Category Archives: Travel

Chicago Food… on the other blog

Great times at Zocalo, Café Iberico and La Fonda del Gusto this weekend! Rather than posting twice, I’ll just direct you to ChiLanta Foodies where you can check out the pics and review….

http://chilantafoodies.blogspot.com/

Also check out my previous post on “A Taste of Brazil” in Oak Park, IL.

La Fonda Del Gusto sign

Girls Trip to Orlando

Anyone who has followed this blog knows I absolutely LOVE my girlfriends and even more I LOVE to travel with them!!! Last month 9 of my lovely line sisters and soror-friends decided to terrorize the city of Orlando like no other girls can do! We got an awesome deal from Thursday-Sunday at the Mystic Dunes Resort in Kissimmee/Celebration, FL area. For the 9 of us, we rented the Three Bedroom Lockoff with gave us a 3-bed, 3-bath, 2-kitchen space with lots of room and a great balcony. The rates were VERY affordable and when split among the group we spent nearly half of the cost we paid for admission to Universal Studios! We also rented 2 cars for the weekend which was a great idea that provided for plenty of flexibility for the group. (Although in this pic below I was sitting on the floor of the backseat because an extra person jumped in the “mall” car at the last minute and there wasn’t enough space for 6 in a Ford Focus! Long – and funny – story short, it was NOT a comfortable ride!!!)

While some of the girls ventured to Cocoa Beach (it was still a bit too chilly for me) the second car spent the WHOLE day at the outlet malls! I am OBSESSED with Orlando’s Premium and Prime outlet malls and found so many great items and great deals. I brought Rob back a couple of shirts from the Thomas PINK outlet store (priced at $59 each, versus the normal $180+) and grabbed myself a new pair of black and white Pumas to replace the ones I’ve had for about 5 years by now. I saw many other great deals and was a little upset that I didn’t snatch up the gray Chelsea skinny jeans at the Joe’s Jeans outlet store or the blue fitted blazer at Off Fifth.

All in all, we had a great time!!! There is nothing like getting away to celebrate with good friends. Check out some of our fun times:

Fresh off the plane and in an alley somewhere trying to find trouble…
It was 2AM and we were looking for something to get into
The guys at Panchero’s moved the tables so we could have a dance competition
The BEST pop in the world – The Coke in the bottle from Mexico made with SUGAR and not that high fructose stuff
Trying out the pedicab at Universal Studios
Peer Pressure – Emily trying to convince Candice to ride one of the rides
Head to head Dance Dance Revolution competition!
Posing for the camera right before Kiana KILLED me at Guitar Hero in the arcade… it was my first time playing but it was fun!
I went to the doghouse looking for Bobby but he wasn’t there so I was sad…
Cap’n Joe from Big Toho Airboat Tours – our tour guide on the alligator swamp ride. He stopped in the middle of the swamp to collect payment and he had a credit card machine in his pocket… just in case. LOL
Gator coming towards us and the front row huddling and screaming!
The family gator, we all got to take pics with him… he was pretty nice!
The trip ended with a FUN and FILLING dinner at Benihana followed by what else???? A SLEEPOVER!!! LOL!!! 
What a weekend!!!!! I can’t leave you without an item of the day, so here it is….. After a year of speculation it has been announced that the disgustingly crazy “sandwich” offered by KFC, which replaces the typical two pieces of bread with two chicken patties and keeps the rest of the goodies in the middle, will be released this month. You do have the option of grilled or fried, because we all know, two grilled patties is way better… right? This just grosses me out!! Is anyone planning to try it??? The KFC website Nutrition Guide lists the health content near the bottom of page 1 which is summed up as: 
Original Recipe Double Down – 540 calories, 32g of fat,1380mg of sodium
Grilled Double Down – 460 calories, 23g of fat,1430mg of sodium.

Toronto, Ontario

I took a weekend trip to Toronto to spend some time with my cousins. My dad and step-mom came up for the weekend and we had a great time! I miss my 4 year old cousin BJ so much! When he was a baby we all lived in Minnesota and I would babysit all the time and hang out at my cousins’ house the whole weekend. Well, now that we are further apart, I don’t get to see him as often. So it amazes me how much he has grown in 4 years!!! After the arrived in Toronto, BJ got a little sister Elle. She’s such a diva and I am excited to see her personality evolve.

