Decaf Coffee

Decaf Coffee

Coffee is important to me.

When we opened our Airbnb, I included the word “coffee” (as in “this is an ideal place to drink coffee”) in virtually every picture I posted. 

It used to have to have caffeine. Not that I always needed, or even wanted, the energy, but because it tastes so much better, amiright?

In my next post I’ll talk about how I weaned myself off of caffeine and what I do to allow it not to become an issue now. It’s pretty cool that I can have caffeine when I want, but it doesn’t give me a horrible headache to go without it.


First a funny backstory/side note.

I used to drink my coffee with cream and sugar. I got rid of the sugar, and eventually decided to go without cream or milk too. Those first few cups of black coffee reminded me of the smell of a skunk. But I got over it and now I only want it black. Why, exactly, did I do this? I’ll tell you: to make my coffee more low-maintenance. Because I love being as low-maintenance as I can be.

Which makes the following section really, really funny.


So seriously. How do you make it so that it actually tastes good? Is it even possible?



(disclaimer: the links are to my Amazon affiliate account. I may get a small percentage if you order anything on Amazon when following the links that, uh, follow).


First off: french press. If you’ve never used one, it’s the same basic principle as making loose tea. You pour the grounds in the press, pour hot water over the grounds, wait, and then squeeze it down. Pour out the coffee, leave the grounds in the bottom.

For whatever reason, french press coffee is much richer than from a coffee maker no matter how good that model is (and I do love my coffee maker)


So pretending you’re convinced to try a french press now, what about the beans itself? 

You have two options. You can either buy coarse-ground coffee (since you need the same coarseness for cold brew, you can add that to the search terms), which is very hard to find for decaf. OR you can buy whole beans and grind it yourself

That’s what I ended up doing, because it was that hard to find coarse ground coffee. The grinder I linked to works great after multiple uses a day for 1 1/2 years, so I highly recommend it.

Then it’s a matter of finding beans with some bite.

Depending on how strong you like your coffee, this could be quite a challenge. I like french roast or other similarly dark roasts. That really makes decaf feel like…well, like Pentatonix without a guy singing bass. Still decent, but missing depth.

Reading up on ways decaf is made taught me that Swiss Filtered was a much healthier, much more flavorful form of decaf. So we started trying different brands. 

My favorite: Kicking Horse. We get it in two-pound bags with our subscribe and save order. 

There’s a first runner up: Don Pablo. It’s about half the price. Not as good, but for the amount of coffee we drink, we wanted to try it.

Our plan for this month is to actually combine the two and see how that tastes. I’ll let you know what we decide if you’re curious!


Tomorrow I’ll write about how (and why) I weaned us off of caffeine, but I knew hearing about good alternatives was going to be the right place to start.

So what do you think? Would you consider going to decaf if you knew it still tasted good? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


I’m going to leave comments closed on my blog posts, because nothing is more depressing than seeing a bunch of “0 comments,” and I detest having to delete spam. So write to me if you’d like to give me your feedback! And feel free to subscribe by going here and signing up!



Disney as a local

Disney as a local

First off, we live in the shadow of Cinderella Castle.

Before we moved to Central Florida, we used to come down here from Buffalo every winter for a beautiful, exhausting week at the Parks. 

In early 2013, we moved down here, and yes, proximity to Disney was one of the requirements for where we chose. 30 minutes? Yes please!

As soon as we got our Florida driver’s licenses, we got our first Annual Passes. The bliss! The kids were 4, 6, and 8, and we spent every spare minute we could there. 

Then I got braces. So we couldn’t renew those passes.

I remember a lot of sad Hudson faces that year. “Is Disneywowld closed?” I had to explain that no, it wasn’t closed, but we couldn’t go there. It was harder on me than it was on him.


Since then, we’ve gotten passes most years. We had to go another year without them for financial reasons, but usually we’ve been able to pull it off.

Compared to the amount we spent on airfare, transportation, hotels/resorts, food, and park passes (for a WEEK), the annual pass is about half of that. 

So our trips are shorter now, but far more frequent. Instead of doing everything at each park, we can pick a few things and go home when we’re hungry. We can plan our days around our Fastpasses, just go for the Food and Wine festival, or just go to Animal Kingdom for a couple drawing classes. It’s a beautiful thing.


Doesn’t it get boring?

First of all, have you actually thought that? 

