Monday, July 29, 2013

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

In the Africa section of Animal Kingdom, they have a nice walking path called Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.  This path takes you through a more "zoo-like" area of Animal Kingdom so that you can see more of the animals in the park.

Here are some examples of animals that you will see:

One of the things that I love about Animal Kingdom is that you get really good views of the animals.  The Pangani Forest Trail is no exception, and I think it is one of the best examples of how up close and personal you can get to the animals while visiting Animal Kingdom.

The best time to go is early in the morning right when the park opens.  The trail can get crowded with lots of people up at the front of the barricades trying to see the animals.  In the mornings, the trail is almost empty, and we are able to see everything very well.  Another added bonus to being there first is that the animal experts are usually free to answer any questions, or to give more information about animal behavior.  The third reason to go in the morning is that the animals are fed in the mornings and so are more active.  For instance, the gorilla was super active on the morning pictured above, and I was able to get tons of great pictures of him walking around.

I give this attraction a 4/5 or 8/10 stars.  I always wish these trails were a bit longer with more animals to see.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Sonoma Stole My Heart

When Mike and I were planning our honeymoon to San Francisco, we both insisted that we get a couple of days outside of the city to relax.  What better place to relax than wine country, right?  As soon as I told people that we would be going to wine country, I was inundated with recommendations for wineries, hotels, B&B's, etc.  Everyone has their favorite spot in wine country it seems.

After a lot of internet research, I settled on Sonoma, California for our two days of wine and rest.  The main draw was that Sonoma was the closest city to San Francisco.  While Healdsburg and Napa are not that much further away, I didn't want to have to drive any further than necessary.  I also wanted something that was quaint and not filled with tourists and I had read that Sonoma was just such a place. 

When we first drove into "downtown" Sonoma and I was greeted with this site, I knew I had chosen wisely.

How cute is this city hall?  Directly to the right of city hall is this magnificent site, perfectly accentuated by an almost full moon.
The whole town was beautiful and everything you needed was within walking distance.  We stayed at a hotel right in Sonoma, The Ledson Hotel, which I will review on the blog in the future.  Staying in Sonoma was a bit more expensive, but the nice thing for us was that we didn't have to drive anywhere.  We could walk to all of the wineries' tasting rooms in the city.  There are also FABULOUS restaurants in Sonoma, all within walking distance. 

My favorite thing was that a block away from our hotel was a general store that sold wine, cheese and crackers.  They had the absolute best cheeses.  You could go in and sample the cheese too!  I made a fool of myself with the cheese.  We settled on a habanero cheddar and had the perfect snack in our hotel after a long evening of wine tasting.

I will be posting a lot on Sonoma in the coming months from our hotel recommendation to wineries, but for now I just wanted to post about how calming two days in Sonoma was for us.  We had the best time and left feeling totally rejuvenated.  We have often talked about our next trip to Sonoma and I can't wait for that.

And if any Bachelor fans need a further push to visit Sonoma, I give you Bachelor Ben's winery...
Down this row of beautiful ivy covered arches is the Envolve winery, which is owned by Bachelor Ben.  Funny side story, on our second afternoon in Sonoma, Mike was really tired and took a nap.  I got antsy and decided to explore the town.  I had this grand dream of going into the Envolve tasting room, sitting down to the bar to sip wines by myself and getting Bachelor Ben to spill all the Bachelor's dirty secrets to me over a nice chardonnay.  So, I went into the tasting room and there was no one there because it was 10:30 A.M.  There was this guy working with his back turned to me, and I had a panicked moment of it actually being Bachelor Ben.  What would I say?  Would I look like a complete weirdo drinking by myself before 11:00 A.M.?  So, I turned around and RAN down this nice cobbled street like a lunatic and then stood there wondering if I should go back and check if the man inside was Bachelor Ben. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Ghost of Booth

I was looking at photos from my recent trip to Washington D.C. and I came across this photo which freaked me out!  My mom and I toured Ford's Theater while we were in D.C.  I was extremely excited about this tour as I had never been to Ford's before and had just finished reading the book Killing Lincoln.

With everything fresh in my mind from reading the book, the tour was kind of amazing.  Inside the actual theater, the box seat is set up to look exactly how it did on the night that Lincoln visited and was killed by John Wilkes Booth.  It was from this box seat that Booth shot President Lincoln and then jumped over the balcony to the stage.  

