Life Update

Happy Wednesday, loves!

I’ve been a little (okay, a lot) MIA lately. Our life has been CRAZY since Valentine’s weekend, and we’ve just been focused on our little family and what has turned into appointment after appointment after appointment after appointment.

You know that saying, “When it rains, it pours?”

(I wish it would literally pour because the only rain we’ve been getting is drizzly and it’s doing nothing to clean the 89 layers of pollen off our deck.)

It’s been metaphorically pouring around here.

Life has some curveballs, and I’m good with that. I expect most of them, and I know that they’re not uncommon, but sometimes it’s a little overwhelming when everything happens at the same time and you can’t live your actual life doing anything you actually need to do or want to do because of it.

To quickly run it down for you, we haven’t been home in six weeks. I mean, we’ve been home, but only Monday through Thursday. Every Friday, Saturday, Sunday has been filled with travel – and one hospital stay.

  • Cheer competition in Tampa
  • Texas for five days
  • Cheer competition in Orlando
  • Hospital for three days
  • Cheer competition in Daytona
  • Cheer competition in Naples

We finally get to stay home for the weekend this weekend, and you’ve never met people more excited than us. It’s been a while since we haven’t had to wake up at the crack of down to put pounds of makeup on our 10-year-old daughter’s face (don’t even get me started on that one…it kills me every single time I have to make her up for a competition. Makeup on children should be illegal).

As if we were not tired enough from the first three weeks of travel, early flights, and lots of long rides in the car, our son suffered a grand mal seizure almost three weeks ago. We were having dinner at our best friend’s house. We’d been at our nephew’s birthday party all day, and we went over there to grill filets and have surf and turf while the kids enjoyed their first pool day of the season.

It was a gorgeous day, and I was having the most fantastic glass of sauvignon blanc on the pool deck with my husband, our best friends, and our best friend’s brother (and our awesome friend) BJ when the kids decided to leave the pool and go out onto the driveway and ride power wheels.

That’s when our 10-year-old daughter began screaming that our 4-year-old son was lying on the ground throwing up, foaming, and shaking “ready bad” and we all ran. Time stopped.

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I don’t remember much other than seeing our sweet boy on the ground, a massive bloody mess on his head, foam coming out of his mouth, vomit running down his cheek, his left side totally still as his right side seized uncontrollably.

I don’t remember anything other than Geremy grabbing Carter and running to his truck while I yelled for BJ to call 9-1-1 as he had his phone in his hand. Craig began running to the truck with Geremy and Carter, and I remember running to it as it was backing down the driveway to head to the gate. I do remember the truck was moving when I opened the back door and jumped in. I think that I thought we were going to the hospital, but Geremy was amazing enough to realize that he had to run down to the end of their property (and it’s big) and open the gate for the ambulance, and the fire station is only a mile or so away.

He took us there. Laid on the horn while we beat on the doors screaming for help. They opened the doors, grabbed our son, and then I remember being in the back of the ambulance with three EMT/Firefighters, my husband, and our baby boy.

Corinna had our three girls, her own three kids, and our niece, who was having a sleepover with us. I don’t remember much else. I know I called Bridget, my niece’s mother, to let her know since we had her daughter. I think she called our moms? I don’t remember.

I just remember the tests.

I remember the moment our son stopped seizing in the truck while my husband held him and screamed for him to wake up and breathe. I remember Geremy yelling that he was breathing just before we got to the fire station. I remember his lifeless body and the fact that he spent almost a half hour unresponsive and out of it. I remember so many little things, and so few other things.

I remember my mom coming to the hospital with my handbag that I left at Geremy and Corinna’s. I remember Geremy and BJ coming to get my car keys from Craig and then coming back with my car and a bag of essentials. Carter was only wearing his wet swimsuit when it happened, and we left everything behind. I remember my mom telling me that my mother-in-law was with the girls and she was taking them back to our house to stay with them for the night.

I remember Geremy bringing with him a bag with dry clothes for Carter, water, his favorite snacks, toothbrushes and toothpaste and even a phone charger. Things we would need for an overnight stay that we didn’t have. I cried because we have the best friends you could ever ask for in the entire world. They took care of our girls, got the entire story about how he made a funny noise, began seizing, and then fell off the power wheel John Deere he was on. They talked to the girls. They cared for them. Geremy was back in the hospital by 7 am the following morning just to check on us and to see Carter. Brian and Bridget were there shortly after with coffee and some of Carter’s favorite things. Corinna and the kids were there right after that. Our moms brought the girls after that. My aunt was there with my nephew after that.

Our room was filled for three solid days with visitor after visitor while Carter went through test after test. A CT scan, an EKG, blood tests, urine tests, drug tests, and he did a 24-hour EEG test. Everything came back clear and perfect. Now he goes to Shands for an MRI to look deeper into his brain.

He was a champ.

And thank God for social media alleviating the need to respond to every single text and call that came through by posting updates there. And thank God for everyone who reached out to check on us, to ask us what we needed, to offer their prayers. Finding out our sweet boy was on the prayer chain not only at our church but at the churches of so many of our friends and family at the same time was powerful.

We are blessed.

Right now, he’s fine. He’s himself. We are not okay a lot of the time. Night is hard. The first week was really hard. Our daughters witnessed it and have been very emotional. Our oldest daughter doesn’t like to be away from him. Our middle daughter is acting out at school in a major way, and she’s overwhelmed when she has to say goodbye to her baby brother in the mornings. Sweet Charlotte is Carter’s twin, and she’s been quiet about the entire thing.

She’s been very close to him, and she doesn’t let him out of her sight. None of us are sleeping well. But we get better each day. It’s hard not knowing what caused it. All we know is that it was not a febrile seizure, it was not caused by trauma to the head, and it was not caused by dehydration or blood sugar issues. At this point, it’s simply unprovoked.

Yesterday, driving to school, he fell asleep in his car seat before it was his turn to pick a song. When I asked him what he wanted, he didn’t respond. In the rearview mirror, his head was down on his chest and he wasn’t responding. I panicked and started yelling his name, and that caused the girls to panic. A few days prior, he was outside playing while we were cleaning out the car after a trip, and he walked around the house. I called his name and when he did not immediately answer, the girls began to panic calling his name and screaming for him. Ava cried. He was fine, but it’s hard to realize that your own panic and fear is causing the same kind of panic and fear in your kids.

It’s a process.

And then there is everything else. We still have cheer, so that means we still have to travel every weekend or every other weekend depending on the week.

We now have a million and 12 follow-up appointments with our pediatrician and our pediatric neurologist. We have a pre-op appointment at Shands this week on top of a meeting at our daughter’s school with the counselor to discuss how we can help her cope with this better when she’s away from her brother, a hair appointment, a pediatric appointment, and an appointment with the plumber (more on that in a minute) on top of my husband working away from home yesterday. It’s been a lot of appointments. I can’t remember the last time I had a normal day when we didn’t have an appointment or I didn’t spend the day packing.

Just to make the month more fun, our AC decided to stop blowing cold air when we got home from the hospital – and it was almost 90 degrees every day. It was a slow stop we didn’t notice right away. It definitely felt warm at home when we got home, but our moms had been staying here with our girls, and they always crank it way up and like it so hot in here. Then it was a little cool, and then it was hot the day we left for Daytona – but we had to leave and we had to kick the AC guy out before he was done…which meant it was hot all weekend while we were gone, hot when we came home Sunday evening, and wasn’t fixed until Monday morning. That was a long day.

Fast forward to this weekend when we were in Naples, and we came home to find our toilets won’t flush but stuff keeps coming up the shower drains when we try to flush them or use the plunger. My husband called the plumber – no, septic people, since they are apparently not the same people – and they came out this morning while he was gone and I had to be home to let them do their job – and informed us that it needed to be pumped – fine – and that our drain field is totally shot to hell and back and needs to be replaced ASAP. So now we are getting a new one of those…whatever those are.

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And I haven’t even begun to work on my taxes yet, which means this month will only get that much more expensive when I turn all that in and find out how much we owe this year #selfemployedproblems. Fortunately, we are blessed and able to handle everything going on in our lives right now without worrying about it. It still doesn’t make it fun, but we are going to have what might as well be a brand-new house after all this! I’ll take it.

