Country Living...Island Dreaming

November 29, 2016

Take Me Away - November Recap

And another month is coming to an end!  I know most of us are caught up in all the holiday craziness between decorating and shopping but why don't we take a few minutes to escape all that...

Let's take a look at some of the wonderful trips you linked up for the November Take Me Away Link Party!  Be sure to get your posts ready because the next party will take place this Friday, December 2nd.  Yes, December is almost here!

Here are some fabulous highlights from November...

Beacon, NY - Peaches and Salt blog
Peaches and Salt  took us away on a day trip to Beacon, New York.  Just a 2 hour train ride from New York City to spend a relaxing day in museums and boutiques while enjoying the lovely scenery.  Sounds like a great escape to me!

From New York, we head to Switzerland...
Lucerne, Switzerland - Living with Thanksgiving blog
Ahh, the beautiful city of Lucerne, Switzerland!  Bonnie from Living with Thanksgiving gave us a tour of this enchanting city.  Its famous Chapel Bridge is considered one of the oldest covered wooden bridges in Europe!  Be sure to stop by to see her photos of the gorgeous lake and majestic mountain scenery!

For more mountain views, you can stop by From My Carolina Home...
NC Waterfalls - From My Carolina Home blog
Carole took us on a hike and drive to tour some beautiful Waterfalls in the Autumn Mountains.  Who knew there were so many magnificent waterfalls in North Carolina?!  The changing leaves made the scenery even more breathtaking!

So, how much do you know about Liverpool?...
Liverpool, England - Everyday Living blog
Like most of you, when I heard Liverpool, England, I just thought of the birthplace of the Beatles.  Well, Pam from Everyday Living showed us there is so much more to this city!   A rich history, famous skylines and beautiful architecture will have you thinking about this lovely city in a whole new way!

While we are in England, let's swing over to London...
London, England - 50 Days of No Grey blog
50 Days of No Grey took us on her family's first European trip to London ,  Taking a tour bus was a great way to get an overview of the city and all its attractions!  Sounds like a great way to introduce the kids to Europe!

If coastal towns are more your thing, Cape Cod may be the place for you...
Chatham Bars Inn - You May Be Wandering blog
Sandy from You May Be Wandering took us away on a perfect fall weekend at the Chatham Bars Inn!  I think you will fall in love with this luxurious inn situated along the gorgeous New England coast.  Definitely a destination to add to your list!

So many beautiful places to celebrate the seasons!...
Autumn Neighborhood Walk - The Happy Turtle blog
The Happy Turtle took us on an Autumn Neighborhood Walk.  Taking the time to reflect on such peaceful moments can sometimes be the best getaway!

I hope you all enjoyed reading the highlights from November.  Try to stop by and visit the blogs to read more.  I hope you leave feeling inspired!

And be sure to come back
this Friday, December 2nd
for our next Take Me Away Party!

Looking forward to more travel stories!

Enjoy your week!


November 26, 2016

Easy Way to Get Cash Back When You Shop Online!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  We hosted our annual crowd of 20 or so family members and reveled in the loud craziness that goes along with a houseful of people.  Today, I am up to my eyeballs in boxes and bins as I lug all the Christmas decor up from the basement.  Let the decorating begin!

For those of you who are out battling the Black Friday Weekend madness...good luck with that!  I won't go near a store this weekend.  I have already started shopping online, though and plan to do most of my shopping that way.
Online Shopping Tip - an easy way to get cash back!

Please note that the links below are affiliate links which means, I will get a commission if you sign up and make a purchase after clicking over from my blog. 

Speaking of online shopping, I am sure some of you have heard of Ebates - the cash back website that actually pays you to shop online.  You may have ignored them like I did, thinking it was too good to be true.  I am generally a very skeptical person when it comes to this type of thing but for some reason, this past spring, I decided to give them a try.  Wow!  I am so glad I did!

All you have to do is sign up for Ebates, (which is free to do, by the way), and then look through their links of over 2,000 online stores.  Click over to the store of your choice and start shopping.  You will receive cash back for your qualifying purchases.  How easy is that?  Right now, you will also receive a $10 bonus just for signing up and making a $25 online purchase!

