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


It’s been a big year for my girl. She got glasses and lost teeth. She joined Brownies and church choir. She saw her first concert and her first orthodontist. She learned to make sandwiches, sew, and multiply. She still loves fashion, art, and music and spends hours in our art room making new creations and coloring masterpieces. She adores her stuffed animals and American Girl dolls. Her “Pinky” puppy is her number one companion – my daily reminder that she’s still my “baby” girl and for that I’m so grateful.

She’s loyal and funny and loving. She loves BIG, this girl. She’s always giving the best hugs and kisses. She tells me she loves me every single day. She sends sweet notes to her friends. She’s kind and oh so smart. I love you to the moon and back a bazillion times, Annabel Marie. Happy Birthday. Eight sure is GREAT.

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Love always wins.

It’s been three years since the Newtown tragedy and I still think about it every December. It feels like something from a movie, like something that would never happen in real life. But it did happen. And it’s still happening.

When my husband told me about the horrifying events unfolding in California last week, that there was another mass shooting, ANOTHER mass shooting, I said nothing. I felt nothing. For a moment, I felt nothing.

It took me about an hour to walk to my computer and finally see all of my social media feeds talking about San Bernardino. There were people killed. People who woke up that morning and were just going to work. They were going to their office just like they did the day before. But now they were gone.

I’m numb to it, really. After Newtown. After the Washington Navy Yard, where my brother-in-law works. After the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. After Umpqua Community College in Oregon. After Charleston, the city where I was married. And after Alison and Adam were gunned down during a live broadcast in Virginia. After San Bernardino.

I get scared. My husband works in the media. I’m typing this while my children are in school where I pray they are safe. It’s too much to process and worry about and the fear can sometimes paralyze me.

And then there’s the constant talk about blame. Who, or what, do we blame for the US being the leading country in mass shootings? Do we blame the President? The guns? The NRA? The liberals? The conservatives? The media? Our mental health system? Isis?

I want the killings to stop. Enough is enough. But I feel like we go around in circles on blame and nothing changes. Then I wonder: what can I do? How can I help when I always feel helpless?

Then I remembered this picture of my child from church last week. He brought up the gifts during school mass. I was so happy and content. I was at church. I was with God. I was with my children. I was with amazing teachers and friends. And that’s the answer.

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Over ten years ago I was watching Oprah interview one of the widows from 9/11. I was crying while she talked in detail about her husband’s final moments but then she said something I’ll never forget. She said that she was happy because they lived a great life with no regrets. She said they went on every trip and every adventure. They traveled and did everything they wanted to do. They never took one day for granted. They lived life to the fullest and that brought her enormous peace.

My two kids will read this blog one day and here’s what I want them to learn from all of this. This is what I know for sure:

People are good. Life is good. God is good. We can’t live in fear of what will happen. We have to focus on the every day amazing moments and the small miracles of life. So we go on that last minute trip to Disney World. We take a plane to see Taylor in concert and our family every Easter. We buy gifts for the families on the Angel Tree. We start a charity and get fueled by all the children who are brave and inspiring. We get the expensive hot stone pedicure. We play football in the living room. We dance in the kitchen. We stay up past bedtime to watch the end of the movie. We tip more than 20%. We hug friends goodbye. We say thank you to every person in uniform. We get the 350 calorie Starbucks peppermint mocha with extra whip. We live each day with gratitude and kindness and more gratitude. We go to church every week and we pray.

And we love each other with all our hearts. Because love always wins. Love always wins. <3


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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Daniel’s 9th Birthday Dune Buggy Driving Party!

