7 Things to Know When Planning a Visit to Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio

We have lived in Columbus, Ohio, for a long, long time--and the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium has always been one of our favorite family outings.  While we have visited the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium too many times to count; we had never ventured out to Wildlights at the zoo.  That is, until this year!  The schedule gave us an open, winter Saturday and the weather gave us a beautiful and unseasonably warm evening--and we made the trip to Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium.  It was a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season with the family!  I expect a Wildlights trip will be an annual event for us now!  If you have not gone to Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, there are a few things that we wanted to share with you before you visit so that you can make the most of your time at the zoo.  What are 7 things you should know when planning a visit to Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio?

Plan to Arrive Earlier than 5 p.m.  The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium is open during the winter months and many of the exhibits remain open for visitors.  Having said that, visitors will find some favorite exhibits closed for the winter season--so it is important to prepare the kids for that possibility. Our youngest daughter desperately wanted to see the penguins--but, the penguin exhibit was not available.    Luckily, arriving before 5 p.m. helped us have some daylight time to view some of the animals before the lines for entry became long and the park became more crowded.  Additionally, some animals, like the polar bears and the gorillas, are only out for viewing before 5 p.m.

Dress for the Weather.  While this should go without saying--it's still good to remember that Central Ohio weather often has little rhyme nor reason!  A beautiful afternoon can become quite cold once the sun goes down.  Sunshine can turn to rain, sleet or snow in minutes.  Check the local weather forecast before heading out and plan accordingly by dressing in layers or taking along a separate backpack with hats, gloves and scarves for the later evenings!  Visitors can seek a bit of refuge inside some of the indoor displays--but, much of the Wildlights experience is outdoors in the weather of the city.

Plan to Spend Money on "Extra" Activities.  The merry-go-round and the train are all decked out for the holidays--and the kids will likely want to ride them both.  Additional tickets are required for both activities and may be purchased near the rides.  Also, camel rides are open during Wildlights--and my girls will never be too old to want to ride a camel.  A visit to Mrs. Claus' kitchen will probably be a must-do also--and visitors should expect to spend money on sweets while there.

Schedule the Trip with Mealtimes in Mind.  In the hours before Wildlights opened at 5 p.m., most of the small food stands and kiosks around the park were closed.  During the Wildlights display; however, food and snacks and drinks were everywhere--and they can become a bit pricey for larger families!  Zoo visitors can bring in outside food and drink as long as carrying bags are within the new park guidelines.  Since the visit to Wildlights will likely be a cold one--and not really an all-day adventure--I would recommend eating lunch and/or a late dinner outside the park, packing water bottles and some light snacks, and buying cookies and hot chocolate during the trip.

Plan to Spend a Little Time in the Playground.  Although our girls are a little too old for the playground, the Jingle Ball animated light display was really cool.  The holiday music and light display was lively and upbeat and the kids (and parents) in the playground were having so much fun!  It was fun to simply watch them and be a part of the scene for a while!

Expect some Stroller Struggles.    The park gets pretty crowded as the evening goes on and large bulky strollers and wagons face some maneuverability difficulties!  Some of the displays have stroller parking outside the entrances--but, in the dark, it's hard to see those signs!  I always recommend a smaller stroller or even a backpack for little ones to make it easier for your family to enjoy the displays. 

Plan to Slow Down, Relax and Take A Lot of Pictures as You Stroll through Wildlights!  Smile, slow down, relax, and take a little time to actually enjoy the sights and sounds of the light show displays and the zoo atmosphere.  This was truly a wonderful way for our family to kick off the holiday season during the early weeks of the holiday season!  The park will be crowded.  The kids will get cold.  The kids will want pretzels and cotton candy and ice cream and drinks and souveniers and...the tweens and teens will take 10,000 selfies by the Conservation Lake "Watering Hole" Light Show.  Plan to slow down.  Relax.  Smile.  Enjoy the access to 10,000 smiling pictures of the kids with fun lights and holiday decor in the background!

To learn more about the outing featured here:
Visit the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Website

Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
4850 West Powell Road
Powell, Ohio 43065

Hours 5-9pm Sun-Thurs and 5-10pm Fri-Sat
Event runs nightly except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day through Jan 1, 2018

Disclosure:  This is not a sponsored post--we simply wanted to share some tips with readers. 

Piercing the Veil Release Tour & Giveaway

This morning, we are featuring a newly released, occult thriller in our book spotlight.  Check out Piercing the Veil, learn about author Guy Riessen and enter for a chance to win a $15 Amazon gift card in the book tour giveaway at the end of this post!

