Holiday Must-Do: Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens

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It’s not the winter holidays in the DC area without a visit to Brookside Gardens’ Garden of Lights!

This gorgeous holiday outdoor walk-through light exhibit celebrates its 19th season, and my family and I have attended with our children every year since Charlie was a one-year-old, clapping his hands with delight at all of the lights.

Beginning November 25th through January 1st (except December 24th and 25th), families can enter this evening enchanted wonderland that is illuminated with more than one million lights.

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The images I have captured here with my camera do not do the magical visuals justice. There are lights of all colors, flashing in sophisticated designs. The lights are added to hand-crafted, original art forms of flowers, animals and more natural elements. There are twinkling tree forms, fountains, snowflakes and gazebos full of holiday magic.

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Family favorites are the lighted “squirrels” and “cardinals” that dash and fly amongst the trees, just like animals native to the park. “Bullfrogs” of lights on twinkling “lily pads” also entertain, as do wolves, roses, rainclouds, rainbows and even sea serpents, all made of tiny bulbs.

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Another beloved element of the Garden of Lights experience is visiting the G-Scale model trains that speed through the Conservatory in a seasonal landscape.

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My children love watching the trains and searching for hidden treasures in the provided “I Spy” scavenger hunt for kids. A favorite item often on the hunt list: a tiny Yoda.

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Every night during Garden of Lights the Visitors Center hosts nightly musical performances and sells delicious hot cocoa.

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The Garden of Lights is one of the area’s most treasured holiday traditions, and one that brings the A Parent in Silver Spring crew joy every year. We hope to see you there!

Garden of Lights at Brookside Gardens
1800 Glenallan Avenue
Wheaton, MD 20902
November 25th through January 1st
(closed December 24th and 25th)
Sunday – Thursday: 5:30 – 9:00 p.m.
Friday – Saturday: 5:30 – 10:00 p.m.
Last car admitted 30 minutes before closing time each night.
For safety reasons, pedestrians are not admitted.

Admission
$25 per Car/Van (Sunday – Thursday)
$30 per Car/Van (Friday – Saturday)

$25 Advance Sale Tickets available at the gift shop at Brookside Gardens beginning November 1

$50 per 15-24 Passenger Bus/Van/Limo
$75 per 25-35 Passenger Bus
$120 per 36-57 Passenger Bus

This segment produced by Montgomery Community Media a few years ago provides a great overview of Garden of Lights.

Thank you to Montgomery Parks for sponsoring this blog post. All opinions are my own.

Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC) on Creating Playful Family Memories

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Today’s guest post is from Brooke Shoemaker, a Museum Education Specialist at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center (SEEC). SEEC is an early childhood program that I love that you may be familiar with from past pieces on A Parent in Silver Spring. SEEC resides within the Smithsonian museums and utilizes the vast collections of the museums and the community to support its curriculum. SEEC has a full-time school during the week that serves children from two months to five years, while SEEC’s outreach arm, the Center for Innovation in Early Learning, brings playful museum learning to the public through family workshops. SEEC is typically known for its work with five-year-olds and under, but they have recently expanded our programming to include exciting offerings for kindergarten through third grade. Read on for the scoop! 

When crafting our programming at SEEC, we think about how to make educational experiences playful and engaging for children and caregivers because we know play is how children make sense of their world. As play theorist Vivian Paley states, “Play is, in fact, a complex occupation, requiring practice in dialogue, exposition, detailed imagery, social engineering, literary allusion, and abstract thinking. Being both work and love for young children, play is absolutely essential for their health and welfare.”

Although the importance of play has been proven, research shows that children’s play time has been declining every year. Play is the way children learn and develop lifelong skills such as teamwork, perspective taking, problem solving and critical thinking. And let’s face it, play is fun!

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Think about a really fun and playful memory from your childhood. You are likely to remember the details of it better than something more mundane like a trip to the grocery store or a ride to school. You can probably recall the details much better, for example, what you smelled, saw, what you were wearing, what you did, and perhaps most importantly, who you did this fun activity with. We all want to create positive memories with our children, and lasting memories are created when you are engaged in an experience together.

