We just returned from a trip to South Padre Island, a beach along the southern-most tip of Texas. Having visited Texas beaches along the gulf before, my expectations were fairly low and I left home with a ‘just happy to get away’ mindset. But once we arrived, I found that the South Padre beaches were not only nice, they were also relatively uncrowded for this time of year. J and J had a blast fighting the waves, boogie boarding and swimming in the hotel pool. We also visited Schlitterbahn Water Park, which I think the kids would list as their favorite part of the trip. My favorite was the Birding and Nature Center (where we fed birds right out of our hands) and, of course, the views of the ocean which provided quite a few opportunities to snap some gorgeous vacation photos.
Remember in the 80s when you made collages out of cut-up magazines, stickers and other print ephemera? Maybe you don’t. Anyway, these days collaging has gone digital, and my children love taking photos and layering on all sorts of drawings, stickers, text and other digital effects.
As soon as I saw how much my daughter loved taking pictures with her new phone, I introduced her to A Beautiful Mess, an app that let’s you add doodles, text, filters and other effects to photos. Soon after, she introduced me to Pic Collage. It’s been photo-editing bliss ever since.
With all of the images we captured at Disneyworld recently, I decided to up our game in the photo documentation area and create journals for Jason and Jenna using some of my photos along with some of the photos they ‘enhanced’ in their favorite apps. (more…)
As I hinted in this post at the end of the year, we had a big surprise in the works for our children’s Christmas present. It was a crazy hard secret to keep over the 6+ months of planning. In the end, our pet fish nearly caused an unintended reveal on Christmas Eve. My daughter spotted my husband leaving the house to take the fish to a friend’s. I’m not sure how well his story about Jeremy wanting to “practice having a fish before buying one” covered our secret, but it was all he could think of at the moment. (more…)
We recently returned from a trip to Napa Valley and, while we certainly enjoyed the wine, the highlight of our trip was definitely the food. Here are a few ideas for tastings in Napa Valley of the non-wine variety:
Gourmet Food Tour
I learned about the Gourmet Food Tour (1) of downtown Napa through a website called Peek, a travel tour site featuring off-the-beaten path tours and activities in major cities in the U.S. and Europe, including Napa. We didn’t take the tour, but now that I’ve discovered I love the food as much as the wine in Napa, it’s definitely on my list for next time.
Wine and Cheese Pairings
Many of the wineries feature food and wine pairings as part of their tastings. Two of my favorites are the St. Supery Cheese and Wine Pairing Class (5) (great if you want to understand how different food flavors influence the taste of wine) and Domaine Carneros (2) (perfect if you want a light snack while sampling the sparkling wine and enjoying the amazing views from their patio).
Napa Valley Distillery
If you enjoy hand-crafted cocktails as much as wine, Napa Valley Distillery (3) is a must-see destination on your itinerary. I like to go just for the display of tiny bottles. It’s located inside of the Oxbow Public Market, which is worth the stop just for the selection of gourmet food, drinks and home decor accessories all under one roof. The distillery features an extensive collection of bitters, spirits and syrups, all of which can be sampled in their shop for free or you can attend a Craft Spirit Tastings.
Gourmet Grocery Stores
There is no shortage of places to stock up on gourmet foods in Napa Valley. In addition to assembling your picnic fare, many of these offer samples of locally produced culinary treats, including oils, vinegars, cheeses and tapenades. We visited Oakville Market (4) and Dean and Deluca (6).
The Napa region is filled with olive oil shops and at one point my husband and I joked that we had purchased more olive oil than wine during our trip. In addition to oils, many of these shops also feature flavored balsamic vinegars and tapenades, all of which can be sampled for free. We visited Olivier (7) and St. Helena Olive Oil Co (8), but there is also Lucero Olive Oil and several others.
Culinary Institute of America
One of our favorite stops during our trip was the CIA (9). For food enthusiasts, the school offers a variety of tours, tastings and demonstrations, mostly during the weekend. If your visit falls during the week as ours did, you can still visit the large gift shop, Ghiradelhi Chocolate tasting center or one of the school’s restaurants. We stopped at the cafe and enjoyed a basket of organic cherry tomatoes direct from their garden.
I haven’t participated in the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge in quite a while, but this weekend’s trip to Yosemite has me in full-on picture taking mode. The theme this week is Texture, something this park has in abundance.
Here are a couple of my favorite Yosemite texture shots so far:
Fallen Tree at Mariposa Grove
Detail Views: Boulder and Tree
View of Half Dome from Glacier Point
Yosemite Valley Near the Village
All photos were shot with a Canon 6D. The landscape views were shot with a Canon 24mm-70mm f/2.8 II lens and the detail views were shot with a Canon 50mm f1.4 lens.
