Tell Your Long Story Short with CROSS Pens

This post was written by guest author, Maureen Wright of RH90 Pens in partnership with CROSS Pens.
Many years ago I was offered an opportunity that was also a challenge – teaching in an adjunct capacity at a local university. Accepting the role meant still doing my full-time job,  and being a wife and mom, while also creating a course and making time to meet with students. Something told me to take the leap. The payoff was enormous, and it wasn’t just about the pay. I had the chance to share what had been shared with me. In the span of a semester I got to watch students mature in both learning and communicating their ideas. I bonded particularly well with the class I taught early one morning, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Our world changed as we discussed the inner workings of microbial cells. It was as though time froze for us, until class ended and we learned what happened.

 

I also had a somewhat frightening encounter, which in retrospect is quite funny. I had a student who sat in the far corner of the back row of the room. And she stared at me, just stared. I don’t recall ever seeing her write a note. Well, over the course of the class I got to know her. That student is now one of my closest friends, and she also now teaches at a university. Our encounter is proof positive that you should never judge a book by its cover.

In taking on the extra responsibility of an adjunct teaching position I had to take a leap, a big leap, and dared myself to do it. I haven’t regretted it for a minute, and have used my experience to talk others through taking their own leaps.

My long story short, ” Be not afraid, just jump.”
Consider encouraging your loved ones with a CROSS Pen this holiday season! It makes the #WriteGift!

Showing Gratitude by Helping to Fight Childhood Cancer with #Duckprints

This post is sponsored by Aflac. I was compensated for writing it, but all opinions are 100% mine.

This Thanksgiving, I found myself reflecting on all of the reasons my heart is full of gratitude. Professionally, I am finally at a place in my career where I can exhale. Socially, my blog turned business has afforded me opportunities I never dreamed possible. Personally, I can’t say enough about my circle of friends, my supportive family and my loving husband. But the thing that tops my gratitude list?  My girls.

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I might sound like a bragging Mom, but my daughters are simply beautiful inside and out. They have accomplished so much and are growing up to be thoughtful and kind human beings. Fortunately, both of my daughters are healthy and have had relatively few and insignificant medical concerns. The recent death of a teen to brain cancer in our Church community has certainly brought to light how fragile life can be and the importance of supporting pediatric cancer research.

I was happy to learn that Aflac has supported the fight against childhood cancer for more than 20 years and is giving individuals across America a way to get involved. This holiday season, count your blessings and make a difference by getting involved with Aflac’s #Duckprints campaign in several different ways:

    1. Download the new Aflac online game, “Build Your Own Balloonicle,” where consumers can create their own Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloonicle, featuring the beloved Aflac Duck. Every game experience shared on social media with #Duckprints will generate a $2 donation toward children’s cancer (up to $1.5 million). screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-9-56-58-pm
    2. You can get involved in the fight against childhood cancer any time of year by simply taking to social media and using the hashtag #Duckprints. For any Duckprints-related social media activity, Aflac will donate $2 to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (up to $1.5 million dollars). Follow the Aflac Duck on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@AflacDuck) or visit aflacduckprints.com.
      1. Tip: When you see the Aflac Balloonicle in the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC on Thursday, November 24th, show some #Duckprints love on Twitter!
    3. This year, Aflac introduced Duckchat, an Aflac app where consumers can get custom Aflac Duck emojis and GIFs. The app can be downloaded on either the Apple iTunes App Store or the Google Play Store. Aflac will also donate $2 (up to $1.5 million) with each download.
    4. Aflac and Macy’s have teamed up to offer a holiday plush of the Aflac Duck. The net proceeds from each plush Holiday Duck sold are donated to the participating children’s cancer facility nearest to where it is purchased. To date, Aflac has raised over $3 million through the Holiday Duck program.

There are many reasons to be thankful this holiday season. Aflac has made it incredibly easy to show gratitude and give back. Share these opportunities with families and friends and let’s help eradicate childhood cancer.

Aflac herein means American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus and American Family Life Assurance Company of New York. Z161288H

Celebrating Friendsgiving with Cascade!

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with Cascade. All opinions remain 100% mine.

