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raggedy ann

Growing up, there were a lot of kids in my family, and not a lot of money, so the holidays looked very different for me than they do for my kids. We usually had three presents under the tree for each child—at the most. The older you got, the fewer presents you’d find. We knew not to ask for much, or to expect much, either. And that was ok. Because odds were, the one thing we really wanted would be there.

For me, that included a Trapper Keeper one year…you know, the fancy folder/binder thing you could take to school to organize your different classwork.   Another year, it was an alarm clock. Remember those? We used those way back before cell phones would wake us. I adored my giant Raggedy Ann that I got one holiday morning. And another time, it was the Lemon Twist. I was the happiest girl alive the Christmas that I found that under the tree. I spent hours Christmas morning trying to keep that thing spinning around my ankle, hoping to break a Guinness Book of World Records title (which probably hadn’t even been set yet).

I hadn’t thought about that Lemon Twist for years, until recently, when my daughter started talking about presents she’d like this year. Then, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even found an old commercial for it on YouTube. Watch it here and take a walk down memory lane with me.

If you keep watching that channel, you’ll see tons of other videos of old toys from our childhood.

They’re not nearly as fancy as today’s models, and certainly not high-tech, but boy, did they entertain us for hours!

I recently asked some friends about their favorite holiday gifts and found many had sentimental ties to their presents from the past. Some even still have the toys. Some are lucky enough to have passed them along to their own children.

Just read through their responses to my question on Facebook:

A pair of Rydell roller skates- Christmas 1980- my last gift from my mom before she passed away the next year. I skated all around the neighborhood and felt so cool taking my own pair to the roller rink. I still have them, treasure them- will never part from them. –Vivian


Jaguar XK120 FHC when I was five. And here it is, 65 years later. –Gary

gary's car


I was 14…it was the early 80’s and I wore that thing out. –Amy


Honda Kick n’ Go when I was 10. Sitting in my garage today!!!! I can still ride it too! –Susan

honda kick n go

My grandfather built me a doll house. I got it the year my grandmother had died in November. There were decorations she had crocheted in it. Macie now has it in her room. –Sandy


My Michael Jackson and Billy Joel Trapper Keeper folders and the matching cassette tapes.. it is the one gift I can remember opening.. so strange I was maybe 7 or 8 –Natalie


Those were just a few of the comments people left.  All of their feedback made me realize this holiday season, I want to find something like that—something sentimental—to give my children. I want them to unwrap a gift that they will remember with fondness all of their lives, maybe even something they will be able to tell their children about someday.

Do you have a favorite holiday toy that you have never forgotten?  Tell me about it in the comments below…and happy holidays!

Also, I’m part of a giveaway that could have you winning money to buy another toy…or some other favorite part of your holiday! Enter below, and check out the blog posts by some of my friends for favorite recipes and more for the holidays!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rules: No purchase required
Open to residents of the US, Canada, & the United Kingdom, 18 + years of age
Giveaway ends December 7, 2015
Fill out the Rafflecopter form. Each task is an additional entry. (We will be checking all entries, so be honest. Any false entries will be void.)


sonesta ft lauderdale hotel

“Why did the chicken cross the road?” is an age-old question, but if you’re staying at the Sonesta Ft. Lauderdale Hotel, you don’t need to ask…the answer is obvious as you view, from your room, the sun rising above the horizon over the calming waters of the Atlantic ocean.

And, if you decide you want to go enjoy the sunrise with your toes in the sand, it’s just a few steps across the street. You’ll be joined by some birds and a few other early risers, all starting their day making the most of nature’s beauty.

sunrise column

sunrise across street

You’ll also be appreciative of the hotel’s stylish, yet casual feel, ideal for a business traveler or couple…or a girls’ getaway with your bestie.

I was in Ft. Lauderdale for a travel writer’s conference recently and decided to share a room with some friends. The Sonesta agreed to host us at a special rate and we found it to be a super location to base our adventure.

Located on a seven-mile stretch of the area’s namesake beach, the AAA Four Diamond award winner is the ideal combination of laid-back fun and sophistication. The rooms would have been too small for our large families (each one of us has at least four children), but it worked very well for our little group.

