A Reading List for Those Comfy & Cozy Occasions

I’m such a fan of a good summer reading list. And in the fall and winter months, I equally enjoy getting comfy and cozy on the patio, or in the living room with a fire burning, immersed in a good book. Vino in hand, of course.

Being an avid reader, I dabble in every genre and I’m always on the hunt for a new reading adventure. When I want to escape my current reality and completely unwind, my “go to” genre is fiction. Specifically the kind of stories that are “keepers” you continually resurrect for another love affair. So, I’ve compiled a list of some of my most favorite quick reads that will leave you enchanted, laughing (snorting, in some cases), exploring, and falling in love with dynamic characters.

In no particular order …

The Doctor’s Wife (Elizabeth Brundage). A literary suspense of infidelity and all that comes with unpopular career choices, as Dr. Michael Knowles and his journalist-turn- teacher wife, Annie, transplant themselves from the big city to a small town in upstate NY.  Rich with unpredictable mystery.

A Bend in the Road (Nicholas Sparks). I know what you’re thinking … I can’t be mourning for days after reading another Sparks’ book. I’m right there with you. I read Sparks’ books in moderation as to not propel myself into a state of utter depression. This one though … is … a … must. Inspired by Sparks’ brother-in-law, this story surrounds Miles Ryan, Deputy Sheriff of New Bern, NC who is also a widower and proud father to son, Jonah. Enter new to town Sarah who is recently recovering from a terribly emotional divorce. These two find solace and comfort in one another, but a shocking secret will cause them to reevaluate everything. [Gah! So good]

Good in Bed (Jennifer Weiner). This one is snort worthy. If you’re looking for a light hearted, witty read, look no further. Often compared to Bridget Jones [LOVE], character Candace (Cannie) Shapiro is an absolute riot. Complete with a recent confusing breakup with Bruce, beloved dog Nifkin, her plastic surgeon father and nutty family, her passion for producing her first screenplay, ridiculous diet programs and more, this book delivers everything you need to root for the underdog and cheer Cannie into every bit of success her heart desires!

The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd). I adore this book and have read it at least ten times. Told from the lens of tenacious 14yr old Lily, this story oozes all those Southern feels of hospitality and healing. It’s serendipitous to see how gravitation towards certain things and places can reveal the answers to all the questions Lily has dearly clung to.

Plain Truth (Jodi Picoult). Another incredible mystery surrounding a newborn’s death in the Amish community and the trial that follows. Layered with drama from start to finish, this novel is completely absorbing and will leave you feverishly turning pages to finish!

The Red Tent (Anita Diamant). This historical drama is told thru the lens of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph. Author, Anita Diamant, imaginatively explored this Biblical character, who had one line in the Bible, and brilliantly crafted it into a beautiful story of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (Kim Edwards). Have your tissues handy for this one. This story surrounds the birth of twins, delivered by their father, Dr. David Henry in the 1960s. David delivers a healthy son, Paul, to start. But when his little girl is born, he notices she has Down Syndrome. Afraid of the complications and all the potential hardships she could face, he gives the girl to his nurse, Caroline, to put into a private care facility, telling his wife their daughter passed. After a series of events, Caroline never makes it to the facility and raises the little girl as her own. What follows is an incredible tale of love, regret, strength, deceit, and so much more. An emotional rollercoaster, but a raw and beautiful story.

The Shack (William P. Young). This Christian novel was originally self published and quickly became a USA Today and New York Times bestseller. The story follows the life of Mack Phillips and a camping trip he takes with three of his children. When one of his children goes missing, Mack is forced to face several demons in life. This story will completely captivate you as you experience Mack’s spiritual journey hand-in-hand.

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The aforementioned books are just a few of my favorites and I’m always looking for a new adventure. Please share any of your must reads below – would love to check them out!

 

Check out iHeartFrisco’s Blog Post | Fall Fun in Frisco

iHeartFrisco has been featuring some fun things to do this Fall season, if you’re in the Frisco, TX area. G and I were recently featured in their blog, from a prior year’s visit to one of our favorite pumpkin patches. We are excited to enjoy all our fall favorites and add some new experiences to the list! Check out the feature Fall Fun in Frisco and follow along for more Frisco news and potential adventures!