How freaky is this photo?  It looks like I captured the ghost of John Wilkes Booth.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Green and White Stripes

When I was planning a recent trip to New Orleans, all I thought about was the food.  The restaurant scene in New Orleans is no joke.  We ate and drank almost the entire trip, and everything we had was delicious.  During my research I quickly realized that we could not possibly go to every place that I wanted.  I had to be discriminatory and brutal.  I wanted the best of the best and at the end of our trip I knew that I did well.  

One non-negotiable in my itinerary was a trip to Cafe du Monde.  I have heard so many people talk about their beignets and I was looking forward to trying them myself.  Can I make a confession?  I cannot say the word "beignet" properly.  I took years of French class and was always praised for my near perfect diction.  But I cannot say beignet, so ordering at Cafe du Monde was intensely embarrassing.  

Anyways, here is the iconic Cafe du Monde:
At Cafe du Monde, you seat yourself.  There are a ton of tables under the awning and in the building, but the place is always pretty busy.  If you want a table that's right on the edge of the awning where you can people watch, you need to either get there at 3:00 A.M. or wait it out.  

Once you sit down, a waiter will come and take your order.  The only food on the menu is beignets.  You can get a coffee, milk, soda or orange juice.  It's kind of crazy that a place with only one thing on the menu can be this busy.  Another confession that I have to make is that I have never loved beignets.  Before Cafe du Monde, I had tried beignets a few times and never understood the fuss.  I don't really love powdered sugar, and beignets are basically doughnut pillows covered in powdered sugar.  Not my jam.  

Mike and I ordered just one plate of beignets to split.  There are three beignets per order.  When the plate came, we quickly dug in.
To my pleasure, these were nothing like the beignets I had before.  They were warm and soft and the sugar was stuck onto the doughnut so it didn't fall all over my dress.  I was in heaven and then Mike and I had to duel for the third one.  We did the right thing and split it in half, but I would be lying if I didn't say that I really wanted it for myself.  

When the plate was empty I felt like crying.  I wanted more, but my waistline said that 1.5 was enough.  It's tough listening to my hips.  This is a very sad plate.
If you can't find a table at the cafe, you can order beignets and coffee at the to-go counter.  These would be a great treat to take back to the hotel after a night of libations.  Just remember to get an extra order, you will thank me later!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular

Truth Squad: I have only seen two of the four Indiana Jones movies.  And one of them was the craptastic Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  The other one that I have seen is The Last Crusade, which is why whenever anyone asks me my favorite Indiana Jones movie, I always respond with "The Last Crusade," and then the people always say, "Really, that one is my least favorite."  I have no excuse for not seeing the movies.  It just wasn't something I was interested in when they were popular, and now I have better things to The Real Housewives of New Jersey, on repeat.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios there is a pretty great stunt show featuring stunts from the Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark movie.  This show has been around since they opened the park in 1989 and not much has changed since then.  In all honesty, this is one of those shows that doesn't need any upgrades because it's pretty perfect just the way it is.

First, the theater is HUGE.  And shaded.  While it isn't air-conditioned, it's usually pretty cool because you are out of the sun and they have large fans going.  The show runs about 25 minutes, so it can be a nice respite from the midday sun.  They only run the show a few times per day, so you want to check the show times when you first get to the park. 

The show has some really great examples of extreme action stunt work.  I haven't seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, but even I can appreciate the famous scenes that they recreate before the audience.  I would even go as far as to say that what you see is incredible.  It really is that good.  There are choreographed fight scenes, pyrotechnics, audience participation (there is one gag in particular that gets me every time), and great acrobatics.  I have seen this show many times, and yet every time I notice something new. 

This really is an amazing show to see.  I wouldn't miss it during your trip.  5 out of 5 or 9 out of 10 stars. 

On a side note, one of the difficult things about Hollywood Studios is timing out your day.  There are several shows and parades that make it difficult to get everything in on one visit.  My expert advice is to plan on visiting the Studios at least twice during your visit.  I don't think you need to spend a full day either time, but it will make it easier to fit everything in if you space your visits on two separate days.  The Indiana Jones show is on an opposite end of the park as Lights! Motors! Action!, and I have noticed that they usually space the shows where you could only do one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  When you factor in walking time, time standing in line, and time waiting for the show to begin, it eats up at least an hour and a half of your time for each show.  To me it makes sense to spend two mornings at the Studios, or a morning and an afternoon so that you can fit everything in. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Asians Know Food

If I had to pick a favorite type of cuisine, it would definitely be "Asian."  I love all types of Asian food, whether it's Thai, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese.  I love it all!!!  One of my "must-eats" on any trip is to find a good Asian restaurant.  When we were planning our honeymoon trip to San Francisco last fall, I was so excited to experience Chinatown.  I read up on all of the good Dim Sum places to try out and finally settled on one that the guidebook said was good for novices.  I was definitely a novice at Dim Sum.  Minnesota has so many wonderful Chinese restaurants, but Dim Sum is not a big thing here. 

