Masquerade: Oddly Suited BOOK REVIEW and Author’s Interviews

Masquerade: Oddly Suited

An Insecure Writer’s Support Group Anthology


About the Book

Find love at the ball…

Can a fake dating game show lead to love? Will a missing key free a clock-bound prince? Can a softball pitcher and a baseball catcher work together? Is there a vampire living in Paradise, Newfoundland? What’s more important—a virtual Traveler or a virtual date to the ball?

Ten authors explore young love in all its facets, from heartbreak to budding passion. Featuring the talents of L.G. Keltner, Jennifer Lane, C.D. Gallant-King, Elizabeth Mueller, Angela Brown, Myles Christensen, Deborah Solice, Carrie-Anne Brownian, Anstice Brown, and Chelsea Marie Ballard.

Hand-picked by a panel of agents and authors, these ten tales will mystify and surprise even as they touch your heart. Don your mask and join the party…

My Recommendation:

READ IT! There is something for everyone! Do you want Love? Got it! Do you want vampires? Got it! Do you want time travel? Go it! This book has something for everything. All of them are short stories and they are just long enough that you can read one each night before you go to sleep. I do recommend this book to read as it has something for everyone and if you want to try to read something that you have not then this book will shed some light into other genres.

Author’s Interviews

Elizabeth Mueller:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

I realized that I wanted to write my first book when I was eleven years old. I wrote a short story (which felt especially long!) titled Thunder. It was about a wild stallion who fell in love with a domestic mare. Masquerade: Oddly Suited is by far not my first book. I’ve actually lost count.

Where do you get your idea’s from or do they just come to you?

They come to me from just about anywhere. Sometimes it comes from an object in a movie, or an old building, a cloud, a tree, a thought, maybe a struggle someone I know is facing. It’s hard to pin it down to one thing since my mind is all over the place.

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

It took me less than a day to write The Cog Prince. As a homeschooling mom and with all five kids still living under one roof, I most definitely do have a schedule to write–it coordinates with my kids’ screen and bedtimes. Sometimes life happens and writing takes a step back.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

I love to write about anything that captures my muse but it must have a reoccurring element: romance! Oh, I enjoy most genres so long as there is romance. The genres I steer clear from are those I wouldn’t let my kids touch: horror and erotica.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

Other than writing, I love to sing and draw and dance. Acting is another favorite pastime when it happens.  I enjoy watching movies with my kids or just hanging out with them talking about everything and anything.

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

The biggest barrier is believing in yourself. I know it’s a very elementary answer, but it is true! Another thing is to find other writers–being a writer can be very lonesome but when we flock together, it’s amazing to see how much we have in common. It also helps bounce ideas off of friends who share the same love as you and to receive feedback. We do want our stuff to make sense to others, right?






Deborah Solice:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book?

Did you first write your own book or is this one your first? I first realize that I wanted to be an author early on. Probably about fourth grade. I have written several stories-turned-books for curricular purposes and am contracted for five novels at the present time.

Where do you get your idea’s from or do they just come to you?

I find some ideas come to me when I’m binge-reading a certain genre and series. I prefer reading series because if I fall in love with the characters or writing style, it’s hard to let go. Then, I’ll get a story in my head and I have to write it. I’ll move on to a different genre and another idea is birthed.That’s why I have completed a Romantic Suspense novel that will be out sometime in the summer or early fall, and am currently on my second book of a contracted YA Speculative Fiction Series. FEARLESS HEART is YA Paranormal/Historical Fiction.

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

FEARLESS HEART started out as a novel, but it felt right to end it at short story length. I’d say it took about two to three weeks to write it. (It was during a historical fiction/paranormal binging period.)

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

I like to write what I read and that is varied. I love Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, Romantic Suspense, YA Contemporary, and YA Speculative Fiction.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

I live in Moscow, Russia, during the school year, so I travel. A lot! I love to go to historical places with a view. These locations are where much of my inspiration originates and then builds into stories. My favorite places to explore are Ireland and Scotland. I do love parts of Italy, too. So much history, the people, their stories ease into your heart and live in your thoughts. Ah-ha! And becomes another story.

Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

I like to write what I read and that is varied. I love Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, Romantic Suspense, YA Contemporary, and YA Speculative Fiction.

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

Yes. If you have a story, tell it. If you enjoy it, then it’s highly likely someone else will, as well. Writing can be cathartic. It can be company when you’re alone. It can let you escape for a little while and walk in someone else’s shoes. Form a support group … possibly Beta Readers / Family and with that support, you can do anything. Just do it!

Twitter: @debsolice


Facebook: Deborah Kelly    (penname)


C.D. Gallant-King:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

I’ve been writing books for as long as I can remember. I still have handwritten and illustrated “books” that I made when I was about 7-8 years old. The oldest was about an elf who tricked a giant ogre to fall fall into a volcano. I have one from grade 4 about a Halloween decoration that came to life and killed people.

My first self-published novel, Ten Thousand Days, was officially released in 2015. I have released several other books and stories since then, including my contribution to the upcoming Masquerade anthology.

Where do you get your idea’s from or do they just come to you?

Lots of different places. Some are inspired by other books and stories, some are based on crazy things my kids say (I have an illustrated children’s book, currently unpublished, about teaching my son not to drink his bath water). Usually these ideas are just small bits, like a cool character or an interesting scene. But if I get enough of them and jam them together, I can create a full story.

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

I don’t have a set schedule for writing. I get in my words wherever and whenever I can find the time. My story for Masquerade didn’t take particularly long, just a few days for the first draft. I like writing short stories because I can pound them out quickly when the inspiration strikes. With a novel it’s hard to keep that momentum going for 80,000 words or more,. It inevitably becomes a slog, like shoveling a driveway with a soup spoon.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

I write in lots of different genres, but the one thing they all have in common is comedy. I can’t take anything seriously, so all of my stories inevitably end up funny (or trying to be funny, anyway). I prefer to read comedy as well. I guess I don’t like it much when other people take themselves too seriously, either.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

My hobbies include wrangling small children and trying to find time to write. And driving to and from work. I think that pretty much covers it?

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

Just do it. Don’t think about it. Don’t second guess yourself, don’t worry about what other people will think. Try to write a little bit every day. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. Don’t go back to read what you’ve written as you go, if you can help it. Just put the words down and see what happens. It will probably suck. That’s okay. You don’t have to show it to anyone. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. The important thing is Did you enjoy writing it? If you did, then great. Be proud of your accomplishment.







Jennifer Lane:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

I started writing fan fiction in 2007 without a clue that I would start writing novels. I have eight novels and two short stories published now.

Where do you get your idea’s from or do they just come to you?

I’m inspired by my career as a psychologist as well as by music, TV, movies, and books.

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

I wrote my short story in about ten hours, as I recall. Editing added to that time-frame. I write only on the weekends because my day job is consuming.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

I like to write sports romance and romantic suspense with a psychological twist. I read those genres as well as historical fiction, chick lit, and literary fiction. I’m in a book club that chooses many different genres.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

I love some sort of daily exercise to tame my anxiety, as well as reading, watching TV, and hanging out with friends.

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

Acknowledge that your first book (and definitely your first draft) will not be very good. Writing is a skill that takes a LOT of practice!


Goodreads: Jennifer Lane

Pinterest: JenLaneBooks

Instagram: JenLaneBooks


Carrie-Anne Brownian:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

I’ve been writing since I was four years old, as long as I’ve known how to write. It’s always been something I just do, the way other people have a calling to be a doctor, clergyperson, painter, or architect. I started with picture books, and had moved to novella-length books by the time I was a preteen. I was writing novel-length books by my early teens.

Where do you get your ideas from or do they just come to you?

Many of my ideas over the years have just come to me, while others have been inspired by events in books and films, or real-life historical events. When it’s the latter, I always significantly transform them so they become uniquely my own stories, not near-facsimiles of someone else’s story.

Sometimes I also start with a basic germ of an idea I’d like to write about; e.g., Heian Japan, a city under a protective bubble in an era where the Sun is now a white dwarf star. I gather together more details from there.

