Turning a Dream Vacation to Israel into Reality

Bat Mitzvah Israel

I like to think I live “in the city”, but the reality is that I live in the ‘burbs. How do I know this? Easy, I drive everywhere. There’s no walking to the market, which I call a store because it’s not quaint and stocked with food fresh from the farm this morning. There’s no bumping in to friends while on a stroll. I don’t stroll. If I’m out walking, I’ve got my headphone in and am exercising, not strolling. And there surely isn’t casually grabbing a coffee since there’d be a weeks’ worth of texts just to plan a 20-minute coffee.

Paris Flower Shop


Jerusalem Shuk


Israel Juice Stand

But I wish I lived in the city. Spending time in Tel Aviv, where people were meeting for coffee all hours of the day and night, or in Paris where it seems that 20-steps from your quaint city-center flat is a flower stand filled with fragrant and beautiful buds, or even in Jerusalem where the market was bustling and filled with fresh goodness row after row, has me longing for that vibe. And while a grand summer vacation is fabulous, the reality is that summer is usually one big staycation. And I’m using staycation very loosely.

As I was missing the seemingly ease of the city-dwellers life, I shared that I wish I had the ability to just walk past a flower stand and within minutes carry out a beautifully wrapped bouquet. Stopping at the grocery store and browsing the industrial flowers just doesn’t have that same feeling. The PR team at ProFlowers noticed my public lament and offered to help me recreate that feeling with one of their beautiful tropical floral arrangements. Within days the flower shop came to me in the form of a large box dropped off by UPS. Inside was a little slice of Tel Aviv, Paris, Jerusalem, and Dublin.

Jerusalem - Hawkins Trip 2015

Instantly my house was filled with the scent that made me think of the flower shop on Rue Cler in Paris. The bouquet added just the pop of color to remind me of the little vases on the tables in the cafés along Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. One bouquet had all of us talking about our trip, thinking about the local resorts and their huge arrangements in the entry, and feeling like “the rest of summer” was, at least for a short time, a little staycation at home.

As we traveled around Israel this summer, we hear a lot of people refer to our trip as “a dream vacation” and “once in a lifetime”. I sure hope not! While it did take a lot of planning and saving, I definitely want to do it again. And again. And again. I hope. To lots of different places. Once I knew we were having a girl, I knew about 12 years later we’d be having a Bat Mitzvah. These don’t sneak up on parents. I had a plan A and a plan B for BabyGirl’s Bat Mitzvah, because my grandma would be 93 and I’m not naive to what that could mean. When my grandmother passed away at the end of 2013, the plan B Bat Mitzvah planning was kicked into high gear. As far as Bat Mitzvah’s go, having one is Israel isn’t all that much of a stretch. While not uncommon, though, it’s not all that common either. But I was going to do it.

Jerusalem Family Vacation


Haifa Vacation

I know people who will take a cheap flight to Paris for the weekend. Or go to Iceland for a few days to catch the Northern Lights. Few people, though, ever say, “hey, let’s go to Israel next week”. And while it’s an absolutely gorgeous place, the reality is many people are scared off by the news stories. For me it wasn’t a hindrance. I’d spent weeks in a bomb shelter when I was in Israel back in the mid-80s. I knew the situation of the 2014 summer wouldn’t last long. And if it did, well, that’s what travel insurance is form.

This idea of a “dream vacation” escapes me because my grandparents traveled extensively, so I knew that the world was out there waiting for me. I feel that it’s my job to give that same sense of wonder to BabyGirl. CycleGuy didn’t grow up with his family spending a month in China, weeks in Greece, or making several trips to Israel and Egypt. And while it didn’t take much convincing, there was still some apprehension. Israel does not have the same draw, or at least  it did not before our trip, as Paris or London or Dublin.

Planning a trip of this magnitude isn’t easy. If it were “just a trip” I may have felt like there was more room for chance. Ask any parent planning a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and you’ll understand the need for orchestration. However, big dreams don’t become reality without a little bit of extra work. All that work was worth it! Now, to dream more big vacation dreams. And you? Get to dreaming and doing too!

