The Power of a Village… THANK YOU!!!

Let me start this blog off by saying this: by no means is my son an Olympic athlete. He started running cross-country a couple years ago as a means to stay active and be a part of a team. Last week he had his first meet of the season. Up until then, he had regular practice each day and even ran some in the summer. He also grew quite a bit over the last few months and was excited about his new “man” strength! 😊 But somehow for the first time, before the race, I saw fear in his eyes. He was so nervous and spoke of pain in his ankle and shin, and just lacked confidence. Nonetheless, as always, we were on the sidelines cheering him on expecting a successful run.

After his race, he was near tears. He was so disappointed in his performance. He was passed by some of his underclassman teammates, finished with a lower time than his previous year and placed 56th overall. He was devastated. We of course, cheered him up, encouraged him and helped him refocus his attention toward the upcoming races as best as we could.

That next week went on like a typical week. The kids went to school, practice, church, and we had our normal family time each day. Oh yeah, we also had a little Labor Day get-together at our house, but other than that, the week was normal. Hindsight, I’ve come to reflect, that our week was anything but normal.

That Sunday, our pastor preached a message about the power of the Spirit. He talked about telling your body and your mind to line up with what God says about you. That Monday during our get-together, one of his great mentors went on a run with him, while some of the other fellas sat on the porch with him and watched a couple of his favorite shows. They spoke life to him and just treated him like the awesome young man he is. On Wednesday, he went to youth Bible study, where the pastor talked about “believing”/ having faith over fear and doubt.

By Thursday of this week, it was time for another race. On the way to school we gave him the typical pep talk, prayed and encouraged him to do his best. Later that day, as he stood at the starting line with 100+ young men, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were hoping for the best. As always, I made the 1-hour drive to be on the sidelines, while his dad got permission to leave an hour early from work to be there as well. When the gun went off to start the race, I saw a difference in him. I saw a confidence. A determination. As he fought his way to get toward the front of the pack, I was excited about how this race could go.

For the next several minutes, I watched him run through the woods, up and down the hills, and on the track with boldness. It was nearly 90 degrees outside, the terrain was steep, rugged and rough. He reflected later that on his toughest hill, we wanted to take a break and just speed walk a bit. But he remembered what he learned that week. He simply “believed.” He commanded his body and mind to line up. He listened to the cheers of his teammates and his parents. He realized that for the first time in his cross-country career, he was the lead runner of his team. It propelled him further. He gained momentum. At the last few meters of his race, I saw the fierceness in his eyes. He flew across that finish line with the fastest time he’d ever run, the highest ranking he’d ever had and the proudest he’d ever been.

He later recounted all the small things that pushed him to be great. And though I’d like to think he has an awesome team at home, I fully understand that, as parents we couldn’t possibly do this journey alone. That it is not just the training, love, wisdom, discipline he gets inside the four walls of our house, but it is the weekly Word he gets on a continual basis from our awesome pastor. It is the pep talk he gets from his loving Aunt when he sees her in the summertime, or the love he gets from his Grandmother that cares for him in our absence, or the visit from his Grandfather and Uncle, the beautiful people he sees at church that impart love and affirmation, the teammates that cheer him on from the sidelines, the ladies that served in the nursery and youth department, the teachers that encouraged him to be great, my colleague who drives 3 hours to cheer from the stands, the babysitters that cared for him with love, the positive TV shows that line up with the things we teach him at home… are all forces working hand and hand toward his success.

As parents, we are called to the beautiful yet sometimes challenging task of loving and training our children to become all God has called them to be. It is indeed a journey that lasts a lifetime, however, we also need to remember that it is a collection of the amazing people who surround them, who impart knowledge, wisdom and love that will aide in that journey as well. As graduation draws near, I am beyond grateful for the AMAZING people who have loved on our children past, present and future. I see the fruit of their seed come to life daily. I am also intentional about putting these type of people in their path from birth throughout.

If you are privileged enough to be a teacher, coach, aunt, uncle, mentor, pastor, or any position of influence over children, never doubt the power of your influence. My son still has the trophy given to him by his 2nd grade teacher. He remembers the $100 his uncle sent for his fundraiser, or the encouraging card his Godmother sends each birthday. He remembers when his mentor came to his chess meets, or when his Uncle took the time to read his comic book. You have more power than you know. Your words and acts of love STICK.

Parents, I pray you SUMERGE your children with love and encouragement inside and outside the home. Recognize that this is not a task you can do alone. That every single fabric of their life will leave some sort of imprint. May their journey be filled with people, places and things that bring hope, inspiration and love. In the meantime, thank you so much to all the amazing people all over the country, past and present who have left a beautiful imprint on my son and daughter’s life. You mean more to us than you know. You truly have made a difference in their life and ultimately are the hands and feet of God.

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Cover photo: Quotesnew.com
Text photo: Jenni Dixon

Modesty With a Dash of FABULOUS

Modesty. A term that seems subjective. Similar to the word beautiful, or fabulous, we tend to think it’s parameters are in the hands or discretion of each individual.  A 15-year old’s idea of modesty is certainly different than that of a 65-year-old. Two totally different eras, right? Over time, we have dumbed this word down and replaced it with terms such as old-fashioned, Plain Jane, simplistic, and even boring.  However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, modesty is defined as: “Behavior, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.”