In an effort to spend some quality time with BJ, we decided it would be fun to make birthday party hats for everyone in the family, since we were celebrating Elle’s first birthday that weekend. We sent Gabbi to the store to grab some “tools” and BJ and I painted, colored, cut and glued until we had made a personalized hat for everyone in the family… including the dog, Jody. Here are pics of BJ and I modeling our own hats. His had dinosaurs all over it while mine had a “drawing” of the whole family standing underneath a blue sky with some white clouds and a sun. It was so much fun!

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While we did take a quick trip to the city, I didn’t get any pics while I was there, other than those of the family at the house. Sometimes those are the best weekends/vacations you can ask for. Here’s Elle, playing with her daddy and listening to Chrisette Michelle on my iPod touch

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And Gabbi chilling with the kids while Elle chews on my iPod touch… *mental note: get waterproof case next time you see Elle*

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Now, for the item of the day… For quite some time now I have wanted a pair of Frye boots. My main deterrent has been the cost (they are around $300+) but everything I hear about them pretty much guarantees that they are worth it, for many years to come. My friend Sandy has a pair of the Harness boots and I absolutely love them. Yesterday Bobby and I watched both parts 1 and 2 of Night at the Museum (funny movies) and there was one point during the movie where “Bobby” said exactly what I was thinking – “I can see you walking around in an outfit similar to what Amelia Earhart has on”.

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I guess he’s caught on to my weird fixation with dressing like a superhero, LOL… but all jokes aside, I was feeling the old school look (or a modernized version of it) and the first thing that came to mind were those Frye Veronica boots (although the Frye boots have more of a slouch than Amelia’s in the movie)!! They would look so fly with my brown leather motorcycle-style jacket and some leggings or skinny jeans. While I would opt for a plan front versus the laces, as shown, I also like the Harness that take on more of a cowboy look…

Frye Veronica Slouch

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Frye Carmen Harness

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Since I already made my annual investment for 2009 with the Botkier handbag… maybe next year I finally buy the Frye boots????

