Family Bucket List Ideas

It was cloudy here in North Florida on Monday afternoon August 21st, but that didn’t stop my family from enjoying a humbling moment: the Solar Eclipse. We headed to the beach to sit on the sand and look up at history in the making. (Our exact time was 2:49 pm EST.)  We wore our official protective eye glasses and, even though it was short and sweet, it was a family moment I will cherish forever. I love to spend time with my family and create memories. I decided to create a “Family Bucket List” so I can plan and get excited about our future experiences and adventures.

Below is a list of items on my Family Bucket List. This will be a work in progress for sure. There is so much we want to do! I keep adding to the list! Let me know what you have on YOUR Family Bucket List. I’d love to get new ideas. And feel free to grab some of mine. Comment below!

  • Visit Tokyo, Japan and eat all the sushi
  • Go on an African Safari
  • Attend at least one game of all the major pro sports leagues: Football ? Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey (Bonus points for championship games!)
  • Witness a Solar Eclipse ?
  • See a Broadway Show in New York
  • Eat a cheesesteak in Philadelphia ?
  • Go to all four Walt Disney World Parks ?
  • Surf in Hawaii
  • Spend Christmas in a northeastern town that resembles a Hallmark Movie
  • See the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and Niagara Falls
  • Visit my and my husband’s hometowns and schools
  • Swim with the dolphins
  • Take a photo at the Hollywood Sign
  • Eat gelato in Venice, Italy and ride a gondola
  • Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower and eat a baguette with cheese in Paris
  • See the Mona Lisa
  • Tour Buckingham Palace
  • New Year’s Eve in Time Square
  • Experience a real, working farm or dude ranch
  • Start a family charity ?
  • Sleep in a castle
  • and more!


My Top 10 “Back to School” Must-Haves

My two kids went back to school this week (insert sad face emoji) so we are working on a new routine.

Gone are the lazy summer mornings, trips to the beach, Chick-fil-A for lunch twice a week, and ice cream in front of the TV almost every night. I need to keep the kids organized, healthy, and well-rested. Here are 10 of my “back to school” must-haves that help me handle all of that and more!

1. Backpack

I know a “back to school” backpack is a no-brainer, but it took me awhile to find the perfect one for my tweens. We love the Lands’ End backpacks with custom monogramming. My kids were also able to add a fun design to show personal style. These backpacks are extremely durable and there are lots of color choices.

Lands’ End Classmate Large Backpack

2. Lunch Box

I love these simple insulated lunch bags from EasyLunchBoxes. They are inexpensive and hold up the entire school year. They are the perfect size to fit a lunch container, thermos, and more.


EasyLunchboxes Insulated Lunch Box Cooler Bag in Blue

3. Snack Bag

My daughter still takes a morning snack to school and this sweet pouch is perfect for a granola bar, grapes, banana, or pretzel bag. I love that she can use it everyday and I just wipe down the inside.

Itzy Ritzy Happens Reusable Snack and Everything Bag in Donut Shop

4. Water Bottle

My kids need clear water bottles for school and this brand fit the bill. These bottles do not leak and they slide nicely into the side pockets of their backpacks.

Aladdin 1-Hand Water Bottle, 24 oz in Marina Blue

5. Lunch Notes

I still love to put little notes inside my kids’ lunchboxes. I asked Daniel if he felt he was getting too old for Mama’s notes and he said, “No way!” That made me smile. These tear-out lunchbox jokes are PG-rated fun and I can add my own personal message on the blank side.

Lunchbox Jokes: 100 Fun Tear-Out Notes for Kids

6. Lice Hair Spray and Tree Tea Oil

Fun fact about me: I’m a complete germophobe! And my biggest fear is getting that call from the school office saying my kids have lice. I have been lucky so far (KNOCK ON WOOD!) and it’s probably because I put tea tree oil in their shampoo and spritz them with mint spray every morning before they walk out the door.

Tea Tree Oil with Glass Dropper

Ladibugs Pesticide-Free Mint Spray


7. Wall Calendar

I need to keep our school year organized, so I put all the kids’ activities on a monthly dry erase wall calendar that is stationed by their desks. They can look at it anytime. We update it every month and also include their birthday parties and social events.

