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Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: A Year in Review



Ah New Year's Eve. I've never been a big NYE partyer...heck...I've never been much of an anytime partyer. But I usually try to make an effort to stay up on NYE and I almost always (except one time) stay home. Partly because my redneck neighbors use any holiday as an excuse to shoot off big fireworks and terrorize my dog and partly because I'm a hermit. :)

This year we will continue the tradition of NYE fondue. And this time, I'll stick to the recipe and not try to omit anything. (that was disastrous)

When I think of where I was a year ago, I'm grateful for how far we've come. Our year was full of ups and downs.

Some highlights:

\\We bought our first house! And proceeded to decorate it and remodel the kitchen.
\\We celebrated our first wedding anniversary in beautiful Asheville, NC and had a spa day at the world-renowned Spa at Grove Park.
\\I became a "purse girl" and now own 4 beautiful bags.
\\I hosted my very first wine tasting and continue to learn more about wine!
\\I learned a little about myself and how I "vacation".
\\I did some wardrobe consultation work for my mom. :)
\\I turned 30!

Some not-so-highlights:

\\Exactly one year ago today, Hewitt was diagnosed with a disease called ITP. It's incurable but it can go into remission. One year ago the vet called me with his test results and urged me to take him to the emergency vet for treatment. That was one of the hardest days of my life. I remember eating  fondue and watching New Year's Rocking Eve and just crying because I thought Hewitt would be dead in a week.

Thankfully, he has responded well to his medications and treatment. He will be on medication for the rest of his life but he has a somewhat normal life now. His steroids make him retain water/fluid in his abdomen so he looks a little roly-poly but I'll take that over not having him around ANY DAY. Read more on his diagnosis and treatment here.
\\I turned 30! HEH. But really, this was a big deal to me. I was no longer "in my 20s" and it bothered me for awhile.
\\I only read 27 books this year. An extreme low point. And what's even sadder, is that I basically stopped reading books after the end of October. Other things like work, travel, travel-for-work, the holidays and family stuff ate up my time. I plan to change that for next year!

As for blog news, I'm going to keep at it for now. If any of you enjoy reading a certain type/kind of blog post here on TSF please share! Sometimes what sounds funny or like good reading in my own head...isn't.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Read the 2014 year recap here.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Recap

I'm off work this week spending time with family and M. So, my non-consistent blog posts will be even more inconsistent until I go back to work. Oh well...

Instead of a day-by-day recap (because you would probably die of boredom) I'm doing it a little differently.

BEST PARTS

  • Gift highlights: 4 cardigans, 4 statement necklaces, 4 pairs of ballet flats, 1 pair of cheetah print pumps, 2 different kinds of perfume (that I desperately needed) and lots of gift cards! 
  • Christmas Eve food: My immediate family always gathers on Christmas Eve for appetizers and present opening. We've been doing it since we were born. This year, everyone gathered at our new house and we had a lot of fun! 
  • Relaxing on Christmas Day by only visiting one house. Every year, my family has traditionally traveled on Christmas Day to multiple family members' houses. Last year, our first married Christmas, we traveled to 3 houses in one day and drove for many hours. This year, I wasn't going to have any of that, so we just went to M's parents' house for Christmas Day. It was lovely and we were back home by 3pm. DIVINE. 
  • I hosted the Annual Christmastime Mafia Party at my house last night and it was a lot of fun! There was definitely some chaos and ridiculousness, but we've come to expect it with our group. :)
  • M and I exchanged one gift early with each other and it just happened to be a Christmas ornament. I think we did a good job with each other's. :)


