Great Lunch Box Gear & Goodies

We’re a week into the new school year, and so far, so good. Since we’re all about gear and gadgets that make life easier, I thought I’d share just a few favorite lunch box gear & goodies that have gotten our school year off to a great start!

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Genuine Thermos Brand

Probably half of my lunch box gear is Genuine Thermos Brand simply because these products work well and are durable. The Dual Lunch Kit in teal is replacing a branded Thermos lunch box that we’ve had for a few years. We’re loving this lunch kit because the dual compartments make for great space while not over complicating it. The side mesh pouch is perfect for a small water bottle or even a banana. The little pocket with a zipper is great for ice cream money.

The Funtainer Food Jar is another staple in our lunch box. The boys love the licensed characters, especially Star Wars; I personally love the versatility of the food jar. I’ve packed spaghetti, salad, mac & cheese and oatmeal, but Little’s absolute favorite lunch that I pack for him in the food jar are easy chicken fajitas (more like nuggets) with tortillas on the side. I’ll have to devote a whole post on different ideas on what to pack in these fun containers.

I used to waste money on juiceboxes, until I came to my senses. Genuine Thermos Brand Funtainer Bottles are a must for kids who have outgrown sippy cups. The ease of washing the straw pieces, lid and stainless Funtainer Bottle make bringing milk/juice/water to school that much easier.

GoGo SqueeZ Yogurtz

We’ve been longtime fans of GoGo SqueeZ, but after being introduced to their new Yogurtz line earlier this summer, we’re officially smitten. These shelf-stable yogurt packs come in three delicious flavors: banana, berry and strawberry. GoGo SqueeZ Applesauces have been some of our go-to travel snacks, so I’m glad we have another option. These convenient yogurt packs are so easy to pop into the lunch box or throw in my bag for after school snacks. And, as if we don’t love GoGo SqueeZ enough, it was recently revealed that GoGo SqueeZ was named the official applesauce for Disney World and Disneyland.

GoGo squeeZ is the presenting sponsor of allrunDisney Kids Races, a fun way to engage kids early in healthy activities as part of Disney’s race weekends. The brand is also a sponsor of the annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival and of all Disney Social Media Moms Celebrations.

Sabra Hummus

Singles ToGo Hum ClassicHummus is such a versatile snack, I love including it in the kids’ lunch box. Sabra makes it super easy with their single packs. The classic flavor hummus is a great complement for veggies, pitas, pretzels and crackers. Sabra also has individual packs of guacamole, which adds lunch quesadillas and chips.

Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars

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I’m slightly obsessed with Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars because of the great ingredients, great taste and better nutritional offerings than similar bars. Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars are non-GMO, cholesterol-free, dairy free, kosher, whole wheat, and the now have gluten-free bars. While apple is my personal favorite, we’ve been known to have a box of blueberry fig bars in our car since we’re constantly on the go.

Sneaky Chef No Nut Butter 

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Like many students, my preschooler cannot bring nut products for lunch. Though Sunbutter has been an option, it’s nice to have other alternatives onhand. We recently had the chance to taste No Nut Butter from Sneaky Chef. This delicious option is creamy and is made entirely of peas. So, not only is it a great alternative to peanut butter, it also has veggies! While I don’t typically hide ingredients, I did find this No Nut Butter a fun way to include veggies in my kids’ sandwiches. My little guy love dipping carrot and celery sticks in the No Nut Butter. It’s been an overall hit in our house! I’m currently working on a couple of recipes to keep things interesting. I’ll be sure to share!

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Nalgene Lunch Buddy

Nalgene, the maker of the incredibly durable water bottles, now makes a great lunch box. The Lunch Buddy is a lunch box that has a convenient outer case. I love the Lunch Buddy because I can easily pack my guy’s lunch and just strap it together. My 4yo can easily open and close it, which makes it ideal for preschoolers and younger grade schoolers. I love that I can just throw the lunch box into the dishwasher if something leaked. Also, the outer case can be thrown in the washing machine! So cool! Nalgene offers a lifetime warranty on all of their products, so it’s great to know that we won’t be going through a lunch box every year!

Full disclosure: I received some samples from Genuine Thermos Brand, Sneaky Chef, Nalgene and GoGo SqueeZ to facilitate these reviews and round up. As always, opinions on NKT are my own.