Girls Trip to Chicago – Budget Friendly

Even though I live here in Chicago, I’m going to write this blog as a “Trip Plan”… This should give some ideas to anyone planning a Girls Weekend in Chicago! Some of my closest girlfriends from my hometown of Detroit headed to Chicago to hang out for the 4th of July. We had a wonderful time! I did my best to expose them to restaurants and events that were Chicago-specific.
Wednesday – Chiquita arrives first and we head over to a spot that I had never heard of, called Sangria. I had a cousin in town that I had never met, so she and I went to this restaurant/bar/club to meet up with he and his friends. The DJ was pretty good, the crowd was surprisingly thick for a Wednesday night and there were plenty of nice men there (not that either of us is looking, right?). LOL! It actually sounds like a cool spot and I’m looking forward to going back for a meal!
Thursday – Chiquita decided to head over to Connie’s Pizza for lunch and then when April arrives late that evening and we head up to Wicker Park/Bucktown to one of my favorite spots (that I’ve mentioned before) – Salud Tequila Lounge. Thursday nights are $1-$2-$3 appetizer nights, so we each got a drink (the drinks there are good and strong) and a couple of appetizers for dinner. Totaled about $15 each. Not bad at all!
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Friday – We started the day at Chicago’s Home of Chicken and Waffles. The food there is excellent! Up next?? What else – SHOPPING!!! We went up and down Michigan Ave shopping and snapping photos until Reina arrived on her journey from Detroit. We also caught a glimpse of NBA star Tayshaun Prince browsing the Bentleys at the dealership in Gold Coast (see last pic)
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We hopped the truck with Reina and headed to Cafe Iberico in River North. I have a few standard recommendations to share with you : THE WHITE SANGRIA!!!! You have to start with a glass (or pitcher) of the sangria. I also love the QUESO DE CABRA (baked goat cheese), CROQUETAS DE POLLO (Chicken and ham puffs), GAMBAS AL AJILLO (grilled garlic shrimp) and JAMON IBERICO (seared ham and manchego cheese). I absolutely love that place… food was less than $25 each.
Up next? A quick trip to change our clothing and head over to Pole Dancing Class at Flirty Girl Fitness… The “drop-in” classes are $25/person and last an hour. Sorry boys, I will only post the “before” pics 😉 I’ll just say it was TONS OF FUN!
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Afterwards, we had dinner at Carbon (pronounced like car-bone), a local spot that I like to refer to as an “upgraded Chipotle”. The concept is the same (build your own burritos or tacos) but the quality is superb. Cooked to order, freshly made salsas and sides and most importantly (and HIGHLY recommended) are the Tilapia tacos!! I eat here very regularly and bring everyone I know to this spot for some good, quick Mexican food. Food and drink about $10/person. Still awake, we dressed and went out to watch “Bobby” and his friends perform a hip hop set at a club near downtown. We were on the list and got in free. The music, aside from their hip hop set, was mostly techno and electronic. Not really any of our style so we didn’t stay very long, but still managed to have some fun! We hoped to make it over to Shrine but most of the girls were pretty tired by the time we left.
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Saturday – We skipped breakfast and decided to venture out to the Taste of Chicago. As this was my fourth trip to the Taste in one week, I already knew exactly which foods I wanted! We ran into my dad and step-mom there, but I won’t post the pics because it was raining and somebody had a shower cap on to protect their “do” from the rain! LOL!! After the Taste, we decided to get out State Street shopping fix! Filene’s Basement, Nordstrom Rack and Macy’s were key points. By then, we were ready for a snack, and despite the rain and slight coolness, I had to suggest my favorite snack spot in Chicago – Berry Chill. The frozen yogurt here is soooo good, and good for you!!! This is a pic I took a while back of the one time I ventured away from my usual. I got an original with Thin  Mints, Samoas and strawberries…. Not a good combination. My favorite combo is original yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and coconut shavings!
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Next stop? Three Peas Art Lounge in South Loop. A couple of months ago, I attended an event at Three Peas and was introduced to their signature drink – the Peach Cobbler Martini. I bragged to my girls about how good it was all weekend and finally they would get the chance to try it. One martini, turned into 3 martinis plus a few shots and some new friends! We finished the night with dinner at Bar Louie in Hyde Park and we had all crashed and fell asleep by 11PM!
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Sunday – Can’t have everyone leaving Chicago without a proper breakfast send off. We met up with my dad, step-mom and “Bobby” for brunch at Wishbone, a popular, Louisiana-style restaurant. I ordered my usual – the Shrimp and Grits. ITS SO GOOD!!!
All in all, we had a wonderful trip and I can’t wait for them to visit again!

I’m Back, with a long review on San Juan!!

