It’s been quite a summer of adventure and the travel isn’t over yet! To date, I’ve used the Southwest Companion Pass to take myself and my hubby to Jamaica, Manhattan/Queens, and Southern California. To my… More
Our next trip deal is NYC!
As far a cities go, I love NYC. It is unlike any other city in the world and I have been to a few. I’m really not a city girl, but it is a great city for a weekend getaway. With my Southwest Airline companion pass in my back pocket and around 100,000 points in hand, booking two flights was not too painful at 28,000 points. In dollars, this is around $380 per person.
Hilton is our aim for hotel accommodations. They currently have a credit card offering 50,000 bonus points when we spend $1,000 in 3 months. With points transferrable between Hilton members, 2 credit cards totaling 100,000 points should be enough for two nights in Manhattan. Expensive, yes. However, this is a savings of roughly $200 per night.
To pay for everything out of pocket, we are at $1,160 just for flights and accommodations. Huge savings for this one income family.
Once there we plan to use Uber for our airport transportation, which seems to be a little cheaper than the other options. Traveling around the city can be done inexpensively on foot or via Subway. I’ve only gotten turned around once or twice, but seem to always find a nice security guard to point me in the right direction. I’m also aiming to stay southeast of Times Square, which should be a central location for hitting up my favorite spots and introducing my hubby to the city.
Having spent time in Manhattan before, it is fun to see all the sights and do all the tourist things. Yet, it can be easy to miss a city when you are busy running around trying to make tours and see all the top spots. Mixing it up and picking one or two highlights, especially with weekend getaways, helps you embrace the place you are visiting instead of passing it by in a taxi. I’m looking forward to enjoying the food and the city itself. The people, the architecture, the vibe…
The flights cost $11 in taxes each. Transportation and food are going to be our highest expenses, along with one museum stop. My goal is $300 for the weekend. I’ll update you after our trip!
Well, Jamaica didn’t disappoint! Though going to a tropical location in the middle of January doesn’t leave much room for complaining. Overall, Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall was much like going on a cruise without the sea sickness, on boarding, off boarding or midnight buffet (though we were certainly not left hungry). I’d give our stay four out of five stars.
The resort is separated into family and adult only. Adults are free to access the whole resort, but there is an adult only pool and a few adult only restaurants. We stayed on the Adult only side (Zilara). Most of the restaurants are on the family side (Ziva), but the walk was not far and strolling along side the beach never gets old. Just about every cuisine is offered, with a Jamaican flair. We found the food to be a little bland overall, but there were plenty of options and we didn’t have enough stomach room to try all of the restaurants. Our favorite was the Italian restaurant, De Roza.
Presentation left nothing to be desired. I was also impressed to see dietary options offered at every restaurant including gluten free and vegan. The staff was quite attentive and made sure that you never went without a drink, should you be desiring something. There were also plenty of options for snacking.
Austin’s favorite stop each day was the beach side jerk chicken shack. Breakfast was my favorite part of the food each day. The Zilara side had a small buffet (the large buffet was on the other side of the resort). There was a breakfast menu, if you chose to order something in addition to the buffet spread. We tried the quiche and the very robust French toast. It was the skyscrapers of French toast! The buffet included a spread of cheeses, fresh fruit (the kiwi was sublime), crackers, jams, jellies, pastries, smoked salmon, capers, cereal, eggs, bacon, sausage, curried meat, sautéed bananas, and fresh squeezed juice. Does it get any better? I discovered a deep affection for guava jam.
There was also a small coffee and smoothie bar located just outside the restaurant. Each morning I stopped for a latte to take to the beach with me. One unexpected aspect that I truly appreciated was the small size of the dishes and beverages. It was fun to try lots of things so the smaller portions were perfect.
The pool was chilly as was the ocean water, but the sun felt great. The first two days it was extremely windy and the surf was too rough for anyone to be in the water. Thankfully, the last two days saw much calmer weather and we enjoyed wading in the little ocean lagoons. In the evenings there were fire pits across the resorts for sitting and enjoying the sound of the waves. It was a nice stop along our walk, especially in the cool breeze.
