Meet the Dunns

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Thai Butternut Squash Soup
A dear friend of mine shared this recipe many years ago and it's one that we enjoy often in my home. It's simple to prepare and has great flavor. It's one of those soups that is even better the next day. I'm not sure that my kids love it as much as I do but that's okay, more for me ;)
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
  1. Heat the oi lin a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Don't brown the mixture, reduce your heat if necessary.
  2. Add the squash, carrots, broth, fish sauce, sugar, and curry paste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Using a hand-held immersion blender, pureé the soup until silky smooth. (Alternatively, cool the soup slightly, then pureé in a blender in batches, making sure to leave the hole in the lid open to allow the steam to escape. Next stir in the coconut milk, lime juice, and salt. Bring everything to a simmer, then taste and adjust the seasonings.
  4. Serve soup into bowls and drizzle with Sriracha and garnish with the scallions and cilantro.
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When we first started to homeschool I was quite sure what our “schooling” would look like or even what I should have been looking for in a curriculum for the kids. I knew that I wanted it to be fun and colorful but beyond that, I had no clue what I was looking for. I am often asked what we use at home for schooling and I’m quick to share why we love Masterbooks.

It wasn’t as though things just landed in our lap, it was through a series of trials and errors but it all started when we attended the big homeschool convention in Orlando.  My mind was completely blown by how many vendors and different programs and book companies were out there to choose from. I was drawn to the biggest booth int he front of the convention hall and met a lovely woman who took what felt like my entire afternoon explaining their approach and books and making it seem like I’d found exactly what I was looking for.

I paid, we hugged and I left feeling like I’d just won the homeschool lottery.
Fast forward about 2 months and it’s the big day when our books are set to arrive by courier. I anxiously await the end of the day and hear the doorbell and know it’s the books. When I answered the door, there was the UPS man standing there with a DOLLY FULL OF BOXES!! There were 4 large boxes and he was ready to roll it right into the front door.

Surely this must be a mistake, I couldn’t possibly have ordered so much?!

I grabbed the scissors and began cutting into the boxes and realized that these were in fact ALL the books that I had ordered. The kids’ books, the test books, the review books, the teacher guide, the activities for each subject … it was endless. I tried to remain excited and not get overwhelmed but as I was stacking them next to me and the piles were growing taller and taller, it was hard to not feel like I was drowning in books.

homeschool overloadI think more than me being overwhelmed the look on both the kid’s faces was pretty telling too. Are we suppose to learn ALL this stuff?

What became obvious to us after just a few short weeks of using the new books was that it was super colorful, very organized but really really heavy in the workload. It was taking us hours to get through a few subjects and that was not at all what we had planned. I wanted to spend a few hours each day focused on work but allowing them to have time to explore things that sparked their curiosity and then use the rest of the time to spend it outside or allowing the kids to just be free for activities outside.

I called my friend and long time fellow homeschooler and shared my feelings. Without hesitation, she said, “Send it back”.

I couldn’t possibly send back this much stuff, I bought it and I need to see it through. Against her advice, we kept the books and made it about 2 months into the school year and then I realized it was going to be the death of me or possibly my children. We were all miserable and not because the books were bad but simply because it just wasn’t for us.

What I realized and of course what my dear friend had said from the beginning was that you will know when you find the right program for the kids. They may not even connect with the same program, one may use a completely different method or books and that’s okay. The beauty of homeschooling is just that, so each of your unique children can connect and learn in their own styles. You don’t have to have dozens of books and heavy schedules to enrich their minds.

We, needless to say, had to break for a little to catch our breathe and hit the reset button on our schooling. I needed to find a suitable replacement. I started reaching out to our homeschool group and they all had their recommendations of what they liked and why it worked so well. The one that I continued to hear quite a bit was Masterbooks.

I went online and immediately liked what I saw, it was colorful and engaging and best of all AFFORDABLE. The first purchase I made at the convention with the above-mentioned books was (I hope you’re sitting) $1600!! It was roughly $900 per student. The new program Masterbooks had pricetags of $40-$60 per textbook. What was lacking or would I need to supplement the subjects with other books?

