Wednesday, April 25, 2018

April 2018 General Conference Study Bookmarks


Apparently I only am able to do these bookmarks in the spring, but...it's spring! And we had a wonderful General Conference at the beginning of this month. I have really enjoyed having these bookmarks to help me study conference, so I'm excited for my Ensign to come so I can get started!

One of the biggest announcements from the April 2018 General Conference was that visiting and home teaching no longer exist and are being replaced with a program simply called "ministering." I'm very excited about this change, and I look forward to having a few resources here on my blog to help out.

Many of my readers have used the past versions of these bookmarks as something to give to the sisters they visit taught, and I think they will continue to be something great to pass on to the sisters you are assigned to minister.


Note: The photo above features last year's bookmarks! And the Ensign from 2 years ago! Don't worry—when you download the bookmarks from this post you will receive April 2018 bookmarks.

I like the bookmarks because they are a visual reminder of where I am in my studies, and I work better when I study things on paper.

How to make General Conference Study Bookmarks


1. Download the Printable


In order to download the printable file, just put your email into the form below and it will be sent directly to you.


2. Print it out


The bookmark is designed to be two-sided. Print it out onto one side of your white cardstock, then reload the paper and print it on the other side. Every printer is a bit different, so make sure you know how to load the paper so it prints in the correct orientation! It should match up perfectly, though I did have trouble with my new printer in getting it aligned just right. But even though it didn't quite match up, I was able to cut it out without issue.

Alternatively, you could glue two papers together to get your front and back.



3. Laminate (optional)


I really like laminating things, so I laminate my bookmarks. They are less likely to rip or get ruined by spilling food or drink on them if they are laminated. I also like to use a dry erase marker or sharpie to keep track of which talks I have studied already.

I have this laminator, which is quite inexpensive. I use these laminating sheets and a small paper cutter.

4. Add a ribbon (also optional)


To make it look extra bookmarky and pretty, I like to punch a hole at the top and add some ribbon. I left space on the printable so you can do that if you'd like.



I printed one for me and one for The Maestro. He's more of a listen to the talks kind of guy, but he might use the bookmark here and there. I'm also definitely going to take one to the ladies I minister to this month, too!

I hope you enjoy your General Conference study bookmarks.
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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Ultimate Guide to Snapchat for Parents

Should your kid be allowed to use Snapchat? Use this parents guide to Snapchat to make the best decision for your family.


Snapchat log in screen—ultimate guide to snapchat for parents

This guide to Snapchat will answer all your questions about how Snapchat works, how to use it, and most importantly—how your kids are using it.


Snapchat.

Most parents have heard of it, usually because it is at the top of the list of apps you should never let your children have. But most parents also have no real idea how Snapchat works, nor do they understand why their kids love it so much.

When I learned just how much my kids use Snapchat, I decided to finally figure out how to use it and see what all the hoopla was about. And before you wonder why I let them have it in the first place, I'll tell you. I would rather have my children learn to use social media under my watch instead of banning it and having them either use it without my knowledge (my kids have friends whose parents do not allow the app, yet they somehow have it anyway) or get it when they leave my home and not know how to use it responsibly. I would much rather have them using it with my full knowledge, sharing their passwords with me (which I require), and discussing it with me regularly.

And that is why I have learned all I can about Snapchat in the past few months.

I've actually had Snapchat for several years now—when my eldest daughter was a freshman she told me I should get it so we could snapchat together (she is graduating from high school next month!). And I never could figure it out, so I didn't use it much. The interface was not intuitive for me at all!  I watched my daughters swipe and snap and type and filter with total ease and I was completely lost.

Until now.

Now, I am a Snapchat expert...kind of. I'm still not as fast as my kids, and my SnapScore is pathetically low, but I do finally understand the ins and outs and I am armed with the knowledge I need to help my kids navigate it safely. More importantly, I know how to see what my kids have been up to in Snapchat when I log in to their accounts (because I require passwords, remember?).

Oh—and that whole thing about it being one of the worst apps to let your kids have? I don't agree. Like any social media, Snapchat has its concerns and can be misused, but I think parents are mostly afraid of what they don't understand. I believe that if you really delve into Snapchat and see what your kids are actually doing in the app, you wouldn't worry quite so much.

The ultimate guide to snapchat for parents. Should your kids be using this app? Find out everything you need to know, and then some!


The Parent's Guide to How Snapchat Works


Snaps

Snaps are disappearing photos or videos sent back and forth and are perhaps the most concerning part of Snapchat for parents. A snap can only be viewed twice before it disappears forever. To us parents, that is hard to swallow because....what are our kids sending back and forth to each other? And while kids definitely do things like sext, bully others, and send nudes over Snapchat, that is most likely not what they are doing.

My kids use this feature most to send silly selfies to each other. Almost to the point of annoying the heck out of me when some friends send a selfie a second, but mostly it's just one or two a day. The Snaps can be doctored with filters and emojis and text and pictures and all sorts of things, so it's really fun for the kids to be creative with their snaps, too.

