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Packing Up the Toy Box

PinocchioMy house is in a state of shambles. Boxes line the hallways and bags destined for Goodwill are filling the garage. We are in full blown moving mode and it isn’t pretty.

While the divorce itself was painful, the sifting through shared memories with my ex has been equally hard to handle. The division of Christmas ornaments alone nearly gutted me. Going through that box with my former husband was excruciating. So many precious handmade ornaments made by our children. Dividing them by the “one for you and one for me” method seemed almost disrespectful to those memories.

But we did it. Maturely even. And at some points it was downright gracious.

While we worked together to split up the sentimental stuff, the job of packing up the kids’ toys was my own because all that stuff is coming with me. So late last week I spent one day going through the girls’ room, packing up their toys and discarding what they no longer played with.

If I thought going through the ornaments was hard, the toys were infinitely harder to sort through because they told tales of happier times.

And when you have four kids, the toys commingle and become a sort of archaeological dig of their childhood years. As I sifted through the buckets and boxes, I took a walk down memory lane that required a case of Kleenex.

Pirates and CowboysAidan was two years old when we bought our first home. I distinctly remember that first Christmas in our new house. We put every penny into the down payment which left us cash strapped that first year.

A few weeks before that first Christmas, a local kids’ consignment shop advertised for seasonal help. I figured that would be the perfect way to raise some money for the holidays. While I was working at the shop, they held their annual holiday toy sale which allowed the employees to get first dibs on the merchandise.

So I took my earnings and bought all sorts of wonderful gently used toys to give to my sweet boy in our first Plymouth home. I remember brining home a Thomas the Tank Engine train set, a brand new talking Barney, an entire play kitchen with food included and the pirates you see above and the assorted Fisher Price and Little Tykes figures below…

fisher priceI arranged these new to us gifts under the Christmas tree with such a heavy heart. Even though these toys were in mint condition, there were no boxes. No shiny packages to open. And I felt guilty giving my beloved son toys that another child had played with and discarded. In my heart he deserved the very best. Shiny and new. But the reality was that we were broke and barely getting by. It would have to do.

As he toddled down the stairs that Christmas morning, his tight curls bobbing with each excited step, I held my breath with anticipation on how he would react. Would he even notice that these were someone else’s toys before they landed under his tree?

Of course not. He was beyond thrilled with his gifts, marveling over each and every one. And that night he slept with Thomas the Tank clutched in his chubby little fist, something he would do for many more nights to come.

That morning I learned some valuable lessons. Lessons that would carry forward with three more children. Used does not mean discarded and devalued. And toddlers have no idea what’s used or what’s new anyway. Oh, and that guilt is self inflicted and deserves no space in your brain.

modern fisher priceAdd twenty years to the equation, subtract one purple dinosaur, add a whole bunch of pink and that’s where we are today. While the toys have changed, the emotional attachment to these things remain.

It’s funny how the toys have changed so drastically over the years. The Fisher Price figures of today make Aidan’s look Stone Age. Don’t you think?

Oh how the girls loved this bus and its riders. They would play for hours on end, rolling it across the floor from room to room, picking up passengers along the way. Such sweet memories.

SmurfsAnd these Smurfs, they hold a special place in our hearts as well. The social media team at corporate McDonald’s mailed them to my girls when I was in the hospital after I was hit by the distracted driver. The package came while I was in surgery. I had just said goodbye to my children, not knowing if I would see them again. A small gesture that gave my girls a distraction when they most needed it.

Scary DollsThen there were other toys that were easy to put into the Goodwill bags. These dolls make me wonder why my girls didn’t sleep with me more often. Spooky times a thousand. I wouldn’t be able to sleep in a room with them, that’s for certain.

I sorted through the toys while the girls were in school, knowing darn well that they’d cry foul over every single toy I put in the donate bag. But to be fair, I only donated stuff that was truly outgrown and with no sentimental value. Rest assured, I’m still bringing a tremendous amount of toys with me to Maryland.

kellogg's wobblersOh, and one more toy to share with you from a ways back. Up above is a picture of my Kellogg’s Wobbler collection. This is more sentimental to me than to my children. It was available in 2005 and at the time I was knee deep in the couponing and refunding culture. I remember getting the boxes of cereal for free and sending the box tops in for this collection of Disney Wobblers.

I was completely immersed in the couponing community back then and this promotion was a big hit within that community because apparently couponers and Disneyana go hand in hand. I was so excited when this came. I think I played with it more than the children.

Boxing up all of the toys has been both a happy and sad kind of thing. Childhood playthings with adult heartstrings attached. Strings that are frayed and taut right now.

What gives me comfort is that my grandchildren will enjoy these toys someday. And while these toys won’t be new, they’ll be cherished because I’ll share joyful stories about how they were loved years long ago. Stories told by a grandma who’s learned a few things on the journey.

An older wiser Melanie who sees value in used things.

Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa Review

Beaches Turks and CaicosBeaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages and Spa is an all inclusive vacation destination geared towards families with children of all ages. The property consists of four villages, Caribbean, French, Key West and Italian. And all are designed around those themes.

For my stay I was placed in the Italian village. With Renaissance style architecture, a piazza, shopping boutiques and an elegant pool with swim up bar and whirlpool, I certainly felt like I was situated smack dab in the middle of Old World charm and luxury.

Let’s check out the rooms in Italy…

Beaches Turks and Caicos SuiteMy room was a suite that would comfortably fit a family of five. The furnishings were exquisite dark woods with European accents. Just check out that turned wood four poster bed. The accommodations were comfortable to say the very least. If I could’ve packed that bed as my souvenir, I would have. The mattress was dreamy.

