Saturday, March 31, 2012

Travel Review: Grimaldi's in Fashion Show Mall-Las Vegas

I have been to Las Vegas more times than I can count but this past trip we ventured down to the Fashion Show Mall, about a 20 minute walk from Harrah's, to have lunch at Grimaldi's Pizzeria. I am always looking for new places to eat in Vegas so I was excited to try it out.  I can assure you that this place will be on my list to go to again and again.

These pizzas are made in a coal-fired brick oven that gives a smokey flavor to the crispy crust.  The service was great and the pizza was outstanding.  

The one bad side to this place is that it is in the middle of the mall and not the easiest place to get to but it was well worth the walk.

My friend and I split a sun-dried tomato, pesto and garlic pizza with a carafe of their house red wine.  I HIGHLY recommend it.

We loved this place and will definitely go back.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Travel Review: Excellence Riviera Cancun

I realized this week, since my new job, that I never posted the reviews that I have written on Trip Advisor to the blog.  Here is a review that I wrote back in October on the Excellence Riviera Cancun.  

We got back from our 5 night/6 day stay at the Excellence Riviera Cancun 10/24/11 and we had a great time! Before leaving on this trip, I did a lot of research and read a lot of reviews on ERC. This review is a true and accurate description of our stay. I hope it helps you make your decision. We were a party of 4. My husband and I stayed in a Jr Suite Pool View and our niece and her husband stayed in an Excellence Club Swim-Up room. I know this is lengthy but I really wanted to be thorough so that you could make an informed decision.

If you go in the month of October, expect cooler temperature both during the day and at night. I took several shawls and wraps with me and I needed them every night. The cooler temps along with the wind made it a little chilly.

SERVICE. We felt that the staff was prepared to do anything to make our stay perfect.
(Pro) On our first night at the resort we really wanted to watch the World Series game so the entertainment staff pulled a TV out in the open air theater and we were able to watch the game while listening to the mariachi band, a server bringing us drinks, and the ocean out in front of us. It was amazing.
(Pro) Waiters were around at all times whether at the beach or around the pool to ensure that the guests were comfortable and always had a cocktail in hand.
(Pro) Service was also really good at the restaurants.
(Pro) We never felt like it was expected to tip but quickly realized that just giving 20 pesos (equivalent to about 1.50) when the waiter brought our drinks, ensured that they came to us more often.
(Pro) Salvadore at the Sol bar was so much fun!
(Con) At one point we were hanging around the swim-up bar and it was nearly impossible for my husband to get drinks. He finally called me over to help get service. This annoyed him and he decided just to get all of his drinks from that point on at the Sol bar.
(Con) The iron in our room stopped working and we called down for another. After 30 minutes of waiting, we decided to just leave and use the iron in the room of our traveling companions. We never received the iron.

(Pro) The grounds, foliage, and water features were beautiful and well maintained.
(Pro) Clean. This property was very clean and workers were constantly ensuring that empty glasses were picked up, no trash on property, and everyone was always cleaning.
(Con) There seemed to be a lot of maintenance going on. The water feature in front of our hall wasn't working, the female restroom located by the Lobster House had one stall that was flooded the entire stay and one of the sinks didn't work. There were never any hand towels in it and on the last day it was completely dark, I had to have my husband hold the door open with his foot just so I could see inside.
(Con) There was no heated pool. There really needed to be a heated pool. The temperature never went above 85 during the day and got down as cool as 70 at night and the water was freezing. Once the sun started setting around 4:30-5:00, the pools were completely empty. We would have loved to been able to get back in the pool at night after dinner.
(Con) There is no hot tub on the property. A couples/adults-only resort screams for at least one hot tub and preferrably quite a few.

(Pro) The beach was beautiful. I read a lot of reviews complaining about it being rocky and full of seaweed and I just can't figure out what they were complaining about. I was on the beach and in the ocean every, single day without shoes. Soft sand and beautiful ocean.
(Pro) There are plenty of beach chairs, beds, and palapas.
(Con) It may take a bit longer to get a drink out on the beach (but we went off-season so I'm not sure if they had a depleted staff during this timeframe).

(Pro) The pools are all crystal clear and very, very clean.
(Pro) There are literally pools all through the property.
(Con) There are no heated pools and the pools do get cold.
(Con) People get out really early and "claim" their spots so it can be difficult to get chairs in the main pool.
(Con) The main pool on the property is the only pool that has access to the swim-up bar and to the Sol Bar. We would have taken advantage of some of the smaller pools so that we could have chairs together but there would have been no bar service.
(Con) There were not enough floats. People hoarded them and really the only way to get a float was to snatch one in the morning and then keep it in your room until you wanted to use it.

