Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens

Bellingrath tree lights and fountain

This weekend, on a whim, we decided to visit Bellingrath Gardens, located just outside Mobile, Alabama, for Magic Christmas in Lights. The grand holiday light display features three million lights throughout a 65-acre property. Visitors walk along a path that winds through the estate, transformed by lights of every color in a variety of scenes.

It’s truly impressive. My only regret is not having brought a real camera along, so photos included in this post are from my phone.

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Bellingrath Gardens and Home is an amazing place to visit during daylight hours any time of year. The picturesque estate along the Fowl River is famous for its beautiful, azalea-rich grounds. Countless other varieties of flowers and plants bloom in abundance, too. I visited about 10 years ago and have recommended it ever since to anyone traveling to the Mobile area.

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This weekend was my first time to visit during Magic Christmas in Lights. I did a little bit of research and learned the holiday lights display started 20 years ago, inspired by a similar event at Georgia’s Callaway Gardens. It’s grown through the years, and last year USA Today named Magic Christmas in Lights at Bellingrath Gardens as one of the top 10 light displays in America.

Bellingrath swans

What I didn’t know when we decided to put the kids in the car to be tourists for the night is that this (the weekend before Christmas) typically represents the busiest nights of the season for Magic Christmas in Lights. We had a very long wait to get into the parking lot as cars lined the two-lane road leading into the property, and then another wait in line for tickets. The traffic added about 45 minutes to our trip.

Lesson learned: Buy your tickets in advance online, plan to get their early, and if possible visit on a weeknight – or any night other than the busiest of the year!  One bonus – the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck and a costumed polar bear were on hand for photo opps just outside the Gardens on the night we visited.

Coca Cola Christmas

Walking through the lights with my husband and daughters, taking pictures, and enjoying one of the few cool nights we’ve had during this unseasonably hot fall made up for the long wait. Christmas music and hot chocolate for sale added to the experience. This place is sure to put even the biggest Grinch around in the Christmas spirit!

Magic Christmas in Lights is open nightly from 5-9 p.m. CST through January 2, 2016, with the exception of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Tickets are $15 for adults, $7 for children ages 5-12, and free for children 4 and under.

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The Easiest Christmas Cookies Ever

Snowflake sugar cookieAre you feeling the crunch of a long, holiday to-do list like I am? This is the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also one of the busiest. Last weekend, our family crammed in shopping and other errands, a Christmas parade, church, buying/picking out/decorating a Christmas tree, baking cookies for and attending a Mother-Daughter Cookie Swap, not to mention watching the SEC Championship Football Game. All of these things were enjoyable and important to us, but they made for a very full schedule.

When it came time to bake cookies for the Cookie Swap we were attending, I opted for two low-stress recipes. If you’re planning on baking cookies for the holidays, you might want to try them, too.

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First, we made traditional Christmas sugar cookies. It’s become an annual tradition for our family and the girls love to decorate them. Confession: Against every ounce of foodie that I have in my being, I bought pre-made dough this year. The Pillsbury sugar cookie dough that comes in a tube. Sigh.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I must say it actually worked out pretty well. The longer the dough was out of the refrigerator, the easier it was to roll out onto parchment paper, so keep that in mind if you are trying this at home. We used a snow flake cookie cutter I bought a while back for my Frozen-obsessed four-year-old and a heart-shaped cookie cutter, because all of my traditional Christmas cookie cutters were packed away with all the decorations we hadn’t yet brought out of storage. We made a few round cookies, too. Once we baked the cookies according to the package directions, we let them cool. When it was safe to ice them, we used homemade icing (recipe here), plus a few tubes of store-bough accent icing and assorted sprinkles to give them a finished festive look. I love the flavor that almond extract gives to the icing, and the cookies were quite tasty.