Leading in the Home | Self Improvement & Chore Chart to Train Up a Child

I’ve continuously been purposeful in finding ways to inspire and motivate Griff to be the best version of himself (starting young is crucial), while also engaging him in being mindful of helping others and every day basic acts of kindness. Visual learning has proven to be a strong influencer of putting into practice what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s not only a conversation starter and every day reminder, but it also holds both parent and child accountable for the goals, motivators, and teachings of the week. Presenting the Self Improvement & Chore Chart! I continue to organize my home with lean management principles …

Let’s start with the Chore Chart. Griff and I have actively been having conversation about being a household contributor for the last few months. I’ve been incorporating him into household duties as much as possible to help him understand what goes into maintaining a home. Little things make a difference and give kids a sense of responsibility and ownership of work. A reward system is always helpful, as it certainly motivates little ones to focus on the task at hand. You can get pretty creative week to week as you help them take on additional responsibilities.

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The Self Improvement Board has to be my favorite part of this project, as it has the potential to morph into a creative force for you and your littles to grow together. For me, I wanted to incorporate a Biblical focus for the week (Fruits of the Spirit), as well as some ways we can help, goals, and the proud championship of our Florida State Seminoles (’tis the season). There’s absolute value in maintaining a consistent approach to this type of learning, but there’s also flexibility in your areas of focus. Anything you can do to engage your littles is a win-win.

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While I wrote all of the information and tasks on the board, Griff thought of his own “How Can I Help” and “Goals”. It’s important to me that he play an active role in these areas from week to week. I want to ensure he’s really thinking about how he can apply himself in these arenas and then commit to following through during the week. Ownership … it’s a virtue.

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This was a wonderful project to do together. A Sunday afternoon well spent! I know I’m biased, but I have one amazing young man who was born to do great things in this world, and to be a blessing to all who cross his path. Proud Mom.

Side Note – I picked up all supplies at Target (one stop shop). The Chore Chart pictured here was under $10 and came with the check/smiley/star magnets. Bonus!

The Simple Life | Need vs. Want

Innately, I’m a person who values simplicity and the joy that comes from the “little things” in life; a kind word of encouragement, quality time with those you care about and love, blueberry picking and cobbler making with my Great Aunt Sarah, sitting on your front porch with your favorite drink and book in hand, a good meal at your favorite restaurant … to name a few. I credit this appreciation for simplicity to being raised in tandem with my grandparents and great grandparents. They knew the value of a dollar after living thru the Great Depression and World War II; they understood what it meant to be a supportive servant to the American community and a contributing member of society. They were God fearing people who lived enriched lives with so little because they operated from a place of gratefulness and put others before themselves. To have known them and been a benefactor of their tutelage, grace, and love is a blessing in and of itself.

Quick side note – a grateful memory moment and Mom shoutout…
Growing up, my Mom labored and gave it her all in everything her hands touched, making motherhood her number one priority. She was selfless in her efforts; her motivation being to give me the best life could offer and all the opportunity she envisioned and prayed for to shine down on me. She balanced it all by teaching me accountability, responsibility, and ownership of my path. Don’t get me wrong, she had some expectations for me. I was absolutely not a bench sitter. Nope. She expected me to put in the work for my future to supplement all she’d sacrificed, and she got in the trenches with me to ensure I made the best of it all. Fast forward to a full ride academic scholarship that would land me at the greatest University Florida offers (Florida State University plug); career success, and an amazing motherhood journey. Blessed and thankful.

While I appreciate having nice things and the luxury of not having to penny pinch or budget every single purchase in life, there’s a lot to be said for keeping a grounded perspective on what you need vs. what you want in life. Furthermore, there’s a lot to be said for personal reflection and understanding how incredibly blessed you are in this life.

I recently had one of those revelation moments; the kind that will slap you in the face with perspective. Griff and I were out running errands and I was giving him a heads up on our plans for the day. “We’re going to the grocery store, then to Target to pick up a couple items, and then we can have lunch and go to the park.” Griff’s response to this was eye opening for me when he asked, “Mommy, when we get to Target, can I get another Lego set to put together after the park?” This was after I’d already purchased a small Lego action figure at CVS when we were waiting for a prescription. Knowing he’d already been playing with a new toy in the backseat, and that we’d be eating lunch and going to the park for the afternoon, coupled with all the memories of the toys and goodies I’ve purchased at numerous stops along the way in life, struck me and really got me thinking. What message am I sending to Griff when he constantly “adds to cart” each time we’re at the store, leaving with something in hand he doesn’t necessarily need?

