Destination Birthday — The Inn at Kelly’s Ford: How to throw an overnight sweet 16 birthday party!

Who doesn’t love a good party? And a sweet sixteen at that!

When you add in a short drive to a beautiful and serene setting, what’s not to love! If you are looking to host or throw a destination sweet sixteen birthday party, read on! 

Let’s all face it, turning 16 can be lots of work for mama’s… especially for girls! Coming up with sweet 16 birthday party ideas that will not completely break the bank is tricky! Over the years, as my three kids were celebrating birthdays, many of the parties were done right at home (and even before Pinterest, yikes!). Wonderful memories indeed! But for my daughter’s sweet 16, after brainstorming numerous ideas, we decided to have a quaint destination party that she and her friends could remember for a long time.  We combined her love for horses and the outdoors, with the sun and pool and added in a photo shoot, food and lots of sugar! (What 16-year-old girl doesn’t like taking photos and eating candy?!).

The Inn at Kelly’s Ford was the perfect setting to accomplish all of our ideas. It was basically a two day, all-girl slumber party on steroids (I mean sugar)! Here are some of the highlights from her destination birthday party with ideas, and tips on saving a few bucks.

Choosing the location — The Inn at Kelly’s Ford is less than an hour from our home in the little town of Remmington, VA. Getting there was not an issue and the drive out is so pretty. No planes or trains, just automobiles to transport my daughter and her friends. Since the Inn has accommodations on the property, we booked a cottage for a night’s stay, basically allowing for two day’s worth of activities. The cottage had plenty of room for everyone and also gave my husband and me a room to escape all the girl talk!


Activities, activities and more activities — There was no boredom going on here! Lots to do to keep everyone happy. When we booked our cottage, I also booked reservations for horseback riding and canoeing— one activity for each day. Since we had LOTS of open space, I created a scavenger hunt. They divided into two teams and searched the grounds for clues. The inn has a pool on the property… perfect for swimming and soaking in the sun.  The following morning, while I cleaned and packed away all the decorations and food, my husband made the canoe trek down the Rappahannock. (I wish I would have gone on that trip, but someone had to stay back and get all packed up!)

SAY CHEESE! — Since most girls love getting dressed up, and we had a perfect photo shoot setting, I took time with each girl to take photos as well as fun group shots. This was not only a way for my daughter to capture her party, but the photos were given to each of her friends as a takeaway… (Or to just use as a new profile pic!) It was nice for her brothers to stop by to wish her a happy birthday, which gave me a chance to snap a few of all three of my kiddos.

Dining Al Fresco — In keeping with the theme and not having to spend a fortune on a sit-down meal in the restaurant, we elected to order takeout food from Pelham’s Pub and have our own patio dinner decorated in, you guessed it… pink! I basically was the waitress, but at least I didn’t have to cook the meal! The Inn was nice to help deliver the take out to the patio where I set the table for the girls. The girls decided on a really fancy dinner… chicken tenders, onion rings and fries! I brought in muffins, fruits, juices, etc. for breakfast the next morning. No one’s going hungry around here!

Sixteen Candles — For many of my children’s birthdays, I have attempted to decorate cakes or cupcakes. Most times I even baked them too! (crazy, I know!) Since I wanted to get a little creative, but save time, I ordered a crumb crusted cake from the Harris Teeter bakery along with extra white buttercream frosting that I could color myself. I searched youtube videos on how to decorate.  It was fun and simple and paired perfectly with all the pink accents from the party!

Decorations — Since I envisioned lots of pinks and girly things, I decided to save money and purchase pink roses from Giant instead of ordering from a flower shop. I cut the stems down a bit and used mason jars as my vases. These definitely added a simple, yet dainty touch I was going for. (I picked up a box of mason jars at Walmart and used some for vases as well as drinking glasses.) Keeping cost down but making a big statement, I purchased pink tissue paper to make giant paper flowers. I shopped at Michael’s craft store for colored paper and stickers to make a “Celebrate” banner. They also had cute frames to display and the girls could take for their photos. I also wanted to display some old photos of my daughter along with her friends so I printed photos in various sizes and used ribbon and clothespins to display them throughout the room. For the sweet 16 candy bar, I found plenty of pink candy at Party City. I also purchased a small helium tank and balloons and blew them up once on site. One of my favorites was the personalized cookies from Baked by Rachel. I sent a photo of the invitation (designed by my best friend Jennifer) and Rachel matched them perfectly.  I think we accomplished having enough sugar and pink at this shindig!

Not gonna lie… I worked really hard to pull off this two-day party… Lots of planning and preparation, but in the end, I would do it all over again. (Shout out to the hubby too!) I loved every minute of it and I sure hope my daughter remembers this milestone birthday! It was a fun way to explore with friends, celebrate, and make lifelong memories! Would you plan and host a destination birthday party? If so, I promise it will be worth it!


