Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Playing-It-Cool at your Family Photo Shoot - Spotlight on Courtney Studios!


As a family we've tried all kinds of different photo shoots. We try to plan at least one a year in hopes of documenting our growth as a family and preserving lasting memories. Like a lot of other families, we hope to schedule these shoots around the holidays and add them to our annual holiday cards.
No Smiling Allowed
Photo courtesy of Courtney Ortiz Studios

Usually, this means suffering in the South Florida heat during the Fall and trying to coax sweaty toddlers to give you a smile. It's about as easy as bathing a cat! If you keep up with my blog, you know I'm not a fan of rewards. On these days, I'm usually not above bribes (hey, it's all about the 80/20 rule). Luckily, the contributors for Modern Boca Mom were invited to enjoy a photo session with the uber talented photographer, Courtney Ortiz.

Courtney, a mom of three and former elementary school teacher, has been a successful freelance photographer for the past eight years. Last year she opened up her own boutique studio in Hollywood Florida, this place is REALLY cool. An all white studio that works only in natural lighting is the perfect backdrop for capturing the colorful personalities of each family. It's no wonder Courtney has been named Best Family Photographer by South Florida Parenting two years in a row! The "cool" space provided a freedom we wouldn't have outdoors. Pair that with Courtney's incredible "teacher skills" and ability to get my boys to giggle, and we had a delicious recipe for a wonderful family experience.
Have Lego? Will Smile!
Photos Courtesy of: Courtney Ortiz Studios
Brotherly Love
 Photso Courtesy of: Courtney Ortiz Photography

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I have a pretty well documented obsession with vintage cameras. Stepping into Courtney's studio I was immediately welcomed with vintage cameras as far as the eye can see! This adorable space is nestled in the heart of the Art Deco district of Hollywood Beach. The neighborhood providing plenty of creative inspiration for our own impromptu photo shoot on the way to catch a bite to eat.
Remember that bribery I mentioned?
Thanks for the Lolly's Courtney!
In parenting the days may be long, but the years are short. Mom is always behind the camera it seems. It's rare I make it into any of the millions of pictures I take day to day, leaving it to the professionals guarantees I make it into the shot and I'm free to enjoy myself. This family shoot was the "coolest" thus far and we ALL enjoyed ourselves.

I'm grateful to Courtney Studios for this awesome experience, these photos will be treasured for years to come.

Courtney Studios offers a variety of different services / sessions to suit your needs. Her package pricing and lists of printing services are endless (her wrap-around canvas portraits are my favorite).

Christmas in July!

Courtney Studios is offering Holiday Mini-Sessions this July 21st, 22nd & 23rd!
Call (954) 367-6821 or contact Courtney@CourtneyStudios.com to book a session.

Pre-School Portraits!

Yep, this one's getting framed..
Photo courtesy of Courtney Ortiz Studios
Essentially yours,


Disclosure: Essentially Erika was provided with complimentary services featured in this article. All opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and not influenced in any way by the sponsor.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Five Things Former New Yorker's Should NOT Do While Visiting New York

I Love New York.

There, I said it. It's no secret.

I will ALWAYS love this city of mine.. I've yet to come across another city where all of it's ex-pats cannot refer to themselves as an "Ex." Anywhere you go, you can ask a former New Yorker and they will proudly tell you they are still a "New Yawkah." They love it so much there are Meet Up groups devoted to this special breed.

If you've visited Gotham, then you understand the obsession with arguably one of the BEST cities in the world. If you've never been, first off... My condolences. Secondly, you are probably sick and tired of hearing about this melting pot and wish everyone from there would just go back already (don't worry, we want to).

However, upon my most recent visit to the Big Apple I had a different set of eyes. It being my first trip away from my boys it was especially tough (more on how to survive the first trip away later). I found myself wanting to do things I would have never done while living in "The City," that's what us "Queens girls" call Manhattan. So I decided to poke fun at it all and put together a list of the things we all should stop doing while visiting, before we get our New York card revoked!