Depending on the friend, they also do a lot of communicating via overlaid text on these snaps. While this can be a way of hiding conversations from parents—I find that I can usually ask what's up and get a straight answer from my kids because we've developed that sort of relationship. And they know that if they are too secretive about what is going on, they will lose the privilege of using Snapchat.


I love you mom Snapchat snap


But mostly it's all just fun, even if it sometimes feels like a waste of time to us parents. And who can be upset when your kid snaps you that they love you? Not me!

One of the reasons kids love this form of communication so much is because it disappears. This is not because they are sending things they shouldn't—it's because it makes it more like hanging out. Our kids have grown up in a world where every little thing they do is documented and they spend hours obsessing about having the perfect Instagram feeds (which has actually led to them having fake Instagram feeds they don't have to obsess about quite so much) and making sure that all those saved and well documented parts of their lives are perfect. Well, they don't have to be perfect on Snapchat. And they really like that they don't have that pressure.

To send a snap, go to the snap screen and take a photo by pressing the large circle. You can take a video by holding the circle down.

Chats

Chats are basically text messages, except—you guessed it—they disappear. However, Snapchat users have the option to save chats if they want to so they won't disappear. If either end of the conversation saves a chat, it is saved for both users. My youngest daughter pretty much automatically saves every single chat she sends and receives via Snapchat, which helps me to see what she's been up to.

Because I can generally see all the chats, a few serious discussions have taken place at our house about what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable to do and say over text messaging or social media. Mostly minor middle school drama sort of stuff, which still warrants big discussions anyway before it gets completely out of control.

Related: Social Media Rules for Tweens and Teens—Teach Your Kids to Be Smart Online

You can tell if a chat has been saved because it is highlighted in grey. To save or unsave, you simply touch the line of text and it will save/unsave it. You can also hold down your finger on the line of text and see who has seen it (in group chats), who has saved it, and what time it was sent. You can also see what time chats were sent by swiping right on the chat screen.

You can see this below:

How to use the chat feature on snapchat


You can see if the other person is looking at the chat screen because their bitmoji avatar will pop up. See how Sophia popped in when I was taking the second screenshot in the photos above? Probably because she got a notification that I took a screenshot (more on that later).

As far as I can tell, Snapchat is almost the ONLY way my middle school daughter and her friends communicate. That is one reason I hesitate to take it away from her—I want her to be communicating with her friends. Learning to communicate with peers is an important skill to learn, and right now texting and social media is the way they do it. If they never actually got together in real life I might worry more, but she is part of a pretty social group who are also always hanging out and doing things together, too, so I know they are also learning in person communication skills.

Snapchat stories

Stories which last 24 hours are beginning to be more popular on other Social Media apps like Facebook and Instagram now, so you are probably more familiar with them.

On Snapchat, kids can post photos and videos to their story and their friends can see the story for 24 hours before it will automatically disappear from the profile. It is interesting to see what kids choose to post—some are very prolific and always have lots of videos, selfies, and memes posted on their stories, while others only post important events or photos of their friends when they are hanging out together.

If you want to comment on or reply somehow to someone's story, you can slide up and type something and it will be sent to them via a chat with their story attached.

The middle school set especially uses stories as a way to spread viral memes which can sometimes be concerning for parents. Things like "Send me an emoji for a TBH (to be honest)" or "Post this on your story if you think I'm ugly" can set people up to bully others and bring quite a bit of drama. Sometimes they are just fun things, but it's something that you'll want to keep an eye on as it's a good time to discuss why some of these memes are not wise to share.

Sara.hah is another app that sometimes kids attach to their stories for people to tell anonymous secrets. I do not allow my kids to use that particular app because it is too anonymous and I have seen some things on Sarahah via Snapchat that are concerning. There is already plenty to do on Snapchat without adding yet another layer.

With the latest SnapChat update, you can see stories directly on the messaging tab. When someone posts a new story, their Bitmoji avatar will show a thumbnail of the story instead. You can see below how my daughter Sophia has posted a new story, while everyone else on my list shows the avatar. Once you have watched the story it will go back to the avatar on that main page, but you can still see the story thumbnail on the person's profile and on the SnapMap if you click on them there. Stories can be watched multiple times in the 24 hour period they stay up.

How to view snapchat stories


You can swipe up on your own stories to see who has viewed them, and whether or not they have been screen shotted by anyone.

SnapMaps

If you are looking at Snapchat, you can pinch the screen and the SnapMap will pop up. Any of your friends who are sharing their location with you will show up on the map. This means your kids can see where their friends were the last time they opened Snapchat.

You can touch anyone on the map and see exactly when they were last on the app, too. If they have a story currently up it will also show that on the SnapMap. Below you can see me and my three daughters hanging out at home on the SnapMap. You can tell that I have a current story posted and Bria does not. If you were to scroll down through the names further, you would be able to see if Chloe or Sophia had a story or not, and when they last viewed SnapChat.

How the snapmap works on snapchat


There are a couple of concerns with the SnapMap. First is obviously that people can see your child's location. This is easily fixed by going to settings menu on the upper right hand side of the SnapMap and choosing exactly which people can see your location. You can choose not to share your location at all, you can share it with all your friends, or you can select only certain friends to see your location. You can also choose to stop sharing your location temporarily by going into Ghost Mode.