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

This story took three days to write, and three more days to edit, revise, and rewrite. I’ve long tended to do most of my writing, and my best writing, in the evenings and at nights. At one point in the past, I operated under a sleep inversion schedule, which meant I did most of my writing during the hours most people are asleep.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

My passion has always been historical fiction, both reading and writing it. My secondary favorite is sci-fi, with a preference for soft sci-fi and futuristic fiction.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

I’ve been a numismatist (coin collector) since age eight. My favorites are wheat stalk pennies, of which I’m now only missing the hardest to find dates and mint marks. My Roosevelt dimes, Jefferson nickels, and Washington quarters are nearly complete too. I also have some 19th century coins, the most special of which are my 1857 and 1858 Flying Eagle cents in very fine condition. My current goal is the expansion of my collections of Mercury dimes, Liberty Walking quarters, Indian head pennies, and Buffalo nickels.

I’m also a philatelist (stamp collector), with a collection including 19th century stamps, and collect marbles and vinyl LPs. Another passion of mine is silent cinema. To date, I’ve seen almost 1,200 silent films of all types. Other interests are embroidery and cross-stitch, creating art with colored pencils, pastels, and watercolor pencils, and world languages. My dream hobby is collecting, repairing, and showing antique cars (1890s through about 1950).

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

Just find your natural voice and style, instead of trying to directly copy anyone else’s. That might be an interesting story, but it won’t be truly yours. Once you find your unique style and voice, everything will gradually start falling into place. You also shouldn’t expect the first draft to be perfect or nearly flawless. Part of the journey of developing into the best writer you can be is growing over time, learning to see the mistakes in your older works, and maturing along with your characters.


Chelsea Marie Ballard:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

I think I’ve always wanted to write a book. I spent most of my teenage years reading and writing. When I got to college, writing became a more tangible hobby, a way to dump my emotions as I transitioned into adulthood. But I never finished anything. I’d get bored and move onto another project. Finally, last year, I decided this was it! It was time to stop the revolving door of ideas and complete one novel. It took me sitting in front of my laptop for a few hours every day for six months, but I did it. Then when I saw the competition for the IWSG Anthology, I thought, ‘hey a short story would be a good palate cleanser after that 106,000-word novel.’ And it was. Using NaNoWriMo and #FebFrenzy, I recently completed my first draft of my second novel!!

Where do you get your idea’s from or do they just come to you?

I’m an awful pantser. I literally just sit down at my laptop every day and let the juices flow. But I do get scenes from daydreams or night dreams. If I wake up with a really vivid feeling, I’ll rush to write it down. Or ruminate on it all day until my kids go down for a nap and then dump it out onto the page. Every little scrap of imagination adds up!

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

It’s rather embarrassing, but I wrote Remedy in about three hours. I found out about the competition a few days before the deadline and after reading the prompt, I knew exactly what I wanted the story to look like, so I grabbed a babysitter and rushed to the library that night to write it out. Normally, I try to write for an hour or two a day. It usually ends up being less than that and I almost always skip weekends, but I think ‘butt in chair’ is important. Your book will always get written as long as you sit your butt in that chair and write. It doesn’t have to be wonderful or awe-inspiring, just consistent.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

OH, YES! I am in love with young adult/new adult fantasy and science fiction. Give me all the Hunger Games and Red Queens and Uglies. Recently, I’ve been trying to branch out into adult contemporary, but I keep going back to my YA fantasies. I think it’s best to write what you read. I grew up on a steady diet of young adult fantasy and so that’s what I feel most comfortable diving into when I’m writing.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

Reading and gaming are my two other passions. My husband and I play Overwatch pretty much every other night. (Send me your battle tags!) I also recently started exploring pole fitness and I’m in love! I get a killer work out while learning new tricks and flying through the air. It’s lots of fun and I can’t wait to go every week.

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

Not to sound like a meme here but DO ITTTTT! You miss all the shots you never take. Shoot for the moon so you can land on a star. All the inspirational hoopla. Seriously, you are truly your worst critic. Writing a book is a marathon, just finishing is winning! Recently, someone told me they weren’t brave enough to submit their work and I almost cried. Every time you don’t try, you’re giving yourself a rejection. Hearing no sucks, but not as much as wondering ‘what if?’

My socials are Twitter @cecerumba and Instagram @cecerumba. Masquerade: Oddly Suited also has its own Facebook page @masqueradeoddlysuited.


Twitter: (@cecerumba):


Anstice Brown:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

I’ve wanted to write a book since I was little. So far, I’ve written plenty of short stories and poetry but this will be my first significant publication. I’m currently working on a science fantasy novel.

Where do you get your ideas from or do they just come to you?

I’m inspired by all sorts of things, from fantasy and mythology to the latest scientific advancements. I pick up ideas from news articles, television, conversations with friends and even my bizarre dreams. Occasionally, the characters and plot will come to me fully-formed, but more often I start with a vague idea about what I want to write and the details come together when I’m researching and brainstorming.

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

I think it took around ten hours to write the first draft of my story, and I probably spent another five to ten hours editing and formatting it. I usually set my alarm for 5:30 am when I’m writing to a deadline so I can get a golden hour of peace and quiet, then I usually squeeze in another hour after my daughter goes to bed.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

I love reading and writing anything that comes under the umbrella of ‘speculative fiction’-fantasy, sci-fi, dystopian, paranormal, steampunk, and so on. Writing and reading have always been pure escapism for me, so I gravitate towards fantastical, magical and otherworldly stories.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

I enjoy blogging about books, watching films and musical theatre, making digital art, dancing and playing PC games.

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

That’s something most writers experience, so don’t let your fears and doubts put you off. The best way to gain confidence is to keep writing (even a few lines a day helps). Consider joining online communities such as the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to receive helpful feedback and encouragement.

My links







L.G. Keltner:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

I first realized I wanted to be a writer when I was six years old. I grew up in a house where both my parents loved to read, and I enjoyed escaping into fantastical worlds. The moment I started learning to read and write, I knew I wanted to use my words to create different worlds of my own. I started by trying to write a novel, though as a first grader, I didn’t have most of the skills required. Throughout the years, I’ve written several novels, novellas, and short stories, though most of them remain squirreled away on my shelf.

Where do you get your ideas from or do they just come to you?

Sometimes ideas smack me in the face while I’m busy with something else and not expecting inspiration to strike. Other times, I have to go searching for ideas. Fortunately, ideas are everywhere if you’re open to finding them. Being a writer is all about looking at the world around you with a curious eye and asking the crucial question: “What if?”

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

It took a couple of weeks to actually write my story, though I was brainstorming ideas a week or so before I started putting words on the page. I don’t have a set writing schedule. I wish I could, but my kids won’t let me. I simply try to snag all the writing time I can when the opportunity arises.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

Science fiction is my favorite genre to read and write. This includes sci-fi for middle grade, young adult, and adult readers. I also enjoy injecting a sense of humor into my work when appropriate.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

I love amateur astronomy. I also enjoy doing puzzles and playing trivia games. It’s amazing how many random, useless facts I’ve garnered over the years through playing Trivial Pursuit.

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

Give it a try! Your first attempt doesn’t have to be great, and no one ever has to see it if you don’t want them to. Try to focus on the joy you get from telling your story instead of worrying about any negative judgments people might have. Also remember that the more you write, the more you’ll improve.





Myles Christensen:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

I wrote a few short stories in high school and college.  But my first thought that I could write a full book and actually be serious about seeing it published came a little over ten years ago. That led to my first novel which I finished and began querying last spring.

Where do you get your idea’s from or do they just come to you?

Most of my ideas come from strange thoughts during regular life, usually along the lines of “what if a guy’s car was mistaken for the bride and groom’s and when his girlfriend sees the ‘Just Married’ decorations she breaks up with him?” That’s still on my list of stories to write (way down on the list).

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

It took me about three weeks of thinking in the back of my head and then about three weeks of writing. I have a full-time job and several part-time jobs, so I write in the mornings, evenings, and on Saturdays.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

My favorite genre to write is middle-grade science-fiction (particularly near-future space, but no aliens or time travel). My favorite genre to read is sweet romance set in the Regency era. My wife and I read those books out loud to each other. There’s nothing quite as fun and relaxing as date night at the library (or exiting and suspenseful, depending where we are in the story).

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

My mother calls my writing a hobby, but beside that, I enjoy inventing card and board games.

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

Your first attempt at writing doesn’t have to be for anyone but yourself, so you’ve got nothing to lose. See where the journey takes you.


Angela Brown:

When did you first realize you wanted to write a book? Did you first write your own book or is this one your first?

