Traveling Mom and Traveling Dad writers test drove the 2017 Ford Fusion and the park assist feature.

Watch TravelingMoms Attempt the Park-Assist Feature in the Ford Fusion

TravelingMom retreat attendees were afforded the opportunity to try and observe new vehicle features with Ford, an event sponsor.  I’m writing about what stood out most to me.  My thoughts, opinions and observations are my own.


travelingmom travel site

Goodness gracious, do I love my minivan. She’s getting up there in miles, but I have time before I need to replace her.

So I like taking my sweet time checking out all of the new features that are available these days to get an idea of what I might want later.

One of my favorite activities at the TravelingMom writer’s retreat was getting to demo the Park Assist feature on the 2017 Ford Fusion. Lots of giggles and “oh my gosh” moments on the first time out!

Traveling Mom and Traveling Dad writers test drove the 2017 Ford Fusion and the park assist feature.

Look ma, no hands! Heidi tries the park assist feature in the 2017 Ford Fusion for the first time. Photo: Audra Rogers

Tell Me About the Ford Fusion’s Park Assist Feature!

It is brand new technology and as you will see, it takes some getting used to! There are sensors all over the car that detect open parking spots and assist you with parking.

Alarms will notify you of close objects and the backup camera also guides the process.

Park assist backup camera and monitor in the 2017 Ford Fusion

Backup camera gives a step-by-step look. Photo credit: Christine Tibbets,

If you touch the steering wheel as it’s actively parking, it disengages to give total control back to the driver, and that proved to be the biggest hurdle to get over. It was common for us to need to try a few times for a successful park. It’s freaky!

Check out the video of my friend Heidi giving it a go, I was filming from the backseat!

The car detected a traffic cone in the parking spot on the first attempt, so it chose a different spot. She puts the car in gear and controls the accelerator, but doesn’t touch the steering wheel.

The clip at the end shows an outside view of another park. You might notice a little celebration inside the car afterwards!

My Observations about the Park Assist Feature in the Ford Fusion

  1. It is very slow going at first. We did this in a parking lot with low traffic, however I did observe a person come up behind us and get very impatient to get around us as we learned. So get the hang of it before trying it out there in the wild!
  2. It is difficult to relinquish control. Over and over again we touched the steering wheel out of habit, disengaging the park assist feature. Old habits die hard!
  3. It does not substitute you. You are still an active participant controlling the accelerator and brake, and shifting from reverse to drive. The technology is meant to assist you, not replace you. So don’t go taking a nap or making a sandwich!
  4. It will perform a parallel park. There were no marked spots in this particular parking lot for parallel parking, but the park assist feature is available for that.

We had a blast watching other TravelingMoms and TravelingDads trying out the park assist feature. Check out more videos below!

Traveling Dad Tim with Jones Family Travels tried his hand with park assist. The videos below show both outside and inside views of his maneuver. Their group is such a fun, lively bunch! Check it out.

Outside view of Tim’s park with Park Assist via Sarah from Sarah in the Suburbs

Inside view of Tim’s park with Park Assist via Sue from Field Trips with Sue

Dan from Points with a Crew and Dia The Deal Mommy needed a few tries to get used to the whole “let go of the steering wheel” thing!

Rebecca (R We There Yet Mom) parked that sucker in one fell swoop and talked with Scotty of She Buys Cars about Park Assist

Final Thoughts on Park Assist

I am grateful that by the time I need a new vehicle, the technology will be more advanced, more the norm and fully self-driving cars are getting closer! (I really look forward to that future nap and sandwich.)

My budget right now asks me to park myself, but I do look forward to serious upgrades in the future!

I’m thankful for the warm and welcoming crew at Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista Resort for hosting us for this portion of the TravelingMom conference.

And of course to Ford for the opportunity to open my mind to something new and get to hang out in cool new cars for the afternoon in a beautiful place with a fun crew!

Traveling Mom and Traveling Dad writers test drove the 2017 Ford Fusion and the park assist feature.

Rivers of Light is a beautiful must-see attraction using vibrant colors and effects with water and light at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

See the New Rivers of Light Show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

This is a sponsored post with Disney. I was afforded this experience as a member of the DisneySMMC event, in which I paid for my own travel, accommodations and registration. I choose to write about the events that truly spoke to me and my family that I believe will be of value to my readers. My opinions are 100% my own.

