SkinnyPop Rocks!

I know that by now almost everyone has heard of SkinnyPop, creator of the all natural 39 calorie a cup popcorn, but something my husband recently told me made me realize I must share this wonderful product with everyone I know, especially during this time of the year when everyone is looking to get in shape and eat healthier. I am not a huge popcorn lover, I usually only have it when we go to the movies. But about 6 months ago, I was looking for a new healthier snack to munch on, and I came across SkinnyPop in the super market.  Can I tell you that I was a bit skeptic at first, thinking it would taste flavorless and overly dry, as with most “light” snacks. Especially with bagged popcorn which can taste stale or be chewy.  Boy was I wrong.  As the company says “guilt-free snacking never tasted this delicious.”  SkinnyPop is without a doubt the best tasting popcorn on the market. With four varieties to choose from, Original, Black Pepper, Ultra Light White Cheddar, and Sweet, SkinnyPop has a flavor to appeal to nearly everyone (my favorite is actually the Original).

Four delicious flavors to choose from!

Four delicious flavors to choose from!

Most people would think SkinnyPop is either loaded with artificial flavors, sweeteners, or salt but that is not the case. SkinnyPop contains no artificial flavors, no artificial colors, no preservatives, is gluten-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, Non GMO verified, dairy-free (even the Cheddar flavor) and made in a facility that is completely nut, egg, and dairy-free. They only use 3 ingredients: premium popcorn kernels, sunflower oil and the perfect amount of salt.  Nothing else necessary!

Photo courtesy of SkinnyPop.com

Photo courtesy of SkinnyPop.com

Now on to my hubby’s comment.  A few nights after having watched the new Star Wars movie, we were at home munching on SkinnyPop and he told me that he actually preferred SkinnyPop over the heavy tasting popcorn sold at the movies.  He even suggested that I blog about it!! Now I have felt that way for a while (I had even thought of sneaking some in my purse to eat during the movie), but I never expected to hear that from him. I think it’s similar to my Diet Coke addiction, where I can never drink real Coke again, because I find it way too sugary.

So, if you have not tried it yet, SkinnyPop is sold nationwide at most grocery and health food stores.  To find a store near you, use the locator service on the SkinnyPop website at www.skinnypop.com. Oh and some of the flavors are also available in 6-pack 100 calorie bags, perfect for lunch bags too.

Skinny Pack contains 100-calorie snack size bags.

Skinny Pack contains 100-calorie snack size bags.

Have you ever tried SkinnyPop?  I’d love to hear what you think?

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Dazzling Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, or as it is known, the “Pearl of the Adriatic” is simply breathtaking, and according to playwright George Bernard Shaw “Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik”. I agree with him. While I have had the pleasure of visiting magnificent places along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the French Riviera, and the Greek Islands, Dubrovnik was simply a place that was still on my bucket list, and I just had to check it off.  After seeing so many glorious photos of this sleepy, medieval town (a UNESCO Heritage site since 1979), I just knew a visit to Croatia was a necessity.  Luckily I was blessed with the opportunity of visiting Dubrovnik recently and it certainly lived up to its reputation, how could it not…beaches, cliff diving, ancient medieval town, beautiful terracotta roof tiles, great food, fantastic nightlife and add a bit of romance. And one of the things I also really enjoyed about this place was that even though we visited during the peak of the summer in August and yes, there were hundreds of tourists everywhere….I could still feel the difference, it’s not quite as spoiled as some of the other destinations like Venice or Mykonos, which was pleasantly surprising.  Entering the city through Pile Gate, there’s still the feeling that not too much has changed.

Beautiful Dubrovnik!

Beautiful Dubrovnik.

More beautiful Dubrovnik!

More beautiful views…

But first I must brag a bit about our hotel, the Hilton Imperial…wow!  Since I am all about the views on my trips, I had researched that certain properties in Dubrovnik offered amazing views of the old town and city walls. After looking into a few, we decided on the Hilton and splurged on a suite which guaranteed the coveted Old Town views, and it did not disappoint…here is what we saw while peeking out our windows:

View out of our suite window.

