Archive of ‘Photography + Travel’ category

Photography: How to Style Your Family for Photo Sessions

Photo credit: Synthia Therese Photography

Let me start by saying that I am not a style blogger and don’t consider myself a fashion icon.

Most of my outfits come straight from the sale racks at stores like Nordstrom, Zara, and H&M. (Out of principle, I won’t pay full price for something.)

There have been many mornings before work where I’ve worried whether my outfit looked alright and resorted to asking for advice from my husband and two kids.

However, I’ve done a ton of family photo sessions over the years and understand the struggle and stress involved with getting out of the house looking presentable and keeping everyone in a good mood so we are happy in front of the camera. Or at least look happy in front of the camera.

I’ve blogged about the suckiness of family photo sessions here.

Spoiler alert: it ain’t for the faint of heart. On the same token, it gets a lot easier as your kids get older, so moms of really young kids, you’ll be out of the woods soon!

We recently did a family photo session with Synthia Denis, the talented Tampa-based photographer behind the lens at Synthia Therese Photography. We met Synthia five years ago when she was one of the teachers at the daycare my oldest daughter attended. She subsequently developed a photography hobby that morphed into a business and it’s been fun to personally watch her grow, both creatively and professionally.

How to Dress Your Family for Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

What to Wear for Family Pictures | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

I am so glad to have our yearly family photos out of the way with a final product that was amazing. (Another spoiler alert: these photos will be on our Christmas cards, so I was able to cross another item off my to-do list.) Synthia asked me to pick my five favorites, but because I loved all of them so much, I ended up buying all of the 60 photos she took at the session. (Yes, she’s that good!)

We took these photos at Cypress Point Park which is just south of Tampa International Airport. (I live in Ballast Point and #aintnobodygottime to drive with a 3 and 5-year-old all the way to Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, even though it’s a gorgeous location.)

How to Dress Your Family for Family Picture Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

How to Dress for Photography Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

Here are some takeaways on how to style your family for photo sessions:

1. Coordinate Without Being Matchy-Matchy. In this session, I based my and Jason’s outfits around the girls’ outfits, which I purchased at a Hannah Kate trunk show my friend hosted at her house. As you can see, the girls’ dresses coordinate, but don’t match perfectly. I pulled colors from their dresses when choosing my and my husband’s outfits, which were items we already had in our closets. I got my chambray dress from Zara last year and while they are sold out, you can get a similar one of good quality here.

What to Wear for Family Photography Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

2. Get Inspired from the Internet. If you’re at a loss for what to wear, this is where Pinterest and Google come in handy. Also, plan a couple weeks in advance of the session so you have time to order outfits online if you want something brand new. The internet has some nice color palettes you can use as inspiration for coordinating outfits. I found one this one from Pinterest to be helpful. Remember that light and airy colors appear best on camera and are often the most flattering on any skin tone and hair color.

How to Dress Your Family for Photos | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

3. Avoid Distracting Patterns or Accessories. My usual philosophy with little girls is “the bigger the bow, the closer to God.” However, many otherwise great photos can be ruined by an unnecessarily enormous bow on a child’s head that blocks features of another family member. For photo sessions, I try to choose bows that lay flat on the girls’ heads and avoid patterns or accessories that are distracting. I want the primary focus of the picture to be of me and my family and not a statement necklace or a logo. Also, it’s best to avoid extremely small patterns such as gingham or teeny tiny polka dots because most professional cameras have a hard time picking them up and they can look psychedelic in the final product.

How to Dress for Family Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

What to Wear for Family Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

4. Keep Non-Staining Snacks on Hand. To avoid “hangry” meltdowns, keep snacks on hand that won’t stain your children’s clothes. For a personality pick-me-up (and since I can’t/ won’t give my kids Mountain Dew or Red Bull like I’ve seen on those pageant reality shows), I like to keep Smarties and Altoids in my purse. They won’t stain your kids’ clothes, but in case of an emergency, also pack stain removal wipes for the photo session. I’ve also been known to bribe my kids with ice cream after the session if they do a good job and smile pretty for the camera.

How to Dress Your Family for Pictures | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

5. Show Your Photographer Your Outfits in Advance. Ask them for their honest opinions. Before my beach session with Synthia, I snapped a few photos of two outfit choices and texted both of them to her. She chose the outfit she thought would work best for the session. We didn’t have to worry about any outfit snafus or misunderstandings because we both were on the same page.

How to Dress Your Family for Family Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

6. Dress Appropriately for the Location. If you’re taking photos at the beach, consider wearing light-colored flowy outfits with open toed shoes. If you’re doing your photos in a metropolitan area and it’s in the evening, consider wearing something more flashy like sequins and high heels. Avoid wearing clothes that blend in with the backdrop. Below is an example of what not  to do based on a mistake I made last year. My photographer for this session specifically told me we were shooting in a public park, but I didn’t dress for the location and showed up in a cute dress and heels, which kept sinking into the dirt. (My bad!) Our outfits would have been more appropriately suited for shooting on a dock with sailboats in the background at the country club, not at an outdoor, woodsy park. Lesson learned!

How to Dress and what to wear for Family Photo Sessions | The Champagne Supernova

7. Ensure Your Photographer Has Experience Shooting Young Kids. (That sounds weird, but you know what I mean.) Our recent family photo session with Synthia went quickly (around 20 minutes) because Synthia was intentional about her vision and how she wanted the photographs to ultimately look. She gave the kids specific instructions on where to stand, what to do with their hands, and where to look in relation to the camera. This is so important when young kids are involved. You don’t want a photographer who doesn’t have an advance plan who will have the kids wandering around everywhere and hoping for a good picture. Doesn’t work that way and will drag the session out and drive everyone crazy. You want to make this as painless as possible.

What to wear for family photo sessions | The Champagne Supernova

Photo Credit: Synthia Therese Photography

Thanks to Synthia for a great session.




    Five Best Things About Growing Up in a Small Town


    DeLand’s main street, Woodland Boulevard, in the 1960s

    Well I was born in a small town / And I live in a small town / Probably die in a small town / Oh, those small communities. 

    Educated in a small town / Taught the fear of Jesus in a small town / Used to daydream in that small town / Another boring romantic that’s me. 

    No I cannot forget where it is that I come from / I cannot forget the people who love me / Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town / And people let me be just what I want to be. 

    – John Mellencamp, Small Town (1985) 

    I can relate.

    I was born in the small Florida town of Eustis before my family moved to the even smaller town of Palm Coast before finally relocating us to the small town of DeLand, which I consider home.

    Wedged between Daytona Beach and Orlando, DeLand is the county seat of Volusia County. As of the 2010 census, DeLand had a population of 27,031. It was the filming location of the 1999 Adam Sandler movie The Waterboy. Notable DeLand natives include baseball player, Chipper Jones, and singer-songwriter, Terence Trent D’Arby (Wish me, love, a wishing well…).

    Founded in 1876, the city, formerly known as the settlement of “Persimmon Hollow,” was named by its founder, Henry A. DeLand, a wealthy businessman from New York who made his fortune in the baking soda industry. A savvy businessman, DeLand believed the area had strong agricultural potential and he wanted to embark on a citrus operation with the new town as the center of activity. Henry DeLand also had a large role in starting Stetson University, which is also located in DeLand.