After walking around Chinatown all morning, we finally found the restaurant that the guidebook promised would be "excellent for novices."  We figured that 11:00 a.m. would be a good time to avoid the lunch crowd who would all be making fun of us because we didn't know how to order off the carts properly.  At 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, however, the restaurant was packed to the gills.  We were quickly lead to an empty table, and immediately the carts were rolling towards us.  The first cart that came to our table had the daily special, which was covered with a silver dome.  The cart driver pointed at a covered plate and asked if we wanted to try the special.  We had just sat down and had not come up with a pre-Dim Sum game plan, so instead of looking at the cart's offering we just nodded our heads and before we knew it this was plopped down in front of us:

This was our first tactical error (I'm talking about the seafood special dish and not the pork buns).  We did not really know what the dish was, and it ended up being flavorless and kind of icky.  It was also expensive.  I think it was around $17-$20, although they never actually tell you how much something cost at a Dim Sum.  They just stamp your ticket and then bring you a final bill at the end. 

After the seafood cart rolled away, Mike and I had a quick tactical discussion.  We only wanted dishes that looked appetizing and wanted to get mostly appetizers with no more main dishes.  At some point during that discussion the pork bun cart driver rolled by and I almost tackled him to get a plate.

After we got situated, the carts rolled fast and furious.  Soon we were inundated with delicious looking dishes and we had a table full of food.  I mean it.  Here was our table:
As we looked around at the other patrons' tables, we realized that most people just had one or two dishes on their tables and we looked like little piggies at the casino buffet.  It was embarrassing.

Our second tactical error was not telling the cart drivers "no" or "come back later."  Instead, we packed our table so full of food that there was no way we could finish it all.  I think once you start saying yes to everything, word spreads that you are suckers and then every cart comes to your table.  I think the pork bun cart came to our table 4 times. 

The real problem with this, besides wasting food, is that you have no idea what you are spending because none of the dishes are marked with a price.  I'm sure you could ask, but we didn't.  Our final bill was over $50!  Even in San Francisco, that is a lot to spend at lunch for two people.  We didn't even have booze.

I'm not sure that the restaurant we went to was good for the novice Dim Sum person, so I won't even name it.  There were tons of Dim Sum restaurants, and I think that anywhere you go you will probably have a good dining experience.  Unless you are a Dim Sum expert I would suggest going into a larger restaurant that looks like it has a good variety of food to choose from. 

My favorite dishes from the lunch were the aforementioned buns and the ribs and pot stickers:

I was somewhat disappointed in my first Dim Sum experience, but I think a lot of the disappointment came from how overwhelmed I felt while dining and the large price tag that the lunch had.  Next time I do Dim Sum I will go in with a better game plan and be firm in telling the cart drivers when I don't want something before our table gets loaded up again.  It was a fun life lesson and I don't regret going, it just wasn't my favorite meal in San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Home in Charleston

Out of all of the cities in the United States that I have visited, Charleston, South Carolina, continues to be my absolute favorite.  There was something magical about the city that I cannot quite put my finger on.  I loved being by the water and watching the sailboats; I loved the food; I loved the historic character of the city; I loved touring all of the preserved homes and learning their history; I even loved the heat.  It was hot as balls in Charleston.  We visited in August, which was not the brightest idea I've ever had.  I distinctly remember the last day of our trip as being the hottest of them all.  We were going to walk quite a distance to get to an old house that you could tour and I figured that we'd just leave earlier in the morning before the heat really set in.  We left around 8:15 A.M. and the second you stepped outside, the sweat started trickling down your forehead.  That's real heat. 

When I was researching hotels for our stay in Charleston, I had one requirement.  That requirement was that the hotel MUST have a pool.  I could not imagine being in Charleston without a pool.  Surprisingly, there are not many hotels with pools in Charleston due to the historic nature of the city.  I did find one, The Mills House Hotel, which we booked immediately and then never once went to the pool.  We spent our afternoons napping in the air-conditioned room instead of being outside.  This is what happens when northerners visit the south in the summer.

