Setting up Your Backyard for an Awesome Summer

By Hannah West

All it takes to make summer summer is a backyard, sunshine, refreshing drinks, and water to splash around in. But an awesome summer requires a little more than that. From comfy patio furniture to outdoor games, make your home the entertainment hub of the season with a few of these essentials.

Arts and Crafts Station

While playing in the sprinkler hardly ever gets old, your kids may eventually want to vary it up when it comes to outdoor activities. An arts and crafts station can give them a break from exercising and allow them to rest while making something they can feel proud of. Set up supplies to make a nature collage, or beads and thread to make jewelry. The backyard is a great place for kids to get their messy on without you worrying about the consequences, so feel free to involve the fingerpaints–just make sure to store them in the shade or indoors.

Lounging Area

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Via Modernize

No backyard is complete without a spot to sprawl out with a margarita or an enchanting book.  Start with outdoor-friendly furniture than can withstand the elements, and then embellish with touches like bright summery pillows and a beverage cart. If you don’t want to drag furniture back and forth between the sun and the shade depending on your mood, set up two outdoor lounge areas that can meet your hourly sunlight needs.

DIY Lanterns or String Lights

Great lighting is a backyard summer must. If you don’t want the party to end when the sun goes down, you’re going to need more than a porchlight and a few tiki torches. Put up string lights over your seating or dining area, or make your own lanterns out of empty wine bottles or jars. You can also punch holes in tin cans or hang tea candles from trees with ribbon.

Tree Swing

If there’s anything kids (and sometimes adults) love, it’s a tree swing. Setting up a tree swing is an easy afternoon project, whether you opt for a store-bought swing or make one out of extra wood and rope yourself. Make sure to pick the perfect spot that’s clear of obstacles and a branch that’s parallel to the ground for optimum safety and fun.

Outdoor Dining Area

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Via Modernize

An eating area is an non-negotiable requisite of outdoor entertaining. Try to find a shaded area for your table and chairs, and make sure to buy durable plastic dishware so you don’t have to risk the wellbeing of your nice dinner dishes. Spruce up the area with candles, flowers, or herb pots to bring a little of the indoor sophistication outdoors.

Beverage Station

If you can’t pull off a full-on backyard kitchen, you and your guests can still enjoy the luxury of cool iced tea or beers as close as a few paces away. A drink station keeps you from having to play host/hostess or worrying about wet and muddy footprints on your floors. Chuck the simple cooler in favor of a full-on spread like a beverage cart or table with dispensers. Add striped straws and ever-trusty mason jars for an easy whimsical touch.

Fire Pit

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Via Modernize

Nothing says summer nights like a bright fire and ‘smores. A fire pit helps get the group together for a more intimate conversational time as the activities wind down. It also saves you the trouble of having to make a dessert!

For more ideas and inspiration, head to

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Best Single Serve Coffee Makers Under $100

The leading coffee manufacturers have created a variety of appealing and affordable coffee machines in recent times. Coffee lovers have enjoyed making lattes and macchiatos in the Bosch Tassimo machine. The Cookworks signature espresso has taken pride of place in the kitchens of various home-owners.  However, in this article we’re going to be focusing on those single-serve coffee machines that have the merits of being easy to use, producing coffee house quality beverages and costing less than $100.


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Nescafe Dolce Gusto Piccolo

You can expect coffee machines bearing the Nescafe brand name to be of exceptional quality. After all, the Swiss manufacturer has been practicing the fine art of coffee making since the 1930’s. They have put this experience to use in the creation of the distinctive Dolce Gusto product line. All of these single serve coffee machines deliver up to 15 bar pressure and guarantee the creation of seriously tasty coffee house brews.  Also the innovative easy to use capsule system by Dolce Gusto ensures that each cup you make is fresh and delicious.

The Nescafe Dolce Gusto Piccolo machine certainly lives up to it’s billing of being ‘petite and powerful’. This stylish and compact machine measures, 11.3(H) by 8.66(W) inches, so it won’t take up too much kitchen space. It is also extremely functional. You fill up the water reservoir, insert your chosen coffee pod, select the temperature and then watch it brew your cafe quality beverages. It is even possible to alter the amount of water for soothing or energizing beverages. The Piccolo machine is available for the budget-friendly price of $44.99.


