Riley Heruska
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In 2003, the United States Department of Agriculture proclaimed July National Blueberry Month! Trust me, it's a real thing, and it makes sense: Blueberries are at peak season right now, which means they're cheap and delicious. Plus, they've got great health benefits since they are high in antioxidants and packed with Vitamin C. They can also help lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease! 

Visit your local farmers market or grocery store and pick up a package of the sweet berries. Although they'll probably be delectable by themselves, you can also whip up some tasty desserts. After all, now is the most cost-effective time to try your hand at a blueberry pie or cobbler.

Here are some tried and true recipes recommended by bakers around the internet. Which one will you try? 

Blueberry Cobbler 

Stacy from Wicked Good Kitchen claims to have created a recipe for the "best ever" blueberry cobbler, and her readers seem to agree. It takes about an hour and a half to whip up, but it feeds quite a few people and is more than worth the time. There's also a gluten-free recipe you can use, so pretty much everyone can enjoy this delicious creation. Visit Stacy's website for the directions

Easy Blueberry Jam

Lexi posted a recipe on her popular blog, Lexi's Clean Kitchen, for a jam that you can make in less than twenty minutes. By creating your own fresh jam, you'll avoid the nasty preservatives and additional sugars that come in most store-bought ones. Plus, jam always tastes better when it's freshly made, so what's not to love? 

Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake

There's almost nothing better than waking up to a melty breakfast cake packed with gooey berries, and Chef in Training has the perfect recipe for a mouthwatering blueberry creation. With buttermilk, vanilla, and a hint of lemon, this cake will have people oohing and awing at your next brunch event. 

Blueberry Oatmeal Crumble Bars 

If you've got an hour to spare, these bars are a delicious way to celebrate National Blueberry Month. Fiona at Just So Tasty posted a recipe that is a delicious combination of buttery shortbread, fresh blueberries, and crunchy crumbles. Pair the bars with a bit of vanilla ice cream and you've got yourself a perfect summer dessert. Visit Fiona's website for a step-by-step baking guide. 

Blueberry Pancake Bites

If you've got hungry kids in the morning, they'll gobble up this fun breakfast created by Jen at Cincy Shopper. You can make them the morning of or you can bake some in advance and freeze them for hectic mornings in the future. Heat them up, add a splash of maple syrup, and voila! The perfect breakfast for little ones. Or adults (we don't shame). 

Super Moist Blueberry Bread Pudding 

You might have tried bread pudding, but have you had one that's exploding with blueberry flavor? Manuela posted a recipe on her blog that is easy to follow and will help you create a dish that warms your whole body. Visit Cooking With Manuela for a typed guide, as well as a helpful video. 

A Classic Blueberry Pie 

If you're in the mood for a traditional blueberry dish, Blueberry Council has an easy-to-follow guide on creating a simple pie. Sometimes, the best desserts are the simplest, right? You really can't go wrong this one. 

Riley Heruska
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With hundreds of books hitting bookstore shelves every month, it can be difficult to sift through new releases for the best finds. That’s why we’ve done the heavy lifting for you! Here are ten of the most popular novels that were published in June.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Embark on an intense journey across India, through war and pain, mountains and valleys. Roy tells the stories of multiple different characters, and each one is packed with hope. This author has already received high praise for her other novel, The God of Small Things, and now she’s back to impress more readers with her latest work.

“Roy’s novel will be the unmissable literary read of the summer. With its insights into human nature, its memorable characters and its luscious prose, Ministry is well worth the wait.” – Sarah Begley, TIME

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxanne Gay

After she wrote Bad Feminist, people knew to expect great things from Roxanne Gay. In this honest memoir, she details her struggle with self-image in an intimate and insightful manner. She covers several different areas of her life, from her battle with eating as a teenager to her adult attempts at self-care. Vulnerable and candid, this memoir is one you won’t want to miss.

“Wrenching, deeply moving. . . a memoir that’s so brave, so raw, it feels as if [Gay]’s entrusting you with her soul.” - Seattle Times

Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

Dessen is considered by many to be the queen of contemporary YA fiction, and she stakes her claim on the title once again with her newest novel. Luna, the daughter of a wedding planner, has suffered an incredible loss and is struggling to believe in love, which makes for an interesting combination. Dessen follows her as she attempts to heal and accept love into her life once again.

"Dessen’s expertise at creating a character faced with change is once again on display in this book that reminds readers that love is measured ‘not in minutes but in moments.’” - VOYA

The Reminders by Val Emmich

Told in two contrasting points of view, this irresistible novel will have you laughing and crying at the same time. Gavin is struggling to cope with the death of his partner, and Joan (a ten-year-old girl) has the rare ability to recall every moment of her life in perfect detail. Joan agrees to share her memories of Gavin’s partner if he’ll help her write an award-winning song. Together, the two learn to deal with their pasts and futures.

