6 things to do in Puerto Rico

This post brought to you by Puerto Rico, The All-Star Island. The content and opinions expressed below are that of this mama loves.

Puerto Rico is a 5-star vacation destination filled with world-class attractions. Whether you’re a golfer, foodie, the adventure type, or a beach (rum) bum, Puerto Rico has everything that you want in a nice relaxing vacation. Just hop on a plane and go!  Even from our little airport here in Hartford, we can pop on the plane and be in paradise in a few short hours.  After the winter we’ve had… I could be ready to leave in 20 minutes I think… especially since we don’t need a passport nor foreign currency to get there.

Puerto Rico Tourism recently partnered with popular travel review site Trip Advisor to transform real traveler 5-star reviews into stunningly beautiful short films narrated by Puerto Rican stars. Puerto Rico is filled with world-class attractions that will turn any trip into a 5-star vacation story. (If anyone is watching…I’m game to experience this in real time!!)

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My must-see and experience list for Puerto Rico?

Beach time. Lots and lots of beach time.  Did you know there’s over 270 miles of coastline? That’s a lot of sandy beauty. A definite stop would be Flamenco Beach in Culebra- featured in the Top 10 beaches from Travel Channel. I just need to find a few books to pack for beach reading. Doing some horseback riding on the beaches would be pretty amazing as well.

puerto rico beach

Credit: SeePuertoRico.com

Hike a rainforest in a US national park. El Yunque is the only rainforest under US nat’l park service, and who doesn’t want to climb to the clouds?

Explore the Camuy caverns for a day.  Enjoy the wonder of the subterranean world for a time.

Swim the Bioluminescent bays and glow- we’ll be like human glow sticks.  I didn’t know you could swim in a place that makes you glowy.

History Buffs can enjoy old world charm of San Juan. I’m pretty new to being a history buff, but walking through streets and buildings and walking where people walked hundreds of years ago is just something we should all experience as often as possible.  Exploring San Juan’s buildings and culture, shops and restaurants would be such a fun way to spend some vacation time!

historical places to see in puerto rico

Credit: SeePuertoRico.com

Speaking of shops…. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention shopping…and restaurants… because if you are going someplace new, you want to experience the food and all that there is to delight your belly.  Maybe even some rum, if you partake. I can just imagine sitting at a little table outside enjoying some amazing local delicacies sipping on a (weak) rum drink. Sounds like a marvelous plan to me!

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Check out how to Live your own 5-star vacation story in Puerto Rico. and tell me why you want to check out Puerto Rico!

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Take a Road Trip from NYC

Sometimes you just need to get out of the city, even if that city is as awesome as New York City. Living under the lights of skyscrapers and hearing the ever-present sound of sirens and walking down busy streets is second nature in NYC. But where do you go when you need to disconnect from city life and be grounded by a good drive? It is easy to take a road trip from NYC and leave city-life behind in as quickly as an hour. If you have more time, consider taking a one or two-day road trip and reconnect with yourself along the way.

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Take a Road Trip from NYC

Hudson Valley, NY

Hudson Valley can be anywhere from a 1-3 hour road trip out of the city. On the west bank of the Hudson River you have Bear Mountain State park that is the perfect place to have a midday picnic. During the summer you can go swimming or head over to the Trailside Museum and zoo. If you want to stretch your legs, hike the Shawangunk Ridge Trail and really see a different side to New York.

Litchfield Hills, CT

Who knew that just two hours outside of the city you could be wine tasting? A short 2-hour drive over to Connecticut and you can sip the afternoon away at Hopkins Winery and Haight-Brown Vineyard and Winery. These are not country wineries, but growing award-winning grapes for refreshing whites and sultry reds. The wineries have vineyard tours and some pretty awesome chocolate and cheese pairings. No need to head to Napa or Sonoma when you have these two little gems so close to home.

Bucks County, PA

Less than two hours outside of Manhattan, you could be soaking up a bit of history in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. If you like to drive and see covered bridges, Bucks County has you covered with 13 all along scenic back roads through the country. Stop in at The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works where you can watch local artisans at work in a living history museum. If you are an American Impressionist art fan, you have to stop in at the James A .Michener Art Museum which has one of the best collections found in the US. This area is so lush and beautiful as it is accented by the picturesque Delaware River.

