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.

Digital Camera

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.

Digital Camera

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.

Digital Camera

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.

 

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.

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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.

my-little-pony-toy

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.)

electric light parade

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.

AG cafe

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.

crayola experience

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. 

 

Stitch Fix Review – November 2015

sand-in-my-minivan-stitch-fix-november-2015-review

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!

stitch-fix-november-2015

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.

November-2015--fix

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!

donna-morgan-tila-dress

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.

daniel-rainn-philco-cold-shoulder-blouse

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.

olive-oak-baba-airy-knit-sweater

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.

stitch-fix-styling-card

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.

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.

stitch-fix-style-card

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:

loveapella-paige-maxi-dress

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.

stitch-fix-link-up

Destin Dolphin Cruise

boogies-glass-bottom-boat

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.

dolphin

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.

Giving Stitch Fix A Try

I’m often splurging on my children and sharing our stories on this site, but rarely do I splurge for myself. Most of my wardrobe consists of items I picked up at Old Navy or Target when I was there shopping for the kids. I will shop online occasionally, but I don’t remember the last time I walked into a store with the sole purpose of trying on clothes – stylish, quality clothing – for myself. It wasn’t always this way. I used to love clothes and dressing up, but now I am a wife and mom of three who works. I have scarce time for much else. Enter Stitch Fix!

first-stitch-fixAfter seeing endless Stitch Fix ads and posts from friends circulating in social media, my curiosity got the best of me. I decided to learn more about the service that sends clothing and accessories to your door each month – or at whatever interval of time you specify.

Each shipment (or Fix, as they call it) is filled with five items picked for you by a personal stylist based on the preferences, sizes and budget you indicate when you sign up for the service. You have three days to try on the items and decide whether to keep or return them. There is a $20 styling fee per box, which gets credited to your account for the purchase of any items you decide to keep from the shipment. If you keep all five, you also receive 25 percent off. Shipping is free and so are the returns if you use the pre-paid return envelope enclosed in each box. As inspiration, the stylists also provide photos of different ways to wear the items.

I had my doubts about whether Stitch Fix would have clothing I liked or that fit me, but I was intrigued and signed up anyway. Any measures I can take to prevent Stacy London from showing up on my doorstep to rescue me from a fashion emergency would be a step in the right direction at this point, I told myself.

When I received my first Fix a few weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised. I liked all five items on some level, and I thought they reflected preferences and information I provided when I signed up (Thank you, stylist Kelly!). You can see them on the styling card below.

stitch-fix-styling-cardI tried on all the items quickly, as I was in a hurry the day they arrived. I thought I’d made a decision to keep the Market & Spruce Jamie Button Down Cotton Shirt and the necklace.

Thankfully, I waited a couple of days and tried everything on again when I had more time. I made sure to try on the tops with different pants and skirts I might put them with. Isn’t that the spirit of Stitch Fix, after all? I was glad I did this. My opinion of the white shirt changed completely – the material is thin and a camisole is required. When I put it all together, it just wasn’t the most flattering piece on me.

I loved the Pixley Florence Colorblocked Dress. It was my daughters’ favorite on me (Yes, I made them judge my impromptu fashion show. Fun times.) It was incredibly comfortable and I loved the navy blue color. In the end though, it was too short on me. I knew if I kept it, I would either wear it and be self-conscious about the short length or it would sit in my closet. So I couldn’t justify the expense.

The Renee C Naya Knit Top was something I never would have picked up in a store. The fabric reminded me of something my late grandmother would have worn. With no disrespect to her, I’m 39 not 89! But — and here’s the beauty of Stitch Fix — I tried it on and I really liked the fit and feel of this top. I returned it simply because the pattern was awkward, with a row of Xs hitting right across the bust line (Not a look I’m going for). Because you can give feedback on each item in your shipment, I’ve asked whether this top is available in any other colors or patterns. According to Stitch Fix, the stylists use your feedback to help choose items for the next fix. Fingers crossed.

The one item I initially thought was plain and boring, the Market & Spruce Corinna Striped Dolman Top, turned out to be my favorite the second time around. Right now I’d prefer a more lightweight fabric for days when I’m outside in the Florida sun, but it is comfortable and I have no doubt I will live in this shirt this fall. I kept it and the Bancroft Kate Stone & Pave Disc Layering Necklace, which I love for its classic, feminine style.

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I slipped the returns into the provided envelope and dropped it off at the post office. I filled out the online survey to complete my order and give feedback to the stylists. Easy peasy!

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Now I’m really looking forward to my second Fix!

Stitch Fix provided a positive first experience. I spent about $60 on my order, and the convenience and styling suggestions were worth the price. That’s more than I would have paid at Target or Old Navy, but the quality of items appears to be better, as well. It’s a good thing to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, especially for those of us who are moms or anyone who is stuck in a fashion rut. Here’s to Stitch Fix and happy, little splurges for me!