DesignOvation Framed Magnetic Dry Erase Monthly Calendar



8. Cozi App

The Cozi Family Organizer app is a complete lifesaver! My husband has it on his phone too, so we can coordinate his work obligations with all the school activities and appointments. It’s our entire family’s schedule all in one place. I love it so.

Cozi Family Organizer


9. Labels

I need to label all my kids’ clothes because they change for gym twice a week. These labels are also perfect for their shoes, lunchboxes, water bottles, and anything else they need to carry to and from school.

Mabel’s Labels Self-Laminating Write On

10. Smoothie Recipes for Breakfast

We have a small window of time in the morning for a healthy breakfast. One of our all-time favs is a breakfast smoothie. I found easy, nutritious breakfast smoothie recipes on Weelicious, Rachael Ray, and Super Healthy Kids. My two kids also love the banana bread smoothie bowl from Real Housemoms. You will need a good smoothie blender and I highly recommend the Ninja. And on those mornings we need to run out super early, we’ll stop by our local Smoothie King drive-thru to grab a strawberry banana to go. Yum!

Ninja Professional Blender


Is there a “back to school” essential that you can’t live without? Comment below!


The Evolution of Mom Worry

A couple of my friends had babies recently and that always takes me back to when I had a baby. To that newborn stage. That glorious, overwhelming, heart-outside-of-your-chest time when everything was about sleep and poop and boobies. Did I mention SLEEP?


It also made me realize how far I’ve come as a Mom. I feel so far removed from breast pumps and Boppy pillows. I don’t miss all that worry about sleeping patterns, high fevers, constipation, weird rashes, and every other medical question I would look up in my giant American Academy of Pediatrics manual. How am I supposed to go to bed if he might accidentally roll over on his stomach and DIE? The newborn worry is big and magnified because everything is just so,well, NEW, including this human that someone just took out of my belly.

Then, there’s the general baby worry. He’s going to choke on this rice cereal. She has a clogged tear duct and the surgery is “no big deal” except that it’s a REALLY BIG DEAL. And forget about “baby proofing.” There are entire websites dedicated to baby proofing your home, but even if I buy those socket covers, plastic door knobs, and toilet closure thingies, my baby will still manage to face plant into their Playskool Ball Popper. Yep, that happened.

Next, the worry turns into all those annoying milestones. Why isn’t she walking? Why isn’t he talking? I had a piece of paper on my refrigerator to write down every word my son said because one book proclaimed “25 words by age two.” This is also the era of comparisons. You’re told not to compare your darling child to anyone else’s darling child, but YOU DO. Why is Cooper walking when my kid is still crawling? Why does Maddie have FOUR TEETH already? That kid over there is climbing the stairs ONE FOOT AT A TIME. What?! This worry is more intellectual and researched, so it’s less about keeping your kid alive and more about keeping them upright on life’s fast-moving conveyor belt.

Then, it happens. Your kid enters SCHOOL. Now the worry is about their safety and their classmates, which is sometimes one in the same. In preschool, there’s biting and separation anxiety.  In elementary school, there are reading levels and navigating the social stuff. Are they making friends and being kind to people? Are they HAPPY? There are weird viruses, new allergies, sports injuries, and academic competition. This worry is more intense, but has settled into me like a new layer of skin. I’ve accepted it as part of being a Mom. I’ve also loaded up on the wine.

And when I think about the future? With teenagers? Well, that worry is loaded with cyber bullies, peer pressure, SAT scores, and two driver’s licenses. Yikes. I hope my layer of skin will have turned into protective armor by then and I’ll be poised and ready for anything. But you know what? I think I’ll stay here, with today’s worry and a nice glass of red, for a little while longer. Cheers, Moms!

Top 10 Disney Vacation Must-Haves

We always go to Disney World in Orlando on the last day of school as a way to treat the kiddos and kick off the summer. I’m so blessed to live only two hours away from “the happiest place on earth.” I’ve been to Disney World over fifteen times and I’ve learned to pack efficiently and effectively through the years. Some of my must-have items have changed because my babies grew up (no more Pack ‘n Plays!), but these ten items stay on my Disney Vacation packing list every time. I’ve linked to some of my favorite items in each category.

