FriYAY feels!

Friyay! I still can’t believe we’re engaged and I am still just so happy and excited! My friend Lindsey got me this mug as an engagement gift. I also had a couple of students who got me little engagement gifts, which is so sweet. We are working on securing a venue and date right now, and I just signed up for an account with The Knot to help me keep track of all my wedding planning and details!

Other things I still can’t believe include the fact that Christmas is in THREE DAYS. What?! I feel like such an old fuddy-duddy saying this, but it seems like it just comes faster and faster each year (I also feel like a fuddy-duddy for even actually saying fuddy-duddy…blame my future husband for that lingo).

My Christmas gifts are all wrapped up and ready to be delivered. I won’t see some friends to celebrate until after the new year, so that’s always a fun thing to look forward to once everything else has quieted down. I got everything ready last night for heading home:  Laundry, wrapping gifts, last-minute cleaning before leaving, packing up myself + the doggies, etc.

One of the best Christmas happenings is that one of my very best friends had her baby girl this week!!! She has the sweetest face and name, and I can’t wait to hold her and love on her as soon as I possibly can. A lot of the people I care most about are having babies, getting married, and making big life changes that are all exciting. It just feels like a happy – yet hectic – time in life.

Finally, yesterday my department at school had a Christmas party and it was a pot luck. I brought my “famous” banana pudding. Everyone raves about it, so I thought I’d share it here! I actually got it from my dad’s wife Kathy, but it is always a HUMONGOUS hit and it is so delicious. It’s adapted from Paula Deen’s recipe, and I think the difference is in the pudding mixture, lemon juice for the bananas, and the type of cookies that you use. Literally every time we have a department function, everyone wants the banana pudding. Give it a try this Christmas and see how delicious it is!

Not Your Momma’s Banana Pudding

1 (12 oz.) container cool whip – this generally comes in 8oz containers so I usually just use the leftover 4oz for low fat desserts!

1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened

2 cups milk ( I use 2%)

1 (5 oz) box instant French vanilla pudding mix  (I can never find this in French vanilla and just go with regular vanilla. MAKE SURE it’s instant!)

6 to 8 bananas, sliced  (dip them in a small bowl of lemon juice before layering them)

2 bags chessmen cookies  (Pepperidge Farm – I always buy 3 bags, because sometimes there are broken ones in the bag and I am extra and want it to look nice…and also because extra cookies)

Note:  Of course, you can make any of these lighter by using low-fat options.

Line the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch dish with 1 bag of cookies and layer bananas on top.

In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using a separate large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

There it is! The best banana pudding I have ever had, seriously. The lemon juice keeps the banana slices fresh and correctly colored, and it also adds a nice something to it. On top of that, the pudding part itself really is delectable. This time my sister made it for me while I was at school to help out – she is the best!

That’s it for now! I am heading to Andrew’s mom’s house for a night, then to Asheville with my family for a few nights over Christmas, and then I’ll be back in town to enjoy my last few days off before school starts back up again. I plan to write before or on the new year, because I have a couple of resolutions I want to share! Everyone have a very merry Christmas!

‘Tis the season

deck the halls

There are two kinds of people in this world:  People who get ready for Christmas well before Thanksgiving, and people who follow the “after Thanksgiving” rule. I am with the second group! I absolutely love Christmas time, but I also love Thanksgiving, and I like to keep things in their boxes!

I had a great time with my family for Thanksgiving. We always go to my aunt and uncle’s house in South Carolina, and we have a big, loud, crazy group! There are always about 12-15 of us, and now we have some young ones again in the family running around, which always makes everyone happy! We eat a ton of delicious traditional Thanksgiving food and we are champion snackers. This year, my family brought a huge cheese platter and it was a big delicious hit!

I got sick over the holiday and then my car broke down when I tried to come home, so I spent an extra day in Asheville than originally planned. Luckily, I’m starting to feel better and my car is fixed, and there is still a lot to be thankful for – a warm home, loving and kind family and friends, Andrew, food in my belly, and two sweet and crazy pups! But I had planned on decorating for Christmas right after Thanksgiving, so that had to wait.

This weekend my sister comes home from her clinical rotations (she’s been staying in Asheville with our mom), and we will deck the halls of our 2 bedroom apartment together! We won’t get a real tree, which is of course always best, but less convenient in a 2nd floor apartment. I love decorating for Christmas and baking yummy treats for the holidays! This year, I plan on making these pretzel rods, Christmas Crack, and the always classic Chex mix. A few things keeps it simple and then I can divide it out in little goodie bags or small mason jars that can be reused! I love to just burn a holiday scented candle, put on the Christmas tunes, and get to it! I can’t wait.

What are your holiday traditions? I always love to learn what other families and people do. One of my students said for Thanksgiving, they always have an annual party on Friday afternoon and everyone brings their Thanksgiving leftovers to share. What a cool idea!

Before we get super caught up in the next few weeks, I wanted to say thank you to all of you guys who read my blog regularly! Several of you have stopped and told me in person, left a comment here or there, or written me to let me know you’ve enjoyed a particular post. It means the world to me and I appreciate it more than you know! This has always just been a hobby and a happy place for me to be creative and hopefully spread some cheer. That’s what life is all about! So, thank you. Enjoy the holiday season and hold those you love close; we never know how much time we have. Focus on what’s important, treat yoself with some yummy holiday food without judgment, and enjoy each new day as it comes.