Interestingly enough, a typical 65-year-old would look at today’s 15-year-old in shock of their form of modest apparel. My mother recently cared for our kids while we went out of town. During that time, she questioned the length of my daughter’s school running shorts, claiming they were too short. It is easy to blow that idea off with the thought that “she’s old.” “Clothing is very different these days.” “She can’t possibly understand.” However, as a society, we have grown to be less and less modest with our attire. Our blouses have gotten lower, shorts and skirts have gotten higher, holes have gotten larger and garments in general have gotten tighter.

I remember a family vacation a few years back when we went to the beach. I remember my then 11-year-old son swimming and playing in the sand and being exposed to hundreds of girls and ladies in skimpy string bikinis. This was new to him, because he had never seen me wear one and his sister was two years younger and had never worn anything like that either. It made me sad that he was basically surrounded by a bunch of girls in their bra and panties. That I had no way of shielding his eyes or thoughts from the images that were before him. That we have become so liberal as a people to feel comfortable enough to expose ourselves so freely.

I remember starting my teaching career when I was 21. My first year I taught 12th grade, which meant six of my classes were full of 18-year old’s. They would be exposed to me turning my back and writing on the chalkboard, bending down to help them with their assignments, or even walking through the class or hallway in a very tight setting. I got dressed each day with the thought that I didn’t want to hamper their focus. That though I wanted to be stylish and relevant, I would not be a distraction. A deterrent. A hindrance to their learning in any way. I didn’t need their attention on my butt. I didn’t want to win their approval through my breasts. I wanted to gain their respect. I wanted them to listen to me and pay attention to the lesson I was teaching. I used tools such as my smile, my kind heart, my genuine concern for their success to gain their trust and admiration.

After 15 years of teaching high school, though I may have had a few admirers here and there, I never knew about them. I never had a student disrespect me or treat me in an unprofessional manner. I attribute that to the way I carried myself. Over the years, I gained many accolades as a teacher, however, it was never attributed to my physical appearance. I firmly believe because of my stance on modesty and respect, it allowed many students to learn and become successful in my class.

I will always remember the admiration I felt for former first lady, Michelle Obama. She was the epitome of class. On every appearance she was beautiful. Very stylish. She drew the attention of everyone in the room and was ALWAYS fabulous. Though she was in shape, had a beautiful figure, we were never exposed to it. Similar to Meghan Markle, Joanna Gaines, Victoria Osteen, and others in the limelight, we can admire their beauty, talent and position without knowing their bra size. These women are esteemed by millions of people all over the world and they gained those positions honorably.

So, what does modesty look like? Does that mean we have to be frumpy? ABSOLUTELY NOT. It is being FABULOUS, yet not at the expense of causing the opposite sex to stumble. It is being confident without exposing your body parts to prove it. It is gaining attention, without someone’s lust used as the measuring tool. I’ve heard it said, “If you got it, flaunt it.” However, I maintain the idea of, if something is precious/valuable, conceal it. Protect it. Guard it. Our bodies are precious. They are not meant to be used as tools to bait attention. It is a sign of true insecurity. Be confident enough in yourself to know that you are worth more than a cheap stare, an inappropriate comment or lewd gesture.

Know that regardless your age, others are looking to you to define beauty. I realize my daughter is watching me.  I realize I must maintain integrity without compromise of style, especially since we hold her to the same standards. We are strategic with shopping and try to model these standards whether at the beach, church, gym, work or school.  I recently attended a formal event. Without trying, I selected a dress where my body was covered from neck to heel. Though that sounds SO frumpy, it was actually very classy. I was able to look and feel beautiful while honoring myself and my husband as well. I understand it may be challenging to find great clothing that is modest without the compromise of style, but it can definitely be done.  I try to shop brands such as Free People, Altert’d State, J.Crew, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Lucky Brand, Old Navy, Gap and others that are more glowy and less showy. 😊

Modesty doesn’t have to disintegrate/diminish over time. We can continue to uphold the terms of it’s definition, even as styles and ideas advance.  Regardless the era, we need to let our pure heart be our greatest asset. Let it inspire our attire and behavior. Let it exude through our smile and style so much that we are indeed attractive, but for reasons that are pure and admirable, respectable and inspirational. When you know your worth, when you realize you are fearfully and wonderfully made, you won’t have to scream it from the rooftops, it will shine in every area of your life!!! Go get your shine on, Beautiful!!!! 😊

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Title image photo cred: Pinterest
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

19 Year Anniversary: Fight or Flight???

My husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage last weekend!!! It was truly a major milestone!! Both of us come from single parent homes and are really figuring this all out as we go. Nevertheless, over the years, I’ve had many people say they look to us (and other couples) and see their #marriagegoals, an awesome union, the perfect little family… I mean, I work from home, my husband has a great job, we live in a cute little house in the mountains, we have two awesome kids, we’re all healthy, we live debt-free, and we love God… I mean, we kayak on the weekends and eat at the dinner table together every night for goodness sake!!!! WHAT AN AWESOME LIFE, RIGHT????

