The Icefields Parkway drive within an hour of Lake Louise

In researching our trip to the Canadian Rockies, I knew that the Icefields Parkway was something we had to cross off of our list.  The Icefields Parkway is an iconic drive, maybe lesser-known to Americans than California’s Highway 1 or the Blue Ridge Parkway, but lacking nothing in jaw-dropping views.

Icefields Parkway is also known as highway 93 and it begins just north of Lake Louise.  The parkway itself is free, but you do need to have your National Parks Pass for admission.  We paid $80 CAD for a 4-day pass to the parks.  You can take the Icefields Parkway all the way to Jasper, AB but our short getaway just didn’t allow us the time we needed to do this.



The road is well-maintained and has numerous pull-over spots.

Icefield Parkway Stop
They were obviously out of neutral colors at the rental counter.

The first place I knew I wanted to see was Bow Lake.

For the best view, don’t pull over at the lookout- but look for the signs for the Num Ti-Jah Lodge.  The Lodge was not open while we were there (it appeared to be under renovation), but you can still park there and walk right up to the lake.



If it would have been a little warmer, I’d been happy to sit on this bridge with a good book.  The reflections in the lake are gorgeous, if you can get past the tour bus crowds arriving every so often! 🙂

Just a little more north of Bow Lake is Peyto Lake.  This is the stop I’d been waiting for, as the photographic image I’d placed in my mind begged me to see it in person.  The electric blue water against the snow-draped mountains is a highlight for travelers from all over the world (trust me, you’ll see all the tourists even on a snowy day)!

Those not arriving by bus have to park about 1/4 mile from the viewing platform and walk up the hill (err, mountain).  The walk is well-paved but it is very hilly.  This is where Mr YT and I determined that we were either dealing with some altitude-related struggles OR we really needed to hit the treadmill when we got home — the answer is probably both!

Thinking this view alone was worth the hike- not realizing what I was about to see.



From Peyto Lake, we returned south towards Lake Louise.  We really wanted to get settled in at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise before dark so we could have a look around the property.  I’m so glad we did because we had about zero visibility the next two days!

So friends, you don’t have to have an entire day to enjoy some spectacular Canadian Rockies views.  I’d easily do this drive again with the entire family!

Have you been to the Canadian Rockies?  Maybe the US Rockies?  Where can I find blue water as bright as this?!




Emerald Lake Lodge – A romantic getaway in the Canadian Rockies

I asked my dear, well-traveled friend where SHE would stay in the Canadian Rockies, “Oh, you must stay at Emerald Lake Lodge!”  Her suggestion was golden- I’m SO thankful for her advice.

Emerald Lake Lodge is nestled in between the stately mountains of Yoho National Park, just outside of Field, British Columbia.  The drive from Calgary airport took about 2 hours. There is no parking at the lodge, overnight guests have to take a shuttle that is over 1/2 mile from the lodges.

The resort is a cluster of cabins, along with the main lodge and other outbuildings.  I haven’t felt so far away from civility since visiting the Australian Outback in my teens.  This is just the place to get away from the cares and affairs of day-to-day life.

This bridge allows you to enter the peninsula where the lodge and cabins are. The cabin pictured is Cilantro, the upscale dining option.


Our room was a king bed lake view.  I was a little nervous after reading some of the reviews online, but overall I was quite happy with the room.  The king bed was comfortable and the bedding was luxe.  The in-room wood-burning fireplace was romantic.  The lake view balcony would have been much better served in warmer weather, but added to the value.  We talked about how if we were here in summer we’d probably just sit on the deck all day.  There are no TVs or wifi in the room.  (The room also had ear plugs in it’s amenity kit so YOU CAN IMAGINE WHAT YOU WILL). 😉





Yes, the outside of the cottages and some of the landscaping and decking could have been improved (which is what you’ll find lots of on TripAdvisor).  Absolutely.  However, I’d say your paying for the seclusion and service- not perfection.  The weather here is harsh (we experienced some of that),  so I can see why the cabins don’t look perfect.


The main lodge houses Kicking Horse Lounge and the Mount Burgess dining room.  After arrival, we had dinner in the Kicking Horse lounge.  The serving sizes were large and the food was tasty.  My husband had the bison burger and really enjoyed it.  There is a full bar service.ell-7


A breakfast buffet takes place in the Mount Burgess dining room. It is not included in the cost.  We decided to just order our items off of the menu.