"This is a book that leaves you feeling better about life and the role we play, either on purpose or inadvertently.” - Kirkus Review

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs

This memoir wants to teach you how to live (and love) your life, even when death looms on the horizon. Nina Riggs was 37 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and within a year, she found out that it was terminal. Through this book, she explores how she was able to live life knowing that her death was fast-approaching. She tackles countless topics, from motherhood to marriage. Her account will leave you breathless and deeply moved.

"Profound and poignant… superb… I put down The Bright Hour a slightly different, and better, person - unbearably sad and also feeling, as Riggs did, 'the hug of the world.'" - Kelly Corrigan, O Magazine

Roar by Cora Carmack

Carmack has become known for her hilarious stories about twenty-somethings, but now, she is entering the world of literary fantasy. Her heroine, Aurora Pavan, was born into an ancient family and has been groomed to be the perfect queen of her realm. However, unlike the rest of her family, she has no magical abilities. Therefore, she must figure out how to protect her people from looming dangers.

“I am typically not a fantasy reader, but Roar convinced me to read more. Cora Carmack created a beautiful world and I felt like I was transported to Pavan with her vivid descriptions of the city. I was left wanting more and I can't wait to find out what happens with the rest of her characters.” - Chelsea Riela, New York Public Library

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This historical novel from bestseller Quinn details the lives of two women: one who was recruited as a spy in France during World War I, another who is an American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947. You’ll learn about the real life Alice Network as you follow the two women through dark days, betrayals, and a mission to find out the truth.

“Lovingly crafted and brimming with details, readers are sure to be held in Quinn’s grip watching as the characters evolve. Powerful reading you can’t put down!” - RT Book Reviews

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

A mystery set in the London of the 1660s, this Kadish novel tells the story of an immigrant woman who worked as a scribe and a sickly Jewish historian. Helen, the historian, is summoned to evaluate a newly discovered cache of Jewish documents, and with the help of a charming American grad student, she races to discover the secrets before other historians can. Who was the scribe behind these seventeenth-century pieces?

"This astonishing third novel from Kadish introduces readers to the 17th-century Anglo-Jewish world with not only excellent scholarship but also fine storytelling. The riveting narrative and well-honed characters will earn a place in readers' hearts." - Library Journal

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

This who-done-it novel tells the story of Susan Ryeland, an editor who receives a manuscript of the latest novel by Alan Conway, a famous crime writer. It seems like nothing more than a well-written mystery, until Susan begins to think there might be a hidden story between the lines. If you’re in the mood for a suspense novel, then look no further: Magpie Murders will cleverly have you sitting on the edge of your seat.

"Magpie Murders is a double puzzle for puzzle fans, who don’t often get the classicism they want from contemporary thrillers." - Janet Maslin, The New York Times

Riley Heruska
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Is it just me, or is July 4th one of those holidays that sneaks up on you? One second you’re just getting used to the blazing summer heat, the next you’re scrambling to find something patriotic to wear to a family barbecue. It also feels like all of the past Fourth celebrations start to blur together a little, am I right?

So, what can you do to spice up this year’s holiday and make it memorable? Here are some ideas from creative bloggers around the internet.

Painted Lawn Stars

Jeannine at The Concrete Cottage posted about this unique style of decorating for the holiday a few years ago, and it quickly became one of her most popular ideas. It’s quick, simple, and has an amazing effect on any Fourth of July celebration. Just find some pieces of cardboard, cut out a star shape, place the board on your lawn, and spray the cutout in the patriotic color of your choice. For more information on how to decorate your own lawn, visit Jeannine’s post here.

Set Up a Festive Photo Booth

This holiday can often be difficult to preserve in pictures due to low lighting, water activities, and general chaos. This year, set up a designated spot for photos. Make sure it’s well-lit and include fun props (all in red, white, and blue, of course). People will have a blast goofing off with the photos, and you'll capture memories for years to come.

Instead of Serving Sodas and Beers, Opt for a Specialty Drink

Nothing makes a night more memorable than a drink created just for the event. There are dozens of red, white, and blue drinks out there, so finding a recipe won’t be too difficult. Big Bear’s Wife whipped up a great non-alcoholic punch for the kids, and Cosmopolitan has no shortage of interesting concoctions for the grown ups.