Piercing the Veil
by Guy Riessen
Genre: Horror, Supernatural Occult Thriller

What do flesh-eating cell phones, brain-enhancing tacos, and a real live dead foot have in common?

They're all tools in the destruction of our world, and a weapons-grade team of heavily-armed Miskatonic University nerds may be humanity’s last hope.

Something is ripping holes in the Veil of energy that separates our world from that of the ancient evils writhing just beyond what we think is reality. Time is running out for Professors Derrick LeStrand, Howard Strauss and their team of researchers as they race to hunt down a mysterious Frenchman who wields Necromantic Death Magic unlike anything they’ve seen before.

Tearing open psychological wounds from Derrick’s past, the cabalistic sorcerer is gathering ancient icons of power to pierce the Veil and bring down the only thing shielding mankind from the relentless horrors beyond.

If they fail, the only questions that will remain are who will live in servitude to the Great Old Ones and who will die…and who will supply Derrick with tacos?

Set against the backdrop of a world where H.P. Lovecraft was not a fiction writer, but a Sweep, a special operative trained to protect the collective sanity of the human race with misinformative blends of fact and fiction … where the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual is little more than a slightly skewed Audubon Field Guide, and the monster movies you grew up with are more documentary than not. 

It’s Nerdthulhu Lethal Weapon cranked to eleven.

**Release sale- only .99 cents!!**

Guy Riessen is an American author of contemporary dark fiction spanning the science fiction, horror, fantasy and crime genres. Born in South Dakota, he grew up in the Southern California beach town of Huntington Beach. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, graduated with a degree in English from UC Berkeley, and has been living in the wild lands north of San Francisco ever since. After nearly two decades of creating artwork in the visual effects industry for feature films, he returned to his first passion: writing speculative fiction.

He's been published on Under the Bed, Near to the Knuckle and Shotgun Honey, and in the anthologies Urban Temples of Cthulhu, Dreams of the Miskatonic and It's All Trumped Up.

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!


Four Corners Book Tour & Giveaway

This morning, I am featuring a young adult fantasy series in our book spotlight.  Check out the first two volumes of the Four Corners trilogy, learn about the author and enter for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card in the book tour giveaway at the end of this post!

Four Corners
Four Corners Trilogy Book 1
by Kristin Durfee
Genre: YA Fantasy

Levi always knew he was different. The fact that he could smash a light bulb without touching it was only one clue, but he’s about to find out how special he really is…

Sought after by those in a magical land, he meets Aura, Queen of Esotera. Her kingdom is in trouble and he’s the only one who can help. But the powerful sorcerer who cursed Esotera will not give up easily. A collision of magic and fates, sealed long ago, will catapult the two into a race to save Aura’s kingdom. Will they make it in time, or will they lose everything they love, and possibly both their lives?

Two Worlds
Four Corners Trilogy Book 2

Four years after his adventures in Esotera, Levi’s life is unrecognizable. Now an accomplished author for his “fantasy” story Saving Esotera, a visit from someone he never expected to see again has put his new future in jeopardy. Esotera again needs his help. Familiar faces, along with some new ones, greet him upon his return, but it’s not all happy homecomings. A threat from their past is rising to power.

Will Levi, Aura, and the rest of our heroes be able to defeat their enemies once and for all? Or will it not just be Esotera at stake, this time, but the world as well?

Kristin Durfee grew up outside of Philadelphia where an initial struggle with reading blossomed into a love and passion for the written word. 

She has also been a writer since a very young age, writing short stories and poems, though now is focusing on longer works. She is currently working on several short stories and a novel for adults.

Kristin currently resides outside of Orlando, FL, and when not enjoying the theme parks or Florida sun, she spends most of her time with her husband, son, and their quirky dogs.

She is a member of the Florida Writers Association.

Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!


The Ultimate Guide To Entertaining At Home

As the festive holiday season is coming up, you probably have quite a few different social occasions on your calendar. You might even be hosting a few of these at home yourself. Wondering what you can do to wow all your guests and ensure that everyone has a fantastic time? Is so, then don’t worry. I’ve written this blog post with you and all your different at-home gatherings in mind!

Hopefully, you will find plenty of tips in this article that can help you plan and host all manner of social gatherings, whether you are having a dinner party or just having some close friends and relatives around for drinks and nibbles.

So, ready to get entertaining? Read on to find out more!

