What Do You Do With Christmas Cards?

A friend asked me recently what I do with my Christmas cards when the holidays are over. She said she had been admonished by friends after she told them she throws them away. And I started thinking: what do other people do with their holiday cards after the new year rolls in?

I posted the question on my personal Facebook page and got lots of interesting answers. I had no idea people got so creative with their cards! At our house, as cards come in, we put them on our Christmas tree. That way, we get to see them all the time, and anyone who visits can see them too. Just in case you want to ask…the placement is totally random. But when we take down our tree, I take one more look at the cards before disposing of them. When my mother was alive, I would put them all in a Ziploc bag and show them to her when I visited her during the holidays. But since she passed away, my husband would kill me for keeping extra stuff around!

As your holiday greetings arrive this year, put some thought into what you might do with them. Here are some things my own friends do with their holiday photo cards:

  • BOXES/TRUNKS. Several people said they have every holiday photo card they have ever received. Seriously?!?! I came across one from a few years ago when I was getting the ornaments out of the bin. It was the two lovely daughters of a neighbor…I’m talking to you, Jennie from the block. But that’s the only old card I’ve found. I think I probably have a Ziploc bag or two stashed somewhere, but we likely won’t find them till we clean out the house to sell it…who knows when that will be?!
  • PHONE CONTACT. Three very creative friends said they use the Christmas card photos as the contact photo for the person in their phone. They take a picture of it, save it in their contacts, and then they dispose of the actual card after the holidays.
  • PHOTO ALBUM. Several friends said they put the photo cards from family and/or close friends in a photo album, so they can see how they change over the years. That’s actually a lovely idea…too bad I didn’t think of it twenty years ago!
  • LAMINATED PLACE MATS. Yet another friend said that when her kids were little, they would cut the pictures out of the cards and make laminated placemats for Valentines Day! Wow! But then they threw them away after that.
  • BIBLE. Another lovely idea? Place the photo cards in places throughout your Bible. Then when you come to that picture during the year, pray for that family. Wow…that one is impressive too. Afterward, she throws them away.
  • SENIOR CITIZENS’ CHURCH GROUP. My friend, Linda, keeps them in a red and green bow basket till the next year, and she enjoys looking at them as she addresses the next year’s cards. After that…she donates them to the senior citizens’ group at her church, where they are used for craft projects. As she said, “They are born again!”
  • HOLE PUNCH/CLIP/RING. A couple of people said they hole punch them, and put them on a clip/ring…keeping them on the coffee table as a conversation piece. One of them keeps them on the ring for eternity, and the other throws them away after the holidays.
  • ST JUDE’S RANCH. One friend suggested sending them to St Jude’s Ranch’s Recycled Card Program. They are not able to use all greeting cards, but you can read at their link to see what they are able to accept. Great idea! See the link here. 
  • ORNAMENTS. One person said she has a friend who cuts the photos out and attaches them to cardboard ornaments to regift to the original sender! That’s a great one too!
  • SEND BACK. And here’s another idea I like: one friend said she has a friend who keeps all the cards for a year, and the next year, she sends them back to the original sender with a little handwritten note. I like that idea too!

So go ahead and start thinking now about what you’re going to do with all those cards as they’re coming in this year! I will still display ours on our Christmas tree throughout the season, just as I always do. When Christmas is over, I will gather them up and put them in a Ziploc bag till I decide what I want to do. I might actually keep them this year and make ornaments for my friends/family for next year. That’s ambitious, though, so don’t be surprised if I don’t pull it off!

My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2019, Part 5: Gifts for Men/Boys

Honestly, “gifts for men” is a tough category. We got married 19 years ago, and every year, I have trouble deciding what to get my husband. But when I find something that I know will truly surprise him in a happy way, I get all giddy on Christmas morning. It’s difficult, but usually, I find something he loves…and he is always in awe.

