What this Llama Taught Me About Blogging

He didn't say much on our trip to Tweetsie Railroad in May, but he certainly showed his personality. He followed us on the trail, and at times, I thought he was going to spit at me.

As a travel blogger, I take a lot of photos, and this charismatic llama never even made it in my travel piece on the Boone area.  But, I kept his photo because I thought he was funny.  He just sat there on my phone waiting to be in the limelight.  Today is his day to shine , and he's making his debut for my friend Ann's "Gold Medal Blogging Tips" link-up.

When I started blogging last year, I would never have put a photo of a llama on my blog because I thought it was funny.  I felt that all my posts on the blog needed to reflect my professional style, and provide my readers with a well-written story.   I showed some personality through my writing style, but what was missing from my blog was the fun-loving side of my personality.  The person who my family and friends see daily.

I am certainly not a Martha Stewart. I turn my laundry pink. I burn my food, and my house is a mess.  I have not one crafty bone in my body. I fail miserably at decor. I'm not even a good photographer.  Some may say that I shouldn't be blogging at all.

The only thing I really have to offer my readers are my adventures, or better yet, my personality. As a former journalist, I love to tell you a good story, and put you in my suitcase for my "Pack Your Bags" features, but I certainly don't travel all the time.  We have a lot of downtime in this house, and a lot of troublesome trips to the grocery store.

My readers are seeing a little more of my personality through Instagram and Facebook where I share snippets of our daily lives.  My goal is to bring more personality to this blog space, too.   It's not always easy to do because you've got to find the perfect balance.

One thing I've learned about blogging is that it centers around connectivity to others, and without being yourself or showing some personality, it's hard to connect to others, and grow.  Readers need to connect with you.

I am so thankful for those who do come to this little space in the web, and engage with me.  I've gotten to know you through your comments.  For that, I thank you and it is truly the core of what keeps me blogging regularly.

I also thank you for finally letting me feel comfortable enough in this space to show a random photo of a llama today for no reason at all except that I think he is funny.

If you're new to this blog today, I hope you come back.

Join me on Facebook for more discussion, Instagram for photos, and Twitter for short chats. You can also have my posts delivered to your email.


Leigh’s Frivolous Friday: How Digital Have You Gone with Décor?

My husband and I take turns reading nightly to my son.  This sounds pretty harsh, but we take turns because when we do then we don’t feel as if we get the “short straw” every night. Truthfully, as cute as he may look in photos, he’s really a pain in the rump to put to bed.  He draws out bedtime, continually finding another excuse to pop out of bed before his kiss goodnight.

One night as I was standing by his bed waiting, and feeling exasperated, as he did some of his nighttime rituals, I took a long hard look at his dresser and saw this.

My son's room

Uh-Oh! He’s almost seven, and the two photos he has framed in his room are from his baby nursery.

This frame was used in his nursery

I should be embarrassed.  He certainly doesn’t look like that anymore, although he still wears shades.

I need to get busy and start thinking about updating his frames.

I have thought about doing some type of wall collage with photos.  It’s easy to find inspiration on Pinterest.

Of course, we now live in a digital age. 

I honestly cannot remember the last time that I got photos printed.  They sit on my computer.  And then when I do order them, they sit there in a package, and I usually forget where I placed them.

I guess that pretty much sums up why I write about travel rather than home décor.

Perhaps I could get a digital frame for the dresser to showcase different photos through time.

I don’t own one, but I can see that they would be useful in this digital world.

So, I pose this question to you as I ponder what to do in my son’s room.  Have you gone digital with any of your frames yet? Or are you sticking with picture-frame tradition?

Join me on Facebook for more discussion, Instagram for photos, and Twitter for short chats. 

My thanks to Tesco for sponsoring this conversation. 

Let's Eat Some Homemade Ice Cream

One of the fondest memories of my Grandma Powell in Durham, North Carolina, is that she used to make homemade ice cream.  The flavors vary, but my personal favorites were banana and peach.

I found her recipe this week stuffed in an old cookbook. By golly, I'm going to give this recipe a try because the timing is perfect. After all, it is National Ice Cream Month.  The kids will love it.