1.  A light-weight backpack

You have to carry a lot of items around the Disney parks. These are important items that will save you time and money. You don’t want to put them in your nice purse. You need a simple, light-weight backpack that is durable and ready to be thrown on the dirty floor of those ride seats. It should have side pockets for your water bottles and not too many zippers. That security line can be a pain if your guard has to unzip and look inside a bunch of hidden areas. I bought a basic navy backpack on Amazon that I’ve used for a few years now. I love it.

Amazon Classic Backpack

2. Sneakers (x2)

I tried to look cute one year and wear my Steve Madden sandals, but that was a bad move. No one cares how you look. You need to be comfortable. Your family needs to be comfortable. You don’t want your child complaining about their blisters or sore feet. Always bring sneakers for every member of your family and make sure they have a ton of support. Then, pack an extra pair for everyone. If you soak through one pair of sneakers because of a sudden downpour or wet ride, it will take them a very long time to dry out. You will definitely want a backup.

My Favorite, Comfy Sneaker

3. Sunscreen

This seems like a given, but you would be surprised how many burnt faces I see around Disney. I always notice that stuff and it makes me sad. I would suggest you apply sunscreen to everyone before you hit the park. They need to be slathered up before you see those entry gates or you might have a wiggly kid battle on your hands. Be sure to reapply every two hours or sooner if you go on a water ride that washes away the protection.

My Favorite Cream Sunscreen

My Favorite Spray Sunscreen

4. Cooling Towel

Now that I’ve tried the cooling towel, I will never go back. These things are genius! You will need to dip them in running water and shake to activate. They are a life saver when waiting in long lines or when someone like me is waiting an hour for everyone else to get done with the Tower of Terror.

The Original Chill Pal

5. Hats

You will need some type of hat to help with the sun protection. Bonus: Your ready time in the morning will be cut in half when all you have to do is throw your hair up in a hat. You can find super stylish ones (I love the straw fedoras) or go for the classic baseball. Annabel and I put our Minnie ear headbands over our baseball caps to add a little more fun and sparkle.

My Favorite Fedora

Simple Baseball Cap

Minnie Sequin Headband

6. Water Bottles

All Disney Parks let you bring in water bottles. You can refill it at water fountains throughout the day. This is a must because buying water at the park will definitely cost you. You can find a water bottle with a filter if you don’t love that metallic Florida water taste. I’m still not used to it.

Brita Water Filter Bottle in Pink

7. A White Noise Machine

I still have the same white noise machine I bought when my kids were toddlers.  We use it for every Disney trip to wash away the loud hallway noises at the resort. It’s also great to drown out the late night fireworks if you have babies that need to get to sleep before 9 pm.

Sound Spa Machine – Flat and Easy to Pack

8. Snacks

My kids always beg for a snack when we are in the middle of our really long ride wait times. You want to pack small snacks like granola bars or pretzel bags. I also highly recommend organic lollipops. They take a little longer to consume and add a little sugar rush when needed. I love them too!

YumEarth Organic Lollipops

9. Rain ponchos

It’s Florida. You never know when it’s going to rain and it usually rains every day in the summer months. You should have a poncho for every member of your family. They are small and easy to shove into your backpack. You can also use them on those “you will get soaked” water rides if you’re a wimp, like me.

Reusable Rain Ponchos in Family Packs

10. Cell Phone Charger

You don’t want to finally grab that selfie with Gaston in front of Belle’s castle and your iPhone dies. You should pack a small cell phone charger in your back pack. When you’re waiting in those long ride lines, you can charge your phone and be ready for your next Instagram post.

Anker Portable Charger in Pink


Baking Lessons

My son and I have similar personalities. He’s a lot like me while my daughter is a lot like my husband.

My husband and Annabel are extroverted and carefree, while Daniel and I are more introverted and cautious. We’re thoughtful. We don’t want to be the center of attention, but we want to be invited to the party. We’re conscientious and organized.  We’re also sensitive to things that throw us off, like traffic jams or bad weather.

Where this mother-son connection might get a bit tricky is when both of us are in a situation that makes us uneasy. One example is flying. The first time I went on an airplane was college. I wasn’t into it. I still get nervous every time I fly and I’m sure it’s because of my lack of experience but also because I have no control. That’s a crappy feeling for someone who’s already cautious.

