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My Favorite Things Holiday Gift Exchange & Gift Guide for Her


A Few of My Favorite Things

My Favorite Things Gift Exchange
Besides the office grab for over 10 years now, I have participated in a holiday gift exchange with a bunch of girlfriends scattered across the country. This year, we did something different - a "My Favorite Things" exchange. It's where you think of a favorite thing that you love (lipgloss, best candle you've ever found, fuzzy socks that you adore, chocolates you crave) and then buy multiples of that one thing for everyone in the exchange. So, you then everyone in the group receives multiple presents and everyone's favorite thing.

So, I thought, what do I like? Besides books, which are subjective and cats, which I can't very well send in the mail. I then narrowed it down to wine, chocolate and tea! I purchased whole leaf tea bags and individually wrapped dark chocolate mini bars from World Market and placed them inside a Tervis Wine Tumbler along with a note. Sadly, I'm now envious that I didn't make myself one too!

Tervis Stemless Wine Glasses -  these sturdy, unbreakable cups fit perfectly in your
Tervis Stemless Wine Glasses
I love my Tervis tumbler's for water and their stemless wine glasses are especially great for messy red wine drinkers like me, lol. No fine glass to break or delicate stems to drop. These sturdy, unbreakable cups fit perfectly in your hand and keeps wine at the perfect temperature. I can bring them by the pool or to an outdoor concert or game too and not worry about breaking them. I'll drink to that! They are also  American-made and dishwasher safe for easy party clean-up. Oh, and they have clear, witty wine sayings, monograms, NFL and college team logos and floral design options to choose from. I went with the wine puns like Save Water, Drink Wine and Uncork & Unwind. Cheers! Easy housewarming or teacher gift or present for a coworker too! Price: $19.99 each.

Stocking Stuffers for Her


Ninja Loop – Phone StrapWhether I'm tweeting or trying to snap a photo for my blog, I drop my phone a LOT, but now not so much. Why? Because I added a simple Phone Loop to my case, a simple back-strap to help avoid unfortunate and expensive phone drops. It can be added to any case and easy to remove too. I like hooking my finger through it when I'm walking and talking on the phone too. CNET agrees and says it's "the best 6 bucks you can spend on your smartphone." This useful gift is only $4.99. Perfect for the stocking!

Softlips CUBE Vanilla Bean Lip Balm (I'm obsessed!)

L'Occitane Shea Butter Hand Cream (I also like Crabtree & Evelyn lotion tubes too, I keep them in my desk).

essie 2016 holiday mini kit nail polish

Soxxy unisex compression socks are the perfect gift for the traveler, athlete, and mom on the go. Soxxys energize your legs, decrease swelling and reduce the risk of DVT. I like their navy ones with a plane on it, very PanAm retro. For 30% off, use coupon code: SOX16.

Purse sized hand sanitizers from Bath & Body Works or the yummy holiday smelling Marshmallow Fireside candle in mini size.

Gifts for Her

Straight and frizz-free hair in just several minutes with a Hair Straightener Brush. I found this to be easier and gentler on my hair than a traditional flat iron, quicker too. Simply brush your hair at a sloewr pace and it leaves behind a smooth finish. I have the version from USpicy that sells on Amazon for under $30 and comes with a glove to protect your hand from the heating tool.



I had received a lovely glass jar of colorfully wrapped Chocolate Covered Oreo Cookies from Shari’s Berries and not only were they delicious, but they made a lovely centerpiece during the holidays and ideal for holiday entertaining. It' a perfect hostess gift too.


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Holiday Gift Guide for PreSchool Boys

Holiday Gift Guide Ideas for Preschool Boys

Holiday Gift Guide for PreSchool Boys

a.k.a what my 4-year-old twins are getting (shhh!)


