Planning a tailgating party is a lot like planning any other party—the point is really about bringing friends together for fun.  But with a tailgating party, odds are much higher you’re going to make some new friends, too, especially if your sports soiree includes some critical supplies.  Maybe you’ve never been part of one of these football bashes…well, don’t worry.  We have a complete game plan to get you going on putting together a party that will be considered a win for any team (ok, ok, that’s where the word ‘play’ on sports stops…even I know when it’s too much).

original tailgaters

It used to be that all you needed was the tailgate of a truck or wagon to pull off one of these parties.  Not so much now.  With the right people and the right food and drinks, that might fly, but more often than not, you’re going to want more.

Amy Bentz is famous for these parties among her friends.  A graduate of Florida State University more than just a few years ago and a dedicated fan, she’s thrown dozens of tailgating parties, even flying in to where her beloved ‘Noles are playing around the country and putting a party together on the ground there.  She can’t always cart all of her supplies with her to each game—she says home games fill multiple cars—so she’ll scale back on some of this when they’re ‘on the road’, or tap into supplies of the local alumni living where the team is playing (she has quite the network built up around the country).

  • Amy says rule number one is to have plenty of beer, and not just any beer, but COLD beer.  Amy sets up a complete bar, providing one table for the drinks and another table for all the food she plans to serve.  She’ll stock up on plenty of beer, soda, and water, along with the coolers and ice to keep them all cold.  Her experience: if you have beer, or that beer gets warm, you have no party. Period.
  • bar
  • Rule number two: If your team is playing where it’s warm, bring a tent.  Maybe two. True football fans know I’m not talking about the kind of tent that you sleep in during a weekend in the woods.  No. This just needs to be the kind of tent that will offer some shade on a hot afternoon.  Or cover if there’s an afternoon shower.  But it’s also part of your decorations, especially if your tent is decorated in the team colors.  Don’t worry—you don’t have to get crafty.  They sell them like this.
  • Rule number three: Have food.  Sweet and salty. Amy used to go nuts with homemade fare, but she says experience has shown her that you don’t need to worry about that.  She explains, “Quite frankly, people don’t care. They just need food. Chicken fingers and hot dogs work for most. I do have healthier eaters and we try to accommodate who’s coming.”  She’s not shy about asking for others who are part of the event to pitch in…either by bringing food (or whatever else she delegates), or by pitching in to pay for it.  That’s not something you hang your head about here.  People expect to be asked to contribute if they’re going to be part of the weekly fun.  Her tip on whether to cook or cater: base it on the party size.  When she has a ‘small’ gathering of less than 30, she’ll bring the grill and they’ll cook.  More than that and she has a catering company deliver the food right to her tailgating spot in the parking lot.
  • Rule number four:  Make it fun for the kids who might be coming.  Happy kids make for happy parents.  Amy includes face paint, body glitter, temporary tattoos, crazy sunglasses, candy, all kinds of fun in her supply bins.  Games like corn hole are great for the adults, too.
  • Rule number five: Have a good attitude!!! Make that mandatory for the party guests, too.

You’ll want to copy her supply list.  She spelled it out for us here:

Tent, fold out tables, napkins, plastic utensils, plates, trash bags, anti-bacterial hand wipes, coozies to help keep those drinks cold, cups for the soda, a Sharpie pen to label those cups, straws, aluminum foil, paper towels, sunscreen, bug spray, bandaids (just in case), scissors (for all kinds of stuff, and because when you need them, you never have them, so this way, you’re always covered), duct tape (for the same reason as scissors), zip ties, a grill if you’re cooking, grill tools, extra decor (tablecloths, pennants, maybe signs, balloons, beads).  Oh, and disposable shot glasses.

She admits they’re not very “green”, but has found it’s important to be as disposable as possible at these parties on the go.

You’ll also want at least two good, comfortable folding chairs.  Guests should know to bring their own.

And you’ll want somebody with a camera (or  phone with a camera) to document the party.

early years tailgating

Some tailgaters take things to another level entirely, also bringing generators, big screen TVs, fans, and more.  This is especially important if you’re trying to keep up with the competition (both as tailgaters and the competition for your team…nobody wants to miss big games that are underway before yours).  That adds a lot more work to the equation, so you may want to wait to tackle this addition (I swear, I didn’t do that on purpose) to your tailgating fun.

If you don’t have that TV, make sure you have music.  Amy says her group even has live music at least twice a season (thanks to connections through her partner-in-party fun, Marice Leo).

One tip to keep in mind: watch how much those guests end up drinking.  You don’t want to be held liable if they can’t walk their way into the stadium.  It sounds crazy, but it happens.