Beaches Turks and Caicos SuiteThe kids’ sleeping area was separate from the master bedroom. It was furnished with bunk beds, plenty of storage for clothing and a play area complete with Xbox. This room was also tastefully decorated which is a recurrent theme throughout the resort, you will come to find.

Beaches Turks and Caicos SuiteThe room had a small balcony and spectacular views of the pool and the ocean just beyond. A lovely place to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Beaches Turks and Caicos Room BarOr perhaps you’d rather enjoy that view with something a little more adult. Not a problem. Just mosey on over to your personal bar which is completely stocked with soft drinks, wine and liquor. And being that this is an all inclusive, it’s all yours for the taking.

While I stayed at the Italian village, I did happen to visit all of the other villages. Each one was unique and had different restaurants and swimming areas. There were also a variety of different shops, so it’s good to walk around and check them all out.

I found the quietest village to be Key West. This village is the newest and the most adult out of all the villages. On the other hand, I found the Caribbean village to be the most kid centric. Or at least, that’s where I happened to see most of the kids.

Out of all of the villages, I did enjoy the Italian village the most. The swim up pool bar was a hub of activity that I really enjoyed. It was a great place to meet other people and the bartenders poured some seriously delicious drinks. Those folks at the bar have some skills.

Beaches Turks and CaicosAnd if you have wee folk, this is your kind of vacation. There are just so many activities for the kids. Beaches offers a kids camp where they can enjoy all kinds of fun stuff to do like scavenger hunts, magic shows, sandcastle building, water sports and of course special visits with the Sesame Street characters.

Heck, I even got a giggle from meeting my favorite childhood characters. There are stage shows, parades and meet and greet opportunities where you and your kids can meet the entire Sesame Street gang. So much fun!

There are even activities for teens and tweens such as a special nightclub called Liquid where kids can hang out, dance and make new friends. There’s also bonfires, a game room, Xbox Play Lounge and even a surf simulator. Like I said, something for every age group.

And if you want some time to go off and do your own thing like have a special dinner out with your honey, Beaches offers nighttime care as well.

Beaches Turks and Caicos KayakingOne of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip was the water sports. Beaches offers all kinds of water activities as part of your package. Included are kayaking, aqua trikes, paddle boards, Hobie Cat sailing, snorkeling, windsurfing and even scuba diving.

Yup, you read that right. If you are a certified diver, scuba diving is part of your package. Have you ever paid for a scuba excursion? Let me tell you, it’s bucks. Lots of them. The same is true for snorkeling. If you were to pay for a separate excursion to snorkel, it is a pricey addition to your vacation.

This trip I took a kayak out for a whirl and I also did some snorkeling. The folks from Beaches run a boat back and forth from the resort out to a reef where you can snorkel your heart out. You’ll see all kinds of interesting sea creatures like starfish, sand dollars and even conch. One of my friends saw a reef shark. I am glad that I did not.

Beaches Turks and CaicosSo how about the food? Great question! Beaches has 19 different dining options and I tried my best to visit them all. From casual dining at Bobby D’s, a fifties style diner, to the fancier Schooner’s which served all kinds of fresh caught seafood, I tried to sample a bit of everything so I could give it a thorough review. And this is what I found…

Breakfast was by far the best at Mario’s at the Italian village. With a huge breakfast buffet offering both traditional American style choices and island fare, there truly was something for everyone. Overall I found that Mario’s buffet offered the most variety.

Lunch was little more challenging in that most of the restaurants served a buffet while I usually prefer a plated meal. My favorite lunch spot was Arizona’s where I found really good jerk chicken that was grilled right outside the restaurant by the beach. It was authentic and tasty. Inside Arizona’s was a salad bar with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies and other sides to round out the meal. So if you are looking for some authentic island food, I’d try that.

Beaches Turks and Caicos SchoonersIf you are a foodie, then dinner at Beaches will be your sweet spot. I had several stellar meals which included one at Schooner’s, a waterfront restaurant serving seafood. I started my meal with seared scallops which were cooked perfectly and placed on top of a rich béchamel. My second course was king crab legs which were also perfectly cooked and simply served with melted butter. But the jerk mahi mahi was the star of the show. Spicy and flaky. If you get the chance to dine at Schooner’s make sure to order that.

Other fine choices are Soy for sushi, Kimonos for Japanese (you need a reservation here), Barefoot By The Sea and I had a killer rack of lamb at Mario’s. Don’t forget to try a dessert at Mario’s. I had an orange mascarpone torte that I will never forget. Truly.

Melanie and JoanAnd while I completely enjoyed all of the food, activities and accommodations at Beaches, I have to tell you that the employees are the ones that made my stay special.

Every single employee had a smile on their face each and every day. Any need that I had, they were there to meet it. I’ve stayed at some lovely places in my lifetime, but I have to tell you that the service at Beaches Turks and Caicos is some of the best service I’ve ever had.

And if you take the time to talk to the folks that work hard to make your stay lovely, you’ll learn so much more about the people that are the backbone of the resort.

See the gal above? Not me. The other one. Her name is Joan and she is the restaurant manager at Schooner’s. If you ever get out that way, be sure to strike up a conversation with her. She has some gorgeous stories to share. Like this one, for example…

34 years ago Joan was working at the Beaches Resort in Jamaica which is where she’s from. On her way to work one day, she came across a six year old girl walking the streets with a snotty nose, no shoes and no parents to claim her. So Joan took the child in and raised her as her own. And today that child of hers works at Beaches. I might’ve cried while she told this story. I might’ve forced a hug on her as well.