Below you can see what this all looks like.

Who can see me on the Snapchat SnapMap?


The second concern that comes up with the SnapMap is that you can also see when several of your friends are together somewhere—and you weren't invited. This has come up a few times with my youngest daughter who has a very large group of friends and she often sees a few of them get together without her and it sometimes results in hurt feelings. But she's also been on the other side of the coin and been at a gathering of friends where others aren't invited. It is a good opportunity to discuss with your kids how they won't always be included in everything and why it's important for them to be as inclusive as possible when they are planning their own get togethers.

The SnapMap can be a good thing for parents, because you can see where your kid is. Since it only shows the last location they opened Snapchat, though, it's probably better to make sure your kids' phones are also sharing their location with you in other ways.

Snapchat Friends

As with any social media, you must add friends on Snapchat in order to begin snapping and chatting with them. To do this, you click on the "add friends" icon in your profile. Snapchat will find friend options for you via the contact information on your phone to begin with. Once you have added a few friends, it may also start suggesting people based on friends in common.

You can also add people if you know their Snapchat user name, or by using their Snap Code, which is the yellow square with their Bitmoji in it. I have never actually seen my kids add anyone that way, so I'm not quite sure how that works!

Once you've been on Snapchat for a while, Snapchat will assign you some "best friends." Right now, I only have two best friends, and sometimes I have three—and I gave birth to all of them. Chloe isn't my best friend right now because she barely remembers she has a phone, much less Snapchat (I guess I am thankful for that, although she can be hard for me to get a hold of!). My other two kids send snaps to me regularly enough that they stay my best friends.

Sophia has 8 best friends on Snapchat. I like being able to see who she is talking to the most. Her top 4 best friends change positions here and there, but are mostly pretty stable (and I am one of them!), and her bottom 4 best friends are often changing and falling off the list and being replaced by another friend just because she sent them more snaps that day.

You can have up to 8 best friends on Snapchat. Like I mentioned, Sophia has 8, but Bria and Chloe each have 6, and I've got my 2 or 3. I'm guessing it has to do with how much you use the app and how many friends you have added in total.

Nobody else can see who your best friends are, but sometimes you can get an idea of who someone's best friends are via the Snapchat Emojis (see below).

You can see any friend's profile by clicking on their bitmoji on the main page. This will bring up their name, user name, snap score, any friend emojis, and where they are on the SnapMap. If you want to change any settings regarding that friend, you need to go to the chat screen of that particular friend and click on the hamburger menu on the top left. This will bring up the same things as their profile, plus options to share their username with someone, edit their name (my girls have crazy nicknames for many of their friends), put them on do not disturb, block them, or remove them as a friend.

Snapchat Emojis

Snapchat puts emojis next to some of your friends based on how you interact with them on the app.

What do the Snapchat Emojis mean?

💛 Gold Heart—You are each other's top best friend. This means you send the most snaps to them, and they send the most snaps to you.

❤️ Red Heart—You have been each other's top best friend for 2 weeks or more.

💕 Pink Hearts—You have been each other's top best friend for 2 months or more.

😊 Smiley Face—They are one of your best friends.

😏 Smirky Face—You are one of their best friends, but they are not one of your best friends.

😬 Grimace Face—You share the same top best friend.

😎 Cool Face—You share at least one best friend.

🔥 Fire—You have a SnapStreak. The number of days your streak has lasted will also appear next to the fire.

⌛️Hourglass—Your streak is about to die. If you see this, send a snap (not a chat) in order to keep it alive.

🎂 Birthday Cake—A birthday cake emoji appears next to a friend on their birthday (provided they put the right birth date in when they signed up—it might show up NOT on their birthday!)

You are able to customize the emojis, too. Just go to settings > additional services > manage > friend emojis. From there, you can see each emoji and what it means, just click on the arrow next to the emoji you'd like to change and it will let you choose a new emoji. If your child has customized their emojis, you can see what they mean on that page as well.

I changed my best friends to be a star and Sophia has hers set to be a turtle.

As a parent, these little emojis can tell me a lot when I look at my kids' accounts.

For instance, Sophia has had gold hearts with three different friends, and they turned into red hearts a few times with two of them. But they never have lasted quite long enough to earn pink hearts, so she will usually end up with the gold heart again with someone after losing it for a while. Currently, she does not have a heart with anyone, because the friend she snaps the most doesn't snap her the most. I've never seen a heart on my other girls' accounts, but they say they've had them occasionally.

Sophia's current top best friend is a new-ish user to Snapchat. She is definitely one of her in real life besties, so it's no surprise that she catapulted up to top best on Sophia's list. However, Sophia's account now has about 12 friends with the grimace face emoji—meaning this girl is EVERYONE'S top best friend! No big deal, but interesting to note from a parental perspective.

Streaks

You saw on the friend emojis list that there is one for a SnapStreak. When you and a friend have sent each other snaps (not chats) at least once every 24 hours for at least 3 days, you will have established a streak. You can see below that I have a 7-day streak with Sophia (you can also see that Sophia and Bria are my best friends, and that Bria and I actually share a best friend—which is probably Sophia).