I’d love for you to leave a tip below in the comments if you have something more to share on putting together the perfect tailgating party.  Feel free to tell us what your favorite football-watching food is, and even include a link on how to make it if you’d like.

Want to win a whole lot of money for your next tailgating party (or whatever else you decide you need)?  This post is part of a blog linkup  celebrating the start of football season! Just follow the instructions below for several chances to enter and win!  The prize is a $300 Amazon gift card, and this is a giveaway hosted by the Alpha Blogga Blogga Sisters (sounds like a college sorority, right, but it’s not…just a circle of friends supporting each other in business).   Be sure to read the other blogs that are part of this giveaway.  They all have great information for football fans to share.

The giveaway starts Sunday 9/7 at 12 a.m. EST and ends Sunday 9/21 at 11:59 p.m.  It’s open to residents of the US and Canada, 18+ yrs of age.

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When Hard Work Isn’t Always Enough

by Desiree Miller on September 3, 2014


It never seems right to me that some people can skate through life with everything handed to them, never truly working for more than a good grade, and sometimes, not even that.  If they run into hard times, they have someone ready to dig them out without breaking a sweat.  They just always land well, you know?

Then there are others who wake up each day and, against so many odds, put their heart and soul into such backbreaking work, rarely rewarded with a day off or accolades for their contributions.

I’m not just talking about the women of Africa, shown in the picture above, or so many others I’ve seen in my travels.  I’m talking about the kids right here at home, in the good ole’ USA,  living in the ghetto trying to get ahead… the moms who are always on the go, never stepping foot inside a spa, much less enjoying  a ‘spa’ day, taking care of everyone else while no one takes care of them…the dads holding down honest jobs–like my father, a mechanic–who was on call 24/7/365 days a year nearly his entire adult life.  Before that, he busted his butt on a farm, where, even as a child, he was required to work hard both before and after school.

These people don’t whine and complain.  They get up and do what has to be done each day–with hope in their hearts that it won’t always be this hard.

Luck or fate determined their circumstance.  You can be born into the family in the million dollar house…or into the family living on the streets.  As a baby, you have no control over where you start.  Sure, as you grow you can bust your butt to get ahead, but you still have to get a break every now and then.  I’m not saying you’ll be loved more in one family or the other.  Or that the ‘wealth’ you do find won’t be valuable.  But love doesn’t always put food on the table or a roof over your head.  The people in those million dollar families are going to have access to a whole lot more opportunity.  That’s a fact.  And when life is hard, you can only keep hoping for better for so long.

Yes, you should keep on plugging, keep trying for better, because unless you’re ready to marry into those millions, should that opportunity ever come your way, odds are you’re going to have to earn your way out.

If that’s you, keep hoping and working hard. Every single day. You just never know when the stars will align and  life will turn around for you.

If you are among those whose life is easy, at least be aware of how fortunate you are, and maybe some day, when you can, make life a little easier for those who didn’t find the same luck, fate or fortune along the way.

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Sweet Revenge for When Life is Hard

by Desiree Miller on September 2, 2014


Sometimes life is hard.  Really hard.

And when there’s someone in your life who is bending over backwards to make it harder, well, it’s that much more hurtful.

When there are a few someones who choose to hurt you…yes, when faced with a decision that they know is wrong and will  cause you pain and they still choose it anyway…well, that’s a tough one to get over.  It might seem impossible.  But nope.  Just hold on a minute.

I have the  secret to recovery.

A sweet  revenge of sorts.

Go live your life BETTER.

Show ‘em what you’re made of.  Because there’s tough stuff inside.  I’m sure of it.

I’ve always believed the best way to show the haters how little they matter…and how great you are…is to continue being great.  It’ll just kill them.

Yes, it’s easy to get sucked up into their misery and want to spew hate back.   Let yourself go for five minutes if it helps.  Spit nails until you’ve closed up a door that will keep them out of your life forever.  But then, get your head back on straight, and your heart, and leave those losers in your dust.

The more amazing you are, and the more happiness you’ll find, the more you’ll forget the hurt they caused…and, you know what?  They’ll still be the losers they were when this all started.

So, if you’re going through hell, ‘just keep  going’.

You may come out a little burned, but you’ll eventually make it to the other side.

Better than ever.

And that’s the sweetest revenge of all.