 

Celebrating World Play-Doh Day + Unboxing Fun Play-Doh Package

It’s World Play-Doh Day and the brand is also celebrating 60 years of fun today, September 16, 2016!  We are so thrilled to celebrate such an iconic brand, and a fun toy that has brought so many laughs and smiles to our home and millions of others.

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Over the years, we have used Play-Doh to build creatures, help with reading reinforcement, sensory play, brother bonding and so much more! We’ve made a few videos of our own, too!

 

In case your kids aren’t on YouTube as incessantly as mine, Play-Doh has an entire sector and fanbase for videos on the social platform. I can’t even tell you how many hours Littles has spent mesmerized watching people unbox cool Play-Doh sets and creating fun things with this fun squishy compound. 

 

 

It was a @hasbro superhero-filled day for this guy! #marvelspectacular

A photo posted by Jen Rabulan-Bertram (@jenrab) onOct 24, 2015 at 12:12pm PDT

 

Our friends at Hasbro know how obsessed my guys are with Play-Doh, so they sent us a fun box in celebration of World Play-Doh Day. Check out the chaos that ensued:

 



More Play-Doh, Please

Our playroom might be overflowing with every color on the spectrum of Play-Doh, but here’s just a few of the latest sets that we have our eye on:

 

Play-Doh Town 3-in-1 Town Center

This cool playset allows kids to create their own town. They can create everything from the clock tower, to the figures’ hairstyles, to the local birds hanging out on the rooftops! Before the citizens go on a downtown drive, stop at the mechanic shop to make custom hubcaps and other automotive details.

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Stamp and Roll Featuring The Minions
Combine those quirky Minions with Play-Doh, and we are officially obsessed! The rolling tools are always a hit; and I love that the Minions are Can Heads! These are two of our favorite things, so this cool collaboration will be a fun stocking stuffer or surprise.
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Doctor Drill and Fill

This set reminds me of one of my favorite Play-Doh sets as a kid. Who doesn’t love playing doctor or dentist, especially when you’re the one performing the work and NOT in that chair!912bf8282096532304af38327b2f06b8f6adf9a4

Full disclosure: Though we are genuinely obsessed, this is not a sponsored post. We did, however, receive a fun package form Hasbro. As always, opinions on NKT are my own.

Insider Tips for Shopping at The Mills at Jersey Gardens

My family has often joked that I shop like it’s my job. Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that dreams do come true! I’m so excited about my most recent partnership with one of my absolute favorite malls, The Mills at Jersey Gardens.

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Located just a few minutes outside of NYC in Elizabeth, NJ, The Mills at Jersey Gardens is an incredible shopping destination with over 200 stores, with many of them being outlets and factory stores. Just some of the featured stores include: Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH, Marshalls, Neiman Marcus Last Call, Michael Kors, Century 21 Department Store, Abercrombie & Fitch Outlet, Coach Outlet, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo.

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I was tasked with doing some back to school and fall shopping for my family and sharing my experience. So, today, for Takeover Tuesday, I over on the Mills’ Instagram sharing some of my favorite adventures from this massive outlet mall. Head over to the Mills’ Instagram account and double tap for some of my fave stuff.

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And because I’ve been obsessively shopping here for well over 10 years, I know this mall like the back of my hand. Here are just a few of my favorite insider tips.

Savings Passport

Many of the stores at The Mills are outlets or factory stores of the brands that we know and love. If you grab one of the Savings Passport at the Information Desk, you can find a list of the stores who offer additional savings. IMG 7064 2 hese discounts can often be stacked with other sales within the stores. My favorite discounts found in the Savings Passport are from the Gap, Under Armour and H&M. The discounts found in the Passport can only be used once.

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The Mills at Jersey Gardens isn’t one of those Malls that you can just run in and run out. Well, it can be if you are on a mission.

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If you have the time, especially on big shopping trips or sale times, consider spending several hours at the mall. I always bring my preschooler’s stroller, which comes in handy when he gets tired and when I need a place to haul all of my bags. ha!