I have to admit, though all those things are true, this year was probably one of our toughest. It shook our marriage to its very foundation and had us considering some hard-core questions. It wasn’t because any THING happened. Nobody cheated, nobody lost their job, we didn’t file for bankruptcy or suffer from some major illness. It wasn’t that at all. Honestly, I can’t attribute this wall we hit to anything specific. Perhaps a build up of a ton of tiny little things, or even small transitions over time. Perhaps the fact that we have two teenagers in our home, or that we live two hours away from most of our affiliations, maybe that we were both growing at two different speeds and… I DON’T EVEN KNOW!!!! But whatever the case, the tension was mounting, we couldn’t see eye to eye on anything and the opportunities for disagreement seemed to abound.

This was heartbreaking, because, my husband and I have been best friends since I was 18 years old!!! Our connection has been so genuine and so rare. We do EVERYTHING together. We have SO much fun. We have an amazing history, and more importantly, what we have built and accomplished together is incredible.

Nonetheless, the devastation of our divergence took a toll on everything. It seemed like a dark cloud followed us everywhere we went. The fact that we knew the Word, that we had super friends, ministers and pastors we could turn to, we couldn’t even identify a problem to fix! I imagine this being the part in a person’s life where hopelessness sets in. Where you just say, “We grew apart,” “We just fell out of love,” “We decided to go our separate ways.” And though I admit, I was SOOOOOOOO frustrated and overwhelmed by the tension and stress, if you know me, you KNOW, I was NOT about to give up!!!!

19 YEARS!!!! 19 years of building life together. Making memories. Working through all other MAJOR obstacles. Building and growing. And most importantly, the kids. They were watching us. They were counting on us to step our game up and work this Word. To help them believe in the love we teach and preach about every day. NO SIR!!!! We could not let them down!

For the last several months I committed to doing my part in getting myself together. I read books and devotionals, talked to AMAZING friends, listened to teachings, filled my social media feed with encouragement and even created some alone time to focus on my own personal growth. I took the magnifying glass off my husband and put it on God. During this time, we still had disagreements. We still had rough days, but by now, my faith was so strong, I was confident that relief was on the way.

About that time, I saw an ad for a marriage conference come across my screen. It was called SPARK and it was being hosted by Joel Osteen in Houston, Texas. It just so happened to fall on our anniversary weekend. Though we had bought books to read together, committed to a marriage challenge and were both doing our own individual growth plans, we knew we needed something BIG to get us the proper tune-up. We both knew this conference was IT!!!!

My husband took care of all the accommodations and last week we flew to Houston for a life changing experience. We were in an auditorium with thousands of other couples. Newlyweds on up to people married for 50+ years. The atmosphere alone was inspiring, not to mention the amazing speakers and the wisdom they shared with all of us. My husband and I gleaned so much.  It was EVERYTHING we needed to get us back on track. We spent a couple extra days there just talking and refocusing. We got our first couple’s massage and did some of our old favorite things like walking on the beach, going out to eat, shopping, and just spending uninterrupted time alone to recharge and restore.

I considered how many couples experience hardships that cut deep, that shake the core of their marriage. Some of them have had affairs, suffered job loss, illness or even just hit a wall on their journey. It seems SOOOOOO much easier to quit. Like starting over would wipe away the deep pain they experience on a regular basis. “It’s not fair!”  “I don’t deserve this!”  “I can do better all by myself!” I get it!!! But quitting is NOT an option!!!! You have to FIGHT for your marriage! You made a promise before God and all the other witnesses that you would love each other for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Now I know today contracts/covenants don’t hold the weight they once did, but that doesn’t make them any less weighty. What is the boundary on your “worse?” Does your “sickness” have a limit? Does “poorer” not include being unemployed for 6 months? We have to go the distance. We have to be committed to doing whatever is necessary to make this partnership work. No matter what.

Interestingly, when our brakes go out on our car, we don’t throw the entire car away. Most of us take it to the shop upon the first squeak. Some of us wait until the light grind, but we never just let the brakes go all the way out; and we don’t leave the car abandoned and go out and buy a new car, with new brakes. Yet too many times at the first sign of discomfort we are ready to trade in the old for “better.” Instead, we must be willing to do the regular maintenance necessary to keeping the car in tip-top shape. When it needs a tune up, tune it up. When it needs a small repair, do it. New cars are great, but their brakes wear down as well. They will need tune-ups as well.

People ask all the time how we made it 19 years. They see us and think we don’t have any real problems. We got it made. I have a GREAT husband, he has a GREAT wife. We don’t know struggle. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have our tough times. We have persevered through some MAJOR adversities. The difference is we have made a commitment to NEVER quit. We will take this baby to the shop over and over again. We will perform repairs and continual tune-ups over and over again. We will get up and fight every day to have the happy marriage we always dreamed about.

When times get tough, remember to give each other grace. Read a book, seek counsel, go to a conference, whatever is necessary to keep your marriage healthy and happy. Give your spouse the insurance policy that if he/she gains a few pounds, goes through menopause/post-partum depression, loses their job, gets sick, grows at a different pace, YOU will be right there fighting for them. Believing the best. Helping them win…TOGETHER, through the good and the bad.

No matter how tough it gets, there is grace for us to conquer our storms. And no matter what, quitting is NEVER an option!!!! As for me and my husband, we are going ALL THE WAY!!!! I am so grateful for 19 years and I am SO looking forward to the next 19!!! Here’s to you and your Happily Ever After…with your no- quittin’ self!!!

“I DON’T NEED TO BE FAMOUS…”

I was boutique shopping with a beautiful friend of mine the other day. She just so happens to be an awesome singer and a super favorite around our small town. The gal working the register, an obvious fan, noted “When are you gonna go on TV???!!! You are SOOOO good!!!!”