*no endorsements here—just my opinions and recommendations. All photos property of Elisabeth Bryson Photography.




Traveling with kids? Here’s 10 tips for planning your trip.

While living abroad in England our family had the opportunity to travel right at our fingertips. I  knew I had to take advantage of living close to so many iconic sights. We were creative when it came to budgeting and always looked for deals. Some of the countries we explored as a family (and even visited many a few times!) were Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Spain, Wales, Italy, Austria, France, Sweden, and Poland.

My kids attended the American School in London and luckily for us we had many breaks throughout the school year. Being a stay at home mom (gosh I was so lucky) allowed me time to research, plan and act as the family travel agent! Of course my kids did often moan and groan about seeing one. more. castle. But I knew in the end, one day, they would appreciate these experiences. Here are some things I learned while planning a trip with kids:

  1. Do your research. With so many options on where you can travel and sightsee, research and know what it is you actually want to see. Will it be good for kids? Will they also enjoy? Is there a lot of walking — will you have access to public transportation or will you need to rent a car? Do you need tickets for a particular site? Can you buy them in advance online, cheaper? I would research and read travel books from our library, but today all you have to do is google and read on!
  2. Don’t forget your Passport or Visa? Do you need a passport or a special visa? Be sure to check State Department for more information on what exactly the requirements are for your particular destination.  Also check to see if you need special medical treatments, shots, etc.
  3. Determine the best location for hotels. Location, Location, Location. —Finding that perfect hotel is sometimes difficult to pin point. Read reviews on how other guests liked (or disliked) the property. But in the end, find a good and safe location. Sometimes staying a little further away from the main sites is best, but also know how you plan to get around.
  4. What type hotel accommodations works best for your family size? Finding accommodations for a family of over four is sometimes tricky, especially in Europe where they typically have smaller rooms. Most hotels only have 2 beds. There were many trips where we chose to stay in apartment style accommodations over a typical hotel room. This allowed for more bedrooms and many times came with a kitchen, which helped save on food cost. Typically, I found this option was also less expensive than major chain hotels.
  5. Determine your mode of transportation. Planes, Trains and Automobiles —How will you plan on getting to your destination? Will you jump on a train, plane or drive? Depending on how many days you have for your trip may determine your means of travel. If you are going somewhere close, is it best to all jump in the car, or do you need to fly? If budget is a concern, price out all the various travel options, and remember to include gas price and any road tolls. Sometimes you can fly cheaper than driving! (Ryan Air was our go to for cheap European flights). Also, don’t forget to price out additional fees for flying (ex. extra baggage). We had it down to a science when we traveled in Europe… we all had one carry on, and we wore our heaviest coat and winter boots, saving space in our luggage! There were times when we were spotted at the airport shifting things in and out to meet the weight requirements for that checked piece of luggage. If I could go back I would have purchased a luggage scale to have on hand while packing.
  6. Make an itinerary. What is it that you want to see? Many times, there are so many things to see, but if you don’t have a plan, you spend time during your trip thinking, discussing, and wasting time! If you have three kids like me, chances are you will not please them all! They will appreciate seeing the Leaning Tower, or Changing of the Guards, etc., one day! Spend time planning out approximately how much time you need to see each sight, taking into consideration the time for commuting. But remember, if you don’t get to see everything, don’t fret. The main goal is to have fun while making memories with your family.
  7. A game plan reduces stress. Once you have an itinerary… congratulations, you now have a game plan! Gather everyone and have a quick family meeting and review the plan. This will give your kids an overview of the trip and help build excitement while keeping stress to a minimum.
  8. Let your kids pack for themselves. One of the things I always did was allow (or make, ha!) my kids pack for themselves for every trip. I would give them a detailed check list with all the items they would need for the trip and they would gather each necessity and set it out. We reviewed together and then they would pack their bags. And guess what? Once we arrived, they knew exactly what options they had! (plus I could not get blamed for not packing the right items!) Each person always included a rain coat for every trip, and they always came in handy while sightseeing. Our favorite brand was always LLBean, similar to this one here.


    Posing for a photo in Brussels Belgium with the Manneken Pis. You can see our LLBean jackets here! They had to cross their arms to cover the reflective patch for the flash.

  9. Add ribbon to your luggage. Many bags are black so tying a colorful ribbon on your luggage makes it stand out. Also be sure to place a secure and sturdy luggage tag in case your luggage is misplaced. I also added a sheet of paper inside luggage with name and phone number in case all else fails, the airport would have a contact from inside the luggage.
  10. Carry a back back. Stock the backpack with snacks and water bottles. (I mean kids are always hungry and buying snacks adds up!) Depending on how small your children are, you can also throw in the necessities (diapers, etc.). BUT be careful with your backpacks! Do not put anything on the outside, like wallets, where you can get pick pocketed. (trust me…) Back packs are great for allowing you to keep your hands free so you can grab your kids hands to help keep them safe while moving about.