    Early Florida map that includes DeLand, taken from the Florida State Archives.

    When I was growing up, DeLand had only one public high school.  Accordingly, everyone who was in the same age group pretty much knew everybody else. There were a little over 400 people who graduated with my class and after graduation, the majority of my classmates either enrolled in the local community college, joined the military, or immediately entered the work force.

    DeLand also didn’t have any shopping malls. If you needed a new outfit, you had to convince your mother (or a friend who had a car) to drive you to either Daytona Beach or Sanford. Otherwise, you were committed to shopping at a strip mall that had a TJ Maxx and Bealls (or an Outlooks if you had a little extra cash to spend.)

    Keep in mind, these were the days before online shopping.

    It didn’t matter because most of us didn’t have “fancy” clothes anyway. For instance, until I went to college, I never heard of Lilly Pulitzer (“you mean people actually pay $150 for a cotton dress?!”) and thought Louis Vuitton was pronounced “Lewis.”

    High school parties usually happened in the woods, and the only way you could get to the party is if you were friends with someone who had a truck with four-wheel-drive. There was plenty of camouflage, cowboy boots, and Wrangler jeans.

    The Athens Theatre, built in 1921.

    I loved growing up in that little town. And while I’m sure kids who grew up in the big towns enjoyed the perks those towns had to offer, I didn’t know any different, but I wouldn’t have had it another way.

    The best things about growing up in a small town:

    Your Hometown Friends Will Always be your Ride or Dies. It doesn’t matter if you go months without talking to each other (life is busy, yo!), your hometown pals will always and forever be your best. freaking. friends. They remember when you got grounded for wrecking the car. They know what you looked like with prepubescent acne and braces. They talked you out of buying that ugly prom dress from Wet Seal. They cried with you when your tenth-grade crush was spotted at the movies with another girl.

    The Top Five Perks about Growing up in a Small Town | The Champagne Supernova

    Me and a longtime friend, Brandie, in 1996.

    You’re Never a Stranger. Walking around in your hometown is like an episode of Cheers. Everyone knows your name. You can’t even pump gas without running into your middle school P.E. coach, church minister, and hairdresser. Unlike larger cities where everyone is a number, when you grow up in a small town, everyone knows each other and looks out for each other.

    You Enjoy Small Town Traditions. Restaurants and stores were usually empty on Friday nights because everyone was at the high school football game. Local schools were closed the day before the homecoming football game because there was a huge parade. Neighbors and other citizens woke up early to claim their spaces along the parade route with lawn chairs. There were contests for which classes and clubs made the best parade floats. The prize was bragging rights until the following year. It was like Friday Night Lights minus the drama.

    You Recognize and Value Authenticity. There was little pretense in my small town. Mostly everyone was on the same middle-class level and nobody (from what I recall) was overly concerned about things like social climbing and money. Being from that background and having parents who instilled those things, you seek out and recognize them in other people. You have the ability to smell another person’s B.S. from a mile away.

    Life is Simple in a Small Town. As there aren’t many options of what to do on evenings and on the weekends, you’re left to your own creative devices. Big decisions centered around whether you wanted to buy chips and candy from the Handy Way or the 7-11. Not having to be on “choice overload” is nice.

    When I was growing up, my friends and I jokingly referred to DeLand as “DeadLand.” We felt there wasn’t enough opportunity in the small town and couldn’t wait until graduation so we could “get out of dodge” and start anew somewhere else.

    My parents moved away from DeLand when I was in law school and going home didn’t feel like “home” anymore once there was no longer an actual home to return to.

    Sure, I was always welcome to stay at my friends’ parents’ houses, but it wasn’t the same. I’ve driven past my childhood home several times and, even though the renters are trying to take care of it, it doesn’t look “the same” without my Dad’s car in the driveway or my Mom’s flower pots outside.

    The saying about not knowing what you have until it’s gone is true.


      Family Fun for Less: The Tradewinds

      Awesome family beach vacation staycation at The TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach

      Living in Florida and being fortunate enough to have constant access to nearby beaches, my husband and I are always looking for fun new family adventures.

      We live in South Tampa, which is roughly 40 minutes (door-to-door) from decent, kid-friendly beaches on the west coast of Florida, and two and a half hours from the east coast beaches.

      Creatures of habit, when we hit up St. Pete Beach (check out Pass-A-Grille, it’s our numero uno favorite), we would typically stay at the same exact hotel. However, it’s expensive and, while perhaps fine for a romantic vacation for two while the kids are with Grandma and Grandpa, it’s not the most child-friendly. And it’s expensive.

      Dolla dolla bills, yall.

      We’ve had our eye on the TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach for years but, for whatever reason, never stayed here for a family staycation.

      Picture Julia Roberts from Pretty Woman: BIG MISTAKE. HUGE.

      We stayed at the TradeWinds for two weekend nights in early November and had the time of our lives. Not only did we splurge on a suite (and by “splurge,” it was still substantially more cost effective than the place we typically stayed down the beach), but the resort offered so many amenities that were included with the hotel rate.

      These included an amazing outdoor inflatable slide (that my four year old was too chicken to ride, but my two year old wanted to ride over and over and over again- go figure), paddle boats with a river encompassing the entire property, tons of dining options, multiple swimming pools, towel service, miniature golf, inflatable activities on the water, and the grounds were modern and absolutely immaculate.

      Here are some photos from our fun weekend.

      Awesome family beach vacation staycation at The TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach

      The inside of the hotel suite. The girls loved calling the operator. Not pictured: the operator kindly going along with it.

      Awesome family beach vacation staycation at The TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach

      Our greeting package from the staff at The TradeWinds.

      Awesome family beach vacation staycation at The TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach

      The girls having fun feeding the swans and ducks.

      Awesome family beach vacation staycation at The TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach

      My husband and daughter checking out the paddle boaters on the river.

      Awesome family beach vacation staycation at The TradeWinds in St. Pete Beach

      The worst thing about our stay at The TradeWinds? When it came to an end.

      The TradeWinds also offers a full service spa that offers more than 25 treatments- I got the aromatherapy massage.  After my spa service, my husband had “me time” in the fitness center.

      In the process of choosing your summer vacation plans?

      TradeWinds is is now offering a four-night package that includes 4 night discounted room accommodations, a TradeWinds FUNventure card valued at $250, a TradeWinds tropical beach tote containing two souvenir cups that can be used for unlimited $1.50 sodas, and the nightly resort amenity fee. Prices are as follows:

      Guy Harvey Outpost: Hotel Room- $1,164 ; Gulf Front Suite- $1,684

      Island Grand: Hotel Room- $1,164 Gulf Front Suite- $2,004

      If you’re making travel plans and want to have a great time without breaking the bank, I definitely recommend The TradeWinds and am already looking forward to my next trip.


        La Bamba: Fear of Flying

        Why I motherfreaking hate flying | The Champagne Supernova

        My parents (really, my mother) were always relatively liberal regarding what movies and television shows they let me and my sister watch as children.