I did think things were a little pricey, BUT understanding the views and the serenity, you see why they can charge top dollar (think $4 for a cup of coffee!  We’re not in Ohio anymore, Toto).

There’s also Cilantro on the Lake, which was not open during our stay.   This is the building pictured above that was right on the lake.


Out and about-

There’s numerous hiking possibilities throughout the resort and Yoho National Park.  The Natural Bridge area is just a short drive away.  The grounds also have a fitness center and outdoor hot tub.  The view from the hot tub isn’t too shabby:


In reality, if I could do my honeymoon over again (i.e. if I could have afforded this at age 20, lol), then this is where I would come.  Secluded.  Romantic.  Inspiring.  The fog made it a a little swoon-worthy.  Men, bring your lady here, she will LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN.

Book it HERE.



**This was not a sponsored post, but does contain affiliate links**



The Friday Five- Fall and winter getaway essentials

The hubs and I are about to embark on a little mountain getaway (Canadian Rockies, here we come!), and I was thinking of what I’m packing and how that relates to my readers (hi friends)!

It’s not yet ski season, and let’s be honest, I mucho sucko at skiing, so we’re hoping for a nice combo of outdoor adventure mixed with sitting by the fire and enjoying peace and quiet!

Here are my five essentials for an early fall or winter getaway:


  1. A sturdy hiking boot that doesn’t look like a hiking boot.  These can still be worn to a casual dinner.
  2. I don’t know about PSL season, but it’s definitely dry shampoo season!  Dry shampoo helps me eliminate the need to wash my hair everyday- or get rid of the post-flight grease- which is soooo handy when traveling!  I’ve tried a few different kids and would you believe this cheap one from Suave is my favorite for scent and not leaving white streaks in my hair!
  3. Clif energy bars are a favorite among my husband and I.  All-natural ingredients + curbing our hunger without a crash!
  4. Here’s my packing tip for summer & winter.  Lean in close: Pack. Scarves.  You can wear the same outfit for 2 days straight if you change your scarf!  (You’re now questioning my personal hygiene)!
  5.  I’m pretty obsessed with the Kindle Fire HD.  It’s affordable, the battery has a good life, and I can listen to podcasts while I workout, or read a book on the plane.

What do you pack for a fall getaway?  Have you  been to the Canadian Rockies?  Maybe you struggle to wash your hair everyday, too?

**This post contains affiliate links**


Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point

My honest review

Last weekend I attended a blogging conference at Cedar Point- THE Roller Coaster Capital of the WORLD.  (See Ohio, you are important!)

I was pretty jazzed that as an attendee of the conference I was able to get a sweet rate at the Hotel Breakers at Cedar Point, as well as some tickets to use for HalloWeekend.

So off I went to Sandusky, ALL BY MYSELF, for a weekend of learning (and fun)!

My initial sight of the hotel surprised me.  Seriously?!  Wow!  The hotel was built in 1870, yet it had never made my radar as a travel-obsessed Ohioan.  #thingshavechanged.  The outside reminds you of a northeastern seaside escape.


The parking was a breeze and the entrance to the hotel is pretty spectacular.  The lighting was dimmed, I assume for their spooky, Halloween theme, so I didn’t get any good photos.

The outside of the hotel is spotless.   I loved the clean beach, the view of the parks, and the pool/kiddee pool area.  Next year I’m definitely bringing the whole family.




The hotel just went through a major overhaul in 2015.  The rooms are fresh and clean!  I had a 2 double beds room with fantastic views of the park!  At times though, the room felt a little noisy.  I heard the screams of riders on the Top-Thrill dragster until close to midnight!  However, I just turned on the fan unit in my room and that helped drown out the noise. It was never so loud I couldn’t have slept.

Conference friends that stayed in the king suites said that most of them faced towards the beach and have a screened-in porch!  These rooms reminded me of beach vacations we’ve taken to the Southeast. I saw many families out on their screen-in patios playing cards and boardgames.  How’s that for time well spent?


I liked that there were 2 chairs at the desk- and there was a microwave and a fridge in my room!

