I have personally shopped on VitaCost a lot in the past. (I used to use their referral program to build up credits and then purchase a bunch of house cleaning items, and other things that are typically expensive.) I've always been very happy with the products I've received. VitaCost always shipped relatively quickly and my items never arrived damaged, even if I thought the packaging was a little iffy. But really, what more could you want? The prices are fair and are typically less than the cost of the same item elsewhere and they have a HUGE variety of products always in stock ranging from beauty, to baby, to food, to vitamins and supplements, to your household cleaning goods.
I've been on a huge honey kick lately with everything so when the opportunity arose to test out some products that VitaCost carries, I jumped on the Worker B bandwagon. I requested the Worker B cream and the Worker B balm.
"Bee Collected. Be Nourished. Worker B."
Unfortunately these weren't my favorite products. It's not the fault of the product, but a personal preference. And hey, that's what happens when you try something new. Even as a blogger who is usually pretty satisfied with most things, I can't be expected to like everything all of the time. There are things I do really like about the Worker B products though starting with their ingredients.
The Worker B cream is made with ingredients straight from the hive that are handcrafted and don't contain any fillers. That's always a bonus. So many products these days have things in them that are more harmful than helpful. The Worker B balm is made with beeswax, organic olive oil, organic almond oil, organic avocado oil, raw honey, and propolis tincture. I've used other products containing all of these oils before and loved them, but they were in a product that wasn't quite so thick. However, they do work. At least in my personal experience. I also didn't read anything on the ingredient lists that said these were scented products. I could be wrong, but just by smelling them they seemed pretty natural and straightforward in that regard.
The balm and cream is definitely meant for extremely dry skin. They're both very thick, which is great for those who need that super strong moisturizing quality, and the cream can be applied all over your body - not just your hands or feet. However, I don't need that extra moisture and felt that it just kind of sat on my skin instead of absorbing. The cream can also be used on the pads of your furry friends. They get dry too esp. if walking a long time on hard pavement.
I do like the Worker B balm a little better than the cream. I've gotten more use out of it by using it on my lips, and Worker B says the balm is great for heat damaged skin. The balm is not anywhere near as thick as the cream, and while it's a little greasy, I'd definitely use it on my hands over the cream. It absorbs faster, feels less heavy, and doesn't leave a weird texture on my skin like the cream does.
The cream is a product that is great for those with sensitive skin, and I have a feeling the balm is as well. I'm personally a little bummed that these weren't my favorite products ever, but that won't stop me from being a fan of VitaCost. And there are plenty of people out there I'm sure would love the Worker B products. They're just not my thing.
If you want to check out VitaCost for yourself, make sure you go through THIS LINK. This will get you $10 to put toward your first purchase for $30 or more! VitaCost always has FREE shipping on orders more than $49, and they often times have some great deals on specific product brands, and even some pretty nifty shipping deals. But you gotta keep an eye out so you don't miss them.
*I received products free of charge from VitaCost in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.
As some of you may know, I've recently joined the fantastic foodie team at Girl Meets Food as a food and events photographer! This is a new development I am SO excited about, and you should definitely start following them via Social Media to see what we're all up to in the Washington D.C. area. So anyway, thanks to Girl Meets Food I was offered an invite courtesy of General Motors to their pre-show reception on August 5th at Wolf Trap before the OneRepublic concert. I had no idea what I was in for, but I knew that the brand new, completely revamped 2014 Chevy Impala was going to be there and I was excited. I love cars! Who doesn't??
The reception was a lot of fun, and was catered by Mindy's Catering local to Washington D.C. and the food was delicious! Drinks were also provided for all attendants along with a door prize for tweeting about the reception. Once we took a look around we went and found the 2014 Chevy Impala. She is a SNAZZY vehicle! I had the opportunity to talk to Clarence Davis, Jr. the GM Communications Coordinator. I asked him what he thought the best redesigned feature of the Impala is, and he said it was definitely the new grill. I can see why he said that. I think it's sleeker, more edgy, has more detail and looks beautiful. (I got him to pose for a photo for me!)
I also had the chance to check out the vehicle. Don't you just love being handed the keys to a car that isn't yours?
My husband and I checked out the revamped 2014 Chevy Impala inside and out, and we were both genuinely impressed! The trunk is massive, there is plenty of room in the back seat for pets or minions, and the front is spacious with every button and gadget you could ever need or want. My favorite feature, and it usually is on any car is the sun roof. It was really quite big compared to the size of the car, and I just adore being able to see the sky and have the natural light in my car while I'm driving.
There are several features of the newly designed 2014 Chevy Impala, but for the sake of time and space I'm just going to list a few of my favorites. You can read about all of them HERE.
- Aerodynamic exterior contours
- Roomy & Quiet
- Ergonomically placed controls
- V6 Engine offers 28 MPG Highway
- Rear Park Assist
Chevy certainly impressed with the 2014 Impala. Just wish I could have driven it! Definitely a car to check out if you're in the market.
Once again thank you to Girl Meets Food and GM for the reception!
To read more about Monday's reception follow @DistrictDrive on Twitter and search #mychevystyle.
My daughter has been talking constantly about seeing Disney's PLANES. Every single time a trailer has come on the Disney channel she shouts out, "Disney's PLANES!! It's Disney's PLANES!" Needless to say this was not a screening we were going to miss. How can you say no to a child who is so darn excited about seeing a movie?? Much less saying no to taking your kids out for their first movie theater going experience. As my daughter so succinctly put it, "This is so awesome!"