And that, my friends, is why I’ve been MIA. I’m currently finishing up a collaboration with an amazing company I should have posted the week Carter was in the hospital but did not, and a few other things. It’s been a heck of a time around here, and we’ve been so tired. Hopefully, this weekend at home will let us get some much-needed rest so we can rejuvenate and spend time with our loved ones….and hope our drain field lasts until they get out here to replace it.

On that note, you won’t get much more from me this month. I need a little more time to catch up and try to get back to normal, but I’ll let you know anytime there’s something new on the site.

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Celebrating in Texas: A Weekend Recap

Happy Monday, Loves!

What. A. Weekend.

I cannot even begin to tell you how tired the Raiford family is this morning. We had the most amazing weekend – but it was tiring. We took the kids to Texas to visit my grandmother for her birthday, and it was such a wonderful trip. But, it wasn’t a trip that included a lot of sleep.

Let’s see…I think the most we slept was Thursday night in our hotel room in Amarillo. We went to bed around 10:30 and woke up at 7 am. Other than that, we are talking very little sleep. We had a late flight into Dallas on Wednesday night that put us in our hotel room at 11:30. We all needed showers and baths – I will not let anyone go to bed after being in an airport or on a plane, ever – and it was later than that when we went to bed. We woke up at 5:30 am so we could get on the road to my grandmother’s. It’s an almost 6 hour drive, which is a lot.

But, we were able to spend the entire afternoon and evening with her, then we took the kids to dinner. Then we checked into our hotel and my cousin, Lesly, and her daughter, Tamia, checked in after their flight from California. We got to spend a few hours visiting with them, and that was amazing! Despite living on opposite coasts our entire lives – Lesly in California and me in Florida – we spent a LOT of time together growing up. Our dad’s are brothers, and my grandmother lived near us in Florida until I was 18. So, they visited at least once a year, and we spent so much time together.

We hadn’t seen her in a few years, and it was SO good to spend some time with her this weekend, too! Friday was my grandmother’s birthday, so we went birthday shopping, picked out a cake, bought her favorite beer for her, and we had the best time with her. She is so much fun – and our kids are so fortunate to get to know her like they do.

She spent the weekend sharing her life with us, and it was so much fun. Our kids are so excited to go back to school and share some of the things she told them, and who can blame them? They had no idea that their grandmother had tea with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House many year ago (she was invited because of the work she did for the government following the terrible Pearl Harbor tragedy and all that came from that). They had no idea she’s been to the Super Bowl. They had no idea that following her work for the federal government in her early 20s, she decided to get into a car with three girlfriends and drive for 10 days clear across the country to live in California.

It took them 10 days. They had to get an oil change every 1,000 miles. They went through 8 new tires, and they slept during the day and drove at night when the reached the desert so they would not overheat the car. She then landed in LA, where she spent several more years of her life. She traveled by train to see her family – and my grandfather would visit her at the train station where she had a 2-hour stop in New Mexico – so they could spend time together every few months.

They had no idea that they have a very famous cousin – well, she’s my dad’s cousin. My grandmother’s sister Alice’s daughter. So, my dad’s first cousin, June Lindemann. Grandma showed them the book that June – who was not just my grandmother’s niece but also her godmother – wrote about her life as a beauty pageant queen. She was Miss California when she met and became engaged to the son of a wealthy South American Ambassador. She moved to Chile to live with them when they got married, and then they had a baby. Unfortunately, she had to flee the country on the very last plane that left before the Communist state took over and lives changed. Her husband decided that rather than go against the communists, he’d join them so that they would not target his famous, prominent family. And she took the very last flight authorized to leave Chile to escape with her newborn son.

Her story is in her book – Pageants, Politics, and Promises. And it’s unbelievable. Read it.

My kids had no idea that their great-grandmother had so many stores to tell, and they are in disbelief that their grandmother lived this life.

We had the most fantastic weekend. We met new people. We had a lot of cake. We painted rocks and hid them in my grandmother’s neighborhood for people to find. We had fun. We really, really, really had a great time.

We are tired, but our hearts are full.

Now that we are home and everyone is back to their normal routine, we are still exhausted, and that’s all right. It probably doesn’t help we were gone the entire weekend before and only home for two days before we took off for Texas, but we will get over being so tired.

We will never, ever get over how much fun we have with my grandmother. We will make that long ass trip several times a year to spend time with her. This was our 3rd weekend in Texas in the past six months, and we are so overwhelmingly fortunate and blessed to be able to make the trip so often to spend this time with her. I won’t lie – I strongly dislike where she lives, but she’s happy there and she’s got all the farmland in the world to look at every morning when she drinks her coffee. It might smell like cows and the entire place is orange – orange – and colorless, but I will tell you that those Northern Texas sunsets and sunrises are spectacular. In fact, they are unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some spectacular sunrises and sunsets in California and Hawaii – and even the sun setting between the buildings on Fifth Avenue in New York City. You can’t beat a Texas sunrise/sunset.

And you cannot hate a place where the world’s coolest woman lives.

Trvl Porter is Changing the Travel Game: No More Packing, No More Overweight Luggage Fees

Packing. 

It’s my least favorite thing in the world to do. Ironic, considering how much we travel. This month alone we’ve already been gone two weeks out of three and we still have one more trip to take. We love to travel, whether it’s to Disney for the weekend with the kids or we are hopping on a quick flight somewhere to spend the weekend in one of our favorite cities (hey, NYC) or across the country to spend a long weekend on our favorite coast (Orange County, anyone?).

But I hate packing. It takes me an entire day to pack for a trip, even if it’s just my husband and me going. When we bring all four kids – well, it takes an entire day and evening. I’m precise. I keep our toiletry bag packed all the time, replenished when we get home from any trip with the items I keep in our basket of extras in the bathroom. Extra loofahs, travel shampoo and conditioner, travel body and face wash, deodorant, hairspray, dry shampoo, you name it, I have it in my basket of extras.

But the clothes packing situation is my biggest nightmare.

Thankfully, Trvl Porter just changed the game for me. When Stefanie, the founder of Trvl Porter, reached out to me a few weeks ago to see if I would like to try their brand-new, groundbreaking service, I was all in. My husband had already planned a surprise weekend getaway for my 35th birthday, and I was game.

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{ Dress Halston Heritage via Trvl Porter. Shoes Christian Louboutin}

What is Trvl Porter? 

It’s a game-changer, that’s what. Seriously, imagine packing for any and every trip you take without actually packing anything. You bring your shoes, your undergarments, makeup, and your favorite accessories. That’s all.

You pack nothing else.

Trvl Porter packs the rest for you. No more packing or unpacking. No more overweight baggage fees at the airport (y’all don’t even want to know how much my husband and I pay for that small problem every flight we take). No more taking time out of your already jam-packed schedule to pack for your business trip, vacation, weekend getaway.

How Does it Work?

You create an account online with Trvl Porter. You input your trip details (where, when, what, how, why, whatever). You tell your personal style concierge what you’re doing and where you’re going, along with your sizes. They’ll create a custom wardrobe for you to approve, and they’ll email it to you a week before your trip.

Once you approve or change your designer wardrobe choices, your stylish ships your order to your hotel. You pick up your items upon check in. They’ll be with the concierge. When you check out, you give the items back to the concierge in the pre-addressed, pre-paid envelope provided, and the concierge mails your items back for you.

It’s that simple.

What Do I Wear? 

Anything and everything. You tell your stylist what you need and where you are going. From casual vacation clothing to upscale business attire, you pick. Designers such as Diane von Furstenberg, Halston Heritage, and more provide designer clothing for you to wear – and none of it is your responsibility to pack, unpack, or even launder.

Does it get any better than that?

It does not.

My experience with Trvl Porter was spectacular.

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{Hotel Bathrobe – Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Orlando}

In fact, when there was a small mistake in the shipping process for my items, Stefanie Nissen, the found of Trvl Porter called me herself – from her cell phone – to ask me what she could do to make it right. I still got my clothing in time, and she was amazing. I fell instantly in love with the dress I chose, and I received compliments on in all night long.

The process was simple, streamlined, and easy.

And a total game changer.

Even though I don’t mind unpacking. Honestly, I don’t. I always have our entire family unpacked, laundry going, and everything organized within half an hour of getting home from any trip. It makes life so much easier.

