Taking a Chance in Cabo

6 Apr

It’s no secret that I like to travel – especially when it involves escaping to a warm, sandy beach when good ol’ Minnesota has been boasting some of the coldest temperatures on record. More than 40 days with temperatures below ZERO, I mean — really? I had somehow convinced myself that traveling to Key Largo in December would suffice for a warm vacation until spring rolled around. That lasted until about January 1. I started looking for beach destination vacations after I somehow managed to lock myself out of the house one morning with poor baby Sophie when the air temperature was -13 degrees.

I am a huge proponent of online reviews. I don’t book a hotel room or a restaurant reservation until I’ve read at least a few reviews online about others’ experiences. Have I met any of these people before? Most likely not, but I am putting my trust in them that they reviewed the establishment honestly and fair. And to this date, I’ve had pretty decent success.

After introducing my husband to all-inclusive resorts last year, he’s basically refused to go to anything but when a beach is involved. He likes that he can go get a mango-tango fruity drink anytime he pleases (and I won’t deny I don’t mind indulging in unlimited chips & guac). I started our vacation search in Mexico – typically cheaper than the Caribbean islands, but it was spring break time…. so, yeah. For the same cost of a trip with 37 layovers to Cancun, we could get a one-stop layover trip to Cabo. Done and done.

Cabo shoreline

Our Cabo view for the week.

My last trip to Cabo was a memorable one – and not for the reasons you’d think. My cousin and I got food poisoning from one of the buffets – and I’ve never looked a turkey the same again. This time around I was determined to find a resort where the threat of food poisoning was minimized (read: waaaay nicer). One resort that caught my eye was the Royal Decameron in San Jose del Cabo; it had recently gone under new ownership and was completely renovated. The resort was significantly smaller than the Hyatt’s of the area, but still donned the same views and was competitively priced.

Cabo beach

San Jose del Cabo beach by morning.

The pictures piqued my interest so I went straight to the reviews section – nothing by 4 and 5 stars. The further in-depth I read though, I learned the Royal Decameron used to be a nudist resort of types – but under new management, changed the way they did business. The only complaint I consistently come up within the reviews was despite changing how they did business, there was still evidence of the previous ownership throughout the resort by way of provocative paintings. Through numerous complaints, current ownership – rather than replace the paintings – hired what had to have been an amateur artist to paint ‘fig’ leaves to cover certain body parts. I found the paintings more humorous than offensive – especially with the added ‘leaves’ (which looked more like Christmas trees). We decided to book the trip and take a chance on a newly renovated, former nudist resort.

Our cab ride from the airport to the resort left us feeling like we had made a mistake. When we told the cab driver where to take us, he chuckled and said, “oh, the swingers resort?” AH, what?! Had new ownership only transformed the former nudist to a now swingers resort? What did we get ourselves into?! We had a sense of relief to find out that it was also a former swingers/nudist resort.

We gambled and won. The online reviews, once again, did not lead me astray. We enjoyed our time at the modestly-clothed, newly renovated resort and would welcome the opportunity to stay the Royal Decameron again.

Fitting It All In

6 Mar

My husband and I got a puppy over Christmas. She’s a five-month old yellow lab and is the sole reason the Caribou Coffee down the street from us is boasting huge profits for the last three months.

How does society expect you to work full time, attend and participate in industry networking events, maintain a healthy lifestyle by going to the gym (or yoga classes), blog for yourself, play with a puppy enough to exhaust her, have a sit down dinner with your spouse/family (which is a must in our household), entertain an attention-deprived cat, catch up on a favorite TV show, call friends and family to see what’s new, and still get enough sleep to function the next day? Plus, eventually, we’ll add a kid or two into the mix. Yet somehow, we’re still able to fit it all in.

For many business owners, digital marketing is what gets axed from the plan – whether it be because of resources, time or finances. Websites are sub-par and social media profiles are lacking in appearance, engagement (or existence). But your online presence is one that nearly every single one of your customers will see in one way or the other. From someone Googling an address (local search), to searching for contact information (schema updated), shopping online (website), researching (blog), or interacting (social media), your online presence is become vital to adapt and thrive in a modern marketing world.

Digital marketing is an ongoing task, no doubt. However, minor updates here and there can do wonders for your online visibility. For social media profiles, make sure your cover photos, about & contact information are up-to-date, and you link to your website. When you run a promotion, have a sale, launch a new product, receive an accolade or have community exposure, write a quick post. Social media is a free (for now) publicity tool where you can control the messaging about your brand. For your website, check for broken links and regularly update content on your pages to reflect your current business products, services or practices. Always make sure contact information is current so your customer can contact you!

As you evaluate your company and your marketing needs, don’t forget about online. Online and mobile visibility is only going to grow, and with the ability to control your presence, the decision should be easy. Cutting corners shouldn’t be about sacrificing your business’ presence; if you’re strapped for time, small changes here and there should suffice. But don’t forget about it altogether. You’re only hurting yourself in the long run when you’re stuck playing a game of catch up.

If we can somehow find the time to keep an insanely energetic puppy and a self-proclaimed attention-deprived cat entertained thoroughly enough, on top of all of our other daily obligations, your business will thrive when you find time to fit digital marketing in.