The squeal from my daughter at the beginning of the movie was enough to tell me this movie is worth seeing. While I personally thought the voice casting was a little iffy, I thoroughly enjoyed Dane Cook's vocal appearance as Dusty Crop-Hopper and thought he added that little extra sparkle that all Disney movies should have. (Hey, I think the guy is hilarious, and a good chunk of eye candy to boot.) I have a feeling if Disney makes a Planes 2 that everything will be just a little bit better the next time around... kind of like the way Cars was and many of their other sequels.
The movie starts out a little slow, spending about 15 minutes introducing all of the characters, but since they are all knew to viewers, it makes sense. Immediately you get a feel for the plight of Dusty and by the time he makes it to the point of racing you're already cheering him on as the underdog. There was one sad/scary moment when you're on the edge of your seat wondering where the movie is going to go next. My daughter blurted out, "Oh no Disney's PLANES! It's going to be OK."
The movie also had some great comedic lines which had the entire theater cracking up. I think laughter is always a good sign that a movie is appreciated and enjoyed. I love movies that teach children the lesson of reaching for the stars. I see video clips every day of real people who have to overcome disabilities and other adversity just to function day to day, so watching Dusty Crop-Hopper soar above and beyond everyone's expectations of him was heart warming and a lesson I hope my kids took in.
Definitely a cute movie, and I hope Disney follows it up with a sequel some day! We'll definitely be seeing it if they do. I'm also sure Disney's PLANES is now a movie my daughter will watch daily once it comes out on DVD.
Disney's PLANES soars into theaters everywhere TODAY! (8/23) While you're waiting to go see it, make sure you check out Disney.com's Flew Tube! You'll find:
- Planes Trailers & Clips
- Paper Airplane Tutorials
- Features on Remote Controlled Flyer enthusiasts
- Introductions to parts of a plane
- Flight-related Disney legacy content
*I was provided a chance to see a Disney PLANES screening courtesy of Disney & Allied Integrated Marketing in order to facilitate this post/review. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.
A New Way to Roll
A couple weekends ago my husband and I decided to take our little ones to Pennsylvania for the weekend. We went on assignment to check out Hershey's Chocolate World, and Dutch Wonderland. Because we decided we'd like to do an overnight trip, we needed a vehicle that could pack a little extra stuff. We needed to bring a cooler (because we had zero intention of buying lunches at the attractions we visited), plus we knew we'd probably be coming home with lots of chocolate and that weekend it was 100ºF. Who wants melted chocolate??
I've always wanted to try out a Kia Soul. The look of the car is just really... unique. It has that weird boxy look to it, and that is one sort of car I never bother test driving when I was looking around at vehicles to buy, so when the 2013 Kia Soul was offered for a review, I said, "Heck Yeah!" (OK - I probably just said that in my head, but you get the picture.) When the 2013 Kia Soul was dropped off, I quickly skimmed the paperwork and noticed that the color of car we received was called "alien". I kind of giggled to myself. Between the color of the car, and the overall design, I thought it was quite fitting.
The 2013 Kia Soul is a middle of the road car for me. There were several things I liked about it, but there were also a few low points that will probably keep me from considering this model as an actual car buying option. Perhaps these things will change in the next few years. I always like to see improvements and am happy to change my mind when something meets my standards. And of course my preferences are not everyone's preferences.
One HUGE selling point for me is the price of this vehicle and the gas mileage. The 2013 Kia Soul starts at $14,400 for the base model. The model we were given to test out started at $19,900 for a 2.0L automatic transmission. This particular model also had a premium package tacked on which included a navigation with Sirius system, Push Button Start with Smart Key, Leather Trim Seats, Heated Front Seats, Automatic Climate Control, Rear Bumper Applique, Cargo Net, and EC Mirror with Compass. That's a really decent price for a vehicle these days, even with an additional package added on. The 2013 Kia Soul is also rated for 26 MPG for the City and 34 MPG for the highway. We gauged that was about what we got as well, and were super satisfied that filling the tank doesn't actually cost all that much.
The next best thing about the 2013 Kia Soul is the SPACE. This is one of those "don't judge a book by it's cover" cars. Heck, don't even judge the size of the interior until you actually start packing things into it, and hop in for a drive. We opened the trunk when it arrived and were initially a little worried. It didn't look like there was really that much space, but we figured if we could master Tetris, then we could master packing our crap into the back of this car for our weekend away. And, master it we did with very little effort. The back seats DO fold all the way down, but since we have 2 kids in car seats, and since they HAD to come with us folding them down for the extra space wasn't an option. However, everything fit, with even a little extra room to spare. It wouldn't have been big enough to use for camping if we had to bring the kids, but for a family of 4 just going away for a night... it was no problem. My husband is also a rather tall man, and he had plenty of space in both the driver seat and the passenger seat which is rare for a normal size vehicle.
There were less important aspects about the 2013 Kia Soul that we really liked as well. There are virtually no blind spots, and it has a pretty good turning radius. Driving in the city and finding parking tend to be one of those "oh crap, I need that spot", and you turn last minute. Bigger vehicles or vehicles with a wider turning radius tend to make those last minute decisions more difficult, and require backing up and trying again. I really liked the dashboard control panel. It was easy to figure out, and wasn't overwhelmingly button-heavy. The small sun roof was also nice. It was a little too small for my taste, but I was glad it was there none-the-less. Who am I go to complain about how much of the sky I get to see through the roof of my car when every vehicle I've owned has been void of sunroofs? The vehicle overall was comfortable and supportive, but the seats were a little hard. The speakers have mood lighting around them in the front which was a nifty aesthetic feature. I didn't notice until hubby said something though. (We hadn't driven the car in the dark yet.)
