Our Sunday in Scottsdale

Old Town Scottsdale signIf you followed our kid-free weekend adventures in Arizona earlier on the blog, you may have seen photos from our visit to Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. Seeing the desert plants was part of a relaxing Sunday that was much needed after our trek to the Grand Canyon.

We’d planned to hike the mountain trails behind our Scottsdale resort on this day and then relax by the pool, but I was still recovering from altitude sickness and feeling pretty wiped out. We decided to drive around Scottsdale to take in some of the sights.

Old Town Scottsdale is a must-see if you are in the area. It has a number of restaurant options and art galleries mixed in with old western shops and modern boutiques. We passed a couple of outdoor brunch spots that looked to be popular with locals and tourists alike. There is an Old Adobe Mission, which is open for tours throughout the week.

Old Adobe Mission, Scottsdale, AZA ballpark, Scottsdale Stadium, is nearby. It is the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants, and I just read that Tim Tebow, who recently became part of the New York Mets organization, could end up playing in a fall league here.

You can pretty much park your car and walk to any type of dining, shopping or entertainment experience in Old Town Scottsdale.

Scottsdale, AZA little further down the road in Tempe, we found the main campus of Arizona State University. We always think it’s fun to explore college towns when we’re traveling and this was no exception. The buildings are very different from the stately southern palaces we’re accustomed to seeing on SEC campuses. There were not many folks around when we strolled through campus, but I’m sure that is the exception and not the rule.

Arizona_State_campus

Sun Devil Stadium was under construction, presumably to add more seating. According to Google, famous ASU alumni have included Pat Tillman, Phil Mickelson, David Spade, and my personal favorite late night talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel.

ASU_stadium

After our sightseeing, we went back to our hotel, the JW Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale. We tend to stay at Marriott properties whenever possible because of the points program that allows us to earn points toward future travel with every stay. They have not compensated me to tell you this (or to write about them at all, for that matter). It’s just what we do unless we have a compelling reason to stay somewhere else.

Interestingly, I learned that throughout its history the Camelback Inn has hosted the likes of Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and Bette Davis, and it became Marriott’s first resort in the late 60s. It has undergone renovations and expansion through the years and modern era guests have included Oprah Winfrey and President George H.W. Bush.

camelback_inn

The Camelback Inn did not disappoint. We’d requested a mountain view room, and the sight of Camelback Mountain from our balcony each day was stunning. The entire resort was landscaped beautifully, and there was something new to admire at every turn. I was constantly admiring the desert vistas. We watched jackrabbits hopping from cactus to cactus.

Mountain_View_Villa

For a girl from the Southeastern United States, it was like being on another planet. The diversity of the geography really had us thinking about the history and settlement of this area of our country, and I wish we’d had time to visit the Museum of the West while we were in Scottsdale (It’s in Old Town, too.).

Our one-bedroom casita at the Camelback Inn was comfortable with a spacious bathroom. The resort staff were friendly and helpful. As we roamed around the resort, they met us several times on golf carts offering bottled waters and fresh pineapple.

camelbackinnpatio

While we didn’t play golf, the resort has beautiful greens for those so inclined. I kind of expected Scottsdale to be full of retired tourists who are there for the golf. It may be that way at other times of the year, but during our visit the crowd looked a lot more like us – Gen X couples and young families. The musician that played during one of the outdoor dinners we enjoyed on the resort’s restaurant patios had a distinctively 90s set list (as in 1990s). It made for a nice evening.

Poolside_drinks_Camelback_Inn

We did make it to the pool to relax and enjoy our last afternoon in the desert. A poolside wait staff is one of my favorite luxuries on a vacation. We took advantage of the hospitality as well as the lounge chairs and umbrellas, and we enjoyed a tasty frozen beverage and snack – again with an incredible view of Camelback Mountain.

Cheers to Phoenix and Scottsdale! You are beautiful and I hope I get to visit again some day.

Have you traveled to Phoenix or Scottsdale? What other places / attractions would you recommend visiting in the area? Leave a comment to share your thoughts. 

 

Stitch Fix Review – September 2016

Pumpkin spice everything, boots and booties, harvest and halloween decor are all showing up on store shelves and all over the Internet, heralding the arrival of fall. While the season we love so dearly for colorful leaves, festive holidays and college football is officially just a few weeks away, many of us would will it to begin today if we could. I know I would welcome the chance to bring out my fall clothes, although I’m afraid that may not happen for a few more months here in sunny Florida. But a girl can dream, and a girl can ask Stitch Fix for clothing and accessories to help transition her closet into the upcoming season.

