Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Disney World: A Day at Magic Kingdom



I survived a day at Magic Kingdom with a toddler!

Our magical day began when the two of us walked over to the Disney bus stop from our hotel room in Casitas 2 at Coronado Springs resort. When we arrived at Magic Kingdom just after it opened at 9 a.m., the park's entrance was as packed as you'd expect, but the security line moved quickly. I wanted to head over to the stroller rentals, but we immediately saw Minnie and Pluto in Town Square, so we had to get in line. Victoria was ecstatic!



We waited for about 25 minutes, enjoying some entertainment in the meantime. As you can expect, waiting is difficult for a toddler. She just doesn't understand why she couldn't run up to Minnie and give her a hug. I completely understand her frustration. Waiting was also nerve-wracking because a cast member informed us Stitch would be replacing Minnie, so not everyone would meet her. But, luckily, we were among the last to meet Minnie, and Victoria was great about waiting her turn, at least this time. We took our photos with Minnie, who was just as adorable and sweet as I remember.





After meeting Minnie, I rented a stroller for about $15. Victoria was amazed at the castle straight ahead, so we walked toward it for a closer look. It was then time for our first of four fast passes, for Buzz Lightyear's ride in Tommorowland.

We next walked over to Fantasyland, where I picked up some iced coffee at Cheshire Cafe. Victoria spotted the tea cups adjacent to the cafe, so I obliged her request to go on that ride. She loved it as expected, and she even wanted to spin faster.



By this time I was starving, so we walked around Liberty Square and Adventureland in search of food. I admired an ornament at Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe that I later returned to buy, too. We came across the Aladdin Magic Carpets, so we got in line for that. This was another instance of impatience from Victoria, but I kept reminding her that our turn was coming up, so there was no need to worry.

Lunch was a veggie burrito for me and mac and cheese and fruit for Victoria at Pecos Bill's. (Tip: A cast member informed that you can make anything vegetarian here except the burger.) Lunch was about $18, so I highly suggest bringing your own lunch to the park. I also should have just shared my food with Victoria, because she only really ate the fruit and I ended up eating her mac and cheese as well.

Veggie burrito is zucchini, rice and beans.


It was then time to meet Mickey in Town Square, where the stand-by line read 30 minutes. We had a fast pass, so it took us about 5 to meet him. This was where Victoria lost her patience, screaming and crying when I held her back from hugging him during the previous family's turn. The cast member who was assisting reassured her that her turn was coming, and finally Mickey walked over to Victoria. She immediately smiled and hugged him. They spent a few minutes together before we waved goodbye.



Our next fast pass was for It's a Small World, which had about a 50-minute stand-by line. We boarded a boat within 5 minutes. The rides as adults just seem so much shorter than we were kids, no?

It was time for Victoria's nap, so we headed toward the exit, admiring a show at the castle on the way. We boarded a bus to our hotel and were back in our hotel room shortly after that. Super easy!

We returned to the park two and a half hours later. We rode Aladdin's Magic Carpets (again), the jungle cruise (for which we had a fast pass), and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We also climbed through the treehouse and had dinner in Fantasyland (more mac and cheese; pretty much the only veggie option I could immediately find).  Again, bring food!

Last, but not least, we watched the fireworks at the end of the night. We didn't have the best viewing spot because we had been on a ride when most people stake out their area, but we could see the fireworks just fine. Victoria's face showed just how much she was amazed at what she saw, and we left the park exhausted but content. And that's the magic of Disney.

Second half of the day:



Monday, January 30, 2017

Coronado Springs and Disney Springs

Our whirlwind Disney trip was over too quickly.  I wish I were at Magic Kingdom this moment, but I'll settle for the relaxing Florida Keys.

Day 1 of our time at Disney World was about getting to know the area, which can be a little overwhelming given its enormous size. We checked into Disney's Coronado Springs Resort early Wednesday afternoon and began the day by wandering the grounds, having lunch and settling in. The lake on the property was surrounded by signs warning about alligators. The property also lots of flowers to admire. The resort is undergoing renovations from what we heard, and most of the guests appeared to be convention-goers.





For lunch, I ordered a veggie burger from the market at Coronado Springs that I wasn't too impressed with. We had a $25 dining credit, so I won't complain too much. It satisfied my hunger and the fries were decent.