Solo Stove Bonfire Steel Firepit. This is not your average woodturning firepit. And don’t tell him, but my husband will find one of these under the tree this year. We’ve had propane burning fire tables, but we never liked them. He hates wood-burning fire pits, because he can’t stand the smoke, and he especially hates the way his clothes smell after standing around one. This one, though, solves that problem. He’s going to be surprised! I don’t know how it works, but the design is patent-pending, and I’ve heard it’s amazing. As much as we enjoy having cocktails on our patio, this will be a big hit. The smallest Bonfire Steel Firepit is 19.5″, which is priced at $295.96 on Amazon. Of course, prices go up for bigger versions. Get it here. 510eipIfE6L._AC_

Games. Sounds silly, I know, but stay with me. Lots of men love the thrill of competition…even if it’s just a backyard game. We have lots of friends who love a good game (or tournament) of corn hole. I’ve sung the praises of the corn hole game before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Get corn hole boards at Amazon here. Another favorite through the years is the Hook and Ring Toss Game. Found in pubs everywhere, who doesn’t love the challenge? I remember playing it at the World Famous FloraBama Lounge and Package Store in Orange Beach, Alabama, when I was in college. (If you’re not familiar with the FloraBama, you should be…it’s a dive bar on the beach…home of the Annual Mullet Toss. Good times! See info here.) As for the hook and ring toss game, you can find different versions. I found some good ones on Amazon here. Have a basketball goal at home? We do, and my husband still gets out there and shoots hoops with his friends. He might like a Dribble Up Smart Basketball to improve his game. It’s also a great gift for kids. Order here. Another fun game is a tabletop football game. All men remember playing football with paper footballs as kids, and I think boys still play it. Now, they don’t have to hold up their hands for goal posts anymore! See the game here. Or how about an indoor putting green for the man in your life who loves golf? There’s a great one here for $37.61.

 

Barbour Quilted Jacket. This one is a little more pricey, but your man will be fashion-forward. Teen boys love these jackets too. Starting at $200 at Nordstrom, these are good-looking, well-made, and they can wear them for years to come. The newly re-issued Icons editions, starting at $250, have been re-engineered, and they’re very popular.  See them here.

 

Tailgating stuff. Need to buy a gift for someone who loves tailgating? There are lots of great things he might not have yet, and he’d be thrilled to get any of these. First, there’s the much-heralded Yeti Cooler. There are lots of versions of Yeti Coolers, starting at about $200 and going all the way up to $800 for the gargantuan versions, but that might be a little big for a tailgate. See them all here. Or maybe he likes to mix some drinks while he tailgates. I saw this on Chrisley Knows Best, one of my favorite shows. Nanny Faye, my favorite family member on the show, had her own travel bar, and I thought, “What a great gift!” So if your man likes to mix drinks at tailgates, he might like a travel bar! There are various sizes, but my favorite is the Concession Express Portable Two Bottle, Leather Travel Bar that includes a jigger and a bottle opener. Priced at $82.66 on Amazon. See it here. If he likes to keep his liquor close to the vest, the Shinola Men’s Leather Wrapped Hip Flask could be perfect for him. Priced at $125 at Neiman Marcus, you can see it here.

 

Drones. Men love flying toys. It starts when they start throwing balls as kids. Drones are the ultimate flying toy for men who can’t fly planes. There are lots of them on the market, but I found some that are rated high by consumers. For an inexpensive drone made by a reputable company, there’s the Holy Stone Wi-Fi FPV Drone with 720P Wide-Angle HD Camera. Priced at $89.99. BestReviews.com says it is feature-rich, adding, “while it’s a good choice for novices, it also appeals to seasoned drone enthusiasts, thanks to the ample features and affordable price.” See it here. For top-notch quality, BestReviews.com recommends the DJI Phantom 4 Professional Quadcopter, priced at $999 at Amazon. It’s pricey, but apparently, it’s the best. If you have an experienced drone enthusiast on your list, this could be the primo gift. Get it at Amazon here.

 

Tommy Bahama Apparel. My husband loves this brand for its comfort, and I don’t blame him, as everything they make seems super soft. He loves their lounge pants, their tshirts, and their sweaters. He loves their French Terry Lounge Pants and wears them year-round at home. Heck, he has been known to wear them out of the house too! They look good. They’re comfortable, and they’re well-made. Priced at $56 here. TB81818_809_main

Camping stuff. If the man on your list enjoys camping, then he will love receiving camping supplies. I recently came across a Tiki Tunes Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker that creates ambient light while playing your favorite tunes. For $69.99, you get a set of two speakers, which you can find it at Amazon here. Or maybe he’d like a power station for camping? The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 240 is highly-rated and picked as an “Amazon’s Choice.” Priced at $249.99 at Amazon right now, it’s a gift any camper would love to get. And it’s not just for camping. It’s great in an emergency when you lose electrical power at home too. See it here. A camping buff might also like the travel bar listed above under tailgating stuff.