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The whole world is about to fall in love with ‘Hope’, the dolphin who was rescued and cared for at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, the same aquarium that rescued and cares for Winter, the dolphin made famous in the movie Dolphin Tale.  Hope is the star of Dolphin Tale 2, set to be released September 12th.

power of hope

My family was fortunate enough to meet and fall in love with Hope back in 2011 during a trip to the Tradewinds Resort in St. Pete.  We had heard about the making of the Dolphin Tale movie and drove up to Clearwater that day just to meet Winter.  The pr folks for the aquarium allowed us to take a behind the scenes tour of the facility (which has since been replaced by the new aquarium just across the street from the older facility—made possible by the income the aquarium earned as part of the movie success).  We learned all about the incredible rescue efforts the amazing team does at the aquarium (it’s not just make believe for the movie—these people are working around the clock to take care of marine life when rescues are needed, along with caring for those rescues afterwards).


During our visit, the first dolphin we met was Hope.  I remember it clearly because Hope is my middle name, so I felt immediately connected to this beautiful dolphin (it wouldn’t take much—I’ve always been a huge dolphin lover and my youngest, who was with me that day, dreamed of being a dolphin trainer after watching her first dolphin show at the Georgia Aquarium).  To further deepen the connection, I learned Hope was brought in from the Indian River Lagoon (where I am from and spent my childhood years playing and swimming).  She was just a baby then, trying to nurse from the carcass of her dead mother when she was found.   Winter was found in that same region exactly five years earlier.


When we walked up to the tank where Hope, still a baby, was being treated, she wanted so much to play with us.  She just swam around our window, watching us as we watched her.  She was so playful and sweet—it was hard not to instantly fall in love.


We met other dolphins, too, including Nicholas (who had been badly sunburned after washing up on the beach) and Panama (who was named because she was found up near Panama City, where I lived for several years of my life, often swimming with the dolphins not in captivity—right around the jetties where you can still see them nearly every time you go out in a boat).  Maybe the next movie will feature one of them.  And, of course, we met Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail during our visit.  Daly even got to hold and play with the tail (as you can see in this video with the PR director for the aquarium).

When Hope was moved from the Dolphin Deck to the Winter Zone, they used Panama as a stand in mother of sorts to help with the transition.  Panama helped when Winter was brought in earlier.  So, as Winter met Hope, they became sisters of sorts.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I don’t know that they’ll follow the true-life version of the story line, but I don’t think it will matter.  Now you know the real story behind the story.


It was an amazing visit that we hope to repeat some day soon, especially with the launch of the new movie.

If you happen to want to go, the folks at Tradewinds Resort told me they have a special ‘Dolphin Tale 2’ Package for visitors.  The promotion includes tickets to the aquarium, a dolphin watch cruise, plush toy, book and donation to the aquarium.  The getaway is $632 for a three-night package, including these perks.  Tradewinds is one of my favorite coastal resorts for families, as you can read in my past review. You can find out more about the special rate by visiting  And for those with children with special needs, know that Tradewinds also meets a special designation as a resort catering to those families.  Read this for more.

st pete thursday 2 025



The US Open–The Best Place to Watch the Best in Tennis

by Desiree Miller on August 28, 2014



They say there’s nothing quite like being there in person, and that is so very true of watching the US Open.  It’s where the best of the best go to play tennis…it’s the tournament they work all year to win.


Sure, there are smaller tournaments around the country that are fun to see. I enjoy the Atlanta Tennis Open because I just have to drive downtown to watch some of the greats play their game, but the smaller tournaments are the equivalent of watching a high school football game instead of the Super Bowl.  Just not the same.


Sitting in Arthur Ashe Stadium, especially during a night match, the atmosphere is electric.  I know many people aren’t happy unless they’re sitting on the front row, but I can tell you, if all you can afford or all the tickets that are left are the upper levels, or what you’d call ‘nosebleed’ seats anywhere else, you’re still going to love the experience.  My first year I attended the Open, I bought seats at the last minute and that’s all that was left.  I’ll tell you, it was like a big party up in those seats.  Because it’s so far from the court, you don’t have to worry about whispering, or keeping quiet so that you don’t disrupt play.  It’s a true blast.  And if you’re all the way up and able to look over the stadium wall toward the rest of the National Tennis Center, you’re going to love the view.  On one side you can even watch a match going on at another court.