        Granted, that was thirty years ago and before the rise of MTV and reality shows, so things are a lot racier now than my Southern Baptist upbringing would have permitted.

        As a young child, my mom let met watch La Bamba. The movie starred Lou Diamond Phillips (a 1980s heartthrob) and was about Ritchie Valens, the Mexican singer who died in a plane crash after hitting it big with his popular song, La Bamba. Buddy Holly and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson were killed in the same crash. The movie took place in the late 1950s timeframe and came out in 1987, when I would have been five years old.

        It was pretty much my first introduction to an airplane.

        No bueno. (Pun intended.)

        Then there was Sweet Dreams, which was also released in the 1980s and was about the life of country music singer Patsy Cline starring Jessica Lange and Ed Harris. It also ended with a fatal plane crash. My younger sister and I were allowed to watch that and it further reinforced my fear of flying.

        Now, as an “adult”, I want to board airplanes with a parachute.

        Last year, I had to get on teeny-tiny propeller plane from Charlotte, North Carolina, to the small town of Greenville for some depositions. The moment I saw the plane, I was ready to go back to Tampa, even if it meant I’d have to walk.

        Here’s the rundown.

        I get on the plane and immediately start scoping out people who look like they might want to take it down. Like some of the dudes who attempt to follow my Instagram page whose primary photos are of them holding machine guns while riding a camel in the middle of a desert. (This has happened four times. They get blocked.)

        Then, there is the crippling emotional struggle of takeoff. My non-mathematical, unscientific mind cannot comprehend how a large pile of metal and humans can get off the ground.

        White knuckles and breathing into a paper bag.

        Repeating the rosary and messing up the words.

        I can’t talk to anyone and have to sit near the window so I can focus on something outside.

        Something that is getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

        Then I start thinking about how the plane will crash into the ground, wondering whether I’ll feel any pain, whether I remembered to pay my life insurance premium and please God, I hope I reminded my family that if anything horrible ever happened to me, I don’t want them to put anything tacky on my tombstone like praying hands, a teddy bear, or a photograph taken when I was having a bad hair day.

        These are the weird things I think about.

        The second worst part of the flight is turbulence. Again, once I feel it, I am certain the plane will rip apart and I’m thinking of Aaliyah, JFK Junior, Carolyn Bessette, and John Denver.

        Deep breathing. Deep breathing. “It’s like wheels on a bumpy road.”

        I know this isn’t healthy or normal.

        My husband also doesn’t like to fly. When we sit next to each other, we just perpetuate each others’ anxiety.

        Everyone’s favorite story involves the time my husband and I were flying back to the mainland following our honeymoon in Hawaii.

        It was the summer of 2009 and our terror of flying was reinforced by a series of highly-publicized plane crashes that occurred in the short six months preceding the wedding. These included U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that took off from New York City and landed in the Hudson River in January (Great, bird strikes… one more thing to worry about!) There was also Colgan Air Flight 3407 that crashed near Buffalo that February. Then, three weeks before our wedding, Air France Flight 447 went missing over the Atlantic when it was en route from Rio de Janiero to Paris.

        Truth be told, we were not excited about flying to or from Hawaii. (I know, I know… cue the world’s smallest violin.)

        The thing about the Lihue airport on the small Hawaiian island of Kauai is that the runway leads directly to the Pacific Ocean.

        One small shred of pilot error and everyone goes swimming.

        To illustrate:

        Lihue Airport, Kauai

        Lihue Airport, Kauai

        It was around 8:30 p.m. and the plane was just getting ready to depart for a 6-hour red-eye flight that would land in Phoenix where we would make our connection to Tampa. The plane was completely full and the other passengers were getting into “relaxation mode” by cuddling with their blankets and setting up their iPads to watch movies before takeoff.

        My husband and I were sitting directly over the left wing.

        (I read somewhere that seats over the wings were the safest spots a plane.)

        Just as the plane was getting ready to take off and the stewardesses were getting buckled into their seats, I began to smell something terrible.

        Like gas. Something burning. Something chemical-y. Something that was not right.

        I looked at my husband.

        His nostrils were flaring. He smelled it, too.

        Do you smell that? I asked, panicking.

        Yes, do you? He wanted me to reassure him the odor was normal. Like maybe the guy in the seat next to me literally walked through a camp fire before boarding the plane and taking his seat.

        Of course I smell it! Do something! Now! Say something! Or else we are going to die! 

        via GIPHY

        My husband unbuckled his seat and stood up as the plane started barrelling down the runway in preparation for take-off.

        The stewardesses began freaking out.

        SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW! One yelled.

        All of the passengers started staring at my husband, clearly annoyed and some a little nervous.

        DO YOU SMELL THAT? SOMETHING IS BURNING! he yelled at the stewardess.


        The many passengers who witnessed this ordeal were unamused.

        via GIPHY

        Like a dog with a tail between his legs, my husband obediently sat back down in his seat.

        I was glad that he faced the shame and humiliation and not me. I was also glad he risked his ego to potentially save our lives.

        When we landed in Tampa unscathed, we got quite a few laughs.

        Bamba, bamba

        Bamba, bamba.


        I still hate flying, by the way.

          Getaway Giveaway | The Vinoy and Some of My Favorite Things

          Win a two-night stay at this beauty courtesy of The Champagne Supernova.

          Win a two-night stay at this beauty courtesy of The Champagne Supernova.

          It might almost be Thanksgiving, but it’s (almost) always summer in sunny Florida. And boy, am I ever thankful!

          I started The Champagne Supernova in December of 2014 and can’t believe how much it’s grown. I’ve connected with so many great people, not just in the Tampa community, but throughout the world.

          I recently reached an Instagram milestone by hitting 30,000 followers and feel honored to have such an engaged community of moms, dads, grandmas, college students, single moms, working moms, professionals, hobbyists, decorators, wine enthusiasts, and friends.

          As a way to show my gratitude, I’ve partnered with some of my favorite brands to create a “Getaway Giveaway” by enjoying two nights at my favorite hotel and giving away some of my favorite things. The winner will receive all of the following:

          (I want so badly to burst out in song: raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens… these are a few of my favorite things…)

          To enter:

          1. “Share” this giveaway page on your personal Facebook page; and

          2. Subscribe to my blog.

          You must do both. (Current blog subscribers will already be credited that part of the giveaway entry and all they have to do is share this giveaway page on their personal Facebook pages.)

          The winner will be chosen at random and notified via e-mail at 8 p.m. EST on November 25, 2016. You have until then to enter! Be sure to use the e-mail account that you actually check as the e-mail you are using to subscribe to the blog! (This date was extended due to some technical difficulty precluding people from being able to subscribe to the blog!)

          Me and my tribe on St. Pete Beach.

          Me and my tribe on St. Pete Beach.

          Disclaimer: The two nights at the Vinoy must be consecutive and the winner must notify me of the dates they choose at least four (4) weeks in advance. All dates are available except holidays / holiday weekends (e.g., Martin Luther King, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years). The prize must be used by December 31, 2017. The winner must acknowledge receipt of the prize within 48 hours of being notified; otherwise, it will go to the next person. (Sorry for the crazy lawyer legalese!)

