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!
In July, I took Piper to New York for a week of dance. It was her first trip to the city and I really looked forward to seeing her experience everything that NYC has to offer. On our first full day, we ventured to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. I don’t think either of us expected that this day would have such an emotional affect on us.
It’s easy to say where you were when the tragedy of 9/11 happened. It will forever be etched in our minds, much like the assassination of JFK is for our parents. I didn’t know anyone personally affected or that lost a loved one on 9/11, so it has been easy for me to simply pay respect to the day each year and move forward without an attachment.
One visit to the 9/11 museum has changed me. I’ll admit, embarrassingly, that museums are not my thing. I find them interesting, sure … but to spend an entire day at a museum is not on my list of things to do. Or on Piper’s list for that matter. (My husband and son are the complete opposite!) Piper and I entered the museum and thought we would just do a walk through. We could not get enough … and stayed until the afternoon.
For me, as an adult that vividly remembers the day of September 11, 2001, I can go right back to that time in my life. But, for Piper, who wasn’t even born, it was new. The fact that a group of people did this on purpose was baffling in her mind. She read every sign, every plate, looked at every piece of scrap – trying to make sense of it all.
We spent most of our time in the hall where the museum features photos of every person that lost their life on 9/11. There are some interactive boards that allow you to find out more about the individual and even a small glimpse into how they came into the path of tragedy on that day. Putting names with faces and stories was absolutely heart wrenching. It seemed unfair to not click on every photo to learn more. As a mom, I wanted to hear everyone’s story – almost like it paid a form of respect to their families.
So many young lives. So many beautiful stories. So many accolades and tremendous accomplishments. Our country lost a lot of remarkable people.
There was also an area where you could hear audio recordings from first responders and people who were in the towers during the attacks. You heard first hand their stories of how they attempted to save people, or how they tried to escape, and what they saw. There is also so much in the way of memorabilia from the day. Fire trucks, the door of an airplane, bent steel from where a plane entered one of the towers. To see it in person is just mind-blowing. The heat of the flames, the force of entry, the magnitude of the loss is impossible to put into words.
Piper is a very happy soul. She’s a people-lover and does a tremendous job of seeing the good in everyone. Going through the museum with her, explaining some of the things she was reading, and watching as we got further into the story and knowing that she was understanding the concept of terrorism crushed my soul. I have always tried to shield my kids, and probably moreso Piper, from the meanness of the world. But, there’s no shielding or fluffing up of what happened on September 11. She left heavy and so did I.
After we left the museum, we went to lunch and it was hard to find words for what we had seen. Like so many places in the world, you really need to see it for yourself. Your life and your outlook on so many things will change with just one visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Allow yourself the time to really take it in and do it justice, for yourself and for the families of those who lost their lives.
For many years, our family has used a shared calendar that was web and app-based. Our schedules with work and kids rivals any family that I’ve ever seen. We must have a product that is easy to use, available on desktop, tablet, and mobile (app). A quick search introduced me to Picniic.
My essentials in looking for a shared calendar are:
Easy to use
Color-coded for each family member
Still in active development (I want a product that will continue to be updated)
Push notifications for reminders
Picniic is a next-generation family organizer built with the goal of being the ‘operating system for the family home.’ It serves as a family management dashboard that brings all your activities, tasks and data together in one place, keeping everyone organized and on the same page.
In a nutshell, Picniic has a shared calendar (every family member has their own color); a family locator tool (think “Find My iPhone”); a meal planner, a to-do list, a shopping list, special event calendar (which syncs birthdays and anniversaries onto the shared calendar), and a family info locker where you can store key information like your medical details and other household information.
We have now successfully moved all of our family to Picniic and I’m very happy using it. It’s nice for all of us to have the latest updates – for every member of the family – right in the palm of our hands! No more “Mom, can I have a sleepover on Friday night? Am I busy?” My response is always the same – “Check Picniic!”