Create Your Own Mini Carnival

Even though this sounds like a lot of effort, it’s really pretty easy to set up some themed games in your backyard. Use old soda bottles to create a bowling alley, or stack cups and have people attempt to knock them down with a baseball. You can also face paint, create crafts, and more! For some ideas, you can look at Real Simple.

Pop Some Balloon Fireworks

This is such a fun idea, especially if you have young children. Martha Stewart posted helpful instructions for the craft on her website. The concept is simple: pack a balloon full of sparkly confetti, blow it up, and then pop it. You can imagine the delight that ensues.

Tie Dye T-Shirts Together

Not only is this a fun activity that will keep people entertained, but it’s actually useful! You’ll leave with a shirt that you can wear on patriotic holidays in the future, and you’ll always remember when you made it. Not sure how to tie dye your shirts in a pretty fashion? This website has a helpful how-to guide.


How do you like to celebrate the holiday? Leave your traditions and ideas in the comments below! 

Riley Heruska
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Starting to feel a little underwhelmed by your options on Netflix? Never fear, the company will be adding a large selection of new shows, movies, and documentaries over the course of the following month. Which July additions are you most excited to binge-watch?


Netflix Original Films and Shows

The Standups: Season 1 (July 4)
Castlevania: Season 1 (July 7)
Dawn of the Croods: Season 4 (July 7)
Degrassi: Next Class: Season 4 (July 7)
Luna Petunia: Season 2 (July 7)
Friends From College: Season 1 (July 14)
To the Bone (July 14)
Chasing Coral (July 14)
Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile (July 14)
Aditi Mittal: Things They Wouldn't Let Me Say (July 18)
Ari Shaffir: Double Negative: Collection (July 18)
Ozark: Season 1 (July 21)
Last Chance U: Season 2 (July 21)
The Worst Witch: Season 1 (July 21)
Joe Mande's Award-Winning Comedy Special (July 25)
The Incredible Jessica James (July 28)
Daughters of Destiny: Season 1 (July 28)
The Adventures of Puss in Boots: Season 5
(July 28)

Television Shows

The Originals: Season 4 (July 1)
Capo "El amo del tunel": Season 1 (July 1)
El Barco: Season 1 (July 1)
Deep Water: Season 1 (July 1)
Hostages (Israel): Season 2 (July 1)
Offspring: Season 6 (July 1)
Yours Fatefully: Season 1 (July 1)
The Ultimatum: Season 1 (July 1)
Yes We Can!: Season 1 (July 1)
Spice Up: Season 1 (July 1)
World at Your Feet: Season 1 (July 1)
Witnesses: Season 2 (July 1)
El Chema: Season 1 (July 2)
iZombie: Season 3 (July 5)
Rake: Season 4 (July 15)
West Coast Customs
: Season 4 (July 15)
Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 3 (July 18)
Pretty Little Liars: Season 7B (July 20)

Documentaries and Biographies

The Truth Is in the Stars (July 1)
Extraordinary: The Stan Romanek Story (July 3)
Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness (July 17)
Being Mary Jane: Season 4 (TBD)


Titanic (July 1)
Free Willy (July 1)
Disney's The Mighty Ducks (July 1)
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (July 1)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (July 1)
Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang (July 1)
The Invisible Guest (Contratiempo) (July 1)
Albion: The Enchanted Stallion (July 1)
Liar's Dice (July 1)
Boat Trip (July 1)
Mixed Signals (July 1)
Delicatessen (July 1)
Caramel (July 1)
Unriddle (July 1)
Unriddle II (July 1)
Emma (July 1)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (July 1)
Last Night (July 1)
Out of Thin Air (July 1)
The Longest Yard (July 1)
Jackass: Number Two (July 1)
Punch-Drunk Love (July 1)
Are We There Yet? (July 1)
Are We Done Yet? (July 1)
Dad (July 1)
The Land Before Time (July 1)
The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure (July 1)
The Land Before Time III: The Time of the Great Giving (July 1)
Here Alone (July 1)
Spawn: The Movie (July 1)
Code Name: The Cleaner (July 1)
The Astronaut Farmer (July 1)
Best in Show (July 1)
Proof of Life (July 1)
Matchstick Men (July 1)
Taking Lives (July 1)
Police Academy (July 1)
Diamond Cartel (July 3)
Speech & Debate (July 6)
The Void (July 6)
Butter (July 6)
1 Mile to You (Life At These Speeds) (July 7)
Bad Santa 2 (July 8)
Horse Dancer (July 8)
Gabriel Iglesias Presents The Gentleman Jerry Rocha (July 11)
Uncertain Glory (July 17)
A Cowgirl’s Story (July 17)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (July 18)
Railroad Tigers (July 22)
Victor (July 24)
Munroe Island (July 25)
After The Reality (July 31)
Checkpoint (July 31)
Dark Night (July 31)
Taking Earth (July 31)

So what additions are you the most excited about? Let us know in the comments below! 