And that’s just one example of the kind of employees that work at Beaches. Their service really does make all of the difference and it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Big Bird and Beaches Turks and CaicosWhile my kiddos didn’t come with me on the trip, I do plan on bringing them to Beaches Turks and Caicos sometime in the future. I know they’d really enjoy it. And if you do any research on a stay at Beaches, you might get a case of sticker shock at first glance. But one of thing to keep in mind is that absolutely everything is included. Your food, water sports, childcare, airport transfers, gratuities, etc. A cruise doesn’t even offer all of that. And if you travel during off-season, you can get some amazing deals!

For more information on Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages and Spa, check out their website. And if you make it out that way, be sure to find Joan and tell her I said hi!

This is not a sponsored post. I paid my own way down to Turks & Caicos but the resort did give us a discount on our stay.

Social Media on the Sand at Beaches Resorts Turks & Caicos

Beaches Social Media On The SandAs I mentioned yesterday and as you may have noticed based on my Instagram feed, I spent the past weekend at the Beaches Resort in the spectacular Turks & Caicos Islands for the Social Media on the Sand Conference which was hosted by Beaches Resorts and BSM Media.

Turks & Caicos has been a bucket list destination of mine forever. And BSM Media is known for attracting the very best bloggers for their events and their sponsored content initiatives. So when I was invited to come visit Beaches and attend this conference, I was more than a little bit excited!

I have a lot to share about my stay at Beaches. But for this post, I’m just going to touch on the conference itself and some of the things that were special in my mind. Things that made it a lot different than some of the other conferences I’ve attended in the past.

Because there were so many amazing things to share, I couldn’t possibly squeeze them all into one post. So we’ll start with the business side of things and the next post we’ll move onto the playful side. And trust me, there was a lot of play!

Turks & CaicosEven though I hate to fly, I thoroughly enjoyed the view from the sky as we flew to Turks & Caicos. What an amazing way to start a trip. How gorgeous is that ocean? Paradise for certain!

Beaches MomsThe conference itself was attended by a lot of my friends which really made the experience shinier than it already was. There were sessions on video production, travel writing, social strategy and marketing and I could go on and on. The organizers took special care in making sure that the content was relevant and engaging. And they succeeded on all fronts. I have mad respect for the team that put this together. It was clearly planned with much thought and care.

Social Media On The SandThe founders of the resort spent time educating us on how much they care for their workers and the communities they come from. I was happy to learn how the Sandals Foundation has planted 9,874 trees in local communities, provides computers to local schools, provides dental and eye care to community members and has even created two marine sanctuaries. And that’s just a tiny sampling of all that they do to make the Caribbean a better place for the people that live there. I love when a local business gives back to their community.

Sandals FoundationEven us bloggers had a chance to help out. Before the trip each of us were sent backpacks to fill with school supplies that we brought with us and donated to kids in Turks & Caicos. How cool is that? There were over one hundred of us there, so that one donation really made a big difference for those kids.  Good on the Sandals Foundation for caring for their people.

Ted Baker SunglassesOf course this conference wouldn’t have been possible without the help of sponsors. Up above you see me sporting Ted Baker sunglasses that were provided by Iristocracy.  But there were many more that were generous to make this event possible.

Social Media on the Sand SponsorsA big thank you to Coppertone for keeping me from scorching while snorkeling and also a major thanks to HP for allowing us to print our photos. Just two examples of ways that sponsors took care of us while at the conference. Smart social for sure!

FlipOut Flip FlopsOh, and I can’t forget one of my favorite sponsors. Look at my super cute FlipOut Sandals. Have you seen these before? The charms can be switched out for different designs. So one pair of flip flops can look like a different pair each time you wear them. So fun! See? Neat sponsors for sure!

Daisy and George Vow RenewalOk, so the conference was awesome. The sponsors were amazing. And the venue spectacular. But my favorite part was the people. I’ll talk more about how the employees go out of their way to make your stay so very special, but I want to share a couple of conference attendees who made my stay particularly memorable.

Above you see Daisy and George. Daisy and I hit it off the moment we met at the airport. She’s very easy to love as she’s a quick to smile kind of girl. Very warm and so willing to share her knowledge about blogging which she is entirely passionate about. She traveled to the conference with her husband George who’s equally kind and smiley. We all hit it off so well that they invited me to witness their vow renewal and attend their reception dinner that was held during the conference.

I cried. A lot. It was beautiful. I still get weepy looking at this picture. They are one of my best souvenirs from this trip.

Kelly StilwellMy other special souvenir is this gal. Kelly was my roommate whom I had never met before this trip. I couldn’t have asked for a better roomie. We spent late nights talking about blogging and sharing tips on what works and what doesn’t. We also spent time drinking wine together which was rather wonderful as well. I’ve only been home for a day and we’ve already talked on the phone and exchanged tons of emails. I expect we’ll be longtime friends.

Beaches Turks & CaicosI told you I had a lot to say. And I haven’t even started sharing about the resort yet. I might’ve had a good time, ya think?

A special thank you goes out to Maria Bailey who is the founder of BSM Media. Without Maria and her team, this wouldn’t have been possible. And of course a huge thank you to Beaches Resorts for making us feel so welcome and cared for. The memories will last a lifetime.

Come back tomorrow to hear about the resort and all it has to offer. You are going to want to add Beaches Turks & Caicos to your own bucket list!

This is not a sponsored post. I paid my own way down to Turks & Caicos but the resort did give us a discount on our stay.

Brimfield Antique Show 2014

Brimfield 2014For years now I’ve wanted to visit the Brimfield Antique Show. Known as the largest outdoor antiques show in the world, Brimfield attracts antique hunters from around the globe. Located in Western Massachusetts, the show practically takes over the town of Brimfield. With over 6,000 dealers, you could spend the entire day hunting and still not see it all. It’s legendary.

And yesterday was my day to tackle it. Did it live up to the hype? You betcha. So much so that I’m writing a couple of posts about it.