View out of our suite window.

More views from our room...

More views from our room…

Hilton Imperial Hotel

Hilton Imperial Hotel

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View of our hotel from the city walls (that’s how close we were).

In addition to the views, the hotel offered a delicious buffet breakfast and a number of different amenities, along with a fantastic location just a few steps away from the historic entrance at Pile Gate. There are also plenty of buses and taxis available right outside the hotel, making it easy to get round town and to the nearby beaches.

Dubrovnik’s picturesque city wall surrounds this gorgeous city perched above the Adriatic Sea. Tourists flock here to parade down the old town’s shiny streets, which again, in the height of the summer, can get quite crowded.  But in my opinion, walking the city walls, cannot be missed.  While walking the full perimeter atop the old city walls, (and no, you don’t have to walk the entire perimeter), you will be rewarded with the most amazing views.  Perched up above all the orange rooftops and church spires, you can circle the city and gaze down on it while you take in the ocean and surrounding islands.

The steep stair you must climb to go up to the city walls.

The steep stairs you must climb to go up to the city walls.

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Onofrio Fountain, one of Dubrovnik’s most famous landmarks.

Crowds of tourists walking through the main street of the old city.

Crowds of tourists walking through the main street of the old city.

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The views from the walls.

More beautiful views…

For a fantastic panoramic view of this walled city, take the funicular up Mount Srd to the Napoleonic Fort Imperial, which overlooks the entire city. Scrub surfaced Mount Srd, stands 400 meters above Dubrovnik. It can be also be reached by car (15 minutes) or on foot (90 minutes walk). If you decide to visit the mountain, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best views over the city.

Taking the funicular up ...

Taking the funicular up …

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The views of the old town are amazing!

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Our daughter enjoying the views on the way back down.

As with most popular European cities, Dubrovnik has its fair share of traditional tacky tourist shops, as my husband likes to call them, along the main drag but don’t be discouraged.  You can also find some places  selling beautiful embroidered tablecloths and linen, Dalmatian wines, spirits (known as rajika), and delicious preserves and dried fruit, all beautifully packaged.  Oh and the old city is a pedestrian zone, so you don’t have to worry about traffic as you wander through the marble-paved streets.

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Some of the beautiful linens sold in some shops, all embroidered by hand.

Beautiful linens sold at Bačan Handmade Products, Prijeko 6

Beautiful linens sold at Bačan Handmade Products, located at Prijeko 6

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Sugar coated lemon and orange peels are sold in certain shops, and packaged in cute souvenir bags.

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My daughter loved these pretty ceramic figurines.

And of course in the 100 degree weather we were experiencing, a long day at the beach accompanied by a sunset cruise, is a must. We chose to visit Banje Beach, because of its location, with beautiful views of the walls of the old town and Lokrum Island which is nearby.  I will say, as much as I enjoyed the beach with the crystal clear, cool water, I wish I would have brought some water shoes, as the beaches here are full of large stones and pebbles and by the time we left our feet were hurting quite a bit.  There is a 2-hour sunset cruise along the Dubrovnik coast where you’ll need your camera to capture the most glorious sunsets while in your own private boat. See the city walls from the sea as well as various reefs, the lighthouse and Lokrum Island. In addition to this cruise, there are many other boat excursions leaving from the harbor, also offering terrific views of the coast.

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Famous Banje Beach with views of the old town in the background.

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Hubby and daughter enjoying the crystal clear and cool water…

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Getting ready to board the submarine ride…

Here we go...

Here we go…

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Views from the sub…

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More views…

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View of Banje Beach from the sub.

While there are many good restaurants in town to choose from (although for the more popular ones make sure you have reservations), fresh yummy seafood can be had almost anywhere.  Take a look at this, right by the harbor:

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Ready for a late lunch!

Fried sardines.

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Fried calamari

And last but not least Dubrovnik is home to several locations used in filming the hit TV show Game of Thrones, which I know nothing about (gasp).  Take a three-hour tour around the Dubrovnik old town to see where most of the filming took place. Upgrading your tour will include an extra one and a half hour trip to Trsteno Arboretum.