Riley Heruska
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Today we have with us Rachel Caine, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author who calls Texas home. She’s written more than fifty novels, and she has been published in more than twenty languages around the world.

Her newest novel, Ash and Quill, hits shelves on July 11! To celebrate her upcoming release, we’ve had the pleasure of asking her a few questions.

BubbleLife: Did you always know you wanted to publish a novel?

Caine: I didn't! I was a Very Serious Musician all through college and for about 5 years out of college, although I wrote for fun. It wasn't until I'd met some other writers and gotten real encouragement that I decided to try pursuing publication. I still kept my "day job" for fifteen years while publishing novels on a regular basis, too; it took me a long time to feel comfortable thinking of my primary job as being a writer.

BubbleLife: Why did you decide to use a pseudonym?

Caine: The answer is actually very practical. When you sell books via traditional publishing houses, they need to have good confidence that the book will sell out to the public and make back their investment in you, the author. I've reached a couple of times in my career a crossroad where my books didn't sell, and had to reinvent myself to make it more possible. (I'll be talking about this theme at this May's DFW Writers Conference, May 6-7!) But being flexible about your author identity is part of that process.

BubbleLife: If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be?

Caine: I'd tell myself that the work never stops, and that's a good thing: every book is a new challenge, a new learning experience. There aren't many jobs in life that don't fall into a boring routine, but writing is definitely something that is constantly shifting, challenging, and changing. There's no point at which you have "arrived" because the road is always ahead of you. I'd definitely tell myself I made the right choice to give up music and pursue this calling.

BubbleLife: Do you often have to do research when writing your books?

Caine: I constantly research. I have an enormous library of research material, and every single book brings more to light that I don't know enough about to write it convincingly. I'd urge writers that Internet research is not enough. Dig deep. Find obscure references and sources. Talk to scholars and librarians. Find original sources. I adore research, and it continues to give me new perspectives and twists on things I thought I knew.

BubbleLife: Do you read your book reviews? If so, how do you deal with the positive and negative feedback?

Caine: I don't generally read the reviews, unless they specifically point out something I feel I need to do better in a future book, because reviews are always highly subjective. What didn't work for one reader works completely for another. I have to make my best judgment about things ... but having said that, I do listen when people tell me I got something wrong, or need to do better in the future. As far as positive feedback, it's great fuel, but you have to be careful not to overdose on it. I don't seek out positive reviews any more than I seek out negative ones. If someone flags a review for me that I need to see, then I read it. Mostly, I'm focused on the challenge of taking what I've learned and moving it forward.

BubbleLife: Do you believe in writer's block?

Caine: No. There are legitimate reasons a writer has to go idle ... illness, whether physical or caused by less obvious things like depression, are very valid, and would be just as valid in any job in the world. But when we talk about a "block," we're externalizing an internal problem. Sometimes that problem can be solved by taking a vacation for a week, and coming back fresh. Sometimes it's the wrong idea, or worked on in the wrong way. BubbleLife: But regardless, if the story isn't coming, change what you're doing and try again. As the writer, you control the problem and the solution. You are the block.

BubbleLife: Do you ever base your characters off of real people?

Caine: I did a few back in the beginning, but I don't any more. I like constructing a person from scratch, giving them all the flaws and gifts that they'll need for the story. I'm not saying it's bad, just that it's not something that appeals particularly to me.

BubbleLife: Do you ever regret giving up your career as a musician to be a writer?

Caine: I don't, really. I miss playing music, and if there were 48 hours in a day, I might still do both ... but I had to make a choice, and I think I made the right one. Still love listening to music, and supporting other artists, though!

BubbleLife: What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Caine: Write what you love. There's a story that speaks loudly to you, that engages your brain and your heart. It's something you can't stay away from, and love to sit down and immerse yourself in ... and that's where you should base yourself. Passion means better work. And passion will keep you going through the rough patches, when it feels like you just can't make it to the end. Most of all, though: keep going. If you want to have a writing career, that means having a process that continues to create. Don't let yourself get caught up in what you've already done. Always move forward and look forward.

BubbleLife: What's your favorite part about living and writing in Texas?

