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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

Beach Baking

Confession: I have a slight obsession with pinning recipes on Pinterest. I usually try most of them, believe it or not. When you are feeding a family of five you have to keep things interesting. Most of the recipes I try are dinner recipes, but yesterday after working on several work projects and battling the car pool line at my daughters’  school, which incidentally seems to lose all manner of civility and sense when it’s raining, it was time to bake.

This is not a mood that strikes me often (maybe there is a full moon?), but the kids sure seemed to appreciate it. We went right to Pinterest and found a recipe I’d pinned for Flourless Chewy Cinnamon Sugar Peanut Butter Cookies (originally shared on the blog Foodie Crush). We had all of the ingredients on hand and it sounded delicious, so it was an easy choice. The girls helped me add the ingredients to the bowl of the stand mixer.

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After a quick blend, the dough went into the refrigerator for an hour. Keeping the kids busy and focused on doing homework during this hour was the hardest thing about this recipe. After an hour, we rolled the dough into balls, coated them with a cinnamon and sugar mix and popped them into the oven for the 8-9 minutes indicated in the recipe. We let them cool for a few minutes afterward, then wah-la, delicious snack!

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These cookies were good and a hit with all the girls, but they are definitely sweet. It is a sugar-intensive recipe, so that was to be expected. The original pinner noted that the recipe is vegetarian and gluten free, so it may appeal to those with special diets.

This was my second attempt at flourless cookies. The first, some sort of oatmeal and mashed banana concoction, was a disaster. I’m sure there are better variations I’d know if I baked this way often, but I don’t. In fact, baking yesterday’s yummy flour-less peanut butter cookies reminded me of a vegan birthday cake our family ordered for my brother-in-law’s birthday last summer.

We purchased the cake from La Loba’s Bakery in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, where we were spending the week for an extended family vacation. I don’t think I would have ordered a vegan cake had we not had a vegan in the family, but it was better than I expected. For vegans or anyone seeking out organic food in the South Walton County area, I’m sure this place is a boon. 

Do you like to bake? Would you bake on vacation?