The accommodations are stylish and the hotel works hard to make you feel welcome with its ‘Daily Delights’ (our visit happened to coincide with free Prosecco one night and Wine and Cheese on another).

daily delights

There’s an event space that can be rented with an outdoor patio that overlooks the ocean and rooms that can be connected. There’s also conference space in the building with wall-to-wall windows (which I think may be kind of cruel to the people you expect to focus on day-long business meetings, but if they’re staying overnight, they can enjoy the beach the next day, right?).

There’s a fitness facility, infinity pool and bar near the lobby area. The hotel restaurant, Bistro, provided a delicious breakfast (my personal tip is to skip the buffet and get the French Toast with a side of fruit).

It’s not a massive hotel by any stretch, with about 200 rooms, but I think that adds to its appeal.

There are some fun restaurants nearby—but maybe not the most family friendly spots, so keep that in mind if you bring your crew.

There is also not a parking garage attached to the hotel, but you can valet it and face a $30 fee each night if you have a car, so be aware of that as you compare rates of other places to stay.

There are also no balconies, which I always enjoy when I’m near the beach.

On the flip side, the beds could not have been more comfortable, and we didn’t have to search for electrical outlets. With three women all getting ready at once, and each with electronics that needed to be charged up every night, that was a welcome surprise.

You can see more in the video below. Just click on the arrow in the image.


adopt us kids

When you think of adoption, odds are sweet babies are the first images to pop up in your mind, but those aren’t the only children who would love a family.

November is National Adoption Month and the theme this year is, “We Never Outgrow the Need for Family.”

Think about it: you need a family for a whole lot through those tough tween and teen years. Learning how to drive a car, navigating first relationships, figuring out life after high school, and much more. Those are difficult milestones to navigate alone.

As of last May, approximately 41 percent of the children and youth who were listed on were between the ages of 15 and 18 years old. That’s a tough time to grow up without a family, right?

Older children generally wait longer to be adopted, and have lower overall adoption rates, so the need is real.

You may think you’re not a fit for foster care, but you might be surprised. There are many misperceptions, including the following, shared word for word from the PR agency which asked me to help get the word out from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AdoptUSKids, and the Ad Council.

Some of the Misperceptions about Adoption from Foster Care:

  • Adoption is expensive.  Unlike the private adoption of an infant or adopting internationally, there are virtually no costs associated with adoption from the US child welfare system. In addition, the vast majority of youth adopted from foster care are also eligible for monthly adoption assistance up to the level of the foster care rate.
  • You have to be married. You do not have to be married to adopt in most states. Many children have been very successfully adopted by single parents. Single-parent families accounted for 29 percent of all adoptions from foster care in 2014 (AFCARS).
  • You have to have a college degree. Having a high school diploma or college education is not required. What is important is that you are stable, flexible, and compassionate, and that you have a good sense of humor. Most importantly, you must have the support and commitment to raise a child and to be there for him throughout his life.
  • You have to own a home and each child has to have their own room. You can rent your home or live in an apartment or a mobile home so long as your living situation is a stable one.
  • You have to be of child-bearing age to adopt. Experienced parents and empty-nesters are encouraged to adopt. In most instances, you’re eligible to adopt regardless of age, income, marital status or sexual orientation.
  • You can only adopt a child who is the same race and ethnicity as you. Federal law prohibits the delay or denial of an adoptive placement based on the race or ethnicity of a child in U.S. foster care and the prospective parent or parents who are seeking to adopt them. The only exception to this law is the adoption of Native American children where special considerations apply.
  • You can’t adopt if you’re in the military. Military families stationed overseas and within the U.S. are eligible to adopt children from the U.S. foster care system.

There are 415,000 children in the U.S. foster care system and 108,000 are waiting to be adopted. AdoptUSKids’ maintains a national photo listing service for children waiting to be adopted.