How to get a streak on snapchat


Among the middle school set, streaks seem to be a really big deal. Sophia and her friends send good night streaks every night to each other—a snap that usually says streaks right on it sent to everyone simultaneously. Snapchat is aware of this trend and even has lots of gifs and stickers to decorate your streak snaps with. Sophia just lost a streak that was 150 days old and was maybe a little too upset about it. I think now her longest streak is 77 days or something—like I said, in her friend group, streaks are a huge thing.

My older girls just get streaks by snapping more organically, and they usually don't have very many. Either it's not as cool in high school or my particular high school girls just don't care much. Bria jokes that the only emoji she ever sees in her account is the timer, and that's just fine with me!

Snap Score

Every Snapchat user has a Snap Score, which is just a way of seeing how much they use the app. Some people say it builds up credibility, but as a parent I think it just helps me see how much time my kid and their friends might be wasting! Actually, I really don't mind Snapchat when communication is happening, but I admit to being a little annoyed when the mindless exchanging of selfies back and forth is going on.

The Snap Score denotes how many snaps you have sent and how many snaps you have received. Chats do not figure into the score. On your own profile, you can click the number and see the number you have sent on the left and the number you have received on the right. Mine are about even, though I have received more than I've sent. Also, my score is "pathetically" low—just above 1,000.

You cannot see that breakdown on others' profiles, but you can probably assume the numbers are fairly even.

Bitmoji and Friendmoji

Bitmoji and Friendmoji are one of my personal favorite things about Snapchat. I've already been using Bitmoji for a few years and find it super fun. Snapchat teamed up with them and, as you've seen above, the Bitmoji are used a number of ways on Snapchat.

Your Bitmoji is your avatar, which can pop up when you are in conversations and will show up on the SnapMap. Sometimes on the SnapMap you'll see Bitmoji doing fun things. I recently saw mine doing yoga (maybe it was trying to tell me something?) and once I saw Sophia's doing a cartwheel. They are usually seen sleeping in the middle of the night, flying in airplanes if you were at the airport, or carrying shopping bags if you're at the mall. Sophia has some friends who live right on the water, and sometimes they are shown in boats near their house.

But the most fun part of Bitmoji is all the cute sayings you can send back and forth in chat. And Snapchat has Friendmoji, so you can feature both you and the friend you are talking to in whatever you send, and I see my kids having a great time with that. And I have a great time with that, too!

using bitmoji and friendmoji on snapchat


To use Bitmoji (and other regular emojis) in chat, just type what you want to say and then click on the smiley face on the upper right of your keyboard. Any Bitmoji or other emoji and stickers will show up for you to use. Just click on the one you like and it will pop into your chat!

You can use them in snaps by clicking on the sticker icon along the right hand side (looks like a paper with the corner folded up). Your most used stickers and emoji will pop up, but you can choose only Bitmoji by clicking on the face with the open mouth on the bottom of the screen. From there you can narrow it down further by searching or by clicking an icon on the bottom (hi, lovey-dovey, happy, mad, celebrations). Sometimes there are also animated Bitmoji lenses you can use in snaps, too.

Group Chats

Group chats are just like normal chats except they include more than two people. Conversations can be saved in the same way and chats and snaps can be sent to everyone in the group. The bitmoji avatars will pop in so you can see who is there reading along while you are on.

These groups are used for organizing activities or just chatting. Each of my kids have several on their menus. Some of them are pretty dormant, and some are quite active—snaps and chats are flying during the evening when everyone is on.

I have found that the most drama happens in these group chats. I have actually required that my daughter leave some of the groups she has been a part of because of bullying, foul language, or other things. Because we have set a precedent for talking about the things that happen on social media, she is generally pretty good about telling me when things are getting out of hand, for this I am thankful.

You can leave a group chat by clicking on the hamburger menu in the top left of the chat screen. You will see several options there, and one is to leave the group.

Snapchat Lenses and Filters

I think the one thing everyone knows about Snapchat is the lenses. We've all seen the rainbow puking unicorns and the puppy dog faces. They are all super fun, and it amazes me that there are new ones almost every day! They almost always have new fun ones for holidays, and sometimes even for movie premiers or new products that are coming out.

snapchat lenses and filters


A Snapchat lens puts something onto your face and/or alters your voice. They have to be put on before you take the photo or video, and kids love to play with them. Sometimes they do fun things if you raise your eyebrows or open your mouth, sometimes they make you dance, sometimes you can use them with a friend, sometimes you can swap faces. Lots of fun things.

To access lenses, go to the snap screen and hold your finger down for a few seconds. All of the lenses will then pop up and you can swipe through them and see what they do!

Filters are used after you take a photo or video. Once you have taken it, just swipe through the screen and various filters will pop up. Some say the time and temperature, some say your location, some alter the speed of your video, some change the lighting effect. Many businesses and towns offer their own custom filters that will show up when you are using Snapchat from their location. Just swipe through and see what's there!

Snapchat Memories

When you are on the snap screen, you will see an icon that looks like two photos underneath the photo button (the big circle in the middle). This is how you access memories.