Caine: Texas is full of great creative people, and that's one of my very favorite things about it--we have a vibrant, diverse community of authors, fantastic libraries and teachers, great bookstores, wonderful conferences, and a ton of passionate readers. I like the vastness of Texas, and the diversity of it--in people, in climates, in landscapes. I like the pace of Texas urban life. Bonus: we have great arts, and great food.

Be sure to check out Caine’s new novel, as well as her other popular works! For more information on her, you can check out her website or Twitter page.

Riley Heruska
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Our state isn't exactly known for its crystal clear waters or white sandy beaches, but that doesn't mean the beaches aren't worth checking out. With the intense heat of July bearing down on us, it's time to head to cool waters. Luckily, you can drive to more than a dozen different beaches in the area for swimming, sunbathing, boating, and so much more. 

Here are some of the best beaches you can drive to along the Texas coast: 

Port Aransas

Although this beach doesn't attract as many people as some places, it's definitely one of the better-known shorelines in the area. It's relatively clean and easily accessible, so finding a place to stay isn't difficult. People of all ages will have fun enjoying the open sand and local seafood. There's a reason people love this small town area, and if you visit, you'll probably see why. 

South Padre Island 

This is the only true island in Texas, and people visit for its wide beaches and clean sand. It tends to be one of the more crowded vacation spots, but that doesn't keep tourists from checking out all of the fun water activities and relaxing beach resorts. It's a mini-tropical island getaway just six hours driving distance from the Houston area. 

Boca Chica State Park 

Where the Rio Grand River enters the Gulf, there is a sandy shoreline that is one of the state's gems. You can truly take a breath and enjoy your surroundings without being pestered by vendors of any kind. It's usually not very crowded, so just kick back and relax. 

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge 

If you really want to take a break from society, then head over to this wild sanctuary. You can take a trip in a safari truck through the open Texas landscape, then make your way down to the area's sandy shores. You might spot alligators, armadillos, raccoons, and a whole range of state wildlife. 

Mustang Island State Park 

You can access this stretch of golden sands from Corpus Christi or the Port Aransas area, and many people recommend it because it tends to be less crowded than other beaches. Clean and spacious, it's a great location for picnicking near the ocean. Chances are, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this serene shoreline. 

Crystal Beach 

This beach has been nominated as one of the best in Texas due to its relaxing atmosphere, cute beach houses, sea life viewing, and water activities. You can drive your car right onto the beach and camp out for a day, or you can book a stay at one of the nearby accommodations. Although it can get pretty crowded during certain times of the year, you might get lucky and have much of the beach to yourself if you visit at a less popular time. 


If you love paddle boarding or surfing, then you'll have a fun time at this Texas beach. Pitch a tent for shade and enjoy a cool breeze as you sip on something cold. Although most people wouldn't describe this beach as quiet or relaxing, it's an exciting getaway for people in search of a fun time. Plus, it's family-friendly and great for people of all ages. 

Matagorda Island Wildlife Management Area 

Described by some as a "fantasy destination" hidden in our large state, Matagorda Island offers everything from seashell collecting to good fishing. It is a little bit more difficult to get it than most of the beaches on this list, but some would say it's worth the strife. Take the ferry and spend a day exploring this shoreline, which is usually not very crowded. 

San Jose Island 

Tourists visit this island for its getaway atmosphere and natural surroundings. Although it is a privately-owned beach, it's open to the public during most of the year. Take in the peaceful environment as you look for shells, fish, dolphin watch, or simply appreciate the surrounding nature. 

So, where are you going to road trip before summer ends? Do you have other Texas beaches you love to visit? Let us know in the comments below! 

Riley Heruska
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In today's society, most people rarely tote around an expensive camera on a daily basis. Why should they when their smartphone probably has a camera feature with all the whistles and bells? More than 90 million people in the United States own iPhones, and it's much easier to slip the slim device into your pocket than it is to carry a bulky camera. Now, many professional photographers would argue the benefits of a DSLR or non-smartphone camera, but sometimes convenience beats quality. 

There are a few things you can do to maximize the quality of the photos you snap with your iPhone. Here are a few steps you can take to capture important moments quickly (and clearly).

Keep It Simple 

Capturing too much in a photo often results in blurred faces, poor lighting, or a distracting image. The simpler you keep the photo, the more professional it will look. Try to find boring backgrounds to help highlight your subject, and really pay attention to the other objects that might creep into your photo unintentionally (birds, fast-moving pedestrians, blinking lights, etc.). 

Use Two Hands When Shooting

When taking a picture, pretend that your iPhone really is a nice camera. Flip your phone horizontally and hold it with both hands. Not only will this technique reduce blur in your photos, but it will also allow you to capture more of the scene. If you have shaky hands, try to rest your arm on something and avoid moving as much as possible. Nobody can appreciate a photo that's unfocused or fuzzy. 

