Christmas Giving #MacysBelieve

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This is a sponsored post in partnership with Macy’s.

I love the holidays (Yes, I’m that chick listening to Christmas music ever since Thanksgiving afternoon). I really want to find ways to make this time of year extra special and meaningful for the kids. It’s important to me to make holiday traditions with them that they’ll remember for years to come. It’s only our 2nd Christmas in this house, and the first that Kaya might be able to recall later on.

We aren’t doing a big tree this year. Instead the kids and I are going to be doing Christmas crafts and decorating the inside of the house a bit. We are also going to make Christmas cookies to give out to family and they’re both helping me with the holiday cards.

I’m trying to focus on the giving aspect of the holidays when it comes to the kids. They’ve already helped me with picking out gifts for family members and friends. We are going to spend some time on the weekends choosing some of their toys to donate to kids in need. I was hoping to do some volunteering, but with the kids so young and wild, John ended up going by himself.

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We wrote letters to Santa and I tried to mix it up a bit. I had Rohan tell Santa what he wanted him to bring for his friends and something fun he wanted to do, instead of writing a list of toys. Kaya dictated to me what she wanted and drew Santa a picture.

We’re going to take the letters to Macy’s this weekend to put them in Santa’s mailbox. Macy’s has partnered with Make-A-Wish® for the holidays. Every letter that gets dropped off at Macy’s or sent online at macys.com/believe is a dollar that gets donated to Make-A-Wish (up to one million!). On National Believe Day, December 9th, Macy’s is looking to raise an additional million dollars for Make-A-Wish. Each letter collected on Friday is a double donation worth $2.00! Get writing and head over to Macy’s. To learn more about Macy’s Believe campaign, please visit macys,com/believe.

I like the tradition of writing the letter to Santa in order to bless someone else. I think we’ll just alter it a bit as the children grow up.

What are you Giving for Christmas?

Mickey’s Most Merriest Christmas Party at Disney World #disneyholidays

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Mickey really knows how to throw a Christmas party! Let me tell you. At Magic Kingdom, as soon as you enter during the holiday season it’s like you’re transported into Christmasworld. Everything is decked out with red bows, thick wreaths with gold bells, giant nutrackers and of course Christmas trees. It’s just so beautiful. And the lights! Once dusk hits the entire place starts to twinkle. That’s that Disney magic, lol!

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This year Mickey’s Most Merriest Christmas Celebration was so much fun! It was a beautiful show and has all new surprises. The technology has been stepped up and is exciting for even adults to watch without kids.

This years show is fast paced to keep you engaged the entire time. New this year is a band on stage with the many characters. The singers and dancers were on point. (I may or may not have sang and danced along for Feliz Navidad and All I want for Christmas…) I’m always so amazed at how the characters can boogie down so well. Looking around at the crowd during the show, every single child was rapt. It was nice to see.

MONEY SAVING PRO TIP: You don’t need to buy a full day’s pass to Magic Kingdom as well as a pass for Mickey’s Most Merriest Christmas Celebration. You can just purchase the Christmas Celebration pass and have access to Magic Kingdom from 4pm on. The show doesn’t start until 7pm so you have 3 hours to enjoy Magic Kingdom without paying the additional Magic Kingdom price! #you’rewelcome 🙂

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A quick trip over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios puts you in the perfect spot to see another great holiday show. Mickey’s Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM Nighttime Spectacular is a Firework show and it is awesome you guys! The show is projected onto the Chinese theater. There are no live performers. It’s super high tech.

I spoke with one of the show directors who said that this year there was a big upgrade in the technology over past year’s holiday shows. I believe it. It’s a mixed sensory experience with the fireworks, the faux snow, the music, the laser lights, the twinkles and the projection show are so well done! The story plays out on the projector but is enhanced big time by the light show. It’s impressive.

