To Kayla: An Open Letter of Love as You Graduate

by Desiree Miller on May 23, 2017

Dear Kayla-bear,

In just a matter of days, you’ll be walking across the stage, collecting your high school diploma, the start of a new chapter in life.

And as you hurl your way into the future, I can’t help but look back.

You were just a little thing when we met. The quiet, sweet child who wrapped her tiny arms tight around my leg, reminding me immediately of a baby koala bear, and quickly earning you my special nickname of Kayla-bear, which still sticks.

I remember, as if it happened yesterday, taking you on our first trip to the beach, how your eyes lit up when your toes hit the sand, and the thrilled shrieks each time the water splashed your face.

You were the child who could be found quietly playing in the corner, happy to occupy herself on her own. But man, did you come out of your shell when your brothers would egg you on. You could easily morph from your daddy’s Princess to another one of the guys. They adored you, no doubt, but your little sister put you on a pedestal. You were—and probably always will be—her hero.

You became one of my favorite travel buddies, from dancing in the Main Street Parade with the Toy Story characters at Walt Disney World, to the top of the mountains in Colorado and North Carolina—first falling, then flying, on skis one year and a snowboard the next. From jumping on stage with me at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall, to snapping a selfie while swimming with sharks, you have always been up for any adventure.

It’s been an honor to watch you grow…to see your beautiful personality explode these past few years.

Thanks for giving me a front row seat in your life.

Know that I’ll always be here, always cheering you on.

Because I believe as great as you’ve become, I still insist the world has yet to see the very best of you.

You are an artist, capable of painting each day with brilliance. Make the most of those days, Kayla-bear. Each and every one of them. And fill them full of love.

A new day

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strawberry laser lipo before and after

With a cruise scheduled in about a month and less and less time left to lose a few inches, when Spa 810 in Buckhead reached out and offered for me to review their new Strawberry Laser Liposuction treatment, I just figured it was serendipity. I immediately asked them to tell me more. I then went to my good pals Google and YouTube to do a little research of my own, and was relieved to hear it was a ‘non-invasive, painless and speedy’ treatment that even the FDA has cleared for use. I didn’t see a down side, so I booked an appointment and days later, was lying on the table, relaxing in a room typically used for massages, with 10 paddle-like devices strapped to my mid-section. By the time I left, I was down 2 and 3/8 inches around my belly (yep, that’s my before and after in the photo above).

I call that success.

And yes, I plan to return.

And no, it didn’t hurt. Not one bit. In fact, I rather enjoyed the 20 minutes of lying still, doing nothing but relaxing with what felt like a heating blanket on top of me.

massage bed

After that, they had me switch to what I’m calling the big egg—a heating and vibration pod of sorts, where I relaxed for another 20 minutes—before hopping in my car and heading home.

pod

No drugs, or painkillers involved. No cuts or bruises.

laser lipo

So, how does it work?

Well, based on info I found from the FDA site (feel free to skip ahead to the people speak version in the next paragraph—but I feel like I must explain for those with a better handle on science than I have), the machine uses laser diodes incorporated into 4-10 ‘paddles’ with 6 holes on each, strapped to the ‘subject’ and connected to a control unit that uses electricity. “When the laser paddles are placed on the skin, the cold red laser beams penetrate the skin just deep enough to reach the layers of fat. When the light hits the fat cells, a rapid chain of events takes place. Firstly, pores form on the cells causing them to spill out. The water, Glycerol and fatty acids move into the interstitial space beneath the fatty layer in the skin. Then further water, fatty acids and Glycerol spill out. The adipocyte cells are therefore reduced in size.”

Broken down in people-speak, the red lights shoot through your skin (I promise, this is painless) and essentially melt the fat cells. What was in them before is then sweated out or eliminated from your body when you go to the bathroom. That’s really it.

The treatment with the paddles is supposed to take 20 minutes and the cells stay open for 2-3 days, so I’ve been told there’s no real point in repeating the process until after that. It’s recommended you do several treatments—up to 8—every 3 or 4 days. According to the FDA information, a double-blind study showed after eight treatments, “an average recorded loss of 3.68in (9.35cm), with the greatest loss at 5.6in (14.22cm). Out of the 22 treated subjects, one failed to met the criteria with a reduction of only 1.2in (3cm).”

Andrea at Spa 810 measured me before my first treatment and again afterwards. She measured three spots on my mid-section, from my waist to my lower abdomen. After the treatment, she measured again.

