Disclosure: This is a sponsored post paid for on behalf of Dryel. It also contains affiliate links. The opinions stated are 100% my own. I used this product long before I was chosen for the promotion.
I have a secret: I’ve not walked into a dry cleaners in years. Years. The reason is two-fold, actually. First, if I see “dry clean only” on the tag – I walk away. Second, and more importantly, if it must be dry cleaned and my life won’t move forward without it – I use Dryel.
Dryel has been a saving grace for me for years when it comes to Piper’s dance costumes. After a few competitions, they need to be washed. The fabrics are so delicate and usually contain tons of mesh and rhinestones. It’s quite the production! I know many moms that just put them in the washer on delicate, cross their fingers and hope for the best.
That, in theory, gives me hives.
I’m not willing to risk it – especially in the middle of competition season. I need the costumes clean and don’t have time to do repairs.
Pre-Treat :: Check for stains. Most often on costumes, this is deodorant and make-up. The pre-treat option with Dryel reminds me of a stain stick. Compact and super easy to use!
Clean :: Put your garment(s) in the Dryel bag with the cleaning cloth (provided) and toss the bag into the dryer on medium heat for 15 minutes.
After :: If you still have some pesky wrinkles, hang the garment on a hanger and use the wrinkle spray.
I wish this screen had “scratch and sniff” – Dryel smells amazing! It is so fresh, but not in a perfume way. Aside from how easy this product is to use, the smell is another factor that sells me!
If you are a dry cleaning fanatic, give this a shot. It’s so cost effective, and hello – you use your dryer! No more forgetting to pick up the cleaning! It couldn’t be any easier. Once you try it, let me know what you think!
Roughly three years ago, I left a decade long career in church ministry to join a team of fun-loving professionals in the travel industry. I was looking for a change and longing for something different in my life — something that I had never done before in an office setting. Close to home and family-run, I jumped in with both feet and before I knew it, fell in love with the world of international luxury travel that is otherwise known as Ker & Downey. So when a trip to China presented itself to me last year, I couldn’t refuse checking the box off of my bucket list. For 10 glorious days, I partnered with my colleague, Michelle, and we learned as much as we could so that our travel clients could experience the absolute best accommodations, touring, and luxury that is offered in the locations that we visited.
DAYS 1-3, BEIJING
My flight to China was direct from Houston to Beijing. The plane departed at 1AM and was 15 hours in the air. Looking back, I should have upgraded to Business — it only took about 45 minutes to figure out that was no place to cut costs! Air China was great with food service, water, etc. and I had wonderful seat partners, but 15 hours is a long time to be swished in an economy seat. My husband had advised that I try to stay awake as long as possible so that my days and nights would get worked out more quickly upon arrival, so heeding that advice, I watched “You’ve Got Mail” via the plane seatback screen and then fell asleep.
I arrived in Beijing at 6am local time and was met with darkness at landing. One of the services with Ker & Downey is VIP airport assistance. Unlike the man holding a sign at baggage claim that we are used to in the US, my Beijing airport assist met me right at the door of the plane. She was a tiny little lady that was quick as a whip! After sitting on the plane for more than half of a day, she got my blood pumping as we walked swiftly through the airport and into the customs area. She had me sign the immigration papers that were necessary and then led me to a seated area. She took care of everything, and when all was done – came back for me. We avoided all lines (which were SO long) and walked straight to an official who stamped my book and sent us on our way to baggage claim. We grabbed my luggage from the carousel and she led me to my guide, Jessie.
Jessie has the most infectious personality. She is joyful, sweet, so smart, and a pure delight. Because it was so early in the morning, we started our day as one should … with a trip to Starbucks! Our driver was on the way and navigating a small bit of commuter traffic. Soon after we finished our coffee (and tea for me), we hopped into our private car and headed to the hotel. When we arrived at the Waldorf Astoria Beijing, my room wasn’t quite ready yet (I was only 6 hours early LOL!) so they held my luggage and Jessie took me out for a walk though Beijing.
On this walk I saw one of the most spectacular sights of the entire trip: sunrise over the Forbidden City. It was absolutely spectacular and no photo does it justice.
Upon our return, my room was ready and I checked in. I was in the lap of luxury, literally. I was in a Deluxe Room with a king bed and floor to ceiling windows. There were electric darkening shades that could be lowered and allowed me to rest even though the sun was shining outside. The bed was just what I needed after a long flight – it was so comfortable. I made good use of the rainfall walk-in shower and the large soaking tub (with mounted television). Room service had a mix of western and Chinese food which was very nice!