Traveling with kiddos is always an adventure (and sometimes challenging). As they get older, they share these special memories together and will talk about the “remember when’s” for a lifetime. Making a plan is key and leads down a path to a successful travel journey wherever you may go!


Where do high school sweethearts spend their 20th anniversary?

20 years of marriage… where to go? Cruise for eight days? A trip overseas? Nah, not us. We literally jumped in the car and drove about an hour to the middle of nowhere. To a place called Washington. And I don’t mean Washington, DC. The other Washington… you know, Washington, Virginia. A quaint little town with a lot to offer your five senses.

My hubby surprised me and booked this experience all by himself. (He’s pretty good at that kind of stuff.) He did his homework and it was ah-maz-ing. We drove about an hour out and arrived at the Inn at Little Washington. It was spectacular. As we pulled into the main inn, we were greeted by a bellman wearing a cute hat, who said “Welcome to the Inn at Little Washington, let me help you with your bags”. Now, mind you, we had one bag… I mean we were there for just one night. We are really low maintenance, and you know my hubby can definitely carry his own bag! (funny part was it was a camouflage one!) My husband told the young man, we are fine, but the bellman insisted and said, “If ‘the Chef’ sees you carrying your own bags, I will get into trouble.” (note: Chef is the owner!). So we surrendered and allowed him to carry the camo bag into this beautifully decorated Inn.

As we walked inside, the bellman presented us with champagne and our room keys to the Carter House. Cheers to 20 years of marriage!


Here are my top 10 favorites about the Inn at Little Washington (not in any particular order):

  1. The room key. No lie. It is my favorite. Silly I know. I even bought myself a keyring in the shop (will not tell you how much I paid!) and I carry it every day. It’s like a wonderful reminder of my time spent with my hubby on my 20th anniversary. (You can see it on my home page, it’s the yellow keychain.)
  2. Bathroom. The bathroom was perfection. Really, I mean I dream about this bathroom and how, in my next home, I will design it after this particular bathroom. It was not huge, but just the right space. It had relaxation written all over it. A soaking tub and french doors that opened up to the outdoors, still offering privacy. It was stocked with all the luxurious amenities (shampoo, lotion, etc) to go right along with it.
  3. NO wifi. Being unplugged was one of the best feelings. When you arrive at Washington, VA, you will notice there is no/little cell service. So if you must be reached, one can call the main office and they can transfer the call to your room’s hard line. It was glorious to be unplugged for 24 hours.
  4. High Tea. Who doesn’t love a good British high tea? Beautiful display of biscuits and the tea was delicious. Best part was just sitting and talking.
  5. The Town. The town of Washington has not changed very much since George Washington surveyed it in 1749! It is still a five block by two block grid with only about 150 people. The Town of Washington, a National Historic Landmark is called Little Washington to distinguish it from big Washington, DC.
  6. Turn down service. This is not your typical turn down service. This one was a well thought out, attention to detail kind of turn down. It came with a special journal that was perfectly laid on the pillow.
  7. Patio. The patio was a secluded area with a tranquil fountain, blooming plants and comfy chaise lounge chairs. Perfect for relaxing and reading one of the coffee table books from inside the room.
  8. Dinner. Every course was just an outright “wow” factor. The ambiance was romantic and the service was impeccable. Chef Patrick just knows how to entertain and make you feel like you are a king and queen.
  9. Walking trail and cutting garden. We enjoyed a long walk along the walking trail and through the town. It was a nice way to just get out of the everyday hustle and bustle.
  10. Tavern shops. The shops offered a lot of variety. I loved looking around at all the unique items that were offered. Of course my favorite was the keychain!

So the question is, would I go back again for one night vs. a week long trip, on say a cruise ship? Dang right I would go back again. It just doesn’t get much better than the Inn at Little Washington. The beauty, the service, the food… but really, in the end, it doesn’t matter where you go, it just matters who you are with! I am glad I got to spend my 20th in the small town of Little Washington where all the focus was on each other.

If you ever have the opportunity to visit, it will be worth the investment. I promise.

Driving to Little Washington (told you it was in the middle of nowhere)

Our welcome (isn’t that a cute hat!)

My favorite keychain.

Our room. Isn’t this beautiful?

Flowers my hubby had waiting for my arrival. Just perfect.

The details are never lacking.

This was the most comfy bed.

Entrance to our room. Parlor for making phone calls.

High Tea

This. What a special turn town service touch. Details.

Patio and wine. Doesn’t get much better.

High Tea was so delicious.

View of patio and the fountain.

yes. This!

Robes were so comfy.

Turn down service.

Thank you Patrick. Thank you for appreciating the fine details.

Coffee the next morning. Perfect way to wake up. Coffee is perfection, right?