So I learned that my brand new 9-year-old is an excellent driver. Daniel drove a dune buggy and I got to ride shotgun at his 9th birthday party at Jacksonville’s Baja Buggyz Adventure Park. Okay, maybe I screamed a little from his lead foot and all the muddy puddle jumping, but it was so much fun. My kid was in his element and it was the perfect party location for his driving passion. Baja Buggyz is known as “the place kids drive.” The kids take the wheel and get to drive their own dune buggy around a giant dirt track. There is no experience necessary and the buggy speed is adjustable. There were five buggies at our party and the boys went around in pairs for 10 minutes before switching places. Moms and dads even had a turn to drive! (I think I was the muddiest one of all so I should win a day at the spa.) Baja Buggyz has covered pavilions with picnic tables and a grassy space so we brought corn hole, ring toss, footballs, and  frisbees to keep the boys entertained while they waited for their turn to drive. Lunch was pizza, fruit, veggies, chips and Daniel’s giant chocolate chip cookie birthday cake. We gave out goody bags that had a pair of funky driving shades and colorful wristbands (for the boys to wear at the party) as well as a smoothie gift card, a matchbox car, football cards, and organic gummy rings/tires. We sent the boys home dirty, tired, and happy, so I’d say it was a success! Daniel’s sister Annabel was the only girl there and she held her own and had a blast! Special props to the hubby for the awesome video!

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First Day of School ’15

This summer went so fast. When I walked the kids into school today it was like we had never left. The hallways, the smiling teachers, the wall signs, the stairwells, all too familiar. (Well, except for the parking lot construction. We are getting a brand new building on campus and it’s really exciting.) It gives me peace to know my kids are back in a school they truly love, but I always get that tinge of sadness knowing the lazy days of summer are over and my two buddies will leave me for most of the day now. I don’t even want to talk about the fact that I have a second and third grader. Sigh.

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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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Things to do in Tampa Bay with Kids

I love to explore new places with my family and we have the advantage of living in Florida where weekend adventures are easy and fun. We were excited to finally check out Tampa Bay in March and we had the best time. My daughter even declared that she now wants to live in Tampa when she grows up! (I’m cool with that because it’s only four hours away from Jacksonville. You go, girl!)

We woke up early and drove to Tampa to start our weekend at MOSI, a hands-on family science museum. It happened to be Albert Einstein’s birthday and MOSI was having a special celebration of “Pi” which included a “Pi(e)” eating contest and a “Recite Pi” contest. Annabel rocked that whipped cream and Daniel won second place for reciting 17 numbers past 3.14 and was crowned “Prince of Pi!”

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We spent two hours exploring the museum’s exhibits. We walked on the moon, felt a tornado’s wind speed, and discovered the power of magnets. There’s a giant free play area and an on-site cafe so you can take that much needed food break.

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We left around 3pm to check into our hotel, the Embassy Suites Convention Center in downtown Tampa. I love the Embassy Suites because the rooms are always large enough for a family of four and there is a complimentary breakfast buffet each morning. And this Tampa location was right next to a street car stop so, after we unpacked and took a break, we left to discover the historic neighborhood Ybor City.

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Ybor City is filled with funky and eclectic buildings and some really beautiful Spanish architecture. It has a cool, old-school vibe. We had dinner at the charming italian restaurant Carmine’s and stuffed ourselves with pasta while we watched the start of YBor City’s annual St. Parick’s Day parade. The kids loved the table by the window: People watching to an extreme.

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We then walked one block to La Creperia Cafe to experience their famous sweet crepes. We shared a Nutella, banana and fresh strawberry crepe and the apple pie a la mode special. They tasted even better than they looked!

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We began our next day at Pinky’s Diner. Annabel has a stuffed dog named “Pinky” and she was obsessed with finally going to Pinky’s namesake diner. One of the coolest parts about having breakfast at Pinky’s is you get to pick out your own unique mug for coffee. Or orange juice.

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After we fueled up with eggs and pancakes and bacon (Oh, my!), we were ready to spend a fun day at Busch Gardens! It was a quick 20-minute drive from downtown Tampa and we were blessed with gorgeous weather. I booked the Serengeti Safari experience ahead of time so we checked in and were ready to see some animals up close and personal.

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This was definitely one of my favorite animal encounters ever. It was the highlight of my whole Tampa trip and it rivals Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safari Tour in Disney World. We had a small group in a jeep and the tour guide was very knowledgable about all the animals and their habitats. My favorite moment was feeding the giraffes. It almost took my breath away to be that close to my favorite animal. Hi there, gorgeous!

