Summer Vacation


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. (more…)

Surprise, We’re Going to Disneyworld!

How to surprise your children with a trip to Disney: tips and a boarding pass template.

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…)

Travelogue: A Beach Trip to the Gulf Coast

Planning an end-of-summer beach trip? View ideas for visiting the Orange Beach / Gulf Shore area with children.

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

Planning an end-of-summer beach trip? See our picks for visiting the Gulf Coast area with children.
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

Planning an end-of-summer beach trip? See our picks for visiting the Gulf Coast area with children.

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

Planning an end-of-summer beach trip? See our picks for visiting the Gulf Coast area with children.

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.

Belize, the Beach and the Barrier Reef

Belize - Island

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.

belize - tour of barrier reef

belize - tour of barrier reef

belize - barrier reef

Belize barrier reef tour







belize tour

My Favorite Vacation Photos: At The Beach

honduras - beach

My favorite photos from our recent vacation were definitely those taken at the beach in Roatan, Honduras. It was Jason and Jenna’s first trip to the beach and seeing the sheer joy on their faces as they jumped in the waves and played in the sand was pretty awesome. Jenna didn’t even mind the 200 or so photos I snapped of her. Ok, I may have gone a little overboard on the photos … but can you blame me?

honduras - beach

honduras - beach

honduras - beach

honduras - beach

honduras - beach

honduras - beach

honduras - beach

honduras - beach

A Few Scenes from Our Cruise

cruise - the sea

We returned from a week-long vacation yesterday, and I spent the day transitioning back to reality … which mostly means doing laundry and catching up on work. This trip was Jason and Jenna’s first time visiting the beach, something I’ve looked forward to for years. And while any family vacation has its share of stressful moments (like the time Jason got into the pool and started screaming that his legs were on fire, or the time I went in search of my husband and son with the fear that they had been quarantined due to illness, or the time Jason asked – in a crowded elevator – if this was the deck he threw up on), overall it was a trip full of wonderful memories. My favorite moments were definitely seeing J+J play on the beach, and I’m having the best time today going through the photos and seeing their excited faces as they splash in the waves. I’ll share some of the beach pics later this week, but in the meantime, here are my favorite photos taken on the ship, Mariner of the Seas.

cruise - ship windows


cruise - window

cruise - windows

Minimalist Vacation Packing

We’re heading out on vacation soon, and I have to admit, I love packing. I’m a minimalist at heart, so the exercise of coordinating great outfits while taking the least amount of clothes is a fun challenge. This year, we’re going on a cruise and will be stopping at a few beaches along the way. Sounds easy, right? A swimsuit and sandals should do the trick, but … there are also formal dinners and the ever-present chance of rain in the Caribbean. So, in my usual minimalist way, I’m sticking with mostly neutrals in white, gold and navy. Here is my minimal packing wish list:

cruise packing wish list

Sources: Hat / Emergency Kit / Tote / Swimsuit / Kaftan / Jacket / Sandals / Passport Cover / Scarf / Swim Cover-up

I Heart: Paris Blogs

Over the past few weeks, planning for our Paris trip seems to have fallen to the bottom of my to-do list. But with only a couple of weeks before our vacation, I’m finally starting to knock a few things off the list. I ordered our museum passes and our metro passes and now I’m turning my attention to the fun stuff, which mostly falls into the categories of food, shopping and photography. In planning our last trip to the city of lights, we relied almost exclusively on travel guide books to come up with our list of where to go, what to see. This time around, I’ve turned my attention to the blogland, and I’ve definitely found some wonderful resources. I’m especially drawn to sites that capture amazing details of the city (Little Brown Pen), those featuring gorgeous food (Lost in Cheeseland) and those with vegetarian restaurant recommendations (Paris by Mouth).

Here are my top five so far:

Snack Bags

J+J will eat nearly anything if it’s packaged properly. They especially love eating out of bags. Earlier this week, I gave Jason a small Ziploc bag full of mixed vegetables as a snack, and he started munching away, barely noticing the contents. Snack in a bag? Thanks, mom!

This summer, I’m stocking up on small, enticing packages to house healthy snacks, especially snacks on the go.We’re headed to Disneyworld for vacation soon, and while I’m sure we’ll indulge in our fair share of Tigger Tails (think marshmallows, caramel and chocolate on a stick), I also like the idea of toting around a few of their healthier favorites in convenient packaging. And, yes, I’m totally stealing the idea of decorating snack bags with Disney stamps and stickers.

Sources (left to right): Our own snacks in personalized Ziploc Snack-Size Bags, Polka Dot Nut Bowl, Fuschia Treat Bags, Kraft Paper Pillow Boxes, Tinkerbell Lunch Bags, Pink Stripe Treat Bags, Tiny Pillow BoxesResealable Cello Bags


Today my husband and I are heading out on our Paris vacation sans kids. While I’m looking forward to our time alone, I’m also excited about what sorts of things I’ll bring back to share with Jason and Jenna. In addition to a dress for Jenna and something robot or space themed for Jason, I’ll probably return with lots of postcards, papers and print ephemera that we can adapt into all sorts of crafty things. I also plan to return with tons of photos illustrating our adventure. And one of the spots I’m most looking forward to snapping lots of pics is Montmartre – not only because it’s the site of one of my favorite childhood films (Le Ballon Rouge), but also because it sits high on a hill and provides a great view of the city below.