          Thanks for the support, good luck, and Cheers! xo

            Travel: Five Best Places to Vacation with Kids

            The best places to go on vacation with kids | The Champagne SupernovaAs fall is in full swing and people are starting to think about where to spend next summer’s vacations, I wanted to create a post dedicated to family-friendly travel. Not the expert, I enlisted the help of my longtime law school friend and fellow blogger, Anastasia, for tips and pointers. I hope you enjoy her perspective, and scoot on over to her blog for travel tips on a budget.

            Family vacations: where to go, is there anything there to entertain the kids, how much will this cost? I am assuming this is what goes through every parent’s mind when it comes time to plan the family vacation. I bet it feels more like a chore than an adventure, so I am guessing that most people just go back to what they know: Disney.

            Chad and I don’t have kids yet, but I bet a lot of readers of this blog do, and, since the purpose of this blog is to inspire you to incorporate travel into your life, regardless of what stage in life you are in, I put together a list of the 5 best U.S. cities for family travel. Think of this as an alternative to Disney, because, let’s be honest, how many times can you really visit the mouse’s house without wondering if you (or your wallet!) can take it.

            In compiling this list, I tried to choose places that were (relatively) budget friendly, that covered the span of the U.S., that had something that appealed to the whole family, regardless of age, and that offered a different experience according to your preference (city vs. beach vs. active/outdoors). Also, I enlisted the help of a friend, former law school classmate, blogger extraordinaire, and super mom, Jennifer from The Champagne Supernova Blog. She actually has kids – two of them! So without further adieu, allow us to save you from yet another Disney trip.

            Number 1: Washington, D.C.


            Ah, our nation’s capitol! Do you know why this takes the number one spot? Because, once you get there (and getting there is not too expensive on JetBlue), almost all of your activities are free!! That’s right, free! Our nation’s monuments? Free! Museums? Free! In fact, there are over 200 museums in D.C. and almost all of them are free! So, whether your children like art, science, animals, or history, there is a museum that suits their (and your) interests.

            Another great thing about D.C. is that most of the sites are within walking distance of each other, making it an easy city within which to ambulate. Otherwise, the hop on hop off tours are a great value (also, check Groupon, as they are usually running a special on these tours), allowing you to tour the entire city and Arlington National Cemetery for one or two days while learning about the places you are visiting en-route. This also gives you the flexibility to ride around and see a lot without necessarily having to get off at every stop, and it’s fun to sit on top of the open air bus! Uber is another great option for getting around town.

            Eat Clean $30.00 Off

            The only thing that will require advance planning on your part is a tour inside the White House, and all the information you need to plan such a tour can be found here. Advance planning is also needed to tour the U.S. Capitol building, and all the information needed for that can be found here. Finally, you can turn your trip to D.C. into a fun learning experience for your children without them even knowing it! Just take a look at your child’s syllabus for their history or social studies class (or ask their teachers what they are/going to be learning about), and tailor your trip to something they are learning about in school. All these reasons make D.C. a great and affordable choice for families with children of all ages. Beat that, Mr. Mouse!

            Here is my suggested itinerary for a perfect three-day weekend: Plan to fly/drive in on Thursday late afternoon or evening. After checking into your hotel and grabbing a bite to eat, take a night tour of the monuments to see them lit up or enjoy a free music concert at the Kennedy Center!




            Day 1 (Friday): Wake up early and get a good breakfast in you; you’re going to need it! Hopefully, you got tickets to tour the White House, so do that first. If not, you should still swing by and get a gander at it from the outside. After the White House, walk over to the National Mall (see photo above), which has all the major memorials. Start at the Washington Monument (you can pre-buy tickets to go up!). A short distance away is the World War II Memorial. From there, walk through the promenade (bonus if you are there during cherry blossom season) beside the reflecting pool until you reach the Lincoln Memorial. After the Lincoln Memorial, head over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Once you are done here, rent a paddle boat and get a view of the Jefferson Memorial and the Martin Luther King Memorial from either side of the tidal basin. Stop for lunch. After lunch, hit the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress.



            Days 2 and 3 (Saturday and Sunday): Make your last 2 days museum days. You can visit dinosaurs and mammals at the National Museum of History, airplanes at the National Air and Space Museum, the U.S.’s only Leonardo Da Vinci painting at the National Gallery of Art, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, or all the cute animals at the National Zoo. If you are looking to take a short half day-trip from the city, consider visiting Arlington National Cemetery where you can see the Kennedy Memorials, Changing of the Guard Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and Arlington House. You may also consider taking a day trip to George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
            Number 2: Atlanta, Georgia


            You may be wondering why Atlanta is on the list (and at the number 2 spot). Well, first, it’s pretty cheap to get to (Delta has a lot of reasonably priced flights), and there are actually a lot of family-friendly things to do here. Both the children and the adults can enjoy a fun-filled long weekend in this city. Here is my suggested itinerary for a perfect three-day weekend: Plan to fly/drive in on Thursday late afternoon or evening, and check into your hotel. Depending on when you get in (and their event calendar), you may want to pre-plan to attend a show at Atlanta’s Fox Theater or head to Stone Mountain to catch the fireworks and laser show.


            Day 1 (Friday): Wake up early and get a good breakfast in you, because you are headed to Georgia Aquarium! This place is amazing. It has huge floor to ceiling aquariums full of color and life and plenty of immerse experiences to choose from. For example, you can take the Behind the Seas Tour for $15 and get a closer view of the aquarium’s most popular exhibits. You can also choose from different animal encounters, including a dolphin encounter, Beluga Whale encounter, penguin encounter, sea otter encounter, and even swimming with whales, sharks, and manta rays. The aquarium also has a tactile exhibit where you can reach in and touch sea urchin and other sea critters. And, if you want to be a Super-Parent, you can arrange a sleepover at the aquarium! That’s right, a sleepover. Does the Mouse let you sleep at his house? I don’t think so! (Okay, this is technically not true. You can be randomly selected to win a sleepover inside Cinderella’s castle. You probably have about an equal chance of getting struck by lightning or winning the lottery, so there’s that).

            After the aquarium, take a walk over to the World of Coca-Cola. Here, you can learn about the history of the Coca-Cola, visit the vault where the secret formula for Coke is stored, meet the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, and, best of all, visit the tasting room and taste as many of the 100+ Coke beverages made and sold around the world. Don’t forget to pick up your free bottle of coke on your way out!




            Other family-friendly attractions that add a little history and education include the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Martin Luther King National Historic Site, Underground Atlanta, High Museum of Art, Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum, and Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.



            Number 3: New York, New York


            Everyone loves the Big Apple, and you and your family cannot run out of things to do here! Both JetBlue and Delta offer reasonable flights into New York (you can also combine a visit to D.C. with a visit to N.Y., and take the train). In my opinion, the best time to visit New York is during the holidays when the city is all dressed up! Here is my suggested itinerary for a perfect three-day weekend: Plan to fly/drive in on Thursday late afternoon or evening, and check into your hotel; then, head straight to Times Square.  It is cheesy and touristy, but it is iconic, and your kids have not lived a full life without at least experiencing it once.