 I had a Gifted and Talented teacher in elementary school who made writing fables and stories a class project. She took our stories and turned them into a “book” by taking them to a local printer for plastic binding and a pink cover. From then on, I wanted to write a book. But it wasn’t until my early 30’s that I finally made that dream a reality by self-publishing my first book.

Where do you get your idea’s from or do they just come to you?

 I try to not dwell on the “what if’s” in the other facets of my life. But asking “what if” is a fantastic idea generator when it comes to writing

How long did it take you to write your section of the book? Do you have a set schedule for when you are writing?

 Okay. So this was a little different. I don’t have a set schedule these days, not since I stepped back from consistent daily writing a couple of years ago. When this anthology contest was announced, a story idea hit me, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to enter. Ten days before the deadline, I decided to enter and ripped this story from my mind put it on the screen in about 6 to 7 days while still working my full time job. Then I did some light revisions and barely got it in under the wire. This is not my normal though.

Do you have a specific genre that you like to write about? Do you enjoy reading that genre too or would you rather read a different genre?

 I love reading fiction, particularly speculative fiction, contemporary, and thrillers. As for writing, I write speculative fiction and fantasy and have a few contemporary pieces in the works.

What do you enjoy doing or do you have any hobbies?

 My hobbby would be reading.

Do you have any tips for those that want to write a book, but are scared to do so?

 Writing is a wonderful journey. If someone is interested in writing but are scared, I’d advise them that being scared is okay. They should read, read, and read some more, for enjoyment and to learn from those who’ve tossed their words into the ocean for reader consumption.


Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed my review and the authors interviews!

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The Road to Forever Book Review, Author Interview and Giveaway


What the Book is About:

Hannah Gomez has been in love with Ian Salerno since she was sixteen. When her assertive flirtations with him at Sawyer and Karina Bank’s wedding leads to a drunken romp in the bedroom, Hannah is mortified, embarrassed, and no longer a virgin. Determined to put the biggest mistake of her life behind her before he awakens, Hannah escapes with whatever pride she has left.

Ian, Hannah’s late brother-in-law’s best friend, has sworn off relationships forever. Hannah has always been in the background-and someone he has never really noticed much-until now. But after he realizes it was her who shared a passionate rendezvous with him at the wedding, Ian finds he is unable to resist her. But there’s only one problem: he is battling more personal demons than he would like to admit. Now only time will tell if fate has made a mistake by throwing them together or if they will somehow manage to overcome their challenges and find true love.

The Road to Forever is a tale of a young couple’s journey together through obstacles and personal demons after their destinies are intertwined at a wedding.

My Review:

The Road to Forever is the second book in the series (Road Series)! I already felt like I knew most of the characters and I was even more excited to get to know more of the characters in a more in depth love story.  After reading the first book I was so excited to get the second that I read it in a weekend and then I let my mom barrow it to read. We both loved it and do recommend reading it. I was happy to read that this book takes place right after the first, so it was like reading in real life. In this book there were twist and turns that I did not see coming that kept me interested. It go steamy hot, sadness, fights, disagreements, and something that everyone loves, LOVE!

Author Interview: Marla Machado


When did you decide to start write this book?  I didn’t so much decide to start writing a book as it picked me.  I was going through some stuff in my life at the time when I started The Road Back and for me reading has always been my escape, one night after maybe a smidge too much wine, Karina and Sawyer started talking to me.  Most people would seek help with that sort of thing, I decided to write them down.
Did you know what your book was going to be able before you started writing or what was that process like?  Not a clue.  I just started writing and scenarios just started coming to me little by little.
What do you like to read about?  I love a happy ending so I tend to choose mostly romances, but I’ll pick up a non fiction book if the topic interests me, most recently I read the book The Operator by Robert O’Neill, the Navy Seal that killed Osama Bin Laden, and when it comes out I’m going to read Howard Stern’s new book, I’m a huge fan of his and this is a book of mostly his interviews I’m really looking forward to it I love history so my first romances were historicals. I also read recently the book James Patterson wrote about Aaron Hernandez.
How did you decide on your cover?  I didn’t want your typical naked chest on the cover, I know it sells books, as one blogger told me, but I’ve always prided myself on deviating from the pack, and since my book is called The Road Back, I wanted something that would show a road, I saw this picture and just fell in love.  For the Road to Forever, there’s a scene where they’re at a lake so I wanted to portray that in the cover and I just again fell in love with this cover.
When writing did you write on paper first or the computer?  iPad actually, then my computer.  I had a blog for a little while where I would review novels and then recommend a wine to pair with that book, I put the first two very raw chapters up on that blog until a friend told me to put this to a word program and flesh it out because she really felt I had something here.
What is your writing process?  I just write.  Then I take a break and go back and flesh out what I’ve written, then write more then flesh that out … etc.
How many unpublished or half written books do you have?  I have one novella i’m writing that is going to be spin off of my Road Series but that’s it right now, I started book 3 but it’s in it’s very infancy right now.
Did you do any research before you wrote your book? No even a little.
Do you plan on writing a 3rd book and any juicy details you would like to share about it?  I do!  Book 3 is going to be about Emily, Karina’s best friend.  She’s not what you think she is and she’s got some serious baggage … 🙂
Do you plan on writing another series after this one? I do – I have an idea about a set of quadruplets that could not be more different from one another if they tried.
What is your favorite part of your book and what part did you have the most difficulty with?  My favorite is always the happy ending – life can get so serious sometimes and it’s not always fun – but in my books I can totally control the outcome.  I guess the most difficult is knowing when to let go.  I always think to my self “hmm totally could have made that way better”.
What do you like to do for fun?  Reading of course, we live in a lake town so going out on the lake is always fun, going out and having a nice dinner with my husband, hiking, watching movies and spending time with friends.
You can find this book on amazonBarnes and Nobel and Kobo ,
Marla was kind enough to give this book to me for a review, so I will be doing a giveaway! The only requirement I have once you get it is that you have to sign the book and send a photo over so I can update the photo. and keep it going!
Please Comment, Share and I will pick a winner at the end of the month!
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The Very Best of Illinois

My Home State, Illinois!

I was born and raised in Illinois, and I’ve always been proud of where I’m from. I’ve visited and stayed at places from the southern tip of the state all the way to the north. Illinois is way more than just Chicago, and I hope to convince you of that in this post. If I were to visit my fair state as a tourist with a week to spare, I’d split my visit up into three parts:

  • 3 days in Chicago
  • 2 days in Springfield
  • 2 days in Southern Illinois

I’ll tell you about each area in more detail, and why I recommend them so highly. First, we’ll talk about the best way to get around Illinois.

Getting Around Illinois

Illinois is a big state – over 200 miles wide, and nearly 400 miles long. If you arrive in Chicago and are venturing anywhere outside the city, it’s best to have (or to rent) a car for the duration of your stay. Driving in the city can be a hassle at times, and parking is expensive. But if you’re going anywhere outside the metro area (city and close-in suburbs), there’s really no good transportation. Amtrak travels to Chicago and Carbondale 2-3 times a day, but you’re on their schedule.

Trust me – get a car. You won’t be disappointed. And the money you spend will be worth it.


As the largest city in Illinois and the third largest in the US, Chicago is truly a world-class city. It’s got everything you could want: great restaurants, nightlife, family-friendly activities, and great sports teams. It’s not easy to see the entire city in three days, but I’ll recommend some activities you should check out.

The Loop

The Loop is Chicago’s central business district and is also home to a lot of cultural and architectural wonders. It was originally defined as the area inside of the rectangular route of the Elevated Train system, or the “El” as we call it. I wrote a post on touring Chicago’s Loop on foot, so I’ll just hit a few highlights here.

Chicago El tracks

If you head toward the east side of the Loop (closer to Lake Michigan), you’ll encounter Millennium Park. The park is 25 acres and is full of beautiful landscaping, architecture and public art. It’s also full of fun, free and family friendly activities year-round. It houses one of my personal favorite sculptures: Sir Anish Kapoor’s sculpture “Cloud Gate,” which we affectionately refer to as “The Bean.”

The Bean

The Bean is one of the best-known sculptures in all of Chicago. It’s accessible 24 hours a day and draws visitors all hours of the day and night. It’s interesting by itself, and it also provides some unique reflections of the Chicago skyline. If you get the chance to see it, walk all the way around – including underneath it – to experience the reflections from all angles. It’s like a funhouse mirror writ large.