In just one treatment, I lost 2 and 3/8 inches of fat around my stomach. Not bad for 20 minutes, right?

They make it clear you should also drink plenty of water and get at least 20 minutes of a cardio workout in within 10-15 hours of having the treatment. That will help you flush out the bad stuff for good.

I plan to do a total of four treatments, which I’ll write about again once treatment is complete, so you can see whether the great results continued.

After the success of just one treatment, I plan to try it on my thighs, too, which have always been my biggest trouble spot. The treatment can be used on multiple body parts, from your arms, backs, sides, hips, thighs or abdomen.

This video explains the process to you (this is Andrea, who treated me).

What does it cost?

Well, that varies, based on how many treatments you get and where you have it done. If you are near Atlanta, I highly recommend going to Spa 810, where I tried it. They have a special rate right now for Mother’s Day and have even bigger discounts if you become a ‘member’ of the spa (which essentially gets you a massage or facial each month, on top of discounts on other services).

The normal cost is $300 for one session for a non-member, though members have a special deal of $89 this month! It’s $1080 for 4 sessions or $2040 for 8 sessions for non-members. Members (who pay a monthly fee and get free services each month) pay $250 (although it’s $89 this month as I mentioned) for one treatment, $900 for four (or $699 this month) and $1700 for 8 ($1299 this month).

It’s definitely an investment, but much less than cool sculpting, which I’ve also tried. I’ve never looked into the surgical liposuction, though I’m aware it’s much more expensive than this.

Why is it called strawberry?

I asked and they told me it’s just because the machine is shaped like a strawberry. That’s about it.

strawberry lipo machine

This technology was created in England and has been in use in Europe and the Middle East since 2007. It was FDA cleared in 2013 and is now available in select spas and plastic surgeon’s offices around the US.

If you’re not in Atlanta, it’s easy to search for a location near you that offers this option. I think it’s worth considering and will be back for more treatments. I’ll write a follow up article in a couple weeks to see if the results lasted, so check back.

As I mentioned above, I was asked to try a treatment in order to write a review. I was not otherwise compensated and my opinion remains my own. I promise, I didn’t alter images in any way and didn’t ‘suck it in’ for better results. This is the real deal. However, do remember I am not a doctor and cannot advise you on whether this is right for you. As with all medical procedures, talk with your doctor first.

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Carmel-by-the-Sea, Where Dreams Start

by Desiree Miller on May 5, 2017

pebble beach

Strolling down Ocean Avenue, savoring the chocolate-covered macaroon I’d just treated myself to at the Carmel Bakery, I realized this little one-point-one square mile city known as Carmel-by-the-Sea is a land unlike any other. It’s a tiny little corner of slow calm in a world of fast-paced chaos, an area filled with back alleyways that lead to flower-filled gardens, a food-lover’s dream where each corner has another quirky, often quite romantic, restaurant. It’s an art lover’s mecca, complete with a gallery where a world-famous sculptor stands in front of you, molding projects that the world will admire once the completed piece is on display in far away lands. And it’s a city where every dog has his day, every day.

church garden

garden fountain

When you get to Carmel, the first thing you’ll want to do is park the car. You won’t need it again until it’s time to leave. You’ll spend your time walking anywhere your heart desires, whether it’s down to the shore or off to city hall, where Clint Eastwood used to serve as mayor.

clint eastood

Nothing is more than a few blocks away. At night, you may struggle walking along its uneven sidewalks because it’s so very dark out, but even that is part of its charm, because there’s no rowdy late night parties to worry about in Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s just not that kind of place.

And most people are good with that.

The big news in town is a neighbor’s missing cat (trust me—it was on the front page of the city paper while I visited.

The police chief tells me there isn’t much crime to keep him busy, but what little crime reported is typically pretty interesting. The mayor keeps busy with city business, from overseeing the budget to signing the special permits required if you want to wear high heels (2” is the cut off).

mayor signing decree

high heel proclamation

It’s meant to keep heel-lovers from hurting themselves on those uneven sidewalks (blame the aggressive tree roots and cobblestone sections). And yes, it protects the city, since everyone is required to get the permit if they are wearing heels.

There used to be an ordinance that prohibited eating ice cream outside, but Eastwood overturned that during his tenure in the mayor’s chair.