I just took my kids out of school for a week to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. That’s out of the norm for me, but I took the gamble as an enthusiastic attendee of the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration for 2017.

disney social media moms celebration 2017

I felt bad at first for taking them out of school, but they learned so much on this trip and were exposed to amazing culture on several occasions. One of the biggest highlights for us was the brand new Rivers of Light show at Animal Kingdom. We got a private viewing of the show before it officially opened so we could spread the word.

I didn’t know what to expect but I was really blown away and so were my kids. As we entered the outdoor arena-style venue, we were handed Mickey ice cream bars and settled in for the show. Heck yes!

Rivers of Light is a beautiful must-see attraction using vibrant colors and effects with water and light.

And then we watched a beautiful cultural show set to music with vibrant colors and effects with water and light.

Rivers of Light is a beautiful must-see attraction using vibrant colors and effects with water and light.

My words can’t do Rivers of Light justice, you just have to see it. Here is a 2 minute video.

If that leaves you wanting more, here is a 3 minute Facebook live broadcast I sent out while we were there:

This is a must-see attraction that the kids will always remember. It also lasted about 15 minutes so I didn’t feel like “that’s it?!” like I sometimes do with other attractions. You parents know what I mean. 🙂 The animal sounds and images created an environment that furthers your appreciation of the great big world out there.

Rivers of Light is a beautiful must-see attraction using vibrant colors and effects with water and light.

It rolled out beautifully and was a big highlight of our travels. I also love the positive message of all things living united. I’m told that the animals seen in the mist (in the Facebook Live video) are real images taken from past DisneyNature films.

Rivers of Light is a beautiful must-see attraction using vibrant colors and effects with water and light.

So mom guilt? Nah. Out the window. The Rivers of Light show at Animal Kingdom really held their attention and I heard several oohs and ahhs, myself included. Two thumbs up!

Rivers of Light is a beautiful must-see attraction using vibrant colors and effects with water and light at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Ellie's 10th birthday party at the nursing home to celebrate with her grandmother

Kids These Days…

For every negative article out there that talks about “kids these days” there should be an equal and opposite article that highlights how awesome they are.

There will always be generational growing pains, and there will also always be a whole slew of kids out there doing something good. We should highlight more of that.

I don’t turn a blind eye to the current state of affairs at any given time and there is some merit in their discussion. For me, I just choose to channel my creative passions into positive things. That’s my jam. All of that other stuff is covered.

Ellie painting with her grandmother

I came across a young lady named Ellie recently and she just turned 10 years old. She is very close to her grandmother who could easily be described as her lifelong best friend.

They have spent a lot of time together over the years cooking and sewing going to church. They also enjoy special girls days out with Ellie’s mother, so all 3 generations are together on a regular basis.

Ellie visiting her grandmother in the hospital

Ellie’s grandmother Rita had spinal cord surgery and underwent a long and painful recovery with several complications. This year Granny wasn’t able to participate in their usual winter traditions or leave the nursing home for their regular visits.

She was undergoing a lot of rehab and recovery. Unfortunately, she was also going to have to miss Ellie’s birthday party this year.

Ellie's 10th birthday party at the nursing home to celebrate with her grandmother

Ellie couldn’t bear the thought of celebrating her birthday without Granny.

So she moved her birthday party to Granny’s nursing home so she could be there to celebrate with Ellie at her Alice in Wonderland birthday party.

She was able to watch Ellie celebrate her birthday and help decorate cookies at her party, and it warmed her heart.

Ellie's 10th birthday party at the nursing home to celebrate with her grandmother

It brought Granny to joyful tears. She talked about how time with Ellie and the other kids at the party are like medicine to her as she recovers.

Seeing her grand daughter happy and having fun with her friends was a joy. She says when her grandchildren walk through the door, the sun comes out and nothing else matters.

What an amazing gesture and testament to their loving relationship. Kids are awesome.

Alice in Wonderland family costumes

Granny is also an Alice in Wonderland fan. She dressed up as the rabbit to surprise Ellie for Halloween in 2012.