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The other cookie recipe we tried, 2-Ingredient Pumpkin Cookies, was Straight Outta Pinterest (can I get that on a T-shirt? There should be one if there isn’t). I try so many Pinterest recipes, and most of them have worked out for me. This one was almost too simple to mess up. It involved a spice cake mix (again, store bought. I don’t even know who I am anymore.) and a single can of pumpkin. I mixed these in the bowl of my stand mixer. Once these ingredients combined, I scooped out spoonfuls onto the cookie pan we were using. I did this with about half of the cookie batter. To the remaining batter, I stirred in semi-sweet chocolate chips before placing spoonfuls on the cookie pan. So we made two variations of this recipe and both baked quickly.

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Meanwhile, I mixed room-temperature butter with a packet that came in the cake mix box to make pumpkin spice icing.  We added dollops of the icing to the top of the cookies without chocolate chips. If you’re looking for a dense, crunchy cookie, these are not the cookies for you, but otherwise they are a good, foolproof option. I liked the ones with chocolate chips the best. And who doesn’t love pumpkin spice?

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So there you have it – two recipes that worked for us during a very busy weekend. The cookies were well received at the Cookie Swap and the few we had left over at home passed the ultimate test – they disappeared quickly.

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At the end of the cookie baking extravaganza, our Elf on the Shelf, Snowball, guarded the oven closely. I think she’d had enough!

What are you baking this Christmas? Do you have any holiday baking traditions? Leave a comment by clicking the link just below the headline of this post.

Also, while typing this blog post, I learned about Food Network’s Bake It Forward campaign. Share a photo of whatever you are baking this season in social media using #BakeItForward and nominate a friend. For each share, Food Network will donate $1 to No Kid Hungry.

 

 

9 Ways to Give Experiences (Not Things) This Christmas

For a young child, there’s nothing like waking up on Christmas morning to discover your most coveted toy under the Christmas tree. I have fond memories of the Christmases when I received a bike, a Cabbage Patch Kid and so many other treasured items from Santa through the years.

So with that as a seemingly contradictory preface, I have to say I’m coming around to the idea of gifting experiences rather than things. Make no mistake, I’ll still put gifts under the tree for my children. Always. But as a mom who has observed enough Christmases and the fate of so many “I’ve-gotta-have-it-Mom” toys, I have to question the lasting value of some of these gifts.

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An abandoned My Little Pony toy. You do not want to step on this!

Media and our consumeristic society often make it seem that our kids need every branded product that is offered in their particular area/character/movie/cartoon/whatever of interest. These toys du jour hold their attention for a short time, sure, but within a few weeks the kids move on and may never pick up these items again. It seems like a shame and a waste, not to mention the additional clutter it adds to our home. If it were just my husband and I buying for our children at the holidays, this may not be an issue, but there are grandparents and aunts and uncles and extended family members, too. All are appreciated and well-meaning in their gifting, of course, and there are many quality toys out there, but the sum total can be overwhelming.

Last Christmas, my husband and I decided our big gift to our daughters would be a trip to Disney World. We weren’t putting them in the car that day to go see the mouse (like I’ve known some families to do), so I knew this gift wouldn’t provide immediate gratification like a big toy might, but I still wanted to create some excitement as this represented such a big part of their Christmas. I wrapped up a handmade Countdown to Disney chalkboard sign that I purchased on Etsy and a character autograph book that the girls could take with them to the parks. Written in chalk on the sign was the number of days until our trip – about 21 or so as we visited on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. The girls had fun updating the sign each day and looked forward to the trip. It was a great vacation! For my youngest daughter, it was her first time at Disney World. We have many good memories and photos from the trip that we’ll cherish for years to come.

(If you’re planning a visit to Disney World during the holidays, check out these festive WDW events and attractions to celebrate the season, as shared by the blog Kids on a Plane.)

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The nightly Electric Light Parade is one of our family’s favorite things to see at Walt Disney World.

1. Family travel – whether it’s for a vacation, theme park visit, or even a mission trip – is a wonderful way to share an experience with your children, but there are other less expensive options, too. You can make an educational day trip out of visiting a museum or aquarium. Many, like the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., offer free admission.