Remember That Lighting Is Everything 

Honestly, this is just a general rule of good photography, but it's especially true when it comes to shooting with an iPhone (or any smartphone, really). The iPhone camera has a fairly small lens, which means it can't always take in as much light as some other cameras would be able to. That's why your photos occasionally look grainy or extremely washed out. Really make an effort to pay attention to how your subject is lit. If possible, seek out natural lighting while avoiding harsh shadows or direct sunlight. Evening and early morning are considered the "golden hours" of photography, so really take advantage of those well-lit times. 

Avoid Shooting Objects in Motion

As we've talked about, blur can be a real issue with iPhone cameras if you have unsteady hands or shoot something that's moving around a lot. In most cases, it's better to just avoid focusing on objects that can't sit still. If you really want to capture your son playing soccer or the dog playing in the backyard, consider taking a video and then screenshotting parts of it later on. That way, even if the photos seem blurry, you'll have the clear video at a minimum. 

Stay Away From the Zoom Feature

Even though your iPhone camera can zoom in on far away objects, professionals recommend that you forget the feature even exists. Instead, use your body to get closer to the subject. It will undoubtedly result in a clearer picture with less grain and more detail. 

Invest in a Waterproof Phone Case/Bag 

If you really do plan to use your iPhone as your main camera, then a waterproof case or bag is a must-have. Otherwise, how are you going to snap shots on the beach or near the pool? Trust me, you don't want to face the tragedy of a fried phone that accidentally got splashed. 

Don't Get Lazy With Your Editing 

Instagram and dozens of other apps have reduced the art of editing photos to a mere click of a button, and although it might seem easy to slap a filter on your image and call it a day, that's not always the best option. Photography editing is not a "one size fits all" process. Take the time to make your own edits that perfectly enhance your specific image. Sometimes, it's as easy as simply upping the contrast or reducing some shadows. Remember, simple is better 99% of the time, so avoid over-the-top filters. 

Clean Your Phone 

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised by how many people rarely wipe their phones down with a disinfectant wipe or glass cleaner. Failing to give your phone's camera lens a nice cleanse every now and then can really impede your photography. No one likes a photo that's blurred by a ginormous fingerprint smudge. 

Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you preserve more memories (and strengthen your social media game, of course). 

Riley Heruska
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Recently, we talked about how important it is to keep reading and learning alive over the summer break, especially for young children. The problem is, most kids don't squeal with excitement at the thought of cuddling up with a good book. Fortunately, the world of children's literature is always evolving, and there are plenty of books out there that can help spark a love of reading in your young ones. Here are some of the top bestsellers for every age group. 

Ages 6-8

The Magic Treehouse Books by Mary Pope Osborne 

These books have been around since I was in elementary school, but they're still wildly popular with young children. Imaginative and fun to read, each installment offers something new. Plus, there are dozens of sequels, so your kid can travel with Jack and Annie to magical places and embark on dangerous quests again and again. 

The Descendants Series by Melissa de la Cruz 

This trilogy is perfect for the child who loves all things Disney. Learn more about the children of infamous characters like Malificent from Beauty and the Beast or the son of Jafar from Aladdin. With fun references to so many movies, sassy characters, and an interesting plot, these books will have your kids addicted. Plus, there is a Disney Channel show and a movie based on the books, so your child will be able to enjoy both the novels and the screen adaptations. 

The Dragon of Lonely Island by Rebecca Rupp 

Does your kid get a real kick out of dragons and magical tales? Then they'll love this unique tale about a three-headed dragon and its hidden home. The dragon has been alive for thousands of years, and they regale readers with tales from long ago. Kids will be hooked into this fantastical story within one or two chapters. This one might be a little advanced for some kids, but if your child is a strong reader they'll love it. 

Nate the Great by Majorie Weinman Sharmat 

Full of illustrations by Marc Simont and a comedic story by Sharmat, this book will have your kid turning pages without too much encouragement. Nate, a mini-Sherlock-wannabe, helps his friends uncover mysteries as he learns to ask the right questions and use his deductive skills. 

Ages 9-12

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

This book is packed with heart and understanding, and your child will enjoy and learn from it. Auggie has never attended a real school due to his condition and facial difference, but when he finally enters the fifth grade at a real public school, he realizes he has a lot to learn about people and life... and so do the others around him. It's an easy read and full of moral themes. Plus, your child can read it before its film adaptation hits screens this fall. 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

Riordan's fantastic series is hands-down one of the best pieces of children's literature out there. Follow Percy as he battles fierce creatures and attempts to find his way in a world fraught with life-threatening quests, witty satyrs, and ancient Greek gods. Don't let the mediocre movie adaptations sway your opinion: these books are the bomb. 