Ice cream photo courtesy of Southern Living

Grandma Powell's Homemade Ice Cream

3 or 4 eggs, beaten
1 can Eagle Brand Milk
1 gallon of sweet milk
Vanilla (she doesn't say the exact amount, so maybe just a tablespoon.)
She writes:  add 1/2 cup of sugar. It's not as sweet after frozen.
Use peaches or bananas (fresh fruit)

She says to mash the fruit and adds a cup of sugar to the fruit mixture.
Mix the fruit with milk/egg mixture, and pour into container.  Freeze.  Unfortunately, she doesn't tell me how long to freeze it, but I would give it several hours. 

I hope you like my Grandma's recipe as much as I did as a child.  This recipe was written during the seventies.

What's Your Favorite Ice Cream Flavor? 

Where are Your Sunglasses? Why You and Your Kids Should Not Leave Home Without Them

You may have noticed while reading my blog that this blue-eyed family never leaves home without sun shades. 

We’ve been late leaving for school many times because my son’s sunglasses weren’t where they should have been, which is in a designated area in the kitchen so we can grab and go for a speedy exit each morning. He’s known in school as the kid who wears sunglasses, and, of course, because he’s never without his shades, I dubbed him Mr. Cool on the blog.  His sister is following in his footsteps. 

Sunglasses are just part of our life. To us, wearing them is like brushing our teeth.

Somehow, I got lucky, and my kids eventually got in the habit of wearing sunglasses.  It’s not a struggle for us.  Truthfully, we can’t go anywhere without them.  And that’s good, according to The Vision Council, because children receive three times the annual sun exposure of adults, and research has shown that their young eyes are especially susceptible to UV-radiation-related harm.  Sunglasses are a must for young eyes, but it’s not always easy to get children to wear the glasses.

I started my kids at an early age with sunglasses, but it didn’t click with my first child until he was about 2.  He used to scream in the car because the sun was in his eyes.  Those were some rough years, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.   By the time Baby Diva was born, she wanted to copy her big brother, and she began wearing sunglasses at a much earlier age.

In a special webinar meeting last week with The Vision Council, I learned that decades of sun exposure make older eyes much more prone to visual problems and disease from the cumulative damage of UV radiation.  Studies are also suggesting that blue eyes are at more risk for UV damage than brown eyes. 

It was an eye-opening chat because even though I knew sunglasses were important, I don’t think I knew how important they were, especially for children. 

Both my husband and I have no memory of wearing sunglasses as children.  And if my child had not cried when he was in the sun, I’m not sure I would have really thought about him wearing sunglasses at such a young age.

I’m not alone.  In a recent poll, 73 percent of parents said they wore sunglasses to protect their eyes from Ultraviolet radiation, but only 58 percent said that their children wore sunglasses, too. And sunglasses aren’t needed just for sunny days.  UV-radiation is harmful on cloudy days, too.

My son has a high-quality pair of sunglasses that I purchased at a sunglass shop. My daughter, on the other hand, wears a lot of character-type glasses that I bought at a drug store.  I think at last count we had six pairs.  Sunglasses like those are OK, but you need to make sure that the glasses have a sticker on them that says they are rated for UV protection. The label "UV 380" covers all UVA and UVB rays. 

The Vision Council suggests that you not buy sunglasses from a street vendor because even though the glasses may have those important labels, they are probably fake and will not give you the protection you need.

When buying sunglasses, make sure they are comfortable because if they are not then they probably won’t be worn.  Getting kids to keep sunglasses on may be a challenge, but if you wear them then they may just follow along, especially the little ones. 

The Vision Council’s website has lots of tips to help your kids get in the habit and even to help you keep up with them, too.

We like to keep them in the same place at all times, but sometimes we ask, “Where are my sunglasses?”  It is true that half of Americans will break or lose their sunglasses this year.  Out of 10,000 people polled, 19 percent have no clue where their sunglasses are, and 2 percent said that they spend some time searching for their glasses only to find them on their head. 

That’s me.  It happens a lot when I’m in a rush. I blame it on parenthood.