2. During a visit to Orlando this summer, my mom and I treated my daughters to lunch at the American Girl store at The Florida Mall. Like American Girl stores in other cities, the Orlando store includes a restaurant.

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My oldest two girls have American Girl dolls that they brought along with us, and my youngest daughter was offered one to play with when we arrived for our lunch reservation. Each doll had her own seat at the table, along with a doll sized cup and saucer.

Dining with AG doll

I expected to be underwhelmed by the menu and food because it is American Girl and a t-shirt for a doll costs $10, for heaven’s sake. The selection and food were not bad though, and we received excellent service. The American Girl dining experience was fun. You could certainly host your own tea party at home for less, but we all enjoyed this special treat. American Girl has stores in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and other major U.S. cities, too.

AG ice cream

3. The Orlando mall we visited is also home to the newest Crayola Experience. Opened in July, this family attraction boasts over 70,000 square feet of colorful and creative activity space. There are 25 attractions inside including making your own coloring page, personalizing your own crayon wrapper and much more. The Crayola Experience was still a few weeks away from opening when we visited The Florida Mall, so we were not able to check it out. I hope we can do this on a future visit. According to the website, admission is $17.99 per person if purchased online, or an Annual Pass for unlimited visits within a year is $34.99. Purchased at the door, admission rates are slightly higher.

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We were able to pay a visit to the adjacent Crayola Store, which was open. You can find every possible Crayola crayon and Crayola products you never knew existed here. Many of the prices were pretty steep, we thought. Some of the same items are sold at WalMart or Target for less, but it’s certainly the most complete offering of Crayola items I’ve ever seen.

crayons in every color

4. Camping is another good option for making memories. Who doesn’t love campfires and s’mores? You may need to purchase a few camping supplies of course if you don’t already own them, but these can be a good investment. Plus, this gives you something to wrap up and put under the Christmas tree. I’m definitely more comfortable with the glamping style of camping than any rugged wilderness excursion. A bathroom and electrical outlets nearby are non-negotiable for me. After one sleepless night on the cold, hard ground at my daughters’ Girl Scout camp out last fall, I learned that an air mattress inside the tent will be essential the next time I camp, too. (Go ahead and roll your eyes, hardcore campers. I can’t see you.)

camping tents

Other experiential gifts you might consider giving this holiday season:

5. Movie tickets – The Peanuts Movie is adorable, by the way. My kids loved it and it has a nice message.

6. Restaurant gift cards – Take your pick of local favorites or chains, most eateries offer gift cards these days. I don’t know a busy family who wouldn’t love to receive a night off from cooking dinner!

7. Classes – My kids would like to take art, cooking and sewing lessons. We have experience with one local art instructor and my daughter loved her classes for kids. Research providers in your area to find the right class for you or your child!

8. Personal stylist – So this is not for kids, but moms and other special ladies need a treat, too. You may already know I am a fan of StitchFix, the personal styling service that hand picks clothing and accessories and ships them to your door. Did you know that Stitch Fix offers gift cards? These are a great gift idea and can provide a fun treat for the lady who is looking for something different this Christmas. Of course, a spa day is a nice pampering gift, too!

9. Personal shopping – I don’t think this is offered in Northwest Florida yet, but in many larger cities grocery delivery services are becoming more common. What new mom wouldn’t love having someone do the shopping for you and bring the bread, milk and whatever else you need to your door?! Where was this when I had twin babies at home?! This could definitely be a special treat for some folks on Santa’s list.

However you decide to give to the special people in your life this year, remember that it is the thought that counts. Shared experiences and time together can be the most meaningful expressions of love you can give, and these don’t have to cost a fortune. In 20 years, your kids will remember and appreciate your outings to see Christmas lights together as a family more than the 14th toy they circled in the Black Friday circular.

Happy gifting!