One final memorable spot I’d recommend in the loop is Buckingham Fountain. The fountain is just to the south of Millennium Park and is located in Grant Park. From the spring through the fall, the fountain has an active and fun light and water show going on continually. It’s surrounded by well-tended gardens and lots of sitting and relaxing space – all the better to take in views of the Chicago skyline.


During the summer, you can find free concerts and other forms of entertainment in the Millennium Park and Grant Park area. There are way more activities and wonderful sites in the park than we can cover in this short article, so be sure to check out’s list of Top 10 Things You Shouldn’t Miss at Chicago’s Millennium Park Campus.

As big as the Loop is, this is just the tip of the Chicago iceberg. One other area I recommend highly for tourists – especially families – is the Lincoln Park area, located just north of downtown.

Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park is nestled between the Chicago River on the west, Lake Michigan on the east, and is between Diversey Parkway and North Avenue. It’s a very short bus or taxi ride from the Loop area and is full of family-friendly activities.

Lincoln Park Zoo

One of the most popular family activities in this area is the Lincoln Park Zoo. Opened in 1868, is one of the nation’s oldest zoos. It is also one of the few remaining zoos with no entrance fee. Hours vary by season and holiday, but the zoo is generally open from 10:00AM to either 4:30PM or 5:00PM most days. It stretches over 35 acres and contains well over 1,100 animals from over 200 species. It’s open 365 days a year, and has both indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Just past the north end of the zoo, you’ll find the Lincoln Park Conservatory. It’s a 3-acre conservatory and botanical garden containing a variety of species from many different climate types – from arid to tropical. The conservatory is open from 9AM to 5PM every day, and admission is free.

If you’re planning to be in Chicago in August, try to plan your visit around the Chicago Air and Water Show. The show is planned for the third weekend every August and is the country’s largest free air show. Both civilian and military aircraft fly in the show – everything from propeller-driven biplanes to our military’s fastest and most effective bombers and fighters. If you’re going to attend the show, check out my post on tips for attending and photographing it.

A Word About Chicago’s Food

Of course, you can’t visit Chicago without indulging in our decadent food choices. I recommend a few:

  • Garrett’s Popcorn: When out-of-town friends come in, Garrett’s is the number one most requested item. Their specialties are cheese popcorn, caramel corn, and what they call the “Chicago blend” – a mix of cheese and caramel corn. The blend of savory and sweet is to die for!
  • Lou Malnati’s pizza: I don’t care what New Yorkers say…Chicago has the best pizza, hands down. Chicago is the home of the deep-dish pizza, and Lou Malnati was a real Chicago chef instrumental in its creation. Of all Chicago’s many pizza places, this has got to be my favorite.
  • Italian beef sandwiches: I’ve never found these anywhere other than Chicago. It’s made of thinly-sliced beef marinated in a gravy with onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and a few other spices for good measure. It’s served on a French roll, often with peppers (sweet and/or hot). There are literally hundreds of fast food restaurants in the city that sell them. Portillio’s makes my favorite, but I’ve never had a bad one anywhere I’ve been to.

WHEW. That’s a lot to see and do in three days. But wait…Illinois has more in store.


After three whirlwind days in Chicago, it’s time to take a trip south to Springfield. The best way to reach Springfield from Chicago is via Interstate 55. The drive takes approximately three hours.

Springfield is the capital of Illinois, and the place where Abraham Lincoln spent most of his time. It also has great architecture that’s worth a visit. We’ll cover a few key places you should consider seeing during your time in Springfield.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum

The Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum documents the life of our 16th President as well as the Civil War, which occurred during his administration. It is one of the most visited Presidential libraries in the entire United States.

In addition to documents covering the life and history of Lincoln, it also contains all his Presidential papers. The papers are preserved in a climate-controlled environment and are available to scholars and researchers from all over the world. The museum also contains records and archives on the state of Illinois, providing rich insight into the progress and events that have occurred since the state’s founding in 1818.

The Museum is open from 9AM-5PM daily, with exceptions for certain holidays. Check the museum’s website for current admission fees and schedules of upcoming events.

Lincoln Home National Historical Site


The house in which Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln lived during their tenure in Springfield was the only home they ever owned. After falling into disrepair in the first part of the 20th century, the home has been lovingly restored to its former glory. It’s now a National Historical Site that can be toured during normal hours of operation. The Site also has ongoing living historical demonstrations: actors dressed in period clothes, doing activities and chores that people in Lincoln’s day would have done…giving you an insight into the history and culture of the time.

For hours of operation and fees, consult the National Park Service page for the Lincoln Home.

The Old State Capitol

old state capitol

The Old State Capitol building is a reconstruction of Illinois’ fifth capitol, and the first one located in Springfield. This capitol was an important site in Lincoln’s life as well as in the history of the United States. It was one of the spots for the Lincoln-Douglas debates prior to Lincoln’s election as President. It also saw the sad end of his tenure – it was the final location where his body laid in state after his assassination in 1863.

The building was rehabbed and modernized in the 1960s. Tours are conducted on a daily basis, explaining and demonstrating not only the architectural features of the building but also providing a glimpse into Illinois’ history.

Dana-Thomas House

dana thomas house

6The Dana Thomas House

There are, of course, things to see and experience in Springfield besides Lincoln-related sites. One of my favorites is the Dana-Thomas House. The house was constructed by world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1902 for local socialite Susan Lawrence Dana. The 12,000 square foot home has been restored to its initial construction specifications. It contains many fine specimens not only of Wright’s architecture, but also his stained glass and furniture designs.

Southern Illinois

After departing Springfield, drive approximately three hours south. You’ll go past Carbondale, the home of Southern Illinois University (SIU). It’s a good college town and a good place for food if you need a stop. From here you’ll step out of the hustle and bustle of city life you experienced in Chicago and Springfield – and trade it for some real natural beauty.

Two sites you should definitely visit in Southern Illinois are Giant City State Park, and the western edge of the Shawnee National Forest.

Giant City State Park


Giant City State Park, just outside Carbondale and within the bounds of the Shawnee National Forest, is a natural paradise offering a wide variety of activities for those who love the outdoors. The park offers hiking, camping, horseback riding, fishing and rappelling.

Giant City Lodge, located within the park, offers reasonable and comfortable stays while you’re in the park. The park also offers camping opportunities. You can reserve a spot head of time or take advantage of one of the “first come, first served” sites.

Hunting is also allowed in the park at certain seasons. The park is open year-round from 7AM to 10PM daily. For more information, consult the park’s website.

Shawnee National Forest


We’ll end our tour of Illinois with a day in the Shawnee National Forest. The forest borders the Ohio River in the extreme southeastern corner of Illinois. Its 289,000 acres of forests, wetlands and rugged hiking trails are relaxing and beautiful – a great way to stay in touch with nature. A wide variety of plants and animals can be found within the park year-round. It also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities such as bicycling, hiking, fishing and hunting, horseback riding, and swimming.

A lodge and camp sites are available for visitors who choose to extend their stay in the Forest.

A Few Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my home state. A visitor could easily spend a week in any one of these places, but there are always tradeoffs to make with limited time. Hopefully you’ll enjoy enough of Illinois that you’ll come back soon!

Author Bio

Jim Jones is an award winning blogger and travel photographer. He’s been to all 50 states, over 40 countries, and 5 continents…and he’s not done seeing the world yet. He works to inspire people to visit great destinations and to start or improve their focus on travel, nature and landscape photography. As his site’s tagline says, he encourages people to “Go Travel. Take Photos. Tell Stories.”

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Jim thank you so much for telling us all abut your home state. I have been to Chicago before for a long weekend and loved it! Here is all about our stay. My son and husband have been talking about wanting to go back really soon for the pizza!

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The Very Best of Kansas

The Very Best of Kansas


When you picture Kansas The Wizard of Oz and tornado’s may be all that you can think of but there is much more to this midwestern state. From the vast plains to the rolling flint hills, Kansas has much to see and is a beautiful representation of the Midwest. I have done my best here to highlight the must see spots of Kansas that can be done on a round about road trip. If you hit all attractions on this road trip and spent a couple days in the major cities this would best be done in a couple of weeks. However, you could always split up eastern or western Kansas or major cities if looking for a less time consuming itinerary. Majority of the state is rural so a car is paramount for getting around. Also I will only talk about Kansas City briefly as I am sure this will also be covered in the Very Best of Missouri as most of KC is indeed in Missouri.