 

Mancave stuff. Men who don’t like decorating suddenly become more interested in aesthetics when they have a mancave (or as we call it at my house, a game room). They might not have any idea what the rest of the house looks like, but a man wants to decorate his own mancave. Amazon has lots of cute neon signs for mancaves starting at $24.99. You can see them here. The Grommet has some fabulous stadium art your sports fan might love. My two favorites are pieces of wall art made by Stadium Views. One is a Wooden Five Layer Stadium Wall Art, priced at $59.99, and my very favorite is a 3D Stadium Wall Art priced at $249.99. Just pick your favorite team’s home stadium or field…and place the order. The detail is amazing. See them here. Or maybe they’re more into license plate signs. My husband has one, and he loves it. Get CMR Custom License Plate Designs at Amazon here. Favorite NFL team? Check out NFLshop.com for lots of home/office items. MLB team? Shop MLB.com. And for NBA, shop store.nba.com.

 

Duluth Trading Company. You’ve seen their kitschy cartoon ads on television. Those commercials are what initially caused me to check out the website…and I’m so glad I did! I’ve given my husband and my brother some of their jackets, and while I’m sure they weren’t excited when they opened the gifts, I’m proud to say they both actually wear them. That’s tells me I did a good job picking those jackets for those hard-to-please gents. I gave them both Shoremen’s Fleece Jackets, and they are super durable and warm. But I think next time, I’ll get them one of the Firehose Jackets for added warmth. See them at Duluth Trading here.

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Men’s Fire Hose Flannel Lined Lumber Jac $79

RSVLTS Shirts. I’ve written about RSVLTS Shirts cult shirts before. They have lots of printed button-downs that pay homage to various movies, personalities, and tv shows…Saved By the Bell, Ghostbusters, The Sandlot…and if your man loves any of the featured movies and likes to wear fun stuff, this could be for him. They also have tshirts. Prices start under $30…go check them out here.

 

Ugg Slippers. For those who love a good, old-fashioned, comfort gift, my husband loves Ugg Slippers. It sounds corny, but we get him a new pair every year for Christmas. And he wears them regularly. Starting at $90 on the Ugg.com website, take a look and pic which style you think will work best for your man. The Dex style is pretty universally liked, I think. See the website here. 1103901-CHE_1

Experiences. And last, but certainly not least, consider giving the men in your life gifts of experience. In Charlotte, where I live, we are fortunate to have the NASCAR Racing Experience. Starting at $99 for a ride along experience, folks claim it’s the best gift ever! See the website here. We also have the US National Whitewater Center, where lots of experiences are available: canopy tours, whitewater rafting, zip lining…see the website here. And don’t forget about IFly Charlotte…an indoor skydiving experience! See the website here. But if you don’t live in Charlotte, there must be experiences near you. Think about concerts, sporting events, and more. I know my husband would love concert tickets.

***To see last year’s selections for men, click here.***

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you have the best luck ever with your gifting this season!

***COMING SOON: STOCKING STUFFERS!***

 

 

 

 

 

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Squash It

I’m no chef. I can barely even call myself a cook.

But I love reading Hungry Girl cookbooks and magazines, and I love the website, http://www.hungrygirl.com. I’ve written about the site before. I’ve learned a lot about ways to swap high-calorie/high-carb foods for lower calorie foods over the years, and one of my favorite swaps is veggie noodles.

I was slow to buy into veggie noodles. I love my pasta.

But recently, I started to question whether it’s the pasta I like or the stuff that goes with it. Red sauce? I love it. Tomatoes? I love them. Bolognese? Yes, please! I even like Alfredo sauce, but it’s not my favorite.

So I started experimenting with some of Hungry Girl’s veggie noodle ideas. For months, I ate zucchini noodles. I didn’t buy them in the grocery store. I actually purchased the zucchini and brought it home to make my own noodles. I bought a handheld veggie spiral slicer, and I stayed busy making my own zucchini noodles. The first few times I ate them, I was so proud, and I liked them…but that changed. For some reason, the zucchini noodles just didn’t do it for me. I gave up.

Then a few weeks ago, after reading some info on Hungry Girl about spaghetti squash, I went back to the grocery store and picked up a couple of spaghetti squash. I will openly admit that I had no idea what a spaghetti squash looked like. I actually had to read the labels on the produce shelves, but I found them. They look like the gourds they are. I grabbed two and brought them home. Following instructions I found online, I cut them, cleaned them, brushed on a little olive oil and sea salt, and baked them, face down, in the oven. After I took them out of the oven and scraped the “spaghetti” out of them, I knew I had found my true veggie spaghetti love.