You can also sign up for their emails to alert you of the latest offers such as the "daily doubles" and extra discounts off purchases.  Who doesn't love a discount?

And on top of that, when you sign up for Ebates, you will see the tab where you can invite friends to join.  Spread some holiday cheer by offering them the opportunity for discounts and cash back on their purchases!  And right now, they can be eligible for the $10 bonus when they sign up too!  AND you can get a bonus for referring them once they make a $25 purchase!

Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I don't promote anything unless I really believe in it myself.  That's why sometimes, I hesitate to share something if I make a commission on it out of fear that I will come across as insincere - but this is something I truly believe in!
Ebates - Cash back for shopping

As you can see, I have used this service and already received some cash back.  There is a way on Google Chrome to set up Ebates automatically so you don't have to click on their website each time but I haven't done that yet... I really need to because sometimes I forget to shop through their website and then I am kicking myself when I realize I could have received some cash back!  But I have made some money here and there - which is always helpful!

So that's my online shopping tip for you.  And for those of you who still insist on waiting in line to purchase something at an actual physical store, Ebates just started offering In-Store Cash Back at a select group of retailers.  Now you have no excuse not to sign up for their fabulous service!  After all, you know you will be doing a ton of shopping during this next month!  At least go check them out!

...You're welcome.

Have you tried Ebates yet?

An Easy Way to Get Cash Back when shopping!  (affiliate)

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November 21, 2016

Los Angeles Trip - Day 3 and 4

We tried to pack in as many fun family activities as we could during our long weekend in Los Angeles.  Today, I will share Days 3 and 4.
Day 3
Paramount Studios Tour

Before leaving for our trip, I booked our tour of Paramount Studios for Friday morning.  This was one tour we didn't want to miss because my kids are huge fans of a couple of their shows - The Thundermans and Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn.  I thought that choosing a weekday over a weekend for our tour would give us a better chance at catching an actor or two.  I also knew that Paramount Studios is rich in Hollywood history and I had a feeling we all would enjoy the tour.

The Paramount Story - the beginning of the studio tour

We arrived for the first tour of the morning and were able to spend a few minutes in the lobby while we waited for our tour guide.  The lobby was filled with movie memorabilia and interesting facts about Paramount's history.  We loved reading the Paramount Story wall.

From the second our tour guide, Tyler walked in the room, I knew we were in for a great tour.  It was apparent by his enthusiastic personality that he loved his job and was determined to give us a memorable experience.  With only 7 of us on the golf cart, the tour felt so intimate and personalized.
Bronson Gate - Paramount Studios
This is the iconic Bronson gate you probably recognize.  I cropped out the fountain you normally see in front of it because it was covered up due to repairs.

Tyler drove us around all the lots and explained so many different aspects of movie magic.
Parking Lot used for ocean scenes at Paramount Studios
This may look like just a parking lot but actually this area dips down in the center and has been used for many ocean and water scenes over the years.  They filmed the parting of the Red Sea in the Ten Commandments here along with many other movies.  To the right is a fake sky used in various backgrounds as well. 

This is known as Lucy Park named after Lucille Ball.  She had the park built to resemble her backyard so she could have publicity photos taken of her children here on the lot.  Those buildings to the left were the dressing rooms of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Lucy Park - part of Paramount Studios Tour
The park was also used as a backdrop for several TV shows.  Greg from the Brady Bunch smoked his first cigarette here in an episode!

We were able to stop by the Dr. Phil set but photos were not allowed inside.
Dr. Phil soundstage door at Paramount Studios

Photos were not allowed inside the Grace and Frankie set either.  I hadn't heard of this Netflix show until the tour but based on the gorgeous set, I am going to start watching the show!  The set house was designed to look just like producer, Marta Kauffman's beach house.  Luckily, one of my favorite blogs, Hooked on Houses gave a full tour of the house last year so be sure to check out her post!  Let me know what you think!

That was just a sample of the many things we saw at Paramount.  The studio tour was definitely one of my favorite highlights of our trip and I highly recommend it if you are in the area!