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Back at Magic Kingdom, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade is not to be missed. All of your favorite characters are there of course. The music is bumpin’ and there’s a new holiday trolley. The parade rolls through Frontierland spreading holiday cheer two times a night, and has a new interactive feature. People in the audience get to choose one of 3 songs in parade! Spoiler Alert: Santa Claus is Coming to Town by the Jackson 5 is often the big winner voted in by the crowd.

Have you seen Mickey’s Most Merriest Christmas Celebration yet?

CLICK HERE to check out Disney Springs at Christmas Time!

 

Epic Guide to Being Minimalist With Children

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After my cozy minimalist post the question in my inbox most is: Is it possible to be minimalist with children? My answer: Yes. And here’s how.

I already spoke on my take on minimalism. My view is more about having only enough stuff to feel comfy and happy vs having the least amount of possessions or the smallest home. So, that threshold is different for different people and certainly different for children. I have seen my children be happy playing for hours with one piece of loose leaf paper. That paper turned into an airplane, a dog and a cape… then it turned into a fight so I had to take it away. #toddlers. Does this mean my children’s only toy will be a sheet of paper? No. But they won’t have a playroom stuffed to the gills with blinking, beeping plastic either.

Tips on how to go minimalist with kids:

  1. be inclusive/mindful
  2. be respectful
  3. be flexible

Inclusive:

Include the children in the minimizing process. I would be up in arms if John decided he’s tossing half of my wardrobe, and my belongings, and just started bagging my things up. We might end up in fisticuffs, no lie. So be inclusive and mindful of your approach when going minimalist with your children. Include them in the journey. Discuss your reasons, and have them help. Let them know what a good move their making all the way through the process. If the children feel included, you’ll have less push back as you remove their items.

Respectful:

Respect your children’s wishes on certain items. You may be tempted to bag up everything you think should go while your child is at school. Think of how you would feel if you came home from work and saw half of your belongings missing. Rohan has an elmo lovey that looks like it was dragged behind a truck for miles. I would love to toss it and tell him elmo went back to Sesame Street, but that wouldn’t be respectful. If you know your child has one favorite item, but you can’t stand the sight (or sound) of it, try to keep it. Maybe ask that they keep it out of sight or only play with it during certain times of day.

Flexible:

Compromise is key. You may want a 20 item capsule wardrobe for yourself, but your tween daughter may break out in hives at the thought of it for herself. Be flexible in your approach to the minimalism process. Keep the goal in mind and remind your child of it often. This way you can both come to a reasonable middle ground on their items.

These are tips for people with children of all ages.

I have two preschoolers. It would be very easy for me to go the “I’m the boss, you listen to me.” route with this attempt at simplifying our lives, but that would not be healthy.

For those with youngsters my tips are:

Explain in an age appropriate way

When I go through my decluttering of the children’s items, I let them know we are gifting the items to children who may have less items to play with. We talk about how much fun we had with them, and now that we don’t play with it anymore, it’s time to let it be loved by another child. This usually gets them excited to help another kid out. Also explain your reasons for decluttering and minimizing your home’s belongings in a way that they can understand.

Start with your belongings

Let your children see you downsizing your closet, or your collectibles first. Once they see that this is something that mom and dad are happily embarking on, they will likely jump on board. (You can also have them help you with decluttering your belongings so they’re more apt to “let” you “help” them with theirs without a fuss.)

Make it fun

We turn any and everything into a game (or competition) in our house. See who can gather items the fastest, or drag broken toys to the curb first. Find any way to make clearing out the space an enjoyable task and your little ones will be eager to help you.

Make it educational

We are all about sneaking in the learning wherever we can. So have your children help by counting the items they’re donating, or have them hunt for 3 blue items to give away, a big and a small item, or two items with wheels (you get the point). Decluttering is a great task for reinforcing numbers, colors, and several concepts.

Focus on what you have

It may be natural to put the energy on what is going away but try to have young children focus on the items they have left. Point out all the fun they can have with their 3 favorite trucks or what have you. You can also focus on how much more space they have to play and have picnics in their room. Amplify the good remaining to negate the loss of “stuff.”