Kids are amazing and wonderful and they have empathy and think of others. In all of the hard work that parenting entails, know that all of the hard work we do matters, and we will get to see the fruits of our labor blossom and shine into the world.

Hang in there, parents! It will all pay off someday and if you see something positive out there, share it!

See more great costume pics from the Alice in Wonderland party and read the full version of Ellie and Granny’s story here on Babble

And watch the video that to date has over 70,000 views!


Why I Was Never Really Much of a Disney Fan as a Kid

I was never really much of a Disney fan as a kid. That may widen some eyeballs and spurn a few gasps, but I really wasn’t.

I know I enjoyed more than my fair share of Disney Movies on VHS growing up. But a Disney vacation was something that just wasn’t within the reach of my family.

And we tend to be afraid of wishing for things we don’t think we’ll ever have reasonable access to, do we not? I didn’t want to get my hopes up for a Disney Parks vacation, so I in turn scoffed at the thought of one.


Small town siblings and cousins! Me in the front.

Money Was Very Tight

I grew up in a very small town in Kansas and money was always stretched to the gills. Bank notes and overdraft charges were a regular thing once upon a time. Both of my parents worked, it was just hard.

I do remember going to the circus once and Silver Dollar City, but vacations for us were few and far between. They always meant deep sacrifices later in several other areas to absorb the cost.

Siblings, cousins and neighborhood pals were always my best entertainment. We went skating, explored the neighborhood and played rag-tag softball in the field next to my house.

On vacations and holidays, my brother, sister and I mostly stretched out in the back of the station wagon. We slept as we drove to my grandmother’s house overnight (before seat belt laws were a thing). And those weren’t bad times, my grandma had a huge garden with chickens on her property and she sold vegetables at a roadside stand for a living. She enjoyed canning and working the land.

I Yearn for the Simple Things

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it was a hard-working, yet simple existence that I really value for my own kids today. We don’t live on a farm, but simplicity and contentment are very important to me.

There are a lot of things I loved about my “Hamburger Helper” childhood and simplicity was at its core. I loved riding bikes to the pool, playing rec center softball every summer and $1 after-school skates.

Contentment is something I really strive for, for the kids and myself. I want them to be just as happy with two sticks and a mound of dirt as they would be with a full day at a theme park.

All the things I noticed while I was away from social media-RealHonestMom blog

I’m Pretty Much a Tight Wad

You could also say that I’m a bit of a budget Nazi, and that all stems from the still-tender financial pain points in 2009.

We worked so incredibly hard to get back on our feet after our own financial crisis. After an unexpected job layoff, we made deep, deep cuts everywhere in the budget just to be able to scrape up enough money to keep our house. But we lost it anyway and it was a harrowing experience.

We fought hard and sacrificed a lot to come back from that. After getting everything in order and learning how to budget and save, we finally become debt free five years later in November 2014.

After learning how to strip a budget down to its bare bones day after day for what seems like forever, it feels so extravagant to spend a lot of money on a vacation, even now.

disney social media moms celebration 2017

But… Opportunity Abounds

As a writer and a mom blogger, I received one of the coveted invitations to attend the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration in February 2017. The conference locations were announced as the Walt Disney World theme park with a Port Orleans-Riverside Resort stay, and a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas on a Disney Cruise Line.


I was immediately floored and excited. This is a huge opportunity in my world, and a big compliment to get invited. It meant a lot to me to get one.

Old Habits Die Hard

And then I thought, oh, man this is Disney. Am I really worthy to be there? It must have been a mistake. Are these my people? Do I really belong here?

We all still have those little kids inside us. Afraid to hope and feeling like we don’t belong.

It isn’t free or cheap to attend the conference. But after getting serious and intentional about budgeting and saving, we saw it was possible. I also had the option to bring my family along.

You Only Live Once

After mulling it over long and hard for 7 days, I decided that I would live with regret if I didn’t go. And I RSVP’d yes.

So here I am. An extroverted introvert with a typical aversion to crowds and long lines, packing my bags and heading to Walt Disney World with my kids and my beautiful mother, who just retired after working almost all of her life.

Now, at 42 years old a Disney vacation is within reasonable access to me. We’re learning new phrases like rope drop, magic bands, fast pass and fish extender. But I know I will enjoy this time with my kids and my mom, even if everything isn’t perfect or I need a lingo translator.