I am a lucky girl. In my 42 years, the fact that I have more blessings than I can count on my fingers and toes makes me wonder what I did to deserve it. Somewhere along the way, I learned that it is critical to my happiness to surround myself with people that lift me up, stand by my side, and love me unconditionally. Fortunately, I have a circle of friends that are like no other.

These women are fierce.

Mothers. Wives. Business owners. Scholars. Entrepreneurs. Teachers. Executives. Volunteers. Care-givers. Doctors. Nurses.

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I am beyond humbled that these women choose to be my friend! In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to celebrate our friendship and host a “Friends-giving” dessert party.  In the middle of the Thanksgiving hustle and bustle, I wanted to gift them each one hour to sit, relax and recharge before heading back to prepare for the day ahead.

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Because we are all chocolate lovers, I decided to make a “Molten Chocolate Pudding Cake” and serve with Vanilla Ice Cream. We had a whole hour to indulge our sweet tooth and just catch up with each other and laugh about old times. One word….heaven. There is something about giggling with your besties that recharges your soul, right?

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Thankfully, I didn’t have to spend time on the dishes because I was armed with Cascade Platinum! Did you know that your dishwasher actually works harder for you when you skip the pre-wash? In order to get the most optimum clean and shine, remember to skip the sink and use Cascade Platinum to save time and energy on your dirty dishes.

The dessert I made definitely left a sticky mess on the baking pan and mixing bowls. But, Cascade Platinum ActionPacs provide 3X more film-fighting power to clean through stuck-on food in one wash, making it the best clean you can get. Sounds too good to be true, right? My guests were definitely skeptical.

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After teaching them the correct way to load a dishwasher (we even taught the kids!), we simply inserted one Cascade Platinum ActionPac and let the magic happen. To all of our amazement, the dishes came out SPOTLESS with absolutely NO pre-rinsing. Thanks Cascade Platinum for giving me back valuable time to spend with my amazing circle of friends!

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Want to try it for yourself? Print this $0.50 off Cascade Platinum coupon to save on the best clean you can imagine! Plus, enter below for a chance to win a year supply to Cascade Dishwasher Cleaner and cascade Platinum samples (five winners will be randomly chosen)!

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Fight Fear of Registry Regret with these Baby Essentials

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with the Pampers Baby Board. All opinions remain 100% mine.

Before I was pregnant, I would drive by Babies R Us and stare longingly into the windows dreaming of the day that it would be my turn to create the perfect baby registry to welcome our new bundle of joy. When that day finally came, I grabbed the scanner and was ready to start selecting items I knew were absolutely essential to my parenting success. You know, just the bare necessities, like adorable pink headbands and paisley patterned pacifiers, of course.

Just a few days after baby was born, I began to realize that I was grossly unprepared.  I needed a breast pump, diaper rash cream, milk storage bottles and DIAPERS!  All of the unglamorous items were mysteriously missing from my beautifully decorated nursery. According to a survey conducted by Pampers, I was not alone. In fact, over half of Moms have regrets about their baby registry and 90% of Moms wish they included more diapers on the list.

Baby Registry Pro Tips

Pampers also found that 56% of Moms felt that the baby registry experience was more overwhelming than they expected, and I could not agree more. Due to my own experience, I wanted to help out a first time expecting Mom as she begins thinking about her registry to offer advice and a special surprise gift! Check out the items we found during a recent trip to Babies R Us that, as an experienced Mom, I would recommend as registry essentials.

To help you with your own baby registry experience, I am offering one lucky winner a Pampers Registry Kit including a Pampers Registry Checklist, a baby planner, a stress ball, a book to read to baby, diapers, wipes, and coupons! Enter below:

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Reliving Soft Summer Memories with Scotties

SUMMER. The word itself brings a smile to your face. No school, no homework, a lighter schedule, sleeping in, and spending much needed time with your family. When I was asked by Scotties Tissues to share some of my great summer memories, I knew I’d have no shortage of things to share with you!

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 7.52.26 PMIn South Louisiana, Summer is all about staying cool. With the heat index often 100 or above and high humidity, it’s a necessity! Every summer, all anyone can talk about is the heat! We hit the beach this summer and it was a great trip that helped provide some much needed rest and relaxation. The kids enjoyed swimming, burying each other in the sand, and riding the waves. We also spent the day at the water park and spent an afternoon tunneling down slides and riding along the lazy river. Back at home, we stay cool by visiting my in-laws and enjoying their backyard pool.