Tip #1: Stop Looking Up

Yes the buildings are tall, that's why they are called "sky scrapers." No they haven't gotten taller since you left. Yes you are in the way, so stop bumping into people. They're trying to get to work ovah here! The easiest way to spot a tourist in Manhattan is to look for the people staring at all the tall structures, this is usually how they "lose" their wallet. Spoiler alert!

Tip #2: Do Not Ride The Subway
Don't set yourself up for disaster. Yes it's especially crowded, yes it's always been this crowded. Yes, there are new trains and no they haven't added more stops to your usual line. It has always been this hot. Chances are that is urine you smell. No that is not a dog on the tracks. Carrying a subway map with you is always a bad idea.

Tip # 3: Give Us Liberty, Give Us Freedom From... Selfies!
Let's spare the good folks of Facebook our Lady Liberty selfies shall we? Or the Empire State Building, or the Chrysler Buiding, or any other New York monument that every New York kid has seen year in and year out on classroom field trips.

Tip # 4: Reminisce From Afar
Try not to cram the entire NYC experience into a three day weekend. You know who you are, forcing all of your current NY friends to tag along on your tourist's adventure. Reliving every childhood memory. Skating in Central Park, sitting up top on the NY Sightseeing Bus, Gray's Papaya hot dogs AND a trip to Rockefeller Center for a little tree lighting anyone? Your friends still live there, they are not impressed. Do not drag them throughout every borough trying to regain a bit of your childhood (we're all a bit guilty of this one).

Tip #5: Don't Shop Til' You Drop
Try not to spend your 401k on the latest fashions at all the trendy hot spots. It's understandable you want to stock up while you can, "The City That Never Sleeps" is the fashion mecca of the world. A little restraint will keep you in the "green."

Bonus Tip:  Spare The State Envy
  Upon returning home there's no need to complain about everything NOT New York. You know, the humidity in October (thanks South Florida), scoff at the pizza (even in Chicago) and groan about the "service." Chances are they are not interested you were once able to get the best pastrami sandwich in the world at 2am, or the best haircut of your life. No need to torture everyone back at home, let's keep this wonderful city our little secret!

Until next time Empire City..

Essentially yours,


Monday, June 15, 2015

Summer's Best Grilling Tips and Recipe's! Stubb's Legendary BBQ Gift Pack Giveaway!

Now that the warmer weather is upon us, it’s prime time to get out and barbecue!

 Stubb’s Legendary Bar-B-Q brand ambassador and grandson of founder C.B. “Stubb” Stubblefield, offers a few tips and recipes he’s picked up over the years to make you the grilling hero of any barbecue, family gathering or even weeknight dinner. Stubb’s is the maker of authentic, premium, BBQ sauces, rubs and marinades and was founded by C.B. “Stubb” Stubblefield in 1968.

Rocky Stubblefield Stubb didn’t just make barbecue, he made friends, serving up his slow-smoked brisket, cole slaw and beans, all with his wide, trademark smile at his restaurant in Lubbock, Texas. It was during this time that Stubb first began bottling his now famous sauces at the request of his friends.
Rocky’s Grilling Tips
Today, Stubb’s heritage lives on in his legendary sauces, marinades and rubs, continuing to make people feel good all over the world.
  • Use indirect cooking for larger meats (indirect is cooking away from the fire), and direct cooking for smaller meats (direct is cooking over the fire).
  • When marinating, beef chicken and pork can be marinated up to two days in a refrigerator. You should only marinate seafood for a few hours.
  • When using charcoal, allow coals to ash over before adding meat to the grill.
  • When cooking burgers, make a thumbprint in the middle of the patty before putting it on the grill. This will help the patty come out nice and flat (not puffy in the middle) and the meat will be cooked evenly throughout.
  • Soak vegetables in cold water before grilling – it keeps them from burning or drying out too fast.
  • For a juicier steak, let your meat rest for at least 10 minutes after it is done to allow the juices that were forced into the center of the meat when cooking to distribute throughout the steak.
  • Don’t cook ribs ‘til they are falling off the bone – ribs should be grilled until they begin to pull away from the bone, but you should be able to bite into and leave a bite mark as you eat it off the bone. Overcooked ribs become dried out and less flavorful – even a little bit mushy.
Clean grill after every use. You can use a ball of foil or an onion – just cut the onion in half, and while the grill is heating up, rubs the onion across it. The juices from the onion clean the grill and get it ready for use.