As a Mom to the most wonderful human on this earth (my biases are kicking in) , I want to give Griff everything his little heart desires. And when you have the means, it’s so easy to say, “Yes, you can have that.” and “Sure, throw it in the basket or on the conveyor belt for the swiping and bagging”. But is it necessary? Even though it may be inexpensive or monetarily in line with your lifestyle, why should there be a toy/goodie/treat purchased just because we had to get some essentials at a store? Moreover, am I teaching him the difference between essentials and desires?

I started my own household movement, adopting more of a minimalist approach to life – need vs. want. Back to basics! Not only am I applying this to the requests I receive from Griff, but I’m also modeling this behavior by being intentional with every purchase. Do I need this or do I just want this? And if it is a want … why? What’s the reason for me “requiring” so much in life? I should be focusing more on all the things I already have and cherishing them from a place of gratefulness. Sometimes, it’s hard to do in a culture of upgrades, the next best thing, and a “treat yourself” mentality. What are we placing value on?

Do yourself a favor and put pen to paper! Start making a list of needs vs. wants and memorializing your expenses. Yes, this can be seen as a budget, but it’s a little more than that. It’s taking your needs and wants a step further to “verbalize” your desires and put things into perspective so you can truly tackle the “why” behind what you’re choosing to spend your money and efforts on. Trust me, your perspective will start changing when you realize how blessed you are and how you can operate with so much less.

Over the last few months, I’ve truly seen progress in both myself and Griff’s life desires.  He has a savings account and piggy bank and he’s been diligent about saving his money. When we go to a store and he asks for something out of “want”, I tell him what it costs and that he’ll need to pay for it out of his own personal stash. He evaluates … the thinking  process is quite entertaining, I must say. Ultimately, he says … “Nah, I don’t need to spend my money on that.” He recently asked me if he could go thru his closet and donate the toys he doesn’t play with to kids who don’t have as much as he has. Humility moment.

One of my favorite quotes in life is, “When you love what you have, you have everything you need.” I greatly appreciate the fact that I can travel, explore, and live a very prosperous life. But I never want to lose sight of how incredibly blessed I am. I encourage you all to do some self reflection and count your blessings. There are so many people in this world who long for our everyday basics. As easy as it can be to check request lists at any point in your day, being intentional about needs vs. wants will fundamentally shape your way of thinking.

Please share any of your best practices, tips, and feedback on this topic. I’d love to hear from you!

Hawaiian Voyage | Eat, Explore, Enjoy

I recently returned from a trip to Oahu, Hawaii. Glorious. Beaches, mountains, culture, food, vast landscapes rich with beauty … all of this made for a fun, relaxing, and healing vacay. Some life experiences are good for the mind, body, and soul; Hawaii certainly qualified. I’ve put together a list of sites and things to explore from my stay, if you’re planning a future visit or wondering whether or not to add Hawaii to your travel list. Note – this list doesn’t encompass all of my Hawaiian adventures, but definitely highlights some great spots!

1 – City Running Tours
While the internet houses a wealth of information about the location, I prefer to immediately explore on foot, to get the lay of the land and know what’s nearby of interest I can easily walk (or run) to. Thanks to an incredibly motivating friend who also loves to run, I opted for a sunrise running and yoga session via City Running Tours my first morning on the island. What an incredible experience!

Yovo, our tour guide, may be the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met in life. Between his wonderfully warm spirit and energy, to his Go Pro and running selfie stick (mmm-hmm, he got it all on film), I truly felt like he was there to engage and deliver THE Hawaiian experience. And thank goodness for it all, as I was jet lagged and dragging at 6:00am, after being wedged in an airplane for 10 hours the night before. I stayed at Waikiki Beach, but there are running tours throughout Oahu, so be sure to do your research and find what’s best for you.

Here are some photos from the running path …

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Yovo took us thru Waikiki and around the infamous Diamond Head, sharing Hawaiian history and culture as we passed by different stopping points. What was supposed to be a 2 miles one way with a “yoga by the beach” intermission and 2 miles back, ended up being more like 7 miles total, thanks to all of Yovo’s enthusiasm and extra details. “Island Time” may be a little different than what you’re used to, so be flexible. [Smile]. Sore, but worth it! This was an excellent way to get my stiff joints moving and start my Hawaiian adventure. If you’re a runner and/or yogi, this is a must do. Replenish yourself with a delicious breakfast at Eggs n’ Things – there’s typically a line around the corner, but you’ll be glad you waited.