My friend responded with great modesty, true to her character, “I don’t need to be famous, I’m happy just playing my music here at home, with my people.”

I was so blessed by her response. I could TOTALLY relate. However, I could also understand how foreign her response was to the clerk. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be famous, right? Who wouldn’t want to be seen and adored by thousands, if not millions, right? Why not share your talent with as many people as you can, right?????

As a society, we’ve gotten to the place where more is better. Where all we do is measured by the number of likes, customers, product sold, people in the audience, etc. We crave acknowledgement, a certificate, pin, title, award, or some sort of notoriety for everything we do. We secretly want our content, our YouTube, blog post, picture, or even rant to go viral. We want to be discovered. We crave validation. Acceptance. And ultimately, love.

The problem with this is, in our plight to be noticed by the masses, we forfeit the journey of growing, learning and allowing God the chance to promote us in His timing. We spin our wheels and max out our resources to produce results, often times based on standards of another person’s success. We are so busy climbing ladders, grinding, and chasing a name, we miss out on the little opportunities to cultivate relationships that produce the lasting love that matters.

Within the last couple years, my singing friend retired from an awesome career in education to be at home full time with her family. Nope, she didn’t pack her bags and move to Hollywood, instead, she volunteers at the school, she helps her husband with his business, coaches her son’s basketball league and tends to her parents and elderly grandparents. When she gets a chance, she sings and plays guitar at local venues, festivals and weddings around town. But SHE is super ok with that. Currently, she doesn’t have a triple platinum album, she doesn’t have a Grammy on her wall, she won’t get Administrator of the Year this year, but in the meantime, her daughter has a friend she knows is always there when she needs her. She has a solid marriage of 17 years. She hasn’t missed a ballgame and is able to take her mom to her weekly check-ups at the doctor.

Perhaps if we get back to some of these things that really matter in this life, we will grow our character. We will develop the characteristics necessary to sustaining greater levels of success. We will have a true support system of people who love us and look out for our best interest along the way. We will have made major impact on individuals and created memories throughout.

I’m not saying give up the pursuit of greater or abort taking your talent and visions to their highest level possible. Go get your Grammy!!!! Just don’t let it be at the expense of the things that truly matter. Don’t let it be an attempted replica of someone else’s journey. Many of the people we all admire, follow on Instagram, and see adorned by millions, go to bed lonely with no one they can truly trust. When their career ends, they have no one by their side. No trusted companions or skills to help them sustain or recover their achievement.

As you pursue your purpose, trust in God’s ability to customize the experience for YOU. Put your best foot forward in everything you do because it will ALWAYS lead to greater. Be sure to enjoy the growth that happens during the journey and develop and cherish relationships with the people in your life right now. You will find, their love is better than the superficial love that comes from the masses. The mountaintop is so much better when you get their whole, with great people on your team, with true love in your heart, and with God leading the way. Until then, sing your heart out and enjoy each time you perform in your hometown, post your best blogs if only for an audience of 100, and rock out that business from the ground up … You’ll get your Grammy soon enough… While you’re at it… enjoy the journey!!!

Proverbs 16:9

Catalogue Your Journey… Capturing the Moments that Count.

Ok. So when we hear the word “souvenir” we all think of the 3 for $10 trinkets we buy when on vacation to let people know we were thinking of them, or perhaps an artifact to remind ourselves of the time we enjoyed while there. Unfortunately, most times, those items are bought without real thought and they ultimately collect dust for a few weeks before winding up in the garbage. I mean, how can we keep up with all that “junk” over the years anyway? Great point. However, I started looking at this souvenir thing in a different way. I had a desire to capture a bit of the joy, peace and memories that were happening throughout this awesome journey. And even though I carry them in my heart and mind all the time, there is something about the nostalgia of bringing your mind right back to that space in time which you held so dear.

Maybe because I have very few pictures or artifacts from when I was a child, but mostly because I am amazed with how the time is flying and how many miracles happen every single day, I just have the desire to catalogue my journey. I found that it is simply a way to bottle up that moment, that feeling, that memory, so that it can be relived in some small way. You can do this in so many ways. Perhaps by journaling, taking pictures and videos of the “highlights”, making playlists, marking your child’s growth progress on a wall, stamping their hands and feet, saving medals and trophies, making 1st day of school signs and pics for every year, collecting a pen for every hotel you visit, etc. Whatever the case, one of the greatest ways to keep gratitude in your heart is to recount the many blessings you experience on a day to day basis. A great way to slow down the time is to catalogue and take stock. Be intentional about it and customize it to make it meaningful to you.

One of the ways my family and I catalogue is by collecting a Starbucks coffee mug on every place we travel. Over the last 5 years or so, we have been successful. It was pretty cool when my husband and I added our collection to a space on our wall a couple weeks back. What a super conversation piece. What a great motivation to travel more. What a super way to enjoy and capture the journey and even share with others. I hope you find a way to capture the awesome moments during your adventures. And that you intentionally discover meaningful ways to recount the joy you experienced while there…

Tis’ the Season… An EASY Photo DIY Project

Though there are tons of great art collections to put on your wall, sometimes it can be difficult finding the perfect piece that speaks to you; especially for the price you are willing to pay. Sometimes it can pose a challenge. However, often times it allows for a great opportunity to get creative!!! 😊 Most times, for me that means a perfect time to add a personal piece to make the space super special. If you have an open wall area, whether large or small that needs that customized piece, I have the perfect simple project for you. All you need is a camera/phone, your eyeball and some time. I call it a Season Collage.