As the adoption PSAs explain, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent,” you just have to have the ability to provide the stability and security that older youth in foster care need and deserve.
Trust me—no parent is perfect. Heck, I’m not even close. Just ask my kids. But I do my best and would hope if something ever happened to me, that my kids wouldn’t be on their own to face life’s tough times by themselves.


Behind the Scenes Tour of ABC’s Nashville TV Show

by Desiree Miller on November 11, 2015

nashville set

Know what’s incredible about the set of ABC’s Nashville? Pretty much everything.

I’m being honest.

I could go on and on, but since it’s a show about a bunch of country musicians and the lives they lead, I figured I should put it into a song. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to sing it. I know that won’t go well. But just imagine Scarlett’s pretty voice…or Rayna’s…or Juliette’s if that’s what floats your boat. Just not me.

Here goes:

When you first walk in, you’ll see the Bluebird Café…

Decorated identical to the real one, a few miles away…

The lights and neon shine like they do in the real bar…

Heck, you can even use the parking lot out front for your car.

bluebird on set

girls room

Then you’ll end up at Rayna’s house, in her girls’ rooms to start…

Decorated with sweetness, album covers and unique wall art.

You’ll walk past backdrops showing the home from the outside,

One shot in daytime and the other at night.


rayna kitchen

A few steps later you’ll end up in the kitchen, where meals and memories are made…

Then walk past the dining room and sitting room, where her trophies are displayed.

You’ll see the stairs that the girls always stomp up…

And then to Rayna’s bedroom where she and Deacon make love (come on, you know you were thinking it).

rayna bed

Her closet is next, and a bath complete with chandelier…

And then on the set, Juliette’s bathroom is near.

Her bathroom is a dream, putting Rayna’s to shame…

Her shower stall alone belongs in a bathroom hall of fame.

juliet shower

The next stop on the set is the home where Avery and Scarlett started out…

Then Scarlett and Gunnar…Gunnar and Will…when Will hinted he was ‘coming out’.

gunnar house

On the lower set you’ll find the doctor’s house where Scarlett lives now…

Then you’ll be at Deacons’ old home, that feels like a cabin somehow.

deacon kitchen

The next set you’ll see is the office where Luke Wheeler makes all his deals…

An office with liquor, lots of wood and steel.

luke office

Then there’s Rayna’s office, with a massive music sheet framed on the wall…

And a photo of her and Deacon, looking like a doll.

rayna music sheet

A short walk later you’ll see the rest of Juliette’s house…

With a patio, a nursery, an exquisite art-deco home you’ll later dream about.

danny rowe

There’s a music room on set, too, where Danny Rowe calls the shots…

He’s in charge of all the instruments and trust me, there’s a lot.

Guitars and drum heads and a ukele, too…

Sometimes the instruments go missing, but the actors leave him a clue.

guitar note

There’s also a fake plane for when they shoot flights,

And a stage for performances they may have at night.

Even the trucks on location have stage names painted on the sides…

With this crew, Juliette, Rayna and Luke provide the rides.

set backstage

luke wheeler truck


There are dressing rooms and a wardrobe truck where the clothes are kept…

Paint cans labeled with every room on the set.

paint cans

With the right camera angle, everything looks just like the real thing…

And when the actors and crew are on set, they make it all sing.

Check it all out in this video below.  It’s long, yes, and the quality isn’t great throughout, but if you are a Nashville fan, I think you’ll enjoy it.

(Note to readers: I was able to tour the set as part of my relationship as a parent influencer with WSB-TV in Atlanta, where Nashville can be seen every Wednesday night at 10pm.)


Hotel Indigo Nashville, Printer’s Alley–an Inside Look

by Desiree Miller on November 10, 2015

Hotel Indigo Nashville

(Note to readers: IHG Rewards Club hosted us overnight for our trip to Nashville.  We were not otherwise compensated and our views remain our own.)

Situated in Nashville’s downtown area, adjacent to the famed Printer’s Alley, you’ll find Hotel Indigo, a hotel that embraces its printing press roots, along with the rest of its intriguing history.