It is with this knowledge and belief that we have created our new offerings for an older audience, which utilize this playful approach to create fun, educational and memorable experiences for families. At SEEC we know how important play is for the development of children, and we believe that play should not end in kindergarten, but instead continue throughout our lives. Play might change and look different as we grow, but it is no less essential at any age, and SEEC Celebrations and Artful Afternoons embody these ideas.

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SEEC Celebrations

With SEEC Celebrations families can choose between an ancient Egypt or dinosaur themed party, in which children take on the role of archeologist or paleontologist to discover clues about the world long ago. Children start with several themed activities to begin the fun. These activities range from sensory play, to more creative art activities, ensuring options for all different types of interests and learners.

Next, children gather to learn more about our world long ago through an interactive book reading and dig. Children will take on the role of archeologist or paleontologist as they dig for artifacts. Through this role-play children get a hands-on experience in how an archeologist or paleontologist work, and puts them in the position of problem-solver as they decide which objects warrant more investigation.

After excavating the artifacts, where better to find more information about them then at the National Museum of Natural History? Children will work in teams with caregivers to search for their artifact and gather clues about what it could be. Seeing these objects up close will give children a rich sensory experience that they cannot get from pictures alone. Who else can say they saw a real dinosaur bone or mummy on their special day?

Back at the celebration space children will share their findings with their friends and families. To conclude the SEEC Celebration, families are invited to enjoy a celebratory treat and then head out to our playground for some outdoor fun before heading home. Themed goodie bags are provided to all guests, which come with extension ideas for families to continue exploring ancient Egypt or dinosaurs after the celebration has ended.

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Artful Afternoons

As children start elementary school they become more independent. Still want to have quality bonding time as a family? Head to one of SEEC’s Artful Afternoons, a once a month open studio program, which presents maker stations for families to explore together. Each station has a challenge or question based on the afternoon’s theme, but how you approach it is up to you!

This unstructured program is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon creating with your child while learning about a topic related to art. This type of play will nourish your child’s imagination and opens a world of possibilities that leads to innovative thinking.

Families often strive to make family time and special occasions ones that children will remember for years to come. Why not join SEEC for one of our K-3 programs to ensure that your family has smooth, stress-free, fun where you can focus on your child instead of logistics? For more information visit https://seecstories.com/.

Brooke Shoemaker of the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center was a toddler and preschool educator before joining SEEC’s outreach arm, the Center for Innovation in Early Learning, as the Pre-K Museum Education Specialist.

This guest post is sponsored by SEEC. 

Rufus the Rednose Raindog at Arts Barn Gaithersburg

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Rufus the Rednosed Raindog

Performed by Blue Sky Puppet Theatre

December 3, 2016Purchase Tickets Online
December 10, 2016Purchase Tickets Online
December 17, 2016Purchase Tickets Online
All performances are at 3 p.m., tickets are $12

An entertaining and humorous puppet show to celebrate the holiday season.  A lost and lonely dog shows up at Santa’s workshop. At first he’s rejected because he has a red nose, but eventually he and everyone around him realizes how special he is. Recommended for ages 4 and up.

This post was sponsored by Arts Barn. 

Maryland Emancipation Day Weekend with Montgomery Parks

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Election anxiety got you down? Looking for educational activities with the family that teach of a time when our country righted its wrongs? The line-up of family events hosted by Montgomery Parks this weekend, November 4-6, fits the bill.

These historic learning opportunities celebrate Maryland Emancipation Day at historic sites throughout the county. On November 1, 1864, a Maryland state constitution freed all those held in bondage within its boundaries, abolishing slavery on the state level. Share these offerings with your children that thoughtfully, appropriately and significantly teach this historic landmark.

Park events on Saturday and Sunday are FREE, unless otherwise noted, and open to the public.

