Shoji Spa, Lodge and Wellness Center

Asheville Getaway Soaked in Bliss

Anders Ruff Workshop

Pineville and Davidson, NC

Disney Hacks

Stroller Edition

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Asheville Getaway - Soaked in Bliss at Shoji Spa, Lodge & Wellness

This parenting gig can be pretty scarce on indulgences - but a few weeks ago my husband and I partook in a weekend filled with many of our favorite things during a kid-free getaway to Asheville, NC. 

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have second thoughts about going, it's a LOT of planning and it was tugging at my heart strings to be away from the kids, especially our baby. However, every ounce of me was so thankful that we carved out this special time to be together. We were like giddy teenagers, smooching, laughing and walking hand in hand (because we weren't carrying anyone or holding little hands) along the unique streets of Asheville. 


We were invited to experience one of the most luxurious ways to warm up and chill on the side of a mountain at Shoji Spa, Lodge & Wellness Center. They offer private, scenic hot tubs nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains. 


I was impressed with the cleanliness of the spa and the tub - everything was meticulously maintained and the staff was attentive and helpful as they led us to the dressing rooms to take a rain down shower prior to tubbing. We walked out of the dressing rooms donned in over-sized robes, sandals and towels. The spa attendants offered a fruit-infused cup of water as they gave us a tour of the grounds. We began our afternoon of relaxation in their cedar sauna. 


Next we were off to the main attraction. Doesn't this picture just say it all? It was B-L-I-S-S.


The hour of Shoji's hydrotherapy was exactly what we needed to soothe our parenting-weary bodies. Each muscle relaxed as we melted our stress away, encircled by nature and the gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We breathed deep, with the breeze in our hair as the quiet rolled over us throughout our long, hot soak. We finally had the time to connect and enjoy one another's company without a basket of laundry to fold or grocery list to compile. It was just silence - and him and me and nature, and the time to lay my head on his shoulder and reflect on all the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place. It was the time and presence we needed to give to each other because we give our kids, our families and our jobs so much. 

We left Shoji feeling more connected, relaxed, rejuvenated, recharged and ready to step back into the real world of adult-ing. It was a wonderful escape and we're already planning our return trip. 


Shoji Spa also offers a cold plunge pool, but I was so elated in my toasty warmness that I skipped taking the plunge. In addition to their renewing hot tubs Shoji Spa provides massage therapy, couples massage, lodging as well as hike and soak packages. 

You can check them out online here, on Facebook or on Instagram. Plus (my favorite) you can book your partner for a you and them weekend - then go online and book your package at Shoji Spa.

My awesome video skills are on display if you want to see more of Shoji's grounds here


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Disney Hacks: Saving Money $

By any measure a trip to Disney World is pricey. Here are some tips on how to save on your Disney Vacation before you book and while you're there. Follow my tips to help you #HackYourDisneyVacation.


1. Usually it's cheaper to stay off site. We rented this house and were very impressed with the cleanliness. We split it a 6 bedroom between 3 families and it really reduced our per night cost, we had a ton of space, a private pool, kitchen, laundry and we could drive up and unload the kids instead of schlepping through the parking lot. You do have to take into consideration the $20 a day parking fee if you stay off site. (Our parking was included in the season passes)


2. We signed up for a Disney Visa credit card. They offer a $200 credit, but charge a $50 annual fee. This gave us a net $150 credit. We purchased our 4 annual passes using the Disney credit card and got about $75 in rewards for purchases at Disney. There are other perks including a special meet and greet for Visa card members. 


3. We bought night time items for the parades and to keep our group together. This is what we purchased on Amazon and were happy with the products. These really helped to keep track of the kids and join in the glowing fun of the night at the parks. 

4. We bought these kids thermoses and filled them with boiling water for 10 min (then discarded the water) and added hot mac n cheese, pasta or hot dogs (left those in the water after cooking them). The food was still piping hot and we saved a lot of money not having to purchase them lunches they may or may not eat - depending on their mood. It was also nice not to have to wait in lines for food when they were hungry. Disney has lots of silverware and condiments that you can use. My husband waited in line for our food while I set the kids up at a table and by the time they were set up and eating, he was back with our food. We saved about $20-25 a day doing this. We also brought many other snacks in our snack bags. 


5. Any counter service restaurant will give you a free cup of water, we brought water bottles and saved a lot of money on water. We also brought some bottles of cold and frozen water to have in a pinch and put them on our stroller. Read more about how we packed our stroller here.

