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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Discovering Zaxby's in Fort Myers

The other night I was invited to a media dinner at the brand new Zaxby's location in Ft. Myers by FGCU and Gulf Coast Town Center.

Having been around for 25 years and with almost 800 locations open, you would think I would have already been familiar with the chain eatery serving up fried chicken fingers, wings, sandwiches and salads. However, since they are mostly in the southern states and originating from Georgia, it was the first time this Yankee had ever eaten at a Zaxby's.

I was delighted to discover that everything is made to order, so not the typical fast food experience.

From their appetizers I enjoyed their Tater Chips with blue cheese crumbles on top and paired with a variety of dipping sauces.


Speaking of their sauces, I was too chicken (pun intended) to try their "Insane" hot sauce with their boneless chicken wings, but I did enjoy their Sweet and Sour dip.

ft. myers zaxby's

We were told that this summer, Fried Pickles will return to their menu as a seasonal item. I will need to go back for that!

I was really impressed with their "Zalads," especially The Cobb, which had large pieces of egg, fresh cut grilled chicken and super red tomatoes. A filling, healthy fast food option. 

zaxby zalad cobb salad

I was also a fan of their Nibblerz Chicken Sliders with Zax sauce. They were super juicy and filling. 

Although I was beyond full, I couldn't help buy eye their unique milkshakes - Banana Pudding, Chocolate Cookie and Birthday Cake. For me, the Birthday Cake shake took the cake though (Yes, another corny pun)! Not going to deny leaving with a cup, which are reusable and dishwasher safe by the way.


Unlike other quick service restaurants in the area, this establishment will be open until Midnight each night, so perfect on the way home from the airport, which is right down the road too. 

Also, this summer they will be having Kids Nights with a balloon artist and other fun kid activities. Stay tuned for that. Every day though, there are kids menu options as well.

Oh, and I took it as a good sign (I'm full of puns today!) that along with the roadside signs up on the walls, my two favorite actresses - Katharine Hepburn and Lauren Bacall - photos were in framed photographs inside the restaurant along with some other local area flair. Random, but this classic movie buff delighted in seeing them! :)
 

One of the franchise owner's Rusti (a former teacher) says they will be opening 3 more locations in Lee County eventually for a total of 5 restaurants here. 

Have you been to a Zaxby's? What do you like to get there?
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Monday, May 23, 2016

Are you using environmentally harmful microbeads?

At the beginning of the year, President Barack Obama signed into law a Microbead-Free ban prohibiting microbeads in US beauty products.

What is a Microbead?

A microbead is any solid plastic particle that is less than 5 millimeters and is used for the purpose of exfoliating or cleansing. These tiny plastic beads can be found in hundreds of household products ranging from body scrubs to toothpastes.

Why are Microbeads bad?

These beads while not harmful to humans, wash down our drains and because they are made of plastic, they do not dissolve and are too small to be caught by waste water treatment facilities. Instead, they are flushed directly into our lakes, rivers and streams. Besides the waste in our waterways, fish then consume the beads thinking it's food and then we eat the fish and plastic too.

Unfortunately, the ban will not come into effect until July 1, 2017. Thus, plastic unnatural microbeads continue to pollute our oceans enough to coat the surface of 300 tennis courts every day!

Microbeads in your beauty products ...

I immediately consulted a list to see what beauty products contained microbeads and was shocked that I've been using two of them regularly and continue see them still being sold in stores.
  • Clean & Clear Morning Burst
  • Crest 3D White toothpaste

Keep in mind though that the list is not comprehensive and I discovered three more products in my home that contain microbeads, so you should always check a cleanser's ingredient list for polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl methacrylate, polylactic acid, or nylon— since these are the most common plastics that make up microbeads. Most of the time though you can simply see the plastic beads floating in the mixture and can spot them visually.
  • Murad Essential C-cleanser 
  • Bliss fabulous foaming face wash
  • Bath & Body Works Deep Cleansing Hand Soap (will stick to their foaming ones instead of the gel)

Have YOU been using environmentally harmful microbeads in your beauty routine?
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Monday, May 16, 2016

New steep by Bigelow organic tea

America’s own Bigelow Tea since 1945 (now under third-generation family leadership) is adding to its vast repertoire of teas with the launch of a new line of premium craft-blend teas – steep by Bigelow, which I was excited to learn is USDA Certified organic.