Prime Parking

On extremely busy shopping times, The Mills will get crowded. Best time for me is during the week without kids or when it first opens on the weekend. I recommend parking at Bed Bath and Beyond and going through the store. BBB is located upstairs and is next to many of my favorite shops. When leaving or if I have to drop bags off and go back to shop (this has happened many times) BBB is a central location. I love to pick up home essentials at this Bed Bath, which is perfect since I can grab it on my way out. Not to mention, Bed Bath and Beyond has a bathroom available for their shoppers which is located by the Registry area, somewhat close to the back door! It’s always quiet, there’s a changing table and rarely has a line. Perfect for families with littles!

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From our latest trip to The Mills, I grabbed a ton of basics and grabbed a few new fun accessories for myself! If you’re looking for a new bag or wallet, don’t forget to check out Michael Kors, the Coach Outlet and the newly opened Kate Spade downstairs. 

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As a sports mama, we go through athletic clothes, sneakers and cleats incessantly. Be sure to check out the massive Marshalls for cleats for kids and adults. I always save at least 50% on cleats at this location. This time around, I bought my big guy some new Nike football cleats for $20. I spotted the same ones at a big box sports store for $45! Score!

Don’t forget to catch me on The Mills at Jersey Gardens’ Instagram page!

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I received compensation to share my experience. 

Getting the Dirt on Germs at Lysol Germ School

 This is a sponsored post. Thank you for supporting The Next Kid Thing.

 

Before the kids go back to school, I went back to school—Lysol Germ School—to get a crash course on germs.

 

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Photo credit: Will Star


Hosted by my friends, Audrey and Vera, several of my blogger friends and I gathered together in a very chic classroom setting at Offsite in NYC.

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Photo credit: Will Star

 

 

 

After catching up with friends and grabbing breakfast, including a delicious smoothie from House of Juice, I settled in to my desk right in the front of the class. Audrey and Vera welcomed us and gave us a great overview of what to expect.

 

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 Photo credit: Will Star



Germ expert, Joe Rubino, led an informative discussion on the different types of germs. 

Key facts that I learned: bacteria can be reproduced inside or outside the body as they cause infections and viruses need to be inside living cells in order to grow and reproduce.

 

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Photo credit: Will Star

 

Another very memorable fact from Rubino’s slide show was that people with cold and flu infections can spread the virus to others up to about 6 ft. away.

As the R&D Director, Hygiene Personal Care & Surface at RB, Rubino is considered an expert in hygiene and hygiene-related fields. Needless to say, with two school-aged kids, I was all ears during the crash course on germs.

For a closer look at how to avoid and control the spread of germs, Rubino led an exercise where we spread a gel on our hands and were then asked to wash with soap.

We all scrubbed our hands, presumably how we’d do it at home and how we’d teach our kids to do. Upon our return, Rubino shined a black light on our hands to show spots that we missed or and any other dirty spots. It turns out, many of us missed washing the outer most part of our palms, right above the wrist. I washed my hands thoroughly two times and made sure to open the door with a paper towel. It turned out, I had very minimal spots that glowed in the black light. I confessed that we spent a lot of time in hospitals, so proper hand washing has ultimately become an ingrained part of our routine.

 

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Photo credit: Will Star

 

For the second part of our day at Lysol Germ School, I sat in on a roundtable discussion with pediatric consultant Dr. Jennifer Zubler. She answered many of our questions about health. She reinforced that hand washing with soap is the most effective way to avoid the spread of germs.

Sanitizers, such as the alcohol-based gels that are common in our mom bags, are the next best thing. Sanitizer is not as effective, but it works when you don’t have access to soap and water. Someone asked about how to clean electronic devices to avoid the spread of germs. Dr. Zubler recommended using Lysol Disinfecting Wipes when it comes to cleaning screens and keyboards.

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Photo credit: Will Star

 

According to the CDC, 38 million school days are missed due to the flu and tens of millions more are lost due to colds. Practicing healthy habits like hand washing and surface disinfection can help prevent the spread of germs, helping reduce the number of sick days.

At our school, multiple canisters of Lysol Disinfectant Wipes are at the top of the school supply list. I use Lysol around the house, in almost every room because I have two boys who gravitate to anything gross. I tend to pick up multiple packs from Harmon or Bed Bath and Beyond, where I can use our 20% off.