 

The fine print: Some of my ideas are admittedly retail in nature, but I do not receive any compensation or consideration from American Girl or Crayola, or Walt Disney World or Peanuts for that matter. I just think they offer unique experiences that many families may not have considered as holiday gift options. I do include a link to Stitch Fix that could allow me to earn a small referral credit toward future purchases if someone uses it to order a Fix, but the company does not pay me for my reviews. 

 

Packing Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child

operation-christmas-childFor several years now, our family has made it a tradition to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child—the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind. The annual Samaritan’s Purse project is a favorite of many families, churches and groups who spread joy to millions of children around the world by filling shoeboxes with a “Wow” item—like a doll or soccer ball—other fun toys, school supplies, hygiene items and notes of encouragement.

“Through the simple act of filling a shoebox, someone can make a tangible difference in the life of a child halfway around the world. Anyone can participate and bring joy to a child facing difficult circumstances,” said Randy Riddle, director of Operation Christmas Child in the United States.

We’ve found Operation Christmas Child to be a simple yet concrete way to involve our children in giving and sharing God’s love with others who are in need around the world. We picked up three empty shoeboxes from our church, which participates in the program each year. We fill these together as a family.

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Our two oldest daughters also attended a Shoebox Packing Party at church, where they helped to fill additional shoeboxes that will be given on behalf of the church. Our children’s ministry leaders and volunteers made the Packing Party a really fun and festive event. They divided the children into groups and the groups took turns visiting stations scattered throughout the church where they completed a fun activity and added different types of items to their shoeboxes. They also prayed for all the children who will receive gifts as part of Operation Christmas Child this year.

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When we set out to pack our own shoeboxes at home, our daughters decided they would designate their boxes for girls – one in the 2-4 age group and the other two in the 5-9 age group. We first shopped for some basic hygiene items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs and soap.  We added head bands and ponytail holders, then looked for school supplies and toys. We found crayons, pencils, notepads as well as small toys like puzzles and jump ropes at our local dollar store. All of the items in the cart below were purchased for around $26, or less than $10 per shoebox.

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Operation Christmas Child has a Pinterest board filled with ideas for items to pack in your shoebox, and I also found this blog post insightful for packing a shoebox.

We haven’t added a “Wow” item yet and our girls want to write notes to the children who will receive their shoeboxes. So we’re still adding to the boxes, but here is a look at what we’ve packed so far.

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Box 1 contents

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Box 2 contents

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Box 3 contents

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Our mostly assembled shoeboxes

During National Collection Week, Nov. 16 – 23, anyone can drop off a gift-filled shoebox to send to a child overseas. Residents around the country hope to contribute 8.6 million gift-filled shoeboxes to the 2015 global goal of reaching 11 million children in need. Collection locations can be found using the Zip Code locator at samaritanspurse.org/occ.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to more than 124 million children in more than 150 countries and territories. For many of these children, a gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.

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100 millionth shoebox delivery in Dominican Republic. (Photo courtesy of OCC/Samaritan’s Purse)

Anyone can participate in Operation Christmas Child. You can even pack a personalized Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift on the Samaritan’s Purse website. Go to samaritanspurse.org/occ to select toys and gift items, write a note of encouragement and “pack” them in a shoebox. These gifts of hope will go to children in some of the hardest-to-reach countries.

Using special tracking technology, participants can follow their box to discover where in the world their gift is delivered by using the donation form found at samaritanspurse.org/occ.

Happy shoebox packing everyone!

Do you pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child? What items do you pack in your shoebox? Leave a comment to tell us!

Stitch Fix Review – November 2015

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I’ve been using StitchFix, the personal styling service that sends clothing to your door each month, since July. It’s a wonderful solution for busy women who don’t have a lot of time to shop for clothes. If you read my October Stitch Fix review, you’d know that I’ve had mixed results with the Fixes I’ve received. I was on the brink of canceling the service because I just wasn’t having a lot of luck with the items I’d gotten. Well, it turns out my latest shipment is my best one yet!