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

I'm sure you've already heard of these hugely popular books, and there's a reason why: They're humorous, addictive, and extremely well-written. Your kids will get such a kick out of Count Olaf's eccentricities and the outrageous situations the Baudelaire children find themselves in. There are thirteen books in the series, and chances are, your child will devour all of them. 

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown  

Does your kid love robots? Then they'll be enchanted by this imaginative story of a robot learning to survive in the wilderness of a deserted island. Although Roz, the young robot, has no idea why she woke up on the island, she embraces her surroundings and has a bit of an unexpected adventure. Your young reader will enjoy the entertaining story, as well as the beautiful illustrations. 

Ages 13-16 

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Okay okay, I know this is such a cop out, but come on. If your child has only ever seen the movies, then this is the time to encourage them to pick up the books. Trust me, reading about Harry and his adventures is entirely different from witnessing them on the big screen. Before you know it, your child just might be holing themselves up in their room to devour a 600-page novel without being forced to. 

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paloni 

At first, your child might be intimated by the sheer size of these novels. They're definitely not quick reads, but they do grab your attention quickly. This summer is the perfect chance for your preteen to meet Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, as they attempt to defeat evil in a magical land. If they love movies like The Lord of the Rings films, then they'll gobble this enchanting story up. 

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen

This book provides the perfect introduction to romantic comedy for young readers. Cute and entertaining, Flipped has been earning admiration for many years for its adorable love story and relatable characters. 

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen 

Even though this book was written in the 1980s, it's still a favorite among many young teens. Heart pounding and page-turning, Hatchet has been grabbing young readers' attention for more than thirty years, so it's pretty likely that even a reluctant reader will enjoy this story. 

These are just a few selections from the bestseller lists. What do your kids love to read? Leave recommendations in the comments below! 

Riley Heruska
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Photo taken in Big Bend National Park

Believe it or not, our state is filled with many stunning natural sights. Texas is home to 54 state parks, two national parks, ten national wildlife refuges, a national seashore, and so much more. Chances are, you've only glimpsed the raw beauty of this big state. Take this summer to explore some of our most impressive wonders! Here are some of the top locations to check out. 

Big Bend National Park 

Far out in West Texas lies a national park packed with rivers, canyons, and breath-taking open skies. Big Bend is home to hundreds of bird species and holds a slice of our state that is truly unforgettable. Visiting this magical place is sure to remind you how important it is to spend time outside, exploring the place we call home. Hike, kayak, camp, or do whatever outdoor activity you love. 

Hamilton Pool Preserve 

This natural swimming pool is truly a gem of Texas. Although you do have to make a reservation in advance during the summer months, the planning is totally worth it. Take in the limestone outcroppings and impressive 50-foot waterfall as you take a break from the heat in the cool water. You can also explore the surrounding areas to find pretty wildflowers or relax with their picnic tables. 
Hueco Tanks State Park 

If you're an outdoor enthusiast, this might be the place for you. Tackle everything from rock climbing to bird watching as you enjoy the rocky hills of West Texas. You can also marvel at the relics of ancient people who once called the area home. 

The Devil's Sinkhole 

This national landmark houses one of Texas' largest colonies of bats, and you can witness them departing from the huge cavern mouth after the sun sets. There are also tours to see the sinkhole, hiking trails you can visit, and more than a thousand acres of wild land to explore. The area has a partnership with Kickapoo Cavern State Park, so you can also check out the fun activities there. 

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area 

The natural area has been called "magical and mystical" by many viewers, and it's easy to see why when you look upon the massive pink dome that rises above Central Texas. As you hike around the area, you can take in the amazing scenery and rock formations, and you absolutely must do some star gazing. 

Jacob's Well 

The limestone caves and passage segments of Central Texas have come together to form one of the longest underwater cave systems in the state. The colorful water has been enchanting visitors for ages, and during the summer you can swim in the pool if you make reservations in advance. Trust me, you'll want to bring a camera to capture the beauty of this unique artesian spring. 

Palo Duro Canyon State Park 

This state park lies in the Texas Panhandle and is home to the country's second largest canyon. The rugged rocks and gorgeous sunsets will take your breath away. Feel free to explore the canyon however you want: by foot, on mountain bikes, by horse, or by car! You can also camp and enjoy the surrounding wildlife. 