But why should you buy organic tea? Aren’t tea leaves organic already?
There have been studies that found traces of pesticides in some tea bags, thus, steeping straight into your brew and you! For example, dangerously high levels of pesticides were recently found in Celestial Seasonings and Lipton tea. After learning this, I have since looked for organic teas to ensure I was sipping only the healthy goodness of tea. It's not often easy to find organic tea in tea bag form either, so steep makes it super convenient to have wholesome tea on-the-go. Fortunately, for Bigelow tea fans in general though, you’ll be happy to learn that they test all of their teas extensively, both Organic and Non-Organic, for over 300 different types pesticides using two independent testing labs. Their test results continually confirm that there are no pesticides in a brewed cup of Bigelow tea. Thus, all of their teas are 100% safe for your consumption. The same can't be said for other popular tea bag brands though.


Inspired by the popularity of the craft beer movement, the steep by Bigelow signature series connects with the passionate tea consumer by supporting everyone’s personal and individual palate. In addition to being Certified USDA Organic, the line has the added benefits of being non-GMO and gluten free.

First Watch restaurants here in SWFL are already serving the line as their tea of choice.

Their 13 creatively blended teas each deliver a unique flavor:


  1. Oolong & Jasmine Green Tea – My favorite of the group, but I’m partial to oolongs and green teas. Slightly nutty oolong with delicate floral Jasmine notes 
  2. Dandelion & Peach Rooibos & Green Tea – smooth tea with sweet, fruity peach notes and earthy dandelion finish 
  3. Pure Green Tea – a delicate green tea with subtle astringency 
  4. Green Tea with Pomegranate – smooth green tea with pomegranate and a pleasantly tart finish 
  5. Pure Green Decaffeinated Tea – a delicate green tea with subtle astringency 
  6. Earl Grey – a smooth, bold black tea with a crisp, authentically citrusy rich flavor of real bergamot 
  7. English Breakfast Certified Fair Trade Tea –smooth, malty with flowery top notes and a pleasantly astringent finish 
  8. Mint caffeine free Herbal Tea – a smooth & soothing blend of spearmint & peppermint 
  9. Rooibos Hibiscus caffeine free Herbal Tea – tart and delicious rooibos red tea with subtle delicate hibiscus 
  10. Sweet Cinnamon – a smooth, black tea distinctively balanced with sweet, spicy cinnamon 
  11. Chai – a perfectly balanced blend of rich black tea and exotic spices 
  12. Lemon Ginger caffeine free Herbal Tea – a clean citrus herb tea pleasantly spiced with ginger
  13. Chamomile Citrus caffeine free Herbal Tea – full bodied sweet chamomile with a bright, citrus complement 

steep by Bigelow teas are now available online and at grocery stores nationwide for the suggested price of $4.49 for a 20 count box, thus only 22 cents a tea bag!

Disclaimer: I was NOT paid to do this post, but did receive tea bag samples to facilitate my review. 
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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Before & After: My Dream Book Nook


The Dream: 

Being an avid reader, I have always dreamed of an at-home library. Nothing grand like in Beauty in the Beast (I wish!), but a sunny reading area with built-in bookshelves.

When we moved into our Florida home I couldn't help but notice that our master bedroom had a random alcove and picture window that we didn't know quite what to do with. Well, that's not true. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it! ;) So, I quickly provided a few carpenters with the following mock-up sketch, directions and inspirational images found on Pinterest and in magazines. See below for the result.

The Inspiration:

 

The Project:


Ideally, I wanted there to be shelving above the window too for mass paperback books and a bench built as well for sitting, plus additional cubbyholes below for more books to go underneath the window seat.

You wouldn't believe the expensive price quotes that I got, they were astronomical. I had to be a bit more flexible in terms of materials, etc. Even then, it was still an arm and a leg, but I was able to keep the main attributions that I wanted. I also picked up a outdoor lounge cushion from World Market that fit the bench. I need to add more padding underneath it though.
Almost done!

The Result: My Reading Nook




In the afternoon light 
At night

I think it really adds value and dimension to the room too. What do you think?

What's your must-have feature for your home or future home? 

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Exploring the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum

For our three hour road trip to Orlando for the annual Traveling Mom retreat, I was given the chance to test-drive and review the 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum.


I am by no means a car expert, but since having our boys we have gone through three SUVs in search for the right fit for us. So, from a parent's perspective here is my take.


Overall, we were blown away by the luxury of this vehicle and all of it's amazing features that made driving a pleasure, safer and easier for our family. It's definitely a great alternative and more stylish than a mini-van, yet still functional for large families too.