WORST PARTS


  • Waking up to severe intestinal cramps and GI upset on Christmas Day. It worked out that we didn't do a lot of traveling because I was having a really hard time. I'm thinking it was something I ate, but I was literally doubled over in severe abdominal pain for most of the morning starting at 6am. Needless to say I took it easy and ate bland food all day. :(
  • The weather was the pits. It was mid to upper 70s and rainy/humid. THAT IS NOT CHRISTMAS WEATHER! I'm sorry, I know lots of people loved the warm weather but I did not. And it's been raining every day since like August. I hated it. 
  • After Christmas shopping. I did manage to pick up some wrapping paper and gift bags on Christmas clearance, which was great. But I tried to go in to shop at a few places and it was madness. Not people madness, store-in-disarray madness. I went into Old Navy and literally there were piles of clothes on tables and stuff hung up and stuffed everywhere. It was like an expensive flea market and it gave me so much anxiety. Other places were clean/organized but the  sales weren't that good. WASTE. The saving grace was Bath and Body Works, which was organized well and was having a good sale. 
Today we are traveling to see my grandparents so I'll probably check back in later this week. Hope you all had a great Christmas! 


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas


10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 
Luke 2:10-14

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lessons I've Learned from The Grinch




The Grinch (both the 2000 and the 1966 versions) movie is one of my favorites. There's so much to love about the story of the Grinch and a lot of important life lessons you can learn from him.

Christmas is more about togetherness than it is about gifts.
Well this one is kind of given...it being the theme of the whole movie and all. The Whos in Whoville had nothing. Not a scrap of anything and they still gathered together to celebrate Christmas. Now, I could put some religious meanings in with this, but I won't. The basic idea is that you don't have to SPEND to celebrate Christmas. It's about togetherness and unity.

Teasing people about their appearance can ultimately lead to dire consequences.
In the later movie version, we get much more of an in-depth look at the childhood life of The Grinch. He wasn't born with anger towards the Whos. It grew out of mistreatment, teasing and torment at the hands of the Whos all his life. Ultimately, the Whos probably regretted being so mean to The Grinch when they saw all he was capable of and all he tried to destroy.

Comparison is the thief of joy.
I feel like this is an actual quote and not something that just came to mind. Maybe I've heard it before, but either way, it's a real lesson that can be learned from the movie. In the later version, we also see the competitive nature of the Whos (with all of their Christmas decorations and Christmas lights on their houses). Each year, they do more and more to win the best house prize and eventually they are spent. They've exhausted themselves competing with each other and the true spirit of Christmas is gone.

Heart growing is the same as heart softening and it does happen!
The Grinch's heart grows three sizes when he sees how the Whos celebrate with no Christmas "stuff". Now, IRL you don't want your heart to enlarge by 3 sizes, that's actually a bad thing. But you absolutely can soften your heart towards something. Maybe it's a group of people or that annoying coworker. Maybe it's a cause that's recently become dear to your heart. Ol' Grinchy can teach us a lesson in learning to soften your heart towards things.

Forgiveness restores unity.
When the Whos forgive The Grinch and accept him back into their community, all is well. He brings back all of their Christmas trappings and their food and the unity of Whoville is restored. Forgiveness goes a long way in repairing relationships. Christmas is an excellent time to let bygones be bygones and let grudges die. Forgiveness restores relationships and unity.

Merry Christmas!


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Unique Christmas Color Schemes

I'm a fan of Christmas trees with non-traditional or unique themes/color schemes. Though my tree is already done this year, I definitely have been pinning some ideas for future trees and a few of my favorites are below.

Black-and-white striped ribbon wraps around a Christmas tree that's adorned with flocked branches and faux marble ornaments. See more at Just Destiny.:


I love the traditional silver/white/gold with the black and white striped ribbon! So posh! 

Must be the new thing...   Turquoise spider christmas tree topper -- it's all the rage!:

I love the teal, lime green and cobalt blue on this tree! 

Pink Christmas tree:

Shades of pink on a white flocked tree! YES!

Choosing A Christmas Tree Theme - Christmas Decorating -:

Or shades of green! 

Totally type 1!!!:

I love how bright and cheerful this pink, green and orange tree is! 


Probably one of my favorite looks is a tartan plaid tree. It's so homey and warm! I would love to find ribbon/wrap in my mom's family tartan plaid to pay tribute to my Scottish heritage! 


Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Songs I Love


It should come to no surprise to you that as much as I love Christmas, I love Christmas music equally. Nothing really has the power to bring me joy quite like some Christmas tunes do. They conjure up feelings of happiness, joy, nostalgia and even sometimes, a quiet and reflective silence.

I've posted before on the Christmas songs I loathe, but never on the songs I love. And, let me tell you, it's quite a task to narrow down my list to just a few. However, after much deliberation, I'll present to you my favorite Christmas songs, in random order.

Silent Night
Especially this version by Mannheim Steamroller. A perfect song of quiet, hopeful solitude. It's one of those that makes you pause and reflect.

Carol of the Bells
Mannheim Steamroller's version has been my longtime jam for years. But also, have you heard the Pentatonix version? It's my new fave version.

O Holy Night
This is another slowish Christmas song that gives me similar feels to Silent Night. I don't like this song when it's performed fast or peppy. It's supposed to be majestic. But, OH, the words of this song are so beautiful. I think someone could even just read the lyrics to me and they would have the same impact as hearing the song sung.

White Christmas
I love Bing Crosby's iconic version. This song is totally a nostalgic one for me.

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas
Johnny Mathis' version is the best! I like having this one playing while I drive around Christmas shopping or wrap presents/decorate the tree.

Sleigh Ride
This is also M's favorite. We both love the Boston Pops version. This is another happy, peppy, joyful song that is great for doing "Christmas tasks" like baking, wrapping gifts, etc.

Now, your turn! What are some of your favorite Christmas songs?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Easy Gift Ideas for Acquaintances and Coworkers

We've all had to do it at some point...

...purchase a gift for someone we don't really know that well. #amiright? Maybe they are coworkers or maybe they are friends/family of your own family and you don't see them a lot. Or perhaps they are your hair stylist or the sweet old lady crossing guard. You know their name...and maybe a handful of things about them but they aren't close enough to really know that well. Every year, there's at least one of these people on my list.

Luckily for you, I've developed quite a talent at buying gifts for "Those we don't know well" (said in the same tone as "The one we do not speak of" from HP, HA!) Here are some suggestions for some quick and easy gifts that will make someone feel special...even if you don't know their last name. :)

If All You Know is Their Name and Gender

Candles
This is a standard for me. Most women love candles and I've even given them as gifts to guys as well. (men love candles too!!) Some of my favorites are from White Barn Candle Company (Bath & Body Works) and Yankee Candle. I know, I know, #basic. But a candle and maybe a pretty tea towel wrapped up make a great gift. 

Holiday-Themed House Items
Christmas is the only time I break away from my strict white-serving-dishes-only rule and bring out my green and red dotted dishes and holly glasses. A cute set of Christmas mugs or a little Christmas serving dish or dish towels would be very cute and festive. Also, every loves and needs liquid soap. I love the liquid hand soaps from Bath and Body Works (plus they have festive holders!) and from Mrs. Meyers.

Lottery Tickets
No idea why this is so popular but people love it! I love packaging up lottery tickets in a Christmas mug with maybe a few packets of hot chocolate or tea.

Gift Cards
These are virtually fail-proof. Some people think gift cards are impersonal, but to me they aren't. I like to wrap up my gift cards in a cute little bag with tissue paper. It's the thought that counts!

Bath Products
These are a go-to for me for female presents. I'll do a basket of lotions, soaps/body wash, body spray, etc. Again, B&BW has great sets and sales where you can buy multiples. I've gone in before during their buy 3 get 3 free and racked up! (I promise I'm not one of their sales people!! They are just really nice for these types of gifts!)


If You Know a Little More About Them

Accessories
These are great for male and female alike! Even M loves a nice scarf or pair of gloves. For ladies, you could do a pretty necklace or scarf/hat combo. Currently I love those gloves that have the fingertips where you can still use your touch phone.

Tech
Any cool techy item like a unique phone charger (as long as you know what kind) or docking station. Even some cool bluetooth speakers would be nice. And you probably can't go wrong with a nice pair of earbuds.