Guadalupe Peak 

Within the Guadalupe Mountain Range, there is a trail that will lead you to the "Top of Texas." At 8,751 feet, the Peak isn't an easy destination to reach. Much of the trail is quite steep, and the trip will take you a full day, but the view is definitely worth the climb. 

Caddo Lake 

Far in East Texas lies a lake that barely even looks like it belongs in our state. Covered by huge cypress trees and Spanish moss, the maze of bayous will definitely make you feel like you've stepped outside of your normal surroundings. You can camp, picnic, fish, kayak, or just explore the place on foot. Just be careful of the alligators that like to lurk beneath the surface... 

Caverns of Sonora 

If you're ever in the Texas Hill Country, you have to stop by these incredible caves. Take a guided tour through the beautiful caverns and experience the wonders up close and personal. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring your camera because you'll want to explore every nook and cranny. There are 360 stairs down to a depth of 155 feet below the surface, so prepare for an adventure when you visit these caverns. 

Gorman Falls

Colorado Bend State Park is home to the marvelous Gorman Falls and a plethora of unspoiled wildlife. Some would call the falls the "most beautiful attraction in Texas," and hundreds of people travel to view them every year. Be sure to take advantage of the hiking trails, and have fun taking in this natural attracition. 

What other beautiful places do you love to visit in our Lone Star state? Share in the comments below! 

Riley Heruska
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It's no secret that, for most kids, summer break means hitting pause on education for a few months. As much as your children want to veg out all summer, that's not always the best way to spend the vacation. Recent research has shown that students can really suffer from "learning loss" as a result of an education-free summer break. A lack of studying over the summer can set students behind their peers and even cause them to lose math and reading skills they acquired the year before. 

Obviously, no child wants to spend their summer practicing their arithmetic or completing reading assignments, but dedicating a little bit of time to learning each week goes a long way. Here are a few ideas that will prevent kids from slipping into the "summer slide" without making them feel like they're being forced to attend torturous tutoring lessons. 

Create a Reading Rewards Chart

There's something incredibly satisfying about slapping a shiny sticker on a piece of paper to mark an accomplishment. That's why creating a reading rewards chart works: Even if your child isn't a big reader, they'll probably enjoy watching all of their stickers add up over the course of the summer. You can decide how often they receive prizes, or if you want to base their reward on how many books they finish versus how often they read. Plus, the rewards don't have to be huge, just fun. Not only will you keep your kids reading and learning, but you'll also bring a smile to their face when they accomplish their goal. 

Incorporate Math Problems in Daily Life

It's surprisingly easy to work math equations into random activities for kids of many ages, especially the younger ones. Going grocery shopping? Ask them how many apples you need if everyone in the family will eat two. Have them calculate how much the total in the cart will be or encourage them to count how many kinds of cereal there are on the shelves. The point is to keep math alive in their lives, even if it's just a little bit. If your kids are a bit older, you can up the difficulty or set challenges for them that require more time and effort. 

Break Out the Art Supplies  

Although this activity might seem more entertaining than educational, research has indicated that art can help children express their emotions, learn to be creative, and even help with motor and writing skills. You can break out the water paints, crayons, sparkles and glue, whatever floats your boat. It'll be a great break from screen time, and they'll walk away with tangible evidence of their fun afternoon. 

Get Involved With Your Local Library 

Most libraries offer plenty of activities to engage children over the summer, from reading challenges to weekly events. It provides an opportunity to get the kids out of the house, and it'll encourage them to connect with other kids who are reading and learning. Check with your local library to see what they're planning over the next few months. 

Make a Flash Card Challenge 

Okay, I'll admit it: You'll be hard pressed to convince any kid that math flash cards are fun, but the benefits of practicing math skills over the break are undeniable. Try to turn it into a challenge or even make it a game. How many flash cards can you complete in a minute? How many cards can you answer correctly in a row? Sure, it won't be their favorite summer activity, but even a few minutes every day can refresh their skills. 

Host a Science Experiment Day 

Now, you don't have to go and build a volcano that could win an award at a science fair or anything. In fact, science experiments can be relatively simple (and easy to clean up). Pinterest is bursting at the seams with ideas for kids of all ages, all of which will have your kids embracing learning without even realizing it. 

Take Educational "Field Trips" 

Even though a trip to the zoo is actually fun for everyone, it can double as a perfect learning opportunity. Have your kids research the different animals and come up with a list of facts about their favorites. Stay and listen to the zoo keeper talks and read the informational plaques. Museums, aquariums, parks, and plenty of other places can serve as informal classrooms while keeping your kids occupied and active. 

What are your tips and tricks for keeping education present throughout your children's summers? Comment with ideas below!