Where are your sunglasses right now? 


Join me on Facebook for more discussion, Instagram for photos, and Twitter for short chats. 

Disclosure: I was asked to attend a webinar meeting with The Vision Council on behalf of the Motherhood.  I was compensated for my time. 

Juicy Tidbits: The Best in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill

It’s the middle of summer, and, as expected, I’ve not had as much time to write about everything that I want to share.   As a result, I thought I would put together little tidbits of what I want to tell you rather than developing full blog posts.  

I like to live life to the fullest by soaking up what my home city has to offer.  

So let’s talk burgers! 

Chuck's in Raleigh, N.C. #OutaboutNC
Yes,beets are on my burger. 
Raleigh has some good burgers, then it has some gourmet, “knock-your-socks-off” burgers. Will and I got a sitter and headed to Chuck’s, a restaurant owned by Ashley Christensen. She’s kind of famous in this town. She’s been on “Iron Chef America,” and she always gets knockout reviews about her restaurant Poole’s, even from celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow. 

But how do her burgers stack up? 

I am dreaming about the burger I had every night. And the fries? We want to know how she makes them taste so good.  So Chuck’s is a Raleigh must.  Save room for a milkshake, too.

On another Saturday, I wanted to transport myself to another country, so Will and I went to Tasca Brava 607, an authentic Spanish Tapas restaurant in downtown Raleigh. 

We had the best meat-and-cheese platter.

Tasca Brava in Raleigh
This plate had the best Spanish almonds

It was fantastic.  The owner/chef is Spanish, and he imports everything from Spain.  I don’t think there is anything he can’t do.  We actually giggled and said that he was in the back of the restaurant “milking a goat” to make our cheese for the platter.  We get a little crazy when we get away from the kids for a night.

If you go, you’ll understand.  He takes a lot of pride in his food and his Spanish heritage.  He not only prepares the food, but he also takes your order.  And if you want coffee, he has developed his own blend and roasts all the beans.  See what I mean!  I don’t think you would expect anything else, but his sangria is homemade, too. 

We did venture out with the kids one night to Café Caturra in Cameron Village.  This is a wine bar restaurant that is actually a small chain. The thing that stood out for us is that they allow kids to make their own pizzas.  Mr. Cool had a great time making his own dough, picking out toppings, and eating his masterpiece.  The chefs were amazed that he put olives and some peppers on his pizza.  Yea! He’s not my picky kid.  It’s a fun experience for kids. I recommend it.

On Skimbaco, I wrote a travel piece on beautiful Beaufort. I highlighted some of my favorite places there, and we enjoyed our mini-vacation a lot.  Visit NC is hosting a sweepstakes until the end of the month for a free trip to Beaufort, the Coolest Small Town in America.  It includes a lot of perks, and you can get the scoop on Skimbaco.

I’m gloating a little bit about my luxury travel choices.  I take pride in the hotels I feature on the Hines-Sight Blog.  I featured the Mast Farm Inn right here on the blog last month, and, of course, we had a fantastic trip.  Well, this month, the famous Martha Stewart has named the inn the best hotel for Southern fare for 2012 in her magazine.  And on top of that, the Mast Farm Inn just won the contest for having the Best Dish in North Carolina.  Hmmm, I think I know how to pick my inns.  Of course, I do, and I congratulate my May sponsor, The Mast Farm Inn, on these accolades.

As a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, I’m very fond of the Carolina Inn. A few months ago, Chef Jimmy Reale shared his great roasted beet salad with readers here from his spring menu. He’s since left the restaurant for another opportunity, and the Inn is excited to have James Clark as the new Executive Chef.  Raised in Elizabeth City, N.C., Clark returns to his North Carolina roots having previously worked at Five-Star, Five-Diamond, Four-Star and Four-Diamond restaurants in various cities.  Clark specializes in sustainable dining serving locally grown “Farm to Table” seafood, meats and vegetables. His individual style is inspired by local, Southern influences infused with modern techniques.  I look forward to trying his new menu.

