Friday, August 18, 2017

Niagara Falls: Day and Night Cruises


Hands down the most fun we had on our Canada trip was on the Hornblower cruises to Niagara Falls. Our 3-year-old hasn't stopped talking about it and I know she will not soon forget the memories we made.

I purchased the day and night cruise package, which includes a 40-minute fireworks cruise that started at 9:30 p.m. and a 20-minute Voyage to the Falls day cruise. When I bought the tickets it wasn't clear how I would purchase the package, but all you have to do is pick the date you want for the night cruise and then you can go to any day cruise as well. (They leave about every 15-20 minutes throughout the day.) We decided to go around 9 a.m. to space out the cruises and hopefully avoid huge crowds around the falls. In case you're wondering, Hornblower leaves from the Canada side, while Maid of the Mist is on the U.S. side.

The line moved quickly when we arrived. If you already purchased tickets online, head straight to the walkway and elevators. After you take your photos, you keep walking until you get to the snack bar tent area, where your tickets are scanned. (I just pulled up the barcodes on my phone to avoid printing them out.) Then you continue walking down the ramps and receive your rain ponchos.

FYI: Adult tickets for both the day and night cruises were $55.90 (Canadian; about $43 U.S.). Victoria didn't have to pay because she is under 5 years old, so that's nice! If you just want to do the 20-minute Voyage to the Falls it will cost $25.95 (Canadian; about $20 U.S.).

The closer you move toward the falls, the more drenched you become. It's actually a ton of fun. You can stand anywhere on the boat, and we chose the front. The upper deck area seemed to be a popular spot for most people.

The ponchos don't really do much, to be honest. You will still be soaked but it's fine! You could always bring your own. Also, be sure your phone and camera are secure from water damage.

After our cruise, we headed back to our hotel and explored Clifton Hill before returning around 9 p.m. We figured parking would be difficult to find on this Friday night, and it's expensive near the falls, so we opted for a short taxi ride instead. (Earlier that morning we paid $15 to park for about an hour and a half. Yikes.) Crowds line up early for the evening fireworks, so plan accordingly.

I liked the morning cruise more than the evening cruise, but we did both because V would get a kick out of the fireworks. (Although, the evening cruise had a bar, so decide which is better for you.) You get more wet during the daytime cruises because the boats go closer to the mist. Also, I find the illumination of the falls to be quite gimmicky, but kinda cool, I guess. The entire town is a tourist trap, so just know what you're getting into and have fun!

Check out our videos of the Niagara Falls cruises below and subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Have you done a Niagara Falls cruise? What did you think?



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CN Tower | Toronto

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Visit to CN Tower in Toronto

** We received complimentary admission to CN Tower. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate product links. I make a small commission on purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting Floradise!




One of the items on my list for our brief Toronto trip was visiting the CN Tower. For someone who is terrified of heights I sure am obsessed with tall buildings. ...

On our second day in Toronto, we headed to the Harbourfront Centre area to find parking near the tower. We went with a structure on Queens Quay that charged $15 a day. (The garage was also listed on Parking Panda, which I did not use but was listed on the gate.) That allowed us to explore as long as we wanted and it was just a short walk to the tower. We had been advised to arrive early to avoid long lines, and that's the best advice I could ever repeat to anyone planning to visit. We arrived around 10 a.m., but getting there at opening would have been even better. On this particular day the next-door Ripley's Aquarium was experiencing a power outage, so many would-be visitors were instead heading to the tower. Our line wasn't too long at about 30 minutes to get to the elevators. Besides, you are distracted by photo taking and entertainers along the way. (We already had tickets waiting for us, though. If you need to stand in line to buy tickets it will take longer.)



Once you make it into the elevators it's just a short ride to the observation level. From there we went directly to the next elevator to get to the SkyPod, which requires an additional admission charge of $12 per person to access. It's best to go to the SkyPod first if you buy these tickets to avoid crowds as well.




While circling the SkyPod we saw the brave souls who were trying out the EdgeWalk, which like the name implies means you free walk on the edge of the OUTSIDE of the tower. It requires advance reservations and costs about $225. Graham was certainly interested for our next trip; in fact, he wants to plan a vacation to Toronto just to do this. I would never ever ever ever do this, but it was fun to watch others embark on the thrilling adventure.





I was even nervous to walk around the SkyPod, to be honest. But I loved that you can get a 360-degree view of Toronto, an impressive city. It's just SO high, taller than the Sears Tower and the Hancock Building in Chicago. Victoria was not afraid at all, though. She's braver than I'll ever be. We brought her along in an umbrella stroller, which we had no problem getting around in.