 

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Photo credit: Will Star

As a Box Tops collecting family, I loved learning that Lysol has partnered with Box Tops for Education as the exclusive household cleaning brand. You can help support your child’s school with Lysol Disinfecting Wipes and Lysol Disinfectant Spray, which are eligible for Box Tops redemption. And speaking of great partnerships: Lysol has partnered with the National Education Association (NEA) and National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to create the Healthy Habits Program. Healthy Habits Week will kick off on September 19, the peak back to school season. To learn more about the Healthy Habits Program and family activities on healthy habits, check out Lysol.com/HealthyHabits

 Start the new school year off with a fresh and healthy start by revisiting proper hand washing and sneezing techniques. Cover your mouth and wash your hands with soap is a constant refrain with my guys!

 

Full disclosure: I was compensated for participating in Lysol Germ School hosted by Audrey and Vera. As always, opinions on NKT are my own

Back to School with Hudson Jeans

Hudson just might be one of my new favorite denim brands for kids. According to Hudson, they’re favorites among the masses, too—Hudson is the #1 selling kids’ denim. Coincidentally, North West, as in Kim K.’s tot, has been spotted in these super stylish jeans.

 

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As a boy mom, I love the fact that Hudson has so many stylish options for boys. Hudson has a very cool french terry jeans that’s soft and offers a slight stretch. Boys will appreciate the soft feel to these jeans that offer both style and comfort. All boys’ Hudson jeans offer a 1% stretch; french terry is offered in sizes 0-20. Hudson also does cool novelty pieces such as denim jackets and bombers, with many more outerwear pieces to come.

 

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Hudson offers several stylish fits, such as the Parker (straight leg), the Jagger (slim straight) and the Jude (very slim.) Some Hudson detailing includes acid wash, shreds, patchwork and more. I’m excited that Hudson also offers joggers, which are super popular for my sporty guy.

 

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My older guy typically shys away from anything that has too much deconstructed detailing, yet he really digs the fraying and shreds on the Parker Five-Pocket French Terry. The texture of these jeans is incomparable.

 

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It’s super soft, but structured. We paired these jeans with one of his favorite Zara tees, and will definitely look into investing in a Hudson bomber for the fall.

 

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Full disclosure: we were provided with a sample to facilitate this review. As always, all opinions on NKT are my own.

Back to School Style with True Religion

Since we’re talking about back to school trends, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some of the hottest styles in kids’ clothes. A few weeks ago, we were invited to a special blogger preview of Five Star Apparel’s fall line hosted by my friend, Brianne of Stroller in the City.

 In specific, I had the chance to check out just a few of Five Star’s brands up close including, True Religion. 

 

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True Religion, known for their denim, has a strong boys’ line that features classic, yet modern pieces with an edge. They have a corduroy that’s lightweight and has a soft, velvety feel. These corduroy are so soft and stylish, the first thought that came to mind was: this lightweight corduroy would be ideal for kids who may not typically wear jeans because of the feel. The soft textured corduroy from True Religion is a great alternative to denim.

True Religion’s iconic horseshoe logo and signature stitching are among many of the details that make this brand stand out. Other core elements from their Fall line include: French Terry, Jogger in Indigo, camo and branded tees. One of my personal favorites was the letterman’s jack, which underscores the classic meets modern aesthetic of True Religion.

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We were sent samples to try out. Upon first impression, it’s clear why True Religion is popular. From the detailing to the textures, True Religion is comfortable and stylish without too much edge. We embrace modern classic with everything we wear, so this brand suits us perfectly.

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The Geno Single End and True Buddha Tee were a match for my spunky preschooler: cool, but fun. True Religion’s strengths are the stitching and signature pockets. The tee is soft, yet durable, with just enough branding to stay stylish and true to his rough and tumble character.

 

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Full disclosure: I was provided with samples to facilitate this review. As always, opinions on NKT are my own.

KidzVuz Back to School Bash

Heat wave aside, school lists and back to school bargains are starting to roll out! Thank goodness for our friends at KidzVuz, we had the chance to check out more back to school trends at their recent Back to School event.

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At KidzVuz’ events I love bringing along my bigger guy to help scope out all the cool stuff. This time around though, my guy was busy with summer sports, so I attended solo. Nevertheless, I met with so many great brands, two new brands had young spokespeople and entrepreneurs at the helm. 

 

LuckyBar

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LuckyBar protein bars was a product of a mom’s ingenuity. When one of her sons wasn’t eating much, she was elated when he ate a protein bar. Because of this, she wanted to share these bars with other families so that kids could enjoy a great tasting protein bar while placating a finicky palate. I absolutely enjoyed the Chocolate Campfire and it was no surprise that my own finicky eater devoured the LuckyBar sample I brought home. I had the chance to chat with the founder’s son, which I’ll share in another post.