Now, onto the two things I didn't really care for. The suspension is a little tight, which means you can feel every. single. bump. in the road. It's not as bad as some other cars I've tried out. The Scion TC was the worst, and I've heard Lotuses are pretty bad in that regards as well. However, those are meant to be sporty vehicles. I don't really see the 2013 Kia Soul as a "sporty" car. To me it's more of a family car and comfort is more important than sportiness. But, if you like that sort of drive, then it isn't a problem. It just took some time for my butt to get used to it, that's all. The second thing I found disappointing was the engine. The 2013 Kia Soul comes in 1.4L and 2.0L. I could have SWORN the one I had the opportunity to test out was the 1.4L. There was a lot of engine lag, and the "pick up" was rather dismal. We didn't even bother with the Eco option while driving it. I've owned small, older cars with smaller or equal sized engines and they out-performed the Soul. If you have the time to build up speed, that's one thing, but sometimes while driving on the highway, you need to put the petal to the metal and get out of the way, or quickly change lanes.
Overall it's a cute, little, affordable car, with plenty of space, and some pretty snazzy features. There were definitely some bonuses about it that I look for when searching for a new car, but there were also a few downfalls based on my personal preferences. I think it's definitely worth a test drive if you're in the market for a new car. I have a friend who saw that I was testing out the 2013 and commented that she has a 2010 Kia Soul and loves it. So, you know, to each their own, right? Test it out, and tell me what you think! Or, if you have one of your own, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
*I received the 2013 Kia Soul free of charge for 1 week in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.
My daughter is what I call a "chocolate hound". She LOVES chocolate, and I swear she can smell it from a mile away... or maybe she just has a seventh sense. A chocolate sense? Is that possible? It doesn't matter if it's dark chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate with nuts, crunch, or peanut butter. It just doesn't matter. She will devour it all within seconds if you let her. So, what better place is there to bring a chocolate lover than to Hershey?!
We had the opportunity to visit Hershey's Chocolate World this past weekend "on assignment". We were given attraction passes to their Hershey's Chocolate Tasting Adventure, Hershey's Great Chocolate Factory Mystery 4D Movie, and Create Your Own Candy Bar. Of course Hershey's Great American Chocolate Tour Ride is always free, so we obviously sneaked that in between the other attractions. I have been to Hershey's Chocolate World at least three times in the past. I went with my parents, my grandparents, and some church group YEARS ago. Those times we didn't do any of the paid attractions, and I can't even say that I remember their existence.
The staff at Hershey's Chocolate World is super friendly! Because our tickets were at the Will Call desk, we hadn't set up times to go to the attractions. She was super nice and quickly set up our activities for the day, and even allotted an hour in between the 4D movie and Create Your Own Candy Bar knowing we had little kids. She was right. We were happy to have that extra hour to wander around, do bathroom breaks, and check out the Great American Chocolate Tour Ride.
My husband and I commented on how smoothly Hershey's Chocolate World is run. You have to decide on what times you want to do each attraction. This keeps it from getting overly full, and makes sure you get into each attraction at the time you wanted to go. You have a ticket for a specific time, that's when you go. Love it when attractions are organized. There's not real rushing to see which spot in line you can get, and you know that as long as you're there on time for the doors to open, you're in. Awesome!
The first thing we did was the Hershey'S Chocolate Tasting Adventure. They suggest you get in line 10 minutes before your time starts, but since we had nothing to do until then, we got in line early. We were the first ones in line which meant we got to sit in the FRONT ROW. That was super cool. My daughter was ridiculously excited, and spent the entire 20 minutes dancing around saying, "Hershey! Hershey! HERSHEY!!!!" The experience was fun, educational, and mildly interactive. We learned where chocolate comes from, a little bit about how it's made, and how to taste it. They provided five different types of chocolate to taste and a small bottle of water. When the session ends they give everyone a "Master's Certificate" of completion that you can sign and keep as a memento. On your way out, you get a full size candy bar! My daughter got a kick out of answering the "professor's" questions, and constantly raised her hand to talk.
After the Hershey's Chocolate Tasting Adventure, we went straight to the Hershey's Great Chocolate Factory Mystery 4D Movie. This was a lot better than I expected it to be. The glasses were of decent quality so they fit nicely on your face. The film was also interactive. While waiting to get in, a woman was asking the crowd some questions. Once the film started, you could tell a live person was actually talking for part of it because it was remembering names of some of the kids who were answering questions out in the lobby. Questions were asked of the crowd, and responding by clapping, or booing, or cheering was also encouraged. The entire film lasted about 30 minutes, and was done really well. It was entertaining, heart warming, and just an overall good time. The best part, it ended with a pop of streamers and bubbles! Hubs and I said we'd consider it more of a 3.5D movie instead of a 4D (because the seats didn't actually move), but it was still super fun, and both of the kids loved it. Oh yeah, they also give each person a mini chocolate bar on the way out.
When the 4D movie was over we decided to take that hour we were so kindly given to just chill out a bit. We did potty breaks (NICE bathrooms), and took a smoking break outdoors in their designated smoking area. Then we went back in and got in line for the free Hershey's Great American Chocolate Tour Ride. I LOVE that they keep the line moving quickly. The tour only takes about 15 minutes, and it's constantly moving. You do have to be a little careful getting onto the ride because the floor is rotating in a circle as you're walking to the cars. Another nice feature is that the cars are so big, a relatively large group of people can fit in one. A small family or even an average size family doesn't have to be split up.
During the ride you get to see some of their machinery in action including parts of the mixing process, and how the Hershey Kisses are made. There's fun music periodically with animatronics. I love that they kind of keep the moving creatures at a decent distance from the cars. My kids normally have issues with big moving robotic animals and people, but because they weren't right in their face, the ride went super smoothly and the kids enjoyed themselves the entire time. When you're done with the ride...along with another mini chocolate bar we were all given. As we were walking out of the ride we ended up with a really pretty birds eye view of the gift shop area.