The cheapest way to get to Kansas and start your road trip through the state is probably to fly into Kansas City, Missouri then rent a car. Another option wound be to fly to Wichita however Kansas City is usually cheaper. Starting in Kansas City there is plenty to see and do some of which I will casually mention but again will likely be covered more in depth as part of Missouri.


Kansas City


One of the best things about Kansas City is there is literally something for everyone. It is easy to find something for the whole family, adults only, the museum or sports lover. If vacationing with kids don’t worry you will have plenty to keep kids of any age occupied. A few attractions for the whole family are the Kansas City zoo, Union station and union station science center, world of fun and oceans of fun. In contrast, if you are hoping to make this an adults only trip Kansas City is a wonderful place for a weekend or just a night out. Spend a night in power and light which has several bars, a central courtyard and during the summer a weekly concert series. Are you a fan of beer? Take a tour of the Boulevard Brewing Company on the Missouri side.


From Kansas City I would recommend heading next to Wichita. This is about a 2.5 hour drive on interstate. The drive will take you through part of the rolling flint hills which are perfectly lush green during the summer.




Wichita, while not the capital, is the largest city in Kansas. It is the perfect blend of small town and city with a lot to do and see.


Wichita is nothing if not family friendly. Spend a day at the Sedgwick County Zoo or if you are looking for a little different experience visit Tanganyika Wildlife park ( Tanganyika allows you to interact with the animals and even feed them. Next make a stop at the cowtown museum to take a step into the past with this old west town built on 23 acres. Make sure you also visit the exploration place with the kids for fun interactive learning. Lastly, make sure to witness the lighting of the keeper of the plains which occurs at 9pm.  Next, whether you are a young adult or an older couple looking to get away for some adult time ,Wichita is more than just a family friendly escape. With microbreweries popping up left and right you will not be disappointed with a stop to this Midwest city. Stop at River City brewing company then take a walk around old town to see the murals, unique shops and eateries. If you are a pizza lover Wichita Brewing Company is for you, with their unique wood-fire pizzas and hearty brews there is something for everyone.


If you still have time additional things to do include visiting the botanical gardens, catching a movie at the old Starlite Drive in theatre, try your hand at axe throwing at Blade and Timber or pickle ball at Chicken and Pickle. If sports aren’t your thing, you can always test your brain at one of the many breakout rooms.


From Wichita make your way northwest to Hutchinson, KS. About an hour from Wichita on the highway this is an easy drive to start your next day.




Hutchison is a moderately sized town with some of the top state attractions. Along the way make a stop in the old Amish town of Yoder to enjoy amazing home made Amish foods. In Hutchinson you should be sure to visit the Strataca salt mines ( as well as the Cosmosphere ( These are both family friendly activities. This town also hosts the state fair every year so if visiting in late August, September make sure to take in the concerts, animals and unique foods that can only be found at state fairs.


After leaving Hutchinson you will be heading more rurally and away from the more major cities of eastern Kansas.


Dodge City


If you are into old Western history or movies Dodge City should definitely be a stop on your Kansas road trip. Once a town frequented by Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp this town was an epicenter in the old west. See some of the old west figures in wax form at their wax museum before stopping a the Boot Hill Museum and Fort Dodge. Traveling without kids? Get in a little gambling at the small Boot Hill Casino. Lastly, if visiting in July be sure to check out Dodge City Days and one of the best PRCA rodeos.


From Dodge City make your way through Garden City then north toward Scott City. Now don’t let the names fool you while they have city in their name these are no large metropolises and are surrounded by vast rural plains.


Monument Rocks


Monument rocks are 80 million year old fossils out in the country between Scott City and Oakley ( These unique rock formations attract thousands of visitors to the western plains for their uniqueness. To get here you will have to venture off of the highway onto dirt roads so watch the weather as a small rental car and muddy roads don’t bode well. If you get a chance to see these at sunrise or sunset I would highly recommend this!


From Monument Rocks keep going north to stop in the small town of Oakley. You can stop here briefly to visit the Buffalo Bill statue or stay for the night if you end up here later at night.


While heading back eastward there are several places you can stop along the way if you are looking to see the quirkier side of Kansas. If you are getting short on time or just not into weird roadside attractions skip on to Manhattan, KS. Heading back eastward from Oakley you can stop in Hays and visit the Sternberg museum before heading to Lucas to see the Garden of Eden. This unique attraction has sculptures of religious and political figures and is definitely a quirky attraction. Looking to see some more unique Kansas attractions? Next you can make your way to Cawker City which hosts the largest ball of twine.




Coined the “little apple” Manhattan is the home to Kansas State University (K-State) and is a fun and proud college town. Get outdoors at the Tuttle Creek State Park or Konza Prairie or learn more about the flint hills at the new Flint Hill Discovery Center ( For the adults there is plenty of night life to be found in Aggieville with a several block stretch of bars and eateries. You can also stop in at Tallgrass tap house for a fresh brew. Grab a bite at Coco Bolos, The Chef or Little Apple Brewing Company for local eats. If you are looking for a fancier dining experience make a stop a Harry’s.


On your way to Topeka, my next recommended stop, you can choose to stop at the small town of Wamego which is home to the Wizard of Oz museum.




The capital city of Kansas may not be the biggest but it does have its charms. Topeka is rich with history and is trying more and more to build up its downtown and things to do. The capital building has a beautiful dome and can be toured for free. Make sure you also take in the history of the Brown vs Board museum where segregation was challenged in schools. If you are looking for a little more fun with the kids or by yourself check out Gage park for its zoo, train rides or beautiful green spaces. Lastly, take in the Topeka art scene with a visit to the quirky NOTO arts district ( This is a few block stretch in North Topeka of shops, eateries and art galleries. Here you will also find great wall murals for photos and the monthly first Friday art walk which attracts thousands.


Some of my favorite places to eat include Blind Tiger Brewery, The Iron Rail, The Wheel Barrel and the Burger Stand.


Lastly on your way back to Kansas City to head home I recommend stopping in Lawrence.




Lawrence is home to KU and the nationally known Jayhawks. This town is one of my absolute favorites in Kansas because it is so quirky and relaxed. I would consider this to the be most eclectic town the state has as it has a little something for everyone. Take a walk down Massachusettes (Mass) Street to take in some of the best food, entertainment and shopping. There are so many amazing food and drink options here you can’t go wrong. If visiting in September make a fun trip out to Grinter Farms ( to take in the free sunflower fields.


So there it is…some of the best things to see on your Kansas road trip. Now, if I didn’t live here I probably wouldn’t pick it as my top destination either but there are some amazing things to be witnessed by visiting Kansas. If you are from a city and haven’t been rurally much you will be amazed at the clear starry nights of perfect sunsets you can witness on the plains. The people are usually very friendly and the history of the old west and the days of the first settlers can still be found.

A little about the author


Morgan Martin mostly grew up in rural western Kansas on a 17,000 acre nature preserve and later moved to eastern Kansas for schooling. Now located in the capital city of Topeka she works full time as a physician assistant but has a passion for traveling. Recently starting a travel blog she shares her tips, tricks and destinations to inspire wanderlust in others. While Kansas is where she resides she considers the world her home and loves any chance to see more of it.


Morgan thank you for sharing about Kansas! I should visit there more since I am not too far away! Hopefully we can make a long weekend trip someday soon!

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Birthday and JT Concert

January 31, 1986 was the day I was born! Now, I do not remember that day, but I celebrate it every year! This year my husband and son got me a gift that I will always remember.

Once I got home from work I was told to sit on the bed and open up my gift. I first opened the 2 cards from them and then I opened the box that they handed me. Inside the box was a balloon that I had to pop to see what was in it.

Photos above are from my birthday and photos and video’e below are from the concert!









The Very Best of North Carolina


Though I’ll be sharing a huge variety of activities for you to enjoy in my beautiful state, I am an outdoor lover, so I’ll start with one of the best budget-friendly and family-friendly activities you can enjoy anywhere in North Carolina – our state parks!  This year, NC State Parks have continued the NC 100 mile challenge where the goal is to log 100 miles of outdoor activity over the course of the year.  This can be hiking, walking, running, biking, swimming, or kayaking and you can earn badges and prizes along the way.  This is a wonderful initiative to encourage physical activity with the whole family (including furry friends) while exploring the 27 state parks.  Fun fact – ask for a passport at any of the state parks and you can request a stamp at each park you visit. Once you have visited all 27 parks you will earn a reward, so it’s a fun challenge for those who are ambitious and want to hike portions of the Appalachian Trail and/or Mountains To Sea Trail.