One thing that’s banned in most other towns is extremely welcome in Carmel-by-the-Sea ad that’s dogs. The country’s first pet-friendly hotel is located here. The Cypress Inn also has a famous co-owner in Doris Day. You’ll see her movie posters framed on the walls, along with dog biscuits on the counter at check-in and water bowls sprinkling the restaurant and the rest of the town.

dreams here

hotel courtyard fireplace

You’ll notice as you drive into town that there are inns lining the streets, one after another and throughout town. Many may have just a couple dozen rooms, but you won’t find any high-rise massive hotel chain here. From La Playa Inn down closer to the water, to the newly remodeled Hotel Carmel with its fun outdoor fire pit designed for unwinding after your day walking the city, there is something for everyone if you choose to stay for a few days. Some even offer multiple rooms, like the Hofsas House, which would make a good landing spot for a family or girlfriend getaway where the gals don’t want to split up into different rooms.

carmel food tour

gnocci

There are dozens of restaurants to sample, from Anton and Michel’s fancy options to Brophy’s sports bar pub feel. We tried those two, along with Vesuvio’s Italian fare (do yourself a favor and get the gnocchi—you will want to lick the plate) and Grasling’s fine-dining (don’t miss the filet mignon or the Mounds Bar drink if you have a sweet tooth).

If you want to try a little of several eateries in town, take the food tour (video above), which lets you sample some of many spots for just a snack, including Casanova’s, which appears to be a quaint house from the front, but once you’re in the front door, you’re led through room after room, past vintage décor that will leave you wanting to stay a little longer. There’s also Affina, which serves up a little more funk than the other spots in town, complete with live music. You can’t miss dessert samples from Il Grillo (pignoli cookies—yum) or the sea salt caramels from Lula’s (double yum).

silvestris

forrest gump poster

Or, if you are interested in the area’s wine, book the Carmel-by-the-Sea Wine Tasting Passport, which covers a self-paced, self-guided tour where you can sample wines at multiple stops around town. I highly recommend starting at Silvestri’s. You’ll love learning about the owner’s musical past (including on the movie Forrest Gump), along with sipping on some superior wines.

It’s also worth booking the walking tour of the town if you want to learn more about some of the galleries, which seem nearly as popular in the city as the eateries. Plus, you can get the inside scoop on many of the gardens hidden away in alleyways. Over and over, you’ll walk through an arched alleyway or the backside of a building, and end up in a very different world when you come out the other side. It truly is a great place to get lost, only to discover something beautiful at every turn.

doorway to garden

And, of course, you have to make your way down Ocean Drive to the beach. If you’re an east coaster, like me, you’ll be stunned at how cold the sand is to your toes. But you’ll adjust soon enough as you look off to the left at the view you won’t find on any Florida beach, or to the right, where you can see the famed Pebble Beach golf course where all the greats go to play (and where you can play a round, too, for about $500).

mission

pebble beach tree

pebblebeachdining

pebble beach golf trophies

If you want to leave the sweet ‘Golden Rectangle’ that they call Carmel-by-the-Sea, I highly recommend a drive past the Carmel Mission and farm/ranch that Eastwood saved from condominiums…into Monterey Bay’s waterfront zone with the Monterey Aquarium and Cannery Row. You’ll spot sea life from the road and catch some breathtaking views as you make your way on over to the 17 mile drive (which really isn’t 17 miles, but that’s another story). It’s worth parking at some of the marked zones to take in the beauty, from the cliffs of the coast to the pristine greens you can get an up-close view of at the Pebble Beach golf club that you saw earlier from shore.

Carmel-by-the-Sea is an ideal spot to escape to for a romantic getaway with your honey, a girlfriend getaway for a weekend, or a family trip that will leave lasting memories.

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Birmingham welcome sign

Driving through Birmingham at least a dozen times over the past few years, it never occurred to me that this little Alabama town would house so many amazing shops and eateries, including a speakeasy-inspired bar that can instantly transport you back to the days of Prohibition. And it certainly didn’t occur to me that there would be so many fun options for fun with the family, from a massive beanstalk to climb to a ropes course that will challenge every muscle in your body at Red Mountain Park. Birmingham is referred to as The Magic City, which makes perfect sense after spending a couple days poking around its unique shops, restaurants and neighborhoods.

During a visit to the city set up by the folks from Visit Alabama and Southern Living magazine (headquartered there) to tour the Southern Living Idea House, I got a chance to see Birmingham in a different light. On most trips before, it was just the town I drove through to get to Tuscaloosa, where my son attended the University of Alabama. This trip made me regret not stopping in before for my fill of great food and one-of-a-kind fun.