It Doesn’t Have To Be Too Much Hassle.  Want to see your friends but can’t be bothered with all the stress and hassle that goes into planning a whole dinner party? Well, you don’t have to go to all that effort if you don’t want to! Why not just invite all your mates round for some wine. You could even just settle for a movie night and chill out on the sofa with a bottle of wine and heaps of popcorn. Thanks to services like Optimum Online, you can easily have a movie night at home for a very reasonable price. And that means you don’t have to pay the extortionate popcorn and drink prices in most movie theaters! You don’t even have to go to the bother of finding a movie to watch if you don’t want to - you could simply kick back and chat!

Stay Organized.   If you decide that you would quite like to invite everyone around for a dinner party or more formal get together - how about a cocktail party, perhaps? Then, it is always key to stay as organized as possible in the planning. That way, you can get your food or cocktail menu sorted as well as planning the various decorations that you might need. It’s a good idea to give yourself a few different deadlines to ensure that your party planning stays on track and you don’t end up getting behind with things. You should also write down any important notes and reminders in a diary so that you don’t forget anything at all!

Stick To Your Budget.   No matter what kind of entertainment you are hoping to put on for your friends and family, you should always have a budget. That way, there is no worry that you will overspend and end up out of pocket. Yes, even if you do just have a movie night, you should set yourself a budget - after all, the wine and nibbles that you buy will cost money! If you are hoping to host a bigger do, such as a dinner party, you should think about how much you are willing to spend and then split it into smaller amounts and allocate each amount for various things you need to buy, such as food, wine, and decorations.

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Give Plenty Of Notice.  Don’t just leave it till the day before your planned event to tell all your friends to come around. They might have made some other plans that they can’t get out of. So, to make sure that none of your guests end up double booking themselves on the evening of your little social event, you should let everyone know about your party in plenty of time. There are various ways you can inform your guests about your party. The easiest and cheapest way is to simply set up a Facebook event. You should email or call all your friends who aren’t on Facebook. Alternatively, if you want to add a bit more sophistication and class to your invites, you could always send out some proper, paper ones. You might like the idea of making your own. If you think that sounds like too much effort, then you can always buy some smart invitations online.

Be Firm With Your Guest List.   It’s not a good idea to invite a crowd of people into your home for your entertaining. Even if you know everyone who you invite, it’s a good idea to try and keep your guest list down to an absolute minimum. Inviting a lot of people will only create extra work for you especially when it comes to cooking, and there is no way you will have the time to chat with each and every individual. Remember that you should be very firm when it comes to your final guest list as well. If someone asks to bring a plus one even though you haven’t given them one, you shouldn’t feel bad about saying no. After all, there are only so many people that will fit in your home!

Don’t Get Stuck In The Kitchen.  If you are preparing food, even if it’s just some nibbles and not a full three-course meal, you shouldn’t end up stuck in the kitchen. It’s really important that you can be out and about socializing with all your guests. You are the host, after all, and it’s your job to ensure that everyone is having a good time. So, the best thing you can do is to try and prepare all your food in advance. Of course, this might not always be possible. That’s often the case if you are cooking meat, such as steak for instance, and need to cook it right before you serve. In this case, make sure you choose a dish that doesn’t need you to stand over it while it is cooking.

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Always Remember The Non-Drinkers.  Not everyone who comes to your home will be drinking alcohol. Some people will need to drive while others might be completely T-total. So, as you can see, you need to have a good selection of alcoholic-free beverages for them to choose from. Just having tap water and one fruit juice isn’t enough! These days, there are more people who don’t drink than ever before; it’s become quite a trend. So, you need to make sure that you have a few different non-alcoholic beverages on offer. Why not mix up some virgin cocktails as well?

Go For Self-Service Food.   Serving out food can get quite messy, and making sure the dish looks great on the plate isn’t always easy. Plus, it will end up taking a lot of your time. Don’t fancy playing waiter or waitress? That’s alright - you don’t have to! Rather than waiting on all your friends, you should simply cook up some food that they can help themselves to. A buffet is probably your best option. But there are other dishes that you can all enjoy as a sit-down meal that are self-service. Take one-pot meals, like lasagna or casserole. You just need to put the pot right in the middle of the table and then everyone can dig in and help themselves.

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Set The Mood.  Even if you are having a few chilled drinks at home, it’s still important to set the mood. If you don’t, then your evening get together will fall flat because there won’t be any atmosphere. It’s really easy to create a nice mood and atmosphere simply by putting some background music on. It’s best to have some ambient music on in the background that doesn’t have any lyrics. Otherwise, your guests might end up being distracted by the lyrics. Classical music also works well and can add a bit of class and sophistication to your party.