My awesome fellow Disney SMMC writers and bloggers have been so helpful with planning and what to expect. I am heading straight for Hollywood Studios to see two of the biggest holy grails of our family: Pixar Place and Star Wars Jedi Training and I cannot wait.

I’m a Good Mom Regardless

Truth be told, I’m a good mother whether we ever go on a Disney vacation or not. (Just as my mom was.) And the kids will still play barefoot in the yard when we get back.

But every kid should get to experience something like this, if only just once. Especially the little kid still living inside of me.

She’s definitely still in there. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

superhero mother-son night at school

Mother-son costume night at school


New posts to come about the trip and our experience! In the meantime, follow along on my social media channels to see how we’re doing!

A Disney parks family vacation wasn't within my reach a kid. Until Disney SMMC came calling.

Stuck inside? Explore indoors with National Geographic Kids! RealHonestMom blog

Explore Indoors with National Geographic Kids

I love partnering with organizations that encourage learning and exploration. This is a sponsored post with National Geographic Kids and may contain affiliate links. 

Explore Indoors with National Geographic Kids, RealHonestMom blog

We live in Tennessee and the winter weather finally set in well after Christmas. I woke up early and stood outside in the peace and quiet watching the the beautiful snowfall. It’s exciting to see, because we don’t get much and it doesn’t stay long.

“It’s Christmas now!!” my youngest exclaimed at the window when he got up.

The child says "It's Christmas now!" after he woke up and saw snow out the window.

My husband was even home for a snow day because of the roads, and it turned out to be a long, 3-day snowy weekend.

The youngest explorer couldn’t wait to get outside in it. He got dressed and made a beeline straight for his favorite thing sun, rain, shine, or… SNOW.

The trampoline.

It’s so simple, isn’t it? The crunch and bounce of a fresh snow and gentle clang of the springs and just boing, boing, boing. There’s nothing better than hands-on, natural fun from Mother Nature.

We did all the usual winter fun things, snow angels, a brief snowball fight, and snow ice cream. They love to help gather up fresh snow in a big plastic bowl with a soup ladle. It’s important to scoop gently so we don’t eat twigs and leaves of course 🙂

After coming back inside and leaving all of our wet coats, clothes and boots in a heaping pile next to the door, we changed back into warm clothes and then we were like, ok so now what?

Now what?

We all zoned out on electronics for a while and indulged in lazy long enough that we needed to find something to do before our minds turned into mush.

How Can You Explore Indoors?

It’s easy to explore outside but sometimes we need to get creative inside when the cabin fever starts to set in. We received a nice arsenal of new things to try from National Geographic Kids just before the holidays, so it came at the perfect time.

It was nice to know we could still explore indoors even though the weather was bad outside. It also kept the kids from dismantling the house!

Here are our favorite things in the wicked-cool NatGeoKids arsenal:

1. Explore by Reading

You all know I’m crazy about the Weird But True book series because it’s instrumental in getting a completed reading log out of my oldest at school.

But in addition to cool, random facts about all things science, they recognize a big part of the scientific process is making mistakes and accidental discoveries. Hence the book Famous Fails.

Did you know the infamous Slinky toy is included in the book as a famous fail? (page 21) I was puzzled to see that at first.

The Slinky we all know and love started out as a failed invention. Richard James was an engineer creating a shock absorber to stabilize battleship equipment when he accidentally knocked the spring off of a shelf.

He saw something unique in how it fell and thought it might make a great toy, and the rest is history. Since then, enough Slinkys have been sold to wrap around the Earth 150 times.

The Famous Fails book has a lot of other surprises. They put several “mistakes” in the book for kids to find with an answer key in the back. A 2-page photo spread in the book is upside down, for instance 🙂

There are tons of beautiful, vibrant books available from NatGeoKids today, and you can’t go wrong with any of them!

2. Explore with Learning Games

Some of our regular game night favorites are Uno, Super Mario Chess and Battleship but we livened things up with fun brain teaser trivia.