6. Because we purchased annual passes we also received a discount of 10-20% at certain restaurants and shopping at Disney. Annual passes also included Disney Photo Pass, which we loved. 

7. We did the Bippity Boppity Boutique, which is pricey - but we saved some $ by purchasing their dresses in advance. We told the kids that their fairy god mother delivered them, which added to the excitement of the day when they wake up. You can purchase them at the Disney Store on sale, online or second hand for cheap. Kids don't check for tags, so you'll be in the clear. 



Check out my other blogs on how to #HackYourDisneyVacation

Disney Hacks: The Stroller Edition

Disney Hacks: How to Pack a Disney Grab Bag

Disney Hacks - How to Pack a Disney Grab Bag

Knowing what you'll need to bring with you to the parks is essential to a good Disney vacation. Here is how to #HackYourDisneyVacation by packing the perfect Disney grab bag.


So there are many things you'll want to bring with you to the park, but only the essentials need to be in your grab bag if you're also bringing a stroller to hold your other less important items.

Leave with the stroller (see my blog for more info about how to select and pack the perfect stroller)
  • Ponchos, food and water bags, blanket, water fans, LED glow items
Pack in your Disney Grab Bag
  • Wallet with credit cards, license & cash
  • Magic Bands
  • 2 pairs of sunglasses for each person
  • Sunscreen
  • Bandaids
  • Triple Antibiotic Ointment
  • Ibuprofen for kids and adults
  • Nail scissors 
  • Camcorder
  • Camera
  • Battery pack phone charger (you will ROLL though your phones battery in Disney)
  • Plug in phone charger
  • A change of clothes in plastic bags for each kid (this could also be left with the strollers)
  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Bug Spray (especially with the Zika virus) 
  • Water bottle (I keep one with me at all times)
  • A dry snack (usually a snack bar) for each kid
  • Lip balm
  • Gum (they don't sell gum in Disney) or mints
  • bubbles (for waiting in line)
  • Games to play while waiting in line (uno, 5 second rule) 
No selfie sticks, costumes if you're over 12 or alcohol - they won't let you in the park with any of it!

Check out my other #HackYourDisneyVacation blog posts

Disney Hacks: Saving Money

Disney Hacks: The Stroller Edition 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Anders Ruff Workshop in Pineville & Davidson, NC


This mama is a level 10 goddess with a glue gun, but a nail gun? Not so much.... it gives me flash backs of the staple gun incident of 2005 (see this video for the embarrassing details). However, I do love honing my DIY skills and attending workshops. When the lovelies at Anders Ruff Workshop in Pineville, NC invited us to blog about one of their workshops I decided I'd have to leave my torrid staple gun history in the past and learn a cool new skill.


If you haven't checked out AR Workshop, you'll love what they're all about. In addition to creating useful and beautiful custom DIY masterpieces the ambiance is like stepping into a designer magazine.


The colors, the textures and the decor are all on trend. Their aesthetics woven with creativity and know-how provides the perfect backdrop for a memorable GNO, date night, party or just some YOU time.


I've been obsessed with all the projects I've been seeing on their Instagram, so choosing just one from all of their carefully selected options was hard! The ability to choose something that fit my home decor, while my cousin chose something that fit her home decor was one of my favorite things about the AR Workshop. We didn't all have to do the exact same project unless we wanted to.

I opted for the signature family established centerpiece box.


My cousin chose the monogram laurel wreath established plank wood sign. 


We saddled up to our benches to survey our wood, tools and pre-printed custom templates. Then we chose our stain and paint colors. We met Jeanette our table lead, who shared insider tips and helped us through each step of the project. If you are a super savvy with all things wood and power tools, or if you're a total newbie, the ladies at AR Workshop can adjust their instruction to make sure you're feeling confident and empowered to create something totally unique. 


Jeanette showed us how to use different tools and techniques to smooth then destress the wood. Next she guided us through staining, dry brushing and additional distressing with a hand sander. It was an interesting process to get hand-on-experience with. I already have another project at home that I plan to try wood distressing on with my new found knowledge. 


I received one-on-one instruction with the nail gun and was able to overcome my nervousness about using the power tool. My cousin and I laughed, distressed (in a wood-way) and enjoyed our conversation as we created our custom projects. We applied the customized template and technique to ensure that the letters didn't bleed outside of the lines. 