Even though snaps disappear, you can save your own snaps before you send them. You cannot, however, save snaps you receive from others. Still, accessing the Snapchat Memories can help you get some idea of what your kids have been up to and what they've been sending back and forth.

You can also save stories to memories. When you take a snap or post a story, there is a download icon available at the bottom left of the screen. It will save this to memories as well as the camera roll on your phone.

Screen Shots

You can always screen shot anything on Snapchat. This is a good thing. Because the ability is there, kids are less likely to send something that they shouldn't. If someone does take a screenshot, though, Snapchat will notify the other party. This perhaps deters people from taking screenshots because they don't want others to know that they did.

So, if you sent me a picture and I take a screenshot of it, you will get a notification that tells you I just took a screenshot of your snap. It will also notify you if someone took a screenshot of the chat screen. My daughter Bria takes a screenshot of any snap I send her if it features our dog, so I get a lot of these notifications from her!

It does not send a notification if someone takes a screenshot of your story, but if you swipe up on your story, you can see if any screenshots were taken and who took them.

Video and Audio Calling

When you are in the chat screen, you will see a telephone icon and a video camera icon. By pushing these once, you can actually call or video call the other person. The fun thing about video calls on Snapchat is that the lenses are available to use, so you can look like a puppy dog or have a mustache or something while talking to your friends.

If you press and hold either of those buttons, it will create an audio recording or a video that you can send to your friend via chat.

Discover and Subscriptions

This is my least favorite part of Snapchat as a parent. In the Discover section, you will see articles and news stories from several different sources. You can subscribe to some of these sources, which include celebrity Snapchat feeds, but many of them are just there. And they don't always show the most appropriate material for kids, teens, or anyone really.

You can unsubscribe from or choose "see less like this" when you see something you don't like in Discover. Just hold your finger down on the article you don't like and choose the option.

It used to be that in order to look at your friends' stories, you would also have to wade through the gunk of the Discover section. This is why I love the 2018 Snapchat update as a parent. Now that you can see your friends' stories on the chat page, my kids hardly ever venture over to Discover. Sure, they still do, and I have gone through it and unsubscribed from many of the sources I don't want them to see, but there is still the possibility that they will come across something inappropriate.

Just looking at my feed right now, I see Kortney Kardashian in a skimpy bikini and an article about condoms. But I also see some educational articles from National Geographic and a Tasty video about how to make a rainbow cake. Help your kids by looking at the Discover section with them and subscribing to sources you are okay with them looking at, and unsubscribing/seeing less like this-ing to those you aren't. It's a good time to have a discussion about how the media affects us while you're at it.

And....that's it. I think.

I'm sure there are things I'm missing. Snapchat is quite the beast for parents! But I promise if you sit down with it for a little while and try everything out, you'll get the hang of it. And you'll know how to talk with your kids about it better, too.

Try having a Snapchat discussion soon—I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with what your kids tell you about it! I actually have a lot of fun sending snaps back and forth with my girls. It's been a great way for us to connect on their level.

For your information:
Snapchat terms of use


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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Books I Read January/February 2018


Okay. So I recognize that I have really dropped the ball in posting book reviews—or anything at all—lately. What I have been doing lately is trying to read more, so I do have a good list to share with you for the last couple months. (Plus, I added a couple that I read before Christmas that I never actually posted.)

Book review of Turtles all the way down, The Woman in the Window, The Blinds, The Rules of Magic, The Grownups Guide to Teenage Humans, and more.

Books I Read in January & February 2018

(affiliate links)

Book review of The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

I got this book in my Book of the Month box. It seemed like an interesting plot—slightly dystopian—in which hardened criminals have their memories erased and are put into a makeshift town in the middle of nowhere to start new lives. I enjoyed it and the ending was a bit surprising and made the read worthwhile. I would only give it about 3.5 stars, though. I just couldn't love the characters or care about them very much.

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Book review of The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn


The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Another Book of the Month selection and Oh. My. Gosh. This is the best book I have read in a long time. Completely unputdownable. I love mysteries and thrillers best, but because I read them often I can usually see twists coming and while I still enjoy the story, the supposed "amazing plot twists" don't usually surprise me much. But hello? There are three different times I was completely blown out of the water by the twists in this book—they came completely out of nowhere! And then of course I had to keep reading to find out what happened. This book gets a solid 5 stars from me.

*Strong language found in this book

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Book Review of The Grownups Guide to Teenage Humans by Josh Shipp


The Grown-ups Guide to Teenage Humans by Josh Shipp

I was sent this book to review by TLC Book Tours. As the mother to a few teenage humans, I found it to be remarkably spot-on, easy to read, and an excellent book to keep on my night table. Josh addresses things by age—there are sections for each teen age —and by problem. Things like eating disorders, dating, discipline, etc. are all beautifully addressed. After reading it I felt like I had a whole new perspective on my teenage children and I look forward to using this book as a reference often.

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Book review of The Silent Wife by Kerry Fisher


The Silent Wife by Kerry Fisher

This was our book club read for February. My book club had taken an unintended hiatus for a few months, so I was really glad to read something and go to the meeting last month! This was a novel about two sisters-in-law—told alternatively from each of their perspectives—married to two brothers. One of them is in an abusive marriage and nobody has any idea. I liked how the story played out, and it definitely made me think a lot. We just never know what's going on behind closed doors or why people may act the way they do. 4 stars.