My latest Fix was the first I’ve received in a few months. I took a break from the clothing subscription service over the summer, so I was excited when the Stitch Fix box arrived on my doorstep this week. Here’s a look at what I received:

Urban Expressions Zella Satchel

UE Zella

The first item out of the box was this purse. It’s a rich burgundy color, and it comes with an additional strap that can be attached if you want to carry the purse as a shoulder bag. There’s a lot of room inside, which I love. What I didn’t love about it is the vegan leather it’s made of – and the $64 price tag at that. That’s a little steep for pleather. I’m not opposed to eco-conscious materials. I just prefer real leather in a purse. If I changed purses often, I might consider this one. But I don’t, and if I’m going to invest $64, I’d rather splurge and put that toward the real deal when it comes to a handbag.

Urban_Expressions_Zella_Satchell

 

Note to self: Update style profile to indicate no pleather.

Verdict: Return

Daniel Rainn Shrewsberry Split Back Blouse

DR Shrewsberry

Next up was a Daniel Rainn top that I’d swear the Stitch Fix algorithm suggested for me due to a string of blue items I’ve purchased from past Fixes. I should write a post just dedicated to all the blue duds I’ve amassed from Stitch Fix. Has anyone else seen this sort of trend in their Fixes?

Daniel_Rainn_Shrewsberry_split_back_top

Daniel_Rainn_Shrewsberry_detail

I really like the details of this top – the lattice and lace. And I guess I am a sucker for blue after all.

Verdict: Kept

Daniel Rainn Hitchon V Neck Blouse

DR Hitchon

I do like Daniel Rainn tops. This one has a good looking print and a generous fit, but it was completely sheer. It did come with a black cami to go underneath, but I just didn’t love it for me. I’ve written in past notes to my Stitch Fix stylist that I do not want any more sheer tops. Stitch Fix seems to have that market cornered, don’t they? Or maybe it’s just me. Somehow I keep receiving them, so I guess I need to add “I don’t want sheer tops” to my permanent profile note because whenever I forget to mention it in the monthly request, I always get one. Ugh!

material_flaw

Had I wanted to keep this top, I would have had to contact Customer Service to request an exchange because of a flaw I spotted in the material (shown above). Fortunately, my experiences with Stitch Fix Customer Service have always been positive, and I expect they’d send a new top to me if I’d wanted.

Verdict: Return

Loveapella Jorsana Textured Knit Top

Jorsana

In my note to my stylist, I requested casual knit tops that I can wear when working in my home office or volunteering at my children’s school. I pictured something looser and lighter weight than this top, and I had pinned some examples to my Pinterest board. This doesn’t fit tightly, but it has a more body conscious style, which goes against the preferences I’d noted in my Stitch Fix style profile and my comments in the request to my stylist. Go figure.

Loveapella_Jorsana

 

The double layered material also seemed like it would be hot and could easily get snagged by my jewelry or whatever object my youngest daughter happens to be carrying as she runs by me in the house. The sleeves were semi-sheer, too, which is not my favorite look. It’s a shame because the turquoise color is lovely. It could be a great top for someone.

Verdict: Returned

Collective Concepts Ryleigh Pintuck Detail Silk Blouse

cc ryleigh

My stylist did include one item in my Fix that I had pinned on Pinterest. It was this classic, black blouse, which would go with so many things. I’d mentioned to the stylist that I had ordered some red jeans and needed coordinating tops, and she suggested this one in her note. I did appreciate that, but what I did not know when I pinned the blouse is that it is 100 percent silk. I was hoping for a more casual fabric for everyday wear – and one that would not require dry cleaning.

collective_concepts_pintuck_silk_blouse

The pintuck details make this an attractive top though, and it would be a nice addition to a traditional office wardrobe.

Verdict: Returned

If you are keeping a tally, I kept one out of the five items in this month’s Fix. The Daniel Rain Shrewsberry top was the winner. Because I’d already paid the $20 styling fee, it was applied to my purchase, bringing this transaction to $44. One day I hope to get a 5/5 fix so I can qualify for the 25 percent discount you get when you keep everything in the box. When I shop for myself, I rarely pay full price. That’s unfortunately the trade-off you make if you only keep a portion of your Fix, but I value this service for its convenience. I definitely think it has upped my style game – if there is such a thing when you are a busy mom!

Styling

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I took a nod from the styling card my Stitch Fix stylist provided and paired the Daniel Rainn Shrewsberry Split Back Blouse with jeans and an olive colored jacket (similar). I pined away for a jacket like this from Stitch Fix last fall, so I was delighted to find the one pictured below on clearance at TJ Maxx this spring. This was a great find! The jeans are NYDJ Barbara Bootcut Jeans from Nordstrom.

Daniel_Rainn_Shrewsberry_styled

I paired this outfit with my Sole Society ‘Jillian’ d’Orsay Wedges, but you could also opt for a more casual bootie like the TOMS ‘Desert’ Wedge Bootie. I own a similar pair. Did I mention I am ready for fall?

