Vacation Reads for the Whole Family

InterContinental Hotels Group invited my family to the Holiday Inn Resort at Pensacola Beach for a complimentary breakfast with Clifford the Big Red Dog and pool passes. I was not asked to write this article and opinions are my own.

One of the most important decisions I make when going to the beach is what book to toss in my beach bag. I love a good, juicy beach read.

In fact, we’re all avid readers at my house. My youngest daughter learned to read this year, and the rest of us frequently have our nose in a book. As a working mom, it can be challenging to find time to read, but I do enjoy it when I can (often that’s on vacation), and I love that my children like reading. My husband and I read aloud to them throughout their preschool years, which can be so beneficial for a child’s learning and development.

Clifford

When I heard about Holiday Inn and Scholastic teaming up to encourage kids to read while they’re on vacation, I was immediately interested because it’s the intersection of two things we enjoy: books and family travel. Through the Summer of Smiles program, Scholastic book characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog and Geronimo Stilton (He’s an adventurous mouse journalist, I learned) are greeting guests at select Holiday Inn hotels during breakfast events.

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In addition to photo opportunities, there are book character-themed coloring and craft activities for the kids. At the event we attended, children were offered a free book. Afterwards a small lending library was set up in the hotel lobby so that young guests can borrow books to read, or parents traveling on business can borrow a book to read a virtual bedtime story to their children back home. It’s a neat concept and my daughters enjoyed the experience.

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I’m all for anything that encourages reading and gets kids and parents to unplug from their electronic devices, especially on vacation. At the Holiday Inn Resort at Pensacola Beach, the breakfast with Clifford and friends was one of many perks offered for kids.

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We were able to explore the pool area, which includes a lazy river. I hadn’t floated along a lazy river in years and this was a first for my girls. We had so much fun doing this together, and I lost count of how many times we went around.

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I enjoyed lounging by the pool, too, while the girls met and swam with a mermaid, who makes daily appearances at the pool. Pirates also visited the pool on the day we were there, and a “dive-in” movie was scheduled for the evening. And what kid doesn’t like a snow cone bar?

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We left the hotel with snapshots from the meet and greet with Clifford, and I took several photos around the pool. I only regret not being in any of the photos myself. (We have to make a point to get out from behind the camera, moms!) Regardless, it was a memorable day spending time with my daughters. Happy travels and happy reading to all this summer!

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What are you and your family reading this summer? Leave us a comment.

Swimming with Manatees in Crystal River

This winter I did something I never thought I would do. I put on a wetsuit!

Okay, that’s not really the thing I never thought I would do, but it was a first and I am proud to say there is little photo evidence of that floating around. It’s not a good look for anyone. The more exciting first was the reason for wearing the wetsuit. I went swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Florida.

Digital Camera

Manatees are large but gentle marine mammals. They are herbivores, and often are called sea cows. Crystal River, the winter home to the largest population of manatees in Florida, is located west of Ocala in an area that is known as Florida’s Nature Coast because of its unspoiled beauty.

December through March is the peak season for manatees, a protected species, in this area. Cooler winter water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico drive the manatees inland into the warm springs, which is where my daughters’ Girl Scouts troop and I had the chance to encounter these special creatures. We joined another troop from our area on a manatee snorkeling excursion arranged through River Ventures.

We arrived at River Ventures’ offices in Crystal River, where we were provided wetsuits and watched a safety video and presentation about the rules for snorkeling around manatees. Strict regulations require passive observation, which means floating quietly with as little disturbance to the water as possible when a manatee is nearby. This video provides a good overview.

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After learning the rules, we took a shuttle bus to the boat docks where we boarded two of the tour company’s pontoon boats. Three staff members accompanied each boat. After a short ride, we arrived in an area known as Jurassic Spring. We put on our masks and snorkels and proceeded very quietly and calmly into the water.

Even though I’ve spent a lot of time at the beach, I’ve never snorkeled all that much. The wetsuit, mask and snorkel, plus the pool noodle we were all given to float on, took some getting used to, especially because you are not supposed to kick or let your feet touch the ground. This is to avoid disturbing the manatees’ environment. My youngest daughter was by my side most of the time, and I frequently needed to help her with her snorkel, as well. It wasn’t difficult, just awkward. Fortunately the River Ventures staff was great with the young kids and helped them back to the boat when they needed a break. That allowed me to relax and explore the spring a little more than I had up to that point.