Since we were in Hollywood, we had to head over to the ultra touristy Walk of Fame. 
Dolby Theater in Hollywood
This area reminded me of Times Square in New York with its crowds of tourists and annoying, pushy street peddlers all trying to sell you something.  None of us were that interested in staying there very long.  

We followed along the sidewalk spotting a few stars we liked...
Sting's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

And walked over to the Chinese Theatre to see the hand and footprints of the famous Hollywood stars.
George Clooney's footprints in Hollywood
I am sharing this one for one of my favorite bloggers - Preppy Empty Nester!

We didn't spend too much time being harassed along the streets of Hollywood because we were hungry by that point.
Cabo Wabo - Sammy Hagar's restaurant
Cabo Wabo, the restaurant owned by rocker Sammy Hagar seemed like a fun place to go.  Great nachos!

Now, I know you are not supposed to go to Griffith Park in the middle of the day because the place gets ridiculously crowded but we were so close by...
Hollywood sign viewed from Griffith Park
And yes, there was absolutely nowhere to park!  My husband ended up dropping the boys and I off so we could walk to the top.  He stayed in the car and made some phone calls for work while we explored around.  That's the Hollywood sign in the distance.  I guess I should have zoomed in...

But the views were beautiful...
View of Los Angeles from Griffith Park
You can see downtown LA way off in the distance.  If we ever go back, I would love to spend more time up there.  We just have to remember to go very early!

By late afternoon, we were tired and had some time to check out the pool at the hotel.
Bonaventure Pool
The pool is located on the 4th floor deck and had great views of the city.

You could really appreciate the architecture of the hotel from there too!
Westin Bonaventure

That evening we headed to the Hollywood Hills for my favorite dinner of the trip...
Cavatina Restaurant at the Sunset Marquis
We met up with my husband's college roommate again and this time his wife joined us.  We had dinner at Cavatina, a gorgeous restaurant tucked away in the Sunset Marquis Hotel.  This place was such a find!  The beautiful gardens and glistening lights made us feel like we were on a tropical vacation somewhere...Apparently, this place is popular with the rock and roll crowd but we didn't recognize anyone.  We just enjoyed our evening with great friends and delicious food.  A truly memorable experience!

Day 4

Universal Hollywood
I knew visiting Universal on a Saturday could have us battling crowds again so we made sure we arrived at 8:00 am when the place opened!

Universal Studio Tour
According to my research, you should take the studio tour first because the lines get bad as the day goes on.  Needless to say, we were almost first in line!  (Great view, huh?)

The boys loved all the cars from Back to the Future and other movies...
Back to the Future cars at Universal Hollywood

And the movie sets were cute...
Jaws set at Universal
This is the fishing village from Jaws.  I think this has been a permanent fixture on the tour for a long time.  I remember it from when I took the tour about 20 years ago!

It's always fun when they drive us down Colonial Street to see the houses used in numerous movies and TV shows.
Houses on Colonial Street - Universal Studios Tour

My kids love the Grinch movie so it was fun to see Whoville!
Whoville set at Universal Studios
Actually, I love the Grinch movie as well.  Jim Carrey is hilarious and my kids and I always repeat lines from the movie - "You're 8 years old and you have a beard!"...

My kids especially loved all the special effect parts of the tour where they got to wear 3D glasses and be involved in chase scenes.  Overall, it was an exciting interactive experience!

Sure enough, when we stepped off the tram from the studio tour, we noticed the lines of people already waiting to get on for the next time slot.  From there we headed to the rides.  
Harry Potter Castle at Universal Hollywood
The whole Harry Potter section was pretty amazing.  My kids haven't gotten into the novels yet but I have a feeling once they do, they will love them like everyone else does!  How awesome is this castle?  We never made it on this ride though, because the lines were long and then even longer as the day went on.

But my kids were willing to wait, a couple times actually, for the Jurassic Park ride!
Jurassic Park Ride - Universal Studios Hollywood
I think this one was their favorite with its 84 foot drop at the end!