Each evening featured some kind of musical show. Most of these occurred on the Ziva side of the resort, but we were surprised to walk in on a show that had started next to the adult pool. Our room had a wonderful view of the pool and a little bit of ocean, so we scurried up to our balcony to watch the show. When we came upon the scene there was a fire breather. We apparently missed the singer previous to the fire breathing. However, following the fire, some lovely ladies came out and started to dance. Next thing we knew, they jumped in the pool and started doing a synchronized swimming routine with their buff dance partners. It was so unexpected, but certainly a highlight of the trip.
A room service menu was provided and available 24 hours a day. We enjoyed some cheeseburgers while playing Nertz. Did I mention we are introverts and it was windy? The balcony off our room had a wonderful couch and ottoman, perfect for watching Netflix on the free wifi or facetimeing with a toddler.
We had some issues with our neighbors and found our room to be rather noisy during the day from pool side activities, which would be the main reason for the 4 out 5 rating. Also, the transportation policy was recently changed and there is now a fee to be shuttled from the airport. Not sure if this was due to the recent rise in violence in the area, or just a way for Hyatt to make a few extra bucks. We were told it was $60 per person round trip. Not a horrible price, by any means. We were only charged $60 for the two of us, so not sure if that was due to our neighbor altercations, but in any event there is an extra cost there. Getting through customs, to the Hyatt lounge and the shuttle to the resort was a very smooth process.
We felt very safe the entire trip. There were security guards positioned at the edge of resort on the beach and the trip to and from the airport seemed to be in an affluent and well gated part of the island. Our energetic shuttle driver was telling us about the various resorts and areas as we passed, including a neighborhood with homes valued at 3 million U.S. dollars and up.
There were activities for those interested, particularly around the pools and were fun to watch. We mostly spent our time sitting, reading, eating and swimming. The room was comfortable as was the bed. I can’t tell you how many hotels I’ve been to and wake up feeling sore from the stiff mattresses. Double high five Hyatt for making such a comfortable bed. I also quite enjoyed the large tub, perfect for those of us with long legs. Relaxation and service are at the top of the priority list among staff at Hyatt Rose Hall and we certainly enjoyed our four night stay.
After reading some blog posts on how to earn free travel I was highly intrigued but quite skeptical. I decided to try my hand at earning free airline points at Southwest Airlines and see where signing up for one credit card got me. So we canceled our current credit card and switched over to Chase/Southwest. I will say that Chase banking has made this whole process very easy as I can manage all my credit cards from the same place. This busy mom brain needs continuity as much as possible.
The offer with Southwest airlines was earn 50,000 points if you spent $2,000 in three months. Rerouting our expenses to the Southwest credit card made it easy to earn the bonus points. We put all our monthly bills on that one credit card – groceries, utilities, gas, diapers, clothes, insurance, etc. Once we earned those 50,000 points I decided to open a second Southwest credit card. There are two personal credit cards you can open. One has an annual fee of $69 and the other is $99. (There is also a business credit card that can be opened in conjunction with a personal card.) As long as these cards are opened by the same person, all the points accrue. So same deal, $2,000 in three months. Now I was on track to earn 100,000 points. If you earn 110,000 points in one calendar year you earn a companion pass. This means one person can fly with you for FREE (you do have to pay tax). If you open a business card and a personal card you automatically hit 110,000 points. However, as a personal card holder you fall 6,000 points short (you earned 4,000 points spending the first $4,000). In my case, I had two friends open one personal card using my referral link. This gave me a boost of 20,000 points so in a little over 6 months I earned a companion pass! Plus, I kept all 100,000+ points. Once earned the companion pass is good until the end of the following calendar year (so for me, the end of 2018). Once you’ve opened a credit card, you are not eligible for point bonuses from Southwest for 24 months on that same card (if you were to close it and try to open it again for points).