Today I’ll share with you what I found interesting and what I purchased. Tomorrow I’ll be posting a visitors guide to Brimfield. While there are lots of tips out there, none of them covers everything you need to know about the show. And trust me, this show takes some preparation and thought.

But more on that tomorrow. Let’s see what Brimfield is all about…

May's Antique MarketThe show is divided up into a bunch of sub-shows. Not all shows are open every day of the six day event. While there are always tons of vendors to visit along the roadside, different fields are open on different days. On the day I visited, May’s was open for business. With over 600 vendors, May’s is one of the more popular shows to visit.

What makes the May’s show unique is that the vendors cannot set up until the show opens. So when the doors open and people flood in (or stampede like they did yesterday), the vendors quickly put out their merchandise. This sort of levels the playing field as no one knows what’s going to be placed on the tables. The first half hour is sort of mayhem while people try to figure out what dealer has what vintage goodies to offer.

Corkscrew T-ShirtPeople who are serious collectors wear t-shirts that describe what they are looking for. This makes it really easy for a dealer to peddle their wares to the right buyer.

Those that didn’t have t-shirts ran up and down aisles shouting out “CAST IRON” “ANY MILITARY” “GLASS, WHO’S GOT GLASS”. It was quite the ruckus. And you could totally tell the newbies like myself. We were the ones frozen in our tracks like deer in headlights as we tried to figure out which way was what.

CheetahReally, it was a spectacle. Even though I knew what I was interested in (mid-century kitchen), I couldn’t help but check out some of the other fantastical offerings like this vintage stuffed leopard. Because how often do you see something like that? And as focused as I tried to be, I kept getting sidetracked by all the oddities.

Vintage SilverwareOnce I got my bearings straight, I started making some headway. Does anyone remember my hunt for vintage flatware last year? I think this is where it was hiding. All of it.

Fiesta WareAnd can you believe this tent filled with Fiestaware? So much color. I don’t collect it, but it sure is pretty to look at. I have no idea how this guy got all of this glass safely to Brimfield. Can you imagine the work it would take to safely package this? It gives me a headache just thinking about it.

JadeiteHow about this display of jadeite? I would love to collect jadeite. The only thing stopping me is the price tag. It is SO spendy. $30 for a plate or bowl? That’s too rich for my blood, but it sure is lovely to look at. I’m not thinking that I will ever stumble across jadeite at a thrift shop or garage sale.

Vintage Pyrex BrimfieldI was very surprised that I didn’t come across much Pyrex at Brimfield. I really thought the place would be overflowing with Pyrex dealers. There was some, but for the most part it was ridiculously overpriced. I expected some inflation, but not extortion. I did score a couple of pieces which I’ll share with you in a bit.

vintage mixerOh how I wanted to take this Sunbeam mixer home. Just look at the bowls stacked up next to it. So pretty. It was marked $85, but I was certain that the dealer would knock off $20 if I asked. The problem was that I wasn’t sure how to restore it. There were some rust spots and I’m not a fix-it kind of girl. I’m sure that you aren’t surprised by that.

60's dinetteHere’s something else I wanted to take home but had no good reason to. This funky 60’s dinette set. It charmed my socks off. I would build a room around this set if I was a gazillionaire. So much fun. Can’t you see my Pyrex on this table? Thank God I don’t own a truck or this would be in my basement.

dutch spice jarsSee these Dutch milk glass spice jars? I’ve always wanted them, but DANG are they expensive. This set was marked at $80. I’m too cheap to spend that kind of money, but I have a story to share about these later on…

Vintage NauticalThe antique nautical also caught my eye. Completely impractical because I have nowhere to put it. If I thought my Pyrex took up too much space, can you imagine my home if I started collecting gargantuan green glass floats?

vintage thermosA hot trend that I’m noticing lately are thermos dealers. If you go to a yard sale and see an old time thermos, snatch it up. Those things are selling like hotcakes. Campy fun is in.

HandsI totally don’t get the hands, but I was tempted to buy several. I flirted with the idea of placing one in the hamper when it’s full as a signal to the kids to give mom a hand by taking it down to the laundry room. Or maybe I could stick one on their mattress to remind them to make their beds. All kinds of great uses which would most likely lead to nightmares which would land one or four kids in my bed at night.

So what did I buy and for how much? That’s the best part of the story…

Dutch Spice ContainersI did end up with the Dutch milk glass spice jars but I didn’t spend $80. Actually, I found a dealer who was primarily selling furniture. She only had a few pieces of glass as that was not her specialty. These six spice jars were sitting on top of a table she was selling and seemed to be there for decoration. The tag on the side of one jar said $8, so I figured that each jar was $8 which made sense.

But when I asked her for her best price for the entire set, she said $6. As in $6 for all six jars. That is a crazy good deal. Sure, there are two spice jars missing as the set originally came with eight and the rack is missing, but for $6 I will happily live with it. Aren’t they sweet?

Vintage blue pyrex bowlThis blue pyrex bowl doesn’t look like much and it isn’t in perfect condition, but I only paid $6 for it. I have this bowl set called Primary, but was missing this tiniest bowl which I was having problems finding. It’s not minty perfect, but it completes my set which makes me happy.

vintage pyrex loaf panThe dealer that sold me the little bowl also sold me this blue fridgie for $6. A complete bargain compared to other dealers’ prices. That little blue bowl was $18 and up everywhere else.

Milk Glass PitcherThis precious milk glass pitcher was 50% off. I happily gave the dealer a $5 bill and walked away dreaming about how I was going to use this in future food photography pictures.

Vintage Ruffle PlatesAnd these ruffle plates that I picked up for $2 each will most likely be posing with that little milk glass pitcher. I love mid-century glass. Makes me want to bake an apple pie or some cookies. It brings out the domestic in me.

