Beyond the Arches: Ronald McDonald House Charities

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with McDonald’s®. All opinions remain 100% honest.

When I walk into my local McDonald’s in New Orleans, the first things that come to mind are my favorite crispy fries, a cold drink to help with the New Orleans heat, delicious apple slices and of course the convenience of a quick balanced meal for my kids at a great price. But did you know there is so much more to McDonald’s than the menu?

mcdonalds charities
Since 1974, Ronald McDonald House Charities® has been McDonald’s charity of choice, with the mission to provide a “home-away-from-home” to families of seriously ill children and other programs that give comfort, compassion and care to children and their families.  Locally, the Ronald McDonald House is located on Canal Street in New Orleans and opened in 1983. This 15 bedroom home includes a huge kitchen, two laundry areas, a toy room, two dens, outside patio and serves an average of 85 families each month.

New Orleans Ronald McDonald House
In addition, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Louisiana (RMHC-SLA) provides:

  • Free immunizations for children in New Orleans and surrounding parishes via the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile.
  • College scholarships for students in financial need who have demonstrated academic achievement, leadership, and community involvement. With the support of McDonald’s owner/operators in the greater New Orleans area, RMHC-SLA awarded 40 – $1,000 scholarships to students in the greater New Orleans area last year.

So the next time you run in to McDonald’s with the kids, know that you are supporting a great cause because McDonald’s donates 1¢ to RMHC for every Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal sold. In fact, I will send you on your way with one $50 McDonald’s gift certificate for one Experimental Mommy reader (enter below). Ready to do more? The RMHC of South Louisiana has volunteer opportunities, too!

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Cleaning Up the Crunch

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with Cascade. All opinions are 100% my own.

What’s better than Taco Tuesday? How about when Taco Tuesday lands on National Crunch Taco Day?! That calls for a full blown Mexican Fiesta! Since everyone in my home absolutely loves Mexican food, I had no complaints from the family. Ground meat, corn shells, taco seasonings, sour cream, salsa and queso made the kitchen smell divine. Even my husband (who is normally a burrito kind of guy) sat down and celebrated with a crunchy taco in honor of the occasion.

Anytime my whole family can sit down together during the week to share a meal is a good day. But glancing at the kitchen quickly whisked me back to reality. While tacos are super easy to make, our little fiesta sure did use a lot of dishes. From the skillet to the queso bowls and baking pan to festive plates, this meal had the potential for many tough to clean pots and plates.

Thankfully, I learned all about how to properly load a dishwasher and I had Cascade Platinum Action Pacs under my sink. I’m not sure that I will ever get over the jitters that skipping the pre-rinse and soak causes me, but the amount of time saved by my Cascade Platinum is greatly appreciated. Not only do I get back valuable time with my family (or to take a siesta), but my dishes are spotless, too. Did you know you can even leave your dishes in the sink for 24 hours and Cascade Platinum will STILL successfully tackle the dried on mess?

Learn more about how to get Cascade Clean here.

Treat Yourself Sweetly and Support Ronald McDonald House Charities, Too

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with McDonald’s. All opinions remain 100% mine.

What’s better than a bowl of vanilla soft serve? How about vanilla soft serve blended into a thick, creamy shake?  But, what if that shake had a purpose? Even better! From March 11-17, you have the perfect excuse to head to a participating McDonald’s and indulge in any McCafé Shamrock product. For each McCafé Shamrock product sold during this time, McDonald’s will donate 25¢ to Ronald McDonald House Charities®.

These proceeds will help programs right here in New Orleans like the Ronald McDonald House®  which opened in 1983. Located on Canal Street, this 15 bedroom house serves as a home-away-from-home for an average of 85 families with children in the hospital each month. In addition, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile provides free immunizations for children in New Orleans and surrounding parishes and local McDonald’s owner/operators offer college scholarships to students in financial need who have demonstrated academic achievement, leadership and community involvement. I love that my purchases can directly benefit families in my own community!

Ronald McDonald House

Looking for more ways to help? Support Ronald McDonald House Charities year-round by donating your change in the RMHC Donation Box or purchasing a $2.99 Happy Meal at participating McDonald’s in the greater New Orleans area. McDonald’s donates 1¢ to RMHC for every Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal sold. Check out this short video to see how these programs help those in need:

Head to a participating McDonald’s in the greater New Orleans area (let them know you are coming on Twitter!) and grab a Shamrock Shake for a cause!