The difference in the zucchini and the spaghetti squash? The spaghetti squash absorbs the flavor of its pairing. The zucchini…not so much. There’s something about the texture of the zucchini that prevents it from absorbing the other flavors, but the spaghetti squash texture is perfect. It absorbs the flavor of tomatoes, onions, Alfredo sauce, red sauce, garlic…whatever I put with it! In fact, the texture of it is so perfect that I have actually fooled my teenager with it. I served it to her once with chicken, butter and sea salt, and she didn’t even realize she was eating squash instead of traditional pasta.

That is a win!

After cooking it in the oven several times, I tried cooking it in my Instant Pot. I got the directions from the Hungry Girl website here. Even before trying it, I knew it would be a little lower in calories, simply because it eliminates the need for the olive oil. I wondered how that would affect the flavor. But I wasn’t disappointed! I was thrilled! The Instant Pot method was super easy and super tasty! Hungry Girl wins again!

So now I need to get creative with the spaghetti squash. I’ve prepared it with marinara sauce, Alfredo sauce, Rotel tomatoes, and even chicken/butter. Taking a look at the Hungry Girl site, I see lots of different recipes I need to add to my repertoire. Spaghetti Squash Shrimp Scampi? Yes, please! Spaghetti Squash a la Vodka? Bring it on! To see them all, click here.

Try cooking some of them without telling your family, and see what kind of reaction you get! My super-picky teenager didn’t even turn her nose up at it!

 

 

One Year of Blogs

I say it all the time, and the older I get, the more true it is: time flies.

It has been one year since I started “blogging.” I started it as my own form of therapy a month after my mother died, and I do believe it has helped me cope with her death. If you had asked me about that this past December, I might have said otherwise. The first anniversary of her passing was extremely difficult for me…maybe harder than when she actually died. I think I was in so much shock after her death that I didn’t fully digest what had happened. At the one year mark of her death, I was heartbroken. Fortunately, the holidays are a busy time, so I could find lots of things to occupy my mind: shopping, parties, wrapping gifts, spending time with family, spending time with friends. I still grieved throughout the year. There are still times I think I’m losing my mind with grief. But the blog was also a big help.

The blog has morphed somewhat over the year. Originally, I wanted it to be a place where I could share great things I had found and share the stories behind them. There has been some of that, but sometimes, I find myself just sharing stories. I love a good story. I also have a pretty good memory, so I have a story for lots of things that happen. I don’t profess to be a great storyteller, but I appreciate folks who are.

I love writing about my favorite products, but my favorite pieces are stories about my life, my friends, or family members. Yes, I have favorites. I’ll list them at the end of this piece.

Just when I think I’ve run out of stories or new things to share, something else pops up. Lots of times, I see someone or something that reminds me of something else. I make a note in my phone, and then, when I get time, I sit down and write about it. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Some things are easier to write about than others.

But here’s the thing: I write for me. Do I like that people read it and sometimes reach out to me? Of course I do! Does that make it more fun? You bet! But I’m really writing it for a selfish reason: my sanity. It’s a great outlet. If I’m mad, sometimes I write about it. I might not ever share it, but it’s saved in my “drafts” folder. If I’m sad, I write about it, and again, it might not make it past “drafts.” If I’m happy or amused, I might write about that too! In fact, I just took a look at my drafts folder and found that I have about 240 blogs in that folder! And I’ve published just over 140. And hopefully, one day, when I’m long gone, my daughter will still have some of my stories.

Thank you for reading me. I never expected this to become “the next big thing.” I expected it to help me get through the first year without my mother. And it did. Now, I hope it will help me through the second year without my mother. Readers have sent me messages about how some of my stories remind them of things that have happened in their own lives. That’s what I enjoy. I enjoy the feedback. I enjoy the interaction.

So thank you. I’m grateful.

***Some of my favorite pieces from the past year (click on title):

 

 

 

 

 

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My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018, Part 5: Travel Stuff

I love a vacation or getaway, so nothing makes me happier than a travel-inspired gift, whether it’s something I can use while I travel or something that reminds me of travel. So today…GIFTS FOR TRAVEL AND AVIATION ENTHUSIASTS.