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Book review of The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman


The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

This was another Book of the Month selection. It took me about three months to actually read (I kept putting it down to read other books instead), so that is already a clue that I wasn't very captivated by it. It was a nice story about three siblings who are witches living in NYC and Massachusetts in the 1960s and 1970s. They are cursed in love by an ancestor who lived in Salem during the witch trials and the book chronicles their misadventures in love and is kind of sad and depressing. I give it 2 stars.

*Strong language found in this book

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Book review of Turtles all the Way Down by John Green


Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I picked this one up to read on vacation back in November. I like John Green's stories, but I'm often unimpressed with some of his subject matter so I like to read his books before my kids do so I know what we will need to discuss. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. While there are still a couple things that I felt were gratuitous, I didn't mind Chloe reading it. The main character has OCD and the book just really chronicles how she deals with it and how it affects her life. It's a good one for understanding how OCD can affect people. I give it 4 stars.

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Book review of The Encore by Charity Tillemann-Dick


The Encore by Charity Tillemann-Dick

I received this book from a friend for my birthday. She had heard the author interviewed on NPR and thought I would love reading her memoir—and she was exactly right! The author is an opera singer who had to have a double lung transplant and her story is inspiring. I have actually been following her on twitter for several years, so I already knew some of her story, but I loved reading it in memoir form. Besides being a fellow opera singer, she also happens to share my religion (LDS), so I enjoyed her faith perspective, too. I give it 4 stars.

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What good books have you read lately?
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Amazingly Simple Snacks for Game Day

For the past week or so, my husband has been watching replay after replay of the "Minneapolis Miracle"—the amazing ending to the Vikings/Saints game last Sunday. I have to admit, it is pretty crazy to watch, which explains his obsession with it, considering he isn't even a Vikings fan!

We are Green Bay Packers fans at our house. Except for Sophia—somehow this strong-willed little 6th grader decided a couple years ago that she is a Patriots fan. So, as you can imagine, she's pretty excited for the big game this week!

So even though my team isn't there, I figure I'd better make it special for Sophia. I recently received a fun box of goodies that are perfect for making a simple spread on Game Day.

These products make your Game Day menu easy and delicious. Your guests will think you spent hours on the menu, but you will be done in just minutes!

Amazingly Simple Snacks for Game Day


RAGÚ® Old World Style Sauce and RAGÚ® Double Cheddar Sauce





RAGÚ® Old World Style Sauce is a traditional spaghetti sauce made with vine-ripened tomatoes, but that doesn't mean you have to serve pasta at your football party. You can create some of the best appetizers for game day with RAGÚ® sauce! For instance, these shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches are the perfect easy addition to a game day spread.

RAGÚ® Double Cheddar Sauce was a new product for me! It's perfect to use for mac-and-cheese, but we just used it as a queso dip for tortilla chips. Both mac-and-cheese and queso dip will fit right in on any game day menu—this southwest mac-and-cheese recipe looks perfect!

RAGÚ Sauce will clearly make your game day menu both simple and amazing.


Garden of Eatin'® Chips



Garden of Eatin'® Organic Corn Chips are perfect for health-conscious football fans. Their non-GMO, all organic corn chips are available in three flavors: Corn Chips with Sea Salt, Blue Corn Chips with Sea Salt, and BBQ Black Bean Corn Chips.

Judging by how quickly these disappeared, we loved all three flavors at my house. But I must say that I particularly loved the BBQ Black Bean chips. Every one of them would be welcome as a Big Game snack.

Get 75 cents off any one variety here: Garden of Eatin® Organic Corn Chips coupon


Midea Air Fryer




You guys, I am in love with the Midea Air Fryer

I was so excited to get it for two reasons: 

First, we rarely fry food because it is so time consuming. Making some ribs for a football viewing party can turn into an all day event. And by the time you're finished cooking, you'll be too tired to enjoy the game! The air fryer solves that problem because all you have to do is put your wings (or fries, or whatever) in the frying chamber and it comes out just as crispy as if you deep fried it.

Second, fried food is so full of fat, and I do want to avoid that. The Midea Air Fryer cuts about 80% of the fat than if you had deep fried the same food. And it still tastes and looks deep fried! That's the best part!

We made some wings in it right away (and paired it with the Red Duck BBQ sauce below), and they were so good! I can't wait to use it for things like french fries and fish. You can also use it to bake and roast things, too. 


Red Duck Foods Applewood Molasses BBQ Sauce and Smoky Ketchup





Red Duck Organic Smoky Ketchup is delicious. You can jazz up your French fries or just about anything else that you'd dip in ketchup with it or use it as a tomato paste alternative in your favorite recipes. My family loved the smoky taste and I loved that it's lower in sugar and sodium than other ketchups.

Red Duck Applewood Molasses BBQ Sauce also doesn't contain preservatives or artificial colors. We used it as the sauce for our wings and it was delicious! 