Once we got to the glass-floor level we parked it in a corner to get around more easily. By then the tower was becoming a bit more crowded.


Looking down from the glass floor.

Glass floor view.

You can have souvenir photos taken on the glass floor, or do as so many others did and take your own selfies. The photographer has lots of ideas for poses if you want to go that route. One package of the best two photos taken of you was around $30 when we inquired.

You're free to spend as much time as you want upstairs before you can board the elevator to return to ground level. Take your time and soak in the views! Once you're on the first floor you can browse the gift shop or look at and purchase your souvenir arrival photos. We continued our tradition of buying Christmas ornaments from every new place we visit. We also picked up a Canada 150 teddy bear plush for V.

Next to the tower are the Ripley's Aquarium and the Rogers Centre, where the Blue Jays play, in case you're wondering what other attractions are around. It's easy to plan a visit that incorporates all of these activities.

We had such a fun time at the tower and hope to be back someday so Graham could experience the EdgeWalk.

Have you visited the CN Tower? What did you think?




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Monday, August 14, 2017

Cruelty-Free Empties, Vol. 10

** This post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission for purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting Floradise!

While switching to cruelty-free products has been a challenge, it's been fun to try different products and brands. It's also been satisfying to try to use up entire products rather than buy too many of the same product at once. I am trying to be minimalist in my makeup and skin care while still experimenting with new products. My latest round of empties features all fairly affordable products, a couple of which were sent to me to try. The rest are favorites I've recently discovered. This latest roundup shares my thoughts on the products I've used up and whether I would repurchase them.

  • Physicans Formula Butter Bronzer ($14.99): I love the way this smells, but sadly it's too light for me. I would highly recommend this if it works with your skin tone! It lasted me a year! I would repurchase if Physicians Formula made a slightly darker version. Please leave your favorite bronzer recommendations in the comments below!


  • Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm ($3.99): My favorite lip balm ever. I already have backups in my purse.
  • Madam C.J. Walker Brassica Seed Oil (sample size; $26 for full size): I loved the scent of this oil, which I received for free from Influenster for testing purposes months ago. It left my hair silky and smooth. I already have another oil to use up, so I won't be buying this anytime soon, but if you're in the market for oil for your hair, this one was great. 
  • e.l.f. Mint Maniac Lip Exfoliator ($3.90): I used this every night before bed. I haven't had dry, cracking lips in a long time, and this could be why. It has a minty flavor and it's affordable. I would buy the brown sugar one instead because I might like the flavor/scent more. I also heard Lush has a good lip scrub, but I haven't tried it yet.
  • L.A. Girl Pro Coverage Liquid Foundation ($8.99): I loved how good my skin looked in this, but if you're oily it could definitely be too much. I would buy this again, especially in the winter when I want a faux luminous look to my skin. (Update: After using the Milani foundation I bought after this I definitely want to go back to this one sooner.)
  • Too Faced Better Than Sex Mascara ($12 for mini): I didn't find this to be as life-changing as people say. I like the bristles, but it wasn't as volumizing as I thought it would be. I plan to buy the full size if I don't like the new one I have. (I am now trying the Essence Lash Princess mascara and I like it so far.)



Note: These prices were accurate at the time this post was written, but they may change and they depend on the retailer you buy from! 

What products have you used up recently? Would you buy them again?

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Warren Dunes State Park | Testing the Drone!


Recently I shared my camping and road trip essentials and prep list in anticipation of our weekend. We had planned to go to Indiana Dunes, but at the last minute we decided to change our destination to Warren Dunes State Park. It reminded us a lot of Nordhouse Dunes, where we camped last summer.

We tested out the DJI Mavic Pro drone for the first time, too! We only have a little bit of footage because the flying time is only 27 minutes, which was longer than most of the other drones we saw available.




About Warren Dunes:

  • It's dog-friendly and the dog areas are clearly marked. They must be on leashes though.
  • Alcoholic beverages are prohibited and rangers/officers patrol the beach, citing anyone who has them.
  • You can rent kayaks and paddleboards!
  • You'll need an umbrella, because there's no shade.
  • Out-of-state residents pay $9 per day or $32 for an annual pass.
  • It's only an hour and a half from Chicago, but it took us more than two hours to get home on Sunday evening.

Watch our video at Warren Dunes!





Thursday, August 3, 2017

Air Plant Birdhouse | Clutter Into Art

**This post contains affiliate links. I make a small commission on purchases made through these links at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting my blog!