What’s your dream vacation? How are you going to make it a reality?



6 Reasons To Choose Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort for Your Disney World Vacation

Sheraton Vistana Villas

For our annual summer pilgrimage to Central Florida one of the toughest questions is whether or not to stay on-site at Disney World. There are many options for both, but there are pros and cons that need to be weighed in determining if you stay on-property or off-site when you visit Disney World. Things like getting a rental car, paying for parking, and the logistics of getting around. And, while some people would never stay off-site and others would never stay on-property it’s a decision I go through every year.

We’ve stayed on-property many times and know which options work best for us if we do. Our favorite place to stay is the Grand Floridian. We’ve stayed there a few times and it’s always worked out well for us. But this time we’d be splitting our visit between Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando. This was our first visit to Universal Studios and while we knew we would be staying on-property because we were attending the Family Forward retreat at the Loews Portofino Resort our time at Disney was much more leisurely.

Having been to Disney World many times, the introduction of the new Fastpass+ system, BabyGirl being older and having a more active role in our planning, and the need for space, this year we chose to stay off-site at the Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort. Since off-site resorts can be a bit of a hit or miss proposition I researched every review site before making the decision. And we were definitely not disappointed.

Sheraton has a number of resorts in the area, but this one worked best for us based on price, location, and amenities. The big winner was being able to get to 2-bedroom villa that was in our budget and within our “no more than 10-minutes away” criteria. No, 3 people don’t really need a 2-bedroom villa. Especially when I’ve read about 5 people staying in some of the smallest rooms at the value resorts. But, vacations are highly personal and what works for my family may not be what works for others. For us, though, having a big place – it was 1,100 square feet – gave us all the space we wanted.

So why would we need 1,100 sq. ft. for a vacation? It definitely wasn’t a matter of need, more like want. And here’s my 6 reason we chose Sheraton Vistana Villages Resorts.

Sheraton Vistana Review

1. 2-Bedroom Villas – It’s OK to stay in a standard hotel room for a few nights. But for 10 nights? After awhile we all want out own space. Also, when BabyGirl goes to bed, CycleGuy and I are able to stay up late and work without bothering her. It’s also easier to get ready when you have two bathrooms!

2. Convenient Location – We were within our “less than 10-minutes” area, meaning we could get to any Disney Park, Downtown Disney, and the Disney Water Parks easily. The resort is also within a few minutes drive of grocery store, drug stores, shopping (hello Outlets!), and restaurants. It’s also convenient if you’re splitting your visit to other attractions in Central Florida.

3. Free WiFi – Connectivity is now a must rather than a “nice to have”. From BabyGirl wanting to stream movies, to CycleGuy and I still needing to do work, having complementary WiFi is just one less thing to worry about. And, unlike some resorts that say they have “free wifi” but charge a daily resort fee (that is not optional!), Sheraton Vistana Villages has no resort fee or other hidden fees.

4. Full Kitchen – This is a biggie for us. We’re breakfast people. Not going out for breakfast, but making breakfast kind of people. We don’t do this as a cost saver, rather it’s more of a convenience. When we hit the parks we don’t want to spend an hour of time grabbing breakfast. We’re fueled up and ready to keep up with crazy coaster tween the moment we arrive! Sheraton has everything you really need in a kitchen. It’s not fully stocked like home, but for a home-away-from-home for a week or two it’s pretty darn good.

5. In-Villa Laundry – OK, this may not be a big seller but I hate taking a ton of clothes when I travel. With many airlines limiting bags (we fly Southwest so it’s not really an issue – love you SWA!) so you may have to consider doing laundry. I’ve never been a fan of laundry mats but I’ll do ’em if I have to. Having a washer and dryer in the villa is so convenient. I was able to wash clothes without worrying that someone will steal my things or having to camp out in an icky laundry room for a few hours.