Here’s what you do:

First you go outside and identify an object/landmark of some sort. It can be a tree, a mountain, pond, garden, even your front porch. Whatever it is, it is best if it is meaningful to you in some way. Perhaps the place of your proposal, your grandmother’s old shed, a tree you planted when you first moved into your home, or even a rock that sits in your driveway.

Next, you take a picture of that object in the same frame, the same spot, the same direction during the Summer, then again in the Fall, Winter and Spring.

Then, you simply take them to a photo center of your choice and print them out. You can be SO creative with these pictures by playing with size, shape, filter, frame etc.

For my own Seasonal Collage, I used the mountain that sits in our backyard. I was inspired to make this project by witnessing the variety of beauty the mountain portrays. It is almost like looking at a new portrait every day and certainly every season. Over the course of us living here, I have taken several pictures of it and eventually printed my favorite four to depict the seasons.

 

 

They currently hang on canvas as a staple eye catcher in our guest bathroom. I even added a metal tag to label each picture. Whatever your landscape, there is surely a point of meaningful beauty you can capture and frame to create the perfect Season Collage for you and your guests to enjoy all year long!

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Christmas Family Road Trip : 1400 Miles to the Mile-High City… Experience is the Greatest Gift…

I just had another birthday a few weeks back. Traditionally, I use this time to capitalize on a super travel experience with my husband, at which he and I whisk away to a fun destination and enjoy a few kid-less days of rest, rejuvenation, and reflection in preparation for another awesome year. We set a budget and GO!!!! Though I generally enjoy this time IMMENSELY, this year, I kinda didn’t want to be away from the kids!!! WHAAAATTTTT????!!!! Turn down a once a year getaway??!!!!!… I KNOW… I KNOW!!! They are getting older so fast… and I kinda just wanted to be with them. SO, I forfeited my 2 person trip, and turned it into a 4 person trip. HOWEVER, I STILL had to stick with the same budget. YIKES!! This made things kind of tricky. I had to stretch this budget, yet still come up with an AWESOME vacation plan.

After careful consideration and research, I decided DENVER would be the PERFECT spot. Neither of us had ever been there, and we’ve seen and heard amazing things about it. The only problem was, the flight from Atlanta to Denver x 4 consumed 90% of the budget. So, I had to again get creative… And that’s when the family road trip idea was born.

The trip would be 1400 miles which would take about approximately 21 hours by car one way!!! WHAAATTT!!!???!! That’s a total of 40+ hours on the road (not even including the driving once we got there)!!!! YIKES!!! We’ve done a 4-6 hour trip before and even broken up a 10 hour trip over 2 days… but 21 HOURS!!! OMG!!! I talked it over with my husband and then carefully presented it to the kids. They were BEYOND thrilled to not only be considered for the trip, but SO up for the ride!!!!! YAAAY!!! It was settled.

Over the next several days, we calculated gas, time, places to stop (on the way there and on the way back), and of course our anchor spot in Denver. We decided to drive our own car vs. renting one, which created so much wiggle room in the budget and gave us tons of financial flexibility. We stayed in great hotels, ate super food, shopped at great malls and boutiques, explored new terrain and enjoyed awesome adventures. We bonded. Talked. Read. Thought. Slept. And sometimes just sat in silence. Overall, we had the time of our lives. Here are some pics and details of our 10-day cross country family road trip from Georgia to Denver and all the great stops in between.

Day 1: Friday December 22, 2017: Today was the kids’ last day of school and my daughter had a basketball game that evening, so we planned to leave at night and make the most of the trip while everyone was sleeping. After the game, we shut down and secured the house, loaded up the truck, said our family prayer, and FINALLY, at nearly 11:00pm, we took off for the first 12 hours of driving.

Day 2: Saturday December 23, 2017: After 10 hours of driving, we made it to our first stop: St. Louis, Missouri. The kids woke up, we all stretched our legs and ate a nice breakfast before our 4 hour drive to Kansas City, where we stayed for the night.

Day 3: Sunday December 24, 2017: We woke up the next morning and enjoyed a nice (free) breakfast at the hotel, and a quick family walk. We then picked up some snacks, filled up the tank, and grabbed a souvenir Starbucks mug to add to my collection before starting our next 9 hours on the road. The drive was beautiful. We talked, laughed, listened to music, and reflected on the birth of Christ on our Christmas Eve drive. The kids read their books and even watched a couple Redbox movies to help the time fly by. We stopped at a Chinese Buffet to stretch our legs and fill our bellies before all the restaurants shut down for the holiday. We FINALLY made it to Denver that evening. WE WERE THRILLED the room and the area was as beautiful as it was online when we booked it. ANOTHER SCORE!!!

Day 4: Monday December 25, 2017… CHRISTMAS DAY!!!!! What a great day it was. Of course we began the day with reflection on the birth of Christ. We then enjoyed another great free breakfast and relaxing time around the hotel.