Here are a few more photos of our trip for your enjoyment.

Rooftops of Dubrovnik

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Near Pile Gate entrance.

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One of the many side street cafes.

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The famous Clock Tower.

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St. Blaise with its monumental stairway at center, and the Gothic column of Roland right in front.

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The beautiful Venetian looking Sponza Palace.

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Having some of the best pizza at Domenica Pizzeria…yum!

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Enjoying some crepes and gelato at Dubrovka Cafe, which also offers amazing views.

Have you visited dazzling Dubrovnik?  I would love to hear what you enjoyed most…

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Happy 2016!

As I am writing my 100th post on the last day of 2015, I thought it would be a good time to share some inspirational quotes for 2016, which I just know will be a refreshing and fantastic new year!  Here we go:

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eleanorroosevelt143006

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And for all of us wanting to get healthy this year, here’s one to remember:

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What are some of your favorite quotes?  I’d love to hear…

Happy New Year!

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Turrónes at Christmastime

As a Cuban-American, every year my family and I look forward to Noche Buena, Christmas Eve.  I have the best memories of Noche Buena growing up. While I love my American traditions, there are things that are unique to my Cuban culture, of which I am very proud of.  You see, many Latin families make a bigger deal sometimes about Noche Buena than Christmas Day. On Noche Buena, we gather our huge families, while enjoying our traditional recipes and celebrate the holiday. However, we never want to overlook the importance of Christmas Day, so of course we meet again on the 25th after attending mass, to open gifts, celebrate the birth of Jesus and of course, eat the leftovers from the previous evening. Noche Buena meals consist of some very important staples, such as, lechon asado (roast pork), rice and beans, yuca and fried plantains. After dinner, we all drink my aunt’s Creme de Vie, a sweet Cuban version of egg nog, (I would give you the recipe but then I would have to kill you…as our family’s recipe has a secret ingredient that I have not seen in any other recipe I have come across. But here’s a similar one). And last but certainly not least, comes dessert, where some eat flan, but most eat turrónes (Pronounced TOO-RON-EHS).  What are turrónes you say? Turrón is a nougat confection, typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts, and usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake. Growing up I remember the simple ones made of almonds, nuts and egg yolk (my hubby’s favorite, yema), but nowadays there are many more varieties, from chocolate coated to fruit filled.

My turron selections on Christmas Eve

My turrón selections on Christmas Eve, accompanied by cheese and guava paste slices.

Guava paste slices, cheese and a selection of turrónes, all musts for a Cuban Christmas.

Here are my family’s favorite turrónes for the holidays!

Some of our favorites.

Some of our favorites.

Have you ever tried turrón? If you have, I would love to know which one you liked most…

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Before the Storm…

I have not done a book review in a while, as the Fall season has been quite busy with a lot going on. However, with the holidays upon us, it’s always good to take a break and re-energize before the craziness of holiday shopping and parties begin. I have blogged about Diane Chamberlain before, as I love all of her books, so here I go again (click here for the review of my favorite book of hers).  Some of her books are part of a series or trilogy, as are the two that I am reviewing today, Before the Storm and Secrets She Left Behind.  Once again, I do suggest you read them in order, as it always makes it easier to follow the story line. I simply could not wait to read the sequel to see how the story unfolds, and trust me, you will be just as anxious!

Photo Courtesy of Diane Chamberlain Books.

Photos Courtesy of Diane Chamberlain.

Before the Storm (Synopsis)
Fifteen-year-old Andy Lockwood is special. Others notice the way he blurts out anything that comes into his mind, how he cannot foresee consequences, that he’s more child than teenager. But his mother sees a boy with a heart as open and wide as the ocean. Laurel Lockwood lost her son once through neglect. She’s spent the rest of her life determined to make up for her mistakes, and she’s succeeded in becoming a committed, protective parent—maybe even over-protective. Still, she loosens her grip just enough to let Andy attend a local church social—a decision that terrifies and infuriates her when the church is consumed by fire. But Andy survives…and remarkably, saves other children from the flames. Laurel watches as Andy basks in the role of unlikely hero and the world finally sees her Andy, the sweet boy she knows as well as her own heart. But when the suspicion of arson is cast upon Andy, Laurel must ask herself how well she really knows her son…and how far she’ll go to keep her promise to protect him forever.