Get 25% off your order through 2/28/18 by entering code BABBLEBOXX here: Red Duck Foods


Formaggio Italian Cheeses





I was sent Fresh Marinated Mozzarella Balls and Artisan Wraps from Formaggio Italian Cheeses. My kids could barely wait for me to take pictures of them, they were so excited to try them out!

We threw some grape tomatoes in with the fresh mozzarella balls—the marinade they were already in made a wonderful caprese salad. The Artisan wraps—Italian style meats wrapped around fresh mozzarella sticks—were perfect paired with some crackers.

Again, these are so easy to set out on game day. All you have to do is open the packaging and you've got a pretty amazing appetizer ready to serve!

Both Formaggio Italian Cheese products can be purchased at Sam's Club and Costco.



BIG AZ® Sandwiches





If you want super simple on Game Day, these BIG AZ® sandwiches are for you. They are found in convenience stores (store finder here) in the sandwich warmers or refrigerators. I found them at a gas station c-store about a half mile from my house.

The sandwiches come in several different varieties, such as Siracha Chicken with cheese, Kickin' Jalapeno, or just plain Cheeseburger. They are easy to pick up and eat on the go, or set out for your Game Day party.

With all of these products, you will have the most amazing Game Day spread ever, and it will be a cinch to get it put together.

May the best team win!


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Friday, January 19, 2018

How to Motivate Your Teen to Practice Music

Thank you Fender for sponsoring this post. Learn guitar at home with Fender Play!



My teenage daughters have been playing musical instruments since they were little. They are no strangers to the whole "you have to practice" script from their mother, but I am finding it harder and harder to get them to practice the older they become. I mean, I can't just offer them one M&M for every time they play their song anymore—it just doesn't have the same effect on a 17-year-old as it does a 6-year-old!

I've found that there are two things that are excellent motivators to practice for teens. It has taken a bit of trial and error for me as a parent, but it's amazing how well these two "tricks" have worked! My home continues to be filled with music and I don't even have to buy them candy or use sticker charts!



Allow them to choose


This year, my 17-year-old daughter has wanted to take up the guitar alongside her violin. I was already having enough trouble keeping her motivated to practice violin lately—she's just so darn busy—that I wasn't sure about the whole guitar idea. But, I've learned that it's better to let them choose rather than dictating when and where and how long to practice.

As a result, sometimes my 14-year-old practices piano at midnight, but I'm just happy she's doing it!

As for the guitar, we found Fender Play—an online guitar lessons program—that has just been amazing for Bria. She's so busy we couldn't even figure out how to do live lessons, so everything she does on Fender Play is self-led and on her own time. For her, that is also often late at night, but I love hearing the sounds of her guitar drift downstairs after she has finished up her homework.

I have found that since I stopped nagging my teens about practicing, they have taken responsibility for it and they still get it done. Sure, it can be feast or famine, but overall I have been happy with backing down and letting them choose for themselves.




Make sure they're playing fun music


This has proven to be magical. Yes, sometimes teachers assign music that isn't very fun and they still have to practice it. But if you as a parent can find some fun music for them to learn, too, they will be more motivated to practice all of it.

This is another reason why I have loved Fender Play—they have a huge library of fun songs for Bria to learn. She just has to get out her computer and look up the song she is hoping to learn and it will most likely be there since they have so many available.



I have been amazed at the music she has been able to learn since starting the online lessons with Fender Play. It's really fun to watch her progression and her familiar riffs as she works on them. I love that it doesn't matter the skill level, either. Each kid can learn the songs they want to because they are broken down to their most basic level. The song-based curriculum is motivating to teenagers because they are learning the songs they already listen to, know, and love. Plus, they can customize their lessons to exactly the music that they want to play. Fender really understands the power of playing music you love.

And I love that!

You can get your free 30-day trial of Fender Play by clicking here: Free Fender Play Trial



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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Planet Fitness: Your Judgment Free Zone for the New Year

This post is sponsored by Babbleboxx.com on behalf of Planet Fitness

I don't always make the best choices. Sometimes I eat too much at birthday parties. I often choose to stay in bed instead of getting up to exercise. I almost never fold the laundry right away. And on New Year's Day, I wrecked my car.

While such a beginning to 2018 surely means that I have nowhere to go but up, I still have resolutions I want to make. After all, what else is the new year for?

This year I want to love myself more and judge myself less—just like my dog.

My dog doesn't care if I eat too much at birthday parties. She loves me no matter what I eat, and in fact, is eating as much as she can get away with right alongside me!



My dog doesn't care if I stay in bed instead of exercising. She's just as happy to cuddle up with me on a cold winter day while I read a book as she is to go out on a walk. She doesn't judge me for the weight I've gained in the past couple years. She still thinks I'm amazing and lets me know just how amazing she thinks I am every time I walk in the front door.



My dog definitely doesn't judge me for not folding the laundry right away. After all, fresh laundry from the dryer is her very favorite place to nap!



And thank goodness my dog didn't judge me for wrecking the car. I desperately needed her warm greeting and unconditional love when I walked in the door after the accident. I think her love was one of the things that helped me keep it together.