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Keurig Mini Plus Brewing System

Now you’re probably tempted to shoot straight to Nescafe’s Dolce Gusto website and buy the generously priced Piccolo machine. However, it’s worth checking out the plus-points of other coffee makers such as the Keurig Mini Plus. This machine is more of a kitchen counter hog than the Dolce Gusto. However, it allows you to brew a mighty mixture of beverages from the K-cup range. You can even concoct hot mugs of tea and frothy hot chocolate.

It is worth pointing that the Mini Plus was designed following bad reviews of the Keurig Mini. Customers said that it was too easy to make the error of over filling the original machine. However, the Mini Plus comes with helpful guidelines and water sensors. The coffee making process is also very simple. You can alter the cup sizes and detach the drip tray for easy cleaning. This is one of Keurig’s most affordable coffee makers at a price of $99.99.


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Mr Coffee Brewing System

It seems that Keurig have made a real effort to focus on budget-conscious home brewers. They have even teamed up with Mr Coffee to produce one of the best coffee makers under $100. This brewing system does take longer than the Mini Plus to make the distinctive K-cup beverages. There have also been complaints about the warmth of drinks made in the Mr Coffee machine. Coffee lovers have even had the inconvenience of heating their freshly made drinks in the microwave.

Of course there are some good reasons to choose the Mr Coffee machine. It has a fairly smart appearance, enhanced by the Keurig brand name. This coffee maker is also really easy to use. You simply place a K-cup in the coffee slot, pour in the water and press the brew button. The coffee tastes absolutely great. And the Mr Coffee Machine is available for a mid-range price of $89.99.

The Purchasing Decision

All of the coffee machines listed in this article are worth checking out. They are all built to last, so you can look forward to the drinking outstanding coffee-house brews time and time again. The buying decision may be even depend on whether you like K-cups or Dolce Gusto capsules best. If you’re still unsure then it would be an idea to take a look at the manufacturer’s descriptions of these quality machines.

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto®. For the most up to date information on single serve coffee makers, specialty coffee pods, and offers by NESCAFÉ® Dolce Gusto® company, please visit the website at:

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Good-for-you Spaces: 8 Ways to Make Your Home Healthier

Life & Beauty Weekly: Health

Good-for-you Spaces: 8 Ways to Make Your Home Healthier

By Shana Aborn for Life & Beauty Weekly

You already know that to stay well, you need to eat healthy foods, exercise and get plenty of sleep. But you need to keep your home healthy too! Your house’s air quality and the products you use every day can all have an effect on your health and that of your family. Here’s how to make your home a safer and healthier place to live:

  • Get rid of mold. “Mold is a very important public health problem,” says award-winning epidemiologist Dr. Devra Davis, co-founder of the Environmental Health Trust. The black yucky stuff can make allergy symptoms worse and even contribute to breathing problems. To keep mold at bay, inspect your home for leaks and condensation and keep rooms as dry as possible. If you find mold, Davis recommends scrubbing it with a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. But if the problem is widespread, call your local public health department to take care of it.
  • Consider natural cleaning solutions. Some commercial household cleaners contain ingredients that can be harmful or even fatal if inhaled or swallowed (e.g., bleach or petrochemicals). For many cleaning jobs, though, you can use products with plant-based ingredients. Or you can do your DIY cleaning with baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar, which are all natural cleaners and disinfectants.
  • Use reusable microfiber rags and mops. Reusable dust rags save you money and help the environment. And reusable mops use less water and, says Davis, “you can remove and switch the head of the mop so when you go from room to room, you can reduce the chance of spreading infection.”
  • Take your shoes off in the house. Dirt, germs and chemicals — particularly lawn pesticides — cling to the soles of your shoes and get tracked through your home. Making a no-shoes rule will keep dirt and germs at bay while also reducing the frequency with which you need to clean.
  • Test your home for radon. This odorless gas comes from the earth under your house, and long-term exposure can lead to cancer. You can pick up an inexpensive testing kit at most hardware stores.
  • Clean your shower curtain regularly. The combination of constant moisture, dirt and soap scum makes your shower curtain a haven for bacteria. Machine-wash it along with a cup of vinegar, and then hang it up to dry.
  • Put the lid down every time. If your kids often forget to put the toilet lid down before they flush, remind them of this simple (and gross!) fact: When you flush with the lid open, the whole bathroom can get covered with a fine spray of fecal bacteria. Not something you want near your toothbrush!
  • Stay on top of dust. Dust doesn’t just aggravate allergies; it also contains the household chemicals that linger in your home. Dust regularly with reusable cloths. Also consider removing any wall-to-wall carpets, which tend to collect dust and dirt.