Pump up the togetherness

The decluttering process in itself is a family activity, but don’t let it end there. As the belongings decrease the space (physically and energetically) increases for more playtime as a family. Remind your children that now that the unused items have found a new home, you can play more games together. Think of other family activities you can do together, whether on the minimalism front or otherwise.

Avoid commercials

It’s much easier to avoid a case of the “gimme gimmes” if your children aren’t exposed to advertising geared right to them. Avoid commercials and your child will ask for less. You can also stress how cool and multifunctional the toys they do have are, compared to the single use item on the screen.

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I told you how I threw away almost all of my children’s toys…. well… the effort lasted several months. I look around the playroom now and see tons of new items, none of which I purchased, littering the floor. This is when we have to expand our minimalist efforts to extended family and friends. I recently sent the children’s annual Christmas wish list and it had very clear instructions on what not to get for the kids. (I hope they listen lol)

If you have family members as generous as mine here are some tips to help them get on board with your new lifestyle.

Tips for family members:

Explain your mindset and reasons

Your family loves and respects you. They may not understand why you’re telling them not to buy the annual Christmas Hess truck for little Johnny this year. Explain to them your reasons for chosing the minimalist lifestyle and what it means to you and your family. They will be more likely to appease you if they feel included in your reasoning and can understand your mindset.

Offer gifting options that suit you

Let your family know the few items you would like for your children. Thank them for their generosity and remind them that you’re super grateful for anything they choose to give, but sneak it what you’d rather them not send your children’s way.

Ask them to house it for you

This is a negotiation I have a suspicion I’ll have to do this holiday season. My aunts love to pick up random treats for the children. If you live near your family and your children visit frequently, ask them to keep the gifts at their home so the children can always play with it when they stop by.

Offer a compromise 

If your family insists on buying what and how much they want (i mean…there are worse problems in the world than over-generous family, amirite?) let them know that you are grateful and will keep them for a certain amount of time, then the pieces that aren’t played with as much will be going to the local shelter or goodwill.

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As you’re going through the decluttering process in your home your children will notice the new energy and clearer home. It helps to keep the conversation going when it’s not just about “taking their stuff out” to donate.

How to keep the cozy minimalist conversation/mindset going:

Discuss purchases

Let the children in on your reasoning for bringing home the pieces you do. Discuss household items you purchase and let them be a part of the purchasing decision in an age appropriate way. When the children ask for something new, have a conversation, listing the pros/cons and explain fully why you will or wont be purchasing the item. Or have them figure out what they currently have that they’d like to trade for the new item.

Discuss money/living within your means

If your minimalism is related to finances, tell your children and help them understand it. We are starting to explain the concepts of earning, saving and spending money to our son in a more meaningful way. It’s never too early to explain the role money has in your life and help your children understand why you’re making the decisions with it that you are when it comes to your minimalist lifestyle.

Discuss how they feel about the things they have

I was surprised by my preschooler’s reaction to me removing their toys while they were out. It was interesting to see how little his non-favorite toys meant to him. I ask both children now how they feel about certain items that they do (and don’t) play with to gauge what will be going in the next purge and what types of items we will or won’t replace.

Also discuss how they feel about the energy in the home or the space they now have. They may surprise you.

Finally: Be Patient!!

Remember to be patient with children of all ages! This is a process with a natural ebb and flow like anything else in life. You’re on a journey and taking your children with you. Enjoy it, but give each family member time to come around (or not) in the way they need to.

Are you going Minimalist with Kids?

Social Media on the Sand Experience at Beaches Negril in Jamaica #BeachesMoms

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Every morning I pick up my phone and immediately go to my gratitude app. I list out what I’m grateful for right at that moment. On Monday morning of last week, my first day home from a whirlwind week in Jamaica, I about broke that app. My gratitude list was a mile long. The sweet memories just kept on coming, I had to keep adding them in.