 

Check out places to pitch a tent in New York

5 Tips for Cruising with Kids

Cruising with kids is a great family travel experience! Many cruise lines offer activities for adults as well as children, so it’s not likely you will be on a trip where you hear “I’m bored!” However, there are some things to consider if you will be bringing little ones with you.

tips-cruising-with-kids

Read on to learn several tips for cruising with kids!

 

  1. Pack well for small children.

 

If you have very young kids, make sure you have enough formula, baby food, toddler snacks, and diapers to last throughout your trip. Baby and children’s items aren’t commonly stocked on ships, so you may be in a bind if you try skimping on these things. Don’t forget their lovies.  They’ll be sleeping in a totally new place for the duration of your cruise, so bring something that makes them feel at home.  I always try to have small toys I bring when we travel with the kids that tend to have long periods of play time- my daughter’s Matchbox Mice are small and she can play with them for hours, a deck or 2 of cards, cats cradle jumprope, little notepads and colored pencils…even mini American Girl dolls for my oldest to play with.

 

  1. Opt for a family friendly cruise.

 

Everyone wants to have fun while on vacation, so make sure you choose a ship that has plenty for your little ones to do. Several top cruise lines  offer entertainment for all ages, including Princess Cruise Lines.

kids-areas-princess-cruise-lines

Even if you go for a trip with one of these lines, research thoroughly to make sure your kids will have lots of fun before you book. Some cruises don’t allow children under six months onboard – and others may not allow any child in diapers or training pants access to the pools.

Keep in mind how old your kids are and their interests when booking shore excursions as well. We did the Stingray City on our cruise aboard the Caribbean Princess and loved it- but there were families with our group and their kids were quite overwhelmed by the stingray experience. This was also a full day excursion and the kids were all totally exhausted well before our day ended.  Not a bad thing, but it really made us aware that you want to keep the kids in mind when planning activities- and definitely include some down time for beach and sand play!

 

  1. Look into babysitting services.

 

Just because you are cruising with children doesn’t mean the parents can’t have an evening alone, having adult fun. There may be in-cabin babysitters that will keep your kids while you head down for a formal dinner, but most cruise lines offer drop-off services that are more like parties for your youngsters. Even if it’s just 2 hours, take advantage of these amenities and have fun! (This would be the night I might consider doing the Chef’s Table for dinner- a 7-9 course meal is fabulous and amazing but probably not the ideal setting for kids!)

 

  1. Let your kids explore and have fun!

 

If you have older children with you on the cruise, don’t be afraid to let them go off on their own. Give them a two-way radio so you can reach them when it’s time for meals or planned family activities.

sports-court-princess-cruises

Also, consider getting two cabins for your family when you book the cruise. Since there is limited space in the cabins, both you and your kids will likely enjoy having more room to move around. Besides, this option may be more cost effective than getting a larger suite for everyone.

  1. Involve your kids in the preparation for the cruise.

 

Since a cruise is a unique family travel experience, discuss the trip with your kids. Tell them about the safety rules while aboard the ship. Let them help pack their belongings. Also,  allow them to assist you in your research, so you all pick a family friendly cruise line that has something for everyone!

The Princess Cruise Lines offer something for absolutely EVERYONE aboard their ships. I look forward to my next cruise with them so I can bring my own kids along and show them how fun cruising is! You will find tons of great information for planning your cruise with and without the kids no matter where you want to cruise or how long you want to go!

 

Have you taken a cruise with kids? Have any tips to add?

 

 

Thank you so much to Princess Cruise Lines for inviting me (and my cousin!) to come experience the 5 day Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Caribbean Princess.  Opinions are my own.