Hot Wheels 7” Tablet Powered by Nabi 
The Hot Wheels 7” Tablet Powered by Nabi comes with several Hot Wheels screens and preloaded content, including “Hot Wheels Labs” where kids can watch videos about the science of hot wheels cars - resistance, friction and gravity. In addition, the tablet has over 25 apps and games already loaded onto the device. It runs on the latest Android OS and comes with Google Play, so parents can access over one million additional apps, games, music, movies, books, and more as your child gets older. The tablet comes with a custom orange bumper for protection and durability, so no need to buy an additional case. Besides watching Hot Wheels videos my boys mainly play with the Hot Wheels activity pack featuring a coloring book, a puzzle and a matching game. Oh, and there is a front and back camera that they were posing and taking photos with.

Overall, as a parent looking to invest in a kids tablet, this one is affordable and won’t set you back extra with additional app purchases either. Nabi also makes an American GirlBarbie and a Fisher-Price themed tablet for the same reasonable price. Ages: 3+ Price: $79.90 at Amazon.


Disney Mickey Mouse Express Ready-to-Play Train Set 
What’s a Christmas tree without a holiday train set? And this locomotive is uber adorable. All aboard the Mickey Mouse Express, featuring iconic Disney characters dressed in their holiday best. It’s a perfect set to run under the tree, bringing a dose of holiday cheer and providing families with an annual tradition for holidays to come.

The ready-to-play set comes with the train locomotive and cars, easy to connect interlocking tracks with various layout options and a RC remote control with easy-to-use buttons for even preschoolers to get their hands on. The train features a battery-powered general-style car driven by Mickey with accompanying authentic train sounds. Ages: 4+ Price: $79.99 on Amazon.


Super Wings World Airport Playset  
It's Fly Time! My kids and I enjoy watching the show Super Wings, which is why I was excited to see this airport playset from Auldey Toys. Seen in each episode the airport sets the stage for the ultimate playset for preschool boys and girls. Basically, it's a Barbie dream house for boys. It's large too! The 35-inch scale delivers loads of fun, with electronic sounds and lights plus tons of activities for kids to recreate their favorite Super Wings scenes with mini-transforming characters Jett and Donnie. The figures can attach to the fly-around balance bar and spin them to circle the World Airport before they come in for a landing. Load Jett into the elevator and lift him up to the Control Tower, then launch him down the ramp. Flip open the base compartments to reveal a rotating luggage carousel and a cargo scale too. Batteries are included! Age: 3+ MSRP: $35.99


LeapFrog Leaping Letters 
This interactive game teaches letters and is fun for the whole family to play. Kids race against the clock to put the letters in their proper spots before time runs out otherwise they go POP! The timer can be adjusted to accommodate players of all skill levels and ages to play. The level of difficulty can easily be increased as well with color-coded letter pieces that advance the game to word building and kids can start forming words with add-on activity cards. We aren't there yet, but it's great seeing them race to build the alphabet. This toy also builds matching and fine motor skills too. Surprisingly, no batteries are required and there are no noises except the slight ticking noise the timer makes. Hopefully future editions will include some fun sound effects too, but for now at least this isn’t another musical toy to get on mommies nerves or go off in the middle of the night and scare the bejeezus out of me. Ages: 3-6 Price: $14.99

Toymail Talkie
Between my husband and I, one of us is often traveling and although FaceTime makes it easier for us, the Toymail Talkie makes it more fun for kids. This quirky looking monster plush provides screen-free messaging let's kids exchange voice messages with their friends and family. Talkies can communicate with smartphones and tablets via the accompanying free Toymail app for IOS, Android, Kindle, through which you approve which contacts can connect and participate. Kids do not need to use a screen to play and record their own messages though. While I was on a recent press trip, I used it to leave daily messages for my boys. They would wake up to press the toy to hear what I had to say each day before they went to school. It was like a game to them like searching for the Elf on the Shelf each morning, but at the same time, I was able to participate even though I was in another state.  Great for long-distance relatives and grandparents to communicate with kids too. $59.99 and available in three different animal creatures and colors.

