Hipmunk Hotels: Underrated Vacation Destinations in Bloomington, Madison, Traverse and More

Underrated Vacation Destinations in the Midwest

Vacations give you the change to relax and unwind, while also exploring and having fun. There are lots of popular cities to visit in the Midwest, but often the underrated destinations turn out to be the best. They tend to be less crowded and more affordable than more popular locations. Here are five underrated vacation destinations in the Midwest that the family will enjoy.

Not Just a College Town

Memorial Stadium

Photo by Chris Wells via Trover.com

The town of Champaign-Urbana is a hot spot for college students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; however, it isn’t just a college town. Families traveling to the area can choose from a variety of area attractions, including the Staerkel Planetarium, Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, and the Krannert Art Museum. Crystal Lake Park offers a variety of options for visitors as well; the family aquatic center costs just $9 per person ($6 on Tuesdays). Taste of Champaign and the Downtown Festival of the Arts are just two of the festivals that bring an eclectic selection of music and food to the area. Hotels in Champaign are very affordable and average about $70 per night.

Romantic Getaway in Northern Michigan

Traverse City

Photo by Lauren Bassart via Trover.com

Traverse City, Michigan sits on the shores of the West Arm Grand Traverse Bay, and is ideal for a romantic getaway, outdoor adventure, or creative retreat. Plan a getaway filled with adventure at Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City. Families can enjoy the complimentary water park with slides, a lazy river, splash playgrounds, and a pool. Adults can unwind with a massage or beauty treatment from the spa. Enjoy a free wine tasting at one of the 50 Traverse area wineries. Make sure to be thorough by checking out one of the other hotels in Traverse City.

Hotels for Any Traveler’s Budget in Bloomington

Mall of America

Photo by Theresa White via Trover.com

The Mall of America is a major attraction in Bloomington, Minnesota. The mall has over 500 retail shops, as well as fun-filled attractions including Nickelodeon Universe, SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium, Crayola Experience, Amazing Mirror Maze, and a flight simulator center. Radisson Blu Mall of America is attached to the mall, making it a top choice for travelers. The mall isn’t the only top attraction in Bloomington; outdoor lovers have over 100 area lakes and hundreds of acres of park lands in and around the city to choose from. Room rates vary and start as low as $45 per night.

Home of Hallmark Cards

Kaufman Stadium

Photo by Landtripping via Trover.com

If you find yourself in Kansas City, Missouri, a visit to the Hallmark Headquarters is definitely in order. It offers tons of family-friendly free activities that will help you save while vacationing. Activities include puppet shows, ethnic feasts, exhibits for kids, and antique shows. If you’re in the area during baseball season, catch a Kansas City Royals game. Downtown Kansas City offers lots of choices for music lovers, too. Finding the right hotel deals in Kansas City is a breeze with Hipmunk.

College Football Fans Rejoice in Madison

Tenney Park Locks

Photo by Renee O via Trover.com

College football fans descend on Madison, Wisconsin in droves when the local college is playing. Hotels within the city sell out fast from August to December, and the streets surrounding the stadium are usually packed with fans. If you’re planning to visit for a game, book early for the best rates. Voted the most walkable city, Madison lets you skip renting a car while visiting, because there’s always an attraction within walking distance no matter where you stay.

If the Midwest is on your bucket list, check out one of these awesome cities; there’s something for everyone.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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Top Carlsbad Independent Hotels

Top Carlsbad Independent Hotels

Carlsbad is perfect for travelers wanting to skip all the hassle of Los Angeles, but not as laid back as San Diego. Explore the beautiful beaches or the modern city. If you’re looking for hotels in Carlsbad, this list of top independent hotels are the perfect starting point.

Close to Outlet Shopping

Legoland California

Photo by David Argesti via Trover.com

Carlsbad by the Sea Resort is just steps away from the Carlsbad Premium Outlets, making this hotel a shopper’s dream. A top choice of families due to its proximity to Legoland California, room rates averages around $185 per night for a king standard room during peak travel season. All rooms come with refrigerator, microwave, coffee/tea maker, and LCD television with entertainment options. Wi-fi, parking and breakfast are all free for guests at the resort, and a TGI Fridays restaurant is on site. The resort’s front desk start is available 24-hours for help with tours and tickets. Guests can enjoy the hotel’s outdoor pool, fitness center, and spa tub, or visit one of the area attractions including the beaches.

Family Friendly Resort

The Flower Fields Carlsbad

Photo by Amatraveller via Trover.com

Grand Pacific Palisades Resort & Hotel gives guests the opportunity to have fun adventures around the area and come back to their rooms to rest and relax. Rooms include a flat screen television with premium channels, and a DVD player. Families can request cribs and infant beds if needed. The hotel has lots of family friendly activities including the children’s pool, picnic area with barbecue grills, a water park, and a game room and arcade. Shuttle service is available to Legoland California’s traditional park and their water park. Room rates average around $168 per night.

Beach Bum Paradise

South Carlsbad State Beach

Photo by L.R. via Trover.com

Cape Rey Carlsbad Hilton Resort is a beach bum’s paradise, right across the street from Carlsbad State Beach, the hotel can arrange surfing, paddle boating, kayaking, and deep-sea fishing activities for guests. Beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas are available for rent. The resort restaurant Chandler’s serves locally sourced dishes, and offers amazing ocean views. Complimentary tea and speciality coffee services are offered in the hotel lobby daily. Cape Rey Carlsbad is pet friendly, dogs up to 25 pounds are welcomed for a non-refundable fee. Rooms come standard with a mini fridge, coffee maker, robes, slippers, high-speed internet access, flat screen television, and sofa bed. Oceanview suites include a balcony, parlor, two HD TVs, wet bar, dining area, and free printer with wireless printing. Suites start at $500 per night, and standard rooms average $250 per night.