Antique Rolling PinWhen I saw this old maple rolling pin I had to have it. This thing is solid. I can only imagine the beautiful pie crusts it rolled out in its day. While it is quite large and chunky, it feels right in my hands. Like it was made for me. It was priced at $18, but I got it for $12. You can’t buy a crappy rolling pin for $12 these days.

Vintage Glass PitcherMy last find was this mod glass pitcher. It looks like it has red dots in this picture but they are actually pink. So retro and fun. It was marked $18 but the dealer gave it to me for $10. Just looking at it makes me smile.

Obviously I’m not into the big ticket antiques. Sure, there were dealers selling furniture and collectibles that were priced in the thousands, but that’s not how I roll. I’m more of a spend $2 here and maybe $12 there kind of girl which is totally fine by me.

But if you want to spend money, Brimfield is the place to do it. If you collect anything vintage, you will find it here. So if you are an antiques treasure hunter, put Brimfield on your bucket list. It’s as epic as they say it is.

California Central Coast Tour

Rte 1 CaliforniaLast week I trekked out to California for the annual BlogHer conference which was held in San Jose. I’ve never visited that part of California before, so I flew in a little early to get in some touring. Six and a half hours of flight time warrants staying a bit to see the sights.

Rte 1 CaliforniaI took the earliest flight out of Boston which got me into San Francisco early enough to have a full day of exploring that first day. Route 1 was the obvious road trip of choice because it’s so scenic. Something that I will certainly convince you of after you see the following pictures.

Route 1 winds all the way down the coast, straight through towns like Santa Cruz, Monterey and Carmel which are all bucket list towns to visit on my list. To see them all in one fell swoop was pretty awesome. Even if I did it at a breakneck pace.

Besides wonderful vistas of the ocean crashing on rocks beneath jagged cliffs, there were other special things to find on route 1. Let me show you…

Roadside Produce Stand Rte 1 CaliforniaI’ve always heard my California friends go on and on about their easy access to good produce. Once I started driving on route 1, I saw how lucky they are! Roadside stands of gorgeous produce were dotted up and down the coastal route. And in between the stands were miles of farmland.

Oh the meals I could make with the produce I saw. Just the peppers alone were enough to make me look at real estate while I was there. But when I saw how much real estate costs out there, I quickly realized I could buy the same size house out here and shop at Whole Foods for the rest of my life and still save money.

The real estate out there is rather spendy.

California Avocados Rte 1 Produce StandOne roadside produce sign had me begging my girlfriend to pull the car over. Seven avocados for a buck. That’s something to pull over for. Until I saw the size of the avocados. You’d have to buy at least four to equal one normal size avocado I buy here in Massachusetts. They were still adorable though!

California Artichokes Rte 1 Produce Stand CaliforniaBut the artichokes that were seven for a dollar? That is an incredible bargain. That was one thing that stuck out to me while we passed the farmland. The fields of artichokes were very interesting to see. You couldn’t help but recognize them because the artichokes stuck straight out into the sky like poles. Super fascinating to see!

Larvets SnackThe roadside stands had all kinds of fantastical offerings. Large bags of local almonds for only $5.99/lb. All kinds of dehydrated fruits and veggies. And snacks like larvets which I wasn’t brave enough to try. I am curious as to what they taste like but I’ll leave that to someone more adventurous to describe.

Boardwalk Santa Cruz CaliforniaThe first town on our agenda was Santa Cruz. And I have to tell you, I was rather smitten with it. The boardwalk is absolutely charming and full of rides I’d actually let my kids enjoy. I know that sounds odd, but I have to tell you that there are few boardwalks that I deem safe for my kids to ride the rides. I find most to be too carnival like. As in rickety.

That was not the case for the Santa Cruz boardwalk. All of the rides looked to be very well cared for and had a great mix of big kid and little kid rides. I could bring all of my kids here and there would be plenty for them to do. From the twenty year old (I can’t believe I just typed that) down to the ten year old, the Santa Cruz boardwalk would have captivated them all.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Santa Cruz Boardwalk TreatsBesides an abundance of rides, the boardwalk offered up lots of delicious foods. All the fried things that you could possibly imagine and also an array of fresh fruits which was rather nice to see. And if carnival food isn’t your type of thing (what’s wrong with you?), there were tons of restaurants offering up local seafood that looked downright delectable. You won’t go hungry in Santa Cruz.

Another highlight of my stop in Santa Cruz was the sighting of a pod of Orcas. I have to tell you, my entire life I’ve waited to see this. And while they were off in the distance a bit, there was no mistaking the black whales with the white markings. To see them breaching and spouting water into the air is something I won’t soon forget.

And it’s also worth mentioning that the seals that hang out along all of the rocks that jut out along the California coast are quite the spectacle. I never realized how large or how loud they are. They are a mouthy bunch.

Monterey CaliforniaThe next stop on our coastal adventure was Monterey. Another charming coastal town with breathtaking views. Monterey is the kind of town that you need to dedicate a day towards visiting. There are so many specialty shops and restaurants to visit. I highly suggest having a glass of wine in one establishment, an appetizer at the next, some shopping in the middle and then rinse and repeat that schedule for your entire day. And bring a designated driver with you.

Besides eclectic shopping and indulgent eating, there are many activities for those who are interested in getting physical. Kayaks, bikes and paddle board rentals were available and there were also trails for walking. With the sunny skies and cool ocean breezes, this would be the perfect place to explore the natural wonders of California.

And if seeing whales and seals up close appeals to you, this is the place to rent a kayak. I saw so many people getting up close views of the whales and seals. I was kicking myself for not bringing along my bathing suit!

Candy Shop MontereyWhenever I travel, I buy a little something for my kids like most parents do. My girls especially loved the Taffy Town taffy I bought in Monterey. Salt water taffy is available just about everywhere you look up and down the coast, but Taffy Town is our favorite. Yummy.