Away Luggage. It’s sleek. It’s durable. Away Carry-ons have an ejectable battery option. And best of all…it’s guaranteed for life. Away Luggage comes in 12 colors, and each piece is on durable wheels that rotate 360 degrees for ease of movement. Plus, if you travel with multiple Away Luggage pieces, they nest inside each other, so after you unpack, they take up less room in your hotel room. Starting at $225 for the carry-on, these are a great gift for travelers. You can also have it personalized by the manufacturer. Check out their whole website, as they also offer totes and backpacks made of water-resistant nylon. Shop here.

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Away Carry-on, $225

W&P Design Carry On Cocktail Kits. These carryon cocktail kits are small, but they contain everything you need to mix cocktails in flight, except the alcohol, which you can get from your friendly flight attendant, or purchase miniatures in advance. W&P offers kits for an Old Fashioned, a Bloody Mary, a Margarita, and more. At only $24, they make great gifts that will actually be used by the family member or friend who travels regularly! Or purchase the Travel Pack, which includes a small travel-size bag packed with three cocktail kits at $90. Don’t need the kit? Maybe your traveler would like five of the cocktail kits, called The Frequent Flyer, at $100. See slideshow below. Get them here.

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Seat For 1. This bag from Uncommon Goods gets a thumbs up from me, surprisingly. When I first saw it, I thought it was crazy, but after checking it out, it sounds awesome! The bag weights 2.6 pounds, and it’s small enough to carry on, but strong enough to hold an adult sitting atop it. In fact, it will withstand up to 330 pounds! Anyone who has ever had to stand at a boarding gate where there were no empty seats will appreciate this wonder! No more seats? Create your own with this bag! Priced at $65, it’s a great gift for a traveler. Get it from uncommongoods.com here.

Airportag.com I wrote about this one for home gifts, as well, but it’s worth mentioning again. This is one of those websites I could peruse all day. It bills itself as the “best aviation and travel gift shop.” It’s a great one, with airline and airport themed apparel and accessories…even featuring defunct airlines. Great for the aviation enthusiasts in your life, there are lots of customizable products. Personalized boarding pass-style pillows, mugs, shirts, comforters, totes, luggage tags, and many more…they have it all for the folks who love planes and trains. And the popular airport code apparel? They have that too! Prices start at under $5 for stickers. The airport codes duffle shown below is $64.90, while the airline “crew” luggage tag is $14.90, and the tote, bottom right, is $24.90. Shop airportag.com here.

O2 cool 5″ fan. Looking at this 5″ fan, you think there’s no way it helps anyone anywhere. Well, I think your traveling family member or friend will be surprised. I purchased one of these when I was in Vermont a couple of years ago, because I needed a fan on my face in the hotel room. It was the only one I could find in the local store, and I thought I would end up throwing it away. I didn’t throw it away. In fact, I used it for the rest of that trip and gave some to family members who also enjoy fans while they’re sleeping. It’s small enough and light enough to pack in a suitcase without adding weight or bulk. Priced at just $14.99, it’s a great buy at Amazon here.

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Amazon Fire Stick TV Bundle with Echo Dot (2nd gen). This is a great gift for the traveling friend or family member who loves streaming TV shows or movies. They can plug it into any TV’s HDMI port, connect to Wi-Fi, and continue streaming hit TV shows and movies…picking up where they left off at home. Pair it with the 2nd generation Echo Dot, making it even easier to use. Priced at $39.98 for the Fire Stick and Echo Dot, it’s a great deal from Amazon. Get it here.

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Mark and Graham Personalized Luggage Tags. Mark and Graham does these right. Made of quality leather in bright colors to help travelers locate their bags on the luggage carousel, these make great gifts. Priced at $55, you can get them here.

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Travel Diffuser Aromatherapy Kit. We love diffusers in our house. Sometimes, I walk into my daughter’s room and am surprised to find it smells like a posh spa, because she is using her diffuser with a lavender oil or some other great essential oil. Priced at just $30, the kit includes the small diffuser plus three essential oils: lavender, lemongrass, and peppermint.  Lavender is relaxing, while the others rejuvenate and refresh. I have my own essential oils from DoTerra I can use, as well, making it even more useful. Purchase the kit here.