Top Tier Amenities and Activities

Omni La Costa Resort & Spa

Photo via Lisa Ann Brlas via Trover.com

Omni La Costa Resort & Spa offers traditional rooms and villas, visitors choosing to stay in the villas will feel at home and have access to all the hotel amenities including two golf courses, sports facilities and the Athletic Club. Guest room options include suites, signature rooms with golf course views and soaking tubs, La Costa rooms with marble bathroom features and extra space, and the plaza rooms that surround the courtyard. The hotel has several pools and Jacuzzis for guests to enjoy including the Adult Edge Pool & Terrace, for guests 21 and older. Opt for a packaged deal that includes the cost of your room, meals, room credits, spa treatments, and reservations at nearby golf courses. Basic guest rooms start at $249 per night, while suites and villas average between $449 and $599 per night.

Whether you’re heading to Carlsbad for business, pleasure, or family fun, these hotels have something to offer visitors traveling to the area. So if you’re looking for Carlsbad hotels, this list is a great starting point for booking your next trip.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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Hipmunk Hotels: Luxurious Hotels in Spain, Madrid, and Barcelona

Luxurious Hotels in Spain

International travel is very high on my bucket list once my kids get a little older.  It’s really odd that I was born in a foreign country but I haven’t traveled much since moving to the United States.  If you’re planning a trip to Spain anytime soon these luxurious hotels in Spain should be at the top for your research list.

Melia Madrid Princesa Hotel

Temple of Debod, Madrid

Photo by Meghan Royster via Trover.com

Melia Madrid Princesa Hotel offers guests the opportunity to soak up the architecture and art in Madrid. Just minutes away from the Spanish Senate, the official home of Spain’s Royal Family, and the Royal Palace, the Melia Madrid is a luxurious escape with a Turkish Bath and full service spa. The pillow menu gives you the opportunity to choose your favorites for a good night’s sleep. The international breakfast buffet features a variety of fresh fruits, cheeses, waffles, Iberian meats, and Sushi. Room rates average around $175 per night.

Hotel Silken Puerta America

The Royal Palace

Photo by Javier TravelandPhotos via Trover.com

Nineteen different architects were commissioned to design the guests rooms at Hotel Silken Puerta America. Guests can choose from ten different deluxe rooms and club suites upon arrival at the hotel. Complimentary services include suit pressing, internet access, and daily newspapers. The Skynight Bar has a retractable roof is great for guests who don’t want to leave the hotel. Rates are pretty reasonable starting at $90 per night for deluxe rooms.

Hotel Liabeny

Cortes, Madrid

Photo by Marta Nicolas via Trover.com

Guests at Hotel Liabeny in Madrid can rent a car on site to explore the city, or explore Puerta del Sol which is within walking distance of the hotel. Traveling foodies will appreciate the hotel’s proximity to less-traveled Spanish tapas restaurants and bars. The front desk offers concierge service to help guests with purchasing theatre tickets and making reservations for dinner. Hotel amenities include free wi-fi, flat screen television, newspapers, and a wide array of entertainment options including a mini bar. Room rates start at $95 per night.

Grand Melia Fenix Hotel

Grand Melia Fenix Hotel

Photo by Raya Polyak via Trover.com

The Grand Melia Fenix Hotel aims to please, offering guest premier amenities like child care, massages, a personal shopper, and even a hairdressers at your request. Rooms include a spa-like bathroom with plush robe, canopy bed, hardwood wardrobes, and writing desk with leather chair. Get a taste of local cuisine on a Madrid Food Tour or visit Calle Serrano for an unforgettable shopping experience. Deluxe room costs $158 per night, and fans of the hotel suggests opting for the Premium Red Level for $297 per night.

Hotel Arts Barcelona

Hotel Arts Barcelona

Photo by Jamie Lynn Buckner via Trover.com

Hotel Arts Barcelona gets you very close to the Mediterranean Ocean, offering inviting features like hot tub and outdoor pool. Guests who plan to explore the hotel should start at Cafe Veranda for their fresh coffee and buffet, get pumped up in the gym or relax at the full service spa that offers Swedish, hot stones and deep tissue massages. When you’re ready to explore Barcelona the can’t miss spots include the melting Cathedral, Sagrada Familia, and Casa Batlló. Named “best beach city” by National Geographic, Barcelona beach is another must see sight. Rates at this five-star rated hotel start around $245 per night.

Madrid and Spain are beautiful cities with a variety of options for travelers, these hotels in Madrid and Barcelona are beautiful and close to everything.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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The Dos and Don’ts of Coats and Car Seats

The Dos and Don’ts of Coats and Car Seats

As the east coast prepares for the upcoming winter storm, I wanted to share some Dos and Don’ts of Coats and Car Seats that my friends at Diono.  It’s funny because I was just talking to my brother and his fiance about snowsuits and car seats.  We’ve all been there and done that, but it’s important to continue to have the conversation and share information that promotes and helps keeps our smallest passengers safe when traveling.

Tips by: Allana Pinkerton, Global Safety Advocate for Diono

BIG DON’T: Never place a child in a car seat with a thick, bulky winter coat because the harness might not be snug enough to perform as it should during a crash.

WHY? If they are wearing a thick coat, the padding in the coat will not allow you to snug up the harness correctly and the harness will actually be loose on the child.  The padding in the coat will compress during a crash until it gets to the body which doesn’t allow the child to ride the crash down appropriately.

Important to note: Car seat manufacturers cannot determine if it is safe to use a thick winter coat because they do not crash test with coats on the test dummies. They do test for misuse and they can determine if a loose harness causes injury.

DO: Follow the car seat manual for proper harness fit, installation and use. The manuals are written based on crash test data.