The Sardine FactoryOne of my favorite meals while visiting Monterey was at the Sardine Factory. A not to be missed restaurant located in historic Cannery Row, the Sardine Factory is one of those restaurants that you visit for special occasions. While not the kind of place I’d bring all four of my kids because my bill would be equal to my car payment (entrees range in price from $26 to $58), it is well worth every penny for a special occasion like an anniversary or a birthday.

Calamari and The Sardine Factory

Calamari is one of my favorite appetizers and the Sardine Factory’s calamari did not disappoint. Local calamari fried up tender and crisp, it was arguably the best calamari I’ve ever had. And it was hard to settle on the calamari as my choice of appetizer because everything on the appetizer menu looked appealing. Local seafood is a highlight of this restaurant. Next time I go I will definitely try the crab filled oysters Rockefeller. I had a hard time deciding between those two!

The Sardine Factory MontereyFor my entree, I chose the salmon with lump meat crab and a beurre blanc sauce. A stellar choice that was. Once again, one of the best salmon dishes of my life. Well worth every calorie in the beurre blanc. I’m pretty sure the asparagus was just on the plate to make me feel a little better about the sauce and the calamari calorie carnage.

17 Mile DriveFrom Monterey my journey took me further south to Carmel By The Sea via 17 Mile Drive. Now, let me tell you something about 17 Mile Drive. You have to pay a $10 toll to explore it. If you happen to find yourself in the area, pay it. I know that a $10 toll sounds like a lot for 17 miles, but I promise you that you will NOT regret it.

I’ve taken some scenic drives in my lifetime, but really, this was like nothing I’ve seen before. A long and winding route, 17 Mile Drive has an unforgettable and unique view seemingly around every bend in the road. Dotted with mansions and to-die-for beaches, 17 Mile Drive is another experience that you could budget an entire day towards. Pack a picnic lunch, a beach blanket and your binoculars because there is just so much to see and experience during this drive.

Once again, the marine life is not to be missed. Seals, otters, birds and even whales can be seen from shore. Definitely budget some time here. And don’t forget the binoculars.

Check out the views…

17 Mile Drive Pebble Beach

17 mile drive pebble beach

Lone Cypress 17 Mile Drive

Alexander Smith VineyardMy last stop on my adventure was Carmel By The Sea. Certainly the most spendy town of the towns I toured, Carmel is full of enchanting high end shops that reminded me of what you’d find in Aspen or Vail. Art galleries, jewelers, handcraft merchants and countless fine restaurants lined the picturesque streets of Carmel.

Paraiso Winery Tasting Room Carmel

And while I didn’t do any shopping in this town, I did stop at the most precious wine tasting at the Paraiso Vineyards tasting room where I sampled and completely enjoyed a glass of Alexander-Smith Pinot Noir which was heavenly with notes of apple, black cherry and a hint of floral. I’m not sure if it was the Alice in Wonderlandesque setting or if it was purely the wine, regardless, it was unforgettable.

Dametra in Carmel CaliforniaWhile there are countless very pricey restaurants in Carmel, I did happen upon a relatively affordable gem. Dametra Cafe is a restaurant that I highly recommend. An exquisitely charming restaurant serving up Mediterranean cuisine, Dametra not only offers authentic Mediterranean dishes, it also delivers a complete experience with live music and dancing. While many places that offer this kind of combo come off as touristy tacky, Dametra’s spontaneous musical outbursts felt like a true celebration.

Dametra Carmel CaliforniaI was trying to keep it light when I placed my order of a roasted vegetable salad with grilled shrimp, but I never expected my salad to be so grand. A salad is usually sort of ho-hum, but not this time. If all salads looked like this, the world would be a better place.

Dametra has all kinds of enticing menu items. If I ever get back, I will not leave without trying the hummus or the lamb shank. I saw other patrons enjoying those dishes which made me want to skip the conference and come back the next day. Which I did not.

Sunset Monterey

And here is a view of the sun setting on the California coast. A natural way to end this post if there ever was one.

While this trip was incredible, it would’ve been so much better with my kids. Someday I plan to bring them to see the same sights. Certainly this kind of trip has all kinds of special experiences for adults, but at the same time there’s just so much that’s family friendly. From whale watching to kayaking and boardwalk rides to mountain hiking, with countless other activities in between, the California coast offers something for every member of the family!

Ireland, The Last Days

A Walk In The WoodsI am finally home. What a journey that was to get back. I had planned on posting last night, but after I hugged and kissed my family, I crawled into bed and crashed hard.

After twelves hours of sleep, I’m feeling much more human and ready to share the last of my images from Ireland with you. I’ll be posting some food pictures from Ireland over on A Beautiful Bite in the coming days, but these pictures make more sense over here on MITM.

To start, the image above and below show you how dark it was over in Ireland during my stay. The weather was quite vexing and it really started to get to me after awhile. Constant rain and shadows affected my mood which you can see in my self portrait below.

In total there was one day of partial sun and I found myself racing around like a lunatic trying to get some decent shots while there was enough light to do so. And I still don’t really feel that I caught the true beauty of Ireland this visit.

Melanie In The Shadows

Knowth IrelandMy favorite sights in Ireland were the churches, cemeteries and ruins. Everywhere I turned there was something ancient and fantastic to see. One of my favorite day trips was to Knowth and Newgrange, two burial passage sights which are 5,000 years old and in near original condition.

The following pictures are from that day trip…

Newgrange Ireland

Knowth Irealnd

Knowth, IrelandLooks like a Teletubby should pop up somewhere in the background. Don’t you think? The only thing missing from this photo is Tinky Winky and a bunny.