And last, but certainly not least.  In fact, I may be saving the best for last, but Baby Diva and I had a girl’s morning at Cameron Village.  We shopped at Lilly.  She, of course, announced she wanted a big pink Lilly big-girl bed as soon as she saw it.  Who wouldn’t?

We only hit that one store and then rewarded ourselves with a cupcake from the new bakery called Sugarland.  Best. Cupcake. Ever.  I love a cupcake.  My middle name could be cupcake.  Well, not really, but I’m a cupcake lover, and I know a good cupcake when I have one. 

#OutaboutNC Cameron Village

The icing to cupcake ratio was delicious.  Not too much: I can’t stand when it has icing four inches high.  This was just right.  The center has a nice cream pocket.  I had toasted coconut.  She had strawberry.

But that’s not all.  They have gelato. Great gelato. I tasted the piña colada.  Oh, I’ll be back.  At night, they even add alcohol for some adult treats. 

I think we had the perfect morning.  I even got a new swimsuit on sale for my trip to The Homestead next month.  I’m also glad to have my car back, too.  That story is on Triangle Mom2Mom. 

By the way, July is National Ice Cream month so I think I'll be going back to Sugarland sooner rather than later. If you love ice cream and have a twitter account,  please join me for a twitter party on Wednesday, July 25 from 2-3 p.m. with the Motherhood and The International Dairy Foods Association (@dairyIDFA). Five prize packs will be given away throughout the hour.  Each prize pack will contain all of the fixings for your own ice cream party – bowls, scoops and coupons for lots of free ice cream.  RSVP here so you can be eligible for the cool prizes.  You can also follow Wednesday's conversation by using the hashtag: #icecreammonth

So, that’s living life to the fullest in Raleigh, and I’ll be collecting some juicy tidbits for you around town, but let’s just say I’ll be parking a little more carefully, talking about ice cream, and even packing my bags for a mini-getaway.  

Talk to you next week!

Chuck's on Urbanspoon

Fears, Tears, and the Peep Show at Scruffy Duck

Maybe some things are better left unsaid.
Nah, let’s write about it, get it all out in the open, and call it cheap therapy.
We’re going through an awkward “I’m scared” phase in our household. My oldest child spent a good two years being scared at night. We’re used to the unpleasant annoyance of things that go bump in the night. As you can imagine, it was pretty much the pits. We shudder when we think of those times, and we hope we never have it as bad again.
But, this new fear phase has us scratching our heads because, well, it’s a first for us.

Baby Diva's scared face that she recreated just for you on cue.
Our 2-year-old is actually scared of things that you see. Rightly so, I do think a creature with eight legs is kind of spooky. But it’s not just insects. It’s modes of transportation, too. Trains. Buses. It’s basically anything that moves other than a bicycle and a car. New things get added daily.
We can now add car washes to that list.
In our 106-degree heat wave a few weeks ago, I thought it would be a great idea to make my car sparkle. You know, just a quick, exterior, no-frills wash. As I get out of my car into the horrid desert heat and open my daughter’s car door, I announce, “Let’s get our car washed!”

Panic sets in. She screams, and I wrestle to get her out of her car seat so the car could go through the washer without us. Dressed in a short sundress on this scorching day, I lean over as much as I could without giving the car wash men, who had gathered around the chaos, too much Southern exposure while bending over, if you know what I mean.
It must have been a sight to see because the next thing I know, the number of men doubled.
It was like she was fighting for her life. I got her out of the car with her hanging upside down while trying to carry my purse, along with two water bottles. I look down, and her shoes are missing. Her flip-flops had fallen off in the struggle.
I stop long enough to look puzzled, and she wiggles down my legs like a snake and dashes straight for the car seat again in her bare feet. In a flash, before I could check to make sure my own skirt was down, she was back in the car and was almost buckled in her seat. 

One man said, "Lady, if it helps, you can stay in the car!"

But that was what I was trying to avoid in the first place. It was never my intention to go through the car wash with us in it because I thought the alien-like sponges would, well, terrify her.
I had a snap decision to make. It was either give these men more Southern exposure or get in the driver’s seat and not look back. I was not about to leave this place without a clean car, especially since I felt that I had already invested my own blood, sweat, and tears in this car wash.
We went through the car wash. Yeah, you guessed it. It was pretty much two minutes of hell.