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I don’t know if it’s the stylist who selected the clothes for me this month (Kudos to Colby!), or if the notes and feedback I’ve given on past Fixes have finally made enough of an impression to prompt better selections for me, but this was a great Fix!

The personalized note I received from Colby addressed some of the feedback I’d given after my last Fix and she referenced my Pinterest board, where I’ve pinned items and styles that I like. One item she sent was selected specifically because I’d pinned it, and another was very similar to things I’d pinned. While part of the fun of Stitch Fix is the element of surprise, it is nice when they can throw in a few pieces that you’ve expressed an interest in.

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The first item I tried on out of the box was the Donna Morgan Tila Dress (shown below). I liked the navy blue and white, nautical print material right away. The belted waist is something I wasn’t sure I’d like but I think it works well. The gold buttons are an interesting detail, too. I received this Fix on a Saturday, took the tags off this dress and wore it to church on Sunday. I received several compliments on it, too. What I’m not sure about is what color tights and shoes to pair with this dress as the weather gets cooler. If you have a suggestion, please leave a comment on this post!

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Strangely, almost every item I’ve bought from Stitch Fix has been blue. Almost every dress they have sent me has been navy blue. I’m not sure why this is. On the Style Profile you complete when you join Stitch Fix, you can choose to not receive certain colors if you want, but I’ve never limited it.

Another blue item in this Fix was the Daniel Rainn Philco Cold Shoulder Blouse (below). I’d seen similar cold shoulder blouses other bloggers had posted and I fully expected to hate this top! I’m a pretty conservative dresser, but surprisingly this top doesn’t bare as much skin as I feared it would. I really like it. It’s definitely a special occasion piece for me, as I couldn’t wear this in a professional setting and I’d look way out of place if I wore it to my daughters’ Brownie troop meeting. I hope I will wear it when those special occasions arise so I can get my money’s worth (Time for a date night, honey!). This top was pricier than I would have liked at $68. It also needs a strapless camisole underneath as it is somewhat sheer. I know it’s difficult to visualize what this looks like on, as it is shown on the hanger, but I’m not ready for Internet modeling. There are plenty of bloggers out there who do a great job of it though, and more power to them.

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In case I got too cool in the cold shoulder top, Colby also gave me a sweater. The Olive & Oak Baba Airy Knit Sweater (below) was a nice oversized sweater in an ivory/winter white color. It is a sweater you would need to wear another layer underneath. This piece was fine, but nothing exceptional for me. At $78, it had to go back. I can find a neutral sweater for less if I need one.

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Remember I mentioned that Colby had addressed some of the items on my Pinterest board? One was my request for a vest that other pinners had received from Stitch Fix. The vest is olive green or army green, and can be worn over most any type of top. I’d still like to have that vest, but Colby mentioned it was not available and instead sent the Fate Eliza Surplus Jacket (below).

fate-eliza-surplus-jacketThe body of the jacket looks similar to the vests I’d pinned, so I can appreciate her sending it for me to try. Unfortunately, although the knit, aztec print sleeves made this an interesting piece, I really hated the colors together and the overall look. It was just too drab for me and I really don’t need another jacket. It’s still 80 degrees and muggy in Florida. This was a return.

Last but certainly not least, Colby included a clutch purse I’d pinned on Pinterest. The Street Level Mina Suede Tassel Clutch (below) is a beautiful burgundy color. I’ll call it crimson as a personal preference (wink wink, Bama fans!). This is my favorite color, it’s real suede, and overall just a classic piece I will use for years, so I kept it.

street-level-mina-suede-tassel-clutchIf you’re keeping score at home, this Fix was a 3 out of 5 for me. That’s great for my wardrobe, but it all adds up! Thankfully, you can apply the $20 Stitch Fix styling fee to any purchases you make. If I’d kept all 5 items, I would have received an additional 25 percent off. You also control how frequently you receive shipments from Stitch Fix, so I may wait a while before I indulge in this blissful retail therapy again.