Get happy, little splurges for you, too! If you want to try Stitch Fix, I’d appreciate your signing up with this link, as I will receive a referral credit toward a future purchase. Thank you, and I’d love to know what you think of Stitch Fix, too!

Spooktacular Science in Navarre Beach

octobusWe had a fabulous evening at the annual Spooktacular Science by the Sea at the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station last night. Putting an educational twist on traditional Halloween activities, the Spooktacular event includes a sea creature costume contest for kids and a variety of stations set up to teach children about marine science.

Organized by local teachers and high school students who volunteer their time and talent, it’s an opportunity for kids to learn about native sea life and participate in hands-on science experiments. A haunted beach walk tops off the night with a stroll along the edge of the Santa Rosa Sound, where you’re sure to find a few surprises. Spooktacular Science by the Sea continues tonight from 5-9 p.m. CDT. Admission is $5 per person. Children ages 2 and under get in free.

If you’re going to be there after dark, it doesn’t hurt to bring a flash light along to make it easier to find your car in the parking lot when you leave. The Marine Park area surrounding the Science Station is not well lit.

It’s spooky good fun!

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Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre

panhandle-butterfly-house entrance

The Panhandle Butterfly House isn’t a big place. Drivers can easily cruise down Hwy. 98 through the heart of Navarre and not see the small, white house just west of the Navarre Beach bridge. What the butterfly house may lack in size shouldn’t discount its value as an environmental center and educational attraction.

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My kids and I have visited on more than one occasion. Each time we’ve admired the beautiful flowers and plants and, of course, the butterflies. Each time my girls have learned about the butterfly lifecycle and observed specimens at each stage of the lifecycle. Volunteers serving as docents have talked with us about the gardens and butterflies.

DSC_1023There is a small gift shop area where you can purchase butterfly-themed souvenirs or make a donation to the Panhandle Butterfly House. When you are finished with your visit to the Butterfly House, you can walk out back and take look at the Santa Rosa Sound and the birds and turtles that have made their homes nearby. The Navarre Kids Park is also adjacent to the Panhandle Butterfly House property, which is a great place for younger kids to burn some energy.

This weekend happens to be one of the biggest of the year at the Panhandle Butterfly House. It’s the annual Monarch Madness festival, which celebrates the Monarch butterfly and its migration through Northwest Florida. It’s one of a few dozen activities going on this month in Santa Rosa County, Florida, as part of the Beaches to Woodlands Tour.DSC_1036

If you can’t make it out this weekend, put them on your list to visit next spring or summer, when they’ll reopen for 2015. Operating strictly on donations, admission is free but contributions are encouraged.

Beaches to Woodlands Tour “Tees Off” Bubba-Style

Fall has always been my favorite time of year on the Gulf Coast. For starters, the weather is pleasant – still warm enough to enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities, but not so hot you have sweat running down your neck the minute you step outside. Also, the beaches tend to be less crowded, which makes for a peaceful day in the sun, and you spend less time waiting at restaurants and popular attractions. For those who travel to the Coast, better rates are typically available at hotels and rental properties after Labor Day.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, this year, I’m even more excited about fall. Why? Because of the 11th Annual Beaches to Woodlands Tour, a month-long collection of events in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Santa Rosa County includes Milton and Navarre Beach, and it’s less than an hour’s drive from Pensacola and Destin. I have had the opportunity to cover some of the events as a freelance writer helping to promote the Tour. Although I am compensated for articles I’ve written, I am not asked or paid to blog about these events. I am telling you about them because I am truly excited about Beaches to Woodlands this year. It may be because my kids are now old enough to get out and enjoy some of the family-friendly activities going on throughout the month of October.

aerial-view-Bubba-Watson-corn-maze

One of the first events on the Beaches to Woodlands Tour is actually open this weekend through November 2, with the exception of Halloween. It’s the Sweet Seasons Farms Corn Maze. It’s been generating a lot of buzz because the corn maze, viewed from above, depicts two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson swinging a golf club. Watson is from Santa Rosa County – a little town called Bagdad, to be exact. So the corn maze is a nice tribute to him. He’s tweeted about the event a few times already. Pensacola News Journal shared this video on pnj.com that tells a little bit about the making of the maze and what you can expect if you visit this year.

If getting lost in a corn maze is not your thing, there are other Beaches to Woodlands Tour events to suit a multitude of interests, including art, history, running, biking, and marine science. Take a look at thebeachestowoodlandstour.com for more information. It’s worth checking out if you are going to be in Northwest Florida this fall. Hopefully I can share some real, live photos and updates when we head out to experience some of the fun.