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A couple of other tour boats were visiting the same area, so it was crowded at times. Each group took turns observing some manatees that were sleeping in the area. Otherwise we generally floated around in a small area near private homes and docks. It wasn’t exactly the secluded, National Geographic atmosphere I’d envisioned, but we definitely saw manatees. Two or three of them swam up to me or under me during our time in the water.

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One of our guides said the best way to see more manatees is to schedule your tour right after a cold snap when more manatees seek warmth in the spring waters. If you have the luxury of a flexible schedule, that may be a good strategy. Otherwise, early morning tours are said to be better than later in the day.

Seeing the manatees up close in their natural habitat was an experience I will never forget. They were very gentle, just as we were told they’d be, and they didn’t seem phased by our floating in the area. I was glad I had brought a waterproof camera along to snap a few photos.

Digital Camera

The snorkeling tour was good, but while we were in the water, I saw a few kayakers paddle by who were also looking for manatees. If we go back to Crystal River, I might try this experience simply because you can see the manatee from your vantage point in the kayak when they swim to the surface, and it appears that you could move more easily to another location in the spring, too. There are also parks with manatee-viewing overlooks for those who want a more casual way to observe these beautiful animals.

Digital Camera

It was fun to try something new and learn about the manatees that are such a treasure in this part of our state.

 

Asking Santa for a Stitch Fix Gift Card

My affinity for Stitch Fix, the personal styling service I often blog about, gets put on the back burner this time of year. My last Fix had some great pieces in rich fall colors, but I only kept one – the mustard yellow top in the stack below – because it’s the season of giving to others (and I am blessed to have many “others” in my life).

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Unless I’m out shopping for gifts and find a deal I cannot pass up, I rarely spend money on myself during the holidays. And I imagine many of us feel this way.

For this reason, gift cards are a really nice gift to receive. When you have a need or you’re just ready to treat yourself again, a gift card makes it so much easier on the wallet! And who couldn’t use that after Santa Clause has come and gone?

So I’ll be a happy girl if I receive gift cards to spend at my favorite stores and retailers, including Stitch Fix, this Christmas. A Stitch Fix gift card is a good gift for loyalists like me who want to order a post-holiday or early spring Fix, or for the person who has thought about trying Stitch Fix but has never placed that first order. You can read more about my experience with Stitch Fix in my most recent Fix reviews from November and September.

Because I’ve gotten connected with a group of bloggers who like to share news of all things Stitch Fix, I often learn about fun things like a $1,000 Stitch Fix Gift Card giveaway going on this month! According to Maria at Crazy Together, it’s sponsored by Stitch Fix, open to US residents 18 and over, and the giveaway will end December 7, 2016 at 11:59 p.m. EST. Good luck!

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I am not compensated by Stitch Fix for this post, but Stitch Fix does 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 Review -November 2016

The 2016 presidential election is enough to drive anyone to therapy. I’m providing some — of the retail variety — on this Election Day with my latest Stitch Fix review.

(If Stitch Fix is new to you, I’ll provide more information at the end of this post to explain the personal styling subscription service.) Many of you reading this know the drill, so I’ll jump right into telling you about the first Fix I’ve received when I kept the whole box!

I had a new stylist (new to me, at least) named Jan selecting the items in my Fix this month. Jan wrote a very thoughtful note and even talked about my blog and Pinterest board. I appreciated that personal touch, and the items she selected were just what I was looking for to get my wardrobe ready for fall. I asked for items that I could dress up or down, allowing me to be comfortable in a professional meeting or at my daughters’ many sporting events. And Jan really delivered! Here’s what she sent, my review of the items, and – just for fun – my Election Day take on each piece. Feel free to pin any of the items that you like.

Loveappella Hansil Lace Detail Knit Top

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I love the color of this top! It’s bright red and made of soft knit. I’d asked for comfortable, casual tops, and this fits the bill. The lace detail on the shoulder area really dresses it up, too. It is a little thinner than I would like, so I will wear this with a tank or camisole underneath to give it a little more shape. Election Day take: Whether you live in a Red State or just love the red, white and blue, this easygoing top is a winner!