My first order arrived within a few days and I ripped open the box and there it was, colorful vibrant books filled with so much information, I just wanted to sit and turn each page reading as I went along. This book was everything I had hoped for, it was independent work at the appropriate level and best of all it was LIFE-based learning or what they call “Lessons for a Living Education”. Basically that means each lesson focuses on how it applies to everyday life, each chapter begins with a story about the two characters of the Masterbooks collection and it talks about how they would use or need that upcoming lesson for a real-life situation. If you are familiar with the Charlotte Mason approach, then you will love Masterbooks.

One of the things that I disliked about the original curriculum we purchased was that it was heavy on the planning, so I had to prepare a lesson plan for each day and teach the kids the lesson. Don’t get me wrong my goal is not to ignore my kids and their learning but to encourage them to be independent and problem solve on their own as much as possible. I love that Masterbooks holds them accountable for their own daily schedules. They are clearly marked Day 1, Day 2… and so on. The kids can work ahead or if they are caught up on something and miss a day they can catch up and all the while learning about time management and deadlines. I have to assist with some topics or subjects but for the most part, they dive in and get to work and enjoy marking off in their planners what they accomplished for the day.


Like most homeschool curriculums they offer an online evaluation so that you can find where your child should start. We started back one level for math so that the kids could get used to the type of learning and lessons. It never hurts to review concepts so no harm done there. Of course, they both immediately thought they were being held back but once I explained my logic, they settled down – HA!

I encourage you to explore the program and give it a try if you are looking for something new. I couldn’t be happier with the kids and their progress.

Note: We don’t test the kids as I don’t believe at this age there is a need for it. I have read many comments from other families who use Masterbooks that when their child tested, they were on level or ahead in grade level using Masterbooks. It’s a solid program that offers a strong foundation of learning.


I want to start off by saying that I don’t have anything against the teachers or administration with the exception of my kids last school they attended. The teachers were great and were only listening to the administration and as our friend, neighbor and former teacher at the school quickly found out when you don’t agree with the admin, you get fired. But in general I believe that educators, the real ones in the classrooms each day are under paid, controlled and stripped of their creativity and ultimately that leads to a poor overall experience for the kids and certainly not why the teacher chose the profession in the first place.

So back to the teacher who lives down the street, he wasn’t trying to show the students anything inappropriate, he didn’t use foul language in the classroom, he wasn’t impatient with the kids… none of that. He simply wanted to instill in them a love of reading and choose some classic novels that we all read as children in school at that same age and wanted to do it as a class discussion. Yep, that’s it.

According to the administration at the school, there is no time for this sort of thing in the classroom. They need to be practicing cold, short reads for their upcoming FSA (state testing). Anything outside of the practice tests and quizzes is a complete waste of valuable time.

You know what else is apparently a waste of time these days in school? Recess, socializing with friends on the playground or at lunch time, arts, music, drama, library visits … the list is long and it seems to get longer each year.

I can’t entirely say these were all the reason we decided to homeschool the kids because the truth is that we tried to homeschool our oldest many years ago when we lived in Costa Rica but she had been in the school system just a little too long and wasn’t open to the idea. Of course now many years later as a second year university student (straight A’s too) she says that if she could go back in time she would definitely want to be homeschooled.

The kids at a homeschool class held at Kennedy Space Center (NASA).
Emma during her guitar lessons.

Another big factor in our decision was that we barely got to see the kids. We would hurry them out the door in the morning to make it to school on time for 7am and then not pick them up until 3pm and with after school activities and dinner it was bed time before we knew it. I felt like it was a big flash and it was blazing past us. We are fortunate in that we work from home so homeschooling was an option without much adjust of the schedules, it just required a little more organization and communication between John and I.

I thought being a homeschool family would raise some questions in the community or among people we would encounter during our day while other kids were in school but we are given so much positive feedback and compliments that it’s so encouraging to continue down this path. Other parents don’t ask the same questions they did years ago…”aren’t you worried about socialization?” …. we are now asked “What curriculum are you guys using?”

I have met more homeschool family just out and around town during normal errand running than I ever realized were in my neighborhood.