The bathroom was a little on the small side, but the vanity had plenty of room for make-up and hair accessories (Major A+ from this lady).  Bath & Body Works toiletries were an exciting bonus!

The only thing the room was missing was a coffeepot.  I’m sure the hotel would like you to visit the in-house Starbucks (I did!), but I could really use an in-room cup of joe before I hit the sights of others.  🙂

The view from my room- really spectacular!

Location, Location, Location

The resort’s location really can’t be beat.  It took me under 10 minutes to walk from my room to the park entrance next to the WindSeeker.  This would be the ideal place to stay for families visiting Cedar Point that have younger children or grandma & grandpa with you, as it’s easy to get a hand stamp and go back and forth from the park.


The hotel has restaurants to suit every budget and lifestyle.  There is a Perkins and a Japanese steakhouse just off of the Lobby.  I dined twice at the T.G.I. Fridays because I was able to sit at the bar and be served right away.


The weekend I visited was designated as a HalloWeekend.  After 7 pm all of the creepy clowns, zombies, and ghosts make their appearance.  The area by FrontierLand is full of fog machines and it is difficult to see.  You can purchase a “No Boo” necklace for $10 for younger ones who don’t want approached by one of the costumed workers.  I think that you’ll have to know your kids— my 6 yr old would not be able to venture into FrontierLand with or without the “No Boo” necklace.

If you do have little ones, The Great Pumpkin Fest is currently taking place on Saturdays from 11am-7pm.  The Planet Snoopy area includes Trick-or-Treat, crafts, and a pumpkin patch.  I saw lots of small children with big smiles lining up with their bags of candy!


All in all, I had a fantastic weekend at the Hotel Breakers.  I can’t wait to go back next year and take the entire family!

Have you stayed at any of the properties owned by Cedar Point?  


*This is not a sponsored post, but may contain affiliate links.  All opinions are my own.*


The disease of wanting to be liked

Today after dropping off boy #2 at preschool, I was attempting to “sell” preschool to my daughter, using it as a leverage tool for her to (for the love) go in the potty.

Her response, “Yeah I go to preschool next year and people will like me!”

I have to stop buckling her seat and look at her.  Did she just say that?

She’s not even 3 but she’s going to go to preschool with the aim that people will like her?

Oh that little girl made my heartrate soar…


As if surviving middle school and high school wasn’t enough, we’re continually bombarded by “likes” in our culture.  We wait for the newsfeed counter to tell us how many we’ve gained on social media, and we feel a lack when the internet voices are silent.

Adulthood presents just as much of a longing to belong.  For people to approve of my house or my desires– think my kids are well behaved.  For others to notice my hard work or my quiet spirit (the latter I have never been pointed out for! Ha!).

If this isn’t true, why do we buy a new car or take a great vacation or have our kid selected as honor student and immediately put it on Facebook– aren’t we all searching for someone’s notice?

No matter what persona we like to put out, it’s HARD when others simply don’t like us.

Did I do this to my little girl?  Did I unintentionally give her the feeling that people have to “like” us.  I’ve been so careful with my kids (even at their young ages) to quiet myself on body image and attitude (<- ok, that one notsowell), did I give the feeling that I, too, was waiting for the next approval rating from my peers?

I love the words of Brené Brown, who in her book Daring Greatly, said, “Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.”

{{All the praise hands on that one!}}

So your supportive mom is upset- take notice.

Your best friend is frustrated with you- take notice.

A girl you see at school pick-up is nasty- WALK ON BY.

Crabby lady in the grocery store whines about your kids- WALK ON BY.

We can’t control everyone.  And really, if we are Christians, God redirects our focus.  In her book, Unashamed, Heather Davis Nelson says, “We expect the worst from others, and we assume that they think about us as negatively and as much as we fear they do (which is not usually true).  Yet even if their thoughts of us were as condemning as we fear, we are living for the wrong audience.  As someone created in the image of God and for the purpose of reflecting who God is, I am created to live before God alone.  (My emphasis added).


It’s hard not being liked, but we are FREE. 

Have you struggled with this, too?  How do we teach our kids to search for real friends not “likers?”

(Post contains affiliate links)


A walking tour of Pittsburgh – with kids

{Bus and Subway is optional}

Andrew Carnegie said, “Pittsburgh entered the core of my heart when I was a boy and cannot be torn out.”