Worst Winter Ever

28 Feb

This winter has been the worst ever. But that’s not a secret to anyone in the Midwest, particularly the state of Minnesota. We’ve had above average snowfalls and waaay below average temperatures. Like subzero temperatures for MORE THAN 40 DAYS already – and it’s only February.

I won’t lie. It’s been a struggle. I don’t deal with cold very well as it is. Combine that, with below average temperatures and a puppy with the world’s smallest bladder, I’ve been consistently wearing at least two pairs of pants (if leggings are counted as pants these days) and multiple sweaters to keep warm – and that’s just when I’m indoors! We’ve been doing everything we can to keep warm without cranking up the heat because our electric bills have been through the roof. My solution? Snuggle with furry friends.

Max lap cat

You stay warm, Minneapolis.

Key Largo, Montego, Baby Why Don’t We Go

30 Dec

The husband and I wanted a quick getaway before our puppy came. We’re calling it our “puppymoon” – is that a thing? Because it should be. There’s honeymoons and babymoons, but there really should be puppymoons. Disclosure: I am not a parent. However, I think a baby would be far simpler than a puppy.

We’ve had our little bundle of joy since Saturday, December 21.

Our last bit of peace, quiet and sanity occurred December 14-18 when we were in Florida. We had always talked about going to the Florida Keys to see what it was really like. We’d heard that it’s extremely relaxing, but the beaches aren’t necessarily the best. How can a Florida beach not be the best? My thoughts exactly.

Thanks to my awesome travel planning skills, I scored us a good deal on airfare. However, we were flying into Miami and out of Fort Myers, neither of which is near the actual island, Key West. We stayed in Key Largo, where we were one of 35 rooms in a 180-room hotel. It was perfect. The beach, on the other hand, was not what I’d necessarily consider a “beach.” We were surrounded by water, we could hear the waves crashing and the constant squawking of sea gulls, but there was no sand. The ‘sand’ on the beach was little stones – and it felt like walking on glass shards. Needless to say, we wore flippy floppys at all times. But the view was still gorgeous.

Key Largo

Key Largo was much more industrial than I would have pictured the Florida Keys – and was mostly residential areas. Maybe that is what was so serene about the place we stayed – there was NO one around and we hardly saw boat traffic in the bay our hotel was on. The only exception of a daily disturbance was the hotel’s bartender and his parrot (Mango), who lived on a boat that was docked about 100 yards from the hotel’s beach.

We ventured only to Islamorada for dinner one night, but didn’t make it any further down US Highway 1. Despite what I’ve read about US Highway 1 being one of the most scenic drives in the country, we opted not to drive down to Key West to see the southernmost point of the USA. We feared getting stuck in the two-lane traffic on US Highway 1, wasting one of our limited number of days on our mini-getaway. Islamorada was much more touristy than Key Largo – and incredibly windy. We wanted to have dinner on the water, but that wasn’t happening. The restaurant we chose had the windows closed due to high winds and fear of jumping fish from the ocean to your plate.

Our adventure continued from Key Largo through the Everglades and on to Fort Myers. The drive was only about four hours, but Pat’s very concentrated, determined driving got us there on-time (if not a little earlier). Quick backstory: Pat is mortified of snakes. Driving through the Everglades, he was convinced a snake was going to slither through barbed wire fence along the highway, over the hot asphalt and through the car floor to eat him. This motivated him to get through the Everglades as quickly as possible. Luckily, we made it to the western Florida coast in plenty of time for a beautiful sunset by the Fort Myers pier (before a delicious BBQ dinner) to cap off our trip.

Fort Myers

Ultimately, due to traffic, we didn’t make it all the way down the Florida Keys to Key West. Someday we will. Rather, we opted to soak up as much beach time and sun as we could – which in hindsight was the best thing we did, because this winter has been the worst winter ever. 40+ days below zero (temperature, not including windchill)? No, thank you. Consequently, the worst winter ever also happened to coincide with getting a puppy. Worst winter ever, times two.

You Had Me at Hello

22 Dec

We’re proud to announce the arrival of the newest addition to our family. World, please meet little miss Sophie.

Sophie puppy pic

She’s a purebred yellow lab and is nine weeks old. Cuteness overload.

I’ll start by saying this: I’m not a dog person. I never have been. I had two horrible experiences as a child that scarred me, plus I had grown up with a pet cat my entire life. Pat, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. When we met and he found out I had a (fat, cute) cat, he winced. This has been a battle going on for five years – until recently.

Most of our friends have dogs for pets – and they’re great. Encounters with our friends’ dogs made me realize my neighbors growing up just didn’t care to train their dogs. The more Pat talked about how great dogs were, the more I became convinced they’d be a great companion for walks and good addition to our little family. But I vowed if we ever got a dog, it would be the best behaved dog ever because I refused to let a dog we owned cause a child (or adult, for that matter) to be fearful of dogs like I was/am.