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The safari tour is definitely worth the extra money so be sure to book it ahead of time. We loved all the rides and the Iceploration show too. Daniel and Annabel give two thumbs up to the Cheetah Hunt coaster and my favorite ride was the Congo River Rapids. I also appreciated the healthy lunch choices at the food courts and the park is easy to navigate. There is so much to do and Busch Gardens Tampa is really the perfect combination of rides, entertainment, and animal encounters. We had a blast and can’t wait to go back.

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When everyone was officially exhausted, we drove back to the hotel for a quick break before heading out to dinner. We picked Jackson’s Bistro because it was a short walk from our hotel and had waterfront dining. The menu has everything under the sun and Hubby and I enjoyed some sushi while the kids had burgers and pasta. But the best part was my glass of wine while enjoying the Harbor view. We then discovered an adorable gelato stand right next door and walked back to our hotel with our sweet treats. It was the perfect ending to a fun family weekend. We can’t wait to come back and see you again soon, Tampa Bay! Thanks for the memories!



Also check out:

Things to do in Washington, DC with Kids

Things to do in Charleston with Kids


Kaye’s Kids

My hubby turned the big “4-0” this past October and I wanted to mark the milestone in a big way. He’s a morning radio host here in Jax and I thought it was about time we gave back to our community. Jacksonville is our adopted home. We’ve been here for 8 years (which is still hard to believe!) and we finally feel completely settled. He loves his job. We love our neighborhood and school. We live 15 minutes from the beach and 2 hours from Disney World. What more could we want?

We know we are very lucky and have a super blessed life. So for my husband’s 40th, we decided to create a family charity called Kaye’s Kids. Kaye’s Kids gifts Apple computer computer products (iPads, iPhones, iPods) to children with life-threatening illnesses.



Many of these children are going through tough treatments and long hospital stays. Some are home and want to stay connected with friends and family. So instead of birthday presents, my husband asked our family and friends for a donation to Kaye’s Kids. Because of all their generous love and support, we launched our first program, ‘The 12 iPads of Christmas,” in December. We gave 12 brave children an iPad mini. It was amazing to meet all the kids and their families. Here are some of the smiles from that amazing day.





That’s my husband Mark in the Santa hat and his gorgeous co-host, Meghan. All the kids had a blast playing with their new iPads, enjoying sweet treats, and touring the radio station.

If you’re interested in starting a charity in your city, I recommend you find an established charity and partner with them first as one of their special programs. Our awesome partner is Dreams Come True of Jacksonville. They help us manage all the Kaye’s Kids funds and select the children to receive the Apple products. They assist us in promoting our fundraising efforts and they give us lots of moral support. Please help us spread the word about Kaye’s Kids by liking our official Facebook page or visiting Thank you so much.

Mama/Daughter Girl’s Night!

I started a really cool tradition with Annabel that began because our two “boys” went to a Monster Jam Truck show. (Annabel went once and decided to hang up her pink ear plugs and stay home with me.) We took advantage of the boy-free zone to create a special “Girl’s Night” that we have continued to do at least twice a year. Want to do one too? First, you’ll need decorations:

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I go “old school”and pick up a bag of balloons and paper streamers from the party store. We listen to music and dance around while we decorate the entire master bedroom as our “Girl’s Night” headquarters. I also had Annabel create construction paper collages using pictures she found in magazines. It was a craft project from earlier in the week. I taped the pictures around our party space and she was so proud of herself for the artsy addition.

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Next, you’ll need an activity. This night we picked mani/pedis!

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Then, it’s movie time on the big bed. We recommend any of the “American Girl” flicks because they are smart, fun, and our “boys” don’t care that they miss it. Win-win!

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(We also worked on our duckface selfies with colored hair clips. Hee.)

Do you plan special “Girl’s Nights” with your daughter? My next mission is a special “Mama/Son” night with my Daniel. Comment below with fun ideas for both!