The Mills House Hotel was a fabulous choice even though we did not use their pool.  Here's a look at the outside of the hotel:

The hotel itself has a rich historical background and it's pink.  I loved staying in a cute, pink hotel.  The rooms were a bit small, but comfortable.  While they were nothing super fancy, I thought they were clean and the A/C worked like a charm.  That's all you really need in Charleston.  Here's a view of the room     
Mike always jumps on the hotel bed before I can snap a picture.  There he is lounging right after check-in.  I think he does this because he knows that my travel itineraries rarely leave room for rest and relaxation. 
We never ate at the hotel, but we did enjoy a few cocktails in the hotel bar.  The bartenders there made a stiff drink!  Here I am on our first night enjoying a Campari soda.  The bar had kind of a cool Havana vibe with large chairs and these huge palm leaf fans. 
The most appealing part of the hotel was the great location.  We did not rent a car in Charleston, so ended up walking everywhere.  The Mills House Hotel was close to the water and close to Broad and close to King Streets.  It was easy to walk everywhere we wanted to go as the hotel is right in the heart of the city.  Normally, when we travel to a large city we do not rent a car.  I think that when we go back to Charleston in the future, I would rent a car because there are a lot of things to do outside of the city that we couldn't get to without taking a cab.  The hotel was great about setting up cabs for its guests, but cab rides add up.
I would give the Mills House Hotel 4 out of 5 stars.  I think the rooms could use a little updating and the pillows weren't the fluffiest, but I was able to sleep just fine.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Luxury of Sky Clubs

One of the absolute worst parts of traveling is airport food.  When I'm excited and stressed about getting to the airport for a trip, the last thing I'm thinking about is food.  I often get all checked-in for a flight and realize that I'm starving.  Then I spend $15 for a bagel and diet coke only to realize when I get to my flight gate that they forgot to give me cream cheese.  I end up eating a dry bagel that tastes like it was made four days prior.

One of my bestest gal pals' mother works for Delta.  Every now and again I have been able to get passes for Delta's luxurious Sky Club and it has been such a treat.  Delta's Sky Club is somewhat pricey for a year membership, $700 for a joint one-year pass.  I don't travel near enough to justify the cost of a year membership.  They do, however, offer day passes at $50/per pass.  I'm not sure that I would get a day pass for a domestic flight, but if I was traveling international, $50 is worth it. 

For me, the best part about the Sky Club is being able to carve out your own little space while waiting for your flight.  The Club has a lot of tables, small couches, and other seating that is quiet, somewhat private, and most importantly close to an electronic outlet to charge your phone, kindle, ipad, etc.  This is KEY at an airport.  I will sit four gates away from where my flight is taking off just to get a seat close to an outlet. 

The second best part about the Sky Club is the unlimited and free access to food and beverages.  When Mike and I went on our honeymoon last fall, we had to be at the airport at 4:30 A.M.  TERRIBLE!  We had Sky Club passes and an hour to wait before our flight.  We were able to nab breakfast, some snacks for the flight, and Diet Coke.  There is no shame in a Diet Coke at 5:00 A.M.

As you can see from the picture, I was able to get a bagel (with cream cheese), a mini muffin and a small scone.  I also grabbed a couple of pieces of fruit and had 2 (okay, maybe 3) glasses of the good stuff.  The Club also offered many types of cereal, yogurt, granola, hot breakfast sandwiches, and other pastries.  It got our morning off to the best start and made us feel relaxed and prepared for our flight. 

It used to be that you could serve your own drinks, but now you have to ask a server behind the bar to pour you something.  I really preferred the self-serve soda machines.  Back in the day, (i.e. a few years ago) you could actually pour yourself an ice cold beer and get good and liquored up for FREE.  I think you could also just grab mini bottles of alcohol and wine.  I may have heard a story about a group of guys filling up Nalgene bottles of Heineken before a flight to Las Vegas all while wearing leisure suits and large sunglasses.  Boys!

All in all, the Sky Club makes flying feel like it did in the golden age.  Fancy and customer-oriented are things you no longer find in the flying experience, but it's nice to indulge in them every now and again.  

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Welcome Back and Magic Carpets of Aladdin

I took a hiatus.  It was a good way to refocus and recharge, like a vacation.  The vacation got longer and longer and finally I realized that it was going to be more difficult to get back to blogging than I thought.  I do, however, miss my creative writing outlet and decided to get back to semi-regular posting with a new theme.  Nothing makes me happier than traveling.  I just love it and love seeing and experiencing new places and things.  Whenever I'm out of town I feel like I'm a grand adventurer.  I wanted to bring that feeling to the blog, so for now I'm going to be more focused on my traveling explorations, advice, and funny stories.  Plus, I just got back from two amazing trips in May (one to New Orleans and one to Washington D.C.) and will probably get two more in before the end of the year (possibly Denver and a fall colors tour of Maine).  So, I will have lots to share with you! 