This summer, we had the added bonus of our new puppy Mollie along for a visit and she couldn’t wait to get in with the kids! I think we had more fun watching her than we did swimming. If I’m being brutally honest, my favorite thing about summer isn’t swimming, sleeping in, or taking a break from the rat race. It’s SNOWBALLS. I don’t mean snow like you ski on. I mean the most delicious concoction you’ve ever put in your mouth, and no one does them better than New Orleans. Don’t dare call it a snow cone. It’s not the same, and not even close. The ice is shaved and fluffy, the syrup is smooth and sweet, and the condensed milk sends you into calorie overload. Best. Summer. Treat. Ever.

With all of these fun things on the summer schedule also comes summer mess. Sticky hands, sweaty faces, you name it. My summer mantra is be prepared to clean up at any time. For those times, I rely on Scotties Tissues (available on Amazon) to help us while we’re on the run. When summer is over, my Scotties Tissues may also help me dry my tears when it’s time to head back to school!

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Scotties Tissues wants to help sweeten your summer memories by sending one of our lucky readers a $25 Amazon Gift Card and a Scotties Tissue Care Pack! Enter below for a chance to win:

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Heating Up Dinner Without Heating Up the House #SeetheLite

This review and giveaway was made possible by iConnect Influencer Management and Litehouse Foods. I was compensated for my participation in this campaign, but all opinions are 100% mine.

With the heat here in New Orleans hitting 97 degrees, we have been getting quite creative with ways to stay cool. A dip in the pool, a mister fan in the backyard, a delicious sno-ball for dessert and absolutely NO turning on the oven mid-day.

While the heat has not stopped our summertime picnics, finding recipes to feed the masses without heating the house has been a challenge. Not to mention, I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is outside enjoying the pool. Thankfully, my household has finally seen the light this July thanks to Litehouse Foods.

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I had the opportunity to try the Litehouse Foods Homestyle Ranch dressing over the 4th of July holiday, and this creamy ingredient helped me infuse big flavor with minimal time in the kitchen. All of our guests loved the Southwestern Pasta Salad but more importantly, my girls are eating better with a dressing that stays fresh from the refrigerator section.

What You Need:

  • 1/2 cup Litehouse Foods Homestyle Ranch Dressing
  • 1 chopped red pepper
  • 1 cup fresh corn
  • 1 cup fresh salsa
  • 1 package of pasta
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, cubed

How to Make It:

  • Prepare pasta per package instructions.
  • Cool pasta and add pepper, corn, salsa, cheese and ranch dressing.
  • Combine together and cool for one hour.

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Want to try it? Enter my giveaway for two FREE Litehouse Foods coupons below and if you make it, let me know how much you loved it! Enjoy!

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Girls Night Out at SoBou New Orleans

This post was written by the Experimental Mommy in partnership with SoBou in New Orleans. All opinions remain 100% my own.

Earlier this week, I was smack in the middle of the chaos of hosting my own blog conference. For those of you that have ever planned a live event, wedding, conference or birthday party, you know how overwhelming and downright stressful they can be. Fortunately, I run this conference with some of my very best friends so when the event is over, I look forward to regrouping with the team and enjoying just being together.

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This year, we had the opportunity to do just that at a much needed team dinner at SoBou in New Orleans. As you can imagine, New Orleans has no shortage of restaurants but SoBou has been on my bucket list for a while now.  As any good New Orleanian knows, any establishment created by the Commander’s Family of Restaurants has to be top notch.

As we developed the SoBou concept, cocktails and the warmth of a saloon or tavern environment were very much on our mind, but our saloon had to have serious food – dishes you find yourself craving. For us, the food is always center stage, but stage right are the cocktails and stage left is the wine.

SoBou definitely grabs major points for ambiance. We were seated in The Apothecary and I was instantly entranced by the wall of glass bottles. The decor, while feeling upscale, is welcoming and not intimidating in the least.