If you want to try Trvl Porter, do it. All of my followers and fans get a special discount for signing up if you enter HEART-TRVL at checkout it. You’ll get your first item free of charge, which is a $200+ value. Try it. You will not regret it!

Traveling Without Your Kids: A Must Do For Your Marriage

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I’m going to be late picking the girls up from school if I don’t leave here in approximately 10 minutes, but I’m sitting here at my desk in my bathrobe eating a tablespoon of creamy peanut butter with tiny chocolate chips. And I don’t feel bad. Technically, the line doesn’t even begin moving until 3:40, which is what I’m telling myself even though I’m going inside today so I can give my oldest her gymnastics bag and grabbing my middle before we go get the twins.

I’m distracted this week, and I’m working my behind off trying to get a lot more done in a lot less time. I’m taking Friday off…which means I need to get all my normal Friday work done by Thursday. That’s easier said than done when you consider it’s around 15,000 words. I’m 100 percent so excited about the upcoming weekend!

Three glorious days at one of our favorite hotels in one of our favorite cities to celebrate our anniversary 3 weeks early! No kids. Just us. Date nights, and sleeping in, and getting some sun, and getting my husband all to myself for a few days. What else could a girl want?!

As I’m multitasking (working and making packing notes), I’m thinking about all the conversations we’ve had with people over the years anytime we plan a trip without the kids. “It must be so nice to get time away so often,” (It is). “How can you leave your kids?” (With a cheerful wave and some sweet hugs and kisses). “I’ve never understood people who leave their kids. I could never do it. More power to you,” (PSA: this is not a great veiled attempt at insinuating people who take time to focus on their marriage or not losing their ever-loving minds with their kids are less than amazing parents).

We miss our kids when we aren’t with them, but man-oh-man do we appreciate that time away! We get to come home on Sunday morning rested, fulfilled, happy, and as much better parents. I can’t parent when I’m stressed, on empty, and without some personal space.

Ladies and gentlemen – My husband and I have four kids. Free time is not something we have. We have to schedule free time – and it sometimes takes weeks to get time to do that – and we don’t get much down time. If we don’t take a break from the constant snack-making, lunch-packing, butt-wiping, booger-wiping, bath-giving, boo-boo bandaging, this food touched that food and I need all my food remade-handling, chauffeuring, homeworking-doing, sports-practicing, exhausting, beautiful moments that kind of wipe us out from time to time, things get really ugly, really quickly.

I suck at parenting when I’m exhausted. We all do. It’s why kids have naptimes and bedtimes. So we can recharge overnight and face the next day with a happy heart. And that works…but sometimes I just need to get my husband very naked and very much to myself for a few days. And I’m not even remotely ashamed of that situation.

If you are one of the many people who feels guilt at the thought of leaving your kids, I feel you, sister. I always feel guilty leaving them. But I go. They love their time with their grandparents and their cousins. They sometimes need a break from our faces, too. And that’s the pretty thing about time off. If you can find time to take off and get away from the kids, do it. The benefits are astounding.

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You Get to Have a Real Conversation

I don’t know about your household, but sometimes my husband and I try to carry on the same conversation for an hour before we finally get to the point. “So, I was thinking we could (MOMMY! Can I have some water?) Sure, honey, give me a second. Anyway, I was thinking this weekend we could take the kids down to Dis – (Daddy! Can you help me with my math homework? Oh, sorry. I didn’t know you were talking to mommy, but when you’re done can you help me with my math homework?) (Husband nods) What was I saying? Oh right, I was thinking this weekend we could…” and sometime an hour later, I might get that sentence out.

When we take a weekend without the kids, we get to talk. A lot. And we have meaningful conversation about how amazing it is to have meaningful conversation without being interrupted 87592641614 times. And the sad part is our kids know not to interrupt blatantly….but they’re constant “Excuse me’s” aren’t fun.

You Are Relaxed

What’s more relaxing than knowing you get to go to bed on your own time, you get to sleep all night, and you get to wake up on your own time? Oh, nothing. You’re also relaxed going to dinner because you don’t care if there is a small delay in your reservation. You aren’t eating on the kid timer. When you’re told it will be a few moments, you probably do what we do and say, “No rush! We’ll be at the bar!” You’re relaxed, and relaxed people are happy people.

You’re A Lot More Naked

TMI, I know. But let’s be honest. You are. And he is. And you both are. And that’s always, always, always the best. And I’ll leave it at that.

You’re Focused On One Another

I love nothing more than when my husband is fully focused on me and our time together, and it’s hard to manage that with the kids. I love being able to focus on him, listen to his stories and really hear what he’s saying. I love the focus, and that focus is good for the soul.

You Feel Closer Together

I cannot get enough of my husband when we travel. I feel so close to him when it’s just the two of us. It takes me back a decade before we had kids and we were just newlyweds jetting off to New York City one weekend, California the next weekend, and Hawaii three weeks later. That was our life, and it was so, so good. It’s a million times better now, but it does take me back to that time when we were young and carefree.

You’re A Better Parent

At the end of the day, you’re a much better parent when you have a few days away. I can always tell when my patience is waning, and I know when a timeout is necessary. Sometimes we just need to get away for a few days and recharge. We need to just be us and be reminded how much fun we have. We need to be reminded that we actually do miss our little monsters when we’re away, and we need to be reminded of the little moments so we get to go home and be much better parents to four much better kids (Kidding…the grandparents come stay with our kids when we travel and they don’t know how to pronounce “NO” so our kids are basically evil when we return).

For example, when we wake up in a hotel and room service delivers our coffee, we get to sit on our balcony and overlook the city or the ocean or wherever we are, talk, drink in silence, read the news, savor the sweetness. But we also realize that those sweet little faces that usually climb up next to us on the couch to cuddle when we drink our coffee at home are really sweet moments (because Lord knows in the moment we’re just like “Omg. Could you take up any more of my space?).

You’re A Better Couple

I don’t know about y’all, but I really like my husband – a lot. And I’m pretty sure he mostly likes me, too. Save for about a week every month, but what’s a girl to do about attitude problems when her hormones are like whoa and she has four kids and all that? Anyway, I really like Craig. And I like spending time with him. We are a better couple when we have a few days to ourselves. He makes me laugh. My cheeks always hurt by the end of our trip from laughing so much. He’s always so thoughtful in making reservations at my favorite restaurants, taking my Insta photos, shopping with me, and he always defers to me when it’s time to choose the bottle of wine we order – and I never have to compromise on that. It’s nice.

We are a much better couple when we have time alone, and that makes our marriage that much better. We might be together 24 hours a day save for pick up and drop off at school during the week, but we still need that quality time to focus on our marriage and nothing but one another. And we are so much better for it.

Did I mention all the nakedness?

Travel Recap: NYC With Kids

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We hated, hated, hated New York City the first time we visited.

We spent the weekend of our second wedding anniversary in May 2007 in NYC. It was our first visit, and we did all the things you’re ‘supposed’ to do. We hired a limo to for our airport transfers and both nights we were out on the town for dinner. We made reservations at Tavern on the Green and the Four Seasons to sit in the iconic Pool Room. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt near Grand Central Terminal, we shopped all weekend, and we saw the sites. The 9-11 memorial made us cry. The top of the Empire State Building almost made me cry – omg, that was high.

We visited Times Square, Central Park, 5th Avenue, and all the places you’re ‘supposed’ to go when you’re in the city.

And we hated it.

Tavern on the Green is gorgeous, but I’ve yet to have a good meal there the 4 times we’ve had dinner. The Four Seasons was spectacular – and we’ve had probably a half-dozen diners there, but they moved out of their iconic 52nd street location, and it’s lost its luster as a result (sorry, Four Seasons…but my guess is you’re already aware of this). Times Square is dirty, packed, too commercial, too loud, and filled with nothing worthwhile.

We couldn’t navigate the city, and we just didn’t care for it. We said we’d never go back. In fact, we’d booked a 5-day trip to Orange County in California with a departure only 4 days after we came home from NYC, and we spent our entire trip in NYC wishing it would end so we could fly home and pack for our flight to California. We were never going back to NYC.

We just got home from our 23rd trip in New York City Sunday evening.

Obviously, we are liars.