Later that afternoon, we drove to nearby Disney Springs to check it out. (We didn't realize at the time that we could take the free Disney buses.) I knew nothing about the shopping and entertainment center except that it was home to the largest Disney character store in the world. Sold!

We found free parking quickly in the Lime Garage adjacent to the shopping center. From the second floor, we took the stairs down to the ground level. To the right was the Disney store, where you would find just about anything you would want from Disney. I wanted to buy everything for Victoria, but we settled for an Elena of Avalor doll. I now wish we had also bought her the Elena dress to match, but maybe she will want to be her for next Halloween. After our purchase, we took a stroll around Disney Springs. We saw a Lego play center and plenty of photo opportunities and dining options. We even encountered a Sprinkles cupcake ATM!


Disney Springs is definitely worth checking out when you're in the area. 

Have you been to Disney Springs or stayed at Coronado Springs? What did you think?



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Escaping the Winter Cold
& A Jord Watch Giveaway

** This post is sponsored by JORD Wood Watches. 

Jord watch, wood watch, women's wood watch
The accessories I packed for my vacation.


For the past couple of months, I've been in hibernation mode. I've been wearing leggings and oversize sweaters and only accessorizing with the necessities when I venture out into the Chicago cold. Our trip to Florida was my long-awaited opportunity to bust out my neglected accessories and debut my new JORD wood watch! The chance to wear my unique new timepiece added much more excitement to the packing process.

JORD recently sent me the zebrawood and emerald wood watch from its Reece series. I was drawn to its emerald color because of my affinity for all things green (and of course flora!). Its square shape is also striking to me. I find that the women's wood watch pairs just as well with my sweater and jackets as it does with a colorful-print romper. The emerald face gives off tropical vibes, which can make you feel like you're in an exotic paradise even when you're not. Luckily, I am in vacation mode!

My JORD wood watch complements all my vacation outfits.


I wouldn't swim with the watch on (Obviously. They are best kept out of the humidity!) but I'd certainly wear it to sunbathe and relax!


Here's how I tackled packing for the vacation:
  • Use an Excel document to write down each date you will travel along with the forecast for that day. To the right, write down your outfit choice and accessories. I found that my wood watch complemented the vast majority of my planned outfits.
  • Roll and pack each piece next to its matching items to make finding outfits easy.
  • Place accessories in protective bags or boxes. I left my JORD wood watch in the box that it came in, which has a little drawer at the bottom to hold a polishing cloth and JORD Preserve natural finishing oil to help properly care for the piece.

  • Pack plastic or cloth bags for dirty laundry.
  • Bring only a few accessories that match most of your outfits to save space and keep it simple! My JORD watch is example of such a piece.
JORD's  zebrawood and emerald woodwatch  matches the other accessories I wanted to wear on the trip. It was comfortable to wear during a long day of sightseeing.



Zebrawood and maple are intricately weaved together to create a unique and lovely timepiece. JORD can also size and personalize your watch, making it a perfect gift option for your significant other (or yourself).

Thanks to my partnership with JORD wood watches, my readers can enter into a giveaway for a $100 gift code toward your own unique wood watch. Check out JORD's wood watches for men or JORD's women's wood watches to see what style works for you or a loved one. If you aren't the one winner of the giveaway, don't worry; everyone who enters will receive $25 off a purchase on JORD's website!

Click here to enter the giveaway!

*The winner will receive the code by email. Contest ends Feb. 5.

Need gift ideas?


Watch Gift Ideas


Check out JORD's wood watches for men.


Browse JORD's women's wood watches.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

** This post contains affiliate links.


Victoria and I spent a windy day in Clearwater at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which is known for being a filming location for the movie "Dolphin Tale." You'll learn much about the movie and Winter, the dolphin who played herself in it, when you visit.

We arrived at Clearwater Marine Aquarium about 10:30 a.m., just after it opened. A nearby church served as an alternate parking location during construction outside the aquarium. I wished I had brought a stroller to carry Victoria, because walking with her takes longer than I have patience for. But I quickly learned it was a good idea to ditch the stroller, because the walkways inside are narrow, and you encounter quite a few stairs as you maneuver around the aquarium. I had to carry Victoria off and on to walk into and around the building. (I later noticed an elevator.) 