For MORE ideas including STEM toys and gifts for older kids and tweens, check out my 2016 Techlicious.com holiday gift guide
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Holiday Entertaining? Say Cheese!




Are you hosting a holiday party this year? We are fortunate to have family visiting this Christmas, so I'm stocking up on some munchy hosting essentials. Nothing like a holiday cheese board and wine pairing to start off the night. Let's be real—every party is a wine-and-cheese party, and the more the merrier.

From shredded to crumbled and sharp to sweet, Stella Cheeses found at Publix can satisfy any cravings.  Best of all, it's totally easy to whip up a cheese board and it looks impressive too. For a stress-free appetizer here are 10 easy steps to assembling the perfect cheese platter for entertaining.

Tips for Arranging the Perfect Stella Cheese Board for your Next Dinner Party

  1. Use seasonal fruits and local fruits to pair with the cheeses. Thus, if it's blueberry season, put out some blueberries. Dried cranberries or homemade cranberry sauce are great for winter holiday platters. My boys get excited when there are grapes.
  2. However, not everything has to be edible, for the holidays add a sprig of holly as decoration or a tropical flower in the summer to complete your board's look.
  3. Vary how you cut the different cheeses that you are putting on your plate for both presentation and texture. The same-sized squares will make your spread look pre-packaged and store bought.
  4. Go nuts! No, seriously, add nuts like walnuts and almonds. 
  5. Drizzle honey on or near sliced Stella Asiago Cheese or Stella Crumbled Blue Cheese, which helps to make these stronger cheeses taste sweeter.

  6. Not everyone can handle my favorite Stella Blue Cheese, so make sure to also include an easy fan favorite like Stella Italian Sharp Cheese too. 
  7. Try roasting figs to include with your cheese platter.
  8. Champagne is the best drink to complement the eating of cheese along with white wines over red.
  9. Purchase a board or cheese plate that you're proud of. A popular trend right now is to use Slate Boards, where you can write on with chalk. A cheaper version, I picked up a roll of black paper from Target's Dollar Spot and a paint pen to label the different cheeses. Adds a personal DIY touch to it.

  10. Because they say you can't live on bread and cheese alone (I disagree!) add in some prosciutto, pepperoni or other Italian meats to appease the guys and those that are eagerly awaiting the main course.

WIN A TRIP TO WINE COUNTRY



We all know that wine and cheese are a perfect pair. Indulge in both with a trip to Napa Valley courtesy of Stella® brand! Good luck ... and please take me with you!



Cheers!
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Forgo the hassle with Walmart Grocery Pickup


During my twins first year, I depended on my local grocery delivery service in Connecticut. Trying to bundle up two infants and lug two car seats into the store was my nightmare. Never mind the idea of having to make myself presentable to go out in public too. However, sadly the option was not available once I moved to Southwest Florida and I've missed it ... bigly (too soon?).

Even now that my boys are older, grocery shopping for any parent can be a struggle. Doubly so when you have multiples since I can't always find a shopping cart for two. Either someone with one child is hogging it or I have to circle the parking lot to find wherever it was last discarded.

Thankfully, I just learned about Walmart’s online grocery pickup service and fortunately it's available at the Estero location near my boys' preschool here in Southwest Florida.
Designated Walmart Grocery Pickup parking spots in Estero, Florida
Now, I can simply add items to my online shopping cart or through their easy app, provide my credit card and select a time and day that I would like to pick-up my order curbside. And here is the best part -- they bring your order out to your car for you! 

Eliminate the hassle of grocery shopping with kids thanks to Walmart Online Grocery Pickup.

That's right, my kids can continue watching Cars or Planes (whichever won the battle that morning) in their car seats while all of our groceries magically appear in the trunk of our van. No shopping cart to maneuver, no having to open Goldfish Crackers to keep them happy as I search for some mystery item on an unknown aisle and then backtrack again to pick up their trail of bread crumbs. Instead, I was able to just pull up to the designated sign and voila! 5 minutes later, we were off again.