So if I had to sum up our “why’s” on our choice to homeschool the top of the list would probably be the ability to spend the most time possible with our children, to teach them the morals and values we believe will shape and mold them into productive, compassionate, confident human beings that will one day contribute and make a difference in their own unique ways.

We’re not perfect and we don’t expect this journey to be either, I know there will be good days and bad days but i’m ready to take it on and watch the kids blossom and grow each day.

{Road Trip}
We made a very last minute trip West across Florida to visit with my Aunt and family who were in town visiting from Eastern Canada. Being that it was last minute we didn’t have a lot of time to plan and prepare. With a quick look at hotels available I began to realize that there wasn’t much available and it was a little pricey. I found a new property that Marriott opened under their Fairfield Inn brand and it was just 3 weeks old! Reasonably priced considering the location to the beach and the amenities available we felt it was a good deal, especially since we booked it for same-day arrival.

My next google search was for a place to grab dinner knowing once we made the 4 hour drive we would all be starving. Closest to the hotel (walking distance) was a place called Palm Pavilion and with a 4-star rating and over 430+ reviews, I figured it would be a good choice.

The drive wasn’t terrible but it was much longer than I had really anticipated. We got stuck in traffic just outside of Tampa and it added an extra 40 minutes onto our already long drive. My suggestion to anyone making the drive would be to plan it outside of evening rush hour traffic and to keep your stress levels low.

Arriving to the Clearwater Beach area we passed the Clearwater Aquarium where Hope and Winter the dolphins reside. The Hollywood film “Dolphin Tale 1 & 2” were filmed there and feature the dolphins still living at the aquarium. I had made a mental note of the location so that if all went well in the morning we could plan a quick visit with the kids.

Photo Courtesy of Wikiwand.com

I was pretty impressed with the drive over the Clearwater Causeway, it was really pretty and the water was beautiful. The first thing we all noticed driving into the main strip area was the stores and shopping. There seemed to be a store for everything and a great place to enjoy an evening strolling the beachside with family or friends.

Our hotel was about 1.5 miles from the causeway and was directly across from the beach just as described online. The only downside to this property was that there was no self-parking, only valet options at an additional $20/night. The young man at valet was really friendly and welcomed us to the hotel and area. He told us they offered complimentary shuttle with their 6 passenger golf cart to the beach, Palm Pavilion and Frenchie’s on the Beach restaurants. That was a nice perk although the hotel was across the street and a nice walk but I could see families with young children wanting to use the shuttle service.


After checking in we headed over to the valet and jumped onto the shuttle and was taken to the Palm Pavilion restaurant as we had planned before leaving the house earlier. We asked the shuttle drive “Edwin” what he recommended to eat and he actually suggested we eat at Frenchie’s but seeing that we were starving and their average wait time being 45 minutes – 1hr we would never make it through the wait time. Emma gets “HANGRY” big time!

palm-pavilion-beachsidePalm Pavilion was right on the beach and seems to offer live music each night of the week. A generous outside bar seating area and large patio overlooking the ocean and beach for dining, where we were seated. It was busy for a Thursday night and our server was a friendly young man named “CT”. I had no clue what I wanted to eat and I made the terrible mistake of just picking what sounded good from the menu rather than asking what they recommend or their signature dish.

Chinese Chicken Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing and a Shrimp Taco. Pretty basic, right?
Well John ordered the exact items with the exception of the shrimp taco, he had the mahi taco. Big mistake! The salad arrived and it was bagged salad thrown in a bowl and topped with canned mandarin oranges and two tiny grape tomatoes. The chicken listed on the menu was supposedly Teriyaki seasoned… when it arrived, it was a huge chunk of sliced deli meat! I don’t know if I was just shocked that they actually served a slab of deli meat on my salad or that perhaps I was expecting an actual breast of chicken, or diced chicken… something other than what arrived. I couldn’t eat it although I tried. John managed to choke his down but was not enjoying his dinner at all. The kids didn’t seem to complain about their food, pretty basic kids meal choices like burger, chicken tenders and fries.

A fairly expensive dinner considering the quality of the food and just “okay” service I probably wouldn’t recommend this restaurant for anything other than drinks on the beach.