The Brain Games Kids board game by National Geographic went over very well because (my 9 year old won) and there are lot of funny pictures, optical illusions and trick questions to keep you on your toes. Here are a few of our favorite cards:

Question: If this picture were taken on the Earth’s moon, what’s wrong with it? (answer below)

Brain Games Kids game card by National Geographic

Brain Games Kids game card by National Geographic

Answer: The moon appears in the sky. It wouldn’t be in the sky if you were standing on it!

Here’s another one we’re all probably curious about:

Question: Why do your fingers wrinkle after swimming or soaking in the tub?
Brain Games Kids game card by National Geographic

Brain Games Kids game card by National Geographic

Answer: The wrinkles improve your ability to grip slippery objects in wet conditions.

My 4 year old especially liked that one because he doesn’t think it’s time to get out of the bath tub until his hands are bumpy. 🙂

3. Explore with Live Videos

I’m not mad at electronics. You can watch wild animals in their native environments on a live video stream! We are big fans of National Geographic Kids’ SafariLIVE broadcasts on Facebook. They go live for about 10 minutes twice a day from various locations. They invite comments and questions during the live feed.

We have watched elephants walking around, lion prides sunbathing with cubs, giraffes eating leaves, leopards, wildebeests, and many more. A guide narrates where they are and what you are seeing as they drive around and stop to zoom in on the animals.

Check out this AMAZING broadcast of a mama elephant and her calf. National Geographic crews keep their distance while the cameras zoom in, but this elephant gets extremely close and (gently) personal in this one!

There are plenty of videos to enjoy, check out the video library here.

 4. Explore with TV and Radio

Radio? Talk about kicking it old school. But yes, radio. Because it was so popular in book form, the Weird But True series has expanded into television and radio.

Photo credit: National Geographic Channels/Jill Littman

The Weird But True tv show airs on Saturday mornings on most FOX stations during  Xploration Station. Check your local listings!

You can find The Weird But True satellite radio show via SiriusXM Radio on Kids Place Live, Channel 78. Check the Kids Place Live website for details on show times or listen to shows On Demand.

5. Explore with Virtual Reality

Escape reality altogether by strapping on a virtual reality headset and stepping into a whole new 360° world. We checked out the Dinosaur experience by National Geographic that works with a View-Master headset.

Virtual Reality headset by viewmaster and dinosaur experience by national geographic

Yes, that View-Master, with the little red right-hand clicker device and the thin cardboard disks of old. They still sell the old ones, but this particular device works differently compared to the classic View-Master we’re used to.

It took me a minute to get it up and running, but I loved it and the kids couldn’t wait for their turns.

How Does the Headset Work?

It works by downloading an app, running the app on your phone and securing your phone inside the headset to see the virtual world in 3-D. (more about the disks below)

First timers in a virtual reality world

Let me tell you, if you have never seen someone try virtual reality for the first time before, you’re missing out! Hilarious.

The dinosaur encounters were our favorite feature. There were things happening all around us, and the dinosaurs came at us head on. A Tyrannosaurus Rex ran straight up to us, roared and then ran off. (It’s for kids so it isn’t too scary)

Tyrannosaurus Rex encounter in the viewmaster virtual reality headset viewer

This cool video gives you a glimpse of what you’ll see. The underwater Spinosaurus is our favorite! (it’s a 360° video clip so you can move the view around)

What About the View-Master Disks?

The VR kit does come with a disk like we’re used to with the old school viewer, but the disk doesn’t go inside the viewer. Only your phone goes inside the viewer.

Disk for Viewmaster virtual reality kit.

You look at the hard plastic disk on a well-lit, steady surface through the viewer with the app running. A small, hologram-style dinosaur image appears on top of the disk and you select the dinosaur you want to see in the viewer menu.

Honestly, we were so jazzed with the encounters, we didn’t use the disk much though it is a cool bonus.

Then What?

After 3 days of having our fill of cool books, games, virtual reality, movies, snacks, big warm socks, blankets, snuggles, and mayyyybe spending a little too much time together, we came back around to exploring outside again.

The snow melted away and it was business as usual. But so cool to know we have plenty of new tools to nurture our inner explorers no matter what it looks like outside.

National Geographic Kids has all the cool toys. Everybody knows that. Wink wink.

Stuck inside? Explore indoors with National Geographic Kids!