For my first order, I decided to get our grocery shopping for Thanksgiving out of the way by selecting our frozen turkey, fresh cranberries, stuffing, yams and apple cider now. Best of all, no impulse buys, just what is on the list.


Worried about the produce and meat selections? Don't be. Even before they load your items into your car they show you the mean and produce options that were chosen, so you can object or not. Oh, but don't make the mistake I did when ordering bananas. I meant to select 4, but it turns out I did 4lbs, lol. No bother though, my boys both have one each morning.

Even post holidays, I know I'm going to rely on this convenience again and again. The experience was great! The assistant manager, Eric even came out to greet me and another Grocery Pickup shopper. He was excited we were using the new service and provided us with a little bag of samples as a thank you. So sweet.

Grocery delivery! 
Walmart's grocery pick-up service is FREE to use, but there is a $30 minimum per order. I found an offer valid through the end of the year for $10 off a purchase of $50. With this additional savings, I only spent $45 on our Thanksgiving dinner ingredients! Here is my offer code for $10 off your first order.
Not my car, but what a beauty, couldn't resist including it in the shot!
Disclaimer: While I paid for the groceries myself, I am being compensated for my time and honest review. However, I jumped at the chance to try this service once I heard online ordering was possible in my area.
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Beaches Negril Family Vacation - Yah, Mon!

Just before Halloween my family had the fun treat of heading to Jamaica for the 3rd annual Beaches Moms Social Media on the Sand conference, this time held at Beaches Resorts Negril. It was an amazing experience and I fear we have still not adjusted back to reality. After all, there's no baking with Cookie Monster at my son's preschool, nor are dinners and drinks available 24/7. *sigh*  I know, woe is me, lol. 

Although we often do Florida road trips with our boys, going international for five days though is a big commitment when you have two unpredictable toddlers. However, from past experiences we knew that Beaches Resorts would make traveling internationally with our twin preschoolers like a day at the beach (pun intended), so it was a no-brainer for all of us to go. 

The all-inclusive resort even includes a kids camp, called Camp Sesame, which we would utilize in the mornings so we could hit the beach and go kayaking or paddle boarding (also included) and then we'd all have lunch together and take the boys back to our room for nap time (yes, we still try to observe nap time when we travel). Also, one night we brought the boys to the camp too, so we could have an adult-only dinner at Kimonos hibachi steakhouse, just 1 of 9 included restaurants on the resort. 

Enough yada yada, I'll let our vacay photos and video do the rest of the talking: 



Doesn't this look like a brochure? I promise it's real and I took it - no filter!
Beaches Resorts Negril Family Vacation in Jamaica
Like mother like sons! Ordering free drinks at the swim-up bar ;)
Toes in the sand!



Off to Camp Sesame through this pretty walkway!

Making castles in the sand.

Brothers gotta build.
Sesame Street character breakfast with dad & friends!

With fellow Beaches Moms! 


Tips for Beaches Resorts with Toddlers and Infants:

Are you planning on traveling to Beaches with infants or toddlers? Read the following blog posts for more tips for all three Beaches Resorts locations:
VIP Tips at Beaches Turks and CaicosBeaches Ocho Rios with toddlerstoddlers playing in the sand at Beaches Resorts Turks & Caicos 11 VIP Tips for Beaches Resorts Negril
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New Orleans & American Horror Story Coven Tour

Over the weekend, I did a quick trip to The Big Easy to present my Social Media Hacks to authors in the Southern Louisiana Chapter of Romance Writers of America.

After the session, my friend and author Farrah Rochon indulged me by taking me around to see the different filming locations of American Horror Story Season 3 Coven, which was one of my favorite seasons. Considering Farrah has never seen the show, she was being a good sport as I rattled off a list of places and addresses to go see around NOLA.

First stop, the coven's home Miss Robicheaux’s Academy for exceptional young adults a.k.a. Buckner Mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans at 1410 Jackson Ave. New Orleans, LA 70130.