 

Gift guide // Christmas 2017

one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine

It’s that time of year! Everyone is coming out with their gift guides, so I’ve rounded up some ideas for mine! Sometimes I get frustrated with gift guides because I feel like they are nothing like the people I want to buy for, or they cost 18 times my budgeted gift amount. Especially with gift guides for men – I’m always like, “Is there really a real man out there who would actually enjoy these things?”

I digress. So anyway, consider this more of a gift-giving guide than an actual list of items you should purchase for someone. I love to give gifts, and if I had more money I would do a lot more of it! I’m personally not a huge fan of pre-packaged gift sets because I like the idea of putting together a gift myself. Read along for some helpful hints at putting together some gifts for the holidays.

1. I think a thoughtful gift comes from really knowing the person you are buying for. Duh, but what I mean is this:  Think about what they do in their free time, their hobbies, what they talk to you about, the way they dress, etc. Do they like to be outdoors or snuggle up inside? Do they like to go to concerts, shop, read, pamper themselves, go out to eat, cook, etc.? If you think of a person’s interests and what they spend their time doing, that can lead to solid gift-giving.
2. Start paying closer attention to your conversations with people. Inevitably as humans, we will throw out in conversation that we really need a new xyz, or we are obsessed with the new xyz, or we would die for xyz but can’t justify spending money on it for ourselves. You get the picture. Start listening to what your friends and family mention as you’re having regular conversations with them. Make a mental note, and when you give them that gift, they’ll be so surprised and impressed that you remembered!
3. I always go to Etsy for anything personalized. The world is your oyster when it comes to that place. You name it, someone has a shop for it. And I love that you’re supporting a small business owner who is working hard for what they’re passionate about. Everything I have ever ordered from Etsy has been a huge hit. You can get personalized prints, maps, mugs, shirts, jewelry, signs, decor…literally. Anything. You. Can. Think. Of. In the past, I have ordered hand-lettered inspirational quote paintings, custom t-shirts, cute maps for friends who have moved from place to place so they have all of their ‘homes’ with them, jewelry with birthstones, initials, important dates, words, etc., and much more. The best part is, probably no one else you know will have what you order!
4. Consider the gift of time rather than expensive gifts that might not get a lot of use. If you find yourself buying something “just to buy something,” consider asking that friend or family member if you can just do something together this year instead. Whitney and I started a tradition a few years back of just picking a day in the calendar around Christmas time and spending the whole day together. As life gets busier, that time is so much more important and valuable to me! In the past, we have gotten massages, gotten our nails done, had fancy brunches, gone to our favorite restaurants, tried new restaurants, cooked our favorite meals together at home, hung out and watched TV/movies, gone to see movies, etc. This year, instead of gifts, my siblings and I are going to do a sibling sleepover and watch old movies, hang out, eat, go on a hike, and just enjoy each other’s company. If you’re someone who values time together, try that with people who you think will enjoy it. It takes so much stress off of the gift part and really focuses on what’s truly important – and you can always sneak in a card or a small gift if you feel the need!
5. Gift an experience. This is similar to #4, but includes purchasing an actual item. A concert, a cooking class, a weekend away, a food truck rodeo, gift card to a restaurant you know someone wants to try, candle-making class, etc. I also love the idea of an experience that is new to both people! Groupon, Offline, and Skillpop are all great places to buy stuff like that.
6. Don’t forget places like TJ Maxx, Home Goods, and Marshall’s for discounted gifts that are still really  nice. It doesn’t matter what you spend on someone’s gift, and it is just plain smart to try to save a little money on things, especially when you have a lot of people to buy for! Home gifts like coffee table books (I asked for this one!), trinket trays, pretty coasters, and vases are always nice – anything that you think someone might actually use. And obviously, Target is one of my favorite places to buy little gift items! I love the idea of buying a cute and useful basket like this or this to hold the rest of the gift items. A cozy blanket or a themed gift like bath products, manicure items, or winter favorites would fit perfectly in one of those baskets!
7. Clump your gifts so you don’t have to agonize so much over one main thing for someone. I am a big fan of gifting in twos and threes; whatever feels complete. Find a base gift to give someone, and then add in a smaller gift or two that you can’t go wrong with. I always love to give and get candles, dainty jewelry, nail polish, body lotions (my favorite), face masks, cozy socks or scarves, and good books. A simple pair of Kate Spade studs is always exciting and still a really nice gift (I like these, these, and these). They also always have a $50 and under page where you can look for pretty little things to fill in a gift (or to be the main event!).

So there you have it! Some actual gift guides I’ve enjoyed this year are here, here, and here (for linked and shoppable items). For the guys in my life, I always tend to really nag politely ask until I get an answer, but when that fails, I have never gone wrong with flannel shirts, funny t-shirts, vests, books, movies, shoes, a nice wallet or watch if needed/used, and everyone’s favorite, soft clothes (sweatpants, gym shorts, pajama pants, hoodies). But the men in my life are not very picky, so I’m lucky!

Happy holiday shopping! What are some gift-giving guidelines you follow? I am not much of a Black Friday sale shopper, but I love to get my gifts bought early so I can enjoy the rest of the season spending time with my favorite people and wrapping up everything to put under the tree!