The area originally housed a law office for Andrew Jackson, the man who would go on to become one of our nation’s presidents. There was a stable behind his office where he kept his horse. Eventually, that stable also housed the mules that pulled newspaper wagons through the alleyway.

The area flourished, becoming the printing capital of the world by the 1890s, the hub for more than three dozen major printers, two large newspapers and one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America, the Hatch Brothers. Their distinctive style promoted many of the first vaudeville acts, minstrel shows and movies seen anywhere (there’s now a museum in the Country Music Hall of Fame building housing the Hatch Brothers printing office where you can take tours).

hatch print

Saloons and gambling halls started popping up, right alongside the businesses, becoming “The Men’s District”, with some locations catering to thirsts with speakeasies.

Even after Prohibition ended, mixing bars took their place, with patrons providing their own liquor. More nightclubs opened and rising music legends entertained those coming through the gritty streets.

The presses stopped and the banks are now replaced by hotels, such as the Hotel Indigo, which still honors its unique past with its décor.

You can hear the hotel manager describe it all in the video below. Just click on the arrow.

You’ll find the hotel ideally located for most of what you want to see in Nashville, from the Country Music Hall of Fame a few streets away (where you can catch amazing performances like the one we saw during our visit), to Ryman Auditorium, to the bars, shops and museums of Broadway and Commerce Streets, Printer’s Alley, and, across the bridge, the stadium where the Tennessee Titans play.

nashville bridge


commerce street

You can book a night with your InterContinental Hotels Group reward points and will be fortunate to find few black out dates. IHG has more rooms in more places than any other hotel company, and in this case, those rooms are right in the heart of Nashville, right where you’ll want to be on your next visit.

hotel indigo exterior


The Men of Nashville on Life, Love, & Music-and Hear Them Sing

November 10, 2015

Whether you like the bad boy, the lead singer, or that familiar first love, there’s a guy for every gal on ABC’s TV hit Nashville. And the real men behind each character…well, they’re not so bad, either. I know this firsthand. It’s not TV magic. They’re adorable in person, too. The guys were all at a recent event in music city for a presentation at the Country Music Hall of Fame as part of the Country Music Association Songwriter Series, and I was able to meet them and interview them […]

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Would You Survive the Walking Dead Experience? You Can Try It Now

November 1, 2015

It only took about 20 seconds to feel the full terror of The Walking Dead Experience. …and to realize I would not last a minute in Rick and Daryl’s world. I learned quickly that you can trust no one…including those fighting with you sometimes. The Walking Dead Experience is an immersive attraction where you and six or seven other people are dropped into a zombie zone and have to find a way to survive for 30 minutes. You each are given a secret note at the beginning with a tip. One […]

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Time to Get Away for Fall: Wyndham Resort Suites Sales (#Ad)

October 30, 2015

(Note to readers: This is a sponsored post with Wyndham Resorts. However, all opinions are my own. #ad) Fall is the perfect time for grabbing the family and sneaking in one last getaway before the holidays hit with all their glory (and headaches), and if you book fast, you can catch a great sale through Wyndham Resorts. The Wyndham Extra Holidays resort vacations are now available with up to 30% discounted—but you have to book by the end of the day on 10/31…and you have to travel by 11/25.  Just […]

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Miami Dolphins and Cameron Blair–A Team Made in Heaven

October 25, 2015

The Miami Dolphins could never win another game and I’d consider them the best team in the league every single year because of what they are doing on the field today. They’re honoring a man who was just walking into the best of his life…serving his country, making his parents proud. That was his goal. To make his parents proud. And he did, according to his father, a man I met on a recent airline flight. It was a Southwest flight, so I got to pick where I sat once […]

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A Principal, A Runner, A Hero: Christian Kirby

October 13, 2015

Somebody needs to give Christian Kirby a cape…he’s a hero. Seriously. A St. Jude Hero. And my child’s principal. Principal Appreciation Day is coming up and instead of gifts, some of the parents at the school are taking up a collection to help him raise money for the children at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital…and the children who may some day end up there. Mr. Kirby is all about the kids. After all, you kind of have to like them at least a little if you’re going to be an elementary […]

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