Finally it was time to head over to the Create Your Own Candy Bar attraction. This was the one we were all looking forward to the most. (I still can't bring myself to eat my creation. Just seems too cool to have something relatively unique!) After showing our tickets to make sure we had the correct time, we were given disposable aprons and hair nets. Poor hubs also needed a beard net and I couldn't keep myself from laughing at him. Shortly afterward, we were brought into a room with a bunch of touch screens to start designing our candy bars. First, you get to pick which sort of chocolate you'd like. Then you get to add your inclusions. It looked like the inclusions might change every now and again, but out of the six they were offering that day, you can choose up to three. Then it was time to decide if you wanted sprinkles on the top or not and you were on to the next round. Your tickets have your name on them specifically for this attraction so when you scan your ticket at each station they have your name and can keep your choices organized.
After choosing what you want in/on your candy bar, it's time to head into the Factory. Scan your ticket again, and the entire process starts. Watching the machinery was one of the neatest experiences! You can watch the entire line as it happens. To the machines places the bar on the belt, to your inclusions being added in, and then your bar going under the chocolate fountain to cover it. (I've included a video below of the entire conveyer belt process. It takes about 5/6 minutes total.)
Once your bar has been made, it's time to head into another room and scan your ticket once again. This time you're designing your packaging! Put your name on it, different images, select the color you want, and even your text. They've even gone so far as to tell you the percentages of how many people have made the same bar that you have and other various statistics. Once you've designed your packaging, you can walk back in and watching it all happen. There are some lovely employees at the end who finish packaging it inside a nice tin, and put your label on it, and you're ready to head out! This is definitely one of the longer attractions so make sure you're not in a rush to get anywhere when you sign up for your times.
I think we spent a good 4.5 hours inside Hershey's Chocolate World. And of course we hit up the massive gift shop on the way out. While the clothing, and other souvenirs are a little pricey, the candy is priced fairly and they have some great deals... not to mention the fact that they have EVERYTHING you could ever want or imagine. We're usually the type of family to bypass paid attractions like this, but I think it's definitely worth it especially if you've already planned to go. And, if you can only pick ONE paid thing to do, definitely do the Create Your Own Candy Bar. That was definitely our favorite thing out of it all (but it was still all pretty great). If you're feeling adventurous, Hershey Park is right next door! (Parking is free up to 3 hours for Hershey's Chocolate World, and after that it's $12. WAY cheaper than any parking you'll find in DC .)
*My family and I were provided with complimentary attraction tickets courtesy of Hershey's Chocolate World in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.
I have a good blogging buddy who lives in Lancaster, PA. She takes her kids to Dutch Wonderland quite often. (They have season passes which are definitely worth it if you live close enough to go multiple times a year. Go at least three times and you've paid for the pass.) She's told me countless times about how much her children love it, and how kid friendly it is. In fact, it's great for the toddlers and the kiddos under the age of 10. Hmmm.... I have a toddler and a kiddo under the age of 10! So, of course I wanted to see what Dutch Wonderland was all about. What kid doesn't love fun?? And for that matter, what kid doesn't like castles, and knights, and queens, and everything royal? We were lucky enough to visit Dutch Wonderland this past weekend "on assignment".
This year Dutch Wonderland, home to Princess Brooke, Duke the Dragon, the Knight of Safety, and Merlin, opened its doors for its 50th season! It's usually a good sign when something is able to stick around for so long. There must be something great about it that keeps the people coming year after year. Dutch Wonderland has more than 30 kid-friendly rides (with only 1 that my kids weren't tall enough to ride), several live shows throughout the day, Duke's Lagoon water play zone, and miniature golf. We knew we wanted to go to Duke's Lagoon, and check out the rides. My blogger friend said to do the water play zone first and then eat lunch before exploring the rest of the park... and I can see why. It was already 80ºF by 10am the morning we went, but because we were early enough the water zone was manageable. By the time we left the park, the parking lot was PACKED, but the ride areas still had super small lines. My guess.... everyone was in the water zone.
One of the best things about Dutch Wonderland is there many restrooms (that are mostly pretty clean for how many people are using them), affordable single-use lockers ($1 for a small one, and $2 for a large one), and their large changing rooms. We came in bathing suit ready, and dropped our stuff off in a big locker. When we got to Duke's Lagoon we realized there were a ton of lounge chairs too to drop your stuff off at if you don't want to pay for a locker. There was a little sprinkler type playground area, but my kids quickly figured out that there were water slides just a little further in.
We spent probably well over 2 hours in Duke's Lagoon. There was plenty of friendly staff around to make sure the kids were staying safe and enforce any rules they had. My kids I think went on the slides at least 50 consecutive times. At LEAST. They had the best time. I don't think I've seen them any happier. The green slide is short and sweet but creates a big splash at the end. The yellow slide allows for parents to go down with their smaller kids. (Yup. I definitely took advantage of that. Hey.... I like water slides too!) Then there is the bigger twisty red slide. The kiddos liked it, but they usually stuck with the green slides. My arms are still sore from lifting them out of it over... and over.... and over....
In addition to the three slides, there are several hoses, and wheels and spouts for the kids to play with. Somehow I managed to keep my camera dry, but let's just say it was a little touch and go for a bit. SO. MUCH. WATER! Duke's Lagoon also has two HUGE slides. One is blue that allows light in, and the other is black so you go down almost the entire way in complete darkness. We took the kids on the black one because the line was a little shorter and we needed to get a move on so we could do more stuff. The only kids not allowed on the ride were hand-held infants. As long as your raft weighs at minimum of 90lbs and doesn't exceed 350lbs you're good to go! Hubby took the little guy, and I went with my daughter. Neither kid screamed, and they just giggled and laughed the entire way down. They're a bunch of brave little troopers.