Crawling out of bed and making my own breakfast was hard that morning, I tell ya. But my heart was full and I was still smiling after our time at Beaches Negril. I attended the Social Media on the Sand Conference at Beaches Negril via #BeachesMoms and it couldn’t have been better.

Listen, this is the first resort that we have stayed in, that my husband said “We’ve got to come back here next year” about. I need you to understand what a big deal this is. I’ve been traveling with this man a few times a year since we met back in 2001. Through boutique hotels, various cruises, and all inclusive resorts… he has never, ever said that he wants to return to a specific resort.  (and without any prompting from me!)

Beaches got him hooked! (And once I told him about Sandals being child-free…his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.)

So here’s my Epic recap of the conference as well as the gorgeous resort Beaches Negril.  Enjoy!! And feel free to send any questions my way!

We had a long ride from Runaway Bay to Negril. We used a great company for the transfer, and I highly recommend them to anyone. Our driver, Errol was early (I love that) personable, and let us stop where we wanted for breaks and beef patties. He pointed out interesting sights (Like where Usain Bolt lived and went to school) but wasn’t overly chatty, which I appreciated with the two napping preschoolers flanking me in the car.

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Arriving at Beaches Negril was sensory overload. Ro was cranky, we were all tired, and Kai had to potty like nobody’s business. I thought it would be a quiet peaceful lobby, and I could run Kai to the potty..but…It was like mardi gras!! There was music playing, everyone dancing, singing, a DJ announcing beachesmoms as we entered, people giving us flower leis, the sesame characters were out to say hi, there was a mini parade and a receiving line that had us feeling like celebrities! (John was high fiving his way down the aisle!) I wish I had been able to get photos before shuffling the kids to the potty. #myoneregret

It was a warm welcome to say the least!

We checked in, got our details for the days ahead and went to our beautiful room. Beaches Negril has it’s rooms splayed across the most beautiful beach. From garden view rooms to 3-bedroom butler suites, there’s no bad room on this property. We were in room 711, a second floor ocean view room. We could see the gorgeous sunset from the bedroom area window as well as from the balcony. (Quick Room Tour Vid) Our room was large enough to comfortable fit a family of 6! John and I shared the comfortable four poster king size bed, and there were two trundle beds! We used one for Rohan and Kais beds and the other was our couch. There was also a desk w/ chair and a vanity. The bathroom had double sinks (so clutch!) and a nice size tub. Closet space was huge! Also appreciated the high bed, it felt…royal…and also we could easily store our luggage underneath.

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Quick backstory: My husband works a lot. He leaves the house at 8 and gets home at 9:30. Needless to say, that only leaves weekends to have quality time together as a family of four and he doesn’t have much daddy/daughter daddy/son time these days. Well, this trip was extra special for him because he got a hearty dose of his children! They hit the waterpark together each day while I was at the Social Media on the Sand events.

Oh yes…. the events!

Our first day at the conference was one I will never forget. Before the trip Rohan and I shopped for school supplies and packed up two bookbags for children in Jamaican schools that needed them. On this day we got to deliver them, and so much more, to schools via the Sandals Foundation!

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The Sandals Foundation does so much good work in the caribbean! They are working with vetted non profits to help Haiti and the Bahamas after hurricane Matthew, they partnered with School Speciality and other great companies to provide books, school supplies and more to schools in Jamaica. They work with the hospitals too, to do good work in the pediatric cancer research arena. (Check them out, and donate here: GoFundMe.com/BeachesMoms)

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We visited the Mount Airy School. It was about a 30 minute drive from Beaches Negril, up a windy hill. The children there were so much fun. I got to work one-on-one with a bright little 6 year old named Tiesha. She sang Let it Go for me, and we worked on her ABCs, writing, read a couple of stories and did some reading comprehension questions. She was smart and also very artistic. We colored in a message that Sandals Foundation is sending to children in Haiti that were impacted by Matthew. I may be biased, but I think she made the most innovative rainbow I’d ever seen.