2 – Halona Blowhole
On the Southeast side of Oahu, the waters are crystal blue, housing volcanic cliffs you’ll awe over. Halona Blowhole is a short drive from Waikiki and also has a small beach adjacent to the cliffs, should you want to make a beach day out of it as well.

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As I mentioned earlier, some experiences are good for the mind, body, and soul. This view was breathtaking. I found several sites on the island a place for purposeful self-reflection and appreciation for creation, life, and this beautiful world we call home. I sat on the Halona Blowhole cliffs for quite some time, listening to the waves crash around me,
taking in the wonder of God’s amazing workmanship. Nature is powerful; it heals, inspires, and rejuvenates.

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3 – Byodo-In Temple
Drive a little further north, and you’ll come to the Byodo-In Temple; a replica of an ancient Japanese temple complete with gardens, meditation rooms, koi ponds, and a Buddha statue incense room. You may recognize this temple if you’re a LOST fan like me, as it was the filming place for Jin’s and Sun’s wedding. Fun fact.

The temple grounds are pristinely maintained and will leave you with a serene and peaceful feeling. You’ll pass through a cemetery, prior to arrival, and may see funerals taking place as this is a coveted burial area on the island. There’s a gong you can try your hand at, as well as incense candles you can light, as part of a more personalized experience.

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4 – Turtle Beach 
As part of the drive to the North Shore, there are several must see stops along the way. The best exploration tool of Oahu is the GyPSy Guide Tour App. An affordable and easy download to your smart phone and then you’re off on your adventure! The app syncs with satellites and will give you directions, history, and information about the sites while you’re driving, along with recommended stops throughout your route. Download and go!

Turtle Beach was the first stop towards the North Shore and it … was … gorgeous. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any turtles, but they’ve been known to frequent this beach, so you may get lucky and see one. This beach comes with some great rock climbing areas, in addition to vegging areas. Part of it is also nicely shaded, so my people (Irish and pale) can get a break from the sun rays.

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Feel free to indulge in some sea rock yoga, should you be so inclined.

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5 – Banzai Pipeline (a.k.a Pipe)
Probably one of the most popular areas of Oahu and certainly a surfer favorite is Pipe. While I was there, the waves were huge and crashed with a vengeance, but in the winter months, they are grander and much more dangerous. Hard to believe. This beach has thick sand that will literally go to your knees in some areas. Walking along it can be quite the workout, especially when you’re trying not to be pulled out by the current – not the best “wading area”. You’ll see several surfers along your visit; many trying to tackle the fierce waves. I could watch them for hours. Sunset Beach, another popular spot, is a couple miles north where you can also view wave riders. If you’re an advanced surfer, I’m sure you’re itching to get in the water and “shaka shaka” your way towards wave heaven.

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6 – Food Truck Mecca (Giovanni’s)
The North Shore is littered with food trucks, but Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is in it for the win. If you’re hungry … even if you’re not … the shrimp here is the most tasty you’ll devour on the island. And their macaroni salad … yes, please! Be sure to pick up one of their ice cold coconuts for some refreshing natural coconut water to wash it all down (happy place).

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Drained it dry – all gone! Delicious.

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Also on location is marketplace selling local produce and handmade items. I picked up some fresh papaya, coconut, and pineapple from this fruit stand for the rest of the ride along the shore. They will cut it and ziplock bag it for you to go. Perfection.

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7 – Waimanalo Bay & Beach 
This one takes the cake for me as being my favorite place on the island. Secluded and tucked away in the Southeast side of Oahu, Waimanalo offers a luxurious ocean view with the clearest blue waters, towering mountains, cliffs, and distant mini islands as your ocean backdrop. You’ll find coconuts and the biggest driftwood you’ve ever seen along your walk.

I spent a quiet morning here listening to the waves, warming with the sunshine, and swaying with the breeze. To think, God created all of this vast beauty and still took the time to make, form, and invest in li’l ol’ me. Selah. I was incredibly humbled by His love, in the presence of his amazing creation. Such a great thinking space for self reflection. Healing and inspirational.

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My Southern roots were in full swing as my giant floppy hat provided all the Southern feels I’m known for, as well as ample face protection from the ravenous sun rays! Side note – always be sure you’re packing lots of sunscreen and frequently applying. Your skin will thank you! Again … happy place.