Day 5: Tuesday December 26, 2017: Today was our first real day out in Colorado. After recommendations from some of the locals, we decided to make the 30 minute trip to Boulder. We had an AWESOME time.

Day 6: Wednesday December 27, 2017… MY 41st BIRTHDAY!!!! Today, we decided to paint the town RED!!! We didn’t have a set agenda (which sometimes is the best) but we knew we were going to take the 1 1/2 ride to Breckenridge. What a super day!

Day 7: Thursday December 28, 2017: This was our last full day in Colorado and probably my FAVORITE day of the entire trip. We ventured back to Boulder to hike the Flatirons, which is are huge rock formations just east of the Rocky Mountains. The trails have the most BEAUTIFUL views of the city and are surrounded by mountains.

Day 8: Friday December 29, 2017: We packed up the truck and began the 12 hour drive to Branson, Missouri. Though it may have been a little tough to leave this awesome place, I was full from the rich experiences we had while here and happy that though we were departing, we still had a few goodies left on our journey.

Day 9: Saturday December 30, 2017: Today is officially our last day of fun off the road. We ate a super breakfast, let the kids swim a bit, and even went on a small hike while checking out the sites in Branson. It was a lite day, in preparation for an amazing night…

Day 10: Sunday December 31, 2017: It was the last day of the year and the last day on the road. We woke up early the next morning and headed back for Atlanta. I know this was a super long post, but I can’t reflect enough on the amazing time we had together. Over the years we have done the theme parks, visited beaches, lakes and mountains, voyaged on cruises, and other super destinations, however, I have to say this may just be my absolute favorite trip of them all. We bonded. We loved. We adventured. Many people that knew of our trip asked if we had family in Denver? Was there a reason for such extensive travel? The answer is no. We had a desire to see new terrain, a plan and a budget. We were fueled by the excitement of the unknown and we have memories to last a lifetime. My kids are getting older. I want to take every opportunity possible to make these moments count. While I love the idea of giving gifts and buying presents, I will cherish this amazing experience, it was my greatest gift of all…

DIY: HOLIDAY DESIGN ON A DIME

It’s December, and ‘tis the season to DECK THE HALLS!!!!! If you are like me, you have been waiting for this awesome time of year and are ready to express your excitement by giving your space a wonderful holiday facelift!!! Of course, you too have probably been bombarded with the images of homes covered in tinsel and garland from front porch to back yard, from above the stove to the bathroom in the basement!!!! How in the world can ANYONE keep up with that????  If you have been following my blog, (WHICH OF COURSE YOU SHOULD!!! 😊) you know this is only our 3rd Christmas in our current home. Though it has been SOOOO tempting to go Christmas-decoration-crazy, buying new Christmas eye candy for every room in the house, I have had to take a much more conservative approach.

Holiday decorations can be VERY costly. I’ve seen single ornaments cost as much as $21!!! Not to mention pillows and hand towels and wreaths… WHEW!!!! Decorating an entire home from scratch can cost more than all your Christmas gifts combined. And though décor is indeed an important part of any holiday experience, we can’t let it consume the majority of the holiday budget. So. I have come up with a few ways to spruce up your home without breaking the bank!

  1. Inexpensive must haves: Lights, wreaths, burlap, ribbon, and flowers are sure to give any space a holiday boost. The best part is, you can find all these items for less than $5.00 at places like Walmart, Hobby Lobby and Michaels. (SEE PICS AND DESCRIPTION)
  2. Items to build on: Instead of jumping right into the latest $300 Christmas duvet and sham set, or chunky yarn blanket, look for holiday sheets, throws and pillows. Places like Ross, TJ MAXX, Marshalls, Target and Walmart, have some very affordable options to suit any decorating style. (SEE PICS AND DESCRIPTION)
  3. The fancy stuff: Just because you want to maintain a healthy decorating budget, doesn’t mean you have to forfeit having name brand/fancy items for your home. If you see an item that you REALLLY love, wait until right after season and purchase it when it is a fraction of the cost. You may have to wait until next year to enjoy it, but it will be worth it to have it at a reasonable cost. (SEE PICS AND DESCRIPTION)

It is super tough to see the Deck the Halls XLT version on social media, in magazines, stores, and even at friends’ homes. However, one of the greatest parts of this season is the fact that it is built on memories. Whether you are in a studio apartment, have the basement floor of your mom’s house, or a 6,000-square foot home with a new family, take your time building on the traditions, decorations, gatherings and all the other beautiful things that make this season so bright. Whether cooking an amazing meal, searching for the perfect gifts or hanging ornaments on the tree, when you do it with love and to the glory of the one who gave us the greatest gift of all, it will translate to all who encounter it.  In the meantime, may you enjoy this wonderful holiday season!!!

HOW TO TEMPER YOUR TURKEY TIME… Tips to Reduce Holiday Indulgence :-)

Ok. We are just a couple days away from the incredible holiday season!!!!! Awesome days filled with joy, peace, laughter, rest, and fun. Great memories are made with all our FAVORITE things to enjoy; football, family, friends; time off work, and the best of all… SHOPPING AND EATING of course!!!! I tell you, I am an AVID Black Friday shopper!!! I will be out there with the BEST of them searching for a super steal (yeah right… do they really exist???? But I WILL be out there nonetheless!!!) and of course will enjoy a wonderful FEAST on Thanksgiving and Christmas day!!! However, I have learned over the years the good old adage “a moment on the lips, equals a lifetime on the hips” to be SOOOO appropriate during this season. We can actually apply it to not only food, but spending as well. Here are a couple ideas to consider when making choices about eating and shopping during the holidays.