I admit that I often struggle with meal planning because it’s such a hassle. The Picniic app is loaded with recipes that are awesome. Type in an ingredient or a common recipe and it pops right up in the palm of your hand. The best part – one simple click at the bottom of the recipe and you can add all of the ingredients to your shopping list! As if that wasn’t good enough, you can also add your own personal or family recipes into the recipe binder. That is super helpful and actually makes it more of a reality that I will meal plan, and come home with every ingredient needed from the grocery store!
Picniic is free to use online or via app, but their are portions that are available by subscription. (I paid $50 for a year.) My suggestion is that you download the free version and use it for a few weeks and see what you think. I used it regularly for nearly a month and was sold!
I am not a Picniic affiliate, but I do love this product.
The movie Cars debuted on my son Avery’s 3rd birthday. My husband and I had seen the trailer months before and knew that Avery would love it … and what better way to celebrate being 3 then to go to a big theater and watch a movie about something you love – CARS! We had no idea when we stepped foot into that theater how the movie would change our lives.
Avery fell in love with Cars. I can’t even put into words how much he loved everything about the movie. The characters, the music, the storyline – our family lived and breathed every minute of the film over and over. One of my fondest childhood memories of Avery is hearing him sing “Life is a Highway” from the Cars soundtrack. His little voice with the perfect mimic of the inflection from Rascal Flatts – it was like a little angel was singing it.
We have had Lightning McQueen birthday parties, Sally birthday parties, Christmases filled with every Cars toy manufactured that year … If it has been made with the Cars logo, I feel confident in saying that we own it.
In April, our family was invited to attend an event called Cars 3: Road to the Races tour. We were excited to see what the new movie would bring and – fingers crossed – we were set to again become the biggest fans of the film.
At the event, we were able to take photos with the new characters and see a trailer of the film. Take a peak:
My husband and son were lucky enough to get to screen the movie on behalf of StephanieClick.com earlier this week. They were blown away at every aspect of the film with my husband even admitting that he teared up a couple of times.
My son, Avery, said “The visuals were stunning, especially the mud. The movie brought us many new characters, who each had their own story to tell. The introduction of each character and place was added in seamlessly and expertly. It brought out emotions I hadn’t seen from Pixar since the original Cars movie. The settings were both visually and emotionally pleasing. I can’t wait to see it again!”
As far as the music, my husband raved about the soundtrack. (It’s available now on Amazon!)
Here’s the jist of the film: Lightning McQueen is back on the big screen, but he’s not a rookie anymore. Blindsided by a new general on of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Piston-Cup champion finds himself suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. “The next-gen racers are cool,” says director Brian Fee. “You can see instantly that cars like Jackson Storm are effortlessly fast. We designed these younger, faster cars to be sleek and aerodynamic—and they’re a sharp contrast to Lightning McQueen.
While Lightning is still the same self-assured, determined and fun loving race car audiences fell in love with, his confidence is being tested by the new cars on the track. “When we first met Lightning McQueen, he was a young rookie—a superhero,” says Fee. “He had his whole life ahead of him. And while he’s done well since we last saw him, he’s not a young hotshot racer anymore. We kept circling the idea of what happens when an athlete like Lightning is in the twilight of his career.
Enter Cruz Ramirez. Tasked with getting Lightning McQueen back on track after a devastating setback, Cruz isn’t shy. Her training style is high-tech, enthusiastic and steadfast—she’s not afraid to apply a little tough love. But there’s more to Cruz than meets the eye. “I love Cruz’s story,” says co-producer Andrea Warren. “She’s such an admirable, likable character. She’s so passionate about racing and her role to create champions. The movie isn’t just about Lightning McQueen—it’s Cruz’s story, in many ways.”
As a mom, I love the fact that there are so many great characters for our kids (and now teens) to fall in love with. This is a movie that everyone can enjoy, laugh, cry and identify with. We need more movies like Cars 3! Although it’s just mid-June, I feel safe labeling this as the “Must-See Movie of the Summer of 2017“!