Cliffs of MoherAnother favorite day trip was to the Cliffs of Moher. I was really lucky this day because the sun came out just a bit during my visit and the rain held off just long enough for me to walk the cliffs and snap some photos. And just as I took one last picture, the clouds said enough of that and rained down again.
Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher Tower

Irish CastleThe following pictures are just some random shots that I thought were worth sharing…

Melanie At Castle

Thatched Irish Roof

Irish Cow

Irish Cows

Melanie Ireland

Cliffs of Moher SunsetAs I was standing on the Cliffs of Moher during sunset on my last day in Ireland, I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite Sarah McLachlan songs, Possession.

There’s something about Sarah’s voice that speaks to the mood of Ireland. A haunting melody that resonated with me this visit. And there are some things that greatly affect my mood. Light and sound are two and this song really speaks to how I was feeling at that moment as I was standing on the cliffs as it started to rain and the winds picked up…

Listen as the wind blows, across the great divide
Voices trapped in yearning, memories trapped in time
the night is my companion, and solitude my guide
Would I spend forever here and not be satisfied?

End of Summer Road Trip ~ Philadelphia Zoo & Omni Independence Park

Philadelphia ZooWith only a small window of time before summer poofs out of existence, I decided to take my kids on a last hurrah summer road trip. Three of my kids anyway. Aidan is getting ready for college and will be missing from blog posts for the next four years, I think. Sniff.

Not that it’s a crazy long distance road trip. Just a four day journey with stops in Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore. You see, my friend Joey is hosting a Blogger Beach Bash which I’ll tell you more about tomorrow, but en route we decided to stay overnight in Philly so that we could visit one of my favorite zoos in the country. The Philadelphia Zoo.

Shan and the Polar BearNow, I wasn’t too bright before I left. I should’ve purchased my tickets online. That would’ve eliminated the very long wait at the ticket booth. In the sweltering sun. For what seemed like an eternity.

But it’s ok because we got to the counter before we became human raisins. And when it was finally our turn, I learned about their membership program which allows you to visit not only their zoo for a calendar year, but also many zoos across the country.

So, I could’ve spent $91 for admission and parking or I could’ve spent $99 and get admission for the year at not only the Philadelphia Zoo, but countless others including a bunch in New England. Oh, and the membership gives you free parking. Sold.

Philadelphia ZooUpon entering the park, my kids were completely entranced. Heck, I was completely entranced. I have been to this zoo many many times with my Mom and Dad, but when I was a kid it didn’t look anything like it does today.

The amount of expansion and development that has gone into this zoo is impressive. So many new exhibits and beautifications. There was something new to see around every bend.

One of the improvements that I liked best was the interactive exhibits where kids can use computers to learn about the animals and their habitats in realistic field settings. Lots of hands on stuff that immersed the kids in learning. They had so much fun without realizing that it was educational. I’m all for sneaky education.

Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo Red PandaAnd of course there were the animals. Each kid had their favorite. Michael loves red pandas. Leela is into cheetahs. And Shannon was smitten with the lemurs. My favorite was the primate exhibit. Apes have always fascinated me and I could spend hours watching them. Actually, my kids had to drag me out of the exhibit.

We spent four hours at the zoo, but I felt like we rushed through it and missed some of the exhibits. Of course this means that we will have to come back again. Especially to take advantage of our new membership status!

Omni Independence ParkAfter our fun at the zoo, we ventured over to the Omni Independence Park which overlooks Independence National Historic Park in the heart of Society Hill. A truly elegant hotel with very posh accommodations.

When we first checked in, the kids were thrilled to receive little backpacks to help them explore the city. A very nice touch for the wee tykes.

But mom was more impressed with the actual room. Super luxe with lots of space and gorgeous furnishings. Oh and the beds & linens. Don’t even get me started. I wanted to take the sheets home with me. So very comfy. Especially after a six hour drive and four hours at the zoo. Mom needed that comfy bed.

Omni Independence ParkAnd the view was killer too. The girls each grabbed a book and perched themselves on the sill to read while I took care of, well you know, EVERYTHING as us moms have a habit of doing.

Omni Independence ParkAbout ten minutes after we arrived, there was a knock on the door. It was for the kids. A tray of milk and cookies which the Omni delivers to every kid who stays at their hotel. Yeah, my kids were impressed.

After an afternoon snack of milk and cookies, I took the kids to the hotel pool for a dip. As far as pools go, this one is sort of spa like with relaxing music piped in which I enjoyed but I doubt the kids even noticed. My kids don’t relax until their head hits the pillow.

All in all, it was the perfect hotel stay and I would highly recommend staying at an Omni property if you get the chance to.

I wish we had more time to spend in Philly because there’s just so much to see in the city. I should know because I was born here and my entire family is from the area. If you haven’t been, you must. It’s a great city to visit not only for the obvious historical contributions, but also for the museums, restaurants and theater. Oh, and the cheesesteaks. It’s worth it to visit Philly for the cheesesteaks alone.

We left Philly this morning and are now on the Jersey Shore. We only have a few days to work with, so we are cramming in as much fun as we can before we go back home and back to school.

Much more tomorrow…


I was an invited guest of the Omni Independence Park and stayed free of charge. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


friendsSometimes I feel like my heart is beating outside of my chest and that there is no way to protect it. From the hail, from the driving rain. It’s just out there in the elements waiting to be assailed. And there have been only two times in my life when I’ve felt this way. When I’ve been in love and when I’ve given birth to children. It’s funny how those two situations are so closely tied together.

friendsBeing in love is an intensely vulnerable place to be, but being a parent splays you out bare for all the world to see. It leaves you raw and exposed to the elements.