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Since 2010 when we made our second trip to NYC with some of our best friends, we’ve been going back for date night and other reasons regularly. I spent a year working with the NFL, the CDC, and USA Football on the Heads Up Program as a parenting writer, and that required a trip to the NFL headquarters on Park Avenue every 3 months. My husband and I spent the second half of 2012 and the first half of 2013 visiting the city every three months for a few days, so I could attend my 2-hour luncheons with the NFL commissioner and everyone else involved in the program, and then we’d just have a few date days.

That time spent in the city gave us a chance to fall madly in love. We found our favorite hotel ever on 52nd between 5th Avenue and Park. We found our favorite little wine bar tucked along the side street by Rockefeller Center. We discovered brunch at the Boathouse in Central Park. We found the little café on the shoe floor at Saks with a gorgeous terrace overlooking 5th and Rockefeller. We found Salon De Ning, the rooftop bar at the top of the Peninsula Hotel with breathtaking views of 5th Ave. We developed a serious love of the Champagne Bar at the Plaza Hotel. And we discovered the most amazingly amazing Italian restaurant ever in the history of life – Il Tinello.

We learned how to navigate the city. We know where we’re going, which streets are one-way streets, and we developed a distinct taste for Uber Black anytime we need a ride anywhere. We love the city, and we spend at least 2 weekends a year in NYC for Fashion Week in February and September, and we fit in a 3rd weekend for just a date night if we have time between our other travels.

And this time – we took our two oldest daughters with us. Addison is turning 10 in July and Ava turns 7 in March. Our frequent trips to the city since they’ve been born have piqued their interest in visiting. Watching Kevin live his best life in the Plaza Hotel in Home Alone 2 over Christmas Break created an obsession in Ava.

So….we took the girls to NYC. And I’m going to share how we did the city with little kids in tow (which did not involve any stops at our favorite wine bar, no drinks at the Saks Café, and no after-dinner cocktails at the Plaza).

Where to Stay: The Omni Berkshire

The Omni Berkshire. This is our favorite hotel in the city. It’s located on 52nd between Park and Fifth, only steps from each. A 30-second stroll has you standing on the corner of Fifth Avenue between Ferragamo and Cartier, and only 2 blocks from Saks Fifth Avenue.

The staff is spectacular – particularly Lenny, the amazing @karaokedoorman – who manages to make everyone feel like a VIP when they arrive. The front desk staff is always quick to offer a fun upgrade, send up a bottle of champagne when they see it’s almost your birthday, and they were so fun to offer the girls gifts when we arrived. It’s a 4.5-star hotel with class and elegance, and we cannot get enough. It’s always busy, but you can never tell.

Where to Eat with Kids

We had a tough time with this one having never seen a child in a restaurant in NYC before – in fact, other than our kids, we’ve still never seen a child in a restaurant in NYC before. We ultimately decided to make reservations at the hotel’s restaurant the first night of our visit. It was 34 degrees, sleeting, and cold – and the girls were a little tired. Bob’s Steak and Chop House is the name, and they were spectacular with the girls.

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Ava was in total heaven when she realized the kids’ menu included a 4 oz. filet mignon, which is her favorite meal. We all had filet, and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. The carrot – OMG. The Bob’s famous carrot is everything it’s made out to be. The bottle of Chianti my husband ordered was spectacular, and the ambiance was fabulous. The staff was great with the kids, and we enjoyed ourselves fully.

Il Tinello is where we took the girls our second night in the city. I don’t even have words for the truly remarkable experience we have each time we visit Il Tinello. No matter what we order, it’s flawless. The staff is the same staff we’ve been dining with two or three times a year since our first visit to the restaurant in 2015. They are subtle, enjoyable, and always manage to keep our glasses filled, our table clean, and new treats on the table for us without us even noticing they’re there.

They carry a bottle of Sangiovese we’re obsessed with, the food is always perfection, and they were so delightful with the girls. Our wonderful waiter took it upon himself to cut Ava’s filet for her so we didn’t have to. He offered the girls anything on the menu they wanted even if they don’t make it or carry it – which is how they ended up with ice cream sundaes after dinner. Every single person who walked by our table – including the manager – stopped to tell the girls how beautiful they looked in their fancy dresses, and they served Ava her beverage in a fancy wine glass so she could “cheers” us every 30 second all night.

I cannot say enough about Il Tinello. It’s located on 56th street, it’s very subtle, exceptionally ambient, and utter perfection. I always heard Regis Philbin talk about it on his talk show with Kelly Ripa, which is how we found it the first time – and dined at the table right next to Regis and his wife Joy that night. My life was basically made. Seriously.

As for brunch on Saturday morning, our plan was to take the girls to the Boathouse for the spectacular food and the view of the park and lake. However, they’re currently closed for renovation, so we made reservations at the Plaza Hotel for brunch. Once again, the staff catered so amazingly to the girls, ensuring Ava had the largest bowl of strawberries and raspberries imaginable to go along with her bacon – her favorite meal.

We had lunch at the 2West at the Ritz-Carlton in Battery Park so we could see the Statue of Liberty. It was very good, and the girls enjoyed themselves. We ordered room service the rest of our trip because that’s the girls’ favorite way to eat – picking what they want to eat and someone else bringing it to them in bed.

Activities for Kids

To be honest, we aren’t very touristy – so this might not be the best guide for anyone who is. Our first order of business was a trip to the American Girl doll store near Rockefeller Center. The girls have wanted dolls for some time now, but they only wanted them if they came directly from the store in New York City. So that was the primary reason for our visit.

The store is amazing, the girls had the most wonderful time, and it was a super fun afternoon. We walked right over to the store after we checked in on Friday, and the girls spent some serious time designing their new dolls, choosing additional outfits, and wandering the store to check out all that’s there to see and do.

Following that, we walked around 5th Avenue, stopped for their favorite Starbucks drinks, shopped a bit more, and then we went back to the hotel to shower and get ready for dinner. We had an early dinner –and lingered – and the girls were ready to go up to our room and relax after dinner. They were tired from an early morning and our flight.

On Saturday, the girls wanted to see a bit more of the city. It was a beautiful 40 degrees and sunny, so we walked to the Boathouse (only to realize it was closed for renovation – oops). Our hotel is on 52nd and the Boathouse is just inside the park at 72nd and 5th. It’s a lovely 20-block walk, and the girls loved all the architecture and everything to see on the gorgeous walk.

Our girls had a list of things they wanted to see and do:

  • American Girl Doll Store Shopping
  • Shoe Shopping at Saks
  • Times Square to see Toys R Us and the M&M store
  • Go to the Plaza Hotel to see if Kevin and/or Donald Trump might be there (from Home Alone 2)
  • See Central Park
  • Look at the horse and carriage rides, but not ride them because “ew, they stink”
  • See the Statue of Liberty
  • See where the Twin Towers once stood
  • Ride in a Limo
  • Eat a lot of dessert
  • Go shopping

So, we did all the above. They had the most spectacular time. Times Square, as I said before, is not a place we enjoy, but they did want to see it. I’d highly recommend you take the quick walk down to 7th to see it yourself and walk around, but you only need to see it once. To be very honest, the screens are cool, but you’ve seen McDonalds and Olive Garden and H&M a million times in cities across the country – so there’s little point in sticking around.

There were the creepiest, most awful Disney characters wandering the street getting a little too touchy-feely with the kids, who thought they were terrifying (They were….though we live an hour from Disney and have been annual passholders since our oldest was born a decade ago, so our kids know their real Disney characters quite well….kids who’ve never been might not know the Times Square Disney characters are creepy AF). And Ava thought the naked cowboy was hysterical and “Gross” and she’s not wrong.

How to Travel in NYC with Kids

You can try a cab, but it’s not how we prefer to travel. We always use a black car or limo to and from the airport – and this time for dinner with the girls Saturday night. Otherwise, we walk everywhere and love it. If we’re not walking or the weather isn’t great, we use Uber – but ONLY Uber Black. It’s all black car service within the Uber app. It’s more expensive than a regular Uber, but I feel so much safer and so much better in a black car. I’m terrified of the Subway, and I’m not a fan of being around so many people, but I hear other people say they love it.

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As for flying, all three airports take about the same amount of time in terms of travel – however, we’ve only every flown out of Newark and it was early on a Sunday morning when there was zero traffic to speak of in the city and in the tunnel. JFK and LaGuardia are both great, and the drive’s not bad even with traffic.