DO: Use an appropriate car seat no matter what the weather conditions are outside.

DO: If there are no safety issues in doing so, heat up the car ahead of time.

DO: Put a thin fleece jacket on your baby, toddler or older child.

DO: Put a toboggan hat and gloves on your child. This definitely helps retain some internal warmth.

DO: For a newborn baby, many infant carrier car seats come with a “warming boot” to put over the baby. If not, one may be purchased from the manufacturer of the car seat or they may have approved the use of one manufactured by another company.

DO: Throw a blanket around your child when carrying them out to the car to keep them warm. (If you are super nice, you might have even warmed it up in the dryer first.)

DO: Place them in the harness and snug it up. Then you can place the blanket over them so it doesn’t interfere with the harness and tuck it in around the child’s sides. To avoid the possibility of suffocation do not put the blanket near their head.

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Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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Save Time and Money with Dollar General Digital Coupons

Save Time and Money with Dollar General Digital Coupons

As a mother of four I am all about saving both time and money, it’s one of those things I am constantly learning how to manage and get better with over time.  Whether you’re finally catching on to the couponing craze or you’re already a coupon genius, you can save time and money with Dollar General Digital Coupons.

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Dollar General offers customers two ways to save when shopping at their stores.  You can print at home coupons to use in store or load digital coupons to your account and redeem in store using your phone number.  They also offer special coupons off your total purchase price, for even more savings.

scott extra soft

Scott Extra Soft Tissue

I needed to grab some toilet paper for the family, so I headed out to Dollar General.  For a limited time they are have bonus sized packs of Scott Paper Products on sale.  Bonus products include:

  • SCOTT® 1000 Bath Tissue, 16 pack (2 Free Rolls)
  • SCOTT® Choose-A-Sheet Paper Towels, Mega Roll 6 Pack (Bonus 15% Sheets)
  • SCOTT® Extra Soft Bath Tissue, Double Roll 16 pack (2 Free Rolls)
  • Bonus packs can help you save even more by stocking up on SCOTT® at Dollar General. Find your nearest location using the store locator!

Scott Extra Soft Tissue (5)

Scott Extra Soft Tissue (8)

Our store didn’t have any bonus backs in stock but they were running a promotion on the 9 pack of Scott Extra Soft Toilet Paper.  They were offering a savings of $0.50 cents off a pack and I also had a paper coupon, giving me even more savings.  There are many easy ways to save on great products such as SCOTT® through DG Digital Coupon offers!

Dollar General Digital Coupons

Signing up for digital coupons takes less than two minutes and once you have your own online account you can keep track of all your savings.  When you redeem a digital coupon that receipt is digitally stored in your online account so you know when you redeemed it.

Scott Extra Soft Tissue (9)

Scott Extra Soft Tissue (3)

Scott Extra Soft Tissue (2)

SCOTT® Brand is a superior product with no frills – just the perfect choice for your paper product needs!  My family trust their products because they are high quality products that has been working for us for years.  We know when we purchase their products they will last and do a great job.  I’m still using the paper towels we purchased over the holidays to clean up all kinds of mess around the house. These are products I can trust with my family and guests alike.

To learn more about Dollar General Digital coupons check out their website, sign up and find your closest store to save time and money on Scott and many other products.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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Google Just Revealed 2015’s Top Travel Searches

Google Just Revealed 2015’s Top Travel Searches

You’re not the only one with serious questions about travel. Google just revealed its “Year in Search” report, and the stats are in: Travelers are wondering about all kinds of things, from whale watching in San Diego, to packing for Cancun, to defining what constitutes a boutique hotel. Below are travelers’ most-searched-for questions of 2015. We’re also supplying the answers, so you never have to search for them again.

1. What to pack for Cancun?

The weather in popular Cancun, Mexico is almost always fine—and the beaches are pristine. As is the case when traveling anywhere, your packing list will depend largely on what time of the year you’re planning to visit and what you plan to do while there. Temperatures are at their lowest between December and February; if you’re traveling then, it’ll probably be too cold to swim in the ocean (unless Polar Bear swims are your thing). But bring a swimsuit anyway, because most hotels offer heated pools. And don’t forget to pack layers; the evenings can get pretty cool. September to November is the rainy season, so bring a raincoat, umbrella, and adequate footwear if you’re visiting then. The best time to visit is arguably April through June, when temperatures are warmest—beach attire, sandals, and swimsuits are essential.

No matter what time of the year you visit, be aware that there are tons of different activities on offer, each requiring slightly different styles of dress. If fancy restaurants, bars, and nightlife are your thing, bring along your best duds. If outdoor adventures are more your style, bring along sturdy footwear, layers, and some clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty. Need more guidance? Check out this comprehensive guide topacking for Cancun.

2. Where is Disneyland?

The Happiest Place on Earth can be found in Anaheim, CA. Planning a trip? Find outhow much it’ll actually cost. (Spoiler alert: On average, travel, accommodations, and park admission costs a family of four more than $3,000.)

3. What airport is ORD?

This is the abbreviation for Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which is one of the busiest airports in the world. From O’Hare, it’s easy to get to downtown Chicago and a variety of Chicago hotels.

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4. When is whale watching season in San Diego?

According to the city of San Diego, the best time to view gray whales is between mid-December and April, while the best time to view blue whales is between mid-June and September. Whale watching is a huge tourist draw to the city, which partly explains why there are nearly 1,500 hotels within San Diego.

5. What is a boutique hotel?

As it turns out, this is a tough question to answer. Different sources define the term differently, but, in general, boutique hotels tend to be smaller than big-chain hotels (think approximately 100 rooms or less), offer personalized service, and cultivate a unique atmosphere that’s developed through the décor and services on offer—thus, many boutique hotels center around a distinct theme. In short, boutique hotels should provide an experience that you can’t find anywhere but at that one specific location. Need some examples? Check out these boutique French Quarter hotels in New Orleans.

