Saturday, June 26, 2010

Welcome Summer!!!

Summer is finally here in Seattle! With temperatures actually reaching the 70's (yes, we've had a cold and wet spring), we are starting to head outside and enjoy the wonders of the new summer season!

Mmmm. . . shovel! Can't you just taste that warm sand?
What are your favorite things about summer? Here are just a few of mine:

*Camping! Sleeping under the stars and roasting s'mores around a crackling fire!
*Long, lazy afternoons at the beach
*Sitting under the shade of a nice, big tree at the park
*Popsicles! Homemade ice cream!
*Picking boysenberries and eating them fresh off the bushes (oh gosh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it!)
*Swimming!!! Of course!
*Country fairs, carnivals, and good old-fashioned fireworks
*Grilling hot dogs in the backyard
*Cranking up the Beach Boys tunes in the car (good all year, but especially in the summer!)
*Summer vacations!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Fun and the Fabulous Reviews!

There just aren't many things cuter than a baby in a tutu.

This fluffy, completely adorable turquoise tutu was made by Baby Raindrops. Go check out her Etsy shop, it's too cute for words! She specializes in handmade tutus, tshirts and onesies, burp cloths, wipe cases, hangers, and ponytail holders. She loves to do custom orders, and you can order a tutu in any color (or multiple colors!) you want! Her tutus start at $25, which I think is a great deal compared to tutus I see all the time in boutiques. Tutus are the perfect outfit for photo shoots, and they look great on little girls of ALL ages, from newborns to toddlers.

The quality of this tutu is wonderful! My favorite thing about it is how much tulle she used to make it. It's full and perfect, with a really nice satin ribbon tied around the top too! And she can add embellishments for you like flowers and swarovski crystals. If you're looking for an outfit for your little girl's photo shoot or special occasion, look no further than Baby Raindrops!

I had way too much fun photographing Natalie at the park in her cute tutu. Doesn't she look fabulous???

Moving on to share some more of the awesome stuff I've been reviewing lately. . .

*GirlExtraOrdinaire is such a fun online boutique! They sell awesome, sparkly apparel for brides and bridal parties, babies and moms, and the most stylish of dogs too. I just love this blinged out onesie I got for Natalie. She's definitely a little princess and a drama queen, so this really fits her personality!

*I was really excited to do a review of CSN stores! They are a massive online retailer that I had heard of but never ordered from before. I received a gift card from them in exchange for a review, and the fun part of course was choosing what to spend it on! This was also the difficult part, since I found a whole ton of stuff I wanted and had to ultimately decide what I wanted most. They sell pretty much everything!

So here's what I went with. . . the Cuisinart Convection Bread Maker in Brushed Stainless! Isn't it beautiful?

I have been wanting a bread machine for a very long time. I LOVE the smell and taste of homemade bread, nothing compares to it! But I rarely have the time to knead and let it rise and knead again, plus I've had some pretty awful experiences with yeast not turning out right. So I figured a bread maker would be perfect for me. I was so excited when the box was delivered to my door! It was really easy to order from CSN Stores, and the shipping was free, so you can't beat that! It arrived in only a few days, and it was packaged really well in a huge, sturdy box and in perfect condition. I most definitely would order from them again! Another bonus is that it came with a free JA Henckels bread knife. Score!!!

The bread maker is AMAZING. It's the easiest thing in the world, just add in all the correct ingredients (the bread machine comes with a huge recipe book for all kinds of breads!) and it does all the kneading and rising and everything for you. It makes the house smell so delicious! So far I've made White Bread and Three-Cheese Bread, and we loved them both. Next I want to make Honey Wheat or Cinnamon Swirl Bread!

*So here's another exciting thing. . . I was chosen to be a member of the Infantino Test Drive Program by Mom Central!