One of my favorite parks is Hanging Rock State Park which is up near the Virginia border and offers a nice variety of trails as well as places to camp.  We love bringing our Cattle Dog Mix (Sasha) along for our outdoor adventures.


Now that you’ve seen some of what the state parks have to offer, let’s delve into the major regions of North Carolina and what each one is famous for.

The Piedmont Triad

First, we’ll start with the Piedmont Triad, which is the north-central region where I live.  The Triad is made up of Greensboro, High Point, and Winston Salem and has a lot of kid-friendly activities.  Just north of us, you can visit the home of Andy Griffith in Mayberry!



  • We boast a large variety of public artwork throughout the city as well as student-created Jeansboro sculptures due to the large influence of Wrangler in this city.
  • Along with Charlotte and Raleigh, Greensboro was a resettlement city for Montagnards so you will notice many Lao and Vietnamese restaurants and markets due to this population.  I love the ethnic diversity in Greensboro!
  • Stop in for the best dessert of your life at Maxie B’s and be sure to grab a hot dog at Yum Yum.
  • Take your pooch to The Barking Deck where you can enjoy some brews while they play with other dogs.

High Point

Winston Salem

The Triangle

Next up is the Triangle which consists of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.  You may be most familiar with this area of the state because it is basketball central.  



  • The beautiful State Capitol building is definitely worth a visit
  • The train station was recently revamped and is quite modern and clean.  We love traveling via train here for New Years and other holidays.
  • Check out the NYE celebration here with the Acorn drop.


Chapel Hill

The Coast

Any beach lovers out there?  If so, North Carolina has some gems for you in that category.  When we were first married, my husband and I lived in Wilmington for a few months, which is right on the coast.  Thankfully it is recovering from the recent hurricane damage and is starting to flourish once again. There are so many nice coastal cities, it was hard to narrow it down!


Wilmington Area

  • Carolina Beach, Wrightsville Beach and Kure Beach, along with Topsail are all wonderful places to enjoy the sun and sand, as well as fishing.  You can even stay in a shipping container for a unique accommodation just 2 blocks from the beach in Carolina Beach!  We stayed here recently and it was a blast. It’s also pet-friendly!
  • Visit the Riverwalk, Battleship NC, and enjoy some volleyball at Capt’n Bills or Dig and Dive.
  • Visit Fort Fisher’s Aquarium.
  • Check out the Venus Flytrap Trail to see some carnivorous plants.
  • Try to locate all the Bear statues in nearby New Bern.
  • Enjoy fresh sushi and home-made sake at Genki.

Outer Banks

  • This area has a less touristy and more untouched feel than most beach areas since it’s a little harder to get to, but it’s definitely worth the trip!
  • Make sure to see the lighthouses – Hatteras, Bodie Island and Ocracoke are my favorites.
  • Ocracoke Island is just a short ferry ride away from the mainland and is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway with your significant other.  They have plenty of Inns and B&B’s on the island.
  • Enjoy seeing wild horses in Corolla
  • Visit the original Duck Donuts.  Maple Bacon flavor is legit.
  • Stop by the huge sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park and visit the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

Maybe the beach isn’t really your thing and you’d rather spend time in a big city with plenty of options for shopping, professional sports, the arts, fine dining, etc.  Charlotte has a lot of options for you if so!

Charlotte Area Attractions

  • Pro sports – go watch NASCAR or see the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, Charlotte Knights or Charlotte Checkers play.  
  • IKEA – even if you don’t need to buy anything, it’s a fun activity to just walk through.  Be sure to try the Swedish meatballs and chocolate cake.
  • Indoor Skydiving at iFLY
  • US National Whitewater Center – this place has EVERYTHING!  Rafting, music festivals, SUP, ropes courses, mountain biking, trail races, rock climbing, kayaking and much more.  It’s also pet-friendly and you can bring your own hammock to chill in.
  • Enjoy a night out in NODA enjoying some shopping, music and the arts.
  • South Park Mall – if you just want to shop at a posh mall that has all the top shelf stores, this is your place.

As you can tell, Charlotte isn’t lacking for things to do, but it can get rather hectic and congested with traffic.  For a more relaxed setting, why not head to the mountains? I must admit, growing up I was a total beach girl, hated the cold and didn’t appreciate the mountains.  Then, I married a mountain man who went to school in Boone, and he has slowly won me over and showed me just how much there is to love about the colder temperatures and stunning scenery.  Some of our favorite mountain towns are below, but you can’t go wrong with any of them in NC!

Mountain Towns


  • Named after the famous pioneer Daniel Boone, it is home to Appalachian State University, Appalachian Mountain Brewery and countless outdoor activities for both winter sports and water sports in the warmer months.
  • Not far from Boone is Blowing Rock where kids will love the Tweetsie Railroad.
  • Nearby Banner Elk is a fun stop and is famous for the Wooly Worm Festival.


  • Probably most famous for The Biltmore Estate and the Blue Ridge Parkway, this eclectic hippie town is home to countless breweries and a huge selection of restaurants.
  • Our favorite restaurant/brewery is Bhramari Brewing!  Just around the corner from Wicked Weed and much less crowded.  
  • If you visit in warmer months, be sure to check out Sliding Rock and the many swimming holes and waterfalls in the Pisgah National Forest.  
  • You can save money by camping at Lake Powhatan which is a short drive to downtown Asheville or by staying at Airbnb’s just outside the city.

Chimney Rock, Pilot Mountain, and Grandfather Mountain

  • These all deserve a visit as well, but beware of the crowds – it’s best to visit very early in the day or in the off-season in order to find parking and not be grouchy.

Other Unique Sites in NC:

Lastly, don’t you dare leave North Carolina before trying our vinegar-based BBQ.  You can find this in many cities, but my absolute favorite place for this is located between Charlotte and Greensboro in a famous restaurant called Lexington BBQ.  No frills, just amazing flavor and friendly service.  After having mustard based BBQ while living in South Carolina and tomato-based BBQ while living near Kansas City, I can confidently say vinegar based has won my heart, forever and always.

Thank you so much for reading about North Carolina, and please let me know if you have any questions or need any more information on any of the places I’ve mentioned.  I’ll be glad to help if I can!

Author Bio


Emily is a nutrition and movement coach certified by The Institute for Integrative Nutrition who has made it her goal to plank in as many new places as possible.  After struggling with serious health issues for several years, she learned the importance of embracing healthy living both at home and on her travels. She started her blog The Planking Traveler as a way to share her passion for wellness with others and offer them support in their own health and fitness journeys.  Through sharing her planking adventures, non-toxic living tips, and free fitness opportunities, she hopes to inspire you to embrace enjoyable movement and optimal nutrition as a sustainable lifestyle instead of just a temporary fix to lose weight.  

You can follow her on the following social channels:






Emily thank you for sharing North Carolina with us! I have been there to the Outer Banks and it is beautiful! I hope to visit again sometime.

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The Very Best of Minnesota

The Very Best of Minnesota

Minnesota – the land of 10,000+ lakes and more


I’ve called Minnesota home for 25 years, and here are a few must-see-and-do experiences from a local’s perspective. All destinations are appropriate for most ages except where noted, and all accessible by vehicles.

Mall of America offers more than shopping

MOA Escalators

If you‘re a first-timer, the Mall of America (or MOA as we locals call it) can be daunting and overwhelming as the 5.6 million-square-foot mall features more than 500 stores. Located in Bloomington, Minn., it’s only a few miles from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

Nickelodean Universe Dora Ferris Wheel


Then there’s this seven-acre amusement park in the center – Nickelodean Universe – the largest indoor theme park in the U.S. In all, the Mall of America features 27 rides and attractions, including the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium.

How to get there: It’s drivable and offers plenty of parking. Or you can take the blue line on the light rail from Minneapolis or the MSP Airport.


Go jump into one of the 10,000+ lakes

Lake Marion Geese


With 11,842 lakes, you’ll never be at a loss on water activities from fishing to boating to paddleboarding to tubing to swimming. Here are few popular lake destinations.

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park – Located right in Minneapolis; this park includes Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska, and Lake Harriet, with trails connecting them.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area – Looking for a place to completely unplug? This is the place. Located in the northern part of Minnesota, this wilderness area covers more than one million acres and features 1,200 miles of canoe routes and 12 hiking trails. This is a fairly rugged area so probably not suitable for younger children.