American Horror Story's Miss Robicheaux’s Academy Buckner Mansion in New Orleans

Although it wasn't raining, I borrowed Farrah's black umbrella that she had in her car to mimic this cast shot.


The mansion was built in 1856 by a major cotton magnate and served for many years as a school too, but for business studies, thus the education quote on the floor below the gothic gated entrance.

American Horror Story Coven Filming Locations in New Orleans

American Horror Story Coven Filming Locations in New Orleans

The mansion is now privately-owned, but you can rent it out for $20,000. We were not the only tourists taking photos either, which was pretty fun to see and fangirl out over.

American Horror Story Coven Filming Locations in New Orleans

Oh, but this gate though and the cast iron detail and eerie, ominous spikes, which causes Zoe's temporary demise!

American Horror Story Coven Filming Locations in New Orleans

American Horror Story Coven Filming Locations in New Orleans


American Horror Story Coven Filming Locations in New Orleans

Next stop, Lalaurie Mansion (1140 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70116) home of Madame Lalaurie’s House of Horrors where Kathy Bate's sinister character lived. However, I was horrified to discover that she was a real person and the home a major stop on French Quarter ghost tours!

American Horror Story Coven Tour in New Orleans

It's said to be the most haunted house in New Orleans and no wonder. As seen in the show, according to legend one night in 1834 a fire broke out at the house and when rescuers entered the home they found the mutilated remains of slaves who were imprisoned in the attic. A mob ransacked the mansion and Madame Lalaurie presumably fled the city and was never seen nor heard from again. Over the years the building has served as a barber shop, furniture store, girls school and music conservatory. Nicolas Cage even owned the home for a bit, but that part doesn't surprise me.

Right next door to Lalaurie's home is Gallier House (1132 Royal St), which served as the exterior for Madame Lalaurie’s Mansion. This is where Nan hears the imprisoned Madame while on the witches walk. The house was built in the 1850s and is a National Historical Landmark.

American Horror Story Coven Tour in New Orleans

A list of more AHS New Orleans filming locations can be found here.

With New Orleans area RWA members and authors, Pamela, Vicky, Farrah Rochon and Stella Barcelona.


American Horror Story Coven Season 3 New Orleans Filming Locations Tour


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Menstrual Cups - Have you dared to try one?

"Menstrual Cups?! Have you dared to try one?" that was the subject line standing out in my inbox last month.

I had NOT dared, but it's been something I've been considering for some time now. Challenge accepted!

In fact, my first ever Huffington Post article that I wrote five years ago asked, Are your Tampons Green? While writing the piece I learned that rayon and rayon-cotton blends are widely used in the manufacture of tampons and most sanitary pads contain a blend of chlorine-bleached pulp, polypropylene, polyacrylates and plastic. Why is that bad? Cotton is often treated with pesticides and with it being such an intimate product it should be a larger concern for women.
The average woman will buy more than 12,000 tampons in her lifetime!
That’s a lot of waste and money spent. So, although I had switched to healthier chlorine-free options, I didn't tackle the environmental or cost factor, which is why I finally decided to at least try making the switch to a cup made of 100% medical grade silicone, free from toxins, bleaches and perfumes. Basically, period cups collect your flow and can be emptied into the toilet and then can be cleaned and reused again and again.

I simply had to get over my initial ick factor response, but I'm glad that I finally did. Okay so the process is a little gross, but so is inserting and removing tampons. It's just that tampons are more commonplace, but hopefully not for long!

Warning: Last chance, if this topic is making you uncomfortable or grossing you out, here is your chance to stop reading.


Cost-Savings & Eco-Friendly:

  • You can use a cup for up to 12 hours.   
  • Save yourself some money! One cup costs around $30 and lasts up to 10 years. See pricing options listed below.

