies are a lot of fun because you can roll them out and use cookies cutters just like with play dough. And then the decoration ideas are endless. You can use M&M’s, raisins, nuts, sprinkles, plain sugar, colored sugar, cinnamon candies, or even leave them plain and then ice them. The icing is just powdered sugar and food coloring with a little milk to get to the right consistency. And the best part of making cookies is that you get to eat them when they are done! Rice Krispie Treats are easy and fun to make as well and you can mold them in to different shapes if you would like.
There are many ways to enjoy time with your children doing crafts or baking together. It is a wonderful way to spend a rainy day or to keep your children sitting down and happy instead of running around and bored. They will feel loved when you take the time to sit down and spend time being creative with them.
Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.

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Review: 1 Pound a Day: The Martha’s Vineyard Detox Diet will help you lose weight but it’s not easy!

After packing on 11 pounds from October thru December during the Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas holiday gluttony, I was stoked to finally check out Dr. Roni DeLuz and James Hester‘s “1 Pound a Day: The Martha’s Vineyard Detox Diet.”   I was offered the book to review summer but honestly, kept putting off starting the detox because I knew it would require me to strictly eliminate many items from my regular diet and I knew that would be hard to do during the holidays.
The book is a follow up to the duo’s New York Times bestselling “21 Pounds in 21 Days.” which took anxious dieters by storm and got a lot of people excited because of the promise for rapid weight loss the healthy way. In sum, the diet is really a detox from toxins in the body and from pollution we are exposed to daily.  You essentially become an overnight vegan. It requires users to only drink juiced fruits and vegetables, pureed soups and broths with water for 21 days, then add back solids and other eliminated foods back in slowly for the following 9 days. You’re supposed to eliminate caffeine, alcohol, all solids, dairy and other vices from the diet as the body works to expel toxins from the body.  The book contains ample soup recipes, testimonials of success cases and other advice and pointers on food, how different types of food affect the body and various herbs, and other natural elements and food that are good for the body.
It’s a strict regimen and not easy to do.  You definitely need some will power or a sincere interest to complete it before even trying it. If anyone is thinking of doing it, he or she should read the book cover-to-cover first and get indoctrinated in all the benefits of detoxing.  Also, those who are carrying extra weight that they want to get rid of and are serious should also read it thoroughly because it provides the other reasons to detox beyond just weight loss. Knowing the greater good may help a person stay on it.
On the first two days, I had a caffeine headache because I did not wean myself off of my cup of coffee a day addiction. I just went cold-turkey which I do NOT recommend. It’s probably best to come down by doing half-caffe for a few days, then gradually eliminate it.  After those initial days, things got better.  Surprisingly, I did not experience hunger pangs on  the diet.but that is because I planned. I purchased sufficient broths, and made adequate amount of soups in advance so I could just have some whenever I wanted to satiate hunger. Also, I did not let myself get too hungry before getting more soup or juiced juice. 
I took a multi-vitamin to keep me energized throughout the day, and took enzymes in pills, green juice, probiotic capsules to replace good bacteria lost during detox, and a sugar-control herbal supplement.
The effect is a flatter tummy within the first 2 weeks on the system, and better bodily fluid movement and riddance of any and all bloating and gas.  For extra credit, you can take a homemade detox bath, or body wrap or make an appointment to see a hydrocolontherapist. There are recipes and instructions on how to do these or where to find a colonic specialist.
In a nutshell, the book is really just the 21 in 21 book but with an added 9 days that teaches you how to come off the detox better so you do not relapse too quickly into bad eating habits and pack the pounds back on. I lost about 20 pounds on it and since wrapping it up last week and have NOT felt the need to go back to coffee, sugar and all my other bad eating habits.  To keep off the weight lost and continue on the downward trek in inches and weight loss, I am also adding back my regular exercise in my routine. I started ballet and running again.  I plan to incorporate some of the eating advice from the book along with advice I got from another eating session I took last year around this time to maintain.  I am also getting an exercise jump start with a celebrity trainer this week as well.
James Hester and Dr. Roni DeLuz
While this diet/detox isn’t an option for the faint of heart or for those with little to no will power, it does work. But like most weight-loss efforts that include eliminating certain types of foods from your diet altogether, there is a high risk of getting back all the pounds lost if users don’t alter their eating and exercise habits after wards. I learned Radio veteran Robin Quivers of The Howard Stern show did it and got super skinny but has since packed back on more weight than before. 
Overall, it’s still a good way to kick start a lifestyle change, to quickly unload some excess weight gained (like from overindulgence from the Holidays) or to prepare for an event like a wedding, reunion, red carpet event or the like. 
Get the book from my Affiliate partner at Amazon.com for $19.07 hardback or $13.25 softback. 
Disclosure: I received a copy of the book complimentary to test out the rules within the book and provide my honest feedback.

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