Another must-see attraction at Universal is the Waterworld stunt show!
Waterworld - a must see attraction at Universal
So what if we got a little wet because we sat in the "soak zone"!  It was a spectacular action packed show with explosions, water chases and all kinds of special effects - everything that would appeal to two tween boys!  Definitely one of our favorites of the day!

My boys, who are 10 and almost 13 were at the perfect age to really appreciate all Universal had to offer.  We spent the entire day there and I am sure they would go back in a second!

We had a little time to relax and get dressed for dinner by the time we got back.  For once, the traffic heading into downtown wasn't too bad.  I guess because it was Saturday...
Westin Bonaventure
You really can't miss our iconic hotel as you drive up to it.  My kids loved riding the glass elevators each day and they also loved knowing that the Bonaventure has been used in many films over the years.

I took photos of all the posters at the hotel to remember which movies were filmed there...
Movies filmed at the Bonaventure

Movies filmed at Westin Bonaventure

Movies that used Westin Bonaventure as location
You might remember Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a horse through the lobby fountains in True Lies.  Yes, that was the Bonaventure Hotel!

Now I think we have to watch a few of these with the kids so we can see the hotel.  Too bad many of them are rated R.  I guess they will have to wait awhile for those!  Either way, it was exciting for them to see how many times the hotel was used in movies!

That night, we had dinner at Il Fornaio, a bustling Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills.  I read great reviews on the restaurant so I was not surprised when we loved the place...fabulous food, great wine selections and a friendly staff.  The perfect way to spend our last evening!

The next morning we had a leisurely Sunday brunch at the Lakeview Bistro in the atrium of the hotel and then headed to the airport.  We were all sad for the vacation to end!  And my kids were even sadder when they had to get up for school the next day after arriving home at midnight!  They  managed though and were excited to tell their friends all about their trip. It was definitely one of our favorite family vacations!

In case you missed the first two days of our trip to Los Angeles, you can find that post here - Los Angeles Trip - Day 1 and 2.

What are your favorite family vacation destinations?

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A Stroll Thru Life - Inspire Me Tuesday
Dwellings - Amaze Me Monday
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Pieced Pastimes - Saturday Sparks
Sweet Pea - Best of the Weekend
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Marilyn's Treats - Over the Moon Party
Take Me Away


November 17, 2016

Los Angeles Trip - Day 1 and 2

As I mentioned in my last post, we flew out to California on a spontaneous vacation last week!  With the kids off from school Thursday and Friday, it made sense to take off one extra day (Wednesday) so we would have more time to enjoy our trip.
Day 1
We left our NJ home at the crack of dawn Wednesday morning (after my husband and I had stayed up almost all night watching election coverage the night before).
Downtown Los Angeles - 4 day family trip report

We arrived in Los Angeles before noon and quickly (well, as quickly as one can drive in LA), headed to our hotel downtown.

We checked into our room at the Westin Bonaventure, dropped off our luggage and hopped back in the rental car for our first activity...the Warner Bros. Studio Tour!

WB Studio Tour - one of the many activities on our LA trip

We arrived just in time to grab a quick lunch at the Warner Bros. Cafe before our 3:00 scheduled tour.  I knew we might be cutting it close with the last tour of the day starting at 3:30, so I had waited until we left the hotel to book the tour using my cell on the edge...

WB Studios - a must see in LA

Well it all worked out and we were excited to explore the backlots and soundstages...and were also kind of hoping to run into an actor or two!

WB Studio backlots - fun tour for the whole family!

The Warner Bros studio tour was a great way to begin our time in Los Angeles.  Each tour guide drives small groups around in these tram vehicles and tries to customize each tour to the interests of the group.  We made sure we expressed that we were big fans of The Big Bang Theory in hopes that we might catch some of the cast roaming around the lots.

Well, we didn't see any of the Big Bang Theory actors but a golf cart driven by a few Pretty Little Liars cast members drove by.  Too bad I had no idea who they were though because I don't watch the show...

WB Studio Stage 25 - Big Bang Theory

Even though we missed seeing the Big Bang Theory cast, we were lucky enough to get a tour of their soundstage!  Unfortunately, they wouldn't allow pictures inside but we got to sit up where the audience sits and view each of the sets used on the show.  Loved it!  My kids were excited to see the elevator and Sheldon's apartment even though they have only seen bits and pieces of the show.  Such a fun experience!