For the sake of establishing my point, let’s look up the definition of 2 words. 1st indulge. Indulge simply means “to take unrestrained pleasure in.” 2nd temper. Temper means to “restrain. To serve as a neutralizing or counterbalancing force to something.” Ok. So, the teacher in me is coming out. Lol.

Here’s the deal. Holidays are a time for great indulgence. We will all be tempted and most likely give in to eating without restraint and sometimes spending without restraint. We will be welcomed REGULARLY with treats, candy, cupcakes, muffins, lattes and other goodies each day. I mean, sugar is lurking on EVERY corner! At work, church, friends’ houses, school celebrations, holiday parties, etc… The Thanksgiving Day dinner alone will be loaded with DELICIOUS appetizers, meats, sides, desserts and drinks!!! HALLELUJAH!!! And we will commence to filling our bellies until we look like the stuffed turkey lying on the platter!!! We are quick to tell ourselves… “Oh, it’s the holidays… go ahead and indulge!!” FOR SURE!!! I get it!!! IT IS THE HOLIDAYS!!!!!

We do the same thing with spending. We have Secret Santa gifts to buy, Amazon is having super sales, phones have no more memory, everyone in the family needs a SUPER-DUPER gift, and shoot, while you were out looking for your mom’s present, they had a buy one get one 20% off sale, so you had to get one for yourself as well!!!! I KNOOOOWWWWW!!!! AND… It’s the break and the kids need something to do, so why not Disney, or at least the movies, dinner, a theatre production, and ALLLLLLLLL those great goodies. Everyone is coming over to your house, so you must UPGRADE your otherwise ANCIENT Christmas décor… I KNOOOOOOOWWW!!!

This has all become the beauty of the celebration. At this point, it wouldn’t be the same without it. However, we have to get real with ourselves. We run wild during this time only to spend the next few months cleaning up the mess we made, or even worse, ignoring it. Our credit cards are smashed full and our waist takes an unrepairable hit! I can admit, I have come back from many a holiday break weighing more than 5-8lbs more than when I started!!! We drudge through to New Year’s with yet another promise to get it all back in order… uuuggghhh.

Perhaps there is a better way. Simple temperance during this time can save us a ton of headache in the months to come. How can we do this? Here are some simple ideas to help temper your spending and eating during the holidays.

Temper your eating:

  1. Treat yourself, but limit yourself to one plate only. (No 2nd’s/No doggy bags!!!)
  2. Load your plate with double the amount of veggies, salad, soups over everything else.
  3. Commit to an extra workout regime during the month of December.
  4. Don’t arrive starved. Have a healthy snack or drink 2 big glasses of water before going to any holiday party (it’s tough to overeat when you are already full!!!)
  5. Bring your own favorite healthy option to the party… EAT THAT!!! 😊

Temper your spending:

  1. Make a holiday budget based on cash vs. credit.
  2. Get creative with your gifts, décor, and recreation (cook/bake/DIY-type gifts/board games/light viewing etc.)
  3. Don’t be afraid to say NO to commitments beyond your budget.
  4. Condense gift buying (Everyone pull a name. This is the person you will buy for this year.)
  5. BUY USED (You can always give gently used video games, books, toys etc. instead of the brand-new version)

I KNOW. I KNOW. This all seems to take the fun out of the experience, BUT ultimately, you have to get your mind, will and emotions in check. Let them know who’s in charge!!! If you make it a practice to operate in discipline during the most DIFFICULT of situations, there is no temptation you can’t completely obliterate!!! You can DO THIS!!! Trust me, your waistline and bank account will be much better off because you used wisdom and restraint. In the meantime, remember what this season is all about. Though you have a heart to give the most and best, though you want to enjoy great memories and times with loved ones, it will be much more enjoyable today and tomorrow when it is done with love and self-control.  HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOUR CREW!!! 🙂

 

Photo cred: Pinterest

CHOOSE JOY: How to Overcome a Season of The Blues… (My Journey Through The Valley)

Ok, so it has been a couple months since I posted. I wish I could tell you it was because I was out enjoying my journey to the fullest. But if I can be honest with you, it was actually just the opposite. I was in the dumps, overcoming the blues… my peace was under attack and I have to tell you, it was a major struggle. Though it took just about 2 months, now that I have come to see the light, so to speak, now that I am back, I want to share what I have learned from my experience. Because let’s face it, we all have our rough patches, walk through valleys, experience pain and drama and let downs. And though I consider myself one tough cookie, and a pretty happy person, sometimes, these occurrences/circumstances/ordeals/setbacks/rough patches can indeed try to steal our joy. Sometimes these situations are devastating and a mere “suck it up buttercup” just won’t do.

For an example, surely you can have a bad day at work, or a heated exchange with your spouse, or leave your favorite scarf at the restaurant, or your kid gets a bad grade on his report card and this can be super frustrating. However, you can make a few adjustments, take a few deep breaths and bounce back soon after. But what about the more devastating experiences???? The big blows that throw you off your rocker, that shake your entire world. Like a death of a loved one, a CONTINUAL exchange with your spouse, a child who is perpetually in trouble, a job loss, a bad medical report, etc… How can we overcome the devastation that comes with these situations, especially when there is minimal evidence the circumstance will change?