Empowering Kids to Make Balanced Choices

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with McDonald’s. All opinions are 100% mine.

Let me walk you through a typical weekend conversation in my home:

Scenario 1: Kids claim to be starving. Kids offered a balanced snack of fruit and yogurt from our home refrigerator. Kids turn up nose and claim to no longer be hungry.

Scenario 2: Kids claim to be starving. Kids offered a trip to McDonald’s, get dressed and are in the car in record time. Kid 1 orders a Happy Meal and selects a Cutie as the side. Kid 2 orders a Happy Meal and orders Go-GURT as their side. Mom watches in disbelief (but is secretly happy for the minor victories in life).

McDonald's Happy Meal Box
McDonald’s, in partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, has committed to increasing customers’ access to fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. As part of McDonald’s ongoing commitment to help make balanced choices fun and easy for families, I am happy to let you know that Cuties are back at McDonald’s for a limited time in Happy Meals and a la carte as a seasonal, fresh fruit side choice! I would say they have been quite successful because McDonald’s has served more than 2 billion packages of Apple Slices since 2004 and 59 million California- grown Cuties to date.

Cuties in McDonald's Happy Meal
Right here in New Orleans, there are 90 locally owned and operated restaurants proudly serving our community. Right now, your child can enjoy a Happy Meal for just $2.99 at participating McDonald’s in the greater New Orleans area. Don’t forget to grab a Cutie for yourself, too!

Want to try it for yourself? Enter below for a chance to win a $50 McDonald’s gift card!

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Dining on the Disney Wonder

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration. And while this was the third time I have attended, this was the first that included Disney on both Land AND Sea. I was elated to learn that we would be boarding the newly re-imagined Disney Cruise Line Wonder for three fantastic nights! From the moment we stepped on the ship, my family and I felt like royalty which carried through to each of the three on-board restaurants we visited.

Unlike other cruise lines, your family will rotate to one restaurant (keeping your same table number and servers) each night providing you with three completely different dining experiences. In true Disney fashion, dinner was much more than delicious food. Walking into each restaurant, you are transported to another place whether it be to New Orleans at Tiana’s Place, under the sea at Triton’s or right into the middle of a Disney classic in progress at Animator’s Palate, each experience is unique and sprinkled with pixie dust.

Dining on the Disney Wonder

Tiana’s Place

Tiana's Place on Disney Wonder
Being from New Orleans, we are huge fans of Disney’s Princess and the Frog. Seeing your hometown, traditions and culture come to life in animation is truly magical. So we were excited to learn that our first night on board would be spent at Tiana’s Place! Walking through the door, you feel like you are in the middle of the movie from the decor to the entertainment. It’s just like Princess Tiana would have wanted! The jazz band played some of our New Orleans favorites and were even led by the alligator, Louis from the movie. The big finale was a traditional second line that got everyone involved and dancing. We felt right at home!

Tiana's Place table settings
 

Tianas Place Entertainment

Triton’s

While Princess Tiana is our favorite, Ariel comes in a close second. My youngest daughter is obsessed with mermaids so you can only imagine how excited she was to dine at Triton’s. Themed after Ariel’s father, King Triton, you are surrounded with serene ocean colors and regal decor.

Triton's Menu
Triton's table setting
We felt that this was the most upscale of the three dining rooms on the Wonder but the Cast Members still made the experience fun for the kids by surprising them with magic tricks table-side. We loved that our table servers followed us to each restaurant and we really loved telling them all about our adventures.

Animator’s Palate

Animator's Palate sign
Ever wish you could be in an animated film or wish you could be one of Disney’s esteemed Imagineers? Then Animator’s Palate is a must do on the Disney Wonder! The dining experience starts off just like any creative process….a blank canvas. The entire restaurant is themed in black and white and frames on the wall display primitive sketches of well known Disney characters. As the meal progresses, color is slowly added until the sketches comes to life in animated clips topped off with a visit from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice (aka Mickey Mouse from Fantasia).

Animator's Palate dessert
Animator's Palate decor

If you are lucky enough to dine in Animator’s Palette more than once on your cruise, you get to become an official Animator! You create a character and through the magic of Disney, your creation comes to life on the walls set to some pretty catchy music. This was such a fun experience!

