Marco Island, FL Roundup and Travel Guide + A Comfy Polka Dot Dress

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you probably saw that I was on vacation last week in Marco Island, Florida.  One of my mom's best friends called me a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I wanted to get the heck out of Hendersonville and join her for a trip to the beach.  I mean, who can say no to that?  It was totally last minute, but so needed and perfect. We had the absolute best time!  While we did not get to do everything, we did relax and didn't follow a schedule or any type of itinerary at all, and for a planner like me, it can be hard to for me to just let go and go with the flow.

When we began to plan our trip, we decided to fly into Punta Gorda via Allegiant Air, because the flights are super reasonable out of Asheville and it is so much better than driving 12 hours!  Ha! Terry and I stayed at the Marco Island Lakeside Inn.  It was 2-3 miles from the beach; but it was exceptionally clean.  It was a small room, but really, who cares when you aren't in there very much!  We had one queen size bed, a table and small kitchen and a bathroom.  It was the perfect size for two guests.  It also had a nice pool we could cool off in and a small "patio" right outside our door with a table and chairs too.  

Once we arrived we went to scope the area and figure out the best way to get to the beach.  The inn told us about two places for public beach access.  One was located at Tigertail Beach and the other at  South Beach.  I had read online that Tigertail was beautiful so we started there.  We had to pay $8 to park and then we grabbed our cooler bag and started for the beach....except the beach wasn't really that close.  When you go into the entrance there is a huge natural lagoon, again its beautiful but it isn't the beach.  So we followed the signs and thought well, this can't be too far of a walk.  We were so wrong. It felt like over a mile walk to the beach and the sand was kind of deep and really it was not an ideal walk to make every day.  So we sat on the beach in the breeze and then decided we had to find better beach access.  We walked 500 miles the mile or so back to the car and then took off for South Beach.  We parked and walked across Collier Blvd and to the boardwalk to the beach.  It was so much easier and we breathed a huge sigh of relief.  On the way back to the inn, we spotted another beach access next to the Crystal Shores Marriott and it had bike racks so we were thrilled because it was even closer to the Inn and looked less crowded.

The next item on the agenda was to find some bikes to rent, map a bike route to the beach access and find some chairs and umbrellas to rent!  We called around and got our bikes from Island Bike Shop. The bikes were in nice shape and had baskets since we wanted the cruiser type.  It was a reasonable cost of $30/each for the 4 days we were going to use them.  I wish that they had been able to deliver but their driver was out of town when we needed them.  We figured out our bike route to the beach and calculated it to be around 2.5 miles or so.  

We had called around and asked several people about renting chairs and umbrellas on the beach and they told us time and again, "we can't do that here".  But it just didn't make sense.  So when we were at the South Beach  entrance we walked down the beach and after a while we came across Pauls Beach Rentals.  The chairs were so nice, they had great comfy cushions and a large umbrella for shade since I am a bit over the top with sun protection. They looked practically brand new. If you don't want to lug your chairs and umbrella to the beach every day, I highly recommend them!

Food is a big deal when you are on vacation.  I love to eat at new places and try new things.  Luckily, I have a good friend that gave me the lowdown on some places to try while we were there.  She recommended Snook Inn, which is a fun little waterfront restaurant.  You can eat inside and still see the water, which is great because it is so hot.  Terry and I split the Snook Inn Platter which was grouper, mahi mahi, scallops, shrimp crab cake, veggies and rice pilaf.  It was a lot for one person to eat!  I did not really ask but I assumed some would be fried and maybe some grilled, but all the fish was broiled with a creamy sauce over it.  It was really good, but I am not gonna lie, something about grouper makes me want it fried.  I am sure it is the southern girl in me.  That and my Daddy says that water would be better if it was fried. LOL!

As you can imagine, since I was still craving some fried fish, I had to scope us out another restaurant.  One evening we went to Naples to shop and I found a hole in the wall with great reviews called Grouper and Chips.  I was really hoping that since it was their name, they would do it right.  And oh my word, it was so good!  Terry and I split the order of hushpuppies and discussed how they were crunchy on the outside like my Mama's.  They were so close to being as good as hers, but no one can surpass her.  Then we shared the fried grouper and french fries.  If I was going fried, I was going all out. Ha!  The grouper was amazing.  The breading was fantastic and everything was so fresh and fantastic.  We loved this place and even though we couldn't eat everything, we took the rest back to the room and had it for lunch the next day.

On one hand, I wish I could tell you more things to do while you are visiting here, but to be honest, I needed time away that did not include a lot of entertainment.  I felt like I just needed to relax and let things go for a bit.  It was the first time I can remember not having to do a lot and I throughly enjoyed it.  I am the typical overly prepared, planner that probably takes the fun out of vacation with my itinerary.  It was nice to just do whatever without a plan.  I highly recommend it.