We decided to walk around for a little and headed down the street towards the stores, which were all for the most part open and busy about 9:30pm on a Thursday evening. Not something we are use to in our part of Palm Beach. I had promised the kids dessert because I wasn’t giving Palm Pavilion another penny of our money. We had seen several families pass us and they had ice creams and milkshakes all from a place that had “Ice and Cream Creamery” written on the side of the cups.

I thought that would be a good sign of a place to grab something sweet. We found it about 4 blocks away and it had a huge line out the door and down the sidewalk!!! What was this place we all thought. A big sign on the window read “$3 hand spun milkshakes” Well, the price was right and the line said it must be good. We waited about 10 minutes and finally made our way inside.
Ice and Cream Clearwater Beach, FL

A big success, the kids ordered a Nutella milkshake and Smurf cone and we had a banana milkshake and my boring vanilla. They were pretty good, a good treat for the $3 each!

We headed back to the hotel on foot while enjoying our shakes and even stumbled across a nice little cigar store with comfy outdoor seating. John would have stayed and enjoyed the basketball game but we were all pretty tired at that point.

cigar store clearwater beach, flMORNING IN CLEARWATER BEACH

We had a night of heavy rain and it made for a cloudy overcast morning. Our hotel stay came with complimentary hot breakfast in the lobby so we enjoyed a nice start to the day with a good selection of typical breakfast items. As a family of 4 this complimentary breakfast is perfect, that would have easily cost us $50 or more to eat out.

We met with my family at our hotel pool and the kids enjoyed playing while we sat on the deck and watched. There was plenty of seating for both relaxing and sun tanning, it was a great spot although the pool overlooked a neighboring parking lot for rental condos across the street. Perhaps once the trees fill in over time it will provide a little more privacy for hotel guests. Check out time for the hotel was 12 noon so that was convenient if you wanted to look around or have a lazy morning.

Being a short trip and having limited time to visit, we left the hotel and parked at the main beach area and wandered around a little with the kids. We looked in Ron Jon Surf Shop and the kids got a t-shirt and a few small things and we then agreed we would let them run around at the big park on the beach before getting back in the car.

clearwater beach playground

Overall, we enjoyed our very quick trip to Clearwater Beach and would definitely return again with a little more time to explore the area. I think the kids enjoyed the day too but it was a REALLY long drive. I certainly am not looking forward to that again.

Islamorada, Florida  What a TRIP!

Our recent visit to Islamorada in the Florida Keys was such a huge success. We were all very sad to leave, Islamorada provided us with 5 days of some of the best R&R we’ve had in a long time.

We choose to stay at Cheeca Lodge because they are just the very best accommodations when visiting Islamorada. For a family, there is really something for everyone. The hotel grounds are lush with tropical foliage and we love the walking paths that are lit in the evenings with tiki lanterns, it’s so pretty.


Upon our arrival with Cheeca Lodge, we were greeted by the front desk staff and a glass of champagne and fresh fruit water for the kiddos. The ambiance sets the tone for the terrific visit ahead.

cheeca-roomWe lucked out and got the 700 building which is a short walk down the tropical path to both the adult pool and the family pool located Ocean front. The rooms at Cheeca are larger than your average double queen room at other hotels. The bathroom offers both a sunken tub and separate shower, which is great when you are traveling with the kids. Our son loved the bubble baths after a long day in the sun and sand. The balcony is screened in and has a small bistro table with chairs so that you can enjoy your morning or evening on the patio watching the tropical birds and even iguanas running around. The screen helps with the bugs – it is the South and the bugs can be fierce but the screen is perfect. We brought a deck of cards and enjoyed playing gin-rummy outside after dinner.

fishing-jackThe kids all found their own little slice of heaven at the hotel. Our youngest loves Camp Cheeca, while our son hits the pier for some fishing. The hotel provides fishing poles and you can purchase your bait right there on property, so it’s convenient for Mom and Dad. We practically had to drag our son off the pier for lunch and dinner. It’s perfect for the kids because it’s safe and there are a ton of other kids from all over the world fishing. Our son met many other boys from as far away as the UK and others from Alabama.