So it made sense that Daniel might be intimidated to get on an airplane too. His first flight was with me when he was three-years-old.  The two of us were headed to DC for my nephew’s first birthday. I wanted Daniel to start flying when he was very young so he would think of it as “no big deal.” I also couldn’t let him see me sweat. I smiled through every bit of turbulence and told him anything bumpy was fun! Hooray! Like a roller coaster ride! And it worked! He’s a good flyer.

The same thing happens with the weather. Daniel hates bad weather, although he wants to be a weatherman. (There is probably some big psychological explanation for that, but that’s a post for another day.) When the storms are terrible, I hate it too. But ever since he was a little kid, I act as though it doesn’t bother me. I tell him everything is fine and to look at his weather app to track the storm. To take deep breaths.  He used to get very upset when he saw dark clouds and lightening, but now he’s learned to handle it.

The other day Daniel came home from school and wanted a snack. I guess there was nothing here to his liking, so he looked inside the kid’s cookbook he bought at the school book fair. He decided on biscuits. He looked around the pantry to make sure we had all the ingredients and away he went. He preheated the oven, mixed up everything in a bowl, put perfect circles of dough on a cookie sheet, and then baked them until golden brown. He did this with such confidence and ease, the complete opposite of his Mama.

I am not the cook in the family. My husband takes on those main duties. Sure, I can make simple eggs and pasta, but the thought of cooking an entire meal or baking homemade biscuits (!) stresses me out. It’s overwhelming. But watching my own son so relaxed about the whole process made me want to venture out of my cooking rut. I actually found myself dusting off a cookbook my mother-in-law gifted me two Christmas’s ago (it’s Jessica Seinfeld’s The Can’t Cook Book. How appropriate.) and started looking at some pork recipes to try.

Parents are supposed to teach children how to navigate the hard stuff, but it turns out my son taught me a lesson that day. And those were the best biscuits I have ever tasted.

5 Reasons I Don’t Love The Last Week of School

Can we all agree that as much as our children are over school at this point, we moms are over it MORE?

We are more tired, more frustrated, and more complacent than you, kid!

The entire month of May is tough because we can see that light at the end of the tunnel. But this last week is the worst. That light is a bright beacon of sunshine on my body as I lay by the pool sipping my cocktail. Why does it seem so far away?

Here are the top five reasons the last week of school is so not my fav:

1. I still have to physically get them to school looking halfway decent.

There is such a wave of casualness this week that I forget I still need to get these two to school each morning. Today we were all talking about our Disney trip and the Tower of Terror and the new fireworks and how I can’t wait for a Mickey Bar and then I look up at the clock and STOP! 7:20?? How’d that happen?! Get in the car we have to GO! Also, their shoes are falling apart, I’ve lost all the good headbands, and the backpacks are fraying. Annabel needs her glasses adjusted and Daniel needs a haircut. “You can deal with it for one more week” has turned into a mantra.

2. There are still lunches to make.

I’m going to admit it now. I’m THAT MOM who puts effort into her kids’ school lunches throughout the year. I cut my daughter’s sandwiches into stars and give my son organic soup. BUT, all of that goes out the window the last week of school. Something physically happens to me. It takes every ounce of energy in my body to try and pull something together to throw in their lunchboxes. I’ve been doing this for nine months and this last week is the worst. I’m scrounging around my cabinets and bottom fridge drawers for something mildly healthy to throw in there. Let’s just plan on lunch tickets for the rest of the week. If I have any left.

3. There’s still work to do.

What? I know. I was shocked too. This last week feels like a rush to the finish line. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming teachers. I’m sure they are frustrated to still be grading papers and projects at this point. I just told my son, “Yeah, you don’t have to study for math or social studies anymore. You’re good,” because I don’t want to help quiz him. There is also this thing called an “AR goal” which means students have to read a certain number of books before the last day of school. I’m now forcing my daughter to finish that Beezus and Ramona book before bed because there are goals to meet! Let’s get this over with already!

4. The last week of school is expensive.

I probably spend more money this last week of school than I did all semester. Why? Class gifts, coaches gifts, activity leader gifts, end of year parties, end of year luncheons, yearbooks, scrapbooks, talent show outfits…do I need to go on?