I was able to grab some photos of this fun polka dot dress from the Dressbarn while I was at the Inn one evening.  I love how comfortable this dress is and polka dots have always been a favorite of mine.  The dress is navy but I love pairing polka dots with red, so red block heels were perfect.  It feels very retro to me.  I actually had a red belt too, but it was too big.  And of course, I love a red lip.  This is Lipsense in Blue/Red that my sister gave me.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a beautiful vacation destination, I would visit Marco Island again in a heartbeat.  Thanks for stopping by and reading about my travels, I have some pictures from the trip below too.  I hope you all have a great week!

Marco Island Lakeside Inn

Marco Island Lakeside Inn
Marco Island Lakeside Inn
Chairs and Umbrellas from Pauls Beach Rentals
Marco Island Lakeside Inn
Sunset in Port Royal, FL
Marco Island, South Beach
Marco Island, South Beach
Snook Inn Platter
Grouper and Chips-Hushpuppies
Grouper and Chips
Working Cow Ice Cream, Punta Gorda



Chicwish Floral V-Neck Dress with Pink Bow Heels

Hey y'all!  I hope you are having a great week so far.  If you follow me on Instagram, I am sure you have seen that I am at the beach this week. I took a trip with my Mom's friend to Marco Island, Florida.  We have had a great time and I cannot wait to share my travel guide and tell you about our trip next week here on the blog.

Today I wanted to share about this gorgeous floral dress from Chicwish.  I just knew when I saw it online that it would be perfect for my style.  I love pretty feminine florals, lace and ruffles; and I love a dress.  I just sometimes think they are more comfortable than pants.  I am not sure why, but I just always gravitate to them.

The sleeves have lace details and if anything can make me happy it is lace.  When you pair the lace with the floral, the look is breathtaking.  The only thing I wish was a little different on this dress would be the neckline.  It is cut a little too deep for me, so I paired a white cami underneath.  I just wish i could have worn it without because I think it would feature the lace details better.  That being said, I have a really small bust, so it may fit some others perfectly fine.  In my opinion, the shoes really pop with the dress.  Again those bow details are to die for!  I have these same shoes in a green color and I love them so much I will probably indulge in some other colors too.  Ha!

As always, I really appreciate each and every one of you that stops by the blog and takes the time to read my posts.  It means so much to me!  Your support is amazing.  I hope you all have a great week!



Simple Dessert That Is Sure To Impress: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes

I absolutely love to bake.  It is a bit like therapy for me to me to create something that tastes amazing that people love to eat.  And sweets are my favorite thing, especially cupcakes.  Once upon a time, many years ago, I wanted to open a cupcake bakery.  I had the name picked out and the menu designed but never found the courage to actually pull the trigger on the business.  In addition, I was worried that something I love would turn into something I hate; so I have just tried to share goodies with people when I get the chance.

Hands down the most raved about cupcake I make is this chocolate chip cookie dough one.  I have been making it for years!  My youngest daughter has asked them almost every year for her birthday for as long as I can remember.  If I take them to an event, the container is always empty when I leave.  This past weekend I took them to the lake, they were devoured in less than 8 hours.  Just trust me when I tell you, they are nothing short of amazing.  And the best part?  They aren't even that hard to make!

I wish I could tell you that I created this recipe, but I didn't.  LOL!  My best friend bought me a cookbook many years ago, and I have used it so much the binding is coming apart.  If you don't own Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor or The Cake Mix Doctor cookbooks already, I highly recommend that you buy them now!  They are fabulous.  Every single recipe I have ever made from them turns out and even better?  They start with a cake mix....but no one else will ever know!  Let them think you spent hours in the kitchen!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cupcakes (by Anne Byrn from Cupcakes from the Cake Mix Doctor)

1 Yellow Cake Mix (15.25 oz)
1 Vanilla Instant Pudding (3.4 oz box)
1 Cup Whole Milk
1 Cup Vegetable Oil
4 Large Eggs
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Package Frozen Cookie Dough (24 pre-measured cookies)

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line 24 muffin tins with paper liners.  (I like these because the colors stay vibrant after baking.)

Place cake mix, pudding, milk, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl and blend with an electric mixer for 3 minutes or until well mixed.  Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula periodically to ensure it is mixed well.  (I use my KitchenAid stand mixer and I probably let it mix 5 minutes, I just really like it mixed really well, it is a thick batter.)

Using a 1/4 measuring cup, scoop the batter into the 24 paper liners.  Take the frozen cookie dough and cut or break apart into the 24 cookies.  Place the frozen cookie dough in the center of each liner filled with batter and push down until the edges are in the batter, but the top is not covered.  Place the pans in the oven and bake for 23-25 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Remove from oven and cool completely.