I love hearing about other people's travel adventures and tips and I hope that this blog will get me back to my happy place.  And for those fans who loved my "Random Acts of Douchebaggery" segment, never fear.  RAD's are staying.  Not only do I need this blog to be a place of fun and lightness, but occasionally I need it as a place to vent.

Without further ado, we are back to the place where my true vacation expertise lies, Walt Disney World. 

When you get into the heart of Adventureland you will find yourself in a clusterfudge of people, strollers, flying water and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.  This ride is in the weirdest place.  Normally the WDW planners are really great at flow.  There aren't a lot of human bottlenecks in the parks, and if there is a jam-up it's usually for a reason.  So, maybe that is the case here, that there's a reason for the placement of this ride.  However, every time I come upon this obnoxious spitting camel, I feel like the ride is terribly out of place.

The Magic Carpets are your run of the mill circular kiddie ride.  You know the ones, you climb into your little car and the arm lifts you up into the air and you ride in a circle for a few minutes.  It's the kind of thing that little kids squeal at and adults can feel the breeze in their face.  So, it's pretty boring and basic until...

...Imagine, there you are enjoying  your dumb old circle ride when you get smacked in the face by a shot of water.  This is what can happen to you on The Magic Carpets.  You see, down on the ground level, the other guests can pay a quarter to put into a golden camel and aim it at the flying carpets.  They press a trigger button and the camel spits at  you.  It's really weird and kind of obnoxious.  Maybe I'm a party pooper, but I revert right back to my junior high self feeling like I'm being picked on by cooler kids.

I wish I could get out of my own head sometimes and think that being "spit" on by a camel while riding a magic carpet is fun, but I don't.  I just don't. 

This is one of those rides that I tend to avoid.  I realize, however, that it's not actually a terrible ride, so I'm giving it 3/5 or 6/10 stars. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Things I Don't Understand

I am officially a crazy dog owner.  I embrace it by posting photos of my dog on the blog all the time.  It's just...that face...that face makes me happy.

Here are some things that don't make me happy, work edition.

  • Lunch hour meetings.  I flipping hate when people schedule meetings or trainings over the noon hour.  I work a full day, from 8:00 to noon and 1:00 to 4:30 I am at my boss' leisure.  I have to do what they say when they say.  But that noon hour is MINE.  I like to online shop, read my kindle, make phone calls and sometimes just zone out for that one hour.  I feel like I need that hour.  My work is in the process of going paperless and so have been scheduling several mandatory trainings and meetings over the lunch hour.  Attendance has been low, so now they are enticing people with pizza and cookies.  Which almost makes it worst to me because I don't want to eat pizza and cookies for lunch. 
  • Misuse/No use of Email.  I don't talk a ton about what I do.  The easy answer is that I am an attorney.  One would think that being an attorney means you are working with people who are really professional with their use of communication.  If you think that, you would be wrong.  I have realized that lawyering is a profession many people do well past the normal retirement age.  Many times I have had to contact a fellow attorney only to find out that they don't use email.  WTF.  This is unacceptable.  The real kicker is that these same people often don't use voicemail either.  So, to get in touch with them, you have to call their office and have their secretary write down the message on a cave wall.
  • Fridays.  Seriously, does anyone work on Fridays?  Even if you are at work, are you really working?  On Friday afternoons, my office place looks like the scene of a wild west movie.  Last Friday I swear I saw some tumbleweed rolling down the hallway.  Sometimes I wonder what the point is.  Even if I wanted to do work myself, since no one else is at work I can't achieve much.  Although, it never fails that on Friday at about 4:00 P.M. someone calls with an "emergency." 
  • Co-worker happy hours.  This is kind of an old bag moment for me.  When I was younger, I liked the happy hours.  Now that I'm old, I just want to go home after work.  I'm not trying to be anti-social, but I spend at least 40 hours a week with my coworkers.  I don't need another few hours on a Wednesday night.  I want to see my family, my husband, my dog, my friends.  I want to put on pajama pants and watch my tivo.  Happiest hours I know happen with my pajamas, a couch, a glass of wine and the tivo.  I would be remiss not to mention the fact that my marriage was started by a work happy hour. 
Does this make it sound like I need a vacation?