(Pro) We thought the food at all of the restaurants was really, really good.
-My favorite was Agave (Mexican). The ceviche was delicious as was the Tampiquena.
-The Mahi Mahi at The Grill was a big hit.
-The Lobster House was great, too.
-We tried for 3 days to eat at the Hibachi in Spice and could never get a reservation.
-We really wished that there would have been a quick service, walk-up kind of food place on the property. Since, understandably, none of the restaurants wanted guests to come in wet swimsuits to eat, it would have been nice to just have a snack shop with hamburgers, hotdogs, etc to walk up and grab and continue on with swimming, etc. Also, a snack shop would have been great when we weren't particularly hungry but just would have liked a snack.
-The breakfast buffet was ok.

We had a Pool View and our niece and her husband had an Excellence Club Swim-Up room. There was no difference in the size, bed, decor of these two rooms. They were exactly the same. The 2 differences were: #1 The Swim-Up room is located on the pool and has a hammock and outdoor tub along with a couple of private tanning chairs. #2 The Excellence Club rooms offer liquor bottles in the room such as Jose Cuervo and Jim Beam. The Excellence Club rooms also have a couple of extra beer solutions in their refrigerator as opposed to only Corona in the "regular" rooms. Those are the only 2 differences in the rooms.
(Pro) Upon arrival, the towel animals, champagne, and fresh fruit were so inviting and really made it special.
(Pro) The evening turn-down service was great. I loved that they laid the mints on our bed and turned relaxing music on.
(Pro) On each side of the bed there are LED lights that they turned on it to set "the mood" during turn down service.
(Pro) Each night we received an itinerary for the next day's events.
(Pro) Robes and slippers are provided.
(Pro) The jetted tub is big enough for two and has hot water. They also offer incense for a relaxing bath.
(Pro) The toiletries offered are in-depth (sewing kit, female personal hygiene items, comb, toothbrush) and the shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotions are larger than the normal hotel-sized toiletries.
(Con) Our air conditioning was broken and we could not turn it down. We had it set on 80F and still needed extra blankets at night.

(Pro) The room service staff always created an atmosphere by setting the table and introducing the food.
(Con) The room service menu was limited and took at least 45 minutes no matter what time of day you ordered.
(Con) I was very excited about the special breakfast in bed for our anniversary . . . DON'T BE. The first day we arrived I scheduled this breakfast and was asked if I wanted the continental breakfast and I said sure (I had no idea what it involved). Basically, it was 5 pieces of fruit, a basket of bread, a mimosa and coffee. We actually ended up getting dressed and going over to the buffet for breakfast. If you want a romantic, anniversary breakfast in bed just order straight from the room service menu, don't expect much in the special breakfast.

(Pro) The Romantic night singer is AMAZING!! Definitely our favorite entertainer of the week.
(Pro) The Reggae band that played poolside was awesome. It was, by far, our favorite part of daytime entertainment.
(Con) For us, we weren't in to the "games" they played poolside such as movie trivia/music trivia. We would have loved to have more live entertainment or more upbeat music played during the afternoon.
(Con) This was a big con for my husband. After dinner, there really is not a lot of nightlife going on. There is entertainment provided both in the form of bands and entertainments shows BUT all of the entertainment is over by 11:30 and then there is nothing. My husband would have loved if there was a late night bar. They do have the Allegria bar but there is never anybody in there. We checked 2 or 3 times and there wasn't even a bartender. We would have loved even just a sports bar that had a few tv's or just something for those nights when you just aren't ready to turn in.

Puerto Morelos is only about a 35 minute walk down the beach (go past 2 piers and look for the lighthouse) and go into town. We had such a good time shopping and eating at the little restaurants. Plus, it was great to break up being at the resort all day. Do it!

Overall, this was a really lovely resort. We had a great time and we would definitely go back again. Remember, during this review, I was trying to be as specific as possible so that you could get a true and accurate description. I truly believe that there is no way you could go to ERC and have a bad time but these are just a few of the nitpicky things that may make a difference for you.

-Take a wireless router. We were able to tap into the WiFi from the room. It was awesome to be able to have internet in our room.
-Schedule your scuba/snorkeling at the beginning of your trip because they do not offer these excursions every day.
-If you want something, ask for it. They will go out of their way to accomodate you.
-If you like a certain kind of alcohol or brand name, then ask when you go to the bar or you will receive rail liquor.