Shana Aborn is a former editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and MAMM. She has also written for Parents, Working Mother, Family Circle, and Shana is the managing editor of Life & Beauty Weekly.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links, you are helping to support my blog. Thank you.

Four Ways to Freshen Up Your Home

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5 Bad Habits You Didn’t Know You Had – Guest Post

By Sally Wadyka for Completely You

You’re conscientious about your health, so of course you try to avoid obvious bad habits — like pimple-popping — and do everything right. But sometimes you can do your skin and pearly whites more harm than good, without even knowing it. Here, five things that sound like good skin and oral health practices — and why they really aren’t.

Bad Habit No. 1: You wash your face every morning and evening.
For people with oily (or even combination) skin, twice-daily washing is probably the best approach. But if you have dry skin, that may be too much. Dry types should wash with a gentle cleanser in the evening and just splash the face with water in the morning. And even oily skin types need to be careful. “Over-washing can remove too much oil, leading to a paradoxical response from your body to overproduce oil,” explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital. “And that can actually lead to breakouts.”

Bad Habit No. 2: You stick to the same skin care regimen.

It’s a good idea to be consistent with your skin care. But you also have to be ready to adapt. “In areas where winter weather is dry and cold, you may need to switch to products that are gentler,” recommends Zeichner. Swap out your foaming cleanser or soap for a hydrating cream cleanser, and upgrade from a light lotion to a thicker moisturizer.

Bad Habit No. 3: You only moisturize when your skin feels dry.

Moisturizers do more than just hydrate. They also help repair your skin’s barrier so that it doesn’t get as easily irritated by cold, heat, and lack of humidity, so all skin types can benefit from a daily dose of the right cream or lotion. Look for an oil-free formula if you have oily skin, or a heavier one that contains petrolatum if you have dry skin. Of course, everyone can benefit from a moisturizer that contains at least SPF 30, even in winter.

Bad Habit No. 4: You assume more is better.
“Sometimes combinations of products complement each other. But often layering on too many lotions, serums and creams just causes irritation,” says Zeichner. His advice: Check the ingredient labels on your products and don’t combine those that contain retinol, alpha-hydroxy acids, salicylic acid, vitamin C or benzoyl peroxide.

Bad Habit No. 5: You brush your teeth just twice (or once!) a day.
Yes, you need to brush every morning and every night. But if you routinely drink liquids that can easily stain your teeth (like coffee and red wine), it’s a good idea to brush quickly afterwards. If that’s not convenient, dentists recommend at least swishing some water around in your mouth so that staining liquids don’t have a chance to take hold.

Recognize these bad habits? Talk about it below or connect with us @Completely_You

Sally Wadyka is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in health and lifestyle topics. A former staff writer and editor at such magazines as Mademoiselle, Women’s Sports & Fitness, Vogue and Glamour, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Prevention, Martha Stewart Living and Real

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links, you are helping to support my blog. Thank you.

4 Essential Sleep Habits for Kids

By Peg Rosen for Healthy Kids from Teeth to Feet

A good night’s sleep for grade-schoolers and teens means at least 10 hours of solid shut-eye, according to the National Institutes of Health. For preschoolers, it’s 11-12 hours, and for babies it’s up to 18. But many kids are falling short … and paying the price.

New research from The University of Chicago suggests that youngsters who don’t get enough rest are more than four times as likely to be obese as their well-rested counterparts; sleep deprivation has been shown to disrupt levels of chemicals that regulate appetite. And Spanish researchers recently found that kids who don’t log an adequate amount of shut-eye are more likely to struggle in the classroom, where poor sleep habits hinder their motivation and compromise their ability to concentrate, memorize, write and spell.

One of the biggest sleep-snatchers is electronics, according to Timothy F. Hoban, director of pediatric sleep medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center. “Thirty years ago, there were no game systems, personal computers or mobile phones. This technology is now commonplace and often available in the child’s own room,” he says. But bad sleep habits are also to blame.