We found just a few people in line to buy my ticket, which was about $21. Victoria got in for free, as do all children younger than 3. The cashier asked if I wanted to wear the orange wristband to enter, and I was confused by the question. "Sometimes they want to wear it," she said, referring to kids. I didn't think twice about it; I just put it on. Victoria immediately wanted the wristband. It was a rookie mom mistake, but she quickly got over it.

As you walk toward the entrance, a photographer asks you to take goofy photos that you can purchase inside. When in Rome, right? I didn't actually buy the photos but we enjoyed taking them.

The entrance leads into the gift shop and an intensive care unit to the right, where you can observe as animals are treated. We instead headed to the fish and shark tanks. We then walked upstairs to see the turtle talk that was going on, followed by the otter presentation. We couldn't really find a suitable spot for Victoria to see the otter well, so we moved on to the turtle tank, which is outside and down a flight of stairs. I had to lift Victoria up to see the turtles swim, because the viewing portals are much taller than a toddler is. We had some time to ourselves to admire the turtles as they swam. We then went back upstairs to the stranding deck, where a dolphin presentation was about to begin. This is where we met Nicholas, who lost his mother and never learned how to survive in the wild. It was incredibly windy on this day, and the canopy overhead sounded like it was going to blow off, but it was still a pleasant day overall as we sat on the bleachers.

Next we walked over to another dolphin presentation taking place inside. We also walked around to the snack bar outside the entrance to grab a snack and drink some water. After a quick break, we walked inside to grab a souvenir, an ornament that says Clearwater Marine Aquarium, as part of our tradition of collecting ornaments from places we visit. I was ready to call it a day, but I heard a turtle had just been rescued that day, so we walked over to the animal clinic to watch it be treated. It was amazing to see!

I then realized we had completely missed the sting rays, so we paid them a visit before heading out. Victoria had a wonderful time and talked about the turtles for the rest of the day, so I'd call it a successful adventure!


Have you been to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium or seen the movie "Dolphin Tale"? 


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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Chicago to Clearwater Road Trip



On Friday, we set off on our first road trip as a family. When we told people we were planning to drive to Florida from Chicago, we got some shocked expressions. "You're going to drive to Florida with a toddler?!"

Yes, we did. The only person whining was me, to be honest. Victoria is easily entertained with her toys and tablet, and she has no problem sleeping in the car. I, on the other hand, get antsy and hangry.

We left Chicago after work on Friday night and made the five-hour trek to Louisville. It was smooth sailing until it was time to sleep at the hotel. Victoria was restless, and I was therefore up until 3 a.m. The next morning, we slept as long as possible before visiting friends and family in the city. It was nice to relax for the morning and early afternoon without being stuck in a car.

We departed Louisville around 2:30 p.m. on our way to Atlanta, where we had booked a hotel. Our six-hour drive took us through Bowling Green, Nashville and Chattanooga before finally heading into Georgia. Our short stay was nice enough: I soaked in Dr. Teals Lavender Epsom Salt solution and then went straight to bed. Victoria and I both slept much better this night, despite the loud noises emanating through the hotel hallways.

We awoke at 7 a.m. to get ready for our last leg, a seven-hour drive. It was a rainy but pleasant day in Atlanta that turned into torrential downpours as we hit Macon. Several people had died the night before in tornadoes in southeast Georgia, and the forecast called for more possible tornadoes and thunderstorms. To say I was on edge is an understatement. It didn't help that a weather report said there was a 90 percent chance there was a tornado within 50 miles at any given time in exactly the area we'd be driving through. What?! We paid attention to the radar to make sure we were safe, and we planned to stop driving if the drive ever became hazardous. Luckily that didn't happen. We crossed the state line into Florida to find sunny skies and a temperature of 80 degrees. Not too shabby!

That later turned into more storms, but it's been pleasant so far.

Interested to see what it's like to drive 1,200 miles?