I get to try out brand new baby toys, and gosh who wouldn't love that? I'm saving a couple of the awesome things I just got for the new baby later this year, like this Fold and Go Bouncer. I love the idea. . . it folds up compactly so you can take it with you when you go somewhere, or just keep it out of your living room floor when your baby's not using it. I'm really looking forward to trying it out!

*And I think I found my favorite baby shoes EVER. . . Aren't they so stinkin' cute?
They're from Bibi & Mimi, and they're hand-crafted leather shoes with suede soles. These soft, flexible shoes are perfect for crawlers or early walkers, and they're just SO much cuter than Robeez shoes. I picked out these ladybug shoes for Natalie:

Bibi & Mimi have won some really prestigious awards. They won an iParenting Media Award, which tested their products on attributes such as quality, durability, age-appropriateness, and play value. Their shoes also won the Creative Child 2009 Top Choice of the Year Award for all baby shoes!

These shoes would make such a perfect baby gift. You wouldn't even need to wrap them, because their packaging is so adorable! Their shoes are $26 a pair, and they offer free shipping on all orders of 2 items or more.

Bibi & Mimi also has an apparel line of onesies and organic onesies. I received this "Peace Love Baby" onesie to review, and the quality is amazing! The 100% cotton onesie is super soft and doesn't shrink or fade in the wash. And their packaging is gift-ready as well!
Such awesome stuff! I love sharing such wonderful companies and designers with all my fabulous readers!!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Journey to Machu Picchu!!!

Machu Picchu. . . the lost city of the Incan civilization. . .
Visions of this place have haunted my dreams ever since I first learned about it and saw pictures, and I knew I had to go there someday!

We did not book the hike on the Inca Trail, because we wanted to have more time to see other parts of Peru as well. It turned out it was a good thing we didn't book the hike, since I turned out to be pregnant and that wouldn't have worked out so well. :) Instead, we booked the train from Cuzco with an overnight stay in the town of Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu. Normally you can take the train all the way from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, but some of the rails were still being rebuilt from flooding, so our alternative was a bone-shatteringly bumpy and extremely EARLY bus ride for part of the way, until we could actually board the Perurail train. It was a really miserable bus ride, but nothing could dampen my enthusiasm once we actually got on the Perurail train and headed up to Machu Picchu. We were EXCITED!

We got some nice pictures of the beautiful scenery from the train:

*Aguas Calientes is a cute little town, with river flowing right through the middle.

*Our guided tour of Machu Picchu took several hours, and we got to walk all around it and see everything up close! The weather was so funny up there. . . it was hot and sunny for the majority of our time at Machu Picchu, but then without warning it started raining towards the end. I took a nice hand-held travel fan from Brookstone with me on the trip, and I actually pulled it out and walked around most of Machu Picchu holding the fan in front of my face, giving myself the extra air that I so desperately needed in the heat. I felt kind of funny (that crazy American tourist with the fan blowing right in her face!), but it was such a great thing to have with me! We had such an amazing time on our Machu Picchu tour, and of course it was completely unforgettable!

Now I'll let the photos speak for themselves. . .

What an incredible day! Machu Picchu is truly something everyone should experience once in their lifetime. It's spectacular!

And. . . can you believe it?. . . I'm DONE posting South America pictures!!! My whole trip is now complete, on the blog, forever! Now I can actually get caught up on blogging about other stuff. :) I hope all my readers have enjoyed my long travel posts and all my photos, because we sure did enjoy our trip!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Exploring. . . Peru!!!

It's finally time for me to finish posting about our South America vacation. Seriously, I've been home for two months already! Can't even believe it took me this long to get my pictures edited and organized and all this stuff posted. I'm a bad, bad blogger.

It's great how you can look back and even after a short time remember mostly the good and awesome things about a trip. Even the bad stuff doesn't seem so bad in hindsight. And that is why we travel. . . and have good memories about our childhood. . . and continue to have more children. :) But because I want to remember that it wasn't all amazingness, I'm going to write the WORST things about Peru before I write the good things. So here you go. . . the worst of Peru:

-The altitude. Maybe it was the pregnancy combined with the altitude, but it really wiped me out! I felt fine in Lima (the capital city, which is at sea level), but as soon as I got to Cuzco I just didn't feel like myself. I didn't want to eat, needed a lot of sleep, ran out of breath quickly, and just felt off in general.