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SATURDAY

Underground Railroad Experience Guided Hike – 9am, 10am, 10:30am, Sandy Spring. This all-ages 2.5 hour hike is led by talented volunteer “conductors” who lead groups on a simulated Underground Railroad experience covering 2 miles from Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park along a wooded, natural surface trail to the historic Sandy Spring, then back to the park. Hikers will learn about various techniques that freedom seekers used to elude trackers, find food, and navigate their way North to freedom. Sign up details.

Woodlawn Visitor Center Open House – 10am-4pm, Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, Sandy Spring. The newly-opened Woodlawn Visitor Center’s is not to be missed! The museum-quality exhibits in the restored stone barn tell the story of a bustling farm, its community, and those who made a bold bid for freedom on the Underground Railroad, guided by local Quakers. (See image above for an inside peek.)

Oakley Cabin African American History Museum, Farm and Park – 12-4pm, Brookeville. This home site of a free African American family will provide re-enactment learning with a Black history perspective, live music, johnny-cake making and more historic demonstrations. This is one of our family’s favorite learning trips, pictured below.

Sandy Spring Slave Museum and African Art Gallery – 11am-3pm, storytelling at 12pm, film at 1:30pm, Sandy Spring. Free admission for self-guided tours all day, food and drinks for sale. At noon storyteller Dianne Cross will present “A Long Overdue Story,” a story of the life of her great-grandfather who journeyed from slave, to Civil War soldier, to free man. At 1:30pm the hour-long documentary Community Cornerstones: African Americans in Montgomery County will be presented. This film presents reminiscences by elders from 5 historic African American churches and illustrates life during segregation.

Harper Cabin at Brookside Nature Center  – 10am-4pm, Wheaton. Step back in time at the 1870s at the Harper Homestead. Tour the cabin and experience demonstrations.

Button Farm Living History Center – 12-4pm, Germantown. Self-guided walking tours of our farm, animals and gardens. Scavenger hunt, bonfire and drinks and living history activities.

SUNDAY

Josiah Henson Park Open House – 12-4pm, North Bethesda. Open for special events only, the Josiah Henson Park is the former plantation property of Isaac Riley where Reverend Josiah Henson was enslaved from 1795-1830. It is also a historic resource of local, state, national and international significance because of its association with Reverend Josiah Henson, whose 1849 autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Activities at Josiah Henson Park will include guided tours, hands-on archaeology activities and screenings of the Time Team America documentary: “The Search for Josiah Henson.”

Underground Railroad Experience Guided Hike – 10am, Sandy Spring. (Info above.)

Woodlawn Visitor Center Open House – 10am-4pm, Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, Sandy Spring. (Info above.)

Harper Cabin at Brookside Nature Center  – 1-4pm, Wheaton. (Info above.)

This is the final event weekend of the 2016 History in the Parks season. Group Tours & School Fieldtrips can be reserved year-round. The 2017 History in the Parks event season will restart the first weekend in April.

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Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg: Waterpark and Wonder

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Curious about Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg? A Parent in Silver Spring writer Guiomar Barbi Ochoa experienced the resort with her family and has the scoop for us. 

Wolves and I are not great friends. I’m a child of the ’80’s,  and I distinctly remember a fiasco where my teenage aunts were babysitting a pack of us and they thought it would be a stellar idea to pop An American Werewolf in London in the VCR. The movie terrified me and I swore off wolves forever.

That was until my kids saw a commercial for Great Wolf Lodge and begged us to take them.

I figured this place would be tamer than the movie so we gave it a shot and boy, am I glad we did!

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We went to Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg which is a relatively short drive (2.5 hours) from D.C. We knew we had a fun-filled weekend ahead of thanks to their Howl-O-Ween activities. I was a little nervous as my oldest, Anna-Cecilia (6) inherited my intolerance for anything scary, but I have to say GWL does a great job of decorating the Grand Lobby spookily without making it too daunting for kids.

The Trick or Treat Trail began at 6pm, and the kids were delighted to collect candy throughout the resort from staff members decked out in costume.