I’ll jump into the food first, since it’s what I enjoyed the most.

starfish meal

oysters

I highly recommend dinner at Chez FonFon (two words: coconut cake), breakfast at Feast & Forest, or head to the funky side of town in the revitalized Avondale neighborhood, where you can eat and drink for hours, starting with Fancy’s on 5th (oysters anyone?), then head over to the speakeasy, The Marble Ring, that lures you back in time.

the marble ring

fitzgerald

First, you can’t just walk in the door—that is, if you can even find the door (here’s a hint–look for the Hot Diggity Dog). You’ll climb a flight of stairs and be directed to a phone booth (a TARDIS phone booth a’la Dr. Who, at that). You’ll pick up a phone and be told whether they’ll allow you in. Once permitted to pass, you’ll be greeted by flappers and bartenders who look like they just walked out of The Great Gatsby novel. Take in every detail, from the drink descriptions to the images on the wallpaper. You have to really look closely to spot every hidden secret in this fun and fabulous spot. The Marble Ring is worth a trip to Birmingham all on its own (but make reservations—it only seats 80 people at a time).

Red Mountain Park ropes course

To work off all that food, plan a few hours at Red Mountain Park. If you want to try the Beanstalk Adventure, wear closed toe shoes and comfortable clothing—running or yoga pants, jeans or long shorts.

If you want a view from above of the city, I have two suggestions: The Vulcan Park and Museum, or the rooftop at the Redmont hotel where I stayed. Open since the 1920’s, The Redmont is the oldest hotel in Birmingham, and has recently been renovated to embrace the glamour from its original decade! There’s a fabulous bar there that offers spectacular views of the city (as you can see in the video above).

southern living idea house

idea house bath

floorboard

Unfortunately, we saw the Southern Living Idea House late in the year, so it won’t still be open to the public now (they sell it each year), but you can still see some amazing design ideas from the video below. My favorite parts are the angled beveled doors and trim that’s wider than typical homes. It’s amazing how such little touches can make such an impact in a home.

As sad as I am that you can’t see the Idea House on your own, you can still go have a drink at The Marble Ring or tackle the ropes at Red Mountain Park. Birmingham is definitely worth exploring for at least a weekend. 

 

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Parasailing with beach and condos in background

We were still packing up the car to leave Gulf Shores, Alabama, on our last vacation, when we started talking about wanting to come back again. Between the nights celebrating sunset, the afternoon spent parasailing over the Gulf of Mexico, and the amazing burgers we devoured two days in a row at The Gulf restaurant (and yes, the Surf’s Up drinks were pretty delicious, too), we had one of those trips you know your children will never forget. And we wanted to do it again as soon as possible.

reflecting pool small

Most people don’t realize the beaches of Alabama make such a great getaway. From the Atlanta area, they instantly think of Destin and Sandestin in Florida.  However, while my pals are all packed onto the shores there, where the beaches are also pretty, they’re fighting for a spot to spread their towel. Meantime, I’m enjoying plenty of room to play on the white sand shores of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores. The heron poking around the fisherman nearby seems to agree with me, that this is one fun place to play.

We settled in for three nights in a corner condo unit in the Island Tower in Gulf Shores (press the arrow in the image above to play the video showing the unit). Available through Young’s Suncoast Vacation Rentals, it’s one of many properties you can make your own during your visit to the area. We found last minute reservations can be a real steal if you don’t mind gambling with availability, but if there’s a unit you know you love, as we did with the place where we stayed (views from every bedroom and two walls of windows from the living and dining rooms), you’ll want to book well in advance. And you’ll want to stay as long as possible. The three nights we stayed just weren’t long enough.

stormy weather

We made the most of those three days, despite some stormy weather that happened to hit during our stay. Even the storms were stunning from the view in the condo. And, with the full kitchen in the unit, we spent those ‘rained out’ hours getting creative with our food, making colorful pancakes in random shapes like sunshines and palm trees, then creating our own ‘unicorn bark’ from melted chocolate and food dye. And, after a couple hours, we were back out in the sunshine, splashing in the surf and relaxing on the sand.