Throughout the tour we were able to get on and off the tram to check out various outdoor sets, city streets and exhibits.  The prop department was an exciting stop and we all had a chance to sit in the "Oval Office"!

Prop house at WB Studios Hollywood

And at the end of the tour, we enjoyed exploring the Friends set...

Friends set at WB Studio Tour Hollywood

Central Perk - Friends Set - WB Studios Hollywood

Along with Two and a Half Men...

Two and A Half Men set at WB Studios Tour

The kids loved all the interactive exhibits and my younger son even got to "star" in a movie where they filmed him riding a motorcycle in a car chase.  

WB Studios Interactive

It was basically dinner time when we left, so we battled the LA traffic back downtown and headed straight for the restaurant.   We didn't even have time to freshen up at our hotel before dinner...which was fine since we were exhausted.  My son even fell asleep at the table!  Luckily, I chose Rosa Mexicano - a casual dinner for our first night.  I knew we would be tired and not up for anything elaborate.  I have been to their NYC location a couple times so I expected the food to be pretty good...and I think LA is known for having good Mexican food so we couldn't really go wrong there.  Needless to say, we crashed into bed the second we got back to the hotel!

Day 2

LA View from Westin Bonaventure Hotel

Being on east coast time, we were up bright and early our first morning.  That worked out well since we had to drive to Anaheim for a day at Disneyland!  And of course we hit traffic...and apparently all of California decided to go to Disney that day because it was very crowded!

Disneyland decorated for Christmas

The Christmas decorations were up and everything was as festive as it could be!

Disneyland Big Mountain Railroad

We didn't have too long of a wait the first few rides but things got backed up when Splash Mountain had a problem and people were stuck at the top for awhile.  Not fun.

Disneyland Splash Mountain

By then, we had to wait in long lines for everything.  The kids loved the Indiana Jones ride and luckily we were able to stand in the shade the whole time in line.  Oh, did I mention it was around 90 degrees that day?  Luckily, it was not a humid 90 degrees like we east coasters are used was actually bearable.  I guess that whole dry-heat thing is true...

Disneyland Indiana Jones Ride

Anyway, we eventually made it to Splash Mountain and must have caught it at a good time because the line wasn't too ridiculous...

What was ridiculous was the wait for Hyperspace Mountain!  They said the wait was around 90 minutes and I just couldn't stand in that so my younger son and I walked around while my husband and the big kid waited.

Hyperspace Mountain

Lucky for them, it only ended up being about an hour.  Still that's too much for I was afraid to go on that ride anyway!  I guess we should have utilized the Fastpasses...oh well.

Disneyland, Anaheim, CA - Day 2 of our trip

We spent basically the whole day at Disney.  Luckily we didn't purchase the park-hopper tickets to visit the California Adventure Park because we just didn't have time to do both time!

The traffic wasn't too horrible getting back into the city...only the last few miles seemed to take forever.  Luckily, that night we hadn't committed to any reservations, mainly because we weren't sure what time we'd be back.  Our only plan that night was meeting my husband's college friend for drinks  at our hotel at 8:30.  It made the most sense to just eat at the hotel so we headed upstairs to the revolving restaurant.  The kids were thrilled! 

Revolving Buena Vista Lounge at Westin Bonaventure

Such amazing views of the city and the boys stayed occupied observing the changing scenery.  The place was more of a "lounge" than a restaurant so the menu was somewhat limited.  It didn't matter too much for us because for convenience, it couldn't be beat!  The perfect way to end a long day!  

Of course, we didn't go directly to sleep when we got back to our room.  We kept hearing sirens and when we looked out our window, all we could see were police cars and news vans.  Apparently, we were right in the middle of all the election protesters!  Fortunately, the "excitement" didn't last too long and we were too tired to care...

I will stop there with the end of Day 2.  Be sure to stop back to read about Day 3 and 4 of our spontaneous California vacation!

What are your favorite places to visit in Los Angeles?

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