We spent the remainder of the evening experiencing awesome Halloween activities like Spooktacular Story Time, a Costume Parade and even a Monster Bash Dance Party in which kids are encouraged to wear their PJ’s, a seasonal take on GWL’s celebrated PJ parties. It was all super fun!

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For sure, the highlight of GWL is the amazing 80,000 square foot indoor water park! It’s a parent’s dream in that it’s very contained and they have incredibly diligent lifeguards monitoring every angle of the place. They also have plenty of life vests, for all sizes, for your family to borrow.

The water park has lots of options for varying ages which is fantastic. We started off serenely at the Slap Tail Pond and slowly graduated to more adventurous undertakings like Fort Mackenzie and the Totem Towers. Without fail, the funnest and most terrifying for us was Alberta Falls. We all survived but I almost hurled between the strobe lights, heavy metal music and powerful twists. The rest of my crew wanted to ride it again but I graciously passed.We spent four hours in the water park and had a great time.

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Scattered throughout the lodge is MagiQuest, a scavenger hunt which electronically saves children’s accomplishments with a tracked score. I think this is definitely and smartly geared towards tween and teen visitors but my littles (ages 6 and 3) liked it nonetheless. They both got wands that were activated and worked on objects throughout the resort like treasure chests that magically opened and fairy houses that lit up.

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If you need a little down time, the Cub Club is a craft and activity center and a really nice way to unwind from the rest of the madness. It’s also conveniently close to the Creation Station where your kid’s favorite Great Wolf character goes from floppy to stuffed  à la Build-A-Bear workshop. The sweet GWL attendant helping us let the kids stuff their wolves and they loved picking out their outfits!

We wound the night down with a visit to the Northern Lights Arcade. This place is sensory overload and can be dangerous for kids who want to rack up 1,000 tickets so they can get a Shopkins pillow. I set a thirty minute limit to the time we spent there but we all loved it including my husband who was madly trying to punch rubber duckies down in one game. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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A great aspect of GWL for families is definitely their suites. A family suite is standard and  you’ll find plenty of room to move and relax with two queen-size beds and a full-size sofa sleeper. If you really want to knock their socks off, book one of the themed suites for the family. KidKamp, Wolf Den and KidCabin suites offer memorable additions like bunk beds, colorful murals and even balconies. Premium suites are also available with multiple rooms and even a fireplace!

There was lots more to see that we didn’t get too but there’s always a next time. We saw plenty of family reunions happening at GWL, and we agreed that the site was perfect for that. All ages can hang out together and find something to entertain all stages of kids.

We give GWL two thumbs up and a mega HOWL!

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Guiomar and her family were hosted at Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg for an overnight press experience. All opinions are her own. 
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Is it time to improve our house?

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The A Parent in Silver Spring crew have been living in our 1970 split-level home since 2009. Bought from the original owners, we have been steadily working to update the house as much as we can each year.

But our list of necessary and desired improvements? It is still pages and pages long.

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Air conditioning unit that needs replacing? Gulp.

Original pink tile and fixtures in the guest bathroom? Check.

Cracked tiles in the kitchen? Yup.

Drywall lines in the living room? Jeesh.

“Finished” basement so ugly it is only used for storage and looks like a horror movie set? Cringe.

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Like so many families, our home is our largest investment, and thus we are constantly evaluating the costs and benefits of renovations and upgrades. According to a survey this autumn by Capital One, 45 percent of homeowners in the DC area plan to renovate their home in the next two years.

Taking out a home equity line of credit is an option that we utilized in our first house, a 1950’s Cape Cod that we knew we would sell after a few years. That home, also purchased from the original owners, was in need of renovations that were essential for us to put it on the market for a profit. We are considering this route again in order to once and for all complete our to-do list on the current house.