Classroom Direct

 

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Back to school also means shopping for new supplies, not only for students, but for teachers, too! Classroom Direct is a one-stop online shop for teachers’ supplies, school supplies and other educational supplies. I loved learning that Classroom Direct has all kinds of learning resource supplies for teachers such as Common Core Curriculum kits and posters; classroom management tools such as, really cool timers, certificates and charts; and even gear and supplies for special needs students. I loved checking out the sensory animals stuffed with a beady-like material. They were a bit weighted, so toys like these double as tools for students with sensory issues. 

 

 

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Juicy Juice

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Never one to miss out on delicious snacks and treats, I loved that Juicy Juice was at the Kidz Vuz Back to School event. I loved having a chance to taste the Juicy Juice Splashers, which is a mix of filtered water and juice. Juicy Juice Splashers has 50% less sugar, no added sweeteners and definitely no high fructose corn syrup or unnecessary colors. Flavors in the Juicy Juice Splashers line up include: Berry Lemonade, Peach Mango and Tropical Twist. I had the Tropical Twist and couldn’t get enough.

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Zandra

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I have to say, meeting Zandra and testing out this young entrepreneur’s line of natural beauty products was probably the highlight of the KidzVuz Back to School event. I loved learning that she started her business after constantly asking her dad for new lip balm, and frustrated with buying her so many lip balms, he told her to research and make her own. And she did.

IMG 4383The fact that Zandra researched the benefits of natural ingredients and fragrances makes her products even better. Her big balms, sugar scrubs, soaps and lotions boast delicious scents such as: Almond Alfresco, Japanese Kumquat, Lavender Vanilla Chai, Lemon Tea Tree and For the Love of Mint. These products are currently available Be on the look out for Zandra’s Beauty Products at select retail locations and online because they are absolutely divine!

 

Philips 

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The Philips Sonicare Electric Toothbrush for kids is one of my all time favorite toothbrushes for my guys. The brush allows for personalization, as well as a powered, more efficient toothbrushing experience,  with upwards to 500 strokes per second. The built in timer is helpful, especially for those brushers who finish after 3 seconds of brushing. Need even more help to get the kids brushing their teeth with more care? There’s an app for that!

 

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Philips has an interactive app for kids to brush along with, to help them keep the task at hand while coaching and motivating them along the way. What’s even cooler? The Philips Sonicare Electric Toothbrush for kids has a super cool Ice Age themed brush to go hand in hand with the latest release of Collision Course. 

Mabel’s Labels

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As always, KidzVuz has such a fun swag bag filled with gear and gadgets to try out on our own to share on our sites. I love that Mabel’s Labels Write Away Labels found their way into the bags. These handy labels are durable labels that can be customized by you. These writeable, self-laminating labels are perfect for when you don’t necessarily need a singular name to label your belongings. I often use these for containers that my boys use interchangeably. 

Full Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I am being compensated to share my experience at the KidzVuz BTS Event, however all opinions on NKT are my own. 

Back to School Must Haves from Momtrends’ Back to School Bash

 

We’re still very much in summer mode, however, when it comes to trend spotting and scouting the best kids’ products, we’re always looking ahead. Last week, together with many of my blogger friends, we descended upon Momtrends’ Back to School Bash to check out some of the coolest gear and gadgets for Back to School.

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Joules

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I had the chance to meet British clothing brand, Joules at the Momtrends’ Back to School Bash. This brand makes beautiful, classic yet modern clothes with bold prints. The girls’ styles were age-appropriate, yet super stylish. The boys’ looks were polished, classic and fun. I loved the boots and outerwear and the vibrant colors that make these pieces stand out!

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Aidan, my friend Alicia from Mommy Delicious’ son, modeling some looks from Joules.

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Paula’s Choice

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Always on the hunt for new skincare lines that work for me, it was great meeting Paula’s Choice. While Paula’s Choice makes a variety of products designed for different skin types, I particularly loved learning about their Clear line which is designed for oily and acne-prone skin. Paula’s Choice products are intended not to be irritating, so there are no fragrances or dyes or anything that could be harmful to your skin.