6. Housekeeping Optional – this may not be a big deal for most, but for us it was good to have the option. If daily housekeeping (they’ll still give  you towels if you need them) isn’t your thing there is a discount provided. Some people don’t like other people coming in to their hotel, even if it’s to clean up. And for most of us, we don’t change out our linens daily and don’t need it done when we travel. Yes, I love being taken care of when I travel. And I’m not about to take a bunch of extra time to play housekeeper. But if you’re doing to decline daily housekeeping why not get some benefit. Right?

Sheraton Vistana Villas Review

There are plenty of other reasons, like the multiple pools, fitness center, free parking, market, restaurants, and on-site spa. I liked having the gated entry. It was nice to “come home” at night and be welcomed back. Few places off-site are going to compare to the Grand Floridian, and I hear that a few times from BabyGirl. But she liked having her own room and it feeling more like home. We get up early to hit the parks so having a place to relax and get a good night sleep is important.

Next time you’re starting to plan for your trip to Disney World, Universal Orlando, Sea World, or any other destination in Central Florida, check availability at the Sheraton Vistana Villages Resort. We’re pretty picky and if both CycleGuy and BabyGirl say they’d stay again, then it’s a winner!

Image Credit: Starwood Hotels & Resorts (because I was lame and didn’t take any decent photos!)
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. And even though there is no requirement I tell you this, I just want to make it clear.


5 Vacation Memory Lessons From A Tween Traveler

Vacation Memory Lessons

I remember one vacation from my childhood, a trip to California with my grandparents. That family vacation was everything to me, not just when I was 7, but for many years to come. Even today it takes me back to 1977. vacation memories

So when I became a mom I wanted BabyGirl to have more than just one vacation to shape her childhood memories. About a year ago, as I talked to her about memories from our recent vacations I learned a big lesson. My desire to make memories for her, no matter how big or amazing or magical or fantastical were just that. My vacation memories. She needed to make her own vacation memories and instead of trying so hard I needed to let go.

5 vacation memory lessons from a tween

  • Kids will remember things differently than parents but it’s supposed to be that way.
  • A child’s idea of fun may not be the same as mom and dad.
  • Memories are personal and can come from experiences both big and small.
  • Parents’ joy and excitement, as well as my other emotions and feelings, shape the memories others make.
  • Kids aren’t thinking about making memories, they’re just trying to have fun in that moment.

Tween Vacation Collage

Out of the mouth of babes, yes? These kids are so much smarter than we give them credit. Shared experiences can turn in to memories. But as a parent my job is to provide opportunities to create memories, not to force my ideas of what should become her lifelong childhood memory.

Tween Statue of Liberty Selfie

Here’s to superhero families and childhood memories to last a lifetime!


The Photo That Captured Summer

Samsung GS4 Winning Photo

Summer is officially over as BabyGirl heads back to school today. As I looked back through the multiple hundreds of photos from the summer, I kept going back to this one.

Taken at the end of July in Venice Beach, it sums up the feeling of this time. We’re happy to have had summer and all its adventures, but there’s something special about school, too – the friends, the structure, the groups, the playground. BabyGirl just loves learning. Which is probably why I’ve never given up homeschooling even though she goes to school.

But summer means a little time at the beach. And while I did bring my dSLR and captured many great photos, it’s this photo that speaks to me. Taken with my Samsung Galaxy S4, it wasn’t as planned as it may look. I was trying to get the sunset (so I can share it on Instagram, of course) and BabyGirl had been playing in the waves. She watched as the water retreated then turned around and jumped up with an “I’m flying!”

And so it goes. If I had planned it I never would get this shot. The best part is that I was actually watching her, not experiencing it through a lens.

If you went through all your photos this summer, would you have one that captured the summer?

Disclosure: Verizon Wireless provided me with a Samsung Galaxy S4. This is not a sponsored post and no compensation was provided for this post. This post reflects my views and opinions and was not reviewed or edited by a third-party. I do, however, have a business relationship with Verizon Wireless and thus I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.