            Day 1 (Friday):  Wake up early because today you pre-arranged to visit the Statue of Liberty and perhaps even to climb to the crown.  Note, this particular activity will take some advanced planning on your part (especially if you want to go up to the crown), so book tickets early!


            When you are done here, head to the 9/11 Memorial, the Empire State Building, and/or Top of the Rock.



            Day 2 (Saturday): Visit Central Park, have lunch, and go ice-skating! Afterward, head to one of the city’s many museums like The Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, or the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). Here is a list of museums that cater just to children’s interests. You can find free museums or information on special free hours at other museums or museums that have suggested contributions here.


            Day 3 (Sunday): Save your Sunday for a Broadway matinee.  Your New York trip is a great way to introduce your children to art, including performance art.  There are several Broadway shows that are suitable for children, like Lion King, Aladdin, and Matilda. A list of kid-friendly shows can be found here. Make sure to pre-book your tickets as the shows sell out fast. If you want to chance it, you have a couple of options short of buying tickets on a third-party site.  The first is to rush to the theater as soon as it opens on the day of the performance and wait in line to buy same-day rush tickets which can sometimes sell for as little as $25.  Some shows sell standing room tickets, which means you will stand to watch the show.  Others, like the Lion King, distribute day-of-show tickets through a lottery.  The other option is to wait in line on the day of the show at the TKTS Booth, which is located under the red steps in Duffy Square (47th Street and Broadway). Almost all of the Broadway hits are on sale there, mostly at 50 percent off. There are also some online options, like the TodayTix app or  Get your discount codes at BroadwayBoxBroadway Insider, and Entertainment-Link.


            Before you leave, make it a priority to stop at the Levain Bakery and wait in line for the cookies. They are soooo worth it!


            Number 4: Salt Lake City, Utah


            The U.S. National Park Service is celebrating its 100th year anniversary this year. If your family is active and looking for a great (outdoor) adventure, then why not visit Utah’s National Parks? Did you know i) that there 5 national parks in Utah (from east to west: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion), ii) that all the national parks are a stone’s throw away from each other, and iii) that they are located just a few hours outside of Salt Lake City? All the info you need to plan an epic national park journey can be found here. This is actually on our bucket list, as a result, all Utah photos used are borrowed from the internet.


            Number 5: Hawaii


            Okay, so Hawaii isn’t a city; it’s a state, and you may be surprised to see Hawaii on my list, but here it is! Hawaii has gotten cheaper to get to, although it is still an expensive place to visit.  But, if your family craves some amazing beach time coupled with a little history and nature, then this is the place to go. I think that a week here is enough time to visit Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.


            Start on Oahu because most flights come into Oahu anyway.  I think 2 to 3 days in Oahu is plenty.  That will give you enough time to visit Pearl Harbor and the battleships on one day, and hit the beach and perhaps hike diamond head on the others.


            The flights between the islands are pretty cheap, so hop a flight to Maui, where you will spend the rest of your time.  Aside from beautiful beaches and great snorkeling, in Maui, you can attend a luau, take a drive through the scenic Hana Highway (but, trust me, do this on a tour and not on your own), get a sunrise experience at Haleakala, and take a day trip to the Big Island to visit Volcanoes National Park!



            I hope this post has inspired you to break out of your family vacation rut, and seek out a new adventure that the whole family can enjoy.  Let us know what you think of our suggestions, sample itineraries, and tips and whether you would be interested in a similar post featuring international vacations.

            Until then, cheers to making memories that’ll last a lifetime!

            About Anastasia: Anastasia is a full-time civil defense litigator with a passion for wanderlusting. She spends her precious free time deciding where to go next, researching the entire trip from flights, to hotels, to tours/activities, and, of course, restaurants. She drags her husband all over the world and then blogs about it on her blog, Where to Next Travel Blog.  Her goal is to encourage you to travel more now because you can, even if you have a full-time demanding job, a family, and a budget.


              Family Pictures with Young Children: Not for the Faint of Heart

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              Does anyone have any xanax I can borrow? Asking for a friend.

              There are worse things in life than taking family pictures with young children.

              Accidentally hitting someone with your car and killing them.

              Biting into a large piece of gristle when you’re eating steak.

              Stepping on a tack with your bare foot.

              That’s about it.

              From a “big picture” perspective, I know that sucking it up and taking the family photographs will result in a handful of beautiful pictures that will be cherished for a lifetime.

              And when I say handful, you better believe I mean we are fortunate to receive three decent pictures out of twelve thousand terrible ones.

              I have friends with young children who had to literally re-take family photographs after their honest photographers confessed he or she didn’t receive even one good shot during the photo session.

              And in the age of Photoshop, Afterlight, and VSCO Cam, that’s pretty bad. But believable. Because photographing young children is one of the hardest things on the planetEven armed with fancy photo editing tools and applications, photographers are only as good as their subjects.

              Then comes the pressure to jump online and order holiday cards the weekend immediately after Thanksgiving “because that’s when all the good deals are, and you have a coupon code that expires on Sunday, Goshdarnit!”

              And so you order a couple hundred cards to mail to all of your close friends acquaintances.

              Then you freak out as soon as you push the “confirm order” button on your computer, because you realize you chose the “Merry Christmas” card option instead of the “Happy Holidays” one, and you don’t want to insult your buddies who celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Diwali.

              So you seek validation that you made the right choice from your husband.

              And he reminds you that anyone who legitimately gets offended by your card can be removed from next year’s list and, therefore, you’ll save $3.


              According to our friends at Hallmark, in 1843, Englishman Henry Cole came up with the idea of sending Christmas cards. Too busy to hand write personal greetings, he hired London artist, John Calcott Horsley, to design something he could send to his friends. German immigrant, Louis Prang, is known for bringing the Christmas card concept to the United States. In 1875, he printed a card that showed Killarney roses and the words “Merry Christmas.”

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              Early Christmas Card- L. Prang & Co.

              Americans purchase roughly 6.5 billion greeting cards each year. Annual retail sales are estimated between $7 and $8 billion. Christmas cards account for 1.6 billion units of this figure, which includes cards in boxed sets.

              That’s a lotta cards.

              With regard to our personal holiday picture experience, in an effort to be proactive, we had our family pictures taken while we were vacationing in Boca Grande, Florida.

              I envisioned the pictures would be perfect and we would look like a family straight out of a J. Crew catalogue.

              In reality, most of the pictures that “didn’t make the Christmas card cut” look like they came out of a pamphlet for “How to Spot Tortured Children” provided by the Department of Children and Families.

              Like this one:

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              And this one:

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              Some call it hugging. Others call it a choke hold.

              We also received “cuts” of our children doing goofy things out of boredom, like this one:

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              Need to see it closer? Got ya covered:

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              To describe taking family pictures as “stressful” is an understatement. A huge one.