Short answer: NO. It doesn’t. There’s just too much to do there, too many things to enjoy again and again. Disney doesn’t get old. Its focus is nostalgia, which means each trip builds on the last one, because not only does the Dumbo ride remind me of my first time on it at 15, but then I remember the time the kids were tiny and rode on it in the rain. 

 Then there’s something magical called Disneybounding, which I explained here. and demonstrated here. This is a wonderful way to keep each trip fresh, and to create magic for the other Passholders and the Cast Members. 

Twice a year we participate in Dapper Days, (the pictures above are from Dapper Day in November, 2017) which can get rather pricey if you give me too long ahead of time to plan. Let’s just say our Country Bear Jamboree/Spaceship Earth weekend cost us a LOT more than I planned to spend, especially considering we got most of the pieces at various Goodwill stores!

Then there’s the advantage of knowing where the cameras are on all the rides. Planning these can be a lot of fun!

So what do you think? Could you keep making trips (we average about 1 a week) for 5 years? Or are we unusual? (actually, maybe don’t answer that) 

And more importantly, can you tell who we’re dressing up as in these pictures, and who should we attempt next? 



Feel free to drop me a line and suggest things I could discuss here. ( ) I would love to hear what you think, too!

I’m going to leave comments closed on my blog posts, because nothing is more depressing than seeing a bunch of “0 comments,” and I detest having to delete spam. So write to me if you’d like to give me your feedback! And feel free to subscribe by going here and signing up!



Homeschooling, year 11

Homeschooling, year 11

We homeschooled long before Coronavirus.

Let me tell you: what most people experienced this past spring was nothing like what we do. That’s why most homeschoolers insist that what the rest of the world was doing wasn’t really homeschooling. 

It did make for some really funny memes, though.

I’ve been doing it since day one. I taught all three how to read using the same book my mom used for the youngest few siblings (more about my family at a later date). 

To be completely honest: by the time Rebekah (my middle child) finished using it, this is all that was left of our copy. Hudson got a new one, which we then passed on to someone else.

A lot of people ask, jokingly or not, if I would be interested in taking their kids as well.

I’m honored, because it means my kids are doing okay. But seriously, if they watched what our kids did, they wouldn’t ask me*.

In homeschooling circles, there are a number of ways to teach your kids. 

Florida has a Virtual School, which is basically public school at home. Some of my friends love it, some hated it and ran as fast as they could from it. But that’s pretty much the same response to public school in general. 

Then there are open-and-go curricula, which is where a company will send you all the materials you and your kids need. Christian or secular, themed or more traditional: the options are endless. Overwhelming. So much fun to look through. 

The other end of the spectrum is something called unschooling. This is a very child-led instruction, where the parents figure out what thrills the child and creates natural learning opportunities for them. 

I’m a hybrid. Apparently there are others like me, and we’re known as “eclectic” homeschoolers.

Yeah, eclectic sounds just about right.

It means we pick and choose what we do, and it can change whenever what we’re doing stops working. 


That means we’ve tried a little of everything. Well, everything but virtual school. I want to be my kids’ teacher, and that isn’t likely to change at any point.

We currently use a variety of things.

Two of the kids (don’t ask which ones because I’d have to go ask them) use something called Teaching Textbooks for math. It’s an online/CD math program that teaches, gives problems for them to do, and then helps them when they make mistakes. 
One of them uses the Life of Fred series to learn pre-algebra.

All three of them use Prodigy (the free version) to practice their math. I’m not a fan of Common Core, and some of the problems they throw at the kids are about 8 math problems in one, but it’s an enjoyable way for them to make sure they really get the concepts.

That’s just math! Then there’s spelling, which is a combination of three different things as well. 

After those, though, then things kind of unravel.

History is something that I’ve always loved, but somehow we’ve never actually completed a curriculum. Never. Not even the one I created. Yes, I’m embarrassed by this fact. We’re only three chapters from completing the one we bought a year ago, though, and we have decided we WILL finish this one. 

(picture to the left is our creation of Hagia Sophia, from 2011, which we created as a church, then tore down the mosaics and painted over them to represent its changing to a mosque in the 15th century.)


So how do my kids learn?

They do what they’re interested in.