Food
Everyone loves snacks, right? A little basket or package of snacks and sweets are a nice touch. If you know enough about someone you could tailor the food to their tastes. Are they on a health kick? Include things like Kind Bars, Quest Bars, Complete Cookies and some sugar-free gum. Maybe they are chocoholics (like me!) you could do an assortment of chocolate candies or chocolate covered nuts, popcorn or even bacon! And if they are fans of salty snacks try individual bags of popcorn, chex mix, mixed nuts and trail mix.

Alcohol
As long as you know they aren't in AA or recovering, alcohol makes a great gift. Wrap up a bottle of their favorite wine or liquor...or build a 6 pack of craft beers. You could even include a couple bar accessories like a wine bottle opener or shaker.

Coffee
If you know someone likes coffee, anything coffee-related would probably be a hit. Flavored (powdered) creamer, coffee samplers, gift cards, flavored stir sticks, chocolate-covered espresso beans or maybe some flavored syrups. Go crazy!

Hopefully this list will give you some ideas. I know coworker gifts are hard...so maybe this helps? If you have any other gifts that you give to acquaintances and coworkers, please share!


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tips to Make Your Photos ROCK



Recently I did an engagement photo shoot for a friend of mine. I loved how a lot of the photos came out post-production. I like to add a little oomph to my photos after I bring them into my computer. A lot of the time I just add sharpness or brighten up the contrast. Sometimes, I like to put a slight filter on them. I do this to enhance the photo and make it look even better.

So, since we are approaching the holiday season (and many of us take a lot of candid holiday family photos) why not talk about some simple tips to help make your photos pop even more? I'll use some of the photos from my friend's engagement shoot as examples. Photos on the left are raw (unedited) and photos on the right are edited.

Also, I do not have photoshop. I pay for a Royale subscription of PicMonkey and used that for these photos. PicMonkey also has a free option that is available to anyone.


1. Crop
Sometimes, cropping your photo gives you the best look. In this case, cropping out most of the bodies on the side made the hands the focal point. I also increased the vibrancy of the sunset a little to make it pop. (more on vibrancy below)

2. Filters
Now, filters should be used sparingly. I've learned over the years that less is more. However, there are some amazing pre-built filters in PicMonkey that I enjoy using. Here, I was less concerned about maintaining the blue in the sky and wanted to give this photo a bit of a warmer, woodsy feel. (actually wanted that for all of them!)


Filters really changed this one incredibly. The only other thing I did was sharpen the figures in the photo. I used the Dusk filter at about 20%.


I could just keep sharing how much I love using slight filters. You can really change the entire look of a photo just from the filters.
4. Vibrancy

Increasing the color saturation or vibrancy in a photograph can really make it special. While I do still love the original, I wanted the colors of the scarf to pop. I increased the color saturation a little and added a filter. It really made little details like the moss on the bricks and the scarf pattern stand out.


5. Soften
I added a filter to this one (which is why the colors are slightly different) but, more importantly, I used the softening tool to soften the trees and grass around the couple. This gives it a bit of a focal/3D effect that I love. It also immediately draws your eye to the couple...which is what we want!

There are a lot of free filters and options on PicMonkey to use as well. You don't need to pay for a subscription to utilize this awesome tool. And no, I don't work for PicMonkey nor am I being compensated by them. I just like making my photos look good!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Your Guide to Great Christmas Movies

I love Christmas movies. Now, there are a few that aren't my favorite (Miracle on 34th Street...It's a Wonderful Life) but most of the main ones are tops in my books.

Side note: why does no one say "tops" anymore? It's a fun word!

Here are some of my fave movies and a little handy guide to some of the common themes.


This year, I'm going to watch White Christmas with M this year. He's never seen it. (WHAT?!?!) And I always have to watch The Grinch and Christmas Vacation at least once. Are any of your favorites on the list? Which ones?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

#TBT - Office Holiday Party Dress Do's and Don'ts

Here's another timely and relevant #tbt post from a year ago. Enjoy!