The Styling Cards that Stitch Fix includes in each Fix are really helpful for visualizing different ways to wear the items you receive.

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I will say my eyes have been opened to some new styles, and even though it’s taken a few months I think they finally understand the kinds of pieces that will work for me. I’ve asked to keep Colby as my stylist and hopefully that request will be honored.

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 new 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, shipping and returns are free and very easy, and you can cancel Stitch Fix at any time.

And in case you are wondering, 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! Thank you for visiting my blog.

stitch-fix-link-upIf you would like to see more Fixes from Stitch Fix, you can check out the blog Crazy Together, where blogger Maria reviews her 30th Fix (yes, I said 30th!?! I want to see her closet!) and several other bloggers (including yours truly) have linked up their own Stitch Fix posts, as well. It’s nice to see the variety of styles everyone receives.

Joining Bloglovin

My blog is now a part of the Bloglovin network. I’ll continue to post here so there is no need to do anything different if you already follow my posts. This is just a new way for others to find Sand in My Minivan, and a way for me to find other blogs and bloggers. Follow my blog with Bloglovin!

Stitch Fix Review – October 2015

Earlier this summer I decided to try Stitch Fix, a subscription service that provides personal styling and delivers clothing to your door once a month. It’s incredibly convenient if you don’t have a lot of time to shop, and I have to admit I have looked forward to the arrival of my Stitch Fix boxes each month!

I wrote about my first Fix (the term the company uses for each shipment it sends) on this blog, if you want to see what I received and my thoughts on each item. I also explain how Stitch Fix works in more detail there if you are not familiar with it.

I’ve received three Fixes since that first one – the fourth one arrived this past week. I’m going to review those items here. You can get a glimpse of all the items from my fourth Fix on the style card sent by my stylist. It’s helpful for giving you different ideas of how to wear each piece and how to style the clothes with accessories.

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I have an event coming up that I need a dress for so I specifically requested dresses in this Fix. The stylist sent three dresses:

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The Loveapella Paige Maxi Dress (above) came in a deep eggplant color. It was very soft and would be good for an elegant evening out, but the material was terrible for me. It is very thin and not at all forgiving. I tried it on for about 10 seconds and knew it was going back.

41Hawthorn Tillie Dress

The 41Hawthorn Tillie Dress in navy blue and white is a nice, classic look, but once again the material was all wrong for me. This material was not thin like the first dress, but it was clingy in all the wrong places and also too short for my taste. On the hanger it looks like an A-line style, but on my curvy frame not so much!

Papermoon Fabiana Dress

The Papermoon Fabiana Dress was the most interesting of the three in my opinion. I liked the floral print and the material was more in line with my conservative style. Unfortunately this dress did not fit. At all.

I’m a little bummed that only one of the three dresses is one I would have considered, and then to have it not work out was disappointing. One point of having a StitchFix stylist is to try things you may not pick up in a store on your own, but sometimes you wouldn’t pick them up because you know what will work for you and what won’t!

The two tops in this fix were definitely my style. I had asked for more color in this Fix as the last two I’d received had mostly neutral colors. I appreciate that the stylist honored my request.

41Hawthorn Colibri Tab Sleeve Blouse

The 41Hawthorn Colibri Solid Tab Sleeve Blouse was a beautiful aqua color. The stylist noted that she had seen it or a similar top on my Pinterest board (this is another way Stitch Fix gathers input on your personal fashion tastes – by looking at a Pinterest board you create, if you choose to make one. I love Pinterest so this is a no brainer for me). The top looked great on, except the buttons gaped open a little as it was too snug through the chest. This was the same issue I had with the Papermoon dress above. StitchFix knows your bra size if you choose to include it on the Style Profile that you fill out when you join, so I wish they were a little more effective at  sending you items that will work with your measurements. I guess it’s not always a perfect science with different cuts and materials.