6. What to do in St. Louis?

Hip, pretty, and historical, St. Louis, MO does not disappoint. Stroll alongside the Mississippi River or in beautiful Forest Park, stand under the Gateway Arch, explore the City Museum, tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, or cheer on the St. Louis Rams. Or attend one of the city’s large-scale annual events, which include the St. Louis Art Fair (in September) and the Soulard Mardi Gras (from January to February).

7. What to do in Missoula, MT?

Between the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Children’s Museum, and the Montana Natural History Center, there’s plenty to see in Missoula. The city is also home to a variety of affordable hotels.

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8. What to do in Louisiana?

You can’t go wrong with a visit to New Orleans, which boasts an eclectic mix of cultures ranging from French to Creole, Spanish, and Native American. Live music, great food, unique art, and vibrant nightlife are to be found around every corner. All of this might explain why the city has earned distinction as one of the most-pinned travel destinations on Pinterest.

9. What to do in Albuquerque?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. Albuquerque, NM boasts a wealth of attractions, including Spanish and Native American art and culture, lively nightlife, unusual museums (including the International Rattlesnake Museum), and tons of opportunities to engage in outdoor activities like hiking, skiing, birding, mountain biking, and horseback riding. (This might explain why Men’s Fitness Magazine has repeatedly ranked Albuquerque on its list of “The Country’s Fittest Cities.”) The city is also home to the annual International Balloon Festival, which features more hot air balloons than you’ve probably ever seen in one place.

10. Where is Yellowstone National Park?

Short answer: It’s in Wyoming. Slightly longer answer: It’s in northwestern Wyoming, right near the city of Jackson. And 2016 is a great year to visit, because America’sNational Park Service is turning 100 years old.

Now that these questions have been answered, we’re excited to see what 2016 has in store for the world’s pensive travelers. No matter what perplexities arise, we’ll be here to guide you through them.

This post was posted by TheHipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on December 27th.

6 Destinations to Kick Start Your New Year’s Resolutions

6 Destinations to Kick Start Your New Year’s Resolutions

Stats suggest 45% of Americans typically make resolutions with the turn of the calendar year, and yet only 8% actually fill them. Perhaps the best way to increase that 8% is to combine an epic vacation with going after goals! Below are three popular resolutions many of us try to attain, along with the perfect places to make them come to life.

Be more adventurous

Everyone wants to step outside of that comfort zone and be a little more daring in the new year. And just because it’s winter doesn’t mean we need to be stuck inside! Consider heading to Salt Lake City, the epicenter for some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. The Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel is conveniently close the the airport, and a short drive away from dozens of beautiful peaks, fresh powder, and a new adventure for beginner and expert ski bunnies alike.

Or, try heading a bit more south to Flagstaff, Arizona—a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts— with seven incredible parks (including the Grand Canyon) only 80 miles away! Little America Flagstaff is a quaint and cozy place to stay to get some sleep before heading outdoors for trail runs, canyon hikes, and national park exploration.

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Shed some pounds

Perhaps the most popular resolution, losing weight is a goal that at first glance may seem hard to accomplish while traveling. But think again: a trek to Europe could be the perfect answer, since Europeans typically not only eat healthier, but they eat less.(All about those portion sizes!)

So reconsider an expensive gym membership and head to Spain instead, and indulge in delicious tapas before building up a sweat at a dance club or enjoying a walking tour of Barcelona. Hotel Arts Barcelona is perfectly located next to sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea and several majestic Gothic churches and Roman ruins to explore.

Italy is another option, too! (Yes, even with all those “carbs.”) Enjoy a food-tour of realingredients, versus the processed stuff, plus a cuisine that typically chooses heart-healthy olive oil over butter and mayo. Grand Hotel La Favorita is situated in Sorrento, Italy, with its back to the beautiful Bay of Naples. Explore the city by foot; be sure not to miss iconic attractions like the  Sorrento Cathedral, Chiostro di San Francesco, and Museobottega della Tarsialignea.

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Get your om on!

Sometimes the best resolution is the one that looks inward. A good balance of outdoor adventure and losing a little weight is keeping stress levels at bay and focusing on a little yoga and meditation!

Cue the Dominican Republic, a great excuse to escape the cold and also attend a yoga or meditation retreat, or simple find some quiet moments under a waterfall. This all-inclusive, Barceló Punta Cana, has beautiful beaches, pools, saunas, and more, to relax even more after a day’s worth of yoga, restoration, and a lot of “om’ing.” Or try the PUNTACANA Hotel, known for its waterfront views, eco-friendly accommodations, and plethora of peaceful natural springs.

Another option a bit closer to home is Boca Raton, a tropical city nestled on the eastern coast of Florida. With over a dozen of yoga studios to choose from, along with the option of rolling out the mat on the beach itself, there’s no chance this destination couldn’t add some zen to life! Embassy Suites is an optimal place to stay, located in the heart of the city with yes—a soothing waterfall and atrium in the lobby to make anyone’s first steps inside feel tranquil.

This post was posted by TheHipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on December 30th.

Wedding Wednesdays Tips for Planning Your Big Day

Wedding Wednesdays Tips for Planning Your Big Day

So you’re engaged!  I know there are lots of people getting engaged around this time of year.  Christmas and Valentine’s Day are both popular days for engagements.  This year my husband and I celebrated eight years of marriage.  Our first wedding was very small and intimate so I want to plan a vow renewal for our tenth anniversary in two years.  I plan to share all kinds of wedding gems with you in my new series called Wedding Wednesdays.

wedding wednesday

So now that you’re engaged you’re probably wondering what’s the first step.  When I got engaged I started my quest online to create a timeline of what I needed to get done.  Get a Free Wedding Website from Wedding Paper Divas.  The site will help you get started with sharing your special day with the ones you love.  While the engagement is still fresh it’s best to set up your dating story.  The site can be customized to match your invitations and even accept RSVPs if you order your invites from Wedding Paper Divas.