For Jasmine, that’s drawing and writing. So she draws daily, submitting some of them for critiques from her online friends. She writes continually, sharing her stories with me. (only problem: I don’t think a single one of them actually has an ending!) She’s learning Swedish on the DuoLingo app (so she understands the names of IKEA products. Makes me so proud)

Rebekah is passionate about dance, so she’s taking private ballet classes while studios are closed, and she does Pilates watching YouTube videos. She’s challenging herself this month with a writing goal.

Hudson says he does nothing exciting, except for doing stuff that’s exciting. Basically he lives to entertain. He baked cookies from a recipe on his own yesterday, so he’s learning to read a recipe and about fractions.  

 I’ll write another day about how dyslexia and dysgraphia have impacted our choices, because it’s a pretty big topic on its own.

If you’re keeping your kids home this year and aren’t sure you want to do it the way you did last spring, feel free to get in touch with me. I’m happy to help! 

*So why did I say you wouldn’t want your kids at our school? Because the kids finish school before breakfast, and spend the rest of the day on Scratch, Minecraft, or playing with their neighborhood friends. 

Wish you knew what I thought about a topic? Feel free to drop me a line and suggest things I could discuss here. ( ) I would love to hear what you think, too!

I’m going to leave comments closed on my blog posts, because nothing is more depressing than seeing a bunch of “0 comments,” and I detest having to delete spam. So write to me if you’d like to give me your feedback!





I’m going to start with an introduction.

Kind of odd when I’ve been using this website for the past several years, but when you consider how many times I’ve changed the direction of this site, it makes more sense.

I’m Charla. I live in beautiful Central Florida with my husband of 16 years and my three children: my daughters are now teenagers and my son is 11. 

Charm Box Studios used to be my dance photography business, but in spring of 2019 I realized studio work was sucking all the joy out of me. So I retired.

(this is nothing new. I retired from being a classroom teacher at the age of 24. It (almost) doesn’t bother me that my mom refers to me as “retired teacher.”)


So what am I doing now?

That’s a great question.

I’ve spent the past several months trying to figure out what I want to do with my life now.

My sweet husband, who knows more about me than I know about myself, mentioned the other day that writing was something that got me out of bed in the morning.

He’s right. I used to get up at 5 a.m. to write.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo several times. One of those books is on Amazon, and another is waiting for me to be brave and getting that one published too. A third I haven’t even gone back and re-read, though the kids think it’s amazing so I really should get on that.


So this is me, getting back into writing. With no idea where it will take me.

What will I do with this space?

I’ll chat about things I’ve learned or am learning. Don’t expect me to be an expert, because I’m not. I have a lot of topics I know a bit about, so I’m going to share what I’ve discovered.


More importantly, I’m going to use this space to be encouraging. Uplifting. Positive.

I’m an Enneagram 2 (I’ll write about that more very soon). Basically, that means I am happiest when I’m helping others get happier. So this place may challenge you once in awhile, but mostly it will be a place where I can let my little light shine. (you’re welcome for getting that Sunday School song stuck in your head. If you want a great updated version, which might just happen to have my children singing, check out Jeduthun Kids’ “Let My Light Shine.”)



Wish you knew what I thought about a topic? Feel free to drop me a line and suggest things I could discuss here. ( ) I would love to hear what you think, too!

I’m going to leave comments closed on my blog posts, because nothing is more depressing than seeing a bunch of “0 comments,” and I detest having to delete spam. So write to me if you’d like to give me your feedback!






It always seems so exciting…so invigorating…to see someone change courses and find something they’re passionate about and run toward it with all their heart.