Camp Cheeca is great for kids aged 5 and up, they spend the day playing in the sun and water and offer arts and crafts such as coconut painting. My daughter loved camp so much she didn’t want to leave when it was time for us to pick her up. There are endless activities for the kids if they decide to not do Camp, from paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, bike riding, swimming and tennis. All complimentary and included in your daily resort fee.

With several restaurant options on property from Sushi to Italian you don’t have to go far to enjoy a nice meal with the family. The resort also offers kids night out so that parents can enjoy a romantic dinner over looking the ocean.

cheeca-sushiWe dined our first night at Nikai Sushi, it’s on the roof top of the hotel and has a breath taking view of the ocean, the warm breeze and delicious food made the first night a perfect way to kick off the vacation.

For those of you who know us, breakfast is one of our favorite meals of the day. Our kids are breakfast connoisseurs — and it was unanimous that Cheeca has a really great breakfast buffet. view-from-breakfastThe tables overlook the beachfront and if you’ve not seen a Islamorada morning on the water, you must put it on your bucket list. The ocean is calm and glassy and the sun shining on the water is such an amazing way to start your day. I also love that breakfast is available until 11:30am so if you aren’t an early riser, you don’t have to rush to breakfast!







I found myself a nice little shady spot around the family pool that I could relax and catch up on my favorite magazines. The staff at the pool were so friendly and accommodating, they made sure you had everything you needed from ice cold water to fresh towels. They have a great little menu poolside that includes a kids section, they take your order and deliver it to your chairs poolside. Our favorite was the fish tacos and goat cheese salad. Yum!

DAY 2: Adventuring around Islamorada

We had planned a boat rental for the day so that we could do a little snorkeling and the boys could do a little off shore fishing. Thanks to the help of the folks at Keys Boat Rental located at Smuggler’s Cove we had a perfect little 19ft Angler for the day. With the help of the bait shop at Smuggler’s, we were setup for fishing and a great map of the best snorkeling off Islamorada. We picked Hen and Chicken Reef because it was directly out of the channel and slightly to the North. We tied up on the buoy and the kids jumped into the beautiful blue waters. Immediately they were greeted by a school of parrot fish wearing bright yellow lipstick, our youngest was thrilled that they were all around her.

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Our next stop on our boat adventure was to the Islamorada Sand Bar, where you can anchor and wander around the sand bar looking for star fish, small fish and of course take in the sights and sounds of other boaters parked next to you. We happened to come in next to a group celebrating a wedding from North Carolina and joined in on a game of Sand Bar Baseball… It was a riot!

To keep everyone in our boat happy (the fisher boy) we headed out of the sand bar after a few hours of relaxing and went straight out about 1/4 mile to a 15-18ft depth to drop our fishing poles. We had frozen shrimp for our bait, per the suggestion of the Smuggler’s bait shop owner. There were plenty of bites but unfortunately we didn’t catch anything. I like to think that we fed the fish on our way back into the marina 😉

It’s all good though, everyone on the day trip had a great time and did something they each enjoyed.

Upon returning the boat to the Smuggler’s Cove marina, we were met at the dock by a gentleman who helped us tie up and as part of the rental you are responsible for the gas on return. The whole day on the boat cost us a whopping $15!!! Yep, that’s right. An entire adventure on the water in our own boat …. total cost: $250 for the full day 8am-5pm and the gas: $15 = $260!

I love when a great plan comes together…

We were pretty wiped out from the full day in the hot sun so we decided to grab a pizza on the way back into the hotel. There is a little restaurant just on the other side of the road from Cheeca called “Tower of Pizza” they offer a great little menu from pizza to Italian dishes. We ordered pizza and their chicken parmesan and it was a huge amount of food that was very tasty. They will deliver to Cheeca too, but picking up is just across the street. You can actually walk out the front gate of the hotel and it’s just to your South. They offer dine-in tables too if you want to eat in.

Day 3: Pool side fun and birthday dinner celebration

We set this day to be a “nothing” day. Meaning, we had zero plans except for dinner at 6pm. Our youngest pleaded to do the half day PM camp and our son of course wanted to be loaded up with bait and left to fish at the pier, ALL DAY LONG. I found a spot poolside and our oldest joined me with a book. Knowing the kids were having a great time, it was really nice that I could truly relax and enjoy some time in the sun. I actually closed my eyes for a little poolside nap for about 20 minutes. When was the last time you napped ocean front ? Exactly. 