Next it’s time to start looking at a date, finding the perfect date will open up the doors to all your planning.  You can secure your venue and start with save the date cards for your potential guests.  Once you have a firm date, next it’s time to ask your wedding party to participate in your wedding.  You could ask them before or after you set a date but the sooner you know who’ll be in the wedding party the better it will be for them to start preparing for their expenses for the wedding.

Wedding Paper Divas - Holiday 2015

Weddings are expensive so save as much as you can by getting freebies and samples before making final decisions.  Get Free Save The Date Cards from Wedding Paper Divas before you pick a final card so you know just what you’re getting.  Be sure to check back next week for more wedding tips.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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The Quirkiest New Year’s Celebrations

In the U.S., New Year’s Eve tends to conjure up images of the ball dropping in Times Square or folks toasting glasses of champagne. Individuals may also have their own unique traditions for the flipping of the calendar. But New Year’s is symbolic of change, which makes a change of scenery for the celebration all the more appealing.

Should you choose to hop town for New Year’s, make sure your last-minute travel is worth it. Don’t just remix the same old traditions in a new locale. Instead, check out of these destinations, which offer some of the most non-traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations in the world.

Edinburgh, Scotland

If you want to be surrounded by lots of other folks who love adventure, head to Edinburgh, Scotland for a world-famous three-day festival called Hogmanay. Last year, 148,000 folks from over 70 countries enjoyed Edinburgh Hogmanay. The name comes from a custom known as “first-footing” that is practiced all over Scotland to celebrate the start of a new year — but the festival includes far more. Visitors can carry a torch in the opening procession, for instance, which last year featured 30,000 attendees. They can also get groovy at the event’s “final fling” — a ceilidh, or social event with Scottish music and dancing.

Act quickly though; tickets for the festival’s concert are already sold-out, and tickets for other events may go quickly. Grab yours and a room at a nearby hotel soon. The Minto Hotel, for instance, is just minutes from the Edinburgh Castle, the setting of some Hogmanay events.

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Tallinn, Estonia

This next New Year’s tradition may not be as explosive as a torch procession or fireworks, but it’s still worth a last-minute trip. In Estonia, it’s tradition to eat either seven, nine, or 12 full meals on New Year’s Day as a symbol of the abundance to come in the year. That’s great news for travelers, as it means more opportunities to try the wide range of foods offered in the country. Most Estonian cuisine originates from nearby countries such as Germany, Sweden, and Russia, to name a few, and this tradition offers a great reason to dabble in all of it.

If you’re going to indulge in Estonian culture for New Year’s, Tallinn is a great city to choose. It’s home many of the country’s top-ranked restaurants, and a hotel like thePark Inn by Radisson plops you right in the middle of many of them. The best part? All the eating’s not excessive — it’s cultural!

Brasstown, North Carolina

Forget a ball drop. Why not drop a live animal instead? That’s what happens every New Year’s Eve in Brasstown. A local gas station called Clay’s Corner has dubbed itself the “Opossum Capital of the World” and is famous for its annual “Opossum Drop.” The word “drop” is thankfully misleading, as the animal is actually lowered slowly in a plexiglass cage without being harmed.

While the opossum is the main event, the midnight drop comes after a night of music and before a celebration of fireworks. Travelers can get the full Southern Brasstown experience with some cozy lodging, like this “Mountain Therapy” log cabin.

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Dofteana, Romania

If an opossum is a too tame for your tastes, up the ante and head to a bear danceinstead. In small Romanian villages, New Year’s is marked by locals wearing actual bear skins meant to drive away evil spirits. They parade and dance in the bear skin, while many celebrations also include drummers and singing “bear tamers.” This unique tradition takes place in relatively remote villages, though, as it was born of local gypsies coming into town from nearby forests, bringing real bears.

Two popular spots are the Dofteana and Darmanesti villages in Bacau county, but travelers may be best off finding lodging in a city like Bucharest and then taking a train or bus to the village for a couple days. The Epoque Hotel, for example, is in close proximity to the Gara de Nord (Bucharest North) train station.

This post was posted by TheHipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on December 19th.

How to Host a Successful Cookie Exchange

How to Host a Successful Cookie Exchange

Christmas is less that four days away and I can’t wait because this year my family decided to host a Cookie Exchange.  We’ve done it before in the past, but I did all of the baking and just handed out cookies to my family, this year we are all bringing goodies for the family to enjoy.  I’ve always had people ask me about hosting a cookie exchange, they want to know how it works, what to bring, and who gets what.  I hope that this post sharing the steps of how to host a successful cookie exchange helps you pull one off with your family and friends.

Step One – Planning

One of the most important steps in hosting a cookie exchange is planning to make sure everyone enjoys the event.  First figure out how many people you plan to invite.  Once your invited guests have confirmed they plan to attend start creating a list of cookies they plan on baking.  This is a great way to eliminate multiple people bringing the same items.  You also don’t have to stick to cookies and I find that a wide variety makes for an even better experience for people attending.  If you’re looking for inspiration check out these cookie recipes from my blog below:

*Hosting Tip: Create a cut off date for when invited guests can submit their cookie choices, then create a list of what each person plans to bring as a guide for you and your guests, plus you can also use it to create label for the cookies at the table.  Be sure to check with guests about food allergies as well, especially nuts.  Also make sure your rules clearly state the amount of cookies to bake – about 6 dozen is a good amount based on the number of guests.