We did a tour around the workshop to see everyone's finished products, check out the Facebook LIVE video here. I was really excited about how my centerpiece box came out, it's going to be the perfect addition to our dining room table, and it's fun to tell people that lil 'ol me made it. 


To schedule your one-of-a-kind workshop experience with AR Workshop you can check out all their workshop locations and projects here. You can follow them on Facebook here and Instagram Pineville here and Instagram Davidson here. 








Sunday, February 5, 2017

Disney Hacks - Strollers

When you #DisneySoHard, your stroller is your royal carriage. After you've pushed the kids for seven miles in the Florida heat it can feel more like you're schlepping around a pumpkin on wheels if you haven't used my #DisneyHacks for selecting and loading your stroller like a #DisneyBoss. Check out my Disney Hacks series here to learn how to make your life easier and how to #HackYourDisneyVacation.


"Lareina, how many more double strollers do you really think we need to try?" questioned my Prince Charming as I scoured the stroller section during our third trip to the baby store, "They're all going to be the same."

"Ha! All the same?!" I retorted "There are double wides, double tandems, sit and stands and even a double tandem that looks like a bunk bed! Our kids need to be able to eat, recline and be comfy - all with good sun coverage. I need to have storage and the ability to hang food bags on it like it's heading up the Alps. I want it to be easy to maneuver through the crowds on a dime. I need to be able to add a third kid if our oldest gets too tired at the end of the night. I need to find the SUPERFECTA of double strollers for our year of Disney visits!"

Prince Charming gave me his somewhat amused "Riiiiight..." look. 

Then, I saw it. It was Epic. Magical. Tears of happiness streamed down my cheek as we loaded all three kids into the BOB Revolution Pro Duallie jogging stroller and maneuvered past the diaper section and around the the high chairs like WHAT - effortlessly! 

I had to pay for the BOB stroller, so this is NOT a paid ad. Nope, it's much more organic than that. I'm seriously #MomCrushing on this stroller, even at home walking through the neighborhood and at the mall. Through the vacation my Prince Charming, sister and my mom fell in love with it too. Especially when my sister was straining to maneuver her double stroller and I gave her that "I told you should have rented/borrowed/bought the BOB Revolution Pro Duallie" look and she shot me back her "Shut your face, ugh, I hate it when you're right" look. #HiveMind


Here is our Daddy sherpa pushing all three kids through Epcot after a long day in the park. 

Loading your stroller is equally as important to a successful day at Disney. You can check out my post about how to pack a #DisneyGrabBag here, and see which essentials I recommend toting to the park. Below I'll show how to load it on your stroller so it's easy to push and not top heavy and tipping. 


What I used on the stroller:
  • 2 mommy hooks
  • 2 16-can Igloo cooler totes
  • Back pack (see how to pack a #DisneyGrabBag blog here)
  • Flashing LED hanger (to help you find your stroller at night or stay together with a group)
  • Blanket (if there are any mornings or evenings that will be chilly)
  • Wipes holder
  • Hanging hand sanitizer
  • Extra carabiners attached with zip ties
  • Velcro mesh stroller bag

I attached the two mommy hooks on the frame of the stroller (not on the handle) under the fabric and pushed them toward the middle to evenly balance the weight on the stroller. 

I looped the cooler tote handles around the mommy hooks twice so they wouldn't hit the wheels. I also attached the velcro mesh stroller bag on the frame too. 

I filled the cooler bag with frozen water and the other with snacks. We either carried the back pack, rested it on the top of the stroller or put it in the triangle area near the front wheel. 



Underneath I used the stroller storage space to put our LED glow items for after dark, our stroller rain cover, our water fan/misters and our ponchos. 


One last thing, strollers can be stolen in Disney. I've yet to meet someone where this has happened, but I had spent a pretty penny on my BOB. I borrowed a Tile, which I attached in a non-viewable location on the stroller frame. This allowed me to GPS locate it from an app on my phone if it was taken (or if it got re-located by the stroller gods of Disney) and it gave me peace of mind. 

Check out my other #DisneyVacationHack blogs..



Have Disney questions? Want more info? Comment on the blog and I'll get back to you! Happy Disney planning! 