5. The last week of school is too emotional.

Wait, it’s the LAST WEEK OF SCHOOL? That means I won’t have a third and fourth grader anymore? I’m going to have a FOURTH and FIFTH grader? Then I sit on my laptop for an hour with misty eyes and a glass of wine while I scroll through hundreds of photos from the school year and wonder WHERE DID THE TIME GO?

This is last year’s “Last Day” photo. Feels like yesterday. Sigh.


Long Days

As my daughter was climbing out of the car during morning drop-off yesterday, she turned back to me and said, “Mama, I can’t believe third grade is almost over. It went so fast! It feels like it just started!” And off she ran into the school after emotionally punching me in the gut. Good one, Annabel! Now I have to go to the gym and try not to tear up on the treadmill while your childhood is melting away!

I don’t want to be that dramatic, but the other day I was rocking out to my “I love the ’80s” CD in the mini van ( I still can’t do those mp3/iPhone hook-ups. Old School 4Ever.) and the song “If You Leave” comes on. You know, from The Breakfast Club?

“We’ve always had time on our side
But now it’s fading fast
Every second
Every moment
We’ve got to, we’ve gotta make it last.”

And I start crying. Semi bawling. I have to walk into Walgreens to get my kid a Flonase spray and I pretend it’s for me because my eyes are red and puffy and snot is coming from my nose. Why am I losing it lately?

I’m blaming my friends. My one friend has a daughter graduating from high school and my other friend had a baby girl two months ago. I am in an emotional overload sandwich over here. I’m constantly thinking about my babies leaving me for college or thinking about how they are not babies anymore and where are my babies and why are they leaving me?

I sometimes wish for the days when I had my babies at home with me. The long days when there was no school yet and it was just the three of us filling the day with puzzles and juice boxes and walks to the park. Can I tell you new moms out there a secret? You won’t remember the bad stuff. Those really crappy LONG DAYS that never end? You won’t remember them. The sleepless nights, the tantrums, the poop, the food messes. Nah, you won’t remember that stuff. I don’t even know if I could change a diaper anymore. But you will remember the good stuff. The chubby legs and the night snuggles. The Santa visits and all the family vacations.

Now I try to enjoy every little moment. I put down the camera and just watch. I jump in the pool instead of staying on the side. I play checkers on the floor instead of doing more laundry. I pay attention when they tell me all about the fourth book of Harry Potter. I run upstairs and kiss them goodnight, every night. Because the LONG DAYS?

I wish for them more than ever.


Annabel’s American Girl Birthday Sleepover

Annabel had her very first sleepover party last weekend and we all survived to tell about it! But seriously, all the girls were super adorable and well-mannered and you know I LOVE a good THEME PARTY! (See here, here, here, and here!)

Our sleepover theme was American Girl. All our guests were told to bring their sleeping bag, PJs, and favorite doll. Annabel helped me come up with all the fun activities, games, and decoration plans. We went with pink and hot pink streamers, balloons, paper products, and American Girl doll accessories. I had matching party hats and tiaras for the girls and their dolls. Each guest received a sleeping bag and eye mask for their doll and a personalized eye mask for themselves. Annabel also sewed each girl a pillow for their doll. (She learned to sew last summer during camp.) We organized our playroom as the sleeping area for the night and Annabel also made each girl a cute bed sign to welcome them to the party!

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We had five main American Girl themed activities for the party: A “Lea” Scavenger Hunt, a “Saige” Painting Craft, “Grace” Cupcake Decorating, a “Julie” Basketball Toss, and an “Isabelle” Dance Party! The girls loved it and it kept them busy between dinner and movie time.

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I also planned a couple cute filler games. One was a “Love it” or “Don’t Love it” quiz where they each had a sign with a pink heart on one side or a heart with a big “X” drawn through it on the other side. Then they flipped their sign to answer questions like “Do you like roller coasters?” “Do you like cats?” or “Do you like scary movies?” We had each girl ask a question too which made the game turn super silly. They loved it!

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We picked An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success as our movie of the night. It was adorable and I knew there would be zero issues with language or content which is something to always consider. We had popcorn, pretzels, and fruit trays as snacks. One of Annabel’s girlfriends gave her an adorable nightgown which all the girls could autograph as a first sleepover memory. Love! Once the movie was over, it was time for some sleepover-themed Mad Libs and then lights out!