Sorry about the delay in between posts. It seems its been getting worse over the year buy I’m trying to be more consistent. Just seems as if there is never enough time in the day. I’m pretty upset now that I went to Dominick’s to do some grocery shopping. I usually split the shopping between Dominick’s and Jewel-Osco, depending on what’s on sale at each. Since I didn’t have time to do my usually sales papers reviews before shopping, I just decided to get most of my stuff from Dominick’s and just pick up a rotisserie chicken from Jewel for dinner….. BIG MISTAKE. I walked in Jewel and realized that half the stuff I bought in Dominick’s was much less in Jewel due to their new price slashing!!!! Then I hear this one the news, reminding me of my big mistake. BOOOOO
All in all my No Spending Challenge ended great!! I made it all the way to the end and did a great job of tracking my spending and my thoughts. I am actually going to do it again soon because I liked the discipline and also the leftover money at the end 😉
Last week I went on a girl’s trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico and had a blast!!! It was the first time Gabbi and I had traveled together since we were kids so it was great to spend time and bond. We all woke up the last day wishing we had at least ONE MORE DAY there. Here are some details from the trip:
Lodging: El San Juan Hotel and Casino – I have to be honest and say this wasn’t our first choice for hotels. Sharifa and I had decided on Condado Plaza but after meeting a guy at a conference who used to for the tourism board of PR, and one of my TravelSisters buddies Tiggi told me about her amazing trip, we decided to follow their suggestion and go with El San Juan. TripAdvisor.com had some great reviews and some sketchy reviews (more of the recent ones being sketchy) so I was very hesitant and nervous. Most of that went out the window when I saw the lobby. The hotel was decorated nicely and had plenty of restaurants and shops on site. The location was great – very close to the airport and walking distance to plenty of restaurants serving local cuisine. We did have a problem with check-in, as the early check in was totally disregarded (which we expected based on the reviews) and the request for 2 double rooms turned into 1 double and 1 king room (which they fixed for the second night). These pics were taken in the hotel lobby…
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Food: Our concierge was ON POINT with his restaurant suggestions. The first night we walked to Mi Casita where we were introduced to “mofongos”, a mashed-plantain dish with a meat and sauce on top. Gabbi and I were hooked the first night!! The next day we hit up Metropol at the suggestion of the concierge. OMG – everything we ordered was amazing and the mojito I ordered was PERFECT. I was supposed to take pics of the food but by the time I remembered this is all that was left on our plates (mine was the second plate and I had the combination platter – so much food):
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The third night we went to Mojito’s in Old San Juan at the suggestion of the guy who worked in the hotel wine shop. Once again we hit the jackpot! I went for the shrimp mofongo and it did not disappoint, while the mojito I ordered was just ok (a bit too tart for me). That night we went to Koco in the lobby of our hotel and Gabbi and I shared the salad and pan-seared halibut with risotto. Another A+ meal! Sharifa and I shared the apple tart for dessert and that was nicely paired with a cinnamon ice cream. The 2 for 1 mojito deal made up for the tiny glasses the mojito was served in… but again, it was more on the tart side.
Activities: El Yunque Rainforest – This was probably the thing we were looking forward to most about the trip. We knew we’d have to rent a car – which turned out to be seamless with the Enterprise car rental desk being in the lobby (we made a reservation about 2 week prior). The employee was VERY helpful and did a great job of making sure we were set up for our journey. At Tiggi’s suggestion, we brought a portable GPS with us, which definitely came in handy after following the signs put us on a dead end road! (We also used it to find a McDonald’s to order some breakfast on the way!) After an interesting Spanglish conversation between myself and the guy at the information desk, he gave me his “trip plan” and we got in the car and were on our way into the forest. We drive up lots of narrow, winding, steep roads, stopping occasionally to take pictures with the roadside “objects” or to see what pics we could get from the random look out points and the tower.
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Eventually we made it to the parking for Mino Falls, which required a bit of a hike to get there. SOMEONE in the car suggested we take the hike from the second point since it was 10 minutes shorter, not knowing that it was the more challenging, steeper route!!! So here are some pics we took along the way:
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And the prize at the end of the hike: The Falls!!!!! (I must have been caught off guard in this pic – LOL)
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The next morning we woke up and went to the Edouardo de Paris spa on the hotel’s 10th Floor. THIS PLACE IS EXPENSIVE. But we knew that ahead of time and had made our reservations a month in advance. We contacted the spa to negotiate a discounted package deal and ended up getting a facial and four-hand massage at a nice discount. Yes, you read that right. FOUR-HAND MASSAGE. Don’t ask. And yes, its even better than you can imagine! Well worth it!! (I will give you this – ladies, be sure to request Carlos)
We also took a trip to Old San Juan but by the time we got there and ate it was late so most of the pics I was planning on (El Morro – the Forts) are night pics and didn’t come out well because they aren’t well lit at night. Here are a few random pics I got in Old San Juan…
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Overall, it was a great trip!!! Gabbi is already working on our next girls trip… LOL! They can be addictive! Here are two more pics – the “welcome committee” at the airport and Gabbi and I get our dance on at the BBQ place on the top floor of the hotel! (The facial expressions are hilarious – well, to me they are… maybe not to her!)
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item of the Day???? A GIRLFRIEND’S TRIP! Get your girlfriends (or sisters or cousins or even mom/daughters) together and start planning now! You can make it happen! You can google “girl’s trips” and get tons of ideas for making your own. Here are some suggestions and tips (based on girls trips I’ve taken in the past)…
pick a date. we usually send out all the dates that will NOT work and one of us (usually one of the nerdy engineers) compiles a spreadsheet highlighting dates that work for everyone. Form there we pick one and start planning. NO changing the dates!!
set a budget that works for everyone. If the trip is a year out you have more time to save. If its 4 months away you have less time. Find out what is realistic for everyone and what is included in that budget. If people are bad with saving set up a fund/account where the money is held and people can make regular payments or find a travel agent who can do this for you.
check hotel prices against the prices of rentals (homes, condos, cabins)… if you have a large group you can usually get a great deal. But be sure to ask a LOT of questions! We used a place we found on VRBO in 2007 for our girls trip to Chicago. The 8 of us rented a 2bd/2ba loft style condo near downtown Chicago. Four of the girls drove in together so we made sure we found a place that included parking. We also made sure it was close to train/bus for those flying in.
– get a general idea of the cost of activities and include this when selecting the location. For San Juan we knew we wanted a spa day and we also knew it was very expensive, but that was the only activity we paid significant money for! The rainforest was the $100 rental car for the day and a $3 donation each. Old San Juan included a $20 cab ride each way. That totals $38 each for 2 days worth of activities!!
check for flight specials (if necessary) and track using airline emails and sites like Kayak and Airfarewatchdog where you can get email alerts for your city pairs. We planned a trip from Detroit to MN when I was living there and one of these emails popped up with flights for less than $150. I called up all the girls on a conference line to let them know and they all purchased the tickets immediately saving potentially hundreds of dollars (that was typically an expensive flight).
– lastly, HAVE FUN! Check with fellow bloggers or friends to find out how their trips were, what they recommend and what they disliked. Plan a few big things and wing it on other things. Just make sure you take everyone into consideration and make it as much fun as possible!