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8 – Eats & Treats
The island offers several dining choices. A few I visited worth the stop are outlined below. Keep in mind, the island is very crowded so it’s best to make reservations when possible. Otherwise, you could be waiting quite some time and dining late.

– Hotel Haelkulania – House Without a Key
Great food and an unbelievable oceanfront dining view. The patio is first come, first serve, so it’s best to get there before 5pm. You can enjoy a fresh Mai Tai, which will most certainly knock you off your feet (strong)! In addition, you’ll get some beautiful sunsets here – great experience all around.

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– Shaved Ice
An island favorite and you can truly get on any corner. I enjoyed a large pineapple strawberry shaved ice combo beachside at Waikiki. A welcomed refreshment after a nice dip in the ocean!

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– Brunch at Lulu’s Waikiki
Lulu’s is great for walk-ins, though you may have to wait a while for a seat. And beware of Hawaiian time, as you’ll be amongst all the football fans catching their games at 10am local time. The food is yummy; fruit cups come with fresh coconut shavings and ground macadamia nuts. The atmosphere is open, facing the beach, so you’ll get a fantastic ocean breeze. Enjoy!

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– Dinner on the Rooftop – SKY Waikiki
If you want to enjoy a view of Waikiki from the sky, SKY is the place to go. It has panoramic views with lounge areas you can enjoy both shade and sunshine. The food is super tasty and more of a tapas menu. Their cocktails are excellent and beautifully crafted with fresh herbs and hibiscus. You’ll want to make a reservation, as this place books fast! The views are top notch!

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– Acai Bowl – Family Roots Cafe
The bowls from this establishment are the best I’ve ever had in life. The acai is that perfect  frozen consistency, topped with a variety of fruit, granola, seeds, nuts, and coconut shavings. The one pictured below is a mini bowl and very filling, but I honestly could’ve gotten the large and stuffed myself until I busted …. SO GOOD! The cafe is located in a small strip mall near the Honolulu airport with about two tables and hardly any standing room. I inhaled my bowl on a bench outside. There’s a long line for all the to go orders, as this place does some business! Grab one before you head out, or one for every day on the island. Yummy ……

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My Hawaiian adventure was such a treat and one I’ll remember for a lifetime. As much as possible, get out of your comfort zone and enjoy all this world has to offer. Explore and take the time to learn about the history and cultures of the area. You will be enriched and fulfilled when you open yourself to new experiences. Even if it’s not across the Pacific to an island, there’s so much to experience and enjoy in your backyard and surrounding areas. Look for those experiences and seize every opportunity. Be adventurous and be blessed!

“She Stood in the Storm, and When the Wind Did Not Blow Her Way, She Adjusted Her Sails.”

I’ve always been partial to this quote for it’s eloquent way of taking challenges and turning them into potentially beautiful life experiences. Adaptability and flexibility are absolute life essentials.

As I balance a career with [single] motherhood, and all manners of household duties, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to combat my growing (and aging) “To Do List”, coupled with all the stressors that come from spur of the moment hiccups (more like choke holds). How does one deal with it all, without completely giving up? Breathe …

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Life is challenging. We can all agree on that.

My career houses a combination of strategic, results oriented projects requiring top of the line quality. And while I may house the innate skills to deliver, it’s not like I’m brushing my hair all day in a tower. Mental fatigue is a realistic, full fledged demon! Throw on top all that comes with #MomLife (how do people do it with more than one???), exercise and meal prep, beauty regimens, etc. The words “maddening” and “overwhelming” come to mind. Breathe again … and regularly. Pause and name your blessings. You can do this … all of it.

Over time, I’ve learned the key to balance is intentional perspective and outlook. This includes a positive approach to every day basics, and surrounding yourself with positive energies and people who identify with the same. As I’ve mentioned before, “your vibe attracts your tribe”.

I’ve put together a “Top 3” to get you thru any day (curve ball or not).

1) Plan & Prioritize.
There’s nothing original about this approach. The truth is, the better you plan, the less you are to feel overwhelmed by any potential wrenches life heaves your direction. I’m a lean principles person by nature. If there’s waste I can identify and toss, I’m all over it! I recently “leaned up” my house down to pantry organization. Example … I pre-packaged, in portioned zip lock bags, and placed all of Griff’s snacks on a shelf within his reach.  When he wants a snack, he can acquire one on his own without the giant bag of chips exploding on the floor. This method also yields quick lunchbox assemblage. While the front end prep takes some time, it’s worth the time and stress reduction on the backend. Less steps, less stress. Organization of your home will lead to organization of your day. I know this sounds rigid and militant, but your future self will thank you. Look for ways to lean your home and every day flow … subtle changes make huge differences.

