flamingos

My girls turned 3 and 5 this June (turned being in past tense because clearly I’m a bit behind on their birthday party reveal.  They have birthdays a day apart (but two years in between) so naturally we still have joint birthday parties. And because I only have to throw one, I typically go a little over board but only because in a past life I was a party planner. I genuinely love it.  But this year we didn’t plan well. We were out of the country leading up to the party so my planning got sidetracked and rushed plus we got back and had days to put it together. So all of this to say I slacked big time, but guess what my girls thought it was the best one yet. See birthdays are for me, not them.

They don’t quite understand birthdays and know that they have a voice in the theme so until then, Im planning it as I want and as soon as they start begging for cartoon birthdays we will just stop celebrating. Kidding. Kinda.

So this years theme is “Let’s Flamingle”

If my girls take away any of the wisdom I bestow on them I want them to know to never blend in. I want them to see their value and see what I see. So while everyone else is off being pigeons I want them to be a flamingo.

“be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons”

Just so happens flamingos are everywhere which also makes that much easier to pull off in days. We decided the easiest place to have it would be at our neighborhood pool. That way we don’t have to worry about entertainment or cleaning up for days. Plus when I saw this invitation from Minted I knew it was the one.

Next up decor. I am a DIYer at heart so this broke my heart to do, but most came straight from the Internet.

I knew I wanted these flamingo drink holders because kids would love them, plus they made cute party favors and I want them for future pool days. These are still played with daily in my house and you can’t beat the price. And what is a pool party without beach balls.

 

These were also something I bought knowing I could use again because of the colors. 16 of $10 too is a great deal.  Purchase here

If you get this banner, don’t leave it to the last minute. Its super cute and way easier than doing it myself and the cricut and actually cheaper than I could make myself I bet.  But its not put together and will need a few minutes. Buy here

Now my cake was a huge disappointment. What I went into the bakery with and what I left with were so different. But it still tasted delicious and we were able to have enough to feed the whole pool. Winning!

Now I did get told by one friend how obnoxious my forks were so id say thats a win. I figured I had to DIY something.

 

These palm leaves went perfectly with the pink table cloth we laid down on the pool tables. Then of course what kind of party is complete without yard flamingos.

What you put in your body is just as important as what you put on your skin in terms of anti-aging and overall skin health. Sure you can hydrate and plump skin topically but like all things beauty start within to see the greatest change. For me the easiest part of my skincare routine is def washing my face twice a day even with the 4-5 steps my routine consists of, the hardest part is seriously drinking enough water. I have no idea why, but sometimes I have to pretend I’m at a college frat party and funnel water in order to drink any in a day. I kid, but now that I have said that out loud that sounds ingenious so I might be trying it soon.

What you eat is also very important to maintain good skin health.  Any one you talk to with a background in diet and nutrition will agree that we could all benefit from more veggies from breakfast to dinner and snacks in between vegetables should make up the bulk of your plate. Along with water this is another task I have a harder time doing so I started drinking Salad Power to make sure I was able to get in all my greens without having to start the day out with a Bloody Mary. Not that that’s not a good idea, but Sunday Funday can’t happen for me on the reg. But if you are brave enough for a Bloody Mary every day, check out Salad Powers recipes and at least you will know you are getting nothing but the good stuff.

The great thing about Salad Power is that they have only added the good stuff. No added sugar or fillers, just plain skin aiding vegetables (they have some with fruit too if you like it a little sweeter).

As you drink down your vegetables today, here is a list of their ingredients and what benefits they are doing for your skin,

Kale:

Contains Vitamin C which helps you make the collagen needed for skin strength, Copper which boosts the synthesis of melanin — a pigment that protects your skin from the sun — and, like vitamin C, it helps you make collagen, and Vitamin A which promotes healthy cell growth.

Celery:

Being rich in vitamins A and C celery protects the skin from damage from free radicals. This vegetable is also dubbed as the ‘acne killer’. Not only does it fight acne, but even the scars that could otherwise be left behind. Celery even helps cleanse the skin and removes dirt, thereby keeping your skin clean and less prone to acne outbursts. Celery not only offers hydration to the skin but also clears off the excess oils

Carrot

Carrots are most known for their beta carotene, an antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A inside the body. It helps repair skin and protects against the sun’s harsh rays along with many other benefits

Cucumber 

It is high in vitamins and minerals and improves your skin, leaving it rejuvenated. This is perhaps due to cucumber’s high antioxidant levels, which calm inflammation in the body, reduce the likelihood of redness, puffiness and blemishes.

Green Pepper

The phytonutrients content of green peppers is very effective in curing rashes, blemishes, acne, and other skin infections. As well as the different antioxidant vitamins, especially vitamin C, present in this type of bell peppers can facilitate the formation of collagen in our skin in order to keep it firm and healthy as well as create a barrier to more damage.

Tomato

It helps in getting rid of tanning, counters discoloration of skin, helps in treating and preventing acne, shrinks open pores and regulates secretion of sebum in oily skin.