'Tis the season! Well, the season for office/work parties, that is. Almost as soon as Thanksgiving is over, office holiday parties start to take over everyone's December calendars.

It's also the season for education on what IS and ISN'T appropriate to wear to an office party. Below is a quick guide to help you understand some of the fashion do's and fashion don'ts when it comes to partying it up with your coworkers. Many offices have holiday parties that are cocktail or dressy attire. These guidelines apply to those. (If you are one of the awesome offices that has a tacky Christmas sweater party...I'm 100% jealous!)


Sequins/Glitter: It's the holidays, so why not? However, I would encourage doing a more subtle or neutral color if doing a dress that is completely covered in sequins. Red glitter is gorgeous, but it might be a bit much if you're covered from neck to knee in it. :)

Mesh/Cut-Outs: Mesh/sheer fabrics are okay depending on where they are. I love the look of mesh shoulders/sleeves on a dress. It's festive but still classy. Mesh or cut-outs anywhere else are fashion don'ts. People should not see your cleavage, chest, abdomen or most of your back. Leave the cut-outs for the club.

Low/Plunging Necklines: These are fashion don'ts. (well, they are always a fashion don't in my book, but I am a bit more prudish than most.) Low necklines are fine for other situations...but not for office parties. (and definitely not for brunches with your grandmother either!)

Strapless: On the rare occasion that an office party is black-tie, a strapless dress is appropriate. (because usually that means it's more like a prom dress or gown) For cocktail attire, I think it's better to have straps or sleeves. Now, I am very partial to sleeves myself, but I think strappy dresses are perfectly appropriate too. Sleeveless and sleeves = okay. Strapless = probably will make you look either overdressed or underdressed depending on the actual outfit. I would venture as far as saying one shoulder looks also fall into a strapless category. Not so much for work parties.

Cliche Christmas colors: I love wearing red during the holidays. I love wearing green all the time. Wearing red and green together to your holiday party will probably make you look like you belong in the movie Elf. Avoid, avoid, avoid!

The most important thing to remember when selecting your office party outfit is that just because it doesn't look like work and it doesn't smell like work doesn't mean it isn't really work. You might not actually be working but you are with the people who see you working almost every day. Anything outlandish, overly revealing or inappropriate might change how your coworkers (and/or boss and supervisors) view you.

Now, ladies, don't get your panties in a wad. I'm not saying that your coworkers judge your professionalism based on your looks...but I am saying that if your looks don't compliment your professionalism it could change their opinion. Also, your behavior at these "after work functions" can also influence someone's opinion of you as well. So, if you get the outfit right but are falling over yourself sloppy drunk in front of your boss...that's not going to fare well either.

Just remember to keep it classy, fun and festive.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Our New Home: Kitchen Wall Update


One of the least favorite parts of our new kitchen is "the wall". (Read more about it in this post.) To make a long story short, we tried to cover up a black magnetic chalkboard wall with some dark blue paint. Well, the blue turned out to be a different color than we wanted and it made the wall basically look worse. :(

So, our only option (within reason) was beadboard. I love beadboard anyway, so I was totally on board with this idea (pun intended!). M was okay with it since it's only the one accent wall and not the entire kitchen.

To remind you...this is what we started with when we moved in.


Then this is after our failed blue wall experiment:


And now we are here:



We still have to cover up the nail holes and maybe add some photos/art to the walls. I'm actually considering doing something like this or this to display some of my dishes/china. Also, still not sold on the light fixture WITHOUT little globes/shades over the bulbs. We've had that for a few weeks and I'm trying to figure out how I like them bare.

I love how much bigger it makes our kitchen look. I think once we paint our cabinets it will tie in with the white wall nicely. We also want to put a panel of beadboard on our kitchen island (the part that doesn't have cabinets) to tie it all together.

I can't wait to really make this kitchen awesome! We've come a long way and still have a long way to go but I can't wait!

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