 

Vamousse

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photo credit: Momtrends

Having kids in school, there’s no doubt that at one point you’ll be faced with sick kids and possibly receiving a note from the school nurse that someone in your child’s class may be infected with lice. That dreaded letter has found its way to my son’s backpack this year more times than I could count. Lucky us, products like Vamousse are designed to be effective yet non-toxic. At any given time, I always have a Vamousse treatment kit in my arsenal, knowing that lice infestations can happen at any time with 2 boys in school. I also like that they have Lice Defense Daily Shampoo as well as Lice Elimination Powder. And, yay me! I won a cool Amazon gift card from Vamousse at the event. Thanks for being a sponsor!

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Thanks to Vamousse, we were treated to a braid bar from Glam Squad. I had a great time getting my hair braided and catching up with Julie Cole, one of the founders of Mabel’s Labels! 

Chewbeads

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Known for their teething-friendly accessories, Chewbeads were onhand at the Momtrends Back to School Bash to showcase their new line of JuniorBeads. Perfect as accessories for kids, these necklaces, bracelets and pendants are made with silicone and can double as sensory tools. My younger guy has special needs and low tone, and we often have to exercise his jaw muscles with chewing on things, so these pendants would be perfect for him. Have a kid who bites their nails or needs some sort of sensory tool? JuniorBeads would be ideal for them. I love the necklaces, shark tooth pendant and that military tag!

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Mabel’s Labels

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One of my family’s must-haves year-round, Mabel’s Labels showcased several new designs, combo pack and a cool new school years memory book. I’m eyeing the limited edition zombie design for my tween who has outgrown the cutesy designs. The School Years Memory book is a perfect solution for parents who want to collect special certificates, awards and occasional artwork. I love the oversized size that can actually fit the giant posters that the kids bring home. The price is right around $30, making this affordable and an absolute necessity when organizing for the school year. 

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Nalgene

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As a lunchbox enthusiast and gadget nerd, I absolutely loved learning about Nalgene’s new Lunchbox Buddy. This durable and versatile lunchbox is made with the same material that makes Nalgene so popular. I love that these lunch boxes are simple and rugged; the box itself can be thrown in the dishwasher and the outer case can be thrown in the washing machine—perfect my messy kids! And something that I never knew: all Nalgene products have a lifetime warranty. How’s that for awesome? I truly respect brands, especially ones that accommodate kids, that can stand behind their own reliability.

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Earth’s Best and Ella’s Kitchen

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In between school, sports, volunteering and all of the other demands of life, some days, we need an easy dinner solution. (ok, most days) Thank goodness for Earth’s Best. Earth’s Best has an extensive line of frozen foods that are geared to families. These products are void of all the bad ingredients, but packed with flavor and portability to boot. I loved tasting the different flavors, with the mini meatballs and pepperoni stuffed bites as my favorites. I will be adding Organic Fruit Cups into our lunch box rotation for when cheap fruit is no longer an option!

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Sister brand, Ella’s Kitchen has been a mainstay in our pantry since Littles started eating solids. I love the delicious flavors they offer for baby foods, and their Nibbly Fingers are the best for babes and toddlers. I loved learning about their smoothies, which I’ve been including in my preschooler’s summer school lunch box. Those things are a hit!

 

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Keen

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Keen, known for their awesome sandals, was featuring highlights from their fall lineup. I’m eyeing several boots and hightops from my guy. I adored the sparkly hightops for girls, only wishing they came in my size. I appreciate that this brand is known for their casual and rugged look and feel, which is ideal for school-aged kids.

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Wall Pops

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Wall Pops offers a great selection of wall coverings that can be used as decor or as functional tools that are helpful for staying organized or informed. Always a fan of the oversized calendars, I love that they have maps and dry erase wall pops that make our school days seamless. We like using Wall Pops as calendars and as an unobtrusive way of reminding us what to do and when! My friends and I loved hanging out in the photo booth, thanks to Wall Pops!

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A big thank you to Momtrends for having me once again at the Back to School Bash. As always, I loved checking out the awesome trends for fall, as well as hanging out with my girls!

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Full disclosure: I received a generous swag bag and won a gift card at this event. As always, all opinions on NKT are my own.

 

 

The Secret Life of Pets is a Fun Ride with Furry, Fluffy and Feathered Friends

Every now and then, a movie comes along that brings together a star-studded cast to deliver a funny and feel-good story while truly living up to its hype—and The Secret Life of Pets does just that!