Here’s hoping you get what you want in your fall Fixes!

Want to try Stitch Fix?

I have not been compensated by Stitch Fix for this review. I purchase my own Fixes and all opinions are my own. If you sign up to try the subscription styling service using my referral link, I will receive a small credit toward a future purchase. (Thank you!) If you’ve thought about trying Stitch Fix, don’t let the term ‘subscription’ scare you away, you can order one Fix with no commitment to order more, or receive Fixes as often as you’d like. If this is all brand new to you, I provide more info. about what Stitch Fix is in a previous review post.

And don’t just take my word for it, see what other bloggers have to say about their most recent Fixes from Stitch Fix. We’ve all shared our reviews over on the blog Crazy Together.

share-pics-of-your-fix-button-550x381

 

Desert Botanical Garden: A Must-See in Phoenix

chihuyThere is life in the desert.

Plants – and not just the glass variety that are the genius of artist Dale Chihuly – grow in abundance at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona.

We visited on a Sunday morning and explored the five trails that make up this popular scenic attraction. Many varieties of cactus and other succulents are displayed throughout, as you might expect. A few flowering plants and wildflowers can be found here and, if you are lucky, you might see some of the small creatures that are native to the Sonoran Desert, too. We saw Gambel’s Quail, doves and prairie dogs during our visit in May.

Comfortable shoes, sunscreen or a hat, a camera and a bottle of water are really all you need to explore and enjoy the gardens. Wide paths are well maintained and easily accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. We noticed water bottle refilling stations available in at least a couple of spots along the trails. It is so important to stay hydrated here, as I learned if you read my previous post about visiting Arizona and the Grand Canyon. Although we explored the Desert Botanical Garden on our own, tours and special events are offered, as well.

cactus

Cactus

agave

Agave

desert_rose

Desert Rose

cactus_family

Prickly Pear Cactus

prarie_dog

Prairie Dog

round_desert_plant

Queen Victoria Agave*

century_plant

Agave Americana*

The photos speak for themselves, but Desert Botanical Garden is worth seeing in person, especially if you do not live in the Southwest and don’t see these types of plants very often. Admission is $22 for adults (with reduced rates available for seniors and students), and $10 for children (ages 3-12). Learn more at dbg.org.

The Desert Botanical Garden has not compensated me or this site in any way; the information conveyed is from my personal experience and opinion.

Planning a trip to Phoenix? Pin this image as a reminder to visit Desert Botanical Garden.

desert_botanical_garedn_phoenix_az

*The names listed for these plants are from memory and my best attempt to identify them via an Internet search.

 

 

Visiting Arizona and the Grand Canyon: A Cautionary Tale

ArizonaA desert sunset, hiking around the rim of the Grand Canyon, the flavors of Southwestern cuisine, Sedona’s red rocks and cactus after cactus after cactus – there is so much about Arizona that I’ve wanted to experience for years. And I’m not just saying that because it’s the latest place I’ve been. I don’t really remember what first sparked my intrigue, but I’d romanticized the idea of Arizona in my mind since I was a teenager and I knew I had to get there some day.

Growing up among the red clay and lush oaks of Alabama, and now living a few sandy steps from the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s northwestern coast, I knew Arizona would be otherworldly.

The diversity of geography and plant life throughout the Western United States fascinates me because it is so very different from every place I’ve ever known. I’d checked visiting various places in California and Nevada off my bucket list before – all good experiences – but I hadn’t ventured to Arizona until this year.

Grand Canyon

South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

My husband and I planned to visit Phoenix and the Grand Canyon over a long weekend to celebrate our 40th birthdays and our 13th wedding anniversary, all of which occur this year. Our plans came together beautifully. We flew into Phoenix Friday afternoon. We’d decided to stay in Scottsdale, a resort community and suburb of Phoenix, and devote a day to driving to the Grand Canyon and seeing Sedona along the way.

A very early wake up call on Saturday put us on our way north toward Flagstaff and ultimately Grand Canyon National Park. It would be a lot of driving, but when else are we going to see this great American wonder? And what could be more poetic than setting out on an adventure through the wild, wild West culminating 7,000 feet above sea level to say goodbye to our 30s?!

40thatGC

 

Well, it turns out…

Forty years to the day – and almost to the exact hour and minute – of your birth, having reached the coveted destination and exploring for about 20 minutes, you can lose your lunch all over yourself (on your hair, shirt, shorts and shoes)… and the rented vehicle you’re traveling in, mind you. That’s pretty poetic, too, I guess.

Happy 40th to me!