In China, all of the traditional social media that we are used to in the United States is outlawed. So, using WeChat (a Chinese texting and facetiming app) and the wi-fi in the room, I was able to facetime home to chat with my family and show them my surroundings. After that, I laid down for a nap (big mistake – woke up 6 hours later).
The following morning, I met with Michelle (who flew in from LA and landed in the evening) for breakfast. Shortly after, we met up with Jessie and headed out for a full day tour of Beijing starting with Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City. Jessie was so knowledgeable of the history of Beijing and the Ming and Qing Dynasties. I felt like I was walking along with a living history book as she knew the answer to every question that we threw at her. The architecture was gorgeous and it really rattled my brain that ordinary men – centuries ago – were able to build marvels of this magnitude without the help of modern machinery. It’s absolutely mindblowing.After a delicious lunch, we walked to Jingshan Park for a panorama of the Forbidden City. Then we made our way to the Poly Art Museum. In the company of the museum’s Senior Docent, we toured what is considered one of China’s best private museums. They have a great collection of bronze artifacts all original to China, as well as an amazing number of rare Budda’s. Having this private tour with the Senior Docent was incredible and brought the museum to life.
After the museum visit, we returned to our hotel for the evening. We were a bit jet-lagged still, and it was a long day of touring. We had checked out of the Waldorf Astoria when we left for the day and our luggage was transferred to the Peninsula Beijing.
The newly renovated Peninsula Beijing has just over 230 rooms. I was in a deluxe room and it had a dressing room, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. Everything was connected via iPad like devices so that I could control all.the.things from one device. The tech geek that I am LOVED it!
Let me stop to admit that I’m a bathroom lover. A good bathtub will win me over quicker than anything else in the world. This bathtub was fantastic, but my favorite part was the little iPad remote that you can see in the wall. It had a spa setting. When you pressed that, the television turned off, the lights dimmed, and spa music began to play. I could have stayed in the tub for all 10 days. It was magical.
The following morning, we got up early on a clear and beautiful day and headed to tour the Temple of Heaven. The unique aspect of visiting the Temple of Heaven was that it was filled with locals. The age was definitely on the older side, well past retirement. They were exercising as we came in and it was a sight to see – no wonder the Chinese lifespan is so long. They were flexible and really getting in a workout. We passed by exercise machines (out in the open, in a park type setting. We need these in the US.) Also, there were many doing Tai Chi. Some were alone, and others studying the craft with a teacher. We watched for quite a while and couldn’t get enough.
Just inside the official gate area of the Temple of Heaven, there was a flower show that was set up. The colors were magical and absolutely brilliant. I was really pleased at how well the iPhone 8+ captured the colors in the morning light. I couldn’t help but think about my mom, who has the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen, and how much she would have loved all of these flowers!
The Temple of Heaven reminded me a lot of the Forbidden City with the architecture style and reverence. Sitting high upon the hill, the Temple of Heaven was used by the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties to offer sacrifices to heaven and pray for good harvests.
On our way out, the locals that were seen so active on the way in had made their way into small groups to play cards, dominoes, and mahjong. They are a quite competitive bunch. We enjoyed looking in on their games and hearing the laughter. It really was something to experience!
Once we finished, we got back into the van and headed through the countryside to the Great Wall of China – Mutianyu. The traffic was heavy as we headed through the hills and our guide was quick to tell us that it was because it was such a warm and beautiful day. The Chinese families like to go out and enjoy the weather together. So, we rested a bit and chilled until we stopped for lunch and then continued on our way.
To give you a quick few sentences serving as a reminder on the Great Wall, you need to know this: Construction began prior to the birth of Christ (221 BC) and is one of the most extensive construction projects ever completed as it spans over 3,000 miles. The base is anywhere from 15-50 feet high (depending upon the section) and the actual wall is anywhere from 15-30 feet high with guard towers at certain intervals. The Great Wall is the only manmade structure that is visible from space.
To see the Great Wall in person is emotional. I couldn’t help but stare in absolute awe at how human hands – even in massive numbers – could have built such a marvel. We went to one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, called Mutianyu — which used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. Michelle, Jessie and I took a cable car up the mountain to start our great adventure. Let me tell you, that is the way to go! The views are absolutely stunning. (The walk to the cable car though … Shew. I should have been training with the elderly people that we saw earlier that morning. It is a hike right up the side of the mountain – probably 1/4 of a mile!)