I’m a mother of a child that’s a square peg in a round world. A child that laughs when she should be quiet. A girl who doesn’t get birthday party invitations but once a year. A girl who labors over what clothing to purchase with the hopes that she will fit in.

And as her mother, I can’t make it right.

Trust me. I’ve tried. I’ve invited kids over for elaborate parties. I’ve dressed my daughter up in the most fashionable clothing. I’ve tried to teach her everything I know about fitting in. But the one thing I can’t manipulate is the mind of another child. I can’t force other kids to accept her.

friendsBut here’s the thing about life. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out? Just when you think that people don’t care? That people have neglected you and let you down? Well, those people can take you by surprise. They can rinse off that verdigris of doubt that tarnishes your life with just a few simple words. “Yes, I’ll come.”

You see, my daughter, the one who is never invited to anything, invited another child over for a sleepover. Her first sleepover ever. And that daughter of mine braced herself for a “no”.  A no I can’t come. A no I don’t want to come. A no, you still don’t belong no matter how many times you ask.

But this time? This time the answer was yes! That child of mine was going to experience her first sleepover ever. And as excited as she was, my heart nearly split in half with joy along with hers. With joy and relief. Because it wasn’t just her acceptance that was at stake. It was mine as well. Why? Because mother and daughter hearts are tied together. They beat as one. And when one suffers the other does as well.

But not this day. No, this day both hearts were full to the point of bursting.

And the sleepover went as expected. There was incessant giggling. Very little sleep. Lots of sugar. And plenty of threats from me that they ought to settle down.

But even my stern words sounded weak. It’s hard to be stern when you are so incredibly thankful for the opportunity at hand. And as I half-heartedly reprimanded them for unruly tween behavior, I was secretly savoring every moment.

Imprinting every moment in my mind so that I could play back this day to my daughter when the dry months arrive. The months when there are no birthday party invitations. When the valentine cards don’t get stuffed in the red vellum covered boxes that the kids make in school.

No, today I forced myself to stay in the moment. The moment of acceptance, friendship and normalcy. And I have to tell you, it was a very sweet place to be. Even if only for a moment.

Our Day In Pictures

Mcdonald's #1 CarAs a blogger I get to meet lots of amazing people. I also have the opportunity to develop relationships with brands that have relevance to my daily life.

One of those brands is McDonald’s. It all started way back when this blog was in its infancy. I attended BlogHer and had the opportunity to sample the at the time new to the market hot oatmeal which I really enjoyed. Actually, I enjoyed it so much that I wrote about it on The Coupon Goddess which got the attention of the social media people at corporate McDonald’s.

We formed a nice friendship and kept in touch via Twitter and Facebook over the years. I’ve gotten to know the people behind the McDonald’s brand which has me lovin’ them all the more. Truly kind and compassionate people.

When I was hit by a car two years ago, they surprised my daughters by sending them the latest happy meal toys. A small gesture that was a tremendous diversion for my grief struck kids.

They also invited me to be part of their blogger think tank community where we talk about all sorts of things from menu ideas to parental concerns about nutrition. It’s a place where we can go and bounce ideas off each other.

I appreciate that they not only listen to us and value our input, but they also actually read our blogs to get to know us. It’s a time investment on their part that’s created a wonderful relationship between not only myself and McDonald’s but also with many other mom influencers in the blogosphere.

So, I guess you could say that I’m a super fan of the brand.

And after today, I’m a mega-crazy-diehard-fan of the brand because they invited myself and my son Michael to the New Hampshire 300 to watch the#1 car driven by Jamie McMurray which McDonald’s sponsors.

And did I mention that today is Michael’s 16th birthday? Yup. It sure is. So, this morning we packed up the car and drove up to New Hampshire to cheer on Jamie McMurray. I can’t even put into words what a wonderful birthday it was for my son. A day that neither of us will forget thanks to our friends at McDonald’s.

The following pictures are some of my favorites from today. After baking in the sun for seven hours, I don’t have the energy to explain each photo. I think you’ll get the idea. Oh, and the guy towards the bottom with the bulging muscles in the McDonald’s race gear? Yeah, that’s Jamie McMurray. You’re welcome.


New Hamsphire Motor Speedway

Michael on Track

Michael War Wagon

McDonald's #1 Car

Pit Crew McMurray

Jamie McMurray

Georgina and Melanie

Pit Crew Ready to Roll

This is not a sponsored post. I was an invited guest of McDonald’s to attend the New Hampshire 300. All thoughts and opinions are my own. A big thank you goes out to the McDonald’s team. I feel really blessed to know you all.

Beach Birthday

I Heart ArubaAs I mentioned the other day, I went away for this last weekend. My girlfriend Kim celebrated a milestone birthday and she invited three of her girlfriends down to her home in Aruba to celebrate.

20130303_171758And the timing just couldn’t have been any better as I’ve had just about enough of snow and freezing temps. A weekend on an island sounded pretty sweet to this freezing cold mom.

20130303_172631Myself, Rene and Desiree were greeted at the airport by the birthday girl. After fully hydrating us with her homemade sangria, she took us on a wonderful tour of her island.

Aruba BeachWe toured the beaches, ate the freshest fish you could imagine and soaked up the sun the entire weekend. Sun, sand and adult beverages. Just the medicine we all needed after such a rough winter. And a wonderful way to celebrate a birthday too!

Aruba LighthouseA weekend is not enough time to fully appreciate all that Aruba has to offer which means that a return trip is needed. Aruba really is a beautiful place and I’m so thankful for my time there with friends.

After a whirlwind weekend, I flew back home last night and what did I see when I got off of the plane? More snow. I swear this is the winter that will never end.

But I have to say that the weekend in Aruba has fortified me and I think I soaked up enough vitamin D to get me through until spring.

How about you? Have you been to Aruba? What’s your favorite sunny place to visit?