Our waitress could not have been more attentive and personable (and patient). She led us through the menu, suggested her favorite dishes and offered her expertise on the wide array of cocktails. What I loved about the SoBou menu is that it offers a “Small Bites” section which goes way beyond the typical saloon appetizer. While the bites may be small, the flavor is certainly big. Can you say Sweet Potato Beignets? These menu items are perfect if you want to have a few cocktails and try a wide variety of flavors.

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Moving from the small bites, our table chose a few different dishes from the “Big Bites” section but I will admit that Ellen’s Chili Brined Pork Tenderloin looked absolutely amazing. But if your party is super hungry, SoBou also offers Family Style meals to pass around the table, too!

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Between the drinks, appetizers, entrees and dessert (we had the Bananas Foster on the Half Shell), we dined in SoBou for almost three hours. But it was honestly the shortest three hours of my life because they were filled with laughter, delicious food and impeccable service.  If you are looking for not only a meal, but an experience, head to SoBou in New Orleans!

Seeing SeaWorld: A Whole New Light

This post was written by Jennifer of Experimental Mommy in partnership with The MOMS and SeaWorld.Travel expenses were provided however all opinions remain 100% mine.

After a long but fun day at Discovery Cove, the next morning we were up early for a full day at SeaWorld. I was extremely thankful for both the Starbucks in the SpringHill Suites lobby and for the news that I would not have to put a wetsuit on again. We started off with breakfast in SeaWorld at Sharks Underwater Grill. It was truly incredible to watch as sharks, rays, and other beautiful fish swam by while we ate. The breakfast was delicious and it was a meaningful experience to be able to watch the ocean life interact in the huge, panoramic aquarium while we heard more about the efforts at SeaWorld to advocate for them.

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After breakfast, we moved on to our behind the scenes Rescue and Rehab tour to learn how the efforts from people at SeaWorld have helped save nearly 28,000 animals and counting. We saw manatees, turtles, and dolphins that have been rescued and are being cared for because they would no longer be able to survive in the wild due to their injuries. We learned that the top problems affecting the manatees that SeaWorld saves are boat strikes, cold stress, entanglement in fishing lines or nets, and orphaned calves. With the use of animal ambulances (which look surprisingly similar to human ambulances, but on a bigger scale), SeaWorld Rescue Teams have been able to save manatees among other animals and continue to care for them until they can be re-released if possible.

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Because of the efforts of those at SeaWorld, many of these animals go on to live happy lives and continue to get excellent care. In addition to the care happening behind the scenes, world-renowned marine artist and conservationist Guy Harvey has recognized the hard work and dedication of SeaWorld and has partnered with them to raise awareness about the plight of sharks in the wild and the health of our oceans. Research shows that more than 100 million sharks are killed every year in the global shark fishery due to practices such as shark finning. In addition to science and research efforts, Guy Harvey and SeaWorld will also work together to increase public awareness about ocean health and the need for shark conservation.  SeaWorld’s new roller coaster, Mako, will help to enhance this effort and raise awareness. During the course of our visit, I was lucky enough to meet so many amazing SeaWorld employees from every facet of involvement, and one thing was constant: their genuine love and concern for these animals.

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Following our tour, we had just a few hours of free time before we had to start our trip back home, but we used them well. While I would have been first in line to ride Mako, my daughter couldn’t talk herself into it, so we squeezed in a few other attractions like Wild Arctic, Journey to Atlantis, Antarctica, and Empire of the Penguin (which was our favorite for different reasons). My daughter loved it because you finished the ride face to face with the cutest crowd of penguins you’ve ever seen. I loved it because it was 32 degrees in the attraction as opposed to ten billion degrees outside. Both equally valid reasons!

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We were so sad to leave Orlando but truly feel like our time there was a gift. As I’ve told many friends since returning, if you are heading there just to see a certain mouse, you are missing out for sure. There is so much to do, learn, and see at SeaWorld and Discovery Cove, and knowing how hard everyone is working behind the scenes gives me an even bigger appreciation for the activities and entertainment available there. I encourage all of our readers to learn more through SeaWorld Cares and start planning your trip to Orlando. I know you’ll love it as much as we did!

Discovering Discovery Cove and Rising Tide Conservation

This post was written by Jennifer of Experimental Mommy in partnership with The Moms, Sea World and Discovery Cove. Travel expenses were provided. All opinions remain 100% mine.