Once to our destination, we took our time walking the wall. I wish I had a great estimate of how far we walked, but I’d hate to guess. A few miles perhaps. Word to the wise and in fear of sounding obvious, the wall is not like walking on a track. It is up and down the mountain surface. Some parts of it are absolutely grueling. I was taking off layers of clothing as we walked because I was sweating like crazy.
The Great Wall was built as protection from the enemy and with that, the walking surface is a bit crazy. Some parts are solid, flat stones and other area are stairs. Some of the stairs are tiny (2-3″ high) and other stairs are so big that I had to turn backwards and go down them like a ladder! This is the part they don’t tell you on the History Channel! The photos below can give you an idea of how steep parts are.
But for every odd step, steep hill, and tourist dodge (that actually wasn’t too bad) – there is a spectacular viewing point and a moment that leaves you speechless as you take in the aura of this magnificent structure!
You might think that the fun is over as you’re walking the wall, but if you take the toboggan down the mountain – you’re in for a fun ride! Altogether it takes about 7 minutes to ride down and it is so exciting. You get into the cart – I was by myself – and head off on the metal tubing. You do have a handbrake so you are in control of the speed. I absolutely loved it. I’ll link the video here after the photos, but beware that it’s shaky and a long clip, but it will give you an idea of what it was like!
Looking back upon the entire trip to China, the day spent at the Great Wall is an obvious top highlight. I considered it an honor to take in this piece of history in person, something that most don’t get to do in a lifetime. Doing such a landmark with a Ker & Downey private guide instead of in a large tour group was special, too. I needed the 90 minute drive back to Beijing to get my wits about me again!
Upon arriving back at the Peninsula Beijing, Michelle and I were EXHAUSTED! We ordered room service and hit the sack. Our call time the next morning was early as we had a flight to catch for the next leg of our adventure. I can’t wait to share it with you in an upcoming post!
It’s a known fact that I’m the coldest-natured person on earth. If there was an actual contest for the honor, I have no doubt that I would win it. So when the temperatures in Houston dip below 60-degrees, you can find me wrapped up in 4 layers of clothing sitting on my heated seats or by the fireplace. I don’t do cold. Last night, the weatherman said that our temps would dip into the 20’s. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen that in the 11ish years that I’ve been a Texan. While most were out wrapping water pipes and covering palm trees, I made a quick, easy and delicious vegetable soup. I make this quite a bit and although it is lackluster on the fancy part, it’s big on taste!
STEPHANIE’S EASY VEGETABLE SOUP
2 cans corn
2 cans peas/carrots mix
2 cans green beans
2 cans diced potatoes
2 cans diced tomatoes (I used one can that also had added chilies)
1 small can tomato paste
1 lb ground beef
1/2 white onion
2 T minced garlic
2 bay leaves
Italian blend spices
Ground black pepper
I make my soup in one pan – it’s up to you, but it can all be done in one stockpot. The less I have to wash, the better!
I started the process by sauteing the onion and garlic until the onion was clear and a bit softer, then added the ground beef. Once cooked, drain the beef of any extra grease, and put back into the stockpot.
The hard part is over at this point, drain and add all canned veggies! Mix and combine.
To that, add the diced tomatoes and the tomato paste. The cans will still have tomato residue in them, so use the cans to add water. This gets all the tomato flavor from them & helps to add that pretty red color. Water should cover all the veggies and about 1/2″ more so that it’s actually “soup”.
Finally add the bay leaves, ground pepper and Italian seasoning blend to taste. I think the spices really add to it, so I have a heavier hand than some!
Heat the soup until just before boiling – stir every bit or so just to blend the flavors. Add crackers, shredded cheese, whatever you like to your bowl, and enjoy!
I CAN NOT believe you are 13 years old. I officially have no more babies, toddlers, or kids – with your birthday, I’m officially the mom of teens!
Here are the 10 things I love so much about you:
You are sparkle and light to everyone! You elude happiness and joy at all times. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that is as optimistic as you are about everything. Not in a Polyanna way, but just choosing to see the good that is all around you.
You love to watch others succeed. Your dad and I were watching you at a ballgame last week. One of your best friends has been working so hard on her tumbling. She nailed a tumbling pass and your face lit up. You allow yourself to be proud of other people. You truly understand the quote “Blowing out someone else’s candle doesn’t make yours shine brighter.” Your candle shines bright because you cheer on everyone.
You are so smart. Many people truly don’t know that you are a brainy girl. Science is your thing … and I hope you never change. Never be ashamed that you are smart, and never stop challenging yourself!