Now for the fun part! Head below for your chance to enter the giveaway below to win a personalized grilling set, Stubb’s branded spatula Stubb’s heavy duty, hand-carved cedar wood cutting board, Stubb’s hat, bag, T-shirt and $30 in Stubb’s coupons this fantastic set is worth $150! Perfect for making your Fourth of July celebration Legendary!! Giveaway is open to US Resident only and ends on 6/26 at 11:59pm EST.  
Disclosure:All opinions are 100% mine. This giveaway is in no way associated with, sponsored, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, Google, Pinterest or any other social media network.. Open US only must be 18+. Confirmed Winner(s) will be contacted by email and have 48 hours to respond before a new winner will be drawn. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited by law. The sponsor will be responsible for product fulfillment to winner(s) of the giveaway. The disclosure is done in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission 10 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. For questions or to see your product featured in an Event you can contact Elia At Conservamom.

Essentially yours,


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What I'm Reading: Gracefully Grayson Book Review

What if... Who you were on the inside was the opposite of who you were on the outside?

What if... Your secret was getting too heavy?

What would your story be?

Would you have the courage to be you?

It's been a while since I've posted about "What I'm Reading." I haven't stopped reading, just been pretty busy and haven't gotten around to writing book reviews for all of my favorites (there are so many).

Gracefully Grayson is one of those books that is hard to sum up in one word. If I had to, I suppose it would be COMPELLING.. No, EXHILARATING.. WaitBRAVE! After all, that's what it takes to live the life you want. I told you it wasn't going to be easy. 

This small miracle of a book is a coming of age tale about Grayson Sender, a sixth grader who grasps at your heart strings from the very first chapter.  The ups and downs, ins and outs of how "he"comes to know the girl on the inside. This book walks you through the discovery of self at one of the most crucial stages in life, middle school. Almost instantly, you feel as though you are seeing life through Grayson's eyes, but most of all through his soul.

Meet Ami Polonsky, debut author of this moving novel about identity, self esteem and friendship. Ami was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, where she now lives with her two children and husband. As a middle school teacher, she laid the groundwork for all of her characters from all of the books she'd read to her students over the years. The seeds were planted, like most seeds that have been nourished and cared for, there will be a harvest.

This story is tenderly and courageously told. Written simply and beautifully enough for middle school aged children to understand, yet deeply and gripping enough for any adult to grasp. Providing a different view into the life, mind, body and spirit of a person trapped by "gender." A deeper understanding of how one comes to know themselves, when the world so plainly sees something else. As humans we can all relate to feeling misunderstood, but perhaps none so deeply as those who feel that they were born into the wrong body. 

If ever there were a time for this book to come to harvest it was now. With all of the controversy surrounding public figures like Caitlyn Jenner coming forward and being honest about identity struggles, or the success and acknowledgement of television shows like Transparent on a major cable network like Showtime. Now is the time to have these conversations and create more awareness. Shame can only survive in the dark, only by bringing light to these subjects can we encourage acceptance and understanding instead of tolerance.

"Shame cannot survive being spoken... And being met with empathy."

Ami is becoming a part of that awareness by providing school presentations geared toward children ages 10-14 years old in which she facilitates a classroom discussion about her book and what is called Gender 101, discussing "What is gender, and how does the outside world shape our gender expression?" For more information about Ami Polonsky, her book, or to schedule a school presentation  and book signing you can visit her site HERE, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Essentially yours,


Monday, June 1, 2015

Summertime Fun - Awesome Park Ideas you CAN'T miss!

School's Out for Summer!

Well.. almost.

Click HERE for your list of Palm Beach Park's you simply should not miss this summer!

It's #NatureTrackers Approved!

Be on the look out for a collaboration with our good friend over at Hunting for Rubies this summer. 

Plenty of exploring and go-to locations with #CampMom!

Essentially yours,