 

You won’t have a bad dining experience at any restaurant on the Disney Wonder! The themes are very well executed and the entertainment is so much fun for the kids. No stuffy restaurants here! I loved that we could sit down as a family each night, recap our adventures and plan for the day ahead.

We did not get a chance to dine at Palo, the 18 and over restaurant onboard the Wonder. If you’ve been, share your experience in the comments!

Dining on the Disney Wonder

Work Smart, Not Hard with Cascade Platinum Action Pacs

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with Cascade. All opinions remain 100% my own.

Over the course of my life, my Dad has given many tidbits of advice. But the one that stands out the most (and I hear myself repeating to my own children) is, “Work Smart, Not Hard.” In my teen years, as most teenage girls do, I ignored most of his advice. But this one line really stuck with me before starting any project or homework assignment. Now, I still repeat this to myself before planning my day.

Cascade product line

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to watch this saying in action by learning how the scientists at Cascade developed the Cascade Platinum Action Pacs. This brand started over six decades ago and has been continually improving the product to provide the best consumer experience. Now you can work smart by skipping the sink (that’s right….NO pre-rinse or soak needed) and letting Cascade Platinum do the rest!

Cascade Platinum Action Pac
Of course, there are three things that contribute to the success of your dish load: the detergent, the dishwasher and the user.  Do you know how to properly load the dishwasher in order to give the detergent its best chance of success?

How to properly load the dishwasher

  1. Plates go on the bottom rack and should be separated by the prongs allowing water to reach each dish. Make sure the plates are not touching each other. Pro tip: Make sure tall items are not blocking the sprayer!
  2. Glasses should be placed on the top rack with the open side facing down.
  3. Utensils should be placed on the bottom rack in the provided holder but make sure there is space between each. If detergent can’t get to it, the utensil will not get clean!
  4. Don’t block the detergent dispenser with large bulky items.
  5. Place plastic items on the top rack to avoid melting.

Following these easy tips will allow Cascade Platinum to do the rest and minimize your time in the kitchen. Work smart, not hard!

 

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration: Take 3 (Day 1)

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy. While I did pay a fee to attend the conference, our stay was greatly reduced.

I will admit that the very first Disney Social Media Moms Celebration was truly a magical experience. Spending the night in Cinderella’s Castle is not something you easily forget. After all, I am totally a princess now and wear my glass slippers everywhere I go. The second #DSMMC sent us West to Disneyland and my family and I loved seeing a totally different Disney. But, third time’s a charm, right? I was over the moon excited to receive the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Land and Sea invitation!

Disney Social Media Moms Celebration Badge

After surprising my kids on Christmas with the news of visiting the Mouse, we had to wait 45 long agonizing days before boarding the plane. But the anticipation was well worth it when we pulled up to the Disney Port Orleans Riverside Resort! Being from New Orleans, we have never stayed at this resort because we thought it would be too much like home.  And it was….but in a really cool way. In typical Disney fashion, every detail was well planned and beautifully executed from the Plantation style exterior to the horse and carriage rides at night.

Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort

Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort

Our first conference day began by taking in the sights and smells of many different countries on the newly imaged Soarin’ ride in EPCOT which was truly breathtaking. After the excitement, we headed to a buffet breakfast and to hear about new initiatives from conference sponsors: Alamo, Hanes, and GoGo squeeZ (represented by Olympic Champion, Dominique Dawes) and perused the Expo where I got to taste the new limited edition Beauty and the Beast tea from Twinings, check out the Beauty and the Beast inspired items being sold on HSN, and even snap a photo with the infamous magical rose.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast Twinings Tea

By the power of Pixie Dust, I was able to snag an ADR for the “Be Our Guest” lunch and my family and I continued the Beauty and the Beast themed day! What I loved about this restaurant is that you order at the counter but then are free to take a seat and relax while your food is brought to you by a Cast Member. Plus, the menu was much more robust that a typical counter service meal and really very tasty!

Disney's Be Our Guest Restaurant

Using our Fast Pass+, we hit all of our favorite (and new) rides in the park. It was easy to come to a consensus and we all loved the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train the best which we rode three times consecutively. Thanks to Disney’s Express Transportation, we hopped over to Hollywood Studios to attend more Disney Social Media Moms Celebration magic.