Ford Explorer Features We Loved:


  • Dual-panel moonroof allowed the boys to see out from their car seats in the second row for a change. They enjoyed the novelty of it and made for a fun road trip for them. 
  • Heating and Cooling leather seats. The former is great for traveling up north and the latter was heavenly here in Florida. If only my car had this for the summer months down here when I'm sticking to the seats. 
  • 2nd row heated seats. Not that we used this feature, but I still thought it was a cool feature to have and one I would have loved having in our vehicle growing up in New England. 
  • Massaging seats for both the passenger and driver side. I seriously had mine on the entire trip. Why every vehicle doesn't have this is beyond me. 
  • Foot-activated lift gate allows you to close the trunk by simply kicking the air under the rear bumper. I can't tell you how many times I'm unloading groceries, just to have to put the bags back down in order to hit the button up top to close the trunk after. 
  • AC power outlet, great for charging a laptop or other devices.
  • Multiple USB outlets, allowed us to forgo using the cigarette lighter piece.
  • Blind Spot Information System (BLIS® with cross-traffic alert). A light would appear in my side view mirrors, alerting me if someone was in my blind spot. Twice this saved me from changing lanes when I shouldn't have. 
  • A capless fuel tank made for easy fueling, eliminating the need to put the gas cap back on after fueling. After you remove the nozzle from the fuel tank, the seal shuts automatically. Standard on all models.
  • Easy bluetooth setup. The car audibly directs you through the steps.
  • Memory seating - since Raphael and I are often swapping cars and I am a foot shorter than he is, this feature makes switching drivers effortless. We are already missing this feature in our minivan.
  • Power folding with the push of a button for the 2nd and 3rd row seating. So amazing! I wish my minivan had this. However, my curious son hit the button and almost got folded up into the seat. Thus, be sure to have the child safety lock button on, but this doesn't help in regards to the 3rd row.
  • Adaptive cruise control. The cruise control was way more intuitive than I am used to. Although I had it set for a certain speed, it would sense when I was going to have to break due to an approaching car and would decrease speed before I even had to move my foot over to the break. It was like the car was driving itself! 
  • Stylish - loved the wood trim steering wheel and quilted leather accents. Plus, the cool looking grill on the exterior. 
  • Seats 7

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Our Jamaica Video Shoot with Funjet Vacations

Last September, my family and I had the amazing experience of traveling to the all-inclusive Sandals Beaches Resort in Ocho Rios Jamaica with Funjet Vacations.
Instagram @FunJetVacations 
For one day during our stay though we had the fun experience of having a camera crew follow us around to capture footage and ask us questions afterwards about our adventures for some YouTube videos. I wasn't sure how the boys would react to having such large cameras next to them, but they were more professional than us, as they simply ignored them altogether and simply had fun.


The cameras were even present while we ate lunch, which was awkward, but after their masterful editing I think it all came together well. We had no idea what they would use or not, but quite happy with it. What do you think?

 Instagram @FunJetVacations 

Funjet Vacations Videos




Apparently, there is also a clip of us that appears in an in-flight video from FunJet on United Airlines. While I haven't seen it yet a blogger friend and a neighbor spotted us, so be on the lookout the next time you fly United and let me know :)


Related articles from our vacation: 




Beaches Ocho Rios with toddlers
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 on Blu-ray!


With the Blu-ray release of the final installment of the franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (now available on Digital HD too), I now own the complete series. Personally, I love purchasing the combo packs, because I then have a copy for iTunes to watch when I'm traveling, a DVD to lend to my mom who still doesn't have a Blu-ray player, as well as a Blu-ray copy for us to watch at home in all its high-def glory.

With $647 million worldwide box office and counting, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 set the world on fire and enthralled millions of devoted fans across the globe. Me too!

The other day my husband and I re-watched the film together for a date night in and today while blogging and working, I had the film playing in the background with the audio commentary on by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson. I learned lots of fun facts like that a visual effects company was used to make Peeta more gaunt and skinny in the beginning when he's in the hospital bed. Also, interesting hearing about the nuance ways they tried to stay true to the author's version of the characters like Katniss not responding the way other women would when it comes to expressing her emotions. Cool and surreal to hear which scenes were filmed in Berlin or France too. One of the craziest parts to hear is that Jena Malone (Tribute Johanna Mason) had a scalp double instead of wearing a bald cap or shaving her head. Those are just a few of the insightful nuggets, so I'd highly recommend listening to the audio commentary while cooking, doing social media or something else, because while interesting to hear, its not necessary to watch uninterrupted.

While I'm sad the series has come to an end, but with over 5 Hours of Special Features from Lionsgate included on the Blu-ray edition, fans can keep the saga living a little longer.

“Pawns No More: Making The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2” is an 8-part documentary providing an in-depth look at the making of the film from production design, costumes, hair, make-up, stunts, special effects and post production. The documentary also includes a touching piece – from the last day of shooting – in which the cast reflects on their experience shooting the four films. Also included is a detailed look at Cinna’s sketchbook and a walk through the on-set photography.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Blu-ray and DVD will be available for the suggested retail price of $39.99 and $29.95, respectively. Amazon meanwhile has the combo pack for only $19.99 --great for Mother's Day and Father's Day!


Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary copy of the Blu-ray for review, I am not a capital mutt, so all opinions are my own, just like Katniss!  
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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Periscope 101 for Bloggers

After 11 years of blogging, I’m comfortable with typing up a post. I LOVE twitter. Obsessed with Instagram, even though I wish I was a more skilled photographer. I kinda hate Facebook now that I have to boost my posts in order to have them be seen. I find Pinterest addictive and depressing at the same time (my twin’s birthday party will never look like that!). And now there’s Periscope…

What is Periscope? 
Periscope is a free live streaming mobile app available for Android and iOS that broadcasts user-generated video content in real time right from your phone or tablet. Rather than general pre-recorded video content, this app is live, which makes it a lot more captivating and honest.

Why Periscope? 
According to Cisco, by 2019 video will account for 80% of all internet traffic. Periscope is a great way to develop your video technique and connect with your readers in a more interactive and visual way. Unlike with YouTube videos you don’t have to worry about editing these either, it’s live and raw.

Ugh, ain’t nobody got time for that!  
Don’t worry, setting up and maintaining a Periscope account isn’t as time consuming as the many other social networks you’re already managing on top of your blog. In fact, I like to think of Periscope as an enhancement to what you’re already doing. You can use Periscope to tease or promote a post that you’re already working on or to bring your readers into events that you’re already attending. Thankfully, Periscope works seamlessly with Twitter, which purchased Periscope for a cool $100 Million. Also, while it’s nice to have a large following, it’s not as important since people from all over can and will tune in once you hit broadcast. Thus, you don’t have to stress as much about your follower count.

I am by no means an expert, but after 46 broadcasts and 5k hearts I have discovered and observed some helpful tricks & tips…

Periscope 101 Tips for Bloggers

  • * Before you begin your broadcast, put your phone on Do Not Disturb or airplane mode (and turn on the WIFI). This way your scope won’t stop as soon as you receive a phone call or a notification.
  • 😻 Go emoji crazy! – Adding emoticons to your Periscope titles will help your scope to stand out
  • * Use hashtags in your title! While you can’t search hashtags on Periscope, if posting to Twitter this helps gain more viewers. Same with tagging appropriate accounts or brands.
  • * Speaking of hashtags, there are special ones you can use to replace the hearts that appear with other animations like baseballs for the #WorldSeries, etc. 2016 list here
  • * Before you click “Start Broadcast” aim the camera at the most important graphic you want shown since that’s what will be seen in the thumbnail.
  • * In your Periscope settings, be sure and toggle the option to Autosave Broadcasts to your camera roll. After all, you never know what you’ll end up capturing and this way you’ll have a physical copy of your video just in case. Also, this version doesn’t have all the hearts and comments, so you can also use it for YouTube or for other projects.
  • * No worries if you mess up or trip over your words. This is all live, people understand that. While you should try and prepare for your scope, it shouldn’t sound rehearsed either.
  • * Engage your viewers. If you can, say hello as people join your scope. Ask for their feedback during and try to answer their questions.
  • * If you should get a troll who is commenting with mean or sexual messages. Don’t worry, it happens. You can either ignore them, talk back to them or simply block them. Just tap on the offending comment and block the user from being able to continue to comment.
  • * If you are broadcasting from your home, DO turn off the location option! Otherwise your home address will be shown. If you’re in a public place, DO enable the location feature though so more random people can join and discover you.
  • * Set Tune In Reminders: Post ahead of time on your social channels that you plan to broadcast at a certain time or during a particular event.
  • * Remember, people can still give you hearts during a replay within the next 24 hours, so not just during live broadcasts. Thus, post to your social channels a ‘Last Chance to View’ and a ‘Replay’ reminder’ before the link expires. That way you can hopefully gain some more followers and add to your heart total.  
  • * Grab a Periscope user badge code for your blog at https://www.periscope.tv/embed  The special thing about this widget is that it comes to life when you're LIVE! You can see mine on the top right hand corner of my blog.
  • * Have your friends share your broadcast while you’re still live, so that your scope will appear to all their followers as well. All they have to do is swipe right and select the option to share with all followers.
  • * Don’t just scope, but watch scopes too! Follow friends, bloggers and brands that you enjoy and learn from them.
  • * If you want to be a big deal on Periscope try scoping at the same time or day regularly, so fans can plan to watch and come to expect it. The more successful scopers like YoPickles does this. Personally, I’m just not that organized or dependable like that. 
Do you have any additional tips? I’d love to hear them. 
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