-Lack of appetite. This is probably directly related to the altitude, but I ate VERY little throughout the entire country of Peru. Nothing sounded very good to me, and I hated ordering something off a menu and then eating only a few bites of it. But I had no appetite! It came back just fine when I got back home to the US, but for awhile I ate practically nothing.

-Our vacation was a little bit relaxing when we were in Brazil and Argentina, but as soon as we got to Peru that was OVER. We were off and running! Our itinerary just got really crazy, with flights at 3 in the morning, buses at 4 in the morning, trains at 5 in the morning. . . it was insane! And practically killed me, I might add, since the earlier it was the more pregnant and sick I felt. YUCK. I really was miserable on our fourth day in a row of waking up so early it was still dark outside.

-The hotels in Peru (at least all the ones we stayed at in the various cities) had walls that must have been as thin as paper, because you could literally hear everything that went on all around the entire hotels. Other people's wake up calls, other people brushing their teeth, the hotel restaurant chopping fruit, the elevator, the front desk. At all hours, day or night. Oh my gosh, it made it almost impossible to sleep! I was wishing for a sound machine, air conditioning, anything to drown out the noise!

-The traffic was just the craziest thing EVER. Constant honking from every car and truck, and nobody paid any attention to lines in the road, traffic cops, or lights. I'm glad I didn't have to drive there! (This picture is from the traffic in Lima. It really doesn't show the entire mess very well at all though!)

Good thing the GREAT things stand out the most in my memory! We finished out our big vacation with about a week in Peru. Suddenly I figured out why we never saw any American tourists in Brazil or Argentina. . . because they were ALL in Peru! I heard tons of English and we saw tons of other travelers from the US.

We started out in Lima. We didn't have much time there, but we did enjoy the city! We found some really awesome craft and artisan markets there, and I bought some of my favorite souvenirs from the entire trip. I figured out that I am a sucker for anything made out of alpaca wool. SO soft.

Our tour guide took us to a really beautiful park in Lima that was on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Check out this huge, amazing statue!

*The mosaics along the cliff were so awesome!

*And the park had some gorgeous flowers too!

*Lima did have some really nice buildings and town squares.

*Some of the cathedrals in South America really exceeded my expectations. The one in Lima looked like this on the outside. . .

*And they had some really elaborate and beautiful carvings inside. It was reminiscent of some of the incredible cathedrals I've seen in Europe!

*Lima was the only city where I truly enjoyed the Peruvian food, since I actually had an appetite at this sea-level city. Their national soda (and believe me, we saw ads for it everywhere) is Inca Kola, and it tastes better than you'd think a bubble gum-flavored soda would taste.

*We really loved these things. . . Tequenos. Crispy, fried wonton shells filled with creamy cheese and bits of bacon. Served with avocado cream sauce. Yeah. . . how can that combination not be good?

*Stephen tried Peru's national dish. . . Ceviche. He enjoyed it a lot, while I tried not to look at it or smell it too much. Even when I'm not pregnant, raw fish is not something I like.

*Our time in Lima was over quickly (really, we just did the city tour and shopping and that's all we had time for!), and then we were off on the earliest flight ever to Cuzco. Even while feeling the effects of altitude sickness and only wanting to get some decent sleep, it was impossible not to notice the charm of the city. . .

*You could actually step right out of our hotel and into this historic and beautiful city square. Wow! I was amazed!

*And here we are with the Peruvian ladies and the cute little lamb in the middle of the square!

(Yes, we DID take the train to Machu Picchu after our first day in Cuzco. But Machu Picchu deserves its own post!)
*Another photo of the cathedral.