Monday, January 30, 2017

DIY Oversized Photo Booth Strip



As a kid growing up in upstate New York one of our favorite things was to go to the local midway during the summer and add to our collection of photo booth strips. I still have many of them spanning several years in a scrap book and get all sorts of nostalgic when I look at them.


I'd wanted to bring this retro part of my childhood into my house and decided to accomplish that by
making oversized photo booth strips as part of my wall decor. I wanted something low-cost, light to hang and easily changeable. To make my photo strips to the scale of the area at the top of my stairs I thought four 11"x14" black and white photos would work best. You could use smaller or larger photos depending on the size of the area you plan to place them.


I started by going to Lowes and buying a 4' x 8' 1/4" birch plywood. I had the folks at Lowes do my cuts for me. See the outline below. I was able to make three photo strips from one piece of the plywood.
Once I had my three 60"x13" cuts I sanded the edges to make sure they were nice and smooth. Then I painted the outer edges black. I used some left over chalk board paint I had, but any cheap black paint (even spray paint) would work. You only have to paint the edges because the photos will cover up the middle. You can paint the whole thing if you want, but I like short cuts.. 

Next I got my kids ready with their funniest smiles and favorite toys and props and took their pictures in front of a curtain. I made sure I took the picture from the same distance each time so that there would be continuity just like in a real photo booth. 

I used this template in Photoshop to create a small black border around each photo created in gray scale. You can use the template I used here for Photoshop, or you can also add the border in most photo ordering software. I purchased my photos from NationsPhotoLab, and right now (2/3/17) their 11"x14" are on sale for $2.10 each. That's the best price I've been able to find for these photos. Free shipping when you spend over $50. 


I mounted the photos on the board using painter's tape and started about 2 inches down from the top. Once I had the photos exactly where I wanted them I noted my measurement so I could re-create it on my other two boards. 

Last I used large picture Command mounting strips (holds up to 16lbs) at the top and bottom of my photo strips. 





Sunday, December 4, 2016

Northlake Mall: Adventure to Santa



'Tis the season to round up the kids for their annual picture with Santa. We were invited for an interactive, exciting new take on Christmas pictures with Santa at the the Northlake Mall in Charlotte, North Carolina. They're hosting Dreamworks 'Adventure to Santa', which is an innovative digital holiday experience for kids of all ages.


It's recommended that you make reservations for your adventure online here to help reduce your wait, and avoid any long Santa-lines.

You'll join Po from Kung Fu Panda and venture with him and his cast of friends on a journey to the North Pole to deliver cookies to Santa. The 'Adventure to Santa' is located near the food court, but on the first floor - the digital village that houses the adventure is quite breath-taking. All sides feature digital screens that show silly holiday scenes with Po and his friends. 


After we made reservations online in advance, we signed in at the front desk and received our passport to the North Pole. We waited outside of the large red doors, the kids bouncing in anticipation of seeing Santa.


The first room introduced Po, who explained our mission. The kids got to play on digital screens and help Po collect points before we moved into the next room for the sleigh portion of the adventure.


Next, we all loaded into a sleigh in front of an IMAX-like screen. Then we were off, there was some rumbling of the sleigh as we sky-rocketed to the North Pole. The older two were grinning from ear to ear, but little bits at 20 months wasn't as keen. My husband was able to stand up with her and then she was fine until we arrived at the North Pole.


The third room allowed our kids to create a printable holiday card by donning Po with custom faces, clothes, accessories and their names. My kids handed each of theirs out to their cousins at a family gathering, and felt very big and important doing so.


The final room was where the man, the myth, the legend - Santa- sat in his North Pole study ready to listen toy hopes and desires. We all sat and took pictures - perhaps little bit's face gives away how she felt about Santa this year - but the older ones just adored this experience.


We had booked the Top Flight Package, and with this package they included one of the coolest things I've seen - a high resolution video of the kid's interactions with Santa that they gave us on a jump drive, as well as the digital images and printed photos.


You can check out the price points and what's included for each package below. I've looked around, and at first glance the prices look a little steep, but if you compare the prices for Adventure to Santa to any other mall Santa package in the Charlotte area, you'll quickly see that you get a much more immersive experience. 


At the end of the visit Santa gifted each of the kids these adorable plates they can set out with cookies for him on Christmas Eve. 


*Mom About Charlotte Disclosure: We were given the Top-Flight Package to facilitate the review, but as always all opinions are my own. I tell all venues/events etc. that I review, that  I only share what I love with my readers.