 

Double Chocolate Tiramisu Recipe

It’s finally here. Well, live.  The recipe that we made that is our closest approximation at home of the fabulous and amazing Chocolate Tiramisu at Sabatini’s Restaurant on the Caribbean Princess cruise ship. This chocolate tiramisu recipe has the same flavors, but it’s in a mini trifle form, because trifles are fun and mini trifles are even more fun.  I think I could spend a month trying to recreate all of the fabulous and delightful foods we enjoyed aboard that ship this fall! chocolate-tiramisu

Double Chocolate Tiramisu Mini Trifles –

Ingredients

1 package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature

2 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ C. hot water

½ C. semi-sweet chocolate (I use chocolate chips for this recipe)

1 ½ C. heavy cream

¾ C. sugar

1 24 ct package of lady fingers, any brand (I hunt for these as I’d never bought them before – ask the bakery section at your local grocer and save yourself some time! :) )

4-5 mini trifle dishes

Directions –

#1. Heat the 1 ½ C. of water in a glass dish in the microwave. Once it is heated through, add the cocoa powder to the hot water and mix well. Set aside.

 chocolate-tiramisu-ingredients

#2. In a small microwavable dish, melt the chocolate chips and ¼ C. of the cream. Heat in 30 second increments, stirring every 30 seconds until melted.

#3. Next, combine the melted chocolate & cream, sugar and cream cheese – beat using a hand mixer for several minutes until fluffy – it will take on a ‘pudding-like’ consistency.

 chocolate-tiramisu-progress

#4. Time to start layering the mini trifles! Add about 1-2cm of the chocolate mixture to the bottom of each mini trifle dish

Dip the ladyfingers 1-2 at a time in the cocoa/hot water mixture (quickly as they dissolve fast!) and then lay them on top of the chocolate mixture. I found that 2 lady fingers dipped in the chocolate mixture with a size for the mini trifle dish (see photo).

Next, cover with some chocolate mixture.

 chocolate-tiramisu-layer

Add 2 more lady fingers dipped in the chocolate/water mixture and then top with more chocolate mixture.

Garnish with a few extra lady fingers on top and some cocoa powder. Yum!!

Set in the fridge for several hours – overnight even, to set up completely.

 chocolate-tiraimsu-horizontal

*Makes approximately 4-5 mini trifles. You can also make one large trifle if you would prefer using the same amount of ingredients.

Princess Cruise Lines have partnered with Master Chocolatier Norman Love to offer Chocolate Journeys℠, an industry-first, premium chocolate experience onboard its fleet of 18 ships. The program will offer guests a variety of opportunities to taste the inspired creations crafted by Love. It will be on all Princess ships by January 1, 2015. Chocolate isn’t just about dessert anymore…although in this case, it’s totally about dessert. YUM.

Thanks to Princess Cruises for inviting me and a guest to enjoy a 5 day Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Caribbean Princess ship.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Double Chocolate Tiramisu Recipe
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ C. hot water
  • ½ C. semi-sweet chocolate (I use chocolate chips for this recipe)
  • 1 ½ C. heavy cream
  • ¾ C. sugar
  • 1 24 ct package of lady fingers, any brand (I hunt for these as I'd never bought them before – ask the bakery section at your local grocer and save yourself some time! :) )
  • 4-5 mini trifle dishes
Instructions
  1. #1. Heat the 1 ½ C. of water in a glass dish in the microwave. Once it is heated through, add the cocoa powder to the hot water and mix well. Set aside.
  2. #2. In a small microwavable dish, melt the chocolate chips and ¼ C. of the cream. Heat in 30 second increments, stirring every 30 seconds until melted.
  3. #3. Next, combine the melted chocolate & cream, sugar and cream cheese – beat using a hand mixer for several minutes until fluffy – it will take on a 'pudding-like' consistency.
  4. #4. Time to start layering the mini trifles! Add about 1-2cm of the chocolate mixture to the bottom of each mini trifle dish
  5. Dip the ladyfingers 1-2 at a time in the cocoa/hot water mixture (quickly as they dissolve fast!) and then lay them on top of the chocolate mixture. I found that 2 lady fingers dipped in the chocolate mixture with a size for the mini trifle dish (see photo).
  6. Next, cover with some chocolate mixture.
  7. Add 2 more lady fingers dipped in the chocolate/water mixture and then top with more chocolate mixture.
  8. Garnish with a few extra lady fingers on top and some cocoa powder. Yum!!
  9. Set in the fridge for several hours – overnight even, to set up completely.
  10. *Makes approximately 4-5 mini trifles. You can also make one large trifle if you would prefer using the same amount of ingredients.