Tips For A Great Family Vacation


Whether spring break or summer travel, family vacations are often on the schedule. For some, the childhood memories are filled with fun experiences of family vacations at the beach, camping, drives to the national parks. For others, it was just hours in the car wanting to be anywhere but there. As parents we want to create vacations our children will remember fondly for many years to come. But how? Visit me over at Enough Time Moms and learn tips for creating a great family vacation.

Disclosure: I am a compensated blogger for Enough Time Moms. This post reflects my views and opinions and was not reviewed or edited by a third party. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Image credit: Image: Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Mamavation Monday: Lunch at Epcot

As I mentioned last week, meal planning for Disney World can take a lot of the worry out of what to eat. When you’re looking for something quick so you can get back to the rides and attractions, often it’s easy to find a place that serves burgers. One advantage of planning ahead is knowing what park I was going to be at so I can figure out where we’d eat lunch. BabyGirl had a chemistry class at Epcot so I knew we’d get lunch when she was done.

One of my favorite places in Future World at Epcot is Sunshine Seasons because the focus is on using local ingredients. It’s not all local and natural but one of the new offerings for lunch is this beautiful beet salad. As a lover of beets, I was so excited! The field greens are lightly dressed with a light orange vinaigrette. It was so light that there was no sign of dressing on the plate. And the goat cheese was just the right amount to add something creamy and tangy to the sweet beets and crispy greens.

So it is possible to have a tasty lunch that won’t break your calorie bank! It does take some planning, but like going anywhere new it’s just a little extra time. I had to think outside the box a bit for my lunch and be willing to look at all the options. And because the online menus are not updated since Disney changes things up periodically, I had to take time to check out everything at this restaurant before settling on my lunch. But, just like trying something new at home a little investment of time can pay off big dividends.

Don’t fear vacation dining! Know your limits and be willing to be flexible and you’ll find success too!



Mamavation Monday: Planning Ahead for Disney World

I’m in the final stages of vacation planning. The suitcases are out and the packing list actually has things checked off and there are piles of clothes, toiletries and extras waiting to be organized so there are no over-weight baggage fees. See, even my luggage needs some mamavation!

I’ve spent the past several months planning out this vacation. We’re making our annual trek to Walt Disney World and with that comes making sure many of our meals are arranged in advance. Unlike most vacations where you can almost always find something to eat within a few minutes, Disney World requires planning. Restaurants are often full at peak dining times and unless you are lucky, it is a real possibility that you’ll be eating fast food (or Counter Service or Quick Serve meals, as it is known at the House of Mouse). I don’t eat burgers, chicken nugget and hot dogs too frequently when I’m at home so I’m definitely not going to eat them for multiple meal when I’m on vacation. Besides, I think vegetable should be involved – and no, iceberg lettuce and hot house tomatoes on a cheeseburger don’t count.

Since it’s not our first trip to Disney I’m pretty familiar with most of the restaurants where we’ll eat. And, again, this year we’re not on the dining plan because I have a really hard time with most of the kid’s menus having high fat and fried foods. Also, we’ve found that we either eat too much or waste food. Neither of which are good.

One of the biggest concerns I hear about people vacationing at Disney is they worry about what they eat. It’s very easy to be tempted. I know where every churro, Dole Whip, Chocolate Covered Mickey ice cream and frozen coke stand is located. And let’s not even mention that I’ll be there for the final weekend of the Food & Wine Festival and will be surrounded by such deliciousness that just typing this makes my mouth water.

Family vacations can often be stressful, and a full day at the Disney Parks is right up there. Eating a healthy meal should not add to the stress. With a little planning ahead, I know where I can get quick snacks to tide me over without breaking my calorie bank. I also know that Disney is supportive of my healthy eating so I can ask for modifications to my meal to help me stay within my allotted points budget.

I look forward to the favorites such as Le Cellier, Crystal Palace and Citricos as well as all the new booths at the Food & Wine festival at Epcot as well as Saana at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Even more exciting is knowing that I have a plan that will work not only for me, but also my family. And one that does include Dole Whip, Mickey Waffles and Pretzel Bread.

When you’re on vacation do you make sure you stay on plan or do you give yourself permission to throw caution to the wind?