Have A Kids’ Corner.  Not all of your entertaining has to be done in the evening, of course. However, if you do want to invite your friends around during the day, you should expect them to bring the kids around. In this case, it’s a good idea to prepare for all your young guests and set up a kids’ corner. Make sure there are plenty of toys and books that all the kids can entertain themselves with. If you have some kids who are slightly older, you might want to put them in charge so that you and your guests don’t have to check in on the kids so often. Remember that children don’t necessarily have the same tastes as adults, so you should add some child-friendly dishes onto your menu.

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Go Outside… If Weather Permits.  If the weather is nice while you are entertaining why not take your guests outside to enjoy the sunshine!? Of course, this might not always be possible in the winter, but the summer is perfect for outdoor dining, especially barbeques. Even if you are just having your friends around for some drinks, there is nothing better than relaxing on the patio and watching the sun go down.

So, hopefully, all of these tips will help you get through any home entertaining, whether that is over the coming festive period or throughout next year. You better watch out, though - if you enjoy it so much you might get the dinner party bug and could end up organizing them quite frequently!

Twofer Murder Book Review & Giveaway

A few weeks ago, we featured Lauren Carr's Twofer Murder in a book spotlight--and shared a video interview with the author as she gave readers some insights into her latest book. This morning, I crossed Twofer Murder off my reading list and have a review to share with you! Check out the book--and be sure to enter for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card in the book tour giveaway at the end of this post!

Book Title: Twofer Murder by Lauren Carr
Category: Adult fiction, 400 pages
Genre: Mystery

About the Book

Twofer murder? What’s a twofer murder?

Twofer Murder is a treat for fans of best-selling author Lauren Carr’s fast-paced mysteries! Lauren’s latest novel contains the main characters from her three successful series: Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose mysteries. The guys go away for a fishing weekend only to get caught up in the murder of a journalist investigating fraud at a timber company. Meanwhile, the ladies are spending the weekend in the presidential suite at a posh resort where Jessica Faraday is to accept a lifetime achievement award for her late grandmother at a murder mystery writers conference. But before they have time to get their facials, they get wrapped up in their own real mystery when an up and coming author ends up dead!

Lauren Carr’s Twofer Murder is a 2-for-1—making it a must-read for any mystery fan!

My Review

Twofer Murder is a Stand Alone Novel--But...All of Lauren Carr's novels have a lot of characters--and the characters all serve various roles throughout her books and pop into her other series from time to time.  Lauren's books also tend to serve up multiple crimes and mysteries.  This book brings everyone from all of the series together in one book as the characters move through multiple murders and mysteries.  While this is a standalone novel--readers who are not familiar with the characters and their  past stories and interactions may almost need a roadmap for this one.  There is a lot going on in this book as the author maneuvers a lot of characters through two separate storylines.  While you can certainly read this book as a stand alone novel--I think fans and readers of Carr's other books and series will enjoy it and settle into the novel much easier than new readers to Carr's work.

Twofer Murder is a Clean, Engaging Mystery.  I think I enjoy Carr's mysteries so much--including this one--because she skips the graphic sex and violence and writes good, clean mysteries with a little humor and a lot of character interaction and plot twists.  There may be some light hints at something sexual between one of her couples--but, it's usually done in a playful, cute way that cozy mystery fans will enjoy.  With two main mysteries playing out through this novel, readers are kept engaged with a number of twists and turns, the author's character dialogue, and the usual antics of the characters' dogs.  Carr's books just make me smile.  I enjoy the mysteries, I have grown attached to the characters and I love the pet personalities.

Would I recommend Twofer Murder by Lauren Carr? This book has a lot going on for readers at times.  I am fairly familiar with most of the characters and Carr's writing style--but, I had to re-read a few sections at times as I switched from one mystery case to the other.  Her books always have a lot of twists and turns--but, this one does really have double the twists with the two-story format.  I really liked the book--but, think readers should read a few of her other books from her other series to become comfortable with her many characters and her writing style before reading this one.  Fans of cleaner, more traditional, cozy mystery novels should definitely check out this book--especially if you enjoy books that offer frequently changing scenes and multiple, simultaneous story lines.

To read more reviews, please visit Lauren Carr's page on iRead Book Tours.

Buy the Book:

Watch the trailer:

Meet the Author:

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram

What are readers saying about Lauren Carr's mysteries?

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