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More than half– 57 percent– of homeowners surveyed in the DMV have not taken out a home equity line of credit or loan, but 76 percent of homeowners indicated they would renovate areas of their home if they had better financial means to do so. (Raising my hand here!) 13 percent of homeowners say they have not pursed a home equity loan because the process is confusing, 10 percent indicated the rates or fees are too high and 10 percent expressed that there is too much paperwork.

The folks at Capital One Home Equity are working to make the home equity credit process simple and smarter. Capital One’s process allows us to easily learn more about and apply for a home equity line of credit with the flexibility to withdraw what is needed for our home renovation projects. I have not personally used Capital One’s home equity products, but I am exploring their current rates. We can obtain a customized rate offer and estimated loan amount with no impact to our credit scores. We can even begin the application process – it’s simple and there are no fees.

Who’s with me on getting that cracked tile out of the kitchen? Visit capitalone.com/home-equity, call 855-446-9656 or stop by any Capital One branch location for more information and to get started today.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

October Must Do: Hersheypark in the Dark

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Two weekends remain for Hersheypark in the Dark Halloween fun! My family and I experienced HersheyPark in the Dark for the first time last weekend and it was an excellent two days to get out of town and get into the spooky (but not too scary) season.

fe44a636-468c-4847-8679-9c5ba0592c44Even the Hersheypark characters are feeling Halloween in their costumes. 

TRICK OR TREAT AT TREATVILLE 

Kids 12 and younger are invited to dress up and enjoy a trick-or-treat adventure beginning throughout Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction and continuing through Treatville, Hersheypark’s hometown village of treats and sweets.

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Charlie was just young enough at almost 13 to claim his trick or treat bag and accept oodles of Hershey’s candies from the numerous trick-or-treat stations.

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Our kids opted to wear their Halloween-themed play clothes, but costumes for kids 12 and under are encouraged.

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There is special Halloween-themed entertainment and shows, too! The Screaming Mummies rock out in the park and Treatville features storytelling and music for young kids.

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DARK RIDES

Only during Hersheypark In The Dark can you ride Laff Trakk in complete and utter darkness. The lights are off inside the ride all day! Additionally, three roller coasters — CometLightning Racer and Wildcat — spookily operate without any lights during the last hour of every night.

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CREATURES OF THE NIGHT AT ZOOAMERICA

Creatures Of The Night at ZooAmerica is included in your one-price admission to Hersheypark In The Dark. You are welcome to bring your flashlight and explore ZooAmerica in the nighttime beginning at 6pm. You will have a chance to see the night-loving animals like the wolves, bats and bears like you cannot see them during the day. Learn more. 

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HERSHEYPARK IN THE DARK DEALS

Purchase a full-price, one-day admission ticket to Hersheypark In The Dark online and receive vouchers for one FREE treat and one free carnival game! Get tickets.

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Hersheypark in the Dark Getaway at Hershey Lodge: Fall for the season with deluxe accommodations, breakfast with the Hershey’s Characters, and admission to Hersheypark In The Dark for the whole family! Plus, enjoy access to The Hershey Story Museum and Hershey Gardens (including the Butterfly Atrium!)

Halloween & Christmas Combo: Love heading to Hershey for all the holidays? Get tickets to both Hersheypark in the Dark and Christmas Candylane and save big!

c190f7c8-deb4-4200-b121-9ab737eb6c83Our little Fonzie gives Hersheypark in the Dark a big thumbs up! 

OUR FAVORITE HERSHEYPARK MUST-DOS, NO MATTER THE SEASON

BIG Roller Coasters: Great Bear, Skyrush, Storm Runner

Less Intense Coasters: Laff TrakkTrailblazer, Wild Mouse

Family Rides: Kissing Tower, Pirate, Frontier Flyers

Kiddie Rides: Balloon Flite, Howler, Wave Swinger

Meals: Founder’s Way, Gourmet Grille, Chickie’s and Pete’s

Treats: S’Mores Carts, Turkey Hill Parlor

Check out more of our family favs in my Best of Hersheypark A-Z Guide, my Ultimate Family Guide to Hersheypark and my family travel tips for Hershey, PA

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As a Hershey Sweetest Mom, my family and I were hosted for our visit to Hersheypark in the Dark. All opinions are mine.