Graham recently brought home a birdhouse that our neighbors didn't want anymore. Great, I thought, more stuff! You know how I feel about excess stuff in my home. (In case you don't: I hate it!) But last week we came up with an idea for what to do with it. He wanted to make it look like the moss little house we bought at the Glenwood Arts Festival last year and I immediately got up, grabbed the reindeer moss we had left from my vertical air plant garden, and started glueing.

Now that I think about it, he was probably trying to trick me into decorating it for him, but that's OK. I actually enjoyed doing it, and it didn't take long at all. You can find a birdhouse to decorate at a crafts store. This triple birdhouse is affordable.

I started by using the purple moss we had left. I found ours at Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago, aka heaven, but you can also find it online or at a crafts store.



I had some orange left over as well, so I alternated between orange and purple. I used the same glue for air plants as I did for my air plant garden. (E6000 craft glue works, too.) If you have unused plastic flatware from when you order takeout, you can use it to smooth the glue evenly over the surface. (Or use whatever tool you have to do this.) Note: I recommend wearing gloves when working with colored moss because it dyes your fingers. Trust me, I learned this the hard way. It comes off, of course, but still.


Getting the moss in the inner parts of the roof was tricky. I used a plastic knife to smooth glue over it evenly and then pushed pieces of moss on little by little.

When I ran out of moss, we headed back to Gethsemane because it occurred to me that I should get some air plants to put inside all the little doors and windows, plus two on the sides. I used the smallest air plants I could find for the windows, slightly larger ones for the doors and two larger plants on the sides. Play with the placement of the air plants before glueing.



I glued the air plants on first and then found some green moss to put around the bottom of the house, but in hindsight I would have glued that moss on first.



Not counting the time it took us to drive to the garden center, the entire project took me about 25 minutes, if that long. I turned something I viewed as clutter into a part of our little indoor garden, and now I wouldn't dare get rid of it. 




That's something I've been discovering lately about things to declutter. I notice some things I don't really care about and donate or toss, while others just need a little bit of love to be useful and/or beautiful again.

Have you done any crafts or gardening lately? Tell me about it in the comments!

Related posts:

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

August Goals



Yet again I am shocked by how quickly time passes. Will that ever stop happening?

In June I set an intention to invest in myself and my blog, and in July I continued doing that. As you might have noticed, I had several collaborations that came about because I set that goal. I also invested any earnings from Floradise blog back into tools that will help me continue to improve it. I enrolled in Instagram for Success, a course by Helene of Helene in Between that you may have heard about if you're a blogger. We also made an exciting purchase last weekend: We bought the DJI Mavic Pro drone! I wanted to improve my footage of our travels, which will enhance both this blog and my YouTube videos. I also made other investments throughout the month and have more planned! My goal for the blog is to be a resource on travel, balancing fitness with everyday life, and being more intentional in general.

Before I share my August goals, I want to check in on how I did in July:

July Goal Check-In


Family:

  • Finalize plans for our Canada trip. We booked our hotels and some activities, but we'll probably wing the rest. Have any recommendations for Toronto? Share them with me in the comments!
  • Go on a date night. We had two in one week: Chicago River kayaking and a murder mystery date night. Both were courtesy of their respective companies.
  • Plan activities for my nephew's upcoming Chicago visit. We had a fun week of showing my nephew around the city, including the Tilt attraction at 360 Chicago and Navy Pier.
Fitness:
  • Start marathon training. Run at least 25 miles this month. I accomplished both of these, though I was only able to attend one group training so far. I ran 29 miles.
  • Go to two yoga classes. I didn't make it to any studio classes.
  • Film a yoga video. I did this on the last day of July.
Blog/Career:
  • Surpass June's sponsored/freelance income. I accomplished this with my work on four sponsored posts this month. I would have loved to space them out more, but the deadlines worked out the way that they did. 
  • Film five YouTube videos. I posted eight videos on my YouTube channel this month. Would you check them out?
  • Post consistently on my blog and social media. I posted consistently but there's room for improvement on Instagram and Facebook.
Travel:
  • Find accommodations for our winter trip. I haven't done this yet.
  • Explore two new places/activities in Chicago. I tried Chicago River kayaking, the Tilt at 360 Chicago and a murder mystery dinner show, in addition to checking out XO Marshmallow in my neighborhood. I also became a mermaid for a day with AquaMermaid!
  • Add to travel fund. I saved more thanks to a bonus from work, and we added a new trip destination to our list, so I need to get more serious about saving.