Well without going into the details of my ordeal, I will confide some of the ways I was able to get my joy back and how I plan to maintain it. First of all, I realized quickly that my mind was completely filled with sadness, frustration, and even anger. Once that happened, there was no room for me to see anything with the right perspective. EVERYTHING seemed wrong. Everyone was bad. My efforts were worthless. Nothing had value to me. There was a fog clouding my mind and because of it, my vision was blurred. My perspective was off. Regardless of the fact that I otherwise had a pretty great existence, I literally could not see that. I was consumed by my grief. Overwhelmed by my doubt. Immersed with fear and frustration. I WAS going to church, I WAS reading the bible, I was doing all that blah, blah, blah. But my situation was there every day looking at me in the face like a huge dark cloud of reality and all I could do was roll around in it with self-pity assuming it would never get better.

So, let’s start there. Let’s assume that your situation doesn’t get better. Maybe that child won’t come to his senses for 5 more years, the bankruptcy has left you with bad credit for 7 years, your spouse won’t get the job he’s been believing for for another 5 months… how can you keep your spirits up? I submit that though those situations can bring devastation to you and your need for control, your peace and joy cannot be contingent upon them getting better. Once I came to that realization, operation Get My Joy Back, was in full swing!!! Here are the four steps I took to help me stop, drop and roll out of my gloom.

  1. Eliminate the waste/Take out the trash: In order to get rid of my stinkin’ thinkin’ I had to get rid of the negative influences that were clouding my vision.  It wasn’t deep. I mean, I don’t hang around or have regular exposure to negative people, but I had to eliminate the subtle contact. Like the images on social media, some of the TV shows, the songs, news, and even the conversations with people who were regularly complaining about their own drama. It was too much. Some of those songs will have you ready to jump off the mountain you are supposed to be moving!!!! They will subliminally fill your head with images and ideas that are not related to you. For example, some of the regular commercials on TV will make you think EVERYONE is depressed, EVERYONE has cancer, EVERYONE’S man cheats on them!!!! SOOOOO NOT TRUE!!!! TURN IT ALL OFFFFFF!!!!! TUNE IT ALLLLL OUT!!!! Those images will only hinder your path to mental clarity and set you back miles on your journey.
  2. On the contrary, immerse your mind with positive: Pretend your mind is a cup. As much as you possibly can, overload that cup with positive images, messages, thoughts, words, ideas and people. During my time in the valley, I ordered 4 new books, read great magazines, followed several sites that uploaded positive quotes and images, watched a series of faith-based movies, listened to Joel Osteen every time I got in the car, listened to uplifting music and conversed with positive people.  It is SOOO easy to want to call your best buddy and unload your issue on them. Often times they will even help you sit in your stew. But I connected with a friend of mine who challenged me. Who encouraged me. She helped me lift my spirits and help me get my eyes on what was important. Surround yourself with positivity. Great sources that will help center your focus upward.
  3. Minister to yourself: I know this is so cliché, but I was on a plane recently and the flight attendant went through the whole spiel about “securing your oxygen mask FIRST before trying to take care of others’…” That really spoke to me. It is SOOOOO important that we minister to ourselves, not only during the tough times, but REGULARLY. I dare say, EVERY DAY!!!! During my frustration, I went to the movies, went on long walks, had some quiet book reading in the coffee shop, took long hot baths, went window shopping, baked, and even went on a weekend getaway with just myself. Whatever you enjoy doing, which more than likely, you have somehow forfeited… DO IT!!!! It is therapeutic. It is necessary. These are the things that help you ENJOY life and should not take a back seat to busyness. Furthermore, intentionally doing some of these things on a regular basis, is a great way to stay out of the rough patch.
  4. SEEK THE LORD: Jesus is the ultimate supplier of joy! Seek Him first thing every single day! I personally don’t answer a text, a call, open social media, exchange with humans at all until AFTER I pray and read the Word/devotional each morning. If you don’t have a daily regimen or don’t know where to start, Pray in the shower. Download the Bible App on your phone. Read a chapter of the bible a day. Find a devotional that ministers to you. Get a good bible based book. Whatever the case, I have found that no person, no thing, no idea, no quote, no method can renew my strength, feed my spirit, restore my joy like Jesus. No house, no spouse, no clothing, no weight loss, no achievement, no surgery, no drug, no degree, or pursuit can provide the lasting joy like a relationship with Christ. Once I surrendered my worry, doubt, frustration, fear, anger and sadness over to Him. Once I took my hands off the wheel and released the need for control, I was able to allow His peace, hope, joy, faith, and love to fill my heart completely. And the best part is, He was right there all along. When He has preeminence in your life, it is difficult for outside forces to get in…

Now. Does that mean that we will never experience a rough patch ever again? Of course not. But I am confident that as I used these steps to recover my joy, if I make them a regular practice, I can use them to maintain my joy, regardless what the circumstances are around me. No doubt life can be tough. We have a TON going on and so many things coming at us each day. However, joy is a choice. It is contingent upon nothing other than our decision to activate it… Here’s to getting back out there and making the decision to ENJOY EVERY DAY OF YOUR JOURNEY!!!! As for me… I CHOOSE JOY.

 

Photo cred: Stephanie Archer