We always fly JetBlue into NYC since it’s a hub and the flights are always timed well throughout the day. Additionally, JetBlue is always good about taking the estimated 2.5 to 3-hour flight time and making it just over an hour and a half. Like I said, we love JetBlue. Additionally, the Even More Space seats in the front are affordable ($28 to $40) so we always have more room and get to sit in the front.

I, nor my kids, enjoy sitting in the first row. It’s where everyone in the front congregates to stand and wait around for the front restroom, and as Miss Ava said – loudly – “It’s so gross sitting in this row with everyone’s butts in my face and in front of the TV,” and she’s not wrong. I have always had a problem with the front row, but any of the other rows in the front are much better. JetBlue is also such a great airline for kids because they have televisions at every seat and the kids can watch DirectTV, not kill any tablet batteries, and they put their earbuds in and never acknowledge us.

If you’re looking to spend any time in the city with your kids, there are so many wonderful things to do, places to go, and things to see. We are admittedly very focused on our favorite places and our favorite area of Midtown, and we only venture out of that area when I’m there for Fashion Week and must attend shows and events. Otherwise, we pick our favorites and enjoy the actual hell out of them the entire time we are there.

The kids loved the city, the city loved the kids, and I’m positive they’re going to be furious the next time my husband and I have a date night in the city and they’re not invited.

Weekend Recap: A Spontaneous Family Getaway at the Gaylord Palms

Monday, Monday, Monday…a new week with some new goals and some new things to conquer. Always welcome, but this weekend did seem to go by a little too fast. We had the best weekend this weekend. We woke up Friday morning at 5 am per usual, we showered, sat down with our coffee, and went about our morning as usual. I read my First 5 app, and my husband browses the news.

Except Friday morning we somehow went from sipping our coffee together while trying to wake up to deciding to book a room at one of our favorite Orlando hotels to surprise the kids with a weekend of fun. The Gaylord was booked, lists were made, secrets were kept. We didn’t want the kids to know, so I was texting our 4th grader’s teacher at 5:30 am to find out what time they were taking their Friday tests (because she’d be horrified to miss them….trust me) and getting into my office to get some work done.

I ended up checking all four kids out of school early, and we came home to finish packing so we could go when Craig was finished with work. The kids were so surprised, and they were even more excited.

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We checked into the Gaylord, and the kids were super excited to find out our rooms were in the Everglades. They love being in the Everglades so we can run down and see the baby alligators and snakes and turtles anytime. It was a super simple night. Dinner. A walk around the atrium to check out the bigger gators, the baby gators, the snakes, the boat, the fort. We finished out with a trip to the ice cream shoppe for “make your own ice cream” creations. Any flavor, any topping, and as much of all of it as you want. You pay based on weight.

And no, you don’t want to know how much it costs when you have four kids heaping piles of ice cream and toppings into those giant bowls.

By 8 pm, the kids were about done after school and an exciting evening, so we retired. The kids got into their beds to watch a movie and Craig and I had a mini date-night on the balcony while we watched them watch their movie. They fell asleep fast, and we were able enjoy ourselves with a bottle of wine and some quiet time before going to bed.

As always, the Gaylord was fabulous. The staff is incredible. The kids love them because they all go out of their way to make sure they feel like royalty. They get down on the floor and play with the kids, they love Carter’s hugs (he actually hugs every single person who delivers room service to our room when we travel – like, “Hey, you bring me bacon, you get my love.”), and they always have something wonderful to say.

For example, we were once there with just the big girls and they were crushed when we arrived and the pool was closed for a few hours because of something I can’t even remember. When we walked back into our room after wandering around a bit, there were two gift bags on their bed. Both bags contained baby dolls, accessories, and cookies from the manager to make their day a little brighter. They really are amazing.

Back to my story.

Saturday looked a lot like room service in bed – an extra-large pot of coffee included. Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, more treats than these kids know what to do with, shopping, dinner, and another movie night.

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Carter’s entire life was made when we went to Hollywood Studios and he got to hug Olaf. He never disappoints. He is never unexcited. He is always so excited to see Olaf you’d think it was the first time. He gives him the biggest squeeze, tells him all his favorite secrets, and basically makes every other kid at Disney wait much longer than necessary to meet their favorite character. He’s a charmer, and all the characters want him to stick around anytime we visit. Maybe it’s the fact that he and Charlotte are twins and they’re so stinking cute, or that they are so open and loving. I don’t know – but they love those babies at Disney.

We rounded out our weekend Sunday getting back to real life before enjoying a fun afternoon celebrating our favorite 1-year-old’s birthday. The kids played in the rain, ate too many cupcakes, and only lasted a few hours before asking if we could go home and rest. They were tired. They passed out in the car, and it was a quiet ride home.

What I Learned This Weekend

I’m not usually big on spontaneity. I don’t like things not on my schedule. I prefer to pre-plan things, to have a plan going into them, and to have ample time to get my life together to make a fun weekend happen. And this weekend was not like that at all. It was so last-minute. It was so unplanned. And it was amazing.

  1. Our kids are awesome – I know this. We never have issues with them when we travel. But I always think it’s because they have weeks’ notice with us constantly reminding them what kind of behavior is expected on our flights, in our hotels, at restaurants, etc. Turns out, it’s not me. It’s them. They are just really well-behaved kids. Who knew?
  2. Going with the flow isn’t so bad – I like plans. I like reservations made in advance. I like to know what I’m going to do. I don’t like not knowing, but it was so much fun. We thought we might go to Disney on Friday night and then just Hollywood on Saturday, but we decided we didn’t feel like going back out after we checked in (you don’t even want to know how congested valet was). And we really enjoyed not having a real plan and only doing what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it.
  3. The babies aren’t babies anymore – I hate this. They just aren’t. They’re going to be four next month, but they are our babies. And they are growing up fast. As soon as we got to our rooms, they immediately chose their beds. Carter wanted to share a bed with Ava (I am positive he thought he might be able to steal her favorite stuffed animal from her while she slept. He’s always after that thing) and Charlotte and Addy wanted to share their bed. They played well, had their own movie night without incident, and fell asleep early. It was like having four big kids.
  4. Our kids only like the idea of ice cream – They didn’t eat a bite of the $2,948,487 ice cream at the Gaylord. Their pleasure came from picking stuff to go into it. They don’t eat their ice cream at Disney – ever – but they ask for it All. Day. Long.
  5. Family time is really good – We spend so much time getting through the day from one activity to the next with four kids, and sometimes it’s hard to focus on how enjoyable our family is. But let me just tell you how crazy it is to have a family of six is nothing compared to how much love there is with four kids. Someone is always offering a hug or a kiss. There is so much laughter – they are so funny – and there is always something sweet going on. As crazy as they might make us every day, they really are amazing.

Isn’t it funny how sometimes it’s the most random, most unexpected things that make you look at things a little differently? We have weekends away with the kids all the time, but they usually include other people, or a packed schedule, and ample notice. Just going with the flow, creating a schedule as we saw fit, and hanging out with just our little family with no distractions was really, really fun. I loved it. And I love starting my week with that feeling.

Orange County, California Travel Review

We are always California dreamin’ in Casa Raiford. I spent a year living in Northern California when I was a teenager, and my husband and I just can’t get enough. It’s probably our favorite place (does it count if we also say that when we talk about that time we spent a week in Hawaii or every few months when we spend a weekend in NYC?) – and we’ve fallen hard for every California city we’ve visited. San Francisco has our hearts, and so does Napa – but it’s SoCal that has our hearts. Why? Not just because some of our very favorite family members call the OC (Orange County) home, but because of every single thing.

It’s barely been two months since we were there last, and I thought I’d bring you an OC travel guide guaranteed to make you never want to leave (including a few places we love and adore in and around LA, too).

There’s just something so beautiful about the mountains on one side of you and the ocean on the other. The beautiful sunsets, the blooming flowers everywhere, and the gorgeous architecture help. A view everywhere you go isn’t the worst way to live. Craig and I live our best life when we are in the OC, and it’s where we will eventually end up calling home – though probably not until the kids are grown and out of the house.

Where to Stay

If you’re in the OC, you want a view – and we have four very favorite places you cannot miss.

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  1. The Balboa Bay Club Resort

It’s situated directly on the bay in Newport Beach, and it’s everything. You get gorgeous views, amazing restaurants, and the most fun staff. And if you want to pick up a Ferrari or a Maserati, you can just cross the PCH and pick one up across the street. It’s seconds from Fashion Island, not far from South Coast Plaza, and an easy drive up or down the PCH anywhere you want to go.