Lake Minnetonka – At more than 14,000 square feet, this is the largest lake in the Twin Cities metropolitan area that boasts fun activities for the entire family.

Lake Mille Lacs – a popular family vacation destination, it’s one of the state’s largest lakes where you can enjoy activities year-round


Miles and miles of bike and hiking trails



Minnesota offers 4,000 miles of paved bike trails with many created from former railroad beds in scenic areas. Check this rails-to-trails site for locations, trail terrain, length and reviews. Hiking trails are also quite abundant with various degrees of difficulty – from paved paths to steep rocky climbs. Check this site for details on everything from easy daytrips to multi-day backpacking adventures. These resources are also good in determining age-appropriateness.


Stroll through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Spoon and Cherry


The iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture is just one of the many works of arts you’ll find at the Minneapolis Sculpture GardenDownload the interactive self-guided tour experience.


Take a nature break at Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls


One of Minneapolis’ oldest parks features the 53-foot Minnehaha Falls waterfall right in the heart of the Twin Cities. And if visiting late spring to early fall, be sure to stop at the nearby Sea Salt Eatery, one of my favorite al fresco restaurants.


Take the scenic drive along the North Shore to Gooseberry Falls

Gooseberry Falls

If you love waterfalls, take a three-hour drive north of the cities along Lake Superior and visit the beautiful Gooseberry Falls. The whole family can enjoy an easy hike on a paved trail around the falls top to bottom.


Tour the historic Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse


Drive seven miles north of Gooseberry Falls to tour the beautiful and historical Split Rock Lighthouse that sits above Lake Superior in Two Harbors, Minn. If you don’t mind stairs (there’s a lot of them), you can check out the lighthouse from the shores of Lake Superior. Take caution especially with small children as it is very rocky and can become dangerous during inclement weather.


Lutsen Mountains offers year-round activities

Lutsen Gondola


Take a scenic road trip another 45 miles north on the North Shore and visit Lutsen Mountains. This area offers year-round activities including hiking trails, a gondola ride, alpine slide and skiing. The gondola ride is especially incredible during leaf-peeping season.


Duluth – the gateway to Lake Superior

Aerial Lift Bridge Night


I could write an entire blog series on all the great things to experience in Duluth, one of my favorite places in Minnesota. My son attends the University of Minnesota-Duluth (Go Bulldogs!) so we visit often (about a 2.5-hour drive from the Twin Cities – depending on weather and construction, of course).

Here’s an abbreviated list of things to do in Duluth.

  • Lake Superior Lakewalk and Boardwalk – a paved 7.5-mile trail where you can enjoy lake views, shopping and restaurants; and can walk up to the harbor lighthouse during the summer
  • Aerial lift bridge – Duluth’s most famous landmark – stay long enough to watch it rise to let boats and even ships through (here’s a ship schedule)
  • Glensheen Mansion tour – this historic two-acre estate overlooks Lake Superior and features gardens, bridges, and a 39-room mansion
  • Great Lakes Aquarium – features animals and habitats found within the Great Lakes Basin as well as animals from other freshwater ecosystems such as the Amazon River
  • Scenic drives – Duluth offers several beautiful drives in the area
  • Brewery tours (21+) – if you’re a fan of craft beer, check out one or more of their local brewery tours
  • Bentleyville Tour of Lights – America’s largest free walk-through lighting display during the winter holiday season


Take a family day at the Science Museum of Minnesota

Science Museum Girls


The Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul is one of our favorite places to visit especially when my two young nieces visit (elementary school), but we adults also love it.


Minnesota Zoo – from tigers to exotic fish to butterflies

Butterfly Garden


Open 365 days a year, the Minnesota Zoo is a fun family destination. And while the zoo features many animals, birds and sealife from around the world, my favorite is the Butterfly Garden. Another endearing exhibit is Farm Babies, open March 22 through April 30 – so much cuteness! The Minnesota Zoo is also a great way to eliminate cabin fever during the winter months.
These are just a few of my favorite things to experience in Minnesota, and is not an exhaustive list. For more amazing destinations, refer to Explore Minnesota – a great resource to discover Minnesota.




Bio: Karen Mellott-Foshier (aka kmf)


A former hockey mom midway through my third year as an emptynester, I recently resigned from corporate life after 25+ years as a journalist, corporate communications manager, writer, and editor. I’m excited to focus my energy on two of my passions – writing and traveling – and sharing travel tips and destination inspirations for emptynester, family, solo, and girlfriend getaways.

Would love to connect with you on social. Here’s where you can find me


Karen Minnesota looks BEAUTIFUL! I would love to visit when the leaves are changing! Thank you for sharing with us!

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The Very Best of Maryland

Did you know that Maryland has the reputation of being “America in miniature?” Excluding the desert, almost every naturally occurring feature can be found somewhere in Maryland. Because of this, there truly is something to peak everyone’s interests when visiting the Old Line State.

Note that if you do plan to visit each of the cities/towns I’m mentioning in this Best of Maryland post, it is best to rent a car or drive your own. They are about 1-3 hours away from each other, and the public transportation options aren’t the greatest. You can save yourself a huge headache by driving yourself.

ocean city pier

Ocean City

Days 1-3

I’m a big fan of starting slow on vacations, so my first recommendation is spending three days in Ocean City. Many of my summer (and even winter!) nights and days were spent in Ocean City with family and friends. While the beach is great–and rest assured that you can always find a spot of sand–the real fun is on the boardwalk.

There is nothing better than cruising the boardwalk on a summer night with a tub of hot and delicious Thrasher’s boardwalk fries in your hand. It is absolutely vital to stop at one of their three locations every time you visit Ocean City. Trust me, when you smell them cooking, your nose will guide you right over anyway!

Aside from having easygoing restaurants and kitschy but cute stores, the boardwalk also has two areas for rides and carnival style games, both of which are located near the inlet. Trimper’s Rides is very family friendly, with all of the indoor rides and games geared toward smaller kids. Just a few yards away are the outside rides meant for bigger kids and adults, although there are some kiddie rides too. Riders can purchase single tickets (75 cents), sheets of tickets ($23/sheet), or wristbands ($28) which allow unlimited indoor and outdoor rides for the day of their visit. Jolly Roger at the Pier, located just a few steps away, keeps thrillseekers on their toes with even more rides and games. Here too little kids and big kids alike can hop on rides to their hearts’ content, and catch some great views of the ocean while they’re at it. Jolly Roger at the Pier offers guests various points packages that allow riders to board rides that cost $26.99-$145.99.

You’ll also want to check out Jolly Roger at its 30th St. location. Here you’ll find more rides for riders of all ages, carnival games, fun mini golf courses, and Splash Mountain, Jolly Roger’s water park. With a ton of huge water slides, a water playground, lazy river, wave pool, and the Splash Mountain mermaids, you are sure to find a million fun ways to beat the summer heat.

And after you’ve had enough of the sun and sand, head out in the evening to Seacrets for a lively night out. Located right on the water, you can hang out inside for the live music and dance floors, or move the party outside to their beach stage.

Staying in one of the hotels right on the beach is ideal, although it will be more expensive. Hotels on the bayside and just outside Ocean City proper will be your best options if you are looking for something more affordable.



Day 4

The 4th day of your trip will take you away from Ocean City to just over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to spend some time in Maryland’s capital.

One of the biggest draws of Annapolis is the US Naval Academy. Visitors can take a public guided tour of the academy’s grounds, gain insights into the training midshipmen receive at the Academy, and visit the USNA Museum.

Just outside the Naval Academy is Ego Alley, a marina filled with docked boats. I’ve noticed during past visits that owners are so eager to talk about their boats. If you’ve ever wondered about anything boat-related, Ego Alley is definitely the place to get your questions answered. This area is also a prime location for people watching, grabbing a bite to eat from one of the many restaurants, or shopping for some Annapolis gear in one of the boutique shops.

After you’ve eaten, take some time to appreciate the cobblestone streets and colonial buildings surrounding you. Then, make your way to the Maryland State House (pictured above), where you will take a self-guided tour to see the assembly room for both houses as well as the room where George Washington delivered his final speech as President. So much incredible history is tucked away in the exhibits! (Fun fact: For a brief moment in our history, the Maryland State House was the nation’s capital.)