Next came the exciting dilemma, where do we go? Hotels are expensive so if I can earn airline miles, I could probably earn hotel points too, right? After some deliberation we decided to take advantage of one of the few places Southwest flies internationally. The Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall all inclusive in Jamaica was our chosen destination. Hyatt offers 40,000 points plus 5,000 points when you add an authorized user. You have to spend $2,000 in three months (notice a pattern). This card has an annual fee of $75. Though I didn’t plan on keeping the card for more than a year. So for the remaining half of 2017, we used Hyatt credit cards. My husband opened one in addition to the one I opened. The beauty of Hyatt is that you can transfer your points to another Hyatt member. The all inclusive Jamaican Hyatt cost 25,000 points per night. So between the two of us we earned enough for three free nights! Now, if you have higher monthly expenses or have more months to work on spending money you could earn the remaining 6,000 points to spend a fourth night. You can also purchase points. It would be about $120 for 6,000 points. Considering you’d spend at least $500/night this is still a great deal. Once we had earned the 45,000 points on the first card, we transferred off all the points and canceled it. We plan to cancel the second one after our trip to Jamaica.
It only took 20,000 Southwest points to buy flights to Jamaica. The taxes are steep at $130/person. Still though, a significant savings. Hyatt offers transportation from the airport which saves even more money (and is much safer).
So to recap, it took around 12 months to earn all of these points. Depending on your monthly expenses and the sequence in which you open cards, this amount of time will change. Southwest charges you the annual fee up front. However, I also have enough points to make three more trips in 2018, which I will get to later. I decided to pay another $168 in annual fees to keep to cards open through 2018. This will also result in 9,000 additional Southwest points.
I can’t at the moment check to see if Hyatt charges the annual fee up front, as the website is being updated, but if I do find that I will update this portion of my post.
Someone asked me how this affected my credit score. I did some reading and when you first apply for a credit card it is considered a hard inquiry which will decrease you score. This has a temporary effect though, as banks want you to keep opening credit cards. I did not open cards sooner than three months in succession and I only opened three cards in 2017, my husband opened one. My current credit score is in the 700s. If you are going to need a lot of credit score in a short amount of time, you might not want to play the credit card point game.
I want to end this post by saying, be smart! We pay off our credit cards every month. Stay out of credit card debt. If I would have paid cash for our trip to Jamaica, airline tickets would have been a minimum of $500 each and the hotel would have been $2,000 minimum for 4 nights. Obviously prices vary depending on the month you travel. I spent $168 on Southwest credit cards, $260 on taxes, and $24 to purchase the remaining Hyatt points I needed for a total of $452.
Follow me on Instagram @lifeinreview for reviews of Zilara Rose Hall!
On of the hardest things about being a mom of young children is the perpetual state of chaos that exists in your home. Each day is like a Chinese fire drill in the living room with the toys being the objects of replacement. Unless you are witness to this organization, good luck ever finding that kitchen utensil you gave your child in exasperation as you attempted to make dinner.
Baskets seemed like a viable alternative to the increasing mountain of parts and pieces that my daughter identifies as treasures. However, the baskets fill to a point of overwhelming capacity and then no one wants to deal with the contents. There’s nothing quite like tip toeing your way to bed through the dark house only to kick into the one missed toy that had to be motion activated and in the quiet of the night you cringe as you hear, “I’m a pink teapot hear me whistle…”.
Less stuff would make my life easier, but it’s hard to keep up with the voracious imagination of a toddler without a rotating number of toys and objects that can be touched, pitched, disassembled and worn around the wrist as a new fashion accessory. There is hope. One day my mess maker will also be able to put away the things and help restore sanity to the living room. This will be done at the cost of a once mute child, but what’s the fun without new adventures in life? I vividly remember my 6 year old brother’s new found ability to read and repeat every road sign as we ran errands with mom. As much as I look forward to the ability to reason with my toddler, I know there will be days I wish that she came with an off button. Especially when she starts repeating the speed limit to me.