When we were finished splashing around in Duke's Lagoon, we decided to change into dryer clothes and head back to the car for lunch. There are PLENTY of places to eat IN Dutch Wonderland, but we had packed a lunch. Unfortunately you're not allowed to bring food inside, and they do check your bags as you're walking in. That's kind of a bummer, especially if you end up in a less than awesome parking space. (There is preferred parking for $10. The rest is free.) They DO provide shaded eating areas outside, but it was so hot, we decided to sit in the AC to eat. When you leave Dutch Wonderland, if you're planning on coming back that day you need to get your hand stamped for re-entry.
Because our kids were getting tired, and the thermostat in the car was reading 100ºF, we decided to take our time, stay in the shade as much as possible, and only go on some of our choice rides. There was plenty to do and see but we knew we'd have a couple hour drive home, and the heat was just a little too much for us. The Dutch Wonderland grounds are beautiful! They are really well maintained and the landscaping is eye catching. Even some ducks enjoyed a dip in one of the ponds. There is a little train attraction goers can hop on that goes around the park grounds. It looked super cute, but we ended up bypassing that due to lack of time. We decided to go for a quick ride on the carousel. Yes. Mommy also rode one of the carousel horses.
One neat service Dutch Wonderland offers is on-site photographers. They'll walk around at certain rides and asd if you'd like a picture taken. Within about an hour you can go pick it up somewhere. Yes... you have to pay for it. I think it's nice for those people who forgot cameras, but for people like me who always have one on them, it's a service I'll always bypass.
Like I said, we decided to bypass some rides that had lines directly under the sun. But there were several more things we could have done. We did go on The Joust mini-roller coaster. Hubby um... was a little big for it, but the kids loved it. My son JUST made the height requirement (36") but he loved it. We were one of two families on it. I think we probably could have stayed on for another go-around if we had the time. We could have done that with several other rides as well.
Dutch Wonderland also offered pony rides (but I think perhaps you might have needed to pay). There was also face painting, caricatures, some gem stone mining thingy, however those were all additional costs so we bypassed those as well. Cute, but not money we wanted to spend. We did enjoy the log flume ride! Kids got a kick out of it and I think we were all grateful to get splashed a bit and cool off. We wanted to go on the ski lift that takes you back down to the front of the park, but we would of had to leave our stroller and either walk back to get it, or hope the line wasn't very long and hop back on.... and then walk all the way back to the front of the park again. So, we skipped that as well. We REALLY wanted to go on the bigger roller coaster, but my son definitely wasn't big enough, and my daughter missed the height cutoff by about a quarter of an inch. Looked super fun though!
As we were walking our way back through the park to start our trek back home, we happened to see Princess Brook and some of her royal comrades! They were rushing to get to their next Princess Story Time show. We also found Merlin dancing along with a band that was dancing to their music and entertaining the crowd that had gathered. That was the perfect way to end our day!
Now I know why my friend has season passes for her kiddos to Dutch Wonderland! This place was perfect for little kids, and SO much fun. Duke's Lagoon I think was our favorite part overall, but we enjoyed every part of it. It was laid out well, there were plenty of things to do, and you could always find some shade when you needed it. If we lived closer I'd definitely spring for the season passes and take my kids as often as possible. I also forgot to mention that kids 2 and under (Royalty in Training) get in FREE, seniors are discounted, and adults over the age of 70 also get an additional discount. Super family friendly, bright, cheery, friendly, CLEAN, and just an overall good time. My husband and I said this had been one of our best weekend trips away from home. Everyone had a blast!
*I was provided entry free of charge for myself and my family by Dutch Wonderland in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.
July: Fruit Challenge – Strawberry Cheesecake with Strawberry Balsamic Glaze + Modena Fine Foods Review
If you are looking for a no contest cheesecake recipe, this is hands down the absolute best I've ever had. No joke. It's rich, sweet, creamy, decadent, die-and-go-to-heaven scrumptious. This month the Blogger Recipe Challenge group was sponsored by Modena Fine Foods. We were each sent a variety box of three balsamic glazes to test out. Have to say, the strawberry balsamic glaze was my absolute favorite and I knew in an instant it was the perfect garnish for this Strawberry Cheesecake.
Ingredients (Makes a 9" Cheesecake):
- 2 Cups - Oreo Cookies (Finely ground w/ frosting centers removed. Approximately 2 sleeves.)
- 1/4 Cup - Salted Butter (Melted)
- 2 Tbsp - Sugar
- 32oz (4 Packages) - Cream Cheese
- 1 2/3 Cups - Sugar
- 3 Tbsp - Flour
- 1/4 Tsp - Salt
- 4 - Eggs
- 2 - Egg Yolks
- 1.5 Tsp - Vanilla Extract
- 1/4 Cup - Sour Cream
- Finely grind oreo cookies. Add melted butter and sugar, and gently mix with a fork to combine and fully coat the crumbs.
- Press into a 9" spring form pan and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 220º F.
- In a large mixer, on low, combine room temperature cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth.
- Add in 4 full eggs, plus 2 egg yolks one at a time until thoroughly incorporated.
- Add vanilla and sour cream, and beat until combined.
- Pour cheesecake mixture into pan and bake for 90 minutes.
- Increase temperature to 300º F and continue to bake for another 15-20 minutes. Cheesecake should be firm, and very lightly golden.
- Remember to run a knife around the edge of the cheesecake as soon as it comes out to help avoid any possible cracking.
- Allow to cool to room temperature before covering placing in the fridge 3-24 hours.