Parkhurst Jeffrey Waffle Knit Sweater

The last item, the Parkhurst Jeffrey Waffle Knit Color Block Sweater, is the only item I considered keeping. The fit was great and it was oversized, which I prefer for pairing with jeans and boots in the fall. For a sweater, this was actually a pretty lightweight knit so it could have worked in Florida. I was on the fence about keeping this one, but I didn’t love it and the $84 price tag was more than I was willing to pay for a sweater I only kind of liked.

So, if you’ve done the math, I kept zero out of five items in this month’s Fix. I did feel that the stylist had listened to my requests but unfortunately these items just didn’t work out. (Although I didn’t blog about my second and third Fixes, I kept 1 maxi dress from those two shipments.)

I’m not sure how this Fix compares with others’ experience with receiving items you like and that fit well from Stitch Fix. I’ve made sure to log in and update my Style profile and I also provide detailed feedback on each item I have returned. Hopefully this will help make the next Fix more successful. I’m going to give it one more month but I don’t know that I will continue my subscription beyond that if it’s like this one. I just can’t see spending the $20 styling fee if I’m not able to apply it to a purchase.

After I received this Fix and knew I wasn’t going to keep anything, I did go shopping on my own and found several great items at Belk and Old Navy. It was nice to treat myself to a few new things, even if the Fix wasn’t quite right.

I definitely recommend trying Stitch Fix, as it is fun to fill out your style profile, receive the shipments and try some clothes you may not otherwise select for yourself. The convenience is unrivaled with the return envelope already included in the box when it arrives. You just log in to Stitch Fix and tell them what you’re keeping or returning, drop off the return package at your local post office and you’re all done.  Of the items I’ve kept from previous Fixes, I really do like and enjoy wearing them.

Stitch Fix does not pay me to review their service, but I do receive a small credit if anyone uses the links in this post to sign up. If you do decide to give it a try and use my link, thank you!

I’m also participating in a link up this month with other bloggers who review their Stitch Fix experience. See what fun pieces they received here.

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Heart of Glass

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Mary Hong Studio Gallery

There’s something wildly therapeutic about turning shards of glass into a very personal piece of art. Although I wasn’t mending a broken heart of glass like Blondie (I’m happily married, but Heart of Glass is a better blog post title), I did experience the enjoyment mosaic glass art can bring during a recent visit to the The Shard Shop in Grayton Beach.

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My sister-in-law kindly treated two of my daughters to a class at The Shard Shop as a birthday gift. We took the girls, along with her daughter (my niece/their cousin), to the Shops of Grayton, where you’ll find The Shard Shop next door to Mary Hong Studio Gallery.

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Mary Hong Studio Gallery

Mary Hong is a local artist who has been doing shard art, as she calls it, since 1999. Her gallery sells her beautiful creations and also provides inspiration for first-time artists who are going to make their own works of art at The Shard Shop.

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Upon arrival, our girls quickly chose their canvases and decided what the subject of their art would be. Each chose an assortment of colorful, multi-textured glass shards to place atop a chalk sketch they’d drawn on the canvas. We helped with cutting some of the larger glass pieces for the girls (safety first!). Craft glue was used to secure some of the pieces while others were placed loosely, all to be permanently set by an epoxy resin coating that The Shard Shop staff pours over your “finished” piece. It was fun to watch the girls create a crab, pineapple and peacock, and we were impressed with how well they turned out the next day when we went to pick up the resin-coated finished products.

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While helping the girls with their pieces was fun, my sister-in-law and I wanted to return to The Shard Shop sans children and make our own shard art. Later during our vacation week, we paid our second visit and got to work on making a tree (hers, which I sadly failed to photograph) and a trio of butterflies (mine). Unlike traditional mosaic art, the shard art style is more layered or dimensional. After placing larger pieces of glass from old bottles and dishes on the canvas (or wood plank, in my case), we filled in the design with smaller shards and even some glittery bling (note: not a technical term). The Shard Shop does provide safety goggles and gloves for you to use when you are cutting glass and handling the sharper pieces. There is a safety waiver you have to sign before taking a class – of course there is, there is always a waiver! The instructor we worked with showed us how to cut and sand the edges for a smoother finish so that no one will inadvertently stab themselves while admiring our finished pieces.