Excellence Club Swim-Up Room #7051 was incredible

If you'd like to see a video of what a Junio Suite Pool View looks like, check out my link that I posted:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Miscellaneous, um Tuesday?

Yes, I know that most people do their weekend recaps and their Miscellaneous posts on Mondays but I was super busy yesterday taking Disney College of Knowledge classes and just didn't have time to sit down and right a post.  Heck, I barely had time to get the kids and lunch and lay them down for a nap. 

Anyway, on to my weekend . . .

Friday night, I can't really remember Friday night so I'm assuming that nothing spectacular happened.  Oh yeah, Scott was in Memphis Thursday and Friday nights so the kids and I just ordered pizza.  I watched some of the NCAA basketball games and had a fairly early night.

Saturday I took the kids to my parents' house and went to dinner with my 2 gals and then to see the Hunger Games.  Have you seen it yet?  If you have read the books, you absolutely must go see the movie.  It was AWESOME.  Seriously, seriously good.  I've heard people who didn't read the book say that it was good but I still think that there were little parts of the movie that they wouldn't truly understand unless they had read the book.

My favorite part of the movie (don't worry, there are no spoilers here) was:

On a side note, have you heard about the IDIOTS who have been tweeting horrible things because Cinna and Rue were black?  Read this.  In my opinion, he could have just been up on the screen and not said a word for the entire movie.  Definitely my one true celebrity crush.

We went to this fantastic theater in a town called Maplewood.  It has huge leather seats that recline and over 21 section and yes, you can buy beer, wine, etc for the movie.  I think I am spoiled and can never go to another movie theater again.

Sunday was a yard work kind of day.  It was beautiful here in St. Louis, in the 80's, and a perfect day to be outside.  Kanin had baseball practice at 3:00 and the whole family went.  He is really loving baseball.

Back home to watch the Blues game, Let's Go Blues!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

And, Just Like That . . .

WOW!  What a difference a few days make.  Things have definitely changed a lot for me over the past few days.  Big changes.  Exciting changes.  You might have noticed that I have posted much in the last week and the things that I have posted, they have been pre-scheduled . . .oops, guess I shouldn't have told you that?
For those of you who don't know or you are a new follower, let me tell you a little about myself.

I spent my whole life wanting to be a teacher.  I have always loved to read and yes, I loved diagramming those pesky sentences in high school so I when I went to college I became an English teacher.  I only taught English for a couple of years, though, because the idyllic dream of students loving language and reading as much as I did was quickly dispelled when I had a desk thrown across the room at me.

I also always had an interest in the military.  Specifically, I thought it would be "fun" to do the obstacle courses and I dreamed of being able to travel around the world.  So, I quit teaching and went to basic training and went on to go to military intelligence school.  I worked full-time for the Army National Guard for about 6 years before I decided to stay home with my babies.  BTW, all of these "Warrior Dashes" that everyone raves about . . . I don't participate.  I figure I've done enough of those in my lifetime. ha!

All along, though, I've loved visiting new places, eating at new restaurants, learning about different cultures, looking at pictures of exotic locations, etc.  Yes, there are people far more traveled than me but I feel that it has been a trade off because I wouldn't exchange my kids for anything.  I'll admit, though, I've been jealous at some of the people that I have met that and the places they have been.

A few years ago, I thought about becoming a travel agent.  This would be a great place for me to help people go on fantastic trips and for me to earn some travel privileges myself.  As it turned out, though, I ended up with my Sweet Baby Caleb so I kind of just put that thought out of my mind.

Caleb will be 3 in July . . . 3 ! in July and I thought it was time that I start looking ahead to the future and what I will do when all of my babies are in school. 

So, I decided to email a local travel agency  and told them a little about my story.  I also offered up what I was looking for and how I could benefit them.  Basically, I asked for help to enter into the travel industry on a 100% commission basis in exchange for me being able to work from home.  What this did for the agency, 5 Star Travel and Cruises, is allow them to benefit from anything that I would sell for them but not be out the money of paying me an hourly wage.  And you know what?  I heard back from the owner.  It was amazing.  An email turned in to a 30 minute phone call turned in to a face-to-face meeting turned in to them offering me the job.  What is truly amazing about this whole thing is that the owner said she felt like it was almost looking in a mirror because she started her career in travel the exact same way.  A stay-at-home mom who dabbled in it until she was able to do it full-time.