- When ready to serve, top with quartered strawberries, and Strawberry Balsamic Glaze. (I used Modena Fine Foods)
So, as I said earlier our Blogger Recipe Challenge Group was sent a variety pack of Blaze Balsamic Glazes by Modena Fine Foods. They included their original balsamic glaze, a fig balsamic glaze, and a strawberry balsamic glaze. Hubby and I tried the fig one out on some steaks, but I think next time we do that I need to make some tweaks. The glaze didn't stay on the steak well while grilling, so that'll definitely be a do-over. However, the second I tasted the strawberry balsamic glaze I KNEW that it would be perfect as a dessert topping. It wasn't overly balsamic-y (I'm sure you know what I mean by that), and had a wonderful hint of strawberry flavor.
Just a little drizzle over the cheesecake, and the flavor went from amazing, to blow your mind incredible. The best part, is that you don't need much to get that boost of flavor. I'm not a huge fan of pie-filling consistency cheese cake when I'm wanting fruit on them. There's just too much sugar, and too much of... well, everything. I will definitely be making this recipe again, and DEFINITELY be using the Modena Fine Foods Blaze Strawberry Balsamic Glaze. I might even pick up a couple of the variety sets to give as gifts to those friends and family members in my life that love cooking. So many varieties of awesome and so little time... and stomach room.
*I was provided Blaze Balsamic Glazes free of charge from Modena Fine Foods in order to facilitate this review and recipe. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.
"It Has an Answer for Everything"
I'm not above appreciating a good mini-van. I hate how they look though. But, with 3 kids, a dog, and a husband to tote around I understand how awesome they can be. However, I'm more of an SUV type gal. I think the styling over all is better, and I enjoy the 4WD or AWD options many of them have. (Living in Maine, it was not uncommon to take a family trip in 6 inches of snow with it still coming down.)
My family and I had planned another camping trip. This time we were heading up to NY to spend the weekend on a friend's farm. We needed enough space in the trunk for our tent, food, sleeping stuff, etc. And, we also decided we were going to bring our dog along. I was a little worried that we'd be offered a review vehicle that wasn't going to be big enough. If we were camping closer like last time, that wouldn't have been such a big deal, but with our destination being 318 miles away... a vehicle that doesn't fit everything kind of poses a problem.
Luckily we were offered the 2014 Kia Sorento EX AWD + Touring Package (in a STUNNING Wave Blue color)! I have to admit I'm always a little wary when I hear the name Kia. Unfortunately, in my mind Kia is synonymous with cheap. (I know, I know, that's awful to say.) But, it is what it is. I would have never considered a Kia until I had the opportunity to drive the 2014 Sorento around. I fell in LOVE with this vehicle. I joked around about hiding it and never giving it back. I found my perfect mommy vehicle! It's spacious, comfortable, feature packed, and drives amazingly well. There was not a single thing I didn't like about the 2014 Sorento. Now, I can't quite comment on how it'll hold up after a couple of years, but driving it around for 2 weeks, including a really long trip, it was amazing.
So anyway, we packed up the trunk of the Sorento. I think we had a massive tent, 2 sleeping bags, a cooler, a box, 4 camping chairs, 3 or 4 bags with clothing and toiletries, 4 pillows, an air mattress, and we stuffed my daughter's Trunki under her feet. Then we put in my son's car seat, my daughter's booster seat, and stuck the dog in the middle seat. Needless to say the car was packed pretty much full, but if necessary we could have fit more stuff in there. And off we went!
My husband and I are very critical. Not just about cars, but we certainly believe that if we're going to make a big investment it needs to be worth the money. We spent hours during our drive up to NY discussing the features we liked. I mean, HOURS of all of the positives that we loved, which I'll get to in a bit. However, there were only TWO negatives we could come up with, and neither one of them is a fault, just a personal preference. The first thing we found a little annoying was the incessant beeping when you leave the car on, but walk away with the key. I get it. It's there to let you know the key isn't in the car. However, we would occasionally step outside for a cigarette break (no judging) during our trip, and leave the kids inside with the dog and keep the radio and AC running. Heaven forbid one of them figures out how to get out of their seat and lock the doors on us. So, they remote key stayed on our possession at all times. The beeping wasn't necessary.
The second thing I didn't like, mostly because it scared the daylights out of me the first time I heard it, was this alarm sound when it's not safe to merge. Again, I get it. It's a safety feature, and a smart one at that. But, I'm a slightly nervous driver in 4 lanes of close traffic, and the alarm almost sent me into another lane. Thankfully that feature can actually be turned off. (Perhaps someone else realized it was kind of a distracting sound.) But that's it. Those two negatives are certainly nothing to write home about and wouldn't deter me from buying the vehicle in the slightest. I can deal with some beeping and dinging especially if it's a safety feature.
This review will drone on and on if I don't edit myself a bit and just stick to my favorite features of the 2014 Kia Sorento. If you want to know EVERYTHING that this beauty has in store for you, definitely check out Kia online. My husband and I talked a bit, and we thought these would be the best features to mention. First of all, the Sorento is absolutely stunning inside and out. We loved the beige leather (black is also available in this model). We've decided we really hate black leather interiors. The vehicle just gets WAY too hot, and black shows EVERYTHING. I normally don't like wood accents (real or fake), but the shiny dark wood accents inside really added to the beauty. It was done tastefully and didn't overwhelm the interior.
The panoramic roof with power sunshade was the coolest thing ever. My kids LOVED that I could open the sunshade and you could see the sky through almost the entire top of the vehicle. It went almost all the way back. Then throw in the fact that the window also opens on about half of the roof, and you just have a spectacular sky view. I LOVE sunroofs. That's one feature I've never had in a car that I've owned, but for me they're always a strong selling point. We also thought the memory drivers seat and mirrors were super cool. I always forget to put the seat back if my husband is driving next and we end up struggling to find the perfect spot each time we need to go somewhere. Not with this vehicle! There are buttons for two settings. I had mine at #1, and my husband did #2. Just push the button you need and your seat moves to the EXACT spot that you want it to.