Next, I keep a calendar of events to help me stay focused on the tasks at hand and prep for future events. I plan meals for the week and use weekend time to cook and freeze for the coming week. This approach has helped me stay on top of my Mom game and healthy lifestyle, while I’m still able to fulfill all other obligations.

Be realistic about your planning and don’t overcommit. Know your limits and don’t feel guilty about not being a part of every single event or interest. Your kid will most certainly survive this life even though they didn’t attend one out of five birthday parties they were invited to … Lord, help me.

2) Delegate & Engage.
Where you can find help, ask for it and execute accordingly. My son is finally at the age where he is learning what it means to be a household contributor. We’ve incorporated a “How Can I Help?” (a.k.a. “Chore Board”) into our home. He’s gradually understanding the importance of accountability and ownership, which makes Mom tasks decrease. Finally! I firmly believe this to be an important quality to adopt, for a variety reasons. Not only are you incorporating assistance into your day, but you’re also teaching your littles valuable life skills. Win-win.

Also … when others offer to help you, take it! I used to be one of those persons who thought I needed to do it all on my own, when I had family and friends wanting and willing to make my load lighter. For me this was a lesson in humility. As I started to look at this offering as a blessing from above, I was able to surrender those feelings of inadequacy. The truth is, God was strategically placing people in my life to shower me with the love and support I need(ed). Thankful moment.

3) Give [and Receive] Grace. 
I’m going to spend some time on this one, as it is one for which I have a burning passion. Giving grace has become a popular saying these days. When I talk about grace, I’m talking about the “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; a virtue coming from God”. To look at everyone thru the eyes of Christ truly is a virtue. This is a deep and philosophical topic. So in short, giving grace is about the way you approach and react to any individual or situation that is negative, disappointing, or hurtful in nature. A sometimes daunting, jaw clinching approach.

And trust … there are people who chap my rear in every way imaginable. However …

To operate from a position of grace is to push aside your human nature to react in judgement, or allow your preconceived ideas and notions to take hold of your response. Instead, when you respond in a way that leaves room for mistakes and second chances, [understanding you don’t know what others are going through] positions you for the higher road. And while this may be the road less traveled, it definitely has the best view. Remember, you too have had your moments you’d like to bury and not resurrect. Mmmm-hmmm.

While extending grace to others, be sure you’re doing the same for yourself. We get in the habit of putting so many expectations and self-imposed stressors on ourselves. When you don’t meet a goal or forget what may seem like the most obvious and trivial task, give yourself grace. You are human and you are trying your best. If your kid ate something off the floor, just remember it’s not the Home Depot floor. They will live.

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I’ll end on this … dress up for every day and give it your personal best. Y’all know I’m committed to doing it all in this life … or I will die trying. So you know good and well I am going to look cute doing it! Outfit details are as follows:

Paige Denim pants; Target top; shoes are no longer available, but I found a similar pair at Nordstrom Shoes – Calvin Klein.

Give it your all and know I am supporting you through every valley and mountain, from a distance. Perspective truly makes a difference!

Beauty Behind the Lens

A picture truly does tell a thousand words. And when the moment is captured by a pristine eye, in perfect lighting, exuding all the “feels”, you know you’ve recorded a treasured piece of personal history. My dear friend, Alicia, captures it all and more. I am so excited to feature her as a fellow Leading Lady and talented photographer. She balances a lively career with being both Mom and Wife, and doing it all in grace and style. Coupled with a passion for artistry, she keeps a busy photography schedule in her spare time. Did I mention she also draws and paints? As an Art History major, I suppose you couldn’t expect less, but still … what an eye.

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And can we have a moment just for her hair? Endless locks for days and effortlessly teased.

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Currently based in the Atlanta, GA area, Alicia has truly made a name for herself among the community, thru her emerging side photography business, “Photography by Alicia M. Austin”. She has ventured out and found all the great metroplex landscapes, while also finding those hidden backdrop treasures you will WOW over. Family portraits, engagements, newborns, solo shots … she does it all and with impeccable detail. There’s not a hair misplaced or wardrobe malfunction to worry about, as she will fix, trim, and shape you for the shot. If you need to “suck in”, she will straight up tell you … (in a polished way, of course). That’s my kind of photographer!