Is she traumatized? No, she got a brand new toy duck in the lobby and now knows the lobby isn’t the same as “going through” the car wash.
And the men at the car wash? Well, depending on if there was any “Southern exposure” that day, it could turn out to be one of the hottest days of the year.

Who knew getting a car wash could be such an ordeal?

Tell me. Where Should You Travel with Kids Before They Leave the Nest?

As a mom, I'm always thinking of places where I want to travel with the kids. My list is getting long. Very long.  Here are just a few places on my list. 

Washington, D.C.
New York
The Grand Canyon
A Disney Cruise
Walt Disney World

And the list goes on, and on.  I'll be talking about this very topic in a live chat with hosts, theMotherhood and  Jodi Grundig of Mom's Favorite Stuff on Tuesday, July 17 at 1 p.m. ET.  

I would love to hear your lists and ideas,  too.  Leave some of your ideal destinations on my blog, and I will mention them in the live chat.  Please join us live for the chat, if you are available.

Here's the Scoop on the Live Chat: 
What: A live, all-text Talk on The Motherhood, called The Crowd-Sourced List of Where to Take Your Kids Before They Leave Home.  We want to hear your great ideas for this list of travel destinations.  Tell us your favorite places to travel with your kids and we'll be sure to include them in our final crowd-sourced list!  In addition to where you’ve been and why you loved it, we’ll also chat about where you’d like to travel in the future, tips for traveling with kids and more.
When: Tuesday, July 17, at 1 p.m. ET.  We will chat for 30 minutes!
Where: On The Motherhood, - http://bit.ly/Mds4f0
Who: The all-text chat will be hosted by Jodi Grundig of Mom’s Favorite Stuff, http://www.momsfavoritestuff.com/.  


Corinne, Have Baby Will Travel http://havebabywilltravel.com/
Deb, Just a Mom’s Take on Things http://www.momstakeonthings.com/ 
Leigh, Hines-Sight Blog http://www.hinessightblog.com/
Maria, Very Busy Mama http://www.verybusymamablog.com/
Mel, MamaBuzz http://www.mamabzz.com/
Sherry, Baby Pop ( http://www.babypop.com/blog ) and Super Exhausted ( http://www.superexhausted.com/ )

I cannot wait to hear the places on your list.  

Talk to you next week! 

Say What? Penguins in NC? You Bet!

Yes, penguins are in North Carolina.  They will be waddling in the Penguin Plunge exhibit at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores through September 30.  They are even cuter in person.

 If you are visiting the Pine Knoll Shores/Crystal Coast area, definitely stop by to say hello to these little guys.

Related Travel Posts from this Summer Trip:
Strolling Around New Bern, North Carolina, the Birthplace of Pepsi
Can the Ocean Be a Muse?
Little Feet and Topsail Beach

Linked with:

and http://www.5minutesformom.com/

Strolling around Historic New Bern, North Carolina, the Birthplace of Pepsi

Sometimes we get so busy wanting to get “to and from” our destinations that we don’t take a few minutes to stop and explore new things along the way.  As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I think travel is like an open classroom, and it’s important to seek and discover. 

Historic New Bern, North Carolina
On the way to visit my father-in-law in Beaufort, North Carolina, I made the family stop in historic New Bern. This charming town, which is the second oldest town in North Carolina, was founded where the Trent and Neuse Rivers join together.  We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but just enough to know that I would like to go back.

And if you have ever tasted a Pepsi, you may enjoy learning that the drink was created right here in New Bern. Originally known as “Brad’s Drink,” which Caleb Bradham created in a pharmacy on Middle Street, it was marketed as Pepsi-Cola after 1898.

The birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, Bradham's Pharmacy

New Bern, established by German and Swiss colonists in 1710, is named after Bern, Switzerland.  Today, the historic area reminds me of a European village filled with restaurants, shops, and beautiful churches.

We enjoyed strolling around the area of the grand Tryon Palace, the official residence of the Royal Governor William Tryon in 1770.  We didn’t go inside the palace on this visit but walked around the property and ventured into nearby gardens.