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Monday, January 23, 2017

Mom Life:
Dressing Up Hair with Headbands

** This post is sponsored by Irresistible Me. All opinions are my own.

Becoming a mother through adoption has impacted every aspect of my life. It really has. Even something as simple as styling my hair every day has changed. I never don't always have the time to do something with my hair, but I still want to look cute. I have turned to headbands to make myself look more put together every day without trying as hard. Lately, I have been wearing my headbands from Irresistible Me, which is known for its hair extensions and tools. They also have hair accessories available that are affordable, girly and cute (and it looks like they are currently on sale!). I have straight, flat hair, so headbands really enhance my day-to-day look.

I wore the Celine headband on our road trip from Chicago to Clearwater, Florida, because I wanted to look nice while stopping to visit family and friends without actually reaching for the curling or straightening iron. The Celine headband is black with lace and mini pearl details. It wasn't too tight, so it didn't get uncomfortable to wear throughout the day.

Wearing the Celine headband while visiting a friend in Louisville, Kentucky.
I also have the Diana tiara, which I plan to wear this headband to Disney World this week so I can feel like a princess. My toddler has worn it already as well!


Channeling Princess Diana in this Diana tiara.


Plus, there are many other instances to wear headbands:
  • Wear them during makeup application. (I have been doing this daily!)
  • Wear them during your nightly skincare routine.
  • Add them to your costumes. (Think Great Gatsby or princess costumes!)
  • Dress up a simple outfit choice or compliment dressy attire.
On what occasions do you wear headbands? Comment below for a chance to win two of Irresistible Me's headbands: The Aurora and the Grace (see below).


The Aurora Headband makes you feel like royalty.
The Grace headband has pretty details like the Celine one I have.

Enter the giveaway:

Enter the giveaway for the Grace and Aurora Headbands from Irresistible Me!

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Birthday Gifts for the Fitness Lover | My Wish List

** This post contains affiliate links.


My birthday is next month, and when I think about what I would like to receive, it's always fitness related. What can I say? It's what I love to do. I pretty much have everything I would want and don't need much else, but workout clothes are used so much that they sometimes need to be replaced. I recently decluttered worn athletic attire or active wear that I no longer like to make space for new pieces that bring me joy and help me reach my goals. Looking for gifts for a fitness lover in your life? Check out my wish list for inspiration!

Garmin Vivosmart HR: I have the older model of the Garmin Vivosmart, which I received for Christmas a few years ago. I love my Garmin and wear it daily. I credit the Vivosmart with helping me get in better shape. However, I accidentally washed my Vivosmart, so the numbers on the display are cut off at the top and bottom. I can still make out what it says, but this Vivosmart might be on its last legs. A Vivosmart would make a great gift for fitness lovers, especially runners, or any person looking to be more active during the day.

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C9 by Champion Leggings: You can't go wrong with C9 by Champion. I have many workout pieces from them because they are so affordable and they have held up to many washes, in my experience. I love the new options they have come out with recently, including these Freedom Leggings.

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C9 by Champion Women's Hooded Run Cowl: If you are shopping for a runner who lives somewhere cold, you can't go wrong with gifting a running jacket. This one is versatile in that it would match with just about anything, and it is made with moisture-wicking fabric. It also has reflective details. Also thumb holes are a MUST.

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Headbands: Runners and other fitness lovers can't have enough headbands, especially if they work out four or five times a week like I aim to do. You go through so much laundry when you work out frequently. I like to use headbands to cover my ears during winter and spring Chicago runs.


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What would be on your fitness wish list?


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

More Beauty Empties | My Thoughts

**This post contains affiliate links.


I've been using some products I have grown to love recently. I finally tried It Cosmetics and was impressed, and I continued to use more of my favorite products. A bonus is that I believe all of these products are cruelty-free as well. Here's what I finished using in December and early January:

It Cosmetics Confidence in a Cream Transforming Moisturizing Super Cream (from limited-edition holiday ornament): I bought this as a Christmas gift for myself and I was not disappointed. A mini (.5-ounce version) lasted me for a month and a half using it twice a day. It's not too heavy on the skin, and I like that the scent isn't too intense. My skin feels and looks smoother. It contains hyaluronic acid, among other ingredients, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. I repurchased this, although the package I picked up at Ulta had been opened and wasn't the expected consistency. Ulta was nice enough to send me a gift card in the amount I spent, so I will be repurchasing.

It Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Eye Cream: I have been using this sample size since December, and I feel like I can count it as an empty because it is a decent size sample, compared with single-use packets you typically receive. I didn't think it felt too heavy under my eyes, and it made the area under my eyes brighter. I will be purchasing the full size next.

LuLu Blossom Coconut Citrus Sorbet Deodorant: I bought this vegan, natural deodorant at a farmers market recently. I loved the scent. My only complaint is that it dried up after a while and became unusable. But it works well for months before that occurs. It just doesn't last as long as a typical deodorant.

Lush Cup O'Coffee mask: I love the scent of this mask and it was gentle on the skin, but I didn't like the cleanup. The coffee grinds get all over the sink and a couple of times they got in my eye when I was washing the mask off. I liked the gentle exfoliation, though, so I would buy this again.

Brigeo Don't Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask: I received this hair mask for free in my POPSugar September Must-Have Box (sponsored), and it lasted me almost four months. I used it once a week to condition my hair, and my hair felt soft, looked shiny and seemed healthy. It is free of harsh chemicals. A factor to consider is that this mask is $36. I am not sure I would buy this at that price, but it works, so ... maybe?

What products have you used up recently? Did you love them?


Shop some of the products**:





Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Galentine's Gift Ideas

** This post contains affiliate links.

Most of us are well aware that Valentine's Day is fast approaching -- just about every retailer is reminding you, right? But have you considered a Galentine's Day gift for your gal pals as Leslie Knope would?  I compiled five adorable gift options from one of my favorite online shopping sites, Etsy. Your best friends will love them!  I have purchased most of these and plan to purchase the remaining item as well. Enjoy!

Initial Ring: You can get this ring in any letter and in silver, rose gold and gold. It's affordable and cute!

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Lucky Elephant Necklace: You can get this cute little dainty necklace in gold or silver. I've gifted this to my friend who traveled to Thailand recently and visited rescued elephants.

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Roald Dahl Print by Meera Lee Patel: The colorful print says "If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely." This would be perfect to display in a friend's office, craft room, bedroom, wherever!


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Custom Address Stamp by Note Trunk: I bought one of these for myself a few years ago and plan to get another our next move. This is especially thoughtful for the friend who loves to send snail mail. This is also perfect for newly engaged couples or for a friend who has recently moved.

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"You Rock" Amethyst Dipped in Gold: This is an adorable piece for a friend's desk and the packaging is just as lovely. Amethyst is for protection, wisdom, positive energy and friendship, among other uses. You can also get the rocks for different occasions and with different gems.

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Do you celebrate Galentine's Day on Feb. 13?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Phoenix Hike: White Tank Mountains



When you have time in Phoenix, you'd be crazy to not spend some of it hiking. One beautiful area to consider visiting is the White Tank Mountains Regional Park. It's about a 35-minute drive from central Phoenix in Waddell, but it's worth the trek. It's an expansive park with opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, picnics, mountain biking and exploring.

Last time I visited the park was when I lived in Phoenix. Graham and I had hiked the Waterfall Trail after a rainfall, one of the few times you'll actually see water flowing. This time we chose the 1.3-mile Black Rock Trail, which connects with the Waterfall Trail. You can do either the short or long loop, and walked the long option. You'll be surrounded by barrel cacti, saguaros, and more desert flora. The hike isn't too difficult, so anyone can do it. The park is also large enough that even though you share the trails with families, baby boomers, mountain bikers and more, you don't feel too crowded, as you do on other popular mountains. You could spend the entire day at the park and feel entertained, refreshed and energized, which makes the visit well worth the $6 per car entrance fee.





Of course, there are numerous options for trail hikes. You can hike 8 miles or half a mile; it's up to you and your desired level of exercise. Some trails also have markers that show archaeological artifacts or areas, which you should admire but never touch. (Don't deface or take them home, either!) Just enjoy being outdoors in gorgeous weather (assuming you are visiting in the winter).

Be on the lookout for wildlife, rock stacks and desert flora as well. You will see many varieties of cacti, including the barrel cactus. whose curved needles Native Americans used as fish hooks. (I learned that neat fact on a park sign.)






Learn a lesson from the towering saguaros at White Tank Mountain Regional Park. Stand tall and shine!




Have you visited White Tank Mountain Regional Park or Phoenix in general? 

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