              First of all, getting everyone out of the house and looking presentable is a struggle. Our clothes needed to be ironed, my hair needed to be blow dried, and the girls needed to be fed. What was initially a 7pm start time with the photographer ended up being 8pm because my time management, coupled with the unpredictability of children, stinks.

              Just as we’re ready to leave the house: “Mom, I have to go potty!”

              Another mistake was attempting to take outdoor pictures in Florida in July, where being outside in the afternoon feels like walking into the epicenter of Hell.

              My makeup was melting off my face. I was terrified of getting sweat stains on my dress. The girls needed to be hooked up to an IV of cherry Slurpees to maintain their charismatic personalities until the photo shoot was over.

              Worst of all, after ten minutes in the humidity, my blown-out hair looked like something out of a 1980s Tina Turner music video.

              Another struggle was getting all four of us to simultaneously look at the camera and smile. By the time the kids were both looking at the lens, I wasn’t looking. Or I was staring at the ground. Or making that hideous face I subconsciously make when I’m stressed out.

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              Hey guys… look at the camera!

              amily pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              It’s all fun and games until someone is picking their nose on camera…

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              … or completely freaking out.

              We were grateful to get one good shot of us standing on the famous Banyan Street, even though Arden has a look on her face like The Spanker Man is standing behind the photographer.

              Gotta take what you can get.

              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

              Complaints aside, I have a confession.

              I love getting the mail in December.

              I love rushing home from work to open my mailbox and receiving cards with my friends’ beautiful faces. I love seeing pictures of my cousins, who were my first true friends, showcasing their growing families. I love reading the funny anecdotes, stories about adopted pets, children starting school, and news of friends starting fresh chapters in different cities. I love holiday cards that double as birth announcements.

              I love it, I love it, I love it.

              Below is the final Christmas card product. It didn’t turn out perfect, but we aren’t perfect, so the picture was a perfect choice for us.

              Special thanks to Synthia at Synthia Therese Photography for her talent, patience, and sense of humor. You are a treasure to our family!

              I wish all of you a wonderful holiday season and hope it involves massive amounts of love, family togetherness, peace, memories, chocolates, cheese trays, nut rolls, fruit cakes, and champagne.

              Lots of champagne.


              Family pictures are the pits- The Champagne Supernova blog |

                If God had a Score Card

                Jennifer Burby and her family in front of the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina.

                Jason and me in front of the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, North Carolina. Getting young children to look at the camera is a golden delight, let me tell ya!

                For the last six years since we’ve been married, my husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving at our home. This has included various venues from our wee little rental on Davis Islands after we first got married to the “big kid” home we bought five years ago in a quaint little ‘hood in Tampa.

                Hosting Thanksgiving is exhausting.

                Especially because I don’t cook.

                So what I mean to say is watching my mother cook a Thanksgiving feast is exhausting.


                To change things up this year, my husband wanted to spend Thanksgiving out of town and in the mountains. But this wasn’t just any Thanksgiving. My Dad’s 60th birthday also happened to fall on Thanksgiving day. So we called my sister and my brother in law, got them on board, and rallied our family to rent a home in Maggie Valley. The small city is nestled in the mountains of North Carolina roughly three hours north of Atlanta (depending on your speed) and 35 miles west of Asheville.

                Maggie Valley was the perfect Thanksgiving destination because my Dad’s sister, Aunt Lynda, and some of my cousins and their extended families have cabins in the area, and they were also planning on spending Thanksgiving in the mountains.

                Hot diggity.

                It would be an epic Thanksgiving birthday soiree.

                Instead of flying to North Carolina, my husband and I drove from Tampa with our two young daughters and an SUV full of junque. Essential junque, that is.

                Goldfish crackers. Coloring books. Two packages of diapers. Feather down pillows. Blankets. A stroller. A large Vera Bradley duffel bag (hello- college!) filled exclusively with my cosmetics and hair taming equipment. Twelve pairs of shoes. Ten pairs of jeans. Boogie Wipes. Stuffed Animals. A DVD player. Except ours was broken, so we settled for my husband’s 20-pound old school laptop.

                Fitting even another raisin in the car would have been challenging.

                We were the Beverly Hillbillies Griswolds.

                Articulating the nightmare associated with traveling 10 hours with an eighteen month old and three year old is another blog post in itself.

                Use your imaginations.

                The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

                Our cabin in the woods. If I keep telling myself I like to hike, maybe it will eventually be true.

                When we arrived at the cabin at 4 p.m. the day after we left Tampa, we were greeted with three large packages on the front porch. The first contained a bottle of wine (my favorite!) and the second was filled with children’s toys such as crafts, coloring books and crayons, magnets, playing cards, Christmas movies, and a Barbie sing-a-long CD. The third package was The Grand Imperial Poobah. It included gourmet popcorn, a soy candle, Skinny Girl margarita mix, whiskey, maple syrup, pancake mix, assorted teas, hot cocoa, matches, nice-smelling hand soap, and stationery.

                Man, I thought. These home owners went above and beyond welcoming us into their home. They didn’t have to do this. It’s incredible!

                Suddenly, the cheapskate in me hoped the owners wouldn’t take the cost of these goodies out of the security deposit.

                Then I opened a card that was attached to the wine bottle.

                The care packages weren’t from the owners. They were from Aunt Lynda.

                This was so typical of her. Always giving with a generous heart. Giving out of love and the sheer desire of pleasing others without expecting anything in return.

                How many times has someone done something like this for her? It doesn’t matter because Aunt Lynda doesn’t keep a score card.

                A couple weeks ago when I was sitting in the nail salon, I overheard a woman say she wasn’t attending a girlfriend’s bridal shower because that friend didn’t go to hers. Two years ago.

                I also observed a work colleague get angry with another colleague who didn’t cover a court hearing for her after she did her a favor.

                Neighbor A got fed up with Neighbor B for not bringing her dinner when she had a baby, after Neighbor A was the one who organized Neighbor B’s meal train when Neighbor B had her baby last year.

                Guilty over here as well.

                Hate to admit, but there’s been times when I have- or haven’t- done something for another person because I’ve been held hostage by my mental score card of what that person did or didn’t do for me.

                It’s ridiculous, immature, and emotionally taxing. Nonetheless, I’ve occasionally tried to justify myself.

                Then I got to thinking.

                What if God had a score card?

                What if He kept track of all the gifts and blessings He’s given to me, as well as all of the gratitude He received in return?

                What would happen if God made his blessing contingent upon my good deeds?

                I would be screwed.

                Thank God (pun intended) He doesn’t keep a score card.

                Look. I’m not trying to say we should set ourselves on fire to make other people happy. I’m also not saying we should let other people take advantage of us. What I am saying is that we should do kind things for others because we want to do them, and not because that person did or didn’t do something for us in the past.

                On the other hand, if we choose not to do something for someone, it should be because we genuinely don’t want to do it. It shouldn’t be because that person didn’t do something for us, and we know this because our stupid score cards told us so.

                As 2015 closes, can we make an effort to burn those ridiculous score cards?

                Special shout out to Aunt Lynda for her kindness. She will never know how appreciated and special she is in my life.