Tryon Palace
I loved the look of the Stanly House and Gardens.  President George Washington spent two nights in the home in 1791 on his Southern tour. 

Stanly Home. The home was actually empty when President  Washington visited. Residents put
their own furnishings in the home so he could stay there. 

In 1794, North Carolina’s state capital was moved to Raleigh, where I currently live, and space was rented in the palace for various purposes.  Unfortunately, the original palace burned in a fire in 1798 and was not restored until 1959. Today, Tryon Palace is an anchor for cultural arts and history in the community.

We didn’t have time to explore the new N.C. History Center, which is adjacent to the palace. It sounds great with a lot of interactive exhibits. The Pepsi Family Center will immerse your entire family in an amazing venture back in time to an 1835 virtual village.

I think New Bern is a destination that invites you to grab a Pepsi and explore.  I’m putting this destination back on my list for another time when we visit this guy. 

We celebrated Tractor's 71st birthday while in Beaufort. 

For more information on New Bern, visit  http://www.visitnewbern.com/

Leigh's Frivolous Friday: Can the Ocean be a Muse?

As I sat, sipping my English breakfast tea, staring at North Carolina’s beautiful Atlantic Ocean last month, I couldn’t help but wonder if the ocean could be my muse as some writing deadlines approached.  But, when I sat down to write, my mind was clear.  I couldn't write a thing.  And, over two weeks later, I still feel the same way as I try to give you an inside look at our family vacation. 

I certainly don’t want to bore you with our glorious family vacation days at Topsail Beach, where the kids played hard on the beach, I read an entire novel and enjoyed some beach happy hours, and bedtimes were probably way too late.  Besides, every kid photo on the beach starts to look the same after awhile, and you've already seen some of the best photos of Topsail Beach as soon as we got back in another post

As with any family vacation, there were some not so glamorous times, too.  Such as when my 6-year-old woke every morning before everyone else and slammed his bedroom door.  He would wake his aunt, uncle, and cousins, especially the cousin sharing a room with him. But no one really cared because a fabulous outdoor playground with waves and a sandbox were a mere few steps outside our door.  We also missed a few spots for sunscreen.  But that’s nothing new there. 

The dynamics did change in this house on the ocean this year. For the first time, it was a house filled with elementary and middle-school-aged children, except for our one little one.  She kept up with the older cousins and brother like a pro, though.  She was entertained; therefore, our week at the beach truly felt like a vacation for my husband and me. 
We also had a great family dinner at the Breezeway Restaurant, home of the best hushpuppies I've tasted in a long time.  It was a momentous family occasion.  All NINE of us went out to eat in a restaurant.  

I threw bedtime rules out the window, too.   Baby Diva was  playing miniature golf and eating ice cream with the big kids at 10 pm on a Friday night.  She loved it. 
I slipped out solo to my favorite little bookstore, and coffee shop one morning.  It's now a wine bar at night, but we didn't make it back for that this year. 
So, back to my question.  Can the ocean be a muse? 
The truth is that I didn’t feel like writing one sentence while at the beach.  Instead, I heard the beach calling my name.  It was time to shut the laptop and connect with nature’s beauty, instead of the Internet.  I must have used some good sunscreen though because I'm just as white now as I was when I arrived on the coast, but that's OK.
So for my week at the beach, I don’t think the ocean was my muse for well-written prose, but it certainly helped me find my inner Zen.
The week went by much too quickly.  After we packed up our things, we had our usual yearly breakfast at the Beach Shop and Grill where I dined on the best cheese and leek quiche I've ever tasted.

We stocked up on new Topsail Beach T-shirts, and started our journey home. 
It was a great vacation. As soon as we entered our driveway in Raleigh, we knew the fun had ended.
You won't believe it when I tell you that a deer died on our sidewalk while we were away.  Not sure how, but it did.  It was a stenchy mess.  
That was some welcome home, and it certainly made us miss the beautiful times we had on the Atlantic Ocean. 

How does the ocean impact you?  Are you spending any time at the ocean this year? 

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