Holiday Travel

Just wanting to wish safe travels to everyone out there this holiday season, by road, train, plane and… Well, that’s it right? Anyway, I’m sitting here watching planes take off and land in the craziest of winds. I pray for everyone’s safe arrival (including my own!) and a beautiful, fun,economically friendly, exciting and blessed 2009 ahead!! Merry (belated) Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Journey to Baja (Mexico)

I just came back from the most relaxing vacation I have ever had in my life! I was given the opportunity to be the only girl to crash the “annual boy’s trip” and I had no hesitation in accepting the offer. Flew into Cabo and drove an hour to the East Cape area, where we stayed at a friend’s house on the beach. The sun rises were amazing, the sunsets were beautiful, the weather was hot but breezy (perfect) and the secluded location, with no phone or internet service, was just what I needed. There were few houses, lots of “roaming animals” and no city attractions for miles. The nearest restaurant was a good 15 minutes away, on dark dirt roads. I could go on and on…. but my words could do this area of Mexico no justice… so enjoy the pics!!!

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The item of the day…. Obama t-shirts!!!! I found this one a few months ago and haven’t seen one I like nearly as much (I added the blue tee underneath). Its subtle and yet, you get the point (cursive B O and a small ’08). Tons of people have asked me to pick on up for them but the store never seems to have any in stock (Gourmet Clothing in Chicago).

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Cafepress has some cool designs and I’m considering picking up another one…. check out their website for some nice shirts… I also liked this one made famous by Madonna a few months ago….