Yosi Samra Samantha Cap Top Ballet Flats

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I first saw Yosi Samra flats on Pinterest and wanted to try them. They looked comfortable and stylish at the same time. Jan included the cap toe style in my Fix, and she mentioned that they fold up easily for stashing in your purse. These would have been nice to have when I worked in a larger city and had to park and walk a few blocks to my office every day.  They work well for me now because I can look professional for work commitments and easily transition to mom duties in comfort. I’ve found that it helps to wear the no-show socks made specifically for this style of shoe. I picked up a few pairs at Target for about $4 each. Election Day take: Standing in line while waiting to vote? You’ll wish you had these babies.

Pixley Nardian V-Neck Blouse

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This top features a bright, cheerful floral print. The base color is navy blue, and I will wear this underneath a navy blue cardigan I received in a previous Fix. I didn’t really care for this as a stand alone top, but you could certainly wear it that way, too. It’s perfect for fall in Florida because it makes a good layering piece.  Election Day take: Pants Suit Nation, this top is for you! It looks great with a suit.

Pixley Ellie Printed 3/4 Sleeve Blouse

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For me, this top is what those in Stitch Fix circles affectionately refer to as a unicorn. I’d seen it on Pinterest for months and months and wanted to own it. After pinning it a few times on my Pinterest board to no avail, I decided to specifically ask for it this month in my note to my stylist, and what do you know? It’s mine. (Lesson learned: If you really want a specific piece, just ask for it.) The Ellie top does feature an elephant print. It is a classic style, and the black and creamy white pair well with black pants or jeans. This weekend I wore it to church. I added a deep red, beaded statement necklace to add a splash of color. Election Day take: Sorry, Dems, I haven’t seen any tops with donkeys on them, but if you are into the elephant as a G.O.P. symbol, this top is for you.

Renee C Alby Keyhole Front Blouse

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This blouse was a good choice for me because of the relaxed style. It has a bohemian feel, and the red, blue, yellow, green and black and white in this top go well with jeans. I ended up selling this top in one of the Stitch Fix buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook (There is a whole community of ladies who love Stitch Fix like I do – something I learned after signing up for the service). I didn’t dislike it. It just didn’t fit me as well as the other tops in this Fix. It has a new home with someone who will look fabulous in it, I’m sure.  Election Day take: The pattern of this top reminds me of a patchwork, much like our great nation. Despite our differences, we all have to work together like the colors and patterns in this blouse. So tomorrow, no matter the results of the election, remember the blouse, folks! (Yes, I know how corny I am.)

The Results Are In

Although I didn’t personally keep one of the items, I purchased all five pieces in this Fix. That means I received a 25% discount on the purchase resulting in a savings of $75. With the discount and the $20 credit from my styling fee, I paid just over $200. If all of the items in your Fix work well for you, purchasing all five is definitely the way to get the most value out of the Stitch Fix service.

Jan, you get my vote for stylist-in-chief! Thanks for a great Fix and God Bless America!

Have you tried Stitch Fix? What has your experience been? Leave me a comment or a link to your blog. If you haven’t tried Stitch Fix yet, I would recommend visiting the website or downloading the Stitch Fix iPhone app and completing the Style Profile. It’s fun to see how the process works, whether you order a Fix right away or not. There is no fee to join. You pay a $20 styling fee when you order a Fix (It is applied to any purchase you make from that Fix). You’ll receive a box of 5 items, handpicked for you, plus photos and suggestions of how to style them with other pieces.  You’ll have three days to try them on and decide what you want to keep or send back. A return envelope is provided with postage included, so returns can easily be placed in any mailbox. The shipping and returns are free and very easy, and you can cancel Stitch Fix at any time.

Stitch Fix does not compensate me for reviewing their service. Like all Stitch Fix customers, I can receive a referral credit if someone joins using a link that I provide. If you do join Stitch Fix by following a link in this blog, thank you and I hope you enjoy your first Fix! Let me know how it goes.

If you’d like to see another recent Fix I received, here is my Stitch Fix review from September. It includes a few more photos of the clothes. Also, several bloggers have linked up their Stitch Fix review blog posts on the blog Crazy Together. Check them out for even more ideas and inspiration for your future Fixes!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Verdict: Return

Daniel Rainn Shrewsberry Split Back Blouse

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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?

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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

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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!

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cactus

agave

Agave

desert_rose

Desert Rose

cactus_family

Prickly Pear Cactus

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Prairie Dog

round_desert_plant

Queen Victoria Agave*

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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.

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*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.

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

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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?