Secrets She Left Behind (Synopsis)
One afternoon, single mother Sara Weston says that she’s going to the store—and never returns. In her absence, she leaves her teenaged son alone with his damaged past and a legacy of secrets. Keith Weston nearly lost his life in an act of arson. He survived—but with devastating physical and emotional scars. Without his mother, he has no one to help him heal, no money, nothing to live for but the medications that numb his pain. Isolated and angry, his hatred has one tight focus: his half-sister, Maggie Lockwood. Now the person Keith despises most is the closest thing he has to family—until Sara returns. If Sara returns. . .

So, I hope I have peaked your interest in these terrific mysteries.  Now just pick up a copy of these books, or download them to your e-reader, and enjoy a great read!

Have you ever read a novel by Diane Chamberlain?  If you have, I’d love to hear which was your favorite.My Signature

Great Gifts for One-Year Olds

My baby niece and goddaughter just turned one a few weeks ago…wow, time sure does fly! She is of course super adorable and I wanted to make sure I got her some cute, age appropriate gifts for her birthday.  It’s so hard to pick and choose, because there are so many cool toys out there, however, they are not always good for babies. After some research and remembering some of my daughter’s favorites when she was a tiny tot, I narrowed my list down to these top picks (just in time for Christmas too!):

  1. Princess Cozy Coupe 30th Anniversary Edition by Little Tikes  $55; sold at various places like ToyRUs, Target, Walmart or the Little Tikes website.  This adorable ride along is also available in various other colors as well.  The website says it’s for 18 months-5 years, but my niece is very tall for her age, so I included this item on my list because I think many one year olds could use it with the correct supervision.
  2. Baby Stella Brunette Soft Nurturing First Baby Doll by Manhattan Toy $27; Amazon.com. This first nurturing baby doll is ultra-soft, has cute, embroidered toes and belly button, and loves to cuddle.  Dressed in a soft onesie that is easy to change, with a removable cloth diaper and pacifier that attaches magnetically, it inspires creative role play for a young child.
  3. My First Purse Playset by Gund $12; geniusbabies.com.  My first purse, makes a precious gift, for little girls who love to play dress-up just like Mommy. My daughter had this toy and absolutely loved it when she was little. It was one of her favorite things to play with.
  4. Walk-A-Long Puppy by Hape $23; Amazon.com. This adorable puppy is ready for playtime, encourages coordination skills, balance, and active play. Toddlers will love taking this silly pup on walks. Non-toxic finishes and child safe materials.
  5. Anywhere Chair by Pottery Barn Kids $100; potterybarnkids.com.  These cozy and comfy chairs come in a variety of slipcovers both for boys and girls and can be personalized or monogrammed.  Also, the chairs are lightweight and have a handle for easy toting from room to room. Oh and machine-washable slipcovers zip off for cleaning. My daughter had a few of these in her playroom when she was young and she loved them.  Another nice chair of this type is the Nod Chair, offered by the Land of Nod.
  6. Caterpillar Spiller by Munchkin $6; fatbraintoys.com.  These Caterpillar Spillers are seven cups that link like a caterpillar, stack like a pillar and pour like a spiller. So much fun they’re sure to be a thriller! All toddlers love these types of stackable toys!
  7. Push N Go Car by Tomy $12; fatbraintoys.com. Speed off into sensory learning with a bulky red car and smooth-rolling wheels. Push down on the cool driver dude’s head, release, and ZOOM! The car goes speeding fast on gripping rubber tires! Bright brilliant colors excite the eyes while smooth contours and sleek stylings get the senses exploring. Encourages gross motor skills, cause-and-effect learning and imaginative play. All kids love toys that move.
  8. Wonder Walker by Hape $90; fatbraintoys.com. Little ones find confidence. Babies happily stand. Toddlers learn to walk. Appropriately named, the Wonder Walker is top-notch excitement on wheels. Set back wheels are steady and strong as your baby pulls themselves up to stand. Solid wooden construction, this rolling masterpiece is built for generations of developmental learning. As if pushing and pulling wasn’t enough, the Wonder Walker is decked out in stimulating hands-on fun. A wooden peg maze is such a delight to operate. Move the tree, house and car up and down the spiral path. Great toy for both boys and girls!
  9. King of the Shape Sorters Toy by Kiddopotamus $25; Amazon.com. Shape sorters are always a big hit with the little ones and this one is no exception with its large shapes that are easy for baby to hold and fit into the shape sorter and large reusable bowl that can be repurposed for many other fun ideas.  And of course the squeaker nose and cute lion face are adorable.
  10. Chunky Wooden Puzzles by Green Start $15; fatbraintoys.com. Perfectly darling puzzles for teaching early skills.  Puzzles are fantastic for targeting developmental skills.  These are bright and colorful and come in 5 darling selections – Silly Squares, Circle Garden, Swish Fish, Big & Little, Shape Parade.  My daughter definitely went through her puzzle stage and loved working on puzzles through the age of 5! I highly recommend these.