This was definitely not the climactic 40th birthday I’d envisioned, but it’s certainly one I won’t forget. I even got a souvenir t-shirt, baby wipes and a giant roll of paper towels (out of necessity) that my husband was so kind to purchase from one of the two or three gas stations that represented all of civilization on a long a stretch of desert highway heading back toward Flagstaff. I cleaned myself and the car as best I could there in the gas station parking lot, but we were still hours from our hotel.

You see, that minor detail of reaching 7,000 feet at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon less than 24 hours after you left your home at sea level, flew across the country, and ascended by car nearly 6,000 feet was something I should have considered more carefully as one who’s reached the wise old age of 40. What was I thinking? Dora the Explorer and Map would have had a smarter game plan than this!

Temperatures were comfortable at the Canyon, hovering around 70 degrees during our visit. I drank a lot of water the entire time we were in Arizona. It’s possible I was dehydrated before we landed in the desert, but I really think the rapid changes in altitude were the problem. When you only have a few days to cover a lot of territory, you try to schedule all of the things you want to do but Mother Nature doesn’t necessarily accommodate. My idea of seeing the Grand Canyon on Saturday and relaxing back in Scottsdale on Sunday was shortsighted, for this reason: altitude sickness is real (or, I’m just allergic to 40).

If I had it to do over again I would have given myself time to get acclimated in Phoenix and gradually traveled north to the Canyon, but we didn’t have that luxury in our schedule. If I had it to do over again, we’d see the Grand Canyon by helicopter from Las Vegas. The three-and-a-half hours or so each way in the car from Scottsdale are too much, despite the breathtaking scenery, when you don’t feel well.

Sedona_AZ

Sedona, Arizona

And Sedona, beautiful Sedona. I’d come clear across the country to see this stunning red earth. In the condition I was in, I only got to look out the car window while praying I wouldn’t get sick again as we drove down Sedona’s winding roads through campgrounds and scenic overlooks. I made a few feeble attempts at taking photos at one stop, then we continued on back to Scottsdale.

That evening I slept, and later attempted to eat the In-N-Out Burger my husband picked up for us for dinner. It is normally such a treat for those of us living east of the Mississippi when we visit the West Coast, and I was so looking forward to it, but I could only manage about three bites.

In_N_Out_Burger

So while this wasn’t exactly a happy birthday as it unfolded, it is laughable now, and I can add the experience to a long list of adventures with my husband. I’m so glad he took care of me that day, and that he didn’t get sick. If it’s the un-luckiest thing that happens to us as we approach our 13th Anniversary, I’m okay with that.

I’ll share more from the rest of our Arizona trip (it gets better) in a future vomit-free post.

mule_Grand_Canyon

Have you ever taken a vacation that didn’t go according to plan? Or did you learn a major lesson about traveling to a new destination? Please leave a comment! I’d love to hear your stories.

The U.S. National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary on August 25, 2016. Despite my illness, I enjoyed seeing Grand Canyon National Park and look forward to visiting others.

 

Summer Snaps the Old Fashioned Way

This summer my 9-year-old daughters went to an overnight church camp for a week. It was the first time they’d been away from home (or another family member’s care) for more than one night. I know many of the counselors and parents who were chaperones, so I wasn’t worried about their safety, but I did miss them and wondered what they were doing at various times throughout the week.

It’s rare these days that we don’t have instant access and insight into what’s happening anywhere in the world at any given moment, especially when it involves our friends and family who use social media. But, while I was glad to get a few texts with photos from parents/friends who were attending the camp, I knew I would not be getting updates directly from my daughters. (We don’t do iPhones for 9-year-olds in our house, and the devices they do have don’t have a good camera function.) So I decided to arm them with disposable cameras – also called single-use cameras – that I picked up at Walmart. They were excited to document their time at camp, but you should have seen the confused look on their faces when I explained that they would not be able to see the images they’d shot until much later. Clearly this camera was a dinosaur to them, and maybe we’ll look into the new, modern Polaroid-style cameras or the tiny Go-Pros for them at some point in the future (Dear Santa), but I thought they’d have fun with this and I wouldn’t be out a ton of money if they lost them, which was very possible. I even picked up a waterproof version for the beach because I knew they’d have fun with that, too, and photos taken in the sand and water just look cool.

mpixmailers

Of course, when I first came up with idea to get the girls disposable cameras, I wasn’t even sure they were still available or where I’d be able to get the film developed. The last time I saw one of these cameras was at a wedding reception several years ago where the bride and groom placed them on the reception tables for their guests to use to document the festivities. Believe it or not, kids, there was a time wedding guests didn’t have cameras at the ready (Photo booths with props were not a thing, either). I may even have one of these disposable cameras from my college days stuffed in the back of a drawer somewhere, but that film has long since expired! Probably for the best.