Days 5-7

For me, Baltimore feels like a cozy city. Each neighborhood has its own unique vibe. To really get a feel for how interesting Baltimore can be, I strongly recommend making the American Visionary Art Museum one of your first stops. It is easily identifiable on Key Highway by its mirrored facade, the mirrored tree (pictured above) next to it, and a mosaic school bus parked alongside its entrance. While it features works of artists from all over the world, the environment “feels” very Baltimore. Each artist featured in the AVAM is self-taught, and walking in with this knowledge makes you appreciate the talent behind their pieces.

There is also a slew of other interesting museums located in or near the inner harbor including the Maryland Science Center, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the historic ships, the Baltimore Civil War Museum, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, and the National Aquarium. Each is worth taking the time to visit.

After museum hopping, head over to Fell’s Point for more cobblestone streets and trendy restaurants and bars. Cute boutiques can be found in this area too, if you’re looking to do some shopping. You could even opt to do a ghost tour if you’re feeling up for something spooky.

Nightowls looking for somewhere to socialize and experience the city can head to Power Plant Live!, an area where they will find a wide variety of bars, restaurants, comedy clubs, and night clubs. And if you’re still not ready to head home after last call, you could always head over to the Horseshoe Casino to try your luck.

Maryland has so much more to offer

. . . but if you only have one week to spend here, these three stops are your absolute musts. If you haven’t already visited Maryland, I hope this sparked your interest!

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Author bio:


Elaine is a lifestyle blogger passionate about helping people live their best lives on a budget. She currently lives in Baltimore, MD with her husband, two cats Poppie and Jelly, and two dogs Kimchi and Shrimp.



Elaine Maryland has sparked my interest for sure! I would love to visit there someday!

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The Very Best of Georgia

Ray Charles said it best, I’ve got Georgia on my Mind, ya’ll!  From mountains, to cities, historic sites and beaches, Georgia’s got it all!

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  1. North Georgia is home to the Blue Ridge Mountains and boasts peaks near 5000 feet above sea level. Our favorite mountain town is Helen, which sits in the north east corner of the state. Covering just over two square miles, Helen boasts more charm and packs in more fun than most larger cities! Visitors will be captivated by it’s Bavarian inspired architecture and picturesque downtown. There are plenty of stores for shopping including boutique gift shops, galleries, and even a handmade toy shop. While there are several fine dining options located along the Chattahoochee River, there are several more family friendly options for authentic German cuisine including Bodensee’s and Cafe International. Don’t forget to save room for dessert at Hansel and Gretel’s candy shop! If you’re looking for adventure, go tubing down the Chattahoochee, ziplining through the mountain range, or take a paved hike to Anna Ruby Falls. Anna Ruby Falls is a personal favorite for my family! It’s made up of twin waterfalls and is the perfect photo op. The half mile hike to the falls is scenic, paved, and accessible for everyone. When you’re ready to wander off the main path, choose from several other hiking trails on site or within Unicoi State Park. Unicoi State Park and Lodge offers offers hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, and overnight accommodations. Visitors can stay in their hotel-like lodge, cabins, or campground. For more more information on the activities mentioned, visit Explore Georgia.pasted image 0 (11)


2. Atlanta is the state’s capital and is a financial and international transportation hub. It’s also an amazing tourist destination with too many attractions to list! Here are a few of our family-friendly favorites:

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The Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the U.S. and is a must-see for children and adults. Get up close with a whale shark, attend their sea lion presentation, and be awed by their dolphin celebration. You can even go “Behind the Seas” for $15 to see how the aquarium cares for these amazing animals.

Travel 15 miles east of Atlanta and you’ll see Stone Mountain. This massive mountain spans 600 acres and boasts a historical carving that covers more than three acres. A natural playground, Stone Mountain offers a plethora of kid friendly activities. Start by taking a cable car to the top of the mountain to enjoy scenic views including the downtown Atlanta skyline. Later take a 5 mile train ride along it’s base on a genuine 1940’s locomotive or test your limits on Skyhike, their tree-top adventure course.

Did you know Coke was invented by an Atlanta pharmacist in 1886? All the more reason to visit the interactive, multimedia Coca-Cola Museum! You’ll be greeted in the lobby with a complimentary soda before learning about their history and production process through a series of galleries and exhibits. And our personal favorite: taste more than 100 beverages bottled by Coca-Cola from around the globe.

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  1. Savannah is a historic city that lies on the east coast of Georgia.  It is an iconic, charming southern city; filled with cobblestone streets, moss laden Oak trees and antebellum homes.  While the list of things to do in Savannah is quite extensive, we’ve narrowed it down to our favorite must-dos!


Forsyth Park is the largest park in historic Savannah.  This family friendly 30 acres of land makes it the perfect spot for jogging, sports, concerts and relaxing.  Don’t forget to snap a photo at the famous fountain!

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Fort Pulaski is National Monument located between Savannah and Tybee Island.  During the civil war, the fort was taken by Union troops, and even used for a prison for Confederate Officers.  Today, visitors can tour the ruins (self-guided or guided tours also available), picnic on the grounds, or hike one of several trails.

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Bonaventure Cemetery is located in Thunderbolt, Ga, just East of Savannah on the Wilmington River.  This beautiful, historic cemetery (originally a plantation in the mid 1700s) became famous with the success of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  Bonaventure is the final resting place of many confederate soldiers and other veterans, singer and songwriter Johnny Mercer, and Little Gracie, a well loved little girl who passed from pneumonia shortly before Easter in 1889.  The Bonaventure Historical Society offers free guided tours, appropriate for all ages.pasted image 0 (16)


The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist is located in the historic district, on Lafayette Square.  After the slave rebellion in Haiti in the late 1700s, the cathedral became the primary church for free black and immigrants.  The historic church is adorned with gold trim and stained glass, and is the mother church for the Roman Catholic Diocese in Savannah.

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Paved in cobblestones, River Street is the most famous street in Savannah!  As the name implies, it’s located along the Savannah River, and is home to many restaurants, pubs, boutiques, art galleries, and my personal favorite, River Street Sweets (Try their famous pralines)!  River Street is lined with historic buildings that once served as cotton warehouses, and also a holding place for incoming slaves.  It is said to be one of the most haunted places in Savannah.  Be sure to park your car and wear comfortable shoes to see all this street has to offer!

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City Market is located just 2 block from River Street.  The market once served as a meeting ground for residents to buy, sell and trade food, goods and services.  It is now filled with restaurants, galleries and shops. You can grab some of the city’s best pizza here at Vinnie Van GoGo’s.

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How to get around:


Savannah is a very walker-friendly city with tons to see and do!  If possible, you will want to choose a centrally located hotel or inn.  The Hyatt, East Bay Inn, and the River Street Inn are all excellent choices located in the historic district.  


With so many sights to see, many tourists opt for a guided tour.  Tourists can choose

From carriage tours, trolley tours, walking ghost tours and haunted pub tours.


Where to eat:


Savannah is known for some seriously amazing cuisine!  If southern soul food is what

you are looking for, Mrs. Wilkes or Paula Deen’s Lady and Sons will hit the spot.

The Pirate’s House is a historic restaurant in downtown Savannah.  Built in 1734, it is the oldest building in the state of Georgia.  It became an inn and gathering place for sailors, travelers, and pirates!  Perhaps the most intriguing part of The Pirate’s House is the underground tunnel that runs from the building out to River Street.  Legend says men would enjoy one to many drinks at the bar, and wake in the morning on a ship, forced to work at sea! The tunnel is now covered, but a portion is still visible to guests in one of the dining rooms.

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In the mood for seafood?  Savannah Seafood Shack has been featured on the Food

Network, The Cooking Channel, and the Travel Channel.


  1. Beaches  Georgia’s coastline boasts of hundreds of beautiful beaches.  Dive into nature with a

Camping trip on the natural, undeveloped beaches of Cumberland Island (you may even catch a glimpse of the wild horses!), or take trip back in time on historic Jekyll Island.  No matter what your family fancies, lasting memories are sure to be made on Georgia’s coastline.pasted image 0 (21)

About the Authors:

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Welcome to The MOMBOX! We’re Tori and Sarah, a couple of stay at home moms with a passion for faith, family, food and fitness. We are each military wives, and moms to 4 amazing little ones! We believe being Strong: Body, Mind and Spirit makes us better moms. Join us along our wellness journey!

You can find us online at, on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest!


Thank you for sharing about Georgia. I want to go there so bad an see the aquarium.

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