I hope my list facilitates your toddler toy shopping whether for birthdays or holidays. What are some of your favorite toddler toys?  I’d love to hear…

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Frames for Fall

My daughter recently mentioned that her eyeglasses (which she only uses for emergencies as she’s a daily contact wearer) are old, too small for her face, in need of an updated prescription and asked if she could possibly get a new pair. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that almost all of the girls in her school are wearing these very “cool” eyeglasses, even the ones that have perfect vision. In her defense, we have not updated her glasses in over 2 years (gasp). So when Warby Parker asked me to help announce their newest Fall collection, I thought it would be a great time to explore these new eyeglass trends that I am constantly hearing about and possibly help my daughter select a new frame. In case you are not familiar with the brand, here’s a little background on them, as stated on their website:

Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. They believe that buying glasses should be easy and fun. It should leave you happy and good-looking, with money in your pocket.

To celebrate Fall (my daughter’s favorite season), Warby Parker has introduced a new selection of glasses that are rich in color and unique in design to reflect the gorgeous colors of Fall. Living in Miami, we unfortunately do not get to enjoy a lot of the Fall activities such as, apple picking, or hayrides, so I figured she could at least enjoy some Fall fashion accessories, and why not a new pair of glasses?  Take a look at a few of the frames from the Fall collection:

Warby Parker Fall 2015 Collection

Warby Parker Fall 2015 Collection

As many of us know (and have encountered), finding the right frame for your face shape is not always an easy task. That’s why one of the things I really liked about Warby Parker is their amazing Home Try-On Program where you can select 5 styles to try, over a 5 day period absolutely free, to help you find your perfect pair. As you can imagine, my daughter was super excited with the idea of having 5 pairs of glasses delivered right to our door for her to try on, so this is something that we will definitely be taking advantage of.

Home Try-On Program. Photo Courtesy of Warby Parker

Home Try-On Program.

Oh and if you’re still not convinced, Warby Parker eyeglasses start at $95, with free shipping and free returns. Additionally, they partner with non-profits like VisionSpring to ensure that for every pair of glasses sold, a pair is distributed to someone in need (you’ve gotta like that). So, after browsing through their website, these were my daughter’s top 3 picks:

Welty frame in the Whiskey Tortoise color, these are her favorite!

Welty frame in the Whiskey Tortoise color, these are her favorite!

Barnett frame in the Quail Egg Grey color.

Barnett frame in the Quail Egg Grey color.

Jennings frame in the Whiskey Tortoise color.

Jennings frame in the Whiskey Tortoise color.

What do you think of this amazing selection of frames?  Do you own any Warby Parker glasses?  If you do, I’d love to know which ones you chose?My Signature