One of the things that I think will kind of set me apart from other agents is that I truly want to make each trip a great experience.  I am not doing this for the money.  I know that sounds ridiculous but I'm really not.  The way I look at it is that right now I am not bringing any money into the household so I don't have the monkey on my back of "I need this paycheck to pay my bills."  I've been in that position before and in these types of industries (real estate, travel, etc) having that pressure of you have to have a paycheck right now, is not a good place to be.  Plus, since most paperwork can be done electronically, quotes sent electronically, and I have a phone, I can do everything from home that I could do in the office anyway. 

Instead, this is really an adventure for me.  I get to research fantastic hotels, other cultures, problem-solve to work within people's budgets but most importantly, I get to help them make memories!  How cool is that?

One of the first things that I have done is start in a program called the Disney College of Knowledge.  You guys know how I LOVE Disney.  If not, check out this post, Disney 2010So, I love that I am learning tons of ways to make a Disney vacation even magical.  I've already found out a ton of cool stuff to do outside of the parks that I never even knew about.  Plus, I have already helped plan tons of DW vacations for my friends and family so this way I will get a little money for it and I will have a lot more access to help plan an even better experience.
Look how little these babies were.

Anyway, so there is my story.  I'm really excited to start this new chapter in my life.  It honestly has consumed me the last few days and I love it!

Of course, if YOU need help planning ANY trip I would to help.  You can email me at April at

P.S. Did you know that when you use a travel agent that you pay nothing extra?  Travel agents are actually paid through the resorts and hotels so there is no commission fee added to anything. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

PROJECT CLEAN HOUSE: Top of the Fridge

We do not have a lot of storage in this house.  What that means is that all of our junk seems to accumulate on the counters and on top of the refrigerator.  I am guilty of this, as well.  I throw things up there that I don't want the kids to either see or get a hold of. 

Since my kitchen does not have a lot of cabinets, I don't have a designated place for these glasses.  I've had them on top of the fridge for a while and yes, sometimes they get too close to the edge, fall, and shatter. 

So, I took all of this stuff off, wiped down the top and either stored it somewhere else or through it away.

I FINALLY threw away my coffee mug.  Why I held on to it for a whole year is because I'm a hoarder and I really hoped to one day to be able to glue it back together.  That was never going to happen.

This is what it looked like when I was done.  I left just a couple of wine glasses down and then put the rest on top of another cabinet. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012


This room  actually looks a lot better than it normally does.  Usually every Lego is in the middle of the floor along with the all of the train tracks.  

I was so excited when I found this dollhouse for Gracie for Christmas.  It was normally $69 and I got it for $29 from JCPenney online.  Well, as cute as it is, it sure was poorly made.  It could only stand about 1 month with the Boo Boo.  I tried to tape it back together and let her have a little more time to play with it.  Finally, though, I couldn't take it anymore.  In the trash it went.

Here is the sell, trash, and donate pile.

Here is what it looked like after I cleaned. 

Of course, if you want to see what it looks like now . . .

go back to the top of the page and look at the first picture.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Now on to the really bad closet.  Yep, you guessed it.  It's mine.  I really have no excuse other than the fact of after cleaning the rest of the house, I just don't want to do it.  It's tucked away in my room and hardly anyone ever sees it anyway.  I guess if I had one of those cool, custom organized closets then I would try harder. 

There was A LOT to do in this closet.  As you can see, there are tons of movies in the floor.  That is thanks to the Boo Boo.  We brought the movies into our closet because he kept pulling them off of the dvd organizer.  Well, he found them so now he just goes in to the closet to pull them off.  I got tired of picking them up.

Here is how it looked after I picked up all of the movies (that in itself helped a lot).  I pulled everything down off of the upper shelf and folded and sorted it.

I tried to color-coordinate by style.  The purses all started to overlap but I think it looks better. 

I actually took 2 carloads of clothes to consignment/donation.

Notice that I didn't show you Scott's side of the closet . . .

Monday, March 19, 2012


I started off with Caleb's closet. 

As you will see, there is a lot of stuff on that top shelf.  Mostly, there are sweaters and vests that Kanin wore that I have saved for Caleb.  As he grows into them, I pull them down into his rotation of clothes.  I also have some other clothing keepsakes such as the outfit that he came home from the hospital in, first Halloween costume, etc.

After going through everything, I pulled the keepsake stuff down and I am going to put that in a bin down in the basement. 

Here are his donate items.

Here are the items I sent to consignment.  Actually, I pulled back that little blue and yellow sweater outfit.  It was his first Easter outfit.  I know, as stated in a previous post, I am a hoarder.

Next, I moved on to Kanin's closet.

I took the fitted sheet down and put it in the linen closet with the rest of the sheets.  I lined up all of his flip flops (can you tell he is after my own heart) and then straightened up the clothes.

Here are the clothes I took to consignment.