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August in Pictures… Part 2 of 2

Up next… PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO!!! April and I went for a wedding and managed to squeeze in lots of fun! Salsa lessons, outdoor adventures, shopping on the boardwalk, beach time and plenty of margaritas and free tequila shots!!!! Here are some pics of the city… the ocean was beautiful, the people were so friendly and the city was quite an experience in the way the homes were constructed on the hillsides and in the mountains – much different than what we’re used to in the US…
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The highlight of our trip was the Vallarta Adventures – Outdoor Adventure!!! This was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in my life! Check out my Spaces video module for a video summary of what we did over our 4 hour day – canopy runs, mountain hiking, donkey rides, waterfall repels…. you name it – we did it!! I would recommend this to anyone who can handle it – its very strenuous and definitely qualifies as a work out!
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We stayed at the Dreams Resort… which was absolutely wonderful. The staff was GREAT, the all-inclusive activities (and drinks) were plentiful and the beach…. well, the pics speak for themselves…
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Now, after the vacations and holiday have passed, its time to settle into real life….. and save up for the next trip!!!
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**PS, I’m trying out this Google Chrome browser at work and at home… I was liking it just well enough until I pulled up my blog on and saw that a few things were missing… sigh… you almost had me Google!!!!!

August in Pictures… Part 1 of 2

It seemed as thought the month of August was one LONG vacation for me… September feels like torture 🙂

I took a trip to Toronto to visit my baby cousin Elle – she’s so gorgeous. Seriously, she’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen in my life. Its rare that newborn babies look so pretty – but you can tell, even from the “just born” pics that she is a girl, and that’s amazing to me. She’s not even 2 months old yet but its growing so noticeably fast! Check out some pics of her over her first month of life… she’s always camera ready!

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While she wasn’t very entertaining just yet, her 3 year old brother kept me entertained and educated (and tired)…

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Next up – a family reunion that included a dinner on the Princess Boat Cruise (where I ran into some of my line sisters who were celebrating a class reunion on the cruise and snapped the pic of the Detroit Renaissance Center/GM Headquarters shown below)….

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….followed by a quick trip with the girls to my brother‘s Signature Saturdays event at the exclusive restaurant Sweet Georgia Brown in Detroit. Hot venue and even hotter party….

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Venturing outside of the Twin Cities…

Yesterday I had to make the 2.5 hour drive from Minneapolis to Winona, MN for a meeting that barely lasted 2 hours. On the way there I was focused… but on the way back I was determined to enjoy it. My former supervisors started a debate over which route was faster – the longer interstate path or the 30 miles shorter scenic route. I figured since the weather was a nice, sunny, snow-free 25 degrees I’d go for both, opting for the scenic route on the way back. It was highly uneventful and the scenic route was definitely not as exciting as I had expected. Nonetheless, I was able to snap some cool photos along the way. Keep in mind, I was driving so my eyes were on the road and my camera was pointing where ever my hand wanted it to… LOL… I was surprised at how nice some of the photos turned out… Enjoy!

 

Sharon wrote a blog about how much she misses the sight of snow now that she has moved to Florida. Eat your heart out girl! You’ll never see this kind of beauty in Florida! 

Since Christmas is right around the corner, I guess I can do my annual list of luxury gifts that I’ll never get for Christmas (and I few that I just might buy myself in 5 years)… and here we go… click the links for more details

<a href="http://www.shopbop.com/shop/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTprd_id=845524441809059&FOLDERfolder_id=2534374302075698&fm=browse-category&ASSORTMENTast_id=1408474395181057″&gt; <a href="http://www.shopbop.com/shop/product_browse.jsp?FOLDERfolder_id=2534374302052875&source=goog-Jamison-jamison_clothing&#8221; target=”_blank”>Jamison Cashmere Turtleneck Puff Sleeve Dress

Tiffany Pendant of round brilliant diamonds in platinum.

Christian Louboutin Crisscross Pump

Ality Pixxa 8-Inch LCD Photo Frame with 512MB Memory

Pioneer 50″ 720p Flat-Panel Plasma HDTV USB memory key disguised as heart pendant on a silver silk cord with Silver Shade Swarovski crystals.

 Smythson leather make-up brush roll complete with professional brushes.

Bottega Veneta LARGE T CALF CAMPANA handbag

My own personalize Eclipse 500 jet with seating for 5. you can build your own at the link on the pic. Mine was just under $2 million… but it had pink and green stripes! Now how can you beat that???

What are your luxury gift wishes?? Leave them in the comments… I love to hear what fun items other people would buy with their lottery winnings…