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The girls slept for about 6 hours which was a great success in my book. Yay! In the morning we had a pancake breakfast, present opening, bead necklace and scrapbooking crafts, but mostly they just wanted to play and girl talk. Oh, and try out big brother’s four-wheeler in the backyard.

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The girls went home with a pink tote bag for their goodies and we attached a special star necklace and poem for each friend. Thank you Pinafores & Pinwheels for the awesome idea. Find it HERE.

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The sleepover was so much fun. Annabel gave it a “100” on a scale of 1-10. She was so sad when it was over. As a gift, I gave Annabel a mini photo album that would hold all the instant photos we took throughout the night. The only challenge was I had to remember to snap those photos with my Fujifilm INSTAX camera while also taking separate iPhone photos. But it worked out great and now she has a sweet photo album from her very first sleepover party. It was such a special celebration of my girl’s 8th birthday and I’ll never forget it. I hope she won’t either.

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And at least I have a year until I plan the next one, right?  :)

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American Girl Sleeping Bags: Etsy shop, JMaga Clothing

American Girl Eye Masks: Etsy shop, Little Buttercup Dolly

Girls Personalized Eye Masks: Etsy shop, The Sleepy Cottage

Initial Paint Craft Items, Paper Products, Doll Crowns: Target

Pink Jelly Goody Bags: Oriental Trading

Instant Camera and Mini Photo Album: Amazon

Annabel’s Party Outfit: J. Crew

My Kids’ First Concert: Taylor Swift (Of Course)

It’s no secret I’m a HUGE fan of T-Swift. Love her! She’s my spirit animal. I know I’m a forty-something mother of two but she inspires me. Her style, her love of home decorating, her kindness, her loyalty, her business-saavy, I could go on and on. She’s a great role model in a world of questionable teenage role models, so I was thrilled when it worked out that Taylor’s “1989” world tour would be my kids’ very first concert experience.

We had to fly from Jacksonville to Atlanta to make it work. She wasn’t coming here and her Tampa show was on Halloween night. Personally I would have loved to see Tay on Halloween, but my two kiddos were not going to give up their trick-or-treating for anyone. Not even Taylor.

To prepare, Annabel and I bought T-shirts from the Taylor Swift website. She got the adorable “I heart Taylor” shirt and mine was the “1989” muscle tee.  We packed our bags and off we went to the ATL. I love to travel with my family and discover new cities. We had already been to Atlanta once before for Annabel’s 6th birthday and her first visit to the American Girl store. This time we stayed downtown and had the chance to check out the World of Coca-Cola and the College Football Hall of Fame. Both were a blast and I’ll post more about that later.

But on to the big event! The Atlanta “1989” Tour Stop was at the giant Georgia Dome. My son was thrilled to be hanging where the Atlanta Falcons football team plays. Annabel and I were ready to party!

We had the chance to meet up with some school friends who also made the trip from Jacksonville. Then it was off to the merch booth. We bought some T-shirts, glow sticks, and a pair of cute “1989” pink sunglasses. At our seats we also had a light-up bracelet. Everyone received one. We couldn’t wait to see them light up during the concert.

And that was definitely a highlight. Every song had a different color light show from our bracelets. They played along to the beat. The bracelet will also be a fun item for Annabel’s memory box. My son Daniel had a great time, but Annabel was the one who was up and singing along to every song with me. Taylor sang all the hits from her “1989” album plus some cool remixes for older songs. She looked amazing in all her sparkling dresses and jumpsuits. The cool part was this giant stage “arm” that was able to swing her all around the stadium. We could get a good look at her. The giant video screens helped too. It was most definitely the best Taylor concert I’ve ever seen.

The concert was over around 10:40 PM and we all left with huge smiles and ringing ears. Both kiddos said it was awesome. I totally agree.

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A Day at the Museum: MOCA Jacksonville

On Saturday we spent the morning at Jacksonville’s Museum of Contemporary Art or MOCA. I’m trying to fit in fun moments with my family every chance I get as our summer slowly winds to a halt. We were blessed to have the place practically to ourselves. The kids loved the hands-on area and we all picked out our favorite art pieces. There is something magical about an almost empty museum on an early summer morning. We highly recommend it.

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