Happier Holidays (and nights) #HappierHolidaysSweeps

It’s December.  Life is HECTIC for almost everyone.  Regular life activities, but also? Holiday shopping, baking, wrapping, gifting, visiting and celebrating on top of day to day activities.  It’s fun and it’s wonderful but it can also be oh so very stressful. Even finding places for friends and family to sleep when they come over the river and through the woods- what if Grandmother’s house doesn’t have enough beds?Thanks to Country Inns & Suites for sponsoring this post.  Horribly corny revisions of the beloved Christmas poem are my own.

christmas tree

The horse may know the way to carry the sleigh but if there aren’t beds to sleep in, Grandmother’s house may not be the best place to get a good night’s rest. That’s where Country Inns & Suites come in.  They want all of us to have Happier Holidays & Nights and they are offering a 4-night stay PLUS a $300 gift card to a lucky person who uses the #HappierHolidaySweeps on Instagram or Twitter. Actually, it’s to 25 lucky Grand Prize winners, but who’s counting? :) Thanks to Country Inns & Suites for sponsoring today’s post.

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Listen, we all want to have the ideal holiday memories. Life isn’t like the movies, and there aren’t always perfect arrangements.  When there aren’t- at least you have places like Country Inns & Suites to head to…unless you want Clement Clarke Moore’s works to be rewritten as follows:

The relatives were not quite nestled all snug in their beds

While visions of Sugarplums danced in their heads
And ‘Ma in (ust) her kerchief and I in (just) my cap
knew without help there’d be not a soul to nap…

christmas vacation

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
it was Aunt Bev yelling at John to pitch that tent flatter
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, in time to stop the crash…

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature Cabriolet and eight tiny horsepower-deer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his relatives they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now David! Now Dana!
Now, Parker and Vincent!
On, Carla! On, Cupid!
On, Donny and Franklin!
Don’t sleep on our porch!
Or lean against the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

clark griswold

As dry leaves that before the wild toddlers do fly,
when they meet with an argument, threw that last pie
so up to the Country Inns & Suites the relatives they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

american-girl-twinkle-party-dress

Don’t have unhappy holidays.  Book rooms at Country Inns & Suites and leave ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas the way it should be. If you and Grama don’t have room for people who come over the river and through the woods, book them at Country Inns & Suites.  Better still, enter to win the #HappierHolidaysSweeps and WIN that stay!

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How do you enter? Official stuff below

  • By posting #happierholidayssweeps hashtag on Twitter or Instagram- or via registration form– entrants will be entered for a chance to win. (Or all 3, each day, one per entry method (Reg. form, Instagram and Twitter)
  • Registration in specific states and/or countries: is open only to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are at least twenty-one (21) years old at the time of entry.
  • Program Period: 12/1/2014 @ 12:00:00 P.M. CT – 12/22/14 @ 11:59:59 A.M. CT
  • Prize(s) and Values: There will be 25 Grand Prize Winners for the entire program period. Each Grand Prize Winner will four (4) free nights at a Country Inns & Suites location, and a $300 gift card.

 

Facebook.com/countryinns

Twitter.com/countryinns

 

 

 

What does independence mean to you?

What does independence mean to you?

 

For different people, it can mean many different things. For some, it’s the ability to do what you what to do, when you want to do it (namely my children). For others, it could be financial independence. Being able to have your own money and support yourself without the assistance of someone else.

 

For the company Pure Energies, the word independence holds an entirely different meaning. For them, it means giving homeowners the ability to control their own energy bill and make their own choices. Here in America, we have gotten quite wrapped up in the concept of paying a utility bill each month to a company that decides rates, measures our use, and bills us on the sum of these things. Pure Energies, however, is introducing a different option entirely. This post is brought to you by our friends at Pure Energies. Opinions are my own.

katapo

They are allowing homeowners to option of generating and directly using their own power! This is truly a lesson is self sufficiency and independence. In order to teach this lesson to the best of their ability, however, they’ve decided to take some notes from some of the people who do this best… the Kayapo.

kayapo fish

The Kayapo is an indigenous tribe located in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Led by the International Conservation Fund of Canada, the CEO of Pure Energies will be taking a small team to live alongside this tribe for two weeks! They will be participating in the tribe’s traditions, and exploring the Amazon.