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After the one on one all the children sang songs for us and I got to watch Tiesha interacting with her friends… This girl was the perfect partner for me. She was a little busy body, minding everyone’s business, answering the teacher when they asked someone else a question and generally being a little extrovert. I love her.

The #BeachesMoms team really had a lot of treats in store for us. We had fun parties each evening. There was even karaoke, tho I didn’t get to attend that event. The first night cocktail party had mini spa treatments which was sweet and appreciated by us weary travelers. The closing night party was pretty epic, (foam party!) though I had to leave a bit early to make it to dinner at the hibachi restaurant.

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The beach party was my favorite, and I wish my kids were in better spirits for it. Dinner was on the beach, open bar, great music and all this after a parade with dancers, fire dancers and most importantly, the Sesame Street characters through the resort and out to the beach. It was so much fun! Then there was an amazing presentation with magicians and contortionists etc. The DJ was great, playing clean versions of today’s hits and reggae favorites. It was such fun for us BeachesMoms.

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At the conference we learned a lot about the Sandals/Beaches brands.  We got the scoop on the history and the future of what’s to comes from Beaches resorts (the family brand) and Sandals resorts (the couples-only brand and parent company). The brand is big on topping itself, and wants to reinvent, be ahead of the trend and amaze guests. They were the first to have butler service in the Caribbean and they are now the first to offer over-water bungalows there!

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image via sandals.com

This year I started travel blogging in earnest, and I’m putting some of the places in the Beaches/Sandals family on my wish list to partner with in the future to share with you. They look amazing and judging from Beaches Negril, the quality will be awesome.

The conference session I attended on FB Live basically let me know that I am totally doing it wrong. I learned about some good gear to get for live-streaming (or doing any type of video) I especially enjoyed Rene Syler’s (Good Enough Mother) presentation to us at the conference. She spoke to my soul reminding us to be women first, moms second, take time for ourselves so we can take care of our families and have more of self left over when kids are gone. So important.

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Social Media on the Sand’s last day was full of fun. We networked, did fruit carving and broke into various sessions. Some took sailing lessons, underwater photography, I took the Jamaican culture session which had us chattin’ in patois and doing reggae dances. We also learned how to play a song I love on the steel pan drums! I was a natural. (not!)

The BSM Media team and the entire Beaches/Sandals crew and all the sponsors really did an amazing job. The conference was a lot of fun, a great family getaway, and balanced the fun and education with free time in a natural way. (Check out some of our sponsor gifts here)

Beaches Negril was the perfect setting for the Social Media on the Sand conference. The resort was large enough to have a whole host of activities, but small enough to not be annoying. The food options were great. We could (and did) grab a beef patty as an appetizer at the poolside grill, enjoy a dinner at the Mexican, Caribbean or Sushi restaurant with no reservations, then go to the Parisian Cafe for a cappuccino and dessert. I tried both of the restaurants that require reservations, the Italian and Japanese Hibachi spots. Both were delicious with excellent service.

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I loved how kid-focused the resort was and every resort employee seemed to be. Every staff member seemed to light up at the sight of our kids and was extra friendly with them. The resort itself offered so much for kids of any age to enjoy. The waterpark was a lot of fun for children and adults (John and I did those slides quite a few times!) There was a DJ Academy for teens/tweens, a separate kids camp divided by age so nobody gets bored, and so much to do all day long at each one.

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For littles like mine, the Sesame Street themed kids camp was perfect! They did activities like baking cookies with Cookie Monster and bird watching with Big Bird. The offerings for parents of littles were exceptional! A breakfast with all the characters, a beach photoshoot with your choice of characters, and the best ever: A tuck in with the character of your choice.

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I told Rohan he had a special nighttime surprise all day and got him excited. He thought he knew what it was. He thought my dad was coming to visit him, ha! He said it’s grampa… then opened the door to see Elmo standing there. He gasped so loud, screamed ELMOOO and ran to him for a hug. It was precious. Then Elmo came in with his helper, and did stretches to get ready for bed, then read a bed time story, sang a song, and went to sleep. Rohan was angling for Elmo to stay the night but we finally convinced him that Elmo had to sleep in his own big boy bed.