The players scheduled in Arthur Ashe Stadium are usually those you want to see most, but if you get a grounds pass for the day, you will have no problem watching match after match of superb skills.  On some courts, you may have to get seats early because there will be a line of people who want to watch (count on that for doubles matches with the Bryan Brothers, for example)—and no guarantee of seats, but on other courts you can simply be walking by and decide to stay and watch, ending up close enough to see the sweat on their foreheads.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • It’s hot during the day.  Some days, it’s sweltering.  As in, you better have sunscreen, lots and lots of water and a fan of some sort to keep the air around you moving.  At night, it can get chilly.  Especially if you’re up high in those nosebleed seats I referenced earlier.
  • If you end up sweating through your shirt, or freezing, you can just go to the shops sprinkled around the grounds and buy a souvenir shirt.  In fact, I say go ahead and leave a coat home and plan to buy a long sleeve shirt or sweatshirt while you’re there.  It’ll remind you all year of the fun you had.
  • Don’t bring a big purse or bag.  They won’t let you through the gate with a bunch of stuff anyway.  There are lockers on the grounds, but if you don’t have a bag, you don’t have to wait in the same long line to have it searched.  Less is more.
  • Also bring your Amex card.  They have certain areas that are only open to people with an American Express card.  If you don’t want another credit card, just get the Serve card that’s preloaded and use that money as your spending money while you’re at the Open.  There are also special discounts if you use your Amex (note—this may have changed—so check the site.  It was definitely the case the past two years).
  • Also bring your USTA membership card.  You’ll get certain extras for that, too.
  • If you’re in the city for the tennis, don’t worry about all of the site seeing, etc.  If you do want to see more than tennis while in New York, make sure you get to Time Square one night (it’s so much cooler at night than in the day time), and get to the Empire State Building.  To me, you have to do both at least once in your life.


(the view from the top of the Empire State Building)

  • Don’t just watch the singles matches.  Doubles matches with the professionals are just crazy fast, and crazy good.  I don’t know how they develop these cat-like reflexes, but I want some.  There’s nothing that compares when all you’ve seen before is your local tennis talent.
  • Catch some of the juniors action, too.  I watched the girls juniors finals last year and these teens played their hearts out.  Their families were in the stands just a few rows down, and as a mom, I actually got teary-eyed watching them as they watched their children.  I used to sit and watch my children take lessons each week.  I know what a commitment it is to get your kid to the courts each day.  All those balls you have to pick up at practice.  And let me tell you, even watching Serena Williams practice last year, her mom was STILL out there picking up the balls.  STILL!!! That’s pretty incredible, considering her daughter took the title that year.


(Serena Williams’ mom picking up practice balls, just like the rest of us tennis moms.)


(Serena Williams practicing)

538377_10201034426555161_1719789936_n (Rafa Nadal practicing)



August 24, 2014

You know the wait time is enormous these days at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, so if you want to go, we have some tips to make sure you don’t spend half the day in the park waiting for this one ride, though we have to say, it’s worth the wait. First:  Stay on property.  This will get you in the parks an hour before everyone else.  The Express Pass won’t currently work for the Harry Potter rides, so getting into the park early is helpful. Go […]

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August 24, 2014

If you want to make the most of Universal Orlando, you really must buy an admission ticket to both parks—Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure–located adjacent to each other at Universal’s City Walk.  There are a few reasons for that, but the biggest is that the best attraction at Universal, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Diagon Alley, or more specifically the Hogwarts Express, requires passes to both parks in order to ride. And, for reasons I’ll spell out below, you’re also going to want to buy admission […]

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Cool New #KidQApp Keeps You and Your Kids in the Know

August 24, 2014

(Note to readers: I was asked by Scholastic Parent & Child to write this post and compensated for this review.  My opinion—as always—remains my own.) Why is the sky blue? How come dogs have toenails? Is it true that bullfrogs don’t sleep? As a parent, you just never know what question could come out of your child’s mouth next, and it is often humbling to find out just how little you know when they hit their curiosity stage. When my children ask me a question on a topic I never […]

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(Video) Holman Ranch Review, Carmel Valley, California

August 24, 2014

(Note to readers: This post is by guest contributor Angela Walker. She visited Holman Ranch as a representative for and her stay at the resort was covered. She was not otherwise compensated and her opinion expressed below is her own.) If you are looking for the kind of getaway where you can disconnect from electronics and reconnect with your spouse, Holman Ranch can offer that kind of retreat.  Located in California’s scenic Carmel Valley, Holman Ranch sits perched looking out over rolling verdant hills and its own vineyard. Its history runs […]

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Wine and Whine: Celebrating Birthdays or Any Day Via Skype

August 24, 2014

(Note to readers: This post was sponsored by Microsoft, but my opinion–as always–remains my own.) Birthdays used to mean a great excuse to get your favorite friends and family together to celebrate another spin around the sun, but my closest friends are now scattered around the globe, and the reality is, it takes more than a birthday celebration to book a flight for a visit.  We have kids, jobs, responsibilities that make ‘dropping everything’ a whole lot harder than it used to be.  But some of my pals have found […]

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