It only takes a foot tour of downtown Pittsburgh to fall in love with the architecture, the city scape, and the river views.  A city that has survived the rise and fall of steel is one that charmed our young family on our weekend stay. My hope is that I can give you a taste of this modern city, one that surprised me.

A graphic designer I am NOT, but here is a map of the route our family took (but I corrected it to make better use of the subway and bus- we walked a LOT)

pgh-mapThe Allegheny County Courthouse was a great place for us to begin because it was a brief walk from our room at the Doubletree by Hilton.  Designed by H.H. Richardson, one of the most prominent American architects of the late 19th century, the courthouse reminded me of a building you’d see in London or Oxford, not in a midwestern city.  Tours are provided of the interior during weekdays, but we arrive until Friday evening.


Take a glance northeast and you can’t help but see the US Steel Building.  The 64-story tower is Pittsburgh‘s tallest building- and the COR-TEN steel used on the exterior causes the rusty color.


Next up is the City-County Building.  Here you’ll find a statue of Richard Caliguiri, who was Pittsburgh’s mayor from 1977 until his death in 1988.  They decided to put his statue on the steps of this building because he was often seen here talking to people.  The entry way to this building really is breathtaking.  Don’t forget to look up!


If you position yourself to walk down Forbes Ave to the west, you’ll eventually run into Market Square.  This area was just renovated in 2011 and contains one of Pittsburgh’s most noteworthy dining locales, Primanti Brothers.  Primanti Brothers has been in business since the 1930s and now has 17 locations all over the city of Pittsburgh.  They are famous for appearing on Man v. Food because of the way they stack their coleslaw and french fries ON the sandwich.  I’ll be honest, my husband and I weren’t impressed with the Pittsburgher (their #2 best seller- after beer), but I’ve heard good things about the sandwiches made from cold cut meats.  So, maybe we should give it another go?  I see there are now 3 Ohio locations (no way!)


When you’re on this corner by Primantis you follow a alleyway that opens to the PPG place.  PPG Place is a 6 city block complex and obelisk.  The PPG buildings have over 231 glass spires all covered in mirror glass.  The spires are to represent the way three rivers come together at Pittsburgh.  In the winter, this area houses an outdoor skating rink, and in the summer it’s the perfect place for children to cool off in the fountains.  Our boys loved the rhythm of the fountains, it was definitely a highlight!


From here I’d recommend heading towards the Gateway Metro Stop- but instead getting on a bus and taking it to W Carson/Duquesne Incline.  Buses in the city cost $2.50 per adult and we’re free for our kids.  $5 to save your legs (and let your Primanti Bros settle)!

The Duquesne Incline is a must-do for families staying in Pittsburgh.  There are actually two inclines, the Monongahela and the Duquesne, but I’d researched that the Duquesne offers the better views. Oh, it did not disappoint.  The trip up was a little hairy.  I may or may not have told my husband to stop pointing out how old the incline was or how rotten the boards were (aaahh), but the view was so so worth it.  Also, total cost- $12.50.  (Adults were $5 each, our 6 yr old was $2.50 roundtrip).  You won’t find anything else this cheap in Pittsburgh.

pgh13 pgh12

Now it’s time to burn off your Primantis so when exiting the Incline, cross the road and walk towards the Fort Pitt Bridge back into the city.  Pittsburgh is truly a city of bridges and crosses one of these giants makes you appreciate the city a little more (and maybe understand all the traffic drama we had getting into the city?).

After crossing the bridge, take the ramp down into Point State Park.  This area is designated as a National Historic Landmark.  The land was considered a strategic location in the Ohio Valley.  The French built a fort here.  The English built a fort here.  The Native Americans were here first (obviously).  The park was renovated in 2006 and now contains an outline of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt into the grassy area.  Our boys loved the fountain, especially when the wind would pick up and we’d all get a good soaking!  It really is a pretty area.  If we weren’t running after 3 little ones, I think Mr Yoder Toter and I would lay around on a blanket and… read a book (;)).




After you enjoy the park (and maybe take a nap), work your way back to the Gateway Metro Stop.  From here you can take a free subway ride to the North Shore.  It will save you more walking– and it’s FREE.  We used the T to get from our Steel Plaza stop to the North Shore. On a Sunday morning it was nearly vacant, so much so that at first we worried it was closed!