 

  1. The Montage Laguna Beach

Listen, this is THE place to stay. We cannot get enough of the Montage, and it is our first priority every single time we are in the OC. Do not forget you must have lunch at The Loft – and ask to sit outside over the pool, over the ocean. It’s a must.

  1. The Surf and Sand Laguna Beach

You cannot go wrong at the Surf and Sand. It’s centrally located in LB, it’s gorgeous, it’s upscale, and it’s literally on the sandy beaches in Laguna. If you want to be about 7 feet from the Pacific, you want to be at the Surf and Sand.

  1. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel

It’s not really a big secret we are huge RC fans, but this is by far our favorite anywhere in the world. The hotel sits atop a gorgeous cliff overlooking the ocean. There is nothing better than grabbing a glass of vino in the hotel bar and taking it outside to grab a seat in one of the Adirondack chairs in the gorgeous lawn at the edge of the cliff. If you can grab one before the sunsets over the ocean, do it. Bucket list item, for sure.

Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel photos 

Where to Eat

Okay, so I have about a million places on this list, and they’re not all in The OC simply because we do take day trips to LA and have fallen a little bit in love with more than one place there. I’ll break them down for you, however.

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Javier’s Newport Beach If you want a gorgeous view of the setting sun over the ocean, amazing food, and the most spectacular atmosphere with the best prices imaginable, you want Javier’s. It’s chic, it’s fun, and it’s amazing. The décor is to die for.

The Rooftop LoungeYou’ll find this little gem at the top of the La Casa del Camino hotel, but you’re going to want to find parking wherever you can (get your quarters ready for the meters) because you won’t find valet here (major downfall). However, the rooftop bar sits directly above the ocean, it’s spacious, and the drinks are on par.

{Do not forget to order the fresh cinnamon donut bites as a brunch appetizer at Splashes…}

SplashesThis gorgeous Surf and Sand Resort restaurant has the most spectacular Sunday Brunch, and we never miss it. You can make a reservation, but you’re almost always better off just heading downstairs to the bar and taking in the view if you can’t get one of the most spectacular little tables for two directly outside on the deck. The Bloody Mary’s here are everything.

The LoftEvery time we get to Laguna, we check in and head straight to the Loft at the Montage. Sit outside. Enjoy the view – and perhaps you might consider splitting an appetizer and an entrée with the person you love most because the servings here are so big you’ll still never finish if you’re both working on them.

A&OIf you have time for a light lunch, try stopping at the Balboa Bay Club to enjoy bayside dining. The drinks are good, the food is good, and it’s always fun to watch the multi-million dollar yachts go by. If you have time, rent a Duffy Boat and take a few hours (and a bottle of champagne) out into the Newport Harbor to enjoy the most beautiful views.

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(Photo by Geoffrey’s Malibu)

Geoffrey’sIf you’re interested in heading up the PCH into Malibu, make this your stop. Breathtaking views, beautifully crafted cocktails, and inspiring menu-items are everything you love and more.

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(Photo by Dorchester Collection)

Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-AirIn Bel-Air? Eat here. You’re sitting in the garden beneath the gorgeous bougainvillea, by the amazing landscaping, in the gorgeous California weather – you cannot go wrong. Ever.

Honorable mentions – Mozambique and Las Brisas in Laguna Beach are both amazing, but they don’t quite make the cut as far as must-see when we have a quick trip and no additional time. If we do have an additional day, we stop here.

Things To Do

So, I’d totally recommend spending time with some of our most amazingly favorite people on the planet if you’re in the OC, but they’re ours – sorry. If you can’t spend quality time with Action Alan and the gorgeous Helene, however, I’d recommend you ask someone else what to do for fun around here.

We basically find the most beautiful views, sit down and order a cup of coffee or a cocktail, and we drink in the view. Or we go shopping; South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island, please and thank you. Crystal Cove is super cute, too.

It’s also one of our favorite things to do is to park in Corona Del Mar and walk up and down the gorgeous streets looking at the quaint little homes, the amazing oceanfront homes, and stopping in the cutest little boutiques and restaurants. We love the do the same on the Balboa Peninsula and in Laguna Beach, too. Stop, walk, shop, eat and drink, laugh, ask ourselves why we haven’t made the move to California yet, remind ourselves that we need to be near our parents until the kids can babysit themselves, and laugh some more.

Basically, California is always a good idea, especially if it’s Orange County. It’s perfection.

 

{All photos taken by Tiffany Raiford using iPhone 8 Plus except Geoffrey’s Malibu photo by Geoffrey’s Malibu and Wolfgang Puck photo by Dorchester Collection}

Travel Tips to Make Packing and Flying Easier With or Without Kids

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Happy Wednesday, darlings!

I’m currently sitting poolside in Hawaii sipping cocktails with my love as we enjoy the sound of the ocean and one another’s company.

Kidding.

I’m currently running around like a madwoman trying to get my house ready for our house-sitters, the last details of our vacation handled, picking up snacks for the kids for our flight, checking into our flights, hoping the scale at the airline ticketing counter is broken…

I’m in vacay mode at the moment. And by vacay mode, I mean we leave today and there are still a million and one things to do, because prepping for vacation does require a vacation. Right?

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That said, I have a few moments (and I made a promise) to share some of my must-dos, haves, and tips for packing for a family of six – or any family or person or cat or whatever, really. I had a lot of questions the other day on my Insta-stories from you guys asking if I have any tips for packing for so many people.

Yes. Don’t.

Kidding. Kind of.

The other question I was asked more than a few times was how I pack for so many people and keep our luggage under-weight.

I don’t.

Not kidding.

I’m a chronic over-packer, and I have no shame in my game, my friends. But I do have a few tips that might help you get packed, organized, and make the most of your time before you leave and when you come home.

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  1. Leave a perfect house: Truth be told, I can’t handle mess at all. I can’t do it. I can’t leave my house to run the kids to school in the morning if my coffee cup is sitting in the sink. I can’t leave my house with anything messy, out of place, unorganized. Before we leave on vacation, I wash all the sheets and remake the beds so we come home to fresh beds, we wash all the laundry so we come home to nothing but vacation laundry, and we stock the fridge so we aren’t worried about shopping. Our house sitters know I need to see absolute perfection when we get home, and they’re SUPER great about making sure everything is perfect. It takes some serious stress off of traveling knowing you get to come home after a trip to a perfect house.
  2. Pack trash bags: I do this, because the little bags hotels leave in closets are not big enough for dirty laundry, and I can’t handle dirty laundry touching clean laundry. This also helps you find a barrier between shoes and clean clothes. Because, ew.
  3. Make use of all space: The best thing I can tell you is to make use of all your luggage space. I like to stick my swimsuits inside my hats and stick my hats on the bottom of luggage. One, it keeps them from becoming deformed while we travel – because you know it’s next to impossible to get a hat back to its original shape once it’s been flattened – and to use that space. I also stick all the kid’s socks and stuff inside their shoes to make more space.

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  1. Buy what you need when you get there: I don’t pack non-essentials. I’m picky about my hair products and bath products at home, but I’m fine using the hotel stuff or picking up diapers and wipes and things when we arrive to avoid packing so much stuff. I never pack swim diapers or sunscreen – that’s what Walgreens and Target are for, right?
  2. Mix and match: I am an over-packer, but I’ve learned that I can pack just a few swim tops and bottoms for all of us and we can mix and match. If we have a four-day trip, I pack two tops and two bottoms that all go together, and I remix them during the trip so I have four suits. Less packing, more style, easy.
  3. Skip the separates: With the exception of my husband and my son, you won’t find any separates in our luggage. It’s all dresses all the time. We just don’t even bother with anything else. Vacay is all about dresses, and it really narrows down what we pack.

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***My absolute favorite tip ever for travel – pack sample items. If you order from Sephora regularly, you know you get three free samples with your purchase. I always choose lotions, hair product, and perfume samples. I throw them in a drawer in my bathroom and go through them when we travel so I have little items that don’t take up much space and that can be thrown away when I run out. It’s less packing and unpacking – and it uses none of my baggage weight allowance!***

If there is anything I highly recommend when you travel, it’s dry shampoo. Always buy good dry shampoo (my favorite is DryBar, linked here at Sephora) because who wants to bother with shampoo on vacation?