Preparing for Guests

Once you have all the details of who’s coming to the cookie exchange and what treats they plan to bring the next step is preparing for those guests.  You have a few options in regards to preparing for your guests.  You can ask guest to pre-package their cookies so it’s easier for guests to take at the end of the event or you can purchase special tins and boxes for treats to go home with your guests.

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Cookie Swap (6)

Cookie Swap (5)

Safeway Holiday Cookie Boxes Safeway Holiday Sale

For our family’s cookie exchange I headed out to Safeway to find special tins, boxes and sacks to place cookies in at the end of our event.  I was lucky because they were a sale on seasonal items and I was able to get them for either 50% or 40% off.  That’s perfect for me because I get to save and now we have lots of options for the cookies my family will be taking home with them on Christmas Day.

*Hosting Tip: I would suggest asking your quests to pre-package some of their cookies for guests to take home.  Make sure you send them all the information about the number of guest attending and ask them to put at least three of their cookies in each package.

Bake Your Treats

You’ve already picked your cookies you plan to bake.  It’s time to go shopping for all your baking needs to prepare for baking.  I went to Safeway for all my baking supplies.  They always have great specials on baking products during the holidays.  I even saved by purchasing Safeway Store Brand products.

Safeway Store Brand Products

I love baking so I prefer to make all my goodies from scratch however not everyone bakes from scratch and some people don’t like to bake at all.

Safeway Bakery

With Safeway Bakery guests who prefer not to bake can still participate and show up with delicious treats that taste like it’s home-made.  Bakery items are baked right in store and you can also ask one of the bakery staff questions of the products sold in store.  All items show the date they were baked and usually they are fresh for about a week.  Guests can also use box mixes to create one of a kind treats as well.

*Hosting Tip: It’s best to bake your cookies on the day of the event or the day before so they are as fresh as possible.

Enjoy Your Cookie Exchange

Photo Credit: Food Network Blog

Set up your serving table for the cookie exchange any way you like.  I like setting out cookies on serving trays with labels so the guests know what they will be tasting.  Put out enough to each guest can have at least one cookie.  Once everyone has tried all the cookies set out the remaining cookies and boxes so they can take some home. You could also pre-pack the boxes yourself or ask guests to pack two of their cookies in a sack for each of the other guests.  Tip Junkie has some cute printables to help with making your night extra special.

*Hosting Tip: You can search online for party ideas for your cookie exchange.  It also helps make the process so much easier on you.  Also ask your guests to bring their cookies in a nice serving platter if you don’t think you’ll have enough.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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The World’s Best Cities For Traveling Solo

There’s nothing like deciding to explore the world, striking out on your own, and doing just exactly what you want to do. But when you start to consider the options, it can be a bit overwhelming. So, rather than start with the whole world and try narrowing it down from there (good luck), why not start with a carefully curated list of globetrotter-approved locales guaranteed to be worth the trip? In answer to that question, here’s a roundup of four adventure-packed spots to inspire your further rumination on the topic.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

A cultural melting pot preoccupied with the finer things, Buenos Aires is paradise for the artist and the intellectual. The place is littered with literary and live music bars, and was home to influential writers like Victoria Ocampo and Jorge Luis Borges. Translation: Wandering aimlessly will inevitably end in the discovery of some hidden gem. With that in mind, make sure to pick a centrally located hotel. Nature lovers can visit the second-largest wetlands in the world at Ibera (a short flight from Buenos Aires). Anyone who considers drinking good wine a worthwhile pastime should make a stop at La Cafe Juvré or Aldo’s Vinoteca & Restorán.

Must-dos: Take in an opera at Teatro Colón, eat traditional empanadas, drink a true Argentine Malbec.

Dublin, Ireland

The sheer, lush expanse of the place makes it worth a trip. Film fans should take time to visit The Cliffs of Moher (you can get there by bus or rail from Dublin and make it back to your hotel before bedtime), a filming location for both Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and The Princess Bride. Literature buffs could make a whole itinerary of famous authors’ birthplaces: James Joyce and Clare Boylan hail from Dublin, to name a pair. Take the two-hour drive to Belfast to see the birthplace of C.S. Lewis, Jonathan Swift, and Seamus Heaney — plus a tour of Game of Thrones filming locations. Sporty types have no shortage of options, with golf tournaments, equestrian events, and boating races occurring regularly.

Must-dos: If you can, go during one of the food festivals, like Taste of Dublin. There are many, and you’ll experience more Irish cuisine that way than any other. If you do hit up Belfast, visit the MAC: the award-winning art center houses three art galleries, two theaters, and a bar/restaurant.

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Bali, Indonesia

Not just because it’s where Elizabeth Gilbert found enlightenment — and eventually the “Love” part of Eat, Pray, Love — although maybe a little because of that, the island of Bali is an incredible destination for the unattached traveler. You can swim in the Sekumpul Waterfalls, follow bright-colored fish snorkeling on Menjangan Island, or have a zen moment in the Jatiluwih Green Land rice fields. Get the full experience by staying in a cottage. On top of the whole “exotic paradise” thing, Bali offers a surprising amount of sophisticated cultural experiences. Think traditional and modern dance, visual art, and music. The annual Indonesian International Film Festival, Balinale, takes place in Bali, too.

Must-dos: Take in a temple performance, eat nasi goreng (a tamarind + chili stir-fried rice) and spicy peanut satay with bubur sumsum (black rice pudding) for dessert.

Sydney, Australia

The first-time solo traveler will appreciate the familiar urbanity and English-speaking environment of Australia. But Sydney has seemingly endless opportunity to explore a different kind of adventure with incredible surfing at spots like Manly Beach and fitness-focused attractions like walking Sydney Harbor Bridge, or taking in all the major attractions on a bike tour.

For a taste of culture, visit The Royal Botanic Gardens or shop at the Centrepoint Mall. Regardless of the kind of trip you’re looking for, you can find it in Australia.