The navigation system was pretty snazzy. Sometimes it hiccuped, but what GPS doesn't? We used the GPS a LOT on our trip. The same panel that does the radio and GPS also turns into a backup camera when you put the vehicle in reverse. My husband said this was definitely one of his most favorite features. Safety and functionality.... perfect! Two other nifty features were sun shades in the back seat windows, and single push button lift gate opening/closing. And finally, our favorite little feature was vented seats. It has been in the 90's for the last two weeks, and while at first I thought the vented seats felt funny, I was thrilled to have a little coolness helping out my bum and lower back while driving. This feature was also used quite a bit.
So, we all know little features are great, but they mean nothing if the rest of the car doesn't hold up. The 2014 Kia Sorento handles like a true champ. The bumps were smooth (we had to take it partially off-roading at the farm), and this vehicle turns on a dime. Finding a parking spot last minute in a crowded parking lot? No problem. There was almost never a reason to back up and try again just to make sure the car would turn successfully into the spot. There is also an eco button feature that (please excuse my lack of full technical knowledge on this) helps improve your fuel economy. I'm not sure if it reduces the amount of pistons firing in the engine (bringing it from a V6 down to 4 cylinders being used), or if it just reduces the overall RPMs. Whatever it does, I noticed a significant jump in fuel economy. We were averaging about 18 MPG without using the Eco feature, and jumped up to averaging about 23.7 MPG on the highway.
The 2014 Kia Sorento EX AWD + Touring Package is really quite a beauty. Kia FAR surpassed any and all expectations I had going into this review, and convinced me that they're a brand who is in it to win it. My husband and I couldn't come up with anything we were really disappointed with, which is difficult. There's always something we don't like. I would purchase this vehicle in a heartbeat, and I don't think my husband will ever hear the end of my nagging. I mean really, I'd give my left arm to own this car. No joke.
*I received the 2014 Kia Sorento free of charge for 2 weeks in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.
I tell my husband every day that I love that we moved away from Maine. There are SO many cool things to do within a couple of hours of us, we've packed our summer full with things to do with the kiddos. Most recently, we were given the opportunity to check out and review Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium in Baltimore, Maryland. I have always been a HUGE Ripley's fan and used to watch the show religiously as a kid. Turns out, we're less than 50 miles away so that made for a relatively quick trip. Awesome!
The Ripley's Odditorium is located right in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The location was absolutely beautiful. So, if you're just coming in for the day, definitely make sure you do a little walking around as well. The great part is that Ripley's is open 365 days a year and they're open late. There is a LOT of parking surrounding the area, but none specifically designated for Ripley's so make sure you budget about $25 unless you go during the times where the parking garages offer discounts for Ripley's goers.
"The foundation of our museum exhibit collection was set by Robert L. Ripley (1890-1949), a cartoonist, explorer, reporter, adventurer, and collector, who traveled to 201 countries in 35 years seeking the odd, the unusual, and the unexplained." ~ Ripley's
Right away Ripley's greets you with a bunch of odd. The opening to the Odditorium is quite large, which is great since when we arrived they were starting to get very busy. So, everyone congregates at the entrance where you can ooooh and aaaaah over a Mini Cooper covered in Swarovsky Crystals, a wall of soda cans that make a portrait of Michael Jackson the "King of Pop" (get it), and Bumblebee the Transformer. There are also some animatronics playing instruments including a two-headed woman, and a three-legged man. Then there's the big one. And, by that I mean an animatronic of the World's Largest Man. (My daughter was terrified of it unfortunately and that kind of set her mood for the rest of the time we were there.) When you're done with the first floor, it's time to head upstairs. The stairs are actually really pretty neat. Each step up is a new musical note. My daughter LOVED this part. Usually anything with music and you've caught her full attention.
When you head upstairs the first gallery you step into is the Ripley's Gallery. This gallery has some really neat items including various swords, a collection of royal crowns and tiaras (oooooh shiney!), African masks, and so many other neat artifacts.
The ONE thing I didn't really care for was that you have to pay for each individual attraction at Ripley's. So, you can JUST go to the Odditorium, or you can pay to go to only two of the attractions, or you can pay to go to the Odditorium, Mirror Maze, and the 4D Theater. Personally I think one ticket should get you in to all three attractions especially given the price. However, if you are vacationing, or want to just plan a fun weekend, Ripley's should be on your "must see" list. Also, make sure to buy your tickets online and print them (or they can print them for you). You'll save BIG bucks!My absolute favorite gallery in the Odditorium was the Weird Art Gallery. There were so many incredibly unique pieces of art that it was difficult to even wrap my head around it all. There were portraits of the Clintons drawn with hamburger grease, a giant penny made from thousands upon thousands of other normal size pennies, the world's largest piece of lint art, and a breath taking sculpture made from drift wood. I think some of my favorite pieces included a "painting" made from old mail, and a really strange human hair wreath sculpture. Oh! And the most intricate carving I have ever seen made with bone.
A more kid friendly gallery is the Interactives Gallery. There are lots of buttons for the kids to push that light up or make sounds. It's a little quieter than the first couple of galleries that have music blasting. The Warehouse Gallery was also pretty neat. Unfortunately my camera kind of crapped out on me and I couldn't get any photos in the dim light that weren't blurry. Urgh. But, you can head over to the Ripley's site and check out their own photos they took. There was a gigantic pop tart foil T-Rex just hanging out, but the thing that my daughter loved the most was this interactive projector that would put a game onto the floor and you play it with your feet. She did this for about 10 minutes and made some friends in the process. Super cool. And, before leaving the warehouse you get to step through a human size kaleidoscope. The lights and the mirrors were pretty nifty.