See below for some shots that radiate life, love, and happiness …

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Her husband and son continue to be a burning inspiration for her work, as seen thru the lens of an incredibly loving mother and wife …

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When I commented on how stinkin’ adorable the below photos are, Alicia told me she made the Scarecrow costume. Of course she did. What can’t she do? Nothing … the answer is “nothing”.

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In addition to her all encompassing talent, she is an amazing friend. Selfless, loving, supportive, and genuinely interested in investing in others. I thrive on surrounding myself with women who “rise by lifting others” and Alicia truly exhibits Leading Lady qualities. I happened to recently be in her city and we had a glorious evening of wining (pinky up) and dining. And lucky for me, I get to have a Hawaiian spa day with her in the coming weeks! Aloha!

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If you’re in the Atlanta area, you MUST check out Alicia’s work. For more information and photos, visit Alicia’s Instagram Site: Photography by A.M
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. Such a talent and lovely Leading Lady!

Hippie Chic | Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe

It’s a breezy beautiful Texas Saturday, which means all things outdoors. Today, Griff and I walked thru sunshine and park trails. My hippie chic style was in full swing, polished off with an on point bang braid.

This top is a Lucky Brand purchase from a couple years ago and one that never grows old for me. I’m a huge Lucky Brand fan; for their delicate and flowy ensembles, that don’t leaving you feeling like you’re wearing a giant sheet. While this top is no longer available, I have found a similar one (Click Here), and it happens to be part of the Labor Day Weekend sale – jackpot!

I love a good pair of jean shorts; they go with anything and can be dressed up or down. Comfort is key for me, as I’m regularly chasing around a 5 1/2 year old and leading a very active life. Joe’s Jeans have a very soft denim feel and fit well without being too snug or restrictive. Their sizing is true to form, with appropriate lengths for people like me who have a 5’8 frame and long legs. I can’t understand these tiny pieces of denim people wear these days that, quite honestly, could double as a headband. I cannot afford to have wardrobe malfunctions and things falling out at every bend and stretch. I mean, I’m a lady … and a mother.  Thank you, Joe’s.

My sandals are … wait for it … a wonderful Target find! I don’t buy a lot of shoes from Target, as the comfort and quality piece leaves more to be desired for me. However, these strappies are super comfy and have worn well amongst various terrains. A pleasant surprise!

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Hair today was quick and easy. I typically roll my hair in a loose bun and clip for the night, so I have a natural wave in the morning. Dry shampoo, a “messy” bang braid, and a quick tousle and spray later, and you’re ready to go!

It was such a beautiful day. Remember, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” So, radiate like sunshine. Focus on all the positives in life; count your blessings and name them one by one.

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What’s your go to weekend look? Would love to hear from you!

A Little Peach in the Empire City of the South

Oh, how I adore my visits to the South. And my most recent trip to Atlanta, GA was exactly what my heart needed. While it was hotter than deep fried Hell, and I was busier than a one-legged cat in a sandbox (my Southern sure started showing over the last 72hrs), I still managed to thoroughly enjoy some delicious local dishes.

This visit inspired me to put together some metroplex musts from cheap eats to treat yourself establishments for your next visit to the Empire City of the South.

1 – Ann’s Snack Bar (Cheap Eats)

Southern to the core. Tucked away in historical Kirkwood, Ann’s is home of the infamous “Ghetto Burger”, which has been named by The Wall Street Journal as the best burger in the country. Ms. Ann recently passed away, but her family is keeping her legacy alive, still serving up all her originals with warm smiles. Her snack bar traditions also remain and come with rules, such as ” no laying or leaning on the counter”, “no cell phones while you’re dining”, “no cursing in the snack bar” … mind your manners here, thank you very much.

The snack bar is tiny with a covered porch housing 5 picnic tables; no A/C, but there is a large assortment of osculating fans to keep you refreshed in the GA humidity.

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I couldn’t begin to tackle the Ghetto Burger, so I opted for a cheeseburger and it … was … awesome. Lord knows it was the fattiest beef I’ve had in my life, smothered in cheese and you know good and well that bun was buttered with a hefty helping for the toasting. It came with lettuce and the juiciest tomato the state offers. They talked me into keeping mayo on it, as one of the ladies told me I could use some mayo on my bones, or the GA wind would blow me away – HA!