But being on the side of the one getting ready to change course…let me tell you, it’s terrifying.
I’ve been passionate about taking pictures of the dancing world since my girls started taking ballet (so fall of 2010). I realized it was more than just “fun” like the rest of the pictures I took when I had the opportunity to take pictures of a dance master class. Suddenly I wanted to become a “dance photographer,” which was a term I was pretty sure I’d invented.
I didn’t see it as something that would make money. I just wanted to take pictures of dancers. 
I did find a way to earn money doing it: studio work. Photo Days. 
I was pretty excited. A way to earn money and be with dancers?! What could be better!
The only problem was, this is an extremely stressful way to earn money. Like, crazy stressful. Seeing tons of dancers who aren’t sure what they want to do, trying to put them at ease while also making sure my backdrops worked (a continual struggle)…every spring I made it through, but every year I was crazy stressed.
I thought it would help to hire a friend to do the actual ordering, since that’s where I always made the most mistakes. It helped, tremendously, but it didn’t make it easy. Or particularly fun. But it was “the way to make money doing what I loved,” so I kept going.
This year I worked for three separate studios. None were large, but it was still separate photo days, separate ordering days, and more dancers than I’d ever worked with.
And something clicked partway through the long evenings shooting.
I realized I wasn’t enjoying myself.
Every year, I’d finish photo days and see just how much more I needed to learn about (and invest in) studio lighting. Every year I spent every penny I earned on more gear so that the next year’s pictures would look better. 
And every year I’d still walk away thinking how much better the pictures had looked in my head. Disappointed in my results. Not embarrassed, but not pleased with the results.
What am I doing all this for?
I’m blessed to be able to stay home with my kids and teach them from home. Josh’s job provides for us and he makes sure I don’t ever have to work to make ends meet. So really, bringing in money for pictures just to put it back into new gear is only a reasonable proposition if it’s fun in the meantime.
And it’s not.
So I’m bowing out of what I’ve been doing.
I’m not going to do studio photos anymore. 
I do know that I still love capturing dance, but I don’t know what that means.
So starting with this summer break, I’m only taking out my camera when I want to. I’m going to get out and do things I haven’t done in awhile. Maybe that means pictures of flowers…or spending a week shooting only macro…I don’t know. 
When I was in college studying music, there were times that my courses were so stressful, deconstructing music to the point that we weren’t enjoying it anymore, that I would turn on Tchaikovsky’s ballet music and just drown in the drama and beauty of his works. Right now I’m going to find out what the photography version of that is, and do it until I’ve completely fallen in love with pictures again. And then I’ll move forward in that path, whatever it is.
If you want to follow me on this journey, either because you’re curious or because this resonates with you, I’ll be blogging as I have things to say, and posting to my @charlaarts Instagram account. There I’m planning to share quotes that are meaningful for what I’m working through, as well as pictures I take while I try things. I want to play with editing techniques, the way light shows up in pictures, and the subjects. And I do suspect I’ll end up staying with dancing because it’s in my heart and I am, in fact, Always A Dancer, I don’t know what that will look like. Who I’ll take pictures of…whether it will be posed or spontaneous…and if it will become something I get paid for again or it will just be for the joy of photography.

Our other kids

Our other kids

Our other kids

I write about our three children all the time. Their pictures are scattered all over this website.

But we consider that we have several other children. Kids we’ve never actually met, but who we love very much.

The oldest is one that Josh and his sister sponsored when they were teens, and that we took over writing to and sponsoring when we got married. She’s now married, a pharmacist, and has two children (the younger of whom, by the way, is named Joshua. That tells you how much of an impact Josh had on her life!) 

There are three more that we’re currently sponsoring. Each of our (birth) children takes the responsibility to write to one of our (sponsor) children. Our oldest writes to a girl her age in Indonesia. Our middle chose a girl to sponsor from Tanzania. Our youngest writes to a girl from Peru.

Having these children in our lives means we’re much more aware of what’s going on all over the world. Hearing about mudslides in Peru makes us aware of how dangerous life is for these families. And since I lived in Istanbul during the 1999 earthquakes, I’m VERY aware of just how devastating those kinds of natural disasters are. 

But at a more personal level, it’s incredibly powerful knowing we’re having a hand in helping three families get out of the poverty they’ve experienced. These children are given an education…medical assistance…and are being introduced to the God that notices when a sparrow falls. I’ve seen that faith blooming in our “graduate” sponsored child and we all celebrate as we see our three current sponsored children learning the same truths.

Because of how much we believe in what Compassion is doing, Josh and I are participating in a challenge to help 2,000 children who have been “in the system,” waiting for sponsors, for the longest AND who have birthdays coming up. We are praying for a 5-year-old girl named Mekedelawit Fekadu from Ethiopia. Her father passed away, so she’s living with a single mom. That hits home because we live in an area where SO many children are being raised in single-parent households, but I know the kind of poverty she’s experiencing is something I can’t even imagine.

Would you consider being HER answer to prayer? She and her mom are praying hard that someone will step in and offer her the same kind of education that the three girls in the picture on top are experiencing, and I can’t wait to hear that she’s being sponsored! 

Here’s her bio so you can learn more about her.