                Another special shout out to anyone who has traveled, or plans on traveling, with little ones around the holidays. May the force be with all of you.

                And wine. Lots of wine.


                The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

                Me and some of my cousins on Thanksgiving Day. The girl gene is coming on strong!

                The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

                When you’re three, what is better than riding the ponies outside the grocery store? Nothing. The answer is nothing.

                The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

                Hey, they aren’t arguing. I’ll take it.

                The Champagne Supernova: if God had a Score Card:

                  What I Would Have Missed By “Missing Out”

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  The Entrance to the Everglades Rod & Gun Club

                  Sometimes in life, we have to do things we don’t necessarily want to do because it’s better for “the collective.” This is true in all relationships: husbands and wives, friends, parents and children, bosses and minions.

                  Bending. Compromising. Being a good sport.

                  Let me share with you a time when sucking it up resulted in one of the singlehanded best memories I’ve ever had.

                  As background, my husband’s been trying to get me to go fishing with him in the Everglades for years. He routinely attempted to talk me into it and, envisioning a landscape chalk full of marshes, tall reeds, and crocodiles [read: Hell], I’ve always dodged the bullet.

                  Arden has gymnastics on Saturdays. She can’t miss it. 

                  It’ll be too hot on the boat in the summer.

                  I need to get my hair cut and colored.

                  I can’t go because I have to stare directly into the sun, gargle razors, and eat a raw cockroach.

                  I didn’t want to go.

                  The time eventually came where I ran out of excuses and was forced to agree to go with him. We decided to head to the Everglades during the recent Labor Day weekend, and the carrot my husband wagged in my face was that our dear friends, Darin and Robin, would share a cottage with us at the Rod and Gun Club, the hotel where we would be staying.

                  Ok, so if anything else, Robin and I can sip cocktails by the pool while the girls swim. 

                  As background, the Florida Everglades are a natural, tropical wetland system that begins at the Kissimmee River (near Orlando) and discharges into Lake Okeechobee which, for all you non-Floridians, is the huge lake in the southern portion of the state when you’re looking at a map. During the wet season, water leaving the lake forms a river that slowly flows southward across a limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state. The Everglades have a wide range of weather patterns and the landscape includes a complex ecosystem including cypress swamps, mangrove forests, pine rockland, hardwood hammocks, and the marine environment of Florida Bay. The nature is beautiful and landscape rich in history, but the area is extremely remote and there aren’t a tons of non-outdoorsey things to do.

                  Let me be clear. It’s not the place for city slickers or people who enjoy the finer things. 

                  My husband is an avid fisherman who’s been driving down to the Everglades to take advantage of the good fishing since he was a youngster. It’s a four hour drive from Everglades City to our home in Tampa. Part of the fishing area is so remote that he had to buy a fancy emergency GPS to wear around his neck in case there was an accident because nobody would otherwise find him.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  Everglades City, the town where we were staying, is located in Collier County and has a population of roughly 400 people. The nearest city, Naples, is 35 miles northwest. It is the source of 95% of the world’s stone crabs and its annual Seafood Festival is popular among the locals.

                  There are a number of “Mom and Pop” hotels in the area, but perhaps the most notable is the Rod & Gun Club. Barron Collier, an advertising entrepreneur who became the largest landowner and developer in the entire state of Florida, purchased it in 1922 and turned it into a private establishment for his highfalutin friends. The Club’s hosted five presidents- Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, and Richard Nixon- as well as celebrities, to include Mick Jagger, John Wayne, Sally Field, and Ernest Hemingway.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  The Rod & Gun Club, as it sits today.

                  We arrived on the Friday of Labor Day weekend and the hotel was not what I expected, based on pictures I saw on the internet.

                  I felt like an extra in the movie The Land That Time Forgot.

                  The city was pretty much a ghost town, and because August and September are considered “off season,” many of the restaurants and novelty stores were closed until the beginning of stone crab season (October). There were only three other restaurants open in the entire city, and they served primarily fried food. There was nothing green on any of the menus. I’m by no means a health food nut, but by the end of the weekend, I felt disgusting and never wanted to see another hush puppy in my life.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  This home across the river from the Rod & Gun Club is rumored to be owned by the Bic (lighter) family.

                  The hotel was also a ghost town, with maybe a handful of other guests the entire weekend. From what I’ve read, a family purchased the Rod & Gun Club in 1972 and, in my opinion, have pretty much let it go. There is no “receptionist” and you’re lucky if someone actually answers the phone when you call. There’s also no answering service, so if you want to make a reservation, you have to repeatedly call until someone answers. This happened to my husband. There is a restaurant on the property, but the hours are strange, and sometimes the owners unilaterally decide to send the staff home if there aren’t enough customers.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  Interior bar where Teddy Roosevelt would sip drinks and discuss politics. Photo Credit: Peter W. Cross

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  Interior lobby area. Photo Credit: Peter W. Cross

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  The patio door leading to the restaurant.

                  Oh, and they accept only cash.

                  One highlight of the weekend was when my three year old locked us out of the hotel room early one morning. My husband and Darin were fishing, and, of course, the hotel lobby was closed and nobody was answering the “after hours” phone number. Surprise, surprise.

                  Robin spotted a man driving by the dock with a “MAINTENANCE” magnet on the side of his pickup truck. I walked down to the water to speak with him, and he reeked of cigarettes and was sipping a Busch Light.

                  It was 8 o’clock in the morning.

                  Hair of the dog? 

                  The maintenance man couldn’t get ahold of his boss with the skeleton key, so he climbed into the unlocked window of our hotel room and opened the door for us. He then asked me to “put in a good word” about him to his boss. Which I did.  Because I was dang grateful the dude got me and the kids back in the room, where there were diapers and air conditioning.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  Our cottage. Not pictured: the window where the maintenance man broke into the cottage because my three year old locked us out.

                  In short, I quickly learned that sipping cocktails with Robin by the pool was a pipe dream. While there was a nice pool, there was no poolside beverage service and no pool towels, so we had to use the hotel’s bathroom towels. Which would have been fine, except there was no laundry person available to exchange our wet, chlorine-filled towels for dry ones. Oh, and the pool deck was surrounded by the hottest material- no clue what it was- but it felt like walking across hot coals.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  The front entrance to the Rod & Gun Club when arriving by boat.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by “Missing Out”- The Champagne Supernova

                  I was initially mad at my husband and had a bad attitude. I’m wasting a three day weekend on this? How will we keep a toddler and three year old busy all day? What. The. Frick? 

                  Then something happened.

                  I ended up having fun. A lot of it. I realized that after the weekend came and went, I’d likely have a pass with my husband for having to return in a long time. I could say I’ve “been there, done that.” And going back to the theme, I decided to suck it up and try to have a fun weekend with the family and our friends, despite Everglades City not being the first place I would have chosen to spend a long holiday weekend.

                  Our last night in Everglades City, we had dinner at a local restaurant and decided to head back to the hotel. On a whim, my husband said “let’s take a late night boat ride, because the sky is so clear you can see the Milky Way.” Ordinarily I would have been apprehensive because it was late, the mosquitos were brutal, and the girls needed to go to bed.