August goals

Family:
  • Be more present during family time, which means dedicating blocks of time to each category of my life: blog, work, fitness, family, self-care, etc.  This also means a renewed focus on single-tasking over the illusion of multitasking.
  • Go on two date nights. Re-prioritize our marriage. When we brought V home, a lot of our attention and focus shifted to adjusting, and I (and we) need to get back to making our marriage more of a focus. 
  • Enjoy a mom's night out. This is already planned: I'm going to the Lady Gaga concert at Wrigley Field this month!
  • Continue working through my decluttering list. More posts on this coming soon!
Self-Care:
  • Meditate for 5 minutes a day.
  • Listen to two Audible books. I'm currently listening to "The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have With People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want to Do." I also plan to read "Present Over Perfect."
Fitness:
  • Start tracking meals again. I stopped doing this recently and started eating whatever I want. I told myself it didn't matter what size I am and that I would rather enjoy my food and life. But now I don't feel comfortable or confident in my clothing. I want to track what I'm eating to hopefully cut back on mindless snacking and get back to feeling great in my clothes.
  • Go back to the gym. Besides the treadmill, running outside and light yoga at home, I have not been strength training at all. I want to feel strong again!
  • Film three yoga videos.
  • Continue half-marathon training.  I am running the Chicago Half on Sept. 25. 

Blog/Career:
  • Learn how to use the drone! I'm so excited to share more videos this month!
  • Match my July freelance/blog income.
  • Plan and write more posts in advance. I want to use the time-blocking method more to write in batches. 
  • Work through the Instagram for Success course modules. I've already learned about some helpful tools that I previously had not heard about. 

Travel:
  • Add to our travel fund. This will continue to be a goal.
  • Plan a weekend trip to D.C. to visit my best friend. I miss her and it's my turn to visit.
What are your August goals? Do you have any fun trips or events planned?

Related posts:


Monday, July 31, 2017

My Chicago Summer Bucket List & On-the-Go Photo Tips

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser, Walmart Family Mobile. All opinions are mine alone. #SummerIsForSavings #CollectiveBias #WFM2




Summer is breezing past us, and we still have many items left on our Chicago summer bucket list. Some of these activities I would do as part of my own self-care, and some would be fun to do as a family! My goal for the next weeks is to do as many of my wish list items as possible. I've already tried kayaking on the Chicago River and a mermaid fitness class, along with countless beach days, so with about seven weeks of summer officially left, I have exactly seven activities  left to do in the city. Sure, I've done most of these before, but they are certainly worth doing every year!

My Chicago summer bucket list for 2017:


1. Attend a new street festival. You can find a food, music or arts festival just about every weekend in the summer!

2. Embark on an architecture cruise on the Chicago River. These tours never get old!


3. Go stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Michigan. I have tried SUP before, but I want to master it while taking in city views!

4. Watch a movie in Millennium Park. I recently went to a concert at Jay Pritzker Pavilion, where the movies are screened, and it reminded me that I never actually watched a movie there. Movies in the parks are a fun way to spend an evening, and they're free!



5. Practice yoga on the beach. Outdoor yoga is so much fun!

6. Send summer off with a cruise on Lake Michigan. We've done this every summer since we've lived here.



7. Stroll around Lincoln Park Conservatory. Taking photographs of plants is one of my favorite activities.

Ready, set, go!

In the past I've shared my ideas to save money for travel, but there's one more thing I've done to help me pay for fun, whether it's exploring Chicago or visiting a new place. I wanted to capture the memories we create this summer and save money while also investing in my myself and my goals for this blog. With that in mind, I turned to Walmart Family Mobile's $49.88 PLUS Plan (Unlimited Talk, Text & Data Plan), which is powered by T-Mobile's nationwide 4G LTE† network. I wanted to have a new tool to keep me connected, help me store and take photos, consolidate my photo and social apps in one place, and give me more flexibility. It was super easy and convenient to get started on Walmart Family Mobile's $49.88 PLUS Plan and it includes up to 15 GB of 4G LTE† data, then 2G*. I picked up the LG L59 Grace from the selection of phones at Walmart and then getting activated took only a few minutes. There's no contract and you can keep your phone number and even your phone.




Using the phone and the expanded 15 GB of 4G LTE† data helps me not only share my memories on social media and my blog more seamlessly, but it helps me keep more of a balance between my blog and my family life. It's a plus that the monthly $49.88 PLUS Plan is easy on my wallet and has no activation fees or late charges, and you can pick from Walmart's clear monthly plan options to fit your own budget.

Disclaimer: All prices for phones and plans included in this post are accurate as of the date of posting; however, these prices are subject to change. Please refer to this page or your local Walmart for current pricing.