Chocolate Buttercream Icing  

2 Stick of Butter
1/2 Cup of Cocoa Powder
6 Cups of Powdered Sugar
2/3 Cup of Milk
1 Teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

Melt butter, add cocoa powder and mix well.  Alternate adding powdered sugar and milk and mix well with an electric mixer.  Add vanilla extract and blend well.  Place icing in a piping bag and decorate cupcakes as desired.

A word of warning, these cupcakes will disappear as fast as you make them.  The center of the cupcake is cooked cookie dough, but since it is frozen, it has that slightly gooey center that is fabulous.  If you really want to kick them up, warm them in the microwave for a few seconds.  They are perfection.  I would love to know if you try these and if you love them as much as my friends and family!  Enjoy!



The Struggle With Finding Balance + Chicwish White Eyelet Dress with Red Block Heel Sandals


Hi friends!  I hope you all are having a great week so far.   The good news is that it is almost Friday and it is a long weekend!  I have so many things to catch up on, sometimes I feel like there is not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything.  I know that most moms probably feel this way too, so it is not just me.  I have several friends that experience this same struggle.  If you struggle with balance, know that you are not alone.  I try to take long baths a couple of times a week if possible.  And I love to read a good book to try and decompress.  I wish that I was better at making time for myself.  Do you make it a priority for you?  If so, tell me your secrets. LOL!  ;-)

Chicwish sent me this adorable white eyelet dress.  It is so flattering!  And for me, there is not much that beats a fitted eyelet dress with some feminine ruffles.  I really love the details on this dress particularly the small cut-outs around the waist.  It is a beautiful touch that just adds something fun and flirty to it.  I paired it with red block heel sandals and red and gold jewelry, but the great thing about white is you can make it whatever you want!  I think this would look great with most any color of shoe and could be dressed up or down depending on your mood. 

I also added this straw and white handbag.  Straw handbags are super on trend right now and this one is a great bargain for under $25!  White dresses and accessories just scream Summer to me!  If you are looking for a graduation dress, bridal shower dress or are just partial to white eyelet, you can't go wrong.  This dress is a classic that I know I will wear for years to come.

*A special thanks to Chicwish for sponsoring this post.



Grief Reflections and Aunt Frankie's Chocolate Brownies Recipe

 Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Reflects on Losing Her Mom and Makes Homemade Brownies with her daughter

Grief:  (Noun)  Deep sorrow, especially that is caused by someone's death

Synonyms:  sorrow, misery, sadness, anquish, pain, distress, agony, torment, affliction, suffering, heartache, heartbreak, woe, despair

I have sat and tried to find the words to explain all my feelings lately and it is a struggle, but the synonyms and definition above are pretty accurate representations for how I feel a lot of the time.  I know that everyone deals and manages their grief and pain differently.  The first few weeks after my Mama passed away, feel a bit like a blur to me.  Even now, two months later, it feels like a terrible nightmare.  I can be okay one moment and hear something or see something that makes me think of my Mama or makes me want to call her or tell her something and the tears start to flow.  I cannot even control them.  It hits at the most random times and out of the blue; hearing "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon, wanting to call and tell her about something at work or get advice about a problem, even walking into Belk.

The Saturday before Mother's Day, when I would normally go and pick out a hanging basket for my Mama, I picked up some small begonia plants instead.  I decided to honor her by trying to spread goodness and I gave one and a card to some of her best friends.  I think she would approve, especially since they were one of her favorite flowers.  Mother's Day was especially difficult. Even though I am a Mom to two fantastic girls and I know I should enjoy it as a Mom, my heart was broken for my own Mama.  It was bittersweet to say the least.  I got up really early on Sunday and made muffins and coffee and just reflected on how lucky I was to have such a great Mama for 37 years.  And I cried a lot, just because it was a hard day.  A friend of mine gave me some good advice that I am trying to follow:  "Smile a lot.  Laugh at times.  Cry when needed. And always remember the good times."  Some days I feel like I need to cry all day, other days I laugh several times and breath a little easier; but not a single day goes by that I don't think of all the great memories that I have with her.

Mama was kind to everyone she met and would constantly try to help and do nice things for people to brighten their day.  I can't tell you the number of times she has made meals for people that were sick, sent cakes to people that needed a pick me up or just stopped and got something to make someone feel better.  My Mamaw (her mom), is at an assisted living facility and my Mama would try to talk and make the residents there feel special too.  She would tell me "Some of those poor people never have a soul come and visit them," and it bothered her, so she would try to do something to make them feel loved.  Mama visited or made sure my Mamaw had a visitor everyday, and I know she battled guilt because she had to move her into the facility; even though she knew she was unable to take care of her like she had done in previous years before she got sick.  When we were going through her jewelry box there were 3 or 4 of the exact same watch bracelet.  My sister told me that some of the ladies at the facility loved the one that Mama had on so she went and bought a bunch more to give those sweet ladies just to make them smile.  I hope I can leave this same legacy of kindness and generosity to my children!