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The Secret Life of Pets, from Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures, is an imaginative and hilarious portrayal of city pets that shows what happens when unlikely characters work together and find the value of friendship and loyalty in the process. Max, the terrier, is well-loved by his owner and embraces the life of a solo pet. That is, until his owner, Katie, introduces an oversized upheaval to the home: Duke the Newfoundland.

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The newly-minted frenemies, Max and Duke, as well as their fluffy, furry and feathered band of domesticated friends find themselves in quite a storied predicament that leads to them exploring the city streets and navigating the underbelly of the city where the “flushed” animals go to live. On their adventure, Max and Duke meet stray cats, a psychotic bunny, Tattoo the pig, among other colorful characters.

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The Secret Life of Pets is a great mix of silly antics and clever comedy, which appeals to both kids and parents. Surprisingly, the music complemented the story well, between the composed poodle headbanging to System of a Down, classic songs weaved throughout and Basement Jaxx’s Do Your Thing from the trailer. Semi-spoiler: my older son squealed when he realized the song during the sausage factory scene. Grease fans will appreciate it!

My kids, who are 4 and 8, both enjoyed the film from start to finish and continually quote it every time there’s a relevant reference.  While drinking milk: “Chug, chug, chug…” Their favorite parts of The Secret Life of Pets revolve around pooping and the dogs drinking (chugging) out of the toilet. Naturally.

 

 

A photo posted by Jen Rabulan-Bertram (@jenrab) onJun 23, 2016 at 8:04pm PDT

In line with the silliness, its the collective cast of characters and the voice actors who make this film an instant classic! My kids and I watched the screening before I read up on the voice actors, and I loved the surprise when I realized who voiced whom. With the big push for this film, it was hard to avoid that surprise, but it’s definitely cool for the adults to associate the actors to the characters they voice in the film.

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A few favorite voices from The Secret Life of Pets: Louis C.K.(Louie) is mild-mannered Max the Terrier, Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) is the fluffy Newf who uses his size to his advantage, Lake Bell’s Chloe the cat embodies the dissociation of felines in general and the crazy, but lovable Snowball the bunny was brought to life by Kevin Hart.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview several of the actors who voiced these fun pets. It was, hands-down, one of the funniest interviews I’ve done yet.

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Before Hollywood, Eric Stonestreet, grew up at a farm in Kansas, so he has had animals his whole life. With respect to Duke he said: “ I think when you meet him at the beginning of the movie you think one thing about him, that he’s kind of a bully and kind of a tough guy, —mildly a tough guy because he is protecting something. We don’t know what that is. And I think we all do that as people; we put up a front in certain situations. So, I relate to him in that way, that you kind of protect yourself a little bit and hide what’s maybe sometimes going on behind the scenes. And he is fun and lovable. He’s a lap dog. I think I’m kind of a little bit of a lap dog.”

For a little fluffy bunny, Kevin Hart’s Snowball does an admirable job leading a revolution for his fellow flushed animals. Hart’s small but fierce mentality and self-deprecating humor is a perfect complement to his character. Well known for sharing his daily adventures as a parent, comedian and personality on social media, I used the opportunity as a fellow social media enthusiast to see what Snowball would do. That should be a thing, right? What Would Snowball DO? (WWSD) Ha!
Hart had us cracking up, but inspired at the same time: 

“Snowball is a leader.  And he is starting a revolution, so everything is about recruiting.  You know, if he was on there, I don’t think it would be in the realm of my Snapchats.  Snowball’s are strictly PSA messages of join the movement, join the revolution.  And it’s basically against people.  

He is basically fussing at people.  That’s why I love Snowball.  But, his anger is justified.  Snowball doesn’t like people just–it’s not like he just doesn’t like people just because they’re people.  He doesn’t like people because he was hurt.  He bought into the whole person and pet reality.  And when he was hurt by that because someone abandoned him, it really threw him off. That’s what I love about this character, you know.  

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I don’t just do things just to do them.  I have to put depth to it.  And that’s with any movie that I’ve done.  I think I’m very funny in every movie that I’ve done, and the movies have progressed, but the reason why the characters are always funny is because there is a foundation underneath the character.  And that’s what me and the director talked about.  I was like, “I don’t just want to play the guy because he’s funny.  What’s the foundation?”  