Disney on Ice Follow Your Heart: Spectacular Stunts, New Acts

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Last night at Disney on Ice Follow Your Heart, I was having flashbacks to our first time seeing the show in 2009, when Charlie was barely five and Eve was just three.

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As we have nearly every year since, our family adores this chance to be immersed in our love of Disney storytelling, combined with ice stunts, dance, great music and amazing special effects. But now in 2016 at Follow Your Heart, there are aerial tricks and special sets, technology and surprises like we have never seen before!

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Plus there are brand new stories! There is a round-up of all the most courageous Disney Princesses, which Alice loved. And there are new stories from the beloved new films Finding Dory and Inside Out!

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Tickets are still available at all levels for all shows at the EagleBank Arena in Fairfax!

Thursday, October 20th @ 7pm
Friday, October 21st @ 10:30am & 7:30pm
Saturday, October 22nd @ 10:30am, 2:30pm & 6:30pm
Sunday, October 23rd @ 12:30pm & 4:30pm

You can purchase your tickets online and pick up at Will Call.

You can also catch the show in Baltimore October 27th – 30th.

Have an icetastic time!

WOW Summit Review and Moms Meet Opportunities for Us All

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending the WOW Summit in DC, an annual conference in which I was able to connect with health and family-focused brands, and receive new social media learning for my professional development. It was a chance to take two days to focus on improving my blog, work and tighten my communication career goals, merged with my passion for raising my kids as healthfully as possible — a true win-win.

The conference was hosted by Moms Meet, an online community where all of us parents can join as Mom Ambassadors and receive free products to sample and review, share our opinions to influence family brands and industries, win prizes, earn rewards points and get the latest information on healthy living.  

If you have a blog, you can also receive cool partnership opportunities for your social media channels.

 Join today for free.

The first day of the conference included workshops focused on helping bloggers to fine tune their online messaging and promotional efforts, and after a dinner break gave bloggers the chance to “speed date” with #WOWsummit sponsors and representatives from the leading brands looking to connect with online influencer parents.

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I had the chance to meet and connect with the founders of the super-seeded and gluten-free Mary’s Gone Crackers (Mary herself! — also a featured speaker), Jennifer Bacon – co-founder of FlapJacked protein pancakes and muffins, UP4 Probiotics, Nordic Naturals fish oil supplements and more. I learned about the benefits of mineral salt deodorants such as Crystal, organic health supplements such as Flora Health and healthier substitutions for treats my kids adore, such as Go Organically fruit snacks, Harvest Snaps “chips” and Mrs. Thinsters crunchy store-bought cookies.

And of course, I could not resist Saturday’s great expo floor, packed with samples, swag and the chances to meet with more of my family-friendly brand reps like National Geographic Kids. Not only did we attendees receive tons of swag from the exhibitors, upon checking out they handed us a massive bag (think the Bloomingdale’s “Big Brown Bag”) literally packed with samples. Thanks to samples from Fresh Wave, my children’s rooms no longer smell oppressively of their tennis shoes and tube socks after a long day of sweaty wear.

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Healthy mom take-away: Since coming home I have been taking the supplements provided and feeling full of energy, using the Crystal deodorant and not smelling of B.O. (while feeling less nervous about the risks of my previous clinical strength aluminum habit) and my kids’ rooms do not stink of sweaty feet! The kids’ lunches have been packed with the crunchy, snacky-type foods they love but they have been organic, non-GMO and healthy.

Professional blogger takeaway: I met with a ton of companies that want to work with bloggers. My in-box is full of partnership opps.

Recommendation: Definitely attend the annual WOW Summit and in-person MomsMeet events, and be sure to sign up as a MomsMeet Mom Ambassador or Blog Ambassador.

I was hosted at WOW Summit by the conference organizers and sponsors. All thoughts are my own.