Taking/sharing photos on the go this summer:


  • Don't rush to get a shot. When you are in a hurry you are more likely to shake the camera or phone you are shooting with, which yields blurry photos. Take a deep breath and slow down. That means don't worry about what other people think about you snapping a photo or getting your photo taken. Take your time.
  • Try multiple angles and poses. Instead of taking a phone at eye level with your subject, try getting down low or taking the photo from above. Step forward and back (while checking where you are stepping) to take the photo. Take the same photo at least three ways.
  • You can use either your camera and phone to take great photos. When using your phone, turn on the Pro or HDR setting and download photo editing apps to help you.
  • For the photos on my camera that I want to share instantly, I use a mobile adapter that was fairly affordable to send them to my phone and then upload them to social media using a Nikon app. It takes just a minute! The little adapter plugs into my camera and then I can see and download photos on my phone. I then share where I please. 

  • Find the best natural lighting to avoid using the flash. I prefer photos without flash because they look more natural and better overall. 
  • Use a tripod with a remote to take fun time-lapse photos (like when you watch fireworks at Navy Pier!). Tripods can be found in all price ranges, and often another object can act as a stand to keep your camera still as well. 
  • Organize all your photo apps, social media and related apps in one folder on your home screen to make them easily accessible on the go. Don't waste valuable time that could be spent exploring your city!

My home screen on the LG L59 Grace has folders for my social media, photography and other frequently used apps.





Besides offering the data to suit your needs, the $49.88 PLUS Plan also provides a free VUDU◊ movie rental credit valued at $7.00 each time you renew your service.

What's on your summer bucket list? Share it with me in the comments!

*Please always refer to the latest terms and conditions at myfamilymobile.com.

†To get 4G LTE speed, you must have a 4G LTE capable device and 4G LTE SIM Card. Actual availability, coverage and speed may vary. LTE is a trademark of ETSI.

Disclaimer: ◊Limited time offer. Available for lines active with the PLUS $49.88 plan only. VUDU enabled device and account required for digital viewing. Customers must be 18 years or older to open a VUDU account. Movie rental only available in the USA. Free movie rental provided in the form of a movie rental code to the value of a $7.00 VUDU credit. Movie rental code allows for selection from available movies for rent. May not be readily redeemable on all new releases. Code will be delivered within up to 24 hours of the effective account renewal date. Must be used within 30 days of receiving code. Offer is non-transferable. Limit 1 per customer. Additional terms and conditions on VUDU's website: http://www.vudu.com/termsofservice.html

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Chicago Eats: Midnight Mac and Cheeserie, XO Marshmallow and Hutch

It's been a minute since I've shared some of the meals I've had recently in Chicago. I like to write these posts regularly for those of you who appreciate a good meal as much as I do. Whether you live in Chicago or you plan to visit, you might consider browsing these posts to see if you want to add any of these restaurants to your Chicago dining list.


Midnight Mac and Cheeserie, Rogers Park

This restaurant took the place of Growling Rabbit, one of my favorite places for a vegan breakfast in my neighborhood. (I'm not vegan but I like to eat like one sometimes.) By the way, Growling Rabbit has the best Chai in the area that I've tried. Anyway, Midnight Mac and Cheeserie caught my eye because they offer so many varieties of mac and cheese, and you can build your own, too. The portions are quite large for one person, even with a small. I liked the veggie option, and the lobster was delicious, though they both become too much after a while. After so many bites I just couldn't keep going. Bring a large appetite! As the name implies, the restaurant stays open late. When it first opened they kept having to close early because they ran out of food, but I believe they make it to midnight or later now. At first you could only order the food (like I did), but now you can dine in as well.



XO Marshmallow, Rogers Park

XO is also a new business in my neighborhood, and it's located right next door to Midnight Mac and Cheeserie. (It's owned by someone in the same family, too.) It basically sells marshmallow desserts, such as gourmet marshmallows in a bunch of flavors. We tried a chocolate one, as well as a classic s'more. I also order the Chai-cago, an iced Chai with marshmallow whipped cream. My total was about $14 for the three. You can also get s'more tacos and doughnut s'mores and enjoy them in the cute, pink-themed cafe. It's quite small, with only two tables and some other seating, but it's adorable. Besides that you can shop for mugs, T-shirts, marshmallows (including champagne!) and other goods. The s'mores were just what you'd expect in a s'more. My only suggestion would be to not serve them in plastic containers if you are eating them in the cafe. I've only visited once so far and I plan to return to try the other desserts.






Hutch, Lakeview

It's been a while since I dined here with Jessie, but I liked the fish tacos ($12.99) and that they came with black beans. The sriracha aioli was delicious. I also added avocado to mine, obviously. The restaurant was nearly empty when we went, and I wondered why. The decor was so quaint; it has multiple hutch pieces, given the name.


More Chicago eats posts:

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