                  What the heck?

                  Ok, let’s do it.

                  So we drove the boat down the Barron River, stared at the stars, and listened to the Yachtrock station on satellite radio. Kenny Loggins’ This is It came on, and the girls danced around the boat, merrily belting out the “words” to the song. They were so happy and their joy was so pure. They were having a blast.

                  I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.

                  If I wouldn’t have agreed to go with my husband to Everglades City, I would have missed that precious moment.

                  If I would have kept my bad attitude, I would have missed that precious moment.

                  If I would have insisted we not take the boat out late because it was past the girls’ bedtimes, I would have missed that precious moment.

                  I would have missed it.

                  This got me thinking. What other great opportunities in my life have I missed because of a bad attitude? What other chances did I miss out on because I was selfishly unwilling to bend from the rut of my own comfort zone? What else was there?

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  The Barron River where moonlight dance magic happened.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  Arden by the front entrance to the Rod & Gun Club.

                  The Everglades Rod & Gun Club; What I Would Have Missed by "Missing Out"- The Champagne Supernova

                  Sweet little Ellison enjoying herself on the cottage porch.

                  I hope I can use this experience as a reminder to lighten up and enjoy finding the beauty in doing things I don’t necessarily want to do. Otherwise, I’ll lose the opportunity for memorable experiences.


                    Summer Reading: 9 Great Books that Don’t Require a Thinking Cap

                    Best Summer Reads that Don't Require a Thinking Cap: ‎

                    Last year, I made the mistake of trying to get through The Goldfinch during summer vacation. As Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer prize for this novel, I figured toting it around the pool would make me look sophisticated it would be worth the read. It took literally four months to get through all 784 pages of this bad boy, which could have been shortened 500 pages if Ms. Tartt wouldn’t have been trying so hard to impress readers with her verbosity.

                    C’mon… get to the point!

                    While the book had a great story (or three great stories combined into one book), I don’t want to have to put on my thinking cap when I’m doused in sunscreen, drinking a pina colada, and trying to prevent my kids from drowning.

                    I got together with some of my favorite bloggers and entrepreneurs to come up with the best summer reading that doesn’t require you to think too hard.

                    Casey of Fly Away with Me recommends The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. “I couldn’t put this book down one summer. It took me back in time immediately! It’s a historical fiction novel about the building of a cathedral in the town of Kingsbridge. It’s a long but heart-wrenching story about family, love, loss, strength, and the human spirit. It’s also a beautiful story about medieval architecture.”

                    Kristin of Better Together recommends To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. “This classic is an oldie-but-goodie. It is probably my favorite book of all time, a spot it’s held since it was forced summer reading between eighth and ninth grades. I re-read it every few years, and I feel like I glean a little more from the book each time. The theme that resonates most with me is the main character’s innocence and naivety in the face of racial injustice. If only we could all look at certain parts of life through the eyes of a child. In anticipation of the July release of Harper Lee’s long-lost (and unknown until recently) second novel, dust off your old, highlighted copy from high school and dive right in!”

                    Julie of The Bedford Wife chose Little Bitty Lies by Mary Kay Andrews. “I’m only halfway through this one, but like all of her novels. It’s easy to read and hilarious (just don’t be surprised if beachgoers look at you funny if you laugh out loud). The book is written around the life of Mary Bliss McGowan, a southern woman whose husband leaves her and her daughter, without warning- taking all of her wealth with him. To reclaim what’s left, she tells one little lie… that leads to another and another.” Julie’s favorite excerpt is “Mama always said the sign of a lady’s breeding was in her chicken salad. White meat, finely ground or hand shredded, and some good Hellman’s mayonnaise, and I don’t know what all. She used to talk about some woman, from up north, who married into one of the Coca-Cola families. She uses dark meat in her chicken salad. Trailer trash.”

                    Morgan of Pampers and Pearls picked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. “Set in South Carolina in 1964, the book centers around Lily Melissa Owens, a 14 year old whose life has been shaped around the faint memory of her mother’s death. She lives with her abusive father, and they have an African-American maid, Rosaleen, who is Lily’s best friend and “surrogate mother.” After Rosaleen is arrested for pouring a jar of dip on three white men, Lily breaks Rosaleen out of jail (really a hospital) and they decide to leave town. While hitch-hiking toward Tiburon, South Carolina, Lily begins a journey of learning both about the world and her mother. The Secret Life of Bees is a literary triumph about the search for love and belonging, and is a novel that possesses rare wisdom about life and the power of divinity and the female spirit.”

                    Tracie of Tracie Domino Events recommends When to Rob a Bank… and 131 More Warped Suggestions and Well-Intended Rants by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. “This books celebrates the 10th anniversary of their landmark book Freakanomics as a curated collection of their best blog posts over the years. The writing is more casual, more personal, even more outlandish than in their books. They ask and examine a host of typically off-center questions: Why don’t flight attendants get tipped? If you were a terrorist, how would you attack? And why does KFC always run out of fried chicken? I like it because they examine every day life and provide fascinating insights about the surprising ways our world fits together. Each chapter is just a few pages, so you can easily stop reading between pool days.”

                    Carlee of Crown and Ginger chose Tell All by Chuck Palahniuk. “Think Old Hollywood ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ mixed with the comical detail comparable to that of Chelsea Handler. It’s a story about a “seasoned” actress who is taken by a young, preppy buck who may be planning her demise, at least that is what her maid thinks. She narrates the entire story and believes this Gaston has planned many ways for her to fall and then sell her Tell All as his own. I love this book because, with my ADD, I need to read something that will hold my attention and not spend a lot of time in a scene or dragging out a setting. The author sucks you in, and you never have to wait for something to happen. Not to mention the amount of humor is enough to keep you bursting out loud on the beach this summer.”

                    Julie of Everyday Happiness picked two books: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and The Husband’s Secret by Laine Moriarty. “The Nightingale is a heavy beach read, but full of romance and family drama with World War II history and it truly takes you to the place of these characters. I finished the book in two days, tears streaming down my face once it was over. It’s rare you find characters and a story with such depth.” Once you’re finished with The Nightingale and need something lighter, turn to The Husband’s Secret. “It’s a fascinating, engrossing story about Cecilia Fitzpatrick, who thinks she has the perfect life and family until she uncovers a haunting secret. I found myself wanting to be friends with Cecilia and also wanting to yell at her at the same time.”

                    My choice: When You are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. This collection of the best selling humorist’s [short-ish] essays are purely hilarious. The stories are based on the nuances of everyday life and are Seinfeld-esque. They include anecdotes about trying to make coffee when the water is turned off, having a lozenge fall from your mouth and into the lap of a fellow plane passenger, lancing a boil from someone’s derriere, and moving to Japan to quit smoking cigarettes. When you feel like you are engulfed in flames from basking in hot vacation sunshine, this book goes right along perfectly.


                    Disclaimer: some of the links in this post contain clickable affiliate links. This means that if you purchase a product from one of these links, TCS receives a commission. I believe in all of the products featured on this site and would never recommend them if I didn’t believe they were awesome.

                      1 2