Friday, March 8, 2013

San Francisco Side Trip

When Mike and I were driving from San Francisco to Sonoma, we decided to make an impromptu pit stop.  I had been reading about the Muir Woods National Park and thought it might be fun to see the great Redwoods of California.  Holy Cannoli, this decision did not disappoint. 

The road to get to the park is a little windy and narrow, but it offers some amazing views of the forest.  The worst part is that we were relying on my GPS system to get us to and from the park, but once you get into the woods, you lose all cell phone service.  So this wouldn't be a place to go on a first date or with someone that you think hates you. 

When you get into the park there are boardwalks all through the redwood trees, so even if you are an inexperienced hiker you can still enjoy the forest.  There were tons of different paths you could take.  I think we could have walked for hours.

It's also extremely quiet in the woods.  There was a light sound of water rushing and these gorgeous rays of sun that were piercing down through the tree canopy.  It was beautiful and peaceful.  I am not much of a nature girl, but I started to feel one with the trees.

And just how big are the trees, you ask?  It's hard to put it into perspective, but if I were a tree hugger, I couldn't get my arms around one.  There were some fallen tree trunks that you could look at and they were impressive.  Here's the best photo that I could get of an entire redwood.

The leaves were huge, although I have baby feet, so maybe it's just that my feet are really small. 

There were also so many weird tree formations in the forest.  I couldn't get enough of the bright green moss that was covering these awkwardly bent tree trunks.  Here are my two favorites:

If you find yourself in San Fran, take a little side trip to the Muir Woods for some peace and beauty.  I left these woods feeling refreshed and clear headed.  It's amazing what a little nature can do for you!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


I am not a cheap person.  I like to indulge, oh boy, can I indulge.  My love for indulging has forced me to realize that if I want to indulge, I have to be frugal.  One of the top lessons I have learned as an adult is that I have to prioritize my expenses.  Would I rather have a new Louis Vuitton purse or go on a second vacation in a year?  Would I rather have a new fence installed in my backyard or go out to a grand dinner at a new hotspot?  You know you are an old person when your answer is: Fence!!  I want the fence!

Here are some of my favorite lessons on how to be frugal without being a cheap ass:

1.  Energy Saving = Money Saving.  Duh, right.  I remember when I was in elementary school they did this whole "energy awareness" thing where they  handed out books about a girl whose parents got mad at her because she always left lights on and left the water running when she was brushing her teeth.  What a bitch!  Now that I pay my own energy bills, I have converted all of my lights to CFL bulbs and try to keep lights off as much as possible.  Candlelight is so much more soothing.  I also turn the heat and air conditioning temps down (or up) at night and during the day while we are gone.  Right now, our heat goes down to 62 degrees at night and during the day and up to 68 degrees when we are at home in the evening and on weekends.  During the winter, this saves us about $50 per month.  Another thing that I try to do is unplug appliances when not in use.  This is one of those things that I often forget about, but apparently it can make a difference in your energy bill.  I've never noticed a huge difference when I've done this, though.

2. Desk lunch.  Bringing a lunch to work can be a real drag.  Sometimes I just don't feel like packing anything up and other days I just don't want to eat anything that we have in the house.  When I started wedding planning, I knew that I had to save money somehow and I resolved to only go out for lunch once a week.  I've stuck to this for at least a year and have to say that I can see the difference in my savings account.  It's still a struggle some days.  Eating at your desk can be lonely.  I live for that one day when I get to go to a restaurant and socialize.

3. Credit Card Rewards.  There are lots of credit card rewards programs that offer shoppers little incentives.  My credit card allows you to earn points towards travel vouchers or restaurant/clothing store/gas station gift certificates.  There are the famous airline credit cards for frequent fliers.  My husband's credit card has an amazing reward that for every $2500 you spend and pay off you get a $25 gift card.  We usually use these gift cards on our grocery bills and the combination of those gift cards and our wedding gift cards, we have paid maybe $20/week for groceries for the past three months.  It's definitely worth investigating all of the different reward programs to see if one will work for you.

4.  Pre-gift buying.  I start thinking about gift-giving way in advance of the celebration day.  For Christmas, I keep a list of people I need to buy for and ideas.  I usually start looking at this list in September and try to have ideas for everyone by October 1.  That way I can try to find the items on sale or take advantage of coupons.  I usually can get really great gifts on a limited budget.  I also utilize websites such as Rue La La and Groupon to stock up on gifts for birthdays or other occasions.  Having a stockpile of fun gifts for people makes my life a lot easier.