 

The purpose of this trip?

kayapo iphone

To learn and exemplify what it means to be sustainable and independent, through the eyes of the Kayapo people. These people effectively protect an area of the rainforest bigger than more than half the countries in the world from threats of loggers, ranchers, and miners. The area the Kayapo protect is equal to the size of the state of Virgina!

 

The lessons of the Kayapo women, men, and children will go a very long ways in teaching the world the meaning of independence. I can’t wait to see the footage and photographs the team brings upon their return! Follow their journey to discover independence, courage and freedom here.

 kayapo

What does being independent mean to you?

 

Chocolate Tiramisu Martini

This Chocolate Tiramisu Martini recipe was 100% inspired by my enjoyment of the chocolate delights we tasted while aboard the Caribbean Princess cruise ship in October.  There’s a very well known dessert aboard the Caribbean Princess, Sabatini’s Chocolate Tiramisu that I have heard about in many places, and it absolutely lives up to its reputation…(and I will share a version of it here this month)… but with the fun of the cruise ship and relaxing with friends… I wanted to do something special.

Chocolate Tiramisu Martini

chocolate-tiramisu-martini

 

Ingredients

1  jigger coffee flavored liqueur (many shot glasses are also this size. in our house, we eyeball)

1 jigger vanilla flavored vodka

1 jigger creme de cacao

ice

cocktail shaker

martini glass

tiramisu martini 3

Directions

Drizzle some chocolate in your martini glass.

In a shaker, combine your vodka, creme de cacao and coffee liqueur over ice.  Shake until your shaker starts to frost up.  Pour into your glass and serve with shaved chocolate on top.

tiramisu martini 4

 

Princess Cruise Lines have partnered with Master Chocolatier Norman Love to offer Chocolate Journeys℠, an industry-first, premium chocolate experience onboard its fleet of 18 ships. The program will offer guests a variety of opportunities to taste the inspired creations crafted by Love. It will be on all Princess ships by January 1, 2015. Chocolate isn’t just about dessert anymore!

Thanks to Princess Cruises for inviting me and a guest to enjoy a 5 day Western Caribbean cruise aboard the Caribbean Princess ship.

Exciting gift ideas #ExcitingHolidayGifts


Are you willing to step outside the norm this holiday season, by gifting something that goes above and beyond the normal Christmas gift? Excitations is encouraging you to do just that, and they’re making it awfully simple to choose unique and exciting holiday gifts!

Gifting an experience, rather than a gift, is a practice that has been quite common in Europe for many years. As is the usual case here in America, we’re a few years behind the trend. The custom didn’t begin to gain popularity here until around 2005, but has been spreading rapidly every since!

excitations-exciting-gift-ideas

What are exciting gift ideas? What’s an experience gift?

It’s exactly what it sounds like. A gift that you give to someone that goes much farther than a material item that can be eaten, worn, or used. The best part of the holidays is the memories that are left behind. Long after the gifts that are given have been forgotten, the memories still stay in tact. When you gift someone experience, you are actually gifting that memory!

WalkingPhotoSafariDC

What kind of experiences create memorable gifts?

family whitewater rafting

The possibilities are endless! Some of the top selling experiences at Excitations are; Wolf Watching, Gourmet Cooking Classes, sushi-making lessons, the chance to drive a NASCAR car, Gourmet Enthusiasts Cooking and Hang Gliding!

HangGliding

If you’re thinking “how in the world will I find an experience to gift them though?” Worry not. Head to the Excitations website, and browse the over 2000 options for experience. You can also choose to purchase an Excitations Gift Card, and allow the recipient to choose. Since prices are marked at the same price the provider is offering, you can catch the great holiday specials as they come! When you purchase an experience as a gift, you’ll leave out the booking date. The recipient will then be able to book their experience at their leisure!