I have decided Orlando, Florida is my happy place. It’s always warm and sunny, the people are friendly, and there is always something to do. It is also the site of our famous stay in the Cinderella Castle a few years ago, and I truly thought that could never be topped, until now.

I am ashamed to say that I have visited Orlando no less than a dozen times and never visited the hidden gems of SeaWorld and Discovery Cove. So, when my daughter and I were asked to attend The MOMS and SeaWorld’s “Word of Mom” Weekend I jumped at the chance. I thought we’d simply have fun, see some sights, and enjoy ourselves. Little did I know, we would leave having learned lessons that will stick with us for a lifetime.

After a quick (and early) flight we got all checked in to the SpringHill Suites and rested a bit before heading to Discovery Cove to start getting acquainted with our expert panel accompanying us for the weekend. Although I was familiar enough with SeaWorld, I never knew Discovery Cove existed so we were anxious to see what it was all about. Y’all…it’s gorgeous…white sandy beaches, beautiful landscaping, and complete relaxation. Visitors truly feel like they are on a tropical island. The best part about Discovery Cove is that it’s all-inclusive. Anything you can think of is there for you: towels, animal safe sunscreen, snorkels, masks, lockers, wetsuits and swim vests are all included, in addition to life jackets should you need one.

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Which leads me to….THE WETSUIT. Confession: I hate to be in cold water. I can stay in my bathtub for hours (and sometimes do, let’s be honest) but won’t spend ten minutes in a pool if it’s even slightly chilly. So, I opted for the wetsuit in the hopes of staying warmer. The very sweet attendant handing them out tells me, “Here you go. It should feel tight, like a sausage.” Yeah. He wasn’t kidding. Think industrial-strength Spanx for your whole body. But I squeezed in, channeled my inner Jimmy Dean, and off we went. After all, black is slimming, right?

We were led to The Grand Reef where we heard about the efforts of Rising Tide Conservation. Started by SeaWorld, Rising Tide Conservation promotes efforts to breed and raise marine tropical fish in aquaculture facilities in lieu of collecting them in the wild. The mission of Rising Tide is to protect coral reefs and promoting sustainable aquaculture. Coral reefs face continually growing threats, including ocean acidification, warming ocean temperatures, coral bleaching, pollution, and over-exploitation. All of these threats cause harm to the delicate balance of the reef and can potentially destroy them. With the recent release of movies like Finding Dory, there will surely be an uptick in families looking to acquire a “Dory” (blue tang) for their home just like the trend in clownfish after the release of Finding Nemo. About 98% of marine aquarium fish are harvested from the wild because reliable protocols for the aquaculture of marine fish have not been developed and shared throughout the industry. Rising Tide is hoping to change that. A recent exciting achievement was celebrated in October of 2015 with the announcement of a breakthrough in yellow tang breeding. This was due, in part, to the efforts of Rising Tide Conservation and Discovery Cove. Fish eggs that otherwise wouldn’t hatch are collected and sent to partner laboratories in the program to be used for breeding research. In addition, the park purchases fish that have been raised by these efforts rather than collect them from natural reefs.

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To that effort, our mission in The Grand Reef was egg collection. Thousands of fish make their home in The Grand Reef, including angelfish, butterflyfish, wrasses, tangs, hogfish, and filefish. The Grand Reef is also home to some of the most beautiful (and friendliest) stingrays I’ve ever seen. Egg collection was easy, and simply involved swimming out and placing nets over the filters. It was just a small piece of the puzzle, but my daughter felt good knowing she had contributed to something that was essentially going to do a lot of good. After the egg collection, we spent some time just taking in the beauty of the reef. It was indescribable…colorful fish everywhere you looked, and my daughter was brave enough to pet a few stingrays too.