Must-dos: Take in a performance at the Sydney Opera House (it helps if your hotel iswalking distance) and indulge in a tasting menu at Sydney-based seiōbo —momofuku’s first location outside New York City, which features locally sourced, seasonal ingredients.

Email hello@hipmunk.com to check flight and hotel prices to these and other cities!

This post was posted by TheHipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on December 15th.

Shop Shutterfly for Unforgettable Gifts

Shop Shutterfly for Unforgettable Gifts

Christmas is less than a week away, and you may have already wrapped up all your shopping for the holiday.  Honestly I never feel like I am completely done shopping, I am always thinking of something else I can add under the tree for my family and loved ones.  This year I partnered with Shutterfly to share gift ideas for the holidays.  I received a gift certificate to purchase items showcased in this post.

Shop Shutterfly for

While shopping on the Shutterfly website I noticed how much the site has grown in regards to their gift options.  Originally I was only looking for teacher gifts for the kids teachers and for my son’s classroom aides.  It didn’t take long for me to quickly realize that I could get so many more gifts and not just for the holidays either.

Wedding Anniversary

My husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary this year, it’s in December so it always takes a back burner to the holiday.  This year thanks to Shutterfly I was able to get some great items for my husband to celebrate our anniversary.  I even shared with you Wedding Anniversary Gift Ideas to cover the first ten years of marriage.  All with products you can find on Shutterfly.

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Shutterfly (1)

Two things I found to gift my husband was the Mason Jar Mug and the 16 picture collage.  I loved adding photographs of us over the years to show how much we’ve changed.  They were both big hits with him, he loved them both.

teacher gifts

I also shared with Teacher Gift Ideas with you from Shutterfly.  I fell in love with their design studio idea on the site.  It was easy for me to design the mug of my choice and use Shutterfly’s professional quality images.  This option alone will take your gifts to a whole new level.

I was able to create something different for each of my children’s teachers.  I let them pick the design so it made them feel special about making the mugs and they’ll be even more excited about gifting them.  I even opted for the gift boxes for an additional $4.95, and added chocolates for $9.99, making it so much easier on me once they arrived.  They were ready to be wrapped or placed in a gift bag.

Jewelry Gifts

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner I have to suggest you check out Shutterfly’s Jewelry Gifts.  I think these were the most surprising of off the items I purchased from the site.  I ordered the initial bracelet for my niece first and then went back and ordered one for myself, a necklace for my daughter and I just placed an order for a customized Autism Awareness Necklace for myself.  I’ve been blown away by the high quality and beauty of these items from Shutterfly.  The bracelets arrive in gift boxes ready for gifting.  The necklaces arrive in gift pouches.

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Shutterfly (20)

I loved all my gift from Shutterfly and if you’re looking for unforgettable gifts then be sure to check out them out.  They are more than just photo prints and calendars.  While it may be too late for Christmas, Shutterfly has gifts for all your special occasions.  Be sure to check back for more gift ideas.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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4 Epic Cabin Vacations in North America

4 Epic Cabin Vacations in North America

Forget all-inclusives, four-star hotels, and budget-friendly hostels. Luxurious cabins are now the new traveler’s dream, and they’re popping up all around the world for anyone with a wanderlust itch.

The growth in our cabin obsession is in part thanks to the recent explosion of Cabin Porn, a tumblr of user-sourced cabins that was recently turned into a book. That said, not all cabins are designed for to be a minimalist’s dream; one enthusiast spent $12.5 million to build a dream cabin equipped with six bedrooms, a media room, and 10-foot fireplace. Other epic log-cabins are turned into resorts after millions of dollars are put into their construction.

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From simplistic to chic, here are a few of our favorite cabins in North America that all include rustic flair.

Luxury Log Cabins — British Columbia, Canada

Want to stay in a place tucked away against glacier-fed streams in the heart of the Canadian Rockies? Who wouldn’t? These majestic rocky mountain luxury cabins are as beautiful on the inside as their surroundings are on the outside. (Think: rugged pines, soaring peaks, peaceful creeks, and an array of hiking, fishing, and canoeing options.) The rooms themselves range from simple twins to premier group houses, and all come with complimentary breakfast and group hikes. The lodge is 125 miles away from Calgary, so after a night at the Carriage House Inn (rooms are under $100!) rent a car and head to the mountains.

Park Lodges — Grand Canyon, Arizona

Not only are the views in the Grand Canyon epic; the places to stay can be, too! This beautiful park also has awesome lodging options, including the Grand Canyon Lodge—the only place to stay in the park’s Northern Rim. The lodges are within easy walking distance to the canyon rim, and all it takes is a peek out the bedroom window for incredible panoramic views of the park. Flights to Phoenix are easy to find, and then it’s recommended to rent a car for the drive to the Grand Canyon—a little over 200 miles north.

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Urban Treehouse — Brooklyn, New York

In the heart of the concrete jungle, Brooklyn never stops surprising us. While this treehouse isn’t available for rent, it’s an urban explorer’s must-see, and luckily there are many hotels nearby so people have a place to stay. The owner built this small tree house behind her apartment in Bedstuy, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, all with a modest $400 budget. In many ways, the style screams “New Orleans,” using bohemian elements of wood and tin and anchored on a mulberry tree.

Cedar Cabins by the Sea — Santa Barbara, California

Southern California has more to offer than beach babes and surfer dudes. Stay in one of El Capitan Canyon’s rustic cedar cabins for a different type of sleeping experience steps away from the Pacific Ocean. Treat yourself to a luxury cabin, or choose a slightly more authentic experience in one of their safari tents (don’t worry—they still have beds!). Guests can spend the day hiking, swimming, horseback riding, or wine tasting before nestling back into their nature hideaway. There are trains, buses, and airbuses from LAX to Santa Barbara, and all trips take only a bit over two hours to reach this majestic beachside town.

