Thanksgiving

our first thanksgiving living at the new house!

Today, I am thankful for so many things. I really try to always remind myself that there is much to be thankful for – because we need that mindset every day and not just on holidays – but Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I love Christmas, too, but there’s something about just gathering around for some food with the people you love the most that makes me feel happy and comforted.

My whole life, we spent Thanksgivings at my aunt’s house in South Carolina. She has 4 kids, there are 3 kids in our family, and now one of her kids has 2 kids! It’s a huge family affair and used to include our grandparents before they passed, and my aunt Sherilyn always comes, too. I have become really interested in how other families and cultures spend their holidays and time with family in the last few years, and I always ask my students what their plans and traditions are. To me, the loud laughter, chatter, and teasing that is always bouncing around at my aunt’s house makes me feel at home. Even if your family isn’t close or you can’t get home for the holidays, it’s a time to spend with others who welcome you in and claim you as one of their own. I know the holidays can bring sadness and angst for many, so I hope if that is true for you this holiday season, that you are able to find somewhere to spend happy time with others and to take care of yourself in whatever way that may be.

This year, our school football team is in the playoffs! Andrew is the quarterback coach, so as I type this he’s at Thanksgiving Day practice and tomorrow the boys will play the second round of playoffs! So this year we are not going “home,” we are staying home in our new house with the doggies and spending our Thanksgiving meal with two other teacher couples for a teacher Thanksgiving! I am bringing a family recipe macaroni and cheese, these delicious mashed potatoes, and these delectable apple dumplings (I’ve said it before, but you just can’t go wrong with a Pioneer Woman recipe!). I’m waiting for the laundry to finish so I can wear my favorite leggings and shamelessly enjoy my meal – plus, the best thing about wearing leggings for Thanksgiving is you’re already prepared for the inevitable post-turkey afternoon/evening nap!

It’s always easy to find things to complain about or to get caught up in what’s going wrong in life, but it feels a lot better to celebrate the good. So this year, I’m celebrating a lot of things I’m thankful for:  A family that laughs together, a new family that I’m now part of, a wonderful husband, three sweet doggies that always keep us on our toes, a new cozy home that feels just right, friends who are like family, and starting new traditions as we have our first big holiday together as a married couple!

these 3 turkeys are hoping they’ll get some real turkey today!

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to everyone!

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!