Here are Hoban’s top tips for getting your kids’ sleep situation under control:

  • Keep a regular bedtime schedule: Not just on school days, but seven days a week. “Children who are weekend night owls or sleep in on the weekends will often have a very different sleep pattern than they do on weekdays, increasing the likelihood for insomnia during the week and making it more difficult for them to fall asleep at an appropriate time on school nights,” says Hoban.
  • Establish and follow a regular bedtime routine: Easing the transition to nighttime sleep is almost as crucial for older kids as it is for young ones. About 15-30 minutes before bedtime, try to establish a calm atmosphere in the house. Pry kids away from electronics and encourage them to chill out for a while and read. Make it clear that computers, handheld games and phones must be turned off for the night.
  • Balance and prioritize: After-school activities are great. But if your child is so overscheduled that she’s up late doing homework and tossing in bed over all she has to do, it’s time to identify what’s really important … and eliminate the activities that aren’t.
  • Walk the walk: No need to hit the sack at 8 p.m. However, parents who have regular sleep patterns and healthy sleep habits are important role models for their kids. That means not keeping the house hopping till the wee hours on an ongoing basis. And maybe even moving the television out of your bedroom. You might just end up better-rested yourselves.


has contributed to numerous magazines and websites, including Healthy Kids, MORE, Redbook, SELF, Real Simple, Parents, Family Circle, American Baby, and She blogs at

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Guest Post – Engaging Children in Creative Activities

Photo credit: Crafty Kids Online

Submitted on behalf of Primrose Schools: preschools committed to excellence by Emily Patterson (@epatt1062)

Many parents have been guilty of sitting the kids in front of television or video games so they can get something done. But, when kids are spending far too much time engaging in television or games and not playing on their own, problems can develop. Ninety percent of children spend at least 30 minutes a day playing computer, web or console games, and every teen plays these games regardless of gender or economic status.

So how do parents get the kids away from these devices? By engaging them in fun games, even if in the beginning they have to be forced to do more than playing computer games. Parents have to start engaging their children in creative play, as it helps them develop their mental and social skills. An important aspect of creative fun is that parents should involve themselves in these activities. It is a great way to get the kids talking about their lives when the parents are bonding through playtime.

Ten Ways to Engage Children in Creative Activities

1. Nature walks – the fall season is the perfect time to pack the family up for a hike in the woods enjoying the changing colors of the leaves. While kids may initially moan and groan, make the adventure fun by including games such as “I Spy” where someone states that they spy a thing, describe what it is they see, and others have to guess what and where that thing is located. The person who gets the most right answers gets a special treat or to pick out the restaurant for lunch. Make it fun to engage the whole family, encouraging teamwork.

2. Holidays cards – holidays usually involve spending money on cards for family and friends. Around September, have the kids start making all their holiday cards for the year. This can be as complicated or as simple as the parents determine. Older kids can buy card making kits and design their own creative greeting cards, and small children just need paper, crayons, glitter and whatever else they want to use for their cards. This will provide days and hours of using creative thinking skills.

3. Holiday decorations – decorating the house for Halloween and all the other holidays can become a family project. Sit the family down and come up with ideas for decorations, and everyone can get involved with either making their own decorations or having the responsibility for some aspect of the decorations. The great thing about these projects is that they engage the family throughout the year. The planning can begin months before the holiday, which teaches planning and follow-through skills.

4. Photography – digital or disposable cameras can be used to encourage artistic skills in children. Plan an expedition somewhere; it can be as simple as going to the mall or the park. Each child uses their camera to photograph what they see that is interesting. The family can pick out a great photograph from each child.

5. Framing pictures – from the photography project, each child can make their own picture frame. Purchase thick cardboard, have the child decide how they want the picture framed, and parents can assist them in cutting out the frame for the picture. From there, let the child’s imagination take over as they color, use glitter, stickers, ribbons or whatever else they want in making the frame. Hang the picture on a wall and start a wall-art project with more pictures.

6. Cooking – even boys are taking cooking classes these days. Plan a cooking lesson every other month, and have the kids invite a couple of friends for a cooking lesson. Bake cookies, make a cake, or make a creative pizza. The kids can determine the recipe, and with the parents’ supervision they can spend the afternoon cooking and then eating their creation. Give the younger kids activities that are appropriate to their age, such as setting the table or stirring the cake batter.