After visiting the rest of the galleries including the Toothpick City (which has tunnels for the kids to crawl through), Ripley's Vault (that has a HUGE carved piece of Jade you can touch for good luck), and the Egyptian Gallery, we made our way to the Marvelous Mirror Maze.
"A totally new concept in amusement design, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze provides a different experience every time you enter. With sound and lighting effects to enhance the experience, the maze features 2,000 square feet of mirrored path, surprising corners, dead ends and continuous circles." ~ Ripley's
There are more than 100 mirrors all lit by LED lights with your experience accompanied by digital sound. Before entering you're asked to put on plastic gloves and you're told to walk with your hands in front of you. My husband kind of used the stroller for that instead, and he definitely bumped it around. The maze was so much fun that we went through for a second turn. There is a huge mirrored room as you near the end of the maze that is absolutely gorgeous. It was fun to just stand in there and look around at all of the mirrors. It was like glow bugs were lighting up the night sky. Absolutely spectacular to see.
Finally we went to the 4D Moving Theater. The room was smaller than I thought, but that's kind of nice if you have kids. We had a place near the front to leave our stroller during the show. And, while the show isn't probably more than 20 minutes total, if that, there were two different "movies to experience and it was definitely fun. Snow goes flying, the seats jerk around, things brush by your feet, and misty air blasts into your face. They really need to up the quality of the 3D glasses they use because they don't really fit your face well, and the plastic lenses are kind of cheap, but otherwise, we had a great time!
I was provided tickets free of charge by Ripley's Believe It Or Not! through US Family Guide Bloggers in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.
June: Farmer’s Market Challenge – Rustic Bacon Mushroom Scalloped Red Potatoes & EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale Product Review
Potatoes are one of my favorite fresh vegetables. I had several pounds of red potatoes in my house that I really needed to use up. Ended up stocking up on bacon last week too, and there were baby portobello mushrooms in my fridge just begging to be used in a savory dish. What to do? What to do? After some brain storming and Pinterest browsing, I decided to go with a more rustic version of scalloped potatoes. I like the skins on my red potatoes, and I highly doubt mushrooms and bacon are not considered traditional ingredients. Our Blogger Recipe Challenge group was sponsored this month by EatSmart. We each received a kitchen scale for us to try out and measure our ingredients with. For my Rustic Bacon Mushroom Scalloped Red Potatoes recipe I used it to measure out my potatoes and my mushrooms. Loved that thing!
- 12oz - Hickory Smoked Bacon (Chopped)
- 2lbs - Red Potatoes (Sliced 1/8" Thick)
- 1 - Medium Yellow Onion (Chopped Finely)
- 10oz - Baby Portobello Mushrooms (Coarsely Chopped)
- 2 - Garlic Cloves (Minced)
- 2/3 Cups - Heavy Cream
- 3/4 Cup - Milk
- 8oz - Sharp Cheddar Cheese (You could probably also use a smoked Gouda)
- Salt & Pepper to Taste
- Pinch of Nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- In a large skillet, cook chopped bacon over medium heat until fat is rendered and bacon has become crisp. Transfer onto a paper towel lined plate.
- Remove all but 2 TBSP of bacon fat from skillet. Cool onions on medium high until softened. Approximately 3-5 minutes.
- Add mushrooms and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. All of the liquid should be gone from the pan and the mushrooms should be cooked down.
- Add garlic, salt and pepper. Cook an additional 1 minute.
- Remove pan from stove, stir in bacon, and set aside.
- In a small sauce pan, bring cream, milk, and a pinch of nutmeg to a simmer.
- Pour JUST enough to cover the bottom in a 9x9" baking dish.
- Layer (while overlapping) half of the potatoes into the bottom of the dish.
- Top with half of the onion/mushroom/bacon mixture. Top with 1/2 of the cheddar cheese.
- Repeat the potato layering process one more time.
- Pour milk/cream mixture over the top, evenly soaking the potatoes.
- Top with bacon mixture and cheese.
- Cover with foil and bake for 45-55 minutes. It should be easy to pierce the potatoes with a fork.
- Let cool before serving.
So, like I said, I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by EatSmart this month for our challenge. They provided a Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale (which was really awesome until my kids thought it'd be funny to try and weigh themselves with it.) Fortunately I was able to use it several times over the last few months since having it, and it was definitely a big help in the kitchen.
"The EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale is an economically priced multifunction home scale, perfect for everyday tasks from weighing food or ingredients to calculating postage." ~ EatSmart
What I loved the most about this product, was that it was super easy to figure out. Of course it comes with a manual, but it wasn't even needed. There are TWO buttons. On/Off and the Unit button. The Unit button allows you to select pounds, ounces, grams, and kilograms. I've used the scale to measure everything from potatoes and mushrooms in this meal, to figure out how much a squash weighed (which I promptly complained about and got my money back from the store).
Sometimes it's just impossible to measure something outside of a container without creating an even bigger mess. the Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale also offers a tare feature which allows you to subtract the weight of the container you're using so you know your measurements will be accurate. The scale is also very light weight and comes ready to use with two AAA batteries. It's absolutely the best when a product already comes with the batteries.
Right now, this scale is on sale at Amazon for only $25! This is definitely a very cool kitchen gadget to have on hand when you need to measure out precise ingredients.
*I received the above mentioned product free of charge from EatSmart in order to facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% mine. See Disclosure Policy.