Buy 1, Give 1


Ruby Cup lives by the "Buy One Give One" program, setting themselves apart as the ONLY and FIRST menstrual cup brand to include a donation to a girl in need for every cup sold. Every cup distributed to a girl in need, in countries like Kenya, includes education on the female anatomy, reproductive health and Ruby Cup usage & hygiene too. So, you can feel even better about making the switch on so many levels.

My Tips for Making the Transition Easier


I'll be honest I was a bit intimidated by the size and durability and stiffness of the medical grade silicone at first, but once I inserted it properly, it didn't hurt.

The first two times I tried placing the cup into position, I didn't have it high enough, so it was quite uncomfortable having it expanded by the opening. I couldn't understand how people online would say they could hardly feel the cup inside them. I was ready to give up, but luckily I didn't.

I tried one more time and found it best to wet the cup with water first for extra glide. Also, I liked the Tulip, punch down, push down fold best and not the C fold. It was also much easier to apply when I was seated on the toilet and not standing. These three added steps were the only way it finally started to work for me. Now, it was in the right place and I could no longer feel it. Also, after a few minutes the silicon warmed and it got even more malleable. Once I figured it out, I felt liberated not having a pad or dry cotton sitting there!

Removing it, um, took a little digging though to relocate the stem, which is kind of awkward. In the beginning, I was also removing it too often when I really didn't need to. I typically have heavy periods, which is why I went on The Pill when I was younger, but found I only had to change the cup twice a day and that in itself was such a relief.  Best of all, it didn't leak and didn't feel as uncomfortable when like a tampon is full.

Doesn't sound sanitary? It is! You simply dump the collected contents and rinse with water after each use. Then, once a month you can boil the cup for a full sanitizing.

In fact, it's fresher! There is no smell from using Ruby Cup. Menstrual flow only begins to smell when it begins to oxidize from being exposed to air – as with sanitary pads. When using the cup, the menstrual flow is not exposed to air so you don’t have to worry about emitting an odor.

Overall Thoughts


I'm never going back! Don’t be afraid of change, making the transition from tampons to cups is simple and is a positive choice for your body and your life.

Please note that while I received a free sample of the cup, I was not expected to or planning to originally blog about this. No strings attached (get it?). However, I've been so happy with the switch that I wanted to blog about it despite the TMI.

Besides Ruby Cup, below are other reusable menstrual cup options. I also tried and use the Lunette cup now too. Lunette's flat stem/handle is easier to pull and grip when removing. It comes with a carrying pouch too and the box that it is packaged in is recyclable and compostable. Lunette also makes a cup cleanser and to-go disinfecting and compostable wipes that you should invest in too, no matter what brand cup you use. They also have a starter kit with everything you need to get started.


Menstrual Cups - Have you dared to try one? Helpful tips and thoughts on making the switch from a real mom
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Healthy After School Snacks & Savings



With my boys putting in a full day at preschool an important daily ritual for us after is providing them with a healthy after school snack before dinner to replenish them. They are always so thankful and excited for their treat that it makes me feel like the best mom ever for doing such a simple task. Even better when I can sneak in extra nutrients or protein into their diet too. Win-win.


We just stocked up on Gerber Lil’ Beanies at our local Publix because they are currently 2/$4 and you can score an additional 75 cents off with this Ibotta offer. Gerber's new baked snack can be found in the baby aisle and is made with the goodness of navy beans and is naturally flavored.

Coupon for Gerber Lil Beanies on sale at Publix

Being twins my boys are on the smaller side too, so I struggle trying to get them to eat more protein. Which is why I love that Lil Beanies has 2 grams of protein per serving. Also, the boys think it's "chips" when obviously it's better for them than potato chips.

 

Another after school healthy snack that we go for is String Cheese or Cheddar Cheese sticks. Right now, there is also an Ibotta rebate for Sargento Cheese Sticks, so go ahead and stock up on both and save even more!

Don't forget to download your $0.75 off coupon.


ibotta rebate for Gerber Lil Beanies and Crunchies
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