Surprisingly, I found a few places that still process disposable cameras, too. It turns out I could drive about 20 miles to the nearest Walgreens store that processes film, or I could pay $50-60 for processing three cameras through Target.com, neither of which appealed to me. Then I remembered a site called MPix.com that a professional photographer recommended to me once. It turns out MPix will process 35mm film and single-use cameras. They even send you envelopes with pre-printed mailing labels for you to send your cameras or film to them. They develop the images and put them online for you to view within 24 hours. You pay for the processing in order to “unlock” your albums on their site (In my case, this totaled about $12 for all 3 cameras), and they mail negatives to you (as if I’ll ever use those, but that’s okay). The best part of their service is you can view the photos online and select individual images for printing, rather than paying for prints of the entire camera roll.

orderphotosfromfilm

With kids behind the camera, I expected we’d have quite a few misfires and I really don’t need seven different images of the camp cabin and bunk beds. I paid around $13 for the 39 prints I chose to order. I’ll have to scan them manually if I want to use them online, but to me that’s better than paying $30 for a disk of images from all 3 cameras. The photos will arrive in 10 days (I’m cheap so I opted for the $4 shipping option). Barring any problem with the prints, this was a pretty easy process and my kids got to take their own summer snapshots the old-fashioned way.

Of course, as I type they are checking out the daily Snapchat filters on my phone. But single-use cameras are still an option for certain circumstances – something to think about for your budding shutterbugs.

(MPix did not compensate me in any way for this blog post. I just wanted to pass along the info. on the off chance you decide to use a disposable camera in 2016 and wonder how in the heck you’ll get access to your photos.) Happy World Photography Day!

A Visit to Washington, D.C., with Kids – Day 4

Lincoln

(Earlier I blogged about Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 of our visit to Washington, D.C.)

For the last full day in Washington, D.C., we planned to take in all the sights. We Ubered into town on this morning and began at the Lincoln Memorial. The statue of Lincoln was powerful, but there is also an exhibit inside that pays tribute to the history of the monument including Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the monument in 1963. It was moving to hear and see the video I’d seen many times before and to actually stand in the very place where such an important moment of 20th Century history occurred.

Lincoln Memorial

We walked along the mall to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (below). It was much smaller than I’d imagined, but meaningful to see nonetheless. All of the monuments and memorials along the National Mall may look very close together on a map, but wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to do a lot of walking! The scale of many of the buildings and popular sights is difficult to appreciate until you’re there in person.

Vietnam_Memorial

We continued on to the World War II Memorial, which is a beautiful reminder of those who served from every state and in every theatre of the war.

WWII_Memorial

The fountains make this space very peaceful.

WWII_Memorial_quote

My husband and I both had grandfathers who served in World War II, so this memorial held a more personal meaning for us.

Washington_Monument_steps_of_Lincoln

We took pictures of the Washington Monument (above) from this vantage point, but decided to forego touring it in order to walk along the tidal basin where the Cherry Blossom trees were in full bloom. And it was certainly no secret! Thousands of people were walking along the river and enjoying the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which takes place in March and April. It took some patience to navigate through the sea of tourists with three children, but we made it through the most densely crowded areas and arrived at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Thomas_Jefferson_Memorial

If you are looking for that moment to snap a postcard-worthy photo of the Jefferson Memorial and the surrounding Cherry Blossom trees, the very early morning hours are probably your best bet. We took pictures, but the steps and the inside of the memorial were covered with visitors. We’d packed sandwiches and bottled water in a backpack so we could enjoy a picnic on the lawn outside the monument. (If you plan a picnic lunch, remember to pack a light blanket, too.) This was a great way to take in the scenery and the early spring weather could not have been better. What appeared to be Marine One, the President’s helicopter, flew over while we were there.

The_White_House

After lunch, we took an Uber to the White House, or at least to the closest point you can take an Uber near the White House. This was actually a wide sidewalk with views of the South Lawn of the White House. We took photos but they were terrible because we were so far away from the White House itself and the sun was almost blinding at this point in the day. I wish we’d taken the time to walk to the other side of the White House to take photos, as I believe you can get a better view on the north side, but negotiating the extra walking with the children would not have been pleasant. We still had seven blocks to walk to get to the Newseum, which was our planned stop for the afternoon.

We passed by the White House Visitor’s Center and stopped in for a restroom break and a little souvenir shopping. Unless you plan ahead and schedule a tour at the White House in advance, I would recommend stopping in the Visitor’s Center. There is a wall with a backdrop of the White House on it and we were able to take a much better family photo there! We also were able to sign the official book of condolences for former First Lady Nancy Reagan who had passed away in the weeks prior to our visit.