Around 3pm we pried our son off the pier and the 4 of us grabbed some bikes from the guest adventure house and rode to the ice cream shop just outside the resort. Our youngest isn’t the best at riding just yet so we wanted to do this while she was enjoying camp. The main street can get a little busy outside the resort, but there are sidewalks some of the way. The bikes were great, they had little baskets on the front for all our wallets and waters. The little ice cream shop was cute and offered a great selection. My husband rode a little further while we were enjoying our ice creams to his favorite little cigar shop just North of the resort called “Cigars in the Keys”, the family owned shop has a great selection of cigars and the pricing is very reasonable. We sent a few hotel guests to the shop once they smelled the cigar my husband enjoyed on the beach later that afternoon. Check them out!

We headed to our dinner reservations at Lazy Days which is about 3 miles South of the hotel. The restaurant is an open air space that offers an upstairs dining experience both inside and out overlooking the ocean and they recently opened the beachfront dining which has tables directly on the beach. We reserved a few weeks in advance because they do get busy and there is always a wait for the outside tables. The menu is typical Keys entrees; seafood, steak and lots of conch! They offer a daily chef special that has at least a dozen entrees to choose from. My husband and I started with their recommendation of Oysters Rockefeller and they were really good. Lots of sauce and cheese! We both chose entrees from the chef specials, I had the blackened rib-eye and he had the snapper sautéed in a key lime butter. Large portions and delicious flavor on both our meals. The kids ordered from the kids menu which offered a great selection such as steak, chicken, fish and burgers. They both had the steak and it came with fries. Our oldest had the Filet and she said it was really good too.

We passed on desert because we were so full, there was just no space left — I had spotted a Starbucks that was newly opened the previous day on our way back from the boat rental and we thought a little after dinner coffee was the perfect way to end the day. The Starbucks is located in the Post Card Inn parking lot.

DAY 4: More relaxing and Camp Cheeca

We pretty much did absolutely nothing on this last day of our trip. Camp, fishing, relaxing poolside, eating and sunbathing.

After another perfect breakfast buffet on the water, I hit the chairs to enjoy my magazines and the kids were off to their pier fishing and camp activities. The weather was perfect, although hotter and more humid than the previous days, the pool was the fix for that.

Around 3pm we decided to head out on the kayaks and take in the view of the resort and neighboring properties. I’m not sure if you watch Bloodline the netflix TV series, but it’s filmed next door to the Cheeca Lodge at a place called the Moorings. It’s a great show filmed in Islamorada and if you watch it, you can easily point out many spots featured in the show. From the kayak you can paddle along the beach and see the resort and the main house where the tv series takes place. Just off the beach is an old tree that broke off during a lightning storm and settled in the water. It’s now home to many little creatures and fish that you can see in the foot of water. We saw several Rock Lobster and the tiniest little tropical fish. Bring your snorkel mask if you’ve got one, you can have a lot of fun out there.

When we returned to our room that afternoon, we were greeted by a delightful tray filled with fresh fruits, cheese and a bottle of champagne and sparkling waters. The card attached was thanking us for our stay and was signed from Bob, the new general manager of the hotel. It’s this type of first class guest service that makes Cheeca Lodge the best accommodations in Islamorada. During our week stay, the room was always clean, fresh towels upon our return from the beach and even a turn down service with shell shaped chocolates on our pillows. Fresh bottled water for us in our room each day, complimentary. It really is the little things that make your stay that much more enjoyable.

Our last night we dined at one of our favorite spots, the Lorelei restaurant. It’s waterfront dining is situated on the Florida Bay “Back Country” and offers the most amazing sunset dinners. The food at lorelei’s is excellent. Our favorites is their conch chowder, fish tacos and their chef prepared daily fish entree. michaeltrixxEach night there is live music, some of the best in The Keys. A few nights a week they offer a magic show by a gentleman named Michael Trixx — he is a former rock band bassist and his magic show is outstanding. It happens just after sunset and the lighting and specials effects with his show are not to be missed. My kids look forward to the show every time we visit.

The cons of this trip… having to leave!