 SupremeStockCar

Grab your FREE UPS ground shipping plus the waiver of the regular $4 handling fee is: MamaShip The code is good for excitations orders placed through 12/21 !!

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What experience would you LOVE to be gifted?

Thule Roof Rack

I love the new roof rack system that Thule sent to me for this post.  It was easy to install, very functional and quiet on the highway. This set-up came with Thule AeroBlade bars that have Wind Diffuser technology disturbs airflow to reduce noise and drag for improved fuel economy.  All pictured Thule items retail for approximately $500 and can be found online or in local stores.
mini countryman roof rack ThuleAs a family we love to go on adventures.  We hike, rock climb, geocache, and go biking.  I tried a hitch mounted bike rack on my last Mini but the weight of three bikes was too much for the light duty hitch.  So, when I got my new car I went straight to Thule.com for a solution.  I wanted something that would look great and carry three bikes.  The Thule Aeroblade bars are the perfect product.  They look like they came stock with the car and they can handle 3 bikes.

This set up includes:

Thule Podium Foot Pack  retail price $194.95

Low profile foot for vehicles with integrated  fixed point rack attachments.

Thule Aeroblade Load Bars retail price $169.95

WindDiffuser™ is a textured surface on the t-slot cover that disturbs the airflow better than a smooth surface, greatly reducing wing noise.

Thule Sidearm 594XT bike carrier retail price $199.95

I love this carrier because I don’t have to remove the front tire to mount the bike.  Once we get to our destination we are ready to bike.

Thule sends all their items with easy to follow directions full of images to explain the steps.  Thule Aeroblade bars provide with with the option of adding kayak racks, a roof basket, ski rack and so much more.  They will also last the lifetime of the car and beyond.

Mini countryman roof rack  thuleYour car may require a different set up so be sure to go to Thule.com and use their fit guide to see what will work for you.

 

These products were provided for this review.  All opinions are my own.

 

What do you carry on your car?

Coconut Citrus Body Scrub

Whether you have been on a tropical cruise and you want to recapture the feeling or you have just had THAT kind of day you need to escape from this delicious Coconut Citrus Body Scrub is the answer. Just where did the inspiration for this fabulous scrub come from?  The amazing Caribbean Princess cruise ship, on a 5 day Western Caribbean cruise I enjoyed with my cousin in October, which included both tropical cocktails, mocktails and spa treatments! A recurring ingredient and fragrance of those yummy drinks and spa treatments? Coconuts! (Check out our Tips for First Time Cruisers and our Girls Week Away post!)

tropical inspiration

 

To be temporarily whisked away to that tropical paradise, all you have to do is reach into your pantry and create a luxurious spa treatment at home. This decadent body scrub leaves your skin clean, moisturized, and soft while the scent transports you to the coast of somewhere wonderful where breezes blow, hammocks sway, and the waves lazily lap at the shore. It is perfectly acceptable to hoard this treasure to yourself but it also makes a fantastic homemade gift for friends and family- on it’s own or tucked inside a basket of other spa goodies.

 

citrus-coconut-body-scrub

Coconut Citrus Body Scrub

Ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 Tbsp. Dr. Bronner’s castile soap

1 1/2 tsp coconut extract

1 tsp. orange extract

1 tsp pineapple extract

zest of 1 orange

coconut citrus scrub ingredients

Directions:

Finely grate the entire skin of one orange.

coconut citrus scrub grate

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, you may want to add a bit more oil or extract to your body scrub until texture and smell are appealing to you- it is totally a matter of preference.

citrus coconut scrub

To use rub gently in a circular motion on wet skin then rinse off.

 

If you love homemade beauty products here are a few more you will enjoy:

pomegranate body scrub

Pomegranate Sugar Scrub

diy energizing citrus hand and body scrub

DIY Energizing Citrus Hand & Body Scrub

 

 

Thank you so so much to the Princess Cruise Lines for inviting myself and a guest on the Western Caribbean Cruise.  So many memories were made on that trip and so many things have been inspired since our return!