Reagan_condolences

We continued on our walk, passing many government office buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue as well as the National Archives. We reached the Newseum, with the First Amendment displayed boldly on the outside of the building. The day’s newspapers from every state in the country were displayed, too. This place is a news junkie’s dream!

Newseum

It really was interesting, especially the exhibits on the varying degrees of freedom of the press around the world, and major crime stories from recent decades. There’s even a large piece of the Berlin Wall and the remains of an antenna from atop the former World Trade Center salvaged from the wreckage of the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

Berlin_Wall

Some of the subject matter was over the heads of our young daughters, but they liked the interactive exhibits at the end. Kids can create their own news broadcast and play a video game that teaches them the steps to investigating and reporting a news story. This was the only paid museum we visited, but there are so many others in D.C. that I hope to visit one day, too.

We ended our last day in D.C. with a casual dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Arlington. We sat on the patio and it was a good way to wind down our vacation before we drove home the next day. On our return trip, we drove through a more mountainous highway through Blacksburg, Va. (where we saw Virginia Tech), and a few other small towns before stopping to spend one night with our family in Charlotte again. We made it back to Florida the next day – what an adventure! I am so glad we took this trip and look forward to more road trips in our future.

What is your favorite monument or memorial? Have you been to the Newseum? What road trips do you recommend with kids?

A Visit to Washington, D.C., with Kids – Day 3

morning_DC

Get out early in D.C. to beat the crowds.

(Earlier I blogged about Day 1 and Day 2 of our road trip.)

On our second full day in Washington, D.C., we strategized to beat the crowds of teenagers by waking up early and driving to the Smithsonian National Zoo to be there when it opened.

The Zoo actually never closes, which would be great if you live in the area as it appeared you can take a walk or jog through the winding trails and exhibits at any time. We saw quite a few joggers running alongside the employees who were reporting for work.

By arriving early, we were able to get a great view of the most popular exhibits – starting with the Giant Pandas. We’d heard the pandas are most active in the morning, too.

panda_eating_bamboo

The Zoo has 4 giant pandas, including one baby panda, and six elephants.  (If you can’t go to D.C., but want to see the pandas, check out the Zoo’s Giant Panda Cam for a look at what they’re doing any time of day or night. My bet is on eating bamboo or sleeping!)

panda_closeup

Compared to most zoos that struggle for funding, the National Zoo clearly has put its federal subsidies to good use. Admission was free, and it was clean, modern and generally a very pleasant atmosphere. This was our kids’ favorite place in Washington, D.C.

elephant_national_zoo

elephant_community_center

Where the elephants go for Bingo and family reunions?

We’d driven our car to the Zoo from Arlington. When we left, we drove by the National Cathedral and through the streets of Georgetown on our way back into Virginia.

national_cathedral

We took a few hours to rest in the hotel before heading back out in the early evening. This time we took the metro to the campus of George Washington University, where my husband’s beloved Florida Gators basketball team was playing GWU in the NIT tournament. It was just luck that they were playing in D.C. during our visit and we were able to purchase tickets. The Gators had a respectable contingent of fans in our nation’s capital! Sadly though, G. Dub (as their fans call it) won the game.

NIT_game_GWU

We metroed back to Arlington and called it a night.

Our last day in D.C. (including visits to the monuments and memorials) is up next on the blog.

Stitch Fix Review – June 2016

Have you tried Stitch Fix? Would $700 help? This month I’m sharing the results of my latest Fix and letting you know about a big Stitch Fix gift card giveaway.

(If you’ve never heard of Stitch Fix, you might want to read one of my earlier Stitch Fix reviews that explains it in greater detail.)

It’s been a few months since I’ve blogged about the personal styling/clothing delivery service. A few of my friends have tried it, too. Mostly, I’d say we’ve had mixed results. I actually kept 2 of the 5 items in this month’s Fix, which is pretty good for me. I’ve often purchased just one item and sent back the rest, and once I kept nothing. This month I really needed some summer tops for my 40th birthday trip to Arizona. I mentioned my trip in the note to my stylist. I thought it was a little odd that she didn’t mention the trip or wish me a happy birthday in the note included with my Fix. It’s not that I take this service that personally, it just seemed like a missed opportunity for good customer service. I will say the shirts in this Fix reflected a definite Southwestern vibe so maybe she was trying and just didn’t spell it out in the note?! At any rate, let’s take a look!

THML Dejen Embroidered Top

 

THML Dejen Embroidered Top

I’d pinned this shirt to my Stitch Fix board on Pinterest, so I appreciated that the stylist assigned to me had taken a look at items I’d pinned. Unfortunately, when you see an item on Pinterest you cannot always tell much about the material. I thought this shirt would be knit or something other than a see-through imitation linen. I really wanted casual pieces I would not have to iron. I knew right away that I would return this shirt.