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While our work might not hold a candle to Mary Hong’s professional pieces, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in The Shard Shop and we each have a handmade souvenir from our 30-A vacation to display in our homes. I would recommend The Shard Shop classes and workshops to anyone who is old enough to safely handle glass (7 is the minimum age for children’s classes). The classes we took were $35 for children and $85 for adults.

This would be a fun destination for a girls’ weekend or girls’ day out. One woman who was in the shop at the same time we visited said she had used shard art as therapy after experiencing some traumatic physical health challenges. Whatever your reason for wanting to do glass art, your creation is sure to be a unique thing of upcycled beauty.

If you’re hungry for lunch before your art class, just walk across the parking lot at Shops of Grayton to Farm Stand, a good spot for farm fresh, organic food. I recently visited Farm Stand and wrote about it in the article, From Farm to Table in Northwest Florida, published by Visit Florida.

It’s Taste of the (Pensacola) Beach Time Again

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Pensacola Beach’s annual Taste of the Beach event is Friday-Saturday, September 18-19, 2015.

Friday is a ticketed, VIP event with celebrity Chef John Besh. You may know him from his highly acclaimed New Orleans restaurants: August, Besh’s Steak House and others; or you may have seen him on one of several cooking shows on TV.

Saturday is the day to go and take the whole family. Check out the schedule of events here. Chef Besh is sure to bring an impressive showcase of culinary skills to the live stage presentation. There are surfing lessons and all sorts of activities for the kids. You can sample the best food and drinks Pensacola Beach has to offer at affordable prices, hear from Chef John Besh and even get a chance to meet him during the meet and greet. A fun 80s band, the Molly Ringwalds, closes out the evening with live music.

I wrote about my experience at last year’s Taste of the Beach. It was a lot of fun and I hope I get to make it out to the beach this weekend for round 2! Yum!

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Destin Dolphin Cruise

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Whether we like it or not, our summer is quickly coming to an end. We’re trying to make the most of the last days of freedom before school starts by spending some time at the beach with our extended family. We’d like to get out on the water in some way, but we’re still deciding exactly what we’ll do.

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Last year, our family went on a dolphin cruise out of Destin Harbor. A company called Boogies operated the glass-bottom boat, which docks directly behind the Harborwalk Village and the Emerald Grande. I didn’t think I’d enjoy this as much as I did, because it is a quintessential Destin tourist excursion. I got over my reluctance quickly though, because dolphins, sunshine and gorgeous Destin water make it impossible to have a bad attitude.

cruise in DestinWe set sail out of Destin Harbor and cruised through the turquoise waters of East Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. Dolphins followed our boat and swam alongside us for much of the trip. It was great fun. The kids loved it and we snapped a million pictures.

dolphins-swim-with-boatThe boat also cruised into the shallow waters known as Crab Island, a popular spot where boats anchor down for easy swimming and play. We had fun watching other boats, wave runners and even a few paddle boarders as we passed through the area.

DSC_0312Our boat stopped briefly to toss out a net. The crew members pulled the net up a few minutes later to see what, if anything, had been caught. I’m not sure what they were hoping for – fish? crabs? – but it seemed like mostly seaweed, shells and a few hermit crabs made it into the net. The kids loved seeing this and my children we thrilled to hold one of the hermit crabs.

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The Destin dolphin cruise cost our family of five just under $100. Similar cruises are offered in Panama City and Pensacola Beach. Occasionally, I’ve seen Groupon offers for discounted dolphin cruise tickets, so it may be worthwhile to look for deals before you go. It’s definitely something I’d do again.