*We took a very long city tour of Cuzco and the surrounding areas after we got back from Machu Picchu. It was SO great to see so much of the city. It was also really exhausting, with tons of walking. I was glad we didn't try to do it on our first day in that altitude. . . I never would have made it! We saw lots of beautiful sites. . .

*As you can tell, I couldn't resist getting pictures with the Peruvian women and their cute animals whenever we saw them. Yes, they charged money. But it was such a small amount! Everything was a really good value in Peru, unlike Brazil. I just wish I could have paid extra to RIDE the alpaca!

*The city tour took us outside the city and up to an old fortress called Saqsayhuaman (yes, I totally looked up how to spell that). And when the guide pronounced the name of it, it sounded exactly like "Sexy woman."

*Our last and definitely LONGEST bus ride (10 hours!) was to our final destination. . . Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. At an even higher elevation than Cuzco! At least the bus was large, comfortable, and air-conditioned, and the trip didn't seem too bad because we stopped off numerous times to see different sights along the way.

*I can't even remember what this was called. . . but it looked cool!

*A shot of the locals selling all kinds of stuff.

*Oh my gosh, I loved this stop. . . it was a little shopping market, but I only had eyes for the two baby alpacas who lived there.

*I got to bottle-feed them! It was so adorable! One was kind of a bully and kept pushing the smaller one out of the way, no matter what I did.

*Seriously, how CUTE are they???

*I think I want a baby alpaca for Christmas this year!

*At the highest point of the whole bus ride, we stopped and took photos of this amazing mountain view.

*And finally we arrived at Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,421 feet above sea level. Pretty amazing!

*We got as much sleep as we could in our noisy hotel that night, and woke up excited for the next day. . . We got to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the native people at the floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca called Uros Islands!!!

*The floating Uros islands are man-made, built of reeds, and the native people have lived on them for thousands of years, depending on the lake for their survival. It was completely fascinating to see the way that they live on those islands!

*We even got to dress up in their native costumes. It was pretty fun, but I'd hate to wear that all the time!

*Not the most flattering look in the world. But some fabulous colors!

*The natives on the islands sure have figured out some smart ways to make money. Boats bring tourists like us out to see them every day, and they show us around their homes and then sell stuff to us. This little native girl was so cute!

*We actually got to ride around the lake in one of their boats made of reeds! It was SO awesome! And we got some really beautiful pictures from the boat.

The speedboat took us even further out into the lake (3 whole hours further!) to a large island called Taquile. This was a regular island, not a man-made floating reed one, and we got to hike up to the village.

*I've never thought cows were beautiful animals before. . . but this was the most beautiful cow I have ever seen. If I were an artist I would paint this cow in this setting. Stunning!

*We had some beautiful views of the lake from the top of the hill!

*The whole Lake Titicaca experience was unique and amazing. . . something we couldn't see anywhere else in the world. When I travel, I really seek out experiences like these. They are the kind you remember forever.

*We had another partial day in Puno before leaving for the airport one last time, and we got to ride in one of the cute little open-air carts.

*On our way to the airport, our super friendly guide took us to see a countryside home of a family he knows. I wanted to pet the baby llama who lived there, but wasn't sure what the mother would do to me if I tried. :)

*The home was so cool! All built around a little courtyard, with separate buildings for the kitchen and sleeping quarters.

*Aww, look at all the cute little guinea pigs. They raise tons of them. . . because they eat them. I told our guide people have them as pets in the US!

*At least they have a pretty posh life. . . for as long as they're alive.

*And then our guide took us to our final site before the airport. . . the ancient Sillustani Burial Towers. The sun was setting and it just seemed like such a mystical, mysterious place.

So there you have it. . . our explorations of Peru! Whew, what a trip! I'm getting exhausted again just looking at all of it and reflecting back on all the stuff we squeezed into those two weeks. And there will still be a post to come very soon about Machu Picchu!