Collective Concepts Tobar Keyhole Front Top

collective concepts tobar keyholeTobar Keyhole sleeve detail

I really liked the style of this top when I saw it. It is loose and flowy, and the pattern is interesting. Best of all, it is not see-through! I like the fit and I can dress it up or down depending on the occasion, so this one was a keeper.

Skies are Blue Jonston Braider Neckline Top

skies are blue jonston braider

Part of the fun of Stitch Fix is being surprised by what the stylist picks for you based on the information you’ve given about your tastes in clothing. Occasionally you’ll try something different that you would not have picked for yourself and end up loving it. But many times – like this one – you don’t!

I must have indicated that I’d be willing to try a floral print on my style profile, but this one was terrible for me. The material was soft but that’s about the only good thing I can say about it. The style card that  comes in each Fix to show you styling suggestions showed this top paired with a black leather mini skirt. I cannot fathom any occasion for which I’ll be wearing a black leather miniskirt. It didn’t look good with my jeans either, so it went right into the return envelope.

Papermoon Wayland Racerback Top

papermoon wayland racerbacksheer back racerback tank

This top was attractive. It fit well and the print was nice. It would look great on some women I know, but I am pretty conservative. Between the thin straps, large arm holes and the sheer racerback, this was all kinds of wrong for me. I tried it with a regular tank top underneath, too, but that didn’t really help either. I recently bought a sleeveless top for the first time in years if this tells you anything about my tastes. I’m not ready to take the plunge into slinky, sheer racerback tanks! Return.

Bay to Baubles Maeve Feather Drop Earrings

bay to baubles leaf earrings

I’d originally decided to keep just these earrings so I wouldn’t lose the $20 I’d paid for the Stitch Fix styling fee (it gets credited to your purchase). But then I decided to keep the Collective Concepts top above so I probably could have parted with these. I liked them though so I kept both.

Overall, this Fix was okay for me. Two pieces were great. The other three were big misses. I wish all five pieces had worked out so I could have earned the 25 percent discount – the total for the whole box would have been around $160, but no such luck.

So I’ve had mixed results, but I still like Stitch Fix. I have cut back on the frequency of shipments I receive, and I like that it offers that flexibility. It is still fun and great for times when I am busy but could use a boost to my wardrobe. I’ve been very happy with the pieces I’ve kept.

So why do I blog about Stitch Fix? Sharing reviews of my Fixes through this blog has introduced me to several other bloggers who review their experiences with the service. It’s also brought new readers to my blog and hopefully they’re enjoying the other content they find here on Sand in my Minivan, too. And, heck, I’m just a girly girl who likes to talk about clothes!

To make it even more fun, this month fellow bloggers and I are bringing you a $700 Stitch Fix gift card giveaway. You can enter the giveaway and see what other bloggers received in their recent Fixes over on Crazy Together blog. The giveaway will end at 11:59pm Eastern Time on Wednesday, June 8, 2016. Good luck!

Stitch Fix 700 Summer giveaway

I hope you’ll try Stitch Fix, too. I am not compensated by Stitch Fix for writing this review, but they do offer me and all customers the chance to earn a small credit toward a future Fix when someone we refer signs up and orders their first Fix. Give it a try!

stitch-fix-link-up

 

A Visit to Washington, D.C., with Kids – Day 2

Day 2 of our road trip to Washington, D.C., took us to the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and Arlington National Cemetery.

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We took an Uber from our hotel in Arlington to the Russell Senate Building. The driver navigated the D.C. traffic much better than we could have, even taking us on a shortcut through the parking lot of the Pentagon. I’m not sure he was supposed to do that, but it was interesting to see!

We’d arranged a private tour of the Capitol Building – You can do this by contacting your senator or representative’s office. We first toured the Senate building where we met up with our tour guide. This included a few interesting photo ops in the Senate Rotunda, where you’ll often see senators interviewed on CNN or Fox News. We also had the pleasure of riding the Senator Subway, an underground trolley that carries members of Congress to the Senate floor when the Senate is session. When we visited, the Senate was in recess so it was a light traffic day on the subway. We arrived moments later inside the Capitol.

 

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In the lobby, we saw the large statue of Freedom, a replica of the actual statue that sits atop the capital rotunda, as well as statues of notable Americans from every state in the union. I wish I had taken notes on all of the rooms we toured, but there were quite a few and it was interesting to stand in the location of so many historic events. Although the capitol rotunda was under construction during our visit and much of the beauty of the building was covered in scaffolding, we were still impressed with the artwork and history of the space. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and answered all of our questions. Children can come up with some really interesting questions, too!

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Our tour ended with passes to the House Gallery. This is the viewing area that looks down on the House floor. The day’s session had not yet begun when we arrived in the gallery but it was still pretty exciting to sit within the confines of these walls and imagine all of the State of the Union addresses that have been delivered here. Cameras were not allowed here though!