As someone who thrives in a clean, organized atmosphere, having a child has stretched my ability to stop caring so much about the temporary and start living in the long term. This means that some Saturdays are spent completely cleaning and reorganizing the house instead of hanging with friends, but when you are stuck in bed with a snoring toddler on you because she needed someone to cuddle with, you know that making memories is more important than perfection.
As I stood in my kitchen last night, listening to the laughter of my little girl as daddy chased her around the living room, I was thinking about how much I hate washing dishes. They have to be washed, but it’s a chore without a reward because once they are dry someone still has to put them away. In moments like these I am increasingly tempted to embrace minimalism. Less stuff means less work, right? As my mind continued down the list of undone chores, I began thinking about how many things in my life I really don’t like doing. Changing diapers, cleaning up the toys for the umpteenth time, vacuuming so that I can mop, soaking stained clothing, putting away the clean laundry so that I can wash more clothes, paying bills, doing taxes, wiping muddy paws, pulling weeds, and the list goes on. My time is often filled doing things I dislike, but it’s surrounded by people that I love doing those things for.
This weekend we remember one of the greatest sacrifices and miracles in human history. I can not fathom what Jesus went through during the crucifixion and resurrection. Yet, as he pleaded with God for another way and contemplated everything that lay ahead of him I wonder if he felt the same way I did while washing dishes? His life was about to be full of doing things that he hated, but he was surrounded by people that he loved doing them for.
I am blessed by the people in my life and I am forever grateful that Jesus chose to sacrifice himself in my place. This weekend I am thankful for the opportunity to honor His death, celebrate His resurrection, but most of all I am thankful to be a recipient of His unconditional love.
I will admit that as a teen, babies weren’t my thing. I did my fair share of babysitting and child wrangling, but spending time around opinionated, messy humans of small stature and questionable balance was not my first choice. I preferred furrier mischief. Throughout middle school I was part of a 4-H dog club. We trained our dogs in a variety of categories and then competed at county and state fairs. The amount that I learned being part of that 4-H club is something I will always be grateful for. However, the friend that I gained through those many hours of training is something I will never forget. I was and still am shy in nature. I don’t make oodles of friends and going through the awkwardness of the teen years, a dog who wanted to be my constant companion without caring about really anything else, was perfect. We were a constant duo and if I could have taken her everywhere, I would have. As I grew older, so did she and for some reason God decided that dogs should have short life spans. My life was rapidly transitioning from school, to work, to marriage. She met and approved of my now husband and not long after, her time was up.
Time moves on and I found myself buying a house, opening the door to the possibility of getting a new dog. As life would have it, I got pregnant and my husband and I had to make a choice. Do we get a dog now or wait until the baby is a toddler? We got the dog, who we both quite like, but now I found myself facing another serious anomaly. What was I going to do with an tiny, opinionated, messy human of my own? Everything I new about raising things was derived from taking a 6-8 week old puppy and teaching it how to be a proper house guest. Surely if I admitted that my parenting approach consisted of Google and what I new from raising puppies people would be aghast.
My baby is now quickly approach the 1.5 year mark and so far we are all still alive and mostly unscathed. The good news is that there is no “right” way to raise a child because they are all unique and uniquely different. (This is also the bad news.) As my daughter develops and becomes more interactive, I am amazed at how her perception of the world extends as far away as she can get while still seeing me. I am her everything. Separation from me is excruciating, horrible, terrifying and meltdown inducing. Her sense of trust is connected to my presence. This is NOT the same with dogs. Puppies hit a point where they realize there is a whole world on the other side of their fence and it’s meant for exploring. I think this would be called young adulthood for humans, but babies…no. Developmental rates between kids and dogs vastly differ in some aspects.
The weight of the responsibility that comes from the complete reliance of my toddler can be intimidating. However, it is also enlightening. For a being that can’t communicate with words, our days are like a constant game of charades. It’s my job to figure out her needs, but I also know that regardless of my deciphering she trusts me to make the right choice. If only I had the same attitude towards my relationship with God. How often I feel like a babbling toddler trying to communicate my requests to God. I need to trust that regardless of my interpretation of a situation, He is making the right choice.