I also pack each of the kids their own backpack to use as a carry on through the airport, and I put new coloring books, crayons, little activities, toys, their tablets, and fun snacks in them for the kids. This way they have something to keep them entertained on our flight they’ve never seen before, so it’s all new and exciting for them. You have no idea what a bag of M&Ms can do for my twins – who pretty rarely get any junk food to eat!

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If you don’t use apps for airlines, use apps. Check your luggage. It’s so much easier to make it through the airport when I can use my watch or phone for boarding passes, and when we don’t have to carry so much stuff. We also always check the kid’s car seats so we don’t have to rent them with a rental car (here’s a fun tip – car seats always fly free with airlines, and you get a fun bag to put them in to keep them from becoming dirty and disgusting).

Florida’s Paradise Coast Trip Review: Rest, Relaxation, and Waterfront Perfection

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Rest.

It’s what we all need from time to time. Life is hectic, and it’s not always easy to stop. At home it’s easy to get caught up with all the things on the to-do list, even on days we not only want but need to rest and recharge. My husband and I are guilty of this all the time, especially since we both work from home. We are also the parents of four small kids, and that makes it absolutely impossible a little more difficult for us to recharge.

When Florida’s Paradise Coast reached out to offer me a chance to escape, I couldn’t say no. As a born and raised Florida girl, I summered every year during my childhood in Florida’s Paradise Coast. Memories of white sand beaches, beautiful weather, and a laid-back lifestyle flooded my mind, and I knew my husband and I needed not only a chance to recharge and rest but also a chance to share this overshadowed Florida area with all of you.

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Naples, the Everglades, and all the gorgeous areas that make up Florida’s Paradise Coast invite you to relax, but many people forget to consider them when making vacation plans. Thoughts of mice with big ears, princesses and their castles, and the incredibly popular beaches in areas such as Miami and the Florida Keys often come to mind first. It’s what makes Naples the perfect destination when you want to relax.

A Touch of the Keys

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When we first arrived in Naples for our long weekend of fun in the sun and relaxation, we were greeted warmly by the staff at the Lemon Tree Inn. A quaint boutique hotel hidden beautifully out of sight by it gorgeous landscaping, we were provided a lovely gift bag from Paradise Coast – and it even had sweet gifts in it perfect for our little ones after we forgot to stop and pick up gifts for them – welcoming us to the Paradise Coast.

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We immediately fell in love with this sweet little hotel the moment we were handed a real key. Not a key card, but a real key (no making trips to and from the lobby to have our keys re-keyed a dozen times!). The walk to our room was sweet. A darling little bridge surrounded by lush landscaping, a lovely pool, and guests sitting on the colorful Adirondack chairs outside each room made us feel as if we were back in the Keys.

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Our room had a private terrace with a screened porch so we could sit out front each morning with our coffee while we people-watched, chatted with our neighbors, and just enjoyed the beautiful lemon trees and wildlife that spent so much time hanging out.

Family-Friendly Naples Zoo

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The last time we were at a zoo, we had all four of our kids and don’t remember seeing anything but the potential hazards that might mean band-aids, tears, or bickering for the kids. Part of our weekend in Naples included a visit to the Naples Zoo, and it was spectacular.

We strolled hand-in-hand through the zoo’s naturally covered walkways, took in all the cool animals lazing their way through naptime, and we really got to see the zoo. It was perfect – and we even thought about how much fun our kids would have if they’d been with us. The trees and natural walkways kept us perfectly shaded, and it was the most enjoyable afternoon. There was so much to learn – even for us native Floridians – and a darling little gift shop on the way out.

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We are often so busy with our everyday life we haven’t the time to stroll anywhere, which made our time at the zoo even more enjoyable. We spent a few hours meandering the walkways, speaking to zoo employees about the animals and the gorgeous landscaping – and we learned that all the giraffes here are male – and finally found our way back to where we began. It was a slow, perfect afternoon – and I recommend you do it yourself or with the kids.

Dinner Date

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Following our sweet afternoon date at the lovely Naples Zoo, we spent some time driving around the city to check out the sites before it was time to get ready for our dinner reservations. We loved the Waterside Shops. All of my favorite shops in one place is hard to ignore, and I decided a quick stop in Lilly Pulitzer for a new dinner ensemble was not an option.

Armed with a Venti Blonde Roast from Starbucks and a new dress for dinner, we headed back to our quaint hotel located only two blocks from the infamous Fifth Avenue South in Naples. We dressed for dinner and arrived at Ocean Prime on Fifth Avenue in time to make our 6:30 reservation. The staff greeted us warmly, took us to a lovely table with a perfect view of Fifth Avenue complements of the floor the ceiling windows – it’s helpful to know Complimentary valet is located behind the restaurant off 6th Avenue – and quickly offered us a wine list.

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Extensive and perfect, the wine list featured all of our favorites. Each armed with a glass of our favorite red Malbec, we ordered. It was our first time visiting the Ocean Prime in Naples, but certainly not our first time to visit Ocean Prime. We ordered all of our favorites, including the shrimp cocktail, the filet Mignon – 6 oz. for me and 8 oz. for my husband – with the always perfect loaded baked potato and black truffle mac and cheese.

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My husband loves mac and cheese, and he makes it his mission to find the best mac and cheese anywhere we go. His vote for this mac and cheese beat out others he’s had in Vegas, New York, Hawaii, and LA. It was his favorite moment.

Dessert included the most spectacular carrot cake – perfect for breakfast the next day if you can’t finish it all – and a decadent Berries and Bubbles cocktail. If you’ve never ordered this cocktail, run – don’t walk – to Ocean Prime and order it. You’re welcome.

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Our dinner date was perfect. The location spectacular, the staff friendly and helpful without being intruding, and the atmosphere superb. We hated to say goodbye, but we didn’t have any kids to go home to – so we wanted to make the most of our evening.

Our date night ended with an Uber ride to the Ritz-Carlton where we spent a few hours sitting in the lobby bar with yet another glass of wine. The view was spectacular, and the company even better. It wasn’t quite 11 when we remembered we’re parent to four little kids, and it was way past our bedtime.

Saturday Funday

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Let me tell you about our darling room at the Lemon Tree Inn. With our amazing enclosed porch in front of our windows combined with our plantation shutters, we were able to sleep until well past 9 because our room never turned light. We always rise with the morning light on the weekends – always – and never need an alarm. We slept so late with so much perfect darkness that we almost missed our chance to grab breakfast by the pool. Thankfully, my husband had time to run out and grab a few cups of coffee and some pastries for us to enjoy while we dressed.

In desperate need of another cup of coffee, we decided to take a stroll down Fifth Avenue to enjoy the gorgeous morning. We grabbed coffee at The Brick Coffee & Bar and sat down al fresco to people watch and talk about how we might never go home. With our coffee finished, we decided it was time to visit the Naples Botanical Gardens.

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What an experience. We could begin every morning with a coffee and a walk through the gardens. They are simply breathtaking. We watched a Tai Chi class in the shaded grassy by a lovely lake. We strolled through the gardens taking in the gorgeous smells, the beautiful sights, and discussing how unfair it is we ended up with permanently brown thumbs unable to keep even faux plants alive.

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We never wanted to leave this gorgeous garden, but lunch reservations had other plans for us. We made the short drive down to Tin City with enough time to explore the adorable indoor shops filled with artisans and homemade gifts before being seated at Riverwalk Restaurant at Tin City. The hostess sat us by the water where we were delighted to see a dolphin playing a game of peek-a-boo with passing boats and paddleboarders.

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We see dolphins every single time we are on the water in Florida, yet it never gets old. As we watched the dolphin play, we enjoyed ice cold beers and a cool breeze – and the most insane shrimp nachos you’ve ever had. Blackened fish tacos and peel and eat shrimp rounded out lunch, and it was perfect. There’s nothing more enjoyable than a meal on the water except a meal on the water you want to go home and recreate every day.

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With the rest of the afternoon to ourselves, we made the decision to explore more of downtown Naples. Fifth Avenue is famous for a spectacular reason, but it’s the side streets and other avenues with so much ambiance. We took a stroll down to the beach to see the pier. We walked through neighborhoods with gorgeous homes and more jasmine than you can imagine, and we realize that nowhere in the world smells as good as Naples.