Geek alert- Forget Heinz Field and PNC Park, I wanted to see Mr. Rogers.  The 2009 Sculpture and Arch is called “Tribute to Children” and now takes the place of where a bridge was removed.  Mr. Fred Rogers was from nearby LaTrobe, PA. There’s even a speaker in the arch playing music and stories from Mr. Rogers.  I wish I could put a heart eye emoji, I definitely got verklempt when it started playing, “It’s you I like.



I can’t think of a better way to end your evening in Pittsburgh than walking by PNC Park when there is an evening home game.  I’m a sucker for the sounds and smells of the ballpark, anyhow, and this is one of the best.  Even better if you pay for admission and can watch the sights of the city as the sun fades.



If you get back to the Wood Street Metro stop you could either continue walking to your hotel or take the subway to the nearest location.

If you go:


We enjoyed our stay at the Doubletree by Hilton.  The room was huge and the beds were comfortable for the cost.  If you’re budget allows, I’d stay somewhere closer to Market Square that includes breakfast, like the Embassy Suites or Hilton Garden Inn.


We had a yummy pizza dinner at Milano’s on 6th Street.  The place was casual and affordable, perfect for kids.  Try the garlic knots!

With the kids

This was another trip that proved to us that the best $100 we ever spent was this lightweight, affordable, double umbrella stroller.  It says it’s only rated for 40 lbs per seat but we can easily push our 46 lb, 6-yr-old (plus another kiddo) and the thing is still in one piece!  It also made it to Australia and back in the underside of the plane!


Much of the information on Pittsburgh’s architecture and art came from a FREE downloadable guide provided by the Pittsburgh Art Council.  You can find that guide HERE.

Have you ever been to Pittsburgh?  Maybe you have an emotional soft spot for Mr. Rogers?  What’s your opinion on Primanti Bros?


*This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are my own*


I don’t do it all… and neither should you

I was talking to a friend the other night and she said, “you have a lot of responsibilities.  I don’t know how you do it.”  I laughed a little … because I don’t.


It’s a Thursday morning at 10:44 am and I’m sitting at the coffee shop typing this.  Alone.  You see, for the last 18 months or so, I’ve had a babysitter sitter come in at least twice a month to give me a morning to do whatever.  Right now I’m having a sweet young lady come once a week so I can pay bills, blog, run errands, etc…without kids.  This is a luxury.  I know it’s a luxury.

I’ve had a cleaning lady at times.

Even though I’m homeschooling Jackson, we typically only school 4 days a week.

We eat pizza once a week.

My kids eat PB & J for lunch AT LEAST 3 times a week.

My husband gives the kids a bath every night and that’s my downtime to go for a walk or do the dishes (those are far ends of the spectrum in terms of enjoyment).

When my husband travels, I’ve been known to feed my kids drive-thru Wendy’s and mac n cheese for DAYS.

I’m not doing it all.


All of us mothers are in different boats, too … financially… the role of our extended family…or even the time our husband is home v. at work (or single moms HOW DO YOU DO THIS?).   When I start looking around I start thinking I’m not doing enough and that’s when the mom guilt and the stress builds.

For instance:  I know a friend that watches cartoons with her kids and I AM JEALOUS OF HER.  When my kids are in front of the TV, I can’t sit still. I’m like a little child hyped up on Red #5 KoolAid.  But I want to take the moments with my kids. I want to look them in the eyes more instead of being Miss Productivity.

I want to do my computer work before they wake and after they go to bed so they don’t see me tied to it.

I want to spend less time griping at them when the day isn’t going as planned and it’s 2:30 and we haven’t even started school.

I want to not be doing the dishes at 8:40 pm (can I get an AMEN?)


I’m not looking to cut-throat motherhood, I’m looking to do-your-best-and-live-to-tell-about-it motherhood.

So do what works for your family.  Hire a cleaning lady if you need to.  Take time to rest if you can.  You don’t have to do it all, you just have to do something.

Keep looking forward, mama.  No time for looking around– unless you’re looking into those big eyes of your little ones. 🙂


No thanks, Pittsburgh: Your museums cost too much for my young family

I booked our last minute trip to Pittsburgh without doing something I preach over and over:  Cost planning.