Reflecting on joy, contentment and cultivating Mindfulness.
You know that feeling when life gets out the meat hammer and goes to town on your schedule, friendships, children, attitude, health and general exsistence? It’s been one of those weeks. Finding strength and encouragement despite your new, flattened state can be particularly challenging. Recently I’ve been spending time looking at scripture and reflecting on what it means to maintain joy and contentment despite the events of each day. Timely topic for reflection apparently!
Overcoming the emotions and gut reactions that accompany daily disruptions is the true test. How is this achieved? Take a moment to pause and step outside of your thoughts and feelings. I imagine it looks like one of the beginning scenes from Dr. Strange where time slows and you see his spiritual form being thrust out of his physical form. You mentally pause the situation, look around and try to identify the true source of angst. Then work on diffusing that instead of escalating the situation by adding to the fire with more words. The more popular term for this is Mindfulness.
Mindfulness takes time and practice to master. Breaking the emotional heatwave is the first step. I found myself, while in the middle of a toddler’s tantrum, making up a song about how I was going to be patient. My daughter found the high notes particularly amusing. Prayer is another useful tool. Talking through the situation with God mentally or verbally helps bring calm. Not only will you have spiritual reinforcements, the Holy Spirit helps reroute your mental attitude. Avoiding cellular devices is another positive choice when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed. Instead of jumping on social media or losing yourself in browsing take the moment to work on your mindfulness. Diffuse, reflect and look for ways to overcome the same struggles in the future. Think of it as emotional detoxing.
I look anxiously forward to the weekend and a cup of espresso as soon as my teething toddler relinquishes my lap. Offering words of comfort to his disciples, Jesus reminds us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Overcome. He did and so can you.
Eight years ago as my mom and I waited for a shuttle, we sat next to a few fish tanks lost in the overwhelming news and reality of the moment. My cancer was gone. As relieved as we were to receive the news and be headed back home, the joy was hampered by relief and uncertainty. I was excited to be going home. Living out of a hotel while going through medical tests and surgery is not something I highly recommend. However, more surgery loomed in the future along with the possibility that the cancer could reappear.
Certain anniversaries since then have held special meaning. Three years in the clear was the first hurdle towards long term remission. Then I made it to five years and all my doctors breathed a sigh of relief. 10 years will mark the final nail in the coffin for medical insurance red tape. So what is special about eight years?
The number eight in the Bible signifies Resurrection and Regeneration. It is the number of a new beginning. Eight is 7 plus 1 and since it comes just after seven, which itself signifies an end to something, so eight is also associated with the beginning of a new era or that of a new order.
In the past eight years I have graduated college, worked a few jobs, married a pretty cool guy, got a new dog and became a mom. In the last month I made the decision to change my career path and focus on my adventurous toddler and develop my entrepreneurial skills. This is a new place for me. After nearly 7 years as someone’s assistant, I am taking a step towards a new beginning.
Pursuing opportunity is intimidating when there is more than one option, but never moving forward and embracing risk keeps us in stasis. Life is vastly out of our control, as much as we don’t want to admit or accept that fact. Living intentionally to intercept change and flourish despite of it is the goal.
Regeneration can be regrowth or reformation and both of those words seem applicable in 2017. As I celebrate remission, I look forward. Whether it was cancer or _____________________, it changes us. Let your blank be your motivation and live to the fullest with what God has given you.
For Such a Time as This,
If you are looking for a toy for your dog, but nothing withstands your furry friend’s destruction here are some suggestions! Our German Shepherd can destroy a toy in a matter of minutes. We timed her once. A “tough” stuffed alligator lasted a mere 3 minutes. Needless to say, stuffed toys and aggressive chewers don’t mix. Kong, which is known for its durable rubber toys that you stuff with treats, has a line of tough stuffed or soft toys. Don’t waste your money. We got the Wubba and the only thing that survived was the thin rubber ball inside.