7. Tea party – great activities for girls is an afternoon tea party. Brew some tea, make a couple crustless sandwiches, bake cookies and invite the girls for tea. Determine a theme such as each child wears their mom’s fancy hat, or makes their own crown, or come dresses as their favorite star. Then they can sit and drink their tea while pretending to be royalty. Take the opportunity to teach a few manner lessons during the party.

8. Dance party – get a dance video from the library and get the kids together for a dance party. Everyone can try to do the dances on the video or just make up their own dances and teach them to each other. This is a great indoor activity for a rainy day when the kids are just hanging around. It can be great exercise, too.

9. Read a book – remember books? Have a child select a book from the library and then spend fifteen minutes a day silently reading the book. No television, no i-pods, no computer, just silently reading a book.

10. Game night – playing board games is another blast-from-the-past that can be totally fun. There are some fun, inexpensive games that are great for the whole family. Once the kids stop moaning about having to play a game with the family, watch how much fun they have once they get into the games. Each game night a different family member gets to select the games to play, but they have to interesting the whole family.

Family Fun

Sometimes kids have to be reminded that they are still kids. Once they get involved with projects or games they really become engaged in using their minds instead of just sitting in front of some type of screen all day. Families that engage in activities as a unit raise children that are less likely to become involved in inappropriate or dangerous behaviors. Keeping children busy is the best way to keep them out of trouble.

Take a walk or play a game. Parents need to take time out of their hectic lives to interact with the children, so it is a time where each family member puts family first.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links, you are helping to support my blog. Thank you.

Kids, 1 Husband and 24 Hours in a Minivan. Five Tips on How to Survive Long Family Road Trips (Guest Post)

By Lynn Galeazza

I have been married for 8 eight years, we have 3 children who are now aged 6, 4 and 4. Call us crazy but we have been driving the 24 hours to Florida from our home in Canada every year since the children were 3, 1 and 1. My husband is the pilot; he picks the route and drives the entire time, assisting me when he can. I am more like a stewardess making sure everyone has what they need and trying to keep the conflict to a minimum. As you can imagine I have learned a few things along the way.

1. Pull out everything that you can think of, now put most of it back! To fill up your vehicle with stuff just crowds all the people inside. An entire day is a long time to have no place to put your feet or your elbows. In all likelihood you will wear the same 2 bathing suits, pair of shorts, and 3 tank tops everyday for a week. Most places you stay will come equipped with a washing machine, which you will need to get the sand out of everybody’s pockets. In all likelihood there will be a Wal-Mart, Target or Walgreens in every city that you pass through should you need anything. Consider bringing roof top storage if you are bringing strollers and playpens or larger items.

2. Do bring their favourite sleep toy, a blanket, a small pillow, at least 10 movies, colouring books, handheld games and reading material. I like to organize them into separate bins. Do not forget to purchase a couple of small new toys for each child to use as a bribe or distraction as needed.

3. Pack snacks, but before you do, if you are going to another country be sure to check with customs about what food items you are allowed to cross the border with. It is a terrible thing when you have to toss out your food at the border and can result in your being held up there for a period of time (and if you are like my husband every year you are trying to beat last year’s time). I like to bring pretzels, nuts and M&M’s, cereals in those fun little boxes and drinks.

4. Bring wipes!!! Wipes for your hands and face, gas station toilet seats, bottoms and anything else you can think of. Guaranteed your child will call out “I have to go pee”, after you have past the rest station and there is 47.5 miles until the next one. The only place to stop will be a rundown gas station or wooded area. And don’t forget to bring a garbage bag for all of those wipes and anything else that is going to land in your car.

5. Most importantly, sit back, relax, and accept that your children will ask you a million times if you are there yet, they will have to use the bathroom every 30 minutes, you will have to stop often, they will make a mess of your car, they will fight with each other and at some point you will yell at them. But you know what; it is part of the experience, par for the course, for anyone crazy enough to spend 24 hours in a car with their children.

Good luck and have fun!

About the Author:
Lynn Galeazza is a mother of three, the youngest being a set of twins. To say life is hectic is an understatement! When Lynn is not trying to be in three places at once, she does promotions for Pipsqueak Boutique, an online children’s store specializing in first birthday gifts and personalized kids gifts (the kind of gifts that make great distractions during long car rides!)

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links, you are helping to support my blog. Thank you.