Spinach

Spinach is a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin C. Vitamin A improves skin tone whereas vitamin C plays an important role in the repair as well as growth of skin cells. Being rich in vitamin K and folate, spinach gives you a clear complexion by minimizing acne, bruising on the skin and dark circles.

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With two small kids at home, sometimes getting away for a much needed vacation with just my hubs can be a logistical nightmare so we tend to  try to find unique and fun places that we can go to for 2-3 nights.  Well Cuba just so happened to have fit that bill when we realized Southwest, hello frequent flier miles, flew there and it was a short flight.  My sister went down there and came back ranting and raving about how amazing it was so we booked that day.

Flight

We booked Southwest out of Nashville and then had a layover in Ft Lauderdale before landing in Havana. We were prompted through Southwest to purchase Visa online for $50, but we could have also just bought our Visa at the airport in Ft Lauderdale at the gate for same price. And obviously you also need your Passport. Now heads up, according to US Embassy in Cuba there are 12 reasons you as an American can travel to Cuba, and tourism isn’t one of them. My husband and I chose journalistic activity since we run this blog.   Also included in your plane ticket is your medical insurance while traveling in Cuba, but I would try your hardest not to utilize this service. Take advantage of the wifi on the plane because its the last chance of wifi until you are back on that plane headed home.

Arriving In Cuba

Once you arrive in Cuba your entrance Visa is taken along with a picture. Don’t smile, they don’t like that.  There are nurses stationed at baggage claim to make sure that you have filled out the simple medical form and have health insurance. Depending on where you stay and who your hosts are you should be able to arrange transportation from airport to the hotel. We had arranged transportation through our host but there was mix up so they never arrived. She had previously told us it would be $20-$25 CUC.  We were approached by a yellow cab and he charged us $40. But non the less we made it. Downtown Havana is around 35 minutes away from the airport.

Leaving Havana

When leaving, we had to have our exit visa and have our picture compared to the picture they took when we entered the country. Make sure you don’t lose your exit visa! They’ll take this from you when you leave. Southwest takes off from terminal 2 so make sure you get to the right terminal because they are not walking distance.

Money

The current exchange rate is around 1 USD = .93 CUC (6/12/17). We exchanged  USD to EUR in the states and then once we got to airport, cabby showed up where to exchange at the airport, we exchanged EUR to CUC. We also had USD and they exchanged that as well. You can have your host help you exchange with locals for a better rate as well.  Also, to avoid the exchange rate all together, you could withdraw Euros from your bank before your trip then change to CUC in Cuba. Euro is 1 to 1 with the CUC. (and right now 1 Euro = $1.12 so I would def recommend this 6/12/17)

You need to have all of your cash before you arrive because they do not take US credit/debit cards anywhere in Cuba. This was actually one of the biggest problems I had, well besides Wifi. I was constantly checking with hubs to make sure we had enough money. A credit-less society is terrifying to me.  Personally we brought $700 for 3 nights and left with not a CUC to our name. But we also spent the remaining in the duty free shop at the airport. I’ve also heard  $100 USD per person per day should be more than enough, especially if you’ve booked your accommodations ahead of time online on your card.
When you change money back in the Havana airport when leaving, I would just look for a US person in the exchange line and ask if they want to exchange with you on a 1:1. This is a good deal for both of you because they get the 1:1 rate and you avoid the 10% penalty they change when changing back. Or just buy all the rum and cigars you can carry.
Just an FYI and to keep your eyes open there are 2 currencies in Cuba. Locals use Cuban Pesos and vistors use CUC. This is really a lot less confusing than it seems. Just make sure someone doesn’t give you your change in pesos.
Tipping is not common, but most visitors tip a little. At some restaurants they indicate that 10% servicio is included.

Language

Almost everyone I met in Havana spoke a little English, so it’s very easy to get around without Spanish.

Getting Around Cuba

Before leaving make sure you download a map.  We chose the Galileo Pro app with Cuba Map because it came recommended by several people.  This enables you to see your location on the map while in airplane mode (which is how you will stay your whole trip). I would also recommend you go through and input any places you want to see as well as your hotel or Airbnb so you can always get home.  Its based off other peoples input so there are a lot of places listed already.
We ended up waking up early to walk around one morning and met up with a man and his son who drove an old American car. It was beautiful. They are parked outside the big hotels and offer tours. Instead we had him take us to beach, dinner, a tour, and then the airport. We liked them so we just asked them to take us everywhere we ended up wanting to go. It
We also took a Bici Taxi. Which is a bicyclist drawn carriage. We took one of these to dinner and then grabbed one on the way home and they charged two completely different rates. So ask before getting on how much it will cost.
 

WiFi

It doesn’t exist. Just kidding kinda. We waited in line for close to an hour for a wifi card. We paid 3 CUC for an hour and then walked down to one of the Internet cafes, El Floridita.  Unfortunately we were never able to log in on either of our phones. So no wifi for us.  Phone calls worked well and we didn’t have a problem calling out. It was expensive at around $3 a minute but totally worth it to hear my girls voices.