Fast forward to December 2014: Pat and I are now the proud pet parents to Sophie. We drove to meet the breeders in Mankato at the Happy Chef (looked like some deal going down in the parking lot!). They were a lovely couple who had been breeding labs and golden retrievers since 1997; they seemed legit. They opened the back of their truck to show us the puppies. It was love at first sight. There she was, our 11-pound ball of fur under a pile of other puppies (Sophie was the only female in a litter of eight!), just waiting for us to take her home.

She was fat and cute and shivering when Pat held her for the first time. She seemed bigger than Max and I wasn’t sure how to hold her, but she cuddled right up into my arms as soon as Pat handed her off to me, nestling her nose in my sleeve. Are you kidding me?!

She slept the entire ride home from Mankato. Once we brought her inside at our home, she immediately took to the bed I bought her and slept peacefully for most of the day. I hope this is an indication of how the next 10-12 years with her will go. HA.

Social Media: Creepy or Strategic

7 Dec

I tweet. Not a lot, but I tweet. And my tweets are pretty random covering all things I’m into or enjoy, including online marketing, country music, Wisconsin Badgers (or UW-alum related anything), baseball, my love-hate relationship with the Minnesota Twins, traveling, beaches, my husband’s goofy antics, and my cat’s quirks (soon-to-be puppy, too!).

My husband and I are avid watchers of The Big Bang Theory on Thursday nights. We were late to the party, so we caught up on the first five seasons in just a couple weeks. For those who aren’t familiar, Sheldon’s character likes a particular song sung to him when he’s not feeling well – and it goes a little something like this: “Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur. Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr, purr, purr.”

Recently, I tweeted a picture of Max (my adorably fat cat) sleeping, along with the latter part of that song. Purina, who I don’t even follow on Twitter (nor do they follow me), responded to my tweet.

While I do feed Max Purina-brand food – and continue to do so – I was taken aback by their response.

Creepy or strategic?

I was bothered at first. Purina doesn’t follow me. A more applicable situation for them to respond with that tweet was if I had said something or asked about pets dreaming. But I didn’t. I simply shared a picture of my cat sleeping and mentioned nothing of the sort about dreaming. Have I wondered if Max dreams while he’s asleep (especially when I see his whiskers twitching)? Sure. But not aloud – or on social media. Creepy.

It was strategic of them in the fact that I AM talking about their response. It got me to notice their brand and I clicked through the link to see what it was about because I was curious. Online marketing is half about your presence, half about the user experience you create and half about relationship building. Yes, RELATIONSHIP building. In order to earn links, clicks, share, mentions, likes, tweets, circles and pins, users have to know about your brand and trust or believe in what you’re selling.

So as an online marketer, I respect the fact they’re trying to make conversation with a potential client. However, develop more of a relationship before inserting random remarks about my cat’s dreams!

End rant.

Hiking Maroon Bells

10 Oct

Maroons Bells are two peaks in the Elk Mountains, Maroon Peak and North Maroon Peak, located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, near Aspen, Colorado. They are considered to be the most photographed peaks in Colorado.

I have a confession: prior to Jenna and Andy’s engagement, I had never heard of them. I had been to the Denver-area twice before but never ventured too far into the mountains. Now having been there, I’m furious. I’m kind of a picture fanatic (read: I take waaaaaay too many pictures) and while we wandered around the Bells for a couple of hours, I took literally 600 pictures. I was THAT in awe. Side note: the pics in this blog post are from my phone. They’re terrible compared to what my DSLR was able to capture.

I Googled Maroon Bells before our trip and the pictures online don’t do it justice. They’re beautiful. Icing on the cake? It was fall so the colors were insanely vivid – and just prior to our arrival in the greater Denver area, it had snowed, so the tops of the Bells were snow-covered awesomeness. (And never will you get me to say “snow” and “awesomeness” in the same sentence again.)

Maroon Bells

For those who have never been: it gets busy on the weekend. Unfortunately, due to our timing, that’s the only time we could make the trek out there. Also, on the weekend, you’re not allowed to drive into the park; you must bus. Since it’s their busiest time, they try to limit the amount of cars driving to help preserve the environment of the park (LOVE this place – more parks should get on board).

We hopped on an Aspen city bus to a quaint little shopping mall near one of the ski resorts (I want to say Highland?) and jumped on one of the buses to get into the park. There’s a small fee per person, but it’s totally worth it. Besides, I enjoyed the bus driver’s commentary about random Maroon Bells facts and happenings – something we wouldn’t have heard otherwise by driving in ourselves during the week. Interesting fact? They were performing a rescue of a hiker that was stuck in the mountains and had been missing for a few days.

Maroon Bells itself is HUGE. In order to get to the true ‘bottom’ of the Bells, you have to hike in about 5 miles. Since we arrived later in the afternoon and buses stopped running at 6 pm, we weren’t able to venture too much. We DID, however, encounter some park rangers who were guarding trails because some moose decided to bathe near the lake we were walking around.

Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells in the fall.

We hiked for about an hour into the park, which was probably a shorter distance than we thought we went. If you’re not trained or conditioned to walk (let alone hike!) at such high elevations, you lose breath by walking up seven steps – or playing mini-golf. I’m not saying that happened; I’m just saying it could have happened.

Consensus? Go. Go now. Maroon Bells is beautiful and you feel like you’re a world away.