Disney's PizzeRizzo Restaurant

Dinner was served (thanks, Alamo!) in the new PizzeRizzo (a New York Italian style restaurant) owned by the Muppet, Rizzo. This two story eatery even features an Italian wedding reception hall which already has a reception in progress you are free to crash! Following dinner, we were treated to special VIP seating for the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular fireworks show which was out of this world (pun intended). Even to this non Star Wars family, we were literally blown away by this show so I am going to save my story for a dedicated post on the topic in order to do it justice.

Energized but exhausted by the day’s activities, we headed back to the Port Orleans Riverside to get a good night’s sleep before boarding the Disney Cruise Line’s Wonder. Stay tuned for our adventures at sea!

The Best $15 I Spent at Walt Disney World

A few days ago, my family and I returned from an epic adventure at the Disney Social Media Mom Celebration. As part of the event, I gained inside access to upcoming Disney movies, resort and park news which I can’t wait to share with you (posts coming soon). The conference agenda was jam packed with pixie dust which only left us a few hours to explore Disney World on our own. Armed with our Fast Pass+, I set out to maximize the fun in a minimal amount of time and in the process, I found an invaluable resource you must know about.

Disney’s Express Bus Transportation is hands down the best $15 I have ever spent at the parks.

Disney's Express Bus Transportation

Because we had only a few hours in the parks, we intended to hit EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios in a single day. Ambitious? Maybe. But we did it thanks to the Express Transportation service! So why is this service arguably the best $15 I have ever spent at Disney World? Let me break it down.

On the first morning, I simply asked our Disney resort concierge to add the Express Transportation tickets right to our Magic Bands. The cost is just $15 per person per day (and $24 per person for extended stays).  Because the service does not begin till 10am, you will make your way to the park and go through security as usual. When entering our first park of the day, EPCOT, we stopped at Guest Services to inquire about the Express Transportation schedule and location for pick up. The buses run every 30 minutes but you want to get the daily schedule so you are not wasting precious park time waiting for the next bus to arrive.

In EPCOT, the pick up location is near Guest Relations by Spaceship Earth. Just look for the signs and check in with the cast member who will scan your Magic Band. You will promptly be escorted backstage and onto an Express Transportation Bus which uses behind the scene roads to get to your destination quicker than using the regular park transportation. Another plus? You are dropped off inside your desired park allowing you to skip the long walk and security lines.

No lines. No crowded buses. Shorter commute. Less walking. No security lines. Faster to the fun! BEST.SERVICE.EVER.

We were literally the only people on the bus which allowed tired eyes to take a quick nap and rejuvenate. The Express Transportation dropped us off inside Magic Kingdom near Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin which was made it super easy to get to our “Be Our Guest” reservation in plenty of time. Again, don’t forget to ask the bus schedule when you arrive at the park if you plan to hitch another ride that day.

Disney's Express Transportation

After hitting all of our favorite rides in Magic Kingdom, we headed back to the Express Transportation pick up, checked in and were on our way to Hollywood Studios (again being the only family on the bus). The bus dropped us off right behind Tower of Terror allowing us to again skip security lines and head straight to the magic.

If you have Park Hopper passes and plan to hit multiple parks in one day, the Express Transportation is WELL WORTH THE PRICE. A few final notes:

  • Since the buses drop you off inside the parks, you will miss the “grand entrances” to each park (for example, walking down Main Street towards Cinderella’s Castle). If those photo opportunities are important to you, be aware that you will have to double back to see them.
  • Because you are behind the magic when you are escorted to your bus, photos and video are discouraged.

If you are looking for a way to pack more fun into a Disney vacation, definitely consider the Express Transportation option! We found it to be truly magical!

Its All About the Choreplay

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with Mr. Clean. All opinions are 100% mine.

Given the fact that my New Orleans Saints were not in the Superbowl, the best part of the experience was definitely the commercials. A few made me chuckle but the one that made all of us laugh out loud was the commercial in the third quarter by Mr. Clean. In case you missed the hilarity, take a minute to view it below. I’ll wait.

Can we agree that few things are sexier than a man who cleans? In fact, men who do more than a third of the housework are significantly more likely to get some action from their significant other. Guys, it’s all about the choreplay. And with Valentine’s Day around the corner, I think this is sound advice!