Accommodations

We booked our accommodations with Airbnb about a month before leaving. Depending on what you are looking for, I would recommend booking in Old Havana so you’re walking distance from most things. We were in the city center and could have walked everywhere on our list of places to see. Location was a big factor for me as well as I needed pretty and this Airbnb screamed French Provenical to me, these were the pictures that sold us online. Not to mention it was $55 a night.
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Yes those are two twin beds. But when its that hot and air conditioner isn’t like what we have here, we didn’t mind it.
The showers and toilets are really low pressure, and the  shower water was a little chilly. Another thing I wasn’t aware of when traveling there was that you can not flush toilet paper. Yes stop and think about that for a minute. Do not use the water for brushing teeth or drinking either.
Seeing we were only going to be gone a couple nights, no need to bring a lot of toiletries. But if you forget something its not easy to find.  Stock up on hand sanitizer and toilet paper bc soap and paper isn’t readily available when out and about.
This Airbnb was on the third floor which provided amazing scenery and we had a gorgeous patio that wrapped around the corner building having views in every direction. But the hike to get to the top floor was up a skinny stairwell that went in circles. So not good for small children or people that can climb stairs well.  There were 3 key locks to get into our room which was nice in terms of security. Our room also contained a small kitchenette which we never used but nice to have.

What we did while there

SANTA MARÍA DEL MAR BEACH

This was the closest beach to Old Havana at around 25 minutes. We didn’t want to waste a ton of time in the car driving since our trip was short. So we met our cabby friends one morning around 8am (the city is asleep still at this point) and they took us out there for 50cuc and waited on us until we were ready to come back. Now this beach is known for its beach parties. And when we got out there at 9am, it was a disaster. Trash as far as you can see. We found a clean spot, laid down our blanket and made the best of it. Soon there after a tractor came through picking up trash. Then by 10am they had laid down the beach chairs and umbrellas and you would have had no idea they mess that was there hours earlier.  So we grabbed a chair and umbrella for 2cuc each. Yes that isn’t a typo. And had a waiter bring us drinks and food for the rest of the day.  Now I forgot sunscreen assuming it would be easy to find. It wasn’t. Thankfully we had the umbrella. The water was gorgeous. Not a lot of waves and very clear. By noon it was packed and lively.

This came highly recommended from our cabby. Now come to find out these restaurants incentivize these drivers to bring tourist so was it the best place probably not but very fun.  Little pricey at 60cuc a person but that included 3 drinks, several course meal, and dinner show by the world renowned, Buena Vista Social Club. I am ashamed to admit I had never heard of them, but all the other guests came from all over the world to see them. So pretty big deal. We were sat for dinner around 8pm, needless to say we had a Cuban coffee after dinner to make it until the end.
O’Reily’s on Amagura – Great little hipster coffee shop in the middle of old Havana.
El Floridita – Hemmingway’s daiquiri bar – super touristy!  This is where the Daiquiri was INVENTED. This was the most expensive drink we had at 7CUC.
El Del Frente- 303 OReilly. Was my favorite and if we had found this place one day one we would have been there every night. Look for street address, go upstairs and then keep going to roof top for more cool vibes. Best mojito ever was served here.
A 2 hour Tour of the City
We hopped in our cabbies purple convertible and they drove us to all the different locations you would want to see in Cuba. We were allowed to get out and take pictures if we wanted to .

This was another restaurant that was suggested from our cabby.  He ranted and raved about how amazing it was and how when Beyonce ate there and they shut it down for her. It’s near the harbor and in a pretty community. The restaurant itself was very pretty and gardens were nice. The food was one of the priciest in Cuba we had at around $20 cuc. For the money I didn’t think food was all that great. But had a great atmosphere.

People

This was my most favorite part of the whole trip.  Getting to talk to them and see what their lives were like. We spent a lot of time walking up and down the streets and watching people.  What I noticed most was the family unit. Lots of moms, dads, and children together walking around. Also lots of school kids in their matching outfits.  So funny even they stare at their phones endlessly. Its a global epidemic. Here are some pictures of the people doing their thing.

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So would I go back? Probably not. Traveling is one of those life experiences that teaches you so much about yourself.  And from this trip I have learned Im not big into traveling to 3rd world countries for vacation.  It was hot too. Man was it hot. And there was no way to cool off except at the beach. Probably should have done that more than one day.  I am so very excited I was able to see it but we could have probably done everything we wanted to do in 2 nights. in fact we tried to leave early but due to our failed wifi it didn’t happen. But on our last night we found my favorite restaurant.

Things to Remember

Bring toilet paper. But know you can’t flush it. Its hot and AC is not popular there. Don’t drink the water. Wear comfortable shoes. If you don’t like seeing stray dogs everywhere, stay home. Food wasn’t excellent but it sure was cheap.  The city is asleep until 10am at the earliest. Coffees are tiny. Mojitos are plentiful. Half your money will go to people needing it more than you. They want your clothes too when you are leaving.  Buy the Lonely Planet and download a Map.  Time literally stops here. Longest days ever. Enjoy yourself, many people haven’t been able to be in your position in a long time.

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