5.  Ebates.  If you don't use ebates, you are selling yourself short.  Har har.  Seriously, though, ebates is amazing.  Go to and sign up if you don't have an account with them.  There are hundreds of retail websites that use ebates and they each have a different percentage off.  So, if I want to buy something at JCrew, I got to ebates first, search for JCrew and go to the JCrew website through the ebates site.  Currently the JCrew website gets 3.0% cash back.  After you make your purchase, your ebates account is credited.  Every four months, a check is sent to your home with the total of your cash back.  After Christmas this year, I received $85 cash back because I did all of my shopping online.  It really pays off, as long as you don't forget to go to the ebates website first before you start your online shopping.  I have forgotten this dozens of times!

6.  Track your spending.  I don't really budget, but I have a set dollar amount that I want to save each month.  I then track every penny spent on a spreadsheet so that I can make sure I can save my goal.  For me, this makes me think about each purchase that I make.  Before I splurge on something, or even before I buy a $10 frame at Target, I have to stop and think about whether I really want it or whether I'd rather see an extra $10 saved that month. 

7.  Big box stores.  When Mike and I moved in together, we talked about getting a Sam's Club membership.  One of the big arguments against it was that why do two people need to buy things in bulk?  Eventually we got a membership and it has saved us a lot of money.  We buy all of our cleaning supplies, household necessities and more packaged foods (like oatmeal, granola bars, nuts, spices) at Sam's.  They are ridiculously cheaper than at other stores.  Plus, it saves me from a lot of extra trips to Target.  I used to have to go to Target at least once a week for some household item, now I go to Sam's maybe once a month. 

8.  Spare change.  Mike and I have a central spot where we dump our spare change.  It's a big tupperware bowl in our spare bedroom.  Once that sucker gets full we take it to the bank and cash it in.  Usually it's about $70+ and we maybe take it to the bank twice a year.  What we've done in the past is take it in right before we go on a vacation and use it as spending money. 

Those are my (not so) original ways that I save my pennies.  The only thing I love more than watching my bank account grow is a chocolate frosted donut.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gran Fiesta Tour

One of my long held beliefs is that the Mexico pavilion at Epcot Center leaves a little something to be desired.  They recently added a large restaurant right outside the main building that is decent.  As a kid, I once begged my mom to let us eat at the "fancy" restaurant that is inside the big Mayan temple building and sits along the River of Time.  She relented and the dinner was a big disappointment - flavorless and oniony. 

The only bonus to the Mexican pavilion is that there is a ride inside the temple building.  The ride used to be super dorky and I thought that there was not a chance in hell the ride could be made dorkier.  WRONG! 

A few years back, the ride was updated to include Donald Duck and his singing duck companions.  Together I guess they make the Three Caballeros?  I'm not big into the Disney cartoons, so I have no idea if this is a real thing?  Or just a thing that was made up for the ride. 

The "grand" result is that it's the exact same ride, using the same photos and videos from the early 1980's, except now there is a cartoon duck over the photo doing silly things.  I don't know if kids will find this amusing.  For adults, just visit the La Cava del Tequila first and then you will probably find it a gas.  Me, most of the ride I'm staring at the scenes thinking "What in the hell is going on here?"  I still don't quite understand if the point of the scenes is that Donald Duck is running away from the other two caballeros because he's afraid of performing.  Does Donald Duck have performance anxiety?

The only saving grace is one of the final scenes where there is a "It's A Small World" type fiesta with only Mexican children dancing around and there are fireworks on the wall.  Those make me feel good because I'm a Fourth of July baby.

This ride is pretty terrible.  1 out of 5 or 3 out of 10 stars.  Suck city.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lazy Girl's Workout

Since turning 30, I have learned a horrible secret.  When you get older, a moment on the lips can actually mean a lifetime on the hips.  Biology is no joke, my metabolism basically shut off when I turned 30.  It sucks. 

I've never really been one to formally workout.  I have never had a gym membership.  I hate the idea of spending money on fitness and I prefer to spend time with friends and family rather than in the gym.  This doesn't mean I never work out.  I go to community ed yoga/pilates classes and during the warmer months I love nothing more than long walks and hikes with my cutie Kirby.  Let's look at a picture of the sweetheart. 