From the Capitol Building we walked to the nearest Metro station. We hadn’t purchased passes in advance so we bought them from a kiosk inside the station. It didn’t take long for our train to arrive and a few minutes later we emerged on the National Mall just a short walk from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

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Admission is free, which is great. But the Museum more than makes up for it in its restaurant. We ate lunch in this cafeteria style cafe. Our bill for the five us to have some very basic food – hamburger, hot dog, chicken fingers – totaled $86! If you go, learn from our experience and grab lunch somewhere else. By this point in the day, the crowds had really picked up, too. The museum was crowded, which is understandable given that we visited during spring break when a large number of school groups apparently visit.

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Hope Diamond displayed at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Because of the crowds, we weren’t able to enjoy the exhibits as much as I think we would have at a non-peak time for visitors. This became a theme throughout our trip and actually led us to change plans on this afternoon. Instead of continuing on to the Air and Space Museum, where the lines to the entrance spilled onto the steps outside, we decided to go back to Arlington and see the cemetery. We took the Metro, which has a stop directly adjacent to the Cemetery.

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Arlington National Cemetery is not a small place, as you might imagine. After entering the cemetery welcome center, you can get a map and walk through at your own pace or you can pay $6 per person for a trolley or tram tour. With our three children in tow, we opted for the trolley. It stops at various points in the cemetery and you can hop off one trolley and get back on a later trolley to continue your tour or return to the exit. We toured in late afternoon and were short on time before closing so we decided to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and we were able to witness the changing of the guard, which takes place at the top of every hour. This was very special to witness in person, but again we were in a large crowd of onlookers so it was not the experience you might have at other times of the year.

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We were not able to stop to see the Eternal Flame at John F. Kennedy’s grave or any of the number of other points of interest within the Cemetery, but if we visit again we’d be sure to allow more time here. It is a truly beautiful place to remember men and women who served our country.

Since visiting Washington, D.C., I definitely believe it is a place that all Americans should visit at least once.

(Read on for Day 3 and Day 4 of our Wahington, D.C. road trip.)

 Have you visited Washington, D.C.? What are your favorite sites?

A Visit to Washington, D.C. with Kids – Day 1

Washington, D.C., had been on the short list of places I want to visit in the United States for a long time. Neither my husband nor I had been before and we knew we wanted to take our kids because, well, let’s see…history, government, museums. There is so much to see and learn for all ages. We also wanted to take a good long road trip and, with family and friends we wanted to visit along the way in North Carolina, our plans quickly took shape for a spring break adventure from Florida to our nation’s capital.

After the first leg of the trip and a couple of days spent staying with family in Charlotte, NC, we headed north on Monday morning. We made brief stops in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina to see the campuses of UNC and Duke University.

UNC Well

Well at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Our kids are still a decade away from going to college so this wasn’t a college scouting trip, but they are both good schools. And for us as sports fans, seeing the campuses of two basketball powerhouses was appealing, especially in the middle of March Madness. We snapped the requisite pictures of campus landmarks and got back in the car.

Duke Chapel

Duke University Chapel

After that, passing through Richmond, Virginia, where we crossed the James River is the only thing I remember before we eventually ran into afternoon traffic in the D.C. area.

Richmond sign

We made it to our hotel in Arlington, Va., the Residence Inn – Ballston. We’d considered choosing a hotel in D.C., but we had accumulated enough Marriott points to cover the entire stay in Arlington, which is a short Metro or cab ride away from D.C.

metro

Washington, DC Metro

We also are big fans of the Residence Inn concept because of their two-bedroom, two-bath suites. It is perfect for family travel. Even though we didn’t plan to spend much time in the hotel room, we didn’t want our family of five to be on top of each other in one room for four nights.

The suite gave us a lot of extra space with a living area and a kitchenette where we were able to make some sandwiches and store groceries to save on our food costs for the week. Residence Inn offered free hot breakfast every morning, and free food and happy hour drinks on some of the nights, as well. What’s not to love? The kids enjoyed the indoor pool, too. Somehow they still had energy to burn after our day-long escapades through the city!

indoor pool Residence Inn Arlington

Indoor pool at Residence Inn, Arlington, Va. – Ballston

Arlington, like D.C. itself, is a very walkable city. On the night we arrived, we found a Chipotle a couple of blocks from the hotel (there are many different restaurant options in this area). We had a quick dinner and made our way back to the hotel to get ready for our first day navigating Capitol Hill, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Arlington National Cemetery, which I cover in my next post.

Have you taken a long road trip with kids? Are there hotel chains or restaurants you love for family travel? Please share your favorites by leaving a comment.