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We did a little shopping – because how can you not with so many spectacular little shops to choose from – and sightseeing before stopping at a few darling locations to try a glass of wine…or two.

Dinner With a View

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We were able to choose our own location for dinner Saturday evening, and we struggled. There were so many amazing options, and we were in firm agreement we could live in Naples and never eat at the same place twice inside of six months. Ultimately, we decided to take the advice of most everyone we spoke to while we were there – Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar. The recommendation came with the same comment over and over again, “You must try the Crispy Mahi-Mahi,” so that’s what we did.

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Since it was a few miles away, we Ubered right over to the Village Shops on Venetian Bay where Bayside is located. We were not disappointed when we were seated on the second floor at a romantic table for two up against a half wall made entirely of glass with the bay immediately beneath us. The sun was setting on the other side of the bay, and it was spectacular.

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And the crispy Mahi? It was everything fresh seafood dreams were made of. Dinner consisted of glasses of Sancerre, gorgeous salads, the crispy Mahi and blackened Mahi with a piccata sauce followed by another glass of wine seated on the plush couches while we listened to live music and enjoyed the company of one another.

Sunday Funday and a Reluctant Goodbye

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Have I mentioned yet how well we slept on our bed at the Lemon Tree Inn? We never sleep well in hotel beds – they just don’t compare to home – but this was a different story. Sunday morning was another late sleep for us, followed by a minor temper tantrum when my husband told me I have to pack, we have to go home, and we can’t stay in Naples forever (what can I say…Naples really spoke to me!).

We once again meandered out to grab a coffee by the pool, stopping to chat with some of our neighbors as we passed. Many of them have been guests of the Lemon Tree as long as they can remember, coming back every year to get that little taste of old-world Florida Keys in the heart of downtown Naples.

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We – reluctantly – loaded our car, but we got over it fast. We decided we wanted to spend the morning on the beach one more time, so we stopped for a Venti Blonde Roast at Starbucks and walked to the beach. It was a cool, quiet morning. We walked along the edge of the surf for a while before turning around. The cool white sand was perfect, and the sound of the soft waves crashing as we spent time walking on the nearly empty beach was the perfect start to a Sunday morning.

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But, nothing compared to the end of our stay. Our final stop was at Riverwalk’s sister restaurant, The Dock. With the most spectacular Bloody Mary Bar you’ve ever seen, we knew we were in for a good time. Of course, I can’t pass up a mimosa with Sunday brunch, so that happened. Our table was right on the water and came equipped with its own perfect morning breeze.

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My husband knew right away he wanted Chicken and Waffles – and he also knew as soon as he took his first bite he’ll never order it anywhere else for fear it just won’t make the cut. It was the perfectly cooked piece of chicken. I ordered the eggs benedict made of crab cake. It’s a perfect twist on a Sunday classic – and it perfectly complemented our seat on the edge of the water.

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The Bloody Mary bar did not disappoint. You get to choose your vodka, make your own drink, and you get to do it your way. Allow me to recommend you use this time to make it as many ways as you can until you find the perfect combination. The staff at The Dock was so much fun, and we had the best time with our waitress. We couldn’t have asked for a better send-off. In fact, we may have meandered a bit more than usual before heading home.

Florida’s Paradise Coast knows how to make you feel right at home in Naples, and it’s so much more than you could ever imagine. Couples, singles, friends, and families alike will enjoy all that Naples has to offer. The simple beauty of such an elegant city makes it the perfect vacation destination. You can’t go wrong, and we’ve already made it our mission to spend a long weekend in Naples to rest, recharge, and live our best lives by the water when we feel life is getting too hectic at home.

Thank you, Florida’s Paradise Coast, for the perfect weekend of rest, relaxation, and the ability to recharge.

Vacation Recovery: Looking and Feeling Good After Too Much Indulgence

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We have too much fun, and sometimes I make poor decisions when we’re having fun. Relax, friends; my decisions aren’t that poor. I’m talking about purchasing shots for a group of 12 knowing how I feel after a shot, or ordering a quesadilla for lunch alongside a couple of bloody Mary’s and a bucket of beer. Those types of poor decisions. I know y’all won’t just because you’ve made the same poor decision a time or two.

I’m typically a healthy eater. I like good food, because it makes me feel good. Don’t get me wrong; you hand me cookie dough, and you will never see it again. My sweet tooth isn’t insane, but I do crave something sweet every so often. I never worry about indulging when I do, because I don’t do it often enough to matter in the overall scheme of things.

But sometimes life hands us situations in which I fail to stop myself from indulging a bit too much. While a weekend away usually does nothing to me in terms of bloat or weight gain that a day of good health can’t cure, three weekends away in a row has a different effect. It’s every meal at a restaurant, and I don’t do fast food. While that might sound healthy, it’s probably not. I will eat a hotel room service burger all day long if I can, or bacon, and I always order dessert. And the drinks. Bottles of wine. Mimosas. Bloody Mary’s. Mich Ultra by the pool on a hot day just hits the spot.

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Three weekends now we’ve been traveling, and having the best time; but I’m not feeling or looking so good this week. I over-indulged too much, and it’s hitting me hard this week more so than the few before. It happens. Am I guilty of not being very good the past few weekends? Yes. Am I feeling guilty? No. Why? Because all I need is two or three days of good health to get me back on track looking and feeling good again.

I know many people who swear by juice cleanses, or detox drinks, or whatever. I don’t know what they’re like, because I’m just not doing them. I’m a big fan of just being healthy overall and not caving into those fad diets, so I’ve never tried them. I have no desire, but I don’t care if you do. If you’re like me, you might want to figure out a way to get good and healthy again in a few days – even if you still look good. Sometimes it’s just a matter of no longer feeling very good – and I know that feeling.

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Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

True story. When we leave for a weekend away, I take my Yeti cup filled with ice water in the car with me. I mean, I take it like that everywhere I go all the time, but I leave it in the car with valet and never look at it again when we travel. I ‘get my water on’ on the way to a hotel or airport, and then I forget to drink water again the rest of the trip (unless I wake up in the middle of the night feeling like I might die if I don’t get some water, stat).

It’s bad, bad bad. I know this. I do. But when I get home, the first thing I do is wash the Yeti, fill it up, and drink like I just left the desert after four waterless days. And I drink so much water. When I’m not longer thirsty, I keep drinking. By day two, I feel hydrated again. You can see an improvement in my skin, my body, and I feel much better.

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Bye Bye Booze

I love a glass of white wine while cooking or a glass of red after the kids go to bed, but not when we get home from a trip. I usually drank my fill of alcohol on a trip – beginning with mimosas at breakfast – and I no longer want any wine. It might take me a week or two to pour a glass of wine when we come home. I know I overdid it, and my body is done with it. If you still want booze when you get home, I’d recommend you not drink it. I know it’s hard when you want a glass of wine at the end of the day because of the crazies you call your kids, and all that life has to offer, but just skip it. Your body needs to heal, and alcohol isn’t helping. I feel so refreshed after a full day of not drinking anything but water and coffee, and it’s amazing how fast the alcohol bloat disappears.

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Double Up on the Sides

Confession: We rarely do a starch side in our house. I don’t know why, especially since I grew up with a very meat and potatoes kind of family. We always had a meat, a starch, a vegetable, and a dinner roll. In our house, we always have meat and two vegetables. That’s it. And we like to keep our meat light. We love steak, but we limit ourselves to picking something like Filet Friday or Monday or whatever so we don’t eat too much red meat. It’s chicken and fish up in the Raiford household – and none of that prepacked, frozen stuff.

When we get home, I cannot function without vegetables. I want more than ever, because I probably didn’t get much over the weekend. I’ve found that veggie-heavy meals for the first few days make me feel better, look better, and want to eat better once again. My body knows what it needs, and I listen to it.

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You don’t have to do what I do, and it might not even work for you. I just know that I don’t need to come home from a trip and go crazy on a cleanse. I just need two or three days of healthy eating to get back to normal. In fact, I usually feel much better than any other day when I’m two days into heavy water and veggie consumption. I’m more rested, I’m less cranky, and I like what I see in the mirror.

What do you do when you over-indulge? I’m not a fan of deprivation, but I also know it’s easy to overdo it when you’re not home. What’s your secret to getting back to normal following a trip?