pancakes

You don’t have to dine in the condo, even though you can. There are plenty of fabulous food options around town. We stumbled across something called pizza donuts. The kids loved them, and several cafes in Gulf Shores claimed to be their creator (seriously—the bragging rights were big). I already mentioned the burgers at The Gulf (though their claim to fame is with the fried grouper, for which people wait in long, long lines to buy). I wouldn’t have even cared how the food tasted, though, because I love the vibes of this funky, chic restaurant that sits right on the water at the pass, just at the foot of the bridge. It’s the only restaurant I know of where you can stretch out and kick back on the couch while waiting for your food to be delivered to your table.

beach couch

surfs up drink

We had to enjoy one meal at Fisher’s, too. The downstairs portion is relaxing, while the upstairs restaurant offers a more deluxe experience. We sat right on the water, enjoying the view of the big boats docked nearby. The Shrimp and Grits is my go-to meal there. It’s so good I don’t even want to try the other offerings.


parasail

The highlight of the trip was our parasailing adventure, though. This was one of those spur-of-the-moment things that we’re so glad we tried. The kids had never been before, but begged to do it each time we were at the beach. Well, this time we caved.   We actually saw the ‘Chute Em Up Parasailing’ boat drive by while we were still in the condo that morning and placed a call to the number. We reserved our trip out (it helped that they had a special rate running) and showed up at the docks at our assigned time. We boarded with a few other daredevils (the boat holds up to 15 people) and braced for some fun. I went along for the ride (a $25 fee, but worth it to spend an hour on the boat), so I could document the adventure. The crew kept us laughing the entire time, but made it clear safety was their top priority. The trip up included a dip in the Gulf, along with a whole lot of thrills. We celebrated afterwards with one more trip for burgers at The Gulf restaurant, then returned to the condo to relax for the day.

The trip packed in just the right amount of fun and relaxation, but not enough time. Guess that means we just need to make plans to go back soon. I have a feeling you’ll think the same thing after you schedule your own trip down to Alabama’s beaches.

 

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Making Sure Your Child’s Car Seat is Safe: Parenting Win

April 24, 2017

You know I deal with parents of newborns all the time for the Atlanta Baby and Child Expo, and connecting them with the right car seat is one of the most important parts of the event to me (shout out to Britax here—they go above and beyond when it comes to safety standards). Why does it really matter? Well, keep reading. Every 33 seconds, a child under 13 is involved in a car crash in the United States. Car seats, if used correctly, can dramatically reduce the risk of death […]

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Atlanta Baby and Child Expo Features Sessions to Educate New Parents

April 13, 2017

The Atlanta Baby and Child Expo is THE premier extravaganza of “all things baby” for new moms and moms-to-be, as well as their friends and family, and the event returns for its seventh year on April29th. This year’s event has a new feature that will help educate new and expecting parents on topics that will help them navigate their critical role in their child’s life. Sessions include topics on the following: Cloth Diapering—How To (from Make Cloth Mainstream) Infant and Toddler Car Seat Safety-Top Mistakes and How to Avoid Them […]

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Atlanta International Auto Show Has a Car for Everyone

March 24, 2017

If you want to check out the newest models of cars—in many cases, not even on the market yet–you’re going to want to head down to the Georgia World Congress Center between now and Sunday for the Atlanta International Auto Show. You can sit in most of them, and see for yourself how technology is making time in your car a whole lot more comfortable, whether it’s a camera INSIDE the car so that you can see what’s happening in the back seat, or high-tech additions that will let the […]

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New Fireworks Show and Nighttime Entertainment Top Disney Changes

March 8, 2017

If there’s one thing you can count on at Disney, it’s that things are always changing, improving in most cases, with the end goal to hold on to the magic that we all love, while incorporating exciting updates into everything from the parks to the cruise line to the movies we see in theaters. Here’s a roundup of what you can expect in the coming months: DISNEY PARKS: Animal Kingdom launched its new Rivers of Light show in mid-February. This dazzling display on the water rivals what many love at […]

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Beauty and the Beast Review: Emma Watson Transforms as Belle

March 3, 2017

Disney has managed to make ‘a tale as old as time’ brand new again with its latest production of “Beauty and the Beast”, and those who were afraid to watch because they couldn’t picture Emma Watson as anything other than Hermione from Harry Potter–they can relax, because she captures Belle, well, beautifully. The new movie (set to hit theaters March 17th), is as enchanting as Disney’s other hits from recent years, Cinderella and Maleficent. Belle is still bright, beautiful and brave, true to the original versions, but there’s more humor […]

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