Longchamp bags. When I travel, I often make purchases, and they don’t always fit into my luggage. A few years ago, a friend gave me a Longchamp Le Pliage bag, telling me she would fold it and put it in her luggage when she traveled. When it was time to go home, if she had made purchases, she could fit them in the bag and check it or carry it onto the plane with her. Made of durable nylon with leather accents, the bags fold flat and come in different colors and sizes. My favorites for travel are the Le Pliage Expandable Tote at $195 and the Le Pliage 21-inch Expandable Travel Bag, priced at $255. See them all at Nordstrom here.

Vintage Airline Gifts. OK, so it isn’t actually vintage, but a lot of the logos are at rebubble.com. I love apparel featuring defunct air carriers, and both of these sites offer plenty of options. Maybe you know someone who worked for one of the carriers, or you have a friend who is an aviation enthusiast. Or maybe your family member would love some airline-themed personalized stationery. The possibilities are endless.  Search for an airline name (National, Eastern, Pan Am, Continental, Mohawk, TWA, Braniff) and see the possibilities. Shop redbubble.com here.

Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Machine. I’ve had one of these for years, because sleep is important. I’m a light sleeper, so when I’m in a hotel, I hear the air conditioner turn on and off. I hear slamming doors. I hear people walking past my room. And sometimes, I hear traffic. I learned a long time ago that white noise is my friend. I purchased the Marpac Dohm Classic White Noise Machine, and I carry it every time I travel. If you have a friend or family member who travels but complains about noise in hotels, this could be the ticket! Get it at Amazon for $44.95 here.

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LUSH Solid Shampoo/Conditioner with Tins. For travelers, it really stinks to arrive somewhere and discover your liquid shampoo or conditioner has leaked. Pressurized cabins can do a number on bottles of haircare products. When I was perusing the Lush website recently, I discovered they have solid shampoos and conditioners! No more messy leaks! And they’re priced right and smell great! Each item is priced under $15 for just under 2 ounces, and they come in a variety of scents. Make sure you pick up a tin for each product. Each tin is priced at $3.95. Shop Lush here.

Beautural Steamer for Clothes. I don’t always have time for the hotel to press my clothes when I’m traveling, so I love having a good portable steamer. With almost 600 reviews, this portable steamer is the highest-rated one on Amazon. It heats in 30 seconds and operates at 1200 watts, and it’s perfect for home or travel. Package includes a lint brush, fabric brush, and creaser. Your traveling friend will thank you. Purchase for $34.99 with free shipping here.

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Travel Listography. If you’re not familiar with Listography, you’re missing out. Listography Journals have been around a while. This particular one offers the traveler the opportunity to list travel-related things: places to travel, animals I’ve seen in the wild, people I’ve met along the way, etc. It makes a great gift for the traveler who loves to keep track of what he/she has done and keep a bucket list too. Purchase for $10.32 from Amazon here.

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And there you have it…a list of gifts for the traveler or aviation enthusiast in your life! Happy shopping!

NEXT TIME: Stocking Stuffers!

Stargazing

If you know about my affinity for Los Angeles/Beverly Hills, you probably think I’m going to write about famous people. Nope. I’m actually talking about stargazing of the astronomical kind, not the Hollywood kind.

Last year, my friend, Mary Ann, and I went to Damascus, Virginia, with five kids: her three, my daughter, and a friend of my daughter. Damascus, Virginia, is the home of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile bicycle trail that starts at the top of Whitetop Mountain. For info about the trail, click here. We went to ride half the trail…the first 17 miles from the top of the mountain to the town of Damascus.

Before we went, I called ahead to the bike shop and let them know we would be coming. The bike shop I like to use, Creeper Trail Bike Rental (see website here), has a large assortment of rental bicycles for adults and children. I spoke with Craig, one of the owners of the shop with whom I had dealt before. Next, I set up a rental for the night before our ride. We opted to rent a local four-bedroom apartment for the night, so we would have plenty of room for the seven of us.

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We left Charlotte in the afternoon and arrived in Damascus a couple of hours later. It was late afternoon, and we went straight to our rental apartment. After everyone picked a room, we decided to go out to dinner. Damascus is a small town, and a lot of places close early, but fortunately, we ran into some locals who told us about a locally-owned pizza place, which turned out to be fun and delicious. It was located near a grocery store, so right after dinner, we went to the grocery store to get milk and cereal for breakfast and a few other snacks to take out on the trail with us the next day.