Here are the measely flip flops we donated.  I guess we should have just tossed them.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St. Patty's Day 2012

Yay!  We didn't get rained out.  We thought that we might have to skip the parade because of weather but the rain held off until the end of the parade.

Over the past few years I have found the perfect spot.  It is right on the corner by a stop sign so it is easy to give directions to others AND it is right across the street from a park and bathrooms-essential when going with little kids.

We got down to our "spot" around 9:45 and set up the area. 

We were lucky enough this year to have Gaga join us.  This is the first time that he has ever been to the Dogtown parade.  The kids were really happy that he was able to come this year.

We had 14 people in our little area.  Caleb loved just hanging out on Corey's (our neighbor) lap.  He actually fell asleep before the parade started and missed the first 10 or 15 minutes.  He woke up, though, and was able to catch some beads and candy.

Annabelle needed to get a little higher up to see the parade.  Good thing Mommy was available.


Do these blue eyes just not melt your heart?

This is the kind of picture I get when I'm trying to take one of all three kids.  Oh well, "2 out of 3 ain't bad", right?

I tried about 10 times but never could get a good one . . .

I'd say it was definitely another successful parade day.  Doesn't this smile just say it all?

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Recipe: Shepherd's Pie

In honor of St. Patty's Day, I thought I'd post (or re-post) this Shepherd's Pie recipe from my Meals For Real blog (have you joined yet?).  I wouldn't necessarily call it 100% authentic but it sure is tasty.  You could always substitute the ground beef for lamb or any other variety of meat (or non-meat) that you choose.

Also, please pray that there is no rain tomorrow.  If you remember, GracieAnn (see here) is obsessed with the St. Patty's Day Parade.  She has asked me everyday for the past year "when is the parade again?".  When I finally told her that it was THIS Saturday, you can imagine her excitement.  Now . . . they are calling for rain-BOO!

Pay careful attention because I forgot to take a picture of the potatoes.

Shepherd’s Pie Recipe from Dawn’s Daily Life
9 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 (6 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 (15 ounce) can green beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can corn, drained
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons milk

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, and cook over high heat. Boil for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, brown ground beef in a large skillet over medium-high heat; drain fat. Add tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce to taste, salt, pepper, green beans and corn. In a separate bowl, mix flour with the 3 tablespoons water and stir into beef mixture. Pour this mixture into a casserole dish. Stir all together well. Drain the potatoes, mash and spread over the beef mixture. Place 2 to 3 vent holes through the mashed potatoes.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Brush the milk over the potatoes for the last 5 minutes of baking.

-I added 2 cloves of garlic, 1 onion and 1 green pepper to this recipe.

Here's what I started with:

Here's how I did it:

Preheated the oven to 350 degrees.

I peeled and cut up about 10 potatoes and put them on to boil

I cut a green pepper into long slices.

 I then cut up an onion and coarsley chopped 2 garlic cloves.

 I browned about 1.25lbs of lean ground beef.

Then threw in the garlic, onion and green pepper.

I added 1 small can of tomato sauce.

Then I drained a can of corn and a can of green beans and added it to the mixture.

I added 7 or 8 good shakes of worcestershire.
While that was cooking, I measured out 2T of all-purpose flour and 3T of water. I mixed it together and then mixed it into the pan.

I then greased a 9x13 baking dish and put the mixture in it.

I drained the potatoes and then added a tad of butter so that I could mash them up into chunks.

 Once they were mashed up, I scooped the potatoes over the meat mixture and poked 4 holes in it.

Popped it into the oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

With a few minutes left to go, I measured out 3T of milk and started to brush it on the potatoes. That was too much of a pain so I just drizzled it all over the top.

Here's what you'll end up with:

This recipe was SOOOO good! As I said earlier, I had never had shepherd's pie before. I knew that it sounded like I would like it because of the ingredients so I wasn't really worried about myself but sometimes Scott and Kanin have this "I don't want to mix my food" issue so I wasn't sure that they would want the potatoes on top. I almost just made the mashed potatoes on the side and served it that way but I really wanted to try to stay as close to the recipe as possible. I'm glad I did!

I added the garlic, onion and green peppers and it did add a lot of flavor. In hindsight, though, I think I should have left out the green peppers. The texture was pretty close to that of the green beans and while it wasn't bad, it just didn't add a lot to it.

If you aren't going to be all critical about the authenticity of what you put in the dish, I think you could really add anything you wanted--mushrooms, ground turkey, beans, etc.

I'd say to definitely give this recipe a try. It was easy and tasty!
Hope you enjoy!