A few weeks ago we took an extended weekend trip to the beach. Although we live in Texas and could have visited the beach along the Texas coast, we decided to head further east where the beaches tend to be nicer and better suited to swimming.
There are a lot of great destinations along the coast, but we decided on Orange Beach, which is in Alabama about 30 miles west of Pensacola, Florida. The beaches have beautiful white sand and the water is perfect for swimming.
We spent most of our time relaxing on the beach and didn’t seek out a lot of activities beyond lounging and playing in the sand. But we did explore the nearby area a bit, so I thought I would share some ideas for taking a beach trip to this part of the country with children.
Where to Stay
The beaches along the Gulf Shore, Orange Beach and Pensacola region are filled with affordable, family-friendly hotels and rental properties. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Orange Beach. It’s located right on the beach so you can easily transition back and forth between beach and swimming pool. I highly recommend getting a room with a beach view. The photo on the left above is the view from our room. Sitting and watching the activity below was lots of fun for our children, who had only visited the beach once before this trip. You can also rent chairs on the beach, which is a nice option when you know you’re going to be coming and going and you don’t want to lose your spot (or leave your personal belongings to ‘reserve’ it) while you’re gone.
Where to Eat
When it came to meal time, we mostly looked to the area immediately near our hotel. Wintzell’s Oyster House definitely turned into our favorite dinner spot, and we ate there twice over the course of our trip. We also stopped at The Gulf on our way into town. I love this location. It’s right on the beach so the kids could play in the sand while we sat on sleek lounge furniture under umbrellas enjoying lunch. The kids’ favorite meal destination was Lulus. They have a large play area in the center of the 3-restaurant complex that includes a sandbox, an elevated rope course and many other just-for-kids activities. Plan on spending awhile here. I wasn’t sure whether to include this location under ‘Where to Eat’ or ‘Things to Do.’ It’s a bit of both and the wait for a table seems intended to build in plenty of time for play. During our visit, we chose to eat at the upscale Lucy B. Goode (and the food was wonderful), but in retrospect I think the original restaurant, Lulus, would have been a more child-friendly option.
Things to Do
The beautiful beaches are reason enough to visit this part of the country with children, but the Gulf Coast area also has many bays that are perfect for taking boat rides. There are many options for renting boats and/or going on tours. We read about several dolphin tours and even saw a pirate-themed cruise pass by one afternoon. If we were staying longer, I definitely would have looked into the pirate cruise for the kids. Since our trip location was partly driven by visiting friends and family, we were able to spend an afternoon taking a ride on a friend’s boat. This was a highlight for Jason and Jenna, who loved sitting at the front while we raced along the water.
This was our first trip to the Gulf Coast, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be our last.
Next week, we’re heading on a trip to California that will include a few stops, including Yosemite National Park. I’m crazy excited about visiting Yosemite, mostly for the opportunity to take pictures with my new camera. Here’s my list of essentials for the trip:
We returned from our vacation with quite a few seashells that we collected on the beach. Today on Modern Parents, Messy Kids, I’m sharing a project for remembering your vacation while also storing your souvenir treasures.
We just returned from vacation, and, on the way home, I realized it was the perfect time to try out the new storytelling app that I downloaded a couple of weeks ago. Its called Steller, and it allows you to create a digital storybook with your photos, videos and text. Our vacation was pretty awesome, and this app is a great way to capture our favorite moments.
In addition to the farm-to-table style dinner with Outstanding in the Field, our recent trip to the west coast included a meal at The French Laundry, one of three restaurants owned by Thomas Keller in Yountville, CA. Just across the street from the restaurant is a large organic garden, which supplies many of the vegetables featured on the menu.
Today I leave on my west coast trip to Napa, San Francisco and Santa Cruz. I’ll share a few pics here while I’m away, but you can see more trip details by following me on Instagram. In the meantime, I’m feeling very inspired by the lush landscapes of Napa Valley, and can’t wait for the first stop on our itinerary!
I’ve been in full-on vacation planning mode the past few days. In less than two weeks, I’m heading out on what has been dubbed a ‘wine and culinary adventure’ with my great friend, Tara. The trip includes stops in Napa, San Francisco and Santa Cruz, but planning the Napa portion has been my focus this week. I can’t wait! Here are a few spots on our itinerary:
Of all the stops along our cruise, my favorite was Belize. We took a catamaran out to the Belize Barrier Reef, where we boarded a half submersible boat and viewed the sea life of one of the largest reefs in the world. After the tour, we were transported to a tiny private island where J+J, still exhausted from the previous day’s beach excursion, were content to lounge in the shade and play Angry Birds.