I used Chase Rewards points we’d been accruing for YEARS and booked the Doubletree by Hilton for a whopping $57 total.  I had a total budget for the weekend, but completely overlooked the cost of experiences.

A few blogs and friends mentioned some different museums.  Which was all hunky dory UNTIL I looked at the prices.  How are these museum prices family-friendly?!

Let’s review the total prices to visit each museum for our family of 5:

  • Pittsburgh Children’s Museum: $74
  • Warhol Museum: $60
  • Phipps Conservatory: $63
  • National Aviary (for entrance + one show): $92
  • Carnegie Science Museum: $111.60

A weekend at the museums could literally set you back just over $400.

header pgh museums

I haven’t even fed my children yet.  Or paid for city parking.

Guys, I am a free-market capitalist.  I don’t want anything for nothing.    But, holy heck, this is not even realistic.  I look at these prices and think, “no wonder people think that travel isn’t worth it…or completely unattainable.”

On top of that, the Children’s Museum, the Phipps Conservatory, AND the National Aviary all charge for my 2 YEAR OLD.  It’s not significantly lower, either.  The National Aviary price for admission + one show is $19 for adults and $18 for kids 2 and up.  Geez, thanks for the $1 markdown for my child who may be sleeping in the stroller throughout our visit.

I really hate sounding angry, but I was so disappointed.  I’m not typically a museum person (especially when I’m wanting to read signs and kids are eager to go from station to station), but I’m sad that it literally costs so much for a visitor to see the inside of a building.  I know these museums and zoos have lights to keep on, and try to persuade people to get memberships, but the typical middle-class, out of town family, is going to just stay away.

So as much as I enjoyed our time in Pittsburgh, I kind of have a bad taste in my mouth.

Maybe our next trip will be to Washington, D.C. where most of the museums are free…  you know, courtesy of my tax dollars. (I crack myself up)!

What do you think?  Please tell me I’m not the only one thinking this is absurd!


The Good Zoo is a good zoo for children

I’d never heard of Good Zoo until I read a blog (ahem:  that’s your warning to keep reading blogs!) where the writer shared about the zoo and their Australian animals.

Knowing we’d yet to cross zoo off of our Summer Bucket List AND being a complete sucker for the word Australia, I figured that it’d be as good as time as ever (see what I did there?) to make a roadtrip stop at a newfound destination.

For most of us Ohioans, Oglebay is a household word.  The 1,700 acre resort just outside of Wheeling, West Virginia offers summer and winter activities and is well-known for it’s Christmas Festival of Lights.

We arrived just around lunch time and purchased our tickets.  The zoo is priced for families at just $33 for our entire brood (parking was free + C was free because she is under 3).

We packed a picnic lunch and had no problem entering the zoo with our sandwiches and drinks.  It appeared as though they do offer a lunch counter, but it was not open on the day we visited.  We were competing with no one to get picnic table space, I’m not sure what a normal weekend is like, but a Friday while school is in session was definitely quiet.



I loved this zoo because it’s highly walkable for little kids.  We had the double stroller with us, but for our ages of kids we wouldn’t have required it.  And because the zoo is in a park-like and hilly setting, many of the areas and walkways were shaded!  (Thank you, thank you- no Coppertone required)!

The zoo offers only 50 species of animals, but what I enjoyed about it was you could get through it in a day and didn’t feel rushed to get from one thing to the next.  We all know that the attention span of a 2 and 4 year old is about 2 hours TOPS, and we were able to fully see the zoo (and eat lunch) in about that timeframe.

The Australian area has a gated space where you can walk in with the kangaroos.  The adjoined Lorikeet Landing was something I was really looking forward to, but it wasn’t open on our visit.  Waaa.

The zoo also has cheetahs and farm animals and a red panda!  We’ve been learning about the continents in homeschool and this trip helped cement some of those geography concepts while also reminding our kids what kind of fun (and funny) animals live in different parts of the world.


Me:  “So kids, what was your favorite part of the zoo?”

J:  The train…and the playground

O: The hills- and those like monkeys things.  (the tamarins)

C:  The elephants!!!  (there weren’t any elephants!)

Another day of making memories with our kids!  The Good Zoo was good to us.


What’s your favorite zoo?


** This is not a sponsored post, but may contain affiliate links**