After a good night’s sleep we got up early and headed out to learn more about how to help the efforts of Rising Tide Conservation. While my daughter enjoyed meeting a sloth and some other furry creatures (including one that licked her in the ear), I got to hear our panel of experts tell us more about how simple changes can help the amazing efforts of Rising Tide. Here are some suggestions:

  • Visit your local accredited zoo or aquarium. Ask about their conservation work and educate your family.
  • Support conservation programs like Discovery Cove’s Rising Tide.
  • If you are looking to start a home aquarium, remember a few tips:
    • Research the fish you are interested in caring for and how they interact with other fish.
    • Opt for an aquacultured fish first, instead of one collected from the reefs.
    • Saltwater aquariums can be tricky for beginners, so consider a freshwater aquarium instead.
    • For the well-being of your fish and other wildlife and their habitats, never release fish into the wild.
  • Take part in activities like Discovery Cove’s SeaVenture program – guests who participate in the SeaVenture program at Discovery Cove also directly help support Rising Tide Conservation, as the park donates five percent of every program purchased.

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Once our panel concluded it was time to head back to Discovery Cove. I, for one, couldn’t wait to put a wetsuit back on (kidding) but what we really couldn’t wait for was our chance to swim with dolphins. Our group won the dolphin Lotto and were treated to some time with Reef, a one-year-old bottlenose dolphin who is seriously the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, besides myself in that wetsuit of course. Our dolphin trainer Kelly was so knowledgeable and helpful while she taught us all about Reef and her life at Discovery Cove. After getting acquainted with Reef (my daughter says she felt like a “freshly shaved leg” and I almost died laughing) we got the chance to give her some smooches and see how smart she really is. At Discovery Cove, Reef has 24 hour vet care available, eats restaurant-grade sushi, and receives lots of love and attention from her competent trainers. My daughter and I had the best time learning about these amazing creatures and how intelligent they are. As a result of the experience, my daughter changed her future career path from veterinarian to marine biologist. I was extremely grateful for both this incredible opportunity and for all the knowledge we both gained from the experience.

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The rest of our day was spent exploring Discovery Cove and all it has to offer. We swam face to face with sharks (don’t worry, they were behind glass), fed all varieties of birds (one thanked me profusely by pooping on my phone), observed otters that were the cutest things ever (and pouted when we couldn’t bring one home), and soaked up the sun on the pristine beaches. Your entry fee to Discovery Cove also includes breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks throughout the day and I am here to tell you we enjoyed every bite. One of the best parts about Discovery Cove is the limited number of guests per day, making it smooth and easy rather than crowded and stressful.

After a fun day, we headed back to SpringHill Suites and enjoyed a quiet night going through all of the photos captured by the Discovery Cove photographers on PhotoKey. Seeing all the pictures of our dolphin experience was awesome, and we were able to share them with family and friends who were excited to hear all about our day at Discovery Cove. It was truly a day we will never forget.

COMING SOON: Our day at SeaWorld!

 

Learning to Love Veggies with Litehouse Foods #SeetheLite

Litehouse Foods is an iConnect: Influencer Management client.

I don’t typically eat vegetables. Well, not willingly anyway. So when I was invited to Philadelphia last week to learn how to lighten recipes for the July 4th weekend with Litehouse Foods, I was excited that their yummy dressing would be involved. Because frankly, I knew the veggies were coming.

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Knowing a food demo would be given by a registered dietician, I was correct in assuming our good ol’ green friends would be key to the menu. But much to my surprise, the cauliflower buffalo bites demonstrated looked nothing like a vegetable!

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If you’re still with me-I could easily pretended to be a veggie-lover so how about some props for honesty?–and I can’t get past the fact than my favorite veggie is now considered a starch (freakin’ corn) then check this out. Litehouse Foods has an entire recipe section on their website for “buffalo” foods that pair nicely with Litehouse Blue Cheese dressing.

AND I ate (and enjoyed) kale salad at the dinner. Perhaps there is still hope for me yet?

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I also learned that Litehouse Foods dressings can be found in the refrigerator section where “it belongs.” I tried both their Blue Cheese and Ranch dressings and later discovered why they were so good. One word. Buttermilk!

The event was a great way to catch up with new bloggers and meet with representatives from the brand which is always a pleasure. While the company is owned now by employees, Litehouse Food began as a family-owned business in Idaho. I love a brand with roots that makes it obvious the product is a quality one that is created with love.

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Thank you Litehouse Foods for the opportunity to learn about your dressings and for allowing me to spread the word. And for having cookie dough desserts on the menu.

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Guest post by Cecelia Mecca. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @CeceliaMecca.