Choreplay Kit

Want to gently encourage your man to take on more of the workload? Post a picture of the “cleaner of your dreams” on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram using #MrClean and the brand could surprise your man with a Choreplay Kit to up his game! Want more chances to win? Enter below to win a Mr. Clean Choreplay Kit!

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Making Spirits Bright with Aflac Holiday Helpers

This post is sponsored by Aflac. I was compensated for writing it, but all opinions are 100% mine.

As the song goes, the holidays are “the most wonderful time of the year!” For my family and I, this usually holds true. But what happens when it’s not? Unfortunately, a good friend of mine lost her mother to cancer (at the young age of 57) just a few months before Christmas and her pain was truly palpable. Watching my friend, her husband and their four beautiful daughters suffer such a great loss made me wish that there was something I could do to help them enjoy the holidays. Struggling to provide a “normal” Christmas for their daughters while dealing with grief and medical expenses was proving to be challenging for this sweet family so I was truly blessed when chosen to be one of Aflac’s Holiday Helpers!

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-11-29-49-amThe ripple effect of the financial burden caused by an unplanned health event can be especially compounded around the holidays and is the inspiration behind the #AflacHolidayHelpers program. By reaching out to families who may have needed help getting into the holiday spirit, decorating their homes, preparing holiday meals or shopping for loved ones, Aflac wants to help with the things most families take for granted but can be significantly impacted by out-of- pocket costs associated with an unexpected health event.

Understanding that this financial burden can cause stress during the holidays, Aflac provided me with a grant to bring some holiday cheer to Kristi and her family. Her mother truly loved the holidays and always made sure the magic of Christmas was alive in all of her grandchildren by decorating gingerbread houses, fulfilling Christmas wishes and instilling the true meaning of Christmas by singing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas Day. So, I thought it fitting to use my grant to help create special family memories for Kristi and her four young daughters.

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I planned a special day I hoped they would enjoy but kept the details a secret. The anticipation on their faces when I picked them up from their home was totally and completely worth it! The following 20 minute ride was full of guessing games, laughter and excitement. Pulling up to the first surprise elicited squeals of joy when it was revealed that they would all enjoy Hot Chocolate Pedicures from a local luxurious spa. We spent the next two hours drinking hot chocolate, listening to Christmas music and being pampered with cocoa scrubs, cocoa oil, hot stone massage and beautiful painted piggies.

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Before heading to our next secret location, Santa’s helpers arrived with special gifts. A little bird told Santa that the girls really wanted a certain gaming console for Christmas and he delivered in a big way! Santa did not forget Kristi and her husband and surprised them with gift cards for massages and home improvements. With that, we packed the sleigh and started on our way to the next surprise.

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Pulling up at a historic hotel in New Orleans dressed in it’s holiday best, the girls knew exactly what that meant….we were going to a Teddy Bear Tea! The lobby of the hotel is spectacular and immediately puts you in the holiday spirit. Kristi shared with me that her Mom always wanted to take her granddaughters to this Teddy Bear Tea so the experience was absolutely perfect. We dined on delicious tea party finger foods, drank tea (and more hot chocolate), took pictures with Santa and left with a collectable stuffed teddy bear.

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With our bellies full, we packed into the car and started our journey home. It was great to hear the girls talk about the fun they had and hear everyone laughing and just simply enjoying being together. I was truly honored to be able to provide some Christmas magic during this difficult time for Kristi and her girls. And while nothing can replace her Mom, I hope I was able to provide new family memories that will last a lifetime.

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Thank you, Aflac, for allowing me this incredible experience. One of the perks of this blog is connecting with companies who truly have a heart. Aflac knows that the holiday season can be a particularly challenging time for people without supplemental insurance who may be dealing with the aftermath of a serious accident or health event. That’s why Aflac pays cash when policyholders are sick or hurt so they can focus on recovery. Make sure to check out Aflac’s new ad, “Ski Patrol,” which takes a light-hearted approach to highlighting how life often throws you the unexpected that can ultimately impact you and your family’s lifestyle. To learn more about Aflac, visit www.aflac.com/lifestyle

Aflac herein means American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus and American Family Life Assurance Company of New York. Z161385B Exp 1/18.