Once we were back at the apartment, some of the kids went inside, and a few of us stayed outside. We had noticed how clear the skies were, and thanks to Mary Ann’s oldest son, I had a new app on my phone that would help me see constellations, satellites, and stars. Mary Ann and I sat out on the picnic table in the backyard chatting for a while before lying back to see the stars. Where I live in Charlotte, there is so much city light that it’s difficult to see any stars. Add in the fact that my husband lights up the exterior of our house like an airport, and there’s not much chance of seeing anything in the sky. Using the app Mary Ann’s son had told me about, Sky Guide, I knew which satellites would be coming over the horizon, and I found constellations I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise. I don’t know if there was a meteor shower that night, but we saw lots of meteorites, or as I like to call them, shooting stars. The term, shooting stars, just sounds more exciting. Two of the kids came out to join us as we were stargazing, and we all were amazed at the sky above us. I had never realized just how much fun it is to stare at the sky. I could have stayed there all night.

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We were relaxed and enjoying the sky show when suddenly, we heard a loud BANG! I don’t know what we thought it was, but it scared us. Well, it scared three of us, anyway. Three of us were off that picnic table in a split second and fighting our way up the porch steps and through the back door of the apartment. Mary Ann never made it inside. She was too busy laughing at us from the picnic table. As it turns out, the sound was a truck backfiring on the road in front of the apartment, so nothing to fear, but it took a few minutes for my pulse rate to come back down. I still wonder why Mary Ann didn’t run…was it a set up? Couldn’t have been, though, because no videos of the three of us running scared have surfaced…yet. Actually, I wish we did have a video, because it had to be hilarious. We did go back to stargazing afterward, but we couldn’t stop giggling about the backfire.

The next morning, we all got up, packed up our belongings, and went to the bike shop at about 9am. Craig loaded our rented bikes onto a trailer and drove us up the mountain in his van. On the way up, we told him about our stargazing the night before, and he suggested that net time we are in the area, we should go up to the top of Whitetop Mountain and do some stargazing from there. He said it’s beautiful on a clear night. I’m hoping I can get Mary Ann to go with me again in a few weeks, but frankly, I’m a little afraid of going to Whitetop…what about bears? Or Bigfoot? Maybe we will go in my car and watch the skies through the sunroof…at least then, we could make a fast getaway if necessary. I’m not usually a wimp, but I’m a wimp about bears and Bigfoot…and mountain lions…and snakes…and spiders.

So, Mary Ann, get your shorts and sneakers, and let’s hit the trail…The Virginia Creeper Trail! Looking forward to some pizza and stargazing!

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Bloom Where You’re Planted

We always hear people say, “Follow your passion,” or “Follow your dreams.” I saw a video by Mike Rowe recently in which he questioned that, and I totally get it. See the video here.

If you watched the video, you heard him say lots of people have “passion” about something, but no talent for it. There are lots of people whose pursuit of their passion or dream failed, because they had not talent (or skills or knowledge).

My favorite part of the video is when he says, “Your happiness on the job has very little to do with the work itself.” And he’s correct. I really believe we can find happiness in places we never believed we could. I’m a big fan of “Love the one you’re with,” which I interpret as “find the good where you are.” I have a friend I’ve heard say, “Bloom where you’re planted,” which basically means the same thing to me.

Happiness is not always where we expect it. Haven’t we all firmly believed we wanted something, and when we got it, we realized it was all wrong? (“Be careful what you wish for.”) On the other hand, sometimes, we find ourselves somewhere we think isn’t a good fit…maybe a college or a position on a team…in reality, we often find it’s the best thing for us. Maybe we should, as Mike Rowe says, “Follow the opportunity.”

There are some people who possess passion, talent, knowledge, drive, plans, and more passion for what they want to do, and some of them can turn that into income.

As a child, in Spanish Fort, Alabama, I had a sweet, smart, adorable friend named Michelle Prouty. (She is now Michelle Prouty Johns.)

Unbeknownst to me at the time, she was immensely talented.

Michelle’s mother is a prolific gardener, and Michelle shares the same love of plants and gardening.

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MICHELLE PROUTY JOHNS

Michelle tells me she doesn’t remember a time that she wasn’t interested in gardening, “so it must have started at a very early age.”

Her dad owned a manufacturers’ rep agency in Mobile but decided, when Michelle was five, that he also wanted to be a part-time farmer. Purchasing ten acres, he moved the family, and started his vegetable farm. Her mother had flower beds and containers on the back deck, and Michelle helped with all of it. Michelle says they never had trouble getting her to help. Her exact words: “It wasn’t a chore to me.”