My mom stumbled across the brand Jolly Pets and we have been impressed! Our German Shepherd started out with the Tug-N-Toss in the horse size. The horse version, which is 10″, was unintentional but she loves it nonetheless. They make multiple sizes of each of their toys so that all breeds can play.
Let me pause for a moment and talk about types of play and chewers. If your dog likes to sit down and turn toys into bones, then your options will become significantly limited. You should never leave a dog with a toy if they demonstrate this kind of behavior. Our German Shepherd has matured out of the constant chewing phase. Puppies chew continually as a result of teething and you just have to live through it. Adult dogs that sit and chew toys to shreds probably need more exercise and mentally challenging toys (this would be the perfect instance for a Classic Kong stuffed with peanut butter or plain yogurt). Also try new types of play for your chewer: frisbee, fly ball, agility, tracking or hiking. If returning a toy during fetch isn’t working, have you tried playing with more than one ball? Get creative! Research your breed and find out what makes them unique. Working dogs are popular house pets in the US, but they need to “work” in order to stay out of trouble.
Ok, back to toys. So in addition to the Tug-N-Toss, which our dog loves to tackle, we got a Push-N-Play. I was slightly dismayed when I got this ball in the mail as it was 6″ of hard plastic. I couldn’t squeeze it. I realized in hindsight that is meant to be chased, not picked up. German Shepherds are among the top 10 breeds for bite strength so this ball proved to be no issue for our crazy girl. She had that ball in her mouth in no time. It does wear her jaw out so we mostly chase it. The great thing about the Jolly Pet toys is that they are meant to be punctured and maintain form. So dogs can bite them over and over and it won’t destroy the ball (within reason, you will eventually need a new one).
Some of you may be familiar with the ChuckIt! Brand, best known for their plastic ball holder that helps you throw tennis balls. They make a variety of balls in addition the the tennis ball launcher. We have the Max Glow and Erratic Bouncer. These two thick rubber balls have been holding up very well, considering our Shepherd can split a tennis ball in two. The ChuckIt! balls have been perfect for her to chase, exercise her jaw and are much easier to wash off than a tennis ball.
Toys take a bit of experimentation to find out what your furry friend likes best. On a whim we got a $1 pink plastic frisbee from Target and our Shepherd has been obsessed ever since. So go pick out a toy and have some fun!
My husband and I chose to do something slightly insane when I was around 6 months pregnant. We got an 8 week old puppy. Getting a puppy is an intense commitment, especially when anticipating adding a newborn to the mix. Between the house breaking, obedience training and constant chewing it was a full time effort. I have had a dog in my life for as long as I can remember. This is something I wanted to share with my little girl when she entered the world. Now, a year and a half later my fuzzy little puppy is a full grown black German Shepherd. While on the smaller side for a shepherd, she is still muscle from head to toe and can easily plow over our daughter, Colleen. The amount of restraint our dog, Lexi, uses has come from a decent amount of training, but I love to watch the two interact. So much power, yet such gentleness. It makes me think about how omnipotent God is and despite that, he chooses to let us have an intimate relationship with Him.
I took a bit of a risk agreeing to a high drive dog breed, but the reward is a resilience and loyalty that is hard to compare. While Colleen adores Lexi she also enjoys picking on her. Petting turns into whisker pulling or using Lexi as a walker. Despite the looks of annoyance that I get from Lexi, I know she can endure it and has a certain amount of affection for the small human. The bond between the two is one of trust and for Colleen, reassurance. Having Lexi with her when we go new places gives Colleen confidence. I wish that I could let go of my personal reservations and have a similar relationship with God, like Lexi and Colleen. Trust that He will always protect me, adoration for his love and relationship, comfort in his presence and reassurance, “…that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Too often I find myself during the day trying to take on life’s problems on my own. God is my Lexi, ready to be my friend or my walker. All I have to do is call out to him. While I don’t recommend a German Shepherd for every young family, I do encourage you to consider your relationship with God. He is patient and waiting. I look forward to the years ahead as my two goof balls grow and mature together. I know we will share many more great moments, muddy feet and plenty of dog hair.