You are funny. You have the quickest wit and silliest personality. You have literally kept me laughing for 13 years. You have the best sense of humor and are secure enough that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
You are mature enough to make the hard choices. You have shown that again and again this year, I admire your maturity.
You love birthdays. Although today is your special day, you LOVE to celebrate everyone’s birthdays. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more special then on mine. You count it down, fret over the perfect gift, and are so diligent on making that person feel loved.
You are an organizer. I am a pretty organized person – you take it over the top. Everything has a place. Everything is labeled. Everything has a purpose. You could set up systems for a Fortune 500 company in no time flat!
You set big goals. If I had to put a mantra to your life so far, it would be “I can do this!” You have no fear in chasing the big dreams and setting high goals. I hope you never ever change – the world is truly yours to take!
You take being a role model seriously. It’s been fun to watch your interact with younger kids and friends these past few years. I love that you think before you speak and are so careful to always set a strong example for them. You aren’t shy about being their friend and treat them not as little kids, but also as people.
You are a star! You were made for a Disney show and the big lights. Watching you develop your YouTube channel and put videos together is the best. You make me smile with your outlook on everyday life. Your heart is pure and your soul is sweet. It comes out in everything you post.
Today is extra special because you get to spend it with your Tremaine family. You worked so hard, prayed without ceasing, and traveled more miles then I care to count … for the chance to become part of the Performance Company. I can’t imagine anything better then starting your Tremaine tour on your birthday! It’s almost like they planned to be in Houston just for you!
Piper Click, you are so loved. You are pure light and I hope that you never ever allow anyone to darken your flame. We need more people like you.
Piper is a great traveler and was super excited to see New York. So, like any good mom, I started a Pinterest board about New York and began to make a list of what we must-see and must-do since our time was going to be limited due to the dance class and competition restraints. By the time the trip rolled around, we were ready, prepared, and excited.
Take a look at let me know what you think! Bookmark the Houston Moms Blog site, it’s full of great content and timely information for parents with kids of all ages.
I write birthday letters to my children every year. It’s just something that I do. It’s probably a bit of therapy for me to be able to reflect, in writing, on who they are becoming and what makes them special individually. This year, I’m choosing to write about myself.
This has been a hard year for me. So many things have turned upside down. It’s funny because I appear so open on social media and I think people have an idea that they really know me. In fact, I’m pretty private. If something means a lot to me or is very special to me, I won’t post about it at all. Only about a third of my life is lived online, believe it or not. And, in this past year, it’s been the third of my life – the stuff that I keep to myself that has seemingly come unraveled and taken me with it in some ways.
I had a life-shift of sorts around March. A friend of mine lost a close friend of hers; we were around the same age. In reflecting upon how my time was being spent, I had a life shift. My priorities were very much out of whack. I was devoting time to things that in the end would never matter (or not much matter). Giving the most of my energy to people who didn’t require it. And spending time doing things that I didn’t really enjoy only because I’d always done them.
I ran across this saying on Pinterest a few weeks back, it perfectly described what has happened with me over the past year.
One morning she woke up different. Done with trying to figure out who was with her, against her, or walking down the middle because they didn’t have the guts to pick a side. She was done with anything that didn’t bring her peace. She realized that opinions were a dime a dozen, validation was for parking, and loyalty wasn’t a word, but a lifestyle. It was this day that her life changed. And not because of a man, or a job, but because she realized that life is way too short to leave the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.
It has taken a lot of getting used to, this life shift. Saying “no” to things that I’m not interested in or that won’t bring peace. Giving myself the freedom to say “yes” to new opportunities. (How exciting!) And, looking for the joy in all things and in all situations.
I lost my grandfather last month. As we prepared for his funeral with the pastors and our family, I knew that I wanted to leave just as big of a legacy behind. I saw glimpses of myself in so many of the stories that were told about him. I had never considered that growing up glued to his side had such an influence on me beyond the love that I was constantly shown. It was another reminder to be so careful and so cautious of how my time is spent.
I love the last line of the mantra that I shared above: “Life is way too short to leave the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket.” So, here in year 44, that’s the line that I’m most focusing on. When I’m happy, I can take better care of everyone that I love and that’s the legacy that I want to work toward in this stage of my life. But, if I put the key to my happiness in anyone’s pocket but my own, that can’t happen.
Words of wisdom from a 44 year old wife and mom: Love big. Don’t be afraid of change. Give second chances. Give the biggest chunks of your time to your biggest priorities.