And there you have it. A passion was born.

Her mother taught her to plant seeds and propagate plants, and when the family left the farm and moved to my neighborhood, Spanish Fort Estates, her dad built a greenhouse, which she considered her “own private play house.” She says she loved going in there during the winter. “There was nothing better than being in there in the winter when it was full of my Mom’s plants, many of which bloomed through the winter.”

I remember going back to a community festival at Spanish Fort School in spring of 1978. There was Michelle, a fifth grader, with her own booth at the festival, selling her plants. It made quite an impression on me. She was tending that booth all day while other kids were doing whatever they wanted. But she was doing what she wanted…taking care of her plants, talking with folks about gardening, and selling the fruits of her labor.

Looking at all that hands-on gardening experience she had, one might think she would have pursued a Horticulture degree when she attended Auburn University, but she didn’t. She says, “I questioned my father many years ago on why they did not push me to look at horticulture as a career, and he said they didn’t know anyone who worked in the field, so it wasn’t really on their radar.” But…sometimes things work out the way they’re supposed to. She went on to get her Marketing and Statistics degrees, which have been helpful…as she pursues her dream.

And this is where it gets really good.

After working with her dad and working in outside sales for a company in Tampa, one year ago, Michelle opened her own retail garden center in Fairhope, Alabama. The perfect piece of land came available, and she seized the opportunity. She is the proud owner of Corner Copia Gardens Nursery and Garden Shoppe. You can see the Corner Copia Gardens Facebook page here and their Instagram page here. She opened the gardens in 2015 and opened the retail garden center in March 2017. Corner Copia Gardens Nursery and Garden Shoppe just celebrated its first anniversary.

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Michelle says her business goal is to carry a “unique variety” of plants that are difficult to find in “big box stores” and will do well in the area. She also wants to offer advice to local gardeners and is offering educational classes. Follow the Facebook page for Corner Copia Gardens to see which classes are being offered and when. (Again, the facebook page can be found here.)

 

 

Michelle named her business after some gift shops her mother had called The Corner Copia. According to Michelle, “While she did not sell plants, she carried many garden-themed gifts in her shops.” Michelle got her mother’s permission to use the name, adding “Gardens” and slightly modifying the logo.

Corner Copia Gardens is the realization of a dream.

Michelle says it has been her dream for at least 25 years…since soon after college.

It has not been without challenges. A particularly cold winter in Fairhope has been tougher than expected, but she says she has learned what it takes “to keep them (two 24′ x 100′ greenhouses) heated with 20 nights below freezing and down into the teens.”

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Another challenge has been the fact that business is seasonal, but Michelle made adjustments. Because business is seasonal, she needed to find a way to keep income flowing so her employees could work all year, so she added a small gift shop and is growing her live plant floral business, with hopes to begin making deliveries this spring. I’ve seen pictures on the facebook page of some of the gift shop offerings, and it’s exciting!

 

The greatest thing about this, to me, is that Michelle found a way to channel all her life experiences into pursuing her dream. She knew it was something she wanted to do, but she did other things that gave her the ability and lots of valuable knowledge when the opportunity came along. She takes everything she has learned along the way from her parents, her career in business, her education, and her life as a mom (she and her husband have five children between them)…channeling it into her business, sharing her knowledge and passion along the way.

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Succulent head planters. I love these! I also think they would make lovely Easter gifts.

So, while Mike Rowe questions whether folks should follow their dreams, I know some should do just that…even if they have to get there by following opportunity first. Maybe I should say, “Follow opportunity to get to your dreams/passion.” That’s what Michelle did, and it’s working. She has always had a kind, engaging way about her, so I’m sure people love visiting her gardens and shop, and they love attending her classes. I can hardly wait to visit when I’m in Baldwin County!

If you are in Baldwin County, Alabama, stop in at Corner Copia Gardens. If you live in the area, stop in and see her…maybe take one of her classes. You’ll be glad you did. She would enjoy seeing you. She says her greatest joy is when customers come in and tell her how well their plants are doing or when someone sends her photos of arrangements they have made. As she says, “For me, it really isn’t work at all!”

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Now, if only I could find a way to make money by remembering birthdays, talking, connecting people, or harassing people into volunteering for stuff…

Kelly

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CORNER COPIA GARDENS:

Corner Copia Gardens 

11983 E State Hwy 104

Fairhope, AL 36532

PHONE: 251-517-0453