This post was posted by TheHipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on December 14th.

Independent Hotels in Ocean City

Independent Hotels in Ocean City

Peak season in Ocean City, MD is during the summer months, however travelers can take advantage of cheaper winter prices while visiting the area. If you’re looking for hotels in Ocean City, be sure to check out what these five independent hotels have to offer.

Fenwick Inn

Ocean City

Image by Mindy Groski via Trover.com

The Fenwick Inn Hotel has 201 rooms and suites that includes air conditioning, phones, refrigerators, microwaves and televisions with premium channels. Suites features upgraded television and a wet bar. The rooftop restaurant and bar offers extraordinary beach views. Complimentary coffee and tea is served in the lobby area, and the front desk is staffed 24 hours to help guests with recommendations, directions and making reservations. Rooms start at $139 per night during summer months and drop as low as $64 per night during colder months.

Grand Hotel & Spa

Sitting directly on the Boardwalk, Grand Hotel & Spa caters to business and leisure travelers alike, offering free wi-fi and parking. Families can enjoy the indoor/outdoor pool as well as the arcade. Upgrade to a oceanfront room with balcony for great views. Surrounded by shopping, restaurants, and entertainment options, guests at the Grand Hotel are never at a loss when deciding what to do. Rooms start at $239 per night for side view and $279 per night for oceanfront during summer months.

Bedtime Inn & Suites

Trimper's Rides

Photo by Keith Pinochet-Iscariot via Trover.com

This budget-friendly hotel offers spacious rooms, clean linens, and bedding with extra pillows. All rooms and suites have air conditioning, cable television, and phones. Microwaves and refrigerators are added to suites. Cribs are available for an extra fee. Bedtime Inn & Suites is one mile from the boardwalk but close to Tanger Outlets and other shopping, attractions and dining options. Family-friendly amenities include the outdoor pool, arcade with games and pool table, and basketball and volleyball courts. Rates start at $86 per night during summer months.

Bonita Beach Hotel

Choose from rooms with either two queen beds or one king with sleeper sofa at Bonita Beach Hotel. Many of the rooms have accessibility features, and all have a flat screen television and phone. All standard rooms come with a kitchenette, full refrigerator, and microwave. The hotel has a huge indoor pool with sun deck for guests to lounge, and offer themed nights and special events. Bonita Beach Hotel is closer to Gold Coast Mall and the Convention Center, but still near enough to the boardwalk and beach areas. Rooms average between $69 – $89 per night, and the hotel offers special discounts to area attractions.

Cayman Suites Hotel

Candy Kitchen

Photo by Julia via Trover.com

Each of the carpeted suites at Cayman Suites Hotel includes a kitchenette with stovetop, refrigerator, and microwave, as well as a sitting area with sofa bed. Guests can take advantage of free Wi-Fi, self parking, and coffee and tea service in the hotel lobby. Cayman Suites are great for larger groups looking for extra space. Activities near the hotel include Lost Treasure Golf and Northside Park. Easily walk to Gold Coast Mall and Montego Bay Shopping Center for souvenirs. The heated indoor pool, fitness center and game room is available for guests wanting to stay onsite.

One of the benefits of visiting Ocean City, MD is how close the hotels are to area attractions. Travelers can park their cars and walk to a number of dining, shopping or entertainment options. Each of these hotels has unique offerings for their guests and make them great options when booking hotels in Ocean City.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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Five Ways I Deal With Stress During the Holidays

Five Ways I Deal With Stress During the Holidays

It can get very stressful during the holidays, with shopping for gifts, preparing meals, visiting with family and friends, not to mention all the busy stores.  It doesn’t take much for you to go from relaxed and mellow to stressed to the max.  There are various ways for you to de-stress and I’ll like to share with you five ways I deal with stress during the holidays.

chocolate peppermint

Baking

I love to bake and its the my top choice for when I need to relieve stress.  I am not sure why it relaxes me as much as it does but baking up treats for my family just helps me mellow out and focus on something other that what’s stressing me out at the moment.  I love trying new recipes and creating new ones like these Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies.  Another favorite treat I love to make is Trinidad Coconut Milk Fudge.

Date Night

Another way to relieve stress for me is date night with my husband.  As parents of four, life can be very hectic so we need a break to enjoy each other’s company.  Our favorite place to have dinner in the Baltimore area is Cinnamon Tree restaurant at the Hunt Valley Inn.  My favorite thing on the menu is the She Crab Soup, it’s delicious and living in Maryland I have to say it’s the best crab soup I’ve ever tasted.

Taking a Walk

Going for a walk helps me with clear my head, it’s a great way to help when I’m having writing block or when I feel overwhelmed.  The great thing about our neighborhood is that there are several hiking trails around for me to walk on my own or with the whole family.  I could also just take a short walk around our apartment complex when I just want to stay close to home.

Reading

I love to read and finding a good book can distract me for hours.  I could literally read a book in a day.  Once I find a story I really love with character I can relate to, I could read it for hours straight.  Finding a good book is the best feeling in the world and that’s why it helps with stress.

Online Games

Dr Love on Vacation

Although I am not a big gamer I have been known to get attached to a few online games.  My favorite kind of games are simulations and casino style games. Games like Dr Love on Vacation and Big Farm are great options to play when you are looking for something fun to play.

Nickida

Nickida - is a wife and stay at home mother of four. She was born in Trinidad but moved to the US at age 14. She started blogging on an off for about three years and recently started writing more consistently. She enjoys sharing about her children, marriage, books, recipes, movies, reviews, giveaways and much more. She is working on improving her baking skills and building on her cake decorating business.

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