When I make a poor choice I tend to beat myself up and I rarely give myself mercy. I think that is hindering my progress on my weight loss goals in particular. In order to really feel as if I can do what it takes to meet those goals I need to find a Judgment Free Zone® where I can forgive myself for poor choices and love myself enough to keep going.

Gyms don't often feel like judgment free zones for those of us who are working on fitness goals. And sometimes that keeps us from actually going! But if you want to find a gym that does have a real live Judgment Free Zone, you should check out Planet Fitness.



Right now Planet Fitness is running a January new membership sale where you can join any Planet Fitness location for just $1 down and only $10 a month after. This deal runs from January 1-January 10.

Other benefits to joining Planet Fitness (besides the great price and the Judgment Free Zone) include free group fitness training for all memberships, clubs that are open and staffed 24/7, fully equipped locker rooms, and flat screen TVs.



I especially love the online community Planet Fitness provides their members with: Planet of Triumphs. Members can find support in meeting their fitness goals and a safe place to share their successes and failures. Everyone belongs at Planet Fitness.

Here's to a 2018 that's full of a little less eating at birthday parties, a lot more self-love, a lot less self-judgment, and definitely no more wrecked cars.


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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Holiday Cookoff—Finishing Details for Your Holiday Entertaining

This post is sponsored by Babbleboxx.com

Cooking and entertaining are an essential part of the holidays and the presentation is almost as important as the food itself. I always like to find little details to make my holiday meals more fun and more beautiful.

Fun details for holiday entertaining


Babbleboxx recently sent me a box full of fun finishing details for holiday entertaining that I am excited to share with you today.

Castello Cheese


Castello Cheeses: Gouda, Aged Havarti, and Danish Blue

Cheese trays are a holiday party staple. Not only does Castello cheese offer some wonderful gourmet cheeses—I tried the Danish Blue, the Gouda, and the Havarti and all were wonderful—they have a cool online tool to help you create an amazing cheese board.

I tried out the Castello Cheese Board tool myself. It asked me a little bit about my taste preferences and dietary restrictions and spit out a shopping list to make the perfect cheese board.

The Castello Cheese Board Builder makes creating a cheese board easier than ever!


Find out more about Castello gourmet cheese and find out where to buy them here: Castello Cheese

Get your own personal cheese board shopping list here: Castello Cheese Board Builder

PAM non-aerosol cooking spray


Pam non aerosol cooking spray


When you're doing lots of holiday cooking you'll need a good cooking spray. I really liked these PAM non-aerosol sprays a lot better than the aerosol type I am accustomed to using. I like that you can better control how much spray you're using and found it to work really well with my cooking and baking.

Find out more here: PAM cooking spray

Download the ibotta app and earn cash back on your purchase of PAM spray pump

Cracker Barrel Serving Accessories


Sometimes cute little details are all you need to make your holiday meal go from good to amazing. These serving accessories from Cracker Barrel are sure to make your holiday spread look perfect.

These glass milk bottles are so cute! They feature either an adorable reindeer or Santa Claus. Use them to serve milk and cookies at a caroling party or for your Christmas breakfast.

Santa and Reindeer glass milk bottles from Cracker Barrel


I love these snowflake hors d'oeuvres picks, too. I'm excited to use them at my Christmas Day dinner. Aren't they the perfect festive touch? (Here I am using them for the Castello Gouda cheese.)

snowflake hors d'oeuvres picks from Cracker Barrel


Purchase the snowflake hors d'oeuvres picks here: Cracker Barrel holiday picks

Use code SHOP30 for a 30% discount site wide.

Wellness CORE Natural Pet Food


My dog is a member of the family, so I can't ever forget her during the holidays! We always like to splurge on special dog food and treats.

Wellness core natural pet food


I love that this Wellness CORE Natural food is high protein and even safely incorporates raw protein with freeze dried raw bites. It is also grain-free and 100% meat—no fillers.

I know my dog loved it because she took each bite under the table to eat—she only does that when she really, really likes something.

To find out more about Wellness pet products and find out where to buy, click here: Wellness Raw Rev Pet Food

Whimzees Daily Dental Chews


whimzees dental chews for dogs


All dogs need dental chews, but these are the cutest dental chews you've ever seen. Not only are the Whimzees chews adorable, they are all natural, freshen breath, clean teeth, and promote gum health.

Puccini loved these, so it looks like they are going on my shopping list!

whimzees dental chews


Find out more about them and learn where you can purchase: Whimzees All Natural Daily Dog Chews


Christmas Central Holiday Decorations


Christmas Central Holiday decor


Nothing takes a party from okay to amazing like the decorations. And Christmas decorations are my favorite! Christmas Central offers artificial trees, lights, and a huge variety of other holiday decor.

I am hosting Christmas dinner this year and I think a reindeer theme would be perfect. The reindeer pictured above as the centerpiece and some cute reindeer dishes will make a fun tablescape. There are plenty of other reindeer holiday decor options on the site, too.

Check out all the rest of the holiday decor they have to offer here: Christmas Central


So many fun details to add to your holiday entertaining this year! Happiest of holidays!

Looking for the perfect finishing details to make your holiday cooking and entertaining amazing? These items will add the perfect touch to your holiday parties.



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