I mentioned earlier that Mama cooked a lot.  She had so many recipes that I associate with her and were her "signature" dishes and desserts.  I am going to try to share at least one recipe a month, maybe more, if you guys enjoy recipes.  The first is some decadent homemade chocolate brownies with chocolate icing.  One day a couple of weeks after Mama passed, my daughter Hope and I were missing her a lot and we decided to make these brownies because they reminded us of her.  My Mama had a special Aunt that passed away at a young age and she loved her dearly.  Her Aunt Frankie used to make these brownies a lot, so my Mama always called them Frankie's Brownies.  I don't think she ever really used a boxed brownie mix because these were so much better and are just as easy to make.  People love them and every time I make them, they get rave reviews.  I am confident that my Mama and Frankie are sitting together in Heaven, maybe even making a pan right now.

Aunt Frankies Brownies
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 2 oz semi sweet chocolate squares
  • 2 oz unsweetened chocolate squares
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups of sugar
  • 1 3/4 cup self rising flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of chopped pecans (optional)
Melt butter and chocolate squares in microwave bowl in 30 second increments until melted, set aside to cool.  Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl.  Pour butter and chocolate into eggs and sugar and mix well.  Add flour and vanilla.  Fold in nuts if desired.  Pour batter into a greased 9x12 pan and back at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Do not overcook, may be slightly softer than cake.  

Chocolate Icing
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/3 c of unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup of milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
Melt butter and add cocoa, mix well.  Alternate powdered sugar and milk and continue mixing.  Add vanilla when mixed.  Ice cooled brownies and serve.  

I really hope that you all enjoy these brownies as much as we do at our house.  I would love to know if you try them!  Is there a recipe that you associate with people you love? If you knew my Mama personally, is there a certain recipe of my hers you would love me to post?

*I have linked some specific brands I personally like to use in this recipe, if you want to shop the post.  You can use other brands as well, I just prefer these particular items.



Classic Black and White Lace and Pleated Midi Dress

Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Styles a Classic Black and White Lace and Pleated Midi Dress from Chicwish
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Styles a Classic Black and White Lace and Pleated Midi Dress from Chicwish
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Styles a Classic Black and White Lace and Pleated Midi Dress from Chicwish
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Styles a Classic Black and White Lace and Pleated Midi Dress from Chicwish
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Styles a Classic Black and White Lace and Pleated Midi Dress from Chicwish
Laura Mintz of Illuminate Blog Styles a Classic Black and White Lace and Pleated Midi Dress from Chicwish

Well, we have almost made it to the weekend, friends!  I am sure that many of you have Mother's Day plans and I hope that you take the time to spoil your mom and treat her to an amazing meal, quality time and shower her with gifts and attention!  She deserves it after all.  Most of you know that I lost my Mama in March,  so this weekend is one that I have been dreading something fierce.  I want so much to be able to speak to my Mama again and just talk about random things, like when I have a bad day or when something exciting happens to me.  It is so easy to take for granted the simple things and I would encourage each of you today to call or hug your Mama.  You can never tell her you love her enough.

One of the things I always did with my Mama was talk shopping and clothes.  We loved to spend hours trying on clothes at the mall and trying to find the perfect outfit or dress for that special occasion, whether it was a gala, work, church or vacation, she always helped me find the right look.  When I got this dress in the mail from Chicwish, I thought she would really like it, but would worry about all that lace covering everything enough. HAHA!

If you are in the market for a gorgeous midi dress, this one is for you!  The flower lace details on top are stunning and make quiet the statement!  I love the fun ruffle that adds some dimension and also covers all the right places too.  I wear this with a strapless and backless sticky bra, but I think it would look okay with a black bra too, just channel your inner celebrity and rock it!  The skirt part of this dress is so unique to me.  It is pleated, which I think adds so much class, but it also has a fun black speckled design on the white/cream skirt portion.  It is absolutely breathtaking!  I paired this dress with some fun Jessica Simpson Strappy Satin Heels and jewelry to finish off the look.  I personally think this dress would be perfect for a wedding, event, the derby, or a cruise look.  It is so classy and elegant!

As a side note, I took most of these photos at my parent's house.  My Daddy came outside and told me to take some in front of his wild honeysuckle (the orange flowers).  He is so proud of it.  And it is even more beautiful in person!  I hope you all have a great rest of your week.  Whew, it is almost Friday!  Remember to love on your Mama; drop me a comment and tell me something you the best piece of advice your Mama ever gave you!