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My meal (including a soda can) was less than $10 and packed full of flavor and Southern hospitality. Be sure to carve out some time when you visit, as there can be a line and some pretty decent wait times, but very much worth the experience!

Check out Yelp! for more info: Ann’s Snack Shop – Yelp!.

2 – The Cowfish Atlanta (Middle of the Road Cuisine)

Sushi, “burgushi” (yep, it’s a thing), and Asian fusion all wrapped up into a combination menu spanning four pages. Endless options, full of creative flavors. This restaurant is nestled in the Dunwoody, GA area at Perimeter Mall. They have an outdoor patio, complete with various corn hole boards, should you need to play a game / burn some time waiting on a table. The atmosphere is very eclectic with some interesting spins on classic posters / branding.

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Considering the fact I can eat my body weight in sushi, it was my obvious go to meal. I had their “Mrs. Woodybury’s Fresh Find”. Let me just say, Mrs. Woodbury knows what she’s doing. This fresh find consisted of premium tuna, cucumber, green onion inside, topped with premium salmon and avocado, and served with a side of spicy salmon and tuna poke. And if that wasn’t enough, let me go ahead and order a “basic” California roll. You know, to balance all the fancy and ensure ultimate belly expansion.

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So tasty and packed with flavor! For more details and menu items, immediately propel yourself to The Cowfish Atlanta. You WILL NOT be disappointed.

3 – Portico at Le Meridien (Treat Yourself Dining) 

Having one of your favorite girlfriends (fellow fabulous Leading Lady, Alicia) in the city you’re visiting … BONUS! Vino on the veranda was in order and we were looking for a spot we could relax, uncork, unwind, and catch up. Portico delivered. This restaurant is housed in the lovely Le Meridien Hotel. The atmosphere is filled with floor to ceiling windows, warm lighting, lush floral baskets, an outdoor fire pit, and an extensive wine and cocktail list to top it all off.  The wait staff is beyond attentive and treats you like royalty. Tired working Mom’s like us welcome the rejuvenation this establishment oozes.

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For starters … vino (obviously). We accompanied this luxury with a Fig & Prosciutto Flatbread dressed with herb goat cheese, arugula, tupelo honey (that I could bathe in, Lord help me), and roasted garlic. Perfect light bites with savory flavors.

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For my main course, I had a perfectly executed and plated ahi tuna loin with a curried cauliflower and green olive pesto. It was 100% delivered from Heaven.

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We chatted, in leisure, for hours and thoroughly enjoyed the company of each other; supporting one another through motherhood, careers, and all our independent passions. What a night to remember in a place of absolute luxury.

For more information and details, head on over to Portico Global Cuisine.

I highly recommend all these tasty treats and experiences if you’re in the Atlanta area. I love to explore like a local and am always looking for new adventures. Please share any of your personal favorites below – would love to hear from you!

Thank Heaven for Saint Ann [Restaurant & Bar]

On Saturday’s, we brunch! And there’s no shortage of fun places with devouringly delicious menus in Dallas. Today called for some sunshine and shade (with a breeze, please); and there’s no patio in town I love more than my all time favorite, the lovely Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar. Known for its amazing outdoor veranda littered with palm trees and all things lush greenery (I just … well, you know … love it all), elegance, food (everything on the menu), and gardens, this was a no brainer brunch choice. Consistently stellar and gives me all the Southern feels.

Today, my friend Brandon and I decided we’d brave the Texas heat and walk thru Victory Park for brunch. Any form of exercise is a favorable choice to prepare for and combat our gluttony feasts. Fortunately for me, my Paige Denim skinny jeans are great for stretching and expansion after all manners of engorgement. Comfort is important in your style choices.

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Upon arrival to Saint Ann, we were greeted by their wonderful staff, handing out all the Southern feels I mentioned above. For starters, we munched on their tasty cheese/guac/salsa trio, paired with Bloody Mary’s and Poinsettias. Have mercy …

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Laughing and noshing … more laughing, and more noshing.

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Bring on the entrees! I was super excited when I saw they had a Smoked Salmon Benedict on the menu. Scrumptious! It inspired me to try my hand at some smoked salmon recipes of my own … stay tuned for future recipe explorations.

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We brunched like champs; laughing and chatting and enjoying all the blessings life has given us. If you’re in the Dallas area, you must stop by Saint Ann … you’re certain to be swept away by it all.