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Kaya was scared of the characters, but she hung with Elmo for the tuck in and only freaked out once when he tried to touch her.  She finally gave Abby (one of her faves) a hug on the last day. She straight up told the count she didn’t like him and screwfaced the rest of the characters like she does everyone else in life. #SMH Rohan was the perfect age for these experiences. He called the characters “moving elmo” and “moving grover” hahaa! Kaya calls them “real elmo.”

Balancing out all the kid centered action at Beaches is a lot for parents to enjoy. John and I enjoyed our first scuba dive together in a long time. The dive operation is top notch, and is included in your room price! Other water activities that are included are snorkeling, glass bottom boat rides, snuba diving (cross between scuba and snuba), banana boat rides, kayaks, stand up paddleboards… Lots to enjoy as a family or while the kids are in kids camp.

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If you’re not the watersport type there were patois lessons, jamaican dance classes and other dry activities. The great thing is, you could be as lazy as you want. If you don’t want to participate you’re not hassled to. You could laze in the huge pool with swim up bar or enjoy the beach like a beachbum. The beach here was so beautiful, clean, and full of life. We found many small seastars in the water, small fishies, and even saw a sting ray hanging out. The water was warm enough for even me and I’m always cold.

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We all had an amazing time at Beaches Negril. We had a lot of firsts as a family. My first time attending the awesome Social Media on the Sand Conference. Our first trip to Jamaica, first time at a Beaches resort,  first resort vacation for the kids at at all, first time they had to use passports, first time with the kids meeting “real” characters, first beach photoshoot which I’ve wanted to do for ages. Loved this entire trip.

Ever since we’ve been home I’ve been answering questions about Beaches and I’ve had one of my friends book a trip for next year to Beaches in Turks & Caicos! I would recommend this resort to any family no matter the age of your children. If you have any questions for me, I’m happy to answer. I can’t wait to go back to Beaches!

Share a Smile for World Kindness Day!!

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November 13th marks World Kindness Day.

How do you work to be kind to others?

How do you teach your children to?

Here are 3 tips to raising kind children, and inspiring them to share a smile on World Kindness day!

1. Modeling

Show your children what it means to be kind. Model kindness in your home with your family, and while you’re out in public. Hold doors, use great manners, and do good for others openly. Give compliments and kind words to people you encounter when you’re with your children, and for sure give them to your children as well.

2. Recognize Kindness in others

Bring awareness to kindness from others by pointing it out when you see an act of kindness, no matter how small. You can put this into practice even with characters in movies and television shows. Helping your child see what kindness looks like, external to their primary role models brings the lesson home even further.

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3. Share a smile!!

The easiest (and totally free!) way to show kindness is by flashing those pearly whites. Smiling (usually) elicits a smile from whoever you shared one with. Smiling has many benefits on others as well as the person doing the smiling!  The saying it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown is totally true!!

Orajel wants you to get your smile bright and healthy for sharing on World Kindness Day! We use the fun toothbrushes and kid-friendly toothpastes with favorite characters like My Little Pony and the Paw Patrol. You can have a “smile contest” with your children after they brush. Last one to stop smiling wins!

Happy World Kindness day!!! (smile)

I’m excited to partner with Orajel™ as a Smilehood ambassador for 2016. Orajel is one of the most trusted brands of pain relief and oral care solutions for babies and young children and we have used it exclusively for Rohan and Kaya from the teething tablets, to the finger toothbrush to the toothpastes they fight over. I’m joining forces with several moms to share about oral hygiene for out little ones as well as our experiences with the brand.

This post was sponsored by Orajel but you already know everything above is 100% me. Visit Orajel’s website to peep their extensive product line and get tips on keeping your children’s teeth healthy so they can smile on!