And being that Snowball was hurt is one thing, but then I made him insecure.  You notice he’s very insecure.  You know, he gives out these orders, but then he questions the orders that he gave out, you know.  “Everybody listen.  Raise your hand unless you’re tired.  Unless your arm is tired.  Put your arm down.  You don’t have to raise your hand.”  And it’s funny.  You laugh at it, but it shows you that he’s not really the guy that he’s being.  This is a manufactured version of himself, which justifies when he gets the hug at the end–he melts.”

It’s always fun chatting with talent to hear what makes them tick as actors, but also to get their perspective on the film and their contribution of their characters in the film. In the end, The Secret Life of Pets is a fiercely funny story, but it’s the underlying story of loyalty, kindness and staying true to yourself that makes this a feel-good film, and one that is absolutely our favorite family film this summer! 

The Secret Life of Pets is out in theaters July 8. You can purchase your tickets to The Secret Life of Pets on Fandango.

 

New York is My Playground Review + Familiar Cameo

With photography by Jane Goodrich and written by Bob Raczka, New York is My Playground is a new book with a collection of fun and artistic portraits of kids enjoying the beauty of NYC.  As an NYC/NJ transplant, this book celebrates everything that I’ve ever hoped for my kids. The city’s beloved structures, everyday motions of life, landmarks and art installations are the perfect backdrop for a storied childhood for those who live in and around NYC.

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The photos are compelling, the text is relatable and the story is timeless. New York is My Playground embraces the innocence of children and the simplicity of the juggernaut that is NYC. The 32-page hardcover book is geared to the 3-7 age range, but would be a perfect addition to any family’s library.

As a blogger, I’ve had the unique opportunity to meet and work with some of the most artistic and creative minds in the business. Jane Goodrich, an accomplished photographer based in Larchmont, NY, has a penchant for storytelling. Her playful spirit and candor resonates with kids; we have gorgeous portraits of our kids as proof.

One fall afternoon in 2013, Jane asked us to meet her at Central Park for a shoot. We took some fun photos near the Conservatory Water. This was actually a rescheduled meeting because Littles had a seizure and was hospitalized the day before we were supposed to meet. All’s well that ends well.

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Littles was about 20 months old at the time, and because of his medical issues and requisite delays, he couldn’t walk yet, so I remember Big Brother having to help lug him into various positions. At one point, I thought Littles was going to fall into the pond, but thankfully, we averted any impromptu swims. You can see Bigs trying to hold him back below. 

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We followed Jane’s lead and took more photos at the Alice in Wonderland sculpture and even threw some leaves around.

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Just as we were finishing up, though, we passed the iconic Hans Christian Andersen sculpture and Jane asked J to hop on and take a nap. It was spontaneous and silly, something that J can tackle well. The final pose yielded the photo in New York is my Playground, which captured a smirking 6 year old J, who is play-sleeping on the Hans Christian Andersen sculpture in Central Park. 

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Family Portraits with Jane Goodrich

The first time we met Jane 3 years ago, she photographed our family at our family’s favorite local backdrop, our lake. 2013 was in the thick of our family’s turbulent times. In fact, Littles had a 2-hour EEG the morning before we had our photoshoot. I think Josh was having some questionable behavior relating to his meds, so our dr. called for an immediate EEG. Looking back, you’d never guess that hours before the photos were taken that my baby had 20-something electrodes glued to his scalp.

 

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You’d never know that my older boy was starting to develop anxious behavior relating to his brother’s condition. And you most certainly couldn’t tell that our world was unraveling in real life. The absolute best family photographers can see beyond the surface and capture the essence and underlying beauty. 

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Time and again, Jane has been able to capture Biggie’s charm and effervescence. She’s been able to frame Little’s bold and mischevious side and the juxtaposition of personalities of our whole family. As a writer who’s often behind the camera, I treasure all of my family’s photos, especially the rare ones where I’m included.

 

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If you’re looking for a talented family photographer who has a gift for capturing the essence of kids, be sure to reach out to check out Jane Goodrich Photography.

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I know books see many proofs before the final copy, so it was a honor that J was included in this fun book. New York is My Playground ($14.95) is on bookshelves now, and it’s something we’ll cherish for a very long time!  Congrats, Jane!