He makes my world better.  Okay, so back to being lazy and working out.  Like I said I don't really like working out, but now that my metabolism has crapped out I have to fit in burning calories somehow.  Here's some simple little things that I do to try and burn more calories throughout my day:

1.  Standing as much as possible.  This is kind of a new thing for me, but I actually have been enjoying the rewards of it.  Have you heard of standing desks?  Well, I have and would like one at my desk, but due to the cost it's currently out of the question.  Which is a bummer, but I have taken to doing some of my daily tasks while standing.  I have researched and found lots of different information as to exactly how many calories an hour standing will burn, but the average is 100.  Sitting is around 70 calories per hour.  So, just that little bit will burn you an extra 30 calories per hour. 
2.  Short walks.  When my mom and I were last in Disneyworld, she wore an odometer, or whatever those things are called that count your steps.  We were walking an average of 13,000 steps per day.  And we were eating crap.  And I lost weight.  So, steps matter.  I try to find little tasks at work that will take me on a walk.  For instance, whenever I have mail I always take it to the furthest mail bin that I can find to get a little walk in.  I also pace, which could be it's own separate category.  Sometimes when I am thinking, I like to pace and lately I've been doing it for the calories burned benefit as well.  It's a nervous habit, but stressed out people are usually thin.
3.  Staying on my feet after work.  Sometimes when I get home from work it's really easy to just sit on the couch and watch TV until Mike gets home.  Lately, I have been avoiding this bad habit and staying on my feet until at least after we are done with dinner.  My routine is to feed the dog, take him outside on a short walk to go to the bathroom, then start dinner and do any little chores that need to be completed.  When Mike gets home we eat and then, weather permitting, take Kirby on a long evening walk.  Again, it sounds really dumb, but I have found on those days when I fall into the TV trap, my waistline feels it.
4.  Weigh-in every morning.  I weigh myself every morning.  EVERY MORNING!  I like to know exactly what food does to my poundage.  I think this is a good way to figure out what you can eat during the day.  For instance if I have gained a pound from the day before, I know to cut back on my snacking throughout the day or increase a workout in order to get back to my base weight.
5.  Five-pound weights.  One of my problem areas is my arms and back.  I always gain more weight in these areas and right now I'm feeling majorly top heavy.  I try to do simple arm exercises every day with five-pound weights in order to tone up those key areas.  They are simple to do and you can do them while watching TV, which is a huge bonus for me.  With more toned arms, I feel better in sleeveless and summery clothes.  Planks also help, but you can't do those while watching The Real Housewives.

I'm always trying to find good cheats to working out.  My grandma was (and still is) tiny and she never had a gym membership, but she does stay on her feet all day every day.  Just another useful thing I can learn from my grandma. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Moving Towards Transition

Sometimes Christmas can get the best of a it did me this year.  Prior to our wedding, which was October 19, things were crazy busy.  I was overwhelmed.  People kept asking how they could help or what tasks they could do, but it wasn't the amount of things it was a general feeling of disorganization and the sense that there was no way to organize it. 

The absolute worst day for me was the day before our wedding.  Our house was an absolute disaster.  We had one of Mike's coworkers staying at our house the night of the wedding to take care of Kirby.  Mike's friends were going to be getting ready at our house prior to the wedding.  One of Mike's good friends was going to be staying at our house the week after the wedding while we were on our honeymoon.  I was mortified that these people were going to see my house.  I can't even explain the mortification of it.  It is something that I actually have to repress deep down inside of me and totally forget because the pain of remembering how dirty our house was and how many people saw it like that might kill me.  At the time, though, there was no time for me to clean it.  I was working full-time, nights were taken up with wedding appointments; it was a disaster. 

Before the wedding I kept thinking that once we were back from San Francisco, everything would calm down and I could just spend my nights and weekends nesting away.  This just didn't happen.  My days at work were spent in frantic disarray.  Work was busy.  I came in early, left late and didn't take lunch breaks.  Then I went on a girls' weekend trip.  Mid-November, Mike was gone for a week long training in Alabama and I decided to deep clean the house.  Serenity now.  Right?  Wrong.

When Mike got back I realized that Christmas was a mere month away.  Our thank you cards were not finished, I hadn't even considered Christmas gifts for anyone, only a few wedding gifts were put away, work was still busy...  This started a month long frenzy of the holidays.  I worked long hours at finishing the thank you cards.  Almost immediately afterwards I started working on our Christmas cards.  I spent two days ordering multiple gifts online only to have some orders not go through or others be back ordered.  We put up our holiday decorations, but still had stacks of boxes of wedding presents that needed to be put away. 

What I'm trying to get at is that my soul is exhausted.  The last few months have been the best as I've been enjoying newlywed bliss, but all of that fun and excitement has left me tired and aching for calm.  I've spent the beginning of this month in various states of relaxation and it's been nice.  Slowly I've been getting my motivation back and I'm feeling better about tackling life.  Yay!